Side Trip by car 1) Tarpon Springs, Dunedin, St Petersburg & Clearwater

Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Wed 26 Dec 2018 16:56
In Vero Beach – Florida
Gosh, haven’t written one of these for a long while and suspect not too many are bothering to check for updates. So to those who are still looking us up – thank you!
In short we did nothing by way of venturing out in the boat last winter due to family concerns which kept us in Titusville and we flew home early in March 2018 to start the long process of helping N’s Mum into her new home after her stroke. We returned to the boat in October this year intent on an early-ish departure to the Bahamas. Well that was wishful thinking as the boat threw one problem after another at us. New batteries, fridge fuse problem, holding tank issues. Basically in our absence over the summer a bunch of Gremlins had moved onboard along with a few live frogs thrown in for good measure. Oh! and we had a survey called for by our insurers to add to the tedium which we decided to get done sooner rather than later in case of serious findings. Even leaving Titusville to head south produced another problem with the fresh water cooling pump on the port engine producing enough noise to suggest it might self destruct if we continued to run that engine hard. Anyway, that’s now replaced and only weather holds us back from moving onwards as we are now well into the winter weather routine of cold fronts with calm crossing opportunities to The Bahamas few and far between.
We did allow ourselves a weeks excursion to Florida’s west coast to see if we had missed anything over the years. Well, yes and no really. It was certainly interesting in parts and it did give us a chance to catch up with some friends at restaurants along the way which was good fun. The Gulf Coast is a long way round by boat and so we’re pleased we jumped into a car instead. Enterprise provided the Nissan Versa. Cost-wise the $20 per day rental doubled when the dreaded collision damage waiver fee was added. That said, the first few miles after leaving Titusville had us avoiding tyre remnants from a large truck that had previously overtaken us at 60 mph before settling in two cars ahead of us and blowing one of its tyres. So better to have total insurance cover eh?
Our first stop on the west side was Tarpon Springs – nice name although a little short on Tarpons. What Tarpon Springs is famous for however is the large Greek community that set up there over 100 years ago when it became known to sponge divers in Greece that the Gulf of Mexico had loads more sponges than little old Greece ever did. Not the Mary Berry type with a jam filling of but the yellow things used to soak up water, wash the car and baby with etc. Incidentally when underwater they are not the nice yellow appearance so they need to be processed when harvested after which they take on their yellow colour. Did you know that sponges are simple animals not plants and probably scream whenever they are squeezed when washing the car on a Sunday morning. (Ha)
All types of sponges adorn the numerous gift shops around the harbour. Just across the road are the boats that go out with their divers to hunt for them. It’s a fascinating industry dating back through the ages. Although, with the advent of artificial sponges which most of us use for various cleaning chores, the demand for real sponges has declined. We suspect much of the industry is now tourist based. Our other main reason for going to a Greek fishing community? The food of course! Real Greek food served up in a blend of Greco-American style restaurants. The chefs have probably been to Greece at some point in their lives, the waiters – hmm, we doubt it somehow. We undoubtedly overindulged but who cares when you spend most of the time in rural Titusville amongst  burgers and hotdog joints.
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Our new addition – A Sponge we named Bob
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Tarpon Springs waterfront
Our hotel for the two nights in T.S was quite acceptable, nice comfy bed, a million channels to choose from on the TV, many of which were focused on the sad demise of No.41 as they affectionately called H.W Bush. They certainly gave the man a respectful send-off and like many world leaders passing, the press mainly focused on the positive aspects of their service to the nation.
There was an outside pool at the hotel although judging by the water level maybe the local fire brigade had used it as a static supply tank and we weren’t that fussed about using it. Our main frustration was at breakfast time which was billed as a help yourself buffet. Indeed it was including scrambled egg that could easily be sliced into segments to fit onto the toast. Sausage meat in two different shapes  flat round and traditional. Same meat though.
View from our hotel room – Capital eh?
What was really disappointing was the supply of polystyrene plates, cups and cheap flimsy plastic cutlery. The knives in particular bent almost double when trying to slice through the powdered scrambled egg and the white toast and with the plate having the same consistency as its contents you were in danger of cutting the plate in half.  Placing a freshly arrived hot sausage from the ‘kitchen’ resulted in melted depressions appearing in the polystyrene. We decided not to tamper with the waffle machine.
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The dreaded breakfast offering .......                                                                            But this was worth the visit – Greek Taramasalata – from the Gods for lunch!
After our second night we set off towards Sarasota via Dunedin, St Petersburg and Clearwater. Dunedin was a quaint old sea port with a quiet friendly feel. The old railway station has been preserved and houses the museum but was closed on the day we visited. The old track down the west Florida coast was torn up many years ago and made into a dead-straight cycle path that runs for miles.
Clearwater has a beautiful brilliant white sand beach where the ‘pretty people’ hang out. We felt ancient! Pier 60 is the most famous pier (apparently) for watching sunsets and with a west facing coast they don’t get much better. We parked for 2 hours, ventured out onto the pier, watched the younger generation strutting the beach taking selfies as they played with their hair. We were 40 years too late for this place so climbed back into our Corvette – sorry Nissan Versa and drove on.
St Petersburg was more our style although with a million odd parking meters adorning all the downtown streets with only a USA number to call to make payment we decided to just drive round and move on across Tampa Bay and the famous Sunshine Skyway Bridge which is ranked No.3 in the world’s top 10 bridges. Not sure what qualifies for a top 10 bridge but for scare factor alone we put it immediately at No.1. Given Tampa’s perfect position for a large commercial port some pretty big ships grace its waters and so the requirement for the bridge to be so high is beyond question  The clearance to shipping is 180ft and its not for the feint-hearted as the concrete crash barrier doesn’t seem high enough to prevent a vehicle given a good hefty nudge from hurtling over the edge to the passengers certain deaths. It was 3 lanes and 4 miles of devil may care driving as we were virtually pushed across by a large private truck the size of which meant we could only see its radiator grill in the rear view mirror. Frustrated by the lanes either side being bumper to bumper traffic the horned driver endeavored to improve his transit time by intimidating two Brits in a humble Nissan. God! it looked a long way down when daring to take your eyes off the road and the car in front!
That bridge!
Our next hotel in Sarasota was similar to the first but with a welcome larger bedroom, pool, same TV channels and yes the same disappointing breakfast with the same supplier of cutlery and crockery as the last. If plastic-ware is the norm in hotels compared in price to Travelodge and Holiday Inn back home what on earth do they supply in cheap motels? There was no scrambled egg this time. Instead there was a mountain of hard boiled eggs, although the one N had was far from hard. On a more sinister note (and we are not eco warriors hell bent on saving the planet) what was obvious was the sheer amount of single use plastic that filled the garbage bins in both locations. If there is an anti-plastic revolution going on over here we’ve missed it. As there was no dinner restaurant in the hotel (neither of them actually offered dinner) we opted to eat at a Mexican diner just a few yards from the hotel which had really good food served by a young waitress who had ambitions to be a realtor (estate agent) but amazingly had never actually heard of Cape Canaveral. Maybe it was our pronunciation?
To be continued