Tarpon Springs Greek Sponge Diving
Featured on This Page:
Julie looking for shells on Anclote Key
-Beneath The 12 -Mile Reef Film Location
-Picnic at Fred Howard Park
-Tarpon Springs Castle Winery
I took this photo of a dolphin swimming beside our boat on our way to Anclote Key in Tarpon Springs. I could have reached out and touched this beautiful creature!
Our Weekend in Tarpon Springs
Gordon and I decided to spend a weekend in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Tarpon Springs is reminiscent of a Greek fishing village and has the largest population of Greek Americans in the country. Located on the west coast of Florida.
Day One, Saturday, June 6, 2015
Tarpon Springs has a total area of just under 17 miles. It is a very quaint and charming community, just under 24,000 people. The region is a series of bayous that feeds into the Gulf of Mexico.
The area is known for it’s sponge diving.
The first sponge divers arrived from Greece in the late 1800’s but the sponge diving was not established until 1905 by John Cocoris.
John Cocoris recruited divers from Greece to come over and work on the boats harvesting the sponges. I believe around 500 divers and crew arrived and worked about 50 boats. Soon the sponge industry was the leading maritime industry in Florida, generating millions of dollars a year.
In 1953 a young Robert Wagner starred in the movie, Beneath the 12 – Mile Reef, that was filmed in Tarpon Springs.
Beneath The 12 – Mile Reef
The diving helmet above is one of the first things I ever bought for Gordon over 30 years ago because he is a scuba diver, a certified PADI Dive Master actually.
Robert Wagner is just about 18 when he filmed this movie. Gordon and I watched the movie as sort of our “homework” before we visited the area.
A Spongy Smiley Face
Julie Souvenir Browsing
Sponges Are Everywhere
I Love All This Stuff!
The Agios Nikolaos bringing in a haul of sponges.
The very first sponge divers were recruited from The Saronic Gulf Islands of Aegina and Hydra. They were then recruited from the Dodecanese Islands and Kalymnos, Symi and Halki.
A Statue Honoring the Sponge Divers
Torrence R. Parker
Oldest sponge diver, in his 90’s.
The Sponge Exchange
This is where the auctions would take place. The business men would bid on the sponges via silent auction.
Tarpon Springs Sponge Industry
Tarpon Springs City Marina
Boats, Boats, Boats
Of course there are plenty of tourist boats. We bought tickets for the Spongeorama Cruiselines out to Anclote Key and lighthouse. There are sponge diving boat tours where you can see a sponge diver jump off the boat and bring up a sponge from the sea, (but he actually keeps it in his pocket.) 🙂
We bought tickets at the Spongeorama Sponge Factory and we paid just under $20.00 a ticket per person, (adult).
NOTE: We do not endorse them, because a charge showed up on our credit card from them that we did not make a month after we were there.
Spongeorama Sponge Factory is located behind Yiannis Restaurant on Dodecanese Blvd. Your tour boat tickets also entitle you to a discount when you shop in the store and eat at Yiannis. There is also free parking for you all day when you take the Spongeorama Cruiselines.
While we were waiting for our boat ride out to Anclote Key, Gordon and I decided to have our picnic lunch in our trunk.
We like taking our own food with us and not be dependent upon some quick fast food chain restaurants. Although we were very impressed with the restaurants in Tarpon Springs. We don’t eat out too often, we prefer to bring our own food most of the time. We tend to view eating out as something ‘special’ and not something ‘regular’.
Our Light Greek Themed Lunch
We made a Greek pasta salad, roasted Greek olives, cheese, crackers and a spicy mustard, and some fresh grapes. We tend to eat light when it is so hot and besides, we were saving our appetites for dinner at Hellas.
Recipe for Roasted Olives
OMG! These olives are wonderful! We made them the night before our trip. I cannot even describe to you how wonderful that they smell. It would make the best air freshener ever.
This is now going to be a staple in our kitchen.
-2 cups Greek olives (or any olives you prefer)
without the pits.
-1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil.
-2 – 3 Tablespoons fresh rosemary.
-2 – 3 Tablespoons fresh lemon-thyme leaves.
-Freshly ground black pepper.
-About 2 wedges of preserved lemon sliced into skinny strips.
Our Preserved Lemon Post:
Pre-heat your oven to 400*
Use a cookie sheet and place aluminum foil down onto it.
In a bowl mix together all your ingredients making sure everything is coated. Then place on the cookie sheet and cook for about 10 – 13 minutes. The olives will get a bit wrinkly. You might want to remove from the oven about half way through and stir around on the tray, then place back into the oven.
(I think these olives would make an excellent edible gift when placed into a pretty jar.)
Waiting for the Boat
I did book our cruise ahead of time to make sure we would get a spot. This particular cruise is a 2 -hour tour. This cruise takes us out to Anclote Key Preserve State Park. On the way out we spotted the house from the movie, Beneath The 12 – Mile Reef.
Gordon and I were the only ones on board the boat that had even heard of the movie before, much less actually watched it.
This was Gwyneth’s house in the movie. Tony’s love interest, (Robert Wagner’s character.)
It was something of a cornball movie but it depicted correctly the sponge diving industry and the Greek immigrants that lived in Tarpon Springs.
I had my paparazzi lens on my camera for this close up.
On the way out, and back from the island you see all sorts of wildlife, human and animal.
This was my favorite shot. I took it from the boat.
We saw several dolphins that day.
All Around Our Boat
The ultimate head out of the car breezy moment. I know these dogs were lovin’ it!
Anclote Key Lighthouse
The lighthouse is in the distance and you cannot go to it on this tour. It is located 3 miles off shore. Anclote Key is composed of four islands. You can only view the lighthouse from the distance. It is a skeletal structure built that was to be quickly disassembled, solar powered, only lights up for decorative purposes now. There is only one resident on the island and it is a park ranger.
You can get out to the islands if you either have your own boat or charter one. On our boat trip we only had 30 minutes to walk around. I would have preferred to spend a few hours here. It was not only beautiful but there were so many shells and sponges to find.
And I LOVE a good treasure hunt!
I Could Have Spent All Day Here
That current I am standing in is pretty strong. Had I slipped it would have carried me away.
On our way back to Tarpon Springs we saw the cutest mommy osprey and her babies in a nest that she built.
It sure is a rustic looking nest. To me it just doesn’t look like the more structured symmetrical architecture of other bird’s nests.
Once we docked Gordon and I walked around the main drag doing some shopping and sight seeing.
There are plenty of parking lots that only charge you $3.00 for the entire day. Also the town is not that big and everything is in a short walking distance. Once we bought a big load of souvenirs we would then run them back to the car instead of carrying everything around with us all day.
Walking Around the Docks Seeing All the Boats
Look out for sharks!
As always there are the corny tourist shots.
well, when in Greece…….
Unfortunately I couldn’t find Spongebob anywhere.
But I did find this alligator sponge that the sponge diving shop owner found while diving one day. I thought it was so cool!
I enjoy the murals around town.
Greek Coffee Break
We stopped into one of the Greek coffee shops and bakeries for a Greek coffee. I’ve had Turkish coffee before and it is a bit like that. The grounds are in the bottom of the cup. Really good coffee though.
We even bought a few bags to take home.
Found an Excellent Greek Imports Supermarket
(Agora means market so the sign actually says, ‘Market Food Market’.)
Such a quaint little town. I will say this about it, in the mornings and evenings there are not many people about, only in the afternoon hours is it busy.
Now it’s time to get ready for dinner at Hellas.
We adore this restaurant! There are several in town. I did my research online when I was looking into us visiting Tarpon Springs and I looked at all the info that I could find on them. This restaurant had the right atmosphere, the right prices and the right Greek cuisine so I booked us in for dinner at 7:00.
Hellas is located on the main street of Dodecanese Blvd. and it is pronounced Hell – ahhs. (Thought that might help.)
Grecian urns, Grecian gods, excellent atmosphere for you’re first trip to Greece in America.
The Specials and Inside Hellas
Don’t Forget The Parthenon
Look at this beautiful tile table!
Grilled Haloumi (Saganaki) Cheese with Bread
Muscles Greek Island Style with Lemon
Alma with our flaming Haloumi, or rather Saganaki
Coincidentally, I have been searching most of Florida’s deli’s for haloumi cheese but they just look at me as if I am crazy because they have never heard of it. So when we saw on the Hellas menu, Saganaki, an imported flamed cheese, we decided to try it. After I tasted it I knew this was haloumi! I was so excited! So I asked Alma what kind of cheese is this? She described it as a goat’s cheese. That is when I asked her if it was haloumi? She then smiled and said, “yes”! Yahoo! I have found my haloumi cheese and it truly is OPA!!!
The Movie 300 Series of Cocktails
Mine is made with Ouzo, a Greek liquor.
Mine also has the Ouzo candy with the lemon.
Right next door to the restaurant is Hellas Bakery, right behind where I am sitting.
My Salmon with Lobster Sauce and Feta Cheese on Top
Gordon got the Lamb
Our Side Dish of Veggies and Rice Pilaf
Salmon and Dill with Lobster Sauce
This is the best salmon I have ever eaten!
Our bill was only around $80.00, so we left $100.00 on the table and left. I think $100.00 was an excellent price for what we ordered.
We will be back!!
Day Two: June 7, 2015
Tarpon Springs, Florida
Me, at Fred Howard Park
We started out our morning with the best tasting Greek coffee that we had bought the day before.
I’ve never seen coffee this color before. It’s just so tan and packs together like your building a sand castle.
How you can tell a good coffee is in how fine the grounds are. Tea is the opposite. You want to see some leaves in your tea to know it’s good. Most of our American tea is just tea dust, the lowest grade of tea. So remember the finer the grounds in coffee, the better.
This is an excellent tasting coffee, very smooth and creamy.
We knew that today was going to be an easier day. We just wanted to do some shopping and just enjoy the atmosphere until our winery tour downtown Tarpon Springs later on in the day.
I knew that I wanted to buy a large sponge for myself but I didn’t know which one. There are different kinds of them. Some useful and some decorative. Some look like big elephant ears and some look like fingers, hence the terms: finger sponges and elephant ear sponges. They also have wool sponges and vase sponges. Those are around $100.00. I want one of those next time we visit.
At this store we bought a PBS documentary DVD of the sponge diving industry and history. And as always, books!
I love all these dive helmets that you see all over the place. Some of them are really very old.
I did buy some beautiful finger coral at one of the stores.
WE fell in love with this etching on this store shop front door.
As always there are the sponge divers about.
Ze sexy Sponge Dyevare
Zat is correctek! I am zee sexy sponge dyevare u silly woo man u.
So do not asooom zat I will evur give u ze time of day.
Now pleeze hallow me to finnnish my ceegar ette, no?
(O.k., that was my French accent and not my Greek one. And he never said any of those things. But I KNOW he was thinking them.) 🙂
Tip for Tarpon Springs Boat Tours:
Get a friendlier sponge diver! Someone that smiles and waves to the tourists that pay his salary.
Gordon saw a sign ‘Diver Wanted’ and he was actually considering applying for the job for the weekends. As I’ve mentioned before, he is a certified PADI Dive Master. I told him that no one wants to see some white man dive for sponges, they want to see “Ze sexy sponge dyevare” that smiles occasionally and waves at the tourist that take his picture. 🙂
I LOVE Shops Spelled Shoppes!
Agora Food Market
(Market Food Market) 🙂
(Our new favorite Greek imports supermarket.)
Nikos & Petros Mikalef
602 Athens Street
Tarpon Springs, FL. 34689
In The Sponge Docks
I’m listing the address above because this store is right off the main drag of Dodecanese Blvd. and not many tourists venture up the side streets where you can find nice things for cheaper prices. For example, the coffee that we bought at one of the coffee shops we paid $15.00 a bag for it. Whereas this store sells it for under $10.00. Yeah!
We must have spent a good $400.00 here buying things for us in addition to knocking out our Christmas list for the year. Everyone we buy for is getting a Greek themed Christmas care package of imported specialty olive oils, coffee’s, chocolates, pasta’s (different from ours) and olive oil soaps that aren’t all perfumey. Also some Greek Ouzo candies.
Oh, and the Greek briki copper coffee pots.
The one in the photo below Gordon was given as a gift when he ate at a restaurant overseas and asked the waiter where he could buy one? The waiter then disappeared and came back with the manager who then presented it to Gordon as a gift. Wasn’t that nice? Gordon’s is brass though, not copper.
We even still have some of the coffee from that trip.
As we kept walking back down Athens Street we came across what we had been looking for since we arrived in Tarpon Springs, a bakery that sold healthy breads.
There are bakeries on the main drag that sell everything sweet. There was nothing in any of them that I could have eaten. I can’t eat much sugar as a borderline diabetic and even so called “normal” people shouldn’t be eating all that sugar either. So it was here that we found our whole wheat bread for our Tzatziki chicken salad that we had made that morning for our picnic lunch at Fred Howard Park.
Gordon did buy some homemade baklava and we also bought this delicious loaf of Tyropsomo, a Feta cheese bread. Delicious!
We also found some sea salt from Greece to add to our Christmas care packages at this bakery. We will defineately be back!
We also stopped off at:
The Spice and Tea Exchange
Spent a small fortune there as well. Spices from all over the world. We even picked up a Greek seasoning that we are looking forward to trying soon.
Lunch at Fred Howard Park
Fred Howard Park is just a few miles away from the sponge docks. It is a beautiful park with lakes and ocean inlets. You can rent a kayak, swim, snorkel, picnic, etc….
I wish I had taken more photos because it was such a lovely area but we will go back again soon.
Lovely trails that lead you to picnic pavilions by the lakes.
We found a cute little lake all to ourselves for our picnic.
It had been raining so we used all our beach towels to sit on.
The delicious whole wheat bread that we bought from Fournos Bakery and Cafe for our Tzatziki chicken salad.
Tzatziki Chicken Salad
This is so good! We made it with Greek yogurt. The dill in this is perfection!
Light and Delicious!!!
We also had our leftovers from the day before.
Leftover cheese, crackers and mustard, except this time we put it on a sponge diver pressed bottle appetizers tray that we bought the day before.
Also our leftover roasted olives and grapes and our Greek pasta salad.
Couldn’t have chosen a better picnic spot!
After our picnic we then headed out to our winery tour in downtown Tarpon Springs. I’ll be bringing that to you very soon.
What a wonderful day!
For Recipes of our Picnic above:
Tarpon Springs Castle Winery
320 Tarpon Avenue
Tarpon Springs, Florida
Gordon and I had the pleasure of visiting this winery in the heart of Tarpon Springs historic district earlier this month. We didn’t make an appointment, we just showed up, along with two other large groups of people, we were ushered in, found a table and thoroughly enjoyed the demonstration by our hosts Joseph and Diana Marks, the owner’s and wine makers.
The winery is constructed to resemble an 1820 federal building. Both Joseph and Diana Marks consulted the historical society of Tarpon Springs and the historical boards of Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia (my favorite place on Earth.)
They built the building themselves. The winery is on the lower level and they live on the upper level. I LOVED this place! Oh, it was a bit cluttered and not decorated as well as it could be, but I didn’t care, to us it was perfect!
Our Host and Hostess, Joseph and Diana Marks
Joseph Marks is the wine maker, he makes the wines in the old world European tradition. Each bottle is handcrafted. They market an ancient beverage, and it truly is! Gordon and I would have loved to have them all to ourselves.
This is an Italian Winery
I seem to remember the cost of our wine class as being about $18.50 a person. With that price you receive a free wine glass and a free bottle of wine of your choice, but that is one free bottle per two people. They also have a Groupon but we didn’t have one. I do know that they honor coupons and groupons forever though.
Me with Bailey, the winery mascot.
We tasted 5 wines and then were given a free glass of wine of our choosing. I chose the Cabernet Sauvignon. So lovely!
They have a Chardonnay that is wonderful! I tend to not drink any Chardonnay as our American wineries make them very hard going down the throat. But this Chardonnay was so smooth. They use a Hungarian Oak as opposed to our American Oak. A much better tasting wines.
Very nice experience we had!
The Marks taught us to all be wine snobs next time we order a bottle of wine at a restaurant. One thing that we did learn from them is that many restaurants will replace the wine in an expensive bottle of wine with cheap wine. The big clue? If after 3 sips you start to develop a headache? Then you have been fooled!
Always have the waiter open the bottle of wine in front of you.
NEVER smell the cork! The waiter then knows you are easily fooled!
You do need to examine the cork, but don’t smell it. You want to look for any sort of lines down the cork, or any sort of mold on the cork, but never smell it.
I thought this looked like a Picasso.
I loved their art around the winery.
I also loved all the wine bottle openers that they have on display. They told me that people just give them to them as gifts. How nice is that?
What a Nice Collection!
Gordon Buying Our Wine
Always put the wine in bottle neck first in the box, not bottom first as they all do at the liquor stores. We bought several varieties and are looking forward to enjoying them.
Our Wines From Castle Winery
We will be back to give Joseph and Diana a visit from Gordon and Julie and buy some more of their delicious wines.
July 3, 2015
Back to Tarpon Springs
Gordon and I were so impressed with Tarpon Springs that we wanted to go back and spend the day and it was a lucky thing that we did.
We got to meet Tasso the sponge diver.
The last time we were in Tarpon Springs we purchased a PBS DVD of The Sponge Divers of Tarpon Springs, filmed in 2005.
That is when we recognized one of the sponge divers on the documentary and went over to say hello.
Gordon Talking to Tasso
The Sponges on Tasso’s Boat
Gordon is a PADI Divemaster so they are talking diving while I’m in my element taking pictures. I love all the sponges and the lifestyle. Greeks have been walking the floors of the ocean for centuries collecting sponges. It is considered one of the most dangerous professions in the world.
To the left of us a boat was throwing their sponges onto the docks.
Sponge diving was established in Tarpon Springs in 1905 by John Cocoris from Leonidion Greece.
We named our betta fish Tasso after the spongediving captain above:
Back to the Shoppes
Hey, I had to go back and purchase all that I didn’t get the first time we were here. You know how that is.
I found it! My saganaki that I have been looking for! Yes!
I found my haloumi cheese!!!! YES!
The white cheeses are healthier for you than the yellow ones. Less cholesterol.
Oh, I want THAT one!
Gordon picking us out some of the Greek wines.
Yes, we did buy some octopus in a can.
(See Greek Octopus post.)
Ibrik’s. I bought a bunch of these for Christmas gifts.
Our Favorite Bakery
Gordon and I love playing tourist. Tropical clothing, hat, backpack and water bottle, check!
Delicious Baked Goods
Baklava to Die For!
(Or so I’m told. I can’t eat much sugar.)
It was at this bakery that Gordon was busy ordering baklava and I was ordering other breads such as tyropsomo and a few others that I cannot even spell. I was just reading the names of the breads off the cards identifying them. That was when I was asked by a woman behind the counter if I was Greek? I was so surprised that she asked me that so I asked her why she would think that I was Greek? (If you are a regular blog reader of mine then you know that my grandfather’s heritage could be Greek but we don’t know for sure.) The woman replied, “Because you are pronouncing the names of the breads the way a Greek would.”
MADE MY DAY!!!!!!
Once Gordon finishes paying for our things it is then on to Fred Howard Park for our picnic lunch.
Fred Howard Park
Gordon Enjoying our Picnic Lunch
We love this park. It is not just for picnicking, it also has hiking, lakes and even a peninsula with a great beach, snorkeling, kayaking, paddle boarding, paddle boating, you name it!
The Park Peninsula
I love these beach buildings.
This is a great place to spend the day with your family whether you just want to spend a day on the beach or rent any boating equipment.
Paddle Boards and Kayaks
There is a life guard on duty and parking is $5.00 for the day.
Everything about the beach is beautiful! I especially love all the bright colors of swimsuits and beach towels and umbrellas.
Meanwhile, back at the picnic grounds…….
We are enjoying a great lunch.
I do tend to eat very light when it is so hot.
Our Greek Chicken Salad
This was very similar to our last picnic that I wrote about but good food, is good food, whether we are constantly coming up with something new or we have the same things over again. It’s still a good picnic.
We did find this great ‘Fiesty Feta Spread’ at Agora Foods that we bought to have with our picnic. It was good too!
I did make a new friend,
with a pita chip.
Gordon and I shared a chocolate croissant for dessert.
What a great day we had!
After all the shopping and touring.
There is just one more thing that we have started doing at the end of every day that we are out in Tarpon Springs at the sponge docks, we grab a gyro with Greek fries to go from Mykonos Restaurant.
This is honestly the best thing that I have ever eaten in my life!!
Gyro with Greek Fries
What makes the fries Greek? Oregano and Lemon.
My mouth is watering as I write this. Can’t wait to go back again.
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