Tarpon Springs

One day my husband and I found ourselves with nothing to do – no work, no appointments, no obligations of any kind. This is a rare occurrence in our lives, especially since the arrival of our son last summer. I, being the travel fanatic that I am, was resolute to go somewhere, anywhere. It had been a long six months since we had moved from New Jersey to Florida, marked with the stresses of a cross-country move, the new experience of raising an infant and beginning a new job with no time off. We decided to take a trip to Tarpon Springs because it was somewhere we had never been and because the locals praised two points of interest there. One was the Sponge Docks, a small fishing village that resembles a Mediterranean port town, known for having one of the world’s largest collection of sponges and said to be home to the best Greek food in the country. The other was the Historic District, a mixture of Victorian mansions, antique shops, art galleries, specialty shops and restaurants. These places intrigued me, and I figured that they were worth exploring.

Tarpon SpringsUpon arriving in Tarpon Springs, we were greeted by a quaint, friendly town, dotted with beautiful bayous, bordered by the Anclote River and the Gulf of Mexico. Along the river, shrimpers, charter boats, sport fisherman and sailboats vie with the sponge fleet for dock space, a photographer’s paradise. A few minutes of strolling down Dodecanese Boulevard, the Sponge Dock’s main thoroughfare, and I quickly forgot I was in the United States! Scents of baklava drifted from the various bakeries. Divers were lining the docks with sponges that needed to be cleaned and dried, while locals were conversing in Greek in the background. The Greek influence was prevalent in the street music and themes of many of the stores, several of which had been in families for generations. The stores ranged from souvenir shops littered with seashells, sponges, plaques and t-shirts to specialty stores and boutiques. While there was a lot of junk, there were also treasures lying in wait for the patient eye. We bought a gorgeous wall hanging created by a local artist which featured a hand-carved egret standing on a piece of driftwood accented by sea grass.

Tarpon Springs2After several hours of browsing through stores, we decided to try some Greek cuisine. By this time we were tired and wanted to sit down and have something to eat. We selected a place at the end of Dodecanese Boulevard called Louis Pappas Riverside Restaurant. The original founder, Louis Pappamichalopoulos came to this country in 1904 from Sparta, Greece. During World War I, he served in France as an army chef in General Pershing’s Wildcat Division. It was during this time that he created his own version of a Greek salad by adding potato salad in order to give the troops more nourishment. Upon returning to the United States, he and his wife opened the original Pappas Riverside Cafe, where potato salad on the bottom of a Greek salad became commonplace. In addition to this internationally known salad, Pappas Riverside offers other delectable Greek dishes such a Pikilia, Mousaka and grilled pork souvlaki. All of the food was great, but the best was the homemade baklava.

Tarpon Springs3We ended our day by going to the Spring Bayou Inn. This was by far my favorite part of our trip, and I plan on coming back very soon. Not only is this inn warm and inviting, the owners Sherri and Bill are as well. They do not treat you as “everyday hotel guests” but as friends staying with them for a short time. This Tarpon Springs landmark, nestled in the heart of the historic district has been authentically restored to its original grandeur and is a gem of craftsmanship. Upon arrival, guests are greeted by a warm wrap around porch. Inside, the first floor is an extravaganza of fine details, including elaborately carved heart-of-pine original woodwork, antiques and a parlor with a baby grand piano. The Inn offers six uniquely appointed guest rooms with traditional antique decor, fine linens and full private baths. Each room is decorated with an eye for detail from the furniture to the pictures on the wall to some of the antique pieces decorating the shelves. Every bed looks to be fit for a king or queen, and boy, do you feel like one when you stay here!

Culinary delights are a significant part of the experience at the Spring Bayou Inn. Each morning, a gourmet breakfast is presented. Beginning with fresh juice and special blends of tea or coffee, Bill, who is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School, serves a plate of fresh fruits arranged into an artistic presentation, followed by a hot entree. Choices for the hot entree might include a garden omelet, stuffed french toast or a berry strata. Following the entree is a dessert which may consist of baked walnut pears, caramel flan or another original culinary delight. One thing is certain, you won’t leave hungry.

What were my impressions as I drove home? Even after visiting Tarpon Springs, I do not expect it to give Orlando or Tampa serious competition as a tourist town. That said, the resilient little seaside village does have its share of things that make it worth visiting. Tarpon Springs is an underrated place that rewards a traveler willing to take a chance.

 

 

 

 

 

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