Monday, April 29, 2013

Tarpon Springs Florida

Sunday after church Marcia and I went into Tarpon Springs to have lunch with our “tax man”, Tom, at one of our favorite restaurants, Mama Maria’s.  Since we had a bit of time to kill after church before our noon lunch appointment, I thought we should take a drive through a part of Tarpon Springs which has some historic importance to not only the city, but to Marcia and her family.
We first drove down Athens Street to see the old home that Marcia’s brothers and sister were raised in here in Tarpon Springs.  Now Marcia is the only child of her mother and father.  Dean, who we saw Saturday, is Marcia’s brother through her mother Helen, and both were raised in Gary Indiana.  Marcia’s father John moved to New York, remarried Aphrodite, eventually moved to Florida.  They had three boys and a girl.  Marion, Ted, Mike and Skevos.  This is one of the houses which these kids called home as they were raised in Tarpon Springs..

Tarpon Springs has the largest percentage of Greek Americans than any other city in the USA.  One thing that drew the Greeks to the Tarpon Springs area back in the 1880's was the up and coming Sponge business, which many were acquainted with back in Greece.   Although John was an Industrial painter, but later in his life he bought a sponge boat called the Agatha, which today has been transformed into a tourist boat named St. Nicholas VII.  It takes tourist out just a short way into the Gulf.  A diver goes into the water, and comes up with a sponge which is remarkably clean.  A “live” sponge is very dirty and smelly, I am told, and they don’t want to freak out the poor tourist.

Above is a view of the St. Nicholas today, below is an older picture of Agatha and St. Nicholas.  The St. Nicholas to the back-right is the same boat as the one above.  The boat listed as Agatha below took over that name when the original Agatha’s name changed.  Confused now???  Me too….

Along the docks today it is a pure tourist trap, although the sponge business is still there, not thriving as it once did, but enough to earn a good wage for those who participate in it.

Above are some more sponge boats, below is a commercial fishing boat, which was docked on the other side of the harbor.

Even more sponge boats below, and in the background you can see the blue boat above on the other side of the harbor.

Above is a sponge boat which recently came back to the dock.  There is a man washing down the sponges at the rear of the boat.  Below is a close up of the sponges, which, depending upon the type of sponge they are, are worth a few dollars each or up to ten dollars each.

Of course, the sponge business is not easy, and sometimes can be very deadly.  So they city has erected a monument to the fallen sponge divers, which stands in a prominent spot along the docks.

Along the bottom you can names of the spongers who lost their lives.  It is a very nice monument which is well taken care of (in other words, no years of bird droppings splattered all over it as I have seen with other monuments along waterways.)

Across from the monument is the Sponge Exchange, where the Spongers use to sell their harvest to the highest bidder.  Now the exchange is full of shops, restaurants and bars, as is much of the dock area.

Above is the entrance to the Sponge Exchange, below is a mosaic of a sponge diver which is on the east wall of the exchange entrance.

Above and below are some of the shops and restaurants that are along the docks, which is about a mile long in length.

We left the docks and headed over to Spring Bayou, the site of the annual Epitphany celebration, a religious ceremony related to the Greek Orthodox Church.  Each year on January 6th, the Epitphany blessings conclude with the ceremonial throwing of a wooden cross into the city's Spring Bayou, and boys ages 16 to 18 diving in to retrieve it. Whoever recovers the cross is said to be blessed for a full year. The large celebration continues with food and music through the day, mostly at the sponge docks and around the church. It is so large, the city nearly triples in size during this celebration.

Above is where the Priest Priest throws the wooden cross out into the bayou.  Below is the far side of the bayou.

Above is the North side of the Bayou, and below is another look at the area where the cross is tossed out into the water.  (The three pictures flow from left to right, west to north to east.)  The entire area during the tossing out of the cross is packed with people, and the young men position themselves to where they can try and get the cross when it is tossed into the water. 

Above is small monument which talks about the Greek Church, which is a HUGE influence on the city of Tarpon Springs.

Above is the St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral.  Below is a statue of a young man holding up the cross after he pulls it out of the water.

Well, our short tour of Tarpon Springs was over and we headed to Mama Maria’s for lunch with our tax man.  Mama Maria’s has wonderful food.   Here is an excerpt from their website, which tells it all….

In 1959, sponge diver, John “Sfeeka” Koursiotis, landed on the shores of Tarpon Springs from native Kalymnos, Greece to pursue the American dream. 

The early years were trying, but John, wife Maria, and their children persevered. In 1978, John’s sponge diving career was cut short by the “bends”; a crippling affliction shared by many divers. It was then his wife, known around town as “Mama”, decided to open The Original Mama Maria’s Greek Cuisine. With over 30 years experience in Greek cuisine, Mama Maria brought home-style cooking to her restaurant. 

Locals flocked to her Restaurant to taste the style of cuisine that so much reminded them of their own mothers’. To this day Mama Maria continues to use only the freshest ingredients and authentic recipes handed down from her mother and mother before.”  

If you are in the area and wish to try it out, just don’t get fooled into going to “Mama’a Restaurant”, which is NOT Mama Maria’s.  Some folks will do anything to lure away business from others….so just remember, there is only ONE Mama Maria’s, and it is well worth the visit.

Good news from the tax man….. we do indeed have a refund, which we are applying toward our quarterly payments for 2013.  We had a nice visit with Tom, and I learned a lot about Tarpon Springs listening to he and Marcia talk about politics, and the city in general.  We were just happy that his bout with Shingles in his eyes did not do any permanent damage, which, by the way, caused us to file past the deadline this year, the first year I have ever had an extension on my tax returns.  And the real nice thing is not having to worry about the other three quarterly tax payments for this year...what a pain that is when you are in the “traveling mode”...which we will be in just a few days from now.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

New Toys, Another Good-bye, One Week Left

As we prepare to hit the road, we just had to get a few new items from Amazon... important things like a water filter system, some Refrigerator Bars so that items don’t go pouring out when we open the fridge door after travel, some spices, some cleaning wipes, a cell booster for our Verizon Air Card, and oh ya, a new camera (now we are talking toys!!!!)  The camera is a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ60K, 16.1 MP Digital Camera with 24x Optical Zoom.  In one word.... ILOVEIT!  (“I love it” for those of you who have to see it in real English and not my RVonics talk.)  Below is a picture of the box before I opened it taken from the "old" camera.
Yep, I have been thinking of a camera for a few years now.  Once I was thinking of a Nikon SLR, like the D5000 series.  Well, about a month ago I looked into cameras again, and in looking at a Nikon CoolPix, I saw a few reviews from people who had bought the Nikon but did not like it, although there were a huge number of good reviews.  But within some of the not so good reviews were comments such as, “I wish I would have bought a Panasonic...”, and one said that they had a friend with the FZ60 and wished they would have bought it instead of the Nikon.  While looking over the Panasonic, they too had a few bad reviews, but I NEVER saw a review which said, “I wish I would have bought a Nikon...”  So I looked over this FZ60 real good, and looked over a few Nikons and a few other Panasonics and decided that I liked the Panasonic better.  Next objective....convince Marcia that we needed to shell out another $325 for a new camera.  Well, the best way to do that is to wait until the camera is on sale for only $289, and BINGO, we have a new camera.

Now I have only had time to play with it for about an hour or two (or three or four...), and all I can say is, WOW!  This is some camera.  With our older Kodak point and shoot I had to touch up just about every picture in PhotoShop...with this camera, that won’t be as important to do outside of cropping a picture due to my non-photo perfection eye that some photographers naturally have.  Here are a few pictures which I took just to see the capabilities of the camera....

 The above and below pictures were taken from our back door, no touch-up or cropping.
 Below is the little girl who just loves to be the center of attention.  Again, no touch-up or cropping.

Above is a flower on a tree/bush on the other side of our back fence.  Picture was taken from 30' away, and all I did was crop the pictures.  Below is one of the infamous evil squirrels up in a tree above our back fence, taken from about 40' away, and again, all I did was crop the picture.  The leaves are in focus more than the squirrel, but it does show the capabilities of this camera.

Well, enough for toys....something tells me that I will be talking about the “ILOVEIT” toy in future posts.  Saturday the four of us (Dave, Marcia, Bubba and Skruffy) headed out to the Orlando area to have a last visit with Dean and Carol before we take off for what looks like the next 18 months.  It was a nice visit, and here are a few pictures....wait?  What??  You have to be joking bought that new camera and didn’t even bring it on our first trip out of town!!!!  Yes Skruffy, that is correct....did not want picture taking to take away from our nice 9 hour visit with family, and besides, you will be in a bunch of pictures over the next year and a half, so go bark at someone else you picture hog!  And Bubba, stop snickering at your sister!  (I can see that the next 18 months are going to fun with all this going on....)

Anyway, we did have a great visit with Dean and Carol, and enjoy a real nice late lunch or early dinner at a place called “Swamp House Riverfront Grill”.  The restaurant looks out on the St. John’s River right at the Highbanks Marina & Camp Resort (marina and RV park).  It is air conditioned, but open air view of the river.  Even though it was a normal spring humid day in Florida, it was comfortable even with the open air window view.  And the food was real good for place like this, with live music coming from the bar area below...not loud, good singer, very appropriate music for the setting.

It was hard to say goodbye, but we know that most of our family is just a phone call away, and we also know that our closest family are faithful followers of our blog.  There are many reasons we write the blog....and at the top of the list is for our family and friends so that we can share our travels with them, and with anyone else who dares to follow along.

Which leads me to the final thought....we leave a week from today, we have a lot to do, but plenty of time to do it all in.  Everything is still going well with the sale of the house, and we will be very relieved when it does finalize.  We have already signed some of the papers at the Title Company, and have given Marcia’s brother Mike the power to sign other documents in our absence.  So we are good to go...and go is only 7 days away.  We look forward to our travels...look forward to seeing family along the way....and look forward to seeing family when we return, and throughout it will be scattered with visits with friends, old and new.  Oh, I almost forgot...and many pictures of Skruffy, and few pictures of Bubba.  (Ok girl, you can start wagging your tail again...)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Sixteen days away

Today we are 16 days away from leaving.  This is just a short update on what is going on with us right now...

We have had the Inspection and the Appraisal on the house, but it will be another week or so to see if they all went ok.  We are confident, but in the back of your mind you still wonder if my last post might have jinxed everything.....LOL

We have started to pack up items into boxes for the move over to the condo on May 2nd.  Regardless of the house sale being completed or not..we are moving stuff, probably everything we don't need in the motor home, into the condo.  We visited the condo yesterday and passed our "interview" with the association board which will allow us to move in.  It really is more of a "these are the rules, will you agree to follow them...." type of interview.  They keep very tight controls on the condo area, and when you see the outside of it (will try and get pictures later), you would be surprised that they are over 30 years old.  

We have opened a PO Box so that Marcia's brother can handle our mail.  We have applied for our passport cards so that we can enter Canada and Mexico is desired during the next 18 months.  (note: Mexico would only be on foot near Yuma for cheap medical needs "IF" needed.)  We do intend to travel across Canada during the summer of 2014, and come down through New England during the Autumn of 2014 following the change of season colors as we head back to Florida.  During the winter of 2013/2014, we plan to be in the desert of eastern California and western Arizona, with a visit to Quartzsite, Arizona during the annual RV party held there. (From Wikapedia:

Quartzsite is a popular RV camping area for winter visitors, and tourism is the major contributor to Quartzsite's economy. Nine major gem, mineral, and 15 general swap meet shows are very popular tourist attractions, attracting about 1.5 million people annually, mostly in January and February.

As I post this blog I am at the local Chevy dealer having work on the HHR.  One is a recall item, the other is a check engine light which turned out to be a sensor which needs to be replaced, there goes another $250 or so....   On Tuesday we are having the oil and filters changed on the motor home at the new Camping World about 10 miles north of us.  Although I could do this myself, and in fact I carry the filters and oil with us, but having the space in which to do the work is problematic....sure don't want to leave the new owners with a huge oil spill on the driveway!

Other than having lunches with family and starting to say goodbye to everyone, all of our focus has continued to be on the house, and on getting the motor home ready for our trip.  I did do a new webpage for the dogs some of you read before I made the correction about Bubba not escaping lately.  Well, both dogs went through the fence about two weeks ago.  Skruffy alerted us that something was up by going to the front door and bark.  They could not have been out for more than 4-5 minutes...but Bubba was gone.  After a 45 minute search of the surrounding area, including a fairly busy street, I drive up and find him sitting out in the shade of the motor home panting.  Well, that night he started limping on his bad leg...and by Thursday it was a very bad limp.  We have now put him on some medication for his joints, which he will probably need to take the rest of his life...but it does seem to be working, and he is doing much better now, but not back to how he was before the great escape.  

To end, I promised pictures of the eagles...most of which are now gone....but here is the best one I could get from our back yard.  Just two months ago the sky would have been filled with 3 or 4 more eagles....soon, they will be like us...gone for the summer just to return next winter...but Marcia, Bubba, Skruffy and I are going to skip a winter this time.


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Afraid to "JINX" the deal, but just can't wait any longer to yell it out....

The house has is under contract at least.  We will know in a few more weeks as all the paperwork goes through the bank, the appraisal, the inspections, the loan.....but it is looking very good.  The young couple (mid-30's) with two kids (boy and girl) had a pre-approval letter, which is good, but no guarantee...however, his mother has signed onto the loan too, so we just feel that financing is not going to be an issue.

All of these pictures were taken by the real estate agents (Dennis and Sarah, both faithful followers of our blog.) Above and below are pictures of the house, with the motor home parked in the driveway.  Below they caught the pretty flowers around the mailbox, and doesn't that lawn look so green and lush?  Well, it is a very green, full and lushly lawn. 

Above you can see the front door and walkway, below you can see the kitchen table and in the background is the walkway pictured above.
Below is the family room...when they took the above picture they were standing just in the family room.  When they took the picture below they were standing just this side of the kitchen table.  In the picture above, the doors to the right lead to a bathroom (far right but not shown) and the master bedroom (picture shown later).  In the picture above just left of the table is the kitchen, and just to the left of the giraffes is the living room.  Below is what use to be a covered patio, now a nice family room.  And yes, that is BUBBA laying on the green couch, oblivious to the camera and our company.
Below is the open living room, taken from the front door area.  The wicker couch and chairs will fit just right in the condo's covered and screened in patio area when we move over there.  The hall entry opposite side of the room leads to two bedrooms (not shown) and another bathroom (shown later), and a closet for linen or for more kitchen items (we keep our crock pot, large pans and other kitchen items, along with towels, in that closet.
Below is the kitchen.  Behind the wall that the fridge is on is the living room, and the hall entry 
opposite side of the room leads to those two bedrooms (not shown) and the other bathroom (shown later).  Bottom right in the picture is a island, with the walkway and kitchen table just out of the picture to the right.  There is a dishwasher which cannot been seen, and a nice, large pantry area behind those french doors just before the hall entryway.

Below is the master bedroom.  This use to be the garage, but was closed in many years ago.  There are two nice closets, and in between the closets a nice place to put a dresser with a TV on top of it, all of this just to the left in the picture out of sight.  In between the kitchen and the bedroom is a laundry room along with a exit door to the side of the house.  If you look out the window you can see the front of the motor home where you can just make out the "Eagle" emblem showing through the bra of the motor home.  The green chair on the opposite side of the room came out of the motor home, replace by the computer table and a chair, which Marcia uses while we are living in the motor home.

Below is the bathroom which is by the two bedrooms.  The tub was refinished by us just a few months ago, as was the grout on the tile wall.  The other bathroom by the master bedroom does not have a tub/shower like this, it just has a shower (no picture shown). 

So, it is a nice house, and one would wonder why we would want to sell it.  The answer is fairly simple.  We plan to be traveling up to 18 or months starting in May.  Who knows how long we will gone the next time (2015).  We own a Condo, which we have rented out, and we feel much more comfortable having our belongings in a Condo than in a house.  We told our tenant that we would not renew his lease, so he will be out by the end of April  We owe on the Condo, we own the house this will allow us to pay the condo off.

Now, for the rest of the Paul Harvey use to say.  On Tuesday the house went up for sale through the normal MLS posting (multiple listing service).  We had signed the contract with the Solos Monday evening.  By noon they had it listed.  By 2 pm we were doing our first showing.  At 5:45 we were doing our second showing, and while that took place, we had a "cold show" from a realtor who had a young man who works at Target over in Orlando in her car....he wanted to move back to the area and Target will transfer him.  Normally we do it by appointment only, and we leave the house with the dogs...but under this situation, we allowed them to see the house after the 2nd showing was done and they had left.  In the meantime, Sarah calls and tells me that the first showing made an offer...but it was not a good offer.  I walked through with the third showing, and we all talked for a long time before they left.  Once they left, we went inside and called Sarah and Dennis.  While going over the first offer, she says, "Oh, I think another offer is coming in....I will call you back."  Sure enough, she calls back and the second showing is offering us nearly our asking price, with out any exceptions (the first one wanted our washer and dryer, and other strange stuff).  So after our lawyer approved of the contract, and the buyers decided to add his mother to the contract, all got locked down this morning.  We've had other showings through the week....but to have three the first day, two offers, and not even having a for sale sign up in the front yard was really something.  

Now, as long as I have not JINXED it with this blog posting.....Oh, it is going to be nice to be back on the road again....