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.


  1. We really enjoyed our trip to visit Tarpon Springs. A very neat little area. Learning about how the sponging process goes was very interesting. But I wouldn't want to have to clean the sponges.

    1. Yes, until the sponges are cleaned, they are very smelly. Marcia's brother also worked in the sponging industry for awhile...he said you never get use to the smell.


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