Monday, March 28, 2016

Greek for a day

On Friday, March 18, we headed to Tarpon Springs, on the Gulf side of Florida.  Our mission was to go to the Historical Society to see if we could find any references to Jaz’s relatives who arrived in the 1920s.  It wasn’t that far, and we took our time, stopping again at War Horse Harley-Davidson to meet a FB friend who I’d wanted to meet for some time. 

Tarpon Springs drew us in … and we ended up there for three nights (March 18/19/20).  We spent some time wandering around a bit and walking the first day, and going to the historical society.  We also ended up in pouring down rain.  But we didn’t mind; it was a warm rain.  And we holed up in a coffee shop drinking coffee and eating Greek pastries.
I simply cannot get away from taking photos of pelicans, even ones in the rain.
We saw a number of decorated bikes around the docks and wondered about the significance.
The bikes began mysteriously appearing in early-April 2015.  But it didn't take long to determine who had started the trend.  It was a gentleman named Warren Gregory who said they were inspired by his years in Amsterdam.  Supposedly by decorating them, it helps deter thievery.
My favorite with the black vulture.  Each bike has 100 lights and I wondered if they are solar and come on in the evening.

We found the one with the sponges.  How appropriate for the Sponge Docks.
While we didn’t find out anything about Jaz’s relatives, we did find out that there was a Greek Independence Day Parade on Sunday, March 20.  And that was the reason we stayed over an additional day.  It wasn’t like we couldn’t find anything to do. 

We found a yard art place.  This polka-dotted pig barbecue sure caught my eye.

These little fire pits were quite colorful.

These giraffes were my favorites.

Anyone could find something here, but I did NOT buy anything.

We walked a lot of places, looking at beautiful old homes.
The 1910 Inn.

I'm not sure if she was a mermaid, or what, but it was a pretty statue along a canal.
We spent our time walking beaches and in parks, seeing the sponge docks that are quite famous, and eating great food.

This statue is in memory of the spongers of Tarpon Springs.  There are a number of cool facts about this place.  It was called the "Venice of the south," had the first female physician in Florida and has 35 miles of shore line, to name a few.

Sponges adorned this boat, but I don't believe they are purely decoration.  The Sponge Exchange was incorporated in 1908  as a shareholding organization to provide for the storage and sale of sponges.  The peak of the sponge industry in Tarpon  was in the 1930s.  In 1939 the sponge beds here suffered from a disease that reduced the crop for several years., but the industry continues on now.

This is the skeleton of the animal that once lived in the support framework.  The fleshy part of the living animal is removed when sponges are harvested.

Every shop has sponges for sale.
One of the restaurants Jaz said we had to visit was Louis Pappas.  It turned out the original restaurant had closed and there are now several “franchise” type ones bearing his name.  But we decided to eat there anyway because of his famous Greek Salad. 

Pappas was an Army chef during World War I in General Pershing’s “Wildcat” Division.  He created his own version of a Greek salad by adding potato salad to sustain the troops during hard times.  It doesn’t sound very good, but the one served at his restaurant places the potato salad at the bottom of the Greek salad, and it’s excellent.  It’s now commonplace and even known internationally.  I well know some of that as I ate Greek salad three different times, three days in a row, in three different places and they all had potato salad and were great.

The most fun was the day of the parade.  We wandered downtown early to get a good parking spot and walked around until it was time for the parade.  While everyone was jockeying for position and a good seat, there were people handing out Greek flags.  Jaz and I both got one, and we waved them proudly.  I felt Greek … waving my flag, and waving at the people in the parade. 

A parade has to have military trucks.
There were a lot of kids.

Some were not as interested in the goings-on.

And others were quite enthusiastic.
What's a parade without a bagpipe?

Or a motorcycle?

At least there were some Greek soldiers.

And dancers.
The parade was an interesting one, with every Greek school in Florida it seemed having a group of kids and adults walking with Greek flags.  There were a few floats, but mostly it seemed to have a lot to do with Greek flag flying. 

The schools came from all over Florida.

Most of the floats were boats.

This little guy is growing up Greek.
Loved her smile.
It was a ton of fun, though.  When we talked to Jaz’s mom I told her I was “Greek for a Day.”  She confirmed that I was now Greek.  In fact, she decreed it as she is Greek.  Besides, I eat so much Greek salad, I must be Greek by now!!!

We took a final walk on some trails near Tarpon Beach as we were heading out the following morning.

Can't resist a bird with an intent look.

We saw a tortoise with a shell about the size of a dinner plate.

And just maybe I'll get some good flying bird shots.  I'm getting better.
While Tarpon Springs was a great place to spend a few days, we had to move on.  We had a date with some mermaids.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Back on land

We’re back on land and it’s tough leaving our ship.  But we must push onward.

One of the things I’ve been doing is acquiring coins when I visit places as some are quite cool, like a scallop-edged one and square ones.    Most of the islands we visited on this cruise use U.S. currency; however, Antigua, St. Lucia and St. Kitts, Grenada and Dominica also use Eastern Caribbean currency, Eleuthera uses Bahamian money and Barbados uses the Barbados dollar, so I’ve added to my collection.  I also collected some in Aruba, the Aruban Florin, although I may have gotten some here before. 
Coins, beautiful coins.
It’s interesting that so many drive on the other side, but use English and U.S. currency … a combination of cultures.  I don’t know if I’d get use to driving on the other side, but guess I would if I had to.

My feet have taken a beating on this trip … multiple blisters upon blisters on my little toe, blisters on other parts of my feet, sore feet and knees (I think from walking the steel deck), and just general problems.  What will I do if my feet give out?  That just cannot happen!!!

We also did lots of new things on this island-hopping trip… kayaking, SNUBA, underwater scooters, snorkeling with tortoises, dune buggies ... and I had a blast doing it.  Even a simple thing such as snorkeling was difficult at the beginning of the trip, but once I got reacquainted with the water and not so afraid, I loved it, and am looking forward to the next time. 

So we’re back on solid ground, and wandering around Florida for a couple of weeks.  The first thing we did March 13, Sunday, was get a rental car and get out of Ft. Lauderdale.  We were talked into taking the full-coverage insurance that ended up costing more than the car.  What a crock!!!  But we laughed about being “fully insured” and went on our way.
I felt right at home at our motel ... towel swans.

We took a walk and found some water in a neighborhood. 
We wanted to visit the Kennedy Space Center, and arrived there Monday, March 14.  The center is located on Merritt Island, a barrier island about 34 miles long and varying in width from 5-to-10 miles. 

They sure do have a beautiful logo.
What a wondrous place to explore.  We could have spent a couple of days wandering here.  There’s a rocket garden that has a number of rockets setting mostly upright, and another laying horizontally.  There was a capsule and a walkway that was used to get the astronauts into their ship.  It was all fascinating and we’d hardly gotten past the entrance.

A rocket garden.  Love the term.

Jaz and I travel well together.  I'm not sure how well we'd do in a capsule for 14 days.

This walkway was used by Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin July 16, 1969, to board the command module of Apollo 11.  They were more than 30 stories above the launch pad of the Saturn V rocket.  Next stop ... the moon's Sea of Tranquility.  We walked across it, but were happy it wasn't that far off the ground.
There’s a bus ride that takes you around the property that is a “must do” as it takes you to launch pads that have been used, and some that will be used again.  We drove past the vehicle assembly building where they assemble and roll out the rockets/shuttles.  It was originally built for the Apollo 5 and had only a few feet to spare on either side when rolling it out. 

The vehicle assembly building ... very tall.
There is also a “highway” that is used for what they call a crawler that hauls the rockets/shuttles to the launch pad.  The highway is eight lanes wide and has several types of rocks used in a number of layers.  I want one of these crawlers except they move too slowly. 

The crawler road on the left is leading to a launch pad.  You can see the barrier between the road we were on and the crawler road.  It is several feet deep.  The rocks are a variety, but the top layer is one that will not create any spark as you certainly don't want a fire when transporting a rocket .

The crawler, with its big tracks, was one of my favorite things.  It takes several hours to get a rocket to the pad as this thing only moves about 1/2 mph.  The crawler weighs 6 million pounds, including the 57 1,000-pound cleats on each track.  Once you add a tower and rocket onto it, the weight goes up to about 24 million pounds.  That's one heavy load.
One of the Apollo capsules.  The average astronaut is 32.5 years old, weighs 164 pounds, is 5 feet, 10 inches tall, and is married with two children, one dog and one Corvette.

There were a couple of excellent movies, even one in 3D on IMAX.  When one of the movies ended, the far end of the theater opened and there was Atlantis.  OMG!!!  What a beautiful craft … and we were seeing all of these things that were only what I’ve seen in movies. 

The Space Shuttle Atlantis was one of the most complex pieces of equipment ever built.  It is a vehicle that launched like a rocket, flew in orbit like a spacecraft and landed on a runway like a glider.
This place should be a Number 1 on your list of places to visit in Florida.

You can even have lunch with an astronaut.

Then back to the hotel.  We learned there’s a rocket launch on March 22, to send supplies to the space station, and we’re hoping to see it.  But for now, we’re heading to other places, including local parks, so we can do some walking around in search of birds and gators.

We found the Cape Canaveral National Seashore when we went in search of parks so we could walk.  There was an area that had a little boardwalk and lots of feeders.  A female bunting was having breakfast.
This is the bird I'd seen a photo of and wanted to find.  A male painted bunting.  What a beautiful bird.
Wave and beach walking sure feels good on the feet.

There were tons of shells to look at and collect.

There's something for everyone.

The seashore is a marvel ... and we were enjoying it 100 percent.
There were all kinds of little birds, and this one was plucking something from the shore to eat.  It looked like a kind of snail.
We also found some walking paths at a preserve that's here.

These old palms are pretty unique.

The moss captures the imagination, and I couldn't help but take a photo or two of it.

Before we left Cocoa Beach we had to stop at  the Taj Mahal of trinkets, Ron Jon's Surf Shop.  We'd stopped in the evening before and the place was mobbed.  We wandered in in the morning and it was not quite so crazy.  Wow!  What a place with just a little bit of everything surf and Florida.
By Wednesday, March 16, we’d met up with an old friend of mine that I’d worked with at FAA in the 1960s.  I’d not seen her for about 25 years, and this time was determined.  We met Pat for lunch and she invited us home to spend a night, or two.  Her daughter, Melissa, lives with her and we had such a wonderful visit.

From left, Melissa, me and Pat.  What a great visit we had.
And something else?  Melissa has a horse. 
One of the days we were with her we wandered off to Silver Springs Park that is a jewel in the middle of the city.  We’ve found some of these great places and have enjoyed them so very much.  This one had walking trails and we ended up in the wrong parking lot and had to walk a mile or better to find our car.  We walked more than 8 miles that day. 

This plant reminds me of some type of punk hair do.  Loved the look.

Deer tracks.  Cool.  They were big ones, too.

This looked like shells on the side of the tree, but I figure it's a fungus, or mushroom or little burl or something.

We've seen lots of butterflies ...white ones, black ones, orange ones. 
There was also a glass-bottomed boat and it was really a fun thing to do, with underwater statues, fish, an alligator, tons of nesting birds, turtles.  It was another great day filled with some exercise, some grand food and some wonderful friends.

The glass-bottomed boat was cute, and we enjoyed it.  The only problem was the boat ride was too short!!
There was a down-side as Jaz and I were going to head to this one restaurant for lunch while out and ended up getting our vehicle side-swiped when a young lady made a lane change she shouldn’t have.  I saw it at the last second and said, “SHIT!”  Then all we felt was a small impact and a lot of metal-on-metal noise.  The Ocala Police Department gentleman was very nice and seemed excited to have someone to talk to with Alaska driver’s licenses.

No one was hurt, but it cost us some eating time.  We were also exceedingly grateful we’d bought the full-coverage insurance.  The people in Florida are not very good drivers as we’ve noticed a lot of things, such as not having turn signals on their cars, scooting in when there’s an inch of room, and general inattention.  Good thing Jaz is an excellent driver, although we didn’t stand a chance with this one.