Heading to Tampa
Leaving Bonita Springs we had a two and a half hour road trip continuing along the Tamiami Trail we commenced back in Miami to Tampa, Florida – home of the famous Gasparilla Festival, 3rd largest parade in USA. Alicia who we met on our China Tour in June 2016 had invited us to stay with her in Tampa, so we were excited we would get to be real pirates for a day. We were looking forward to catching up with Alicia as well as Mariel who was also on the China tour and would be at Gasparilla with us.
Venice Beach and Sarasota
Venice Beach was our stop for lunch, a quaint seaside town and an old airforce base. The highlight was finding an authentic French pastry shop, the owners are from Britany in France, so we talked about our visit to the incredible towns of St. Malo and Mont St Michel. The folks were very friendly and helpful, the coffee was good and the pastries made in the real French way, delicious.
Sarasota was our stop for an afternoon coffee as a light rain began to fall, we found The Reserve, a quaint cafe and library frequented by intellectuals, so we were quite at home. Lol well Richard and Joe would enjoy it. 😊 On the way we passed by another giant size statue of a couple in an embrace celebrating the end of WWII called “Unconditional Surrender” the same as the one we saw to in Key West. We found out there are a number of these positioned around the US.
Tampa around 5pm after we stopped off once across the magnificent Sunshine Skyway Bridge, another amazing feat of engineering. Arriving at Alicia’s home, the bubbles were opened for the start of a great weekend with Alicia and AJ. For the evening we had drinks and a meal at a local Irish pub in one of the large malls, meeting a few of Alicia’s work colleagues.
Looking for a Pirate Outfit
The following day we went hunting for pirate gear but alas no such luck, as the promotion in the stores were gearing up for Valentines Day and St Patrick’s Day. Terry at last finding a toy sword, it was time to take a break from pirate shopping for lunch. Alicia recommended Le Teresita, a Cuban restaurant where the food was great and coffee flavoursome. The Cuban influence is a strong influence in the area from food to cigars, with shops where you can even roll your own cigars
Ybor for Friday night drinks and dinner for the four of us. Ybor is one of the original areas of Tampa and a lot of fun with people dressed as pirates for Gasparilla festivities. A Mexican meal with a local craft beer, followed by American whiskey shots, ending the evening with a butter French crepe – so delicious. We then met up with Mariela and husband Omar.
Up at 6.30am to prepare ourselves for a day of partying and to experience Gasparilla. With 250 Jell-O shots of Rum and vodka, prepared by Alicia and her friend Kristin and mum Cheryl, we were ready to enjoy a morning out on the water.
Onboard the Golden Lady
Although the wind made boating chilly up on the top deck, the alcohol provided warmth, more for some than others. The Golden Lady is a beautiful boat at least 90ft and superbly kitted out, our transport out into the Tampa Bay. We headed along with a flotilla of boats to acccompany the local 1800s pirate legend, the Spanish pirate ship Jose Gasparilla into Tampa. With replica canons fired, the festival dates back to 1904 and is one huge party on the boats and also on land.
Armed with beads, representing pirate treasures of old, we had fun throwing and catching beads amongst the different boats, always keeping an eye out for the many police patrol boats. They warned they would prosecute anyone throwing too many beads that landed in the water – nice to see they are environmentally concerned.
The Street Parade
The party then moved to the streets for the parade of floats lasting three hours and close to 100 floats with those on the floats throwing beads into the crowd. The parade is the third largest in the USA and some of the floats were unbelievable
The parade now over, we moved onto a private party in a nearby street with a live band, food and beer.
Then it was a long walk to Hyde Park (Florida not London) with beautiful old houses, walking onto another spot to get an Uber for USD45 rather than USD100 for the party of nine (in a car built for 7) back to Alicia’s place for a meal nearby. A local Thai dinner enjoyed and the group said its goodbyes after a fabulous day. The hospitality on board The Golden Lady was terrific, John & Kirsten were fabulous hosts, Cheryl provided wonderful entertainment, Lucinda got the party going early and Trevor provided the music under intense pressure.
Tarpon Springs and Dunedin
Sunday was a quieter day (recovering) but also a chance to explore some other places around Tampa.
The village of Tarpon Springs has the highest percentage of residents with Greek heritage in the US.
Along the streets, we found antique bicycles decorated with a variety of items, such as flowers or old LPs. A local man loves biking for health and decorating the bikes to keep his mind active.
As a water marina, there were plenty of cruises on offer for fishing or dolphin watching.
Our tummies were hungry, Hellas was chosen as the brunch spot, and the food was fabulous, especially the Gyro – a large pita bread filled with meat and salad, followed by a chocolate cheesecake with baklava topping.
The highlight of the visit would be learning Tarpon Springs has been the Sponge Capital of the World since 1873 (perhaps the home of Sponge Bob?)
The Greek immigrants would dive to cut and collect sponges to be cleaned for local and exported use.
The different varieties can be used to scrub your body, apply makeup, wash the car or use as a pot plant holder.
The industry is still thriving, as we saw from this local diver whose shop has a free video on the sponge process.
The next stop for coffee was Dunedin, another Scottish town of the same name as ours in New Zealand. Once again, the quaint seaside town had plenty of street art and a marina where Terry got up close eyeballing a Pelican. The hook on the end of the Pelican’s beak meant a safe distance was kept.
Time for a beer and an American classic, “fried wings” at the original Hooters restaurant started in Clearwater back in 1983. Terry charming the girls for our travel blog, with one of the girls keen to talk about New Zealand, who got some of the Hooter girls together for a photo shoot.
With the sun setting, we stopped on the Courtenay Campbell Causeway Bridge to watch the sunset and experience the beautiful colours.
Alongside the bridge, we found a pod of dolphins frolicking with birds out on the water enjoying a fish dinner.
A great end to a fabulous weekend with Alicia and AJ.