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Part Three- Opa!

3 May

One of the fun things about being a tourist are the tourist “traps”. One of the places that we visited like this was Tarpon Springs. Tarpon Springs was settled in the late 1800’s. The original industry of the city was natural sponges. One smart business man went to Greece and recruited some of their spoDSC_0470_01nge divers. From this point on Tarpon Springs has had a large Greek population. It now has the highest percentage of Greek-Americans of any city in the United States. In the 1940’s there was a huge red-algae bloom that whipped out the sponge crop. The sponge crop has just recently recovered. Since the sponge industry went bust, the town turned to fishing and tourism. Many of the old buildings used during the height of the sponge industry were transformed into museums commemorating the sponge industry, as well as restaurants and souvenir stores, all with a Greek flair. When we were there they had thousands of sponges decorating the buildings, boat tours, tons of souvenir shops and  lots of Greek restaurants.

Walking down the main tourist street, you can see the influence that the Greek-American’sDSC_0379_01 have had on the town. With small streets, brightly coloured buildings and people stopping and chatting in Greek you almost feel like you’re in a small town in Greece. While walking by the gift shops and buildings festooned with sponges you have different boat tour operators trying to entice you to take a tour on their boat. We ended up taking one of these boat tours. We were brought out through the channels, where we saw pelicans, learned about Manatees (did you know they can get hypothermia!), saw bottle-nosed dolphins playing in our wake and getting the chance to go shelling on a sandbar. My favourite part of the tour was seeing the dolphins!

After some time out on the open water, we were hungry! One of the reasons people come to Tarpon Springs is for the Greek food. OnDSC_0397_01 the suggestion of the guy who convinced us to take the boat tour, we went to Mama’s Greek Cuisine(it looked like he ate there a lot). Mama’s Greek Cuisine is located in the back of a tourist market (735 Dodecanese Blvd. Unit 40). Mama’s is a big place with a really nice patio in the back. We went for lunch and it wasn’t busy but I am sure at different times of year that this place is packed, especially if you come on nights with belly dancing! The menu is really big, if you have a Greek favourite I am sure you’ll be able to find it somewhere on the menu. I had the Keftedes, which are Greek meatballs. When I first saw the server bringing them to me, I thought that they looked super dry. However I was pleasantly surprised, they were super juicy! They DSC_0398_01were also seasoned perfectly. The entree also came with a Greek salad and while there wasn’t too much special about the salad, the feta cheese in it was out of this world! After our large lunch (the portion sizes are very generous) we were surprised to get baklava for dessert, it was really sweet but a great way to finish off a Greek meal. The one thing that was a little lacking at Mama’s was the service. While we got everything on time, with a name like Mama’s I was expecting very friendly servers who would explain what some of the entrees were. What made up for their lack of friendliness was the fact that they served Saganaki (flaming cheese) which they doused in Ouzo and light on fire table side! It was always fun seeing them do this while trying not to light the plastic plants on fire and then having to yell OPA! after. Overall I would recommend Mama’s Greek cuisine to anyone visiting Tarpon Springs for a fun touristy day, good food, good prices and lots of fun!

Mama's Greek Cuisine on Urbanspoon

After a day touring through the sponges in Tarpon Springs we headed back for some time on the beach!

Here are some links if you’re interested in visiting Tarpon Springs:

www.mamasgreekcuisine.net

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarpon_Springs,_Florida

www.spongedocks.net/

http://www.thespongeexchange.com/

http://www.spongeoramacruiselines.com/

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Funny sign, don’t see these in Canada        Fishing boat we saw on the boat tour

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Me and my catch – JAWS!!!

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There are tons of cool shells to be found!   Sandbar in the Gulf of Mexico, cool to visit!

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Part Two – Fun in the Sun!

21 Apr

After a 4 hour flight from Philadelphia to Tampa we werFlorida2 010e finally in sunny Florida! But  we hadn’t arrived at our final destination, Indian Rocks Beach. It was another 45minute car ride to the condo. One of the best things about the  condo was that it was super close to the beach, you could see it from the balcony and it was only a 2 minute walk. One of the other attractions of Indian Rocks Beach, other than the beach, is that it is close to where a bunch of baseball teams hold their training camp. So we went to go see the Philadelphia Phillies vs Pittsburgh Pirates game. If you read my blog a lot you may have already read out this. Florida2 009My favourite part of the game was the food! While at the game I got a Philly Cheese Steak and a pretzel. Philly Cheese Steaks are delicious, they are a sandwich made from thinly sliced pieces of steak and melted cheese in a long roll. The one I had also had sautéed onions. All of the steak is cooked on a flattop and it looks like it takes skill! The cooks are chopping and making sure the steak doesn’t burn, all the while sautéing the onions and putting sandwiches together! If you’re ever in Philadelphia or watching a Phillies pre-season game in Florida, try and get a Philly Cheese Steak! Florida2 001

One of the other great things about visiting the States for a week is being able to bring back back booze! Alcohol is way cheaper in the States, most place don’t tax it as high as they do here in Canada. On the first day there I went into a grocery store (they sell alcohol in the grocery stores!) and bought a 12 pack of Corona for $11.99, here in Ottawa a 12 pack of Corona goes for $23.95! Over the week my Corona disappeared so I brought back a liter of Jack Daniels, again almost half price! So if you’re going to the States bring me back some JD! (Please drink responsibly!)

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Stay tuned for the next segment …

Part One – The Journey

20 Apr

At the beginning of March my girlfriend and I decided to escape the cold Ottawa winter and go south to Florida. We’re super lucky because her parents rent a condo down there every year and they are nice enough to put up with yours truly! We were there for a full week, (not long enough when you come back to a snow storm!)so instead of doing one uber long post about all the things that we did in Florida I am going to break it up into a short series of posts. So you will have to keep coming back to see what happens next!

Before we even left my girlfirend and I got into a “debate” – to drive or to fly. I was for driving because it would be cheaper then flying from Ottawa to Tampa and I always like a good road trip! While she was all for flying because it would mean we could spend more time in Florida, an argument that was hard to beat. In the end we were very mature and decided to drive to Syracuse, New York. Where we would then fly to Tampa, and the great thing was we found a flight from Syracuse for almost half the cost of flying from Ottawa! Look into it if you ever want to fly into Florida.

So the day we left we both worked a full work day and then I drove us to Syracuse. Let me tell you, some of the roads in New York are soooo dark! On our way imagedown to Syracuse we stopped at one of my favourite family restaurant chains in the US, Cracker Barrel! Cracker Barrel operates more than 595 stores across the states. They are all pretty much the same, there is a restaurant and a retail store. The theme is what I like to call “American Pickers on steroids”. It is southern US styled will all kinds of stuff on the walls. The food is southern comfort food, it has a huge menu and serves breakfast all day! The Cracker Barrel we went to was in Watertown, New York. The first thing I noticed walking into the Cracker Barrel was the number of people from the military. With Fort Drum really close by the place was packed with US military personnel and their families, I never felt safer! One of the great things about Cracker Barrel is that it is super affordable! Our entire meal was only $28. I had a 12oz rib eye steak with  baked potato, house salad, cornbread and biscuits. My girlfriend had Roast beef with corn and mashed potatoes. While the quality of the food wasn’t five star it was more than worth the money. The waitress was super quick and we got our food way fast! It was a great first meal in the United States.

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store on Urbanspoon

Once we got into Syracuse we went right to bed because we had a super early flight the DSC_0261next morning, we had to be up at 3 in the morning to get to the airport! When we got to the airport we found out the security didn’t open until half an hour after the airport opened, so we had to wait. Needless to say none of the restaurants or stores were open so no breakfast for us. We didn’t get anything to eat until we landed in Philadelphia for our connecting flight. There wasn’t a ton of quick options for breakfast so we broke down and had a McDonalds breakfast. I have to admit one of my guilty pleasures is a Sausage McMuffin Meal with the hash brown. While I know it isn’t good for me, and that McDonalds is an evil multinational company bent on taking over the world (ok maybe not taking over the world) I still love their breakfasts. After a quick bite, we were back on the plane, heading for sunny Florida!

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Stay tuned for part two…

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