Sponges Galore

Tarpon Springs in Florida is famous for sponge diving, Greek food and fishing. We were there on Monday and went on a boat ride around some of the islands. On the way we passed this house.

It was the main location for the film "Beneath the 12 Mile Reef" starring Robert Wagner. 

Everywhere you look you see sponges - on boats, in shops, and you could, if you wish, go out to sea in one of the fishing boats and have a go at retrieving one yourself.

Not just sponges but pirates too. 

We spent a really nice afternoon on a catamaran. Heading out to sea around a number of islands we soon gathered speed and after a mile or two came across a pair of dolphins frolicking in the sunshine. The boatman slowed down so we could have a good look, but although I saw them three or four times they were too fast for my camera. I swear one jumped out of the water here but all you can see is the splash!

After an hour we stopped on an island to walk around and gather shells. The way we moored was for the boat to drive into the sand and anchor there by manoevering a folding metal ladder onto the beach which we climbed down.

The weather was a bit cold and the wind and spray made us shiver and huddle up a bit on the way back to the docks. Certainly a very busy little town, the area has a series of little bayous leading into the Gulf of Mexico. It was first settled in 1876 by farmers and fishermen, and when they spotted  tarpon jumping out of the water they named it Tarpon Springs. In 1905 a man named John Corcoris introduced the technique of sponge diving and recruited crew members and divers from Greece. Here's one of the boats moored up alongside the jetty, and nearby a statue erected in honour of the fishermen who go to sea for weeks on end.

Later that evening we met up with artist friends in a smart Italian restaurant in Dunedin for dinner. I had the best grouper I've ever tasted served by a most friendly father and son team who own the restaurant. 
Because our hotel doesn't offer a laundry service, on the day we arrived in Dunedin my young friend Googled local laundrys eventually locating a large Laundromat just a mile or so away. I'd visited it on Saturday and arranged with an old guy called Joe to do my considerable load for me. A week's laundry for me comprised twenty items including shirts and trousers etc. I'd fully expected to pay at least $50 for the service but when I collected them in the morning, all nicely wrapped and folded with the shirts all on hangers I could hardly believe it when he only asked for $8. That's the best bargain I've had since we arrived here. 
Tuesday dawned with a clear blue sky but very cold, so we decided to drive to Sarasota in the south and spend the day at the Ringling winter residence. Circus owner and art collector John Ringling bought property in Sarasota and in 1927 moved the winter quarters of the Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey combined shows there. They then built a winter residence, CA'D'ZAN and a museum of art. Our first stop was the Big Show circus museum which housed some of the original wagons, costumes and equipment. There we were confronted by a giant mural covering more than 900 square feet, and called 'The Greatest Show on Earth'. 

Then on in to marvel at the largest model circus in the world. It's a 44,000 piece replica of the 1919-38 Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows. Here are some of the models.

Next, on to the room containing the actual wagons, props and costumes.

And the man behind the mask

Out to the gardens for a lunch snack passing by the many banyan trees. 

And finally to see the CA'D'ZAN or 'House of John' built in a Venetian gothic style reflecting the Ringling's love of Italy.

Today is Thursday and we are nearly at the end of what has been a really nice holiday, not to mention the miniature art show where we met up with many old friends. We've had some lovely meals, and at the Bon Appetit Restaurant I've had the best steak I've ever tasted. We leave tomorrow, but yesterday drove north to Homosassa Springs to see Manatees in their natural habitat, and to visit the Wildlife Park.

We soon saw a manatee swimming under a couple of kayaks. As they have no natural enemies they are not at all scared of humans. 

Views through an underground glass window these are some of the fish we saw.

And in our walk through the park we came across all sorts of creatures. 

And in the reptile house a nasty looking pink snake was curled around a branch.

It is such a lovely day today. Warmer than of late. So we drove down to St. Petersburg to see the Salvador Dali Museum. Since I was last here it seems to have taken on a completely new and even more modern personality. 

The museum houses the most comprehensive collection of the artist's work in the world. In addition to 95 original oil paintings the museum has more than 100 watercolours and drawings, along with sculptures and other objects. 

I really enjoy Dali's work - especially those paintings that combine surrealism and enigmatic images. For example this enormous painting entitled 'Hallucinogenic Toreador'

If you look closely, or half close one eye you will soon make out the toreador's nose and chin where the left breast of the second Venus from the right emerges. Or this large painting of Abraham Lincoln. Again squint through your eyes to capture the illusion. 

And here's a self portrait of me caught in a concave mirror. 

The staircase we walked down from to the cafeteria is a work of modern art itself. This view is looking up to the roof.

St. Petersburg is a very smart town . We had a nice lunch sitting in a cafe by the sidewalk, and then drove back to Dunedin via an hour or so stop at St. Pete's beach to soak up a little of the sun on our last full day of holiday. And just as we reached Dunedin this lovely sunset unfolded in a colourful farewell.