On our second day of the Birthday Weekend Road Trip Extravaganza (my new name for this), we got to explore Crystal River, Tarpon Springs and end our night in Mount Dora. If you missed the first leg of our trip, or even what road trip I’m talking about, be sure to check out Part One here.
So let me preface this by saying that the drive from Cedar Key to Crystal River is stupid easy. It says an hour but it really felt like twenty minutes… maybe it was because I was already preoccupied with my cocoa pebbles donut…. regardless!
Honestly, I didn’t do any research on Crystal River before we went, just by what the post had mentioned I figured there would be some pretty rivers to see or whatever.
WELL… we happened to go the same weekend that they were having their annual Manatee Festival. I didn’t even know it was a thing, but it is! You can read a little about what this entails here, but the overall purpose was to raise awareness to help save the manatees. So wunderbar! We didn’t actually go in where they had the vendor tents or food setup since we were on a time schedule. Instead, we read online about the Three Sisters Spring, and decided to check that out.
They weren’t allowing people to park on sight, I’m not sure if that was because they were having shuttles from the festival, or if it’s an all the time thing, but we were easily able to park in the strip mall across the street. It’s about a 10 minute walk back to the spring, but it’s full of trees and wetlands, depending on which route you take. It was crowded once we got back there, but again, I’m sure that was because of the festival.
The spring is gorgeous, and if we had planned better we probably would have done the snorkeling that they had available, where you could get in the water with the manatees. At first we didn’t see but one manatee swimming, but then we walked around the rest of the boardwalk and, my goodness, there was a whole bunch of them! The water was a bit choppy because there were people in kayaks next to them, but it was still so cool to see that many just chillin’ in one area.
Given more time (and less people), I’d really like to come back to this spring and enjoy everything that it has to offer. Such a wonderful hidden gem that I never would have known existed before embarking on this trip in my own state!
3. Tarpon Springs:
The drive here was a bit less fun. You had to go through many small towns, which was cool to see, however, there were tons of lights everywhere and the speed limit rarely got higher than 50… “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”
Alas, it was a glorious moment when we saw that “Sponge Docks – Five Miles” sign.
This was another place that I didn’t research very well. So… and don’t judge… I thought that it was going to have spots where the docks were literally made out of sponge… needless to say, I was confused when it was just a big farmers market and everyone was selling sponges and different ways to utilize them (haha… oops).
It was still fun though. The market is huge and has a ton of vendor tents and shops to go in. My favorite part was seeing bikes decorated full of flowers and even sponges.
This is also a huge Greek town, in that most of the food is Greek. The article recommended Hellas, so we went in with intentions of sitting at the bar, having a drink and eating lunch. Well, we had a drink, yes, but only had some appetizers… I’m honestly not sure why. I think we were just thrown off by this place being much more crowded than we were originally thinking. Never fear, we still enjoyed our drinks and the hummus was amazing. The food everyone was ordering looked good too, and apparently that is the place to get a Greek salad.
Attached to the restaurant is a bakery, and it is slammed all the time regardless of how big it is. They have everything, mostly things I didn’t even know existed (Baklava pasta… is not pasta… TMYK!). It was enchanting; set up like an old style bakery and even had their own little coffee section for espressos and cappuccinos. I think that was probably my favorite stop in this town.
After we ate and walked the rest of the farmer’s market, Anthony was very ready to go. I think it was too many people that he didn’t mentally prepare for after what felt like a five hour drive. I didn’t blame him one bit.
4. Mount Dora
While the drive from Tarpon Springs to Mount Dora wasn’t as easy breezy as the one from Cedar Key to Crystal River, it was at least a bit more nature and less stop light filled.
It was, however, dark by the time we arrived (seriously, how necessary is a time change? Can’t we just keep it daylight savings year around? This whole dark at six p.m. thing makes me want to go to bed then). We checked into our room at the Lakeside Inn, also recommended by the Only in Florida post, and then planned to get some food. I had saved some places on TripAdvisor, but none of it was what we were in the mood for. Alas, the gods looked down and saw that we were hungry, German food fanatics and said “HEY GUYS! There’s a place called the Bavarian Haus two blocks up the road. They might even have live music tonight.” And so it was decided. We set out on our journey that led to the pot of gold that is Schnitzel, Spaetzle and Hofbrau.
The Bavarian Haus:
Having been to Munich twice, I love finding new German restaurants and see how they compare to the real thing. The Bavarian Haus did not disappoint. The staff is friendly and the prices are reasonable. The beer is cold (as it should be) and the portions are huge. They even had a very nice gentleman playing the accordion dressed in lederhosen.
At the end of the meal (schnitzel, spaetzle and gravy for me; jagerschnitzel, knodel, and red cabbage for Anthony… and two beers, please!), the chef came out and offered us desert. We said we couldn’t even think we were so full, but he said “I won’t take no for an answer,” and suggested the cheesecake special. While our stomachs screamed in protest, our hearts knew we had to try it. It was a no-bake orange cream cheesecake, and it was the lightest, fluffiest thing ever. I’m really not a big cheesecake person, but this was more of a mouse with a light graham cracker crust. The orange wasn’t overpowering at all, and our hearts were happy, even if our stomachs hated us.
Too full to continue walking around much, we decided to go over to our hotel bar where a band was playing. We found it was an Irish band called Banished Misfortune, who were highly entertaining. The whole bar at one point was stomping their feet and clapping their hands to keep up with the violins. What a great atmosphere.
After that we called it a night.
Have you been to Tarpon Springs? Did you think there would be actual sponge docks? What about the Greek food, did you go somewhere other than Hellas and have a good experience? Drop me a comment, I’d love to hear your stories!
And if you’d like, continue reading here for our final stops on our road trip adventure.