Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Florida Trip 2015

Hi All, sorry about the last blog, I decided to add a couple of photos and posted it by email which resulted in breaking the blog. It is obviously easier to email it but it obviously can only handle text . So I had to go online and manually edit the post to fix it. More haste less speed.

MONDAY 19th January
We got up early for the long drive to Key West and back. 125 miles each way on mainly a single carriage road with constantly changing speed limits. Not wanting to get caught speeding We just set the cruise control and poodled along which resulted in some quite aggressive behaviour from large trucks and SUV's who would drive right up close and push and flash.
We arrived safely and found some parking near to the most southerly point of continental USA and had a stroll around for about three hours. It was very busy, being a holiday weekend and there were three large cruise ships in the harbour. But it was a very clean and friendly place with various trolley, land train or bicycle tours as well as many little electric golf buggy type cars which could be hired.
We had already checked the accommodation situation which was pretty well full which is why we had booked in Florida City and visited Key West as a day trip.
So we arrived back quite tired so a nice steak meal and bed because we have to move on tomorrow.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Florida Trip 2015

THURSDAY 15th January: Well the Edison Ford museum was very interesting but the Americans just do not quite get the experience right but try to push towards the guided tours where the guides put their own humorous spin on everything. But two hours of Southern Drawl and being patronised was just too much for us so we opted for the self guided tour, and we're pleased we did when we came within earshot of one of the tours. But we still learned a great deal more about Edison than we knew before.
After a good morning we got on the road heading for Naples which is just before the Everglades.
We stopped at a McD's to book a Motel for the night only to find everything below $200 a night had terrible reviews. We pulled into the one with the best but from outside it looked just too run-down. So drove back a couple of blocks to one we had seen as we passed. The outside looked pleasant and when we inspected the room it was passable, just, so we accepted the ridiculous price. It was run by a young Asian couple who were very friendly and it looked as if they were trying to bring it up to scratch, the bathroom had been recently totally re-fitted but the workmanship was a bit lacking. When we booked in the lady said that everything was way overpriced in Naples and when we went for a walk downtown it was all Valet Parking and sports cars. The night turned out to be the worst we had had so we decided that as it was a four day holiday weekend coming we had better book the whole weekend from there as the wifi was very good. The only Motel with half decent reviews was the Ramada in Florida City at twice the price we had been paying thus far but it was close to the Everglades National Park where we wanted to spend the weekend and on Highway 1 which led down to Key West which we also wanted to visit so we booked it. Just before we booked it our son NIK sent an email about a site I had joined some time ago but forgotten called Top Cashback which he told us produced Cashback from which we had been mainly using it costs nothing and on this booking alone gives us £13 cash back. If you buy anything on the Internet if you connect via their site you get cash back. Tesco's for one so if interested use this link and we both get a bonus

FRIDAY 16th January : Leaving our fairly grotty Motel we headed for the Everglades arriving at the Gulf Coast Visitor Centre which was just had a boat dock for trips into the Mangroves or round the Ten Thousand Islands. The trips we would have liked to do were booked up without a Two hour wait so we drove on to do some of the Board Walks just off the Tamiami Trail which is the main road which heads from West to East across the bottom of Florida. We're we glad we did, on our first one we met a really informative young lady Ranger varying a Aligator Skull wro told us all about the American Aligators and their salt water cousins the American Crocodiles. Then we walked just a short distance to view our first Aligators just a few feet from us, we were then very lucky to experience the amazing rumbling roar of a large male hidden in the grass across the canal about 50 feet from us. The sound is difficult to explain but we both thought it was a very large outboard motor without a silencer starting up at first.
After this exiting time we walked a few more board walks experiencing many more close encounters with Alligators and many many birds. Then turned into Shark Valley National Park Paying the $10 which gives us 7 days unlimited entry into the Everglades National Park. Cars were not allowed past the Visitors Center , the trail was 10 miles each way which you could walk, hire a bike or take the tram. A tram trip was about to leave so we quickly bought two seniors and took the two last seats. Oh how glad we water that we took it. There was a fantastic guide, who didn't have the Southern Drawl who was so informative and a very young girl driver who spotted every bird, flower and Alligator along the way and stopped so the guide could talk about what we were seeing. At the halfway point we walked about 500 yards to an obversation tower and the guide stopped and pointed out to the few of us who were near a very strange sight, about two feet from the path was a ten foot Crocodile who must have walked the forty odd miles from the sea and salt water areas to live in the fresh water among the Aligators and had even turned from green to black to match the Alligators.

 We showed the picture to many of the Rangers we met later, who had heard about it but not really believed it. It was a great couple of hours and well worth the ticket price.
By the time our tram ride finished it was getting late so we motored the thirty odd miles to our Motel, with a bit of trepidation after last night's experience. But all was well, the receptionist was great and the room was fine and breakfast was included so we would be ok for the next four nights.

SATURDAY and SUNDAY 17 & 18th January
The next two days were spent in the Everglades National Park, we listened to all the talks and went on all the organised Ranger walks we could. On one we came across this  large Aligator just two feet from the path. He lazily opened one eye to look at us all then closed it again. Then a very young child came a bit too close, two eyes opened, then the mouth opened then he stood up. Luckily the Mother grabbed the child and pulled it away so the Aligator just laid down again, but Judy got this incredible photo. No he is not stuffed, he is very, very real! And that may be a wicked smile who knows.

On Sunday we went on a "Slough Slog" which was a walk across the flooded prairie and into the woods which entailed waiting up to thigh deep in swamp while a really passionate Ranger explained about the area and the plants and animals as we came to them. So a quick visit to Walmart to buy some trousers and long sleeved shirts as the required clothing.
What a fantastic time we had two or three hours, we lost track of time, wading about in a primeval soup just hoping we didn't fall flat into it. The trousers washed out OK but not sure how long it will take to get our walking boots dry.
We finished off the day with a Starlight Hike to see all the wild animals we had seen during the day getting down to the real business of life.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Florida Adventure 2015

SATURDAY 10th January: Well a bit of a strange start for a holiday but helped our hosts move some furniture and pack a van to help two of their kids move to a new apartment for University then in the afternoon a really long walk in a nearby nature reserve.

SUNDAY 11th January : At Christmas Kerry presented us with a really unusual present - A morning at a gun firing range? It turns out that Kerry's company has an office in Orlando and one of his collegues shoots at a local range and Kerry thought it would be a very unusual gift for us. Well we met Evan at the range and after signing-in and donning safety glasses and ear defenders, he showed us the correct way to handle and load a small 22 pistol and then fire at targets, then through the same procedure with Evan's own larger 9mm pistol, a bigger bang with quite a bit more kick, then Evan went out and exchanged the first pistol for a very large 355 asult rifle (I think!) just like you see the police at the airport carrying. A really Big Bang but it had electronic sights so seemed a bit of a cheat and although it had almost zero kick Judy found it too heavy to use so  after we had used the ammunition went out with Evan and swapped it for another 22 pistol which had less kick than the first but the sights were not as good. So then it was Steve's turn to choose and he chose a conventional Winchester rifle. Even though Steve had probably not fired a gun of any kind for probably 50 years it turned out that somehow he was quite accurate so we finished off the box of ammunition with a shoot out between Evan and Steve at the maximum length of the range on the smallest part of the target. Obviously Evan had more nearest the centre but Steve was really chuffed to have all shots within two inches of the centre. Two actually nearly through the centre. So... a very strange day, not one we would have chosen but we did really enjoy it. Not so we will now go out and join a gun club but something else ticked off the bucket list perhaps.

MONDAY 12th January. Time to move on and start exploring so we headed off towards the western coast and Tarpon Springs. A small town famed for it's sponge industry and a substantial Greek influence. We arrived at the harbour just before three in the afternoon in torrential rain. They tell us that it only rains for fifteen minutes in Florida but it persisted constantly all afternoon. So with the help of Mc D's for the Internet and we found and booked a hotel room for the night.

TUESDAY 13th January. The Sun was now shining so back to Tarpon Springs harbour for a very pleasant exploration starting with the Sponge Factory where we watched a film then wandered along the road constantly avoiding the offers of a boat ride and watching a "Real Live Hard Hat Diver" descend to the depths. But did have a really good Greek doña kebab lunch which they call a GIro. But probably the best we have tasted. We then moved on towards Venice. FL where again with the help of Mc D's and Booking .com we found another reasonable Motel for the night.

WEDNESDAY 14th January. We decided to take the back roads South perhaps wandering by the side of the sea, but Florida's back roads are monstrous dual carriageways quite a long way from the seas side try as we might we didn't find the silver sand beaches we had read about but very soon found ourselves crossing an enouremous bridge to Fort Myers where we pulled into a park for a picnic lunch. After a quick scout round the town and a visit to the Visitor Centre we decided to stop at the Library to again use to find a room. Only one seemed to have good reviews so we booked in. The room was fine but we were a bit unsure about the immediate area.
But off to the town for the free "Trolley" bus ride around which was quite entertaining and then a very nice meal at the "Ford Garage" a very nice burger meal with a bun branded with the Ford Logo. perhaps it was originally the garage that Henry Ford owned. We will find out when we visit the "Edison Ford" museum tomorrow.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Florida Holiday January 2015

Hi all yes off on our travels again, this time without the Motorhome but flying to Florida for three weeks.

7/1/15. Wednesday, woke early, 5 am and on the road by5:45 but car really thick with ice so had to spend ten minutes defrosting. The roads were really icy so glad we left early.
Arrived at APH parking without incident about 6:40 then smoothly booked in and on the coach arrived at Gatwick North terminal probably about 7:30. After a little learning curve we negotiated the Self Check-in terminals to print our luggage labels and que'd for bag drop off then security arriving actually in Departure at 08:30 after looking at the food selection on offer we decided on a simple bacon buttie and coffee rather than a full breakfast sitting down at 9:00 for a leisurely time watching the world go by then a wander round the shops then it was soon 10:40 and our flight appeared on the board so a walk to the plane a short wait for boarding and we were sitting in our seats getting ourselves sorted for the nine and a half hour flight.
Arrived Orlando at 16:30 local time and speedily through immigration once we were directed to the fast track terminals, then Homeland Security were extremely polite so swiftly passed them. Unfortunately we had to then part with our cases again while we boarded the shuttle train then had to wait nearly an hour for our cases to arrive again.
Picking up the car from AVIS was fairly slick because we had joined their preference program and she gave us a free upgrade (probably because they didn't have the car we ordered) but she didn't manage to give me a smile, just attitude. Then getting the guy at the gate to note scratches and dents on the car was difficult. With him saying we don't count scratches and minor dents. After what I read on the web I really do not believe it. With the que behind us growing he finally relented and gave us a pink sheet stating that the car had many scratches and dents all over. Finally on the road we then had to pull over and wait for our TomTom to get a satelite fix after being moved three thousand miles. Finally with the GPS directing we drove the thirty minutes to our friends house to a great welcome and a meal and a large glass of wine. Then a very good nights sleep after a 23 hour day awake.

THURSDAY 8th January, Rob and Natilee had told us where to go at Disney and have a good look around without tickets, where to park for free and to visit the various hotel attractions and we had a really good day riding the buses and wandering around the shops. We visited Animal Kingdom Lodge which has Zebra, Giraffe and many other African animals wandering around in the grounds. Unfortunately the weather was very cold but we had a great day.

FRIDAY 9th January, went with Rob again to Disney this time entering by the Staff Entrance which obviously the locals all know about so no entrance or parking fee and this time spent most of the day riding the monorail trains into more of the variously themed hotels. The whole site is vast and probably the greatest money making machine on earth but every possible whim of the guests are catered for in a very slick way. Another very enjoyable day getting to know Disney without actually going into any of the attractions yet.