America America Trip 2016 Florida Travel

Day 12: My Bags are packed, I’m ready to go…

and off I went… I left Hannah’s and headed straight for the Airport… My suitcase had a little tape on it to patch up the break it received on the way down… and that was that… bags checked in… home time final!!

I popped back to the Car desk to thank the Lady from the car hire for the amazing car!

Dodge Charger... With a pretty large bonnet.
Dodge Charger… With a pretty large bonnet.

…Then I headed through security and to the gate. We were delayed half an hour. I’d not been assigned a seat so went to the desk and asked… he assigned me a seat and said “Good news, I’ve got you a window this time” (as I’d explained I’d had no window on the way down)…

Fat much good that was….

Oh yup, That's the engine!
Oh yup, That’s the engine!

After taxi-ing… we were told there was a further 20 min delay before we could take off… 20 mins passed and the pilot came back to say that there were engine issues and we’d have to go back to the gate. Joys. Eventually we were off and on the way to JFK.

From JFK I transferred terminals and waited for my flight home home!

On the plane home, it was pretty empty… I tried to get upgraded to business with no avail.. but instead managed to bag three seats to myself to try and sleep on. Nice try. the arm rests didn’t lift fully and it’s just not comfy.

On arrival back home at Heathrow, I phoned dad to let him know I was about to get on the tube… when him and mum popped up and surprised me… they had come to pick me up as a surprise… YAY I really wasn’t looking forward to the Piccadilly line! 😀

I’m home! I’m sure I’ll do some sort of concluding post soon… Meanwhile I ought to get looking for a job to earn some money so I can go back!

America America Trip 2016 Florida Travel

Day 11: Errrr Shopping and Sarasota…?

I’m out of ideas on this one… All suggestions gratefully received.

Today I slept in! (It’s a holiday afterall!) I met Hannah for lunch on the beautiful USF campus.. and we had lunch on the campus “Beach” (Sand round a lake!)… I even got a keyring from the “Bookstore” to add to my collection (They really didn’t just sell books!)

From there I went to International Plaza… Imagine Brent Cross, bigger, nicer, better and cheaper…. I did some more damage!! Teehee!!

From International Plaza I headed down to the lovely Sarrasota for dinner with Sarah who is living out there… I’m a little jel.. it’s a lovely place to be!

From Sarrasota I headed back to get some sleep before flying home tomorrow! 🙁

America America Trip 2016 Florida Travel

Day 10: I bless the Rains down in Africa

Ok… Tenuous again… but we saw lots of animals that could have been in Africa….!

Today we went to Busch Gardens! It’s like a theme park and a Zoo/Safari all mixed into one! Crazy…

After some fun getting parked we headed on in.. and got lost! but eventually ended up at Sheikra (via Animals and children’s play areas!) Floorless and twisty… it was fun! 🙂

We then went for ride on the cable car which gave us a fab view of the park and the surrounding area! After the cable car we made some friends with some animals…

Flamingos.... HUGE Flamingos
Flamingos…. HUGE Flamingos
Colourful birdy!
Colourful birdy!

We grabbed some lunch and carried on looking at the animals and carried on getting lost! We managed to find the train station and went for a ride round the “Serengeti Plains”…

Naaaaaants ingonyama bagithi baba... How Lion King!
Naaaaaants ingonyama bagithi baba… How Lion King!
It's a heffalump!
It’s a heffalump!

We also went for a ride on another of Busch’s Roller coasters… I don’t really think there’s much here to describe!

Before long it was getting dark and Busch was closing so we headed home… or tried to… we got a little lost getting out, but eventually made it!

For dinner that night we went to a place in Soho Tampa which was a really funky Mexican… They were closing but managed to squeeze us in… really lovely food! We drove along the really lovely seafront boulevard and then went to Ybor city (really nearby) for pretty chilled evening!

America America Trip 2016 Florida Travel

Day 9: Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me

Today we woke up a bit late… I’d wanted a lie in so that was no big deal!

We headed down to the outlet mall… where I managed to do some damage! (not a great amount… but damage all the same!) After wandering the outlet mall we decided that we’d try and get to the beach in time for sunset…. What a Great plan!

Off down the highway we went… and over a lovely but huuuuge bridge… Lots of lovely views.

Huuuge Bridge
Huuuge Bridge

Eventually we arrived at Clearwater Beach. Bright White Sand and the sun low in the sky. We stood and watched the sun creep under the horizon… almost the polar opposite of waking up early and scaling Masada for sunrise! Artsy Flipflops

Beach Panorama!
Beach Panorama!

Soon the sun had set and we wanted some food so after a quick scout up and down the main strip and a look in Ron Jon’s surf Shop (again!) we sat down in Surfside Tap House… mainly due to the amazing girl playing guitar and singing in the front. WOW.

We ate dinner, had a drink and then when the singer finished went to leave for the Fudge shop next door. Sadly the fudge shop closed, but the singer was given some more time so we lingered on a table by the front to listen to the singers’s last songs.

We were then crashed by our new friends… “the Drunk Mums on tour” (Hey there if you are reading this… and Hi to your family… they weren’t that embarrassing… really!) They were having a lovely time and loved our Britishness. One of them made us talk to her daughter who loves British accents and then we discussed politics… cause what else should you do when you’re a little intoxicated on a Saturday night! (I was driving so remained sober!!!)…. Shout out to Candace if you’re reading this… hope you’re enjoying living my life vicariously!!

We eventually headed home… via a quick stop to 24h Dunkin Donuts Drive through. WHY CAN’T WE GET 24 HOUR DRIVE THROUGH COOKE DOUGH DONUTS IN THE UK?!?!!?!?!?

America America Trip 2016 Florida Travel

Day 8: It’s a small World

Except it isn’t… cause I went to Epcot!

This morning, I woke up, packed everything into the car… grabbed some breakfast and checked out the hotel before making the 10 minute drive to EPCOT at Disney!

Ever since I was young and saw adverts on TV I’ve always wanted to go and see the big Epcot ball in person and visit the Epcot Park at Disney World!

Here I now was in the queue for the Spaceship Earth Ride, The one inside the ball! This kind of set the tone for how I felt the rest of the trip went – Although still fairly clever, most stuff here feels like It’s not changed since it was opened in the 80s. For example the Space Ship Earth goes back in time through history to today… except “Today” was a guy making a computer in his Garage…. (Think Bill Gates / Steve Jobs)…. to me that was hardly the future…!

There was a selfie, It actually happened!
There was a selfie, It actually happened!

From there, on the strong recommendation from a friend… I made my way to Test Track…. This was by far the best ride at Epcot! (I went on it again later!!) from Test Track I went over to the MISSION:SPACE. Having been at the Kennedy Space centre the day before, I was unsure how I’d find this… Thank Goodness it was before lunch!

Rarely do I find motion rides vomit inducing, but on this I felt like I might actually vom. (I didn’t but well done Disney on all accounts!!)

From Mission Space I went for a ride in a VERY young looking Ellen DeGeneres’s dream… all about energy. The concept was clever… the way the ride is a “Moving theatre” but it was all quite dated to me. :/ (But I like Ellen so it was kinda fun to watch!)

From there I went to the Future World area and had a ride on the “Living with the Land” float along. This was really interesting… You got to look at the innovative ways Disney is trying to grow stuff to be a bit more self sufficient including their own huge greenhouses and fish farms!

Funky Rotating Lettuce Grower.
Funky Rotating Lettuce Grower.

After what was basically a food show I was absolutely starving and so grabbed what was easily one of my nicest lunches of the trip (In a theme park who’d have thought it!). Seared Salmon Noodle Salad number. AMAZING.

From lunch I headed to the Finding Nemo Ride…. Little to report there….!! In the queue a man asked me if it was scary… which then ended up him inviting me to tag along with his family around the themed country areas….

I managed to meet a penguin on the way….

Does anyone know which Penguin this is?!
Does anyone know which Penguin this is?!

The themed areas were a little of a let down. Mainly shops, bars and eating places… We went to a 40 min part film, part weird moving robot show about the making of America… it was part film… part weird!

I also took a little ride on what I described as “It’s a small Mexican World without the annoying music” (The Ride in Mexican themed area)… Imagine it exactly as that!

Some supposed Italian Architecture.
Some supposed Italian Architecture.

With my new found family… I went for another go on test track… Just as thrilling the second time… and then decided that it was time to leave for Tampa! (Despite their very kind offer of joining them in Animal Kingdom and going back to their hotel to sleep and swim!!!!!!)

Of course I didn’t leave Epcot without a Nightime Selfie of the Lit Up Ball!

Night Lit Selfie!
Night Lit Selfie!

In the car on the way to Tampa I had a while to reflect on Epcot. I think that back when Mum and Dad visited 25 or so years ago… what it was doing was Amazing and a feat. Nowadays… most of the attractions are pretty “theme park standard” making Epcot more of a Themed Park than a Theme Park. It was a fun day out however I think I was a little let down!

I arrived in Tampa and found Hannah… we went out for dinner and then to Walmart to grab some bits and bobs… Which was mainly a jumper for me which we never got. As we walked in, Hannah pointed at the Mobility scooter and muttered something, sparking the man from Walmart to say “Go on then”. Next thing you know, We’re chasing each other round Walmart on Mobility Scooters… All well and good until she broke down for a few minutes at the far end of the store! hehehe! We did get avocados and a new friend. What more could you want from Walmart at 2am?!!!!

America America Trip 2016 Florida Geek Space Travel

Day 7 : Space Oddity

Damn. It really is only yesterday’s post that is song-title-less!!

Today I drove accross Florida to the Kennedy Space Centre. To those who know my history with causeways, you’ll be pleased to know I managed to drive over NASA Causeway without causing any damage!

I’d had a tiny splurge and booked a “behind the scenes” style tour which included the Launch control room.

As I arrived I jumped almost straight on the tour bus to take us to the control room. The tour guide was very funny and as we pulled out the car park made a joke, pointing at the deliveries hut saying something like “well folks, if you’ve never seen a fed-ex delivery before, nows your chance… Don’t say things aren’t cutting edge here”

After that the bus pulled onto the main complex. The size of it was mind blowing. It’s got big main roads like the ones I’d driven to the space centre on!

We headed for the Launch Control suite which happens to be situated next to the Vehicle Assembly Building.

VAB and Launch Control.... It's so much bigger than you can imagine!
VAB and Launch Control…. It’s so much bigger than you can imagine!

In the lobby the guide explained the evolution of the use of Cape Canaveral and now the Kennedy Space Centre and how the two are now often referred to as one or the other when in fact technically they are different things.

On the wall of the lobby was a little plaque for EVERY rocket ever flown from the Kennedy Space Centre. It was overwhelming to see so many plaques on the wall. Each plaque contained the Mission Launch and End/Landing date dangling below. (with the sad exception of the few missions in which the Astronauts did not return home)

Plaques... so many plaques
Plaques… so many plaques

From there we were escorted (by two security guards at all times!) up to the third floor to visit the Launch Control room. The guide was telling us about how private companies are now building state of the art control centres… Not at Kennedy, but around the world, which would make the facilities here look a little silly… He also explained the fact the Kennedy Space Centre launch control room (one of them) is soon to become a multi user (i.e. not just nasa) facility (clues from the huge SpaceX hangar in the distance!)… As he was telling us about this… I did start to wonder…. WHY. It’s actually really out of date! For something as cutting edge as space flight… it’s still got melamine light switches from yesteryear…

Lighting up the room which lights up the rockets! It's all a bit 1960s.
Lighting up the room which lights up the rockets! It’s all a bit 1960s.

The Launch control building at Kennedy is simply out of date… It surprised me on one hand… but on the other hand I kinda expected it… Things have moved on since the Kennedy’s Golden days of space prominence.

How to Fly a Space Shuttle: FOR DUMMIES.  (No Really... that's the full shuttle user manual!)
How to Fly a Space Shuttle: FOR DUMMIES.
(No Really… that’s the full shuttle user manual!)

The view out of the Launch control room was pretty impressive. Views of a few of the modern launch sites and the surrounding areas….

View out of one of the windows to the launch pad... the white box in the distance is the SpaceX Building
View out of one of the windows to the launch pad… the white box in the distance is the SpaceX Building

While they are converting the room for individual companies to come in and use the room, NASA have still kept some launch control kit in the room to enable them to launch future rockets…

Nasa's Kit in the front (Closest to the huge windows!) ... and then the partitioned areas behind made for private companies.
Nasa’s Kit in the front (Closest to the huge windows!) … and then the partitioned areas behind made for private companies.

I was amazed by the detail of things we were being told… most of the information went in one ear, and blasted itself into space out of the other… but one thing did shock me and stay with me….

When launching a space ship, the Team at Kennedy only has control for the first 7 seconds of the flight before all control is switched to the control room in Houston. (Hence “Houston we have a problem”)…. Seven Seconds? That’s nothing! All this technology (however new or old) for Seven Seconds! That’s CRAZY!

Before we left the Launch control room, I couldn’t resist doing…..

A Launch Selfie..... Obvs!
A Launch Selfie….. Obvs!

From there we jumped back on the bus and did a tour of some of the launch pads, and other buildings on the site…

As we pulled away, the size of the VAB was still not really comprehensible, until you look carefully at things… illustrated best by two photos like this…

This is the Large... but in this photo seemingly small Boeing building on the site... Next to the VAB. Look how it doesn't even reach the top of the lowest part of the VAB Doors!
This is the Large… but in this photo seemingly small Boeing building on the site… Next to the VAB. Look how it doesn’t even reach the top of the lowest part of the VAB Doors!

Boeing building is hiding just behind the white building in the foreground right!
Boeing building is hiding just behind the white building in the foreground right!

If that hadn’t really put the size of the VAB into perspective for me, then driving out and along the crawler-way sure would. This area, with something like 8 inches of top layer, specialist shingle (Specialist as they had to fly the rocks in specially as they were rocks that won’t spark!) and the width of an American highway, this “roadway” as made specially for the crawler which would take the spaceship from VAB to the launch site. It was a size that was just magnanimous!

Again, if that hadn’t put the size into perspective, we then came face to face with one of the very crawlers which takes rockets, down to the launch site, at 1 mph. (It can go a whole 2 mph if unloaded!)

Not likely to go whizzing down the top gear track any time soon!
Not likely to go whizzing down the top gear track any time soon!

It took me a minute or two to realise, that this beast would fit through one of those doors on the VAB. ONE DOOR. (one of the dark blue bits)… THAT MAKES THE DOORS HUUUUGE!

We went down and got quite close to two of the launch sites. Including this one… where there is supposed to be a SpaceX launch on the Next week on Weds…. UPDATE: I thought about postponing my flights… luckily I didn’t as the launch was postponed!!

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2,1... LIFT OFF!
10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2,1… LIFT OFF!

We journeyed round a bit more but there was little to note without boring you all to tears. We soon arrived at the Apollo/ Saturn 5 building… Where you go through a video/presetntation in a mocked up control room, taking you through the launch of an Apollo/Saturn Rocket… and then go into a huge hall complete with a restored (unused) Saturn 5 Launch vehicle (rocket)… It was huuuge!

I couldn't really get a picture showing how large this was!
I couldn’t really get a picture showing how large this was!

Underneath and around the Apollo rocket was all sorts of exhibits and pieces of space history, including ship control modules (The pod that lands in the ocean, with astronauts in!) Test vehicles for the lunar landing and exploration… and small piece of moon rock… Yup, I touched a piece of moon rock! You know officially know someone who’s touched a piece of moon. (LOL)

The Control Capsule
The Control Capsule

After a spot of lunch, I was back on the bus to the main complex…. Where I went to the Atlantis exhibition. I should realised when taking this photo, that there was a critical component of it missing….

Er... Where's the Shuttle Atlantis?!
Er… Where’s the Shuttle Atlantis?!

Once inside you walk round some information on the walls about space shuttle flights while slowly ascending up a slope. Eventually you come to a screening room where you see a video about shuttle launches specifically Atlantis’s missions.

I clocked on towards the end, as to what was going to happen… I don’t want to give too much away but it’s a pretty impressive and spectacular unveiling!!

After the screening you get to go and walk round Atlantis, and see the surrounding exhibits to do with space shuttles and the Hubble telescope as well as the international space station… and a slide which is supposed to give you a similar feeling to a landing in a shuttle?!

Ah, That's where Atlantis is!
Ah, That’s where Atlantis is!

I soon threw all my worldy goods in a locker and queued up for the simulator. WOWSER. What a feeling – Not sure I’d have coped… perhaps I’ll have to put my career in space on hold!

Wandering about the underside of Atlantis, was amazing how you could see each of the individual foamy looking, thermal protection tiles and their markings!

This would make Ikea assembly look easy!
This would make Ikea assembly look easy!

I managed to take a seat on a replica space station loo (as you do) as well as look at (And touch) the huuuge tyres (with purposely just the right amount of tread to save weigh!) amongst the artefacts.

No shuttle exhibition would be complete without remembering those who died flying in such magnificent beasts. There was a whole section dedicated to those who died on both Columbia and Challenger… interestingly the longest write up was for Ilan Ramon, the Israeli who was killed in Columbia in 2003. I still remember being in Watford, in the department store that is now Primark, watching the footage on the hundreds of TVs not long after it had happened.

A Piece of Columbia found after it had broken up on re-entry.
A Piece of Columbia found after it had broken up on re-entry.

Having wandered through the main exhibits, all that was left for me to do was to take some photos in the “Rocket Garden” – an area of the site containing lots of old unused and refurbished rockets….

Not your usual ornaments!
Not your usual ornaments!

From Kennedy, I travelled down the coast a little to see Cocoa Beach – Somewhere Mum and Dad visited 25 years ago…. I went inside Ron Jon’s Surf Shop which is the largest Surf Shop in the world! CRAZY! So so so huge!

From Coca Beach I set the Sat Nav to take me back avoiding Toll Roads (to make a change and to see some bits of america off the tourist trail…) To say I didn’t see much was an understatement… but there is something about driving 26 miles down a road, when you only see 2 other cars… and no junctions… AMERICA IS CRAZY HUGE!

Time for some sleep!

America America Trip 2016 Florida Plane Travel

Day 6: Down to Florida

Damn I broke with song titles… I’ll have to think of one for this….

So, after nearly 6 days in New York, Today, I got the bus back into the city and then the subway followed by the airtrain to JFK Terminal 2.
Let’s just say T2 at JFK made London Luton look pretty large and luxurious. All the same as long as you get screened and on the flight what gives!
At the bag drop I was told my bag was over weight by 3 Pounds. PANIC! As I took my case off the scales to repack the Check Agent said “You need to hurry, you have 3 minutes until Bags Close for your flight.” Frantically I looked for my key and unlocked my suitcase. Unclipped the baggage clip and unzipped. As I started taking items out, the Check in Agent said “apologies sir, I’ve got my flights confused… no need to stress”… I lifted out a Shirt and two pairs of Jeans… I was a little worried but thought I could probably manage to squeeze them in to my carry on bag…. as I was about to Zip Shut my case, Gate man said “That should do it… Actually, do you know what… Just stick it back in”.
Shocked I was like “Sorry what?” and he’s said “Just put your clothes back in your case” WEIRD!
Anywhos, I was checked in, and wandered through to security where I met two people who were snobbily upset that there was no Security Fast Track lane as they’d paid to be on the governmental fast track system at every airport. The entire queue was about 10 people!!! (Which was why, it turns out they shut the TSA Fast Track!)
Soon I was checked in, and I’m now writing this onboard A Delta, I would imagine nearly new Airbus A319. Very nice. Considering Delta are a budget carrier, you get more than you get at home!
A free drink, snack and a blanket! You wouldn’t get that on Squeasy or Ryanair!
Sitting here for an 2 hours I’ve had some time to reflect. (I also watched an episode or two of Big bang theory!). The biggest thing I’ve noticed here, since being in the USA is pride. They are SO PROUD. Nothing goes by without a Flag on it – Subway Train, Fire engine, bus you name it, there’s a flag on it. Everyone is Seriously proud to be American!! They are also proud of the state they live in. Last night on the way into town in the Traffic, while I was in the Lincoln Tunnel, I noticed that in the tiles on the wall, was the state boundary. The tiles were white, there was a line of black tiles and one side said “New York” the Other side said “New Jersey”… You just wouldn’t get that back home!
I’m sure I’ll write some more on this post… but for now we’ve just prepared for our final descent and landing. Tray table being stowed, and tablet keyboard isn’t great on my lap! Here we go Florida. I better get my Sunglasses out and prepare to drive… AAAAH!

So the flight was easy…. I arrived in Warm sunny Tampa and went to the car rental place. Got chatting to the lovely lady behind the desk who laughed so hard at my Driving Licence picture that everyone else at the Alamo Desk stopped working and came and looked. (I look 12. I am not 12. This always seems to prompt a funny reaction!) She managed to upgrade me to a Dodge Charger for a little extra. OH EM GEE.
It’s got a button to switch it on from the remote before you even get in…. need I say anymore? Driving on the other side of the road is a little bit of an experience! From Tampa I drove over to Orlando, and Checked into my hotel for 2 nights. Considering how much I paid for it… I’ve not done badly! Two double beds, a Fridge and coffee machine and a huge TV!
I popped out for a bite to eat and then into Walmart…. Wow! Hahah CRAZINESS!

Then off I went to bed ahead of a busy day tomororrw… Kennedy Space Centre!!!