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  1. #11

    Default Day Five: Taking to the Skies!

    Tuesday 20th November 2007

    There are three things that I always look to do when planning a trip through the US – take in a race, visit MLB ballparks and explore National Parks - and I soon realised that, as well as enjoying the sun that I was going for, I could do all three of these. I was sold and had soon booked my flights. I’ve never been a fan of flying – being cooped up in that metal tube for 10 hours whilst complete strangers share their germs (and the contents of their wine glasses) with you – but it is undoubtedly a necessary evil so you just shut up and get on with it.

    There are three National Parks in Florida and I was off to see the first of the three today but it was not to be as simple as driving up to the front gate, waving my pass, and then exploring. Oh, no. The Dry Tortugas National Park lies 70 miles off the ‘Southernmost Point in the USA’ and, much like crossing the Atlantic from London, there was only one practical way to get there in short time – flying. But there was a problem with that; Dry Tortugas National Park comprises a series of tiny islands and, well, they just don’t let you build an airport in a National Park! So, until I inadvertently stumbled over a company called Seaplanes Of Key West, I was going to be stuck taking the daily ferry service.

    I think it is fair to say that I had been looking forward to today ever since I found their website – somehow flying out and landing in the clear warm water surrounding Fort Jefferson – the largest brick building in the Western Hemisphere - seemed to be more attractive than flying American Airlines out of Heathrow. As it turned out; it really couldn’t have been any further removed from that grotty corner of West London if it had been built by Disney.

    Not knowing what to expect, I arrived early for the flight and made my to the reception area in the corner of the tiny Key West Airport. I was introduced to the other three passengers – a middle aged couple from Wisconsin and a girl from New Jersey – before being handed a cooler box full of complimentary drinks (the dry in Dry Tortugas means there is no drinking water on the island) and ushered out onto the tarmac where Lou, our pilot for the day, was waiting for us. As we were all ready to go he suggested that we set off early. As we made our way towards the smallest plane that I have ever seen, let along flown on, I caught a glimpse of a beautiful old Biplane to my left – but more of that later!

    We were soon in the air and thundering (for anyone used to the near silence of modern commercial air travel, just trust me when I say thunder is a very apt word) down the runway and up into the air. It was amazing to see from the air just how compact Key West actually was as I tried to shoot a few aerial photos. We headed out over an area known as ‘The Flats’ and somewhere about half way be flew over the two ferry boats slowly making their way out to the island.

    We had soon arrived over the Dry Tortugas and, as we prepared to land, Lou circled around Loggerhead Key and Fort Jefferson which allowed us an opportunity to get some nice photos. Once we had survived the controlled crash into the ocean, we got our feet wet as we made our way from the plane, across the beach and onto the island. Jo and I decided to spend the morning exploring Fort Jefferson and chilling out on the beach but, before we knew it, Lou had returned and it was time for us to head back to Key West. The whole experience had been amazing but, next time, I would take the full day trip or maybe even explore the idea of camping overnight on the island.

    Back at Key West I headed off to get a sense of the local area and my first port of call was for a photo next to the buoy at the Southernmost Point. I then abandoned the car in favour of a walk down the length of Duval Street, which really made me hungry, so I headed off along Front Street and into the marina area. After admiring the boats whilst I ate I made the long trek back to the car. By now, rather than the beautiful weather to be found back at Fort Jefferson, the weather had turned cooler and, as I found when I made my way to the end of White Street Pier, it had become extremely windy. This change in weather was concerning me because – remember the old biplane? – I had another appointment back at the airport.

    Arriving back at the airport I wondered if the ‘once in a lifetime sunset biplane trip’ that I had signed up for would go ahead as planned. The wind was getting stronger and stronger which wasn’t a good sign but on arrival I was assured that it wouldn’t be a problem. We hopped into the plane – I was sat in the front seat with the pilot, Josh, behind me in the rear – and made our way to the runway to take off. What was kind of fun was that I had the full Biggles flying helmet/goggles combo to wear complete with intercom to the pilot.

    I soon got the impression that Josh didn’t want to be there at all – he sounded thoroughly bored – and it began to grate that I was paying so much money for the attitude. But at least I had the glorious sunset to look forward to, right? Wrong, sadly. I sure saw a lot of cloud but a sunset? No, afraid not, we weren’t even facing the right direction at the time the sun went down. Shortly afterwards it was all over and we were back down on the ground – Josh making it very clear he wanted to be elsewhere and that he didn’t want to waste his time standing around chatting. It was a real shame that he had this attitude; the cloud I accepted as one of those things but I paid a lot of money for the experience of flying in the biplane and, whilst it wasn’t completely ruined by his attitude, It was certainly tarnished.

    Ah, well, never mind; it’s only money, right? At least I can say I’ve been on a biplane AND a seaplane. In the same day! It was quite an experience and, despite Josh, I will remember that day for a long, long time.

    Last edited by UKCraig; 01-14-2008 at 11:40 AM. Reason: added photos

  2. #12

    Default Day Six

    Wednesday 21st November 2007

    Yesterday had been a long and tiring day but I woke unusually early this morning. It took a few moments to realise what had woken me but I soon realised that it was due to the large puddle that had appeared on the floor of the tent under the open door. So it had rained overnight again it would seem. Being that cold, wet and awake before sunrise I guess I could have been forgiven for thinking I was back home – it was somehow comforting that I didn’t have to hop in the car and head to work.

    So, where was I going today? I didn’t really know. I did know that I wanted to stop at Biscayne National Park and, hopefully, Everglades National Park too. Apart from that it was a case of making it up as I went along, although I did have it in mind that I would be happy if I made it as far as Naples by nightfall. Tomorrow I’d head up to Sarasota to spend Thanksgiving with an old friend and, as I watched the sun rise over the ocean from Sandspur Beach, I started to worry how his new husband would appreciate me rocking up and sleeping in their spare room.

    As soon as the sun was up I quickly packed away the tent, grabbed a nice hot shower and hopped in the car. I stopped at the gatehouse to enquire about possible campgrounds in the Naples area and ended up chatting with the ranger who was happy to open up the office and get me the information that I needed even though he wasn’t actually on duty. It summed up Bahia Honda State Park – absolutely fantastic – I would definitely return in the future and I would happily recommend it to others.

    I made excellent time back towards Key Largo – evidently too good as I had to quickly pull off the road at one point in order to escape the attention of a State Trooper who I’d sped past – and pulled in to Biscayne National Park at 0945. I’d come for the glass bottom boat tour which leaves at 1000 and rushed upstairs to book myself a place but was informed that the usual tour wasn’t running today due to the murky waters caused by the high winds of the previous couple of days. Instead they were going to head out to Boca Chita Key – somehow it seemed a better option to me.

    It was quite a long ride out so I was pleased that the park ranger onboard was, once again, able to give an entertaining and informative presentation. I do love the National Park Service! It was really interesting to get an idea of what The Keys would have been like prior to Henry Flagler built his famous railroad. The ranger pointed out how you could actually see the Gulf Stream on the water just off the shore and then the irreparable damage caused by inexperienced or incapable boat owners who had taken a short cut across the coral reef and destroyed both the coral and the sea grass.

    As we made out way back to park headquarters I sat on the bow of the boat and the ranger, having finished his presentation and seeking to escape the never-ending questions from the couple from Tokyo, came up to join me. We sat up there for twenty minutes or so, exchanging stories of our travels through our respective home countries and talking about our future plans. For a while I felt like a real traveller but this was short-lived as he started to recount his trip through South America – suddenly I felt a bit inferior and promised myself that I would get out and see some more of this world of ours before I was very much older. But that would have to wait; for now my next destination would be the nearby Everglades National Park and, as luck would have it, the friendly ranger spent two years working there previously and offered some very helpful suggestions.

    Back in the car, I set off in the direction of Shark Valley where I planned to ride the last tram of the day at 3pm. As I left Biscayne National Park I was surprised to see just how close it was to Homestead-Miami Speedway – the contrast between the two couldn’t have been greater.

    By the time I arrived at the Shark Valley entrance of the Everglades National Park I was running rather later than planned and I didn’t think that I’d make the tram but I made it with (literally) seconds to spare. As I took my seat we set off – I couldn’t have timed it any better. Originally I had planned to hire a cycle and explore the loop at my own pace, but the ranger at Biscayne had suggested it is far more rewarding to have someone who knows what they're talking abou pointing things out on your first visit. I was soon very grateful to him for his advice as Everglades National Park was a very different park to I am used to. Very flat (obviously!) and, at first glance, a little dull but, with an expert pointing things out, utterly fascinating. I was very glad to have arrived when I did as I really would have missed out if I’d not taken that tour.

    We arrived back at the tram station a short while after 5pm and I sat in the car and wondered where to go next. I had originally thought I would head over to Naples, leaving the last leg of the drive to Sarasota for the next day, but I decided that I should press on as far as possible. I finally got my sunset as I drove along the Tamiami Trail through Big Cypress National Preserve; absolutely stunning. As I drove on I started to feel a little faint, and then realised that I’d not eaten anything for almost 24 hours, so I pulled into a gas station for the usual healthy diet of road food – a packet of cashews and a can of Red Bull – which amazingly did the trick and I soon had a second wind. I pressed on; revelling in the moment. I don’t know what it is about me and my road trips but I do love being able to switch my mind off, turn the music up and concentrate on nothing other than what is in front of you whilst counting down the miles to your destination. Bliss.

    Everglades City rushed past my window in a blur, as did Marco Island, Naples, Bonita Springs and Fort Myers. I finally decided to call it a day once I was north of Fort Myers and pulled off the Interstate to seek overnight accommodation. I found a nice shiny new Super 8, the only ones I usually consider stopping at as the dirt and dust hasn’t yet had time to accumulate, and pulled in. I’d heard horror stories of travelling on the eve of Thanksgiving and wondered if I’d have a problem finding a room. I needn’t have worried as the Super 8 proved not only to be cheap and clean but it had enough spare capacity to cope with the unannounced arrival of the 101st Airborne. And it had wifi too which was a real luxury after a week away from my emails.

    Last edited by UKCraig; 01-14-2008 at 10:15 AM. Reason: added photos

  3. #13

    Default Day Seven: Thanksgiving

    Thursday 22nd November 2007

    So, today is Thanksgiving, is it? Fantastic! But what exactly does that mean? I had the best nights sleep ever – no rain puddles on the floor this morning – which left me wondering if Thanksgiving was actually some sort of elaborate scheme dreamed up by the Super 8 management where, for one night each year, they wheel out the comfy beds to give thanks to their customers for putting up with the dust and poor service over the course of the rest of the year. I concluded that it was probably quite unlikely and that I’d just been really really tired when I arrived last night.

    I checked out, grabbed some breakfast from the buffet then leapt in the car to go and battle this awful Thanksgiving traffic carnage that I had kept hearing about. 45 minutes later I was halfway to Sarasota and I had to send a text message to advise I would be arriving early! I have no idea where everyone was but, if Thanksgiving Eve (is there such a thing?) had been quiet then Thanksgiving proper was truly bizarre. I had been wondering how they managed to film the shots of an apparently abandoned New York City in the movie, I am Legend. The answer was glaringly obvious; they must have filmed it on Thanksgiving.

    The last few miles were particularly surreal. I’d known Katie for several years and had heard so much about Sarasota over that time. When I finally drove past the ‘Welcome to Sarasota’ sign I felt almost emotional; like I was coming home somehow! To top it all, as I drove down the interstate with the roof down and the sun beating down, I was listening to ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ on the radio. Seriously, seriously strange!

    It took a while to find Kate and Nicks apartment in the large development where they live but, when I finally found it, I couldn’t quite bring myself to knock on the door. I was worried that she might have changed in the year she’d been living in the US and that Nick might have serious concerns about an old friend of his missus turning up at their place - I know I probably would! Thankfully, after a deep breath, my fears were allayed and I was welcomed in by two people who made me feel immediately at home. I thank them profusely for that welcome.

    After the obligatory house tour (I still can’t get over the size of properties in the US – amazing!) and the introduction to Lou, their beagle, we headed off for a guided tour of the area. I immediately felt at home in Sarasota – it actually had a proper ‘small town’ feel about it – and I fell completely in love with it when I realised the proximity to the beach. It was a million miles from my previous impression of Florida – which was some strange mix of theme parks and Miami Vice – this was a real town and a real community.

    I’d tried not to have any preconceptions of what Thanksgiving would be like in the US as, invariably, you set yourself up for a fall and end up coming away disappointed but I really couldn’t help it. After all I’ve seen Friends on the TV! In the end it was everything I’d hoped for multiplied by ten – superb. Our hosts were fantastically hospitable and, despite them not knowing who the hell I was, were happy to have me join them in the struggle to eat the mountain of (beautifully prepared) food. Absolutely superb – I can see why it is such a tradition in the US – it’s like Christmas in the UK but without all the hype, hassle and family politics. I loved it!

    We stopped at a local bar on the way back to their apartment and met up with a number of their friends. It was a great little place with a great atmosphere and it put me in mind of a good old English pub but with one fantastic addition: a huge firepit in the garden. I’ve never seen it before which, thinking about it since, is probably a good thing – if it had been in the UK then the punters would surely have burned the picnic tables, the fence, the chairs from the bar and, most likely, the bar itself.

    Earlier in the evening Kate had suggested that we should head out to the midnight sales which left Nick and I reeling in horror at the thought. Suddenly, after four or five pints (not to mention innumerable glasses of wine, margaritas and assorted other goodies) Nick and I decided that it might actually be rather fun. Perhaps fun wasn’t the right word but it was certainly very interesting! We headed out to Ellenton Mall armed with all sorts of advice for back roads into the complex from people at the bar who had recoiled in horror at the very suggestion of hitting the mall. I think it’s fair to say that I’ve not seen anything quite so manic for many years… traffic tailbacks for miles around (literally) and people getting out of cars to remonstrate with other drivers who cut into the line were the tip of the iceberg. We were almost wiped out by some crazy rednecks (to whom DD most likely means Demolition Derby rather than Designated Driver) who seemed unable to comprehend there was a line of stationary traffic and proceeded on at unabated speed until the only option was to jam on the brakes and hope for the best. Thankfully they managed to miss us and ended up sliding down the embankment. It was truly insane. And that was before we got into the mall itself a mere two hours after we joined the back of the traffic queue!

    I finally crawled into my bed in their spare room at some time after 0330. It had been a great day. I think it’s fair to say that I liked Thanksgiving. Can we have it in the UK now, please?

    Last edited by UKCraig; 01-16-2008 at 12:46 PM.

  4. #14
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Location
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    Posts
    10,576

    Default Love the Photos! (How did you do that?)

    Craig,

    I love the addition of the photos.

    How did you get them spaced three on a line? I looked at the source code, but I still don't see how you did this. But I like it!

    Mark

  5. #15

    Default Glad you like em!

    I just used basic vB code to add them:

    [url=aaaa][img]bbbb[/img][/url] [url=xxxx][img]yyyy[/img][/url]

    Note the space between the two 'tags' rather than a line break.

    Glad you like the addition of the photos - it was a good suggestion to add them - it really brightens the report up! How are you enjoying the report? I know it's a little long but hopefully it'll prove useful to others travelling through the area in the future.

    {Editor's Note: Hah! I forgot when I added that page -- Good reminder!}
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 01-16-2008 at 02:22 PM.

  6. #16
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Location
    South of England.
    Posts
    11,662

    Default

    really enjoyed the read so far,sounds like a great trip,top pics to!!

  7. #17

    Default Day Eight: Starting to feel at home!

    Glad you're enjoying it! ;)

    Friday 23rd November 2007

    I was able to enjoy a lie-in this morning but I felt so sorry for Nick who had to be in work at something horrible like 0700. I’d like to think he made it on time but I have no idea as I slept right through and didn’t surface until mid morning. When I finally did wake up, I couldn’t wait to get in the car and head on out. Katie and I were off to Lowry Park Zoo for the day!

    I hadn’t been to the zoo for years and years - although it was something that Katie and I said we’d do back in the UK – but, when she left the UK, my excuse to go and hang out at the zoo for the day left with her. I thought it only right that we should take the opportunity to right this terrible wrong!

    I’m sure no zoo is ever going to be very popular with the environmentalists (the clue is in last ten letters) but Lowry Park Zoo, despite being voted #1 Family Friendly Zoo, has come in for particular criticism over the years. They claim that the animals are not well looked after and that their living conditions are not acceptable. They point to an incident in 2006, when a 14-year old tiger was shot after escaping from her pen, as proving their claims. The zoo has spent a large amount of time and money improving conditions for the animals in recent years and I looked forward to seeing for myself.

    For the first (and, as it turned out, only) time on this trip, we had a few problems with the satnav directions and we did several laps of the industrial wasteland surrounding Ybor City. We both turned our noses up a little at the place but, it turns out, it’s actually quite a draw. I struggled to get my head round this concept when I was told but, to be fair, maybe we didn’t go down every road. I’m going to make a point of stopping by next time I’m in the area to see if there actually was something that I missed!

    When we reached the zoo we struggled to park the car as the lot was rammed solid – surely a good sign – before handing over our money (quite a lot of it) and heading off to see the animals. I was particularly looking forward to seeing the turtles and the big cats but I loved it all. The elephants put on a show for us – I thought there was going to be violence for a bit there – although I don’t think it’s unfair to say they smelt pretty bad! I got to feed a giraffe which, even though it cost me three bucks for the pleasure, was pretty cool it has to be said. We were struggling to work out exactly where we were and where we wanted to go as there was just so many animals to see so we decided to get our bearings by taking a ride on the chairlift – another five bucks – where we finally got a grasp on just how big the place was.

    A number of hours later we decided to head off back to the car – tired but happy – it had been a really good day; we’d had some great weather and seen some cool animals but, best of all, I’d finally got to catch up with an old friend over a year since I’d last seen her. It hadn’t been a cheap day by any means but we couldn’t resist stopping at the gift shop as we left (you really thought they’d miss another opportunity to make some money out of us?!) where we picked up a little present for Nick who was working both his and Katies shift at the bar, as well as a little souvenir for me!

    I couldn’t go to Tampa and miss the opportunity to tick another ballpark of my list so we headed towards Tropicana Field in St Petersburg. The satnav worked just fine this time but, other than that, the plan was a total flop as the place was completely closed down and locked up. Even the shop was stripped bare and empty. It almost looked as if the tenants had done a moonlight flit! Damn them – the opportunity to pick up a Florida Marlins baseball would have to wait for another day.

    We headed back towards Sarasota across the new Sunshine Skyway Bridge – the worlds longest bridge with a cable-stayed main span. It was a beautiful spectacle to watch the sun set across Tampa Bay as we crossed the bridge and I put my foot down to get to the other side (5.5 miles is a long way!) in the hope of getting a photo with the sun setting behind the bridge. We finally reached the other side and pulled off the highway onto the Skyway Fishing Pier – ingeniously constructed from the approach road to the original bridge. We never got that photo but it was good to get out of the car and marvel at the sheer scale of the bridge that I’d first seen back at home on the Discovery Channel.

    After stopping at the apartment to take Lou for walkies we drove down to the bar where both Nick and Kate work. He’d been working since 7am this morning and, after I led him astray the previous evening, he was looking shattered. Katie dived behind the bar to help him out but he was kept busy until closing time whilst I sat on the other side of the bar drinking his beer and getting to know the locals. I felt somewhat guilty but I was, yet again, made so welcome that the feeling soon passed. It was soon silly o’clock the next morning and we were closing the bar up for the night. Even then though he didn’t slow down; offering lifts to his kitchen staff and making sure they got home okay.

    I had come to Florida not expecting to like Nick for taking my friend away from me but I could already see he was a good man and that Kate had done exactly the right thing in relocating. The people were awesome, the weather simply fantastic and she’d found herself a good man. I was pleased for her but, as I lay there in bed that night, I couldn’t help but think… I could see myself living here. But that was just one of those things you feel whilst you're on holiday. Wasn't it? I guess we'd have to see...


  8. #18

    Default Day Nine

    Sorry for the delay... been somewhat busy!

    Saturday 24th November 2007

    I was supposed to get up early this morning and head off to Daytona Beach to meet up with an old ‘friend of a friend’ who I’d not seen for several years. We’d arranged to meet up and share a couple of beers at the intriguing sounding ‘Turkey Trot’ at Daytona International Speedway. Rather foolishly I’d given in to the temptation to stay at the bar last night rather longer than I should. In the end I finally got back to the apartment at some time after 3am and decided then that I would set off to Daytona a little later than planned. The idea was to arrive in time to meet up with Ollie for dinner but, when I woke at midday, the plan changed again. No Turkey Trot for me this year… I hope that Ollie understands!

    Nick had headed back to work again so Kate and I went to Perkins for breakfast. It was most agreeable and set me up nicely for the day ahead. After breakfast we drove to the bar to collect Kate’s car and ended up helping a guy outside the bar get his car running. It summed up the attitude of the people that I had met; where in England people would just walk by, here in Florida people were willing to do what they could to help. I liked that a lot.

    We all said our goodbyes and, I have to confess, I had a real lump in my throat and drove off with a flourish (or rather a burnout on the wet parking lot!) I had arrived in Florida expecting not to be welcomed by Nick but left feeling that I’d made new friends. I’ll miss them all and might just have to take Nick up on his offer of returning soon.

    By now it was getting on for 4pm so I put the pedal to the metal and headed towards my destination for tomorrow: Kennedy Space Center. I had no idea where I was staying so, when I saw a sign for a Tourist Info Center as I passed Lakeland I decided to swing on by in the hope that they could offer a lead on a nice state park where I could camp for the evening. It proved to be a surreal experience as the guy running the place refused to let me leave before he showed me his entire (very large) stamp collection! He did eventually furnish me with a brochure listing all the state parks in Florida and I left as quickly as I could before I was taken hostage and confined to a life in the store room.

    I stopped for gas a while down the road and took the opportunity to peruse the state park brochure over a bite to eat. Unfortunately there was little suitable so I decided instead to head on past Orlando and see what I could find in Cocoa Beach where I had planned to visit the huge Ron Jons Surf Shop. After arriving in town, and doing everything I wanted to do, I settled on a Motel 6 for the evening. I tend to avoid these budget hotels as I object to bed bugs but I, have to say, this place is very clean and well maintained and you can’t argue with its proximity to the beach. A real bargain.


  9. #19

    Default Day Ten: Kennedy Space Center

    Sunday 25th November 2007

    After a bite to eat on the forecourt of a local gas station it was keep an appointment with Kennedy Space Center. I have to confess that I’d never really held much of a fascination with space travel but KSC was somewhere that I’d always wanted to visit. I’d first been to Florida with friends six years ago but it seems spending yet another day doing exactly what they wanted to do (theme parks) was far more important than visiting KSC. I guess you could say my visit was somewhat overdue.

    First piece of advice I have for anyone else visiting is keep a very keen eye out for the sign to the visitor center and be careful not to drive on past. The second piece of advice is, if you do miss the turn, try really, really hard not to drive straight up to the gatehouse at the entrance to secure area. They, as I found when I did just that, don’t like that very much. At least the guy with the big gun who shouted at me gave me that impression. Officious tit.

    Having finally found my way to the visitor center I was pleased to discover the staff there far more friendly and helpful. Until I arrived I still didn’t really understand how the tours worked and what exactly I had signed up to but the girl in the ticketing booth kindly explained that the Nasa Up Close tour that I had booked was the best tour (more luck than judgment on my part!) and suggested that she bump me forward from my 1.50pm slot to the first departure of the day. I was happy to take her advice and, after a brief wander around the main area, I was pleased that I did as I boarded a very quiet tour bus and headed out into the very secure area that I had tried to access just an hour ago.

    I’d been told the place was built on a huge scale but the sheer size of the place still surprised me. The first stop was only just across the causeway where astronauts once dared each other to push their Corvettes (given to them by a local Corvette dealer who saw the PR benefits of astronauts rolling round in their cars) faster and faster until they ‘got air’ over the crest. It was hard to believe that people pay fortunes to sit at that tiny grandstand and ‘watch’ the Shuttle launch as the Shuttle Atlantis was barely visible on the horizon. Yes, it sure was built on a huge scale!

    From there we made our way past the huge Vehicle Assembly Building, past the tracks where the Mobile Launcher Platform ferries the Shuttle to the launch pad, past the point where the regular tour ends and onwards. Onwards and onwards some more. Finally we arrived at a viewing area adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean which was the closest the public are allowed to the Shuttle whilst it was sat on its launch pad. We were quite a way from the actual site but, even from where we were, it was an impressive sight and, one I was surprised to say, which stirred the emotions a little. For someone that had never had any real interest in space before I was somewhat surprised and I knew that I had to find a way to return and see a launch for myself.

    We then hopped back on the bus and headed back towards the visitor center. Thankfully we had a few more stops before we ended the tour back there, the first being a stop outside the Vehicle Assembly Building for a photo opportunity. Then it was down to the huge (15,000ft long, 300ft wide) Shuttle Landing Facility where the orbiter returns after their mission. This really summed up the scale of the place to me. Amazing.

    We were then transported to the Saturn 5 building where, after a pretty average recreation of an Apollo launch which would have been more at home along the road at Disney, we exited the movie theatre to be greeted with one of the most surprising sights. I’ll not ruin it for anyone who hasn’t been. Needless to say, if you have been, you’ll have been as amazed as I was. Awesome is an overused word but, well, there is simply no other word for it. I could only imagine the excitement that these launches caused back in the day and, as I wandered amongst the other exhibits, I found myself wishing I’d had the opportunity to experience it.

    One final stop awaited us: the International Space Station Center. By now though I was getting hungry and a little tired so I am afraid to say that I rushed my stop here a little. I knew as I boarded the bus back to the visitor center that I should have taken more time to explore this area but I needed food. Badly! Once I’d eaten I made my way to the Space Mirror Memorial to those lost in the pursuit of space flight, found a quiet corner, sat myself down and contemplated things whilst I enjoyed the sunshine. I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the other attractions clustered around the visitor center.

    I had arrived at KSC when it first opened this morning and it was now nearing closing time. I hadn’t even begun to scratch the surface of what they had to offer there and, although it was quite expensive to visit, I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone visiting Florida - an absolute must see.

    Then it was time to leave. Back to Cocoa Beach and back to the Motel 6 for the evening. It has been an amazing day… well worth the wait!



  10. #20

    Default Day Eleven: Homeward Bound

    Monday 26th November 2007

    I hate how the last day of a trip feels. It sucks badly enough that you’ve got to head home - in this case with nothing to look forward to but a long cold winter - but it’s also a dead day. With one eye on the time, and knowledge of just how expensive it’d be to miss boarding your flight, you can’t really do anything. It’s quite tiresome and not a little stressful.
    Rather than fight it I decided on a change of tack and decided to go for a nice lie-in and, just as I was about to leave my motel room, I said sod it and flicked on HBO instead. I spent another couple of hours watching some dreadful TV movie but it was actually really nice to just slow down and chill out a little after a hectic 10 days.

    Just as the movie ended the maid knocked on the door so I head first to the beach and then to Cocoa Beach pier. But that feeling of restlessness returned so there was nothing else to do but head off to the airport. It was a bit of a ‘nothing’ end to another eventful holiday but I couldn’t help but smile to myself as I sat in the departure lounge. It had been my third trip to the States this year and I suddenly felt like quite the traveller. This time last year I’d never flown anywhere alone so this year had been quite an achievement for me.

    The fun, of course, didn’t end with getting on the plane. Oh no. I had a connection to make in Miami and I had just an hour to make it. When they announced that our flight was going to be an hour and a half late departing I had visions of spending the night sleeping on the floor of Miami Airport. Nice as Miami Airport undoubtedly is, I have to confess that didn’t appeal much. We finally took off and made our way, in a very bumpy fashion, down the coast to Miami.

    Shortly before landing there was an announcement from the purser who apologised for the delay and offered information for passengers with connections to make. She asked that people whose journey was ending in Miami remain in their seats and let us off first and then announced that arrangements had been made for a golf cart to be waiting for me as I left the aircraft and this would speed me to the London flight on the other side of the terminal. I felt very important all of a sudden! We did indeed speed through the airport - I was impressed with the drivers abilities, I’m sure he has a possible future ahead of him in Nascar - and, despite me having to repeatedly shout at the morons who would continually walk in front of us, we were soon at the correct gate.

    I ran onto the aircraft and, as I made my way to my seat, I could sense all eyes were on me. They’d held the aircraft for me and, even before I took my seat, the doors were closed and we were backing off the gate. Now I know what it must feel like to travel in First Class! Shortly after takeoff the drinks trolley came round and I asked for a Jack Daniels and Coke. Two miniatures and two cans of Coke were thrust into my hands and payment refused with a smile.

    God bless American Airlines.


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