A Travellerspoint blog

Electrique!

semi-overcast
View Round the World Baby! on Dodgey's travel map.

Wow! – we are finally on our next stage. London was fun – it was great to hook up with our friends and family and catch up. A special thanks to Matt (again!) for giving us somewhere to sleep and drink far too much.

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We had a lovely day in Balham park and caught up with Matt, Justin, Larry, Eva and Clare.

We spent most of the time organising the European element. When I say “organising”, I mean getting gadgets and camping gear. We didn’t actually plan anything travel related.

We wandered into Millets in Wimbledon, and after some negotiations, left with practically everything we needed. A 6-man tent. No point in being cramped. A 12volt fridge, sleeping bags, cookers, inflatable mattress, tent lights (yep, we have tent ceiling lights that have a switch by the “door” and also in the bedroom) and lots of other things – not forgetting a HUGE solar panel. A 15Watt jobby that comes with a regulator that uses the car battery to “help” when you need it but stops you from drawing the battery until it’s dead. To give you an idea of scale, the solar panels in my backpack kick out 2.5Watts. 15Watt is enough to fully charge a car battery in 3 days of sunlight.

Being a bit of a nerd I decided that a “test erection” was in order….

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Matt and I struggled. It took over an hour to get it up (phnarr phnarr). This would have to improve…..

The other sunbathers in Balham park looked bemused but entertained.

The next step was loading the car. Bearing in mind it has a 144 litre boot it was no small task! Imagine the boot of a normal car, then fill it as full as you think it will go, then look at the space left – that’s about the size of our boot. I had to load everything in a precise order, using every available inch of space. So much so we’ve done away with the spare wheel and now carry a can of “tyre weld” – the stuff that has air and foam in a can to get you out of an emergency until you can get another tyre.

I grabbed a cheapo boot rack and a super cheap bag and that’s where the tent, the folding chairs and table, and one rucksack go. Oh, and all the kitchen stuff.

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Not bad really, considering how much stuff we have.

All packed and ready to go, so that’s what we did. I booked us a cheap crossing to Calais. At this stage Kirstin questioned whether Calais was the right place to go and I realised that we had no idea really. I just went on the assumption of “start from the top and you can’t go wrong”. Not a bad philosophy I reckon.

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(waiting for our boat)

I have to say, it felt fantastic to be on the road again. The only catch was we had no plan whatsoever and France is an awfully big place. We have got a Michelin camping guide, some random book on France (which is hilariously useless – it has such quotes as “we won’t cover the really famous places like Caen as you will surely know about them already…” – great) and a road atlas.

Fortunately Richard Davies recently sent me 6 rambling emails about his favourite places in France, being a huge Francofile, so we grabbed the 1st place he suggested – Honfleur, and went for it, keying it into the GPS but telling it to avoid motorways / pay routes. No point being in a rag-top and going 130k’s on a motorway.

We were quite tired and pretty much caned it down, relieved that the HUGE bag on the boot was staying where it was supposed to. When we eventually found our chosen campsite at about 4pm it was a big culture shock…. In a good way.

We’ve read that France is set up for camping (say “camping” in an overly French accent and you have it down to a tee – especially exaggerating the “ping”) and that it’s a national past-time. Well what we have read it true. I’ve spent many an early-teenage year with my family camping in the South of France, but that’s a little different – all sand and sea and at that age, little interest in what’s going on around you other than girls and cheap booze. In the country side it’s stunning. And boy are they organised!

Practically every single village and town has a camp site, and if the village is too small to host a campsite, they let you camp on their football pitch for free. The campsites have every facility you can think of – including pools, bars, restaurants, steak-frite vendors, washing, showers, TV, electricity, water, shops, you name it, but the beauty is , you can choose how basic you want to be, and how insular, or how involved you want to be.

When we arrived at our 1st site, in Honfleur, we got the choice of a “plot” – which is a neatly hedged off square buy a through-track, supplied with running water and electricity, or, a large field area with no ‘leccy or water but in a wide open space – eu naturalle if you like. You still of course have access to all the facilities. With all our solar self sufficiency we of course opted for the basic option and found ourselves in a large grassed area to ourselves. Save money and get closer to Mother Nature. That was the plan, and it worked fine.

We whacked the tent up in far less than the hour that Matt and I managed on the 1st attempt…

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You can clearly tell Kirstin is loving the camping life : - )

Pleased as punch we unpacked and got ourselves settled, with our portable fridge plugged into the car and our solar panels out. At this stage we realised why everyone else with a tent was pitched on the one other open area – we were right behind a road and the grass what littered with dog shit. Can’t have everything.

The next day we drove 3k’s down to Honfleur. A stunning harbour town with even more stunning architecture. The whole harbour is surrounded by restaurants offering Moule Frites for 12 Euros. Not bad we thought. It was when we ordered our drinks we realised we were in a tourist trap. 4.5 Euros for a half… that’s £8 a pint!!! We had a lovely day to be fair but quickly realised we will have to be a little more wise in future. The local restaurant near the campsite was a fraction of the price and the service was superb.

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(Honfleur)

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(More Honfleur)

We made a few discoveries that caught us out. i.e. we ended up having to buy wine from the restaurant after discovering the French shops all close from 12.30 to 2.30, and we missed ordering our bread and croissants by half an hour.

We also discovered that the “regulator” that is supposed to stop the car battery going dead doesn’t work! – flat battery. Fortunately, half an hour’s charge with the solar panels was enough to get us started.

After 2 nights at Honfleur we set off for Mont St Michell. This time the drive was spectacular. Roof off, in the sun, no rush. A real joy. We drove through village after village, all with old beam style houses. Bags of character. Saw a particularly odd “water sphere” on a roundabout in one town.

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Rocking up at the campsite at Mont St Michelle today, we were a little more savvy than last time, though we still made mistakes. We realised that electricity was only an extra 2 Euros per day, but still turned it down assuming we didn’t need it.

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(all parked and ready to unpack)

We managed with little effort to get the tent up and complete within less than 30 minutes this time!

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(Notice the solar panels in the dash board of the car.. they usually sit up outside)

It turns out we are a lot close to Mont St Michell than we thought. I went for a walk around the site, and after about 20 paces was this view….

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Not bad! – we are planning to walk to it tomorrow.

All said and done, we are loving the camping so far. We’ve already made one compromise though… we now have ELECTRICITY! – I noticed the power supplies on the pitch next to us so we bought the relevant cables. Having the laptop going flat all the time was becoming a pain, and we can also use our electric mosquito repeller now. And we need it! – both got several huge bites already. I felt a sting half an hour ago and looked down to see a monster of a mozzie sucking my blood. Can’t have that and the normal mosquito coils that burn don’t seem such a good idea in a tent…..

Loving it and looking forward to scouring France for adventure and views.

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A Tout a l’heur!

Update – well, we don’t get much access to the web so here is my next instalment….

Mont St Michell – Impressive sight – I’ve been there before , can’t remember when. We took a stroll (climb) up to the abbey at the top but bailed out of going in as they wanted 9 Euros each. Bit of a rip off and we aren’t really churchy people

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We didn’t stay long. I guess we are culturally vacuous. Maybe an hour! : - ) – was a good healthy walk though – about a mile from the campsite.

On our walk back we decided there was little point staying any longer so we packed up. We’ve got it down to under an hour now. Off we went, in search of a bit more sun. We got caught in some rain in Honfleur. It started drizzling so we got in the tent and closed the “doors”. I made a comment about hoping we got some “proper” rain to test the tent out. I got what I wished for – it absolutely chucked it down, so much so that it started coming in where the zips meet the fabric in places. Nothing problematic, but we certainly had to make damn sure the ground sheet was inside the fly sheet. Not seen rain like that in a while…

All packed… and nowhere to go. No plan of course – we must get better at this. We grabbed the map and picked the Loire Valley as it’s further south (better weather) and of course famous for its river and chateaus. Randomly, we decided to head for the river near Angers as it seemed a feasible distance and kind of in the right place. We had a super drive down. Half on fast dual carriageways with the hood up, and half down lovely country roads with the hood down. I’ve found I can’t fling the car round roundabouts at speed as the front wheels skip – there is so much weight on the boot. Ahh well.

One of the odd things about this region we have discovered is that it doesn’t get dark until about 11pm. This gives the great advantage that you don’t need to worry about arriving at your next campsite early to pitch up. The disadvantage, is that the sun doesn’t really seem to work until about 11am.

We got to our target campsite just below Angers mid afternoon, and being the experienced campers (tenters!) we now are, we took a stroll around to check it out. A good move. It was all neat and sectioned off with hedges like the previous ones, but it lacked the image we had of camping by the river – which was 40 yards away across a large concrete road. It just wasn’t right so we grabbed the map and then decided to drive along the North bank of the river and picked another camp site from the Michelin guide and headed for that (at La Rosiere). En-route we passed several other campsites which we made a mental note of.

The camp site at Les Rosier was another Michelin 4 star jobby, and to be honest, after strolling around, we both agreed it had a very “Butlins” feel to it. All very neat and sectioned off, with big pools and lots of families. We’ve already had our fill of these affairs. It’s just too “camping for the sake of camping”. You end up enclosed in a fake world. SO we headed back up the river to check out one of the other sites we passed. This move proved to be a breakthrough. We are now pitched by the river, in a fairly empty field at a place called La Menitre. There is no swimming pool, no games room, no restaurant. There is however a wooden hut that serves draught cold beer, frites and chicken, there is also a shower block and the use of a freezer for the ice blocks we now use as my electric fridge kills the car in 10 minutes flat. We also have electricity!

The whole feeling is far more “back to nature”. It’s peaceful, apart from a rave a neighbour had last night and it’s very green. Honest camping I’d call it.

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(That’s the Loire!)

The host is a lovely French lady who seems to run the place with her husband and lives in a static home in a hedge. They held a Spanish evening last night, with tables laid under the trees, serving fantastic looking Paella accompanied by a mad French guitarist who was supposed to be playing flamenco but most definitely wasn’t.
We hadn’t made reservations so we sat near by and ate frites and pizza but the husband of the outfit plied us with plenty of free sangria (possibly the most alcoholic version we’ve ever tried!) and proclaimed to me he was the “champion de sangria”. Great fun. We sat and got sozzled watching the locals (the guests all seemed to be from the local village) dance and clap to the music.

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(I can’t do clever shots of sunsets with our compact camera so I got creative and hid the sun behind a sign! : - ) )

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(Or another trick is to avoid the sun altogether! – the sky was so lilac I wish I could have captured it)
(We left the big Canon DSLR in England – it’s just too heavy and bulky. *sob*… )

The price is cheap too! – we have so far been paying about 22 Euros a day for a pitch with power on the “mega sites”. This one comes in at 6 Euros a day with power. The one further down the road that we poo-pooed was 35 a day!

So lesson learnt – ignore the guide book and just keep an eye out for “country” sites.

Our French is coming on well. We set the sat-nav to French the moment we set off. The upshot is we can now give and receive directions fluently! - Apres huit cent metre, traverse le rond point, deusiemme sortie, prui, alle tu driot! - more useful that you think : - ) - the rest is coming on well too. We hope to grab a dictionary today as we have big gaps in our vocab – though it’s Sunday so the only thing open seems to be the church. Talking of which, up next is a drive down the road to look at some famous abbeys and chateaus.

p.s. sitting with my coffee tying away, overlooking the Loire with an Abbey on the other side – not bad hey!!?! : - )

Update 2…

So next day! – We went on a little sight seeing trip today. We headed down the Loire to see Gennes and Saumur. On the way , keeping an eye out for a good café, all the while overtaking the Tour De France and trying not to kill them, we happened across a small market affair lining the road. People selling various farm produce and local wines – with lots of tasting going on. An easy decision to stop really. Had a lovely coffee and sat and watched the French taste wine with overly pursed lips and an air of seriousness , accompanied by lots of kissing. Nice start to the day.

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Gennes was fairly uneventful. We went there as we read there are Roman ruins. We got to the entrance and a lone fat Frenchman with a scary looking skin condition was sitting at a desk. 6 Euro later he asked if we needed a guided tour. After establishing that it was free he told us it would be about 10 minutes.

10 Minutes later, he locked the gate and the tour proceeded, him being the guide. Not sure what the 10 minute wait was for. Interesting but we’ve seen far better amphitheatres. He was entertaining though and it was a nice way to spend the morning.

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After that we headed to Saumur – famous for it’s sparkling wine. Very picturesque, with the Chateau dominating the skyline.

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We had a good look around the outside (3 Euros each again. Nothing here is for free) – we couldn’t go inside as they are restoring it. After that it was a hearty lunch in the main square by the bridge, some bread shopping, and now we are back on the site drinking beers from our fridge that I have truly got a handle on now.
I’ve sussed the secret of solar power – use it when the sun is out.

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(The Loire is a very flat area)

Oh – we have once again fallen into the silly accent trap – neither of us can help talking in an “Allo Allo” accent most of the time. It’s tiring at times but you just can’t ‘elp it.

Talking about accents, I missed a great opportunity for hilarity today. I was putting our ice block in the freezer at the camp site entrance when a car and caravan arrived. The clearly English woman said to me (imagine very poor French in a very English accent), “Bonjour – et tu have un pitch for le caravan?” – Now I could have replied along the lines of, “Pardon, parlez vous Francais, je ne compronde pas!”, or, “Pardon? My eengleesh iz not so well, you ‘ave to talk slow wiz me.”, and then broken into fluent English. Alas , I’m not that quick on my feet. I said, “you are English! So am I”. Sigh.

Another update - went to Angers today in search of books (French language) and wifi. Unbelievably we could not find wifi anywhere. We ended up driving round local villages with the laptop open searching for unsecured networks. Found one in the end, in a tiny village. Just as I was about to update the blog it chucked it down so we had to run :- ( . Got back to the site and the wind and rain had collapsed part of our tent and ripped a hole. We are off to the deep south in search of better weather!

Posted by Dodgey 03:27 Archived in France Comments (0)

Progress!


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Car hunting in London was a nightmare! - We kept going to "dealers" that don't actually have a forecourt - i.e. Arthur Daley's. The worst one yesterday was a car described as "STUNNER! SHOWROOM CONDITION! PERFECT!! - electric seats, heated seats, cruise control, Electric Mirrors Air con, 40,000 miles, new MOT. etc etc..... we got there and the car was on the road side and after calling the "dealer" he said, "take a look and call me if you are interested, then I'll come out"... hmmm... so he won't come out unless I'm interested!!?! - suspicious...

Well, it was grubby, with a ripped roof (hardly showroom condition), no air con, no electric anything, no heated anything, no cruise control, 50,000 miles and one tyre was so bald it was slick - how did it get a recent MOT??? Bloody robbers. We left very pissed off.

...It's been really getting me down, searching for cars non stop. I sat as usual this morning and kept hitting the refresh button on the car search site and BINGO! a car 8 years newer than we have been looking at, £500 less than our target, and a whole model range up was appearing before my eyes. The photos had not even had time to process. We were down there like rats up a drain pipe!

Voila! £1900 and we have this with a full service history, all the right things have been done, lady owner...

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All we have to do now is grab a boot rack and a case for it and we are off to France!

YAY!

Posted by Dodgey 10:42 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Stopover in London

sunny
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Just a brief update as you will have noticed the blog has gone all quiet - not a lot to report really. We are in London staying with friends while we sort out a car. We hope to be gone within a week. Can't stand being back here, apart from seeing our friends of course.

The plan is to grab a cheap rag-top and some camping kit, then hit Europe, working down through France, Italy etc. Buying a used car in London is proving a pain in the butt! - conmen at every corner. We'll get there! :-)

Posted by Dodgey 10:20 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Blast Off!

sunny 35 °C
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Well, what have we been up to since the last instalment....

It's no secret that Dad had a bit of a medical scare. I won't go into details but we've had to extend our stay while the docs sign him off for flying. He's fine now and we are hoping to return next weekend.

...Meanwhile.. whilst in Orlando - you HAVE to do theme parks so that's what we did!. We went to Cypress Gardens with Mum and Dad - it's billed as America's 1st theme park. For good reason. It's like stepping back in time. They should have people selling candy canes and general wellness ligaments. The biggest coaster was about 6 foot off the ground! We didn't stay there long...

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(This was the high tech queue for the coaster, and you can see the height of the track)

We felt like right dicks when we got off. It's more fun sliding down the stairs on your bum at home.

Next stop was Typhoon Lagoon - A Disney run water park. I've never been to one before but Kirstin spent a lot of her childhood at one in Hong Kong. It was a pleasant surprise - well laid out and very green. So much so you felt normal walking around with hundreds of other people in your swimmers. We of course smuggled in our lunch and beers - we've quickly learnt that theme parks make half their money on food and drink, and we are fed up with junk, plus queuing for food, so we pack our own lunch in our little rucksack. They had a great selection of water slides, some you ride "naked", others sitting in tubes. The first "naked " one we went down removed a centimiter of skin from my ankle. I dealt with the pain and bled quietly.

They have a huge wave pool and the thing generates a 6foot wave every 90 seconds. Quite a giggle for a while. We saw some chap manage to body surf it.

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They also have a "river" that runs round the circumference of the park with tubes in it and a gentle current. You can relax and bob round, or use it as a kind of water taxi service. Shame, it was so slow that we got bored after a few minutes. Still, another box ticked.

The best thing there was a "water rollercoaster" - basically you sit in tubes and go round as normal, but you go up as well as down with the use of some ingenious very powerful water jets. There was a photographer there, who, as usual, wanted to lighten our pockets of money for the pics, so I went to the website and screen grabbed them, hence the small size...

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(That's part of the "water coaster")

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(Us popping out!)

We had a great day. Only stayed about 3 to 4 hours. After that we'd done most things a couple of times and had had enough. We clearly get easily bored.

Next!

Next- Bush Gardens - a very highly rated theme park in Tampa that is a mix of a wildlife park and a coaster park. We rocked up and splashed out on express passes - i.e queue jumping tickets. An extra £12 each but worth every penny. They had a great wooden coaster that was brutal. Also quite a few water rides - a common theme here due to the heat....

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..Then, then... there was the "plung coaster". A plung coaster is one that drops you vertically while you sit upright. The whole thrill is in the big vertical drop. They have one at Alton Towers in England called Oblivion. The one at Busch Gardens drops you further, faster, then drops you AGAIN, then loops you and lots of other stuff. The clever bit is that at the top of each drop they stop the "car" and let it hang over the edge, so you can't even see the track below you, and you are leaning forward at about 40 degrees. You wait... and then BLAMO - you drop. Terrifying.

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(That's the 1st of 2 drops)

We happily barged past 100's of people with our express passes and climbed aboard.

Oh My God! - totally pant filling. Kirstin had her eyes closed when we teetered over the edge of the 1st drop. I screamed. K actually thought she was going to chuck up at one stage.

Here is a link to a small video I took of it...

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We went back later and had another go, this time sitting in the front row! Again, they take pictures and charge you $12 a picture, so I took a digital of the computer screen. I reckon I'm public enemy number one in theme parks photographer circles now.

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(Check out Kirstin's face LOL)

Another great day. Saw some animals, rode the steam train, blah blah blah...

Next! - Universal Studios. To be honest we were a little dissapointed. We expected more film sets and tours but it was essentially a theme park with "movie" based rides. Impressive nonetheless. We did the classics, like Jaws and the one where water pours round an underground train. All very well put together if a little dated.

Did the new Simpsons ride which is in reality a simulator with a giant screen round you. We had a huge guy in front of us so K saw bugger all.

Not an amazing day but a laugh all the same.

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Next! - Well this one was a bit unique! - the SHUTTLE LAUNCH! :-)

What an event. We did a load of Internet research and went down to "Space View Park" which is a small area opposite the launch pad. It's as close as you can get without a site pass. We arrived and the best seating was already vanishing, and we had 4 hours to go so we decided not to worry about it as we'd have to sit on concrete for ages. Better leave it till later and relax.

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(That's the assembly building on the right)

We grabbed the last bench in existence and read our papers, drank beers and generally chilled. Then we moved onto the grass area at the back and fired up a disposable BBQ and had some lovely ribs,

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...then we moved to a great spot everyone seemed to have overlooked. Nice seat by the water with no one in our way. The countdown began.....

I can't really describe how it feels to be there. Especially after touring the facility a couple of weeks before hand and seeing the shuttle sitting on it's pad and learning all the processes involved in a sucessful launch. The site we were at also had speakers with live feeds to the NASA control centre which really added to the atmosphere.

We kept an eye on my uber-accurate watch and at exactly 5.02pm and 12 seconds - sure enough, a massive grey cloud of smoke appeared under the shuttle and then a couple of seconds later - whoooomph! - the solid rocket boosters lit and it leapt up like the biggest firework in the world.

When you see launches on TV they always look slow. When you are there you see that's not the case. The second the boosters lit it, well, it rocketed up! You really could see and realise the pilots were strapped to one giant firecracker that could not be stopped. It was awe inspiring and moving. A very surreal experience. Hard to explain, but it was certainly humbling and you got a great feeling for how impressive and dangerous the whole thing was.

The sound was awesome too - it took a while to reach us and when it did it was a deep bass rumbling.

Really can't explain it. You have to see one go! - and there won't be many more with it being replaced soon.

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(A great viewing spot - the people in front were in the water for an hor or more...)

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An unforgettable day, and unforgettable traffic on the way back! :-)

Meanwhile, Kirstin has been keeping herself busy.. knitting a toy turtle for a friends' baby...

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We've now come back down to earth (I know, I couldn't resist that, sorry) - we moved to a new villa today - just accross the road. We've been here far longer than planned and were feeling a bit penned in at our old place so we've grabbed another with a larger pool area and a hot tub. Hopefull back before next weekend for a London hook up then off to Europe..

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Posted by Dodgey 10:50 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Countdown to Lift-off and Visitors from Another Planet

semi-overcast 32 °C
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Our last couple of days in the Keys were spent relaxing (you may be surprised to hear). We had a little explore around the area, going North for half an hour to find somewhere to have a go on a Jetski. We found this place ....

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Not bad hey!?! - anyhow - after our briefing about where to go and where not to go, we had a blast on a Jetski. The water is only a few feet deep in most places - it's a "Keys thing" - so it can be a little nerve racking doing 50kph over sand bars and the likes. Superb fun, and Kirst spent most of the time terrified and letting out yelps of terror.

After that we went off searching for a proper beach, and found one...

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Other than that, it was chillin' time. I eventually worked out how to overcome the lack of shade problem on our sea deck. I up-ended two sun loungers, then attached one of our bed covers.

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Job Done!!

Phew - I could play poker during the day too :-) - talking of which, once we left the Keys we headed back up to Fort Lauderdale. My poker friend there had received our passports and a watch I bought mail-order so we dopped in for a BBQ lunch and a swim.

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Having a watch is cool - we started to notice not having one was becoming a major pain. It's no fun having to fish your camera out and go through all the menus to find out the time frequently. I got one for half price on the Internet - it has no batteries - it's solar, and it receives the time via radio from 5 atomic clocks around the world - so you never have to set it and it's never wrong. Waterproof too. All for £40. Bargain.

Moving on from lunch we set off on the remainder of our journey to Orlando, to the villa we have rented. It's in a lovely spot, right on the edge of a golf course. As we are discovering, everyone lives on a golf course here.

Oh yeah, forgot to mention... on the way to the villa we picked up..... Mum & Dad! :-)

They had a good flight with no problems, except being sent the entire length of the airport by a member of staff, to the wrong car park to meet us. Got there in the end.

So all tucked into our new villa....

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.....we got stuck into what Orlando has to offer - starting with "GatorLand". I don't think I have to explain much about it really, only to say, well, it's a little lame. Sure it was cool seeing some aligators, but to be honest, once you've seen one, you've seen them all.

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(Nice snap hey? - I know, I know)

Finished with Gatorland we went in search of some decent food. Problem is, in Orlando, the food joints are pretty much all fast food / burger houses. It's bloody tricky to find anywhere nice to eat. We were not giving up though - we read about a place near by called "Celebration" - "lovely restaurants by a lake" etc etc. so off we went.

The best way to describe Celebration is, well, have you seen the "Truman Show" film? - it is most exactly like being on set. We plumped for lunch at an Italian by the lake. The service was hillarious. Our waiter was 100% drunk or on drugs. He'd take an order from one of us, then literally 5 seconds later, ask what we'd chosen. At one stage he delivered two of the ravioli dishes and told us they were Calzones. wtf!?! How can you serve food from a 10 item menu and not see the difference between a calzone and a plate of ravioli? He got worse and worse. Don't know what dad tipped him but I hope it wasn't much.

After lunch we took a stroll around the lake.

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There was one spot where water jets out of the pavement at random intervals, you know, like the kids like to run through at theme parks. Kirstin and Mum plucked up the courage and ran through, fully clothed, handbags and all, and got away with it. Dad, was WAY cooler. He walked though, taking his time. How we prayed the water jets fired up, but alas, he got away with it :-) The onlookers seemed most impressed!

I got a frickin' ticket there too! - and the offence? Parking with my left wheels by the pavement. That's right, it's an offence in Celebration to park on the "other" side of the road facing oncoming traffic. I assume it doesn't look "tidy" enough. Sigh.

The next day we went to the Kennedy Space Center. No, not Cape Canaveral, the Cape is there, it's stuck on the end , but it's an army base. They used to test military rockets there, but all the space rockets are launched from Kennedy, next door. There you go - a new interesting fact learnt, though try convincing the press that the shuttle luanches not from Cape Canaveral but the Kennedy Space Center......

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First on the agenda was the coach tour. You get shuttled round the site and get off here and there to gawp at stuff. Our timing was superb, as there was/is a shuttle currently on the launchpad. Launchpads without spaceships are pretty dull.

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You can't see the shuttle itself, only the fuel tank and boosters as it is rotated 180 degrees until launch day - to protect it. Still a mighty impressive sight.

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(On the left are the gravel tracks for the giant crawler that transports the Shuttle to and from the Vehicle Assembly Building - there are not two gravel roads, just one, per se. The machine straddles the grass and puts a track on each one)

Which brings us onto the VAB....

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This is the building they assemble the shuttle in, the doors to the left slide all the way up to let it out. Well, only a little way up, the shuttle is actually a tiddler compared to regular type rockets, which interestingly, they are switching back to as the shuttle has proven too dangerous and costly.

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(This posing might take off...)

The whole tour was fascinating. We saw the clean room where they prep and load satellites, various launch pads, and loads of wildlife. The whole island is a nature reserve, and teeming with aligators, and a handful of bald eagles.

We also walked under the Saturn V rocket. It's bloody huge!!!

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(The engines shot from below - amazing they work - looks like a mess to me!)

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(We're off to Button Moon, .....)

We grabbed lunch midway, happening accross the viewing seats for astronaught's wives during launch. Mum and K , somewhat disprespectfully played the parts of mourning widows....

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No Oscars there then.... mind you, Dad fared little better....

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(note the authentic-from-the-shop NASA hat)

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The Jetsons

You could get inside a lunar module mockup, whcih was fun in itself...

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But far more fun watching K and Mum trying to get out. Mum kicked K in the teeth.

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Another highlight was going into the original misison control room, which is still all 100% in tact, and then they do a full "re-inactment" of a launch. All the screens firing up, all the computers doing their things, and the whole room vibrating to the deafening noise of the launch. Much like standing at the back and watching it all happen as if you were there, in the past.

The rest of the day was no less fun. We went in the shuttle launch simulator. A standard affair simulator that moves about etc, but they put a huge amount of effort into the build up and presentation. The sim is fun too, it shakes the hell out of you, and the seats deform to emulate G-forces. They say the real astronaughts rate it as very close to the real thing. We were not quite so convinced.

Even more mind blowing was a 45 minute iMax 3-D film all about the shuttle launches and the building of the International Space Station. the screen was HUGE, the sound HUGE and the 3D "real". I can tell you, there is no way you could watch the launch of a space shuttle any closer. It is shot right by the engines with remote cameras. Forget anything you have seen on TV - this was amazing. To top it off, you got a pilot's view (in 3D remember) of the launch , sat in the cockpit. I've seen good films and simulations before, but there is no way you could get any closer to the real thing other than doing it. Truly fantastic and not to be missed.

It carried on in the same awesome vein, with the rest of the film spent in and outside of the space station. I now have as close to I'll ever have, the experience of looking down from a space station to Earth. Trippy man :-)

An amazing day out. We all loved it, and it will really add to the experience when we watch the launch this Saturday.

The following day, K and I went to Seaworld (Mum & Dad have been before). I had some reservations about Seaworld - I mean, anyone that knows me well is aware I'm not really "nature's child". I don't collect whale music and rub charm beads, I've never knit my own yoghurt.. you get the picture - I like action.

We headed straight for the main attraction - the Whale show (He's called Shamu apparently, but with 3 Seaworlds I guess they are all called Shamu) and grabbed prime seats.

I have to be honest, that one show is worth the $65 alone. We were gobsmaked. The whales behave like people. The play up to the crowds, launch the actors in the air, come up for stroking, jump out of the water onto dry land. Incredible! A cheesy, to be fair, but amazing show. You really don't get it until you are there. Telly does it no justice.

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(Shamu! - and yes, he gets out of the water)

We had a butchers round the aquarium - pretty satndard fare afer the one in Bangkok, though the weird sea-horses were great...

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..and we had a look at some native Manitee's - very odd things....

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.. and then we sat down to watch the dolphin show, and the inevitable happened, the thing Florida weather is famed for - RAIN! - lots of rain, so much that the pavements were ankle deep rivers. We sat with everyone else, cowering from the downpour and lightening until we got bored, and ran to the shelter of the nearest gift shop.

Fortunately, a very kind member of staff gave us two huge plastic shopping bags which we adapted to become rain coats :-)

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They worked a treat and we fled the park before eveyone else would surely do soon after.

Another great day out.

We have tickets to go to Busch Gardens next - a top park with 6 huge coasters and lots of wildlife. We are holding off until Tuesday though - it's Memorial weekend here so all of America is on vacation and none of us are up for queuing for rides with millions of screaming kids and rednecks (the theme parks attract all the rednecks and fatties - don't know why, but they do)

T-Minus 1 week and counting.... :)

Oh - p.s. I entered a free game and have won a seat in the grand final for a World Series of Poker Main Event - a seat worth $215. If I win, I get a $12,000 seat in a game where I go to Vegas and play against about 7000 others for a 1st prize of about $14,000,000 - tall odds and to be honest, if I win a seat I'll take the $12k :-)

Update: Played the game last night. 5 hours. Was chip leader for some time. 3 seats to Vegas ($12k each) up for grabs. I came 5th :-( - one hand I lost that did it. Had I won that hand I'd be $12k better off and in Vegas playing the main event. Ahh well. PLayed a good game.

Posted by Dodgey 14:59 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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