25/9/16 – Rollin’ on the river

Up earlier this time in order to get the complimentary breakfast in and get to the Everglades fairly early. I was actually ready before anyone this time, so I did some reading before we went for breakfast. First place we’ve been to that actually has a waffle make, woo! Safe to say that went down a treat. We then headed off to the Everglades. I watched an episode of Psych on the way. We stopped off at a little information centre to figure out a bit more about what we wanted to do, since the Everglades is a seriously huge place.

When we actually got into the park, it was chucking it down. Feels like home when the weather’s that typical. We bought our ticket for the Stingray boat tour, which leaves from the bay, goes along the canal and out into the lakes. The shop backed right onto the dock. I saw the fin of a tarpin cut through the water a few times. It’s kinda freaky; they’re like mini sharks. Armed with my brolley, I wandered further down the dock to have a nosey in the bay to see if I could see anymore, looked sideways and had the shock of my life when I instead saw the head of a three-metre crocodile rising up out of the water and against the side of the dock. I mean whoa. Talk about scary. I kept my distance, because I’ve seen how high those things can push themselves out of the water. I was certainly ready to be back inside the shop if it looked even remotely like it was going to try and climb out.

The croc disappeared when the boat came back in to dock from its last trip, but we saw another couple swimming further down the bay before we got on the boat ourselves. Apparently, this is the only place where crocodiles and alligators share the same water. I’d seen plenty of alligators when I did a swamp tour the first time I went to Louisiana, so getting to see wild crocodiles was a new and interesting one. They’re also scarier looking than alligators. However, our biggest problem on the boat wasn’t the crocodiles, the alligators or the horrible giant banana spiders we saw underneath the bridge we drove through; it was the goddamn mosquitoes. The boat ride was certainly interesting, but I felt like I spent the whole time slapping bugs away.

We had our ride cut short by about twenty minutes when a big thunderstorm hit whilst we were out in the middle of the lake, so we had to turn around and come back. I was super hungry when we came back in to dock, but with the weather being so temperamental, we wanted to keep seeing stuff rather than sitting down for a proper lunch. Instead, lunch was a pink lemonade and a bag of Funyuns from the little shop. Whilst we were having a munch, we went over to the other side of the bay and got to watch some baby manatees surfacing and sticking their noises up out of the water, ahhh. I really love manatees and they’re actually not endangered anymore. Well done, world.

We had a wander around the park and tried to do one of the trails you can walk along to look for wildlife. However, it was super overgrown and you had to try and cut your own path – not only unappealing when you’re in shorts sandals and a low-cut top; there was also the possibility that there could be snakes and all sorts lurking in the grass (in America, a lot of their snakes are poisonous). And we’d barely got anywhere before we were getting fully eaten alive by the bugs. We hastily changed our mind on that idea and returned to the car to drive round to the other side of the park to find Shark Valley.

Unfortunately, that idea also fell through when the satnav went on another mad one. We drove a really roundabout way, didn’t find anything for ages, then realised that we’d somehow bypassed the entire park and were suddenly a lot closer back to our motel. Well, bloody hell, satnav. We didn’t really feel like trying again, so we hit the next Walmart we found to get more drinks and things. I found some cute little jester gloves that are blatantly Harley Quinn inspired and will go great with my costume.

Mom had had a taste for KFC for ages now. We knew there was one nearby and had planned to bring some into the room last night before we’d spotted the Applebees, so that was moved to our plan for tonight instead. However, like the Applebees, it was also disappointing. We asked for a regular twelve-piece bucket and when we got back to the motel, we realised the dopey server had given us boneless chicken strips. Still nice, but nowhere near as good as the proper Kentucky coated stuff and when that’s what you’re expecting, chicken strips are definitely disappointing. Homestead have really failed us in the food department.

At least the TV selection was more satisfying. Mom turned it on to find 22 Jump Street, so that had us occupied for the night. After that, we found more Impractical Jokers and I had a mad reading spree to finish off my Clive Cussler book. With more Seagrams on the go, of course. As nights in go, not half bad.

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Now this is what you call a holy crap moment.

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23/9/16 – We’re gonna need a bigger boat

Usual early up and get ready to get the rest of our stuff packed. Only this time I had to get Mom to try and help me put my hair into pigtails. That was fun, since Mom is nowhere near as perfectionist as Kel, which is what I want when it comes to my hair. Safe to say it took a few tries. We then loaded up the car and went off on our way further down the Keys. Once again, the drive was beautiful. Had to go across several long bridges and at a few points, the road narrowed out so much that we were driving the with the sea right on either side of us. Apparently one side if the Gulf of Mexico and the other is the Atlantic, but I’m rubbish at geography, so I couldn’t tell you for sure without Googling. Either way, the water was so incredibly still and flat that you could see the sky reflected in it to a point where you couldn’t tell where one left off and the other began.

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Now that’s scenery!

We stopped off at a Walgreen’s because Mom said that Auntie Lynne had requested us to bring back a specific toothpaste, of all things. I ended up having another mad shop when I found more DC stuff and bought a Harley Quinn makeup bag and lipstick, a mini Deadpool plushie and more Red Bull, of course. We then didn’t get much further down the road before stopping at an IHOP for brunch. Now this is what I’m talking about. I had to have my usual country omelette – ham, cheese, onion and has browns – with a side stack of pancakes and plenty of strawberry sauce. I also had a lemonade mixed with lime and mango syrup. Yum yum.

We made the rest of the drive uninterrupted down to our room in Key West. Another really cute place. Our ‘hotel’ building is like a small collection of massive houses with a pool and lots of front and side porches with swinging chairs on them. However, it’s also the first room where we haven’t got a fridge and we have a lot of drinks to chill. Thankfully, there was an ice machine out by the pool, so I did the first trip to fill up the ice bucket and then try to fit as many drinks in as possible. We had a quick settle into the room before going off to explore.

First off, I felt like I was in a Zelda game, because there were escaped chickens just randomly around on the streets – and some baby chickens, aahh. We headed on straight down towards the harbour. We walked past a pool party where a guy and girl were fully recreating the dance-off scene from White Chicks with Run DMC playing and everything. It was hysterical. Of course, technophobic me didn’t know how to find the video camera on my phone, so by the time I did start recording, they were just finishing. I need a tutorial for my phone, even after a month of having it.

We stopped off at the Key West Lime Shoppe for key lime pie and a lime slushie, mmm. Gotta have things where they originate from. We sat in a nice little courtyard with a koi pond. The shop itself was really cute. They did lots of lime flavoured sweets, sticks of rock, soaps, drink making kits… It helped that they were playing Red Solo Cup too. I sand along whilst Mom bought a proper, easy-use lime crusher so that we can make even better margaritas back home. We have our priorities straight. From there, we had a wander down the harbour, right along the waterfront. It didn’t have the same fishing village type feel as Key Largo, as it was much busier. Still totally welcome atmosphere though. Buzzing, but not crowded, not like poor new Bourbon Street.

We took great enjoyment in watching some very exotic fish along the edge of the harbour and that was where the excitement then came in. We saw more wrasse and Sergeant Majors, some electric blue wrasse-like fish, big fat jellyfish, a beautiful blue and yellow angelfish and some giant, giant tarpin. We saw a huge one lurking in the shallows and looking super evil before it disappeared under the dock. We were trying to point another one out to Mom, who couldn’t see as well, and then the show-off flashed all the silver on its side, right under the surface of the water. It was four foot long! But then whilst we were distracted waiting to see if it would surface again, Dad spotted a seven-foot nurse shark, right under our feet! Talk about seeing something exciting in the wild.

We headed back up one of the strips from there. Saw a Senor Frogs, which made me giggle as it makes me think of Impractical Jokers, as well as a shop that had a lurid pineapple design painted across the window that looked totally Psych-esque, as well as lots of real pineapples in the window. I went in all excited, but then they didn’t actually have anything pineapple themed that they sold. Boo the false advertising. On the way back to the hotel, we walked alongside a huge cemetery that was all built above the ground like Lafayette. It seems to be a real imitation of New Orleans here. They do Creole cuisine, have several bars named after Bourbon Street and some of them even do Hurricanes. Not sure why the similarities are there when the places aren’t even close.

We got back to shower and get ready. I broke out my last Mike’s Hard Lemonade that I’d managed to cool some in the ice bucket, which I then had to down on the way because the oldies suddenly put a speed on and were ready to go. We went to a nearby Peruvian restaurant called Inca’s. We really are getting around. Our server Jessica was so lovely and shared drunk sangria stories with us when we ordered a pitcher. For food, I had Peruvian styled fried rice, which was rice fried with chicken, spring onion and some kind of salty, soy tasting sauce. God, it was so good. I scarfed literally every single grain.

We all agreed none of us wanted to walk past the cemetery again in the dark, so we headed off towards one end of the town, which is actually the most southerly point of the states. However, when we realised how long of a walk it was, we changed our minds and hit a bar instead. Big mistake. The moment I walked in, it was very easy to tell that it was a smoking bar. Good god, it was disgusting. I hate the lack of smoking bans here. I had to breathe through my mouth the entire time I was in there, so I passed on having a drink as I wouldn’t be able to taste it. I actually went to stand outside for a while for some fresh air, but when the same middle-aged guy somehow found a way to walk past me three times and told me twice that I was “too cute to be out there by myself”, I swiftly decided to go back in and watch the oldies play pool and just go back to mouth-breathing. It was actually quite funny when Dad then ended up playing some crazy woman from Kentucky.

Came back to the room after that and did some more planning for the trip going forward. I then read some more Shock Wave and broke open the Seagrams before bed. The next move is afoot.

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The fake Psych shop that lied to me.

19/9/16 – Don’t feed after midnight. Actually… do

Up early to get ready and pack the last few things so we’d still have time for breakfast before we got picked up. I ended up with an extra pancake with my last lot, because the guy in front only wanted one and the machine makes them in twos, so he donated the second to me. Always a win. Breakfast is definitely something I’ll miss, since we won’t be getting it included at our private apartment in Miami. Got picked up by our hopper service and had just under an hour wait in the airport, after going through security. Started reading one of my Clive Cussler books before we had to board.

The flight itself was short and sweet. Read some more, drank a Red Bull and watched a few episodes of Psych, then we were landing in Miami. It was chucking it down when we got there – much like the last time I flew into Miami – so they kept us on the runway for a little bit whilst they sorted out the tunnel so we wouldn’t all get wet. Miami is another huge airport and we had a bit of a trek and a tram ride over to baggage claim. Since we had WiFi, I got to hit a lot of their Pokéstops, woo. I did get a bit freaked out though when I turned my internet on and some child abduction amber alert started buzzing through. I don’t like that; I only wanted a bit of WiFi!

Picked up our cases, then got a not so comfortable cab ride over to Miami Beach. Our driver made us all cram together in the back, because he had food rubbish on the front seat. Not exactly professional. It was then very warm, because he had the windows open, rather than the air con. Anyone who’s ever stepped foot in America knows that if you want a breeze, you don’t open the window, because that just lets all the heat in. There was a lot of traffic caused by a road accident and our driver then nearly fully crashed into someone trying to change lanes, just because he didn’t want to let them in front of him. I know tips are expected over here, but why Dad still gave him one, I don’t know. My tip? Learn to drive.

Our ground apartment had some fancy codes system to get through the front gate and then actually into the apartment. It’s very cute and I actually get my own room here, so I don’t have to put up with the awful snoring. Air con is definitely needed here. We had a bit of an unpack and a wind down after the travel and looked up all the various things around us. We’re only a few blocks from the beach, lovely. We decided to go for a wander over to said beach front, then went off in search of food.

We ended up in a Cuban restaurant called Sazon. Never had Cuban food before, but oh my god, I can tell you I definitely love it. Me and Mom shared a pitcher of gorgeous sangria. You can always trust places that make good sangria. To start, I had garbanzo frito, which was fried chickpeas with sausage and ham in a spicy, almost Creole tasting sauce. I have a mad love for chickpea dishes. It was really, really tasty. Then for my main, I had vaca frita – shredded steak shank cooked in garlic and onions and served with mash and yellow rice. All of it was to die for. The steak just fell apart and the rice was like proper tasty, Turkish style rice. Definitely a meal in a million!

Feeling like I had a giant food baby, we meandered between a few stops on the way back to pick up alcohol for the room. I was gutted that I couldn’t find any Seagrams or B&Js anywhere. I ended up getting a rather hefty box of mixed flavours of Mike’s Hard Lemonade and then very slowly broke into a couple of them back in the room, due to the ever-looming presence of the food baby, and watched another episode of Psych before bed. Certainly not a bad wind-down.

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Now that’s what I’m talking about!

16/10/13 – From Toronto to Texas

The ridiculously early start was nowhere near as bad as I’d expected. Apparently I’ve gotten used to functioning on six hours sleep. Got ready and then had to faff with the cases some more since one was too heavy. Moving more stuff over to the other case didn’t entirely solve our problems though, so we had to compromise and ditch the last of our toiletries. Bye bye, nice shampoo. I also learnt that my green spotty dress had shrunk in the wash the other day. Sob.

We had a couple of hours in Toronto after our bus journey, but the weather was pants so we couldn’t really do much. We found another Tim Horton’s, so we sat in there for a while and had more of those nice mini panini things. I finally finished reading Iceberg – savouring it was clearly a good idea, because I’ve now already read a good chunk of Incubus Dreams too. We got to the Toronto Pearson airport and it was the nicest airport ever! Everyone was really friendly and good-humoured. The restaurant we had lunch in had iPads as menus to order food, and you could then just play on the internet whilst you were waiting! Brilliant idea! I got a pineapple cocktail too. Can you say delicious flavour?

The flight to Atlanta was pretty short and sweet, but we then had another few hours there before our connection to Austin. I grabbed some Red Bull to help me out. On the flight I then ended up sitting next to a guy called José. He was very chatty and had quite a dry sense of humour. He was telling me about his firearms and the lack of laws for them. He demonstrated a multiple of ways to disarm someone who was threatening you with a gun and even suggested taking us shooting if we hung around in Austin! Only in Texas. Though everyone seems incredibly friendly so far – we’ve had a lot of nice randomers giving us tips on what to do. Apparently the whole government crap should be resolved by tomorrow too, woohoo!

We had to wait a bugger of a time for our shuttle back to the hotel (at least it was free). When we got there we found we had meager toiletries to ration with and absolutely no takeout menus to use. Double boo! Think I’ll be getting up early to take advantage of the free breakfast in the morning!

Our tiny plane! Be prepared to be good friends with your seat buddies…

28/9/13 – Exploring Orlando

Had a little bit of a later get-up today and even got to make the most of the free continental breakfast (yay!) This is much more interesting than it is in the UK – I had mini sausages, a mini omelette, some French toast/pancake thing with maple syrup and jam, a cinnamon bun and cocktail cranberry juice. Yum yum. The others had already headed off to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Me, Kel and An went to explore Winter Park.

I had no idea what to expect, but it turned out to be a really cool day. Winter Park was actually a very nice little town of sorts. Had a little wander up and down the main street first and grabbed a drink in Starbucks. We then went exploring round the campus of the Cornell Rollins College. It really was an incredible place – it all backed right up onto the lake! Why don’t we get anything like that?! People had signed their names into the bamboo by the lake, so we did the same and added Trek America to it. We had a brief look round the Fine Arts Museum too. Wasn’t really my thing, like most art places, but I did find a display of watch keys and stopwatches that I really liked. Actually inspired me to try and buy some watch keys and cogs and things online and see what kind of steampunk jewellery/accessories I can make!

We had lunch at Firehouse Subs. Mine was so good – turkey, bacon, cheese and a creamy pepper sauce. One of the staff called Trevor was asking me where I was from in England and then about the football of all things (I’m not exactly the best person to ask). But he was cute and reminded me of Todd Haberkorn so I was happy with that and agreed that yes, if he came to play football in the UK he might get stabbed by an angry football fan. We then spent a long time in the sweet shop after that. I got an Elvis energy drink that says “All Shook Up” (brilliant!) and some Wonka bottle caps that supposedly taste like the pop they represent. If that’s true then I’m never trying root beer – it tasted like a hospital smell!

From there An wanted to check out a different art museum. Me and Kel weren’t fussed, so we agreed to meet her later on. We had some homemade ice cream from one place, which was lovely. We also freaked out two of the servers with our unintentional-speaking-in-unison that we sometimes do. The neighbourhood was actually dog central too! It seemed to be the done thing for everyone to take their dogs out and about, which we obviously thought was great. Made me miss Star and Izzy though. I got some writing done before rain threatened and we ran to hide under the bandstand.

Nothing came of the rain so we sat in the park instead. Watched the squirrels, a lovely giant Great Dane, and a random man on a unicycle! We saw a couple of freight trains go past too. The one was huge and we wished we’d counted how many carriages there were – it had to be around eighty! I read a good chunk of Pacific Vortex and Kel did some puzzles and finished up her blog before An came back to meet us. We had another little natter then went to our meeting place to find Derek. We were all a little early to pick up the others, so we went for a drink in a little café. Me and Derek wanted to check out this little bookstore, but it was closed. Typical. He said he’d help me hunt one down elsewhere though – likely in New Orleans or DC.

After fetching everyone else we went to grab some Mexican food. I had a yummy cheese quesadilla. Derek also gave us a better rundown on the itinerary for the tour. We showered and started packing up when we got back to the hotel – preparing to move onto the next place tomorrow!

Making our mark in Winter Park. I’m a poet and I… no, I’m really not