26/9/16 – Bring on the pizza

Back to the more relaxed get-ups, since we didn’t have to check out till eleven. Slowly got ready and packed up before heading off to Fort Lauderdale. We’d gotten up and dressed a little late for breakfast, so we stopped off at a Taco Bell en route, as it was something I’d always wanted to try. Yet another disappointment, unfortunately. We all wanted a good nosey at the menu, since we’d never been there before, but we felt rushed because of the miserable cow behind the counter who clearly had no time of the day for tourists, as she was perfectly sweet to everyone else. Pretty sure that’s still racism. Stupid bitch.

I had a quesarito and a spicy potato taco from the savers menu. The quesarito was okay, but far too full of cheese sauce and got quite sickly. I had to pull all of the salad out of the potato taco and it wasn’t even a proper taco. It was just a tortilla shaped like one. I call bullshit. That is so not a taco, which is all I really wanted in the first place. Taco Bell experiment failed. Happily got back into the car to carry on and had a far more satisfying Red Bull.

Despite driving past where we’d already stayed in Miami, the drive up to Fort Lauderdale really didn’t feel that long. Only another hour or so from Taco Bell. We found our cute little apartment complex, Tropi Rock, which actually has its own pool for once. I most definitely favour pools over the sea. Something to do with the fact that I can actually get in the water at the pool, rather than just crisping up in the sun on the beach. We unpacked a bit, milled around a while and then headed out for a little wander around to see what’s about.

Apparently, not a lot. There was the beach, obviously, and it really was a beautiful beach. One thing you can’t flaw Florida on. It was also the first one we’d seen with protested turtle laying grounds. Lots of little triangles of sand were all roped off. We had a meander past some apartment complex and found that even above anywhere else we’d been to, Fort Lauderdale is absolutely lizard central. I even saw a huge one that was two feet long from head to tail. I thought it must have been an escaped pet as it was bright lime green and had a crest and a beard, but we saw more afterwards. Talk about exotic looking wildlife.

After the very hot walk that didn’t really enlighten us on much other than the lizard situation, we came back to the room for a longer while. I started reading my Kelley Armstrong book, showered (in the worst shower we’ve had so far) and downloaded a cool notes app for my phone that’s designed to look like a Death Note with the black pages and the same fonts and everything. Love it. That’ll do well for my writing notes. Got ready to then head back out in search of food. Mom had already researched it on her tablet, since there hadn’t seemed to really be anything around, so we were on the lookout for an Irish grill and bar called McShorley’s.

Unfortunately, this was another plan that didn’t quite work out. It had a truly lovely bar and atmosphere, but the barman Rob told us that they don’t serve food, although they’re happy for people to bring food in from the adjoining fast food places. Ah. We didn’t want to be rude and just walk out, so we all had a drink first. They actually had a few ciders – often quite a hard find in America – so I had a bottle of Magners. Mom had a pint of their draft cider, Woodchuck. It was actually really nice; so much so that I wished I hadn’t just gone for the one I was familiar with. Some guys then brought in a takeout pizza and sat at the bar with it, watching the American football. That just seemed like the best idea ever, but stingy Brits would never allow that back home.

We decided to follow their lead, so after we finished our drinks, we moved across the road to the pizza place, Primanti Brothers. I pretty much never fancy pizza as I’m not a pizza fan in the slightest, but the one the guys had got in the bar looked really good so for once, I was fancying. The smallest they did was a fourteen inch pizza – typical America – so I ordered one with sausage, ham, salami, onions and extra cheese. Oh my god. Best pizza I’ve ever had. Dad had two of the smaller slices since he’d only had a hot dog and I happily devoured the rest. Normally, I find pizza gets far too boring to eat that much in one sitting, but not this pizza. Serious hats off to the Primanti Brothers.

Since they hadn’t offered much in the way of alcohol, we went back to McShorley’s afterwards. I was delighted to have my own pint of Woodchuck this time. We moved into the side room, where they had a big fish tank, a pool table, darts, a few arcade games, checkers, giant Jenga and Connect 4, of all things. I played Dad at pool and almost beat him, but cocked up my last shot and ended up perfectly lining up the black ball for him. Boo. Him and Mom had a few games after that, whilst I entertained myself by making a tower out of the Jenga blocks and watching the tropical fish in the tank. They actually had one of those goofy yellow fish that looks like it has teeth, just like the one me and Kel were so amused by in San Antonio.

Came back for more drinks in the room afterwards. By this point, I’d moved onto Bud Straw-ber-rita Splash. Played with my Death Note app some more and then did what was becoming the usual wind-down of reading, playing Disney game and watching some Impractical Jokers. Larry!

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I could be talked into being a pizza fan after this. For size comparison, see the chair behind it.

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18/9/16 – Lost that loving feeling

Up not quite as early as the last few mornings. We still had time for breakfast, so I just got dressed and brushed my hair before going down this time. Cue more pancakes and sausages. I also spent an age trying to catch a really far away Golbat on Pokémon Go. After using more than half of my Pokéballs, I had to just give up. Stupid Golbat. Came back up to the room after to straighten my hair and get ready properly, whilst Mom browsed things that we could do on the internet. I suggested the Audobon Aquarium and the reviews were good, so we headed on down to the riverfront.

I actually really like aquariums. I got a lot of good pictures, thanks to the lovely camera on my nice new phone. There was lots to see. Plenty of general tanks, obviously, walk-through tunnels, sharks, giant turtles, seahorses – I looove seahorses – jellyfish, frogs, alligators, a giant otter called Clara – seriously, I thought it was a seal at first – penguins and of course, manta rays. I love those guys. Spent a while around the touch pool so I could give them some fuss. I just love how friendly they always seem. I even got two different sized manta ray teddies from the gift shop afterwards. Come on, I have a tattoo of manta rays for a reason.

Unsurprisingly, we were hungry when we got out, so we went back to the Market Café for lunch. I decided to try the traditional Creole red beans and rice with andouille sausage. Can’t quite put my finger on what it reminded me of, but it was nice. I also helped Dad out with some of the fried shrimp from his po-boy. I’m really picky with seafood so I’m always loathed to order that kind of thing in case I don’t like it, but they were really good. It was pretty much just like having fresh scampi. Never a bad thing.

We decided to check out Bourbon Street in the daytime, since I had actually been quite horrified by the other night because of how busy it was – more like Broad Street than Bourbon Street. However, I was still incredibly disappointed. Mid afternoon and it was completely dead. Where were all the jazz musicians and the happy spirited people partying in the street? Hoping it would pick up with time, we stopped off at the Bourbon O Bar for drinks. I had a Drew Brees(y) Big Easy, which was rum, grapefruit vodka, triple sec, lemon juice, cranberry juice and syrup. Damn, it was good. It came in a cute cup decorated to look like an American football too. Whilst we were in there, we took great entertainment in watching a guy outside who was wearing nothing but pants and holding a cardboard sign saying “spank me, one dollar”. Worst, or best, thing is he’ll probably make more than any of the other buskers.

We carried on down Bourbon Street afterwards and although the crowds had indeed picked up, it was still not quite what I’d hoped for. At some point over the last three years, it seems to have lost all of its culture and just become a big party holiday spot. Bourbon Street has always been about the partying, but in a high spirited, always rocking street party kind of way; not just the getting rowdy and pissed up outside kind of way. They didn’t have any musicians or even play any jazz at all. They just blasted chart music from the open bars. Really, incredibly sad for me. I classed New Orleans as my most favourite place in the world since my last visit and Bourbon Street was a huge part of the reason behind that. Now I’m not sure I’d even be fussed about seeing the street again. A horrific change to what used to be such a fascinating, cultural and highly unique place. Now it’s just the American Malia.

We headed back to the hotel to start packing, since we have our flight to Miami in the morning. I had my usual Red Bull whilst doing so and fit my shower in around it, as well as finishing off my Anita Blake book. After getting ready, we came back down to the Gumbo Shop for the last time – and it probably really will be the last time, since the touristy changes have me not feeling the need to come back. At least not any time in the near future. Of course, had to have the gumbo again, along with some garlic mash and a cocktail called Blue Bayou, consisting of vodka, blue curacao and pineapple juice. Nice, but so strong yet again. Americans, I love alcohol, but you really need to sort your measurements out. Eight percent alcohol is too much over tea.

We went to Bar Medoras afterwards, since we’d seen that they did sangria. I actually had a Purple Pride Punch first – vodka, raspberry and blackberry liqueurs, pineapple juice and Hurricane mix – before helping Mom out with her blackberry sangria. Yummy all round. We tried another bar afterwards, but they were closed from half nine – what madness is this?! You’re a bar, for crying out loud! – so we went to a place called Creole House instead. I had a Mississippi Madness, which was rum, liqueur, pineapple and orange juices and grenadine. Definitely a nice and refreshing cocktail to go out on.

Came back to the hotel to finish packing up everything before bed, since we have an early start in the morning. My second trip to New Orleans really has been very different to the first. I’ll miss the food here and the lovely cocktails, but I can’t stop stressing how I won’t be missing the changed atmosphere. Not now. Three years ago, I would have. Guess that’s what tourism can do to a place.

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Cuddly seahorses!

29/9/13 – The ideal getaway

Another early get-up in order to move on again. On the way we did another stop, this time to Walmart. We’d all agreed to do a food kitty for cheaper and healthier picnic lunches, so we split into groups to find a good variety of things. We eventually got to High Springs and checked into our Country Inn, which was more like a motel than anything. Hard to tell if it’s creepy or cute… Maybe a little bit of both. We all sat out on the porch-way for a group picnic-style lunch.

After that we headed down to Ginnie Springs. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen – in a wooded area with several clear water springs and a river connecting them all. The perfect young person’s vacation spot. You could go snorkelling, kayaking or just lazy tube floating. There was a very big hiccup in this plan for me though: the water was full of fish. I have a very weird relationship with fish… Love watching them. Absolutely despise, fear, get traumatized over the idea of one touching me.

I told myself I’d be fine in a tube and rented one out, definitely steering clear of the snorkelling. But when it came down to it I honestly couldn’t do it. I so badly didn’t want to be a chicken, but I’d worked myself up about it so much that I ended up in tears more than once and on the verge of a panic attack. Thankfully I was hiding behind my sunglasses and I don’t think anyone else noticed, besides Kel (or at least I hope so). I was on some girly tablets at the time, so I was even more emotionally strung than usual as it was.

After I calmed down me, Kel and Tanya just chilled out in the dry. I still felt like an idiot for the rest of the day, especially because I’d actually really WANTED to go in the spring. It looked so lovely, but I had a stupid fear holding me back. I had a few things to distract me though, thankfully. We found the tiniest lizard that Tanya dubbed Minnie (even though she’d already decided he was a he). There was also a man called Tom who just would not stop talking to us, even when we thought we’d finally escaped. Of course this just prompted inside jokes and naughty giggling.

For tea we all went to the Great Outdoors Restaurant. It was really quite lovely – there was a live musician performing, the food was good and the staff were friendly and fun. I even had my first sangria since we’d been over there! Adam was sat down our end of the table and finally seemed to come out of his shell a little, which we took as a good sign. Derek had also introduced us to a new American comedian on the way. Can’t remember the name for the life of me, but he had some good jokes about amnesia and jukebox stories.

To close the day, we’ve now been proposed the idea of swimming with wild dolphins tomorrow (and at a ridiculously cheap price too!), but the only issue is it’s out in the very deep sea. Let’s see if the fear can stop me from another experience…

Ginnie Springs

The man (in the blue) who wouldn’t stop talking. Can you tell none of us were listening?