24/9/16 – Everywhere she goes, Toni loves mashed potatoes!

Much slower get-ready today as we had a later check-out. Packed everything up and then went for a very poor breakfast that consisted of just fruit, most of which was tasteless melon. I just stuck to the grapes. We then Skyped Kel for a little bit before eventually leaving the room. It had been our most expensive, yet worst stocked room so far, but I was a little sad as the Key West had a hell of a lot of different Pokémon to catch. I’d say it was the geek in me that was sad, but that’s basically all of me. We’d had the option of going to the Key West museum as I’d seen an advertisement on a bus that they had the famously haunted Robert the doll, which weirdly, they’d been talking about in the episode of That Anime Show that I’d been listening to on the plane. I’d initially been interested in going to see him, but after Googling pictures, I swiftly changed my mind.

We finally thought to hook up one of the iPods in the car rather than listening to the radio, so we listened to my fifties and sixties playlist on the road. Had a several hour drive with a stop-off at some restaurant along the harbour for lunch. Couldn’t quite decide what I wanted, so I just ordered from the starters menu and had chicken tenders with honey mustard and mozzarella sticks. Yummy food, but shame about the server with the really bad attitude – though she did forget to charge us for our drinks – and the weird, cabbagey smelling toilets. Gross. We had a little nose out on the harbour afterwards and saw some beautifully coloured trumpet fish. We then got petrol from next door to the hotel and went back on our way.

Stopped off at a Walgreen’s en route, where I replenished my Red Bull stash – some of which I enjoyed in the car – and I wrote a couple of flash fictions. I8’ve barely done any writing whilst I’ve been here; it’s really not acceptable. Our satnav then had a mad moment when we got into Homestead and kept trying to take us to a Best Western, rather than the Super 8 that we wanted. We hit a seriously huge thunderstorm and had to wait it out in their car park, before sending Dad in to ask for directions. Thankfully, we found our real motel in the end. I do love Super 8s The first thing I did was fill up the fridge, yay.

Milled in the room for a while, did more writing, read, showered and broke out more of the Seagrams. There was an Applebees right in sight of our motel, so we knew exactly where we were going for tea. Me and Mom shared a pitcher of red apple sangria. Lovely, but the size was a lot more stingy than I remember. I then had an eight ounce sirloin steak with garlic mash and new crispy cheddar bacon potatoes. When it all came out, my mash was cold. And I don’t even mean it was lukewarm; it was stone cold. There was no other way to describe it. I hate to be the person to send food back – particularly as I was starving and it means you have to wait longer – but I like my mash to be at least warm. Sent it back, had to wait, then when I got it back, the mash was still cold. I was too hungry to care by this point, so I just ate it. Put a little dampener on the meal, but everything else was still lovely. With a nice peppercorn sauce, it would have been damn perfect. Sadly, steak sauces don’t seem to be much of a thing here.

Back to the room after that. Mom liked the Super 8, so she booked us a second night there in order to give us somewhere nearby to come and go from when we visit the Everglades. That was cool with me. Got more Seagrams on the go and read and watched Psych in between watching some interesting documentary on telly about cyber predators who killed and kidnapped young girls. Morbid, I know, but then when have I ever had normal interests?

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I’ve waited a long time to have these again. Jamaican me happy indeed.

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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!

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!

15/9/16 – Maximum effort

Up early at half four and initially feeling like I’m just getting up for my six o’clock Friday shift, but nope, it’s holiday time! First time going back to America since the two-month stint and also, sadly, my first ever trip without Kel. Since she bought a house earlier this year, she couldn’t afford a holiday and my friends are all no-go options because of either already having holidays booked or being useless with money or not wanting to go the same places. So what option did that leave me if I wanted any chance of going away this year? Tagging along with my parents. Luckily, no matter what age I’ve been, I’ve always got on really well with my parents and I’m certainly capable of paying for myself. Plus when they said the first place they were going to was New Orleans, I really didn’t have any choice. New Orleans is my most favourite place in the world.

So we got packed up and ready and got to the airport about half six. Milled about duty free once we got through customs and had a laugh over a Moschino perfume that looked like a Mr. Muscle type bottle. Since I have a super fancy phone for the first time in my life, I can officially play photographer myself. As long as I remember to take pictures, that is – I’m kinda bad at that. I grabbed food from Burger King whilst the oldies had breakfast from Wetherspoons. Apparently, going away with your parents is a good bet, because Mom also got me a giant hunk of black pudding on the side of the breakfasts. I looove black pudding.

We boarded the plane for our first connecting flight to Amsterdam. Accidentally read a quarter of my Anita Blake book, oops. The flight was only just over an hour, but there was a slight delay before we took off, which meant we had to rush through customs and boarding straight onto the next flight, meaning we didn’t have chance to get drinks or anything from the airport. Boo. I was dying for a Red Bull. It was even more annoying, because there were then more delays and we had to sit on the runway for about forty minutes. I could have used that time to shop for my fix.

Thankfully, sitting on the plane was made way better by the fact that the in-flight entertainment was the best ever. Like most long haul flights, each seat has their own screen fixed into the headrest in front of them with a selection of things to watch. Only this selection was basically like having Netflix, albeit smaller, but with very new releases, including the latest aired seasons from this year of Flash, Arrow, The Walking Dead, Gotham, etc. I promptly found and put on Deadpool. The mature ones had to be edited a little, but it basically just meant there were less close ups of gore and they cut out the whole sex montage. Not so bad, as it would have been awkward if anyone else looked at my screen. I just had to miss out on hearing Calendar Girl.

After Deadpool, I watched Groundhog Day and then The Lady in the Van (was not prepared for it being as sad as it was!) I spotted Suits and figured I could continue watching from where I left off, but they only had season five, whereas I’m still on season four. Watched a couple of episodes of Impractical Jokers instead. In between all this, we had various drink options throughout the flight, packs of pretzels, little snack packs of olives (which were definitely left unopened) and crackers with a bell pepper spread, then ice cream pots and hot chicken, cheese and honey mustard sandwiches. The main meal was cheese tortellini, cheese and crackers, a bread roll, ignored salad and a lovely rich chocolate orange mousse. Good job, Delta.

Despite how well we were looked after, the flight just felt sooo long. I spent a while just listening to music and we still had another three hours to go. I turned to my saviour on long trips and listened to an episode of That Anime Show to kill another few hours. I seem to have a knack for choosing appropriate episodes, because they spent a good portion of it talking about travel and the sore points of flights. I had people constantly knocking my elbows as I listened to them, so I certainly understood. They even talked about New Orleans and Key West – both places we’re visiting on this trip! One thing I adore about That Anime Show is not only are they super geeky and produce the dubbing work that I love; they’re all so into travelling, it’s amazing. Not enough people have the interest in travel.

Finally, after nine and a half hours, we were landing in Atlanta. The sad part was that we still had one more flight to go. Thankfully, we had a little more time in this airport. We visited for a connecting flight before and it still amazes me how huge it is. How many airports have their own train systems inside?! (Later learnt that it’s the biggest airport in the world, which really doesn’t surprise me). One day, I’ll actually get to see Atlanta properly or at least more than just the airport. I finally got to get my much needed Red Bull, as well as some fruit punch Gatorade. I forgot that America means living on Gatorade and Powerade. I managed to connect to the WiFi in the airport and update people on where we were before we boarded our final flight.

Again, this one was only an hour long. I read another quarter of my book, then was just so tired that I attempted to sleep through until landing. Not only did it not work; I realised far too late that they were showing Flash on the screens. Damn it. That would have made it far more enjoyable. Baggage claim was fairly smooth and then we had the hopper ride to our hotel, which was another half hour to the journey. I was a lot more interested in watching everything through the window now that we were finally in New Orleans.

We checked into our Best Western and started unpacking things. I soon discovered there’d been a toiletries explosion in my suitcase and that half of my clothes were soaked through. Oh, no. Thankfully, the culprit was my now completely empty bottle of heat protection spray for my hair. Not greasy and gross like the shampoo explosion we had one of the years and it actually smelt quite nice, rather than making all my clothes stink like chemicals. I hung them over every chair and rail I could find and will just have to hope for the best. On the bright side, we had free WiFi in the room and there’s fucking millions of PokéStops in New Orleans. I think we’re seriously cheated back home.

Updated a few more people on our whereabouts, played a bit of my silly but adorable Disney game, then finally hit the hay. Super, super comfy beds and I even get a double all to myself. It was seriously welcome after all the travel. Tonight’s gonna be a good night.

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If you got your bottles mixed up, it’d either my an expensively clean kitchen or a not-so-niced, possibly burning perfume.