Thursday 30 April 2015

Missed the flight!

The last blog ended on a cliff hanger - would we manage to catch our flight to Spain? No we didn't.
We landed at Gatwick airport about 20 minutes before our connecting flight was due to take off, but we couldn't reach it in time.
Never mind, there are much worse places to be stranded than London. It is also Darren's mum and one of his niece's birthdays and a bank holiday weekend, so it is a great time to accidentally be here.
We had a trip into the city centre with the family this evening for cocktails and a curry. They all then went to see a show, but as we didn't have tickets we did a bit of sightseeing instead.

Tuesday 28 April 2015

Are we homeward bound?

We woke today to cloudy skies and the promise of rain, so we decided to head for the gigantic Sawgrass Mall in Fort Lauderdale on our last day in America.
I haven't mentioned it previously but we have visited a few malls during our travels and bought quite a lot of stuff.  We had been worried about getting our things home as we have only paid for carry on luggage.
Our packing went well this morning though, and we managed to cram everything in.
The plan today was to only do a little window shopping in the mall, but this was abandoned very quickly. I bought two pairs of sandals, three blouses (I am modelling one in the photo), and two teeshirts. Darren was a bit more restrained and only bought a pair of trousers, a jumper and two teeshirts.
At the airport we had a panic cramming the extra things into our bags, and we now have an overspill carrier bag that we managed to get past the check in lady.
Everything was looking good, until she told us that our flight to London is delayed and we are not now expected to set off until well after midnight. It is looking likely that we are going to miss our connection to Spain - it will be a very close call, but it looks like we may be stranded in London tomorrow afternoon!
Further update later.......

Monday 27 April 2015

Naples, Florida

We arrived yesterday afternoon in Naples, Florida and had a great night's sleep. (Our last motel, although mostly lovely, had an air conditioning unit that sounded like Concorde preparing to take off. Once a night would have been fine, but every 20 minutes was pushing it a little.)
There was an Ihop right on our doorstep so we had an enormous American breakfast before setting out this morning.
Our first destination was the beautiful Naples Botanical Garden. I recognised lots of the plants growing in the flower beds, but in England they are all sold for indoor use only.
The best thing though was a temporary life sized dinosaur display. They were incredibly lifelike and they all moved and growled very convincingly. The t rex was very scary and I am quite relieved that they are extinct.
Even though we are English, we then headed back to the motel to avoid the mid day sun. We waited a few hours and then drove to the beach.
Naples beach was beautiful with powder soft white sand, and the water was warm and blue.
We walked to the end of the pier as TripAdvisor had promised that the sea would be full of pelicans and dolphins. Unfortunately, that wasn't true today - lots of pelicans diving for fish, but the dolphins obviously hadn't read the Internet reviews.

Sunday 26 April 2015

Last day of the dry season

They only have two seasons in Florida each year - wet and dry. If you have been keeping up with the blog, you will know that it has already started raining over here, and today is the official last day of the most popular (dry) season.
The wet season is much less pleasant or popular, as we have found out. It is very wet, hot and humid, although at least the rain has stopped for the past couple of days.
We are now getting very blasé about seeing alligators as they appear absolutely everywhere. Today was slightly different though, as we also saw loads of babies sleeping in the sun.
It was very hot so most of the alligators were just lazing around, but we just missed seeing a giant one walk right across the path in front of some other visitors.
We hung about for a while hoping that it might do it again, but no such luck.
We have seen enough nature for a while now, so this afternoon we have driven right across, and then out of the other side of the Everglades on the Tamiami Trail. You might think that this is a quaint little road, but actually it is quite a big highway that links the two coasts - pic 3.
Just off now for a cooling dip in the motel pool.

Saturday 25 April 2015

More Everglades

We stayed last night on the ground floor of a motel, with a great view through the window of our car.
I have two comments here - firstly, I have never stayed in a real motel before and only ever seen them in films. In almost every one people are hiding out in motels and the bad guys always burst in shooting everyone inside. Good news, that didn't happen.
Secondly, what a great Cadillac! Obviously, we only paid for a reasonably priced car, but non were available at the hire car store, so we got upgraded massively.
We were on the road early today and straight back into the Everglades. Did you know that the Everglades are basically a 'river of grass', as most of the 1.5 million acres is water filled, but it is almost all covered with fast growing saw grass.
We drove about 35 miles to the sea at a tiny harbour called Flamingo, although unfortunately it does not have any.
We came to look for manatees, but there was none around today, although we did glimpse a giant crocodile hiding under a tree.
We then made our way back to the motel, and stopped at every place en route. Each time it was a complete surprise what we would find.
At one we walked through a jungle for 20 minutes and saw nothing, at another a massive black buzzing thing chased me round the car park as I screamed madly. At a small lake there were beautiful roseate spoonbill birds flying around and crazy fish that jumped about three feet out of the water, only to splash back in again.
At another lake a vulture sat on a sign staring at us as we were warned that if it felt like it, it would damage our car.   One stop was beside a mangrove swamp with lots of little buzzy flies, and at another I annoyed an ibis by following it around trying to get a good shoot.
Great fun day, but very hot and humid, thank goodness our Caddy had air con.

Friday 24 April 2015

Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park

We picked up a hire car this morning and drove down to the Everglades National Park. We stopped at the Visitor Centre to find out what to see, and importantly, what might be likely to bite me, then headed to the Anhinga Trail.
It is the first Trail on the route, so we weren't expecting much from it. Big surprise then - it was amazing!
It was only half a mile long, but most of it was on board walks over a water hole, and it was jam packed with wildlife.
There was loads of exotic birds flying around including an anhinga bird (pic 1).
Even more exciting though were the alligators which were swimming through the water lilies, under the boardwalks and hiding by the banks.
They were enormous and very scary, but we were safely standing a couple of feet above them.
We also saw giant green crickets and turtles, although I was worried that the alligators might call them lunch. 
It was all going really well, so we went along to the next trail and were attacked by crazy flies as we checked out the massive vultures in a nearby tree. 
We sprinted back to the car and called an end to today's nature watch.

Thursday 23 April 2015

Miami Design District

I had read in a booklet that there was a fantastic sculpture by Zaha Hadid inside one of the buildings in the Miami Design District, but unfortunately when we got there the building was closed. I had also seen a photo of another sculpture, but that turned out not to be there either.
I had organised this little outing and it was starting to look a bit rubbish, but then we were given a tip by the friendly staff at a very bare modern art museum.
We took their advice and arrived at a large, plain white building that had a tiny notice, telling us to ring the bell.
I rang and for a minute no one answered, but then a guide let us in, and locked the door behind us. Suddenly we were standing in a huge white gallery that was filled with modern art and sculptures.
There was no other visitors and our guide explained that we were in the De la Cruz Collection. It is privately owned by the family and they are fanatical about modern art. Apparently, for many years they used to invite people into their home to show them their art, but the collection grew so big that they decided to build a private gallery as a kind of extension to their home. They often visit, and there are no signs outside the building, because you don't do that with a home.
The gallery is open to anyone who rings the bell, and we were given a guided tour by one of the curators.
He knew everything about all of the pieces and spent a couple of hours explaining everything to us.
Amongst many things he showed us one painting that was valued at more than $20,000,000, a collection of over 253 faces by Rob Pruitt (pic 3), a ball of brown plasticine and then a large pile of peppermint sweets. They were supposed to be a portrait of the artist's father - apparently his dad really liked peppermints and they remind the artist of him. No, I still don't get it either, but it was a great tour.

Ps, yes, we did take a couple of sweeties off the top.
Pps, the curator told us to.

Life guard huts, Miami Beach

All along Miami Beach are art deco style life guard huts, and they are all different.
They are brightly painted and are on rails, so I am guessing that they can be dragged off the beach if a storm hits.
As you can see, the weather is still really changeable, but we have been to the beach every day, and it is lovely whatever the weather.
We got there really early this morning before the lifeguards arrived, and stood up on the platforms looking out to sea. Fortunately, no one needed rescuing.

Wednesday 22 April 2015

Art Deco in Miami

We went on a guided walking tour of the Art Deco district this morning, and learned about the area. All of the Art Deco buildings were built between around 1930 and 1950. However, by the the 1970's the whole area was very run down and plans were being made to bulldoze everything and start again.
A group of people got together to form the Miami Design Preservation League and they managed to get public opinion on their side, and they saved around 800 out of 1,000 original buildings. They also had the idea of painting the buildings in beautiful pastel colours.
Nowadays, the area is very, very expensive, popular and busy. We are having a lovely time just wandering around, people and car watching.
We also walked down to the harbour and found what looked like a giant stack of licorice allsorts, but we think it was actually a lighthouse.
Ps, still not much sunshine yet.

Tuesday 21 April 2015

The Sunshine State?

We got off our cruise ship today in Fort Lauderdale and caught a bus to Miami. It cost us less than $5 in total, so no complaints there,  but the mystery was this, what had happened to the sun in the Sunshine State?
It has still not put in an appearance, so after watching the rain from our hotel, and then spending the afternoon wandering about trying to avoid the puddles, I decided that it wouldn't be right to show dreary shots of South Beach.
Instead, we had no choice but to research the cocktail bars along the seafront, and hope that the sun puts in an appearance tomorrow.
It's a tough job, but someone (me and Daz) have to do it.

Sunday 19 April 2015

Snorkelling in the Cayman Islands

Today we arrived at Grand Cayman, the largest of Cayman Islands, although it is only 22 miles long and 8 miles wide.
We decided to start the day with a minibus tour around the main land based sights. First of all we went to a tiny village called Hell although it seemed okay to me. I think it was a fantastic marketing ploy by the owner of the little shop there, as he sold loads of souvenirs with the message 'I have been to Hell and back' - not to us though.
The highest land on the island is only 60 feet above sea level so there isn't that much to see on land, all of Cayman's treasures are water and beach based.
Once back at the port we walked around the corner from the ship and found a shop hiring snorkel gear, and with its own steps down into the water.
Once I had managed to get my flippers on, we swam out to an underwater reef with crystal clear water. The reef was quite far below us, but we saw lots and lots of brightly coloured fish. In a deep crack in the rocks we could see enormous fish - called tarps I believe - that were just floating quietly about.
The snorkeling area was quite large and for a while I managed to lose Darren, and during that time swam with a turtle - or so he claims.
Unfortunately, I have no underwater photos because last time we tried to take any we managed to get water in the camera and break it, so I haven't tried again since.
Idid manage to get a shot of a good big fish from the dock though.

Saturday 18 April 2015

On board with Buzz Aldrin

Today was my highlight of our cruise - the astronaut  Buzz Aldrin gave a lecture on the ship.
He flew on the Apollo 11 spaceship, and on 20th July 1969 he was the second man ever to walk on the moon. He stepped down after Neil Armstrong and they spent 21 hours on the surface before returning to earth.
It was such a privilege to see him and we sat on the second row, so were really close to him.
He told us all about his life, why he decided to become an astronaut and all about the journey to the moon.
It is nearly 46 years since that amazing day, but he was so enthusiastic and interesting.
The most famous photo from the journey was of him, with the reflection of Neil Armstrong in his visor.
He said that the reason it is such an iconic shot is all down to the 'location, location, location'.
Nowadays he is over 80 and campaigns for support for a mission to Mars, although he actually has plans for many missions, not just the one.
He made it sound great, but think I have left it a bit late to become an astronaut - also I am far too thick, quite scared of heights, and not keen on the dark.

Friday 17 April 2015

Cartagena, Columbia

We have been on a few cruises, but this is the first time we have been given a letter warning us to take great care on shore, and providing the phone number of the British Consulate that 'you may wish to preload on to your mobile phone'.
It was also highly recommended that we take a taxi from the docks to the Old City, but of course, we walked there.
We had no problems on the walk, apart from it being so hot and humid that we arrived looking as if we had jumped in a bath en route.
The first thing we did was head into an air conditioned shop and loiter for a few minutes to cool down.
Once our body temperature started getting back to normal we started to look around the city, which is a World Heritage site.
The Old City is inside a large fort and is full of buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries. It was all very pretty, with lots of brightly painted shops and houses, most of which had wooden balconies that overlooked the streets.
We stopped for a proper cup of Columbian coffee in a local bar - mysteriously it was called KGB and had a Russian cold war theme.
It rained quite heavily while we were in the bar and I hoped that it might have cooled the temperature down, but no, it was still like walking along in a sauna, so we sensibly decided to get a taxi home.
Ps, it seemed a friendly place and we had no problems, so we didn't have to bother the British Ambassador after all.

Wednesday 15 April 2015

Journey through the Panama Canal

Early start today as we arrived at the Pacific side of the Panama Canal just after dawn.
Firstly we sailed under the Panamerican Highway bridge just next to Panama City. I woke up with a cup of coffee on the top deck and looked forward to arriving at the Miraflores Locks.
We were escorted by a couple of tug boats up to the lock and then two guys in a tiny rowing boat rowed in front of us to pass over a rope that starts the process. There is also an arrow which tells us which of the two lock gates that we have been allocated.
The canal is 48 miles in total and saves an 8,000 mile journey around the south coast of America, so it was no coincidence that the Queen Victoria fitted exactly into the lock, with 9 inches to spare!
We were hooked up to little trains on either side to make sure that we travelled in a straight line, but we bumped the rubber sides very loudly on the way in, although non of the crew seemed concerned.
Obviously, it was a great day for photos so Daz leaned over the side and nearly touched Panama, while I enjoyed the scenery along the way.
The locks raise the ships 85 feet above sea level, then a beautiful man made lake takes the ships across the narrowest part of Panama. The whole area is thick rain forest and there was a couple of heavy showers as we cruised along just to prove the point.
Once we neared the other side we made our way down the Gatun Locks to the Caribbean Sea.
The journey took all day and incredibly, it took 52,000,000 gallons of fresh water to get us from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean.
What a fantastic piece of engineering that has been in constant use for 101 years.