Florida Road trip

img_23781 October

A 10:00 ferry departure on a smooth crossing after the week’s winds but we nearly never made it.  A car inexplicably pulled out of Ballaquark and nearly gave us a broadside. The cheek of the woman  driver who seemed to imply it was our fault that we were on a main road and she was pulling out of a side road on our right!

Rain all the way down to Telford for our overnight, had hoped to explore the area a bit but no such luck in this rain.  Evening meal in hotel very good, sat next to roaring gas fire, restaurant crowded, a good sign of a good meal.  Excellent value

2 October

Drive to Flic & Gary’s.  Gary in casualty as he has a damaged finger from yesterday’s rugby!  Great to see Flic looking so well in her early stages of pregnancy!  Meal out locally at The George and we are taken off to The Holiday Inn at Heathrow to meet up with John & Deirdre before tomorrow’s adventure.  A very small room, so much so that the cases have to block the door to the room!

3 October

Taxi to airport, interestingly the same driver that took us to T5 back in March.  No quibble about the fare this time though.  Through security quickly although my iPad gets a second viewing behind an English woman who hadn’t put gels and liquids in a plastic bag.  Didn’t spend my £80 voucher though.

Flight on time, comfortable seats, food OK but nearly a mile walk at Miami airport to get to immigration – too much!  Five times Sal has to have fingerprints & photo taken, the system wouldn’t recognise her and it was slow so it took a long time to get out of the airport and to the car rental area.

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View from Miami Intercontinental bedroom window

A woman with limited smiling ability served us at the Alamo desk, she obviously didn’t enjoy her job but we were soon off to our hotel and, despite the thunder & lightning, a good sleep for us but not for John & Deirdre.

4 October

As expected, we wake early but manage to doze, meeting for breakfast at 8:30. Shops in Bayfront not open until 10:00 but a Cuban café is open which is cheaper than the hotel’s breakfast.

Try a jet boat around the harbour which also takes us out to the Atlantic Ocean in front of Miami Beach but no twirls; quite tame really.

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Jet boat ride into the Atlantic

Drive out and along Ocean Drive, Miami Beach before heading back to hotel for a rest, a swim in the hotel’s pool that seems to spend most of it’s time in the shade.

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Intercontinental hotel, Miami, swimming pool

It would be interesting to test a court case on the terminology on the swimming pool’s sign which reads:  Pool hours from Dusk to Dawn!

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Jet boat at Miami

Out for dinner tonight and manage to park on South Beach for $30, probably a bit steep but that is the going rate.

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South beach

A walk on the beach admiring the sights etc. before settling on an Italian restaurant for our meal.

Still pretty jet lagged, we leave the bright lights of Miami Beach behind and head back for a catch up on sleep time.  No thunderstorms tonight.

5 October

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Resident wildlife

Checkout is at midday so after breakfast at nearby Olé café & a look at Marshalls we head back to Intercontinental hotel before a quick walk, collect car, say goodby to the local wildlife and head off south.

Traffic absolutely horrendous with everyone leaving early because of the impending arrival of Hurricane Matthew, the first hurricane to hit Florida in 11 years and it is coming Miami’s way – heading northwards so we are glad we are heading South to the Keys.

Eventually manage to find some open road after crawling through the suburbs, stopping at every light and nearly getting hit by a car that just carried on, on my right, after the road had run out, nearly flipping over in the process right in front of us!😦. Very scary moment.

Reach Captain Pip’s ( our stop for tonight) in Marathon at about 4:30 after a 30 minute stop for lunch.  100 miles has taken us about 4 hours and we are welcomed by an office that is in a shack.

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Captain Pip’s dockyard

However, the rooms are comfortable and quiet with a sea view so hopefully a good night’s sleep despite my heavy head cold developing.

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Sunset Grille, 7 mile bridge

Dinner tonight at Sunset grille near the 7 mile bridge.  Don’t go over the 7 Mile bridge we are told or you’ve missed it.  Oops, too late.

Good meal, can recommend the Crab Au Gratin & the Key Lime Pie and of course the sunset view, not quite as good as it could be as a bit cloudy – we have however hopefully missed Hurricane Matthew which is expected to hit land north of Miami in a day or so.

My cold causes a few sleepless hours and of course there is no air, just very warm wind outside.

6 October

Check out by 10!  Breakfast in The Stuffed Pig as Porky’s is closed due to the impending arrival of Hurricane Matthew (that’s their story) and then off to the nearby Turtle Hospital where they care for those injured in accidents, mainly, and caught up with sea debris.

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Turtle being looked after

It was difficult to get a proper full picture of them as mostly they were quite actively swimming around; near feeding time of course.

Now head down to Key West where temperature at 4pm is 32C and feels like 41C.  The humidity is stifling and energy sapping so we were glad of some refreshment at the local French Bakery – La Grignote, (thoroughly recommended by the way) towards Southernmost point from Duval Street and Hurricane Matthew now nowhere to be seen.

This time we stayed at the Southernmost Guest House which is not to be confused with the Southernmost Hotel which is where we stayed 11 years ago but we did find a good restaurant nearby, an Italian, Abbondanza, where we also were 11 years ago.

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Bedroom at Southernmost GuestHouse

Key Lime Pie not as good as before though.

Another sleepless night due to the head cold and an hour or so outside trying to get some air; no wind again.

7 October

Take a trolley tour around the centre of town which is very quiet.  Many cancellations we are told as planes not flying from Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando because of Hurricane Matthew.

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Mallory Square without the crowds

Stop off in Mallory Square for a smoothie which really is more ice than anything else and back for a rest, with lunch bought as a take out from La Grignote, the filled croissant is to be recommended.

Humidity is now well above 80% and we are flagging in the heat.  It’s 31C and feels like over 40C even at 4pm.

After a swim in the very salty and warm sea at the nearby beach, get the trolley into town and walk around the harbour before eating at Conch Republic Seafood Company overlooking the harbour watching the boats going out to watch the sunset.

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Sunset at Key West

John & I get around the corner to watch the sunset but we have walked so much in this heat, we are all worn out and the girls don’t make it.

Taxi back and some free wine on the verandah before bed and, for me, another sleepless night due to the cold.  It is quite peaceful at 2am outside!

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The start of an adventure

8 October

John & Deirdre are off to Dry Tortuga on a sea plane for Deirdre to snorkel. Not sure it is John’s cup of tea though especially as he had socks on and had to step in ankle deep water to get on the sea plane.

Nevertheless, we think they enjoyed themselves.We pottered and I walked up Duval Street with a slight detour to the beginning of US1 (the end is in Fort Kent, Maine), to Fat Tuesday and back, having 2 strangers insist I take their photo on my camera, before getting lunch from La Grignote again, we do like it, and collect John & Deirdre from the airport before a swim in the sea.

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Who are these 2?

The nearby (to the Guest House) Key West butterfly & Nature Conservatory  was a haven of coolness in the afternoon although John preferred a snooze in the Guest House’s hammock!

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Snooze time
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Butterfly at The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory

Not only does the Butterfly & Nature Conservatory house so many different species of butterflies which, incidentally, are extremely difficult to photograph as they are continually on the move or when resting have their wings folded so are not exactly photogenic, but various birds are in residence some of which obviously are there to entertain us tourists.

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You looking at me?

9 October

A long drive today up the 1 from milepost 0 having located Harry S Truman’s Little White House for our next visit as a house to go around.

This is a long and slow road and we eventually leave the 1 at Homestead, stopping for gas at a very country style gas station.

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Ochopee Alligator

Onwards onto the 41 and Westwards towards Naples, stopping off at an information centre at Ochopee where you can usually see Alligators, we were lucky.

Road surface generally good and much better than I remember from our drive 11 years ago.

Tonight in Holiday Inn Express and a meal at the adjacent Olive Garden.

10 October

Drive to Marco Island and a walk on Tigertail beach.  Lots of bird life, jumping fish and some dolphins out to sea.

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Crossing the water at Tigertail

Whilst I wade across the channel to the other side, the others watch me and a party of girls who followed me to ensure we all crossed without too much difficulty.

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Bird feeding time

Only a packet of polo’s suffered in my pocket with the salt water.

Red algae had killed many fish which were just lying at high water mark including a sting ray and a conch.

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Dead fish on the Red tide

According to a local it happens regularly but nothing between November and March. So many dead fish and shells also, making it quite difficult where to tread.  And the smell!

A few shops visited afterwards and we then watch the sunset at Naples pier after driving past some very grand houses, possibly worth about $10m each.

Dinner tonight in The Cheesecake Factory who still insist on extra large portions – much too much for us.

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Sunset at Naples pier

11 October

Another drive today, but not as far, only 70 or so miles and we stop at a shopping Mall at Estero for Crocs for Harry and then in a SuperTarget, possibly the biggest store we have ever been in. A diversion to Fort Myers airport for John to sort out his Travelex card and then on to a Panera Bread for lunch.

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Sunburst Condos

Arrive at Sunburst Condonimium on Bradenton beach in time to wander down to bay to see Dolphins, jumping fish, pelicans, egrets and more before disappearing off for a meal at nearby Steffano’s, a different type of place and we had finished by 8pm as the last customers.

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Sunburst condo swimming pool

Back to the condo, internet doesn’t work! 😦.

Office closed now until Thursday so we end up having several games of shit head most of which John won.

12 October

A relaxing morning in overcast conditions catching up with the washing, paddling in the sea and watching a tortoise clamber over a wall to get to some shady vegetation.

The beach is certainly not as sandy as I remember it from before with the effects of the red tide evident on the beach with some dead fish and crabs.  Not as much as on Tigertail beach the other day but still smelly. Apparently the County will clear the dead away soon but the red tide is very late this year.

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Ill fitting bedroom furniture

The condo has been refurbished outside but inside it is very much in need of updating in places – old fashioned decor, 5 remotes for one TV and some ill fitting furniture.

It was very clean but had been left shut up for some time before our arrival and was a bit musty on first arrival although this did clear very quickly.

Crockery clean but doesn’t match, cutlery clean but not enough spoons.

Venture out to Gasperilla island ( $6 toll and $3 to park ), a sleepy little strip of land with a fast flowing current at the end of it, loads & loads of shells and an element of coastal erosion.

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Boca Grande beach

A long walk by and in the sea and then back to the town of Boca Grande for lunch at the Loose Caboose, so named as it is at the end of a dismantled railway line.

Charging $5 for cutting two sandwiches in half was a bit steep though. Still, we manage to catch up on emails as we still don’t have Internet access at the  Condo.

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Birdlife on Boca Grande

Food shopping in Publix for tonight’s Chinese meal, a look at the jumping fish and an unwelcome shower or two of rain.  A quiet night in as we have an early start tomorrow.

13 October

After an early start and finding a dying cockroach in the kitchen area, we leave before the office is open and check in at 08:30 at Fisherman’s Wharf in Punto Garda for a 09:00 boat trip to Cabbage Key via Costa Key.

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Fisherman’s wharf

Only about 28 on board and 5 get off at Costa Key for the shell beach.

Not a lot to see whilst we pass down the Peace River and not a particularly communicative captain.

One of the mates takes time to show us where we are going on our 3 hour cruise, but virtually no dolphin sightings, just several birds dive bombing for fish.

Cabbage key has a restaurant, and we are advised to eat early as it gets crowded. No food and drinks are otherwise allowed on the island.  As it turns out, the restaurant was emptier as the time went by.

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Cabbage Key restaurant “wallpaper”

The restaurant has a unique style of wallpaper, $1 dollar bills adorn virtually every inch of the ceiling, walls and supporting posts.

All have an inscription written on them by past customers.  A bit pricey for a lunch but I think you would expect that bearing in mind food has to be transported by boat for such a long journey.

There is the possibility to stay there overnight but there is not a lot to do there other than a trail to walk around (20 mins. Max.), the tortoises to see and probably fishing.  Had we missed the boat back at 1:45 we would have had to wait another two days for the next cruise back to Punta Gorda!

Pass, both going there and coming back, the private up market island of Useppa Island  we are told that you cannot just land and wander around, you have to belong to an owner’s club or as a guest of the hotel.

John manages to sight a dolphin on the way back but it is soon gone and we are back at the harbour for a walk through the shopping centre and head for the JC Penney shopping mall on way back to Sunburst Condominiums, a meal there and a few games of cards before bed.

October 14

A sunny day, our wedding anniversary and we spend the morning trying to talk through the internet problems with the complex’s manager.  It is no use to us that the supplier was here last Friday and now can’t come back until 19 October, after we have left.

At least we can sit on the office’s porch and get Internet access from the office – not  ideal at all but better than nothing!  There was another very sleepy cockroach this morning, all as a result, we are told of the de-bugging carried out recently. Now the waste disposal doesn’t work!

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Alligator at Myakka State Park

Still, not to have a day spoiled, we head for Myakka State Park and a ride on the lake having loads of bird life and Alligators pointed out to us.

We also gingerly get out of the car and walk down a boardwalk to see a few other birds and delve deep into the scrub, bush, swamp (call it what you like) to get to the top of a canopy walk only to find our way blocked by water.

John & Deirdre do find a way through and up onto the canopy though after which we return to the Condominium; still no internet access!

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Gulf View restaurant, Manasota Key

Dinner tonight at the nearby restaurant, Gulf View, a bit noisy and with house wine advertised at $6 a bottle we thought that would do.

A bit upset with the restaurant that they couldn’t provide us with a sunset table and also began to suggest that we would have a 40 minute wait for our table even though we had booked.

It was only a 40 minute wait for a sunset table but as sunset was in 2 minutes, that was no benefit.  Our table was at the back of the restaurant.

The White Zinfandel was not available we were told so would this do, handing over another bottle.  Yes we said, and whilst the wine was nice, it was charged to us at $46!  The food was good and we did manage to get the wine down by $15 but the experience will be on Trip Advisor.  Excellent saxophonist on the ground floor bar area added to the ambience.

October 15

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First attempt at Paddleboarding

Book a paddle board experience for myself (an SUP) at 11 so a late breakfast for me, half way through which we get an unexpected visitation from John’s former colleague, Jean, who used to own one of the condos in the block, her sister and her brother in law.

Jean tells us that the condo we are in is owned by an elderly couple which is why the decor is somewhat old. She is disgusted with what has gone on here since she sold up.

She now has a house a few miles away nearer to Boca Grande and invites us to their house to watch the football tomorrow, Middlesborough v Watford, and whilst I am so tempted, I don’t think it is possible as we have to be out of here at 10am and the match starts at 8am.

Set off for Stump Pass for the SUP experience and after a few brief words from the instructor, he leaves me to it. No dry run for me, with wind and tide pushing me inshore and into the trees, I spend more time in the water than on it. Try kneeling and sitting to get balance but moving from one position to another is impossible.

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Tree obstacles

Eventually, I manage to stand up and get out into the river but there are so many passing boats ignoring the speed limit the wake they produce invariably throws me off balance or pushes me into the numerous overhanging branches.

One boat in particular caused a capsize and loss of my sun glasses.😟

After a coffee collected by John & Deirdre, I set off again, this time venturing further afield although my inability to turn round caused a capsize, a scrape with a landing post, a badly cut leg and the inability to get back on.

Fortunately, the water was shallow enough, just, to allow me to touch the bottom, push the paddle board back to where the others were patiently waiting having managed to get back on and paddle the last bit.

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Non-biting (hopefully) insect

At least I have done it and, I think, no wildlife was harmed in the process.

Back to condo for a shower, a clean up and then out to Target for final purchases and, to please John, a McDonalds dinner.  The apple pies took an exceptionally long time to arrive and we left trying to get to see the sunset.

Just my luck to pass a Sherriff’s car just before the condo and he said I was doing 39 in a 25 speed limit having pulled me over.

After a lengthy wait, none of us were allowed out of the car so we all missed the sunset, I get let off with a warning; phew!  Had visions of something worse, but perhaps he didn’t fancy the paperwork for an Isle of Man licence?

October 16

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I-hop lunch in Kissimmee

We move on today to Cocoa Beach on the East coast of Florida, via drive northwards on Mannesota key, and the I-4 from Tampa to Orlando, stopping at an I-Hop for lunch on the “192” near downtown  Kissimmee.

Staying in a Holiday Inn Express at Cocoa Beach and after settling in, a walk to cocoa Beach which wasn’t as I expected, lots of activity though and a few fishermen.

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Cocoa Beach

With the help from the receptionist, have dinner at Gregory’s – about 2 miles away, good choice but I never saw her again to thank her for the suggestion.

Absolutely shattered but not a particularly good sleep.  Cold still bad and leg cut still sore.

October 17

Breakfast area too small for the number of guests but we do manage to grab a table. Lots of guests setting out to the nearby Port Canaveral for a Disney cruise so lots of noisy kids and quite a few tired ones.

For us, a day at Kennedy Space Centre, about 10 miles away and whilst not crowded, lots of German speaking people off a cruise ship so they had a coach to get back on which emptied the park quite substantially at about 3pm.

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Rocket at Space Centre

A bus tour to the other site, a couple of films and a walk underneath the space craft, it is amazing how big this thing is.

We were there last on Boxing Day 2010 and it has changed quite a bit at the main area, although the other site at the end of the bus tour was the same as I remember it nearly 6 years ago.

A couple of alligators and the Bald Eagle’s nest were pointed out to us before we returned to the main area for one of the two 3D IMAX cinema presentation. This is one of the best presentations of this type I have seen, explaining a lot in language we could all understand.

Lunch followed by the other 3D film, again an excellent presentation on how the astronauts survive.

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Atlantis space craft

Then on to the Atlantis section, the area showcasing what they are doing to get to Mars and a ride in the simulator that is supposed to show how you would fare in a take-off.

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Space Centre visit

It wasn’t as good as I thought it would be though but the main feature of the area was the space craft, Atlantis which is awesomely huge.

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Can I see your passport please?

Some interaction with spacemen which was aimed at children would have looked better had there been any children around to appreciate it.

Dinner tonight at Applebee’s on the way back to the hotel and a walk to Publix to spend $4.39 in coins on cheesecake, our last of this holiday.

October 18

Our last day and we travel slowly down the A1A southwards taking in the views of the decent houses after we have left Cocoa Beach, the mounds of broken vegetation by the side of the road awaiting collection that is as a result of the wind and floods caused by Hurricane Matthew.

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Last look at the Florida sea

Stop off at Sebastian Inlet State Park Beach to watch the waves and the birds before heading south again.

Our last lunch in Panera Bread for some time but the traffic is very heavy and with one near miss, no arrows showing a lane closure, I have to stop for fresh air and a coffee before hitting the road again for the rest of the journey.

Filling up with fuel some way from the car depot saved us over $1 a gallon but then got stuck in a traffic jam whilst a train crosses the road ahead.

October 19

A decent 4 hours sleep for us, but not for John & Deirdre who, in the baggage reclaim area at Heathrow, collapses. The first aiders at the airport were marvellous and Deirdre was taken (with John) to Hillingdon hospital for a check up after about an hour before being released about 6 hours after we landed. Nothing found, perhaps it was exhaustion?

After being checked over at Hillingdon hospital, John & Deirdre then had to return to Heathrow to collect their bags before getting a cab to home.

We catch bus to Reading station to be met by Flic (who had found out today she had lost her job – not unexpected!) and a tiring drive to Haydock.

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Christmas Store in mid October!

October 20

Breakfast in Bents, can’t believe they have a full Christmas display already, and a calm sail back from Heysham.

Another adventure in the USA is over, a somewhat unexpected and traumatic end to a thoroughly enjoyable (apart from being stopped by the police) adventure.

Now a few days rest before we are off to London, Jersey, France and Steyning.

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