Andrew and Laura

2000 Florida

Tue 1st Feb

The Intrepid Explorers begin a months holiday in Florida. Our flight started at 12.45pm and arrived at 9.45pm and after all the usual hassles, we picked up our Buick Ultra and found an hotel - the Omni Rosen, a lovely suite on floor 24 with brilliant views over Orlando. A large but pretty building with a lovely fountain at the main entrance. The Buick is white, with tinted windows, cruise control, air con, CD player etc. it’s like driving along in an outsized leather armchair. It’s even got controls on the steering wheel so you don’t have all the effort of having to lean forward to the dash.

We ate a large steak each, washed down with an excellent bottle of Geyser Peak wine, then at 3.45am to bed for some zzz’s.

Wed 2nd Feb

Started today with a wonderful whirlpool bath, then we set off to explore. As we are staying at Orlando for our last two weeks we headed off to Tampa Valley as we are travelling down the west coast to the Keys. We found the Florida Aquarium so parked up to take a look. It is very different from the Monterey one near Carmel, the tanks are mostly set in rock caves or in coral, very picturesque with loads of pretty, {and some pretty fierce} fish. We were allowed to stroke some sharks, and we saw lots of beautiful sea horses, sea dragons and leafy dragons. We had never seen the dragons before and I found them fascinating. Andrew preferred the larger tanks of unusual fish.

We drove on then to Ybor City where we stopped for a stroll around the market square, Ybor is where they produce Cuban cigars. The market is very much like the markets in London, but smaller.

Our next stop was Indian Rock Beach Gulf Boulevard, which is on the coast where we have booked a chalet for two nights while we explore this area, which is part of the Pinellas. The sea is about a minute walk from the chalet, and of course the beach is white sand with the ever present palm trees, we arrived in time to watch the sunset.

We went for a wander around the local shops and bought wine and tomorrow’s breakfast, then it was time for dinner, a really good pizza, some wine and now, since my dearly beloved is already snoring, I think it is time for bed.

Thu 3rd Feb

We headed for St. Petersburg to spend the day. We went to the pier first and ate lunch watching squirrels stealing food from O.P.’s leftovers.

We noticed a pelican, so decided to see if there were more, found a colony of them across the car park and watched for a while, they are so graceful skimming across the water.

We walked further up and found a place where you can feed them, sat to watch American’s feeding them fish & screaming when the pelicans tried to get the fish they were warily holding at them. A lovely blue heron was looking on hoping for a fish - to no avail.

Found the inverted pyramid which we had seen in our book, it comprises of shops, which we wandered around, an aquarium, which we didn’t, as we went to one yesterday, and a really good viewing area on top with a cafe Cha Cha Coconut, where we drank pink lemonade and watched little brown birds steal sachets of sugar, open them and eat the contents. This kept us highly amused for a while.

We then caught a shocking pink trolley bus which took us on a guided tour of St. Petersburg showing us gems like “ The Comfort Station” a loo that some builder who was into Catholic Churches, built as a mini replica of a church in Italy when the Bishop wouldn’t pay him for building the original. Also the First Union Bank which suffered recently when an 18 year old girl failed to get cash from a hole in the wall machine, lost her temper and drove her car through the window in retaliation. Unfortunately she had dropped her purse, so she resides in gaol for her ram raid.

We got off at the Dali Museum, he painted some weird stuff, but I really like some of his paintings.

We came back to our chalet then, took a glass of wine with us to the beach to watch the sunset, then walked to Guppy’s for a gourmet seafood meal of scallops, swordfish, mahi, and salmon, washed down with beer for Andrew and wine - Silver Ridge, Sonoma for me, an excellent end to an excellent day.

Fri 4th Feb

We woke up to a glorious sunny day, up till now it has been warm but overcast, so this really cheered us up! We went for a walk along the beach after packing up to leave.

The sea really looks so wonderfully blue today, and the white sand hurts your eyes it’s so bright.

I took my first turn at driving today, and this huge tank isn’t as scary as I thought it would be. We stopped off at a Waffle House for brunch, then drove straight down to Fort Myers {about four hours}. Eventually we found Outriggers which had a room free and decided to just chill out on the beach.

I had some left over bread with us and decided to feed a seagull which was sitting beside us, within seconds there were around fifty surrounding us, overhead and everywhere. It’s the first time I have thrown bread upwards, unbelievable!

We walked for a while, then with cocktails & beer sat on the shore to watch the sun go down. It got cold then so back to our room to sort out going online and reply to some emails.

We went to Charley Browns for dinner Surf & Turf very yummy, then back for an early night as we travel the rest of the way to the Keys tomorrow.

Sat 5th Feb

Today we had breakfast by the beach, then went for a walk along the shore accompanied by three pelicans – cute eh?

As we drove to the Edison house there was miles of Royal palms planted by him to form an avenue to his house, apparently they stretch for twenty miles now, as people have added to them over the years as a tribute to him.

We then drove up to the Edison House where we got taken on a tour by an old man who had a really good sense of humour, and has done these tours for over twenty years.

He started in Edison’s botanical gardens where he planted Banyan trees from India {called the walking trees as they put down feelers from the branches that root and become supports for the original branches, in that way they “walk” all over the place} The oldest has had to be cut back yearly for the last thirty years as it has spread over 400 yards over the years before this.

There are wonderful exotic trees and plants everywhere that Edison collected from all over the world, Bougainvillea, Flame trees, Bay trees, Allspice trees, Candle trees, Chewing gum trees, Sausage trees, Fried egg trees, Palms of every description, to name but a few.

We then visited the house, very pretty with a wonderful sun deck surrounding the whole house. His carbon filament lights are still running in his house since 1947 when his widow bequeathed the house and 13 acres of grounds to the local council {as long as it stays as a memorial museum to Edison}.

The house is apparently just the way it was when Edison lived there. There is a swimming pool with a little tea room beside it. From the pool you can see the sea and the lovely white beach, Edison built a pier there so that freight i.e. his trees could be docked, A story about him is that he used to go there to fish if he wanted to think and be undisturbed by anyone, but didn’t have a hook or bait. so that the fish didn’t disturb him either.

We then had a visit to Henry Ford’s house {his best friend & next door neighbour} His garage still has 4 of the first Model T’s that he built in it.

We went on to Edison’s laboratories and his museum of all his works, apparently over 1090 patents during his lifetime {still the highest ever in the states}. His Model T that Ford gave him is there along with everything Edison ever invented. A really interesting tour, we both enjoyed it very much.

We then had a late lunch and drove on to a place called Homestead on Highway 1 where we stopped for the night at the first motel that didn’t look too creepy, the two before this looked a bit like the hotel in Psycho!

Sun 6th Feb

We hit Denny’s for brunch today, then set off for the Keys. I’m driving the tank today, as Andrew knows the way.

We stopped when we reached the Dolphin Research Centre at Grassy Keys. We arrived just in time for the 2pm tour {you can’t look around on your own here}. Met all the dolphins and spent around two hours watching them playing - they are wonderful.

Set off then to find a room for tonight and came to Parmers Resort in Big Pine Keys, we booked a little chalet here and I am typing this on our deck by the sea. We went for a walk earlier and watched the sunset, soon we will walk half a mile down the road for dinner at The Sandbar a waterfront restaurant. It is really tranquil and lovely here with the sea gently lapping in the background.

Tomorrow we go to Key West to stay at Andrew’s Inn for 3 nights, can’t wait to get there as Andrew has told me so often about this place.

Mon 7th Feb

Had breakfast in Big Pine Keys, then I did the laundry while Andrew went for a walk on the seafront. I got a wolf whistle from a blind parrot near the laundry - such Fun!!

We then drove to Key West, checked & in to Andrew’s Inn. We have a lovely little chalet here, a bathroom with an Italian marble sink, a large room with a Queen size bed and our own little sun deck, where I am sitting typing. There is the pool which the bathroom overlooks and palms and other greenery all around us. We are just around the corner from the main shopping street, but it is so lovely and tranquil here, you would never believe it. Key West is a town so we can just leave the car and walk everywhere, which makes a really nice change from all the driving we’ve done so far.

There are 3 cats here, a tortie, a ginger tom and a white & black we’ve named Smudge as she sits with us already. They all belong to the Ernest Hemingway house next door.

We went for a walk earlier and found a German bistro for late lunch really gorgeous chicken and shrimp sandwiches. Then we went to Southernmost point and sat on the pier to watch the Pelicans catching fish. The houses around here dated from the early 1900’s and some are really lovely - they are called the gingerbread houses. We walked around the shops and bought some postcards and a T-shirt for me in bright purple. Went to Square One for dinner, crab to start, then grouper for Andrew and fillet steak for me, accompanied by an excellent Hawks Bay wine. The waiter was really good, but very smarmy & spent most of the evening with us, I think he fancied Andrew!

Tue 8th Feb

We got up late this morning due to hardly any sleep last night.

The couple directly above us got home drunk at 2.30am then kept us awake till 4.30am then Smudge decided to join in outside our door, followed by the cockerel down the street deciding that it must be morning!

Andrew threw a glass of water over Smudge to shut her up, so being a determined cat she came round to the back door and howled again till we let her in, where she sat on the mat to dry out!

After breakfast we wandered down Duval St. window shopping till we reached the Conch Train which gives tours around Key West, we boarded and did the tour, some good historical stuff, but the guide told really corny jokes which no-one laughed at.

Walked some more, sent some postcards, went for an afternoon nap, it poured with rain all last night and all morning, so still no sunset!

Went to Crabby Bill’s for dinner which was excellent. They sell T-shirts there “ I got Crabs at Crabby Bill’s!” - if anyone can’t live without one of these please let us know in the next 36 hours and we will procure one for you!

We returned to Andrews Inn to find Smudge waiting for us and hissing and spitting at any other cat {4 so far} that try to get a bit of fuss and attention – looks like we’ve been adopted.

Wed 9th Feb

We had breakfast by the pool today, as the sun has got her hat on. After that we went to Hemingway’s house which is side on to where we are staying. We had to do the tour here again as they don’t let you walk around on your own. The house is very pretty, with a sun deck all around the top floor. There are lovely chandeliers in every room as wife two was into them.

Hemingway built his own bed as there weren’t any big enough for his liking around at the time. There was one of his cat’s descendant’s on the bed while we were there. It is not a big place, but his writing room is lovely, and the Italian tiles that his wife was into really gives the place some character. There are around sixty cats living there. mostly descendants from his original six-toed cats.

The gardens are beautiful, and very peaceful considering how many tourists are there. The garden is full of cats, most of whom are very friendly and happy to have a fuss made of them. One which looked like a Burman settled on Andrew’s tummy and paddled for a while. Went to the Cafe Europa for lovely lunch & Key lime pie for pudding – so yummy!!

Later I went shopping, while Andrew went for a nap. I bought us a T-shirt each, then after an hour or so collected Andrew to walk to the other side of the Keys to go on a cruise.

We had booked this morning to go on the 4.30pm cruise on Discovery, a glass sided boat, and spent a lovely couple of hours at the coral reef watching the fish and barracuda and all the different types of coral, brain, red fire fan etc. Then came up on deck again to watch the sunset, absolutely gorgeous, I’m so pleased that we got a good one on our last night.

Thu 10th Feb

Sadly we had to pack up and leave Andrew’s Inn, we have enjoyed being here so much, and we will both miss Smudge lots, she has a very strong character and we’ve both fallen in love with her and want to bring her with us. After sad farewells, as she tried to lead us back to the cottage, we were on our way.

Our next stop was the Blue Hole where there are always alligators around, except today. We found ducks, fish by the score and a lovely soft shell turtle - but not a sign of the elusive alligators.

We travelled on then to Bahia Honda beach where we stopped for a couple of hours, walked along the beach and paddled in the beautiful sea. Another tranquil place, sun blazing down and the sea so many different shades of blues, greens and lilac. Love this place, I could happily live here.

We found a Chinese buffet just off the beach for lunch then settled down for the long drive to Miami Beach, arriving just as the sun was setting. We are staying at the Breakwater Hotel tonight, which is in the Art Deco area right on the sea front. there are Flamenco guitarists playing right below our window. Went out for a walk earlier, Miami is positively buzzing with people, we found a really good Mexican restaurant, The Senor Frog where Andrew had Sol and a weird dinner with beef, pork, peppers, raisins, nuts, pomegranates and cream all wrapped up in a sort of pancake. I being predictable had fajitas.

Fri 11th Feb

We went down to the beach first thing this morning for a walk. It’s another beautiful day, temp.77 - the highest yet. Miami Beach is full of sunbathers, we walked for a while, then it was time to set off again.

I drove to the Everglades from Miami in our quest to find the elusive alligators. We stopped at Cooper town - they have been running airboat tours for over fifty years. We boarded the boat {you pay when you get back as they don’t charge if an alligator has you for dinner}. There are 2 main rules, don’t rock the boat in case it capsizes, and the seat in the air belongs only to the man who drives the boat.

We set off on an hour cruise around the Everglades, the man was very informative and had a very dry sense of humour, he told us all about all the plants, birds and animals around the swamps, we saw egrets, herons and numerous other birds, turtles and at last the alligators . This really is a magnificent place, like no where else we’ve ever seen, not to be missed if you are in the vicinity. Ghost the largest alligator got up so close to Andrew that I was quite frightened.

When we got back we had a look around the place, we met a 12 foot long albino burmese boa constrictor, more alligators and turtles and we were allowed to hold a 5 month old alligator! We could have eaten alligator tails for lunch but declined to do so, we both agree that it has been our most memorable trip so far this holiday.

Time then for the drive back to Orlando, then booked into a motel for the last time as we move into the Condo in the morning.

It’s been another really good day today, but I must admit that we are looking forward to settling for 2 weeks in one house.

Sat 12th Feb

Spent a dreadful night in the motel that we booked into, Vacation Lodge, Orange Blossom Trail, - don’t ever go there! The first room we got given was full of cockroaches {I’d never seen one before, but saw enough for a lifetime there} we spent the first hour killing them, then they moved us upstairs.

We eventually settled and stopped scratching, went to sleep for an hour or so, then someone, who had a very loud voice tried to get in to our room - eventually they went away and we dozed off again. Next there was someone opening the door and coming in to see who we were, flashlights shone on to our faces etc. At this point at 2pm we were getting just a little bit peed off. Ten minutes later someone else arrived to hammer on the door till Andrew answered it, apparently to establish who we were and if we should be there, had we paid - oh yes we were the English ones, O.K. we could go back to sleep now. Have to assume most people pay by the hour there! We checked out this morning with a person who did not even speak English, so no complaints understood.

We found a really good mall for a walk about & some brunch

Then it was time to find our condo, it is fabulous - everything we thought it would be and more! High ceilings, lovely rooms, wonderful heated pool, it’s really gorgeous. I’m sure Carole and Peter will love it too. We went shopping at the local mall for essentials, wine, beer, orange juice, waffles & maple syrup.

We have been in the pool as Andrew arranged for it to be heated, now we are relaxing, Andrew in front of the television and me on the patio by the lit pool. We saw another lovely sunset on the way back from the mall – we are settled for 2 weeks now with no cockroaches in sight.

Sun 13th Feb

We pottered about this morning, did ironing etc. then went out for lunch at T G I Fridays. I had a chat to my Mum and Grahame, all is well at home, except that the dog ate Grahame’s chilli for dinner last night. Went shopping around the local malls, then went to the airport to pick up Andrew’s parents. Spent a couple of hours there so missed the sunset.

We brought them back here for a freshen up then went out for dinner to the Outback an Aussie restaurant for fish and steak etc. The service was pretty slow but nice food. Carole and Peter are knackered now so have gone to bed, as it’s 4am for them. We had a dip in the lovely warm pool, then to bed.

Mon 14th Feb

I had a lovely swim before breakfast, the pool is almost bath temperature. Carole and Pete were up about 6am. due to jet lag. We lazed around the pool for a while, then the Intrepid Explorers plus two set off for The Blue Springs State Park on a quest to find alligators and Manatees {sea cows}.

We arrived in time to catch the 1pm boat trip down the St. John river. Loads of different species of birds - ospreys, black and turkey vultures, blue heron, little and great egrets, bittern, cranes, bald eagles, ibis, and purple galens to name the names that I can remember.

We found some alligators too, one of which hissed at us a lot, so we moved on.

As soon as the 2 hour cruise began the heavens opened, we have had torrential rain all day . None the less we had a really good time. No Manatee on the way round the river, but when we docked we went to the little look out point where we saw several shapes lurking under water and saw one come up for air, decided to be content with that as all we were fit for was entering a wet T-shirt competition, plus were all hungry as it was 3pm by then.

Zoomed off to find a chicken burger at “Wendy’s”, then went to the International Plaza to the Mall, it’s still persisting down, so shop till we drop’s our theory.

We bought a beach towel each for Pete and I, a cozzy and robe for Carole, walking boots for Pete, T-shirt each for Andrew and I and a Telly tubby for Matthew and Elliot.

Time to eat again, so we went to Chilis a little Mexican restaurant near our house where Carole and Peter had chicken and steamed veg. Andrew & I shared fajita all thoroughly enjoyed. We went back to the condo then, Carole & Andrew have got into the pool.

Tue 15th Feb

It’s a beautiful day today, so we all got ourselves sorted out after a dip in the pool for Carole and Peter, and decided that today was the day for visiting The Kennedy Space Centre.

It’s about fifty miles away from us, so a relatively short drive. As we neared there we had to stop as the bridge went up to let a boat through {Carole and Peter’s first view of the sea over here}. Then we were parking up at N.A.S.A. having glimpsed the rocket and shuttle on the way in. It’s a three hour bus tour, so we decided to eat first at the Lunch Pad, we could eat space ice cream there if we wanted, but settled for chicken for them and bratwurst for me. We sat outside and watched the pretty birds, one of which swooped down to steal a bit of my lunch straight out of my hand.

We then went to the bus to start our tour. Our first destination was the LG39 the viewing gallery, which is massive, with stunning views of the whole of N.A.S.A. and the sea, {this is also a bird and wildlife sanctuary} The telescopes up here help you see for miles across the whole area. There is also an engine here which had it’s maiden voyage in 1983 and has retired after 15 voyages into space. We spent quite a lot of time up there looking around, then caught a bus to the next tour stop.

We passed the astronaut’s living quarters and the 2 launch pads on the way to the Apollo \ Saturn V Centre. Again there was loads to see here, the Firing Room Theatre shows a re-creation of the Apollo 8 launch, Lunar Theatre shows re-creation of Apollo 11 moon landing. We also saw a 363 foot Saturn V moon rocket {1 of 3 in existence} There were also an Apollo command capsule, and lunar modules to walk through. After this bit we stopped for a drink and to look through the palm trees at the sea for a while, this place is wonderful, but so vast and with so much to take in - it addles your brain after a while and you need to stop and digest what you’ve seen so far.

Onward to the International Space Station Centre where we saw the components that will make up the ISS. Apparently nations representing every continent are in on this one. The station will cover nearly 2 football fields, includes a habitation unit, a Lab, and multi purpose logistics. It will go up in several bits from now till 2002.

The last bus took us back to the main visitor centre, where we bought some N.A.S.A. bits at the shop, then went out to see the sun setting over the rocket garden. We wandered for a while around the shuttle with fuel tanks and booster rockets, and had a look at the lovely memorial that has been put up in honour of the astronaut’s that have died. We also went into the shuttle’s loading bay which is enormous.

We went to watch one of the films in the Imax 1 “The Dream Is Alive” we all felt that this summed up the day for us, I certainly wouldn’t have missed it - briefly - screen 5 storeys high - inside view of shuttle programme showing space from earth and earth from space, return landings and life on the shuttle in general, it was awesome. I want to be an astronaut when I grow up!

Set off for home calling at T.G.I Fridays for dinner,then to the condo for a glass of champagne each to round off the day before bed. This has been a day that we will never forget.

Wed 16th Feb

There’s not a lot to report today, the Intrepid Explorers are having a day off.

We went to the supermarket for bits, put 5 films in to be developed, then lazed around by the pool {or in it} all day.

We had a barbecue in the evening, chicken, steak and salad with champagne and wine, followed by another dip in the pool and bed, a lovely relaxing day.

Thu 17th Feb

We were up bright and early this morning, another gorgeous day, so we are heading for Universal, you have to do at least one theme park in Orlando.

We’ve walked miles today, looked at all the sets, watched them do some filming.

Carole, Peter and Andrew went on the Earthquake ride, a bit tame was the general feeling. We went on the Jaws ride early, big mistake - this means that you walk around for the rest of the day looking like you just wet your pants {even funnier looks from peeps as you leave the loos}.

We had clam chowder for lunch at the Alcatraz cafe, almost as good as the Fishermans Wharf version. Wandering around the San Francisco set made us feel quite at home.

We then watched The Blues Brothers Show which was amazing, they were really good. Walked around more sets, then went to Terminator 2 in 3D. Again this was brilliant, the effects were really good and you felt as if you were there with them - the best bit in my opinion.

Stopped for a drink in the Garden of Allah which is very pretty, Carole and Peter took a few photo’s of the gardens and birds here.

All three then went on the Back to the Future ride, apparently very good but very bumpy, I’m so glad I resisted it. We saw Charlie Chaplin, Lucille Ball, and the Ghostbusters, then watched some people doing tap dancing.

The Latin Quarter restaurant was where we went for dinner, Carole and Peter had whole yellow tail snapper, Andrew had chicken and I had tuna steak and a delectable cocktail - midori, pineapple juice and coconut.

Walked for a while then watched the finale stunt show on the lake, not as spectacular as we thought it would be, but worth watching if you are there.

We then went to “Endangered Species” which was my favourite T- shirt shop in San Francisco and bought some more T shirts.

Time to go back to the condo, we are all worn out, but had another lovely day.

Fri 18th Feb

It’s another lovely bright sunny morning, Carole had a swim and we looked at the photos which Andrew picked up yesterday, they are absolutely stunning. Had a leisurely breakfast by the pool, Andrew is becoming addicted to waffles and maple syrup.

Decided to spend the day by the sea, so set off to Cocoa Beach, about 60 miles away. It is a beautiful beach with golden sand and the sea has good breakers.

We fed the seagulls, laughed at the little sand piper’s which were running into the sea as the waves went out and running back out as the waves came in. We watched a pair of pelicans for a while too and walked a fair way down the beach all paddling in the sea, which is really quite warm and wishing we’d brought our cozzies.

We then drove over to Melbourne {yes I can drive that fast in one day} and stopped at New Haven Park which is a refuge for Manatees {still didn’t find any}, but we saw about 15 or 20 turtles, they were obviously used to humans as they kept following our voices, with their little heads bobbing out of the water, they are so cute!

Saw a few more pelicans too, and watched them diving for fish, they are so clumsy as they enter the water, compared to when they are in flight. We watched the sun go down from here.

Dinner time again, we found a really nice restaurant called The Austin River Grill, where we ate loads, including yummy chocolate stuff for pudding.

I drove back, arriving at the condo about 11pm. We are sitting by the pool debating another dip.

Sat 19th Feb

Today we decided to see the Bok Tower Gardens, they were planted, and the tower was built by Edward Bok from Holland who thought he’d make a park without a theme.

The tower is a Carillon tower, made of brick and marble inlaid with mosaic tiles. Inside are lots of bells, the largest of which is 11 tons {cut out in photos with Andrew standing in it.}

The gardens are beautiful, loads of wildlife as well as the plants and trees, it is a very peaceful place to spend time away from the normal bustle of Orlando. During February 2000 there is a bell recital every day at 3pm till 4pm. We lay in the grass and listened to it. Wandered all around the gardens, then left just before the sun went down.

We watched the sunset from a little lake outside the gardens, the main gardens are surrounded by an orange grove. Carole loved the orange trees - so lots of pix of them.

Dinner tonight was at a steakhouse near our house, where Carole, Pete and I had a Pina Colada and we all had an excellent meal,We have retired, stuffed to the brim, to the poolside. Tomorrow is an early start for the Epcot centre.

Sun 20th Feb

We started out bright and early this morning, the hottest day yet at 83 F, to go to Epcot.

We parked and set off for Future world. Met Tom Morrow the robot that tells you all about future world, explored Innoventions - the ultimate home theatre experience, beautiful science, forests for our future, future cars, all ok but we agreed later that we’d rather have seen other things there.

We headed then for the Millennium World Showcase - absolutely stunning, we all enjoyed this so much, we began in Canada with the Rockies, each country is like a little village which goes back a fair way, so that you get an inkling of what the traditions are. It was all done surprisingly tastefully, and fairly accurately, judging by the ones we’ve visited.

England was next with a castle, a pub, a fish and chip shop, twining tea shop etc.

On to Paris, very briefly the Eiffel Tower, restaurants, French shops etc.

Morocco was next, saw the Genie {from Aladdin}, lovely little markets, djellaba shop, beautiful mosaic tiling. Stopped there at the Marrakesh restaurant for the Sultans Banquet - a little sample of everything, including Moroccan coffee, all delicious.

The restaurant was very similar to the ones we visited in Egypt, and we had the belly dancer to watch whilst eating too.

Reluctantly moved on, we’ve only a day to see it all, to Japan, where we were entertained by girls playing the huge traditional drums perfectly - you could feel the beat through your whole body. Lovely water gardens of course, and we wandered through the Japanese museum too, some historical stuff and, would you believe a new robotic dancing dragon.

America was next, afraid we didn’t spend much time there, we were going to watch the show, but found a notice saying that it was so patriotic it would make you cry, we decided that it might, so we left!

Italy was next, stopped there for tiramisu, ricotta cheesecake and wonderful coffee, again very pretty lots of shops etc. and Pierrots bowing and waving to us, weird but lovely people on stilts a bit like Archaos.

Germany next which has the Oktoberfest every day. Cuckoo clocks, glass & Hansel and Gretel, teddy bear shop too. Thigh slapping? - no we couldn’t find any.

Onward to the Congo where there were dancer & drummers, markets & outposts, thatched buildings galore, I should mention that all the people in all the countries are in traditional dress.

China next, children performing like something out of the Cirque du Soleil. The dome there is incredible, the ceiling a wonderful mosaic, the museum well worth visiting, the shops were great too and we found Mulan there, but Andrew wouldn’t pose for a photo with her. All so beautifully done, apparently each “country” has been designed and built by it’s own country’s architects.

We arrived at Norway next, with a waterfall {which had a water ride at it’s summit, but the queue was too long} an 18th century Stave Church, there are still 29 originals left in Norway, again lovely little shops, and of course trolls everywhere.

Mexico is next, but it’s time for the Grand Parade, so we are herded into position for that. It is spectacular, a must if you go to Epcot.

Mexico is superb, the markets are outside & inside the huge Incas building, which changes colour intermittently. There is a restaurant which has a backdrop depicting the mountains and a volcano erupting.

We had to stop then as there was just enough time to go on the Spaceship Earth ride, which is the huge golf ball at the front of Epcot, which takes you through time from cave men to modern technology - again brilliant. We grabbed a hot dog each and went to watch the fireworks which end each evening there. The show is on the lake, it is spectacular, we’ve never seen a display like it. Laura is lost of words, now there’s a thing!

Stunning, brilliant, amazing???? much much more.

We went home tired, but very happy, we all enjoyed today so much.

Mon 21st Feb

Carole and Peter are going home today so the morning was spent packing, and having a last swim in the pool. Then we went to a camera shop for Andrew and Pete to wander around.

We went to Darryl’s for lunch where Pete had a last American fillet steak. Point X shopping centre was next {the biggest in Orlando}. Found an Imax and 3D cinema there, so we will try that out this week. Had a look at Shwartz toy shop and took photo’s of the toys outside it. The Wonderworks upside down house is next door, decided not to go in as it was time to go to the airport and say a fond farewell to Carole and Peter. We got stuck in the worst traffic jam we’ve found so far, on the way back! We miss them already, the house feels empty without them here……

Tue 22nd Feb

Decided to go and relax on the beach today as there is a shuttle supposed to be landing at NASA at 4.30pm if winds are right, if not it’s going to San Francisco instead. Cocoa beach is only 8 miles from there so is a good look out point. Lunched at the Surfside Cafe, we sat on the balcony outside so we could watch the sea whilst we ate. Went across the road then to Ron Jon’s Surf shop to buy a kite for Andrew. Now I can say “Go fly your kite” without him slapping me.

Drove down to where we’d parked with Carole and Pete the other day, collected Carole’s sea shells that she left behind, it’s a really quiet stretch of beach here, away from the shops and motels. We watched the Pelicans, I sunbathed in between sorting Andrew’s kite flights out - had to throw it up in the air after crash landings. We’ve named her “Kittiwake” after a sea bird as she flies pretty well.

We left about 5.45pm after a walk along the shore as it was getting cold, at 6.30pm, still on our way home, we heard on the car radio that the shuttle just landed safely - what a bummer, we missed the damn thing by 45 minutes!

Went to eat on way back at Johnny Rockets a 50’s style diner, the waitress gave us some dimes to put in the duke box at our table - a bit like Ed’s in London.

On to “The Ship of Dreams” Imax Theatre in Orlando to see Fantasia 2000. It’s pretty good, we didn’t rate the whales or the people in the first 2 pieces {it’s all set to classical music as the 1st one was} the Sorcerer’s Apprentice is the same, but the Flamingo’s with yoyo’s are hilarious, Carnival of Animals, and “Spring” are excellent - so all in all well worth watching. Imax is brilliant, termed as “7 storey’s high” it really is quite awesome, and the surround sound makes such a difference to the wonderful music.

Wed 23rd Feb

We spent today in “Splendid China” which is China in miniature, and is a very quiet theme park that is about 5 minutes drive from us. We had sushi for lunch round the corner first, which was excellent.

There is an exact replica of The Great Wall. they used 8 and a half million miniature bricks to build it, an incredible piece of work. We saw so many lovely things today, so I’ll describe just a few. My favourite part I think was the Stone Forest, which is a natural phenomenon where millions of years ago the limestone was formed, then 3 million years ago was pushed to the surface and now forms weird stone sculptures that cover over 300 acres in China.

The Mogao, Yungang, Longmen, and Leshan Grottos are pretty spectacular too, about a fifth of the size of the originals, they are huge and all have such serene faces.

The miniature buildings we saw were beautifully constructed too, obviously a lot of painstaking work has been put into the whole of “Splendid China”, and it was a shame to see that in places it’s becoming quite dilapidated, there were not that many people there, so maybe all the Disney’s give it too much competition.

Amongst the best we saw were buildings such as Cliffside tombs, Nine Dragon Wall, Mausoleum of Gengis Khan, Xaing Fei’s Tomb, 3 Ancient Pagoda’s, Dai Village, Potala Palace, Temple of Confucius, The Imperial Palace \ Forbidden City, The Terra Cotta Warriors, Shaolin Temple, the Temple of Heaven, and Sun Yat Sen’s Mausoleum. All were really beautifully made and were from a third to a sixteenth scale depending on the original size.

The Guanyin Buddha Statue {1000 eyes to see the peoples suffering and 1000 arms to ease them} was another favourite of mine. He was a disciple of Buddha and has such a tranquil and gentle face.

Andrew’s favourite were the Terra Cotta Warriors, there were hundreds of them and in such incredible detail.

Part of the ticket deal was that you have entry to the 90 minute show at 6pm

“The Mysterious Kingdom of the Orient” it was quite good over all and very good in places, the acrobats were very good, afterwards they served a buffet dinner. Definitely worth a visit!

Thu 24th Feb

Epcot again today, to see the bits we missed last week. None of the other theme parks really appealed to us, although we have booked tickets to see The Cirque de Soleil for tomorrow night, it’s unmissable!

We went across the lake on the ferry first, then had a look at the Living Seas, which turned out to be an aquarium, fish, turtle, dolphins, and guess what? No visits to the Manatee today! I’m never going to get a proper look at one of these - they have evaded us all month!

Went to see “Honey I Shrunk the Audience” next, we got shrunk, attacked by a positive epidemic of mice, almost eaten by a huge snake, sneezed on by an outsized dog, and rattled around in our cage by an obnoxious American kid! It’s in 3D, so pretty effective. We eventually regained normal size, and were released. Phew - and I thought Sproggie was bad when he sneezed!

We had a wander around Canada, went into a few shops and saw the surround film, which showed the Rockies and a few cities from the air, this was quite enjoyable. Next was The Millennium Village which again we’d missed, “covering” Scotland, Sweden, Israel, Egypt etc. A bit of a waste of time really, Scotland was represented as a miniature golf course for example, I was not impressed!

Walked around to Mexico again to have early dinner, up to Norway to go on the boat ride, which was a bit tame and very bumpy.

Had a glass of Margaux in France, watched the 8pm Tapestry of Nations Parade, then settled down to watch the fireworks and laser display called “Illuminations 2000:Reflections of Earth”. We got a good place this time, so managed to see the whole display - which as I said before is quite stunning.

Fri 25th Feb

Another lazy morning by and in the pool, we are learning to relax just as we leave. I want another 2 weeks here first please!

We arrived at Downtown Disney about 4pm, ate at The Blues Room, the smallest steak in America for Andrew & the blandest pizza in the Universe for me.

Took the ferry to the Rainforest Cafe then {should have eaten there} bought T-shirts instead. Wandered around the shops, visited Lego-land and shop, took silly photo’s of lego people and monsters etc. Then walked through Pleasure Island shopping, looking and stuff.

Back to West side then, food time again {because lunch was inedible} so we ate at Bongo’s created by Gloria Estefan, and pineapple shaped. It’s Cuban food & all was yummy.

It was then time to go to the Cirque Soleil to see “La Nouba” It was spectacular, all sorts of things going on at once, I needed 4 sets of eyes. Juggling, trapeze, trampoline, singing, clowns and everything. Andrew and I agree that it is the BEST live show that either of us have EVER seen!!!!!

Sat 26th Feb

Today we relaxed in the pool for the morning, then went down to the local Chinese for lunch which was delectable.

Drove to Mount Dora and had a wander around there, it’s a pretty little town with lots of antique shops, sat by the lake for a while too, an old man there warned us not to paddle as there was an 8 foot ‘gator sunbathing yesterday. Went into a little cafe called Shiraz where Andrew had a beer & cheesecake and I had creme brulee & a Shiraz Flight which is a sample of 4 different Shiraz - all delicious.

We then drove up to Wekiwa Springs Park which is over 700 acres with alligators, black bears, raccoons, wild boar and about 200 species of birds, it’s very pretty, didn’t fancy meeting a bear much, and it’s full of bitey things so take antihistamines if you go there is my advice! Walked for a while then got fed up being eaten alive, so back to the car to head for Orlando and the Arabian Nights Show. Dinner is included, so we ate rib of beef in the dark whilst watching the horses. It’s supposed to be an exciting and romantic evening, I was expecting something along the lines of the Lipizzaner Horses but it really was more like a circus, funny in places, but other than standing up on the horses backs, there was nothing that I hadn’t done easily in my riding days - give it a miss & see Cirque instead I say!

Sun 27th Feb

Feeling a bit sad today as it’s the last full day of our wonderful holiday and we have had such a good time here. It’s also my last day driving the tank, it will seem strange getting back to my little Micra, on the other side of the road, with gears and no automatic seat and mirror adjustments. We decided that our last day should be at the beach, so set off for Cocoa Beach for the last time. We stopped at the Surf side cafe again for lunch then went to mess about in the sea. We sat in the sea and let the rollers hurtle in and wash us up the beach - great fun. Then something bitey got Andrew, so we retired to sunbathe until it started to get cold, then we headed back.

Went to get a new suitcase, then the thunder storm started and we had torrential rain, why does this only happen when it’s my turn to drive?

Went to Kobe’s for beef teriyaki, shrimp and veg. tempura, sushi and sashimi combo, beer and sake, all gorgeous.

Back to pack and a last dip in the pool….

Mon 28th Feb

Packed up and sadly left our lovely house and the pool, and our whacky noodle for someone else to play with in the pool. Had lunch at The House of Pancakes, then went to visit Sherry & Dick {our friend Jen’s parents} for a drink & a chat and met all their cats too. Dick was kind enough to take me for a ride on his beloved Harley Davidson, which was absolutely brilliant, I really enjoyed it.

Got really pissed off at the airport as they messed up our seats and didn’t book us in or take luggage till about 8pm.

Not flying Virgin again, although we said that last Feb after San Francisco fiasco!!!

The Pictures