Back in Blighty……….

Well I am happy to say it all worked out and we have now been back in the UK for 5 days, but the weather !!!!!  Oh for Dallas and 90F!!

We had a lovely weekend with Tim, but picking him up was an experience. It seems Dallas wants everyone to pay for their airport so there is a toll to pay for going there which is payable when you leave. However, muggins decided to set the satnav to avoid tolls, but the problem is there is no way of doing that without going round and round in circles, with the satnav thinking it is avoiding the tolls by taking roads that are there but either closed because of road works or only open to airport vehicles. In the end I gave up and told it to use the toll road!! Will know not to do that in future!!

Anyway having picked Tim up we took him back to the RV where we showed him around and how the powered bunk worked as this is where he had decided to sleep. We then had a meal and watched the progress of Irma on the TV all the time wondering if it would delay our return to the UK.

On Saturday Anne wanted to go shopping before she returned to the UK, but Tim and I were not very interested in that, so we went to visit a Gun Show in Lewisville. Well that was quite and experience, almost every gun you could think of from a .22 revolver to a 3 inch smooth bore cannon firing steel balls!! Plus about every kind of knife under the sun, as well as bayonets, stun guns, various sprays (pepper, mace etc.). If you could think of it you could buy it there!! Took us about 3 hours to walk around all the exhibits. As we left Tim spotted another gun store that was advertising a virtual shooting gallery to use for practise. So we had a go!! Very interesting as you used a laser sighted hand gun to practise at shooting various targets.

We then went back and picked up Anne before going out for a meal for the evening.

Sunday saw us take a trip down to the Fort Worth stock yards, one of the few working stock yards left in Texas. It had some very interesting Western gear shops (everything from boots to Stetsons!!) and a live longhorn cow drive. On the day we visited there also was a vintage and custom car display.

Don’t mess with him, he is an Outlaw!!
Vintage cars
Custom car
And another
Long Horn cattle
Those horns really are long!!
Cattle drive.

Interesting place with lots to do and we will have to go back again if we can.

On the Monday we took Tim back to Dallas airport for his return to Vancouver, paying the toll this time, and then looked at the TV to see what devastation Irma had caused to Florida. Orlando airport had been closed since Saturday, but they were hoping to reopen on Tuesday, so we kept our fingers crossed and started packing.

Tuesday dawned and we completed the packing and American Airlines was still saying we were ticketed to Orlando and the flight was on time, so we put the RV and Spark into storage and stayed overnight in a hotel near to Dallas Fort Worth airport.

On Wednesday we caught the shuttle to airport and sat in the lounge waiting for our flight. At that point I was phoned by Expedia to say that our hotel in Orlando had cancelled our room due to water damage. Managed to re-arrange another room at a different hotel and kept our fingers crossed that our flight was still on.

Well it was, and we boarded it and flew into Orlando on Wednesday afternoon. I must say from the air it looked remarkably undamaged considering a hurricane had blown through only 3-4 days before, perhaps some extra water standing around. And so it proved when we landed and got the shuttle to our hotel, odd trees down and lots of leaves and branches around but not much else.

The only damage we saw at Orlando Airport
Everything looks normal!!

And then on the Thursday we began our two hop trip back to Heathrow, Orlando to JFK New York with Delta Airlines, and the JFK to Heathrow with Virgin Atlantic, arriving at Heathrow at 6am.

After getting a hire car to Burnham we quickly sorted ourselves out in order to get ourselves back up to London to see our new granddaughter on the Sunday. Anne is now staying there for 4 weeks helping our daughter Caroline.

Proud grandmother.
Granddaughter Zara

So the first part of our adventure is over, but we are due back in Dallas on the 1st November to continue our expedition, and early in 2018 we will start the journey north up the West Coast to visit Tim in Vancouver.

So my next post will not be until we return, I hope these posts have not been too boring!!

Taking stock…….

Thought it was about time I brought the blog up to date!!

I said in the last post that we would start exploring Dallas on the Monday 28th August, but it didn’t quite work out as we expected. We were still worried about our friends daughter Nikki and watched the horrendous results of Harvey hanging around for 5 days as it dumped over 52 inches of rain on Houston. Very luckily, although their street flooded, since their house is higher up they escaped any water entering their house, but had to sit it out until the water went down a bit so they could replenish their food and water supplies.

Another consequence of Harvey was that I10 (the main Interstate between Texas and Florida) was flooded at Beaumont and a lot of water had also fallen on Louisiana all the way up to Shreveport in the north, and to cap it all they were beginning to mention another hurricane called Irma that could at that point hit Florida. It was starting to sound like it was not a good idea to take the RV back to Orlando to store it especially as the roads being flooded meant we had to go a long way north to get there.

So we started to investigate alternative storage locations here in Dallas and seeing if we could re-arrange flights. So Dallas visiting took a back seat while we sorted all this out.

We, first of all, managed to extend our stay at Shady Creek until the 13th September which meant we could start planning. Shady Creek RV turns out to be a very nice Park with walks around it, and the facilities and the people in the office are first class.

Main entrance.
Pool, Rec Room, Laundry etc.
Bridge on the internal walkway.
Fire pit and barbeques and Rec Room.
Anyone know what the heck these are? About the size of an orange but obvious not edible as no one is picking them.

Then we sorted out the storage for the RV and the Spark, at a very reasonable rate per month and only about 35 miles away.

After that we had to decide how do we get to Orlando to pick up our homebound flight? So we booked a hotel close to Dallas Forth Worth and flights the next day (13th) to Orlando. and a hotel overnight in Orlando so we can catch the flight home on the 14th. Well that is the current plan but with Irma barrelling in towards Florida that might change.

Tim also decided to come and visit us in Dallas from the 8th to the 11th, and to cap it all, late Friday night (1st September) we got a telephone call from our daughter Caroline saying her waters had broken and she was on her way into hospital. This was a bit early as she was not due until the 16th September, which was the reason we had booked our return flight dates!!

Two days later our 3rd grandchild was born on the 3rd of September, a baby girl that Rashied & Caroline have called Zara.

Zara
Proud Dad, Mum and Zaid.

Now we knew all that, we could start planning our return to the USA so flights have now been booked for 1st November, plus a visit to Jamaica for a wedding, and then return again to the UK for Christmas. It’s busy when you are retired!!

What about visiting Dallas I hear you all cry!! Well we have done quite a bit of that as well.

But first just to show you that our RV is really quite small, this monster pulled into a space near us!! 45ft of diesel pusher (engine at the back), towing a Cadillac Escalade (huge 4×4), with smoked window slides and LED lights all over the place (looks like a Christmas tree at night).

A 2017 model costs (take a deep breath) $1,795,000

I guess at that price you can afford the Cadillac!!

I gave our modest RV a clean to get rid of all the accumulated mess from the Harvey exodus.

Nice and shiny.
Must get a ladder and Tim to get to the bit above the windscreen!!

And Dallas. Well we have done the Trolley Bus tour, which was quite interesting but Dallas is a bit of a concrete jungle with not many old buildings as they seem to have a penchant for ripping things down that are older than 50 years!!

We did find the Dallas Heritage Village where they have grouped together various houses, shops and farm buildings that were due to be demolished but were moved to this park to preserve them. Makes a very interesting exhibit, with everything from a Hotel, to a School, Farm and Doctor’s and Dentist surgeries.

Rail Depot
Hotel – very small and guests shared rooms!!
Doctors Surgery
School
What is wrong with this Flag (hint count the stars).
Mansion House
Shop
Original Dr Pepper advert

We then visited the Texas Book Repository Museum which was very good indeed and brought back all the memories of hearing about the assassination of JFK. Unfortunately they do not allow you to take photos, but you can take photos from the window on 7th floor rather than the 6th and of course the Grassy Knoll is open to everyone.

Clever photos recreated with miniature JFKs.
View from the 7th floor from the corner where Lee Harvey Oswald was on the 6th floor.
Plaque on the building
Position the car was in when bullet struck.
Memorial plaque.
Words from a speech JFK was going to make later that day.
Looking back up the road to the Repository.
Where they initially thought the shots came from, behind the fence on the Grassy Knoll. Graffiti on the fence.

The next day we visited the Old Red Museum which gives a detailed account of Dallas and how it became the city it is today.

One of the few really old buildings in Dallas.

Behind this is the main JFK memorial.

An finally we visited the rather misnamed Dallas World Aquarium, as it is rather more than an aquarium, as it has fish, but also birds, amphibians, snakes, panthers, so it more a zoo than an aquarium, but it is well worth a visit and takes quite a while to get around all the exhibits.

Anne loved this one.

Just a few examples of the animals, birds, etc. in the “Aquarium”.

So today we have picked Tim up from the airport and we have our first visitor to the RV!! Hopefully the situation with Irma will sort itself over the next few days and we can get back home to the UK next week.

So we may be updating this from the UK next time.

 

Well that was an interesting few days ………….

At the end of my last post I said “Tomorrow we move on again with two overnight stops and then we arrive in Houston on 24th August in time to pick up Tim at the Airport on the 25th.”.

I wish!!

It started well, the trip from New Orleans to Bayou Wilderness RV Resort was a short one and we arrived early in the afternoon. The site was interesting with pull though gravel sites and as we had decided to eat in the RV we left the Spark attached. Later in the afternoon it occurred to me that we had not checked on the Spark and I tried to start it. Nothing, not even the instrument panel lit up. Had a quick look at everything but everything seemed OK, and we had run out of time we decided to leave it attached and sort out the problem at our next campsite.

Interesting site with not much shade.

The next morning we set off for Gulf Coast RV Resort, and I left the site and turned the wrong way, and then to compound it in trying to turn around I went down a Dead End. Stupid thing to do in a 35ft RV towing a car. So we had to unhitch the car after all but with no power we had to turn it round with David & Anne power, which we did quite well. Then I went further down the road and found an open gravel road entrance to turn the RV around in and managed not to knock anybody’s post boxes or fences down. Drove back to the Spark and hitched it up and turned the right way this time. Lesson learnt don’t drive roads that say DEAD END!!

Then onto Beaumont Texas again along I10. We crossed into Texas and stopped at an interesting tourist Rest stop.

Interesting slogan.
Entrance to Tourist Center
Welcoming Sign outside Tourist Centre
Lone Star state

Then onto Beaumont and Gulf Coast Rv Resort. We arrived just after 1.00pm to find another very concrete site and also very flat.

We had decided that I would sort the car out and Anne would do the washing as they had a very cheap laundry facility. So I checked the battery with a voltage meter that I had got free when Mike Shear had taken me to Harbor Freight (his version of Home Depot). It read 3.6V which meant a totally dead battery. So I phoned our RV rescue people Coach-Net and explained the problem and said I needed a jump start for my towed car, and to give them their due nothing was too much problem and they even said if that didn’t work they would arrange a tow/lift to the local Chevy dealer. So I sat in the RV waiting for this guy who was going to be there in 15 minutes after helping Anne get the washing to the laundry.

An hour later he turned up and attached the jump start pack and I kept my fingers crossed that we wouldn’t need the tow. Our luck was in and the Spark started straight away but the battery was so bad he had to leave it attached for a few minutes or the engine just died. I asked him where I could get a new battery and he pointed the way to O’Reilly’s Auto Parts. Luckily I had two sets of keys so I could leave the car running but locked just in case and sure enough O’Reilly’s didn’t have a Spark battery in stock. Now I was worried but they pointed me in the direction of AutoZone another car parts place a block down.

Luckily AutoZone had 3 in stock and then they couldn’t find them (Spark was still running locked!!). Eventually found one where it shouldn’t be in the warehouse, and the guy who served me also fitted it for me (that is American service!!). Spark “fired up” (as he put it) first turn of the key, was I relieved!!

Back to the RV and then back again to do some shopping that Anne wanted and finally we ate after an exhausting day. It was at this point we looked at the television to discover that a supposedly dead tropical storm/hurricane called Harvey had resurrected itself and was heading towards Texas, expected to cross the coast south of Houston.

Since we had planned to meet Tim in Houston and see a daughter of a great friend of ours, and her new daughter born 4 months ago, we decided to carry onto to Katy Lake RV Resort west of Houston in a town called Katy. We expected rain so I tried to clean the windscreen and the passenger side windscreen wiper fell down, as it had come loose. Went to the storage locker where the tools were stored only to find it stuck and the handle not working!! OK so I repositioned the wiper and hoped it wouldn’t rain and luckily it didn’t.

As it was a short journey we arrived early after an interesting journey through Houston, again on I10.

The black marks on the windscreen are Love Bugs, there seemed to be swarms of them.

Katy Lakes RV park was another concrete park but we had a lake view pull in.

The first topic to address was to ask the site about Harvey and although concerned they did not seem overly so. In the meantime Nikki (our friends daughter) arrived with her daughter.

We spent an interesting couple of hours catching up with all her news and then she left to go home as her husbands office had closed until after the weekend (this is Thursday remember), because of Harvey which made us think. We then watched the news again and it was not good. Harvey was now a Category 2 hurricane expected to make landfall as a Category 3 or 4. So we rang Tim after seeing some flights into Houston had already been cancelled and asked him if he was still coming. He was very concerned that even if he got to Houston, he might not get out, so he rang American Airlines to find a travel advisory had been issued which meant he would not lose his money if he decided not to fly, which he had already decided not to do.

So we had a decision to make at about 9.30pm leave or stay. We decided to stay overnight and see what the morning brought. We slept very badly that night as we heard people packing up and leaving even though traffic was not supposed to move on site after 10pm.

The next morning dawned and I woke at 6am and we looked at the news and it was even worse. Harvey was now a Category 3 hurricane and would make landfall as a Category 4 late Friday night. So we made the decision to leave and were getting ready when Alan phoned to say all the kids in the UK were very worried and could we get out of Houston please.

First though, I had to get the windscreen wiper working without tools that were still in that jammed locker. So I made a quick trip to Home Depot and bought a new socket set and screwdrivers and was able to fix it.

The rain was already coming down so I and Anne packed everything up and attached the Spark in ponchos, not the best when the wind is blowing. Note to ourselves get some proper waterproof coats and some closed shoes, sandals don’t cut it in puddles!!

I had no real idea where to go but figured north would be best and keep away from Interstate’s as they were expected to be busy due to other people doing the same thing. Decided to go to Waco on State RD 6 and get as close to Waco (160 miles north) as possible and see what the situation was when we got there. So after about 3 hours driving we pulled into  a truck stop to get fuel about 20 miles south of Waco and figure out our next move. It was there I discovered that Waco was still in the advisory zone, big things these hurricanes!! So we decided to go onto Dallas and booked a site at Shady Creek RV Park north of Dallas and more importantly another 140 miles north (300 in total from Hurricane Harvey).

After another two and a half hours driving we arrived at 4.15pm and booked in and got on the site and decided we would go out for a meal as we were exhausted. Had a very nice Pizza just down the road at a place called Palio’s.

Got back to see the news that Harvey was about to make landfall as a Category 4 hurricane, but also more importantly was expected to be hanging around Houston for a few days deluging it with up to 30 inches (yes 30!!) of rain. Were we glad we got out of Dodge!! Especially as we received an Emergency email from Katy Lakes (we are still on their email list) saying the electricity had gone out which meant that they could not pump sewerage so don’t dump any tanks!!

We have spent a peaceful day here at Shady Creek after getting up very late, and expect to be here for at least 3 or 4 more days. I have even managed to get the stuck locker box open, and gained access to the tools.

A lovely Texas sunset at Shady Creek Dallas

Harvey has come ashore and has caused widespread damage on the coast and is now punishing Houston with rain and typhoons, so we made the right decision and are well out of the way during the coming days. We will start exploring Dallas on Monday.

That’s all folks !! 🙂

Pensacola and New Orleans.

Well there is a lot to catch up on, so I apologise for the length of this post!!

The first day in Pensacola saw us going to the National Naval Aviation Museum at the US Navy’s base at Pensacola. It is also the premiere base in the Navy for training US Navy pilots and the home of the US Navy aerobatic team, the Blue Angels. If the weather was good, we had managed to do this on a day when the Blue Angels were practising, and they would do a display to anyone who wanted to come along and watch, free of charge!! Note if you do this, as it is a working Navy airfield you have to have photo ID with you or you will not be let in!!

Well we were lucky the clouds and rain stayed away and we were treated to over half an hour of top quality aerobatics and also were able to see the training squadron training navigators and pilots.

  Training aircraft.

A group of volunteers manned the “flight line” (a row of seats positioned alongside the live runway), and as they all appeared to be ex Navy, USAF and Army veterans they provided a very knowledgeable and funny running commentary on what was going on.

 Some of the “team”.

Then we all had to clap a fire truck that had to positioned at the end of the runway whilst the practise took place!!

And finally the Blue Angels taxied out (six of them).

There were 4 in main group who took off together and two singletons who filled in the gaps in the main display as the main group repositioned for the next formation.

Wow were they good, really tight flying in the formations, and the singletons did some very good opposition rolls etc. The noise the F18 Hornets made on full reheat was something to behold, made the air in your chest vibrate.

Missed the other one singletons doing opposition barrel rolls. Look at the smoke!!

Look carefully that is an inverted singleton alongside his partner with the flaps and wheels down (hard to do)!!  

Classic star burst.

Unfortunately one of the singletons developed an engine problem so the team aerobatics ended up with 5 members.

If you ever get the chance I would recommend this, especially if you are an aircraft nut like me, and even Anne said it was worth sitting out in the hot sun for an hour and a half to see this.

Then we went onto the National Naval Aviation Museum, again free although they asked you for a contribution to the upkeep.

No amount of photographs is going to do this place justice. It took us over 5 hours to walk around most of the exhibits and even then I am sure we missed quite a lot. I will put up a few photos but please take it from me this is a great place to go, especially if you like aircraft.

  Phantom  Sopworth Pup used for early carrier trials

  Mitchell bombers used from carriers to bomb Tokyo in WWII

 Apache helicopter

Actually made my FitBit steps walking around here!!

Next day dawned and we decided to do a suggestion in our guide book which was to drive down Route 30A which is called the Emerald Coast Scenic Route. It promised views of little inlets and beautiful white sand beaches, with quaint little towns on the way.

Well we certainly saw some white beaches

but I am afraid views of them were few and far between and commercialism has overtaken the “quaint inlets and little towns”. Nothing but wall to wall private properties with private beach access and when we got down to the Panama City end massive condos with private bridges across 30A to equally massive multi-storey car parks. Think the worst Spanish resorts American style and as the car rules massive car parks and also funnily enough loads of massive Churches of every faith and denomination you can think of. I can only say we were disappointed, but managed to make up for it by getting back to Pensacola Old Town as the sun set.

Much better all together and we wished we had decided to come here first!!

Conquistadors discovered Pensacola
Visited by the King & Queen of Spain
My yacht – I wish!!!!!

And then we moved on again to New Orleans. Quite a long drive down I10 but we arrived at our campground about 10 miles outside of central New Orleans in plenty of time.

Not a bad campground with back in concrete pads with full hook ups and cable at a very reasonable rate considering the proximity to New Orleans.

We  decided to have an easy first day and just do a river boat cruise on the Natchez. But first we had to do the customary thing (apparently according to Claire) and have some Beignets (New Orleans sugared doughnuts).

After that and some lovely iced coffee (it was boiling hot over 96F) we proceeded to the Natchez the only real steam driven paddle boat still operating on the Mississippi in New Orleans. There is another one but its paddle wheel is driven by diesel engines. It also features a rather interesting steam whistle piano which is played at boarding times and sometimes just for the fun of it!!

https://youtu.be/3eLJ1juwUEg

22 ton paddle wheel

We had a very interesting and peaceful (except when the Captain blew the steamer’s steam horn!!) trip. We saw evidence of the damage caused by hurricane Katrina still not fixed twelve years later.

Also saw the canal that breached and caused the flooding in District 9.

Then returned to the dock and had a walk around Jackson Square 9 (too hot to do much else!!).

Not sure who this reminds me of!!
There was a demo going on about removing certain statues and in support of Charlottesville
Not sure who you will meet on New Orleans!!

As we left for the day so did the Carnival Triumph!!

And here is the other paddle boat.

Having figured out that parking in New Orleans was horrendously expensive we found that the camp ground ran a FREE shuttle service to and from a stop right next to the Natchez embarkation dock!!

So we set off early the next day with the intention of taking the Hop on Hop off bus around New Orleans, only to find the shuttle driver was intent on showing us a great deal of it. Very informative driver and it was all free!!.

Got into central NOLA and bought our tickets, and jumped on the bus. Another very interesting trip with guide of Creole descent who had lived there all his life and knew what New Orleans used to look like in the 1960s. “Know the difference between Creole and American, Creole’s paint everything coloured, American’s paint everything white”, he said it not me!!

Very interesting tour, above ground cemeteries, wrought iron balconies, grand houses, Mardi Gras floats I simply cannot do it justice.

Superdrome – home of the NFL team the New Orleans Saints

We got off after the first circuit and looked around the Flea Market, and then got back on intending to get off at the Civil War Museum only to find it was closed on a Sunday, so we completed a second circuit with a different guide, which gave us a slightly different perspective as he was American, not Creole!! There are always two sides to a story.

After another very long hot day (even hotter than the day before!!) we got back on the return air-conditioned (bliss) bus and the same driver as this morning who took us back a different route and we learnt a lot more including where the prison is!!

And so we came to our last day in New Orleans and decided to drive out to the Whitney Plantation which is a sugar plantation dedicated to the story of the Haydel family of German immigrants and their slaves who helped(sic) them build their fortune.

There are a series of monuments with the upwards of 110,000 slaves names who were slaves in Louisiana only. It also contains quotes from former slaves taken down as part of a Writers project that was part of Roosevelt’s WPA project that employed people made unemployed by the Great Depression. I will let the photos speak for themselves.

Some of the children that died on this plantation alone

Very sobering place to visit especially some of the indoor exhibits that show how many people were enslaved from Africa and by whom.

Slave quarters
Pen used in New Orleans to house slaves for sale. It is metal and was very, very hot inside.
Main plantation house

While we there the solar eclipse happened (75% in New Orleans), but it was still extremely hot.  I cannot imagine having to work in the heat especially as it turns out the next 4 months (Sept – Dec)  are the sugar cane harvesting and processing months!!

They gave us umbrellas.

We left the plantation and ate at a local restaurant where Anne had catfish jambalaya and I had crawfish pasta, very interesting.

And for our last evening in the campground New Orleans decided to say goodbye with a massive thunderstorm, the lightening was something to behold.

Tomorrow we move on again with two overnight stops and then we arrive in Houston on 24th August in time to pick up Tim at the Airport on the 25th.

 

 

Onwards to Pensacola.

We left Cedar keys and drove north on State Rd 19. Although a very nice road (dual carriageway all the way and very little traffic) we drove through endless forests and State parks which after a while gets very boring!!

We did happen to see a world champion on the way.

If you look very carefully along the top of the trailer it says “PBR World Champion Bucking Bull”!!

Other than that and an occasional town (even small towns in the US seem to be big as they build them along the highway and there is never more than block off the highway, so they go on for miles!!), it was an uneventful trip to Tallahassee and Tallahassee RV Park.

We thought when we pulled in that we had made for the first time a mistake, but on thinking back I think our opinion was spoiled by the grey day and the copious amounts of Florida rain.

  A grey day and temperature down to 79F

   A pull though site, which was lucky as it was quite narrow. “Pull through” means you drive in one end and out the other when you leave.

After getting parked up and connected we disconnected the Spark and went to see a Camping World shop (Walmart for RV’rs). Now some of you will think we are getting a bit RV mad, but we had seen these places advertised and never been close enough to visit one (nearest one to Christopher’s when we buying our stuff was a 100 miles away).

Very interesting place with lots of goodies especially for RV’rs and Campers. All sorts of equipment to either replace existing or add extra features to your RV, everything from Satellite dishes to toilet paper. We came away with a soft brush for cleaning the awnings on top of our slides when we park under trees. Pulling a slide in with branches on top of the awning that covers the slide, is not a good idea as it rolls up and could be pierced by a branch which doesn’t help it’s waterproof qualities.

Then after visit to Publix for supplies we had an evening meal and went to bed early as we had another early start to Pensacola.

The morning dawned and Tallahassee RV park looked completely different in the sunlight.

Not a bad overnight stop, quiet and well appointed sites (cable TV had 70 channels on it!!).

Then we moved on to Pensacola but we stopped at Flying J to top up with fuel. Interesting experience, as these are massive garages. They had at least 20 lines for lorries to fill up with diesel, and the same for cars and a special pair of pumps for RVs, with no canopy so you cannot knock anything off and pumps that give 5c a gallon discount if your are a Good Sam member, which we are. Brought the price down to $2.10 per gallon about 43p gallon in UK terms!!

Then onwards to Pensacola and about half way along we suddenly realised we had gained an hour. What we hadn’t known was this our first crossing into a new time zone, Atlantic time zone to Eastern time zone.

A bit further on we decided after two hours driving to pull in to a Rest area. Got the chance to take photos of the RV and the Spark hitched up which we hadn’t done before, in total nearly 50ft long!!

Then onto Avalon Landings RV park and would you believe it we have picked another great site. A guy in a golf cart took us down to our site and then directed me in as this site is a “pull-in” (you drive in front first). Got a bit worried as we seemed to be getting closer and closer to the edge of a big pond!!

Once we had everything connected and the Spark disconnected we  stood back and admired the view.

  Close to the water!!  Taken from the walkway The lake and surrounding countryside

  View out the front window!! Walkway goes across from our side of the park to another area to our left.

 Enjoying the view in the evening.

 Night view of the RV

 RV and the lit up bridge.

We are off tomorrow to visit the National Naval Aviation Museum and with a bit of luck, if we get up in time and it is not raining, a practise session of the Blue Angels, the US Navy’s aerobatic team. More later……

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Regretfully leaving Cedar Keys

We have a wonderful time at Cedar Keys for the last 6 nights but tomorrow (14/08 or 08/14 in USA) we move on to a 1 night stop in a camp ground in Tallahassee and then on the next day to Pensacola for 3 nights.

What can I say about Cedar Keys except superb!!

We spent the first day chilling and deciding that this was so nice we would stay here for a few days longer and organise all the camp grounds up to and including Houston as Tim needed the camp ground address for the Canadian equivalent of an ESTA.

Day 2 we set off exploring and first of all went to see a Shell Mound about 5 miles from here.

Apparently built (well more just dumped in a huge pile)  by the indigenous population about 6,000 years ago, they fished and farmed shellfish which is how the mound came about.There were some people fishing here with more modern equipment that advised us to come back later as it would be a very hot walk. So we just admired the scenery and spotted crabs and fish!!

We then went into Cedar Keys to explore it further and had lunch at a very nice bar on the waterfront. Picked up some brochures for the round the bay trip.

We then decided to make our way back to the shell mound.

What our advisors had forgotten to tell us, was that later in the evening the mosquitos were out!! Despite copious amounts of insect repellent we got to the mound and I took one picture as by that point were being eaten alive!!

Not a very good picture but I took it and legged it back to the car as fast as I could!! Closely followed (well sort of) by Anne who was moving as fast as I seen her move for years!! Not a pleasant experience, but the manager at the camp ground had warned us if we going to walk the trails to cover ourselves in “bug repellent”.

The next day we decided to go and explore a town we had come through on the way to Cedar Keys called Dunnellon. We discovered it had a Walmart which solved the problem of extra bedding for Tim’s visit, plus extra supplies of bug repellent!!

Had lunch in “Swampy’s Bar & Grill” which was right next to the Rainbow river, which had people swimming down it in rubber rings or just paddling kayaks.

The Florida railway still comes through Dunnellon but no longer goes to Cedar Key as it used to so there was a Station still here.

Good job too as at that point another Florida thunderstorm struck and we had to shelter under the eaves next to that sign for about half an hour while everything bar us got drenched!!

Looked at various other shops and walked back to the car via the Fire Station.

Then we drove back to Cedar Keys and on the way spotted other railway relics from the days before railway got a Beeching axe applied to it.

Then on Saturday (yesterday) we decided to take the round the Bay tour. We got to the dock at 10.30am (minor miracle considering our current life style!!) only to find they were worried about an imminent thunderstorm and would we mind waiting until the 2pm boat.

So we walked back into the town via the boat key where everyone launches their boats to go fishing (never seen so many trucks and boat trailers) to Holey Moleys to get a doughnut and coffee.

After our coffee and doughnuts we visited the town museum which turned out to be very interesting experience , with three very interesting rooms full of all sorts of articles and artefacts plotting Cedar Keys history, plus a house out the back that was set up to look like it would have been in the early 1900s. Cedar Keys itself is being rebuilt on a regular basis after hurricanes blow through or storm surges caused by hurricanes swamp the place. The last one was in only 2015, but the town looked in remarkably good shape.

Then onto the boat trip. Yet again a wonderful guide, who knew the local area very well, gave us a running commentary for our almost 2hr boat ride. We saw everything from jumping dolphins …

to Pelicans …

and Ospreys (with fish!!).

Learnt even more about Cedar Keys history and its now leading role in the Clam industry (it farms 50m clams a year).

Remarkable scenery all around us.

Our guide in the cap.

We then went back to the car and drove around the rest of the key.

 The airport

 Ooops

 Sign on the road into Cedar Keys.

As I said when I started this post we will be sorry to leave, but in the words of Arnie “we will be back”!!

Moving On …….

After a lovely week staying with Judy and Mike Shear, we have moved on.

I took the RV to Parliament Motor Coach http://parliamentmotorcoach.com/service/  (by the way click on that link and look at their inventory of immense 40ft diesel pushers, talk about luxury spec!!) to get a Safe-T-Plus steering control fitted as I had noticed on the highways the Winnebago was subject to large lorries moving it around quite a bit in their slipstream. They fitted it in a day (Monday) and on Tuesday (the day we left St Petersburg) I got to try it out and it has made a big difference!!

So on the Monday before we left we visited the Florida Botanical Gardens with Barbara and Judy. Lovely place with a huge variety of plants and wildlife.

 Bananas

 Pineapples (not sure why it is locked up)

 Looks like the trees in the Lord of the Rings

 As if we would, we would be running the other way!! Loads of signs and a nest, but we didn’t see any.

And then on Tuesday we left, having said our goodbyes to Mike and Judy, not forgetting Milo and Maggie (their dogs). Destination Cedar Keys RV, which is 10 miles north of Cedar Keys itself, an island Key further up the coast near Gainesville (http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/cities/cedar-key.html).

Went up I75 for about 50 miles and then took to Highways to get there. Lovely straight roads through forests with not a car in sight.

Very interesting drive and then we turned off onto State Rd 24 to go the camp site.

Arrived at the camp site and realised our luck had held out and we had made a great choice of a place to stay.

Got a very nice pull through site (no manoeuvring just drive onto the pad).

Since we got here in plenty of time we went for a look at Cedar Key and quickly realised there was a lot to see and it is a beautiful part of Florida, so decided as we had to plan the next few weeks carefully on our way to Houston (STOP PRESS Tim is flying down to see us in Houston and staying with us on a long weekend from the 25th August – 28th August and he says he is going to rough it in the Winnebago, although he has a hotel in mind!!), we would extend our stay until Monday 14th.

We had also realised our site was a bit exposed to the Florida heat and the air con was struggling (although it helps if you have both of the units on COOL not one on COOL and the other on HEAT Ooooppps!!), and as our pull through site was pre-booked for the weekend we swapped to a lovely shady site.

 Camping suits someone, looking tanned.

   Early morning sunshine.

I will put up pictures of the sights around Cedar Key later, although Anne has already spotted a Quilt shop!!

 

Time for an update ………

Monday 31st July saw us say goodbye to the Florida Keys. But before we left we just had time to visit a Dolphin Research place right next door to Jolly Rodger on Sunday afternoon. Went in there a bit late and had to leave early because their automated lightening system warned of an approaching storm.

  Waving Goodbye Feeding time.

Monday turned out to be an interesting day. Packed up early as we had quite a long drive and after seeing the traffic on Saturday I was quite worried how long it was going to take to get us  off the Keys, but that part turned out to be quite quick. As we drove north in got blacker and blacker, and then we got a text message from Sue Thompson saying Venice was under a Tropical Storm alert and it certainly looked like it.

At times the rain was coming down quite hard, although the wind wasn’t too bad.

Lots of rain Big puddles!!

As we went further north it was still raining and we realised that all this water lying around wasn’t as normal as we thought.

We later found out Venice had some quite large floods, which luckily for us had subsided by the time we got there.

After some confusion on Anne’s part as to whether we were going to Naples or Venice (luckily I had booked an RV park near Venice on Sue’s recommendation), and after about 5hrs driving with one rest stop (need to figure out better where you can stop with a 35ft RV and 10ft of tow car!!), we got to Venice.

  We’re there!!

And then we found the campground, Royal Coachman RV park.

Another back in site, but this one was nice and wide, but for some strange reason all the facilities were on the opposite side to where are our input and output doors were, so they all had to be routed under the RV. We quickly got set up and changed, as we had arrived a bit later than we thought and were due to meet Mike & Sue at 6.00pm.

Finally got to their house at 6.15pm and met Mike & Sue for the first time in 30 years!! We met them first EuroCamping in France, and had kept in touch when they moved to Florida and bought a  business selling subs in Venice.

We spent a very nice evening with them, bringing each other up to speed on what our various offspring, and ourselves, had done in the intervening years. Had a great meal at Bonefish and they showed us around Venice and their local beach, admittedly in the dark by then!!

We left them much later than planned and did a quick reconnoitre to find out where the nearest  accessible gas station was to get an RV and tow into, as the journey up had nearly emptied the tank.

Tuesday 1st August saw us packing up to leave Venice to go to St Petersburg where our next stop was to be to stay with Judy & Mike. Judy is Anne’s penfriend of over 50 years, so we could not go past them without seeing them. They had offered to put us up and let us park the RV on their drive. That was going to be fun as the RV is 8ft 5in wide and their gateway was 9ft 3in. Ho hum another tight reverse, I might be quite good at this by the time we finish!!

It was only a short drive today, so first things first, fill up with petrol (gas). Off to the Racetrac we found the previous night and fill up the tank. $153 later (68 gallons) we are full !! Good job gas is cheap in the USA.

Then onto St Petersburg, and on the way we actually found a rest stop on I75!!

We arrived after about 2 hrs  which was a nice gentle drive, will have to make sure we have more of those.

Then we found Judy’s house and after some delicate manoeuvring got the RV into the driveway through the gate with about 4 inches on either side.

  All parked up. The RV is as tall as the house!!

The next day we met up with Barbara (Judy’s friend) and went to see some alligators at Sawgrass park a lovely park with raised wooden walkways. And for the first time we actually saw some alligators.

Walked around the park for all of the morning and then went to a diner for lunch, and then we were going to have a tour around downtown St Petersburg in the afternoon  but another large rainstorm came in and it rained for the rest of the day.

Next day we walked around another park called the Sunken Garden that had been built into a sink hole.

Then in the afternoon after a lunch we visited the Dali Museum. Very interesting place with an immersive AV area where you wear a pair of AV goggles and explore a Dali painting, wow.

I was amazed they let you take pictures of the actual pictures, so I only have a few!!

If you are ever in St Petersburg it is well worth a visit, I heartily recommend it.

On Friday Mike took a “sickie” (apparently unheard of, so we were honoured) and we went out for the day on his boat.

Boat being brought out of the boat “shed”. It is huge and they are stacked 4 high.

 Lift putting a 26ft boat in the water, like it is a toy!!

Loaded up the drinks and us and off we went.

We went to get some fuel for the boat first (it takes as much as the RV!!), and then we toured around the Inter Coastal to very nice place for lunch.

In the afternoon we then went out to see the Skyway bridge which is what I275 uses as a more direct route to St Petersburg than we used, but I didn’t fancy it as it is subject to high crosswinds at the top, which is pretty obvious when you look at it.

 High enough for big cruise ships to go under!!

Got back just in time for them to store the boat again,

Mike very kindly put a video together of our day on the boat.

https://youtu.be/tVVs8BEx7OQ

That’s all for now, bye.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Loads and Loads of Florida Keys

An update. We arrived in the Jolly Roger RV Resort on the Tuesday, to find that Wednesday and Thursday were Mini Lobster Season.

As I said in my previous this amounts to loads of people coming down here with boats and basically a free for all on Florida Spiny lobsters.

To quote another site “Every July the coastal areas of Florida are flooded with lobster hunters trying to get their share of this year’s bounty when the offical mini lobster season kicks off. There are two Florida Lobster Seasons, the 2 day mini season and the 8 month regular lobster season. The mini lobster season is always the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday in July. This year the mini season falls on July 26th and 27th. The regular 8 month lobster season is always August 6 through March 31.”.

There is an interesting web site that tells you how to catch them, measure them, quotas etc. here http://floridalobstering.com/ .

We decided to keep well away, plus the two gentleman next door to us promised to show us the lobsters and the end bit of the process the lobster tails (they do not seem to eat anything else but the tails).

So Wednesday we decided as we both got up late to chill after the journey and just do some local shopping for food etc. as on the Tuesday night we had a nice meal at the http://flkeyssteakandlobster.com/welcome/ Steak and Lobster Grill.

So Thursday dawned and we had decided to go to Key West, which is another 60 miles south of Marathon Key. Wow what a journey, Key after Key and bridge after bridge, including one that is 7 miles long.

And then we arrived at Key West a key 2 miles wide  by 4 miles long, by Keys standard a large key!! Immediate problem was to find the Trolley Bus tour start point and then some parking, which we found about 400 yds away for $20 all day. That 400 yds walk back in the Florida heat felt like 2 miles!! Got our tickets valid for 2 days, which was lucky as we thought we only needed 1 day, how wrong can you be!!

Took the tour which took about 90 minutes and quickly realised that 1 day was not enough to see everything!!. So we picked a few things to do and started off.

Number 1 was the The Little White House. I will let a photo explain this.

It was used mainly by Harry S Trueman between 1946 and 1952 as an official White House when he was on holiday (vacation in the USA). Many influential pieces of legislation were drafted here and our guide told a lot of what went on when he was in residence. Most of it seems to involve entertaining and playing poker as well as working hard.

 Picture of the outside.

I have attached a few photos of our tour on the trolley bus but there are as you could probably guess hundreds of them.

Key Lime Pie shop.  Iconic Naval station statue!! Southernmost point.

We then left and made our way back to Marathon where we saw a Florida Keys sunset !!

Next day we went back to Key West to make use of our two day pass. As luck would have it I decided to try the southern route to the Trolley place and recognised a car park that was on the route and FREE!!

It was right next to the West Martello Tower which is run by the Key West Garden Club, http://www.keywestgardenclub.com/ .

It is a lovely tranquil garden that includes a butterfly garden.

We then hopped on the Trolley and got of at Ernest Hemmingway’s house. We lucked out again and got another really good guide around the house, which took about an hour.

Very interesting person, raconteur, drinker, writer, married 4 times!!

  Lots of cats that are the 6 toed variety, which are fed by the guides.

Swimming pool cost $20,000 in 1939.

  His writing room.

Today (Saturday) we went North, but unfortunately so was everyone else (leaving after mini Lobster Season), so it was extremely slow. We were trying to get to Key Largo but in the end after 2 hours gave up at a place we had seen on the way down with a huge lobster model in the front, and a load of gift shops etc. behind.

 Bet you can’t eat that lobster tail.

We also found that Anne has a beach named after her.

As with everywhere here loads of sandy beaches, and miles and miles of clear blue sea.

And we also found a place called Duck Key with an internal canal system and lots of nice looking houses that range from $420,000 upwards!!

Tomorrow Sunday is a chill day, to get everything set up for leaving Monday (where is the time going!!). But more of that in my next post.

 

 

A few days to catch up on.

It has been a few days since my last post, so here goes.

Christopher kept his promise and came and saw us on Saturday after his bike ride. He rode most of it with the sole of his cycling shoe gradually becoming more and more detached. He stayed for an hour or two and then went off to finish his gardening jobs.

We then went out to see two local attractions, the Loggerhead sanctuary and the Hobe Sound National Wildlife refuge.

The Loggerhead Sanctuary was very interesting with examples  of the various turtles found in the Florida region and also some that are not, but it made a very good exhibit, especially the skeleton of an absolutely huge turtle they found which must have been at least 10ft from head to toe (or back end of shell).

Outside they had various turtles recovering in tanks, a bit like the Seal Sanctuary at Gweek in Cornwall. Most of them seem to have been found after being hit by boats or ingesting fishing line (not good for turtles as messes up their digestive system).

 One of 85lbs !!

 A little one that kept trying to get out!!

Another big one with seaweed on his head, like a comb over!!

Best photo of medium size one.

Unfortunately the main exhibit at the Hobe Sound National Wildlife refuge was closed (seems strange to close at 3pm on a Saturday!!). However, there was this bush that was covered in yellow butterflies, but I am afraid they don’t come out very well on the phones camera.

You can just make out some yellow blobs if you look hard.

Since it was very hot we decided to give the open air nature trail of two miles a miss and returned back so that I could cook the steak we had bought (steak is so cheap in the US).

Next day dawned (Sunday) and it was a bit cooler so put the RV mat out, plus the table and chairs and we sat outside and ate breakfast and relaxed. There was a lovely cool breeze and it great to sit outside.

 Anne enjoying the cool breeze.

 Notice the matching the paintwork all weather RV mat!! Also the wheels are covered in the wheel protectors.

Later on Christopher brought Scott and Erika, who we first met at Christopher’s and Lilia’s wedding in Mexico, across to see the RV and after a beer we went out to eat at Shrimpers at Hobe Sound.

Each boat is worth $.5m apparently!!

Monday saw me doing various things to the RV. Fixed the windscreen wipers that were set too low and banging on the bodywork. Bought LED stop/night/indicator lights for the back light clusters so everyone knew what I was doing, so I fitted those. Also had to part empty the grey tank as we had a few showers since we had been here and it was full. And at the end of the day Christopher turned up with the propane hose that allowed me to connect the Weber grill to our propane tank, and we tried it out by grilling steak for dinner. We said goodbye to him later on as this was the last time we would see him before setting off to the Florida Keys (or perhaps that should be Quays!!).

Tuesday dawned and for once we got up early as we had a lot of packing up to do before we headed off. All the various things inside the RV had to be stowed so they wouldn’t crash about and break, the black and grey tanks had to be emptied and flushed, and the electricity, water and sewer pipe disconnected. Then slides in, jacks up and roll forward so we could attach the Spark to the towing hitch. and off we went at about 10.30am.

First stop was to get some gas (petrol) and much to my surprise as it was reading half full it only took $80 to fill it up. Then off to I95 for the journey south to the Keys.

As it was after rush hour we got past Miami fairly easily and joined US 1 to take us to the Keys. One thing we have to figure out, is where do you stop in an 35ft RV with a tow car to have a “rest” break. US highways are sadly lacking in Service Areas no wonder they invented the various “pee in a bottle” solutions. In the end I just pulled it into a chevron area off the main carriageway so we could both go to the loo!!

Then the Keys made an appearance. With lack of space US 1 in many places is just a single carriageway road with a concrete divider which had lots of rubber marks on it so obviously people have hit it.

Some of the scenery is spectacular with long bridges over stretches of water (True Lies!!) and some larger bridges over deep water channels.

 Arriving at Jolly Roger 197 miles later.

Site is a lot more cramped than JD Park, but then they do not have the space, and there are a lot of people here for the Mini Lobster Season (two days of mayhem apparently when everyone is out in their boats catching lobsters).

 Just about got the slides out.

 Tested my reversing skills getting between our camp area (concrete pad with table) and the large truck next door, but my guide helped, waving away in the mirrors!!).

So we are here and planning our next 6 days going up and down the Keys as Marathon Key, where we are, is right in the middle.

 We need a bigger boat!! How about this one!!