Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Crossing The Pond

Today the sun shone, the sky was blue and it was warm. I know, I know !

But I'm in England !

Fantastic. A proper Spring day in fact.

But before all that, I need to return to Sunday evening to tell the story of my trip here.

Once inside Orlando terminal A, I came upon a scene of utter chaos with several Virgin Atlantic check-in desks open but no individual flights on their signs. Due to the VAT (Volcanic Ash Troubles), they had put on extra flights and so the passengers for 5 flights were all lined up with no departure time priority. I almost walked back to Sebring just to find the end of the line and word came back that it was taking 90 minutes to get to the front....and my flight was due to leave in 2 hrs.

The people handling the line were all British Consular officials flown in from far and wide to help the usual Virgin staff. No sniggering. I called one over and mentioned that my flight was in 2 hrs and after checking with someone, he opened up the barrier and led me to the front of the line ! It pays to be pro-active I've found.

So it was that at 17:30, I joined up with 453 others and boarded this little 11 yr old baby........


Due to take off at 18:15, we pulled back from the gate 45 minutes late and even the pilot told us he didn't know why ! Not sure I believed that and I suspected he wanted to finish his 6-pack so as not to declare it in the UK.

After a bit of very slow driving out along various runway approaches, we came to a stop. The sky was darkening rapidly as a storm was approaching and sure enough, the pilot told us that mission control, sorry the guys up in the tower, had put a block on all takeoffs due to the lightning that was now visible all around us. The engines were turned off and we waited......and waited.

Finally, at just after 20:00, we took off and headed right into the storm. Who's bright idea was that then ? After a few minutes climbing, we apparently hit the middle of it as the plane was lit up like a Christmas tree and started vibrating like a cheap sex toy. I believe.

I was in an exit row window seat and as two of the cabin staff were sitting opposite me, I locked onto their faces like a love torn teenager. The theory being, if they weren't in a panic, I felt no need to panic either. Then the plane dropped about 1,000 ft in a few seconds and my stomach totally disobeyed my brain and panicked. I felt ill.

The climb continued with me watching the twin engines on the left wing bouncing up and down like a child's yo-yo, all the while telling myself that wings are designed for this sort of experience. My stomach wasn't. The lightning flashes continued to light up the plane and at no time did anyone on the flight deck think to offer words of comfort and reassurance to my stomach. I'm sure they were busy watching the lightning out the front window but I felt a few words would've helped many of us.

After about 10 minutes, things, but not my stomach, settled down and the rest of the flight was relatively normal. As a seasoned flyer, I'd never experienced turbulence like it but my time had to come I guess. I'm just happy to report my TIME hadn't come.

The seat sucked, the food sucked, the movie choices sucked and as the old guy next to me was a Scot with no built in subtitles, conversation sucked. And yet the 8 hrs passed quickly. Go figure.

We landed near the green, green grass of home and there to meet me, was...well Daffy actually and in no time we were back in Leeds and my trip from Sebring was over for another year.

It took 24 hrs to get my internet and cable tv up and running but now both are sorted. I've still a lot to do before I can be settled so apologies for slow replies to emails, tweets, IM's and Facebook messages.

Thank you all for your 'safe trip' wishes as they obviously warded off a lightning strike !


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Bye Bye Florida

Yes the day that seemed so far away when I came here at the end of October has arrived and in a few hours I'll be on my way back to Blighty.

As ever, it's hard to believe I've been here for 6 months but my diary entry for today has the Virgin Atlantic flight details on it and so it must be true. Sunny Manchester here I come !

After many winter blog posts with the phrase 'sunny Buttonwood Bay' in them, it's time for a change. Time to go home. Time to enjoy bacon and fish & chips and of course, Yorkshire puddings. Time to see hills and valleys and more shades of green than burned brown. In short, time to see glorious England again.

I just want to 'publicly' thank my hosts for the last 6 months, Deb and Den. They've had to put up with me at VERY close quarters and as anyone who knows me will testify, that ain't easy. I'd like to thank and say g'bye to my friends here in the park although many of them have already gone back to their northern American homes until next winter when, hopefully, we'll all meet up here again.

I'd especially like to say thanks to Clair and Mary who again put up with my foibles for 6 months.
Please forgive my many mood swings and if it seemed like I was quiet and/or upset at times, it was nothing to do with you as it's just how I am. You are "good people" and fun golf partners and one thing I'm determined to do on my return here is to be more active in this active community so you guys better be ready for even more golf and added amounts of pool, darts and bocce ball.

Hey I said active and as far as I'm concerned, any upper body movements are classed as active.

Speaking of which, I'm leaving Florida quite a bit heavier than when I arrived and I'm not talking carry on luggage here. Well I guess I am cause I'm certainly carrying this extra weight with me.....everywhere. The cruise last week caused a lot of it so it's not my fault at all ! I'm the victim here, people. A cruise should come with a serious health warning.

So although I'll be returning to an England where the temps are substantially lower and The Sun is more of a newspaper than a hot orb in the sky, I MUST get out there every day and exercise. Sadly the cost of petrol has rocketed in my absence so my usual method of exercise, driving to the stores and back, will lose me the wrong sort of pounds ! However I did plan for this eventuality and my car is full to the brim with 97p a litre petrol so I'll enjoy that while I can. With a range of over 500 miles, and how little driving I do in England, that'll probably last me till Christmas.

Ok it's time to shut this laptop down and get it packed. On a golf cart ride around this almost deserted park yesterday afternoon, I had Deb take this picture of me in front of the Buttonwood Bay entrance sign as it sums up my feelings. I'm sad to be leaving this place and my friends here but if the next 6 months pass as quickly as the previous ones, I'll be back before I know it.

And with my memory, that's a given anyway !!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

It's A Small World After All.

No I've not been in Florida too long but that annoying Disney tune does pop into my head much too often for my liking.

This time I put it up there as it's a good title for this short (yes SHORT) pre-bed blog post, as you will soon see.

The basic story is this : I'm currently reading a monster book by Ken Follett which isn't about monsters at all. Well not in the big scary beastie way at least. It's set in 14th century England and there are nasty characters within its pages and as there are over 1,000 pages, there are a LOT of nasty characters. Lets just say it wasn't a good time to be a witch or a petty thief or lower class !

On the other hand, if you were nobility (or a "nob head" as I like to think of them) or a monk, prior or other religious person, it was a great time to be a part time murderer, rapist and paedophile. I did say 14th century, didn't I ? Just checking.

So as I only read in bed, it's been slow going and even though I took the book on the cruise with me, I'm only on page 552 and I've had it over 2 weeks. It's not looking good that I'll get to finish it before I leave Florida.

And now (finally) we get to the 'small world' bit. My book is due back on Saturday.....24th April.
I've checked online at my local library in Leeds and they have a copy of the book but it's out at the moment. When is it due back ? Saturday 24th April !!

When I saw that, I felt a cold hand gripping my private bits - and I'm alone here. Ok that didn't come out right AT ALL. I meant an icy chill ran up my spine...or was it down my spine ?

Whatever. It was icy AND cold and very spooky.

And there's more, as Jimmy Cricket used to say.

The name of the book ? World Without End !

Altogether now......

It's a small world after all,
It's a small world after all,
It's a small world after all,
It's a small, small world.

Not quite Eurovision quality lyrics but try getting that damn tune out of your head when it's in there as you go to bed.

Arrgggggggggggggggggggggg.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Caribbean Cruise - Day 2


After a decent night's sleep in our telephone booth room, we woke to find ourselves at Princess Cays; just as well, as the cruise ship was there too ! Har har.

The option to have 'served' breakfast in the main dining room ended at 9am and I can tell you now, we never made it there on ANY morning ! This left the breakfast buffet which was hardly a bad 2nd choice as just about anything you could imagine for breakfast was available and a few items, like french fries and cookies, were available too. Gotta keep your sugar levels up on a cruise y'know.

So....Princess Cays. Never heard of it ? Quelle surprise !

Ever heard of Eleuthera ? Oh come ON. What are you people like ?!

You can't ALL be American !

(Way to go Ian. Piss off your largest reader group why don't you.)

Well Eleuthera is a 100 mile long and very thin (1 mile across in places) island which is part of The Bahamas chain and Princess Cays is a location right on the southern tip of this island. It's a private location owned by the Princess Cruise Line and so once there, you might as well be in Blackpool or Atlantic City except for the lack of floating sewage in the former and the racket of slot machines in the later. It would be a bit of a cheek to claim you'd been to The Bahamas by visiting Princess Cays but hey, go for it if you want to make that claim. I certainly plan to.

Anyway their dock couldn't cope with a ship the size of the Emerald Princess and so we parked up (bit too technical there ?) well offshore and used the ship's tenders to get us there and back. This involved gathering in the Michaelangelo dining room on deck 5, getting a ticket, and when a group of numbers was called out, making your way to the boarding area and getting on one of the tenders which were 'running' non stop twixt ship and resort from 9am till the last one at 3:15pm.

We thought it best to take one that was close to the ship as I'm not a strong swimmer and here is the view from my spot on board.


And this is the view looking back at the ship as we approached Princess Cays.


And this is the view from the dock looking back at an arriving tender with the ship in the background.


Lovely.

Once on dry land, we could've gone to the left where most of the passengers were heading as that's where more of the beach loungers were set up. We therefore headed right as we like a bit more privacy on a beach and anyway, I could smell food that way.


As you can see, it was a very artificial and unnatural setting with paved streets leading everywhere with the vast bulk of the ship dominating the view seawards. Food (free) and drink (not free) was available at several locations and this included every meat it was possible to bbq as well as healthy options like hotdogs, beefburgers and the like !

These two photos show the entrance to one of the four buffet areas and also my meal choice, sitting on my lap while I'm on a lounger on the beach. Hard life I know !



Look ! Lettuce, tomato and onion and even some healthy meat too !!

It had started out warm and a bit overcast but by the time we got settled on the beach, the skies cleared and it looked much more like a Caribbean location. I did tend to take lots of photos with the ship in the background as it was just such a 'kodak' location.





A few people couldn't wait for a tender to take them back to the ship for the more substantial buffet lunch and made a break for it by whatever means possible. Here are two on an aqua-cycle and I've no idea if they made it but I admired their courage. At least they'd have worked up an appetite and I sooo hope they had their sailing cards on them or the ride would've been a total waste of time.


The beach was really a series of small bays each ending with a rocky outcrop and as you might see from the first photo below, these rocks had 'security guards' posted on them to stop us from climbing on them and having lots of jolly fun. Spoilsports.




I did, however, ask that guard if I could clamber over his rocks (!!) to take photos of.....yes the bloody ship again......and he said that would be ok.

Actually everything was done by sign language - I pointed at my camera, then the rocks and did the little man walking routine with my fingers. He looked at me like I was a mad Brit (shut it !!) and hunched his shoulders which I took as a sign of acceptance. On the other hand, he may have been saying "yes you may climb on these irregular, slippery rocks but when you fall and break your stupid British neck and die, don't come crawling to Princess Cruise Lines expecting compensation."

I understood this but as I'd be dead anyway, I didn't really care about any compensation offer.

Here are a couple that I took and maybe it wasn't worth the effort and risk to life that I went through to get them.



Once back on the ship (where entertainment and activities had been going on all day for those who didn't venture onto Princess Cays), I watched a bit of Avatar in 2D on the big deck screen and after another late evening meal, we went back to the Princess Theatre at 10:30pm for a new 'set' from the excellent comedian, Kevin Hughes.

All that lounging, eating and walking to the dining room had worn us out and so, after the show, we called it a day.

We decided on.....Monday.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Caribbean Cruise - Day 1

Oh now I know what y'all are thinking......he's not even half way through posts about the Italian trip from last summer and here he goes with another trip !

Well these cruise posts won't be anywhere near as detailed so I'll get it all 'over with' in a few days. It's hard to talk about ships, sun, sea and sand over and over without losing my loyal readers so yes, I'll try and be brief. Well brief for me !

Having said that, I want this to be my log of the cruise and so it may be a bit more detailed than most reports but you can always skip the text and just look at the piccies.

So last Sunday (11th) some lovely Buttonwood Bay friends drove us across to Port Everglades for 2pm which is when we wanted to board the cruise ship. Everything was very well organised and in no time we'd been processed, got our sailing cards (see previous post) and were going up the gangplank and stepping onto Deck 4 on the 2007 Emerald Princess, at 113,000 tonnes and 951 ft long, the 2nd largest ship in the Princess Cruise Line fleet.

The impressive way we were shown to our stateroom (B244) by crew members who were spread out to usher us the right way, set the standard for the rest of the cruise as they were ultra efficient, friendly and plentiful. Just as well when there are 3100 passengers on board.

We got to our room and yes, it was small. Jokes were regularly made by the show comedians about the size of the showers and the fact that, if you so wanted, you could be on the toilet and be brushing your teeth over the sink at the same time. I'd go one stage further and say that if the shower curtain wasn't there, you could shower, pee in the toilet AND brush your teeth over the sink at the same time ! And before you ask, no that's just a theory.

We explored the room and so 5 seconds later, were all set to explore the ship ! It had been raining on and off all day and the sky was overcast and ugly. As we were in port, this wasn't an issue although we hoped it wasn't going to be that way all trip.

Not having cruised for 4 years, I was well impressed with the huge movie screen up on deck which was showing music concerts by stars like Christina Aguilera, Tina Turner and the like.




The first order of business was to go to our muster station for the lifeboat drill and so at 3:30pm, we went to the Princess Theatre and joined 800 fellow passengers to listen to the drill instructions and then try on our lifejackets for size. I wasn't too keen on the bright orange colour though and made a mental note that if we should actually hit an iceberg on the cruise, not only would I be contacting the Guinness Book of Records people but I'd also be asking for a more acceptable blue lifejacket with contrasting white whistle and straps.


Being afloat on the Caribbean, watching one's cruise ship going down, is NO excuse for committing a fashion faux pas.

After returning to our room to replace the lifejackets, we explored a bit more of this massive ship, our home for next 7 days. For a change, it didn't have a central atrium that extended upwards for several decks. Instead it had a much nicer area with opposing sweeping staircases that covered just 3 decks and gave a much more intimate feel to this popular meeting/relaxing mid ship location.


As most people know, eating is never a problem on a cruise ship. Yes you may not like the quality of the food on offer but you NEVER hear any complaints about the quantity. On the Emerald Princess you could have food 24/7 and what I found to be most impressive (or sad, depending on your point of view) were the food choices available as a minimum all day. In my experience, it's usually been pizza and ice cream but not here............


We actually never made choices from this section until the last day but I can tell you the burgers were thick, juicy and awesome (cooked to order and if you wanted one rare, you had to sign a book absolving Princess from all blame for whatever illness might befall you) and the fries were some of the best I've ever had.

But then I'm easily pleased when it comes to burgers and fries !

Then it was 5pm and time to set sail. It was still overcast and raining but we went to the rail and with the larger Independence Of The Seas in the background, we were on our way to, hopefully, sunnier climes.



We had the 'dine anytime' evening meal option rather than picking one of the 2 set times as this allowed us to just turn up at either of the 2 'anytime' dining rooms (the DaVinci and the Michaelangelo) between 5:30pm and 10pm. We'd heard bad reports about this option with stories of passengers being handed pagers and then having to wait 45 minutes to be seated.

All I can say is that we stuck to that option every night and never had to wait in line more than a few minutes on a couple of nights. Even though both dining rooms were identical (although on different decks), we DID see a few pagers being handed out outside the DaVinci but never outside the Michaelangelo. Needless to say we always chose the later dining room !

The other advantage or disadvantage of this anytime dining was that you would be seated with different passengers every time. You could opt for a 'personal' table and after a couple of nights where we sat with some rather disagreeable couples who wanted to discuss politics and Obama's health care reforms, we chose to eat at our own table.

I took no record of the meal choices any night (I'm not THAT anal after all) but there was usually some entree for me to have even though I tended to pass on the starters and soup/salad courses. Desserts were just ok and I did miss not having creme caramel or creme brulee as an option any night.

As we ate late most evenings, we would usually go to the 10:30pm shows in the Princess Theatre and on this first night, we were treated to a wonderful comedian, Kevin Hughes, who has used his masters degree in psychology to create a 'relationship' comedy act that had us rolling in the aisles even more than the choppy seas.

And that was it for the first day and we knew that the following morning, we'd be in Princess Cays in The Bahamas. It's all go on this cruising lark.

I'll end with a short clip of unedited footage showing the on deck movie screen taken just before we set sail.



video

Vis-à-vis A Visa

To all those who have enquired about my status regarding the tephra currently floating over most of Western Europe, let me just say that I'm one step forward and one step back.

Maybe.

I'm due to fly Orlando to Manchester next Sunday evening and the likelihood of that flight landing anywhere in the UK is up there with Leeds winning automatic promotion. Possible but still inducing several sleepless nights.

Ignoring the irony of air pollution causing chaos for the airline industry, I thought this was my only concern surrounding my return trip home. I found out today that this was not the case.

At the start of a cruise and after the formalities have been completed at the port of embarkation, you get a 'sailing card' which is a multifunction card and one to be treated with even more care than a platinum credit card. When you get on or off a modern cruise ship, you have to use this sailing card to prove who you are and that you have the right to be leaving or boarding that specific ship at each destination along the route. This card is also used on board for all purchases from bling and perfume from the duty free shop to ordering drinks by the pool. When you add in needing it as your stateroom 'key', then you can see its value and how you must sleep with it under your pillow.

This has many benefits for the cruise company too as not only does it make it very easy for them to know who is still on shore when the ship needs to leave but it also encourages the passengers to 'spend freely' during the cruise as no cash is needed. The final bill is slid under your door in the early hours of your departure morning and as it is linked to your credit card account, there is nothing for you to do except weep bitterly, tear that pearl necklace from your good lady's sunburned neck and try and sell it to the first startled Croatian crew member you come across who probably couldn't afford it in your lifetime, never mind his.

Anyway all this background info takes me back to our disembarkation this morning when my card was scanned by the gangway reader and the big bulb on top switched from a 'goodbye and please come cruise with us again' green to a 'this guy is probably on a watch list so detain him immediately' red.

We were led off the ship and, bypassing the lines at the immigration desks, we ended up in an office where everyone was wearing blue latex gloves. My sphincter contracted involuntarily and I regretted having a big breakfast just an hour earlier. But it was all good and although I'm not sure why I was singled out (maybe it was due to my remaining in the US for another week after the cruise ended), I was just asked a few questions and I knew I'd be out of there in a few minutes.

Then I casually talked to the agent about the volcano news in Europe and that although the I-94 Immigration form in my passport was stamped for 180 days and would expire 2 days after my flight next Sunday, I said I hoped those 2 days would be enough. She said that despite the unusual circumstances (the volcano erupting), I still HAD to leave the US when the 180 days were up. They didn't care where I went to, as long as it was out of the US and if I didn't leave by then, I would lose my visa and probably never be issued another one !!

Oh wonderful. I was thinking, Canada ? Cuba ? Mexico ?

I had to try something, anything.

"Could you extend my departure date by a week or so ?"

"No."

"But when I've gone on a cruise before, my passport has been taken and returned to me at the end with a new I-94 form in it for another 180 days, so........"

"Well you've just been on a 'closed cruise' so we didn't need your passport."

By now I was fluttering my eyelashes, slowly licking my lips and after removing my t-shirt, was suggestively rubbing my fingers around my nipples in a last ditch effort to get her to change her mind.

Something must've tripped her trigger as without another word, she suddenly said she would give me an extra month on my I-94 so now I can be here till the end of May. This gives me breathing space in case my flight doesn't take off on time next Sunday but it was so weird to not even think I HAD a visa problem until a few seconds before it was sorted. That's my sort of problem !

Now the only cloud on the horizon is the cloud on the horizon.

Easter is over and the last thing I need is an Ash Sunday.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Cruisin'...... On A Sunday Afternoon

Even though we're back in sunny Buttonwood Bay in mid Florida (where it's actually overcast and 'damp' today), we have a wonderful week of cruising memories to look back on.

This was our 'home' for the last 7 days and what a great time we had.


With enough stories, photos (nearly 800) and video (over an hour) to edit (especially the stories !), there will be enough raw data for several blog posts over the next few weeks.

We got to see the world's largest cruise ship and I finally got to stand on THAT beach where landing planes can almost be touched and those taking off blow you down the sand and into the water. I ate till even my eatin' pants were popping buttons like shrapnel fragments and watched wonderfully entertaining stage shows most nights. We lay back on comfy loungers out on deck and watched the occasional movie on the big screen after dark. I managed to avoid the gym, spa and top deck jogging track but did try my hand at table tennis, crazy golf and doing the rounds of all the restaurants.

We experienced golden sands and crystal clear Caribbean water; we took taxi tours and even spent time at Jimmy Buffett's amazing Margaritaville complex.

And did I mention that we ate ? OMG did we eat. The scale will reveal all in the morning and it ain't gonna be pretty.

To be continued..........


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Caribbean Cruising

Well tomorrow morning we're off on another Caribbean cruise and I get to add 3 new destinations to my list, namely the Bahamas, St. Thomas and Grand Turks. This cruise also goes to St. Maarten but although I went there in 2005, I'm really looking forward to this return as I missed going to it's unique airport where arriving planes fly so low to the beach that the crew wear flip-flops.

Trouble is, on the other side of the island is a nudist beach and the idea of whipping off my thong and going 'au naturelle' might be too much to resist. Mind you, given that I've been in the US for several months and have therefore developed my personal airbag quite a bit, I think I might only go to observe and not be a participant.

Why do I hear sighs of relief ? Cheek.
I love cruising. Well what's not to love ? Exotic destinations, relaxing days at sea and a never ending supply of food for one thing. Ok 3 things then and as long as there are no kids, no smokers and no rain, it'll all be perfect.

This one will be a lovely way to bring my 6 month winter in Florida to an end as I'll be returning to the UK a week after we get back from the cruise. If nothing else I should be able to pick up some better souvenir t-shirts than I'd get in Sebring !

I'll be taking the laptop (of course) but mainly to allow me to download photos. You can pay for internet on the ship but it costs quite a bit and it'll do me good to be off it for a week........yeah right ! The ship, the Emerald Princess, does have a bridge webcam so if you should want to, you can at least see where we are for the next 7 days. Right now it's on it's way back to Florida from Grand Turk and after a bit of a tidy up and replenishment, it'll be all set for us to get onboard around 2pm tomorrow.

So bye bye for now and 'see' you all in 8 days time.

I'll be the one with the brown face, red shoulders and the "I Was Banned From Orient Beach" t-shirt.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Easter Parade - With A Difference

Last Sunday, being Easter, we had a parade here in sunny Buttonwood Bay.

Now no one wants to watch a parade of oldies wandering along the park streets even dressed as bunny rabbits or big eggs with their thin arms and legs sticking out. That wouldn't get me out of my air conditioned house, no matter how many gift filled eggs they tossed my way.

We already have a golf cart parade every Christmas time so another one of those wouldn't get the crowds out either.

What to do ? Well the park is on the side of a lake so hey.....what about a boat parade ???

So it was written; so it was done.

And that's why, at about 3pm last Sunday, I went down to the lake and joined a load of park residents who, whilst remaining in their golf carts, were all set to watch this watery spectacle. I didn't know what to expect and so didn't know where to stand but soon a few pontoon boats and other water craft made their way along the canal and entered the lake proper. They went from sight and I actually wondered if that was it !

About 20 minutes later, I heard a noise that I've blogged about before and it never ceases to fill me with dread. Bagpipes !!!!

I looked to the far side of the lake and saw quite an impressive flotilla of boats making their colourful way towards the assembled rows of golf carts and there was my favourite 'musician' doing his Leo DiCaprio bit on the front of one of the leading pontoon boats.

As the boats approached the end of the pier where those 'in the know' had gathered, the occupants tossed, and sometimes hurled, Easter eggs at us. It was like being under attack as these candy filled hard plastic eggs came at us like brightly coloured mortars. Several times I was hit and I can tell you it hurt but being the fearless photographer that I am, I continued to film the event.

There was only one kid out on the end of the pier and he was "filling his boots" with all the eggs, so to speak because as well as the ones he managed to catch or pick up himself, he was also given all those collected by everyone else. Why were there no other kids out there ? No idea.

After the 35 or so boats had gone past, there were loads of eggs in the water. A couple of boats came back to the pier and used their fishing nets to pluck these eggs from the water to add to the haul already collected by the happiest kid in mid Florida.


And then it was all over. The boats seemed to melt away closely followed by all the residents on their golf carts and I went home to have my bruises attended to.

And to open the 3 eggs that the little perisher DIDN'T get !!

Here is a 3 minute video of it all and the bagpipes can be heard from 1m 05secs so prepare to mute.


Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Vehicles Of Buttonwood Bay - Part 1.

With Easter still fresh in my mind and the bruises from thrown eggs still fresh on my face, I've decided not to put all my vehicle photo 'eggs' in one basket.

I'm referring to photos of all the weird, wacky and just straightforward unusual vehicles that I see around the park here and that I said I would blog about. To those who know my laziness with blog posting, it's got nothing to do with having great subject matter for several posts and therefore not putting them all in one big post. Perish the thought and shame on you for thinking it.

I like to think of it more as, say, not wanting to see all the world's famous paintings on just one art gallery wall. Too much to appreciate and take in at once !

So with that in mind, and only that in mind, this post features a couple of vehicles that, although only initially matched in colour, have one other thing in common. They can be found across from each other on the same street here within the park. Spooky but true.

First up is a 3 wheeler motorbike and as you can see from the second image below, it's up to the rider to wear his own airbag !



You can also see how totally comfortable I am on a big powerful motorbike. What ? I don't ?

Hey I used to be a biker. Kind off. In my yute I had a Honda 50 (cc) for many years and even moved up to a blazingly fast and powerful Honda 125 (cc). I remember going from Leicester to my old home in N. Ireland just a week after buying the Honda 50 and although it took me about 3 days (and I got quite damp crossing the Irish sea), I made it safely. Ok so I walked like John Wayne for several hours after dismounting but it was fun.

I've no experience of even sitting on a typical US touring bike and that's why I look a bit bemused on this one. And looking out over two wheels only added to that bemusement. And it was very yellow !

Anyway, that's vehicle numero uno and across from it, we find this smart, innocuous vehicle, looking like its bigger brother...



I've always liked Corvettes but for me they have to be blue or red or even white or black, not that you see many those last two colours. But certainly not banana yellow. Maybe the owner saw the bike across the road and thought, hey I'd like my car to be that colour too.

Just wrong, so very wrong.

Not that I'd turn it down if it was offered to me. Hell no. I'm comfortable enough in my masculinity to be seen getting out of a little yellow Corvette. In Miami or LA maybe. Not too sure about Leeds !

I can hear Nelson Muntz already.......but then he's yellow too so what does he know ?

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Teardrops On Driveways And Whiskers On Kittens..

We were out for a golf cart ride this evening, just before sunset, and passing a few motorbikes which were parked on their owners driveways, I was reminded that I want to take photos of all the unusual vehicles in this park before I leave in just over 3 weeks time. Pause, deep breath, new paragraph.

Then we came upon this little fella that looked like a 'teardrop' trailer on steroids.



Now teardrops can, and do, come in various sizes but none are close to being bigger than the vehicle that tows it, thus making them perfect for midgets who want to tour the English Lake District. Anything bigger and you'd need a crane to get them round most of the corners up there.

You don't see many in America and, not surprisingly, this isn't just down to the lack of midgets here. It's more a case of "why buy a mobile garden shed when you can buy a mobile house" sort of mentality - as you can see from my previous post.

No, anything pulled behind your vehicle here needs to be the size of your house ( and often IS your house ) or why bother ? It would be like camping in a tent. Silly idea best left to the British and those Germans who frequent nudist sites in the Black Forest.

When Americans go touring/camping, they like the kitchen sink to go with them. And the plasma tv, the full size fridge/freezer with ice maker, the shower and toilet, the surround sound audio system, the king size bed, the roof mounted satellite dish and a 700 gallon fuel tank so that they can travel 23 miles before needing a refill.

So I don't see the point of this puffed up teardrop. Yes it has a lot of the above mentioned features but still on the small size for obvious reasons. It has a shower, a toilet, a furnace, a/c, a kitchen (of sorts) and even a monitor (not a tv) , presumably to watch dvds and plug your laptop into. But all these camping necessities have been available in a small type of trailer for decades and they are called popups. I had one myself in fact, back in 2002 when I had a bit more hair and a lot less girth.




But still, this r-pod (a pod not actually made by Apple but looking like a slice of one) is an example of a whacky vehicle in this park and as such, it deserved to be photographed. Sometime soon I'll put up the rest of them as there are plenty more on the driveways around sunny Buttonwood Bay.

Wait till you get a load of the side by side tandem !

Thursday, April 01, 2010

April 1st - The Snowbirds Are Leaving Florida

It's that time of year when a lot of the winter snowbirds (retirees from the cold northern US states and Canada) pack up and leave sunny Buttonwod Bay to go back home.

I've never been here for this RV exodus and it's been fun to see it this year. A few left in ones and twos over the last couple of days, maybe to get a head start or maybe just cause they were anxious to be home. The roads north will be pretty crowded with snowbirds leaving from all the other Florida parks and it's fun to look at the interstate traffic cams as the RVs going northbound are a sight to behold.

We went out on a golf cart ride early this morning (well early for me) to see friends and 'I know you by sight but we've not really met' doing their last minute chores, tidying up their lots, putting down their tv aerials and satellite dishes and finally hooking their mobile homes up to their cars...often with another car on the back ! It was quite a sight.






Motorhomes, 5th wheels and trailers were all heading out of the park and added to the normal golf carts and cars of those of us still here for a while longer and those who live here all year round, the park streets looked more like Formula 1 pit lanes than the streets of a sleepy retirement park in Florida.




Some weren't as ready to leave as others as the park doesn't really enforce the 11am leaving time as while many are leaving, few, if any, are arriving to take their place. Oh a few will come in, as this park can be used by any passing RV'er for one night or a week or even a month, but not many. After another few weeks, the only ones here will be the year rounders and they get to enjoy/suffer a Florida summer with the energy sapping humidity and the occasional hurricane threat.

It must be nice though as for one thing, the pools will be almost empty and there will be far fewer people at all the summer events.

This guy was up on his motorhome roof making last minute checks that all was safe and secure. No doubt the satellite dish will be lowered before he drives off ! I hope so.


I leave in another 3 weeks but my departure won't be so dramatic.

A simple drive to Orlando airport will be my way of leaving the park and then I'll be looking forward to my return next October as Buttonwood Bay's longest distance snowbird.

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