Saturday, March 31st, 2012
Wait … wait … go!
I made it back safe and sound to Germany, if on a different flight than originally planned – I was booked on a Lufthansa flight from Atlanta to Frankfurt for Monday evening, local time, but when I got to the airport my flight was cancelled due to a strike that was planned for Frankfurt airport for Tuesday. So, no flying to Frankfurt. After about an hour of waiting, I was rebooked on two United Flights, first Atlanta-Chicago (ORD) and then Chicago-Frankfurt. The itiniary gave me 35 minutes in ORD to make the connection, which left me somewhat skeptical, what with ORD being huge and needing to change terminals and all … . But I was game – I have friends in the Chicago area and I figured the worst that could happen would be an overnight stay in the Windy City, with possible no-warning meetup with friends, dinner on me. Or something like that. So I took myself and my luggage over to the United check in area, and what do you know, turns out the computer only had me on a flight to Chicago, but the connection to Frankfurt was missing … because the flight from ORD to FRA was … also cancelled. I was ready to hie myself back to Lufthansa and that point and to let them assign me a hotel or something (rueing only that I had had no advance warning, and so returned my rental car already), but the nice lady at the United booth whom I had inquired about my missing international connection about said “oh, but there’s a Delta plane leaving for Frankfurt at 4pm … let me see if that one’s still going and if they have room!”
The answer to both was yes, and so I got rebooked on that one, and ended up leaving two hours earlier than planned, on a plane that was about 20% empty. So much for the Lufthansa lady’s “we’re trying everything to get you all home” – everything Star Alliance, maybe, but not everything – I know some people (hey, you make contacts when waiting around with other people for different flights for 1h+) who got stranded for 24 hours, or who got a connection via Newark (where they got stranded), or, like me, got assigned the Chicago flight, but then not rebooked to Delta. It makes sense from a airline-network-rivalry point of view, but also makes the “we’re doing everything” a heap of untruth … I mean, having three seats to myself was nice, but I’d gladly have had less room and the guy that wanted to get home for his daughter’s birthday along for the trip … ya know?
But, home I am, and home-home at that, as I am in Mannheim right now, and shall remain here until Sunday – it’s my dad’s job leaving-do tomorrow, and it looks to be a grand party!
I’ve also had the two one-way disposable underwater camera films developed, the above photo being one of the pictures from them – more to follow, but once I’m reunited with my scanner – this one is here courtesy of the camera in my telephone only.
As you can see from the heading of the post, I am still in Savannah. There was so much left to see and do here that I didn’t get finished yesterday (and my tour ticket was valid for today as well) that I decided to spend the day here, after all, and to make my way to Atlanta tomorrow. This whole trip has been one where I was getting less milage done than I once thought, and somehow doing things later than I thought I’d do them – appologies to all that I met up with / thought to meet up with / did not manage to meet up with this time around. It’s been really good though, and since I did not have any firm itinerary, other than knowing when my flight was leaving and when I had to go back, no itinerary to be scrapped, and I just have to come back and see New Orleans and Charleston and the Smoky Mountains and Rock City etc some other time. The Georgia Guidestones are still firmly on the agenda for tomorrow, though, traffic and time permitting!
I’m in Savannah, where the houses are old (well, comparatively), the oaks are live, and the air is humid. I spent a good time of the day driving here, and as soon as I left Florida the sunshine was gone (it came back later in the day, but it rained a lot first), so that was a weird kind of mirror to my arrival in Florida – clouds and rain until I reached the state boarder driving down, and clouds and rain as soon as I left. Since I only got here at around 2pm I decided to go on one of those trolley tours that give you an overview of the city, and ended up doing the tour twice (it’s a 2-day ticket [since I bought it after 2pm]), since the first time it rained pretty solidly and just as we finished the sun came out, and one could not really see too much or well through the plastic tarpaulin they covered the trolley with to keep the rain out.
Went walking for a bit after the tour, until the sun went down – I’ve pretty much turned into a flower that closes up for the night when the sun goes down, or like one of those weird people that fall asleep once the sunshine goes in that SG episode (it was a SG episode, right? Where people also aged really quickly, due to some bug-thing?): once the sun goes, I kind of wilt and want to sit down and not move again – I pretty much eat, update here, and then sleeeeeeep. Night entertainment and events are kind of wasted on me – but morning events are totally my thing. I’m usually out the door by around 8am, so it’s all good in my book (only some places could open earlier :-)). Let’s see what happens when I need to time-shift back to UTC+1 in two days!
I continue making my way northward along the Florida coast and thus spent the day in St. Augustine, the oldest continuous European settlement in the USA. It was, as the name might already reveal, founded by the Spanish in 1565 and changed hands a couple of times between the British and the Spanish throughout its history, before becoming a US territory (and then part of the state of Florida, when that became a state in 1845). Suffice to say, people seem to be proud of their history here, and there’s an entire historical district with old buildings and people dressed in period costumes, selling all kinds of touristy gee-gaws (those are generally not historical, but rather of the 0815 tourist trap variety).
Still, wandering around the city was nice, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with gawking at touristy kitsch (I bought none of it). Also took a cruise on the harbor and out to the Atlantic, so that was a good thing to while away the afternoon with. Right now there’s a bit of a thunderstorm going on outside (though not as bad as the one I was caught in in Tampa), so I am glad to be inside – it’s going to be an early night for me, as I plan on an equally early start tomorrow.
Today I saw the Discovery! She’s currently in the Vehicle Assembly Building, being made ready for her future home in the Smithsonian, and the “KSC close up – now & tomorrow” tour takes you inside the VAB – and there she was, about 3m away from us! Definitely the best moment of my visit to the KSC, although there were a lot of good and interesting moments – but its hard to beat a space shuttle still housed in the building where they were actually put on their launching pads.
Seeing the different launching pads was interesting, too, as was touching a moon rock (yay moon rock!) and seeing all sorts of different Apollo memorabilia and gadgetry. Also another really good IMAX movie about the assembly of the ISS. And, you know, just various and manifold space program things.
So, today was day 1 at the Kennedy Space Center – I went on the first of the two specific tours they offer – “Cape Canaveral, then and now,” and we got to see a lot of the old launching pads for unmanned Air Force and NASA rockets, as well as for Gemini, Mercury and Apollo missions, as well as some of the command centers for the specific missions and programmes. After the specific tour there was time to do some more looking around (I’ve seen far less than 50% of the center so far, eek), and saw another Saturn V rocket, among other things. (More photos, as always, are in the USA 2012 photo album.)
Went to Cape Canaveral itself after the KSC closed at 6pm, and shall head back to the KSC tomorrow early morning right for the moment they open. Will I need three days there? Who knows! Come back here to find out :-).
Yes, I went to Seaworld today. :-) I had not planned on it, really, in the way that the Kennedy Space Center is clearly slotted into place for tomorrow, but I left Florida City earlyish this morning and so was close to Orlando by the early afternoon and had these hours to while away before I was supposed to meet M at 7pm for dinner etc … and so I browsed my guidebook for things to do in Orlando, and there was Seaworld in there, right between Disney Land and some Harry Potter thing … and the lure was too great to resist. We went to Seaworld in San Diego these many years ago on a family vacation and I *loved* it. Loved loved loved it. And here was another Seaworld, about 20 minutes away from where I was supposed to be 6 hours later. I skipped all the rides but got to see the shows, and it was a lovely afternoon, even if not as magical as it was back on the other coast more than a decade ago. As you grow older you spend more time thinking about habitat size and unnatural behaviour and things like that, maybe. I certainly could not escape from these thoughts, in between “oooh, orca!”
Made it to K&M’s house on time (where I am writing this from, actually), and M & I went out to dinner and then she took me to Target, where I bought something crazy for the DFDF auction and Sharpies in 26 different colours!
I spent pretty much the entire day at sea, sailing, kayaking and snorkling, and a fantastic day it was, but not conductive to photography, as my camera is not waterproof at all, and there was a lot of water contact going down today. I took the waterproof one-use camera along, we’ll see what those pictures turned out like in a couple of weeks. For now, two photos from aboard the Sarah.
I made my way to Key West today, meandering along the key islands, which offered some nice views and an unexpected interesting and lovely conversation on Islamorada (I think it was Islamorada) (hi B, if you’re reading this! :-) ). Key West is an interesting place, great for people watching, and I am typing this sitting outside at 10.30pm in quite balmy weather (it reminds me a bit of Singapore – most likely because I also spent balmy nights outside there [no Singapore Sling today, though!]) on the side of a swimming pool. (Yep, life if good, right now!).
I declinded joining the – hopping – Key West nightlife. Staying out till 9.30pm is late enough for me, when the day has been full and long and tomorrow promises to be the same: tomorrow I shall spend the day sailing, snorkling and kayaking (three-in-one), and I am taking my as of yet half-empty one-way disposable underwater camera along, so expect more less-than-sterling underwater photos at some point in the future.
I’ve also booked *all* the special interest tours that are happening right now at the Kennedy Space Center, on the theory of ‘when in Rome’/one does not get back to ‘Rome’ too often/&c. So, uh, sorry, rest of Florida. It’s gonna be the Keys and then the Canaveral region and then motor it up to Atlanta. Next time?
Today was all about the Everglades, and turns out that they come in two basic variations – one of which is the one that one more commonly thinks about when thinking about the Everglades – shallow and narrow waterways, mangrove forests, water vowl. The second one is grasslands and scattered islands of trees – the grasslands flood during the wet season, and the slightly higher elevations on which the trees are located stay dry – right now is the dry seasons, which is why there’s no water in the grasslands, aside from some remaining shallow ponds and lakes, in which alligators spend the dry seasons waiting for the water to come back.
There’re plenty of alligators, water fowl, snakes and other inhabitants of the Everglades to be found in both locations, and we saw a lot of different fowl, aforementioned alligators and a coral snake. Eep.
I drove further south from Tampa to Naples, with another stop at a beach that is considered to be “#1 beach in Florida” – Siesta Key Beach – so those titles must not be as exclusive as they’d like them to be – it’s all due to whom you ask, after all, and if everyone gets a say a lot of different answers will come up :-). It was very pretty, at any rate, and more relaxed in its vibe than Clearwater, somehow, but still featured lovely white sand and turqouise water. Taking photos on beaches that show their individual characteristics or at least aren’t uniformely blue sky, clouds, sand, water is going to become challenging, I think. Also – these beaches are not as empty as one might think, but I am reluctant to point my camera at scantily glad beachgoers … so I snap photos whenever there is a tiny window without a stroller passing by.
Went to explore downtown Napels in the early evening and got caught in a deluge of water, which goes to show that, yes, tropical rainstorms totally happen in this area of latitude. Everything was wet. I begged a bag from a shop, to put my tec stuff in, as I did not want the phone to get frizzed by rain. It was epic. And fun. Thankfully the hotel had a tumble dryer on hand, and a hot shower fixed the rest.
I also have a sunburn on the top of my feet, which is going to be a mite uncomfortable when wearing shoes. And a blister on my left foot. Oh well. Super-water-resistant-sun-lotion, wherever you are sold, here I come! (Publix, I think. Or Walgreens. One shall deal.)
And now it is time to say goodbye to the Gulf Coast, as I start heading east. Today, the Everglades are on the itinary (Gulf Coast & Shark Valley, Flamingo possibly on my return from Key West)!
I spent the day in Tampa today, first at the Florida Aquarium where they had a lot of fish (meh, fish are fish, really, unless bizarre and/or otherwise odd), but also some other, more fascinating (to me) sea creatures, as well as some mammals. Also an interesting exhibit on the history of the aquarium. I’d never consciously pondered when people started to keep fish in tanks, but now I know! Included in the Aquarium was a cruise of the harbor, so that was nice.
The afternoon I spent on Clearwater Beach, which was apparently once voted the US’s prettiest beach, but I personally must say that, while it is very nice, it isn’t the one I’d consider prettiest. It’s too uniform to be pretty, really. But still, very nice – and full of spring break activities, so observing those was interesting, too.
Tomorrow I keep heading south!
I don’t have many photos from Wednesday that I can share, as I did not take my camera on the “swim with the manatees” adventure, on account of swimming with manatees involving rather a lot of water (and a snorkle, a wet suit, flippers, …). I did buy a disposable waterproof camera in the dive shop, and I took some photos with it (both of manatees, but also, I’ll admit, of myself), but that film will need to be developed, and wether the pictures turn out any good … who knows. Things I discovered about myself: I really like snorkling in clear water! And I want to learn how to take underwater photographs/get gear to do that (I’d previously really only snorkeled once [other than as a kid], and then visibility was … not good and it felt kind of claustrophobic, what with the wet suit hood and all…).
I spent the afternoon in Homosassa Springs, where there is a state park dedicated to animals native to Florida (where the above photo was taken), and mostly have a lot of shots of different animals to show for that … . Then I drove on down to Tampa, where I learned that yeah, showing up without a hotel room booked is great for flexibility, but might be not so good if there’s a baseball game in town on top of it being spring break. *sigh*
Found a place to stay eventually, and have learned my lesson in so far as I’ve booked hotels on through the weekend. After that, we’ll see. What this means is that Key West is definitely on the itiniary, and places other than Floriday out, due to a lack of time … I’ll have to do Charleston and Savannah some other time.