Sunday, January 29, 2012

Key West Photos

1. On the road to Key West

2. Tree in Key West

3. Having lunch on the wharf in Key West

4. Ernest Hemingways pool

5. Adele at the southernmost point in the US - Cuba 90 miles to the south

6. Sunset in Key West
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Key West

Having returned from Europe we took it easy and relaxed to overcome jetlag which is definitely easier to get over when it is just a 5 hour difference. Then we headed down to Key West the southernmost point in the US. On the drive down we were amazed at the feat of engineering and building that makes this possible; all started by Flagler who decided to invest in a railway line to the port of Key West this required linking an island chain together, hoping to capture the market supplying coal to ships heading for the “soon to be opened” Panama Canal. Unfortunately, there were substantial delays in building the Panama Canal so that by the time it opened ships were using oil rather than coal as fuel. Flagler invested over $50 million in the very early 20th century and after operating for only about 10 years the train company went bankrupt.

Key West is 150 miles south of Miami and the road is mostly a two lane road built on causeways and over bridges one of them 7 miles long. The drive is tedious on a road with limited opportunity for an RV to pull off, unless one stops in one of the villages/towns. So Adele decides to have her lunch on the move and eat a pear - which is in the bottom drawer of the fridge; you sensed it – she opened the fridge and out tumbles a pitcher (jug) of milk on to the carpet, then cheese jiggles out. Adele tries to shove the cheese back in, then the top door shelf falls off spilling its contents marmalade, mayonnaise, relish, etc., in frustration everything is left on the floor. Too annoyed to eat Adele had no lunch. When we got to our RV Park we restyled the carpet so now there is no carpet in front of the fridge and Adele has vowed not to open the fridge again when we are moving.
Without doubt, Key West is a short-stay vacation destination. The port welcomes a cruise ship every day when “cruisers” flock along Duval Street which is the main drag running from the Florida Straits (Atlantic) to the Gulf for about a mile. Our RV Park was about 15 miles north of Key West so we drove in each day, parking on the outskirts and walking about a mile and a half into town from where we once more took the “Hop on Hop off” tour to orient ourselves with the area; afterwards we felt this was not necessary as everything is so close by. We visited Truman’s “Little White House” where he spent many vacations, now a museum. Several other Presidents also stayed there - President Kennedy used it during the Cuban missile Crisis. President Carter and President Clinton had short vacations there.

Hemingway is synonymous with Key West and we visited the house where he lived during his second marriage. The house had no electricity or running water until the fifties. Hemingway wanted to build a swimming pool but decided that it was too expensive, then while he was cavorting in Cuba with the soon to be 3rd wife Mrs. Hemingway had a pool installed for an outrageous price! Of course Ernest hit the roof when he saw the pool and its cost so he repaired to Sloppy Joes just at the time that it was being relocated, complete with furniture, fittings and fixtures, including the urinals one of which Ernest acquires and positions not far from the swimming pool. Now Mrs. Hemingway hits the roof and orders Ernest to remove it forthwith – “you remove your pool and I’ll remove mine was his response” both pools are still there! All the older buildings, pretty Victorian Homes, have preservation orders on them to maintain Key Wests quaint character. The cemetery is interesting as the dead are buried above ground because the rock is too hard to dig a grave. 

There are no natural beaches on the Island - all the sand is imported from the Bahamas at a cost of millions and then a hurricane comes along and blows it right back. There a roosters all over the town and the Keys, cock-a-doodling all day long, the few hens we saw had their little chicks with them in town and they know how to avoid busy roads and are not fearful of humans. Originally brought as fighting cocks, when cock-fighting was outlawed the then Mayor decreed that they be let loose in Key West; as Key West is a bird sanctuary they cannot be harmed – will this hold if the locals run out of food after a hurricane.  Another  piece of folklore surrounds a grotto to Our Lady built by a nun 90 years ago on the convent grounds to protect the island from hurricanes - the locals pray there in hurricane season and the island has not had a direct hit since the grotto was built - lots of candles obviously lit!

One morning while Adele was in the pool doing water aerobics she heard a thud and thought it must be a cocoanut and turned to see that a large iguana had fallen from a tall tree, its partner is still up there. This fellow was about 2 feet long, basically green with an orange comb and 3 wide black strips on his tail - after getting over the shock and heating up a bit he ran off under the chairs and into the shrubbery.

Mallory Square is touted as the “must-be” place to be at sunset. Here very talented street entertainers’ fire jugglers, sword swallowers, mono cyclists and many singers keep one amused as the sun slowly sets. There are crowds of people milling about jostling for position for photo shots and…we wondered about this as we have seen many, many sunsets in Ireland, Hawaii, the Maldives and of course, Santa Cruz, CA. We thought maybe these people are East Coasters who see the sun rise but never see it set over the sea, so to them it’s a big deal. Before leaving we did the tourist thing and had our photos taken at the southernmost point of the US.

How many of you know it will not be until 2055 that the American flag will have flown over Florida for as long as the Spanish flag flew (almost a tongue twister). 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Christmas Vacation

1 Christmas Eve
2 Wearing presents and getting presents. How exciting!
3 Helping others open their presents
4 Walking across the fields in the UK
5 The friendly goat was waiting for an apple.
5 Tom heading up the ropes of a sloop in Amsterdam.
6 Are cars getting smaller or what ? Take note of all the bikes.
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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Back exploring the US again

Well here we are - back on the road again after a very enjoyable Christmas break – a break from a 24 month odyssey?? In mid-December we flew to San Jose just in time for Adele to catch most of the Christmas parties and fun, and, yes…Tom did join in also. We stayed with Maky and Mark, had wonderful accommodations, hospitality and enjoyed a nice leisurely breakfast together every morning, including Christmas Day with their family, when we met their new daughters-in-law. As usual - what else - Adele’s days were full of lunches and dinners put on by her friends. Of course we enjoyed seeing our two little grandsons who we saw almost every day and we spent a lot of time in Vasona Park as the weather was exceptionally mild. We had a big family birthday get together on Saturday the 17th, Cearull (14th) who will stop counting his birthdays soon, Caleb was 3 on the 16th and Cian was 5 on the 20th.  It was good to see all the California family together, we do see one another on Skype/Facetime but it is nice to be able to hug those two little boys and; the big boys too!

Adele’s first day was taken up mostly by the Newcomers Christmas lunch where it was great for her to see so many friends and catch up on their news. The following night was her tennis party meeting up with some ladies she only sees once a year at the tennis party; it is one hilarious party that Adele enjoys very much. Her big disappointment was missing the Bridge Christmas party by a few hours; but Holly one of her bridge group ladies held a lunch for her, all those busy ladies took time out to see her and bring her up to date on their news. Our friend Judy got a group to play Mah Jong and have lunch, unfortunately, Adele didn’t win one round but enjoyed seeing everyone.   SaAn a friend from Adele’s very first Newcomer’s lunch bunch had a group over for a Chinese dinner while Valeria and David had a group over for an Italian dinner.  We had a lovely Christmas Eve with Carmel (Leslie’s mother) and Dave with whom we have celebrated Thanksgiving  since Cearull first met Leslie (16 years ago), we missed last year so it was great to get together, the food is always gourmet and we always go home with homemade chocolates and marmalade.
Once again we had our Christmas dinner at Stella’s Place in San Jose, which has a lovely big function room with lots of space; I think we had 21 sitting down to dinner. Stella and Tony had put a lot of time, money and work into making sure we had a nice party last year and we could see it was too much for the two of them. So this year we divided the work between us; Adele looked after the food and allocated dish tasks to Leslie and Melissa. Once again, Tony and Stella did all the rest. Cian had practiced singing his Christmas songs to us on Skype every week during December so he was all set to sing on Christmas day and Caleb entertained us with Batman and Diego music - we all got a kick out of that!  Christmas crackers were pulled, food eaten, plum puddings set on fire and presents opened – it’s so wonderful to see the little boy’s faces when the presents are being opened; wanting to help everyone open theirs and so happy with everything they get.

The following day we headed for the UK for our extended Christmas…including Christmas dinner with all the trimmings served up by our wonderful girls Jennifer, Hannah and Molly. Once again presents are exchanged, although this time we are responding to personal requests which we try very hard to fulfill. In return Adele gets a years’ worth of chocolates and chocolate biscuits (cookies); at least what a regular person would think was a years’ worth.  During the week we celebrated Glennis’s (the other granny) birthday - more presents, more candles and more fun. Tom was delighted with his present this year – Ciaran and Karl took him to see Leicester Tigers play Sale Sharks in a top class Rugby match. This was preceded and followed by almost daily rugby or soccer games between Ciaran and Tom; the smile on Toms face when playing with Ciaran is in the megawatt range.
New Year's Eve Jennifer and Karl hosted a New Year’s dinner for several friends and their children, it was a great success as both adults and children all managed to stay awake to welcome the New Year and watch a big 20 minutes fireworks display from London. Once again the weather was very mild which allowed us to take a long walks across the fields (with apples in our pockets for a goat who was a mile and a half away) the goat gave our walks a mission which meant that we did not have too many complaints on the way out the door. We had only come back from the UK in the middle of October so not too much of a change in the children since we saw them last

This year we managed to arrange our return travel to Miami via Amsterdam where we spent 4 days in a really great hotel - The Convent Hotel - right in the center of the city. Adele had never been there before and really enjoyed the city, spending a lot of her time avoiding cyclists and learning to cross the road and the cycling lane. The center of Amsterdam is a very cyclist and pedestrian friendly area, with relatively little car traffic; it’s as if there’s a protest against the cost of gas (petrol). The bicycles themselves were interesting in that they are modified to suit the person and personality of the owner. 
On our first day we took a “Hop on Hop Off” Bus Tour followed by an evening canal cruise to orient ourselves to the city. As it was a pleasure to walk we did a lot of walking; at night the city comes to life as so many young people live in the city center. In the evenings we headed out looking for restaurants to have dinner, walking along its many canals. One night we came across a big flock of swans, they were beautiful in the reflected light from the street lamps on the water.

Our routing back to the US was Amsterdam – Paris – Miami. Adele sat beside a Frenchman on the Paris to Miami flight back and had to dig real deep to have enough French to talk to him but managed. She enjoyed showing him some of her photos on her new iPad, telling him about our family.  He was going to Miami to visit his daughter who is a baker and spend 3 months with her. He had absolutely no English.
Before we left Miami in December Adele made two delicious chicken sandwiches which with 2 slices of fruit cake would sustain is on our flight. She wrapped them up, put them with the suitcases - we duly lifted the suitcases, the sandwiches fell off (in the RV) but we did not discover this until we were on our way. We wondered what the RV would be like when we returned - stinky or worse. Luckily, Adele had wrapped them so well we could just drop them in the bin and do a quick carpet shampoo job on the seat. The Luck of the Irish!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Saint Augustine, Florida

1. A British marching band leading a parade
2. Holiday Parade
3. Two "Red Coats" marching to the Fort
4. View from the Fort
5. The Union Jack flying over the Fort
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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Space Center Photos

1 The entrance
2 A Spaceman walks by...
3 Replica of a Lunar Landing Module
4 Lunar Service Module
5 Tom in a replica of an early space capsule
6 The Garden of Rockets
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Kennedy Space Center

We had no idea what was in store for us as we headed out through the Merritt Island wildlife preserve to The Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral; maybe some used rockets and a few moon rocks. On the drive we saw Bald Eagles, Alligators and Blue Herons in the wonderful wetland which is little disturbed except for the odd rocket blasting off!!

It is, in fact, absolutely awesome so much so that we spent two days there and upgraded our entrance fee to Commodore level which allows us unlimited entrance for a year, plus substantial discounts including for guests; significant as we hope to return in April with our grandchildren. Having lived the Kennedy Camelot history, from JFK’s nomination and ultimate election to the Presidency, it was quite nostalgic to watch the film of President Kennedy's speech in 1962 challenging NASA to land an American on the moon before the end of that decade. President Kennedy was very close to our hearts and Ireland remains very proud to have had a descendant in the White House and we remember the excitement and awe of the people of Ireland as we listened to his inaugural speech as well as his brave and bold statement…that America would land a man on the moon.
Then in July 1969 we sat our six month old baby in front of the black and white TV as we watched the moon landing and Neil Armstrong taking that “first giant step for mankind” as he set foot on the moon. We remind Jennifer to this day that she saw history being made.

History is acknowledged in stark honesty at the space center…failures (and there were many) and successes of the space program. The then Soviet Union’s successes - first spacecraft in space, first man (Uri Gagarin) in space are openly celebrated. In the age of iPod’s, iPhone’s and iPad’s it was fascinating to see how primitive the actual computers used (in the control room and onboard the spacecraft) to send man to the moon were. One can visit an actual Control Room and sit at the desks, look at the monitors and pick up the Bakelite rotary telephones. It all made us realize the true genius of the scientists, engineers and computer programmers; consider this – Slide Rules were used extensively at that time to make life and death calculations. These men and women were true pioneers, dedicated to their quest, but what a wonderful job it must have been for those great minds.
The center has two IMAX Cinemas, one showing a 30 minute movie about the International Space Station and the other a 30 minute movie on the Hubbell Telescope. Both are awe inspiring, especially when observing living conditions on the ISS and the training the astronauts have to undergo for spacewalking while repairing the Hubble Telescope or constructing the ISS. Hours upon hours are spent under water in full spacesuit in a very large, deep pool where they practice repairs or jobs that need to be done, all the while simulating all possible obstacles that may be encountered. The ISS usually has three American and three Russians scientists/engineers on board while from time to time, where a particular expertise is demanded a person from another country is brought onboard.

In the Rocket Garden there’s a great display of the many rockets that show the story of the development of rocket - as time went on they got bigger and bigger, eventually one was three times the height of the Statue of Liberty. The space capsules had to accommodate three men in about the size of the front seats of a Volkswagen Bug, the seats are angled slightly to fit the three in. There were replicas available for visitors to sit in, without all the necessary equipment - this must have been one of the most uncomfortable seating arrangements in any craft.
On a part of the tour we were driven to the launching pad area (along the way the driver pointed out the nest of a pair of Bald Eagles – as large as a Queen Bed!) and learned that it’s not smoke that rises from under the engines at the launch its steam – there’s an extremely large area of water under the launching pad to cool the heat from the engines – it also stops the world catching fire (Adele’s take on it). We saw the buildings where the Shuttles were checked and refurbished after each flight and where they were attached to the main rocket and boosters before travelling on a huge craft to the launching pad at two miles an hour.

To finish off our visit we went on a fun ride that simulates being an astronaut taking off aboard the Shuttle from a launch pad at Cape Canaveral, complete with all sorts of warnings. Adele was more than a little apprehensive as we entered the shuttle and belted ourselves into our seats which tilted back for blast-off. After engine ignition everything began shake even our cheeks and one got the sense of a force pushing one backwards, then at 17,500 mph a brief experience of weightlessness. We both really enjoyed it, it was great fun.