Where’s my Rainbow??

After normal service resumed in June; back to our Corsham house, back to the working week and back to reality…we knew we would need to plan a little trip to give us something to look forward to. This year we had spent many wonderful weeks in sweaty heat and oh so bright sunshine, something a little different to a country we had never visited was in order.

Iceland – land of fire and ice was chosen.

Although we knew it would be ferociously expensive when we got there, the flights with Icelandic Air were too good to ignore at £120 each return. Hotels and a hire car were booked then an itinerary was drafted up. Soon enough 4 months working and settling back into UK life flew by and it was time for a new Evans road trip.

Just like the middle-aged oldies we have become, we had packed our all-weather coats, fleeces, hats, gloves, scarves and our walking boots ready for the cold to whip by us knowing we would be all cosy, after all the name of the country ICE-land gives you a clue it’s going to be cold, but what we didn’t factor in was how absolutely disgustingly wet it was going to be!  The transfer driver from Keflavik Airport to Reykjavik kind of gave it away when she said to us “I guess you didn’t Google – Will it Rain in Iceland in October?” and no we did not expect it to rain quite so heavily for the whole week we visited!

But it did it stop us exploring? No it didn’t, we stuck to our plan and got out to see the stunning, rugged, fantastic scenery that Iceland has to offer…however we did spend more time in the car looking at the scenery through the rain on the windscreen and not hiking than we would have preferred! And although I have now officially morphed into my Mother, I’m really glad I packed thermos flasks for us, so we could have hot cups of soup for our car picnics…

So let me take you on a trip…of our highlights of magical Iceland…with probably the most wettest fuzzy set of photos ever!

Geysers

Iceland is basically a land of volcanic activity bubbling away under the surface. Underground glacial water springs get super heater and where gaps in the earth have formed, hot steam is pushed to the surface like a whale blowhole. At Geysir (this is where the English word Geyser actually comes from) we walked through the geothermal field in rain that pelted us at all angles, stood for a few minutes to watch the explosion of steam shooting into the air from the Strokkur geyser and hurried back to the car through waves of stinky egg smelling steam to strip off and warm up! I’m sure on a rain free day we would have stayed longer and probably would have taken some photos of the erupting geysers.

Þingvellir National Park and Reykjanes Peninsula

The island of Iceland lies smack dab on the middle of the Mid Atlantic Ridge where the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates meet. It’s these plates bumping and grinding together that cause geothermal and volcanic activity. The mid Atlantic continental drift is pulling the plates apart, so effectively Iceland is being slowly separated down the middle and away from each other at a rate of about 10cm each year. At the western Reykjanes Peninsula we could walk from one tectonic plate side to the other over the bridge between the continents.

At Þingvellir we walked through the canyon fracture and imagined Vikings holding their annual parliament here, passing laws and taking part in feisty games. Think ‘Game of Thrones’ and you have the picture in your head without the White Walkers! Luckily here the rain was very light and we enjoyed a wonderful walk through the autumnal colours of the park ending up at the beautiful Oxararfoss waterfall.

Waterfalls

From the ice caps, water is running downwards and over ancient glacial river beds, there are waterfalls dropping down over cliffs everywhere.The Hvita river runs down to form two waterfalls at Gulfoss that carve their way through the landscape. This waterfall site was really busy with tourist coaches on day trips through ‘The Golden Circle’. This site was amazing and is worthy of many visitors, you could walk anywhere and it felt very open to the natural elements.

At Seljalandsfoss we saw the 60 meter high waterfall through the windscreen wipers in the car park, we had barely dried out from the mornings activities and didn’t venture back out.

Waterfalls and rainbows go hand in hand, in every tour guide photobook there are beautiful rainbows arcing through the water spray. So at Skogafoss we arrived really early to avoid the coach crowds, walked up the steep steps to view the cascading water tumbling over the cliff and into the valley river below. “Where’s my goddamn rainbow?” I cried to the rain gods, but they just sent heavier rain on us. Skogafoss was indeed splendid and definitely my favourite as you could walk up really close and get a tad wetter from the powerful spray.

Glaciers

After spending £7 on a hot chocolate at the nearby cafe that should have lasted a lot longer than it did, we walked to view the Myrdalsjokull glacier, even with dark skies the blue ice light bounced off our faces and all around the area in soft and dewy tones. Within the glacier the active Katla volcano erupts every 40 to 60 years. Throughout the glacier we could see the bands of ash that have fallen onto the glacier over time and remain there for more water and ice to enclose the covering dust like a time capsule.

Further east along the south coast, we pushed on to watch majestic Icebergs that have broken off from the massive expanse of the Vatnajokull glacier float silently through Jokularson glacial lagoon. Each iceberg had a different shape and texture, some are smooth, some jagged and some are just icy looking! There are titanic sized pieces of white and blue ice and all sorts of small chunky shapes that flow out to the North Atlantic Sea. Within the icebergs we saw those dark lines of black volcanic ash that are effectively time lines like lines within a tree.

Out to the black volcanic ash beach these icebergs get bashed and broken up into wonderful pieces of crystal clear chunks of ice. The icy pieces of flotsam and jetsam get pushed up onto the wave’s edges and lie around like sparking diamonds, brilliant against the black ash sand. It was one of the most visually stunning scenes I have ever seen, it was if I was in a dream scape wandering along the beach with the natural contrasts of black and white at my feet, while ominous grey rain clouds brewed above my head.

Reykjavik

We found the capital city was very charming, easy to walk around but very expensive!

 The main building’s architecture are sympathetic to the natural beauty of the country. The large elongated mountainous volcano shaped Hallgrimskirkja church towers towards the heavens with its black basaltic inspired columns found at the Svartifoss waterfall.

The Harper Conference centre at the Harbour is built to represent the shape of balsaltic columns and smooth hexagonal ‘church floor’ stones that are found throughout Iceland where rapid cooling of the volcanic lava flow has occurred.

Vik

We based ourselves at the rather warm and comfortable Icelandair Hotel in Vik for a few nights as a base from which to explore. 

Throughout the area there are desolate black sand beaches with great examples of basalt columns, dramatic cliff sides and rocks jutting up out of the sea that look like mummified trolls. 

We drove through expansive lava fields where coverings of thick green woolly moss have taken hundreds of years to grow and cover the jagged rocks with a lumpy bumpy fertile carpet. 

There are hundreds of volcanoes covering Iceland, but due to low lying clouds we didn’t get to see the famous and rather difficult to pronounce Eyjafjallajökull volcano that caused air travel misery back in 2010.

Blue Lagoon

We opted for the comfort package costing 55 euros each. We lathered our faces with moisturising silica and clay masks, while we sipped on beers as our cheeks glowed from the 39°C geothermal milky blue waters that we luxuriated under. The Blue Lagoon at Grindavik is large and mysteriously steamy enough that you can find your own space to sink into and away from the huge crowds that visit here. Visiting an outdoor spa in the rain doesn’t sound like much fun, but the cold water from rain above was really quite cooling as we bobbed around looking for hotter hotspots in the water.

We did enjoy our week away in Iceland and we would have enjoyed getting out to explore a lot more without all the torrential dismal rain! The northern phenomenon that is the Aurora Borealis were elusive during our visit, but to be honest we would have been happy with some bright light in the daytime yet alone green shimmering light at night, but this gives us a great reason to return!


 

Normal Service Resumes

After 18 months away from the UK, our first sight of ‘Blighty’ was from the Cruise liner Windjammer Restaurant window as we drank our mugs of tea and scoffed a bacon sandwich. The early morning sun was shining over the Docks of Southampton, we were home!
It was a strange feeling being back in England and as we drove away from the port, an assembly line of Kebab shops and Chippies filled the main road, trees were lush and full . Derek my splendid brother in law had picked us up and as we headed into The New Forest, I have to say I marvelled at how compact everything looked in this green and pleasant land.

Both sets of little old grey parents were waiting to greet us at my sister’s house, there was a lot of hugging and a few tears – they hadn’t changed at all, maybe a bit smaller and they were in good spirits. Betty wasn’t letting her Bradley out of her grasp, after all she’d only been waiting 18 months for his return! Within a few hours it was as if we’d only just been away on holiday.

I wanted them to notice we’d changed, we were intrepid travellers who had ridden buses, climbed volcanos, saw the Big Heads and stood atop of ancient Incan cities…but when you go home things are still the same and we didn’t look any different. But inside, our goals, our attitude to daily life and something in our minds had changed. I hadn’t expected this and the positivity is still here. Travel had definitely opened up our minds.

In the weeks before coming back, I had made a mental list of everything I was grateful for, a list of all the beautiful places we had seen and a list of all the wonderful things we were returning home to. I was determined to make all these small positive thoughts set the tone and the attitude for my homecoming. It’s working and I’m happy. My life back in the countryside is pretty sweet but I could do with some summer sunshine!

So it’s been 8 weeks since we sailed into port and I’m putting on my best smugface as I have to say it’s been great coming back. I wish I could whizz back and tell my crying self in the Puerto swimming pool that it’s all going to be ok “Don’t worry about slotting back into your everyday life as if you’ve never been anywhere, don’t be anxious about going back to work, you’ll be better than fine and the best bonus is that you won’t have the post trip blues!”

The transition back to regular life was ridiculously easy. This was all down to the organisational skills of Mr E who had arranged everything and I mean everything before we actually left Puerto and a month before returning, all I did was pack the bags and cried. Mr E picked up his new Learner Car and the moving van was ready to collect, new furniture all arrived on the day we moved back into our dinky Corsham home, Sky and BT internet was switched on and the post stopped being redirected. Our fantastic renters had moved out and into the house next door and I swear the house was cleaner than when we left it. The only bummer was that we had to wash everything that had been in storage and Eileen at the local Laundrette did a great job with 4 ginormous bags of musty smelling towels, blankets and bedding all for the economical price of £50. Luckily the sun was shining and we could scrub the stink away in the garden before putting things back in place in the house.

We had cleared out huge amounts of ‘stuff’ before we packed up the house but I have now filled 4 charity bags with more ‘stuff’ we absolutely don’t need or want. So it was definitely a good job I bought new work shoes in Florida as I totally needed them…as I unpacked another 4 pairs of work heels, I can’t be expected to remember everything, now can I!

I have been thanking my lucky stars I had a new job to start and I was returning to the same company I had left in October 2014, I half expect them to ask for the leaving gifts back! My company car was delivered the day before I went back to work and I set it on autopilot down the M4 to my head office in Luton. Back to Comensura, back to C.net, back to excel spreadsheets, back to a lovely set of people who welcomed me with hugs and back to getting my brain in gear again. Last week I had the Eureka moment, this was week 5 when my brain put all the compartments back in order and finally brushed any remaining sand out of the corners.

Mr E has picked right back up from where he left off but probably hasn’t been quite as happy to resume work as I have – he’d rather not work. He had a great month and has a full complement of learner drivers again. His outlook has changed too, he’s become my own DIY ‘Matt Blashaw’ without the tool belt. This was the man who couldn’t put up a picture without drilling through the wall, but now he is sanding walls, painting doors, changing door handles and power washing garden walls! Unbelievable,  there’s no stopping him.

It’s been a joy seeing our dearest friends, catching up on news and seeing how big the kids and babies have grown while we’ve been away. A lot can happen in 18 months!

So what have we learnt from our trip away…everything. But that’s for another time!

Life on the Ocean Waves

Ahoy there!
Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of rum, shiver me timbers and hoist the mainsail me hearties…it’s a sailors life for me!

Our 18 month adventure is coming to an end (boo hoo..) as of tomorrow we arrive back in England. For the past two weeks First Mate Sarah and Cabin Boy Mr E have been guests on the 4000 nautical mile transatlantic crossing from Fort Lauderdale USA to Southampton UK on the Royal Caribbean cruise liner The Independence of The Seas.

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Rather than flying home, we thought this would be a fun way to end our trip and try out a new holiday experience. The decision was an easy one as the cruise cost was the same as 2 single economy seats on a plane. The reason for the lower cost, is that it’s a one way repositioning cruise. Having completed the winter Caribbean cruises, the ship now moves over to the UK to start the run of Mediterranean summer cruises.

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We’re a bit of an odd couple as we like our own company. We definitely avoid package holidays and forced entertainment, preferring to make our own plans and we generally stay away from other holiday makers, weird hey?! So we were a little unsure if cruising would suit us. But I can happily report it’s been wonderfully relaxing and a great value way to return home.
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Our first impressions were that the ship was huge and that there were a lot of people from all different nationalities. So it was a bit of a shock to be with 3500 people and to hear a variety of UK accents again, especially after being in Spanish speaking countries for so long. But our fears were quickly surpressed, as we found we could do loads of activities if we wanted to and that we could find quiet spots if that suited us too.

So if you’ve never been on a cruise, here the rundown of what’s on offer –

Food and Beverages
Everyone told us you can eat 24/7 if you wanted on a cruise! This is certainly true for some, as the amount of food available is immense and varied, we witnessed people piling their plates really high in the buffet, you can eat pizza any time up to 3am (we didn’t!) You can fuel your heart attack by eating badly or you can eat a balanced healthy menu, which we aimed to do but…those oatmeal raisin cookies just kept appearing with our afternoon cuppa!
For breakfast there is a buffet in the Windjammer self-service restaurant, it’s horribly busy, you struggle to find a table and for me was the worst thing about the cruise – jostling shoulders to get food. We found the seated service in the Romeo & Juliet restaurant was much more refined but then it was a bit stuffy for first thing in the morning.
As soon as breakfast was over, within half an hour lunch was served – too much food!
The Promenade Cafe served smaller filled rolls and this was perfect for us.
Dinner was in the Macbeth restaurant, food quality was very good and there were loads of choices on the menu. If you didn’t want the seated or formal dinners you could eat in the Windjammer from the evening buffet.

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Our waiters Malachi from Vincent & The Grenadines and Rosario from India were fabulous and took excellent care of us during dinner service. These guys work super hard and really made a difference to our cruise experience.

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Our Select Cruise Package included all meals, beers, wines to the value of $8 and soft drinks. This week I’ll mostly be drinking champagne..Thank you Simon for bringing us bubbles!

Entertainment and Sports
OK there is something for everyone on ship all coordinated by Entertainment Director Bobby. Right here we go, we’ve got – iceskating, dancing, quizzes, musical shows, comedians, bars, pool olympics, card games and bridge sessions.

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There’s a library, pub, casino, hot tubs, swimming pools, H2O splash zone for kids, movies, enrichment lectures and there is a fabulous gym. There’s an art gallery and you can bid for fine art in the auctions – who knew they did this kind of thing on board?

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On the upper deck there is crazy golf, flo – rider surfing, golf simulator, rock climbing wall and ball court.
Then there is also ‘The Hard Sell’ – crikey no wonder Royal Caribbean are so successful.
You can book your Next Cruise on board before you leave, deals are to be had!
In the promenade marketplace you can buy duty free, jewellery, handbags and gifts. Got cash to splash? Why not pay for spa treatments, teeth whitening, non surgical facelifts, shoe implants, acupuncture and wine tasting. It’s full on, sales pitch.

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My motto for the cruise was ‘not to go home fatter than I left’ so with Jawbone trackers on our wrists to monitor our 10,000 step target and record set daily calorie intakes, we got sweaty in the mornings. Even in the gusty wind topside on the latter few days as we got nearer to the UK, we did our laps on the running track and I took my big old bum to the gym. It was good to share the gym with all ages and abilities.

Getting Around and Facilities
For our first few days we got a bit confused finding our state room – were we Port or Starboard side? But then we found the carpet colour guided us back to our rooms, pink for starboard and blue for port. The artworks on all the stairs also guide you back to where you needed to be, Starry, starry night for us on level 2! There are handy maps everywhere detailing if the location you need is forward or aft. If you forget what day it is, don’t worry-  you’ll be reminded in the elevators!

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We chose a stateroom with a window rather than balcony based on cost and we were pleasantly surprised. Showers are hot and roomy, beds are big and super comfy, all cases fit underneath of them, so they are out of the way. Carlington our stateroom attendent was lovely, kept our room super tidy and provided quirky towel animals to amuse us! Last night’s Monkey was the winner!
Going two weeks without Internet was going to be a killer for The Evans…Mr E would have the shakes without the sports news! But thank goodness, as Royal Caribbean changed their Internet system on May 1st. So instead of $25 per day per device, the new rates were $13 per day for 2 devices. So as we knew we wouldn’t be spending any other money for 2 weeks, we signed up. In the middle of the Atlantic it worked just ticketyboo!

Shore Excursions
As this was a repositioning cruise there were just 3 stops; Nassau in The Bahamas, San Juan in Puerto Rico and Philipsburg in St Maarten. 3 different Caribbean Islands in 3 days.

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Although time on shore was limited it gave us a nice feel for the Caribbean and reminded us how lucky we’ve been to take time out to travel. We got some final snorkeling in, did a little nail varnish shopping (you can never have too many!) and wandered around these historic ports imagining pirates landing in these safe harbours.

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Crew and Staff
All and I mean all the staff are just super friendly. They work ridiculously hard and are away from family for many months at a time. Totally professional, these guys really want to make sure you have a great vacation. All our gratuities were included in our cruise rate but for those staff that make the wow factor, we had some dollars left over to leave a little extra. If you go on a cruise – tip these guys they really deserve it.

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As the sun sets on our last day, our bags are packed, we’re slowly passing the south coast to dock in Southampton Port in the early hours ready for disembarking in the morning. Our lovely little old parents will be at my sister’s house ready to meet us and of course I’ll try hard not to cry when I see them…but as I’ve already had the waterworks at dinner knowing this is the last night of our adventure, I think the chances are pretty slim!

Thank you Independence of The Seas, it’s been a fun trip!

Life is like a box of chocolates…

Utility is when you have one telephone,
luxury is when you have two, opulence is when you have three
….and paradise is when you have none.
Doug Larson

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Got a few millions to spare? Then why not buy a super yacht and waterfront mansion to park it next to! Unfortunately we don’t, but it’s always fun to sit on the Water Taxis that transport tourists up and down the Intracoastal Waterways in between Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood. It’s a great way to travel around the area where you can hop on & hop off, but the Captain also gives you snippets of information on who lives in the properties and own these luxury yachts. We saw Amphitrite the $22 million yacht previously owned by Johnny Depp and recently purchased by JK Rowling, Harry Potter definitely is a girl’s best friend for JK. Sleek and luxurious the Azteca is owned by the Mexican Salinas Piego family, we know the department store Elektra well from our time in Mexico and this $83 million super yacht certainly sparkles in the water.

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One of the fun stories is about US business man Wayne Huizenga a multi – billionaire. He was having trouble with his neighbours complaining about his helicopter landing, so he bought their house, knocked it down and built a designated landing pad – problem solved! Then there is the story of the house now owned by 2 former High School teachers who decided to open a chicken wing restaurant. Their well endowed waitresses in tight vests and short shorts proved to be a big hit, Hooters restaurant chain has ensured the teachers now live that luxe lifestyle we all dream of. Back in the heyday Sonny & Cher, Lucille Ball and Jonny Weismuller all owned properties in this stretch of prime island lands.

After a day on the water it was time to wave Liz and Derek off from our two weeks in Florida together. They were driving upwards to visit St Augustine and Savannah before flying home. It was a fun time and even nicer to be able to say to them “We’ll see you in two weeks!”

For the last part of our Florida trip, we were staying in Fort Lauderdale in preparation to board The Independence of The Seas. After 18 months away our travels were coming to an end and it was time to head home to the UK.
Now I’ve mentioned a few times in my blog posts what a genius Mr E is at finding travel bargains and once more he surpassed himself! . When he knew last year we’d be travelling home in May, he booked a two week repositioning cruise with Royal Caribbean, get this – It was the same cost as 2 economy seats with British Airways. From the window of the Courtyard Marriott we could see the ship in Port Everglades ready for 3500 people who would all be travelling to Southampton.

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But before we tried out cruising, we had a couple of days to make the most of the Florida sunshine.We rode the water taxi down to Hollywood Beach from Fort Lauderdale. Along the way we passed Port Everglades home to south Florida’s thriving cruise ship industry and port of call to thousands of merchant ships from around the world.

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It’s a busy port and provides thousands of jobs for the region. We disembarked at the mammoth hotel resort of Margaritaville and wandered along the Hollywood Broadwalk.

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There are 2.5 miles of pristine white sandy beach, restaurants and nightlife, old style beach front motels and it’s a popular destination for sunbathing. Back at the  Margaritaville water taxi stop we hummed the lines ‘Wasted away again in Margaritaville’ and was glad I hadn’t ‘blew out my flip flop’

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For some old time charm we took the free trolly north to Lauderdale-by-the Sea. This cute beachside town is located on a barrier island just north east of Fort Lauderdale. We had stayed in a motel here back in 2002 it’s now been replaced by a large swanky condo building, the fishing pier remains and of course we had an ice cream sat on the beach for old times sake.

For our last night in America, we didn’t go far and ate dinner in Bubba Gump’s next to the hotel.
Forrest Gump “My momma always said, “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get”

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In all our 18 months away we certainly didn’t know what we were going to get, but I can honestly say it’s been far sweeter than we ever would have hoped for!

And now it was time to cross the pond…home was calling.

Shelling & Shopping in Gulf Coast Florida

For the second part of our Florida trip with my sister Liz and Brother in law Derek, we left The Florida Keys and crossed Alligator Alley to spend a night in glamourous Naples with its white soft sandy beaches, millionaire mansions and rather gorgeous sunsets. In Tin City we perused the gift shops and ate at one of the seafood restaurants where Derek who doesn’t do fish, tackled the first large plate of ribs of the holiday!

We have visited this side of Florida many times before, but usually staying on Sanibel next to the beach. For this trip we had booked through Airbnb to stay in a great value inland property in Cape Coral. The Tropical House was excellent with plenty of room, outdoor seating next to a covered pool and located right next to the canal where Brad & Derek made use of the kayaks. It’s a location we didn’t know but was only a 30 minute drive from most places we wanted to visit for days out.

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To reach the Gulf, the Cape Coral area is closest to laid back Pine Island with its fishing boat marinas and water taxis that transport day trippers and campers to one of the many nearby islands and Cayes. To reach Pine Island you cross the bridge, driving through the tiny stripland of quaint Matlacha where shrimp boats dock, old fishing shanties have been converted to rustic B&B’s and an arty community sell their creations. We stopped for drinks and supper at legendary Bert’s Bar which dates back to the 30’s.

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As we were out of season, we reviewed the upcoming weather reports and headed out on what looked to be a rainy day for shopping! So we’ve eaten noodles, made picnic lunches and generally tried to not spend too much money over the last year whilst travelling, but then the Evans literally went nuts spending on the credit card in the Miromar Outlet Shopping Centre. For the last 2 weeks of our trip we would be taking a Royal Caribbean Cruise to get us home to the UK (more to come on this snippet of excitement later..) so Mr E was in need of trousers, shoes and a jacket. Birkenstocks and shorts probably wouldn’t meet the formal dinner requirements! I purchased some sandals and OMG!..a pair of high heels ready for work, my flip flop wearing feet are not going to like being squished into shoes once again. Between us all we packed our purchases into The Town & Caravan and headed home, exhausted from the excess of spending, too tired even for a round of Adventure Golf!

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Time for a picnic! With a well packed cool bag we drove down through Fort Myers and into Lovers Key State Park. For just $8 we parked up and took the land train across the mangroves to find a spot on a very white sandy beach. Once our day camp was set up we did the stoop..bending over walking the Lovers Key Beach looking for top notch shells. At the end of the beach in the fast flowing inlet, we were utterly delighted to watch a group of fishermen in their boat catching tilapia, while two dolphins practically held their flippers out for cast offs and handouts as the guys were just copiously reeling the fish in, of course it was the one time I didn’t have my camera in hand!

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I totally love these desolate outer beaches where plovers and sandpipers probe for food along the waters edges huddling together in their respective groups. Herons and Egrets just hang out, paddling in the soft waves waiting for their next big catch.
Washed up bleached tree trunks are now organic beachy art installations, long gone leaves have been replaced with jangly white shells that resemble white blossom from a distance. We hung shells on high branches and made wishes that we’ll return again one day.

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Away from the beaches we spent a pleasant morning at the Edison Ford Estates located next to the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers. These beautifully restored craftsman houses were the family winter destinations for Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. The museum, laboratory and houses exhibit their lives and inventions. Edison, Ford and Harvey Firestone formed a botanical research corporation to research a natural source of rubber that could be grown in the US and remove dependence on foreign rubber being imported.

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The Botanical Gardens flourish with a massive Banyan Tree still growing today that was one of the original 17,000 plant samples that were tested for the rubber research. Edison spent time in his laboratory and study perfecting his inventions. One of his most famous patents was for the long lasting electrical light bulb. The estate is in a beautiful spot looking out over the river and I’m sure the creativity of two of the finest American minds was fast flowing here.

One of our favourite holiday spots to visit is on Sanibel & Captiva Islands. So we were keen to show Liz & Derek where we have spent many happy holidays. We packed a final picnic and headed over the Sanibel Bridge to spend a lovely day on these perfectly formed Floridian islands. We started out at the south end of the island at Lighthouse beach. On this corner of the island people fish from the pier, there’s plenty of shells to collect, sandcastles to be built and a couple where getting married.

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Posing for photos, two baby Osprey watched as Mum & Dad soared over the waves swooping on unlucky fish destined to become Osprey lunch. After a wander on the beach we stopped at Pinnochio’s for yummy ice cream topped with one of their signature animal crackers. From there we drove north through Sanibel up to Captiva. This tiny island feels totally tropical, with its pink and green Florida coloured houses nestled in the palm trees. We stopped at Jensen’s Marina hoping to see Manatee in the sheltered bay, we got lucky and Liz nearly did a ‘Sarah cry’ when they popped up their cow noses to take a breath. The whole Manatee family bobbed up and down for our amusement.

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After picnicking on the beach, we headed down to drive through the Ding Darling Refuge. Lots of winter snowbirds have now left Florida, so the park was pretty quiet but we still enjoyed this sanctuary and the fresh air.
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Our day was completed by a visit to one of our favourite spots The Island Cow for dinner. Derek tucked into more ribs and opted for additional ribs instead of shrimp, boy he loves his meat!

Soon enough it was time to move on and over to Fort Lauderdale for the last part of our trip. I know our wishes will come true and we’ll definitely return to this wonderful part of Florida in the future or until we win the lottery when we buy our own spot of paradise in Captiva!

It’s five o’clock somewhere..

“An’ pour me somethin’ tall an’ strong,
make it a “Hurricane” before I go insane.
It’s only half-past twelve but I don’t care.
It’s five o’clock somewhere”

Throughout our 18 months away, the line from the Jimmy Buffet song ‘It’s five o’clock somewhere’ has pretty much accompanied us as we contemplate whether it’s too early for a boozy frozen concoction!  Good job I enjoy a Margarita as we were heading for Southern Florida where its always ‘five o’clock somewhere..’

By now if you’ve been reading my blogs you’ll know I cry far too much, so you can imagine my tears leaving our super hosts Billy & Mel, good neighbours Dale & Libby and our fabby friends Susan & Keith and Willie & Susan. But most of all I cried leaving Puerto Escondido knowing our 18 month trip was coming to an end and we would be heading back to reality of life in the UK and work all over again, our travel purse was empty. Yes, yes, I know I’ve been ridiculously spoiled by not working all this time but I’ve gotten rather used to it!

But before our return home, we had another month of travel to enjoy. Flying from Puerto we waved to the Interjet staff lined up on the scorching hot runway, flew the quick 1 hour to Mexico City and then changed for a pleasant 3 hour jaunt to Miami. My sister Liz and brother in law Derek were meeting us for a 2 week Florida vacation. Although we have had Skype calls while we’ve been away, I was very excited to see my big sister again. We amused all the arrivals crowd as we hugged, laughed and of course had some happy tears as I abandoned my luggage for our reunion.

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Derek had already picked up the hire car – a huge Town & Caravan big enough for all our luggage and passengers. After a night in Miami we headed down to stay in the Florida Keys for a few days. Although the sun didn’t shine on us that day and the sea wasn’t quite as bright green, we still enjoyed the view of fishing boats, stunning houses on the waters edge and counting down the miles to the next t-shirt outlet mall!

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The beautiful Florida keys are 120 miles of islands of various sizes, connected together like a string of shiny pearls by bridges, including the famous 7 mile bridge and the US1 highway runs all the way to the end of the road at mile marker 0 in Key West.

Hotel prices in the Keys are ferociously expensive but with Airbnb we had found a great value, quirky place to stay called Secret Garden House located on Big Pine Key, where tiny deer run free and there are funky places to eat like the No Name Pub. It’s all very laid back in flip flops and days in the Keys are totally relaxed.

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On a gorgeous sunny day we visited Bahia Honda Park for sunbathing, swimming and a Brits on holiday picnic. The sand was white, the sea was all sorts of luminous shades of green and it was a perfect beach day.

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Key West at the very bottom of the continental US, was a short 30 minute drive south and we spent a glorious day on the beach with a picnic where the snorkeling was cloudy but the water was lovely and warm. Key West is the place to party, the action takes place on Duval Street where there are plenty of bars, restaurants ( including the original Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville) and an anything goes club scene, some are clothing optional! Even the Cock a Doodle Doos roam free here.

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Ernest Hemingway lived here in his latter years for a while and every year Key West hosts a looky-likey Hemingway contest, I saw couple of bearded salty dogs that would place in the top 3 for sure! At sunset, tourists congregate at Mallory Square where artists perform, stalls sell crafts and people watch the sun go down as yachts and party boats cruise by.

From the Keys we drove across Alligator Alley through the Everglades to East Florida, but not before stopping off for an speedy airboat ride.

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At Everglades City we got the wind in our hair as we whizzed through red mangrove corridors and our airboat captain expertly negotiated the glades, stopping to show us wildlife along the way. We only saw one alligator, she looked pretty hungry and we kept our arms firmly inside the airboat, as in her time it’s always ‘five o’clock somewhere!’

Coming up Cape Coral

What did the Evans pack…?

It’s time to pack up our from our Mexico home this weekend!
We arrived in November 2014 with 4 bags and although we have disposed of a lot of clothes and flipflops along the way, we are still going home with 4 bags! But to be fair, we have worn a selection of clothes for tropical sunny days and coats, boots & trousers for the chilly altitudes of South America too.

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The Evans don’t do backpacking and we haven’t stayed in any hostels during our time away – it’s really been one big long lovely holiday. But we had a budget and Mr E, master of finding outstanding deals delivered with huge success!
So although I can’t offer any backpacking tips, I can share with any future travellers or holiday makers a few snippets that might be useful..

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Packing Cubes
Once you go ‘zip up pack’ you’ll never go back! Making packing your luggage so easy, these useful waterproof bags keep clothes flat, tidy and organised. We loved the Ikea Travel Bags that come in a variety of sizes.

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Ziplock Bags
Ridiculously useful and probably the best couple of quid you’ll spend. I can recommend the Ikea Reseal bags as they are super sturdy and big enough for all your travel bits and pieces.
Use them to put in your empanada lunch, bus snacks, electrical stuff & chargers, first aid, suntan creams, smelly socks, wet swimsuits, passports and just about anything you want to keep clean and dry. Travelling to Puno in Peru through snow, our bus was so steamed up the floor was dripping wet and our daybags got soaked but ziplock bags saved the day!
Helpful Tip: shower caps are super useful for popping sandy flipflops or muddy boots in.

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First Aid Kit
We cashed all our Boots Card points in to buy an extensive first aid kit before we left the UK, thankfully we didn’t need to use most of what we carried around with us. But the essentials we did use were; painkillers, antihistamines, plasters, antiseptic cream, sting & bite cream and diarrhoea tablets. Throughout Latin America we have found there are plenty of pharmacies everywhere who will readily dish out antibiotics. Jot your symptoms down and even in Spanish the helpful pharmacists can supply medical help and all the drugs you need.
Helpful tip: ask the pharmacist to write down any advice and prescription dosage. You can Google translate anything you’re not sure of later.
Always check with your GP in advance of travel of any necessary inoculations and especially if you have prescription medication.

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Bug Spray and Bug Plug
Chikungunya, Dengue Fever and Zika Virus are all nasty diseases we have wanted to avoid, so preventing mosquitos sucking out our blood has been a priority each evening. We spray, cream up and pop a plug-in insect repellent in our bedroom. I keep a small bottle of repellent in my daybag at all times.
Helpful tip: cream up your ankles before getting on buses and planes to prevent itchy flea bites.

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Loobag
When you travel throughout Latin America you’ll have to pay to use a public toilet and very few of them actually have toilet seats. The tiny charge includes the attendant giving you a wad of loo roll, so the ziplock loobag is always to hand in our daybag. I keep tissues, tampons, hand sanitiser and a sick bag..some of those bus journeys can be nauseous!
Toilet paper goes in the bin and not down the loo, so sharing an open loo bin with your partner needs some consideration. I found biodegradable doggy pooper scooper bags can be purchased very cheaply and are useful especially at certain lady times of the month.
Helpful tip: keep some loose coin change in the loobag incase you have to, well dash to the loo!

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Footwear
Our biggest mistake for our South America packing was that we took way too much footwear, actually it was mainly me as I couldn’t resist buying Havaianas in Brazil!
In our bags we each had a pair of training shoes for city walking, Birkenstocks for beach wear and a pair of hiking boots for Chile, Peru and Ecuador. In hindsight we should have chosen a combo trainer/hiking shoe like this one from Columbia. Unlikely to use our hiking boots again they were left behind in Ecuador, donated to the local trail guides.

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Teabags
You can buy teabags in Mexico but they are totally rubbish, so our top notch friends rallied to our call and posted us a stash of lovely jubbly UK teabags ..gotta have our morning cuppa. When travelling we would take the powdered milk sachets from hotels and restaurants so we could always make a brew. Most hotels we stayed in would provide hot water for tea when asked at no extra charge.

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Techy Stuff
The Tablet
Samsung Galaxy Tab4. Both of us purchased Samsung Tablets and we love them, sorry Apple but it’s Samsung products for the Evans.
The Camera
It took us a good while before we left the UK to decide on what kind of camera to buy for our trip. Ideally I wanted an SLR camera to be able to take fabulous photos of our travels but in the end I opted for a Samsung Galaxy Camera 2 I wanted good quality photos but from a camera small enough to pop in my pocket. This excellent point and shoot camera provides options to take photos in Auto Mode, Smart Mode or Expert Mode where you can set the aperture and shutter speed. The camera has a touch screen that is the same as the Galaxy Tablet, has wifi so I was able to upload photos to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter instantly whenever we had a free wifi spot. I added a micro SD card as I found I took more photos in a couple of days than the memory allowed but when I had good wifi I used Dropbox to back up my photographs to my tablet. There is also a Samsung Smart Camera App you can download that let’s you share your photos to your tablet or smartphone.
Helpful tip: by us choosing the same manufacturers tablet and camera, we only needed one charger that fitted all 3 devices.

Here’s a few things we didn’t pack but we found were brilliant for our travels:

Post Office Platinum Credit Card
We chose this credit card to use on our trip as there are no foreign transaction fees.
We did have to advise them of our travel plans, which is a bit old fashioned but you can phone or use the online application. They did put a block on the card when we returned from South America to Mexico (luckily I had cash for my shopping in Chedruai supermarket) but with one call this was quickly rectified.

Airbnb
Staying in hotels is great for a few nights but whenever we wanted to stay somewhere for more than 4 nights we chose to book apartments through Airbnb. Not only did we get to stay in some fabulous properties but it gives you a chance to unpack, get the washing done, cook a meal and really chill out.  We would definately recommend Airbnb!

Hotels.com
There are 3 reasons why we liked using Hotels.com
1. They offer great rates on a massive range of hotels.
2. By creating an account, most booking are paid for directly with no fees from your bank details you provide, therefore eliminating having to withdraw more cash from ATM’S that do charge fees each time you use them.
Helpful tip: check cancellation procedures and timeframe’s before you confirm a booking in case you decide to change or if your transport plans are cancelled due to strikes or adverse weather.
3. When you have booked 10 nights the 11th is a free night to the value of your average nightly spend.

Few other extras that we packed that were useful;
Spare Padlocks  – even though I’m a master packer, I misplaced the padlocks on too many occasions!
BUBBA Cups – save money and take your own cocktails to the beach for sunsets.

However and wherever you go.. love to travel!

and you won't have to move, you just sit still..