Travels in the USA 1

While having one of my sporadic tidying sessions, I found a journal I started when we went on holiday to America some years ago, read it and chuckled to myself. I’m putting it here for my children to read at some later date, but you can read it too, if you like.

Here’s episode one.

U.S. Trip April 2009


Because my birthday often falls during the school/college Easter holidays, we rarely go away that week, as prices are ramped up to take advantage of all the families wanting to get away. However, this year we decided to go long haul and booked a trip to the States. We were very excited and spent many happy hours looking at all the places we could visit while over there.

And so we began on the 4th of April.

We arrived early at the airport and had an over priced breakfast in one of the cafes. Just as I had headed for the loo, there was an announcement over the PA system calling for us. I didn’t even hear it, as I was focused on finding the lavatory, so Stewart was frantic by the time I got back to him.  In some trepidation, we approached the service desk, where the Continental Airways lady took our boarding passes, tore them up before our eyes and asked if we would mind travelling Business class just this once.  Since she was so polite about it, we said yes and found ourselves going on to the plane first, settled into our huuuuuuge seats and offered champagne. We did feel this rather over compensated for the airport breakfast.

The cosseting continued, with pillows, blankets and frequent offers of complimentary drinks. We had enough legroom to do press ups and stretched luxuriantly in our seats. There was a proper menu to order from, real glasses and proper cutlery. So civilized. You can tell we’re more used to Ryanair.  So we spent the hours, dozing, eating and drinking until we landed in Newark, where we were to change for our onward flight to Orlando.

This was, of course, less straightforward than we had hoped, as our departure gate was changed. Twice. We did three laps of the airport and finally, sweaty and breathless,  got to the right place to find that two flights had been condensed into one and we were therefore leaving an hour later than expected.  The flight was smooth enough, although a bit of a disappointment after our transatlantic Business Class experience. It doesn’t take long to become accustomed to luxury.

On landing in Orlando, we did three or four laps of this airport too, this time on a monorail. We were relieved to find our luggage had arrived at the same airport and set off to collect our hire car. It was at this point that it all went distinctly pear shaped. We queued for two and a half hours at the Budget Rentacar desk, as there were about 30 people waiting and only one member of staff. This was not a good experience, although we could have made lifelong friendships with our fellow queueists. I remember with a certain fondness, Greg and his parents from Colorado. He with his unkempt beard and braying laugh; his mother, outspokenly critical of everyone and everything and the alpha male , cosmetically rejuvenated, Grecian 2000 experimental Daaad, who couldn’t operate the drinks dispenser unaided.

Found the car, found the resort and found the apartment. All without any further hiccough. The apartment was very well appointed but dark and pokey but it had excellent beds and showers, for which we were appropriately grateful. We slept like babies after 24 hours on the go.

5.4.09  Very nice and warm all day.

Although we had slept very well we were rather disoriented when we awoke, jet lag, I suppose. We showered and dressed quickly and then set off for Wall Mart to have breakfast in their café.


We did about 10 miles northwards on Apopka Vineland, past Win Dixie and at least a dozen churches, all well attended on this Sunday morning but, although we could have found God, we failed to find Wall Mart. This was especially disappointing because we knew it was there (Wall Mart, not God) and were feeling the need of breakfast. In desperation, we went back to Cypresse Point and asked at Reception.  Rather humbled to discover we had been on the right road but heading the wrong way. Chastened, we tried again, this time heading south. And Lo!, there it was, just as we remembered. But without a restaurant. According to the staff it had never had a restaurant, in spite of the fact that we were both convinced otherwise. Reluctantly accepting the evidence of our eyes, we did some basic shopping, including a pair of trousers each and then set off in search of foooood.

At the point where we were ready to gnaw our own legs, we found Wendy’s and went in. It was everything I could have expected and we breakfasted on cheeseburgers and soda pop. This is not civilized.  Twenty-four hours earlier it had been free Buck’s Fizz and Eggs Benedict and now we were on over sweet cola and greasy cheeseburgers. Oh dearie me.

Back at the resort, we changed into swimwear and toddled down to the pool. The thermometer said 85 degrees and I don’t think it lied.  The pool was like bathwater without the bubbles and we floated about, occasionally pretending this was exercise by making a desultory flapping motion with limp arms. We were so relaxed after our swim that we went back to the apartment intending to nap but slept for almost three hours. We awoke at 8.40 precisely, dressed in some haste and set of smartish to the Ale House across the road. Everything was just as we remembered from our previous trip, with lovely cold beer, stunning steaks and joyfully friendly and efficient service.  Lacking both appetite and stamina enough to do it justice, we staggered back and collapsed into bed.


6.4.09  Warm with rain in sharp bursts.

We decided over a home cooked breakfast in the apartment – we weren’t risking cheeseburgers again – that we would have a little wander down International Drive and maybe look at some clothes with a view to buying an outfit for Rachel’s wedding.

It was a good plan, slightly wrong footed by the fact that we couldn’t find International Drive. I mean, how can you lose International Drive? Finally, we did a complete circuit around Sea World  and Universal and started again. And there it was all the time, hiding behind the biggest conference centre, sorry, center, you have ever seen.

How did they get planning permission?

I took this pic of the upside down house to send to the kids and their reactions were highly satisfying. So then we stopped and had a meander around a smallish shopping mall, which was very average but we found a very nice lady in Tourist Information, who gave us 42 maps and some tickets for Disney later in the week. Exhausted, we lunched in Subway, a first and probably a last, since the sandwich was distinctly ordinary and the service was appalling – very rude juveniles behind the counter. (The loos were good, so there was a silver lining.)

Back to the car we set off in search of Lane and Bryant, the local equivalent of Evans according to the Tourist Information lady. In spite of following the nice lady’s instructions to the letter, or so we believed, it took quite a while to find said emporium. Neither Stewart nor I seem to have an effective sense of direction round here. It’s a sort of Bermuda Triangle for us.

No joy with the frock shop. There were one or two nice items in an ordinary sort of way but no weddingy looking outfits and, again, poor service. The staff were enjoying their conversation – an in depth character assassination of a mutual acquaintance – too much to even consider making a sale. However, in the same area was a TK Maxx, which was the usual jumble sale and therefore not a disappointment and there was also a shop called Ross, which was remarkably similar but did have lots of stuff in my size. I bought an African style trouser suit but no wedding outfit, in spite of trying on a nice Calvin Klein which I would have bought for the label alone, had it looked even almost OK. But it didn’t so I didn’t. Heyho.

There had been some interesting bursts of rain while we were pottering about, making quite threatening noise on the thin roofs. (Made me think of A Town Like Alice for some reason.) In between these heavy showers were patches of glorious sunshine and a stiff breeze. Quite English in fact. At this point we felt we had done our duty as far as shopping was concerned and went back for a nap.

After the obligatory shower, we explored the area around Cypresse Point on foot with a view to finding alternatives to the Ale House for eating purposes, in particular, we had been told to try Sizzlers for breakfast and there was one within easy walking distance.  ($4.99 all you can eat breakfast buffet.) Back to the Ale house for a dinner of ribs and shrimp for Stewart and a seafood combo for me. (I love the way it says shrimp, as if you only get one, when in fact they are piled on the plate.) Having eaten there before on several occasions in the past, we had high expectations, which were dashed when our meals were both a tad below average. Generous but not that well cooked or presented. However, the pitcher of beer and the waiter serving it were both fun in their different ways. I had an ice cream cake/dessert with hot chocolate sauce which Stewart helped me eat. (Most out of character.) It was an enormous portion so there was plenty for both of us and enough left to spill some on my top too.

An imperfect end to an imperfect day, so we went home and slept like babies. Again.

7.4.09 Quite cool in the morning and very windy.

My 58th birthday started a little earlier than I had intended because I received a “Happy Birthday” text from Diana at 03.40. She clearly hasn’t got the hang of time differences. Stewart suggested I should do the same to her on Thursday, as that will be her 59th but I’m not sure I could get the timing right. (She’s not the only one who hasn’t got the hang of time differences!) It depends how spiteful I feel come Thursday.

Home made scrambled egg and bacon for breakfast, cooked by my own fair hand. Stewart had brought my birthday cards, which I happily opened and displayed in the bedroom, slightly disappointed that the cleaners won’t see them. (No cleaning during our stay; very unlike the European resorts.) Anyway, Stewart had left a little gift box strategically placed for me not to miss, which contained a pair of garnet and moonstone ear rings. Very pretty in a Victorian/Edwardian style, so I intend to wear them when we go out for dinner.

We packed our gear for the day and set off towards Tampa and points West. (Clearwater Beach, if the maps can be trusted but who knows? Stewart sticks to the principle that you aren’t lost while ever there is fuel in the tank and, as navigator, I endorse his view whole-heartedly.

The journey took almost two hours on Interstate 4; everywhere is further away than you think over here. It’s all so big! The journey was interesting enough, since we got a view of America itself, rather than just holiday areas. There were trailer parks and lots of hoardings, enormous hoardings, advertising everything from accident insurance lawyers (Not reassuring when you are driving) to Botox. Were they implying something?

Tampa we only saw from the freeway because we agreed that we didn’t want to spend the holiday tramping round a big city. It looked very modern and rather stylish from the road but the very thought of finding somewhere to park terrified us. Navigation to Clearwater proved pretty simple and we soon found ourselves on the W Courtney Campbell Causeway (Just trips off the tongue doesn’t it?) across Old Tampa Bay.  The views were lovely and the bridge made a graceful curve over the water. this is not my photo, by the way but you get the idea.

Clearwater itself seems to straggle on for miles without an identifiable centre until we crossed another modern and stylish causeway, Clearwater Memorial Causeway to be exact, to Clearwater Beach. Under normal circumstances, I think this would have been an absolutely stunning place to visit, very lovely indeed, but the very strong winds gusting in off the Gulf of Mexico brought find sand sweeping in off the beach, into eyes, mouths and skin. It was a whole body exfoliation with attitude. The sand was fine as icing sugar and pure white and I bet a day on the beach can be wonderful here. But not today. 

But I loved it. We had a brief walk in this, out onto the pier, which I liked a lot, although it was very chilly. We couldn’t see anywhere to get a drink, so we pottered across to the marina, where we found a small, old fashioned café doing coffee and sandwiches to go.  Having chosen what we wanted, found and gratefully used the restroom, we went back to the car and set off down the aptly named Sand Key to find somewhere to stop and eat.


It was all a bit like Mabelthorpe, but more built up and without a car park where we could sit and watch the sea for a while. We decided to head inland to Seminole Park, where we hoped we would find a sheltered spot for our picnic. After one abortive detour into suburbia, we got back onto the right road and there it was, just where it was supposed to be. Always reassuring when the map and the landscape coincide.

We easily found somewhere to park and Stewart trotted off to the nearest loo. As he went, I saw a couple of youths loitering, hoodies up and that mofo walk and I had a sudden paranoid moment. I got my phone out and started taking photos, several of them including said suspicious looking youths. (Who wandered off aimlessly but harmlessly.) I felt a bit stupid when Stewart reappeared all unharmed and apparently unconcerned but he said he had been aware of them too, so I felt a bit less of an over-reacter.

We took our picnic into the woods and sat at a table, gazing pleasurably out over the lake, past the sign that said “Do not feed the alligators” .  We hadn’t intended to  but the warning left me feeling a little insecure. We didn’t see an alligator, although there were fish jumping in the lake and a squirrel came quite close to eat some bits of bread. During this David Attenborough moment, an egret came towards us out of the water, then a raven, then another, bigger bird, like a bigger egret but grey.

Bigger than the egret but no idea what it is.
Possibly an egret?

It was great and we didn’t feel the lack of the alligators at all.

After this we went for a stroll through the woods and round the lakes. The place was filled with unfamiliar birdsong and there was always the glint of water between the trees.



We hardly saw another soul, I suppose it was just another working day for the locals, but it meant we seemed to have the place to ourselves.

Although there were warnings at every place where the path approached the water’s edge, we didn’t encounter, or, as the sign mentioned, molest, any alligators. As we made our way back to the car I almost felt we had somehow missed an opportunity.

Hadn’t intended any molestation and certainly had no desire to swim with them.
a really lovely place for a stroll.

Back at the car, in a huge empty car park, Stewart said I should try driving, because I’ve never driven an automatic before. In fact, it wasn’t as odd as I might have expected, although I gave him back the wheel soon enough.


Back at the apartment, tired from a long and pleasantly eventful day, we decided to eat in , with pork steak, rose wine, salad and potato salad, followed by strawberries. We vegetated in front of the tv for an hour, went to bed and, for a change, slept like babies.

So here ends episode one, with the rest of the first week at some later time, I think.