Florida – Part Five!

Hi All,

Sorry for the delay – again! As you can imagine being back at work is not as much fun as relaxing in Florida, and it certainly leaves a lot less time for blogging… But at last, we’re here in our final part five πŸ™‚

We spent the last part of our Florida trip in Gainesville, which is where my parents lived when they were in the US and where I was born! I haven’t been back to Florida since leaving as a tiny bambino, so this was very exciting. Such an event cannot be taken lightly, so we used my hotel vouchers and booked the very fancy Sweetwater Branch Inn for our stay:


This was actually a sight to see all by itself – it’s a renovated Victorian manor complex dating back to 1895 and listed on the National Registry of Historic places.1895 is not a big deal in the UK, but very exciting in the US! We had a lot of fun pretending to be far fancier than we actually are:

Hmm, news…

For full impact you will want to view all of these images with some classical music playing… there was actually ambient classical music playing at all times in all common areas throughout the house, and we never did manage to figure out where it was coming from. There was also a very delightful wine and cheese hour every night, where all us guests gathered in the covered patio and drank as much free wine and cheese as we could manage. Sadly we were only there one night, but still – such good times!

We managed to sober up enough after wine and cheese hour to spend our evening walking around downtown Gainesville, where we enjoyed a tasty dinner and the terrifying artwork that was inexplicably everywhere:


Gainesville is actually a lot like Fort Collins – they’re both big University towns so it was very beautiful, relatively well built up and quite multicultural. Despite the nightmare art we liked it a lot! We even managed to sneak out the next morning and visit the condo where my parents lived while in Gainesville. Surprisingly it’s still there and basically unchanged! This is in contrast to Fort Collins, where they seem to knock everything down and start over every two years…

Also surprisingly, we did not get in trouble for taking pictures of some random person’s house!

It really was very exciting seeing this place that I’ve heard about my whole life. We did a lot of drinking fruit smoothies and wondering around Gainesville, and had a truly fantastic time πŸ™‚

As well as seeing Gainesville itself we decided to check out Cedar Key, which is a little artsy town (population 706!) on the west coast of Florida about an hour out of Gainesville. Like all good artsy towns was a lovely graffiti sign to let us know that we were in the right place πŸ™‚


We got some more fruit smoothies to keep us going in the heat and humidity, and then set off walking to check out the sites!


As you can see above the town itself is quite old, and had the fabulous southern tradition of outside porch seats and ceiling fans! It really was very cute, and like I said after three years in Fort Collins it’s kind a surprise to see buildings that are even 100 years old.


We continued walking through the lovely artsy areas, and outwards towards the beach and the birds!


We walked along the beach above until we got to that yellow sign, which informed us that Horseshoe crabs had been spotted in the area. Horseshoe crabs areΒ interesting creatures (their blood is basically magic) but we weren’t so sure we wanted to step on one without shoes on so we continued on! Soon enough we hit the pretty birds, and were back on familiar ground:

Pretty sure that’s a seagull on the left and a crow on the right

As well as the tradition sites we couldn’t quite resist getting a picture of the Evacuation Route signs, modeled here by the lovely Rob! We also couldn’t help but think that in the event of trouble there was a heck of a long way to run/ drive – it’s about three miles back to the mainland over a very narrow bridge – but I’m sure it’s all fine!

Future evacuation sign model? I think so!

After all this excitement it was about time to head off to our last stop of the trip, so it was back in our rental car and off we went!


Our last stop was Salt Springs, which is in the Ocala National Forest. We only stopped off briefly on the way back for a walk around, but it was so nice to see it. The Salt Springs contain a lot of potassium, magnesium and sodium salts which are the reason for the name, and I believe contribute to the color of the water. It was very pretty, and we of course took a little time to dip our toes into the (surprisingly cold) water!



The USDA website for Salt Springs warns that ‘bear and alligator safety is a must’, so we thought that just dipping our toes in was probably enough!

After that it was sadly time to head back to the airport and fly back to Denver. Needless to say we were very sad to leave Florida after our fabulous trip, but we’re looking forward to coming back again!

Whilst we’re here in the US I have several more states that I want to visit this Spring/ Summer, so hopefully we won’t keep you waiting so long between blogs again. Next up is Austin, Texas – we can’t wait!!

More soon πŸ™‚ xx

Florida – Part Four!

Okay, right on with Florida and the beautiful Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park! By this point the conference and work part of our trip were over, so we rented a car and were free to travel around a little πŸ™‚

Homosassa Springs is about an hour and a half from Orlando, and a really pretty drive. It’s also one of the best places to view Manatees, which I was extremely excited about!

The visit to the park started strong – there is a free boat ride over from the entrance to the main park through the waterways which are just flat out gorgeous. The waterways are full of alligators though, so Rob spend a little time intimidating the alligator ornaments in the entrance to get psyched up:

We are such tourists…

Anyway, waterways!

❀ ❀ ❀

The boat basically floats along with the tiniest bit of forward force, so the water stays wonderfully smooth. It was very serene, we were nicely warm and sleepy immediately and almost did not want to get off the boat…


However as with all things in Florida we had to get off eventually so that we didn’t overheat completely! More ice cream, and off we went πŸ™‚

As well as tasty snacks we also had the allure of the actual park, which is essentially a wildlife park for injured animals that can no longer live in the wild. So it’s a little like a zoo, but the animals aren’t really enclosed (except for the crocodiles, thank goodness). Injured animals that are found throughout the state and are in need long term rehabilitation will be given to one of the local parks throughout Florida, as will any animals that have been overly domesticated to the point where they can’t really survive in the wild.

The Florida State Parks try and keep things as close to the real Florida as possible so any injured exotic animals will be re-homed elsewhere, but they made an exception for our first lovely friend – Lu the Hippo! Seen here floating about lazily before coming up to see if we have food πŸ˜€



The pictures don’t really capture the size, but trust me that Lu the Hippo was very, very big! Lu also happens to be an actual celebrity, having appeared in many movies back in the 1960’s as part of an Animal Actors troupe – at 58 Lu is now the oldest Hippo in North America. He’s so old that my parents actually saw him back when they visited Homosassa Springs, 30 years ago!

They were going to move him somewhere else once he retired, but he is so well loved that they made an exception – so well loved in fact that every year for his birthday they bake him a big hippo cake, and feed it to him while local school kids sing him happy birthday! So, so cute.

Next to the cage of Lu the Hippo are a whole bunch of Alligators, who rather than being scary actually looked a little goofy lying around in the sun πŸ™‚

“I’m smiling because I’m thinking about eating you”

As well as the grown ups they had a few baby Alligators being taken care of in little tanks, who were actually kind of cute:

Hi, guy

As a side-note, one of the attractions at Pittcon (Rob’s Chemistry Conference) this year was a chance to get your picture taken with a baby Alligator… you go, Florida! Rob sadly did not get a chance to get a picture taken, but several of his colleagues did and all were very excited πŸ™‚

After seeing these very large friends we moved on to the bird area! As you can imagine a lot of the animals recovering here are birds that have trouble flying, since Florida is certainly not short of beautiful birds. I’ll do a parade of birds in a second, but first wanted to show you how ridiculously easy to photograph the birds are… witness my new best friend, Mr Roseate Spoonbill!

I love him ❀

Not making any effort to fly away, and even posing for the camera! If you were in the wild you would immediately get eaten, Mr Spoonbill…

As well as this guy they had some very nice Bald Eagles, all being displayed in the traditional American way:

This. This is the traditional American way.
I think this guy might be sleeping… He would also be very quickly eaten!

Plus magnificent Flamingos:

All making a LOT of noise

A very pretty Osprey:

Go Seahawks!

These guys very proudly protecting their nest:


Plus aaaall these other lovely birds:

This… thing
Also pass
White Ibis! With extremely blue eyes….Β 
These unlikely friends πŸ™‚
Another bird…
Is this too many pictures of birds now?
I’m thinking probably…
But look at this guys little feather trousers! Come on now, too cute

Okay, okay, okay – done with the birds now. Promise! In fact, we’re moving on to the main attraction – the Manatees!

I was so excited to see the Manatees since they’re one of the few creatures that I’ve never seen before, plus they are very unique looking. They’re called Sea Cows (because they live underwater, they’re big and they eat Sea Grass) but they’re actually a lot more like Elephants. They are also surprisingly fat for creatures that need to stay in hot temperatures all the time or they die…

So fat! And about 10ft long!!

These guys are also in captivity because they’re injured, and here they are waiting to be fed cabbage by the volunteers at the park. These guys were really, really excited about cabbage time:

We’re staaarving…

Amusingly these manatees had actually been put on a diet recently by the vet at the park for being too chubby even by manatee standards, so they were restricted to just one large crate of lettuce between the four of them, served a few times a day. This still seems like a lot of lettuce, but manatees apparently need to consume around 10% of their body weight each day… which again, you live in hot water full of fish, how did you evolve to be like this? I still have much biology homework to do here…

We walked all around their enclosure watching them swim around, they really are very beautiful and the whole area was just stunning:

Sooooo relaxingggg
Spot the manatee… ❀

One of my other unanswered questions about manatees is their history of being mistaken for mermaids – manatees are even thought to possibly be the reason that people think mermaids exist at all. Which, I get that they’re big and have mermaid like tails, but really? Really, 15th century sailors?

Anyway, manatee mysteries aside we had a really fantastic day! Homosassa springs – you rock πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

As does my fabulous NASA cap

We wrapped up the day with a delicious Cuban dinner:


And then headed off to Gainesville for our last day in Florida.

More soon! xx

Florida – Part Three!

Hi All,

Welcome back! In today’s adventures… Nature! We loved the touristy things in Orlando but did also want to check out the stunning wildlife parks that surrounded us on all sides, so we put on layers of sunscreen and off we went πŸ™‚

First up, Blue Spring State Park!


You will probably not be surprised to learn that the Blue Spring State Park is home to the Blue Spring, which is a large, naturally occuring heating spring that flows into the St Johns River. For this reason it’s often home to large numbers of Manatees during the relatively cold winter months, but sadly none were there when we visited. There were however a plenty of birds, all very eager to be photographed!




The Black Vulture on the end was actually trickiest to photograph because he was so close, I was sitting on a bench and he was about a foot away considering whether or not to try and eat me… thus the portrait style photo!

As well as the eager birds we were treated to yet another boardwalk through the jungle, this time running alongside the stream that comes from the Blue Spring and then on past the trees:





It was so pretty, and really delightfully warm! It sounds strange, but it was surprising how much difference the humidity made – in summer in Colorado it’s so hot and dry, whereas Florida honestly felt like standing in a hot bath. Lots of ice cream was eaten to keep us cool, a nice change from the desperate struggle to stay hydrated that is summer in Fort Collins πŸ™‚

After a few hours strolling around we were well and truly sweaty, so decided to head back to the hotel. Our awesome hotel (Avanti Resorts, if you’re ever in Orlando!) had a wonderful pool, so we cooled off with a dip and some sunbathing:


Apologies for the dark picture! I had to take a picture when a cloud was going over otherwise it was just way too bright. I also tried to get the picture when people were distracted, to make it look at least a little bit like I wasn’t a total weirdo πŸ˜‰ I was a wonderful afternoon, marred only slightly by Rob throwing me under the kids waterfall to wake me up after an afternoon nap! I was very surprised to say the least, although probably not as surprised as the poor children…

That evening, one of our new favorite things in America – Shuffleboard! If you’ve visited us in Fort Collins we may well have forced you to come and play the hand-held version, but if not Shuffleboard is basically Curling on dry land. We were very excited to see that the hotel had a full-size Shuffleboard, so off we went!


You play one on one and take it in turns to push the discs down the court, and the points difference is assigned to the winner – in this case we played to 75 points (which takes less time than you might think). It’s not that hard to get the discs in the right areas, but the challenge comes when they are immediately knocked out again by your opponent… I also had a the challenge that Rob, Mollie and Cody are all quite good at Curling (or in Cody’s case, EXTREMELY good) but I still managed to avoid getting beaten too horribly. The fact that come 6:30 we were basically playing the dark really helped!

It was a lot of fun, plus a chance to actually relax a little more despite the fact that we were all revving up for work and the conference the following day πŸ™‚ Very good times!

Next up.. Homosassa Springs! Which was beautiful and I took about 10 millions pictures, so I’ll have to save that for a separate blog post πŸ™‚

More soon! xx

Florida – Part Two!

After our NASA excitement we spend the second part of Friday visiting the nearby Cocoa Beach! This is just down the road from Cape Canaveral and is actually a city, but the city of course does have a lot of fabulous beach space. We drove around looking at the sights before finding a little road out to the sea, and off we went πŸ™‚


Since we were in one of the less crowded areas of Cocoa Beach we had lots of room, and there were plenty of little birds and lizards around to keep us company. There was also a nice network of boardwalks spreading through the jungle area, but more on those later!

Shortly after setting down on cocoa beach and soaking up some sun Rob of course decided to get in the sea despite the cold temperatures and various flags outside the lifeguard hut. The flags were red and purple but people were swimming around so we assumed all was well, although we later learned that these represent β€˜extreme danger’ and β€˜dangerous wildlife’, respectively. Still, no harm no foul! Rob even dragged Cody in with him, resulting in the delightful series of pictures below. I definitely recommend taking the time to zoom in on their faces, where faces are even visible amongst the waves!

My Botticelli Venus ❀
Cody’s cautious, Rob’s already half drowned…
Starting to get splashy…
Oh dear
And again
But still keen for more!

After taking plenty of pictures of that excitement, I also spend some time looking around at the little birds. My favorite were the Sandpipers running in and out of the waves all along the coast:



We also saw an Osprey and plenty of Brown Pelicans! Sadly, both swooped down overhead and then tanked away, so I didn’t manage to get any pictures ☹ There should be more opportunities soon though, so hang in there!

After soaking up plenty of sun I spend some time walking around the boardwalks through the jungle. Here they had lots of lizards hiding in cactuses, which was just too cute…


Can you spot him?
Here he is! (bottom right) πŸ™‚

There were also plenty of secluded sitting areas, and great lighting! I spent lots of time taking pictures of these, but will spare you from having to look at too many 😊

Finally after all this relaxing we sleepily made our way back to the car to head back to the hotel. Quick showers all around to wake us up a little, and then off to dinner!

The area where we’re staying is near the massive and beautiful Orange County Conference Center:

Not my photograph, sadly!

So the whole area is pretty built up – lots of shops and generic fast food places. We wanted something a little nicer, so wandered a little more towards Orlando and ended up having dinner at a tasty Lebanese place. The food was pretty standard chicken shawarma, but the drink was outstanding! I had something that was a lot like a lassi – it was a mix of strawberry and mango juice, and contained whole fruit slices plus a dollop of cream and some crushed pistachios. I was in heaven:


Hydrated and sated we headed off to bed, very happy with our first day and a half in Orlando! Tomorrow we head a little further north, and see some of the state parks…

More soon!

Florida – Part One!

Hi All,

Welcome back! After the excitement of Christmas and our lovely holiday back in England we’re off adventuring again, this time exploring exciting Florida. Specifically, Orlando and Gainesville! There is a big Chemistry Conference (Pittcon) happening here this week starting Monday that Rob will be attending, so we flew in a little early on Thursday morning to fit in some fun time. As a bonus our friend Cody is also attending the conference, so him and his wonderful wife Mollie agreed to join us on our travels πŸ™‚

We’ll dive into part one of our adventures very shortly, but first – fair warning! I have not written a long blog for a while or had a chance to really go crazy with my beautiful camera, so you may be in for a frankly unnecessary amount of my photographs and long rambles. Sorry (not sorry) – let’s go!!

We started out very early on Thursday morning with a 6:30am flight out of Denver, which necessitated an upsetting 3:30am start. We set about a million alarms and luckily made it to the airport and caught our flight with no problems πŸ™‚ It’s a three and a half hour flight plus a two hour time difference, so we arrived in Orlando at 12:00pm with plenty of time to enjoy our first half day in town. The first thing we noticed was the rather significant temperature change! It was a frosty -5Β°F (-20Β°C) in Fort Collins when we left, and was 85Β°F (30Β°C) in Orlando when we arrived – we had to take a lot of layers off very quickly the second we stepped off the plane, for sure!

Our plan is to stay in and around Orlando until the end of the conference on Thursday, and then spend the Friday & Saturday exploring the north a little more. We’ll be staying in Mount Dora on Thursday night, and then in Gainesville Friday night before we fly out of Orlando on Saturday:


Mercifully less miles than some of our other road trips, so a little easier to handle! We spend our first evening relaxing and slowly adjusting to the heat and humidity, ready for another early start and plenty of excitement the next morning…

We decided to start the holiday strong, so our first stop was NASA at Cape Canaveral! There is a very impressive tourist centre, plus for a little extra you can tour the actual NASA facility which of course we could not resist. Suitably dressed for the weather and feeling very patriotic, we began!

Astronaut time!

NASA, as you can imagine, is pretty awesome. There is tons of interesting information and historic pieces, plus inspirational music and famous quotes everywhere to make you feel extra excited:

And of course, photo opportunities!

We decided to tour the actual facility first, which is a combined bus tour and bonus visitor centre. Pumped up from the quotes and music, we set off!

The Kennedy Space Centre is a little way away from the visitor complex, and is the actual facility where the NASA team work, and where assembly and launches of the spacecraft happen. The whole perimeter is secured by the Department of Defense (which seems a little redundant given the tour groups) and most of the tour happened from the bus. The actual facility is massive (around 220 square miles) with buildings, construction sites and launch pads dotted around the place. We soon got our first look at the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) which seemed to be just up ahead, but was in fact a full five miles away:

The first of many big buildings that we would see…

The flag alone is a full 210 foot (64 meters) tall! In case you’re not already guessing, this whole experience was EXTREMELY American, but in the best way πŸ™‚

Something relatively new for NASA is corporate partnerships, the most famous being with SpaceX, Elon Musk’s company that launched the Tesla into space a few weeks ago. If you haven’t read about it, I definitely recommend taking a few minutes:Β https://www.cnet.com/how-to/14-things-you-might-not-know-about-the-spacex-tesla-falcon-heavy-rocket-launch-david-bowie/

We were very excited about the whole thing, so it was a definite treat to see where everything was built, assembled and launched from:

SpaceX Launch Pad!

To nerd out at you for a second, one of the benefits of having commercial partners is that they will take wonderful but expensive technology and commercialize it, making it cheaper and ultimately viable for wider use. A few of the changes that SpaceX have made to that end are:

  1. Reusable boosters! NASA already has a reusable Space Shuttle in Atlantis, but the fuel cells are not reusable so are destroyed with every launch. SpaceX aim to have a fully reusable craft that can simply be refuelled between trips, which is obviously much cheaper.
  2. Horizontal assembly! NASA currently assemble all of their rockets in their final, upright position, which is tricky and means that you need a suitably tall building to accommodate this. SpaceX are assembling their rockets horizontally which is easier to do and allows for safer transport, and then turning them upright once the reach the launch pad.
  3. Transport by rail! NASA has a mobile launch platform that they use to transport their rockets to the launch pad several miles away from the assembly area, and it is a serious machine. Each one weighs 8,000 tonnes, is insanely expensive and has a max speed of 1 mph when carrying something (2 mph when empty). Definitely not ideal! SpaceX has the assembly building very close to the launch pad, and simply transports the rockets over by rail – much cheaper and easier πŸ™‚

Okay, done nerding out. But anyway, my project manager brain was very excited by the process optimization!

One slightly strange feature of the NASA site is that the security against people means that there is actually quite a lot of wildlife. We saw a lot of animals while driving around including White Ibis, Grey Herons, Bald Eagles, Turkey Vultures, Alligators (!!) and Wild Boar Piglets! It was hard to take pictures from the moving bus, but I just about managed to get these Turkey Vultures eyeing up these Piglets:

Mutual “what are you doing here” moment between me and the vultures…

Heading back up into space, we were dropped off at the visitor centre to look at the various excitement that they had prepared. This included photo opportunities:


The actual control centre from the Apollo mission where man first orbited the moon, complete with countdown clock, videos and a nerve-racking recreation of the actual launch:


Plus a delightful video of Jim Lovell (who was part of the team to first orbit the moon) immediately following the launch making this excellent face:

“Ooof” indeed, Mr Lovell! ❀

After this scheduled programming we then moved on to the main area, where they had one of their restored space shuttles hanging and looking awesome:

Again, big!
And patriotic, of course
Plus many cool exhibits, including newspaper pages from around the world on the day of the Moon Landing!

As well as retired space-craft they actually had several moon rock samples, which was crazy to see. One large piece was preserved in glass, and another small piece you could just straight up touch:


Once we’d calmed down a little from this excitement we headed outside to get some sun, and see some more of the fabulous birds that were flying around everywhere. Being wary of the gators and poisonous snakes that are apparently everywhere…

To the point where NASA employees have to check under their cars for Gators before getting into them…

… we enjoyed the views! Like I said before the site is very large, as you can see from our new view of the VAB:


Whilst looking at the birds we had a surprise entry for most impressive – this seagull who had just managed to catch a fish:


He was sitting really nearby showing off his meal, so a good opportunity for photos!

Once we finished enjoyed the exhibits and the birds we headed back on the bus to the main area and checked out the very cool Atlantis exhibit. Atlantis is notable for being a reusable space shuttle, and operated from 1985 – 2011, which is a frankly ridiculous length of time. During that time it was used for 33 missions, and travelled around 126,000,000 miles. Like I said above Atlantis was reused, but the fuel tanks were replaced each mission – here we are posing next to examples of these!

Again – big! Far too big for the poor camera…
Here she is! The Canada arm there is used for Space walks, which is only slightly terrifying…

After reading all about this fabulous space shuttle (and resisting the very strong urge to try and jump onto it) we headed back outside for a little more sun, and to look at the delightful Rocket Field:

Modelled here by our boys, for scale

The Rocket Field was so impressive, but overheating quickly became an issue. Here we are ignoring the amazing Rocket Field to play around in the delightfully misty fountain…

Rob smoothly avoiding getting wet!

Last but not least, we checked out the exterior of the Hall of Heroes. This is a beautiful monument, and of course once again very impressive in scale:


We had an amazing time and I could easily keep talking about it for several more pages (mwa-ha-ha) but luckily for you I will leave it there! Lots of sights still to see though, so we will get back to you shortly with part two…

Thanks for reading!

Football Sunday!

Hi All,

Today is another Football Sunday, when Rob and I spend the day watching a lot of football, drinking beer, obsessing about our fantasy teams and just generally being American, so we thought we’d share a little of it with you!

Watching football is of course the key part of the day, usually in a bar with friends. Because football is so big in America and Americans are generally super friendly this is a really nice thing to do – everyone just chats away in one big group, most bars provide free snacks, and when someone gets a touchdown we all throw our hands up and jump around. It’s also not unusual for this to be a family thing, so people don’t get too drunk and aren’t very competitive. We’ve quite happily watched games with fans of competing teams, and you just have a great time lightly roasting each other.

I think part of what makes football here so popular is that it’s primarily designed to be fun to watch, rather than focusing on athleticism like a sport arguably should. We were lucky enough to go watch the Rocky Mountain showdown a few weeks ago, which is a college game between the two local universities – CSU (where Rob works) and CU. We were of course rooting for CSU, but CU are a significantly better team and invariably win. That’s not important though, because the game happens at Mile High Stadium (where the Denver Broncos play) and there is all sorts of nonsense happening besides the game itself.


Firstly, the stadium: Mile High is a beautiful open air stadium in Denver city center, and late night games mean that you get to watch the sun set behind the stadium as you play:

So pretty!
Ignore the players – they’re not important

You can see that it’s also pretty massive (capacity 76,125 – about the same as Old Trafford) and almost alarmingly well lit.

Second, the band. You can see them in the first picture marching around in formation, which they were pretty darn good at. They made quite a lot of noise throughout the game, and were great fun to watch:


Between the players, the band, the cheerleaders and the other support it’s weird to think how many of the CSU students are actually just there to support the football team. There’s a fair amount of travel involved, so studying must take a hit.

Speaking of cheerleaders, you can see some of them here alongside interesting thing number three – the gigantic artillery cannon…

Should they be standing that close?

It’s there in the bottom right being manned by the nice army men, and goes off whenever either team scores a touchdown/ extra point. Despite all the noise going on in the stadium, the cannon cuts through quite nicely! I’m still getting the hang of not flinching whenever it goes off, and this was not made any easier by the fact that at a recent CSU game they had a GUEST firing the cannon! I don’t know what training he had, but the cannon was going off at pretty unpredictable times, which caused everyone to flinch (including the players).

Last but not least, the mascots! CSU’s mascot is Cam the Ram, who always attends the game and does a lap of the field whenever CSU get a touchdown. Here he is nicely decked out in his CSU gear, being looked after by his entourage.


Our friend once asked a member of the team where Cam is kept, and was told that this was ‘privileged information’… so it’s good to know that Cam is being spoiled nicely and kept very safe, and he seemed surprisingly unfazed by the crowd or the cannon-fire.

The CU team likewise have a mascot, and one that I suspect is a little harder to handle than Cam – Ralphie the Buffalo! It was not easy to get pictures of Ralphie, but here he is being moved onto the pitch for a lap, and then running around whilst dragging his team alongside him:

Nice hats, boys
Keeping the pitch VERY clear
IMG_6479 - Copy
Move those legs!!

I love how in the last picture you can see that almost everyone has lost their hat, and are running as fast as their little legs can carry them. It really did not take Ralphie a long time to run across the field and back, after which he was taken away again to go relax.

I was pretty excited to see the Ralphie running around, and I strongly recommend watching a few YouTube videos where Ralphie decides to go off-script:

So anyway, with all this the game ends up lasting quite a while!

As well as the actual football games, we have our own very competitive Fantasy Football league with friends from Rob’s work. This year there are 20 of us, and we all pick up players from the league to make our own unique teams. Players cannot appear in more than one team, and you have limited bench space. Since your team inevitably ends up being made up of players from a wide range of teams, you then have a stake in multiple games instead of just your own team’s game.

For extra fun this year, your team also has to have a pun based name. Mine and Rob’s teams are theΒ New England Catriots (instead of New England Patriots) and theΒ Oakland Ringos (instead of Oakland Raiders). I’m proud to say that the names across the rest of the league are no less sublime! I came second in the league last year (so close…) and currently I’m ranked 6th and Rob is 9th. We should both win this week and move up a little, so fingers crossed!!

Finally, I should just mention the drinks. As I’ve said we drink mostly beer, but the massive need for day drinking caused by Football Sunday has led to some truly magical innovations within the drinks industry. My favorite of these is Wisconsin Bloody Mary’s, which are the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. They’re basically regular Bloody Mary’s, but with EXTREMELY generous food placement on the skewers. Normally you get a piece of bacon and an olive if you’re lucky, but not in Wisconsin…




It’s really a miracle anyone lives to 50.

It’s a lot of fun though, like I said, and we enjoy it a lot πŸ™‚ The game starts soon so I’m off!

More soon xx

Fall Drive!

Hi All,

Long time no blog! Apologies for that, we’ve had a pretty busy couple of weeks. Let me tell you all about them πŸ™‚

Firstly, two weekends ago we decided to go on a drive around Northern Colorado, to see the fall colours. There are a lot of Aspen trees throughout Colorado which change a beautiful orange/ yellow colour in Fall (a.k.a Autumn), and because the temperature changes quite abruptly between seasons you tend to get an intense few weeks of Fall here, rather than a few months of Autumn. Not wanting to miss anything we plotted out quite a long route, which took us most of the day to cover:

A casual 155 miles, with 5,711 ft elevation gain!

The route is mostly quite small dirt roads, and since we felt that our poor car couldn’t handle such things without shaking apart we went ahead and booked a rental car. We asked for a smallish SUV, but somehow ended up with what I think might be the largest car in existence…

Rob had to pose because I couldn’t get my elbow up on the bonnet…

That, my friends, is the Dodge Ram 2500 – it has a 5.7 litre engine, weights around three tonnes, and is two meters tall. We both had to run and jump to get into it! It was most definitely capable of handling the back roads though, so off we went.

The first part of the drive was around 90 minutes long, and we took it slowly so that we could do some sight-seeing. The views and trees were beautiful, and the remoteness was extremely peaceful. We also got to see this guy, posing nicely for our pictures!

Cute bird, but scary talons…

It was not easy to sneak up on him in our gigantic car, but somehow sneak up on him we did! I think he’s a young Golden Eagle, but name that bird at me if I’m wrong πŸ™‚

As well as the great wildlife, the forest was very beautiful – and like I said you can see the roads are nothing if not rural!


Our first stop was the cheerfully named Deadman Lookout, which was stunning. It’s home to Deadman Tower, one of the last remaining fire lookout towers, and has great views across Northern Colorado and Wyoming:




We were the only people there, and probably the only people around for quite a way. We had a wander around the area looking at the sights, and then settled down to eat the sandwiches we’d brought with us. We were going to eat these at the picnic table there, but sadly the table was under a few feet of snow… instead, we took the long climb up into the back of our pickup truck and ate there πŸ™‚

Rob basically had to throw me up there…

This had the added advantage that if any bears came sniffing around, we could run down and hide in the truck πŸ˜‰

Once we finished our lunch we drove on, heading towards Diamond Tail Ranch. This is something that I hadn’t heard of before, but is apparently a full Bison farm just two hours from our house! We were promised that we would see huge herds of Bison, but they were apparently hiding for the winter. We’ll go back for them another day, and for now we enjoyed the beautiful views and the many friendly cows:




Sadly the pictures don’t capture the colours very well, since it was such a bright day, but rest assured that it was absolutely stunning πŸ™‚ We drove nice and slowly through the ranch so that we wouldn’t upset the cows (who were basically lying around everywhere, including in the road) and took lots of pictures. There were a lot of calves there, so I got very excited watching all the tiny calves run around together ❀

The stretch of drive back down towards Poudre Canyon looked very Alpine, and was almost completely lined with Aspen trees. These trees looks especially bright against the grey mountain backgrounds:



I loved it!

Finally, we got to the Chambers Lake turning which would take us back home via the Poudre Canyon. Again, Chambers Lake was one of the Lakes that we hadn’t visited or even really heard about, although we must have driven very close to it a fair number of times. It was very pretty, especially with the mountain view in the background and despite the clouds!


We stopped here briefly to have a look around, and then made our way home via the Poudre Canyon. Lots of bumping around in the car and some very nice views!

We were extremely sad at the end of the day when we had to give our car back, since we’d become very accustom to such an insanely high vantage point and such tough suspension. We finally did agree to return the car, and had a quite scary ride back to our apartment in our considerably lower-to-the-ground Subaru! All in all a great day though, and we’ll definitely have to find a similarly awesome Winter drive once the snow comes…

More soon πŸ™‚ Xx

Seattle – Part Three!

Hello again!

Welcome back to Seattle, where after the fun of the aquarium we decided to double down on Nature and visit one of the many state parks in the area…


Washington State, especially around the Seattle area, has a whole bunch of spectacular forest. Not just any forest though, but Old Growth Forest! This is basically what it sounds like… very old forest that has been undisturbed for a long time, so is massive and has lots of rare plant growth.

We started our Nature exploring with Squak State Park, and what we thought was a nice short four mile hike…

The forest itself was beautiful, and there was almost no-one around which made it even better. As with all things American it was also very big!

Tall tree time!
Even taller tree time!!

The whole hike was supposed to be about a four mile round trip, which we thought would take us about three hours if we were going slow. It certainly helped for Rob and I that we were once again back near sea level, where walking is a much easier task! Mum too was in her element:

Pro-hiking tip, always carry a stick

We walked for about two hours whilst going uphill the whole time, which suggested that perhaps we were not as quick at walking as we thought we were. The humidity was also an exciting challenge, and something that us Mountain people had completely forgot about! Feeling good, we decided to risk getting attacked by bears by sitting down and having a lovely sandwich break. Possible bear attacks are another advantage of Old Growth Forest πŸ˜‰

My lovely family, seen here hoping a bear will attack me for their amusement…

Full of sandwiches, on we went!


The whole hike really was stunning, although all in all it ended up taking us about six hours and was most definitely not four miles! A lot of US hiking trails only list the one way distance as their overall distance, especially on there and back trails, so it’s very possible that the map reader (…me) made a very understandable error there.

Despite my shenanigans, we did eventually make it back to the car πŸ™‚


After our fun with the forest we decided to continue our nature theme the next day, but with much less walking about. We booked in to do the thing that I was extremely excited about… Whale Watching!!

Specifically, Orca/ Killer Whale watching! We booked in with one of the local tour groups, put on all our warm clothes, and gripped our cameras tight. To see the whales we actually had to go quite far out to sea, and even briefly cross into Canadian waters. Fortunately while some whale tours offer smaller boats so that you can get really close to the killer whales, we opted for one of the big, comfortable boats and the reduced chance of getting eaten.


This meant that we ended up having a few comfortable few hours boat trip out to the San Juan islands, and got to do some top quality bird watching on the way! And yes, I like bird watching now. Pity me. But at least I got some good photos out of it πŸ™‚



I probably would’ve got more photos, but about an hour into the trip the fog descended! It was actually very beautiful, although did obviously have a pretty detrimental effect on visibility…


Pictured: Birds?

The picture above was literally as far out as we could see in any direction for almost an hour, which did make us start to worry about our whale watching chances. Fortunately once we got a little further out it cleared up again, and then all we needed to worry about was how much ocean there was. It sounds silly, but seriously – so much ocean.

Now pictured: Whales?

You can see a few ships in the picture above, and we ended up doing what is done in most nature watching tours… follow the other ships until they find something. Fortunately we didn’t have to wait long!!


Very exciting times! There was a whole pod swimming along together, and I got somehow even more excited once I spotted the baby whale ❀

Do you see him??
Seen here blowing water! Aiiiee!! ❀ ❀ ❀

It’s actually a miracle that we didn’t capsize the boat – the whales could stay underwater for a few minutes at a time, so when they disappeared everyone would run around the top of a boat in a panic trying to figure out where they were, and then run over to the same side once they were spotted again. So freaking cool!

After a half hour watching the wales we stopped off at a port called Friday harbor for a quick spot of food and some sightseeing…



Then back to the boat!

On the long way back towards Seattle we were treated to even more delights, including some seagulls, cormorants and extremely sleepy looking fur seals:



As well as this, more whales! Or possibly the same whales coming to eat the fur seals, it was hard to tell.


Whatever the case these whales were definitely more lively than the ones we’d seen before. You can see the whale above blowing water, plus one of them treated us to some breaching! This is where the whales jump out of the water nose first, for reasons that are not at all clear to me. Here he is just leaving the water…

Whale zoomed

At which point I decided the two thousand photos that I had of whales/ empty ocean would be enough, and instead focused on shouting “DID YOU SEE THOSE WHALES??” at literally anyone who came close to me.

Well played, Nature. Well played.


More soon! Xx

Seattle – Part Two!

Hi All!

Sorry for the delay since the last post, we were having too much fun in Seattle to keep up with blogging so ended up leaving you hanging. That is about to be rectified though with a flurry of new blogs, and no more than half of my 3,000 holiday pictures… promise!

So, back to Seattle and on to day two where we started our day by visiting the famous Aquarium. The Seattle Aquarium is at Pier 59 on the waterfront, and integrates the waterfront into it’s displays. It’s famous for it’s great exhibits, as well as being a big promoter of Marine conservation.

One of the first exhibits that we saw were the frankly amazing Giant Pacific Octopuses (Octopi?), which were charmingly named Taco and Umbrella. Umbrella was pretty standard as far as octopuses go, whereas Taco was a complete lunatic.

This guy…

Apparently he’d only been in the aquarium for a few days, and he spend the whole time we were watching him shooting around his tank like a maniac.

To start with he fired himself at some children who were watching, and actually managed to get a few tentacles out of the water at one point:


After that he fired himself around the tank a little more, then stopped to take a break that mostly involved puffing himself up and changing colours:


Whoa, Taco!

He stayed still for almost a minute changing from white to red and back again, before resuming his shooting around. Apparently the Octopuses will turn white or mottled when they’re resting or trying to blend into the rocks, getting more red the more engaged they are. I’m not sure what it means when they turn spiky, but that’s what Taco did next:


The Octopuses are one of the first things that you come to in the aquarium, but we probably spend a good half hour standing watching him. Finally we managed to drag ourselves away to the other exhibits, which were made up of slightly calmer animals.

They had a great group of Harbor seals and Fur Seals, both of which had wonderful views out to Puget Sound from their cages. A lot of the aquarium is actually outside connected by piers, so it’s very scenic throughout.


You can see that the walkway in the picture above is cement, as is most of the aquarium. It gives the whole thing a really nice industrial feel, which I loved!

About halfway around the aquarium we reached what might be the most famous exhibit – the Sea Otters! I confess that I lost my mind a little bit when I saw them, they are so damn cute. Many children were pushed out of the way, and many pictures were taken. We were lucky enough to get a Dad Top Tip from my father, which is to visit the aquarium early in the morning – since the animals hadn’t seen much happening overnight they were pretty interested in the first guests of the day. Here is a Sea Otter checking us out:

Oh hai! ❀

They’re actually bigger than I thought they’d be, they were about four feet in length including the tails so about twice the size of the River Otters that you usually see in aquariums. When they weren’t checking us out they spend some time lying on their backs and relaxing, which was so freaking cute:


I love them ❀

After those guys we moved on to the River Otters, who were considerably harder to photograph! One stopped and looked at me for a minute just to tease me, and then shot off just as I was taking the picture…

“Mwa-ha-ha, blog this”

Still,, at least I tried!

After spending another hour wandering around, at least half of which was devoted to spending more time watching Taco, we headed out to walk a little further along the waterfront. The whole area is very pretty, and actually not that dissimilar to an English waterfront:

Complete with Ferris wheel!

Rob, Uncle Chris and I then spend some time playing the various games that were along the front while the rest of the family stopped off for cake. This included a very energetic game of table tennis, hindered only slightly by the damaged ping ping ball:


We also checked out the arcade and had a great time at the only-slightly-terrifying shooting gallery:


We all got high scores despite the fact that the bear thing is clearly haunted, and at one point moved to look directly at Rob…

Nightmare Fuel

Eventually we regrouped, and got ready for the treat that Auntie Mary had planned for us for the afternoon – a food tour of Pike Place Market! We’re all pretty keen on our food, and the tour looked frankly awesome.

The meeting place for the tour was one of the famous features of Pike Place Market – the Gum Wall! Yes, this is exactly what it sounds like:


The Gum Wall has gradually built up over time – the wall is outside the Market Theater, and so people waiting in line used to take their gum out, place it on the wall and stick a coin to it. This apparently was quite pretty, but had the problem that people kept sneaking in and stealing all the coins… This is how it ended up just being a gum wall, which was voted the second germiest tourist attraction in 2009! We were told that the theater workers have tried a few times to take the gum down, but it always gets replaced quite quickly. We were not willing to touch the wall in order to add gum of our own, but we did see a few people who were brave/ foolish enough!

After this not very appetising start to the food tour, our excellent host Danny showed us around the area. We tried an excellent mix of food, highlights of which were the freshly cooked donuts, the Filipino longganisa sausage, the Greek yogurt from Ellanos, the Chukka Cherries and Etta’s Crab Cakes. These were just a few of many tasty samples though, and after two hours we were starting to struggle! We also learned more about the ethos behind the farmers market. The idea is to get food directly from the producers, and that the food follow the ‘FLOSS’ guidelines – Fresh, Local, Organic, Seasonal and Sustainable.

Here we are eagerly waiting for our award winning Clam Chowder sample, spoons in hand!


At the end of all this excitement we managed to fit in a tiny bit of dinner, then home for movies and early bedtimes!

More soon πŸ™‚

Seattle – Part One!

Okay, I hope you’re all caught up with the Moab blogs because we’re moving quickly along with our holidays this month!

Rob’s parents have returned to England (boo!) but have been replaced by my parents, and my aunt and uncle (yay!). Rob and I had a few days to adjust and get some work done, and now the lot of us have made our way over to Washington State. We’re staying in Seattle for the week, and we’re very excited about it! As is now the norm, be prepared for many pictures…

We flew in yesterday afternoon and got set up at our holiday home, and today is the end of our first day actually exploring the area!

We started off by getting a bus downtown and exploring the famous Pike Place Market:


Pike Place Market is one of the iconic landmarks in Seattle, and has existed since 1907. It’s right on the waterfront, and has a very impressive range of stores! Lots of fresh fruit, tea, seafood, spices and the buskers provide the live jazz. There’s also a very lovely urban garden on the roof which was a pleasant surprise.

After enjoying the Market we wandered a little further afield, and quickly found a lovely little park. This was right next to the water front and very serene, despite being so close to the city center:


It was also next to a very tasty seafood restaurant, which we decided to try out for what will hopefully be the first of many fishy lunches…


I had a big bowl of mussels, and was very pleased with my choice πŸ™‚

Once we were nourished we continued on, and finally got our first view of the famous Space Needle!


We were eager to get closer, but resisted the temptation since we wanted to take a quick peek at the Olympic Sculpture Park along the way. This is very much what the name suggests – a big, beautiful sculpture park right by the water.

More art πŸ™‚

I haven’t described it in detail since there really isn’t much to say that the pictures don’t say already, but I definitely recommend giving it a look if you’re ever in the area.

After the sculpture park we made our way inland, and got to the base of the Space Needle! It’s a really lovely area, and happily covered with free wifi courtesy of Microsoft (Bill Gates has a house in Washington!) so we didn’t have to struggle to much to find our way. Behold!


The Space Needle is 605 ft tall, but surprisingly (alarmingly) narrow… only 32 ft wide at the narrowest part! We’ll definitely need to get some good views of Seattle at some point during our visit, but today we were not brave or patient enough to scale the great heights. Instead, we decided to have a look around the fabulous Chihuly Garden and Glass!

Chihuly Garden and Glass is an exhibit showcasing the work of Dale Chihuly, a Seattle based artist who works with glass in a natural setting to create beautiful pieces. We didn’t know much about it going in and were a little skeptical, but my goodness was it stunning.

One of the first pieces that we came across was this large column, which was made up of lots of individual glass pieces and very beautifully displayed:



The column filled the room it was in at about 15 ft tall, and the dark walls and reflective base made it seem even larger. As you can see it’s also very carefully lit, so the whole piece is illuminated.

Another piece that stood out was the Persian Ceiling, where the glass pieces are arranged above and the light filters through them:




Dad and I were both taking pictures the whole time, as you can see in the picture above πŸ˜‰

Another awesome piece was the Underwater Scene, that took up a room the size of our whole apartment:




Oh, and the boat floating on the water containing sculptures was awesome…


As was this chandelier!


Okay, perhaps I should calm down with the Chihuly…




Just kidding, we haven’t even gotten to the gardens yet! πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

Seriously, this Chihuly guy you guys
The glasswork was incorporated throughout the garden
Plus you could see the Space Needle!
How could I not take a million pictures of this?!
Plus the greenhouse! Have you SEEN this greenhouse art?
❀ ❀ ❀


Okay, okay, I’m done for real now. But I loved it, and couldn’t resist sharing far too many pictures with you all πŸ™‚

More soon! xx