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 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂


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 are 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 🙂 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 🙂

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 🙂

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 😀



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 🙂

“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 🙂

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…. 
These unlikely friends 🙂
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 🙂 🙂 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂

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 😉 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 🙂 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 🙂

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 🙂


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 ‘extreme danger’ and ‘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) 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂 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 -5°F (-20°C) in Fort Collins when we left, and was 85°F (30°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 🙂

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: 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 🙂

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!