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Florida – non-parks fun

Medieval Times – we had a hilarious evening here supporting the Yellow Knight for the evening in a medieval tournament set inside the walls of the King’s 11th century style castle – sadly we were not able to choose the colour we wanted to support – as clearly this would NOT have been mine! On top of the regular cost of the entertainment and meal we upgraded, I managed to cleverly do a bit of research and found a free upgrade to bing a VIP Royal for the evening. Was it worth the extra buck – Id say definitly. We had preferred seating – in the second row with further supporting materials other than the paper crown that we all wore for the duration of the evening.

As with everything in America they try and sell you so much other stuff as well before and after going in as well as during. Anything Mediaeval Times could pretty much put some branding on was available. Its ok I didn’t succumb to this HARD sell, just went rebound trying on loads of the hats with the kids and taking photos and selfies! (OK perhaps not strictly true as I did buy the group photo of us all taken at the start of the evening as it is actually really lovely).

The evening involves watching jousting and combat battle between 6 differently coloured knights on valiant horses, all of whose supporters were seated in the same section of the arena to help build the noice and support of their warrior in the battle we were about to see. There was a bit of a story about them all wanting the hand of the Princess, the daughter of the King. The horses were pretty amazing, similar in style to those from the SPanish Riding School I once remember visiting in Vienna when I went to see Tom, golly, probably about 13 or 14 years ago now! So clever and yet also pretty dainty and such skill of the riders/trainers.

I wont lie, I enjoyed being referred to as M’Lady when offered food or drink or anything and when I thanked the serfs and wenches that were looking after us for the evening. It was all part of the environment of the evening – as was eating entirely with your hands. All pretty easy food to eat with hands and actually pretty tasty considering how often this meal is rolled out to the tourists and residents alike night after night, day after day. First up was a warm Tomato Bisque Soup served with Garlic bread in a metal bowl with a handle on the side followed by Oven roasted chicken (half of one – ??!!) herb-based potato and corn on the cob with a delicious Lemon cake for pudding (pastry of the castle). There was a full-service bar at which I might have had a pint or two – help lubricate the vocal chords for shouting for my Knight in yellow!

It was all in all confirmed to be a huge success by all ages. The kids really enjoyed it and were all able to eat the food – granted not all of it but then it was a meal for for a King (boom, boom!) Did the Yellow Knight win – sadly not – it was of course the blue Knight, which would of course have been the chosen colour had it have been up to me. Did it matter that ‘ours’ did it win? Not in the slightest, a wonderfully amusing evening and something so totally different to Disney which we will be inundated with bin just a few days.

Boggy Creek Air Boat Ride –  The Everglades are best explored on an air boat. Of course there are a mass of different places that this can be done. The first place that I tried looking was sadly booked out already for the day that we wanted as I had checked online for reservations and so we went ahead and tried a place called Boggy Creek out – what a name 🙂 It also had 10% discount on the cost with the presentation of the guide book that I have (Brit Guide) at the desk – originally left in the car but quickly retrieved. Book had already paid for itself!

OH MY DAYS IT WAS HOT! There were a few things to look at in the smallish park but I opted for a walk around a couple of times pausing infront and then perching in the shade as I was ‘glowing’ like mad!

By the time that we were out there it was 1115 and the sun was making it really quite toasty and unsurprisingly the hotter it is, the more likely we were not to see any as they would retreat deeper under the water to the cooler water to loiter and keep cool. We did however see two aligators, one biggie and one that was about 3ft and so 3 years old. We were very lucky. There was apparently an American Bald Headed Eagle which most people managed to see after several careful instructions from Captain Chris, but Im blown if I could see the darned thing. I took a photo of the general direction in which he was pointing and the descriptions were aimed at in the vain hope that I might be able to see it more easily on a print out!!

The scenery was simply beautiful and we went straight through some pretty high reeds and so on which was at times a little unnerving as I sat thinking, how the hell does he know he’s not going to get caught up in this? The trees were mesmerising, cypress trees, very eerie looking and spikes roots which is where they get their carbon dioxide from & hanging down from them was a lot of the SPanish Moss which apparently Henry Ford first thought of using this (and did) to stuff the car seats in his first cars, before realising quite how many bugs and creepies lived in it and so had to recall and think again!

After this we decided that an ice-cream was an order of the day and in fact probably some lunch as well and we headed to MacDonalds. I made careful choices, owing to Fat CLub, would hav loved MASSIVE chips and Quarter Pounder with cheese with a HUGE drink. But i spent a while taking in all of the calories as they have them next to all the foods here (though, by the looks of the clientele in this particular branch – none of them took any notice. It even had in it a rather large chap, to put it mildly, with his own oxygen tank by the side of him and the pipes to his nose). Felt proud of myself – I could also see that I really would not be doing that much more walking today and so wasnt going to hit my 10k step target – way way too hot for that already and we still had one stop left on the visit before heading home. The food in the bellies and the sweet icecreams (for them NOT me – god Im feeling so good) led the kids to all fall asleep in the car on the way to out final port of call. Light snoring heard from Keira and Emily dribbling away – bless them! The peace for the 20 mins was very welcomed!

Wild Florida – Arrived here just after what must have been a down pour as the cars in the carpark were all pretty wet but not the ground. The boat rides, that were all fully booked, were on hold as there was a lot of rumbling thunder around and so the potential of a storm coming, thankfully it never arrived (while we were in the park anyway), maybe that was why we were all literally dripping with sweat. The heat didnt feel too intense, it was the humidity that was killing us all.

More Texas Ranging

SO I have had an exhausting few days.

NASA was visited on Thursday which was a 10 hour round trip. It was blooming hot but I am glad that I went. It was funny; it started to spit with rain as I was coming into Huston again. Typical I thought! I got to see the last space ship (or part of it) that went to space and came back (was it Apollo 17 - you can tell I took it all in really well!) I touched a lunar rock and saw loads of other mock ups of space ships that astronauts train on before they head up to space. I was hoping to see where the rockets blast off from - even if from a distance but didn’t.

I then went to Sea World in San Antonio on Friday for the day. My god doing a theme park in 106 degree heat is REALLY not that much fun. As most of the kids are back at school though I was lucky as I didn’t have to queue for rides and I got to go on the front row of all of the roller coasters that I went on which really makes it all that more thrilling. Some of them were well high though and I sat next to one bloke on one of them who could not believe that I was a teacher and was going on roller coaster rides - "teachers sure have changed since my day" he said! I saw the Shamu show and all that jazz which I had done before at Sea World in San Diego back in 2001 but fancied going again. I got TOTALLY soaked on a water ride. I saw others who had been clever and taken a towel with them. I thought I was well prepared by having everything in plastic bags inside my rucksack but had neglected to think of being showered by a waterfall and coming out the worst. Soaked RIGHT through with no change of clothes - nice! The ride home was a little uncomfy as I had not dried out! Saw dolphins and stroked one saw sharks in a tank and so on and saw Nemo and Dory and the one with the scar from the film which was great! My new swish camera has taken some pretty good photos and there is a great one of a coral reef that looks like it should be a screen saver - if it comes out as well as it is on the small screen perhaps Ill email it to you to show you.

Audrey and I went to the cinema and out for lunch today. The film was HILARIOUS I laughed and laughed and laughed and I will recommend it to those of you that are old enough to actually see it! (To those of you that are not clicked on, my emails are being sent to some of my former pupils too!!) We also went shopping and had an ice cream. I didn't get too much stuff as I am going to an outlet mall tomorrow - heaven only knows how I am going to get all of it home - new HUGE suitcase or not!!

We are going out to supper to a Mexican restaurant at some point before I go - yeah that would be interesting seeing as the old allergy to bell peppers has not died down! I am sure that there will be something for me to eat without it - like plain tortillas. I am babysitting / spending quality time with the children on Tuesday evening whilst Audrey and Terry go to Hannah's parents evening. We are going to the Oasis for lunch which is a beautiful restaurant over looking Lake Travis that we went to the last time that we were here. Also we are going into Hannah's school for lunch - only if she behaves though - the teacher in me is coming out there! We were meant to be going to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory but I have stopped that as a certain young lady has not been suitably behaved all the time that I have been here to merit me taking her on her own. (She is also reading over my shoulder so I had best stop!) I have promised to play with her in the pool and do various other things instead so I am hoping that she forgets about the movie thing.

Anyway - not such a long one today, can’t believe it is nearly all over and I am hitting reality with a BANG on Friday evening and preparing for the recruitment agencies on Monday morning. HELP ME!!!!!

Hope all is well with you, those still at Regis have a great start of term, I shall be thinking of you all and I have to say I think a small part of me will be wishing that I will still be with you as I sit here by the pool soaking up the sun, reading my book and drinking beer . . no sorry, diet coke. . . I of course don't drink beer :)!!  Those ex Regis new Year 7's - scary! I know you don’t go back till Monday so I look forward to hearing from you next week to find out how big school is all going.

Love and hugs to one and all
Em, Sparksy, Miss Sparks

Greetings from sunny Texas

Subject: Greetings from Austin, Texas

Hey Y'all,

Yes another round robin from me! It’s about 106 today and so as it is nearly 2 I thought I would take some time out of the sunshine and send you all an update on my hols. (Just delete if you can’t be bothered to read - its keeping me occupied (typing) while Joshua has a MAJOR tantrum in the next room.)

I have been staying with Audrey, Terry, Hannah (7) and Joshua (2) for a week now and having a lovely time despite the insane heat. It was not like this the last time I was in Texas when it pretty much poured with rain all the time I was in this state. I knew that it was coming though; as I was warned by Nannie (who used to look after me when I was little who also looked after Audrey and has just been out here). Thankfully there is air conditioning everywhere, the house, the car, the shops etc so you are given the opportunity to switch off from the heat apart from when you walk outside.

I hired a car last week for the rest of my stay, a far smaller one than the tank that I drove the last time that I was out here. A lovely cobalt blue 2 door Chevrolet very swish I have to say - still no TT though! (Wrong colour though anyway James and not convertible - midnight blue as you know is the one!!) My word it drinks petrol like you would not believe, I need to fill it up actually that reminds me! I have been on one major day trip so far which was yesterday otherwise I have just been using it to go to the Mall :) yes not quite sure how on earth I am going to make it home with all the bargains that I have found (and the mass of peanut butter M&M's that I have 'invested' in!) Most impressed with my new digital camera though which has a really powerful zoom, I got it way cheaper than it is in the UK and I keep patting myself on the back for that! I just need to find reasons to take pictures now as I am no longer going to need it for school!

I can’t believe the size of places over here, popping to the local store for a pint of milk is never a walk away - its like a 10 min drive. The small local grocery is about 3 times the size of the 'big' Sainsbury's in Bath! Every thing - and yes I mean EVERYTHING is drive thru. I have seen drive thru cash points, which I have to say I remembered from last time I think that we might have even actually used them last time. Drive thru Liquor stores where there are loads of fridges either side of the car and someone gets what you want. Drive thru Starbucks, drive thru pharmacy, drive thru everything, like I said. It’s no wonder that Americans are one extreme or another as if you wanted you don’t actually have to get out of your car for anything. I have been trying really hard to swim about 50-60 lengths of the pool each day, not only is it cooling but I’m trying to feel slightly better for the 'bad' things that I have been eating over here. I have been REALLY good about the peanut butter M&M's though. Those of you that know my little 'problem' there will know just how reserved I am being and how much will power it is taking not to get some every time I see them!

So yesterday I took myself off in the car to San Antonio to see the Alamo and various other sites in the city. Its funny I knew nothing about the Alamo and so many people had said when they heard I was going to Texas if I would be seeing it and I said 'of course' trying to sound as if I knew what they were on about. (Sorry if that was you!) The only Alamo I knew was the rental company that we hired the car from for the big trip. Anyway as soon as I got there I recognised it without having seen pictures or anything. I guess I must have seen part of the John Wayne film at some stage. I won't bore you with the history of the place (you can research it - all I can tell you was that it was 105 but apparently feeling hotter (can you feel the difference I wonder?! Its either hot, . . . hot or . . . hot in my book!) After walking around the Alamo in that heat - I walked round the air conditioned museum REALLY slowly to take in as much of the cool air as possible! - I walked across the street and found a bus tour thing. So I went on that - it was a HUGE coach thingy and I was the only one on the bus it was hilarious, talk about an individual tour of the city (well ok a couple of others got on and off). I paid not to get off the bus but the driver stopped in all the landmarks so that I could take photos - he was really working his tip which I have to say he deserved. If he asked one more person though to say prayers for me though I swear I was ready to turn and say something highly inappropriate back to him! (Sorry but it gets on my nerves when shoved down your throat!) We drove past an outdoor cinema - drive thru. .  . no I mean drive in - see don’t even have to get out of your car for that either. How cool would that be though! It reminded me so much of the film Grease (by the by it was last watched by me with my Year 5's as their end of year treat last year - happy days). We saw some of the Missions that are in the city and the Mexican shopping area of the city. If the Texans had not won the war at the Alamo all those years ago it is quite likely that the entire of this area would still be Mexico according to my guide.  I went on foot to walk some of the River Walk. The river goes right through the city and funnily enough - as it says you walk along the river on the river walk which is below street level and has restaurants etc along it. I only walked a little though as it was getting hot - no that means nothing - it was getting BLISTERINGLY hot. (That gives you a better idea!) So I headed to the cool of the car, which was like an oven, and the steering wheel was really hot too, almost too hot to touch. Oasis, Keane and I headed home via the grocery store for some milk for Audrey (I listened to the radio on the way back from hiring the car - yeah country music really is so not my cup of tea continuously I really HAD to invest in some CD's!! I did wave past Bob Dylan quite quickly though to put it mildly - it was the first CD that I saw amusingly).

So that was yesterday - I did text a couple of you and said that I was off to Sea World yesterday. Well I checked on the web and it is closed this week and open Friday and so I think that I will go then. Planning on visiting Huston tomorrow to do the NASA Space Station as we didn't get to do it last time as there was a horrendous thunderstorm and gushing torrents of rain and we couldn’t see the car 2ft in front - scary driving conditions. I cant remember if it was there that we were trying to 'locate the establishment' (Simon's effort at being super polite on the phone and asking where the Footlocker was that he was phoning asked instead 'Where is your establishment located?' I think it is one of those - you had to be there moments but god it still has Chloe and I in stitches).

Audrey and Terry are in great form and have been nothing but hospitable and welcoming which has been lovely. Hannah when I first arrived was really shy (for about 3 min) and had apparently been really excited about my visit for the previous few days. She is no longer shy to put it mildly but just as sweet as before although can be badly behaved at times. She got a picture off the fridge that she was intent on showing me, it was quite bizarre really, it was the picture that I had sent Audrey after we stayed with them back in 2001 of us all at supper. She pointed to her Mum Dad and me and then could remember Chlo and called her Chlo and Simon but not the others (sorry!) I asked her why she remembered Simon's name only and not the others she said - "'cos he draws good dinosaurs'!! I remember him doing it now, drawing Hannah dinosaurs all through supper. Also she said he was funny because he had to sleep in her Hello Kitty bed. (That was a sight!) Everything was Hello Kitty back then but now it is all animals. She has a puppy - Bella who is a miniature daschund, a gecko which was living in my room at one point in its tank after Terry had been and got it some crickets to eat. I was really happy about that of course. I put things on the cage so it couldn’t get out and had a very restless night’s sleep it has to be said. She now has a praying mantis too but thankfully they are now both in her bedroom with more crickets to feed them both. The back legs have to be pulled off before given to the crawlies which Hannah loves doing. GROSS!

Joshua is 2 and a month and an absolute terror – no really. He has a mass of curly bright red hair and is quite a stocky thing. He eats like a trooper and if it is food he likes it is a double handed action -one puts it in his mouth whilst the other scoops it up and so on. He has a bad habit of hitting people - I am bruised all over. He climbs the outside of their stairs to quite a height which is really dangerous if no one is watching. His food goes everywhere if he is in a foul mood and he screams - no screeches in the middle of the supermarket. Yeah safe to say Mum and Dad have a LONG wait for grand children. I have patience with older ones but none with that age (remember arts week Sarah and Sian? Never again thank heavens!). I am often awoken early in the morning by him throwing his Xylophone against his bedroom door. He is a real brute! But on the other side has the most adorable cheeky grin that is just so sweet. Hannah
revels in him being told off though and at the moment she laughs at him when he is in trouble which is not good as he clearly dotes on her and copies loads of stuff that she does!

So yeah, having a great time. Onto the 4th book now and have also read a couple of American mags as well. Feeling most relaxed. But I guess I must go now, everyone is out collecting Hannah from school and my Ipod is about to run out. I was hoping it would have cooled off a little, I have a feeling it won’t have so I need to go and catch some rays.

Do hope that all is well with all of you and that you are all enjoying your summer hols (and have not fallen asleep - this has gone on a little!).

Loads of love and hugs to one and all
Emma, Sparksy, Miss Sparks
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