Retrospective

Road trip – done. Last calories load at Five Guys Burger in Aventura (Miami) left literally a good taste of America.

The day of the return trip started with an early snorkeling trip to the Ft Lauderdale beach reef – we managed to spot a reef shark hiding between the corals. Air France flight from Miami to Charles de Gaulle in Paris was rather uneventful. The economy seats on Air France are really tight – and it seems that they don’t vacuum the air planes too often. The positive side of Air France seemed to be the food. Menu was also accompanied with a wine list, including some Chapange for aperitif.

The flight arrived an hour ahead schedule to Paris – leaving 3 hours to change the plane. They didn’t for some reason print the final leg tickets in Miami, albeit the luggage was checked through. We queued two service counters, of which the last (Finnair’s) worked excellently (which can’t be stated of the other service counters) – it was good that we mentioned the luggage, as they had to somehow manually enter the luggage numbers to the system! Otherwise our luggage would have been left in Paris! Unbelievable…

Transport from 2E to adjoining terminal 2D (when following the signs) involved 1) train transport 2) security check 3) bus transport 4) passport control 5) long walk 6) security check – including queuing the service counters the process took over 2 hrs – leaving hardly time for a cup of coffee during the 3h change. Theoretically the airport is nice – and layout good – but the system is built unbelievably complex with bad signs and bottle necks. Paris is on ‘avoid if you can’ list definitely. Quite a contrast after the USA.

Nissan Altima (that we had as a rental car from National) served us well without any bigger issues – service / oil change light went off to the end. The route over map below suggests that the route without any detours or local shuttling was around 2300 miles. Practically, however, the route was 3178 miles (>5000km). On the way there was something worth doing or seeing every day – but given the number of miles in the car, not a family trip with small kids. 2 weeks (practically 16 full days + 2 half days) was good time for the trip. There was many spots along the route, where one could easily spend a full week.

If leaving something out – the Dallas-Corpus Christi leg was probably the most boring part (some long swamp roads in the south reminded so much of the Finnish Lapland that it felt cozy and not that boring). The Texas generally (including the boring parts) would probably be best experienced during some colder season. Ranch / outdoor activities apart from beach and amusement parks are not practical, when the thermometer hangs between 30 and 39 C.

Great trip in total – and could do it again.


View Larger Map

South Beach and Ft Lauderdale Reefs

One of the last vacation days was quickly consumed by strolling through Miami South Beach and snorkeling on the coral reef just outside Ft Lauderdale. The Ft Lauderdale reef is no comparison to John Pennekamp park, but still quite much to see just with a small swim from the beach. Weather is still hot and humid – with occasional quick thundery showers. Between 11 and 16 walking in sunshine is sweaty business – and really easy to get sunburn. Early morning and late evenings again are wonderful – recharging the heat after the cold winter.

South Beach

South Beach


The South Beach seemed to be quite a busy place with a lot of people sun bathing – and bathing. A bit too busy to my taste – unless you are into more of party mood with a lot of people. Definitely worth seeing the beach – and the people, though.

The Ft Lauderdale beach can be accessed from near the pier – but not between the large (and expensive…) hotels. There is a small coral reef just outside the beach – perhaps 100-200m swim – and in approximately 5 meters depth. A lot of people seemed to be scuba diving and snorkeling there. Much more quiet beach, but still with a lot of things to see. Albeit with murkier water, cocoa beach (with surfing ops) is still the favorite.

Fort Lauderdale Beach

Fort Lauderdale Beach


One boat had grown wheels and was traveling on the streets of south beach.
Boat with wheels

Boat with wheels

Air Boat in Everglades

After morning snorkeling tour we started off again – and headed towards Naples / Fort Meyers Beach.

View Larger Map
We took the southern route through Everglades swamps – and stopped for an air boat tour. Cruising through Mangrove forest (the type of the Mangrove in the swampland is red mangrove) with a boat equipped with 350hp fan in the tail is quite entertaining. Wear ear plugs. We got also to hold a baby alligator (2 year old fearful beast).
airboat
The fearful beast.

2-year-old beast

2-year-old beast

No real plans for tomorrow. There is a huge beach just outside the hotel – and the water in the evening swim was really warm.

Keys – done

After Kennedy Space Center we headed down to the Florida Keys – Key Largo, to be precise.

View Larger Map
No blog updates, as the Wi-Fi at the hotel was not exactly the most working one. First day in the Keys went quite quickly – recovering from the hyperactive previous day – and give some time for the skin to recover from the UV exposure while surfing. SPF 50 was apparently on the limit to be sufficient…

Hotel (Key West Inn) in Key Largo

Hotel (Key West Inn) in Key Largo


The hotel proved to be quite handy location for a number of activities. Snorkeling boat tours literally started just outside our room window. During the three days in Key Largo we did a couple of snorkeling tours to John Pennekamp coral reef and a jet ski drive. Whoa – that can be actually considered sports – at least when there are waves. The speedometer on the device showed 46MPH at highest – and the sea was not exactly flat – amazing piece of machine. The jet ski rentals started also just at the hotel.

In addition to the water sports – and the actual part of ‘doing nothing’ – we did a short excursion down to the further keys. There didn’t seem to be any real motivation to drive all the way to the Key West (apart from it being the southern most part of the USA) – so we cruised only to see some of the long bridges. Around Marathon (plus minus some keys) there seemed to be some decent public beaches – if you happened to be looking for a beach in the Keys. (In the keys there is only a couple of sandy patches that can be considered beaches – and definitely no surfing – at least under normal circumstances).

One of the Key bridges

One of the Key bridges

Orlando and Cocoa Beach

Good start for the day: visit to universal studios in Orlando.

Universal Studios, Orlando

Universal Studios, Orlando


Roller Coaster in Universal Studios Orlando

Roller Coaster in Universal Studios Orlando


There is a lot to see and do in Orlando – a number of different theme parks. We chose one of the Universal Studio parks. (The Universal Studios park is split to two parts – you can buy a ticket to either – and for extra fee you can visit both.) One theme park runs in ballpark of $100 including taxes. Two is about $40 more. Parking costs $16. Some of the visits had queues up to 80 minutes – and for example one of the newest things, Transformers nest, was closed before we went to the queue. Retrospectively, the price-quality ratio is not very good. One half of the studios is a bit smallish, and with all the queues price per device gets rather high. The roller coaster ride was quite a thrill – but some of the devices were getting a bit oldish. Everything worked smoothly and there was plentiful of staff making sure all seats are filled and loading- and unloading happen fast.

After Universal studios we headed down to Cocoa Beach, which turned out to be an excellent spot! Really recommend. Just on time to make a quick visit to the classic – Ron Jon’s surf shop. There were ads 100 miles before Cocoa beach.

Ron Jon surf shop on Cocoa Beach

Ron Jon surf shop on Cocoa Beach


On the other side of the Cocoa Beach peninsula there is a river / canal with a number of interesting sea creatures – including manatees – those funny lazy things.
A Manatee in Cocoa Beach Canal

A Manatee in Cocoa Beach Canal

Next morning the waves were excellent – a little bit less nose dives – and a couple successful pop ups with gliding all the way to the beach! Fan-Tas-Tic! SPF 50 sunscreen didn’t seem to be quite sufficient for the 2 hrs, though. Afternoon at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canevaral. They just opened a new building for the Atlantis shuttle the same day. After the space exhibit – few hours drive to Key Largo. Now starts the relaxation part of the vacation.

Atlantis Shuttle in a brand new (same day opened) exhibit at Kennedy Space Center

Atlantis Shuttle in a brand new (same day opened) exhibit at Kennedy Space Center


Kennedy Space Center Old Control Room

Kennedy Space Center Old Control Room


Different Versions of Space Suits

Different Versions of Space Suits

Moon Rocket - Impressive Piece of A Machine to Get A Small Capsule to The Moon

Moon Rocket – Impressive Piece of A Machine to Get A Small Capsule to The Moon

Surfing and Shopping

A good start for the day: We headed to the Jacksonville Beach, rented surf boards and jumped to the ocean. Great fun with reasonably sized waves – some more practice will be needed for less nose dives… The sun was tamed a bit by the clouds, which was perfect, as it was certainly warm enough. Just as we finished surfing, they sounded a thunderstorm warning! A good time to lift the clutch (or at least release the brake on the automatic) – and head towards Orlando. We added some more weight to luggage at the St Augustine Premium Outlets in St Augustine on the way, and dropped in to some old motel close to Orlando. Lunch contained Chinese food at the outlet – and dinner steak was served by Denny’s next to the motel. Burger count for the day=0.

To Florida

After early breakfast at the motel in Mobile, Alabama, it was time to make a visit to USS Alabama museum close by. The museum turned out to be quite a collection of interesting pieces of machinery. The tours inside USS Alabama took through the entire warship – from Engine room to command deck, through dentist’s and degaussing room.

USS Alabama

USS Alabama


Command room inside USS Alabama

Command room inside USS Alabama


In addition to the big warship there was also the world’s fastest airplane, Blackbird (>Mach 3). According to local Vietnam veteran, the Blackbird specimen was the fastest one of the manufactured ones. It was apparently also one of CIA’s best kept secrets, and was declassified only in 2000’s – even only a handful of presidents have known about it. Pretty impressive piece of technology.
Blackbird

Blackbird


Perhaps the most interesting visit within the museum was the submarine ‘DRUM’. Even it is much bigger than the open cut U-1 in Deutsches Museum (which you can’t walk in) – it is quite a claustrophobic piece of machine.
The "DRUM" submarine

The “DRUM” submarine


One enters from one department to another within the submarine through small hatches. Luckily there was at least some air conditioning in the submarine. With maximum humidity – and outside temperature over 30C – the black hull sub would have been a real sauna.
Inside submarine

Inside submarine

After Alabama we stopped at Pensacola, Florida at Naval Aviation museum. Quite an interesting display of war planes from the early 1900’s until lately. Also some rare ones, such as first German jets. The kids playroom seemed to be quite fun place – if coming with family.

Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, FL

Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, FL


The total top thing in the museum was in the end, however, a flight simulator – you sit in a box that rotates virtually 360 degrees – and 90 degrees up and down with 3D glasses – and fly ‘Blue Angel’s’ plane. Absolutely fab! The flight simulator costed $10 for appr. 4 minutes – but the museum itself had a free entrance.

After the hot day in the museums – wee took a major drive to East coast of Florida. Enough museums. Now more action. (After some sleep).

View Larger Map

Cruising the Deep South

Yesterday was rather uneventful cruising day – starting the day with a bit of shopping at Tanger’s outlet in Houston – and ending to cruising to Lafayette in Louisiana. Calories intake for lunch at Pizza hut and evening MacD. Large pizza + 2 Cokes = $14. Probably the best calories/price ratio this far… Luckily Motel8 had a miniature gym to sweat at least some of the bad stuff.

After Louisiana we continued to New Orleans. Although New Orleans was badly hit by the big storm few years back, there was virtually no sign of any damage. French Quarters, Jackson’s park, Cemetery where some Voodoo Princess is buried – and of course the Bourbon Street were all covered in a couple of hours walk. For arts enthusiasts and voodoo princes and princesses, the French quarters offers probably content for a couple of days. The Bourbon street seemed definitely a place to party overnight with Larry Flynt’s Hustler bar and all. We decided to skip the hangover – and continued to Mobile, Alabama.

French Quarters in New Orleans

French Quarters in New Orleans

voodoo

There was some rain and thunder while driving to New Orleans. However, after a few rain drops New Orleans was mostly sunny. We chose the southern route via Long Beach, Mississippi, which was scenery worth seeing. Long beach would have been a nice place to take dip in the sea – but as thunder clouds rose – and nearly flooded the road – we had to skip swimming.

Thunder on Long Beach, Mississippi

Thunder on Long Beach, Mississippi

Dinner on the road – Sonic Drive-in. No need to step out of the car – order & pay to the machine at the parking lot – and a roller-skate girl brings your food. Spicy crab sandwich with some orange juice was a good choice. For rest room, you needed to step out of the car, however.

Sonic Drive-in

Sonic Drive-in

Route of past two days:

View Larger Map

Houston, we have … a thunder!

Apart from one working oil pump on someone’s back yard – and the number of huge oil refineries – driving from Corpus Christi to Houston looked mostly like this:

South Texas

South Texas

In Houston we headed to NASA. The Space Center was definitely an interesting place to visit! It is just amazing, how they have been able to put a man on the moon with the technology they had at hand back then! And the space capsules – astronaut job is not for claustrophobic. The sheer size of Apollo rocket with it’s 3 phases was crazy! The thing burns more fuel in 25 seconds than there is water in an average size pool. It was quite amazing to visit the actual control center where they controlled the moon programs and many other space programs! And touch a stone from the moon!

NASA Control Center

NASA Control Center

Generally the exhibition felt to be mostly about the early space missions and shuttle program. The latest developments with Mars program and related felt a bit ‘lame’ (or then we missed those). But – certainly – the Angry Birds are invading the space – also through NASA. We didn’t try out the kids Angry Bird quarters – but they seemed to be a lot of fun in a form of ‘small size hoplop’.

Angry Birds at NASA

Angry Birds at NASA

Hamburger count for the day 0. Fish for lunch at some nice seafood joint along the road. The ‘dirty rice’ with the food was excellent (although the waitress explained it is produced by putting the rice on the ground and stomping on it… Great humor on that place). Chinese takeaway for the night, listening fading thunder over Houston.

Surfin’ USA – Surfin’ Texas

We joined Texas Surf Camp for the morning on the Corpus Christi beach near Port Aransas (there is a big pier on Port Aransas beach road, where the surf school has its tents). The surf school lesson was attended by a number of 9-year-old kids (and younger) – who were apparently much more experienced… The waves were not huge and didn’t last long, but big enough to provide a couple of successful pop ups on the board. This is a good spot for a beginner to get an idea of the sports – all soft sand bottom, yet some currents to be aware. The tip from the instructor: “The most important thing about surfing is to be cool.” (That is: it is not cool to get tangled with your own leash.) Weather was fantastic, +32..35 – and water was at least sufficiently warm. It is a good idea to put loads of sun screen and get off the sea by midday.

Texas Surf Camp base next to Horace Caldwell pier (close to Port Aransas in Corpus Christi)

Texas Surf Camp base next to Horace Caldwell pier (close to Port Aransas in Corpus Christi)

USS Lexington

USS Lexington

After surfing it was time to load some calories at Wendy’s – and drop by at Starbucks drive through – before heading to a museum. Usually I’m not very fond of museums – but in this case the museum was a floating one: Carrier USS Lexington. Although the vessel is old, it is a fantastic visit. There are several tours within the ship – you can visit the engine room, hospital and dentist departments, staff quarters, captain’s deck, the deck where the planes take off, and the bridge. With the +36 C weather it was relatively sweaty in most places of the boat. I would not even like to think how the machine room must have been when the boat was in operation.

Inside vessel

Inside vessel

If you think flight simulator is a new invention – think again. A computer simulator for night landing training was delivered to the military in 1971! Computer next to the simulator looked really ancient (huge box with loads of buttons).

Flight Simulator from 1971

Flight Simulator from 1971

Five guys’ burger provided the best burger this far on the trip for the night snack.

To the beach

After a good night’s rest in Fredericksburg, we made a short visit to the ‘cowboy capital of the world’ – Bandera – before heading to the Mexican Gulf.

Bandera main street

Bandera main street


Generally – Bandera was a bit of a disappointment. There was only a couple of shops on the main street selling mainly tourist souvenirs. There was a couple of good looking restaurants, but as it was too early for lunch the tourist shops didn’t offer much to browse about. Perhaps some side street would have had some contained wild west pearls – but not on the main street.

One of the shops had this sign on the window – humor, I hope.

No tresspassing

No tresspassing


Cruise through rest of the Texas Hill Country country side – viewing ranches and loads of country side was rather swift and easy. Whataburger offered a load of calories in a compact format. Good burgers again. Temperature peaked at 37C. Closer to the coast the temperatures dropped to 32 – warm enough.
One of the plentiful ranches on the way

One of the plentiful ranches on the way

Biker on the road

Biker on the road

Early afternoon we arrived at Corpus Christi – took a peek on the beach and headed to the hotel. Parking permit for the beach (HUGE) acquired – and ready for more action tomorrow – let’s see if we can find a surf school or more fun action.

Padre Island beach

Padre Island beach

Today’s drive:

View Larger Map

Let the roadtrip begin

A good start for the trip was that all flights were on time – and we could meet up at the Dallas airport as planned. Car rental, quick stop to Wal-Mart – and to the hotel, plan worked like a clockwork. The In-and-Out burger provided excellent calories load for the night. Fries & burger were both excellent. Minor hick-up for the start of the trip was the tire pressure alarm on National’s Nissan Altima just after leaving the airport. Luckily, next morning we could take a detour back to the airport car rental – and could get the car replaced. The staff at National was really friendly.

After getting the necessities – rashguards, duffel bags and such at REI Dallas – and getting a feel of real Texas spirit at Irving Gun exhibition – it was time to set out towards Fredericksburg in Texas Hill Country through Austin. Real Texan country side.

roadtripstart

Dinner in Fredricksburg consisted a Sirloin steak with salad buffet at K-Bob’s – recommended.

Steak at K-Bob's

Steak at K-Bob’s


K-Bob's steakhouse

K-Bob’s steakhouse

This is how horses are transported in Texas – huge air conditioned trailers.

Huge, air conditioned horse transport - Texas style

Huge, air conditioned horse transport – Texas style

Map:

View Larger Map

Golden Gate

What would be a better way to start the vacation than rush to the Vista View Point just before sunset – and take a view to the Golden Gate. Early wake-up on next day – and then flight to Dallas! Before hitting the bed – obligatory evening calories fill-up was performed at Carl’s Jr burger. Not fully convinced about the burgers, but the french fries were good. (Btw – never drink strawberry Fanta, unless want an overdose of artificial color and taste…) All good this far – and now starts the vacation! Yippii!

Golden Gate

Cherry Coke

Turns out that the original travel plan got a bit modified – we’ll meet up in Dallas on the planned date and get on the road trip. I just got an opportunity to suffer the jet lag in California beforehand. Wonder if the Californian Cherry Coke will help. Started the journey around 04:15… and it is 16:30 (plus 10 hours timezone shift)…

First leg of flight – Helsinki-Amsterdam with KLM didn’t start promisingly: After doing the check-in with the automate – there was 40 minutes (sic!) queue to _baggage drop_. Unbelievable. Luckily I was well on time on airport – and the security was quick.

Favourite Californian Cherry Coke formula

Favourite Californian Cherry Coke formula

Planning the Trip

Friday 10 May 2013, at Gallow’s Bird

It was dark night around September – October 2012, when we sat at Gallow’s Bird, in Niittykumpu (that is the best pub for quality beers in Espoo, Finland, for those who don’t know.) with a couple of friends. As always, the best ideas are born at these occasions. When the world was healed we came up with a Great Plan for a Road Trip in the US. For some reason I’ve always wanted to see the coast line of the Mexican Gulf. I’ve no idea what is there – and it seems that no-one is traveling there, so it must be a perfect destination.

The idea was almost forgotten until a couple of months ago, when we decided with my friend Mikko to realize  the road trip – and bought the flight tickets. I also acquired a permission from home for the A-class trip. Mikko is currently in the fortunate state of having no need to negotiate with family, so he didn’t need to do much else than ask for vacation from work. (For those who don’t know the trip classification: A-class: without wife, B-class: without own wife, C-class: with wife, D-class: with kids…) Anyway, I’d have done the trip with family, but my son is a bit too young, and wife is not too fond on car travel – so my trip with a friend suited the family well. I had to promise to take family to the same trip later on, if the destinations are good. 

So, the trip is now planned and set – well at least the flight tickets are bought. Some more details will need to be put between Dallas and Miami – that’s why we are at the source of inspiration, Gallow’s Bird. The beer list for the week proved to be more than good inspiration – American Craft Beer week had just begun. A couple of old good Sam Adams supported by some ale called ‘Le Freak’ (“combination of Belgian Trippel and American Imperial IPA”) from San Diego (actually quite interesting and tasty beer, recommend to share the 0.65L bottle with friends.. hefty stuff) helped with the planning.

@ Gallow's Bird

We got a great number of ideas what to do in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama & Florida, but admittedly no detailed plans yet, just a list of places to see and things to do. No point really sharing the list at this point of time, as the road trip can lead anywhere. At least Kennedy Space Center – and Katy Freeway with its 16 lanes (the road must be as wide as the Mannerheimin tie is long) will need to be experienced in Houston – and some surfing along the Gulf, and perhaps some Hemingway-style inspiration for writing in Key West.

The plan is to blog the trip on the way – so keep posted! A couple of days rough month to go.