Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Romin' in Roma

Taking the afternoon off work to make our flight, Easyjet thoughtfully delays the plane for a few hours before we take off. I wonder how many flights of theirs actually leave keeps us waiting. We travelled light, with just backpacks so didn’t have to worry about baggage reclaim or any of that rubbish, and just hopped on a coach, then a taxi to our hotel. We stayed near
Campo Dei Fiori, a lively marketplace in the Historical Centre.

We started off on Saturday morning with a walk to Piazza Navona, the Centrepiece of which is a fountain by Bernini. One of the statues appears to be shielding his eyes to a church which was designed by Bernini’s rivals. Earlier in the year we had read Dan Brown’s "Angels and Demons" (the prequel to The Da Vinci Code, and I think it’s a lot better), which is set in Rome and revolves around clues in Bernini’s architecture communicating the word of the (fictious) Illuminati. In the square was a Christmas market, though strangely most of the stalls had a large display of Witches, some of which would cackle and have their eyes glow when activated by noise.

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Fontana di Trevi, our next place of interest is a real draw for tourists, and completely dominates a small square. ‘They’ say that it is good luck to throw a coin over your shoulder, one coin and you will return to Rome, two coins and you will fall in love with an Italian. Jo asked me if she could borrow a couple of coins, the monkey. Personally I think the guy who perpetuates this whole throw a coin in the fountain idea is the bloke with a long stick with a magnet on the end, merrily collecting up all the coins.

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Afterwards, we pop inside the breathtaking Pantheon (27 BC) and gaze up at the hole in the top of the giant granite dome. Unfortunately it is not raining so we can't see what the result would be (it is supposed to drain into the edges of the concave marble floor).

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Piazza Venezia (monument to unknown soldier, aka typewriter/wedding cake).
Built as a monument to Vittorio Emannuelle, and at the end of the road Mussolini built over the top of the ancient Roman Forum leading up to the Coloseum. We climbed up the fascist eyesore and admired the wonderful views surrounding us.

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After a short afternoon snooze, we headed back out into the cold to Piazza di Spagna. It was a disappointing sight - dark and unlit, and the church at the top of the steps was in scaffolding and covered from head to toe in a big Prada poster. Amen! When Jo visited some years ago in the summer the steps to the pretty church were lined with flowers and the barchetta (little boat) fountain at the bottom was lit up at night. But there was none of that. Ah well.. So we trundled off to have dinner and were given massive gorgeous balls of Mozerella di Buffala. Yum!

On Sunday we were woken up to the sound of the bells of some of Rome's 900 churches (you'd have to visit 17 a week for a year to see them all!!). We stick earplugs in our ears and end up over sleeping. When we eventually wake, we speed down to the ruins of the ancient
Roman Forum, and walk in the direction of the Coloseum.

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Vatican & St Peters Basilica

We caught the underground to Ottoviano and had a rip off lunch nr the Vatican. Then made our way to St Peters and went into the Basilica with room for 60,000 people to worship. We took some lovely photos, we saw Michaelangelo's Pieta - one of his best sculptures, he did when he was 21. We saw the massive 7 storey altar created by Bernini using bronze 'borrowed' from the Pantheon, and above the altar the stunning dome decorated by Michaelangelo.

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Afterwards we wanted to go into the Vatican Museum to see the Sistine Chapel, but alas it was closed on a Sunday. So as it was raining and very chilly! we dashed off down to
Castel Sant'angelo. Just down the road from the Vatican, the Castel is linked to the vatican by a secret tunnel which allows the pope to escape there in times of crisis. It was a strange place inside but had wonderful views over the city, and we popped into a very old style caffe for a cappucino to warm up and watching the flamboyant over excitable italian waiter scaring off all the tourists!

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After visiting Castel Sant'angelo and before making our way back to catch our flight, we visited Ponte Sant'angelo - the bridge leading to the Castel, decorated by bernini and his apprentices with angels, supposedly leading the secret path to scientific enlightenment.

All in all we had a fantastic weekend. In all our travels around the world, there really is no place like Rome! An amazingly beautiful open air museum with a vibrant city growing amongst it.

To see the rest of our photos, please click here

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Dust baby

Back to Dulwich and baby Jazz is even bigger, with a mouthful of teeth. In true victorian style, old enough to put her to work.

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

Flora Marge's 80th

down to Devon this weekend, Jo goes shopping with Mel in Exeter for bridesmaids dresses so i go off shopping on my own & meet up with danny. Very odd going shopping in Exeter city centre after such a long while.

On the sunday, there is a family get together for Jo's nan's 80th birthday.

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Monday, October 10, 2005

Berlin

We took advantage of the cheapo flights from Gatwick to Berlin with Easyjet to have a long weekend there. I’ve never been to Germany before, but have recently been watching a few documentaries about Berlin; it played such a big role in the events of the last century that thought it would be an interesting place to visit, plus the fact that Joanne is a fluent speaker is a bonus.

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We took the flight out to Berlin after work on Thursday, then taking the double decker airport express train into the centre. Our hostel was on the former east side, not far from Alexanderplatz, which is where we started our tour on Friday morning. We began the day’s long walk by the TV tower and continued past Marx Engels Platz where there stands a large statue to these 2 fathers of communism.

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Continuing west we past the Berliner Dom & Palast der Republik – they knocked down a palace to build this ugly orange glass building as a parliament for the GDR, very strange. Right by here is the “Museum Island”, where there are several very grand museums, fronted by Roman style pillars, most of which still show extensive damage from the war. We visited the Pergamon museum, the centrepiece of which is not a giant statue of Pikachu, but the giant Greek Pergamon alter, as well as the giant Babylonian market gates.

We continued our walk down Unter den Linden, the main route road in East Berlin, which leads to the Brandenburg gate, and walked across Bebel Platz, the square where the Nazis burnt books and stopped to look at the GendarmenMarkt (2 French & German matching cathedrals/doms, don’t understand why they went to the trouble of constructing 2 near identical buildings myself). We arrived at the Brandenburg gate and had a very strange meal, where we had a view across to the Hotel Adlon, where Michael Jackson had famously dangled his baby out of the window.

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The Reichstag was just a hop skip and jump away so we had a look at that, we wanted to go in and inspect the famous new glass dome up close, but the queue was long and our patience was short. Instead we went to have a look at the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, located just by the aforementioned checkpoint on the West of the country, it’s a somewhat eccentric museum, which in the main seems to have expanded rather organically from the time it was set up, when the wall was still very much there, to now. Which means, that whilst there is a lot there of interest, it is rather sprawling without much sense of direction to the museum.

By this point our poor feet were tired and we went back to the hostel for a powernap. I had thought about going on a nightlife tour and sampling some of that German beer, but feeling worn out, and not relishing the idea of a full day exploring Berlin hungover, we decided instead to have dinner in the revolving restaurant at the top of the TV Tower. Which was the right decision, I think. Personally, I think revolving restaurants at the top of towers are ace, having already been to one in Sydney, and this one was great too. The restaurant is a popular one, and serves good affordable food. I enjoyed a nice meal, and drink of Berliner Beer looking over the night views of East Berlin, as an elderly gent played a nice blend of elevator style music on his electric keyboard.

On Saturday, to preserve our sore feet we decided to make a bit more use of our travelcards on the Underground U-Bahn system. We started of by taking a look at the Haekescher Hoefe and Synagogue at the Scheunen Viertel (Jewish quarter), before going to KaDeWe (Kaufhaus Des Westens), an incredible Selfridges style department store. The highlights there were trying out the massage chair, and taking in the smells of the food hall. Next we zipped west to Charlottenburg Palace, before shooting back for a power snooze. Jo wanted to experience a German spa, so we headed out to the impressive looking Liqiudrom spa, which was alas closed for renovation. To get there we passed the Anhalter Bahnhof, a grand old station which was destroyed during the war, but the front only of the train station is still standing. As a contingency plan we headed back to the Reichstag at 10pm and we were able to just get in before the building stopped its tours for the night. The newly constructed glass dome is quite a spectacle, with a spiral ramp taking you up and around to the top, where you can look down onto the parliament floor, or out and across the city.

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As we headed back home via the Brandenburg gate, we noticed a group of gimps in tight shiny rubber outfits having their photo taken with the gate as a backdrop. Naturally Jo decided to take a snapshot, all the while one of the gimps was shouting “no photos, no photos”, with Jo pretending not to hear.

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Berlin used to have one centre in the East, one in the West, with the wall in the middle. With the wall down, there were efforts to fill this gap and create a new centre - Potsdamer Platz was the result, and we went to have a look on Sunday morning. There are cinemas, and shopping centres there, but the centrepiece is the tent-like Sony Centre, which looks interesting, but there isn’t much there to be honest. We went to the shopping centre but is this backward land shops still shut on a Sunday. So used to shops opening on a Sunday, that it seems weird that they didn’t in Berlin. After an ice cream cafĂ© break, we head off in search of another Spa bath for Jo. When we get there I overhear them talking about “naket swimmen” or some such, and I decide that we had best give it a miss. Either the place would be full of fat minging German business men and grotesque Bubbles style women letting it all hang loose, or at the other extreme lots of pert young things, in which case I’m sure I’d end up on the wrong side of an ear bashing from Jo.

We stopped at the Ku'damm (the Oxford Street of West Berlin) and Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, bombed out during the war, which serves as a memorial. To finish the day off before we headed back home we took the underground to the West to the Olypic Stadium, which was contructed for the controversial 1936 Olympics, but updated with a new roof for the upcoming World Cup final next year.

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I enjoyed our trip to Berlin, although it is at times a strange place, and the East and West are still very different places, it is funny to see some of the German Sterotypes, dodgy mullets and moustaches, Gimps in front of the Brandenburg gate, and a food hall devoted almost entirely to every different type of sausage under the sun.

One thing that made a big impact on me as the method of ticket inspecting on the U-Bahn. The doors would close, then 2 imposing undercover ticket inspectors would announce themselves and work through the carriage checking tickets. We encountered a few of these inspections and it was quite something to see, and a big contrast to the British system. Sure enough, as we got the train home from Gatwick the sole ticket inspector who worked his way through the train was a middle aged portly fellow, and hardly the most intimidating figure. When he encountered a group of louts at the end of the train, he of course didn't challenge them. If it had been Berlin, I'm sure those same flock of chavs would have pooped their pants.

To see the rest of our photos, click here.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

THE CURE vs MEERKATS

I just love this old gem. Remember The Cure's "Close To Me"? Best bit was the mad jazz stuff in the middle. But wouldn't it be better with Meerkats instead of fat goths?
http://www.snakemountain.co.uk/delgazeebo.htm
The music is The Cure Vs ODB - Shimmy to Me (Remix by Del Gazeebo)

Monday, August 29, 2005

Sunny Bank Holiday Monday

Just a chilled out day in Hove with the family.

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A slight bias in the photos there perhaps, but the baby is just too cute.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Sheffield Park

We have a day out with Jo's mum to Sheffield Park (in Sussex, not Sheffield). It's a lovely place, with beautiful lakes and gardens.

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On the way back, I remember to take a photo of the Graffiti on the wall by Brighton Train station of two policemen kissing. It's lifesize, so is very striking, though sadly the eyes have been sprayed over. It is by famous local graffiti artist Banksy.

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Saturday, August 27, 2005

Sand Sculptures

Jo's mum is visiting, and we all go down the marina to have a look at the Sand Sculptures they've got there. Quite unlike I've seen anything before - huge sand scuptures with an Egyptian theme.

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Saturday, August 20, 2005

Hitler Wrote 20 Pop Songs

I went to see my brother Peter's play in Camden, and was most impressed. TYhough Camden itself is a very strange place in the evening. Tom Davies joined us, which was lovely.

Review of the play:

http://www.camdennewjournal.co.uk/081805/theatre.htm

Blair’s Nazi roots exposed with witHITLER WROTE 20 POP SONGSEtcetera - By TOM FOOT
WE have all been misled. All those hours studying World War II at secondary school and the teachers had it wrong.Hitler was not moved to world conquest by evil, greed or envy, but because his agent did not appreciate his pop songs.This is not a world exclusive, I must report, but a satire on Tony Blair, whose university rock band – The Ugly Rumours – never made it big.Hitler and Blair strike up a dreamy relationship in this outlandish production from Theatre de C**t.The actors – aged between 18 and 22 – perform 20 scenes from everyday life, although this company’s take on everyday life may be a little different to your own.Londoners walk around with Swastikas and Britain’s workers are turning into another bunch of unthinking henchmen.Blair being “at one” with Hitler is hard to swallow, and the zealous Nazi salutes from Conrad Murray will make you uncomfortable.There was a point when I thought this might rival The Man Behind the Iron Mask debacle for worst musical of the century. But punctuating Theatre de C**t’s militant script are flashes of rare skill worth the entrance fee alone.In one scene, a young private school boy gets happy-slapped by kids in the street. This savage beating is choreographed superbly – perhaps a little too knowingly. The actors work together in slow motion, as if you were watching on a mobile phone, to create one of the best scenes I have seen at the fringe all year.Last week one local paper reported residents’ disbelief that the Etcetera theatre would stoop so low as to hire Theatre de C**t. “I’m tired of hearing five-year-old children calling each other swear words,” mused one resident, “if the theatre company need to resort to these tactics the show probably isn’t worth seeing.”In fact, if that person – so alarmed by society’s slide into oblivion – would see the play they would learn a bit about why they hear five-year-olds swearing.As for the name of the theatre company – what’s all the fuss about? Shakespeare used literally hundreds of puns on the word and no one bats an eyelid.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Summer BBQ

Whoever said you couldn't have a fun Barbeque when it rains? We invite a whole bunch of people over to my mum's house in hove and invite a few people over, including lot's of Jo's work colleagues. Linda and Pippa come too, which is cool because I haven't seen Pippa for something crazy like four years.

We set up the house, blow up some balloons, and get lots of nice food. And then, as I go to light the barbeque, it stats to rain. Evenually I'm able to get it going, and dash in and out of the house into the rain to put on food, flip burgers etc. Somehow, despite the rain to food cooks okay!


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Friday, July 01, 2005

Costa Rica

The flight over to Costa Rica was fine, and I the airport transportation is set up a lot better than at New York! They have a booth where you pay for your taxi in advance, and get a ticket to your destination, which means that it’s less likely that tourists fresh off the plane are going to get ripped off.

We stayed overnight in San Jose before getting a bus up to Tortuguero, a beautiful natural wildlife reserve area which is famous for the endangered Turtles that roll up on the beaches to bury their eggs in the sand. On the way we passed banana plantations and saw how they are prepared, which was fascinating. We stayed at a place called Mawamba Lodge , and they really looked after us. One of the funny things they do is arranging the towels into interesting shapes, like Swans and Turtles. We went on several boat rides, which is the best way to see the edges of the rainforest, and saw plenty of wildlife including Spider, Howler and Capuchin Monkeys. We also had a couple of short treks through rainforest, where we saw Poisonous Red Dart frogs, Poisonous Eyelash Vipers and non-poisonous Spider Monkeys up close. it was quite strange because everything is so well camouflaged that you can’t see anything but you feel like everything can see you!

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We were really lucky with our weather whilst we were in Tortugero, which was warm & humid, but dry (handy for all our boat trips and walks to go nature spotting). We went in the rainy season, when it tends tobucket it down, particularly in the late afternoon. The first time we\r\nexperienced the Costa Rican rain was on the way to our next destination, Fortuna, the town that the active volcano Arenal towers above. Heavy rain hit on our way there and didn’t let up for the rest of the day. Next to our hotel there was a pool under construction, and it shortly filled up completely with water. We couldn’t be bothered to go right up the volcano but had a great view from our room with binoculars; we did a precarious trek down to a waterfall and went to Tabacon Springs, a nice hotel which had lots of hot springs pools in beautiful gardens, with water at 40 degrees running off the volcano. Most of the pools were too hot for us to go in, though – like really hot bath water.

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The last place we visited was Montezuma, a small beach town well off the beaten track with lots of hippies and travellers, but a relief to be away from American tourists. We had some enormous thunderstorms that sounded like bombs going off, and got woken up by howler monkeys at 4am every morning.

Then on our way home our flight from San Jose got delayed big time causing us to miss our connection – American Airlines gave us some hotel vouchers and we spent an unexpected day in Miami - so we just got the free shuttle to the local mall and went shopping. But didn’t get back to London until 6am Monday morning, and without any sleep we were of course too tired to go to work, so slept for the afternoon instead. Our baggage arrived the day after.

You can see the rest of my Costa Rica photos here.

Monday, June 13, 2005

New York Baby!

Our holiday to Costa Rica gave us an opportunity to have 3 days stopover in New York, somewhere we'd never been before.

One of the most famous cities in the world, it is iconic, and a daily presence in our lives as a location from TV and films. It is so instantly recognisable that it is quite peculiar, a big buzzin place, fullof towering skyscrapers, teaming grates and bright yellow taxis.

We stayed in a hotel in Downtown Manhattan, just next to Broadway. Our first stop was a visit to Time Square (check out this funky 360 view) where we saw the infamous Naked Cowboy busking & spreading world peace. He says he takes in $US700 to $US1000 on an average day.

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Time Square is amazing, surrounded by the electronic billboards and huge stores. The Toys R Us store was incredible - it actually has a Ferris Wheel inside!

We have a loong snooze to get over the jetlag.

Day 2 is an early start with a fresh New York bagel for breakfast. It is Puerto Rico day today, and Puerto Ricans line 5th Avenue in anticipation for the parade, blasting out Reggaton music. We are off on a "Sex And the City" tour, it being Jo's favourite TV show. We see lots of the main locations for the series, get cupcakes from the place they do, stop at the sex shop where they got their rabbits, get a Cosmopolitan at Aiden's bar, and get a photo of us on Carrie's steps.

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In the afternoon, we find that the Puerto Rican parade inaccessible, blocked off by the police, so have a mooch in Central Park and go boating on the lake. I do all the rowing, and Jo sunbathes.

Day 3: More sightseeing. An early start at the Empire State building to beet the crowds and a cool view across the city. We take the subway down to the Financial District and have a look at Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange. Then down to the ferry to Liberty Island to check out the Statue of Liberty. It really is quite the icon, bigger than I expecte, and very photogenic. (I know this photo isn't great, but it show that we were actually there!)

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An overpriced minivan ride later from a crazy geriatric Niciraguan and we're back at JFK airport and on to Costa Rica!

More of my NY photos can be viewd via this link.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

A few links

For a list of all the places that give a months free rental check here:
http://www.dvdtrials.co.uk/
You can keep on cancelling them and get several months worh of free dvd goodness...

Free digital photo printouts here:
http://verydodgy.com/photos/free/index.html

I am very much looking forward to SIN City - the movie of my favourite comic book.
The official site http://www.sincitythemovie.com/ is now online with characters info (with new clips), movie info, lots of new photos, desktops, games, the trailer, IM icons, posters, and much more.

Demotivators: You'll like these parodies of the motivational type posters you see in offices: http://store.yahoo.com/demotivators/proc24x30pri.html is my favourite. Click through the links on the left to see the rest.

My crazy brother has a new website for his hippidy hop project: http://www.SeddonDoleo.co.uk - a bit light on content at the moment, but he has his tunes there to download.

Save money on DVDs - use the vouchers from this website:
http://www.dvdbargain.net/ShowDisc.asp

This link is to a money saving forum topic with lots of info about the various online glasses sites like the much talked about glasses direct.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Topsham

Down to Devon to scope out some wedding venues.

While we're down have a cool meal out in Topsham at the Passage Inn with Danny, Will & Mel.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Bodiam

A drive around Sussex with Jo's mum today - we check out Bodiam castle. We have a pub lunch (and are served pratically half a cow) in a village called Dicker. Stop that sniggering.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Big News

The 13th January was the 4th anniversary of myself and Joanne going out. The perfect time, I thought, to propose. Which is what I did - so I am now officially engaged.

Below are some of the first reactions I got back from people by email:

I KNEW it, you maggot. Congratulations (on both counts!)! Glad Jo said yes(as if she wouldn't)!
Jo Clift

Well wow!! Fantastic! I'm bowled over! I'm so chuffed for you guys - that's just the best news! If I may... you guys are without doubt one of the strongest couples I know of, and think you are smashing together!
Gareth

Wow - Husband-to-be/Uncle Mark - fantastic news. Congratulations, we're so happy for you both
Charlotte

Congratulations! That is great news and very, very grown up! House, niece and financee.... Really pleased for you.
Pippa

Congratulations from both myself and Grainne. Have to say though, I thought you were gay (Joke)! James McNally

Many congratulations! another one bites the dust !VERY Grown up move! but a good one!
i look forward to your stag do!!!!! a promised to get you mashed !!!!!!
Tom Scruby

Not another one. What is it with everyone getting married? Congratulations to both you and Jo by the way. Very grown up Mark, I'm starting to worry about you.
Dave

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Rye

Today we had a nice (if nippy) mooch about the historic town of Rye.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Baby Jasmine

Baby Jasmine was born at 2am on 14th January - 7lbs 5oz.



With Mum



With Auntie Jo


Florida Holiday

Over Christmas I went on Holiday with Joanne, my Parents and my brother Peter. We Stayed for one week in Orlando, and one week in Cocoa Beach on the east coast. It was really good to get away, as apart from our break to Sorento last Feb, all our holiday had been used up on flat decorating, and exam leave!

The weather, whilst not brilliant, was better than the UK, and it was nice to get a bit of sun in the bleak midwinter. The worst day weatherwise was Christmas day, the day we chose to visit the Magic Kingdom. The heavens opened, and it just but a massive dampner on the whole thing.



Christmas lunch was at "Tony's" - a Lady & the Tramp themed Italian. The weather cleared up in time for the Spectromagic light parade in the evening, and we had a cool spot right in front of the castle.

We also visited Busch Gardens in Tampa, a mix of wildlife and rollercoasters. They just had a baby Rhino, which was very cool. The other Them Park we visited (mentioned below) was Universal's Islands of Adventure, which was very cool - it had some massive rollercoasters. Previously, I'd been a bit of a rollercoaster wuss, but I was well and truly converted - I went on the Hulk ride, and the Dualling Dragons to name but two. And towards the end I even kept my eyes open.

We also took part in some serious retail therapy, hitting some of the malls. We were most on the look out for some Sketchers shoes, the ones we'd bought from California in the Summer of 2002 had lasted us nicely, but now needed replacing!

Just the thing for traipsing around the Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Cernaveral (can't be bothered checking my spelling today so that might be wrong) , home of the Apollo space missins amongst others. It was a very interesting place, and we had a coach tour around the centre.

Whilst the rest of my familly chilled their boots on the East Coast for the second week, Joanne and I had our own min-break down to the very cool art deco styled Miami Beach. I hadn't realised it was so cool - it's a real hang out for fashion afficonados (Gianni Versace was shot dead on his doorstep here!) , and Fashion Shoots take place on the beach most mornigs.

As we strutted our stuff down Lincon Mall, we saw this funky stretched Humvee.



In face, Hummer spotting was a bit of a game we played whilst we were out driving around. As well as looking at those huge mother-truckers.

Next stop was the everglades. We visited the amazing Shark Valley, which was an absolutely incredible place. We saw some incredible wildlife on their tram tour, including all sorts of birds and turtles - but the big draw is the aligators. They enforce a strictly no feeding policy, which means Shark Valley's gators don't associate humans with food, which means that they are a lot safer to be around. There are no fences, and they just wonder around free, which means you can get within just a couple of feet of them. Though you'resupposed to keep a safe distance, people generally got pretty close!

As we walked down one path at Shark Valley, the path was blocked by 2 big gators. Jo didn't like this photo being taken - but one guy took a photo of them, bending down just a foot away. Daft bugger.



Well that's the highlights - more photos of the trip can be seen here:
http://www.photoworks.com/share/shareLanding.jsp?shareCode=A3BD0E1B9FA&cb=PW