In order to compensate for our lack of travel after marriage, we thought of spending a week down South at a warmer place. Our Thanksgiving break was utilized for a quick trip to Chicago (don't get confused now, the warmer part comes in the next sentence) and a couple of days off in December during the Christmas break meant that we headed out to Florida. A Florida trip can be pretty exhausting, simply because this tropical weather like state has so many attractions. Just the sheer thought that you want to visit as many places here can leave you drained. It is like Santa's socking; you pick something out of it and you know you are in for a treat. Visiting Florida has a similar experience. The feel good temperature of about 70F/20C can turn any guy who is averse to snow from insanity to a feeling of bliss. At least, you don't have to dress like a polar bear and you just realize how nice it would be to be dressed up in single layered clothing throughout the year. To top it, the mid west was in the middle of a snow storm!
Our first stop was the amusement parks city of Orlando. Literally, there are tonnes of them here, and you require more than a day or two to cover each of them. So, we took our tickets for the Universal Studios and the Island of Adventure theme parks. Honestly, I never realized how expensive these tickets could be. The cost to get into each theme park is almost half the cost of your flight journey. Some of the rides were pretty interesting and fun (Simpsons Ride, Spiderman, The Hulk, Dueling dragons), while some of them were forgettable (Shrek 4D show was an absolute waste of time, and so was the Men in Black). We wanted to get on to the rides only if they could excite us, else the wait time in the line was just not worth it. The best ride was the Hollywood Rip Rocket Ride which made startling twists and turns and dived down at unbelievable angles, and also had a vertical fall. We stood in the line for more than three hours, and just as it was about to be our turn, we were told that there was some fault and would require some repairs. It was quite scary to get back to the roller coaster, but then the ride was well worth the risk and the long wait. The highlight of the Orlando stay was our dinner at the Woodlands. The Onion Rava Masala Dosa and Bisibele Bath were absolutely lip-smacking. Oh yes, the Woodlands visit was possible due to heavy Googling (verb of the decade by the way) by Hema in collecting as much information as possbile on Florida. After a pretty comprehensive research, it was found that TripAdvisor is the best website with neatly organized information that has all the relevant content regarding the places of interest. In short, this website covers almost every place in the world. One frustrating aspect of the trip was our Stay at Econo Lodge Inn & Suites. The lodging was cosy and comfortable, but we were caused much hardship in the morning when the hotel staff failed to provide us with a tooth paste!
Then began our long day, where we drove from Orlando to Key West, a solid eight hour drive. But, the drive from Miami to Key West on highway 1S was an experience by itself. In short, it was breathtaking, and no words or photos can do justice to the scenic beauty. It was a single road and on either side of it, there is water and nothing else. Key West is the southernmost tip of mainland US, and the bluish green water of the Atlantic is indescribable. It was here that we decided to do some sort of water sport adventure, and went ahead with parasailing (equipment from Sebago Watersports, and once again we have to credit the reference to TripAdvisor). It was quite a sight to see the ocean from a height of a ten storied building, and to be completely encapsulated by water. Duval Street, Southernmost Tip, Mallory Square, Ernest Hemingway's house, and the small town feel lent a fantastic touch to the place. Again, we had dinner at a great sandwich place, The Cafe, which catered to the vegetarian population of the city. In fact, we were surprised when the waitress told us that Key West, in spite of being in the coast, had a sizable vegetarian population. The colossal veggie sandwich at The Cafe, along with Vegetable Spring Rolls, still tickles my taste buds. Knowing my penchant for finding bad restaurants, it was pretty surprising that we actually found great places to eat at Orlando as well as Key West.
Miami was our final stop before heading over to Orlando. Miami, known for its beaches, did not let down our expectations. It was great fun to drive along Collins Drive, and finding a parking spot was a great challenge. We stopped over at Haulover beach, which was relatively quiet, as we were sure, most of the tourists were hanging out in South Beach. We were not sure how far the shore extends, as we could see miles and miles of sand in either directions, and there were quite a lot of people busy with some activity or the other. Ocean Drive was bustling with life throughout the day, and the night life of Miami need not even be mentioned. We also saw the Hare Rama, Hare Krishna ISKCON group, and an American dressed in a neatly draped saree was inviting a lot of tourist attention. We spent quite some time under the sun, but I am not sure whether it made any difference to my complexion. In a way, it was surprising to see so many people sleeping on the wet sand to get tanned, while back home, fairness is relished and any exposure to the sun is considered as over exposure!
We spent another day at Orlando, and headed back to the white plains of Kansas. We also made a brief note of the fact that the next time we visit Florida, we would spend as much time as possible at Key West & Miami. The Kansas boys had their share of adventure as well, as they had to make a dreadful three hour journey for a five mile drive on a snowy night. There was no traffic jam, but a massive snow storm meant the car had stopped in a dozen places, and pushing the car with an added wind chill factor can be no fun experience. But, the three idiots had to go to the movie that very day!