Doesn’t time fly ….

…. when you’re having fun?

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How is it our last full day in Orlando tomorrow? Clearly we’re having far too much fun because it has flown by! Soon we’ll be back to work, struggling with jet lag and the rest and relaxation will be all but forgotten, but, and it’s a big but, we’ll have the memories and our batteries will be recharged.

Orlando isn’t generally a relaxing holiday in the way that a beach holiday is. We’ve averaged over twelve thousand steps per day (including Saturday when we spent nine hours of the day sitting on our derrieres on a plane) and we’ve been awake, if not up and out, before seven thirty every day (admittedly this is helped by us being five hours behind our body clocks, but still ….). On a typical beach holiday I reckon we average about twelve steps a day and sleep about as many hours! However, I think (jet lag aside) I come back more refreshed and recharged after a holiday in Orlando because my brain is almost completely removed from reality. Everything is exciting, exhilarating and extraordinary. I may sleep less in terms of quantity, but the quality is better because the days are physically tiring and my brain is switched off from anything of concern in the real world.

So, what have we been up to?

Day one we were up and out early because we’d booked a day at Discovery Cove. We grabbed an Uber and we were there around nine am. Discovery Cove is an expensive day, but the price you pay is all inclusive. It includes breakfast, lunch, snacks and drinks …

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… towels, fish-safe suntan lotion, use of a life jacket or wetsuit, snorkel equipment and access to the Grand Reef full of rays, tropical fish and (safely behind glass) sharks.

There’s also a lazy river …

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… a serenity beach …

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… a walk through aviary …

… and a marmoset island.

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You can pay a bit extra and do various activities such as swim with dolphins, feed the rays or seaventure which involves putting on a weird space helmet and walking under water, but we just had the basic package because we didn’t want to be tied to particular timings.

With your ticket you also get free entry into, and parking at, SeaWorld and Aquatica, and for a bit extra, Busch Gardens, so you could make your money go even further if you wanted to do all that too.

We had a great day. Really relaxing. I love the lazy river and the serenity beach. We went there for my fortieth birthday eighteen months ago and it was supposed to be a one time only, day of a lifetime thing, but it was so good that we had to do it again!

On to day two and it was Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure on the itinerary. This is our third visit, so we pretty much know what we’re doing now, and in what order. On our first visit we start off in Universal Studios …

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… and take in all that has to offer, then we take the Hogwarts Express over to Islands of Adventure.

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On our return trip, we do it the other way around because then we can ride the Hogwarts Express in the other direction. You see all sorts of magical Harry Potter goings on outside the window during the trip, for example, Hagrid flying on his bike and the Weasley’s Ford Anglia, and they’re different each way. Unfortunately it didn’t go quite according to plan this time. All was fine on trip one, but today while we were waiting in Hogsmeade Station to go back to Kings Cross, the Hogwarts Express got a technical fault so we couldn’t ride. All was not lost though. In true American great customer service style, everyone was given a single ride express pass as compensation so we ran over to the Hulk coaster which had an eighty minute wait earlier in the day and got straight on that. It’s my favourite coaster so I was disappointed that we hadn’t been on, but didn’t want to wait in a queue for that long.

I could go on and on (and Ariston) about the various aspects of the Universal Parks, but there’s so much in them that I’d be writing for days so instead I’ll just share some of my favourite photos from the two days.

They’re nearly all from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! I enjoy other parts of the parks as well, but the Wizarding World does have a special place in my heart!

Day three we went to another Universal park, this time their water park, Volcano Bay (the one we can see from our bedroom window).

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Volcano Bay is literally two minutes walk away from our hotel, and we have a dedicated entry point from the hotel as well as access an hour earlier than normal park hours.

We were up and in early because we wanted to get on a couple of the big rides before the queues built up. We managed to get on four rides, including Ko’okiri which  is a body plunge through a trapdoor at the top of the volcano which plunges you into the water below, and Krakatau which is an aqua coaster in a canoe which takes you soaring up and around the volcano.

We’d booked premium seating which was a great idea.

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We had our own little space with comfy sun beds and, most conveniently, our own locker which meant we didn’t have to keep traipsing back and forth to the lockers. We could also order food and drinks direct to our seats.

Here’s the volcano up close and personal.

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There’s a pool at the base and every twenty minutes or so the bell goes off signalling that the wave machine is about to start. Much splishy splashy fun was had!

I think my favourite feature is the winding river.

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Here you just float around without a care in the world on your ring, until you decide you’ve had enough.

Here’s a few of the slides we went on, including a view of the volcano from the back.

We’re going back to Volcano Bay again tomorrow to relax on our last day. Hopefully if we get there in the early admission hour we’ll be able to book premium seating again. It worked out as about £65, but it was well worth it for the comfort. Tomorrow is looking like there might be some rain as well so it’ll be good to have a roof, even a canvas one!

Our final destination of the holiday, which we visited yesterday, was Epcot.

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I have to get some Disney in!

First things first, we had to meet Mickey Mouse! We booked character dining at the Garden Grill.

I wasn’t quite as star struck as when we had lunch with Pooh Bear and his Hundred Acre friends a couple of years ago, but I was pretty close!

We spent quite a while in Future World exploring. Several of the rides/attractions are educational which makes a pleasant change. We learnt about the ecosystem and the work Epcot does to try to reduce its carbon footprint on Living with the Land.

It was soon time for something more frivolous though so we went and sat in a giant shell and watched Nemo and Dory and then went to Turtle Talk where we were entertained by Crush. Totally awesome dudes and dudettes (you have to say that in a California surf dude style!)

We queued for ages to get on Soarin’ but oh boy Pluto, was it worth it! Amazing! It really felt like we were flying over some of the world’s most iconic sights.

After this we headed for World Showcase and we explored all the countries. The International Flower and Garden festival is on at the moment and there were some beautiful floral displays, as well as these amazing topiary figures.

We hung around until nine pm so that we could watch IllumiNations. That was well worth the wait, and the ensuing nightmare of getting an Uber along with the rest of Epcot!

Right, it’s late so I’m off to beddy byes. I’m too tired to proofread so apologies for any errors!

 

A great Good Friday

I’m completely confused about what day it is! It feels so much like a Saturday because I haven’t been at work. We even just had a Chinese takeaway for our dinner! I have to remind myself for the next half an hour that it’s actually Friday because Gardeners’ World is on, and it’s back to hourly episodes tonight.

I’ve had a very productive, and enjoyable day, helped muchly by the beautiful weather. I was vaguely aware of the world at six thirty this morning when hubby got up to go to work, but the next thing I knew it was ten to nine. Lovely lie in – just what the doctor ordered!

I decided to take myself into Town (for non-Brummies, that’s Birmingham City Centre – we only ever call it Town round here). The reason for my venture into the heart of the city was that the world’s biggest Primark opened there last week, and I was curious to see what all the fuss is about.

I decided to get the train in to save having to remortgage to pay for parking. There are lots of memories for me on our train line. Mum and I used to use the same line to get to school (she taught at the same school that I attended) and I can remember sitting next to her and chattering away about nothing or reading our books in comfortable silence. I can remember her putting lipstick on me when I’d got sore lips from the walk to the station in the wind in winter because she’d run out of chapstick. I can remember her trying to hold in a giggle when one of the school girls opposite us looked up coldsore in the dictionary (because she had one) but got it slightly wrong and read out ‘a mix of cabbage, carrot and onion in a mayonnaise sauce’.

New Street Station has been completely revamped since I was a child and the main concourse bears absolutely no resemblance to its former self, so much so that I have no idea where I am when I’m there in relation to where I used to be (if you see what I mean!) The platforms haven’t changed much though and they still make me think of train journeys that I took regularly as a child. New Street to Shrub Hill where my Dad would meet me for a weekend or a Christmas in Worcester. New Street to Euston for the first leg of a trip to Reigate to stay with my Granny and Grandad. When I was really little I used to have an imaginary dog in the luggage compartment! It was an Andrex puppy and it was on every London bound train that I got on. I used to play with it during the journey until I got too old, but even then I still used to say hi to it as we boarded the train!

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This is the outside of Primark. It really is huge. It used to be an entire shopping centre! I pinched this picture from t’internet, I didn’t take one today, but if I had it would’ve looked somewhat more busy! It was crazy!

I took a deep breath and dived in! I decided to start at the top and work my way down. It wasn’t quite as busy on the top floor. Here I found the Harry Potter section!

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It wasn’t a massive section, but there was a lot in there, from clothes to toys to stationery. They’ve managed to capture some of that Harry Potter magic in the decor.

There’s a massive focus on Disney throughout the store. There’s even a Disney cafe. I was intending to look at the menu to see if the food’s Disney themed, but there was a massive queue even way before lunchtime.

I couldn’t resist some Disney purchases.

We’re going to Orlando in a week and a day’s time so I got some new PJs to take along with some trainer socks for the gym and a new phone case for my work phone.

As well as Mickey and Minnie Mouse they also had Dumbo, Donald and Daisy Duck, Jungle Book and Lilo and Stitch. There was a distinct lack of any Hundred Acre Wood goodies though. Most disappointing!

There was an area called the ‘Primarket’ which I’ve never seen in Primark before. It had lots of stationery, headphones, phone cases and other techie things. I had fun looking at everything here. Most people are after cheap clothing so there was a bit of breathing space here.

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This is what I decided to put in my basket. Not the iPad, the arm that it’s attached to. You can’t see it very well, but it clips on to a table or chair and holds your tablet up for you. A couple of weeks ago when hubby was away for the night, I decided to take my crocheting to bed and watch an episode of the Crown, and I had great trouble balancing my iPad on the bed. If I’d have had this, no problemo!

I was also on the lookout for some cheap clothes and I managed to get four spaghetti strap tops for our holiday for four quid each!

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Primark, or Primarni if you will, clothes aren’t the best quality (at £4 that’s not surprising) but for holidays when you’re likely to get suntan lotion all over them, they’re great! I just hope I’m not funding some child labour sweatshop in the Philippines though! I can’t find any evidence of this, but they’re hardly likely to admit it now, are they?

I headed home to get out in the garden in the afternoon to make the most of the gorgeous weather.

I decided I’d better tackle the front garden. Those of you who follow me on Instagram (greengirlgardener) May have seen my post saying that I’m in love with my garden with a pic of our back garden. The same can’t be said about our front garden. Our plan, when funds allow, is to turn the front garden into a drive, so I begrudge time out there when I could be in the back. It may seem almost sacreligious to some of you to block pave a garden, but we have so much to do out the back that we just don’t have the time to do justice to both.

Anyway, it was in quite a state, embarrassingly so! It’s still not perfect now, I need to get the hedge cutter out and we need to replace a fence, but it looks a lot tidier.

Here’s some before and afters.

I was less stringent with my weeding than I have been in previous years. I left most of these hanging around.

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I feel that Dandelion flowers must really feel that their leaves are holding them back. The leaves are quite ugly but the flowers, whilst not being on a par with a Rose or an Anemone, are reasonably pleasing to the eye. Anyway, I’ve left them for the bees. According to Facebook (therefore it must be true) Dandelions are bees first source of pollen.

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I’ve also left several of these Geranium type plants. I say Geranium type plants because I’ve never left them long enough to grow before, but the leaves look Geraniumish to me. We’ll see what happens in a few weeks. I thought, if they are Geraniums, or some other non-weed, they’ll hopefully provide some ground cover which will make weeding less necessary.

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There’s another of the Geranium type plants amongst some of the Peonies. These have sprung up this week. They are really really beautiful when they flower. If we can ever afford to turn the garden into a bigger drive, I’ll attempt to move them to the back. I’ve read that they don’t like to be moved, but I’ll give it a go.

Three days off still ahead – what a blissful thought! Hope you all have a great Easter break.

Enchanting Edinburgh part two

Hello, it’s me again, harping on about Edinburgh some more!

Day two and I woke up in my hotel feeling refreshed and ready for a full day of sightseeing. I got ready, grabbed my Belvita Breakfast Biscuits and headed off down Princes Street to the tour bus stop outside Waverley Station.

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I prebooked tickets for a hop on hop off bus with Edinburgh Bus Tours. It was £55 but I could hop on and off three routes, the red City Sightseeing bus and the green Edinburgh tour which both concentrated on the central sights, and the blue Majestic route which went all the way out to Leith. I also got fast track entry into three attractions, Edinburgh Castle, Holyroodhouse Palace and the Royal Yacht Britannia, and it just so happened that these three were top of my wish list.

I decided to start furthest away from the city and work my way back, so I jumped on the Majestic bus and grabbed a seat on the open top. Admittedly there was a roof over about a third of the top deck, but it was mostly open, and I was warmer than I was on top of the open top bus in Malta! Bizarre weather for February, in Scotland! I was given headphones so I plugged in and listened to the commentary as we drove.

Soon we arrived in Leith and I hopped off excited to see the Royal Yacht. The way they’ve arranged this is really good. The entrance is on the top floor of the adjacent shopping centre and you enter the Yacht via a gangway straight on to the top deck. As you finish on each deck you go back down the gangway and down a flight of stairs to the gangway on to the deck below. An audio guide is included which gives you loads of interesting info.

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On the top deck, fairly obviously you find the bridge and an open deck which must’ve been fab for all those honeymooning Royals in warm climes. Four Royal couples chose to start married life aboard Britannia. Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong-Jones sailed around the Caribbean for six weeks on her following their wedding in 1960 and Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips endured twenty foot high waves and severe sea sickness on their 1973 honeymoon also to the Caribbean. Prince Charles and Princess Diana sailed round the Med and the Greek Islands for sixteen days in 1981 after they tied the knot. The state room that they slept in is the only one to have a double bed, which Prince Charles specifically requested for their honeymoon (somewhat ironically given subsequent events!) Finally Prince Andrew and Fergie enjoyed five days cruising round the Azores following their 1986 nuptials. I would recommend that anyone considering marriage doesn’t go anywhere near Britannia in the weeks following their marriage given that in the working lifetime of the Yacht, all those Royals who honeymooned on her ended up divorced!

Next deck down are the state rooms of the Royal Family. The Queen and Prince Phillip had adjoining rooms, both with single beds.

Both were decorated specifically to each occupant’s preference.

Throughout the ship you will also find various reception rooms, some of which are available to hire. I imagine it costs quite a few pretty pennies, but how cool would it be to hold an event on the Royal Yacht? I did wonder how they vet the requests because I noted that there were plush carpets throughout most of the rooms and I don’t think they’d take kindly to some raucous hen do spilling red wine everywhere!

Speaking of alcohol, there was no shortage of opportunity to enjoy a few jars or tots. On the upper decks there were sophisticated bars where the Royals could’ve relaxed before dinner.

And further down you find your pubby type drinking establishments more aimed at the navies where they could wind down after their duties were done for the day.

There were more than two hundred and fifty crew on the Royal Yacht including a military band, all headed by an Admiral.

Their living quarters were somewhat less palatial than those of the Royal Family.

Except the Admiral, of course, who had his own separate quarters near the bridge that were much more suited to his rank.

The ship was built with the dual purpose of being used as a hospital ship in times of need, and it could be completely converted within a week if the need arose (which it never did).

I loved wandering, and wondering, around the Royal Yacht but I had a lot to fit it, so I headed back to the hop on hop off bus, which turned up bang on time, and headed back towards the city and Holyroodhouse Palace.

Holyroodhouse Palace is the Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh, and she spends a week there every July (lucky lady) to undertake Royal engagements and investitures. The photo above is the fountain at the entrance to the palace. The water only flows when the Queen is in residence or on special occasions to save it from damage. It’s forbidden to take photos inside the palace so I’m struggling to remember everything that I saw, but I was left with an overwhelming feeling of awe. It’s a wonderful place to visit, full of history and legend. Its walls are covered with the most fantastic tapestries and paintings.

Mary Queen of Scots is probably the most famous former resident. She lived at Holyroodhouse Palace from 1561 to 1567. I walked through her bedchamber with its tiny bed (which must’ve been uncomfortable given that Mary was six feet tall) and through to the outer chamber. This is where Mary was eating her dinner on 9th March 1566 when she witnessed the brutal murder of her private secretary David Rizzio by her jealous husband Lord Darnley and his henchmen. He was stabbed fifty six times! Clearly jealousy is a powerful weapon!

Bonnie Prince Charlie also resided here for six weeks in 1745. He came to claim the throne of Great Britain. It seems he was quite a character! You can walk through the Great Gallery which he used to greet his audiences by day, but then transformed it so he could party the night away in the same space. He slept in the Lord Darnley chamber and the very bed he slept in is still there.

Back outside, I came to the ruins of Holyrood Abbey. This was a grand mediaeval abbey, and although it is now in ruins, from what is left, you can imagine how grandiose it once was. The photo ban is lifted for the abbey, and you don’t have to tell me twice!

There’s a great view of Arthur’s Seat from the front courtyard of the palace. Next time I find myself in Edinburgh, I will definitely attempt to get to the top because the views must be stunning.

Next stop, Edinburgh Castle. So, back on the hop on hop off bus, this time the green Edinburgh Tour. This one had live commentary rather than prerecorded. I wasn’t on the bus long, but I learnt about Greyfriars Bobby.

Bobby became famous because after his owner of two years died and was buried in Greyfriars Cemetery, Bobby slept on the grave every night until his death fourteen years later. He is commemorated in this statue and his grave can be found in Greyfriars Cemetery also, not far from his owners.

Isn’t that heartwarming?

Edinburgh Castle looms over the city. There’s not many places you can’t see it from. It was a Royal residence as early as the twelfth century right up to sixteen thirty three, but from the fifteenth century it was used less and less as a residence and it was principally used as a military base.

There’s evidence inside of the Royal connection, not least through the presence of the Scottish Crown Jewels. No photos allowed, but they’re pretty impressive, although perhaps not as much so as I anticipated. I think I was dreaming of something like this.

I peered into the tiny tiny room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI (and I of England). It’s got incredible painting on the walls and ceilings.

I’m sure she wasn’t really paying attention to that whilst in the throes of labour!

The castle was fortified to the hilt. This cannon could send its contents flying two miles away. TWO MILES!

I have to include this next photo of another cannon purely because I like the photo!

I don’t think I did the Castle justice. I paid for the audio guide, but having spent all day listening to audio guides and absorbing oodles of interesting information, I’d reached saturation point and I couldn’t take much more in. Perfect excuse to go back!

Now, after all this historical culture, I decided it was time for some more up to date exploring – Harry Potter! Of course! Edinburgh is the home of JK Rowling, and Hogwarts and Hogsmeade are fictionally (I think, although as a muggle, I may just not be able to see them) located somewhere in Scotland.

I’d already seen for myself where a lot of the inspiration behind Harry Potter must’ve come from. As soon as I arrived in the centre of Edinburgh, I said to myself (actually out loud I think) as I trotted down Princes Street ‘Hogwarts could NOT have looked any different!) This is what you see as you head away from Waverley Station.

Doesn’t it just look like Hogwarts could be hiding behind the more modern buildings?

Then as I looked around Edinburgh, I saw the spires, turrets and arches of Holyroodhouse Palace …

… the Great Hall in Edinburgh Castle …

… and the Scott Monument in Princes Park …

… and I knew without a doubt that Harry Potter could only have come to life out of the imagination of someone who knew and loved Edinburgh.

I found the elephant house which is the cafe where JK Rowling wrote some of the early books.

I didn’t have time to go in – another thing on the list for next time. Apparently the toilets are daubed with Harry Potter themed graffiti.

I sauntered down Victoria Street which is said to have inspired Diagon Alley …

… and I searched Greyfriars Cemetery for the grave which allegedly gave rise to Tom Riddle, who as any devotee will know, became Lord V …. nope, can’t do it! He who must not be named!

I spotted various miscellany dotted around Edinburgh that made me wonder if JK had seen the same and used them in her writing.

In the castle I saw this crest …

Slytherin?

In Princes Park there’s a statue of Allan Ramsay, the poet.

See his headwear? Did JK see this and imagine a creature living in that scarf? Is that how Professor Quirrell came to be?

A unicorn at Holyroodhouse Palace. This is not an isolated unicorn. They’re all over Edinburgh because, I learnt, the unicorn is the national animal of Scotland! Did this spark all the magical beasts (and where to find them!) in Harry Potter. You saw in part one all I learnt about faeries on my walking tour. It seems perfectly natural now that JK’s imagination gave rise to all these magical, mythical animals.

By now I’d clocked up nearly twenty thousand steps so I was feeling in need of a quick pit stop and then my bed! I found Makar’s Gourmet Mash Bar which I had previously researched on tripadvisor so I gladly fell into a window seat to rest my weary bones.

When in Rome and all that! I had to give haggis a try while I was there. I’d already enjoyed several Irn Brus (although they were in plastic bottles and I’ve since learnt that it tastes much better from a glass bottle) so I upped the Scottish ante and ordered mini haggis, neeps and tatties (otherwise known as haggis, potato and turnip) which promised to be a perfect beginner’s option for those new to haggis.

Yum! It didn’t last long! I followed this up with Bonnie Prince Charlie char-grilled chicken in a whisky, peppercorn and mustard sauce. You get to choose from eight different kinds of mash and I opted for Scottish cheddar/chive cheese mash.

Double yum! I couldn’t finish it, although I really tried hard, and I had no room for dessert.

It would appear that I had rather a lot to say about Edinburgh, and I haven’t even mentioned the zoo yet! I think I’ll save that for another day because regular animals (impressive as some of them were) seem rather misfitting next to unicorns and other magical beasts. Suffice it to say that I had an amazing, awesome, outstanding day. Thank you Edinburgh!