Europa 50

Joined April 2018Living in: Napier, New Zealand
  • Day24

    Going backwards to go forwards

    October 14 in the United Kingdom

    Yesterday we bid a reluctant farewell to the grandeur and luxury of Disney's Wilderness Lodge and rode the 45 minutes to Orlando International airport. We checked in, cleared customs in mere minutes compared to the chaotic 90 minute clearance on arrival and departed the States on time with Norwegian Airlines just after 4pm. The trip out here was 9 hours, but due to the vagaries of the jetstream our return journey was only 7 hours. Normally this would be cause to celebrate, but in this case it meant that we arrived into London Gatwick at 4.30am. We had booked a hotel room inside the terminal itself, but seeing as standard check-in times are 3pm, we would normally be wandering the streets for hours like beggars. Not this time however, I plucked the gorse out of my pockets and ponied up the 39 pounds extra for an early check-in. This saw us in the room by 5am and zonked out to help reset our internal clocks to GMT. After a few hours rest my mission awoke me and I felt an irresistible force pulling me towards north London. This meant it was back on the train into central London and then a seven stop tube ride on the Victorian line, before a final short ride on a bus to pull up outside hallowed ground in Haringey. There I beheld a glorious vision, the gleaming new stadium of the glory boys themselves, Tottenham Hotspur. A little shine was taken off this spiritual moment by the fact that the stadium was meant to have been finished and in use over a month ago. No matter, this was still a powerful moment garnished with the obligatory London drizzle. After staring adoringly at the stadium for a while we went searching for the temporary Spurs club shop. Once the new stadium opens it will have the largest club football shop in Europe. For now there is a pokey little store tucked away on Seven Sisters road. This proved elusive and after asking three separate locals we finally located the store, right behind the bus stop where we got off. I put my temporary blindness down to the dazzling effect of the new stadium and the ever present London drizzle. After perusing the limited selection at the temporary club shop we headed for Oxford Circus, via bus and tube. Jean couldn't believe how busy this area was on a rainy Sunday, but London is a powerful magnet for tourists. After battling hordes of tourists and the damp we rode the trains back to Gatwick, had a feed and packed our bags ready for a mid-morning departure tomorrow. Turkey is calling. Gobble gobble.
    Click the link to join my video tour of Disneys Wilderness Lodge.
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  • Day23

    Hakuna matata

    October 13 in the United States

    Whether by accident or design our last Disney Park of this Orlando visit turned out to be our favourite. Animal Kingdom has a relaxed feel that makes it seem less like a theme park and more like a botanic gardens, that just happens to encompass death defying thrill rides. That's a one-two punch that you just can't beat, calming yet terrifying. Once again we managed to drag our weary bodies out of bed and catch the Disney bus to be at the park just before rope drop. Overnight, as I was awake, I cooked up the fiendish plan of trying to head for the most popular ride in the park, Avatar - Flight of Passage. This is the most recent and most sought after ride in any of the Florida Disney parks. Wait times of over two and a half hours are common. I wouldn't even wait that long for a date with Salma Hayek, so luckily I had pre-booked a Fastpass two months ago. But I thought if I could race to the ride just as the park opened I might beat the horde and be on the ride within half an hour or so, freeing me up to ride something else later. Good plan, poor execution. I foolishly arrived at the park just before rope drop, but 3000 other people arrived before that and all decided to stand in a line just where the Avatar standby queue was. Foiled! Everyone racing for the Avatar ride did have the positive side-effect of freeing up lots of other rides in the park, which meant we didn't have to use a Fastpass to ride Expedition Everest. This is a full on, high speed rollercoaster which climbs to a great height, naturally, then flies down backwards before switching tracks and hurtling down and around the mountains to a sudden stop at the bottom. I thoroughly enjoyed it and giggled like a madman the whole time. Someone else had their eyes closed for large portions of this ride. After Expedition Everest we had a couple of hours until our next Fastpass so explored the park admiring the impressive wildlife on display including primates, crocodiles, hippos, tigers and gorillas. This was a real highlight and added to my enjoyment of the park, as the animals looked well cared for and in natural roomy enclosures. Our second Fastpass was for Kilimanjaro Safaris, which takes you in an off road truck through the safari park sections of Animal Kingdom. It was like being on safari in Africa, without having to suffer the inoculations or the risk of email scams. Seeing elephants, lions and giraffes roaming the savannah, or sleeping on it, as many of them were in the Orlando heat, sure works up a hunger. What a stroke of luck that I had made a reservation for lunch at the Rainforest Cafe inside Animal Kingdom. An hour and a half and 27,000 calories later we stumbled out of the cafe in a food induced coma and meandered around the different lands until our Fastpass time for the Avatar ride ticked by. Now I love the Avatar movie and people have raved about this new ride, so I was jonesing to get on it. I was however a little nervous, as it is a motion ride, and a very intense one at that. I have a history of motion sickness and it's these rides that cause it, so I had a full on sweat going as we queued for this treat. It didn't help that the ride had been put on hold earlier in the day because a rider had vomited mid-ride. Mounting my banshee and putting on the 3D glasses I was saying a little prayer to whatever deity would listen. None of them were picking up though as about a minute into the experience, which was astonishing from what I saw to that point, my brain realised that the vision it was processing was not exactly matching the motion it was feeling and was ready to push the abort button. In these situations my go to strategy is to close my eyes until my brain cooperates. I did this off and on throughout the ride, so saw about half of it. Jean was cackling away the whole ride having a whale of a time and she informs me that the bits I missed were spectacular. I felt so much better hearing that. I did manage to see and feel the last minute or so of the ride in a continuous chunk and I'm glad I gave it a whirl, despite what my stomach was telling me. Wobbling off this ride we exited the park and made a quick stop at the hotel to bring our core temperatures down from nuclear meltdown before one last dash for deliciousness at the Cheesecake Factory. Pasta Napolitano and Hershey's Chocolate Bar cheescake wrapping their cholesterol choking fingers around our hearts we finished off our last full day in Orlando with one more trip to the outlet malls. Tomorrow it is hasta la vista Florida and hello again chilly London. Time to ditch the shorts and hold on to your money.
    Click the link below to view video of the safari
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  • Day22

    How hot is it?

    October 12 in the United States

    Just to show the weather conditions here in Orlando. Our server at the Rainforest Cafe said the extreme humidity is due to Hurricane Michael, which just devastated the Florida panhandle.

  • Day22

    Yeah, but it's a wet heat

    October 12 in the United States

    Moist, that is the word which best sums up the prevailing meteorological conditions here in Central Florida. It is hot and wet. While we've been here the daily high hasn't dipped below 31, and with the added humidity it has contributed to widespread moistness. Normally moist is good, with cakes especially, but in this situation it is a challenge. Luckily I'm all about challenge, so despite the moistness we forge ahead.
    Thursday began with the power breakfast of 7-Eleven danish and minute maid lemonade, the nutritional choice of all world class athletes. Fueled and mentally braced we caught the Disney bus to Hollywood Studios. This park is the closest Orlando equivalent to California Adventure in Anaheim, even sharing a few of the same rides. I had pre-booked my Fastpass rides two months ago and was keen to get to the park for rope drop, so we could fit in a ride on the Tower of Terror, well at least I could, someone else doesn't like the drops, before the queues became too long. Unfortunately fate kicked that plan in the nuts as both Tower of Terror and Rock'n'Roller coaster, my first Fastpass selection, were both temporarily closed due to technical issues. Finding my happy place and staying calm in the relentless heat I quickly formulated plan B, head for Star Tours because only the Force could save me now. In a mere ten minutes we were belted into out Galactic shuttle and skimming across the surface of Tatooine. Saved again by Star Wars. Emerging from the blissfully cool AC we roamed the park hunting for further rides with short lines and managed to watch the Muppets 3D before pausing for a hydration break and some trail mix. At this point we decided to take another look at Tower of Terror and Rock'n'Roller coaster, just in case. As we neared the end of the street on which both rides sit a Disney cast member was repeating the message that Rock'n'Roller coaster was still closed, while Tower of Terror was open to Fastpass holders only. Luckily for us we overheard two other cast members saying that Rock'n'Roller coaster had just opened. Armed with this nugget of info we bolted for the ride entrance, well swam through the moist air, and took our place in the Fastpass queue. Quicker than you can say 'Steve Tyler needs to cut back on the plastic surgery', we were lowering the ride restraint and hurtling through the streets of LA to the pounding tunes of Aerosmith. Rock'n'Roller coaster was worth the wait. It was flat out, with high acceleration, corkscrews, loops and inversions. Wobbling out of the ride and gradually regaining equilibrium we charted a course for the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, a live stunt show. Our Fastpass was a booking for the 1.15pm show, but in the spirit of Indy I thought let's take a gamble and try the standby entrance for the 12pm show. Fortune favours the brave, and the hot and sticky fortunately and we were soon seated and enjoying the mock punches and real explosions of this movie classic. By this point our moistometers had reached saturation point, literally, so we made for the park exit and caught the Disney bus back to the hotel then onwards to Disney Springs. This is Disney's destination themed shopping mall, akin to Downtown Disney in Anaheim, but larger and more spread out, like all of Disney World. Lots of exclusive, classy brands such as Fendi, Chopard, Superdry, Tag Heuer etc. which are frankly well above my pay grade. Window shopping complete we decided to refuel at the Rainforest Cafe, a dining fave for both of us. By this point two tired little Disney fans were ready for the respite of the Wilderness Lodge, so we caught one last Disney bus back to the hotel and crashed. Tomorrow is our last Disney Parks day, Animal Kingdom and the world of Pandora awaits.
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  • Day20

    Have a magical day!

    October 10 in the United States

    We were up early again this morning and breakfasting like kings on danishes from 7-Eleven, Then we packed our essential supplies; sunscreen, cash, magic bands, water and my camera gimbal before sauntering down to the dock beside our hotel to await the first ferry of the morning. In no time we were on board and cruising across the lake to the Magic Kingdom. Now this is how to arrive at a theme park! The only disappointment was not seeing any gators in the water, but that's probably for the best, as last year one killed a small child in this lake. Once again we were in the park for rope drop. Now this being Disney's marquee park it was no ordinary rope drop. The mouse himself greeted us outside Cinderella's castle and officially opened the park for the day with some magic and fireworks, before all decorum was lost amid a frenzied scramble to beat the crowds to the rides. We legged it to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and in a mere twenty minutes were careening through canyons, down mineshafts and around gulches. Our first Fastpass of the day was the Jungle Cruise, where we saw lots of hippos, some of them were even in the jungle. The others seemed to be in Disney cast member uniforms. There was about an hour wait between Fastpasses, so while Jean rode Space Mountain, which makes me violently ill, I rode the People Mover, which is a great but sedate means of viewing Tomorrowland. Staying in Tomorrowland we went all Toy Story and took a spin on Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. After four hours of roaming the park and enjoying the heat and humidity we adjourned to the hotel for lunch and a break. I hit the gym to try and combat some of the effects of my prodigious American calorie intake. I fear 90 minutes on the treadmill and bike may be just trying to hold back the sea with a bucket as I find American food to be my kryptonite. Workout complete we braced ourselves for another assault on the Magic Kingdom and caught the next ferry to the park. We arrived just in time to use our last Fastpass of the day and first new ride for this park the Seven Dwarfs (that's not a spelling mistake, it's how Americans spell it) Mine Train. The standby queue for this was 140 minutes! Even with a Fastpass it took us 20 minutes to get on the ride. It's a fun, fast and exciting themed ride, albeit short, but I guess considering the ride theme I should have expected it to be a little short. After a quick feed of more gourmet American food it was time for the fireworks which was the perfect opportunity to squeeze another ride while everyone was looking up and going 'ooohhh pretty'. We rode the Pirates of the Caribbean, which is shorter than its Disneyland counterpart and finished the Magic Kingdom with the ultimate thrill ride. 'It's a small world'. Loaded with adrenaline and all walked out we flowed with the throng out of the gates and voyaged across the lagoon to the Wilderness Lodge and a well earned sleep. Tomorrow it's Star Wars time at Hollywood Studios.Read more

  • Day19

    The world in 300 acres

    October 9 in the United States

    Yesterday was a shopping day, where we hit the Mall at Millenia first. Five minutes after entering we realized we were in the wrong place. It was seeing Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuiton, Hugo Boss etc that made the penny drop, so we quietly exited before they could check our bank balance and biff us out. Before we left the premises completely we did make a refreshment stop at The Cheesecake Factory. Oh lordy their cheesecake is good!!! The hershey's double chocolate cheesecake is worth the two hours on the treadmill afterwards. Once we were Xmas day full we waddled across the road to the SuperTarget store, where we could shop with our people. I bought a new smartwatch before leaving Jean to hit Best Buy and really make my credit card bleed. Twenty minutes later I had my electronics fix so we headed back to the All Star Movies resort, with a quick stop at the outlet mall of course.

    Today was our first park day, so we were at the resort bus stop before eight and entering Epcot at rope drop. First up was Test Track, a race car simulator that's like a giant slot car set, if your slot cars could go 70mph! Once that Fastpass was used we had two hours to kill before the next one, so we took a stroll through the World Showcase, a two hour stroll. They have themed areas for quite a few countries and it's done in the grandeur and detail that only Disney can pull off. We even passed a little New Zealand stall selling green lipped mussels and venison. It took a good two hours to complete the World Showcase loop and it was time for the next Fastpass, Mission Space. This is a space launch simulator, which is a motion ride. These can be my Achilles heel, as I'm prone to motion sickness. Luckily I didn't barf all over our spacecraft, which made the ride even more fun. Following this we rode Spaceship Earth before wandering through more of the park then catching the shuttle to our second Disney hotel. Our first Disney hotel, the All Star Movies resort was very nice, wonderfully themed and huge, but this latest one, The Wilderness Lodge, is another level altogether. It's in Disney's deluxe hotels category and a night there would bankrupt most Pacific nations. We've managed to get four nights there, don't ask how. It is epic in the truest sense of the word. It has a stream running through the lobby and a waterfall leading to one of the pools. After checking in we kicked back and enjoyed watching the latest thunderstorm from our sixth floor balcony. It's a tough life. Tomorrow it's the big one, Magic Kingdom time. Hold on tight kids!
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  • Day17

    Hurry up and wait

    October 7 in the United States

    Today started rudely early, about 3am when I woke up. Timezones are not my friend. It did however give me time to check my phone and notice that our Norwegian Air flight had been delayed by a couple of hours. This was slightly annoying as it would delay our arrival into Orlando, but it would give us a bit more time in our hotel, so glass half full me thought sweet, less rush. Just before 10am we ambled down to the terminal, reveled in using the priority lane to check in and moved seamlessly through security. So far so good, but then things went a little off script. First when I changed a significant amount of pounds and euros for US dollars at the airport currency exchange and got molested by their thieving rates. They would make pickpockets blush. Dragging my bleeding wallet away we checked into the Norwegian Air business lounge and blobbed out. Luckily I checked the departures page on my computer and it suddenly said our flight was boarding, so we legged it for our gate only to see exactly no boarding taking place.It didn't actually begin boarding for another 50 minutes. These two calamities have left a sour taste in my mouth, it's the grubby, gritty taste of London, the most overpriced city yet. Yesterday it cost us $200 to get into the city and onwards to Wembley and return. Give me Berlin or Rome any day! Anyway I digress. We were finally on board our flight and kicking back in premium economy at the front of the plane. This was almost as good as some airlines' business class offerings. Heaps of leg room, passable food and good entertainment options. The only unusual aspect was the almost exclusively male stewards in premium economy. Perhaps vikings don't trust their women with VIPs. Settling back we enjoyed several movies, two meals and even a little shut eye, so apart from the check-in shenanigans Norwegian Air gets a big tick from us. Orlando International Airport though does not. The border security queue at Orlando would make a snail feel like Usain Bolt! It took us two hours to get from landing to actually sitting down on Disney's Magical Express rolling to our Disney hotel. Arriving at our hotel we collected our magic bands and used them to magically open our room door. You can also use them to buy food and souvenirs at the park, store fastpasses for rides and various other convenient uses. Tomorrow we check out Orlando, especially the malls, before storming the parks on Tuesday.Read more

  • Day16

    Glory glory Tottenham Hotspur

    October 6 in the United Kingdom

    Today was the biggie, the event that this entire holiday has built towards. Not my visit to Tescos, the day when I got to watch my beloved Spurs play live for the first time since 1990. The day started with a hiccup though. We stayed at the Glasgow Airport hotel, so we could get up at 5am and literally roll across the road to check-in at Glasgow International for our 6.45am flight. At this stage everything was moving smoothly, too smoothly as it turns out. The universe had obviously seen the fun I have been having and the luxurious lifestyle I have been living and thought, screw you buster, let's have some fun. So we boarded our easyJet flight on time and sat there ready to takeoff for London. And we sat there, and we sat there, and sat, and get the idea. We waited in the plane at the gate for over an hour and a half. Now this wasn't easyJet's fault, the fog in London was affecting flights all over the UK. What was easyJet's fault was letting us board when they knew we couldn't take off until after 8am, sadistic bastards! This meant that we didn't reach London Gatwick until after 10am and screwed my master plan of doing a little sightseeing pre-game. Upon reaching Gatwick we rode the monorail between terminals and checked into our hotel, the Hilton (remember the luxury theme). Once that was done and our bags ditched we legged it faster than a Labrador chasing a sandwich for London Victoria and onwards to Wembley Stadium. At this point I have had a request to mention the weather. Yesterday in London it was sunny and 22 degrees. Today it was not. Today it was 10, with constant rain. Oh universe, you cheeky bugger, you wont stop me. We forged on, through rain and cold and arrived at Wembley just after 1pm. This gave us time for me to visit the merchandise store, where I showed admirable restraint and only bought 2 Spurs shirts, some Spurs gloves, a Spurs baseball cap and a matchday scarf. I shall buy more when we return to London after our time in Florida, and when I have an extra suitcase. Spurs shopping complete we strolled the concourse waiting for kickoff and praying for sunshine. Obviously god doesn't do requests, because the rain continued, throughout the entire match. 3pm and kickoff eventually rolled around and I have to admit there was a pretty big lump in my throat as the ref blew the whistle to start play. A wild mix of emotions surged through me. Excitement and joy at seeing my team and sorrow for missing mates who didn't live to see this day. Squeezing back the tears I sat back for two seconds until I got caught up in the game and then lived every kick, pass and tackle for the full 90 minutes. Fortunately Eric Dier calmed Spurs' nerves in the eighth minute by smacking in a messy rebound and Spurs bossed most of the match from then on, apart from a few Cardiff attacks. When Cardiff were reduced to 10 men about the hour mark I thought the match was in the bag. However, Spurs being the generous team they are you can hardly ever rest easy. In the end though the ref blew time and a cheer of joy and relief range out from the faithful. Now Spurs may have won the match, but I have to give props to the travelling Cardiff support, they cheered, sang and clapped their boys for the full 90. They even tried to have a go after the match, but got a quick kicking from some handy Spurs lads. My journey to mecca complete we tramped back through the rain and retraced our steps to our Gatwick Airport hotel. This required three train rides over 90 minutes. Now sitting in the warmth of the Hilton, the colour is finally returning to my frozen body, Jean however may need to be microwaved to raise her core temperature. Despite the delays and English weather nothing can diminish my joy at having once again been able to support my team in person. Tomorrow we catch our Norwegian Air Dreamliner for Orlando. Mickey you better make sure the place is tidy.
    To see some of my match action click either of these links
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  • Day14

    I'll take the high road.

    October 4 in the United Kingdom

    Today was a mission to meet a friend. Leaving Shawlands about 10am Jean's uncle and I drove to the Arnold Clark rental car depot to pick up my rental car. After about 15 minutes of processing and paperwork, who knows what they do during this time, I was shown out to my rental car. It was supposed to be a Hyundai i30, but that one must have run away, so they 'upgraded' me to a Peugeot 3008. I have to say this is a very nice SUV, with all the latest tech, including a fully animated computer dash. This meant that I simply had to spend the first 50 miles of my trip playing with the options. Once I had stopped geeking out I settled down to enjoy the drive north to Inverness. Several people had warned me about the A9 and how tricky it was, but it's just like a typical New Zealand highway, so it was a doddle for an automotive athlete such as myself. Just 5 miles out of Inverness lies the Culloden Battlefield, so I made time to stop there first and go through the visitor centre. It is extremely well done and clearly explains the events leading up to the fateful battle and the crushing of the Jacobite rebellion. The clans never really stood a chance and some poor decisions and bad luck sealed their fate. Despite this they still fought with incredible spirit and bravery. After paying my respects to the fallen I carried on into Inverness City and met up with my longtime friend and fellow Invercargillite Annalise. She has lived here in Inverness with her two sons for almost a decade and loves the place. It's not hard to see why as it's a beautiful, wild part of the world which reminds me a lot of the area around Kingston and Queenstown. I also think by law she must live somewhere with 'Inver' in the name. After visiting her home which is a lovely old farm house we drove into Beauly for a meal and a night of reminiscing at the Priory Hotel restaurant. The craic was great and I realised it's been far too long since we've seen each other. Tomorrow I'll bid a sad farewell to Annalise and the Highlands and head back for one last night in Glasgow.Read more

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