Florida and Space Shuttle Launch 2010 (Blast from the Past Post)

This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!  These posts are usually heavy on the photos, but lighter on the narrative text.


 

I wanted to revive my “Blast from the Past” posts. Thanks to a recent trip to Florida (and another one forthcoming for our trip to Disney!), I started to think back to previous trips to Florida and thought I’d cover those trips!

Back in 2010, Ken and I knew that the NASA shuttle program was coming to a close, and we decided to get tickets to see one of the last shuttle launches. In May 2010 we watched the last launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis.*

It was truly one of the most tremendous experiences of my life. I don’t throw around that phrase lightly.  I know one of the other experiences in my life that has that designation was my trip to the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta.

I had seen a few shuttle launches as a kid, but mostly from nearby Cocoa Beach and never actually at Kennedy Space Center property. Being closer was just incredible.

As the countdown went to zero and we could see the shuttle lift off the launch pad, there was this incredible ROAR that followed.  It was several seconds after the shuttle was in the air, and the vibration from the rocket engines was so amazing.  Powerful. Humbling. That there are things just SO powerful that can be made by humankind.  HUMANS CAN LAUNCH THINGS INTO OUTER SPACE.

Anyway, on to photos.

Shuttle launch tickets

When we got to Kennedy Space Center, there were MANY MANY lines to stand in.  One line after another to get us on the right buses that would transport us to the causeway where we’d watch the shuttle launch.

Lines at Kennedy Space Center

We were tremendously unprepared for this trip!  We thought we’d have some time at the Kennedy Space Center before heading to the site to watch the launch. But nope, we were bussed out to the launch site a good six hours before the launch was actually scheduled. Which left us in May Florida heat, with no sunscreen, no water (that we brought anyway, we could purchase it on the causeway), and only one lowly towel to sit on (on the grass).

Laying on the grass waiting for the shuttle launch

The people next to us were much more prepared with folding chairs.

Folding chair

The Florida sun was BEATING down on us.

Florida sun

We walked around for a little while. We saw the big countdown clock.

Shuttle countdown clock

There was also a makeshift post office. If you mailed something there, you’d have a commemorative cancelled stamp.

Post office at shuttle launch Post office at shuttle launch

As the clock counted down, the crowd became electric!

Crowds waiting for shuttle launch Crowds waiting for shuttle launch

Then the clock approached zero, steam started to spew from the base of the rockets.

Shuttle beginning to launch Shuttle beginning to launch

For a moment the shuttle and entire launchpad disappeared behind the plumes of smoke/steam.

Shuttle beginning to launch

And we had liftoff!

Space Shuttle Liftoff from Kennedy Space Center

The shuttle moved with such speed that my camera had a hard time focusing on it!

Space Shuttle Liftoff of Atlantis in 2010 Space Shuttle Liftoff from Kennedy Space Center Space Shuttle Liftoff from Kennedy Space Center Space Shuttle Liftoff from Kennedy Space Center

And within a matter of 90 seconds or so, the shuttle was completely gone from sight and all that was left was a giant plume of smoke.

Space Shuttle Liftoff from Kennedy Space Center

Kennedy Space Center

The next day, we actually went BACK to Kennedy Space Center to visit.

Ken and I at Kennedy Space Center Kennedy Space Center Kennedy Space Center

There was an incredibly somber area, a wall of remembrance for astronauts who lost their lives in the line of duty.

wall of remembrance at Kennedy Space Center wall of remembrance at Kennedy Space Center wall of remembrance at Kennedy Space Center wall of remembrance at Kennedy Space Center

We boarded the bus tour that departs the main area of the Kennedy Space Center every 15 minutes or so.  That took us up close to a lot of the launchpads and buildings!

Kennedy Space Center Kennedy Space Center Kennedy Space Center Kennedy Space Center Kennedy Space Center

We had just seen a shuttle launch from one of those launchpads the day before!

And then we walked around a really cool area of the Space Center, which included a Saturn V rocket (which is HUGE!), and the original mission control stations for the Apollo missions!

Kennedy Space Center Kennedy Space Center Kennedy Space Center Kennedy Space Center Kennedy Space Center Kennedy Space Center

Cocoa Beach

After KSC, we made a brief stop at Cocoa Beach (Ken watched reruns of I Dream of Jeannie when he was a kid! And since that show took place at Cocoa Beach, he wanted to make a stop there!)

Cocoa Beach Cocoa Beach

Gatorland

One of our last touristy stops during our trip to Florida in 2010 was one of my favorite “off the beaten path” spots in Orlando.  Gatorland!

Gatorland in Orlando Gatorland in Orlando Gatorland in Orlando Gatorland in Orlando Gatorland in Orlando Gatorland in Orlando

That was it for our 2010 trip to Orlando! The shuttle launch was a truly amazing experience. Although the shuttle program has since retired, I’m hoping to go to another type of launch at some point in the future!

 

Naples and Pompei, Italy – Europe 2010 (Blast from the Past)

This entry is part 12 of 12 in the series Europe 2010 (Spain and Mediterranean Cruise)

This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!  These posts are usually heavy on the photos, but lighter on the narrative text.

The last stop on our Mediterranean Cruise was Naples, Italy. We were nearing the end of our two week trip abroad, and we were pretty worn out and tired. We walked around Naples for a little while (no photos, gasp!) and then went on an afternoon excursion (purchased through the cruise line) to Pompeii.

Like Rome and Florence, I had been to Naples and Pompeii before on my 1997 trip to Italy. However, this was Ken’s first time there. And I felt like I had a much greater appreciation of Pompeii this time, compared to when my 16-year-old-self viewed Pompeii as not much more than a big pile of rubble.

On our drive to Pompeii from Naples, our guide pointed out Mt. Vesuvius:

Mt. Vesuvius in Naples, Italy

As we walked up a steep hill toPompeii I thought about my previous time there, when I was 16, and I remember being totally bored. It’s a huge, ruined city. “More of the same,” I remember myself saying as we walked around the huge city of ruins. Luckily I had a greater appreciation for it this time around!

Walking up hill to Pompeii entrance

For the most part, I’ll let the pictures do the talking here!

Pompeii Ruins in Italy | Celebrity Cruise Excursion Pompeii Ruins in Italy | Celebrity Cruise Excursion Pompeii Ruins in Italy | Celebrity Cruise Excursion Pompeii Ruins in Italy | Celebrity Cruise Excursion Pompeii Ruins in Italy | Celebrity Cruise Excursion Pompeii Ruins in Italy | Celebrity Cruise Excursion Pompeii Ruins in Italy | Celebrity Cruise Excursion

This dog kept following our tour group around! Adorable!

Dog inPompeii

Luckily, Pompei was not crowded at all. It was so nice to walk around and have space between the people, and not have crowds in every photograph, unlike the previous day in Rome, and our awful experience at the Vatican Museum.

The only crowd we really saw was this line of people, waiting to get into the ancient brothel in Pompei. It still has inscriptions and drawings of …, ahem, menu service offerings on the wall inside.

Line outside the ancient Pompei brothel

The early October weather was just gorgeous for walking around!

Touring Pompei Touring Pompei Touring Pompei Touring Pompei Touring Pompei Touring Pompei Touring Pompei

Our tour was thorough, but only took about 90 minutes. After the obligatory waiting around in the gift shop after the tour was over, our bus departed and headed back to the cruise ship! We had had a great time on our trip, but we were ready to get back home!

We had one day at sea on the ship after Naples, and then we ended the cruise where we started – in Barcelona. From there we headed straight to the airport and started our journey back home!

Pisa and Florence, Italy – Europe 2010 (Blast from the Past)

This entry is part 10 of 12 in the series Europe 2010 (Spain and Mediterranean Cruise)

This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!  These posts are usually heavy on the photos, but lighter on the narrative text.

The next stop on our cruise was Livorno, a port city close to Florence and Pisa. We took the opportunity to see both cities during our short day!

Leaning Tower of Pisa Florence, Italy

We booked another ship-offered cruise excursion. The excursion was essentially transportation to both cities. Once we were dropped off in Pisa and then again in Florence, we were on our own. There were no guided tours, but we were okay with that.

Leaning Tower of Pisa

The first stop was Pisa. I’m not sure why, but I was kind of gearing myself up for disappointment at the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I think that I was probably wondering if it was going to be overhyped or just not that interesting, or like way overly touristy.

Well, perhaps I just set my expectations low, but I was really blown away by it! As our bus approached, I snapped this picture from the road. Already I was like, wow, that looks pretty cool!

View of Leaning Tower of Pisa from the road

I didn’t know that there were other impressive structures near the Leaning Tower (this whole area is called “The Field of Miracles.”) Everything leans there, because the ground was just too soft for anything to remain straight.

In the foreground, the round building is the Baptistry. Behind that is the Duomo, and then behind that is the Leaning Tower. Although the leaning is not as dramatic, the Baptistry and Duomo also lean!

Baptistry, Duomo, and Leaning Tower of Pisa

It was somewhat crowded, but not too terribly, so we could actually walk around at an enjoyable pace and not be stuck in huge crowds.

Leaning Tower of Pisa

And of course, everybody haad to do the classic “hold up the tower” pose!

People in pose holding up Leaning Tower of Pisa People in pose holding up Leaning Tower of Pisa

Ken and I included!

Ken holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa

The details on the structures were so gorgeous!

Details around the Field of Miracles and Leaning Tower of Pisa Details around the Field of Miracles and Leaning Tower of Pisa Details around the Field of Miracles and Leaning Tower of Pisa Details around the Field of Miracles and Leaning Tower of Pisa

We walked around and took a TON of pictures. We had such gorgeous skies that day!

Closeup of the Leaning tower of pisa Colorful buildings next to Leaning Tower of Pisa Duomo next to the Leaning Tower of Pisa Baptistry next to Leaning Tower of Pisa

And, let us not forget to point out that McDonald’s has the ability to infiltrate any market. Even the across-the-street-from-the-Leaning-Tower-of-Pisa market.

McDonald’s next to Leaning Tower of Pisa

We didn’t go up in the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but my sister and her family, who took a separate excursion, did go up in the Tower and she said it was pretty cool.

I always love photographing funny and/or confusing signs, and I thought that this one, near the parking area, was a definite contender for confusing signs:

Weird sign with lots of arrows

After walking around the Leaning Tower of Pisa, it was time to board our bus to Florence.

Florence, Italy

I had previously been to Florence. It was in 1997, I was 16, and it was my first trip abroad without family. I remember that even as an angsty teenager, I thought that Florence was super cool. One of my greatest memories was seeing Michelangelo’s The David at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence. I just remember how impressive it was. Every muscle was so realistic looking, it was almost impossible to imagine a sculptor so talented. So, I suggested to Ken that the Academy of Fine Arts be one of our stops in Florence. (Again, like Pisa, the excursion didn’t include any guided tours, just transportation to the city).

We booked tickets online to get into the museum, months before we left on our trip. Pretty much right after we reserved the excursion. That was a pretty big gamble because we had no idea, for instance, how long our stop at Pisa would be and what time we would arrive in Florence. Well, as luck would have it, the time we selected was perfect. We arrived just in time to enter the museum, avoiding the VERY LONG line to buy tickets.

Unlike my trip to the Academy of Fine Arts in 1997, photography was no longer permitted. However, pretty much everybody else seemed to be taking photographs. And it didn’t seem to be very enforced. And even when it was, somebody just came up to you and asked you to stop taking pictures. So, right or wrong, I made sure my flash would not fire, and snapped a few pictures inside the museum, including some of The David.

The David The David The David

We walked around the museum for quite some time, but I respected the photography rule for pretty much the rest of the museum. Just taking a few here and there.

Wall of Busts in the Academy of Fine Arts

After leaving the museum, we still had some time to walk around Florence.

Walking around Florence Walking around Florence

We walked toward the Duomo di Firenze, a stunning structure in Florence:

Duomo di Firenze Duomo di Firenze Duomo di Firenze Duomo di Firenze Duomo di Firenze Duomo di Firenze

And then we continued on to the Piazza della Signoria:

Piazza della Signoria Piazza della Signoria Piazza della Signoria Piazza della Signoria Piazza della Signoria

The Michelangelo’s The David, which we had just seen in the museum, had originally been housed outdoors, here in Piazza della Signoria. Today, a replica stands where the original was located. The original was moved the the museum in 1873.

Original location of David statue Original location of David statue

Being so limited on time, we weren’t able to stop at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, but we will defnitely go there on a future visit! We did walk through the courtyard of the Uffizi:

Uffizi courtyard

We walked around Florence’s Arno River:

Along the Arno River in Florence Along the Arno River in Florence

We ended our walk around Florence in the Santa Croce Square, home to the Santa Croce Cathedral:

Santa Croce Square Santa Croce Cathedral Santa Croce Cathedral Santa Croce Cathedral

We had time to grab a great pizza lunch, and then it was time to board the bus back to Livorno and get back on the cruise ship!

XX

Rome was next!

Portofino, Italy – Europe 2010 and Mediterranean Cruise (Blast from the Past)

This entry is part 9 of 12 in the series Europe 2010 (Spain and Mediterranean Cruise)

 

This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!  These posts are usually heavy on the photos, but lighter on the narrative text.

The next port-of-call on our Mediterranean cruise was Genoa, Italy. For this port, we opted for a cruise ship-organized shore excursion to Portofino.

Portofino, Italy

The excursion was supposed to include a leisurely scenic boat ride onboard a smaller vessel to get from Genoa to Portofino. However, the weather was quite rough that day. (Luckily it was the only bad weather day of our entire two week trip in Europe!) So rough, in fact, that they had to cancel the scenic boat ride part, and take us via bus to Portofino.

Except, the tour buses could only take us part way to Portofino (I think it was to Santa Margherita). The rest of the way had to be taken via public buses.

Sign for bus to Portofino Public bus to Portofino

The tour guides were doing their best, and Ken and I didn’t mind, but some folks were getting REALLY cranky. Especially because there was limited seating on the public buses, and the bus went on very narrow and windy roads to get to Portofino.

The locals were especially upset that their public transportation system was being clogged by droves of tourists. We even saw an altercation between one local woman and a bus driver. The altercation drew the attention of the police. So, this trip was quite the adventure! (In the picture below, the police officer is yelling at the woman who was at the center of the altercation)

Altercation

Portofino itself was gorgeous. Luckily the rain had stopped for our time walking around!

Walking around Portofino, Italy Walking around Portofino, Italy Walking around Portofino, Italy

We walked up a large hill in Portofino to a cliffside church, called the San Giorgio Church:

San Giorgio Church in Portofino San Giorgio Church in Portofino San Giorgio Church in Portofino

And behind the church was a cemetery. Although it sounds like a strange thing to say, the cemetery was quite lovely. (I think I said the same thing about our tours of cemeteries in New Orleans!)

Cemetery behind San Giorgio Church in Portofino Cemetery behind San Giorgio Church in Portofino Cemetery behind San Giorgio Church in Portofino Cemetery behind San Giorgio Church in Portofino Cemetery behind San Giorgio Church in Portofino

The buildings were so colorful and gorgeous in Portofino!

Colorful buildings in Portofino Colorful buildings in Portofino Colorful buildings in Portofino Colorful buildings in Portofino Portofino colors

 

And the rocky cliffsides leading straight down to the sea looked like they were right out of a movie!

Cliffsides Cliffsides

After walking around and having a quick pastry from a local shop, we boarded the public bus back to Santa Margherita. We had some time to walk around Santa Margherita, but unfortunately it started to rain pretty hard while we were walking around. But what we did see of it was gorgeous!

Santa Margherita Santa Margherita Santa Margherita Santa Margherita Santa Margherita

We boarded a tour bus back to Genoa, and then got back on the cruise ship. That was it for our time in Genoa. We probably would’ve had some time to explore Genoa, but the weather was pretty lousy. Instead, we just relaxed on the ship for the rest of the afternoon.

Granada and Toledo, Spain – Europe 2010 (Blast from the Past)

This entry is part 5 of 12 in the series Europe 2010 (Spain and Mediterranean Cruise)

This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!  These posts are usually heavy on the photos, but lighter on the narrative text.

The next stop on our Spain tour was Granada. No doubt about it, I was so excited for this stop. I had been wanting to visit The Alhambra (located in Granada) since learning about it in 10th grade Spanish class. No joke!

Aannnnndddd, there was country-wide general strike the day we were going to visit the Alhambra. Which meant it was closed. No joke. Sad panda.

“Huelga General” (General Strike) September 29, 2010:

Huelga General in Spain in 2010

Everywhere, there were signs “Closed for the strike.” It was difficult even finding a place to eat. We ended up finding a pizza place eventually! It was a ghost town everywhere we went!

sign that says closed for strike

Well, luckily our tour operator was able to reschedule the visit to the Alhambra for the next day. That meant that our time would be truncated in the final tour stop, Toledo, but I was okay with that. Not much you can do about strikes!

The Alhambra (Granada, Spain)

Sign for the Alhambra

I’m always a little worried when I have such high expectations for a place. I always wonder if I’ve overhyped it in my head, and if it will be sort of a letdown.

Well, no letdown here! The Alhambra was gorgeous!

The Alhambra The Alhambra The Alhambra The Alhambra The Alhambra

I also just want to point out here that the late September / early October timeframe for visiting Spain seemed absolutely fantastic. Very few crowds!

The Alhambra The Alhambra

Much like other places we had seen already in Seville and Cordoba, the Alhambra is a mix of Christian and Islamic architectures. The Alhambra was originally built as an Islamic Palace. Later, Christian elements were added so that it could serve as a Christian palace as well

The Alhambra The Alhambra The Alhambra The Alhambra

Washington Irving, an American author born in the late 1700s, traveled to Spain and later wrote “Tales of the Alhambra.” There is a plaque dedicated to Irving at the Alhambra

Washington Irving Plaque at the Alhambra The Alhambra The Alhambra The Alhambra The Alhambra

Like most old places that we visit, there was some restoration work underway:

Restoration work at the Alhambra Restoration work at the Alhambra

And there were some truly fantastic views of Granada from the Alhambra:

View of Granada from the Alhambra Ken at the Alhambra

After walking around and touring many of the indoor spaces and courtyards of the Alhambra, we made our way to what is arguably the most famous part of the Alhambra, the stunning gardens.

Gardens at the Alhambra Gardens at the Alhambra Gardens at the Alhambra Gardens at the Alhambra Gardens at the Alhambra Gardens at the Alhambra Gardens at the Alhambra Gardens at the Alhambra Gardens at the Alhambra

With that, we wrapped up our time at the Alhambra, thankful that we were still able to see it despite the previous day’s strike.

Toledo (A brief visit)

Since the strike made us essentially squeeze more activities into a tighter timeframe, we only got to spend a few hours in Toledo instead of the full day. We headed there straight after the Alhambra.

First, our bus stopped on a lookout viewpoint across from Toledo to take some photos of the city! Gorgeous!

View of Toledo, Spain View of Toledo, Spain View of Toledo, Spain

We only had about an hour to walk around in Toledo, and funny enough, we didn’t take many photos. (Very unlike us, I know!)

I think there were two issues. 1) We were starving. So most of our time was spent seeking and subsequently standing in line for food. 2) We were all toured-out at that point. There’s only so much bus-shuttling I can take, so we were happy to see the “organized travel” portion of our trip coming to an end! and 3) Oh my goodness, the steps and steep streets in Toledo. Not great for two out-of-shape people! We were physically tired just getting to the main square! (Some parts of the city even have escalators, pictured below)

Either way, if we ever go back to Spain, I’d love to visit Toledo again and see it properly instead of being rushed.

Steep streets in Toledo Steps in Toledo

Here are the city escalators I was talking about:

Toledo escalators Main square in Toledo, Spain Main square in Toledo, Spain

That was it! We boarded our tour bus and headed back to Madrid, where we had started just four days earlier!