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Florida

September 14, 2017

Branded  as  a “Sunshine  State”,  Florida  has  perpetually  great  weather  even  through the  winter  (although  we  experienced  a  chilly  front  for  a  few  days,  it  never  dipped below 15 °C). Surrounded by the southernmost east coast of the country, it is home to  some  great  cities  and  beautiful  beaches.  Florida  also  plays  host  to  beautiful historical areas (which to North American standards, means no more than 500 years old). 

 

Orlando is a beacon of consumerism with its theme parks and shopping malls. If you’re into Disney, there are a variety of parks and rides to choose from. In my opinion, you only need a one-day pass to get the full experience; take the monorail between the parks and do stay for the fireworks. 

 

I’m  not  really  into  theme  parks  but  Universal  Studios  has  cool   rollercoasters, simulation  rides,  and  the  magical  Harry  Potter  World.  I’d  suggest going  late  so  its cooler and the queues are much shorter. For some retail therapy, it’s worth checking out  the  premium  outlet  malls  where  you  can  find  major  discounts  on  American brands like Nike (I found some trainers for $39!) 

 

Around  2  hours  from  Orlando  is  the  heritage  town  of  St.  Augustine,  a  surprisingly well-preserved   Spanish   settlement   gem.   The   first   view   from   the   bridge   is   so unexpected –  as  you  begin  to  see  the  fort,   cathedral,   lighthouse, jail-turned-museum, and old Slave Market – and so distinct from the rest of the modern state.  

 

We took another two hours trip from Orlando to visit a friend near Cocoa Beach. As a Florida  local  she  took  us  to  the  wetlands  and  on  an  amazing  airboat  at  the  Lone Cabbage Fish Camp on St. John’s River to see the wildlife. We saw so many stunning birds (Pelicans, Storks, Herons, Sandpipers, etc.) and about 10 alligators!  

 

We  also  ended  up  going  to  Tampa  for  a  few  days.  To  be  honest it’s  not  worth spending  too  much  time, but  some  of  the  highlights  were  taking  a  water-taxi down  the  Hillsborough  River  and  seeing  points  of  interest,  such  as  the  intriguing Moorish architecture of the University of Tampa. And make sure to take a ride on a streetcar  (not  named  Desire)  to  Ybor  City,  a  Historic  Latin,  Cuban,  and  Spanish Quarter  where  you  can  see  cigars  being  made  and  walk  back  in  time  through  the musty vintage shops.  

 

St.  Petersburg  is  another  beautiful  town,  located  in  the  Tampa Bay  Area  that features lots of interesting culture. We went to the Dali Museum where there was a fascinating exhibition on the life of Frida Kahlo. 

 

In between Tampa and Orlando, there is Cape Canaveral, the hub of the NASA Space Kennedy  centre.  The  visitor  complex  is  huge!  We  saw  building  stations,  historic launch sites, and the control room  of the  first successful mission. Of course we also got to see the space suits and the actual rockets.

 

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