Tower of London and Tower Bridge

One day in London we explored the Tower of London. This was my first visit to the tower since my coach tour skipped it last time.
The tower served many of purposes over the years. It served as a home, an armoury, a treasury, a fortess, etc. Many rulers had their way with the fortress over the years.

Henry III was a particularly odd one with some sort of weird obsession with animals. He had a menagerie here.  I am not 100% sure but I think he is responsible for these monkey statues.

Little chapel

We got to learn about life in the court. Those people ate a bunch.

Remember when I was talking earlier about Henry III? He had many animals one of which was a polar bear gifted to him. I am pretty sure the animals didn’t have a long life span given some of the descriptions in the tower exhibits.

Now we get to all the fun stuff. Lots of horse statues.

And a messed up dragon.

And you always need to stop and watch these guys with those hats.

Ravens are big here too. They kind of own the place.

After the tower we went to go get a snack to eat. Carlos ended up making some close friends.

While we snacked we see a nice view of the Tower Bridge. We skipped the visit to the bridge and admired it from afar.

A walk along the Thames leads us to this L’eggs shaped building.

After our walk we decide to visit the Banquet Hall since admission is free as part of the tourism pass we purchased. Outside we saw some protesters.

The Banquet Hall wasn’t all that exciting to visit but I did dig this hallway.

Some more walking around town leads us to some interesting sites.


Trafalgar Square

Another beautiful day in London in the books.


After visiting Khajuraho we visited Orchha enroute to Agra.
It was of course another long car ride with lots to see on the way. Everything and their mother is on the road and in some cases coming toward us like the cow and bike below. I am thankful that I do not have to drive in India.

One piece of fashion that you rarely see in the US but is still intensely popular in India (in the winter) is the men’s sweater vest.

Old structures are scattered throughout this region.

Our drive took us past this small village on the way to our next destination.

We ran into this group of kids on the way. The driver told us that they play music and the kids follow the truck to church. I guess that is a creative way to get kids to go to church.

Eventually we arrive in the ancient city of Orchha.

Our exploration begins with the pricey admission to Orchha Palace or Jahangir Mahal. This is one of the spots that on top of the admission fee, you must also pay extra if you like to take your own camera in.
Jahangir Mahal is another great place to see Mughal architecture. The structure is in good condition but cosmetically it has not been maintained. Still you can catch a glimpse of how magnificant it must have once been as you walk around the palace.

Just like most Islamic art symbols are used primarily in the decor.

Off in the distance you can see more Orchha buildings.

Walking through Orchha city.

Bundela Chhatries

Along the Betwa river is a collection of old chhatries or moments to respect older rulers. Some are not very well maintained but they do give you an eerie calm feeling as you walk about them near the water. I think it may have to do with it being the least crowded place we visited in India.

Of all the places we visited in India, Orchha was the most pleasant. We were very rarely harassed there. I think they don’t get as much tourism so have not become as dependent on it like other communities. What ever the reason, it was a pleasant visit. I wish we would have chose to spend a night in this calm city.

Testing the Sunrail Commute Part 2

Around six months ago they started a local commuter rail service in Orlando. I took advantage of a free trial period to test a commute to work. See Testing the Sunrail Commute for details.

Problems with the commute  included not only timing of the trains but also lack of transportation options at either end of my train route. It was a big hassle to get to and from work.
Last week our local bus system, Lynx, started a test run of NeighborLink shuttle to take people from the Maitland Sunrail station to the offices in Maitland on the other side of I-4. This is great news since that was a very painful part of my commute.
I took advantage of this trial period to see if this could be a commuting solution for me. I chose a Thursday close to the slow holidays to test this out. I was slightly afraid there may be a hitch in my commute and I would end up later to work by accident.
The shuttle requires you to call a number 2 hours in advance of your ride to make sure you are scheduled for it. Because my expected ride time is at 7:05 am (which means a 5:00 am call!) I decided to call the day before. The person on the phone informed me that the shuttle will be at the station at 3 scheduled times in the morning so all I need to do is show up. She added my name and phone number to the system so my request call to get taken back to the station would be more efficient.

My plan for the next day is to get there early to catch the first train. I added some buffer time to figure out how to buy a ticket.

To make sure I was ready I did some preparations the night before:

Checked my tires for air. Pumped them up to recommended PSI.
Checked all my lights to make sure they worked.
Located my “lost” bike lock – it fell under my husbands rarely used car – doh!
Set clothes and supplies aside for the next day.
I woke up about 5:00 am and checked the weather. It was to be a chilly morning but I wasn’t worried, I can sweat in a snow storm.

Jeans and sneakers will do for this ride. Boy am I tired. I decide to tackle the makeup thing at work in case I end up dripping in sweat.

I removed my basket so I would have less hassle with parking and make it slightly lighter.

I turned on all my lights and I was ready to go.

The ride down to the Florida Hospital took me about 23 minutes. A couple extra minutes is dedicated to finding suitable bike parking. The ride is uneventful but my hands are pretty cold throughout the ride.

Bike parking is found within a Florida Hospital garage right next to the Sunrail Station. I locked it up and hoped all the parts would be there when I returned.

I wasn’t sure which way to go but I could see the sunrail platform right outside the garage so there should be a easy way to get to it from the garage right? Yeah no! I walked out the “exit”/staircase door only to find it was a dead end with no direct way to get to the Sunrail platform. The door shut behind me and there was no handle to get back in the garage. It was either go all the way around to find another way there or climb across a ditch. I chose the ditch because it was the shortest route. Things were dry so it was ok but I suppose this will not be an option for me on rainy days.

Dead end

The ditch

I still had almost ten minutes to get a ticket and get on the train. Buying a ticket was easy but I got help from an attendant since it was my first time. I decided on a round-trip ticket for this trip since I didn’t know when my next commute day would be. I chose my destination from the kiosk. I am traveling only one county so my fare is $3.75. I think the cost goes up depending on how many counties you cross in your commute. I am assuming the monthly passes are more economical.

Users need to tap before you get on and tap when you get off the train. I guess this is to activate the ticket.

The train arrives on time and I choose a seat upstairs.

I have time to pack my helmet away until this afternoon for my ride home.

An attendant checks my ticket to verify I have activated it.

Didn’t really test the wifi out but it seems to be available.

Two stops and 12.5 minutes later I am at my stop in Maitland. It is time to tap off.

We arrived at 6:48 AM. The shuttle was there waiting.

The lady driving the shuttle was extremely helpful and friendly. She gave me details all about the service. Unfortunately we were not scheduled to leave until 7:05 (over 15 minute wait). I suppose they wait for the southbound train to arrive before making the first trip. While I enjoyed the conversation I wish the shuttle could have taken off immediately after the train trip. It was already adding 15 minutes of idle time by having this waiting period.
While in the shuttle I found out that it will not service my side of Maitland Boulevard as of this time. I also learn how the shuttle has many places it cannot go (for example it is forbidden to go into Altamonte Springs which is in some places right across the street from Maitland office areas). I am lucky because they can drop off in front of RDV Sportsplex which is not a long walk across the busy street to my building. I will save the whining for those who work in building set much further behind on my side of Maitland Blvd. The shuttle has one other passenger to drop off and took about 15 1/2 minutes to get there from the station.  I arrive at the office at 7:30 AM.

Crossing Maitland Blvd by foot.

Total commute time to work is 1 hour 30 minutes.

For the trip home the driver informed me that she already had scheduled pickups at RDV, one at 5:00 and one at 5:30.  I could call 2 hours in advance if I wanted another pickup time. I decided the 5:00 pickup would be sufficient to get me to the 5:29 PM train and it was.

Pick up spot at RDV

The shuttle arrived promptly. Traffic was already starting to get backed up. It took us a little over 15 minutes to get back to the station.

I headed over to wait for my Southbound train (15 min wait).

The train ride back took about 13 minutes. I was happy when I arrived to find my bike locked up and safe in the Florida Hospital garage.

It had warmed up a bit but still cool enough to be only a slightly sweaty ride home.

The bike ride home is only slightly more challenging because there is more traffic. I feel the need to go faster to keep up with traffic. I chose to stay on the busy road for most of the ride home but I could easily subsitute cutting through the Audubon Park neighborhood to make it a more relaxing ride.
I commute that way most days and the big difference with being on the bike is that I had an urge to stop at a local business to shop or meet friends. Unfortunately no friends were out at the time and I couldn’t think of an errand that needed to be run that day. Being on a bike really exposes you more to a neighborhood and I think that is a good thing.

In my previous trip I was real frustrated with my riding experience. The train itself is clean and timely and the staff is friendly and helpful. My complaints then were about the lack of more frequent trains and lack of connection options. At least for now the connection options are getting better. The most frustrating part of the bike commute is now replaced by the shuttle. I still don’t know if this is a practical solution for me. Commuting each way took an hour and a half. When I traveled last time it was only a little over an hour each way. I didn’t like that I had to wait 15 minutes for the shuttle to leave the station. It is real hard to convince someone whose worse case car commute is 45 minutes (normal 25 minutes) to give up an extra hour and a half a day to take the train. Some areas that could improve even more: increase train frequency (allow commuters to time the shuttle better), have on demand shuttle trips from the station or as soon as a train arrives, expand the office drop-off area of the Maitland shuttle, and add more feeder shuttles (ummm…Baldwin Park).

Will I take it again? If the Maitland shuttle continues then yes. I won’t ride it every day, it isn’t practical for me sometimes due to the nature of the work I do. But I can attempt to ride a couple times a week. Adding some extra bike riding would be good for my overall health.  I would like to try next to time the commute so I can attempt a 6:00 pm exercise class in either Winter Park or Mills 50 or try commuting with some baggage (laptop, lunch or change of clothing).
I am looking forward to what the future holds for Sunrail. I see so many areas where it can get better.
Hopefully I will have another happy update soon!

Asheville Breweries Part 1

Cider from Noble Cider

After we arrived in Asheville our friends took us straight downtown to start experiencing the wonderfulness of Asheville. We started by getting a brew from the tasting room of Wicked Weed. The world cup was on so we got to watch a match while trying some great beers.

Soon the kids were hungry so we decided to get some pizza from Asheville Brewing Company. It is a great place to take the kiddos. The outdoor area comes equipped with lots of activities to keep the little ones occupied while you are trying to eat and sip your beer. The boys I visited with had fun playing there.
Look at this guy. Isn’t he adorable!

Then we went back a couple days later to check out the breweries in Asheville’s South Slope district. There we started with a visit to Green Man Brewery.

Our visit once again coincided with the world cup. We got to watch soccer while we sipped beers.

I really liked Green Man’s selections but my favorite was the ESB. It was easy to drink and full of flavor. We brought home a 6 pack of 2 ESB, 2 IPAs and 2 Porters. I really wish we would have brought home some more ESB.

It was a fun place to hangout in a warehouse type building.

 After Green Man we walked over to one of the newer breweries in town Twin Leaf Brewery.

We tried a number of their regular offerings and seasonal beers. A standout was the Luminosity.

The tasting room has adopted the rustic look that is very popular now with tasting rooms and farm to table restaurants. It was very welcoming as was the friendly beer-tender. The only complaint is it got quite warm inside. They tried to offset it a bit with fans. Should be very comfortable to visit in cooler months. We were told there plans to open it up a bit to let more of a cross breeze in. Even as is I would visit again. I liked it there.

 Because we were old it was time to go.  Luckily we had one more day in the city to try a couple more breweries.


I thought about you today as I do occasionally. You – the person who was taken from us way too soon. It has been around 15 years but your flame still has not burned out.
You were my cousin: like a sister, a friend and a confidant. We went through periods of in and out of closeness as people often do; but we always came back to each other.
You were so beautiful, smart and cool although you thought you were none of those things.
You had a life force that would make me light up and have so much fun when you were around. I really enjoyed the years we spent together.

I think back at some of the memories I will forever have of you.
I miss your honesty… even when I didn’t want to hear it. You would call me out when I was being inauthentic.
I miss making our radio station cassette tapes that I still have and must get transferred before they fall apart. I was the regular radio dj and you were reporting the dow jones industrial average for our listeners because you had intelligence past your age.
How about the numerous times we got separated into different rooms because we were either arguing or being downright mischievous and our parents didn’t know what else to do to kill our power other than separate us.
I miss our experiences together at art and sleepaway camp.
I miss the the trips your family let me tag along with. The places I got to experience with you.
I remember we saw Debbie Gibson together at Sea World and although you wouldn’t have admitted it later, you enjoyed it when she waved and smiled at both of us in the crowd cheering.

In high school, we would have hung out with a different crowd but I love that we could still find common ground like when I went to see the B52’s with you.

I loved that I stayed with you in Gainesville in your college dorm so I got to experience what it was like to have an on campus life while I went to a junior college to get my AA degree first.

I love that I got to know you as an adult. What a beautiful person you became! Your humor, wit, and sarcasm  developed to a higher level. I truly enjoyed our talks. You had such a level of understanding of the world that I longed to have.
I think about how we would be now.
I wish you were here now.
I wish I had you to bounce ideas and thoughts off.
I wish I had you to joke around with, in that humor that only our family gets.
I wish I still knew you.
I miss you Andrea!!!

High School graduation day.