Monday, November 05, 2018

Saturday September 8th 2018

Adventures in Orlando

A while back I was on an business trip to Orlando, Florida and after the work week was over, I stayed a few extra days.
This is an overview of those days.

The vacation-part of the trip started very strong; a visit to Kennedy Space Center!

They had old rockets at display:

And the (former) space shuttle Atlantis!

At the Atlantis we met up with Astronaut Scott Parazynski who will be our tour guide for most of the day!

He has been up five times to space - and has even been on the Atlantis so he really knew what he was talking about - and he loved sharing his knowledge and stories about being an astronaut.
And he was so cool about it!

This was a real highlight of the day. Awesomeness!!

At the Atlantis building they also had a "Shuttle Launch Experience"-ride.
You sat down in a "space shuttle", it tipped 90 degrees and it simulated a launch. Shaking and rumbling and it almost felt like you were weight-less when we reached high orbit.
According to Astronaut Scott it is the simulator that comes closest to a real launch. Supercool!

After this, it was time to get to the launch pads. Or close to them at least.

We took a bus (with Astonaut Scott) and drove around the launch area. So many launch pads here! Both old and still in use.

We passed the Vehicle Assembly Building, where the doors were open (SpaceX is launcing a rocket tomorrow so I assume that was why).

We also went by the launchpad where SpaceX will launch their Dragon space craft next year:

We finished our tour with Astronaut Scott at the Apollo/Saturn V Center where we visited the Firing Room that launched the Apollo missions - and we got to see a Saturn V rocket.

Then it was back to the Visitor Center (through the gift shop :D ) and walking around a bit more there.

Exhausing day, but so much fun!

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Sunday September 9th 2018

Next day it was time to see...ALLIGATORS!!!
We are in Florida after all. :)

I got the advice from one of our colleagues in Orlando to go to Lake Jesup, the "most densly populated alligator lake in eastern USA".
Sounds good (but scary) - so I went there - and to the Black Hammock.

We set off in this loud air boat och started sniffing the shoreline.

No alligators so far, but...cows!
Apperently they don't scare easily. If an alligator comes...they just kick it. The alligators do not dare to come close.
Killer Cows! :)

Sadly this was pretty much all the animals we saw during the boat ride. It's not alligator season so they were all under water so I did not get to see any at all. :(

There was one or two baby alligators at the landing site for the boats though. Always something.

During the evening, me and one colleague that was still lingering around took the car to Cape Canaveral.
SpaceX was about to launch a rocket!

One single Falcon 9 was to take a Telstar 18 Vantage satellite.

The same Orlando colleague with the suggestion of Lake Jesup gave us direction to a great place to watch the launch - and he told us to be there three hours before the launch window.

So there we were. A great place on the other side of the water from the launch pad.
And we waited and waited and waited.

About one hour and 15 minutes into the launch window - they launched.

OMG! It was incredable!

Even if it was just one Falcon 9 rocket - and it was a night launch - and that the rocket would not return and land where we would see it - it was without a doubt the highlight of this trip.
And most likely the highlight of the year for me.

I never thought I would ever get to see a launch. So lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Woohoo!

Afterwards we took some time just to catch our breath again and then we drove back to the hotel for some well deserved sleep.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Monday September 10th 2018

New day, new adventures!

Today, I planned to go to the Universal Studios theme parks. They have three parks in Orlando and I will visit two of them (the water park does not interest me).

Starting at the Islands of Adventures, I headed to Marvel Superhero Island.
First ride of the day: The Incredable Hulk Coaster.

It was a lot of fun (reminded me a whole lot of the Helix ride back home at Liseberg - only it was concentrated on a smaller area).

Here I also went on the Spiderman ride - and walking further I did the RipSaw Falls (reminded me of FlumeRide at Liseberg - only more wet).

Later on I did the Skull Island King Kong ride and another water ride, the Jurassic Park River Adventure (much less wetness compared to the RipSaw Falls) before I got to the main goal of today; The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Hogsmeade.

Here is, besides Hogsmeade, also Hogwarts (containing a ride I did).

Hogsmeade had a lot of Harry Potter stores and I also had lunch at the restuarant here.

Then onwards to the next theme park (Universal Florida) - using the Hogwarts Express train of course.

The train stopped at "King's Cross" and there you could quickly enter Diagon Alley; this theme park's contribution to the Harry Potter world.

Even more Harry Potter stores - and it had Gringott's Bank (with another ride which I did).
I spent a lot of time in here before moving on to the rest of the park.

Rides I did here was the Men in Black, Transformers, the Mummy, but the highlight of this theme park was without a doubt the Rip Ride Rockit:
Additional fun thing with this one was that you could choose your own music (not much to choose from though, but at least I found some Daft Punk).
Really nice ride that started with taking you to the top (left in picture above) in a 90 degree angle.

Then back to Islands of Adventures via the Hogwart Express where I walked some more in Hogsmeade; redid a few rides and then exited the park.

I checked out the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium (awesome!) and had dinner somewhere along the Walk.

Then back to the hotel. Time to go home tomorrow.

Friday, November 02, 2018

The Orlando Ordeal

So this was a short trip with a lot of highlights packed into just a few days.

Highlights were the rocket launch (obviously), visit at KSC (with an astronaut!) and the Universal Studios (the Harry Potter World especially).

Good info for watching rocket launches: we stood at the western part of the north side of Port Canaveral. Highly recommend to stand there. Just make sure you have some kind of internet connection so you can get updates of the launch so you know when it will be.

As for Universal Studios, an Express Pass is a good idea. There were not supermuch people when I was there so I would have made both parks without it, but it did go quicker with it - and ensured my that I would make it.

Fun times!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Friday May 11th 2018

Cloudy days in Zhangjiajie

So at this business trip to China, my main list of things to see in China was done, but I had a friend who visited Zhangjiajie a while back and it looked stunning.
So I made this airport a transfer point on this trip.

For you who do not know; Zhangjiajie was the place they filmed/got inspiration for the floating mountains in Avatar.

My flight landed in Zhangjiajie, but since most things I wanted to see was in the nearby town of Wulingyuan I stayed there (at the Pullman). I took a taxi between the towns which took about 1-1,5 hours.

The morning after (which happened to be a Friday), I went early to the entrance of the park. I have heard about the long queues so I got the before it opened (before 7 am).
I was not there during peak season, but I took no chances.

Already outside the entrance, I could see fog and clouds all around me, but hoped it would get better higher up.

I took the bus to the Bailong Elevator, which is the world's tallest lift at a staggering 326 m.

The view from below the elevator was still not good, but I still held on to the hope of it being better the higher I get.

Due to the almost-off-peak-season and the bad weather, there were zero queues to the elevator and I was elevated 300-ish meter higher very quick, went out to see the stunning view... and was met by this:
Clouds! Clouds everywhere!

You could hardly see 5 meters in front of you!
The disappointment was MASSIVE!!

And not only was it clouds, it was also a light rain.

I was not alone on the mountain, but there were not much people. So I could wander around the scenic routes fairly quickly.

One positive thing I can say about the clouds, I had no problem leaning over the frail-wood-looking railings to look down since I only saw a few meter below me.
In reality it was a loooong way down, but since I could not see it, it did not bother me.

Even the Avatar-bird-thing you could sit on and get your photos taken was empty (I imagine there is a long queue to this during peak season).

At the end of one route, I got to something called The First Bridge. During thousands of years the mountain had crumbled in a way that the only part now connected was a small ledge at the top of the mountain creating a natural bridge overhanging a drop of hundreds of meters.

This I could make out through the cloud and it looked eerie and cool:

I walked over it and walked around the small mountaintop on the other side. Still only clouds to be seen though. :(

After this disappointing trip, I was not sure what to do. There was a canyon below that had a boardwalk trail you could walk called Golden Whip Stream.

There were also other things to do at other parts of Zhangjiajie/Wulingyuan.

But since the signs were mostly in Chinese, I had no clue where to go to do either. The people here could not speak English so I was pretty lost when it came to directions.

So I just got on the first bus arriving to see where it would take me.
It took me back to the Bailong Elevator so I used it to get down again.

On my way back to the entrance, I had my plans for the rest of the day clear.

Since the clouds ruined all chances of good views of the landscape, I went to the Huanglong Cave (aka Yellow Dragon Cave). The weather doesn't really matter if you're in a cave, right?! :)

After a 20-30-minutes-ish taxi trip, I paid the entrance fee to the cave and went in.

Inside the cave, they had lit the stalactites and stalagmites with lights in different colours. It annoyed me a little at first (too much stylised effects), but after I while I just went along with it.

It was a pretty cool cave, I had to admit.

The cave was very exploited with walkways and stairs to take you further in.
No rock climbing here, nope!

And it was gigantic! The main cave was really big!
By far the biggest cave I have ever been into.

Inside there was also a nice looking bridge that took you over one of the rivers in the cave. For reference it was 3 meters wide and 22 meters long. And the distance to the water below was 17 meters.

Further in the cave, I was met by a surprise; they had built a small harbour where an (electric) boat took you to the next part of the cave.

This boat trip was also very cool. Floating on the river looking at this fascinating cave.

The boat stopped not far from the exit of the cave.

What to do next?
Well, since I was halfway there, I continued in another taxi to the Glass Bridge.
This bridge is the largest bridge with a (mostly) glass floor. 

The lady in the ticket booth sold me two tickets when I only wanted one, but there was no easy way to complain (since she did not speak English). I was also too tired and the queue behind me too long to bother arguing for more than a minute about it.
I did not understand what the other ticker was for, but held on for it. You never know.

From a distance the bridge looked cool, but I knew I was not going to like the glass parts.

 And I was correct.
OMG, this is HORRIBLE!!!

In my engineering mind, I know it was safe, but I could not convince the rest of my body.

I did walk (or "stupid looking skipping" to be honest) over a small part, then larger bits of glass until I made it over a whole plate of glass.
But I did it scared as hell.

But this illusion of danger did not bother most Chinese. They did a lot of sitting, laying or jumping on the glass, making cool photos.
This was not for me.

But the view from here was nice though. Not much clouds at all.

After walking (carefully) across the bridge, we came to another entrance where they checked for tickets to let people down to the valley.

So this was apparently what the other ticket was used for!

And since I had the ticket, I figured I might as well use it. :)

We climbed down some steep stairs inside the mountain and then on wooden ledges and stairs attached to the mountain side.

At the bottom of the valley, the boardwalk trail started.

And it was beautiful down here!

We followed a stream and all you had to do was just enjoy the beauty of nature!
(and ignore the exploitation of this valley - and the trees with big spider webs)

After quite a bit of walking the stream ended in a lake.

There was a harbour here where boats took us the last stretch over the lake to the bus station where the bus to the glass bridge started from).

Once there, I took a taxi back to my hotel after an exhausting, but fun day.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Saturday May 12th 2018

The next day, my plans were to visit Tianmen Mountain. To get there I first had to go by taxi to Zhangjiajie to take a cable car.

This cable car is one of the longest passenger cable cars in the world. It's 7,2 km long and is up to 1200 meters above ground.

Not that I saw any of this - or the (most likely) wonderful view.
Because it was cloudy today as well. :(

Once at the top, I walked on the narrow ledges around the mountain top.
Just like yesterday, the clouds made sure you could not see how high up you really were. Probably a good thing.

Even though most of the view was obstructed by clouds, seeing the nearby mountain top peak up through the clouds was beautiful.

We walked on ledges, walkways and even bridges-ish like this to get close to Heaven's Gate (aka Tianmen Cave).

And meanwhile the view was very nice (even though I was growing very tired of the clouds and wanted to see the whole mountains).

They also had two walkways around parts of the mountain which were made of - you guessed it - glass.
They are called skywalks and cost extra (ticket booths close to the entrance of each walkway).

Both the side and the floor was made of glass and there was NO WAY I was going on either one of them.
There were also only one direction to walk on them so once you onto one, you had to walk the full length.

I walked (on the normal walkways) to this peak which I am sure offers a beautiful view - but all I got to see was more clouds.

On the way there you could look down and see the Heaven's gate:

No clouds at the gate at least!

The Heaven's gate is similar to The First Bridge I (almost) saw yesterday.
The mountain had collapsed so there was a hole through the mountain side.

The exploitation of this mountain was also very apparent.
If not for the sky walks, kiosks and other buildings so how about this:
They had built an ESCALATOR through the mountain to get you down to Heaven's Gate.

At the actual Heaven's Gate, I was met by another disappointment. The clouds were back!

It looked so good from above, but now it's just cloudy again.
I could barely see the cave (it's the brighter fog surrounded by darker fog)

My original plan was to walk up the stairs (called Stairway to Heaven   >.<  ), but since I was at top already, I walked down instead.

And if you do not feel like walking - there was another escalator which took you down to the base of the stairs!

There were lots of steps! But finally I got there and - kinda - took another photo of the stairway and the gate:

After this, I took the bus down the 99 Bends - a narrow road down the mountain side with 99 bends. I have seen pictures of it and it looked amazing and scary at the same time.
But I saw only clouds while going from side to side (from the road turns) in the bus.  :(

Once I got down again and back to the cable car station, I went back to Wulingyuan by taxi.

Since the weather looked was now (mostly because it was now mid-day and the sun was up for real), I decided to make another attempt at the park I visited yesterday morning. Hopefully I would see more this time..

And did I ever!
Already at the base of the Bailong Elevator, I knew I would finally get to see the reasons I got here in the first place!

I could even see the elevator from the outside!

At the top again and... yes! Still no clouds!

It was hot as hell though, but the view was spectacular!

And now people sat on the Avatar-Bird-thing again!

Here is the famous Avatar mountain top (aka Hallelujah Mountain).

It was so beautiful up here when you could actually see something!

And here is a picture of the First Bridge - without clouds!

Also, now I could see how high up I was - and the minimal safety the ledges held.

In these mountains there are also monkeys.
I did not see any yesterday, but today there were plenty.

And, as most monkeys do in tourist areas, they snatched food from people walking by.

It was fascinating to see them jump from one mountain top to another using the trees several hundred meters from the valley ground.

After this it was time to return to the hotel, time to move on tomorrow.

After a disappointing start of both days, they both turned out pretty good!

And I leave you with a picture I took the morning after (Sunday).
Of course the weather was perfect so I could even see Heaven's Gate from the airport...