Monthly Archives: April 2012

The London Eye Through the Camera’s Eye


On a visit to London in 2005, I had the opportunity to take a ride on the London Eye. It’s quite an amazing structure and offers a fabulous view of the city of London.



This giant Ferris Wheel was built on the South Bank of the River Thames in 1999. At that time, it was the tallest Ferris Wheel in the world, standing 443 feet tall. It is the most popular paid tourist attraction in the United Kingdom, welcoming 3.5 million visitors each year.


There are 32 air-conditioned oval passenger capsules around the wheel, each holding 25 people. The wheel rotates at 10 inches per second, or about 0.6 of a mile per hour. One revolution takes about 30 minutes. It rotates slowly enough for passengers to walk on and off without it having to stop.



The London Eye has had many names over the years: The Millennium Wheel, the British Airways London Eye, the Merlin Entertainment London Eye, and now the EDF Energy London Eye.

Dates of Visit:  May 2005

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Horseback Riding in North Carolina


I hadn’t really been horseback riding for a while, maybe 15 years or more, but I had been wanting to try it again. What better place than in the rolling hills of North Carolina, outside of Asheville, at Sandy Bottom Trail Rides.

This family owned business is just north of Asheville, North Carolina, near Marshall. They offer 1 hour, 2 hour, 3 hour and 4 hour scenic trail rides, the longest ones stopping at their 200 year old Little Pine Garnet Gem Mine where you can explore the mine and keep any gems you may find.

We took the one hour ride, since we hadn’t been on horses in a long time. I wasn’t sure how much we could endure. Horseback riding can be very tiring and sometimes painful if you haven’t done it a lot.

Based on your horsemanship, or lack of it, they pair you with a horse that matches your abilities. Our horses were Lady and Ginger, both very calm. Our guide was named Hank and there were 5 people in our group.

Some online reviews of Sandy Bottom complained that on the longer rides you rode for the same amount of time as the shorter rides and spent more time at the Gem Mine, not really riding for 3 or 4 hours. So, if you’re looking for more “horse time” then maybe Sandy Bottom isn’t right for you.

One hour was plenty of time for me. I was happy with the peaceful ride through the countryside. The landscape was beautiful and we had wonderful weather that day, just perfect.

I also like the fact that Sandy Bottom is very flexible and accommodating for all skill levels and age ranges. You don’t have to feel intimidated or afraid of the animals.

If you prefer not to ride on horseback, but would still like to enjoy the panoramic views, you can take a horse-drawn buggy or wagon ride.

2012 per person pricing is as follows:

Horseback rides:
1 hour: $40
2 hour: $70
3 hour: $90
However, Sandy Bottom is running a special for this spring/summer with $5 off the above rates.

Buggy/wagon rides:
1 hour: $40
2 hour: $70
3 hour: $90

Dates of Visit:  May 2008

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Tops in Topiaries


Every year I love to go to the EPCOT International Flower & Garden Festival. 2012 marks the 19th year of the festival and I think I’ve been going since the beginning. Though there are many facets of the festival that I like, I think the marvelous topiaries are at the top of my list.

This year’s show features over 100 topiaries, 75 of which are Disney characters. This is the largest collection of Disney character topiaries in the world (of course it is, it’s at Walt Disney World) Now, I didn’t count all of them, so we’ll have to take Disney’s word for it. Here are just a few:




There is always a brand new showcase topiary display at the park’s entrance. This year it’s Fantasia. This scene is actually made up of 28 topiaries including three ostriches, two hippos, eight mushrooms and of course Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Disney topiary specialists created this display with both new materials and recycled pieces from past years.


The topiaries are made up of many different plant materials including grasses, mosses, lichens, ficus, air plants, palm fibers and various flowers like begonias and impatiens.




The EPCOT International Flower & Garden Festival runs March 7th through May 20th and is included in your park admission.

Dates of Visit:  March 2012

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Our History is our Future at the Kennedy Space Center (Part 2)


Your admission to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex includes a bus tour stopping at the Launch Pad 39 observation gantry and the Apollo Saturn V Center.  But if you would like a more extensive tour, take the Close-Up Tour. It’s an extra $25.00, but worth it.  And it is especially worth it from now until the summer of 2012, because this tour includes an inside view of the Vehicle Assembly Building.

The Vehicle Assembly Building was constructed in the 1960s to build and house the enormous Saturn V rockets.  For the last 30 years, the VAB was used to prep the shuttle orbiters for flight.  Until you’re inside, it’s hard to tell how massive this building is.  It’s 525 feet tall and covers 8 acres.  You could fit almost four Empire State Buildings inside the VAB.

I was extra excited to see inside the VAB because the actual Shuttle Orbiter Discovery was inside being prepped for its journey to Virginia where it will be exhibited at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.  It looked pretty ragged, but what can you expect when it is the oldest of the surviving orbiters and the world’s most flown space craft – 39 missions and over 365 days in space.  Wow!

Atlantis will remain at Kennedy Space Center and Endeavor will be housed at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.

The regular tour includes a look at the launch platforms, but the Close-Up Tour indeed gets you much closer to Launch Pad 39A and 39B.  These pads were used to launch the huge Saturn V rockets, including Apollo 11, which took Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the moon.  This platform was also used to launch all the space shuttles.

The final stop on this tour is the Apollo/Saturn V Center.  This huge 363 foot long building houses an actual Saturn V rocket.  This area focuses mainly on the Apollo moon missions.  The astronaut’s suits, equipment and actual moon rocks are on display.

And if that’s not enough for you, your admission to Kennedy Space Center also includes entrance to the Astronaut Hall of Fame (6 miles West of the Visitor Complex.) Here you can see the largest collection of personal astronaut memorabilia and try a G-force simulator along with other hands-on exhibits.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Kenney Space Center and Americans in Orbit.  In February of 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth.  And later that year, the Launch Operations Center was renamed the John F. Kennedy Space Center.

I encourage you to celebrate the history and the future of space travel at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.


Dates of Visit:  December 2009, October 2011, March 2012

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Our History is our Future at the Kennedy Space Center (Part 1)


I once read a review of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex that said, “Don’t go there.  Everything is old.”  What???  How ignorant is that!  Of course everything is old.  These things are a part of history.  That’s like saying, don’t ever go to a museum because everything there is old.  Sometimes I don’t know what people are thinking.

Kennedy Space Center is very much worth seeing.  And even if you don’t aspire to be an astronaut, astronomer, or rocket scientist, you can still learn a lot and have a great time there.

Since there is so much to see and do at the Kennedy Space Center, I’m going to split this post into two parts.  This first one is about the main Visitor Complex itself and part two will be about the Close-Up tour.

Start off by following the historical path of space exploration through the Rocket Garden and into the Early Space Exploration building.  There you can see the actual Mercury Mission control panels, Neil Armstrong’s space suit and other space artifacts.

In 9th grade I had to write a paper on what I wanted to be when I grew up.  At that time, I wanted to be an astronaut. I loved the idea of other planets, other beings, discovering what’s out there. Of course, when I realized that you needed to like math and have perfect vision, that astronaut dream was out.  And now, after seeing how tiny those spacecraft are, I don’t think I would have handled the enclosed spaces.  If only it were like the USS Enterprise on Star Trek.  They had tons of room to move around!

There are two IMAX 3-D theatres at the center featuring movies about the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Space Station.  Both are quite extraordinary.  Seeing a shuttle launch in IMAX 3-D is almost as good as being there and you definitely get to see it extremely close up.

Of the billions of people on the Earth, only about 500 have actually been in space.  At the Astronaut Encounter, you can meet and talk to one of those lucky few.  You can even have lunch with an astronaut (for an extra charge.)

And speaking of charges, I have to say that the food prices at the Kennedy Space Center are a bit steep.  There are only a couple of dining choices, Orbit Café and G-Force Grill in the main visitor area and Moon Rock Café at the Apollo/Saturn V Center.  It’s pretty much fast food type stuff, hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, salads, sandwiches and chicken strips.  The food is good, but a bit expensive.

Make sure you don’t eat before trying out the Shuttle Launch Experience.  You’re strapped into a space shuttle simulator and “blasted off” into space.  They say this is what the shuttle astronauts felt each time they were launched into space.  It sure feels realistic.

In addition to all that, there’s an astronaut memorial, NASA art gallery, Hubble telescope images gallery, Robot Scouts exhibit and the Exploration Space building where you can learn how to become part of the future of space exploration.

And there’s more to come at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.  They have begun construction on the 65,000 square foot Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit to be opened the summer of 2013.  It promises to be quite an amazing exhibit, featuring the actual Space Shuttle Atlantis as its centerpiece.  I’m really looking forward to that.


Dates of Visit:  December 2009, October 2011, March 2012

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