There are only a handful of launches remaining before the space shuttle is retired from flight, and a group of us decided to go down and see a launch while we still could. Jeff, Pol, and I decided that we would drive from DC to Florida, in order to save some money and let Pol see more of the U.S.
It was a long day of driving on Thursday – about 12 hours – and somehow it rained the whole time. I didn’t know a storm could last through six states. Trying to convince Pol that all of America wasn’t dark and rainy, we tried to distract him typical American food. We had lunch at waffle house, where he had his first American breakfast. We did a pre-dinner stop at Dairy Queen, which resulted in us being too full to eat dinner until we arrived in Florida around 9:30pm. We had dinner at Carrabbas, and then headed to Stephanie’s house in St. Augustine, were we chatted a bit with Eric and Lindsey, and then fell asleep even before Stephanie and Arthur arrived from the airport.
Friday was launch day. We woke up, had coffee, and then Pol, Jeff, and I headed to Orlando to pick up Matt Carvey from the airport. Though we had decided not to try to do Disney or any of the parks, we went down International Drive to see some of the shops, restaurants, and entrances. We ate dinner outside on the patio (beautiful weather!) at Pizzeria Uno’s. Then we headed off to Damaris’s house on Cocoa Beach. Everyone else was there when we got there – Damaris, Emma, Kris, Eric, Lindsey, Stephanie, and Arthur. Damaris’s house is very cool – in addition to cool artwork, she has an arcade game system, a Wii, and Playstation 3. We ended up playing rock band for hours. Playing the drums is difficult!
Damaris cooked an amazing barbeque dinner – steak and shimp skewers with veggies, rice, corn on the cob, noodle salad, chips with home-made salsa, etc. This was followed by an awesome dessert, which she claims was easy and I’m determined to try (the only ingredients are canned pineapple, canned cherry pie filling, yellow cake mix, pecans, and butter). When we weren’t playing rock band, we had NASA TV on (just like all the cool Friday night parties). When we had about 20 minutes until the launch, we brought blankets and champagne, and walked out to the beach.
The launch was awesome! The first thing you see is the sky lighting up in a half-circle above the horizon. Then a bright oval (the shuttle) becomes visible and lights up the whole sky. You don’t see anything but a ball of fire for quite a while – it’s really bright, it’s almost difficult to look directly at it. After a bit, the booster rockets fall away, and you can actually see them separate from the shuttle. The shuttle becomes a more and more distant point of light, but you can see it for a long time (over a minute).
After the launch, and a celebratory toast, we picked up all our stuff and headed back to Damaris’s house for the rest of the evening. When it got pretty late, we went back to St. Augustine to stay at Stephanie’s house.
Staying at Stephanie’s was great, because that meant we could wake up and have pancakes (Thanks, Eric!), and then head out to the beach immediately after. There’s nothing (other than sand dunes) between Stephanie’s house and the beach, so it’s a short walk. The waves were pretty big, so Pol, Carvey, and I headed right into the water – swimming and trying to boogie board. We were only out on the beach for two hours, but somehow we all got burned. (Except for smart Jeff, who sat in a beach chair facing away from the sun.)
For lunch we drove down to a restaurant right on the beach (called Beachcombers) and had burgers and fries.
Then Pol, Carvey, Jeff, and I went to pick up a rental car for Carvey. Then we headed to downtown St. Augustine. There’s a really cute pedestrian street with lots of shops and restaurants. There’s also a castle near the water. St. Augustine was founded by the Spanish, so there were tons of shops advertised as the “Spanish Quarter” and things like that. Also, the castle (actually castello) was actually a Spanish fort.
Back at Stephanie’s that evening, we had dinner – Stephanie cooked fish, something I have never accomplished myself – and it was very good. We had dinner out on the deck, overlooking the water, which was great. Very nice end for the trip.
On Sunday, Jeff, Pol, and I basically needed to wake up and go. Jeff drove, and after getting to McDonalds just two minutes before breakfast ended (Yay Sausage McMuffin!), I slept for the first few hours until we got to Savannah, Georgia. We had lunch at Huey’s on the Savannah riverfront. It’s such a pretty city – I love all the parks. We drove until we got to Virginia Beach, VA. Anxious to be finished with driving, we held off on dinner and just ordered pizza after we got to the hotel. It didn’t take us long to get to sleep – it was a great weekend!