The final week before our son, Jon’s wedding was a trifle hectic to say the least, but, in the end it was a fabulous day.  My dress fitted after huge ski resort restaurant portions (yeh!),

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everyone turned up in time to take the multiple taxis to the venue (phew) Jon was supernaturally calm, the best man, Jon’s best friend since his first day at school worked out what he was meant to be doing, I managed to find all the groomsmen to pin on their buttonholes (it’s nice to be of some use) and the day was an unreserved success. 

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Lucy was beautiful and was so happy that she looked almost radioactive, all the bridesmaids were lovely and granddaughter Hannah was a perfectly behaved flower girl.

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(apart from the huge raspberry she blew just after the registrar said ‘I now proclaim you husband and wife’, which would probably gone unnoticed if Rachel hadn’t snorted very loudly with laughter as a result). 

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The food was delicious and we all danced late into the night. 

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Nobody hit anyone, there were no rows and, all in all, the day was fantastic.

We had a house-full of relatives and friends staying over night and then for lunch on the Sunday and that was great fun, if a little foolish as we hadn’t finished packing and we were leaving at eight the next morning for the airport. 

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As a result I managed to leave some of my travel clothes behind.  Never mind, we were saying farewell to a cold and bare Sussex and heading off to Florida and sunshine.  Yeh!

Our flight back to Orlando was pretty uneventful, apart from some ‘interesting’ turbulence caused by the high winds that nearly knocked me off my feet at Gatwick.  Our lovely friends, Gail and Russ, were waiting to whisk us back to their house for a couple of nights to recover from jet lag before we headed off again.  They kindly entertained us with films and TV, while we struggled to stay awake and, after repacking Camel, we were off again, feeling a little flat and wondering if we had had enough of our extended travels. 

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As we drove to the Florida Panhandle, scenery was not overly exciting and I wondered if that was the problem. 

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We ended up in a nice little campground just south of the Floridan town of Panacea (Oh, how many puns could you produce with an address like that?) and, after we had put the tent up, had our traditional beer, walked beside the river and enjoyed the chilly sunshine, it seemed a whole lot better.  On the way we passed the famous Suwannee River famous for the song. ‘Which song” I asked and Tim said, ‘you know, ‘Way down upon the Suwannee River’.  I had always thought it was the Swanny River.  No swans there, then.  The lyrics make a tad more sense to me now.

Boy it felt good to be under canvas again, despite the temperature dipping to about zero degrees C overnight (so much for sunny Florida, the locals were more or less refusing to emerge from their houses).  Fleece PJs and a tent heater are much to be appreciated in such circumstances.  In the morning there was the usual battle between full bladders and not wanting to leave the tent until it was warm enough, but, boy I am glad I got up.  The river was flat calm, the sun was making the morning mist glow

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and on the campground’s pier I managed to get really close to these pelicans.

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After a really lazy morning (three cups of tea!!!) we took the advice of our friendly neighbour and headed out to  Wakula  Springs National park.  Apparently, you stand a good chance of seeing manatees there.  I always imagine springs to produce a nice little babbling brook, so we wondered if the place was suffering from a misnomer, but these Springs produce enough crystal clear water to run a huge great seven mile long river, flowing at three miles an hour. 

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I was very sad not to see the expected manatees there, but we decided to go for the boat tour, just on the off chance we might glimpse one.  No manatees, but, wow, what an experience.  The electrically powered boat glided us past numerous birds, including large and small blue cranes, 

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ibis and  anhinga, (AKA snake birds)

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turtles sunning themselves on logs

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overwintering vultures, looking like they were auditioning for Jungle book

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(which is quite apt, as they filmed several of the Tarzan movies there, as well as Creature from the Black Lagoon and Airport 77, weirdly).  Then there were the alligators…..

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we saw several and our guide managed to get us so close to this biggie that I could not focus my camera on it. 

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When I looked at the lens later it became clear that we were within one metre of the giant people eating machine.  At the time I could not decide between shoving my camera up the poor beast’s nose or running towards the back of the boat.   We then passed this old chap, who happily lays about in the mud on most days

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which is fine, until you realise that there is an un-netted swimming area, less than 100m away.  

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The advice at the top was, perhaps, useful

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but there was no mention of the possibility of a love bite from ‘Young Joe’ anywhere.  One young man on the boat had actually jumped in just prior to departure and he came dripping on to the boat.  As we were leaving, after seeing all the gators, I asked him how he felt about his dip and, funnily enough, he didn’t seem to be keen to repeat the experience.

Whatever happened, we came back from the trip almost singing about how happy we were to see all the wildlife at such close proximity. 

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