Florida

Off to Central Florida!

central_florida-3This year I’m headed to Central Florida three times on business: once in August, once in October, and once in November. Everyone at work gave me the, “You’re going there?”

My good friend Rob whom I visited in Austin last year moved here a few months ago. It’s always great to see friendly faces when traveling to far-off places. I’m glad we got to spend the weekend together seeing very different parts of the state many tourists never see.

Florida to me has always been an interesting place. It’s traditionally southern in the northern part of the state and traditionally northern in the southern part of the state. The coast is typically more cosmopolitan and the central part tends to be more rural. Orlando is in the heart of Central Florida. It clearly is Central Florida’s biggest city. Central Florida really has three different parts about it.

Central Florida: Convention Hotspot

Orlando is a convention city. The fact that I’m coming here three times this year confirms that fact. Agile North America, Gartner IT Expo, and Agile Dev East are all held here in Orlando. It’s got the hotels, meeting space, and flight connections that make it ideal for these sorts of events.

Agile Orlando 2014 was an amazing conference. It is a clear highlight for my year as it’s a gathering of some of the best and brightest minds in the industry for a week of technology, project management, and best practices in software. The Gaylord Palms is a huge hotel that could accommodate a few thousand people yet there was still overflow into other feeder hotels.

Central Florida: Disney

This part of Central Florida I know the least. I’ve not been to Disney since I was a kid and can’t say I’ve truly missed it. Amusement parks have never been my thing is I’m not one for roller coasters but happy to go flying down the road on a motorcycle. Yes, I know, I don’t get it either. Actually, I do. I don’t mind the speed of roller coasters. I know they’re safe. I just absolutely hate the sensation of falling. I hate the sensation of falling on an airplane as well. It’s just one of those things that unnerves me.

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I’ll be getting a big round of Disney later in the year when the family comes down in October. I’ve never done a cruise before and looking forward to the experience!

Central Florida: The Hidden Middle Strip

Having grown up here, Rob knows Florida really well. When traveling, I’m always excited when I meet someone who really knows and appreciates the local land. It’s from those people that you can truly see the beauty of a foreign place. A number of people back home saying “Ugh, Central Florida in August – you’ve got to be crazy!” I was expecting oppressive humidity and insane amounts of bugs. Fortunately neither of those really materialized.

Rob suggested we head out to Alexander Springs. Orlando’s suburban sprawl quickly faded into thick lush countryside as the interstate turned into a country road. Sometimes I really miss the diversity of plant life back east. I remember my first couple of months in California being awed by the amount of open space. As we’re driving through Florida I’m enjoying seeing so much dense green.

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I remember as a kid in the Boy Scouts we would take a trip down to northern Florida to go see the Ichtucknee River. It was a true highlight of my year. Nestled deep within the jungle of northern Florida was a river with truly impressive grandeur. The Ichtucknee’s waters were crystal clear. It’s like being in aquarium that’s miles long. I remember swimming for hours on end seeing fish, plants, and the white sands stretch out as far as the eye could see. We also wanted to stay in the river as armies of bugs were waiting to get their share of each of us on land.

central_florida-2As we pulled up to Alexander Springs we were stuck waiting at the guard gate. The parking lot was full and we had to wait for people to leave so that parking is available. The state of Florida tightly controls the amount of people that can see these natural wonders. After about a 20 minute wait, we made it into the park.

Everything about Alexander Springs reminded me about the Ichtucknee River as a kid. Its waters are crystal clear, the color of plant life was vibrant, and that same white sand streaked down the bottom of the river. I was surprised how cold the river was. I mean, this is Florida. Almost every body of water I’ve been in here has been at least bathwater temperature. Ah yes, this river is spring fed. The same spring that gives the river it’s aquarium quality also brings cooler temperatures. After a few minutes, my body quickly acclimated and I didn’t care that the river was cold.

As we were walking out, I saw the sign noting that alligators were in the area. Yes, I know that alligators are commonplace in these parts. Coming from the Bay Area where scary is a day that it rains, alligators kind of creep me out. I’m no Crocodile Dundee and I’m glad that life didn’t call me to be one today. Alligators aside, it was great to be a kid again. And yes, I did go to Central Florida in August. Everyone back home was wrong. I had a fabulous time!

Flying Home

I’m glad I got the extra hour to stay in Orlando. The time at the river was truly refreshing and the step back into being a kid again was great. As the world keeps Yin and Yang in balance there is a weather system moving in as Rob and I drove to the airport.

The plane took off right at sunset and the sky was filled with deep reds, oranges, and yellows. From the air, it’s easy to see how much water covers the landscape in Florida. There are small lakes dotting this landscape.

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That weather system Rob and I saw earlier crossed the plane’s path. To say that it was bumpy was quite an understatement. What I had not seen before was lightning right in the same electrical storm! While I was gripping onto the seat armrests it was a beautiful show outside. Take a look for yourselves!

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