Day 1 : Thursday 13th September: Flights, Thunderstorms and Lightning induced baggage issues

An early start to get to the airport the mandatory 3 hours early, with Tracy giving me a lift and putting up with me ranting about my RoSPA re-test yesterday taking 3.5hours due to the examiner wanting to share lots of stories with me (when all I wanted to do was get it over with so I could get home and get ready!). She really does have a lot to put up with!

Once dropped off at the airport I passed through check-in/bag drop off remarkably quickly and then positively flew through security. All this meant that I had lots of time to kill and nothing much to do. I’d already had breakfast before leaving so avoided ruining my diet before I’d even got to the States, although I did treat myself to a bag of sweets for the flight. The flight to Philadelphia boarded without drama and was largely uneventful save for a small interruption to eat a poor cottage pie. I watched a couple of films – Deadpool 2, Early Man and Solo – which was made much harder by the terrible connection on the headphones which meant all I could really hear was a high-pitched screaming. I checked, and it wasn’t coming from the old lady sat next to me. I avoided the snack brought prior to landing, and then made my way through to the extremely long queue at US Immigration. With some 60 gates available where operatives can interview people wanting to enter the US, they manned only 4 or 5, so this took a while. When it was finally my turn I floundered at the first question “purpose of visit”, trying to get all my words out in one rush – why is it that authority figures such as these always make me feel guilty even when I’ve done nothing wrong?! But it must be fairly normal because after a little chit-chat I was free to pass on to baggage claim and get my bag, then drag it through a cursory customs check before handing it over to another baggage handler to be placed on the Tampa flight. By now I was well in to the 2-hour lay-over period before my next flight and so my heart sank when I saw the size of the queue at the security check point. It would appear that no-one designing airport layouts has yet considered that when a plan with 500 people on it arrives, they will all arrive at each stage of the process together. Having 2 security lines working (out of 5) at these times will lead to delays. Fortunately I managed to get through it with just enough time for a brisk walk – not easy with a dodgy knee – to the gate and straight on to the plane to Tampa. Another 5 minutes and I’d have missed it altogether.

This flight was also fairly uneventful, with not even a meal service to break up the nearly 3 hour monotony, but on arrival the sky was flashing with great bursts of lightning. The first announcement after parking up was that due to the lightning they couldn’t bring the ramp to the plane, meaning we would have to stay put, but this turned out to be a false alarm and we all disembarked eventually. Once at the baggage carousel I met up with Aaron and we chatted whilst waiting for my bag to appear. Or any bags to appear. Then there was an announcement saying that due to the lightning the bags couldn’t be unloaded from the plane and suggesting we go get dinner and come back later, or come back tomorrow. So we did just that, heading out into a torrential downpour to Aaron’s Tesla Model X (all very fancy!) and into St Petersburg, where we met up with Mire driving their wonderful-sounding BMW M2. Dinner was at a Mexican restaurant and I was extremely sensible ordering a Tequila-flavoured king prawn salad. And a very large glass of Mexican beer. Well, I am on holiday!

After dinner we took a short drive to Arron’s place, windows down so we could hear Mira accelerating away from every set of lights in the M2. The silent Tesla not distracting from the aural delight. Back at the house I had the guided tour and it is, without doubt, one of the most fantastic properties I’ve ever had the luxury of staying at. But I won’t break any secrets by revealing more, suffice to say I can’t think of a nicer or more worthy couple to have such a place.

Before turning in we watched the electric storm across the bay. A perfect end to the first day of my latest adventure.

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