Jul 31

My Pebble Smartwatch experience

Last christmas my employer gave each of us a smartwatch. At the time I was pretty happy getting one as I was thinking of giving it a try for some time. It was the Pebble. After using it for a couple of weeks I sold it as I was not happy with what it had to offer. Continue reading for more details. As I think I was not the only one in the company selling the watch after a while I still see quite a few colleagues wearing it daily. Some have by now probably replaced it with the Apple Watch.

The Pebble

The Pebble is different to other smart watches such as the Moto360 or the Apple Watch as its display is an e-ink display which is mostly used for ebook readers. This enables the pebble to last longer on one charge than every other smartwatch. Note please that there now is a new model of the Pebble out: The Pebble Time which offers a color display as well (using an LED backlit e-paper technology).

Setting it up

Setting it up was really easy as you just pair it with your phone via bluetooth, no strings/cables attached. Charging it is simply done with the included USB cable, unfortunately it’s not a standard USB-Micro-USB cable, and it was kind of short in my opinion, but I am sure one could have gotten a replacement cable. Installing new apps and watch faces on the pebble was done via an app from the phone which featured its own pebble “app store“. That was convenient to use, but I somehow could not find any apps I particularly liked.


For me the watch did not offer any great benefits over a regular watch. It did what I wanted it to do (tell me the time) but then suddenly the notifications started popping up. At first it was kind of fun to read messages on my wrist but after a while and some back-and-forth discussions that triggered my wrist to basically vibrate non-stop it was frustrating. Of course one could turn of the notifications one could think, but what would then be the benefit of a smartwatch? On the other side what was I able to do with the smartwatch without my phone connected to it. Not a lot it seems, which was another reason for me to ditch it.

Use cases

The only use cases I could see the watch as a fit for me was an app that helped you count your and your opponents tennis score. That was kinda cool, but having a smartwatch just to keep track of tennis scores in a match? Downside of the app was you could not store/export the results to a web service or something similar.

In summary the benefits of having a smartwatch such as the pebble at least for me do not justify the price and wearing it all day. Currently there are more downsides than upsides in my opinion which is why I will not be going back to a smartwatch anytime soon.

What are your thoughts and experiences with/on smartwatches? Which one do you own? What do you like about it?

Jul 10

Film Photography - The Canon A-1

A while ago I stumbled across an old Canon A-1 in my father-in-law’s office. He was not using it anymore but the lense was kind of broken (pretty much twisted and not correctly connected) and I was not interested in getting it fixed. Neither was he. Then a few weeks ago I saw it again and took it with me to get it repaired at a local shop. Since I got it back I shot 2 film of 36 pictures each. This post is about my experience with it so far and how you can get started with a Canon A-1, which is not too expensive if you buy it online.

The Canon A-1

The camera was built and bought in 1982 (in words nineteeneightytwo) – so it’s pretty old, yet all the buttons and controls are still in place and working. When you hold the camera you know that it’s built to last as it is kind of heave compared to newer cameras of the same size. It also already features a nice used look that Lenny Kravitz put on his Leica design on purpose.

Getting started

The A-1 was back then (one of) the first camera to come with an automatic mode. This enables you to just go out, focus and shoot, it will set the aperture and exposure automatically. All you have to do is load the film and you are good to go. OK, you should not forget to insert that LR44 on the front of the camera, without it, the camera will not be working.

I found these sites to be helpful in getting started, too:

Those were the sites that helped me the most in my quest to getting started with the A-1. And so far it has been a blast. Once you get used to manually focussing every single shot and once you get around the „Can I see the picture?“ question of people pointing to the back of your camera – it is awesome – see the next section for the first results.

The first two films

As there was no quick importing the pictures into Lightroom (or any other tool) one first had to shoot a whole film and then get it developed and then get totally excited if any of the pictures turned out at all? You know, one wrong setting and you could have ruined the whole film. But, to my pleasure, the results were pretty good. OK, the first film contained a large number of blurry test shots that no one would understand if you should them, but the second film turned out great. Here is a selection of my favorites from the first two films:

Development of films and digitalizing them

Most people asked where you can get a film developed and how much it was and how do you digitalize them, so here is a short summary of what I did: I went to the “dm Store“:http://dm.de/ (German version of CVS/Walgreens maybe) and handed in the film, checked the “also give me a CD checkmark“ and waited. It usually takes up to a week until you can pick it up, it was around 10 Euros for each film, including all the prints and the CD with the scanned images. The digital images come out in 1536 × 1024 / 1.7 MB.

10 Euros seems a bit much but you do not do that every other day. The hardest part in my opinion is the waiting game, waiting to finally see the results. On the other hand when you look at the pictures after picking them up you think of the situation you took the picture and appreciate the moment a little bit more.

What’s next

So far I have only used two color films – the one I currently have in the camera is a black and white one though, and I am curious how the images will turn out. Also I would like to take more portraits of people with this camera as I really like the portraits that came out of the first two films.

Do you still have a film camera? Are you still using it? Which one is it? If you do not have one -> Get one! It is definitely fun and a nice topic to talk about with others.

Nov 06

PORSCHE Sound Night 2014

A couple of weeks I had the chance to go to the PORSCHE Sound Night 2014. It is an event where the PORSCHE Museum in Stuttgart demonstrates old, new, street and race-cars and especially their sound to the audience. Aside from the sound they discuss details about each model with former drivers and the people behind the car who developed it etc.

PORSCHE impressions

Besides the actual show they are putting on you are free to walk through the museum and enjoy the look and history of PORSCHE cars. Pictures say more than a thousand words so here are some pictures:

In the workshop

A short look behind the scenes of what is happening and how cars before going on displays look like:

Would you believe that this car is worth a 6-figure amount?

The highlight: PORSCHE 918 Spyder

Another expensive yet also really impressive car: The PORSCHE 918 Spyder! A street car that hold the lap records on several race tracks worldwide. And a beautiful car, too:

The sounds

Not that great quality but I took a video of almost all the sounds, too. Hope you enjoy it.


Sep 19

Vacationing in Dubai

Just a couple of weeks ago – feels like it has been a lot longer – I took a one week vacation in Dubai. It offered the best price/value for my money when it came to good weather (aka no rain), pools, beach and shopping. It was a no brainer, though spending time outside when it’s 46°C … let’s say it gets kinda tough not to be sweating.

Getting there and back

From Frankfurt there are regular flights to Dubai and back (~6 hrs each way) with Emirates which is an incredible airline. They have pretty good in-flight entertainment and modern planes (both ways we were on a Boeing 777-300ER) and the screens of the entertainment system were bigger than I have experienced in other airlines before. Unfortunately on both flights we experienced problems with the entertainment systems – as the flight on our way back wasn’t fully booked we were able to change seats but on our way to Dubai it sucked, pretty bad. They tried rebooting the systems several times which did not help in our row and at least 3 rows in front of and behind us.

Dubai Airport

Once we made it through the security we had to walk a pretty long way to the metro station as we did not want to take a taxi all the way to our hotel – we are Swabians, so we look for every chance to save money. The metro is pretty nice and operates without any personnel. On our way back we got to check out the biggest duty free mall of the world, which was fun to browse through but the prices weren’t that cheap so we just got some liquor that is not easily available in stores in Germany.

Dubai city

If you are hoping for some nice old arabian buildings and areas in Dubai you will probably be disappointed. Dubai looks modern everywhere we went and even the heritage village was (almost) brand new. Other than that the city is pretty impressive. The skyscrapers, the streets (6 lanes each direction), the cars, the malls (really impressive) and all the people from all over the world.


There are a couple of things that I think you need to do when you are here:

  • Mall of the emirates — indoor skiing while it’s 46°C outside
  • Burj Khalifa — highest building and visitor platform on this planet
  • Big Red Bus Tour and River Cruise — a nice chance to get more information about the city and a comfortable way to cruise the city
  • Dubai Outlet Mall — they have the coolest comic store I have ever seen. Other than that not really worth the trip there
  • Chill at the pool
  • Checkout the beach promenade at JBR The Walk, close to The Beach


Now for some pictures – just a couple of shots, got way more than that, probably uploading them to flickr soon.

Been there – done that?

Have you been to Dubai and/or the emirates before? What were your impressions? I have met a lot of nice people from a lot of different countries. In general it was standing out that every place we went to there were almost always more people working there than they had guests, and some places were packed with guests. Would I recommend going there? Definitely, if you are going for a beach and pool vacation – in my opinion and compared to Europe, I prefer historic sights which were rare in Dubai which is a really modern city.

Jul 15

Germany is the World Champion in football (soccer) - and I don't really care

The last weeks have been packed with football matches on TV. Some really good ones, some crappy ones, some fun ones, some brutal ones. This phase has come to an end on Sunday. The FIFA World Cup came to an end with Germany (my country) playing Argentina in the finals. By now pretty much the whole world should know who won.

Germany won

After a good start into the tournament, some close matches in between, the disastrous beating of Brazil (probably just their view on the match) and the close 1:0 victory over Argentina, Germany went crazy. There was public viewing, and then today there was the public reception of the national team in Berlin. Their flight back from Brazil to the capital arrived in the morning and they flew low over the so called Fan-Fest in Berlin.

Photo credit: Martin Winkler

They then got on a bus and drove to the city to celebrate the title with thousands of fans who were cheering for the team and just having a good time (probably had a beer or two, too).

I don’t care

So while I am kind of happy that Germany won, these reactions made me think that I seem to not care about the world cup at all. I had this feeling during most of the matches, too. Let’s take the Brazil match for example, after the 3rd goal I felt more sorry for Brazil than enthusiastic for our team. The players deserve the deepest respect for this achievement, they won some tough matches and took some serious beatings.

I think I know at least parts of the reasons behind this: I dislike most players in our team for most of the year. And I seem to be unable to like them for international tournaments for a couple of weeks every other year.

Why am I not liking them? Well, mostly because they play for the wrong teams (read: teams I dislike for various reasons but mainly because they are not the VfB Stuttgart) during the regular football seasons (Bundesliga, Premier League, …) that make me dislike them. Don’t get me wrong what the players achieved is a big milestone in their career and for the German football in general. For me though that’s about it. It’s not like I walked around any happier after our team won the World Cup. There’s nothing more (happiness, enthusiasm) I can get out of it, others seem to be much better at this.

Maybe there is another reason, but I am not quite sure how to express it. There are fans that pop up everywhere every two years. These fans do not talk about football for most of the times in between international championships, they don’t care about football in general, but as soon as Germany (don’t know if it’s true for other countries) reaches the main round of a tournament, they go out and buy jerseys, paint their faces, put out flags, put flags on the cars, markers on the car rear mirrors, … This just feels wrong for me. It’s their valid right to do so and I would never ever want to ask someone not to do so, but it feels wrong. For me – as I care about football the whole year – it feels wrong.

Back to business

In a couple of weeks the Bundesliga is going to start. Until then most Germany flags will probably have been put away, the flags on the cars most likely end up broken on the Autobahn and it is back to people being annoyed by the fact that football will be on TV most of the weekend and be shown in pubs and bars. But it is different. This time it’s the local teams that are playing, not national teams and only a few fans remain (when compared to the „fans“ during an international tournament). For me this means going back to disliking most of the players on Germany’s national team because they play for the wrong teams.

Jun 07

Upgrading the Olympus PEN E-PL3 with a prime lense

As mentioned in a post on my new camera from around 2 years ago I am an happy owner of the Olympus PEN E-PL3. While I have constantly been checking out other cameras I still have not made the switch to a different camera. Not sure why I do not want to make the decision on whether to upgrade or not but most of the times I cannot find anything in my current camera setup that I am missing. At least that is the feeling after I purchased my first prime lense around a year ago. This purchase felt like a big change in my setup.

Getting closer to what you capture

When purchasing the camera I wanted to be able to change the lenses and have a couple of nice zoom lenses. I quickly (in about 1 year) realized that that was not what I really wanted. Zooming was fun. Not having to move to get closer was fun. I took some (in my opinion) pretty decent photographs in the first year of owning the camera. Zooming in on a far away object was also kind of staying in distance and apart from what you are actually taking a picture of. I realized that what was most fun to photograph are people and by that I mean situation that were not setup and/or artificial, but just their natural behaviors. In my opinion capturing this moments of happiness/sadness/laughter/tears is pretty interesting.

When you want to capture people from up close it is hard to get them in their natural surrounding because they feel watched and react to the camera . So I wanted an in between solution. A lense that enabled me to get closer to the objects/people I photograph and still kind of stay on a distance not to change their reaction be putting a camera into their face.

Meet the M.Zuiko 45mm f1.8

The 45mm for a micro four thirds camera means an effective focal length of 90mm and makes an ideal solution for portraits. When attached to the body of the E-PL3 you have a nice and handy point-and-shoot like camera that you can just take up, let the autofocus do its magic and take some nice pictures. On the other hand if you want to focus on something in particular you can go back to manually focussing. The f1.8 guarantees a shallow depth of field for blurred backgrounds as can be seen in the pictures below, too:

So far I ‚only‘ own the two kit lenses 14-42mm and 40-150mm alongside the 45mm prime lense. Since I purchased the prime lense I have only used the other lenses on really rare occasions. This prime lense is now my go to lense when in doubt. So far it did not disappoint.

What’s next?

As I mentioned earlier in this post I came to realize that I do not use the zoom lenses that often anymore and that got me thinking of going for a camera like the Fuji X100s which does not come with changeable lenses. On the other hand, Adam Jackson (the guy whose blog post made me curious about the Olympus PEN and MFT cameras) just upgraded to the Olympus E-M1 (with which I could reuse my current lense(s), too).

What is your camera setup?

What is your camera setup like? Do you own several lenses or do you have a go-to lense that you basically use exclusively? I would like to hear from anyone who is interested in sharing her/his experience and look forward to hearing from you! Share you flickr // 500px site.

May 22

BBQing with a gas grill

I have been a long time fan of grilling and making (as in cooking) food outside of the house. Preferably using hot coals, which makes you feel like your ancestors back in the stone age. At least kind of. Last year I changed up my gear and made a move towards a gas grill, the Weber Q 320. For some this might seem like a step back, but for me this was a nice move, this post will describe why I think so.

Switching to a gas grill

So you might be wondering why I am switching to a gas grill when I was previously happy with my charcoal grill. There are two main reasons: Time and smoke. Time mainly because it takes time to get the coals hot enough for grilling, preparing the grill and cleaning out the ashes after grilling. Smoke because (although a lot of people say good coals don’t smoke that much), while lighting the coals in the chimney, they create a good amount of smoke, might just be for ~10 minutes, but that smoke made all of our neighbors move indoor on a nice summer day when you would expect everyone to be outside. Occasionally I still go back to the coal grill but that is mainly for special events when we do want to smoke some ribs and/or a turkey.

With the gas grill things got a lot easier. It’s on the terrace, I go out, turn on the gas light it up, go back inside and wait for a couple of minutes. Once it reaches the desired temperate (which I can monitor from inside) I go back out and put on whatever we had planned for grilling. Once the food is done you turn off the grill, go inside to consume the food. Once done you go back out turn the grill to full heat, wait ten minutes, then go back and scrub the grill surface off with a steel brush (not sure if that’s the correct translation) – and you are done. Once or twice a month you should clean out the grill, replace the dripping pan with a new one and clean the inside a little. Check the manual of the grill before using any liquids or grill cleaners for cleaning! Then you are done. I get that the cleaning argument might not be valid for everyone as they say you can handle your coal grill the same way, I think it’s easier (as in less hassle).

No low temperature smoking (for me yet)

As mentioned above I go back to the charcoal grill when I want to smoke something, but sometimes you just want to make some low & slow meat on the gas grill. It works, definitely. I have made ribs 4 times this year so far, 3 times on the gas grill. Only once on the charcoal with added smoke. The downside is I didn’t get the smoking part in. So while the ribs were awesome and delicious add some smoke flavor to them was nearly impossible on the Q320. There is a so called smoke box that you can use but is mainly made for the flavorizer bars in larger Weber grills. I tried putting the water soaked wood chips on the grate directly but the heat was too low at 125 degrees celcius (around 250 F). The chips just did not want to start giving some smoke. I have read of people adding a hot charcoal to a package of wood chips to get some smoke, but I have not tried that yet. Seems to work for others though.

More BBQ food pictures

Here is collection of what I have grilled on the gas grill (among other things). Still a big fan and kind of amazed by how much you can use the Q for:

Equipment and Resources

When it comes to equipment I rely on the Weber stuff. So I won a small Weber One-Touch Original that is now like 3-4 years old. Still rocking and giving me great results. The other and main grill I am using is the previously mentioned Weber Q320 Gas Grill that is always ready and gets fired up at least once every two weeks. I also own a pretty decent set of accessories for grilling, including a meat thermometer, an injection to get taste into the meat and other several things. The last addition was a present from a Canadian friend who brought a Weber Burger paddy maker. I guess you can just use your hands for making the paddies and they turn out great but it is a nice addition and makes the paddies at least all the same size.

As grilling the same stuff over and over again gets boring I frequently check a couple of resources for new ideas an recipes and techniques for q’ing. I have to say that I probably have never ever made a recipe I found in the same identical way as recommended by the author but haven taken the input and combined with my ideas and executed the way I though it was right. And so far I was not disappointed. Following is a list of resources I am using:

Online resources


As for recipe books I have a vide variety, but only two related to BBQ:

The Weber Grill Bibel (German) which is targeted at all kinds of meats and grilling in general. On the other hand the Barbecue Cross Roads book covers a lot more on the background of BBQ history in the South West of the USA and the history behind a couple of restaurants. It also includes some really nice recipes, though I have only used one or two of them yet.


Do you have any questions regarding what kind of grill you should get and/or need recipe recommendations for a certain meat/event, let me know and I’ll try to help. Also let me know what kind of grill do you use? Do you have any special recipes that you want to recommend/think I might like and need to try?

May 15

Getting in shape #strafi30 - kind of failure

During the winter months, as one does, my sports activities went down to tennis once a week and not a lot more outdoor activities besides going to work and back. There was a lack of motivation and I just did not feel like going out running all alone. Seems like all that was needed was a kick in the butt: And “strafi30“:http://strafi.de/ was there to do exactly this.


I came to know Strafi30 by a “former coworker“:http://meinlauftagebuch.de. He tweeted about a 30 day challenge to get into your bikini shape. Of course you do not have to take it that seriously, it’s just that 30 days are a basic minimum for a change in your day-to-day life to become a habit. So the goal is to change something within these 30 days and let it become a habit to change your life to the better. Some participants put out goals regarding doing more sports, eating less sweets, stop drinking soft drinks, drink less beer, basically do something good for your health, body and brain. If you are reading this, you are probably reading this on my website (where else?) – Is it a coincidence that this website was made in a sitesprint which was the same length as the #strafi30 now is?

My goal

So there was I – thinking of not doing enough sports anymore and there was #strafi30 – motivating me to go out and move my butt. So that’s what I did. My goal is to make jogging a habit again – I used to go jogging a lot but that was also a couple of years ago. There is a local running event in my hometown on May 17th and I would love to take part in it. They offer 5km, 10km and 21km. I originally aimed for the 10km run but as the deadline was approaching quickly and I only had ~42 days until the event (now it’s even less – surprise!) this goal might shift to the 5km run, though I am still trying to convince my body to get me into the 10km finish!

Since starting with training I have been doing sports at least 3 times a week with this week probably only making it to two practice sessions, but we will see. Workouts consisted of running, tennis and football (as in soccer) – mainly because I need the fun part to stay motivated. So far my motivation for running has increased a little as I was able to get in a couple of morning runs before heading to the office, which I thought would be out of option for me, but here I am in the office, after a morning workout – with sore legs ;).

Besides running I set out the goal to drink more green tea than before, which is not that hard when at work, I kinda forget it at home though and need to improve there.

What happens after the 30 days?

As mentioned earlier the 30 days are meant to make whatever you put out as your goal a habit. So I am hoping for my body to keep telling me that I am able and require to move and feel better when moving is an integral part of the week. I also do not want to overdo it, done that before several times and then stopped running faster than I could ever pick it up again.

So I am still going running alone but I know there are others out there try to break their habits and make a change in their life

Current status May 15th 2014: failure

The run would have been on Saturday. Unfortunately there is now another appointment I have to take for another important event this year. This means I won’t be running in the competition, bummer. This sucks and I feel like I kind of failed. On the other hand, I have worked out more regularly than I have for the last 3 years and I feel a lot more motivation to go running and after running I do not feel that sore anymore. Sounds like it is time to increase the intensity. So while I failed in competing, I am still seeing success in doing more sports more regularly! I am sure I will find another local competition anytime soon.

Sep 06

Using Chef to install mongoDB in a Vagrant box

Lately I have had the pleasure of playing around with a couple of new tools. New for me at least. I like to have a system as clean as possible. At work I have the pleasure of working with different technologies and different development environments and different databases. Installing all major databases and several different versions of it can mess up your system. So I started playing around with Vagrant for the different scenarios. This blog post will get you started with Vagrant as a tool and show what needs to be done (at least what I did) to get up an running with mongoDB in a Vagrant box.


mongoDB is and open-source document database. It is written in C/C++ and stores information in the form of JSON-style documents for you. There are several more features that would go into too much detail and that I (currently) do not require, they are pretty interesting nonetheless: Auto-Sharding, Replication, Map/Reduce etc. We went with mongoDB to give it a spin and get a feeling for its handling of data and getting to use NoSQL features and to get familiar with NoSQL in general.


“Vagrant is a tool for building complete development environments” on your computer, inside a virtual machine. One of the upsides is that you could for example use it to handle a linux virtual machine on your Windows or Mac OS computer. For this Vagrant builds upon VmWare and VirtualBox for the virtualization of the VMs. It has been around for a couple of years now and felt stable in my usage. One could also describe it as a wrapper around VmWare or VirtualBox machine handling.

All there is needed to get started with Vagrant – after installing it on your system (Note: you also need either VmWare or VirtualBox installed) – are just 3 lines on your command line:

$ vagrant box add base http://files.vagrantup.com/lucid32.box
$ vagrant init 
$ vagrant up

This will download and add a base box to your system, the box is supplied by Vagrant. There are several other providers of boxes available. The box I am currently using I got from Opscode: bento on github – which comes with a newer version of Chef pre-installed (at least the older baseboxes). To connect to your new virtual machine just go to the directory of your Vagrantfile and run:

vagrant ssh


Chef is built to address the hardest infrastructure challenges on the planet. It transforms infrastructure into code. Into Ruby code. In a nutshell: There are recipes that you can use with chef that have the basic instructions ready on how a software (e.g. vim or mongoDB) should be installed. No more manual apt-get install xyz, though you can still do that. You can read here why you should use Chef. Chef is not a must use for Vagrant, you could use Puppet or not use any provisioning tool at all and just do the installation manually.

I use chef in a way that I download the required recipes from opscode and supply them in a directory that I later reference in my Vagrantfile.

My Vagrantfile

The Vagrantfile is the main configuration point for your virtual machine in Vagrant. This is where you tell Vagrant what software to install, which ports to forward, which folders to hook up on the host and guest system. The most important part of my Vagrantfile will be explained here.

  config.vm.box = "opscode-ubuntu-12.04"
  config.vm.box_url = "https://opscode-vm/.../opscode_ubuntu-12.04_chef-11.4.4.box"

This tells Vagrant to use the opscode supplied box as a base vm. To be able to download it on the first vagrant up I need to supply the URL to it, too.

config.vm.network :forwarded_port, guest: 27017, host: 27018

mongoDB by default runs on port 27017. To distinguish from the default port I use port 27018 on my local system, so to connect to it I can use localhost:27018.

  config.vm.provision :chef_solo do |chef|
    chef.cookbooks_path ="../recipes"
    chef.add_recipe "git"
    chef.add_recipe "mongodb::10gen_repo"
    chef.add_recipe "vim"
    chef.add_recipe "curl"
    chef.add_recipe "apt"
    chef.add_recipe "build-essential"

This is the Chef setup. All referenced recipes are located in the folder of the cookbooks_path. Note the mongodb::10gen_repo snippet, this is required to get the latest stable version and not the version that is supplied by the guest system you are using. Depending on the feature of mongoDB you wanna use this can make a big difference. This is all there is to do to get a working virtual machine with mongoDB installed and ready to use. Adjust for your system in case you have to use different ports and or other recipes. After that just run

vagrant up

and get started using mongoDB on a vm of your choice.


As a result of this setup I can stop the Mongo DB box and my system is clean of any references to it. Whenever I want to use a different database I just boot up that VM if required. Another advantage: Once the setup is done and everything is working I could just go ahead and copy my Vagrantfile and the folders in my vagrant directory for a co worker and he could get started right away, or I just copy my box and give it to her.

Sep 05

Florida April 2013

Time is flying. There was no update to this blog since our last trip to Canada. And that was almost exactly one year ago now. A lot has been happening and we traveled quite a bit. The furthest trip this year was to Florida – I will post about the other trips later, this one will focus on Florida.

Why Florida?

Well, why not? I mean, we were aiming for a trip in late April and wanted to be safe when it comes to good weather. Maybe the weather in Canada were it rained at least once every day of our trip was still too much in our mind. But although we have seen lots of the USA before, we have never been to Florida and decided now was the time to go. The weather for April was supposed to be good and it was – except to the day we left Florida when it decided to heavily rain so they even shut down the airport for a couple of hours. But that’s a different story. ;)

The trip

When planning the trip we thought about flying in and out of Miami. After talking to a travel agent though we decided to fly into Orlando and then fly out of Miami on the way back. In that way we could cover more ground with the rental car without having to take too many streets twice. The price was basically the same for both options, so we opted for a late arrival in Orlando.

After spending two days in Orlando where we basically did shopping and a little bit of relaxing – Orlando is otherwise probably mainly famous for its amusement parks, which we skipped – we went off to Cape Canaveral. One has to check out the Kennedy Space Center when in Florida, right? It was impressive to see how big those rockets are and yet how small the capsule the astronauts are actually sitting / laying in during their missions.

Our next stop on the trip was a hotel in Port St. Lucie which is located between the Space Center and Ft. Lauderdale (our next stop). The hotel was pretty nice and fairly cheap. It seemed like a business hotel that offered really good prices on weekends, check the hotels section for more details. After spending a good night in a hotel that offered a pretty nice breakfast as well, we were off to Ft. Lauderdale where we spent two nights. We did a lot of touristy stuff like getting sun burned and checked out a couple of beaches.

There was some rain in Ft. Lauderdale, too, which made it a lot easier for us to leave it behind us and head further south: The Florida Keys. It was a somewhat long drive with a couple of stops in between but the destination was Islamorada where we booked a small Motel as we thought going all the way down to Key West in one go was too far for one day. The keys are just awesome. Even just cruising through them in your car makes you relax and just enjoy the view. The motel we stayed at was OK and Islamorada was nice, though we decided to take the car to cruise around a little more and check out other islands. After one night we headed to the furthest south point in the USA: Key West.

We stayed there for two nights and had a great time. The hotel was awesome, Key West is plain and simple beautiful. Hanging out in a bar watching the sunset with a ton of other tourists, renting bikes to cruise to not so crowded beaches to get a second round of sun burns – and good food. What else could one ask for? We spent two nights there and then headed back north. We drove all the way back to Miami where we had booked a hotel a little outside of the main area to save a little money and decided to take this as our basis for the trip to the Everglades.

If you want to see alligators, the Everglades are the place to go. There is an alligator farm which is, well, touristy and packed with alligators. I wouldn’t think it is in the alligators’ best interests to live there but once they get used to it you do not want them back out in the wild. It’s kind of interesting, but I would not highly recommend it. The best part is the Everglades National Park. Spotting alligators in the wild is a whole different story than seeing some in a farm. There are some other really impressive animals there as well that I have not seen or known of before.

The Everglades were well worth the day trip. After one more night outside of the main Miami area we headed to our last hotel of the trip in South Beach! South Beach is full of people, young and old that just want to have fun. We were lucky enough to be there on a Saturday night (that luck was actually planned) to see other show off on Ocean Drive. Bar and club hopping and just watching people walk by can make for a fun Saturday night. We spent the last 3 nights of hour trips there and really enjoyed it. That was our trip in short. For more details see the following sections.

The Hotels

  • Orlando: Hilton Grand Vacation Club at Sea World – it was our first time in Orlando and there is not much to see/do besides shopping and amusement parks. As we are not big fans of the big parks, we spent most of our time their shopping and dining and just cruising around. A walk through Downtown Disney is interesting and seeing all the toys and movie themes brings back memories.
  • Port St. Lucie: Homewood Suites by Hilton Port St. Lucie – This hotel is highly recommended. Awesome rooms, pretty big, I think it was the cheapest hotel on our whole trip and it included an awesome breakfast. If you are in the area it is well worth checking out.
  • Ft. Lauderdale: Hyatt Regency Pier 66 – Not recommended. Old, dirty, only plus point: location.
  • Islamorada: Drop Anchor Resort and Marina Islamorada – Motel at the street to Key West, was clean, nice owners, kind of loud at night due to traffic. It was OK for one night.
  • Key West: Silver Palms Inn – Awesome Hotel in Key West, not directly located at a beach, but come on, it’s Key West, everything is in biking distance. Hotel offers bike rental. Pretty nice rooms, breakfast was OK.
  • Miami Doral: Hyatt Miami at The Blue Doral – Again Hyatt and again not that happy. Room was large, but not very clean.
  • South Beach: Nassau Hotel Miami Beach – Was a recommendation, location pretty good, around 5 minutes walk to the beach and bars. Not very clean and old. Could use a renovation.


During this trip we made excessive use of the Google Offline Maps where you can download a pretty big area to your phone on Wifi so you don’t need a data plan while on the road. OK OK, we could have rented a car with GPS, but we didn’t, so we used our phones to get around. Bonus point: you can use it while walking, too. As we have done previously we rented our car from Alamo and were again really happy with the car and how everything was handled.