New England: full of surprises

It’s been ages since I’ve written a post about out trip… we’ve done so much in the meantime! As I type away, with one finger, on my iPhone screen, I’m sitting in a hotel room in Tulare, California. If you haven’t heard of Tulare, I’m not surprised. It’s a smallish town somewhere between LA and Yosemite National Park. One thing I can tell you about Tulare, it has every single fast food chain restaurant you can imagine!

So how did we get here? Well, via New England, of course! Way back after we left Hershey, we took to the road again, heading North. It was a long and stressful drive, we put ‘Boston’ and ‘no tolls’ in the GPS… regardless we had to cross the George Washington Bridge – costing $34 – cos the GPS doesn’t have the option ‘make sure our RV can fit underneath the overpasses’, more on that later. Putting Boston in the GPS was dumb. We certainly ended up in Boston, what we didn’t factor in was the fact that Boston was built over 300 years ago, thus having insanely narrow, horse-and carriage friendly, streets. Not RV streets. We stressed a big when we realised there was so nowhere for an RV to spend the night anywhere within the vicinity of Boston. We used google to find a KOA campground an hour away but stupidly ended up stuck in peak hour traffic – in BOSTON! Please don’t ever complain about Sydney traffic if you’ve never experienced Boston traffic. Nuts.

The KOA was great. A pool, a jumping pillow and campfire ring for our RV spot. We opted for two nights, deciding to check out Cape Cod in the morning. Urgh, big mistake! Cape Cod is full of private beaches – yes, private – and narrow streets. Not RV friendly. We ended up in Hyannis which is a cute but far too touristy town. We stopped trying to find the promised fries clams and lobster, but only found ice cream and hotdogs.

That afternoon we took a taxi and train into Boston – cos you can’t take an RV into Boston – to meet John Goh for dinner and a walk around Harvard. We really like North End, which we kept calling Little Italy. We has pizza, which we didn’t enjoy much, and then dessert at Modern Pastry, which was yum. Harvard was another train way but was worth it. Such beautiful buildings! Balin, who is 9, is determined to attend Harvard. Cute.

The next day we left early to head East to Salem. Salem is an adorable town – well, I think the witch museum isn’t even in Salem now, but anyway. The town is witch themed and super cute. Lots of older buildings in a range or architectural styles. We all enjoyed the presentation about the Salem witch trials at the Witch Museum. It was so interesting and disturbing! Human beings are bizarre and often cruel creatures. I was pleased that the presentation of the events were really liberal – focusing on the frailties of human nature. Next stop was Maine, in search of the famous lobster roll. Sadly, by the time we got there Lee was pretty sick. He’s been suffering from an ear and chest infection the whole trip. We did think Maine was pretty, but a bit touristy for us. We went to Perkins Cove which is a sweet little lobster town. It has a range of shops and lobster shacks. We went to the aptly named Lobster Shack and Lee had a lobster roll and a beer which he enjoyed, but we didn’t swim because he was feeling too unwell. I think we were less stoked on Maine than we expected simply because we have grown up on the beach… we know beautiful beaches.

That afternoon we took to the road again, heading to New Hampshire in search of JD Salinger’s house in Cornish. The drive was gorgeous, through the mountains. After driving some narrow roads through the thick green countryside at dusk – dodgy – we made it to Cornish. It’s TINY! Salinger certainly made the perfect choice for his removal from the world. The only shop there is closed down. We did see the post office where he always collected his mail. Sadly, we had no chance of finding his home and the famous barn where he wrote. Still, we thought it was good to respect his privacy, so we left and drove to nearby Lebanon. Great town, great pub. Next stop was the KOA at White River Junction. Lee was so sick he went straight to bed and we accidentally left the lights on all night – waking up to a dead battery! So pleased people in Vermont are awesome – we we’re jump started and on our way!

First stop was STUNNING Montpelier. Loved this town. Little town that’s all about natural, local foods and crafts and stuff. Totally hipster according to my 12 year old. We had yummy crepes at The Skinny Pancake and bought lots of cheap books at Rivendell books.

Ben and Jerry’s ice cream is amazing. We all know this. It is also VERY expensive in Australia – $12 for a pint! In the US it’s only $5! Nuts! Well, when I heard the factory was in Vermont, I knew we were going. It was, to be completely and utterly honest, disappointing. It was super busy, super touristy and kinda expensive. The tour was cheap – $3 each – but the gift shop and ice cream shop was Australian prices. Annoying. We were all impressed with their origin story and their commitment to ethical and environmental principles, but why sell out to Unilever? Later we stopped at the Cabot cheese factory and tasted some delicious cheese and the cider factory, tastes like cold apple juice.

Last stop, Burlington. It’s like Montpelier but much bigger. Still cool though. We stayed at Burlington Beach campground – $30! So cheap, and right near the beach. Well, the lake – Lake Champlain, in fact. We walked the 20 minute waterside walk into town and had dinner at a great brewery. I had portobello roll, noms. Walking through town after dinner we couldn’t believe how bustling it was – and how many people were speaking French! Vermont is a holiday spot for many French Canadians and their influence is noticeable! We found the coolest sock store and spent too much money, then walked back along the lake, watching one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. The sky lit up behind the Adirnodaks… wow!

The next day was boring and massive – the insanely long drive back to New Jersey. Just picture an RV doing the limbo… we seriously went under some low, low overpasses! Pleased to survive!

Washington DC, Harpers Ferry and Hershey: so much history!

We picked up our gigantic RV last Thursday. It’s been a fun (almost) week with it, but this is the first time we’ve stayed at a campground with wifi. However, it’s never too late to reflect on what we’ve done.
After getting over the shock of the size of the RV (literally 30 feet) and paying $34 to cross the Statten Island Bridge accidentally, we started heading west using the instructions of a gas station attendant. We wanted to avoid the Turn Pike – we got stung on it in Florida last year and knew it would be worse in an RV! The drive through northern Pennsylvania was pretty – lots of greenery. When we hit the i81 we started heading South and after 6 hours of driving, we found a rest area to pull up for the night. The rest areas in the US are super safe, have clean toilets (not gross, smelly drop toilets like in Australia), and vending machines!! We decided that we would try to ‘dry camp’ as much as possible to lower our costs – petrol already being VERY expensive in the RV.
The next day we continued our trip south, stopping at lunch time to visit Harpers Ferry, a quaint little colonial town with an interesting civil war history. It only cost $10 to enter the National park and park our RV. They have a free shuttle bus that takes you to the main battle site at Harpers Ferry where the Union soldiers fought bravely but lost against the much stronger Confederate forces. This is where General Robert E Lee was making a name for himself. Our boys loved learning about the cannons from a young guy dressed in the original Union soldier outfit. The bus then took us right down to the town of Harpers Ferry where there were heaps more people getting into the civil war cosplay! Our boys learnt how to carry and march with a replica civil war gun and then they got to dress up too. Of course they chose Union outfits, they know who the good guys were! Walking through the town we spoke to more people about the civil war and learnt so much about the role the surrounding states played – Virginia succeeded from the Union and Maryland got to keep their slaves even though they joined the Union. Crazy!

We walked over the old bridge and saw people floating down the Shenandoah River on tubes, Lee was keen to have a go but we didn’t have time. We left this lovely historical town much better for the experience. It being 4th of July meant it was set up really near for tourists. After driving for a few more hours, East this time, we found a rest area 30 miles from DC. Lee chatted to the guard and we got permission to stay the night AND to set off our fireworks. The boys were beside themselves! They had chosen some great fireworks the day before from a small home stall in Pennsylvania. It was hilarious to watch them jumping around and laughing at the showers of sparks and popping noises. Wish Australia still had Bon fire night!

The day after 4th of July we decided to head to Washington DC to meet Betsy Whalen, our dear friend who I met through edmodo years ago and who we’ve met up with on all our US trips, I think. Well DC was pretty busy! I mean, I’m sure it always is, but WOW there was a lot of people! We met Betsy in the adorable Teaism, which serves hot chai, yay, and then began our walking tour of DC. Let’s just say, it was hot and it was busy and there’s a lot of memorials! We saw the impressive Washington Memorial, walked past the Reflective Pool and the Vietnam War memorial and then up the grand white stairs to the very cool Lincoln Memorial. Abe is massive! The boys were excited to see him because he’s a star in Night at the Museum 2, lol. We then walked down to the newest memorial, that for MLK. I’ve recently discovered that we’re born on the same day – capricorns FTW! His memorial is awesome – he towered over you, emerging from a giant slab of sandstone. I was impressed!

Our next stop was Union Station to pick up a DUCK tour. Hilarious! You’ve probably seen a duck boat driving through the streets of a major city – the tour car/boats that sing and quack. Well, our driver was hilarious in the weird way. He spent more time talking about toilet facilities in DC than the history of the place, lol. Then we went out into the water and got freaked out by the fact that our car just turned into a boat! We cruised past the Pentagon, which I thought was pretty cool and then we cruised past a dead fish which the boys thought was pretty cool, lol. I’m pretty confident that I learnt more about DC from Betsy than our tour guide but it was still really fun and so great to spend time with Betsy. Before saying our goodbyes, we had delicious Chicago-style pizza and then stopped at the White House for some photos. It wasn’t long enough with Betsy or DC, but it was certainly a wonderful introduction to such an interesting city.

After heading back to the RV, we decided to drive back to Harpers Ferry because we wanted to go tubing down the Shenandoah – why not?! Lee is such a champion and drove well into the night, finding us a free camp close to the river. The next morning we were up and ready for tubing super early. We opted to go with River Riders, a bit pricey but worth it. After a quick training video we were on the shuttle bus to the river. The river was warm and not too fast. There were a couple of tiny ‘rapids’ but mostly we just cruised on down the gorgeous river, looking at the wildlife and the blue, blue sky. I’m so glad Lee insisted we do the tubing – it will be a memory that lasts forever. West Virginia, you’re beautiful!

Back in the RV we were driving North again – this time on our way to see our friend Dayna and her family in Lewisberry, Pennsylvania. I’ve known Dayna for years now, having met her through BIE connections. She has a stunning home with a massive backyard that made my boys envious! Her daughters are adorable and her husband is kind and a great portobello mushroom burger chef! After dinner they took us to Hershey and the World of Chocolate. We did the trolley tour which was fantastic! Lee and I were so inspired by the story of Milton Hershey and our boys LOVED the tour guides who were funny and knowledgable. Then we got to have Hershey milkshakes and buy lots of yummy sweets! So lucky! Returning to Dayna’s, we set off the remainder of our fireworks with the kids which was so fun! Thanks so much to Dayna and her family – best hospitality in Pennsylvania!
And so ended our time south of New Jersey and so began the epic trip up to New England!

New York City: in the footsteps of Holden Caulfield

This part of our trip is probably the bit I secretly was looking forward to the most – hanging out in New York City! Our last trip to NYC was in 2011 where we spent three days doing our best to navigate the place! The second trip to any city is always easier and usually better. This was definitely true of our recent visit to Seattle (having previously visited in 2012) and it most certainly is true of this trip to NYC! We were so much more relaxed, despite only having three nights and two days to explore the city.
The first night doesn’t really qualify as a night in NYC, given that our train from AMTRAK was four hours late into Penn Station and then our baggage claim was delayed another hour, meaning after a cab trip up to the Upper West Side we got to our hotel after midnight! We didn’t go to sleep until 3am, not because we couldn’t tear our eyes from Storage Wars, but simply because we had West-East coast ‘jet lag’. Our minds were still functioning on Montanan time, so we just couldn’t sleep!
Having such a late night meant we found it super hard to get up early the next morning – my plan cos I wanted to pack in as many sights as possible. After breakfast (provided by our hotel, it was great) we made it out of the hotel by a smidgen after 10. Our first destination was Central Park, of course. We all fell in love with Central Park in 2011 and adding to that the fact that Lee, Keenan and I are massive fans of The Catcher in the Rye and we’re ALL big fans of The Beatles, well, it’s obvious why we love the place. I kinda worried that after hanging out in ‘big sky country’ the week before, we might not be as enamoured with Central Park… but, I was wrong and happy to be! There’s just something SOO cool about being in such a wide open natural space and ALSO being in one of the world’s biggest and busiest cities.
Our first steps into the park led up to Strawberry Fields – the John Lennon memorial. Before the memorial there is a man selling badges – cool badges – and Balin and I both bought one. I was keen to get a couple of framed photos of the park but decided to wait until we return on the 12th. I hope he’s still there when we get back! At the memorial – a mosaic circle with the word ‘imagine’ at its centre – was a man playing The Beatles classics on his acoustic guitar… badly, lol. He was singing them like Buddy Holly! It was pretty funny. Even though the place is busy, I always find it really touching. I’ve grown up loving The Beatles and John Lennon is a massive inspiration. The memorial is directly across the street from where he was killed, which gives it an added eeriness. The apartment block where he lived is one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture that I’ve seen – all gothic and grand. I took a picture of the front gates and quickly appreciated the tragic convergence of my two loves – The Catcher in the Rye and John Lennon.
We then headed for the Museum of Natural History which is only a few blocks north of Strawberry Fields. Did I mention it was really hot? About 90 degrees Fahrenheit which is about 30 degrees Celsius – hot considering it’s winter in Australia right now! Oh, and it was humid. We were all stoked to enter the museum and its intense air conditioning. The museum has this deal where you can ‘make an offer’ for how much admission you want to pay, we just paid the recommended the price, it was worth it. There’s two reasons why we wanted to see the museum – Holden goes there in The Catcher in the Rye and we are big fans of the Night at the Museum movies! OK, we also think museums are cool and love taking our boys to them. Finally, we’re also fans of Teddy Roosevelt – we really appreciate his contribution to the conservation of our national parks around the world. I wish more politicians had his commitment to protecting our planet. At the museum we enjoyed the African Mammals exhibition, the evolution of man exhibition, the Teddy Roosevelt exhibition and the Native American exhibition. It’s definitely worth the cost of admission!
Next we walked back through Central Park on our way to find lunch. We ended up somewhere between 59th St and 6th Ave at a pizzeria called Luigi’s. The pizza was divine – I recommend the mushroom, broccoli and spinach. Yummy! After feeling full for the first time in two days – we literally ate nothing on the train from Chicago to NYC – we had enough energy to visit the Museum of Modern Art. Kids get in free which is awesome and Lee and I bought a ticket combining our entry to the gallery and Top of the Rock for $44 each. The museum was cool, even if it was busy! The very helpful staff pointed out that the best art is on level 5 and 6, so we headed there first. Level 5 had the early modern artists, my favourites – Picasso, Monet, Matisse, VanGogh and Dali. It was an emotional experience to see Monet’s Waterlillies (which are HUGE!), Van Gogh’s Starry Night with its rich, thick oil paint strokes, and, Dali’s ‘The Persistence of Memory’ which is TINY and AMAZING and which we visited twice, lol. The postmodern art wasn’t as popular with my family – it was cool, and got my boys really thinking, but it didn’t imbue the same kind of awe in us that the modern art did.
Even though our feet ached from walking, we found the energy to check out the Tiffany’s flagship store, made famous by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I secretly was keen to get a cute piece of jewelry, but after ten minutes of checking out the shiny, sparkly things they had housed in their little glass cases, I chose to keep my money. Seriously, $480 for a chain ring with a tiny jewel? Not likely! Instead, we walked the couple of blocks to FAO Schwartz – the world’s largest toy store – and bought an Avengers comic for me and some Lego for Baz, lol. Finally, we headed back to Central Park and paid $30 to get the boys sketched comically by one of the little venders that line the path. It is so fun! The boys then spent some time feeding the ducks, fish and turtles that all live in the pond – the same one that fascinated Holden, who wondered were the ducks go in winter.
That night we were so exhausted that we got more pizza to eat in our hotel room and crashed out watching Storage Wars.
Wednesday was similarly a massive day… I spent a bit of time the night before creating a list of things to do. We started earlier than the day before, getting out of the hotel at 9.30, lol. We did meet some Aussies at breakfast and shared a laugh about America’s lack of hot tea and Vegemite. Jeff would be proud of me!
If the day before was hot, Wednesday was sweltering! It was so humid – dark clouds loomed far in the West, thickening the air. We walked ALL the was down to the Rockefeller Building – where The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon is filmed! – which required us to walk about 20 blocks down Broadway, right into the heart of the entertainment district. To say it was busy is daft – it was manic! Humid weather, lots of people and lots of cars makes for an uncomfortable but exhilarating experience. No complaints from us though, we were in NYC damn you!
So the Rockefeller Building is really tall… and that’s why we went there. I’m scared of heights, a bit. Despite this, I braved the lift with its fancy clear lit up ceiling (crazy) that felt like a Disneyland ride. The lift was the bit I was most worried about and it was sweet. Being up on the roof was fine – the views were too cool to give me a moment of fear. Central Park from way up high is even more special. It’s huge! No, not Montana huge, but city huge. I loved seeing its expanse below me. I fell in love with it all over again. Top of the Rock provides you with great views of the Empire State Building – picture perfect unless it’s a humid day, and then it’s a bit hazy. I still got cool pictures though! After celebrating my survival, we sought out the Rockefeller skate rink – where Holden takes Sally for a rather unsuccessful date – but it was shut, it being summer and all.
Our next mission was to find the Midtown Comic Store. Keenan wanted to get a fully articulated Batman figure and Balin wanted the last two Scott Pilgrim graph novels. I wanted anything Avengers, lol. After two hours in the store – it could easily have been more – we left with a Batman comic, Godzilla comic, Avengers journal and a copy of V for Vendetta. Oh, and Lee got two comics for his class. We did well to leave with money left in our bank!
The next part of the day was in lower Manhattan, so we headed to the subway. Lower Manhattan is massive. It’s a sprawl of cool. I definitely wanted to see Greenwich and SoHo and had my sights on lunch – a late lunch – at a vegetarian Chinese restaurant. I feel like we squeezed all of that in… we definitely got a good look of the iron district of SoHo – pretty!! The hipsters were out on the streets providing much amusement for our boys. The dumplings and sesame (faux) chicken at Vegetarian Dim Sum in China Town were delicious! Our plan had been to ride across the Brooklyn Bridge but we had already packed so much in that we decided to jump on the 1 and head back to our hotel, picking up some craft beer and edamame on the way. Rad day.
Our final day was really half a day because we had to pick up our RV in New Jersey. We spent the morning cycling around Central Park (so worth the money cos the park is huge, did I say that already?!) and then went on the carousel – just like Holden’s kid sister Phoebe did at the end of the The Catcher in the Rye. The cool thing is that we all got on a horse, there’s no way Lee and I would sit on the bench and just watch the boys ride. It got me thinking about Holden’s decision not to ride – typically read as a metaphor for his acceptance that he must grow up – and I think we challenge it. I agree that modern life is bizarre, almost inhuman, but I don’t think we need to accept that growing up is inevitable… And just what does it mean to be ‘grown up’? I imagine one day our boys will laugh that their parents had brightly coloured hair when we traversed North America. It was another emotional experience riding that carousel, as I imagined Salinger sitting on the bench outside, loving the joyful innocence of the young riders. Pretty neat. And so ended our time in NYC. Once again, it was a pleasure.

Montana… so pretty!

Our train rattled in to Shelby, Montana at 8.30am. It had been a very easy trip from Seattle, with the four of us sleeping comfortably in the family room on neat little beds. If you ever decide to Amtrak it from one side of America to the other with your family, I recommend you spend the extra money and get a family sleeper room. It gives you a private space to hang out as well as full dining service included. Our boys really love it.
Shelby. How to describe Shelby, Montana? Small, quiet, bordering on desolate. We got in early so had time to sit in the bright warm sun for a while before our ride came – Jeff Agamenoni and his kids plus their French home stay student. Jeff and his family offered to look after us whilst we were in Montana – we’ve known Jeff for ages through Twitter and later Facebook. We had a crazy fun time at Disneyland in 2012 with him and his family plus Dean Groom and his family. It was really sweet of Jeff to invite us to stay with him at his home in Great Falls, Montana. I’m just going to say right now that it was an unforgettable 5 days and 5 nights.

As soon as Jeff picked us up we headed towards Glacier National Park. It was quite a long drive from Shelby and this gave us plenty of time to catch up and admire the green, green expanses of Montana – oh how the Australian farmers would weep to witness it! Coming into Glacier NP we were greeted by the park ranger with his cool ranger hat – just like the ranger in Yogi Bear! Not long after driving into the park we ran into a line of still cars – it was what we quickly learned was a ‘bear jam’, a traffic jam caused by a bear sighting! Guess what type if bear it was? A grizzly bear! Guess where it was? Right beside our car in the shrubs! Pretty neat! It was a yearling – about the size of a small car and only a year old! We were very, very lucky to have seen such a rare, wonderful creature in its own habitat just foraging without a concern about us. Of course, having sighted a bear so soon made me very nervous on our hike to the waterfall!
The hike to the falls took about 45 minutes and it was such warm weather that my boys were quickly regretting wearing their new snow gloves. Luckily as we approached the falls they saw a patch of snow about two metres wide – it only took them a couple of seconds to race to it and begin launching snow balls at one another.
On the walk back from the falls – which were beautiful, tumbling into a pea green lake – Lee decided that he wanted to take a dip in the lake. Jeff and the others were shocked but I wasn’t. Lee loves to swim in strange places, especially very cold ones where not many people would go. I think he keeps a mental list. He didn’t have any board shirts – sorry, swimming trunks for the Americans reading – so he stripped off and jumped in in his undies. Crazy!
As we drove out of the park we were treated to another spectacular and rate site – a mother moose and her baby walking through the trees. Adorable! The mother moose was huge and had this gracious, slow gait whilst the little baby scurried behind her trying to keep up. When we thought we couldn’t get more lucky with our wildlife spotting, we saw something even more special – another grizzly bear! This one was climbing up the mountainside just alongside of the road. It was scuttling across rocks with ease. We watched it for ages until it disappeared into the maze of rocks and trees. We quickly learned that seeing one grizzly in the wild is rare, but seeing two is just crazy lucky. Yay!
The next trip saw us drive up a steep, slightly unnerving road in another part of Glacier. There we saw a big glacier covered in ice and a cool sort of canyon carved through the rocky mountainside by a rushing river. I can’t remember the name of this place, so if Jeff is reading he might be able to add those details as a comment below. We saw more wildlife, this time less rare – deer! So cute!
On the way back to Jeff’s house we stopped for burgers in a tiny little village and I fell in love – with huckleberry! This little tart berry the size of a blueberry is divine. We ate huckleberry pie with icecream and so began an obsession. Back at Jeff’s we met his funny dog Buster. He was so excited to meet us that he nearly knocked me over. Awww, we love Buster and as I type this I miss him. Jeff is a great host and made sure we were comfortable. The next day was, we happily discovered, a ‘rest day’ – just what we needed because our trip had been insane up until that point. We spent the day charging our devices, washing clothes and then we headed to the local swimming pool for some fun before the lightning storm hit. That night Lee and I made vegetarian lasagne and salad for everyone – a surprising hit with all the boys and so nice to have a taste of home cooked veggie food!

On Wednesday we were up super early to hit the highway – we were on our way to Yellowstone National Park! Hey, hey, Boo-Boo!! The trip there was awesome – we went along Beartooth HWY. I was forewarned by Jeff that I might not enjoy the drive so much, given my fear of heights and the fact that we were driving mountains up to 10,000ft! Despite the heights, I loved it. Seriously one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever been on – it puts the Great Ocean Road and King’s Canyon to shame. The mountains were so green I can’t think of an adequate simile or metaphor to describe them. Even our photographs couldn’t capture the depth and range of that green – you just have to experience it through your own eyes. As the road climbed higher the valley floor spread open below us and we could see the slithering river far below, winding through rocks and trees. Looking up we could indulge in the white, white snow capping the mountain peaks. Looming over that vibrant white in the far distance were angry grey clouds and the spears of rain. It was about 50 degrees Fahrenheit and the boys were hoping for a further drop in temperature so the incoming rain would become fluffy white snow. Well, young boys will dream! Our first stop was ‘half way up’, according to Jeff, but it was so high up I felt giddy looking over the lookout. I was pretty glad to be distracted by the lively little chipmunks who were so tame they ate peanuts from our open hands. This provided the boys and I with so much laughter – there wasn’t time for me to sob about the height, no opportunity to embarrass myself in front of Jeff! Dragging ourselves from the tiny bundles of cuteness – the chipmunks, not Jeff, lol – we got back in the car and headed even higher up the mountains.
I was getting sort of nervous as I looked down over the edge of the narrow road, but suddenly it opened up into a winter wonderland of snow and sunshine! Our boys were nearly wetting themselves with excitement and before too long Jeff pulled up the car and we all rushed out onto the snow. There was more snow than our boys have ever seen and they were delighted. It was rather cold though and my decision to wear a dress without tights was quickly regretted. After about twenty minutes of mucking around in the snow, we once again headed back onto the highway. We were outrunning the rain now, making our way to Yellowstone NP.

Jeff had earlier organised a cabin for us to stay in, Sunrise Cabins, which he had stayed in with his family the week before. It’s just three easy miles from Yellowstone. The cabins were so cool – rustic with antlers tacked above the door, classic mountain-style accommodation. Jeff built a campfire for roasting hotdogs and s’mores whilst the boys played in the patches of snow around the cabins. The owner has a beautiful little puppy called Agnes who just loved the boys – well, the love was reciprocated once she showed them she was happy to play with them in the snow, digging holes and rolling about! After dinner the rain finally arrived, so we headed inside for an early night, knowing the next day would be big!

Waking at 5.30am, we were in the dining room for 6.15am for a delightfully healthy breakfast of fried eggs, homemade potato hash and slices of tomato. I even had a cup of chai tea. Before we knew it we were on the road, into Yellowstone and caught up in traffic. But this was good traffic – it was a bear jam! We climbed out of the car and joined the growing group of tourists standing on the road, staring into the green ahead of us. Quickly we saw her – a black bear no more than 20 metres away, foraging for flowers and other natural delicacies. To our surprise, we saw she had three adorable little cubs. They were initially happy to chase each other through the grass, but something spooked one of them, causing it to climb up a pine tree with the others hastily following it. You haven’t seen cute until you’ve seen three black bear cubs chasing each other up the narrow top of a pine tree. We could have watched them all day, but the rest of the park was waiting, so we got as many photos of the bears as we could and left.

The next stop was lower Yellowstone falls. Here I nearly lost my composure – the walk down to the top of the falls was steep and slippery. It had been raining in the morning. It was, however, worth the anxiety as I’ve never seen such a sight! The Yellowstone river is a powerful beast, fed by the melting snow from the mountains. It roared over the narrow rocky edge, careless of who or what lay in its way. We stood on the small ledge over the falls and looked down into the gurgling waters as they pounded into the river so, so far below. Wow. Another short drive took us to a second vantage point for the same waterfall, allowing us to fully appreciate its size and power! We took so many photos but I doubt any captured that beautiful sight.

As we threaded our way through the park we saw plenty more wildlife – mostly bison. I must confess, I loved them. Something about them is graceful yet grand. They seem almost wise. I know that’s weird, they are probably quite stupid animals. I just loved it when we came across one close to the road and we could look into its dark brown eyes as it looked back unconcerned by our presence. Awesome. Yellowstone is also know for its geothermal activity – it is the super volcano that could one day bring about the end of mankind after all! We stopped and checked out a lot of sulfur smelling pools of bubbling mud and boiling waters. The range of colours in these places impressed me most – from dull brown to emerald and turquoise water and rocks that came in all shades of orange, red and brown. There’s these little micro-organisms living in the hot waters of Yellowstone, blanketing the rock with colour. Of course we took the time to sit and wait for the famous geyser, Old Faithful, to put on its show. Boy was it busy! It amused me greatly that people waited over 30 minutes for it to erupt, only to leave within 5 minutes, not waiting to see its end. After all, it’s just water spouting out of the ground. I did think it was impressive, reminding us that there are much, much bigger forces at play in our world than those we humans can control. As we left the park we saw an elk and her three calves, totally cute! The long drive home to Great Falls was long and I can’t thank Jeff enough for being such a great guy and driving my family the whole way. You rock.

Friday was a day for the boys – trout fishing on the Missouri River. It was cool to finally get to hang out with Joanie, Jeff’s wife, cos she’d been working all week. She’s the first woman I’ve spent time with since my brief time with Suzie Boss in Portland! Joanie is so cool and funny – she taught me to make a great salsa and we joked about our men and boys. Moments I’ll treasure. The boys headed to the river – and Uncle Tom’s cabin – earlier. They took a row boat and some inflated inner tubes, cruising down that ice cold river – brrr! When we got to the cabin the rain had followed us – oops – so we all gathered in the cabin to eat salsa, guacamole and pickle dip with loads of chips, washed down by soda. So cool. The cabin was full of curiosities and I wish I’d taken more photos – the heads of a range of animals lined the walls, Uncle Tom is a hunter, and a basket of BB guns sat in the corner, much to the excitement of our 12 year old. After the rains quit it, we headed out to fish for trout. Despite a long time with no success, by the time the boys headed home they had caught three trout. One they brought home to cook.
That night we ate yummy home made tacos – soft shells, oh Australia you have a lot to learn! Then Joanie made her famous gooey butter cake, served with whipped cream and I thought I would have a heart attack! Probably the most decadent, rich and delicious cake I’ve ever eaten. It will be worth the heart palpitations!

Sadly, that ended our time in gorgeous Montana and as we said goodbye to Joanie at Shelby train station I actually felt like I could cry. We are insanely lucky to know such beautifully generous, funny, clever people. No words are good enough to describe or thank them. I hope this post will serve as a symbol of how much fun we had and how awesome we think the Agamenoni family is.

Summer solstice snow #CF2US14

Our last full day in Seattle certainly was full! We woke up late (again) and headed down to 3rd Ave to pick up a hire car for the day. Lee had booked it over the phone the night before – a standard 4 door car for $67, not bad. Sadly, as always happens, the person behind the desk at the pick up place added extra for insurance – $40 extra! This was annoying because we had specifically asked on the phone if the quote given included insurance and we were assured it did. This has happened to us before and, as with this time, we weren’t bold enough to argue. The people behind the desks at car hire places are rogues, rascals. They do anything they can to get extra money from you. My suggestion is to ALWAYS get the quote emailed to you and specifically ask the salesperson to indicate in capital letters that the quote includes insurance. Another thing to consider if whether your travel insurance covers you for car accidents. It often does. Anyway, lesson learned on our part – we just have to be less meek (a trait that we’ve passed on to our boys for better or for worse – they are forever being pushed in front of in lines!).

Ultimately our day was worth the extra $40 anyway. We hired the car specifically to drive to Mt Rainier, something Lee has been wanting to do since our last visit to Seattle in 2012. It’s such an impressive mountain, snow capped and looming over the city of Seattle. The drive was pretty easy and the closer we got, the landscape became more and more natural and pretty. A spread of wild flowers bloomed on the side of the highway and Mt Rainier grew and grew. The boys were so engrossed with its growing size, filling the car with ooohhhs and aaaaaahhs! We paid the $15 to get into the park and began the steady assent up the mountain – my palms got sweaty cos I’m not so good with heights. We stopped off a few times to get photographs of the views – all lush green and cloud white. The last stop was the best according to the boys – we finally got high enough up to get out and play in the snow! Reflection Lakes were partially frozen and just gorgeous. It was like being in a Christmas card! We are so lucky! After a hilarious scramble down a snowy embankment – picture me falling on my butt three times – we made it to the lake. Of course the first thing the boys did was make snowballs and their favourite target was their slow moving mother. We made a snow man and a snow dog and laughed that it was summer solstice and giggled at the authenticity of our realised dreams. Seriously.

Before our fingers fell off from frost-bite, we got back in the car and made our way back down the mountain. Our next destination was the music store where Kurt Cobain bought his first guitar. Unfortunately after a quick phone call to the store we discovered we wouldn’t make it to Aberdeen before they closed. We decided to try anyway – as you do. It took us over and hour to get to Aberdeen – making it there 15 minutes after the store closed. Lame! Our disappointment hung heavy in the Aberdeen air – oh, wait, that IS the air at Aberdeen! Seriously, that place is depressing. It gives an accurate sense of why Nirvana’s music has that moody, broken quality to it. The town is eerily quiet. Cliche? Yes? An accurate description? Well, I guess you’ll have to trust the veracity of my description because I strongly doubt you’ll ever visit there yourself; it’s just not somewhere I’d recommend. We did revisit Kurt Cobain Riverside Park – a kind of shrine to Kurt that was established by a caring Aberdeen local. The park is adjacent to the bridge that Kurt frequented often in his youth. He slept under it after he was kicked out of home for whatever reason teens and people in their early 20s get kicked out. It’s a special place for Nirvana fans – a pilgrimage point for the diehards – but it is sad too, just like the rest of the town. It gives a sense of the despondency that pervades many of Kurt’s art. I try to get a sense of him there, but all the scrawlings on the bridge beams just talk to me of those who love him, for their own reasons, and the sounds of lawn mowers, cars and scrawny dogs barking just takes away any pseudo spiritual experience I could get. That doesn’t mean it’s not a cool space, it totally is. The recent addition of Kurt’s air guitar was pretty cute.

We returned the car at 8pm and walked the long walk back to the hotel. The boys were washed out so we left them to play their games and headed down to the brewery next to the hotel – The Six Arms. The food was meh and Lee said the beer was watery. Worst of all was the music – Coldplay, Muse and The Killers! Not cool. The night did end well though, as we got a tub of Ben and Jerry’s, haha.

Sunday was a sort of nothing day… the boys went swimming, despite it not being swimming weather, and we took our final walk down to the Pike Street Markets. We bought fruit for the train and chocolate pasta to make for dessert with Jeff and Joanie, which we are told tastes great with icecream! Oh, and we ate breakfast at The Crumpet Shop. Yup, you read that right, crumpets in America! I got one with honey, the boys had jam and Lee had eggs and smoked salmon. Whilst they weren’t the best crumpets I’ve had, they were tasty and the homemade chai was delicious. It surprises me how popular this shop is! Crumpets are SOO hipsters ;)

We boarded our AMTRAK train at 1.40pm and are currently headed to Montana. The family room is great – so roomy, the boys are stoked and the novelty of being on a train hasn’t worn off, which is great. Tomorrow we’ll be meeting up with Jeff and Joanie in Shelby and heading to Glacier National Park!!

Oh, Seattle, how we love you!

The train to Seattle from Portland was cruisy – four hours of alternating napping and reading, perfect. The best part, of course, was that we ended up in Seattle!
We arrived at Union Station, which happily is in the city centre, and tried our best to haul all of our bags up the hill to our hotel. We made it to an ATM and grabbed some cash and then a cab. The cab driver was pretty hilarious – a socialist who cared for the environment but resented people walking slowly across the road or who took all his change. We potentially were guilty of the latter, oops!
We got to our hotel way before check-in, so dropped off our bags and headed down Pike Street to check out the town.
Our first stop was Pike Street Farmers’ Markets. Love it here! Our last visit to Seattle was so rushed that we didn’t get to appreciate this community space enough. We bought yummy dried fruit, admired the crowds buying seafood and tasted chocolate pasta – yum! We also got cold pressed apple and lavender cider – yum! We navigated our way through the rush of locals and tourists and headed down to the pier for clam chowder and tomato soup – the boys had theirs in sourdough bread bowls which the couldn’t finish.
We hiked it back up Pike Street and finally checked in to our hotel. It’s a beautiful hotel – big apartment, great games room, excellent service. The boys went for a swim and played electronic darts – happy boys! We then headed north on Pike to experience the colour of the gay community and the awesome that is Elysian Brewery. Love that place.
The next day we slept in – yay! Every other day has been hectic with very early starts. It was nice to rest. We got up in time for the hotel breakfast and regretted it as soon as we saw the powdered eggs, weird ham circles and other foods of dubious origins. It was a quick decision to head back to Pike St Markets for doughnuts. OK, only I ate them… tiny doughy balls of yumminess. Once again we headed to the pier with the plan to ride the huge Ferris wheel but it was packed at 10 in the morning, on a week day, so we gave it a miss. Phew! I wasn’t keen at all.
Another ten minute walk and we found ourselves in the oldest part of the city – so pretty – for the Underground Tour. Loved it! We had the best guide of the lot, she was hilarious, passionate and knowledgable. We learned so much about the origins of Seattle – and a lot about their obsession with toilets! Thanks Mr Crapper! The resilience and determination of the founding fathers of Seattle was inspiring. It was also cool to discover that a woman was integral to the rebuilding of Seattle after it burnt down.
After spending far too long in the toy store opposite the tour, we headed to Pike Brewery for refreshments and food, but mostly refreshments, lol. Lee said the beer was awesome but not as good as Elysian Brewery. The food was yummy too – I recommended the vegetarian nachos!
The evening involved catching the monorail to the Space Needle and me defeating my fear of heights! The Space Needle is great – worth the long lines! The views of Puget Sound and Seattle city – oh those shadows! – are stunning. Truly. We ended the night with pizza and ice cream. What a great day!










The long flight, the short flight and the train trip #CF2US14

If you don’t know by now, my family and I have once again flown East for summer… very East. This is our fourth trip to the USA and the first one that won’t feature attendance at an edu event. We will be spending time with some of our favourite edu peeps though, as we traverse the continent from LA to NY.
The first leg of the trip is always tiring but rarely unpleasant. We fly Air New Zealand because I’m an uneasy flier. AirNZ have a great safety record, but more importantly they’re really friendly and look after us. Unfortunately flying to the US with them inevitably means a stop over in Auckland. This time our stop over was for 5 hours! There’s not a great deal to do in Auckland airport for that long, however they do provide super comfortable chairs and lounges in an open, flexible space which is pleasant. Lee and I managed to organise the chapters of our PBL books, grab some ZZZZs and then indulge in edamame and Japanese beer. Can’t complain, really.
The flight from Auckland to LA was good too. Great big plane, awesome service – food was tasty for vegetarian plane food – and I managed to half watch a couple of films. I also read half of The Fault in Our Stars, a super easy read thanks to Green’s powerful characterisation. Actually, that reminds me that I listened to four chapters of A Users Guide to the News by Alain deBotton on the other flight. Such an awesome book. I will be buying it as soon as I find a hard copy!

Arriving in LA, we discovered that an armed gunman had been ‘sighted’ in the army barracks two blocks away from our hotel. Welcome to LA, huh? Despite that we still headed down the road and found the most amazing food at Roobios – the original fish taco restaurant! Amazing! If you’re ever in the US, look up Roobios. Their food puts Baja Fresh to shame, and that’s saying something cos we really love Baja Fresh fish tacos! We also found a Five Guys Burgers and Fries – Lee nearly died of excitement because he loves the YouTube vid where the guy reviews their double cheeseburgers – DAYUM! After stuffing ourselves with tacos, we managed to buy and eat some fries from Five Guys Burgers and Fries, just so we could get a ‘ghetto grocery bag’, lol!

Early the next morning we were back on a plane, this time a Delta flight from LAX to Portland. I love Delta – they are really friendly and the service is great! They give you a drink and a snack and you don’t have to pay for a blanket – a lot better service than Virgin America where everything costs something, even the headphones! The flight was rad – tiny plane but that didn’t bother me for two reasons:
1. The view is awesome. We saw snow capped mountains!
2. I was reading the second half of The Fault in Our Stars. I confess, there were tears!

Portland is awesome. Seriously. We’re pretty confident that this is THE city we could easy live in. Our first meal was at the Elephant Delicatessen – the most amazing world of food you can imagine and so cheap! I was actually overwhelmed by the selections and all the different counters, lol. We settled on soup and pizza. It was great to have a range of vegetarian options to choose from! We then walked down Burnside Rd to Powell’s City of Books and ended up lost in there for two hours. If you’ve ever been, you’ll know how easy that is to do! The map of the store helped a lot – we spent $171 and have much heavier luggage thanks to the many books we purchased. Well worth it! Next stop was the Doc Martens store where Keenan got his first ever pair – a big deal for our family, a milestone really! Did I mention how cheap Docs are here? Finally we headed to Deschutes Brewery for some delicious craft beer and cider. So Portland!

That night we were treated to dinner with the lovely Suzie Boss and her husband. She made us delicious vegetarian lasagne and a stunning three tiered strawberry and cream sponge cake – our boys were stoked! She also took us to see the beautiful roses at Washington Park. I wish we’d had more time to discover all of Portland’s secret spots!

Right now we are sitting on the Cascades train heading to Seattle. Well, we’re not heading anywhere right now because the train is stopped due to track work – fun times! Still, it won’t be long and our journey will be back on track, so to speak, haha!