Roadtrip: Los Angeles

It’s really happened! This is my last post of our roadtrip, only 16 months after the event. Shocking. Oh well, a beautiful baby girl has been added to our family since then and life’s been busy — that’s the way it is sometimes.

About halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles Ben has some cousins. At that time Karl and Laura had just become engaged. Since then, they’ve married and had their first child. Sheesh.

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We had a nice lunch with them, a short stroll on the beach, and then we were off again to the last stop on our roadtrip: Los Angeles. This was our nicest (paid for) accommodation on the trip — a nice big room with lots of space to redistribute luggage into suitcases that don’t weigh a ton, and a very comfortable bed which was fantastic, especially after our epic 13-hours-at-Disneyland day. The breakfasts and pool were rather good too.

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We arrived in LA on Friday after a long day of driving,

The world's most uncomfortable-looking position for sleeping

and spent all day Saturday at Disneyland. Yes, we knew Saturdays in the summer holidays were the worst time to go, but next day was Sunday and we wanted to attend church then, and we flew out again on the Monday.

I have SO many photos to share, I’ll do the gallery thing again, so if you want to see any of the photos larger, just click on it.

We were such tourists, ooh-ing and aah-ing over silly things like road signs for Hollywood and Sunset Boulevard, or seeing some famous companies like Capitol Records.

Like I said, Saturday was Disneyland Day. We arrived there shortly after 8am, and left after 9pm. It was a loooong day, but a fantastic one. I must admit I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it — more like a fun day for the kids. But surprise! It was actually a really neat experience. I’d go again!

The grounds were so lovely, and I liked how different sections of the park had different styles like old times small town America, or New Orleans’ French Quarter among some. The rides were of course a big highlight. The lines and waiting times, not so much.

Dumbo

Pooh Bear

It’s a Small World

Tarzan

We had many options for Sunday church, but we decided to go to Grace Community Church where John MacArthur is the pastor. He was on holiday, but we still had an excellent sermon and service. We really enjoyed the music — it was tastefully done without being showy and really added to the congregation’s worship. I took some photos before and after church.

I don’t exactly recall the circumstances anymore, but I think we were worried about LA traffic and didn’t want to risk getting to the airport late, which resulted in us being there 4 hours early. We hung around in the normal waiting area for a little while

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and then we splashed out one last time on our holiday and paid to wait in the Air New Zealand Koru Lounge, where there was a kids’ playroom, free wifi, free dinner and drinks and comfy seats.  And then… back to New Zealand! We got a very warm welcome from friends and family, and came home to a nice clean house with much of our furniture and things already moved back in, plus some nice new furniture for the kids — thanks Mamma and Pappa!

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We came from summer into cold and wet winter

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but somehow that’s not so bad if you can still bake, right?

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I hope to get around to posting some photos of our lives here, especially for the benefit of our relatives and friends in the US. Just don’t wait with bated breath because you might just faint.

Roadtrip: San Francisco

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We only had one day in San Francisco for sight-seeing, so naturally we didn’t see everything on the list, but we still saw a whole bunch of things!

We saw Alcatraz in the distance:

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We rode the cable cars:

(Click on the picture if you want to see it larger.)

We had a look around the waterfront and walked down The Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf.

Our brother-in-law, Jeremy, got us in touch with a friend from college when she and her husband came to New Zealand for their honeymoon. Valerie and Gabe parked their campervan in our driveway in 2009, and 3 years later we looked them up in Stanford where Gabe’s been studying law. The drive down there through Silicone Valley was interesting, with all the geek billboards.

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There’s money down here…

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Valerie showed us around the Stanford campus — what beautiful buildings and grounds.

In one of the courtyards there are these sculptures by Rodin:

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Proof we were really there. :-)

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Gabe and Valerie kindly hosted us for a delicious dinner before we returned to our motel.

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That motel was the only dud on our whole roadtrip — in a not-so-good part of town, a tiny and very run-down room, weird people all around, not entire sure we were/felt safe… but we were fine in the end!

Next post will be the last one of the roadtrip: Los Angeles. Then after that I’ll try and update you a bit on the last year and a bit since we’ve been back in NZ. Hey, good things take time, right?

Yosemite!

Yo’s Mite. That’s how I always thought you pronounced Yosemite (having only ever seen it written). Now I know better. Just think Yo’s Cemetery without the ‘r’ and you’re set.  :-)

One of the many things I love about the States is how varied the scenery is. Yosemite is beautiful. But so is Arches. And the Smoky Mountains. And the Adirondacks. And… I could go on. :-)

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One morning we went for a short hike to Mirror Lake.  One of the first things we saw on the hike was this bear trap. We’re not used to seeing things like that!

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The hike was a bit of a wild goose chase, because we somehow went way too far. It turned out that the little pond we passed at one point was actually the lake, so we backtracked, walked through a beautiful meadow,

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And beheld the pond. I mean, lake.

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The girls enjoyed the water (it was a hot day), nevertheless, and it was actually quite nice for them that it was so shallow!

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There was another part to the lake — apparently it was a very dry year, hence the low water levels — where there were quite a few more people.

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A little bit off topic, but I saw this car in the park and couldn’t help thinking, “What a long way to drive!” About 3120 miles, if they’re from Anchorage.

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There were so many very tall trees. We didn’t make it down to the giant sequoia forest (hey cool, the word ‘sequoia’ has all 5 vowels in it!), but still saw some big ones.

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Did I mention that we were glamping? When  I was booking our accommodation in advance for our roadtrip, the dates that we wanted to be in Yosemite were all booked out (except for the really expensive hotels) inside the park, so I found a campsite just outside the park where you could camp using all their gear and facilities. It was great! Tent already set up, beds made with nice warm sleeping bags and comfortable mattresses, hot showers, hammocks, a big fire pit, a pool, a playground, a little shop and restaurant, even little trollies for your luggage! All for the price of a nice hotel anywhere else in the country.

We had our own food, but couldn’t cook there because it attracts bears. We were warned not to leave any of our food in our tents because bears come after it, and the campsite provided bear-proof boxes for food that were away from the tents a bit. Well, the first night we slept without any problems, but on the second night we woke up to the sounds of a bear banging on the nearby food boxes and rubbish bin. It turns out some clever person left some food out on top of the bins and that attracted the bear. We then lay there in the tent petrified, hearing the bear move around the campsite. The scary thing was that not so long before I had gone out to the car to get some medicine for Esther who was getting sick — sticky, sweet tylenol syrup. All Ben could think was that the bear would smell that and try to get into our tent! All I could think about was had I gone out a bit later I would have met the creature out there in the dark! In the end the bear moved off and we went back to sleep — a very light kind of sleep.

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At our campsite, there were big tall trees with lots of cool-looking moss or lichen growing on them. This next photo makes me feel dizzy.

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Between a couple of these mossy trees there was this cool swing, which we all enjoyed.

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On our last morning, the morning after the Night Of The Bear, we went on a little walk (“We’re going on a Bear Hunt“) before our drive to San Francisco. There was a brave “we’re not scared” veneer over some distinct nervousness over meeting a bear! And no, the bear of  the previous night was nowhere to be seen. Thankfully.

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Roadtrip: Mono Lake

I’m determined to finish the posts of our roadtrip, despite it now being almost exactly a year since we’ve been back in New Zealand.

After our stop in Lone Pine, we drove north to Yosemite National Park. Just near the entrance to the park is Mono Lake, where we stopped for a couple of hours before going on to Yosemite.

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Mono Lake is a very saline lake with no outlet to the ocean, making it more than two times saltier than the sea.

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On the edge of the water there’s a strip of about half a meter that’s black and buzzing. Alkali flies!

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I thought the little flies were a bit gross buzzing around your feet, but the birds liked them, and apparently the early Native Americans in the area ate the fly larvae. Bleh.

All those little black dots in the photo below are the little flies. If I recall correctly they’re only about half a centimeter long.

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An interesting feature of Mono Lake is its Tufa formations. They’re made of limestone, and they’re fun to photograph.

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Ben and Marica had a swim.  Ben said it almost felt difficult to swim because he felt like he was bobbing on the water!

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My very own James Bond. Only better, and without the freaky blue speedo. :-)

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Afterwards when they had air-dried, the two of them were left with salt streaks on their legs. I think Marica licked it and confirmed that it was indeed salty!

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The lake is too salty for fish, but is famous for the Mono Lake brine shrimp, only found in Mono Lake. The kids had fun catching them with little pitchers provided by the park rangers.

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Next time, Yosemite!

Roadtrip: Lone Pine

The next stop couldn’t have been more different from Las Vegas. Tranquil, rural, isolated, pretty much nobody around, right in nature, and no electricity! We stayed the night in a little cabin/tent outside a small town called Lone Pine, between the Death Valley and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. To get there, we drove through Death Valley, a hot, arid dessert with amazing scenery and contrasts. We experienced quite a bit of contrast in elevation just by driving through — the highest point was 3040 feet (927m) and the lowest point was below sea level, so lots of ear popping going on.

We were very thankful that our car had air-conditioning. On the day we were there, the temperature was 120 F (49 C). We stopped at the Visitors’ Center and before we got out, we could see there was a bit of a breeze and thought it might be a bit more pleasant because of it… it was like stepping into an oven with the fan bake setting on! It’s so hot it sort of just stuns you while your eye balls cook. Believe it or not, people live there. (???!!!)

Let me just share something I thought was funny: we drove through a town called Pahrump a bit west of Vegas. It probably has some deep meaning, but to us it just sounded so funny. Imagine having to say “I live in Pah-RUMP.” Pahrump-pa-pum-pum! You’d just have to be known as the Little Drummer Boy! (Okay, end juvenile moment.)

Pahrump town

Pahrump!

We chose the most direct route to get to our next stop, which meant that it was also the least interesting route through the Death Valley scenery-wise. Nevertheless, I think we still saw some amazing things and a lot of variation.

Death Valley 

Death Valley

Oasis in the Death Valley

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Death Valley

Death Valley

Death Valley

Death Valley at a different angle

On the western side of the park, we drove into a rainstorm. There were some breaks in the clouds and the light streamed through it in the most amazing ways, it was almost surreal.

Amazing light

Amazing light 

Amazing light

Arriving at our cabin in the Alabama Hills was like one great big happy sigh of relief — to be away from the tackiness of Vegas, all the stress of having to organise a new car, and to be done with the hot up-and-down drive there. It smelled so good and fresh with the recent rain on the plants, and it was lovely and cool because of it.

Inside our cabin

The kitchen at our destination

At our destination

The bathroom and outside kitchen

Esther looking at some rustic old tools

Noticing a little bump

The next morning we were on the road again, this time on our way to Mono Lake and Yosemite National Park, but we did make time to stop and clamber around some rocks in the Alabama Hills. Ben and the kids didn’t take long to disappear behind the rocks, and I enjoyed the time to take some photos of the rocks, lichens and wildflowers there.

Looking towards the Sierra Nevada mountains

Some wildflowers

Little wildflowers

Almost an ad for our new rental car

Great spot for Western movies

Lichens

Lichens up close

Rocky hills

Clambering

My loves

Roadtrip: Las Vegas

I know there are people who love Vegas. I find this difficult to understand because we didn’t enjoy it at all! It was like a sleazy version of Times Square, but it had good, cheap accommodation that was en route to our next destination. And so we went ahead and booked a hotel that was touted as ‘kid friendly’ and hoped for the best...

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It turned out that the only kid-friendly thing about our hotel was the pool, which happened to have a shark tank in the middle of it, with a water slide going through the shark tank. Now that was pretty cool! Marica was brave enough to go down by herself, once she got to the top after a long wait and heard that the rules said you couldn’t go down in twos.

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We were a bit naive in thinking the gambling would be separate from the rest of the hotel. There were slot machines even in the hallways and poker tables next to the pool — people never had to go far to get rid of the money burning their pockets!

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Our room was very nice and clean and tidy though, so nothing to complain about there. This is what the hallway looked like — I felt a bit like it was some sort of optical illusion.

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We did have one very enjoyable experience, and that was at a Japanese restaurant one evening where the chef prepared the food right in front of us.

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The chef built this ‘mountain’ out of onion rings, poured some flammable liquid inside, lit it and it turned into a volcano!

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The other diners were really classy, as testified by the guy on the left. The woman with him seems not to mind what that implies about her.

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Now, some people have told us that we should have stayed at a different hotel and then we would have loved Las Vegas. Perhaps. There were certainly plenty to choose from, and we did not stay at one of the more expensive hotels on The Strip (we didn’t want to pay an arm and a leg!). We did drive down The Strip in the evening to gawk at all the hotels and lights and then had an experience that soured or experience of Vegas even more — a woman in an SUV rear-ended our car. There wasn’t a huge amount of damage, but it was bent enough that the boot wouldn’t close, which if you remember the photo from the last post, was sort of imperative!

This meant that the whole next morning was taken up with Ben trying to get a new car from Hertz, who didn’t have one exactly the same (we had the biggest car in the ‘large sedan’ category) and it turned out that the one they gave us was just simply too small to fit all our luggage. So then after all piling into this too-small car, we headed back to Hertz and upgraded to an SUV for the last 8 days of our trip. Good things DO come out of Vegas! :-)

Once we had our new rental car, we were quite behind schedule for our next destination: Lone Pine, on the west side of the Death Valley.

Continuing the roadtrip posts: A visit to Phoenix

I know that I stopped our roadtrip posts rather abruptly last year, and for good reason, but I really do want to finish the posts before the baby arrives. That equates to six more posts over the next 3 months — surely I could do that?! :-)

Right, last place we ‘left off’ was the Grand Canyon. From there we traveled south through the Sedona area to visit Ben’s Uncle David and Aunt Renie and Grandpa who live in Phoenix. We drove through the most beautiful mountain setting (off the main highways) and stopped for a picnic lunch at a picnic spot there.

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We could hear running water, and thought we should check out where the river was, and if we could get to it, so we crossed the road and scrambled down a bank and found this beauty.

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We all played in the water for a bit — it was warm but not unpleasantly hot — and saw some people picking wild blackberries. We had some too, so yummy!

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After enjoying the water for a good while, we hopped in the car again for the drive to Phoenix. What amazed me was how the scenery changed in a mere 3 hours’ or so of driving. From this:

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to this:

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In Phoenix, we had a great time catching up with Uncle David, Aunt Renie and Grandpa, whose warm hospitality made us feel right at home. It was good to get to spend some more time with Grandpa, playing Scrabble or just chatting. The kids warmed up to Great-Grandpa, and I’m so glad I got these adorable shots!

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We got to swim a couple of times in the pool of some friends of theirs, which was delightful considering the intense heat.

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Aunt Renie also gave us all, but especially the children, a real treat by taking us to the Phoenix Children’s Museum. It was very different from the Brooklyn Children’s Museum where we had been members during out time in NYC and the kids had a real blast.

(WordPress has this new feature where you can include a gallery of photos in your post, and I thought I’d try it for the Children’s Museum photos. Let me know how it works for you. If you click on one of the photos, it will open it larger.)

Aunt Renie was also able to score some half-price tickets for us to the Musical Instrument Museum. She kindly watched the girls for us so Ben and I got to go on a little date — what fun! At the museum you walk around with headphones on that plays music from the display that you’re in front of. There was a TV screen with a video playing on it at each display that would talk about the different instruments, how they developed, the culture of the country of origin, and things like that. Very interesting!

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There was also a room where you could try out some instruments for yourself. There was this band organ that would play a tune if you put in a coin.

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And I was keen to try out a harp.

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I’m not sure how I managed this, but I went through our whole 4 days’ visit there without taking a photo of Uncle David. Sorry, Uncle David! I did take a photo of their house, though, with Aunt Renie in front of it. Just pretend Uncle David’s next to her.

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When we were loading the car, I remembered for once to take a photo of what the car’s boot looked like throughout our trip. No spare room! Ben had it down to an art by this time, though, so it didn’t take long to load.

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Next stop: Las Vegas.