West Coast

A bit of a milestone today, as we’ve made it to the other ocean! Atlantic to Pacific by land in exactly three weeks. The train from Los Angeles to San Diego runs right beside the ocean for stretched – thinking of Matt today as I’m watching the surfers riding some pretty big waves.

I’ll be posting an update from the Grand Canyon later once I have a chance to upload the pictures

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Grand Canyon

I’m catching up a bit today, after several days where we seem to have moved from one location to the next without much rest in between. Since leaving Chicago we’ve had one night on the train, one night in Flagstaff Arizona, one night at the Grand Canyon, and another night on the train before arriving in Los Angeles and continuing on to San Diego. Our remaining two weeks won’t be quite so stop-start.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

So anyway, we had a great couple of days at the Grand Canyon; a really fantastic complement to all of the city sightseeing we’ve been doing over the past few weeks. For this leg of the journey we rented a car, as it would have been too convoluted and expensive to get to the canyon by train.

It was kind of funny having a car – I realized that I haven’t driven on the right side of the road in over a year (you’ll be pleased to hear that I did not suddenly and unexpectedly veer to the left). It’s been great taking the train and I definitely prefer it over a long driving holiday, but having your own car brings much more flexibility. Suddenly you’re not as concerned about how to get from A to B while also lugging around six bags. We could go to a grocery store (as opposed to a convenience store in the city) where prices are remarkably reasonable. Of course the downside of driving was also there to see; mainly the “are we there yet” type of complaints from the rear seat.

The drive from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon is about an hour and a half. It’s pretty amazing as you really have no indication at all that you’re about to approach such an amazing area of the country — unlike mountains, where you can see them coming ever nearer as you approach, a canyon just sort of suddenly appears out of nowhere. First there’s desert, and then there’s this massive fissure in the ground.

We spent two days at the canyon and enjoyed the views from each end of the National Park on the south rim. I took several pictures but it felt strangely inadequte; like trying to represent the ocean with a teaspoon of salt water. Suffice it to say that it’s a spectacular place; truly amazing in how it has formed and developed.

A short meander into the canyon

A short meander into the canyon

The girls participated in the Junior Ranger program, which worked out perfectly. Another couple of years and they likely would have scoffed at the idea, but here they took to it with great enthusiasm, filling in a few pages about the canyon and their thoughts, and then participating in one ranger-led activity (we did the adventure hike, where the term ‘hike’ was a gross exaggeration; let’s call it a casual meander — yes, the Adventure Casual Meander). Upon completion of the requisite activities, Connie and Heidi were sworn in as Junior Rangers, and received a faux-metal (plastic) Junior Ranger badge. I was so proud.

East rim of the canyon

East rim

When we left the canyon on our second day we drove around the East Rim road, which takes out of the park on the eastern side. Just before the exit there’s a viewpoint called Desert View, where you look westward down the canyon (as opposed to viewing across the canyon from the south to the north). These were some of the best views, and a fitting way to end our short stay.

Our family sleeper room

Our family sleeper room

We drove back to Flagstaff, returned the rental car and then waited for our train, which ended up being 3 hours late as it pulled in very close to midnight. Still, this time we had all the reservations in tact, and soon we were in our beds. I’ve had a few requests to show some of the inside of the sleeper room – here’s Connie and Heidi in their beds.

Next stop: San Diego

Posted from Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, United States.

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Flagstaff

We’ve made it to Flagstaff and had a good night’s sleep after a 34 hour train ride from Chicago. I have to say that the train was excellent – fantastic scenery, really good food, and great facilities.

Soon we shall pick up our rental car and be on our way to the Grand Canyon, where we’ll be staying for just one night before catching the evening train tomorrow to Los Angeles and on to San Diego.

Sorry – not a great picture of Flagstaff; this is right beside the train stop a block away from the hostel we stayed at last night. Flagstaff also has a much nicer historic downtown (not photographed)

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Viva Las Vegas

We’ve passed through the corn fields, the ranches of the wild west, and now we’re passing through the deserts of New Mexico. The scenery has been fantastic!

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We have just stopped in Las Vegas; Las Vegas in New Mexico that is. I can just imagine all those disappointed gamblers who mix these places up…

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Look! Corn!

Cornish countryside

Cornish countryside

We’re on our way through America’s heartland, having successfully boarded our train out of Chicago (yay!). Much like the Canadian prairies, this part of the country is wonderfully monotonous fields of corn, no doubt ready to be picked and converted into high glucose corn syrup. Mmmmm glucose…

Clean up or else

Clean up or else

For this journey we are in a family sleeper room, which is very nice. I also like their sign in the bathroom: clean up or else the devil will come and getcha.

Beds for everyone!

Beds for everyone!

Seems AT&T’s coverage in the middle of nowhere is pretty lousy, so updates may be more sparse during this route.

Posted from Durant, Iowa, United States.

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Chicago

With our train fiasco behind us, we arrived at Chicago, Amtrak’s hub city with good reason. 9 major train routes depart from this city covering pretty much the entire country, including Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Boston, and all points in between.

Chicago

Chicago

We’ve now been travelling for over two weeks, and we’ve needed a bit of a break, from the daily activities. Chicago has proved a nice place to slow down and have some quieter days; something that we’ve needed although it means we weren’t able to see as much of this great city as we might have liked.

We’re staying at a nice non-hotel apartment building that mainly does long-term rentals but also fills up their space with short-term stays. So we have a one-bedroom suite with a full kitchen, the girls sleeping on a sofabed. The location is great – just north of the main part of the city which would appear to be the main shopping district. When I was walking back to our apartment last night and passed by the Rolls Royce dealership, I thought that this is probably a fairly nice part of town.

Sandy beach on Lake Michigan

Sandy beach on Lake Michigan

Chicago is on Lake Michigan, so it reminds us a bit of Vancouver, in the sense that there are beaches and marinas right next to the city. We walked up from our apartment to one such beach, and then on to Navy Pier, a newer entertainment complex built in the style of old boardwalk-style piers.

Navy Pier

Navy Pier

We went on a few of the rides at the pier and then had dinner at Connie’s Pizza, a Chicago institution apparently. Connie was particularly happy about this.

The weather on our trip has been fantastic for the mostpart – very hot and almost always sunny. Here in Chicago our luck turned and although it has been nice at times, we’ve finally had some rain. Unfortunately this came at a particularly bad time for us…

We had already purchased tickets to see the Chicago Cubs (baseball) play on Monday night. The Cubs play at Wrigley Field, which has been their home since 1916, and it’s a great old-style ballpark with lots of character. Unfortunately, it has no roof, and sure enough it was raining heavily at 7pm when the game was due to start.

Match postponed due to rain

Match postponed due to rain

After about 40 minutes they officially postponed the game, to be replayed on Thursday afternoon (by which time we’ll be overlooking the Grand Canyon). So, sadly, we missed our chance to see some baseball in Chicago.

We’ve enjoyed Chicago and we’d like to come back at some point when we have a bit more time and energy to explore the city. It feels a bit like the little brother trying to be New York – big and energetic but not quite all the glitz of its big brother.

Today we leave at 3pm to catch the train to Los Angeles, with a stop at Flagstaff, Arizona for the Grand Canyon. This will be our longest train jouney (about 30 hours), and yes – I checked our tickets to ensure we are leaving on the right day. I’m hoping to do short updates during our trip through the Western Frontier.

Posted from Chicago, Illinois, United States.

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Oops

Well well. Nary a day after I was well-praised for my organizational skills, my ego has been appropriately and suitably bruised. For you see, we made a right mess of our trip from Niagara to Chicago.

Our plan all along was to take the train from Buffalo (just 30 minutes from Niagara Falls) to Chicago. There is only one such train per day, and it leaves at 11:59pm – one minute before midnight. So on Saturday night we left Niagara Falls at 10pm and got to the train station (via a typical white-knuckle cab ride). The train was running about 90 minutes late, so we had to wait at the station until about 1:30am when it arrived.

This was a challenge, to be sure. But at least we had stumped up a bit extra for a sleeper car so that we would eventually be all tucked in our nice, narrow, sleeper-train beds. The train arrived and we boarded, looking for car 4911, which was not to be found. We asked the attendant who went off for a bit of a chat with his colleague, and returned with the news: we were on the right train on the wrong day.

Our tickets were for the train that was to depart on Sunday night and arrive in Chicago on Monday morning — we were a day early. By now the train had already left Buffalo and was on its way.; I was somewhat surprised the conductor who checked our tickets prior to boarding didn’t notice. To make matters worse, this train was completely full – no available sleeper compartments; not even any regular seats were available.

Poor Heidi was distraught – she had done so well to stay up but now she just wanted to sleep. There was one glimmer of hope – the people in one of the larger sleeper bedrooms were getting of in Cleveland; we would be able to have their room after that. In the meantime, the only place we could go was the dining car, closed as it was for the night – we would have to wait there another 3 1/2 hours before Cleveland.

At 5am the train pulled into Cleveland and shortly thereafter we had a room. It wasn’t normally meant to sleep four people, but at this point we didn’t care. We managed to sleep for about four hours and the train eventually arrived in Chicago at around 10:30am.

Having this kind of a night pretty much wipes out the next day. We were able to check into our hotel here early and get some more rest, so that was good. I’ll cover our time in Chicago in the next post, but suffice it to say that we have suitably recovered although now more humble.

Posted from Chicago, Illinois, United States.

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Niagara Falls

Ahh Niagara Falls – tourist mecca and place of thundering water, as the native people called it. As one might have guessed, all this water did, at one point, make me so desperate I had to pee in some nearby bushes.

Niagara is an interesting place, as the falls are shared between the US and Canadian sides. We decided to stay on the US side, in keeping with our US-centric holiday. Fortunately our proximity to Canada is close enough that there is a Tim Horton’s nearby (I missed you, Boston Cream).

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

Yesterday was my birthday, which was the day that we took in most of the major Niagara sights. We went on the Maid of the Mist boat tour (where we were given standard-issue blue ponchos), and the Cave of the Winds walk at the edge of Bridal Veil Falls (where we were given standard-issue yellow ponchos and sandals).

Cave of the Winds

Cave of the Winds

The weather was fantastic – bright and sunny – and the misty water was lovely and warm.

We also enjoyed a buffet lunch at the nearby Casino (top tip: arrive for a late lunch at 3pm and pay 40% less than the dinner price!), and we walked around some of the nearby islands in the State park. We’re staying at a nice little guesthouse here, a sort of hostel/B&B.

Heidi got soaked

Heidi got soaked

American Falls

American Falls

Later yesterday evening we made our offical return to Canada after over a year of absense. We had to go through the process of declaring our goods that will be following us into Canada, something that I had taken quite a bit of time preparing for before we left England. I very carefully followed the instructions on the website (provide two copies of lists of your good to follow, including quantity, value, make, model, and serial number). The customs officer was so impressed with our preparedness (“Never in 15 years have I seen someone so well-organized”), that I didn’t know if I should feel proud or embarrassed at my nerdliness.

Welcome to America; erm, Canada

Welcome to America Canada

The comparison between the two towns of Niagara Falls (US and Canada) is fascinating. Here, the US town is slowly dying – population has dropped by 50% in the past 50 years, and the town is awash with abandoned buildings and half-hearted attempts at regeneration. Across the border, the Canadian side is heaving – bustling with activity and tacky tourist attractions galore. Ironically, with apologies to my friends from the USA, it felt much more American than Canadian.

Later tonight (at midnight) we catch the overnight train to Chicago, where we’ll be for a couple of days before heading further West.

Posted from Niagara Falls, New York, United States.

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New York

Well we’re getting ready to leave the city that never sleeps and head on over to sleepy Niagara Falls. We’ve had three full days here and it’s been action-packed. We tried to take in a lot of the sights with a mindful eye on what our girls would also enjoy, so we included trips to the Lego Store and Toys ‘R’ Us along with stops at the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.

The View from the top of Rockefeller Plaza

The View from the top of Rockefeller Plaza

I’ve found New York a really cool place to be – it’s busy for sure, but despite outdated reputations, the city feels safe and friendly. There is a heavy police presence all around, and complete strangers have been helpful in giving directions or suggestions.

Kayaking on the Hudson River

Kayaking on the Hudson River

One of the best things we did was on the first day we got here, when we went kayaking for free on the Hudson River (put on by the local area kayaking club). What a great experience! All four of us also really enjoyed the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and another highlight was High Line Park– a reclamation of an old elevated commercial railway line.

High Line Park

High Line Park

On our last day we spent the day in and around Central Park. Much more developed than Stanley Park in Vancouver, it is nevertheless a fantastic oasis in the middle of the city. We enjoyed renting a rowboat and rowing around the lake (almost getting caught adrift under a bridge – Doug would never forgive me), and we also saw turtle pond, filled with sea turtles (obviously).

Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty

Replica of the head

Hmmm

New York is probably the busiest part of our trip in terms of packing stuff into each day – I think we’ll enjoy a bit of a slower pace over the next few days. Having said that, it’s been a great time here and I would very much recommend anyone visit if you have a chance. Tonight Heidi said that she was sad to be leaving lots of places – she gets attached very quickly to places and she already misses Miami, Orlando, and now New York.

Posted from New York, New York, United States.

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Central Park

We found a New York bargain – 60 minute row boat rental at Central Park for only $12! We’ve had a nice day in and around Central Park, aided by some cooler weather and cloud cover.

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Posted from New York, New York, United States.

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