Sunday, April 13, 2014

Caumsett State Park

Caumsett State Park on Long Island Sound.Yesterday was a first truly springtime weekend day this year. The day was so nice and warm that it was the first time we could be outside in a park without our jackets. We decided to visit a state park located on the north shore of Long Island that was recommended to my mom by a coworker — Caumsett State Historic Park.

Stables.All of us went, so we had to take two cars. Even though it’s only 48 miles away it took us a bit on the long side to get there — all the traffics and such. Arosha was as always a good traveler, and Anyuta did pretty well also, although she did “complain” from time to time.

Arosha and Daniel in front of main estate house.The park was created on the lands acquired by state from an estate of Marshall Field III that he in turn put together in 1921. The park is pretty sizable as far as estates go.

Kids in daffodils.The road to the park was quite picturesque as well. I really long for a 70-200mm lens lately, no pun intended. Throughout the day we saw 3 large eagle nests with a pair of eagles in each and a large white heron.

And grandpa too.The signs of spring were all around. A lot of trees are budding, Magnolia trees are covered by fresh flowers, but out biggest discovery the the day was a large number of fields covered in blooming daffodils.

Arosha.Arosha was running in front of us all and when we happened upon the first of these fields could not stop asking if we were happy that he led us to such a beautiful place.

Picnic towards the end. All the food is already gone.Our hike culminated in a nice family picnic on the blankets in the middle of a large field not far from the main estate house. That event totally put Arosha’s excitement level over and top and off the scale — he kept pointing out numerous aspects of how picnicking was great, amazing and awesome.

Flowers.The total length of our round-trip hike ended up being around three and a half miles. However while we might’ve walked that much Arosha did twice of that since he was running non-stop back and forth and to the sides and all around. He picked up numerous sticks of varying sizes, jumped into ditches, climbed onto large stumps and so on.

Arosha and woodpecker.At one point he found a stick with a sharp short branch at the top coming out of it. He proclaimed that it was a woodpecker and we had to wait for “them” while they go and find some food in nearby trees. He proceed to go from tree to tree pecking at them and pretending to look quite surprised by the fact that they were unable to get anything out of a tree trunks.

Anyuta riding around.Anyuta slept some, but mostly she was exploring the park while sitting in Alёna’s arms and looking around. She enjoyed touching flowers and grass with her hands — I remember Arosha was a lot more cautious of the grass in his first encounter and wasn’t quite sure of what to make of it. Anyuta seemed to like the sensation of touching it.

Lunch break.We spent five hours in the park. We left home at 11:30am and came back at 7:30pm. On the way back Arosha went into “recharging” mode for a change, and Anyuta actually stayed awake looking and playing with her toys. It ended up being a great spring day.

Blooming daffodils.
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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Cheesequake and Jamaica Bay

Along the trail at Cheesequake State Park.Even though days are still quite cold the snow is gone. We have started our weekend outings again. This weekend was eventful. On Saturday we drove down to Cheesequake State Park in nearby New Jersey1.

Throwing cones into the water.The day was very warm and we had a nice walk. Arosha, as before, was throwing stuff into the river from a wooden bridge that runs across. Then we had a nice walk on a trail and Arosha played on a playground.

Flying out of the slide.While we go to Cheesequake pretty often we decided to do something new today. At first our plan was to take a walk along the Rockaway’s boardwalk. However it appears that the boardwalk is no more. I assume Sandy is to thank for that. Not knowing what to do we were driving back and drove by one of National Park areas that we have nearby.

Birdhouse at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge2 is a nice nature sanctuary in the middle of a megalopolis. The nature itself though is still pretty much asleep. I might as well have been shooting with black and white film.

On a trail at Jamaica Bay.We took a nice walk along the trail which at one point used to be a loop, but it no longer is because of the very same Hurricane Sandy — one of the bridges was washed away.

Trail and sleeping nature.We ran into a huge flock of snow geese who apparently migrate down to this area all the way from the arctic for the winter. If good telephoto lenses wouldn’t be as expensive as they are I would definitely invest into one — at least I really had a strong urge to do it. Yesterday in Cheesequake and today it was only reaffirmed.

Arosha with "a stick that helps him run faster."Arosha as always found something to do — today he found some large hole in the ground, took his favorite shovel and proceeded to offload as much sand into the said hole in order to fill it up. Since the hole was about 5 times the size of Arosha he didn’t get very far.

Anna and grandma.Anna refuses to sleep. She mostly sat in her stroller looking around or screamed in protest when we tried to put her down. She also refuses to eat outside. While the boob was Arosha’s favorite thing in the world at this age Anna will have none of it unless she is really hungry. Really really hungry.

Sleeping nature.Back to nature — at both places we saw large nests of ospreys. They are eagle-like birds of pray. We saw them flying high overhead, but couldn’t really see them well. We should borrow my dad’s binoculars one day. All in all a nice weekend. Can’t wait for the warmer days.

On a trail.

  1. Diesel is 50¢ per gallon cheaper in New Jersey than in New York or Connecticut. []
  2. There is an official National Park stamp available at this location. []

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Sunday, February 9, 2014

Fire Island Outing

Lighthouse against some funky clouds.Last weekend was quite active for us. Besides going to Bayswater Point State Park we decided to take full advantage of warmer days and on Sunday went to Fire Island National Seashore again.

Beautiful Fire Island Lighthouse.We even managed to talk my mom into going with us — to our surprise it was her first time there. Only took her 19 or so years. So there was a total of seven of us there and two cars.

Grandmas. Grandpa and Arosha on the left.Even though the day was warmer relative to other days it still was a cold February day. Especially when you’re walking along an open shore of Atlantic Ocean. The sky was very blue and thus uplifting, but the wind was cold.

More of the family.I had to borrow the hood from Alёna’s jacket because I as always misjudged the weather. As did my dad. That seems to be the trait of our male side of the family. Since Arosha doesn’t make these decisions for himself yet he was well dressed.

Shore of open Atlantic Ocean.Fire Island National Seashore is probably one of the nicest “nature” locations that is within an easy reach from us. If traffic conditions cooperate it takes us under an hour to get there.

Wooden trail at Fire Island National Seashore.After having a nice jog we finished off the evening with a family dinner at some random Outback Steakhouse that we found on our way home.

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Monday, February 3, 2014

Bayswater Point State Park

Plane taking off.In our quest to visit new places during weekends we found Bayswater Point State Park on a map. The park is only a 20 minutes ride from us, but what makes it unusual is the fact that it is located right across the water from JFK International Airport.

Alёna and her mom.Our first visit there was on December 22, 2013 — just a bit over a month ago. This Saturday we went back again. First time around I brought my 70-200mm lens with me and this time around I attached my 2x teleconverter to it to increase its reach to 400mm for some nice airplane shots.

Building a tower.JFK being JFK there are planes coming up and down non-stop. The plane that I like the most is Boeing 747, but I didn’t get any taking off on our 2nd trip. But I did get a couple of nice shots anyhow.

Us.Meanwhile Arosha loves playing with pebbles and shells. Last time he was running around and throwing all that stuff into the water. This time the water was frozen solid, so he decided to build a tower instead. And Anюta just sleeps well outside.

Using this as a wallpaper on my phone.All in all an usual place to visit. The only thing is that I keep underestimating how cold it is going to be near the water and end up freezing. Alёna keeps telling me to wear a certain thing and I think I know better. I really don’t. Should listen to my wife.

Alёna.P.S. I’m keep thinking of upgrading my Sigma 70-200mm to Nikon’s version one day. Although I don’t use it often it can create some unique shots because of its reach. However contrast and sharpness leaves a lot to be desired.

Boeing 747 landing.
Boeing 747 taking off. Taken during our first visit.
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Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Rock

View from the top of The Rock.Yesterday we had yet another cool adventure with our family. This time we decided to brave Manhattan yet again and went right to the heart of it. And the heart of Manhattan during the holiday season is Rockefeller Center with its famous Christmas Tree.

Tasting the cabbage.We got to Manhattan in no-time and easily found parking on a meter. Luckily Manhattan meters allow you to stay for up to 6 hours which is more than enough for most adventures. We opted in for 3, but then in the end we probably should’ve gone for another 30 minutes in order not to rush back to the car.

The famous tree.The square at Rockefeller Center was enormously crowded, as it is every year. It was a bit more challenging this year since we had Arosha who was constantly set on getting away and a big stroller with half-sleeping half-not-so-much-sleeping Anюta. We made it to the tree alright, although in my memory the tree itself was more impressive.

Windowed observation deck.After that we made our way inside THE building. Anюta got some lunch and we decided to see how hard it would be to get to the top. I was the only one who has been there before and when I did it it took me at least 3 hours of standing in line in the middle of a week. So our assumption was that it would be pretty much out of the question. But to our surprise we were told that there was no line.

Eternal love. Hopefully. Lucky shot of somebody else's wedding.We bought 3 tickets — for my dad, Alena and myself for $79 (kids go for free) and soon enough were on the roof. Arosha was especially impressed with an elevator that had a glass ceiling and lighted elevator shaft above. He insisted that we must ride it some more, but we had to explain to him that it doesn’t work like that here.

Lunch.Arosha also enjoyed looking out of the windows and seeing everything around. However by the time we got onto the open deck he became scared. He kept barely moving, holding on to our hands, almost cryingly saying that he will fall off. I kept explaining to him that it was safe and that it is specifically made so people could look at the views, but it was not working. We experienced a bit of the same at the top of Fire Island Lighthouse. It seems that he is afraid of big heights when there are no windows and just open air. I hope it will pass as he gets older.

"Man who liked that I gave him a dollar. Why?"The rest of us still got to enjoy it and it was an interesting, even though a somewhat scary, experience for Arosha too. He got to enjoy the ride down on the same elevator and it impressed him again. And to finish our day off we had a nice burger lunch at Tri Tip Grill inside The Rock. I have to note that Arosha managed to down a burger of the same size that us adults had. He really is a burger fan. Must be an impact of being born in the US of A. Good times!

Back to our car.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Weekend in Poconos

Echo Valley Cottages. Our cottage.It’s been a month, but I only got a chance to write about our little Pocono trip now.

Morning grilling. Burgers.I have to say, I love my husband! One of the great things about him is that he loves traveling, so in the beginning of November he had an urge to go someplace. He checked a number of cabins, but they were either too expensive or out of vacancies. He did find a good deal for my birthday weekend though, so we booked a cabin in Echo Valley Cottages. We invited Daniel’s parents to come with us, and they happily agreed.

Stream near the cottage.We left Friday evening after Danya’s mom came home from work. The ride was only about 100 miles, but it took us 4 hours to get there — first we got stuck in traffic getting out of Brooklyn, and then we spent almost an hour doing food shopping at Wegmans in NJ. I have to say that Danya wanted to specifically go to this store, since Wegmans that we visited by Arsen’s house was really great, but we were disappointed. They did not have organic grass fed beef or burger shop; it was still big, so we spent a lot of time trying to find items that we needed, while in a smaller store it would have been quicker. But whatever.

Bushkill Falls. Trail start.We got to the cottages at around 11pm. The owner came by and gave us the key. Arosha was pretty excited about the trip and he did not even fall asleep in the car. The cottage was pretty big — bigger than I expected — and although it was not as fancy as the other Pocono cottages we’ve been to in the past, I still liked it.

The falls themselves.We traveled on two cars this time around — with two car seats we can’t fit 4 adults into the car anymore.

Wooden paths.The next morning I was woken up by Arosha, who was so excited that he got up after about 7 hours of sleep and said that he wants to grill. Our three men went to the store to get well burning coal and lighting fluid after unsuccessfully trying to start a fire with regular coals. Danya’s mom, Annushka and I prepared meat and vegetables for burgers.

More falls.Soon enough the burgers were ready. Danya did an amazing job — he doesn’t cook at home, but grill is his domain. They were really good. I have to say that Arosha really likes grilled meat. He ate as much as adults!

Different part of the falls.After that we went to see Bushkill falls. They were a short ride away from the cottages. There was an entry fee — $12.50 per person. Not exactly cheap, but I guess they need that money to maintain an impressive infrastructure of wooden paths, steps, bridges and other structures around the falls. The paths were not stroller accessible, so I was mostly carrying Anechka in my arms. We spent around two hours walking around and enjoying the views.

Grandparents.After that we went home and Danya got to grilling the dinner. It gets dark early, so we wanted to at least start the process before the sun was down. The meat (skirt steaks) and vegetables (peppers, zucchini, corn) came out delicious. I was again amazed at how much food Arosha ate.

Wooden stairs on the trail.After dinner we drank tea with my birthday cake. Arosha helped to put candles in, and he also helped to blow them.

Dad on one of wooden bridges.I went to feed Annushka and tried to put her to sleep for the night. She was not cooperating, and threw a long screaming fit. I think she was crying for over 30 minutes overall, which does not happen often.

Lunch on the trail.Danya, his dad and Arosha made fire outside. Arosha really enjoyed it. He wanted to add firewood himself and as often as possible, but I don’t think that he was allowed. What he was allowed thought is light up sticks and wave them around. He did not want to go back inside.

Climbing.The next morning we grilled some more burgers and left. Arosha asked me in the morning if its possible for us to stay until the evening and was a little bit sad that we had to leave before noon.

Jumping.Another thing that Arosha liked is just to play outside. There was a small creek nearby and he pretended that he was a fisherman (one of his favorite games) and that long sticks were his fishing rods. He also liked playing with all kinds of things he could find — stones, leaves, mushrooms, you name it.

Grilling.On our way home we stopped at local outlets and got two pairs of Levi jeans and a few flannel shirts for Danya since the winter is coming. We also stopped to eat at Olive Garden, but the food was so so.

Dinner. Skirt steak and grilled vegetables.We got home at around 7 — exhausted, but satisfied with how our weekend went.

Alena's birthday cake.Arosha keeps saying that he wants to go to the cottages again. I think he definitely took after his daddy!

Campfire.
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Monday, December 9, 2013

Tennessee Road Trip

Road plan. Click for full map.After a bit of consideration and some research we have booked a new road trip that we’re planning to take in the beginning of April of next year. This is a rather ambitious undertaking on our part as we’re going to be taking a 1,500 mile road trip with our kids on our car. Just the four of us. Since we will not be doing any flying planning itself was easier than it usually is.

The idea is simple. We wanted to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park for quite some time and now we’re doing it. But since a straight drive all the way there is over 700 miles we tried to break up the trip into several portions to cut down on the amount of driving on any given day and visit a couple of our usual objectives along the way.

Our first destination of the trip is going to be Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. We’ve been there when Aroshka was only 3 months old and it was during late fall. Now we’re going to see how the park looks in the middle of spring. We’re going to spend 3 nights1 in Shenandoah, and therefore we’ll have 2 full days to explore the park.

After that we’re going head to a town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The town is located right on the edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We’re going to spend 5 nights2 here. Our hotel will be 2 miles away from the visitor center. I didn’t even think to look for a Hilton brand hotel initially, but that’s what was coming up on the searches on its own. Thus we get to enjoy the benefits of our Diamond VIP status. The hotel has a bunch of indoor pools with impressive looking water slides which Arosha should enjoy.

On our way back we’re going to spend one night3 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The town is located right next to Raleigh, North Carolina, which is the capital of North Carolina. On the day we leave Chapel Hill we will checkout the capitol complex of Raleigh and the capitol complex at Richmond, Virginia. This will bring us to our final destination of our vacation — Washington, DC.

We will spend 2 nights4 in Washington, DC. Here we picked a hotel on the outskirts of the city instead of the downtown as usual with the consideration that we’ll have to drive anyhow with small kids. Thus by saving a bit on the price of the hotel we’ll have that money to use on paid parking. We think Arosha should enjoy visiting some of the monuments and museums that the nation’s capital has to offer. And after our stay in Washington we’ll head back home.

Since this is the first vacation that we’ll be taking Arosha to without our parents also coming — hopefully we can deal with him and Annushka on our own. Here’s to hoping that it’s going to be a fun and — even though active — relaxing (as in stress-free) vacation.

  1. Skyland Resort, $397 for 3 nights with taxes included. []
  2. The Park Vista DoubleTree, $583 for 5 nights with taxes included. []
  3. Hampton Inn & Suites Chapel Hill, $171 for 1 night with taxes included. []
  4. Hilton Garden Inn Arlington, $320 for 2 nights with taxes included. []
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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Fire Island

Fire Island Lighthouse.Last Saturday we had another travel-adventure. We haven’t visited Fire Island since the time when Andrey came to visit us and that was right before Aroshka was born. So I thought that it would be fun for Arosha to see a real big lighthouse which can be climbed.

Wooden trail.I wasn’t sure if everything was open after Sandy last year, but my call confirmed that all was good. Some portions of the wooden path have been destroyed, but you could go around via a paved road for that section and they said that stroller wouldn’t be a problem.

Alena, Anechka, Arosha.The day was nice and warm. The park was filled with visitors. We felt like we were quite far away from home in some National Park. And indeed, Fire Island is a National Seashore and has its own official stamp. It was very pleasant to be taking a walk in such a beautiful place breathing fresh air imbued with salty water smell of a raging open ocean.

Near lighthouse.This time there were 5 of us. My dad decided to join us and managed to squeeze in between the two car seats on the back seat. The drive to Fire Island was very short — took us less than an hour to get there. During our drive and during our walk Anechka slept well as always and Arosha was running back and forth exploring different places and plants.

Fire Island beach.We’ve seen a number of lighthouses in our travels and some with Arosha, but none are as impressive as the one on Fire Island. The second most impressive lighthouse I’ve seen was in Bass Harbor in Maine, but that one’s place in memory should be attributed to its location rather than the lighthouse itself.

Ocean.When we got to the lighthouse itself I was told that in order to climb to the top one had to be above a certain height. Somehow I naturally assumed that Arosha would be fine, but it turned out that he was exactly to the mark. If I remember correctly the mark was at 43 inches. As we found out later — Alena talked to somebody on the trail — not all 5 year olds qualify.

Ocean.I imagine Arosha was one of the very very few 3 year olds who not only attempted by actually got to the top. I was actually surprised with the speed of his ascent via a spiral staircase. Not all adults could be so brisk. In addition to a 3 year old Arosha my soon to be 75 year old dad was right along us. It takes 182 iron steps and two small ladders to get to the top.

View from the top.The view was great. We took a lot of pictures. Arosha was very cautious around the perimeter, although it was all protected by steel net which seemed pretty sturdy. After taking in the view we easily made it down where we were awarded certificates of achievement. I declined mine, but Arosha and my dad decided to keep theirs.

Cake was good!It also turned out that on that very day the lighthouse turned 155 years old and there was a lot of live music and a lot of free cake in celebration. Arosha claims that it was quite delicious. While Arosha was eating cake we took some portraits around the lighthouse.

By lighthouse.After that we walked to the beach. It was really beautiful. The waves were pretty big, but that’s because it’s an open ocean. The was very little wind. One could really spend a good while there just admiring the beauty of nature with all one’s senses — the view, the smell, the sound. Peace and serenity.

Sleeping.To finish our day off we had a nice dinner on the shore — a nostalgic type of place that reminded me of our great time in Maine and more recently Olympic Peninsula in Washington. It was yet another great weekend outing for our brave and not-so-little family.

Captain Bill's. Dinner.
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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Seven Lakes

Picnic table.Last week we had another great family outing. We went to Seven Lakes and the funny thing is that after coming back and checking in on our last year trip — we were at Seven Lakes during the same very weekend of the year.

The four of us.This trip was unique in a sense that all 6 of us went — Alena, Anna, Arosha, my dad, my mom and I. We took our car and parents took theirs and just followed us and it worked well. This means that we can take more ambitious trips in this configuration.

Arosha and grandpa.It took us almost 3 hours to get to Seven Lakes because we got stuck in some major traffic in Manhattan. Arosha was starting to get restless, but Anna slept just fine.

The middle generation.She also slept well on her way back. She woke up at one point and started crying when we started crossing George Washington Bridge. By the time we were done she stopped crying and went back to her sleeping. She sleeps really well in the car. Even Arosha took a nap on the way back.

Closed gate at Lake Welch.At Seven Lakes we did the same thing we did last year. We drove up to Lake Welch Park that was closed just like last year. We left our cars near the gate and went inside. The autumn is really getting close to full “bloom” at this time of the year. The forest was beautiful.

Walnuts. "The squirrels will have to swim for these." The only mistake we made was overestimate the warmth of the day. My mom had a bunch of different things that we spread around. I ended up with a poncho made out of our picnic blanket. But since the park had tables we didn’t need it. Arosha picked out a table and we had a nice fresh air lunch.

Alëna.Arosha ran around and played with the leaves, explored all the bushes, threw some walnuts into the lake (for squirrels, naturally) and collected a bunch of acorns. When we got home we discovered a tick on his hair. Luckily it was not attached and was just stuck in his hair. That was a bit scary. Got to be careful with those bushes.

Drummer.Overall we had a really nice time. When we got back to our cars instead of just our cars there were total of 12 cars now. We weren’t really sure if it’s OK to leave our cars where we did, but I guess otherwise figured if somebody is doing it it must be OK. Alena feed Anna and we started our drive home.

Acorns.On the way home we decided to stop by Red Bowl for a nice dinner. The owners — David and Vivian were really nice to us and congratulated us with our newest arrival. They also gave us a nice and unexpected gift — for luck they said. Dinner was great. The day as a whole was great. Too bad it’s getting cold out now, so we’ll probably have to stop soon.

Designer winter clothing line.

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Apple Orchard

Us at apple orchard.Our previous weekend was great. We had a bit of a tradition going during the past several years to go to an apple orchard at least once during autumn to do some apple picking. This year with an arrival of another little unit we figured we’ll be unable to do so.

Picking apples.But last week I had an urge to actually do just that. And Alena wholeheartedly agreed with the plan. There would be no way that we would even think about attempting something like that when Arosha was 2 weeks old. I found a place located in New Jersey some 50 miles away from us called Eastmont Orchard.

Arosha.And it all went really well. Anechka slept the whole way there and most of the time there in her stroller. Arosha had a blast picking apples and tasting a lot of different kinds. At one point we found a patch of Brussels sprouts and Arosha kept taking a bite from a sport then a bite from an apple and so on. We came back with over 30 pounds of apples.

Анюта.There was also a big field filled with pumpkins. When Anyuta woke up, Alena went back to the car to feed her — it really nice to have a “field kitchen” with you all the time. Meanwhile Arosha and I went back to the pumpkin patch to pick out some pumpkins. We picked a medium sized one that we might make a Halloween carving out of and Arosha picked out a small one which Alena cooked.

Feeding.Arosha also picked up a bunch of gourds to decorate our apartment with. Which he did. And now he comes over to look at them and comments how well the decoration came out and how beautiful our apartment looks now.

Pumpkins!On the way back we even stopped by a local Friday’s for a nice family lunch. Anna slept through most of it. After lunch, while Arosha and I were finishing our food up Alena went back to our car and fed Anyuta again. All in all she might have cried for 30 seconds after we started our drive home, but as soon as the car started moving she fell asleep again.

Apples and I.We even managed to stop by a cobbler in Brooklyn to pick up some shoes that we left there a week before. When we got home we had time to eat lunch before Anyuta woke up. And all this sleeping during the day didn’t affect her night sleep either. Basically as far as sleeping and traveling goes she is the opposite of what Arosha was when he was her age. And at his 3 years of age Arosha is a lot of fun to do things with. I’m really glad that things are going so well the second time around.

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier through the clouds.When we left Port Angles behind we had nowhere to rush. We had a full day to get to our next destination — Mounthaven Resort located right on the edge of Mount Rainier National Park in a tiny town of Ashford. This time we were driving around the eastern side of Olympic National Park and the road seemed very rural even though we were not that far away from Seattle. In order to get the same feeling one would have to get a lot farther away from New York. The only planned stop for the day was in a city of Olympia — the capital of Washington state.

Olympia


Washington state capitol building.At some point in our travels years ago we decided that it would be cool to visit all state capitals and see what each capitol looks like. Olympia was a very small detour for us so we didn’t pass the chance up. Usually it’s very easy to find the capitol building itself as soon as you get into the city and Olympia was no exception. It was visible from afar. We parked our car and went for a short walk exploring the area.

Inside the capitol building.Luckily for us the capitol building itself was open and we got to walk inside. We also got lucky with a stamp — a lot of capitol buildings that we visited in the past have a standardized stamp and Washington turned out to be one of such states. The building itself was quite impressive too with a pretty high dome.

Capitol.Afterwards we walked around the area some more. Saw different state buildings such as courts, libraries and saw a governor’s mansion. Now that guy has a nice commute to work — just cross the street. Wonder if he somehow manages to get driven to his office. We took a bunch of pictures and were on our way.

In front of the capitol.Before leaving Olympia we decided to grab a nice lunch. We drove to a more busy street that we noticed when we were trying to get to the capitol and once we got there easily found parking near a restaurant that looked appealing. To my surprise Trip Adviser app declared that the restaurant was rated as #1 in Olympia. However it turned out that it is closed on weekends and even though it would be open because of the Father’s Day reservation was required. So we had to settle for some other cafe across the street that had a limited menu for lunch and the food was not all that great.

Elbe


Streets of Olympia.On our way to the park we made a couple of short stops at several scenic overlooks and a bit longer of a stop at a small town of Elbe. What made Elbe interesting was the fact that it appeared to have an operational train station with old steam locomotives. And indeed we saw one departing from the station with a lot of whistling and smoke.

Steam locomotive at Elbe station.A whole bunch of old train cars were converted into different restaurants. Arosha really wanted to get inside one of them, but for some reason they all had signs that declared that one had to be 21 or over to get inside. We also visited one ancient looking grocery and bought some water. Also this town had some historic church. It was closed on this day, but we managed to visit it on our way out — it didn’t have the right kind of stamp though.

Mounthaven Resort


When we were looking for a place to stay at Mount Rainier National Park we wanted something close, so we wouldn’t have to drive back and forth to and from the park. Since everything inside the park was either sold out or very expensive I started looking for places right on the edges of the park. And to my surprise I found a nice cabin rentals a mile from the entrance — Mounthaven Resort. And not only that, but we could get a cabin with two bedrooms and for a very reasonable price to top it off.

Our Pine cabin at Mounthaven Resort.When we arrived we found one of the owners on the property and got the keys to our cozy cabin named Pine. It was very much what I expected. It was very small and quite rustic (in a good sense of the word) inside. My parents were a bit surprised by its size and were wondering how we were going to fit in. However once they got over the initial “shock” they ended up enjoying it very much too. When we first entered it had a stale smell. I guess it wasn’t used for a while, because in several hours the smell was completely gone. The cabin had a small living room, kitchen, bathroom and two bedrooms.

Fire by our cabin.For Arosha we were given a thick mattress to put on a floor. At first we thought to put it down in the living room, but then we moved our double bed towards the wall and his mattress fit in the space right next to our bed. Needless to say Arosha was pretty happy about the fact.

Arosha on playground.Also I have to say that before, sleeping in the same room with Arosha was always problematic as he would wake up in the middle of the night and not fall asleep and so on. But now it was great. We would talk to each other, either discuss the day, or tell him some bed time story and we would all fall asleep and sleep easily past 8am, which is also quite unusual for Arosha.

Arosha by the fire.The territory of the resort itself was located right inside a forest of old huge pines. Each cabin also had a bunch of wooden chairs outside around a brick fire pit which we got to use for two nights. The firewood was given to us by the owners. There was also a nice playground for kids which Aroshka enjoyed very much. All in all this was a great place to stay at for our Rainier portion of the vacation.

For our first night we went for dinner to the closest place we could find which was less than a mile away from our cabin. The place was called Wildberry and was serving Nepal food including yak burgers and steaks. But since none of us were very hungry we got some soups and salads as far as I remember, but I’m sure that we didn’t eat any yaks.

Longmire and Paradise


This was our first full day in the park and this would be the time when we would see Mount Rainier itself for the first time. Even though our cabin was not all that far from it the fact that it was surrounded by 500 year old trees made it impossible to see. We caught our first glimpse of the mountain when we were approaching Longmire — the first stop with a visitor center.

Snow near Reflection Lake.This mountain that is an active stratovolcano was massive. It has an elevation of 14,411 feet at its summit and is covered by 26 major glaciers. Mount Rainier is 4ht most topographically prominent mountain peak in North America. In other words it was very impressive.

Mount Rainier from the bed of glacier formed river.When at Longmire we went into the visitor center, talked to a ranger and put together a plan of action for the next two days and got our National Park passports stamped. By now Arosha really enjoyed our passport stamping stops and kept stamping a piece of paper of his own at every opportunity.

Bridge.The plan for day one was to take a short hike along the bed of a river formed by one of the glaciers for unobstructed views of the mountain. After that we would drive up to Paradise — a valley at high elevation known for its views of the mountain and the subalpine flower covered meadows. Of course us being there in the middle of June meant that we were probably in for a lot of snow and zero flowers.

Mount Rainier.And so that’s what we did. We found the river trail and walked down into a boulder covered valley. There was a bridge constructed over the river out of an old fallen tree. Arosha enjoyed throwing stones into the river while I tried to take some shots of the mountain that would show itself from time to time from the clouds covering its top.

Of course as always it was really hard to capture the magnitude of this giant. In fact I think the best picture I took that conveys the size of Rainer was days later, when we were far gone from Mount Rainier National Park.

Christine Falls.Our next stop was a small overlook near Christine Falls. The falls themselves were quite small in size compared to some of the previous ones that we got to see, but they were nicely framed by a small canyon and an old stone bridge over that canyon. We took a couple of pictures and moved on.

Snow at Paradise. Rainier is behind me.When we got to Paradise we were greeted by tons and tons of snow, as we expected. Not only summer wasn’t here, spring was far away as well. There was a huge visitor center and a large lodge. The meadows in the front and the mountain in the back were covered by multiple feet of snow. We took a short hike up that snow covered hill. Arosha was again very much excited to play in the snow and we all took turns running away from his snowball attacks.

Visitor Center.After that we got our passports stamped at the visitor center, bought a couple of pins for our hats and decided to have an early lunch-o-dinner type of meal at the lodge. Food was not bad, but nothing special either.

Lunch at the lodge.On our way back we noticed another parking lot by Narada Falls. Now this one was indeed quite huge. We had to hike down a rather steep hill which was largely covered in ice. That vantage point gave a really nice view of the falls at about their middle point. I ended up not being able to take any decent pictures because of all the mist that was rising from the falling water that was instantly covering the lens. That was our last stop of the day.

Narada Falls.We came back to our cabin, left Arosha and my parents out and drove to a nearby grocery store with Alena. We bought some hot dogs, long metal forks and some other stuff. On our way we picked up a pile of firewood (we couldn’t find the owner of our resort at that point to ask him for some) and made a fire in our fire pit. We drank some nice beer, fried our hot dogs on open flames and had a nice evening snack. Arosha kept running around picking up all kinds of sticks from the forest and adding them into the fire, helping us to sustain it. It was great.

Day Two


Reflection Lake.On the second day we decided to venture further into the park and explore more of it. We were told by a ranger that our best chance of seeing some flowers was along the road beyond the valley of Paradise and that’s where we went without any real objectives. Our first stop of the day was Reflection Lake — a like named so simply because one could see a great reflection of Mount Rainier in it. Our problem was that there was not much of a like visible as it was covered by mountains of snow.

Arosha playing with snow.Arosha utilized an empty tin can from the nuts that we had as a shovel and had a blast playing with the snow. He was building mini-castles, throwing snowballs at everyone, but we didn’t really get any cool reflection pictures of the mountain.

Mushrooms on a trail.After a while we got into our car and drove further. Everyone was starting to get tired of sitting so we pulled over into the first parking area we saw and it had a couple of trails leading off from here. We decided to take a short hike. This one turned out to be going down a rather steep hill with a promise of a river at the end. The trail itself was quite interesting as we found a multitude of different mushroom growing on its sides, including colorful fly agarics which Arosha recognized from his books.

Down the trail.Eventually my dad was starting to get tired so he decided to return back up. I was starting to get worried that it’s going to be pretty hard for Arosha to get all the way up as well. However Alena and my mom wanted to reach the river since we already wend down so much. So I handed the camera to Alena and turned back as well with Arosha. He had no problems getting back up and kept talking about lightsabers (that was a pretty common theme with him through all our hikes on this vacation) and mushrooms and looking for them again.

Down by the river.When we got back up we discovered that my dad decided to go somewhere as he probably was bored sitting there, waiting for us. I started yelling out for him, but he didn’t show up. Arosha seeing that I’m getting no response decided to join in. Apparently his loud high pitch voice was much more audible as my dad soon appeared. He said he haven’t heard me calling him, but he heard Arosha very well.

We sat down on a bench near a picnic table that was placed at the start of the trail and tried to take the experience in. Us, Pacific Northwest, Washington state, Mount Rainier National Park, magnificent forest. I always try to slow down during our vacations once in a while and take in the moment of being there in. However I find it very hard to actually be able to do that well. Somehow the only place that I was really able to do this last was in Tokyo. To really really feel it.

By Narada Falls.Not long after that my mom and Alena came back up and told us that we were quite close to the river when we turned back. They showed us some pictures they took on their iPhones and our camera. After a short rest, we got back into our car and continued further along the road. The map indicated that there was a canyon of some kind nearby and we wanted to reach it.

Box Canyon.The map didn’t lye. Indeed there was a scenic overview pullover soon after — Box Canyon. The canyon itself wasn’t very wide, but it was impressively deep. I found it hard, again, to capture the real magnitude of it. I did send out my mom in her red jacket onto an overview on the trail that was visible from the road to give the picture some sense of scale. It still looks nothing like being there though.

Road near Box Canyon.We decided to take a short hike here as well. And here we were actually rewarded with a meadow covered by blue flowers and Mount Rainier decided to show itself through the clouds in the background. The picture of that didn’t come out too well either. Flower are out of focus and the mountain’s scale is not really visible because of the other much lower mountains near our position. But because they were much closer they looked as big as Rainier, even though they are nothing like it. Nevertheless I was happy with getting to see at least some flowers.

Flower and Rainier.On our way back to our cabin we stopped a couple of times along the road to take some pictures of flowers with valleys below. And we stopped near Reflection Lake again, since Arosha really wanted to play with the snow some more.

Meadows and valleys.Before returning to our cabin we decided to grab an early dinner. Trip Adviser’s top pick was a place called Copper Creek Restaurant and that’s where we went. My memory is really blurry at this point about the food that we actually ate, but I remember that I did have a fish — not sure what kind now — and a beer. And it was very delicious. The service was great too.

Grocery store at Elbe.We also stopped by a local grocery store again to get something for breakfast for the next day. Here poor Arosha had an accident. He told us that he need to go quickly and we thought he can hold it as he usually does. But soon he became very upset and told us that he needed new pants now. This kind of thing didn’t happen to Arosha in a long time, so we felt bad that we didn’t listen to him, especially considering that it turned out that this store did have a restroom.

By Narada Falls.After dinner we came back to our resort and built a fire again. That’s how we spent the rest of the evening. As a family, sitting in front of a warm fire on a chilly night, reminiscing and sharing our feelings about our experiences. It was great. In the morning we “puzzle-packed” our luggage into the trunk and were on our way to Seattle, speeding away from this beautiful park.

One of scenic overlooks.In conclusion I want to say that I don’t think I fully realized how huge Rainier was until days later when we were in Seattle. On our last day there we had a pretty clear day and Rainier became visible in the distance — towering over everything. It was enormous. So enormous in fact that when our plane took off and got above the clouds the peak of the mountain was still clearly visible rising even higher. That’s where I took my best picture of Mount Rainier on which you can really see its true magnitude.

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Seattle

Seattle skyline from Kerry Park.Our drive from mount Rainier to Seattle was relatively short and pretty uneventful. Arosha was sad to say good-bye to the cabins, which he grew rather fond of, but then again, new adventures were ahead, and boy do all of us like exploring new places.

Arosha on playground by Kerry Park.We arrived to Seattle late in the afternoon. When we were looking to book a hotel, we were deciding between two options — regular Hilton, and more fancy Arctic Club hotel which was bought by Double Tree not so long ago and was also available to us for Hilton points. We did not do a lot of research, except checking hotels location-wise, and just picked a more expensive one, which happened to be Arctic Club. The cost in points was the same.

Us at Kerry Park.Well, as it turned out, more money does not always mean more value. First of all, they did not have any interconnected rooms available, even though we specifically asked for them a good amount of time in advance. Also, they did not have a pool, or executive lounge, or self-parking. Breakfast was kind of included, but instead of great variety of Hilton buffet, we were given $12 worth of vouchers per breakfast per person (not including Arosha) which were valid at a restaurant downstairs. We always had to pay extra, since having a simple meal and a drink always exceeded the allotted amount.

Microsoft campus.Luckily for us, they had two rooms close to each other on the 6th floor. so at the end even though the hotel was not what we have expected, it all kind of worked out for us. By the way, valet parking and a crib were $40 and $10 extra respectively per day.

Microsoft visitor center.As for the area where the hotel was located, I expected it to be really nice, since it was pretty much in the center of the city. We were in for quite a shock when we discovered the amount of homeless people on the streets. There were literally two beggars per block, and walking around felt neither safe nor pleasant.

Rainy Seattle.When we were checking in, Danya tried to arrange a transfer to Hilton, but it was too late for that (they were completely booked). But oh well, as I said, it was not bad after all, especially considering that we paid for it with Hilton points.

Grandma Oksana, Arosha, Alena, Daniel on our way to aquarium.After checking in, we went to get National Parks stamps to the Klondike museum, which was located just a few blocks away from the hotel. The museum itself was not big, but it was interesting to go through it and to imagine what it was like to be one of the people who tried their fortune in times of Gold Rush. When I was growing up, I probably read all of Jack London’s books that I could find, so looking at some real artifacts of that era brought some distant memories of his stories. From the exhibits, I was particularly impressed with the list of suggested yearly Yukon provisions which could be bought in supply stores. I don’t remember the specifics, but they included something like 400 lbs of bacon, insane amount of flour, beans, etc, etc.

The Seattle Great Wheel.After the museum, we went to get some food at a small place owned by Russians right next door to our hotel. We got borscht and piroshki, and everything was delicious. The only thing that made the experience a bit less pleasant was that at the end, a beggar women came to our table and started asking us for money and food, which made us feel extremely uncomfortable.

Inside the cabin on the wheel.After dinner, we got our car and drove to Kerry Park. Danya wanted to take a nice picture of Seattle skyline, and he read that this was the place to go.

On the wheel.The “park” area is pretty much an overlook with a few benches, a “Changing Form” statue, and a few patches of grass, but the view is great indeed. There was a small playground nearby, and Arosha had a blast trying all kinds of rolling and twirling things which I think had some kind of space theme. We stayed there for a while, since Danya wanted to take a picture of the skyline after the Space Needle lights up for the night, but we left earlier than this happened on the account of tiredness, at around 9:30. The mount Rainier, which typically could be seen from that location, was not visible since it was pretty cloudy.

On the wheel.Our second day in Seattle was rainy. I guess, this was only natural, and we actually did not mind at all.

View from the top of the wheel.In the morning we drove to Redmond to visit Microsoft Museum. There is not much to say about it, except for the fact that I was very bored. And I think so was everyone.

Arosha on the wheel.After that we drove back to Seattle and after looking for parking for a good while parked near the piers by the Pike Market. It was not raining hard, but we still used umbrellas. I know it’s cliche, but the weather felt so right.

Seattle Aquarium.We took a ride on the Ferris Wheel. The cabins had transparent plastic walls, so it felt safe and was easier to take pictures; but there is something to be said about a different approach, where you can feel the breeze against your cheeks and have a more refreshing experience. This being sad, I felt slightly frightened in the first minute or two, and so was Danya’s mom. Our three men were not afraid throughout the ride. The view of the harbor and the city was nice.

Jellyfishes at Seattle Aquarium.After this we went inside some building which had a carousel (Arosha took a ride), and a whole bunch of small stores. We bought ice-cream, and proceeded to explore other indoor activities Seattle had to offer.

Pike Market.One thing that was different in Seattle is that people were often asking us what language we speak. When they heard it’s Russian, they often smiled, nodded their heads, said that it’s cool and so on. I am so used to being instantly identified in NYC area, that this was surprising. In many other places people don’t ask, or if they do, they don’t show any further interest. So Seattle in this sense was kind of refreshing. Made me feel good about being bilingual.

View from Pike Market.To our luck, there was a Seattle Aquarium nearby. Danya ran and re-parked our car, while we waited for him inside. I am very glad that we’ve decided to visit. It had a lot of sea creatures and fish, and I like how the aquariums were made. The jellyfish exhibit was particularly memorable — it is shaped as an arch, and jellyfish is in constant motion, and there are changing colored lights that illuminate it. And I also liked that there were pools where visitors can touch some marine life — sea stars, sea cucumbers and such. Arosha liked doing it. There was also a giant octopus in one of the aquariums — I don’t think I saw one before.

Pike Market.At the exit there was a machine, where you could make your own penny to remember the place by. You know, the one where you insert a penny and two quarters in, pick a design and then roll a handle which controls a penny-squishing mechanism? Arosha made one for himself, and was very excited about it for the next few days. He kept asking where his coin “на память” to remember is (it was in my purse), and kept playing with it and giving it back to me so as not to lose this treasure.

Dinner at Pike Market.Afterwards we went to the Pike Market to get dinner. First we wanted to go to the restaurant where some part of “Sleepless in Seattle” was filmed, but we did not like the looks of it, and picked the one next door. It was called Lowel’s and had decent rating on Trip Advisor. All of us ordered seafood — Danya and his mom a fried variety, me and his dad had grilled fish — and it was very tasty.

Pike Market.We did not really spend much time on the market itself since by the time we were done with the dinner, it was already closing.

Original Starbucks.Instead, we proceeded to 1912 Pike Street — the home of the first Starbucks. Despite the crowd, it was nice and cozy. All the sales people were very friendly, and I thoroughly enjoyed my decaf cappuccino with extra cinnamon on top. Mmmmm. I drink tea on a daily basis, but coffee is a very rare treat, so it’s nice to have a good quality one. Danya’s parents also got coffees, but Danya did not get anything since he is one of those rare people who finds a taste of both coffee and chocolate quite disgusting.

Museum of Glass.After that we went home and got a much needed rest before our last vacation day. I think Danya mentioned this before, but I can’t help repeating. Arosha painlessly adjusted his schedule so that all of us could enjoy this trip to the fullest — he did not nap, and slept for 12 hours each night in either crib, or just on a floor mattress. He also was fine following our eating schedule, and ate part of my portion (and sometimes of other’s) without any complaints. He was such a low maintenance, that I think it made the experience better for us.

Museum of Glass.The next morning after breakfast we went to the Seattle Center. The weather was very nice — warm and sunny. We walked around for a little while. Arosha got a kick from listening to some Native American band playing Ieva’s Polka, while Danya and his dad went to take pictures of some funky buildings. We then proceeded to the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum. It was quite impressive. We’ve seen Chihuly’s works in Las Vegas and Toronto, but seeing so many creations by this artist and his crew in one place was fascinating. Of course, I had to tell Arosha not to touch anything like a hundred times, which was slightly stressful, but I am still very glad that we went there. I don’t even know what I liked more — the colorful globes of all sizes, the spiky and curvy chandeliers, the gigantic flowing flowers, or glass trees… I think if you’re in Seattle, this is a must see place.

Chihuly Garden and Glass.After the museum, we all thought it would be a good idea to go someplace where Arosha can run wild and free. Danya offered to go to the Discovery Park, which happened to be a largest area park of the city. We first stopped at the visitor center, where we got a parking permit for the West Point Lighthouse. Normally, people have to take a walk there, but on account of Arosha we were permitted to get close to it by car.

Arosha at Chihuly Garden and Glass.The lighthouse and the area around it are very pleasing to the eye. We walked around for a bit, and I let Arosha play in Puget Sound water for some time. We did not have any bathing gear with us, but whatever — I think that when you’re three years old, an underwear will do nicely, and we can always use some of extra clothing I bring along as towels.

West Point Lighthouse.After the lighthouse, we drove back to the visitor center and went to the park’s playground. There was this thing, which I know is called “тарзанка” in Russian, but I have no idea how to properly call it in English. It’s basically a rope tied between two trees, and then there is a swing hanging from it, and it can slide from one side of the rope to the other. Some children were sliding on it, and Arosha joined them. At first, Danya and I were running alongside and holding him a little bit to make sure he won’t fall, but after a few rides, he got a hold of it, and did not require any assistance from us. He had a lot of fun sliding on this thing, and did not want to leave when we were ready to.

Discovery Park.We were pretty hungry at that point, so we went to get dinner in one of the many restaurants Seattle has to offer. Danya just drove us to one of the streets which seemed to have more dining options, and then we consulted Trip Advisor to see which restaurant had good ratings. We ended up going to a Moroccan place. The food was really good and plentiful, and the design of the restaurant was very original. Instead of regular tables, there were this low round ones, and people were sitting around them on sofas and large cushions. There was a belly dancer girl, who I think was a little bit too skinny for the job (she was Japanese, not Arabic), but Arosha really liked her and tried to dance along a few times. It was a very original dinner, and if this restaurant was located in Brooklyn, I think we would be repeat customers.

Arosha at Discovery Park. Ringing the bell.After dinner we drove to Kerry Park for another take of the Seattle skyline pictures. Danya got more lucky this time around, since we stayed there longer and the Space Needle got lit up. The mountain was still not visible, but there was a full moon that night, which is also nice I guess.

Mount Rainier from the plane.Next morning it was time for us to leave the state of Washington. The drive to the airport and our flight home were pretty uneventful. Of course mount Rainer was visible on that day, but we did not have time to stop for pictures. Danya did manage to take a picture of it from the plane, and I think it came out really nice and kind of gives you some perspective of how high it is, when you see the peak above the clouds.

Seattle Center. Museum of Glass.Arosha was great on the flight back. He even managed to nap for a few hours, which gave me an opportunity to relax and watch a movie.

Seattle Center.All in all, it was a great vacation. Now, over two months later, he still loves to hear stories about this trip, and frequently asks us to go either to Seattle, or to some other place for a vacation. Last week I told him that tomorrow we’ll have to get up early. His face lit up and he started to pay extra attention to what I was saying. I told him that’s because I have an early appointment at the doctor, and he will come with us. He was disappointed, and replied, that he thought that we’ll be going on vacation. Last few times when we were going on vacation he was getting up early to go the airport, and I guess he has a pretty strong association between these two things now.

Seattle skyline at dusk.I don’t know when we’ll be able to travel next time in light of our upcoming family extension. I only know that all of us love traveling a lot, and each and every one of us longs for new frontiers to explore as soon as possible.

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Olympic National Park

View from Hurricane Ridge.Our vacation to the great state of Washington had three distinct parts, so after thinking about the way to write down our memories for the past several weeks the approach to make three posts about each part separately in chronological order makes the most sense. Our arrival to Seattle and our four nights at Olympic National Park is where it all begins.

Our Flight


Road at Olympic.Luckily for us we’ve confirmed yet again that flights with Aroshka that take more than 5 hours are largely uneventful. He has no problem sitting in his chair and talking about something, looking out of the window, listening to books and a little bit of cartoon watching on iPad — cartoons on the flight there seemed to bore him, and the ones on TV are not in Russian. When he needed to go to the bathroom he would just ask, but that’s not really new for him.

Lake Crescent.The flight back was even better. He actually ended up watching a bunch of cartoons in English on the TV after which he declared that turns out that he actually does speak a little bit of English now — which he really doesn’t. In between the cartoons he also managed to take a nice nap — also something quite usual for him and after waking up watched some more cartoons on TV. The flight was a breeze. With either flight we couldn’t be happier. He gave us zero problems.

Renting a Car


Our rented car.Upon arrival we retrieved our luggage which consisted of two large suitcases, two very large suitcases, Arosha’s car seat and an umbrella stroller which we yet again had no use for. We proceed to car rental place to claim our reserved car. Of course I must’ve not been thinking straight when I did book that — so called full-size Chevy Malibu had no chance of fitting all five of us with our luggage in. I ended up having to upgrade it to a nice big Chrysler 300, the next generation after the one we have.

Lake Crescent.However after an initial futile attempt to load all our stuff into the trunk it was recommended to us to take Jeep Compass instead. They were the same price. And to me Jeep Compass is a really crappy car — I had to drive one for several days when my own 300 was in service several months ago. Not only is it crappy it happened to have even less space in the back. All the rear window view was obstructed, luggage was plainly visible to everyone — so we wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving it anywhere while on our way from place to place and we still couldn’t close the rear gate with it all in.

At Hoh Rainforest.So we tried 300 again. It probably took us an hour if not more overall, but we did solve this real-live puzzle. I really regret not taking a picture of our final trunk configuration. Every inch of it was used up. And by the end of our vacation we got so proficient at it that we packed it up in 5 minutes on our way to the airport for the flight back. And off we were in our nice luxurious sedan with all our stuff hidden from everyone’s view in a trunk and zero view obstruction.

Port Angles


Olympic Lodge. Our hotel at Port Angeles.We decided to stay in a small town of Port Angles on the northern tip of Olympic National Park for the four nights that we were going to spend here. Originally we looked at the lodges inside the park itself, but most of them were described as “very rustic” to us or were sold out. So instead we opted in for a nice clean and beautiful hotel called Olympic Lodge. The hotel was located 2 miles away from Olympic National Park visitor center and 7 files from one of the entrances into the park itself.

At Hoh Rainforest.We got a pair of interconnected rooms as we requested in our reservation. The hotel had a nice pool and a hot tub which we even ended up using in 60 degree weather with the help of Arosha’s strong persuasion skills. The breakfast was not included, but there was a restaurant, which we used a couple of times for the first meal of the day.

By Lake Crescent.On our first evening we were pretty tired from any early and long flight and our 120 mile drive from Seattle to Port Angles. We decided to have a nice dinner and call it a day. Even though we were given a recommendation for a restaurant I didn’t feel like it and picked a random place because I liked its name — Kokopelli Grill — it was just a familiar word that we encountered in our travels before. The food was great, the service was even better. It did turn out to be pretty highly rated on Trip Advisor, which I started using later on during our trip for references on restaurants.

Hoh Rainforest.Most restaurants in Port Angles actually specialized in steaks and seafood, and we decided to stick to those. When in Maine we ate a lot of lobsters even though we’re not big fans of it. So we figured seafood on Olympic Peninsula should not be any worse — well, maybe slightly worse because there are two big cities in the vicinity after all — so that’s what we ate.

Olympic National Park


Olympic National Park entrance.The national park itself is very big and we would have to do much more driving than we did to really cover all of it. But we did end up covering a nice portion of Olympic, and Port Angles was perfectly situated for such excursions. However we were really extremely tired by the the end of each but the last day when we decided to really take it easy. And even then we did see a couple of cool places.

Hoh Rain Forest.On the morning of our first full day the first order of business was to visit the closest to us Olympic National Park Visitor Center, get a good map of the place and talk to a ranger about our time in the park and the places that we should try to see (we also did get our passport stamps) — basically build out a nice plan of action.

On a trail at Hoh Rainforest.So after that it was decided that on this first day we will visit the farthest parts of the park that we were going to go to — namely Hoh Rainforest and Rialto Beach, both situated on the western side Olympic NP.

Hoh Rainforest


Hoh Rainforest.It took us a couple of hours to get to the Hoh Rainforest entrance. We made numerous stops along the way. Route 101 — the roads that runs around the park goes through a lot of beautiful mountain vistas, lakes, meadows and canyons.

Road to Hoh.There were a lot of different flowers on the side of the road and we couldn’t help but stop and try to take as much of it in as we could. The road took us through a tiny town of Forks — we ended up eating our lunch here after our hike at the park.

On a trail at Hoh Rainforest.We decided to take it easy as we had no idea how Arosha would handle the hikes. Everything was new to him and it actually made things more exciting for us as well — taking it all in through his eyes.

Hoh Rainforest. On the trail.We got our stamp at the visitor center and picked a 0.8 mile loop hike through the forest. Aroshka kept running around with a large stick that he would pick up, claiming that it is his lightsaber and attacking fallen down trees because “they had their names in red and needed to be defeated” — such are the rules of the game that I play on the computer that he likes to help me with.

On a trail. Tree arch.And even though we have been to rainforests before, this one was very unusual. There were tons of enormously tall pine trees all covered in moss. Pines on their own would’ve been impressive enough, but the moss transformed this forest into a fantasy world of a kind.

Giant pine.I took a large number of pictures — and I will repeat this many times — it is impossible to capture how it really felt being there.

Wild blueberry.Somewhere along the way Alena spotted bushes of wild blueberries and we all took part in eating them — Arosha ate the most since Alena was giving him all her pickings.

On a trail at Hoh.What was the most surprising and encouraging thing for us all was the fact that Arosha did the whole hike by himself, running back and forth and didn’t ask to be carried a single time. He also was perfectly fine with long drives and would look around, ask questions, come up with made up stories and so on. It all was great.

Rialto Beach


Rialto Beach. Olympic National Park.After eating our lunch at Forks, WA we drove to the portion of the park located on the west coast of the continent right on the open Pacific Ocean. We managed to take a wrong turn and as a result arrived to the ranger station after its closing — or so we thought. Later I found out that it was not open for the season to begin with anyhow, so no stamps for us at that location.

Giant trees on the beach.The beach itself was very unusual. It was covered by huge old gray downed trees. Tons and tons of them. Arosha had a blast playing with the water and throwing stones into the ocean. What made the beach beautiful was the fact that there were several huge rocks that were more like islands sitting in the water.

Rialto Beach. Small islands in the water.However the problem was that sun was hanging relatively low since it was towards the end of the day. And since we were on the west coast it was shining right into the lens creating a nasty haze. Bad haze — no good pictures. I actually tried to hike down to some other rocks, but I was unable to cover a big distance by walking on the sand and the tide was starting to rise. It was beginning to look like if I didn’t get back in time I wouldn’t be able to get back at all, so I turned around before reaching my destination.

Rialto Beach at Olympic National Park.All in all we spent several hours on the beach and all of us were fully spent — except for Arosha — by the time we got back into the car. A drive back took a bit of time, we reluctantly (since we were so tired) ate our dinner at Garden Cafe and called it a day.

Sol Duc


Lake Crescent.For our second day we had less ambitious plans — two locations to visit — Sol Duc and Hurricane Ridge. Both are much closer to Port Angeles than our destinations a day before. Sol Duc actually is one of the locations where we looked at the lodges to stay at.

Sol Duc trail.It has hot spring pools right on its premises and those are usually accompanied by an according smell of sulfuric acids. But the reason we didn’t stay there was two-fold — location was far from other destinations and we couldn’t find good rooms for decent prices.

Stamps at Lake Crescent Lodge.Another place that we looked at was a lodge at Lake Crescent, but it was all booked out. The road to Sol Duc from Port Angeles actually runs along the shore of Lake Crescent (same road that goes to Hoh) and we spent a little bit more time on the lake this time around. The lake was beautiful the sky was blue — it was a great day.

Sol Duc Falls.I need to note that all the weather predictors predicted rain for us every single day and luckily for us they were always wrong, except for one day — more on that day later.

Arosha on a trail at Sol Duc.We got to Sol Duc, got our stamps and this time took a much more ambitious hike — 0.8 hike each way to Sol Duc Falls — or 1.6 miles total. Arosha was as great as the day before. Did the whole route himself with no problems.

Waterfall on the way to Sol Duc Falls.Along the way we went past another waterfall — water gradually running down the side of the mountain. Later on we saw a river running deep inside a big canyon. As before — impossible to really capture on “film”.

Sol Duc Falls.As for the Sol Duc Falls themselves — wow! You are standing on a wooden bridge over this deep deep canyon in the front of the top of waterfalls themselves and only by actually being there you can appreciate the real power of water with all its speed and sound. I took many many pictures, but none of them really came out all that impressive.

Sol Duc Falls.After our hike we ate our lunch at Sol Duc Lodge deli and went onto our next destination.

Hurricane Ridge


Hurricane Ridge.The road to Hurricane Ridges starts right from Port Angeles itself. It keeps running up and up and up all the way to the top of the mountains that we were driving under all this time. Amazing vistas open up with views of Port Angeles below.

Road to Hurricane Ridge.By the time we got to the top we realized that there was a ton of snow all over the place. We couldn’t really do any hikes here, since the trails were also mostly covered by snow, but the views were magnificent in all directions. Arosha had a blast playing in the snow. So much fun to actually play snowballs in the middle of June. His clothing was all wet afterwards, but Alena had a spare set for him.

Arosha loved the snow.I, again, took a lot of pictures, but was yet again disappointed with my inability to capture all the depth of being that high up in the mountains. Only later in the day when looking at my photos on iPad I realized that I should’ve placed the visitor center itself into more of the pictures to give the viewer some perspective. I have a lot to learn still.

View from Hurricane Ridge.At the end of this day we actually stopped at a supermarket and got ourselves some instant noodle soups and some other food and that’s what we had for dinner. We were very very tired again.

Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge


Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge.At this point we were done with all main objectives and still had a full day at Olympic. We looked at the map and decided to visit one of the closest destinations to us — Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge which is located on one of the world’s longest natural sand spits.

Bald Eagle.Before we got to the park itself we stopped on a small pullover that turned out to be a cliff overlooking the ocean. We were lucky to see a bald eagle seating on one of the cliffs below. I attached my 200mm lens to my camera, but he was still too far away for a nice close up shot. I did manage to catch another one in flight though right at the same spot.

Crab kingdom.Later we took a nice hike through the woods and ended up on a long sand spit — peninsula. At the end of it there was a light house, but it was too long of a hike. The beach itself looked very similar to Rialto Beach — it had a lot of old trees on it. My dad and I went for a short hike, found a tiny river full of little crabs and Alena let Arosha play in the water — he again had a blast.

Lighthouse at the end of the peninsula. Mt. Baker is 90 miles away.I could also see a huge mountain visible on the horizon, but I wasn’t able to get sure answer from anybody as to what mountain that was. Most probable version judging from replies I got and looking at the map is that it is Mt. Baker which is located more than 90 miles away.

Arosha at  Dungeness.Also visible was the coast of Canada. We thought about taking a ferry there originally, on this day, but it turned out way too long and expensive of a trip.

Strawberry picking.After spending some time at the park we drove back and stopped at a strawberry farm that we passed before. Arosha loves strawberries and we wanted him to see how it grows. The lady that was working there actually told us that he most definitely should collect those strawberries inside of himself — quite nice of her. Usually they are quite strict about people eating stuff — or at least pretend to be. The strawberries were delicious!

Evening


At Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge.Then we proceeded to a restaurant that I spotted on the map that was given to us at the hotel on the first day. When we got there I checked it on TripAdvisor and happened to be ranked as a number one spot at the time — Woodfired Grill. I had a steak and everyone else had seafood risotto. It was probably the best meal of the whole trip for all of us. We even got some non-alcoholic beer for Alena.

Bald eagle at Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge.And on this day we actually had some energy left at the end of it that Aroshka and I went for a swim in the pools — I preferred to sit in a hot tub, but Aroshka kept demanding to swim in the cold big one. It was too cold of a day for that for me, so we kept running back and forth. And that was our last night in Port Angeles.

At Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge.In the morning we packed our luggage-puzzle, checked out from our hotel and set course towards Mount Rainier National Park through the city of Olympia — the capital of Washington state.
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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Washington State Road Trip

After days and days of searching and researching we have booked our next vacation which is going to be a road trip1 through Washington state. I wanted to do this kind of trip for a long time now and I we think Aroshka is going to be old enough to handle some long rides in the car. But we decided not to get too ambitious on his account, so the trip consists of only 3 locations.

On the morning of Wednesday, June 12th, we fly2 out to Seattle, Washington. We rent the car3 at the airport and proceed to drive to a town called Port Angeles, Washington, located on the northern side of Olympic National Park. We are going to spend 4 nights4 here exploring the area and the national park.

On Sunday, June 16th, we drive to Mount Rainier National Park. On our way we plan to drive through Olympia, the capital of Washington state. We’re going to spend 3 nights5 inside the national park.

On Wednesday, June 19th, we drive to our final destination — Seattle, where we’re going to spend another 3 nights6 at one of the Hilton hotels that we booked for points.

We’re hoping this is going to be as fun of a vacation as all our previous road trips of this kind were.

  1. Our planned trip diagram is available via Google Maps. Blue pins denote the places where we will be staying and green pins done the locations that we plan to visit. []
  2. Delta Air Lines, direct flight from JFK to Seattle, round-trip. $374 per person, 5 people — we’re going with Aroshka and parents. []
  3. Fox Rent a Car, $556 round trip to Seattle Airport. []
  4. Olympic Lodge, $128 per room, per night. []
  5. Mounthaven Resort, $511 for 3 nights for Pine cabin with 2 bedrooms. []
  6. The Arctic Club Seattle –- a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, 50,000 points per night, per room. []

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