Saturday, September 24, 2016

Wilkes-Barre Labor Day

Locomotive at Steamtown National Historic Site.Планов куда-нибудь поехать в этом году на длинные выходные в честь дня труда у нас не было. Поэтому я немного удивилась, когда после обеда в пятницу Даня предложил: “А не сьездить ли нам куда-нибудь на пару дней?”. “Ха, а чему тут удивляться — тут же мысленно одёрнула себя я — было бы удивительно, если бы при его любви к путешествиям, он НЕ предложил бы куда-нибудь прокатиться.”

Kids by an old steam engine.Вобщем, пару идей у моего любимого мужа уже было, и после кратких раздумий мы остановились на относительно недорогом варианте гостиницы Hampton Inn в городке Wilkes-Barre (произносится “Уилксбэри”) в штате Пенсильвания. Ехать туда по нашим меркам относительно близко — около 140 миль. Мы приглашали и собой и даниных родителей, но в связи со скороспешностью наших планов, они не без сожаления отказались.

Taking a ride on an old train pulled by a steam engine.Я быстро собрала чемодан, Даня сьездил на физиотерапию всвязи со спиной, и часам к 6 вечера всё наше довольное семейство отправилось в путь.

Kids taking a ride on a miniature train model.Выехали из города мы без преключений. Я ожидала застрять на мосту Верразaно и/или на Стайтэн Айланде, но мы проехали эти, как правило забитые в такие дни, места без всяких проблем. По пути мы остановились поужинать в японском ресторане “Мизуки”.

Machinist room of a Big Boy locomotive.Это получилось случайно — мы сначала попробовали сунуться в один из сетевых американских ресторанов (Friday’s), но в пятницу вечером там была очередь минимум на 40 минут. В “Мизуки” же не было очереди, еда была очень вкусной, а счёт оказался совсем небольшим — нам с лихвой хватило двух порции хибачи на четверых.

Different generations of locomotives.В гостиницу мы приехали около 23:00 и сразу же отправились спать.

Italian festival at downtown Scranton.Следующий день, субботу, мы начали с посещения музея паровозов в соседнем городе Scranton. Музей Steamtown, основанный в 1960-х годах в депо, где когда-то оперировала большая железнодорожная компания DL&W, был выкуплен конгрессом в 1980-х годах и превращён в национальное историческое место — National Historic Site. Теперь он оперируется государственной службой парков, что для нас дополнительный плюс из-за коллекционирования печатей национальных парков.

Lunch at ale house.В музее было много разных старых поездов. Мне лично очень понравился вагон первого класса с купе на одного человека. Кровать там складывалась днём в удобное кресло, а в комнатке был умывальник.

Great beer is served. Waiting for food.Ароша и Анюта с удовольствием залазили в разные кабины паровозов, где можно было крутить разные колёсики и дергать рычаги. Мне было там скучновато, но это не главное.

Go-karts! Alёna's driving Anna.Еще мы там приобрели билеты на короткую поездку на паровозе. Честно говоря, там тоже было не супер интересно, но в какой-то мере любопытно. Сиденья там были составлены в ряд, как в автобусе, но их направление можно было менять, передвигая спинку с одного края сиденья на другое — такое я видела впервые. Ароше это дело понравилось, и нам даже пришлось его остановить из боязни повредить что-то в старом вагоне. После поездки на настоящем поезде, дети прокатились на миниатюрной версии, где сидеть надо было поверх вагонов.

Lunch before our hike. Waiting for food.После музея мы отправились в Скрэнтон пообедать. В центре города, куда мы приехали в пивную с высоким рэйтингом в TripAdvisor, как раз проходила ярмарка итальянской еды, но к счастью мы смогли запарковаться возле ювелирного магазине недалеко от нужного нам места. Хозяин магазина решил немного заработать, и продавал право парковки на лоте возле магазина по $6 за два часа. Что же, очень даже резонно.

On a trail.Когда мы проходили мимо палаток с едой, то был соблазн купить что-нибудь сьестное прямо там, недоходя до запланированного места, но так как на улице было жарко и есть бы пришлось стоя, мы всё же дошли до Backyard Ale House, о чем ничуть не пожалели. Еда там была вкусной, пиво лёгким и холодным, да и народу было немного. На ярмарке мы потом купили лимонада. Он очень понравился Ароше, и я обещала как-нибудь сделать такой же дома.

One of many many mushrooms we saw.Потом мы поехали в гостиницу и провели несколько часов в бассейне — наличие джакузи всегда сильно увеличивает время, которое дети могут потратить на водные процедуры.

Kids throwing stones into some river at Ricketts Glen State Park.Поужинали мы в ресторане “Lucky’s Sporthouse” возле гостиницы. И еда, и пиво были так себе, но мы были слишком уставшими, чтобы ехать куда-то в более заманчивое место.

Steep stairs.В воскресенье мы запланировали поехать в какой-нибудь парк и погулять на лоне матушки-природы. Вариантов было много, но мы остановились на Ricketts Glen State Park — там должна была быть живописная дорога к водопадам, а водопады мы любим. Ехать туда от нашей гостиницы было миль 30.

People by a cliff at the brink of the biggest fall on the trail.По пути мы совершенно случайно увидели небольшую площадку с go-carts и минигольфом. Так как времени у нас в принципе было много, мы решили на этих самых go-carts покататься. Честно говоря, я ужасно трусила и даже немного поотпиралась, когда Даня сказал, что я тоже буду кататься. Как оказалось, я зря боялась, и было очень даже весело. Даня ехал в машинке с Арошей, а я с Анютой. Детям тоже понравилось, хоть они и не рулили. Ароша просился поиграть в мини-гольф, но было жарко и много народа, поэтому мы поехали дальше.

Snack break.Перед тем, как пойти на прогулку по парку, мы зашли подкрепиться в небольшую забегаловку. Там продавали roast beef sandwiches и картошку фри. Ароша от сэндвичей с мясом, само собой, отказался, и мы купили ему салат с овощами на гриле — овощей там оказалось мало, но он поел и поделился с Анютой. Было не очень вкусно и дорого.

Family units.Мы боялись, что идти по парку будет тяжело, потому что была как раз середина дня и ярко светило солнце. Но оказалось, что тропинка идёт через прекрасный теснистый лес, где царят полумрак и прохлада. Лес оказался очень грибным. Примерно раз в минуту мы слышали радостный Арошин крик “грибы! смотрите, грибы!” и первые раз 7 мы честно шли и смотрели. Потом нам надоело, а Ароша всё время сокрушался, что с нами нет дедушки, который наверняка просветил бы любознательного внука и рассказал бы ему какие именно грибы он имеет счастье лицезреть.

One of many waterfalls on the trail.Гуляли по лесу мы пару часов. Видели три мелких водопада и один побольше. Спускаться до конца, чтобы лучше увидеть самый большой водопад, мы не стали, потому что дорога стала скользкой из-за воды, и мы решили, что с маленькими детьми туда идти опасно — плюс у нас с Даней была неподходящая обувь.

Daniel.На обратном пути Ароша и Анюта уговорили нас снова заехать на площадку с го-картс, чтобы поиграть в мини-гольф. Они даже отказались от бассейна — и то, и другое было бы слишком утомительно — в пользу этой забавы. Что ж, почему бы и нет. Лично мне мини-гольф кажется ужасно скучным, но дети получили удовольствие. В какой-то момент Анюта отправилась там на небольшую детскую площадку с качелями и горочкой, а Даня с Арошей еще раз прокатились на машинках — Ароша помогал рулить.

Mini golf.Поужинали мы в мексиканском ресторане. Было очень вкусно, особенно приготовленное на наших глазах гуакамоле, и совсем недорого.

Putting apples into a bag.На следующий день, в понедельник, мы отправились домой. По дороге, мы решили заехать в большой торговый центр (mall) в надежде купить что-нибудь стоящее с хорошей скидкой в честь дня труда. Когда мы заехали на битком забитую парковку, то начали сомневаться в правильности нашего решения идти по магазинам в такой день. Но, как говорят, охота пуще неволи, поэтому после 20 минут кружения по лоту, мы наконец запарковались и отправились за покупками. В результате мы купили всем пару необходимых и не очень вещей (зимние куртки детям, спортивные штаны и тёплые рубашки Дане, юбку мне), и поехали на ферму собирать яблоки.

Lots of apples. Heavy.Поесть в торговом центре, как мы планировали заранее, мы не смогли — слишком много людей было в кафетерии, так что там были грязь, шум, очереди и отсутствие свободных столиков. Вместо этого, мы немного проехали в нужном нам направлении и быстро перекусили фаст фуд. На нормальный ресторан времени не было — боялись опоздать на сбор яблок.

Apple picking.Несмотря на небольшую пробку, мы успели приехать на ферму где-то за час до закрытия. Мы были на этой же ферме два года назад, когда Анюта была еще совсем крохой. Мы насобирали 30 фунтов яблок, 12 початков кукурузы, и пол небольшой коробочки малины (больше не было).

Kids on a farm.Дети получили кучу удовольствия, а яблоки мы потом ели две недели (в холодильнике осталось еще штуки две). Еще я купила баночку очень хорошего местного мёда. Жалею, что не две, потому что Ароша с удовольствием пьёт воду с мёдом и лимоном. Кукуруза оказалось слишком сладкой на мой вкус, но детям она очень понравилась, и они сразу же стрескали по два початка (просили еще, но я не разрешила).

Corn picking.Добрались мы до Бруклина без больших пробок, и к 7 часам уже запарковались возле дома. Данины родители пригласили нас на ужин и накормили вкусным пловом, что было очень кстати, потому что к вечеру мы изрядно проголодались.

Raspberry picking.
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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Glacier National Park

Saint Mary Lake.Glacier National Park was the new destination for myself and Alёna on this trip. We’ve been to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in 2009, but Glacier was a bit too far off for that trip so we left it for some time later. So seven years and two kids later we finally got around to booking this trip. We also did look forward towards the rest of our family enjoying all three of these places already knowing that two of them will definitely be awesome.

Glacier Park Lodge.But I’ll start from the beginning. We arrived to Great Falls, Montana at around noon. It was the closest airport that we could get to without having to do more than one plane change. We rented an enormous three row Chevrolet Suburban which fit all six of us quite comfortably along with for large suite cases. As for Great Falls itself — we really didn’t find anything to look at or see, so after driving through a couple of streets we got on a highway and left for our first destination of this vacation.

Entering Glacier National Park.We were staying in East Glacier Park Village in an old lodge — Glacier Park Lodge — right on the edge of the park — 10 miles away from the nearest entrance. The drive from Great Falls was 140 miles which wasn’t too bad. Everything started on large plains, often covered by fields of flowers with dark silhouette of the mountains visible on the horizon. The mountains themselves are located inside Glacier National Park — the continuation of Rockies which run through the whole continent from top to bottom. As we were getting closer, the mountains were getting bigger and we could make out their snow covered peaks.

Two Medicine Lake. On our way to Stain Mary entrance.We arrived at our lodge at around 5pm local time, which is 7pm in New York. We were pretty tired. We got a pair of rooms next to each other at this magnificent looking lodge made out of enormously sized logs. The lodge itself was built over a century ago and it feels nice. The rooms were not akin to a 5 star hotel, but that was expected. I’m sure they were renovated from the time that the lodge has been built, but not quite obvious how long ago.

Our rental Suburban.By the time we got to the lodge everyone was pretty tired and I was quite sleepy since I woke up way too early in the middle of the night. And I can’t sleep on the plane at all. So we just went to the diner room of the lodge, ate our dinner and I turned in for the night to explore the park the next day. Alёna though took kids to the pool if I remember correctly, but I think I slept through all of that.

Us on one of the meadows.We had two full days in the park and thus we had two different locations that we wanted to visit, both on the east side of the park as the western entrance was too far away to drive to and back to the lodge on the same day with kids. We decided to start with a further objective on the east side of the park — Saint Mary entrance and visitor center. That’s where Going-to-The-Sun Road starts that runs across the whole park to the western exit.

Saint Mary Lake.On our way there we stopped by a couple of lakes to take in the views and eventually got to the visitor center. We stamped our passports and inquired about hikes that we could take. I always imagined Glacier National Park to consist of multiple lakes surrounded by mountains and I wanted to visit something like that. Out of all the possible hikes we decided to take a trail leading to Hidden Lake which starts at Logan Pass Visitor Center and is 2.7 miles long.

Trail to the Hidden Lake.And while driving to Logan Pass we made numerous stops along the highway. The most spectacular view was on the shore of Saint Mary Lake. There was no wind and the water was very still and mirror like. That’s where I took one of the best photographs of this trip — mountains reflecting in the water of a lake — just like I imagined this park would look.

Snow on the trail.When we got to Logan Pass Visitor Center parking lot we were surprised to find out that there is absolutely no parking. After circling around the parking lot for some time we eventually got lucky with somebody driving off right in front of us. This turned out to be a common theme all-throughout our vacation. Yellowstone was the worst.

Mountain goat.While the trail itself didn’t seem all that hard if you’re a young adult it ended up being fairly steep for kids. And my 77 year old dad a lot of the pain in his knee lately, so he ended up not going — the only trail that he missed. As soon as we started up Arosha decided that he urgently needed to use the bathroom, so Alёna had to go back with him. And Anna’s pace was — well, not fast, her not being even 3 and all.

On the trail.I had my tripod with me and Alёna told me to just continue and not wait for them. So I did. The fact that the trail was fairly steep was exacerbated by the fact that soon after you start the climb the trail is covered by snow that still hasn’t melted by the end of July. So climbing up the mountain via a slippery snow is not exactly fun, but I was determined to get to the lake.

Hidden Lake.On my way up I ended up seeing at least 10 mountain goats in different places. I was feeling sad that I’m going to be the only one to see all this, but I took enough photographs to show all this to the rest of the family. And eventually I got to the overlook of this lake. It turned out that the lake itself was still quite a bit away down from the mountain and I felt that I probably should head back after taking the pictures from the overlook since everyone was waiting for me.

Hidden Lake overlook.And as soon as I turned around I saw Alёna and Arosha standing next to me. I was so happy to see them. They actually did get to see all the snow, the lake, the goats and I really at all didn’t expect to see them here. I knew Alёna could easily do the hike, but the fact that Arosha was there with her made me very proud. She says that she kept her own pace and he kept up with her just fine.

Hidden Lake.After taking in all the views we decided to head back. And when we were somewhere in the middle of trail down we ran into my mom who was carrying Anna up the hill. That was another very surprising discovery. We took over Anna and my mom continued all they way to top of the trail. Interesting things about my mom is the fact that it’s really hard to pull her out of the house for a walk around Brooklyn, but when we go to a vacation she turns into a hiker that doesn’t miss a single trail.

Inside our lodge.Heading down the trail was actually quite a bit harder than it was going up. Some places which seemed just fine on the way up looked downright scary on the way back. One wrong step and you are sliding down a steep mountains into somewhat of an abyss. So we took it really slow, holding kids by their hands or in the hands in Anna’s case. Anyhow, the hike felt really exhilarating. And the fact that we ended up seeing so many wild animals on our first day was exciting too.

Glacier Park Lodge.And that was mostly it for our first day. On our way back we drove by the shore of Saint Mary Lake again and the view has changed completely. There was a slight breeze and the water has lost all of the reflections. We were glad that we stopped by the lake in the morning and didn’t leave it for later.

Two Medicine Lake.When we got back to East Glacier Park Village we decided to go to a Mexican restaurant that had high ratings on TripAdvisor, but it turned out that they have a long line. So we went back to the lodge for their not exactly stellar food. It was decent, but not anything to write home about. And I think I started falling asleep again. Kids played around the lodge on a big grass field that it had for a long time. And that’s how the first day ended.

One of the meadows on the trail.On the second day our plan was to explore the other of the two eastern entrances to the park — Two Medicine entrance. This entrance was only 10 miles away from our lodge. The main event would be a hike along Two Medicine Lakes to Aster Falls.

Meadows.Before setting out to a hike we stopped by a general store to buy a pair of light aluminum hiking sticks for my dad. A lot of people use them on the trails and we thought it makes a lot of sense to take some of the weight away from his aching knee. We spent some time in the store picking out the sticks and some other souvenirs.

Aster Falls.When we walked out and put our hiking gear on — backpacks, hats and all it started raining. Within 3 minutes of us starting our hike it switched from raining to pouring and it got really cold. We were glad that we decided to pack our light rainproof jackets with us, but the weather was not hikable at all. So we figured we should have a quick lunch and see if our fortune changes.

Photographing.We went back into the general store and had a nice hearty lunch — I had a chili soup and a hotdog. We bought hotdogs for our kids, but they have a strange way of eating those. Anna only eats the hotdog itself and refuses to eat the buns and Arosha does the exact opposite. Also we figured by having an early lunch we would be hungry just in time for dinner.

Aster Falls.By the time we were done even though the sky stayed very dark and ominous the rain has stopped. So we set out for the falls which ended up being a four mile three and half hour hike. We made a lot of stops along the way to take pictures — tripod setup takes time, Anna is not a quick walker yet, but the views were worth it.

Two Medicine Lake.Most of the trail took us through the forest and multiple blooming meadows and valleys. Some valleys had lakes by them with magnificent reflections. The sky though was dark and uncooperative for photography, so it’s really hard to really convey how beautiful the setting was. So many flowers.

Us by the lake.The waterfall itself was usual. Just your average waterfall. But as I said before — the final destination was not the point. There was a ton of people with little kids at the falls. Some of them kept falling into the water from time to time, but we managed to keep ours from getting wet.

Trail to Aster Falls.On the way back we made a little detour to get directly onto the shore of one of the lakes — the trail itself starts from the opposite side of the lake. I again tried to take some photographs, but Saint Mary shot from the previous day was still my best.

Trail to the falls.By the time we were back at our car everyone was tired and hungry. So we drove back into East Glacier Park Village. We again tried to go the Mexican restaurant I mentioned above and again there was a ton of people outside, waiting. I decided to try my luck and asked for a table anyhow. And what do you know — because most parties were smaller they were waiting for smaller tables, and because there was six of us we got a table right away.

Hidden Lake overlook.Our kids love Mexican food. One of Arosha’s favorite cuisines — mix rice with black beans, add some guacamole and sour cream — there is nothing better. I love fajitas and Anna just eats a bunch of meat of all kinds. We also washed it all down with some nice margaritas.

Two Medicine Lake. Panorama.And that’s how our introductory trip to Glacier National Park came to an end. The park has a lot of beautiful places and trails, but we’ll have to explore its other parts on some of our future trips. We spent our last night at the lodge and in the morning set course south, towards Yellowstone.
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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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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, 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, April 6, 2013

Exploring Costa Rica

Our Toyoto RAV4 at Santa Rosa National Park.As I noted in my previous post, not being confined to the extents of our resort by virtue of having a rented car and going out to actually explore some nearby parts of Costa Rica was the most fun part of this vocation for me. We made two such excursions, since it’s still hard for Arosha to spend so much time sitting in the car.

Scenic view stop.Luckily for us two places that we picked out to visit turned out to be vastly different from each other. The whole ecosystem reminded me of our trip to Big Island of Hawaii. On one side of the island there is an eternal summer with very high temperatures and dry climate and only 60 miles away there is an non-stop rain with lush green forests. Costa Rica is very similar in this regard and we got to see both sides of the so-called coin here.

Santa Rosa National Park


Trails of Santa Rosa National Park.In the morning of our second full day in Costa Rica we got into our car, turned on our GPS and headed North in the direction of Santa Rosa National park — the closest destination we could find. Right across the road from Santa Rosa there was another park — Guanacaste National Park, but as we later found out the park was closed to visitors.

Arosha in a hole of a volcanic stone.Soon after we were at the park entrance. It was very easy to find and especially so with GPS’s assistance. At the entrance we were given a map and a nice explanation of what’s worth seeing in the park by a nice and very polite young guy with very good English. The entrance to the park was $10 per person.

Dry tropical forest of Santa Rosa.Soon after we came to appreciate the fact that we rented a 4×4, because there is no way we would’ve gotten through to any of our destinations by the so-called road on any other car. It was not paved and it was covered in rocks and in certain places with deep muddy puddles. The ride that was only 12 kilometers long took us not less than an hour.

Creepy tree at Santa Rosa.We did 3 hikes. One fairly long one — 1.6km each way and two shorter ones. The park was not at all what we expected Costa Rica to look like. It was a dry tropical forest and March being the peak of a dry season made the forest look pretty much dead. The temperature was in the 90s so the hikes themselves were quite exhausting, especially with the fact that Arosha expired very quickly and one of us had to carry him as he didn’t want to walk by himself anymore.

Santa Rosa hiking trail.We did get to see the canyons at the end of the hike and later on — our third hike — even got onto the shores of open Pacific Ocean. And even though it is called Pacific it was anything but. The waves were just humongous. The beach was deserted and nobody wanted to risk getting into that water, but it was beautiful.

Iguana.We also saw a whole lot of iguanas. Arosha even tried to catch one — and hit it on the head with the stick as he claims, but luckily for that iguana it was a lot faster than Arosha was. But now every time we mention an iguana he points out he wanted to hit it on the head with a stick, but was unable.

Open Pacific Ocean. Naranjo Beach.At the end of the day we were quite exhausted. The unpaved road back took a long while, and we were extremely pleased to finally get onto the highway and drive back to our hotel. The only thing is that for some reason our rental car came with no cruise control and it’s really hard to go long distances without it once you get used to such a convenience. My foot was ready to fall off by the time we got back.

Second Excursion Planning


Naranjo Beach.At this point we really wanted to see the Costa Rica that we imagined before the trip — lush green rain forests. However research proved to be very difficult. The information that comes up is often that on various tourist agency sites and lacks any kind of useful information for touring without a guide. There was a number of parks not too far from us, but from what we read they would either be very similar to Santa Rosa and all of them had long hikes that we would need to take to see anything. As we understood it was not really a great option for us with a 2 year old.

Unpaved road at Santa Rosa.One place that was often mentioned was Monteverde cloud forests. But from what I could find online it really is more of an area than a park and the same thing — long hikes. It took us several days to finally come up with a plan for our second, and last trip.

Arenal Volcano National Park


Green forests.A place that we were aware of before we got to Costa Rica was Arenal Volcano which in fact was located inside the national park. And even though we again couldn’t really find any good information we looked at the map of the route there and seeing as it goes along the coast of a large lake we figured it was worth a drive. We were hoping that maybe if we don’t even get to do a hike in the park we’ll catch some good views along the way. And right we were.

Lake Arenal.Remembering Hawaii I advised everyone to take sweaters because the temperature could change dramatically with higher elevation. And as once years ago during our trip to Yosemite Alena took the sweaters for us and my parents decided it was too hot for sweaters. And were they wrong or what. As we were gaining altitude we ended up literally driving into a cloud. The mist started to set down on the windows and when we got out on a first scenic view everyone completely froze.

Monkeys in the trees.The views were magnificent and they were getting better. The fog was hugging everything around, the forest was getting greener and trees were getting taller. Near one such tree we saw a stopped car and a pair of tourists looking up. From our experience in Yellowstone it was a sure sign of wildlife. We pulled over as well and saw a whole bunch of real wild capuchin monkeys sitting in the tree, eating some exotic fruit. We we already excited — even if we don’t get to see anything else the trip was already worth it.

Coatis.We kept driving and suddenly we were surrounded by funny furry animals with long noses — about 30 of them. They were all very wet because of the rain, and they were also very hungry. Sadly Arosha has finally decided to take a nap, which didn’t last long, but he did miss all the fun. As we later learned these animals were called coatis.

Rain forest.We drove a little while longer and the forest just became irresistibly photogenic. We passed a small one lane bridge and I pulled over onto the shoulder. We got out and went back to the bridge. This was probably the most beautiful thing I’ve seen during our trip. Bright brown water of a mountain river under the bridge was surrounded by lush green forest that was in turn covered by fog, or the cloud that we’ve never left after driving into it. Such a serene place.

Dad on the one lane bridge in the middle of a cloud forest.Right while we were walking around a car with some American tourists going in the opposite direction stopped and they informed us that a couple of miles down the road there are 30 lemurs running around. And sure enough, there was another large pack of “lemurs”.

Inside a cloud.Soon after we arrived to the entrance of Arenal Volcano National Park via a relatively short unpaved road. To our surprise the park was closed for some administrative restructuring, but they were letting anyone in anyhow. On the plus side the admission fee was not collected, but on the down side there were no maps or any explanation of what we were supposed to see. However we ran into a couple of tourists and an information board with a map and it turned out that park itself wasn’t very big and all the trails were pretty self explanatory.

More coatis.First we drove all the way down to an observation area and observed a volcano which was absolutely not visible because of the earlier mentioned fog. Not even a hint of it. So we decided to take a hike to the lava fields, which we actually have seen a lot of in Hawaii. It was also lightly raining, but better rain then 90 degree heat. I gave my sweater to my mom, my dad grabbed a towel and I was pretty well covered by my hiking hat.

Trail inside Arenal Volcano National Park.The trail itself was very different from the view that we saw on the bridge along the way. The path was surrounded mostly by tall bamboo sticks which look a lot like oversized grass. I was getting a feeling that I have been shrunk by some magical device and I was walking through grass which now appeared to be gigantic. Arosha was running around trying to find the biggest leaf of fern (paporotnik in Russian) and trying to pronounce this complicated word. He came up with a number of rather funny versions.

On a rainy trail.We kept walking and walking and kept getting wetter and wetter and we suddenly decided that we’ve seen what lava fields look like before and we can live without seeing them today and just turned around. It was still a fun hike, but we didn’t get to our destination. Also all around us were signs saying something along the lines of if you melt because of lava, it’s your own damn fault, and don’t blame us. Although we heard that Arenal was actually not active right now, so there was a little chance of that happening I guess.

Arosha and coatis.We got back into our car and started driving back with numerous stops along the way. We ran into a pack of “lemurs” again on the way back and Arosha got to see them. He liked them so much that he decided to generously donate an orange he was eating at the time. And then asked for some banana and did the same.

On the road.And then we got hungry and after driving and driving decided to stop at a strange German place of all things. Everyone ate some tasty goulash that goes well with cold rainy weather and I ate some bratwurst which tasted pretty well too. Although they do some really funny math when they give you a check, but we decided not to argue too much and pay.

Arenal Volcano National Park.That’s pretty much all the events from this day that I remember. We got back to the hotel after dark, so it was a full day road trip that Arosha handled very well. We’ve seen a lot of unusual things and some amazing beautify that Costa Rica’s nature has to offer.

Conclusion


Papa at Santa Rosa.So all in all, even though we only did two trips I was very glad that we rented a car. We got to see two very different sides of Costa Rica’s natural beauty and it made the vacation much more fun than it would’ve been otherwise. It was a worthy investment without a question. Thus concludes my reporting on yet another one of our great vacations.

Fog.
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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Labor Day in Catskills

Catskill Mountain Lodge. Main building.We didn’t really have any plans for the long weekend and were thinking that we’ll end up spending it in hot, humid and noisy Brooklyn. But on Wednesday I had a strong urge to just get away and unwind a little bit from what seemed to be a barrage of bad news and annoyances that has been getting to us in the past month. So I opened Google Maps, navigated to Catskill region and typed in “lodge” in the search box.

Our rooms at the lodge. Second floor, center.We didn’t want to spend a lot of money — our favorite cabins in Pocono run $1,200 for 2 night stay. I looked through several sites and saw a place that looked like it could work for us. Their website didn’t have rooms available, but a call turned up 2 free rooms, next to each other with a single queen bed in each for only $95 a night. Even though the place had very mediocre ratings on review sites I figured — how bad can it be?

Arosha near the lake.I booked it right there on the phone for a two night stay. Even if the place turned out to be bad, we wouldn’t be spending too much time indoors anyhow as there were tons of parks around and things that we could do. That was a good call on my part. Now we had a family getaway set for the upcoming weekend and we would be staying in Catskill Mountain Lodge in Palenville, NY.

The drive to the lodge on Saturday morning ended up being much better than expected. We only got stuck in some mild traffic outside of the city and got to our destination in a pretty decent time. On our way we stopped by a Chinese buffet which was a new experience for Arosha and a well forgotten experience for the rest of us. Arosha liked picking and tasting a large variety of food — even though he might end up not liking something he never minds to try — anything and everything.

North-South Lake.The lodge turned out to be just fine. The owners were pretty friendly. They instantly checked us in and even gave us a refrigerator free of charge once we requested one to be put in our room — mainly for Arosha’s milk. The interiors were pretty dated, but rooms were clean and side by side to each other — as promised.

There was a what looked like a nice pool on the premises, but we never got around to trying it out. Either way — the people who leave bad reviews are just not living in the real world — don’t expect to get a five star Hilton when you’re paying $95 a night on a holiday weekend. Just be realistic and you will not be disappointed.

North-South Lake.We decided to spend a second half of our first day exploring a nearby state park — North-South Lake Campground. This place was familiar to Alena and myself as we discovered it back in 2003 while spending a weekend in the region. In fact, we liked it so much that we ended up bring the whole circle of our friends here — twice — for camping.

Lots of flowers around the lake.I wanted to take a couple of pictures of the lake and everyone else just wanted to go for a walk. At some point Arosha managed to escape far enough from Alena and by the time Alena realized what was going on Arosha made a run for the lake and took a complete dive fully clothed. Alena seemed distressed, Arosha was ecstatic. At this point she just took off his clothes and let him have at it.

My picture taking though didn’t go too well. I was taking long exposure shots while forgetting to block off the viewfinder. As a result all the photos ended up being overexposed in the center of the frame. I had a couple of normal shots which were OK, but all long exposures are junk. But it was a good end of the day nevertheless.

Kaaterskill Falls.On the way back to our lodge we stopped by Kaaterskill Falls and I took a couple of photographs that I ended up liking. And by this time there were practically no people there as opposed to the time when we were passing them on our way to the park. It was a long weekend after all. Everything was crawling with people.

We finished our evening off with a dinner in a steakhouse located on the lodge premises. The restaurant actually had a live jazz band inside, but it was a bit too loud — we wanted to be able to have a conversation during the dinner, so we opted for a table outside. Since the sun was down at that time the temperature was very pleasant and we still could hear the music just at the right volume.

Kindred Spirits Steakhouse & Pub. Our lodge restaurant.My steak was very good (a filet mignon) as was Alena’s duck. My parents decided to try a ribeye and a New York strip and while they were not bad they weren’t as good as my choice. We started the dinner with baby clams in garlic souse and topped the whole thing off with a nice bottle of red wine.

Overall it was a very good start of a nice little trip except for the fact that Arosha kept needing a diaper change about 10 times a day which is not normal at all. At the end of the day his butt hurt so much that he couldn’t sit which was putting a damper on all our moods.

Arosha at an apple orchard.Our second day was even simpler than the first. After waking up and eating a breakfast (sandwiches, eggs) that we brought with ourselves we decided to find an orchard and do some fruit picking. But at first Arosha went for a ride on a set of ancient swings and carousels that were present on our lodge territory.

On our way we were stopping at numerous yard sales and then we stopped by a supermarket to buy some ointment for Arosha’s butt. At that supermarket Arosha ran off from us and my dad ran after him. Apparently at the end of that chase my dad fell down pretty hard while trying to avoid Arosha who fell down in front of him. That was quite unpleasant for everyone.

Arosha on apple tasting quest.Finding an orchard wasn’t a problem. There is a number of them nearby and we picked the closest one to our lodge. Even though their website hasn’t been updated since 2011 we decided to take our chances and we lucked out. First of all this orchard was huge — they had rows and rows and rows of apple trees covered with apples and basically no people at all. A very different experience from our last fall.

Two of many many rows of apple trees.I think Arosha took a bite out of every kind of apple that orchard had and it had a lot. We picked 2 full bags of different kinds of apples and then 2 small boxes of raspberries. Arosha of course was picking raspberries right into his stomach. I tried a few too. Raspberries and apples were delicious. The staff was very friendly and we bought a liter of their fresh apple cider which also was very delicious.

Lunch at a local market.Then we ate lunch at some local spot that we stumbled upon accidentally — thin crusted pizzas. Everyone liked these very much. At this point we didn’t have any more plans so we started driving home. However on our way I saw a sign toward a historic lighthouse located on Hudson. We decided to make a small detour and stop by.

Lighthouse trail.It ended up being a very nice hike along Hudson shore through the luscious woods. This was the first time when I actually touched Hudson waters. My dad also showed us a plant that he used to show us when we were kids. It has small bean like things growing on it and when you touch it they explode with their seeds. Alena saw it for the first time and every time one of these would explode at her touch she would scream loudly and jump about 2 meters (almost) into the air. Arosha also enjoyed popping these things up.

The trail got flooded. Lighthouse is barely visible.Even though the hike was nice we didn’t get to our final destination. There was a high tide and it flooded the final part of the path. We did see the lighthouse, but could get close enough for good photographs. The hike was still worth it. I’m glad we did take that detour.

Hudson shore.And we finished the day at the same steakhouse at our lodge. This time we decided to simply go for burgers with a round of beer. And again it was nice and thus our second day came to a conclusion.

Ashokan Reservoir.On our last day our main objective was to get back home and hopefully avoid getting stuck in a lot of traffic. But before leaving Catskill region we decided to make one last stop near Ashokan Reservoir — the main source of drinking water for New York City as it turned out.

Bridge crossing Ahoskan Reservoir.The lake was beautiful with somewhat menacing looking clouds and dark mountains on the horizon. We walked along the shore and I took a number of long exposure shots, remembering to close off the viewfinder this time around. I ended up with a good number of photographs and some of them came out well.

Ashokan.All that came to an abrupt conclusion when a police officer approached us and informed us of the fact that we were trespassing. Turns out that there were indeed signs hidden in the bushes stating that you can only get down here with a proper permit, which we obviously didn’t have. Luckily for us he was a nice guy who ended up just giving us warnings and asking us not to do it again.

Flowers near North-South Lake.And that was pretty much it. We got into the car, stopped on our way for lunch and got all the way home without many problems, while Arosha slept. It ended up being a really nice Labor Day family getaway.
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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Summer Weekends

AlenaThe truth is, I really like pictures that Danya is taking while we’re out, so I’ve decided to write a few words about our weekend just so I can post them. )

The summer is here. Some days are horribly hot an humid, but some, like today, are really nice — the temperature is in San-Fransisco-like 70s, the fresh breeze makes you realize how young you are, and NY lets you appreciate its beauty without thoughts of being caged in concrete nightmare.

Arosha & AlenaWe try to spend our weekends as a family — together, and preferably doing something fun. Today we went for a hike on Williamsburg Bridge (neither Daniel, nor I have done it before). I enjoyed it. We actually were supposed to go to Arsen’s house to celebrate aunt Lilya’s birthday, but he had some health issues, so they had to cancel. I was looking forward to seeing them, but hopefully there will be another chance this summer.

Arosha & AlenaAnd yesterday we went for a hike in Marine Park. The large portion of the main trail is closed, but we managed to still find a nice one and enjoyed that I-can’t-believe-we’re-in-Brooklyn feeling of being close to nature. Before going there we send a parcel to my sister — she is expecting a baby boy in mid-July (YAY!), and we send her some of the clothes that Aroshka has outgrown along with some new stuff that Danya’s mom bought for the upcoming arrival. I am very happy and excited for my sister and her husband (I know that he REALLY wanted a son). Fingers crossed for a smooth delivery and a healthy baby!

Arosha climbing over Alena.Last weekend was also full of fun activities. On Saturday Alex invited us to his home in Jersey City for a barbeque. We didn’t get very lucky with the weather — it was hot — but I still glad that we made the trip. Alex was more comfortable in the kitchen that I’ve even seen him before — he made a tomatos and cucumbers salad, then he grilled asparagus, zucchini and peppers along with burgers and beef steaks. No help from any of us. To my excuse, I had my hands full with Arosha — there was pretty much no shade in Alex’s backyard, and he did not have AC installed in his apartment yet. So dealing with hot and sweaty baby took a lot of energy!

Arosha eating.And on Sunday we went to a small park in Staten Island. Daniel’s dad suggested that we can stop there — he knows SI pretty well since he used to work there — and I am glad that we did. The park was small, but very cozy and not too crowded. I put an enormous amount of sunblock on Aroshka (probably overdid it) not excluding his big blond head, and he looked pretty funny because of it.

Hiking over Williamsburg Bridge.I also wanted to say that I am very grateful for all the help that Daniel’s mom provides us with. Unless they have some arrangements (like going to a birthday party or to the theater), she stays home with Aroshka on Saturday night, so Danya and I can go out and have either a romantic dinner by ourselves or spend some good time with our friends. It’s just for a few hours (Aroshka goes to sleep at 8, and we try to be home no later than 11), but this really means a lot for my sanity.

Queens. Flushing Meadows Park.She also tries to cook a family dinner every Sunday — she is a great cook, and it’s always delicious. I don’t know how she does it — working full time, helping me every night to entertain and bathe Aroshka after she is done working, cooking family dinners… I am very lucky to have such a wonderful mother-in-law! I wish I was able to call her mom — it’s hard for me to say it for some reason, although in my mind I have no issues doing it.
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