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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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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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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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Grand Canyon

Grand CanyonTwice in my life I’ve been to Grand Canyon and both times I have been amazed. It is the wonder of nature that left the strongest impression in my mind. I think every person should do themselves a favor and see it with their own eyes at least once. Now there is a possibility that I will get a chance to see it yet again in a not so distant future. It’s not a certainty, it’s only a possibility, but it’s the one that I’m looking forward to becoming a reality.

Grand CanyonI decided to look through some old photographs we took during our Phoenix, Sedona, Grand Canyon, Las Vegas road trip that we went on with Alena back in October of 2005. Since our blog didn’t exist back then I picked out several raw photos that I liked the most and decided to post them here.

Grand CanyonIt is evident to me that my photo processing skills have clearly improved from 2005. Rather I should say that in 2005 they were pretty much at zero — non-existent. I’m thinking of maybe promoting one of these three photographs into my photo gallery section. Which one do you, dear reader, like the most?
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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Shenandoah Road Trip

Shenandoah National Park. View from Skyline Drive.We’re back from our vacation and it’s time to write something about it. I’m not sure where to begin best, so I’ll break it up into a couple of parts — states and capitals part of the strip and Shenandoah National Park part. But I will start with something a bit unrelated — photography.

Photography


The unusual start is an introduction to the photos that will be a part of this and upcoming posts. They break up in to two categories — family and general vacation snapshots group that are just that and a group that will later go into my photostream here on the blog and on Flickr — an artistic attempt at landscapes, nature and other types of photography.

Country morning.Since our plan for the road trip was less ambitions than usual I was done with general shots of the park fairly quickly and instead concentrating of throwing all the conventions of photography out of the window and just experimenting. I took a lot of shots with the sun shining directly into the lens or hitting a lens at an angle that would create a flare. I took a lot of shots with lenses wide open with have very little in the focus plane. I took much fewer HDR shots than usual.

Last Leaf.Basically I’ll let you be the judge. I think I’ve come back with some interesting and pleasing shots that I myself like, but as always I would welcome and appreciate any feed back I can get — if you like something, don’t be shy — say it.

States and Capitals


As part of our “goal oriented” travel we’ve set out to “recolor” some of the states on our visited states map that I’ve posted about yesterday.

Dover. In front of Delaware Capitol Building.Our first stop was Dover, Delaware. We checked in into the hotel late at night and in the morning our first order of business was visiting the capitol. The building turned out to be rather modest, but the personnel was very friendly. They let us roam around all over the place, since it was Saturday.

Delaware Capitol.We went through the Senate and Congress chambers and took a bunch of pictures, even some HDRs. A lot of portraits inside, but otherwise nothing really spectacular.

Maryland State Capitol in Annapolis.Right after that we went to Annapolis, Maryland. The capitol was bigger than that of Delaware, but nothing made it really Liberty Bell in Maryland.stand out in my memory either. The city itself was noticeably bigger and much more busy than Dover. We ate lunch at one of the local places and where on our way.

Our next stop was Washington, DC. Even though we’ve been to this city many times before and have visited majority of its memorials it was before we started our stamp collections. And when I was researching it some time ago I noticed that Washington Monument actually has ALL of the stamp available at the other memorials. So it was a great chance to make a stop and grab all the missing stamps of the places that we’ve been to.

Flags around Washington Monument.Next was Shenandoah itself, but about that a bit later. Sadly Richmond (Virginia capital) was way out of our way and since we were with Arosha we didn’t want to take any extra detours, so we skipped it and didn’t get a chance to “recolor” Virginia. But we did continue our venture after our stay in Shenandoah, or to be more precise — on our way back home.

Stamps in Washington.If our trip to the park looked like a downward curve the trip home was a mirror curve facing upwards. This allowed us to drive through West Washington Monument. Looking into the sky.Virginia (first for all of us) and make a stop in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

We stopped in a town called Marginsburg in WV, but there is really not much special about any of it. Harrisburg on the other hand was very impressive. I expected to see some small provincial town, but it turned out to be a modern city.

The city lies on the banks of Susquehanna River. We drove along it and saw a lot of huge mansions. Eventually one of the streets opened up and you get a magnificent view of the Capitol Building right from the banks of the river. Our timing was also perfect as the sun was setting down and the green dome of the capitol was basked in golden rays of an evening sun. It really looked breathtaking.

West Virginia Welcome Center.I don’t know if the pictures I took will do it justice, but it was probably one of the best looking capitol buildings any one of us has seen. The whole district around it was very “Washingtonian” — a city that is a museum on its own. We didn’t get a chance to get inside, but otherwise we left happy.

Pennsylvania Capitol.The city outskirts though looked very much different — a completely contrast to the center. Everything was extremely ran down and poor. For some reason a lot of capitals tend to be similar in this way, including Washington, DC itself.

Harrisburg Downtown.So to sum up — we have visited capitols of Dover, Maryland and Pennsylvania for the first time, stepped on the soil of West Virginia for the first time and filled up our passports with missing stamps from Washington, DC.

Shenandoah National Park


We spent most of our vacation in Shenandoah. We got here on Saturday evening and left on the next Saturday’s morning. Upon arrival to the lodge we were given keys to a pair of interconnected rooms on the 2nd floor of the cottage located right on the edge of the mountain.

Shenandoah Autumn.In the morning we really saw the view for the first time — huge valley and Blue Ridge mountains on the other side of the valley, right in front of our windows. They couldn’t have picked a better place to build a lodge.

Evening light over Shenandoah National Park.On our first day we went to Big Meadow visitor center and asked for a couple of maps of trails that we could take a stroller on. Our first hike was to Dark Hollow Falls. The road that lead it was a gravel fire-road. It was relatively flat and all the bumps seemed to have put Arosha to sleep. When we go to the falls Alena and I climbed to the top of the mountain to waterfall origins and parents stayed behind with Arosha.

Shenandoah Valley.After that we drove to Luray to stock up on some food and water (even though rooms do not have microwaves of freezers we were given one since we were staying for a week) and see what Luray itself is. Several things came to our attention. Even though trees on the top of the mountain were completely leafless the forest was full of color closer to Luray — that gave us a chance to take some colorful pictures. Luray itself though was pretty much nothing of anything.

On a trail.We made a great decision to come later in the season and stay in the lodge rather than come earlier and stay in town. And even though the drive to town was about 20 miles away from our lodge it would be a huge pain to go back and forth every day. All the trails are in the park anyhow. Plus the road in the park — Skyline Drive, that runs atop the mountain — is very twisty, so my mom was getting dizzy every time we went anywhere.

Sunset in the forest.Eventually we developed a pretty good schedule for every day. Arosha was sleeping OK. Alena would feed him when he would wake up and put him back to sleep in the complete darkness (except for the bathroom light that we used as a night light). Because he didn’t really have a chance to wake up he would fall back asleep pretty quickly. At 6am when he would wake up for good my mom would take him to their room and let Alena get a couple of hours of sleep.

Sunset over Blue Ridge Mountains.Then we would wake up and eat breakfast, while feeding or entertaining Arosha. He would do his morning nap and we would go for a short walk around Skyland (our lodge). After coming back we would feed Arosha and go for a 2-3 hour hike. It was great.

Some trails were better than others. One day we went on a long trail right around Skyland, but the fire-road turned On one of the trails in Shenandoah's forest.out to be so steep that it started to get scary with a stroller. Somehow while my dad and I were taking pictures of plans my mom and Alena managed to push the stroller and Arosha all the way back up. That was not an easy feat.

Our favorite hike was probably at Big Meadow. At first we started going right through the meadow trails, but most of them were getting narrow and not nearly wide enough for a stroller. But luckily there was another fire-road running right around the meadow and into the woods. At one point Alena spotted a buck with antlers crossing the road. A grabbed my 200mm lens and ran after him into the woods. I didn’t end up catching up to him, but stumbled upon another one buck with 2 females. I guess his antlers were bigger, because the other one was alone.

Moon after the sunset.Sadly I didn’t get any good pictures worth adding into the photostream, but I did get ones that are good enough as proof. When I got back to the road Alena informed me that a coyote just crossed the road, but I did completely miss it. Sad.

Near Skyland Resort.Speaking of animals, that’s pretty much all we saw. We were really hoping for a bear or a bobcat, but I guess they weren’t as anxious to meet us. Forest was full of chipmunks and squirrels with super fluffy tails. Also on our very last morning I looked out our window and saw another buck eating grass. I took a couple of pictures of him. When I looked out 30 minutes later there was another different one. This one seemed much younger, judging by the antlers.

Sunset.For dinner we would always go to the lodge dinning room. To our luck they had a pretty good chief and we were very happy with their cooking for the most part. In the last couple of days we didn’t want to wait until 5:30 (dinning room opening) so we want to a tap room that actually used the same kitchen. Ate some good burgers there.

Looking out the window of our room in Shkyland Resort Lodge.Overall even though the trees were naked in most of the park the forest had a nice tranquility to it. The weather was great — absolutely blue sky, temperature in the 60s and very little wind. Even though it wasn’t unusual it was very relaxing and calming. We had a great family vacation.

Arosha


Arosha smiling.And the best for the last. Aroshka turned 3 months old on November 8th. If to be counted from the very beginning of his existence — it’s been a year. He was great. He cried, but not too often, he ate well, he slept well and he did a lot of “hiking” with us.

Papa and mama.It’s amazing how kids grow right in front of your eyes. He has changed so much — not appearance wise, but behavior wise. He is following everything with his eyes, he likes looking at faces and toys and he was extremely fascinated by a ceiling fan.

Us at the Big Meadow.He smiles a lot and seems to be trying to laugh. He makes tons of very funny noises and says a lot of his own words like “guk” and “agu”. When I talk to him he often starts to smile and then turns his head and hides his face, like he’s shy. When he gets tired he starts to talk in a different tone of voice and it sounds like he’s complaining. He talked to his giraffe a lot like that.

Aroshka. Sitting and smiling.Alena and my mom were worried a lot, because it was pretty much on them to keep him entertained, fed, happy or to make him sleep. But I think they shouldn’t have worried as much. Arosha did really well on his first trip.
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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Shenandoah NP Trip Plan

Shenandoah Road TripNot so long ago we booked ourselves a vacation and never got around to posting about it. The vacation actually starts in 2 days and I wanted to leave some notes before it starts. The main objective of the road trip is Shenandoah National Park in Northern Virginia.

We’re going to be taking our car and driving down there along with our newest family member. There are going to be 5 of us this time around. We’re going to be staying in lodge located inside the park — Skyland Resort, which was generously paid for by the company I work for. Continue Reading
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Monday, May 31, 2010

San Francisco

San Francisco. View from Golden Gate Bridge.And now onto the very last stop of our trip — San Francisco. I will start with saying that usually I loath spending more than a day on a city and much prefer to spend my vacation exploring some park. The maximum that we did before was probably several hours walking around downtown before heading into the nature.

San Francisco was a big exception in all of this. I really loved it and I would happily spend more days there then we did as there are so many things that we didn’t get a chance to explore. Where do I start?

Our hotel room.Right upon our arrive to our Hilton hotel located on the edge of Financial District and Chinatown, and half a block from Transamerica Pyramid we were given a pair of adjacent rooms on the 24th Excecutive Floors. I just love free room upgrades thanks to our Diamond Hilton HHonors standing.

And I must also go ahead and thank Brian for pointing our the error of my ways of originally booking a hotel outside the city. Staying in the heart of things was definitely the right choice.

Golden Gate Bridge.Right after checking in we got back into our car and went to check out the most famous (at least to me) San Francisco landmark — Golden Gate Bridge. Apparently the day after all the area around it was closed off because of some major triathlon competition and people swimming to Alcatraz. Sadly the light conditions were far from perfect so the photos came out rather mediocre, but we worked with what we were given and that’s that.

At first we hiked around the southern side of the bridge and took some shots from several good points of view. The place is just crawling with people thought. So many tourists. I was happy to discover that the bridge has 2 great walkways which present a completely unobstructed view of the city and the bay. If I lived here that would probably be my favorite place for walking with a tripod.

View from Golden Gate. You can see the downtown on the right and Alcatraz on the left.We were able to get only to the first tower though since the bridge ended up being closed around it. We didn’t know why. We decided to come back, get into a car and drive across it and check out Sausalito — the town located on the other side. We got stuck in bad traffic. By the time we got to the first tower though we realized what was going on. The area on the pedestrian walkway was closed off and full of police. There was a guy on the other side of guardrail, holding on. I guess they were trying to talk him out of jumping.

Sausalito itself wasn’t very interesting — full of touristy shops, overbooked restaurants and not much more. After a short walk we decided to get back to the city, but what should’ve been a 15 minute ride turned out to be a painful 3 hour crawl, for the same exact reason as the way here — people are just too nosy and everybody must stop and take a look at a suicidal guy.

The crookedest street in the world -- Lombard Street.On the way back to the hotel we accidentally ended up driving right through the crazy part of Lombard Street. When we were heading up on the hill that leads to that crooked part everyone was slightly freaking out — especially Alena and mama. It really does feel like the car is going to start flipping back over itself any second when you’re climbing that. I’m not certain if it indeed is the steepest road in the city or not, but there are plenty that do feel the same way. We started our next day with the trip back here to take pictures in better light.

Windmill in the Golden Gate Park.After that we drove around the city a bit going through some of the “featured spots” (per Gowalla) — Apple Flagship Store, Union Square, Contemporary Jewish Museum, Moscone Center, Twitter Head Quarters, SFMOMA among other things. In the end we ended up at Golden Gate Park.

Alena, Boris, Daniel, Mark, Oksana.That’s approximately when Mark called. We ended up meeting with him soon after on the western entrance to the park. I was really looking forward to finally meet him — after all, we’ve been exchanging correspondence with him for almost 3 years now and this was the first time we could talk face to face. And I think we ended up having a great time. We got to know him, he got to know us. Hopefully we didn’t turn out to be too scary, crazy Russian relatives. )

Synagogue built on the land that is a gift in the memory of A. A. Lanis.The first place we ended up going together was a synagogue that is built on the land donated by Mark’s grandfather — Jacob in the name of Avram Lanis, Jacob’s father. Avram Lanis also happens to be my great-great-grandfather. It’s an interesting and a strange feeling seeing a building built in his name. Some short time ago we didn’t know anybody, but our branch of the family that started from him. Now we know that his descendants are living all over the world — many parts of Russia, Israel, all over United States and who knows where else.

Mark, Daniel and Boris near the gates of the synagogue.Then we hopped into Mark’s car and went back to our hotel. We left the car and went for a walk around the city. We were going along the shore starting from the Ferry Building approximately. I was hoping to reach the Fisherman’s Wharf, but my dad apparently had different plans in mind. He didn’t want to see the famous places that everyone else sees, but wanted to see small empty streets that are only known to the inhabitants of the city itself. This always happens to us. )

Ferry Building and tram ways that run by it.Anyhow, we ended up getting a dinner in Little Italy and we ready to turn in for the night. Everyone was tired and after all we had a plane to catch early next morning. We said our good-byes with Mark and hope to see him in our area some time in the future. I think it was a great day.

And in conclusion I will say that San Francisco has some special character that only a few cities do. We happen to be lucky to live in one of such cities, but you can be sure that we’ll visit San Francisco again. There are still so many things that we didn’t get a chance to do this time around. We’ll be back!

The view from one of our hotel balconies -- Coit Tower and the bay.P.S. There are many more little details that I left out or forgot. One such thing is that I was really impressed by the number of types of public transportation San Francisco has. The most nostalgic one to me was the trolleybuses — I haven’t seen any since Tashkent. And yes, there are still many more things that I forgot to include in this post.

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Coit Tower — view from our hotel.Сан-Франциско, этот город на холмах, мне очень понравился. Что-то в нём есть такое особенное, не похожее на другие большие города. Творения природы лично мне гораздо интереснее исследовать, чем Chinatown near our hotel.творения рук чековеческих. Однако Сан-Франциско не успел наскучить за те 3 дня, что мы в нём провели; более того, я совсем не против когда-нибудь посетить этот город снова.

Остановились мы в Хилтоне, расположенном прямо на границе китайского квартала в финансовом районе города. Место оказалось очень живописным — рядом с отелем был парк где мирно проводили свободное время группки китайцев, по вечерам мы слышали китайскую музыку, ну и все магазинчики в округе тоже принадлежали китайцам.

Как-то сложно писать обо всё последоватльно, поэтому напишу лишь о том, что запомнилось.

Golden Gate Bridge


Us with Golden Gate in the background.О существовании и цвете этого знаменитого моста, который на момент своего открытия в 1937 году был самым длинным висячим мостом в мире, я знала до нашей поездки. Был очень интересно посмотреть на него вживую, а так же прогуляться по специальной пешеходной дорожке. Чего я не ожидала — так это того, что в районе моста будет так ветренно! Еще я не ожидала, что кто-то решит спрыгнуть с моста как раз в момент нашей по нему прогулки, но именно это и произошло (поэтому гуляли мы по мосту чуть меньше чем рассчитывали — часть пути была перекрыта полицией).

Lombard Street


Lombard Street. Looking down.Вот это улица так улица — кривая и крутая! Когда мы сьезжали по ней вниз, мне было страшно (хорошо хоть Данька не разгонялся слишком сильно)! Машинам на этой улице можно парковаться только под углом 90 градусов (иначе, думаю, небезопасно).

Public Transportation


Cable car full of tourists.Несмотря на то, что мы передвигались либо на своих двоих, либо на машине, общественный транспорт Сан-Франциско впечатлил — и в первую очередь своим разнообразием. В этом городе есть метро, автобусы, трамваи, троллейбусы, а так же канатные трамваи, главной целью которых на сегодняшний день является привлечение туристов. Наибольшую ностальгию у меня вызвали троллейбусы, которые когда-то для меня были неотьемлемой частью передвижения по Минску (кстати, троллейбусная сеть Минска — вторая в мире по величине и уступает в размерах только Московской).

Golden Gate Park


Этот парк расположен на побережье Тихого океана. По форме он похож на прямоугольный Central Park (по Windmill in Golden Gate Park.площади он на 20% больше Нью-Йоркской достопримечательности), и является 3-м самым посещаемым парком в стране (на первом месте находится Central Park). По парку мы гуляли не очень долго, и мне больше всего запомнилась огромная ветряная мельница. В этом парке мы встретились с Марком — еще одним звеном той части семьи, связь с которой была потеряна, а потом так неожиданно налажена опять. Марк произвёл на меня очень приятное впечатление. Он показал нам некоторые старые семейные фотографии, а потом отвез к синагоге, которая построенна на земле когда-то пожертвованной его дедом.

The Synagogue


Synagogue entrance with the plaque on the wall.Как я писала выше, земля, на которой стоит эта синанога, была подарена дедушкой Марка, Яковом, в честь его (Якова) отца — Аврума Ланиса (который так же является прадедушкой д. Бори). К сожалению, синангога в тот день была закрыта, но Данька перелез через забор и сфотографировал мемориальную дощечку, которая и повествует о данном деянии Якова. Было приятно прикоснуться к части истории семьи таким вот Transamerica Tower. Half a block from our hotel.необычным образом. После синагоги мы поехали вместе с Марком в центр города, оставили машину в гараже нашего отеля, и прогулялись по окрестностям. По ходу мы все вместе поужинали в неплохом итальянском ресторанчике. Вобщем, хорошо провели время. )

В целом, как я уже писала, город мне понравился. Мне очень жалко, что мы не дошли до лежбища морских львов, которое находится на Fisherman’s Wharf (мы туда шли, но потом сменили направление) — ну ничего, в следующий раз обязательно посмотрим! ) Еще я бы хотела сходить в японский ресторан в Калифорнии (в этот раз в связи с беремнностью сырую рыбу я есть не могла). Еще в следующий раз надо будет обязательно покататься на канатном трамвайчике. )

Kearny Street. Near the entrance to our hotel.Улетать было грустно, но любой отпуск когда-нибудь заканчивается. Калифорния как штат показалась мне очень неплохим местом для жизни, и я думаю что это был наш далеко не последний визит на западное побережье.

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Friday, May 28, 2010

Sacramento & Silicon Valley

California Capitol Building in Sacramento.On Friday, April 30th, we started the final leg of our journey. However we had to make some adjustments to our plans because of the snow. To get to our planned destination of Lake Tahoe we had to cross Sierra Nevada mountain range. And since it was snowing heavily in the past days all roads including interstates had a tire chain requirement in effect, and we had none.

However the situation worked out to our advantage. I was worried that we scheduled to little time for San Francisco and Silicon Valley area, yet we had to so many places to see and so many people to meet. So we canceled our hotel at Stateline, Nevada and booked on at downtown Cupertino instead.

Sacramento


Alena, Daniel, Clare, Oksana, Boris.We left Yosemite and took course towards Sacramento. It was a bit of a hook, but we had important plans for Sacramento. As we mentioned earlier we found a part of our long lost family. A lot of them still live in California and one of my Dad’s second cousins, Clare, lives in Sacramento. Also we like to visit state capitals as we can and visiting capitol buildings, and that’s what we did.

Dome of the Capitol.We meet with Clare in the old historic part of the town for lunch and had a good time sharing family stories. It’s so weird that we all “started” from a far town in a Siberia (even though most of us have never been there), had such different paths and ended up meeting in this country.

In front of the governor's office.Afterwards we took a short walk around the old town and have said our good-buys to Clare took off in the direction of capitol. The building itself was pretty impressive and looked no worse than the main one in DC. We were lucky enough to get a great state stamp of the format that we’ve seen at some other capitals. We also had a chance to go by their famous governor’s office, but the governor himself refused to come out and meet us. Oh, well. )

Cupertino & Silicon Valley


Apple Campus. One Infinite Loop, Cupertino, CA.After Sacramento our trip took us to Cupertino. The ride was pretty much uneventful and we got to our hotel rather quickly without spending much time in traffic. The hotel turned out to be very nice and cozy. The service was great and as requested we got rooms on the top floor. Cupertino itself was not what I expected. The town was very green (lots of trees) and seemed like a place I could totally live at.

Our and Masha's families.We were meeting our friend from Tashkent here who we haven’t seen for almost 20 years. Now she lives in the area with her husband and 3 daughters. We decided to meet for dinner at a local Outback that was 1 exit away and is located right across from Apple’s campus. During dinner we tried to catchup, but 20 years is a long time. ) And after dinner I ran across the street to see something on the Apple’s campus, but it was too late and too dark.

Apple Campus. Infinite Loop.The objective was the next day was simple. Get to San Francisco, while stopping at all the famous, at least to me, places that Silicon Valley has to offer. And that’s what we did. We started with Apple campus. Drove around Cupertino to make sure that indeed I could liver here, and yes, I still could. )

First Apple.On our way to Google’s campus in Mountain View we stopped by a computer museum where we actually saw the very first Apple computer built on a piece of particle board or something like that. There were a couple of mainframes there and some other things, but I expected more from it.

Google Campus.Google campus is more like Google town. It’s huge, with a lot of buildings. There are volleyball courts and there are bicycles laying all over the campus. Just pick one up and ride to where-ever you need to go. I could totally live here as well. There weren’t many people around, but I imagine on a work week day it’s packed.

In Tesla Motor's show room and head quarters.And finally on our way to San Francisco we drove through Palo Alto, checking in into Facebook HQ and visiting Tesla Motors showroom and HQ. We also drove through the campus of Stanford University, but we didn’t really stop and walk around. Overall Silicon Valley is a large number of small towns that feels more like a single big city.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Yosemite National Park

Leaving Sequoia National Park. Heavy fog on the way down.Если в Sequoia National Park мы останавливались прямо внутри парка, то в Yosemite цены кусались посерьёзнее, и мы остановились за пределами парка (правда, совсем недалеко от одного из вьездов) в месте под названием “Yosemite View Lodge”. Гостиница, вопреки нашим опасениям, оказалась очень приятной — прямо за окошком у бурлила горная река, на которую можно было любоваться выйдя на небольшую терассу присоединённую к номеру. Река была довольно шумной, но так как шум был равномерным и “естественным”, спать она никому не мешала. Еще в номере был газовый камин, но мы им практически не пользовались.

Yosemite View Lodge. Backyard with a river.Приехали мы в гостиницу под проливным дождём местами сменяющимся градом. Конечно, для водопадов такая погода только плюс, но нам хотелось солнышка и тепла. Немного солнышка мы увидели на следующее утро, а вот с теплом был напряг практически всё время.

Entering Yosemite National Park. It's hailing.Yosemite — парк очень красивый, но одного визита туда лично мне хватит надолго (например, в Yellowstone я уже не против сьездить прямо сейчас). Насколько я понимаю, больше всего парк знаметнит водопадами и гранитными скалами, которые находятся в Йoсемитской долине — наиболее посещаемом месте парка.

Yosemite Falls. Highest waterfall in North America. Over 700 meters.Yosemite Falls, состоящий из верхней, средней и нижних частей, является — ни много ни мало — самым высоким водопадом Северной Америки, и от верхушки до основы насчитывает 739 метров. Среднюю часть водопада я лично не разглядела, а вот на верхнюю и нижние части мы полюбовались вдоволь. Мы видели еще пару больших водопадов (например, водопад под названием “Фата Невесты”) и огромное количество маленьких водопадиков. Думаю, летом воды в них поменьше, а некоторые вообще пересыхают.

Half Dome. I think.Вообще гуляли мы по парку без машины довольно долго — часов 5. Думаю, если бы не холодина, то прогулка была бы продолжительнее. Мы пытались разглядеть гранитную скалу под названием Half Dome, но верхушка её всё время была прикрыта туманом.

Mirror Lake.К одной из точек парка — зеркальному озеру — мы добирались на автобусе, который отходит от visitor center. Что характерно, отражениe гор в этом озере я увидела только когда смотрела Данькины фотографии!

Bridal Veil Falls. From tunnel overlook.На следующий день по плану у нас была поездка на озеро Тахо, но мы решили её отменить всё из-за той же плохой погоды. Вместо этого мы раньше срока направились в сторону Сан-Франциско и провели ночь в одном из маленьких и таких уютных городков Силиконовой Долины.
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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Sequoia National Park

Three Sequoias. Look at the guy in front to get a sense of scale.Sequoia National Park встретил нас грудами снега по краям дороги, серым небом, величественно-спокойными вечнозелёными деревьями и холодным воздухом, которым несмотря на это было приятно дышать.

Tunnel in a fallen Sequoia.Позавтракав, мы отправились изучать гигантских жителей парка. Раньше я почему-то думала, что секвойи представляют собой листевенные, а не хвойные деревья. Так же новостью для меня было то, что растут они в горных местах, а не в каких-нибудь тропических лесах. Вообще секвойи являются самыми большими в мире деревьями по общему обьёму древесины. Они так же являются долгожителями древесного мира и могут существовать несколько тысяч лет.

Alena in front of General Sherman.В небольшом музее, который мы навестили в первую очередь для печатей и рекомендаций рэнджеров, было приведено нескоько интересных сравнений. Больше всего заполмнилось одно — секвоя под названием “Генерал Шерман” весит примено как 10 китов. ) Еще меня удивил тот факт, что лесные пожары полезны для секвой (думаю, в разумных пределах). Дело в том, что у них очень плотная древесина и толстая кора, и они, в отличие от их менее стойких соседей, обычно не погибают, а только слегка обгорают во время пожаров. Отсутствие конкуренции на ограниченные ресурсы на многие годы вперед с лихвой компенсирует ущерб, нанесённый гигантам огём.

Daniel in front of General Sherman tree.Из-за неважной погоды и снега, некоторые места в парке были закрыты. Так же очень многие тропинки, по которым летом можно было бы прогуляться, не были расчисчены, и для их исследования требовались лыжи или специальные снегоступы. Тем не менее, мы посмотрели на главные достопримечательности парка — “Генерала Шермана”, “Генерала Гранта” и некоторые другие именованные особы.

Fallen Monarch. The tunnel is big enough for a person to go through.Генерал Шерман, если я не ошибаюсь, является самым большим деревом в мире по обьёму древесины. Размеры его, несомненно, впечатляют. На одной из табличек приводилось стравнение, что 6-футовый человек (это как я) чувствует себя перед генералом примерно так, как мышь перед 6-футовым человеком. Что ж, не знаю мышью ли, но кем-то маленьким я себя точно почувствовала. Диаметр ствола генерала в самом толстом месте достигает 11 метров!

Sugar Pine cone.Интересно что шишки и соответсвенно семена сейквойи совсем небольшие. В музее я подержала баночку с огромым количеством семян (не помню уже сколько тысяч) — она была очень лёгкой, а содержимое своим видом навело на мысли об овсяных хлопьях. Громадная шишка на фотографии сверху на самом деле выросла на сосне Ламберта.

Sequoia stump.Возле одной из лесных тропинок лежал огромный, почерневший от времени спил секвойи. Я попробовала было посчитать годовые кольца, которые очень хорошо видны если подойти поближе, но очень быстро сбилась со счёта. ) Генералу Шерману, между прочим, где-то от 2,300 до 2,700 лет.

Bear paw prints in the snow.Кстати, в парке водится разная живность, в том числе медведи. Нам не удалось увидеть косолапых хозяев леса собственной персоной, зато в утро перед отьездом мы видели медвежьи следы прямо возле главного офиса гостиницы (по словам очевидцев, медведь там прогуливался предыдущим вечером). В этот раз нам повезло мельком увидеть койота, оленей (хотя этим нас уже давно не удивишь), и послушать трудолюбивых дятлов. )

Heavy fog on the way down.Когда мы уезжали из Секвойного леса, погода была очень нестабильной — то снег пойдёт, то дождик, то в туманище вьедем такой густой, что хоть ножом режь, а то и солнышкко выглянет ненадолго. Существовала большая вероятность снегопада в ночь перед отьездом — тогда нам пришлось бы задержаться в парке чуть дольше чем мы планировали, потому что после снегопадов некоторые дороги закрывают, а для остaльных нужны цепи. Нам повезло, и выехали мы вобщем-то без проблем (хотя иногда волновались о состоянии дороги). Вообще очень чувствовалось влияние высоты на погоду — чем нижем, тем лучше. )

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sequoia & Kings Canyon Parks

General Sherman tree is in the middle. There are people standing near it.Memories are starting to fade and yet we still have a lot of writing to do, which brings me to the second part of our trip. The major difference for us was that while the first several days were spent in brutal summer sun the following days we have seen very little of it.

Papa near a pine. Snow all around.The road was taking us back west. We were also moving north and what is probably more significant — up. We made a trip from the lowest point of -200 feet below sea level to over 6500 feet above it. The temperature drop and the surrounding flora and fauna change was dramatic. From over 100 degrees in Death Valley to water freezing temperatures in the mountains. Sand and desert to magnificent forests.

Sugar Pine cone.We arrived to Sequoia National Park after the dark and we could only see the silhouettes of the trees. The last 20 miles of the road that was supposed to take us to our lodge was so narrow and had so many twists and turns that in most places we couldn’t go above 10 miles per hour. A sleepless coyote greeted us for a few seconds before disappearing into the dark of ageless mountains and trees. We were getting closer to the kingdom of ancient giants with which Christ himself seems young in comparison.

Giant Sequoia. The fires are actually good for them.I for one heard of these trees long ago and couldn’t wait to see them in person. Then a sign appeared on the side of the road — Entering the Giant Forest. And we started seeing trees unlike the others — extremely thick trunks of reddish color lighted by the headlights of our car. Everyone General Grant.was pointing each new one out that we would come upon and wowing, except for my poor mom who was starting to feel really sick from the twisting road.

Soon after we arrived to Wucsachi Lodge where we had a pair of rooms reserved for the next 2 nights. They screwed up and set us up in the different parts of the lodge, but there was nothing we could do at that point. We were all tired, freezing and I was feeling very sick from all the sneezing and a running nose that was plaguing me starting from a day before. We just went to sleep.

Pretty much the first Sequoia we got close to.In the morning we put several layers of sweaters and jackets on and took on exploring this magic place. We were very happy to learn that pretty much all points of interest were actually withing 5 miles from our lodge and we wouldn’t have to do the crazy drive over and over again. In fact, we didn’t have to go down that route a single time, since there was another road leading out of the park that was much straighter and was leading north in the direction of Yosemite National Park, our next destination. But more on that later.

Over 2 meters of snow.The sky was gray, the sun was nowhere to be seen and we were surrounded by mountains of snow that were way over 6 feet tall, judging by a convenient measuring device called Alena. P But since most of the sun would be blocked out by the forest either way we were determined not to let it ruin our day nor our photography, for I brought my trusty friend, the tripod. And if you combine the tripod with multi-exposure shots you end up with pretty decent photographs.

Giant Forest Museum.We started our tour with a stop at a Giant Forest Museum. It didn’t have much inside, but we did learn a couple of interesting pieces of information. For example the biggest cones that could be found in the forest come from Sugar Pines, and Sequoias in turn have one of the smaller cones. Also if you put Sequoia on its side it can go from one end of the football field to the other and can weight as much as 10 whales. It also turns out that fires are good for them, since they kill off the competition and Sequoias can take much more than all the little trees around.

The smaller cones on the right are Sequoia cones.One such tree was only a few miles away and is named after a civil war general — General Sherman Tree. The thing with Sequoias is that you absolutely can not tell the scale of it from the photograph. That’s why I tried to place people in all my Sequoia pictures — so you, dear reader, could gain at least the slightest level of appreciation for these giants.

Us near General Sherman Tree.General Sherman Tree is not the tallest (“only” 275 feet) nor it is the oldest (estimated to be “only” 2,300 to 2,700 years old), but it is considered to be the the largest tree in the world — such measurement is done by the volume of its trunk. It’s 11 meters in diameter and its circumference is 31 meter. Yes, just read that again, stand back and try to imagine that.

Needless to say we were nothing short of amazed by these trees. And touching it it’s hard to imagine how many things happened in the history of mankind, while this tree was alive and growing. If only they could talk.

One of the overlooks on the way down to Grant Grove.On the same day we drove down to Grant Grove and Kings Canyon National Parks. There were several overlooks on our way, but the day was so foggy that we couldn’t really see much. We did see General Grant tree and many other famous trees.

Rays of the morning sun filtering through clouds.The scary part for us was the fact that they were predicting snow fall during the night. Usually that results in road closures or a requirement of having chains on your tires. If the roads get closed, we get stuck up there in the mountains with nowhere to go and our trip was on tight schedule. In the morning thought we got lucky — nothing stuck and there were spots of blue sky visible even. However right after breakfast it all started to change rapidly, so we decided to load into the car and pretty much haul ass. After all, Yosemite was awaiting.
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Saturday, May 8, 2010

Death Valley and Joshua Trees

Road from Joshua Tree National Park to a town called Twentynine Palms.За 3 дня до отлёта в отпуск я заболела (скорее всего заразилась на работе). К счастью, температура была совсем небольшая — 37 C максимум — но зато нос забился совершенно и чувствовала я себя в целом плохо. По мудрому совету Дани на работу я эти 3 дня не ходила, и к субботе чувствовала себя немного лучше. Прогноз погоды на неделю отпуска тоже был не очень радужный (холод, снег, дождь), поэтому вечером перед отлётом настроение было среднее.

Blooming cactus.Вылетали мы из JFK на самолете авиокомпании Jet Blue. Мы стали стараться покупать билеты именно из этого аэропорта, потому что добираться до него гораздо быстрее и удобнее чем до LaGuardia или Newark.

One of many lemon or orange gardens along California roads.До Лос-Анджелеса мы долетели без преключений. С арендой машины была небольшая дилемма — автомобиля, который мы планировали взять, в компании на тот момент не оказалось, поэтому пришлось выбирать из того что было. Мы остановились на Chrysler 300 — более дешевой версии нашего с Даней железного друга. ) Машина досталась нам по хорошей цене и верно прослужила всю дорогу, хотя как только мы выехали за ворота Fox Car Rent компании, то поняли что машина попахивает мочой. Мне это на тот момент не мешало, ибо нюх отсутсвовал напрочь, но д. Боре и Дане было неприятно. Выход из положения они нашли следующий — на одной из заправок купили ароматизаторы для машины, которые забили неприятный запах. Через пару дней ароматизаторы перестали работать, но и запах мочи тоже пропал. На будущее мы решили, что перед тем как брать машину в аренду надо её не только хорошенько осмотреть, но еще и обнюхать.

Wind turbines near Desert Hot Springs.В Лос-Анджелесе мы с Даней были впервые. Мои представления об этом городе не были особо лестными — смог, пробки, перенеселённость — и после нашего краткого визита они не изменились. Аллея Славы, по которой мы прошлись туда-сюда, показалась мне неинтересной, на улицах не было “гламурно” выглядящих людей, а для того, чтобы увидеть знак Hollywood, пришлось изрядно покружить по разным дорогам. Выезжали мы из города в пробке (правда, не такой плохой), и как-то хотелось скорее вырваться из мегаполиса на природу.

Entrance to Joshua Tree National Park.По пути к месту нашей первой остановки на ночь — небольшому городку под названием Yucca Valley — нам встретилось несколько “плантаций” ветряков. Выглядели они очень футуристично; завораживал взгляд тот факт, что многие из них крутились в разных направлениях. Про Yucca Valley особо рассказывать нечего — маленькое, чистенькое местечко, где приятно остановиться на ночь, но жить, пожалуй, скучновато.

Joshua "Trees".В воскресенье мы отправились исследовать Joshua Tree National Park. Эти интересные деревья мы с Даней впервые увидели в 2003 году по дороге из Лас-Вегаса на Гранд Каньон (д. Боря как раз писал о них статью и попросил Даню сделать парочку фотографий). В Аризоне деревьев Джошуа нам встречалось совсем мало — там в основном мы видели юкки, являющиеся их более мелкими родственниками. В южной же части Калофорнии занятой пустыней Мохаве деревьев Джошуа много.

One of the overlooks in Joshua Tree National Park.Своим названием Joshua Trees обязаны Мормонам, которым это дервья раскидистыми лапами напомнили библейского Иисуса (но не Христоса), вознявшего в молитве руки к небу. Еще любопытен факт, что у деревьев Джошуа нет годовых колец. Это затрудняет точное определение их возраста (вообще при благоприятных условиях они могут жить сотни лет). Корневая система этих деревье очень большая — наверное, это одно из необходимых условий выживания в пустыне.

Cholla jungle.Вообще “лесом” скопище Joshua Trees назвать для человека, выросшего в Беларуси, сложно. Деревья растут на довольно приличном расстоянии друг от друга, и в целом лес в пустыне заметно отличцается от леса в других климатических зонах. Когда мы гуляли по Joshua Tree парку, то невольно вспоминались кактусовые “леса” Аризоны. Кактусов, кстати, там тоже хватало, и некоторые из них даже цвели. Из животных мы там видели только ящериц, хотя я уверена что живности там гораздо больше (но, скорее всего, более активны они по ночам).

Entering Death Valley National Park.Нагулявшись по Joshua Tree парку мы поехали в Долину Смерти — самую низкую точку Северной Америки. По пути мы проехали через Mojave National Preserve, где Даня и д. Боря получили печати в спецпаспорта.

Sign on the mountain indicating sea level.В Мёртвой Долине мы были поближе к вечеру. Первой остановкой для исследования местности и фотографий послужила Badwater Basin. Она расположена на 86 метров ниже уровня моря. Было жарко, но терпимо. Так как я очень боялась обезвоживания, то на прогулку вышла с литровой банкой воды, которую примерно за 1.5 часа всю и выпила.

Salt.Badwater представляет собой эдакий солевой бассейн — в некоторых местах стоят лужицы воды, но в основном землю покрывает слой слегка влажноватой соли, на первый взгляд очень похожей на снег. Я не удержалась и потрогав соль на текстуру, слизнула пару крупных белых кристалов, прилипших к пальцам. Что могу сказать — соль она и есть соль! )

Sunset at Badwater Basin.Мне очень понравилось что соль не лежала пластом как песок на пляже, а образовала своеобразные ромбовидные фигуры. Всё же не зря говорят, что природа стремится к порядку. После захода солнца температура заметно уменьшилась. Думаю, что если бы мы приехали на это место в полдень, то полтора часа мы бы не отгуляли. )

Sign at the visitor center.Ночевали мы в воскресенье в гостинице расположенной на территории парка — Furnace Creek Ranch — месте довольно приятном, хоть и не самом дешевом (мы снимали одну комнату на 4-х). В понедельник мы заехали еще в пару интересных точек Долины Смерти — Devil’s Golf Course, Artist’s Drive and Palette, Golden Canyon.

Papa and mama at Devil's Golf Course.Дьявольское поле было усыпано глыбами окаменевшей соли. Ходить по нему надо очень осторожно, ибо если упадёшь — мало не покажется. Солнышко, кстати, палило сильно, и мы стрались печься на нём интервалами не превышающими 10-15 минут. Даня и д. Боря прикупили себе прикольные солнцезащитные шляпы, которые пришлись как нельзя к месту.

Flowers in Death Valley.Стоит заметить, что несмотря на жару мы видели довольно много цветов. Конечно, они не были такими пышними как в более влажных районах, но была в них своя особая застенчивая прелесть.

All of us at Artist's Palette.Палитра художника представляет собой разноцветные скалы. Очень красиво!

"Climging" in Golden Canyon.По золотому каньону мы прошлись совсем немного — и тропа там каменистая, и солнце кусалось. Не хотела бы я там оказаться без машины и воды!

Flower field and a canyon near Death Valley.После Долины Смерти мы отправились в Sequoia National Park. Путь был неблизким, а Даня как раз простыл за день до этого (скорее всего я его заразила). Мы останавливались в некоторых особо живописных местах, но вообще стрались нигде долго не задерживаться чтобы добраться до парка затемно.

Getting closer to Sequoia National Park. Landscape is changing dramatically.Затемно, к сожалению, доехать не удалось, а последний кусок дороги приходился на горы и был таким извилистым (заняло час чтобы проехать 20 миль), что Даниной маме стало плохо. К счастью, на следующий день всем стало получше, и, одевшись потеплее, мы отправились исследовать новые терротории.

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