Portland Day 73-78

Day 73

Hello Portland, the city of “weird” (seriously, their slogan is “keeping Portland weird”). First up was brunch at Lardo, a funky restaurant all about bringing back good fats. I knew I was in heaven the moment I walked through the door. Heating plus scrumptious food plus excellent branding = I’m home.

With a belly full of sausage and egg delightfulness, we hit the shops in Portland’s West End. It was a hipster’s paradise. Handmade, high quality leather goods, body products, bags, shoes, clothes, books and more lined the meticulous shelves of well designed stores. Trendy sushi bars and coffee shops weren’t hard to find. One of the highlights was visiting Powell’s City of Books, an epic full-city-block for bookworms. It was mind-blowing. I bought 2 books I can’t wait to read, and Justin found one as well. It was very, very difficult for me to restrain myself from buying more. What a gem of a store.

All our book shopping had us ready for a coffee at local Stumptown Coffee Roasters.

Portland

 

Portland

Day 74-75

Yesterday we had some stuff to work on at the hotel, like the blog and photo editing, so we had a quiet hermit day, but today was a little more interesting. The famous Saturday Market was on down by the river so we ventured out for some market madness after a yummy breakfast at a diner-cross-restaurant they call a “dinerant”. It was freezing cold out but the market still drew a crowd. The stalls were great and there were definitely a few things that tickled my fancy. The live music was fun, too.

I wanted to try Voodoo Doughnut because I’d heard they make amazing doughnuts, but the line was crazy long, going out the door and down the street. Even though I was really in the mood for a doughnut, I didn’t want one that much, so we moved along with the promise of coming back when they weren’t so busy.

We tried a great local pizza joint for dinner called Pizzicato, but I was still hungry when we got back to the hotel so I ordered room service like the greedy guts I’ve become on this trip. I hope my pants still fit me when I get home.

Day 76

Mum’s friend, Bev, lives in Portland so I wanted to catch up with her while we were here. Mum and Bev used to live together when Mum was in her early twenties and it was through Bev that my parents met. Bev picked us up in the morning from our hotel and took us for a drive to where they used to live together so I could see their old house. Afterwards, we drove south through wine country and made a stop at one of Bev’s favourite wineries. We walked through the vineyard and did a tasting as well. Bev brought a photo album along with photos from when she and her family came to visit us in Australia in 1995. It brought back fun memories of playing with her kids, Dexter and Jonas, at the beach as young whippersnappers.

We drove to Dexter’s house in Corvallis and met his wife, Lauren, and their 5 year old daughter, Jaiden. They also had a beautiful dog named Willow. We sat around chatting for a while, then had lunch and went for a walk around their neighbourhood. We walked past a frisbee golf course and a few people were out playing. I had no idea frisbee golf is a real thing, I just thought it was a game on the Nintendo Wii! Apparently some people take it really seriously though, buying expensive frisbees and training really hard! After a nice afternoon, Bev drove us back to our hotel. It was really great seeing them after so long and we hope they come visit us again soon in Queensland!

Portland

 

Portland

 

Portland

 

Portland

 

Portland

 

JessJustinDexterLauren

 

Portland

Day 77

Portland has an amazing food scene. I have been super impressed. This morning we tried a place called Tasty n Alder for brunch and their menu was pleasantly surprising and sophisticated, bringing in Korean and other Asian influences. I tried fried chicken and rice with egg, cucumber and kimchi. Justin had a dish with rice, bacon, kimchi and carrot salad. Both were delicious!

We walked breakfast off around the Pearl District which is north of Downtown. The shopping was great and reminded me of Chestnut Street in San Francisco- trendy and interesting. I made the mistake of going into a home wares store and fell in love with all the soft warm fluffy things – pillows, blankets, bath robes – so I just walked around touching them all. Soooo soft and cuddly! So sad not to have room in my bag for anything.

On Bev and Dexter’s recommendation we hunted down an ice cream shop called Salt and Straw. They made sensational ice cream in all sorts of weird and wonderful flavours, like Thanksgiving Turkey Stuffing, but we stuck to salted caramel and coffee with bourbon. Shepherds pie was on the menu for dinner at an Irish pub around the corner from our hotel, and we decided to try Voodoo Doughnut again. The line was short so we bought a few treats and retired to our hotel room with plans for a sugar-induced coma.

Portland

 

Portland

 

Portland

Day 78

Our final day in Portland was a lazy one. We spent some time making plans for December and swung by The Original Dinerant for fried chicken and waffles. After a mosey around Downtown, we headed back to the hotel and I put in a superstar effort to bring the blog up to date.

Portland

 

Portland

 

Portland

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West Coast Road Trip Day 65-72

Day 65-66

We were sad to say good bye to San Francisco. The week we spent there really gave us a good feel for the city and what it’s like to live there. Justin collected our rental car before we headed out for one more meal on Chestnut Street at Tacolicious. We ducked back to the apartment to say good bye to Aimee before hitting the road. Destination: Fort Bragg.

The bay was covered in fog as we left SF. As we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge we could only just make out the red rods around us before they disappeared into the sky. Once we’d gotten over the bridge and reached higher ground, looking back out over the bay was awesome. It was like a huge fluffy white blanket had been draped over the whole area.

While we were driving north I noticed that a lot of the beautiful yellow and orange leaves had fallen to the ground and turned brown, leaving behind scraggly looking bare trees. Even the vineyards that were bright and colourful last time we drove through the area were now looking lifeless. We took the highway for the first section of the trip before cutting west toward the coastline. Fog once again enveloped us in a misty haze. It was a surreal feeling driving across bridges that disappeared into a wall of white in front of us. The cliffs along the coastline dropped away to a vast expanse of nothing where the ocean would usually be.

West Coast Road Trip

It didn’t take long to get to Ted’s place which was another Airbnb. Ted’s house was incredible! It was right on the beach overlooking the dunes and was designed by Ted himself. During our stay in Fort Bragg we checked out nearby Mendocino and the surrounding coastline which was just gorgeous. I was still unwell with a migraine so I didn’t get out to explore as much as I’d hoped. Ted is really interested in fermenting and he let us try some of his delicious kombucha and kimchi, which must have worked wonders because I woke up the next day feeling great.

West Coast Road Trip

West Coast Road Trip

West Coast Road Trip

West Coast Road Trip

West Coast Road Trip

West Coast Road Trip

West Coast Road Trip

West Coast Road Trip

Day 67

The Avenue of the Giants is a 31 mile stretch of road that runs parallel to the highway in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, just north of Fort Bragg. In a word, the area is magical. After lunch at the Avenue Cafe we drove along the Avenue of the Giants, stopping a couple of times to look at the ancient trees. Rockefeller Forest was our favourite area as there was minimal undergrowth so we could get really close to the redwoods and fully appreciate their size. Some of the trees were close to 2000 years old. It was an absolutely amazing experience.

We stayed in Eureka for the night which was a small town with not a lot happening. It was cold and rainy when we arrived so we ordered in and had a quiet night.

West Coast Road Trip

West Coast Road Trip

West Coast Road Trip

West Coast Road Trip

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West Coast Road Trip

West Coast Road Trip

West Coast Road Trip

Day 68

After our Best Western breakfast of waffles, banana and honey, we checked out Old Town Eureka. It was a strange town in that it had a lot going for it – cute little stores and funky cafes – but it seemed like a ghost town. There were more homeless people wandering the streets than locals or tourists. It was pretty cold, so maybe everyone just had the good sense to stay inside. We found a great little bagel place so we tucked in and had some yerba mate, my new favourite beverage, before hitting the road.

West Coast Road Trip

West Coast Road Trip

The car we’re renting doesn’t have blue tooth or a USB port so we can’t listen to music on our phones. We don’t have any CDs either so we’ve been listening to the radio every day. As we’re driving through small towns, we’ve only had the option of listening to country music or “Jesus music”, as Justin calls it. I laugh and laugh as we sift through stations trying to find something we like as Justin sings along about praising the Lord and Jesus saving him. I actually don’t mind the music but I can’t stand Justin singing along about being saved, so we’ve learned to like country.

We drove through more redwood forests today and the mist in the canopy made the trees look extra special. A random guy named Mario came up to us at one stop and showed us a bunch of pictures he took of local mushrooms. We must have accidentally looked interested because he ran to his car to pull out the rest of his portfolio. The whole situation just got weirder and weirder so I was glad when he finally packed up and moved along. We went for a short walk along one of the trails but moved on quickly as we were running out of light. As we head further north and closer to winter, the days are getting shorter really fast. The sun hangs low in the sky and it looks to be about 10am for most of the day, until it looks about 5pm. Even at midday, the shadows are long and the light is soft. It’s actually really beautiful.

West Coast Road Trip

West Coast Road Trip

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West Coast Road Trip

West Coast Road Trip

Day 69

We are staying in Crescent City at the moment, which again is a small town with a whole lot of nothing happening. After breakfast at a small restaurant next to the Best Western, we drove back to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park which is where we passed through yesterday. There was a lot of moisture on the road as we drove through the forest, and as the sun worked its way through the canopy and touched the ground, steam slowly drifted up into the trees. It was stunning. We went for a hike along one of the many trails in the park and got to see another face of the forest. Everywhere we went was different. Where Rockefeller Forest had no undergrowth, this forest was wild and thick in some areas and sparse in others. The trees were huge. It was actually really hard to capture just how big they are on camera.

West Coast Road Trip

West Coast Road Trip

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Can you spot Justin?

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There were a few elk hanging around the car park and I was so excited when I saw them right up close to the pathway. We’d been wanting to see elk for ages and just hadn’t spotted any, so getting up this close was pretty amazing.

West Coast Road Trip

West Coast Road Trip

West Coast Road Trip

When we got back to Crescent City we went for a drive around the town to get a feel for the place. It was pretty deserted except for a guy feeding seagulls, an old dude on a bike and a few cats wandering the streets. I was waiting for the tumble weeds. The coastline was gorgeous so we hung around until the sun went down before heading back to the hotel.

West Coast Road Trip

 

West Coast Road Trip

West Coast Road Trip

 

West Coast Road Trip

Day 70

We did most of our sightseeing from the car today due to the rain and the wind. The weather served to make the coastline seem even more wild and rugged, so it was kind of neat. Old towns are scattered here and there, and most of them look like they’ve seen better days. We saw a guy cycling down the highway with all his gear strapped to him braving the elements on a unicycle! Kudos to that guy. We stopped at a little restaurant called The Porthole for lunch. It looked out over a harbour and a little seal swam past as we ate. I had a home made apple pie with ice cream and it was a serious “Ma-sized” serving, exactly what a cold wet day called for to warm up! We arrived in Coos Bay and just chilled out with some movies in the hotel room for the evening.

Day 71

Yet another cold and wet day greeted us this morning. We were in for a long drive to Astoria so only made a few stops along the way. The first was the Horsfall area just north of Coos Bay. There was Horsfall Lake and Horsfall Beach, so we couldn’t pass up stopping to have a look. We’d heard that the dunes that run along the Oregon coastline were amazing, and that they were. They reminded me of giant camel backs, all “hairy” with grass. We climbed up one to get a great view of the beach and surrounding area. With rumbling bellies we pulled into a small town to have lunch at Gracie’s Sea Hag, a small seafood joint with pretty average food, something we are getting used to on this road trip. From Arcadia Beach we watched the sun set over the ocean, which still seems a little strange having grown up on the east coast of Australia. It was absolutely stunning. We also made a quick stop at Cannon Beach before it had gotten completely dark, arriving in Astoria soon after that.

All up, it was about a 6 hour drive from Coos Bay to Astoria, not including all the stops we made. It was great to see the little towns and houses and farms. I really enjoyed the drive and taking in the beautiful Oregon scenery.

West Coast Road Trip

West Coast Road Trip

 

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My zombie family?

West Coast Road Trip
These guys were a bit confused about their business name…

West Coast Road Trip

West Coast Road Trip

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West Coast Road Trip

West Coast Road Trip

Day 72

We love Astoria! Out of all the small towns we’ve seen along our road trip, Astoria is our favourite. It’s the oldest town in the U.S. west of The Rockies, and it has a ton of charm and character. It also has sensational food, which we are very grateful for! We drove to the Astoria Column this morning for an amazing view of Astoria and the Columbia River. The column has about 160 stairs to the top, which we climbed, and is an awesome, albeit freezing cold, vantage point. The town centre has plenty of old buildings which house quaint shops and cafes. The homes in the area are a little rough around the edges, and there’s definitely a sleepy feel to the place. Logging trucks and old vintage cars drive the streets and huge boats make their way around the harbour. Although it’s not somewhere I would spend a lot of time, it was well worth seeing.

With the sun low in the sky and most of the leaves gone from the trees, the scenery on the drive to Portland was pretty picturesque and very different from anything we’ve experienced back home. The landscape is grey and dark green and brown, and a soft warm orange from the sun lights the scraggly bare branches.

Our hotel in Portland is lovely and all the staff are super friendly. We had dinner in the restaurant downstairs before watching some movies in our room. It is nice to be back in the city after spending so much time on the road.

West Coast Road Trip

 

West Coast Road Trip

 

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West Coast Road Trip

 

West Coast Road Trip

 

West Coast Road Trip

San Francisco Day 57-64

Day 57

The cab driver dropped us off in front of some cute apartments, right by a beautiful park with views of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was almost 3pm. We’d spent around 6 hours on the plane from Philly but we both had books to read so the time went quickly. Our Airbnb host, Aimee, greeted us at the door and helped us with our bags. She quickly gave us the tour of the apartment before heading to work a few minutes after we arrived. I loved Aimee’s apartment and knew right away that we’d made a good choice staying here. It was decorated with photos, art and souvenirs from her travels around the world and had a great vibe about it. Our room was a really good size and Aimee had left a bottle of red wine for us as a welcoming gift. She was studying for her sommelier exam so the apartment was overflowing with wine. We settled in and then made our way to Chestnut Street for dinner. During our research on San Francisco before leaving home, we read great reviews about the Marina district and Chestnut Street. We weren’t disappointed. The area reminded me a bit of Bulimba in Brisbane- trendy and reasonably affluent. Chestnut Street was lined with amazing bakeries and restaurants, theatres, and beautiful stores that I just wanted to box up and take home with me. We went to The Tipsy Pig for dinner, a small pub with a cozy atmosphere, and they made a killer burger- a good first impression of the SF food scene.

San Francisco
Our home for the week.

Day 58

With 8 days in San Francisco and no idea of what we wanted to do, we decided that today was going to be a day of chilling out and planning. There was no rush to do anything in particular and we’d already covered a lot of the tourist attractions when we were here with Don and Bron. A cute bakery we spotted last night was calling our names so we strolled back to Chestnut Street to grab breakfast. The soft Californian sun spilled through the big windows as we sipped on our drinks. The warmth felt good after Philadelphia’s cold. After breakfast we dropped by the local grocery store to pick up some fruit and bread. Aimee was kind enough to give us free run of her kitchen but we didn’t want to eat all of her food. When we got back to the apartment Aimee was awake. She works at a restaurant and comes home around midnight, sleeping in until late morning before going to work again around 3pm. We just thought Aimee was the bees knees. She was absolutely hilarious and so warm and welcoming. She spent most of her time in the lounge room studying when she wasn’t at work, but she was always up for a chat and put in the time to make sure we had everything we needed. We did some planning. I did some reading and had a nap. It was nice to just sloth around for the day. We picked a nice restaurant for dinner and enjoyed getting back out to Chestnut Street in the evening.

Day 59

We explored the Marina area more today. In the mornings all the mums come out with their kids to play in the nearby park. There are prams everywhere. There are also a lot of fit people here. Everyone seems to keep in pretty good shape. We wandered down Chestnut Street and then walked to the Palace of Fine Arts. It was really pretty there. The actual marina area was also nice with plenty of beautiful boats and houses. I was blown away by some of the architecture. It was so cool and different from anything I’ve seen back home. We had crepes for lunch at Squat and Gobble and an amazing dinner at a Chinese place called Dragon Well. There is no shortage of good food in San Francisco!

San Francisco

San Francisco
Yum yum!

San Francisco
A fun little book store we went into.

San Francisco

San Francisco
The Palace of Fine Arts.

San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco

Day 60

Back in Australia, we’d heard about a tea lounge in San Francisco called Samovar. The lounge was created as a place for people to slow down, put their phones away, relax, and connect. We caught a bus to the Yerba Buena Gardens after a delicious breakfast of french toast, strawberries and maple syrup (yum!), and found Samovar. The building was gorgeous and had a Middle Eastern vibe about it, with tall glass windows overlooking the gardens and interesting exotic decor. We ordered chai tea and it was the best either of us have ever had. One of the girls there was really friendly and chatty, and she was nice enough to bring us a free coconut rice pudding which was delicious. They played funky chilled world music in the background, so naturally I was right at home and didn’t want to leave!

San Francisco
Samovar Tea Lounge.

San Francisco
Some interesting architecture at Yerba Buena Gardens.

After Samovar we walked around Downtown for a while and made our way to the Embarcadero and Fisherman’s Wharf. It was really pretty down by the water and there were plenty of tourists bustling around. We checked out the old Ferry Building which was basically an awesome market filled with artisan food, coffee, home wares and restaurants. I found a drool-worthy store filled with beautiful ceramics. I wanted to pack it all up and take it home. As we walked along Fisherman’s Wharf toward the Marina, I halted in my tracks when I spotted some sensational looking pizza, so we stopped and had a bite to eat and watched people walk by the giant window of the restaurant. There are certainly some interesting characters in San Francisco!

San Francisco
The old Ferry Building.

San Francisco

San Francisco
Tasty salted pig parts anyone?

San Francisco

San Francisco
The F Market line to “Nowhere in Particular”

San Francisco

San Francisco
Coincidence?

San Francisco
Street performers are everywhere in SF.

San Francisco

We picked up some wine on the walk home and met the first American to know what cricket is. He ran the bottle shop and was a little Indian man. He asked us where we were from and when we told him, he exclaimed, “Ah! Ricky Ponting!”

Aimee had her head in her wine books when we got back to the apartment, but was keen to have a break, so we poured some wine and sat around in the lounge room and got to know each other a little better. She is a great story teller and had us in stitches with tales of previous Airbnb guests and monsters in the heating vents.

Day 61

A good night sleep meant I was wide awake at 6:30am so I decided to make a video with the footage I got in NYC of the Halloween Parade. Although Justin is the video editing pro, I gave it my best shot and I think it turned out okay. Once Justin dragged himself out of bed we had breakfast and caught a bus to Golden Gate Park to look at the Japanese Tea Gardens. They were beautiful and really peaceful. The park itself was huge and full of people walking dogs, riding bikes, playing games, or napping on the grass. We wandered through to Haight-Ashbury and knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore! The area still hints at the psychedelic rock era that made it famous with vintage stores and hippies busking on the sidewalks. One guy was walking around completely naked except for a gold leaf covering his dingaling, and the smell of pot filled the air. A trendy little cafe caught our eye for lunch so we sat out on the back deck under the trees and tucked into some scrumptious food.

San Francisco

San Francisco

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San Francisco
Hat? Check. Sunnies? Check. Thongs? Check. Alfoil? Check. Okay, ready to leave the house.

When we got back to the apartment and shared some of our observations with Aimee, she laughed and explained that wearing your birthday suit in San Francisco is completely legal and plenty of people do it! I couldn’t believe it! I mean, it makes sense to be able to get around in your own skin if you want to, but I was well surprised. Apparently growing weed is also legal and lots of people do it to help pay their rent, which is getting super expensive in the city due to the tech heads moving in and taking over. What a rockin’ city!

Day 62

After a lazy lunch at an artisan burger joint called Roam, we checked out the Union Street shops and walked to Lombard Street to have a look at the squiggly street. We drove down it when we were here last in the Go-Cars, but thought it would be cool to have another look while we weren’t stressing for our lives. I felt like seeing a movie so we bought some tickets to Last Vegas with Robert Deniro, Kevin Kline, Michael Douglas and Morgan Freeman. I thought it might be a lame ripoff of The Hangover, but it was actually hilarious and had a good story line. Highly recommend it! An amazing dinner followed at Mamacitas, a high-end Mexican restaurant with tacos to die for.

San Francisco
Yes, they tasted as good as they look! A new favourite- sweet potato fries.

San Francisco
Union Street.

San Francisco

San Francisco
Lombard Street.

San Francisco
Chestnut Street.

Day 63

Our second last day in San Francisco was spent exploring the Mission district, notorious these days for being overrun with hipsters and homeless people. Dolores Park is where all the cool cats hang out but it was pretty quiet when we went there. We did, however, have an excellent view of the city from the top of the hill. I couldn’t tell if the haze in the air was fog or smog (or “smug”, for the South Park fans) or a mix of both, but we’ve been noticing that our skin is covered in a gritty film at the end of the day, so I’m guessing it was smog that we were seeing. I have to say that the pollution has been the only downside of San Francisco. Aside from that, the city is extremely liveable.

San Francisco

Valencia Street is home to some awesome shops and cafes. While we were in the area we thought we’d check out another Samovar tea lounge. We tried a different tea this time but went with the coconut rice pudding again. We had lunch at a place called Herbivore, which advertised a 100% vegetarian menu, so I was really confused when I saw chicken and beef on it. Maybe they were hoping no one would notice? *Raises eyebrow*

San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco

Day 64

Today was a lazy day in bed for me as I was unwell, so I read and slept and took it easy. We got Chinese takeaway for dinner and watched movies while Aimee was at work. A bit of a non-event really.

Philadelphia Day 53-56

I loved loved loved Philly! What an awesome city. I’m so glad we visited when we did because the fall colours were incredible! Leaves lined the walkways and a winter chill started to creep in on Monday. The architecture is incredible, both new and old. It was great to see Ian and he really went all out to show us a good time. What an awesome visit. Philly will definitely keep a special place in my heart.

Philadelphia

Philadelphia

Philadelphia

Philadelphia

Day 53

My cousin, Ian, picked us up from the local train station today after catching two trains from NYC to Philadelphia. We had a little bit of confusion transferring between trains once we arrived in Philly thanks to Google Maps, but we made it in the end. I wasn’t sure we would after watching the “safety” advertisements on the TV screens at the Amtrak station in New York. Demonstrations of “How to survive a shooting” played out on the screen as we waited for our gate to be announced. Only in America.

Ian’s pad was awesome. It used to be an old carriage house so it had some serious rustic charm. We hung out for a while before heading into the city for dinner at a funky little pub called Good Dog. It had black and white photos of dogs covering the walls from floor to ceiling. I had a duck pot pie and a beer. After stuffing ourselves silly, Ian took us on a walking tour of Philly that encompassed The Parkway, Love Park, and Rittenhouse. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love. Philly is amazing. The city’s row houses were gorgeous and full of character. We wandered down quaint little cobble stone alley ways lit by fairylight-wrapped trees and vintage lanterns. After one last drink at a trendy little wine bar, we caught the train back to Ian’s place and called it a night.

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P
hilly has amazing wall murals all over the city.

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Day 54

Today’s grand tour covered City Hall, Reading Terminal, China Town, Elfreth’s Alley, Old City, Society Hill, South Street, and Head House. Ian is an awesome host and a sensational guide. He made sure we saw everything we could.

After a full day, we ordered some Southern Soul Food for dinner from the cutest little old lady, Miss Francis. Wow! I had no idea what I’d been missing all my life. Southern food is amazing! We had fried cat fish, fried chicken, crazy rice, candied sweets, and corn bread. Yum! Miss Francis can cook me dinner any day of the week.

Philadelphia

Philadelphia

Philadelphia

Philadelphia
E
lfreth’s Alley. Yes, I wanted to live here.

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Philadelphia

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A
n old pub looked like something out of Harry Potter. We had a beer here. How could we resist?

Philadelphia

Day 55

Ian lined up another day of exciting adventures for us. First up were the Magic Gardens on South Street which I really enjoyed. Isaiah Zagar and his wife Julia dedicated themselves to beautifying the area from the late 1960s. Zagar started working on the Magic Gardens in 1994 in the vacant lot near his studio. He began by constructing a massive fence to protect the area from harm and then spent the next fourteen years excavating tunnels and grottos, sculpting multi-layered walls, and tiling and grouting the 3,000 square foot space using folk art statues, bicycle wheels, colourful glass bottles, Zagar’s handmade tiles, and thousands of glittering mirrors.

Philadelphia

Philadelphia

Philadelphia

Philadelphia

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Philadelphia

Philadelphia

Philadelphia

Philadelphia

Philadelphia

We visited the Italian Market and had lunch at a great authentic Mexican joint. Ian planned on cooking for us and some friends tonight so we stopped by a grocery store to get some goodies before meeting up with Ian’s girlfriend, Alana, and heading back to Ian’s. His friends, Nicole and Conner, came over as well to meet me and Justin, and Ian impressed us all with his excellent cooking. It was a great night and we really enjoyed meeting Ian’s mates.

Philadelphia
A
n amazing deli!

Philadelphia

Day 56

On today’s agenda was West Philly, Penn University, and Philly’s world-famous food trucks. Ian showed us where he used to live while he was studying and gave us a tour of Penn’s campus. Penn is a stunning university with beautiful grand old buildings and a lot of history. We hit up a couple of food trucks for lunch and bought a Philly cheese-steak and a hoagie. Both were delicious and lived up to their reputations. After lunch we drove to the Art Museum and walked along boat house row. Ian also drove us through some extremely affluent neighbourhoods so we could do some mansion spotting. Wow wow wow! The houses were unbelievable! Philly just keeps taking my breath away.

Philadelphia

Philadelphia

We had a lazy night in with some warm-ups and stand-up comedy. We introduced Ian to Carl Barron and he shared some gems with us as well. It was nice to relax and kick back after a few fun-filled days of exploring. My cuz sure knows how to show some visitors a good time! We will miss Ian and Philadelphia!

New York City Day 49-52

Before leaving Arizona, my Uncle Mike described New York as having the “best and worst of everything”, and I can completely appreciate that sentiment after having spent 3 days here. Central Park, for example, is a beautiful and inspiring place, a sanctuary in the city. The best brands are here, the best shows are here, the best people-watching is here.  The best, however, is enveloped by dirty streets, dirty smells, dirty subways, and then some. NYC is a fascinating place full of contrasts and characters.

New York City
N
ew York, New York

New York City
T
he ugly…

New York City
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.. and the lovely.

Day 49

My Aunt Erica, being the angel that she is, dropped us off at the airport at 5am for our flight to New York which included a stop-over in Denver, Colorado. When we arrived at Laguardia Airport we got a cab to our AirBnB apartment in Manhattan. The apartment was really welcoming, and in true New York style, very small. There wasn’t enough room to dry off in the bathroom after a shower so I had to go into the hallway! We settled in and wandered down to Sullivan’s Bistro for dinner. With Halloween only a few nights away, the local cafes, bars and shops were decked out in pumpkins, cobwebs and ghoulish characters. The long day in transit had worn us out so we had an early night.

New York

Day 50

I woke up super early to the sound of construction coming from the vacant lot next door. Also, our pillows were covered in plastic liners so every time I moved slightly during the night, my ear drums were filled with crackling plastic sounds. Needless to say I woke up pretty tired but I forced myself to sleep in until late morning.

We decided to brave the New York subway and venture to Central Park. As it was our first time, we accidentally got the express train and ended up way too far north, so we got off and got another train back south again. Central Park was beautiful. We found a cute little cafe in the park, ordered some lunch and soaked in the beauty of the fall colours. Numerous paths wind through the park so we walked off our lunch under gorgeous golden canopies. Cute little fuzzy squirrels dashed between trees, people walked their dogs, mums played with their kids, brides and grooms strolled hand-in-hand and buskers entertained on every corner. I could easily have spent all day in the park. We were very grateful for amazing weather!

New York City

New York City

New York City

New York City

New York City

New York City

New York City

New York

New York

New York

New York

New York

We walked to Times Square and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t see the draw for tourists here. It’s basically a big intersection with a ton of huge ads on digital billboards. That’s about it. There are a few souvenir shops and a few nice stores as well, but nothing overly special. It was also insanely busy. We moved on quickly to a massive photography store a few blocks away that Justin wanted to check out. It was like Bunnings or Spotlight for photographers- it had everything! It was dark out when we left the store so we walked back to Times Square, which had started to look pretty all lit-up, and had dinner at Hard Rock Cafe. We figured while we’re in New York and at Times Square, we were going to be touristy tourists! The restaurant was pretty cool and had some great merchandise. We once again battled the crowds of Times Square and made our way back to the Subway for the trip home.

New York City

New York City

New York City

New York City

New York City

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Day 51

After breakfast at Sullivan’s Bistro we took the subway to the Museum of Modern Art where we wandered around for hours looking at art and installations. The highlight for me was seeing Van Gogh’s Starry Night in person. We then walked to the Apple Store just for kicks. We were amazed by the amount of people there. It was a hive of activity.

New York

New York

We later had dinner at a pretty average Italian joint before heading off to a massive highlight of the trip so far. One of our favourite musicians, Zoe Keating, was performing in the Village just around the corner from where we were staying and we managed to get last minute tickets to her show. She was playing at a funky new venue called Subculture on Bleecker Street. It’s a small, intimate underground venue for live shows. I had a delicious warm mulled cider with cinnamon as we waited for Zoe to appear. Due to the size and layout of the room, we also had amazing seats only meters away from the stage. Zoe’s performance was sensational and I felt so grateful to have been there to see her play.

If anyone reading this hasn’t heard of Zoe, here is a link to a video of her playing live on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xkHSYTijWdc

New York City

New York

New York City

New York City

New York City

New York City

Day 52

We headed Downtown today and went to the 9/11 Memorial. It was a pretty somber experience but they have done a beautiful job at the site. After a bit of an aimless wander around, we went back to the apartment and waited for the Halloween parade to start in the Village.

New York City

New York City

New York City

I put on a little witch’s hat with black and orange feathers and we lined up along the main fence with thousands upon thousands of others in anticipation of the start of the parade. There was a great vibe and it was nice to see the community come together for the event. The floats and costumes were phenomenal, and it quickly became apparent that a lot of people put a lot of time and effort into the parade every year. I couldn’t believe how long it went for either! We’d been watching everyone pass by for well over 2 hours and there was no end in sight. It was a celebration of epic proportions and it was really cool to be a part of it, especially as Halloween isn’t recognised much back home. Another highlight to add to the list.

New York City

New York City

New York City

New York City

New York City

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New York City

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Chandler Day 42-48

We said good bye to beautiful Sedona and drove to Chandler, Arizona, to spend a week with my Uncle Mike, Aunt Erica, and cousins, Victoria and Samantha. Spending time with these guys was great! They have a beautiful home and we felt so welcomed there… like part of the family! Their gorgeous great dane, Oreo, was a gigantic but oh-so-sweet companion during our stay, and their extremely cute dachshunds, Clifford and Max, aka “Blind and Toothless”, were adorable. The week moved at a slower place which is exactly what we needed. Victoria had her high school’s homecoming football game and dance on, so we went along to the football game to get a taste of high school sports which, I can safely say, are on a completely different level from Aussie high school sports. We also checked out the desert botanical gardens. We hiked, we saw a movie, we ate and we talked. It’s such a shame that we live so far away because we enjoyed hanging out so much, but we felt really fortunate to share a week in the life of the Schifsky clan.

Arizona
H
appy Halloween!

Arizona

Arizona

Arizona
O
bviously a serious conversation about wigs.

Arizona

Arizona
M
e and Oreo!

Arizona
O
reo and her bestest friend in the whole wide world.

Arizona

Arizona

Arizona
S
tuffed.

Arizona
S
chool carnival.

Arizona
S
amantha’s got a good arm and a good aim.

Arizona
She also gives an awesome massage.

Arizona
H
omecoming football game.

Arizona
Desert Botanical Gardens.

Arizona

Arizona

Arizona

Arizona

Arizona

Arizona

Arizona

Arizona
B
as Pro Shops- the most insane store I’ve ever been in.

Arizona

Arizona

Arizona
Real Americans are prepared for the zombie apocalypse. Duh.

Arizona
A
 morning hike with the horse.

Arizona

Arizona

Sedona Day 37-41

Day 37

A shuttle collected us from the iMax theatre close to the hotel and drove us to the Flagstaff airport where we collected our next hire car, “Chucky”, a Corolla sedan. As we got closer to Sedona the landscape changed dramatically. Extremely tight windy roads took us through beautiful tree-lined red rock canyons. We stopped and went for a wander through a section of Oak Creek, and it was then that I knew we’d arrived somewhere very special, not just because it was beautiful, but because there was a tangible energy about the place. This particular section of Oak Creek was like a natural playground moulded out of burnt-orange rock. It was almost as if it had been designed. The creek’s crystal clear water had carved through the rock, forming natural water slides and pools. Kids laughed as they pushed themselves over the bumps and through the curves of the stream on their bums. Oak Creek was a little Eden in the desert, guarded by majestic red rock formations resembling giant drip castles. I didn’t want to leave.

Oak Creek Sedona

Oak Creek Sedona

Oak Creek Sedona

We found our accommodation and settled in at Joy’s house, another AirBnB, on Coffeepot Drive in Sedona. A nearby rock formation looks just like a coffeepot, hence the name of the street. We found a sensational organic pizza restaurant just around the corner called Picazzo’s. I wanted to try everything on the menu as it all looked amazing, but we settled for a few (yes, a few!) pizzas to share. I also tried their homemade lemonade. Everything was exceptional.

Sedona

Sedona

When we got back to Joy’s place she was home so we did our meet and greet. Ironically, Joy was a pretty miserable person, so we avoided her for the rest of our stay. Her cat, however, was the most adorable little fur ball and a very welcoming host. Her name was Geode and she absolutely loved sneaking into our room and cuddling up with us. She took a particular liking to Justin, which was pretty funny because Justin is in no way a cat person. Watching them bond was very cute!

Sedona

Day 38

After a nice long sleep-in we tracked down an awesome little cafe that made for us… wait for it… the BEST coffee of our trip so far! That’s right! We FINALLY got some good coffee! We missed breakfast so we ordered some lunch instead, and that, too, was extremely delicious! We’d stumbled onto a food and drink gold mine in Sedona and we couldn’t be happier.

Hiking was on the agenda for today so we headed to Cathedral Rock. Now let me preface this by saying that I thought I read reviews about this hike online and the reviews all said it was an easy hike with a little bit of scrambling. So we arrived at this huge towering red rock formation and, well, the trail wasn’t what I thought it would be, leading me to believe that perhaps I read reviews for a different hike. This trail was pretty much straight up! We ascended slowly at the base before being greeted by what I can only describe as a giant red vertical butt-crack… and the only way up was through the crack! No stairs. Nothing to hold onto. At that point I thought it was time to turn around as there was no way I’d be able to climb it, but a little voice inside my head was pestering me to try. So up I went, one foot at a time.

Sedona

Sedona

Sedona

Sedona

Sedona

Sedona

The rest of the climb was pretty similar, but so worth it when we got to the top. I sat for a long time just looking out over Sedona. A real sense of peace lingered in the air up there. After what seemed like ages, I looked around and in either direction there were several people perched on the rock doing exactly the same thing- just being, just taking it all in. It reminded me of that scene in The Last Samurai when the breeze comes through the rice fields and everyone just stops what they’re doing to enjoy it. I never really understood why people like hiking until that moment. It was really special. The hike itself was extremely challenging and satisfying as well.

Sedona

Sedona

Sedona

Sedona

Sedona

Sedona

Sedona

The hike down was tricky but we made it. As we were descending, beautiful music from a Native American Indian Flute drifted up the rock. We eventually found where it was coming from when we saw a lady toward the bottom playing. I fell in love with the sound and made a mental note to try and find one for myself somewhere in Sedona. After Cathedral Rock we drove to the Chapel trail and did a short hike along that. It was pretty flat, and after the thrill of Cathedral Rock, we were pretty bored with the Chapel trail so we ditched it and went back to Joy’s place. After a shower to get rid of the dust and dirt, we headed out for dinner at Picazzo’s again where we were super impressed second time round.

Day 39

Today we hiked to Devil’s Bridge. It was a long flat hike that ascended quickly right before we reached the bridge. It was a fun photo opportunity, but the hike itself didn’t compare to yesterday’s Cathedral Rock adventure. We grabbed a few snacks once we’d completed the hike and sat by a nearby creek while we munched away. There were massive spider webs flying through the air all over Sedona today, and I mean massive! I was unlucky enough to have one hug my face, but we also saw cyclists zipping along with trails of webs behind them. It was pretty funny. We went to a local French restaurant for dinner, Dan’s Bistro, just to give Picazzo’s a break for the night. Dan’s was amazing! Every bite was heaven on a fork. I had salmon with creamy mash potato and asparagus. To finish off, I also ate a creme brûlée. Delish!

Sedona

Sedona

Sedona

Sedona

Day 40

We started the day with breakfast at The Coffee Pot, a restaurant famous for their 101 omelettes, before heading into town for the day. The main street is lined with clothing boutiques, jewellery stores, psychics, native indian art, ceramics, galleries and restaurants. We found an awesome shop filled with re-purposed decor and lighting and spoke to the owner and manufacturer, Chester, for a while. He was an absolute character. I also found a Native American Indian flute like the one the lady was playing at Cathedral Rock, and having had my heart set on it, I bought one.

Sedona

Sedona

Sedona

Sedona

Sedona

Sedona

After a yummy lunch of pizza, we wandered down to the local art center. A special event was happening that afternoon where local artists gather in the main street, find a spot, and each complete a painting in 2.5 hours. They then bring their paintings back to the art center where they are sold, with all proceeds going to the center. All of the artists had previous works displayed in a gallery so we had a look at those before heading out to watch them paint. All of the artists had selected their positions along the street and begun painting. It was really interesting to watch their unique processes and see the finished pieces a few hours later.

Sedona

Sedona

As the sun was setting we went for a drive around the big red rocks before heading to dinner at – you guessed it – Picazzo’s! Creatures of habit, I know.

Day 41

While we were in town yesterday two different people recommended heading to the West Fork Trail for a hike as the trees were said to be in full swing. When we arrived the car park was  overflowing, so the word was well and truly out that this was the place to hike. We parked a few hundred metres away from the trailhead and walked into the park. The trail was a 5 hour hike, round trip, with 13 stream crossings. The trees were just magnificent in vibrant shades of green, yellow, orange and red. The trail itself ran through a canyon so there were interesting cliffs and formations towering above us most of the way.

Sedona

Sedona

Sedona

Sedona

Sedona

Sedona

Sedona

Sedona

Sedona

Sedona

Sedona

Sedona

Sedona

Grand Canyon Day 35 and 36

Day 35

A four and a half hour drive took us to the Grand Canyon, which we were so grateful to see up close. For a while we thought we wouldn’t be able to get into the Grand Canyon park due to the Government shutdown, but the park opened just in time for our arrival. We drove into the park and walked along part of the rim trail that hugs the side of the canyon. It was freezing cold! It’s really hard to describe the canyon as it’s so difficult to really get a feel for how massive it is with nothing nearby to compare it to or give it a sense of scale. We could see birds soaring way down low in the canyon, as if they were soaring above a mountain, which gave us the slightest idea of how deep it really is. The trees on the other side of the canyon were tiny specks, indistinguishable as trees. It is hard to imagine that a river really carved the canyon out over millions of years, and looking at it closely, I think that much more must have happened to create it, but what exactly that was will remain a mystery for now, as the current theory hasn’t really been proven.

After we had lunch and checked into our hotel, we went back into the park and watched the sun set over the canyon. It was a very rare, special experience watching the canyon change colours every minute as the sun slid behind the horizon.

Grand Canyon Grand Canyon Grand Canyon Grand Canyon

The Best Western we stayed at had a great restaurant downstairs and the walls were decorated with beautiful paintings of the canyon. After dinner we played a game of bowling in the hotel’s bowling alley which was a lot of fun. I managed not to let the ball roll backwards and Don managed not to go sliding down the lane, so it was a successful night all round.

Day 36

This morning’s experience was a true highlight of our trip. We got to fly over the Grand Canyon in a helicopter.

I’d never been in a helicopter before and, lucky me, I got to sit up front. Our chopper pilot was Rick. He was a really nice guy and very informative. All buckled in with our headphones on, we were ready for take-off. Lifting into the air and propelling forward into the sky was one of the funnest parts. Rick also had music playing for us through the headphones, so as we drifted smoothly over the forest toward the canyon, we had Paradise by Coldplay as our soundtrack – a great song choice. We could see the canyon in the distance and approached it low to the ground. Before we knew it, the forest disappeared from beneath us and we were all of a sudden flying over a monstrous rocky void – the canyon. We still couldn’t grasp the size of it from the air, but Rick pointed to a wall and explained that it was higher than four Empire State Buildings. He also pointed to some black rock at the bottom of the canyon and said that it’s the oldest exposed rock in the world at over 2.8 billion years old. The Grand Canyon’s surrounding area is also home to the largest Native American Indian reservation with over 300,000 native people living there. This was certainly the ride of a lifetime.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

We obviously hadn’t had enough of the canyon as once we’d landed, we went and watched a movie – Hidden Secrets of the Grand Canyon – at the iMax theatre close by. It was a fascinating movie about the first non-indigenous explorers in the canyon.

Before Don and Bron left us to head back to Vegas, we went for one last look at the canyon. This is a place I would definitely like to come back to one day and explore some more.

After an extremely sketchy lunch at a small local Mexican restaurant, we parted ways with Don and Bron, said our goodbyes, and had a quiet evening at the hotel.

Las Vegas Day 32-34

Day 32

Seven hours and 450 miles (724km) later, our drive from Lake Tahoe to Las Vegas was complete. With restless muscles and tired eyes, we stepped out of the car at Stratosphere hotel, happy to have arrived. We’d stopped for lunch at Denny’s as soon as we’d crossed the border from California to Nevada, but aside from the short break, our bums had been married to our seats the whole time.

As we approached Las Vegas we drove past military bases and what we understand to be Area 51. It was a strange, eerie area that didn’t make much sense. We could only assume that the small amount of infrastructure we could see dispersed across the land was only a small portion of what perhaps makes up vast underground bases. The locals obviously have some fun with the alien theme though.

Las Vegas
H
ot springs on the way to Vegas.

Las Vegas
B
ullet holes in the street signs… um, should we be worried??

Las Vegas
A
rea 51 Alien Center.

Stratosphere was a last minute booking as we were forced to cancel our Yosemite accommodation and make up the nights elsewhere. It’s an impressive building shaped like the Seattle Space Needle, but with a hotel and casino at the base and a revolving restaurant at the top. There is also a bar, observation deck and rides at the top. We made our way to Level 107 for drinks and nibbles after we’d checked in and freshened up. As we sat on the lounges sipping cocktails, the restaurant revolved slowly on the level below us and the vastness of Vegas spanned out around us. Every few minutes a dare devil would fly by the huge windows harnessed to a few cords, defying death and treating us onlookers to a bit of a spectacle. The rides hanging from the top of the building were insane. We watched on as a roller coaster-like cart plunged headlong off the side of the roof on tracks, coming to an abrupt halt just when you were convinced the poor riders were goners.

Las Vegas
T
he view from our room.

Las Vegas
T
he view from Level 107 at Stratosphere. If you look closely you can see a person flying past the window on the bottom left.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas

Las Vegas

Las Vegas

Las Vegas

A bus took us further up the Strip where it was all happening. The lights of Vegas were bold and beautiful. Stretch limos and taxis filled the streets, and dolled-up girls and beefed-up boys crowded the sidewalks, ready for a party. Grand European-styled hotels, monuments, fountains and statues line the Strip on either side. There is certainly a tangible buzz when you’re walking the streets of Vegas.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas

We checked out Caesars Palace and ended up having a great dinner there. Just walking through the casinos, shops and foyers of the big hotels is an experience in its own right. Vegas seems to attract people from all walks of life, making for fascinating people watching. Some come for the gambling, some for the clubs, some for the shopping and others for the shows… and some, I think, just to see what Vegas is really all about.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas
D
on worshipping Celine Dion, and Elton of course, but mostly Celine.

Amongst all the superficial flashiness and outright trashiness of Vegas, there is one golden gem- the Bellagio fountain. We watched as the water danced in sync with beautiful classical pieces amidst a magnificent backdrop of a mock Eiffel Tower and the Bellagio Hotel. I could have stood there and watched it all night. It was absolutely magical. The Bellagio hotel was also beautiful, as far as hotels go. The foyer’s ceiling is an umbrella of colourful glass flowers, and they had an awesome fall-inspired display that reminded me of walking into a children’s book wonderland of magical creatures and enchantment.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas

Las Vegas

Las Vegas

After a long, long day, we called it a night and caught the bus back to Stratosphere. I could barely keep my eyes open and was very thankful to crash into bed.

Day 33

The breakfast buffet at Stratosphere was mind boggling. It had everything from iced doughnuts to crab’s legs, seaweed salad to stir fry. It also had fruit, yogurt, and good old scrambled eggs and toast. Very impressive.

We packed up and dropped our bags off at Trump International, our hotel for the next 2 nights. We couldn’t check in early so we had some time to kill. Trump is much closer to the main Strip than Stratosphere so we went for a wander through the Venetian and Palazzo Grand Canal Shops, and holy moly, was that a cool place or what!? The ritzy high-end stores were expected, but what was a complete surprise was the Venice-inspired canal with bridges and gondolas and European-style shopfronts and cafes… all indoors! The entire roof had been painted to resemble dusk and the lighting had been carefully designed to mimic the same. If you squinted a little, you’d swear you were walking the cobble stone streets of Italy as the sun went down.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas

Las Vegas

Madame Tussauds wax museum was close by and I was really keen to visit it, so we spent some time there looking at the amazing life-like wax statues of celebrities. It is absolutely incredible how accurate they are and how much work goes into creating them.

Las Vegas
A
bout as close to Johnny as I’ll ever get… sigh…

Las Vegas

Las Vegas

Once we checked into Trump and freshened up, it was time for a night we’d all been waiting for… Elton John’s Million Dollar Piano at the Colosseum in Caesar’s Palace. Elton did not disappoint. He played my favourite- Bennie and the Jets, so I was super happy about that. He also played Circle of Life, Tiny Dancer, Crocodile Rock, Your Song, Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me, Saturday Night’s Alright, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Rocket Man, I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues, I’m Still Standing, and a few other hits. I have to admit that I didn’t know what some of them were, but I was happy to hear some “new” music and really enjoyed the show.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas

Las Vegas

Las Vegas

When in Vegas… We had to play some pokies or the night wouldn’t have been complete. I bet and lost $20, but I got a free drink. That’s how I roll.

Pokies1

Pokies2

Day 34

Today was a pretty relaxed day, and I definitely needed it! A yummy breakfast was followed by a divine, hour-long massage at the Trump Spa, followed by some chill-time by the pool, followed by a nice shower and a nap in the cuddliest robe! I did not want to take it off… ever. It was like having a thousand furry puppies cuddling you at once. But, a girl’s gotta eat, so it was off to a great taqueria for dinner. I was a little bit optimist when I got back to the hotel room as I put my snuggly robe back on and started to watch a movie – World War Z – but the robe was the death of me and I once again drifted off to sleep.

Sonoma to Lake Tahoe Day 31

Our original plan was to drive to Yosemite National Park today and stay for a couple of nights, but thanks to the untimely Government shutdown, we couldn’t access the park at all. Plan B was to drive to Lake Tahoe and stay there overnight before moving straight onto Las Vegas. We drove through some really interesting terrain on our way to the lake, and there was no mistaking that we were now in the desert, although it was bizarre to see snow amongst the orange rocks as we were at a high enough elevation- about 6000 feet. Sunset over Lake Tahoe was beautiful, and the town itself was lovely. We had a quiet night in and prepared for the long drive ahead of us the next day.

Lake Tahoe

 

Lake Tahoe