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December 2007

Snow...
We woke up one morning to find ourselves in a veritable wonderland of snow. It wasn't our first Seattle snow experience, but was still a rather novelty. It continued to snow during the day and much fun was had with friends in snowball fights and snowman making.

The following day we (somewhat naively) decided to drive to some shops in a town about 45 minutes' drive hour from Seattle. It turned out to be quite an "interesting" expedition, as upon leaving the freeway we found ourselves driving on a layer of compacted ice, and the car park was carpeted with a thick blanket of snow! A slushy circuit on foot revealed most of the shops were shut, but we admired the spirit of the Christmas carollers dressed in period costume making their way around and spreading the Christmas cheer. Suffice to say we'll know better next time, but admittedly it was a rather novel and fun experience - fortunately ending without any mishaps!





...and sun
As most of you know, we headed back to Melbourne for a couple of weeks at the end of the year. As usual, we had a great time seeing all of our family and friends again, celebrating Christmas and New Year, and as soaking up in that wonderful Australian sun. Although it was hot, we weren't complaining! Michael went for a hike with some friends (Gareth, Gary, Ash, Denny, Bianca, Deby and Mark) along the second part of the Great Ocean Walk, ending at the Twelve Apostles. We also managed to find time to fit in some bike riding and see various sights, both new and old, around our home town.



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November 2007

Pacific Coast Highway road trip
In early November,as the cold weather settled into Seattle, we went on a 3-day road trip down the coastal road from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It's rather a classic drive along Highway No. 1 on the western coast of the US - much akin to the Great Ocean Road in Australia.

We enjoyed some stunning coastline and views, although it wasn't all sunny - at some points the summer fog rolled in and seriously affected visibility. But we can't complain too much as it made for some interesting photos, and it was still warmer than Seattle. Besides the coastline itself, our other highlights included a costal waterfall (which falls right onto a beach) and a stop at Hearst Castle, the grand estate and residence of media magnate William Hearst in the 1920's, 30's and 40's. Hearst Castle was inspired and built from the architecture and art of many European countries. It's a slightly eccentric and undeniably impressive place with a great location up in the mountains above the fog.




The Virgin Islands
At the end of the month we took a 9-day trip to the Virgin Islands. For the uninitiated (as we were), the Virgin Islands are in the Caribbean, south-east of the USA. We had a great holiday (we won't talk about the mosquitoes), enjoying the warmth and sunshine, lovely beaches, lush forests and beautiful scenery.

As a historical context, the British Virgin islands are governed by the British, while the US Virgin Islands were colonised by the Danish but sold to the United States during World War II. It's an interesting mix of Western and Caribbean cultures, not to mention practicalities. They are governed by England and the US respectively, and you have to go through immigration to go between them, but both use US currency and they drive on the left hand side of the road - with left-hand drive cars!


We spent the first few days in the US Virgin Islands. We stayed at an eco-resort, where our lodgings were a large structured tent with basic amenities - think of a fabric cabin if you will. Our activities included the following:
  • snorkeling
  • sailing and snorkeling
  • island taxi tour and snorkeling
  • sea kayaking and snorkeling
  • hiking and snorkeling
  • ...Noticing a pattern?! We then spent a couple of nights at the British Virgin Islands, where our highlight was visiting the Virgin Gorda, an island with great rock formations along the beach. We had a great time following a trail, scrambling through caves and over rocks, wading through water, discovering secluded beaches and of course, enjoying the scenery.

    The very last day of our trip was topped off by checking in for our flight at the airport then realising we had a couple of hours to spare, and there was a beach about 10 minutes walk away! So off headed off for a very last little bit of sunshine - we found ourselves in a public park with a veritable colony of resident iguanas and the beckoning blue water nearby - so much so that Michael went for one last short snorkel. Not a bad way to round off a holiday!


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    October 2007

    Odds and ends and more fun
    Besides moving into our new house, we have once again been quite active this month, despite the increasingly cool weather. Although we have mourned the all-too-brief summer, the Autumn/Fall colours have once again been simply beautiful. We have also managed to get out for a couple of day walks and other activities as well as catching up with our friend Dan who was in town for a spell. Michael also managed a trip to England for work and enjoyed some time in Cambridge and London, including spending time with another friend, Nghi. Our pictures probably describe it all better than words.

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    September 2007

    The Olympic Peninsula
    At the end of summer we took a camping road trip around the Olympic peninsula to the west of Seattle. We spent four spent and a half days in glorious sunshine exploring the Western coast of Washington state and this the east side of the Pacific Ocean. Amongst the great range of beaches (rock formations, tide pools, expansive stretches of sand, strong surfs) we enjoyed lovely sunsets, scrambled over huge piles of driftwood strewn for kilometres and visited the northwest-most point of mainland USA. It wasn't quite the white sand of Wilson's Prom, but these were some the best beaches we've seen outside of Australia so far.









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    Northwest-most point of mainland USA




    August 2007

    Old faces in new places
    August has been another very busy month for us - we enjoyed having Michael's parents stay and travel with us, and then welcomed our friends Rod and Jo who moved to Seattle. We also made a visit to San Francisco and San Jose in California to catch up with our brothers and their family and enjoy some time with Michael's parents there.

     


    Trip to islands and Vancouver
    We took a 4-day trip with Michael's parents to the north of Seattle and Canada, travelling by ferry and visiting a couple of islands in the Puget Sound region and heading up to Vancouver:
    • San Juan Island is a US island very close to the Canadian border. We enjoyed walking around the island, learning about its history, exploring old lime kilns and enjoying the harbour views.


    • The Canadian city of Victoria is on Vancouver Island, which is not the same as the city of Vancouver. The downtown area is very pretty, with a lovely bustling and atmospheric harbour. We immediately sensed an Australian-like familiarity of the city streets and to our mild amusmement, to get to Victoria we had to catch a ferry to another city called Sidney.


    • We only spent half a day in Vancouver city on the Canadian mainland, although Michael's parents stayed a little longer. We spent most of our time at a large urban park called Stanley Park, which comprises beaches, bike and walking trails, great views and much more that remains for us to discover the next time we visit!

    San Juan Island

    Victoria

    Vancouver




    July 2007


    Our month was book-ended with visitors - at the start of the month Michael's long-time friend Rod visited us (and subsequently accepted a job at Microsoft!), and at the end of the month Michael's parents came to stay (more about that in August). In between and amongst all of that we managed to spend a lot of time in activities such as kayaking, day walks and cycling.

    Unfortunately, despite a promising start, the reputed glorious Seattle summer and endless sunshine did not quite eventuate this year, and it's been a little rainier and cooler than we'd hoped for. Nevertheless we've managed to pack in quite a full month of outdoor activities

     


    Day Hikes
    We have been on several day hikes with friends. One was to Mount Si, a local landmark mountain that featured in the series Twin Peaks in the 1990's. Locally it is popular more for being a great day hike with a spectacular view.

    We also visited an alpine lake much like those we visited last October. Even in by mid-summer in July, some of the winter snows had still not melted. The hike up to the lake was punctuated by great views as well as some lovely waterfalls.

    Our third expedition was to some ice caves formed by the winter snows. We didn't enter, but it was remarkable to feel the change in air temperature on approaching and crossing in front of the cave. The surrounding scenery was quite spectacular, with many small waterfalls trickling down the mountain face.


    Celebrations and picnics
    On July 4 we headed to a park and enjoyed an impressive display of fireworks. Equally interesting was the schmaltz and spectacle of the occasion - a giant inflated Statue of Liberty head, a helicopter towing a giant American flag, and a street lined with July 4 parties and people gathered on balconys and rooftops of the houses in anticipation of the fireworks.

    A few days later, we held a joint birthday picnic for Michael and our friend Angie who shares the same birthday. It was great for Michael to celebrate a summer birthday.

    We also attended the annual Microsoft company picnic, which was held in a big field just near Mount Si. It's rather a huge gala event, with thouands of people attending and pretty much everything provided free of charge: food and drinks, entertainment and games (including a mechanical bucking bronco, jumping castles, giant basketball, fussball, volleyball competition, table tennis and even a casino just to name a few).

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    June 2007


    June has been another busy month for us. We have continuing in our mode of exploring the area around Seattle with weekend trips away. We've also had some great days in town as the place comes alive in Summer. The days have been wonderfully long, getting dark around 9:30pm and we're looking forward to the next couple of months, with the best weather yet to come.

    North Cascades loop
    We took a road trip with some friends through the Cascades mountain range east of Seattle. This trip was definitely one of the highlights of our time here thus far, with spectcular scenery and many varied sights. Our route took us through the mountains where the winter snow hasn't fully melted yet, through arid and relatively barren landscapes, alongside the Columbia River with several dams along the way and also to some very pleasant lake and hillside views. We also passed through a couple of towns which have been converted to theme, one "Bavarian style", another "Western style." It's all very kitsch and corny, but fine if you don't take it too seriously - like Las Vegas, it's "tacky done well".

    Highlights:
  • The Australian Shop in the German Town in the middle of the USA
  • Frolicking in snow by the side of the road in the 30°C heat
  • Taking stock the names of various small towns that we passed by or through: Startup, Index, Monitor, Concrete
  • Impressive dams along the Columbia river
  • Taking in the views of the snow-capped mountains
  • Road-side waterfalls as the snow melts


  • Fremont Midsummer Festival
    Our local highlight of the month was the Fremont festival - an annual event to celebrate the Summer Solstice. There's a street parade, stalls, decorated/arty cars and a pageant. A highlight and an unofficial institution of the festival is the pre-parade ride parade by cyclists who are wearing...well...pretty much nothing except whatever body paint and decoration they choose to adorn themselves with!

    As with all such things, there was a mixture of the cute, the clever and the just plain wacky. The effort some people put in really quite impressive, some of them were very creative and artistic, and you almost forget that they're naked! Some others were more on the slightly wacky side, but it was all great fun to watch! This unofficial part of the festivities is open to anyone, so there's a bit of a jokey challenge amongst our group of friends to join in next year!


    (Yes, he has a fish on his head)

    Camping at Mt. St. Helen's

    We went on another camping trip, this time to Mt. St. Helen's, a dormant volcano south of Seattle. We spent one day exploring a cave on the south side of the volcano that had been carved out by the lava flows millions of years ago, it was a great fun couple of hours scrambling over rock falls by torchlight and looking at the amazing rock formations and surfaces.

    We had plans to go to the north side to view the devastated landscape after the last eruption in the 1980's. But unfortunately we woke up to the sound of rain about 5am in the morning, and it didn't stop for the next few hours. The clouds were so low and it was continuing raining heavily, and there wouldn't have been any view worth seeing. So we got up, packed up all our things in the wet and headed home. Next time!



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    May 2007

    Port Townsend
    As the summer weather has been creeping in we've been going away on more frequent weekend trips, although it often seems best weather comes during the working week! We spent a weekend in an old logging town called Port Townsend. It's part old Victorian-style town, part hippy hangout, part country town. All in all it's a little quaint and eclectic, and quite fun to explore for a couple of days.

    It's closer to the ocean than in Seattle, so we enjoyed the unfamiliar salty sea-weedy smells and great views with lots of sailing boats. Then there were the various old Victorian-style buildings, as well as the salsa dancing display immediately outside our hotel, as well as the "free form" new-age dance concert we passed by in the park. To top it all off, every now and then we have a "classic-American-movie" moment - in this case, sitting in a both in an classic old fashioned ice creamery, we saw some local high school students all dressed up and ready to go to the "Prom". En route to and from Port Townsend, we experienced the novelty of driving onto a car ferry as well as stopping at another old logging town and an old military fort nearby.



    Camping at Orcas Island
    On another trip we went camping with friends on a nearby island. Unfortunately the weather wasn't so kind to us, so it was rather cool and then wet later in the weekend. But the sun did come out for a short while and we managed to go for a walk up the local mountain and get some great (albeit cloudy) views of the islands in the Puget Sound. Again, the drive there was interesting, with more car ferries!

    Snoqualmie Falls
    Closer to home, when we haven't been away, we've still been busy with more bike-riding and sight-seeing around town. Among our local sight-seeing ventures, a highlight has been the Snoqualmie Falls, a short drive from Seattle. It was by far the largest waterfall we've seen. We've not been to Niagara falls, but in fact Snoqualmie Falls is in fact taller (though not wider) than Niagara falls. The spray of water was truly awesome.


    Netball
    We've also been playing a bit of netball as well - it's not really played here in the US, but a club has been set up here by some Commonwealth ex-pats. We actually started in April, but played more regularly in May - we've spent several Saturday mornings out on the court playing socially and been meeting a whole lot of new people - mostly from Australia, NZ, England, Malaysia and other Commonwealth countries. Michael's found that his height works very well in his favour, and Michelle's discovered after years of hand-eye uncoordination, that she can actually shoot goals!

    Michael also actually made it into the Seattle Times newspaper the first time he ever played netball! (it's not immediately obvious, but he's there)
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    April 2007



    Comings and goings...
    It has been another busy social month for us, firstly with our friends Katie and Jon coming to stay and be our very first overseas guests in Seattle. Later in the month we headed down to San Francisco for a weekend. We not only caught up with our brothers and families, but also saw the touring group from the Australian Girls Choir who were in town. They performed at an Anzac service and Michelle spent an extra day catching up and sight-seeing around San Francisco with the choir.





    Biking around
    With the advent of Spring, the weather has gradually been becoming warmer and sunnier. Making the most of the sunny weekends and our newly acquired bike rack, we've been out on our bikes several times, taking in the sights around town and generally enjoying the sunshine and spring blossoms. More pictures on our photos page!



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    March 2007




    Las Vegas
    We spent a long weekend in Las Vegas with Michelle's siblings. We knew we had arrived when we exited the plane and and saw pokie machines in the airport lounge! We didn't actually gamble, nor did we get married (or re-married), although we did see a lot of brides wandering around... We saw a Cirque du Soleil show called "O", which was staged around a large pool of water (think "eau"). We also just enjoyed wandering around the main road, or The Strip, as it's called, and taking in all the wonderfully gimmicky glitz. Our highlights included re-creations of Venice, Paris, Rome, New York, a volcano, a pyramid complete with Sphinx and water fountain displays. As someone once said to us, it's "tacky done well!"

    Michael was disappointed to observe that the gondolas in "Venice" were not the real deal (they had attachments to make steering easier), but we were somewhat diverted by the Star Trek zone and the iPod vending machine.

    We got away from all the lights and razzle dazzle and drove out to the Hoover Dam, which was a very worthwhile half-day trip. We also visited the Red Rock Canyon, another interesting and impressive landscape nearby.




    Bonza Bash
    The Bonza Bash was a black tie affair held at the Seattle Space Needle and was organised by three Australian Microsofties. We got all frocked and suited up and enjoyed an evening at the top of the Space Needle with a great view of Seattle at night, music and free massages, and Australian treats - party pies, sausage rolls, lamingtons and pavlova.




    Bread Glorious Bread
    Another exciting development in our lives has been the arrival of our very own Baker's Delight franchise here in Seattle. It's actually called COBS here, but apart from that, everything is pretty much the same as in Australia, including the decor, the marketing, the products and the recipes.

    This might seem a little strange, but we are soooo excited - American bread just ain't the same. We are enjoying or (or looking forward enjoying) to Cheesymite scrolls, the fruit danishes, apple scrolls, pull aparts, hot cross buns - all these things that aren't common here. Who ever would have thought we'd get so nostalgic about a bakery chain? Then again, it's not just any chain or just any bread...we'll never look at a Baker's Delight in the same way again!

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    February 2007



    Cabin Camping
    We went away with some friends for a weekend for a camping trip, a couple of hours' drive north of Seattle. Well, it wasn't really camping since we had nice warm and cosy cabins. It was a lot of fun (and a little cold) exploring the local area, picnicking and generally hanging out. Our scenic delights (or otherwise) included a historic bridge and the surrounding scenery, an oil refinery across the lake and a sea lion which followed the boats into shore. You can see more pictures on our photos page and we've also made a slideshow movie of the weekend.


    Deception Pass Bridge. Information about it can be found here



    Ice Hockey
    With the same group of friends, we ventured into another cultural experience by attending an ice hockey game. We enjoyed watching the spectacle and trying to figure out the rules, and the Seattle team won so most people there were happy! Some of our highlights and observations included:


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    January 2007




    Walking in a Winter Wonderland
    Three days after our return to Seattle we had a big dump of snow - a lot more than November 2006. The white snow-laden world which greeted us the next day was simply stunning. It's stating the obvious, but it was great to notice how the snow really does blanket absolutely everything. A few days later it snowed again, and then again a few days after that, so all in all we ended up having a full week with snow on the ground. Needless to say it's still very much a novelty for us and since we're walking distance from work and the bus stop, we enjoyed hosting friends who got stranded with the bad traffic conditions, making a (small) snowman, going to see the local impromptu toboggan park, taking lots and lots of photos. In fact we took so many photos that we've created a special gallery of Snow photos.




    The Great Seattle Outdoors
    The weather has been cold but also been quite fine, so we've taken advantage of sunny weekends and have continued exploring various parklands around Seattle, often with friends. We seem to have been following a theme of lookouts and beaches (not to the ocean, but to the Puget Sound network of lakes) as well as exploring local neighbourhoods along the way. Just randomly, on one occasion, we met a woman carrying a green Bi-Lo bag from Australia! (turns out she's a flight attendant who sometimes goes to Sydney)




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