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August 2009

Wrapping up in Seattle

We have spent much of the month busily packing up and preparing for our upcoming travel adventure, but we've also fit in various leisure activities on the weekends as well. Early in the month we went down down to San Francisco for one last weekend with the family. Back in Seattle we've enjoyed some of our favourite activities one last time - a hike, a bike ride, a picnic. Of course we're incredibly excited about seeing more of the world, but Seattle - we'll miss you!

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July 2009

Mount St. Helen's
Mount St. Helen's is a volcano not far from Seattle that last erupted in 1980. Ever since our camping trip there two years ago was rudely rained out, we have been wanting to go back to see the blast site, but never quite gotton there. But finally this year, we headed up for the July 4 long weekend. This time we were not disappointed - we had gloriously fine - even hot - weather, and the blast site and the surrounding scenery were quite spectacular. It was also interesting to observe the bulge in the middle of the crater that has been slowly pushing upwards since the explosion some 30 years ago. With the warm weather and the barren landscape, it almost felt more like Australia than northwest Washington state.



 
Quebec and Montreal
Michael's parents came for their annual visit, and this year we all headed to southeast Canada to visit Quebec city and Montreal. We had a fabulous trip, bumbling around with our tourist French (although most people can also speak English) and enjoying the sights. With our big travel adventure looming, before we went found ourselves feeling almost nochalant about this trip, but we found that once we were on the road, it simply whet our appetite for more - sure, we could do this for a year!

Our highlights included:
  • Exploring old Quebec city - gorgeously picturesque old European-style streets and buildings, captivating murals and a historic fort which is still used as a military training base.
  • A free outdoor Cirque du Soleil show in Quebec - three different starting points in nearby streets, all congregating to a common point. Classic Cirque with spectacular circus and lighting displays all under a huge freeway.
  • Exploring areas just outside Quebec - the impressively tall Montmorency Falls (taller than Niagara Falls), as well as a small island which retains much of an old world country charm, having been only been connected to the mainland in 1940.
  • Bicycle riding around Montreal - Montreal is definitely the most bicycle-friendly city we've seen so far. There's an impressive network of bicycle paths and lanes, with great secure riding on the roads.
  • Encountering the annual comedy festival in Montreal - in addition to whatever comedy shows that were on, there were all sorts of entertainers and street performers in several streets that were blocked off to cars. Even on a weeknight, there were people everywhere and a fantastic festive atmosphere.



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    June 2009

    Cama Beach State Park
    We went away with a group of friends to Camano Island, an easy drive north from Seattle. We stayed in simple cabins in a picturesque setting right on the shore facing out to the Puget Sound. With such a beautiful setting, the weekend was spent in glorious nothingness - a couple of leisurely walks,taking turns in a motorised rowboat, flying kites, a bit of bocce, soccer and footy, and just plain old sitting around - wonderful!

    Photo: David Kean

    Photo: Jack Kean



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    May 2009

    Southwest Washington
    With the weather finally starting to get better around Seattle and Washington state, we are having increasing opportunities for outdoor activities. One particularly fine weekend we took a road trip out to the coast in the southwest corner of Washington state and just over the Columbia River into Oregon. As during many of our trips along the US coast, we spent much of our time exploring beaches, military forts and lighthouses (including Washington's tallest). We also enjoyed driving through numerous small towns, fishing communities and what is reputedly the world's longest beach.

     


    Boston
    We went to Boston for a long weekend, and were joined there by Elaine and Scott, Michelle's sister and brother-in-law for all sorts of goofy fun. We enjoyed exploring Boston - it was an easy city to navigate by foot, and there were lots of public outdoor spaces, al fresco dining and interesting buildings - both historic and more recent. We were also struck by the number of Irish pubs! Our activities included:

  • Walking the Freedom Trail - the classic Boston tourist activity - a self-guided tour through many of the significant sites in American history.
  • Visiting Harvard University and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) - we especially enjoyed the modern and sometimes zany architecture around the MIT campus.
  • Catching a ferry out to a nearby island and visiting - you guessed it- an old military fort. This particular fort dates back to the Civil War era, and had an impressively large parade ground in the middle. We also enjoyed the view looking back to the Boston harbour from the ferry.
  • Hiring bikes and riding from a suburb of Boston out to Lexington, a key town in the Independence War.


  • Michelle goes to Philadelphia
    As it so happened, immediately after our Boston trip, Michelle had a conference in Philadelphia,so she continued down the East coast for a few days. Philadelphia has a typical bustling American city feel to it - without having quite as many attractions as as New York or Boston, there wascertainly enough to make it worth spending a couple extra days, including:

  • More historic sites - Philadelphia was the seat of the first American government, and is also the city where the Declaration of Independence was made and the Constitution was written
  • Philadelphia Art Museum - one of the top museums in America, and also the opening scene of the film Rocky (although that particular significance is lost on me)
  • Hiring a bicycle and riding along the river front and creekland - besides the art museum, there was an impressive cemetery and picturesque bridges
  • Some more random sights such as a decommissioned military ship and submarine, and a somewhat zany, colourful art installation in a former hippie neighbourhood.
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    April 2009

    Islands and Forts
    We took a short weekend road trip north-west to visit a couple of islands near Seattle (Whidbey and Marrowstone Islands), where we visited several state parks which are home to former military forts from the late 19th centuray and World War II situated at the mouth of the Puget Sound. We enjoyed exploring the old fort batteries - each fort was similar but different to the others, like variations on a theme. Being at the defensive points of the islands, we had also stunning views out over the Sound. We especially enjoyed one walk that was not actually at a fort, but took us up on a bluff alongside open farmlands and then meandered along and further upwards to overlook a lagoon - it was one of those breathtaking sights that one would never imagined to come across (well, except that we did, thanks to our guide book!).



     

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    March 2009

    Tucson, Arizona
    We took a long weekend down in sunny Arizona, in which we drove from Phoenix down to Tucson. It was the perfect time of year to be visiting Arizona - the weather was simply glorious (contented sigh...aaahhh), with beautiful warm days and plenty of sunshine - a stark contrast to cold grey drizzly Seattle weather (Certainly, living in Seattle we have learned to obsess about the weather and have a new appreciation of the sun!).

    We found Tucson to be very pleasant - a little European (as far as American cities go), a little arty, and actually fairly quiet, probably as befits a small university city. We enjoyed the warmth and sunshine, visited several sights in and about town, including:

  • BioSphere 2, a re-creation of earthly environments that a group of people lived in during the 1990's, closed off from the outside world. It's now a research facility and open to the public for tours. Its success as a scientific experiment is contentious, nevertheless, we were impressed by the structure itself and the amount of effort that went into creating the internal landscapes.
  • A former nuclear missile launch site from the Cold War period - no longer active, it's now a museum.
  • Pima Air and Space Museum - with an impressive collection of aeroplanes and other aircraft, it was even more enjoyable for half of it being outdoors. We also dropped by an aeroplane graveyard at a nearby Air Force base - rows upon rows of decommissioned aircraft in a field
  • State and National Parks where we went hiking. One of the most striking features were the cacti. Those classic desert plants were an impressive sight dotted all over the Arizonian landscape - some were very tall, and of course, they all looked very prickly!



  • Chow family rendezvous
    Michelle's parents visited the USA for the month of March, and while they spent most of their time in San Francisco, they also made a quick cross-country circuit to visit New York and Seattle. We enjoyed having them with us for a weekend, and fortunately the weather even cleared sufficiently to take in the best sights that Seattle has to offer (even the clouds lifted and the mountains came "out", in Seattle-speak). While playing city hosts, we also enjoyed a new Seattle tourist experience ourselves - the Underground tour - which we have had on our to-do list ever since we moved here, but until now, have never quite got around to doing.

    A few days later the entire family descended on San Francisco where we enjoyed some time together - celebrating Ernie's birthday, meeting our new nephew, some low-key sight-seeing around San Francisco and simply just hanging out all together.
     



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    February 2009

    Sacramento
    We took a quick weekend trip down to Sacramento, the capital city of California, or, as our friend Katherine put it - "home of Arnie!" Well okay, we didn't actually see Arnold Schwarzeneggar, but we did see the outside of his office (pictured at right) when we toured the Capitol building.

    We found Sacramento to be a pleasant city - nothing overly fancy but enough interesting sights and civic spaces to fill a weekend quite happily. We went for a bike ride one day, first through the tree-lined streets of one of the neighbourhoods and then along a river trail. We also enjoyed the novelty of staying on a paddle steamer which has been converted to a hotel.


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    January 2009

    Las Vegas and surrounds
    A few weeks after returning from Australia, we escaped chilly Seattle by flying down to Las Vegas for a weekend. We saw a Cirque du Soleil show one night, and then ventured up to the top of the tower of our "Stratosphere" hotel for a high-in-the-sky view, whereupon we shuddered in sympathy with the adrenalin junkies on the amusement rides 350 metres above street level.

    Having been to Las Vegas previously, we didn't feel the need to spend so much time in town. Instead, we spent most of our time visiting Red Rock Canyon and Valley of Fire. It was quite striking that we could drive less than an hour away from Las Vegas and feel like we were heading into the middle of nowhere (it is in the middle of the desert, after all). As usual, we spent our time hiking, scrambling and scampering around in the sun. The landscape and multi-coloured rock formations were quite stunning, especially in Valley of Fire - we could certainly appreciate why several sci-fi movies have been filmed there.
     


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