With 2 months left of living in New York and 6 weeks on the road across the southern end of the States after that, we are feverishly trying to fit in some extra travel. The week before school starts back in our district sees us spending 6 nights in Florida split between Key West and Miami.
We have been to Florida before but really, I think Disney World needs to be reclassified as its own state. Whenever I said to anyone that we’re going to Florida, the assumption is that we’re going to Disney. I am happy to say, a trip to Disney is not on the itinerary.
The drive down from Miami airport, along the Everglades National Park and the Overseas Highway was quite spectacular.
The beaches in the Keys are mostly man-made and the longest beach in Key West, Smathers Beach, is topped up with sand shipped in from the Bahamas every couple of years after it has washed away! But what Key West lacks in natural beaches it makes up for in colour, coffee, attitude, chickens (just walking around everywhere), drag shows and tropical flora and fauna.
During our wanderings we stumbled across the gardens at The West Martello Tower. Check out these tropical offerings, most of which were found inside the bricked walls..
Key West was a fantastic little get away and a bit of a step back in time. Duval St is the main tourist thoroughfare but we found that a block or two in either direction served us a lot better. Less drunk/stoned people, less carved wooden penises hanging at eye level and better food!
The highlights of our 3 days in Miami were a trip to the Everglades National Park, the beach, the art deco buildings on and around Collins Avenue and our bus tour driver who was very in the know with regard to where various movies had been shot and left Special K and I with a hankering to watch Scarface!
View from our hotel room
A Cuban cigar factor
A visitor on the Everglades
Isn’t he cute?
Ten four rubber ducky.
Just hanging in the sun.
We only got to see a tiny part of the Everglades but one of the things I love about all of our traveling is seeing environments that I have never seen before – the Everglades was certainly that.
This trip was instigated by Special K and it probably really wasn’t on my radar, aside from the Everglades. I am a Winter lover so the thought of spending any time in Florida during Summer was pretty unappealing to me. But it was definitely worth it.
And just like that, our time living in the USA is almost over!
Special K’s contract has been extended for 3 months and he officially finishes up at the end of October. After a Farewell Tour of approximately 6 weeks we will be home for a Christmas with absolutely no chance of snow!
It’s hard to know how to feel. So much has happened since we landed in July 2015 that we are forever changed by this experience and of course, that was the whole point. The people and places of this city, state and country are now a permanent part of our families history and the life we have led here a part of the fabric that feeds our world view. There have been periods where all we wanted to do was envelop our children in our embrace, make haste to the Qantas terminal and never come back. There were also times (admittedly not as many) when we thought we would stay longer.
It’s the right time for us.
I always envisioned flying out of NY for the last time, gazing back over the city that I have been so blessed to become familiar with and shedding a few tears. The impending Farewell Tour Road Trip has put paid to that made for movies moment but those nostalgic pangs will still be fully felt as we drive our hire car out over the Hudson River on the The George Washington Bridge (even though it makes no sense to go that way, I will insist!) on our final American adventure.
Of course my mind is already going in a million different directions and the lists are well and truly underway. Coordinating the move, finding new homes for most of the electrical items and furniture we’ve purchased here, disconnecting services, changing subscriptions, wondering what is in our storage lockers in Australia that we have lived without for 2 and half years, enrolling kids in school (Master P for the first time in Australia), car shopping, attempting to get new flooring organised once the tenant moves out of our house in Australia, what has changed and what has stayed the same about our suburb, our friends, family and us. What are we taking from this experience and how will it change the way we live our lives going forward?
The things I knew about Utah before travelling to Utah can be listed as follows:
Desert – cacti and orange, sandy soil, not much water
Rocks – funny shaped towers of rock called Hoodoos
Mormons – approximately 62% of the population according to Lord Wiki
And now, having traveled through southern Utah for a week with Harvey the RV (I take no responsibility for the naming of this poor defenseless RV), all I can say is that it is a beautiful place.
Harvey the RV was a hit! I even managed to drive for a short stretch but I had to draw the line at driving on the highways. The cross winds were just too much for me to get my head around without the image of us plowing off the road, across the desert, Joshua Trees being knocked into the air and Harvey ending up on his side with ramen noodle cups and Crayola supplies strewn from hither to thither. Not pretty.
Special K did a stellar job of handling Harvey over the 850 miles of our amazing trip, not just the driving but all of the less glamorous chores as well such as emptying the poo pipe and making sure we were balanced so that the fridge worked.
I’m not going to prattle on too much because the photos will speak for themselves. Utah is just stunning. And some of it so familiar, I assume due to the number of times we were forced have watched movies from the Cars movie franchise, Radiator Springs having been inspired by a number of places including parts of Utah.
Introducing Utah, no filters, no editing, bit of shabby lighting here and there…
Utah. Just gorgeous.
PS Yes, some of the photos are out of chronological order but my brain hurts and WordPress, sometimes you just make it too hard!
Since we’ve been living here in the States, we have often discussed what we will do when we find out we will be coming back home to Australia. Early on we sewed a tiny seed of an idea about Special K seeing out his contract, packing everything up and into the container for shipping to Australia, handing our keys back to the landlord and then taking off in an RV/motor home for 6 to 8 weeks, heading south and then west, ending in Las Vegas to board our flight to Melbourne.
The closest we have ever come to this style of travel is a few short weekends spent in a camper trailer back in Aus, with varying degrees of success. And by that I mean we just barely managed not to kill each other. The set up was a pain, we didn’t really sleep well and everything seemed harder because you knew there was zero privacy when staying in a campground with a bazillion other people.
In an attempt to be smart about this proposed trip, we decided that we would need to have a short test run, perhaps a week in an RV so we waited for an appropriate vacation to crop up where this would work. As a result of doing a fair bit of travelling around since we have been here, we are forever receiving sales calls with different offers pertaining to travel, timeshare presentations, cheap hotel deals etc. Special K called me one day with ‘a great deal’ and would I prefer a 3 night stay in Orlando or Las Vegas. He was quite shocked when I said Las Vegas. Sure, LV is not the first place you think of to take a 6 and 9 year old however many things within close proximity are. I suggested that we add a week of RV travel onto the 3 nights. The Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam and the vastly different terrain of the desert appealed to me very much so the plan was hatched for another USA adventure.
We researched Class C (can be driven with a regular licence) RV’s for hire and eventually signed up a Ford Four Winds 25 footer. Our criteria was fairly basic however with Miss E having lately embarked on her first hormone charged, pre teen daily mood swings, we needed to have a bit of space. This is the floor plan of said beast (the RV, not Miss E):
Miss E has the bunk over the cab and Master P sleeps on the fold out sofa. The sofa is the only bed we have to set up each night so in terms of setting up, it’s pretty easy. My litmus test for sleeping arrangements is if the kids are far enough away from SK that they can sleep through his snoring, then it’s a WIN!
The prices are pretty reasonable (with a large refundable bond), but as we do not have a shed full of camping equipment with us, we had to add various inclusions such as kitchen equipment, bedding, towels and general cleaning gear. All of this was easily available through the RV hire company but did add a little to the cost. Also, these beasts guzzle fuel and at approximately 8 miles per gallon you need to ensure that this cost is included in your budgeting.
We chose to travel over Spring Break and Easter which gave us the perfect amount of time and after much negotiating between taking the RV to California or Utah, we decided on the latter and left NY with an itinerary that we were all looking forward to experiencing.
Las Vegas – 3 nights at the Elara Hilton Grand Vacations
Utah – 6 nights at various RV parks (booked ahead of stay) just outside of National Parks
Total trip = approximately 850 miles
There really is a lot to do for families in Las Vegas. The casinos themselves offer a feast for the eyes with all of their themed over the topness and it’s also a good time to have an incidental conversation about the evils of gambling. 🙂
Our kids are used to us dragging them around for walks to see what we can see and although it never prevents them whining about it when we tell them what we’re doing for the day, they inevitably find something that they enjoy. Master P is an avid little photographer so I give him my phone and he snaps away, happily creating videos and taking photos of things that I probably wouldn’t. His favourite place to do so in Vegas was probably the Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Garden. There Japanese Spring display is stunning with over 65,000 blooms, finches and koi fish. Here are a few of his shots.
Amongst the hundreds of shows in Vegas, there are a large number that are family friendly with Circ du Soleil, magic and illusion shows, music and variety shows.
We chose the following:
The Tournament of Kings dinner show at Excalibur makes all of your King Arthur dreams come true with seats surrounding a large arena where, whilst eating a chicken with your hands and drinking beer from a (plastic) Stein, you witness jousting, hand to hand combat and dancing girls. We were seated in the Austria section and cheered on our hunky knight of the round table with gusto. Miss E in particular loved this experience and cheered like she was at an Anzac Day AFL match. Master P spent most of the performance with his fingers in his ears after a few surprise explosive effects but still enjoyed the spectacle.
Nathan Burton, winner of America’s Got Talent, doesn’t disappoint with his magic and illusion show, complete with showgirl assistants (one of which is his wife), card tricks, escaping from a strait jacket and many other traditional with a twist magic tricks. Master P was a little disappointed at not being chosen to participate in the show but talked about it with rapture for days afterwards.
The LV Variety Show was a last minute decision, it started late and we were all a bit tired and emotional by the time it got underway. The hosts were a couple of blokes going by the name of The Crazy Gauchos and I swear I have seen them before. They were hilarious and introduced each act with gusto and had a few surprises of their own. We’re pretty sure the majority of the acts were performers from Circ du Soleil so lots of physically impressive performances including juggling, people balancing on each other and hurling each other around. A bit of comedy thrown in for good measure too.
For a bit of down time throughout the three days we swam in the pool, went to the Downtown Container Park, walked parts of The Strip, visited the ‘old Strip’ (Freemont Street) and went bowling while we waited for our RV to be ready. Honestly, aside from the exposure to slot machines (kids are not allowed in the gambling areas of the casinos however the slot machines are very visible wherever you are – they’re at the airport for heaven’s sake!) the kids didn’t see anything that they wouldn’t see in Times Square, NY. Except maybe this…
Keep looking… in the middle of the photo with the white bag over his shoulder. Don’t be too concerned, he’s not completely starkers. He’s wearing a one sided, leopard print mankini. The kids were kind of in awe of him, doing his up and down laps of Freemont St.
And some of the signs that the beggars held up, referring to their ‘needs’ were just very very wrong but I kept my mum eyes scanning and guided the kids eyes in another direction. NY homeless are NEVER offensive with their signs!! Respect.
The piece de resistance was our trip with Papillion Helicopters over Hoover Dam, the Mojave Desert and the western rim of the Grand Canyon, including limousine hotel transfers and champagne breakfast in the canyon itself. Special K had done a similar ride during one of his ‘business trips’ to Vegas and was confident Master P, a hater of loud noises, could handle it. I won’t rave on too much about how awesome this experience was however, when we considered the cost of doing this with our travelling mantra ‘we are never going to be here again’, it was money well spent and something that I will never forget.
Do not expect that picking up your RV hire takes about the same time as picking up a car hire. There are videos to watch, paperwork to complete, tour of your home away from home, kids opening and closing every available door, transfer of luggage and amenities, figuring out whose phone is going to provide GPS and whose Spotify playlist will be up first etc etc. All up about 2 hours and then another hour at the local Walmart Superstore for groceries and pyjamas (always with the buying of pyjamas!!).
Early on in our relationship, Special K and I had a bit of a stand off at a supermarket. I believe we were in Footscray, where I was living with a friend at the time and we needed to pick up a couple of grocery items. We pulled in, I turned the engine off and we both went to get out of the car.
“You’re not coming.” I said, followed by the kind of shit storm that I’m sure is often witnessed in general suburban parking lots all over the world.
You see, Special K and I are very different shoppers. He likes to browse, compare prices, move on to a different aisle, come back to compare again, compare the pricing to the national average, look at all the pretty things… and I like to run in, find my preferred brands with laser like precision, slam them all through the self serve register and be back in the car quick sticks.
In Australia there are 4 main supermarkets. Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and your local store, maybe an IGA. There are many many more supermarkets in the USA. King Kullen, ShopRite, Best Market, Costco, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Stop n Shop, Waldbaums, Shop Delight etc. Add to that the large Jewish population in our area that necessitates kosher supermarkets and the fact that Target sells groceries and it can all get a little overwhelming to find everything you need.
I have had to spend way too much time in supermarkets here.There are items I can’t get (seriously, I’d give something of substantial value for a supply of thickened cream), things that I think don’t exist here only to find that they are called something completely different and a world of products and brands that I’ve never heard of.
And then there are items on the shelves that are just kind of interesting and wrong.
You can only imagine how much time Special K takes in a supermarket now!!!! *eyeroll*
I love Christmas. Music, decor, creating traditions, gift giving, fancy wrapping, lights, trees, food, family, – the whole gosh darn lot.
This year is our second Christmas in the States and the first that our family will be spending all on our ownsome. Last year Special K’s parents visited which was fantastic and seriously life saving. We had been here 6 months, Mum had died 7 weeks before and having Pa B and Grandma G here was exactly what we needed. I recall the morning after they arrived, SK had gone to work and I just spewed all of my emotions and grief out to them. A few days later they could see that SK and I were really struggling and they minded the kids while we caught a show.
I really don’t know how we would have coped without them here last Christmas.
This year we have decided to have pyjama day Christmas. The kids are stoked because it means that they get to spend the day playing with their bevy of new books/games/toys. THE WHOLE DAY.
We have plenty of family traditions that we have continued here but we have also been able to add some new ones. One of the main things that we do is have an Advent Calendar. Not a store bought, open the window and eat a chocolate calendar but one that I plan myself and although sometimes I am completely disorganised and wish I had never done it, most of the time it really is a joy. It’s a great tool to use to inject the spirit of giving into Christmas. Although I was raised Catholic and my children have been baptized, we are not at all religious. But I do think that it’s important that they understand the story behind the occasion and tap into their community spirit.
The first 12 days of our Advent Calendar this year are as follow:
Day 1 – Welcome to the Family Advent Calendar for 2016. Choose 2 books from the Christmas book pile and we will read them before bed tonight.
Every year I buy a couple more Christmas books, whether they are new or finds that I come across at Op Shops. It’s been fun buying New York centric Christmas books that, when we eventually move back to Australia, will remind us all of the Christmases we spent in the USA. We also have books about the origins of Christmas and other religious celebrations. I then wrap them all up and keep them near the Christmas tree and the kids open 1 or 2 a day for the whole of December and we read them together. They love it, even the board books that they had when they were toddlers.
Day 2 – The Christmas Art Board is looking a little empty. Pick a colouring page and brighten up the kitchen.
Found some great colouring pages here this year but there are always a billion of them around either online or in book and dollar stores.
Day 3 – We’re going to visit Gingerbread Lane in Queens today. It’s won the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest gingerbread village for the last 3 years!
Pick a local Christmas event and HIT IT HARD!
Day 4 – Wear a Christmas headband all day today
We’ve got a few of these, including a Santa beard and hat. If you wanted to make this an arts and crafts activity you could do that too. It’s always good to inject a little bit of silly into the occasion.
Day 5 – Choose a gift that you think a child your age would like and we will buy it and donate it to a children’s charity.
After we opened this one we changed our minds. We decided to buy winter coats in sizes the same as the kids and donate them to the school coat drive instead.
Day 6 – Write some Happy Holiday cards to your classmates today.
Yes, Happy Holidays because we live in a diverse neighborhood (and by diverse I mean, 90% Jewish!) and we respect the heck out of that and Hanukkah starts on Christmas Eve this year.
Day 7 – Hang the Mistletoe – kisses for everyone!
Mistletoe has never been a Christmas tradition in our house but last year as I was lining up at Trader Joe’s, there it was hanging above the happy cashier. I didn’t kiss him but I threw some into the trolley and Master P went mad for it! He’s such a special little snuggler, particularly when Miss E’s friends are over!
Day 8 – Write a secret note to each member of the family and hide it somewhere so they’ll find it later in the day.
The beauty of the Advent Calendar – simple things are often the best.
Day 9 – Make some Christmas snacks today.
Decorate pre-made cookies or make a complicated Christmas Pudding, there’s a Christmas snack for everyone! We made Oreo Peppermint Bark and no, I do not have a photo.
Day 10 – Tonight we will go for a drive and check out other people’s Christmas decorations.
We have to travel a little outside our immediate vicinity to find some other houses decorated for Christmas but it was worth it just to here the kids yell “There’s some” as we drove past a street and watch SK trying to get back there without ending up in a dead end street.
Day 11 – Decorate the Gingerbread House with Daddy today
SK travels a lot so I have to refer to his schedule to make sure he is included in things. This has become a tradition for the kids and him and, even though the kids usually end up arguing and he goes slightly insane… that’s part of the tradition!
Day 12 – Make a card for your teacher today.
Officially, we’re not allowed to give teachers gifts so the PTA organizes everyone to make a cash donation and they purchase gift cards. But a card made with love and some Oreo Peppermint Bark might find it’s way onto a couple of desks.
So, that’s our first 12 days. What traditions do you have at this time of year?
I have no right to comment on the election results of the United States of America. I’m an Aussie who has exactly zero interest in politics of any kind. Be that the official kind or the game playing corporate environment kind. Or as it turns out the PTA!
Please take this as a giant disclaimer for everything I’m about to say.
In my small circle of friends and listening in on other people’s conversations over the past 16 months, almost all of them were voting for Trump. I recently did a road trip from Atlanta, Georgia to New York by way of North Carolina, Virginia, Washington DC, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey. We didn’t see a Hillary Clinton sign until we got to New Jersey!
I did not watch any of the debates. Pretty much everything I’ve read was only headlines and media grabs. I did not delve into the Hillary emails, the Trump lawsuits – etc etc. My political leanings are definitely to the way left (or as a USA ‘political typology’ survey I just took said, Strong Liberal) but I have always been politically ignorant. By choice really because I do not find any sincerity amongst politicians. At all. It’s all about power and money and I just don’t have the stomach for it.
However, I will say this. I think Trump is a smart and strategic man who knew exactly what to say in order to get the votes that he needed to become the President. He has openly noted that he identifies more with Democrats but the GOP seems to have suited his requirements to the letter.
The everyday proclamations that this is the best country in the world are overshadowed by widespread political and big business corruption, racism, gun violence, intolerance, and a complete lack of empathy and kindness. The world as a whole, unless you follow the USA news, state by state and to a local level (which is nigh on impossible) barely knows the tip of the iceberg. At a very finite level Special K and I have witnessed behaviours that absolutely astound us. African Americans being refused seats on trains. Our children being ‘accused’ of being popular only because they are Australian and on the flip side being excluded from social activities for the same reason. If I shared every news report of a shooting on Facebook, it would be all I ever posted. And they’re just the ones that are reported.
The conversations that I have seen occurring in the media over the last couple of days have been really interesting. The media themselves are highlighting that they are probably a part of the problem in that their vast representation is of the east coast and the west coast exclusively. One pundit quite reasonably questioned that when a TV reporter is asked to get public opinion via those walking around 6th Avenue, NYC, that opinion is likely never to be that of the ‘Trumpland’ public. When that’s the view you’re representing it’s absolutely no wonder that the election resulted as it did. They were asking the wrong people. They should’ve been out in rural Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Alabama and they may have had their predictions a little closer to the mark. Local newsrooms and resources have been annihilated over the past 10 years.
Something radical needs to change, not just in America but in the media and in this instance, I find myself being a little optimistic. Very unlike me. Perhaps a Trump led change is exactly what is needed and he will prove himself to be up to the task OR perhaps at the end of his term the very kind of rock bottom that this country needs to face will prevail and they can then vote someone in as a reaction to that.
Don’t get me wrong, the man makes my skin crawl. Some of the things that have come out of his mouth are completely indefensible. I just think we all need to take a collective three breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. What’s done is done. In the face of such tremendous opposing views, with a population so great that it technically could be split into 7 different countries, it’s a tough gig, for anyone. Let’s just wait and see.
PS Baby goats in woolly jumpers – I just can’t stop googling them.