London Calling

After 2 flights (a quick 45min stop over in Iceland) we made it to the Motherland.  We only got a sense of Iceland from the airport but it looked very barren, no other buildings in sight.
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We were staying with friends Amanda and Katie for the first few days.

Unfortunately due to lack of sleep on the flight (even the Icelandic lullaby on the pillow didn’t help) the first thing we did at their flat was have a nap.
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Not to worry we made up for it later with a night out, and our first and last London black cab trip.

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There are loads of markets all around the city that we liked wandering through. Camden market was great to see on the weekend, it was full of people and it covers such a big area with so many stalls filling the sides of cobbled streets.
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We spent a lot of time in Borough market, more of just a food market, on a couple of days. A real mix of cuisines on offer like these bulk made curries.
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It was a tough decision for lunch but the duck confit sandwich was delish!

If only we had room to finish off with a giant meringue for dessert.
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We could have happily eaten there every day (you even get a good view of The Shard which is Europes tallest building but looked smaller than a lot of others we’d seen in the states)

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Sunday called for a nice drive in the country so we hopped in the car with Amanda and Katie and headed for the coast. 

We stopped at the White Cliffs of Dover, renowned for being a great landmark for travellers entering the country by ship.  The chalky cliffs are kept white by the sea winds which prevent grass growing on them. 

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On a clear day you can see across the English Channel to the French coast (not possible on our visit).

Our next stop was Canterbury and a pub lunch before we took a walk through the Canterbury Cathedral, mothership of the Anglican Church.

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It’s such a magnificent building, we didn’t realise the true size of it until we got inside and saw the height of the ceiling.

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It’s incredible to think that it was built hundreds of years ago, it houses tombs of archbishops from the 1200’s.
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Being in London of course there were plenty of sights to see, and statues to imitate.
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We needed to make sure we had a big breaky to fuel us for the day (don’t worry only had it once). Highlight of this meal was when going up to pay being greeted by “You aiiiight guv’nor?”

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It was fun walking the edge of St. James park towards Buckingham Palace.
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The flag on the Palace was raised, meaning the Queen was in residence.

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Trafalgar square was bustling with people and traffic, its a great place to enjoy a slice of sunshine.
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Harrods was very impressive, didn’t quite realise how many different types of everything they would have. Would be a good place to have a wedding registry!

We loved looking at the food section, definitely a good reason to buy morning tea.
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Matt even made a friend there.
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Shakespeares Globe Theatre looks a little out of place surrounded by big brick buildings but it remains a popular tourist spot and still holds productions.
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We almost walked straight past Big Ben thinking it was another church tower but realised in time to take a couple of pics of it and the Parliament Buildings as well as neighbouring Westminster Abbey.
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Brick Lane was said to be a fun experience so we had dinner there with friends Michael and Georgia.

Essentially its a stretch of street lined with Indian restaurants and they all try to bargain a special deal with you as you walk past. I think what we learned was that it was the same deal at each place!

We’d heard about the many museums and galleries around the city, but only managed to get to a couple during our visit.

The National Portrait Gallery was great. It had an exhibition on covering a pictorial history of England throughout the ages.
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As well as the older works of kings, queens, parliamentarians, there were also Andy Warhols, a recent portrait of William and Harry and THE original Kate Middleton portrait. Unfortunately no photos were allowed so couldn’t get a pic beside the princess.

We also went through the Natural History Museum which covers so much info from dinosaurs, stones and gems, birds from around the world to butterflies and insects. The building itself is impressive too, lovely architecture that houses a huge dinosaur skeleton in the main entrance
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There are some nice walks along the Thames, and it’s a good way to get perspective of the modern buildings amongst the old.
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This led us to Tower Bridge, where we both decided one of the towers would be a great place to have an apartment. Ok so the parking wouldn’t be great but the view would be pretty unique.
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The Tower of London itself was very popular the day we visited (especially with lots of school groups) so we decided not to go in, we can save that for our next trip.

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To get around London apart fom walking we spent at least an hour a day on the Tube. Despite all our London resident friends complaints it works pretty well, and is fast and easy to get around. To be fair though we mainly avoided peak time travel.

The big finale to our time in London was the Ascot races. Not the greatest day in terms of the weather (we only used our picnic blanket as a makeshift umbrella) but lots of fun to have the day out with Amanda, Katie, Eric and Pip.

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We didn’t see the Queen or place any bets but then again we probably did enough gambling in Vegas! You might ask what we wore, well for Rach the occasion called for a new dress and a pair of £6 shoes. On the other hand apart from undies, socks and a belt Matt borrowed his entire ensemble from Erics friend Andrew. Who knew he suited red pants.

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While not the prettiest / nicest city we have visited by a long shot, we now understand that many kiwis put up with the terrible weather and high cost of living for pretty much one reason, being access to Europe travel. In addition to this there is a huge amount of world class activities events concerts etc happening almost every night of the week.

Our 11 nights in London was the longest stint we’ve had in one place so far on our trip and we couldn’t have done it without bunking down with friends.

Thank you so much to Amanda, Katie, Michael, Georgia, Eric and Pip for having us stay.

Remember we’d love to catch up again somewhere in Europe.

Bye for now America

Burlington, Vermont was our last stop in America. It took a bit longer to get there than expected, an 8 hour train trip from New York turned into 12 hours due to having to change the engine 3 times.

After changing our initial plan to pop up to Montreal Canada for 2 nights (all this moving around does get tiring sometimes), friends James and Amanda put us up for the 5 nights. Matt had a lot of fun playing a mix of table tennis and xbox as well as taking Lucy and Lola for a run.

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You two have an amazing house, a real slice of American suburbia.

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We commented later that we felt like we were on Wisteria Lane, thanks so much for having us stay.

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It was great to relax and put some time into researching the Europe leg of our trip. We managed to sneak in cooking a few meals which was fun while we stayed.

We also grabbed a nice rental car for not much $ ( new Passat for Mark’s benefit)
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Did some wandering around the town which had a nice pedestrian mall.

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We’ve had some queries into our luggage situation and we are pleased to say that we haven’t checked our bag for any transport, carry-on all the way still going strong!

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We’re going to make it a lifelong ambition to keep travelling this way.

It was a quick stop in Boston to make the most of an airline lounge dinner then bye to America, London here we go.

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New York, New York

We managed to squeeze in a quick stop in New York, 3 nights wasn’t going to be long but we did pretty well seeing what we aimed to. 

The World Trade Centre site was an obvious calling card.  They have done a great job preserving the site as a memorial. There are 2 water statues, 1 for each of the North and South towers with the same footprint as the original towers. These have victims names engraved which creates quite a tranquil atmosphere.
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In terms of moving forward they have almost completed work in the 1st of 4 towers being built on the site.  Each is going to be a different shape and height. This one is now apparently the tallest building in North America.
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Already in the financial district we took a walk down Wall Street, nice old buildings but not really much to see.
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We couldn’t be in New York without seeing the Statue of Liberty, so we took the Staten Island ferry which passes in front of the statue to give a pretty good look (that is, a good view without paying for a tour!).  We were also able to get a great view of the Manhattan skyline,  every inch of space seems to be made use of. As you can see we had cracker blue sky weather for the first couple of days there.

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Our first full day in the city we decided to walk to some of the famous sights.  We’d been told about the High Line which is a walk way built into old railway lines running over the meat packing district.
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Great view of things by walking a couple of stories above ground. Matt found a good place to rest weary feet. These seats are movable on the train tracks.
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The Empire State building is such an icon of New York but we didn’t venture inside so couldn’t recreate the meeting of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle. 
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Instead we headed towards Grand Central Station. What a magnificent old building.  Inside it has a great painted ceiling which unfortunately wasn’t easy to capture on camera. 
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Times Square during the day = madness.

Our accommodation was in lower Manhattan in a suburb called Greenwich village which was a great base, halfway between everything. 
There are lots of parks both big and small and we decided to have a picnic in one close by before heading to Broadway.  There were heaps of people just hanging out in the park eating, drinking, watching buskers. We had fun watching the squirrels chase each other around the trees.
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Our trip to Broadway was to see Phantom of the Opera.  Not usually a show we would see but we thought we should go to a classic Broadway production.
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We caught the final performance of one of Swedens pop stars as the phantom.As well as having the distinction of Swedish no 1 singles in 2006 and 2007 he also has a successful Christmas album. Later in the week he played at the Swedish princesses wedding.

Times Square in the evening = madness

After the show we ventured into Times Square again, so many people about. They say its the city that never sleeps, we could definitely believe that.
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The streets are really packed in most parts of Manhattan at most times. It is hard to believe there is anywhere busier but apparently Tokyo or other Asian metropolis’s can exceed New York in terms of people milling around the streets. Certainly the busiest place we’ve been to so far.

The following day we explored Central Park. There are so many different walking tracks to go on leading to different sections of the park. Its a great public space, that seems popular with locals as well as visitors.
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It’s also a good place to get a view of the older buildings of Manhatten, especially the circuit we did around the reservoir.

We spotted some of New York’s finest police talent on patrol, not sure how her fitness test went.
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What visit to New York would be complete without seeing a professional dog walker.
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Great city particularly out of the main tourist areas. Perhaps a bit busy to live in (Manhattan anyway) but fantastic to visit and would definitely like to return as feel we barely even started to see what New York has to offer.

Big City Bootcamp Chicago

We departed the train in Chicago and got our land legs back again.  We were met by Andrew Rice (old friend Phil’s brother) who was nice enough to put us up for a few days.

One thing we learnt in Chicago is that Andrew likes walking.

We went for a wander into and around town on the Saturday getting a good idea of the city, then there was a street party not far from his house. The whole street was shut off for a couple of blocks and there were lots of stalls, food and craft, as well as a couple of stages for various entertainment.

Unfortunately soon after we got there the rain started so we didn’t stay long but on a sunny day/night it would have been fantastic.

We high tailed it home and after counting back realised we’d walked the equivalent of a half marathon that day.

May not have been the best idea for Matt to gave been wearing Jandals the whole time.

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Andrew also likes running, he’s training for a triathlon in August. When we were talking about trying to get some regular exercise on this trip he suggested we join him on a run. Nice Sunday jog we thought, why not? Well, it was great to get out for a run, nice track through the park and beside the lake, the only problem was that both of us (well mainly Rach) had trouble moving for the next 3 days!

We’ve managed to find the equivalent to reduced cream a couple of times so we got to make Andrew a U.S. variation on the great kiwi dip. Tasty.

Monday proved to be a great day for some sightseeing so we took an architectural boat tour which went along the river pointing out a lot of the buildings and giving us the history of them.
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There is a great mix of old gothic style against modern structures. Chicago has a fantastic skyline best we’ve seen.

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The tour also went out onto the lake through the loch. Around 1900 the flow if the river was reversed to flow away from the lake. Before that it was directed into the lake and polluted the lake water which was, and still is, used for drinking water. The loch provides a way for boat access while keeping the water level in the lake higher than the river.
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The lake, Lake Michigan, is one of the great lakes. Standing on the beach in Chicago you’d think it was the ocean because you can’t see the other side.
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We also went up the John Hancock building, not the tallest in town but still a great view from the 96th floor. It was a great place to take in the 30 miles of lakefront that Chicago takes up.
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Chicago has a neat feel about it. The sidewalks are wide and streets are busy bit not too busy. It has a real big city character and buzz more than any of the other US cities we’d been to so far.

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It also seems to have got the right idea about summer entertainment, Monday night there was a free concert at Millennium park in the centre of town. We took along food and drink and had our wee picnic listening to a band that sounded like Florence and the Machine.

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Dinner out at a BBQ place was a great end to the night and our time in Chicago.

Thanks for having us stay Andrew, we had a great time at bootcamp!

All Aboard the Empire Builder

We were pretty excited about this next leg of our trip, 2¹/² days aboard the Empire Builder train from Seattle to Chicago. 

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Our second storey accommodation was broom closet small but was fine for us, the champagne and chocolate was a good opening impression.

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The roomette had 2 seats that folded down to 1 bed then another bed that folded out from the ceiling, guess who got top bunk.

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Breakfast, lunch and dinner were included in a shared dining cart, 4 to a table. We quickly realised after a couple of meal times that there were a lot of retired couples on the trip, most of whom were on their way home from various cruises around Alaska. But we had some good yarns with all sorts of people most of whom were interesting company.

The meals themselves were pretty good, much better than the aeroplane food we were expecting.
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Due to the inclement weather we didn’t get great views for much of the trip but it was nice going through the Cascade Mountains.
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The trip took us through 7 states in total, mainly running close to the Canadian border.
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Our first night we both only got about 4 hours sleep, it was hard to get used to the movement and they blow the horn at every road crossing day or night.
Our second night was much better thanks to earplugs and a sleeping tablet!

Once we were in Minnesota we followed the Mississippi River for quite a way. It was swollen due to all the rain so was quite a sight.

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The second afternoon there was a wine and cheese tasting. The attendants didn’t know much about the wine or cheese for that matter so we didn’t learn much but it was a fun way to spend the afternoon.

At one point during dinner on the second night we passed by a huge area that was dominated by oil carts on a railway and fires from underground. The guy we were sitting with told us it’s an area that’s become quite wealthy from oil gained by fracking which is pretty mainstream now in the USA.

Overall apart from getting into Chicago 3 hours late we really enjoyed the trip.

We’d recommend it highly so long as you didn’t have onward travel plans relying on the train being on time!

We write this blog from another train which is 4 hours behind on an 8 hour trip so not an isolated incident!

Sightseeing on the San Juans

Here we were again on board another ferry, this time heading towards Friday Harbour on San Juan Island.  The island is one of over a hundred in an archipelago which is actually closer to Victoria, B.C.  than it is to mainland America. Kind of like the Marlborough Sounds would be the closest thing we could compare it to.

This time of year in this area it’s quite common to see pods of Orcas and sometimes Humpback whales.  The chance to see this was a no brainer so we signed up for a kayak tour. 
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Our guide Magda was good, pointing out things along the way like different types of jellyfish swimming around our boats. We also saw seals and the amazing sight of a Bald eagle flying right over us grasping a fish in its talons- we weren’t quite quick enough to get it on camera. Bald eagles were a common sight in the island – also saw the nests which are huge.

It was a beautiful day to be on the water and by the time we stopped for lunch we’d all had a good workout.

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The trip back was much easier, we caught the current most of the way and made it back in no time. Unfortunately we didn’t spot any whales but we think that might have been be due to the submarine that was slinking around in the water.
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After our busy day on the water we decided to go bowling. Rach got a strike on the practice run so was ready for a top score.
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Unfortunately the final tally tells another story. Matt on the other hand was much more of a pro.
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Back at our accommodation we flicked on the news only to see that the bridge we had driven over the previous day had partially collapsed into the river. At least 3 cars plunged into the water but luckily no one was badly hurt. An overload truck had hit the top supports causing it to collapse. It’s on the main interstate highway that runs from Seattle to Vancouver so a lot of traffic was going to be disrupted for weeks.

Was impressed though at their time frame for a replacement bridge (4 lanes we think) completion September 2013 – Ferrymead bridge 2 years?

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We explored the island one day and stopped in at a resort/campground for a look around. They had so many activities on offer, giant chess board, volleyball, face painting, table tennis, the list could go on. We opted for a row boat and fishing rod. Rach was in charge of rowing while Matt was in charge of catching the fish.

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We think they might have been joking about there being any fish in the lake because after an hour and a half we came back empty handed. Never mind, the icecream sundae bar they had made up for it!

This was just a prelude to our trip to the San Juan Winery, just a short walk away. Great setting for a wine tasting on what turned into a beautiful sunny afternoon. We came away with a bottle of our favourite, the unoaked chardonnay.

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We also had 2 nights on Orcas Island, a short ferry ride away. It was a little strange on the ferry when someone with a violin started playing a song that resembled the one played while the Titanic was sinking. We can’t have been the only people to think this because he didn’t play for long.

Orcas is more of a sleepy island, a little slower pace. It was nice to walk around the waterfront right across from our accommodation.

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The main thing people come here to do is to go up Mount Constitution so we decided to do a hike to the top. The weather wasn’t great for views but on a good day you’d be able to see right across the islands to the mainland.

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We were surprised to see some slugs a little bigger than at home.

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After all the rain we were hoping to see some sunshine from our next mode of transport, the Empire Builder train from Seattle to Chicago.

In the Navy

After being in Seattle for almost week we wanted to get out and about so hopped on another ferry and headed for the Olympic Peninsula, first stop Bremerton.  It’s a town of 40, 000 people, most of which must work in the Navy ship yard because there was hardly anyone around the town.
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We had a hired a car so
took a day trip around part of the Peninsula. The middle is taken up with the Olympic National Park which has a lot of hiking trails through the mountains. It would be beautiful to see on a clear day but we only had clouds.

We ended up at Port Townsend and discovered it was the day of their ‘Fish Fry’.
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After asking a few people about it and having it highy recommended we decided we’d give it a try. Only problem was we were a couple of hours early so we drove to another town Port Angeles turned around and came back.

At $10 per person we had high hopes. We filed into the community hall where they had a band playing, and got our plate. We were definitely the youngest people there and I’m pretty sure the only people not from the district.
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The fish was yummy, chips a bit cold but we got a bikkie with it. Matt didn’t want to stick around too long.
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As part of the festivities of the day they had the navy band playing in the park, lots of fun to listen to, it got lots of people up dancing especially with their take of the band classic ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’.

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On the drive back home after visiting the Boeing factory one day we stopped in at Olympia which is the capital of the state of Washington. Matt attempted the gauntlet of the fountain that shoots water in random patterns, he came out pretty dry.

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We also went through Union, voted one of the 20 prettiest towns in America. The man at the store couldn’t understand what we wanted when we asked to buy eggs, Matt had to put on his American accent ‘aaeeeeggggss’ then we were fine.

We stopped for a drink at a resort that happened to be part owned by Bill Gates. Great setting by the water with its own jetty.
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Having a Naval history Bremerton is a very patriotic town especially on the day it holds its 65th annual Armed Forces Parade, which just happened to be when we were there.  There were lots of people donning red, white and blue, some getting to the kerbside a couple of hours in advance to make sure they got a good seat.

Pit Bull was present warming up the crowd from the second level.

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We thought that given it was a sleepy town the parade might go for 20 minutes or so, but over 2 hours later we decided we’d seen enough.

Not only was every sector of the armed forces represented (including the navy band from the previous day) , there were also the marching bands from every school in the district, classic cars, a concrete mixer, people advertising the local bank, the congressman, the mayor, a real mish-mash.

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At the time they announced complementary hotdog, chip and soda lunch for everyone our decision to attend was rewarded.

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One part of the parade had Demolition Derby cars and they were advertising a Derby that night. Not quite sure what to expect we decided we couldn’t miss it.

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It was so much fun watching them race around, firstly just trying to make it to the finish line, then in the final race it was last man standing. There were a few blown tyres, lots of smoke, and the definite need for tow trucks.

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Our accommodation in Bremerton was a 1 bedroom house owned by a guy called Chad. He also had a pop top camper in the driveway that he rented out too. When he had them both occupied he’d drive 20min to stay at his friends house.

From our 2nd night there there was an Aussie couple, Jenny and Mitch, staying in the camper. We went with them on the Boeing tour on a day trip back to Seattle. They are doing a similar trip so it was good to talk with them and bounce travel ideas off each other.

This was the view from the porch, not bad for watching the sun set.
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It was on our 1st night here sitting on the porch that we heard a scratching noice coming from the ceiling above us. We figured it was a bird but when we told Chad he knew it was a raccoon. He’d hired a cage and caught one earlier in the week, releasing it back into the wild, he wasn’t sure if this resident was new or the other one found his way back.

Either way we were poised for some action and so we three began ‘The Great Raccoon Stake out of 2013’.

NIGHT 1: We got the cage in place and Chad strategically placed some salmon inside it and then we waited…

Just as it got dark we heard movement and could just make out the cat/small dog like shape of the racoon (we didn’t have any lights on for fear of scaring it away). It moved around the cage cautiously, finally succumbing to the delicious smell wafting through the metal bars. YES we thought, we’ve got him, but alas we had celebrated too soon. The trigger wasn’t sensitive enough so with the door of the cage not closing he grabbed the salmon and ran for the hills. Actually he only went about 2 metres, we could still see him.

Not defeated, we continued to monitor the cage only to have him completely embarrass us by doing the same thing again!

With our heads hung low we decided we needed sleep so to be better prepared for the following night.

NIGHT 2: Again we sat and waited.
Nothing, not even the scratching in the ceiling. The Aussies thought we were mad.

Night 3: Again we sat and waited. A little scratching but no visual of the raccoon . The Aussies still thought we were mad.

It was decided to leave the cage set overnight and Chad altered the sensitivity of the trigger. We went to bed with our fingers crossed, we really wanted to catch him, we were leaving the following day.

We awoke with a flurry of excitement early in the morning, we pulled back the curtain to peek outside…

We got him!!

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Leaving Bremerton on a high we set off for a bay close by named Gig Harbour but decided to get some exercise on the way so headed to the National Park. We walked a trail beside a river through trees and ground cover that was really vibrantly green.
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On the other side (western side) of the Peninsula is a town called Forks which is where they filmed the Twilight movies. Gets a lot of rain.

On our way to the park we had a wolf run out in front of the car. Ok, he looks quite friendly and seems very similar to a husky but we’re still claiming it’s a wolf until there’s evidence otherwise.
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Gig Harbour is a neat town which gets great views of Mount Rainier (from Seattle post), on a clear day.

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We visited the maritime museum (because it was free) which had a special exhibit on dinosaurs that lived in the water, they were massive and looked nasty. I’m glad we didn’t see this ancient turtle on our snorkeling trip.
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One of the days was overcast and drizzly so Rach decided to get her hair done. Matt’s comment on the end result ‘you look like an American’.

From Gig Harbour we drove north of Seattle where we had to catch a ferry for our next destination . If it weren’t for the car pool lane we would have been stuck in traffic for hours behind all the people travelling to work on their own.