Friday, 17 June 2016

American adventure part 6: Not America (Toronto)

Canada in a glass.

Well here we are at the last stage of our epic holiday!  We decided we wanted to see Niagara and happily Toronto is close by, *and* it's in a slightly more hospitable time zone, so we had a few days here as the first stage of the way home.

Mostly we did some city touristy stuff which was basically museums and museums and walking round streets.  Kinda like Chicago way back at the beginning, but with less tired people.
Episode 1 of 'pose like the thing you're standing next to'

On our walk to the city centre (aka downtown, but downcity doesn't really work) we passed through a nice little sculpture garden with *incredibly* pretentious descriptions of a sculpture which was just large concrete blocks.  Not very photogenic except with the addition of a cheeky 3 year old.

We walked through to the St Lawrence market which is a nice covered food market and good for wandering around and sourcing treats.  Just down the road is the Flatiron (our second flatiron experience of the holiday, rather different to the ones in Boulder).  Kinda cool in a way that buildings don't tend to get built in our cities.

Episode 2.

We were meandering towards the CN Tower.  Having passed up a tall building opportunity in Chicago we decided to go to the top of this one.  Not the very top, but pretty high up.

It was brilliant watching a city from this vantage point, with its transport tycoon-like trains and planes.

But yes, I learned again that heights are really not much for me.  Here's the famous glass floor, which was fun at least in standing back and watching the various different sets of interactions people had.  On the whole the look on faces was of nervousness, even if the panes of glass could each hold half a dozen moose (heavier than polar bears, I did not know).  Our children either like heights or haven't learned to fear them yet.  I hope the former for their sake.  I did do one rapid transit of the corner of the area though, and feel that this was plenty.

Windy.  What a funny lot.

Playing choo choo in the train yard outside.

Dinner one night was at the snappily titles Yonge Dundas square (I think they need a better name if they want to be more Times Squarey than they're managing).  More fountains, but really the 10 or so fewer centigrade degrees in Toronto than Chicago or Boulder should have stopped Marisca more than it did.  I supported Tom's more cautious approach.

These kids *love* escalators. I reckon we must have done approaching 100 on our trip, so I had to get a photo of one.  This one, in the science museum, wasn't great as they didn't have their suitcases to make farty noises on the entry and exit rumble strips.

Highlight of any science museum - playing with the Bernoulli effect.

There were loads of cool things - we spent a while here.  Never photographed was the thingbob that chucked tissue into the air.  Not sure what the science was now I think about it but it was effective fun.

I will genuinely give a prize to whoever can work out why Elspeth is looking pleased with herself in front of this thing.

We also went to the aquarium which had some great sharks and jellyfish, and to the Royal museum which had some great stuffing.

Then our last day - Niagara.  It really was very cool.  The constant haze of water vapour over the falls, the all-encompassing nature of the horseshoe when you're down on the boat, the sheer perpetuality of it when behind the falls.  We went, we were touristy, we enjoyed ourselves immensely.

And we wrapped up the day with some Timbits. [Note: insert second bird/bakery theft issue here].

So that was it.  No mention of how many loops Tom watched of the aeroplane's CBeebies video in what was the middle of the night by anyone's timezone while the girls snoozed peacefully in the row behind. That certainly doesn't qualify as holiday.

Thank you for the brief visit Canada, we'll see you again.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

American adventure part 5: Boulder

Day 2 of Travels Across a small part of America was a bit dull at first until we started reaching the mountains.  A lovely Italian deli for lunch in Steamboat Springs and a change of driver meant that I had the experience of driving over the Rockies along Trail Ridge Road in the Rocky Mountain National Park (just driving through - no time to acquire ranger status).  It's rather vertiginous and helped remind me I don't much like heights.  This includes driving along them in a big truck-like vehicle on the wrong side of the road with no shoulder or barriers, it transpires.

It was beautiful at the top though.  12000ft or so of lovely.

4 ft or so of lovely.

Being in Boulder was fab.  We stayed next door to our friends James and Daniel and they were super hosts.  For a weekend we didn't really need to think about anything apart from chatting and enjoying ourselves.

My best bit was a short (for us - long for Marisca) walk in the flatirons and lunch at Chautauqua.  Such nice mountainy scenery and flora.  

We then spent a geeky hour at NCAR, although we're not geeks so I didn't photograph it.  The day rounded off with a trip into Boulder and playing in the fountains, and then a BBQ.

Obviously I went for a run too, with James.  Altitude training.  We saw some deer hurl themselves into the road, without any of them getting squashed.

My last running selfie of the holiday - I promise.  Check out the lake though!

We visiting a couple of little free lending libraries on our travels which was great to improve the variety in our holiday book collection.  

 And we popped towards Denver for a butterfly pavilion that also featured bees, handling a tarantula (James only), some more fish, and rather too many cockroaches, which were at least well contained.

I kinda feel we did a whole lot more than that, but probably the rest was mostly chat and drinking the only good tea of the holiday.

Thank you for hosting us, James & Daniel!

American adventure part 4: Yellowstone road trip

The start of part 4 - our road trip - was great!  It involved a fortunate Cinnebon stop between Indy and Chicago which made all of us very happy.  Arriving in Chicago airport was pretty good too with our holiday's first moving walkways, an unexpected dinosaur, and a surfeit of escalators.  The next 7 hours weren't great, but we got to Jackson Hole in the end, to pick up our car and drive to the Grand Teton national park in the dark.  Surprising how hard it is to know where exactlky the road is when it's that dark.

Car number plate included to break the narrative.  We liked the Wyoming plates.

Waking up in our little log cabin and seeing the incredible mountains for the first time was pretty cool however.  I went for a run, perhaps unsensibly, and here I am.

Shortly after this photo I heard a little movement behind be on the gravel beach and saw a grizzly bear and its cub emerging from the lake.  The baby gave a little wet dog shake and then asked where its porridge was.  The mummy bear then turned its head to look at me, as I backed cautiously and noisily away.  Thankfully it didn't move towards me or take much more interest in me apart from the staring contest, but I was rather scared.  Amazing experience, but a scary one, and the following two days seemed full of good bear encounter advice, none of which involved finding yourself 20 yards from a grizzly and its cub while out running on your own without bear spray.

I don't think I really manged to do justice to the scenery, which I found absolutely spectacular first thing in the morning, but here's the view from the lake.

Attractions of Yellowstone are geothermality and wildlife.  I have scores of pictures of each.

The hot springs, bubbling mud pots, and geysers are so unlike anything we've ever seen before.  I thought it was absolutely brilliant, crazy landscapes, with a whole load of variety.  In 2 days passing up through Yellowstone and back again we probably saw the main bits and pieces but I could have spent much longer watching it all.  Without excitable/tired children, that is.

You can see much more impressive photos of this stuff online  but this is what I liked in particular.

Our first geothermals at West Thumb (Marisca says this was her favourite place).  Hot springs by the lake with different colours due to different temperatures and different algae and organisms that like the different temperatures.

The white dome geyser.  Probably our favourite geyser - down a side road, where we were fortunate to be there when it was erupting.  We watched old faithful but although big and on time it was a little unimpressive relative to the hype.  We also saw a bunch in the mid basin that all randomly went off at different times with coughs and splurts, which were good but less photogenic.

This is the stunning grand prismatic spring.  It was quite steamy and only visible from the side, but so interesting to see the prismatic colours and the swirls of the runoff rivers.  And particularly to remember that all of the colours are different microorganisms enjoying their own particular biological niche.

And at the same location, I loved the hot spring water running down the bare rock through its bright orange channel and steaming as it hit the cold mountain stream.

The hot springs at Mammoth - actually not that hot in the grand scheme of springs - were completely different again.  Here there's much more water flow and cooler water, which leads to a massive set of calcite deposits.  The same idea as stalactites but a bit bigger and quicker to form.  Flows and torrents rather than drips.

No pictures of mud pots.  They were bubbling mischievous witchy things but not very picturesque.

My last pre-wildlife picture is geological rather than geothermal.  We stopped by the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, clearly a rivery canyony type thing.  It was pretty amazing too.

I'd probably say that our wildlife spotting was less successful than our immovable objects spotting.  After my bear experience we did see a pair of black bears across the valley on the first few miles of our trip - which was cool but the last time we saw bears.  We saw bison in ones and twos but not herds.  We saw a few elk but sadly no moose.  We saw lots of chipmunks.

Marisca proved herself to be an ace birdspotter, including this bluejay and some northern cardinals.

This cheeky bird was easy to spot as it stole half of Tom's biscuit.  Later in the holiday Tom had another bird-stealing-food incident and I suspect he is rapidly learning that birds are not to be trusted.

You can't wash your hands in a buffalo.

Chipmunk.  Cute.

'Our' elk.  We caused a traffic jam by being the first folk to spot this one by the roadside.  We were told that elk in this season don't have antlers, so I like to think of this as an unfashionable out-of-season elk.

The antler of a different elk.  Surprisingly heavy.

And here are my two.  The keen eyed will spot that they are proudly wearing their junior ranger badges, having done a bunch of activities in their junior ranger book while we sat enjoying very good pizza in a bar in Gardiner, and then having survived a testing exam and quite scarily serious pledge giving.  Marisca overachieved and acquired a grizzly badge, Tom also overachieved and cuted his way to a volcano (geyser) badge.  They were brilliant.

Those were probably the two best non-wedding days of my holiday.

Having done all that we decided to go to the rodeo in Jackson.  Rather fun.

We then had two more days to cross Wyoming, cut the corner of Utah, and cross the Rockies to reach stage 5 in Boulder.  I was a bit concerned that they'd be tedious 300 mile days, but both were really interesting to see the changing scenery.  

For day 1 we were headed to the Dinosaur national monument.  The landscape started hilly, got flat and prairieish, then got windy and sedimentary, a bit red and plateaud, and then rocky.  Neither my words nor the few photos I took really help.  It was cool though to watch the huge landscape pass by.

Lastly - and this post feels almost as long as the car journey - we arrived at Dinosaur.  It's another fascinating place, with a huge open quarry face stuffed with a variety of fossils.  Pictured probably 10% of the size of the place, with convenient insect-boring-checking-paleontologist for scale.

Marisca and Tom really got their fill of dinosaurs this holiday - a few museums and two at airports, but this was the chockablockiest of places.  So this, naturally, is where they picked up most dinosaur information (skulls are very scarce because they're so delicate, not because there were loads of headless dinosaurs).  So much so that they achieved junior ranger status here too.  The keen eyed (or fast learners) amongst you will already have spotted that.

I'll talk about cross country day 2 tomorrow!