Monday, 18 April 2016

Goslings Go West - Monterey Bay, Whale watching,

One of the things with holidaying on the west coast is the abundance of wildlife.  Yes, the cities are very densely populated, but you get 30 miles out of a city, and there is very little there.  We couldn't get over how green everything was.  It is well known that there are many whale migrations up and down the west coast of the Pacific Ocean.  We had to see whales.

We drove from the house in Aptos to Monterey Bay.  The countryside was absolutely stunning.  Americas fruit basket, with fields as far as the eye can see.  We arrived in Monterey with plenty of time to spare, so had a little drive around.  You could see sea lions from the road.  They were lazing around on rocks.  The houses are very higgledy piggledy, but beautiful all the same.  Some very nice looking guest houses. 

We parked up, not too far from Fishermans Wharf.  A restroom stop was needed, and I came out to find the boys watching the sea lions.  

This was another trip we booked in advance.  Goos job too, as they were fully booked for a few days.  We went with Monterey Bay Whale Watch, the company the BBC used when they were filming their 'Big Blue' series a couple of years ago.  Their website is really good.  You are able to go on and see records of what they have seen in the years previous.  They also have a very good Facebook page, which we have been following since the New Year.  This helped give us an idea as to what we might see. 

As we headed out of harbor, first ting we saw (and smelled) was the sea lions around the harbor wall.  

It didn't take long for us see our first whale.  It was a humpback, you can know this by their blow pattern (apparently!!!).  

All in, we saw 12 humpback whales, one fin whale and 2 different types of dolphins.  This was an awesome experience, with the boys getting really in to it too.  They were so happy when they started seeing the whales.  

At one point, there were five whales, all in different directions around the boat. Amazing.  A little bit gutted we didn't see any killer whales, but the humpbacks were amazing.

Back on dry land, another rest room stop. This time, the boys were loving the sea otter! 

After a quick lunch, we jumped in the car.  Paul and I wanted to drive some of State Highway 1, another bucket list thing.  We headed in the direction of Big Sur, south of Monterey. We knew we weren't gong to get all the way there, but we had a destination in mind. Bixby Creek Bridge originally opened in 1932.  Prior to that, residents of Big Sur were effectively cut off in winter.  This is one of the most photographed bridges on the West Coast

We turned around at the bridge.  One day, when I am old and grey, I want to drive State Highway 1 from San Francisco to Baja California.  One day.......

Next stop on our magical mystery tour: Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway.  Cos I am married to a racing fanatic, and have 3 boys.  

The raceway is run by Monterey Country Parks.  You have to pay a small fee ($8) to enter, but then you are free to explore.  When we were there, the BMW motorbike school was just finishing up their day.  We had a little walk around the pit area, had a look in the gift shop and generally took in an empty track.  

We then drove up to the famous cork screw, before driving back to Aptos.  This was such an awesome day.  We hit so many bucket list things.  So glad we made it West.  

Goslings Go West - Santa Cruz

We knew that where we were staying on the beach in Aptos was not very far away from Santa Cruz.  Growing up, we had the song by the Strokes about Santa Cruz, so it was one of the places we always wanted to visit. So on the wednesday we decided to take a little drive there.  We knew there was a board walk with rides and mini golf.

The Boardwalk operates on a ticket scheme.  You get a card from a machine, then pay money to load it up with tickets.  A lot of the fun fairs and carnival these days do it like this.  I like it.  We loaded the card up with $70, and off we went.

First stop, Buccaneer Bay Mini Golf.  My kids love mini golf.  I can't stand it.  This one was cool though.  It had a UV section.  We have worked hard getting the boys to play properly.  They are good.  They wait for each other to finish, and cheer each other on.  This was the first time I had kept score.  Paul and I don't play.  We supervise! Unsurprisingly, Oliver won, Isaac came second and Sebastian last.  But it was closer than we expected.

Then we entered the Boardwalk for real.  You could certainly tell it was spring break! It was busy.  I would not have enjoyed it in the height of summer. The boys spotted a ride called Speedway, with lots of Nascars.  It flew really fast around the corners! They loved it! 

Next up was a horse racing game, where you had to throw balls to make your horse move.  Luckily we were the only ones taking part.  Sebastian won, with a little help from daddy! He won a soft toy of a pickle, which has since been named Mr Pickle......

Then on to the Jet Copters for Isaac and Seb.  Paul and Oliver did Rock and Roll, a spiny ride.  and I got to sit them both out, phew! 

We did a couple more rides, the Cave Train springs to mind, before we ran out of money.  Setting a limit on what we spend is the best way for us to have these kind of days out.  It helps make the kids aware that they can't do everything!!! 

This boardwalk rocked.  It had a good variety of rides and attractions.  We could have spent a lot more time and money, so I am glad we put a limit on these things.  Santa Cruz looks like a beautiful place to visit.  Quite touristy, but given we had just done the Grand Canyon and Vegas, it was nice for us to be able to go back to our little house on the beach, sit on the balcony, and watch the sun go down behind the palm tree. 

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Goslings Go West - San Francisco

On the tuesday we awoke early.  This was our day to go to San Francisco! I had booked our tickets to for the boat to go to Alcatraz as soon as they became available.  They recommend you book in advance, and take bookings 3 months in advance (when we were there, there were no available tickets till 3 days later!).  We were booked on the 9.10am boat.  We left the house with plenty of time to spare. 90 minutes to do a 40 minute journey.

Alas, traffic was completely against us.  rush hour traffic, a big west coast city.  Not a good combination.  We made it to the dock for 9.15, but still had to park the car.  By the time we had done that, and faffed around,  it was 9.45 when we got to the ticket desk.  Paul went and asked what we could do.  Luckily they had a system, where our tickets were changed to standby tickets.  We had a rest room stop, and went to the standby waiting area.  Luckily we were first in the queue and managed to get on the 10am boat.  Phew! 

It was a pleasant enough boat ride.  Kids were good, not too busy. Approaching the dock was pretty special.  You get off the boat, and go and listen to a brief talk my a member of the National Park Service. Most people at least know  a brief history of Alcatraz.  This is in part thanks to a film, 'The Rock'.

We headed to the top of the island, to the Cell Block.  This area has an award winning audio tour.  We all took head sets.  Within minutes, Sebastian had given up.  Oliver and Isaac followed the tour really well.  Isaac got a little bored when we went outside, but he soon caught up.

An audio tour is not something we would usually do, but the kids are getting older and these kind go things are more possible.  There was only one little bit near the end where Isaac nearly freaked out, and Oliver looked a little worried, but overall it was suitable for them.  Given my boys curiosities, I am surprised we have not had more questions regarding some of the topics raised.  May be they will come soon.....

We toured a little bit more of the island.  By about midday, everyone had had enough.  We headed back to the boat, back to the main land.  I would highly recommend Alcatraz as a visitors attraction.  But make sure you book, and try to go when it is not too busy. 

Once back on the mainland we walked from Pier 33 round to Pier 39.  This is one of the really touristy bits of San Francisco.  It is where the sea lions are!!!! You have to walk all the way to the end of the pier to see them 

But its ok, you will SMELL them first!!!! My kids loved this, as to be expected.  This pier was busy.  It was heading to the end of lunch.  We had not eaten, so we found somewhere.  It wasn't great, but we were hungry by then! We did a little bit of souvenir shopping before heading to see the sea lions again.  Sebastian in particular loved them. Then back to the car. 

We all wanted to go to Lombard Street. In particular, the section between Hyde and Leavenworth Street, where there are 8 switch backs down a steep incline.  The street was originally built in 1922.  It rocked! 

From there, it had to be the Golden Gate Bridge. We were initially going to drive it, but rush hour, traffic and tolls made us rethink our decision. Instead we chose to come off the highway aand head to the visitors centre.  We ended up parking in a new car park, the other side of the highway from the visitor centre, and walking along a bike trail under the bridge. Cool!

There are a few little bits and pieces to do here, a cafe, a gift shop etc.  We read a lot of the history and info boards there.  very interesting.  I think if we had had more time, looked into it in more detail and not had (3 very tired by now) boys with us, we may have explored the other side of the bridge.  But time was short, this was still a holiday after all! too much rushing around makes Goslings go crazy!!!! 

We jumped in the car and headed back to Aptos.  I loved San Francisco.  I really would like to go back, sans kids, and explore more of the culture there.  It is a stunning city. 

Monday, 11 April 2016

Goslings Go West - California baby!

We got to Phoenix airport nice and early.  We were starting to get used to security now, especially with me having pat downs rather than going through the machines due to my medical devices.  Phoenix airport is a little dated.  Didn't stop the boys from loving the travelators though.

Our flight ended up being delayed.  We did think this might happen.  When I booked it, google gave me a warning that 75% of these flights were delayed.  Never mind, gave us time to have a leisurely breakfast and for the boys to have some kindle time.

     Once we were on the plane it was less than 2 hours to San Francisco.  We picked up our luggage and jumped on the monorail to the car rental place.  Funny how all the airports are doing this now.  Putting all the car rental companies together under one roof, just on the outskirts of the airport.  Luckily this rental company had enough cars! We left in a nice BIG Chevrolet Tahoe.  The drive south from San Francisco went up and down winding roads.  The traffic going into the city was horrendous, but we had a pretty clear drive.  It took about 90 minutes two get to Aptos, the town we were staying in.  We stopped at the local supermarket and picked up some supplies for the 6 days we were there.                            

We followed the sat nag down to the house.  What an incredible place.  When I booked this, I really struggled to get what www anted within our price range.  This end up being slightly above what we wanted to pay, but to be practically on the beach was so worth the extra.  We unloaded all the stuff from the car, had a quick snack, and headed over the road to the beach.


Rio del Mar is the name of this beach on Monterrey Bay.  Our first evening we saw a sea otter, floating in the waves.  We are used to seeing dolphins, but otters? This was a new one for us.

We had such a beautiful view of the sun setting, every night.  We were really fortunate with the weather in that it didn't rain at all when we were away.  

Sitting in the front room of the house with the sun setting behind us was awesome.  The house was really well equipped with everything we needed.

The next morning we headed out on the beach for a walk.  It wasn't very warm, but the sun was shinning making it feel warmer.

This beach had loads of driftwood.  Other people had made forts and dens from it. In the afternoon, we went back to the beach.  The kids commandeered a fort from out the front of our house, and started making alterations.  They had a great time playing.

This was an absolutely awesome beach and we felt so lucky to have found this vacation rental.  Aptos seems to be where all the locals go.  you know you are on to a winner when the locals go there.

(More details on the vacation rental can be found here)

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Goslings Go West - Bearizona and Phoenix

On our drive in to the Grand Canyon, we had spotted a place called Bearizona.  I looked into it the night before, and decided it was probably something the kids would love.

After our final morning in the canyon, we drove out towards Phoenix.  Bearizona was on our route.  We joined the small queue.  It is a drive through safari, specializing in animals local to Arizona and the west coast.  First up were mountain goats, followed by wolves.  The on to the junior bears

There were loads of them just strolling around, hiding in dens in the ground, up trees, everywhere!

Then on to the bison and white bison


Before going through the adult bears where they were enjoying a nice carcass of something.  We parked up,and had a little walk around the other areas.  There was a goat petting area, some bob cats, plenty of farm yard animals and foxes.

Look!!! A bear up a tree!!!!!


This was a great little stop.  Something for the kids to enjoy, stretch their legs and entertain them before the 2 hour drive down to Phoenix.  

The roads were fairly straight, but pretty mountainous.  We must have gone through at least 2 different mountain or canyon ranges before getting into Phoenix.  The views were absolutely stunning.


The whole desert terrain is something else.  The desert air and altitude played havoc with mine, Oliver and Sebastian's sinus'.  I felt blocked up and quite unwell a lot of the time.  Didn't stop me from enjoying the absolutely gorgeous views.  And the giant cacti which started to appear once we got nearer to Phoenix.  

We had chosen to fly out of Phoenix to San Francisco.  I can't even remember the reasons behind out decisions.  Think it had something to do with it being a shorter drive back to Phoenix rather than Vegas, and a better timed flight the next day.  We were able to check into our hotel in Phoenix early, so the boys went for a quick swim while I lounged.  We went out for dinner that night at the local Chilis.  It is near the university and airport district, so quite busy.  Dinner was delicious.

Paul dropped the boys and I back at the hotel, while he returned the rental car, and got the airport shuttle back to the hotel.  This saved us a bit on car rental costs, or it equaled out the amount we had to pay as we were dropping the car at a different return address.  Phoenix was probably our cheapest stop, as we paid for the hotel using our Marriot reward points. None of us slept particularly well.  The room slept five over a queen sized bed and a sofa bed, but did not have any roll away beds.  Sebastian slept between paul and I.  He was really awesome and managed to head butt me in the middle of the night.

One fat lip later.......

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Goslings Go West - the Grand Canyon.

We could not have flown to the other side of the country and seen at least one of the natural land marks / Large State Parks.  The Grand Canyon South Rim is only 270 miles from Vegas.

With a nice morning stop at the Hoover dam, we continued with our journey.  We had booked the Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon, and arrived there just after 2.  Unfortunately we were not able to check in early, so we drove straight up to the canyon.  The queues to get in were about 1/2 mile from the gates.

Entrance to the park is $30.  This may seem steep, but it is valid for 7 days.  The park is open 24 hours as well.  

Mid afternoon is NOT the time to arrive at the park.  Parking was non existent.  We were unable to get parked near the main visitors centre, so drove round to the Yavapai Point Geological centre instead, and were fortunate to get a parking space on the 6th time round the car park.  There were Rangers in this car park ticketing anyone who was not parked in a marked bay.

The geological centre was very informative and hands on.  The kids loved it, even if it was a little busy.

We walked along the south rim trail up towards the visitors centre.  Again, super busy.  The nearer we got to the centre, the busier it got.  The kids were getting a little bored and mischievous, so we turned around and decided to head back to the car.

We headed back to the car, and out of the park.  We were able to check in to the hotel straight away.  Our hotel room was right across from the pool, so the kids took a quick dip before dinner.  We ate at the hotel in their very nice Canyon Star steak house.  We all enjoyed a rather nice dinner.  Oliver even had a whole steak to him self.  Sebastian however fell asleep at the dinner table.  Jet lag was starting to get to the little one.

Didn't stop them all from waking up at 6am the next day.  We ate breakfast buffet at the hotel, and although we had to pay for the privilege, it was certainly worth the cost.  Probably one of the best breakfast buffets we have ever had.

We were able to be in the park by 7.45am.  There were no queues to gets, and we were able to park in the lot nearest the visitor centre.  In fact, we were the first ones in the visitors centre.


After watching a short documentary in their theatre we headed back out to the rim.

It was cold this morning.  Like freezing cold.  But in the sun it warmed up very quickly.  We walked the rim briefly before jumping in the car and heading to the Grand Canyon Village.  A friend had recommend having breakfast in the El Tovar Hotel, but we couldn't get a response when we tried to book.

This area was one of the first areas opened up to tourists, mainly by the locals who lived there before it was designated a national park.  The railways station was completed in 1901 and stopped carrying passengers to the park in 1968.  It is the only railway station within a national park, and one of only three log cabin style train stations standing.


The area around the village is much quieter.  Granted, we were there first thing in the morning.  It may get busier as the day warms up.  The area is steeped in human history, and well worth a visit. 


The Grand Canyon is such a vast place.  We probably only spent about 5 hours in there tops.  Even then, we only did the really touristy south rim area, and stuck firmly to the tourist trails.  Time constraints and small children didn't really allow for anything else.  It is still an absolutely stunning amazing place.  It really helps you realize how insignificant we really are compared to this stunning land mark that has been carved out from the elements for billions of years.


Monday, 4 April 2016

Goslings Go West - the Hoover Dam

Ahh the joys of having kids suffering jet lag.  We were up and on the road out of Vegas by 6am.  The kids had some cereal pots, and we had Starbucks.  No traffic, woohooo! 

About 30 miles outside of Las Vegas is the Hoover Dam.  We had planned on stopping here on our way to the Grand Canyon.  We were driving through Boulder City by 7.30am.  Boulder city was build around 1931 to accommodate the men and women who came to build the dam.  

We arrived at the dam about 8am and parked up.  It was nice and quiet.  All the guide books and info onlin advises arriving early to these popular tourist destinations, and we certainly did that! 


An absolutely stunning feat of engineering.


You can tell the era it was but in too. It is very Art Deco on many of the structures, with lots of gold plate.


The Hoover dam is still a working hydro electric plant, and supplies Nevada, Arizona and California with power.


Until 2010, this was the main access route between Nevada and Arizona.  After September 11th, US congress pushed though the building of a new high way to divert the traffic away from the dam. The 2 lane Hoover Dam bypass opened in 2010.  It is a spectacular bridge. The road over the Hoover Dam is closed on the Arizona side, though you can still drive over the dam, then turn around and go back again.


What a view.  Pauls vertigo did not do well on this trip......

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Goslings Go West - Las Vegas

The excitement was palpable in our house.  We left with plenty of time to get to the airport.  Check in was a breeze, if a little busy.  This was out first time going through security with me having my insulin pump and continuous glucose (CGM).  My diabetic nurse sent me a letter in the post to explain my devices.  It was even a notarized legal letter with no expiry date on it.  I was able to get a pat down with my devices in my hands, rather than risk having them go through the scanning machines.  The security were really good about it.  

The boys were also very patient. We had a snack type early lunch at the Stockcar cafe at Charlotte airport.  It was just what we needed.


The plane ride was rather uneventful. We had chosen our seats so we had a row of three, with two behind.  I sat in the 3 with Oliver one side, and Seb the other.  The boys played their kindles most of the time, though Oliver did do some school work (we have pulled him out of school for this vacation, as his spring break was 4 weeks ago.  Darn private school).

Flying over America is awesome.  Fields and snow capped mountains everywhere.  As you get further west, the terrain becomes more desert like, and we started to notice some gaping holes in the ground. 


Sorting car hire was a bit of a pain.  We booked this trip back in December.  We did not factor in spring break and March Madness (basketball tournament) taking place in Las Vegas the week we flew in.  We had booked a full size SUV, like a Chevrolet Tahoe.  But the car rental had very little cars left.  We ended up with a mid size people carrier, a Mazda 5.  The rental company deducted the price, which made it a little bit more reasonable.

We made it to the hotel a little early, and our room was not ready, so we headed to the pool for some drinks and food.

We were in Vegas, baby!

We have never stayed at a Marriot Grand Vacation hotel before, but I think we will again.  Our room was a 2 bed suite and was very spacious.  It did not look out over the strip, but we could see the mountains and some of the other hotels.  The kids were still on eastern time (3 hours ahead) so we went out for an early dinner at Hard Rock Cafe.  It wasn't great, felt like a processing place.  Out hotel was just off the strip, so we were able to escape the craziness.  Thank goodness, cos Vegas is crazy.....

Having kids on eastern time meant for a very early wake up the next day.  But we decided to make the most of it.  We headed down to the lobby, and drove out of the city to Red Rock Canyon State Park.  Here we were able to see the sun rise.  It was beautiful 


Even if the kids were stupid tired and grumpy, it was well worth seeing.


We stopped at an IHOP on the outskirts of the desert for some breakfast.  Probably one of the nicest IHOPs we have been to! 

We drove back in to Vegas, and decided to dump the car back at the hotels and go for a walk up the strip.  We had driven in from the south the previous day, so walking north made perfect sense.

Given it was only about 11am, the city was just starting to wake up.  We were able to walk a good part of the strip, past Caesars Palace, the Bellagio, the Paros Casino and Ballys casino. 


Walking around Vegas is fairly easy, they have Sky bridges over most of the intersections.  We didn't deive much more after our morning outing. Traffic is terrible (this will be a running theme over the next few blogs).  Everyone was pretty tired after our little excursions, so we decided to spend a couple of hours by the pool to refresh.  And have the most expensive cocktails known to man.......

For our last evening in Vegas (I say evening, we had kids with jet lag so it was really 4 in the afternoon), we all wanted to visit M&M's World.  4 floors of blatant chocolate consumerism.  Thanks.  We started at the top.  That's where the M&M's Racing Team was, and where we were able to get a photo with the the 18 NASCAR. 


We had a delightfully relaxed dinner at the Rainforest Cafe, just near our hotel, then headed down to the Bellagio to watch the fountains. This was well worth the little walk through the crowds.  Very entertaining, free show.  Even the kids enjoyed it. We returned through the large crowds back to the hotel.  We had found a cut through earlier, through a shopping centre, which avoided the crazy streets.  A good thing in the early evening, as the crazies were starting to come out! Plus we were able to pick up some souvenirs.  We returned to the hotel, and the kids were all in bed and asleep by 8pm.  We enjoyed a couple of beers before falling in to bed our selves.


All in, Las Vegas is crazy.  Especially with kids.  The kids had jet lag, which to be honest was a bit of a blessing.  We were able to be up and about before most people woke up.  This enabled us to see a sunrise, and see some of the sights of Vegas without having to go through crowds of drunk partying people.  Homelessness is a problem, but we saw a fair amount of it this trip.  The kids are young enough to not see the seedy, partying side.  Thank goodness. I can completely see why people go to Las Vegas.  Not sure if we will go back again.  

On to the next stop: the Grand Canyon