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Niagara Falls

Today was our Niagara Falls day, and we were out by 10, after some more musical car shenanigans with Ashley’s landlady. It took about 2 hours to get there and to park, since there was an event on in the area, which we hadn’t realised. By the time we had eventually parked we were starving, so grabbed some food before heading out to actually look at the falls.

Horseshoe falls

They were incredible; it is difficult to describe the sheer volume of water crashing down, the plumes of spray rising high in the air and the noise that all of this makes. As we walked down towards Maid in the Mist, we took lots of pictures of both the Canadian Horseshoe Falls and of the smaller American Falls.

...and again

We had planned to come back later for even more photos but when it clouded over we were very glad to have taken some pictures in the sunshine. We joined the short ticket queue for Maid in the Mist, and within 15 minutes were boarding the boat, complete with a blue plastic poncho each.

American Falls

We were some of the last people onto the boat, but managed to get a good viewing spot next to the railing on the top deck.

Hot!

The Maid in the Mist was an amazing experience, literally taking us right up to the falls themselves, where the noise of the water is thunderous and you cannot see for the amount of spray that surrounds you. Although we had to pause a few times to dry off our cameras, we managed to get some pretty good close up pictures of the falls.

some mist!

Unfortunately it was over far too quickly, and the boat started heading back to the dock. We moved to the back to get some final pictures and were quite surprised to be asked if we were twins. (We’ve got used to being asked if we are sisters, but twins?!)

Horseshoe falls from the boat.

We were literally the last people off the boat since we took the opportunity of everyone crowding to the exit as a chance to take some pictures without a sea of people in blue ponchos in the foreground.

another picture from the boat

Opting to keep our ponchos, we then walked away from the falls in search of some free wi-fi so Lizzie could call her Dad on his birthday. This mission failed miserably, even after a trip to the car for the laptop and a walk up to the casino which apparently had free wifi in the Starbucks there. It didn’t work, we could see it but not connect. Having given up we started to walk back to the car, but walking through the lobby of the casino, the iPhone suddenly managed to connect to the wi-fi, so Liz was able to wish her dad Happy Birthday.

Close up of the Horseshoe Falls.

A different angle.

water

After a few more photos of the falls, we went back to the car to drive back to Toronto. We were pretty hungry by the time we got back, and Ashley joined us for dinner at a lovely Indian restaurant. The service was a little hit and miss, but the food was incredible, with plenty left for lunch tomorrow. After dinner, we moved the car to somewhere that it could stay overnight and were not up for long before going to bed since Lizzie and I were planning to leave by 7am tomorrow.

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A day in Toronto

After a bit of a late night, we had a slow lazy morning. Ashley made us some delicious blueberry pancakes for breakfast and we watched movies. By the time we were ready it was already afternoon and our first stop was a starbucks to phone home, since it is both of our mother’s birthdays today. While Lizzie managed to speak to hers, mine was incommunicado, but I managed to leave her a message, she did miss out on me singing down the phone though. Daughterly duties completed, we headed into central Toronto on the subway, with a free ride due to the fact that there was no-one in the ticket booth, even though we waited a while. “Woofstock” was on, and after negotiating hundreds of dogs and their owners we made our way to the market where we had planned to buy lunch. Some cheese, some bread and some butter tarts later we found a picnic table outside for our feast, which was delicious.

A spray painted bike in Toronto; it's become quite famous on the web apparently.

Ashley then took us for a wander around various neighbourhoods, where we stopped off in shops as an when we felt like it, but didn’t actually end up buying anything. We went to the CN tower to take pictures, but not to go up, since that was pretty expensive and it wasn’t the nicest of days for a good view of the city.

The CN tower.

By the time we had done this we were all flagging a little, so after visiting a few more shops, headed back to Ashley’s to watch a movie and drink wine. Once we had decided we were hungry it was a bit late, but we eventually found somewhere in budget that was still serving, a nice Greek place not far from Ashley’s place. We then headed home to watch the rest of the movie before bed.

We needed to move the car by 8am, so we left a few minutes early for our long drive to Toronto. Today was essentially all driving, stopping to switch places, fill up with gas and get lunch. The afternoon consisted of more driving, crossing the border in Canada and then getting stuck in a mammoth traffic jam. (Unlike the Bison Jam in Yosemite, this was not caused by a Mammoth, it was just kind of big.) We were stuck in almost stationary traffic for two hours, and eventually discovered that a gas tanker had gone over the side of the road and they were trying to recover it. With our cell phones once again failing us (Stupid AT&T not working in Canada) we stopped at a gas station and after Lizzie unsuccessfully did battle with the pay phone, were allowed to use their phone to call Lizzie’s friend Ashley to tell her we were going to be late. We eventually arrived at Ashley’s in time for the final 5 minutes of the hockey game, which we watched before playing musical cars with Ashley’s slightly weird landlady to get ours off the street which is permit only. With the car sorted, we unloaded our stuff and chatted with Ashley for a while before heading to bed.

Chicago: day 2

Our plan for another full day exploring was a little disrupted by the weather, the torrential rain, thunder and lightening did not do a good job of enticing us from our bed. After a lie in we got up and showered, once I was dressed I went our for a Quick walk to find a guitar shop that my dad uses to say hello to someone for him. The guy wasn’t there, but I left him a note and wandered around the store and took some pictures for my dad who has never actually been there. Back at the house neither of us could really be bothered so we watched TV for a couple of hours before eventually heading out at about 4ish to catch the bus into town. Getting off at Navy Pier we walked along the waterfront to find Buckingham Fountain, the spiritual beginning of Route 66 which we passed by several months ago, with the water turned off and closed for cleaning and repairs.

Buckingham Fountain

Today, however, it was clean, fixed and sending a plume of water high into the air, so high in fact that we spotted it over a row of trees as we approached.

...and again.

After several photos we took a wander through Millennium Park before catching the bus up towards the Cheesecake Factory for dinner. We had our usual avocado egg rolls, but barely had room to share a slice of cheesecake after a plate of egg rolls each and a cocktail. Both of us were feeling a bit tired at this stage, so instead of heading miles uptown in search of a very cool sounding sports bar with batting cages on the roof, we headed back to Jenny and Jeffs. We arrived back just in time to bid them farewell and to thank them for putting us up at the last minute. We headed to bed not long later, but watched a little TV before going to sleep.

Chicago: day 1

Chicago!

This morning started far too early, with one of the dogs barking persistently, so after climbing over Liz, I went out to calm the dogs down. Almost as soon as they saw me the barking stopped, and I went straight back to bed. We got up at a slightly more reasonable hour and once we were ready, headed out to explore Chicago. Our first adventure was finding the CVS store that we needed to buy our public transport tickets from. It took a while but we eventually found it, and luckily enough the subway stop was right across the road. Various public transport adventures and a chat with a friendly policeman later we found ourselves at the Chicago History Museum, where we made a beeline for the café. Once we had eaten we bought our tickets and went upstairs to the main exhibition. The exhibitions gave us a comprehensive history of the city from its first origins right through to the modern day, with lots of interesting items on display, including an original “L” train carriage. By the time we had finished the Chicagoland exhibition we were both getting a little bored, so we returned to the café for a caffeine hit before exploring the rest of the museum. To be honest, there was less to see left than we had thought and we were done less than an hour later, after seeing the bed that Abraham Lincoln died in, which I thought was a little morbid. Leaving the museum, we caught the bus down towards the John Hancock Observatory, which offers some of the best views of Chicago. (We decided to go for this one rather than the Sears Tower so we could actually see the Sears Tower!)

A bird's eye view of Chicago.

Unfortunately, the restaurant did not open until 5pm, and had a 2 drink minimum, so our plan (following advice from our guidebook) to go up and buy a drink rather than having to pay for an observatory ticket failed completely. Deciding that we still wanted to see the view, we paid our money and joined the queue for the elevator. Apparently it is the fastest elevator in the US, it certainly didn’t feel as violent as the ones in Altantic City. The views from the top were good, but so high up it was actually a little foggy, even though it didn’t look it from the ground. There was an “outdoor” area, but it was covered by a net screen, so you could barely see the view. Once we had taken all the pictures we wanted we caught the elevator back down to commence our exploration of the shops along the Magnificent Mile. But first, we HAD to stop off at The Cheesecake Factory to share a slice of white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake. We didn’t visit many shops as we walked down the mile, but enjoyed the atmosphere as we wandered along. The most interesting building was the Tribune tower, decorated with brickwork and stones taken from other famous buildings worldwide.

The Tribune Tower (with a bit of Edinburgh Castle)

By this point it was getting towards half past four and I was really suffering from the heat (105 degrees Fahrenheit and very humid) so we caught the subway back towards Jenny and Jeff’s. Jenny was there when we arrived, and we all agreed that although Lizzie and I had planned to cook Shepherds Pie, that it was far too hot and that we would make some sort of salad instead. Since it was rush hour, we didn’t want to take the car out to buy ingredients so went to an organic grocery store just around the corner, which was amazing, but rather pricey. We (mainly Liz) cooked a vegetarian pasta salad with a variety of summery vegetables and either a balsamic or strawberry balsamic dressing, which was really good! We ate dinner outside on the patio and afterwards I stayed outside chatting with Jenny while Lizzie took her turn blogging. Jenny and Jeff went to bed at about 9.30ish and we stayed up reading and watching TV for a couple more hours before heading to bed.

Iowa to Chicago

I had just woken up when I heard a small person outside the door looking for Liz and I; Disa had kept her promise that Eli was our wake up call. He did a good job. We came downstairs and just hung out with everyone for a while before Disa, Eric and the kids had to leave. It was nice to be able to see everyone again this morning before we leave at lunchtime. The rest of the morning was uneventful; breakfast, packing and grocery shopping before Karin and Jim took us out for lunch. After packing the final things into the car and saying our final goodbyes, we drove on towards Chicago. The drive to Chicago was long and boring, punctuated by a stop at the small town of Elizabeth to take some pictures of the sign and a stop for caffeine. Unfortunately we managed to hit rush hour as we arrived in Chicago, but arrived at our hosts’ house not long after 7pm. Jenny and Jeff were very welcoming, and offered us food and wine as we settled in, which was great. We spent a chilled out evening sitting on their patio and chatting until they went to bed. We then each spent some time on the laptop and reading before going to sleep.

Last time I was in Iowa I felt that I needed a vacation from my vacation, 5 1/2 months in, this is even more true and I was delighted when we decided to stay for an extra night. Nevertheless, our three night stay passed by in a blur of good food and good company, which I will describe briefly here. Sunday started with a delicious family breakfast, and was generally a rather lazy day.

Disa and Eli modelling my hat and sunglasses

We spent most of the afternoon at Disa and Eric’s and while I chatted with Disa while she prepared food for dinner, Eric, Lizzie, Sophie and Eli did some archery in the garden. The evening was spent back at Karin and Jim’s for a BBQ followed by a trip out for ice cream, both of which were delicious. Monday morning was extremely slow, with our only real activity being the frantic last minute search for somewhere to stay in Chicago. After lunch with Jim and Karin, Eric and Sophie picked us up to see the new X-Men movie at the (lovely, air-conditioned) cinema, since it was far to hot to be outside. The movie was fantastic and we went back to Disa and Eric’s briefly before going out to dinner. Dinner at the restaurant was amazing and I ate far too much, particular mention must go to the chocolate souffle, which Eli also seemed to enjoy!

Eli "enjoying" his chocolate souffle (and trying to say cheese at the same time!)

As I mentioned earlier on, this visit went by all to quickly and I am already planning my next visit!

With a long drive and an oil change ahead of us, it was another early start. Unfortunately, none of the garages in Wall were open at 8am on a Saturday, so looking at the GPS, we found one about 80 miles further along the I-90 in the direction we were heading. Phoning them, it turned out that they were actually just a parts store, but they directed us to a place in town that would be able to help us. After just over an hour of driving we arrived at this gas station/café/garage and while they changed the oil in the car, we went to the café for breakfast. The car was ready before we were, and not long later we were back on the road. I can safely say that the I-90 is one of the most boring roads on the planet! We drove for hours, stopping only to swap over or to fill the car up with gas. We arrived at Karin and Jim’s in Cedar Falls, Iowa just after six and were greeted with open arms. Within a few minutes we were sitting down to a delicious meal with everyone and had a wonderfully relaxing evening sitting outside in the warm and then moving inside when the bugs appeared.

Mount Rushmore and Wall

Today we went toMount Rushmore, there were some presidents faces carved in a mountain. We took pictures. Then we drove to Wall. The End.

 

Mount Rushmore

I could stop there, but I won’t. Here is the extended version.

 

I was up at 8 in order to finally upload some of the blogs I had written but not posted. While I blogged Lizzie skyped home and was taken on a virtual tour of the union by Oli… the joys of modern technology. Our motel had a check out time of 10am, which is early by most motel standards, but not dreadful. At 9.30am, with Lizzie still on the phone I jumped into the shower, at 9.40am once I was out, Lizzie showered while I got ready. At 5 to 10 one of the staff knocked on our door and (rather rudely I might add) asked if we wanted to extend our stay for another night, I said that we were just about to leave. Two minutes later another member of staff came to knock on the door, I have never felt so forced out of a hotel in my life. The drive to Mount Rushmore was about an hour and a quarter of scenic and winding roads through the Black Hills, which was really very pretty and enjoyable, apart from the people driving v e r y  s l o o o o w l y in front of us. Arriving at Mount Rushmore we paid $11 for the pleasure of parking in the Abraham Lincoln Parking Garage and then headed towards the Grand View Terrace, which looked like a Dalek in the picture, but sadly not in real life. After walking along the Walk of Flags, one of each state in the union, we reached the terrace and our first uninterrupted view of the mountain. We had been treated to a lovely sunny day (apparently they had snow a couple of days ago) and the sun was not yet high enough to put much of the faces into shadow (as it had done by the time we left).

... and again, slightly more zoomed out.

Me in front of Mount Rushmore... yes I am hovering!

After several photos and hair vs. wind battles, we took the (apparently strenuous) Presidents’ Trail to get a closer look at the sculpture and to visit a reproduction of the artist’s studio. The strenuous part came in where we had to (shock horror!) climb some stairs to get back up to the terrace. This walk took us past a historic viewing terrace which, despite several annoying trees gave us a good view without having to dodge other tourists and their irritating children. Back at the main terrace we took the stairs down for a brief wander around the museum before returning to the terrace for some final photos, after all, we hadn’t yet taken any silly ones. Several jumps and silly poses later we headed back along the Walk of Flags towards the café. Persuaded by Liz, and the drastically lower calorie and fat content, I had a bison burger for lunch, which was nice, but tasted much like beef. Once we had eaten we bid Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln a final farewell and returned to the car. The drive to Wall was about the same length as the drive this morning and true to form, I fell asleep again, waking up not far from Wall. After we had checked into our motel, we realised that at some point today we crossed into the Central Time Zone, so had essentially lost an hour. Since our plans for the evening included massive amounts of blog catch up, this was not a good thing. We went for a brief expedition to Wall Drug, which had been advertised for MILES along the interstate, and came back with ice cream floats instead of drinks, but they were good anyway (and technically drinks). The rest of the evening was spent taking turns on the computer in an attempt to catch up before arriving inIowatomorrow. This is not hugely relevant to the blog, but I have caught a cold. I don’t know where it came from, but after sneezing uncontrollably all afternoon I now have a blocked nose and a headache. I am not impressed.

Impressively for us, we were packed, checked out and on the road by 8.11am. It wasn’t a great morning but we were hopeful that the clouds might burn off before we got to our various photo stops. The first of these was the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone that we missed yesterday. It was very cold, with coats and hats on and hoods up we walked up the boardwalk surrounded by clouds of steam and spray.

The Grand Prismatic Spring (somewhere behind the steam)

Unfortunately, the wind was blowing towards us, which meant that we could only catch glimpses of the spring’s many and impressive colours through gaps in the huge, thick clouds of steam billowing towards us. After a few rather unimpressive photos we headed back to the car to find our next destination, The Dragon’s Mouth Spring. It was quite a long drive punctuated by a bathroom and caffeine stop, reaching the height of 8,300 feet and a bit of snow. It is JUNE! What is wrong with this country?! We also passed Yellowstone Lake which is still mostly covered in ice and snow. (See previous rant on it being June)

Yellowstone Lake

The Dragon’s Mouth was really cool, a cave from which water and steam belch out as if from a dragon’s lair.

Dragon's Mouth

The same stopping point was also home to some rather smelly bubbling pools of mud, I wonder if this is the acid mud that can melt flesh? (As learnt about in the visitor centre yesterday.) After some photos it was time to hit the road again and I took over the driving to take us out of Yellowstone and towards Grand Teton National Park, 20 miles or so south of Yellowstone. The Tetons were impressive, and as they came into view next to Jackson Lake, we were treated to a break in the clouds and fantastic views. Naturally this called for a photo stop before we continued and not long later we had found the Mount Moran overlook and sat in the car to eat our lunch hoping for more of a break in the clouds.

Mount Moran

This was not to be, but our earlier photos were pretty good, so it wasn’t a complete disaster that the top of the mountain had disappeared behind the clouds. All of the Tetons were similarly shrouded with cloud, but we did manage to get some nice photos from theJacksonLakeDamon our way back to the main road. Programming the GPS we discovered that it would take us 7 and a half hours to reach our motel for the night, even though we had already driven for almost 5 hours. We spent the rest of the day driving, trying to reduce this time even a little (this is sometimes pretty easy since if the GPS doesn’t know a speed limit it uses 30mph as its average), with quick stops to switch over. Our only long stop came at dinner time, where we found a petrol station that also made fresh takeaway pizzas and bought one to eat in the car. Neither of us had quite realised how hungry we were and I burnt the roof of mouth trying to eat too quickly. A little over an hour later and we had checked into our quaint independent motel, with just enough time for each of us to spend an hour on the laptop before midnight. Frustratingly I left my camera in the car, so my plans for posting the last week or so of my blog flew straight out of the window.