Long Day — Fun Night

Cal, Roby and I made the long trip to Italy.  Plane from Boston left on time.  We encountered some nasty turbulence which wasn’t fun.  Then upon arriving in Madrid to make the connection we realized that we had to go through passport control and make it to entirely different terminal — about three miles away — in less than 45 minutes.  As luck would have it our tram broke down en route.  We waited as the recording said "due to unavoidable technical problems this train has been detained".  Luckily the got it going quickly enough for us to run about 1 mile to the gate and jump on the plane before they pulled back.

We landed in Rome on time, got our bags and took the train from the airport to downtown "termini".  It was a really ugly and uninspiring route — not the best way for the kids to get introduced to Italy.  Plus the conductor, who didn’t speak any English, informed me that I had the wrong ticket and needed to pay a penalty of $25 per person. After arguing as best I could, I showed him that all I had was 25 euros and he took that as compensation. That wasn’t a good introction to the "new" Rome for me.  (I remember Italy as being inexpensive so that may be an ongoing theme as we write this journal).

Once we got settled in our room we explored the forum and the colleseum which are literally just one block from our plan.  It was extremely hot and we got tired fast.  We came back and took a nap from 3 to 6 and then met up with Barb, Jim, Ali, and Jon and went on a tour of the pantheon.  Then we had dinner together and explored Trevi fountain.  It was a really nice way to end the day.

It’s morning now and we’re waiting for Sue and Ryan to arrive around 1pm — we hope their travel and connection went well.  It will be nice to be back together.

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From Sooke to Friday Harbor

We began our day at the campground in Sooke. It was overcast and cold so we had a fire in the morning and packed up fairly quickly. Our initial plan was to go to terminal to catch a ferry out to one of the Canadian Gulf Islands. Then we switched gears and thought about going to one of the US Islands off of Washington (the San Juan Islands). It took time to figure out the ferry schedule and restrictions for customs. After calling a bunch of places and stopping at the ferry terminal early we decided to take a 6pm boat to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. While we waited we visted the butterfly museum and had one last lunch in Victoria — which unfortunately wasn’t good and we too expensive. We were ready to leave.

We caught the 6pm ferry and got to Friday Harbor (the main town on San Juan Island) at 8pm. We were really lucky and found a three room cottage just up the hill from town. It’s a great place with a lawn and apple trees — a welcome change after staying at hotels.

We had some hamburgers for dinner down near town as the sun set.

The island looks beautiful and we hope to explore by bike, kayak or car before taking a ferry back to Anacortes, then to a hotel near the Seattle airport.

Camping in Sooke

Rusty made several business calls but was able to wrap up by 10am (good thing about the west coast). We all went for a swim in the pool — which is a fantastic indoor-outdoor pool with a hot tub.

We left the Coast Harbor Hotel and headed 45 minutes up the west coast to a remote area called Sooke. We checked out a few campgrounds and eventually settled at Frend Provencial Park. It’s very rustic (no running water or showers) but on a beautiful part of the shore.

We beachcombed for a bit — picking up rocks and chasing very small salmon as they swam in the waves near shore. In the early evening we went up to the “Sooke Potholes” and went swimming. The potholes are really just a river in a deep ravine with lots of pools, ledges and falls. It was cold but we all swam before going back to the campsite.

We had a fire just to take the chill off. It was nice to fall asleep listening to the wind and waves.

Vancouver to Victoria

Visited a park just north of Vancouver with a suspension bridge. We then headed to catch the ferry to Victoria from Tsawassen. Our first night in Victoria was fantastic. Once again we got a hotel right on the water (this time with the whole family in one room).

Victoria is an amazingly beautiful place.

Vancouver

We biked most of the afternoon around Stanley Park in Vancouver. Saw the aquarium. We had dinner (not a very good one) on Granville Island.

Seattle Day 2

Another lazy morning. The whole family, well actually the kids, have now gotten into the habit of staying up late and sleeping late. It doesn’t seem to get dark until about 9:30 or so which has thrown us all off. In addition, the Marriott has a great pool so the kids are as excited about just playing around the hotel as they are about seeing Seattle. After swimming and working out for a bit in the hotel fitness room we walked up to Pike Place Market again for something to eat. This time we picked up some local produce — fresh cherries and peaches. Ryan had a fancy crepe with nutella, strawberries and whip cream and Roby got an enormous cinnamon pretzel doughnut.

After strolling through the market, Rusty ventured off to get a haircut (a close summer buzz with a #2) and then travelled down to Renton for a business meeting at Classmates.com.

Meanwhile, Ryan, Cal, Roby and Sue walked to Pioneer Square for to catch a tour of the underground city. Along the way, Roby shopped for a
Seattle T-shirt and immediately wore it proudly. We had about 45 minutes to kill before the tour started so we played a few games of pool. Ryan and Cal played on one table, Roby and I played on another. Unfortunately we ran out of time for the championship game, but it was fun. Ryan is quite the pool shark now.

The tour started with a twenty minute briefing session that described the city’s history and its first settlers. Roby said, “this is going to be so boring…twenty minutes?” But…it actually was hilarious, right up the boys’ alley: full of bathroom humor and corny jokes (the invention of “the crapper,” sewage issues, etc.). The mood quickly changed and they couldn’t wait for the next leg of the tour. Our guide, Bruce, was very funny throughout the tour. I watched the boys wriggle their way to the front so as to not miss any good jokes. The tour was cool: we walked below the city streets, able to look up every now and then through skylights but mostly wandering through narrow passages that showed us old storefronts that had been burned down by a fire in 1889. There were also some old sidewalks and historical artifacts. Bruce kept joking about rats and Ryan was disappointed didn’t really see one. There were a lot of interesting things we learned about the history of Seattle. For example, for a few years after the fire they raised the street up but left the sidewalks and stores at the same level. People and horses were falling off the sidewalks and dying (Cal loved that part). They later added stairs to go down (Roby said, “duh!”), and eventually just filled in everything and rebuilt the city where it is today. We also learned about the corruption of Henry Yestler, the city’s mayor. All these interesting sights, good jokes, and historical tidbits made the time fly. The tour ended about 3:45 pm. Naturally we were forced to exit through the gift shop. In a silly mood we couldn’t resist the pig catapult (it was between that and the chicken chucker). It was $3.95 well spent.

We strolled from Pioneer Square down to the waterfront and stopped for a bite to eat along the pier. We dropped in the Aquarium but given the expense, decided to wait and see the one in Vancouver, as a family. It was a pleasant walk back to the hotel, where the boys immediately headed for the pool. It was so convenient being right across the hall. They played around, diving for coins, racing, doing handstands and other stuff until Rusty returned. Shortly after we met friends for dinner. An old college friend of ours, Laura Midgley, and her family live in Seattle. They suggested a restaurant called Chinook’s, located at Fisherman’s Terminal. We met there at 6:30, put our name in for a table, and walked the docks while we waited. It was a great setting to look out on all the fishing boats while we ate. As expected, it was delicious food and a part of town we hadn’t yet explored.

After dinner we rushed to see the boat locks nearby where there was also a place to watch the salmon spawning. We felt lucky to see so many jump. We also watched them go up a ladder from an underground observatory. It was amazing and we made it just in time. It was a fun way to end the evening and a great place for the kids to run around. Laura, Dave and Katrina (age 10) certainly showed us something special.

Riding the Dunes

This is the big day. The kids had been talking riding dune buggies — or better yet, ATVs if they could. We decided to go to the rental place sooner rather than later because we figured the demand might be lower and the wind wasn’t quite as strong as the day before. We arrived around 11 and Ryan and Cal were thrilled to learn that they were old enough and tall enough to ride in their own 250 cc buggy. Sue and Roby rented a 500cc two-seat buggy. And dad, being over the 170 pound limit for the single buggy, had to rent and ATV. The kids thought this was very cool because an ATVs is basically a four wheel motorcycle and they have a PS2 game that they love called “ATV Off Road Fury”.

As a group we had to read several panels of saftey and operation rules and then listen to a instructional tape. One of the employees then got us lined up in the parking lot and we headed off onto the dune access trail. It was quickly apparent that driving in the dunes was a bit trickier than we imagined. Just slogging up the hill was hard as the wheels spun or fishtailed in the deep sand. Unfortunately it also became apparent that Cal’s car had some mechanical problem. It would sputter and lurch and actually stalled on the way out.

We lined up on the top of a dune for our last bit of orientation from the guide. The key was to stay within a defined area — which wasn’t too hard given the size of the dunes. After the quick talk we were off! It was an amazing feeling to zip across the dunes. We quickly headed for a flat area that was basically a dried up pond which still had some puddles in it. The benefit of this area was a smooth ride plus good traction. As we ventured up and down the dunes we learned that the deep sand was tricky to drive through and the smaller cars (Ryan and Cal) easily got stuck. Cal got stuck once or twice, but part of his problem was his car was still sputtering and having problems. After all the build up, he was nearly in tears to have a bum buggy. Luckily the guide saw him having trouble and offered to excort him and dad back to the rental place to swap out his car. This took about 20 minutes to ride back up the hill, get a new car and then rejoin the group. But it was well worth it. Cal’s new car ran well and he was finally ready to keep up with Ryan and mom. When dad and cal rejoined the group, they were zipping up and down the dunes after getting used to navigating in the deep sand. Cal followed Ryan through the good routes and we all criss crossed primarily in the area of the hard flat area. We ventured out as we got to know the terrain but there was always a greater risk of getting stuck. At one point Sue and Roby got stuck in the deep sand and we had to lug the front of their car from side to side for several minutes until the back wheels came free.

Because of Cal’s mechanical problems, Cal and dad got an extra 15 minutes of driving time which they used zipping around in the same general area but expanding to a few different “bowls” as they made they way back out.

The overall assessment of the experience from each kid was “that was awesome!”. So, despite mechanical problems, and some time spend extracting the cars from the sand, driving dune buggies now ranks near the top of list of our vacation activities. Note to parents or others who may consider this on future vacations: this experience wasn’t cheap. Each car costs $45 per hour to rent. It’s basically the equivalent of a whole day of skiiing for one hour!

After leaving the dune buggy place we then discovered a small place just up the road which had go-carts. The kids were still jazzed up about their new-found driving skills so we stopped for a quick race around the track. This time it was a lot cheaper but still fun. We challenged each other around the curving (paved) track and jousted for postition around each turn. Some other, older, more aggressive kids bumped and pushed their way through to eventually take the lead, but we had a lot of fun.

We had lunch in Florence and browsed the shops for a while. The next new activity the kids wanted to try was sand boarding. Sue and cal rented a boat on the pond and Roby and Ryan rented boards to test out on the dunes. Sand boards are almost exactly like snowboards, but they don’t turn or “carve” as you can in snow. On Roby’s first attempt he achieved a lot of speed, but hadn’t figured out how to stop gracefully so he “beefed it” hard into the sand in front of a lot of people at the park. Being a bit more self conscious Ryan suggested that we walk to a distant dune to test them out with more privacy. We eventually ended up across the pond on a dune that lead to the pond’s edge. We groomed a ‘”trail” for the boards and after a few tries they were zipping down the dune and into the water. By this time Sue and Cal had joined up with us. Cal had several good rides down into the water. Mom and dad got to be the “pit crew” — drying off the boards after they went into the water and then waxing the bottom for the next run.

We finished up around five and then made the decision to do some driving at night rather that wait for tomorrow. We packed up all of our camping stuff, headed up 101, then over to Route 5 and north through Oregon, eventually through Portland, and then settled into a Comfort Inn in Kelso Washington about 11pm.

Crescent City to Florence OR

We all slept late after our evening of fireworks and beach-front pyromanics. We got a late start but still made it to Florence, Oregon Dunes, by 2pm.

The drive from Crescent Beach to Florence (Oregon Dunes) was longer than we expected. We stopped around Port Orford for lunch. The only place we could find was a sit-down restaurant, but we ordered sandwhiches to go. The food didn’t go over well with the kids. Roby was especially repulsed by the tuna melt that had ham mixed in with it. After closer inspection and consumption by dad, it was proved conclusively that the ham was in fact just tomato and tasted great.

The kids got more excited when we passed the first Dune Buggy rental place in Reedsport. We watched a few people pull out and there were dozens more riding their own ATVs in the dunes. The kids were psyched and full of anticipation.

We squelched the urge to jump in a dune buggy before doing anything else and pressed on to our campsite at Honeyman State Park. We found our site — F Loop #293, which turned out to be perfect for access to the dunes and surprisingly the EXACT same park that we stayed at pre-kids 15 years ago. We walked through a path behind our campsite and climbed a sand mountain — the highest dune within miles. The site of the dunes was breathtaking. Ryan and Roby were so excited, they couldn’t wait to climb to the top. Dad went back to get the camera. When he returned, Ryan and Roby were already visible near the tops of the mountain. Cal, mom and dad, climbed up after them. The sand was extremely fine as we scaled the side. We’d lose a half step for step up. We had to use our hands and our feet to make it up. The wind was still blowing very hard.but the sky was crystal clear. We walked along the top ridge of the dune as sand swirled around. The kids had a great time jumping off of the edge of the dunes. We were the only people out there. We could see dune buggy riders and ATVs in the distance. At this point all the kids could talk about was how fast ATVs go and how big or old they would need to be to drive them on their own.

We had a campfire and cooked hotdogs on a stick and marshmallows for dessert. Just as the sun was going down we climbed the same huge sand dune and then continued beyond to another higher peak closer to the ocean. The kids sprinted down the side of the dunes and rolled in the sand.

As the sun went down we headed home. Mom played cards with Roby in his tent and Ryan and Cal played pool on Ryan’s PDA until falling asleep around 10:30.

July 4th – Eureka and Crescent Beach

In the morning we had breakfast at the Comfort Inn in Fortuna. It featured make-your-own waffles. While finishing up a load of laundry, the kids swam in the pool and lounged in the hot tub which didn’t measure up to mom’s standard of hotness so mom opted out.

After his night in the folding bed, Ryan woke up with an extremely stiff neck.

The next segment of our journey was just 10 milies down the road to Eureka. We discovered a street festival with several bands and trinket booths and Ryan got a henna tattoo on his bicep.

From Eureka we headed north on route 101 to Lady Bird Johnson Grove of Redwoods. The kids were spazzing out in the car, singing songs, being silly and generally causing mayhem, so we were glad to get out somewhere we could walk a bit. The grove of Redwoods was beautiful. Roby climbed every stump, tree, and rock in sight. Many of the trees had “chimneys” — their base has an opening that is burned out so you can walk inside and look up into the tree. Ryan’s neck still hurt a lot so we had to hold him under the arms as he leaned back to see the tops of the trees.

The next stop along the coast was Crescent City. We had reserved a camp site at the Crescent City KOA.

For the most part our trips in the car have been unventful — an argument here and there, a punch or two, and complaining about who has to be stuffed in the back seat along with luggage. On this particular stretch of the drive, Roby was in the way back and Calvin was in the front seat. Cal asked for one of the squishy pillows to rest and Roby tried to pull one out from between the seats. Ryan heard a ripping sound and saw tiny styrofoam balls starting to fall out. Roby pulled harder until there was a huge gash in the bag. Anyone who’s ever opened a beanbag chair can imagine the explosion of tiny pellets pouring ouf of the pillow under the seats and into the air as we drove. The kids giggled uncontollably, mom sat observing and holding back laughter, dad kind of flipped out that the car and luggage we now covered in an inch of two of billions of sticky styrofoam balls. The first course of evasive action was to close the windows and turn on the AC. Dad kept yelling — “nobody move” “don’t touch anything”. We pulled over to a turn out to dump the rest out of the pillow and to assess the damage. It was worse than expected. The pile was nearly 4 inches deep and under all of the seats.

We were VERY lucky to find a car wash with a vacuum cleaner as we entered Crescent City. We took out all of the luggage and sucked up 4.7 billion of the 5 billion styrofoam balls in the car. We were back to almost normal — or at least as normal as it will be from here until turning in the car.

After that we arrived at the KOA camp site which turned out to be pleasant surprise. Right as we pulled in we say a sign for bike rentals. We expected them to be normal bicycles, but they turned out to be oversized pedal cars and reclining tricycle that you turn with your body weight. After we set up the tents in a beautiful redwood grove, Ryan and Cal rented the oversized carts and Roby used the funky tricycle. They raced around the campground on the gravel access roads and through the redwood dirt trails.

in a rush to make it to the fireworks in town we grabbed a quick dinner at Burger King. We headed toward the waterfront through town. We saw thousands of people so we parked on the street at the edge of what looked like a fairground, RV park, rock concert and freak show. We quicky found out what what it’s like when fireworks are legalized. EVERYONE was setting off roman candles, screeching missles, firecrackers all around us as we walked through the field. We thought we’d seen it all until we got to the beach and saw thousands more people who build huge fires on the beach and were setting off rockets into the strong (30mph +) on-shore wind causing them to float right back into the crowd. There were toddlers hopping around and running through the sparks that were raining down on the beach. It looked like a scene from a war movie. We were so amazed by the crazy pyromaniacs that we had to run back to get the video. Of course it was too dark to video but we captured many of the sounds.

We watched the “real” fireworks from a ridge in the field huddled together in sweatshirts and a towel draped over us. It was so cold and windy. The official fireworks were great. We all especially liked one that had a string of glowing balls dangling from a string on a parachutes.

After the frinale we sprinted to our car to avoid the huge mob. We made back to our tents by 11pm and had a great sleep. Roby and Cal shared a tent, mom and dad had a tent, and Ryan has his own.