Boston, Buffalo and NYC

Boston was our next stop. There was only really one thing to do on memorial day weekend in Boston, and that was go and watch the Redsox at Fenway Park! We didn’t have tickets as it was apparently sold out but we had heard that if you arrive a little earlier and stand in a queue for a little while you can still get tickets. We did and ended up with great seats right near the front! They played a great game against the L.A. Angels, winning 6-1. There were lots of huge home runs and even a couple of snapped bats! The place was packed and the atmosphere for the home team was great.

Fenway Park

Fenway Park

Fenway Park

Fenway Park

Red Sox win!

Red Sox win!

Danny outside Fenway Park

Danny outside Fenway Park

The baseball took up most of the day so the next day we decided to explore Boston through the Freedom trail. This is a walk through Boston that shows America’s history of the Revolutionary War which gave independence to America from Great Britain.

We started at Boston Common, America’s oldest public park, where there was a memorial of 37,000 small American flags dedicated to each person from the state of Massachusetts that has died in war. After that we followed the route through the city and saw the site of the Boston massacre, graveyards where the people who were responsible for America’s independence were buried as well as lots of churches and meeting places where important events took place in America’s history.

Freedom Trail

Freedom Trail

Freedom Trail

Freedom Trail

Boston Memorial

Boston Memorial

Freedom Trail

Freedom Trail

Freedom Trail

Freedom Trail

Freedom Trail

Freedom Trail

Top of the Boston monument

Top of the Boston monument

For the extended weekend there was also a lot of street theatre going on. We managed to watch a few including a guy from Sydney who balanced on a really tall pole while juggling machetes! He was quite good but his humour was lost on the crowd which was a shame as he was actually pretty funny.

Street theatre in Boston

Street theatre in Boston

Cheers!

Cheers!

We had some really great weather while we were in Boston. On one of the days we were treated to a show by the Blue Angel jets who were flying over the harbour for a while. There was also a lot of helicopters about. Something must have been going on but weren’t sure what! After that we decided to go and visit Harvard, just to be nosey. It was kind of a bad idea as there was a graduation taking place so it was extremely busy. We did manage to have a wander round the campus though and see all the pretty buildings and the clever graduates in their robes. We also saw MIT further down the road. The neighbourhoods in this area were really nice to walk around and the streets felt very American.

Boston Pier

Boston Pier

Warren St

Warren St

Harvard

Harvard

American Danny

American Danny

MIT

MIT

Boston

Boston

Streets of Boston

Streets of Boston

It felt like we’d only just arrived in Boston and we were already leaving. The last few weeks of the trip are flying by. Our next stop was a long bus journey to Buffalo for one reason only… Niagara Falls. As we arrived in Niagara we could see the mist of the Falls from miles away. We headed straight for the Maid of the Mist when we arrived and boarded the boat in the famous blue ponchos. First we sailed past America Falls which was huge and had lots of boulders at the bottom. Then we got to the main attraction, Horseshoe Falls. The boats engine remained on full power though we stopped moving because of the enormous currents. The boat stayed at the base of the falls for a while and allowed us to get some great photos. The boat then span around, edging closer to the falls, which soaked us in the process! All good fun!

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

Bridge to Canada

Bridge to Canada

Maid of the Mist!

Maid of the Mist!

American Falls

American Falls

Looking good!

Looking good!

Looking good!

Looking good!

Soaked!

Soaked!

Horseshoe Falls

Horseshoe Falls

Mist!

Mist!

American Falls

American Falls

Horseshoe Falls

Horseshoe Falls

After the boat ride we walked along the top of the falls and got a great view of a rainbow that had formed inside American Falls. From the top you could see the real speed of the water flow. It’s crazy to think people have gone over the edge and survived!

American Falls

American Falls

American Falls

American Falls

Niagara Fall

Niagara Falls

Rainbow in American Falls

Rainbow in American Falls

Over the edge

Over the edge

Top of Horseshoe Falls

Top of Horseshoe Falls

Considering we were doing everything cliché during our time in Buffalo we decided to finish off our time there with original buffalo wings from the very place they were created. A little place called Anchor Bar shares the story of how the owner’s son’s friends all came the bar starving one day so instead of using the chicken wings for the owner’s soup, she decided to serve them to the friends. And they were a success! We decided to share a plate between us but some people were ordering plates of 50!

Buffalo wings!

Buffalo wings!

The next day soon arrived and it time to make our last trip to a new place. Arguably we saved the best til last and at 8pm we arrived in New York City. We tried to blend in and not look like tourists by getting on the subway. We were doing great until Danny’s bag got stuck in the door and caused a little drama. We dropped our bags off in the Upper West Side where we were staying and headed straight back out to Times Square for some exploring. As expected it was heaving but in some way this added to what we expected New York to be like. After a few hours of exploring we called it a night, ready for tomorrow!!

Times Square

Times Square

Times Square

Times Square

Susie in Times Square

Susie in Times Square

Cowboy!

Cowboy!

USA

USA

Subway

Subway

With Central Park being so close to our apartment we decided to start the day there with an iced coffee (something that has become a favourite of ours whilst travelling). We walked around the park, past the reservoir, past Alice in Wonderland and untoward the Wolloman Rink, which is being used as a small fairground in the summer months. The park was filled with huge pieces of bedrock which was really cool to see. There was also a lot of amateur baseball games going on.

Central Park

Central Park

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

New York

New York

Bedrock

Bedrock

Skyline

Skyline

In Central Park

In Central Park

After the park we ended up doing much more exploring than we expected. We headed to the Rockefeller Centre and went up to the top for amazing views! It was a little misty out towards the harbour but this seemed to add to the overall experience. You could still see so much of the boroughs, lower Manhattan and Central Park looked enormous!

Empire State Buiding

Empire State Buiding

Top of the rock

Top of the rock

Top of the rock

Top of the rock

Us at the top of the rock

Us at the top of the rock

Rockefeller Centre

Rockefeller Centre

We also strolled up and down 5th Avenue looking in all the shops! We visited the Apple Store and FAO Swartz which is the toyshop off the film Big. We saw people playing on the big piano but decided against it ourselves. The sweet section of the store was amazing with everything from Bertie Botts every flavour beans to giant jelly bears!

5th Ave

5th Ave

Saks

Saks

Apple Store

Apple Store

Toy shop

Toy shop

The big piano!

The big piano!

Zoltar

Zoltar

Schwarz Clock

Schwarz Clock

We also took the subway south to Greenwich Village. Just at the top of the subway steps on W4th Street there was a basketball match happening so we hung around for a bit and watched that. From what we saw it was a good game and when we walked past later another game was in the 100’s for scoring! Not far away from the basketball we visited a few famous building from TV shows. First we saw the Friends building used for exterior shots of their apartment. It’s weird to think that none of Friends was actually shot in New York but at least you can imagine by seeing the building! We also saw Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment from Sex and the City.

Basketball match

Basketball match

Friends apartment building

Friends apartment building

Carrie Bradshaw's apartment

Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment

While we were in the area we decided to see quite a few other sights that we wanted to see. We did a little loop walk around and ended up visiting Washington Square, the Flat Iron building and Union Square. After we headed back to Times Square as we had been told about Manhattan Henge that was supposed to be happening that evening. Manhattan Henge is when the sun aligns directly with the city grid so the sun lights up both the north and south sides of the street. It only happens a couple of times a year. Unfortunately the clouds ruined it for us, and many others. Maybe next time?

Washington Square

Washington Square

Flats iron building

Flats iron building

Chrysler building

Chrysler building

This was supposed to be the Manhattan Henge

This was supposed to be the Manhattan Henge

Empire State Building

Empire State Building

Another morning, another walk through Central Park. This time past the Swedish Cottage and up to the lake. Here we saw the famous Bow Bridge and the steps and the fountain. Unfortunately (again), the bridge was under construction so didn’t look as great as we’d thought! With it being a lovely sunny day we decided to go onto the lake in a rowing boat. The lake was quite big and was filled with tortoises on rocks and swimming through the water. An hour soon past and then we headed to Grand Central Station. The building was spectacular! Why isn’t Poulton like this? We even found the whispering corner where is you both stand at each end of an arch you can talk quietly to each other and it can be heard in the other corner. It was very strange but there were lots of people testing it out!

Central Park

Central Park

Central Park

Central Park

Tortoise

Tortoise

Boating

Boating

Central Park

Central

Central Park

Central Park

Grand Central Station

Grand Central Station

Grand Central Station roof

Grand Central Station roof

Whispering corner

Whispering corner

Grand Central Station

Grand Central Station

That evening we had tickets to go and see Ed Sheeran in Brooklyn. We also had been told about a food festival that was happening on Pier 5 In Brooklyn called Smorgasberg. We decided to try it out and when had short rib nachos and the fanciest chorizo scotch egg! However while we were enjoying our food a thunderstorm started…. and it did not stop. We huddled under a small cover next to a food hut but we needed to get to the arena. Without and jackets or umbrellas and a walk away from the subway we just had to run for it! We stopped at every cover we could but still got absolutely soaked! Luckily when we got to the tube it took us right to the Barclay’s Centre where we needed to be. When we finally arrived we treated ourselves to some fancy frozen cocktails and enjoyed watched Foy Vance and then Ed Sheeran. He was so good and put on a great show, definitely worth braving the rain for.

Food festival

Food festival

Short rib nachos

Short rib nachos

Fancy scotch eggs

Fancy scotch eggs

Storm over Statue of Liberty

Storm over Statue of Liberty

Storm over Manhattan

Storm over Manhattan

Sheltering

Sheltering

Barclays Centre

Barclays Centre

Barclays Centre

Barclays Centre

Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheehan

The crowd at Ed Sheeran

The crowd at Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran

The next morning it was stillll raining. We couldn’t let this stop us though. As has become a tradition, we started our day off with a walk. This time along the High Line in Chelsea. This is an abandoned train line which has been turned into a raised garden. It was a long boardwalk consisting of flowers growing all around the unused railway line. At the end we were quite near a few famous places so we had a look at Madison Square Garden and the Empire State Building. We decided not to go up as we’d been up the top of the rock.

The High Line

The High Line

Along the High Line

Along the High Line

Artwork on the High Line

Artwork on the High Line

Along the High Line

Along the High Line

The High Line

The High Line

The High Line

The High Line

The High Line

The High Line

The High Line

The High Line

Madison Square Garden

Madison Square Garden

MSG

MSG

Inside the Empire State

Inside the Empire State

That afternoon we visited Brooklyn again and walked over the Brooklyn Bridge in the misty weather. We happened to go back to Times Square later on and we saw that there was a food festival on called Taste Times Square. You had to buy tickets then you could around each stall and exchange the tickets for small amounts of food from each place. We decided to give it a go and had a great time experiencing all the different food. Surprisingly, the most well-known places tasted the worse!

Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge

NY Public Library

NY Public Library

Inside the library

Inside the library

Taste Times Square

Taste Times Square

Taste Times Square

Taste Times Square

Misty Manhattan

Misty Manhattan

Central Park at night

Central Park at night

Central Park at night

Central Park at night

Following another recommendation, our next day began with brunch at Jacob’s Pickles. Here we had breakfast biscuits and French toast with strawberries. The food was amazing and the portions were that huge that we struggled to finish! After brunch we headed to Wall St where we saw the stock exchange, the charging bull and even Zuccotti Park where Occupy Wall Street took place.

Wall Street

Wall Street

Stock Exchange

Stock Exchange

The Bull

The Bull

Zuccotti Park

Zuccotti Park

Still raining we headed to the 9/11 memorial for the evening. First we saw the memorial pools which were a really fitting tribute to 9/11. When we eventually got in we watched a short film with George W Bush and Tony Blair speaking of the day it happened. After that we looked through the museum which was a timeline of the day. It had first hand accounts of the day from the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and New York. There were hundreds of pieces of display including NYPD and FDNY hats and tool etc. There were also fire trucks and ambulance remains that had been crushed in the collapse. The saddest part of the experience has to be listening to a man’s answerphone message to his wife from a hijacked plane. The calmness in his voice brought instant tears to our eyes and is something we’ll never forget. There was also a great section dedicated to each person that had lost their life and also a film showing the recovery and rebuild process. The whole museum was done very well but it was an extremely sad experience and we left feeling very upset.

9/11 Memorial

9/11 Memorial

9/11 Memorial

9/11 Memorial

9/11 Memorial

9/11 Memorial

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Early morning 11/9/01

Early morning 11/9/01

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9/11 Musuem

9/11 Museum. A surviving staircase

9/11 Musuem

9/11 Museum

9/11 Museum. Benches from the plaza

9/11 Museum. Benches from the plaza

9/11 Museum

9/11 Museum

9/11 Museum

9/11 Museum

9/11 Museum

9/11 Museum

Outside the fire station

Outside the fire station

NY at night

NY at night

Empire State lit up

Empire State lit up

Our final full day was soon upon us. Can’t believe it!! For lunch we had proper New York pizza, however we underestimated the size of the slices and struggled to finish! We had decided to save some of the major New York touristy things to do until the last day so we had a few things planned. Firstly we got the boat to the Statue of Liberty. Luckily we were stood on the right side of the boat and as we sailed past the statue to dock we got some great photos of the statue and the Manhattan skyline in the background! When we arrived we did a little audio tour that explained about the importance of the statue to immigrants. It also included real experiences from people who had come to America. They recalled the first time they saw the statue and the emotions they felt. We had decided to treat ourselves when we booked the tickets and bought the ones which allow you to go up the pedestal of the statue. Unfortunately we couldn’t go right to the top as it was sold out until September! The pedestal was great though but it was a strange seeing the statue from the angle beneath.

East village

East village

View from the boat

View from the boat

Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline

Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline

The old flame

The old flame

Reflection from the pedestal

Reflection from the pedestal

View from below

View from below

View from inside

View from inside

Us and the Statue of Liberty

Us and the Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty

After we finished at Liberty Island we got the boat to Ellis Island. This is where immigration into the US was controlled and where all arriving people had to undergo medical and criminal examinations. Here we had another audio tour and learnt about the early settlers of the US. If you are American you can also trace your ancestors here, with about 40% of American being able to trace somebody related to them.

Ellis Island

Ellis Island

Ellis Island audio tour

Ellis Island audio tour

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Registration hall

Registration hall

Registration hall

Registration hall

Miss Liberty boat

Miss Liberty boat

9/11 globe remains

9/11 globe remains

For our final evening we watched the sunset along the shoreline before heading to World Trade Centre One, the new World Trade Centre. Once we had been checked by security we arrived in a lobby to see that we were the 48,783 visitor. It only opened a week ago! We then walked through fake bedrock and into amazing lifts which have animated screens on them (won’t ruin the surprise for anyone else that visits). The lift travels at 53mph but it doesn’t even feel like you’re moving! At the top, the views are as amazing as you would expect. It was good to see New York at night after seeing it in the day light from the top of the rock. High above Manhattan you could see the Empire State, the Brooklyn Bridge and the flashing lights of Broadway.

One World Trade Centre

One World Trade Centre

Inside

Inside

City Pulse

City Pulse

NY by night from the One World Trade Centre

NY by night from the One World Trade Centre

NY by night from the One World Trade Centre

NY by night from the One World Trade Centre

One World Trade Centre

One World Trade Centre

One World Trade Centre

One World Trade Centre

And that is about it. Our last few hours in New York were spent getting last minute bits and bobs to take home. Can’t quite believe that after 158 days our travels have come to an end and now it is time to go back to reality. We are so looking forward to seeing family and friends but we are very grateful of the experiences that we have had. Hopefully we can continue this blog on another adventure…

Danny & Susie

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Salt Lake City, Chicago and the Capital

After a delayed flight from Vegas we eventually made it to Salt Lake City, flying over the great Salt Lake on our arrival. Unfortunately because it is so far away from the city, this was the first and last time we would see it! We began exploring the city and our first stop was the State Government building on Capitol Hill. As we were admiring the building and the snow covered mountains that surrounded the city, a US Army helicopter flew over the roof and landed on the lawn right in front of us. This was obviously not a usual sight as crowds gathered, wondering who was inside. Lots of people dressed in US Army gear got out and it was all very interesting, but we didn’t recognise anyone. We watched it leave and almost got blown over backwards!

Utah Capitol Building

Utah Capitol Building

Salt Lake City from Capitol Hill

Salt Lake City from Capitol Hill

Army helicopter

Army helicopter

Helicopter taking off

Helicopter taking off

Salt Lake City is only a small place so it didn’t take long for us to walk around and visit Temple Square, the Creek and Gateway Shopping Centres, the library and lots of parks. Salt Lake City is a Mormon city and there is a huge church of the Latter Day Saints. As far as churches go, it was a pretty ugly looking building!

Washington Square

Washington Square

Temple Square

Temple Square

Temple Square

Temple Square

The Creek

The Creek

Unfortunately while we were in the town one day, a storm started! So we took cover in the cinema and watched the new Avengers film while it passed. We were actually a little surprised at how nice Salt Lake City was and we really enjoyed our time there.

Next up, Chicago! The weather had become amazing! Why did we think America was going to be freezing?! After navigating the metro, we arrived in the city! We headed straight into the Millennium Park to see the famous Cloud Gate a.k.a. The Bean.

Millennium Park

Millennium Park

The bean

The bean

Reflection in the bean

Reflection in the bean

We spent the rest of the day just wandering round and getting our bearings like we always do on our first day in a new place. The city is lovely and the streets are lined with rows and rows of fresh tulips. We wandered along the river seeing all the bridges and admiring the old and new architecture. Chicago has so many different water fountains, some are really unusual. The Crown Fountain has moving images of people’s faces and the water comes out of their mouth! The Buckingham Fountain sprays water so far that even 100yards away from it you still get wet.

Pretty streets of Chicago

Pretty streets of Chicago

Chicago river

Chicago river

The Trump Building

The Trump Building

The river

The river

Outside the art museum

Outside the art museum

Art musuem

Art museum

Sculptures

Sculptures

Tube line running through the city

Tube line running through the city

The river

The river

Crown Fountain

Crown Fountain

Buckingham Fountain

Buckingham Fountain

When in Chicago there is only one option for dinner – pizza! Our host had advised us that the best place to get classic Chicago pizza was Lou Malnati’s, so we did. We got a medium sized deep dish pizza between us and it was delicious! But far too much, we had to take some home with us. It was literally like a pizza pie and so much better than any horrid doughy deep dish back home.

Amazing

Amazing

Pizza, Chicago style!

Pizza, Chicago style!

Chicago also offers a great zoo in the middle of the city, and best of all… its free! We couldn’t believe it. We spent an afternoon there watching camels, great apes, chimps, lions, tigers, hippos, giraffes and rhinos. It was much better than some paid zoos we’ve ever been to.

Lincoln Park

Lincoln Park

View of Chicago from Lincoln Park

View of Chicago from Lincoln Park

Grumpy gorillas

Grumpy gorillas

Rhino

Rhino

Crazy croc!

Crazy croc!

One morning we hopped on a bus and headed to Navy Pier via the Wrigley Field Baseball Stadium. Wow, can definitely tell why it’s called the windy city around there! The pier was a little disappointing so we hopped back on the bus and headed towards the Adler Planetarium instead. From here we were extended right out onto Lake Michigan so looking back we had great views of the Chicago skyline. We had a wander round the whole complex there, and even played a little bit of city crazy golf.

Wrigley Field Baseball stadium

Wrigley Field Baseball stadium

Navy Pier

Navy Pier

Adler Planetarium

Adler Planetarium

Chicago skyline

Chicago skyline

Chinese animal sculpture

Chinese animal sculpture

Field Museum

Field Museum

Along the lake

Along the lake

Crazy golf

Crazy golf

Chicago is home to the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) which is the 12th tallest building in the world. We spent an afternoon at the top of the tower looking out onto the most amazing views. On a good day you can see four states from the top, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and obviously Illinois. At the top there is a glass block called the sky deck that you can stand in and see right down below you. The sky deck is 1353ft and hangs over the Chicago river. It’s actually pretty scary when you are in there!

Long way up!

Long way up!

Skydeck

Skydeck

View of Chicago from the Willis Tower

View of Chicago from the Willis Tower

View of Chicago from the Willis Tower

View of Chicago from the Willis Tower

View of Chicago from the Willis Tower

View of Chicago from the Willis Tower

In the glass box

In the glass box

Eek!

Eek!

Scary stuff!

Scary stuff!

Our time in Chicago was soon over and after a very early morning followed by another flight delay we finally arrived in Washington D.C! Again, it was boiling!! Even the people who lived here couldn’t believe how hot it was. But we weren’t complaining as we had a lot to see and it was lovely to be outside in the sunshine. First on our list was basically everything in the National Mall. This is where most of the attractions are. Our first stop was the Capitol Building. It was huge and very pretty but unfortunately they were repairing then roof from weather damage so all the scaffolding kind of made the whole building a little disappointing. There was also a lot of preparations being made for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend so it was pretty busy with workmen.

Washington D.C Capitol building

Washington D.C Capitol building

Next we walked up along the long National Mall towards the Washington Monument. It was huge! And very windy just around the bottom of it. There are free tickets available to go up the monument but we were told they usually sell out by around 8am because people queue from the very early morning.

Washington Monument

Washington Monument

Susie and the Washington Monument

Susie and the Washington Monument

Around this area of the mall there are a lot of memorials and we visited them all. There was the Vietnam War memorial, Korean War memorial and the WWII memorial. They were all very touching, each unique with very sombre atmosphere.

WWII Memorial

WWII Memorial

Each gold star represents 100 American lives lost during WWII

Each gold star represents 100 American lives lost during WWII

Washington Monument from the WWII Memorial

Washington Monument from the WWII Memorial

Vietnam War Memorial

Vietnam War Memorial

Korean War Memorial

Korean War Memorial

District of Columbia Memorial

District of Columbia Memorial

After the memorials we went to see the Lincoln Memorial which sits at the opposite end of the National Mall to the Capitol Building. The statue of Lincoln in his chair was huge and it gazed out over the whole mall. Nearby there was also a little statue of Albert Einstein so we visited that too.

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln statue

Lincoln statue

Danny at the Lincoln statue

Danny at the Lincoln statue

Albert Einstein Memorial

Albert Einstein Memorial

After lunch we wandered around the Tidal Basin and it was great to see so many people out on paddle boats enjoying the sun like us! Around the edges there are lots more memorials dedicated to famous people, such as Martin Luther King, Franklin Roosevelt and a huge pantheon style memorial dedicated to Thomas Jefferson. This memorial overlooked the basin and the Washington Monument with the White House in the distance. Inside it was filled with a huge statue of him and quotes on the walls.

MLK

MLK

MLK

MLK

Franklin Roosevelt Memorial

Franklin Roosevelt Memorial

Can't escape Japan!

Can’t escape Japan!

Thomas Jefferson Memorial

Thomas Jefferson Memorial

Thomas Jefferson Memorial

Thomas Jefferson Memorial

On route to the White House we stopped by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum which had some very sad exhibitions. We didn’t stay that long as it was extremely busy with school children on trips. Instead we spent time in the White House visitor centre which gave us an insight into what the house is like inside and all the different presidents who have lived there. We found out that we could actually have a tour of the inside but it takes around 6 months for the visit to be arranged.

White House visitor centre

White House visitor centre

We soon arrived at the actual White House. While we were busy being tourists and taking pictures we all of a sudden got told that the road was now closed and we had to leave. Apparently this happens all the time and it normally means Obama is on the move (although the secret service will never confirm this to the public). We waited a little while to see what was happening. We did see a few blacked out cars with police escorts further down the road so we guessed that he or someone else was arriving back to the White House after being somewhere else.

The White House

The White House

Police escort

Police escort

The White House

The White House

We ended our super busy day with a walk around the National Sculpture Garden and the National Archives where we saw lots of famous documents including the Bill of Rights, The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. No photos allowed and a darkly lit room with security guards at each document made the whole experience a little strange.

National Sculpture Garden

National Sculpture Garden

Our second day (yes all that previous was just in one day!) began with torrential rain. Luckily we had planned ahead and decided today would be Smithsonian Museum day. We started with Natural History Museum and spent a good few hours wandering round it. The Ocean Room was filled with models, skulls, jellyfish and even an exotic fish tank. We recognised a lot of the creatures from the Great Barrier Reef. We then treated ourselves to an IMAX film about the hidden features of the ocean, something that has become of interest now we’ve seen the reef up close. It was made and narrated by Scuba inventor Jean Michael Cousteau and some of the scenes were amazing.

Museum of Natural History

Museum of Natural History

This looks familiar....

This looks familiar….

Southern Right Whale

Southern Right Whale

Polar Bear

Polar Bear

Tiger

Tiger

Amazing

Amazing

Museum of Natural History

Museum of Natural History

Museum of Natural History

Museum of Natural History

After that we visited the mammals section and again met our old friends the kangaroo, koala and the dingo. We also saw the Hope Diamond in the gemstones feature. It is the largest blue diamond in the world!

Gem stone exhibition

Gem stone exhibition

Hope Diamond

Hope Diamond

After lunch it was still pouring so we headed to the National Air and Space Museum. This was also great and featured planes from all areas including the Wright Brothers Planes, WWII Spitfire, USAF Jets, NASA Jets and many commercial planes. There were also some spacecraft’s which including Apollo Command Module, Moon Lander and Jeep Moon Lander. However they were all replicas except the module! There were relics from the space era including suits, helmets and gloves. We visited the IMAX again and this time watched a documentary narrated by Harrison Ford which showed how the world has changed because of the introduction of planes. Danny also took part in an interactive space quiz and won! Wahoo!

Heat camera

Heat camera

IMAX

IMAX

Nasa rockets

Nasa rockets

Original Wright brothers plane

Original Wright brothers plane

Moon lander

Moon Lander

Command module

Command module

For our final day in Washington D.C the weather had returned to its glorious state, so we decided to visit the Smithsonian Zoological Park, another free zoo and the chance to see a panda for the first time! We weren’t disappointed and the panda’s came and sat right in the middle of the grass eating his bamboo looking like he had no cares in the world – amazing. We also saw elephants, lions, tigers giant tortoise and even chimpanzees swinging around above our heads.

Panda!

Panda!

Orangatang

Orangatang

Gorilla

Gorilla

Swinging chimp

Swinging chimp

Giant tortoise

Giant tortoise

Poisonous frog

Poisonous frog

That afternoon we had to rush around Washington trying to see as much as we could! You could definitely spend a long time here and still not see it all! We visited the US Marine Corps Monument (Iowa Jima) then had a walk over the river and through the lovely Georgetown. This reminded us a lot of unique little London suburbs which have their own individual shops. We took a quick trip to the Pentagon where there was a touching 9/11 memorial. Unfortunately there is nowhere to actually view the Pentagon from the top so the outside seems a little disappointing as it is just a building.

US Marine Corps Memorial

US Marine Corps Memorial

Georgetown

Georgetown

Georgetown

Georgetown

Pentagon 9/11 Memorial

Pentagon 9/11 Memorial

Pentagon

Pentagon

Our final afternoon was spent visiting the Library of Congress, the Capitol Building visitor centre and the Supreme Court. The Library of Congress had a beautifully decorated interior, with so much detail in every single painting. What does a person have to do to make that sort of place their local library?! After another busy day we walked back for one last look of Washington D.C from the Lincoln Memorial then headed back before our next city adventure begins… Boston, Buffalo and then the big one, NYC!

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

Library of Congress interior

Library of Congress interior

Library of Congress interior

Library of Congress interior

Supreme Court

Supreme Court

Inside the Supreme Court

Inside the Supreme Court

Supreme Court

Supreme Court

Washington Monument

Washington Monument

Danny & Susie

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California, Nevada and Arizona

After 2 long flights, not enough sleep and a free massage in Taipei, we arrived in San Francisco at 8pm on Monday 4th May, even though we only set off at 4pm. Our body clocks were very confused at it being night time again. Although we were tired, we were both wide awake 4am the next day!!

We finally decided to give up trying to sleep and headed out exploring at 8am feeling terrible, but hey we are in San Francisco!!! No time to waste. We wandered from our hotel down to Fisherman’s Wharf where we saw the famous Pier 39 sea lions basking in the sunshine and fighting for the best spot. We walked around the piers (there are quite a lot) for a while, taking in the American culture! It was nice to back in the Western world again!

Sea lions at Pier 39

Sea lions at Pier 39

Pier 39

Pier 39

Left handed shop!

Left handed shop!

Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf

Sampling the local food

Sampling the local food

We decided to take a scenic walk along the promenade and walked up to Crissy Fields where there are great views of the Golden Gate Bridge, even in the haze. While we were around the area we also visited the Palace of Fine Arts, originally built to exhibit works of art but these days it mainly just for tourists and wedding parties to have their pictures taken. The gardens were beautiful and we spent time just wandering round and just enjoying it. All the walking had tired us out even more! We did our best to stay awake but eventually crashed.

Palace of Fine Arts

Palace of Fine Arts

Palace of Fine Arts

Palace of Fine Arts

A very specific sign

A very specific sign

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Crissy Fields

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Crissy Fields

The next day was a little better, a 6am wake up. We headed out into Union Square, which was literally on our doorstep, to explore all the department stores. There was a reason we did America last on our trip… we would have spent up if we’d have gone here first! After shopping we caught the cable car from Market Street to Fisherman’s Wharf again. It was pretty full so Danny had to ride it stood up on the edge! It was great fun going up and down the extremely steep streets.

Cable car going uphill!

Cable car going uphill!

Hotdog!

Hotdog!

San Francisco streets

San Francisco streets

San Francisco streets

San Francisco streets

Riding the cable car

Riding the cable car

Today we decided to conquer the Golden Gate bridge so it was another long walk through Crissy Fields and right up to the base of the bridge where there are so many great photo opportunities. We climbed to the top and walked all the way across the bridge and back spotting many sea lions along the way. There is only a walk way on the east side but to the west you can still see the big empty ocean! It was very windy up there!!

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

View from the bridge

View from the bridge

View from the bridge

View from the bridge

From the bridge you could clearly see isolated Alcatraz. We did a tour of the island one early morning. We got the ferry across from Pier 33 and were greeted with an original sign saying “WARNING: Persons procuring or concealing escape of prisoners are subject to prosecution and imprisonment” eek. We started the tour with the audio tour of the cell house. It was very eerie as we were the first group there that day, which really added to the atmosphere. We walked up and down the named cell block rows, called things like Broadway and Times Square. We got to visit the dining hall, the yard, inside the cells where extremely bad prisoners would be punished, the library and wardens offices. The audio tour was great and included actual prison guards and prisoners telling their stories from their time at Alcatraz.

Alcatraz

Alcatraz

View of San Francisco from the boat to Alcatraz

View of San Francisco from the boat to Alcatraz

Welcome sign

Welcome sign

Showers

Showers

Inside the cells

Inside the cells

The cell house

The cell house

Dining Hall

Dining Hall

Kitchen

Kitchen

The yard

The yard

Behind bars!

Behind bars!

“The hole” for extremely bad prisoners

A furnished cell

A furnished cell

View back to San Francisco

View back to San Francisco

Alcatraz lighthouse

Alcatraz lighthouse

More cells

More cells

One of the guards there gave a talk about the famous Escape of 62, with 3 of the escapees never found! He told us there was evidence to prove they successfully got away and didn’t drown like some concluded. Apparently there is a 3 million dollar reward for their return…

It was also great just to walk around the grounds and watch the gardeners preserve the beautiful flowers of the Alcatraz gardens. Danny could not stop being reminded of the old Tony Hawk game as he walked around the grounds!

Water tower

Water tower

Old house remains on the island

Old house remains on the island

Alcatraz island

Alcatraz island

Welcome sign

Welcome sign

That afternoon we climbed to the top of Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower which offers some great views of the bay and the city… if only they’d cut a few of the bushes back! After that we decided to tackle the hills of San Francisco and climbed up to Lombard Street, otherwise known as Crooked Street. It was extremely steep and busy but a very unique street full of flowers and one windy road down the middle.

San Francisco streets

San Francisco streets

Coit Tower

Coit Tower

Lombard street

Lombard street

Lombard street

Lombard street

That evening we decided to experience a bit of American sports so we headed to AT&T Park to watch the baseball, San Francisco Giants vs the Miami Marlins. It was also a celebration of Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday so that was the theme of the night, with his daughter throwing the first pitch. Even though the Giants lost 7-2 and it was freezing it was a really good night and we got to see quite a few home runs!

AT&T Park

AT&T Park

Baseball

Baseball

Baseball

Baseball

Our final day in San Francisco came around to quickly. We spent the morning riding the bus towards the west of the city as there were quite a few things we wanted to see there. Our first stop was at Painted Ladies, a row of coloured Victorian houses which are extremely desirable in the city. They are very picturesque and there was a lot of people taking pictures of them!

Painted Ladies

Painted Ladies

Our next stop of the day was the Legion of Honour which is part of the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. Its grounds are known as some of the nicest in the city with a huge golf course, a holocaust memorial and statues. After a quick wander round we did a coastal walk along the sea which offered amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge. We past Lands’ End and the ruins of the Sutro Baths until we eventually reached the Golden Gate Park. The park was huge!!! But well worth a visit. We saw beautiful lakes, waterfalls, a Japanese tea garden, amphitheatre and there were even some wild bison!

Legion of Honour

Legion of Honour

Legion of Honour

Legion of Honour

Views

Views

Sutro Bath ruins

Sutro Bath ruins

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park

Feeling pretty hungry after our long day of walking, we treated ourselves to some dessert at The Cheesecake Factory. We got a piece each, one Oreo and one Red Velvet. This turned out to be a big mistake as the pieces were huge and were a struggle to finish! Safe to say we didn’t need any tea that night.

Cheesecake Factory

Cheesecake Factory

Union Square

Union Square

Union Square

Union Square

It was soon time to leave San Francisco for our little 4 day road trip. We had organised a bus schedule to take us to the places we wanted to visit as we both didn’t fancy driving on the wrong side of the road in unknown cities! Our first destination of the trip was Yosemite National Park. Wow, the drive there was very pretty and the scenery was spectacular. We stopped at El Capitan which is the largest granite monolith in the world at 3,000ft. It is a rock climbers paradise, but we didn’t spot any brave souls! While we were stopped we also had great views of the 617ft Bridal Veil Falls.

Drive to Yosemite

Drive to Yosemite

Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls

El Capitan

El Capitan

Yosemite

Yosemite

Yosemite

Yosemite

Yosemite

Yosemite

Our next stop was Yosemite Falls via the Half Dome. This is a strange rock formation that looks like it has been perfectly cut in half, but the other half is nowhere to be found – people have looked! At Yosemite Falls we followed the trail right to the bottom for some great views. It is the tallest waterfall in North America 2,425ft!

Half Dome

Half Dome

Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls

At the bottom of Yosemite Falls

At the bottom of Yosemite Falls

We saved the best til last in Yosemite. Our final stop was the amazing Tunnel View that looks right through the valley towards El Capitan. It was great to just sit there for a while and be able to take it all in.

Tunnel View

Tunnel View

Us at Tunnel View

Us at Tunnel View

The next morning we had a 5.30am wakeup call – ouch. Couldn’t complain though as we were going to Las Vegas!!! After a long drive and a little shop along the way we arrived in Vegas in the late afternoon, checked into the Excalibur where we were staying and headed straight out to explore! While we were in the MGM Grand we got asked if we would like to watch the pilot episode of a new TV show and give our feedback on it. Obviously we said yes and we watched the first episode of a show called “Supergirl”. The show was ok, not sure we would both watch it on TV but it was a good experience overall!

MGM Grand Lion

MGM Grand Lion

New York New York

New York New York

That evening we carried on exploring the strip, visiting the casinos, watching the fountain shows and just generally enjoying the Vegas experience. We even saw a few people crying playing poker etc, not sure whether they were happy tears or not!! The hotels were all amazing each with their own unique themes. Our particular favourites were the Bellagio, Caesar’s Palace and the Mirage.

Bellagio

Bellagio

Paris

Paris

Inside the Bellagio

Inside the Bellagio

Caesar's Palace

Caesar’s Palace

Inside Caesar's Palace

Inside Caesar’s Palace

Planet Hollywood

Planet Hollywood

Excalibur

Excalibur

Another 5.30am wakeup call was not fun. But this time it was Grand Canyon day!! The drive from Vegas to the Grand Canyon West Rim took about 2 hours and we passed Lake Mead along the way, the biggest manmade lake in America. It was just after here that we got our first glimpse of the Colorado River. When we arrived at the canyon we were both just amazed! Our first look of it was from Eagle Point, named because it looks like an Eagle spreading its wings. This was a great spot to see down to the bottom of the canyon. We had lunch at this point – not had many lunches with views that good!

Colorado River

Colorado River

Halapai Tribe Ranch

Halapai Tribe Ranch

Tribe Huts

Tribe Huts

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Peering over the edge

Peering over the edge

Long way down

Long way down

Eagle Point

Eagle Point

Us at the Grand Canyon

Us at the Grand Canyon

After Eagle Point we carried on to Guano Point. This place definitely had the best views of the canyon. We could have stayed there all day! We walked up to the far end of the cliff and then stood right on the top in the middle for the best 360 degree views of the river and the whole canyon.

Guano Point

Guano Point

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Us at Guano Point

Us at Guano Point

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After an amazing day we headed back to Vegas via the Hoover Dam. We stopped and walked along the bridge that overlooks the dam and it definitely gave the best view of the whole dam, including the water above and below and the difference between them.

Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam

Nevada state sign

Nevada state sign

That evening we had another night enjoying Vegas. Although we were both sad to be leaving already it definitely feels like somewhere we will be revisiting one day!!

Vegas Sign

Vegas Sign

Luxor

Luxor

Caesar's Palace

Caesar’s Palace

Treasure Island

Treasure Island

Stratosphere

Stratosphere

Venetian

Venetian

Flamingo

Flamingo

Sports station in the MGM

Sports station in the MGM

Our little road trip is now over and after a disastrous flight delay we have finally arrived in Salt Lake City for a few days!

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Plane to Salt Lake City

We will!

We will!

Danny & Susie

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Southern Vietnam

After our time in Hoi An we headed to Da Nang for the weekend. Leaving Hoi An we had a bit of a nightmare trying to pay for the hotel as the card machine wouldn’t work. This resulted in Danny hopping on the back of the owners motorbike and driving through Hoi An at high speed to the nearest cash machine! All worked out in the end and a free ride on motorbike – result!

By the time we arrived in Da Nang we were starving so we headed to a place called The Bread of Life for something to eat. Everyone who works there is deaf so it was a unique experience. We had a written conversation with a waiter called Binh who was very interested in our trip and he told us how he loved football and supported Arsenal. He had football pieces from the local newspaper and enjoyed showing them to us. Da Nang also has a really nice beach so we spent a few hours there one day. Across the bay, overlooking the sea, there is a huge statue of a lady Buddha which can be seen from all over the city.

Lady Buddha looking out to sea

Lady Buddha looking out to sea

Da Nang

Da Nang

It was lucky (slightly planned) that we were in Da Nang on the weekend because every Saturday and Sunday night the dragon bridge that they have breathes fire and water. It was great to see all the locals and tourists gather in hugeee crowds to watch the event! There are many bridges in Da Nang which are all lit up at night time. We thought the city definitely looked nicer in the evening than in the day!

Da Nang Bridge

Da Nang Bridge

Da Nang at night

Da Nang at night

Da Nang dragon bridge

Da Nang dragon bridge

Breathing fire!

Breathing fire!

We left Da Nang as the temperature was showing 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Walking to the train station with our heavy bags wasn’t fun but luckily we had air con in our cabin. A few films and 9 hours later we arrived in Nha Trang. A lot of people we have spoken to haven’t rated Nha Trang very highly but we had a great few days there! There was a lovely beach where we enjoyed hours of sunshine, the most amazing Greek restaurant and plenty of little shops.

Nha Trang at night

Nha Trang at night

Monument in Nha Trang

Monument in Nha Trang

The highlight of Nha Trang though has to be VinPearl. This is an island that has a waterpark, theme park, amusement arcade, aquarium, water sports, 4D cinema and a huge hotel resort. To get there you have to go on the longest cable car over water in the world (apparently), which is over 3000m. It took about 15 minutes to cross and we arrived to the huge Hollywood inspired letters that read ‘VINPEARL.’ We spent a while in the Aquarium first. To go through the tunnel of sharks/turtles/fish you had to stand on a conveyer belt and be taken round, it was very odd! We happened to be there at feeding time too so there were divers in the tank feeding the animals.

Cable car across to Vin Pearl

Cable car across to Vin Pearl

Arrival at Vin Pearl

Arrival at Vin Pearl

After that we headed to the waterpark where we spent hours going on some of the craziest rides! Unfortunately the go pro memory became full after about 5 minutes so couldn’t get that much footage/pictures. Some of the rides were crazy and probably against UK health and safety rules (Susie actually flew out of the rubber ring at one point which Danny found hilarious!). After lunch we spent the afternoon on theme park and in the arcades. The great thing was that everything was included in the entrance fee so while we were there we didn’t have to pay for anything! It was such a fun day out and definitely recommended to anyone visiting Nha Trang.

Multi-slide

Multi-slide

The tsunami!

The tsunami!

Early start the next day as we were travelling on our first sleeper bus to Mui Ne. These buses are really popular in Vietnam but we have avoided them so far as sometimes in can take about 16hours to get from place to place (which isn’t great for Susie’s travel sickness!). Since Mui Ne is only 5.5hours from Nha Trang we decided to give it a try. Plus it only cost about £7 for the two of us! It was an ok journey but the seats are definitely designed for small people and poor Danny did struggle at some points!

Sleeper bus!

Sleeper bus!

We arrived at our great hostel where we were spending the next week! We spent most of the week just relaxing by the pool, sorting out our plans for America and making new friends! Susie was really keen to try out parasailing while we were there but we couldn’t find it anywhere! Everywhere just offered kite surfing, which is great but doesn’t quite have the same effect when you can do that on Fleetwood Beach.

Great hostel in Mui Ne

Great hostel in Mui Ne

One day we went out on a trip. 8 of us squashed in a jeep that was definitely designed for 5 people. We had to sit on a little stool in the boot! Firstly we visited Fairy Stream, which has no fairies. Instead it is just a small stream that is a red colour because of the red sand. We walked all the way up the stream and back but were a little disappointed. We then briefly stopped at the Fishing Village on our way to the White Sand Dunes.

Susie's seat in the jeep

Susie’s seat in the jeep

Fairy stream

Fairy stream

Danny at Fairy Stream

Danny at Fairy Stream

Red sand

Red sand

Fishing village

Fishing village

Fishing village

Fishing village

The drive to the sand dunes was crazy, it felt like we were in the middle of the desert, except there were cows on the road. We climbed up to the top of the sand dunes for some great views, although it was so windy! Vietnamese men were trying to sell us sheets of plastic to slide down the dunes on but we had seen that they didn’t work that well so decided to give that a miss. We also visited the red sand dunes on the way back for sunset but unfortunately it was very cloudy so didn’t get the views we’d hoped for. However we did get an unexpected puncture and our driver had to fix it in the middle of the sand dunes!

White sand dunes

White sand dunes

White sand dunes

White sand dunes

Us at the sand dunes

Us at the sand dunes

Fixing the puncture

Fixing the puncture

Sunset at the red sand dunes

Sunset at the red sand dunes

We had a great week in Mui Ne and met some great people but unfortunately we had to leave. We decided to give the sleeper bus another go as it was only another 5.5 hours to Ho Chi Minh City, our final destination in Vietnam. Somehow we managed to coincide our visit with the 40 years anniversary of the Fall of Saigon and so we were greeted with huge crowds and a fantastic firework display!

Crowds in Ho Chi Minh

Crowds in Ho Chi Minh

So many motorbikes

So many motorbikes

Fireworks

Fireworks

Fireworks

Fireworks

40th anniversary poster

40th anniversary poster

40th anniversary display

40th anniversary display

We spent our first day in Ho Chi Minh exploring the city. We visited the War Remnants Museum which had many different rooms showing different aspects of the War. Some of the exhibitions were quite hard to look at and it was sad to see all the different ways the war effected people.

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum

We also visited the Reunification Palace, Notre Dame and the Post Office, all of which are great architectural buildings. In the afternoon we visited the market but we weren’t quite prepared for how hot, cramped and pressured we would feel. We had a quick look round but didn’t buy anything!

Reunification Palace

Reunification Palace

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Famous Post Office

Famous Post Office

Inside the Post Office

Inside the Post Office

The following day we took a trip to the Cu Chi tunnels. These tunnels are the remains of the Viet Cong base from the Vietnam War. We had the chance to crawl through the tunnels, they are so thin and narrow! We did it as quickly as possible because it was also boiling hot. We also learnt about the different traps that were used to harm the opposition.

Cu Chi Tunnels

Cu Chi Tunnels

House with tunnels underneath

House with tunnels underneath

Left behind guns

Left behind guns

Traps!

Traps that were used by Viet Cong!

Bomb crater

Bomb crater

Inside the tunnel

Inside the tunnel

Inside the tunnel

Inside the tunnel

Broken tank from the war

Broken tank from the war

At the site of the tunnels there is also a shooting range. Whilst we were exploring the tunnels it was eerie to hear regular loud gunshots as this is probably what it sounded like at the time of the war. It really added to the atmosphere. Danny decided to have a go at shooting a gun, a M16 assault rifle. He really enjoyed it but it was so noisy! We both had to wear protective ear muffs!

Danny at the shooting range

Danny at the shooting range

It was soon our final day in Vietnam and what better way to spend it than visiting the Mekong Delta. Our first stop of the day was in Mekong City at the Chua Vinh Trang which is home to 3 huge Buddhas! One is the happy Buddha, one is the sleeping Buddha and one was just the normal Buddha.

Happy Buddha

Happy Buddha

Sleeping Buddha

Sleeping Buddha

Buddha

Buddha

Chua Vinh Trang

Chua Vinh Trang

Eventually we reached the delta and it was enormous! It was so wide and it went on for as far as you could see. We hopped on our boat and headed straight to Tortoise Island for a traditional Vietnamese lunch. While we were there we saw pineapples growing from plants!? We were actually a little shocked because we both had no idea that that is how they grow!

Mekong Delta

Mekong Delta

Mekong Delta

Mekong Delta

Pineapple plant

Pineapple plant

After lunch we visited a coconut and honey farm on the delta. We got to watch how coconut sweets are made from the coconut to the wrapper. It was really good to watch their routine and technique! We had a try of some of the sweets but they weren’t great. We also got to try some honey tea from the local bees and that was delicious! It was a shame they didn’t have teabags of the stuff.

Coconut gets separated from its shell

Coconut gets separated from its shell

After a long process, it looks like this. Coconut candy.

After a long process, it looks like this. Coconut candy.

During the day our guide surprised is with a python!! Lots of girls ran away screaming at the first sight of it but we were both brave and held it! It was so heavy and it was strange that you could tell how strong it was from the way it moved.

New scarf!

New scarf!

Scary!!

Scary!!

After the snake we were taken on a cruise around the delta and through water coconut plants on traditional boats. Of course we had to wear the has too. We stopped off for some afternoon tea of exotic fruits and tea while we enjoyed some authentic Vietnamese music and songs. Some of the songs were actually really catchy!

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Restaurant on stilts

Traditional boats

Traditional boats

Crushing down the Mekong

Cruising down the Mekong

Mekong Delta

Mekong Delta

Traditional Vietnamese music and singing

Traditional Vietnamese music and singing

And that is it. Our little Asian adventure is over. It didn’t start off great but it definitely improved, ending with a great few days in Ho Chi Minh City.

Now onto America! Not going to lie we are beyond excited!!!

Danny & Susie

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Northern Vietnam

After an overnight flight from Japan we arrived at Hanoi airport 8.30am. Had our visas checked, no problem – phew! Our hotel transfer was waiting for us and everything was going fine until we set off to the hotel. The drive into Hanoi was very, erm, eye-opening. Firstly it was odd being on the opposite side of the road, then you have the constant Nokia tune ringtone of the drivers phone going off the whole journey (didn’t have a clue what he was talking about), then you add in the 4 million motorbikes of Hanoi, the 8 million people that live there and it is just one big free for all. Nobody stops for anyone, just constant beep beep beep beep… Crossing the road here as a pedestrian depends on how much you value your life. You literally just have to walk into oncoming traffic and hope for the best. We were beginning to wonder what we’d let ourselves in for for the next 35 days!

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We checked into our hotel which was in a great location in the centre of the crazy Old Quarter. Although it was really nice we were greeted by a huge cockroach. Luckily that was the only one we met during our stay! We headed out to explore and ended up at the Hoan Kiem Lake. We visited the Ngoc Son Temple (like we hadn’t already seen enough temples recently) that is on a tiny islet and only connected by a bright red bridge called The Huc. What comforted us was seeing soooo many other Western people and they all give you that look of relief as if to say “thank god I’m not the only one.” We spent the rest of the day just wandering around and trying not to get run over.

Hoan Kiem Lake

Hoan Kiem Lake

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Hanoi Opera House

Hanoi Opera House

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Cocktails at the lake

Cocktails at the lake

We decided to have an early start the next day to visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum as it was only open in the mornings. Get there early, avoid the crowds we thought…However when we got there the queue was already about 4 streets long – no exaggeration! Decided to give it a miss, maybe try again another day. Apparently you end up queuing for hours though and only get about 15 seconds inside. Some people aren’t even convinced that it is really Ho Chi Minh in there and saying it is a wax work instead. Who knows? We wandered around more but got a bit lost and ended up feeling a bit unsafe so headed back to the Old Quarter where we enjoyed some cocktails overlooking the Lake. The rest of the day consisted of trying lots more cocktails as we tried to avoid (hide from) the Hanoi chaos.

After more research we decided against spending a day queuing to see a dead guy so we just visited the outside of the Mausoleum instead. The building was basically just a big concrete block and extremely communist looking. It is rated about number 6 in the world’s ugliest buildings – not really surprised. After that we also visited the rest of the Ho Chi Minh complex which included his wooden house on stilts, a selection of his cars and the One Pillar Pagoda. We also wandered through some very narrow streets to find the B52 Lake where there are still remains of an American Bomber from when it was shot down.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Immaculate gardens surrounding the Mausoleum

Immaculate gardens surrounding the Mausoleum

Uncle Ho's fishing lake

Uncle Ho’s fishing lake

House on stilts

House on stilts

One Pillar Pagoda

One Pillar Pagoda

B52 Lake

B52 Lake

We also had our first experience of Pho in Hanoi and it is safe to say we are not really sure what all the fuss is about. Maybe it was all noodles we had eaten in Australia or maybe it was the image in our mind of a raw chicken being strung out like a wet pair of shorts that we had seen earlier, who knows, we were both just very underwhelmed. In the evening we wandered around the night markets, where they shut roads off to vehicles and a lot more stalls appear – very nice to browse around.

Hoan Kim Lake at night

Hoan Kim Lake at night

Crazy Hanoi!!

Crazy Hanoi!!

After a weird few days we decided to treat ourselves with a trip to the spa. Danny got a foot massage which actually turned into a whole body massage, while Susie got a foot massage and pedicure. They were actually really good and lasted well over an hour. We then felt all refreshed ready for our early morning start ready for our trip to Halong Bay.

Our bus came and picked us up and we started on the 4 hour journey from Hanoi to Halong Bay. We were so happy to finally be leaving Hanoi behind. (We later discovered that it wasn’t just us who weren’t keen on Hanoi, a lot of people felt the same!). It was so bumpy and obviously there was more crazy driving. Danny even came out of his seat at one point! You could tell when we were getting close as all the limestone rocks started to emerge in the sea. As expected, it was foggy but by the time we had boarded our boat and started sailing, the sun made an appearance.

Our first activity was kayaking. We arrived at a floating village where local people had boats full of every food and drink you could ever imagine. We had a good hour kayaking in and out of the rocks and boats.

Kayaking!

Kayaking!

Floating boats selling everything possible

Floating boats selling everything possible

Amazing views!

Amazing views!

Tiny cave

Tiny cave

Next up was Surprising Cave and it lived up to its name. We first went into a reasonably sized cave where our guide pointed our lots of rock formations, including a happy Buddha! In the second cave we learnt why it was called Surprising Cave as it was huge! But it was the third one that was pretty unbelievable. That was definitely the best cave of the 3. It even had a rock formation of a turtle where people had placed money and wished for good health and luck. We then followed the steps out of the cave which gave us great views across the bay.

Surprising Cave

Surprising Cave

Patting the turtle for good luck!

Patting the turtle for good luck!

View from the top of the cave!

View from the top of the cave!

Our final stop of the day was Tip Top Island where we had the opportunity to go swimming or climb to the top of the hill. As it was almost 6pm we decided against a swim and decided to tackle the very steep walk up to the top. Wow it was tough but the view from the top was definitely worth it. We even got to watch a cloudy sunset from the top.

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At the top of Tip Top Island

Gorgeous views

Gorgeous views

Back to the boat for the evening where we eat lots of lovely food, drank (ok) cocktails, some people did karaoke (the barman gave a spectacular rendition of “Right here waiting for you”) and also tried our hand at Squid fishing. We didn’t catch any squid but saw a few baby ones.

When we woke the next morning the views from our room were amazing. We had been given a room on the top deck which meant that we clear views all the way across the bay. We visited the Halong Bay Pearl Farm in the morning where they showed us the process of how they create the pearls. Surprisingly less than 10% of oysters actually create a pearl and of the ones that do less than 3% are actually perfect enough to be used for jewellery etc. The imperfect ones are used for cosmetics instead.

Not a bad view to wake up to

Not a bad view to wake up to

Pearl farm

Pearl farm

An imperfect pearl

An imperfect pearl

Back on the boat we enjoyed a relaxing morning sailing through the bay and then we had a Vietnamese cooking class, making spring rolls that we would have for lunch. After lunch we arrived back at the harbour and caught our bus back to the crazy Hanoi madness. Luckily it was just a quick stop as it was straight to the train station to get the overnight train to Sapa.

Cooking class on the boat

Cooking class on the boat

We found our little cabin with our beds, blankets, pillows, tv, air-con, drinks, this might actually be ok? We had to share our 4 bed cabin with 2 male Vietnamese tour guides who were taking people on treks in Sapa. One could speak English so we chatted to him for a while then we all fell asleep with our belongings tucked away out of sight. Managed to get a few hours sleep but the train was pretty rickety. We were due to arrive at 5.30am and we woke up at 5.28am – not bad at all! We were then bombarded with people offering us a lift to Sapa (about 50mins drive from the station). We eventually chose a bus with lots of other Western people and agreed a price of 50,000 dong per person (about £1.50).

Our train cabin!

Our train cabin!

Arrived in Sapa about 7.30am and went to the hotel hoping to leave our bags before we could check in. To our surprise they let us stay there and gave us free tea, let us use a toilet/shower and charge things we needed to while we waited for our room, which was then ready for us 4 hours early! Lovely. When we saw our room we were actually amazed. We had not 1 but 2 double beds, a balcony overlooking the mountains and Sapa town, as much tea, coffee, water and dragon fruit as you could ever need and to top it off our towels were made into swans. Just little things but when you have been living in a campervan for weeks and then a tiny Japanese sized room, it was just what we needed.

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Not a bad view from the balcony

Not a bad view from the balcony

In the afternoon we climbed up to Sapa Radio Tower with expectations of great views but we were left disappointed as the afternoon clouds were starting to roll in. It is said that Sapa experiences all four seasons in one day. It starts off with a spring morning, then at lunchtime the heat intensifies for the summer season, then the autumn begins late afternoon before the wintery cold evenings.

Sunny Sapa!

Sunny Sapa!

The Square

The Square

Local church

Local church

Sapa!

Sapa!

The next morning, after a great night sleep and a breakfast of banana pancakes, we decided to postpone our trek until the next day as it was so foggy you couldn’t even see 5m in front of you. We went for a walk around Sapa lake but it ended up being pretty pointless as you couldn’t even see the lake!

Foggy Sapa

Foggy Sapa

Supposed to be a lake somewhere round there!

Supposed to be a lake somewhere round there!

The foggy streets of Sapa

The foggy streets of Sapa

We decided to do our trek the following day even though it was still pretty foggy. We left the hotel with about 5 other people and our guide, who kind of spoke English. The trek began on a paved road but it wasn’t long before it turned into a rough, muddy and wet path. We decided to do a 12km trek that passed through Y Ling Ho and Lao Chai village. Along the route we saw lots of locals preparing the rice paddies with Water Buffalos. The scenery was amazing with valleys full of rice terraces and lots of little small huts. On the trek we had the company of some of the tribe women from the Mong people of the Lao Chai village. They were extremely helpful when it came to navigating the best path through streams and thick mud. They made it look so easy with some of them carrying small babies on their backs! Although we knew what was coming.. As soon as we sat down for lunch the inevitable happened. “I help you you buy from me.” So many people gathered around our table pushing all sorts of handmade crafts in our faces. We did buy a little something from them because they had helped us and they weren’t asking a lot of money but the way they just switch from being nice and friendly to forceful and pushy is crazy! But we guess they have to make a living! After lunch there was a short 2km walk to our van which would take us back to the hotel. As we got nearer the van we picked up the pace a bit before we got pushed into buying more tat that we didn’t need! All in all the trek was great! It was a shame about the low clouds but we did well to avoid the rain and we still managed to see a lot of the rice terraces. Back at the hotel we were worn out. Luckily tomorrow we get to spend 10.5hours on a train and not much walking will be required –yay.

Tribe ladies

Tribe ladies

Pig blocking the path

Pig blocking the path

Walking the water buffalo

Walking the water buffalo

Rice paddies

Rice paddies

Bit damp!

Bit damp!

Rice paddies

Rice paddies

Helping hand from the local tribe ladies

Helping hand from the local tribe ladies

Flooded rice paddies

Flooded rice paddies

Sapa Trek

Sapa Trek

Local children

Local children

Water Buffalo up close!

Water Buffalo up close!

Rice terrace

People working on the rice paddies

The long train journey went without any problems. We even had the whole 6 berth cabin to ourselves for a while until some Vietnamese ladies joined us about 7 hours in. We arrived back in Hanoi (the final time we would have to return here!) and made our way to a hotel near the airport as we had a 7am flight to catch to Da Nang. After not really eating yesterday we treated ourselves to an English Breakfast at the airport. We were a bit disappointed and surprised when what we got was scrambled egg and two croissants!

By 8.30am we were in Da Nang and made our way straight to Hoi An where we would be spending the next week. We had booked a hotel with a pool and not too far from the beach, we just fancied relaxing here, so we were a little disappointed when it poured down for the first two days. We didn’t let that stop us though and, armed with umbrellas, we explored the pretty little lantern filled streets on Hoi An doing the usual rainy day activities; bookshops, lunch in a sports bar and Danny even got a very short haircut. The hairdresser didn’t speak a word of English and ended up giving him a haircut, shave, some aftershave and a massage for about £3!

Haircut time!

Haircut time!

Browsing the bookshelves

Browsing the bookshelves

Apparently the thing to do in Hoi An is to get some sort of tailored clothes made. So we did. With a wedding to go to Danny needed no excuse to get a tailored suit made and Susie, not wanting to miss out, got some tailored silk pyjamas. In 26 hours we had been and selected our material’s, been measured, seen the final result and had two fittings… and we weren’t even in a rush!

One day we bought a ticket to visit 5 sights of the old Ancient Town, only cheap and it keeps the town running. We used it to visit the Japanese Bridge and Temple, the old house of Duc An, the old house of Tan Kay and Phuc Kien and Trieu Chua Assembly Hall. Some of the places were really pretty and it was great to see old houses that had been kept in the same families for generations and therefore were pretty much untouched.

Old House

Old House

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Trieu Chua Assembly Hall

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Phuc Kien Assembly Hall

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Japanese Bridge

Japanese Bridge

We spent a day at the gorgeous An Bang beach which was only a 2km cycle from the hotel. Well we had to do that twice as Danny forgot his wallet to pay to park the bikes for the day (30p). So after a nice 6km cycle we spent the day lazing in the sun. On the way to the beach we saw a street vendor get really angry and kick his squid and shrimps all into the road, which wasn’t fun to dodge!

Bike ride to the beach

Bike ride to the beach

An Bang Beach

An Bang Beach

An Bang Beach

An Bang Beach

One of the highlights of our time in Hoi An was the Thuah Tinh cooking class that Josh and Amy recommended to us (thanks guys!). We began by visiting the local market and picking up all the ingredients we needed and our guide explained what they would all be used for. We picked up meats, fish, herbs, salad, tofu, fruit for the juice and lots of different vegetables then hoped on a boat for 40minutes to Thuah Tinh Island where we had the class. When we first arrived though we all had a go at making rice milk which was a lot harder than it looked, although the Vietnamese lady made it look simple! After that we began creating our 4 dishes of Vietnamese Spring Rolls, Vietnamese Crêpes, Bun Bo Nam Bo which is basically Beef Noodle Salad and then the classic Pho Bo which is Rice Noodle Soup with beef. Everything was yummy and the class was great. We had an endless supply of homemade passion fruit juice. Whenever you even took a sip it would be instantly refilled –amazing! We also got to keep our cooking chopsticks and were given the recipes for all of the different dishes.

Hoi An market

Hoi An market

Hoi An market

Hoi An market

Hoi An market

Hoi An market

Seafood stall

Seafood stall

Boat ride along the river

Boat ride along the river

Vietnamese hat!

Vietnamese hat!

Making rice milk!

Making rice milk!

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Vietnamese Crêpes

Vietnamese Crêpes

Beef Noodle Salad

Beef Noodle Salad!

Our time in Hoi An was so relaxing and just what we wanted after a busy few weeks! We loved being in this lantern lit town, especially at night time when everything just looks amazing. We can see why everyone told us we had to come here!

Candles on the river

Candles on the river

The bridge over the river

The bridge over the river

Lanterns

Lanterns

More lanterns

More lanterns

Hoi An by night

Hoi An by night

We are now heading towards the South of Vietnam where the weather is hotter and the beaches are sandier…

Danny & Susie

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Japan – Kyoto and Osaka

Heading north out of Cairns on our Dreamliner, wow what a sight we got flying over the Great Barrier Reef! We had heard a lot of great things about these special spacious planes and it didn’t disappoint. Extremely comfy and the colour changing windows are amazing to watch. We finally got round to watching Gone Girl on the plane. We both thought it was a great film but what a disappointing ending?? Also got a bit hooked on Brooklyn Nine-Nine too, very funny.

The Great Barrier Reef from the plane

The Great Barrier Reef from the plane

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Colour changing windows!

We finally arrived in Osaka. We had had to queue for passport control for over an hour which wasn’t fun. A lot of people were staring at us in our shorts and we soon realised why as when we stepped outside the airport the cold hit us. WOW. We didn’t realise we had climatised so much in Australia but we were definitely not expecting it to be that cold!! A few additional layers of clothes and 90 minutes later we arrived in Kyoto and were instantly greeted with kindness and lots of bowing from our taxi driver who took us to our hostel where we were greeted with a complimentary pair of slippers and heated toilet seats.

Our first day in Japan was just crazy. Still freezing cold we followed Susie’s mum and dad’s recommendations and began by heading to Kyoto train station expecting just to find a ticket office and a few platforms. But no. The station has 15 floors, a hotel, an underground shopping centre and everything you could ever dream of. We went to the very top for some great views across the city. Here we spotted Toji Temple, the highest temple in Kyoto and so this is where our exploring began. Toji is the highest pagoda temple in Japan at 5 storeys and 55 metres. It was here that we got our first glimpse of the Japanese cherry blossom and although it was only in early bloom it was still beautiful. We knew we had made the right decision coming to Japan at this stage in our travels.

Kyoto Station

Kyoto Station

Toji Temple

Toji Temple

Early bloom Cherry Blossom

Early bloom Cherry Blossom

Koi fish

Koi fish

Toji Temple at night

Toji Temple at night

The afternoon was spent must pottering around Kyoto and getting our bearings. We walked miles visiting the Imperial Palace Park, Gion district, Yasaka Pagoda, Hokanji Temple and Yasaka Shrine. The temples are so unique and individual it is amazing to see the detail that has gone in to building each one.

Shrine

Shrine

Sacred Water

Sacred Water

Cherry Blossom

Cherry Blossom

Temples everywhere!

Temples everywhere!

Gion

Gion

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Old Nintendo HQ

Old Nintendo HQ

Pontocho Alley

Pontocho Alley

Feeling adventurous and wanting to embrace the culture we decided to try some food that a lot of the locals were eating. We tried these small rice dumplings covered in sweet soy sauce. It was very sticky and not very good. Definitely the last time we would eat them but we were not put off. However something we are not embracing is the Japanese style toilets (basically just a hole in the ground). Luckily there are plenty of Western style ones around too.

In Japan the most common mode of transport is the bike. Literally everyone has a bike and you are able to ride on the pavements. As we wanted to explore far and wide, we decided to get stuck in and hire a bike for the day for a little tour of some of the temples. We rode along the cherry blossom lined river to the Ginkaka-ji temple – The Silver Pavilion. It is not actually silver as the owner died before he could finish it. It was situated in beautiful sand sculpted gardens that were raked to perfection.

Bike Ride

Bike Ride

The Silver Pavilion

The Silver Pavilion

Silver Pavilion Gardens

Silver Pavilion Gardens

The Silver Pavilion and Kyoto Views

The Silver Pavilion and Kyoto Views

Sand Sculpture

Sand Sculpture

Next up was Kinkaku, The Golden Pavilion, which is actually covered in gold leaf. We got some great photos here as the weather had become much warmer and the sky much bluer. Danny got the chance to hit the temple gong and we also got to burn incense for good luck. Whilst we were there a Japanese guy asked Danny for a photograph. We thought he meant will Danny take a picture of him and the Temple but no he actually wanted a picture of him and Danny together! The funny thing is that this continued to happen wherever we went after this, people wanting to take pictures of us and even asking for our email addresses! Crazy.

The Golden Pavilion

The Golden Pavilion

The Golden Pavilion

The Golden Pavilion

New friends

New friends

The Golden Pavilion

The Golden Pavilion

photo 3

A short ride later we arrived at Ryoanji Temple. Here there is a famous rock garden. It is simple – 15 rocks and white gravel. Nobody knows who did it or why it is like it is, so it’s up to individuals to come up with their own theories.

The Rock Garden

The Rock Garden

Cherry Blossom at Ryoanoji

Cherry Blossom at Ryoanji

The rock garden

The Rock Garden

Inside the temple

Inside the temple

Inside

Inside

The final stop was Ninna-Ji Temple. This one was full of sculptures, paintings, calligraphy and more beautiful gardens. It was once the residence of an emperor but is now the headquarters of a sect of Buddhism. Safe to say we finished the day feeling very cultured and extremely tired from the cycling!

Ninna-ji Temple

Ninna-ji Temple

Pagoda at Ninna-ji Temple

Pagoda at Ninna-ji Temple

Don't..quite..fit...

Don’t..quite..fit…

Day 3 we had an early start to visit the Fushimi-Innari Shine. This Shrine sits at the base of a mountain and has unbelievable tracks up the mountain to smaller individual shrines. Altogether the walk is about 4km through individual torii’s. We walked right to the top of the mountain, 233m up. Here the crowds were much smaller and it was great to be the only ones walking the amazing track.

Walk to the Shrine

Walk to the Shrine

Random Temple on the way to the Shrine

Random Temple on the way to the Shrine

Fushimi-Innari Shrine

Fushimi-Innari Shrine

Fushimi-Innari Shrine

Fushimi-Innari Shrine

View on the way up!

View on the way up!

Fushimi-Innari Shrine

Fushimi-Innari Shrine

Up close Blossom

Up close Blossom

Entrance to Fushimi-Innari Shrine

Entrance to Fushimi-Innari Shrine

In the afternoon we had booked to take part in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. This involved the preparation and presentation of how to make Matcha, Japanese powered green tea. It was very interesting to watch the whole process and understand what everything meant, mainly purity and tranquillity. Our host Emi then gave us sweets to eat before we made our own tea as the sweet taste contrasts with the bitterness of the Matcha. We then made our own tea with tea bowls and a bamboo whisk and had to drink it, symbolising we had finished it with a big slurp as this thanks your host and means you enjoyed it without actually speaking. Danny really enjoyed his but Susie hated it – again. On the way back from the tea ceremony we got stopped by an old man who had been learning English and wanted to practice his grammar and pronunciation on us. We ended up chatting to him for about 20 minutes!

Tea Ceremony

Tea Ceremony

Tea Ceremony

Tea Ceremony

Our Japanese Sweetie

Our Japanese Sweetie

That evening we headed to Donguri for dinner as we had been told it serves the best Okonomiyaki, a traditional Japanese dish. It’s basically just a savoury pancake with any filling you like and you get a hot plate on your table so you can cook it yourself. A very pleasant experience. Also tried out some of the traditional Japanese alcohol Chuhai, very tasty. In the evening we went up Kyoto tower for magnificent views of the city and views of the temples lit up in the dark. It is the highest point in Kyoto as there are restrictions on building heights because of the temples.

Donguri

Donguri

Chuhai

Chuhai

Donguri

Donguri

Kyoto Tower

Kyoto Tower

Views from Kyoto Tower

Views from Kyoto Tower

Views from Kyoto Tower

Views from Kyoto Tower

One morning we ventured out of the city on a train to Arashiyama to see the famous Bamboo Forest and it didn’t disappoint. Although very busy with tourists the bamboo trees were amazing to see so close together and so tall. Pictures really cannot do it justice. Here we visited Tenruji Temple, another place filled with cherry blossom. So pretty, and again, something that pictures cannot do justice for.

Bamboo Forest

Bamboo Forest

Susie in the Bamboo Forest

Susie in the Bamboo Forest

Bamboo Forest

Bamboo Forest

Bamboo Forest

Bamboo Forest

Inside the Bamboo Forest

Inside the Bamboo Forest

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