Past Posts

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

The adventure ends!

The time has finally arrived, and after six and a half months of gallivanting about North America, we are packed, checked in and ready to board our flight home (albeit a 3.5 hour delay at JFK).

We had a great time in New York, and although we didn't get to see all the sights on our list, we did have a wonderful time in our awesome Brooklyn apartment, and spent many days on the subway into Manhattan to wander the streets, visit Central Park, eat delicious meals, and admire the Christmas decorations throughout the city (including the famous Rockafella Christmas Tree).  Our little neighbourhood of Bed Stuy/Clinton Hill had some great places to eat, the streets were pretty and the many brownstone houses very picturesque.  We really enjoyed exploring the streets of Williamsburg and particularly liked Greenwich Village in Manhattan.

Christmas lights on a rainy night
Saks 5th Avenue holiday light display - Manhattan
Walking over Brooklyn Bridge
9/11 Memorial 
One World Tower
 Enjoying some Colombian cuisine 

Fun times in the snow (that one night)
Looking out to the Williamsburg Bridge in Williamsburg 
Our walk home from the subway
View from outside our apartment
Pretty Greenwich Village

Christmas at the Wong's was quite an affair with about 25 of Artie's family members packed into his parent's modestly sized lounge room/dining room.  Much like Thanksgiving, there was plenty to eat and drink, raucous and enthusiastic conversation and several small children running around the place.  We contributed by bring a Raffelt family Christmas special - a green papaya salad.  We were fortunate to meet Artie's brother Mike and his family, and sister Karen and her husband, as well as Artie's lovely girlfriend, Nadya, who was visiting from Russia.  

Present giving time
Table 1 of 2
Food ready for the table - including our papaya salad!

By the time New Years Eve rolled around, I think both Neil and I were beginning to feel rather fatigued and happy to avoid the crowds.  So instead we went out to a popular Chinese restaurant in Chinatown for some delicious noodle soup and sticky ribs before heading across the road to Artie's cousin Matt's apartment for a couple of celebratory champagnes.  And since we don't like staying up too late these days (probably from months of very early bedtime in the tent), we beat the subway crowds getting home just before midnight!

Enjoying our favourite cocktail - the Old Fashion

We managed to score some free bicycle boxes from a local bike store, which Artie kindly picked up for us.  Unfortunately when we came to pack the boxes we found these were WAY too small (meant for a racer), and there were no bike shops in NYC that had boxes any bigger. We thought we would try Qantas, since they sell them for a cheap $15 in such luck, apparently no international airlines sells them at JFK airport.  So after a few hours of searching, we managed to find a moving company that sold bike boxes that were just the size we needed.  There were two big down sides to this option.  First, they were $40 each, but it was was either that or paying a ridiculous amount to ship them home.  And second, we had to trek across to the Upper West Side of Manhattan to pick them up, and avoid a $35 delivery fee.  So after finally working out the best meeting place (out the front of The Dakota building at 6pm), and hailing a man in a big red van, we had our boxes.  It only took three subway rides and one bus trip later, and we got them to Artie's!

Only 2 more subways to tackle with these bike boxes!

While we had a great time in NYC, it was quite cold most days, often overcast and when it rained it seemed to go all day.  I think that did have an impact on what we did and saw, as some days when it was really gloomy the idea of taking the subway 30 minutes across to Central Park, only to walk around chilly and in need of a warm drink made it easy for us to stay indoors.  Despite that, it was really nice to have a restful and relaxing time to end this incredible trip.

Goodbye apartment, and goodbye to our fond friend Robe-E, the robot vacuum you see next to me!

 Bill and Neil, getting the boxes from the car (which fit 2 bikes, all our luggage AND 3 passengers inside!)

There were a few awkward silences as several of our items came in at 25kgs (whoops!)

And an incredible trip it has been!  We have learnt so much about ourselves and each other.  We now have names, songs and places that will forever invoke happy memories and melancholy.  No doubt there will be many a "remember when....", and we'll never look at our trusty Vivente bikes and Hilleberg tent the same way.  And while the USA has been a wonderfully diverse, beautiful, kind and generous country, we are so looking forward to being back in Australia with our family and friends, and maybe even testing out the Aussie drivers by taking another tour on the saddle.

I hope all who of you who have been reading our blog posts and following our Instagram pictures have enjoyed coming along for the ride.  Since the Internet seems quite permanent, perhaps when we are old and grey and our memories begin to waver, we can revisit this little blog and do it all over again.

Until our next big adventure...The Squeaky Saddle is over and out!

Back at the beginning - June 2016

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Part 2: Adventures in the North East

Picking up where we left off, after a night in Brooklyn at Artie's house, we ventured out with his family to celebrate thanksgiving at Aunt Martha's house which is at least an hour away on Long Island.

Thanksgiving was fun, there were plenty of family members (it seems everyone we met was a cousin), plenty to drink and even more to eat.  I was quite dismayed to find that while there was sliced turkey, I didn't see the big bird in it's original cooked form, and there was no pumpkin pie in sight!  Needless to say I questioned Artie about why, when we had thanksgiving for him all those years ago, I was told I simply had to roast a WHOLE STUFFED turkey (turkey breast was not okay), and I had to have a pumpkin pie!  It was a great night, and we were asleep as soon as our head touched the pillow.

The next morning, Artie, Neil and I packed our bags and drove Artie's dad's car the six hours to Canada to visit our friends Jamey and Natasha in Kingston, Ontario.  Kingston had recently had a big dump of snow, so the streets looked beautiful peppered with piles of white snow.  We stayed four nights in Kingston, wandering town, walking trails of nature reserves and even visiting the beach.  Kingston is a quaint and pretty little town, where winters are well into the minus 20's!

After the long drive back, we spent another night at Artie's, before setting off to Manhattan first thing in the morning to catch a four hour BoltBus to Washington D.C.  These short (compared to some) bus rides are well worth the money.  You can find tickets for around $7 - $10 each, which includes luggage and (not so good) WiFi, compared to a train which is about $80 if you don't buy in advance.

We had a fantastic time in D.C, and only wish we had stayed longer!  Our Air BnB for four nights was in Dupont Circle, a very central neighbourhood with great restaurants, close to the subway and walking distance to plenty of museums, markets and of course the White House.  The streets are clean and lined with trees and the houses looked like NY brownstones crossed with San Francisco.

We visited  Smithsonian Museums including the Air and Space and Natural History Museums had a sobering walk through the Holocaust Museum and took an eye-opening tour of the National Gallery of Art.

We didn't get to catch up with Obama, but did see the White House from behind the guards and fence.  We saw groups of people taking tours, so asked the guards how we could arrange this too.  All we had to do was make a reservations through the Australian Embassy months before we arrived!  We also admired the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Washington Memorial and the beautiful Capitol Hill.   We would love to return to Washington one day, there is so much more to see and do.

We then caught the Bolt Bus back to NYC and spent one night in Manhattan in a private room hostel.  We decided we would rather break up the bus trips than spend eight hours in one go, as the next morning we headed up to Boston, Massachusetts.

We have never been colder than when we were in Boston.  Most days were in the single minus degrees with a wind to chill our bones.  Despite this we walked around various neighborhoods, visited the art museum, took a walking tour of Harvard University, stopped in at coffee shops and book stores and wandered the farmers markets.  I played guide for a day directing us along the well-known Freedom Walking Trail through downtown Boston, Little Italy and the North End.  We bought a $3 map and guide, so I spent the day reading out the highlights to Neil as we approached various sites.

After five days in Boston, we rented a little car to see a bit more of New England.  We had high hopes of possibly skiing in Vermont or heading up to Maine, but instead we opted for the cheaper and more relaxing option.  Taking the advice of Neil's parents who have visited the region, we drove a couple of hours down to the picturesque town of Newport, Rhode Island and stayed in a lovely bed and breakfast near downtown.

Apart from a bit of snowfall on the first night (which had disappeared by morning), the weather was all blue skies.  We walked along the Cliff Walk, admiring the enormous mansions ('summer cottages') once owned by wealthy American families such as the Vanderbilt's and drove the popular Ocean Drive .  The wealth in Newport is certainly very obvious through the beautiful homes lining the streets.  There are plenty of nice places to eat and drink, and downtown is beautifully lit with Christmas lights.  We stumbled upon the outdoor ice-rink which was offering free admission and $5 shoe hire.  Neil had never been ice-skating in his life and apparently was never very good at roller blading so he was a bit nervous, but we both did very well - no falls!

 After two great nights in Newport, we drove another two and a half hours to Barnstable in Cape Cod.  We stayed in a lovely suburban Air BnB for two nights, which was nestled in among the trees, and took a long drive up the Cape Cod peninsula to Provincetown at the tip.  It was a bit of a ghost town as it's winter, although there where cars lining the streets.  We managed to find a great spot for lunch before we began window shopping and walking along the beach.  It was of course cold and windy but beautiful nonetheless - we can see why it's buzzing in summer time.  

We then headed back to Boston early Thursday morning to return the rental car and catch our final bus back to New York.  All this went off without a hitch and the next minute we arrived at our accommodation for the next 18 nights in Brooklyn NY.  We are staying in a wonderful apartment in Bedford Stuyvesant/Clinton Hill area.  Bed Stuy as its called is an 'up and coming' neighbourhood of Brooklyn, one which a few years ago no one would recommend you stay.  We are right on the cusp of Bed Stuy and Clinton Hill (considered a nice area), so are surrounded by a few coffee shops, nice grocery stores and beautiful brownstone houses.  We are fairly close to the subway line, taking only 15 minutes or so to get to Manhattan.

Jamey and Natasha made the big drive from Canada with two of their friends to visit for a couple of nights when we arrived, so we all headed out and about to various bars, restaurants and shops.  We were even lucky enough to receive a dump of snow while they were here!  Neil and I got up early to get out before the cars and footprints turned it into dirty sludge.  It was lovely - although two days later you would never know it had snowed.

I am certainly amazed at how enormous New York City is.  Brooklyn alone is giant and once you reach Manhattan there are people everywhere, sirens call, strange smells are abundant, and looking down the main streets, it looks like they are falling off the edge of the Earth.  It is certainly impressive, but at the same time I find myself longing for the clear night sky, the gigantic mountains of the Rockies, quietly cycling in awe through the Arizona desert, staring up at the cliffs of Yosemite and packing all our panniers into bear boxes before going to sleep.  It is so nice to flick the switch and heat the house, hop into a bed and watch movies with the projector, or watch Robi the robot vacuum do his work, but I do miss our pride and joy - the tent, pumping up our mattresses night after night, sleeping on a little foam pillow and making creative meals with a little gas stove.

It's less than two weeks before we come home, and while we have a long list of things to do in this colossal city, we occassionally find it hard to leave our comfortable and spacious apartment.  Perhaps it's the cold, or maybe the novelty of staying in one place with everything we need.  Whatever it is, we are excited to be going home to see our families and friends.  Will post again before we get back to Brisbane - Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!  

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Part 1: Nashville to New York City!

It is woeful how long it has taken us to post since leaving Nashville.  I'll leave all excuses behind and get on with it as there is much to fill in!  Since the last post we have made our way through ten more American states, reentered Canada, driven well over 3000km and again, met some of the most fantastic people that live in this world.

Let's begin in Nashville after an overall pleasant but noisy and disruptive nights sleep in the Nashville Downtown Hostel.  Nashville is yet another happening town filled with bars, restaurants and pubs playing live music day and night (indeed mostly country).  There is always somewhere great to eat and drink, and as long as you aren't trying to figure out the bus system, it is easy to get around.  There are bicycle paths and designated bike lanes scattered around town and people seem friendly and proud of their music city.  We had a great time exploring the streets of downtown and the various surrounding neighbourhoods.

 Downtown Nashville

After a night in the hostel, we had arranged to stay with a Warmshowers host, Victoria, who lived 15 minutes by bike across the river in the popular and hip neighborhood of East Nashville.  Meeting Victoria was by far the highlight of our time in Nashville.  Victoria is a wonderful, avid cyclist who took us into her home, introduced us to her delightful rescue dogs Barkley and Lucky, and very soon we became old friends.  She is an active board member of Walk Bike Nashville, a non-profit organisation working to build a more walkable and bikeable city, and as such runs bicycle tours of Nashville every Sunday.  We were fortunate to join Victoria for a Sunday tour of town which was brilliant!  Victoria is really knowledgeable on Nashville history and for two hours led us around town to various points of beauty and historical interest.  We had a great time staying with you Victoria, and hope you'll visit us in Oz soon!

The bike bus

Touring the city

Victoria in the Green Fleet Bicycle Store after our city tour

The wonderful Victoria

Lucky and Barkley

After four days in Nashville, we picked up another rental car, said our goodbyes to Victoria, Barkley and Lucky and set off to Kentucky and the bourbon trail.  We had planned to visit Kentucky briefly before heading off towards New York City, but decided it would be better to rent a car a couple of days earlier as time would be of the essence if we wanted to get to Brooklyn without stress.

Kentucky is a really beautiful part of America.  The roads are windy and the houses, large and wooden, sit majestically in the middle of massive pieces of green, mowed land.  Horses graze happily in fields and old barns hold rolls and rolls of hay.  All this before you arrive at beautiful bourbon distilleries.  We visited a few over the two days in Kentucky including Wild Turkey, Woodford Reserve and our favourite, Willett Distillery.

Distillery warehouse at Wild Turkey

Beautiful Kentucky

Touring Woodford Reserve Distillery

The first night we were welcomed into a beautiful bed and breakfast - 1898 Red Bud BnB in Lexington.  We planned to camp the next night to save some money and test our four season tent and warm gear.  While heading in the direction of the campground we stopped in at the family-owned Willett Distillery in Bardstown.  We met an incredibly friendly and quirky lady named Kandi who offered us a tasting of their bourbon while giving us a bit of history on the place.  After finding out we planned to camp that night, Kandi immediately and without any hesitation insisted we stay at her place.  So after trying a selection of really fantastic bourbon and buying a bottle for the road, we followed Kandi to her house in downtown Bardstown (voted the Most Beautiful Small Town in America).

Kandi's house in Bartstown

On arrival we quickly found ourselves in the most enchanting little house - a converted coppersmith's shop that had been restored and renovated.  It turns out Kandi usually rents her home on Air BnB, so after receiving a quick tour, Kandi handed over the keys, wished us a good night and left us to it!

After two great days, and some top quality bourbon, we made our way back to Nashville where we were due to pick up a different rental car to take us and our bikes (being stored at Victoria's house) to New York.

Rav 4 - fits two bikes upright with front wheel off

The following week was beautiful and picturesque as we drove the Blue Ridge Parkway through the stunning Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and hiked 13km along the infamous Appalachian Trail.  We stayed in the beautiful town of Gatlinburg TN, which only ten days later was tragically devastated by wildfires.

Autumn colours in the Smokies

Taking a stroll along the Appalachian Trail

We then continued driving north through North Carolina and Virginia and the awe-inspiring Shenandoah National Park.  The scenery was incredible - we would loved to have done more hiking along the way but our time frame and minus degree temperatures didn't really allow for it.

Snowing and windy on the parkway

Shenandoah National Park

Freezing and windy on the Blue Ridge Parkway

When we reached Virginia, we spent the night with the most lovely lady Shirley, and her dog Cookie in her Air BnB in Woodlawn.  Shirley lives in a grand house on 100 acres of rolling grass and beautiful pine forest.  Neil and I had great fun taking Cookie for a walk in the forest before setting off for the day.  It was such a pleasure to meet you Shirley, we will keep in touch (and thanks for sending me my shirt!).


Taking Cookie for a run

Horses at Shirley's back fence

Shirley and Cookie

On we went toward Staunton, another picturesque small Virginian town in the Shenandoah Valley.  I had chosen for us to stay in Staunton as I wanted to visit Polyface Farm in Swoope, about 20 minutes out of town.  I have spent the last couple of months reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dillema (a brilliant book, highly recommended).  Polyface Farm featured heavily in part three of this book and I was really keen to try the farm fare and see it for myself.  So the next morning we drove on out and did just that.  It was fantastic, and we enjoyed fresh eggs for breakfast and a delicious curry that night made with Polyface beef.

Checking out the chickens

Farm pigs

Our last night was spent in New Hope Pennsylvania, a quirky little river town that was recommended to us by another Air BnB host a few nights earlier.  We had a delicious meal at the local tavern and a little look around town, but unfortunately didn't see too much as we had to get up early the next day to make it to New York City in time to drop off the car.

It was quite an experience driving into New York, seeing the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building in the distance and experiencing what Thanksgiving gridlock was like in this pulsing city.  We made it safely, arriving at Artie's parents house in a beautiful part of Brooklyn, ready for the next chapter.  We are so excited to be here seeing Artie again!  In an hour or so we will head to Thanksgiving celebrations at Artie's Aunt Martha's house - lots of food and drinks to celebrate this holiday that doesn't exist where we are from.  Bring on the turkey and pumpkin pie!  Will write all about it in Part Two!

Trio Reunited