25th December, 2010 (USA) (oops finishing this off now it is Tuesday 28th)
Merry Christmas to you all. I know that you have finished your Christmas and will be waking up to Boxing Day soon. We are still in the middle of our day. It is 2pm and we have just arrived at the water park. As is to be expected, the rest of the family have rushed off to go on the water slides and I have put on my jumper and am sitting in the sun with my thongs on my feet. Wes suggested we bring the laptop out and I could type this up while I have time. Good suggestion. Although I probably look a little strange fully dressed with a jumper on and a laptop next to a simulated beach. Never mind, I'm secure in who I am and I'm remarkably comfy. J
Day 9 Friday
Our last day in Washington. Today we headed off to the National Capitol building, however we weren't allowed in with food or drink of any kind and, since we had a packed lunch with us, we headed off to Union Station to have a look and eat our lunch. It was lovely in there and very picturesque. We returned to the National Capitol building and enjoyed having a tour of the place. Each state is allowed to put two statues of famous people from their state in the Capitol Building and this amounts to around 100 statues. There was one room that looked a little crowded and a bit funny with an abundance of statues cluttering up the room. While we were having our tour the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, walked past and Wes managed to get her attention and she flashed him a 'special smile and a wave' (Wes felt very special after that - J however it was a bit lost on the rest of us!!) After that we went to the American History Museum and then went for a walk in front of the White House and saw the big Christmas tree all lit up and enjoyed listening to some Christmas carols sung by some school children.
Day 10 Saturday
Today we leave Washington to go to Raleigh in North Carolina to visit our friends Murray and Ash Smith and their daughters, Hannah, Izzy, Lucy and Sarah. To say that we are excited would be an understatement!
We packed up and left the snow covered ground of the rv park and headed out. Wes, Thomas and Simon wanted to visit a Smithsonian museum that stored all the larger aeroplanes etc that would not fit into the museum in town and Bethany and I needed to pick up some supplies from the shops so Wes managed to locate a Walmart's and he dropped us off there. We enjoyed looking around the shops and then we headed off towards North Carolina. Unfortunately some of the roads heading out were closed and so we were thrown into complete chaos and Lola really was not coping... It took a while to get out and get started. Murray and Ash and the girls also had a wedding to go to which clashed with our arrival but when we arrived they had managed to nip out and greet us and then go back and they were back only a few hours later. It was so special when we arrived ... we ran up to the door of the house with the Australian flag in the window and the welcome sign on the door and when they opened the door they were so excited to see us. There was much shrieking and delight and of course tears from me (happy tears of course). (Beth says that Ash was 'frothing off the chain') Murray had cooked us a lovely meal in the crock pot and we were warm, indoors, with full tummies – we were like pigs in mud! We spent many hours talking when they came home. Bethany got to sleep in the big room downstairs with all the girls – she was over the moon. There was also so much excitement when we gave them their gifts of Tim Tams and Cadbury chocolate. I must say that we felt so loved and welcome which was such a blessing after feeling like fish out of water in a foreign land. It was so lovely to be able to speak to people who could understand what we were saying and what we meant by what we were saying. It was just as though no time had passed since the last time we saw them. We were so blessed to be able to have an opportunity to come and visit them. They also have a beautiful home that they are in. I have decided that I also like the houses here. But aside from houses and shops that's it, Australia is my home!
Day 11 Sunday
Today we go to Church with the Smiths. It was our desire to be visiting them at the weekend so we could see their Church and everything because it would give us a good insight into their lives here. We really enjoyed Church. Worship was very free and Duncan's preaching was amazing. He really has an anointing for preaching. The people were friendly and there was quite a mixed congregation because of the visitors who had come for the wedding yesterday. During the afternoon we just sat around and drank cups of tea and chatted with Murray and Ash while the kids played. Duncan and Kate dropped around for a cuppa and a chat to see us which was lovely. We stayed up late talking, not wanting the day to end.
Day 12 Monday
Today – not much planned other than a whole day with the Smiths. We had asked whether it would be possible to do some shopping (i.e. no Christmas presents yet) and they took us off to the shops. Wes, Thomas and Murray headed off to do some guitar shopping as Thomas had been saving to buy himself a special smaller sized guitar (a travelling guitar apparently) and they were successful. I think Wes has put a picture on the blog. We spent quite a few hours in the mall shopping and I must say I love the shops here. They just have such a large population that there is such a variety of shops and products. I also can understand why people love a white Christmas with the snow, etc etc. I think I could really get into it for a day or so (as long as I have my trusty coat). We returned home to a wonderful curry that Murray had put in the crock pot. Quite something to come home to a warm home in winter (because they have to have the heating on all the time) rather than a cold empty house at home. Just different that's all. Eventually we went to bed which was late because no-one wanted the day to end.
Day 13 Tuesday
Today is the day we have all been dreading – the day we leave the Smith's. We were filled with such anticipation to see them, and we have thoroughly enjoyed being with them, but now we must leave and continue our journey. We said our goodbyes to Hannah last night as she leaves for school so early and we got up to see Izzy leave at 7.30. Then Lucy and Sarah went off to school and Bethany and Simon went with them to see their school. When Bethany came back with tears in her eyes I knew that it had been difficult... We packed our things and prayed with Murray and Ash and said our goodbyes. That sounded easy didn't it? It wasn't as many of you will know... At one point I thought that it was just as difficult now saying goodbye as it was saying goodbye to them when they left Australia. We were thankful that the girls had gone to school already as we knew that our visit, as much as we all loved it, had been unsettling – I think that you could say that it was bittersweet.
Off we headed for a long drive to Savannah, the mood was sombre. We hadn't booked into a rv park because we were only passing through and we thought we might be able to stay overnight in a rest area, however that it not allowed so we drove into Savannah looking for a Walmart to stay in their carparks as it seems to be okay there at their 24 hour stores. As we pulled into Savannah tired and snappy we passed a whole area where there were police cars galore and something 'going down' hooray – welcome to Savannah. However Lola found us a Walmart and we amazingly found a few things to buy, after using their facilities, that we really did need – like water! We settled into the rv and went to sleep.
Day 14 Wednesday
We set the alarm for 7.15 – a lot to do today. Not such a good night's sleep (funny that) however it was free and convenient, and not anywhere as cold as the last time we slept in a carpark! Today we are going to explore Savannah. We found the tourist information and went through the museum there which gave us a lot of information. The USA sure has a lot of history tied up in war and battles. Although probably most countries do. I think I'm probably a bit tired of it... After the museum we walked around the main streets in the centre of Savannah and saw quite a few lovely old buildings and famous parks. We saw the park bench that they used in Forest Gump in the museum. We managed to find a famous cupcake shop and partook of one each – yum yum yum – they were amazing and the icing – well!! Then we headed off for Orlando after lunch. It was quite a long drive and we pulled into the rv park around 6.30 (thank's to Lola's help). We settled in and then headed off for a walk to find some dinner. The most economical meal was pizza (which we noticed we had been avoiding since our experience in New York) and we had a nice meal. Off to bed before our huge day tomorrow.
Day 15 Thursday
Today is our first day at Disney Land! Hooray. We are so excited. We set off early, not sure what we can take into the park with us so we pack water and snacks. Arriving at the carpark area we pay our money to park and head in with everyone else. There are parking attendants everywhere and they really do the most amazing moves when they are trying to get your attention. Are they really shouting at us, surely not, after all isn't this the place where dreams come true and people are nice to each other? Maybe they drew the short straw for jobs at Disneyland? Anyway enough of that. After we negotiated the parking attendants and parked the rv in the special 'far faraway land' we walked down to board the shuttle train that took us to the monorail and then we walked up to the entrance of the park. The queues were not bad and they are good at moving people. We had our bags searched and in we went. (Should mention at this time that we had planned to go back to the rv for lunch but now that it had been banished to 'far faraway land' what were we thinking?) What to see, what to do. Lots! We started our day by going on a ride called 'Astro Orbiter". While we were waiting in the line the children were assuring me that it would be okay and that I should look around and see how many children were going on it (which meant I would be able to handle it). Sure there were lots of children but there were very few people my own age, not a good sign, but too late to back out. Well I survived that and we went on to enjoy these other attractions; Swiss Family Treehouse, The Magic Carpets of Alladin, Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Tom Sawyer Island, The Hall of Presidents, Haunted Mansion, it's a small world, Peter Pan's flight, Space Mountain (Beth said it was "epic"), Walt Disney's carousel of progress, Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, Stitch's Great Escape and Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor. We were kept very busy until we left at 11pm. The day that promised to be warm was challenged by a cold wind and during the day it was fine but the evening (from 5-11 was cccold) We kept seeking inside shelter in random shops and when we were warm enough we would go out to another ride or feature. We loved the big parade that they do in the middle of the day and the fireworks display at night was amazing. The Magic Castle was truly something to see and it was completely covered with fairy lights. At night they changed the colour of the lights shining on the building and then it was covered with fairy lights – fantastic! We took a lot of photos.
I think that the cold here is more difficult to take than in New York and Washington, because here everyone pretends that it's not really cold and it probably is a lot warmer than where they have come from but this really is not shorts and t-shirt temperature. At least where it was snowing we had warm coats on and everywhere was heated – I was allowed to be rugged up! If I put on the precious, most valuable item of my wardrobe (Lynn's coat) people will really will think that I am strange. Only recently have I been able to part myself from the coat and it no longer acts as an extra blanket for me at night. (I think I have formed a strange attachment to the coat)
We left at 11pm and it took ages to get out of the park and back to the rv park. When we got back to the rv park Thomas checked his facebook and learned that a girl in Bethany's year (and sister of one of Tom's friends) had died suddenly. It was an extremely sobering mood that came upon us all and, of course, Bethany was very upset.
Day 16 Friday Christmas Eve
Today we went to Hollywood Studios (Disneyland's Universal Studios). It was difficult to get everyone moving after our huge day yesterday. We were hoping that it wouldn't be as busy as Magic Kingdom and off we set with our backpacks and enthusiasm. This time we were greeted happily by the parking attendants and we were able to park right outside the Studios. We saw many things including; The Great Movie Ride, The American Idol Experience, Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme stunt show, Studio Backlot Tour, Toy Story Midway Mania, Journey into Narnia: Prince Caspian, Walt Disney: One Man's Dream, The Twilight Tower of Terror, Fantasmic light and fireworks show and last, but not least, the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith (which really made my headache much worse!). It was fun to sit in on a session of American Idol auditioning during which time we got to listen to 3 contestants and had to vote for one. The 'mean' judge on the panel was Australian and it was very odd to hear his accent which he overdid and by time he had finished using his accent and being the mean judge I felt embarrassed to be Australian. Shame! For dinner we had a turkey leg each (which not everyone could finish) – they were amazing and it probably would have given us a fright to see the size of the whole turkey. However it was just one of those experiences you have to have. The legs were smoked or something so had quite a different taste from plain roasted turkey. Not sure I'd have another one in a hurry...felt a bit 'sicky'.
We left the studios at around 9.30 so we could find a McDonalds and use their wi-fi to 'face-time' Wes' family back home. We found one but it was closed so we headed back to the rv park and spent some time trying to communicate with the family. Leigh had organised for us to call and when he knew were calling he called us. Unfortunately it didn't go as well as we had hoped but we did get to talk briefly with quite a few family members. We would have liked more but it wasn't possible. We thought we might try to skype some people and the only people online were the Lea's so we enjoyed having a quick chat with them as their family members arrived for celebrations. We headed off to bed at around midnight.
Day 17 Saturday Christmas Day
We have had a great day so far. Today we decided not to set the alarm (hooray) so we finally all arose around 9am and we had a relaxed morning opening presents, eating chocolates before breakfast, doing washing (there's something wrong with that... but it's the only day we have not set off early- you should have seen it with the huge commercial machines - we did the washing and all the drying in 1 hour!!), and making pancakes for breakfast. Now we are at the water park and then we will go and endeavour to find something for dinner. The choice is plentiful but it looks as though it might be Indian because that's what we had last time we were away for Christmas in New Zealand a few years ago. (It turns out that an Indian meal costs much more than we would have thought so we found a nice Mexican Restaurant and had a yummy dinner – they even had some turkey and ham).
Today we have treated ourselves to more than one cup of tea and it has been lovely. When we first arrived and were in the hotels it was almost impossible to get one as they only put these strange coffee drip machines in there and there is not a tea bag in sight. Since we have been in the rv we have been having one in the morning and then we have been on the go all day. It's been very convenient from a toilet stop point of view. We managed to find Twinings English Breakfast tea bags but somehow they are not performing in the usual way. As for the coffee here – being a fairly new coffee drinker I am hesitant to have any coffee because it is dreadful and is putting me off. If we do stop somewhere a chai latte does the trick although the other day I tried a caramel latte (on Tom's recommendation) and it was better however with all the sugar in it I could have easily run to wherever we were going – forget the rv!
Day 18 Boxing Day Sunday
Today – the day that Wes has been waiting 42 years for – we are going to Kennedy Space Centre. It was a bit of a drive from where we were staying. We paid our money and boarded the bus that took us to some of the outer buildings and past the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) and out to launch pad 39 where the space shuttle and the moon rockets have been launched. We spent a lot of time looking at the Saturn V Rocket building (it took four of us only a short time...) The children and I took it upon ourselves to buy Wes a NASA jacket (looks good!) and have his photo taken as an astronaut – he was so happy J Today the weather has deteriorated and is very cccold and wwwindy so the children and I stayed inside as much as possible while Wes ran around outside looking at as many rockets etc as possible. Wes even ran back to the rv to get my beloved coat for me (Thomas and I are the only ones who haven't packed away our cold jackets!) We stayed late to watch an IMAX 3d movie about the repair of the Hubble Space Telescope which was very exciting. I'm not usually that interested in space things however being here where it all happens was a good experience and I did even get excited a few times.
Day 19 Monday
Today we are off to EPCOT. Suddenly the crowds have tripled and it is taking longer to get on rides etc however we are still accomplishing a lot. We did the following things ; Re- Imagined! Spaceship Earth, Soarin', Living with the land, Captain EO, Mission: Space, Test Track, Viking Boat Voyage, During the afternoon we decided to split up and let the kids go on more rides while Wes and I investigated the other parts of EPCOT. We were treated to a special Candlelit Christmas Concert which was amazing. It was our "Carols by Candlelight" which we had missed. It was hosted by the actor Edward James Olmas (from Miami Vice and more recently Battlestar Galactica where he played Commander Adama) and there was a massive choir and orchestra as well. The whole concert focused on Christ and finished with the Halleluiah Chorus, much to Wes' delight. We were just so thrilled to attend this event. At the end of the night there was a special fireworks and laser light display which included a large illuminated globe of the earth. It was spectacular. The final message being: 'peace on earth and goodwill to men'. EPCOT was the last place we expected to hear Christ proclaimed in these ways.
Day 20 Tuesday
Today is our last day at the Disney parks. We have just spent the day at Animal Kingdom and have enjoyed that as well. We did the following rides/attractions; It's tough to be a bug, Kilimanjaro Safari, Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, Wildlife Express Train, Kali River Rapids (we got saturated on this one – and they ensured this by having hoses spraying water out at you in case you had not got wet enough from the ride. Thomas wasn't happy despite us insisting that he shouldn't go on it if he didn't want to get wet!) Expedition Everest (high speed roller coaster, which the children went on 3 times, Wes and I only twice) Primeval Whirl and Finding Nemo the Musical which was a live show and was spectacular. It has not been as long a day as usual and we are sitting in Maccas using wifi. We have been on many rides today and it is still as cold as ever. However it is not raining and that is always good. Tomorrow we head off for New Orleans and then to Houston on our journey westward. Time to go back to the rv park and try to get some washing done before we head off.
Day 21 Wednesday
We gave ourselves a treat of sleeping in until 8am. We still have to set the alarm and none of the children were anywhere near awake. We have worn them out! We are off to New Orleans which will be a long day but we need a few of these days to make a dent in our travel across the USA.
Our love to you all. Thanks for your prayers and words of encouragement. We are missing you all but are making the most of this very special and privileged time that we are having. xxxxx