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Category: 2014 adventure

Last days in NY and the end of our adventure

Last days in NY and the end of our adventure

As promised, I wanted to just share some more of our pictures from the last days in New York which also happened to be the end of our adventure.  Afterwards we flew back to the UK, James got a job and we rented a house back in Sheffield – all back to normal.  I prefer to think of it as us having a holiday from our nomadic life though and I’m sure we’ll get back on the road soon.  It’s hard travelling long term with teenagers, they want friends and normality – it doesn’t work at the moment for us to take off again.  We’ll have to just enjoy our nomadic holiday and have some sporadic trips within it.

 

Every other day or so we’d make the trip on the Staten Island ferry over in to Manhattan and see some more places we hadn’t done before.  One of the downsides of it being winter was that it was so cold you could only really do a couple of things each day before having enough!

One day we headed to the Brooklyn Bridge – I think this was one of my favourite things to see.

 

We also explored around Times Square again and found The Cake Boss Cafe to have some nice cake (we watched a lot of Cake Boss when we stayed with my parents before our big trip in 2013 so we had to find it and sample the cakes!)

 

 

It snowed!  We didn’t get masses of snow and it wasn’t on Christmas day, but we did get a little bit!

 

And finally we hopped in to another state, New Jersey, to see the original Carlo’s Bakery from Cake Boss.  We gave the kids the choice of going up the Rockefeller Centre or going to New Jersey and food won out!  It was so cold that day and we were really lucky as we met one of the ‘celebrities’ from the show – Mauro!  The cannoli were pretty good too 😉

 

 

 

And that is, I’m afraid, the end of our 2014 adventure!  I wonder when the next big one will be?

Housesitting in New York and our first Xmas away from home

Housesitting in New York and our first Xmas away from home

After our introduction to New York in Brooklyn, we had one night in Manhattan before we headed to our housesitting assignment over in Staten Island.

Our night in Manhattan was so different to Brooklyn (which in turn was so different to Staten Island) and I’m really glad we saw a couple of different faces of New York City.

Some highlights for us as we wandered round fifth avenue and up to Central Park were:

  • seeing the Empire State Building up close.  We didn’t climb it (no money!) but seeing it lit up was pretty fab.
  • Eating amazing cheap pizza near the Chrysler building.  I’ve no idea how we managed to find the best pizza in the world but we did.  And it was $1 a slice!!!  We still talk about that pizza now!
  • Seeing Grand Central Station
  • Watching the light show at Saks 5th Avenue
  • Seeing the huge tree at Rockefeller Centre – was so busy there though
  • Finding a small bit of peace among the busyness at St Patricks Cathedral – James always likes to light a candle for his mum at Xmas.
  • Walking out of the Cathedral, continuing on up 5th Avenue and the snow just suddenly starting to fall.  Magical!

 

Our House Sit in Staten Island

We had almost a month in our house sit and we were looking after some wonderful pets – a lovely dog called Honey, a very tubby cat called Roxy and a jazz loving parrot called Thea.  They were all a delight and apart from the dog taking a little bit of time to get used to us, we all had a great time together.

  

 

Money problems at Christmas

Christmas had it’s ups and downs, mostly due to the fact that I was having real trouble accessing some funds in my bank account.  It kept saying it was there and waiting to clear, so at first I didn’t worry and we just spent what little money we had, knowing that it would be all ok when it clears and surely that would be tomorrow?  Except each day would come and it still wouldn’t clear.  Our money was rapidly dwindling!  Christmas Eve came and I knew I had to phone the bank to see what was up – they said it would clear on Xmas day, so I checked my purse and we had just $70.  We needed to buy the kids *something* for them to open and we needed to buy enough food for us all too.  I had no idea how hard to stretch $70 would be!

Christmas Eve saw us leave the kids with the animals and James and I walked to the local shopping area to do what we could.  I have to say that I found food in the US really expensive compared to back in the UK.  Back home if we were really struggling there would be non branded food we could get really cheaply and it might not be fantastic, but it would get us through.  In the US there isn’t so much like that.

There were some dollar stores and some cheap gift type shops so we did manage, just, to get the kids some good gifts to open that even were what they were interested in – superheroes for Alex and Halo for Marcus, there was NO wrapping paper to be found, except plain blue Hannukah paper.  We got a nice big bit of beef for our dinner (was much cheaper than a turkey or chicken) and we managed to get most of the trimmings for our Xmas lunch at Dollar Tree!  Ah, how I laugh at it all now!  I do remember being utterly miserable and feeling that I had totally messed up as we walked back in pouring rain and getting splashed by cars.  Not my finest hour!

Christmas Day itself felt weird.  It was our first ever where we weren’t at home and being in a different time zone really compounded that, especially as the day before I’d see friends on Facebook get excited at watching the Norad Santa page and it was the wrong time for us!  Waking up on Christmas and it having almost been over for family already was just weird!

We did have a lovely time though, the kids loved their small amount of gifts and our money cleared!!  Woot, we could eat again!  One thing I missed though was having tv to watch.  We don’t watch much, but we do like to watch Xmas movies and tv specials.  The house we were sitting at had no tv except Netflix in the attic so it was something I felt was a bit too different.

New Years in New York

Of course, not long after Xmas is New Years and what a fab place in the world to experience it – right?  Well probably if you don’t mind crowds and want to spend the day in the freezing cold at Times Square.  It wasn’t high on our lists of places to go.  Mind you we did want to do something, we’d planned to go to Brooklyn Bridge but it was so cold we were worried it wouldn’t be as much fun.  We thought about Central Park and then worried ourselves about the safety, so in the end we decided we’d try to get the ferry to Manhattan and time it right to be on it when midnight struck and see if we could see fireworks.

We headed out late at night and it was soooo cold!  I was very glad we weren’t at Times Square!  When we arrived in Manhattan I couldn’t decide which ferry to get back on.  The timings just weren’t right for an optimal position at the stroke of Midnight and we ended up deciding quickly to get on one that would arrive back on Staten Island just at midnight.  I don’t know why I decided that one, I think I was convinced as there were lots of party people getting excited to go on!  Anyway, as soon as we arrived it was about a couple of minutes to go so our plan was to rush outside to get a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty at the turn of the year.  It worked, we all, the kids, james, I and all the other party goers, ran as fast as we could outside and made it just in time.

Made it just in time!

 

The problem was that it was so far away the fireworks just looked teeny tiny!  I think if we ever did it again, we’d stay Manhattan side!  It was fun though and something we’ll never forget, but I kinda felt like we failed at New Years Eve in NYC!!

Bad picture but we did see some fireworks!

 

New Years Day

We even got a trip to the beach for New Years Day which is fast becoming my new tradition that I must do.  It was probably about a 45 minute walk or so from our house to the beach and it was a beautiful day to do it.  That was one thing I noticed about New York winter – mainly it was cold, but also it was generally normally really clear and beautiful days.

 

 

I have a few more pictures to share of our trip to New York, which I’ll probably do next week as a photo post.  Not sure I’m ready to stop writing about this trip but of course New York was our last stop!  Sob.

Arriving in New York and exploring Brooklyn

Arriving in New York and exploring Brooklyn

After our short break in Dusseldorf we got a flight to NYC which was to be the last stop on this adventure.  We flew from Germany as we wanted to use our Avios points that we’d been collecting and the taxes that you pay are *much* less if you don’t depart from the UK.  So we took advantage of that and flew with Air Berlin to NYC.

Alex excited in our first NYC cab!

New York, especially at Christmas time was a huge dream for us and something I don’t think we’d have ever considered if it weren’t for the fact that we landed an amazing house sit for a month on Staten Island!  Our sit didn’t start until 2 days before Xmas so we had a few days to explore and so we decided that we’d have a couple of nights in Brooklyn and a night in Manhattan before heading to the suburbs that is Staten Island!

We managed to find a really nice apartment in Brooklyn in the Bed-Stuy area using AirBNB.  It was a one bedroom basement flat and it was really reasonably priced.  We arrived and went straight to bed, hoping to not suffer too much from jet lag.

Our first day saw us explore the area and get some food in.  It’s always interesting to find where best to buy food – there wasn’t anything that great nearby so we ended up in one of those convenience stores that seem to have a little of everything, including some groceries.  We managed to find some pasta and sauce and some cereal to keep us going!

brooklyn apartment steps
outside our Brooklyn apartment

Our first day out in Brooklyn also saw us experience our first (unfortunately not the last) bit of racism directed towards us.  I didn’t personally take much notice, but it really riled James and got him angry.  As we were walking around someone shouted at us about being white in the neighbourhood.  Just a passing comment, not a direct confrontation, but not nice in any case.

The area that we were in was certainly not a tourist area and seemed like a poor neighbourhood.  I’m glad we got to see what it was like, but I was also glad it was only for a couple of nights!

The area that we stayed in was also close to the subway so we went in one day for our first view of Manhattan, but I’ll write about that next time.

Before we left Brooklyn we decided to go along to a flea market to explore another little area.  It was a little bit of a walk, but we enjoyed walking past all the brownstone buildings especially with their Christmas decorations up.

The flea market seemed like it was in a much more upmarket and trendy area than where we stayed, definitely had a different vibe about the place.  I loved looking round at all the vintage items for sale and wished I could have brought it all home with me!  Only thing was I didn’t have a home which is why I bought very little!

Brooklyn flea market
Brooklyn flea market

Just after we walked back to our apartment and were safe inside watching some (crazy) american telly we heard loads of sirens outside.  We didn’t think anything of it until we heard on the news later on that two policemen were shot and killed – it was probably about 5 blocks away from our apartment!

Brooklyn was certainly an eye opener for us, it was raw and blunt and probably not what most people go to New York to see and certainly not what spending all your night in Manhattan would be like!  I like travel for us to be more than the sights, but Brooklyn was an experience for sure!

 

Düsseldorf Christmas Market – any good?

Düsseldorf Christmas Market – any good?

One of the favourite things that we’ve done was when we visited Düsseldorf Christmas market.  It’s not one of the top German Christmas markets if you read any of the ‘top’ lists around but as we’d never experienced any before, we had nothing to compare it to and as such had a fantastic time.

 

When we finished up our time in London we needed to get to New York and one of the ways we did it was to fly via Dusseldorf in Germany.  Since we were there in December it seemed daft not to expand our time and take in the Xmas market so we spent 2 nights there.

Düsseldorf Christmas Market

fun at the german xmas marketWhen researching Christmas markets in Germany I kept hearing that the one in Düsseldorf wasn’t the best.  Cologne, which is only about a 45 minute drive away kept coming up as a better choice.  We did contemplate heading there instead, but less travel from the airport won out.

So what was the market like?

Well we had an awesome time and loved it!  We were staying in the old town, right next to some of the restaurants and bars (we stayed in an Airbnb) and about a 10 minute stroll, or even less, from where the main part of the Christmas market was.

What I loved about the markets was how different they were to what we have back home.  It felt like what was on offer was very German and somewhere where you could find some really unique gifts.  Unfortunately we couldn’t buy much as we were limited in space in our backpacks and had no physical home for any trinkets – so we had to be happy with buying food instead!

pretzel stall at a german christmas market

We adored the giant pretzels that were available in many different flavours and ate them both nights we went out!  My favourite was the pretzel with Nutella and James and Alex liked the one that had marzipan in it.  They were about 3-4 euros each and really nice.

There were huge queues and crowds for the mulled wine (which is called Glühwein in German) but we didn’t have any.  I’ve since found out that each market in Germany has their own mug design each year and people collect them.  I’m quite glad I didn’t know that before hand as I’m pretty sure I’d have had a job on my hands getting James not to bring one home!  Apparently when you get your first drink you pay a deposit for the mug and if you don’t want to give it back you just keep it.  Pretty neat idea I thought!  🙂

While wanderindusseldorf wheelg around there were also lots of street performers and also some of the stalls were set up so you could see the craftsmen at work.  We stood for ages watching one man make a toy – I can’t seem to find any pictures of it though!

There was a huge ferris wheel/observation wheel in Dusseldorf as well which was all lit up and looking festive and a few market stalls dotted around too.  Overall, although not a huge market it was a great introduction for us and as I said, we had nothing to compare it to.  Dusseldorf felt really safe too, with lots of shops still open in the evening and taking advantage of the footfall around the markets.

 

It was rather nice the next day too – I’d definitely be up for exploring a bit more of Dusseldorf, perhaps in slightly warmer weather though!

Dusseldorf in winter


Where to stay in Dusseldorf

We stayed in a really nice Airbnb apartment which was situated right in the old town.  It was a rather noisy area though, so if you do the same bear that in mind!  This is the apartment we stayed in which was huge – we’d actually planned to stay in a smaller one, but since this one was free the host upgraded us to his bigger apartment.  If you fancy giving Airbnb a try, sign up through my link and you’ll get a discount (currently about £20 I think) off your first booking.  Click here for your discount.

 

If you’re looking for a hotel to stay at in Dusseldorf then I recommend using a search engine like HotelsCombined.  They comb through all the booking agents and compare them so you can see the lowest price.  You can see Dusseldorf hotels here.

 

Our Texas to California Road Trip

Our Texas to California Road Trip

We were very excited to be doing a road trip in the USA, a Texas to California road trip – so no short trip for us!  It was about 1250 miles from Dallas TX to Needles CA according to Google, but I imagine we did slightly more with the few detours that we partook in.  I so wish we could have added the extra 250 or so miles to take us on to the end of Route 66 in Los Angeles but we had to be content with the trip that we did!  We actually ended up heading to Las Vegas which is where our flight was going back from.

 

Our Texas to California road trip – day by day

We did look into the best road trips from Dallas but really my heart was set on Route 66.  We’d wanted to do this trip for years and having two people in our family who were pretty crazy about old American cars and the other two who appreciate the retro feeling of the era it was a no brainer.  Route 66 here we come!

 

Day 1 – Dallas TX to Wichita Falls TX

Distance – 140 miles 

Our first leg of the road trip saw us driving through North Texas up to the part that is known as the pan handle.  It was really nice to start to see more of the state outside of the city of Dallas which had mostly been our experience on the trip so far.  We did love Dallas though – you can see our posts about this time here.

We broke our journey with an overnight stop in a town called Wichita Falls (we stayed at the Days Inn which was super cheap – check for latest prices) which was lovely to walk around and explore.  We had a really nice nature walk along to see the waterfalls.  It was so hot though!

Wichita Falls TX

 

For more info about our stay in Wichita Falls check out the post here.

 

Day 2 – Wichita Falls TX – Shamrock TX

Distance – 164 miles

We drove the following day along what seemed like endless small oil fields and spotted many of the ‘nodding donkeys’.  Although there were lots of them, they definitely weren’t as big as I was imagining.  Perhaps those were just smaller oil fields?

Finally we arrived at Route 66.  We drove a little back to the border with Oklahoma so we could say we’d been there too!  It was so close that we had to!

Our first day on Route 66 saw us drive only about 15 miles on the road as our planned stop was Shamrock TX.  We loved that tiny town and it was our first experience of seeing neon light up the road!

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express which was right next to the U Drop Inn garage which lights up so spectacularly at night.  check for latest prices

 

rusty car shamrock tx

 

You can read more about what we found in Shamrock here.

 

Day 3 – Shamrock TX to Tucumcari NM

Distance – 204 miles

Big Texan AmarilloOur third day of our road trip, driving from Texas to California, saw us leave the lovely state of Texas behind.  We really did love that state and the people and places we saw.

Before leaving we managed to catch quite a few of the Texas Route 66 attractions such as the Big Texan steakhouse, the giant cross at Groom and we failed miserably to find the Cadillac Ranch!  I don’t know how we missed it, but we did!  I was very sad about this!  We also explored a pretty cool service station on I-40 that was decorated in a nice Route 66 style and we came across our first mention of tornados as it had a tornado shelter!  Yikes, time to get on the road 😉

Texas – we will be back!

Tucumcari was just over the border in New Mexico and we celebrated this new state with tacos!  It was Tuesday after all 😉

We also were treated to way more neon than I could imagine as all the motels were lit up.  This felt like a real Route 66 town and listening to the crickets at night and being around a quiet road I could just imagine Fillmore and Sarge (from the Cars movie) watching the traffic lights there!   There are loads of murals in the town too, it’s like everyone wanted to paint a scene of times gone by.  You can read more about Tucumcari here.

We stayed in the lovely Motel Safari, which was cheaper than the iconic Blue Swallow motel but we really liked it.  It was basic but had that 50s motel feel with how it was decorated.  Fab.

 

Day 4 – Tucumcari NM to Gallup NM

Distance – 311 miles

We drove pretty much the entire state of New Mexico on this day.  I remember seeing lots and lots of signs for casinos on the road and lots of signs for shops with authentic Native American goods.  We did stop at one of the shops but weren’t really impressed by it all – seemed a little cheesy, but I guess lots of people like them.

On the west side of Albuquerque was the Petroglyph National Monument which sounded like a really interesting place to visit so we took our supermarket lunch there (one of our many tips on keeping the budget down on our road trip).  The weather was still quite warm, but it was nothing like the stifling heat we’d experienced in Dallas and the rest of Texas.  You can see more about the Petroglyphs and what we did in New Mexico here.

We stayed in Gallup which is another famous route 66 town (it’s even in the song) but we chose a motel on the outskirts which meant we didn’t get much time to explore there.  It was a cheap and clean motel though and can still recommend it for a budget night on the road.

 

Day 5 – Gallup NM – Holbrook AZ

Distance – 95 miles

This was a nice short driving day so we took it easy.  It saw us reach our 4th state – Arizona!  We’d stay in Arizona for a few nights as we had lots to see and do in the area.

In between the two stops was the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert national park which I’d seen beautiful pictures of and had to see.  Unfortunately it was a little overcast that day so it wasn’t as impressive as I imagine it would have been with some beautiful sunlight, but it was still impressive non the less and we had less worry about keeling over in the heat!

Read more about the Petrified forest here and how I became a junior ranger (and the kids did too!)

Our night time stop was the iconic wigwam motel!  We loved it there, and it was awesome walking round as the sun went down taking pictures of the old cars.  Inside it was a little dated, but for the price, which was one of the cheapest on our route, it was worth it.

 

Day 6 –  Holbrook AZ to Williams AZ

Distance – 125 miles

Leaving Holbrook we set off looking for the meteor crater which again felt like it was something we should do while in the area.  It was a nice attraction but for some reason didn’t quite hit the spot with me.

We drove to Williams where we spent the next two nights.  Something we’d needed as we’d been travelling non stop for the last wee.  We couldn’t believe the change in scenery as you approach.  I assumed that Arizona would be all desert but there were parts when I could have completely believed we were back in Scotland!  So lush and mountainous – I was very surprised!

Williams was a great town and we stayed in the Motel 6 there – nice, cheap, central and right across from a Dairy Queen.  Oh I miss Dairy Queens!  You can check prices for this motel here.

 

Day 7 – Side trip to the Grand Canyon

Distance – 60 miles each way

Grand Canyon viewWe knew we had to see the Grand Canyon but we also knew that paying extra for the privilege wasn’t our style, so we stayed two nights at the motel in Williams AZ and just did a day trip to the Grand Canyon.  It was just a 60 mile trip so easily doable in a day from there.  We even came across our first roundabout of the trip there!

You can read more about the Grand Canyon trip here – needless to say, it was awesome.

 

Day 8 – Williams AZ – Needles CA

Distance – 165 miles

Our last day of our trip – sadly, as I said not quite a Dallas to Los Angeles road trip, but fairly close.  I remember seeing signs for LA and thinking we should just go for it!!

The list day saw us go through lots of attractions though, the first being the town of Seligman, home of the barber Angel Degadillo.  We’d watched his story on the extras of the Cars dvd and so were really pleased to chat to him.  There are lot of shops in Seligman and I think it’s a stop for many coach trips too.

This stretch of the west end of Route 66 can be done a couple of ways.  You can follow I-40 all the way or you can come off and go up through the mountains via a town called Oatman.

We heard lots of stories about it being a very twisty road, but since we’re used to that in the UK we thought we’d be fine – it still had me gripping hold of my door handle!  Very twisty, very high roads, but a wonderful view.

You can read more about the towns in AZ and what we saw here.

 

Our final night of our road trip was spent at the Rio Del Sol Inn Motel in Needles and I was so excited to have finally made it to California – the place we see so much on TV!  I hope next time we can explore a bit more!

Needles CA

 

We had an amazing time on our Route 66 trip from Texas to California and encourage anyone thinking of doing a similar trip to go for it!  If you need some guide books to inspire you have a look here.