Pikes Peak

Pikes Peak

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Man-cation 2012

Dear family,

I must say that our latest adventure has been my favourite so far. It was short and sweet, covered in lush green grass, filled with postcard moments of cliche small town America. It was great. It also happened to be the perfect weekend excursion for a couple of blokes - lucky me!!!

It started with Zac's first flight. He was surprisingly well behaved. He slept during takeoff and was so interested in the lady sitting beside of me that I don't even think he noticed the landing in Nashville. Ah Nashville! The home of American country music. The small town that had grown into a city but still maintained its small town feel. Both Tristan and I were much bigger fans of the city than we thought we would be. There was live music in every bar, neon lights on every shop, and people in boots everywhere!!!! It sounds a bit cringeworthy, but it was so much fun, you couldn't help but walk around with a smile on your face. After dinner at Margarettaville, and a Jake Sparrow looking pirate making me a balloon flower and Zac a balloon dog, we wondered the street and enjoyed the boisterous atmosphere. Tristan described it as Bourbon street, New Orleans, without any of the X rated nastiness - I agree. It was great. And I could just imagine Tristan and his boys getting their "yeehaw" on and enjoying a big night out here.

The next day we drove through the picturque countryside to the Jack Daniels distillery. It was so much prettier than I thought. We did a tour where we walked up and down and up and down a couple of hundred steps looking at the process that gives the Tennessee whiskey its distinct taste (running the alcohol through maple charcoal apparently). It was an education. Did you know that Jack is made in a dry county!! You cannot buy or drink Jake where it originates!!! Bizarre The next day was interesting. We drove to Kentucky - and lost another hour - so we didn't get to do everything we wanted to. But we did make Jim Beam and Heaven Hill distilleries. We went on a few more tours - Jim was disappointing, heaven hill had a cool little trolley that we got to go on, but Zac and I couldn't go anywhere near the tasting room coz he was under 21...but another good day absorbing the beauty of the South.

We did another 4 distilleries the next day - Wild Turkey (rustic and a very good tour), FourRoses (mpft), Woodford (might be the most beautiful winery/distillery/brewery EVER - also serves a good lunch!!!) and Maker's Mark (I dipped a bottle in red wax - awesome!!). It was a really fun day. Tristan enjoyed the bourbon, I enjoyed the scenery and Zac enjoyed being out of the car. A successful day all round. And we had completed the Bourbon Trail - Yeah!!! We get a t-shirt for our efforts ;-)

It was all quiet an education: we learnt all bourbons are whiskeys but not all whiskeys are bourbons; that you need to meet 41 federal requirements to qualify as a bourbon (Jack doesn't qualify); that due to the distinct environmental conditions of Kentucky 97% of all bourbon is made in that state, but it doesn't need to be made there to qualify; and Australia is the second highest country to consume bourbon (by quantity not per capita - we beat Canada, Germany and Japan!!).

On the way back to Nashville to come home we went to a Man Vs Food recommended restaurant (not sure if this reference will make sense at home - google it. We've been to several of these restaurants, not for the challenges, and the food to always great!!) Lynn's Paradise Cafe looked like every piece of kitsch paraphernalia had been thrown on the walls, pinned to the roof, had glitter added to it, then a silk flower or two was added for flavour and BAM!! Confetti was showered on it too. It was an incredible sight. And the food was bananas! I had a walnut bread that had been made into French toast, smothered in REAL blackberry jam with a soft meringue on top. Ok I know it sounds bizarre but it was FABULOUS!!! So yummy I am salivating while writing!!

So while going on the Bourbon Trail seems on paper to be a Man-cation - it was great!! I loved it!! Tristan loved it (we have many top shelf bottles of bourbon prove this) and Zac... Well Zac was able to fly without causing an international incident - so that's a win ;-)

A couple more states knocked off our US travel list.

A month of birthday celebrations

As many of you know, June is my birthday month and I celebrate it the entire length and breadth of it. This started in university when 3 of my closest friends had their birthday celebrations at the start of the month, and I wanted to join in. Since that time my self-indulgence for birthday celebrations has only grown, and I now consider any and all activities in the month of June as a personal Triumph to my glory - a bit egotistical??? Perhaps, but I share my fun with many.

I LOVE my birthday! I love looking back on the year that has been, and celebrating how far I have come, what I have achieved, and how lucky I am. This year was extra special - it was the first year I got to share my birthday with my son AND it was the first time I had ever had a summer birthday!!! Whoo!!

So the beginning of the month was the end of the road trip in the big blue car - not a bad start! This was followed by many coffee dates with the girls, going to the baseball, quality time with my boys, and finishing uni for the semester! Then the real fun began at the end of the month! It started with a post-yoga lunch at the pool with the ladies and their babies. Lots of fun. We made many American families jealous with the smells of a typical Aussie beach lunch - a BBQ chock, lettuce and coleslaw. The sun shone brightly, Zac and I bobbed in the water, and laughter filled the air. A very good day.

A few days later, Tristan and I got up at the crack of dawn, dropped Zac off at his 'quarter cousin's' house (that's what one of the boys introduced Zac as at baseball - awww), and headed to the mountains for an adventure - white water rafting!!! Ok, so it was Tristan's work function, not a Penni birthday event, but I had been wanting to go for ages, so in my head it was all for me ;-) We drove to Idaho Springs, and the mountain banks of the Colorado River where the water turned and churned its way down the 14,000 ft mountains as snow melt, into the river that will eventually wind its way to the Pacific ocean. However, as it was a tame snow season this year the water level was considerably lower than last year. But we were still excited! We geared up into stinky splash and life jackets, received a bank side safety lesson, and jumped into the raft (5-6 per raft). Keeping a hand firmly on the t-grip of the paddle, one foot wedged under the seat in front of us, we pushed off into the water. It was a beginners course, so there wasn't that much rough and tumble, but instead a pleasant ride in a narrow gorge (alongside the interstate...). Sure we got stuck on a rock and one of the other rafts barged us and lost a small child overboard into the very chilly water, but all in all it was a quiet ride. We had a small splash in the water at the end (we all cooked in our splash jackets and the sun was scorching!!), and caught a school bus back to the start point. It was lots of fun, and next time we absolutely want to challenge ourselves with an intimidate course. After the adventure, we had lunch at a microbrewery and I left Tristan to hang out with his work colleagues while I wondered the town, looking at antique shops, little boutiques and cafes. I really enjoyed myself.

My next celebration was shared with an 11 year old boy - Zac's 'quarter cousin' was entering his tween years and 'we' (his Mum and I) decided to share our actual birthday parties. It started with another poolside lunch (yum) and lots of frivolity. Zac and I shared some special moments curled up under a tree. We then went back to our house where we had an all-American BBQ. I cooked ribs for the first time (they turned out fantastic), we had some chicken wings and other bits and pieces. Everyone had a really good time. It's was lovely to look around and see how settled we were into our life over here, and how our extended 'family' came together for a celebration. I definitely missed my nearest and dearest from home, but it was wonderful to finally have a pool party summer birthday!!

And then, the next morning I get up and see that I have a few messages from my nearest and dearest on my phone. It seems they were having a get together at home and wanted to Skype!!! So lucky me got to spend the morning of my actual birthday catching up with some mates from home. It meant more to me than I can ever express. The best birthday gift I could imagine. So you see, my birthday month was fabulous. Spent in the sun, surrounded by friends, spending it with my little boy for the very first time, in the arms of my husband, a long way from home on an adventure of a lifetime. How lucky am I!!!!!

Family fun times

Dear all,

I know I've been slack on the blog front for too long, so I will endeavour to fill you in on all the fun and excitement of late June.

It has been an exciting couple of months for the Apperley family in Denver. This has been topped off with visits from the family on the first year anniversary of our departure from the wonderful land of Oz.

Earlier this week Jessica came to visit. It was so exciting as it was the first family member from home to meet little Zac. As this was just a stop on the way of her amazing American adventure, she told me that she was just happy to fit in with our normal family schedule. So during her first few days, we did just that. I showed her all the big places we do our usual shopping, what the run around normal grocery shopping is like here (three shops instead of just Woolies), how cheap and easy it was to fill your cupboard full of brand name clothes, and importantly what life is like with a little boy filling up all your hours. I’m not sure that I could say she had fun but she got the idea of what life is like at Mansion a la Apperley.

On Friday, Tristan finished work and with the two of us to watch baby Apperley, we could finally take Jessica on a Colorado adventure. But not until after Zac's swimming lesson (which daddy got wet for this week). First we drove up into the mountains, and she got her first peek of the left over snow in the distance. Gasps of wonder continued and the sheer cliffs of the rugged mountains passed us by (really fast because Tristan was driving). We drove up over a 12,000 ft pass - her first experience of thin air and Tristan's driving along a precipitous ridge without guard rails. The view was spectacular and the air was a little frigid. Next we drove through a few little snow towns, packed full of RVs for the summer, past the snow fields that are now rugged mountains with purposely placed trees undispersed with rocky crags that are covered by snow for the majority of the year.

We then went to Brekenridge. During the winter this is a town/ resort/ party haven. It's a quaint little town full of snow shops, bars, boutiques, and restaurants. It reminds me a bit of Halndolf in the Adleaide hills, and a little of Kiama on the coast. It's a picturque place as my photo on FB showed. We wondered the street, in and out of little shops, had a wine and cheese experience as an appetizer, then ate dinner at the world's highest floating restaurant. It was so nice to spend some quality time together in a grown up setting. We got home LATE and surprise surprise Roger was here after an epic drive from Mississipi. More family to spend precious time with.

The next morning we all jumped back into the big blue car and headed for the Rocky Mountains National Park. Again we climbed up up up, but this time we followed a narrow dirt road up the side of the towering mountain. We made 12,000 ft, seeing glorious mountain lakes full of snow melt in the distance, passing waterfalls drizzling freshly thawed ice from the mountain, above the tree line to where on scraggly bushes grow. It was magical. At the top the view was spectacular, seemingly going forever. It reminded me of the cartoon 'the land before time' when the dinosaurs found paradise: it was that type of breathtaking moment. Following the dizzing heights, we descended back to a reasonable altitude. We stopped along the way so Jessica could run across the tunanda and play in the snow (she was like a little girl at Christmas - glowing cheeks and you couldn't wipe the smile off her face!!). We stopped by a lake and took a leisurely stroll - Roger had to check to see if there were any trout. We saw an elk, deer, squirrel, (and trout). It was post card perfect, and all the more special because of the company we got to share it with. And we watched the sunset between the mountains, over one of the lakes, cuddled up for a photo opportunity.

After two big days out and about, Zac and I spent the day at home while the other Apperleys went the baseball for a true American experience. I wasn't there, but I hear it was a poor game, the Rockies lost, the hot dogs were yummy, and the beer flowed freely into Tristan's cup. Sadly the next day, Jessica left us to continue her American adventure. But many hugs were had between Zac and Jess, and true family bonds were solidified. We are so grateful that she came so far for a visit. It meant a great deal. But we have another couple of weeks with Roger, so I have no doubt more family adventures are in our near future.

Lots of love

The GRAND Tour

This is the blog that has held all the others up. This was an epic road trip! I'm exhausted just remembering the details - so much so that I had to have Tristan write down notes for me to prompt my memory! Well, here it goes.... 

We have travelled a lot in the big blue car. But all these adventures, even put together, pale in comparison to the adventures we had on this road trip. It was EPIC!!! We drove from Denver to the Grand Canyon, from Las Vegas to Monument Valley, to Arches National Park and home again. The car was serviced just before we left and needed another as soon as we got back. It was long, hot, picturque, spectacularly beautiful family holiday that we will never forget!!

It all started early one morning with a few false starts: first the Blues lost the State of Origin - Tristan was unimpressed after getting up at stupid O'clock to watch the game live, and when we finally did get out the door Tristan did a U-turn a mile so from the house because he thought he left the garage door open,. And then at coffee up the road we realised that I had left me phone at home. Nevertheless, once we were on the road it was a spectacular drive through the rocky mountains (up, up, up), stop for some roadworks, more beautiful mountains, high red cliffs, stop for some roadworks, wide canyons, valleys of green, mountains (still climbing), a few more roadworks, and finally, after 8 hours of driving, we made a smallish town close to the border of Colorado. Just east of this town is a national park called Mesa Verde and it has a 'city' of cave dwellings that the ancient people of North America lived in (think pre-Indian). Though we were rushed so didn't get to visit, apparently it is a marvellous site to see. It's on our 'back track list' of places to go if we get time.

The next day we hit 4 states at the same time. Four Corners is a landmark where Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona all meet. It's one of those stops that you just have to go to say "and last week I was so busy I was in four states on the same day!!!" It's actually a very cool place with market, stalls around a plaque in the middle delineating the states. These little Indian (think cowboys and ... Not curry flavoured) market stalls were EVERYWHERE selling arrows, jewellery, pieces of stone, jewellery, pottery, jewellery, and sand art. Some of it...well...sigh...but on a rare occasion (every tenth store - so about 20-25 stores in total) had such breath taking pieces of work we kept making excuses to buy things we "needed". We have some lovely souvenirs, and a few things I look at and ask myself "really?"

Later that day we made the South Rim of the GRAND CANYON. It was a little hazy, but as we drove around we were able to get an idea of the grandness of the landmark. The colours were amazing! To see how the Colorado River had cut its way through this amazing landscape, exposing layer on layer of different geological time lines. It's really had to describe its impressiveness. We hopped from photo opportunity to photo opportunity, enjoying the vastness. There were a number of trails that enabled you to hike half way down to the bottom, but they were terribly steep, we had Zac, and it was disgustingly hot! So we stayed on top, looking down (way down) to the hazy depths where the river crashed and rolled its way towards the Pacific ocean. Wow!!  

We went back to the park early the next day and walked for a few miles along the rim. You really got a good idea of the length and breadth of the canyon this way - mainly because we didn't even put a dent in it. Zac, as always, sat back and enjoyed the adventure while his parents huffed and puffed our way around. Getting lost on the way back was a personal highlight. After lunch we caught a bus out to the eastern most point of the tourist road, stopping at even more photo stops, taking time to inhale the beauty of this wonder, sharing special moments as a small family, watching the clouds roll on by without noticing the wonder that they were passing below. Wow doesn’t even begin to describe how spectacular it was.

After a day and a bit of exploring that didn't even begin to scratch the surface; we adventured further west, heading for Las Vegas. We visited (another) aircraft museum and went to a drive through zoo called "Bearazona". It was really cool. We drove through a couple of gates that reminded me of Jurassic Park, saw long horned sheep, bison and other herbariums large mammals ignoring the traffic, passing them by. Then we got to the wolves... They were....more animated... There was a small pack that circled around the car in front and while the driver was happy snapping at seeing the majestic animals so close, one of the wolves at the front started to chew on the front bar and tires. It was bizarre! I don't know that the driver knew what to do, but after some slow nudging forwards, the wolf moved away far enough for the car to zoom off. We saw loads of bears - it was breeding season, so we saw several "piggy back rides". Interesting. The mama bears seemed less than impressed and promptly told the daddy bears to go away when they were finished playing.  

Another day, and we inched closer to Vegas. An hour or so after we hit the road, Zac turbo spewed all over the backseat as we drove down the interstate...so we had to pull over, clean him and the car up... So easy when cars are zooming past you at 130km an hour! After a quick breather and lunch at Tristan's favourite takeout "In and Out" (an obligatory stop for all those who travel along the West Coast) we continued our drive past the engineering greatness that is Hoover Dam. It was a long weekend in the US so there were people EVERYWHERE. Police directed the traffic, and you had to squirrel your way through the crowds to get a look. While in theory it is just another dam, it's a very impressive one. We happy snapped for a while, but the imposing heat restricted our stay as we didn't want Zac out in that heat for too long.  

Vegas was just down the road. We arrived as the sun started to disappear over the mountains and it had started to cool down to a more reasonable temperature. We caught up with friends and had dinner at one a casino off the strip. It was huge and the strangest part was just walking in with Zac in his pram. Tristan and I crept in like we were convicts waiting to be caught, but no one paid us any heed. We walked past dozens and dozens of "slot machines", sat in the restaurant ordered drinks without being ID'd (a big deal as we usually get asked everywhere) and enjoyed a yummy Mexican meal. It was a lovely night...until Zac decided to be sick (AGAIN!!). Poor baby - it had been a big day for the small boy.  

After we all got a good night sleep, (Zac woke up his usual self) we were ready to run and play, and we dared the heat and explored the Vegas strip. Though I shouldn't say the strip as that gives you the illusion we saw a lot. We didn't - 4 hours and we managed 4 casinos, lunch, and a yard glass of cocktail (carried with us as we strolled along the strip). There was so much more to see, but we just ran out of time!! Tristan and I had our first baby free date since Zac came home that evening, and we had to get ready!! So as Zac sat watching basketball on tv with our friends, Tristan and I walked hand in hand to see a show. It was so nice! Of course one of the shows main character was baby, so little Zac wasn't out of our mind for very long.  

We were back on the road the next day (with fond desires to go back to Vegas one day sans baby for a big night on the strip) on our way to Monument Valley. But first, we had a surprise drive through another national park. We were just driving along, watching bad tv on the DVD player while sitting in the backseat playing with Zac, following the GPS, when we saw that the road we were following was going through the heart of Zion National Park. It was so impressive!! We drove through a couple of canyons, which I imagine would be like being at the bottom of the grand canyon looking up. The road twisted and turned as we climbed out of the gorge, we drove through two tunnels carved into the cliffs. They had grand windows in the sides, framing the beautiful scenery that just took your breath away. It was a beautiful, unexpected landscape that we both wished we had more time to explore. There were campsites along the river that we wished we could have pulled over and spent a day or so relaxing and kicking up our heels with a beverage or two. It was one of our favourite places yet in the US.

Later that day we stopped in a three hotel, McDonalds and HJs only sized town. It wasn’t anything special, and there was no pool at the hotel, but it was good to have a rest before we hit cowboy country. An early morning start saw us enter into Monument Valley as the sun began to reflect off the red buttes and sandy desert. Now this spectacular piece of landscape is where many John Wayne films were shot, where countless cowboy movies are set and home to the Wild Wild West. I could just imagine my Poppa standing beside me telling me about a scene in a movie that was shot just in front of us. We were able to drive around the park on a serious 4x4 road that took us to some amazing places. We ate Indian flat bread, drizzled in local honey (YUM!), shopped at a couple of Indian brick-a-brac stalls, and sat at the edge of a butte, looking into the valley at sunset, waiting for that perfect photo. It was such a nice day!!

The next day was short drive to Moab, via a few wineries. We just took it easy. Then the following morning we got up early and explored Arches National Park. Eons of erosion had resulted in a unique landscape where the salt and soil beneath large limestone cliffs had been washed away, resulting in 'arches' emerging along the landscape. It was a magical landscape, and I often felt we were on a distant planet. We did a few short walks, but it was HOT! Thank goodness that we had the water cooler in the boot, because we filled our drink bottles up countless times. I honestly wished we had explored this park more, but we were all exhausted after 10 days away from home, adventuring across 4 states, and we were very much looking forward to spending a day in our PJs at home. So we just drove around the park, happy snapped and made it back to our hotel before sunset.

The next day, we cut our trip short, packed the car up for the last time, and drove all the way home.

It was a spectacular trip - enough for several holidays - and we squeezed it all into just 11 days. We visited where the states met, we saw the vastness of the Grand Canyon, we experienced man's greatness at the Hoover dam, an inch of Sin City was fabulous enough to call us back, unexpected beauty at Zion made us want for more, 4x4 adventures at Monument Valley was an experience I wish we could have shared, and the landscape of Arches made us remember that we truly are only in this world for a blink of an eye.

I love that we got to experience it as a little family - but I must admit, that first night home, sitting on the couch together as the very best feeling of all.

Apologies for the EXTREME delay in posting this blog.

I hope you are all happy and healthy - we miss you all