Monday, 31 October 2016

Halloween 2016

I guess we're in holiday season with the arrival of All Hallow's Day, celebrating the bond between those of us on earth (the church militant) and the sainted angels, known and unknown, in heaven (the church triumphant).  Adults and children alike observe this deeply spiritual time by dressing up in ridiculous costumes and consuming as much candy as possible.

The first metaphysical act was the neighbourhood ghost lollipop hunt!  Unfairly open only to the under-10s, every house makes five ghost lollies that are then hidden around our park before a hoard of ravenous princesses, super heroes, etc. are let loose.  Pete - who doesn't even like lollies - was utterly enthralled by this idea, rugby-tackling fellow toddlers and continuing the search long after everyone else had got bored...and finding five more lollies for his effort.  "He gets that from me," even Hannah had to admit.

Then, on the actual Eve of All Hallow's Day, I sat on my front step with dinner on my lap, my son dressed as a dinosaur, and handed out candy to the various pilgrims who came around, most impressively one entire Star Wars family.  Pete's charitable manner meant he only wanted to give things away...until he realised the size of some of the candy hoards he was seeing, when he disappeared off to door-knock with Hannah.  I was left alone with only a candle and a severed pumpkin head for company, and it's amazing how many trick-or-treaters gave me a wide berth.  "Come closer, little children!  I have delicious candy!" I implored, to no avail.

Dino-Pete reappeared and we shut the door for bedtime, with enough sweets to keep him sugar- and colouring-fueled until the next holiday (Thanksgiving!)  Before then, I'll be using this helpful guide on what wine pairs best with your child's Halloween candy.

Scary monster.

Eyeing up the positions of the ghost lollipops and planning the most efficient route.

And they're off!  Competitive much, my dear?

This is the prize.  Spooky.

Like a swarm of lollipop-eating locusts.

All Hallow's Eve parade.  A preponderance of princesses, as ever.

You wouldn't prefer an organic healthy fruit snack?  No?  Well, it is a festival.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Great Falls

When it comes to advertising the USA is known for its subtle and humble approach, under-promising and over-delivering with a complete lack of hyperbole.  Which is why we couldn't wait to visit "The Niagara of the South!" - Great Falls National Park.

The park is a short drive from us, just across the Potomac River, and the queue that greeted us along the Virginia country road suggested some remarkable sights inside.  It took us around five-times longer to get to the entrance booth than it had on our recent visit to the Grand Canyon.  The Grand Canyon is a mile deep, which meant Great Falls was going to be five miles deep!  Wow.

The park was nice.  We wandered about for a bit, saw some rocks in a river, but somehow managed to totally miss the biggest waterfall in the whole world.  Oh well, next time.  We drove away in our Ford Fiesta ("Everything We Do Is Driven By You!") back to Maryland ("If you're looking for a merry land, go to Maryland!") and our Pulte-built home ("Committed to your comfort every step of the way!") where I cracked open a Budweiser ("The King of Beers!") and watched the Chicago Cubs ("Try Not To Suck!") play in the "World" Series.  As I often tell Pete: life's all about learning to live with disappointment.  I tell Hannah that too...

Off into the wilds.

I guess the massive waterfall must be behind us.

The rock climbing was pretty cool though.  If you're Pete's size.

Anyone seen a huge waterfall?  Anyone want to buy some snake oil?  OK, bye.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Last Exit to Brooklyn

After many months of nagging, cajoling and gentle threats, Daphny and Elad made the journey down the East Coast from New York City to visit!  The real excitement of this trip was the chance to see their little boy Ollie again, and we wasted no time in inviting over the Murnanes to find out what happens when five small children of Berkeley MBA parents are put together.  Madness, as you can imagine.

The more adult side of the weekend - after 9pm, or whenever a movie was on the laptop - was spent drinking cheap wine and uninformedly discussing politics, music, cinema, etc.  Very much reliving our youth.  I now refer to my early-30s as "youth".

Cuteness overload.

Attack on Daphny!

Food, a bit of peace and quite, and enough children for a kids' table!

Oscar was a bit bemused to be left on the adults' table.  So unfair.

Public pool.

Pete and Ollie communicated well in some kind of Hebrew/English mix.

And through the universal language of music.

We finished with a visit to Chuck E. Cheese.  Which Elad enjoyed hugely.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Different monuments

A return to DC after the majesty of the canyons - and Vegas - always threatened to be somewhat sedate by comparison...but I wasn't going to let my parents off the hook that easily.  Aside from the 24/7 childcare I expected, we took them to the National Arboretum, the Goddard Space Center, the B&O Train Museum, a Smithsonian or two, etc.  I was able to program in a few more nap breaks (if you're under-5 or over-70) and many more cups of tea.  Real English tea, which is (shock!) hard to find on the plains of Utah.

Now we've had to wave them goodbye, after the traditional last supper at The Cheesecake Factory (with their new chocolate hazelnut crunch!  And so few calories!)  Thankfully their next two trips are booked so there is light at the end of the childcare tunnel again.  And with the success of Davies Tours' Grand Canyon itinerary I can't help turning my eye to The America's Cup Bermuda 2017.  How's your pension pot, Dad?

A trip to NASA.

Not as big as I remember it.

Hugs from Grandma.

Instruction in the principles of steam engineering from Grandpa.

The Smithsonian Museum of American History finally stops all these boring exhibitions on presidents and independence and focuses on something worthwhile that the USA has done.

One for the road, or the plane.  Until next time, Grandparents!

Tuesday, 11 October 2016


Vegas.  The pinnacle of western civilisation.  The least discriminatory place in the world.  Ethnicity, gender, mobility, dress sense - none of these things are judged long as you have the money.  I don't have any money (or dress sense) but luckily my Dad does, which is why we found ourselves checking into The Bellagio.

I can't stand Vegas, which is why this is my sixth or seventh time visiting, and usually I stay in less salubrious places, like The Golden Nugget ($29 a room, 2-for-1 buffet specials) or The Excalibur (a pricey $39 a room).  I did once splash out on The Flamingo, which may have cost $50 a night, but three of us slept in a two-person room then.

I knew it was different this time the moment my desert-dusty boots met the polished marble floor and Dad swiped his credit card at the check in desk.  We were whisked up to rooms on the 24th floor, where we enjoyed fountain views from our plush beds and marveled at the poor souls who had to gather on the street to watch.  Hahaha!

The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul-erosion produced by high gambling --a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension-- becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it.  Well, that's what Ian Fleming reckons in Casino Royale, but given I was in bed at 9pm I didn't get to find out.  So I can't say I fully appreciated the delights of high-end Sin City, although the toiletries I swiped from the hotel bathroom were more luxurious than usual.  As was the toilet roll, and the towels, and the pillows - my suitcase was pretty full.

All in all it was an excellent end to our jaunt around the south-western US.  Now we're back to DC (the real city of corruption and vice) where the Davies International Tours Ltd. customers will be asked for their feedback.  And if it's not good they'll be looking for somewhere else to sleep.

In order to get to Las Vegas we had to drive through Zion National Park.  What a chore.

It was a bit like Yosemite but red.

Now this is a view.

The fountains begin!

A wander past Caesar's Palace.

The only free entertainment in all of Vegas.


Back on the Bellagio gambling floor, where Pete tries to pretend he's 21.

What happens in Vegas...

Dad enjoys the view.

Room service arrives!  I didn't get a very good tip.

Goodnight Vegas!

Monday, 10 October 2016

Rock tour

The entertainment in this part of the world is mainly geological.  Which is great, because I have a degree in geology!  Or maybe it's theology.  I always get those two confused.

Either way, creation arrayed herself in all splendour as we drove from Monument Valley and across the high plateau of Utah.  We climbed higher and higher, piling the miles onto the rental car, but to keep us entertained the radio luckily played both kinds of music: country and western.

We stopped at Glen Canyon dam, the second highest in the US (a country in which there are no prizes for being second) and went for a cruise on Lake Powell.  Here we were able to see the rocks from the water!  The lake, formed in the twisting canyons of the Navajo reservation, is a major recreation spot, with tour boats and canoes disappearing up the labyrinthine canyons as far as they can go.  Our own little cruise ship executed a hair-raising three-point-turn when we couldn't get any further and we skimmed the sheer rock walls as we chugged back.  Mum was reminded of teaching me how to drive.

After a quiet night in a lovely B&B we drove into Bryce Canyon, famous for its hoodoos - spires of rock formed by water freezing and thawing, topped off by a little protective hat of dolomite.  There are lots of them, and at 9,000 feet even my strict fitness regime (walking Pete to school some days) was not enough to keep me from panting up the slightest incline.

The whole area is wondrous, with so much beauty and space it's difficult for the eye to grasp or the soul to comprehend.  If only there was somewhere we could finish the holiday that allowed respite from all this natural amazement.  Somewhere with the earthly delights of big hotels and all-you-can-eat buffets, somewhere you could win or lose a million on the turn of a card or the roll of a dice.  But where would you find somewhere like that in the middle of a desert?

I've seen bigger.

Seaside holiday.

All aboard!

Rocks, but with water in front.

A submariner listening to his sonar.

Our naval architect (see above) was very keen I took pics of the interesting wake trails left by the boat.  Hmm.

Look out!  Turn right!  Turn right!!

Our little boat.

Next year's family holiday.

You're going up there?

No, we're turning around.

The dam from the business end.

Ascending into Bryce

A whole lot of hoodoos.

Weathering adds character.

Natural Bridge.

Is that Durham cathedral down there?

Too near the edge for Dad's comfort.  Mum just told me off for risking her grandson's safety.

Another arty tree shot.

In Bryce Canyon lodge I enjoyed my first elk chili!  Tasted like chicken, with antlers.

Too much outdoors!  Time to relax.