UK, week 4 (The End)

Our fourth and final week would be a partial one, but there was plenty to pack in before we called this trip complete.

On Saturday, the rest of the fam went to scope out London, but Natalie and I went to the Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour. At $89 a ticket, I was grateful that Natalie is the only Harry Potter fan in the family.

After weeks of anticipation, Natalie had reached her Mecca:

One could do an entire post on this Harry Potter experience alone. To summarize, it’s a self-paced tour through the enormous collection of original sets, props and costumes from the eight Harry Potter movies made between 2001 and 2011.

We saw professors’ costumes…

The Great Hall…

A golden snitch…

Snape’s costume and classroom…

The Hogwarts Express…

The Knight Bus…

The Dursley’s house…

…and literally thousands of other artifacts during the five hours we spent there.

Of course, we had to try Butterbeer. I expected it to be gross (as butter flavored beer would be), but it’s actually just butterscotch soda. Both Nat and I liked it.

There was a section dedicated to the pre-production artifacts, which are beautiful works of art in and of themselves:

I was unable to capture in photos the grandeur of the enormous Hogwarts model used in all of the movies’ exterior shots. I don’t identify as a Harry Potter fan, but even I felt a little tinge of heartache that this was not a real place, because I longed to go there:

One last connection to the world of Harry Potter on the way out:

Bottom line: any Harry Potter fan visiting London should consider this a must-see. From the incomprehensible amount of detail that went into making the movies, to the hundreds of visitors so emotionally vested in the lives of fictional characters, it’s a profound testament to the power of a well-told story.

I don’t see myself reading any of the books (yet), but Natalie is excited to share all eight movies with me when we get home.


That evening, Natalie and I reunited with Amy, Carrie and Emily at the lovely London home of Rob and Margaret, friends of a professor Amy works with. (More on them in a sec.)

We would rely on public transportation while in London, so I was quite happy to turn in the keys to our rental car, having added nearly 2,000 miles to its odometer:

I appreciated the unfettered freedom to get around over the previous weeks — so no regrets — but I never really enjoyed driving in the UK. I got honked at only twice, and I didn’t kill hardly anyone, so I’m going to call that a win.

Amy and Emily scouting a subway route back to Rob and Margaret’s:

Amy and her protege Emily are two modern day Magellans. Not sure where the rest of the family would be without them. (Lost in London, that’s where.)

On our way to the train station on Sunday, Amy was called away by the siren song of a local farmer’s market. It was all good, however, as it provided one last mouthful of cream teas:

Next was Natalie’s last stop on her Harry Potter pilgrimage: Platform 9¾ at the King’s Cross train station. The actual King’s Cross is not at all how it’s portrayed in the movies or described in the books, but that didn’t stop the enterprising Harry Potter gift shop from slapping up a Platform 9¾ sign to attract customers:

We waited in line for almost an hour for Natalie to take this rather eccentric photo, to the delight of onlookers:

On Sunday afternoon we went to church. Westminster Abbey, to be specific — the coronation site of every British monarch since 1066 (among other things). It’s technically closed to tourists on Sundays, but anyone can attend services for free. You just can’t meander around or take photos.

Ok, so I snuck a photo. This place was just too cool. On my way out I noticed the tomb of Handel. I walked over Isaac Newton’s grave.

Big Ben:

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring:

By late afternoon, the bloody nubs I once called feet needed a rest:

That evening we rode the London Eye, a large ferris wheel on the River Thames:

It was golden hour lighting-wise, perfect for a rare family selfie:

…and a nice glamour shot of London:

Monday was London day 2, which we started at the British Museum:

One of the world’s best museums + free admission = super busy:

My favorite part was seeing the gen-U-ine Rosetta stone. Thanks to this lil’ slab found in 1799, Egyptian hieroglyphics became decipherable, unlocking 4000 years of human history:

There were several mummies just begging to be unwrapped:

Quick back story: A much younger Jon and Amy once went on a college trip to Athens Greece and visited the magnificent Parthenon. I remember wondering about all of the missing sculptures (frieze) that once adorned the outer perimeter:

Found them: (“Dear London, we want our stuff back. Sincerely, Athens”)

Weariness from traversing the museum — and the UK over the previous three weeks — was setting in hard:

Natalie found the energy to visit some nearby exotic ballet stores, however:

Carrie, Natalie and I kept up with Amy and Emily for just a little while longer. We’d eventually break from the group and head home early.

That evening, we all enjoyed sitting and chatting with Margaret (Rob was away on business). We are so grateful to both of them for sharing a piece of their home and lives with us for a few days. Their generosity has made me reevaluate whether I’m doing enough for humankind.

It was time to pack for the trip home, but our net volume had expanded. Amy had a brilliant idea to MacGyver another suitcase out of grocery bags and packaging tape. (It worked!)

Our Tuesday morning cab ride to the airport:

We got the VIP treatment again thanks to Amy’s foot (which is feeling much better, by the way):

Ever since we visited the Boeing plant during our RV travels many years ago, Emily’s favorite airplane has been the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Tuesday, she finally got to fly on one (and talk shop with the pilot afterward):

After the long flight, the girls were glad to be in Chicago where the internet flows freely. We all worked hard to stay up until a reasonable bedtime; everyone was asleep by 9pm having been up for ~22 hours.

The next morning (after a great night’s sleep) we checked out of our hotel but still had a few hours to kill before our bus’s departure time:

As luck would have it, we were able to meet up with Amy’s cousin Amanda and spend some time with her (and getting a tour of the restaurant where she works as a pastry cook):

By mid afternoon, it was time to hop on the Megabus:


…and by early evening we were back in Indianapolis:

Upon entering our house for the first time in nearly a month, the cat was assaulted with affection:

If I had some pithy wrap-up for this trip, I’d include it here. But since I don’t, I’ll end with some random things I want to remember: one-lane roads, waving, thumbs up, now leave the round-about, on-demand hot water, mint body wash, non-sliced cheese, white bread, Wheatabix, delicious tap water, Sussingtonshirefordton, cheers, afternoon tea, clotted cream, L for learner, pub food, rock walls, higgledy-piggledy, a bit dodgy, clotheslines.

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UK, week 3

We spent the first few days of this week in Falkirk Scotland. I understand Falkirk is not a small town, but the view from our Airbnb sure felt that way:

Scotland seems to obsess over their recycling, so much so that they only collect trash once a month. There are four different ways to sort rubbish and I don’t feel like we ever got the hang of what goes where.

One quirky nearby attraction was the Falkirk Wheel, a one-of-a-kind contraption that lifts and lowers boats from one canal to another (as a lock would otherwise do). It truly is a feat of engineering, but I can’t say the boat ride to experience this wheel was worth the time or money.

I happened to notice on the map that Doune Castle — a prominent location used in Monty Python and the Holy Grail — was just 20 minutes up the road from Falkirk. Everyone else was castled out, but Natalie was game for a quick road trip:

Those that know their Holy Grail will recognize these scenes shot at Doune Castle:


The original plan was to just snap a photo of the outside, but once we were there I couldn’t resist buying tickets to see inside:

On Monday we took an all-day road trip to Edinburgh, the residence of author JK Rowling when she started writing the Harry Potter books. This day also happened to be the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter book. Natalie, a well-read 13-year-old, has concluded that Harry Potter is the best story ever in the whole wide world.

We walked past George Heriot’s School which served as Rowling’s inspiration for Hogwarts:

We then strolled through Greyfriars Kirkyard cemetery where Rowling supposedly found inspiration for character names. To the left is the gravestone of 19th century gent Thomas Riddell, which (spoiler alert) was Voldemort’s name before becoming a baddy:

Rowling was known to do much of her Harry Potter writing at a few local coffee shops, such as this one:

…and this one:

Spoon was much less crowded, so we stopped there for afternoon tea:

Our waitress directed Natalie to the corner where Rowling liked to write. What fantastic wizardly shenanigans were conjured up at this very spot:

Down the street, we found Rowling’s handprints among other distinguished citizens of Edinburgh. (Annie Lenox of Eurythmics fame was the only other name I recognized.)

Sort of random, but we happened upon the National Museum of Scotland which was touting the stuffed remains of Dolly, the first cloned sheep. Entrance was free, so why not?

While the main objective of this visit was Harry Potter-spotting, we enjoyed walking around this very old, very cool city:

Back in Falkirk, we finished off the evening with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:

On Monday we set out for one final castle visit, this time to Alnwick Castle. Built in 1096, the castle is still used by Ralph Percy, the 12th Duke of Northumberland and his family as a winter residence. I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside, but suffice it to say, the Percy family lives the life. This castle was also used in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Downton Abbey, and the first two Harry Potter movies among many others:

They had a few activities going on for visitors. Natalie is crazy good at archery in virtual reality, so it was fun to see her try it for realz (she did very well):

On Tuesday afternoon we reached York, and found our inn above a local pub:

The check-in process was simply notifying the bartender:

It was more no-frills but perfectly adequate accommodations:

The pub below our rooms didn’t serve food, so we walked to another pub that did. It wasn’t fine dining, but it was super tasty, piping-hot comfort food:

On Wednesday we took the bus into central York:

It rained all day:

We found some relief from the rain in the Yorkshire Museum, exhibiting archaeological finds from when the Romans and Vikings were living here:

We also ducked into York Minster, the local cathedral, but just long enough to snap a few photos (we didn’t want to pay the visiting fee):

We otherwise spent the day walking around York in the rain:

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner:

On Thursday we reached Cambridge and checked into our hostel:

I had imagined hostels as bunk beds of stained mattresses in a dimly lit basement, so this place exceeded my expectations. It was clean and bright dorm-style accommodations, dorm smell and all:

We spent that afternoon walking around Cambridge:

The colleges were a-buzz with graduating students and proud parents, so it was fun to see that activity:

University of Cambridge is a collection of colleges dating back to 1209. This is Kings College, one of those colleges, and was founded by Henry VI in 1441:

Stopping for dinner in Cambridge. My favorite part of this was hearing the waitress use the word(s) “higgledy-piggledy” in a sentence describing the confusing British street layouts.

On Friday morning we hit the road and by that afternoon had reached our destination of St. Albans. These accommodations would be the most exotic so far: a regular hotel built in this decade:

Tomorrow, Amy, Carrie and Emily will perform reconnaissance for our descent upon London while Natalie and I check out the Harry Potter Tour of Warner Brothers Studio. (She is about to burst with excitement.)

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UK, week 2

Before leaving Bristol last Friday, we had to try making “cream teas.” This ill-named treat is not tea at all, but rather jam and clotted cream on scones. The order of jam and cream differs according to locale: the enlighten Cornwall-ians first spread on the jam and then add the creme, while the troglodytes over in Dover go with cream first, then jam. Here Emily demonstrates both methods:

Regardless of assembly, they are delicious and were an instant favorite of mine (Amy was indifferent). Cream tea and I shall meet again.

A brief stop in the Cotswolds for a picnic lunch:

We reached our farm destination in Clun Valley on Friday afternoon and were ready to begin our “wwoofing” experience. That’s not a typo; it stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (google it for more info).

We were far away from any main roads; this was very, very rural England.

The farmer (Trevor) was away until morning, but had provided instructions on where we’d be staying. Our “room” was a building typically used for farming workshops held on the property throughout the year. It felt like we were at summer camp. I liked it.

Once the girls found the farm cats and kittens, they liked it too.

With neither internet nor work assignments, we had nothing to do except sit on our front steps and listen to the bleating sheep dotting the rolling country side. The girls played with the cats. Occasionally we’d talk about something unimportant. It was one of my favorite moments of this trip.

The next day we got to work. My main project of our stay was replacing the brakes and taillights of the farmer’s trailer. It felt good to get my delicate computer hands dirty.

Amy and the girls kept the chickens and pigs fed, but their main project was sanding, staining and polyurethaning the railings of the building we were staying in. They did a great job, even with the uncommonly hot daytime temperatures.

There was a constant presence of near-lethal amounts of cuteness:

These cats were thin and hungry, so feeding them became a common occurrence:

As was seeing a hopeful, furry face camped outside our door:

I walked by these cows dozens of times over the course of our 4-day stay, and each time they’d stop chewing and we’d look deeply into one another’s eyes:

And then there was this guy. He rides along with farmer Trevor in the mornings while checking on the field animals, but spends the rest of most days cooped up in the barn.

But at 5:00 am on Wednesday morning, we got to see him go to work. This dog is pretty excitable, so Trevor puts a muzzle on him and binds one front leg before letting him round up the sheep. It was unexpected how fast a 3-legged dog could run.

The plan was simple: Trevor and the dog would drive the sheep herd out of one field while we would divert them into another. Neither the sheep nor Natalie were comfortable with this plan:

It worked!

With the sheep successfully re-fielded, we were ready to hang up our rubber wellies and move on to our next destination. We are grateful to farmers Trevor (right) and his son Paul for having us at their farm.

Our destination for the day was the Lake District. On the way, we strayed into Wales a couple times. The mashed-keyboard looking language is Welsh:

We made a mid-day stop in Liverpool:

We didn’t do much there; just walked around a little bit and visited one stretch of sorta-touristy shops:

It’s a big city, so there is quite a lot to do in Liverpool especially if you’re a Beatles fan. We did the bare (free) minimum and continued on:

Our Airbnb was located in an obscure rural town called Wigton.

Our place was a mid-19th century workshop that had been nicely converted into a lovely guesthouse.

Carrie made a friend:

The next morning we did some “car hiking” — that is, we mostly drove from place to place and stopped to take short walks. We spent the first part of the day in Newlands Valley and the surrounding areas:

Even a short walk in the grass soaked my feet. I was wishing I hadn’t left my wellies at the farm.

This was very much the England we were expecting: overcast, damp,…

…windy and chilly.

More great scenery:

Settle a bet: I feel like this roadside sheep was thinking a friendly “Hello,” but Carrie feels it was more of a “Really?”

I’m fascinated by all of the stone walls in England. The amount of work that surely went into them is staggering.

After lunch we made our way to the town of Keswick and walked around the local shops:

Stopping for afternoon tea and coffee. (I tried a cream tea but was disappointed.)

Turns out England is littered with ancient stone formations, such as the nearby Castlerigg Stone Circle. It offers all of the mystical powers of Stonehenge but at a more convenient location:

Natalie soaking up the woowoo:

Over yonder:

That evening I completed a special screening of the 1975 British cinematic masterpiece Monty Python and the Holy Grail for my familyOnly Natalie made it to the end.


On Friday morning, we did cream teas properly:

Our first stop on Friday was Carlisle Castle, a 900-year-old castle that has had a pretty rough go of it for most of those years:

The interior had a vaguely foul smell that didn’t bother me. It added an anxiousness to the experience that I imagine being part of every day medieval life.

After lunch was a visit to Lanercost Priory in Cumbria:

These are the ruins obviously, but attached is a fully roofed section still in use by an Anglican church. There have been regular church services here for the last 850 years.

The main draw of this area however is Hadrian’s Wall, a 73 mile long stone wall built by the Romans in 122AD as a defensive fortification:

My favorite movie in 1991 was the critically panned Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and this scene with Kevin Coster and Morgan Freeman was filmed at Hadrian’s Wall:

Natalie and I braved the rain and made the 1-mile hike to Sycamore Gap, the location where that scene was filmed. It made me want to see the movie again.

By mid afternoon, we had crossed over into Scotland:

Back in Indy, we live in a neighborhood called Lockerbie, so we thought it would be fun to see the original:

By Friday night we had arrived at our latest Airbnb, this time an apartment. It doesn’t look like much on the outside, but it is surprisingly nice inside:

We grabbed a traditional UK dinner:

…and settled in for a movie: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Amy, Carrie and Emily took a train to Glasgow Saturday afternoon while Natalie and I stayed back at the apartment (I needed to catch up on some work stuffs). I’ve requested a mini blog post covering their day in Glasgow.

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UK, week 1

Back in December 2016, Amy and our middle daughter Emily began making plans for our Summer 2017 travels, with the main criteria being that we go overseas. Thanks to Scott’s Cheap Flights, they discovered round trip flights to London for less than half of last year’s Hawaii flights, so we all agreed this was the place to go. The next few posts will document Amy’s and Em’s fastidious planning, and our resultant family travels abroad.


We started on Sunday with a bus trip from Indy to Chicago…

…and then a subway from downtown Chicago…

…to Chicago O’Hare International Airport:

So, about Amy: she broke her foot 3 days prior to our departure. This turned out to be the best travel hack ever, however, as we were whisked past the commoners through security and got to board our plane early. If you ever want the VIP treatment at the airport, just show up with a cast and crutches. (If you need to stay honest, go ahead and break your foot).

Everyone was very excited about flying on a 747, so I didn’t have the heart to tell them this heavy beast would never fly:

But fly it did, and 6 hours later we were looking over the cheery, sun-soaked city of London:

So…how hard could driving in the UK be?

Turns out it’s really hard to undo three decades of American driving experience, but each day is getting better. What at first felt overtly suicidal has settled into a manageable discomfort.

Most of us had gotten only a couple hours of sleep on the plane, but it was morning in London — we still had the whole day ahead of us. Our first stop of the trip was in the town of Oxford:

After Oxford we visited the infamous Stonehenge. It was a strange mixture of awe (seeing something so iconic) and humor (thinking of the Stonehenge scene from Spinal Tap.)

At the end of the day we made our way to our first Air B&B in Tedburn St. Mary where we’d spend the next 3 nights.

Tedburn St. Mary is pretty small town; this is the main strip:

But there are two pubs and a little grocery store where we scrounged up enough food for dinner that evening:

The next morning, Amy and I went to a larger grocery store to stock up on food for the next few days:

I thought I’d try a little local breakfast fare. PSA #1: If you try Weetabix, go easy on the milk else it will turn into a soupy mess.

The next day we set out on a driving tour of Dartmoor National Park. This was a random break in the hedgerow along the road where we could admire the rolling English countryside.

About the roads of Dartmoor…


Many of these roads are only the width of one small car, yet they are two-way. And the speed limit is 60 mph. There’s an ever-so-slight bulge in the road every 1/8th mile or so to allow cars traveling in opposite directions to negotiate a pass. So when on-coming vehicles encounter one another, the drivers have to figure out who should back up to the nearest bulge in the road.

Me backing up to the nearest bulge in the road:

We eventually came upon the town of Chagford and stopped to take a look around:

We stopped at the local hardware store hoping to find suitable “wellies” (short for Wellington brand rubber boots) for our up-coming volunteer gig at an organic farm.

I was enamored by this old creepy graveyard but have since realized all of the graveyards in England are old and creepy. Every one.

The sheep of Dartmoor just don’t care:

The distinctive landmarks of Dartmoor are its tors. These piles of boulders that emerge from the otherwise smooth landscape served as the inspiration for the Sherlock Holmes story The Hounds of Baskerville.

They are also fun to climb on:

Even for the hobbled among us:

The next day we set out to see some castles of Cornwall:

This was also the first we’d seen the ocean on this trip. I keep forgetting England is just a big island.

Tintagel Castle was built in the 13th century and is where legend says King Arthur was conceived (eww). Time has not been kind to this castle…

…but it was a great spot for lunch overlooking the ocean:

Also in Cornwall was Launceston Castle built in the 12th century:

The top provided a really nice view of the surrounding town of Launceston:

I was hoping we’d see castles that were a little more intact, but these fixer-uppers were still very cool.

Our Air B&B accommodations in Tedburn St. Mary were quite simple: just a guest bedroom in an otherwise occupied house, with a mini fridge and microwave in the closet. The family was super nice, and I enjoyed hearing the chatter of local family life (homework and bedtime routines, grocery deliveries, morning school pick-up, etc.)

A nearby house sporting a thatched roof — not an uncommon sight ’round ‘ere:

After leaving Tedburn St. Mary on Thursday morning, we made a stop at Exeter University. My girls were hoping to get authentic sweatshirts, but they found the apparel selection in the campus bookstore to be a bit underwhelming.

Amy and I like our coffee in the morning, but I’ve had to accept that half-n-half is not something they put in coffee here. We get weird looks when we ask, and the answer has so far been “sorry, we don’t have cream — just milk.”

Meat pie for lunch:

A farmers market in downtown Exeter, so Amy was happy!

A recommendation we’ve consistently received has been to visit the town of Bath, so that’s where we headed on Thursday afternoon. We got there later than we wanted (parking was a nightmare), but were able to catch the tail end of the last walking tour of the day:

Bath is a charming town steeped in history, and I enjoyed spending the afternoon there. But honestly, all of the towns we’ve stopped at or driven through so far feel right out of the middle ages.

That evening we landed at our second Air B&B, this time in Bristol:

And this time with a full kitchen, and the whole place to ourselves:

It was really nice to enjoy a home-cooked meal at a real table:

Tomorrow we head deep into rural England for several days to volunteer on a farm in exchange for food and lodging. Details to follow…


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Carrie’s Hawaii Video

I proudly enter this video made by my oldest daughter Carrie into the official Arnold travel record:

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Hawaii, week 3 (The End)

We packed a lot in this last week, so settle in for a long read…

The weather in Hawaii continues to beguile me, most recently with episodes of simultaneous rain and sunshine. But I suppose it’s the healthy doses of both that make it so lush here.

We started our final week in Hawaii with the much-anticipated helicopter ride over Kauai on Monday morning. (My mom was insistent that we experience this, so she foot the bill for it — thanks mom!)

It wasn’t a sunny day like we had hoped for, but it was impossible to be disappointed with the view. The rain created innumerable waterfalls to behold, and flying in and out of the clouds was pretty thrilling. (A clear day was a tall order for the middle of Kauai, as this gets the most rainfall of any spot on Earth.)

The sun shown through a few times once we reached the outer edge of the island:

The Na Pali coast was one of my favorite sights. There are no roads along this rugged 16 mile coastline:

Secluded beaches are accessible only by boat or an extremely rigorous hike:

I’m not a timid flyer, but I’m always pleasantly surprised whenever I survive a flight. This was an amazing experience, but I was fine with being back on stable ground:

We took Monday afternoon pretty easy at a beach in Po’ipu:

Carrie and I couldn’t bring ourselves to put on sunscreen again, so we just found a place to sit in the shade:

This was a public beach, but the seals apparently make themselves at home here (the lifeguard had to holler at the people every now and then to not get too close to this seal):

A brief word on the chickens of Kauai: they are everywhere. Parks. Parking lots. Yards. Sides of roads. But the people don’t mind them — not because they are good to eat (I hear they taste terrible) but because they eat a lot of roaches and centipedes:

On Tuesday we drove to Waimea Canyon State Park, which is sometimes called the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” (we had flown over this during our helicopter ride):

Despite early 20th century efforts to snuff it out, Hawaiian culture and language have experienced a renaissance in the last few decades among many native Hawaiians. This person, as just one example, did not consider himself a US citizen but rather a subject of the former Kingdom of Hawaii:

Despite the low-hanging clouds, the canyon overlook was a great place to squat for lunch. Or at least the start of lunch — it rained shortly after I took this photo:

Seeking shelter from the rain in the small Waimea Canyon museum, I found my new calling: Feral Pig Hunter. Apparently pigs cause all kinds of ecological problems for Hawaii, and hunting them (with the goal of complete eradication) is encouraged. Hang in there, Hawaii….help is on the way.

Wednesday would turn out to be one of our biggest endurance tests: an 8-mile hike on the aforementioned Na Pali Coast to Hanakapi’ai Falls. This is the furthest you can hike on the coast without a permit.

Our progress slowed to a crawl at times as we walked carefully, trying to keep our shoes reasonably clean on a very muddy trail:

Eventually, however, I had to let go and accept my destiny:

Some encouraging signs along the trail:

We came upon a cluster of bamboo trees, which made a very strange and erie knocking sound as the wind blew:

As the hike continued, we traversed slippery rocks over steep ledges:

…thick jungle-like foliage:

…and several deep river crossings:

…but at the end of the trail was a very cool 120 foot waterfall:

Actually, a very cold 120 foot waterfall — Natalie and I jumped in. It took my breath away, but it was quite invigorating after the challenging hike there:

On the hike back, I was a little more intentional about looking up from the muddy trail to take in the beautiful scenery:

Emily has been nursing an eye stye all week. I was impressed with her hands-free warm compress:

We took things pretty easy on Thursday. Amy heard about a secret spot near our resort where sea turtles where known to hang out, so she and I made a little side-hike that afternoon to check it out:

It was a steep descent to the beach, so these ropes that someone had put up came in very handy:

We never saw any turtles, but we found a very cool secluded cave and enjoyed a nice swim:

That evening we had dinner at a local Hawaiian tapas restaurant:

…and afterward perused some of the local shops, like this ukulele-centric store: (Only in Hawaii…)

By Friday morning, we were back at the airport so my mom could return to Indianapolis, and we could move on to the island of Oahu.

Our first stop in Oahu on Friday afternoon was at the University of Hawaii bookstore in Honolulu. My girls like college-wear, so it was a perfect place to acquire some wearable souvenirs:

We had some time to kill before we could check in to our Airbnb house, so we did a short hike at the nearby Diamond Head State Monument:

Diamond Head is a 150,000 year old volcanic crater. The trail started in the flattish, desert-like center:

…but quickly ascended as we reached the outer edge, with a mixture of open trail, cement bunker-like structures and tunnels (it was a military base in the early 1900’s):

At the top of the outer edge, looking back into the crater:

Looking out over the crater edge at downtown Honolulu:

Afterward — acting on a tip from our airport shuttle bus driver — we rewarded ourselves with a trip to Shimazu Store, a popular neighborhood source of shockingly delicious shaved ice (we learned later it is deceivingly easy to overeat on sugar-flavored frozen water):

This remuddled Airbnb house on Oahu wouldn’t fit anyone’s definition of “nice,” especially after living the swanky timeshare resort lifestyle for the past two weeks:

But it was good enough, and if anything, it incentivized us to be out making the most of our dwindling time in Hawaii — and it maybe made me a tiny bit ready to go home. (Here is Natalie putting this place’s first pin over Indiana.)

Amenities included cute critters:

…and not-so-cute critters: (To be fair, I understand cockroaches are abundant in Hawaii, and Oahu doesn’t have Kauai’s chickens to gobble them up.)

That night we drove to Pu’u ‘Ualaka’a State Wayside to watch the sun set. It was a fantastic view of both downtown Honolulu and Diamond Head crater that we had hiked earlier:

Here’s a fun fact Amy learned while chatting up a tour guide standing nearby: Diamond Head’s original Hawaiian name is Le’ahi — a mashup of “lea” which means promontory or point of high land, and “ahi” which means tuna, as the crater from this perspective resembles a tuna’s dorsal fin:


Saturday morning was set aside for Pearl Harbor. All of the reserved tickets for this day had been doled out several days prior, so we had to show up early to try to get some of the first-come-first-serve tickets. By 6:50 am, a long line was already forming:

We got in no problem and started our visit at 7:30am. Here we are on the ferry that takes visitors to the site of the sunken USS Arizona. Narrating was a native Hawaiian who, as an 11 year old boy, witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor:

Unfortunately, this was as close as we’d get to the Arizona, as the visitor platform that straddles the sunken ship was undergoing repairs:

With the self-paced audio tour, we took our time over the next couple hours learning about that morning of December 7, 1941 and letting it all sink in (that terrible pun is not intended — it’s just the best way to express the weightiness of it all):

A couple of artifacts in particular stuck out to me: an almost fully intact Japanese torpedo found at the bottom of Pearl Harbor in 1991 (!):

…and an initial draft of FDR’s famous “infamy” speech. Note the handwritten annotations, particularly “world history” being punched up with the more impactful “infamy”:

It was a heavy morning, but visiting Pearl Harbor was undoubtedly a highlight of this trip.

By late morning we had made our way to Waikiki beach for a picnic lunch, after which the girls started their eagerly anticipated surfing lesson. They started with some basic stances in the sand for about 10 minutes:

…and then got right to it, enjoying an hour and 50 minutes riding the waves: (Photo credit:

Each daughter expressed having a rad time shredding the sick swells:

We spent the remainder of the afternoon resting on Waikiki beach (or in my case, under a nearby tree — I’m so done with sun screen!):

…and enjoyed some live music and hula dancing:

…before the sun metaphorically set on our Hawaiian vacation:

“Not so fast,” said Amy. We had several hours before our flight on Sunday morning, so we had time for a hike at Manoa Falls:

To commemorate that we were all here, Amy wanted a rare photo of the five of us together. This picture is blurry because Natalie smacked a mosquito on the back of my head right as I snapped this photo:

As a final stop on the way to the airport, we visited the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as the Punchbowl as it’s located in the Punchbowl Crater in Honolulu. It was also a time to pause and take in one last view of Hawaiian scenery:

Total side note: we noticed these creatures soon after arriving in Hawaii almost three weeks ago and started jokingly calling them marmosets, not knowing at the time what they or marmosets actually were. I’ve since learned that this is a mongoose, but in my heart — and in total defiance of established animal taxonomy — it shall forever be a marmoset:

At 4pm on Sunday afternoon, we started our long trip home:

A jet-lagged layover in Atlanta nine hours later:

The wrap-up of every trip is always a mix of emotions (sad for it to end, glad to be home, etc.), and this “50th state” milestone is certainly no exception. Over the past five years we’ve traveled long and far, and that is immensely satisfying.

What is simply wonderful is how much remains to be seen.


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Hawaii, week 2

We kicked off our second week on the big island of Hawaii with a trip to Waipi’o Valley on Tuesday. (This was the day I learned to recalibrate my perception of the weather. While it rains a lot here, we’ve not had any true “rainy days” — only rainy hours.)

I was initially disappointed with the cloud cover that completely obscured what was supposed to be a magnificent view:

…but once we descended below the clouds, the view improved:

Did you notice the “25% grade” road sign in the first photo? It was over a half mile of this to get down to the beach (and pure torture coming back up):

Along the way, the girls met a friendly wild colt (this was one of a few horses milling around in the middle of the road):

The road eventually turned into a trail that led to beachfront with lots of trees — providing a bit of a wind break for our lunch stop:

This was supposed to be a fairly substantial hike (~6.5 miles), but it was cut short by an impasse where the river let out into the ocean. The water turned out to be too deep and the current too strong. (Amy got knocked down by a wave!)

We didn’t give up easily — we spent about 15 minutes trying to find another way across, which was enough time for the clouds to disperse:

On the way back up the hill, we found a wrecked truck. Someone had a very bad day on a 25% grade road:

We see unique, handmade “drive slow” signs like this everywhere, which tells what the local Hawaiians think about typical tourist driving patterns. (Note the waterfall in the background.)

On Wednesday we went to Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, a preserve illustrating Hawaiian traditions between 1550-1819. Pu’uhonua means “place of refuge” where native hooligans could go for asylum if they could outrun the vigilantes:

It seems like there are lava patches everywhere on this island, and it boggles my mind to stand on rock that was once oozing lava:

This doesn’t look like much, but it’s called Two Step (because it’s kinda like two big stair steps that lead into the water). This is where we snorkeled on Tuesday afternoon. It was awesome. Like, National-Geographic-exotic-fish-and-coral awesome. I have no other pictures because I was busy snorkeling.

Since Kona is on the West side of the Big Island, it was easy to take in the obligatory sunset:

As I mentioned above, the lava fields on this island are fascinating, especially seeing the different ages. There’s fresh-from-earth’s-bowels all the way to nearly-reclaimed-by-nature, and it makes it quite easy to imagine how this entire island came to be.

On Thursday, we wanted to do another beach day. But a beach that any sucker can simply drive to would not do, so we chose the Makalawena Beach at the end of a mile-long trek through a lava field wasteland:

This poor goat-shaped person should have opted for the closer beach:

It was blazing hot, but before long, appearing over the sandy hills at the end of the trail…

…was our big payoff. This was the idyllic, postcard Hawaii beach that I was hoping we’d see at some point:

Amy and the girls enjoyed relaxing on the sand. I took a nap under a tree.

On Friday, it was time to move on from the big island of Hawaii:

After a short layover in Maui, we landed on the island of Kauai:

This is our home for the week, another timeshare condo courtesy of my mother — who flew in from Indy to join us for our week in Kuaui!

Without thinking, I agreed to a “free” breakfast at the resort’s clubhouse on Saturday morning. But the “cost” was having to sit through an insufferable presentation on how to cram your week full of exhausting activities while bleeding money into the local economy. (They may have used different words.)

A nice view from a scenic overlook while driving around on Saturday morning:

You guessed it — farmer’s market:

Just like with farmer’s markets, Amy loves her fresh seafood. We picked up some ono, “sweet, very good to eat” fish for grilling later that evening:

We made a final stop for the day at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. It was a good spot to watch some of the local seabirds, as many different kinds call this site home:

It was a source of both lovely ocean scenery…

…and junior high caliber jokes:

The free Mai Tai’s (and to a lesser extent, the live music and hula dancer) at the resort that evening made up for the activities presentation earlier that morning. All was forgiven.

We originally planned to do an epic 8-mile hike on Sunday, but the morning got away from us. We moved on to plan B — SUP (Stand Up Paddle) boarding:

SUP boarding is just what it sounds like: you stand (or sit, or kneel) on a surfboard-ish thing and paddle through the water. Amy and I had done this before, but it was new for the girls. They took to it instantly, and we paddled nearly 4 miles over 2 hours. (Side note about the weather: it cycled through sunny, cloudy and rain about a half dozen times over those two hours. I guess this is just how the weather rolls ’round here.)

I’ve enjoyed seeing these red-crested Brazilian cardinals flying around (and this one enjoyed the bread crumbs from my lunch):

Tomorrow should be pretty fun: we’re starting the week with a morning helicopter ride over Kauai. I’m hoping it won’t be a rainy hour.

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Visit all 50 States? Check.

This week we reached a travel milestone for our family: Having visited the other 49 states in our motorhome, it was time to hop on a plane and see the final state of Hawaii.

We started the adventure in a BlueIndy (one of the electric rental cars that we use fairly regularly ’round town) for an easy one-way 4:30am drive to the airport:

I was pretty sure we could cram the five of us into one of these cars, but I forgot to factor in the impact of luggage. And the total weight. We made it work, however. Barely.

It was a full day of flying — Indy to LAX to Seattle to Kona — where we slept…

…watched movies, read books, and in every way “killed time”…

…until, 22 hours later, we arrived in Kona, Hawaii:

Air travel is amazing that way I suppose, but it’s very different from the RV experience where the journey is as meaningful as the destination.

The Kona airport was interesting; it’s essentially an outdoor airport, which I took as a sign that it must not rain here very often. (I was very wrong — it’s rained a little every day so far.)

It wasn’t until the next morning that we got our first actual view of Hawaii from our hotel balcony:

Toes were in the water shortly thereafter:

After a quick morning walk around Kona (and spending a small fortune on a simple breakfast), we went to a familiar place to load up on essential food and supplies:

After lunch, we made the 2-hour, cross-island drive from Kona to Hilo and got checked in to our Airbnb house. That afternoon, we took a drive into downtown Hilo to visit their tsunami museum. (The town of Hilo has been devastated by tsunami twice in recent history, once in 1946 and then again in 1960.)

We then stopped at a beautiful local park in Hilo to take in a fine collection of banyan trees. Below is one (yes, one) such tree:

These trees are pretty amazing. They start by sprouting up like regular trees, but then they drop roots back into the ground from above, ultimately creating a beautiful, tangled mess of skeletal root-branches:

This was our Airbnb home, located about 20 minutes inland from Hilo:

This house was located at a noticeably higher elevation compared to the coast — our ears would pop as we drove to and from downtown Hilo. It was also a very rural area, so the nighttime sounds of insects and frogs were some of the loudest I’ve heard.

Saturday was to be a very full day. We started in the morning with a visit to the nearby (and aptly-named) Rainbow Falls:


…and climbed some more banyan trees:

Amy is a sucker for farmers markets, so the one in Hilo later that morning (with fresh, locally-grown exotic fruits and vegetables) had her in a near trance:

We enjoyed several new food discoveries that day. These lychee tasted like (delicious) grapes:

…the apple bananas tasted like regular bananas, but with more tartness and cuteness:

…this mountain apple tasted like how fresh flowers smell (strangely good):

…and Natalie curiously described her  coconut water as tasting “a little like puke, but still good.” (I concurred with the first part.)

We then made our way to Hawai’i Volcanos National Park, starting with a visit to the Halemaumau Crater. This is an active lake of lava that spews out toxic sulfur dioxide gas, so they don’t let you get too close:

The main objective of the afternoon was to get in a good hike. The start of the trail was actually an old roadway that is apparently being allowed to return to nature. This, along with an occasional dilapidated road sign, gave it a fun post-apocalyptic, Walking Dead feel:

As we hiked, we could look down into a lava lake that has been inactive since 1959:

The trail also took us through a lava tube, which is basically a natural conduit left in the earth where molten lava once flowed:

These were just a couple signs along the trail that I found amusing:

The trail eventually took us down into the hardened lava lake that we saw from the overlook earlier:

This was my favorite experience so far. It felt so other-worldly, like being on another planet:

Lava rocks are surprisingly light, as demonstrated by Natalie:

They are also surprisingly sharp, as demonstrated by Natalie:

This is what “Internet Hour” looks like, an innovative new tactic in cruel parenting. For the duration of this trip, we are limiting the girls’ daily internet connectivity to one hour, which we hope will help them be fully present here the other 23. (You’re welcome, girls.)

Before calling it a night on Saturday, we drove back to the Halemaumau Crater to see the glow of the lava against the starry nighttime sky:

We drove to Lava Trees State Park on Sunday morning to see the “lava tree molds.” This phenomenon was created in the 1700’s when lava flowed through here, coating the trees and leaving the molds intact after the trees died and rotted away:

It really wasn’t that interesting, but it felt good to walk around and to see vegetation I don’t get to see every day in Indiana:

After the lava trees, we stopped at yet another farmers market. (It turned into a delicious lunch stop.)

After checking out of our Airbnb house, we hit the road and started making our way back toward Kona. We stopped at a local coffee farm along the way:

We love tours, so here we learned all about how coffee is grown, harvested and roasted. Did you know green coffee beans are the worlds #2 commodity? (Oil is #1.)

By the end of the afternoon, we were checked into our condo in Kona where we will spend the rest of the week:

Monday morning was bright and sunny, so we decided it would be a good day to spend at the beach:

After a few hours of swimming and snorkeling, we drove a bit down the road to walk a very different type of beach: (Note the overcast weather, a mere 15 minutes after leaving the previous sunny beach.)

This stretch of beach is known for its sea turtles, and we were lucky enough to see a few sleeping on the shore and still others swimming in the tide nearby:

Up this week: more hiking, more beaches and at least one more National Park. It’s going to be a good week!


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Goodbye, old friend.


We had to say goodbye to the ol’ Southy today. We sold it, and it has moved on to its next adventure, this time to some wonderful people out of sunny Arizona.

I try not to get attached to “things,” but this thing was different. As a colleague of mine phrased it, RVs are memory-making machines and, well, this RV made us a lot of memories.

Not a completely sad day, however: Hawaii 2016 is officially funded!

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RV for sale…*sniff*

The Arnold RV is officially for sale. Interested suitors can see this page for more details. Memories not included.



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