Leaving the Country

11 Aug

In January my brother offered to take our family, plus my parents, for a holiday to California, at no expense to ourselves (well aside from spending money).  Of course we jumped at the offer and left Australia a little over seventeen days ago, for the holiday of a lifetime.

We had a lot of fun in the lead up to this holiday.  We spent the proceeding months reading everything we could about the places we were to visit.  We learned about Walt Disney, the Californian gold rush, Alcatraz, the 1906 San Franciscan earthquake, Hollywood, the Golden Gate Bridge and so much more.

In the final weeks we changed some Aussie currency into U.S. dollars and marveled at the plainness of their currency.  During the holiday we discovered that you absolutely must divide your notes according to denomination in your wallet or you’ll spend ages digging through your notes trying to distinguish between one note and the next.  They are so alike.

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In the final days we began packing for our trip; an exercise in spatial ingenuity.  You see we had seven people traveling in one car, with one small boot space, for 17 days.  I patted myself on the back when I managed to squeeze what one family of four needed, for this duration of time, into one medium sized piece of luggage (not the one you can see in the photo below) and one smaller bag.   We also each had one small carry-on backpack with our electronics, cameras, and other essentials to amuse us on the plane and in the evenings (most of which we didn’t end up using).  I must confess that we did purchase another medium sized bag to bring back to Australia all the extras we had accumulated along the way.

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Then, on Tuesday, 23rd July we piled into the car and eagerly drove to the international airport,

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where we filled out the required documentation.

Yes we made the boys fill out their own declarations.  What better way to learn how to fill out forms.

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We had a delay of approximately one hour but the boys were kept thoroughly amused by all the planes landing and taking off.  The international airport, for ticketed travelers, is a much better location for plane watching than the plain old domestic airport.

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Finally our Air New Zealand Boeing 777-200 arrived and was ready for boarding.

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We gathered our most expensive and painful to acquire passports and put them through their paces.

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The boys have been on a plane once before when they were younger but I doubt they remembered much of that experience so this first flight was very exciting for them.

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Ethan took take off in his stride but I think Brayden left fingernail marks in the arm rests.  🙂

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It’s clearly been a long, long time since I’ve flown as these in-flight entertainment devices were all new to me.  But boy were they brilliant.  There were stacks of movies and television programs to choose from, plus music and games.  I amused myself by watching “Return to Nim’s Island”, a movie we missed watching when it was at the movies.  Just a head’s up…it’s no where near as good as the book.  In fact it’s nothing like the book at all!

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My favourite feature however was the flight show program.  It flicked between different maps and readings related to your flight.  You could see how far you’d flown and how many hours left in your flight, as well as the plane’s speed, elevation, temperature outside the plane and all sorts of interesting pieces of data.  Okay, well maybe I don’t get out enough, but I was impressed by all this technology and it kept us amused for hours.

As you can see, we didn’t fly direct to Los Angeles, but rather had a small stop over in Auckland, New Zealand, after our almost four hour trip from Brisbane, Australia.

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We saw very little of New Zealand.  In fact, this was it!

Thankfully we had a small layover in New Zealand as our plane had arrived late, and the girl back in Australia hadn’t given us boarding passes for leg two of our trip, so we spent our few moments in NZ dashing from one location to another, lining up for those missing boarding passes, fanatically watching our watches, before dashing to make our connecting flight.

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Leg two of our trip was the longest part of our journey.

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Twelve and a quarter hours confined in economy seating and trying to sleep.  I managed four hours of disturbed sleep.  But thankfully at no point were we bored at all.  We never even opened our carry on backpacks for books or other amusement.

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The next day, still Tuesday and still the 23rd July – that messes with your head, let me tell you, we never knew what day it was when we were in the U.S. – we sighted Los Angeles, California, United States of America.

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On landing, one of the first things we saw was a U.S. flag, one of the hundreds we would see during the next 17 days.

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I don’t think I’ve seen as many Australian flags as I’ve seen U.S. flags.

These flags were at the car rental place.  They stick the flag everywhere.  They have a real thing about their flag.

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Sorry, no photos of security and customs at the airport, which I had wanted.  😦  I didn’t want to be breaking any rules before they’d even let me into the country.  I must say, I expected more trouble getting into the country than we had.  There was a massively long line to get through immigration, where they checked passports and took our fingerprints. From there we collected our bags, handed in our declaration form and walked right on out of the airport.  That’s it!!  Security is much higher, getting in and out of Australia than the U.S.

After a quick bus ride to the car rental place, and a really, really long time waiting in a line, we got our rental car.

(Long slow moving lines was something we had to get used to everywhere we went in the U.S.  They don’t seem to be in any hurry and the larger population dictates that all lines will be long and frustrating.)

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Here’s our Dodge Caravan.  We wanted to bring it home with us.  We loved our car.

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It was much bigger and better than we had expected.  Plenty of space for all seven of us.

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That’s my brother in the driver’s seat, my dad in the front passenger seat, hubby behind the driver and my mum beside him.  The boys and I rode in the back seat.

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See why we needed to minimize our luggage.  Standing up, sideways, we managed to fit three medium sized bags and the fourth sat on top, with our carry-ons and multiple purchases stuffed around everything and overflowing, by the end, into the passenger area.

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Of course driving on the opposite (i.e. wrong!) side of the road was a huge novelty for us, and at first rather stressful.

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Just for the record, L.A. traffic is as bad as we’ve all heard.  But to it’s credit it was different and in some ways better than here in Australia.  For Aussies, peak hour traffic literally crawls; it one step away from stopped, which is why the freeways here, during peak hour, are know as carparks.  But in L.A. we rarely crawled along.  We would get a little burst of speed and then slow, then another burst of speed before slowing again.  It certainly kept you on your toes.  Oh and no one stuck to the speed limit in any of the places we visited in the U.S.  They flew along well over the limit, but to their credit we never saw an accident either.

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Our destination on Day 1 was San Diego, so once we navigated L.A. traffic we headed down to San Diego.

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It was only a short trip but we were all challenged to stay awake.  This was one of the few times my boys have ever slept in a car.

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The road from L.A. to San Diego was all freeways.  So unlike here in Australia where a trip from one city to the next (in most places) drops to single carriageways.

And the traffic looked like this most of the way down to San Diego.

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But we didn’t mind at all.  Liam began his hunt for the 50 different state’s license plates and I amused myself by photographing anything and everything.

I saw my first American school bus during this drive!  So cute.  (No, we don’t have these in Australia.)

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Once in San Diego – yes there are palm trees everywhere in California…

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…we headed for our accommodation for the next four nights.

My brother rented houses rather than booking hotel rooms as it worked out more economical for seven people and it also gave us more living space and laundry facilities.

The house was great;  granted it had a lot of stairs to lug your luggage up; but there was space for everyone, a great view, all the comforts of home and we were the first people to stay there.

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But the most fascinating thing in the house was the toilet.  They are most definitely different to Aussie toilets (and not nearly as good!).  But don’t believe that nonsense about the water swirling in the opposite direction.  The Coriolis Effect isn’t seen on such a small scale.  However the toilets were still different.  The water level is much higher and the flush sucks the contents down rather than flushing, pushing it down with water force, as they do here in Australia.  Consequently, U.S. toilets block very easily.  It was not uncommon to walk into public bathroom and have to check cubicle after cubicle for a working, not blocked, toilet.  But, to end on a positive note, their toilets are quieter.

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Our other curiosity in our temporary home was the closeness of the airport.  The view from the front windows was of the bay and planes landing frequently.  To be honest, we didn’t mind as it was such a novelty to be able to watch planes, so close, right from our windows.  But I think the noise would get to the residents after a while.  The double glazed windows in this house did a pretty good job of blocking much of the noise for our purposes though.

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Oh and what did we eat the first night we arrived in the U.S.?

Something exotic and foreign?

Nope.  The first and most convenient thing these jet lagged travelers found to eat was….


And even it was different.  The bread was sweeter, the lemonade was all wrong, and the small sizes were humungous!!

And so our holiday began.

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Stay tuned for my next holiday installment.


Posted by on August 11, 2013 in Family Events, Field Trips, Geography, US Holidays


2 responses to “Leaving the Country

  1. Petra

    August 11, 2013 at 5:01 am

    Yep, always wondered about the toilet water swirling in the opposite direction thing!!!

  2. Elsa

    August 11, 2013 at 11:18 pm

    Not surprised about the lines…we always tried to head down there in September. Love your step-by-step description, we never end up using our carry-on stuff on the plane either! Just why we pack it all, I don’t know. 🙂 Welcome home.


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