Our trip to Oregon and California October 1997

Finally the time came that we went on our fifth trip to the United States. We all were excited, especially Nikki, when she realized that she would be going inside a real big aircraft and fly with it. She loves everything that moves, from buses to trains, helicopters and especially planes. So, our plane was scheduled to leave at 1:30 pm and it was on time. Unfortunately, when we arrived, JFK airport in New York City was crowded, so we had to wait about half an hour in the air flying circles over Long Island until we were allowed to land. This didn't leave us very much time to get through immigration and customs and to reach our connecting flight to Portland, OR. But we made it, as the next plane didn't leave on the time it was scheduled in our tickets, but 20 minutes later. We were already tired, but still another couple of hours ahead of us. We thought, we'd fly nonstop to Oregon, but we had a stopover in Seattle, WA. Thankfully, as in German time it was early in the morning, Nikki slept a couple of hours, and I slept too. We arrived late in Portland, discovering that our car rental agency was off the airport, so we had to wait for the shuttle. Then we had to find the hotel, which we booked for the first night, and that wasn't too easy either. Eventually, after asking at a drive-thru restaurant, we found it by accident.

We decided to stay two more nights there, instead of driving and searching for another one. Unfortunately it was raining alot. Silly tourists we are, going to Oregon in October, but we had no choice as you know. After adjusting to the time, we did some shopping (we are ensthusiastic mall shopaholics !!). Oregon has no sales tax, so that made it easier for us to buy. The next day we went on a day trip to Newport, which is the home to the Newport Bay Aquarium. As some will know, this aquarium is the home of the killer whale Keiko, from the movie "Free Willy". They did a good job on curing his skin damage and fed him so well, that he gained a couple of thousand lbs since he's there ! They're thinking of releasing him quite near in the future. But we could just get a short glimpse of him, most of the time he was hiding. This day gave us a break from all the rain, we had sun, but it still was cool ! Maybe it just rained in Portland and vicinity, we had more rain, when we returned to the hotel. On the following day we left Portland, heading for a small town called Lebanon, which is about 1 1/2 hours south of Portland, to meet my pal Jacki and her husband Jim. It was the first time we met and I was excited ! But they both were so sweet, we got along very good. We talked and talked, they showed us some waterfalls a couple of miles away, just small ones, we couldn't reach the bigger ones, because the road was closed. It rained (guess what?), so we didn't stay long. We had a very comfortable evening, watched a movie on HBO, talked more, until we were tired and went to bed. They have a rather small house, so they were very kind letting us sleep in their bed instead in the daybed, which would've been to small for all the three of us anyways. Next morning Jacki and Jim made a huge breakfast with eggs and french toast for us, then we soon left, as we wanted to drive a long distance to Medford, which is located in Southern Oregon. Actually we had in mind to drive down the coast, but due to the weather and the fact we wanted to visit Crater Lake Nationalpark, which is quite far from the coast, we decided to take the Interstate Highway. Maybe we can see more of Oregon's beautiful landscape when we'll one day have the chance to visit in the summertime. Anyways, Medford is located in the Rogue River Valley, which is beautiful. And it's just 1 1/2 hours away from Crater Lake Nationalpark. There we went for one day, it is the only Nationalpark in Oregon. The closer we got the colder it got, and you won't believe it, we actually had snow. We were wondering, because cars that came from Crater Lake had snow on the roofs, and soon after that the trees beneath the road were white. We even stopped to take a couple of pictures, we almost couldn't believe it. But it was true, Crater Lake Rim Village is about 7100 ft above sea level, equivalent to 2165 m. And since it had rained alot before, the rain was snow up there. I was glad that it didn't snow anymore, we had sunshine and the air was incredibly clean and crisp. The sight overlooking the lake is gorgeous, the lake is extremely blue due to its depth. Of course we did some shopping in the village's gift shop, and then took the Rim Drive around the lake, about 33 miles long. We stopped again and again, around every corner is another breathtaking view. We had to be careful, the road sometimes was icy and there happened an accident. I'm pretty sure that the road was closed shortly after we had been there, the brochure it is closed from mid-October due to snow, so I guess we were lucky to be three of the last people who got to drive around Crater Lake this year.

From Medford we went straight through to the coast, boy, that was a narrow and winding road ! It was raining, yuk ! And soon we crossed the stateline to California. We passed a sign that said "Elk Crossing next 2 miles", and we thought, we'd never see one, but just a few hundred yards later, we stopped and watched four elk walking across the highway. I never thought that could happen. I never saw any deer or cow or whatever cross a street even though we saw so many signs warning us. Those elk didn't seem to notice the cars at all. They just went their way. We had a break visiting some of the huge Redwood trees, then went through Redwood Nationalpark. It is amazing that trees can grow that high ! We bought a package "Grow your own Redwood tree", and I'm curious if it'll work out. We already have a small, maybe 18" high, about 4 years old now, Giant Sequoia on our balcony, so I hope it'll soon have company by a Redwood. We stayed one night in Eureka, CA, it was still cold and windy, but at least it had stopped raining. I wasn't aware of being in steadily need of warm clothing, I was glad that I packed my fleece sweater, I sure needed it ! The next night we stayed at a newbuilt hotel called Surf and Sand Motel in Fort Bragg, directly at the coast. We had an oceanview room, with access to a small piece of beach. It was the first time during this trip that our feet touched the icecold water of the Pacific Ocean ! Fort Bragg is a nice little town, and I sure can recommend the hotel. It's not cheap I have to admit, but it's sure worth a stay. Then on down the coast, one night left before we went to stay with my pal Valeri in Benicia, about half an hour by car east of San Francisco. That night we couldn't find a hotel at the beach, so we went on to Santa Rosa. It's not far from where Valeri lives, but we just couldn't go on. This gave us some time to shop an Outlet Mall the next morning, and because Nikki fell asleep shortly before we arrived, we took the chance to drive back and forth the Napa Valley. This is one place so beautiful, I'd like to spend the rest of my life there. Valeri and her husband Robert took us on a winery tour through the valley, when we visited them the first time we've been there four years ago. I like freshing up my memories. So we arrived in Benicia in the afternoon. And we finally got to meet Shane, Valeri's youngest son, he turned three in July. Nikki felt right at home, played with Shane's toys, walked up and down the stairs again and again, and she loved playing with a little kitten. of course we had a lot to talk, about our children (Valeri has four : Brittany-13, Jeff-12, Logan-9 and baby Shane), about my work, our families etc etc. Brittany loved to take care of Nikki, I guess I didn't hold her much during these days. There was always somebody else around. I really was surprised how good Nikki did during the whole trip. She never was afraid of anything or anybody, usually she is shy with strangers, this time not at all. The next day Valeri and her kids took us to a themepark called Marine World Africa USA, just about ten minutes by car from her home in the neighbor town Vallejo. They have all kinds of animals, orcas, dolphins, sharks, tigers, elephants, giraffes, and huge butterfly collection in an aviary, and many, many more. We watched shows, went on a ride, the children rode a play train, we had lunch together, it was a wonderful day. Nikki didn't take a nap that day, 'cause everything was so exciting for her, she loooved the sea lion show ! Of course she fell asleep om our way back home, but these five minutes had been enough to refreshen her until 9:30 pm or something. We had been much more tired than her, and that wasn't the only time. I really wonder where she's got that energy from, it was a miracle to me. Next day Christian, Nikki and me alone went down to the city, we had planned to see Alcatraz, as we didn't do that four years ago. Needless to say, something crossed our plans, it was Fleet Week, and all the boat trips to Alcatraz were sold out until Monday noon - it was Saturday. So, instead of seeing that prison, we just made the Bay Cruise, which was great as well, especially going under the Golden Gate Bridge, a view we never had before. And - we were lucky to see the bridge without any fog ! What we also didn't do last time was going to Alamo Square having the wonderful sight of a row of Victorian houses with the city's skyline in the back. It sure looked like a postcard ! That night we invited Valeri and Robert to dinner, they had cooked two wonderful meals for us, and they let us stay for three nights, this was kind of a Thank-you. We went to a Mexican restaurant, all four of us love Mexican food and it was a great evening. On Sunday we had to leave, I was so sad, I just don't know when we'll ever be able again to go to California. It there weren't the fear of earthquakes, this would be a place I'd like to move.

On our way down to Los Angeles we spent one night each in Carmel (this is the city near Monterey, Clint Eastwood used to be the mayor of Carmel), Cambria and Santa Barbara. Carmel is great for shopping, Christian bought me a beautiful golden necklace with a whale fluke charm. And what I liked was driving the 17-mile-drive around the Monterey peninsula without any fog ! Nikki got to feed a squirrel, they are almost tame, you can feed and even touch them ! We stayed at the same hotel we stayed at last time. Memories.... We watched the sunset at the beach and I had the most delicious salad ever for dinner. The only sad thing there was that that evening famous country singer John Denver crashed with his airplane at Monterey coast and died. just a couple of miles north of us. That scared me alot ! Too bad we couldn't stay longer, I hope we'll have the chance to stay more than one night in that beautiful area another time. Monterey has a famous aquarium too, but the day before Robert told us it was closed, because this weather phenomenon El Niño warmed the ocean water by 10°, so they were struggling to fight for the fish' lives. They put refridgerated water to cool the fish, otherwise they'd die.

On our way to Cambria we had the chance to see sea lions face to face. Shortly after our lunch break at a place called Rugged Point, we saw some cars parking , I said, hey what's going on there, and looking to the shore we saw hundreds of sea lions laying there. Of course we stopped as well, climbed over the fence and walked down. It was amazing how near those big animals let you come to them. I didn't touch them, I was afraid they would get mad, but we could walk among them as if they didn't notice us. That was quite an experience ! Finally, heading down south to Southern California, the weather was hot and sunny, that we could wear the shorts we brought along. It became too hot. It had been the Santa Ana winds that can get so hot and strong, we noticed a part of it, still being hundreds of miles away. But it was like somebody turns on the hairdryer and holds it against your face. For a couple of days, being in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, we had almost 100°F, 37°C. I wanted to be at the beach with Nikki playing in the sand - no way, we had burned. Arriving in Bellflower (north of Long Beach), where my pal Cindy lives, was like coming home. We've been there three times before, Cindy and I write to each other for 19 years now. I was glad to have enough time left, almost a week, so we just sat there for hours in the backyard, chatting and chatting. She still lives with her parents, together with her 11-year-old daughter Shayna. Her siblings Gary and Colleen also live at home, with Gary's daughter Cheyenne, who is 5 and Colleen's son Jesse, 6. So Nikki again had a couple of playmates, which she apparently enjoyed ! One day we went to Disneyland, when it began to cool down. Some of the attractions were closed, and Nikki didn't want to do many rides. Thankfully, due to having a weekday, the lines weren't too long and it wasn't crowded. Of course we did some shopping, spending some of the money that was left. We watched the Hunchback Of Notre Dame parade, and we saw a real wedding beneath Cinderella's castle, a young Japanese couple had their ceremony including the glass slipper !

After another day of rest we went to Sea World in San Diego. Nikki loves all kind of animals, and she was so excited about the sea lions in Vallejo, that we thought it would be fun for her. And it was ! They have a baby grey whale there, a female called J.J.. A baby ! She is so BIG !! Of course we attended the killer whale show with Shamu and baby Shamu, who must be about 7 years old now. When we had been to Sea World the first time in spring 1991, he was just born. I got to pet a stingray (that feels like wet rubber) and almost a dolphin.

The following day was our last. We left Cindy and her family, I miss them so much, I still could cry. They made us feel like family members. It was wonderful to stay with them. Who knows, if they can ever make it to Germany. We stayed our last night at an airport hotel, we had to get up real early, our plane left at 8 am. For a couple of hours we had a beautiful sight down to the ground, we had clouds over Las Vegas, but could see Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and Lake Powell from above. It was amazing ! The flights were smooth, both of them, and I had the feeling they were much shorter than the flights to the States. Now that I'm writing this, we're home for three days. We managed to get over the jetlag, the laundry is almost done, I've been already to work one day, and everything is coming back to normal. Nikki will go to daycare again two days from now on Monday, this is the daily life ! I do hope that we'll be able to travel to the States again and again, there are so many places I'd like to visit and many I'd like to visit again, maybe we can make our dreams come true.