A Travellerspoint blog

I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.

Thankfully

Sorry I've been a bit slack with the blog the last couple of weeks but we have been very busy and covered a lot of ground since Vegas. First thing we did after leaving Vegas was driving over the Hoover Dam and into Arizona, where we stopped by the Grand Canyon. I know it sounds a little redundant but that thing is massive! Of course we knew it was enormous but we will still taken aback by the sheer size of it when standing on the edge of it. And of course being the maverick, rebellious little scum-bag 21 year olds we are we went into the area I don't think we were meant to but it made for a good photo:

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After spending the night in Flagstaff we hit the road to the road again with our sights set on Moab, a town in south-east Utah that is close to two national parks. After a brief stop standing in four states at once (Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado) we arrived in town and after a nights rest we spent the day in Arches National Park. You may not guess it from the name but there were a lot of arches, we did a couple of moderate hikes and got some good photos, then headed back to Moab for the night. We spent the next two days and nights camping in Canyonlands National Park, made famous for being the park where Aron Ralston got his arm pinned by a rock in a slot canyon for five days before eventually hacking it off himself. Fortunately we didn't have the same bad luck however unfortunately we did not make it to any slot canyons in the area, though not for lack of trying. We did a pretty intense hike one day which apparently eventually led to some however along the way was massive canyon, it took us an hour or so to get down it and after another half hour of hiking we still saw no signs of anything resembling the slot canyons, it hit 3 o'clock and we'd gone through half our water so we reluctantly turned back. The hike back up the canyon was not as bad as expected but still really draining. There was snow and ice over a fair bit of it too which made it even more difficult. We got fires going both nights we were there and we were more prepared for the cold this time so the nights weren't intolerably uncomfortable. We did more than just the one hike though but there's not much point talking about them when you can see for yourself.

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Matt at Arches

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Silver lining of having a campsite covered in snow: free fridge

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The ridiculous canyon we went down and up from both angles just to prove we actually did do it

After that we spent the night in some tiny backwater town called Montrose in Colorado. We planned to gradually make our way through Colorado and stay in towns along the way so that we could spend most of the day checking out some of the national parks they had in the mountains. That lasted a day. It was so intensely cold in that state at 8000 feet it was like being back in Kelowna, we'd had enough of the cold and done our fair share of hiking so we powered through to Denver. We stayed two nights there and while the town didn't really offer anything you couldn't get at any other city, we did a couple of cool things. We went and saw our first American basketball game where Denver easily beat Atlanta. It was a really good atmosphere and once Denver got a bit ahead they put on a good show pulling off some fancy trick shots. The following day we spent all day driving about a thousand kilometres straight through Kansas, the most boring drive of all time. It was a continuous eight hours of one straight road with nothing to look at but prairie land, Dorothy was better off in Oz. While in Kansas City though we did visit a gun range which got the heart going. We rented out a 9mm and while we didn't get any real instruction on how to use it (I know right, 'merikah...), Bruce Willis and Liam Neeson taught me well and I had it loaded and shooting away pretty quick. We both really enjoyed it although we decided against progressing to a bigger gun because of a few reasons: cost, time and pride. Without instruction we would have just made fools out of ourselves so we just stuck with the handguns.

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After the night in Kansas City we went back on the road for St Louis. We only in spent the night in St Louis and in retrospect we kind of regret it. Unfortunately though the hostel we were planning to stay in was closed when we got there (maybe just for the season or maybe permanently) and we struggled to find affordable accommodation, we ended up driving about ten miles out of the city and stayed the night right next to the airport, exciting I know. We did drive past the arch though which was really cool but we didn't go up the top of it or anything. The following day we had lunch with some of Matt's extended family in Springfield, Illinois which is most famous for being where Abraham Lincoln spent most of his life. We had a nice buffet lunch (biggest buffet I've ever seen) and got a quick tour of the University Matt's second cousin works in and we got back on the I-55 northbound for Chicago.

Chicago was perhaps one of the bigger disappointments of the trip, not for the city itself which was amazing but more for the weather. We still got to most of the touristy things like Navy Pier and Millennium Park but it was raining pretty constantly and of course still really cold. We keep telling ourselves only five more weeks before we're on mainland Europe where it should be a bit warmer. The greatest thing about Chicago was really just the city itself, walking around downtown was incredible with all the great buildings and architecture. We also saw a couple of locations from the Batman movies which of course I nerded out at. The hostel we stayed at was incredibly good though, it was so new and clean and fancy. They had a pub crawl on the Saturday night we were there which was a lot of fun although oddly there weren't really any bars or clubs in the city they were all in the surrounding areas.

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After four nights in Chicago we're now in Cleveland and scheduled to arrive in Boston on Thursday in time for St Patrick's Day (weekend). I have a feeling it will have a great weekend with lots of stories I look forward to never telling any of you family members about. Before then we are hoping to get in a day of nothing, we're both pretty exhausted at this stage and need a holiday from our holiday. I know, poor us. We're now exactly twelve hours behind home time now and in high spirits for the North-East despite the perpetual cold. Next week I will be a bit more diligent with the blog writing.

Posted by mattandcorry 19:30 Comments (1)

Leaving Las Vegas

Hi all, I'm (Corry) writing this on our last night in Vegas before we wake up early and make our way to the Grand Canyon. I can now safely say that everything that everyone says about how crazy, excessive and entertaining Vegas is is absolutely true. It's this random town in the middle of the desert with no CBD or downtown filled with high rises, just the main strip of enormous, over-the-top hotels and casinos surrounded by pawn shops, loan sharks and bail bondsman.

I'm getting a little ahead of myself though. We started the week by picking up our car, stopping by walmart for supplies and driving east to Yosemite National Park in California, where we set up our tent in the freezing cold, ate our 50c noodles and went to bed early to get a good nights rest. This turned out to be one of the greater incorrect assumptions of my life. The temperature dropped well below zero and even though we were rugged up with two layers of clothing and our sleeping bags (sleeping on our jackets because we forgot to buy pillows) it was not quite enough to shield us completely from the cold. After that horrible nights sleep we woke up and it was snowing with the temperature still below zero and fog everywhere. This is what we had expected to see when we went to Yosemite:

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This is what we actually saw:

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We made the most of it anyway and did a couple of the easy hiking tracks that were actually worthwile considering the weather and we saw a waterfall and a lake which were very waterfall-like and lake-like. The weather was expected to continue for the next few days so we high tailed it our of there and got ourselves into a motel room in Fresno for the night before driving into Las Vegas on Wednesday.

We had a good time in Vegas which I will partly censor for your benefit. We went to the main strip a couple of nights as well as the Fremont area of casinos. Fremont was great, it has the worlds biggest screen that acts as a roof for a couple of blocks and it has light shows and plays some montages of Queen, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and others. To finish off our Friday night we decided to zipline down half the length of the street which was cool being close to the roof and soaring over everybody.

We went into the strip on Thursday night to catch a comedy show at the Laugh Factory in the Tropicana hotel which was a good time. The headliner I hadn't heard of but we were assured he's a "comedy legend" and "knows Jerry Seinfeld". He was an older guy and stumbled on the stage looking pretty drunk so we let our hopes down a little but he actually turned out to be really good, and very spontaneous working off the crowd and seemed to have a joke lined up for everything the crowd said. We also saw the free show outside Treasure Island which was really good too, especially considering it's free. Saturday night we returned to the strip and did a casino crawl that took us through about five or six casinos including Caesar's Palace, the Bellagio (talk about class) and finishing up in the Hard Rock Hotel. Across the course of the weekend we both finished around $250 ahead so we can't complain about that.

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That's maybe half of the Caesar's Palace you see me behind me, that place is seriously huge. As I said we're back on the road tomorrow headed for the Grand Canyon, after that we attempt camping again in Utah, then through Colorado which will be way too cold to camp so we'll be checking out some of the national parks while staying in motels. Please no one make any "Hangover" jokes, it's way too easy, we didn't steal Mike Tyson's tiger or find a baby.

Posted by mattandcorry 22:28 Comments (1)

San Francisco

We have had another action packed week exploring the beautiful city of San Francisco. The Greyhound bus ride ended up been fine and we both saw a noticeable difference between San Francisco and Los Angeles almost immediately after exiting the bus terminal.

San Francisco had character, was cleaner, had fresher air and felt safer in general. We got very lucky with the weather during our stay. Sunny most days and a warm 20 degrees, with good visibility of the bay!

On our first day we went to Alcatraz island which is 2.5km offshore in San Francisco bay, mainly to see the old maximum prison. It soon became apparent life in this prison would have been tough and this was not even considering the cold and windy conditions. The cells were tiny with little privacy or space and the solitary confinement cells literally had nothing in them apart from a pot for the toliet. These solitary confinement cells were dark, damp and cold and the inmates in them only had one 10 minute shower per week and one hour of outside exercise per week. We saw and heard stories about life and incidents in the dining hall, kitchen, control room and recreation yard. We also walked around the island and saw what is left of the prison guards and the wardens homes, the social hall for guards and their families, the water tower (water had to brought in from San Francisco 3 times per week), the power house (All electricity was generated on the island) and the prison factories where inmates worked. In one of the factories inmates would do the prison laundry but also laundry for the military personal in the San Francisco area. One inmate collected pieces of various soldiers uniforms over a ten year period. He then put the complete uniform on and successfully got on a boat leaving the island to San Francisco. He was met by two prison guards at the other end to take him back to prison. Unfortunately only one of the cell of the three men that escaped without a trace was open for viewing. The hole in the wall and air vent in which they escaped through had been repaired but the dummy head was present.

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For those interested Corry was impressed on how closely the map of Alcatraz of Tony Harks matched the actual Alcatraz island and the prison.

On our second day we did a cruise that took us to and under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz island twice. Here is a photo of the bridge which all of you will have seen before so I have also put in a photo of underneath the bridge which most of you probably have not seen.

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Going around the island ended up been very interesting as we saw buildings and signs from the boat that we could not see on the island. We later tested our fitness and hired some bikes and rode over the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a great ride, with some great views of the bridge itself, the city and Alcatraz . Riding over the bridge reinforced how large the bridge is and how high it is above the water. It was built so any ship in the world (at the time, I am not sure about now) could go under it. Unfortunately this has made it a popular suicide spot. It was a great ride and apart from a few hills it was a really easy and enjoyable ride.

We did a tour of San Francisco on an open top double decker bus. The bus driver told the tour group how expensive it is to rent a place in the city and how the price increases as you get higher. He took us to the base of Lombard Street but didn't go up as tour buses can't go up as it is super steep and it annoys the residents. The bus then took us through Golden Gate Park which was much like Kings Park, and went to the Golden Gate Bridge again and went past Chinatown, Union Square, the Civic Center and City Hall and saw heaps of nice victorian to modern day buildings.

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While at Fisherman's Wharf for out various activities we went to Pier 39, saw a whole heap of Sea Lions, had local Cod and chips at one of the many restaurants and just spent some time looking at the shops and the street entertainment. We also went aboard S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien, one of two surviving WWII Liberty Ships in the world. We went in most areas of the ship including on some of the guns, the engine room (the location of the engine room scenes in Titanic) and the cabin areas.

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We did a tour of AT&T park which is a ball park used primarily for major league baseball. It was much like any other stadium but spectators get a bay view and it is possible for players to hit a home run into the water.

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The tour showed us the Visitors' clubhouse and batting cage, press box,suites and the players benches on the side of the field which we discovered were slightly different to give a small home team advantage. It was cool seeing parts of a stadium that a spectator would not normally get to see or go.

On our final day we picked up the car and Corry drove it out of the city on the wrong side of the road. It was surprisingly easy to navigate out of the city. This was probably because it was a long weekend for Presidents day.

We have a white Chevrolet Malibu LT and purchased a road atlas the day before. No GPS, doing it old school!. We were going to Apple Campus which has the Company Store in Cupertino and stopped at Walmart along the way for food and camping supplies. Seeing the sign for 1 Infinite loop and getting a photo with it was so awesome.

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I quickly purchased some Apple shirts from the store (The only Apple Store in the world were you can get the shirts) but it was only a short visit as we were already running late to Yostemite national park.

Posted by mattandcorry 16:28 Comments (4)

The City of Angels

This week we have a bumper edition of the blog, so put the kettle on now and use the bathroom if you need to. We've had a great week in LA and an extremely busy one. Things got off to an interesting start as we ignorantly waited in the ghetto for our connecting bus, the Macy's across the road being the only feature distinguishing the area from Bali. We survived without any trouble luckily and made it to our hostel which was basically just a big house with beds in all the rooms. It was a good hostel though all round, the beds weren't the best nor the bathrooms but the people staying there were really cool and the staff were the most amazing and friendly staff we've had so far, insisting they carry our bags to our rooms, making our beds, making sure we were having a good time and offering suggestions of things to do and how to get around. The first day we explored our surroundings and did some food shopping, we were equal distance from Hollywood and downtown LA, just off of Wilshire Blvd. We caught a bus that afternoon up to Hollywood and walked around Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards, it really isn't as glamorous as it looks in the movies though and the streets are lined with people trying to get your money for minimal effort. The following day we went into downtown and had a look around which again, was not very glamorous. Matt took us on a walking tour of his own to find some filming locations from his favourite TV show, 24. We got lunch and took a self-guided audio tour of the Disney Concert Hall and as much as I like John Lithgows voice, not even he could make it that exciting. Some of it was interesting but unfortunately we weren't allowed into the main stage area.

Thursday came and we were ready for some excitement so we went to Universal studios for the day. It was a completely different experience to when I went with the family in 2007, being February it's the off-season for all the tourist attractions, so we didn't wait in a single line on any of the rides save for the tour. The tour was pretty much unchanged from six years ago, we went through the backlots and "New York", we got a demonstration of how a set is destroyed and then put back together, had some fast and the furious cars be shot at and thrown towards us, see a flash flood in "Mexico" and get attacked by dinosaurs, Norman Bates and Jaws. One new addition was the King Kong part; the carts drove into a room and locked into place, we put on our 3D glasses and a massive screen came to life in all 360 degrees around us where we went to Skull Island and were attacked by dinosaurs and saved by King Kong. They jumped over the car and it would shake and they would pull us over the edge of a cliff into the vines and it was all put together so well. The other highlight of the park was the Transformers ride, we sat in a car on rails with the 3D glasses on and it would take you through various screens of a battle through the city, the screens were worked in with real props and effects and it was absolutely mind-blowing, we went on it twice. Aside from that the Waterworld show was really good and we went through a haunted house that was actually really scary with people in costumes jumping out of the dark at you. It was a good day.

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The 747 wreckage from War of the Worlds

Friday we crammed in as much as we could. In the morning we took a walking tour of Hollywood, the guide was again really good, he took us through the Dolby (formerly Kodak) theatre where the Oscars are held, told us some stories about Grauman's Chinese Theatre and the walk of fame. He had a folder full of pictures showing us what he was talking about too, my favourite was his story of James Stewart planting his hands and feet into the concrete outside the theatre on Friday the 13th; all of the studios and Hollywood are really superstitious so to show them he wasn't afraid he signed his name while sitting underneath a ladder with a black cat next to him. We were also taken inside Graumans first theatre the Egyptian, and he explained how Grauman coined the phrase "movie star" and did a lot to elevate actors to the royal status they have today.
After the tour we went inside Madame Tussaud's wax museum which was a lot more fun than we thought it would be. They had all the usuals you'd expect like Madonna, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt etc but then they had a section with a whole lot of superheroes like Spider-man, Iron Man, Wolverine and Buffy. There was also the western section with John Wayne, the man with no name, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; a section with directors like Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorcese and their latest edition, Barack Obama.

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Matt with Morgan and me with Marion

After lunch it was back on a train to studio city for a tour of Warner Bros Studios. It went for about two hours and was a lot more in depth than the Universal one, which is designed to get through as many people as possible. We got to walk through some of the houses that have been used on various TV shows and movies in the past, it was really interesting because all the houses have two frontyards and no backyard which allows them to film two characters houses in a production when it's really all the same house. We drove through their "New York" as well and were shown the alley where Spider-man has his upside down kiss and an outdoor town square where all the trees had leaves cleverly zip-tied to them to make it look like spring for some TV show when we're in winter. We got to walk a warehouse full of cars from movies like Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino, Austin Powers' Shaguar, the various Batmobiles and the Sunbeam from Get Smart among others. We then walked through one floor of their massive props department and we were taken to the set from Friends! It was all the original set dressings it had just been relocated to this room for an interview with Jay Leno and then left there for the tour. Fun fact: that white haired guy in the show, Gunther, makes $500,000 a year in royalties from the show (and he only got the job because the forgot to hire someone to work the coffee machine in the background, and he was the only person on the crew who knew how to work it), the main cast still get $25 mil a year. We were also taken through the set of the Mentalist which on the day was obviously not being used but it was awesome walking through an actual working set. So much of it is fake, the floors are all lino to absorb sound, the walls are fibreglass, and all the pipes running along the ceiling can be rotated and have lights behind them to help light a scene. We also went into their museum and saw plenty of costumes and props from the Batman movies, Harry Potter movies, the piano from Casablanca, various TV shows and other films as well, we weren't allowed to take photos though.

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Saturday came and we went to a few museums around the place. First was the La Brea Tar Pits which had fossils of all the animals from the ice age, some of it was cool but overall it was kind of disappointing. Secondly we went to the automotive museum and saw over a hundred old cars and motorbikes all looking shiny and new. They had some of the very first Harley Davidsons which were pretty much just a bicycle with a motor on it, as well as the old Cadillacs etc. Then it was lunch at the farmers market and back up to Hollywood for their museum which wasn't as good as we thought it would be. They had some of the make-up rooms of old stars and loads of costumes used in film from 40's and 50's mostly. He did see Hannibal Lecters cell though so that was cool. That night we went out on the town with some people from the hostel and had a good night, the bars here are so much cheaper than Perth so it doesn't cost much for a night out.

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Sunday we went to Venice beach for the afternoon and it was so interesting, their were so many weird and interesting people around there. We walked up to the Santa Monica pier and saw the rollercoaster and the view from out there. Then walked back to Venice where we saw people playing oversized chess, people training for the circus or something (they were amazing), basketball games, paddle tennis, handball and a skate park where the people were actually really impressive. I think we saw a celebrity here, there was some guy at the skate park that everyone was getting photos with but I didn't recognise him, he must have been a skater. Still counts.

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That's all from me, we didn't care much for the city overall but there were some great tourist attractions there so we definitely had a good time in LA but I don't have any plans to come back any time soon. So yeah, that's how you do LA on under $500. I'm writing this from the bus on the way to San Francisco which is not nearly as bad as we thought it would be. There are a couple of weirdos on here but they're alright, the seats are comfortable and there's free wi-fi. I hope everyone at home is enjoying the heat wave.

Posted by mattandcorry 19:38 Comments (3)

Sleeping very well in Seattle

I don't know what Tom and Meg were whining about.

Hello everyone, I'm writing this from the SeaTac Airport about to board a flight to LA meaning our weekend in Seattle has come to an end. We stayed in the Green Tortoise hostel which was really nice, probably the cleanest hostel we stayed in with comfortable beds and private bathrooms.

Our first day we took a tour of the famous markets which were just across the road from our hostel, they were absolutely massive and had a huge variety of shops. There were the usual fruit, fish and gift shops as well as a comic book shop, a magic shop and a shop that sold old Time magazines and the like. Free samples was a huge part of the tour and while the fish, fruit, dried fruit, jam and chocolate pasta were really good, I will never ever do another shot of pickle brine for as long as I live. Part of the markets is also the oldest Starbucks, our tour guide explained that even though it's marketed as the first Starbucks, there were two that preceded it but burnt down. Non-surprisingly it was the same as every other Starbucks save for having the original logo on the window and some merchandise. That night we caught the monorail to the world fair park and saw the Needle, a crazy fountain and a couple of other touristy things. The Key Arena was part of the park where we lined up nice and early to get a good spot for the Muse concert (we were 50th and 51st in line). Unfortunately due to their ridiculous ticketing system this was almost all for nought but we still got a really good spot in the crowd, we got a little bit split up with everyone jumping around but we were about three people from the front so we had a perfect view of the amazing stage. Muse put on a typically awesome performance and used their elaborate stage to enhance their showmanship rather than using it as an excuse not to try too hard. It was Matt's first time standing at a concert and he had a great time, we were a little dehydrated by the end of it but all in all it was a fantastic night.

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At one stage Matt and I both got on the Pyramid screen

The following day despite our exhaustion we got up and took a longer tour with the same guide of more of Seattle. He had some really interesting stories and facts that gave a lot of perspective to the city so it didn't just seem like a bunch of old buildings and had some tips about hidden places around the city to try. For example because Seattle was originally a lumber town, Downtown was completely built out of wood, which of course led to a huge fire and burned down the entire area, at the time it was being rebuilt Vancouver was beginning to be built and so the historical district in Seattle is similar looking to the historical Gastown in Van as that type of architecture was popular at the time.

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Pioneer square in the historical district

That afternoon we went and checked out the "Experience Music Museum" which was fantastic. They had a huge exhibit on Jimi Hendrix with a whole lot of his outfits as well as the Strat he played at Woodstock and a piece of the guitar he lit on fire and smashed on stage. There was also a Nirvana exhibit (Seattle being their home town) with a lot of similar stuff. There was a couple of film exhibits too, we saw the "Icons of Science Fiction" with a whole lot of film props and costumes like the coat from the Matrix, Christopher Reeves' original Superman costume, Yodas' walking stick and William Shatners' captains chair. They had a horror exhibit too which wasn't bad, it had a model of the Alien xenomorph, Jason Voorhees' hocky mask and machete as well as some documentaries playing about various famous horror films like the Exorcist and Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

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Ex-ter-min-ate

Yesterday we took a massive ferry to Bainbridge island and had a walk around there, it wasn't particularly exciting but the ferry ride was pretty awesome. It was one of the huge ones with cars loaded on and you could go outside to see the views. Today we went to the Columbia tower and went up to the observation deck which was one of the tips our tour guide gave us, it was twice as high as the Space Needle and less than half the price, and we then got the needle in our photos from there. Overall we enjoyed Seattle a lot more than we expected to and we didn't realise just how much there was to do here, we easily could have spent another couple of days here checking out some of the other stuff but we got all the main things we wanted to do done. It was nice having some slightly better weather as well, it was about 8 or 9 degrees most of the time, and LA will be 20+ so we can't wait for that.

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On the ferry ride back with Seattle in the background.

Posted by mattandcorry 14:36 Comments (4)

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