sarahblack: (Giselle dress)
So much has happened since last I posted! I feel like I have a week's worth of things to talk about. But it boils down to three things:

1. I spent an afternoon with Jessica and Noah in Washington DC on Sunday.

2. I've been doing a whole bunch of tourist things today and yesterday in New York.

3. I've been hanging out with my couch surfing host and his friends.

Click here if you're interested in the details and some pictures! )
sarahblack: (Bertie Wooster)
Right now I'm in Baltimore! How weird is that? I'm staying with my friend Flo, and she's been showing me around. I'll be in DC tomorrow, and then in New York for the rest of the week.

I really want to write a little bit about the Amazon before I forget all about it.

It was amazing. Amazing! I stayed for two nights in a reserve called Tambopata, and there were parrots at the reserve, and humming birds, and animals that I don't even know the names of! We went for a night walk on the first evening, and we saw loads of crickets, moths, ants (carrying those little pieces of leaves - just like in the movies) and a chicken spider! The chicken spider was probably bigger than my hand. Apparently they grow to be the size of dinner plates. They kind of look like tarantulas, but they live in holes and pounce on little sticks that annoying tour guides poke inside their homes.

The morning after was spent exploring the jungle, checking out enormous trees and feeding the piranha fish. (Don't worry, we just gave them crackers. No humans were harmed.) Also, we saw some monkeys and partridges from far away. I really liked the trees. They were truly amazing. Especially one tree that had originally climbed up a different tree, and eventually killed it in order to survive. The old dead tree then disappeared, leaving the new tree kind of empty on the inside, so that tourists can walk in there and pretend to be prisoners in a natural wooden cage.

In the afternoon we visited a farm that grows pineapple, papaya, avocado, all sorts of citrus fruit, peppers, bananas, star fruit and... cheese fruit. Cheese fruit smells horrible. It might help cure cancer, though. We got to taste some of the fruit, and I am so in love with papaya. It is utter yum!

The second evening included a night boat ride. We saw caimans (little crocodiles), baby caimans and giant hamsters! Mostly I just liked being on the river in the dark. It was exciting, and you could really listen to the sounds of the jungle.

Sadly, we did not spot any anacondas. Oh, well. Next time!

I had a bungalow to myself to sleep in. It was really beautiful, but had no glass in the windows! Just mesh netting. There was also a mosquito net over my bed. On the verandah there was a hammock! I spent hours in the hammock just chilling with a book. It was fairly awesome.

I didn't get sunburnt, and I didn't get completely devoured by mosquitos. Probably because it was "cold" and cloudy. I didn't need a jacket, so I didn't think it was cold. But clearly the mosquitos thought it was. Hah!

The flight to New York from Peru was uneventful, and the train ride from New York to Baltimore went well too. I found Flo's place, and we spent yesterday afternoon/evening exploring the inner harbour and eating at the Cheesecake factory. (Mmmmm. I'm so happy I was able to go there again!)

Today she showed me the campus of her University (she goes to Johns Hopkins because she is a genius) and I got a T-shirt! We also checked out the fair in town - Artscape. I tasted a corn dog, funnel cake and fresh squeezed lemonade. I think my arteries may never recover, but it was delicious!

Anyway, I think I have deprived the lovely Flo of her computer for long enough.


P.S. I'll be in Iceland next weekend! That is so bizarre.
sarahblack: (Yatta says Hiro)
I got back to Cuzco last night after spending four days hiking the Inca Trail.

It was really really really difficult. I can not stress this enough. However, we were incredibly lucky with the weather, the food was ridiculously good, and the company was pleasant. The guides, the cooks and the porters were amazing - a credit to G-adventures and to Peru.

My Inca Trail Adventures )

Today I'm just going to relax and run some errands. Tomorrow my Amazon adventure begins. I'm ridiculously excited about that. ♥
sarahblack: (Meg in love)
Peru! That is where I am right now. How weird is that?

So far I've spent an evening and a day in Lima and a day in Cuzco. I stayed in Miraflores while I was in Lima. (It is a very beautiful, tourist-friendly part of Lima.) I didn't have to worry about walking around by myself - although I didn't venture out on my own in the evening for anything more than a quick trip to the store around the corner from my gorgeous colonial hotel - and the Peruvians that I interacted with where all amazingly friendly. I would have worried that I was being scammed, except they never tried to sell me anything or take me anywhere. They just seemed genuinely interested in chatting!

I ended up spending my free day in Lima walking around Miraflores, staying close to the ocean for the most part. The waves were beautiful! And there was a cool shopping centre in the cliffs overhanging the ocean. I ended up going back there for dinner later in the day with a couple of Norwegian girls who are on the same tour as me. It was nice to get to know them a little bit. They both had soup, and I went with some fish of the day special. It was hilarious when the waiter brought them their soups - I have never seen such generous proportions! The one with the seafood soup pretty much got what I would consider to be a full pot!

This morning we flew to Cuzco. It's about an hour away from Lima, so it wasn't a big deal. The view of the mountains from the plane was amazing! Snow-capped peaks and deep valleys... Just gorgeous. ♥

The afternoon was spent getting ourselves situated at the hotel, going on a walking tour of the city, and receiving information about the coming days.

1. The hotel is nice and I love my roomate. (She is just like me! We both finished grad school, both studied Immunology, are both travelling around the world for about the same length of time, and have really similar opinions on all sorts of subjects.)

2. The walking tour was a lot of fun. We went to a local market - sort of like Kolaportid in Iceland. Local people had stands with everything from clothes made from llama wool to whole entire pigs, or even live frogs! But mainly it was flowers, fruit, herbs, nuts, and other run of the mill food items. We also went to see the main square. There was a beautiful colonial cathedral, and a very impressive fountain. Also, since the Peruvian independence day is in July (the 28th, I believe) there were Peruvian flags everywhere. (And I thought the people in the USA were patriotic!) It looked really festive and beautiful. We stopped at a little juice shop for lunch, and I got the most amazing fresh Papaya juice along with a chicken sandwich. Yummy!

3. I'm terrified of the coming days. The Inca Trail sounds like it will be hell on earth - but with amazing catering. (Three course breakfast, lunch and dinner on the hiking days!) The first day will be 10 kilometers. The next day will be the same length, but steeper uphill and also steeper downhill. The third day will be 16 kilometers, but apparently it is supposed to be very beautiful. On the fourth day we will wake up at four AM for a two hour trek to Machu Picchu. In the dark. But I think we're supposed to be arriving at Machu Picchu around sunrise for the grand effect. Oh, and there will be no electricity while we are on the hike.

I am so scared! But also kind of excited to see if I will be able to handle this. If I do this I will have major bragging rights. And you will all have to put up with endless 'When I was at Machu Picchu' stories. (Hopefully I won't chunder everywhere, though.)

Tonight I'm staying at a hotel. Tomorrow I'm going to the Sacred Valley and staying at a hotel again, but the day after tomorrow (11th of July?) will be the first hiking day. I should be back to civilisation on the 14th-ish.

Hopefully I will be able to post something then. I'm not sure what the computer situation will be. But as always, no news is good news!

I just got back from eating way too much pizza with the Norwegian girls, my roomate and an Australian girl who joined forces with us. I really like all of them, but only my roomate and one of the Norwegian girls will be joining me for the Inca Trail hike. The Australian is doing a different hike, and the other Norwegian girl is taking the train. (I'm so jealous of her.)

Anyway, I'm going to go pack now. I can only bring the bare essentials for the hike and I need to decide what to leave behind at the hotel. Our porters will carry 6 kilograms for us, and half of that is the sleeping bag and the mattress... I'm going to have to think very carefully about this. I really don't want to have to carry a lot myself. It'll be hard enough to hike with just my body to lug around!
sarahblack: (Belle Airhead)
I'm in a gorgeous hotel in Peru! Also, I went to the store and did not get robbed or kidnapped or anything!
sarahblack: (Johnny Depp <3)
I can't believe it's my last day in LA! Where does the time go?

Yesterday Sigthor took me out to Joshua Tree National Park. It was a bit of a drive, but we stopped at Krispy Kreme and got a dozen heart attacks to keep us going. (A warm from the oven Krispy Kreme doughnut should not be allowed to exist. Too delicious. Jesus.)

IMG_0878


I loved Joshua Tree. It had the most amazing scenery! First there was this part which was full of cacti. Really weird cacti! And then we drove into this area which was sort of like the Flintstones had been filmed there. All these huge, smooth-looking, grey boulders. They were fun to clamber over. Then there were the Joshua trees. They are so silly-looking and awesome!

Joshua Tree )

Today I decided to sleep in. It was the greatest sleeping I ever did. And then I went to Hollywood!

It was my second time in Hollywood, but it was much more interesting than my first time. Way more stuff going on in the afternoon than early in the morning. I also had more time to look for stars in the sidewalk. I found the stars belonging to Marilyn Monroe, Snow White, Britney Spears and Johnny Depp. Also, I met Jack Sparrow!

Pictures )

After Hollywood I went back to Silver Lake where Sigthor lives, and he took me to a local coffee house - Intelligentsia. Apparently it's the most 'in' coffee house in LA. Sigthor once saw Steve Tyler there. I had a very delicious Mocha which was made for me by a bunch of hipsters.

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I asked for it extra chocolate-y. ♥

Anyway, I should really go pack my stuff or something. I have to be at the airport at early o'clock in the morning.
sarahblack: (Karen Gillian being gorgeous)
I've been having a fun couple of days in LA!

Yesterday I went with Sigthor and his daughter Juliana to Norm's diner for brunch. It's been around since the 50s, and it's very American. You can get 'hotcake' stacks (American pancakes that are served with whipped butter and syrup), eggs and bacon, French toast drizzled with powdered sugar, and every other unhealthy breakfast food that you could imagine. It was awesome.

I ate pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage and hash browns! So yeah... I didn't really need to eat again for the rest of the day.

After recovering from brunch, Juliana and I went to Rodeo Drive! I had so much fun walking up and down the street, staring at all the beautiful window displays, taking pictures, breaking my neck trying to watch all the sexy convertibles zoom up and down the road, and just soaking up the atmosphere. The buildings are just as pretty as the the products being sold inside, and the palm trees and the blue sky give everything such a glamorous feel! We didn't spot any celebs, but we did see some very rich people. It's hard to imagine being that rich.

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I'm just strolling in there to buy a Rolex...


More pictures from Rodeo Drive )

Sigthor took me to the Griffith Observatory later in the day. We were there just in time to catch some pictures of the Hollywood hills at sunset. It was a bit too hazy for good clear pictures of the Hollywood sign - but you can see it in some of the pictures if you look closely.

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The Griffith Observatory is a pretty popular film location - if you've seen Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, it's where Demi Moore and the Angels have a gun fight - but apparently it was also used in a James Dean film. So of course there is a convenient James Dean monument to pose with.

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The evening was spent at a local cinema, watching The Amazing Spiderman. The cinema was so cool! It's tiny and the inside is decorated all Egyptian style, the man who checked our tickets at the door was dressed up as Siderman, and they had butter popcorn!

Today was just as fun. It's the Fourth of July, so people generally have a day off. My local friend [livejournal.com profile] promiseoftin was therefore able to spend an afternoon showing me around Venice Beach and feeding me cheesecake.

Venice beach was a lot of fun. There were people selling their art, a few street performers, people who wanted to help you get your 'Medical Marijuana License', one religious nut, and loads of muscular people. Apparently there was some kind of muscle competition going on, and Al Pacino was there to present an award! (Al Pacino appears at Muscle Beach contest)

I can't believe I saw Al Pacino.

Anyway, we went to the Cheesecake Factory after, and it was amazing! I had a lunch-sized pasta dish (which seemed pretty full-sized to me) and of course some cheesecake for dessert. I had a raspberry lemon cream cheesecake. I'm pretty sure it was one of the best things I've ever tasted. Yum!

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We checked out downtown LA, saw Union Station and drove through Chinatown and Little Tokyo among other things. It was a blast!

This evening has been rather relaxed - aside from all the noise from the fireworks. The poor cat of the house is quite frightened and keeps jumping on my lap to be kept safe.

I did go with Juliana and her friend Erica up to the roof to look at the fireworks, though. It was almost like New Year in Reykjavik! Or a war zone. Maybe both.




P.S. In other news - They may have found the Higgs boson at last!

I have no words. This is just beyond cool. I'm so happy it happened in Higgs' lifetime. Must be amazing to see your theory come to life like that. ♥
sarahblack: (Jessica Rabbit)
The Grand Canyon and Las Vegas in one entry? This might get a bit long.

When I first saw the canyon I couldn't really believe my eyes. It isn't possible to explain with words or pictures how massive it is. It's not just the tangible size, it's the weight of its history as well. It's hard to believe that water - the same stuff you drink from a glass every day without even thinking about it - is capable of creating something like that.

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I spent half a day at the canyon with my group. We walked some of the different trails along the rim, took oodles of photos, spotted squirrels, deer and the Colorado river, stopped to post some postcards from the canyon post office, and ended the day at a beautiful spot, enjoying the sunset along with a slice of hot pizza.

The canyon is amazing in the day, but it is awe inspiring in the twilight hours. The play of shadows, the different colours as it gets darker, the backdrop of the evening sky...

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I loved it. ♥

It isn't easy to top an experience like a visit to the Grand Canyon, but Las Vegas comes very close.

My group drove to Vegas - stopping to look at some interesting sights along Route 66 - in the scorching desert heat. Thank Willis Haviland Carrier for air conditioning! I don't think it would be possible to drive for any amount of time in the desert without the AC on full blast. (Unless you're lucky enough to drive a convertible, but then you need to worry about sunburn!)

Route 66 was quite cool, but Las Vegas is a much more interesting subject.

After stopping at a Goodwill store to stock up on Hawaiian-themed clothes for the evening, we checked into the Stratosphere hotel, washed the desert dust off, and headed for adventure!

It all started with a red Hummer limo. It took a party of 14 crazy kids, dressed in silly Hawaiian get-ups, to see the sights of Vegas.

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We cruised along the Strip, saw the rock show at Fremont street, checked out the 'Welcome to Las Vegas' sign, and watched the fountain show in front of the Bellagio. The song it was set to while we were there was one of my favourites - 'All That Jazz' from Chicago. Once the limo ride was over it was time to have some fun at the New York New York casino - where you can see a miniature Statue of Liberty! I met up with a couple of guys who were having a bachelor party and the stag made the best man buy me a Martini in exchange for my Hawaiian lei (flower chain)!

The following evening was even better. After a fun day of sightseeing and hanging out by the hotel pool, I got dressed up in a sparkly black dress and went to see Mystère! It's a Cirque du Soleil show, full of acrobatics, humour and dancing. The clown was my favourite. He wasn't in a clown costume, though. He did things like steal people's popcorn and throw it at other people, kidnap audience members and steal their seats/girlfriends, tease the ringmaster, and generally cause mayhem and wreak havoc!

After the show I headed over to the Bellagio and gambled away an entire dollar!

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On the way to the Bellagio I met Elvis.


At a bar at the Bellagio I was adopted by another bachelor party. Most of the guys were Indian American, but I mainly spent time with a Korean American called Joe. He showed me how to play craps at the Flamingo! At the craps table we met some other interesting people - a high roller from North Carolina, and a guy from New York who was in Vegas to watch his sister compete at a poker tournament. I also tried my hand at Texas Hold'Em while I was at the Flamingo. I didn't spend too much on it - I just wanted to play a hand. To be able to say that I did it. I nearly won my round - but the dealer had a lucky hand.

After a late night/early morning batch of cheese & bacon fries along with a root beer float, I walked over to the Bellagio to see if the rumour of a 6 AM fountain show was true. It wasn't, but the hotel in the early morning light was beautiful.

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As I crawled into bed around 7 AM, I ended up sleeping most of my final day in Vegas away. But I did go to a nice buffet. I should have skipped the main course and gone straight to the desserts! There were so many delicious treats. I won't torture you with descriptions. Let's just say that I spent the rest of the evening in a food coma.

Right now I'm back in LA. I'm staying with Sigthor - a photographer I worked with in Iceland when he was there. I can see the Hollywood sign from his kitchen window! I'll be in LA until I leave for Peru early next Saturday. I'm quite looking forward to the Fourth of July! Should be fun to experience it in the States.
sarahblack: (Supermodel Cher)
Sorry about the lack of updates. I haven't been able to access a proper computer until now. I've been able to check my email a few times on my phone, but now I want to take the time to tell you guys what I've been up to in the US of A!

The flight from New Zealand was long but not unpleasant. Air New Zealand really is a great airline to fly with. The food is pretty good for airplane food, they serve wine with the meals in Economy class, and there are tons of films and shows to watch on their entertainment system.

I got from the airport to my hotel without running into any trouble. I was surprised - I thought security at American airports was meant to be a pain. I did have to scan my fingerprints, but that was about it. And the airport staff was really friendly and nice.

I met up with my group at the hotel, and we went out for some Greek food. My first time eating Greek food, actually! I'm going to have to check whether actual Greek food tastes the same if I manage to swing by Greece later this summer. I had Moussaka, and it was pretty damn good.

The second day in LA was really eventful. We went to Rodeo drive and saw the Beverly Wiltshire Hotel. It's the hotel that Richard Gere took Julia Roberts to in Pretty Woman! I really wish I could afford to shop on Rodeo drive - the shops are all so pretty! (And full of very pretty things. Except for the shop with the hideous 80s-looking Valentino dresses in the window. What was that?)

We drove through Beverly Hills and looked at the pretty houses, took some photos with the Hollywood sign and checked out the Walk of Fame. I really liked seeing the hand- and shoe-prints of the Harry Potter trio in front of the Chinese theatre. But I didn't like the fact that the Twilight trio was right next to them! Boo.

The Walk of Fame had some very interesting characters wandering around. I saw Yoda and Spiderman, and one guy who may have been trying to impersonate Jack Sparrow. Badly.

We went to Santa Monica and looked at the beach, the pier and a pedestrian shopping street. The weather was perfect and the Pacific looked sparkly and blue. Just the way it ought to look. There were rides (a rollercoaster, Ferris wheel, etc.) on the pier, but I didn't try them. I just walked around, watched the people who were fishing off the edge of the pier, and spied on the street performers and artists who were trying to make a buck using various methods. One guy had a bunch of parrots that he would decorate people with so that they could get photos of themselves covered in parrots! They were really big parrots, too.

After all of that we drove to San Diego, camped and had a barbecue party!

The next day (yesterday) was spent in San Diego. I went to the beach and got sunburnt in all of the places where I couldn't quite reach with the sunblock, or where I didn't use enough. Mainly my feet look like they belong to a lobster, but my back is quite sore as well. But I have a medicated sunburn ointment from home and some Aloe Vera to treat myself with so I should be okay.

Aside from burning myself up on the beach, I also went with the group to check out a Steakhouse where a scene from Top Gun was filmed, an old fashioned sail-ship that was made to be used in Master and Commander, and a big aircraft carrier that was used in WWII. We also checked out the gaslight district of downtown San Diego. The evening was spent in the same way as the evening before - camping and having a barbecue party!

Today we drove through the Californian desert into the desert of Arizona. It was a hot ride! But we got to see some very pretty sand dunes - just like in the Sahara! We also saw the fence that separates the US from Mexico.

So far I really like the US, though. They people are friendly, and the scenery is truly amazing. I can't really describe it in a way that does it justice. I tried to take some photos, but you know how photos taken out of the window of a moving bus don't really look all that great... I did get some good shots of the sand dunes, though. They were so cool very very burning hot!

Arizona is insanely hot, too. I'm so glad I'm sleeping in an air conditioned hotel room tonight. Camping in this heat would be terrible.

Right now I'm doing some laundry at our hotel in Phoenix, but after that I am going to have a well earned rest. Being on a bus all day is exhausting! (Also, I need to put on some more Aloe Vera. My poor abused skin!)
sarahblack: (Giselle sweet)
I'm back in Auckland! This is my last day in New Zealand. Can you believe it? Where did the time go? I feel like I'm constantly arriving and departing countries with absolutely no time going by in between.

Not much to report, except I stopped in a little town called Matamata yesterday. And I visited Hobbiton!

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It was so surreal. Just like leaving the real world and entering Middle Earth. I half expected Bilbo to walk around the corner, or Gandalf to show up and set off some fireworks. Everything is maintained meticulously! There are even people in charge of keeping the plants from shedding their leaves and flowers, so that it is always summer!

We were so lucky with the weather, too. The tour before our tour basically had to wonder around in a fog, but as soon as we got there the fog just went away and the sun came out! I was so glad! It just isn't Hobbiton if there isn't a blue sky.

I'm so glad I was able to visit. It was magical! ♥

I wish Thorri could have been there with me to see it.

My trip to New Zealand has been really great overall. The nature is beautiful, the people are fun and easy-going, there's tons of activities to keep crazy tourists busy, and I can read the ingredients list on all the food packaging! I definitely need to come back to explore the south island, though.

The only downside of the trip has been the weather. It's been quite cold! Not cold enough to really bother me - I have my wool sweater with me - but you can't really do beach stuff when it's this cold.

Oh, well. I'll be able to do plenty of beach stuff in sunny California.

America, here I come!

Wellington

Jun. 20th, 2012 07:08 pm
sarahblack: (Gone With the Wind)
Greetings from Wellington! I have finally made it to the most southern point of my New Zealand journey. (Wellington is basically the last stop on the north island before people take the ferry to the south island.) I will have to return one day in order to explore the south island since I don't have time to do it now. I've heard it's amazing! I think I'll be happier to visit when it's not quite so cold, though. (It's winter in New Zealand right now, and much colder on the south island than it is on the north island.)

Anyway, after my Taupo skydiving adventures I went to a little place called River Valley. It was stunningly beautiful there! And on the way we stopped and walked to a waterfall that was featured in the Lord of the Rings movies. "Gollum's waterfall" according to my bus driver. It was very pretty. I do love waterfalls. ♥

We stayed in this little cabin in the middle of a river valley - hence the name - and the views all around were just stunning! And little baby sheep prancing around made the picture complete. We had a really nice evening in the cabin. There was a chicken roast dinner, and a bar with a generous bartender. (I didn't pay for a single drink the entire night!)

We drove to Wellington the next day, but before we left I had a chance to have a little walk around the surrounding area. It was really so beautiful. I can't even describe it. Especially in the morning light.

It's been quite nice to stay in Wellington. It's a very hill-y city, with houses built on the numerous hillsides that tower over the water. Today I went to the Weta cave and saw some pretty cool miniatures and memorabilia from the Lord of the Rings movies, and also from the Tin Tin movie. There was also a DVD you could watch which showed a lot of the work that the Weta people put into making the CGI, puppets, props and all that stuff for the films that they've worked on.

The rest of my afternoon was spent at the Te Papa museum. It's the national museum and art gallery of New Zealand and full of interesting stuff! I liked the colossal squid the most. It's the only museum in the world that has a specimen on display!

Last night was quite fun as well. It was my first night in Wellington, and there was a trash bag party at the bar which is attached to the hostel. People could design and wear an outfit out of trash bags in order to get a free drink! I made a really awesome dress, but I did not win the contest. Boo.

Tomorrow I'm heading back north. I'm not sure where I will spend tomorrow night. Either Taupo or Matamata. In any case, my next tourist activity will be to visit Hobbiton! I'm really looking forward to it.


P.S. My second skydive was even better than my first. I jumped with the same guy again - Amos - and he let me do a backflip out of the plane, go in circles during the freefall, pull out the chute, steer the chute and go in horizontal circles... It was so awesome! And the view of Mt. Doom and Lake Taupo was even more beautiful in the sunset. ♥

Taupo

Jun. 17th, 2012 03:56 pm
sarahblack: (Glam Rose)
Some of you probably know this already, but I thought I should say something about it here.

I went skydiving yesterday!

Halla


It was so awesome. I wasn't scared at all! And the view... I mean, I was basically jumping out over Lake Taupo, and I could see into Mordor! (The mountain that was Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Rings is visible from here.)

I'm actually just on my way to go again right now! The weather is so gorgeous!

But yeah, I also went on a river cruise today. On the river that we will all see in the Hobbit movie this coming December. It's the one that they will travel down in barrels!

How much do I love New Zealand?

So much!
sarahblack: (Giselle dress)
I don't have a lot of time on this public computer so I'm just going to post what I posted on facebook:

"New Zealand is amazing. The nature is unbelievable! I never want to fall asleep on the bus because there's always some new gorgeous view around the next corner. I've been to a beach where you can dig a hole and hot water springs up, in caves with glow-worms that make the ceiling look like a starry night sky, and today I went to see a Maori cultural show! It's all been amazing. ♥"

I was one of the very few who went into the hot water pools that we dug up on the beach. The tide happened to be at night, so it was pitch black and freezing! But I held up the honour of my Viking heritage. It was nice and warm in the water, though.

The glow-worm cave in Waitomo was a dream come true for me. I've been wanting to see them since I saw David Attenborough talk about them in one of his documentaries. It was a surreal experience!

I just got back from the Maori cultural show here in Rotorua. They fed us a feast of traditional hangi after the show. (It's slowly cooked meat and veg, basically.) I'm so full! The show itself was very educational and fun. The Maori did their war dance (Haka) for us and sang traditional songs. We also had to choose a chief from our tour group to represent us, and he got to take part in the opening ceremony. The war dance was quite intimidating!

Tomorrow we leave Rotorua, a place which reminds me of Iceland since it is full of hot springs, and go to Taupo - the adventure capital of the northern island. I'll be sad to leave Rotorua though, the lake here is gorgeous. I walked out to it earlier today, and some black swans swam right up to where I was standing!

I hope you're all happy and healthy! ♥
sarahblack: (Oops)
I've made it to Auckland in one piece! I'm at my hostel right now, but I have to wait a few hours before I can check in. The flight was actually great! (A good thing, since it was 11 hours.) I'm so glad that I'm flying Air New Zealand again when I go to LA. They have a really funny flight security video, great entertainment system, super friendly and helpful staff, and a lot of free refreshments. The food wasn't half bad either - for airplane food.

My last days in Japan were spent in the company of Snaevar and his family. It was a lovely relaxing time for the most part. They took such good care of me. ♥

I did try to do some tourist stuff on my own on Saturday. It didn't go as well as I would have hoped. The major annoyance was the rain. It was pouring! But I suppose I was bound to get one really rainy day. But I managed to have a look at Yasukuni shrine and the museum. I was very interested, but I got the feeling I would have benefited from more knowledge of history to fully appreciate the museum. I didn't quite like how they glossed over the warcrimes committed in Nanjing. They barely had a paragraph about it!

After the museum I went to the Toshimaen Garden Spa onsen. I was in the water for maybe two minutes when I decided to move to a different area of the spa. This was a bad decision. I tried to step on the bottom step in the pool, but the bottom step wasn't there! So I kind of stumbled forward and the front of my right leg (a bit below the knee) hit the edge of the next step. This edge was sharp enough to leave me bleeding. The wound is not that big, but it's a little deeper than a superficial flesh wound.

The employees helped me stop the bleeding, get the area sterilized and bandaged up. They also gave me a refund, since I couldn't really stick around the onsen after getting hurt like that.

So that was fun.

But yesterday was better. The weather was back to being sunny and warm, and I went with Snaevar, Riya and Elin to the Tokyo Aquarium. It was so cool! Especially the tuna tank. Tuna fish are enormous! I also got to pet a little shark. Very awesome.

We didn't stay for very long since we wanted to get some lunch (mmm, gyoza), and then I needed to pack and get to the airport! But I'm very glad we went. It was so pretty around the Aquarium, and I always love watching the fish swim. ♥

Hiroshima

Jun. 8th, 2012 08:20 pm
sarahblack: (Anne being gorgeous)
My stay in Hiroshima was lovely!

It started out with some emotional moments, though. Not wanting to waste time, I went straight from the bus to the Hiroshima Peace Park. I spent the entire morning there, looking at the A-bomb dome, the monuments, the museum and the park in general.

It's hard to describe the sorrow I felt when I looked at the A-bomb dome. The dome has been preserved the way it was after the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and it's a very powerful reminder of how destructive nuclear power can be. The A-bomb dome is also called the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and it is a memorial to the people who were killed in the bombing. It's hard to imagine what it must have been like. You're just going about your business in one instant, and in the next moment...

The museum was an even more emotional experience. Among the things that they have on display are the destroyed garments that were worn by little children who died in the bombing, along with the mangled remains of a little tricycle.

Another thing that left a deep impression on me were all the letters. Letters of protest from the mayors of Hiroshima to various presidents and leaders of nations that continue to preform nuclear tests. There were so many.

I think I'd have trouble sleeping at night if I were the recipient of such a letter.

The park itself is very beautiful. It has all sorts of trees and flowers, and at least two very nice fountains. Then there are the monuments. I didn't look at all of them. I mainly looked at the Children's Peace Monument. While I was there a group of schoolchildren came by and sang a song in Japanese, and dedicated some colourful origami cranes to it. It was a lovely ceremony.

I took the afternoon off in order to recover from my emotional morning. Thankfully I was able to just relax at the house of my couchsurfing host. His name is Joel and he's an American marine who works at a military base in Hiroshima. We got along famously!

He took me to a really cool restaurant for dinner. It was another one of those 'do it yourself' places that the Japanese seem to be so fond of. We received a miniature coal barbecue which we used to grill various pieces of meat. Apparently I tried tongue! (I had no idea what I was eating most of the time - I only checked if I was allergic, not what it actually was!)

The next day we went to Miyajima island. I enjoyed it immensely! The ferry was nice, the view was gorgeous, the temples were serene, the deer were friendly, and the Okonomi-yaki was delicious! (I'm serious about the deer. They even let you close enough to pet them. I felt like a Disney princess!)

My favourite place on the island was this little underground passageway in one of the temples. It was pitch black down there so you had to feel your way along the walls, but once you got past the first corner you could see the most amazing softly glowing pictures of Bhuddist deities!

After Joel and I got back to the mainland he took me to visit his military base. It was pretty fun. Kind of like going to the United States. I got apple pie and everything! I love pie. ♥ We also went to a bar on the base where I was able to pass for a Californian. (Joel wasn't in the mood to linger at the bar for too long, and he knew that if this one guy found out I was Icelandic he would want to question me about it endlessly, so he told me to say I was American instead. Funnily enough, the guy made me say: 'Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, I don't have an accent' in order to prove that I didn't have an accent, and then I had to think quickly when he asked me what part of the States I was from. I ended up saying I was a Californian from Pasadena. He totally bought it.)

My last day in Hiroshima was spent strolling through the main shopping street and being amused that there is apparently a store called 'Womb' in Japan. I also tried the iced coffee at Tully's because Elin said it was worth trying. Since I'm not much of a coffee person I needed three packets of syrup before I liked it, but then it was delicious!

I also tried another Hiroshima speciality - Oysters! I only had one because they're kind of expensive, but it was really fresh and tasty. I also succumbed to temptation and had another dose of Hiroshima Okonomi-yaki.

Japan is all about the food you guys. (No wonder my jeans are starting to feel a little bit too tight...)

Anyway, right now I'm at Snaevar's place again. I spent today recovering from the twelve hour bus ride to Tokyo from Hiroshima, but tomorrow I might do some tourist stuff. Depends on the weather - apparently it's supposed to rain tomorrow.

Osaka

Jun. 5th, 2012 12:08 am
sarahblack: (Bubblegum)
I've had an eventful couple of days in Osaka!

My bus arrived at Osaka station very early yesterday morning. I spent my first hour or so just wandering around the station. It's incredibly enormous! It must be at least 11 floors, if not more, and it seems to stretch on and on in every direction. Far too easy to get lost if one is not careful!

And I thought Kyoto station was nuts...

Thankfully I was able to find my way to the information desk and Get Informed. I purchased a two day city pass and received maps, coupons and other such shiny things. I dropped my bags off at the hotel where I stayed my one night in Osaka, and then I was off to see the Osaka Museum of Science.

The museum was a lot of fun. It is aimed mainly at children, but that suited me well. I couldn't understand any of the Japanese explanations, but the pictures intended for the kids helped me understand. Also, there were a lot of things to play with! Science things. It was great!

Oh, and there was a human sized robot there that solved Rubik's cubes for you if you stood in front of it for a while. Japan is just awesome like that.

After a lunch of Kushi-katsu (basically deep fried pork with sauce) I decided to go to the zoo. It was nice to see the animals, but I wish they had more comfortable surroundings and more space. Especially the chimps. They looked so sad.

I saw an Asian elephant while I was there! My first time seeing an elephant in real life. Interestingly, there were art students milling around the elephant enclosure. They were drawing and painting the elephants for school. One of them asked if he could draw me as I watched the elephant! I didn't mind, so he went ahead. The sketch was quite nice! He let me take a picture of it. Another student walked up to me as I prepared to leave and gave me a postcard sized drawing she had made of me as a gift. It was quite lovely!

I felt very flattered. ♥

Outside the zoo there are criss-crossing streets full of shops, stalls, and restaurants. Many were selling tako-yaki, and I had read that one simply must try them if one is in Osaka. Tako-yaki literally means fried or grilled octopus, and according to Wikipedia it is a popular ball-shaped Japanese dumpling or more like a savory pancake made of batter and cooked in a special takoyaki pan. Also it is delicious. I ended up eating it twice again today!

Yesterday evening started out very nicely. I went for a ride in a big red Ferris wheel close by my hotel. It was around sunset, so the view was very pretty! The rest of the evening was spent having a bubble bath in my hotel room, talking to Thorri over Skype, and reading Great Expectations.

Today I went for a cruise around the river, looked at the beautiful Osaka castle (fantastic view from the top!), saw Men in Black III at the cinema which is located at the top of Osaka station, and after it was dark, I went to the top of the Umeda Sky Building. It's a really cool pair of skyscrapers that are connected by a circular building at the very top. You can go out and get a 360°view of the city from the 39th floor.

I'm glad I decided to wait for dark to go up there, Osaka at night is magical! ♥

Right now I'm about to board my bus to Hiroshima. Hiroshima will be my last stop before I return to Tokyo.

Catch you later!
sarahblack: (Swimming)
Happy Golden Jubilee to the Queen of England! (I think she's immortal.)

Today is my last day in Aizuwakamatsu. I'm off to Osaka tonight. Since I'm only staying one night in Osaka, I'm treating myself to a stay at a four star hotel which is right next to the train station. I was quite lucky and got the room for only 5800 yen. (Just under 10.000 ISK.)

Anyway, I've been having such a wonderful time with Tommy and Natsumi. Tommy took me to the school where he teaches yesterday. It's in Shimogo, a town which is 35 minutes away from Aizu by train. I got to go to a few classes and introduce myself to the kids, and then they asked me a lot of questions. Mainly they were interested in whether I had a boyfriend, and whether 'I loved Tommy' (they don't know that he has a girlfriend), but I also got really random questions like: 'Do you like bananas?' and 'what is your favourite food chain?'

I was so amused when I said that I came from Iceland and one kid exclaimed: 'From ice cream?!'

Oh, and two of the classes had a group of boys that insisted I pick 'who is coolest'. They all stood up, and wanted me to pick one of them. I was a little worried that the ones who didn't get picked would take it personally, but apparently this is a common practice and there are no hard feelings involved. In both cases I picked small, shy looking boys with glasses. I think I made their day! They looked very pleased in any case.

S5006404


After the classes and a lovely lunch with the teachers, Tommy took me to see Ouchijuku - an old village just outside Shimogo, famous for the traditional thatched buildings from the Edo Period that line its main street. The weather was beautiful, and the surrounding nature was absolutely stunning. Mountains covered in trees with emerald green foliage, sparkling rice fields, and blue skies. ♥

In the evening we decided to go for a shabu shabu dinner. I loved it so much last time that I wanted to try it again, and Tommy hadn't actually ever had any! It was just as good as last time, and just as fun. Maybe I'll just start a shabu shabu restaurant when I come home?

S5006443


After dinner we ended up checking out a game center. Natsumi is a wiz at this drum game they have there. It's a little like the Rock Band drums. Notes show up on the screen, and you have to hit your drum at the right time to get the note. It was amazing to watch Natsumi at it. She is so fast!

Today we went to the Miyaizumi sake brewery. They have converted part of the brewery into a museum. It was really interesting to see the traditional sake brewing equipment, and it was a lot of fun to sample some of the sake. Very tasty! They also had a gift shop where you could buy traditional sake cups, and there was this one set where you got different kinds of cups and a sort of die which had pictures of the cups on it. A person throws the die and has to drink the sake from the cup that it indicates!

After the brewery I went with Natsumi to the Higashiyama onsen. It was amazing! It's a hot spring resort where you can bathe in hot water while enjoying a beautiful view of a waterfall and a hillside covered with enormous trees. Perfectly blissful! I would have loved to stay there forever, but it was probably a good thing that Natsumi pulled me out when she did - the heat made me all dizzy when I got out!

S5006482


For lunch we went to a sushi train with a special 'shinkansen' track above the usual train, where your special orders are brought to you by a little shinkansen train! Among the things that I tried was a piece with salmon eggs and mint leaves. Quite good, and very pretty. I love how pretty sushi is. I think food presentation is such a huge part of the dining experience.

Right now I need to get ready for my trip to Fukushima. I need to go there in order to catch the bus to Osaka. Hopefully I'll be able to keep my eyes open during the train ride to Fukushima. The views out here are so stunning.
sarahblack: (Geisha)
Yesterday was my last day in Kyoto. I took it pretty easy - bummed around some temples and took pictures of all the funny things at the grocery store. And then it was time to go to Aizuwakamatsu!

Aizuwakamatsu is such a great place to visit. Seriously, I'm so glad I decided to take Elin's advice and come here. (She's a friend who lived in Japan for over a year and gave me a lot of great advice.)

I arrived this morning, after a bus ride from Kyoto to Fukushima and a train ride from Fukushima. Aizu is a little samurai town with some very nice tourist spots to discover. I started by looking at the Byakkotai members' graves - they were young teenage samurai who committed suicide when they thought their cause was lost. Then I took a turn around the Sazaedo temple - it's a hexagon shape, and you go up one spiral stairway but come down another!

I also went to an outdoor samurai museum, where you can see the kind of house a wealthy samurai would live in, and the Oyakuen garden. It was very pretty, but I think Kyoto has kind of spoiled me when it comes to scenic beauty. Takes more to really impress me!

For lunch I tried some cold Soba - noodles that you dip into a very yummy sauce - and I was so proud of myself when I managed to find the restaurant using only the bus map and my dubious sense of direction. (Okay, so I asked one guy for directions, but I was basically on top of the restaurant when that happened. It's not my fault that I can't read Japanese characters!)

After lunch I had a lot of fun exploring Tsuruga-jyo Castle. It's a really pretty one! And inside there's a museum with a lot of cool samurai stuff. There's also a place where you can try on a kimono! I totally did, and got a picture. Seriously pretty kimono, too. Just the kimono thing was worth the admission price, but the view from the top was pretty fabulous too.

I kind of wanted to visit a sake brewery too, but it was closing time by the time I finished at the castle. Instead I met up with Tommy and his girlfriend, Natsumi, who are my couchsurfing hosts here in Aizu. They took me out for dinner at an Okonomiaki place. It's similar to shabu shabu because you cook your food yourself, but instead of boiling your food in broth, you make kind of an omelette out of the vegetables, meat (or seafood), egg and other stuff that's thrown in there, using the hot plate that is built into your table. Yummy!

Anyway, I really need to go to sleep now. Tommy is going to take me with him to the school where he teaches English, and we need to get up early. I'm looking forward to meeting the kids! I might also go to an onsen tomorrow. Excitement!

Lake Biwa

May. 29th, 2012 09:56 pm
sarahblack: (Default)
I had quite the adventure today!

I bought a day pass for the trains in the area around Lake Biwa and put it to use! First I went to Hikone to look at the famous Hikone castle, and to Nagahama to have a general look around.

Turns out that I could have picked a better day for this trip than today. Both in Hikone and in Nagahama I got caught in brief rainstorms. Thunder and lightening and everything! Thankfully they passed by quickly, and as I had the umbrella I borrowed from Halla with me I barely even got a drop on me. The lightening was very pretty to watch, and no one can say that walking through plum tree thickets with thunder booming in the distance and raindrops pitter-pattering on your umbrella isn't atmospheric.

When I got back to Kyoto I had a culinary adventure with my couchsurfing host, Tomoko. She took me to a huge sushi train place, and I tried squid and eel sushi! The eel was much better than the eel I tried in Sydney. I think I may try to eat more of it while I'm here. The squid was just okay. Not bad, but not a very memorable flavour.

Mostly it was just weird to try to get all the chewy tentacles sorted out.


Yesterday was less eventful, although I did go to the top of the Kyoto train station. There is a fantastic view up there! I noticed the Toji pagoda while I was up there and decided to go visit it. I really enjoyed it. The garden around the pagoda is beautiful. Also, more statues of Bhuddist deities!

Kyoto

May. 27th, 2012 10:22 pm
sarahblack: (Giselle sweet)
What can I say about Kyoto? It's amazing! It's also full of junior high school students who want my help with their English assignments. It's so adorable. One of them shily approaches you and askes if they can speak to you. They confirm that you sdo indeed speak English, and proceed to ask where you are from (Iceland usually gets a big Ooooh response) and what you think of Japan. Sometimes they ask you to write a message in their cute work books. One girl basically asked for an autograph made out to herby name!

So yeah. If you ever want tofeel famous, just visit China and Japan! (Unless you look Asian, I guess...)

Yesterday and today have both been extremely eventful. Since I'm typing this using the touchpad of the android tablet that Snaevar lent me, I'm going to talk about the most memorable things and try not to bore you with too many details.

I arrived in Kyoto very early yesterday morning. Luckily I was able to check into my Japanese style hotel - where you sleep on a futon on the floor - right away. Instead of getting some much needed sleep after a night of trying to doze off in a bus seat I went exploring!

My first stop was Sanjusangendo. It is a temple that houses a 1001 statues of Kannon - a Bhuddist deity - and the sight of them is incredibly overwhelming. It's really hard to describe. The temple itself is a very long wooden building with floors that creak pleasantly as you pad along the endless corridor of statues - your feet clad only in socks as shoes are left outside as a sign of respect. The statues appear golden, but they are made of wood. Each one unique, but appearing to look the same as the others. In the middle there sits a giant statue of Kannon, looking very regal and powerful.

I saw a lot of other temples that day but Sanjusangendo was the most memorable. It was lovely to walk between the temples, enjoy the weather, watch the people and explore the narrow streets. I was particularly happy to witness the start of a wedding and see a bride in a beautiful white kimono. I do love weddings.

Another memorable thing I did yesterday was walk around the Emperor's Palace. Or more like the walls surrounding it. It took forever! That thing is enormous!

Today I went to some of the most famous places in Kyoto. The Ryoanji rock garden, the Golden Pavilion and the Silver pavilion. The rock garden was literally very zen and it appealed to me immensely. I would love there to be more gardens that do not give me hayfever! The Golden Pavilion was breathtakingly beautiful. It was glinting in the morning sun, shining like a beacon! However, the garden around the Silver Pavilion was much more beautiful.

Also, because I am such a philosopher, and my feet hadn't been walking enough, I wandered down the Philosopher's path. It wasvery beautiful and quiet. Just a worn old stone path, some trees, a stream and me.

I hope you're all doing well.

I keep you with me in spirit!

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sarahblack: (Default)
Sarah Black

March 2015

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