sarahblack: (Appletini)
My day with Vera and Aarhus was absolutely lovely!

Aarhus )

Then it was off to Amsterdam by night train. I didn't have a sleeper cabin, just a seat, so I ended up not getting a lot of sleep. It was okay, though. Apparently I am still young enough to function without too much sleep.

Amsterdam was so much fun! I AM A CANAL. )

Today I caught a train from Amsterdam to Brussels and the Eurostar across the channel to London from there. My friend Tommi met me at the station and took me to the cozy apartment that he shares with his girlfriend Holly. We started by having juice on the roof of his apartment building and enjoying the view of downtown London, went on to have Italian food and ice cream for dessert, and ended the evening with cocktails at some fancy pub. It was absolutely spiffy!

Tomorrow I plan to sleep in since I have stayed up way too late to write this update. (Anything for my adoring public!)

Off to bed now.
sarahblack: (Johnny Depp <3)
Right now I am relaxing after a lovely day at the Berlin Zoo. Before I tell you more about that I want to briefly describe my stay in Krakow.

Krakow )

I went to Berlin early the next day, and was met at the station by a lovely German guy by the name of Veit. He drove me to his apartment (which he shares with a flatmate, an equally lovely girl called Anka) in a very interesting car. It was one of the car-sharing cars of Berlin. They have this program where you can rent a car for however long you need it at the drop of a hat. You have a microchip in your driver's license which activates the car, and when you need to find the nearest car-sharing vehicle... There's an app for that! The people behind the program take care of cleaning the cars and filling them with gas. Amazing!

Anyway, Veit's couch is very comfortable, there is wifi (and a laptop I'm allowed to use) and he took me to the rooftop of his apartment building for pizza and beer on my first evening here. In other words - Excellent host!

My first day in Berlin was full of typical tourist activities. I went to see the East Side Gallery, Alexanderplatz, the Berlin cathedral, the Reichstag building, Brandenburger Tor and the Victory Column. (Among other things.)


I spent the evening eating delicious sugary popcorn and drinking cherry coke while watching silly stuff with Veit.

Today I went to the Zoo, as I have already mentioned, and it was epic. I think I must have spent two hours just hanging out with the monkeys and the apes. There were so many! And I managed to catch the feeding time for the Orangutangs and the Gorillas! Also, I saw lions, tigers, leopards, wolves, polar bears, zebras, giraffes and elephants! It was just like a zoo ought to be.

I really loved the gorillas. ♥

Tomorrow I am off to Copenhagen, and currently I am off to take a shower!
sarahblack: (Princess and the Frog: Fabulous!)

I'm currently posting from my couch surfing host's computer. His name is Ivan and he has been taking wonderful care of me and Thorri.

The past two days have been quite the whirlwind! Yesterday we arrived in Paris - very early in the morning - and spent most of the time before lunch getting to our host and catching up on sleep. Then we went to see the Victory Arch and the beautiful shopping street Champs- Élysées. Thorri bought some clothes that were on sale, and I renewed some MAC supplies that I was running low on. For dinner Ivan cooked us some delicious risotto and we split a bottle of white wine. We ate outside in the nice weather and talked until it was very late.

Today I managed to wake Thorri up at around lunch, and we headed for the Louvre soon after. Before entering the museum we looked at the Paris Opera House and strolled down some of the nearby shopping streets. There were a lot of jewelry stores with sparkly things!

The Louvre was amazing, but exhausting. I didn't realise it was so huge! It was really nice to see all those beautiful and famous works of art. Aside from the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo there were so many gorgeous pieces! I fell in love with a particularly beautiful painting of a martyr in a white dress, floating in some water with the figure of death hovering in the background. I think it's called 'A Young Martyr' and it's by Paul Delaroche.

Dinner was eaten at a very unique restaurant that Ivan took us to. It used to be a train station! It's called Bouillon Chartier and the food was amazing! I tried snails and foie gras for a starter, duck comfit as the main course, and a baba au rhum for dessert. It was all delicious!

After dinner we walked around for a bit, and Thorri and I joined a group of people who were dancing the tango on the steps of the Opera House. I was a bit nervous since I haven't danced the tango since I left Iceland in April, but it was fun!

Anyway, I need to go to sleep now. We're going to try to get out of bed a bit earlier tomorrow and it's already after midnight!
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! )


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.
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.


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?


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!


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!


May. 21st, 2012 08:03 pm
sarahblack: (Princess and the Frog)
Hello Japan, indeed!

I arrived in Japan yesterday at around noon after an uneventful flight from Nanjing. Snaevar and his family were kind enough to pick me up at the airport, and after I had stashed my bag at their place they took me out for some delicious sushi!

It was so nice to see Snaevar. I have missed his company since he moved to Japan. Meeting his girlfriend Riya again was also really good. I hadn't seen her since 2008! But I was most excited to meet their 16 month old daughter, Elin. She is such a sweetheart! Beautiful brown eyes and happy disposition. Especially if you mention strawberries - her favourite. ♥

I got to spend some time with them in their home after our late sushi lunch. I was learning to use the tablet computer that Snaevar is generously going to lend to me during my stay in Japan. I have a feeling it's going to save my life! Especially since he is also lending me this pocket wifi device to go along with it. After a while of fiddling around with the tablet and watching Sesame Street episodes with Elin, Riya started bringing us all this amazing food! Salad, grilled chicken, and delicious little pieces of lamb (I think) which tasted just like the lamb that you get off the barbecue in the Icelandic summertime.

Later in the evening I went over to my couchsurfing host, an American girl called Tamitha. (She teaches Japanese.) I'm going to stay at her place until Friday. She is super nice and her apartment is clean and comfortable.

My first impression of Japan was the airport and then the quiet suburb where Snaevar lives. Everything seemed clean and organised and the buildings all looked brand new! The people were quiet, friendly and very polite.

Today I had my second impression. I walked from Tamitha's place to the train station near Snaevar's house where he was waiting for me. Together we went on a train adventure to downtown Tokyo! Mainly we saw Akihabara (Electric town) and Shinjuku station and its surrounding area.

So many people! Everything was very colourful and vibrant. Electric town was a lot of fun. It is basically geek paradise - I mean, the first thing I saw when I exited Akihabara train station was a giant SEGA logo! There were girls dressed up as anime characters handing out adverts, little shops devoted to once geeky niche or another, and we visited a sort of technology themed mall on six floors with an entire floor devoted to just games and toys! (I was able to pick up a gadget that enables you to charge your electric devices on the go. First you have the charge the charger, but then you can take it with you and use it to charge your device if it runs out of juice when you're on a bus or a train somewhere.)

It was a lot to take in, but my first impression of the Japanese people still stands. Even as a crowd the people are considerate and polite. Everyone proceeds to where they are going in a very orderly fashion. No pushing or yelling!

I am having a great time in Japan so far, and I'm very optimistic about my next three weeks.

I'll try to write more soon!
sarahblack: (Glam Rose)
I am safe in Nanjing! Right now I'm at the apartment of my couchsurfing host - his name is Ash - but earlier today I met with Halla, and I am going to meet her again tonight. But first I am going to go for drinks with Ash and another couchsurfer, an author called Jonathan Tel. Hopefully it will be fun! And it will be nice to get to know Ash a little bit since I am crashing at his place for a while.

Yesterday was amazing! I went to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall with a small tour group and took a boatload of pictures.

It was a beautiful day, hot and sunny but not too stifling. The mountains looked so green and lovely and the wall was just so majestic. I'm glad I'm still in pretty good shape, though. Otherwise the hike up and down all the stairs on the wall would have been murder!

After the hike my tour group received a big Chinese lunch at a nearby restaurant. I wasn't allergic to anything and everything was delicious! (So I basically at my own weight in food. I regret nothing!)

I met a Swiss guy (not Stéphane Lambiel, sadly) on my tour who ended up going with me to see the Forbidden city after our tour of the wall finished. His name is Fritz and he's probably around my dad's age since he said that he has two daughters around my age. We saw the part of the Forbidden city which is always open because we were too late to get tickets to go inside properly. We also went to see Tiananmen Square and the zoo! (Pandas are super adorable y'all!)

We had dinner together in the Hutong neighbourhood of Beijing, which is an older part of the city. It is also clearly a very hip and happenin' place, since it was super crowded with young people, full of bars and restaurants and people selling this and that here and there. We got a fantastic pizza at 'Hutong Pizza' which is a place that was featured in a film called Beijing Bicycle. (Fritz read about it in his Lonely Planet guide book.)

Anyway, I'm so happy to have met up with Halla and to have found the place where I'll be sleeping. Ash actually came by Halla's place where I started out and drove me to his place on his motorbike! It was a short ride, but a lot of fun! The traffic in China is a little crazy, but you just get used to it.

One funny story before I log off - I was standing around with my bags at the bus stop where the airport bus had let me out, just waiting for Halla to come pick me up, when a couple of Chinese people came up to me and asked me to pose for pictures with them. I felt like I was famous or something! I think they just wanted to prove that they had met a funny foreigner with a cowboy hat and a big backpack. Definitely an interesting experience!
sarahblack: (Impala)
Today I arrived in Beijing! It was strange to leave the train behind. I've become so used to hopping on and off trains, sleeping on trains, eating on trains...

We did get off the train in Ulaanbaatar, though. I slept one night in Ger Camp (about an hour and a half outside the city) and one night in the actual city. I adored Ger Camp! Mongolia really surprised me. It's absolutely gorgeous, and the weather was wonderful. I thought it would be colder, but other than that I hadn't really given it much thought. Maybe my nonexistent expectations helped make the experience so amazing?

In Ger Camp I got to go for a ride on an adorable Mongolian pony, try on the traditional Mongolian costume, and test out my mad archery skills. (I got the arrow to go pretty close to the target and everything!) In Ulaanbaatar I got to know all about Gengis Khan at the National museum, and see a performance of traditional folk music, dance and contortionism! The costumes that the performers wore were amazing!

The last day on the train took me through the Gobi desert. It was quite cool to see, but ohmygod the dust and the heat onboard! It was pretty unbearable.

Beijing is big, hot and scary so far. Tomorrow I plan to go on a tour of the major tourist sites. I'm very excited about the Great Wall, but I'm sure it will be packed with people. I think it will be almost as interesting to see all the people, the merchendise peddlers and the general spectacle of it all, though.

Right now I'm at the apartment of my couchsurfing host. It was difficult to find, but I got there eventually. My actual host is travelling right now, but his French roommate has been super helpful and nice.

Anyway I'm off to meet my fellow Vodkatrain travellers for one last dinner before we go our separate ways. Hope you are all healthy and happy!


sarahblack: (Default)
Sarah Black

March 2015

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