Canada

August 21, 2006

After San Francisco we flew up to Vancouver, Canada. In Vancouver we made a stop at the Visitor Centre, to get the standard maps and brochures on attractions in the area, and when we asked how hot it gets during the day, we were told that “it can get quite warm, up to 22C or 23C”. The lady was very serious that this was quite hot, we had a good laugh when we got outside, we were still used to the hot desert weather of Las Vegas, at 38C – 40C, so low 20′s was cold for us.
 
Vancouver was really great, we walked along the main shopping area of Robson St and when we stepped out to casually cross the street at the quiet end, once the cars had passed, not at a corner, or a pedestrian crossing, we found that the cars actually stopped for us and let us cross. This was the complete opposite to everywhere else we have travelled so far – in China, even at pedestrian crossings you have to run, or the cars will hit you, in Japan, you get safety in numbers crossing the street, but don’t try it when you don’t have right of way, in LA it wasn’t too bad, as long as you crossed at pedestrian lights but in Boston, even when we were crossing the street with a crowd of people when we had right of way, we still got tooted and almost run over! Yes, Vancouver certainly seemed a lot more peaceful and laid back.
 
While in Vancouver we went to the Capilano Suspension Bridge – a suspension bridge above the Capilano River, it’s 137m from one end to the other. It was a nice walk across the bridge and through the rainforest on the other sides, we even got to see a couple of squirrels – when there weren’t any screaming 3 year olds chasing after them! From Capilano we went up to Grouse Mountain and saw a couple of Black Bears. It was a little bit cold at the top of the mountain and I was grateful that I had my jumper with me, unlike two girls we saw on the mountain who looked like they had hiked to the top of the mountain wearing a singlet and short shorts. They were shivering in the line waiting for the gondola down the mountain.
 
When we got down from Grouse Mountain we headed to Stanley Park and hired some bikes to ride around the park. The ride around the park was about 10km and it was a nice way to spend an afternoon. On our last day in Vancouver, I got Marc’s conjunctivitis :-(, so we didn’t do too much. We just went down to the Gastown area in the afternoon to see the quirky steam powered clock let off some steam.
 
Next stop, Calgary. We spent an afternoon in Calgary, just looking around the shops in the city. From Calgary, we drove to Banff and Lake Louise for the day. Lake Louise was stunning. We first saw the lake from the Lake Louise Gondola. A gondola ride to the top of a mountain that overlooks the lake in the distance. From the top of this mountain we could see some of the snow capped Rocky Mountain Range, the view was spectacular. When we got back down from the mountain and over to Lake Louise we were amazed at the colour of the lake, it was a beautiful teal colour and the mountain backdrop to the lake was amazing; I took a lot of photos.
 
When we had finished walking around Lake Louise we decided to go and have a look at another lake in the area, Lake Moraine. It was just another lake really, but what made the trip out there worthwhile was Marc’s determination to climb a small mound. This mound looked climbable, for sure, the only challenge was that to get to the mound he would have to cross part of the lake – by using floating logs as stepping stones. I did try to tell him that it wasn’t really a good idea, but when my back was turned, off he went. About 3 seconds later I heard a splash as Marc fell off a log and into the icy water (water temperature was less than 10�C). Luckily for him, he only got one leg wet (and one shoe saturated), and after that he gave up on trying to go climbing. I laughed… alot… :-)
 
From Lake Louise we drove up to Edmonton and spent a day at West Edmonton Mall. Before we got there, we knew that the mall had an indoor water park, indoor amusement park with rollercoaster, ice rink, minigolf, and of course, shops, but the bonus was finding the Casino! This meant Marc had something to do while I went off shopping. While it was a novelty that the shopping centre had a roller coaster and water park, the shopping wasn’t really all that great.
 
After Edmonton, we flew to Toronto. Our first impression of Toronto wasn’t that great. We went for a walk along the main street, but it was really noisy. There was a small park area with a very loud protest going on and straight across the road from that was a guy making the most horrible noise on drums and not 10 metres from him was a small group of people attempting to play music. Things got better when we drove out to Niagara Falls for the day. It was a beautiful morning, great for seeing the falls. We went on the Maid of the Mist boat which drives past the American Falls and right into the horseshoe falls. The view from the boat was amazing. We got a bit wet from the horseshoe falls, but it didn’t matter, it was hot enough to dry off pretty quickly. We also went on a helicopter ride over the falls. The flight only went for about 20min, but it was definitely worth it. Flying over the falls was great, I got some great photos! In the afternoon it rained so we did the Journey Behind the Falls. This was not what we expected. It was basically just a lookout beside the Falls and a couple of porthole views in behind them. But, we did it, and it meant that we saw the Falls from all possible angles. Once the rain cleared we saw a rainbow emerge over the falls, it was a great way to end the day.

Las Vegas, Santa Barbara and San Francisco

August 21, 2006

So, moving from LA now, our next stop was Las Vegas. In Vegas, Marc got conjunctivitis. It cost us a US$200 house call to confirm that diagnosis! But Marc couldn’t let conjunctivitis get in the way of playing Texas Hold’em Poker. On his first sitting he managed to win about US$200 playing $1-$2 no-limit. The second sitting was even more profitable, with a US$400 winning. But we didn’t have it for long :-) the winnings paid for tickets to the shows. We saw two Cirque de Soleil shows – Ka and ‘O’. Ka was amazing, the whole stage moved up and down and rotated from horizontal to vertical and around in circles. The set was unbelievable. ‘O’ was even better! The stage for ‘O’ moves around and sinks to reveal a pool of water, where most of the performance takes place. There is a lot of diving and acrobatic stunts which were amazing. We also saw Jay Leno do a stand up comedy show, the night had us laughing before the show even started as after we had taken our seats in the theatre and got comfortable, in came the people in the three seats in front of us, and choosing to sit directly in front of me was a a lady with the biggest hair ever. When she sat down she blocked the entire stage from my view, I swear her head was at least 3 times bigger than the people sitting next to her. I couldn’t help but laugh and the people next to us and behind us were all laughing as well. The last show we saw was Lance Burton, a magician. This was pretty lame, but Marc wanted to see a magician! I think I actually slept through some of the show… so I don’t really have much more to say about that.
 
While in Vegas we went on a day trip to the Grand Canyon. We visited the West Rim of the Canyon, in the Hualapai Indian Reservation. This area of the canyon has Eagle Point, a part of the canyon that forms the shape of an eagle with outstretched wings. There are no barriers along the edge of the canyon, so you can walk right up to the edge, if you want. The view here was quite spectacular. From Eagle Point we went over to Guano Point for lunch, where you can eat lunch outside on the edge of the canyon, again the views along the canyon were great. The only downside to the tour was our bus driver, who felt the need to stop every hour for 10-15 mins to smoke 2 or 3 cigarettes.
 
From Las Vegas, we flew back to LA and then drove up the west coast to San Francisco. We stopped at Santa Barbara for a couple of nights on the way, which was really nice. We didn’t do much in Santa Barbara, just spent most of the time relaxing. From Santa Barbera, it took about 6 hours to drive up to San Francisco. San Francisco was really cold, it was summer, but it felt a bit like winter in Sydney. We spent an afternoon on a segway tour around Fisherman’s Wharf; riding segways was a lot of fun and we saw Alcatraz off in the distance. Unfortunately all the ferry’s over to the island were booked out, so we didn’t get over there to see the prison. The change in weather caught up with us the next day when we both got a pretty bad cold and spent the whole day asleep. And sadly, that’s how our time in San Francisco ended, we didn’t see much of it at all.

Los Angeles

August 21, 2006

Ok, So it’s time I updated you all on everything we’ve been up to since arriving in the USA. I know, it’s been a long time coming. I’ve got about 6 weeks to write about, so I’m going to do this in a couple of parts.
-Amanda

Ok, So it’s time I updated you all on everything we’ve been up to since arriving in the USA. I know, it’s been a long time coming. I’ve got about 6 weeks to write about, so I’m going to do this in a couple of parts.
 
We arrived in LA, gaining a day from crossing the International Date Line, but getting our first real dose of jet lag! We went for a wander down Rodeo Drive, it’s a nice road for window shopping and watching a lot of people crowd around a store front for a glimpse of some celebrity (Michael Bolton???) rumoured to be inside, but it’s not really the place to buy stuff… unless you’re a celeb! All the shops had tough looking security guards with dark sunglasses just inside their doors, keeping a close eye on all the non-celebs in the store who were, like me, just looking, not buying.
 
We went to Hollywood a couple of times – lots of people, but lots of fun. We got a CityPass which gave us entry into the Hollywood Wax Museum, a “Stars Homes” Bus Tour, a guided walk of “Hollywood Backstage” and a Kodak Theatre Tour. Ok, so I’ll start with the bad. The Hollywood Wax Museum is really bad! The wax statues don’t really resemble the stars at all, and it’s not just my bad eyes! In one room, there was a group of six other people staring at the statues just as clueless as me as to which stars they were supposed to be. The only one we all agreed on was Tom Cruise! So, if you are ever in Hollywood, you can give this museum a big miss, it’s not worth it at all. Thankfully, the rest of the tours on our CityPass were much better. The bus tour of the “Stars Homes” went through the streets of the Hollywood Hills and Beverly Hills, it was a lot of fun, but unfortunately we didn’t see any stars :-(. We did, however, see the outside of the fortress that is the home of Tom Cruise (and Katie Holmes), the blacked out windows of Lindsay Lohan’s 20-something floor apartment, a house Brad Pitt once owned, Dr Phil’s driveway and Sylvestor Stallone’s House. We also saw the Chicken Shop where Brad Pitt had his first job when he moved to Hollywood – standing outside on the corner dressed in a Chicken suit holding an advertising billboard for the shop! Ok, so the guys might not find that even remotely interesting, but the girls will, right girls….
 
The Hollywood Backstage guided walk, was fantastic! It was just a walk along Hollywood Boulevard, but it was great having someone point out where various scenes of movies had been filmed. We also went to the Chinese Theatre; this is the theatre where many movie premieres are held and where the stars’ hand and foot prints are in cement. They are fast running out of space for all of the hand and foot prints that they have, and so, sadly, once a celeb is not so famous, or not so popular, their concrete print is taken away and stored in the basement, ah, well, that is the harsh reality of fame. Our final tour was the tour of the Kodak Theatre – the home of the Oscar’s… and the American Idol Final. It was only a 30min tour, but it was still nice to see the inside of the Theatre, and hear how even celebrities won’t pay for alcohol! Apparently, on the night of the Oscar’s, the drinks are free… well, only until the ceremony starts, and after that, the celebs have to buy their own drinks. According to our tour guide this is a ploy to make sure that everyone is seated in time for the show to begin… and it works.
 
All this movie madness inspired us to go to Universal Studios Hollywood, in the hope of going on a tour of their “backlot” to see where movies and tv shows get made. Unfortunately, they don’t really do that. We were hoping for something better than MovieWorld on the Gold Coast seeing as they have filmed hundreds of movies and TV shows there, but it was no different. They have the “Universal Studios Tour”, but they really just treat it as another ride. Everything is staged, but we did see the famous Jaws and drove down a street with a set from “The War of the Worlds” but it wouldn’t surprise me if they moved the set there after filming just to have something else to show. All-in-all, Universal Studios wasn’t that impressive, just another theme park. We spent a bit extra on tickets and bought the “Front-of-Line” passes, which meant we didn’t have to line up for any rides or shows. If you do plan on visiting when the park is really busy (like in summer), I would definitely recommend this option, it saves a lot of time, and makes the day worthwhile, a lot of the rides, while good, aren’t worth waiting in line for hours for.
 
Ok, so let’s get to something that’s not about Hollywood. Santa Monica. Just a short taxi ride from Beverly Hills is Santa Monica (don’t even think about public transport in LA, it takes forever). We got there early in the morning and hired some bikes. The bike tracks along the beach were fantastic. We rode south from Santa Monica Beach to Venice Beach. We passed Muscle Beach (yes, the very beach where Arnie was discovered, ok, so it’s still a little bit Hollywood) and were lucky enough to pass by as a body building competition was in progress. At first we just heard and saw the crowd and weren’t exactly sure what was going on, until a rather buff and shiny gentlemen walked past in a hot pink G-string and we saw the warm-up pen, we couldn’t believe our luck!!! The crowd was pretty big, so we just took a few photos from the back.
 
For our last day in LA we thought we’d try a proper studio tour and went out to the Warner Bros Studios. The tour at these studios was fantastic! We actually got to drive around the backlot and see the real sets of shows that are still being produced. Some of the sets we saw were very generic, so they could be reused for movies and TV shows, others were more specific. For outdoor sets we saw the ambulance bay from ER, the grass park where Ross played rugby in Friends, the set of Gilmore Girls, including Luke’s Diner, and Kim’s Antiques and the Gotham City Police Station from Batman, the TV series. For indoor sets we saw the recreation of the Friends Central Perk set (they have moved the set to a more tourist friendly location), the set of The George Lopez Show and the Yale set from Gilmore Girls. Plus we saw the location of lots of other little scenes from many movies.

More USA Photos

August 21, 2006

We’ve uploaded some more USA photos to:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/23945442@N00/sets/72157594197256356/

We haven’t had time to name or label them, but hopefully you can work them out.

Some of the older China, Japan and USA photos aren’t online anymore as a free Flickr account only shows the last 200 uploaded. We’ll upgrade our Flickr account soon hopefully, but till then enjoy the photos.

Japan

July 20, 2006

After Hong Kong we flew to Japan. First stop, 5 nights in Tokyo. Tokyo was fantastic. We stayed in Shinjuku, which was extremely convenient. The airport express train stops at Shinjuku, the only problem was trying to work out which direction to walk in to get to our hotel. A word of advice to anybody thinking of going to Japan – the maps on the street are always in a strange orientation (ie: up is not north), which makes it difficult to match the street map to the trusty Lonely Planet guide! Thankfully a nice “sarari man” (business man) stopped and took us in the right direction.
 
While in Tokyo we saw Meiji Shrine – the best in Tokyo according to the Lonely Planet Tokyo guide. We went to Sony Central in the Ginza shopping district, but it was a bit disappointing. We’d heard that Sony had all their new gadgets on display, including playstations and games, cameras, tvs, computers etc, and was looking forward to playing some new Playstation games, but there was really only a lot of digital cameras out to play with.
 
We also saw the Imperial Palace (just the outside of the palace), Asakusa Kannon Temple, which had some great little market stalls in front of it selling lots of Japanese souvenirs, and Tokyo Tower – which is Tokyo’s red version of the Eiffel Tower and serves as a TV broadcast tower. We also saw some Kabuki Theatre – the traditional Japanese Theatre where all the actors are male. It was interesting, but the hour and a half we saw of the 4 hour production was more than enough to get the idea. My Japanese is just not good enough to understand what they’re saying and the English translation headsets just explain the plot, rather than translating what the actors are saying.
 
From Tokyo, we went to Mt Fuji for a day. The train took about 2 hours to get to Kawaguchi, then we got a bus up to the 5th Station on the mountain. After that, if you want to go any higher, you have to walk. It wasn’t a very clear day as there was alot of cloud around, which made it difficult, if not impossible, to see the top of the mountain, but for about 2 minutes the cloud cover moved and we were able to get a pretty good view of the top of the mountain. Being summer, there was very little snow left at the top of the mountain, so it didn’t have that postcard look, but it was still amazing. We spent about an hour walking along part of the trail from the 5th to the 6th station, but didn’t go any higher than that – we plan to leave the mountain climbing portion of our trip until the Inca Trail.
 
From Tokyo, we got the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) to Osaka, which took about 3 hours. We basically used Osaka as a base to day trip out to other cities in Japan. We spent one day in Kyoto, the old capital of Japan, where we saw Kinkakuji Temple (the Golden Pavilion), Nijo Castle, and the Kyoto Imperial Palace. The Golden Pavilion is a temple that is covered in gold and it is very beautiful. This would have to be a must see if you are ever in or near Kyoto. Nijo Castle was a little disappointing as I didn’t realise you couldn’t actually get into the Castle, just the grounds around the castle.
 
We got the Shinkansen down to Hiroshima as well to see the A-Bomb Dome, Peace Memorial Park and Museum and Miyajima Island. The A-Bomb Dome is the only structure still as it was after the bombing of Hiroshima in WWII and it is surrounded with the beauty of the Peace Memorial Park. The Peace Memorial Museum is fantastic, we spent about 2 hours there. As well as lots of exhibits of items that survived the bombing, they also have lots of information about pre-WWII Hiroshima and the wars Japan fought before WWII. After the Museum we went across to Miyajima Island, a little Island about a 10 minute ferry from Hiroshima. The Island is most famous for the shrine gate that is out in the water. We saw a bit of the sunset over the water behind the gate and got some nice pictures, but the best part of the Island was watching Marc wrestle one of the wild deer to get our map back :-) (See photos).
 
The only thing we really did in Osaka was go to Osaka Castle. This castle was castle like on the outside, but inside they had turned it into a museum and everything was very modern, so it didn’t really feel like a castle at all.
 
On our last day in Osaka we got the train to Himeji to see Himeji Castle. It is the oldest Castle in Japan (which means it was rebuilt sometime in the 1950′s to be just like it was before and hasn’t burnt down since). The reconstruction was done very well and it did actually feel like an old castle (unlike Osaka Castle).
 
From Osaka we went back to Tokyo for a couple of days. We went across to Odaiba for a day to see Tokyo’s version of the Statue of Liberty, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, Mega Web, Palette Town and Venus Fort. The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation was fun. They had working robots on display and a working model of how the Internet works (a little simplistic, but it was fun to play with)! Mega Web is a huge Toyota showroom where you can test drive all the latest Toyota cars and see others on display. Palette Town is essentially a huge Timezone with heaps of cool games that you would only see in Japan. There was “Billiard Bowl” – ten pin bowling combined with billiards, Amanda won, 108 to Marc’s 90 :-) – and games to practice your golf swing, tennis shots, baseball batting and basketball shots, Marc won, 446 to Amanda’s 120 :-). Venus Fort is just Tokyo’s version of shopping in Italy, it wasn’t anything special.
 
Overall, the best part of being in Japan was attempting to use the little Japanese that Amanda knows. Reading menus and ordering food was lots of fun and by the end of the trip we was able to book train tickets for the exact day and time that we wanted completely in Japanese!

Since then we’ve been to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Vancouver and are currently in Calgary, though those updates might be a little while away :).
 
Hope you are all well!
 
Keep Smiling,
Marc and Amanda

Japan and USA Photos

July 13, 2006

We’ve uploaded some more photos from Japan and the USA (Los Angeles and Las Vegas)

Japan – http://www.flickr.com/photos/23945442@N00/sets/72157594197268985/

USA – http://www.flickr.com/photos/23945442@N00/sets/72157594197256356/

Trip updates will be posted soon

China and Hong Kong Photos

June 29, 2006

We have uploaded some of our photos from China and Hong Kong to Flickr.

They are available at:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/23945442@N00/sets/72157594181257186/

They are fairly low resolution at this stage, and we may put high res photos up at a later stage.

Enjoy

Hong Kong

June 29, 2006

After Beijing we flew to Hong Kong. While we were there we spent alot of time doing very little. We both still had colds from the overnight trains in China that we hadn’t been able to get rid of, so lots of rest and relaxation was definitely needed. We’ve done the standard Hong Kong touristy stuff, we’ve been to Victoria Peak, which has a nice view of the city, but its really just a view of a lot of tall buildings that are really close together, its not much compared to the Great Wall. We’ve also been to the Temple St Night Markets, the Stanley Markets and many other shopping centres, but we’ve had enough of markets and shopping for a while so haven’t really bought anything. We spent an afternoon in Macau, the casinos have very high table minimum bets, so we just watched, and there’s no Texas Hold’em Poker played, so we’ll have to wait until we get to Vegas for that!

China Update (Finally!)

June 29, 2006

Now I know we promised an update, well we]ve finally gotten around to it. The internet cafes in China were large, dark, hot and smoke-filled rooms that weren’t the ideal environment to sit down and type. Then in Hong Kong we were lazy, but now in Japan we are in a well lit, smoke free and air conditioned internet cafe, so here goes!
 
Our trip started in Shanghai, where we had 3 nights on our own before our China Tour started. We stayed opposite Renmin Square, near to the main shopping district of Nanjing Road, which made it very easy to get around. Although we could not speak a word of Chinese (even after we switched from a Cantonese to Mandarin phrase book – whoever told us that they speak Cantonese in Shanghai was very wrong!) we were still able to get around and use hand signals to work out how much things cost.
 
Shanghai Highs:
The Fake clothes market! You can get what look to be really good fakes of Nike, Adidas, North Face, and Billabong clothing, plus fake watches and handbags (I’ll let you know if our Nike shirts fall apart in a week :-)). You can’t tell that they aren’t real, except for the fact that you can bargain the sellers down to less than $8 (AUD) a shirt! Bargaining in the markets can be really fun, but you need a local to tell you what price you should be paying before trying to bargain, otherwise you will definitely get ripped off.
 
The Yu Yuan bazaar – where you can get (apparently) the best dumplings in Shanghai. The locals line up for over an hour to get the dumplings to takeaway, we lined up for 15 minutes in a line that didn’t move, then decided to pay a little extra (in AUD this equates to about $1 more) and go up to the restaurant to eat. The dumplings were very good, but we passed on their specialty dumpling of crab ovary and digestive organs!
 
Shanghai Lows:
Very bad Air Pollution. After 5 nights in Shanghai, the bad air really starts to get to you, unfortunately we had to put up with air pollution until we reached Beijing.
 
Taxi Drivers – driving down the wrong side of the road into oncoming traffic, playing chicken with pedastrians on the road. It was a very scary experience everytime we got into a cab, strangely though, despite the horrible driving, we never really saw any serious accidents on the roads.
 
From Shanghai we went to Suzhou, where we went bike riding through the back alleyways and markets. There was lots of interesting live food for sale, but I wasn’t too keen on hanging around the dead chickens that had been out in the sun for a few hours!
 
Next we got on an overnight train to Xian. The overnight trains are not overly pleasant, to say the least.  The toilets (which open directly to the track below when flushed) never have toilet paper (though this was common everywhere in China) and are absolutely disgusting. Being on a budget backpacker tour we were staying in the lower class bed cabins, but it was well worth the 8 carriage hike to the first class cabins for the cleaner western toilets. But, disgusting toilets aside, travelling on the train with a group of other aussie tourists was actually a lot of fun! The only downside was waking up the next morning with a cold.
 
At Xian we saw the Terracotta Warriors, which were amazing. They are still excavating and restoring many of the Warriors, so there are both whole warriors standing in line and piles of warrior arms, legs and heads, waiting to be put back together. From Xian, it was another overnight train to Beijing, where we saw the Forbidden City – the old home of the Chinese Emporers and Tiananmen Square. Both of which were much larger than I thought they would be. The Forbidden City seemed to never end, every corner we turned opened up even bigger courtyards. In Tiananmen Square you can go to Mao’s Mausoleum and (apparently after queuing for a while) walk past Mao’s preserved remains.
 
We spent the next day at the Great Wall. We went to the Simatai section, which is about 3 hours drive from Beijing (on the wrong side of the road, into oncoming traffic, three cars wide around blind corners). This is not the main tourist section of the wall, which was great – our little tour group practically had this section of the wall to ourselves! Walking along the wall was spectacular, there were the most amazing views from the top and we had a beautiful clear day to enjoy it.
 
On our last day in Beijing we went to the Temple of Heaven, where the locals spend the morning doing Tai Chi. As we walked through the gardens we also saw groups playing badminton, doing aerobics, tap dancing, and latin dancing, among other activities. We did some more shopping in the copy markets, but it really gets tiring bargaining the sellers down to reasonable prices when they start so outrageously high (they start at about 300 RMB (AUD60) for some Nike shirts, which you can get down to 40 RMB (AUD8)).

Quick Update

June 21, 2006

I wasn't able to access my Blog in China though I can now from Hong Kong.

China was great and we're off to Japan tomorrow.

I'll have more details and photos to follow, as time permits.


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