A Travellerspoint blog

Canada

snow -8 °C

Canada

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We said our goodbyes to Amanda at the bus station in Rochester and boarded the bus to Niagara Falls (Ontario) via Buffalo. Blake read on the internet that catching the bus in America is one of the dodgiest ways to travel. But it saved us $20 and we still have use of all major limbs!! Amanda said i would be the only asian and Blake would be the only white guy on the bus. She wasn't that far off. Before the bus left, the bus driver had to put out a warning to everyone on the bus.. no drinking (we assume he meant alcohol), and no dropping the f*** bomb allowed on the bus!! LOL.. It felt like being back in primary school.

The bus stopped on the US side of the border so after a quick walk we were back in Canada. The bus ride from Rochester to Niagara Falls was only 2 hours which was nice and easy.

After we checked in and dumped our bags we met up with my cousin Sylvia & her husband Steve. Steve wanted to go the the scariest haunted house in Niagara Falls and we thought that sounded like a great idea. This was the first adult haunted house either of us had been to and it actually had a safe word if you got too scared and needed to get out. We survived the haunted house and headed back to their hotel for some drinks and an amazing view of the Niagara Falls from their room. We followed up with a yummy dinner at Tony Roma's and a small flutter at the casino (warming up for Vegas).

Ottawa

Day 1

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Sylvia & Steve picked us up from our hotel at 10.30am and we were on the road to Ottawa. It took us a good 6 hours to drive there, with a short stop at burger king for lunch. Not many choices on the highways. After a yummy refreshing salad courtesy of chef Sylvia for dinner, Steve offered to take us out to the local curling rink to take a look and maybe try our hand at the game of champions. The rules are similar to lawn bowles except the jack is replaced with a home base, its played on ice and people have big brooms and slidy shoes. By the end Steve had shown us enough to get the rock into the home area but we decided that was as good as we were gonna get this trip. We may now be the most experienced players in Perth! Adding that to the resume... We polished off a couple of post curling drinks and called it a night.

Day 2

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Off to a good start in Ottawa! Today started with a big buffet breakfast at a maple farm, which basically means that we put maple syrup on everything (pancakes, sausages, eggs, bacon, you name it.. even in the baked beans!!). After that we had a walk around the farm and had a look at how maple syrup is made. Firstly, just to clear things up the maple syrup here is nothing like the artificial goop we get back in Australia, which is thick and sickly sweet. The real deal is far tastier (best you try it for yourself). After the maple tree is big enough it is tapped, ready to leek out some sap. The sap is only produced from late winter to early spring. Last year they had a maple syrup shortage as winter was extra long. I'm surprised Canada is still standing given their seeming reliance on this gooey delicacy. Anyway, after seeing the tapped trees we went down to the sugar shack to see the sap being boiled into syrup. We had some maple taffy, watched some horses attempt to shag and headed back for a rest. On the way back we stopped at the largest asian supermarket either of us have ever seen. It had everything asian you can think of, but we settled on a couple of young coconuts and some chilli mango. Also got some roast duck & chicken and longans for dinner and sweets.

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Sylvia cooked up some Singaporean char kueh teow for dinner. So good.. and spicy too. Yummy!!

Day 3

Today was the big day, our first time skiing (Blake's 20minutes of fame in Japan didn't really count). We woke up early and left the house by 10am to make our way to Camp Fortune which is about 15minutes outside of Ottawa in Quebec. We rented some skis and headed out into the snow with Steve, our friendly 'ski instructor'/'person stopping us going head on into the trees'. We spent the first hour or so with the kids in the pee wee park riding up the conveyor belt and down the most gentle slope you can imagine. Pretty exciting for us novices but hey, gotta start somewhere. It was a little embarrassing when 4 and 5year old kids ski past in full control but we got over it :(. After that we sucked it up and decided to go down a proper slope. It just so happened to be a bit too advanced for us so we spend half of the time on our asses and the other half being 'caught' by Steve when we failed to stop. We made it down none the less, went inside for a drink and a snack and decided to try a slightly less steep hill. We made it down this one without falling over too much so we decided to call it a day and end on a positive note. The three of us stopped by at a pub on the way back for some soup, a beer and our first poutine (a delicacy of Quebec) which basically is french fries topped with brown gravy and curd cheese. The perfect way to top off a good ski.
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We got back and all laid down for a bit of a rest. Sylvia got back from work and made us all a lovely dinner before we headed out for another Canadian pastime, five-pin bowling. Five-pin is quite similar to ten-pin except that there are only five pins (duhh) and the ball is about half the size and made of hard rubber. It makes the fancy shots a lot more exciting and you can rocket that small ball down the lane at close to the speed of light! Its a pretty cool game and Michelle and I didn't do too bad at all and had heaps of fun. After that and a couple of beers it was lights out as soon as we got home. What a big day!

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Day 4

We all had a pretty nice sleep in today. Woke up late, had a quick breakfast and headed in to see the sights of the capital. Fist stop was saying hi to Sylvia at work and trying not to rub in the fact that she was working and we were slacking... After that we went to get our first shawarma. Its pretty similar to a regular doner kebab but its served in a wrap and the chilli garlic sauce was to die for! After satisfying our hunger we went for a walk and had a look inside and around parliament house. We started to queue to head up to the peace tower for a good look around the city but gave up as we had quite a few things to see and not much time left. We strolled around the back of parliament house and had a look over the river on the way to get our Beavertail. We watched a survivor show on TV a couple of days ago and the survivor guy found a beaver frozen solid in the snow and decided to eat it (supposedly he has a roadkill licence so thats all perfectly ok?). The guy hacked it off frozen, cooked it and ate it. He said it tasted rank. Now that was NOT the beaver tail that we tried. We tried the beaver tail that is a long fried pastry kind of thing. The regular style was lemon and sugar but I (Blake) got a bit carried away and got a chocolate and peanut butter, which sort of looked like a little kids snack. Tasted good either way. Sylvia finished work so we all went back to their place for our last night in Ottawa. Sylvia and Steve did put us to work shovelling snow from their driveway when we got home. They told us they were joking pretty much straight away but we all had to pretty much hold down Michelle to get the snow shovel out of her hands!! She had a ball shovelling snow and I have to admit, it was kinda fun (doing it once). Sylvia and Steve decided to take us for some authentic Thai food before we left. We really miss the great asian foods that we get back home in Perth so this was a welcome treat (most asian foods we've tried in Europe and North America have been average...).

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Montreal

The last day we woke up and went for a yummy filled scone at a great place in town (the name eludes both of us...). After that we all said our goodbyes and got on the train to Montreal. The train trip to Montreal was only 2hours so we were there in no time. Michelle and I were quite tired after all that excitement in Ottawa so we pretty much just relaxed around the hotel room for the rest of the evening.
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Day 2: St Patrick's Day in Montreal

Big exciting day today! It was really cold and we were planning on standing outside to watch the parade most of the day so we really rugged up. Fortunately we found a great place for a nice hot breakfast (with fruit :P) on the way to the parade. We got to try a version of Montreal's famous smoked meat which was quite nice. After breakfast we once again braved the cold and made our way to the St Patricks day parade. It looked like half the town was out and half of the people in the parade were men 50+ years old. Good to see the celebratory spirit is surviving! We saw all sorts in the parade but after an hour decided to get into a good pint of Guinness. Fortunately we found an Irish pub only 2blocks away (without a queue) where the people inside seemed to be wilder than the people in the parade! We had a drink and headed back out to see the rest of the parade. When we got out there were at least 20people in line out the front of the pub... Looks like we wont be getting back in there anytime soon! In light of that we made our way home picking up a six pack of the local Montreal stout St Ambroise. We also managed to find ourselves a Tom Tom on sale so decided to get that for the rest of the trip. There's nothing worse than arguing over directions! I'm sure we can find far better things to argue about...

Our yummy breakfast/lunch at Eggspectation..
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Day 3

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After a lovely sleep in we had breakfast/lunch at Ma-am-M Bolduc in the plateau mont royal area. According to google, they have some pretty good poutine- good enough for a sober date apparently :). Blake wanted a serve of poutine all to himself and he sure did get one- A huge one too considering that was only the small serve!! I (Michelle) had a yummy duck burger. So good :). With all this energy we decided to walk up and around some of Mount Royal (the 'mountain'/small hill that Montreal is named after). We cut across the snow covered park and made our way up a few icy paths. I guess the locals must just get used to it as there was people jogging on iced over path that we had trouble walking on. Anyway, we made it part way up and bailed because the ice was getting a bit dicey. We made it down with no bones broken but a couple of nice skating moments... Michelle stacked it well on the her way down.

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Time to return to USA..

xoxo B&M

Posted by blake-michelle 14:21 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Rochester

Having fun with our American friends

sunny 13 °C

Rochester

The snow storm finally hit NYC just as we were leaving :(. Boo hoo.. We were just lucky we didn't stack it on the way to the train station with our backpacks!! That would have been really embarrassing!!
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After a long 7 hours train ride from NYC, we finally made it to Rochester. I was pretty excited to see Amanda (my American friend I met while studying in Sydney) and her husband Lee who were waiting for us at the train station. It has been 6 years since Amanda left Sydney to return to America. I had promised her that if I was ever in America I would come and visit.. and here we are :) :). Her sister in law Brittany had made us a yummy lasagna dinner with homemade garlic bread. Whilst Blake, Lee & Brittany got to know each other, Amanda and I had a nice long gossip session. It was great to have a home cooked meal again and after a good chat and a couple of glasses of wine we were ready for a good night sleep.
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Day 2

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Lee had to go to work (on a Saturday) as it was the busy tax season so the Amanda, Brittany, Blake and I headed to the kiddies museum of play (Rochester Museum of Play). It was probably designed for people 20 years younger than us but we refused to let that stop us. We spent two hours making our way through old kids toys, old school arcade games and plenty of role playing superhero type games. I would't say it was the best museum around but we all had heaps of fun. We visited Sesame Street, a mini lego land and dressed up as super heroes. Blake tried out a long ranga do and I (Michelle) stuck with the classic Clark Kent short back and swirl. (It looked like Michelle & Amanda had fun playing amongst the kids in the supermarket designed for kids..)

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Michelle & Amanda playing in the kiddies Wegman supermarket: Nice Melons, check us out!
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Amanda's in-laws came around in the afternoon to hang out with us and had some home-made pizzas. Amanda and Lee then took us out in town for a few drinks along with their mates. We tried the yummiest shot ever.. its was called the Breakfast shot!! A shot of maple syrup tasting liquor (which was the pancakes, followed by orange juice and freshly cooked bacon!! Yummy :). After that Blake tried a couple of the local New York State beers. We got ourselves a nice table then all of a sudden an army of people dressed in checked (or plaid in American) flannel shirts appeared from nowhere! In the end we decided it was probably a group of friends but we were worried about the type of place we were at for a little bit. We ended up playing a bit of a social game which involves us talking to random people around the room and being forced to ask them odd questions. Unfortunately one of our group talked to a deaf guy (that couldn't understand our game nor read) and a guy that was too drunk to read. It was great fun either way :). We walked home after 1am and found a guy sleeping standing up out the front of the apartment block- he was pretty much wrapped around a pole. He was too drunk to talk and ended up running away from us when we asked if he wanted us to call him a taxi or his friends.
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Day 3: Day trip to Niagara Falls

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Our driver Lee was a little bit hungover this morning. We were supposed to leave the house at 10.30am.. but we didn't leave till after 11.30am. Hahaha.. Fair enough, no real rush anyway. We drove into Canada to check out the Niagara Falls. Apparently the view from the American side is pretty crap. It looked like the view from the US would be more along the falls than looking directly at them. It took about 1.5 hours to drive there from Rochester which wasn't too bad (for us sitting in the passenger seats). Lee had plenty of gatorade to keep him going for the morning. The weather was perfect for a day trip too. It had been quite cold and gloomy.. so we were all pretty happy to see the sun.

Entering Canada was easy. A quick joke from customs whether we- Australians and Americans were getting along and we were in Canada Niagara Falls. The falls is absolutely amazing. Part of it was frozen.. We walked up and down the falls for an hour, had our packed lunch and decided to hit the arcades and the bowling alley. We were all pretty crappy at bowling on the day (not a single strike between the four of us!) so we only played one game and headed to the arcade to drown our sorrows. I (Michelle) beat Blake 3 out of 3 racing cars.. Oh yeah.. :) :).
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On the way out of Canada, the American customs guy was a bit annoyed with us that we couldn't remember the exact date we entered USA. He had our itinerary in front of him and yet he thought we were overstaying our stay in USA. Clearly he couldn't read very well.

Once we were all worn out and hungry we headed to the Anchor bar in Buffalo which is the home of the famous Buffalo chicken wings. Back in 1964 one of the bartenders at the Anchor Bar was looking after the place when a group of her friends arrived late at night with massive appetites. All she had left was chicken bits that were used to make stock so she deep fried them and covered them with special sauce. They were a hit and people came from near and far to taste these delicious morsels. Luckily for us we only had to come from half an hour away :).

We got a box of 50 wings (that's 25 chickens!!) between the four of us as we were starving. These were the first fried wings either of us had tried and they were excellent. We ordered a bucket of hot and spicy wings (which consists of 50 wings) between the 4 of us- That is 25 chickens!! Unfortunately we couldn't finish it.. But it tasted sooo good!!

We had a great time with Amanda & Lee. They had sacrificed their bed for us (yes.. they insisted that they slept on the couch) and chauffeured us around. Thanks guys :)

xoxo M&B

Posted by blake-michelle 18:03 Archived in USA Comments (0)

New York City

We made it to America

overcast 3 °C

New York

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Welcome to the Big Apple! Our plane was on time and we made it through customs/immigration without much of a problem. We had lined up at immigration for about an hour and one of the airport staff took the guy behind us to the fast lane because he was "leaning on the wall and looking tired". I (Blake) spent the next 5minutes leaning on the wall, trying to look tired AND get the attention of the same lady without any success. The immigration guy was pretty weird- asked us if we had lots of money?!?! We said YES.. LOTS!! Clearly that answer was good enough to enter America. LOL :). We were told that customs here are a bit of a pain in the bum- they check your bags and even go through your laptop. So we had cleaned out our laptop & ipad just for them but when we got there.. they didn't even check a single person's luggage. We even declared we have FOOD!!- Vegemite.. and they didn't even care. Oh well..

Once we were finally through customs, we got the airtrain and the subway to Madison Square Gardens and walked the rest of the way to our hotel. Safe as houses. Michelle had chosen a great apartment (a hotel room with a kitchen) for us to stay in so we checked in, watched some TV and crashed out. It was a pretty long day for as as we had to wind our clocks back 5hours from Iceland time.
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Day 2

We woke up with a huge appetite and hit the street looking for a nice greasy breakfast. We both had maple syrup with bacon and pancakes (which is surprisingly yummy) and left our first American tip. We're still trying to work out exactly who we tip and who we don't. Think we have it covered now but it still feels a bit weird "giving" 15-20% of our bill when we could quite easily use that money to buy a hotdog or slice of pizza for dinner (which are both only $1each).
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With our bellies full we thought we'd make our way through some of the icons of New York. Grand Central Station really is grand! It's absolutely huge and seems a lot fancier in person. I guess its just easier to appreciate all of the details when they're right in front of you. It was pretty quiet when we were there. We'll have to see it when its busy next time.
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Grand Central Station:
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We kept walking to Central Park. It really looked nothing like I expected. I suppose 90% of the movies show it in summer or autumn but in winter the park looked a bit drab compared to these seasons. Starting to miss the evergreen trees back home... Some of the lakes had partially frozen over which was really exciting for us. We never get to see that! We strolled around Central Park, had a quick think about ice skating but ended up passing on that. I'd (Blake) been a bit sick since we arrived so I was saving my energy for getting healthy. After enough walking we decided to get the subway down to Battery Park to take the free ferry to Staten Island. The Statue of liberty was closed after the damage done during hurricane Sandy in October last year. Most of the Ferry dock were destroyed so they are fixing all of that up before they let tourists back. We figured we could pay for a "Statue of Liberty Tour" (which cost $30) and get a bit closer or take the free Staten Island ferry. As usual with us this holiday, free wins :)!

Central Park:
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Statue Liberty:
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We were walking back from Battery park and saw the famous Wall St bull statue (that isn't actually on Wall Street). I couldn't resist grabbing the bull by the balls (or was that by the horns?) whilst Michelle stuck to the front of the bull. I think the line to get a photo with the bulls balls was at least as long as the line for the bulls head. The 9/11 monument was just around the corner and it was far more impressive in person than in the photos. I'm still not sure of logic behind the hordes of people that want a photo of themselves with the waterfalls but I guess I'm not meant to understand everything...

Wall Street Bull:
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9/11 Memorial:
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We'd built up a mean appetite by then so we headed of to Katz Deli (as seen in Man V Food) for a big sandwich. We shared a Rubin Sandwich which is a spiced corned beef with sauerkraut, cheese and mustard on Rye bread with some pickles on the side. Sounds pretty plain but I (Blake) REALLY enjoyed it. This is the place where they filmed When Harry met Sally.
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Day 3

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Today I (Blake) was down with the sickness so I just rested most of the day while we did some planning for the rest of our trip in New York and the rest of North America. It really is a massive place and we're not sure how much of it we'll actually be able to see in 3 months. We only really left the house for Michelle's French onion soup at TGI Friday's and to pick up our New York Pass. If your visiting New York and intend to see 3-4 of the main attractions each day you should easily get your moneys worth with the pass (well we did anyway). Entry into the NY monuments and the short group tours that we wanted to see were between $20-$45 each so that stacks up quite quickly.

Day 4

This was one of our "up and at 'em" days. I'd mostly lost my voice by this time so Michelle was totally running the show! We started the morning with the tour around the Bronx. We met our tour guide at a cafe in the centre of Manhattan and started to wonder how we were actually going to get around the Bronx.. in a bus that looks like a truck!! First stop.. a visit to a gospel church!! We also stopped at the Yankee stadium for a quick photo shoot. The rest of the tour was pretty average though a lot of the scenery seemed familiar (i.e. off the movies).

Bronx Tour:
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After the tour, and a quick lunch that Michelle had packed for us, we went to the Intrepid, Sea, Air & Space museum. Unfortunately the space shuttle Enterprise pavilion was closed after damage done in Hurricane Sandy. It was really interesting to see how small the submarine is and to imagine what it would be like to spend a month or two with the same people in that small space. The aircraft carrier was huge. It had a crew of 3200 people which is ridiculous. The technology for the aeroplane elevator (used to take the planes from the hangar deck to the flight deck was taken from Radio city (in NYC). The guide said that during WWII there were military guards near the elevator at Radio city to prevent the technology being stolen. Pretty good story (especially if its true!). We also saw a Concorde and a few of the different types of planes that had served on aircraft carriers. It was interesting from a technical standpoint, but I think Michelle got a bit bored quite quickly. I offered to pay her back by seeing a Broadway show but it just didn't turn out. (Broadway tickets here are EXPENSIVE- If you are willing to pay $200 for a decent seat, that's cool.. but we're kinda on a budget!)
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On the way home, we popped into the Empire State Building. The building was very classy inside and out. The security staff at the scanners confiscated our camera tripod as it "looked like a weapon". It was one of those €10 flexible plastic tripods that was only 10cm tall. We could have collected it after but Michelle lost the ticket :(. We hardly used it anyway..
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Day 5

Michelle had finally convinced me to go and see the wax models at Madame Tussaud's. Absolutely no chance at the standard door price but since we had our all inclusive card we gave it a shot. Michelle was pretty excited to meet Jacob & Edward from Twilight. This place is actually surprisingly quite fun. I got to kick Justin Bieber in the nuts (been wanting to do it for so long); And i finally got blessed by the one and only- the Pope (don't worry, he only touched me in a good place i.e. no charges will be filed)!! Woody Allen found himself another young asian girl! LOL. (Not sure why Blake wanted to punch Gandhi?!?) Tried to do the Tricky Dick (Richard Nixon) victory pose but ended up doing the Japanese schoolgirl pose. So embarrassing.
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MOMA:
The famous Museum of modern art. There was a few artists and paintings that Michelle had studied at school but apart from that there was a lot of art that required an imagination. Unfortunately neither of us are sufficiently imaginative so it just looked like a pile of junk. I liked it better that the Guggenheim in Bilbao but that isn't saying much. No more modern art for the two of us I'd say. Not sure whether our favourite was the stretched stockings (which according to Michelle it represent testicles..) or the pile of couch stuffing on the floor.
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Top of the Rock
We saw the Top of the Rock at night so we could compare with the day time view from the Empire state building. We both preferred the night time view and having the Empire state bldg in the mix certainly livened up the view. It was around 3 °C with a light mist and blasting wind.. Really cold up there. If it was a bit warmer we might have stayed for longer but as it was we spent 15-20minutes up there.
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After surviving this huge day on a chicken sandwich each we were absolutely famished. We went a bit overboard with our dinner order but managed to roll our way home and into bed. We keep forgetting that the standard serving size of a main course is more than we need without even thinking of an entree or dessert.
Potato skins; huge piece of steak; pasta- thought we try the American pasta.. doesn't quite live up to the Italian standard
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Day 6

Michelle freaked out last night as we hadn't worked out where we are going from tomorrow onward. So we locked ourselves up in the hotel until we managed to organise our trip for the next few weeks. Unfortunately booking hotels at the last minute was to cost us a lot of $$$. But that's just the way it is. Originally we were going to drive to Lake Placid (where the winter olympics were held) but since a snow storm has been forecast, we decided to stay in NYC for another 2 days then held towards Niagara Falls to visit Amanda and Lee (Michelle's friends in Rochester). We did end up getting a 4star hotel in the touristy part of Boston for $75/night with a low bid on Priceline (my new favourite website) so we did have at least one win.

Once we got ourselves organised, we left our hotel at 3pm to grab some $1 pizza for lunch!!

Day 7

A real action packed day today. Wake up, pack, move hotels and wait to check in... We decided to head to a discount store we'd read about in New York called Century 21. Its a large discount store that basically buys all of last season/unsold name brand clothes and accessories and resells them for around 40-60% off. We had a ball here getting some cheap clothes. Unfortunately American sizing is a bit larger than Aussie. Most of the medium jackets I tried on were too big for me :(. And there weren't any S sizes. Either way we got some goodies to keep us warm for the next few months.

We decided the cheapest thing to eat in NYC was the $1 pizzas.. so we couldn't resist getting another for dinner again. We were quieting enjoying our slice of pizza, until a song came on- the guy next to us jumped out of his seat and started dancing like a spastic (we thought he must have really like the song), but he started shouting at the pizza guy 'Eat a dick'.. then he started accusing the pizza guy for saying 'Eat a dick' to him?!?! He was throwing the chairs.. screaming.. shouting. It went on for a good 10 minutes. The cops were called, but they took forever to respond. It was quite entertaining.. but also pretty scary!!

Day 8

Got up early so I could get a swanky haircut. I was really tempted to go to one of the old school New York barbers that give a you a hot towel shave and shine your shoes with the haircut. Unfortunately 9months of travel have made me too stingy. We loved our shopping experience at Century 21 so much we decided to go and check out the other one in Queens (that Paulyn had advised us to see). We started our subway trip from downtown Manhattan and must have taken the slow train as it took us over an hour to get there... We got our shopping fix for the next couple of months so we should be good for a while longer. Either way our bags are getting quite full so we can't fit a lot more.

Time to get out of NYC...

xoxo B&M

Posted by blake-michelle 19:44 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Iceland

Reykjavik

rain 8 °C

Iceland

On the way to the airport in Barcelona we got a sprinkling of snow as a goodbye present from Spain. We arrived in London and after being questioned by a grumpy immigration officer at Gatwick, we were into the city for the day to rest up before heading off to Iceland. Just as well we did because Blake was sick when we got to London. Luckily it was a flash sickness that seemed to only last a day or so. The weather was freezing cold (2 °C) and it was snowing a little too.

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The next day we spent the morning chilling out as our flight was in evening, so we had heaps of time to kill. We thought about visiting Madame Tussaud's because it was just nearby but it cost nearly £40 each to get in, so we just gave it a miss. We took the tube all the way to the airport which took 1.5 hours which was good because it helped us kill some time. Hahaha.. We spent the rest of our afternoon at Heathrow airport trying to rid ourselves of every pound that we had left.

By the time we arrived in Reykjavik (Iceland) it was just over midnight (our flight was slightly delayed unfortunately). The flight only took just over 3 hours which was good. Luckily we had pre-purchased our flybus ticket (airport bus) which drops us off at our hotel/apartment, because it was just chaotic when we arrived at the airport. It was late, raining, and it seemed like everyone from our flight was trying to get on the bus. The flybus was a pretty good option as it dropped us off at our apartment door (well close enough anyway).

We got dropped off at our apartment without any hassle but when we got there, our room key wasn't there as per instruction. The place is a self-service apartment so there is no reception. Luckily there was a 'reception' phone in the building and we happily woke up the person on duty (at 2am). After fussing about on the phone for a good 5 minutes which felt like a lot longer.. we finally got access to our room which is way bigger than the one I booked. The guy on the phone must have just given us an upgrade to a 1 bedroom apartment instead of a studio, so we didn't complain. It was a very lovely apartment.

Day 2

Iceland apparently has the best tap water in the world- and it does taste pretty good. But the hot water (which is sourced from a different pipe) smells like rotten eggs!! Yes.. smells like sulphur.

We decided to sleep in this morning as we didn't get to bed till nearly 3am. It was one of the best sleeps we'd had in ages- the bed and pillows was soooo comfortable!! Especially after the dodgy bed in London. We started our day with a nice walk in the fresh air to the city centre. Luckily for us it is just a 5 minutes walk down our street. We stopped at the tourist information centre and asked what we thought was a very simple question. "What can we do in town that's cheap and Icelandic." The tourist info lady (who spoke perfect english, like most Icelandic people we met) scratched her head for a minute and said we could walk along the marina to find lots of restaurants, some of which are cheap. She had no ideas for anything else so we went for a walk down the marina and found a couple of expensive restaurants. I think Reykjavic isn't the place for a cheap couple of day stop over. Maybe its better outside the city.

We ended up finding a place with a decent menu that served seafood, and was reasonably priced. After, we checked tripadvisor and it just so happened to be one of the top recommended restaurants in Reykjavik. Our first meal in Iceland was really quite good. Blake had the 2 course seafood menu which included the fish soup which tasted like thai curry (lots of coconut in it) and a fish dish. I had fish for entree and yummy sushi!! Unfortunately our bellies are still recovering our being sick in Spain, so the food (besides the sushi) was little bit rich for our belly. But it was a yummy lunch.
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After lunch we went for a stroll along the city lake.. paid the swans & ducks a visit. Then walked over Perlan also known as the pearl (on the top of Öskjuhlíð hill) for a view of the city. Unfortunately the weather was a bit cloudy, windy and a little bit wet. We were kinda hoping to see snow here but apparently not... :( :(. It is at least 5 °C warmer than London! Very disappointed with the weather. No ice in Iceland.
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The view of Reykjavik:
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We had booked to go on the northern lights tour tonight, but unfortunately it was cancelled because there were too many clouds. We'll try again tomorrow.

Day 3: Blue Lagoon

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We booked a tour to the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa which basically took us there and back (and includes the admission to the blue lagoon). As we left Reykjavik it was raining, the sky was dark.. not a great day to be out sitting in a hot spring. But luckily when we got there (40 minutes bus ride out of Reykjavik) it was blue skies and the sun was out.. YAY :).

The Blue Lagoon is actually a man-made lagoon located in a lava field. The water is fed by a water output from a geothermal power plant (the water is totally refreshed every 40 hours). The water's minerals (sulphur & silica) is apparently good for skin so we made sure we slathered the white sludge all over us! Before entering the lagoon, we had to shower without your bathing suit. There's even massive signs that show you which part of your body you had to clean!! Hahaha.. there's also a 'shower monitor'!! In both of the change rooms, there are supervisors that stand by the exit making sure you had a shower before you can leave the change room.

We weren't too sure what the bottom of the lagoon would feel like. I thought it would be like lava stones on the ground and spiky but it was surprisingly smooth... I guess some of the calcium must have settled out of the hot water.
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Yes it was a very cold day- temperatures around 7 °C.. The thought of wearing swimmers was just ridiculous. Michelle was freezing her arse off before she got in. Luckily the water was so nice and warm with temperatures around 37-39 °C. Some parts of the lagoon (near the pumps) are even hotter- nearly 100 °C (obviously you can't get in those parts)... There is also a sauna, steam room & baths, sun bathing area (indoors) and an awesome waterfall that gave the best massage!! There was also free silica mud that you can use for your face and body. There was one part of the lagoon where the floor was very gluey and felt like you were standing on a bed of seaweed.. it's actually mud!! I assume that's where there get the silica mud for everyone to rub on their faces & bodies!! Hahaha..
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We topped the day off with some minke whale & smoked puffin for dinner at a Icelandic/Spanish tapas place called Tapas Barinn.. yum yum. We read on tripadvisor that they serve pretty good minke whale & puffin so we thought we give it a go. They had a special icelandic gourmet menu which consisted of 7 tapas dishes that are traditional Icelandic food, and it was really yummy!! Smoked puffin surprisingly tasted great - like beef jerky but not dried. Minke whale looks like beef steak but tasted more like a fishy kangaroo with the tough texture and it is very lean (no blubber). FYI - neither Minke whale or Puffin are endangered species...

Michelle with brennivín shots (an Icelandic caraway liquor); Smoked puffin with blueberry “brennivín” sauce; Icelandic sea-trout with peppers-salsa; Lobster tails baked in garlic; Pan-fried line caught spotted catfish with lobster sauce; Grilled Icelandic lamb Samfaina Minke Whale with cranberry-sauce; Minke whale with cranberry and Malt sauce; White chocolate "Skýr" mousse with passion coulis:
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It was still pretty cloudy tonight, so no northern lights tour.. :( :(. At this rate, we'll probably never get to see it.

Day 4

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It was raining on our last day in Reyjkavik.. (still no snow :() We went for a stroll along the coast. Even though it was raining, the view was still pretty good.
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I (Michelle) saw this burgerjoint on a video that was on our icelandair flight. I didn't have headphones at the time to listen to the video, so i don't know what was said about it, but we thought we give it a go. Not the cheapest burger but it was yum and the atmosphere in this tiny burgerjoint was really cool. Blake said it reminds him of the burger joint in the Ugly duckling "taste the secret" album. We shared a burger between the two of us because Blake wanted to have Europe's best hotdog (as voted in the Guardian newspaper in Britain).. which is here in Iceland. The sausage was made of lamb, as well as the traditional pork/beef and it was served with fried shallots and sweet mustard. Would have been perfect with hot sour mustard but it was just a bit too much with the sweet stuff.
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After our burger & hotdog, we went and checked out the Hallgrímskirkja- a modern looking church built on top of a hill that overlooks Reykjavik. At the front is a statue of Leif Ericsson- the Norse explorer who sailed to North America in the 10th century (492 years before Columbus!!!). This statue was given to iceland by the americans in 1930. Inside the church is very simple. It looks more like a concert hall than a church.
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On the way home, we popped into the Icelandic Phallological Museum (aka. penis museum). It has the world's largest display of penises and penile parts with 280 specimens from 93 species of animals includes 55 penises taken from whales, 36 from seals and 118 from land mammals. Thats a lot of cock!
From memory: Michelle next to a Sperm Whale knob; Blake looking up at another whales knob; Michelle dicking around on the phone and the iron; Damn! almost walked into an elephant cock!
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Finally we got to go on the Northern lights tour. We left at 9pm, and was driving to somewhere south of the city. There was 8 buses of us on this tour.. so lots of people were expecting to see something!! It was a cold and windy night. The moon unfortunately was so bright and round which ruined it a little. We didn't really see much of it- only a faint green in the sky. But our awesome camera managed to capture it way better than what our eyes could see. So we pretty much saw the northern lights through our camera. We were offered to try again tomorrow night but unfortunately we won't be here to give it another go. It would have been nice to see it properly in the sky but we were happy that our camera managed to capture what we couldn't see :). In hindsight the best way to see the lights would be to rent a car and a GPS and look up the forecast on the internet just before you head out. It was good fun but we were surrounded by people that seemed to think that turning the flash on may help show the Aurora.
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That is it for Iceland and Europe... We definitely would love to come back to Iceland and check out the Geyser next time (the one which all others are named after!)

That's it for Europe.. Ciao Europe.. Thanks for having us :).

xoxo M&B

Posted by blake-michelle 16:43 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

Barcelona

Final leg of the Spain tour

sunny 13 °C

Barcelona

We hopped on the train from Valencia to Barcelona jumped in a taxi and made it to our apartment... Well almost. The taxi driver dropped us at 39 La Rambla, not 39 Rambla de Catalunya (we showed him the address written on paper so we blame him!). We went into a hotel and asked directions and he said we were only 800m away. I said walk it but it turns out it was more like 1.8km. Glad the guy at the hotel helped us but really wish he was a better estimate! We were shown into our apartment, which was really quite massive, and settled in in no time. We went out for our first evening walk and some tapas to settle ourselves in. Barcelona is far cleaner and more visually open than the other places we've seen in the south of Spain. It was probably about as expensive as Madrid but we enjoyed ourselves far more here.

Day 2

In the morning, we joined a free walking tour around the gothic area of Barcelona. It was a bit of a let down after all of the walking tours we've been on so far. There wasn't much history and we stopped for 'free time' every 20 minutes... Seemed like it was stretching a 1hour tour to 2.5 hours. We didn't actually see many gothic buildings and it was a very cold windy day in Barcelona, so walking around in the cold wasn't fun. Either way we didn't pay much and its always nice to have someone else giving us directions.

After the tour, we had lunch at La Fonda as recommended by Belen. The food was great and fairly cheap (the most worth it meal we had in Barcelona- €81 for 2 courses each plus wine: fish soup; shellfish crepes gratin; grilled veges; duck confit; beef cheeks; tuna
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After filling our bellies with yummy lunch, we went for a stroll around the harbour followed by a visit to the Maritime museum. Michelle decided to give the it a pass. We were pretty excited as the tourist information had mentioned that the multimillion euro refurbishment was completed 3 days before. Mum, Dad and I were all quite jealous of Michelle by the time we finished there. The centrepiece was a reconstruction of a 16th century war galley which was massive and there was some interesting tools and equipment in one of the rooms but that was about all that really interested us. There was information in English, it just wasn't that interesting.

Mum and Dad taking the boat to the new world.
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A reproduction of a 16th century galley used by Austrian Admirals to defeat the Turkish armada
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Day 3

After I (Blake) cooked up a feast for breakfast (eggs & mushroom on toast), everyone went shopping in the morning. Mum and Dad went down to the gothic quarter to get suited up for our fancy dinner and Michelle and I decided to be lazy and just focus on the closest El Corte Inglese (Big department store). They must have a lot of thieves in Barcelona as I had to get staff to unfold and security tag a shirt so I could try it on. Michelle chose a bikini top and got in trouble for walking around the mens department with it. Anyway we both finally chose our clothes and the cashier said that we should go upstairs to fill out a discount/tax free form. We didn't quite understand but she said it was quick then sort of turned around and served another person so we figured we'd just get the form. We waited a good 15minutes for our 10% tourist discount form saving us a grand total of €3. Mum and Dad didn't have much luck with shoes (and neither have I) as they don't carry half sizes for wider feet or the shoes just weren't big enough?!?! None of us are giants or have problems back home so not too sure what the deal is. Maybe Spaniards just have skinny feet.

After getting fancy new clothes we were all ready to head out to the two Michelin star restaurant at Lasarte. Michelle and I are lucky enough to have already experience 2 different Michelin star restaurants on this trip. My parents would never have considered dining at a Michelin restaurant so we decided to shout them dinner. And we're pretty sure they enjoyed it. What a way to end their holiday. Dad even bought a collared shirt and shoes for the occasion :).

The food tasted better than it looks and it looks damn good! The service was outstanding- proper silver spoon service but unfortunately great food & service comes with a big price!! We all thoroughly enjoyed dinner and that is all that counts, plus it saves us buying christmas and birthday presents for a while :) :) :). We also got to meet the chef at the end of the night which was special. Not sure if he understood english but he smiled when we complemented his food. Michelle said he was young and hot too.
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We started with the Appetizers which is not on the menu and check out the selection of butter: mushroom, tomato, beetroot & spinach flavour
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The tasting Menu- 10 dishes...
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Refresher before dessert; And the petit four; Check out the tea timer...
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Day 4: Our last day in Spain

We spent our last day in Spain visiting Gaudi's creation, which dad was very excited about. We started at the famous Sagrada Familia- Gaudi's masterpiece. It is a catholic church that is a UNESCO heritage site. It has been under construction for the last 130 years and won't be finished for at least another 30 years. We were expecting the exterior to have the 'wow' factor but unfortunately it was quite disappointing. Maybe it will look better when its done with all of the cranes out of the way.
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This is what it is meant to look like when completed (courtesy of the brochure..)
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The interior of the church was amazing though. It didn't look like a church on the inside. It felt like we were on a spaceship. There weren't many or any religious paintings (surprise surprise); No religious stained glass windows which was different. The inside was definitely a lot nicer than the exterior.
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After lunch at the gothic quarter, Michelle & I chilled out back at the apartment while mum and dad went shopping. After the sun went down, we went to check out Casa Batllo which wasn't far from our apartment. It is a building designed by Gaudi. Casa dels ossos (House of Bones) as the locals call it because of its design. The roof looks like the back of a dragon and nothing in the building is straight. There is a room in the house that makes you feel like you are walking through the ribcage of a massive creature. The building is amazing & the interior is very different. Michelle & I wouldn't normally pay €20 each to get in, but since mum & dad were paying for it we went along to check it out.

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That is it for Spain. Overall we had a great time in Spain. Michelle & I enjoyed the north of Spain the best (not to forget the best spanish food in Bilbao & our lovely spanish hospitality in Leon). The south of Spain has been a little bit disappointing. I think we just expected too much from it. Plus Michelle was sick half of the time in Seville & Granada and the food in the south of Spain was a little bit of a let down and it didn't quite agree with our stomach either. We do however like Barcelona. Maybe a bit of summer sunshine would help next time.

Next stop ICELAND!!! Adios Spain..

xoxo B&M

Posted by blake-michelle 13:50 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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