Saturday, 3 November 2012

I love Halloween!

I carved the one on the right and hubby the one on the left

For those that don't know, Halloween was celebrated on October 31 and it is my favourite holiday here in the USA! Actually, I don't know if it can be called a holiday since you don't even get a day off, but hey, when do Americans get any holidays off work...? 

I heard that many parents are against Halloween because of it's pagan roots and whatever, and they wouldn't let their kids even hear of Halloween. I think that Halloween is just one big party for all the kids and now-a-days no one really cares where it came from. It's just a time of year when you do cool stuff like dress up, go trick-or-treating and eat lots of candy. I think that instead of ignoring a very popular celebration, parents should explain to their kids why they don't celebrate Halloween as a holiday, but still let their kids have fun and don't be left out.

In Israel we celebrated Purim, which is a Jewish holiday, and you dress up and give food presents to each other. Oh, and you eat Ozney Aman which are really tasty cookies with a filling. School usually organise activities for the students and everyone dresses up. Every year my school also had a best costume competition which was fun, even if you just watched! When I came to Australia I realised that Aussie kids don't really have a holiday when they can dress up and have fun which is kind of sad... I wonder if Halloween is gonna get popular in Australia.

Things I like about Halloween 

·        Spooky decorations 
·        Costumes 
·        Pumpkin carving 
·        Pumpkin seeds 
·        Fancy dress parties 
·        (Free) candy 
·        Pumpkin Chunkin and other fall festivals
·        Availability of cool items you can never find during the year
·        Haunted houses (I didn't have the chance to go this year)

I'm sure I forgot something but you get the idea. 
Pumpkin Chunkin
This one was the winner of the first round

Happy Halloween! 
I can't wait for next year!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Ketchikan, AK

The first port the cruise ship stopped in was Ketchikan. Ketchikan is a small port town that can be reached only by sea or air. 

Our cruise ship stayed at port until 2pm or so which might or might not be enough time to explore depending on what you want to do and see. If you go on 2 tours, it probably won't leave you enough time to wonder around town. Another thing to be prepared for is rain. For us it rained most of the morning, so we didn't get out until it eased of, and then we went on a tour at about 11am, so unfortunately I didn't get to see as much as I wanted to. Hubby didn't feel like he missed out on anything so it really depends on what you're into.  

Ketchikan, like every other port town we visited, is full with jewelry stores, which, as it unsurprisingly turned out, are owed by the cruise ship companies. I didn't care for them in the slightest and I don't quite understand why people suddenly want to buy jewelry when they go on a cruise or to Alaska or whatever. Anyway, there isn't much to see in town but the couple of places I didn't get to go to...

One place worth going to is Creek Street. It is in town but a bit of a walk from the dock. I had a glance at it from the tour bus and it looks cool and very photogenic. Also, I heard later that people saw some sea lines over there.

The second place I wanted to go to and didn't have the time is Saxman Village. It has some large totem poles and should be interesting for those who are interested in the natives' culture. One thing I didn't realise is that it's a fair way out of town and more more like a bus ride rather than a walk away. 

After the quick walk around town we had to go back to the port for our tour. I guess this is the time to mention that tours in Alaska are expensive and totally overpriced, in my opinion anyway. You can find alternative to the tours offered by the cruise company but I didn't find them to be that much cheaper. Another thing to keep in mind is that you're better off pre-ordering the tours as the price of the tours goes up once you're on but if you pre-order you can still cancel it once you're on the ship. This is the case with Princess Cruises anyway. Also, once you get off the ship there are companies offering their tours directly (some of them are the same ones as offered by the the cruise company) and I imagine that their prices might be cheaper or at least the same as the cruise pre-order price. 
Totem pole in Ketchikan - bringing salmon to town
We went on a Rainforest Canopy & Zipline Expedition and it was lots of fun! Some of the ziplines and suspension bridges are located over a creek/river and this is where some bears live and feed on the salmon! I saw a mum and a cab when we went on a suspension bridge but those that were quick enough to look down while ziplining saw more bears. It was really cool!  
I guess you'll have to take my word for it, that there was a bear down there.
This is the least blurry photo I have.

View from the trees
NOTE for those who want to bring a camera. Before you go out ziplining the guides stripe your camera to your gear so it is secure when you zipline so make sure you have the strap on your camera. Also, keep in mind that it might rain and take a cover for your camera or have pockets with zippers. As you can see a DSLR is a bad idea on this tour and I'm not sure they'll even let you take it. Before going to Alaska I bought a cheap compact camera and I'm glad I did. It was very handy on this tour and another tour I took, also in a rain forest. 

This is it for Ketchikan. Next port was Juneau, which is the state capital of Alaska and pronounce nothing like it's spelled. 

Friday, 28 September 2012

Vancouver, BC

The trip to Alaska actually started in Vancouver, BC, Canada. The cruise ship for Alaska was leaving from Vancouver and I convinced hubby to take an extra day off work and arrive in Vancouver a day earlier, so we ended up with 2 half days in Vancouver.

I loved Vancouver! It's dynamic and multicultural and in my opinion is the Canadian version of Melbourne. I'm more of an outdoors person but it's hard to ignore the energy of Vancouver and not enjoy it. Definitely recommend to visit although you probably don't need more than 2-3 full days.

We arrived in Vancouver around 10am and had most of the day ahead of us. We stayed at a hotel downtown (YWCA Hotel) and although it's quite expensive staying downtown, you can pretty much walk to most of the places a tourist is likely to go to and the public transport is very accessible and convenient as well.  

One place I really wanted to go to in Vancouver is Capilano Suspension Bridge Park so this was our first destination. The entry is quite pricy, $33.95, but I think it's worth it, obviously depending on what your interests are. The Park is famous for the suspension bridge, which is quite impressive but I personally enjoyed the least. It moves a lot and when I crossed it the first time, I got stuck behind a family that was walking VERY slowly while one of the members was recording them on a video camera. It made me quite motion sick and since it was really busy I couldn't just pass around them and end my misery. So yeah, try to avoid crowds while on the bridge.

After you cross the bridge you get to the Treetop Adventure, which I liked the most. It consists of small suspension bridges and platforms going between the trees. Seeing squirrels is almost guaranteed... no, seriously, it's really cool.

The first part of the Park, unless you go straight to the bridge, is the Cliffwalk. It's pretty cool and since I'm not sure how best to explain the structure, just have a look at the website here.

One part of the Cliffwalk overlooking the trees and the river below
The suspension bridge, view from Cliffwalk
Treetops Adventure

There are a few ways to get to the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. We caught a SeaBus (it's the name of the ferry there) from downtown to Northern Vancouver and from there a bus to the park. On the way back we took one of their free shuttles.

SeaBus, photo taken from ship

From Capilano Suspension Bridge Park we took it easy and went to a restaurant by the water at Canada Place. This is probably the time to mention that Vancouver isn't cheap. Expect Aussie prices and don't forget to tip. Tipping is the same as in the US: 15% expected and 20% for great service (or if you're just as kind...)

Finally we walked to Gastown. It was in the evening so most shops were either closed or closing but it looked like a great place for shopping (including for shoes, ladies!). Saw a couple of alternative clothing shops there with nice pinup dresses but they were both closed... There are also restaurants in the area but I haven't got into any so can't recommend. The steam clock, which I guess is kind of the main touristy attraction in Gastown, didn't impress me but hey, that might be just me.

The next morning we headed to Granville Island. There is a bus going there but it was the weekend and not many buses around so we just walked there. It wasn't too far away for us and the walk over the bridge was really pretty. On the way back we took a ferry and it was the shortest ferry trip ever!

Granville Island is really nice. There are markets with fresh produce, cafes and souvenir stands. It seemed popular for both tourists and locals. Out of the markets there are little shops with different galleries, art stores of different kinds and alike. If you're after mass produced stuff, you'll be disappointed. If you have the time, it's a nice place to visit.

Granville Bridge
Granville Islad, photo taken from the bridge
Granville Markets

This was pretty much the end of our visit to Vancouver. There are a few more placed I would have liked to visit but we really didn't have the time. Text time on my list are Stanley Park, the Aquarium and Chinatown with a return visit to Gastown for shopping and Capilano Suspension Bridge Park.

View from the ship. Not a great photo but I still like it.

What can I say?

Notes if you plan to visit Vancouver
Expect to see many homeless people in Vancouver, just so you don't think that you're in a dodgy part of town or something. They are everywhere downtown. It's really sad...

Granville Street is one of the main streets downtown and if you're staying in the area, like we did, you'll be able to walk or catch one of the public transports to pretty much anywhere a tourist is likely to go.

Weather: It's supposed to rain a fair bit in Vancouver but the weather was sunny and lovely both days we spend there. Probably the sunniest days of our whole trip!

From Airport to downtown: don't waste your money on a taxi. There is a SkyTrain going from the airport downtown. If you stop by the info desk at the airport, they'll give you a map and will advise where to get off. The fare is about $8 and you can use your international Visa card to pay for it.

Money: International cards seem to be accepted with no problem but if you want cash, there is an ATM at the airport.

And last but not least thanks to Patrick who was totally awesome and gave me some great tips for Vancouver!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Back from Alaska!

I got back from the Alaska trip yesterday and couldn't help but updating you guys with a few spoilers. The trip was amazing! I went zip lining and horse riding; saw bears, whales (got an amazing shot!) and a bold eagle and saw and photographed the aurora! It was totally amazing and different to any other place I've been to before. I actually started the trip in Vancouver, BC, spending there 2 half days and enjoyed it a lot as well.   

I had a glance at the hundreds of photos I took and there are some good ones, which I'm very pleased about. Before going on the trip I bought some camera gear and now looking at the photos on the computer I think it was totally worth it.

Since all of the photos from my DSLR are in RAW format and need processing, I'll give you a bit of a spoiler with photos I took on my compact camera. I don't know if the camera is really shit or I'm just used to DSLR quality but yeah, sorry for the lame quality and enjoy anyway!

Ketchikan was the first post we visited on the cruise ship and this is where hubby and I went zipping.  This was the first and the shortest (I think...) zip line. 
There were also suspension bridges in addition to the zip lines. 
Skagway. I really liked the interesting buildings in town.
Went horse riding in a rain forest near Skegway.

Hope to update soon :-)


Friday, 24 August 2012

Work Outfits

I feel like a short and very girly post so it's a work outfits post!

Last week I spend every evening sewing a skirt with a cool material that I found at JoAnns. It was the end of the bolt so I had to do with whatever material was left but I got like 70% off. Sweet! I used it to sew a pleated skirt completely out of my head and I am very proud of the result. I still don't have a good photo of the skirt but I'll get there. Here is what the material looks like. Did you notice that it's not black?

Now back to the outfirts...

Since I started working my fashion challenge was to incorporate the skirts I've sewn in an office-appropriate look. I enjoy wearing the skirts I've made but they have pretty bold prints and they are 100% cotton, which tends to have more of a casual feel to it. So it was a bit of a challenge.

Here is what I came up with. Sorry for the not so great quality of photos but the last thing I feel like doing in the mornings or after work is put a tripod and try and get that perfect shot. As you can see I "recycle" my clothes but never in the same week.

Top - Forever New
Circle Skirt - me
T.U.K shoes and CUE belt 

Top - Forever New
Skirt - me
Aerosoles pumps and CUE belt

Have a great weekend!

Friday, 17 August 2012

Bandelier National Monument

I finally got to edit the photos from New Mexico!

After leaving Grand Sand Dunes National Park we continued our drive to Santa Fe through Alamosa. This way, turning west from the I-25 to Alamosa is longer then going on the I-25 all the way from Denver to Santa Fe but the road is MUCH more scenic and is definitely worth it if you're not in a rush.

When we finally arrived to Santa Fe (we stayed at Residence Inn - Marriott) it was too late to do anything and we were too tired to bother. At that point we didn't have any plans for the next day (it was a spontaneous trip, did I mention?) but luckily there was a book about New Mexico with some great ideas. There is truly a lot to see in New Mexico but because it's quite a large state I reckon it would take a week of driving around to have a good look around, as long as you plan your road trip well.

I wrote down a few ideas for places to see and mapped then on Google Maps. If you plan on visiting New Mexico, have a look at this map.

View Explore New Mexico in a larger map

We had pretty much one day to explore the area so we couldn't drive far, this is why we chose to go to Bandelier National Monument. It is about one hour drive from Santa Fe and has beautiful scenery and archaeology, both things I like. Currently you have to take a bus to Bandelier from a designated car park in Los Alamos. The bus and the parking are free and the bus leaves every 20 minutes so it's quite convenient. I won't expand much about Bandelier as you can get all the information from their website but shortly speaking, there are a few hikes, the main one is called the Main Loop as it takes you around the pueblo. It is quite easy as it is pretty much designed for the general public. Near the end of the loop you can go on another hiked called the Frijolito Trail. This trail is pretty steep and much harder than the Main Loop. You can do the Frijolito Trail as a loop but we just returned the same way we came. I didn't find the ruins at the top very interesting and wouldn't recommend going up just for the sake of the ruins. The steepness provided a good challenge though and the view to the other side of the hill was beautiful.

Here are some photos. Enjoy!

Overlooking the Kiva
Original carvings
View from the top of the Frijolito Trail
View from the other side of the hill, Frijolito Trail.

After the visit to Bandelier National Monument we had a quick look around Los Alamos, a town near Bandalier. The bus driver that took us to Bandelier suggested going to a look-out and this is what we did. Unfortunately I actually don't remember the name of this lake.

Hope you enjoyed the virtual trip to Bandelier! This pretty much sums our trip to New Mexico. On the way back we drove straight up on the I-25 and the views are all the same... If you have the time, find somewhere to visit on the way and to have a proper break from driving. Unfortunately we were in a rush and didn't have the chance.

The small images look really blurry, which drives me crazy! Please enlarge! 

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Smart Shopping

As some of you might know, I started working a couple of weeks ago. It has been great getting out of the house and finally earning some money. It's not a career oriented position but after looking for a job for over 3 months and seeing no light at the end of the tunnel, suddenly landing a reasonably well paid job (in American standard) makes me really happy.

I've moved so much and so many things have changed in my life since pretty much finishing high school that I'm trying not to worry about not having a career oriented job here or not knowing what I'm going to do when I'm back in Australia. Ideally, I'd like to apply for Doctor of Dental Medicine at the University of Sydney. After the army, when it was time to think about university courses, I didn't think I was smart enough to get into dentistry (or medicine but I didn't want to do that). I still don't know if I am smart enough but I guess I'll never find out unless I try.

So anyway, today at work people were talking about saving when grocery shopping. I'll start by saying that Americans love coupons and deals and you can get those for almost anything! This is unlike Australia where people "save" be deciding whether Coles or Woolworths are cheaper and sticking to it. While I got to like coupons for specialty stores (like the sewing store where I shop regularly and save about half of the total bill thanks to coupons) I don't believe in coupon shopping in grocery stores. I think you can save without obsessive coupon collection and regular search for deals. And yes, as someone who wasn't working for 6 months and is about to go to Alaska, I am in a saving mode at the moment and thought I might share my simple techniques of "smart shopping".

Firstly, why I don't like coupons? Coupons and deals actually make you buy more, make you buy stuff you don't need and make you buy it in amounts you don't need. In addition, they often give you discounts on the top brands while the home brands might be the same quality but cost half the price at the first place. That's not saving and definitely not smart shopping.

So how do I smart shop?
  • I buy what I need for the week (in my case I shop once a week). This means skip on luxury items, don't buy items that have a history of going to waste and don't buy replacements for items until I actually run out. So before anything is going to my trolley, I think twice whether I actually need it that week. To help this rule, I try and plan meals for the week and have a shopping list.
  • Experiment with cheaper brands. Many products are quite generic so no matter what brand you buy, you get the same thing and sometimes even better. Also, these products are quite cheap so if the cheaper brand wasn't good you just wasted a couple of dollars but if it was good, you'll save money long term by sticking to it.
Since I got into my smart shopping routine my grocery bill dropped in about $50 a week. No coupons and no hours looking for deals. I think because my techniques are more about smart shopping rather than about saving like mad and giving up on everything you want to buy, they are easier to implement and will work for both, those that need to save on a regular basis and those who want to save for a short while.  


PS - I know I didn't upload the second part of the photos from Santa Fe. I promise I'll get there. I think I need Adobe Lightroom to hurry things up as Photoshop is taking forever.