Monday, 25 November 2013

American Adventure Part III

I've finally got round to writing about the third part of our adventure- Vegas! 
It was great after so much travelling around to stop, hand back the car and just be lazy. And for me, drink again (yippee!) I could barely contain my excitement on the way in- driving towards the strip is really something else, so bright and welcoming. We stayed at Luxor (the big pyramid) for the first 6 nights, which was a step up from last time at Terribles Casino. Our room was actually part of the pyramid and so had a sloping wall on the side of the window.

Our first of not many wins
Outside Luxor

 We had fun on the first night wandering around all of our favourite haunts from last time- a particular highlight on that night was the duelling pianos in a bar in New York New York. I love this hotel because you can actually walk around 'mini New York,' with apartment blocks and stuff.

New York New York
Our friends Rhian and Adam arrived the next day. We visited them at their hotel room in Paris, which looked out on the Bellagio fountains themselves! Lovely. Together we had some adventures: drinking alcoholic iced drinks in tall refillable cups, riding the roller coaster at New York, New York and playing on the kids games, trying our hand at gambling. 

At Senor Frogs
Trying to play the slots (I don't get it!)
They couldn't help themselves
Just like last time, Lee and I chickened out of playing any 'proper' games, opting instead for  'the big wheel.' Overall it wasn't too kind to us, but we did have one rather amazing night where we played for more than two hours with only twenty dollars! And of course the waitresses bring you free drinks if you're playing, which we took advantage of (about six each if I remember rightly). Crazy really when you think a Jack Daniels and Coke in the Bellagio where we were playing is somewhere between five and ten dollars a drink. We also went to see the Cirque Du Soleil show Mystere. The acrobatics were mind blowing and the music, which included a live opera singer and huge drums, was amazing. I've decided I definitely want a big drum when I finally move into my own apartment.
On Halloween I'm ashamed to admit we didn't dress up, but we headed downtown to bask in the joy of everyone else's costumes. And Americans certainly go all out! It's not often you see middle aged people in full blown fancy dress. Shrek and Fiona, Dracula, a seventy year old Minnie Mouse, you name it. Some of the winning costumes for me were a box of wine, a piñata and an injection. On Freemont street in downtown was an outdoor rave going on with fire blasters around the stage.
We did so many things in our ten days in Vegas it would be impossible to write it all down. We lounged by the pool, went to see Bad Grandpa at the cinema (there was a couple in there with their toddler son-inappropriate much?) and walked for miles and miles taking in the sights and sounds. In the second week we moved to Circus Circus which was not so glamorous but we found the best game in a casino that was a bit like a working men's club- The Dogs! We spent so much time betting 50 cents a go on which computerised dog would come in first. Good times. We watched the volcano outside Mirage hotel, a fully blown erupting extravaganza. We went to see the Beatles Cirque Du Soleil show 'Love.' We ate at a lovely French restaurant and a an American restaurant where Lee had Chicken fried Steak and fries, with a side of Corn bread, enough to feed five people. 

The Beatles 'Love'
Watching the fountains at the Bellagio
 Our last day was weird and most unique. In the morning we headed downtown for the Million Mask March. It wasn't a huge turnout but we felt proud to be part of something that was going on worldwide- people standing together against corporate greed and corrupt governments.
After that we went to try and get cheap tickets to Le Reve- supposedly the best Cirque Du Soleil show in Vegas. We tried to do this last time but it didn't work out so great. The deal is you can get tickets for 75 dollars if you go to a presentation at the Jockey Club on buying a 'vacation timeshare.' You have to be married (check- we showed them photos as proof!) but last time we got kicked out because we told them we weren't currently working. I guess sometimes it's difficult for Americans to understand the concept of time off?! Anyway, we were briefed by the nice lady at the ticket booth (who Lee later told me was most definitely a post-op transsexual- and he knew this because they were flirting...) on how exactly not to F up. We went along to the Jockey Club and listened to quite a fun presentation about how we could improve our amount of vacation time for ourselves as a 'family.' Obviously as things have been going the past couple of years I think we actually need less time together and less holiday! Three gruelling hours later and a near escape from the purchase of some hotel gift vouchers we emerged with our Le Reve tickets clutched in our hands.
The show was worth every penny. It's an acrobatic extravaganza set on a circular stage in the middle of the audience, which submerges underwater and then reappears intermittently throughout the show. There was syncronised swimming, there was diving, there was acrobatics up high on wires. It was truly amazing! And they gave us a free program and let us take photos.
The Revolution is nigh

And so I conclude the blog posts entitled 'American Adventure.' It was a wicked trip, varied exciting and fun. Although I have to say it's nice to be out of the land of eternal unnecessary tipping and back at work!  

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Big Love Korea

So here we are back in Korea, back in our old job. Apart from the other people teaching here, everything is still the same. Lesson plans and resources are prepared for us, the classes are easy and (sometimes) fun and there are new students all the time. I was sitting in Bank class giving out stamps in passports and I had a bit of moment. I was like, "Have nearly two years passed since I last did this? Weird." It all seemed so incredibly... normal.
We've been to a fair few countries in the last three years and attempted to start new lives in three. I find the process exhausting- getting used to the things that are different or strange, and trying to get around the place (which for me with my almost non existent sense of direction is a real struggle). So it was great to arrive at Incheon airport, catch the bus to the local area without a thought, and easily give the taxi driver directions to our school. 
I'm enjoying going to old favourite restaurants and catching up with old friends. I'm also enjoying trying out new places and making new friends, although I have the freedom to do this at my own pace. 
When we first arrived we realised (too late) that we'd left one of our back packs in the taxi we got from the airport. We were totally panicking because this backpack had one of our laptops in it-with Lee's recent Uni work on it- two hard drives, PSP, ipod, HDMI cable, English to Korean plug adapters and all sorts of chargers. It was a struggle to be upbeat for those first couple of days, stuck in limbo while we waited and hoped that the taxi driver would bring it back. 
The following evening he did. It had taken him a while because he'd been retracing his steps, trying to find the owner of the bag.
I just love this. And I have to ask, 'why wouldn't we expect this kindness in other countries?' It's sad to say, but Korea is the only place I've been to where I had faith that the taxi driver would return. Sure, some Koreans have annoying habits such as a tendency to dig their elbows into your ribs to allow them to get on the subway, or chewing loudly with their mouths open, but they are also honest and respect other people, which are much more important traits to have.

I'm happy we're back. I'm excited to spend hours singing my heart out at karaoke. I'm excited to eat lots of BBQ. I'm excited to have new adventures such as skiing and visiting different parts of Korea. And most of all, I'm excited because I feel like I'm back in my home away from home.  

Friday, 1 November 2013

American Adventure Part II (with a side of Mexico)

It seems like about two years since my last blog post. I will now attempt to pick up where I left off.
On our last afternoon/evening in San Diego we went to the Old Town, where you can walk around and see loads of houses and things built by the first settlers to the city. There was the first synagogue, post office and theatre. It was a shame we got there a little late so the places were closed to look round, but we still had a lot of fun ambling up and down the pretty streets.
Witch's House?

In the evening we (sleepily) watched some live singers and I ate Creole Catfish, which was lovely.
Our one day trip to Mexico was somewhat of an adventure. Due to car hire restrictions, we had a mere 24 hours to spend there, although I think we made the most of what little time we had. Crossing the border was simple enough but due to a combination of the crazily big road system afterwards and my terrible navigation, we got instantly off the route we'd carefully planned out (i.e lost). The roads were predictably much scarier than the ones in the US and after nearly crashing/being crashed into I was close to freaking out, especially when we realised the car insurance wasn't going to kick in for another hour and a half. We found a car park to sit in and have a romantic salad picnic, whilst waiting for the minutes to pass by and for me to gain some composure.
At 2pm we went out onto the roads again, in search of the tourist area. What we found instead was the border crossing going back to America, whose queue we were then not allowed to leave. So we were forced to cross, turn around and cross again (I wonder how many people can say they've done that in one day?)
When we finally started to drive around Tijuana we decided it was much too ghetto to tempt us to leave the car and go for a walk, so instead we headed for the coastal town of Rosarito, a bit further south. We had fish tacos and ceviche (raw fish with chopped up salad) at a beach bar next to some horses and donkeys. The beach was quiet, a little chilly but beautiful and we imagined it would look very different in the summer. Then whilst the sun set over the Pacific, we drove further south along the coast to Ensenada. Tired but aware we only had one night to experience Mexico, we went to a bar. And boy did we experience Mexico! We got talking to a group of students, who took us to a couple of 'real Mexcian bars' where Lee found his favourite ever drink (a sort of coffee flavor beer) which later made him sick due to its deceptively strong percentage. The last place we went to was so cool- the centre bar made of wooden panels and propped up by drunk looking middle aged Mexicans, whist a four piece guitar-accordion group played in the background.

Lee's beloved
And so it was that I came to drive ten hours from Ensenada, Mexico to Lake Havasu, Arizona with a hangover. Oh that's right, via a blow hole somewhere almost an hour in the wrong direction. I don't regret that though, the Buffadora was cool and is apparently one of the few of its kind in the world.

Hours later we were happily sailing up the freeway in California when suddenly I spotted some pretty flashing lights in my rear view mirror and realised they were in fact flashing at me to pull over. Yes that's right, stupid idiot here got a speeding ticket for going (wait for it) 23 miles over the limit. Argh. I do think he should've let me off though, but as he spoke to us solely from the passenger side of the car, it was left up to Lee to flirt his way out of the situation.
Anyway, after than we kept driving (at a much more leisurely pace I might add). And driving. Another lovely sunset that led us into the desert around dusk. The shadows on the huge sand dunes to either side of us were quite an eerie sight. And it turns out a lot of these roads have no lights, which was pretty scary, added to which a lot of the big cars here have headlights that could blind you.Then there were dips in the road- up and down like a roller coaster in the dark. And then we got lost and went up a sandy dirt path that had a sign saying 'unmaintained road, enter at own risk.'
All in all it was a pretty intense day.


The hotel in Lake Havasu city was only really a place to lay our heads, but we did have a small drive around in the morning. Like so many places in the states that aren't really famous or that you'd never really know to visit, it was truly beautiful.

Lake Havasu

We had a much more leisurely drive that day the mere 4 hours up to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, where we stayed in a rather plush hotel complete with hot tub which we used gratefully as it was so cold that night that we when we woke up there was ice all over the car.
Our day in the South Rim of the Canyon was spectacular. Wanting to get into the canyon and not just along the top, I dragged Lee on an 8 mile trek. We ignored the signs that said only to do this walk if you had proper walking gear, as we thought they were probably exaggerating. It turned out they weren't and therefore we (especially me) spent the whole time feeling stupid in shorts and pumps when everyone around us had hiking boots and sticks. But whatever. The two metre wide path was pretty scary at first as it had a sheer drop into the canyon to the side. Once I got used to that, however, I thoroughly enjoyed the amazingness of being inside the canyon. We got quite far down before giving up and turning back. As we'd suspected, the walk back up was painful as hell and left me hardly being able to walk up and down stairs for the next few days!
After another lovely sunset at the Canyon we drove another three hours to Bullhead City, where we sank, shattered into the bed at the motel.

The next day was our final day with the car. We drove to the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, then into Vegas.
Lake Mead

It was an emotional farewell with the car. I'm not sure exactly how many miles we drove, but I think it was near to a thousand. We cleaned out all the sticky sweet wrappers and as much of the sand as we could before plodding off to wait for the bus like mere mortals.