24.07 – Hoover Dam
24.07.2009 16:01 | J
If Your schedule does not allow a visit to the Grand Canyon (remember, it’s over 500km one way to the South Rim), plan a visit to the Hoover Dam. Multiple companies organize trips to Hoover Dam and the price range varies from 40-50$. A hint: When looking at a price tag, ask whether it includes all taxes and fuel surcharges. It usually becomes more than the advert promises. Also remember the tip for the driver (the range might be here quite huge, from 2$ to 10-15% of the price…).
Hoover Dam (previously Boulder Dam) is one of the most remarkable engineering wonders that mankind has created (I still place the Pyramids of Gisa first :-)). The mighty Colorado has been both the source of live and prosperity but also destruction. The dam was meant to rein in the wrath of the almighty river and so it did!
The construction was started in 1931 and the last concrete was poured in 1935: 2 years ahead of schedule. 16000 men contributing.
The area is also the home land for man-made the Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States.
As nobody was keen on driving, we booked a half-day tour. The drive was quite short – around 1 hour. Gazing outside the window, we notice the huge difference between the real desert area and Vegas which is artificially kept alive. Rocks, sand, sun…
All the vehicles entering the area are subject to a security check, so we had to make a brief stop. This is a normal procedure – Hoover Dam is claimed to be on a list of possible terrorist attacks. Also when entering the premises, there’s another security check – similar to that at any airport. No wonder: no Hoover Dam = no Vegas. So the stake is really high…
We were allowed to enter the Power Plant and were introduced to it’s history and the present day. It was also possible to take pictures. Surprisingly there were no restrictions of any kind.
On our way back we stopped at the Ethel’s Chocolate Factory (free samples offered) & Botanical Cactus Garden.
Our driver kept us entertained all the time and provided us with all kind of hints: what to see, where to eat, what to do with all the free stuff that Vegas has to offer…
( Päivitetty: 30.07.2009 18:13 )
- J | Kommentoi
19.07 – Around Oahu
19.07.2009 15:59 | J
We started the morning with a breakfast in the hotel restaurant, just a bagel and a coffee. I love blueberry bagels but of course nothing can ever compare to the dark rye-bread we have in Finland :-)
Then we went outside. A shuttle-bus was supposed to pick us up from the hotel opposite. We booked a tour named “Royal Circle Island Tour” on the previous day and were very eager to see more of O’ahu.
Our driver was of a very talkative kind. From the very start till the end he’d keep his mouth open. At times I was suffering from a certain type of information overflow. Resulting in – I forgot half of what I heard. On the other hand, You cannot blame those guys - the tips is the only money he gets – so they really try to make the tourists happy :-)
We started the trip driving by the Diamond Head (mountain) and further turned towards the local “Bevely Hills” (Kahala) which is basically a very nice residential area “equipped” with the most expensive houses in Hawaii. But I’m not that interested in the real-estate pricing policy so was mainly looking at the trees and flowers.
We drove along the coast (Hanauma Bay – Halona Lookout – Sandy Beach – Makapu’u). On our way we saw exquisite examples of the nature’s creativity. Sandy beaches, rock foundations, rainforest… We experience a sudden change of the weather – from a zero wind to almost a hurricane, all in one place. If extreme weather conditions are of Your interest, Hawaii is the right place to go. Our of 19 different types of climate, 17 can be found in Hawaii. We made quite many stops during which we did some walking.
The most extraordinary place we visited was the Byodo-in-Temple (“Temple of Equality”) which is located in the Valley of the Temples. It was built to commemorate the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii and it’s a replica of a temple at Uji in Japan. It is a home to the golden Buddha, Amida, the largest figure carved since ancient times.
From there we continued to Kualoa Ranch where we did a little cruise on the Fish Pond. While cruising we were told a story of a dragon the spine of which was broken by a Goddess of water. You can really see the dragon lying down – it is a mountain.
The last stop was at the Dole Plantation. If You like ananas, this is the place to visit.
On our way back we droved by the Pearl Harbour and saw the Memorial from a distance.
( Päivitetty: 30.07.2009 17:47 )
- J | Kommentoi
25.07 – Going home
25.07.2009 16:02 | J
The time came to say “Goodbye” to Vegas and board the plane with the destination New York and further - Helsinki. We woke up shortly after 5 am after quite a bad sleep (it was really noisy outside – train, police, fire department…), quickly checked whether we left anything behind by mistake and went downstairs. The shuttle was a bit late but we made it to the airport in time.
There was no delay in Vegas so we arrived in New York punctually. We had a nice margin of 2 hours so we decided to do some last-minute shopping in the Terminal 8. The things we bought were delivered to us at the departure gate, so there was no need to carry anything around. Quite convenient if You think about it.
The flight back home left the terminal a few minutes ahead of schedule but as it always happens in JFK airport, we ended up in an almost endless queue of planes waiting for departure… A humble piece of advise: Avoid flying via JFK if possible. In the end we were given permission for take off. The flight was really nice. I don’t want to sound proud but Finnair is really a high-quality airline. I think after so many flights I’m entitled to say so! The plane was brand new, the food was delicious and the service excellent. Or maybe it was just time to go back home?
The sun was smiling at us after we landed. The air was so fresh and the grass so green...
All in all this trip was a great adventure. We’ve seen so much and experienced so much. We met really nice people and fell in love with many spectacular places. This world of ours is a beautiful place, it is our task to make sure it will be preserved for the next generations!
What kind of advise I can give to people planning a trip round the world?
• Plan well beforehand: Make sure You are well aware of all the country-specific requirements: visa, driver’s license, vaccinations, airline restrictions
• Get acquainted beforehand with what might expect You in the country You go to
• Notify the credit card company that You are planning a trip round the world and will be using Your card extensively. This might save You from an unpleasant surprise of the card being closed for security reasons
• Try to book the flights as early as possible, if You can afford an upgrade, go for it. Makes the jetlag much easier to bear
• While booking hotels, don’t settle with only one company, compare the prices and terms&conditions. We used multiple ones: booking.com, hotels.com, ebookers.com.
• Pay already part of the hotel bills beforehand
• Print all the confirmations in English to avoid surprises onsite
• Pack light, usually half of the things is really not needed, mind especially the luggage restrictions some airlines have. Also the good side of globalization is that the same merchandise is available everywhere
• Be careful when exchanging money – if the difference between the “selling at” and “buying at” is huge, it’s usually a bad sign. Try some other place. Alternatively just use Your credit card to withdraw money. Firstly You won’t need to carry much cash beforehand, secondly it’s usually cheaper
• Try to avoid changing places too often, we Europeans are not handling way the “Japanese” way – one day, one capital.
• But above all: Enjoy, the trip is not a race against time.
( Päivitetty: 29.07.2009 17:37 )
- J | Kommentoi
23.07 – Gambling in Vegas
23.07.2009 16:01 | J
We started the day slowly, after all You need to give Your body a chance to recover totally after all this excitement. Firstly we went downstairs to the gym (somehow we did not fancy running outside) and later, after a nice workout, continued to the Food Court. The breakfast in our hotel was a bit expensive, coffee itself 9$ so we just skipped it.
We met up with Kelley around 1 pm and started our trip around the Strip. The first longer stop was at the Venetian. As the name foretells, it’s supposed to remind the visitors of Venice – and it really does, to the smallest detail. In front of the building there’s a river with gondolas! The river flows through the building. The intern is beautiful as well – the ceiling is painted to remind a sky with clouds.
The 6.1 km long Strip is like any place in the world – seems like all of the most remarkable cities along with their landmarks moved to one place. You will not find elsewhere gondolas, a copy of the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe, a copy of the Statue of Libery, Sphinks and Pharaos and king Arthur’s castle Excalibur located near by. Having said that, near by is of course a relative expression. As mentioned before, the buildings are huge so a good physical condition is required to cover all of them :-)
What is also quite unusual – how the people behave. Usually in the US You don’t get to see people carrying bottles in the streets and actually drinking from them. In Vegas You will. You’ll get to see all kind of fancy containers – ex. a 1 liter Eiffel tower miniature filled with margarita… People also dress bravely – skirts appear to be extremely short (or even non-existent). High-heel shoes complete the picture, I figure :-)
There lots of Latinos offering passage to the strip clubs, mostly to men. But don’t be surprised if they approach You too.
All in all, seems all the borders and chains disappear in Vegas. Well, the name Sin City must be deserved.
We didn’t come to Vegas just to look around – of course some gambling had to be tried out. We entered the world of Casino Royale. Kelley and Jani played there for some time and I was watching / ensuring they will not leave with an empty pocket. I’ll reveal that much – mission accomplished. We had enough money to pay for our dinner.
On our way back from the restaurant we entered the famous Bellagio. It has a whole botanic garden inside. After that we watched the water show in front of the hotel. Amazing...
( Päivitetty: 29.07.2009 12:54 )
- J | Kommentoi
22.07 – Up to the Sin City Las Vegas
22.07.2009 16:00 | J
We took the morning AA flight from Los Angeles to Vegas. The international airport in LA was crowded and seemed like a really close quarters. We missed asian airports where things really work and You don't get that feeling of anxiety.
The lady at the counter complained about one of our bags being overweight. Seems, the rules on how much baggate You can carry keep changing. When we left home the rule was 30 kg... In the meantime it appears to have changed to be 50 lbs. Be careful and pack light when planning a long trip. Also - mind the fact that when flying coach with AA You need to pay for the luggage checked-in.
The flight's duration was only a bit over an hour and there we were - in the famous Sin City in the middle of the Mojave desert. The airport was clean, modern and well equipped with everything a gambler can wish for. If You get bored waiting for Your bag, You can ease Your pain by playing one game or two :-)
When we left the well air conditioned terminal, we immediately noticed the difference. In LA the temperature was a bit over 25 Celsius. In Vegas the quicksilver was showing almost 40 degrees! Fortunately the humidity is quite low in there (after all it's a desert), so it's a bit easier to cope with.
We took an airport shuttle as we were warned not to use a taxi. Not sure why, later on we used taxis all the time. The price was of course much cheaper - 6$/person one way (if You are located downtown, it will be 9$). Our hotel, Trump International, was located in the close proximity to the Strip so the trip did not take very long.
After having checked in to our well equipped, huge room we set off towards Hard Rock Cafe where we were supposed to meet our good friend Kelley. She arrived from Dallas the very same afternoon. We decided to walk as the distance according to our little map was quite short, just a few blocks. Well, it was a very WRONG assumption. The thing is that a block in Vegas can be very very long. Later on we found out why: out of the 20 biggest hotels in the world, 19 is located in Vegas. To cut the story short - it took us 1:15 to get to the HRC. In this terrible heat it was an overwhelming activity... On the other hand we got quite a good impression of the Strip.
HRC in Vegas is not only a restaurant/cafe but also a huge hotel and a casino. Kelley was already waiting for us. We decided to have our lunch in there. The next target was Downtown, where Kelleys hotel the Golden Nugget was located.
Golden Nugget is one of the most famous downtown hotels and casinos. What makes it really special is its swimming pool - it has a large aquarium in the middle. The inhabitants are 2 sharks. You can enjoy Your nice swim along with the sharks...
Some of us decided to take a swim, and some (now the finger should be pointed at me) were only watching and sipping on a nice cold margarita. After the swim we just went up to the street which was filled with entertainers and spectators. The whole street was covered by a gigantic canvas-roof. We figured it was acting as a protection against the rain (-> what rain, it's the dessert, remember?). Later on we figured it was much more - a huge television screen.
That evening we witnessed very special events: The broadcast reminding of the huge step the mankind did - landing on the Moon (it was the Anniversary). Then a clone of Jim Morrison appeared on the stage. He was acting like Jim, singing like Jim. Almost as if Jim came back to us from behind the curtain...
( Päivitetty: 29.07.2009 12:53 )
- J | Kommentoi
20.07 – Trip to California
20.07.2009 15:59 | J
It was an early morning wake-up, the clock rung already at 04:30. We grabbed our bags and went downstairs. The shuttle took us to the airport. On the way, the driver was gave us a small lecture on security matters - in addition to driving the shuttle, he's also patrolling the highway. In case he notices anything suspicious, he'll immediately notify the police and the criminal will be instantly "nailed down". What can I say, that sounded a bit scary... Is this world of ours really such a dangerous place?
Check-in was pretty quick despite of additional security scanning and off we were onboard the plane. During the flight we were served breakfast as we had the pleasure of sitting in the front row of the plane. Pls however note, if sitting in coach, You need to buy Your food and no cash is accepted.
Los Angeles welcomed us with a nice sunny weather. We knew that LA is a huge city with no actual center hence a car equipped with a GPS device was waiting for us at the rental car center. We drove first to our hotel, Radisson SAS to check in. Funnilly almost all of the hotels have a "valet" parking system nowadays. You hand over the keys to the bellboy and they park the car for You. It costs around 20$ plus tips everytime they get the car for You. Seems business opportunities are seen everywhere. After the check-in was completed, we set off towards Santa Monica.
Santa Monica pier was the natural choice. This is the place we remember so well from "Falling Down" with Michael Douglas or "Forrest Gump". The place was of course very very crowded so we decided to have our dinner elsewhere.
On our way to the hotel we found a Persian restaurant.
( Päivitetty: 28.07.2009 16:19 )
- J | Kommentoi
21.07 – Los Angeles
21.07.2009 17:38 | J
After a nice long sleep (after all, what's the holiday for), we set off towards Beverly Hills. Indeed the place was packed with nice looking houses and beautiful gardens. Unfortunately we did not spot any celebrities (actually weren't really looking) - anyway the only humans You get to see in those backyards are the gardeners and the cleaners :-)
From Beverly Hills we continued towards Hollywood along the legendary Mulholand Drive. The street is surprisingly long so the search for the Hollywood sign took some time. We were driving and driving but finally we found it - on the side of a mountain. It looked much smaller than in the movies.
We parked our car in the heart of Hollywood. It was quite easy to find a free spot. But be careful when parking. We missed a little sign warning about a street cleaning between 12-15 on Tuesdays. Of course it was a Tuesday and the time was also right (14:30) - so as a souvenir from Hollywood we got a parking ticket worth 60$ YES!
The core of Hollywood wasn't very big either so we easily found the Walk of Fame. It's just a street with the names of the celebrities carved in the pavement. There were a few empty ones though... We also visited the Kodak Theater and admired the Chinese one. They are close by. In the street we gave a little donation for the future Eminem and in exchange we got a CD with his autograph. The guy was convinced he’d become a star. Well, I’m planning to keep that CD – You never know.
Originally we also planned to visit the Universal Studios but finally decided to skip that part. The ticket was quite expensive (150$ for 2) and we did not have enough time to see everything the tour is offering. If You want to do it, reserve at least one day.
After we left Hollywood behind, we drove back to our hotel via Chinatown. Indeed it reminded China muchly with it’s little towers, signs in Chinese and – the people in the streets.
As for driving in LA, in general it’s not that bad considering the fact that there are almost as many cars in there as inhabitants – around 13 million. It helps quite much that You can turn right on red, unless explicitly told not to by a sign (“No turning on red”). Changing lanes can be sometimes challenging as the people are not willing to let others. Without a car it would be really difficult to move around the city especially because the distances are quite big. Also th public transportation is quite poor in there.
- J | Kommentoi
18.07 – Waikiki one more time
19.07.2009 10:37 | J
Believe it or not, we slept like babies for over 10 hours. In the morning we did not have much energy to go anywhere far. The plan was basically to book a trip around the island for tomorrow and go to Pearl Harbor today. It took us quite long to get the trip booked. The gentleman handling the bookings was really talkative and there were many options to choose from. We settled for a tour leaving at 08:30 am and returning 05:30 pm.
There are multiple options on how to get to Pearl Harbor from Waikiki:
• Book a tour but they all depart very early, around 06:30-07:00
• Go by own car or taxi / shuttle
• Use public transportation (bus)
The suggestion is to arrive early as the admittance is on first-come, first-served basis. So going on Your own and late, You take a small risk. We were totally ready to take that risk:-)But waiting for the bus in this extreme heat became unbearable after 15 minutes or so. Also it was running a bit late. So instead of visiting the site, we went back to the hotel and changed our clothes.
When the temperature dropped a bit, we went out for dinner. Today’s choice was the Cheesecake Factory which is famous for it’s delicious cheesecakes and great food. The restaurant is huge and it seems very popular. No wonder, the portions are huge. Funnily when our waiter first spoke, I told Jani that she’s definitely of a Slavic background. Indeed, she was originally from Poland but residing in Honolulu for 10 years. We chatted a bit in Polish.
The two elements You will distinguish here is water and fire. Almost in front of all the restaurants they light torches so the atmosphere becomes somehow intimate. We spent the evening just walking around, blended in the multi-national crowd.
- J | Kommentoi
17.07 – Déjà vu? – here we come, Honolulu!
19.07.2009 03:33 | J
No, this is not a typo: the date is just right. We left Nadi in the evening of 17.07 and arrived in Honolulu in the morning of 17.07. We were given a chance to live the same day twice, let’s see how it turned out :-)
The flight arrived just in time, shortly after 7 am. Surprisingly there was no queue at the immigration. We were just asked what the purpose of our trip was and how long are we planning to stay in the US. Also the customs clearance was quick, no questions asked. Now I feel sorry we did not bring any “kava” mixture from Fiji…
We took a shuttle to Waikiki, which was 9$/person one way. Waikiki is the “Miami Beach” of Honolulu. Our hotel is just in the centre of Waikiki, very close to the beach and the main street. We were very glad to hear that our room was ready despite the fact that the official check in is only 3 pm! After a shower we went for breakfast. A large portion of coffee did not help much, we felt really tired. The reasonable thing to do was to take a nap.
We woke up 2 hours later. It was time to get acquainted with the streets of Honolulu. The very first thing to mention is that Honolulu reminds Tokyo a bit. We knew that people of Japanese descent are the majority here, but still knowing it and seeing it is a different story… It’s not only the people in the streets. Basically every written thing is in both Japanese and English, in some places only in Japanese.
As expected there are lots of shops and restaurants around here – basically suitable for every pocket. If You fancy Armani, not an issue, but if You just settle for a Hawajii-shirt (made in China), that’s even easier. Same for eating out – there are high-class restaurants in the resorts, also well known chain-restaurants as ex. Planet Hollywood or Cheesecake factory and food courts where You spend considerably less money.
The public transportation is quite good – there are city buses running on constant basis and the fare is 2.25$ (one round-trip). The only thing worth remembering is that the exact amount is needed.
The beach is huge and packed with people – some are just enjoying the sunshine (which I cannot comprehend but then – this country is a cradle of democracy), some swim and some surf. The waters are clear and have this beautiful colour You always see on the postcards.
It’s a tradition that if a place we visit has a Hard Rock Café, it’s definitely being included in our itinerary. The HRC Honolulu is in the Kalakaua Avenue, just 15 minutes from our hotel. That was the place where we had our “day’s” meal.
Our evening we spent wandering around the streets.
- J | Kommentoi
17.07 – Long is the time for a person waiting
17.07.2009 22:00 | J
This is the part of travelling I’m not particularly fond of: just sitting and waiting. Our flight is supposed to leave Nadi only at 22:30 and as the check-out time in our hotel was 11:00 (no possibility for late check out), we did not have much choice as to find a place to leave our stuff for a few hours and maybe lay our head down. We took the cheapest available option: a 3-star hotel located near the airport.
After having arrived there, we went for a walk. There are not many McDonald restaurants around here so for sure we had to visit the local one. The walk in this terrible heat felt extremely long, those 2-3 kilometers felt really long. But we made it! On our way back we were picked up by a local taxi.
Apart from that, there’s not much to say. Trying to kill time can be really exhausting ;-)
But now, it’s time to summarize shortly our visit in Fiji:
• Like in all those beach-paradises, time seems not to be of the essence, it’s just “Fiji time”. You will hear the word “Bula” everywhere. There are Bula-festivals and Bula-contests, Bula-busses and a Bula-hour (which may mean multiple 1 hour sessions…). People say “Bula” when arriving in a place and when leaving. While reading a brochure or a hotel description, don’t expect it to be 100% accurate. Things tend to change around here and nobody bothers to ensure they are described accurately ;-)
• The local people appear very lively and polite. It’s a habit in here to greet the strangers. The magic word of course is “Bula”.
• The magic drink around here is “Kava” – looking like dirty water and making Your tongue numb
• Food is relatively cheap so eating out is a very good option. Tipping is not very common and it’s not encouraged. The actual bills in the restaurants can show totally different prices than the ones shown in the menus or drink lists. Fortunately for us the prices were usually lower on the bill.
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