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    USA - New York (Part 2)

    11/08/2014 3:37:00 pm

    November 2013

    Deciding to stay on longer in New York was a pretty easy decision, I had plenty of things left to see like the Museum of Natural History, Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art, and Liberty Island, The highline and the Chelsea Market and an NFL game.

    The following week I spent my time visiting the MNH, MET and MoMA.

    The MNH has a stunning collection of dioramas:

    The MET is a lot more contemporary which didn't appeal to me a great deal, I spent a few hours there and then headed off to MoMA. MoMa has stunning collection of art, particularly that of Vincent Van Gough's Starry Night, Andy Warhol art and several Monet's.

    Later on in the week, I visited Liberty Island and Ellis Island. It was stunning being able to visit this incredible statue.

    On the way back from Liberty and Ellis Island, I stopped by Wall Street.

    In the next few days, I wandered New York catching a few things I hadn't seen yet, two Broadway shows, Newsies and Big Fish, and of course, an NFL game in New Jersey - the New York Giants vs Oakland Raiders.

    Grand Central Railway Station:

    As my adventures in New York came to a close, I boarded my flight back to Nova Scotia to commence my Canadian adventures.

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    USA - New York (Part 1)

    08/08/2014 7:19:00 am

    November 2013

    After a stop over in Philadelphia, I arrived in New York. Unsure of public transport or shuttles, I found a flyer indicating costs of a taxi to Upper Manhattan. Relatively inexpensive, I was asked an address, I replied with, "624 Amsterdam Avenue", to which the driver said, "What is the crossroad?". Puzzled, I soon realised, from thinking about the movies and television shows (such as How i Met Your Mother) you usually refer to where two streets cross in American cities, I realised and told the taxi driver, 103rd and Amsterdam. Arriving at the hostel, I quickly dropped my bags and promptly booked a walking tour for the next day to Central Park and decided it was time to sleep. Little did I know it was the final game of the World Series that night in which Boston took out the title.

    The next morning I awoke to commence the walking tour. Our tour guide, a local New Yorker took us on the subway to downtown Manhattan. Here we walked past the hotel where John Lennon was shot and onwards to Central Park. A perfect time of the year to visit as the Autumn (Fall) season was still in full swing, and the leaves on the trees were a rich red and orange. As the tour ended, a group formed and we wandered down 5th Avenue to Times Square. Billboards and flashing signs surrounding me from all sides.

     

    I decided to return to the hostel, and have a sleep, and get ready for the Halloween parade in Greenwich Village, one of the main reasons I decided to visit New York. The parade commenced from 7pm and featured an eclectic mix of floats, puppets and people in costume. Shortly after I departed to head to the Halloween Pub Crawl run by the hostel which was a fun late night in New York.

    Waking the following day, I had a feeling of being very overwhelmed of the size of the city, and what I wanted to do and see. I decided I needed to plan my day and work out how I was going to spend my time in New York. With a plan in place and places written on a map, I headed straight to the Train Station to organise a 7 day pass on the subway.

    Being aware that I needed to be ready to meet a friend for the basketball in Brooklyn (Brooklyn Nets vs Miami Heat), I decided that today I was going to go to the Empire State Building in lower Manhattan. Skipping the line by buying a City Pass, I went up to see the amazing views of New York in all directions. I then caught a stunning sunset from downtown Manhattan.

    I returned back to the hostel after buying a new hoodie and headed out to the Barclay's Center. My first American sporting game was amazing, such a spectacle.

    Waking up on Saturday morning, I headed back to Brooklyn on a walking tour with the hostel. On the walk, I wandered around chatting to friends I had made and found out about a New York Rangers hockey game that was on. Booking tickets once at Madison Square Gardens, I headed downtown for some late lunch to Appleby's in Times Square and finally off to meet everyone for the game. Amazing. Hockey is incredible to watch. One of the Rangers' played scored 3 goals resulting in much of the crowd throwing their hats onto the ice for a 'hat-trick'.

    The night after the game was a long night out and I decided the next day to sleep in a little. Deciding to head to the Top of the Rock for sunset I discovered it was sold out and decided to head downtown for a wander and then out with the hostel for a Sunday night pub crawl.

    On Monday morning I decided to head to the 9/11 Memorial. Very touching and very upsetting. I first saw the church close to Ground Zero where many of the firefighters and police slept, and then wandered to the memorial for my scheduled visit.

    On Monday evening, I headed to the Top of the Rock. An amazing viewpoint of New York, particularly that of the Empire State Building.

    Deciding that New York required much more, I then decided stay around for another week.

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    Canada - Halifax, Nova Scotia

    27/06/2014 12:56:00 pm

    My plane landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia at the end of October 2013. With no plan but to hop on a train and go from one side of the country to the other, to my intended destination of Vancouver on the west coast, I could never have imagined where I was going to go in North America or what I would I see or who I would meet. I purposely travel with no set agenda but with an idea of places I want to see. I walked off the plane onto Canadian soil and saw the national flag waving in the wind - I knew I'd finally made it Canada and I was where I had to be. I walked through customs and was greeted politely and given directions on where to obtain my visa. Arriving around 10pm was great, as there was only a few people ahead of me. I had my visa in time to see the baggage coming out to a greatly surprised Chris. I picked up my bags with the biggest smile on my face, here I was, in Canada!

    I hopped in the car with Chris and his family, and headed first to Dartmouth to drop everything off. It was awesome to see houses decked out in Halloween decorations and to see beautiful North American houses, very different to those in Brisbane. Chris took me across the bridge that separates Dartmouth and Halifax, and gave me a quick tour of Halifax. We stopped outside my hostel, exchanged numbers and I thanked him for the lift into town. I dropped off my bags at the hostel and decided I was hungry and needed to go for a walk around Halifax. I found a grocery store, an ATM for some Canadian currency and an open pizza shop. With the further realisation that it was Halloween later in the week, I thought to myself, where would be the best place to go? The idea of New York crept into my head, and I just couldn't shake it. I decided to head back to the hostel and get some sleep.

    The next morning, I woke reasonably early and decided to think about New York later on that night after I'd spent time wandering around Halifax. I left the hostel and wandered into a cemetery, where people from the Titanic where buried. Interesting, I didn't know Halifax played a part in the rescue. Next I headed towards the Citadel with a coffee on the way.

    Rich with history on World War II and the War of 1812, the Citadel acted as a crucial point to protect Halifax from incoming enemy forces. A few hours later and I wandered down the hill towards the Museum of Natural History. Being a Tuesday, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic stayed open late and was free, perfect. After a few hours at the MNH, I wandered towards the waterfront to the MMA, stopping at some maple leaves along the way.

    Cutting through the Halifax Public Gardens on the way back to the centre of town, I had a look around downtown Halifax a little more and headed to the Maritime Museum at the waterfront. Here I learned about the Titanic and the rich maritime history of this part of Canada. Spent from looking at museums all day, I decided to catch the ferry over to Dartmouth to go to a Haunted House. Lots of fun. Upon returning back to Halifax, I headed for a drink and some late dinner, and to make a decision on if I should head to New York for Halloween.

     

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    Iceland - Selfoss to Reykjavik

    22/06/2014 6:05:43 am

    Awaking from our hostel after a decent nights sleep, we departed from Selfoss after cleaning the ice off the car and headed back to the hot springs with new advice in hand as where to find the hot river in Hveragerði.

    Upon finding the carpark, we grabbed our boardshorts and towels and walked the 3kms through the snow.

    Eventually we stumbled across the boiling springs. After a long hike, it was time to jump in the water. Finding a pool of water that was warm, but not too warm was a challenge. I would walk in to my shins before running out from the heat. Deciding we needed to head down stream and feeling not very keen to change clothes again, we ran bare foot through the snow. Too cold to stay in longer than 5 seconds, we would jump in the hot water, only to find that it was too hot - we did this process of too hot, too cold, as we ran down the river for about 50 metres. Reaching a point where another stream of cold water was mixing with the warm water, we found the right spot.

    After a good soak in the hot springs and a 3km walk back to the car, we hit the road to see Geysir and Gulfoss, part of the Golden Triangle.

    Backtracking a little we headed towards Geysir first via Kerið, a beautiful crater lake.

    On the way to Geysir we stopped at another waterfall.

    As the name states, a large geyser of water explodes into the sky.

    Afterwards, with the light fading for the day, we headed towards Gulfoss. Just catching the last minutes of the daylight for the day, we saw the stunning waterfall Gulfoss, a multi-tier waterfall.

    With the light faded and darkness settling, we made the trek back to Reykjavik with the idea to try and spot the northern lights. With it being an uneventful evening, we retired to the KEX Hostel for the evening and to enjoy some of the Reykjavik nightlife.

    Waking mid-morning, we tried to find a place to rent snorkelling gear to snorkel the gap between the tectonic plates that cut through Þingvellir National Park (turns out you can only do guided tours anyway). Unable to find anything, we headed back anyway to have a look at the area anyway. It's very interesting to know that the North American and European tectonic plates merge together right through the middle of Iceland creating the ridges seen below.

    Returning the car in the late afternoon, tired still, we spent the evening exploring Reykjavik and booking a guided snorkelling tour.

    The next morning we headed for a snorkel between tectonic plates in the beautiful calm clear waters of the Þingvellir National Park. Cold, windy and few snowflakes tumbling to the ground, we put on our drysuit and headed into the water. With thermals underneath, I was toasty warm. We let the current carry us down and we stumbled back to the van for some hot chocolate, where we changed and headed back to Reykjavik to spend the afternoon in some hot baths and an evening tour for myself to see the Northern Lights. Hopping on a bus, with a good chance of seeing the light, we headed south for two hours. Waiting and waiting. Eventually, the lights started to appear faintly along the horizon, and very light green. Unfortunately, the light didn't improve. Yet, I can say I have seen the northern lights, just faintly. Heading back to the hostel, I met up with Ryan and we hit the hay for an early morning. Packing up and saying bye, I took the bus to the Blue Lagoon for a relaxing morning in the famous heated lagoon. Bumping into Chris and his family, a Canadian from Halifax whom I'd met snorkelling, he kindly offered to give me a lift from the airport into Halifax.

    I boarded the plane and headed to Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada - I couldn't wait.

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    After a morning spent in Jökulsárlón, and frozen toes, we hit the road back towards Reykjavik to complete the rest of the Golden Circle - Geysir, various small waterfalls and Gulfoss - and a Glacier walk. The both of us used to driving long distances in Australia and favourable weather, we left Jökulsárlón to head to Mýrdalsjökull where an afternoon hike was awaiting us.

    The next stop, was the the drive back to the glacier to do a Glacier Walk at around 1pm - making it just in time, we grabbed some lunch at the cafe, and commenced our hike of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier. Covered in black, what seemed like soil at first, and ice - I was surprised to understand that the glacier was covered in volcanic ash from the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010. Using crampons on our boots, we walked up and down the glacier with our guide. Climbing into caves was incredible.

    After an exhausting day in Jökulsárlón and Glacier Hiking on the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, and with the late afternoon light fading, we headed towards Selfoss for a well earned relaxing night.

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    Iceland - Jökulsárlón

    11/06/2014 7:03:00 am

    Exhausted from the long day of driving the day before, I was awoken at 7 by Ryan, saying its time to go. I got ready quickly and jumped into the car. We took a quick drive around Höfn as blue hour began to commence.

    We hit the road, and watched a majestic sunrise or oranges and pinks over the snow covered peaks that simply appeared in front of us as we headed back the 1 hour or so to Jökulsárlón.

    Jökulsárlón is one of the most beautiful places in the world. The ice breaks off the glacier and slides down into the lake below, where the icebergs gently float out to sea through a narrow channel to be broken up by the tide, and washed along the beach on the other side of the highway. A certain calm and stillness was evident as the pieces of ice gently clunked together whilst seals swam around them, and dove and bobbed their heads in the lake.

    A quick 1 minute drive over to the other side led us to see the pieces of ice, all shapes and sizes, crushed and broken along the beach. A sight that I think it is likely I will never get a chance to see again in my lifetime. 

    Walking along the beach, Ryan comes with this idea. "When will we every get a chance to swim with icebergs again?". My reply, "Are you kidding?". Ryan: "No, no, we can do this, where are the keys, I will run back to the car and get our towels and boardshorts". Passing the keys to Ryan and he was off, I was still unconvinced. Arriving back, we found a safer place further along the beach, and Ryan ran in with explicit instructions to make sure I included the massive iceberg to his right in the photographs. After a very short period of time, note, it was a mere 1 degrees celcius outside, and even colder in the water, Ryan ran out and I then bolted in and dove into the waves. Simply unable to breath, I lasted a similar amount of time before absolutely sprinting out of the water, Ryan bolted back for a 2nd even shorter dunk before I followed suit. Frozen and numb, we dried as fast as we could and legged it to the car where we turned on the heater. The toes were the worst. It took a long while for the warmth to return, and also for a few hours to realise my socks were full of sand.

    The rest of the day was spent visiting the Golden Circle - the Geysir, Gulfoss and other attractions along the way.

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    Iceland - Reykjavik to Höfn

    08/06/2014 12:00:00 am

    Packing up my life that was starting to commence in England was, tough. Feeling like I needed to spend more time there, with the new friends I had made was quite difficult. Eventually, I made the decision and I paid for the flights and set a stopover for Reykjavik. Ryan, decided to also come along to Iceland as well. Leaving in the morning, and myself in the afternoon, we met up at the KEX Hostel in Reykjavik. After some dinner and toing and froing, we decided that well, maybe the best way was to book a car, a mere 100 meters from the hostel and head south. My main goal was to see Jökulsárlón, everything else was a bonus. I can say that hiring a car saved a lot of money on tours and allowed us to travel as we pleased.

    The first day:

    The view from the front of the hostel:

    We immediately headed to the thermal springs close to Reykjavik with the hope of finding a thermal bath. After searching and following signs, we gave up and kept heading south towards our hostel that was booked for the night in Höfn, past Jökulsárlón. Along the way we stopped by the famous waterfalls of Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss. Stunning falls. Just stunning.

    As the day progressed we keep on driving, stopping the way to admire the sunset.

    Getting late, we were running low on fuel and by chance, we discovered on the GPS a self serve petrol station near Höfn. Filling up we made it to the hostel and crashed for the night after a very late dinner in town. I must add that this was the first time driving on the opposite side of the road for me, in a manual car also after just getting my manual license before leaving Australia. A great experience.

    Exhausted, I was awoken at 7 by Ryan, saying its time to go. I got ready and jumped into the car to watch a majestic sunrise over the snow covered peaks of Iceland. Oranges and pinks covered the mountains as we headed back the 1 hour or so to Jökulsárlón.

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    Ireland is a place I have often thought about visiting - the green rolling hills, the amazing people, the pubs. Before making plans to leave the UK, I decided based on a recommendation to do a tour. It's not something I do too often, but it is fun, if you have a great tour guide and a group of people.

    I departed London on an afternoon and arrived in Dublin. Catching a bus to the hostel wasn't too difficult and soon enough I was settled in, ready to awake early to head to departure location. I wandered around Temple Bar, and other parts of Dublin to get a good understanding of the layout of Dublin. I caught an early night and arrived at the pickup location 30 or so minutes early. Upon walking to the bus and meeting our fantastic tour guide Lee, and leaving Dublin, the group had already started to bond and I am so happy to have met an extraordinary group of people. I would rate the trip as one of the best travel experiences I have ever had.

    Leaving Dublin, we stopped along the way to a church where one of the famous saints of Ireland head is on display in a glass box, Plunkett. From there we travelled, to an old graveyard and onwards to Belfast, Northern Ireland.

    By the time we'd reached Belfast, it was like we all best friends - an excellent group of Americans, Brazilians, Australians and New Zealanders.  In Belfast we did what is called the Black Taxi tour, where we explored and learned the history of the Catholic and Protestant history. During this tour we also visited the Peace Wall, which is locked every night and separates the Catholics and Protestants, where you can view various inscribed comments by famous people and everyone who visits. I would recommend doing this tour. After a late night out in Belfast, we retired to the hostel and left early for Derry.

    On the way to Derry we visited Carrick-a-Rede, know for the famous rope bridge, and the famous Giant's Causeway, know for the famous hexagonal basalt columns. Fingal Head in New South Wales, Australia, close to the Queensland border, also has a similar formation - whilst smaller, though not by much, it bears a very similar shape to the main rock formation of its namesake in Ireland. Arriving in Derry, we took a walking tour of the town to learn the history of this town. 

     After another night out, we left early the next morning to head further south, back to the Republic of Ireland and to the very picturesque town of Galway. Here more people joined out tour and others left. The new people who joined were just as fantastic and become apart of the group instantly. We spent time in the city commencing another walking tour and completed another pub crawl that evening. Tired, it was yet another early morning on the road south to Killarney.

    Spending the night in Kilarney, involved exploring the city more followed by a horse and carriage ride the next morning to the Killarney National Park. Further adventures that day included visiting Blarney Castle, and kissing the famous Blarney Stone to obtain the 'the gift of the Gab' and the poison garden. Onwards, to Dingle - a beautifully small town, and eventually a little further up the road some of the most amazing scenery I have ever seen - rolling green hills and golden light.

    Crashing in a hostel with just the tour group, the next morning we departed for Dublin.

    Saying bye was tough to my new friends, I'll admit, we all became great friends in barely 6 days. After another a few nights in Dublin, I caught my flight back to London where it was time to finally book that flight to North America, with of course, a stopover in Iceland.

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    Upon arriving back to London, within the next few days I decided to use the remainder of my London Heritage pass to see a few more sites, such as, a very important place I have always wanted to see, Stonehenge.

    I departed London towards Bath early in the morning with the intention of spending a few hours in Bath seeing the famous Roman Baths and then another train back towards Salisbury, to catch a bus to Stonehenge, before returning in the early evening to Salisbury to meet Megan, whom I hadn't seen for a nearly a year.

    As things often never work out as planned when travelling, I got lost leaving Clapham and went to the wrong direction and had to pay another 30 pounds or so to take a train from Liverpool Street. This however, turned out to have a lucky silver lining.

    Arriving in Bath, a very stunning English city, beautiful and elegant, I immediately went to see the famous Roman Baths and the beautiful Bath Abbey very close by.

    With time of the essence, I walked around the town square and into the church. I decided best to head to the train station to catch my train to Salisbury. Here, I sat and waited for the train to arrive. Not paying enough attention, the train arrived at the far end of the station and was only a 3 car unit. As it went by, I clicked and realised, I had missed it. I checked my tickets again and realised that, the new ticket I had bought expired days later. Thinking quickly, I asked Megan if she was free the following evening, she was and I decided to spend the night in Bath. This would also allow me to attend the baths, where they pump the hot water from the hot spring onto a rooftop pool. With the afternoon free, I decided to head to Bristol and take a look for the afternoon, and then return to Bath in the evening. Having only a daypack with me, it made it a lot easier to travel. Returning to Bath, I enjoyed the warmth of the hot springs whilst looking out over the city. Relaxed and refreshed, I wandered Bath more during the evening and crashed at a hostel for the night.

    The next morning I visited the Royal Crescent, before boarding my train to Salisbury. Arriving, I took a quick stroll through the town before boarding a bus directly to Stonehenge. An amazing place. Smaller than I had expected, yet, exciting to see something that I have wanted to see my whole life.

    Returning to Salisbury, I visited the Salisbury Cathedral. What a stunnng church! Elegant outside and inside, and flush with incredible English history. After spending the later afternoon in the church, I caught up with Megan for dinner and a few drinks, before saying goodbye for what may be a lengthy time before catching up again. Reflecting on the train back to London, I realised I'd had a fantastic few days.

    With plans to depart England earlier gathering momentum through my mind, I decided that I needed to make sure I had seen more of London. Having not seen St Paul's Cathedral, I decided that I should see this amazing place. Amazing indeed. And the views were incredible also.

    After a few more days in London, I decided that I couldn't wait to see North America, I was bursting at the seams to see this continent. 

    Though, there was one more place I wanted to see - Ireland. I couldn't have made a better choice.

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    With a bit of time up our sleeves, Ryan and I decided to hire a car to visit the north of the England and Scotland. Having both Scottish heritage, it was a real eye opener to visit this country.

    Our first stop out of London was drive directly to York. With the car sorted, and an upgrade at that, a black Audi A8 with leather seats, and of course, the music situation organised we drove out of London up the main highway towards York. Arriving by the evening, we walked around the city by night, thoroughly enjoying the charm of this fantastic place. The local pubs have such an amazing charm and the small alleyways give the city a distinctly medieval feel.

    The next morning after some breakfast, we headed in the direction of Newcastle making stops along the coastline and inland.

    Scarborough:

    High Force:

    Durham:

    Making it by the evening to Newcastle, we wandered the city, hopped in the car and drove towards Edinburgh, catching some sleep along the way.

    After a long day of driving, with stops to Hadrians Wall, the wall built by the English and keep an eye on the Scottish, and to Lindisfarne where you can drive to the island only at lowtide with distinct signs indicating that you cannot leave after a certain time. Perhaps inspiration for the house in The Woman in Black? Unsure, but you can walk to the lighthouse and then along to the ruins of an old church. Departing before the tide was too high, which does indeed cover the road in water - we reached the Edinburgh by the afternoon. A distinctly stunning city with great people. Here I tried some Haggis and also a deep fried Mars Bar.

    Hadrian's Wall:

     

    Lindisfarne:

     

    Edinburgh: 

    Stirling was where we spent the next day. A very historical site where William Wallace fought a battle against the English, and won. A monument dedicated to William Wallace stands over the city of Stirling and is an absolute must to visit. Even William Wallace's sword stands in glasscase. I couldn't help but feel patriotic in a sense given my heritage from generations long past. Shortly after, it was a stop at Stirling Castle. Expecting a stop of only an hour or so, I spend nearly 3 hours in the castle which is where the Stuart family were based and reigned in Scotland, and eventually in England as well via links to the Tudor family and Henry VIII. Curious, given there are multiple spellings of Stewart/Stuart, I was rather stunned to understand that Stuart was the French spelling of Stewart, adopted by Mary Queen of Scots, during her time in France. Does that mean that my lineage comes from a royal family? Perhaps, very distantly. As I greatly enjoy English and Scottish royal history, this was very fascinating for me.

    William Wallace Monument:

    Stirling Castle:

     

    From Stirling, over the next few days, we headed north towards Loch Ness, Inverness, the Isle of Skye and Glasgow.

    Falls of Dochart:

    North of Stirling:

     

    Isle of Skye:

    South of Loch Lomond:

    Glasgow:

    From Glasgow, we drove 8 hours south to London to return the car. Upon returning to London, I decided to head west to see Stonehenge, Bath, Bristol and Salisbury.