This is the story of my 6 months of studying in Arizona in 2010 and subsequent travels in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

On the way to Mexico City

Thursday morning, January 27th, was the beginning of an important day with Sofie, my Danish friend, arriving to Mexico! But first I had some hours to spend in Querétaro, before taking the bus to Mexico City Airport. So I agreed with the hostel-guy to leave my backpack there to pick it up later, and then went out to find the famous Aqueduct of Querétaro. It was a bit of a walk and I wasn’t sure about the way, but the moment I started wondering how that huge thing could be hiding, I realised that I was standing right in front of it, but from the end, so I could only see the first column. :) Very impressive structure.

On the way back I passed again a hairdresser, I had noticed on the way out. I needed a haircut, as my hair was getting too long and impractical for travelling. I wondered why I didn’t just go in without so much consideration, and I realised that it was not so much because of worries for a bad result of the haircut, but for the challenge in communicating. Obviously the second I came to that conclusion, I had one foot inside the shop… ;) And even though there was practically no verbal communication between the hairdresser and me, the result was nice and much more comfortable than what I came in with! So another challenge faced and survived!

Bought some Chinese food on the way back (yeah, sorry to admit it, but I felt like something else than Mexican. It was a bad choice, of course!), and sat in the hostel for a little while, before heading off to the bus station. Getting into the drill I knew just how to get my ticket, find the bus, load my backpack, and get some refreshments before boarding the bus. The trip was 3 hours, and not too comfortable, because the seat somehow did not fit my back. 

Anyway, I arrived in the airport, found my way to the right arrivals-area, and stood waiting for Sofie for around an hour. In the meantime Emmanuel arrived, another Mexican from the Russia-trip, and our personal guide and driver in Mexico City! :D He took us to our hotel, gave us directions, and left us with an agreement to meet the next evening. We spent a little time unpacking and catching up – so incredible to spend time with another Dane again! ;) For a very late dinner we went down to the restaurant café and got a bowl of Aztec soup (/tortilla soup) each. Impressive of how Sofie managed to stay awake despite 17 hours of travel and heavy jetlag, we went to bed around midnight. 

2 days in Querétaro - Day 13 and 14

I have had two really nice days in Querétaro, with no specific quests besides enjoying the city and meeting my friend Vicente for dinner! :)

As you know I arrived around 7 PM Tuesday night to San Gallito, a hostel close to the historical center. It was sort of a struggle with the taxi driver, as he didn' know the address. Obviously I didn't know where we were going either, until I realised that I had a little map with the hostel's location, and adding a cross-street to the address helped! Still, a cheap way of getting around - I paid 37 pesos for the app. 20 min trip.

Remember I was a little worried if I would get a good nights sleep in the hostel with the mixed dorm? Well, I did. :) Luckily noone was snoring excessively, and people were moving around quietly. So I woke up around 7 the next morning, turned around to sleep a little more, and then had breakfast in the kitchen, before heading out in the town some hours later. It is pretty cold in the mornings, so I tend to stay in until shorts and a sweatshirt is warm enough. It takes another hour, and then the sweatshirt is way too hot. :)

Querétaro is a pretty town, and one thing struck me: I have never seen a place with SO MANY churches around! Its like there is another magnificent structure on every corner. So at one point I gave up looking into all of them, though they really are pretty and very different. Vicente told me later that at some point there had been sort of a competition to build the prettiest churches, which is one of the reasons that there are so many.

I walked around for a while, taking little breaks to look up words to expand my Spanish vocabulary. I can feel how I am really picking up on more and more words actually, and people are in general very understanding and helpful regarding the language, when you show that you are trying to learn! Sometimes though people get very excited about something and they will speak like waterfalls though you just told them that your Spanish is very limited! So I need to remember how to say ”please slow down!”

At one point while walking around I came a shop with fabrics, and I found a little piece of army green fabric that would be perfect to repair a big hole I had managed to make in the seem of my ”travel pants”, which was not controlled by just stitching it back together. I went back to the hostel (after getting lost, but finding a nice gordita con queso on the way) to repair the pants and Mom, you would be proud to see how nicely they have been fixed! :D A suitable Danish saying is “necessity teaches naked woman to sow”…

I sat in the yard for a while, writing the previous blog posts, and then went out to see the Regional Historical Museum. Turned out to be for free for students, pretty good as I did not understand any of the information texts, all in Spanish. But the building and exhibitions told some stories anyway, and the visit was worthwhile.

I was having dinner with my friend Vicente (whom I met in Russia almost two years ago), and we agreed to meet outside the gates of the hostel, ‘cause as he said: “Then you wont get lost…” Thank you for believing in my sense of directions, dear! :D We ate in a small, local, and very popular restaurant, Marisposa (/butterfly), and we both had 4 different tacos and a special ice cream (mantecado, if I got it right) with raisins and pieces of cactus. Uhm!

Was back in my hostel bed around 10, and spend some time reading before falling asleep.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Reflections - Mexico and missing home!

Hmmm, back in the hostel yard after half a day of wandering around the old part of Querétaro - and time for some reflection. :)

Walking down one of the many little streets on my way back a little while ago, I realised how much I am missing home. It hits me every now and then, not because I don't like where I am, but because I really like my home and I haven't been there for a while now. Soon 6 months actually. I miss my flat, my own space, and I miss cooking with my sister. I miss my work out (Lotte, I'm gonna be back in the step aerobics classes again soon!), I miss studying, and visiting my mom in Hørsholm. And I miss my friends, Copenhagen, EPSA stuff, and many other little elements of my life there.

That said, of course I really enjoy traveling as well! Mexico is incredibly beautiful, the weather is amazing, and most of the people here are really nice and helpful. And very honest: sometimes I misunderstand a price and pay too much, but I always get an understanding smile and the excess money back. :) What I dislike is the immense amount of attention I get here. Yeah, I look different from most people here, but it is not like I am the only tall, blond person around. I really do not appreciate the comments from people on the street, but I do my best to ignore it...

The little Spanish I know is a HUUUUUGE help. Though the amount of a language that can be learned in one week is very limited, I have some phrases that are useful, plus I have achieved one of my original goals: To get an understanding of the structure of the language. For instance knowing that the verbs are conjugated similar to the German way and that the pronoun often disappears when the verb is conjugated is really useful when trying to understand a message! All in all I find Spanish in general easy, but the verbs rather complicated! I find that the Mexicans are very reluctant to use the little English most of them know, but I don't mind practicing my Spanish anyway. So with a combination of both, I get by. :)

As you guys have probably noticed, I like traveling... I have however never been traveling like this before - with a backpack, from city to city. I usually travel with a purpose, be it a meeting, a training, a conference, or vacation. This is vacation too, but different in the sense that I am always on the move to somewhere new. I like that as it suits my restless soul :), but it is also somewhat stressful to always have to consider the next step. I think I am getting better at appreciating the little moments of peace, like the other day at the rooftop terrace in Guanajuato, or like now in the yard in Querétaro (where the sky is cloudy, so Im not getting anymore sunburned than I already am...). I guess I am becoming better at sensing what I feel like in each moment, be it strolling around the city, visit a museum, read a book, practice Spanish, or take a nap. All things I appreciate, but at different times - and the good thing at the moment is that I can do whatever I feel like whenever. :)

That said, I am also REALLY looking forward to meeting Sofie, my Danish friend who will join me for another 2 weeks of exploring Mexico! She is arriving to Mexico City tomorrow evening, and I will take a bus directly there to meet her. My "local" friend in Mexico city, Emmanuel, will come to the airport to pick us up, and be our guide for a trip to Teotihuacan on Saturday! :) It will be nice with some company, though I don't mind traveling alone it is nice to have someone to share the memories with!

Another thing I was considering is wether I skip through the cities too quickly. Two days here, one day there, a few hours in Dolores Hidalgo and San Miguel. Would it be better to see less cities and stay longer? So far I'd say no. Though I liked the two little cities I saw yesterday, there was not much to see. If I should stay longer it would be to just relax or check out all the little shops. Which would also be nice, but I feel like the shops I see in the different cities are rather similar. Of course the handicrafts of the artisans have different styles, but I am not that much into it to appreciate the differences. And as you know, art museums is not really my thing, so thats another way I am not gonna spend my days. :)

I have approximately 2.5 weeks left before I am back home in Copenhagen. I am looking forward to it, yes, but I would also not miss out on the 2.5 weeks I will have here in Mexico, seeing more of the incredible country, tasting more of the food, and meeting more of the people! :)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

An efficient, history-packed day! Day 12 (25th January)

You caught me sitting in a open air yard-like structure in a hostel in Querétaro, completely exhausted. However, its only 8 PM, and I figure that if I go to bed now the other people in the dorm will wake me up when they go to bed, plus I will wake up way too early tomorrow. So I try to stay awake a little longer.

Today has been a really good one! :) Woke up in Guanajuato, packed my stuff, and went to the rooftop kitchen to get some breakfast and make some lunch to bring on the road. My plan was somewhat complex, but started out with a cap to the bus station. From there, I took a bus to Dolores Hidalgo Cuna de La Independencia Nacional. Yeah, thats apparently the formal name, meaning "The cradle of the independent nation". This was were the Mexican revolution started the 16th September 1810.

Dolores Hidalgo
When I got there at 10.30, after a 1.5 hour bus trip over a mountainous pass, I stored my luggage in a locked room adjacent to a little shop in the bus station in Dolores. Perfect that they had it - I wasn't sure how to spend the day, if I had to carry everything. Its a little heavy... But yeah, so I pulled out a pamphlet about the city that I had found in the Hotel in Guanajuato. Pretty lucky, as my guidebook seems to think that this is not such an important place. I walked around for a bit, and really it is a charming little city. Statues and churches all around, and little old houses in many colors. Most interesting was The Museum of Independence, which pretty much explained the whole story of Mexico. While I am not much into art museums, history is another story! So my visit here also explains why I can now remember the date of independence...

My lunch
On a bench in the park I enjoyed another highlight of the day. The sandwich I had made for lunch! :D Plain bread with cheese, ham, tomato, lots of avocado, and a bit of salt - it was just perfect! Afterwards I re-stashed on water and salty crackers, and went back to the bus station to get my luggage and a bus to San Miguel de Allende, where I had decided to stop by as well. This despite the fact that I had already been told that my schedule from Guanajuato over Dolores to Querétaro in the end was a bit ambitious, but it was only 1 PM, so I figured it would work out just fine. :)

San Miguel
Another 1 hour bus ride, and I arrived to San Miguel. Another important city historically, and another charming town (well, with some 150.000 inhabitants), way too many of which are American and Canadian. Like with Ajijic at Lake Chapala I feel like the city looses something when that authenticity disappears, but I must say that San Miguel was probably the most beautiful town I have visited in Mexico so far! Small streets, lots of trees, old houses, amazing colors... I caught a bus from the station to the center, and started by checking out the public library. I think that must be the meeting place for the non-mexican, at least it was very crowded with these people. However, a very charming place with a café and a beautiful yard where people were reading and studying Spanish.

Then I walked around for a bit, went in and out some of the churches and shops, and got an ice cream to enjoy in the main square. I wasn't really in the mood for more museums, so instead I headed down towards a park that was mentioned in the guidebook. I smelled it before I saw it, as I hit a wall of flower fragrance. Nice. :) The park was very green, not so big, and cut through by little cosy walkways. I enjoyed the fresh air for a while, before heading back to the center to find a bus back to the bus station. I picked up my luggage in a room similar to the one in Dolores, only 3 times more expensive (though 15 pesos isn't exactly a problem). In total I spent 3 hours in San Miguel, before I jumped on my last bus of the day, to Querétaro, with a friendly bus driver who turned kind of creepy when he started taking pictures of me.

All in all a very packed day, but I feel like I didn't just skip through these city too fast. I saw most of what was there to see, and got an impression of the atmosphere. I would like to stay longer in San Miguel, but it doesn't bother me that I just went through it this time. :)

So now I'm in the hostel, San Gallito, where I have a bed in a mixed dorm. I am equipped with earplugs... I have one of those over-protected mattresses with a plastic cover that makes a lot of noise when I turn around. At least I am in the lower bunk with a curtain around, so I hope and think, though against the odds, that I will get a good nights sleep! :)

Life is good... On a rooftop terrace in Guanajuato! Day 11

The description of my second day in Guanajuato (Monday Jan. 24th) can be done very shortly! I didn't really feel like doing much, so when I got out of bed around 9, I went to the supermarket to get bread, cheese, ham, oat meal grains, raisins and milk. Well equipped I went back to the hotel, and up to the terrace on the roof with my laptop, book, and all the food.

I spent the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon up there, and forgetting to consider the altitude of the mountain town and the fact that thought the wind was blowing and I didn't feel too warm, I got sunburned. Tsk tsk. Not too bad though, so lets just call it a reminder. ;)

The press waiting for a good shot.
It was a great day up there, I really enjoyed the weather, the view, and not having to do anything. However, around 4 PM i climbed down, slept for 30 mins, before I headed out. I wanted to see the University and take a funicular up to a statue, from where there was a great view of the city. However the latter turned out to be somewhat of a challenge, as Hillary Clinton was in town! She was going to speak in the Teatro Juarez, which is immediately in front of the funicular. Of course it was all  guarded by loads of scary looking people and the press. While I tried to find another way and was unsuccessful in doing so, Mrs. CLinton finished her speech, and the circus moved along so I could get to the funicular.

The view really was nice, though when I got up the sky was covered with clouds (for once!). I decided that it wasn't fair and that the clouds would probably go away - and they did. :) Just as the sun was going down an orange light spread across the city. Beautiful. I waited to see also the dusk and the city in the dark, and got some good pics.

Afterwards I went to a little taco place to get a cheap dinner to go. Back on the terrace I was eating my tacos and talking to some of the other hotel guests, who gave me some travel suggestions. Always nice!

Getting lost in Guanajuato - Day 10

Leaving Casa Lita had to end with stately meal of course, so I had quesadillas and cereals for breakfast, with the usual fresh squeezed orange juice. :) Im gonna miss that and my lovely host, to whom I had bought three yellow roses the day before. She called a cap for me, and then I was off to the bus station around 8 AM with all my luggage.

I got a bus ticket for Guanajuato, 4 hours away. I knew it was THE best bus company, and that I could have gotten a cheaper ticket, but the 335 pesos turned out to buy me an adventure in itself. The ETN bus was incredible. First of all I got a soda can and a sandwich before boarding. The seat was so wide that they can only fit 3 on each row, and the space to the seat in front is long, that I can barely touch it with my legs stretched out. It has a footrest that supports the entire leg, and the seat comes with headphones and a pillow. The drivers cabin is closed off by a wall, and in the back of the bus there are two restrooms and a coffee machine. If the slogan of this company isn’t already “ETN – make your journey a destination”, it should be!

On the road I got some interesting insights into Mexico. First of all leaving Guadalajara I noticed again the blanket of smog that is covering the city. No wonder my nose is acting up with all the pollution. Secondly I noticed how gas stations and shops off this large road are not connected by exits, but literally on the side of the road where cars can pull over when needed. Interesting. My third discovery was some sort of pilgrimage taking place on the highway. That part I still don’t get. There were thousands people walking along the road, and to judge from the amount of garbage in the grass, it had been going on for a while. I have no idea where the people were going or why, if anyone knows, please let me know! :) Most people were not carrying much, some nothing, others just a backpack. There were hundreds of shops and vendors along the road to feed the walkers… Very peculiar!

Soooo after 4 hours I got to Guanajuato. I knew the bus station was a bit out of the way, so I was surprised when the taxi driver asked for 40 pesos for the trip! But well… Good start! He was a really nice guy and tried to make conversation in Spanish. I understood must of what he said (2nd or 3rd time he said it, or reexplained ;)), so it was actually a good practice lesson for me! On the way to the destination he stopped to drop something off with a friend (!), I doubt it was actually on the way, but I wasn’t in a hurry, and the price was already set. Back on the road, which was insanely narrow and twisting between the houses on a mountainside, he asked me where I was gonna stay. I told him, and he advised me something else, very close to the original destination. The trip there included a dive into the submerged streets of Guanajuato, looks like mining tunnels, but were apparently carved out by an ancient river.

The driver took me to the Teatro Principal after pointing out my initial choice of accommodation. Then we started climbing up some stairs on the side of the theatre, got to a plaza, turned a corned, hiked up a hill, turned again, and then finally, with me gasping for air under my heavy backpack, arrived at Casa Bertha. 110 pesos for a single room with shared bathroom, internet and rooftop terrace included – yes thank you! :) Paid and tipped the driver, then checked in with the nice older man in the reception. Jorge. Started speaking English, but I asked him to speak Spanish for some practice. Was really nice actually, he was really patient and spoke slowly, and (yeay) I understood all of what he said! Incredible what a week of practice can do! :) Then he showed me the terrace, so nice with a great view of the city!

After unpacking a bit I went to explore the city. First I went with a bus (though I think it would have been faster to walk!) to the museum with mummies, a quite bizarre place. The mummies are from a nearby cemetery, and around 100 years old. The bodies are preserved because of a certain mineral content of the water people drank and in the dirt. Then when the families are no longer paying for the burial site, the bodies are excavated and if in good condition put in the museum… Nice, huh?!

I walked back to the centre, grapping some bread from a bakery. I strolled around for a while, went into the churches I passed (they are beautiful!), and concluded that the guidebook was right when saying that Guanajuato is one of those cities where when you take a street you think is gonna take you somewhere, you end up somewhere else! Has its charm, and who cares where you are anyway, when you are exploring? :)

The city itself really is charming. Those narrow roads and old buildings, theatres, churches, restaurants, etc. I walked around for a while, and saw a museum with an art exhibition of Don Quijote. Not sure about his story, but I am intrigued to look into it after the experience! Was really nice. I also passed by Mercado Hidalgo, a large building from 1910 housing a market with foods and cheap stuff... One of these places where the food smells amazing, but which I kinda have to stay away from to protect my stomach! Which btw is doing just fine so far, even without an extreme approach, avoiding ice in drinks, salads and stuff like that.  

When I went back past one of the theatres a crowd has gathered to watch a mime perform. I was passing well behind him with some other people, but he spotted me, and brought me into his performance, walking arm in arm with me, pretending to be having a conversation. The crowd were yelling “Beso, beso”, beso meaning kiss, and I got a “kiss” on my cheek. Then I was let off the hook! I had dinner in a restaurant with a student menu, including a salad, a drink, and a delicious chicken with mushrooms and rice. Oh, and a peach for dessert. Back home I sat on the terrace for a while, before going to bed, exhausted from the trip and the sightseeing!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lake Chapala, Day 9

First a request: Like I put in the info-bar to the right, I really really appreciate your comments! They always make me happy, I love to know that someone is following my blog! Just please remember to put your name in the text, if posting as "anonymous"! Thank you!

With Spanish school being over, I guess I am actually kind of on holiday now! Can you believe that I haven't thought about it this way before? :p Just looked at it like an in-between USA and going back home. But holiday it is, and an amazing one even! :D

So I started the weekend by sleeping in... Or not. I woke up at 7 and met Lita in the kitchen with one of the grandchildren. She cooked eggs with chorizo for me (uhm!) and then I was off to the center with the R-629 once again. A quick and easy trip on a Sunday morning. I was on my way to a bus taking me to Chapala, the largest late in Mexico, a trip that some friends and the school had recommended. I found the bus alright, and we took off first to pick up some more people on hotels around. Then arrived at a meeting place with a minivan, and divided in groups for Tequila and Chapala, respectively.

I went in the minivan with an energetic guide called Rosi. She was translating most of her messages to me in English, so I got some parts of the story as well! It was one of those trips like in Turkey where they take you to a shop you don't really wanna see, in this case a western-style shop with cowboy boots and leather jackets, and in the end to a restaurant I wouldn't have chosen. But back to that later.

The trip to the lake took around 1 hour, and gave a good impression of the area surrounding Guadalajara as well. Chapala city is small and touristic, and the lake is very dirty, but nevertheless it was nice with an escape to some water! As you know by now I have been living inlands for a while, considering Tucson. We spent an hour on our own in the sun on the lake shore, and I bought a little wallet for my Mexican money, which before then was flowing uncontrollably in my bag. So very useful. Its light brown suede and has a flower on it. On my request they also added "Mexico 2011" so it will serve as a memory. :)

After the Chapala town we went to another scenic town on the lake shore, Ajijic ([Ahihik]). It is something like an American/Canadian colony, so though it is beautiful with lots of murals on the colorful houses, to me it sort of looses its charm. We had some time on our own, and I checked out some of the shops, the church, and took some pictures of colorful areas in general. :) Then back to the van and on to the restaurant I wouldn't have chosen, mainly because of its price level. It was right on the shore, so the view was incredible, and I was sitting with 3 other girls from the bus, 2 of which spoke pretty good English. So with the decent meal, all in all it was ok.

The trip back took 1,5 hours I think, because we were dropping people off where it was convenient for them. Very nice... Unfortunately I was last. Oh, but I did catch this great picture of two kids cleaning our windscreen when the driver was not paying enough attention to stop them at the red light! :p Yeah, one has got to be ready to decline such services, or pay up!

Once back home at Lita's, I moved my stuff into another bedroom, as another student was moving in to take my place. I liked the old room better, but I was just happy to be able to stay for another night. I got ready to leave the next morning, and fell asleep quite early, after a day in the fresh air and sun.! :)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Missing picture-links

Sorry people, I just noticed that I have forgotten to link from my blog to my facebook photo albums from the second part of our roadtrip and my trip so far in Mexico.

You can now find them in the menu to the right. --->

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Guadalajara, day 7 and 8

Thursday started as the other mornings around 7, getting ready for school. Breakfast consisting of scrambled eggs (huevos, [wevos]), refried beans, fresh squized orange juice, and cereals was on the table. :) Wouldn't mind having someone to prepare that stuff for me at home... :D

School was good, I was feeling much more confident after spending Wednesday afternoon and evening studying so hard. I could really feel a progress! :) After school I went out to find the bus to one of the other parts of the city: Tlaquepaque ([Tlakeehpakeeh]). With a little trouble and asking for directions (YEAH - I recognized when someone mentioned the number 275! Small steps...) I managed, and got into a bus for a bumpy, crowded half hour drive out of the center.

The whole bus-thing here is actually kinda peculiar. In most cases there are no signs for the bus stop, though it does not stop anywhere. You just really need to know I guess. I haven't been able to find a map with the busses or a schedule. Im sure they exist, but it is complicated by the fact that there are numerous bus companies covering the city, and different kinds of busses... Pew... I wonder if the Guadalarajans actually have an overview themselves. :)

Once there I might have missed big parts of the area, but the center of Tlaquepaque where I decided to spend my afternoon was so tranquil, calm, and just so pleasant, compared to the chaos in the city. You know Im not that good with big cities... This part of the city has a lot of arts and crafts for sale, many of the streets are pedestrians only, and though I can imagine it being a tourist hell during summer, it was really nice. After having checked out the neighborhood I found a restaurant recommended in my guidebook, had a slightly disappointing, but however filling lunch. Afterwards I went back to the main square, sat for a while in the sun, and headed back towards the city. Again a challenge... I had asked the tourist information which bus to take to get home, and knew the bus number. Only I couldn't find the bus, so had to ask for directions... again... twice. Luckily people are nice and happy to help. And my goodness, does a few words of Spanish help! :D

Soooo I found the bus and had the worst bus ride like ever. It felt like hours of driving on the messed up roads in a crappy bus, so I really wasn't feeling too good when I got off. And I didn't even know exactly where I was, so it took me a while with my guide book map without street names to find mi casa. But as always (so far!) I did. Then I just crashed. Woke up later with the hope to manage to write my blog, study a bit of Spanish, or at least read in my book, but I was too zombie for either. As far as I remember, I watched tv for a while (yes, I have a big flatscreen tv in my room, in case I havent mentioned...!) and fell asleep early.

Friday, Jan 21st was my last day in school! Getting there of course I wished that I had been able to add too my progress by studying the night before, but I have learned to come to terms with situations like this lately. Previously I could blame myself and feeling bad for not doing better, but now I am better able to realise that I always do my best. And if the temporary best if not my usual best, then probably I had other needs I had to take care of - like sleeping after exploring the city, or watching tv to give my brain a break. :) I think this is a very important lesson, and one that can keep me from getting stressed in the future!

My teacher Sara!
Where were we... Oh yes, last day in school! Was nice, I can feel that I am getting a better grip of certain useful words. I wish I could stay longer in the school though. But maybe some other time. :) The class ended with a test, to see if we had learned the curriculum of the week. It wasn't too hard, though for some reason I am unable to remember the numbers 15, 40 and 50. More practice, I guess! Said goodbye to Sara, and she gave me a big hug and spoke for 10 minutes about this and that. Sorry I cant be more specific, but since I didn't understand the details, its kinda hard to remember! :D

Then I was off, back to Lita's house for lunch. For once it was somewhat crowded, with her daughter Cristina, Cristina's husband, and 3 other students living in the house present. But cosy and a good atmosphere in the kitchen, eating chop suey. Again in the afternoon I just enjoy being able to relax in my room, with TV and a long nap (did you read about my dream? Its in the previous post!).

Saturday, January 22, 2011

I just had a dream...

I know I owe you the story of the last couple of days in Mexico, but first I really want to tell you about a dream I just had. I came home from the last day of school exhausted, had lunch, and took a long nap without setting an alarm. Just before I woke up, I dreamt this:

Part 1:
I was on a biking trip with my backpack, feeling very lucky that I could travel around like that, and being happy for being mobile and for being able to enjoy the landscape. I was somewhat lost, but at one point a truck stopped, and the trucker gave me directions. I noticed how beautiful the landscape was behind him, and took a picture with him in it.

Part 2
It had become dark, and I went to stay in an inn/bed and breakfast (Danish word would be "kro"). It had a large, warm common room with a fireplace, and a big pot full of stew hanging over it. There was a great atmosphere in the room, with many people enjoying the meal and chattering all around. Suddenly I noticed my sister Helene and my friend Riccardo sitting at a table, waiting for me. We were very happy to see each other, and I realised how much I had been missing them. I spent a terrific evening with them in the common room, and slept sharing a big bed with both.

Part 3
(I have forgotten some specifics of this part, unfortunately.) The next morning things started turning a little weird. We had breakfast in the kitchen, and we could order ANYTHING we wanted. I had quesadillas (recognize another friend relation? :D), but when the other two had some other interesting things, I wanted more. The staff began adding non-food things to our order (this is where its blurry), and at one point I got a really nice camera. The craziness continued, until I asked to win the lottery, and was giving a winning lottery ticket. I won 48 mio. (though I dont remember the currency! ;)).

Part 4
After winning the lottery we went with one of the hosts to see more of the area. We were in some sort of cart, with all my old and new stuff stacked on the back with Helene, Riccardo and me. We were driving on a road very near the ocean, overlooking an astonishing mountainside ahead of us. But my things on the cart had moved closer to the edge, and some things fell in the water. I remember seeing my purple fleece blanket in the waves, and panicking that I was loosing my stuff, I dived in after it. Once in the water I saw the new camera falling towards the bottom. I felt desperate, but I realised that I had the lottery ticket in my pocket, and that I had to save that first. Once back on the cart I pulled it out of the pocket, and handed it and my old camera to our guide. He asked me if I was sure I wanted the ticket. If I couldn't see that I didn't need it and that it would bring bad things with it. But I was sure that I wanted the ticket. He shrugged, gave me the old camera and the ticket back, and while I could see the letters on it flow out and disappear because of the water, so did the cart, my friends, and the rest of my things.

Part 5
I was walking through the same city where the inn is, feeling depressed and deprived of my whole fortune. I found the hilly street that lead to it. I started walking up meanwhile realising, that all I hoped for was that my friends would be in the common room to greet me when I got there. And how lucky I was to at least have my old camera with all the good memories in it.

Then I woke up.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

I would be so lost if I did't know German!! Mexico day 4-6

Now this post has been in the process of writing for 3 days... A sign of the fact that for once I study really hard! :D

My first day in Spanish school started out with breakfast with Lita. Scrambled eggs with ham, refried beans, and something made with shredded tortillas and tomato sauce. Juice, cereal and bread was also available, so really everything I could hope for. At 7.30 we took the bus to the school, takes app. 30 mins. The quality of the bus is rather poor, but a ticket costs like 0.5$/3 kroner/6 pesos so can't really complain.

Arriving at the bus stop Lita carefully showed me where to get on the bus home, she even wrote me a note so I could be sure to take the right bus. "R-629-2. Not 629-1, not 629-A or B, but R-629-2!" Si, si, comprendo... :D Then she took me to the school, where I got some introductory information, and was tested for my Spanish skills with an oral interview. And then the challenge started. Obviously the teacher would have put me in the absolute beginners group, but the class I am in is not really a beginner level in my opinion. The three other students in the class has various skills, but none are starting from scratch. And the teacher does not speak English. So imagine the very common situation where I look completely lost over something she has said, and she accommodates my lack of understanding by explaining another way. In Spanish. Sigh. Actually I get most of her points, but I would really like to have a teacher who would translate directly to English, so I would learn more about how to build sentences, how and when to use certain words, etc.

That said, I feel like I am learning a lot! I have two notebooks where I write down all the words I catch, and spend the evenings going over my notes and adding more information. And I am so happy to know German, 'cause from there I can recognize many grammatical parts. E.g. the conjugations, the fact that the vers are different depending on who they refer to. If I had to learn this concept from scratch, I would be in trouble! Or even more trouble than now at least... But back to Monday afternoon.

I had class from 9 to 1, and then left the school to explore the city. I bought lunch and sat on a bench in front of the church in the sun to relax my brain a bit. Then headed to an attraction that turned out to be closed on Mondays, but free on Tuesdays, so I decided to come back the next day. On the stairs outside the building I met one of the guys who were sitting in the hotel yard that evening a couple of days before, and he recognized me. So I was asking him for some suggestions on what to do, but actually just ended up with an ice cream on a bench with my Spanish notes. So nice. :)

Went home with the R-629-2 bus, recognizing the signs on the way, which Lita had pointed out for me. Dinner was on the table for me to heat whenever I wanted, so I studied a bit before eating. Continued going over words and phrases and writing my blog till 11, when I really had to go to sleep!

Woke up at 7 to take my breakfast and get ready for school. Managed to be a little bit late, but the bus this morning just took longer, because it was later in the morning and there was more traffic. Another day with all Spanish for 4 hours. I kinda understand what the teacher is saying, but only her points, not the specific words, and I find it almost impossible to say anything. I simply do not have enough words to make a sentence - FRUSTRATING. But of course I cant learn a new language in a few days, so I have to arm myself with patience (dunno if this saying works in English - Danes will understand for sure. :))

In the afternoon I went to see Hospicio Cabañas, and old building that used to be an orphanage. It didn't look like that to me, but nonetheless... It had some beautiful murals and little patios, and since it was a free-Tuesday, I enjoyed not paying for the entrance. :) After this cultural injection I went back to school to take part in the 3-4 PM conversation class, with the topic of "Day of the dead". If you have followed my blog through the semester you might remember my description of the Tucson event in November. Otherwise, check it out! The class was not very useful, as my ability to actually say something is non-existing. Though to be improved! After class I waited around for an hour to ask Mario about a tour to Chapala, and was talking to two Mexican guys in the meantime. I helped them understanding of some English phrases while they helped me out with some Spanish words. Win-win. :)

Back home I was SOOO tired, so basically only managed to watch two episodes of friends on the flat screen tv in my room (!) - English with Spanish subtitles. That also counts as studying, right? :D Did my homework, got some dinner, and fell asleep around 10.30.

Wednesday morning, 19th January, we had a class trip to another IMAC school. First we had a regular class for an hour, and then we met with some Mexican English students. Like in the conversation class the idea was, that we should speak English half the time and Spanish the other half. Just not totally cool when one is not able to say three coherent words in Spanish. However, the English part was kinda fun! I was paired up with a kid aged 13 or something like that, and the whole group went to a café to talk and play a "20 questions to the professor"-kinda game.

Lita was cooking caldo (soup) for lunch, and it was gooooood! Afterwards I called my mom via skype and with the webcam, to have her "meet" my sweet Mexican mom. Was really fun! :) And since that time, 3 PM, I have been studying, only interrupted by a little dinner consisting of tortillas with beans. Me gusto mucho! Now its 10.45, and my brain feels like jelly. I still feel unable to put together a sentence, but at least I have expanded my vocabulary and grammatical understanding a bit more! I think that basically Spanish is a lot of fairly easy words, but with crazy conjugations. So when I hear someone speak I can't recognize it, but really it is conjugations of words I already know. Pew... Only way out is more practice I guess! Two more days in school, then I'm off to test my skills in practice!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Yo aprendo Español! :)

For Christmas I gave my professor Ernie, who invited Helene and me for dinner Christmas eve, two old books with Grooks, little pragmatic poems by the Danish writer Piet Hein. It was inevitable that I had to read through the books before I gave them away (!), and I found this one.

To be brave is to behave
Bravely when your heart is faint.    
So you can be really brave
Only when you really ain’t.

So this morning when I packed my stuff in the hotel before moving to my host family, I kept these words in mind.

Mario had asked me to either be at the host house before 1 PM if I wanted to go with the family to a party, or after 5. In the spirit of adventure and unique experiences I obviously decided that a get-together with people I didn't know and who probably wouldn't speak a lot of English would be a great idea... That gave me 3 hours to tour the old city center before moving along.

The receptionist in the little hotel allowed me to leave my luggage in the reception, and then I stopped by in the bakery to get some breakfast. Though I prefer a more full breakfast than some pieces of bread, I don't mind to live off a few croissants every once in a while! :) Mario had told me about one of the major streets being closed for cars every Sunday morning, so I headed down it towards the center together with hundreds of bikes. Seemed to me like people were just enjoying the fact that there were no cars, without actually having to go anywhere. And well, the weather is amazing here, so I cannot blame them! :)

However, all the shops were closed, and I realised that life in a very catholic city like Guadalajara on a Sunday does not start till church is over... Or well, around 10.30 at least. (Considering that in Denmark NOTHING would really start on a Sunday, this was actually great!) So for a little over an hour I just strolled around enjoying the views - it really is a beautiful city! :) I sat on a bench in the sun in front of the cathedral with my breakfast and enjoyed the whole thing. Then I walked around with the quest of finding a notebook for my Spanish notes, which turned out to be more difficult than I though. The mission brought me into several indoor market places, which would for sure have never been approved for fire safety in Denmark. And the food courts, however delicious the food looked and smelled was not exactly attractive. Im sure it will be, once my stomach gets immune to all the local bugs! :p

So yeah, anyway, one thing bothered me walking around, but of course I should get used to that to. Attracting attention. I am using the same tactic as in Turkey, avoiding eye contact, as that literally makes people follow me around. This tactic minimizes the attention to staring and comments, which in most cases I don't understand. Yet. Though probably for the better anyway - makes it easier to ignore.

I succeeded in my book quest when I found a little pink notebook with Tinkerbell and a lot of glitter. FYI, Tinkerbell is called Campanita, or "little bell", in Spanish. It came with a Disney pen, which sadly doesn't work. I will try to get over the loss. Headed back to the hotel I managed to walk in the wrong direction, but in the end found my way. Picked up my luggage and found a taxi, with 3 veeeery helpful drivers, each eager to respectively assure me he knew the way to my hosts, carry my backpack, and open the door for me, etc. Nice nice... Once in the cap the nice driver really had no clue of where we were going, but he did have a map, and spoke happily to me in Spanish. I understood nothing but his gestures, but that was enough anyway. Spoken language is overrated... ;)

With this newfound discovery I pulled up to 2529, a number the taxi driver was getting tired of repeating to me to learn, I guess. Veinti.. (I actually almost know how to say it, just not sure how to write it ;)) The house was surrounded by a gate, which luckily the driver found out how to open, and I got through the second gate in front of the door. And knocked. Twice. Then a very ecstatic Mexican woman open, hugged me, welcomed me, and showed me my room, los baños (WC), and the kitchen. Slightly overwhelmed but very excited by the fact that she spoke a bit of English AND that there was wireless Internet, I sat down to relax for 5 minutes. We would be leaving to her daughters birthday shortly after.

The birthday girl next to me, and...
Look at that cake! 
Could say a lot about the whole afternoon, but I really need to get to sleep now. :) So I will make it short.  First we picked up a beer in 7Eleven, as my host, Carmelita (or Lita in short) likes a beer before her meal! Hehe... I didn't mind a cold beer on this warm day. :) We went to a restaurant in a fancy neighborhood, and I met the entire family with loads of children with cheek kisses from everyone. During the meal I was seated next to Lita's sister who lives in Texas, and thus speaks good English as well. GREAT! The IMAC school where I will be taking the Spanish class has a policy that the hosts should only be speaking Spanish with the students, but as I really do not know any Spanish, this is just a better solution. Like in the discussion class I benefit so much from having the direct translation between English and Spanish! And I realised that learning my 4th language from my 2nd (English) is somewhat a different challenge from learning it off my mother tongue. Adds another dimension of complexity, though the knowledge of language structures indeed is very useful! :)

In my Tinkerbell-notebook I now have a selection of words and a few phrases, such as "Estoy cansada" - Im tired, and "yo tengo hambre" - I am hungry, or rather, I have hunger. A good example of how German helps me, from "Ich habe hunger", the same structure as Spanish, but different from Danish and English. Ok, enough lanugae geek babbling, I will go to sleep now. Im so happy! :)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Arriving in Guadalajara, Mexico. Day 1 and 2.

Hey, you know what? I'm in Mexico now. Crazy. And warm!

Arriving yesterday around 2 PM, I took a taxi from the airport to the center of the city like I had promised Jesus. For sure it was the best solution with all my luggage, though it took him a while to convince me about it... So yeah, for 220 pesos, 103 kroner, 18 US$, or 14€, whichever you prefer, I got to the center of the city.  I hadn't booked any accommodation, as I figured that would be easier once I was here, so instead I went to the IMAC School where I will be taking a one-week Spanish course next week.

Ok, so I dragged my stuff inside, and met Martha, with whom I have been in touch with via email lately. She sent me straight to a "discussion class" despite my worried claims that I spoke no Spanish what so ever. She really didn't care, which turned out to be fine. The class was watching a movie about some Mexican ruins, and afterwards we were divided in groups with Spanish-students and Mexican English-students mixed up. There were some questions to discuss about the movie, but really the point was just to be talking. The teacher asked us to start in English, then switched to Spanish, and the two languages interchanged throughout the class. Was nice to experience that I actually did catch some on the points in Spanish, and cool to have the option to ask to have a sentence in Spanish translated directly to English. Really a nice class to start out with!

After class I was asked to wait for one of the staff members to get information about my weekend. They didn't really have to care much, since my program doesn't start till Sunday, but this guy, Mario, helped me out with a lot of stuff. Making sure I had somewhere to stay that night, invited me on a Saturday trip with some other students, and informed me about my homestay - oh, I should say more about that. I had different options for accommodation, hotels, hostels, but also to stay with a Mexican family, which I figured would be a fun challenge, and would help me learn even more in this crash course of mine. At the time of writing, Saturday night, I am a little worried about meeting the family tomorrow, and getting to some level of communication with them. But well... Actually I have no doubt that it will work out one way or the other. And, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right? :)

The rest of Friday afternoon I spent taking a nap in the hotel. I have a single room with shared bathroom,  super cheap - 220 pesos (see above ;)) pr. night. Afterwards I went to the reception to ask for a map and a supermarket, all done in very very simple Spanish with a receptionist with no English vocabulary. But I understood her directions, got my map, and found the supermarket. :) Yey!

Coming back from the market I really felt much better than when I left. All day I had had this horrible feeling of having left so much behind in Arizona, and I was feeling so alone and sad. However the small victory of coming back with some eatable things, having figured out a little more about this city, realizing that I have "conquered" so many non-English speaking cities before, made me feel better.

I ate my dinner in the hotel yard, as I was practically dragged there by a Canadian woman I met in the kitchen. She was enjoying the warm evening outside with some friends, and I joined the party for a little while. Very nice. Then I went back to my room, and slept rather soon after. :)

Sorry for this long post, but I might as well tell you about my Saturday now that Im at it. So like I said, Mario invited me on a day trip, though actually it wasn't supposed to be open for other students than this particular group from an American university. I'm not sure why he let me, actually, but who cares. I was there. :) We started at 9 AM from the school, which is just around the corner from my hotel. I stopped by the bakery on the corner for a fresh supplement to my juice from the supermarket. Then we were off in a bus towards some ruins just outside the city, Guachimontones. Actually those were the topic of the class movie the day before. It was interesting site with circular pyramids surrounded by square plateaus. So now I have seen my first pyramids! :)

The Agave for tequila
After this stop, we went to the town of Tequila, where obviously we visited a tequila distillery. But first we had lunch in a local restaurant, and finally I managed to get into conversation with the American students who had been a little hard to get to in the first hours. The tour of the distillery came with taste samples of the different stages from the tequila production - including a margarita in the end. ;) We also saw the church in the city, pretty decorated inside with white and blue colors. Afterwards we had some time to browse through the town, and I went to have an ice cream and sit in the sun with some of the others. Then back home to the city.

Has been a nice day, really. :) I am really happy that I could join the group on the tour, as I would otherwise probably not have been able to go to those places. And tomorrow I am going to stay with the host family, I even accepter their invitation to go to a party in the afternoon. Sigh... Now wondering if I am too much up for challenges, if I would have a better stay if I didn't get into these hard situations. But then again, its a unique situation and I would hate to take the easy way out, not knowing what I am missing out on.

I will keep you posted! :)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Leaving US

So yeah, "Don't cry because its over, smile because it happened" might be very clever, but it doesn't change the fact that leaving something pleasant behind hurts. So I will do both - smile and cry.

What an amazing ride it has been. 5 months ago I tore up my life in Copenhagen, at least temporarily, and moved to Arizona. It doesn't feel like such a long time ago, yet so much has happened in the meantime. So many great friends... Hillary gave me a goodbye present the other day on behalf of a large group of my friends from UA. A photo book with letters from everyone - so amazing! I didn't have time to read it, and had to send it home with Helene who was leaving that same day, but I am so looking forward to digging into all that love!

Dropping Helene off in the airport two days ago wasn't easy either. Our roadtrip was perfect, really. We had so much travel luck, everything just worked out to the best. In total we drove 2400 miles/3862 km over a period of 2 weeks. On the way from San Diego we talked about all the people we have met, all the places we have been, all the stuff we experienced. We have over 1000 pictures and a lot of little movie clips, and I cannot wait to get home to go over it all again! :)

Being back in Tucson was a little weird but also kind of nice. We stayed at Hillary's place and went out to lunch with the people with whom it all started back in August... Hillary, Chris, and Jesus. We sat in the sun at No Anchovies enjoying some of the best pizza and best company in the world. Later I took Helene to the airport, she brought a suitcase home for me, and afterwards I went to the postoffice to ship home a box of books. Only cost 46 $, not too bad actually. Then I dropped the car off and went back to rest a bit before dinner.

I went to eat with Chris, and afterwards met with Hillary in SkyBar for one last margerita. Again, just lacking Jesus, it was like being wrapping things up where they started - in SkyBar with Hillary and Chris. Back home I figured I would spend some time writing my blog before going to bed, and taking off towards Phoenix 10 AM with Jesus, but those relaxing plans ended abruptly when Jesus called and asked if we could just leave immediately. Not having packed my back or said a final goodbye to Hillary it all became a little rushed, but afterall it was kind of nice just to "escape" from Tucson in the middle of the night without thinking too much about it. So we arrived in Phoenix around 4 AM, and I spend the next day sleeping in, repacking my stuff, reading in the sun, having ribs for dinner, and touring Phoenix by car.

Now I am in the airport, leaving for Guadalajara, Mexico, the first stop on my 1 month backpacking travel.

Day 14 - Last day of the roadtrip.

As Helene was flying out of Tucson in the afternoon Wednesday 12th, we decided that it would be better to leave San Diego in the evening the 11th instead of early early morning on the 12th, and hence checked out of the hostel and packed the car one last time.

We spent the morning on a retired hangar ship in the harbor, the USS Midway. Originally build in the 40s, it has been restored several times, but was taken out of service in the 90s. Equipped with an audio tour we found our way around the huge ship, trying to avoid the worst masses of school kids. The ship was build for some 3000 sailors, but often carried 4500. Crazy... I mean, it was big, but 4500 is a lot of people! So it must have been rather crowded. Really interesting to see the different quarters and areas of the ship! Especially the flight deck was fascinating, with all its examples of aircrafts and space for take off and landing. Would have loved to see it in action!

A little late we headed back to the hostel to meet with Seil, the Korean girl we met in LA, and drove to San Diego. We had agreed to go to In'n'Out burger for lunch! After some trouble finding each other (no cellphones... How did people find each other back in the days???) we headed north to the closest restaurant, which was indeed not that close. But anyway... With a car and a GPS its never that hard. :)

We dropped Seil off in the center, and headed south. Stopped by Imperial beach, as I decided that cursing Highway 1 without actually having had our feet in the pacific would be a shame! So we went there with a towel, picked up some seas shells and sand between our toes, and then continued on the road. Helene wanted to do some power shopping in an outlet mall before going home, and since I wouldn't be able to carry more stuff I spend the time packing my backpack for Mexico. Some hours later we headed towards Tucson, for the first time with Helene driving! Really nice to be able to sit on the side and not pay too much attention to the road for once!

The trip was 400+ miles, so around 650 km, and took us app. 6,5 hours. We arrived to Tucson 2.30 AM,  and had to call Chris in La Aldea as my key card was not working anymore. We were sleeping at Hillary's place, and she had left the keys outside for me. Talk about good friends! :)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Day 13 - WOW, SEA WORLD! :D

Monday morning we got up and left the motel with all our luggage to go to Sea World, one of San Diego's main attraction. On the way we stopped by the hostel we would be sleeping at that night, in order to get some discounted rate tickets for the park.

I imagine how Sea World can be a visitor hell during holiday periods, but on this perfectly sunny January day we had all the space we wanted in the park. Sea World is a hybrid between a zoo and an amusement park with shows mixed in as well. We spend the day walking past huge aquariums and enclosures with whales, sea lions, a polar bear, loads of fish, some birds, etc. etc. etc. The most remarkable things was of course the performances, we watched 3: One with sea lions and an otter, which turned out to be our favorite show. The other two were with dolphins and killer whales, respectively, also both very fascinating and entertaining. We really had a great day browsing through the park, and when we left around 4 PM we felt like the 63$ was really well spent.

From the park we drove to the old part of San Diego through the Presidio park. The surprise from the park on the hill surprised us a bit, as we could really only see highways to all sides. Back down we checked out some shops, and then walked through parts of Old Town. A super cozy area with little old houses, some of which contained small, authentic-style shops, like an old candy shop. After a while we found a Mexican restaurant for dinner, then went back to the hostel to relax. It was sort of troublesome with parking around the city-center-hostel, and we had to get up at 3 AM to buy another parking ticket. But as we were awake due to noise in the hostel anyway, it wasn't really a problem.

Day 12 - Arrival in San Diego; Balboa Park and the Gaslamp Quater

We left Los Angeles after breakfast, yet again with an extra passenger; Korean Seil, with whom we had shared a room in Hollywood. So with the car tightly packed, we went south once again, happy to have a GPS to guide us on the intricate network of LA highways.

The trip was rather eventless and took just over 2 hours. It took us a while to figure out where to drop off Seil, and also to find our own motel, which turned out to be in the outskirts of the city. However not a big problem. After settling in to our motel room, enjoying to have our own space after the hostel-experiences, we followed suggestions from several people and went to Balboa park in the nice weather. We walked around there and enjoyed the weather and warm atmosphere, with a lot of people using the park. It even had "free thrills" in the shape of a botanical garden and a small art museum. We only went into the garden because a guy outside informed us that it was gonna close in 2,5 minutes, and we figured that would be the perfect amount of time to spend in the garden. After visiting the Getty's center the night before, we weren't to much into the art either, but of course - you cannot let a free opportunity be! :)

We left the park in the sunset, driving towards the Gaslamp quarter, parked the car in a surprisingly free spot, and went to find dinner. We ended up in a nice Italian place, enjoyed our pasta, and went home to rest in the motel. Unfortunately our neighbors had arrived. A Spanish-speaking family with a swarm of children. I went to their room after hours of noise, just to let them know that we could hear every single word they said, and was surprised to see 10+ children standing in there. How they all found a spot to sleep is beyond my imagination, but it must have been an impressive sight! :D At least they calmed down a little later, and gave us silence to sleep.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Day 11 - Los Angeles

As far as I can see I left you all hanging somewhere on Hollywood Boulevard... Lets continue from there! We spent a whole day in Los Angeles, Saturday January 8th. One might say that is not enough for such a big city, but having been there before and knowing that it is indeed not one of my favorites, I could guide Helene around to the most important places. Plus she had discovered a great way of spending our evening - more to come about that.

So we woke up to have breakfast the usual way in our Hollywood hostel, and left the car there to take the metro downtown. Funny how everybody is like "Nooo, you don't wanna use public transportation, it doesn't work, you need a car to get around", when really the system is functioning really well. It takes like 15 mins to get downtown from Hollywood with the red metro line, and costs 1.50 $. Now who would say that isn't convenient?!? We started off walking to Olvera Street, an old little alley with loads of stalls selling Mexican-style souvenirs. It also has Los Angeles's oldest house for free visiting, so of course we went there. We like free stuff... :)

After having browsed through all the little shops, looking at amazingly colorful little thingies we headed towards the more cultural side of town. Unfortunately since it was Saturday we couldn't get into the city hall to see the view of the city, so we continued down the road to the large new cathedral. Nothing like what Helene had imagined, it is an impressive building, modern style with some unique decorations on the walls. Back outside, just as we were talking about having to see the Hollywood sign before we left, it appeared on a far away hill side. Though not up close, we decided that that would good enough!

Next stop was the Disney Concert Hall, which I had only seen from the outside on my first trip to LA. This time we took an audio tour inside, but it wasn't really that interesting, as we didn't get to the the concert hall itself. An then Helene discovered that she had lost one of her new earrings from Olvera Street, so she spent some time looking for it, with no luck. So we went to get lunch at the Grand Central Market, taking the short Angels Flight trolly/rail road down the hillside. Very cute.

In the market we quickly identified that Mexican (!) would be a good options for lunch, and ended up with a burrito and a tortas, respectively. Liking American Mexican food so much, I can only imagine that my Mexico travel is gonna be a success - if they don't make it too spicy down there. ;) After lunch I went home, I was having a light cold, so was rather tired. Helene went back to do some more shopping, and met me at the hostel when I had taken a nap a while later.

Our evening excursion was to the Getty's Center, on a hilltop in the outskirts at the city! Our research had revealed that it was free to park there on Saturday nights (compared to 15$ on regular days), and the admission is always free. Another free experience! And it was really great. Started out with a tram-ride uphill, to the center itself above the parking area. The huge area holds several buildings with different kinds of arts and other artifacts, so all in all paintings, sculptures, ancient books, icons, furniture, etc. etc. Also their garden is really nice, but what was most breathtaking was the night view we got of Los Angeles. Though close to the highway and their noise, we still got the feeling of being far above the city - a really nice escape. We went home around 9, after having spend several hours at the center. Made us think about how amazing it is that people who are as rich as Getty cares enough about their society to open a museum with free entrance for the public. Really cool! :)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Day 10: From San Luis Obispo over Solvang and Santa Barbara to Los Angeles

The morning of Friday 7th started with a solid breakfast, as usual consisting of our oatmeal, fruits and bagels plus what the house had to offer. In this case the addition was sourdough pancakes. We left the cosy little hostel headed south on Highway 1 once again, but soon left it to drive inlands. I had planned a stop of which Helene knew very little - Solvang. A peculiar little place. It is a Danish settlement from 1911, and thus we arrived there on one of their first days of centennial celebration. Didn't mean anything for our layover there, but still fun to consider. :)

It was fun to drive into the town, seeing all the Danish names of restaurants and streets, and little houses with timber framing. It might have been fake (painted on), but who cares. It looked fine from a distance. One of our first stops was the tourist information, as we needed a map and suggestions on what to do there.  In the information we met a nice man, Dean, who has family in Denmark and who spoke a little bit of Danish. He started talking about tebikes, frikadeller, flæskesteg, etc., Danish dishes that I miss so much. Hehe, but soon I will be back in my Danish kitchen! Dean also gave us some directions, and we headed out with our new map, two postcards with pictures of æbleskiver, and a voucher to get a free bag in one of the local shops. Its a cool one, a canvas bag with an imprint that changes color in the sunshine! 

Another cool stop of ours was the local museum, which according to the guide book is the only thing in Solvang that will tell something real about the story of the Danes in Solvang. The museum is called Elverhøj, and again we met people with Danish ancestors. Agnes was one of them, or well she was actually born in Denmark herself. I think she enjoyed talking with us in Danish, and she also showed us around in the little museum, pointing out her favorite items. So nice. :) 

After having spent way more time in Solvang than we planned, we headed off again this time towards Santa Barbara. It was Lise, whom we met in the hostel in Monterey, who suggested that we stopped there as well. We found a tourist information and asked for a map. Once well equipped also with suggestions for sights, we headed downtown. Charming little city, though I can imagine how it must be packed with tourists in the summer. We saw the court house, build in a Spanish style with loads of tiles and wall murals. Also there is a tower where we headed for a view of the city. Another good vista point was a park on a mountain side, which proved to be much harder to find than we thought it would be. But after twisting and turning on the same little roads for a while, we managed to get on to the right one, and find the park. And the view was worth it - we could see the whole city, the ocean, and the mountains around. 

After driving back to the city to refuel on some gorgeous fish and chips, we were off towards the destination of the day, Los Angeles. The sunset scenery on the way was amazing! We arrived to LA around 7 PM, and found parking and our room in our Hollywood hostel. After unpacking, we headed out to see Hollywood Boulevard in the dark, and came home with some groceries for a light dinner. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Day 8 and 9 - Monterey and driving to San Luis Obispo

We left San Francisco on another beautiful morning after another great breakfast, a mix of what the hostel offered and oatmeal and fruit. After packing the car, we set off towards Monterey, 185 km down the coast. All the way down to San Diego we are planning to take Highway 1, a road that is following the coast all the way south. A much longer, but also much more interesting trip than taking the larger road inland.

The trip out of the San Francisco peninsula was incredible. There was fog over the water, the sun was up, and everything was so green! Helene caught a lot of good pictures, so check them out in Facebook. Here is one of them... We decided that it would be a shame to follow the straight road, and took a turn the GPS didn't exactly advice. So we turned down her voice and drove in what we believed was the right way. It turned out to be a mountain road twisting and turning up and down through a beautiful forest, and a good chance to play with the engine break.

On the way we took another detour to visit an outlet mall in Gilroy. I wanted to look for a backpack for my Mexico trip, but didn't have any luck. Helene on the other hand did find a bit of nice clothes at great prices. For the backpack instead we visited Walmart, where incredibly I found a backpack in the right size, and with a surprisingly advanced function to adjust the length of the straps to make it fit my back, which apparently is small, backpack-wise. Yeay!

Arriving in Monterey we parked the car and went for a walking tour around the old city, which the guidebook suggested. It wasn't really anything, but anyway it was a nice way of getting around to see the city. Afterwards we went to our hostel, in the newer part of the city. Or well, with the main road being Cannery Row, used to can sardines in the 60's, "new" doesn't really give the right impression of the area. Its like a small fishing town, with a laid back atmosphere. Probably in the high tourist season, it is completely different. I test-packed my backpack when we unpacked in our room, it seems to be a nice back. :) I don't even think it will be too heavy. We'll see how it goes - one week till Mexico departure! :D

For dinner we got a suggestions for a local fish restaurant, which turned out to be excellent. We had some white fish (forgot what its called) and salmon cakes with salad, rice, and coleslaw. After dinner we went for a short walk on Cannery Row, and then back to the hostel. In our room we met another Danish girl, Lene, who was traveling around US alone. She enjoyed some Danish company, and the next morning we mega-loaded the car, and drove her to the bus station. She was heading to San Francisco.

We however where continuing south, passing one of the most beautiful stretches of Highway 1. Taking the 17 mile drive (kind of a tourist trap, costs 10 bucks, but really is beautiful) we got to see some nice views over the ocean and we spotted a rock full of seals and sea lions. Was hard to see with the naked eye, but with the on-site (pay!) binoculars we got a great peak of the animals. Through Carmel we headed back to Highway 1, we were on our way to Big Sur where the Santa Lucia mountains rise up from the ocean. Yet another incredible landscape. We stopped to go for a short hike on the "Valley View Trail" and to see the Pfeiffer Falls in Pfeiffer National park. It was a nice little walk, took a little over and hour. The forest had some large red woods, happy we got to see them. When we came down around 2 PM, still not having had lunch, we munched some of the fruits, bread, and snacks from our car-stash, and then headed back to the main road. It did take a while till we found a place to get something to eat, and it ended up being two burritos from a convenience store that looked like it could drop into the ocean anytime. We enjoyed them nice and warm from the microwave, sitting in the car watching the ocean.
Helene in a red wood.

At this point we realised, that if we wanted to reach our day-destination in time, we needed to speed up a bit. The sun was approaching the horizon (Helene caught it on the camera of course!), and we had another 60 miles to go. And we were almost out of gas. One of these situations where the gas lamp comes on 1 mile after you passed the gas station, and really don't feel like turning back. It was all good though - there was a little town coming up and they had gas, the road stretched out instead of twisting through the moutains, and though it was dark we could easily see the way. We arrived safely in San Luis Obispo after shopping for groceries around 6.30 PM. A cute little hostel with a nice kitchen where we cooked pasta and meat sauce. Was popular among the people in the hostel, who came to get some of the leftovers. :)

We sat in the kitchen for a while talking with the other guests, who were a bit older than what you usually see in a hostel. Really cosy though, including a random sing-a-long incidence with a song in the radio! Then I went upstairs to take care of the 174 pictures of the day, while Helene showered. We slept around 10.30.

Day 6 and 7 - ♪ "If you're going to Saaaaan Fraaaaanciscooooo"... ♬

January 4th and 5th.

After a night sleeping heavily in our home-stay/hostel beds in Merced, we were woken up by Larry 7.15 knocking on the door to announce that breakfast was ready. So we went to the kitchen and enjoyed toast with butter and jam and coffee and tea plus a few fruits we brought in from the car. While eating we got a few more stories about Larry’s life, very cozy. :)

A bit past 8 we took off towards San Francisco using Larry’s road suggestions instead of the GPS. It took us around 3 hours to get there on comfortable roads and pleasant weather. Again the landscape was incredible, with wine and fruit fields along the road sides. And then we reached the bay area, spotting the ocean between the hills. We crossed the Bay Bridge, past Fisherman’s Warf, and found our way to the hostel where we had called to reserve what turned out to be the last two beds of 130. Sweet! It was a gorgeous area in a park on the top of a hill, and we were very excited to walk around the area where we could easily spot the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz.

We had lunch in the sun in the park, consisting of break, cream cheese, turkey, and salad purchased in a supermarket in Merced. Afterwards we walked down towards Golden Gate, and met up with my friend Diana, whom I know from UA. We went to a café, then drove to the bridge, to the Golden Gate Park, and then through the city to get an idea of the layout. Back home in the hostel we we’re resting a bit, and then went back to the city to find dinner. Turned out to be in a Chinese place, very tacky, but cheap and delicious. Then around to Polk Street and all its little restaurants – super atmosphere! We walked rather far, at least that was what we found out the day after when we checked the map. Anyway, we went back towards the hostel, and stopped in a restaurant for a cup of hot chocolate. That night we were both really happy to have our earplugs, as at least 2 of our 6 roommates were snoring…

Breakfast was in the hostel café with the bay view, and the meal consisted of a bagel with jam, juice, coffee and tea. We added cream cheese from lunch the day before, and then got ready to head to Alcatraz. We had book the trip online to be sure to get tickets, as apparently the trips sell our early. 9.30 AM and we were off on a 15 min. boat trip to The Rock, where we spent some hours touring the old prison. It was a great experience. First we watched a short documentary about the place, and then followed the audio tour around the buildings. It was really well made, and an interesting insight into the prison’s younger days. The audio tour included spoken statements from former guards and prisoners, and that had a really powerful effect while we were walking around the old prison cells.

The weather was great again today, and we enjoyed the sandwiches we brought from the hostel in the sun while waiting for the boat back to the city. Afterwards we spent several hour walking around, taking in the atmosphere, checking out shops and churches, and climbing the STEEP hills of the city. Such amazing views from the top, and incredible that people manage to park their cars on these streets…! Around 3.30 we got hungry, and headed back towards the hostel, hoping to find a place to eat on the way. It ended up being a Mexican place on Polk, where Helene had a humongous burrito and I got a tortas. Yum! So afterwards we were soo full that we rolled back. I got a blister on my foot in my new hiking boots, so I went back to the hostel while Helene picked up a few groceries.

I hate to admit that we totally wasted that last evening in San Francisco, but we were just both SO tired. We slept around 9 PM, though I claimed to the other people in the room that I was not sleeping, just resting…

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Day 4 and 5 - Last day in Las Vegas and driving to Merced

January 1st we woke up to have breakfast a little past 8. Nothing healthy what so ever in the complimentary breakfast, which consisted of muffins and other cakes, sugar coated cereals, and freshly made waffles. Luckily we could add some oat meal and fruits from our car stash, and had a great meal! After planning our day itinerary, we were off to the strip to see it in daylight. First we entered Circus Circus, which looked like the other casinos at the first sight. However, it is designed differently, tivoli inspired, and has shows with different performers all throughout the day. We saw one with a Ukrainian juggler, which kept us entertained for approximately 15 mins. Afterwards we had one of our suspicions confirmed. It is almost impossible to find the exits in the casinos. While there are loads of signs for restaurants etc., the exits are poorly marked, and it took us a while to find our way out. Same for many of the other places.

Fremont St. 
We continued down the strip for a while, and concluded that all the casinos are pretty much the same. Loads of machines and too many people sitting by them staring lifelessly into the screens. Rather depressing actually, and extremely chaotic with all the noise. We went back to the hotel to have lunch, the leftovers from the Indian New Year dinner.

Around 4, after resting a bit, we took the car and drove downtown. Pretty much the same deal as on the Strip. Casinos and souvenir shops. But what we really came to see was a light show at Fremont Street at 6 PM. It is hard to explain, so look at the pictures instead. :) It was REALLY COOL!

Outside Bellagio
We had agreed to meet my Swiss friend Nik and his friend Silvan at a Strip-casino for dinner at 6.30, but got delayed thinking that the short drive would take much less time than it did. So when we finally arrived, we found the guys playing a 1$ slot machine waiting for us. As we also got to pull the lever/push the button once, I can say that yes, I did play in Las Vegas. Not with my own money, but whatever... ;) Nik had got a recommendation for a restaurant in the casino, and it turned out to be great. Portions way too big but not very expensive, and very good. After dinner we went to Bellagio, another casino with a fountain water show every 15 minutes. We stayed around and watched two, and then said goodbye to the guys, who went to see a drag show. Helene and I went around to look a bit more at the casinos, then drove back to relax in the hotel.

Honestly leaving Las Vegas Sunday morning was something I enjoyed a lot. Not just to get back on the road, but leaving this huge, messy city - I'm just not so good with cities like that. So in a quest for fuel we headed off, well aware that we would probably be stuck in traffic along the way.

The first hours was pretty boring, with a lot of cars on the road and too many toilet breaks due to excessive coffee and water consumption by Helene and myself respectively. So we blame the lines in the restrooms for the fact that it took us 12 hours to get to Merced, a 720 km drive. Well, really a number of factors affected the driving time. We did have a lot of short stops, but the traffic was also rather slow. Passing Bakersfield a little over half way it started raining, which was great for the fact that our car was insanely dirty after driving on snowy, salty, sandy roads around Flagstaff. But it reduced our speed, especially when it became dark and the traffic was even closed on the dark roads around Fresno. Here we stopped to get dinner, and found a nice little Italian restaurant where we in a zombie-like state tried to decide wether we wanted to continue or stay in Fresno. Helene had already checked hostel options, so we knew that there was nothing in Fresno. Closest was a 8-bed hostel in Merced, an hour drive North. I called the owners, a married couple in their 70's, who for 21 years have run a hostel in their own home. Knowing that it was cheap, homely, and closer to our goal in San Francisco, I pulled myself together and with Helene acting well as DJ we had a good energy in the car, now driving on drier roads as it stopped raining. We arrived in Merced 8.30 PM.

The hostel in Merced was spectacular. I never tried anything like it - a regular house, where two rooms are equipped with bunk beds. There is a single bathroom, two living areas, and a family kitchen that hostellers are welcome to use. Larry, the owner, welcomed us warmly and showed us our beds. Very talkative, it was a challenge for us to stay engaged in the conversation with our all-day-driving-messed-up brains. In the end we excused ourselves and went to bed, though not without first having to decline a scoop of ice cream offered by Larry in the kitchen. Slept like a baby till 7 AM, with Larry knocking on the door 7.15 to let us know that the breakfast was ready. :)