Seoul

Seoul! Land of kimchi! It took 25 hours to get to Seoul. I watched sooo many movies. The 11 hour time difference made the jet lag pretty rough.

The hostel I stayed at provided eggs, so i made some cheesy scrambled eggs. Later in the week I would switch to Nutella and bread.

I kicked off the week with a hop on / hop off tour. I hoped off at Mount Namsan which had a beautiful view of the city.

Then i went to Deoksugung palace. Outside they had a changing of the guard ceremony.

For lunch i had brisket yukgaejang, which was a spicy brisket soup.

Fighting the jet lag, I went to see a music performance called the Sun and Moon. It was Korean fusion music, and it was great. I was fighting to stay awake though.

The next day I went on an adventure with Reba from Oregon. We covered a lot of ground. We went out to Gangdum and saw many things, including the Coex library.

Afterward we had lunch, where I was introduced to bibimbap.

Then we explored the Bongeunsa Temple where there were a few monks chanting. We sat and listened briefly.

And Namdaemun Market where we stopped for dumplings. I also picked up some new sunglasses.

The market led us to the South gate, part of the old city wall.

Then finally the Myeong-dong market.

When we got back the owner of the hostel we were staying at took us out to dinner at a restaurant that has a Michelin star, and it was incredible. My favorite was a seafood pancake. I’m told I hold the chopsticks too low.

Thursday I went on a hike in the national park North of Seoul with Carter from Tennessee. It was brutally uphill but the view was worth it.

There was a temple at the second gate

That evening I had a walking tour of Mangwon market on the way to the sky garden.

We also saw World cup stadium, although the view was better from the sky garden.

Friday I spent some time at the Dongdaemun Design plaza. They had some art exhibits inside.

On the way home I walked through the historic Bukchon Hanok Village.

After a nap we went out for some Korean BBQ, where you cook the meat yourself over hot coals.

While walking around, we found a $10 cake shop, so obviously we bought one.

After eating the cake some of us went out for Karaoke.

Saturday I went to the War history museum. I learned about the forming of the two Koreas after WWII, and the North Korean invasion of South Korea. It was going pretty poorly until Douglas MacAuthor, formerly Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, convinced the US to take back Seoul. From there we forced the armistice.

On the way home I stopped for lunch at the gwangjang market.

It turns out one of the dumpling stands was featured on Netflix. I just saw the line and figured it would be good. I met some travelers from Utah who told me about the show.

Later we stopped for Patbingsu, shaved condensed milk. It was delicious but we were unable to finish.

On the way home we stopped for Chicken, tots, and cheese.

Finally we stopped at a park near the river for ramen and some music performance.

Seoul was originally part of my travel plans two years ago but I had to cut it due to lack of budget. I’m happy I finally had three chance to visit. Since I’ve returned I stated a new job and bought a house, so those should keep me busy for a while. I’m looking forward to getting a new empty passport next year and some travel with friends.

Ireland

But first some other trips. In January I went down to New Orleans for a wedding.

I loved New Orleans. Go for the music, stay for the beignets and the shrimp po’boys.

Then to Mexico for a week at a resort with friends.

We didn’t really do anything that week, it was wonderful.

Then I went to Ireland with my community band. We stopped in Cork, Waterford, and Dublin. We kicked it off with a 6 hour delay in the Philadelphia airport. Rumor is that the stick that steers the plane needed to be replaced, twice. You know it’s bad when they bring you snacks and drinks in the airport. We made it there eventually.

Over the course of the week we have three concerts. My favorite was the second one inside a cathedral.

We stopped to see the Blarney Castle. There was a Blarney Stone there but I did not kiss it. Many people did though.

I also went on a walk near the lake. The weather was much nicer than was promised, pretty much the whole week.

The first two nights we stumbled upon a bar in Cork with some live music. The second night we went as a group after the concert.

In Kilkenny I found the Crotty’s Cafe. Caden was not working that day.

Kilkenny is also known for its Castle, I guess.

We stopped in the Waterford Crystal factory where they make the trophies for college football and basketball, among other things. We saw how they started by blowing the crystal into shape and then how they would grind the designs in place.

We had an excellent tour guide the whole week who had a good sense of humor, so we taught him how people speak in Pittsburgh. He was amused.

We stopped in Dublin where there was all kinds of street music.

And I stopped for a cappuccino

On the last day we took a tour of a monastery. It had probably the most beautiful scenery from the whole trip. It was also my monastery it turns out. Saint Kevin was known for standing so still that birds build a nest on his shoulder.

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Most Kevin’s can do that by the way, he was just showing off. He was good at picking locations for monasteries though.

Oh and he had a cell for a room.

We also saw some traditional Irish music at dinner

Ireland was fantastic. I wish we had more free time to spend in each of the places we stayed, there wasn’t much time to explore. They kept us busy for the whole trip. We had meat mashed potatoes pretty much every night which is fine with me.

Next up are some life changes. I’m switching jobs and buying a house. Most people don’t do those things at the same time and I don’t recommend it. I picked the “let’s change everything all at once” option.

The house originally tried to buy fell through actually, so I have a small window to go to South Korea. I’m also now buying a nicer, cheaper house in the same location, so it all worked out.

Egypt

Egypt! Land of pyramids and the Sphinx. I wasn’t planning on going to Egypt this year, but I ended up having to spend time off so I decided to go to Egypt.

Egypt is kind of old. Like when they talk about “all of recorded history” Egypt was there for all of that, and then some. They signed the first peace treaty and the Pharaoh Ramesses II is kind of a big deal. Alexander the Great stopped in along the way as well.

I went to see an older pyramid, then the Great pyramids at Giza. I saw a few shpinx-i in the wild too. I had the choice between a horse and a camel, I thought I’d go with the horse this time.

Then I took the sleeper train to Aswan. With some quick planning I saw the big dam which regulates the Nile River’s flooding.

Then I saw the Nubian village and had some grilled chicken there for dinner. I took a boat down the Nile back to the hotel.

Later I went to see a light show at the phiale Temple. They had to move the temple when they built the smaller dam. They were able to relocate the whole Temple safely to higher ground. It was on an island and I needed to take boat to get to it.

The next day I woke up early to go see the temples at Abu simbel. These were relocated when they built the Aswan high dam.

Wednesday I traveled up to Luxor by train, where I saw a River Walk and went to the mummy museum.

Then I went on a tour of the Valley of the Kings. We were able to go see some of the tombs.

After lunch we went to the Karnak Temple

And the Luxor Temple

Then I took the train back to Cairo and flew home from there. It took 28 hours to get home, but I made it in time for Christmas. I took the time to watch a bunch of inflight movies. I’m looking forward to some more interesting travel next year.

Machu Picchu

Peru! Land of Machu Picchu. I went on a three day trek through the Andes and then finished with a visit to Machu Picchu.

The success of this adventure was in question from the start of planning back in March and had caused me some anxiety. Going back a few months, I injured my foot in Cairns, Australia, and spent the next six months recovering. For some reason that didn’t stop me from booking a three day trek through the Andes to Machu Picchu, largely on the recommendation of travel friends. After months of recovery I felt like I was finally in a good position a couple of weeks before I left.

I had bought a larger backpack for this trip, but at the last minute I had packing anxiety and I went with the smaller old reliable grey bag from last year. It ended up being my day pack this time.

On the first day I arrived in Lima. That’s pretty much all I have to say about Lima besides the Peruvian chicken being tasty. I met some of the group there, Rich and Annette from New York, Emily and Trish from London, and Robin from Holland.

Next we flew to Cusco. Elevation: 11,000 feet. There I spent the day acclimating to 11,000 feet. I had an alpaca steak, potato skins, and a pisco sour for lunch. Also shortness of breath and a headache.

Later we met Tom and Connie from Sydney, and Jean and Stella from Seoul. We went out to explore the square, stopping for crepes for a late snack on the way back.

We also saw a band playing in the street, and there was some street dancing.

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The next day we took a tour of the sacred valley of the Incas before arriving in Ollantaytambo. On the way we saw how traditional weaving was done.

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Then we saw how bricks and clay pottery were made.

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At lunch we met Beth from Minnesota. The next three days were the Lares trek.

We spent the first day climbing to 12,400 feet. We found some Bambinos along the way and gave them gifts of bread and fruit. Bambinos are children. Adorable children.

After six hours of hiking we reached our first camp.

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We had tea and dinner, and went to bed early since we were exhausted and starting at 5am the next day.

Day 2 of the trek was 12 hours of hiking. Six hours up and six hours down. I spent most of the day hiking with Rich, Annette, Tom, and Connie. As we approached the summit it stated to hail.

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The mountain pass reached an elevation of 4800 meters, or about 15750 feet. We reached the summit around 12:30. A few of us struggled with the elevation, and I had to stop frequently to catch my breath. Steps are the worst. It was also freezing cold and I was happy to have brought my winter clothing. Reaching the summit was worth it though. The pictures don’t really do it justice.

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On the way down we passed though and had lunch in the spongy moss lands (technical term). At one point I lost the trail, but lunch was in sight, so I just walked directly there.

The third day was all downhill, which had its own challenges. We stopped at some ruins and a small village with b more Bambinos.

We completed the Lares trek shortly after noon and had a huge lunch.

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That night we took the train to Agua Caliente, the town next to Machu Picchu only accessable by train. We woke up at 4:30 the next morning to see Machu Picchu.

Then I went to see the Sun Gate, where the Inca trail ends, with Beth. We met Frank, Christine, and Robin there.

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Then we had a guided tour of Machu Picchu. We learned about the history of the Incas, how Machu Picchu was built, and the role the Spanish played. Later we went over the different structures and temples and their functions.

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Machu Picchu has its own passport stamp, so I made sure to get that. After lunch we took the train and a bus back to Cusco.

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The next day I went on a city walking tour of Cusco with Beth.

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‘We had lunch afterward with someone we met from London. Then we went to explore the market and saw a parade on the way.

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Afterward we browsed the art in the square and stopped for drinks before my flights home. A 24 hour adventure including a 2:30am flight to Montreal. I was a little grumpy going through customs.

That was my first time in South America. I’ve now been to six continents… I’m not sold on Antarctica yet though.

There were other things to do in Peru, such as hiking up Rainbow mountain and going into the rain forest, but I only had a week, so maybe another time. While Machu Picchu was beautiful and did’t disappoint, my favorite part of the trip was the Lares trek.

Hawaii

Hawaii! Sunny, sandy, pineappley.

Saturday I arrived in Honolulu, entering the US after four and a half months of being away. It was also two hours after everyone received an incoming ballistic missle alert. So settling down felt like this:

I also crossed the international date line, so now I’m in the past. I left Sydney the evening of the 13th and arrived in Honolulu the morning of the 13th. I’ll miss being in the future.

I met my family there to watch the Eagles game. I didn’t know they were coming, so it was a surprise! The Eagles didn’t turn the ball over to the Jacksonville Jaguars like some other teams, so they get to advance.

For dinner we went to a Korean BBQ place, and later I found a beach bar.

Sunday I went to the beach with my Aunt and Uncle.

Monday we rented a car and went to Pali lookout.

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Then we drive up to Sunset Beach, and The Pipeline to see the giant waves. They did not disappoint. The waves looked small until we saw surfers stand up on them, giving them scale. The waves were easily twice the height of the surfers.

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We also stopped at a food truck called the Shrimp Shack and had tasty shrimp.

I came back and watched the sunset.

Tuesday we went to Lenard’s bakery to get their Malasada donuts. They were recommended by serval people and were delicious.

Then I met my friends who also came to Hawaii.

Wednesday we went to Pearl Harbor where we saw the Arizona memorial.

We also saw the Battleship Missouri museum where Japan surrendered to the Allies, ending World War II.

And and the Bodwen, a World War II submarine.

Thursday we went snorkeling in Hanauma bay and saw many different fish in the reef near the beach.

Next we flew to Hilo on the big island where we had an Ken’s pancake House.

Sunday we watched the Eagles game. It turns out the Eagles are pretty good so they get to play one more game. Something about superb owls. My neighbor from home is going to the game 😀

Despite what I had read, the government shutdown closed volcano national park, which was incredibly frustrating. Just flip the 12th please. Or whatever district it ends up being.

Monday we drove over to the other side of the island for a luau. They cooked a pig in the ground for dinner. It was prepared suspiciously fast, so we were probably eating last night’s pig. It was still delicious.

There was also a show, showcasing different Pacific dances and cultures.

Tuesday they reopened the government, so we were able to see Volcano National Park. We went on a short lava tube hike.

Then we went out to see the Sea Arch.

On our way to the Arch was a scenic drive.

Then we had some Hawaiian pulled pork for dinner and went to see the crater at sunset.

And then suddenly the only thing left on my travel plan was the flight home. So I hopped on my trusty steed, the Airbus A330, and went east one more time. I guess it’s not really “round the world” until you complete that last segment. I arrived in Pittsburgh on time and under budget, in the best but rarely followed tradition of software engineering.

The list of places I’d like to visit is longer now than it was before I left in August. Conveniently I think I could connect most of them in one big round the world trip. The first draft of that looks something like this:

  • Iceland
  • Machu Pichu, Cuzco, Peru
  • Padagonia, Buenos Ares, Argentina
  • Cape Town
  • Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
  • Clombo, Sri Lanka
  • Mumbai, India
  • Udiapur, India
  • Rishikesh, India
  • Kathmandu, Nepal
  • Chaing Mai
  • Pai, Thailand
  • Phuket
  • Koh Toa
  • Koh Phi Phi
  • Columbo, Laos
  • Cambodia
  • Myanmar
  • Hanoi, Vietnam
  • Ho Chi Min
  • Singapore
  • Lijang, China
  • Gulin, China
  • Yangshuo, China
  • Furong City, China
  • Beijing, China
  • Soeul
  • Kyoto
  • Bali
  • Perth
  • Melbourne
  • Fiji
  • Tahiti
  • Pittsburgh

Until then, safe travels!

Australia

Australia! Land of kangaroos and things that try to kill you. I didn’t get to spend as much time in Australia compared to Europe and Asia, but at this point i was already stretching my budget.

Also everything is written upside down.

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After getting settled in Sydney, I had some tasty dumplings from a Japanese restaurant. It turns out dumplings may be my favorite. Then I went to see the Opera House and the Harbor bridge.

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They looked like that but at night time.

Thursday I walked through the botanical gardens near the Sydney Opera House. Then I spent the day at Circle Quay (pronounced “circle key”). Later I met my friend Rach from Australia who we met years ago on a Mediterranean cruise.

Friday we took the ferry to Manley beach and had burritos. Then we went on a walking tour. They went over the history of Sydney. Sydney was founded by criminals and military after the US became independent and the British couldn’t send their criminals to us anymore. I always thought that was a joke.

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Since there were pretty much only those two groups, many criminals came into important positions, such as doctors and bankers. They didn’t stop their theivery though. There were Aboriginals here before the Europeans, and they pretty much got the Trail of Tears package.

Then we walked to see Mrs. MacQuarie’s Chair.

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Saturday we took a day trip to the Blue Mountains. The original settlers had trouble finding a route through the blue mountains. They explained how it took years to find a pass through, and when they finally found it, the pass opened up the inner continent to Sydney for agriculture.

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It was also used for coal mining. There were some old mining equipment scattered throughout the forest. We went on two Gondola rides and rode the steepest incline in the world. Then we stopped at a nature preserve to see some kangaroos and koalas.

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The koalas were sleepy.

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Sunday we went on a three mile walk from Bondi beach to coogee beach along the coast. The temperature was around 107 degrees and there was very little shade, so it had some elements of “death march”, but the views were great, and it was worth it in the end. As I was flying back to Sydney to go to Hawaii I saw it from the plane as well.

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Then we went Opera House tour. They showed us the main concert hall and went over the history of the design and construction and all the time and cost overruns. The project was supposed to cost 7 million dollars and ended up coming in over 100 million.

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It was also objectively totally worth it, since the Opera House is worth much more than that today.

After the tour we went to see a “Best of the Opera” performance, where they had four different opera singers sing various famous opera songs.

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Monday we climbed the Sydney Harbor Bridge. We started walking out in the middle of a thunderstorm, but it cleared up before they let us out. It was raining and thundering the first section though, when the tour guide says, “I’ve been out on the bridge when it was struck by lightning, it was awesome! But don’t worry, everything’s super grounded.” So that was mildly terrifying for a few minutes.

We met Andrea and Amanda from Chicago and Kutztown Pennsylvania, respectively, and had dinner in The Rocks, an old neighborhood near the bridge, with them afterward.

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Tuesday we flew to Cairns, then went to the Night market. It was much smaller than the night markets of Thailand, more like a mall. We went down to the Esplanade where I read about Cairns part in World Was II as an area for staging and support. Then I watched open mic night at the hostel.

Wednesday we went snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. I saw a giant sea turtle, a giant clam, a clown fish (Nemo), parrot fish, jelly fish, and many other florescent and other kinds of fish. We snorkeled at two sites, 1770 and the Stepping Stones. Rach saw a giant blue starfish. I didn’t have a GoPro, but here are some pictures I found from the documentary “Finding Nemo”.

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It was pretty much that.

Thursday we went to the Daintree rainforest. Our Aboriginal tour guide was telling us the dangers of crocodiles and jellyfish, and of the many recent related deaths. We stopped at another wildlife reserve where we saw kangaroos, emus, wallabies, and koalas.

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Next we had lunch and went to the Beach, although we couldn’t swim due to jellyfish. Afterward our guide but took us on a rainforest walk, pointing out all the different trees and insects. We met a girl from Connecticut who summarized it best, saying “everything is poisonous, but if you cook it the right way, you can eat it”.

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Then we went on a boat ride where we saw the Mangrove forest and a crocodile. In the winter there are many visible crocodiles because the water is cooler, but it’s the summer at the moment, so they’re all in the water. No one wanted to go swimming for some reason.

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Friday I went on a scenic train ride to Kuranda. The railway was built in 1887 in the gold rush. I ate lunch in Kuranda then took the cable car down, where I met a couple from Florida from Zimbabwe, people from Australia and another solo traveler from North Carolina. We also learned about all the uses of sugarcane which is a big driver of the economy in Cairns.

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Here are more pictures from Australia.

Saturday I continue East to Hawaii. I hear Hawaii never gets hit by ballistic missles or surprise attacks, so I should be totally safe.

Thanks to everyone for all the support!

New Zealand

New Zealand, home of Morodor. Hobbits too, but most people forget that it also has Morodor.

I watched “It” on the plane on the way to New Zealand. Thankfully I was already planning benedryl induced sleep for the 11 hour flight. It was Christmas Eve by the time I arrived, so we had drinks at the hostel and then watched Role Models.

Monday Christmas, so we went to the beach. The hostel threw a barbeque and we were on the local news. Afterward we watched The Edge of Tomorrow which was surprisingly good, followed by Uno.

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Tuesday was Boxing Day and I went to see Auckland’s Sky Tower.

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Boxing Day is when the church would open their charity boxes the day after Christmas and give people money. Now it’s used for shopping.

Then I went out for drinks with people from Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, England, and Singapore.

Wednesday I went to Coromandel, a hot water beach. The idea was, there is hot water just below the surface in some places at this beach, so people dig holes to find it. Sometimes it’s boiling hot, so you have to be kind of careful. Once you find the hot water, you have a nice wading pool to swim in. I was with people from Argentina, Hong Kong, and Sweden.

I’m not a huge beach fan in general, but this turned into one of my favorite beach games, which is keep the rising tide out of the hole your digging. It’s like a metaphor for life. The ocean always wins in the end.

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Then we went to Cathedral Cove, another beach after a 3 mile walk through a World War I memorial forest trail.

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I also finished catching up reading The Expanse, after finishing the 7th book which was released earlier this month.

Thursday I went on a Lord of the Rings tour. When they filimed The Lord of the Rings originally, they built the Shire out of plywood and styrofoam They tore it down afterward. People started coming to visit anyway to see where it was filimed. Part of the agreement when Peter Jackson came back in 2008 to see if he could use the same farm to filim The Hobbit was that they build a permanent Shire. So I went to see The Shire set. All the Hobbit holes have doors that open to the inside and all the gardens and paths are still there. The scale of everything was strange though so that they could make people look like hobbits.

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Friday I walked around Auckland. I saw a very touristy tuktuk and a park with bean bag chairs set up.

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Then I took the ferry to Waiheke Island where I stopped at Oneroa beach and Rocky Bay.

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Saturday I flew to Queenstown on the southern island of New Zealand. Queenstown is a lot like where I grew up, and New year’s Eve is like the fourth of July.

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I had more tasty dumplings. I walked around the lake and listened to some live music, then had some ice cream with a hard white chocolate shell from a creamery, and a hamburger from Fergburger, a famous hamburger place here.

Sunday was New year’s Eve. I took a gondola to the top of the mountain and went on a short hike.

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On this ominous trail.

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Then there was a huge festival for New Year’s. New Zealand is one of the first places in the world to hit 2018, 18 hours ahead of New York. They had two excellent bands play and fireworks.

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Monday was New Year’s Day. I did some checking to see what exactly I’ll be importing in two weeks. Then I spent the day by the lake.

Tuesday I went to Milford Sound. We stopped for Venison pie and saw some Mirror lakes.

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Then we went on a boat tour of the Sound. Milford sound is near where the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates meet.

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There is so much to do in New Zealand, like Japan I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface. It was an excellent place to spend Christmas and New Year’s.

Here are more pictures from New Zealand.