Sunday, May 15, 2016

Kia ora!

It's been three months since I landed here in Auckland, New Zealand but unfortunately never got the chance to update my blog. 

Thing is, I had two weeks of free time before classes started but I spent that time setting up my flat, doing paperwork for my enrolment at the university, attending orientation activities and meeting friends old and new. When classes commenced-- BOOM. I was bombarded with readings and essays. My schedule is not particularly insane but whenever I had free time, I just preferred taking walks when it's sunny or cooking and reading when it's rainy. 


Auckland is actually a volcanic field with 48 volcanic cones. Below is a photo taken from the summit of Mt. Eden, the highest volcano in Auckland, where you can see a 360-degree view of the city. On the foreground is the crater. It was actually a 2.5-km walk from my flat to the Mt. Eden summit so yes, I live veeeeery close to volcanoes. And I should really go back to this place.

This photo makes me miss summer.

Walking home from uni. You can see Rangitoto Volcano in the background.

Tofu and mushroom adobo, roast vege, and blueberries

Breakfast. Don't get the wrong idea. I only had this kind of breakfast when I didn't have classes.
Nowadays, my breakfast mainly consists of coffee and grilled cheese sandwich or cereal when I'm in a hurry.

Peach pie

Potato hash with egg and cheese


I guess it's pretty evident that I've been having fun cooking in New Zealand. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

My Dream School

Ever since The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened in Universal Studios Japan, I've always wanted to visit. I had started to love the Japanese countryside but I wasn't keen on skipping Osaka. Nevermind I was going to a theme park alone-- this is Harry Potter we're talking about.

I arrived at USJ at around 8:30am and bought a ticket (JPY7200). I had wanted to get a Universal Express Pass that will allow me to shorten waiting times at the popular attractions there but they weren't available anymore. The park wasn't open until 9am but a sea of people was starting to gather at the entrance. It was crazy because it was a Wednesday and yet there's still so much people. I lined up and when the gates opened, young people started running towards The Wizarding World. Seriously, it was super intense! 

I read that Timed Entry Tickets are needed to enter The Wizarding World but because it was early in the morning, I didn't have to get one of those and I was able to go straight to The Wizarding World.

I went straight to the Hogwarts castle for The Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey ride because I heard that the lines will be crazy long. It took barely 15 minutes for me to enter the castle. There's still a line inside the castle towards the ride but it's cool because you get to see the castle interiors while waiting. I started reading Harry Potter books when I was 11 years old so entering Hogwarts is practically a dream come true. 

The Mirror of Erised

The moving portraits

Dumbledore's office

The ride was really cool. I guess it's no wonder it's called the "world's best attraction". I'm not exactly fond of theme park rides but I really enjoyed The Forbidden Journey!

Now the thing I hadn't realize before coming there is that the attractions are going to be in Japanese lol. Can you imagine Professor Dumbledore speaking Nihongo? It's so weird! I really gotta go to the Universal Studios in Florida or in California someday.

I continued walking around, looking at the shops and merchandise. The park is rather small so it doesn't take a long time to see everything. 

Early Wednesday morning

A real owl inside the Owlery with its trainer

The ceiling of the Owlery

At 11am, I started feeling hungry and seeing as there's no line at Three Broomsticks yet, I took advantage. As expected, the food is ridiculously expensive but, again, this is Harry Potter we're talking about. Besides, it's not like I was going to pay for the food-- I was going to pay for the experience of eating inside Three Broomsticks! I got fish & chips and a butterbeer with a souvenir mug all for JPY2800. The fish & chips weren't particularly exceptional but it was alright. Butterbeer, however, was really good.

Afterwards, I walked and looked around more and watched the shows: the Hogwarts Frog Choir and the Triwizard Spirit Rally. Good thing the shows were spoken in both Japanese and English. At 2pm, I ran out of things to do and it was getting REALLY crowded. There are lines to get inside practically everything (even the shops). Eventually, I decided to go back to my hostel. I heard that The Wizarding World is even more beautiful at night but I couldn't really wait until sunset with nothing to do.

Yep, lots of people.

This is the train I rode going to USJ. It's a Harry Potter train. How fitting, right?

I went home with a Butterbeer plastic mug and a chocolate frog. Not a lot of souvenirs for me because last time I bought Harry Potter merchandise (a Time Turner), I felt like I just wasted my money for something that's just sitting on my shelf. Besides, I didn't have a lot of space in my luggage. Hurray for self-control!

It would have been more fun if my family or friends (who also love Harry Potter) were there with me. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed myself there! My 11-year old self resurfaced and was very delighted.

The Historic Village of Shirakawa-go

Shirakawa-go is a traditional village in Gifu Prefecture. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site made famous by its "gassho-zukuri" farmhouses. The roofs of these farmhouses look like hands in prayer and are designed to withstand heavy snowfall. The village's proximity to Hida-Takayama makes it a good day trip destination.

From Hida-Takayama, there are buses that go straight to Shirakawa-go. The hostel where I stayed offers a half-day tour (JPY3900 to hostel guests and JPY4400 to non-guests) which costs less than round-trip bus tickets and I booked that tour.

We left Hida-Takayama at 8am and arrived at Shirakawa-go at 9am. The bus ride was scenic except when we were passing through tunnels. We first went to the observatory where you can see the whole village. 

Afterwards, we proceeded to the town proper and we were given two hours to explore the village by ourselves.
Another hanging bridge

The village is small so two hours was just enough to explore it and there's still enough time to have a look at the numerous souvenir shops.

They have a koi pond!

In Shirakawa-go, there are a few houses open to the public and serves like a museum. The tour guide suggested that we only visit one since they're pretty much the same inside anyway. I went to the Wada House (JPY300), which is apparently the biggest house there. Before entering, you take off your shoes and take a pair of indoor slippers.

Wada House from the outside

Tatami room inside the Wada House


Second floor

It was cloudy and a bit rainy when I went there. The sun started to shine right we were about to leave to go back to Hida-Takayama but that was also the time when tourists started pouring out. The tour was actually informative and not at all restricting. However, if you want to be more flexible with your time, better get the bus tickets by yourself.