My last month

imageDuring the last month of my trip to America I was able to travel around a bit more and visit some friends, both new and old.  My exchange visa allowed me to stay in America for a month after my exams, of which I used every day.

During the first week after school finished I stayed with Madison in Wise.  We spent the week getting our nails done, going hiking to ‘Devil’s Bathtub’, going to Outback Steakhouse and cooking Pavlova.

I spent the second week with one of my roommates, Ashleigh, and our friend Natalie in Woodbridge.  Woodbridge is a short drive from D.C.  During the week we went to King’s Dominion (a themepark near Richmond), went to the Smithsonian National Zoo in D.C., went to the Manasses Battlefield (from the Civil War) and had a picnic.

I then flew from D.C. to Miami where I spent a few days by myself exploring the city. In Miami I did the two day Big Bus Tour (the same company I used in NYC).  This was a great way to see the city and learn some history while travelling solo. I then joined my Topdeck tour in Miami.  My tour group consisted of 16 travellers, mostly Aussies, including 4 other exchange students who had been studying in America and Canada.

Key West sunset market view

Key West sunset market view

The first day of our tour we went to Florida Keys, which is in the south of Florida.  The next day we did all day watersports in Key West, the most southerly point of America (it’s actually closer to Cuba than to Miami).  This ended up being one the highlights of my trip – we went out on a boat into the clearest waters off Key West and spent the day jet skiing, on the water trampoline, banana boating (kind of like donuting but off a jetski), parasailing, kayaking and snorkelling.  They also fed us breakfast, lunch, afternoontea and free alcoholic beverages on the way back to Key West.  After the busy and exhausting day we wandered around the town, which felt alot like Byron Bay.  We saw Earnest Hemmingway’s house with lots of six-toed cats running around.  We had cocktails in pineapples and watched the sunset at the Sunset Markets, with lots of food stalls and buskers.  Needless to say that we all slept exceptionally well that night!

11426825_10207121181330928_533745489_nWe then drove to Fort Myers in Florida, on the way stopping at an Alligator and Crocodile farm in the Everglades.  Surprisingly, the first animals we saw were Emu’s!  We took a boat ride in the Everglades (like the boat at the start of CSI Miami) and saw alot of crocodiles/aligators.  The Everglades is the only place that you find both species living together, due to both salt water and fresh water being present.

The next day 16 very excited adults were acting like it was Christmas, their birthday and the last day of school all rolled into one because we finally got to go to Universal Studios in Orlando, specifically Harry Potter World.  Over two days we managed to spent about 17 hours at Universal, spending most of our time in the Harry Potter areas of Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.  And let me tell you – it’s as awesome as you’d imagine! We tried Butterbeer, went on every Harry Potter ride, bought so much stuff (including some every flavour jelly beans!) and took a million photos.

IMG_3067 When we were all Harry Potter-ed out (I know, apparently it is possible!) we went to Panama City Beach, which is the Spring Break captial of USA.  Here we went to Club La Vela, the biggest nightclub in America.  It has 8 different rooms with different themes and music.  This is one of the only clubs that you only have to be 18 to get into, which was good because 2 people on my trip were under 21.  We had a good time dancing and drinking interesting whiskey concoctions in the 2 Buck Saloon.

The next day we went to New Orleans!  Going out in New Orleans is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.  We stayed in the French Quarter, only blocks from the famous (or infamous?) Bourbon Street.  We had a great time in Bourbon Street and surrounds trying Hand Grenades (yum!) and Hurricanes (gross!) and 3 for 1 drinks.  We danced to jazz and country and everything else you could imagine.  We even met up with a guy from Melbourne who heard our accents.  It was such a great night that we were in bed at 12.30am!

Trying the Hand Grenade in New Orleans

Trying the Hand Grenade in New Orleans

The next day my tour finished, but I stuck around until 4pm when I left for the airport.  We wandered around, tried some local foods (Cafe Du Monde’s beignet’s are to die for, but I wasn’t a bit fan of the gumbo from the French Market), went on the ferry over the Mississippi and wandered around some shops that I would never be able to buy anything from! I then flew to San Diego (after some problems with flights) and finally arrived on Tuesday morning!

The last week of my trip I spent with Erica, who had living in my dorm in Bathurst in Semester 2 of 2014.  It was great to catch up with her and meet her family.  We had a great week going to a baseball game, hiking, farmers markets, the Fair and Disneyland.

10850366_10205997246346225_1004233739_n I arrived home on Wednesday morning, with bittersweet feelings! Looking back I’m so glad that I took this opportunity and hope that I’ve inspired others to do exchange as well!

Goodbye to UVa-Wise

Me, Ashleigh and Sassy ready for White Rose!

Me, Ashleigh and Sassy ready for White Rose!

Last week was our last week of classes.  Before the week began, Theta Phi had our formal, White Rose, last Saturday.  We all dressed up and went to Norton to have a great time.  I won the superlative “Sister most likely to get kicked out of a bar in every country”… thanks girls! It was a really fun night and I loved dancing the night away with all my sisters.

On Sunday we had our alumnae brunch and that night I became an alumnae of Theta Phi Alpha.  I’m so sad that I didn’t get to spend more time as an active sister of such a great group, but it’s nice to be a part of something that has no real end.

Me, Jaime (current editor) and Darrian (new editor) at the Highland Cavalier get-together!

Me, Jaime (current editor) and Darrian (new editor) at the Highland Cavalier get-together!

On Friday I went out with the Highland Cavalier staff and we had our End of Year dinner.  We went to the Inn at Wise and had a wonderful dinner and a few drinks.  It was great to spend some time with some of the lovely people I have met, and congratulate quite a few of them on their graduation.

Watching baseball.

Watching baseball.

On the weekend I watched baseball, where for one innings (means the same as in cricket FYI) our team actually did great – they were getting home runs all over the place!  But a win just wasn’t meant to be.  I had fun though, even if I spent the whole time telling Logan the differences between baseball and cricket!  After the baseball we went to Sonic, which is a futuristic fast-food place.  You drive into a park, where you call a staff member who takes your order over a radio and then they bring the food out to you when it’s ready.

This is how you order at Sonic

This is how you order at Sonic

However, because of technical difficulties and it being rush-hour, it ended up taking us 40 minutes to get our food – and then I wasn’t very impressed! The weirdest part was that you couldn’t go inside Sonic at all – there is no option to eat in, except to eat in your car or sit at the chairs and tables they have outside.

This past week we had our finals.  They were a lot different to how we take our final exams at home – they were just in our normal classrooms and didn’t take very long to complete.  There were no 5×5 page essays and writers cramp.  My finals, including one speech, were more like short exams, with no essays at all!

The suction thing at the bank

The suction thing at the bank

On Wednesday I spend the day with my sorority family in Kingsport and Johnson City.  We did some shopping and went out for lunch.  A highlight for me was that I got a photo of the drive through bank system they have here!  It’s very different – see picture to left.  It’s basically drive-through banking, where you put your card/cheque (yes, they still use cheques here!) in a tube and it gets sucked inside to a teller.

On Friday Sidal and I walked around campus to take some photos of where we have been studying.  This was fun, especially as we used Sidal’s Selfie-Stick… until it broke!  Below are photos of the campus.

The bookshop

The bookshop

Smiddy, where I had most of my classes

Smiddy, where I had most of my classes

The student centre

The student centre

Sidal and her Selfie-Stick in the Caf

Sidal and her Selfie-Stick in the Caf

The graduation

The graduation

Today, Saturday, was graduation.  I went to see my Big and GBig, as well as other friends, graduate!  A few things, like the black mortar’s and gowns were the same as home but there were a lot of differences too.  The 302 students graduating don’t wear the colours of their degree but cords and sash’s that relate to honor societies, organisations (such as Theta Phi Alpha) and if they were receiving an award with distinction (high GPA).  Four ROTC students were also awarded 2nd Lieutenant of the USA Army, which was a big ceremony in itself.  You also don’t have to pay to attend the ceremony, nor are there a limited number of seats – we just turned up!

Me, Madison, Ashlyn and Taylor celebrating after graduation

Me, Madison, Ashlyn and Taylor celebrating after graduation

I just want to thank everyone at UVa-Wise who made my time here so enjoyable and gave me some great American College experiences.  Especially to all my sorority sisters who drove me around, picked me up from airports, took me home with them for holidays, showered me with gifts and made sure I could always get a lift home from a party!  Also, to my roommates who looked after me and introduced me to all of their friends!  And thank you to all of the UVa-Wise students and professors who made me feel so welcome!

Me and Kelsey - last day of being roommates!

Me and Kelsey – last day of being roommates!

The end is near…

My pledge sisters and me after we had become Active Sisters!

My pledge sisters and me after we had become Active Sisters!

Last Friday I was initiated into Theta Phi Alpha!!  This is when you go from being a new member to a fully fledged sister of the fraternity.  It’s so special to know that I am a part of something, even when I go back home.  This group of girls have been like my American family – picking me up from airports, taking me shopping and just looking out for me in general.  Joining a sorority is probably the best thing I’ve done while in America.  It’s given me an experience that I could never have in Australia, and a large group of friends to always stay in contact with.  I’ve also learnt a lot about the American culture and that movies and the news do not always depict exactly what happens!

Me and Hannah at the Highland Cavalier table.

Me and Hannah at the Highland Cavalier table.

On Saturday morning I went to 360, which is when potential new students visit the campus for a day and learn about accommodation, catering and organisations they can join.  It’s basically an a campus preview day.  There were a lot of nervous looking high school students with overly eager parents – reminded me of when I went to open days at home. I was at the Theta Phi Alpha table, but also stopped by the Highland Cavalier table as well.

On Saturday one of the fraternities on campus, Pi Kappa Phi had their formal, Rose Ball.  I got invited to go and had a great time.  The formal was held at The Inn at Wise and everyone loved dressing up for the occasion.  The night had a great buffet (in comparison to the cafeteria!) and speeches and awards.  I learnt a lot about the impact that alumnae have in Pi Kap and how their brotherhood continues after finishing college.

Taylor, Madison, Me and Ashlyn at Rose Ball.

Taylor, Madison, Me and Ashlyn at Rose Ball.

On Tuesday in my Public Speaking class we had a group of potential students from a local high school come and listen to our speeches about why they should come to college, particularly UVa-Wise.  Of course, once I started talking they all just listened to my accent and thought it was pretty cool (I still can’t hear it!).  On Thursday I presented a persuasive speech on ‘Why student exchange should be a part of every college degree’.  I accompanied it with photos of everywhere I have been in America, which prompted many questions about my favourite places I’ve been.

In the Highland Cavalier this week I wrote a short list about the things I’ve learnt while I’ve been living in the South, particularly in Wise.  I’ve enjoyed volunteer writing for the student newspaper, as it’s given me something ‘communication-ish’ to do, seeing as most of my courses here are business subjects.  I never think that writing about Australia and my travels is news, but everyone always wants to know things about them, so I’m glad I can teach a lot of people about Australia and the beauties of America!

My list in the Highland Cavalier this week.

My list in the Highland Cavalier this week.

The ANZAC bikkies we made!

The ANZAC bikkies we made!

Yesterday, Friday, I made ANZAC biscuits with my Big and taught everyone what ANZAC Day was.  We had a bit of a hard time finding all the right ingredients.  Turns out that golden syrup is not popular in America and neither is desiccated coconut!  We substituted these for a mixture of molasses and maple syrup and shredded coconut.  It seemed to work out okay.  I watched the dawn services in Sydney and Canberra via the Sunrise live stream and it was so nice to still participate in ANZAC Day, even though I’m halfway around the world.

Today is White Rose, which is my sorority’s formal.  Next week is our last week of classes, before a week of finals/exams and then I have a month left before heading back to Oz!

Greek Week

Theta Phi's softball players after our defeat!

Theta Phi’s softball players after our defeat! Photo from UVa-Wise Greek Life

This week at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise was Greek Week.  This is a week where all the Fraternities and Sororities dress up, participate in activities and earn points to compete against each other.  It’s also my last week as a Theta Phi Alpha new member and after this week I will be a full sister!  Greek Week was a great way to end my process and bond with my sisters-to-be even more.

Sunday

Me, Kelsey and Ashleigh dressed up for Monday's Toga Day.

Me, Kelsey and Ashleigh dressed up for Monday’s Toga Day.

On Sunday we all competed in some sports.  First, we played Wallyball against Alpha Sigma Tau, which is indoor volleyball where you are allowed to use the wall.  I had no idea what this sport was, so I was put on the bench for that one!  We then played softball against Phi Sigma Sigma where I got the important position of catcher (the equivalent of the wicketkeeper in cricket).  I (thankfully) managed to hit the ball but got caught out both times! The boys ‘supporting’ us kept reminding me that it wasn’t cricket!  We unfortunately lost, but we had fun and I enjoyed playing a sport with my sisters-to-be.

All the Greeks before the Paint Fight on Monday.

All the Greeks before the Paint Fight on Monday.

Monday

The overall theme of Greek Week was ‘Ancient Greeks’, so Monday’s dress-up theme was Toga’s.  We gained points if half our organization dressed in the theme.  During the day, we started a three day long competition called Penny Wars.  This was when each organization collects pennies (1cent coins) for charity.  We supported the Wise, Virginia Food Bank.  However, if any other coin or note was put in your organization’s jar, then that was a minus – for example, a $1 note minuses 100 pennies. On Monday afternoon we had a paint fight, where each organization got a different colour of water balloons and we threw them at everyone else.  The idea was that the organization with the most paint on everyone won.  We were equal winners with Sigma Alpha Omega, another sorority.

Me at lunch, all dressed up for American Pride day on Tuesday.

Me at lunch, all dressed up for American Pride day on Tuesday.

Tuesday

On Tuesday our dress-up theme was American Pride or Military Pride.  We could wear blue/white/red or military colors/uniforms.  On Tuesday night we went to watch a movie, The Wedding Ringer, before having a ‘Shack-a-thon’ all night.  Each organization was required to build a shack and stay in it all night.  There was points for tallest shack, most durable shack, best interior design etc.  I helped built our shack from 11.30 to 12.30 and then I had my ‘shift’ from 12.30 to 1.30.  Building our shack was a very bonding experience, having to work together to build something, with lots of different opinions about what to do.  It was fun checking out the competition as well – there were a lot of movies and video-games played that night.

Wednesday

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Me and some of my sisters-to-be at the entrance to UVa-Wise on Wednesday’s 80’s Day!

On Wednesday, our dress-up theme was 80’s.  Let me tell you, that studying in the library in an 80’s exercise get-up, you tend to get a lot of weird looks!  This was the last day of the Penny Wars and everyone got very competitive.  On that day alone, we raised over $700 and all together the Greek’s raised over $1000 for the Food Bank.  That night we all participated in Blacklight Putt Putt Golf, which I was particularly awful at!

Thursday

Thursday was probably my favourite day of Greek Week.  Thursday was ‘Chapter Pride Day’, when we all wear our letters, or in Theta Phi Alpha’s case, we got some pretty awesome matching shirts!

Megan and Ashleigh on our raft, paddling for dear life in the bacteria filled lake, at the Greek Games on Thrusday.

Megan and Ashleigh on our raft, paddling for dear life in the bacteria filled lake, at the Greek Games on Thrusday.

On Thursday night we had the Greek Games.  We competed in events to earn points.  I was part of the obstacle course, where I had to run with a spoon in my mouth that held a ping-pong ball.  There was also a tug-a-war and a three legged race.  Theta Phi won the egg throwing contest which was very exciting and earned us 100 points.  The highlight was the raft race, across the bacteria filled lake/pond on campus here.  While our raft successfully did not sink (which is always a good thing!) we were not the fastest across (as in we came last!).  Due to some complications, the face was done twice and the poor girls that were rowing were exhausted and pretty much grossed out.

Friday

Today, Friday, we all wore our Greek Week shirts and had a Cookout (a barbie without a BBQ…) and found out which organisation won.  Theta Phi came 3rd which we were all very happy about.  Congrats to Alpha Sigma Tau and Kappa Sigma who came second and first respectively.

Me with my Big, Madison and twin, Taylor, on Friday at the Greek Week Cookout.

Me with my Big, Madison and twin, Taylor, on Friday at the Greek Week Cookout.

Easter and Day of Service

So I’m back in Wise again, with no planned trips (until semester finishes anyway) coming up!

Last weekend was Easter.  Differently to Australia, public university’s are not allowed to take public holidays off due to religious days so therefore Good Friday and Monday were spent at school.  It seemed no one had heard that you weren’t meant to eat meat on Good Friday but I tried my hardest not to eat fried chicken that day so Mum could be proud!

The waterfall at Little Stony.

The waterfall at Little Stony with Madison waving from near the top left.

On Easter Saturday Sidal and myself were shown some local sights by our friend Harley.  We basically saw Jefferson National Park from different angles and places.  We first went to High Knob, where you are able to see Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee (not that I knew where they all were!).  We then went to Pound Lake, a lovely lake not far from Wise that when it gets hot enough (I don’t think it ever will!) everyone goes swimming out.  It was so clean compared to all the lakes I’ve ever seen – compared to Lake Hume anyway.  We then met up with Madison and did a hike at Little Stony which is a waterfall and creek.  We had a great time and I think I got a week of exercise in on one day.

On Easter Sunday Madison invited me to spend dinner with her family.  It was so nice, and a lovely way to spend Easter if I couldn’t be with my own family.  I even liked the sweet potato casserole for a change! I think this American food is finally growing on me now that I’m about to leave!

Me, Sidal, Harley and Madison hiking on Easter Saturday.

Me, Sidal, Harley and Madison hiking on Easter Saturday.

The week went by fairly uneventfully.  We had laser tag Tuesday.  It was fun, but I thought,  I was doing

My front page story about travelling in the Highland Cavalier

My front page story about travelling in the Highland Cavalier

awesome but in the end I came 2nd last!  On Wednesday the Highland Cavalier student newspaper came out, with my story on the front page!  My story was basically free publicity for Contiki – I can’t help being a public relations student!  Since it’s come out, people keep asking me about my travels (it feels so long ago!).

Today (Saturday 11th) was UVa-Wise’s Day of Service.  It’s a day when volutneers for the students, staff and community come together to do community service and ‘beautification’. We all met up for a free breakfast this morning before getting separated into teams that did different things.  Activities included picking up rubbish on the side of the road, in public areas, on railway tracks and walking tracks; gardenning on campus and in the town; making dog blankets for the dog shelter; and helping at the cancer centre.  Teams and organisations of the Uni are encouraged to participate, including sporting teams and greek organisations.  Theta Phi Alpha first went to the Fairgrounds to pick up rubbish but discovered there was no rubbish to pick up there!  We then went back to the Uni and make dog blankets for the dog shelter.  This was pretty fun but I discovered that my blanket making abilities were a bit lacking – lucky the dogs won’t be too picky!

My pledge sister Anna and me with our dog blankets made at UVa-Wise's Day of Service

My pledge sister Anna and me with our dog blankets made at UVa-Wise’s Day of Service

Next week is Greek Week.  This is when all the Greek organisations dress up each day and participate in events/activities to earn points so that we can WIN! I think it’s just winning bragging rights but that’s enough to create some pretty competitive people!

New York City

Sonya and Me on the Ferry, with the Statue of Liberty in the background

Sonya and Me on the Ferry, with the Statue of Liberty in the background

This past weekend I went to New York with my childhood friend Sonya.  This was Sonya’s first trip to America and her first stop on a two week trip.  We stayed in Manhattan in a little studio above an Irish Pub.

Friday was our first day in New York together.  We decided that we would purchase Big Bus Tours tickets – the 2 day pass got us unlimited bus tours (with tour guides), a night tour and a ferry ride out to see the Statue of Liberty.  This ended up being one of the best things we did, as it was a great way to see a lot of the city and learn about it as well.  Especially those important things like where Lady GaGa lives and where Taylor Swift goes to the gym!  We also decided to brave the subway.  Even by using the subway all the time we were still rather fit after all our walking and ended each day exhausted with sore feet!

Me at the 9/11 Memorial

Me at the 9/11 Memorial

So on Friday we did a bus tour on the Downtown route.  This took us through Times Square and through a lot of the touristy places of NYC.  We got off the bus and basically ran to catch the ferry.  It was freezing and very windy but the view was awesome.  Liberty looked gorgeous and Ellis Island was interesting to see.

When we got back on land, we decided to walk through Wall Street and go to the 9/11 memorials and museum.  This was actually one of the best things we did, in my opinion.  The memorials are so well done, and the park-like area was full of people paying their respects.  The museum included a lot of artifacts, but most significantly, a massive timeline of events from that day in 2001.  We learnt a lot of things that we hadn’t heard before and as being someone who can still remember that day, watching the towers collapse from Australia, it made it all more heart-wrenching and real.

The New York Knicks vs. Atlanta Hawks Basketball game

The New York Knicks vs. Atlanta Hawks Basketball game

That night we went to a basketball game – the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks.  It was a pretty close match, even though the Knicks are the bottom team and the Hawks are the top.  Of course, the time out entertainment was exciting and we discovered that Reece’s Pieces taste absolutely delicious paired with salty popcorn.

On Saturday morning we found a healthy-ish looking place to have breakfast – this turned into our favourite eatery!  We didn’t even realise that La Pain Quotidien (http://www.lepainquotidien.com/) was a franchise until our last day in New York.  We were just excited to find somewhere that had eggs for breakfast.  We worked out that we had to go to the organic places because otherwise the eggs weren’t the same as what we’re used to in Australia.  We really are lucky to eat some pretty good food in Oz!  We then took the Uptown Big Bus Tour to the Natural History Museum (the one that ‘Night at the Museum’ is set at).  We went to a star show at the planetarium, which made us feel significantly insignificant.  After a few hours at the museum we went for a little walk to find Magnolia Bakery.  This was on Sonya’s ‘Sex and the City’ List but I had never heard of it.  The little café was so cute and the delicious cupcake and hot chocolate we had made our day.

The lights of NYC

The lights of NYC

That night we went on the Big Bus Night Tour to see the city’s lights and some new areas we hadn’t been to yet.  This was also Earth Hour night, so we had to do a fairly early tour that was half during the daylight, but by the time we finished it was dark.  We were exhausted by the time we got home at 9pm.

On Sunday morning we ventured to touristy Times Square where we stood in line to get cheap tickets for a Broadway show.  We then just walked up the down the street, stopping at shops and Starbucks (we drank a ridiculous amount of hot chocolate over the weekend!  We saw Chicago in the matinee session and it was Sonya’s first musical experience, so it made it all the more exciting.  The musical was pretty impressive, especially the guy who was a cross dresser (which I didn’t even realize was a guy until the end!).

Sonya and Me in Times Square

Shake Shack!

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Me and Sonya in Times Square

That night we had dinner at the famous Shake Shack (it was definitely as good as all the raves) and tried to get into Rockefeller Tower, but all the tickets had already been sold for that day.  Instead we had a relatively early night before getting up early on Monday morning to go to The Rock at 8am.  The view was pretty amazing but the wild interrupted our selfie-taking! We then had a walk about 5th avenue and made our way back to our apartment before heading our separate ways.

In all, I had a great time in New York, although I did find the people not as friendly as in the south where I am at Uni and a fair bit dirtier than any other place I  have been in the United States.  It was probably the first place in the States that I felt unsafe at times.

Me and Sonya on Top of the Rock, looking out at the Empire State Building

Me and Sonya on Top of the Rock, looking out at the Empire State Building

I also want to say thanks to Taylor and Jacob who graciously took me to the airport, and to Madyson and Michelle who picked me up, even after my first flight got delayed and I got put on a later second flight!

Contiki and my Sorority Family

On Tuesday 10th I travelled across the country to be able to start my Contiki tour bright and early the next day.  There was a moment of excitement as I heard Australian accents at the LA airport.  I was informed by these Australians however, that I was losing my accent and sounded kinda American.  I wasn’t impressed!

Bec and me after speed boating in San Diego

Bec and me after speed boating in San Diego

Early Wednesday 11th our group of 47, plus our tour guide and driver met in the lobby of a hotel.  Our group consisted of A LOT of Aussies, some Kiwi’s and a few people from South Africa, Canada, Brazil and Japan.  I was shocked to hear all the Australian accents, which I could suddenly recognize so clearly!  It felt nice to hear it again and arguments about what to call thongs/jandles/flip flops ensured all week.

On Wednesday we drove straight out of LA and to San Diego.  We spent the morning at Cororado and started to meet people on the bus through speed dating.  Here we went shopping and also speed boating.  The speed boating was so much fun, and me and Bec got soaked!  We saw some seals (they really smell!) and nearly got run over by a ferry. That night we had a Mexican feast in Old Town and went out for a few drinks and a lot of dancing.

Me and Nozi with our giant ice-creams at Mission Beach.

Me and Nozi with our giant ice-creams at Mission Beach.

On Thursday we got to choose between spending the day at the San Diego Zoo or Sea World.  I chose Sea World, which had a good combination of animals and rides.  We particularly loved seeing the dolphins being trained, the killer whale show and the flamingoes!  We spent the afternoon at Mission Beach, but it was too cold to swim, so Nozi and myself just ate giant ice-creams and went shopping instead.

On Friday we headed to Phoenix.  After this fairly long drive, we headed off to the basketball – Phoenix Suns vs. Atlanta Hawks.  We were a bit late in getting there and the first time-out that we experienced had a proposal on center court! Safe to say, it was so exciting and dare I say, American, but was also awesome to watch.  We had “All you can eat” so we were still loving our nose bleed seats!

On Saturday morning I got up very very early and went hot air ballooning for the first time with a small group.  I had no idea what to expect or if I would even enjoy it, but it ended up being one

The view from the hot air balloon

The view from the hot air balloon

of my favourite things I did all week!  It was very smooth and I felt very safe the whole time.  The views of the desert of Phoenix was incredible and just so different!  After our ride, we got given a very cute breakfast, in the middle of a paddock (there were some cows close by) before meeting the bus to head to the Grand Canyon.

We were able to stay in the Grand Canyon National Park which was vry cool and convenient.  The only downside was the lack of phone reception and tha

The Grand Canyon from helicopter

The Grand Canyon from helicopter

t to use the free Wi-Fi we had to sit in the cafeteria.  We spent our first night at the Grand Canyon in the cafeteria playing board games.

The next morning, I chose the optional of going for a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon.  This

Photos from our hike at the Grand Canyon

Photos from our hike at the Grand Canyon

45 minute flight was awesome!  When looking at the Grand Canyon from the edge, it looks hazy and you’re just waiting for the backdrop to fall.  But from the helicopter it was amazing.  We only saw a small part of it but it was still magnificent and amazing.  I had to keep telling myself to stop taking photos (luckily I had the window seat!) and to just look at the view.  I also decided that helicopter is another great way to travel!

That afternoon I met some other girls I had become friends with and we did a 12km hike around the ridge of the north side of the Grand Canyon.  This was the most (*read only*) exercise that I had done since leaving Uni so it was a bit of a challenge.  But we had a nice afternoon and topped it off with a dinner at the ‘fancy’ restaurant (as apposed to the cafeteria).

Our Contiki group!

Our Contiki group!

The next day we left early from the Grand Canyon to go to Las Vegas.  I was a bit unsure about how much I would enjoy Las Vegas but it ended up being a great way to finish my trip.  On the first day wenight we were there we went out for a dinner with the group to an Italian restaurant where we were loving ‘Contiki Punch’.  We then had a tour of the strip, a photo at the ‘Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas’ sign and a surprise wedding with Elvis!  We then went out to a club that was so impressive – it was huge, had a pool, the music was really good until about 1am etc. etc.

Me and our Contiki tour bus

Me and our Contiki tour bus in Vegas.

The next day we had a free day in Vegas to explore.  This also happened to be St. Patricks Day!  We shopped, went to all the places we had heard of and seen in movies (we had watched The Hangover in preparation on the bus so we all wanted to see Caesars).  Me and Maria also went on the roller-coaster at New York New York, which was one of the scariest roller-coasters I have ever been on!  That night I went to the the Cirque Du Soleil show, Zarkana, that was showing at Aria.  It was awesome, especially the sets and music.  I remember watchig Cirque Du Soleil on TV with Dad when I was much younger so this was a pretty cool thing to see in real like.  From the Aria we got a limo ride, with champagne of course, which took us to the Palms nigtclub.  This club was on the 23rd floor and the view was amazing!  I had a great night and by the time I woke up the next morning the rest of the tour had already left for Lake Tahoe.  I had a day of travelling back to Uni (I got back to Wise at 2am) feeling not so crash hot.

The view from the club on the last night in Vegas and on Contiki!

The view from the club on the last night in Vegas and on Contiki!

My week on tour felt like it had gone so fast but that I had done so much.  Thanks to everyone on my trip, as well as our guide Kiron and driver Adrian for a great time.  And Madison and Sarah for coming to get me from the airport so late!

My family line - GGBig Kara, GBig Ashlyn, Big Madison, me, Twin Taylor and Niece Anna!

My family line – GGBig Kara, GBig Ashlyn, Big Madison, me, Twin Taylor and Niece Anna!

The week just kept getting better, when I returned to my dorm room my mystery Big Sister had left me presents.  Little did I know that my Big was the girl who had graciously picked me up from the airport at midnight!  I finally found out on Monday that Madison was my Big and I’ve been loving getting to know all the girls in my family line this week.

I’m off to New York tomorrow for a long weekend with my friend from home!  So another long blog is sure to be coming next week!