Getting our E3 Visas Renewed in Mexico City!

21 Aug

Whew! James and I just came back from six days in Mexico City.
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It was an unplanned “holiday” because we needed to go to get our visas renewed (much like an H1B, James’ E3 visa is tied to his employer). Most people go to Canada but apparently this time of year is really busy – Vancouver had no available appointments and Calgary had an 84 day wait, so Google suggested that we go to Mexico City which had a mere 14 day wait.

I was pretty freaked out – all I knew was that parts of Mexico are extremely unsafe – I’ve read news stories of entire buses getting killed by drug cartels, people getting kidnapped, and friends have told me about how their parents were driven around in armoured cars with bodyguards. But after doing some research I found that Mexico City is one of the safest parts of Mexico and it’s no more dangerous than any large North American city. And (aside from the stress of not speaking the language!) we had a really great time!

The first awesome part was finding out that the seats I’d selected were actually bulkhead seats. Normally airlines make you pay for these seats and now I can see why. Soooo much room!
IMG_4300I could straighten my legs and still not touch the seat in front of me! It didn’t make any real difference in comfort to me but James was pleased which made me pleased. =)

Monday

Straight to work! We had to go to the Applicant Services Center in the morning to make sure all our documents were in order – Mexico City is the only place that makes you go through this step. You can’t do it on the same day as your visa interview so we had to arrive a day earlier to get everything taken care of. There was a huge crowd of people outside the building waiting for their appointment times. It was a pretty stressful experience because all the announcements were in Spanish and we had no idea what was going on (this would be a common theme throughout our visa process).

We were put in a special queue because James’ documents were missing his middle name so we first had to get in line to fix that before getting in the proper queue. We were told that we’d need to bring a photo to our visa appointment (something we didn’t know beforehand!) so we had to get emergency ones taken around the corner. Even at local rip-off prices (250 pesos/$19 USD) they were still well worth it for the convenience.

Afterwards we dropped everything back at our AirBNB place, grabbed some street tacos (amazing and only 12 pesos each) and headed to the Zocalo and the Metropolitan Cathedral.
2014-08-15 09.50.40Unfortunately for us most of the square was taken up with a huge installation teaching people how to ride bikes so we didn’t get to see Zocalo in all its glory. The cathedral was beautiful, but since neither of us are religious we just kind of wandered around feeling vaguely out of place while we looked at the architecture.

Also, the metro system in Mexico City is fantastic. The trains come very frequently (the one time we had to wait 5 minutes for a train we were like wtf?!) and it costs 5 pesos (40c!) to travel with unlimited transfers. Rush hour was the most squished I’ve been in my life, but overall it was a super cheap and convenient way to travel around the city.

On the walk home from the metro station we stopped by a cafe where James ordered some mescal.
IMG_4309(James: when we move to California we should buy some mescal and oranges)

We also got to try maguey worms!

IMG_4316They were really expensive (I think over 400 pesos/$31 USD) but eh, you don’t get to try worms very often! Also I may or may not have realised how expensive the worms were before I ordered them.

James didn’t like them but I did. They were kind of like meaty french fries (and apparently they have heaps of protein!)

Tuesday

This was the day of our visa interview. It was also raining really heavily in the morning so we got soaked walking 30 minutes to the consulate. In hindsight I should have picked an AirBNB place that was closer to the embassy instead of in a cool neighborhood (I’m normally better about that but in this case I was seduced by the photos).

As far as I could tell we were the only E3 applicants. James thought it might work in our favour because maybe there would be a dedicated E3 agent but no such luck. The main stress came from not knowing what was going on and getting in the wrong line (individual employees spoke excellent English, but all the general announcements were in Spanish) but once we got on track the actual visa interview was very straightforward – we were easily approved and told to return on Thursday to retrieve our passports.

We spent the rest of the day visiting the Museum of Anthropology, which is this beautiful modern building in the middle of an enormous park (over twice the size of Central Park in NYC).
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The bottom floor seemed to focus on ancient ruins and the top floor more on the different Mexican cultures. We explored the whole museum but if you only have a short period of time I’d recommend focusing on the Aztec section. There’s some really impressive stuff there, like the Aztec sun stone (originally buried in the Zocalo), and a huge collection of stone figures.

Wednesday

On Wednesday we went on a private tour to see Teotihuacan, which was an ancient (100BC!) city in Mexico. We left quite early and got there at 7:30am, just before everything opened. The first half hour it was pretty much just us (and the workers) there, and it was pretty cool seeing the citadel and the Avenue of the Dead completely empty.

We saw these stone heads at the citadel:
IMG_4377Which they’d had a restored portion of (or replica?) at the Museum of Anthropology.

IMG_4350It was strange trying to imagine everything with colour. There were some well-preserved murals so we could get a sense of how everything must have looked.

Here we are in front of the Pyramid of the Sun (seriously, try to picture it in colour – bizarre!)

2014-08-13 09.51.30Other people were starting to trickle in by now. Given its size I thought the pyramid would be more challenging to climb (maybe if you do all the levels at once? We kept getting distracted) but the views were absolutely spectacular.

2014-08-13 09.37.38In the background you can see the Avenue of the Dead leading to the Pyramid of the Moon. We also climbed the Pyramid of the Moon (though you weren’t allowed past the first tier) and the view was also gorgeous.
IMG_4429Here I am carefully descending the steps. You get a much better sense of how enormous the pyramid is by seeing how teeny tiny everyone looks against it.

2014-08-13 10.25.50Afterwards we looked at some palace ruins, well-preserved murals, and a museum. We also had lunch in a cave.
IMG_4461It was super overpriced, but how often do you get to eat inside a cave?!

Thursday

In the morning we spent some time looking atDream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park at the Museo Mural Diego Rivera. It’s so stunning in person and I regret that we didn’t see his other murals at the National Palace. It was 12 pesos each for entry and there was a guy in the room (James and I are divided on whether he was a museum employee or just a Diego Rivera enthusiast) who explained parts of the mural to us.

Then it was time to pick up our visas from the US consulate. We had to get there at 3pm where everyone waited outside in a confused huddle until they started calling out names. Our names were never called (!) but the guard let us through anyway cos we had a piece of paper telling us to be there. We were taken to a special waiting area which freaked us out because everyone else got to go inside. We watched everyone else leave with their passports and visas until one of the employees told us that they couldn’t find our passports (!!!). Eventually they did find them and from there on everything went smoothly although we were by far the last to leave. =(

Friday

In the morning we went to Templo Mayor, which is this Aztec temple that some workers randomly discovered underneath Mexico City. There were 7 pyramids built over one another, and you can walk around the ruins and see the various layers.
2014-08-15 10.35.32The museum afterwards had various relics that were retrieved from the site as well as a model of the 7 layer pyramid that we were previously walking through:
IMG_4491The disk of the dismembered Coyolxauhqui is probably the crown jewel of the collection (I think the one on the level below is Tlaloc, who was everywhereat Teotihuacan, Templo Mayor, everywhere):

IMG_4498And this is their reproduction of how it looked originally:
2014-08-15 10.16.19I kind of love how gruesome a lot of their art is and how huge a theme death is. Case in point:
IMG_4489After the museum we picked up my pottery and went to a market to buy some Otomi bark artwork (I love death themed art but not on my walls. I bought cut-outs of friendly little seed spirits).

Then in the evening it was time for Lucha Libre! We went with a tour group – we could have done it cheaper on our own but I think going with a group was more fun. Our guide was awesome and explained the rules to us and taught us Spanish phrases to yell out.

2014-08-15 21.52.01He was friends with a couple of the wrestlers and we got photos taken with them which was cool.

Afterwards we picked up a lucha libre t-shirt for James (110 pesos or $8.50 USD). The t-shirts had really cool designs and I kind of regret that we didn’t buy more, but we were running out of cash towards the end and didn’t want to go to another ATM. Then we took the metro home, had 1am tacos, packed, and got an hour’s sleep before taking an Uber to the airport.

We arrived back in Seattle around 4pm with fresh US visas. =) Overall I’d recommend getting your visas in Mexico (especially if you speak Spanish!) It was scary for us because we didn’t know the language, but everything went well and we got to explore an amazing city that we never would have visited otherwise.
2014-08-11 15.19.36(Drinking a mescal cocktail and feeling very cosmopolitan in trendy Condesa)

Adios Mexico! I know how to say that at least.

Also lo siento, no habla espanol.

A Visit to Google in Seattle

20 Aug

Apparently Google has three campuses in Washington State: Kirkland, Fremont and Bothell in order of size. This morning Luke invited me and James (well originally Chuck and James, but Chuck had something come up last minute) to have breakfast with him at Google in Fremont.

It’s a pretty small campus – just two buildings. From what Luke showed us there seemed to be a cafeteria and cafe in each building, plus the usual well-stocked microkitchens everywhere. The restaurants were decorated with things like painted tyres, propellers, and Fremont Troll artwork.

Also if you know me you know that I go kind of crazy when there’s free food. For breakfast Luke had what looked like cereal and cream (he said it was parfait) and James had some pancakes. I had pancakes, scrambled eggs, breakfast sausages, hash browns, green beans, carrots, juice and a croissant. =(

This is the restaurant in the other building, though it’s not open for breakfast. I think Luke described it as having pizza and tacos.
IMG_2676He also showed us the gym, which is about the size of a regular apartment gym but heaps better. They have two squat racks, kettlebells, heaps of weighted vests, and even heart rate monitors that you can borrow. The gym is right next to the water so they also have paddleboards and kayaks that you can take out.

But this was my favourite part of the tour:

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Claw machine, ohhh yeah.

You could play for free by getting a play token from reception. It was play until you win, and the claw was nice and grippy, not like those bullshit loose ones. I’m happy to report that James and I both got ours on the first try.

Inside the claw machine was various Google swag. Little soft toy keyrings, mini footballs, water bottles, t-shirts, and randomly some Google slippers. Those little white rectangles that say “Google” on them are actually t-shirts (I thought they were notepads) and when I realised that the “L” was actually the Space Needle I thought it would be an awesome souvenir! We were debating the ethics of asking for another token but a guy that worked there told us that reception would just give us a t-shirt if we asked.

Behold!
IMG_4509The t-shirt has the Space Needle, Rainier, Lake Union (?) and a forest. I wonder if all the Google campuses have locally themed t-shirts?

Mouse was a big fan of the toy (James: I knew the cats would like it):

IMG_4545Even though the office was small compared to Mountain View, it was really cute. And there’s definitely something to be said for not needing shuttles or bikes to get around campus. And the claw machine!

We have a little over two weeks until we move to the Bay Area and James starts work. We allowed extra time in case something went wrong – Australia Post losing James’ passport is still in recent memory. But everything went smoothly in Mexico and we had a great time, so watch out for a blog post about that soon!

I Bet the Germans Have a Word for HappySad

6 Aug

I get soo many hits on my blog from people looking for information about Amazon interviews and/or relocation. (I also get recognised on the street more often than you would think!) So it’s sad to be posting this, but James will be leaving Amazon at the end of this month. =(

Even more sadly we will be leaving Seattle. I can’t tell you how much I love it – the weather is perfect, it’s close to beautiful hikes and amazing snowboarding, and we’ve made such wonderful friends. Honestly I feel like I could have lived the rest of my life here. I don’t even get hayfever which is freaking astounding.

So why would we leave? Because James has accepted a job offer in California! He’ll be working for Google in an area he’s passionate about, so I’m absolutely thrilled for him.

It wasn’t something he’d planned in advance (as our SEA-LAX-MEL flights, my half-used CSA subscription and completely un-used 2014-15 season’s pass will attest to) but once the ball started rolling everything moved pretty fast. We just came back from a location scouting trip in the Bay Area and later this week we’re heading to Mexico to get our visas sorted. Then at the end of the month we’re moving into corporate housing in San Francisco!

These next few weeks will be pretty hectic. I’m super sad at leaving all our friends and this beautiful city but happy that James will be working at his dream job. So yeah, HappySad.

Awesome Portland: Baby Wolves and Snow Leopards at Chasing Tail

19 Jul

Snow leopards, wolves and Malaysianfishingcats, oh my!

The main reason we went on the Portland trip was to visit Chasing Tail (recognise anyone in those photos? =D), a wildlife conservation center near the border of Washington and Oregon. I’d highly recommend it – James and I learned a lot and had an amazing experience.

James was originally interested in visiting with the adult wolves, but when the website put up a notice that they had puppies that they needed help socialising, I made reservations in a flash.

Wolves

There were two timber wolves and one arctic wolf. It was funny how much they’re like overgrown puppies – they love chewing on things, running around and licking us. They’re surprisingly powerful, and even James was knocked off his feet when they threw themselves at him. His favourite was the arctic wolf but unfortunately the arctic wolf wanted nothing to do with him.

IMG_3952Look at how happy James is and how much that arctic wolf could not give a shit.

I was the clear favourite (James has been calling me “Kayeby: Friend of the Wolves” ever since). All three wolves fell in love with my leather belt and, to a lesser extent, my leather shoes.

This is pretty much the precise moment they discovered their new chew toy.
IMG_2241They kept shoving each other aside so they could get at my belt and used it to pull me around. They are tiny but super strong so I was flopping all over the place. I felt a bit bad (though not too bad) because as soon as they discovered my belt they had eyes for no other.

IMG_2277If you’ve never been the victim of a wolf puppy feeding frenzy I highly recommend it.

IMG_2270In case you’re curious, this is what my belt looked like afterwards. I hope one day someone asks me why it’s so messed up so I can be all like “freaking wolves, man” (nobody will ever ask).
IMG_4152Malaysian Fishing Cat

Her name was Malaysia and she was very young so we all had to disinfect ourselves before going near her. I remembered her being super tiny, but looking back at the photos she was about kitten size – I guess she felt especially fragile after the rambunctious wolf puppies. She made these adorable squeaks, and after getting fed she had milk all over her face. She also pooped on the other guy there – oops!

Did James fall in love with her derpy little face? I think he did!
IMG_3969Did she and James make kissy faces at each other? I think they did!IMG_3980

When there was a gust of wind she would start shivering and I would try to shelter her by folding myself around her. She loved climbing on shoulders.

Oh hey girl, hey!
IMG_2295Snow Leopards

James came for the wolves but stayed for the snow leopards! Apparently there is a very small window where you can handle snow leopards without getting attacked – when they get older they often turn on their zoo keepers so everyone has to be very careful. It really was awesome to be able to see them up close.

The male was called Viktor and the female was Marishka. Here I am cuddling little Viktor.
IMG_2327We got to bottle feed the snow leopards (I noticed that the other couple took turns but James hogged it all to himself. I think he was still a bit stung that the wolves hated him so much). But James was sooo happy that I didn’t mind letting him have all the glory.
IMG_4058Look how jealous that dog is (it reminds me a bit of my profile pic to the right, ha!)

Marishka was totally blissed out guzzling her milk – she’s grabbing James’ wrist with her GIANT PAWS all like “keep the milk coming”. But afterwards she’s like “oh man … where did my life go wrong?”
IMG_4075After they were fed they kind of lost interest in us and went wandering around. We watched them for a little while but then James scooped them back up. He does this double hug with our cats too.
IMG_4129They tolerated it for a surprising amount of time but after awhile Victor got sick of sharing James with Marishka (just like our cats!)
IMG_4147Soon after that it was time to go. I’m super tempted to go back to learn about the sloths and penguins but James is like “why? We’ve already seen the best animals there”.

Between the hike and Chasing Tail, Friday was by far our busiest (and best!) day in Portland. Saturday was comparatively low-key – catching up on shopping and then relaxing in the hotel lobby and drinking free booze until it was time to catch our Bolt Bus home.

I’m glad we got to do more than just Powells and tax-free shopping this trip. Oregon is a beautiful state and I’d love to go back again to see things we didn’t have time for, like Crater Lake (and sloths and penguins).

 

Awesome Portland: Hiking and Tax Free Shopping

15 Jul

The last time James and I went to Portland we had an awesome time and wanted to stay for longer. So this time we stayed for two nights to see a bit more of the surrounding area. We took the Bolt Bus again and this time it was a mere $24 return for both of us – $12 each!

Thursday

We stayed at Hotel Monaco, which I’d highly recommend. It’s part of the Kimpton hotel chain, which we’ve always had great experiences at. They do a cool happy hour between 5-6pm with free wine, beer and even a signature summer cocktail.

Our room was small and cute (note the bear on the bed – $35 if you wanted to take him home!).
IMG_3858We headed to a nearby food truck pod to grab lunch – a Korean bowl for James ($6ish)
IMG_2194and a Mexican combination platter for me ($7ish). It was very generously portioned and even came with tortillas so I needed James’ help to finish it.
IMG_2196

Sufficiently fortified, we headed to Nordstrom Rack for some shopping. James picked up some shoes and socks and I found this giant boot (size 16!) that James refused to let me buy as a bed for Mouse.

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We pre-gamed a little bit at the hotel happy hour before heading to Andina for dinner.

It. Was. Amazing.

Definitely one of the top 5 meals of my life. The service was fantastic and the food was swoonworthy. It’s listed as one of the more expensive restaurants in Portland but it only worked out to $50 a head (including multiple delicious cocktails) before tip. Given the quality I would have expected it to be twice the price, and at that price point it was phenomenal value.

I took some photos but decided they didn’t do justice to the food. Everything was fresh and delicious and if you ever visit Portland (which you should!) you must, must eat here – and make sure you order the anticuchos.

After that amazing meal we walked to an Amazon locker to pick up a shipment of goodies. James was very jealous of my noise cancelling headphones so we got him his own pair. I also may or may not have bought a Kindle Paperwhite.

Friday

The next morning James and I got up at 6am to go hiking. We walked to a Zipcar and drove an hour to do the Eagle Creek to Tunnel Falls hike, which is supposed to be one of the signature Oregon hikes.

I heard it can be really busy in Summer so definitely wanted to do it early on a weekday. We hardly saw anyone on the way up, so it was absolutely perfect. =)

Early into the hike we took a quick detour to Punchbowl Falls.
IMG_3868The water felt quite cold but otherwise it looks like a pretty nice swimming hole. We walked along the creek and even though we lingered at the Falls we had the whole place to ourselves.

IMG_3873There was a second, smaller, waterfall a bit further down the creek.
IMG_3875Then headed back to the main trail and traversed some creeks and bridges. It was starting to get sunnier but we were mainly walking in the shade so it was nice and cool.

I think this section was called the Potholes. They were very soothing to walk on.
IMG_3882Soon after, we turned a corner and there was Tunnel Falls. You can see the tunnel which leads behind the falls – so we actually got to walk behind a waterfall, which was super cool.
IMG_3886And even better, we had the whole falls to ourselves! I don’t mind busy hikes but it’s so much nicer when you’re the only ones around. I imagine that goes tenfold on a narrow hike like this one.

Look how massive it is!

IMG_3905For a sense of scale you can see the tunnel going behind the waterfall halfway down. And for extra scale here I am at one of those tunnels:

IMG_2211Some crazy people actually do cliff jumps into the water below. I think it’s something like a 70 foot fall, which is high enough that you can actually injure yourself if you hit the water wrong.

A lot of people turn around at Tunnel Falls but if you keep going a little while longer you can catch another waterfall. The narrow path there is called the Vertigo Mile and I definitely noticed James looking a bit nervous at parts.
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You might remember that he is a little nervous around heights. Most of the really high, narrow parts had cables (which he made ample use of) but he said he was fine as long as he didn’t look down. I didn’t have any problems – partially because heights don’t really bother me but I guess I’m also smaller so the path was relatively wider.

After a short walk we saw Twister Falls, which was predictably twisty and totally worth the small amount of extra time it took to get there.
IMG_3909After that we turned around and started heading back. Unfortunately by this time it was starting to get really warm in the sun, so the walk down was much more unpleasant. We also saw a lot more people heading up, so an early start was definitely the way to go.

The hike took just under five hours going at a leisurely pace, detouring to Punchbowl Falls and taking a lot of photos. Afterwards we went to Pok Pok, which is a fantastic Thai restaurant (seriously, Portland food punches sooo far above its weight) and back to our hotel for a nap before heading out again to see … BABY WOLVES AND SNOW LEOPARDS. 

But that is a subject that deserves its own blog post =D

Skillet Diner

1 Jul

Skillet Diner
1400 E Union St, Seattle

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I’ve been meaning to go to Skillet Diner for ages, and last Friday James and I were in an eating out mood. It was Pride Weekend, so the whole neighborhood was celebrating and rainbowed up.

We arrived about 20 minutes early for our reservation but there was room so they seated us straight away.

We ordered cocktails to start – I had a Brunch 75 ($9) with vodka, st. germain, prosecco and grapefruit juice and James ordered a Smoky Paloma ($10) which was basically a grapefruity margarita. Later in the meal he ordered a Basically a Fancy Old Fashioned ($9) which used jicama-infused whiskey. They came in cute, teeny tiny hipster Mason jars.

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I had the ultimate grilled cheese ($11) with bacon jam ($2) and fried chicken ($5) and a side of poutine ($3). I could have gotten a side salad instead but I prefer the “heart attack on a plate” look.

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The poutine was crazy dense. It was also only a bit above room temperature, so even though it was tasty the combination of lukewarm-ness and sliminess was a bit off-putting. I probably would get fries next time.

The grilled cheese was amazing! Perfectly browned and I loved the combination of the cheese, bacon jam and chicken thigh. I ate half the sandwich and maybe a third of the poutine. James polished off the poutine and I took the rest of my grilled cheese home for breakfast the next day.

James ordered the special of the day – Denver lamb ribs – juniper coriander crust, yuzu marmalade, adobo marinated grilled pineapple, grilled corn, frisee, english peas and charred spring onions ($29).

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It came in a skillet (“how eponymous!” James might say).

The meat was super tender and had a really interesting flavour. I think James particularly liked the marmalade, which added a touch of sweetness and wasn’t nearly as marmalade-y as you’d expect. It’s exactly the sort of meal I love ordering at restaurants – delicious with PITA flavour combinations that you would never consider making at home. Definitely worth ordering!

We were super full at this stage – and remember that I’d only managed about half my meal. But when we eat out I always want to have dessert! James ordered the doughnut holes ($6).

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They were light, warm and fresh. Also way more massive than he had anticipated.

There were a lot of awesome-looking desserts but because I was so full I ordered what looked like the lightest option – the cheesecake in a jar ($6)

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It was nice but not outstanding; I’ve definitely had better cheesecakes. The strawberry layer was a bit too gelatin-y and I think it suffered from not having the usual ratio of topping to cheesecake.

James definitely got the best of the ordering competition that night, but overall we were both really pleased with the meal. There were multiple menu items that I wouldn’t mind going back to try – namely the boozy shakes, some of the fried desserts and the fried chicken.

The walk home initially started as a waddle, but the food wasn’t heavy in our stomachs for long – impressive given their fried-ness. I was expecting to feel way worse afterwards. Perhaps it’s because we were in a good mood but we both agreed that Skillet Diner was one of the best dining experiences we’ve had in Seattle. It’s one of the few places here that’s lived up to the hype for me (the others that come to mind are Paseo’s and Shiro’s) and I’d highly recommend it.
Skillet Diner on Urbanspoon

Just So I Don’t Forget!

23 Jun

James was watching the new RoboCop the other night. Afterwards he was telling me about the movie and said:

James: You know, the real heroes were the software engineers who wrote the program that detected who the bad guys were. Even though RoboCop was the one shooting everyone, all the real work had already been done by then.

The more I smirked the more indignant he got.

I also remember aaaages ago when he finished watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes he was like:

James: (in a really thoughtful tone) That was a really inspiring monkey.

And every time I bring that up he’s always super defensive – “well he was an inspiring monkey!”

James has odd movie heroes.

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