Posts Tagged With: USA

New York – New York: Day One !

Oh-My-God! I freaking loved NYC!!

From the moment I landed to the day I left New York, I loved my timed there… It’s a great city and I was lucky enough that the weather was amazing…

Sunday 18th May

2014-05-18 17.19.07

Getting ready to land

I landed 45 mins earlier than scheduled…yes, 45! Never happened to me before…I usually have stressful travelling (not whilst in the air but before and after take off/landing there is usually some drama) but not this time…well, except for the few minutes before I took the Heathrow Express where I thought I had forgotten my wallet at home and I had to literally empty my backpack (I had changed it the night before and sweated I forgot to transfer the wallet too). At JFK, I was through customs in 10 mins tops. The longest part of the process was getting from the plane to the passport control as I think our plane landed the furthest away from there.

One funny anecdote whilst on the plane (Delta Airline one) was as all the attendants were American, they had trouble with my accent…You should have seen the look of total confusion on the attendant when I asked for a “tonic water”…I don’t know how to translate tone in writing but I had to repeat it three times before my neighbour, although American herself but one who seemed more used to the Britishness of my accent (although it’s a bit of a mishmash of accents to be fair to the attendant) americanized it for me 🙂 She also didn’t know that tonic water came in diet form…

It was easy enough to get into town, thanks to my Airbnb hostess’ instructions, although the Air train could do with some station’s announcement. They don’t really tell you which station you are pulling in and the signs are not that obvious.

 

My Brooklyn Home

My Brooklyn Home

I got to my home away from home at 3pm on the dot and was met at the door by my host’s living boyfriend, who very kindly offered to take my suitcase up the stairs…who says chivalry is dead?! My hosts were a friendly couple, although I interacted more with the lady of the house. The flat itself is a bit dated but really clean and my room was at the back, overlooking a garden so quiet, which is really important for me. I slept really well the whole time I was there. I am not sure the bed would have been big enough for a couple but that wasn’t really an issue for me 🙂 I had a few chats with her which was nice. It was like flatsharing again.

After such a long flight, I should have been tired…and to be fair I was a bit but I knew I couldn’t go to bed too early or I would be completely out of sync for the rest of the trip…so after dropping my bag, sending a couple messages (courtesy of the free wifi) to tell everybody that I had made it in one piece and changing clothes (it was barmy compared to London weather), I set off to explore the area around the flat…I had plans to go see the Brooklyn Bridge which my Google Map had told me was only 10-15 mins walk from there….um…don’t always trust Google Maps and also, remember to take a copy of the  map with you and not just a picture of it on your phone! I made that mistake and realised that I couldn’t actually see street names on my small iPhone screen so I got lost… Adding to my walking journey by a few kilometres, although it did give me a chance to get a sense of the area better…it also highlighted that the little walking pump I had bought were really not good enough for this much walking!

I did find the bridge and what a glorious sight it was…and busy too. It seems everyone had the same idea as me on this end of Sunday. I walked across it, taking in the sight of Manhattan in the setting sun and got all the way to where One Police Plaza is nestled. I say nestled because it is in a leafy cul-de-sac, a lot quieter and plainer than I thought it would be….Then I walked back. I stopped at a grocery store to get some food and cash and after a nice shower, I was fast asleep as soon as my head touch the pillow.

Mr Piggy also had fun, see his tribulations here!

 

 

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The Fantastic Mr Piggy

2 more sleeps and Mr Piggy and I are off to our next adventure…Can I get a “hell yeah!!”? No? Never mind.

For those of you who have followed my past endeavours, you will have noticed that where ever I go, I take Mr Piggy with me and ensure he gets his screen time. He has travelled a bit already and you can see his photographic adventures on Mr Piggy’s World Adventures.

MrPiggy

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East Coast USA * The planning

It has been a long time since I have been on a proper holiday (June 2012 to be precise) as I don’t count the time I spend in my home town as “proper holiday”.

This year I was meant to be the year of being cancer free and back to my meanderings. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be so…Having suffered a major blow in the “remission road”, I fortunately still get to travel.

I had had plans a couple years to make Costa Rica my next holiday but again, I have had to change the plans. Not due to my health, mind you but because some of my lovely friends have decided to get married this year and as the bride-to-be is from Pennsylvania, the wedding will be held there…Yay…

My first time to the US was only a couple years ago, a mere few months before I got diagnosed actually and was the last time I had a proper holiday, so I think it is only fitting that my first holiday since I am able to travel again is to go there again…this time to the East Coast.

NYC Skyline, courtesy of Google Images

NYC Skyline, courtesy of Google Images

Since being invited, I have struggled and toyed with many itineraries in order to make the most of my time there whilst trying to keep the cost to a reasonable budget. I am not doing it on a shoestring but I don’t want to be chucking pounds out either.

After a lot of research (and as many itinerary advice as people asked) and a little worry that I wouldn’t get my passport renewed in time, I have finally settled for the following travel plans:

Sunday 18th May (pm) to Thursday 22nd May (am) – NYC – can I get a “hell yeah!”?

 

Thursday 22nd (pm) to Friday 23rd May (am) – Washington DC – Sir, yes, sir!

(Courtesy: Google images)

(Courtesy: Google images)

Friday 23rd (pm) to Monday 26th May (pm) – Pittsburgh/Mill Run – Dumdumdada Dumdumdada…

Action packed schedule. I fly in NYC and fly back out from Pittsburgh to avoid having to waste half a day transferring back there. And I am taking a bus between NYC and DC where I am going to meet up with another of the wedding guests and we are going to share a car to drive up to Pittsburgh.

 

 

 

 

 

(Courtesy: Google images)

(Courtesy: Google images)

The wedding venue is about 1h30 south east of Pittsburgh but we are going all the way up as a large portion of the wedding party (including yours truly) will be attending a baseball game on the Friday evening.

The wedding will be held on the Sunday but again, some serious action plans for the Saturday: white water rafting and a motorcycle ride on the back of CousinJeff’s Harley…I can already feel my inner biker chick nodding her head, tongue out and fingers making the devil’s horn gesture! Rock on baby, rock on!

Anyway, back to the planning…most of it concerning NYC to be honest as it is where I am staying the longest and by myself.
Now, I have never been to New York and like many, I have grown up with 70s, 80s movies where the city is the backdrop so I have an image of a gritty city where the Bronx and Brooklyn are not places you want to hang out…I was never a huge fan of SATC, unlike my friends. However, I was pleased to discover that the city is much safer than it used to be and thanks to a friend’s recommendation, I found accommodation using Airbnb.
If you don’t know this service, you have to check it out…it’s pretty awesome. People all over the world, who have spare rooms or even whole apartments can rent them out like a B&B. Although, you have to send a few enquiries before you get a successful booking, it allowed me to get 4 nights in a brown stone in Brooklyn (apparently it’s Hipster central there now) for a third less than if I had booked a hotel. And I get to experience NYC like a New Yorker. I hate hotels when I am on my own, they always feel soulless and it’s always very noisy.

Here is a list of the things I am planning to go see, visit, check out:

The Top of the Rock Deck – this one I have pre-booked for Monday 19th via Viator as it appeared to be cheaper and saved the queuing. I am told if you have to do an observation deck, this is the best as you can see the Empire States building and the Chrysler building from it (whereas you’d miss seeing those if you were on top of them…doh!).

Walk along the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset – I am going to try to do that on the day I arrive as I don’t think after a 6 hours flight in cattle class I’ll have much more energy for more…but you never know. The plan is to walk across it all the way to One Police Plaza (1PP). It might not be a huge touristy place but I am a huge fan of cop shows and that’s my little homage – as a side bar, I still have to go and check out Scotland Yard in London and I live there!

Circle Line Cruise – Night lights: that is another tour that I have already pre-booked with Viator. Again it appeared to be cheaper and you can hop the queues…I am still too French to enjoy queuing the way Brits seem to.

On my last day (Wednesday) it’s the start of Fleet Week and apparently the ships are pulling in the harbour that morning and from what I gather, the streets are filled with sailors (weyhey!) and you can go check out the boats…Sir, yes, sir!! 🙂

Other things on my list are: the American National History Museum, Central Park, the High Line, a bit of shopping (can’t really miss that opportunity), Time Square and Broadway – hopefully get cheap on the day ticket for a show, the cafe where Harry Met Sally did “that” scene, apparently Magnolia Bakery is a must too…everyone I talk to about this trip comes back with their “must do” or favourite and I’ll try to cram as much as I can without missing out on enjoying where I am at. One thing I won’t do is art galleries and art museums even though The Met and MoMa are well recommended…I can’t stand that type of museums…history, architecture and anthropology: big YES! Art: not so much…

I have very little plans for the evenings apart from the twilight cruise on Tuesday. I am not a big night person and my clubbing days are well behind me (if they ever were in front) but I don’t mind.

On Thursday morning, I take a Megabus (apparently the Greyhound buses aren’t that reliable) to Washington DC. I found a hotel near Capital Hill without breaking the bank thanks to Trivago. There I will meet with J and see the most obvious sights: Capital Hill, the White House etc. I don’t think I will get time for the Smithsonian which is a shame but that’s what you get for a half day.

Friday we drive to Pittsburgh – we are supposed to catch up with another friend of mine, Mr C, who is coming via Baltimore but we haven’t agreed yet where we are meeting. Now Mr C is a funny one as he intends to cycle back from the wedding to Baltimore…Yes, peeps, cycle as in push bike! So we have to make sure the hire car can take the bike.

As you can imagine, I am well excited about this trip! Of course updates and photos will follow once I am there.

To complete my prep, I also got myself a US sim card which I bought on Ebay for ÂŁ10 (and it came with $10 credit). I am not planning on spending loads of time on the phone but in areas where there is no wifi, being able to get a bit of data should be nice. I have also made sure I snapped pictures of all the maps I needed and even printed some…Did I hear some snigger “OCD”? Yes, I know but I feel happier when I have a bit of control, thank you very much!

5 more sleeps….

Signature2

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Itchy feet

This year, thanks to dealing with breast cancer, isn’t supposed to be a travelling year. I have set myself to plan for a holiday next year so as to celebrate being clear and free of the cancer (one can hope) and to celebrate the fact that I will turn 40 (I can hardly believe it). Strangely enough, it is not daunting me that I will hit that big milestone. As a single woman without kids I should be terrified as it will mark a big scary jump on my biological clock but somehow, because of aforementioned cancer, it has lost its scariness. I suppose being faced with a life threatening illness (even if it hadn’t reach the heavy stage) makes you appreciate all the potential birthdays you will get.

Any how, this was not meant to be the subject of this post. I am not here to talk about my boobies or my ticking clock but about my itchy feet!

I am not sure I will be able to wait until next year to go on a trip somewhere I haven’t been. First I have been invited to spend the weekend in a plush hotel in Barcelona early June. That’s one of the privileges of my job. It’s what called a FAM trip – don’t ask me what FAM means, I don’t actually know; what I do know is that it means a free weekend away flights and accommodation included, thank you very much! I have already been to Barcelona so I have done all the touristy things to do there.

NYC Skyline, courtesy of Google Images

NYC Skyline, courtesy of Google Images

Yesterday, one of my colleague was talking about trying to find a destination in Europe for a 5 days trip and I was giving her ideas of where to go and that made me long for a break away. I then went onto lastminute.com to see where I could go for 4/5 days myself (so I don’t take too many days off) and by myself (so I don’t have to rely on anyone else to be free) but without actually doing a group tour holiday and my eyes settled on New York. A city break would be ideal and I have never been to the Big Apple.

As you may have read before, I have a tendency to obsess a little when I start thinking about something like a holiday so of course, I went straight to Amazon and bought myself the Lonely Planet New York City guide so I can start looking at what I can do over 4 days and where would be best for me to stay without having to spend my time in the transport and be safe if I travel alone.

NYC Skyline, courtesy of Google Images

NYC Skyline, courtesy of Google Images

I am thinking I could go in Sept/Oct this year considering I will have been done with all the active treatments relating to my breast cancer (I have finished chemo end of March and I am about to have the operation on 21st May, so I should be finished with it before summer starts…well if summer ever starts here). It will be the opportunity for me to check out the city that is the background for many of my favourite tv shows, such as CSI:NY.

NYC, courtesy of Google Images

NYC, courtesy of Google Images

Considering the operation I am going to have and the fact that following removal of lymph nodes you have increased risks of infection, it might not be possible for me to so my African safari next year or even go anywhere which requires shots so I might have to go back to the drawing board for my grand holiday.

NYC Skyline, courtesy of Google Images

NYC Skyline, courtesy of Google Images

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USA Tour: My final day….4th July

It was sad to say goodbye to a few people on the night before and on 4th I had to goodbye to my little gang…Heather, Melissa and Steph all left late afternoon. I had originally decided to go back to Santa Monica to hang out and see the fireworks but after seeing how long it took yesterday to get from there to the Hacienda, I gave up on the idea.

Achim was staying until the 9th but moving hotels. He was going to a hostel in Santa Monica. As I was due to leave early on the 5th, he kindly agreed to go watch the fireworks from El Segundo (we asked the hotel if there was going to be some around) and then make his way back to his hostel instead of me trekking the 2 hours back.

We spent part of the day by the hotel pool but the fog hadn’t lifted and we were literally shivering after we enjoyed the really hot jacuzzi. We spent the rest of the afternoon in the hotel patio, chatting away and reminiscing some of the funniest moments. You could tell that everyone was slowly losing his sparkle from having to say goodbye. Finally the time came and it was just me and Achim left. We decided to go explore where the fireworks was going to be to see what wee needed to plan for.

People were already getting ready and marking their spot in the street with deck chairs and blankets. The whole area had been cordoned off so there was no traffic.

The fog had finally lifted by late afternoon so it was warming up.

The fireworks were going to be launched from a baseball stadium which had been all closed off and you could buy a ticket for $3 and get a seat in the arena and enjoy the pre-fireworks concert. We decided not to.

We walked back towards the hotel to go get some supplies for an impromptu picnic. Originally we had thought of going to dinner in one of the restaurant and then wander back for the fireworks but seeing that a lot of people were already claiming space all around, we decided it would be safer to buy some food and drinks and lay our towels out and wait for the big bang… It took a while for the sun to set and we were so close to the airport that we think we saw Steph’s plane take off…

I am sure that the fireworks would have been nicer on Santa Monica but as it stand it wasn’t too bad…

I tried to take a few pics with my Nikon Coolpix but not easy without a tripod…

We left just before it ended as Achim wanted to be the mass exodus so he could catch the shuttle bus back to the airport, where he could catch another shuttle bus to get to Santa Monica…it took him about 2hours even at that time of the night… I am glad I didn’t have to do.

I had been lucky to have been alone in my room the night before so I was a little surprise to find that I had a room mate on my way back. She was also returning from a trek. We chatted briefly and then I turned off as I wanted to be at the airport in plenty of time…you know me, I am a nervous traveller 🙂

My flight was at 11am and I got there for 8.30am so I had plenty of time to kill. Did a little last minute shopping. I had started to develop the cold that had gone around the bus in the last week of our tour so I bought some medicine to help. I also had my first McDonald…somehow, throughout the journey I had managed to avoid it…not really out of choice as I like to try out McD in the countries I visit as they always have a “local” speciality. In India I had a McMaharaja which is a chicken curry burger, in Thailand I had a McThai…which is also chicken curry type but did taste different…and in LAX I had a breakfast burrito…which is not something you get in Europe for sure!

My flight back was dreadful. My cold developed full tilt and I think I got myself a fever at some point. I couldn’t sleep despite my earplugs and eye mask because I felt hot and cold all night and I couldn’t breathe with my mouth closed and I can’t really sleep with my mouth open. I watch a couple movies but I didn’t want to spend the night doing that…I was really happy to land on Friday morning and my commute back home was long…I wasn’t supposed to go to bed on arrival so I could control the jet lag but between the sleepless flight and the fact that I felt absolutely dreadful, I didn’t last very long….long enough to take a well deserved shower and to call my Nan to reassure her that I was a live if not well…

I had 3 days to recover from the jetlag before I was due to start at my new job…unfortunately for me, jetlag decided to kick the night before my first day and stayed with me for a few more nights…of course it did.

Taking stock…

My big highlights were:

San Diego

The Grand Canyon – of course

Yosemite – for the accomplishment of the hike

Baseball game and Alcatraz in San Francisco

Santa Barbara – the whole town actually, it felt like a place I could live in.

The people… I was worried about the American people…they can have a bad reputation for being obnoxious, loud and little too much overly Christian….throughout the trip I discovered how nice and friendly they can be, I was impressed by the customer service everywhere we went (regardless of tipping convention) and I didn’t get too much Christianity shoved back at me.

My fellow travellers…we had an amazing group and I am hoping to stay in touch with a few. We are already talking about when we see each other next and I believe the first reunion is going to be in Zurich (Steph’s haunt) to go skiing. Then, it should be Aberdeen…

And here’s for the memories

More Burt Reynolds action

The girls

 

With the top boys…

 

LAX in Vegas

 

Limo action in Vegas with Lisa and El

 

With the lovely Heather…

 

I can’t wait to go back out there…The country lived up to my expectations and the people surpassed them…Now I want to see it all…I want to go to New York, I want to see Miami, New Orleans, go to Boston and see Washington and I also want to see Canada…. Until next time…

Chymeera

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USA Tour: Day 14 – Hollywood & Santa Monica (03/07/12)

Before we left Santa Barbara, we went to see the famous Mission…the day was dull, misty and grey…it was too early to go inside the mission but a lot of the interest is in the art that has been created on the parking lot.

There are hundreds of images so I couldn’t really take all of them.

This was our last day on the tour and we finished by a quick tour of parts of LA: we drove through Beverly Hills, and then stopped in Hollywood and ended with Santa Monica.

I was relatively disappointed by Hollywood. When we arrived there, there was a strong smell of manure floating around…which you don’t expect from such an urban setting and well there isn’t much to see.

We checked out a few of the stars and hand prints…I was obsessed with finding Burt Reynolds as he had kind of become our mascot following the story about the special shot called Burt Reynolds after which you have to display the moustache…it became a whole thing because the Scottish girls had no idea who Burt Reynolds was and we started doing the moustache after every alcoholic drink we had…

We got to see the sign from the shopping centre in Hollywood, we were quite far out so this is the best shot I got of it, full zoom. We tried a couple with us in front but it was impossible to see the sign…

I had a huge crush on Magnum P.I.! The only man with a moustache I have found attractive. It’s still one of my favourite series and I recently completed the DVD collection and nearly done watching it

 

We didn’t really have much time to go looking for particular “stars” so these were the ones that I actually recognised…On the stretch of road we were at, there were loads of starts from the early days of Hollywood and many I didn’t know.

Burt Reynolds!!!!

I couldn’t resist a little Steven Segal action…there is a joke there somewhere I am sure

 

This one was for my aunt who is a huge Duke fan

 

I just found this particularly amusing…Childish I know, but tell me it didn’t make you chuckle a bit!

This is as close as we got to BH!

 

Santa Monica

 

Now this is one thing I definitely learned on that day…I had no idea that Route 66 ended on Santa Monica Pier.

You could buy this map for $5! Although even if you had the time to check them out, all you probably could see was the huge gates…

We were about 5 miles south of Malibu Beach where Baywatch was shot in the 90s but this looks quite similar…

I wouldn’t mind one of those…although probably a bit scary during a proper storm…

Santa Monica Pier…

 

I took a lot of pictures of Black & Whites…mostly because of James…who was obsessed with them.

I thought this was a particularly interesting view point…

No pier is complete without an amusement park on it…

Apparently the “original” Muscle beach…although there weren’t any muscles around that day…

This was it…the end of our trip…after our little walk around the beach, we headed back through the shopping street…it took us a couple hours to drive back to the Hacienda. Everybody was quiet on the drive back…I think we were feeling the little depression that comes with knowing that it is the end.

Some of us were flying out this night, most were flying the following day. As it was the 4th of July I had decided to extend my stay for one more day to experience it.

Next Chapter: Celebrating the 4th July

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USA Tour: Day 13 – Santa Barbara (02/07/12)

We headed out to town for a day at the beach. We took the bus right across from our motel and within 15 mins we were in State St which is the main shopping street. From the first look I liked Santa Barbara’s Mexican’s influence. All the shop fronts are the same, hacienda style. It’s warm, it’s sunny and it’s clean. The town centre is quite small and yet it has all the shops, cafes, restaurants and bars that you might want. There are a couple of art house cinemas and I think even a theatre. When in the town centre you are about 15 mins walk from the beach front but if you don’t fancy walking, you can take a cute little shuttle train for 80 cents.

Bare feet are dangerous…!

SUP: Stand Up Paddling…is the top sport around there…

 

A cool van…

 

After a walk along the pier and the beach front (looking for the jet ski rental) we ended going to the beach for a bit of swim and sunbathe. We didn’t find the shop…

The marina

We had lunch at the beach cafe, which actually was rather nice. It was a nice day of doing not much…On the way back, I did a bit of souvenir shopping and bought a new pair of earphones from the drugstore as mine had broken.

We went back to the motel to get showered and headed back out for dinner.

We ate at a little Italian restaurant (the usual group…Steph, Heather, Melissa, Achim and I) and then went looking for a place to have a drink….

We settled for a place called the Sand Bar which had outside fires and looked funky.

They had really nice cocktails…I enjoyed a few Pina Coladas…

 

Then we discovered that they turned into a club after a certain time…which suited us very well and we ended up staying for a bit of a boogie…

Left to right: Achim, Heather, Melissa, Steph and a very tanned Me

The happy gang after a good night drinking cocktails (for the girls) and dancing…

Next chapter: Hollywood & Santa Monica

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USA Tour: Day 12 – Pacific Highway 101 & Santa Barbara (01/07/12)

So we left San Francisco and headed towards the most beautiful (and long) drive we had so far…Pacific Highway 101 is famous for its vistas…You drive along the ocean and it does live up to the hype. But first we stopped to see the famous painted houses of SF. They were the ones where the TV series Full House was supposed to be shot.

We missed out on seeing them the day before because of the delay with the Alcatraz trip and some of the girls really wanted to see them.

“Full House” houses

As you can see the day was foggy and grey. Apparently it’s often the case in the morning in SF. We did drive through pretty neighbourhoods to get out of town and it gave me back a little liking for the city…

There are lots of little houses like that around in that part of town and I wouldn’t mind one of those.

PCH 101 View – Oh my!

We had lunch there. It was cute. You have to walk through an art shop on the ground to get to the restaurant on the first floor. The menu was a little restricted and not cheap…but it’s pretty much the only place you can eat for a long way.

Saying that, I had a good breakfast so wasn’t really hungry so only bought a fruit salad.

After lunch we stopped at a view point. It’s a historical area where a famous rich woman used to have a house…

This was one of the views that woman had from her house…I could live with that…

A little birdie…

Our next stop was to watch the sea lions sunbathe….

We arrived in Santa Barbara in late afternoon. We were staying at the Oasis Motel about 15 mins bus ride from town centre. And of course it had a pool so as soon as we were settle in our rooms, we headed out for a swim. It had been a long drive and everybody needed to relax and cool down.

Mel had organised dinner in town at an American dinner called Joe’s Cafe. I decided to play a little more Girls vs Food by ordering their French double dip sandwich…which by the way has nothing French about it as we don’t do that at all in France.

Girl vs Food: Beef double dip sandwich. It was good but definitely was goood!
This is supposed to be a French style sandwich…I can tell you that I have never had one in France and grew up there!

We didn’t hang out in town for long after dinner..didn’t even go for drinks.

Next chapter: Santa Barbara – Day 2

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USA Tour: Day 11 – San Francisco – Part 2 (30/06/12)

So…this was our final day in San Francisco and it helped me changed my mind about the city.

So far, I had been underwhelmed with the city. I had enjoyed the cable car ride and the baseball game but that was pretty much it. The city itself hadn’t wowed me as I expected…This was about to change.

So the planning for the day was: people with tickets to Alcatraz were going there in the morning and those without were staying with Mel for a nice breakfast and a drive around the city. We were all due to meet back at 11.30am to then go to Ashbury Heights (the hippy quarter) and then the Golden Gate bridge…

First hitch, our tickets included a trip to Angel Island and unfortunately, this was the first stop so we weren’t due to get to Alcatraz until noon. Ooops… Rachel left a message to Mel and we set out to enjoy our day…and that we did. I absolutely loved both island..it was beautiful and interesting at the same time.

The boat ride was really nice. A bit windy and chilly but sunny enough that it was enjoyable and we got to see San Francisco Bay under a beautiful light

San Francisco harbour

Windswept…and again, someone who doesn’t know how to use my DSLR…I should have kept those shots with my compact. Then again, being blurred means you can see all the imperfections 🙂

Alcatraz Island – at this stage, we were just passing through…

Bay Bridge

Arriving at Angel Island

Angel Island is a State Park and is known as the “Ellis Island of the West” as it housed the Immigration Quarantine park for a long time. It also was a military base for a while and still has some of the civil war barracks and hospital.

We spent 2 hours there, going around the park on the mini train.

It has beautiful views and there is a spot there where you are supposed to have the best view of the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge…that is if the fog is kind enough to lift…unfortunately for us, it didn’t and we didn’t see anything.

Old civil war time hospital. One of the oldest construction still standing on the island

Period dressed reanactment

The Golden Gate Bridge…in the fog

Old baracks

Immigration triage

Most of the Far Eastern world immigrated through this point but also some of Europe. Although it was mostly Chinese and they were detained sometimes for months, like prisoners. Families were separated. There were some famous poems which were engraved on the wooden walls.

Being on the clock, we didn’t get to go inside any of the building. This is a shot of the free postcard you get with your ticket. It’s an image of one of those poems.

We didn’t get much time to eat as we were due back on the boat to finally get to Alcatraz.

I had been looking forward to this part. Again, hugely influenced by famous movies like Escape from Alcatraz and The Rock.

I also discovered that Alcatraz wasn’t always a prison…

The Rock

Before being a federal penitentiary, Alcatraz was of course a military base, then later on a military prison.

After the prison closed, it became the centre for Indian rights activisms.

See more info on its history here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcatraz_Island

Of course, the audio tour centres around its time as a prison…

Cell blocks

I didn’t take many pictures inside…it felt a little disrespectful somehow and I was just so fascinated by the audio commentary. If you go there, do not hesitate to do it. The sound effects are amazing and you feel like you are living it. It is a little creepy even. Unfortunately we had to skip through a lot of the parts as time was running out and we wanted to get the first boat out. We were already way out of schedule to meet up with the others on the mainland. On the way out, we passed through the gift shop where one of the former prisoners there was doing a book signing. I didn’t buy the book as I knew I wouldn’t read it but it was amazing to see someone who had lived through this place, especially after having heard of the dreadful conditions there and having seen the size of the cells…Definitely not the luxury some prisons offer these days…there were no human rights activists for them back then…

Trying to meet up with the others once we were back at Pier 33 was a lot harder than expected. Rachel was liaising with Mel and it wasn’t going well as she wouldn’t tell us where our next step was and insisted that meet up with them at the Golden Gate Bridge even though chances are we wouldn’t have time to walk it and the bridge was in the fog so much that we wouldn’t see much. We took our time though walking between Pier 33 and Pier 39 as Lisa wanted to go to a souvenirs shop she had seen the day before and didn’t think we would have time after we met up with the others…then we struggled to actually find cabs to get to the bridge…we finally got there, to see that the bridge was invisible and we definitely didn’t have to walk it…we got in the van and returned to Pier 39! We were a little annoyed that we had to pay for cab fares when we could all have met back there without having to rush back or if she had told us we were going to go there after, we would have wasted time before and had met back with her earlier…this wasn’t good planning at all.

This is what we got to see of the Golden Gate Bridge…

Walking around Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf gave me back the excitement for the city though…

We had some free time on Fisherman’s Wharf until 6pm. Some people went into the Hard Rock Cafe…it was too busy for me and I wanted to walk around and do a bit of souvenirs shopping. Achim came with me… Later on, we were all due to meet up at Pier 20 to go on a catamaran cruise…I wasn’t too keen as I tend to be sea sick on small boats.

Amazing sea lions chilling by the pier

I shouldn’t have been worried by the cruise…it was one of the best nights we had…there was snacks served and we had all 3 drinks tokens. We shared the ride a other groups and I had a jolly time and thanks to my little acupressure bands, I didn’t get sick at all!

It was misty, windy and chilly on the boat, but luckily they had spare parkas for everyone! I regretted coming in my flip flops though as my tootsies got quite cold!

Once out of the bay though, the weather improved and we were treated to a beautiful sunset.

Mr Piggy enjoying the ride…

Left to right: Steph, Heather, The Finisher, Rachel, Tash, Melissa and James

There was another trek group with us and their tour guide decided it would be fun to wrestle on the net, pitching his group against ours, starting by a match between him and Mel…I have to admit, this was the funniest thing ever…I filmed it and it is a shame I can’t really add it here!

We sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge, still in the fog, and the weather turn called again.

Fog City Diner on Battery Street

After the cruise we went for dinner at a posh diner called Fog City Diner

The decor was quite cool and the food was really nice…It was a perfect end to what turned out to be nearly a perfect day…

Girl vs Food: Green Thai Mussels….it was creamy and had a strong kick to it but quite delicious. I enjoyed that very much and the mussels were ginormous!

Next Chapter: Santa Barbara

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USA Tour: Day 10 – San Francisco – Part 1 (29/06/12)

Now San Francisco was the leg of the trip I was waiting for the most. Everyone I know who had been there had told me how cool a city it was and I would love it. I don’t know if it is because we arrived through the grittiest part of town or if it’s because my expectations were so high but my first impressions of Frisco wasn’t on the awed part of the spectrum…I was disappointed.

Mel took us to the winding steps first. Apparently they are super famous as they are featured in many a movie. I oohed and aahed and pretended that I had heard of them but to tell you the truth, I don’t remember seeing them before…except maybe in one of The Hulk movies now that I think of it, but I am not entirely sure. I mean, some of my favourite car chases movies will have an SF scene..like Bullitt and I grew up on The Streets of San Francisco and Full House so I had maybe a little glamoured up image of the city… I wasn’t expected all the tweakers and homeless people wandering around in the streets…I also wasn’t expected it to be so cold after nearly cooking in San Diego and Vegas.

After the winding steps we headed to Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch. Now again, I was a little disappointed, it appeared to be quite small and tacky with numerous souvenirs shops but not much else. We had lunch in Mel’s favourite restaurant and I had my first clam chowder. Apparently it originated from Fisherman’s Wharf. I must make a small parenthesis again: I grew up in a village by the sea back in France and seafood is part of our regular diet…except that I don’t actually like fish and other seafood related meals. I mean I like mussels and I can eat fish and chips and grilled salmon, but you won’t catch me eating fish pies or fish based anything if I can avoid it. However I had decided that when travelling, you have to try local dishes as best as you can (I will draw the line at weird animal or insects type food) so I decided that I had to try the clam chowder. Luckily there was a set meal which had a small portion of it as a starter and then you had a sandwich for main (bravely I went for the prawn one too)…

My first clam chowder @ Sabella & La Torre’s Fisherman’s restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf

This was my first pleasant surprise of SF. The chowder was deliciously creamy and didn’t taste too fishy. I really enjoyed it.

After lunch we didn’t much time to hang around for long as the place had been really busy and we had to wait for a while, our time was up quickly

The next step of our San Francisco adventure was to ride a cable car all the way to Union Square. Then we had a free afternoon shopping (not my favourite thing in the world to do, I’ll be honest).

Riding the cable car was fun…I wish I had had a place on the outside as you see more, but standing up inside was still better than sitting inside, so it was ok

Our driver…or operator, I am not sure what they are called.

I felt rubbish that day. I hadn’t put on my lenses because I thought we would have time to do that at the hotel before heading out…we didn’t stop at the hotel, we went straight out. Oh well, holidays are rarely the opportunity to be stylish…

An awesome percussionist. Apparently SF is full of people like him, unfortunately he is the only one we saw.

Although I wasn’t super impressed by Union Square, I mean it is another shopping area like many others in big cities…same shops and labels…I really liked SF’s trams and bus system. Each train is vintage style and in a different shape and colour. I would have liked to have the time to ride one to see if it was nice inside too.

The group of course split up quickly as we all had different things we wanted to do…well I didn’t have anything in mind so Steph, Achim and I went in search of a book store for Steph. The man hasn’t upgraded to a Kindle yet (despite my very convincing sales pitch – Amazon should really pay me for that as I have been singing the merits of Kindle ever since I bought one!) and he ploughs through books quicker than he can buy them…and curiously, there aren’t many book stores around in US, even in big cities. We found a badly stocked one in Westfield shopping center (another one) and there was nothing interesting for him. Achim had decided he wanted to buy an iPad so we dropped in the Apple Store…deal was done in 10 mins! I had planned on doing the same but I caved in and bought mine before leaving for the States. I know it would have been cheaper but I wanted to have it for the whole trip, not at the tail end. I don’t regret buying it before…

After that, Achim and I decided to go check out Chinatown. Steph wasn’t keen as for him Chinatown is the same everywhere you go so he decided to continue in his search for a book store (he never found one by the way).

We made our way up “the streets of San Francisco”…it’s a lot harder than it look, by the way.

Union Square (he)art

The Streets of San Francisco….

Chinatown

Union Square…more (he)art….

By day…

By night…

After that, we headed to the hotel to take showers and get ready for the main event of the day….my first baseball game!

Wall art in our room (I was sharing with Rachel most of the trip as she was the only other girl travelling on her own…all the other girls came in 2s). You could change the image by pulling the cord and I really liked the cleverness of it. Our hotel was called the Good Hotel and it was really quirky and modern…right in the middle of Mission area part which is full of druggies…We were told not to wander around alone at night….not what you want to hear from the city you have been dreaming of for years…

The temperature dropped dramatically too so it was chilly when we set out for the baseball stadium. It took us forever too as SF is as bad as Paris at 2am…there were no cabs around and with a group of 14 people, you needed a couple. We got the hotel to call for some with maximum seating and they kept sending us 4 seaters so it took a while…then trying to find each other was also not easy as Mel hadn’t been specific enough on where to meet. Basically there is more than one entrance to the stadium and somehow we didn’t all get dropped at the same! Duh.

Nonetheless, this was one of the highlights of my trip. We were told that a match can last up to 4 hours and there is a lot of starts and stops during the play so the plan was for us to stay a couple hours, eat hotdogs there and then head out to bars. Heather and Melissa decided to skip the game as they had already seen one during their eastern tour of US and didn’t enjoy it so much…

I LOVED IT! I didn’t find it boring at all even if a) I didn’t understand the rules – thanks Steph for trying to explain them to us ; and b) the local team, the Giants, lost badly to the Cincinnati Reds…poor them, better luck next time!

The stadium is amazing. Overlooking the bay, it’s a real treat. They, of course serve the usual junk food and you can get beers too, although don’t expect to get trashed there (which granted is now why you would go there) at $10 a beer ($5 for a coke!) it’s a bit steep…it doesn’t stop everyone mind you, as I saw a tweeny girl been taken out on a wheelchair, a sick bag attached to her face, completely passed out from alcohol overload. It wasn’t even 9pm! Shocking!

We stayed longer than planned as everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves but still we left before the end (like many others- supposedly fans -now for me that’s bad sportsmanship! You don’t leave because your team is losing -with no chances of coming back- you support it till the end!)

Our next stage was to catch up with Melissa and Heather -who had already been given the address of the bar we were heading out to- in what is supposed to be the party area (and which we discovered later was just for tourists -now granted, that’s what we were, but when you are on an organised tour, with someone who has been coming to San Francisco for years, you expect to be taken a little of the beaten track or at least somewhere that the local who hang out in)…Our first stop was a bar simply called 15 Romolo (which basically is it’s address). Now I don’t have any complaints about the place. It was nice, trendy and not too crowded. My complaint comes from the usual…I was just getting settled and into the groove when we “had” to move to the next one. Mel had told us about the oldest pub/bar in Frisco called The Saloon and it was meant to be our next stop. We got to the outside of it (short walk from Romolo) and my little gang looked at each other, not convinced. From the outside you could tell it was an old biker/rocker type bar. When I mean old, I mean the punters were middle age, paunchy looking blokes, probably wannabe bikers. The place looked tacky and they were asking for $5 cover charge…now $5 is not a lot but considering that we were probably only stay for just the one drink before moving on, we thought that it would make an expensive drink…so we passed. A few went in with Mel but Heather, Steph, Melissa, Achim, Lisa, Eleanor, Rachel, Simon and I decided to skip it. Melissa, Heather, Achim and I were not ready to go home yet though…the others grabbed a cab straight back to hotel but we went back to Romolo…we just couldn’t be bothered to look for another place.

We didn’t stay super long…just long enough enough for another couple drinks and I ended up chatting with 2 guys at the bar…the others were laughing at me when I got back. They thought it was typical that of all of us, I was the one who got to chat with locals (ish)…What can I say? I am a friendly person and I do tend to attract randoms…sometimes nice ones, sometimes a little weird but I do like pointless chatter…

I enjoyed that part of the night…there was no pressure, just a group of people enjoying a drink (without trying to get drunk) and talking crap…On the way back to the hotel is when we discovered that we had been in the wrong area to party…the cab driver told us that locals never go there…at the same time, I didn’t really bother researching the trip so if I had, maybe I would have had a better idea…or not.

Next chapter: Alcatraz and Angel Island

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