San Fun-cisco.

Thanks Ross Allen, TV creative extraordinaire, for inspiring¬†the blog post title ūüėČ

SF or San Francisco. People round here don’t tend to call it San Fran. Which is what most¬†tourists seem to call it. I spent a week¬†here. It was only ever just a stop off on the way back (because my flight tickets is a round the world I had to land somewhere in North/South America, and I’d always wanted to go to SF), I never really had any intention of travelling elsewhere. And, to be honest, by the time I got there I was just about ready to come home, so any longer than a week would have felt a bit of a drag I reckon.

No hostels this time, I stayed with a guy I met in New Zealand. Another brief meeting, I met this guy for all of 5 minutes at the hostel I stayed at in Queenstown. I was quite hungover and pretty tired; everyone else was drinking his Jack Daniels but I felt shit and went to bed early. But, in true traveller style, we swapped contact details and a month or so later he gave me his sofa for a week while I stayed here. That cool traveller hospitality. I also got to meet his very cute dog Tango.

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San Francisco is awesome. It was a bit of a culture shock from New Zealand. There’s a lot of homeless¬†people here. And a lot of ‘interesting’ people. The area I stayed¬†near is quite a hippy hangout so there’s a whiff of weed pretty much everywhere you go, and a lot of people talking to themselves (or people that don’t seem to be there) and just chilling/flaking out. On my first day I had someone tell me that they loved me and that I had pretty feet. Now, as soon as he said the latter I knew he was not quite with it. Pretty feet? I don’t think so. NZ is so laid back, so friendly and there’s not a lot of people that SF was a bit of a slap in the face. That’s not to say people aren’t friendly here; they most definitely are, but there’s also a lot of people that aren’t so much. Like the woman on a bus who was talking about if someone makes eye contact with her she finds it really rude and was quite specific about what she’d do to someone if they dared to look at her. I¬†didn’t look at her. Or the man who was calling the bus driver a ‘motherf*cking b*tch’.¬†Not¬†sure¬†what the driver had done to piss him off. Or the woman who¬†was shouting obscenities at someone she was pretending to be on the phone to “f*ck you asshole, you’re not my boyfriend” before jumping off the bus and running down the street with the guy who was shouting at the bus driver.¬†I liked going on the buses. They were interesting. Because it’s real life at it’s best. This is what it’s like people. This is real life. These people are real. They exist, they live, they travel. It’s not like my life, but that’s the thing about travel; you get your eyes opened to the world. I¬†like being immersed and surrounded by all kinds of different people; to¬†other people and their lives.

When I landed a heatwave started. Typical, of course.¬†Usual temperature should have been around 18 ish degrees. For the first few days I was there it was around 30. It was hot, but not unbearable though. What did surprise me was everyone around commenting on how hot and how awful it was. I didn’t think it was too bad, but I¬†remembered that this is an oddity for SF. Their temperatures rarely get that high, especially¬†for days at a time. It also made me realise that I had kind of¬†become accustomed to higher temperatures. This hopefully will bode me well should we have a hot summer in the UK this year.

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It also meant that there was none of the famous San Francisco fog for most of the week. So wherever I went I got great views. The place I stayed in had a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge, which I could see most mornings. The city is really pretty, I loved all the coloured houses on the hills and the steps up to some of the most amazing doorways I’ve seen. The place I was staying in felt very American. It had a laundry in the basement, a trash chute and the kitchen just looked like ones I’d seen on the TV in films, with a window out that faced the neighbour’s window which was in exactly the same place. For some reason I loved how American it was, I loved the little corner shop a few doors down, and the lovely little cafes and grocery store at the end of the road. The brunch of omelette and potatoes I had at one place was to die for. It also had outlets (plug sockets) that¬†constantly looked frightened. They made me smile every time I¬†charged my phone.

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I had quite a busy week. A mixture of sightseeing, normal stuff, a cheeky run, a fair bit of socialising and some lazing about. Here’s a brief run down.

  • Haight Street. A road¬†full of vintage shops, cafes, smoke shops, tattoo and piercing places and a few things in between, with all kinds of different characters milling about. A great place to just wander down and absorb the atmosphere.

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  • I went downtown (they don’t call it a CDB here) to have a wander round a couple of times. I sat in Union Square and ate my lunch, went to the Cheesecake Factory in Macy’s and walked all the way up Market.
  • I walked all the way along the Embarcadero from¬†Market to Fisherman’s wharf, stopping at Pier 39 to marvel at the tourist tat and sea lions, and gaze out over Alcatraz (didn’t manage to get round to have a tour as it was all booked up too far in advance).

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  • I went on a tour on the back of a motorbike with a guy I’d never met before. Thank you couchsurfing for the intro, and thank you¬†Brando for an awesome couple of hours. Great way to see the city and so¬†cool to¬†go down the famously crooked Lombard Street on the back of a Suzuki gszr 600.

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  • The Golden Gate Park was just a few blocks from where I was staying, so I hung out there a bit, and also managed to fit a little 4 miler in one morning too. Huge park. Well, this is America. Everything is BIG over here.
  • I treated myself to an end-of-travelling tattoo, a proper haircut and a new nose stud. I’d had my eye on a tattoo design for a while, although when I first went to the studio I left with a booking for a completely different design and size. However, when I went back we realised it might not work exactly how I wanted it so I went back to plan A. And the haircut was just fab. I went from straggly-haired-hadn’t-been-cut-in-a-year-and-a-half-traveller to nice-and-tidy-with-a-few-layers. It felt nice to do something normal and something that was a standard thing in my old life was turned into a bit of a treat and a luxury. Travelling makes you appreciate the little things.

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  • I drank¬†mint juleps on a roof somewhere downtown with Rodin and some of his workmates, in honour of the Kentucky Derby, a bit like an American Grand National. A mint julep is a bit like a mojito but made with bourbon. Basically bourbon, mint, sugar and lime. Surprisingly tasty, especially given that I’m not a huge fan of bourbon after drinking far too much of it when I was younger. I also got to check out a SF office where their conference room was called The Batcave, their kitchen was stocked with food, including nutella and cookie dough spread and they had a fatboy hammock in their meeting area. The whole place¬†was pretty groovy, although it was still an office, and still reminded me that I have to get a job at some point.
  • I had meatloaf for the very first time. I figured that as I was in America, I’d try something that I see mentioned on the TV all the time. It was in a trendy restaurant in the Castro area, so I’m guessing it’s maybe not like the one that everyone’s Mom cooks that isn’t that great. This was was bloody amazing!

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  • I rode a cable car. San Francisco is famous for it’s little cable cars that trundle¬†up and down some of the hills because they are so steep. They’re pretty cute and although they’re not that fast and there are cheaper public transport options, they’re¬†really quite handy to get from Fisherman’s Wharf to Market and are a must do for tourists.
  • I went to the How Weird Street Faire on the afternoon before I flew home. It’s a festival where anything goes. And I mean, anything goes. I saw all kinds of weird and wonderful things, costumes¬†and people, danced in the street to some wicked DJ’s, soaked up the great friendly vibe and just marvelled at some of the amazing¬†costumes. I loved how¬†expressive and accepting everyone was, and amused myself by trying to picture something like this being held in Lincoln. Maybe, hey? Who’d be up for it?

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  • And of course, no one can go to San Francisco without going to the Golden Gate bridge. The iconic piece of orange engineering separating San Francisco and Marin County. The Bay Bridge on the other side of the city is actually bigger and longer, but it’s not orange. It doesn’t have the same impact. I walked across the GG bridge¬†and back again (about 3.5 miles in total) and it was beautiful. The views up at the towers as you pass them are just¬†fab, and the views back to the city and across to Marin County are stunning. I was lucky it was such a clear and sunny day (although epically windy) and we got great shots in every direction.

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All in all, a fun filled week, filled with new stuff, new friends, new experiences and the excitement that I’d be going home at the end of it. ¬†It was hard not to try to wish it away the nearer my flight got, but SF is such a great city it was easy to keep myself busy and out of mischief. I could have stayed longer, but a week was about enough. I did everything I wanted to (and a bit more). Well, apart from Alcatraz, but I couldn’t help that. And besides, it’s always good to keep something back for next time.

On the buses.

This is a story of a 14 hour bus adventure over two days through central Thailand.

While in Kanchanaburi we thought it would be a bit of fun to take local transport overland to Mae Sot, rather than head back to Bangkok and get the touristy main road ‘Big Bus’. Mae Sot is on the border with Burma (Myanmar) and a bit off the beaten track so taking local buses meant that we’d be having to change quite a few times. We didn’t quite know how we’d get on or how long it would take but, that’s all part of the fun, innit?

We left Kanchanaburi at about 9am in the morning and arrived in Mae Sot at around 8:30am the following morning. Admittedly this was a teeny bit longer than we were expecting.

The first bus was a local bus to Suphanburi. The local buses are well cool. Full of character, rattles, colour, people, fans and animals (no chickens yet though – just a cat). For a couple of hours we rode along the Thai countryside with the wind in our hair, the sun on our skin and smiles on our faces. People get on and off, the conductor up and down with his little ticket/money box helping people out and chatting. Sometimes the bus stops for a while in certain places so people can get on and off to get snacks, drinks or go to the toilet. The helpful conductor was helping people buy snacks through the windows so they wouldn’t have to get out. They also seem to have to stop somewhere along the way to ‘clock in’. On this journey it was a machine attached to a wall of a small shack in the middle of the countryside. I have no idea why they do this though.

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Note the high tech air conditioning on these buses; open windows and doors and fans on the ceiling.

At Suphanburi bus terminal we got off our bus and pretty much straight onto another of the same type, this time heading for a place called Nakon Sawan. This journey was about 4 hours, so we’re getting into late afternoon now. We know we’ve got another two buses after this one so at this point we’re thinking it’s probably going to be a late one. But, it doesn’t matter when you have plenty of time and no alarm to get up for. This journey was probably my favourite. The scenery was just delightful, passing through central Thailand there were mountains in the background, small villages and towns, people on bicycles, animals, children playing, street stalls selling everything you can imagine. Everything was so green; all the plants and trees so colourful and tropical, and bright flowers and colours dotted amongst them all like iced gems.

Arriving at Nakon Sawan we had a bit more choice of bus now. It was 5pm and after quite a bit of conversation with many different people telling us lots of different things, some food and a sit down away from the touts, we discovered we could either go with a company on one of the ‘Big Buses’ (air conditioned coach) or the government bus (similar kind of thing – it seemed there wasn’t a local bus to do the same journey, perhaps because it’s a bit of a longer route). After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing and a skilled bit of haggling from me, we got the ticket price down for one of the Big Buses to get into Tak at about 10pm. This journey was a bit uneventful, it was dark so there wasn’t much to see, apart from the odd town we passed through all lit up, or the odd remote places all lit up with fairy lights. We stopped after about an hour at a kind of Thailand-style service station where we got a fab hot meal (included free with the bus ticket). These service stations are a bit bizarre – they have a strange feel about them but are pretty much the same concept as back at home – somewhere to go to the toilet, buy some snacks or hot food. However, they’re not at supidly inflated prices here, you can’t buy tat and the food was some of the best I’ve had. No microwave-reheated plastic food at these places. And to get a free meal in with the already stupidly cheap bus ticket is a Billy Bargain.

We arrived at Tak at just gone 10pm. One more journey left – Tak to Mae Sot. We were a bit dismayed to find out that the next bus to Mae Sot was at 3am that night (well, the next morning). Hmm. Not quite ideal. We didn’t really relish the thought of getting to Mae Sot at about 5 in the morning and trying to find somewhere to stay. ¬†We knew there were government minibuses that ran between 6am and 7pm from Tak, so we decided to find a bench and settle down for the night. After all, 6am wasn’t that far away. You might wonder why we didn’t try to find somewhere to stay in Tak? Well, we didn’t know the place, there was nothing in my guidebook and no taxis or tuk tuks about at the time of night. It was just easier to be hobos for the night. It’s the first time I’ve spent a night like that, so that’s another thing to tick off the travelling list. Using my rucksack top pocket as a pillow (I am sure its designed that way) I managed to get a few hours kip on the hardest wooden bench, much to my surprise, in between the barking stray dogs, the toilet attendant’s untuned guitar playing (yep, he worked all night, no free pee’s for me) and the arrival of buses throughout the night.

Nick didn’t get so much sleep, but had just managed to drift off at about 5:30am when a woman came and woke him up because she wanted to sit on the end of his bench. There was a perfectly good seat nearby, but no, she wanted to sit on¬†that bench. She was the attendant for the minibuses for Mae Sot so after giving her a few glares we bought a couple of tickets and waited on a cramped minibus until it was full. You see, over here, buses don’t always go on time, they go when they are full. So, after about a 45 minute wait, the minibus was crammed full of people and luggage and we set off for a most uncomfortable 90 minute journey to Mae Sot. I struggled to keep my eyes open but was awake to see yet more stunning scenery, and also be aware of a girl next to me hide beneath my legs and under my rucksack and plead with me not to say anything when we stopped at a control point. I’m not quite sure what these points are but it seems to be the police checking ID cards, so I’m guessing it is perhaps for illegal immigrants given that we were so close to the Thailand-Burmese border. Clearly this girl didn’t have any ID, I’m not sure what was going on but the chap didn’t spot her and we moved on again.

We arrived at about 8:30am in Mae Sot tired, stiff and uncomfortable, but having had an awesome little adventure on the buses. It’s what travel is all about. After all, it’s about the journey, not the destination.