Day #26 26.01.16

Impromptu nights are the best. Tonight was an improptu ‘invite the neighbours round for tea’ night. Love my building, love my neighbours. Lots of fun, lots of laughing.

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Day #22 22.01.16

I don’t work Fridays. I love this fact. It’s worth the less money to have an extra day on the weekend. People ask me what I do with the extra day. Right now I don’t do anything specific; I don’t like to plan or have a routine too much. So today it was a hotchpotch of a gym class, bit of shopping and then hanging out with my friend Mike who was visiting for the weekend.

We went out for dinner at the Tivoli tonight, never been there for food before and it’s just round the corner from home. It was pretty damn good. Love food.

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Day #20 20.01.16

I’m a lucky girl; I have great friends. Tonight I was invited over for tea by my friend Rachel. I’ve known her since we were about 13 and went on the school bus together. She’s the one person I knew in Cheltenham before I moved here and I happened to pick a flat to live in that’s 5 minutes away from her house (handy).

She’s a year younger than me but looks after me well as she’s a proper grown up so she often cooks me tea and stuff. In return I make her go out and get drunk and relive our Horncastle Town Hall youth.

Lasagne tonight (a proper home cooked meal that I very rarely have time or the inclination to cook) and a good old catch up.

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San Fun-cisco.

Thanks Ross Allen, TV creative extraordinaire, for inspiring the blog post title 😉

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.

My Christmas Day in pictures.

I’d been meaning to do a day in pictures for a while, but not yet got round to it. So I decided, what better day to do it than Christmas Day?

My original idea for a day in pictures was actually to take a picture every hour, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t stick to that. Time kind of ran away with me, and I wasn’t clock watching. So, this is my Christmas Day 2013 in pictures:

Chats with the family first thing (Christmas Eve night UK time):

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My traditional Christmas Day morning run (can’t miss that!):

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Going out for dinner so I decided to glam up a bit when getting ready. Not worn mascara for months!:

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Pre-dinner preparations, including champagne:

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CHRISTMAS DINNER! South African/Aussie mix of turkey, roasties, pumpkin, peach salad, beans, cranberry gravy and christmas pudding. YUM.

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New friends:

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Afternoon champagne after dinner:

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Later on, two bottles of champers down:

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We move onto Moscato. DELICIOUS!:

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Early evening, riding home in the sunshine:

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Chilled out evening watching National Lampoon with the cat and dog, eating pizza and Toblerone:

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Then some Google hangouts with some buddies. Karl wasn’t too keen on having his photo taken:

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Washing up. Got to be done:

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Then a mammoth FaceTime session with the family on their Christmas Morning (late Xmas Day night/early Boxing day morning here). I was in the iPad, propped up on the sofa and it was just like I was in the room for a bit. Lots of laughs and giggles. And I look orange because of THE LIGHT:

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Bedtime. Ok, so this was actually the early hours of Boxing Day morning but it still counts, as it’s the last thing I did:  

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Pretty perfect day.

Christmas from the outside.

This is kind of how I feel the run up to Christmas has been for me. Like I’m outside, looking in through a window. Not taking part, just watching everyone else.

Because obviously I’m not having a normal Christmas this year. I don’t have to do any of the normal festive stuff that I would be doing at this time of year. I’ve not been in the UK where the run up starts ludicrously early, like August. There has been no present shopping, no card sending, no Christmas partying, no food shopping, no need to get a tree. No thinking about to do lists or having a million and one things to get done ‘before Christmas’. Things this year don’t fall in the ‘before Christmas’ or ‘after Christmas’ time frames.

It’s made a nice change.

I’ve enjoyed the last couple of months without all the Christmas run up crap. Enjoyed SE Asia without any Christmas trees, products or adverts for stuff I don’t need. Even when I got to Australia it’s not rammed down your throat like it seems to be in the UK.

I’ve been able to sit back and watch everyone else ‘get ready’. Get ready for this one big day (or a few days if you’re lucky to have some time off work). And blimey, I’m exhausted from watching.

There seems to be this need for perfection. To have the perfect day and nothing can go wrong. A need to over do things. To buy presents that people don’t really want or need, just so they have a present. To buy food like it’s not available for weeks. The stress at trying to make everyone happy. To spend weeks preparing for such a small amount of time. To panic that there’s not enough food, or enough presents, or enough drink. It goes on.

Has the real meaning behind Christmas been forgotten? I guess in some ways it depends what the real meaning behind Christmas is for you. For some, it’s the religious aspect. For others, it’s just getting together with family and friends. For some, it’s a chance to get great presents. And of course for others it’s to eat and drink shit loads of great food and booze. Have all of these been overridden by commercial idealism? Do you feel guilt, pressure or just like there’s too much to do?

Is it really the most wonderful time of year?

For me, it seems to start too early. I’ve always thought this, and I think that’s why this year it’s been nice being away from it for a bit. There seems to be a huge build up for just a few days. It’s a special time of year, but there just seems to be so much…well, guff around it.

For some, it can be a reminder of what’s not great. People that have lost relatives or people dear to them. Missing places at the dinner table. People who feel under pressure to have the ‘perfect’ Christmas when they aren’t able to, for whatever reason. People forced to spend time with people they don’t get on with, just because ‘it’s Christmas’.

I know that soon though, I’ll watch and see all the lovely things. The good stuff about Christmas. The result of the hard work and preparation. People having fun, relaxed and happy. The excitement and joy at getting gifts. Kids excited about Santa Claus. People spending time with their favourite people. All the amazing food being eaten. So is it all worth it? Only you can answer that I guess.

For me, I love Christmas. I like nice food, spending time with some of my favourite people, twinkly lights, trees and Christmas parties. This year is different though, it doesn’t really feel like Christmas. That’s because there’s nothing familiar really. I’m on the other side of the world to the people I normally spend it with and it’s warm here. The sun is out and it’s light until well into the evening. Very odd.

I’m not sad though. It’s not the first time I’ve not seen my family on Christmas Day, and I know I’ll speak to them at some point. And I’ll see them soon enough, so although I will miss them a little bit, I know they’ll have a fab time whether I’m there or not, just as I know I’ll have a fab time here. I’m not bothered about not getting any presents; this has never been a big thing for me. I will miss my sister-in-law’s 5 puddings though. They were fab last year.

I wanted to find somewhere to volunteer here in Melbourne, but all the places I contacted were either full or were only taking on regular volunteers. It’s something I want to do next year though, wherever I end up. Helping others who aren’t so fortunate. Those people that won’t have that perfect Christmas, for whatever reason. Those people who get forgotten, in the midst of all the jollity. I’d like to help make someone else’s Christmas just that little bit better. That little bit special.

So this year I’m going to go for my usual Christmas morning run tomorrow as it’s a tradition of mine, then I’ve been invited to a Christmas dinner feast by some friends of Bob and La’s here in Melbourne. The food they’re cooking sounds amazing and it’s a chance to make some new friends. So I’m looking forward to it; new experiences and a chance to see how other people do Christmas. Boxing Day might be spent at the beach, or on the bike. Something outdoors in any case.

So, Merry Christmas to you all. Whatever you do, wherever you are, I hope you have the most wonderful, magical and joyful few days. Don’t stress, enjoy the little moments and eat, drink and be merry.

Oh, and one last thing. The world has this way of making it look like everyone else is having the most perfect, wonderful time. Chances are, they’re all not. My thoughts go out to anyone missing someone this year, or not having a great time. You won’t be alone, even if you feel it. Do your own thing, whatever that is, to make it special for you, or just to be able to get through it. Tomorrow is another day, and 2014 is just round the corner.