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.

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City surprise.

Bangkok surprised me. I spent two weeks there in total, which is nearly two weeks more than planned. Lots of people said it’s awful, noisy, busy and advised to just get out as quick as possible. But I found I loved it. It’s not really anything like you’d imagine. Ok, maybe there are seedy parts, dirty bits. Yes, it’s noisy but it’s a city. It’s certainly better than some cities I’ve been to (Delhi?). Maybe it was the area I stayed in; a Thai residential area. But I found it energising, friendly, cosmopolitan, bustling and vibrant. It’s easy to get around and is filled with lovely happy smiley people.

My second stay was when Nick came to join me to be my travel buddy for a couple of months in SE Asia. Nick’s first time in Thailand, we spent a few days walking miles and miles (literally; I think we covered around 40 miles in 3 days) around the city, eating lots of street food, trying to interact with the locals and take pictures. I met up with Rebecca again before Nick arrived for more food and drinks and a wander round a very wet and soggy Asiatique, a waterfront full of shops, restaurants and bars.

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It was strange having someone to travel with, especially someone I know from back home, after a few months of travelling by myself. It’s different, but in a good way. Someone to share stuff with. Like the experiences and sights that are being seen, but also the responsibility and organisation. Like remembering to take a room key, or figuring out which bus to get or doing a beer run. It’s making a nice change for a small part of my adventure. To share my adventure. We did a lot that week in Bangkok, here’s just a few examples:

  • ¬†Had a few beers. Of course, it had to be done. And of course then I had to introduce Nick to the wonders of the 7/11 post-beer munchie food. Incidentally, there are 6500 7/11’s in Thailand. They are everywhere. Literally.
  • Stayed at the wonderful U-baan hostel in the Thonburi district ran by the lovely Joy (helped by her sister Jan). It’s a great place to stay at; we felt right at home and met some, erm, interesting people. Especially three Australian lads who were on a two-month rampage through SE Asia. The things they had already got up to in the few short weeks they had been travelling can’t really be written down here. And that’s just the things they told us about. The Dark Arts, as they called them, were not allowed to be shared publicly. I dread to think. But they were very sweet and very bloody entertaining. They left after a couple of days to head to a posh hotel nearer the centre of the action…god knows what they got up to.
  • Visiting Khao San Road. The backpackers mecca, we had an idea of what it would be like but we wanted to see it for sure. And it was exactly¬†what we thought. Full of tourists, backpackers, english and irish bars, hawkers, cheap tat and fast food places. Pretty dire, and we were quick to make an exit. Not my kind of place, not my kind of travelling.

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  • Got interviewed by some Thai school children. I was in a shopping mall and I noticed a bunch of boys, probably about 11 or 12, giggling and nudging each other while looking in my direction. Eventually they came up and asked if they could ask me a few questions. I guess they were doing some kind of school project; they asked my what my favourite Thai food was, why and had a picture taken with me. It was all a bit odd but after a few months of being in Asia having your picture taken with people is kind of normal.
  • Discovered condensed milk on toast. Well yes, I know this sounds horrific, but, if you have a sweet tooth you may just be in heaven with this new taste sensation. Thick toast, butter then drizzled condensed milk. Oh. Em. Gee. I love Bangkok food courts. Where else would have a toast stall?
  • And staying on the condensed milk theme, Nick and I found a street pancake stall. A man with a little trolly making pancakes. This is quite popular in Thailand; a pancake with banana or egg (or both), drizzled with condensed milk and sugar. My advice? Try it without banana or egg. Just a pancake, on it’s own, with condensed milk and sugar. I may have died and gone to sweet food heaven.
  • And staying on the food theme, we ate and ate and ate the most amazing food. We didn’t go into a restaurant once; we stuck to street food. There were so many options, and the food was just so bloody good. Amazing flavours, so hot and fiery cooked and served right in front of you by happy smiley people. Street food all the way.
  • Talked to a lot of local people. We talked to loads of people. Well, talked/sign languaged as much as we could. Thai people are so friendly and so happy and so smiley. It was wonderful. I watched Nick make a paper aeroplane for a small Thai lad, we joked with people cooking our food and chatted with the people at the market.
  • Browsed the local markets. These are great places to go. All the foods, the smells, the sounds, the people. Makes all your senses come alive. Living, not existing.

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  • Took a sky train tour. One day we bought an all-day sky train ticket and just rode the train. When we got to a stop that looked interesting we just got out and walked around. I’d say with this and the walking we’d already done in the non-sky train areas we pretty much covered the whole of Bangkok. All the different places have a different feel; which we could really tell walking through them all.
  • Got grossed out at the Museum of Forensic Medicine. This was pretty gruesome but fascinating. Lots of exhibits and pictures of things showing what happens to the body after car accidents, murders, birth defects etc. A bit macabre but in an educational way. Apart from that all the writing is in Thai so we just had to guess sometimes.
  • Climbed a temple. We had to go to at least one temple so I chose Wat Arun. It’s a beautiful temple, you can climb to the top up really steep steps to get a great view over the river and Bangkok city. It looks like it’s made out of grey stone but it’s not until you get close up that you realise it’s covered in Bangkok grime and actually the stones are white and coloured.

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It’s amazing how we felt at home in Bangkok. It’s not because it’s a big city, because it’s not particularly westernised, although there are some areas where it obviously has parallels and home comforts. We tried to decide why, but couldn’t. I think there are too many reasons. Nick absolutely loved it, and will be coming back at the end of his trip. How long for, he’s not sure yet. But I suspect it has stolen a little bit of his heart.

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