A Travellerspoint blog

I Left My Job In San Francisco

OMG, you know you`ve been in this city too long when you start chatting to random strangers on buses....and Glaswegians at that!!

So this is it...my last day in the Windy City (Chicago can`t possibly hold (or blow out) a candle to San Fran for gale force winds). Walking home from work the other night, struggling to walk upright (battling the wind, not the tequila for a change!), I came to the conclusion that as much as I loved this city, the weather would have defeated me in the end. This is a place where there is no necessity for a winter or summer wardrobe – you just need one big wardrobe (preferably one that you can walk through into a land where it is Summer the whole time). You`re getting the picture.

The other thing I won`t miss about the place is the tragic number of homeless and scarily crazy people here. At times it feels like you`re walking through the set of a zombie movie. I`ve never felt unsafe of threatened – just a bit depressed that a county like the US can allow so many people to end up on the streets.

What I will miss... the "hoods", the people (crazy and otherwise) who have made me, as a stranger, feel so welcome. The culture and the music, the diversity and the food, the freedom and the tolerance. People seem happy or content to be here whatever their circumstances or lifestyle. This is a place where they feel at home, in every sense of the word.

The last few weeks have flown by. After a great couple of weeks with Karen and Ronelle, Dan arrived and it was lovely to see him again. He obviously felt at home, turning my lovely apartment into the set of “The Young Ones “ within a few hours. Obviously having mum around makes you suddenly incapable of making a bed or doing the washing up. That aside, he was great company – he was out exploring during the week while I was at work, but we had two brilliant weekends together.

We drove up to Yosemite with my friend Tash on the first, and I began to understand why many Americans don`t travel abroad much. The range of scenery here is absolutely breathtaking, like something out of a painting – especially as the winter had seen a lot of snow this year and some of it was still lying around. It did feel really odd throwing snowballs when the temperatures were in the 90`s. The snow melt had made the waterfalls and rivers even more torrential than usual, and the highlight of the trip was climbing up this mountain for what felt like miles and getting absolutely soaked, only to be rewarded with the unforgettable sight of a rainbow framing the top of the waterfall like something out of a fairy tale! It really warranted a longer stay than our two days allowed. Next time it would be great to actually stay in the woods (instead of a cabin which turned out to be a mobile home – and turned us into “trailer trash” for the weekend!).

The following weekend, after watch England scrape a draw against the US, we headed down the coast along Pacific Highway One to Monterey. As we drove along by Big Sur, we had the Beach Boys on the radio (this fulfilled one of my all time fantasies!) and would spontaneously burst into tune every time we passed a town or place that was in an Eagles/Springstein/Monkees/Eminem etc. song. This area must be featured in more hits than anywhere else I know!

My favourite places along the drive – Monterey, Carmel (where they were setting up for the US Open), Hearst Castle (such a stunning house and grounds on top of a hill overlooking the coast), the stunning coastline, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and finally San Diego where we ended up. We also found the Californian equivalent to Southend-on-Sea (Pismo Beach – what a dump!) closely followed in the “Tackiest Seaside Resort” stakes by Venice Beach. Scary as it was (you try trying to change lanes on an 11 lane highway!), I really enjoyed the drive despite the fog which seemed to follow us along the coast, and we ended up safely back at LA, where I tearfully saw Dan off, and flew back to San Fran.

This weekend was Pride weekend, and we watched the Parade on Sunday, when the weather was hot and sunny (for a change!). Although a little more political than the London event, it was a great tribute to the city to see so many people of all denominations enjoying the spectacle and supporting the gay community (which in turn seems to embrace and involve itself in every good cause from pet adoption to vegetarianism to housing for the elderly). It was a fitting finale to my stay here.

So it`s adios San Francisco.....Hola Mexico.

Me, Kaz and Dan - Lounging in Dolores Park

Me, Kaz and Dan - Lounging in Dolores Park


Somewhere over the Rainbow

Somewhere over the Rainbow


Highway One

Highway One


Pride!

Pride!


Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle


Me and Tash - Yosemite

Me and Tash - Yosemite


Alcatraz

Alcatraz


San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo


Highway One - Half Moon Bay

Highway One - Half Moon Bay


Yosemite

Yosemite


Yosemite

Yosemite


Yosemite

Yosemite


Yosemite

Yosemite


Giant Redwoods - Mariposa Grove

Giant Redwoods - Mariposa Grove


Yosemite

Yosemite


Yosemite

Yosemite


Gay Astronaut (Pt 2)

Gay Astronaut (Pt 2)


Gay Astronaut (Pt 1)

Gay Astronaut (Pt 1)


Pride!

Pride!


Pride!

Pride!


Pride!

Pride!


Pride!

Pride!

Posted by kathystravels 16:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Leaving (or trying to) Las Vegas

Here I am sitting writing the latest episode of my blog, at McLaren Airport in Las Vegas (not quite gambling capital of the world – Macau in the Philippines lays claim to that title). I`m sure the margaritas there are not up to those here in "Sin City" though... and they don`t have The Strip either do they (well not the kind you can cruise down in a limo anyway - more of that later).

I`ve been here to celebrate the 50th birthday of one of my best mates, Karen, who is visiting me in San Francisco with another good friend, Ronelle. Arriving on Saturday after an hour`s flight from San Fran, there was no confusing where we`d landed - we found ourselves sitting opposite our first huge bank of slot machines, in the arrivals lounge - waiting for Karen`s old school friend, Wendy, who was flying in from Calgary (Yay! here come the (old) girls!).

Watching the huge advertising screens, we quickly worked out that this was where all those pop “stars” of the 70s and 80s wound up! Matt Goss (remember Bros? “When Will I Be Famous?" No? – well apparently he is the “leader of the New Rat Pack” , known to his fans -or should that be “fan” - across the world as “The Voice”) – and there was I thinking he was a washed up, one-hit wonder ... Cue upcoming gigs by those monsters of 80s power ballads: Styx and REO Speedwagon, Queensryche, Foreigner and Pat Benetar, along with Herman`s Hermits with Peter Noone, Don McLean, ZZ Top, Huey Lewis, Blondie and the B52s, Level 42, Cyndi Lauper, Jerry Lee Lewis (blimey, thought those great balls had been extinguished years ago!), to name but a few. There`s a future for all those X Factor and Britain`s got Talent finalists after all – although not quite sure if Las Vegas is quite ready yet for a be-sequinned Susan Boyle. Liberace would be turning in his grave.

The taxi ride from the airport proved a moving experience in more ways than one. Chatting to the driver, I established that he was Cambodian, and explaining that I had visited his country last year, he divulged his fascinating and tragic life story. He was around my age, and had lived through and survived the Killing Fields era in the 70`s. Having lost his entire family to the Khmer Rouge`s brutal regime, through starvation or murder, he managed to flee to Thailand by foot (avoiding the major roads for fear of capture), it must have taken months. He lived off whatever he could scavenge – even eating the huge centipedes found in the jungle. Once across the Thai border, he spent months in refugee camps where he witnessed appalling treatment by the Thais – torture and rape were commonplace. At least his story had a happy ending - he sought asylum in the States and has lived here since – educating himself and learning English. Listening to this story, while riding in his cab through the hedonistic capital of the US, felt very strange and humbling. Nonetheless, what a great tribute to a very brave man and a country which certainly has it`s faults, but which took him in and gave him his life and freedom. He got a big tip.

Settled into our corner suite at the Trump Hotel, we hit the town and so begun a great weekend of good fun, good friends, good food and good frozen margaritas. As they say “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”, but highlights were... strutting our funky stuff at the 80`s disco at Caesars Palace, watching Karen`s face when the limo turned up to pick us up for a champagne-fuelled trip along The Strip, the very hot waiter in the Indian, the amazing Bellagio Fountains, and last night`s drunken but hilarious attempts to catch a moth that was terrorising Ronelle in the bedroom.

And in case you were wondering, I only put $1 in the slots, and won nothing, so I won`t be completing my trip in First Class. I`m glad I didn`t bet on the estimated departure time of this plane though – it`s already been delayed 2 hours and counting . Ah well, back soon to (not so) sunny San Francisco....

Next episode: The Prodigal arrives for a visit....

Las Vegas Sign

Las Vegas Sign


The Venetian

The Venetian


The Bellagio Fountains

The Bellagio Fountains


The Bellagio Fountains (at night!)

The Bellagio Fountains (at night!)


Flat on my back by the pool!

Flat on my back by the pool!


Well gone here...as if you couldn`t tell...

Well gone here...as if you couldn`t tell...


Planet Hollywood

Planet Hollywood


The Four Queens

The Four Queens


Birthday Girl

Birthday Girl


Caesars Divas

Caesars Divas


Karen`s Limo

Karen`s Limo

Posted by kathystravels 16:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

San Fran Pt 2 - Settling In

Almost at the end of my first month here. I do feel like I`ve been here months rather than weeks. I catch glimpses of myself as I walk past shop windows and keep trying to work out if I look like a local or a tourist. People keep asking me for directions or where the nearest Bank of America is, so I guess I`m beginning to blend in! Can`t bring myself to start walking along the road talking to myself though, which would really complete the transformation. Maybe I should get myself a supermarket trolley??

I`ve started the intense physical training required for the rest of my round the world trip – I was persuaded to go to Pilates AND kickboxing in the same week. So I can now defend myself if I get mugged, as well as keeping my body in perfect alignment. My body is now defending itself from me and is refusing to do anymore exercise for at least 2 weeks.

The Spanish lessons are going "muy bueno". Our teacher is a very cute Spanish guy called (I kid you not) “Nacho”. Yes, cheesy jokes on a postcard.... I try to do some homework in my lunch breaks at the very pretty Yerba Buena Gardens across the road from the office. It`s kind of nice to have such a lovely environment where you can sit and have your lunch and watch the world go by, in the midst of an urban landscape. I`ve been very fortunate with the weather – although it`s much cooler than I imagined it would be, it seems to be the reverse of London, in that we get the best weather at the weekends.

I`ve gotten into the habit of going out for very long walks each weekend. This way, I`ve explored some really interesting neighbourhoods and parts of the city that I might otherwise have missed. My first foray led me to Ocean Beach, a very large expanse of coast where the locals congregate to play beach games (well I think that`s what they were doing), barbecue, play music, fly kites (it`s very breezy). Sunbathing was definitely out of the question the day I visited! The next beach up the coast is Baker Beach, which apparently is a nudist beach. You`d have to be a very serious exhibitionist to take anything off in this weather. Unfortunately there does seem to be a quite a lot of those here...

Out of the breeze, the sunshine is glorious, and I`ve spent a couple very pleasant Saturday afternoons discovering Golden Gate Park, the largest man made park in the world. Haven`t made it around the Botonical Gardens or the Japanese Tea Gardens yet, but the Aids Memorial Grove is stunning (you really wouldn`t believe that you were in the middle of one of America`s major cities) and it really is a very peaceful and moving memorial.

My next outing was through the Haight (the neighbourhood which was the centre of the Hippy movement in the 60`s). It`s quirky shops and cafes (including what must be one of the biggest and coolest record shops in the world – Amoeba Records), along with the incredible graffiti which decorates the sides of the colourful Victorian houses and the parking lots give it so much character. Not to mention the real “characters” you come across on every street corner, selling everything from dodgy cigarettes to dodgy poems!

My third weekend was spent walking the length of the Embarcadero, the promenade that lines the harbour from The Ferry Building to Fisherman`s Wharf. Full of shops, restaurants and history, as well as the obligatory “crazies” including a guy dressed from head to toe in silver, cruising along in on his silver dream machine (see photo) playing Motown at full blast, and another who seemed intent on entertaining himself, by jumping out from behind his home made “bush” and scaring the tourists.

This weekend`s trip was a guided walking tour of the Castro , the centre of San Fran`s Gay District. Having recently seen the brilliant movie “Milk” starring Sean Penn, about the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the US, it brought the area where he lived and worked to life. Apart from being an interesting and lively part of the city with a fascinating history, it houses a huge selection of stunning, Victorian and Edwardian houses, all painted in a rainbow of colours. It looked as though they had worked their way through the entire Dulux colour chart in one neighbourhood.

Other highlights of the last few weeks (there have been so many!) include finally going to see Vampire Weekend (one of my fav bands) play at the Fox Theatre in Oakland. What an amazing theatre – it`s beautifully restored 1930`s decor put me in mind of the old Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park – lavish frescos and lots of gold paint. VW were brilliant and exceeded my expectations. Hopefully, going to fit in another visit before I leave, to see Goldfrapp.

Last Friday `s obligatory visit to the stunning AT & T Park to see the San Francisco Giants play baseball was an interesting experience. Let me put it this way, the actual game was overshadowed firstly by the views – I`ve never been to a stadium with such an amazing outlook. 2 sides of the park overlook San Francisco Bay, and the sight of the boats, the bridge and the lights of Oakland and Berkeley as the sun went down was more memorable than the 9 blokes playing rounders could ever aspire to. And then when a fight broke out in the stand behind us, well it brought back warm memories of the North Bank, Upton Park...

Next on my list of must do`s include finding a decent Indian Restaurant (the one I found by Golden Gate Park run bizarrely by a guy from San Salvador was friendly but not overly authentic – masala burritos anyone??). I`ve also taken it upon myself to arrange site visits of all the top hotels in San Fran while I`m here (for research purposes of course). Looking forward to impending visits from my mates Karen and Ronelle, my number one son, and a trip to Vegas... watch this space.

Observations (and a really bad poem): “San Francisco, San Francisco – the city on the Bay Life is good, drinks are cheap, all the good looking men are gay....”

What I miss most about home Part 1: Shops: Marks and Spencer`s for sandwiches and knickers, Boots for cheap make up and drugs (obviously haven`t found the right dealer yet), Millets (you just can`t find a mosquito net or a sleeping bag liner in San Fran when you need one), Tesco Metro for everyday provisions and Clubcard points. At least there`s H & M (not to be confused with S & M, although this season`s rubber wear is quite stylish).

This is a place with one of the highest populations of homeless and hungry, yet has hardly any supermarkets but, go figure.....an art supply shop on almost every block??? If you`re going to live on the street and starve, why not do it through the medium of watercolour? Hmm.

And finally, an observation from your Fashion Correspondent: Talking of bums hanging out everywhere....what is it with this low slung baggy jean look here? One of the worse fashions ever, and so 2008. San Fran homies....get some skinny jeans, for heaven`s sake!

Yerba Buena Gardens

Yerba Buena Gardens


Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park


Funk Moped

Funk Moped


Vampire Weekend Oakland

Vampire Weekend Oakland


Giants Stadium

Giants Stadium


Tash, Steve and Me

Tash, Steve and Me


Tash Gets invited out clubbing

Tash Gets invited out clubbing


Harvey Milk Plaza, Castro

Harvey Milk Plaza, Castro


Views from the Castro

Views from the Castro


Haight

Haight


Sonoma Vineyard

Sonoma Vineyard


Ocean Beach

Ocean Beach


Streetcar Named D-Line

Streetcar Named D-Line


Fit Rollerblader

Fit Rollerblader


Golden Gate Bridge from the Presidio

Golden Gate Bridge from the Presidio

Posted by kathystravels 16:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Home from Home

I made it! After a very stressful couple of weeks of last minute planning (highlights of which included moving out of my house, a manic trip to the Indian Embassy when I was incorrectly told I would have to get my Indian Visa before I left, a worrying moment when I tried to check my flights on-line, only to discover I didn`t have any booked under the reference they`d given me, and various problems with bank accounts and credit cards not arriving), I finally made it to my new home in San Francisco and have settled in to my lovely apartment.

I felt a little sad to be leaving friends and family behind, but the internet and Skype make keeping in touch so much easier. Plus, arriving in a city with an instant network of friends is very comforting. I soon met up with the colleagues I had previously worked with in London at their new office – soon to be my workplace. And the new US recruits all seem very nice – and at least 2 of them have names I can pronounce...

My apartment is next door to my mate Steve, who I`ve known for nearly 30 years and has his own martial arts studio here. Steve is a massive Hammers fan, and I promised to watch the last few remaining matches of the season with him. What I`d forgotten (other than how bad they could be) is that the match is on here at 7am on the Saturday morning. This all seemed perfectly feasible until I came home at God knows when the night before and woke up with the hangover from hell (well I had been invited out for a "welcome to San Fran" drink, or six). And with margheritas at only $3 a shot, it would have been rude to refuse.

So after being here 2 days, I feel totally at home and it seems more like I`ve been here for weeks. I`ve managed to work out how to get back to the apartment (even when very drunk in the early hours of the morning!), have found Safeway, have been asked out on a date outside Safeway(!), have checked out where I can go for Spanish and Pilates classes, which I hope to sign up for next week, and have used the MUNI and the BART (the underground/bus/tram/trolley combo – they certainly like their transport to be varied here – I keep looking out for the stop n` ride horse and carts).

Sadly, I seem to have left the good weather back home – and after a couple of Okish days, the weather has turned very wet and stormy. Of course, I packed my flip flops and vest tops, and left out my boots and sweaters. So, I have had to postpone my plans to explore the city for the next few days, which is a shame as I just love walking around the different neighbourhoods. San Francisco must be one of my most favourite American cities – it`s so funky (for want of a better word), although it has most homeless people I`ve ever encountered anywhere. I guess they come here for the climate- and the shopping trolleys??? (although I think they`d be better off in Miami on a day like today).

So, I`m looking forward to starting work next week (something I never thought I`d hear myself say!), and becoming a real Californian girl (not sure I`ll be wearing flowers in my hair any time soon though).

Next stop: Napa Valley (to admire the beautiful scenery of course....)

Observations:

1. The people here are so friendly – on my first walk down Market Street, I had greetings and comments from no less than 4 guys (granted 3 of them were hobos, and the other one had no teeth, but the sentiments were appreciated).

2. I`d forgotten how much the Americans love their food. It is almost certainly cheaper to eat out than buy food to eat in. The number and variety of food outlets: restaurants, the ubiquitous fast food joints, bars, cafes, bistros is astonishing. Obviously the quality varies, but the quantity is always overwhelming for most of us Europeans, and it isn`t difficult to understand surrounded by a ready supply of cheap and accessible food at their disposal, that so many people are obese – even in relatively healthy California. It is disturbing, however, when they actively seem to be encouraging it (see photo) – only in America!

3. The TV is still crap!

Big Is Beautiful!

Big Is Beautiful!


My Apartment

My Apartment

Posted by kathystravels 16:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

The Adventure Begins

So, here I find myself at another crossroads in my life about to take a deep breath and step into the unknown. I`ve been told that I`m `brave`, but I don`t think that it`s courage that`s brought me here. More a sense of curiousity and adventure to see what else is out there. A real drive to experience new places and people, visit at first hand those places I`ve pored over in brochures and travel books. And finally a quest to fit in as much `living` before I might lose the urge or be unable to do all those things I want to do and go to all those places I`ve always wanted to visit.

Perhaps I inherited this `restless soul` from my mum, who sadly didn`t get to travel as much as she would have liked before she became ill. But she was always very adventurous and I`ll always treasure the fair bit of exploring we did together. So, maybe a part of me is doing this for her and I`m sure she would have approved even though she`d be worried sick about me!

So with my bags (almost) packed - will I still be glad I packed those hair straighteners when I`m rafting down the Amazon?? Should I take boots AND flip flops??

My ticket is (almost) booked - will 4 weeks be enough time to see New Zealand and will I have enough money left to fit in China at the end?? Maybe they do actually have "slow boats" there but are they cheaper than Air Asia??

Family and friends have been (almost) bid a fond farewell - can`t really believe that I won`t be seeing most of them for over a year. Thanks to technology, and assuming I don`t get my laptop nicked in some dodgy hostel in Mexico, I hope to be able to keep in touch with everyone by this blog, e-mail and Skype (but hopefully not via the BBC News or the Foreign Office....).

So here goes my last few weeks in sunny London (it won`t last!) plus a mini tour of some the great cities of Europe - Liverpool and Edinburgh and Tenerife - visiting friends, sons and luxury hotels.

Next stop....San Francisco.

London

London

Posted by kathystravels 16:00 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

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