Wednesday 26 March 2014

California Dreaming

The actual drive from San Francisco to Las Vegas wasn't the most hugely eventful part of our trip but it was great fun. We overnighted in Monterrey, San Luis and Santa Barbara before we drove inland towards Vegas and we spent most of the days road tripping along one of the most incredibly scenic coastlines I could imagine.


I'll admit, I wasn't hugely keen on going to America at the start of the trip. Had I had my way, I probably would have gone somewhere a little more exotic after Cancun but I'm glad we didn't because I was completely blown away by California. It really exceeded all my expectations, especially the drive down the California coastline.

Yes, it is the same beach as the above picture. That big rock looks like a knight chess piece from the right angle.

There aren't really a whole lot of stories or events to recap in this post, so this is just a short one before I move on to Las Vegas. Really, it's just an opportunity to upload some stunning (if I may say so myself) photography of a truly incredible part of the world.

Don't push him coz' he's close to the edge

So we stopped at Taco Bell for lunch and this was the view from the eating section.
Also this.
And this is a thing...

Part of road tripping with an engineering student is stopping to take photos of every bridge you cross. And tunnels. Don't get me started on tunnels.

Vroom vroom. That is all.

Whales. Blurry, poorly photographed animal count: 1

Big Sur National Park

Otter. Blurry, poorly photographed animal count: 2

Deer. Blurry, poorly photographed animal count: 3
What a beast!
The car is pretty impressive too...

Nick under a car for some reason. Blurry, poorly photographed animal count: 4

Driving through the desert to Las Vegas we found an honest to God tumbleweed by the side of the road. Needless to say, we were ecstatic.

Santa Cruz sunset


Tuesday 25 March 2014

True Tales of San Francisco


As we all made our way to Vancouver airport, we all took turns abusing Kieren (verbally and physically) for continually booking early flights everywhere. It was incredibly early and we'd gone out with Brooke and Audrey again the night before so we were all a little tired and cranky. As I've mentioned before, Pearson doesn't deal well with being tired but has cleverly developed a way that lets him deal with his tiredness while not forcing us to deal with him and his tiredness.

We still had to deal with his fashion sense, however.


We stopped over in Portland to go through US customs and have a nap in the airport before we piled back onto the plane to take us to San Francisco. None of us really knew anything about San Francisco (I'd never been on the west coast) but it came highly recommended and it was a great choice. I'll say right off the bat here, Frisco is amazing. If I had to pick on place in the USA to live, it would be San Fran without even thinking. The whole city is just interesting and quirky and not so big as we expected.

Actually, I lied a little. I realised after we arrived that I did actually know a little bit about what to expect but not in a way I ever expected. One of the very few video games I played as a kid (and as a teenager. And as an adult, on occasion) was 'Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas' and one of the cities in the game (San Fiero) is based on San Francisco. I knew that, but I didn't expect it to feel so familiar when I arrived in the real-life version. It was strange visiting buildings and neighbourhoods and streets that I'd driven down before on my old Playstation. To their credit, the game designers for GTA got the feel and the look of the city down perfectly in the game.

The other reason that San Francisco felt a bit familiar was something I mentioned a long time ago, when I was in Portugal. At the time, I felt that Lisbon reminded me very strongly of a European San Francisco. At the time, I'd never been to Frisco but it felt like how I imagine it would be (what with the steep streets, the trams, the Golden Gate Bridge knock-off). Turns out Frisco reminded me of a less European Lisbon, so I guess I was onto something.


Left is Frisco, right is Lisbon


The first thing we did when we arrived was check into our hostel. Our hostels were definitely getting better (and cheaper) with each stop. This hostel had both social activities at night AND didn't have the vibe of 'I'm going to get robbed and murdered' (as was the case in New York). The other thing that was different was Chuck was already in San Fran and would be staying with us for the rest of the trip.


That night we ventured out on our own to check out some of the famous bars and music venues that San Francisco is famous for. Jack Kerouac was a big fan of San Fran (Yes, he was a San Fan) and he wrote extensively about some of the more interesting joint in “On The Road”. I was the only one of us who had read “On The Road”, but they were some cool bars none the less. 'Vesuvio' was the first place we went and we ended up in some tiny jazz/blues bar that looked like someone had picked it up straight out of the early 1950's and dropped it into the middle of town. It wasn't as if it had been done up to look like an old-timey blues bar. This was a legitimate, actual old time blues bar. It was crowded and dirty, I felt like I needed a tetanus shot after going in and the high-as-a-kite hippie bartender was about as useful as Anne Frank's drum-kit but the drinks were cheap, the mood was relaxed and, above all, the live blues music was incredible.

Really it was the vibe of the city that was most appealing. Even though it is, San Fran doesn't really feel like a big city. It feels relaxed and just interesting. It seemed everywhere we looked was something new and unexpected and just quirky, which is why we spent most of our time just walking around looking.

Pictured: "just walking around"

We checked out the Golden Gate Park, which is similar to Central Park in New York. We even ran into some American guys trying to use boomerangs and play cricket so we volunteered to pretend we knew how to do either of those things and show them.

The other significant thing was that we had New Years Eve in San Fran. Since they're really the last major city in the world to get the New Year, they get quite into it.

Eventually it was time to leave and begin the next leg of our trip. The road trip. We decided from the outset that, if we were going to come to California, we had to drive along the coast so on our final morning we rented a car for 11 days to continue our journey. Of course, when I say car, its a bit of a relative term. There were five of us now with a lot of luggage (approximately 67% of which was all Pearson's) so we couldn't make do with any small car. Having said that, looking back we might have gone a little bit far when we rented what i'm pretty sure qualifies as a small tank without the cannon.

Pictured: War crimes

That is a Chevrolet Yukon and I don't think i'm exaggerating when I say it's more than twice the size of my car. It's actually way bigger than any of the pictures would make it seem (and it looks big in the pictures). Even still, it was both scary and fun to drive in a 'road rules don't apply to me, I'm indestructible' kind of way. After establishing all necessary ground rules for shotgun, navigation and music selection to avoid fights later on, we headed out of town via the golden Gate Bridge (which was actually in the opposite direction but oh well, we had time).