Do you like parks? I like parks.

May 14, 2011

First of all, my apologies for the lack of updates recently – I’ve been fairly busy, or otherwise unable to get an internet connection!  Now that’s sorted, on with the blog. On Wednesday, having slept quite profusely, I decided it was a good time to see more of the city; what better way to see it than via bicycle?  Fortunately there was a bike rental place barely two minutes from my hotel, and after having been given a most helpful introduction to local bike routes and a convenient map, I began my travels for the day – this time aided by pedal power.

My Trusty Steed

Now, in the interests of full disclosure I’ll admit that my first hour or so of cycling was actually pretty stressful.  Not only are the roads in San Francisco busy and fast-moving, but many local drivers aren’t particularly cautious.  Furthermore, I had tried to be very clever by making my own route to my destination (more on that shortly); what maps don’t tell you is the gradient of roads.  San Francisco is a very hilly place, and I ran into slopes too severe for me to cycle up in my jet-lagged state!  Fortunately, after some creative adjustments to my route (I walked on the uphill parts, basically) I was able to reach the first stop on my itinerary; Golden Gate Park. Golden Gate Park is pretty huge – 1017 acres, to be precise.  It’s dotted with pleasant bike trails and also it’s own attractions, a number of which I’ll be covering.  These extend from the oddly familiar (the Conservatory of Flowers – an intricately built communal greenhouse largely based on the Conservatory at Kew Gardens) to sights altogether more unique. My first stop was the California Academy of Science; a combination between a natural history museum, an aquarium and a planetarium.  Wait, keep reading!  Whilst I didn’t see the planetarium (I was loathe to pay for anything else after the $30 entry fee…), it was a most impressive institution.

Quoth the T-Rex; 'Rawr'

It had the expected array of rather unfortunate killed and stuffed animals, but also a penguin exhibit a simulated rainforest and some exceedingly impressive tanks in the aquarium.  For me, the highlight would have to be their reconstruction of a coral reef, complete with panoramic views of a ridiculous number of fish doing what fish do best (which, for the record is swimming around aimlessly).

Whilst I may be in California, this shall be the only 'reef' of any kind I shall be experiencing!

Still a bit shaken up after my earlier difficulties cycling (including, amongst other things, a somewhat perturbed cement mixer driver…), I decided the best thing to do after taking in all that knowledge from the Academy of Science would be to spend some time contemplating on what I’d learned in the Japanese Tea Garden.

Very pretty, certainly, but you try fitting a sofa in one of these!

Thankfully this tea garden was free of any trace of tea partiers (the last thing one wants whilst sipping green tea is Glenn Beck yelling about how Jesus hates welfare), and was exceptionally relaxing.  Whilst I went for their regular variety, a number of different teas were available and all sounded similarly therapeutic – and to top it all off I got some taiyaki, too (a light pastry that comes with a variety of fillings)!

There's something fishy about this taiyaki...

I was extremely impressed by the tea garden – from the tea house itself to the rest of its grounds, it was a beautifully maintained and exceptionally calming place to be.  Just look at these ducks!

These ducks have achieved a state of supreme Zen... the one on the right has, at least.

My next stop is kind of hard to comprehend, but I’ll try and put it to you in understandable terms.  There are these animals, called American Bison.  Because they were nearly hunted to extinction, a lot of the remaining ones are being looked after in captivity, to help ensure their survival.  So they put them in a paddock.

A... Bison Paddock, if you will.

Still with me?  I must’ve caught the Bison Paddock at a bad time, because there were only five in the entire thing.  They all looked pretty chilled, too (maybe they’d recently been around the tea garden?).  There’s not much to say about this, so instead I pose you this question:  What did the large, grazing mammal say to her male child as he left for school?


Moving swiftly on…

Now, a lot of people will tell you the must see attraction in San Francisco is the Golden Gate Bridge, others might say Fisherman’s Wharf… I say nay.  Instead, trek along the left side of Martin Luther King Boulevard and gaze in wonder at the one, the only:


Mallard Lake.

It existed before Golden Gate Park was established!  It’s got a small island in the middle of it!  …I wasn’t actually able to take pictures of any mallards on it (though I swear I saw two in the bushes).  Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed.

My time in Golden Gate Park was fast drawing to a close – there are some nice art museums located in the park too, but none that caught my attention.  However, one thing no-one can miss on their way out is the Dutch Windmill!

Is it Dutch? Maybe. It's definitely a windmill, though.

And with that, I was gone from the park and gazing upon the Pacific Ocean.  This was far from the end of my travels for the day, but it’s certainly the end of this blog post – thanks as always for reading!


Tired Ben was tired

May 11, 2011

On my first evening in San Francisco, I decided to play it safe.  I booked myself in for a dinner at the hostel (where I was originally booked in to stay – they share facilities and it’s literally a one minute walk) which turned out to be both cheap and rather satisfying.

Subsistence sorted for the evening, I decided to spend the three and a half hours before dinner getting myself oriented – at present I plan to stay in the city until halfway through the 12th.  First priority was picking up the all important California Rail Pass!  This is provided by Amtrak, which is in a bit of a weird position:  It’s the US’ de facto national rail company, but it remains a privately owned corporation… that the US Government owns a majority stake in.  It balances these positions a bit precariously by allowing both freight and passenger trains on its tracks – but under the caveat that freight always gets priority over track usage, so passengers trains can be delayed at any given time.

Well, it’s an innovative arrangement, certainly…

Rail woes aside, even in my tired state I really enjoyed looking around San Francisco that evening.  It really is a beautiful city – the residential areas are  chock-full of beautiful, very well preserved Victorian homes, the ubiquitous cable cars trundle along their hilly tracks and the city centre has some of the most impressive skyscrapers I’ve ever set eyes upon.  Despite them both being financial centres with a high population density, the atmosphere feels completely different to London – words fail me as to quite how I can describe it at present, but I’m sure I’ll have something more concrete to say by the end of today.

The Golden Gate Bridge was feeling a tad grey...

Turns out San Francisco has more than one impressive suspension bridge!

The Bay Bridge leads to Berkeley and Oakland – I’m tempted to visit Berkeley to visit the UCB campus, but apparently it’s their exam week at present.  I wouldn’t want to interrupt those diligent students now, would I…?  You might not be able to make it out from the picture, but it’s actually got two layers; all traffic coming into the city goes on the top deck, and there’s a small tunnel underneath it for those heading elsewhere.

The Ferry Building. Note: May not contain ferries

After having spent a while on Market Street (San Francisco’s main street, in effect), I moved over to the bay facing inland.  After having picked up my California Rail Pass (from, incidentally, the nicest and most helpful ticket guy ever) I decided to put the map down and just head to whatever caught my eye.  Hilarity (and getting a bit lost) ensues!

Needs more seals.

After a bit of wandering along the shoreline, I headed into the city, eventually reaching a long series of steps that led up to Telegraph Hill.  When I say a long series, I mean at least 200 (I counted.  Traveling solo does odd things to one’s mind…), but it was definitely worth it.

In this case my photo really hasn't done it justice!

Around halfway up, the pathway became enveloped by flowers and plants of all hues.  This photo doesn’t quite do it justice, as it really was an incredible sight – made all the more so by the inexplicably serene silence blanketing the area barely a mile from the financial district!  Regrettably I wasn’t able to reach the tower at the very top.  Feeling rather foolish, I think I ascended the hill from the wrong side…

After having gotten as far up Telegraph Hill as I could, I noticed my time for the evening was up; dinner was due to start at 7:30, and it was high time I returned.  Thankfully a very helpful passerby and two police officers (none of whom I asked for help, but rather came on their own accord) showed me the quickest route back.  This was a relief, as by the time I got back it was clear I’d be needing an early night.

And that, as they say, is that!  I apologise if my writing style is a bit woolly at present – I’ve never been all that good at being concise and that hasn’t been helped by me not having written any essays for a year.  Any feedback is appreciated.  Now I’m off for today’s japes; to, amongst other places, the Golden Gate Bridge!

Fitzgerald Hotel: 10th-12th May

May 11, 2011

I was originally due to stay at a hostel, but on arrival got ‘upgraded’ to the Fitzgerald Hotel instead.  Here are the contact details…

Address: 620 Post Street
San Francisco California 94109
Toll-Free: 800-334-6835
Local: 415-775-8100

I fail at cleanliness.

All things considering, it’s pretty nice.  It has its highs and its lows, as follows…

+ Affordable

+ Fridge and TV in room

+ Good location (very close to Union Square)

– A smell lingers over the entire place… is that normal?

– The view from my room is just a fairly battered old wall.  On all sides.

– Nearly a bad location (almost too close to the Tenderloin district for comfort – Tenderloin being a ghetto of sorts, but fortunately one that’s easy to avoid)

5 bonus inches, a free Twix and my arrival!

May 11, 2011

It’s just gone 7:45 am in Pacific Daylight Time, and before I set out for the day I figured I’d best explain what’s happened in the half a day or so I’ve been here.

After an early start on Tuesday morning, I left the country through Heathrow Airport, but not before I took somewhat of a last minute decision to upgrade my seat, giving me 5 bonus inches of legroom.  Despite the fact that this cost what I’d call a fairly eye-watering £60, given I had a ten hour flight ahead of me this seemed, and proved, fairly reasonable.

The actual flight was fairly uneventful.  The passenger next to me was awfully friendly, having just been in London on business (she works for that Miniclip website!  If you don’t know it, clearly you actually spent your Year 8 IT lessons working…) and even giving me a Twix she didn’t want from her in-flight meal.

Other than that, the journey over was approximately 2 hours sleep, two and a bit in-flight movies (The Fighter, RED and a chunk of Wall-E for good measure, clearly), half an hour filling in forms to appease US Customs, and a bit of reading/gazing out of the window.

After touching down in San Francisco, I was able to get an odd taxi/bus hybrid driven by an extremely quiet but sufficiently friendly guy.  After a good two hours (it took one hour just to leave the airport!) I was at my hotel – having been ‘upgraded’ from the hostel, as I was staying in a single room – and a bit knackered.  Nonetheless, I was determined to see something of San Francisco on my first day, and so I set out with no particular aims…

More on that a bit later.

Go West!

May 9, 2011

Welcome, hello, and many other suitably friendly greetings.

First of all let me thank you for visiting this blog – unless you’ve somehow stumbled across this by accident (in which case you’re clearly an exceptionally lucky person), you’ve shown an interest in my travels and want to see how I’m getting on.  So… thanks!  I appreciate the sentiment.

Secondly, I apologise for any rambling, any painfully amateur photography and for what I imagine will be a fairly irregular update schedule.

Pleasantries being out of the way, here is a brief summary of  the next three weeks for me:  Starting May 10th I’m flying out to California for 21 days of adventure/intrigue/voyages of discovery (disclaimer: none of the above may actually occur).  Starting off in San Francisco, I hope to work my way south through the Central Coast region, eventually reaching San Diego, after which – if I have the time left – I’ll gad about Yosemite National Park for a while.  Good times will be had by all; for me because I’ll be doing it, and for you because you’ll be reading it.  Everyone wins!

The name of this blog may raise a few eyebrows, but I shall explain it as best I can; I’ve always associated Spring/early Summer in the UK with bluebells – the area I live in is full of them, and they’re probably my favourite part of the season (aside from chocolate eggs, natch).  This year, however, I’ll be making somewhat of a shift…


From bluebells...

...and away poppies!

See what I did there?  Very clever, I’m sure you’ll agree.

I’m hoping to update this blog at least once every two days.  Whenever I take up residence at a new hostel etc. I’ll make sure to post its contact details so that I can be reached if necessary (I know how the urge to express your undying love for me can be simply too much to bear at times, and I’ve accounted for this), but other than that it will mostly be just what’s up/on my mind/got my attention at that given point.

I’m just finishing up all my packing now – I’m terribly excited, but also nervous like an arachnophobic in a dark basement!  Thanks again for visiting my blog, and watch this space.