San Francisco in 36 Hours

 

untitled-design

From the emergence of the flower power generation in the 60s, to the 21st century’s electronic revolution in Silicon Valley; from the home of Mrs Doubtfire, to Alcatraz, America’s most infamous prison. San Francisco is one of those places that is inexplicably part of social consciousness; everyone has heard of it, and everyone wants to go. It is also, arguably, the coolest city in California (sorry LA).

We spent only a brief time here whilst blasting through Cali up to Yosemite National Park. Of course, you could spend weeks in this vibrant city and not run out of things to do, but unfortunately time was not on our side. So, here is everything we managed to cram into our 36 hours:

Pier 39

Fancy seeing a bunch of wild sea lions sunbathing? Of course you do. Go to Pier 39, full of tourists, expensive food, tacky souvenirs, but totally worth it to see a load of blubbery sea lions clambering over each other to get the best sun spot.


The Painted Ladies

There are few cities in the world in which something as simple as resident housing so encompasses its identity. San Francisco is one of them; you simply can’t visualise San Fran without its beautiful houses on mind-blowing steep streets. ‘The Painted Ladies’ is an affectionate name for a row of houses on Steiner Street. They have that quintessentially San Franciscan ice-cream colour and ornate style. We’re not entirely sure why these houses in particular are such a big deal as almost every house in the area is equally beautiful. But whether or not you want to go out of your way to see the Painted Ladies themselves, you really must take a stroll around the residential areas- they are truly iconic.

The Painted Ladies

More beautiful San Franciscan houses

Lombard Street

Another icon. Lombard street is a perilously windy, and really rather beautiful, road in residential San Francisco. With a gaggle of tourists at the top and bottom, craning over each other to take pictures, and people inching their way down in their cars, it really is a sight to behold. We did brave the drive, and came out unscathed- but others are not so lucky, so drive carefully or your paintwork may suffer!


Castro District

The Castro District is known for its links with the LGBT community and Gay Pride events. For us, this was a must-see spot. It’s a really vibrant part of the city, with huge murals of Harvey Milk -California’s first openly gay elected official and LGBT martyr- painted on the side of buildings, and rainbow coloured crosswalks directing your way to sex shops, book shops and bars.


Chinatown

San Francisco’s Chinatown is home to the largest Chinese community outside of Asia and is the largest of its kind in North America. It has a regrettable history due to California’s anti-Chinese laws, forcing the city’s Chinese population into what was essentially a ghetto. These days though, it is a vibrant place with amazing shops, restaurants and bars and, of course, beautiful Chinese architecture. Chinatown is a core part of San Francisco and an important part of Californian history. It is, in our opinion, a must-see!


Oh, and Golden Gate Bridge

Of course. There’s nothing like seeing an iconic piece of infrastructure. It’s as exciting as seeing a celebrity in the flesh, except instead of getting an autograph and a selfie, you get to pay $7.50 to drive over it. But in all seriousness, you simply can’t visit San Francisco without seeing Golden Gate. After driving over it, we went to the bottom of Fort Point and got a great view:

View from Fort Point

Honourable mentions and pointers:

Before we left San Fran, we stopped by ‘The Mill’ for breakfast. On the surface it seems crazy to be paying $6 for toast, but trust us, it is so much more than toast. It is delicious bready perfection. And their coffee’s not too bad either.

One last thing- Why why why is San Francisco so cold?! Mark Twain apparently once said ‘the coldest winter I ever experienced was a summer in San Francisco’. Mark, we totally get you. Everywhere in California was about 10°c warmer than San Francisco. We went from wearing shorts and flip flops then crossed the San Francisco border and out came the wooly jumpers. So, word to the wise- if you plan on visiting, bring a jumper or two!

San Francisco, it was truly a pleasure. We will be coming back, and we will be spending more than 36 hours next time!

Advertisements

Nous aimons Québec 

First of all apologies for the irregular updates. Since being in the US we’ve spent far more time driving from place to place with quick turnarounds and infrequent/inconvenient internet. Not an environment that’s conducive to blogging. 
But at this moment we have internet, and time, so here’s a quick run-down of our last few weeks:

After leaving our workaway in Vermont we travelled back to Massachusetts ready for Halloween in Salem. This was everything we expected and more. Worthy of a blogpost in itself (watch this space). 

We then blasted our way down to Washington DC, saw more museums, landmarks and government buildings than we thought possible and then witnessed more states vote for Trump than we thought possible. 

Coincidentally, the next day we made a dash for Canada via upstate New York. After stopping at Niagara Falls and making a quick family visit in London (Ontario), we pushed further North to Ottawa then Montreal. Both lively cities with lots to see. 
Finally we reached Québéc. Possibly our favourite city in Canada so far. Maybe because it feels a bit closer to home. With its older stone architecture and French speaking inhabitants we were temporarily transported back to Europe. 
So there we are. Tomorrow we start crawling our way South through Maine in an effort to reach Boston before thanksgiving. Lighthouses and lobster await. 

Natural Wonders of Arizona

see-explore

 

Imagine an old western movie: deserts, cactus, tumbleweed, and then update the saloons with malls and universities, and the Cowboys with Trump fanatics (…some things haven’t updated), this description crudely sums up Arizona. It is hot; dry, stifling, ghost town-inducing hot. It is sparse. And, most importantly, it is beautiful. There is so much natural beauty in Arizona, it has been -to our surprise- one of our favourite states in the west. Here’s a little run down of our exploration of this wild state…

Antelope Canyon

Located on a Navajo reservation in the small town of Page, this is one of the most beautiful sights Arizona has to offer. You will arrive at the entrance to the canyon after an extremely bumpy (seriously, hold on for dear life) jeep ride through the dusty desert (you can only reach the canyon by a Navajo approved tour bus). After tending to your whiplash and bruises, you will wander through its windy red chasms, open-mouthed, in awe of its beauty. Just take a look at some of the photos, they speak for themselves:


Cliff Dwellers

This was a bonus! We stumbled across this site on the way to Antelope Canyon. It’s basically a bunch of rocks eroded in gravity-defying ways. If you drive to Page from Zion, you’ll probably drive right past it. It’s definitely worth pulling over and having a wander!


Grand Canyon National Park

As cliched as it sounds, the Grand Canyon is just one of those things you need to see to believe. Even the photos don’t do it justice. If you don’t enjoy feeling like a tiny speck of human insignificance next to the awesome power of the earth, maybe give this one a miss. It’s big. Like, really big.


Saguaro Natitonal Park

In our opinion, this is one of the most underrated national parks. The landscape is so quintessentially ‘wild west’ it feels like you’re on a movie set. Picture burnt red desert chockablock with saguaro cacti, which by the way, are huge. It’s kind of like a forest except instead of trees, there’s cacti, which offer no shade from the 40+° sun. Bring all the water you can carry and try not to get lost- all the cacti start looking the same after a while.

Honourable mention:

If you fancy getting naked and meditating for a while, head to the town of Sedona. Many believe it is home to vortexes, which are powerful conduits of energy. But whether you go for this sort of thing or not, Sedona is an interesting town, and worth a visit.
The beauty of Arizona has really stuck with us. If you can stand the heat, go. If you can’t stand the heat, go anyway. It’s worth it, we promise.

Pumpkin Spiced Lattes All Round…

Autumn is upon us, and we have had -quite literally- the falliest fall imaginable. We have spent the last few weeks volunteering in a B&B in South Royalton, Vermont. Our days have been spent baking pies, cooking breakfast and, of course, admiring the Autumn colours. We even managed to sneak in a visit to the Ben & Jerry’s factory! 

Now it’s back to Massachusetts to celebrate Halloween- Salem style!

The Pacific Northwest

Words by Jasper

Mysterious, mossy pine forests punctuated with immense boulders. Waterfalls spewing mist through tree covered cliffs. Clear streams that lead to bleak craggy coastlines, dotted with raggedy islands. Ultra-trendy cities nestled in amongst the wilderness. This describes the Pacific Northwest, probably one of our favourite parts of western USA. Here are a few of the best places we checked out.

Portland OR
There was so much to say about the ‘hipster capital of the world’ that it warranted a whole post to itself. Find it here.

Forks, Washington

Ok, we admit it, we came here entirely because of Twilight. But if you’re like us, and thought the best thing about that film was the location, we hope you’ll understand. Forks sits on the edge of Olympic National Park, a huge expanse of temperate rainforest, classified by its high levels of rainfall, but lower average temperatures.

fullsizerender
Forks is a small town that has been thrust into popularity by the famous film series, but other than a couple of Twilight shops and location tours, life ticks over like any other small unassuming community.

North West of Forks is La Push, a grey beach with imposing cliffs and brutal waves. We wrapped up and took a stroll on the beach but we left the paddling to the flotilla of hardcore surfers (sadly any vampires out there won’t be able to reach La Push as it is past the werewolf treaty line).


North Bend, WA

Tucked just off the interstate from Seattle toward Montana, this mysterious town is most famous for Laura Palmer’s death and “damn good coffee”. For those of you who missed the reference, North Bend houses many of the shooting locations for David Lynch’s supernatural cult-thriller Twin Peaks, several of which are definitely worth seeing regardless of whether you’ve seen the show or not.


The most iconic spot is probably Twede’s Cafe, which is better known by Twin Peaks fans as the Double R Diner. Peaks Geeks will be pleased to know they do, in fact, serve some damn good coffee, and the cherry pie isn’t too bad either. People who have never seen the show will probably also be pleased to know this.


Just down the road is the Salish Lodge and spa that overlooks the Snoqualmie Falls. It’s a high end place that we could only dream of being able to afford a night at, but when your hotel is perched precariously close to a huge and picturesque waterfall, I guess you can charge what you like. The setting obviously caught David Lynch’s eye as the Salish Lodge serves as the exterior shots for the Great Northern Hotel, yet another crucial TP location.

img_1437
Vancouver, BC

Just a stone’s throw across the Canadian border is Vancouver, a lively, modern and artsy city. Sadly we only had a day and night to explore it, but what we managed to cram in gave us a good glimpse into life in Vancouver.
The downtown area had a great mix of independent shops, cool eateries and imposing buildings new and old. It also has one of the best libraries we’ve ever been in. Inspired by the colosseum, Vancouver Public Library is almost as impressive, with cosy study areas, modern interior design and dizzyingly high walkways looking down over seven floors of books to explore. Any ancient Roman academic would have been proud to study here. Jo, however, read a book about Finding Nemo.
Tucked underneath the main bridge to downtown is Granville Island, a once industrial area that, like most others in the world, has now been transformed into an arts district, with theatre, music, independent craft retailers and a food market. If this sounds a little too pretentious and grown-up for your taste, have no fear, there’s always the pirate party ship.
a62ee00c-8bdf-40c8-9325-40488e30200c
Interstate 90, Washington/Montana

This is literally just a motorway, with nothing of interest other than the odd Native American Casino resort. We don’t recommend it as somewhere to visit. It does, however, get a special mention for some of the most spectacular and iconic tumbleweed we’ve ever seen. It’s amazing that in West Washington state you have lush forest, and yet after a few hours driving east toward Montana, it’s barren and prairie like. The only things that weren’t void of life were, ironically, the perfect spheres of dead bush making a dash for freedom across the road.
For us, the Pacific Northwest is a place we’ve wanted to visit for so long for so many reasons, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Each place we visited was worthy of weeks, possibly months, of exploration. As has been the case with most of our travels so far, we will be leaving with more on our bucket list than when we came.

 

Salt Lake City

Nestled in the Utahan desert is Salt Lake City. Known for -amongst other things- Mormonism, polygamy, and a serious lack of alcohol. We arrived here after failing to find a motel in Jackson, Wyoming and choosing to drive through the night rather than freeze to death in some random car park. These were some lonely, horror movie-esque roads and we were pretty relieved when the sun finally rose over civilisation once more. We rewarded ourselves with some $4 pancakes from Denny’s (it’s become a staple in our road trip diet), and headed out to explore this infamous city.

Over half the population of Utah practice Mormonism, and Salt Lake City- the state capital- is Morman Mecca. We only spent a day here, but it was a really interesting city, and starkly different from the other American cities we’ve visited. The first thing we noticed was how clean it was. Squeaky clean. Like Disneyland. All the buildings looked so new, the pavements were white and there were lots of perfectly cut areas of bright green grass and trimmed trees. It does feel a little odd walking around. It feels almost like a pop-up, artificial city. Like Vegas, but with Mormon missionaries instead of strippers. Unfortunately though we cannot prove any of this, as upon leaving we realised that we didn’t take a single photo. Disclaimer: imaginations/access to google image search will be needed for this post.

The main attraction of the city is, of course, the religious temples. The main Mormon buildings are all within the same square (Temple Square), so you can hop from one to the other and see them all in a few hours. By far the most impressive is Salt Lake Temple which, in terms of size and beauty, would give Notre Dame a run for its money. Only members of the Mormon faith are actually allowed into this temple, so unless you feel compelled to sign up, you’ll have to appreciate the view from the outside- which really is breathtaking.

Across from this is the Salt Lake Tabernacle, a large domed building, with amphitheater seating inside for meetings and, as it’s best known for, choir performances. We didn’t have time to watch one ourselves, but if you get the chance you definitely should- the acoustics are meant to be amazing. Similarly close is the Church History Museum which details the beginnings of the Mormon faith very thoroughly. If non-believers were ever going to be converted, here would be the place.

After wandering around Temple Square for a while, we found ourselves in the Geneology Centre. Mormons believe in praying on behalf of their ancestors who may not have had contact with the Mormon church, in order to help their souls in the afterlife. Because of this, lots of Mormons have a real fascination with ancestry research. The Geneology Centre is a huge library of microfilms, online census databases, and anything else you might need to find your distant family. We went there to quickly poke our heads in. However, what started as a cursory visit soon manifested into us awkwardly sat by a computer on the basement floor with a 70 year old man explaining how to use ancestry.com (very simple FYI), wearing little stickers saying ‘Hi my name’s [Jo/Jasper], today is my FIRST visit!’ Needless to say, our parking meter was suddenly getting very low, and we hurried outta there.

As for polygamy, it is less prevalent in the Mormon faith than people assume. In fact, only certain sects of the LDS church practice it nowadays. However, if you spent some time in the smaller towns on the outskirts of Salt Lake City, you are likely to see some ‘sister wives’ doing their grocery shopping. They are distinguishable by their old fashioned dresses and braided hair.

We were surprised by how friendly the people of Salt Lake City were. If you are anxious about hardcore conversion tactics, don’t be. Although Temple Square is the centre of Mormonism, it is also a tourist attraction, and the missionaries working there appreciate that. So, if you are in the area, we would certainly recommend a stop here. We suspect that there is no other American town quite like Salt Lake City!

A Weekend In Portland: The Essential Itinerary 

a-weekend-in-portland-the-essential-itinerary

 

Portland, Oregon, a city which boarders Washington state on the northwest coast of America is affectionately known as ‘hipster capital of the world’. We were really intrigued to see how fitting this term actually is, as…to put it in the least snobbish way…the American ideals of ‘cool’ can often differ from the European. But to our pleasant surprise, Portland was awesome. And we think any beard-trimming, vinyl-collecting, succulent-planting European hipster would be proud to call Portland home.

One of the main things that struck us about Portland is that the residents are really friendly. The Portlanders we met had such an obvious love for their city that they were constantly giving us recommendations for coffee shops, bookstores and bars in the hope that we love it just as much them. And it worked.

Unfortunately, as we only have a month to tour the entire west, we were only able to spend two days in this awesome city. We managed to cram in quite a bit though, so here’s a little list of what -in our opinion- a short trip to Portland should include:

Brunch

Brunch is to Portlanders as afternoon tea is to the English: something to be taken very seriously. The most popular spots can have queues snaking out the door and the options throughout the city seem endless. We chose a place called ‘Mothers Bistro’ in downtown, a Parisian style restaurant which served traditional egg-based dishes and, of course, delicious coffee.

Powell’s Bookstore

A large chunk of our first day was spent in Powell’s Bookstore, the largest independent bookstore in the world. The building pretty much takes up an entire block, with five stories of new and used books. As we found out, is easy to get lost in there and, before you know it, 3 hours has past. Powell’s really is a Portland institution, and a city break here isn’t complete without perusing its many shelves.


Multnomah Falls

One thing that is so special about Portland is that it is surrounded by wilderness; it almost feels like a city built in the middle of a national park. So, a short drive out of town brought us to Multnomah Falls, a beautiful waterfall surrounded by moss-covered evergreens. You can view it from the bottom, or a short hike leads you to the midway bridge. It’s a popular tourist spot, so if you want to avoid the crowds, try to go on a weekday….and not on Labor Day weekend, like we did.


Shopping

Portland has an awesome shopping scene. Seriously, bring all your money, you will want to buy everything. Southwest 10th Avenue between Stark street and Washington, was a favourite of ours. There was so much to buy on this street: outdoorsy hard wear, über cool home decor, arty jewellery; there was even a shop dedicated solely to feminist fashion brands. Here’s a list of links to our favourite shops:

http://www.animaltrafficpdx.com/ 

http://www.woonwinkelhome.com/

http://www.backtalkpdx.com/

http://www.wildfang.com/

Doughnuts

A lesser known fact about Portland is that Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, was born here. This perhaps explains the city’s obsession with doughnuts. We went to two different establishments and both had lines out the door. ‘Blue Star’ is the place to go for the more ‘gourmet’ style, with flavours ranging from maple bacon to cayenne spiced PB&J- get here early though, as they can run out by the afternoon. If you want a doughnut fit for Mr Groening however, go to ‘Voodoo’ and ask for ‘The Homer’. Voodoo is to doughnuts as Powell’s is to books: a Portland institution and a must-see.

‘Mmmm doughnut’ *dribbles*

 

Honourable Mentions and Sidenotes:

  • Outside of downtown, Hawthorne street has loads of cool vintage stores and another (smaller) Powell’s! Portland just can’t get enough of books.
  • Nike Bikes. These are Portland’s much cooler version of London’s ‘Boris Bike’. They are neon orange and named after the infamous sports brand (which originated in Portland), rather than after a floppy-haired fool. But I digress.
  • Unlike most American cities, you won’t require a car to get around. The public transport here is pretty good, with reliable buses to and from town, and a tram service called ‘The Max’, operating city-wide.
  • If you are so inclined, the state of Oregon has legalised the use of recreational marijuana. You can buy pretty much any product you can think of from one of Portland’s many dispensaries. And because it’s Portland, much of the products sold are locally sourced, fair trade and organic. Think salted cacao infused with organic marijuana oils, that sort of thing. But, please note: unlike Amsterdam, public use is prohibited and you have to be 21 to even enter a dispensary.

In conclusion, Portland has stolen our hearts, well and truly. There is so much to see, do, eat, drink and buy; so many kind people to chat to; so much to explore! We definitely plan on coming back….unless it gets too mainstream.

Boston Bound…

The three-way relationship between us and our sat-nav Diane is sadly coming to an end. Our Western road trip is now over and we’ve loved every second.We’ve hiked in the Pacific Northwest, almost froze to death in Montana, wandered the Saguaro desert, been to Disneyland, San Francisco and Hollywood, and gambled too much money in Vegas. We’ve had the pleasure of staying with many friends and family along the way too which has been a delight. Tomorrow we fly to Boston to begin our New England tour- we can’t wait!

Hawaii in a Fortnight

hawaii-in-a-fortnight-lostnes-co-uk

Japan was everything we hoped it would be, and more. It was for this reason we were somewhat apprehensive about leaving the Land of the Rising Sun, which had well and truly stolen our hearts, to visit its Pacific neighbour Hawaii. This cluster of islands slap bang in the middle of the ocean is synonymous with paradise; one can’t hear the word ‘Hawaii’ without conjuring images of white beaches, palm trees and turquoise waters. Even with this in mind, we were still concerned that Japan might be a hard act to follow.
So, first things first, the negatives:

– Now, this one really surprised us, but we found the people to be -generally speaking-less courteous than in Japan. The Japanese are generally known for being very considerate and polite, you could probably punch a stranger in the face and they would apologise to you. In Hawaii however, small island mentality seemed to be rife- integration or ‘living like a local’ is potentially impossible here. It almost felt as if the entire service industry couldn’t have been more done with tourists. But we can’t blame them too much, tourists are everywhere here, and we hold our hands up, we are pretty annoying.

– Hawaii. Is. Expensive. Accommodation prices were almost double that of Tokyo, one of the most notoriously pricey cities in the world. Food was expensive, activities were expensive, and let’s not forget the Brexit effect. But, the silver lining of this was that we got to fully immerse ourselves in free pastimes, namely getting very very sunburnt.
And now, for the positive stuff…

Oahu

We flew into Honolulu on the island of Oahu and stayed in a hostel on Waikki beach for two nights. As most international flights fly into Honolulu, this island is bustling with tourists, especially families and young party animals. Two days of sunbathing was exactly what we needed after two hectic months zooming around Japan…although in hindsight more suntan lotion was required.

img_1050

Jasper needs some sunglasses…

Big Island

We then took a 50 minute flight to the island of Hawaii a.k.a ‘Big Island’. We stayed in a cute Airbnb just south of Hilo which, it turns out, is one of the rainiest places in the US. The climate was like that of a rainforest, with lush greenery everywhere and rain that pours heavily for hours and hours at a time.

As well as the rainfall, the Big Island is known for its volcanic activity. Volcanoes National Park is home to the world’s most active volcano, Kilauea. It is constantly spewing lava which runs slowly (and therefore relatively safely) into the sea, hardening as it goes and creating brand new land. It is the earth giving birth. We hiked the lava fields for a couple of hours, which was an experience like no other and a sight to behold. In the thick of it, all you can see is miles and miles of cooled lava, the rain that was pouring down instantly turned to steam on the hot ground, vents of sulphurous gas billowed upwards, and to top it all off, thunder and lightning battled overhead. It was honestly like a real life Mordor.

img_1080
Our next and equally amazing experience on Big Island was our snorkel with manta rays. We’ve been excited by the prospect of seeing mantas ever since Jasper dressed as one for Halloween last year. With wing spans of up to 12 feet but no stingers or teeth, they are the gentle giants of the Pacific. We went on a night time snorkelling session where beams of lights are used to attract plankton, and where there is plankton, there’s mantas. We loved every second watching these amazing animals somersaulting in the water- sometimes mere centimetres from us. It will almost definitely be one of the highlights of our entire trip. Unfortunately we weren’t able to take any pictures of the mantas, so here’s a picture of Jasper dressed as one instead.

So realistic.

Kauai

After spending 6 days on Big Island, we flew to the island of Kauai. This island is often considered one of Hawaii’s most beautiful; it is where Lilo and Stitch is set, and where Jurassic Park is filmed. It did not disappoint. It was far less rainy than Big Island, which allowed for more hours sun worshipping on one of Kauai’s many many beautiful beaches. We spent a day hiking the Na Pali coast, one of the most scenic hiking trails in the world. The windy coastline offered unparalleled views of turquoise oceans, lush rainforests and clear skies- paradise, indeed.

img_1158

Na Pali Coastline

Another must-see on Kauai is the Waimea canyon. Mark Twain supposedly referred to it as ‘the Grand Canyon of the Pacific’, and needless to say, it is pretty breathtaking. Unlike the desert, red-rock landscape of the Grand Canyon however, Waimea is speckled with greenery and has waterfalls bursting down its vast chasms. Once at the top of the canyon you are presented with ocean views like no other and a glimpse of the edge of the Na Pali coastline. As cliched as it sounds, it honestly feels like you are looking out onto the edge of the world.

img_1160

Waimea Canyon

img_1162

View of Na Pali Coast from the top of Waimea

And that was our Hawaii trip! Despite our initial apprehensions, we had an amazing time and fell in love with the Hawaiian landscape; from the rainforests, to the beaches, to the ocean, to the volcanos, Hawaii has so much to see outside of the typical glamorous cocktail resort- and, in that respect, Hawaii well exceeded our expectations.

The Great American Road Trip

It’s been a whole 3 weeks since we last posted! Whoops! A mixture of terrible wifi and being too sunburnt to move meant that the blog took a backseat. We are now on mainland USA after spending two awesome weeks in Hawaii. We have since driven our cool-ass Jeep to Portland Oregon, and are currently seeing Washington state before heading up to Vancouver! The road trip begins!