Jul 052013
 

San Francisco was probably the city most people said I had to visit when discussing my upcoming travel plans. It’s funny because there weren’t any defining reasons given – it was just somewhere I had to check out. Some cities are known for their nightlife, others for their coastline, or architecture, culture and so on… San Francisco’ defining feature for me is definitely the vibe of the city. People seem to have a uniquely different wavelength and everyone’s tuned right in.

Perfect morning in San Francisco

Perfect morning in San Francisco

Sure the city is easy to get around and public transport is good. The city is so well designed that I only took public transport once, on my last day as I had to carry 2 boxes of wine from the ferry to my hostel. It’s definitely a walker’s paradise with Market Street being the main strip similar to Broadway in Manhattan I guess. I arrived the day before Pride weekend and had 4 days straight of brilliant weather which everyone tells me is unusual for this time of year. I experienced the same in San Diego as well – maybe I’m bringing it with me…

Humberto, Michelle (Zeffyr), Adrien & Michelle.

Humberto, Michelle (Zeffyr), Adrien & Michelle.

I made some great friends in San Francisco and the hospitality I’ve received in recent times seemed to continue in uniquely different ways. Having met some great people through CouchSurfing in San Diego I decided to check out what events were going on in San Francisco. I stumbled across a small group looking to hang out at Pride together and formed a mini ‘United Nations’ with France, Peru, USA, Persia and Australia represented. It was great to check out the Pride festivities with such a chill group of people, we were all just going with the flow, walking around and people watching. Adrien and I seemed to form a good connection as we were hitting the vodka stations and really appreciating the dance music being played. I must admit, I very rarely experience poor music at gay events, and Pride was definitely no exception.

The day before the Pride parade, there were ‘low key’ festivities taking place around the Civic Centre.  Once this finished up for the day, we were looking for a place to keep rocking and stumbled across a place called ‘800 Larkin‘ in the Tenderloin ‘Loin’ neighbourhood.  This is where we met Shannon who really looked after our every need, and let us basically take over her bar. We shuffled through Pandora, made friends with locals and started to get pretty drunk.  I’ve never felt so at home in a bar before, especially a place I only just literally found.  Later that night we walked down Market and hit The Castro precinct, which is where all the action was once all the formalities finished.

Random Berkeley Crew I met in San Francisco

Random Berkeley Crew I met in San Francisco

I made a lot of friends in San Francisco. Random things happened.  Like walking along Market walking towards The Castro and stumbling across a bunch of Berkeley University students drinking really foamy cups of beer from a vending stall in the middle of the street that had shut for the day.  After quizzing them a little longer I learned that one of them knew how to tap a beer keg and there just happened to be one left that was half full.  They also taught me that by wiping your finger on your nose and then putting it in the beer, the foam would disappear – well there you go.  Completely random.

Chillin out in the loin.

Chillin out in the loin.

I did also manage to incorporate a winery tour of the Sonoma ‘Russian River’ region into the trip.  I am so glad I did it as I didn’t know the northern Sonoma area was renowned for Pinot Noir which is my favourite.  I had a great day with a great group of people and bought a bunch of wine which I wanted take with me to DC for the 4th July holiday.

My Sonoma winery tour group.

My Sonoma winery tour group.

I met a really friendly Canadian couple on the winery tour who kindly helped me carry the boxes of wine I bought to my hostel.  They also told me about an insanely popular restaurant in Chinatown called R&G Lounge that they tried to check out a few nights back and it was too busy. Well I thought I would give it a try and the benefits of solo travel kicked in with a spare single seat at the bar (avoiding the minimum 1 hour wait).  I tried the signature fried crab dish and it did not disappoint.  The highlight of the night though was meeting a recently married couple – Andres & Yasmine from Miami.  They got married last week and had been in Nevada checking out the Grand Canyon and were travelling around the US.  They were looking for a chill bar to hang out in and I took them to 800 Larkin after dinner and we had an awesome night.  I love being able to connect people and places that I enjoy, it’s definitely a great way of returning the hospitality that has been extended to me thus far.

I had a blast in San Francisco, it was so good that I didn’t even have any San Diego blues.  These 2 cities are such a huge highlight of California for me and concluded my west coast tour.

Pride

Pride

So now I’m in the beautiful Virginia staying with some great friends Kay and Gabe.  I also have friends from Australia here – Sam, Andrew and their gorgeous daughter Milla.  Words can’t describe how beautiful it is here and how awesome it is to be amongst friends, particularly on the 4th July holiday.

It’s the change of pace I definitely needed.

Jun 292013
 

It’s Saturday morning, I’m chilling in a pretty cool café in San Francisco’s financial district called Sugar Cafe. After sleeping over 12 hours last night I feel great today and ready to see what San Francisco is all about.

But I really want to wrap up my 11 days in San Diego by writing about my thoughts and experiences.  There are not many places in the world I have visited where I have felt such a strong connection to the city and the people I met there.  I was telling some friends that it would take me some time to get over San Diego, but that is not how I feel – I just look back in fondness and reflect on my times there.

San Diego is a place where I really felt comfortable and connected – being there required minimal effort and good things just happened. I got so comfortable during the trip that I would totally trust random people and rely on their guidance. Like the taxi we got into a few nights ago in North Park, it was 1am and we only had 1 hour before all the clubs closed downtown. We had an East African driver and he asked us which way we wanted to go, I told him the fastest possible and after a few minutes none of us (including a local) had any idea where we were. I started to question him as he was speeding down the back streets but a quick search on google maps showed we were on the right path (albeit a different one)  and ended up arriving in Gaslamp in 10 minutes and less than half the fare expected. That just never happens to me anywhere.

Tommy - a cool guy I met in San Diego

Tommy – a cool guy I met in San Diego

I met some super cool and diverse people in SD – people I’d find it really difficult to connect with at home. I was out drinking one night with Alvin (works at my hostel)  and David (hostel room mate from US mid-west). We were at a bar in Gaslamp downing $6 tequila shots with a beer chaser. After a few of those I met a guy called Tommy Price. I had no idea who he was, I just introduced myself to him, his friend and his girlfriend. We were talking for a while about all sorts of stuff and I asked him if he could recommend a more ‘happening’ place in Gaslamp – he and his crew then walked us a few blocks to a place called Henry’s Bar. It was only then that I realised that Tommy was not your average guy. He basically knew the whole bar and I learned that Tommy and his crew are a Rockabilly outfit and were only in town a short time. They invited me to their show the next night and I’m super bummed I missed it. Hopefully I get a chance to check out another show out in the US somewhere.

Earlier that night we stumbled on a local kid called Martiné. He had recently turned 21 and was out on his own. We quickly took him under our wing and got him crazy drunk with us as we went from pub to pub.  Martiné was a hardcore Padres fan, and I don’t say that lightly. He had been to all recent games like 6 days straight (they play a lot of baseball back to back in the US). I asked him where I could score an authentic Padres cap before I left town as I was now a loyal fan.  That night he gave me his cap and would not let me say no. He was telling me that night that I would never find that cap anywhere and it was only available to members.  It was only until a few days later when I realised what a kind gesture that was, as I was wearing the cap around San Diego and was stopped by 3 people who asked if they could take a closer look at the cap and remarked on how cool it was. It is definitely my No.1 prized possession of the trip thus far.

Oysters at South Beach Bar in OB

Oysters at South Beach Bar in OB

It was awesome to see a familiar face on my solo world tour. After almost 1 month away thus far (how quick that has gone!!!) I guess I’m starting a miss my family and friends.  Fortunately for me, my friend Beth arrived back home in San Diego a few days ago from her European golf tour. She almost immediately made a beeline for me and made sure I got a taste of San Diego “Beth Style” and we just hung out and talked. I also met some really nice friends of hers – Katy & Kelly.  It makes a huge difference to get a local’s perspective, but for me was just awesome to hang out with someone I know and trust. We spent a full day just talking, eating and drinking and it was exactly what I needed.

I have been really humbled by the generosity of people I have met and know during my tour thus far. My previous boss, Heath Lee told me a while ago that the best present you can give someone is your ‘time’. That totally resonated with me and I have been so fortunate to receive this gift from so many people along the way. On top of that I have also received some unexpected offers of hospitality from friends I intend on visiting in the next few weeks.

When I was out with Beth and Kelly during my last night in San Diego, Kelly asked me what my most memorable/favourite experience was during my stay.  I didn’t have to think about that one too long and I quickly told her about my surfing experience at La Jolla. Whilst I am no Kelly Slater and nor were the conditions the greatest, I managed to spend 3 hours out in the surf and had one of the best sessions ever.  I was matched with a perfect board for my body size and conditions and was catching wave after wave and not getting tired for one second in the surf overlooking the cliffs near a break called ‘Blacks’. I could write forever thanks to the kindness and generosity of those I have met during my tour so far.

Me and my Swiss hostel room mates surfing Blacks

Me and my Swiss hostel room mates surfing Blacks

I have a feeling I will be back in San Diego before my tour is done. I was telling Amy (owner/manager Hostel on 3rd) that I might start my South American tour from San Diego. She encouraged me to do so and promised to help me find some travel buddies and a cheap car to buy that I could use to drive from San Diego as far as I could down to Central and South America. By the way, that hostel was an awesome place to stay, really felt like home so if you are visiting SD – stay there!

So San Francisco awaits!!! Its Gay Pride weekend here, the city is super busy and I need to get out there and experience. Thanks to everyone for the positive comments about my blog, I appreciate it.

Stay cool.

 

 

 

Jun 232013
 

So it’s Sunday morning in beautiful San Diego, I’m sitting in an awesome bagel shop called Brooklyn’s Finest eating a cheddar jalapeno bagel with cream cheese whilst sipping on a cafe latte.  I know I said I’d try to post more frequently but I never knew what San Diego had in store for me.

I must admit, after leaving LA I started to experience the inevitable doubts about the world tour I had planned. I guess it was the lack of any serious connection with anyone there or even the city itself. It’s a big city, everyone is doing something or going somewhere and if you don’t exert yourself you get left behind. Well, I learnt that first hand. Sure I met nice people in my hostel and a few people during my travels but nothing I would really place any serious significance on. And to be completely honest, that is pretty much all my doing as I was slow adjusting to the whole solo travel scene and not forcing out some of the extrovert personality that I know is in there somewhere.

Having travelled solo a few times before on a smaller scale I was mentally prepared for what can be a really self-challenging and solitary experience.  I’m actually glad this emerged earlier than expected as this is exactly what I want to personally develop as part of my solo world tour.

Almost immediately upon leaving LA my circumstances shifted and it’s amazing how one’s outlook can quickly change.  I travelled back to Santa Ana to check out the Geto Boys but this time opted to use AirBnB.  Well that move in itself what very smart as I met James and Phylline who have been a great influence on me to date. It was great to actually have a decent discussion with these 2 friendly characters as they showed me around Santa Ana and gave me some great local travel advice.  That social connection in itself was enough to reignite my personality and recharge me for what was about to be a solo world tour changing experience in San Diego.

Arriving in San Diego I almost instantly felt the vibe upon jumping off the train. The train ride from Santa Ana to San Diego itself was a highlight as the train travels right along the coast overlooking pristine surf beaches around Oceanside. I really had no idea Southern California had such awesome beaches.

San Diego Downtown from Coronado

San Diego Downtown from Coronado

First impressions in San Diego reminded me so much of Melbourne. As I switched from my Amtrak train to a ‘trolley’ which is what San Diego calls trams – I almost felt like I was back home. The sun was blazing but not too intensely and that reminded me of Melbourne in late spring on ‘one’ of those perfect days.  San Diego is a much slower pace than LA and people here actually take time out to talk which is nice.  People also smile much more here as well – which is something I’m starting to do a lot more myself.  I almost instantly started to feel more at home here.

Travel really takes on a new dimension these days with the emergence of social networking sites that are geared towards combining social and travel.  CouchSurfing best explained in its own terms offers its users hospitality exchange and social networking services.

In order for a single guy to receive hospitality from hosts around the world, he needs to build up a social network of friends and references – for which I have none.  So shortly after I arrived in San Diego, I jumped on CS and discovered a local community event called “Tipsy Tuesdays” in North Park.  This in itself was a big deal for me as I was in a foreign place about to hopefully meet a bunch of locals whom I knew nothing about.  As I approached the bar called Urbn, there were a number of large tables and I was not about to go ask each one if they were the CS event. So I took a seat at the bar, had a beer and chilled out for a while. A short time later, a lady approached me and asked if I knew which table was the CS event – I smiled and told her I had no idea but offered her the seat next to me whilst we both tried to find out which table it was.

About an hour later, the barman came back to us and pointed out the CS group to us.  Well, that became less important by that stage as I was having a great conversation with Suzanne which continued on at least another hour. We spoke about so many topics and I was getting some incredible local advice which I would have never found on my own.  It just so happens Suzanne is also a local travel guide/consultant and focuses more on the corporate market. She is also a life coach and a very self-aware person – in a short space of time I knew Suzanne had much to offer.

My friend Suzanne.

My friend Suzanne.

Since Tuesday, my whole San Diego experience took on an entirely new dimension.  On Thursday, Suzanne took me bike riding around the beautiful Coronado Island which is a short ferry from San Diego downtown. On one side of the island, it faces the harbour with spectacular views of the city skyline, and on the other side it faces the Pacific Ocean with pristine coastline and a gorgeous hotel with loads of history and beautiful gardens.  Coronado also has a US defence base located on the island, and it was awesome to have fighter jets flying past as at low altitude as we rode around.

I went to Pacific Beach on Thursday which reminded me so much of Surfers Paradise.  It is very holiday-ish with lots of students on summer holidays and tourists/locals renting apartments on the beach. I met a guy called Chris who replied to a post I placed on CouchSurfing looking for surfing buddies.  We went and hired some boards from a small surf shop called ‘Radd Rentals’ and surfed next to the pier.  Later that day, I jumped on a bus and and experienced traditional American BBQ at Phils BBQ which I never knew existed in California until I spoke to Suzanne.  Well after literally waiting 1.5 hours in queue to get in (mostly locals), I feasted on perfectly cooked beef ribs and breast chicken with beans and coleslaw – and was not disappointed.

Yesterday was probably the highlight of my stay in SD thus far.  Suzanne was able to borrow a car from a friend of hers and took me further north to a place called La Jolla. Words really can’t describe how beautiful this place is.  We started the day checking out a local farmers market in Little Italy and then did a hike along some ocean facing cliffs in La Jolla. Following that we took a stroll in the main town and I was just blown away by how beautiful the place is and the amount of wildlife that exists amongst all the people there.

Hiking on the cliffs in la Jolla

Hiking on the cliffs in la Jolla

I really didn’t want to leave La Jolla, but I had made plans to meet James and Phylline whom I met in Santa Ana.  We went to the Padres v Dodgers game together and had a great time.  I really enjoyed watching the game and seeing traditional American match entertainment, in particular the rap music they play in between plays and the break-dancing ground sweepers.

Today, I am hopefully heading back towards La Jolla once again courtesy of Suzanne.  I’m going to rent a board and surf some of the coast around La Jolla and maybe further north toward Encinitas. The surf looked irresistible yesterday and Suzanne could tell I was literally dying to get into the water.  A local touch makes an enormous difference and I feel really lucky to have met someone so generous to show me around and share some really fascinating conversation with.

Major league baseball

Major league baseball

My good friend Beth arrives back in San Diego on Monday night after her golf tour around the world. I’m so excited to see her in her home town as well!

SD signing out from San Diego for now.

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