29 July 2012

Isabel returns!

Great news! Remember my awesome friend Isabel? The one I had some of the best fun with but who left to go on a mini-trip around America a few weeks ago? Well, she has returned back to San Francisco for two days =)

As soon as she arrived we met up and were off on our first adventure immediately. Our plan? A monster 9 hours of public transport... yay.

The reason for this was because Isabel used to live for a month or so in a town called Santa Cruz, about 1.5 hour by car South of San Francisco. To lighten her carrying load she left a suitcase worth of stuff at the house, intending to pick it up again before her return home to Portugal. Well, today was to be the day that she went to pick it up again. While Santa Cruz is 1.5 hours by car... it is over 4 hours by public transport one way which is not the greatest way to spent a day but as if I could let her go all that way alone, plus I was more than happy to accompany her as I was really happy to see her again.

Two trains, a bus, and 4 and a bit hours later and we had finally arrived in Santa Cruz. It was just meant to be a short stay once there, just a quick grab of her suitcase then head back. But we couldn't leave without lunch of course, which then lead to a 'quick' look at one of Isabel's favourite stores in town, which then without realizing turned into a whole day spent wandering around, cool. Santa Cruz was awesome actually and reminded me of my home town back in Australia quite a bit, it had a very coastal feel to it.

Santa Cruz
We spent at least 2 hours in town, despite knowing there was still another 4 plus hours of public transport waiting for us to return to San Francisco. Yikes! But I was not to worry because despite the combined effort of 9 hours of sitting on trains and buses, it was still just a really awesome day and I had a lot of fun the entire time. I guess the right company makes all the difference =)

The following day we had planned to go see the Golden Gate Bridge as we had both already seen it before but didn't really have have any good, memorable photos of the area. Sounded good to me! The last time we explored the city when Isabel was last here was one of my favourite days, with this one again being no exception.

And the rest of the day was spent shopping for gifts for Isabel's family and friends back home, so that was good. The following day I forget what we did, and then all too quickly it was time for her to leave once more. Although this time was to be for good as she was flying home to Portgual.

I think I have already mentioned how much fun I have had with Isabel as company on my trip over the last few weeks, so I won't repeat myself here yet again. Although suffice to say that she will definitely be high on my list of the great people I have met on this trip, right up there with the memorable friends from Los Angeles like Julia, Lewis, Manuel, Mikael, Jon-Paul and Vanessa, and of course the more recent legends met while in San Francisco, Vincent and Mardy.

I have never thought to visit Portugal or Spain before, but now I think I have a pretty good reason to. One day perhaps =)

Thanks again for everything Isabel!

26 July 2012

Mardy, the saviour of the nearly homeless!

So as I've mentioned, last week or so I was literally nearly homeless for a while with every hostel in San Francisco being completely booked out for the Friday and Saturday night. Thankfully my new friend Mardy came to my rescue and I have been staying at his apartment ever since. Sweet!

Mardy is from Taiwan and is a video director, originally coming to San Francisco about a month ago to shoot a film clip for a really famous Chinese female singer... cool! I can't find the link for the video, but I watched it and it was actually really impressive. After the video was finished he decided to stay in San Francisco for a while and begin a 2 month English language course.

His apartment (that he is sharing with 3 others) is literally on a tiny island that sits in the bay of San Francisco called Treasure Island. It is awesome! Even cooler simply by the fact that it is called Treasure Island ha!

San Francisco skyline as seen from Treasure Island
I spent over a week at Mardy's place, and looking at the pictures I took during that time it appears we didn't really do much? Which is strange because I remember enjoying every single day immensely. I think it was just one of those times that when you are in good company it doesn't matter what activities or adventures you get up to, it can still be a counted as a great time anyway.

Although there was this memorable moment, depicted in the photo below.

See that really nice looking motorcycle? Well the big red tour bus came around the corner, clipped the front wheel of the motorcycle ever so slightly... and knocked the motorcycle over! HA! It was insane. The tourists on the bus were taking pictures, the bus driver was freaking out as he tried to pick the bike back up and assess the damage, then the driver tried to drive away but the motorcycle was literally wedged tight between the side walk and the bus so he couldn't move! Hilarious.

Yeah so... other then that, not much happened. We drank beers and cooked dinners at home a lot (to save money), hung out with some new friends we made, had a great dinner and drinks with Mardy's friend Tim and his girlfriend, and yep, that's about it. But seriously, it was an awesome week, we actually are very similar and have a lot in common, plus I thoroughly enjoyed our conversations about cultural differences (he is from Taiwan).

Some market that was on Treasure Island
In return for his hospitality I showed him how to make my legendary toasted sandwhiches (which he thought were brilliant ha), and spent hours upon hours helping him with his English (he already speaks it well, but needs a few small tweaks here and there). By the end of our time together he was almost starting to sound Australian.

I really can't thank Mardy enough really, so I hope this post will help at least a little. Without Mardy I most likely would have ended up sleeping at the airport for a night or two, yet he was cool enough to offer his place despite the fact that we had met only once before, thus barely really even knowing me. The amount of money I saved by not paying for hostels was immense, and it was awesome to have someone cool to chill out with, especially now that all my previous San Francisco friends have no left.

I had originally planned to stay at his apartment for at least two weeks or more, as Mardy was to be staying in San Francisco for another month until his English language course had finished, and he enjoyed having me around. But alas, plans change, and out of no where Mardy got a call from a TV producer in China, offering Mardy a really great work opportunity (remember Mardy is a video director). The next day or two were a whirlwind of activity as Mardy tried to finalize the work contract with the producer, and book tickets to fly to China immediately. Two days later he was all packed to leave San Fancisco, and I was back to staying in hostels in the city once more.

We had an awesome last day. I showed Mardy the computer game Age of Empires 2, a game he enjoyed immensely, so we played that for about 6 hours straight ha. Followed by some final beers in the city.

As we were saying goodbye we got talking about the fact that Mardy will be back home in Taiwan in July, 2013, thus I have promised I will visit around that time because he made Taiwan sound too awesome to miss out on really. To mark that moment I took a photo of where we were standing when we made these plans so I won't forget the promise made.

To-Do: Visit Mardy in Taiwan in July, 2013
He was an awesome friend to have made, easily one of the best on this trip so far, and despite my wish that it didn't have to end so soon I guess it seemed rather fitting to end in this way. San Francisco is becoming far too hectic for my liking actually, hostels prices and the population in the city have skyrocketed over the last week and a bit as America enters their high-season, also now with Mardy leaving it essentially leaves me with no good friends in the city now. Plus not to mention the fact that I have now been in this city for 6 weeks! So with all that combined I feel there is a big push from the Universe telling me that it is time for me to move on also. A message that I couldn't agree with more!

Where to next? No idea!

And I will leave you with this hilarious quote from Mardy in where I think he tried to say, in his Taiwanese English, that he was glad that we had met...

"I err... I just wanted to say... like. Umm... you being my friend, it makes me feel really good that you are my friend. Oh man... I don't know how to say that in a cool way. That sounded so awkward... I'm going outside for a smoke"


Goodluck, thanks for everything, and I'll see you next year buddy! =D

Mardy and Me in what was meant to be a cool shot of the San Francisco skyline behind us... but the Chinese man who took the photo was terrible ha...

25 July 2012

20SB 2012 Blog Swap!

Another year means time for another annual 20 Something Bloggers Blog Swap event. Sweet. So last year was the first year I participated and it went well, with my swap partner having a great post ready for me to post up staying true to the topic which was Summer.

This year our topic was Favourite Childhood Summer Vacation and I am partnered with the very cool Isi over at Mommy Tech Diary.

So without further ado, I present her post below:


Hello Readers! My name is Isi from Mommy Tech Diary. I'm so excited to be part of the Blog Swap from 20sb and blog about my favorite summer vacation.

My favorite Summer Childhood was June 1994. I was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. My parents, brother and I got our green card to come to the United States. All our family lived in New York. We were very excited. It was our first time on a plane. We finally got to visit Nueva York (New York in Spanish).

Cousins I never met lived in New York. We were staying until September so there was a lot to do. My uncle from my father’s side planned a trip for us to go to Bush Gardens in Virginia. The drive to Virginia was great with music and singing. We had our little karaoke sessions. Virginia Beach was nice but not as beautiful as the beaches in the Dominican Republic. Bush Gardens was great. We attended many shows and got on fun rides.

During this vacation I was able to learn more English. I was taking many English courses back home but I did not practice the conversation part enough. My cousins were very helpful and patient to teach me. I learned a lot about the differences Dominicans growing up in New York and Dominicans growing up in Dominican Republic

I loved my our trip New York. I was able to see family that either I never met or I have not seen in a while. would love to have a family tradition with the "new generation". Somewhere we could bring our kids and just make a tradition for us. Childhood Memories will never be forgotten no matter how old we get.

23 July 2012

Got my dream job!.. kind of!

So after the ordeal over the last few days where I was literally nearly homeless for a day or two, my new awesome friend Mardy came to my rescue and said I am welcome to stay at his house for a couple of days... win! What a relief that was... to think I nearly ended up sleeping at the airport. Ha!

Come Monday, some good news came my way. So... remember those epic hostel pub crawls that I enjoy so much? The ones that I've had an absolutely amazing time at both of them, and where they host a Paper-Scissors-Rock tournament? Well I made friends with the host during my times there, and I am excited to announce that:

I got a job co-hosting the pub crawl!

Basically I'd lead groups of people from one pub to the next, help out, and judge the Paper-Scissors-Rock games, while drinking and talking to people from all over the world! To get paid at the end!

Dream. Come. True!

I was extremely pumped up for my first 'shift'! Even better was Mardy was to be coming also, and I messaged my friend Phil to come too but he never replied.

The night started at 8pm where I met up with the people from my hostel and after making my introductions we were off to the first pub to meet with people from the other hostels. I handled myself confidently and enthusiastically, having no worries or fears about talking to strangers or groups of people, so that kind of rocked. We arrived at the first pub and I met up with the main host of the night, Jackie, who gave me a little hole-punch tool to mark the Paper-Scissor-Rock cards the players were carrying (so we can mark who won and lost). Sweet.

Being the judge of the Paper-Scissor-Rock games, everyone playing obviously had to come talk to me to get their cards stamped after every game (to mark if they lost or won), so with a beer in one hand and the hole-punch in the other I chatted to everyone single person there, becoming great friends with them all in no time at all. So. Much. Fun! Chatting to people from all over the world was so ridiculously awesome.

Working hard! Cards can't punch holes in themself you know =P
After an hour or so at the first pub it was time to lead everyone to the second. Jackie left the first pub and lead about 25 people to the second pub, but there was about 6 people still finishing drinks so I stayed behind until they finished. Once they had I said for them to follow me, and I started leading them to the next pub... the problem however was that I ... err. I didn't actually know where the next pub was... Ha!

I have been on these pub crawls twice before, but each time I have been drunk and haven't paid any attention at all at where in the city these pubs actually are as I always simply followed the crowd!

The people behind me happily followed along, laughing away, completely obviously to me walking with the map out in front of me trying to figure out where the hell we are meant to be going. I called Jackie and she told me the address... I was at least on one of the roads I needed so that was good. We keep walking, but I just could not find the cross-street I was after... this is bad. I honestly contemplated purposely losing the people who were following me by silently slipping away in a large crowd so I didn't have to turn to them and say "err... yeah... I kind of don't know where we are meant to be going".

As we were standing at yet another set of lights waiting to cross the road with still no hope of finding the next pub in sight, I decided that yep... I have to ditch these people.

There was a large crowd just on the other side of the road that looked perfect for me to silently slip away in without the group following me noticing where I had gone. This wasn't one of my most proudest moments I admit, but it was better than admiting to them that I was lost!

The lights turn green... the group is laughing and chatting away and barely even notice that we are free to walk. Good, with them destracted it will help my escape. I quicken my walking pace to gain some distance away from them... I am just about standing next to the crowd of people I hope to blend in with when suddenly... I bump into my friend Phil!

"Phil! WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE!? Man am I glad to see you! Do you know where the second pub on the pub crawl is!?" I scream in his face in the space of 0.3 seconds.

"Yeah man that's where I am heading now, I seen your message on Facebook so was going to meet you up with you guys. It's just here."

How relieved I was!

It turns out that I was literally standing on the cross-street I needed and simply needed to turn my head left about 3 stores along and I would have seen where we were meant to go... I was about to walk straight past it without noticing! I followed Phil, and my group behind me followed us both, and we all arrived at the second pub. Phew! Jackie gave me a big thumbs up and a "thank you" for leading the stragglers for her, with everyone (including Jackie and the group of people following me) completely obviously to the fact that I literally just tried to escape them to leave them to their own ha!

The rest of the night was an absolute blast! People bought me beers, I continued to meet some really cool people, and I chatted to Mardy and Phil when I had some free time. Great stuff. I got pretty hammered by the end but did somehow continue to do my job, so that rocked. At my suggestion I even got the crowds to chant to Jackie "Aaron is doing a really awesome job and deserves to work every week!" haha!

At the last club I helped out with the Paper-Scissor-Rock finals, then grabbed some late night pizza with Mardy, and at 2am the club closed its doors and it was time to go home.

Now that was an absolutely legendary night!

And at the end of it all? I got paid! I had just had one of the most fun nights in my entire trip and had actually made money doing it... that's the dream!

Definitely a highlight of the trip for sure.

19 July 2012

The accommodation saga - Part two

The story continues from yesterday where after initially thinking I was to be staying at Phil's house for the whole week I suddenly find my plans completely in shambles and was struggling to find accommodation at the San Francisco hostels for Friday and Saturday night. There still appears to be absolutely no rooms available in any hostel.

I awoke this morning to faltering faith on what this day will bring. We begin 9.30am Friday.

In an effort to save money I decided to wake up early so I could take advantage of my hostels free pancakes in the morning. I pulled myself out of bed and stumbled my way to the kitchen... it was packed... and they ran out of pancake mixture before my turn came up. Today was not starting well.

A cursor for how the rest of the day may go perhaps?

James, Millie and I checked out of our current hostel. They had another hostel booked that they were to be staying at for the next few days, and I obviously still had no where to go so I just hung around the hostel, using their Wi-Fi. I gave a (hopefully) heartfelt thank you to James and Millie as they left, without them my previous night would have been miserable. They said they were spending the day at a sports bar to watch the Euro Cup 2012 (soccer) and said if I sort my accommodation out in time, I should go meet them there at midday.

We shall see...

I spent the next hour debating with myself on what the hell should be my next move to sort this situation out. As of this moment I am literally stranded with no accomodation for the following two night.

Suddenly, I envision my first plan!

The airport...

If I have no where to stay, I was going to sleep at the airport. It isn't great, but it will do.

Let's call that... Plan G, and try and think of better alternatives before it gets to that stage. My options that I could think of were, in order of preference:

Plan A: Keep checking the hostel booking website and see if something comes up
Plan B: Hopefully get a reply from one of the very many couch surfing requests I sent out
Plan C: Send messages out to all my new San Francisco friend's who have their own accomodation (there is only about... 2 or 3 of them...)
Plan D: Walk around to each hostel and ask them if they have room (that often works I am told)
Plan E: Don't have one, but I refuse to have 'the airport' as my number 5 preference...
Plan F: See Plan E
Plan G: The airport. Seriously if I end up here, it will be a new low for this trip... ha!

I had already initiated Plan A, B and C, and had nothing left to do but wait and hope for them. Plan D I should probably do immediately if I have any chance of it working. Time was of the essence! I spent about an hour in limbo, waiting for something to happen, wondering what I should do.

James and Millie's words ring through my head "we are going to be in a pub having a beer"...

Hmm... walk around to each hostel asking if they have rooms, potential solving this dilema... or go have some beers in the middle of the day with two new friends and risk missing a window of opportunity to get a room for the night and end up stranded?..





10 minutes later I find James and Millie at the pub =D

First round is on me guys!

I am an extremely optimistic guy. It is a huge fault of mine but also one of my greatest qualities. Something was bound to come up, I just knew it, so I happily sat with James and Millie and enjoyed a few beers while watching the soccer. These two rocked and we had an awesome time. An hour went by and still nothing, and I am wondering where the hell has Phil got to? I messaged him explaining my situation, but I haven't heard anything from him at all. I thought we were friends...

Ah well, all good, something is bound to present itself I'm sure of it.

Another hour went by and it was nearing 2.30pm by this stage. Despite keeping a brave face in front of James and Millie, I was starting to get a little nervous I admit. The airport was starting to look pretty likely...

Suddenly, I get a call... it's Mardy! Remember Mardy? Probably not! He is some guy I met in my hostel room who I invited to come to the hostel pub crawl last week with Isabel and I. I barely knew the guy to be honest but when you are in a bind then any help you can get is welcomed. What's this? He says he would be happy to have me stay at his appartment! ARE YOU KIDDING ME! How does this luck happen!?

Problem solved!

The luck involved in all of this is unreal, what if I hadn't met Mardy (highly likely), or if I hadn't invited him to the pub crawl as it was only on a whim that I did (and that is where we first talked the most... well enough to warrant becoming Facebook friends that is), or what if Mardy hadn't gone and got this apartment (also extremely likely, he only got it because he made friends with the owner by chance).

And the best part? His apartment is literally on a tiny island in the bay of San Francisco... called Teasure Island! Ha!

Absolute life saver!

With all the pressure off it was time to enjoy the day. With James and Millie we explored the city a little, James and I won a t-shirt in a golf putting competition, and we had some cake. I really wish I had met them much sooner, for they were to be leaving for Las Vegas the following day. Ah well, again I am reminded of the curse of travel.

Thanks guys! You couldn't have entered my life at any more of an opprtune moment then you did =)
So out of no where, despite all despair, a solution presented itself. I am going to enjoy my time on Teasure Island and really just take it one day at a time.

18 July 2012

The accommodation saga - Part one

With Phil, Mitch and Isabel now gone I was pretty bummed that last week had ended, and kind of refrained from talking to anyone and simply enjoyed my own company for a while at the same time too. Eventually after four days of complete solitude I decided it was time to emerge from my catacomb of despair and get moving again. Awesomely Phil offered that I could stay at his house for a couple of days, something I was highly appreciative of. For one it would be fantastic to hang out with Phil and Mitch again, and secondly the amount of money I would save would be substantial.

This is going to be great!

It was a welcome sight to see these two guys, Phil was great and made me feel at home. That night we were all going to go to see a baseball game, cool.

Watching the SF Giants versus... some other team
I still didn't think it was any more fun than the last time I went to a game... but it was fun with the right company.

That night things took a turn for the worse. It was Tuesday night and Phil had said I was welcome to stay in his apartment for a week so that's what I figured I'd be doing for the week. This however was only possible because Phil was of the understanding that his yet to arrive housemate wasn't due for another two weeks. Yeah... we found out later that night that she was to now be arriving the following day, yikes! Sigh... time to leave already.

Finding hostels at the last minute can be tricky so first thing Wednesday morning Mitch and I were busy trying to book hostels. Found places for Wednesday and Thursday but could not for the life of me find a place for Friday or Saturday night. Hmm... this will be interesting. Phil said he would talk to this new roommate once she arrived and see if it would be alright if I come stay just Friday and Saturday night at least.

Cool, that sounds positive.

Thursday arrived and I was fairly confident that Phil would message me any moment to let me know that me staying Friday and Saturday night would be fine (I wouldn't think me sleeping on the couch for a night or two would be a big deal). Strangely during the day I had a huge epiphany as I suddenly realized that I don't have to stay in San Francisco whatsoever and am literally free to move elsewhere whenever I please if I either don't like it here anymore or if things get too tough. It was very refreshing, almost as if I had forgotten that I am not bound to San Francisco in any way. It got me thinking, maybe it is time to move on? We shall see.

Yeah... Thursday night Phil sends me a message saying "sorry, but you can't stay over"


I now didn't have any accommodation booked for the following two nights, with the hostel booking website telling me that every hostel in San Francisco is completely booked out... sigh. This was easily one of the worst holes I have dug myself into on this entire trip.

And to top all of this off? My self cooked dinner turned into easily one of the worst things I have ever cooked in my entire life. It was ridiculous. How anyone manages to stuff up throwing together egg noodles with capsicum, onions and tomato is beyond me, but somehow I managed. The noodles tasted like glue and they stuck together like glue too... and I for some reason boiled enough noodles for I think the entire hostel.

Now I was stressed and hungry!

I decided to sign up for CouchSurfing.org because I was running out of options, sending out literally about 15 requests for housing. And I sent another message to Phil saying basically I am stuck and if he could somehow reconsider his previous refusal then that would be great. Nay, not great, but life-saving! Then after all that I re-checked the hostel booking website incase something had opened up... something had! But it was $50 for the night... sigh, that will be Plan B.

Hang on... how is that Plan B? I don't even have a Plan A!

As I was typing up this very post actually, two new people walked into my hostel room... oh great, I was enjoying being alone where I am free to yell and curse at my computer as much as I please.

It is a couple... they say hi.

"Hey..." I mumble back in reply. Not in a rude way, but not in a conversation inviting way either.

The girl doesn't get the hint and tries to keep talking anyway, asking me a bunch of questions. I answer them without much thought... it was the same set of questions I have been asked literally hundreds of times by now "Where are you from?" "What brings you to America?".


I was obliged to ask questions in return. They answer, making me laugh a little with their replies, cool. Actually, no, not cool. This is no time for laughing! This is a serious time reserved for sitting at my laptop in a foul mood, sending CouchSurfing requests and stalking the hostel booking website!

The guy goes to the bathroom and the girl starts her question asking again. I answer them and turn back to my computer, eager to return to my grumbling ways. But I paused to think for a moment and I realized something... "these guys are way friendlier then the usual traveler". I had decided they were awesome.

Me to her "Ha, I have to say, you guys are much friendlier then most of the people I meet"

She laughs. "Oh, are people in San Francisco not nice or something?"

Me: "No no, everyone I meet are usually great, but you two just seem more friendly then most. Especially despite my less than jovial mood."

The guy returns, I decide to stop being an ass and make an effort to chat to them. My assumption was correct, these two rocked =D

Their names were James and Millie, a young couple from England whom have already traveled to Australia and New Zealand and were now on their American leg of their trip, very cool! They were indeed two of the nicest people I have yet to meet on my entire trip and talking to them was just so casual and down to earth, it was extremely refreshing and the perfect distraction from my predicament.

Not for one moment did I think that this day was going to end on even remotely a high.

During our talks they told me of a website called HelpX where farms, motels, and even families who require your help will offer accommodation and food in exchange. It was just earlier this very day too that I had had the thought that maybe it is time to move on from San Francisco... maybe this is my next move? The place I am meant to be?

It was now well past midnight and I knew that there was to be a tough day ahead for me with still no accommodation lined up, so it was time to sleep.

Will see what happens in the morning I guess... the story continues here.

11 July 2012

Avoiding the world, looking for jobs

Our wine tour of Napa Valley yesterday was ridiculously amazing and really capped off an absolutely incredible week here in San Francisco, with Isabel being there for all the best moments. After all the fun I've had over the week with her however, it is time for her to leave. Sigh. She isn't going home just yet at least and will be instead traveling around America for a few weeks before returning back to San Francisco temporarily before flying back home to Portugal. Still, it sucks regardless. We hung out on her last day, having lunch with some friends of hers who were visiting the city, followed by a surprisingly fun time while doing laundry in the evening.

All too soon it was suddenly 5pm. I helped carry her bags to where the bus was to be picking her up, said my goodbyes, forgot all the stuff that I wanted to say like I always do when I say goodbye to people, wished her all the best, gave her a very big hug, and walked away.

And that was that. The days ahead already feeling darker.

I will see her again in a few weeks at least which is something to look forward to. Granted if I am to still be here by then, who knows? With Isabel now gone, and Phil and Mitch now across the bay i Berekely, it changes my position here in San Francisco somewhat.

It has been quite some time since I was last on my own actually, it somehow never ever seems to last long. When my parents left me (over a month ago now... wow, I've been here a month!) I traveled into downtown San Francisco and met Brendan and Andy within my first two days. Both of whom I ended up having a great few days with. Then amazingly the very night that Andy was to leave and I was to be alone again is when I met Vincent, and we all know how awesomely that turned out. Then almost like clockwork just as Vincent was about to leave is when I met Isabel, Phil and Mitch, resulting in one of the best weeks of my entire trip.

Three weeks of constant amazing company with irreplaceable memories and experiences. It truly was a whirlwind of adventure.

But with all those people now gone I am back to being on my own, spending my hours sitting on my laptop either in the confines of my room or at my day time hideaway; the Starbucks around the corner that has Wi-Fi. To, you know... look for jobs like I am meant to be doing. I know something will come up any moment, as it always seems to do almost magically this entire trip, but for now I am more than happy to just enjoy my own company.

I've mentioned this countless times before, although I think I summed it up best in this post here, but it truly has been, and always will be, the people I meet that make my time spent on this trip worthwhile. Kings Canyon, the Grand Canyon, atop the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles, were all absolutely amazing places and an experience in their own right of course, yet it has always been because of the people around me that makes this trip so memorable. All the funny jokes, the great stories of peoples' interests and experiences in life, the rounds of beer at the pub, the exploring of city streets, and the countless other happenings that go on behind the scenes.

It wouldn't be so bad if I myself was on the move, but with me staying in the one place for so long (San Francisco for the time being) it makes it appear worse. A revolving door of people walking into your life, changing it, then walking out again as freely as the wind.

But with all that said I would like to say a big thank you to Isabel for becoming one of the greatest additions to my San Francisco adventure. I very much look forward to her return in a few weeks time, although I honestly have no idea what I will be doing or where I will be by then, or even if I will even still be in the city. I can't even tell you what I will be doing in three days time to be honest.

This trip is an adventure and is truly an experience of the unknown, and I must treat it as such.

05 July 2012

Napa Valley wine tour with a professional

Wow. Just wow. Today I was with my new group of friends on what turned out to be a day to remember for a long time to come indeed. You know the group by now; Phil, Mitch and of course Isabel, the great group whom I have had some of the best fun with over the last week or so at hostel pub crawls and jazz nights. These guys have been great, sometimes I feel I could live here like this forever.

Anyways, moving on

So yes, today was an amazing day for our little group of ours got a free guided tour of California's Napa Valley wine country from a professional wine tour guide, sweet! The tour guide's name is Julien, one of Phil's roommates in Phil's new apartment, who graciously offerred to take us around on one of his days off. What luck!

Joining us also for the day was Phil's cousin Adare (I don't know, something like that), and her friend Camilla (I think?)... who both had flown in from Canada to San Francisco for a week break and to visit Phil. Cool.

The day started early... at 9am we were meant to have met up with Mitch to all be at Phil's by 10am. Erghhhh... not good. 9am is damn early when you remember the fact that it was only last night that Isabel and I were out at the hostel pub crawl that I talked about in the last post... ha! Far out waking up was tough... both Isabel and I had quite the hang over (although Isabel was much worst, most likely due to the Tequila shots ha!) but we managed. Mitch was really surprised when we rocked up to his hostel only 20 minutes late, he was convinced we would have been much later due to our late night.

Mitch, Isabel and I straight off the train and on our way to Phil's house. What fantastic weather!
After a lengthy delay from the late arrivals of Adare and Camilla... and also the fact that Phil hadn't even booked the hire car yet, we we're finally off, sweet!

Views on the drive, we are getting close now!
Julien (our guide for the day) was to be taking us to numerous different wineries, all of which are some of his personal favourites. First up was this place below (I don't know what any of them are called) and wow, what a nice place it was.

Turns out this place had some kind of private function on for the day however so we couldn't go inside, so after some quick photos of the outside it was time to move to the next place.

Now this place was amazing.

Wow... what a life. Here the 6 of us sat down in the peaceful shade of an umbrella for easily over an hour, thoroughly enjoying being surrounded by prestine rolling hills of the most vivid shades of greens. Shades that clashed brilliantly with the piercing baby blue of the perfect cloudless sky, with an ever so slight cooling breeze to help combat the high temperature sunny day. All while drinking world class wine, of course.

What a great day
The wine has arrived
Me, Isabel and Mitch
The group enjoying the perfect day. Camilla, Adare, me, Isabel, Mitch and Julien
Pure bliss.

Now I'll be honest here and say... I don't even like wine! Give me a beer or some vodka any day. But here I was getting driven around world class wineries, on a guided tour from a professional, sitting next to world class vineyards, drinking world class wines... I could taste the irony in every glass. Or maybe that is just how wine tastes?

I wouldn't know.

The others were all smiles and deep analysis everytime a new wine was bought out.

"Oh wow, this one is so much sweeter than the last!"

"Yep, this one is by far my new favourite of the day!"

Phil at times... hmm, let me rephrase that. Phil the entire day I thought was literally about to explode he was that excited over the taste of the wines. One of them he completely flipped out over for like 10 minutes, and that was without even tasting it! The smell alone he thought was just the most insane and intriguing thing he had ever experienced. I had a taste, and couldn't tell the difference from the one five minutes ago.

Despite my far from matured tastebuds I was more than happy to be spending the day with some great people, and to be able to experience a place and lifestyle I would of never have had the chance to otherwise. After the place shown above it was time to move on again, although with great reluctance. This day is going great!

This next place I thought was pretty cool, the architechure of the building was really cool with a stone brick outside and polished wood for the interior.

The rolling hills were amazingly immersive, the colours and the freshness of it all created for a really peaceful experience... and I guess having downed a few glasses of wine helps with that feeling also of course ha.

The view from the back veranda... very cool indeed
Everyone freaked out at how good the wines were at this place. Again, I thought they were the same ones as we had already had. I didn't know what was going on ha! But I was more than happy to just follow along and enjoy the day anyway.

The gang. Me, Mitch, Phil, Adare (?), Camilla (?), Julien and Isabel enjoying some free wine
Our tour guide Julien was fantastic, he definitely knew his stuff that's for sure. He could go into immense detail into everything from the process that every different kind of wine goes through when made, all the different ingredients utilized, why the vineyards are placed where and how they are, and so much more. It was very impressive. And we all agreed that the day wouldn't have been anywhere near as good without him... most likely we would have spent half our time lost really.

After a very elaborate 5 course entourage of different wines at this place it was getting late in the day by this stage and there was still more to see, thus it was time to move on once more.

This next place was just about my favourite for the day, the atmosphere it offered stood slightly above the others I thought, although they were all of course amazing. This one was nestled away in between a lake and countless vineyards, with mountains off in the distance on both sides. Very cool.

Surprise shot of Mitch
Thought I'd attempt some artistic shots of the inside

Our view for the hour, with more wines to come

I stopped drinking wine by this stage (I'll be honest... these ones weren't free unlike the previous places thus I was cheap and didn't want to spend the money) so I simply sat back and enjoyed the tranquility. The entire setting was really impressive, easily allowing for another hour of the day to drift in the most perfect way.

While sitting I got thinking (as one often does). I felt pretty lucky to be here, especially as I know a lot of other people (ones who actually appreciate wine for example...) would have absolutely loved to have had the chance to experience a guided tour on a perfect weather day such as this. Thoughout the day I had to remind myself how I got to be here... it is quite a big change from my life back in Australa that's for sure.

A winery we saw on the drive home
After some fun driving through the mountains it was time to head back to Phil's house in Berkeley (across the bay from San Francisco). We cooked a BBQ, listened to some music and had a bit more wine, then it was time for Isabel and I to return to San Francisco, feeling absolutely exhausted but content.

And that, I am proud to say, was our day! Definitely one to add to the highlights list that's for sure.

Phew... I'm tired. Pub crawl last night, wine tour today... travel is tough!

04 July 2012

I'm an idiot. Also, another week, another pub crawl

I am not the sharpest guy in the world at times. I somehow seem to... create situations that are not very favourable for myself. Or are just plain stupid.

So with travel being damn expensive and the fact that I have a 1-year Work Visa, I should probably be working by now. That isn't to say I haven't been trying to get a job! On the contrary I have sent dozens upon dozens of emails and handed out heaps of resume's... to no avail. Although it appears that subconsciously I don't truly want a job, because I seem to make blatant and crucial mistakes, frequently hindering my progress... one of which I only just discovered.

Back in April (we are now June...) I made a basic job cover letter, purposely making it rather generic to start out with so whenever I needed to write a new cover letter I would simply make a copy of this original one, change a few words and paragraphs here and there, and send it off, saving me the trouble of creating a brand new one each time I needed one. Little did I know that all this time there was a slight typo in the first word on the original copy... thus all consequent copies would of course also carry this same mistake:

"Dead Sir/Madam"

See the mistake? DEAD Sir/Madam? How does that go unnoticed for two months!? It kind of changes the tone and intent of the introduction of the job cover letter I would say.

I have no idea how many people I sent this out to.

This to be honest actually made me laugh quite hard. They wouldn't be able to tell if I am applying (poorly) for a job, or sending subtle death threats. Sigh... I worry about myself sometimes.

Another disappointing moment happened soon after. So, when my parents came to America for a holiday a few weeks ago I asked for them to bring me a few items over that would be useful that I had left at home. One in paticular was my suit jacket, in the hope that if I ever had a job interview I'd at least have one nice piece of clothing to wear.

Yeah... I kind of lost it... I think I forgot it in one of my hostel rooms.

It was a little worrying how long it took me to realize I had lost it. At least a week had passed until suddenly I was like "hang on... didn't I have a suit jacket with me?".

So now I am without a suit jacket, as well as establishing my name among the San Francisco employers as being a poor spell checker and/or possibly dangerous.

I am just not meant to have a job it appears.

But whatever, I am having too much fun to be thinking about jobs! Another Wednesday has rolled around and that means another pub crawl, sweet! With Phil now living across the bay in Berkeley, and Mitch staying with him for a while, they weren't going to join us, so it was just going to be Isabel and I. Fine by me. But then awesomely an old friend of Isabel's from her time spent volunteering at the nature parks a few months back, Anna, had just arrived in the city that day so she was to be joining us, cool. And just a few hours beforehand I made friends with a new guy in my hostel room, Mardy, who seemed cool so I invited him along, making a great group of four to go out for the night.

Yep, the night rocked!

Below are photos of us that were posted on the the pub crawl's Facebook page. You might be confused by some of our hand formations in the photos, the explanation being that there was a Paper-Scissors-Rock tournament on during the night. Ha! Unlike last week's pub crawl where we didn't care about the tournament one bit, this time we decided to join in the fun, and what fun it was!

Also... you might notice I am wearing one colour shirt but then a different one later on. Somewhere during the night I won a shirt ha!

Me winning the game with my well placed scissors!
Far out Isabel makes me laugh so much =)
Mardy, Me, Isabel (a Tequila shot down at this stage), random guy, Anna (also a Tequila shot down), random guy
Turns out I am pretty good at Paper-Scissors-Rock, and I made it to the final 4! I was pretty buzzed on beers by this stage however and was just having an absolute blast dancing stupidly with Mardy, Isabel and Anna, so I didn't pay much attention and ended up losing the semi-finals! Noooo!

It was a tough loss... but I think I survived the loss quite easily judging by the pictures of the rest of the night.

The final four! Ha Anna's smile makes me laugh. The douche with his tongue out won the tournament...
Then Isabel jumped in on the fun haha! Anna's face is priceless ha! What's with the douche who won the tourmanent's face?
Then it was time for everyone to jump in! What a great night!
Wow, great times! The club came to a close and kicked us out soon after. Luckily for us just across the road is a late night pizza shop... so. much. win!

Isabel was extremely tipsy by this stage (I think having her friend Anna here changed her drinking habits just slightly =P) and was off chatting to randoms, leaving Mardy and I to chat amongst ourselves. I'd only known Mardy for a few hours by that stage but he was actually really great company so that was cool, we got along extremely well. Perhaps I will see him around more from now on. He is also going to be sticking around San Francisco for a month or more too which is awesome because with him, plus Phil, that now makes two long term San Francisco friends =) Which is a big deal when traveling as most friends you make never stick around longer than three days...

So that was my second hostel pub crawl! A ridiculous amount of fun! And you can see why I am struggling to find a job =)

I wanted to save this picture for last because seriously, it is an awesome photo =)

An unexpected photo of me and Isabel laughing about who knows what =)

02 July 2012

Conquering the San Francisco hills with Isabel

Today was a really cool day. After our big win at pool tables the other day with Mitch and Sergio, Isabel and I spent the following day at our usual hang out, Starbucks, enjoying their sandwiches and free Wi-Fi (and I guess I applied for a job or two). During our chats the topic of Lombard Street came up. Lombard Street you will most likely be aware of but simply do not know the name, it is the iconic, extremey steep and bended street in San Francisco.

Alas our plan for the following day was set, sweet.

We woke up early, met up, and set off down the extremely hilly and long trek, taking countless photos along the way on a day with the clearest of skies, laughing and chatting the whole way as one does when in great company. Thus began the beginning of a really epic day.

I will let my photos do most of the talking, and I am sure you will agree that they have much to say.

The streets of San Francisco are fantastic

The hills...
Spirits were high

Bay Bridge (not the Golden Gate Bridge)
That's Alcatraz Island over there

Every single city block had a new photo opportunity even more amazing than the last, I would easily rank this place as one of my favourite places in the world in all my travels thus far. Although don't think this was just a nice relaxing walk through the streets of San Francisco on a perfect weather day... the hills were brutal. It had taken us nearly an hour to go only like 2km due to a mixture of wanting to stop every 100m for a photo, and the near vertical hills at every corner.

Isabel wondering if the hills ever end
Finally we made it to our originally intended destination... Lombard Street! Was it worth it? Not really! But we couldn't leave the city without seeing it at least once I guess. Turns out every other tourist in the whole of San Francisco couldn't leave without seeing it at least once either, the place was crazy packed. My photos below are the best ones that don't have crowds of people in the way, nor crazy Chinese tourists literally bumping me with their shoulders to move me out the way so they can get the shot they wanted, ha!

Lombard Street, San Francisco

Although it did make for some amazing photos and views from the top.

A small corner of San Francisco spread out below as far as the eye can see
With the excitement of a steep and bendy street out the way (oh man, my heart was racing from the awe it inspired...), it was time for lunch. Yay... another 1km stretch of downhill road to follow. Travel is tough guys!

After some shaky legs and sore feet, lunch had arrived!

Clam chowder in bread for lunch. It was really nice.
Lunch I'd have to say was one of my favourite parts of the day. Isabel has quickly become one of my best friends on the entire trip, we get along extremely well and she seriously just brightens my day. Since her arrival a few days ago we have already had a blast, having an epic night out at the pub crawl the other day, then hanging out at Starbucks for just about everyday since (while I search for jobs), the very cool Jazz night a few days ago at Phil's house, and of course our legendary come-from-behind win at pool tables the night before. All being amazingly fun times with her.

When traveling with people, even if you spend a while together (which in travel terms, anything longer then 3 days is considered a while) you still know pretty much nothing about the people you are spending time with. Sore from the ridiculously tough hills of San Francisco we were in no rush to leave the comfort of the tables while eating lunch, so it was great to spend time to discover more about her life back home (she is from Portugal, but lives in Spain), what she hopes to do upon returning home now that she has been on this amazing America adventure, not to mention what she wants to do with her life now also. There was also a lot of talk about our pasts, something I am always interested in listening about, people always have such fascinating stories.

But anyway, enough about that I guess.

After lunch we went down to an art gallery showing nature photography of an artist named Rodney Lough Jr which was amazing. For an hour Isabel and I drifted through this amazing collection, utterly engulfed in another world separate from reality. It was so surreal to again walk back outside, and feeling that we had just walked out of another dimension. Wow.

With the aim to avoid the tousist areas (as they were far too busy), we let our feet and the wind take us along to a place called Fisherman's Wharf, simply exploring and enjoying the day.

A closer view of Alcatraz Island. Pretty awesome!
Oh yeah! Well I know how everyone loves when I write about the history of places (right? Of course. Like that time I wrote about the history of Golden Gate Park! This blog is both entertaining and educational!), so I have some way cool facts about Alcatraz Prison that I have picked up from talking to people of late (I have yet to visit Alcatraz... I can't quite justify the $28 or so price for entry).

Anyways, so obviously Alcatraz used to be a prison until... 1980 or something (I made that number up), and it has been reported that there has only ever been one successful escape, although it is unknown if the escapee survived or drowned because a body was never found. While the island itself isn't too far from mainland (I'd guess no more than 1km), the waters are ice cold and can be quite treacherous, but I would say it is still possible for someone to traverse.

Now what the prison managers used to do to prevent the chance of an escape was two things (probably others but this is what I remember). Firstly, they would feed the prisoners a high sugar, low protein diet, preventing them from building muscle, yikes. Muscle that could be used to help them swim away of course. That is terrifying! But genius at the same time. The second prevention tactic was providing only hot water for their showers, so as to not let the prisoners get used to cold water (such as the ice cold waters surrounding the island). Insane! It is extremely clever, but so cold and heartless, to manipulate people in such a way. Morality aside I still thought it was still some really interesting facts (and now you do too!).

Anyways, returning back to our day, it was time to explore the rest of the wharfs.

Random shot Isabel surprised me with

Isabel with Alcatraz Island and the bay in the background
Me with Alcatraz Island and the bay in the background
It was absolutely freezing by that stage, then by chance we found what I would say was the one warm spot on the whole wharf. The sun was shining in the one spot and the buildings shielded us from the wind, win! We sat down for ages listening to music, Isabel almost literally falling asleep ha.
Travel Buddy enjoying our warm spot, looking as grumpy as ever
Ah, yes. Travel Buddy had been with us the whole day, yet despite the many photos I took of him throughout the day... they sucked. Although that is of no fault of my own, I have noticed of late that Travel Buddy is always grumpy... look at that face, he just doesn't seem to be happy to spend the day out in the sun! How can I take good photos when he is in a state such as that? I might have to change his name to Grumpy Buddy or something. I think if he just smiled a bit more to be honest, you guys could see a lot more of him!

Although if he doesn't change his mood soon and start participating in this adventure, he'll soon be known as Floating In The San Francisco Bay Buddy! =P

San Francisco bay
And that my friends, was our day.

I think we left just before midday, and the sun was starting to fall by this stage. Hanging out with Isabel is one of my favourite things to do of late, and it just funny how random it is for us to have become such great friends, yet here we are. I think this day is definitely one for the Highlights list, I cannot express enough how nice of a day it was.

Alas it was time to walk the crazy hills back the way we had come...