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17th August – Tuesday

My final day in SF was spent without Emily, but rather with Shara and Peggy, two girls staying in our hostel room. Shara was from southern California, and Peggy is a journalist from France, who was doing research for an article she was going to write.

After spending what seemed like an eternity trying to get hold of the University of New Mexico to make arrival plans for the next day, the three of us hit the streets and headed for the Mission District.

Let me tell you now, the Mission was a bit bland during daylight hours, and we quickly skipped along to the Haigh-Ashbury District for some lunch (mmm sweet potato chips) and a bit of exploring.

From there, we stumbled across the Golden Gate Park, which we took our time strolling through, as there was so much to see (and so much we didn’t even have time to see!).

There were squirrels, strange plants, an indoor carousel and a very VERY long bench that had to be photographed because I knew no one would believe me otherwise.

As we made our way through the park, we discovered a display of flowers around a building that looked distinctly Indian (as in from India, not Native American), which I was thrilled by – as we all know how much I love India!

As the afternoon rolled on, we made our way back to the hostel where Shara was picked up by her friends, and Peggy wandered off to have a beer. I met back up with Emily, and we went for dinner with the other Australian girls at a neat little restaurant called Pinocchio’s that dished up some of the best gnocchi I’ve ever had.

It was a nice final day in San Fran, and I was excited about Albuquerque, but very sad to leave such a perfect city behind.

18th August – Wednesday

We were up at 3am for a disgustingly early shuttle pick up and the horrible 6am flight to Denver, with a short stop-over before hitting Albuquerque. More on that later.

x

Monday 16th August, 2010

First thing that morning Emily and I wandered over to the Union Street shops again. We like shopping way too much. 😛

From there, we headed for the Golden Gate Bridge, as we felt it necessary to make the trek (which, infact, isn’t really a trek at all) across one of the most famous bridges in the world. It was incredibly exciting to see it up close, considering it had often been covered in fog on the other days we had been able to see it off the coast of the San Fran bay area.

After the obligatory tourist photos, we started our walk across the bridge. The view was spectacular, and watching the fog roll down the moutains to sit over San Fran was spectacular – especially as the further the fog got from the mountains, the darker grey it became – which made me wonder about pollution in the city, considering its green efforts.

About half way along, Emily and I asked a nice lady to take a photograph of us on the bridge, with a view of the city behind us. She picked up on our accents quite quickly, and we ended up walking the rest of the way across the bridge with her. The lady’s name was Patty and she was training for a marathon-walk for charity, and was in town visiting her son, so decided to train on the bridge.

Patty was a lot of fun and it wasn’t long before we reached the end of the bridge. More obligatory tourist photos.

After a bit of a rest (as it is still a fair trek, just not as long as you expect it to be), the three of us decided to head back. Well, it turns out there was a man hanging off the side of the bridge (as it is one of the most popular sucide spots in the world, unfortunately) and the police had blocked off a large portion of the pedetrian access to the bridge, so we had to turn back shortly before we hit the half-way mark. (So in total, we technically walked the entire length of the bridge… just in a weird way.)

Stranded, and with Emily’s netball injured knee acting up, it was Patty to the rescue! She phoned her husband and son, who drove out to collect us and return us to the city side of the bridge.

They were all very sweet, and took us on a mini-tour of the city, which included a drive down Lombard St – the crookedest street in the world (well, a small section of it is) before returning us safely to the hostel for the evening.

That evening was spent in the hostel playing drinking games and card games with a new group of Australian’s and Brit’s that had shown up – two girls from Brisbane called Elise and Sophie, who were really cool, and a variety of boys from England, who entertained us until the wee hours of the morning, when I decided it was very much time for bed as I was passing out.

x

Saturday 14th August 2010:

We were up relatively early on the Saturday, as we had places to be, people to see and things to do!
After stuffing ourselves with the free bagel breakfast, Emily, Kim and I headed back to Pier 39 to pick up our Alcatraz tickets for later that day. We were super excited.

However, having time to kill, Emily and I headed for the Haight-Ashbury and Castro districts of SF, the queer heart of the queerest city on earth. Boy was I excited!

Oh and it was amazing, the shopping was spectacular (I spent too much), the people were so trendy and the vibe was unbelievably cool: you can be anyone in Haight-Ashbury and the Castro, there is no prejudice. This was definately my kind of city.

We wandered through Haight-Ashbury first, down a sweet-deal little street of quirky little shops and crazy-coloured houses, and I saw my first rainbow flag. It was about bloody time, I was surprised I hadn’t seen any earlier: this was SF afterall. I managed to resist several headbands, mostly because they would be CRUSHED in my suitcase, but decided then and there I would be back… You can’t keep me and a hair accessory apart forever!

From there, the Castro was just over yet another SF hill (these people don’t do anything straight), and was a flurry of rainbow flags and outrageously trendy people. We got stopped by a girl petitioning for equal marriage rights, who wanted donations. Being a bit of a scab, but feeling for the cause, I handed over a few dollars. She noticed I had more in my wallet, but my nifty quick skillz had me handing it over to Emily claiming I “owed her money”, which Emily, with equally-nifty quick skillz, took from me, playing along perfectly. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to donate more, it was really that at the end of the day I was a student tourist: I am on a super budget, and it’s something I’d rather support at home, as I have more of a voice there.

Oh I didn’t want to leave the Castro, I bought a million inappropriate cards and a super queer feather headpiece, and only wished I’d had more money and more space in my suitcase! I wanted to LIVE in the amazingness of all that was the Castro (please note friends: pack your bags, save your 5 cent pieces, we are moving!), especially after seeing the super cool monuments dedicated to Harvey Milk (first openly-gay elected official in the USA) and the super happy atmosphere surrounding the area. It was so unreal.

(On a side note: Emily and I also had our first giant slices of pizza that day. I am totally pro-giant slices of pizza, they are magical in all their pizza-y goodness.)

But we were on a strict time-schedule and had to leave to be at the docks for the boat to Alcatraz by 3:30! So we jumped on a train and headed back to the water.

We were actually a little earlier than expected, and spent time at the markets we stumbled upon after disembarking the train. We both spent more money. 😛 It was sweet deal.

We then realised we had probably killed a little too much time, and the pier was further down than expected, so we hastily made our way down the busy pier-strip towards the boat.

On our way, we were momentarily distracted by three men, wearing nothing but hats and shoes, and holding signs that absolutely no one was paying attention to for the fact that not only were these men totally naked, they were also 100% hairless. Not a single, tiny, little, itsy hair in sight. Sorry nudies, your protest signs were not very attention-grabbing, but your nudity sure was!

Turns out it is actually totally legal to walk around in SF naked, as long as you act completely normal and just go about your business like it’s not big deal. SF once again proved how magical it really is.

So after what seemed like forever, we finally made it to the pier, and found Kim who thought maybe we had ditched her. Not us! Never.

We jumped on the boat and made the journey to Alcatraz, which we were incredibly excited about.

Alcatraz is a small former-prison island sitting just off the coast of San Francisco. You’d think the escape would be easy – just jmp in the water and swim, it’s not that far! But the freezing conditions of the bay area, coupled with the rough water currents and many rocks made successful escape almost impossible, unless you had a death wish.

The audio tour was fascinating, it was lead by three former prison guards and three former inmates, who between them could recall most of the major events that occurred during the prisons’ operation: from rebellions to sneaky escapes to the fire-bombing of the old prison guard housing unit. Often the sound-effects from the audioguide were so realistic, I’d spin around, confused as to what was coming from where. I wasn’t alone in this either: I saw Kim and Emily, as well as other tourists, react similarly as they hit those moments on the tour.

I caught the second-last boat back to the mainland, in order to drop off some of the purchases I’d made which were finally taking their toll on my shoulders – before heading back to Pier 39 to meet Emily and Kim for dinner. (They caught the last boat back.)

We ate at a restaurant called Wipeout, where Emily got a serving of calamari so large that even though she ate herself stupid, it didn’t actually look like she’d made a dent in the pile at all. Kim’s dinner was also super-sized, although oddly mine was the only one that came in what could be considered a reasonable-sized portion. That meant I could finish it. 😛

We retreated back to the hostel, where a few drinks were downed before Emily and I left Kim (who went off with some others) to explore the surrounding clubs and pubs. Needless to say, it was a highly entertaining night. We started at the Saloon, which was full of very old people dancing to very cool blues music. The geriatric crowd actually managed to be incredibly trendy as well as really old-fashioned at the same time.

From there we hit up a gangsta-club, which was a little unnerving at first, as we wondered if maybe we’d stumbled in on some secret gang HQ, being the only white females in there. However, Emily quickly found someone to dance with and we were having fun until I had a super creepy man point to his crotch and tell me to ‘get in there’ – which was my cue to drag Emily away from her dancing partner and get the fuck out of there.

The Tiki-inspired bar a few doors up was our third and final stop, where everyone was sitting around having a drink. Not Emily and I! No, we decided we wanted to dance, and stood in the open-area towards the front and proceeded to dance our little hearts out. In fact, our obviously infectious dancing got other people up out of their seats for a bit of a boogie. Emily and Georgia: trendsetters.

After final call at the bar, we headed back up to the hostel, where two lovely Irish girls helped me get one very sleepy, slightly-sickly Emily up to bed. We were exhausted.

Sunday 15th August:

Having all had a big night, the three little girls slept late, and decided to spend the day shopping in Union Square (different to Union St), where we discovered a million-story tall Macy’s and the longest-strip of amazing shopping I’d seen since Oxford Circus in London.

Needless to say, we all went a bit credit-card crazy, and picked up some pretty sweet-deal new outfits. Hooray us!

Emily and I had a quick late lunch at a little cafe that was so slow and so rude we didn’t leave a tip. That’s whatchu get for messing with us! 😛

After we had exhausted both our credit cards and our feet, we headed back to the hostel for a pretty quiet night in with pineapple buns from China Town. Delicious.

xoxo

Friday 13th (oups! Black Friday!) August, 2010

With our new friend Kim (from Sydney, staying in the same room as us at the Green Tortoise) in tow, Emily and I headed for Pier 39, in the hopes of obtaining last minute tickets to Alcatraz. Success! Althoug they were not cheap. Excited by the idea of going to Alcatraz, but a little annoyed by the price, we headed down along the pier area, checking out the shops full of university merchandise and a fruit stand with some really unusually shaped peaches.

One thing in particular that caught our eye was the fact that seagulls here are SUPERSIZED! These guys were easily twice, if not more, the size of an Australian seagull, and their size made their determination for hot chips even more terrifying.

We were lucky enough to get free entry to the Aquarium, which was wicked sick and the three of us had a grand old time in our cardboard Aquarium “crowns”, taking photos of the fishes and sharks and other underwater animals. There was an open rockpool with very friendly sting rays that you could pat – but I wasn’t so keen on that, as I was pretty sure that’s how Steve Irwin died. No thank you.
Emily and Kim were keen, thankfully both survived, and we continued on our way.

The aquarium, it turns out, doesn’t just house fish, it also had a Hedgehog, some Chinchillas and a few other totally American animals that I’d never seen before. It also had what the sign referred to as a “Blue-Tongued Skink from Australia” – which I was quick to point out was infact a lizard, not a skink, thank you very much. But it was exciting to see something from home, as I used to have one living behind my rubbish bin in Karrinyup. Love those little suckers.

We also checked out the sealions, laying on the pier docks in the sunshine. Most of them were just chilling, however a small group of them were having a lovely time shoving eachother into the water and then trying to block the fallen sealions from rejoining the herd on the planks. They smelt funny, but were super cute.

From the pier, Emily and I parted ways with Kim, and headed off to wander the streets, and found ourselves strolling past Telegraph Hill and then through Fort Mason. We stopped to take photos of the amazing views over the water, and of a crazy shaped tree before heading into a little cafe called Greens for a quick drink.

Afterwards, we headed up towards the Union St shops (separate from Union Square), where we discovered Sephora (which stocks all major makeup brands at deliciously cheap prices) and had fun trying on outfits in LF, which was having a massive sale. (We didn’t buy anything though, as trying to find out size proved difficult.)

By this stage we were exhausted, as the thing about San Fran is that there is no such thing as a flat surface – every street is a hill, many of which are incredibly steep, and these had taken their toll on our poor little legs after the first day. (However, we were to go on to obtain buns of steel as a result of all the leg-work SF required of us, but more on that later.) We headed back to the hostel, up and down streets so steep that some even had stairs carved into them – stopping only for a quick peek into City Lights Bookstore, an institution in San Fran.

The hostel was offerring free dinner, and if it’s free, we’ll eat anything! It was pretty delicious and capped off a pretty sweet deal first day in San Francisco.

/end

Thursday 12th August 2010:

On the morning of our final day in LA, Emily and I headed down to the Fashion District… It was in the downtown area and was certainly a little shifty, especially as it was still quite early when we arrived. We wandered around and scored a few cute bracelets and some cheap socks, wondering why the travel guides raved so much about this area if all we could see was dodgy iPod cases and plastic figurines… We quickly realised we hadn’t quite hit the fashion district yet, but were still in generic Downtown.

The Fashion District is great… if you like rummaging for hours, but we had done so much of that at It’s a Wrap, where everything was so incredible, that the so called Fashion District felt like a little bit of a let-down – although I did buy a pretty sweet-deal headband at one little store.

We wandered a little more before realising it was high time we found a bus, as we had to get to Paramount Studios for our tour!

This was easier said than done, although we eventually hopped on a bus that told us it was going to Melrose Place (where the studios are located). It did get there… after a million years of driving through the underbelly of LA. We were concerned we were going to be late, and after accidentally hopping off the bus a stop early, found ourselves sprinting to the gate as we didn’t want to miss a second of the tour!

Well the fates looked kindly upon us that day and we arrived with time to spare – allowing Emily to buy a coffee and me to find some water.

Our tour guide was from Ohio, and one of the first things he did was list of the shows currently filming at the studio, Emily and I only knew Glee, but this was ok because we LOVE Glee and the tour guide was more than willing to indulge our obsession, pointing out everything Glee-related. It was great too, because the rest of the group were pretty passive and didn’t really seem all that interested in anything – we weren’t sure why they bothered to show up!

We were taken around the studios, saw the filming of a television program, met an actor from a new show that hasn’t aired yet (turns out he was the nephew of one of the families in our tour group) and saw sets being dismantled and reassembled.

We saw where Marcia Brady had her nose famously crushed by a rogue football in the Brady Bunch, we saw where Norma Desmond famously said “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” in Sunset Blvd and we sat on the bench from Forrest Gump. We were also lucky enough to walk through the set of a new show starring Chevy Chase and saw a small section of Law & Order (or was it NSIC?) being filmed.

But this was not nearly as good as the fact that the Glee Gods blessed our sick obsession with a day full of Glee-filled moments: our first was when we saw a truck labeled “Glee”, which was shortly before LEA MICHELE (Rachel) cycled by on the pink bicycle often seen in the show.

We were thrilled enough with that that we didn’t mind if we didn’t see anything else as exciting… but as our tour guide was explaining to us how the studio used a carpark as a “sea” or “river” (in films such as Benjamin Button), the Glee Gods blessed us again first with a sighting of Dianna Agron (Quinn) and Naya Rivera (Santana), both in Cheerio’s uniform (spoiler perhaps? as Quinn was kicked off the squad), and then Cory Monteith (Finn) wandered past…

But that wasn’t the end of our jaw-dropping, squee moments, no. Mere minutes later, most of the rest of the major cast (Kevin McHale – Artie, Jenna Ushkowitz – Tina, Amber Riley – Mercedes, plus Other Asian) drove by in a golf cart, before running onto set.

Unfortunately Em and I couldn’t take photos, but those moments are burned into our memories so well I hardly care that there is no physical record.

The only thing that could have made it better would have been a Chris Colfer (Kurt) or Jane Lynch (Sue Sylvester) sighting… But I’m not complaining.

After that we joked about sneaking onto the Glee-set, but it is so tightly patrolled it would have been impossible. Oh well…

We continued the tour, saw Ryan Murphy’s office (with his Golden Globe in the window), which is located right where many Brady Bunch scenes were filmed, and heard lots of really cool stories about how they adapt different parts of the film studio (like office fronts and staff car parks) into movie sets with little or no effort. (The main carpark is used as the McKinley High carpark in Glee)

Our tour ended with our guide (and new best friend) showing us the exact bench that Principal Figgin’s sat on to film the Mumbai Air DVT socks ad… Needless to say Emily and I felt compelled to sit on the bench, and we got our photograph taken.

Unquestionably, our day was pretty freaking perfect… Until we looked at the time and had to run back to the hostel, grab our bags and run to the train station to get to the airport. Our feet, backs and legs were nearly destroyed by the time we made it to the airport.

We finally got on the airplane and watched the Disney Channel on our way to San Francisco.

SAN FRANCISCO: Thursday evening.

Our first few hours in San Fran was probably the lowest point of our entire trip. The directions to the hostel suggested the walk wasn’t very far… But they lied. It was right up ontop of some of the steepest hills in the city, and with our heavy bags, we struggled to make it to the top. It felt like a thousands years before Emily finally spotted the GREEN TORTOISE sign. We were so excited… only to find we had to get up three more flights of stairs with our shit. Thank god the people inside were so helpful. (I totally recommend the Green Tortoise Hostel, just don’t walk from the train, pay a bit extra and take the shuttle! Your back will thank you!)

After finally being able to dump our luggage, Emily and I wandered down the road into a little burrito shop… that served $6 burritos as big as our forearms. Neither of us finished.

We called it quits not long after, exhausted from everything about the day gone by. Goodbye LA, hallo SF!

xoxox