A Travellerspoint blog

Muir Woods

sunny 20 °C

I was picked up early this morning by another Australian I've met on my way across America (this time an Austin Australian). We went to visit Muir Woods and the northern side of San Francisco Bay. The Woods are a National Park area. To get there we drove over the enormous Golden Gate Bridge. Muir Woods is home to tall redwoods trees that California is famed for. These redwoods weren't the towering monsters of Redwood National Park, but they would do the job. We hiked a loop of the woods, which took a couple of hours and involved navigating past a yellow striped snake!

We took the winding Highway 1 to Sausautito. This is the first time I've been a passenger in a car for a long time, and that combined with an empty stomach found me car sick. My big burger lunch was very welcome! We made our way back south to the Bridge, crossed over and were back in the city with enough time for me to pop to Union Square for some shopping (I've invested in an extra bag for my return journey, so I've not got an excuse for not spending some Dollar).

M

Posted by MattOGrady 23:33 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Berkeley

semi-overcast 16 °C

Not so long ago, but before I realised I didn't want to spend my life sitting exams, I had always thought of studying a form of post-graduate law abroad and always had UC Berkeley in mind. This idea wasn't diminished when I discovered that the legendary Sandy Cohen had studied law at Berkeley. Mostley inspired by him, I had dreamt of getting my own Berkeley sweater long before I came out here.

One of the Australians who I've been meeting up with and bumping into all along my travels is studying in Berkeley, so it was a great opportunity to hang out and get to see the University town with someone who knows it better than me. It was also really good to hear what they'd been up to since I last saw them.

I was shown around the natural sciences building (where there is a T-Rex fossil), got to see the library and went up the tall university clock tower (Sather Tower). We got up there at just about midday as the bells were tolling and the noise was absolutely deafening! The tower has a man who seems to live up there and who 'plays' the bells at appropriate times. I don't mean jumping up and down on bell ropes, there was a piano type instrument that he played for about thirty minutes at the time. I was told that one highlight was when he played Lady Ga Ga.

From the clock tower we went through Sather Gate, the historic site of protests on the university, whether it be over war or tuiton fees. From Sather Gate, and now with sweater in hand, we went up to the University's stadium. College sport in America here is incredible and the facilities available give the sports a professional appearance. It was no different at Berkeley. When we got to the stadium it wasn't deserted as we had expected, instead there was a football training session taking place. We stopped to watch it for a few minutes. It was a serious operation - even crowd noise was played over the stadium's PA system to recreate the likeness of match day.

We then picked up some beers and went back to my friend's place in Berkeley. He doesn't live in any ordinary kind of house, he had explained it to me long before, but now I was getting to experience it for myself. I doubt anyone back home will have encountered anything like it before, so I'll give it a brief note. He lives in a student cooperative called Casa Zimbabwe. What are student co-ops I hear you ask? On the whole campus co-ops accomodate over 1,000 students (in Casa Zimbabwe there are about 130). In return for lower rents, co-operative residents are required to perform work tasks in the house. These tasks are everything from cleaning bathrooms, emptying rubbish, clearing common spaces, cooking and washing. The members of the cooperative elect a council and senior positions in the community (such as President). These people are charged with selecting people to perform important tasks (you want the best people on cooking duty as they prepare food for everyone and everyone eats together) and of auditing accounts and allocating budgets. It is an interesting setup and definitely appears to be an experience to live in. Casa Zimbabwe has two separate wings with a communal area inbetween. All over the walls are murals and in some places written rants. I don't think I would do well living there, but I can definitely see how it would be an experience to do so and it was very interesting to just very briefly experience it and learn about it. We spent the rest of the afternoon on the house's roof drinking our bears and looking over San Francisco Bay towards the city.

M

Posted by MattOGrady 21:57 Archived in USA Comments (0)

San Francisco

semi-overcast 15 °C

I got on my way north to San Francisco at about 9:00am as the car had to be at San Francisco aiport at 11:00am. The drive was straightforwards and missable in comparison to last night's stunning route. The car dropped off I caught the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) into San Francisco.

I got to my hostel, burdened by my new bag to accommodate my shopping, before lunch. I was too early to check-in, so dropped my bags off and set about some early exploration. I was really in need of a haircut (I hadn't had it done since before I came out here). I didn't want to spend much money and was advised to head to Chinatown. So off I went to Chinatown and sure enough I found a place offering haircuts for $6 (that's just £3). There was immediately a language problem, but she got the idea that I needed serious work from my snipping hand gesture over my head. My biggest concern was whether she thought I had said 1 1/2 inches cut off or 1 1/2 inches long at the end. I told my self that it was all part of the experience and relaxed. Well it all turned out OK. I walked out with a smart haircut that any soldier in the Peoples' Republic's Army would be proud of. It was easily the best value for money haircut I've had. I pan to spend more time in Chinatown so didn't want to explore it today.

I went back to the hostel and checked in and spent the rest of the afternoon food shopping and more general shopping to help keep America out of a double dip recession. I can tell I'm falling for this city, which I suppose wouldn't be too hard after being in LA. It's fresh and combines New York's great diversity with an element of Boston's refined core. It's obviously an early judgment, but I don't think I'm going to prove wrong and I'm glad I'm spending quite some time here.

M

Posted by MattOGrady 21:28 Archived in USA Comments (0)

My Last Adventure

sunny 15 °C

Today would be my last adventure, my last drive in the United States and I would be doing on the iconic California's Pacific Highway 1. This morning I picked my car up from Los Angeles airport and soon made my way as the drive to the other side of the Big Sur would take at least six and upwards of seven and a half hours.

My first ports of call were Malibu beach and the beautiful beach town of Santa Barbera. It was whilst I was buying a postcard at the visitor centre there that one of the volunteers strongly advised me not taking the road as she didn't think I would be able to make the perilous route during daylight. I was undeterred, however, as the President saidsay, "I responded with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people, Yes We Can." Her stark caution did, however, prompt me to make tracks sooner than I had hoped to and my stop in Santa Barbera was relatively brief.

As I was making my way onto Highway 1 from the 101 signs starting flashing up announcing an accidnt on the cliff edge Highway 1 and advised taking a different route. I just wasn't prepared to do that. The whole reason I was driving to LA was because I wanted to experience the winding coastal path. I ploughed on and soon enough after Monterry I came into a queue of traffic. I was very fortunate, however, as after being there for perhaps ten minutes a police car came down the road announcing that the highway had been cleared. Concious that this would be my last adventure in the US I found myself thinking back to all the things I had seen since being here. I find it almost incomprehensible to believe that I have climbed up to Mt. Cadillac in Acadia National Park in Maine, walked the Brooklyn Bridge, explored the south, celebrated 4th July, partied in New Orleans and so much more. When I think specifically about these things they seem as if they were but yesterday, but perhaps because I've seen so much, recalling it all is difficult. I find myself thinking also about what lies ahead; seeing family and friends, playing with my dogs, getting a new house and starting a new job. With all this ahead the feeling I'm getting about leaving America is much the same feeling I got when leaving school - that it was the right time, that I had achieved all I was capable of and I was ready to move onto the next chapter. That next chapter will start in just over two weeks.

I was soon on my way from the accident. This seventy mile stretch of roads twists and turns on cliff edges and you drive in the hills above the Pacific Ocean. I was doing the drive in the final hours of the day and the setting sun illuminated the rocky shore in shades of red and orange. Now and again I would stop to get out and appreciate the vistas. My original plan had been to stop off on the Big Sur. It was apparant though that I could get as much value from the visit without stopping and stopping here wouldn't give me enough time to get back to San Francisco tomorrow. I came off Highway 1 just as the sunset. I decided that I would stop about 70 miles or an hour and a half short of San Francisco. I pulled up at my favourite motel chain, Motel 6 (very reliable and the cheapest chain in America).

M

Posted by MattOGrady 20:44 Archived in USA Comments (0)

The Home Straight, Los Angeles

sunny 26 °C

I will write today about the whole of my time in Los Angeles. I don't have a high opinion of the place so I think my experiences can be written here in sufficient depth.

I returned my car this morning and caught the airport shuttle back to Las Vegas airport as I would be flying to Los Angeles on Saturday 14th. The flight only took thirty five minutes, such a brief length of time that I wasn't expecting at all. My overriding sense upon landing here is that I've now hit the home straight - up the Pacific coast and flying out from Seattle in a few weeks time. I'm staying in Hollywood whilst I'm in Los Angeles and hauling my bags to my hostel was an effort I really didn't need. My initial impression already is that the public transport here is dire and I hope it won't cause me too many difficulties. To get to my hostel I had to exit at Hollywood/Highland and walk five blocks along the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The hostel, at least, is very comfortable.

On Sunday 15th I planned to spend the day at Venice and Santa Monica beaches. So woeful is the public transport here and also so terrible is my ability to navigate it, that that 'day' only materialised as a couple of hours. In order to get the beaches from Hollywood a number of bus changes are needing, taking you south and then west. Of course once I had gone south I got on the wrong connecting bus and west east and it was only when I was in downtown LA that I realised, there was no beach. It was another hour west before I got to the beaches. My initial impressions were how cold both the air and the sea were! It really is very chilly and not what I expected at all. Just north of Santa Monica pier, home to many fisherman with their rods hanging over the pier's edge, are a tribute to American lives lost in Iraq. Each lost life is marked by a small crucifix. It poiniently notes that were Iraqi deaths to be honoured as well, the beach would be full. I walked along the beach and pier, taking in a few of the touristy opportunities. I needed to jump back on the buses east and north before it got to late and the infrequent Sunday service kicked in proper.

On Monday 16th I spent the day in pretty Pasadena. I know Pasadena best as being the setting to the hit US TV show, Brothers & Sisters, but apparantly no one here has heard of it. I ending up just walking around and doing some shopping. I should also mention that I had to head back to the hostel and back as, after picking up a number of items and taking them to the counter, I realised I had left my wallet behind - woops! As the day died I sat eating ice cream and drinking milkshake whilst people watching on Pasadena's main drag. This really is a very pleasent area and just about makes up for how dire LA is.

On Tuesday 17th I did very little besides walk along Hollywood Boulevard and go spot the Hollywood sign. Today gave me plenty of tiem to think about LA. It has perhaps been the least enjoyable place I have visited. It reminds me a great deal of Miami, except it has no warm sea or beaches. So why has LA fallen foul of my tastes? I cannot say; as I have for New York's diversity, Boston's history, Savannah's charm or Boulder's youth, that there is no city like LA. LA is an utterly charmless place that has a great deal of pretention as it fixes itself in an endless cycle of trying to re-image itself. This characteristic reveals that it is a place that is insecure and lacks confidence in its identity - it could not be less like Texas if it tried. The simple truth of the matter must surely be this; that its constant endevours to create some appeal achieve nothing other than to make it ugly and that no matter how hard the tries - mutton will never be lamb.

M

Posted by MattOGrady 22:11 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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