A Tale of Two Cities – London meet San Francisco

A short time ago it was put to me, by an LA taxi driver, how great it must have been to have moved from London to San Francisco, because he imagined the two cities were very similar… . I found myself nodding along, as you do, but then I checked myself and half said half shouted ‘NO!’, a little too abruptly. He looked a little frightened, and I quickly scrambled to explain myself, apologising for my less than polite outburst, as only a Brit can. But I desperately wanted him to know that, while it was great that we were able to make the move to SF (ish – we live just outside), the two cities, and the people that live there, in my opinion weren’t similar at all!

We left London after a fairly long stint, slightly exhausted and frazzled by the monotonous commute, endless grey days, the cost of living and lovely but grumpy people always ready to give you hell for no good reason whatsoever! We had fallen out of love with it and we certainly weren’t making the most of being there. We completely took for granted all of the wonderful things that make it unique.

We arrived in San Francisco’s Bay Area very ready for change. A change in pace, lifestyle…weather. What we found was exactly that. We carved out our own Californian life, and we’re probably a bit healthier, a bit more positive and a bit less likely to give someone hell if they were to accidentally bump in to us! That said, each time I’ve visited London since leaving, it has surprised and thrilled me – I have got the love back!

I guess this must have been why I was so determined to make sure that my LA taxi driver knew what set the two cities apart…in my opinion. So I’ll explain to you some of what I explained to him, though probably slightly more eloquently and in a less shouty voice. First things first though. I love them both. I love them both in different ways and for different reasons.

London

  • Art – In spades. Museums full of the stuff, literally bursting at the seams with archives so extensive that there will never be an end to what can be seen, and the best bit is it’s FREE.  I cannot express how fortunate we are in the UK to have so much exposure to the arts. Whether that’s seeing it in museums. FREE museums. Or being taught it at school. I recently found out that art isn’t a ‘required’ part of the curriculum here in California – what a shocker!Vass Land London Private View  David Hockney Arrival of Spring
  • Fashion -A fellow British immigrant once described walking through a bar in SF only to be looked up and down by a group of ladies who smirked and giggled at her outfit – a pretty average high waisted skirt, heeled boots etc.  She noted that they were all wearing what seems to be the standard uniform of skinny jeans and converse, and they made it pretty obvious that they were not too impressed that she had dared to push these boundaries. Now, people are usually pretty friendly here so I wouldn’t say that this is typical behaviour, but it kind of illustrates my point. To ‘dress-up’ here is not the norm. It’s acceptable to wear your gym clothes to a restaurant and a heel is rarely seen (possibly on account of all the hills!). Anyway, I totally took for granted that London is so cutting edge and accepting when it comes to fashion, and that it is accessible to pretty much everyone. That even the high street stores have their runway ripoffs. That it is ok to experiment and that it is ok to try something new without being ridiculed.
  • Public Transport – I used to whinge about tube strikes, the central line, late buses, cancelled trains but now…oh how I long for the Piccadilly line and the number 38 bus!
  • NHS – perhaps more of a general UK thing but, I miss it. The freedom and security of being able to see a doctor with no self-diagnosis necessary…priceless…literally. And knowing that, at said doctors appointment, you won’t run the risk of paying for tests or medication that you don’t necessarily need.

SF (ish)

  • it doesn’t feel like a city – well not as I think of a city. It feels more like a town or a group of conjoined villages, all different in their own way. It doesn’t have the same massiveness of London or New York. It doesn’t have that, sometimes slightly, lonely/exciting feeling that you could get lost at any moment. It’s more gentle, laid back, quiet. Kind of like a beginner city…I hope that’s not taken as an insult…it’s certainly not meant to be.
  • landscape – It’s amazing. This city, seven-by-seven-miles, and at the tip of a peninsula. A writhing ocean on one side and a turbulent bay on the other. A city whose limits include rocky islands surrounded by great white sharks and a prison perched on top of an island. A city built on hills so huge that, when looking back at it from the bay, you double take gobsmacked that the skyline in front of you is actually real.
  • location – I don’t think the number of truly incredible places that we’re lucky enough to have on our doorstep will ever get old. From giant redwood trees, stunning stretches of coastline and the rolling hills of wine country to the lake and mountains at Tahoe, epic landscape of Yosemite and mysterious Farallon Islands.Farallones
  • innovation – I’ve come to realise that the tech industry and Silicon Valley (just a few miles south of SF) is met with the same ‘love it or hate it’ attitude, by locals, as Marmite. My feelings are mixed. Perhaps because I’m not local and so have the advantage of seeing it from both sides, without the emotion. That said, one of the things I do love about living here is the thrilling feeling that something’s always on the verge of being discovered!

So this is how I see it right now, after living here for just over two years. I do wonder whether I’ll feel the same a few more years down the line…I’ll keep you posted!

 

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Treasure Island!

The first time I heard someone mention Treasure Island I assumed they must be talking about a pirateesque theme park. Luckily before I embarrassed myself by actually verbalising this (that’s that out the window then!) I found out that it’s a real live place! I know right, grown-ups actually called a legitimate piece of land Treasure Island! It sits pretty much in the middle of the San Francisco bay, and is joined to the mainland on both sides by the Bay Bridge. Anyway, once I found out that it wasn’t a theme park I was more than intrigued. Then I found out that EyeEm* were holding one of their bi-annual global meet ups on the Island, with the chance to get some behind the scenes access! Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to visit.

So apart from knowing that we definitely weren’t visiting a theme park we knew nothing at all about Treasure Island. Nevertheless I imagined it must have seen at least a bit of pirate action or some other such dodgy dealings. Our rendezvous was behind building 180 next to the entrance to the Treasure Island Museum – to which we surprisingly found no signs! Luckily there was a very knowledgeable someone there to greet us and who gave us the 411 on TI…

  • the island is completely man made.
  • it was named Treasure Island because it was rumoured that the silt and rock it was made from contained gold – though no one has actually ever found any!
  • it was built for, and played host to the 1939 World’s Fair.
  • after the World’s Fair the plan was for TI to be used by Pan Am for its flying boats or ‘Clippers’.
  • it was due to become San Francisco International Airport before it became a naval base in 1942.
  • it has been used to film numerous films including Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Flubber.
  • it has recently become an official part of the City of San Francisco and is about to undergo huge redevelopment.

…so not quite the highly dramatic and turbulent history I had imagined!

Our first stop was building 1. A massive horseshoe shaped structure which was being set-up for a very elaborate nautical themed wedding complete with six larger than life model seals, a rowing boat and a 12 foot high lighthouse! It turns out building 1 was originally intended as the Pan Am Airways terminal, after the World’s Fair ended. It’s absolutely enormous with beautiful art deco features but dominating the interior is a, slightly odd, mural that spans the entire width of the building, which depicts the naval history of the pacific since 1813 and into the future. It seems such a bizarre addition to an otherwise architecturally impressive building but, they seemed pretty proud of it so, who am I to judge.

Grateful for the chance to escape the staring eyes of the mural we scuttled Worlds Fair 1939 Ticket Bookonwards and down through a maze of underground corridors – very much what I imagine a nuclear bunker might look like! Now for those that don’t know I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to history – one of my favourite places in London is the Imperial War Museum – so I found the idea of the next part of our visit rather thrilling. We were invited to see some of the museums archives and spent just over an hour checking out some of the pieces in their collection. There were some interesting things but I guess I couldn’t help but compare them to the collections I’ve been fortunate to see at other museums, and if I’m honest I guess they fell a little short for me (controversial!). I do realise my comparison is pretty unfair though given the support and funding available for both. That said some of the printed stuff from the World’s Fair was pretty cool.

We surfaced, in desperate need for fresh air and stopped to admire the view over towards San Francisco. We were very lucky it was such a clear day because, as far as a view of the city goes, it doesn’t get much better than this one!

View from Treasure Island to San FranciscoMy first and I suppose lasting impression of Treasure Island, the parts that we were able to see anyway, was that it looked and felt like an elaborate set from the The Walking Dead (my current Netflix obsession). There was a distinct feeling that the place had been abandoned, that every living being had perished or had ‘turned’, and was lurking ready to sink their teeth in to the back of my neck….ha! No but seriously, I’m interested to see how it’s redevelopment pans out and hoping that they make it a bit more visitor friendly, whilst making sure the people that actually live there aren’t ousted as a result! I am also looking forward to returning for the legendary flea market, a cheeky wine tasting or two at one of it’s urban wineries…and who knows, maybe even a large nautical themed wedding!

*EyeEm is a photography community and platform. A place for photographers of all abilities to share, interact, and learn more about taking pictures on any device. EyeEm’s photo Missions and partnerships allow photographers to showcase their original works around particular subject matter.

Friendtrips

Point Lobos State Reserve California

You spend years forming friendships, people come and go, so by the time you hit your 30’s the bunch of misfits you’ve naturally selected over the years are friends for life…they’re not going anywhere.  Then you go and move half way around the blinkin’ world and find yourself without…no-one to go for a drink with after work, invite for dinner, go for brunch, girls night, play rounders with in the park(!).  So you start from scratch, take a deep breath, and put yourself out there hoping that some of those you meet aren’t complete nobbers!  Two years on (literally to the day) and we have thankfully met some great people here and made a few friends.

So, when one of these new found friends decided to up sticks and move to NYC, explaining that she planned to drive there – oh sure it’s only 3000 miles (actually her chosen route was over 4000 as it turned out)! – and invited me to join her for the first leg of the journey I wasn’t going to say no.  It felt like a big deal, her leaving, so to mark it by doing something big (ish) seemed a fitting way to say goodbye, for now.

Our road trip began in Monterey at the patio bar of the InterContinental hotel which was all Bloody Mary’s, white wine spritzers and chat about whether the guy playing the acoustic set actually had ‘the voice of an angel’ or whether in fact it was his dazzling smile that we were wow’d by! That night we ate at Hula’s, a brilliant place with the most amazing fish soup I ever had – seriously if you ever find yourself in Monterey go there, and then prepare for the food coma that follows!

Day two and we drove, Thelma and Louise style, to Point Lobos for a ‘hike’. I say ‘hike’ because I have come to realise that in California ‘hike’ is used to describe pretty much any type of walk and that ‘hiking trails’ are usually clearly outlined paths (sometimes paved) that just happen to be in an area of natural beauty. I will therefore describe our jaunt that day, slightly less dramatically/American, as a walk. This aside it was completely beautiful. The ocean was the colour of blue Gatorade and the views incredible – apparently “the greatest meeting of land and sea in the world”.

cinderella motel hollisterDay three we headed inland, towards Sequoia National Park, via Hollister. I’m not sure what we expected from Hollister but apart from a few cool old buildings it seemed a bit dead.  We did however come across The Cinderella Motel which looked uhmazing! Complete with Cinderella dolls lined up in the window, a small model carriage out front and themed rooms we thought it would have made a wonderfully tacky overnighter!

General Sherman Tree Sequoia National ParkWe finally arrived in Three Rivers, just outside the park, and headed straight in like a couple of tourists in our shorts and t-shirts – neither of us thinking to check the weather.  As we drove higher and higher the temperature dropped lower and lower and on seeing the remnants of the last snowfall we started to worry that we perhaps hadn’t quite dressed appropriately. We would not be deterred from our mission however, to see the largest tree in the world.  Sure enough on leaving the cosy confines of the car we were greeted by a freezing blast of air and scrambled to put on whatever clothes we had, which caused a ripple of stifled laughter from some other, better equipped visitors! Another ‘hike’ led us towards the afore mentioned tree – The General Sherman.  As we approached it really didn’t look that impressive, we were all like ‘I’m sure I’ve seen bigger at Muir Woods‘ and ‘there are definitely bigger ones in New Zealand‘ blah blah.  What a pair of complete morons, as if some scientist had got the measurements wrong! Anyway, as we arrived at the base we both fell silent (finally!), it was an absolute beast, you had to practically lean at a 45 degree angle to see the whole thing. Needless to say we took loads of photos, none of which really capture its true size but hopefully these give you some idea.

Day four we head south, through more of the park and on to Bakersfield. Not the most inspiring place on paper but we made the most of it.  Home to the worlds largest shoe (apparently) and The Kern County Museum.  Kind of a living history jobby with a whole village of historic buildings, from dentists to jails, that depict the life of early Californians. We thought it was pretty cool…not sure what that says about us! Our home for the night was the recently renovated Padre Hotel, the newest but oldest hotel in Bakersfield, which first opened in 1928. If you find yourself passing through, I’d definitely recommend a stay.

Day five and it was further inland towards Las Vegas. We power through, amusing ourselves by looking for weird and wonderful things to see along the way. Then we see a sign for Peggy Sue’s Roadside Diner, quickly google it and decide ‘we HAVE to stop’. If, like me, you feel you grew up in the wrong era you will love this place. It’s a totally legit 50’s diner. So with great joy I perched at the counter telling myself that, though not totally out of the question, it was pretty unlikely that at any moment the entire place would break out in to a Grease style song and dance medley – can you only imagine! It was all I could do to remain cool, desperate to order “a double Polar burger wit’ everything and a cherry soda wit’ chocolate ice cream” (Grease ref. for those not in the know), I settled for a hamburger and coke!

Worlds Largest Thermometer Baker California

After all this excitement our journey continued towards another roadside gem…The World’s Largest Thermometer, in Baker. After prancing around taking a few pictures and venturing in to the gift shop for a chat with a giant vulture we were pretty giddy which, as it happened, was set to continue because on leaving Baker we happened upon the Alien Fresh Jerky store…only in America!

Some time later and we see Vegas on the horizon. A drive down the strip to see The World’s Largest Coke Bottle (of course!) would mark the end to this first leg of her journey and my departure.  And so after five glorious days of sights seen, world’s largest’s visited, burgers eaten, margaritas drunk and 650 miles driven, we bid each other farewell (sad face).

 

 

A Tour of the Tales

You may remember a couple of posts back that I mentioned the amazingness that is Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the CityA series of novels that tell the story of a group of all-sorts making their way through a tangle of sex, drugs and love in San Francisco.  Beginning in the free-loving 1970’s and literally ending on a high in the present.

I don’t know whether it was because I recently moved here or just that they’re really bloody good but I was hooked and read all of them, desperate for the final book in the series, The Days of Anna Madrigalto be released.

Any hoo, with the books read and the miniseries watched I went in search of my next TOTC high. To my joy I found Tours of the Tales aggghhhhh! Actual walking tours of all the places old Maupy talks about in the books – massive geek alert! So off we trotted, myself and the dark haired one (who got me hooked on TOTC in the first place and who is as obsessed as I), in the pursuit of happiness on, the evocatively named, Tour 1…  Here are a few snaps of some of the highlights, from one of the best days I’ve spent in SF since we moved here! I would also be as bold to say that even if you’ve not read the books at all this would be a great walking tour of SF anyway, with some incredible views, providing the fog doesn’t roll in of course!

 

 

where to begin…

Since moving here we’ve managed to cram in a whole heap of stuff – I should have started this baby ages ago – so to bring things up to date I thought I might do a bit of a run down of some of the highlights! Imagine it kind of like one of those cheesy end of year tv specials but without the ad breaks.

One of the lures of moving here was that we would live only 20 minutes away from this (left) and three and a half hours away from this (right). The novelty hasn’t worn off yet…I’m not sure it ever will.

Coachella = Awesome…that is all…2015 tickets are booked.

So after surfing here for almost a year, in freezing cold Norcal water, we decided for our honeymoon we wanted to try surfing in warmer waters. Hawaii seemed like the obvious choice but when our surf instructor, turned friend, affectionately referred to as ‘surfer Dave‘, mentioned he was headed to Costa Rica and that we should join him, we were sold!

Camping on the Sonoma Coast. Totally seduced by the idea of flinging open our tent flaps to be greeted by these views.

We pitched our tent on the edge of a cliff.  Needless to say as our eyes drank in the amazing view they were also slowly blinded by the bucket loads of sand being whipped in to them by, what I’m certain could only be described as, gale force winds! Note to self, next time pitch better!

Yosemite is an incredible place, it literally looks like the set of a prehistoric movie. We were totally in awe and can’t wait to go back, though perhaps not in September – 107F made for a pretty sweaty few days.

We have come to realise that the US loves admin – fact. So after completing endless forms, medical tests, retina scans, fingerprinting and after proving that our marriage was not a sham…our Green Card arrived!

hardly strictly bluegrass San Francisco

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass – we were told it was one of the things you have to do in San Francisco before you die…we now know why. Highlights included St. Paul & the Broken Bones, chips (fries, if we’re going all American) dipped in vanilla milkshake and ‘special’ strawberries. We took the visiting parentals along too, they loved it!

 

I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to armistead maupin tales of the citybooks and have been known to forgo meals in order to finish a particularly compelling story. So when a fellow immigrant recommended Armistead Maupin‘s Tales of the City, I was instantly hooked and busted through the whole series. If you’ve not read them then do it, now! Turns out it was also made in to a miniseries AND he’s just released the final book in the series, oh joy!

Beach Blanket Babylon San FranciscoBeach Blanket Babylon is a San Franciscan institution and ‘the longest running musical revue in theatre history’  no less.  I’d wanted to see it before we even moved here. ‘Spectacular’ is one word I’d use to describe it and ‘awesome’ another. Even the very skeptical male company, convinced to join us with the lure of Italian food and wine, thought it was ‘bloody brilliant’.

 

So many lovely things and many more besides.