Tag Archives: Beach

Travel Guide: San Francisco

This trip to San Francisco was my second time in California and, like the first time, I left wondering why we all don’t live in California. (“Cost of living” likely answers this question for many.)

I landed at SFO Wednesday night and, marvelling all the while at the difference in weather between San Francisco and Singapore, spent most of Thursday just walking around the city to vanquish the jet lag (a failed pursuit) and enjoy time outside in non-humid air. I headed first to the Embarcadero where I took in the sights of the city from one of the many docks. I love water and was happy to be so often in sight of it.

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The Ferry Building was only a short walk away and I enjoyed the indoor upscale food and merchandise stalls . . .

. . . as well as the outdoor farmers’ market. . . .

Jet lag from Singapore had made it a very early day, so it was only late morning when I began my walk along the Embarcadero. I stopped at Pier 39 to admire the boats . . .

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. . . take in the carnival-like atmosphere complete with boardwalk sweets and treats . . .

. . . and get an unexpected peek at some lounging sea lions!

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From there, I was pretty close to Fisherman’s Wharf. I admit that much of the hype and excitement were lost on me because I don’t eat seafood, but I enjoyed looking around and watching people enjoy themselves.

From there I walked to Ghirardelli Square, which I revisited the next day to sample the beer at San Francisco Brewing Company. We have a few microbreweries in Singapore but it’s nothing like what’s in the US.

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After that, I decided it would be fun to walk up a whole lot of hills to Lombard Street. I can’t say the walk itself was what one typically thinks of as fun, but we don’t really have hills in Singapore and the views were well worth it.

Later that afternoon, I went to Alamo Square to see the famous painted ladies. I was very tired and very jet lagged by that point but again, pretty views!

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A very old friend from high school flew up from Long Beach to hang out with me for the rest of the weekend and really I could have been anywhere in the world. Catching up and hanging out was the highlight of my San Francisco experience, but we did some cool things on the side. We started our adventure Friday morning with a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, which I was really excited about. It was so windy up there but the expanse of blue sky was extraordinary.

After walking back along the bridge, we followed the beach, enjoying the sunshine and the breeze. I really love all the flowers in California because they’re different from anything I’m used to seeing. I also really love long walks without sweating!

The beach path took us to the Palace of Fine Arts, which neither of us had known existed. There were young women and their families taking quinceañera pictures and it was easy to see why. The Palace of Fine Arts, originally built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific Exhibition, seemed a strange architectural choice for northern California but is really beautiful.

We decided we’d done enough walking for one day and saved the rest of our energy to celebrate San Francisco Pride in the Castro, San Francisco’s historic gay neighborhood and therefore the perfect place to be! It also had some great street art, which I love.

We returned to the Castro the next day to check out the festivities in Dolores Park . . .

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. . . and join another old friend and his new girlfriend for brunch! They drove up from Palo Alto to hang out with us, which was really special. The longer I’m away from home, the more I appreciate when people make the effort to spend time with me. We ended up spending the rest of the afternoon with some of my friend’s relatives and their adorable dogs. Naturally, we walked them to Kite Hill, a beautiful park with sweeping views of the city. It was very windy up there, too!

After a couple very busy days and much jet lag, we decided it was time to relax. The Palo Alto friends headed home and my Long Beach friend and I stopped at a couple more Castro spots to continue our celebration of SF Pride. He left before the parade the next morning and though the parade was great fun, I couldn’t see over anyone’s heads enough to take a decent picture.

Insert time warp here!

After a week in Berkeley (more on that in my next post) for the conference that prompted the trip to San Francisco in the first place, I spent a final afternoon with a new friend in the Haight-Ashbury district, made famous by the 1967 Summer of Love.

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The whole area was an interesting mix of hippie counterculture and gentrified boutiques, which seems to embody the feel of much of San Francisco. My favorite part was the street art . . . and how it extended to cars and houses!

When I first told my principal that I was going to northern California, he told me I wouldn’t want to leave. He wasn’t wrong, but I was also very excited to go home to Rochester to visit my family. That’s where I am now and it’s taken two days to write this post because I keep getting distracted by the laughter and activities of the people around me. I am so lucky to have them! When I get a quiet moment, I’ll share the photos of my rural and urban hikes around Berkeley.

Delicious food, good friends, and diverse neighborhoods to explore – thanks, San Francisco!

Travel Guide: NSW to Victoria Road Trip

This post details the second part of the week my girlfriends and I spent in Australia over October break. We started in Sydney and, after three nights there, were ready to exchange urban life for something a little more remote. We picked up a car and followed signs to Wollongong, which our trip planner (and also DJ!) promised would take us along the coast for small towns and pretty views. When we saw signs for the Grand Pacific Drive, we turned off the A1 to follow them and I’m so glad we did!

I was driving so I couldn’t take pictures, but I absolutely loved the winding, twisting, narrow, tree-lined roads of Royal National Park. The trees were thick and green on one side of the road and there were signs of fire on the other. There were so many different types of trees, too, many that I didn’t recognize. At times, we couldn’t see more than one twist in the road in front of us, which was challenging because bikers also enjoy the park – and with good reason. We rolled the windows down and felt the fresh air all around us, drinking in the blue skies and sunshine. I haven’t been on a road like that, one with no place to stop and only places to go, in a long time. It felt like flying.

When there was finally a place to pull over, we did. I was glad to take the time to actually look at my surroundings instead of darting glances out the passenger window with half an eye on the road.

We stopped in the town of Bulli for lunch and ate outside in the cool breeze off the ocean, which was so beautiful and relaxing. Perfect weather for a hot coffee, too! Australia has a very hip coffee culture but I have to admit, I prefer American-style filter coffee to the long black that is Australia’s next best thing. But it was fun to be on the other side of the Pacific Ocean with a coffee in hand!

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A short while later, we also stopped in Kiama to see Cathedral Rocks. We went around in circle in a neighborhood a few times before we realized that there’s no official “get out of the car here” spot. After agreeing on that and making sure we weren’t doing anything illegal (after all, ours wasn’t the only car), we pulled over and looked down.

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I climbed down, too, which truly made me feel like I was in a different world. I walked along a sandy patch that is definitely under water in high tide, surrounded by cliffs and rocks that have been weathered over so many years. The sound of the ocean and smell of salt in the air completely drew me in. I could have stayed down there a long time.

The final stage of the first day of driving led us past fields, farms, and pastures with cows, horses, and rolling hills. It was beautiful and green, but a very different landscape than the forests we’d been through earlier in the day. It was sunny and warm and we rolled the windows down to feel the air. (It’s amazing how much weather impacts attitudes and enjoyment. I found myself energized and able to breathe more easily just being in air that floated rather than hanging thick and heavy as it often does on the equator.) It was such a joy to drive and just laugh, sing, and listen to Australian political news on the radio.

When we arrived in Batemans Bay to spend the night, the weather had cooled and the sun was in that stunning position between late afternoon and evening.

Without meaning to, we left for dinner at just the right time to capture the most beautiful evening of the whole trip. This time, we pulled over into an empty parking lot and watched a family fishing on the beach.

The following morning, we left Batemans Bay to continue our drive south through New South Wales into Victoria. Before really getting on the road, we stopped for breakfast and coffee at a café that I think I would frequent often if I were a resident of a small coastal town in southern Australia. They had a sign that largely echoed my view of the world and it made me very happy. I took the picture on my phone, so that’s what you’re seeing.

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Over the course of our second day in the car heading towards Lakes Entrance, we watched the landscape change from hills and mountains in the distance to expansive farms with cows, sheep, and horses. We passed dairy farms advertising their cheese and wineries advertising their wine. We also saw a fair number of signs indicating the level of fire threat for the day; all indicated that the threat was low. Every so often, the two-lane highway would slow down and we’d enter a tiny town with little more than a local school, church, and traffic circle. Several of them had used bookstores, too!

About halfway through the drive, we stopped in Eden because it’s supposed to be the place to see whales. We had no interest in taking a boat cruise so instead we stopped at the harbor just to see the boats . . .

. . . and then headed to the highest point we could find to look down at the ocean. We weren’t the only people scouting for whales from up there, either. The water was suspiciously disturbed in certain areas and while we didn’t see anything that we could identify as a whale, I’m sure they were there!

However, we did manage to see live kangaroos! We’d been passing signs telling us to be careful of kangaroos and wombats the entire time we were on road but had only seen them as roadkill until the last half hour of our drive. We saw three or four in quick succession, each standing alone at the side of the road. It was very exciting.

Our Australian colleagues had warned us that Australia is expensive and they weren’t wrong. Lakes Entrance, however, was not. We stayed a cabin I found on Airbnb, walked to the grocery store (which we also did in Sydney thanks to another Airbnb), and made ourselves dinner. And by “made”, I mean opened crackers, sliced cheese, heated up soup, broke chocolate into pieces, and uncorked two bottles of wine. It was delightful.

It was raining the next morning, which sort of added to the appeal of the cozy cabin but was also a nuisance; I forgot how tiring it can be to drive through heavy rain! But the sky ultimately cleared and the sun was out by the time we made it to our final location – Melbourne! Stay tuned!

Travel Guide: Sydney

Last week, I explored a tiny fraction of a huge country and I can’t wait to go back. Two girlfriends and I flew to Sydney and took a road trip south along the coast to Melbourne. We ate a lot of delicious food, drank excellent wine, and sang more than a few Disney songs. We laughed, took pictures, and walked everywhere we could.

The first thing I noticed upon arriving in Sydney was the weather. It’s spring in Australia right now and I was cold. I tend to run cold, which helps out in Singapore but is a detriment elsewhere. Feeling the fresh air of Sydney and being able to dress in layers and walk around comfortably undoubtedly had an impact on our positive feelings throughout the trip.

We started our Sydney adventure with a wander towards Circular Quay (that’s where the Opera House is) and through the Rocks, which was hosting a neat artists’ market. It was there that we first recognized the laid-back, beachy, relaxed vibe of the city. People everywhere were friendly and welcoming. There’s a certain calm, even in large groups of people, that reminded me of my trip to Southern California last December. The atmosphere felt like California, but the architecture and style reminded me a lot of New Orleans. We saw these wrought-iron balconies everywhere!

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I rarely do any shopping when I travel and didn’t buy anything at the market, but did enjoy looking at everything for sale. Lots of good gifty things if you’re into that. Eventually, we made our way to Harbor Bridge, walked across it, and looked out over the water. That was my personal “must do” for Sydney and the view did not disappoint:

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From the bridge, we followed the road around the harbor back to Circular Quay where we saw some really beautiful foliage and the bridge itself. I absolutely loved the purple trees! It was also fun to watch the sun begin to set, which happens later in the evening in Sydney than in Singapore. That was nice, too.

The following day started with a walk through Hyde Park, which made me laugh because that’s the name of the Chicago neighborhood where my family spent a year when I was very little. Hyde Park in Sydney was full of runners and bikers and is also the home to the Anzac Memorial. I first learned about Anzac from an Australian colleague in Malaysia a couple years ago; I’d seen a lot of war memorials but never one for Anzac.

Later, we made our way to the Botanic Gardens (walking through pretty areas with greenery was a theme of the trip), pausing at St. Mary’s Cathedral. The church itself struck me as odd because the architecture just didn’t seem to fit. But church architecture is church architecture the world over. I love identifying human commonalities because they act as a reminder that we are indeed similar, despite the very different ways that we interpret the world.

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The Botanic Gardens, located across the harbor from Circular Quay, were really beautiful and a charming place to be on a Sunday afternoon. Like Hyde Park, they were also full of people. We saw more than one garden party complete with stylish hats. Legacy of colonialism, methinks!

When it started to rain, we visited the Australian Museum where we were happy to learn about some of Australia’s history. We saw the same names repeated over and over on street signs as we traveled and I appreciated the sense of grounding that comes from knowledge, a glimmer of understanding of what makes a place what it is.

For our last full day in Sydney, we decided to take a bus out of the city (Opal cards for public transit work throughout the state of New South Wales – so cool!) and visit Bondi Beach to see Sculpture by the Sea, a really cool annual art show set in a beautiful place. Many thanks to the Uber driver who told us about it! The bus ride took us out of where we were staying in the CBD through parts of Sydney where real people actually live. It was nice to see regular neighborhoods and get a brief glimpse of their individuality and character.

As we knew it would be, Bondi Beach was beautiful and so was the weather, another theme of our trip. The sky really was that blue!

Sculpture by the Sea was a really engaging show because the sculptures were designed to fit into the landscape. It was a very enjoyable walk up along the rocks, admiring and trying to understand the art while looking down at the beach below. Admittedly, my favorite piece might not have actually been part of the exhibition. I didn’t buy the booklet with the information so I can’t be sure, but it was too amusing not to share. Please enlarge the photos below. I promise they’re not all the same!

We headed back to Bondi and took the bus through rolling hills that gave us gorgeous views of the Sydney skyline. I was tempted to suggest getting off but we didn’t really know where the stops were or when we could expect another bus to arrive. All we knew was that we were heading to the bus terminus at Watsons Bay, again on recommendation of the Uber driver.

Upon arrival, we found exactly what we were looking for: lunch and a nice spot in which to eat it. The pelicans (enormous birds – I had no idea!) thought so, too!

Again based on the advice of our Uber driver (goodness, we are trusting people!), we used our Opal cards to take the local ferry from Watsons Bay back to Circular Quay. I love boats and was so, so happy to spend about 20 minutes standing at the railing, taking pictures in between closing my eyes to absorb everything I could from the water, sun, and air.

In a poetic sort of way, our Sydney adventure started and ended in Circular Quay. That was the first place on our list of places to go and where we were heading when we got distracted by the artists’ market at the Rocks. It was also the last real “sight” of this part of the trip, with a sense of familiarity this time instead of awe. After all, new sights are only new once. (Arguably, they’re new again if you see them through someone else’s eyes, but that’s a different discussion for a different time.)

After three nights in Sydney, we embarked on part two of our Australia adventure. We rented a car and drove about 1,000km along the coast to see pretty places on our way to Melbourne!