San Francisco and Los Angeles – do’s and don’t s

A final wrap up post with the very last photos of San Francisco.

No further comment needed, this is indeed a very cute dog!

I had plans to both visit cinemas in LA and San Francisco, but the weather has been so marvelous that I better liked to be outside. I also found the cinemas in LA a bit too touristy. The Elwood cinema in Berkeley however looked so wonderful that I simply had to check it out.

And on my very last morning I had the choice between trying to get on a cable car or saying goodbye to the seals. Well that was not a hard choice, who needs cable cars!

Here are a couple more photos.

Things I liked in LA:

  • Santa Monica: both the beach and the 3rd Street promenade for shopping.
  • Renting a bike and cycling the Los Angeles beach bike path
  • Hollywood boulevard (for a short time)
  • Very friendly people all around

Things I did not like so much about LA:

  • the distances between the different parts of the city, LA is huge. If you don’t have a car, prepare to spent a lot of time on public transport. (I have to say that taking a bus was cheap, $1.25 for a bus ride, no matter how long! And downtown at the subway stations you could buy a day travel card for $5).
  • the lack of a centre (like in Santa Monica)
  • it is pretty hot in LA. Which is OK if you want to lie flat on the beach all the time. If you want to see things around in the city it can be a struggle in the heat.

Things I liked in San Francisco:

  • The whale watching trip. I hoped to see one whale, but ended up seeing 64. An unforgettable experience, which I recommend you to do if you are in the area. I went with them.
  • The bike the bridge bike ride. It is totally cool to cycle of the Golden Gate Bridge, the view is amazing and on the other side of the bridge you can visit Sausalito which is a very nice and cosy town. I rented my bike here.
  • Take ride on one of the beautiful vintage streetcars. Also – get yourself a Muni passport, so you can travel around cheaply on all forms of transport (including cable cars – if you manage to get on them!).
  • Have an ice cream at Ghirardelli or at the Cold Stone creamery
  • The seals, the beach, I even liked the fog!

There wasn’t anything I didn’t like in San Francisco.

And if you have the patience I can highly recommend you the train ride from Los Angeles to San Francisco on the Coast Starlight. The price for a seat (which lots of legroom) to SF was $52 and the views along the coast were fantastic. If you have more time you can continue to Seattle on this train.

It’s back in London now, where the weather is still perfect and where I had a lovely bicycle ride into work. And I am not complaining, in about 53 days I am off to New York to see a thing or two. Like, on stage. Phew, I like the poster! Let it rain!

San Francisco – day 6

Today I spent together with the lovely bloglily who invited me over to Berkeley. Berkeley is about 25 minutes by BART train (Bay Area Rapid Transit) and I had a great day. We had tea in a lovely cafe, walked around in the city, and Lily was friendly enough to lend me her bicycle, so I cycled to Berkeley University campus and had a bicycle ride in that area – the weather has just been amazing, and still is.
And I met Archie, the wonder dog, he is so so cute!

I also visited the charming Elmwood cinema in Berkeley where I both had a very first look at the US trailer for Pirate Radio (The Boat That Rocked!) with Bill and I saw Julia and Julie with Amy Adams and Meryl Streep (sweet film!).

I bought the mandatory pairs of Levi’s jeans and have started packing my suitcase. It feels like I have been away for ages, and it also feels very wrong to go home. Life here has been very good.

I do have some photos from today, I will post them when I am back in London as it is late, and I need some sleep. My flight tomorrow is 16.55 from San Francisco International airport – arrival Wednesday, 11am at Heathrow.

Bye bye USA. For now-uh!

San Francisco – Day 5 – Whale watching

If you want to do a whale watching trip you have to get up early, we had to be there at 7.30am, the boat left at 8am. There are some other things you need to consider: it can be freezingly cold (like on our trip), you get very far out on the ocean, and the waves there are huge!

I did not have any problems being sea sick, but being out this far with those waved did intimidate me. Until we saw – our first whale. The captain of the ship told us that they had seen 40 whales yesterday, which was extraordinary.

On our trip we saw … 64 whales!! 62 hump back whales (they are big), 1 blue whale (you won’t believe how big those are, much longer than our boat!) and one Orca. All in all I have been amazed about the amount of whales we saw, at some point we were in the middle of a group of 10-12 whales who were having lunch and it was an astonishing sight. They didn’t really seem to care that we were there too.

I recommend everyone (if you can handle the boat trip) to at least once do a whale watching trip. You will never forget the sight of those huge huge animals.

We haven’t seen any jumping whales, so it’s mostly backs, fins and tale photos, and the photos in no way can give you an idea of how fantastic it is to see them in their environment. But it gives some sort of idea – Photos here.

San Francisco – Day 3/4

The last two days have been relaxed. On Friday I met up with Gerry, a San Francisco local and a regular reader of my blog. He was very friendly and showed me around the city by car. We saw the Golden Gate Park, The Presidio, Ocean beach and drove up on Twin Peaks from which you have a fantastic view of the whole city.

We also crossed the Castro district which is the area of Harvey Milk (which you might know from the film “Milk” with Sean Penn). It was a great day, and thanks so much for showing me around Gerry!

Today I did some shopping, watched the kites at the kites festival at the Marina and had an ice cream in Ghirardelli. If you have a sweet tooth, it is the place to go.


There are a couple of photos here.

Tomorrow I have to get up early, the whale watching boat leaves at 8am, we need to be in the harbour at 7.30am. I bought some anti sea sickness pills just in case, but the weather is going to be good (28C predicted so it will be good to be at sea where it will be a little cooler). If we see just one whale I will be happy!

San Francisco – Day 2


Is it me or are people on the west coast of the US just friendlier than the ones in New York? I spoke about this with two ladies from the US and they agreed. In New York everyone is in a hurry, they don’t have time to be friendly. Here everybody seems friendly. Is it the weather?

Well I certainly get in a good mood of this weather, the weather today was perfect, perfect to bike the bridge.

I left relatively early as I wanted to make an early start, but then I discovered the sea lions at Pier 39 and I was sold. They were so so cute, and there were so many of them, I could watch them for hours. When I finally got myself dragged away from them it was a bit later than planned, but I was ready to bike the bridge.

Again, if you ever get to San Francisco, this is the thing you want to do. I admit that there were some stretches that were a bit steep (the bridge is high, and you need to get on top of it to cross it) but once you are up the views are spectacular. It is a fantastic trip, I ended up cycling to Sausalito where I had lunch and I took the ferry back from there to San Francisco (which was a lovely sailing trip too!).

After another visit to the sea lions and a beautiful purple sky, I am now ready to sleep. And so are my legs!

The thing I learned today about the sea lions – you can distinct between seal and a sea lion by looking at the ears. Sea lions have tiny ears, seals don’t. I had no idea.

Here are the photos. (Expect a lot of sea lions, and a lot of bridge!)

Train trip and San Francisco – day 1

The train trip to San Francisco was a long one (11 hours) but it was worth it. A big part of the trip follows the coast line and the views from the train window were fantastic.
The train arrived in San Francisco exactly on time, and I arrived safely in my hotel.

Here are a few photos from the train and trip:
Los Angeles to San Francisco by train

It was a bit weird to wake up in a new city. I didn’t have a pre defined action plan for San Francisco today, so I started off like a head less chicken. But I decided to buy a transport pass first, so I went down to the waterfront first to do so. From there I could not resist the urge to take a trip one of the wonderful vintage trams that run in San Francisco.

I actually wanted to try one of the well known cable cars too, but the queues for those were so long, that I dropped that for today.

In stead I took a bus to the ocean to see what a San Francisco beach looked like. It looked good. And the weather is perfect here. Still sunny, but just a bit more bearable.

From there I walked a part of the San Francisco Land’s End trail, which gave stunning views of both the ocean and the Golden Gate bridge (now without fog!).

There are a couple of photos here (they are not that great though!):
San Francisco – day 1

There aren’t really any photos of the city itself, but I will take care of that when I am visiting some of the sights at a later time.

If I feel fit enough tomorrow and the weather is good for it I am going to bike the bridge.

Los Angeles day 3

I spent my last day in Los Angeles preparing for my train trip tomorrow. I visited Los Angeles Union station to pick up my Amtrak ticket. Union Station must be one of the most beautiful stations I have ever seen, it is really classic and in beautiful art deco style.

I hope all goes well and that I make it on the train in time tomorrow, the Coast
Starlight train leaves at 10am (and there is only one of these trains a day) and will deliver me in San Francisco about 11 hours later.

There are some photos (not too interesting, as I haven’t done that much new today but expect Union station and Santa Monica beach) on either Picasa here or if you’d rather have them on Facebook, here they are.

Did I like LA? Well yes and no. I love the beaches, and I quite liked Santa Monica, which I have returned to every afternoon. I think Venice Beach is a bit trashy and messy but generally the beaches are fantastic, and on a lot of places they are very empty. The weather has been fantastic too which was great. It was fun to see Hollywood boulevard, but I am not too big a fan of Downtown LA. Maybe I haven’t found the right streets, but it seemed without atmosphere.

I will miss my afternoons in Santa Monica (I have been a real tourist and even bought a Santa Monica zip hoody sweater, I know, I’ll control myself better next time), but I am sure that San Francisco will have beaches too. I can’t wait to see what things look like over there.

Los Angeles Day 2

If you are ever in Los Angeles and the weather is nice, you have to rent a bicycle and cycle a part of the (very flat and car free) coastal cycle path. It is such a thrill to cycle on a path away from traffic and going straight through the beach sand. Very recommended!

I have not much more to add than that I had another great day in LA (sun + sea + beach – how could it not be a great day!) and here are the photos (more text in the captions)

Los Angeles – day 2

Oh and I had dinner (outside) at Tito’s Tacos. It’s on the opposite side of my hotel, and I spotted a queue there every evening, so I decided to give it a go. It’s a very authentic Mexican place, and lesson learned – if there is a long queue of local people – it is good!

Los Angeles Day 1

Here are the photos: Los Angeles Day 1)

Ten things I did in Los Angeles on day 1:

  • I had a great pancake breakfast in the Metro Cafe. This lovely cafe is only 50m from my hotel and has the exact right cafe atmosphere.
  • I ran into a huge film shoot in downtown LA. A complete street was blocked, they had incredibly huge cranes, and there were 4 huge catering trucks standing there to make food for cast and crew. This is LA film making in a nutshell. And this is where film making money is. They warned us for fake bullet shootings.
  • I had a lovely veggie flatbread pizza on Hollywood Boulevard. Thought it would be insanely expensive, but $8.40 for pizza and drink is cheap for a Londoner.
  • I also saw the famous Walk of Fame stood on Kevin, Jack and Ingrid. It is very touristy but I actually quite liked it.
  • I noticed you can get any Oscar you want as long as you pay.
  • I drove on the LA subway and discovered the coolest subway station ever.
  • I realised how big LA is. And with BIG. Things are very far apart, if you don’t have a car expect to spent time on public transport. Public transport in LA is looked down on, you would never see a business man on the bus in LA, unlike London where public transport is used by all kinds of people.
  • I also drove on the longest public transport bus in the US. They are not bendy busses but just very long, and the good thing is – they are airconditioned. And they take bikes, on a frame on front of the bus.
  • And the thing that made the day unforgettable: I saw three dolphins! They were playing around in Santa Monica bay. They were a bit away so I didn’t catch them on photo, but I have good hopes I will see more of them when going on my whale watching trip in San Francisco.

(Note: the photos are as they are, no post processing – I don’t have time for it!)

Am off for breakfast now, today’s activity – cycling!

Ready for takeoff, California here I come!

Last post from London.

I have packed, I have checked in online, and I think I am ready. I will report from LA when I get there. My plane leaves at 9.55am from Heathrow tomorrow, and after some time travelling I will arrive there at 12.55pm Local time.

Weather broadcast for both LA and San Francisco: sunny and warm.

I see you on the other side of the water, California here I come!

Be good !

When you think you are well prepared for your USA trip …

but you aren’t.

It is nice to plan a trip yourself: you can often find cheaper deals and book everything from your pc, however you can also miss some important information that travel agents would have given you.
That happened to me!

I have been preparing like mad for this trip and as a final check I just wanted to make sure that my Dutch passport (which expires by the end of January 2010) was OK to travel with to the US. So I called the US Embassy in London and checked with them, and yes all was fine.

Oh and by the way had I registered on the Electronic System for Travel Authorization? Uhh, what? Uhh, no? Never heard of it? Didn’t need to last time I went to the US?
No, but you need to now!

So how do I do that, I asked the lady?
Well I could Apply here.
Allrighty, will do that I said.
Yes and you have to do it 72 hrs before you leave.
Ehrm, I am leaving within 48 hrs..? (I could feel a heart attack brewing)
Well we can’t guarantee you’ll have it in time then.
But my flight is going on Friday? What happens if I don’t have it by then?
You can’t get on your flight.
But why didn’t British Airways tell me?
It’s the responsibility of the traveller.
Bugger.
Is there any way in which I can get it faster?
Nope. There wasn’t. And really the Embassy woman could not care less.

And I thought But. I. Really. Have. Been. looking. Forward. To. This. Trip…. and could see the plane flying away without me Friday.

You better apply as fast as possible – she told me.

And so I did, barely able to type my name correctly because of the stress and the thought that my trip would be cancelled. I entered the application form, prepared for some nervewracking hours to come waiting if they would be able to process my application before Friday or not. And – I got approved within 10 seconds.

I did not believe it at first and had to read the page 5 times, but yes I was approved and can travel to the US on Friday.

That was a major PHEW!! I can tell you. And I learned my lesson – never assume that things are the same as last year. Whenever travelling to a country – check the bloody rules for entering that country.

And just so you don’t have to go through the same stress:

If you are travelling to the US and your country participates in the Visa Waiver program you need to apply online for Travel Authorization.

It is free and the only website to do that is the official ESTA website. Fill in the form, and wait for approval. Apparantly it can take up anything from 10 seconds to 72 hours to be approved. Be aware that there are website do the application for you for money, don’t go there, the only official website is the one mentioned above.

My heart beat is slowly getting back to normal. I think I am going to spoil myself with a KitKat and a tea now.

Oh and don’t you just love the sketch, make your own on: Odopod.com (Click for original size)

The last bits of preparation

Regent's Park

The weather is so incredible in London at the moment that I decided to bike to Regent’s Park after work, to catch the last sunshine. I think that Regent’s Park has become my favourite park. It is often peaceful, I love to watch people struggling in the boats on the boating lake and today I found the Boating Lake Cafe where they sell ice cream! Yes I had one.

I just felt I needed to stress down a bit and realise that all will be fine with my trip. Of course I will find the hotel in LA and of course I can still check in in my hotel in San Francisco, despite arriving very late by train. Right?

So I am going to relax about it now.

I am typing this on my G1 Android phone, testing if it is possible to post to my blog from it. I will have wifi in my hotels so this might be a way to send trip updates. The camera on this phone isn’t worth much but good enough to give some sort of visual impression.

I am also considering doing some podcasts with Ipadio which is something like Audioboo but available for Android too. If I am not too shy I will post it through my Twitter stream.

I will enjoy the last bits of sunshine now here in London and hope the weather is as lovely over where you are.

A Groovylicious Sunday: Bill Nighy on set of Statuesque

While I am in the middle of getting very exited about my upcoming trip the the USA, yesterday made September even more magical. I knew BIll Nighy was going to star in Statuesque, a new short film which tells the story of a love triangle between two living statues and an admirer who observes his object of affection every day among the Christmas shoppers – but is unaware that he too is being watched.

It is a silent short film written and directed by Neil Gaiman, who wrote Coraline and Stardust. Statuesque will be broadcasted on Sky around Christmas.

Neil Gaiman twittered and wrote on his website that he was going to start shooting this movie in London, and actually wouldn’t mind people to come down and watch the process.

I didn’t need much encouraging to push my pack-my-suitcase duties aside for a while and get on the London overground to Watford yesterday. When I arrived, Bill was already dressed up and ready for his scenes.

He looked pretty marvelous in his 60′s style Chicago gangster suit, his dark sunglasses makes him a perfect Blues Brother, but in the scenes he replaces his dark shades with some normal ones which turns him into a quintessential British gentleman with umbrella and all.

It was fabulous to watch him “at work”. And special, I have only seen him perform “live” on stage in a play where everything is rehearsed and goes smoothly. But here he had to improvise a bit, do the same scenes a couple of times, and think about continuity and things like that. Absolutely Intrigueing to see him at work.

His scenes took a couple of hours after which they moved on with other cast members. I am sure that he will be shooting more scenes, but don’t currently know when these will be shot and where.

September has started off in a major way having the chance to watch this, and I think I will continue to smile throughout the rest of the month.

I took some more photos, warning: very long legs … »

USA Holiday preparation

There are only seven days until my departure to the USA, so a good time today to do any last minute holiday shopping on Amazon.

I ordered the following neccesary items:

  • SanDisk 4GB SDHC Secure Digital Card. Something tells me that I am going to take a lot of photos, and with both an 8MP and a 10MP camera, the file size of the photos will be large. I don’t want to take the risk of running out of cards, so I ordered another 4GB. Just to be on the safe side.
  • Lowepro Apex 20AW Digital Camera Pouch – Arctic Blue. A small more protective pouch for my Panasonic DMC-TZ4 pocket camera. Somehow I managed to get this for £7.49 from Amazon including postage, but it doesn’t show up for that price anymore now. I guess I was lucky!
  • A cute luggage tag and a lock. Yes ok they have hearts on them. But I liked them, and they will make my suitcase even more recognizable when it arrives at LAX airport.
  • Noise Cancelling Foldable Headphones
    It is going to be a long flight from London to LA, estimated flying time is 11 hrs 5 min, distance: 8758 km / 5442 miles. Wow!

    I have done a long flight like this before, from Beijing to London so I kind of know what to expect, but it is a long time. Good thing that BA has entertainment on demand in their aircrafts. And just to be able to hear the movies properly or listening to the onboard radio, and to keep some of the airplane noise out of my ears – noise cancelling headphones seemed handy.

    BA has taken The Boat That Rocked from their schedule again though, which is hugely disappoiinting. But they do show a Bill film: Notes on a Scandal, and they show other favourites like The Proposal. And there are actually some films on the list that I haven’t seen: The Knowing and The Hangover for example. I think time will fly. Literally.

  • The Boat That Rocked [DVD] [2009]. Yes what can I say, if BA doesn’t want to show it, I have to buy the DVD. For the extra material alone. Please, please let there be more material showing Bill Nighy dancing on Rolling Stones music.

I will now make a map of the locations of my hotels, and the things I would like to see. And write a long list of things I want to do, and plot them on the map too.

I bought two guides: Los Angeles (DK Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guide) for LA, and San Francisco and Northern California (DK Eyewitness Travel Guide).

So I am already having a lot of fun finding out what to do and see in both places.

Of course I am also keeping a close eye on the wild fires in the California, and especially Los Angeles but it looks like things are getting under control. Which is good for the people who live there, but also for me as a visitor.

If there is anything I absolutely should not forget to bring with me, let me know!

“I’ve bought a ticket to the States. I’m off in three weeks.”

US trip

(Coffee on me for the person recognizing the title quote without googling!)

I am not exactly off in three weeks, I am off in 10 days! And I am not prepared at all yet, so I better start working on that.

I have stripped off quite some bits from the draft plan and have decided to leave the East coast for another time.

I did try to put Chicago in, but I had trouble finding a reasonable priced place to stay so I dropped it in the end. Next time, baby.

The final plan is simple:

  1. I fly from London to Los Angeles.
  2. I spent a couple of days in LA.
  3. I take the Amtrak Coast Starlight train to San Francisco. This takes 11 h 17 minutes and is supposed to be one of the most beautiful train rides in the US. (You can continue to Seattle if you stay on the train, but I get off in San Francisco).
  4. I stay in San Francisco for 6-7 days and fly back to London.

That is roughly the plan. I have booked flights and hotels using Expedia, Tripadvisor and Hotelscombined. Now I just need to figure out what to see and do.

A couple of things I know I am going to do:

In San Francisco

  1. Rent a bike and bike the bridge.. It is not sure I will rent the bike there, am still investigating the possibilities, but am definitely going to bike the bridge.
  2. Take a ride on a San Francisco cable car
  3. Do a whale watch tour.

More ideas will popup I am sure, also for LA, but this is as far as I got.

I have to run now, I am off to a preview of Away We Go. (by Sam “American Beauty” Mendes).

43

Age is something that doesn’t matter, unless you are a cheese.
Billie Burke

I’m not interested in age. People who tell me their age are silly. You’re as old as you feel.
Elizabeth Arden

None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.
Henry David Thoreau

Live your life and forget your age.
Norman Vincent Peale

And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.
Abraham Lincoln

Love+Rock cards: Tea for two

I felt like drawing a bit again, so this is the latest creative mind dump, and yes I did hand draw those cups myself.

I will soon be on the tube to Heathrow where I will pick up my mum who will visit me for the weekend.

The weather doesn’t really seem to know what it wants this weekend, but I hope we can bicycle in between the showers. I say becycle because I have bought a companion for Lawrence so I intend to take my mum on some bicycle trips. We are both experienced cyclists, not so much in London, but I feel confident enough that I can guard her safely to nice and quiet bicycle tracks. Regent’s Park, Hyde Park, and not to forget the ice cream shop are all planned.

In the end it was cheaper to buy another second hand bike on Gumtree as bike rental prices in London are so high, it will scare a lot of people off.

Lots more is planned for this weekend, but I am not going to give away too much, as I want to surprise her (and she reads this blog).

So a nice weekend to all of you, and I will return with more scriblings after the weekend and write about:
Is cycling in London scary?
My upcoming trip to the US

You can send the above card electronically by the way.