Wednesday, May 30, 2012

California Dreamin': Day 4 & 5. -- The Rock and a hard base.

"You are entitled to food, clothing, shelter, and medical attention. Anything else you get is a privilege."
- Number 5, Alcatraz Prison Rules and Regulations, 1934.
Where: AT&T Park, Alcatraz (day 3); Golden Gate Park, Lands End, Haight-Ashbury (day 4).
How: More walking with camera equipment.
Tired yet?: Yes.
So tired that you'd go back to your hostel, sleep 12 hours and still feeling like you've just fought a bear?: Yes.
Utterly random thoughts of the day: Living in San Francisco is a rich man's luxury.

I've always found the American love for baseball a bit fascinating. For one thing, it's a game that most Canadians probably don't give a toss about (except if you're from Toronto and suffering from Leafs Denial Syndrome (what's this thing you call hockey? never heard of it.) -- then the only sports team you can really cheer for is the Jays).

Take me out to the ball game.
I haven't sat through one single game in my life, primarily because it's a bloody slow game. You have a guy in the middle throwing a ball at the guy with the bat. If he swings it and the ball goes really far then everyone cheers. If he misses then everyone cheers as well (depends on which team you're rooting for, obviously). But then if he hits the ball really far but then the other team caught it before it touched the ground, he's out too. But then if the ball goes far enough that the fans will fight over each other, spilling beer in the process, to grab that baseball, then he does a loop in the park and then walks back to the dugout.

Yep, sounds great.

I am more of an ice hockey guy. More action. Much faster. Much more brutal in some ways. More interesting story lines too. However, since the San Jose Sharks are eliminated in the first round (along with the team I cheer for...), the only major sports team playing in town is the San Francisco Giants, the MLB franchise that won the World Series in 2010. People around here are nuts about the Giants.

So I decided to give it a shot.

The first two innings were filled with action -- The Giants hit a home run and jumped to a 3-0 lead. Then they got one more run in the second inning. After that, the whole game was just kind of... slow. I guess in hockey terms it was like watching the Tampa Bay Lightning playing the 1-3-1 (a.k.a. trap) system. For the rest of the 7 innings (9 innings in total) the Giants sat on 4 runs, while the other team could only muster 2 runs.

2 hours and 40 minutes later, the Giants won the game 4-2, in a game that was, well, pretty boring.

That said, I do see the appeal in baseball though. The atmosphere at the ballpark was just ecstatic. It was also memorial day on May 28, so they gave tribute to the men and women that served the country with national anthems, two jet fighters hammering across the ballpark, and more patriotic anthems. The game did have its exciting moments too, albeit a little spaced out and... well, slower paced. I guess major league baseball does have its charms.

After the baseball game, I spent the rest of Memorial Day on Alcatraz Island for the 6:45 night tour (not that I could get anywhere anyway -- everything was closed on Memorial Day). Alcatraz was well known as America's most mysterious penitentiary, housing guys like Al Capone and George "Machine Gun"Kelly. Alcatraz was also the subject of numerous Hollywood movies, most notably Sean Connery and "The Rock". The tour was $35 for the ferry ride, and it is well worth every penny.

Simply said, the Alcatraz night tour was phenomenal.

Small wonders, one of America's once most secure prison was only a 15-minute ferry ride away from the city. Inside the prison was numerous cells that were smaller than my own bathroom -- imagine being stuck here for 10 years. The prison itself was well kept and preserved -- even the mechanical doors for the jail cells were working to this day. Our guide -- Al (who was wonderful by the way) --  offered to open a selection of doors for us, and man, was it loud. The mechanical doors do make a deafening sound as they unlock and open -- as if it serves to intimidate even the toughest criminals.
Welcome to the Rock.

As we were the last tour of the day, we had most of the island to ourselves -- at night, the island and the jail cells themselves were quite eerily quiet. Outside, the SF Bay Area was still booming with life. If it gets quiet enough in the prison, you can almost hear the sound of people playing on the beaches. The island also featured a jaw-droppingly beautiful panorama of San Francisco.

As a park ranger pointed out, Alcatraz was more of a torture of the mind, not the body.

The tour itself was around 3 hours long. Alas, even that I thought wasn't enough for me to satisfy my photo-fetish. Some amazing shots were made on the island though, and I couldn't be happier. Today, Alcatraz is a national park within the SF Bay Area, and in my eyes a treasure in the American history books.

By the time I made it back to the hostel at the end of the day, I was so drained that I spent most of day 5 (May 29) sleeping and chilling at the beaches -- after all, lugging 3 lenses and a tripod around the city for the whole day was no easy job. I did manage to meet up with my cousin Jessie though, so that was great catching up -- and the Burmese food we had was delicious. Other than that though, nothing much to report.

Monday, May 28, 2012

California Dreamin': Day 3 -- The Golden Gate.

Happy 75th, Golden Gate Bridge.
Where: Chinatown --> Telegraph Hill --> Russian Hill --> Lombard Street --> Marina District --> Fisherman's Wharf --> Fort Mason --> Golden Gate Bridge.
How: On foot. With a tripod, 3 lenses and a flash in my bag.
Drunk people seen: Over 10.
Utterly random thoughts of the day: People do the funniest things when they are drunk.

Started off the day swapping hostels and came to this super cozy of a place called the Pacific Tradewinds Backpacker's Hostel -- it's rather small inside but everyone is pretty friendly and their beds and linens are amazing by hostel standards.

Started off the day visiting Chinatown and yumcha-ed at one of the Chinese restaurants. The average age at restaurant: 85. The food was nice though, I stuffed myself with 4 dishes and the bill came up to $11.

Me with Brad and Brittany. Fun times.
Spent most of the day trekking the hills of San Francisco... Note to self: Never bring a bunch of lenses and camera equipment that you won't be using for most of the day. It felt like I was building the Egyptian Pyramids. The walk up the hill becomes quite daunting after 4 or 5 hours of walking.

May 27 just happened to be the 75th birthday of the Golden Gate Bridge, so a massive fireworks celebration was in order. Met up with Brad and Brittany from the hostel again and hung out for the rest of the night.

And it was spectacular.

The night then took a rather interesting turn... Ahem Brad. The "night" went all the way into the morning... And now I have a Giants game to catch.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

California Dreamin': Day 2 -- Are you going to San Francisco?

Where: San Francisco, CA.
Staying until: June 2.
Total distance traveled: 310km.
Money spent on bridge tolls in San Francisco: $5.
New people met: 2.
Utterly random thoughts: Drunk hobo fights are kind of awesome.

I departed yesterday morning from Williams, CA en route to the Golden Gate city early in the morning... By early I mean around 10-ish. The original plan of me spending the night in the car completely vanished the minute I saw a Motel 6 go by the window. By the time I got to bed I completely crashed and stayed down for 10 hours.

This extra energy though, meant that I could use a lot more of it driving down the back roads in Northern California.

The drive through Napa -- over 50km stretch of sheer fun.
Instead of heading down the I-5, I took the long way (a.k.a. fun) around and found this back road called Knoxville Road in Napa, CA. About 30+ kilometres of the road are one-laned roads with swooping corners and bends. With a bit of terrain too. And no traffic. I went nuts driving on that road. Never in my life had I have so much fun in my car. (This road is also been said to be the greatest road in California -- we will see about that when I tackle route 66 and Yosemite, but for now I absolutely agree).

Who cares if this detour took me an extra two and a half hours to make it to San Francisco? It was all worth it.

Driving in San Francisco though is a whole other animal. San Francisco is a beautiful city -- albeit a tad unfriendly for driving travelers. If you think driving around Downtown Vancouver would ruin your day, wait til you drive around San Francisco -- where you'll be swung with traffic, cable cars, street cars, buses, bicycles, no left-turns, one way streets and so on. To make matters worse, the sheer amount of skyscrapers in the Financial District meant that the GPS was rendered effectively useless.

Still though, look at San Francisco. So pretty. I spent much of the day just driving around it and marvel at, well, everything. 

That and the fact that I pretty much had to stay in the car, because San Francisco is just so damn cold. The weather was 8 degrees yesterday with winds that felt like Oklahoma tornadoes.

At the hostel I shared a dorm with two traveling Aussies -- Brittany and Bradley. Thought I'd give them a shout out because they are utterly awesome as well. We went out for cheap pasta (less than 9 bucks!!!!11!1!) and received free late night entertainment from two drunk hobos who decided to brawl each other right outside the pizza joint. I don't even know what that was about, but at one point one of them grabbed a chair from the restaurant and swung it at the other bloke. Pretty random.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

California Dreamin': Day 1 -- Radar Love.

"I've been drivin' all night, my hand's wet on the wheel..."
Where: Vancouver, BC -- Williams, CA.
Total distance traveled: 1,331 km.
Time spent on the road: 15 hours.
Utterly random thoughts (plenty of time to think about random stuff when one is driving solo on the road): California tap water tastes funny.

As I am typing this right now, I am sitting in a motel somewhere in the middle of California after having been driving for 15 hours straight. The driving was surprisingly manageable and easy for me -- I did it solely with a pack of kit-kats, lots of water and the occasional 5-minute break in between. And yes -- no coffee. This could have been a lot worse -- the night before I was hoping to get to bed by 9pm and wake up at 5 to have enough energy for said long drive. However, when 10 rolled around I was still frantically doing last minute packing (ie. "Where is my shaver, shampoo, passport, money, etc. etc.") By the time I made it to bed by 11, I hoped to spend the next 6 hours with some quality sleep, as broken down as follows:

1/2 hour spent on texting farewell messages to friends ("I am going to California... You're not. Bye!")
1/2 hour spent staring blankly into the ceiling.
1 hour spent tossing around the bed.
1/2 hour spent flipping the pillow around, because tossing around the bed didn't have the effect I was hoping for.
And then about 5 hours of actual sleeping.

Last time I did a similar trip like this, I couldn't even sleep at all and as a result, a drive that normally takes people 13 hours took me 15 and a half to drive there. This time though, I departed Vancouver at 6 in the morning and got to the California border by 5pm. With the sun still up, I drove until about 9pm and called it a day.

Driving solo is all kinds of awesome. You can play whatever music you want to play, you can drive as fast as you want (ie. not that fast -- Oregon and Northern California are littered with Highway Patrols officers with funny-looking cowboy hats), and you can just make a mess in the car with kit-kat wrappers and no one will give a damn. Nothing in life is better than being able to roll down all windows and sunroof, going down an Interstate highway while blasting "Highway to Hell" on the stereo.

You can also eat whatever you like (although on the highways usually your choices evolve around fast food) -- in my case though, my hopes of finding a Jack in the Box in Oregon has utterly failed resulting me to go with the most disgusting Baconator at Wendy's I've ever tasted in my life. That fat-dripping beast of a burger stayed in my gut for most of the day. (note to self: when asked what size I would like in an American fast food restaurant, remember that American small = Canadian medium; American medium = Canadian medium x 3).

The weather was all kinds of interesting too. From Washington's overcast to sunny to Oregon's sunny to sheer fog and rain to Northern California's rain to sunny again. The rain certainly helped with some of the splattered bugs on the windshield of my car too.

Overall, the drive on the first day was everything that I imagined -- the true taste of freedom.

At the Siskiyou summit, Oregon, while barely able to see anything on the road.

The following two and a half weeks will have me traveling to most major cities in California -- San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. I will also be visiting some ghost towns and national parks in the California desert, before making it to Reno, Nevada on the way back to the land of Canadia. With all this free time, I am hoping to get my blogging legs running again... But then, this is not the first time I've said it so...

Next stop: San Francisco, California.