Friday 21 August 2015

Road Trip Diary: San Francisco

Day 52
Sacramento to San Francisco
Wednesday 24th June 2015

We were excited to escape the heat of built-up Sacramento for the cool, misty bay awaiting us but apparently it didn't want to let us go without a fight. On our way out of the city, I asked Ed to stop at a local Goodwill and, as if the car sensed Ed's disapproval, a warning light sprung up on the dashboard. After much grappling with the manual we discovered it meant some sort of electrical failing and it recommended we to take it to the nearest dealer. After a quick change at the local Alamo, we were now onto our fourth (and I’m pleased to say final!) car.

On the approach to San Francisco, we stopped off at the Golden Gate Bridge, heaving with tourists. We drove up to recreation area to get some better views and were SO thankful that it was a totally clear afternoon with not a cloud in the sky. Last time we were here, we could barely see the tops of the bridge so this was a real treat. It’s an obvious tip, but to have the best chance of seeing the bridge, aim to arrive in the afternoon after the fog has had a chance to clear!


The drive across into San Francisco was fantastic and we made it to the Haight district to find our Airbnb for the next three nights. After a bit of paranoia about finding a space in a city known for its notoriously difficult street parking, we somehow found one a couple of blocks away within the first ten minutes of looking and after the deciphering the restriction signs, left it there for the next 3 days.

The Airbnb was a traditional Queen Anne Victorian home, just a few minutes from the Haight-Ashbury junction. San Francisco is not a cheap city, but you should know that already. We couldn’t find a single affordable hotel in the Haight neighbourhood that we were set on staying within walking distance of. Luckily we spotted a modest but beautiful room in this huge converted house, complete with bay window and high ceilings, but it was the location that clinched the deal.

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That evening we went out for some drinks and food at a couple of hilariously pretentious bars on Haight Street, which I liked but Ed took an instant dislike to.
Sparrow Bar was cute but they’d run out of draught beer and the staff were a bit odd, The Alembic which made incredible cocktails but was quite expensive and then Magnolia Pub and Brewery for some decent English-style draught beer and a couple of burgers. After so much cheap booze on this trip, the prices in San Fran came as a bit of a shock!
Though these places had come highly recommended via the internet, we much preferred the dive bars that we spent the rest our booze money in for the next couple of nights - chilled, cheap and cheerful!

Day 53
San Francisco
Thursday 25th June 2015

The Haight Street Market is a local institution which opened in 1981 and has a great selection of fresh food, full meals and a deli, plus a great coffee place just inside the doors with fresh croissants. There are some tables on the street so you can eat your breakfast and people watch for an hour or so, which is exactly what we did each morning.

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We last visited to San Francisco in 2011 and had ticked off many of the sights then including Alcatraz, so even though it was brilliant we decided to give it a miss this trip. We wanted to have a casual walk around the city, seeing things we hadn’t seen last time. We grabbed the bus downtown and decided to head to City Lights, the well-known Beat Generation bookshop and then walked to down to the bay, past Fishermans Wharf (we learnt our lesson last time with this place - not that pleasant, too touristy) and headed to the little beach near Ghiradelli Square for some ice cream. We decided we couldn’t miss the chance to go on the cable cars again even if we had ridden them a few years ago, so queued up for an hour or so and when it was our turn to board, realised we were going to be hanging off the side which was amazing fun.
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Back in Union Square we did a bit of shopping and then remembered one of the bars I had read about would be opening soon. We climbed up to the Fairmont Hotel within which is hidden the Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar. It’s hard to describe this adequately because it was so bloody amazing and one of my favourite places in San Fran, but it’s basically a Tiki bar with a huge pool in the middle and where every half hour or so, thunder sounds and ‘rain’ pours down around the pool. The best thing about it was the happy hour. When we arrived at 4.59pm there was already a medium sized queue forming, waiting for the room to open. I had no idea it was so popular until slightly after 6pm when we were happily seated and I looked out the door to see a huge line of people still waiting to be seated. They had a brilliant happy hour menu, with large cocktail bowls for around $15 for two people and an all-you-can-eat Asian buffet for $10/person. Perfect kitschy fun after a long day on your feet, but be sure to get there early! Happy hour is from 5pm-7pm.


Day 54
San Francisco
Friday 26th June 2015

Today was the first day of the whole trip that we both felt pretty crap. Either the cocktails the night before had been stronger than previously thought or spending a month and a half on the road was finally taking its toll on us. I was so lethargic and my motivation was below zero, so only when we heard the amazing news that the US Supreme Court had legalised same-sex marriage did we even feel like crawling out of bed. What a place to hear the news! It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life, the whole city seemed to buzz with happiness.

We walked over to see the Painted Ladies - a famous row of Victorian-era pastel houses with a view of the whole city behind them but were sad to see one of them was covered in scaffolding. They still looked pretty so we snapped some photos and walked back to Haight Street to spend some time looking in all of the vintage and thrift shops. I actually took a load of my own things to Buffalo Exchange as I was getting a bit fed up with some of the clothes I'd bought out with me and I ended up getting about $40 in exchange credit - another great idea if you're doing a long trip and fancy some new pieces! 
As for recommendations, both Wasteland and Held Over were the best we visited with huge selections and pretty cheap prices, Relic was full of beautiful hand-picked, really special items at a higher price point but still affordable.

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Still feeling a bit rubbish we decided to head back for a nap and then popped out later for some food and drinks to take back to the room. I'm still full of regret for spending our last night in San Francisco curled up in bed watching Netflix but what the body craves, the body gets and we wanted to be fully refreshed for our drive to Carmel the following day...


Wednesday 19 August 2015

After the Adventure: 10 positive actions to ease you back into daily life


In a few days it will be a month since we flew back to the UK, leaving the sunshine and dust and our surreal bubble in America behind us. To say the past few weeks have been a whirlwind would be an understatement. To fill you in, if you aren't familiar with our situation, we bought and exchanged on a house in March 2015, stayed in our London flat until we finished work at the end of April, moved all of our worldly possessions into the new house and then, a week later, jetted off for three months to the west coast of the USA for the biggest trip of our lives.

Our first week back, the last of our sabbatical, was spent covered in paint and in a state of constant mess. My wonderful family had painted the dining room whilst we were away but there was still an epic amount to do, so we rolled up our sleeves and threw ourselves into the work, jet lag and all. I'll talk about the house in future posts as, of course it is the Home in Home & Highways, but for now we still have six or seven travel blog posts to publish, everything from San Francisco (coming in the next couple of days) to San Diego and the magical desert between.

The inevitable lows of returning to normal life have hit us hard. We are both (sadly) back at work now, so coming to terms with the daily commute, grey skies and lack of In-N-Out Burger has been a struggle.  We decided to put together a list of positive actions for getting back into the swing of post-adventure life for those of you who, like us, just want to hotfoot it on the next flight out of here.

1) Sharing is caring
One of the things we've found most therapeutic since coming home is sharing our stories but, big disclaimer here, nobody likes hearing other peoples endless travel tales and those 'had to be there' anecdotes- it can be pretty dull. However, most of our family and friends followed our journey and asked to see our favourite photos and share our highlights. Reliving your favourite moments will allow the trip to sink in and properly cement itself in your mind if you've been on the road for weeks.

2) Relax
We didn't have baths in a lot of the motels we stayed in and there is NOTHING like coming home to your own creature comforts. If you can, exploit the things you've missed whilst travelling. Take an hour long bath with a good book and music playing with no risk of annoying fellow travellers or hosts and revel in using all the products you couldn't fit in your toiletry bag.

3) Remedy your routine
Yes, the whole point of your trip was to get away from the chores and humdrum of daily life but, hopefully, you've returned from your travels reinvigorated. Taking back control of your routine and assessing what works and what doesn't with fresh eyes will empower you to eliminate some or all of the bad habits you might have fallen into prior to take off.

4) Do your favourite things.
There are always things to be missed on a long holiday. I missed my family, my friends, good strong tea (and a kettle!), fish and chips, a haircut and colour, the British news, Sainsbury's food shops and cuddles with my best friends daughter Molly. Since being back I've made time to enjoy nearly all of these and I appreciate each one so much more since coming home.

5) Play your soundtrack
We've been listening to our road trip playlist a lot since coming home. At first it made me sad as I couldn't stop thinking about being back on the open road but I realised this can only be a good thing. It's helped us to remember silly conversations and funny, weird stories all linked with a particular song that were too 'small' to write down. It's these forgotten moments and the accompanying soundtrack that fill in the gaps on a trip and will stick with you for years.

6) Treasure your mementos
If you're anything like us, you've returned with a bag full of mementos and souvenirs from your time away. Make sure you don't stuff them into a drawer and forget about them- this will only make you feel guilty months down the line when their significance has evaporated. Spread them out on the floor one evening and organise them. Be serious about what you want to keep- do you really think you'll want to frame that ticket stub from a ten minute bus trip you took in Seattle? For the special pieces, frame them, scrapbook them or do like I do and keep them safe in a box to pour over and use at a later date.

7) Streamline your photos
We came back with over 10,000 photos which is not only ridiculous but also unmanageable. Will you ever show anyone that many photos? Will you even bother to look at them yourself if you've got thousands to wade through? The curse (and blessing I suppose) of digital photography is that there isn't a limit to how many we take. Firstly, delete all the blurry, accidental or duplicate shots. Then try and keep only one or two from each set or a couple from each 'event'. If you can't bear to delete any transfer them all to an external hard drive and categorise them by day or week. Have your favourites printed. They'll be much more of a joy to look through later on if they are organised.

8) Socialise
Don't mope around at home. Get back into your social groups, organise meet ups with friends, catch up on everything you've missed and do some of the sharing I mentioned in point 1. We felt a bit isolated when we came home but soon settled as we realised that everyone was the same and nothing had really changed.

9) Start something
Decorating the house kept our minds off the depressing fact that the trip we'd been planning for a year was over. Start a blog, sign up for a class, learn a language. If you just need a new obsession, start a series (or 9) on Netflix or start the first book in a trilogy. You need to love something as much as you loved planning and taking the trip. Or, alternatively...

10) Move onto the next
If all else fails and you just can't get through the day without daydreaming of beaches and desert and blue sky, the only thing guaranteed to make you feel better is to start planning your next trip. If your savings are back to zero, start organising ways to build them back up. Start researching (= spending endless hours on Pinterest) destinations, times of the year and attractions. Now that you've successfully planned and survived one trip, you are the best person to organise your next. Write down everything you loved and hated about the last one so even when you look back with rose-tinted glasses you'll have a list to remind you how much you loathe 6am wake-up calls, night flights etc.

I hope something on this list helps, whether you've been away for a couple of weeks and feel a bit blue or if it's your first time back on home turf for a year. There is nothing quite like the bump back down to earth you get after an adventure. Here's to the next!

P.S If you have any more tips for getting back to reality, feel free to share them in the comments below!

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