Washington DC

Washington!!!After much procrastination I finally used my flight-pass and booked a ticket to Washington DC.  I’d been wanting to get to the capital of the U.S.A. for awhile and was finally presented with a good reason, that reason being that I actually wanted to go to Philadelphia.  Earlier in the year I had purchased tickets to a music festival in Philadelphia called Popped Philadelphia! in order to see The Shins and the date of the festival had arrived.

Unfortunately, my Jetblue doesn’t fly directly to Philadelphia, therefore I decided instead to fly to DC, bus to Philadelphia, then bus to New York and fly out of New York back to Boston.  For once I was travelling with an appropriate amount of luggage, no laptop, just a sports bag and small back-pack.  As soon as I arrived in DC I was mobile enough to start exploring and since I had only one night here, I was going to ensure no time was wasted.  The excitement I felt getting the train into the city was similar to arriving in Rome for the first time, this was a city which promised plenty of sights.

I immediately saw the Washington monument come into view, jumped off the train and started exploring on foot.  As it turns out, there’s  no shortage of free memorials in easy walking distance and the rest of my day was spent visiting as many of them as I could before I became tired, breezed by the White House (complete with protesters marching outside) and stopped for a coffee.  Shortly after, I met with a cousin of mine Steve, who I hadn’t seen for about 20 years (last time was in Europe when I would have been 7 years old) and we immediately started tucking into some beer and pizza. Thankfully the next day the beers from the night before hadn’t done too much damage, so I had plenty of time to continue sight-seeing.

Another DC Monument . . .I headed over to Lincoln Memorial, chuckled rather inappropriately to myself when I saw “Freedom is not Free” on another memorial, breezed through a couple of the free Smithsonian Art Museums and finally wandered all the way up the National Mall to the Capitol Building.  With that I was thoroughly exhausted and decided I’d seen most of the main sights and gotten enough pictures for one day.  Therefore I tucked into some Sushi at the West Wing Cafe before heading over to China town and hopping on my bus to Philadelphia.  I could tell, my two days in DC whilst jammed full of site seeing had only barely scratched the surface, therefore I knew I’d have to return again soon.  Unfortunately, this seems to becoming a regular theme of my holiday with my experiences in Yosemite, Chicago and New York all being cut too short as I travel to my next destination.  Such is the case I find with my travels however, either time or money limits what I’m able to do, but hopefully one day I’ll have plenty more of both!

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Boston – Final Round?

Beach Day . . . with Dunkin Donuts!It was July, I’d gotten all my luggage back to Boston and it was time to plan my next move.  My original plan was to go next to South America, backpack for up to 6 months, learn to speak Spanish, travel as many countries as possible, live cheaply, enjoy my 3rd summer in a row.  Somehow that didn’t happen.  Psychologically I wasn’t ready to undertake such a trip by myself and financially I wasn’t quite where I needed to be either.  Instead, I procrastinated about what to do and ended up vegetating in Boston.  Eventually as my savings deteriorated I reached the decision that it was time to end my holiday, settle down and get a job.  I was still on holiday, but I wasn’t travelling, so trying to find some work seemed like the next best option.

I was still having fun in Boston for the most part, I met a bunch of Australian and New Zealanders through some rugby watching organised by their respective ex-pat societies and before long was organising pub crawls through Cambridge with them.  I went along to an Australia Day in July party held in an Irish pub in the city, its turns out the Aussies here in Boston were sick of celebrating Australia Day (January 26th) during winter, so scheduled a celebration to occur during their Summer instead!  I also made it out to a beach one day, one at a nice scenic little town called Manchester by the Sea.  I was alarmed to learn that many of the beaches here are closed to the public with only local residents allowed, or for those that are public, a fee is required to use.

Despite having no interest in baseball, I did want to see every American sport at least once while I was here, therefore I was taken to a baseball game at the historic Fenway Park in Boston.  I don’t even recall who the Boston Redsocks were playing that night, but it was an entertaining enough spectacle.  Fenway isn’t a massive stadium by any stretch, but is one of the “classic” American baseball Stadiums still in use and every Redsocks home game at Fenway is sold out.  Luckily I was accompanied by someone who knew a lot more about baseball than myself, therefore I had the rules well explained to me.  Much like cricket, baseball isn’t always the most exciting sport to watch and games can sure drag on if no home runs are scored.  This one didn’t though and the Redsocks managed a victory, though their closing pitchers choked fairly badly from what I was told.

Australia Day . . . In Boston . . . In July

Eventually the time came when a decision about future living arrangements needed to be made, the place in Cambridge where I was sub-leasing a room from my cousin Ariel was due to expire at the end of August.  We came to a decision to keep the Rubins together and found an awesome apartment in Somerville a suburb just north of Cambridge.  Before I knew it, a one year lease was signed and we were making
arrangements to move in on September 1.  Just when I was about to finally admit defeat that my holiday was definitely over, a deal came my way out of nowhere that was too good to pass up.

The low-cost American airline JetBlue released a flight special – an Unlimited Boston Flight Pass, which for 3 months would give one unlimited return flights out of Boston.  Only taxes needed to be paid and destinations included pretty much all the major cities in the U.S.A., including around a dozen in the Caribbean,  Cancun in Mexico, Bogota in Colombia and San Jose in Costa Rico.  Buying it would eat up a good chunk of my savings, but give me incredible flexibility to keep travelling; even if I did get a job, going to a new destination every weekend would pay off.  I snapped it up before it sold out, Boston might be my new home, but with this, my travels could continue . . .

New York – Round 2

Times Square!My first trip to New York was far too brief, therefore another trip was planned, this time with my cousin Ariel, staying with a relative of ours who neither of us had previously met – Richard Rosen, our 2nd cousin once removed.  Richard lives on the Upper West and is a published author and senior editor working for ESPN.  Despite Richard’s busy schedule and the unfortunate deteriorating health of his cat Herc, his hospitality was fantastic and it was a great opportunity to meet some more of our extended family.  We all went out to dinner in Manhattan and had Chinese, where we met some more 3rd cousins, Jonah and Rebecca.  Rebecca as it turns out has worked in the music industry for quite awhile and therefore was great to talk and get advice about Ariel’s career.

Whilst in Manhattan I also crossed off a few more experiences that I’d missed last time, hanging out in Central Park for a bit and going for a jog there one afternoon.  Its amazing how such a huge slice of the city is taken up by Central Park and that upon entering it one can feel almost completely removed from the fast-pace, noise and traffic always present in the city.  Ariel and I also had a look around East Village and from there meandered our way up Broadway, checking out shops and finally ending up in Times Square.  Continuing my theme of trying hot-dogs in all the major cities of America, I tried one from a New York street vendor, it was bland, unexciting and over-priced, think I’ll stick to the Chicago dogs from now on!  A pretzel from another food-stand proved to be much more appetizing.  On our final day, Richard also took us out to a genuine local Jewish deli, where we had some excellent grub in the form of Reuben sandwiches.

Although only a short trip (and completely sober since it fell into my Dry-August month), I came to more fully appreciate Manhattan and was further convinced that I would have to live in this city at some point in my life.  The sheer density of Manhattan with so many restaurants, pubs, museums, shops, buildings, sky-scrapers and people packed onto one island is like no other place on earth.  Furthermore, experiencing the serenity of Central Park and exploring the upper west side made me fully appreciate just how diverse a place the city of New York is and how much there is still yet for me to explore.  I left knowing that I would want to be returning soon and hopefully one day, manage to live in this great city.

Los Angeles – Round 2

3rd July at the Stones!My trip back to Los Angeles from Boston was mainly a pit-stop to collect the rest of my luggage, with the aim to hang out with family again.  Additionally, on this visit to L.A., I finally managed to meet Jesús Salvador Treviño, the best friend of my Uncle Dan.  I’d never met Jesús in person, but was aware he had a career as a very successful TV director, notably for directing episodes of most of the popular science-fiction shows from the 90s including the various Star Treks, SeaQuest and Babylon 5.  Jesús was finally in town the same week I was and picked me up for lunch one day.

We had a beer each over lunch and it was fascinating to learn about his time spent working in TV directing and writing, I discovered his resume also included such shows as Prison Break, ER and Law & Order: Criminal Intent!  After lunch he drove me around the neighbour and  showed me the house where my mum and uncle grew up and told me stories about the life they led in Los Angeles during the 60s and 70s.

Most of all, it was great to hear about my Grandfather Sam Rubin from someone outside my immediate family.  Jesús portrayed Sam as an inspirational figure who encouraged him to pursue artistic endeavours and was therefore an instrumental part of him pursuing an artistic career.  Jesús took me on one last stop to his house where he gave me a signed copy of his autobiography and the opportunity to look around his house at the myriad works of art (one print by my Grandfather) and signed photographs of famous TV actors.  Unfortunately, Jesus is now retired as a TV director so I won’t be scoring visits to sets anytime soon, but he is focusing his attention on a website called http://latinopia.com/ which has some great content.

The second significant event occurring during my visit to Los Angeles was to attend a genuine 4th July party (even though it was held on 3rd July) at the residence of my cousins Sam and Maria Stone.  Sam used to work as a chef and is something of a cigar aficionado, therefore this was an event I was greatly looking forward to.  Arriving early to help setup I assisted the Stones convert their backyard from a swimming pool and empty patch of grass to a fully shaded entertainment venue draped with American flags and streamers.

Sam Stone at the BBQNot unexpectedly, Sam’s cooking didn’t fail to impress and his creations from multiple BBQs and a giant round Paella pan were outstanding.  I don’t know what exactly to call the masterpiece that was the chicken and mango centerpiece, but it was damn delicious!  A few mexican beers, followed by food, food and more food, finishing in the evening with a cigar and some Dewars courtesy of my other cousin Dave Stone topped off a fine day.

Alas, in the morning, my stomach had other plans.  I certainly hadn’t overdone it with the alcohol as I was hang-over free the next day, but as I was on my way to the airport to catch my flight, I could tell something was up.  Thankfully I had a direct Virgin America flight, bought for an absolute bargain (the taxi ride to LAX was almost as much as the flight itself)!  As the flight was taking off, I could tell something was seriously wrong, my stomach was rumbling and some serious pain was resulting.  Despite my best hopes that I had shaken it, the dreaded virus I had picked up in Boston was still lingering and had decided to re-surface.  Several trips to the bathroom throughout the flight resulted, I’ll spare you all a graphic description of what was involved, but nonetheless it wasn’t pleasant.

When I arrived back in Boston I had two things on my mind, get back to my cousin’s apartment with my luggage as soon as possible and see some 4th July fireworks!  I headed straight to the taxi queue and as my luck would have it, overhead an Australian accent mentioning the word “Cambridge”.  As it turned out, an Australian lady and her boyfriend were heading to Cambridge in a taxi as well, which they were happy to share with me.  The trip was quick, I heaved my luggage up the two flights of stairs to the apartment and collapsed.  I awoke several hours later to the distant sounds of fireworks and contemplated going to the 4th July party I was invited to.

My stomach was still in pain however, therefore I decided instead of potentially infecting more people with the nasty virus I was harbouring (which as it turns out ended up infecting pretty much everyone in Boston I knew anyways), I pulled out my emergency medical kit that I’d bought for South America, took some tablets and went back to sleep.  I had managed to glimpse some fireworks in the distance through my window and that was good enough for now!

Bennington / North Adams

Spaceship!Every year the band Wilco hosts and headlines Solid Sound, a three day music festival held in and around the ground of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (known also as MASS MoCA).  The Museum is located a decent drive west of Boston in the town of North Adams and is an interesting site made up of 19th Century factory buildings.  Having never seen Wilco live and relishing the opportunity to leave Boston and explore  some more of Massachusetts, I found a partner in crime and we headed west for the weekend.  Much of the accommodation in the area was booked out, so I settled on booking a place ina charming little town called Bennington, which is actually in the state of Vermont, just over the border.  Apart from some nice scenery, followed by a down-pour and some extremely foggy conditions towards the end, the drive was pleasant and unremarkable.

Conditions were perfect on the Saturday morning of the festival and upon arriving  I could tell this was going to be a fairly different experience to the craziness of other festivals I’d been to that year.  Families were in abundance, kids and prams were everywhere and this was definitely an older crowd compared to something like the dance-crazy Good Vibrations I went to in Sydney this year.  I didn’t recognise any other acts on the line-up, apart from Liam Finn, who I eventually worked out is the son of Neil Finn from Split Enz.
Art . . .It was a pretty relaxed atmosphere and just as much time was spent listening to music as exploring the art gallery itself.  There was a decent selection of food and drink and a few beers were enjoyed while strolling between the different stages.  Being a museum of contemporary art, there was a fair amount of variety in the works being displayed, with some extremely large installations on display.  On impressive example filled an entire room in the form of huge white spikes protruding out of multi-coloured rocks dirt looking like something out of an alien invasion movie.  As well, what looked to be an old camper van with space-shuttle like panels attached and a parachute was suspended high on a metal walkway several stories up.  Upon climbing up and entering the vehicle, the inside looking like a retro-fitted space-ship where someone had lived for a number of years, complete with a large book collection and interesting assortment of personal effects.  There were also the abstract art, coloured lines and patterns spread across a wall, some photography and a T.V. displaying a chess game with audio commentary, a display which seemed to confuse most observers.

For the most part, I think I enjoyed exploring the art museum more than most of the acts that played!  Wilco put on a good show, despite a slight delay due to a torrential down-pour in the late afternoon and played a long set late into the night covering the breadth of their career, much of which I was unfamiliar with.  Overall though, it was a great weekend and an enjoyable 6th music festival for the year!

Boston

Ariel Rubin - Live at the Burren!Arriving in Boston hung-over on a rather uncomfortable, but mostly slept through bus-ride from New York, I hit Boston’s bus station ready to off-load my baggage as soon as possible.  Unfortunately, my eagerness to get to my accommodation and relax coupled with a mis-communication resulted in me missing my cousin Ariel and her boyfriend Steve at the bus stop.  Nonetheless, they did find me eventually and I was shown to their apartment in Cambridge where I soon collapsed onto the bed in their spare room.  Little did I realise at the time was that this was going to be my base of operations for the next few months.

The main reason for my rush to Boston from New York was to see Ariel perform live, my first opportunity to see such a performance and I wasn’t disappointed.  Heading over that evening to The Burren, an Irish pub not far from where I was staying, I experienced first-hand a performance by Ariel Rubin (www.arielrubin.com) with her band.  I was not disappointed and found the live renditions of the songs I’d already heard from her first album and upcoming E.P. preview to be as good, if not better, than what I expected!  The title track from her upcoming E.P. Big Spoon was particularly moving and while she certainly didn’t sell-out the venue, it was a decent turn-out and a good crowd.

Thanks to Steve some regular exercise was commenced, with runs around the historic Harvard University several times a week, which went a good way to balancing my continued alcohol consumption.  The main reason for the continued partying was the sports-fueled atmosphere of the city which was being fed by the ice-hockey finals – the Boston Bruins playing off against the Vancouver Canucks for the Stanley Cup.  Nights out consisted of beer, pizza and loud cheering, with a particularly memorable night being the 7th game play-off where the Bruins won and took the trophy, much to the excitement of everyone in the bar at the time.  That weekend I attended the parade feeling extremely hung-over (no thanks to an impromptu pub-crawl with an old school mate Marty Armstrong the night before) and despite the heat and a pounding headache, saw the Bruins and the cup parade through the city of Boston surrounded by thousands of cheering fans.

The Bruins Parade

Thanks to my efforts constructing our family tree, Ariel and I also managed to connect with some extended family, taking the form of Joyce and Lev Friedman and their three daughters, Shoshana, Ari and Mia, all 3rd cousins of ours!  We joined them for dinner out in the suburb of Waban, a bit of a trek on the train-line, but well worth the effort thanks to their generous hospitality, fantastic cooking and impromptu music sing-along!  Connecting with some more family was a rewarding experience for us and even better for Ariel, provided the potential for more contacts in the Boston music scene.  Whilst out in Waban on another visit I also visited Barry’s, a well known Jewish deli right by the train station and enjoyed a tasty seafood sandwich.

In Boston I also finally managed to engage in some couch-surfing, being hosted for the first time by John, a Buddhist developer living in Cambridge who graciously offered me his futon for two nights and introduced me to an excellent local Ethiopian restaurant.  I decided Boston was a fun city and since Ariel and Steve’s spare room was available until the end of August, I decided to stop travelling for awhile to re-assess my finances.  Half my luggage however was still in Los Angeles, therefore I flew back for another quick visit to collect it and also participate in a family 4th July BBQ.

New York

Lobby of the Empire State BuildingI dove into New York with very little forward planning.  I had a general feeling that I’d been spending too much money so far on my trip, but after having free accommodation in Seattle and Chicago, was willing to let loose a bit more in New York.  As is generally the case with travel however, not booking ahead, especially somewhere like New York, is a costly mistake.  Therefore, when I landed in New York, I ended up with only one night’s accommodation in a hostel in Brooklyn, which was going to cost me about double that of a similar hostel in San Francisco.

Landing at the airport, I quickly discovered that my public transport options were limited and cumbersome, therefore decided on a taxi.  As it turns out, many taxis don’t know their way around Brooklyn and despite me giving my Indian cab-driver the exact address, our mission was still drawn out and frustrating.  Having no map or clue as to where he was going, I found myself being driven around Brooklyn for the first time after midnight for at least an hour while the taxi driver made numerous attempts to find my hostel.  Much to my annoyance, this often involved getting out of the taxi while it was still running, hopping into a convenience store to ask for directions, all while leaving the taxi illegally parked.

In the end I made it to my accommodation and checked in, luckily the hostel turned out to be spacious, clean and internet enabled.  I didn’t know how long I was going to be staying in New York for but was determined to make the most of it.  There was no question in my mind where I was going the first day – it had to be Manhattan.  I first took advantage of the free breakfast supplied by the hostel and despite my travel-weariness soon found myself striking up a conversation with the other random travelers at my breakfast table.  One of them, Damon, was visiting from Canada and as it turns out was an aspiring stand-up comic who was going to be performing that night.

We decided to hang out and hit the city to check out Ground Zero, grab some burgers from a New York fast-food restaurant (not the best I’ve had, but not half bad either) and duck into The Empire State Building for a quick photo (we were both feeling too cheap to actually pay to go up the top).  In the evening I joined Damon at The Laugh Factory, a comedy club on the East Side, to see him and some other amateur stand-ups perform.  It was a great night and for amateurs, the quality definitely exceeded my expectations, there were a few flops, but nothing too devastating.

New York BuildingTalking with some of the performers afterwards was also interesting, none of them were yet at the stage where they could make a living solely as comedians, so many were struggling to make ends meet by working in hospitality so they could afford to live in a city like New York.  They all wanted to succeed as comics, but looking at the sheer number of them performing that night, which was only one of the three shows at that particular comedy club, its easy to see how much competition there was.  Also of note that night was an encounter with some girls from New Jersey and whilst none were as despicable as the characters on the terrible Jersey Shore, it was very easy to spot the Jersey accent on one of them!  How there can be a difference between the “New York” and “New Jersey” accents, when only a river separates the two areas is quite astounding!

The direct train from Brooklyn to Manhattan from my hostel wasn’t running over the weekend, so the next day I took it easy exploring a bit of the Brooklyn area.  That night consisted of a trip to nearby Williamsberg with another assortment of random party goers from the hostel, including an interesting but highly entertaining long-haired Californian called PJ who always carried a Ghostbusters bag on him.  After another big night out, that was it for my first New York experience, since the expensive hostel was draining my money and I was having no luck couchsurfing the area, I decided to take the bus up to Boston, the last planned stop on my U.S. itinerary to hang out with my cousin Ariel and her boyfriend Steve!

Chicago

The Baha'i Temple in ChicagoMy visit to Chicago didn’t get off to a good start and I found myself suffering a head-cold within my first few days of landing.  If there was a perfect place to be stricken with a cold though, it was where I was staying thanks to my great hosts.  I was collected from the airport and put up in my own room by Gareth, an old friend of my mum’s and while recuperating made good use of his excellent home theater.  The start of my stay was therefore largely spent watching movies such as Casino in-doors, whilst fog and rain draped itself over the city.

When I had finally recovered and made it out into the city, I did get a good opportunity to check out what Chicago has to offer.  There was of course the obligatory viewing of the Chicago bean, a giant reflective sculpture that attracts tourists like flies to honey.  My first trip into the city also happened to coincide with a large parade, celebrating Memorial Day and was a great display of American patriotism.  Since Chicago has such a large number of museums and art galleries on hand, I felt obliged to check out one at least, so spent some time in the Art Institute of Chicago where I came across perhaps the most well recognised American painting, American Gothic –  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Grant_DeVolson_Wood_-_American_Gothic.jpg.

Further time in the city was spent checking out a few of the bars where I quickly made friends including some locals and a couple of English girls, Harriet and Kirstie, who were on a road-trip across the States.  Since I’ve arrived in America, I think there’s barely been a city where I haven’t had a bartender or local shout me a drink and Chicago was no exception that night.  Kasey’s Tavern, whilst certainly a bit divey, comes highly recommended due to the friendly staff, close proximity to one of the only hostels in Chicago city and a good atmosphere.  As well, I continued my hot-dog tour of the States, eating a authentic Chicago Dog which specifically must have yellow mustard, white onions, sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle, tomato and a pickled green chilli (or sport pepper as they’re known in the U.S.).  Also important to note that an authentic  Chicago Dog must have no ketchup!

Visitting ElaineMy host Gareth, something of a gourmet cook, had a very well stocked kitchen, therefore I took it upon myself to cook a curry, completely from scratch, which I had never done before.  I tackled an Indian classic, Vindaloo (using chicken instead of the usual lamb), complete with Raita, Burnt Onions and Basmati rice.  The dish turned out well, though was a bit on the mild side with respect to the heat, but all in all made for an impressive display and a great way for me to repay the hospitality of Gareth and his family.  Later on, we also enjoyed drinking some scotch and smoking cigars outside.

Last but not least, I also paid a visit to the adorable Elaine Maller, the best-friend of my Grandmother Adele who has known her since the two were in high school together in Chicago back at the beginning of last century!  It was great visiting with her and her daughter and hearing about the mischief she and my Grandmother got up to back in the day.  My trip to Chicago while definitely far too short and somewhat hampered by bad rain and my cold, but overall I found Chicago an excellent city with plenty to offer.

Seattle

I had enjoyed excellent weather in San Francisco and Oakland while visiting, but things had started to turn in the last couple days as some drizzling rain set in.  Then on my last day as I was set to fly to Seattle, dense fog fell on the bay and I ended up stuck in the San Francisco airport with my flight delayed for several hours.  Despite the delay however, I did arrive in Seattle that night and was pleased to find I had timed my trip well with more good weather greeting me.

Seattle was another city I had visited on my trip the year before, although had stayed only briefly for two nights last time.  I planned to stay for a week this time round and was hoping to get a better sense of the city.  The other main reason for having Seattle on my itinerary was to visit with Marie, the girlfriend of my best mate Matty who had passed away at the beginning of the year and to also meet some of the other friends Matty had made in Seattle.  Matty was my host last year, therefore I certainly had some mixed emotions returning to this city.

Marie had a great little apartment quite close to the city (quick ride on the bus, but certainly walkable as well) and not far from the river.  Finally having some free accommodation and somewhere friendly to crash again, I quickly became a vegetable however and didn’t find myself venturing out too much while Marie was at work during the week.  I did manage some random wandering on my own though which included an unsuccessful attempt to find Bruce Lee’s grave at a nearby graveyard and a stop at an Outback Steakhouse to have a good chuckle at the ridiculous menu.

The highlight of my stay was attending my first sports game in America on a Saturday afternoon, Marie’s favourite sport in fact, soccer!  I’d heard about her enthusiasm for Seattle’s local soccer team, the Seattle Sounders, but despite being warned I wasn’t quite prepared for the spectacle that was to follow.  Marie is a member of ECS, the Emerald City Supporters, which is a large independent group of Sounders supporters.  I should also mention in addition to being large (2200 members according to their website) they’re also extremely vocal and well organised, booking out a large section of seating for every home game behind one of the goals.

After being outfitted in Marie’s spare ECS scarf, we then headed to a bar in the city where Sounders supporters gather prior to the game for pre-drinks and then marched to the Stadium.  The march was quite a spectacle and something ECS does every home game, I was handed a card with all of the club’s songs on it (over 10 in total I think) and then joined the group chanting through the streets of Seattle.  The members of the ECS knew the march so well in fact, they even commented on a certain section where the acoustics caused by the buildings distorted their singing.  Hanging around this group was great fun and whilst certainly not child-friendly, their chants whilst often crude were easy to pick up (see http://www.weareecs.com/media/songs/ for lyrics and some great videos).  One example is the following:

I’m a Sounder, I’m seldom sober

I’m a Sounder, all blue and green

Its when I’m drinkin’, I’m always drinking,

To a Sounders victory!

The soccer match itself wasn’t all that great and a lot of the time due to being in the middle of the ECS crowd I had my view obstructed by swinging flags (and even lost a beer to one)!  The result was good though, with the Sounders scoring the final and only goal right at the end of the game to win 1-0, needless to say the Sounders supporters were excited.  After the game it was recommended I try a Seattle Hot-Dog, which is served with cream-cheese and grilled onions and it went down a treat!

The rest of my stay consisted of some good meals and drinks out meeting various other friends of Marie from around Seattle.  Also an important lesson was learnt that when planning to go out at night in America, a passport should generally be carried since many stricter places such as night-clubs won’t accept out-of-state or international drivers licenses.  I paid for that mistake on Friday night by having to cab back to the apartment to fetch my missing ID.  As well, it turned out whilst I was in Seattle there was also the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) on, therefore the last night before my departure we went to see a movie about fifteenth-century German Pirates called Twelve Paces without a Head.  The movie itself was a bit average and hard to follow, luckily though due to some excellent foresight, beers were snuck in and on hand, something which would seem obvious an obvious strategy when seeing a movie about pirates.  Thus concluded an excellent but far brief visit to Seattle, can’t wait to go back again soon!

 

Yosemite

3 Europeans and 1 Aussie at YosemiteYosemite was my escape from the bars of San Francisco.  While I hadn’t particularly researched much about Yosemite National Park, I’d heard enough to know that it was supposed to be an incredible place, therefore had it on my mental to-do list.  My decision to go to Yosemite came about as a result of seeing a notice posted at the hostel I was stayed at in San Fran asking if anyone was interested in sharing a rental car to Yosemite in a couple days.  This seemed like a good idea, I hadn’t driven since being in the States, therefore taking off to see some nature in a car sounded like an excellent proposition.  I therefore made contact with the organiser to determine rough costs and after hearing the plan, cancelled my last night’s accommodation in San Fran and agreed to join him and two others on the road.

I emerged slightly late to the lobby of out hostel just after 7AM in the morning, our entourage consisted of myself, Lukas from Switzerland (the organiser), Lucas from Germany and Lobo from Spain.  So it was that we embarked on a  mission to drive to Yosemite, stay one night in a hostel just outside of the park, then drive back the next day.  The cost of the hire car, including GPS navigation and a Satellite Radio was reasonable spread over the 4 of us and once we worked out how to hook up all the devices to the car, music options were plentiful.  Driving out of San Francisco was the shot on in the arm I needed, out of the city, driving and free to go where I wanted with 3 Europeans, things were starting to go right again.

Stops for fast-food were made, music tastes were shared and compared and after a few hours on the highway the weather started turning from warm clear skies to rain and while the road swept us up into the mountains.  We headed straight into Yosemite, not bothering to stop at our Hostel as we wanted to make the most of what daylight there was still remaining.  We stopped by one of the waterfalls (don’t ask me which one, we didn’t even have the park map by this stage) and thought to check it out.  It was absolutely freezing outside and I quickly put on a couple layers of clothes and as soon as we left the car we could hear the roaring of the waterfall.

Yosemite WaterfallWe all started up the path to the waterfall and then it started to rain.  Not rain from the sky though, spray coming off the waterfall!  Water began to cascade down our path and I quickly regretted not having yet invested in a pair of water-proof boots. Regardless we continued on until we saw the waterfall towering above us.  The volume of water, the noise and the spray all contributed to an incredible experience  and despite getting soaked I knew right away that I had made the right decision coming to Yosemite.

After that we headed into the stores in Yosemite to get some idea of what to do while we were there, it started snowing and in fact much of the ground still had snow upon it.  Luckily, we were told that tomorrow the forecast was for perfect weather and blue skies.  Some of the park’s roads were still closed as Spring was only just beginning and snow was still melting, in fact it was an unusual winter in that the snowfall continued quite late into the year.  We got some food and supplies, checked out the tourist center and drove around a bit more, but most of the sites were drenched in fog, so not much was to be seen.  We were sure though that assuming an accurate forecast, the weather tomorrow would be ideal to fully appreciate Yosemite.

We drove back out of our park to Yosemite Bug, a fantastic and highly recommended hostel/hotel, which sports individual cabins as well as dorms, has a health spa as well as a restaurant/bar all on-site.  We had hired a 4 bedroom cabin, which was right at the top of the property.  I quickly thought about staying in Yosemite longer, there was availability in one of the dorms, but alas I was the only driver actually registered on the car!  Therefore, unfortunately I was stuck going back the next day as it was agreed I should be the one to return the car.  After initially asking around for bars to go to nearby, we quickly realised the restaurant on-site was more than sufficient as it sported plenty of travelers, drinks and of course board games.

The Jenga Tower - Almost at its Peak!At dinner I cracked opened a Californian bottle of Red to be shared around, which was enjoyed by all and we then started up a friendly game of Texas Hold ‘Em Poker.  The card game was fun, but started to draw out and since there weren’t enough $$$ in the pot to keep me interested, I blew my lead in a couple bad hands then switched tables to play some Jenga.  Despite being annoyed by the playing of music from my laptop, the two Australians (recently married and on their honeymoon) and one Canadian were more than happy to welcome us to the game and some excellent Jenga with plenty of trash-talk commenced.

After finishing Poker, Lucas and Lukas joined in and thus begin the Epic Jenga match of Yosemite.  I don’t recall ever playing a Jenga match that went for as long, had such a high tower or where there was such pressure involved.  The last table in the restaurant, playing their own game of cards, would frequently cheer and yell out encouragement as the tower grew.  Round after round as the tower began to wobble more and more, each player carefully made their move, hoping it would be their last of game, only to have to suffer the tension of making yet another move as the tower remained intact.  Australia, Canada, Germany and Switzerland were all competing, national pride was on the line, focus and concentration was intense.  In the end there could be no one winner, only a single loser, the person who made the tower come tumbling down.  In the end, it was Canada . . . and the tower crashed into their female representative as she put her head into her hands in shame crying out “I am the Biggest Loser!”

The next day we set out far too late, but luckily the weather was perfect as predicted, majestic mountains that were once invisible behind a seas of fog were revealed in their full glory, rising up straight out of the ground to over 1KM in height!  Snow capped peaks gave way to massive waterfalls and the valley was revealed in all its splendor.  We hiked up to one of the falls, but rather than risk getting soaked again (especially in my new leather jacket) I stayed behind before we reached the top and let the guys go ahead.  Luckily I was entertained by feeding a friendly squirrel.  Fast running of time to get the car back to San Francisco airport in time for the return cut-off, I made the decision to personally fork out a bit of extra cash and keep the car one more day to give us more time to enjoy the park.

Sequoia ActionWe therefore had enough time to go have a look at the Sequoias on our drive back, which are the tallest trees in the world.  These trees were massive beyond belief and because we choose to see them at the end of the day, we had them mostly to ourselves with almost no other tourists around.  One tree had a gaping hole cut into it with a large enough space for a car to drive through and incredibly a sign informed visitors that the tree was actually growing inwards, healing itself to close the gap.  As the sun was setting, we set back to San Francisco where those of us who had previously driven (myself and Lobo) switched to the backseats and enjoyed catching up on some sleep.  Yosemite was an amazing experience, and although far too short, one which I’m keen to repeat in order to explore more fully and enjoy again at some point in the future.

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