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Category Archives: travel

Haiku Factory World Tour ’10

itinerary, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

  • Paris. June 28-July1.
  • Madrid. July 1-7.
  • Brisbane. July 9-20.
  • Melbourne. July 20-29.
  • Brisbane again. Jul 29-Aug 1.

San Fran w/ Jan

SF cable car, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

(More photos on Flickr.)

Janelle’s flight back to Australia departed from San Francisco in the early morning hours of Wednesday, so I went down there with her for a few days beforehand.

Aside from a single day in 2001, and an airport transfer or two since then, I’d never been to SF, so it was pretty cool to see it. I think I had an image in my head from other west coast cities I’ve been to (Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle, San Diego) but it’s actually very different. Older and more expensive, and less naturey — the downtown is definitely more Manhattan than West End.

We stayed in the downtown Hotel Des Arts, an “art hotel” like the Carlton Arms in New York, meaning that the rooms are small and basic, but painted with murals my local artists. Ours was done by Jeffrey Fish, and was really cool, with whimsical skulls (yes) everywhere.

We were only there a few days, and neither of us gets all excited about spending all day seeing the standard tourist sights, so aside from a trip to the SF Museum of Modern Art and the obligatory cable car rides, we mostly just wandered (always my preferred tourist activity in a new city). Highlights and random thoughts:

  • After a couple of expensive, mediocre meals, we basically gave up on restaurant dining in San Francisco. I simply couldn’t get past the feeling that unless you’re into fine dining (which we aren’t), you can get food in Vancouver just as good for a whole lot less, once you figure in the abysmal exchange rate. After coming to that conclusion, we mostly ate Subway and burritos.
  • SF burritos are yummy. Are they really all that? I’m not sure, since I didn’t get around to trying enough different places, but they are pretty good.
  • Being at the intersection of the Financial District and Chinatown makes for interesting bar hopping, as we decided to do one night. We started in upscale wine bars and rooftop patios and ended up in a dive bar with old Chinese dudes and trannies, arguing incoherently, and having walked a total of about four blocks.
  • I am too old to drink a lot. Never again.
  • Seriously, the cable cars are not to be missed. Not only are the views spectacular, but in this age of litigation and safety regulations, it’s great to be in a rickety open car open to the elements, with standees hanging off the sides and hopping on and off in the middle of traffic. Just don’t try to catch it at Powell station — it had dozens of people waiting a good hour to get on, while the other stations were almost empty. In fact, we took the California Street line and had the car to ourselves for most of it.
  • Seeing Milk and then going to The Castro was an experience. The place might have been gritty in the 1970s, but today, the place smells of money. Sweet, gay money.
  • The SF MoMA is cool, but what I really dug was the nearby Cartoon Art Museum, which had Coraline and Watchmen exhibits, and a huge room full of Gene Colon originals.
  • Probably my favourite neighbourhood was Valencia Avenue, which was like a cooler, slightly more upscale version of my beloved Main Street, with taquerías and bars instead of noodle houses and coffee shops. We spent an entertaining afternoon wandering the vintage shops, hipster art galleries and zine stores.

winter in saskatchewan is cold and stark

stark landscape, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

I was back in The Skatch for Christmas. I had forgotten what -32C felt like, but stepping out of the airport, it all came back to me in a rush.

more pics

why yes, I do (heart) NY

I’m back from New York! This was my first trip to NYC since 2000. I don’t know that the city has really changed all that much, but I think in the intervening years, I’ve gone from being a Saskatchewan kid living in Toronto to a pretty committed west-coast urbanite. I say this not because I want to suggest that Vancouver is in quite the same class as NYC, but I do have a much stronger sense of place and why I like living where I’m living. And so I will say this: it is damn hard to get a decent cup of coffee in Manhattan. Not that it can’t be done. (Is there anything that can’t be had in New York?) But you really have to know where you’re going, or you end up with watery Americanos and stale drip coffee.

Aside from that, though, New York is awesome. I got to see the sights with my friend Janelle, spend some time working in the reading room of the New York Public Library, see Spamalot on Broadway (laughed our asses off), and sleep in a tiny fifth-floor room in a Manhattan hostel which had no TV, phone or internet, but had beautiful murals on the walls of all the hallways and rooms.

I’ll put up some pictures later, but here are a few observations from my time in NYC.

  • Going shopping at Macy’s the last Saturday before Xmas was… pretty insane. You know all those shots in Koyaanisqatsi of crowds of people moving, but shot so that the crowds seemed like they were flowing and crawling like they were entities of their own? It’s like that. And it’s stressful. But I managed to buy a Samsonite suitcase at 50% off to carry home all the vintage clothes I bought!
  • Speaking of which, shopping for vintage in NYC is almost too easy. It was fun to go to Williamsburg and visit some hipster-oriented second-hand shops, but Janelle and I visited one (admittedly pretty expensive) vintage store in midtown Manhattan which had hundreds of jackets, all organized by size and colour and style, neatly labelled and sorted. And I mean, dozens of old smoking jackets, corduroy suits, disco jackets, Elvis jumpsuits — everything. It’s too easy. There’s no thrill of the hunt. Sure, I bought a red houndstooth blazer, but I felt a bit dirty doing it.
  • Abhi is right: tiramisu is a lot better in New York. So are bagels. Coffee and sushi, not so much.
  • People in New York are not particularly mean, but unlike Vancouver, they don’t generally go out of their way to be nice. And customer service is mostly pretty bad — or at least, not reliably good. I wouldn’t say I’m a people person: I want simple transactions to be smooth and predictable, and I did find it irritating to have that overruled by the whims of pissy salespeople and surly waitstaff. Seriously, I don’t care if you’re having a bad day — just do your job, take my money, and you never have to see me again.
  • My previous trips to NYC had been pretty much entirely in Manhattan, but this time I got to actually spend some time in Brooklyn (mostly Williamsburg). And for the first time I could actually see myself living in New York. I mean, you got trees and houses and people that know each other. Like a real neighbourhood. And you’re still only about 15 minutes from Manhattan by subway. And all this for only $1400-$2000 for a one-bedroom apartment.

Adventures in Asia, Part 11: What Have We Learned?

main steetI’ve been back in Canada a few weeks now, posted my pictures, written it all up in my blog. Here, I just want to write a bit about what I’ve learned. It’s not really advice, per se, since I can’t speak to how well this would work for, say, you. It’s just things I learned about travelling that I will incorporate into future trips.

on packing

I packed very light for a five-week backpacking trip, and I’m really glad I did. You can see what I took here. Oh sure, I needed to buy a few things, but they were all cheap. (Incidentally, nothing on that list did I actually regret bringing. I owe a debt of thanks to the Travel Independent packing guide for the “pack light, buy what you need” philosophy and tips.) However, there were a couple of things I really wished I’d had at times.

Number one was a lightweight, windproof, waterproof, hooded windbreaker. For travelling on boats, mostly, where it really can be cold, wet and windy. I even have one — I just forgot to bring it. I tried to buy one, but not until I was in the middle of nowhere, and I couldn’t find one that fit me and didn’t suck.

Number two was a pair of jeans. I had a pair of light cotton pants, but just one. And while it’s always possible to get laundry done, it can easily take 24 hours before you get it back, and you don’t want to be in the mountains of Northern Thailand in the middle of winter for a day and a night in a pair of shorts. Now, persons of conventional dimensions might have been able to just pick up a pair of jeans in Asia — it’s a big continent with lots of people, but my problem is, I’m too damn short for Western sizes, and too damn… “cuddly” for Asian sizes. So getting a pair of off-the-rack jeans that fit me simply didn’t happen.

a strange culture indeedon Lonely Planet

The Lonely Planet books are useful for getting a handle on regions, but are best ignored for details. Once you’re in a town, you don’t need the LP to tell you what a good guesthouse or restaurant is. Just take a look around first, trust your first impressions, and you won’t go far wrong. The problem with the LP books is that they are so popular (especially Southeast Asia on a Shoestring) that pretty much anything that gets a mention is going to be packed, while places just as good — or, often, better — but unlisted will be half-empty. I also found a much better source of recommendations in simply approaching friendly-looking backpackers who have been in the place for a while.

Incidentally, for maps and trip-planning info, I found South East Asia: The Graphic Guide to be an excellent alternative to the Lonely Planet, with a lot less hand-holding.

on pre-planning

Speaking of accommodations, before I left, I was kind of nervous about travelling at the highest part of the high season, so I booked a few places before leaving. This wasn’t a bad idea, but it was mostly unnecessary, not to mention limiting and probably more expensive. Turns out there’s always something available. Even arriving in Luang Prabang the night before New Year’s Eve, or in Saigon at 2AM, I had a room in under an hour. Not that it wouldn’t have been nice to have a place waiting on those occasions, but really, I needn’t have worried. And you know, I’d heard such planning was unnecessary, but still I needed to do it for my peace of mind.

Also, because I only had a few weeks in Asia and was coordinating with other people, and generally didn’t want to waste time, I ended up flying a lot, which meant holding to a pretty tight schedule, which meant planning things out in advance. The plus side of that was that I did actually make it to all the places I wanted to see. The cost, though, was flexibility. For instance, I really, really loved Laos and wanted to stay there longer, but I had a whole itinerary for Vietnam that I had to get to. I’m glad I actually got to see all the things I did, and staying longer was simply not an option, but next time, I’d like to go for a longer, more flexible trip.

across Asia in Chuck Taylors
across Asia in Chuck Taylors