Day 10: San Francisco | Day 11: Leaving For Asia

Sugar, yes please ...
Sugar - Maroon 5

Day 10 was the last day of vacation. The next day I was to go back to real life. Since I was pretty lazy, the plan was just to take the hop on and hop off bus and explore San Francisco. So I woke up, not so early, not so late and without the hurry, I was quite slow in getting ready. I made it out of the door, then off to breakfast. I debated if I should go to IHOP again. I love it so much but then the day before I didn't give them any tip, so I wasn't sure if I should show my face again there. The thing is the day before they didn't give me small change, so I was confused about how to tip. I didn't feel like giving them money and asking for change, I thought that would be rude, so in the end I just didn't tip. Tipping is something that I will never get used to in America and the reason for it is I think I am a very stingy person. I really think my brother and cousin are more generous than me. Even my mom seems to be more easy going about this. I hate it because it's confusing for me to always have to calculate how much to give and again because I'm stingy I gave not with a light heart. I could just hear my cousin and brother talk about karma and what if I'm in those places. The thing is I would rather they just put 10% or whatever % of service charge there and be done with it. Having to count 10-20% sucks, I don't think the service was exceptional and yet I have to add in that 20%, why? The amount can be big for me and so my heart was not light. Having to add tips to a more than 60 dollar taxi ride, or adding 5 bucks to $20 something meal just makes my heart break because it's adding costs. It's different when the service charge is included in the bill because I didn't have to think more about it. I really find it weird having to tip taxi driver, isn't their job to drive? When they have done what they suppose to do, isn't the fare the reward for the job done? A tip of 6 dollar and more is just too much for me, but I did, I actually did all this. One of the annoying thing in a restaurant is when they asked if they should give me change, what? Seriously?!? Yes perhaps for an American, I am mean for being annoyed at this, but I think why don't you just give me change and then let me decide how much tips I want to give. Also if we have to reward people who did good, can pay less when the service or meal was not as good? I am seriously mean yes for being this calculative? Anyway, I was quite diligent in my tipping when I was in America lest people think I am rude or stingy (which deep down I somewhat am) and this included giving $2/day to housekeeping, every day I was there. I have never done this in other country ever! The housekeeping in San Francisco was nice that she left me a thank you note twice, which I stupidly didn't think to keep. Those thank you notes did make me feel good about tipping them. Really restaurants should just put service charge on the bill. Establishments that provide service should just pay their employees enough and charge the customers accordingly to make that happen. I want to tip if I am truly grateful for the service rendered not be forced by social convention or because these people are not making enough. If they're not making enough then shouldn't their employers look into that and adjust their business model? I know this is a rambling of a very mean calculative stingy person and when in Rome ... I'm sorry for this.

In the end I braved myself to go to IHOP again. My plan was, I did enjoy their food and the staff were really nice the day before so that day I was going to tip more and explained that's because I didn't tip them the day before. See I felt guilty for not tipping which logically I shouldn't because it's not like I ran out without paying. So anyway arrived there, the staff were different, so I felt somewhat relieved because I was really worried if the staff from the day before would recognize me and gave me the evil eyes. I didn't want to sit at the counter so I had to wait awhile. Ended up sitting at the same seat as the day before, so that was nice. I surprised myself when I realized my head was pretty much empty as I was looking at the street outside waiting for my food - it's a surprise because I usually have many things running inside it. That day I chose omelette with bacon, cheese, and tomato, it came with a stack of 3 pancakes, and I also chose orange juice. The omelette was big, I wonder if they used 3 eggs. I didn't like the tomato, it did occur to me to ask without the tomato but I thought I should be healthier. As expected the portion was big, but when I saw the big and tall stack of pancakes, I still managed to be in disbelief. I seriously wonder if Americans who try McDonald's Singapore big breakfast or the pancake breakfast think that these are kids meal. I tried, I really did, but I couldn't finish the pancakes. I forget if I managed to finish the omelette. So after that I went to pay, gave 5 bucks for tips explaining that I didn't tip them the day before, sorry about that. The cashier kinda laughed and she just put it in a glass. So I don't think it's gonna get shared with the crew from the day before but I cleared my guilty conscience and I could leave in peace, lighter heart, heavier tummy.

Next was to get ticket to the hop on hop off bus, I chose the Big Bus. Stupid me didn't get the ticket online because it's actually cheaper. I booked most of everything before my trip online that I thought I should leave some things when I was in the city, but this one shouldn't have been one of it. My first time taking the hop on hop off bus was in Barcelona and I think it was very convenient and since I didn't research much about San Francisco and had any place in mind I really wanted to go to, I thought using the hop on hop off bus was quite a good plan. It was really not bad. I chose to sit on top because really one should really do that when they ride the open top hop on hop off bus. I knew it would be windy and rather cold because even in the hot Barcelona summer, the wind made it quite cold when I took the bus last time. I did have some stops planned, but then I got lazy and only got off when I got to the Golden Gate Park.

The stop here was near 2 museums, de Young (an arts museum) and California Academy of Sciences. Having had my fill of arts and sciences in New York, I wasn't interested to visit them. As I walked I found the Japanese Tea Garden which I also didn't visit because I've been to Japan. Then I stumbled into the rose garden which was great but not very big, but the roses were nice.

In the rose garden, there's a map of the park and I thought I'd try to see if I can walk to the bison paddock. I followed the direction indicated by the map which was to go straight. The path didn't seem right because I ended up on the streets with many houses. Stupid stubborn me walked a few blocks of this before deciding it's all wrong and I should go back. So I went back, went to the map again and I just couldn't understand it, I walked the direction indicated by the map. After I got back here in Singapore and with that failure still bothering me even after many days, I looked up google maps. The map in google map is horizontal and the map in the rose garden was vertical, so instead of walking straight, I should have walked to my left. What the fuck America? Okay to be specific, what the fuck San Francisco? Okay perhaps maybe there were indicators in that rose garden map that the map should be read a certain way but who does map that way, so confusing!!!

I was demoralized, so sad and annoyed by Golden Gate Park that I decided to just leave. Went to the meeting point again and waited for the bus. Not only sad and annoyed, I was now confused about what to do with the rest of the day. I had hoped to spend some time at the park, but that's not happening, so what's next. I decided that I should really visit Alamo Square and see the rows of houses. I should have stopped earlier that morning, but in my hesitation I gave in to laziness. So then I needed to figure out the nearest stop where I could change bus. The nearest stop was pretty far away, but since I had nothing to do, I really had to do it. First from the Golden Gate Park, the bus crossed the Golden Gate bridge. Being on top, it was crazy windy, I was pretty scared my camera or other things would fly off so I tried not to take so many pictures. After crossing the bridge, it's a loop back to the city. I had to go all the way to Union Square and cross the square to the other bus stop. Luckily a bus was coming in, so I didn't have to be all confused on where the stop was.

So this time, I really got off at the stop to Alamo Square. I think the reason why that morning I didn't get off was because the square wasn't visible straight away, so I didn't want to get all confused on where to find it. This time that I stopped, I didn't straight away look for it because at the stop in Fell Street, there's actually this great wall of tiled mosaics. I think America has a secret love affair with tile mosaic (all the subway stations in New York as I far as I can tell use tile mosaic) and also revolving doors (they seem to have many of this, I wonder if after watching The Walking Dead, they would feel differently about this, it really doesn't make for an easy evacuation). Anyway, so I took some time taking pictures of this mosaic which was very cool and in different themes. I think they're also done by volunteer kids.

After that I made my way to Alamo Square. By luck I walked to the correct direction and found it without difficulty. Alamo square is actually quite tiny. It's this little green space in which you can see a rows of Victorian houses which are collectively called The Painted Ladies. There's this scene in the opening credit of the TV series of childhood days, Full House, which features the square and the houses. So that was one reason why I wanted to go there. I have to say I was quite disappointed being there because the square is small and the houses are not exceptionally beautiful in my opinion. So I didn't stay long, took some pictures, and went back to the bus stop.

After that I just had to ride the bus again, passing Golden Gate Park and Golden Gate bridge again all the way to the starting / end point near my hotel. Since it was so windy the first time I crossed the Golden Gate bridge sitting at the top deck, this time around I decided to sit below. There's actually some places where I could stop like Palace of Fine Arts and the stop near Lombard Street, but since I was lazy and the street wasn't visible directly from the bus stop, I decided to just skip this. In the end I chose to stop at Pier 39 and see the sea lions again. They were still sleeping around, seriously do they even eat? Do they try to do something to find food? I don't think people feed them. They're like the opposite of the sheep in New Zealand who spend all day and perhaps night eating, these sea lions just lounge around sleeping. I ended up taking pictures of birds around there.

Then I decided to get food and call it the day. I decided on In-N-Out Burger because the day before I found out that there's one nearby. I passed a McDonald's on the way there, but decided to stick to the plan. I'm actually not a burger person, very rarely I ate a burger and I ate 3 burgers in my short trip to America, that's like the most amount of burger I ate in the past year. I think the reason why I got to be interested was because Oshie asked me before I left if I was excited about trying all the junk food we know coming from America. I never thought of that and yes it was an intriguing prospect, I do wonder what KFC taste like in America and was really tempted by the Popeyes ad on TV, but I didn't get a chance to. Part of it was because I just didn't see them and that was surprising for me when I start to think about it. Here in Singapore, McDonald's is as ubiquitous as a mosque is in Indonesia. In New York, I didn't recall ever seeing a McDonald's that seeing that one in San Francisco did trigger a reaction in me, ah finally I see a McDonald's. Again perhaps because I didn't really look for them, but my point is shouldn't they just be everywhere in America that I don't even have to look, they're just there? Some people may abhor the idea of travelling to a country and choosing to eat junk food, but since all these junk food come from America, I think the curiosity is valid. By the way, one of the things I was most excited about coming to America was watching American TV. Unfortunately sometime the timing didn't fit me and in the early days I got sleepy easily and in the case of San Francisco, my hotel room didn't have HBO or even AMC for that matter, so no Game of Thrones or Mad Men for me. I may also have arrived too late for them anyway the evening they were shown. Also in San Francisco, I was confused of the timing. I remember seeing American Idol in San Francisco and thinking it's quite late. I also have yet to figure out the TV there, there seems to be a channel which shows a lot of Law and Order. I don't know what's with the fascination and if they will ever run out of episodes. One morning I saw Gilmore Girls, that was nice but I couldn't stay around and watch it.

I've digressed a whole paragraph away. So anyway, reached In-N-Out and there was quite a queue. I chose the cheeseburger, fries, and chocolate shake. The same as Shake Shack, we had to wait for our food. I wonder if it's also like this in McDonald's. If so, then it doesn't seem so fast food for me. Unlike Shake Shack which gave you a beeper which will light up and vibrate when your order is ready (which I think is super helpful for tourists who don't speak English well), this branch of In-N-Out had this cute staff (so cute I purposely looked at his name tag, it's Carlos) to call out numbers. So I got to him when he called my number, told me he's gonna make my shake and asked me if I needed anything else. He's really handsome that I loved this little interaction *silly me!!!* Anyway, just like in Shake Shack, I also got this order to go because I didn't know if I was going to get any seat and also in general I just have this habit of getting my junk food to go.

Got to my hotel and got the burger out and first thing I noticed was the lettuce because I was rather surprised to see it's the same as what McDonald's here in Singapore use. I think I shouldn't be surprised if not for Shake Shack using a different type of lettuce and made me think that's just the norm. I'm sorry for being ignorant, I just don't really eat vegetable so my knowledge of it is rather low. Shake Shack lettuce did get me thinking about its burger especially the second time I ate it. It's this nice green color, there's a bite to it and it's kinda bitter (for me maybe not for you), its taste made me think of this is the exact reason I don't like vegetable, but then I realized it helps balance out the burger and cut the meatiness or the fattiness of the rich beef and cheese. Since I'm not a burger lover, I didn't really think much about whether the burger I ate was outstanding or not, but then after trying In-N-Out and got to thinking of Shake Shack, I think I like Shake Shack more. Perhaps I also have this bias towards the nicer graphically designed Shake Shack. In general I also think it just seems to be operated and presented better, though this perhaps varies from branch to branch and really I have no complain on the In-N-Out branch that I visited. Shake Shack's green color scheme may also make you think they're somewhat healthier. They just look cooler than In-N-Out. I know I should be evaluating based on taste, so let me try, on taste alone I think I still prefer Shake Shack and I do miss it quite a lot, which is weird because I was not a burger person, did it manage to change me? Well, if I can have a Shake Shack burger tomorrow, I will be so happy to :D

So I finished my day early that day and spent the rest of the day packing and relaxing. For pictures of San Francisco, you can go here. The next day, day 11 was when vacation ended and it was time to go back to Asia. I got ready quite early actually and ended up sitting down awhile in my room before I got down. Chose to take Supershuttle this time to save cost. When I got down, apparently the shuttle was already waiting for me and that's great. I was the first to be picked and ended up waiting for some time in the van as the driver picked up a group of Indian family (there's a lot of Indian tourists in San Francisco, they're all visiting their programmers friends and family?) and another lady. While waiting for the Indian family, I listened to my ipod and Matt Simons - Catch & Release was on, it's the first song in my playlist and I set it that way because when I first heard the song I felt like it's telling me to be brave, as written here. That song has been playing a lot before and throughout the trip, but then as I sat there in the van, I felt like the song sounded so perfect, perfectly there to sum up the trip.
So let it wash over me
I'm ready to lose my feet
Take me on to the place where one reviews life's mistery
Steady on down the line
Lose every sense of time
Take it all in and wake up that small part of me
Day to day I'm blind to see
And find how far
To go

My plane ride to get back to Asia was San Francisco - Seattle - Tokyo - Singapore. I think it was in Narita Tokyo, at my last leg of a really tiring flight that I thought I couldn't believe I did all this. In the past 3 years, I have been travelling alone, while those are feats on their own rights, I really felt a big sense of accomplishment with this America trip. I think it came because I seriously had a lot of worries before going in, I was really scared and felt like it's going to be so daunting. I guess that's what determine your level of accomplishment. The more frightening it is or the harder it is, the greater that feeling of accomplishment will be and this was big for me. This was comparable to that first alone trip ever to Italy (that trip will always be special because its my first). It's good, it's really good to be feeling so accomplished because reality is I haven't felt accomplished in anything for a long time and it is a waste to live your life that way (I am really sorry dear universe). I'm thankful to God for everything, for the blessing, for the opportunity, for keeping me safe. He has never let me down in all my trips, sometime I think my luck will run out, but He's always been kind.

I got to thinking about San Francisco as I was leaving and decided that I love New York more. Maybe I'm being unfair because I didn't explore much of San Francisco, didn't ride their public transportation as what common people do, so I know very little of it. It's just I feel like there's this isolation feel about New York that I like. When you walk the streets of New York, it's very possible you wouldn't hear English, you would hear other languages, I happened to hear a lot of french. It's alright to not understand what you hear because most probably other people don't either. Everyone in the subway seems to be on their own, most of the time looking tired, somehow all this for the anti social me seems so perfect. You could just be on your own, your individual self. You're different but everyone else is also different. In a way, it's easier to blend in even though I have never felt like I blended in. I don't know if I'm explaining myself well here, it's like it's easier to be alone in New York because a lot of things about it feel alone, San Francisco doesn't feel like that to me somehow and for the alone me, I felt more out of place. Now I wonder if this exercise in writing in this blog is helping me at all, I still don't feel I can explain myself well.

So anyway, first flight was to Seattle. My last meal in America was crepes with nutella and banana and the lady making it is a Philippine and she was talking to another Philippine colleague in Tagalog and I was thinking this scene in front of me is so familiar, just like what one would feel in Singapore. No surprise I couldn't finish the crepes. The flight from San Francisco to Seattle was around 2 hours, it just had snack and no in-flight entertainment. So I spent most of the time reading The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro which I brought specifically to fill time during this flight. I finished reading that by the way. I love the ending because I thought it was leading up to some romantic happy ending, I'm glad it didn't which is perhaps a sadder end to have, but it's more realistic I feel. Arriving in Seattle, I only had around half an hour to get to my next flight, so I was really nervous about this. A staff waited by the gate when we got off the plane and was telling the transferring passengers which gate their next flight was. My gate was in a whole different terminal so I had to take the train, luckily it was easy enough to find and it was quite fast. I only had time to pee and then off I went to another plane.

Arriving in Narita, for some reasons the security there insist on checking security for all transferring passengers. That took awhile and when I was done, I saw that it's the final call sign for my next flight. I thought I had more transfer time in Narita, but in the end I was really rushing so I only had time to pee. The security check really dashed all my hope of getting some Tokyo Banana, why Narita, why? I was among the last getting on the plane. There were a lot of Singaporeans on the plane. Initially I was seated with these 2 aunties, but since the plane wasn't really full, one of them went to another seat. I have to say, I really hated it when the younger Singaporeans were like meerkats (not in a cute way) siting straight up eyeing which empty seats to take, ready to pounce on it. A reminder of reality and I began to hate the fact that I had to go back to that reality. Luckily the Singaporean auntie I was left with was pretty nice and cute that she made me laugh, she made me feel so much better. She doesn't really speak English and my Chinese is so tiny, but somehow we're able to have some conversation. When she found out I was travelling alone, she used this Chinese word to describe me which I had never heard before. I don't know what the word means and she didn't know how to say it in English, so I just assume it's something complementary.

Arriving back in Singapore, I sped off the plane as I usually do because I didn't want to get stuck in a long taxi queue. I wonder if I look suspicious for eagerly wanting to leave the airport, luckily I never get stopped. The taxi driver took me on a different route but he got me back really really fast. I have to say it's rather good to be in Asia simply because I feel belong here. It's weird and surprising for me to come up with that realization, but really being in a place where you know how things work and you get what you expect is a really good thing and you realize you miss it when you're off on your adventure trying new things. Maybe it's just because I'm older now that I get tired of trying to always have to figure stuff out. Some weeks ago in Japanese class during one of our exercises, we had to fill in which city we wanted to live, surprisingly I filled in Jakarta. I have to admit it's kinda unimaginative. One of my classmate put London and I thought oh that's cool. I see my answer as a sign of me getting older really. I've experienced a bit of this and that, I've been to places though I understand been to places is so different from been living in places, but in the end after all these experiences in life I have had and hope to continue to have, living in Indonesia, in the city I was born is getting more and more intriguing. It has somewhat become another adventure that I want to try, somehow it's made it to the list of things I want to do. Really, the you 10 years ago could be so different from where you are now. I wonder how I feel about things when I'm in my 40s. So that's it guys, the last post from the trip. For all the albums from this trip, you can go here. I guess I'll be back to posting less and less now since I'm so lazy. I will try not to, we'll see. Hope you guys have a great life :)

:) eKa @ 9:31:00 PM • 0 comments

Day 9: Alcatraz, Muir Woods, and Sausalito

I've been lonely, alone in a box of my stone
They claim to be near me but they were all lying, it's not true
I've been lonely, alone in a box of my stone
This is the place I know I now belong

Cornerstone - Benjamin Clementine

For this post, I will use 2 songs because Benjamin Clementine's Cornerstone is kinda too depressing to be used for the second part of day 9. It kinda fits to describe the first part of the day though. This song is a really sad song. I love it because when I heard the lyric I feel like this song describes me really really well, it's kinda everything I feel, all the time, okay most of the time. Some people like my mom may not understand the need I have to travel and how I could just do it alone when I have no one to go with. Well, it's my way to be away from my box of stone. When I travel, I feel so free. It's like there are a lot of chains that bring me down in my day to day life that I can't really be who I am, be the inquisitive curious me, and just be happy. I live a very lonely life and one would think that the lack of people means less people to bother and annoy me. If only that is the case, I still need to deal with people and not all people are nice, some people can be a bully. Almost daily when I step out of my room, I feel like there's a role that I have to play and it's not a happy one for me to do. It's not the only reason for my sadness I guess, but it does take a lot from me mentally. When I am just away travelling, I don't have to play a role. I can just be me, the dumb me who gets me lost sometime (often), the me who gets myself nice presents like the chance to see nice wondrous things. I feel more like myself when I travel. The me in my daily life is the me who is subdued. Some days ago during a rare lunch in which I actually ate with some people instead of alone, someone in the group said he knew I'm weird so he didn't see the things that I do as weird, instead he saw it as being normal for me. I actually like hearing him telling me I'm weird, I guess that means he sees that whatever it is that I present to the world is not truly me or all of me, underneath I'm a many different things that perhaps can be unorthodox and for me that is more interesting than being "normal". It's funny because when I was a teen, I remember writing or thinking how I wanted to be ordinary. As I grow older, I think being outside of what ordinary is is more awesome and I don't want to be the same as everybody else. Hmmm, sorry that this post started with me rambling about me. Talking about the trip might be more interesting, so let's go.

The plan for day 9 was to go to Alcatraz in the morning and then take a half day tour to Muir Woods and Sausalito in the afternoon. I have heard of Alcatraz of course but before this trip I wouldn't be able to tell you where it is. As I was planning for this San Francisco leg of the trip, I found out that it's nearby. The lazy me would have like to just book a day trip that includes Alcatraz and Muir Woods, however when I tried to do that, the next available date that included Alcatraz was like almost 2 weeks away from when I was going to be there. So I decided to just book the Alcatraz trip directly from Alcatraz Cruises. This is the only way to get access to Alcatraz. The tickets sold out pretty easily and it's unlikely you'll be able to get a ticket for tomorrow or next week for example. I booked around 3 weeks before my visit and so all the timing for the ferry were pretty much available.

I booked a 10:00 AM departure, so I had a lot of time and could afford to be slow in the morning. When I googled the area of my hotel, I found out that there's an IHOP and I knew that I had to go there. Can I say that I love IHOP? Is it embarrassing? I love it and if there's an IHOP in Singapore or Indonesia, I would be so happy. It wasn't hard to get seat that day. I ordered the classic breakfast in which there were 2 fried eggs (I really missed eggs by that time of my trip), hash brown (which I would call rosti actually), and then I had to choose, I chose bacon instead of 2 pork sausages because I knew I wouldn't be able to finish those, and then I also chose English muffins. See that 1 set already has a lot of things! There was a bit of confusion when the waiter asked what kind of eggs I wanted, because I thought it would just be fried eggs. So I said runny??? The eggs came out perfect though, the way I like it, though the crazy salt person me would most probably put some salt on the yolk when I'm frying them. I thought I could, but I couldn't finish it all. I didn't finish some of the rosti. It was so good, the waiter and waitress were so friendly and nice that day and can I say again that I love IHOP?

After that it was a walk to Pier 33 where the ferry departed from. There were a lot of people. The queue was longer than when I took the ferry to Liberty and Ellis island. Since there were a lot of people ahead of me, I thought that there wouldn't be enough seats at the very top, so I didn't go there. I found a seat outside on the second level and decided to just stay there. Slowly Alcatraz came into view more clearly, that little island which is so near and yet so far (if you try to swim it).

Getting off the pier, first all of us needed to be briefed by the park ranger about the do's and don'ts. I think there were some people who ignored this, perhaps they didn't speak English well so they didn't see the point. Some things I remembered were the common sense ones like stay on track and don't venture into unmarked places, also it's nesting time for the birds so don't disturb them. I think the birds are the main occupiers of this island now. There were so many of them.

There were some guided tours by the park ranger on the island and when I arrived, one was about to commence. This is not the tour of the prison where it's more of a self guided tour with the audio guide. The one that was about to commence was about attempts to escape the island. I decided to follow along, along with many other people. It's a big group. I couldn't remember all the stories except for one. There's this inmate who had a task cleaning the dock and slowly he managed to steal parts of a uniform to make a complete uniform. His plan was then to dress up as an officer and board the ferry back to San Francisco. He did that, but unfortunately the ferry went to Angel Island instead. Crap!!! right? and so he got caught. A lot of inmates thought they could swim the distance and a lot of them died that way. The park ranger said the water is really cold and I can believe that because as I mentioned before San Francisco is much colder than I thought it would be, imagine how its water would be. Then the park ranger allowed us to visit the storehouse which is not open for the public. He literally used his key to open the door. Nothing much there, the walls are peeling, the glass on the windows are broken, and there's a remain of an office.

After it was done, I headed up to the prison. It's a walk up, but it's not that taxing. There's a little cart you can use to go up if you want to wait and not embarrassed to use it with the older or infirm folks. Unlike in Ellis island, the entrance to the prison is more directed, there's just 1 route and I think that really makes sure everyone has the audio guide, unlike Ellis island where you can just go off at the direction of your choosing. We entered the way the inmates would enter, which is the shower area. It's a communal shower with no divider at all and rows and rows of shower head. As a inmate you really have no privilege, I guess it helped the officers to make sure that the inmates weren't hiding anything when they came. I bought a magnet with this wording which I really like, Rule #5 - You are entitled to food, clothing, shelter and medical attention. Anything else that you get is a privilege.. I hope to use this on my kids one day :P Anyway, this area is also where the inmates get their new uniform and shoes. So from here we got our audio guide. The audio guide is excellent. It has voices of the people who were there like the officers and the inmates. The cells were small. There's a bed with a thin mattress and a toilet. Being there and seeing the rows of cells and the different levels reminded me of the TV series Prison Break, but here they didn't share cells. It's just enough for 1 person. Inmates talked about their experience there and things they did to fill time. There's a library but it only contained approved books. The inmates talked about how they learnt a lot there and the subject were varied, one talked about how he learnt farming and mentioned the gestation period of a pig if I remembered correctly.

Some inmates also picked up hobbies, like knitting (yes the inmate did mention, can you imagine all these tough criminals sat down quietly and knit?), paintings, and music. Some cells were staged with items that inmates used to have in their cells and shelves.

There's some really dark side to Alcatraz, it's a prison after all. There are solitary confinement cells with double doors and when I went inside even without the door being closed, it got really dark and claustrophobic. The ceiling was lower here and I could imagine that this would drive anyone crazy. The inmates talked about how when they're put inside that dark solitary confinement cell, they would take the button from their clothes and threw it to the wall and felt their way throughout the floor to find it and repeat doing it again and again. I cannot imagine being put into a dark box without knowing when you could get out. It's really really horrible. It was sad being inside the cell and imagining that. Another sad thing was when I saw these little windows with the view of San Francisco, sometime for some of the inmates these were the only views of the outside world they could get. That feeling knowing that you lost your freedom and you're there in the island while the world was continuing without you out there, it must have been tough, really tough. It's a sobering experience being in a prison. Other things I saw were the kitchen and dining room, the control room, and the warden's office. The warden's house is unfortunately a ruin now and there's a lot of plants growing there. When I went outside where the lighthouse is, it's actually very very windy. I took a picture of this bird sitting beautifully among the wild flowers.

At the end of the audio guide, an inmate talked about what it's like when he was released and arrived in San Francisco. It was kinda sad hearing him say how he felt lost and afraid, he saw a lot of people and they're walking fast having a destination to go and he wasn't sure what's next and how to navigate himself in this new world. It is really an enlightening and sobering experience visiting the Alcatraz prison. Before I knew it, it's already passed noon and I was like, oh God, I have to hurry because my half day tour would start at 2 pm. I quickly took some last pictures like the beautiful garden outside. I don't know if it's accessible, maybe not, I didn't see anyone walking in it.

I managed to make a stop at the souvenirs shop and got some things, some of the things they sell are pretty cool like the tin cup similar to what the inmates got, I didn't get those though. Then I kinda walked really fast to the dock because I saw that the next ferry was leaving real soon and a big queue was already forming. Thank God, I made it. For pictures from Alcatraz, you can go here. I do recommend you to visit Alcatraz if you're in the area. It's the first prison I've ever visited and the experience was amazing for me. I'm really glad I did this.

Tell me tell me you'll be alright
When you're in the shade
Tell me tell me you'll be alright
When you start to fade

What Will You Do When Your Suntan Fades? - Beulah

Since I didn't miss the ferry, I managed to make it on time, even managed to go to my room first and dropped some things. The meeting point for the half day tour is just across the street away from the hotel. The group wasn't big and I was the only Asian. I often get nervous when I'm the only Asian, not that I would definitely talk to other Asians if they happen to be in the group. It's just there's a comfort if there are other Asians as well. Anyway so this tour is a half day, going to Muir Woods and Sausalito. They're located in Marin County, across the Golden Gate bridge. The driver / chaperon, Manny (like that character in the Ice Age movie), was nice enough to take us to a stop to see the Golden Gate bridge. He took us to this look out point a bit high up, not directly across the Golden Gate bridge where the many tourists are so it was very peaceful in the place where we stopped. Just a few people here and the bridge looked so serene even though I know there were many cars on the bridge.

I really really like the visit to Muir Woods, love it! It's a redwood forest and some of these redwoods are really really old, like hundred years old. They're also very tall, so tall they kinda blocked the sun at some area. The weather was pleasantly cool inside it. I kinda forget how much time was given to us, but Manny told us just to follow the simple path to the 4 bridges and come back. There are other paths which would lead somewhere but it may take longer time and it's more complicated, so following the path to the bridges was easier. How I really love my walk that day :) Since there are bridges, there's a river, Redwood creek. It's not dry, but there wasn't actually a lot of water there, maybe not the season yet.

It's pretty much all green inside the forest. On the ground, I saw some plants which I thought were clovers, but now that I just opened the guide brochure, I learnt that these are redwood sorrel. Look at it, they look like clover no? I don't know if clovers do this, but on some spots where the sun hit the redwood sorrel directly, they would close down a bit, like a half opened umbrella. It's very interesting. I heard one visitor describing it like they're sleeping :)

It is really peaceful in the forest and you are advised to walk in it quietly to enjoy it. I love all the trees, I love looking up at them, I love how peaceful it is inside it. It's like a forest in the fairy tales, like a magical creature might live in it.

I love it most when I found myself suddenly alone in the path, it's just me and no one else. The path itself is really easy, it's not laborious at all, all flat and the path is paved well. Before long I reached bridge 4, stayed there for awhile and I headed back. I think one needs a forest like this or at least people like me. It's just great for us to just walk in, be in total quiet, just walk and enjoy the air, the calmness, it's very relaxing. Too bad, many people like me don't live near a cool forest like this. For pictures from Muir Woods, please go here, they're all pretty much green, but really it's a really nice place to visit, do go if you have the time and happen to be in the area.

After that we made a stop at Sausalito, this little town in Marin County. I think the stop was around 1 hour and I really didn't know what to do here and got a bit bored. I saw their fountain and was asked to take a picture by a couple here. The lamps by this fountain have elephant sculpture on them, that was kinda interesting.

I didn't feel like eating here or entering each of the shops (I only entered a cute sock shop), so I ended up walking the docks, seeing the names of the yachts. I wonder if it's a must and it's bad luck if you don't name your boat. So I was reading the names and seeing if they have interesting name, one interesting one that stick in my head is why walk, clever. Then when there were seagulls on the boat, I took their pictures. I reckon these seagulls are annoying because they would just poop on your boat.

Pictures from Sausalito are here. So that was the trip. Arriving back, I decided to go to Pier 39 to see the sea lions. There were many of them just sleeping around on the platform, very loud, and it smelled like fish. You could see some sea lions jostling for places. I don't know why they like to be so close to each other and why they're only sleeping. There were many people watching them.

With the sun going down, I decided to just eat in one of the restaurant. Got fish and chip and again it wasn't amazing, the batter didn't stick to the fish and again the fish was a bit tough. Maybe it's the type of fish or maybe I hadn't been lucky, I hate to think it's an American issue in cooking fish. One interesting thing I noticed while I was waiting for my food was, in the table next to me, I saw a man making the sign of the cross and prayed before he ate. I don't know if the lady eating with him also prayed. Then in the table behind him, a dad and I think that's his daughter, hold hand together and also prayed. It's interesting because the way people outside America know about America is most of the time through TV series and movies and if anything they present Americans as not really religious. In any action movie, where have we ever seen the good guys take a short time to pray before charging at the enemies? If anything there's always a pretty lady and the hero and the lady would have a pre-marital sex. So it just felt good and hopeful seeing those people pray, they obviously think their religion is important and care enough to practice it. This side of America is perhaps what would make it more relatable to other part of the world, sadly it's rarely seen. So anyway, day 9 was really great, the best day spent in San Francisco.

:) eKa @ 7:23:00 PM • 0 comments

Day 7: Leaving New York | Day 8: Yosemite National Park

To see you again, to be your friend, to hold you in my mind ...
Leaving It Up To You - George Ezra

This post will be combining 2 days, day 7 and 8. Day 7 was when I left New York for San Francisco. Taxi cost to and from airport is very expensive in New York and San Francisco, so for this trip to JFK I chose to use the shuttle service, Go Airlink NYC. The review for this is really bad and yet this seems to be the most used shuttle service. I had my worries, so I set my collection time to be earlier so that I would have sufficient time at the airport. During booking, they gave a 15-min window of when the shuttle would arrive and we should be ready before the start of that 15-min window. So I was ready, but then the shuttle never came. It passed the 15-min window and I was thinking, do I seriously need to call them. I was swinging between waiting a bit more and calling them. In the end it did arrive without me calling them, it arrived around 20 minutes from the start of the waiting time. While I was waiting in front of the hotel, the last interesting I saw in New York was 3 NYPD on horses. That morning was the first time I saw that. So anyway there was already another girl in the van. I wasn't sure how many more we'll be picking, but it turned out it's just the 2 of us. New York was misty that morning, another first for me there. It made it even more sentimental about leaving. Both me and the girl needed to go to the same terminal, so that's pretty nice for the driver. In the end, I arrived with a lot of time to kill.

Delta doesn't have a manual checking counter it seems, everyone have to use the machine and then off to the baggage drop. I don't like using the checking in machine because my previous passport always couldn't work, I'm not sure if the new passport could. This machine I needed to use have the option of not having to scan my passport and it was easy enough to use so I didn't have any difficulty. There was a notice asking if I wanted to enter a volunteer programme in which I am okay about giving away my seat for some compensation since the flight was full. I found it to be a rather strange question. When I was waiting later on by the gate, more announcement was made by the staff at the desk that the flight was oversold so they're really looking for volunteers to give up their seats. It is such a strange concept that a flight could be oversold, how do they do this and do the people who bought the tickets late know about this? I wonder if it's an American thing. It seems so disorganized. I guess in a way you can make money when you're compensated way more than the price you buy the ticket in, however I assume the differences in timing between the flights is quite significant. If it's like every half an hour, I think the late comer could just wait for the next flight and there's no need to ask for volunteers. Now if the next flight is like 2 hours later or so, that would make your total wait time at the airport to be quite long and while JFK is adequate, it's not like super amazing and comfortable. The flight itself is around 6-hour long and another strange thing, Delta only serves snacks, not meal. That's strange for me because it makes them feel like a budget airline. I guess it's to save cost, but 6 hours is a pretty long time without sufficient food. The good thing is they have in-flight entertainment, but not all the movies are free. I wonder if America has budget airlines and what the differences in price and service is.

Arriving in San Francisco, I decided to take a taxi to the hotel in the Fisherman's Wharf area. It was a much a better ride than the taxi ride in New York, quite long though and it was quite a gray day. I was thinking that the clouds were really low lying in this area. Also while I know there's a hilly street in San Francisco, I was surprised to find out that there are actually a lot of them and they're very steep. At times it felt like going up a roller coaster and yes perhaps I am dramatizing because I don't like roller coaster. I wonder if passing the test for driver license in San Francisco is more difficult than other cities, because I think it must need some skill to navigate these streets. If last year I said that Auckland with its slopes would make its people be very fit from walking on them frequently, then I think San Francisco would make its people even more so, unless they just drive even for the shortest distance. Anyway arriving in my room, I was very very happy. It's the nicest room I have stayed in. I kinda leveled up in my membership that I could get discount on many hotels and I got this on a discounted price. The hotel also has free wine reception every evening, but I never attended it. Here below is my room. I wonder if it's snobbish to show this. I say this is great but some people may say not so. Anyway, this is also to explain how why my trip couldn't be cheaper. I want this kinda comfort, I can't stay in hostel and such. By the way, you could see my little dog stuff animal on the bed, it's from Dagi, my pen pal. For some reason I just took it during my first trip alone to Italy and started doing so ever since. So it has been with me everywhere. These days I like to think since it's a dog, it kinda watches me when I sleep and it watches the room and my belonging when I'm out during the day. I also like to think that it's somewhat amusing for the housekeepers when they make my bed that they have to place this dog on the bed when they're done. I have some very illogical things that I do on trips, a ritual or tradition if you may, like bringing that dog and bringing Linkin Park T-shirts to be used when I sleep instead of my usual pajamas.

So anyway, after arriving in my room, next of course I had to get water. I stopped for early dinner first at the Italian restaurant next door. Had my usual go to pasta, the seafood pasta. It was okay. The fish was so dry and rather tough like a dry chicken breast and chicken breast is not really my favorite cut of a chicken. It's my second time having fish in my meal in the US and they're at proper restaurants, sadly at both occasions, I don't think they cooked the fish well. I hate to think it's an American thing. So after that, I went to Trader Joe's which was very nearby (I've googled it back in Singapore) and got my water. I was rather alarmed when the staff asked if I needed a bag, thinking if he expected me to be environmentally friendly and should have brought my own bag. It's a weird question you see. I think I only had my wallet at that time, how was I supposed to carry many bottles of water without a bag? So he gave me a paper bag which I was quite worried if it would hold, luckily the hotel is very near, so all was fine. The bag has a nice design and you suppose to recycle it. I didn't do anything else that day which now that I think about it kinda a shame, because I could have just taken the very short walk to the pier and see the seals or the sun set, but I was kinda tired and lazy and the next day I had a very early start.

The next day, I took a day trip to Yosemite National Park and the pick up time was 6 am if I'm not mistaken. Very early. By the way, surprisingly (for me at least) San Francisco is colder than New York. I was getting worried if I would be under dressed the whole time. During the evening, the temperature could really drop. I was so preoccupied with New York's weather that I didn't google much about San Francisco's before the trip, but I did a few time and somehow each time I got the temperature I wasn't alarmed. So be prepared peeps if you're visiting, it could be colder and more windy. I also learnt that they have this thing called micro climate which means one part of the city can have a very different climate than the other area. Interesting. So anyway, the trip to Yosemite, the driver / guide was Nick who's kinda cute, but I think he may need a haircut. The bus was pretty full, but luckily I could sit on my own. Yay to being selfish. I remember it was quite a long drive which was broken by a stop to get some breakfast or snacks. Then off we continued with the drive.

I was very interested in choosing this trip because it includes a walk to the giant sequoia tree. I was more excited when I saw a cross section of a giant sequoia tree in AMNH. It was seriously humongous and that cross section was taken 12 feet (~3.6 m) off the ground if I remember correctly. It took the people several days to cut the tree. However then, Nick told us he couldn't promise us if we could get to the giant sequoia trees because if there's still too much snow, it would be closed off. I was like, darn it. Turned out, praise be to God for not disappointing all of us / me, the snow has melted significantly that we could go. Nick was explaining the hike / walk to us which I think I didn't pay much attention to, I just remembered it could be laborious, we should just go if we wanted to and not spend too much time thinking if we would want to do it or not, and lastly just take the essentials like camera and water to lighten our load. I remember he said it's around 1 mile to the tree with the tunnel and then we should loop back from there. Being Indonesian, this kinda measurement doesn't connect with me and I usually tuned out this kinda information. I don't know why I didn't think to install an app that convert measurement before I went to America, I only install it recently. Anyway 1 mile is around 1.6 km. So that is the goal, get to the tree with the tunnel. I was the first to set off, because I didn't have anyone to wait around for. It was kinda weird walking into the forest alone. Then the eager Romanian girl who also traveled alone caught up with me. She was really that eager :) So we're at the front of the pack and the first to see some deer (Side note: plural of deer is also deer, like the plural of fish is fish, unless if it's describing different types of fish, then it's fishes). Anyway so, wow! That was unexpected and a very happy pleasant surprise.

Other people started to catch up with us at this point and so the deer started to go away and I thought I should too, I set off again on my own. I did stop a few times to take some pictures and so there were people who passed me by. Before getting to the tree with the tunnel, we need to pass one big giant sequoia tree. It's really really tall and it's trunk is like golden brown. I think I didn't stay long here because I didn't know how much time I needed to complete the whole walk, so I thought it's better to continue on. I ended up to be front of the pack again and then it's just me and another guy who also traveled alone, who I will just call American dad who caught up with me. We reached a point and weren't sure where we should go next. The Indian groups came and they figured we should go to the right, so we followed them. Luckily it's the right way. The tree with the tunnel has a tunnel through it or in other word a really big hole. If I'm not mistaken, they purposely did this to attract more visitors. Unfortunately even though the tree is still standing, it's not actually a vibrant tree like the majestic first tree we saw. I think it got damaged a lot over the years. I'm not sure if it's dead or if it's just sufficiently alive. It doesn't have any leaf and honestly it looked kinda sad.

Me and American dad were the first to head back from here. The walk to the tunnel tree was easy enough because it's going down, however the walk back to the parking lot was pretty hard because it's a hike up. It did occur to me as we started the walk earlier that the path would be quite a bitch when we have to walk back. I had to stop a few times, on the pretense of taking pictures, but really I needed to stop and breathe. It was hard to breathe. My main concern was I was gonna faint. I did realize that while it was hard to breathe, my heart didn't actually beat much faster like it was when I was walking the Arthur's Pass last year or when I was following the torii up the mountain in Fushimi Inari-taisha. So all and all, even though it's hard, it's not the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I have to give it up to American dad. I don't know if he had to stop but it seemed he just walked all the way and he didn't actually look like a very fit person. Well maybe he's the type who runs marathon. It was kinda nice to be the only person on the path, but I did have concerns if the path was going to get much harder and I would just suddenly drop and faint with no one around or people had to find me because that would be embarrassing. I made it though, number 2 after American dad. Looking back at it, it wasn't easy but it's doable, but as I write that I actually have doubt that some people I know will be able to do it. Flat distance may not be a problem, but once you put some elevation on it, it can be a real challenge.

After this it's the drive to Yosemite visitor center. We made a stop at the photo taking point first to see mountains and a waterfall in the distance and the valley of trees below them. Unfortunately in this trip, I really took bad pictures. I should have put it more effort :( This picture is actually from my phone. I put some filter on it before I tweeted it before, it looked much nicer with the filter actually.

Arriving at the visitor center, I decided to have lunch first at the food court. I didn't want to pack sandwich from the stop earlier in the morning because as mentioned in the previous post, I was (still am currently) kinda hating sandwich. I had cheese pizza for lunch. Wasn't great, but it's sustenance. Then I made the walk to see the waterfall. It's pretty nice, but I didn't go nearer to the waterfall because the river was very rocky so I just saw it from a safe distance. I spent some time there before going back to the meeting point, detour at the gift shop.

After that, it's our ride back to San Francisco. When we passed the plain fields with the brown grass with the afternoon sun shining on them, it was nice, truly fitting of the name the golden state. For pictures from the trip, you can go here, again the pictures are not amazing and it's all my fault. We arrived quite late. We made another stop upon reaching San Francisco, to see San Francisco from the opposite side, I couldn't remember which side it was, there was the Bay Bridge on our left and San Francisco in front of us. It was really really really cold that after taking a few shots, I quickly went back into the bus. Arriving in the hotel, I was just happy to be in a nice room after a long day.

:) eKa @ 8:42:00 PM • 0 comments