San Francisco

My favourite things

This blog is completely pointless and narcissistic but I feel like I moan a lot in my posts so I thought I’d share the things I really like and give them a bit of praise.

TV Programmes

“Shut up, I win”… Modern Family is my all-time favourite TV programme

1. Modern Family
Okay, maybe I’ve praised this show enough but then again, I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of gloating about just how good this programme is. Its brilliantly observed  social commentaries, combined with impeccable writing of various types of humour make it a refreshing change from the average US sitcom. It’s already a classic and easily my all-time favourite TV programme.

2. Friends
Given the fact, I’ve spent my entire life watching re-runs of this show on E4 and now Comedy Central, it would be unfair not to have this among my favourites. Unlike Modern Family, it is a typical US sitcom, it’s just a lot funnier than the others.

3. How I Met Your Mother
Funnily enough, I was sceptical of HIMYM when I first heard of it. I assumed it would be a less-funny ode to Friends. And in all honesty, Friends is funnier but HIMYM’s interesting spin on the plot of an average US sitcom and it’s brilliant gimmicks make it stand out from the rest.

4. Desperate Housewives
I don’t even know why I liked this programme so much. It’s just so interesting, a perfect blend of drama and comedy that’s oddly relatable to every day life. At times, it is completely over-the-top and unrealistic but that can be forgiven when you consider it at its best. If you only watch one season of this show, make sure it’s season one.

Films

The force is with Star Wars… my all-time favourite films

1. Star Wars saga
Being honest, I’m not a big film person. Obviously, there are loads of films that I like but few that really stand out. Other than White Chicks and the Lion King, I struggled to think of anything that could compete with this, so it stands alone. Regrettably, I haven’t seen many of cinema’s modern classics (something I intend on correcting every summer but never do). Anyway, Star Wars is the ultimate sci-fi saga. I spent a lot of my childhood being obsessed with this franchise, meaning I have something like 20 lightsabers stored underneath my bed. It really is a great film, and yes the original trilogy is far better. It still shocks me that some people have never seen these films… and I hate them for it.

Albums

“‘Cause this is Thriller. Thriller night!”

1. Thriller
This is simply put the best album ever made. Featuring so many of MJ’s classsics including Thriller, Billie Jean, Beat It, P.Y.T., Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’, The Girl is Mine and Human Nature, you can see why it’s the biggest selling album of all-time and my favourite.

2. Aim & Ignite
Okay, Fun. burst on to the chart scene in Spring 2012, with their hit “We Are Young” taken from their second studio album, Some Nights. While, that album is superb and only just misses out on a spot in the top 5, Fun.’s lesser known predecessor is even better. It’s melodic from start to finish with brilliantly crafted songs and lyrics that really make you think. It’s a shame they didn’t get much recognition for this album too.

3. Fearless
I don’t really care about the stigma attached to picking a Taylor Swift album as one of your favourites. I have a quiet love for country music and she has a well-known talent for song writing. In all honesty, I could have selected either Speak Now or Red to join the top five too but this album is just about her best.

4. Songs About Jane
When you were young, every family had that one album that you played in the car non-stop, every journey. This was ours. It really is brilliant.

5. Rumours
Again, a worldwide recognised classic. My love for this album probably again stems back to my quiet love for country and guitar music. It features many of the bands classics and is hard not to like. Although, funnily enough when I first heard this album, I hated it.

It’s worth noting, these are also my five favourite artists. Honourable mention to S Club 7 for providing the soundtrack of my childhood and yes, I still have a cheeky  S Club party every now and then.

Holiday destinations

Bude-iful… My favourite holiday destination

1. Bude
Ideally, an average looking seaside town in Cornwall is not the place you want to go on holiday. It’s mostly for personal reasons that I’ve picked this as number-one. Nearly everyone has a holiday destination their family goes to often. Bude is that for my family.

2. Los Angeles
Most people say LA isn’t as good as it’s hyped up to be. But it really is, the climate, the people and the sights are all incredible. It’s a place you simply have to visit.

3. San Francisco
San Fran is a great city of diversity, it has such a varied nature to it, there are rural areas, coastal areas, Skegness-esque areas and big city areas. Accompanied by the climate which is great too, it’s a must visit. In fact, if it weren’t for the USA’s gun crime problem, the San Andreas fault and its proximity to Yellowstone, I’d move to California in a heartbeat.

4. Canary Islands
Particularly Gran Canaria and Tenerife, these islands are wonderful, just off the coast of Africa, it is always hot and just a great place to be.

Advertisements

Californian Dream (Part 3: The Big Orange)

“I love your hair colour, Roberta. Oh, the whole family’s gorgeous!” – A loud-mouthed ‘Brooklyner’ compliments us at Universal Studios

The prospect of entering one of the World’s most famous cities with a massive population of 3.9 million was daunting. After negotiating our way through the rush-hour traffic, we arrived in the LA district of Century City, the location of our hotel. The Marriott hotel itself was brilliant. The lobby was stunning, the staff were helpful and they even had valet parking to boot. It was as glamorous as you’d expect. My Dad and Debbie had been less keen on the idea of the city of Angels. They had been more excited by the culturally-rich San Francisco. However, me and my sister were desperate to immerse ourselves in the Big Orange and we opted to take a quick tour around the city in our car.

Modern Family… The Dunphy household on Dunleer Drive, Cheviot Hills

What immediately struck me was the variety that LA possessed; one minute you could be around corporate skyscrapers and the next in a humble, quaint housing estate all housed within the same city. The city also seemed to have a huge gay scene (I don’t mean that there were a lot of obese homosexuals), more-so than San Fran. One street was so packed with gay clubs and shops it should have been renamed Brokeback Boulevard.  Before we’d left for the hotel I had keenly searched for the location of the Modern Family houses, as you probably know I’m a massive fan of the show. I couldn’t believe my luck when one house was located within Century City itself and another in nearby Cheviot Hills. Of course, I forced a detour to both locations and wearing  an ear-to-ear smile got a snap in front of the houses. Unfortunately, my Dad has since lost the camera and I cannot share these photos with you but at least I have the memories. We then went to eat at BJ’s restaurant, a stylish restaurant complete with delicious food. It quickly became a family favourite if not for it’s excellent service but it’s opportunity for innuendo.

City Love… I ♥ Los Angeles

The next day, we were awoken by our sink backing up in the hotel. Black water was oozing from the basin. After a series of complaints to the front and a quick breakfast we hit Santa Monica beach. Following the strenuous task of finding a place to park, we settled on the beach, armed with chicken salad sandwiches from 7-Eleven. We decided to take a stroll down Santa Monica pier, which was plastered with classic sea-sidey pleasures; rollercoasters, candy floss and souvenir shops. However, the best sight on the pier was our first and only celebrity spotting of the trip, Modern Family’s Rico Rodriguez. What are the chances? A hotel in the same district as the Modern Family houses and a spotting of one of the cast members on the pier?  Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a picture with him, he was with his family who had formed a turtle formation around him. However, my Dad managed to pap him and told me that he watched me and my sister have our photo taken as if it were some sort of creepy consolation. The rest of the day on the beach mainly involved playing volleyball and reading Alan Carr’s autiobiography whilst skewed on the golden sands. Afterwards, we went for a walk down Venice Beach, I bought an ‘I ♥ LA’ t-shirt, only the second city to receive that honour (after Leicester). That night, we once again frequented BJ’s and for the second night running I had their delicious Mango Chicken Salad, which is odd for me because I usually hate salads.

Hollywood… The famous hillside sign

On Monday, we drove the 5 mile distance to Universal Studios. We arrived just after 9am so as to beat the crowds. In hindsight, it wasn’t necessary seeing as we had front of the line passes. The place is fantastic. They have water spray stations able to cool you in the blistering heat, complimentary Brooklyners leaning out of windows, one of which called my family ‘gorgeous’, a waxwork of Vin Diesel that my sister enjoyed and the cheesiest souvenir shops you could wish for. Naturally, my thrill-seeking Dad and Holly were desperate to get on the rides so they did whilst my pasty skin frazzled in the sun. I used to like rollercoasters but I’ve since been deterred following  a near-death experience at Drayton Manor, but that’s a different story. In fact, I did brave 3 rides during our visit; The Simpsons 3D, Shrek 4D and even the Jurassic Park water ride which is the most exhilarating log flume I’ve ever been on. Other than the dino drop, I was there for the back-lot studio tour. It was incredibly insightful. The tram took you around many iconic sets, props and stages from a simulated earthquake in a subway to a recreation of Jaws in the town of Amityville. Of course, I was most excited to arrive on Wisteria Lane, and it was spectacular, just as pristine as on the box. Within the last three days, I had visited the homes of Modern Family, met Manny Delgado and been to Wisteria Lane. LA was shaping up to be the perfect city.

Bright lights bigger city… Night-time view from Santa Monica pier

Our final day was twinged with a bit of sadness for me. I woke to find my iPod of 18 months unresponsive on the bed-side table and the Apple store staff unable to save her. We grabbed a croissant, I sat sullen remembering the life of my digital pal until I was inadvertently distracting by an upcoming actress discussing scripts with her agents, unfortunately we didn’t catch a name of someone who is sure to be a rising star. We then made the journey to Tinseltown!  Oddly enough there is something quite satisfying about having your picture taken with a celebrity’s name that’s been stencilled on to a path. From Ed O’Neill to Felicity Huffman, I had my snap taken with all my favourite stars. Better yet, I discovered my hands and feet were the exact same size as the great king of pop, Michael Jackson! Okay, I may have jumped the gun there – the best part of the day was an unexpected compliment from an LA local who said ‘that’s a very cool shirt, dude!” referring to the Leicester City shirt I was proudly donning. On the way out of the city, we stopped by Johnny Depp’s house for my sister. His street is a winding street just off a main road, cleverly secluded by high trees. The houses there were fantastic but we were clearly not welcome. The road was a dead-end and there were even bouncers glaring at us from a driveway as we tried to sneak a peek at one of Hollywood’s A-List pads. Further down that road we encountered our first ‘insane’ American, a homeless man seemingly blaming Jennifer Aniston for life’s shortcomings. LA was  fantastic and when I left for San Diego that afternoon, I did so with a heavy heart. Could ‘America’s finest city’ compete with La La Land?

Blame… Jennifer Aniston is the leading cause of homelessness.

Californian Dream (Part 2: Journey South)

“If you want your birthday cake, you’ll have to do a birthday shake! WOOO!” – Enthusiastic staff goad a customer in to dancing

On Thursday morning, my Dad pulled up outside the hotel in a rented Lincoln. No, he wasn’t driving a shit English city or a founding father, it was actually just a normal car.  We forced our bulky cases in to the boot and off we went on our travels. The distance between San Francisco and Los Angeles is a colossal 381 miles, so an over night stop was necessary. My Dad and Debbie were keen to take the scenic drive, which basically meant enduring an added 2 hours on to our trip, which was made significantly more difficult by a snippy Sat Nav who rudely declared that her application did ‘not support British English’, the cyber bitch!

Anyway, we were on the road, with the shorter leg of 103 miles to Monterey to contend with. Initially, we sat back, enjoyed the scenery and eachother’s company. Quickly, we resorted to plugging in our iPods and relentlessly requesting service station stops. After about 45 minutes, we pulled up at Taco Bell,  a famous American fast food chain. I was quite excited to sample the States take on Mexican fast food. You can imagine my disappoint, when the Central American treat I was served tasted less like a spicy, flavoursome burrito and more like a mushy pile of minced beef that had been soaked in dishwater and wrapped in a bit of scrap paper. Although, the food was a let down, I was becoming very accustomed to the States generous policy of free refills wherever you went. Pepsi galore for the road ahead.

Poor show… My first and last Taco Bell

For the most part, the drive was full of inspiring scenery; scorched, yellow grass and poor towns. That was until we reached Santa Cruz, which is quite simply fantastic. A moderately-sized town with some stunning houses. Santa Cruz was a genuine delight to behold and although we only drove through it, it was rightly deemed the pinnacle of Central California. Monterey would simply not compare. In fact, Monterey was a bit of a shithole. My impressions of it were perhaps not helped by the fact we had endured a perilously dull journey only to be shacked up in a shitty Travelodge. Honestly, I didn’t care that we were staying in a motel in the middle of an American ghetto, I had needed a wee for an hour before we arrived and my bladder was pulsating more violently than an overly-loud stereo. We hastily dumped our luggage, eager to spend as little time in the hotel room as possible and we hit the town. We settled on eating at Bubba Gump’s, an American seafood chain, based on  the film, Forrest Gump. The staff were enthusiastic and all sang acapella for whoever’s birthday it was. The restaurant was so cheesy, there was even an obligatory Forrest Gump trivia quiz. Seriously. The food and atmosphere were both enjoyable and lifted our spirits before we returned to the Travelodge. Oh, on the way back we saw some motorbikes, a lot actually. They were thoroughly uninteresting. We all went straight to sleep bar me. I couldn’t get a wink as I was ambushed with an attack of acid reflux so I stayed up looking on proudly at NBC’s coverage of the Olympics’ opening ceremony until the early hours of the morning.

By 6am the next day, we had checked out and were ready to grab breakfast and head off. Fortunately, the second stint of our drive was much more scenic yet stressful. Dad had opted against popular opinion to pay a $10 entrance fee to access the 17-mile-drive through the neighbouring town of Carmel. The drive was beautiful albeit repetitive, I mean if you’ve seen one tree, you’ve seen them all. It wasn’t as spectacular as my Dad was trying to make out, that came later and it certainly didn’t merit the 42 minutes of film that is now lodged in my camera thanks to Debbie.

The Big Sur… The mountain-top café

The scenery gradually became more and more breath-taking as we approached the Big Sur, famed for it’s vast rolling hills and proximity to the pacific ocean. The contrast of the two was formidable and prompted a stop at an opportunistically placed café nestled in the mountainside showing a stunningly picturesque view of both aspects. Accompanied by a hot chocolate and the surprise appearance of a hummingbird, this stop was the most relaxing moment of what had been a very testing trip. To be honest, the subsequent drive down to La La Land was bloody terrifying. I’m well aware that I’m a bit of a wuss but I’m fairly certain most people would be terrified of driving on a windy clifftop road entrenched in fog with your Dad turning away from the wheel to gawp at every boulder we passed. We then came across a group of elephant seals bathing in the sun on a sandy beach, we liberally stretched our schedule to make time to observe these magnificent beasts.

We made one last stop before we reached our final destination,  an In & Out Burger restaurant in Santa Barbara, the city where Michael Jackson took former residence. The burger was delicious; fresh, crisp and meaty. It was made even the more better due to the golden rays of the sun coating the lush palm trees of the American riviera. We then continued on our journey, we hit Malibu and suddenly we could smell the Hollywood air. The land of the rich and famous was dawning. We had arrived in Tinseltown.

Wildlife… Hummingbirds and Elephant Seals

Californian Dream (Part 1: The Golden Gate City)

“DWAYNE?! DWAYNE?!” – A confused waiter hollering a seemingly absent customer

After nearly 12 years of build-up, my sister and I were finally given the American experience we had been promised by our Dad every year since we were toddlers. It’s probably fair to say that California is a dream location for many when picking a summer holiday and that is true of my family. All four of us; myself, my sister Holly, my Dad and his girlfriend Debbie were anxious and excited to experience the famed Golden coast and it was certainly an interesting experience…

On the night of the 24th July, the day before our flight I accumulated a total of 0 hours sleep. I have an irrational fear of flying and I was definitely not savouring the daunting prospect of an 11 hour trip across the Atlantic ocean.  The customary airport formalities went off without a hitch and before I knew it, I was strapped against my will in a steel cage of death precariously hovering over a pool of hungry sharks. Fortunately, my initial terror subsided and was quickly replaced by uncontrollable boredom. There’s only so many crossword puzzles you can do before you start to evaluate the worth of your existence. However, I shouldn’t moan, I caught up on a bit of lost sleep and even enjoyed a couple of films on the journey.

We arrived in San Francisco, full of excitement. Dad had warned us that San Fran would be significantly cooler than our later stops in LA and San Diego but following the tumultuous rain we’d had back in England, a temperature of 22°c was nothing to complain about. We swiftly checked in at the Hilton and went off to absorb the delights of  the city’s Fisherman’s Wharf area, which can only be described as Skegness Deluxe. That may make it sound like a shithole, but the whole area had a charm about it that made it my favourite part of America’s fog city.

Otis…Sitting on the dock of the bay, wasting time.

The next morning, we awoke at 6am. Our bodies had seemingly failed to adjust to the eight hour time difference with old Blighty and by 8am we were out on the town. You’d think having been up so early we’d have been able to grab a swift breakfast and dive right in to the many sights and sounds San Fran had to offer. But no. In fact, we hadn’t decided on a café to grab breakfast in until 10am. Although our indecisiveness was initially frustrating, our choice to eat at Boudin was perhaps one of the best of our entire holiday. My Dad went up to order our breakfasts. An order of three traditional breakfasts and one granola and yoghurt. However, being the socially awkward person he is my Dad actually asked for three traditional breakfasts to be smothered in granola and yoghurt. The cashier, rightly confused sought the help of her manager and any misunderstanding was quickly rectified. My father then gave his name, Whiting which he politely spelled out for her so she could call our name when our order was ready for collection. I stood with my Dad to collect the food and Debbie and Holly went to wait for our coffees. About 10 minutes passed and our names still hadn’t been called. Others who had ordered after us had come and gone with their food whilst we were still waiting. At both counters a man named ‘Dwayne’ was being summoned loudly by the staff to collect his food and coffees. After about 5 minutes, it dawned on my Dad that ‘Dwayne’ was not coming and his order was in fact ours. The cashier had mistaken the name ‘Whiting’ as ‘Twaing’. As you can imagine, we were in genuine hysterics as we sat outside and loudly scoffed on our granola-free bacon and eggs.

With our bellies full of fried goods, we set off to view the heart and soul of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, which stood ominously in the fog-drenched distance. We set off on the obligatory six mile walk, stopping for snacks at a local supermarket on the way. The Golden Gate Bridge was magnificent. It was majestic and bustling with tourists. Perhaps, it didn’t live up to its hype but essentially it is just two red poles sticking out of the sea. We then caught a bus in the hope of viewing Golden Gate Park which was surprisingly a trek and a half from the city’s infamous bridge. Buses in America are weird. They’re crowded, dirty and full of questionable individuals. A bit like a mobile shanty town. Anyway, we were absolutely shot after such a long day on our feet and we ended up ambling for twenty minutes before succumbing to a sit down and a mouth-watering hot dog.

San Fran-tastic… The Golden Gate Bridge

In fact, food would become a focal point for the rest of our stay in Frisco. The weather was often overcast and cool and with a dauntingly tall city centre and no chance of visiting Alcatraz to look forward to, the morning croissants from Starbucks were quickly becoming a highlight. In fact, San Francisco boasted several brilliant eateries; The Fog City Diner, a classic American diner that did the classic British dish of fish & chips more than justice. Boudin, also got a second visit from us, this time so we could try Fisherman’s Wharf’s infamous clam chowder which was very tasty. A whole host of lovely restaurants are also homed on the vibrant Pier 39, which again had a classic seaside feel to it.

Fox City… Leicester scarf in San Francisco

Our last full day in San Fran arrived and we were anxious to explore the inner city areas; Market Street, China Town and all that jazz. We hopped on a cable car, and when I say hop, I mean stand wedged in a queue for an hour between a chirpy puppy and an obese racist in the Northern Californian drizzle. My Dad decided it would be an excellent idea to stand holding on to the side of the cars as we whizzed through the streets of Frisco. Initially, I wanted to just sit like a normal person but that would have robbed me the pleasure of spotting San Fran’s very own ‘Filbert Street’, which obviously brought a smile to my face. We arrived in the centre of the city and following some initial awe at the sheer size of it’s skyline, the rest of the day was a bit shit and involved a lot of walking back to the hotel. That night, we returned to Fisherman’s Wharf, and I fell further in love with the place due to the fact I saw a Leicester City scarf proudly draping from the ceiling of one of the shops. You can take the boy out of Leicester… the next day, we were on the move. It wouldn’t be as easy as going by foot or air. This time,  we were going by road…