Tag Archives: u.s.a.

Five days in Philly

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On arrival in Philadelphia I straight away felt as though the city was much more relaxed than some of the other big cities we had visited. It has a sense of calm (comparatively speaking, since it is still truckloads busier than Hobart).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe purpose of my stay in Philadelphia was to attend the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference, an enormous conference that attracted somewhere around 18,000 or more participants from all over the globe. In between workshops and lectures I squished in some teeny moments of sightseeing.

Liberty Bell

I’m really appalling with history, particularly that of a country that is not my own. In my understanding the Liberty Bell has a whole lot of history, but is significant as a symbol of American Independence.

Rocky Stairs

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the movie Rocky the main character, who I assume to be called Rocky, ran up a set of stairs in front of the Philadelphia Art Gallery and cheered at the top – so I am told (I have never actually seen the movie).

So I actually made it to the Rocky Stairs twice, the first time I wandered over there with a colleague to see it and take pictures. The second time I went for a run (the US food is catching up with me and I don’t want to buy new pants). So I ran the 1.5km to the stairs, ran up and down them a bunch of times (did NOT punch the air in celebration at the top) and ran back to my hotel. I did bump into some colleagues just near the rocky sculpture and they took a celebratory and red-faced photo as evidence of my effort.

Freedom Sculpture

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn an app I have on my phone, I came across a picture of a sculpture called the Freedom Sculpture. It was only four blocks from my hotel, so I went to check it out. It’s stunning, very well crafted and with a strong message. I took loads of photos.

Beyond these sights, I wandered the streets and saw cool buildings, funky old town sights, sculptures of people who are probably famous and various other things.

Check out all my Philadelphia photos on Flickr

 

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A day in DC

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur study tour group headed to Washington DC for a period of about 26 hours, to have a dinner meeting with Bonnie Bracey-Sutton. Bonnie previously worked as the technology in education advisor to Bill Clinton during his time as President. We met her at the National Press Club (not your average backpacker’s dinner destination, thankfully I had packed a dress!) and enjoyed some chats about equality in education, different types of technology as well as many other various and random things.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe rest of our time in DC was spent frantically cramming in the sights. We decided that the easiest way to do this was with a ticket for a hop-on hop-off bus (bigbustours.com). From the top of our bus we took photos of some iconic buildings and monuments, the Capitol Building, National Archives, Jefferson Memorial, the Pentagon, the White House, Arlington Cemetery and many more.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe hopped off the bus at the Washington Monument and strolled down through the World War II memorial to the Lincoln Memorial. All places were of course jam-packed with people, but I really enjoyed seeing these places and taking the time to soak up the atmosphere.

In the evening, we popped by the White House to get a few quick pictures before getting caught in a sudden downpour. Our time in DC was very brief, but we used it wisely!

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Check out all my Washington pictures on Flickr

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A day and a bit in New York

Between flights, train trips and business appointments I saw a snippet of New York. I will be returning, so don’t stress that I missed most of the major icons.

9/11 Memorial

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA9/11, the day the twin towers fell, I think everyone remembers where they were that day. I had moved to the Netherlands, my first time living away from home ( I don’t do things by halves – I move out for the first time and move straight to the other side of the globe) and was on aol chat (yes, THAT long ago) to a friend from home who told me a plane had crashed into one of the towers. I laughed at such a preposterous idea, but as his insistence I turned on the TV and was shocked to see that it was true.

Some colleagues and I made our way to the memorial, which I think has been beautifully designed, very tasteful and respectful. We didn’t go to the museum, but we certainly took some time to think about how that moment affected so many people.

Chelsea Market

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The Chelsea Market is not an outdoor stalls kind of market, but a permanent indoor ‘market’ of shops. The building used to be in an industrial district and the building itself used to be the National Biscuit Factory. The building now appears to be an apartment block with a market on the ground floor. The building interior has been stripped back to have a very industrial yet modern feel. I loved the exposed brickwork and steel features. I didn’t look in any of the shops, but simply ogled the awesomeness of the building itself. It’s absolutely worth a visit!

The High Line

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The High Line is just outside Chelsea Market (though its actual start point is a south of the market). The High Line is an elevated train line that was disused and had fallen into disrepair. Rather than going through the very costly exercise of destroying it, it was converted into a walkway and urban garden.

The High Line is quite long, it extends from West 12th street to West 33rd. Along the way are loads of park benches, sculptures and art works. At a few points along the way are shops. At two points we also found some icy pole carts – these were delicious!!

Wandering the High Line is a brilliant way to spend a few hours, the scenery and atmosphere is just gorgeous and walking the length of it is, of course, good exercise.

Folsom Street East – Street Festival

From the High Line we spotted some kind of street festival in progress and decided to investigate.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFolsom Street East was a street fair with the theme ‘The New York you were warned about’ and is the “largest fetish block party on the east coast”. It was predominantly males wearing all sorts of bizarre and interesting outfits, which mostly appeared to be bondage related. It was pretty colourful street fair to wander. While fetish and kink aren’t my scene, I appreciated the humour in the arse-less trousers branded Cellblock 13.

MoMA

MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art is a large, very famous, art gallery. I’m not the biggest art fan and by this time of day I was exhausted. Nevertheless I wandered floors 5, 4, 3 and the sculpture garden. The museum has beautifully displayed artworks, both old and new. I really enjoyed some of the very colourful art.

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Also, after having visited the Salvador Dali museum and beach house in Spain and the Dali Desert in Bolivia, I was very happy to finally see the famed artwork “Persistence of Memory”.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the third floor were some cool technology and pop culture exhibits. I learned a bit of history about some of the technology icons and symbols we use today and saw some original code from the PacMan game.

Tickets cost $25, or if you get the combined MoMA/Top of the Rock ticket it is $45 (it saves you $10 off the two tickets separately, and the Top of the Rock ticket is valid for 6 months from the purchase date)

Times Square

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I’m not sure if Times Square has any specific significance, I know it’s where the ‘ball drops’ at midnight on New Years Eve. Otherwise the area is known for all the bright lit up signage.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWalking around Times Square is as bright as walking under a midday sun, except the light is artificial. It is loud, obnoxious and quite the experience. In the words of a colleague it “looks like it has been designed by a 12 year old”.

I enjoyed walking around for a bit of a look-see, but that’s really all you need. Then I sought refuge in the enormous M&M world shop. What an extremely overpowering sugar smell! I loved the M&M shop, it’s so colourful and fun. Though I demonstrated extreme self-control and didn’t buy a thing, not even one single M&M!

Central Park

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACentral Park in New York is HUGE!!! It’s a park in the middle of the city, with loads of grass, trees, rocks, wildlife and paths that you can use for recreational purposes or even hire a horse and buggy to show you around.

With our limited amount of time, we grabbed some food from a delicatessen and sat in central park for a picnic dinner and watched the sun go down. We had a brief wander of the southern-most section and appreciated the calm of the park in comparison to the hustle and bustle of the city.

For all my New York photos, check out my album on Flickr

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A day in Seattle

Every so often on the study tour we have a snippet of free time. In Seattle we had a day off before an evening train ride, to explore the city, and explore is exactly what we did!

Pike Place  Market

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPike Place Market has existed since 1907 and is one of the oldest farmers markets. There are loads of tasty treats and creative products to be found. It’s really interesting to wander from shop to shop seeing, and sometimes testing, what is on offer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe fish market is a particular highlight. The staff are a fantastic demonstration of collaboration and team work, yelling orders and throwing fish. Fantastic to see!

The First Ever Starbucks

Starbucks opened their first store in Pike Place Market in 1971. The original store is still open and retains its old-school signage, but the company has grown exponentially into a multi-billion dollar since then.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs a huge corporation I’m not the biggest fan of Starbucks or any larger chain. However I can say that when you are travelling and are looking for something reliable, something that you know, Starbucks provides consistent products and quality (by that I don’t mean the worlds best coffee by the way, I’m just saying the quality they provide is consistent globally) world wide.

As someone who appreciates coffee, I couldn’t walk past the store and completely ignore it. Though looking at the line, I certainly wouldn’t line up and order a coffee!

Gum Wall

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust below Pike Place Market you can find a little alleyway called Post Alley. The walls of the alleyway are a kaleidoscope of colour, it’s very eye-catching. On closer inspection it’s actually rather disgusting and most unhygienic!

Post Alley hosts a gum wall, anyone is welcome to contribute. Some people just stick their wad of gum to the wall, others use it to stick their business card to the wall and others get creative, stretching their gum into shapes and letters.

The Underground Tour

Seattle actually has quite a crazy history. Loads of bad town planning decisions that resulted in the city being entirely flooded, having insane raw sewerage problems, the city later being burned down completely, the city rebuilding but in some bizarre dual level system. Ultimately this resulted in a number of streets still existing under the streets and buildings of the current city.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere is a cool Underground Tour that you can do, it starts at Pioneer Square and goes under the neighbouring city blocks. I found it quite fascinating. It wasn’t the worlds best tour, but I think a contributing factor is the guide that you get. There is the potential for the tour to be extremely engaging. Certainly the city has enough rich history to make it a fantastic afternoon adventure.

Tickets cost $19

Columbia Center

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASeattle has at least one iconic building, the Space Needle. Most people head up the space needle to get a view of the city. It’s quite an interesting structure and is taller than it’s immediate neighbouring buildings. However these days, it’s actually rather tiny in the scheme of the city’s architectural landscape.

Rather than go up the space needle, we found a taller building with an observation deck, and were able to view the space needle from across town. Our views from this height were uninterrupted.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Columbia Center has a Sky View Observatory providing pretty much 360 degree views of Seattle City. The Observatory is on the 76th floor, just over 300 metres above sea level.

The View is fantastic and I would recommend a visit. Tickets cost $14.25.

Microsoft

As part of the study tour we did pay the main campus of Microsoft a visit. The Redmond Campus is absolutely enormous!! They have 5000 staff working there who consume 2 millions gallons of coffee (I think Starbucks) annually!! It was a fun visit.

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For all my Seattle photos, check out my album on Flickr

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San Francisco

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I have made the leap back across the world to the U.S.A where I will be doing a study tour for the next two months, essentially looking at the use of technology in the classroom. While on tour, I will have some opportunities to explore the places I go.

My first stop in the U.S.A has been San Francisco. I had just under a week to explore before the study tour begins. San Francisco is a big city, particularly in light of where I come from. It has a rich culture and so much diversity in the city. Aside from a few key sites, I felt that San Francisco is mostly about exploring the suburbs.

Things to See and Do

Cable Cars

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I think one of the things San Francisco is very well known for are it’s crazy steep hills which are tackled by super cute old school cable cars with wooden brakes. At each end of the line, the cable cars are rolled onto a turn table and manually turned around.
These things are so cute it’s not funny! I loved riding the cable cars!

From Powell Street Turnaround there are two lines Powell & Hyde and Powell & Mason. They both take you up and over towards the Fishermans Wharf area. Depending on what you want to see and do, I recommend the Powell & Hyde line and to jump off at the top of the famous Lombard Street. Walk down Lombard and weave your way through the streets towards Fishermans Wharf, or keep walking straight-ish to head up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower.

Hot Tip: The line to get onto the cable car at Powell Street Turnaround is ridiculous, walk a couple blocks up the street to another cable car stop and get on there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALombard Street

Whether there is truth to it or not, the claim is that Lombard Street is the worlds crookedest street. It is a very steep one way street, that runs the length of one block and has eight hairpin turns. It’s definitely worth a look.

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Coit Tower

Coit Tower is at the top of Telegraph Hill and provides a pretty awesome 360 degree view of the city of San Francisco. Be aware that a visit to the top costs $8 and last entry is at around 5:30pm.

Golden Gate Bridge

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Golden Gate Bridge, probably the city’s biggest icon. Well known, unfortunately, for being shrouded in fog. There are loads of ways to see the bridge, from mountains, from towers, from boats, walking and cycling. I opted to cycle the bridge together with a girl from my dorm room.

There are about a billion bike rental places to choose from, while it possibly wasn’t the cheapest option, we rented our bikes from San Francisco Bike Rentals on Jefferson Street, west of Pier 41. By reserving a bike online we got a 20% discount off the rental price, and paid $24 to rent a bike for the day (A helmet and a bike lock are included in the price).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom the Pier 41 area, you follow the coast line. There are loads of photo ops along the way, provided the bridge isn’t completely hidden by fog. You continue along the coast line until you are close to Fort Point (You can cycle to Fort Point for more photos if you choose), then you turn left up Long Avenue, which winds its way up to the bridge.

The bridge has a reasonably wide path which is shared by cyclists going both directions, as well as pedestrians. Make sure you take it easy! If you want photos, be sure to stop and pull up to the side of the path so that you don’t block traffic.

Once you reach the other side, you could turn around and go back or continue cycling to the historic upper-class town of Sausalito and catch the Ferry (approx. $11) back to the Fishermans Wharf area.

Cycling the bridge is fun but pretty windy, make sure you bring a coat!

Street Cars

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe street cars look a little bit like trams. They are vintage and like the cable cars, super cute! I made good use of the F-line street car which runs all the way along Market Street and then along The Embarcadero (waterfront) to Fishermans Wharf. The route the F-line takes is scenic and gives you a great opportunity to see what there is on offer at each of the piers.

Fishermans Wharf and Pier 39

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Fishermans Wharf and Pier 39 areas are very commercial. Pier 39 almost feels like you are visiting Disneyland. That being said, I did think they were worth a look. There were some good options for eating out and I made sure I had some ‘famous’ clam chowder in a bread bowl.

Fishermans Wharf is pretty much just food, but Pier 39 has food and many specialty and souvenir shops. At the end, on the west side of Pier 39 is also a sea lion colony, which attracts hordes of tourists!

Alcatraz

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlcatraz is another San Francisco icon. It is an island (and national park) 1.5 miles off the coast of San Francisco. From 1934 to 1963, it was home to the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, a maximum high-security prison.

We booked tickets to Alcatraz online through Alcatraz Cruises for $30 each. The ticket cost covered the return ferry ride to the island, entry to the national park and an audio tour of the prison.

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The ferry ride to the island and the island visit were bitterly cold, which gave an indication to us of just how awful it must have been to be stuck out on “The Rock”. Alcatraz was basically used to house the worst of the worst; the prisoners who caused too much trouble in other prisons. Life on The Rock had very strict routine without too much disruption, though riots in May 1946 due to a failed escape attempt were rather horrendous. Less bloody, was an escape by three inmates who dug out ventilation tunnels with the use of metal spoons and escaped on an inflatable raft made of stolen raincoats.

The prison was interesting to explore and the audio guide that went with it was just fantastic. It was narrated by one of the prison wardens, with additional commentary from various inmates and family members of the prison staff who lived on the island. The narration was accompanied by appropriate and effective sound effects, which created a real sense of place and time.

The View

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe View cocktail lounge on the 39th floor of the Marriott Marquis Hotel on 4th Street. Unsurprisingly, it has a superb view of the city!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s a pretty fancy place, but to my surprise didn’t have a strict dress code. With some friends from home, we turned up in jeans and sneakers. We sat amongst people who had just come from a Giants game and others who were wearing Tuxedo’s and formal dresses.

This was the perfect spot to sit for a few hours lounging around on sofas, drinking tasty cocktails, watching the sun go down.

Mission

I’m not sure what the Mission District is mostly known for, but what I found there was loads and loads of cool street art, and some good coffee.

The coffee place I checked out was Four Barrel on Valencia Street, they had a great atmosphere and really tasty coffee. As I enjoyed my latte,  I did some googling about what to see in the Mission and came up with Balmy Street Murals (Balmy Street is off 24th).

Caffeinated, I jumped on a bus and made my way to Balmy Street, stopping at several alley ways along the way. I noticed that deep in Mission I heard very little english and even the bus announcements had become Spanish only, so I wonder if it is a latino district perhaps.

Anyway the street art was awesome, so many different colours, styles and messages – I loved it!

Castro

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACastro is the Gay and Lesbian district, I had heard that it was a very colourful district in a variety of ways. I think I was there too early in the morning to really experience all the colours on offer, but the man in fishnet booty short provided a bit of an insight.

The pedestrian crossings in the pride colours and the colourful murals were pretty cool.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPainted Ladies

On Steiner Street just next to Alamo Park are some gorgeous Victorian style buildings, over the top of which the city can be seen. The houses and the view are both beautiful, but I don’t know that it was really something to write home about.

Exploratorium

The Exploratorium is a museum on the waterfront at Pier 15, which is all about learning through exploring. Throughout the museum are workstations that allow you to interact with various gadgets and devices to learn concepts by tinkering and doing. If you are a person curious about how things work, then it is definitely worth a visit.

As a teacher studying technology and investigating the idea of learning by doing, this place was great. It gave me a number of cool ideas for ways in which different things can be taught. I also think that as a place for young people to visit, it’s almost like an educational theme park, loads of fun!

Visits cost $29, but are discounts to $24 for teachers.

Some General Info

Accommodation

I stayed in Hostelling International, San Francisco Downtown.  The location was absolutely brilliant, right near Union Square and a short walk to everything downtown. Rooms were a good size, nice and clean. I spent 3 nights in a 4-bed female dorm and 3 nights in a twin private room with a colleague, both with private bathroom. There is a tasty bagel breakfast included, and the wifi is fast and reliable. It’s one of the best hostels I have stayed in.

If you aren’t a HI member you need to pay a bit extra than the listed price, I would recommend buying the eMembership because it quickly pays itself.

Transport

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Getting around the city with public transport is crazy easy. I am usually a walker, but with all the really cute public transport ie. cable cars and street cars, not to mention the hills, I opted for public transport instead.

In and around the city I would recommend buying a muni pass. The muni pass gives you access to the cable cars, streets cars, buses and light rail. You can get a day pass for $17, 3-day for $26 or 7-day for $35. The alternate option is to pay around $6 per ride, which adds up very quickly.

You can buy a muni pass from a ticket booth right near the cable car turnaround on Powell Street (just look for where Powell Street meets Market Street)

Food

I’m aiming to travel on the cheap and I’m not much of a foodie, so I don’t like to splash out too much on food. I found that buying frozen meals or pre-packaged salads from Walgreens cost close to the same as eating at a budget restaurant.

For most meals I paid between $9 and $15 for a single main menu item. Most meals in the US are quite big portions, so I never had more than one menu item.

Check out all my San Francisco Photos on Flickr

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