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Yosemite National Park

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Yosemite National Park is in the heart of the Sierra Nevada range 195 miles (315 Kilometres) out of San Francisco. The park is positively enormous and is 1169 square miles (3028 square km). The valley floor is 4000 feet (1200m) above sea level and the highest mountain is Cloud’s Rest which is 9926 feet (3025m) high.

My Impressions and experiences at Yosemite

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe park is simply stunning! The granite cliffs are full of colour and texture; and are such amazing shapes. The waterfalls, though they don’t flow heavily in summer, are equally beautiful. The tall trees in the valley are rich colours: green, brown, yellow and red. Their fresh scent fills the air. It was brilliant to be amongst it all.

I hiked lower Yosemite falls, which was simply magnificent. Due to the hot weather I sat by the river with my feet dangling in the water. I also spent a large chunk of time scrambling up the rocks to be close to the falls themselves. It was such a brilliant spot to sit and enjoy the view.

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Mirror Lake was another hike I did, it’s a loop track, somewhere between 1 and 3 miles long dependent on which sign you read. There is no real lake as such, rather a stagnant pond, which means there are loads of bugs. Despite the non-existent lake, the track through the forest is just gorgeous, it was a fairly flat and very relaxing hike.

When I had a very short amount of time in which to do something , I popped by Swinging Bridge. Unfortunately for me, it was simply a bridge that doesn’t swing. Despite my disappointment at the bridge itself, it was a gorgeous spot to visit. It’s in the valley with beautiful cliffs on either side and the river running through the middle. It’s a great spot to swim and relax and there is even a small pebble beach.

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On my last day I booked a four hour ‘Glacier Point’ tour. I would have liked to hike it, but time wasn’t on my side. The tour guide Jane ave a fascinating account of park statistics, facts, stories about nature and history. Once we were up at Glacier Point the views were just awe-inspiring! Simply stunning and there really are no words to describe it.

My Impressions of the Services

There are many long and short hikes that can be done and I would recommend planning your time well. If you don’t have your own transport then I would add at least 20 minutes on to either side of an activity to account for transport.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADespite having a full day and two half days I didn’t get to see much of the park or do much hiking. There were two main reasons for this, the first is the transport issue as mentioned above and the second is related to information.

I found it quite challenging to find information about the hikes, where to go, how long each would take, and how to access it. Once you did find a hike you wanted to do it was hard to physically find due to poor signage, then at times the information was contradictory eg. 1.8miles to the lodge, and after walking 30 mins you cross another sign saying 2 miles to the lodge.

I also found many of the staff member around the park to be quite rude and uninterested in helping.

I saw many people cycling around the park and if I had more time it’s certainly something I would do as it would be a lovely way to see the park. I’m not sure if locks are provided when you rent a bike, but I would expect so.


Yosemite ‘Tour’

To see the park I booked a 3 day ‘tour’ with Extranomical Adventures. It wasn’t much of a tour as such, more it provided the transport and accommodation. You could probably get a better deal by organising it yourself rather than booking a package like this.

On the way in to the park we stopped at the Giant Sequoia Trees for a quick one hour hike… and I mean quick! If you weren’t walking at a fast clip, there’s no way you could get to the trees. The trees tower over you, the sunlight filters through the leaves and there is the rich smell of the earthy forest. It was incredibly refreshing.

A second stop was made at Tunnel View, which provides a fantastic view looking down through the valley. You get magnificent views of El Capitan and Half Dome from here.

Once in the Yosemite Valley you were left to your own devices until pickup time. For the day trippers, that’s only about 2 hours in the park, for over-nighters it means 24 or 48 hours dependent on the length of your stay.

On the return trip there were a few stops for photos, including a stop near the base of El Capitan, which was great.

 

Accommodation

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom the accommodation options on offer from Extranomical, I picked the cheapest option which was a dorm room at Yosemite Bug Hostel. The hostel was pretty nice and I absolutely can’t fault it. One thing you need to be aware of, that I wasn’t, is that it’s just over an hour by bus (YARTS bus) from the Yosemite Lodge. A return trip costs $12. From the bus stop to the Bug Lodge is a steep uphill hike of at least 500 metres (the website indicates it’s only 200 metres, but when I was carrying a pack it felt like miles!!). If you are carrying luggage, then this is quite a tough walk!

Because Bug is so far out, you get stuck with your luggage on the day of arrival and day of departure. Thankfully you can store your luggage for free at the Yosemite Lodge. Be aware that the service is actually for people staying at the lodge, the service is very slow and the staff are not particularly friendly, but they will store the luggage.

Suggestions for visiting Yosemite

Do you research and plan ahead!!

Plan well in advance, choose your time frame and plan activities that will work within that. My biggest piece of advice would be to have your own transport. In summer the roads are clogged and parking is a nightmare, but at least you can access all the different parts of the park without too much hassle.

There are free shuttles that transport you around the park, but they don’t go to all areas and it is a real challenge to figure out any other shuttles, though I believe they do exist.

If you want to hike Half Dome, make sure you secure a permit in advance.

Honestly, if I had done more research in advance, I believe that my experience at Yosemite would have been better; I would have done more and it would have been more enjoyable . I still enjoyed what I saw and what I did, but I certainly experienced many frustrations too.

Yosemite Photo Album

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Boston, Chicago and Wichita

Despite my travel fatigue I have still seen and experienced a bit of what the cities of Boston, Chicago and Wichita have to offer.

Boston

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMost of my time in the Boston area was spent in Cambridge, as I was studying at MIT. Cambridge is a super chilled student suburb. It has a relaxed vibe and many gorgeous old buildings. I stayed in central Cambridge, this was exactly half way between the campuses of MIT and Harvard. So of course I made sure I checked out both.

The city of Boston is across the river from Cambridge and is bustling in comparison. Boston has the nickname ‘Beantown’ which links back to Puritan times when people were not allowed to cook on Sundays. So on Saturday they would prepare a large pot of beans, that were slow to cook and leave them on the pot belly stove overnight so they were ready to eat on Sunday at mealtime.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was rumoured that the sailors could tell when they got close to Boston because of the smell. Though it is unclear if it was the smell of beans cooking or the results of eating the beans. I think we will leave that up to your imagination.

Being yet another big city I found that there wasn’t much I wanted to see in Boston, though I did follow the first half of the historical ‘Freedom Trail’. As someone who is not interested in History, I don’t have any fascinating historical data to share. However I did find it a pleasant way to wander the city and check out the interesting old architecture and sculptures in the area.

Boston Photo Album

Chicago

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy time in Chicago really was fleeting, I only spent a half day exploring the city. I wandered down the Magnificent Mile (main shopping street) and down to Millennium Park where I saw the sculpture I had always wanted to see, Cloud Gate, known colloquially as The Bean.

I really enjoyed the chilled out vibe at the park and surrounding area. I enjoyed a delicious sandwich and beer, not to mention an open classical music rehearsal.

I hear that doing an architectural boat tour down the river is an absolute must, but I didn’t get around to it myself.

Chicago Photo Album

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Wichita

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStrange as it may seem, I made the trek to Wichita, Kansas to spend time with a very close friend. Wichita itself is a sprawling city, that is very flat and doesn’t seem to have a huge variety of activities on offer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADespite this, it’s a very chilled out area. The riverside has lush green lawns and would be a great spot for a picnic. The riverside area is home to the indian sculpture The Keeper of the Plains, which is pretty cool. The city itself has many gorgeous old buildings interspersed with modern sculptural artworks, an area worth exploring.

Around 30 minutes drive out of the city is an area called El Dorado where the is a lake, camping areas and walking trails. A great spot to spend time on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Wichita Photo Album

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New York, New York!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith one part of the study tour over and a short gap before the next part would begin. A colleague, Marie, and I spent four days exploring New York at our own pace. While there we also met up with Wayne, who I had been on tour with from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro in May.

Around New York I revisited some places I had already been, as well as seeing new sites.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATop of the Rock

The Top of the Rock is an observation deck accessible from Rockerfeller centre. I got my ticket combined with a MoMA ticket for $45, but I believe entry to Top of the Rock by itself is around $27.

There are three observation levels at the top of the building, approx. 850 feet (260 metres) above sea level. The lowest of the three is predominantly indoor, but has an outdoor section. The middle of the three is predominantly outdoor but has a small indoor area without views. The top level is smaller, and is completely outdoor. The views from the building are absolutely spectacular. The view of the Chrysler building wasn’t fabulous, but the Empire State Building and Central Park had clear, uninterrupted views.

Something I love about Observation decks, is that once you are there you can stay as long as you like. A suggestion would be to arrive at the end of the day to experience the views during daylight ours, stay through sunset and then appreciate the night skyline. My personal choice, based on a friends recommendation was to see the Top of the Rock during the day and the Empire State Building at night.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStatue of Liberty & Ellis Island

It turns out that if you want to visit the Statue of Liberty’s museum in the pedestal or to go up to the crown, you need to book a couple of months in advance. So as you can imagine, I didn’t do those things. For $18 I got a ferry to Liberty Island and to Ellis Island, with an audio tour for each included in the price. It probably would have been cool to go up to the crown, but I honestly didn’t feel I was missing out by not having done it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe audio tour around the Statue of Liberty was really good. It was interesting information and it was well narrated, the audio tour on Ellis Island was less interesting to me because it was more of a museum with loads and loads of history. I also found the building much too cold, and I was tired by that stage so I had quite a short attention span.

It was really cool to see Lady Liberty, she was a gift from France to the USA. The Americans simply had to make a pedestal for her to stand on. She is made of very thin copper on an iron frame and stands 305feet tall from the ground to the torch. I find the statue to be elegant, and I loved running around taking pictures!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWall Street

A quick stroll along Wall Street and around the Financial District was interesting.

The Charging Bull sculpture is pretty awesome, but the crowd around it is ridiculously dense. There certainly isn’t even a glimmer of hope to photograph it without random people photobombing.

Down the way from the Charging Bull, on Wall Street itself is the New York Stock Exchange. The building is rather grand and imposing in a beautiful way.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Guggenheim Museum

I’m not an art or museum lover but I do appreciate architecture and atmosphere. The museum design by Frank Lloyd Wright is fascinating both inside and out. I found it a very pleasant art gallery to wander through. The use of lines, curves, light and shade were fantastic and I even saw some art along the way that I appreciated looking at! It was worth my $18 student entry fee.

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Brooklyn Bridge

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Brooklyn Bridge is a New York icon, so we walked from Brooklyn across to Manhattan. The bridge structure is really cool to look at, so many interesting lines and symmetry. The walk is very pleasant, not very far and certainly not in the slightest bit taxing. It also provides great views on the Manhattan bridge and general surrounds. You can also cycle over it, but we chose to walk.

Central Park

I have mentioned it previously, Central Park is simply enormous. It is 3.41km2 public park. It has cafes, lakes, a castle and more. It is a great place to go for a walk, have some food and just enjoy the atmosphere. After two visits I have still only seen a tiny portion of the park. If you want to see more of it and don’t have days to do it, then I would recommend looking into bike rental costs. If I had had the time I would certainly have done it.

Empire State Building

We visited the Empire State Building just after sunset, the queues weren’t excessive and soon enough we were at the top, enjoying stunning views of New York at night. The roads are buzzing red with traffic feeding the city with life. The whole city glows and buzzes with energy, it’s quite spectacular to absorb such an amazing sight.
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General City Sights

Around New York there are loads of things to see: interesting architecture, cute parks, cool sculptures and funky street art. Some things I really liked were the Flatiron Building, the Hope and Love sculptures and the glass cube Apple Store.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI would also highly recommend Bryant Park, near the New York Library, it’s certainly not even on the same scale as Central Park, but in it’s small size and location it is a hive of activity. There are Café’s, Bars, outdoor reading zones, tables and chairs, lawn space and more. They also have a big screen set up for evening movies during the summer. It’s a brilliant spot to hang out.

July 4th – Independence Day

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur stay in New York coincided with July 4th. We went out and bought ourselves little American flags and parked our butts near-ish to the waterfront of the East River on the Manhattan side to enjoy an evening of fireworks. We chose not to go too close to the waterfront because the crowds were just way too big and full on for us. So we sat a block or two back and enjoyed the views of the fireworks over the rooftops of the lower buildings. It was a fabulous evening!!!

Check out all my New York photos on Flickr

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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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Project Beans is taking shape and the countdown is on!

Today is exactly 3 months from my departure date… eep, excitement!!

At this point, stage two of Project Beans is well under way and as you may expect the plans have morphed a little and now has three phases.

Travel Phase 1

All booked, paid and locked in!!

I felt like I wasn’t quite ok to travel South America solo, so I booked two tours. The first tour explores the West Coast (Peru and Bolivia) and the other the East Coast (Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil). Some of the highlights of these tours include: The Amazon, hiking the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu, visiting the Salt Flats of Bolivia, mountain biking Death Road in Bolivia (not yet included but I will find a way to make it fit), staying on a ranch in Uruguay, visiting the Iguassu Falls and visiting Rio de Janeiro!!!
My friend CD and his friend Jen will also be coming along for the ride, which will be pretty awesome.

From South America I will hightail it to Istanbul, Turkey. I have a few days to myself before I will be joined by my mum and together we will do a quick whip around Turkey, the highlights of which will be Istanbul, Cappadocia and Pamukkale.

From there, we need to head straight to The Netherlands, to the beautiful little town of Sliedrecht for the wedding of my cousin. Apart from the obvious wedding excitement, it will be a great, but short, time to just chill out and enjoy my family’s company.

Travel Phase 2

P1080240 (Large)Together with a group of four others from the Department of Education Tasmania, I have been awarded a Hardie Fellowship to investigate best practices in STEM education. This means that we are paid to go on a study tour of the US. This includes visits to schools who are leaders in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), a tour of Silicon Valley (OMG – nerd heaven!!!), a technology in education conference and then we each need to actually study at a university. I have to wait for the dates and course costs to be released, but at this stage I am hoping to do a course at MIT and another one at Stanford (double OMG – more nerd heaven!!!!)

The study tour is about 5-6 weeks, after which I hope to bump out my return dates so I can explore New York and Chicago; maybe even squish in a quick trip to Central America, before heading back to Europe. There’s also a few people I hope to catch up with while in the US.

Travel Phase 3

Once I am back in Europe my plan still includes exploring as much of Spain as humanly possible, walking El Camino de Santiago, learning Spanish, exploring Portugal and also Morocco. Lately I have also been thinking about throwing in a trip to Iceland, as I have heard great stories and seen amazing pictures.

Despite having some ideas of what I would like to do, phase 3 is currently completely unplanned and this is exciting!!!

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