Alice in Photos, Age 16

I know I keep going on about it, but I had a very intense walk down memory lane this weekend. On the search for building shots for Beauty in Buildings, I brought out my old hard drive and went through ten years of photos. I found photos that brought me right back to the moment the button clicked, photos that made me giggle, and photos that weighed down on a part of my heart. And then just some really cool ones that I totally forgot about!

My best friend in high school was named Jacki, and she was always into photography and high fashion. She had the coolest clothes and could combine them into new outfits in ways I could never even dream of, rarely if ever repeating an outfit. One rainy day when I was 15 or 16 she dressed me up in a few different ensembles and decided to have me model in my first photoshoot ever, Jacki’s retro-style home the background for the shots.

The last photo in the set is actually from a few years later. Our moms took us to Paris together a few weeks before we graduated high school. But Paris is when and where our relationship fully disintegrated and came apart, and it’s never really been repaired. Come to think about it, this photo is probably the last one we ever took together.

But I suppose that’s what’s nice about photos – they capture one single moment in time and freeze it. You have to ask in order to get a backstory about a photo, there is only so much it can say on its own. I remember the day of this photoshoot, happy to be alone with my best friend at her cozy house on a rainy afternoon, and those are the memories I try to think of when I think of her. It will never be the same between us and I accepted that long ago, but it’s sometimes nice to look back at pretty pictures and remember a time where we were still an unfinished book.

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One city, two takes

This weekend I’ve gone through about ten years of photos in search of material for Beauty in Buildings. It’s a cool feeling that even before Instagram existed or I even realized that I love learning about, appreciating, and photographing buildings, I was traveling to new cities and snapping shots of buildings! I found a goldmine of building photos in my old hard drive that I took from 2005 – 2014, from New Orleans to Amsterdam to Port-au-Prince.

In September 2012 I was still living in Brussels, and my ex-boyfriend and I decided to take a little weekend getaway to Cologne, Germany, which is just a short train ride away. Colm studied photography and is a graphic designer, and he’d very proudly purchased an old black-white-camera (I can’t remember the make or style) off of Ebay for one Euro. I brought my digital camera, and enjoyed walking around Cologne on Saturday taking photographs of the different neighborhoods and buildings we walked by.

I’ve been to two cities in Germany – Cologne and Berlin – and both times I was very taken aback at the look and feel of these cities. I’m American, and I’m always anticipating European cities to be a combination of antique, cute, and quaint, even the big cities. I arrived in Berlin and was shocked to be reminded of New York City – there were big wide avenues, lots of big modern buildings, and tons of Dunkin Donuts.

I’d done some research on what to do in Cologne, and Google flooded me with images of the Hollhenzollern Bridge and the Cologne Cathedral, both beautiful, ancient (the Cathedral being epically old, opening it’s doors in 1322. 1322!!!) structures in the city. But if the camera zoomed out to show the rest of the city that surrounds the church and bridge, you’d be shocked at how modern and new the rest of Cologne is! Lots of tall, boxy buildings undoubtedly built in the second half of the twentieth century. And that’s when it dawns on me the devastation that was left after Allied bombing campaigns during World War II. It’s pretty intense, and a miracle that those in charge did leave some of these buildings out of harms way, for history’s sake.

In my old hard drive I’ve got all my photos of colorful Cologne, and they lead right into the black and white photos that Colm sent me after the trip. The feel of the photos is so different! My photos came out vibrant and excited, while Colm’s were look thoughtful and serene. So much factors into how a photo comes out, to the feeling it invokes in the onlooker, and the message the photo sends – it takes me forever to choose a filter on Instagram or to finish editing a photo on my computer because the colors and lighting used can tell a completely different story from another, and sometimes I’m not sure which one I want to tell.

We actually took quite a few of almost the same shot a few times, as you’ll see below.
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The scarf makes me look like a European :-p

Cute pic of me and Colm back in the day at the bnb

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Hikeventure on Nor Cal’s Lost Coast

IMG_1902This city gal has become a bit more outdoor-minded as she’s gotten older -The woods have become less a place to burn one in secret and more a place to enjoy, explore, walk, swim, run, bike, and conquer. One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about moving to San Francisco is how easy it is to hop in a car, whether it’s your’s, a friend’s, or a Get Around, and find yourself quickly outside The City and in a redwood forest, on the beach, or in an Old Western-style town surrounded by mountains.

In a rather whirlwind turn of events, I ended up agreeing to join three friends on a three-day hike of California’s Lost Coast, a sparsely populated area up in Humboldt and Mendocino counties in Northern California. It got its moniker in the last half-century since this rather isolated region experienced large-scale depopulation back in the 1930s – Back in the day there were train tracks linking towns and lumber yards, but the terrain was too rough and rugged, so today, aside from a sprinkling of “towns” like Whitethorn and Whale’s Gulch, you pass through or by lots that has been abandoned, from towns to ramshackle houses to school buses overgrown with weeds and moss. Nowadays much of the Lost Coast is now part of the Sinkyone Wilderness State Park.

For a little reference, here’s where we were in reference to San Francisco:

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And here’s what we ended up hiking! Essentially, we drove up to Needle Rock, parked the car, a local chap named Owen drove us back down to Usal in his 4×4, and then we hiked all the way up the mountains and on the ridges along the coast back to Needle Rock. The blue-dotted route shown below is not what we walked (I think it’s a fire road), clearly Google Maps did not take the scenic route.

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It was my first multi-day backpacking adventure and I felt a mixture of wooo yea I can do this empowerment!! and why am I waltzing around bear country with 40-pounds of sweet and savory trail mix on my back? But Brian lent me his hiking sticks which were a game changer, biking up and down the San Francisco hills for the last 4 months was killer preparation, and the views were immediately blue and beautiful. In many vistas we came across during the day time it was hard to see where the horizon was as the blue of the ocean turned almost seamlessly into sky blue.

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We hiked seven or so miles on the first day, which the guy at the Visitor’s Center had said would be the hardest because of all the ups and downs of the trail. It was definitely challenging but that was to be expected, and by the time we set up camp in a clearing at the Little Jackass campsite, we were all pretty exhausted. We ended up all sleeping 12 hours, the shady forest clearing blocking the sun from waking us early.

Day Two: Holy sh*t. The guy at Needle Rock said this was supposed to be the easiest because we’d just be walking along a ridge with a view of the ocean. Well, you’ve got to get up to that ridge first, don’t you? We decided they call our camp spot Little Jackass because you feel like one trying to get out of there – We spun circles around our campsite for an hour trying to find the path out, practically wading through poison oak and spikey needle bushes and then a tree legit fell on Kevin, who handled it like a champ. Then it was just straight up hill for an hour or so which made me very cross, so I kind of just put my head down and busted it out til the trail did level off like they said it would. I whined, but the hike wouldn’t have been so rewarding if there hadn’t been a couple of obstacles to overcome!

To keep ourselves occupied between the deeply intellectual conversations had by all, including one recurring conversation involving the correct verbiage related to former President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinski, we sang. I had not sung like that since waiting around for dinner in the mess hall at Camp Kippewa for Girls. A shout out to Brian for filming and recording our musical debuts! Starting off with American folk songs, we spanned late 90s pop, 60s soul, and musical theatre, which exposed me and Chrysan as Sound of Music freaks of nature. We are waiting impatiently for the next Castro Theater Sound of Music Singalong. #JulieAndrews

Here’s us during a trail mix break singing along to the #1 played song during the candlelighting ceremony at your local bar mitzvah Saturday night:

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We knew we were going to come up to Wheeler Beach, but figured we’d haul on to the next beach at Bear Harbor, which the next day would leave us with just three or so miles back to where we’d parked the car. On the descent down to Wheeler Beach, which, I admit I was glad not to be ascending, we passed by a father-son duo and asked them about the beach. The dad was just absolutely not having it that day, and grumpily responded that it was something along the lines of “open exposed black sand and water, no shade anywhere” mumble mumble boo hoo. Although to me that sounded like, you know, a beach, we were not sure what to expect…

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Credit to Chrysan Tung

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Credit to Chrysan Tung

There was a beautiful black sand beach fit with magnificent wave action, cliffs, a brook, pine, and elder trees. While the waves were too big too go swimming, and the water much too cold, there was a shallow pool that had formed with calm, warm water. Chrysan and I immediately threw down our heavy backpacks and on with our bathing suits as soon as we arrived, and quickly realized that all-purpose biodegradable soap, sun, sand, and water is pretty much the key to a happy and fulfilling life.

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The sunset was obviously quite alright, and reflected itself into the wading pool as we drank hot toddies and made s’mores. At this juncture in time I will take a second to note that semi-melted marshmallows make for excellent roasting marshmallows, as the sort of dusty outside coating disappears and you’re essentially just roasting the entire inside of the marshmallow. It is game-changing and addictive.

Perhaps it was the hot toddies, perhaps it was the build up of endorphins after a long day’s hike and an epic bath, but Chrysan and I became Celine Dion that night, and it felt almost as good as Rose felt when she stood up in front of her tipy toes at the party in steerage. “Oh, I haven’t done that in years!”

Day 3: Final Day. Didn’t really even register that it was coming to an end. We woke up on the beach (which is just a great thing) and then set off past the deep elder tree forests up into the redwoods. Treked for miles and miles til Bear Harbor, which another grumpy old man had told us “was you know, just a beach”, except yea it was PHEN-OM! There seemed to have been a parking lot nearby, so there were a few groups of young San Franciscans playing football and drinking beers. But since the beach was so majestic and immense the proximity of people and parking lots didn’t really register, and it still felt like we were miles away from the real world and work emails.

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The last part of the trail was mainly along the coast under the pounding direct sunlight, and I admit I was a little heartbroken when I saw the parking lot and Kevin’s sun bonnet in the near distance, knowing that the hike was over and accomplished. Giddy with emotion, Chrysan and I dealt with the emotional end the way any 90s girls would – a throwback singalong while we waited around for the menfolk to finish chatting up the park rangers. I was also pleased to find that my peanut M&M’s had not melted in the trunk of Brian’s car. They are a resilient candy.

We headed back down the same remote, winding country road we’d been on twice already, this time taking a minute to check out the haunting roadside abandoned bus which made us all whisper “Chris McCandless” under our breath 10 times.

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We also stopped off at the annual Labor Day fair thrown by the town of Whale’s Gulch, summoned by two of the greatest words in the English language (aside from continental breakfast, which we had on the way up north) – bake sale.

People out in this area of Northern California certainly have a clear-cut style. My rural fashion expertise relies heavily on observations made during trips to visit my relatives in beautiful backwoods New England (which I now appreciate),  which consists mainly of colorful Patagonia clothing and Life Is Good t-shirts from Cape Cod. Here is was a bit more down-to-earth – The Humboldt Country traditional Sunday garb consists of lots of long, white-haired pigtails for women, cargo pants or ripped jeans complete with hemp festival t-shirts and Teevas, and a sturdy pair of hiking boots. The people of Whale’s Gulch were super friendly, the food scrumptious and donation-based (I admit I hesitated before taking a bite of a friendly-looking brownie), and children darted about amongst the pot smoke and vegan cucumber bread breadcrumbs. It was a very close-knit community.

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We drove back to downtown Garberville, where we’d stopped off for coffee on the way to the Usal campground where we’d started our hike. It’s an old fashioned sort of Californian town with one main drag with a Western-style main street smack dab in the middle of a massive mountain range. It’s quite striking, but it’s got some pretty shady characters. Some methy characters, to put it frankly, of which Northern California seems to have many. Dusk in this town was sort of like a few scenes in particular from Fear the Walking Dead, which is a sad thing to say but yea, Frank’s Food Place was real.

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We spent the night in a motel which was needless to say, glorious. Motels are great. Then we drove back down south the next day, stopping off at the Vichy Springs Resort in Mendocino Country to hit up the hot springs. I thought we were headed to a national park but it was actually a spa, which we ended getting day passes for. I didn’t take much prodding on that front. We spent a couple of hours in Northern California’s only champagne baths, full of magnesium and something about lactic acid. My skin felt soft and smooth again after a few days in the woods, and my muscles not so sore anymore. Elton John once bathed here.

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Jamaican food in Ukiah, food coma, Brian drove, then we crossed the Golden Gate and were back in San Francisco.

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Hike Soundtrack – The Songs We Sang

Americana

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Erie Canal

America the Beautiful

Proud to be an American

Home on the Range

I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad

There Was a Great Big Moose

She’ll Be Comin’ Around The Mountain

My Darlin’ Clementine

I’m a Little Teapot

The 50 States

Musical Theater

The Sound of Music

Edelweiss

Favorite Things

The Sound of Music

Doe a deer

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?

Climb Every Mountain

Les Miserables

Look Down

Castle on a Cloud

Master of the House

At the End of the Day

90s Pop Music

NSYNC*

Tearin’ Up My Heart

Bye Bye Bye

It’s Gonna Be Me (may)

Backstreet Boys

I Want It That Way

Everybody

As Long As You Love Me

Britney Spears

Sometimes

Crazy

Hit Me Baby One More Time

Celine Dion

My Heart will Go On

Oldies

Build Me Up Buttercup Baby

Stand by Me

Disney

Just around the River Bend

Colors of the Wind

Chim Chimney

Spoonful of Sugar

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Beauty in Buildings, the blog

If you don’t know (ie, you’re not a Facebook friend or you don’t follow me on Instagram), you may not know that Beauty in Buildings has gone rogue! Meaning that I registered a domain name and started (yet another) blog on Word Press. With my handy dandy Identifying American Architecture handbook given to me by my very supportive dad and a semi-decent Internet connection (for being the epicenter of the tech world, WiFi in SF is atrocious #firstworldproblemsforreal), I’m including more about the buildings themselves. What kind of style the building is, who built it, what kind of columns those are (my dad used to quiz us on the difference between corinthians and doric and ionics, just thought it was good to know).

When I moved back to the States and BrusselsBuildings became BeautyInBuildings, I started posting photos of buildings I’d taken in cities all over. It was cool to realize, as I combed through my hard drive and Facebook albums of photos from the last six or so years, that I’ve apparently always loved buildings, facades and architecture. I’ve got all types of different buildings in the backlogs, and never realized til this year that I’ve always had an interest in them. So I’m happy to have a platform now to be able to discuss the building, where it was, what purpose it serves, how it ended up there, and what I like about the photo or what prompted me to take it. And because the wanderlust and travelstolgia comes along with the territory of posting old pictures from my days of galavanting the globe, I still like to throw in an anecdote or two🙂

So please, feel free to take a look around, comment, share, or just enjoy: Beauty In Buildings

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Best, Alice.

I’ve had some interesting conversations lately about workplace jargon, especially tech-workplace jargon as I live and work in San Francisco. “Ping me” drives some people nuts, “circle back” makes others want to run straight in the opposite direction, and as FuckJerry puts it,

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My mom happened to send my sister and me an article from Rebecca Greenfield at Bloomberg called “Why best is actually the worst”. It’s about signing off emails at work and why we should all stop going

Best,

Alice.

Greenfield, who based on the video I watched of her defending her argument comes across as the kind of person who wears dark sunglasses inside, hates puppies, and isn’t nice to waiters, argues flat out that “It’s time to stop using ‘best.” Calling it “completely unnecessary and ubiquitous” (nice SAT word there) and purporting that it “signals nothing at all”, Ms. Greenfield calls for complete and utter annihilation of the horror that has become cyber-courtesy and general decency for humanity. Reading that, I just felt like

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Greenfield starts with a recap on how we as an English-speaking society have degenerated to the point of “Best”, which seems to have appeared on its own, dropping “wishes” in the early 1920s. Since the Internet ended up not killing off the written good-bye, as was predicted back in the early 90s with the dawn of email, people have been trying to write emails less like memos and more like formal letters, which come with their own hierarchies and standard sets of politeness.

Greenfield takes a stab at all the common sign offs in English, and I’ll admit I agree with her on many points.

Yours

Rebecca Greenfield: “Yours’. Sounds too Hallmark.”

Me: No, sounds like how Liesel ends her out-loud love letter to Rolph before they break out into “Sixteen Going on Seventeen”. But agreed, not super appropriate for work.

“Sincerely, Rolph.”

“Sincerely?

“Cordially.”

“Cordially?”

“Affectionately.”

Thanks

Rebecca Greenfield: “’Thanks’ is fine, but it’s often used when there’s no gratitude necessary.”

Me: Agree on this point wholeheartedly actually.

Warmest regards

Rebecca Greenfield: “’Warmest regards’ is effusive.

Me: D’ohhhhh. When I worked in Belgium, I liked learning on the first day that I was expected to end my emails with “Warm regards”. It sounded very lovely while clipped, yes, a bit stodgy, but nice and polite. But Americans aren’t as formal as Europeans are, and something like “Kind regards” sounds a bit trying-too-hard over here. What American even uses “kind” anymore?

Sincerely

Rebecca Greenfield: “’Sincerely’ is just fake – how sincere do you really feel about sending along those attached files?”

Me: This reminds me of how my mom remembers her banker father signing his hand-written or typewriter-typed letters back in the 60s: “Your most humble servant, David”. Okay Mr. Fancy Pants! Maybe he was just pulling her leg. Sincerely is okay in some situations, mostly for ending long-winded emails to perhaps older clients.

Cheers

Rebecca Greenfield: “’Cheers’ is elitist. Unless you’re from the U.K., the chipper closing suggests you’ve sided with the Loyalists.”

Me: When I started my job, which involves a decent amount of emailing back and forth with clients, one of the first things I went over with my manager was how to sign off my emails. According to our metrics at work, signing off with “Cheers” actually brings in the best customer satisfaction ratings. I was a bit uncomfortable with using “Cheers” at first, because I will agree with Greenfield that it makes it seem like I’m trying to act British, which I already railed on a few years ago in a post inspired by the star-spangled burst of Anglomania over at The New York Times. I really only ever say “Cheers” when I’ve got a drink in my hand, it’s not a substitute for “Thanks” in my vernacular. But sometimes when I’ve exhausted all my “Hope you’re having a nice afternoon”s or “Bests” or no thanks are necessary, I throw my hands up and throw in “Cheers”. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Although this is strictly at work, I’m not cheersing anyone outside of the office.

So since nothing really seems to work, and I’ll agree on that, how should we be ending our emails at work? Greenfield offers the following: “Nothing. Don’t sign off at all. With the rise of Slack and other office chatting software, e-mail has begun functioning more like instant messaging anyway.”

I just completely couldn’t disagree more. If we are replacing face-to-face contact with more and more type-to-text-over-screen contact, does that mean we have to completely throw away general respect and decency to each other? If I walk up to your desk and ask you a question, you respond, and I’m happy with your answer, am I just going to about face and walk back to my desk, satisfied that I’ve obtained the knowledge I was searching for and whatever to you? No, I’ll either tell you, “Thanks” or “Cool” or “Okay, got it”, some sort of word of gratitude or confirmation just so that you know I either appreciate the contact or just to confirm that you’re a fellow human being there along with me, working this job 50, 60 hours a week so you can pay the bills and enjoy your well-deserved weekend and get the guac without wincing. You don’t end a phone call by hanging up (although they do do this on TV shows, and it’s notably weird! This lack of civility is explained on Quora), so why would you do so on a mode of communication that is likely in this day and age more common than a phone call?

I’m personally on Slack all the time, and I always start and end every exchange! Doesn’t necessarily always have to be some sort of over the top THANKS A MILLION or Awesome! It’s just not that hard to be able to politely bring a conversation to an end. Slack, iChat, Gchat, they’ve all got a million emojis (too overwhelmed to look through them all,  I mainly stick with :-)😉 or😦 ) – if you couldn’t find  the words to end your chat, someone out there has literally taken the time to draw multiracial Santa Clauses, high speed trains, and instructions for how to close an envelope, so I’m 100% positive you could express BUH BYE THANKS without words.

Life, especially work-life, can be hard and unfriendly at times, and while I’m not saying we all need to run around high-fiving each other every ten seconds and sending each other rainbow encrusted smiles for sending over that invoice and saying that everything is *amazing* all the time, we don’t have perpetuate all that is court and terse. Sometimes if you’re in a back-and-forth with someone, it’s not necessary to always end with a sign off, but there’s a time and a place for that and you can feel out that situation. There’s just nothing over the top about Best, ending your work emails with it just shows that you’re at least not trying to just be like

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Here’s Ms. Greenfield on Bloomberg TV smugly defending her affinity for ending emails without really ending them at all. One commentator remarks, “Rebecca makes a good point but her communication skills are dismal rendering her meaningless empty.” While it’s not entirely grammatically correct, you get what she means. Watching this video I kind of have urge to just reach out and tickle the witch, I’d like to see her giggle.

I’ll end this with a quote from William “Bill” S. Preston Esq. and Theodore “Ted” Logan, two guys who just wanted the world to be a better place:

“Be excellent to each other”

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Best of Brussels Buildings

It’s been about two months since I left Belgium, and it truly feels like an eternity. It’s amazing how in a couple of weeks you can be leading an entirely different life in a place you never thought you’d end up. Luckily, I landed in a city with an unbelievable mix of vistas and architecture, the perfect place to continue on with my Instagram account dedicated to the beauty of stand-out or quirky buildings from around the world, @BeautyInBuildings. However, if you’ve been following from the beginning, you’ll know I started out as @BrusselsBuildings, solely dedicated to showing off the under-appreciated and lesser-known architectural gems that make up the city of Brussels, Belgium.

I happened to have moved to the Rue Bailli-area of Brussels in Ixelles, also close to St. Gilles, which as I would learn were essentially playgrounds for Art Nouveau architects and artists back at the turn of the last century. Last fall, I started snapping pictures of interesting buildings dotting my neighborhood just on the way to uni or while running errands, and was noticing so many I finally decided to make a special Instagram account for them all. I will admit, most of my photos are of buildings in the neighborhoods of Ixelles and St. Gilles, because this is where I spent most of my time. I’ve been called out for not including more of the other 19 communes (boroughs, if you will) of Brussels, but with lots of work at uni I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to photograph down the entire Brussels Capital Region. But I did try!

Someone recently commented on one of my @BeautyInBuildings Instagram photos featuring a slice of the unreal exquisiteness that is San Francisco and said, “@BrusselsBuildings was better, just to let you know.” Sheesh. While I don’t know if “better” is the best word, @BrusselsBuildings was more niche and shed light on a city with a particularly shabby reputation, and therefore the account was perhaps a bit more special and cozy.

But times they are a’-changing and roll with the times I shall – I’ve now expanded my account to be @BeautyInBuildings and I’m posting photos of San Francisco buildings as well as buildings and houses from the other towns and cities I visit while living my life out West. I’ve also started combing through photos from my last five years of travels to include pictures from those cities, and it’s been interesting to realize that even at 21 I always took photos of buildings I liked. Not to share them on Instagram, because I think I still had a flip phone at that age, but just because they stood out to me and I wanted to remember them.

So today I thought I would pay homage to the city where it all started, and talk a little about my favorite shots from @BrusselsBuildings – How I ended up taking the shot, what I like about the photo, and the memories I have of the moment I pressed that little white button on my iPhone camera.

When the sun comes out and the temperature heats up, Brussels really comes alive. The days are long and everyone sits outside for as long as possible. I used to live a block from the Etangs d'Ixelles and Café Belga, and I remember taking this one evening during July as I was walking down the alley way by the church, and loving how the sun lit up the most popular place on the plahce.

When the sun comes out and the temperature heats up, Brussels really comes alive. The days are very long, and everyone sits to soak up the sun’s rays til it the sleeping of the sun (this is how they say ‘sunset’ in French, so cute) sometimes around 11pm. I used to live a block from the Etangs d’Ixelles (a series of pretty ponds in Ixelles) and Café Belga, and I remember taking this one evening during July as I was walking down the lane by the church, and loving how the sun lit up the most popular Art Deco place on the “plahce”.

My favorite stretch in all of Brussels (it's the cover photo for this blog!). The very Belgian architecture, the brightly colored buildings, and the criss-crossing of the many streetcar lines at Général Jacques complete a very beautiful Brussels major thoroughfare, which is a hard word to spell.

My favorite stretch in all of Brussels (it’s the cover photo for this blog!). The very Flemish architecture, the brightly colored facades, and the criss-crossing of the many streetcar lines at Général Jacques complete a very beautiful Brussels major thoroughfare, which is a hard word to spell.

 

This vista of the Eglise Sainte Marie in Schaerbeek (as seen from Parc Royal) is particularly stunning, even on the cloudiest of days. I took this picture last summer late in the afternoon on a bike ride to Waterloo and back.

This vista of the Eglise Sainte Marie in Schaerbeek (as seen from Rue Royal) is particularly stunning, even on the cloudiest of days. I took this picture last summer late in the afternoon on a bike ride to Waterloo and back. I like the haziness of the sun on a gray and shadowy street.

This is a very atypical building for Brussels, especially Ixelles! This is on a little street off of the Chaussée d'Ixelles, and right on the other side of the street there is a building that looks straight out of Rome. I like the random modernity in a city of Art Nouveau, and the contrasting sharp edges of the house itself with the curvaceous iron gate.

This is a very atypical building for Brussels, especially Ixelles! This is on a little street off of the Chaussée d’Ixelles, and directly on the other side of the street there is a building that looks straight out of Rome. I like the random modernity in a city of Art Nouveau, and the contrasting sharp edges of the house itself with the curvaceous iron gate. The bright red leaves of the tree add a little heat to a colder scene.

I'd been trying to get a great shot of the red building, because the rest of the street has a very drab back-alley feel, it's one of the winding side streets that goes up from Ave Louise to the Chaussée d'Ixelles. None of the other photos I'd taken on sunny days or gloomy days had quite captured the intensity of the red and the quirkiness it casts upon the street. But this day I believe was dark and stormy, so the rain blackened and cast a gleam on the road. The man in black to the left and the zig-zaging white lines on the right give the twisting street a funky feel.

I’d been trying for a while to get a great shot of the red building. It really sticks out on this street in particular because the rest of the street has a very drab back-alley feel. It’s on one of the winding side streets that goes up from Avenue Louise to finally land at the Chaussée d’Ixelles. None of the other photos I’d taken on sunny or gloomy days had quite captured the intensity of the red and the quirkiness it casts upon the street. But this day I believe was dark and stormy, so the rain blackened the road and cast a nice little gleam upon it. The man in black to the left and the zig-zagging white lines and red street sign on the right give the twisting street a funky feel.

This was not a fan favorite, I suppose there's not enough building in it, but I like the hues of blue, green, and purple that came out in the sky. I love seeing the moon during the day time, and something felt very "Peter Pan" about the moon and the window tops. It's just cute.

This was not a fan favorite, I suppose there’s not enough building in it, but come on, day-time half-moon and shooting airplane?? I also like the hues of blue, green, and purple that came out in the sky. I love seeing the moon during the day, and something felt very “Peter Pan” about the moon and the window tops, like Wendy would fling open the windows and wait for a Lost Boy to come hurtling through after flying off from Never Land. Très mignon.

What a weird home! It's like a houseboat, and totally out of place on Rue Souveraine. However, it's super fun and looks like it has great terrace space. You just do you, you do you!

What a weird home! It’s like a houseboat in the middle of the city, and totally out of place on Rue Souveraine. However, it’s super fun and looks like it has great terrace space. You just do you building, you do you!

This building with the columns and open shutter was around the corner from my apartment on Rue Faider. It's a very imposing building on a street with lots of more gentle maisons de maitres, rather grand. The shutter was always open and always caught my eye as I walked home from Rue Bailli.

This brown building with the columns and open shutter was around the corner from my apartment on Rue Faider. It’s a very imposing building on a street with lots of more gentle maisons de maitres (townhouses), and is rather grand. The shutter was always open and would catch my eye as I walked home down the street from Rue Bailli.

I try not to play around with the filters so much anymore, try to keep it a bit more natural, but I like the orange highlights here. They really bring out the brick house to the side, which of course is sidelined due to the grandiose maison on the bords of one of the Etangs d'Ixelles. It wasn't a super warm day when I took this, but I like that the orange gives it a dog-days-of-summer-feel, which is something not often felt in Brussels. We can just pretend :-)

I don’t play around with the filters so much anymore, I try to keep the photos a bit more natural, but I like the orange highlights here. They really bring out the brick house to the right, which of course is sidelined due to the grandiose maison on the bords of one of the Ixelles ponds. It wasn’t a super warm day when I took this, but I like that the orange gives it a dog-days-of-summer-feel, which is a sentiment not often felt in Brussels. I feel like here, we can pretend🙂

I walked by this restaurant in Le Sablon everyday on the way to uni and just loved the pops of bright colors they decorated the downstairs with! The top part of the building is impeccably white with two matching statues, contrasting with the bold black of the ground floor. The bursts of color in the restaurant really shake it up! Unfortunately I never made it to this restaurant...bucket list.

I used walked by this restaurant in Le Sablon everyday on the way to uni and just loved the pops of bright colors they decorated the downstairs restaurant with! The top part of the building is impeccably white with two matching statues overlooking the front, contrasting with the bold black of the ground floor facade. The bursts of color in the shape of little hanging balls and a pretty painting in the entrance window of the restaurant really shake things up! This restaurant is still on my bucket list.

What a window. Around the corner from my old apartment as well. The rest of the building is okay, but someone really went to town on this take on a bay window. Kudos, kudos.

What a window. Around the corner from my old apartment as well. The rest of the building is okay, but someone really went to town on this take on a bay window. Kudos, kudos.

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Also on a small street leading to the Chaussée d’Ixelles, the golden glint of the small iron-work leaves adorning the ivy-inspired window bars caught my eye on a grim and gloomy day. The bars on the window in the building next door hold their own, and I like the pattern of the cobblestones, especially the different shades that the rain colored them.

It was a terribly rainy and blustery day as I trudged up Rue Lesbroussart. Everyone in their cars or on the streets just wanted to be somewhere else. But it was October I think, and the tree in front of the Irish pub and it's neighbors was bright orange, and I loved the play of the red brick, the red light, the orange leaves, and the sort of watercolor effect made by the rain.

It was a terribly rainy and blustery day as I trudged up Rue Lesbroussart. Everyone both in their cars or on the streets just wanted to be somewhere else and not in this déluge of a downpour. But it was October, and the tree in front of the Irish pub and it’s neighbors was bright orange, and I loved the play of the red brick, the red light, the orange leaves, and the sort of watercolor effect made by the rain.

I'm not super into churches, but Rue d'Assaut has a great view of the Cathédrale de Saints Michel. I walked out of uni and looked up the dark dark street, and had to take this photo. It's the only thing lit up and is just basking in the winter sun.

I’m not super into taking photos of churches, I think maybe because they are so obviously beautiful. But Rue d’Assaut has a great view of the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula (Belgium’s national church) in Centreville, it just gives right on to it. I walked out of uni at dusk one night, and looked up the dark, dark street, and just whipped out my phone. I love that this massive cathedral is the only thing lit up and is just basking in the setting winter sun.

One of several buildings by Paul Hankar on Rue Defacqz. There is so much that is awesome about this building - the shapes of the windows, the columns, the brick, and obviously the golden illustrations of, apparently (suite à a Goole search) the three stages of life and Hercules. The sunset on Defacqz is very intense, and this evening in particular the gold was gleaming.

One of several buildings by Paul Hankar on Rue Defacqz in Ixelles. There is so much that is awesome about this building – the shapes of the windows, the columns, the brick, and obviously the gilded illustrations of, apparently (suite à a Goole search) the three stages of life and Hercules. The sunset on this area of Rue Defacqz is very intense, and this evening in particular the gold was gleaming. I feel like I can see the sun’s rays casting themselves on this building, just wanting to light it up on fire!

A dear friend from New York came to visit and was very eager to see all the Brussels Buildings! I like the candidness of Allyza looking up at the building and inspecting what's going on.

A dear friend from New York came to visit and was very eager to see all the Brussels Buildings! I like the candidness of Allyza looking up at the building and inspecting what’s going on. The mahogany door is very warm, and compliments her bright red cap and gentle brown bag, while her cold blue outfit comes out with the blue highlights of the photo.

There's something just very delicate about this photo. The gentle white of the maison de maitre and the soft shapes that the light green ivy makes around it's windows is refreshing and relaxing to look at.

There’s something just very delicate about this photo, the way the light is strongest up top and blurs out some of the definition and color of the building and the ivy. The gentle white of the maison de maitre and the soft shapes that the light green ivy makes around it’s windows is refreshing and relaxing to look at. It’s a very different photo from top to bottom.

Because it gives me intense déjà vu of some sort of toy or necklace I had as a kid, or maybe the moccasins my mom used to wear around the house. A call to Native America from Bruxelles Centreville.

Because this building gives me intense déjà vu of some sort of Western toy or necklace I had as a kid, or maybe the moccasins my mom used to wear around the house. A call to Native America from Bruxelles Centreville.

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I was walking home from the Central Station through St. Gilles, turned a corner, and found myself face to face with this beautiful maison de maitre. I love the warm Mediterranean colors – the marigold, burnt red, and turquoise tiles. The door is deep brown and intricate, and I like that the bold maroon door of the house to the left snuck in the photo as well. The basement windows also throw more turquoise into the shot. It’s a stunning home and really stand-out on a sunny afternoon.

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Because sugar plum gum drop fairies!! Reminds me of Candy Land and The Nutcracker at the same time. Little elves live inside and it’s always Christmas morning. Rue Haute in Les Marolles.

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There were several buildings in my neighborhood in Ixelles that were decorated with what appeared to be bathroom tiles. Oddly enough, here, I think it works. I like the icy feel of this photo, especially with the rough, rectangular, tarnished silver door handle, and the missing silver mailbox. Where did it go?

D'awww. I actually took this photo in Antwerp a few years ago while on a little shopping excursion. My feet were tired and I was grumpy, but I glanced up at the street at saw this very sage cat looking out the window and just observing all the people on the street. I felt like I wanted him to narrate the story of my life, omniscently. I don't know if we locked eyes or anything, but I appreciated his presence. I feel like that cat is undercover all the time.

D’awww. I actually took this photo in Antwerp a few years ago while on a little shopping excursion. My feet were tired and I was grumpy, but I glanced up at the street at saw this very sage cat looking out the window, just observing the happenings on the street. He was like a wiseman village elder taking a look from above at his less-knowing peoples. I felt like I wanted him to narrate the story of my life, omniscently. I don’t know if we locked eyes or anything, but I feel like we had a moment.

Ohhhh because I had to include one of myself! First of all, I love Frits Flagey with sauce andalouse. Second, I have great memories of being with my sister, Emily, and dashing out of Café Belga as soon as the rain let up to be second in line for the fries. I have no patience for lines, and this line is notorious. Third, this is the last time I was successfully able to wear that long purple skirt, it's lost it's glitz and glamour. Much love!

Ohhhh because I had to include one of myself! First of all, I love me some Frit Flagey, always with sauce andalouse. Second, I have great memories of being with my sister, Emily (she took this photo), and dashing out of Café Belga as soon as the rain let up to be second in line for the fries. I have no patience for lines, and this line is notorious. Third, this is the last time I was successfully able to wear that long purple silk skirt, it’s lost it’s glitz and glamour. What an outfit. Much love!

Posted in Belgium, Brussels, Cities, Culture, FYI, Just for Fun, Photos, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

One Month In: Thoughts on San Francisco

Me on my first day, Kearny St. mega hill in background.

Me on my first day, Kearny St. mega hill in background.

I’m riding on the tail end of an awesome weekend here in San Francisco and thought I’d write up what I’ve been thinking and feeling about this city.

It was never my dream to move to San Francisco, but boom, here I am and I’m LIVIN’ it! Before arriving here in April, what I knew about San Francisco was only from books like I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, an illustrated children’s book I used to ogle about the 1906 earthquake (I loved reading about disasters as a kid, I was most fascinated with the San Francisco earthquake, the Chicago fire, Pompei, and the Titanic), and the 1849 Gold Rush version from Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune. I also had associations from movies like Shadow of a Doubt and The Birds (Hitchcock once said, “San Francisco would be a good location for a murder mystery”), Mrs. Doubtfire, and honestly, The Princess Diaries (1&2). I knew it was hilly and Victorian, but in reality, I knew nothing.

So here are my thoughts and musings one month into my Northern California life as I’ve pieced together what a Safeway is, where Monterrey is located on a map (this is where Jack Dawson worked on a squid boat), and which team to pretend to root for when prompted (Go Giants, Boo Dodgers!).

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– Californians are really friendly. Genuinely friendly. It doesn’t feel forced, like when you walk into the American Eagle store in the mall and some kid in a polo who’s been standing on his feet for the last five hours asks you how you’re doing. Generally I’ve gotten really big, welcoming “Hello!”s walking into the bike shop, the grocery store (obviously including Trader Joe’s as well), or even Walgreens. The clerks at the Walgreens I’ve been to in the Sunset and in the Tenderloin have been so beyond knowledgeable and sharing about the household items on their shelves I was compelled to take to Twitter to let their employers know (I’ve seen my sister do this). When I gave the guy at the bike shop in North Beach an unaffected “Hey” and he shot back with the biggest, “HEY!” imaginable, my sister and I were so caught off guard I ended up stuttering and stammering out some nonsense before regaining my composure. I never thought of New Yorkers as being particularly mean, just impatient and at times artlessly straightforward, but I feel like the West Coast friendliness is enhanced because of the laid-back attitude supporting it in sickness and in health.

– Someone once said (it’s been attributed to Twain but no one knows for sure), “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco”. I was not made aware of that quote til I arrived here – Northern California is not a warm sunny destination! Apparently even Southern California is just room temperature all the time. It’s fine, there’s no snow at least (you have to go to Tahoe for that), I’ve just been surprised, I always just assumed the entire 163,696 square mile area of California was the same temperature as Miami. But now that I think about it, Ryan Atwood did often wear a black leather jacket over his gray hoodie and wifebeater, and really sweetly gave his suit jacket to a chilly Marissa after her dad got punched in the face at Cotillion, and the kids on Laguna Beach always wore North Face polar fleeces to the beach bonfires (“Steveeeeeen!”). I should have paid better attention, clearly I did not put two and two together. There have been some nice days, but quite honestly I would describe the weather in San Francisco on June 1st like a day in Brussels in early March. Manageable, but not ideal! At least I have a cute pink pea coat. Apparently we’ll get an Indian summer, but I’m not holding my breath.

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– The homeless situation here is terrible. It’s really sad, a large majority of the SF homeless population are extremely mentally ill, not just down-on-their-luck. I am currently living in the Tenderloin (I finally admitted it to myself a few days ago, no longer telling people I’m in the “Tender Nob”, let’s be real here) and I’ve seen some shocking and rather upsetting things out in the streets in front of my building or on the way to work. My sense of the neighborhood is that it’s not dangerous in that there are gangs running around controlling street corners and drive-by shootings, but there’s just a lot of downright crazy people living on the streets or in the alleyways. It can get pretty noisy outside at night. I try to just stay positive and greet everyone with a hello and a smile when I’m walking down the street🙂 It’s definitely bizarre to be waiting at the crosswalk for a guy with a limp and one shoe to hobble on by pushing a shopping cart filled with all his life possessions, only for some slick guy in a Mazerati to roar on past down the fast lane. I wish I had something more enlightening to say about the homeless in San Francisco, but I would go ahead to say that yea, I was very taken aback when I first got here and while sometimes they yell funny things (“Check ya b*tch, don’t check me”, or a woman yelling about “asinine citizens” and I thought to myself, “Wow, SAT word?”), it’s a very disheartening reality about the city.

– It’s a very young city. You don’t see very many children on a day-to-day basis, and I’ve been told there are more dogs in the 7×7 area than school-aged kids. I went to a friend’s afternoon backyard party on Sunday and there were two four-year-olds, and I was very pleasantly surprised (they were adorable)! It’s easy to find yourself almost solely in the presence of a large group of people who are 22 – 35, well-educated, well-traveled, doing really interesting stuff like VR (Virtual Reality) or VC (Venture Capital), and have interesting hobbies they actually find time to do, like being a member of one of those clubs that actually go swimming in San Francisco Bay or surfing the western coastline on the weekends (in wet suits of course).

– This being said, I thought people might be snobby in SF because there’s lots of money rolling around these hills and everyone’s been to a fancy college (I guess except all those college dropout guys like Steve…Jobs or Wozniak?), but people actually seem really down to earth and humble so far. I’ve only had one memorably snobby exchange since being here. It was at a start-up fashion event, and it went like this:

Me: Ohh, is that champagne?

Caterer: No.

Me: …Umm, it’s in a flute and there’s bubbles.

Caterer: It’s prosecco.

– San Francisco is quite small. “The City” is only 7 miles by 7 miles. That being said, I’ve still not seen it all and haven not yet ventured across to the East Bay. I have, however, at least so far been to Stinson Beach in Marin, a trip to Sonoma with Bill and Nancy, and down to visit friends in Palo Alto/Mountain View/San Jose. Phew! But there is plenty of time for all that, and a great app for renting a car without having to sign up for Zipcar (it’s called Get Around).

– Speaking of apps – there is an app for everything here. In fact, there are so many apps for so many niche things I almost think people are joking when they tell me about them. I tried this app called Munchery because my sister gave me a $20 credit towards it, and when I told people at work about it (“Have you guys heard of this service called Munchery?”) everyone rolled their eyes and rattled off at least three other apps that do more or less the same thing. Basically you never have to leave your house here because there is an app to do your shopping, whether that’s for food (Blue Apron), clothes (Stitch Fix), or stuff (Task Rabbit), and someone will surely deliver it to your door as well (Instacart). However, the best app I’ve been introduced to recently has no real purpose – It’s called Drizzy, and it texts people one-liners from Drake lyrics. Out of context, it’s a game-changer.

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– Hobbies seem important here. People like to talk about the stuff they do, and where people work comes up less or later on in conversation.

– The architecture is amazing. Queen Anne’s, Victorians, Bungalows, Modern, Edwardian, Mission … SF has it all. I love the grandiose buildings and homes of Pacific Heights, and the beachy feel of the Inner and Outer Sunset and even the Marina (bros and betches aside). Anything in or around Alamo Square is intricate beyond belief – each one of these homes had the utmost attention paid its detailing. My immediate vicinity isn’t beautiful per se, but there are lots of cool retro-style hotels in the Tenderloin. And even some motels! I also live near the Mitchell Brother’s O’Farrell Theatre, aka “the Carnegie Hall of strip clubs in America”, which has a surprisingly PG exterior mural of a vibrant, fantasy aquatic scene and a reference to Maurice Sendek’s children’s classic, Where The Wild Things Are.

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Mitchell-brothers

– The pigeons here fear neither man nor machine. For this reason, there are lots of dead ones in the roads. It’s gross.

– I’m the only person who is scared of earthquakes. I’ve yet to feel one, but I’m waiting with bated breath.

– Sonoma is the Montauck of wine country, Napa is the Hamptons.

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Downtown Sonoma


Tasting greatness at Gundlach Bundschu

– People smoke a ton of weed here. I smell it on the way to work in the morning, if I leave to get lunch, and when I come home in the evening. San Franciscans are almost Belgian about weed smoking – I walked by someone the other day in The Mission hitting a bowl outside a bar (although a Belgian would be smoking a spliff). I’m also pretty sure I was living near the local neighborhood grow house in the Sunset. Very chill.

– If someone tells you they “went to school in Boston”, you know they mean Harvard or MIT.

– The hills in this city are unreal. You can’t even be irked because once you find yourself at the top huffing and puffing, the views you end up with take your breath away anyway. Sometimes you get a valley-view, other times you’re overlooking downtown, maybe it’s a giveaway to the bay or to Alcatraz or to the Golden Gate. And sometimes it’s to another set of hills so high you’re not even sure a car could make it up without sliding back. On that note, I saw a sad little snippet somewhere at Fisherman’s Wharf about how horse-drawn carriage rides often used to end pretty tragically for all parties involved. Horses, carriage, and people just tumbling back on down the hill. Breaks my heart. Hyde Street from the wharf up to Lombard Street is so steep I was afraid my Achille’s tendons were going to snap.

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– Ohh here it comes, my first complaint about San Francisco: cityscapes -> city planning –> street signs. The street signs here are infuriatingly impossible to locate. For a reference, in NYC there are street signs on all four corners of an intersection, maybe about 3/4 of the way up a pole. They are a unique color of green and the name of the street is in bold white writing. Hell, in Brussels they have the street names in French AND in Dutch, just for clarification. But here, at an intersection there is one lone corner of an intersection bestowed with a street sign stunted about halfway up the sign pole, off-white and with small black letters. If you’re in a bus, the street signs are too low to see if you’re trying to peer out the window; if you’re on a bike, you’re trying to watch out for cars coming at you from all other directions while trying to discern which corner to look at to figure out if you should turn or keep going, and the sign often blends into whatever building is behind it. Emily can vouch for my frustration. And that’s my ramble, thank you for listening.

– Fun fact for the next trivia night you end up at: The Golden Gate Bridge is painted International Orange. FYI.

– I don’t have a TV set, but I’m still trying to find out what time TV shows are on here. It’s just something I always wondered as a kid – if Are You Afraid of the Dark was on at 6pm, 7 Central back East, then what time was it on in California? What’s the deal with Mountain time? What time is it in Arizona if they don’t do daylights savings? But no one I know here has cable either, everyone’s got Netflix or HBO Go hooked right up to the TV screen. Still in the dark on this one.

– Just the way people talk about the East Coast is very different than I’ve ever experienced. Being from New York and having been to Tulane, which is essentially the Tri-State Area (New York, Connecticut and New Jersey for all you foreigners) transplanted to the middle of New Orleans for four years, the East Coast has always been the default. Everywhere else was foreign. But people I meet here say, “Oh I lived out East for a few years”, “Oh, I went to college out on the East Coast”, or “I lived in New York City for a few years, I did my New York thing”. “Out” is a preposition you hear all the time from East Coasters and West Coasters when they’re talking about where they used to be in reference to where they physically are now. Throwing an “out” in the sentence seems to make the other coast feel more far-flung, not just “down South” or “in the Midwest”, but literally as far as you could possibly get on the other side of the continent.

– You can spot your fellow New Yorkers from a mile away. Woo hoo! Most recent NY spottie? My improv teacher, Rebecca. Called it the moment I laid eyes on her.

– Sometimes I look at where I am on Google Maps and it hits me that this is the final frontier. This is it. The East Coast seems to open up to Europe and Africa, faraway enough but a friendly face across the pond nonetheless. On this coast of California, our closest neighbor is the small scattering of the Hawaiian islands, which if they had their choice would probably move even farther away from us. While eventually Alaska and Russia get as close as two 11-year-olds slow-dancing at the 8th grade dance, America looks out onto endless miles of Pacific ocean, and it boggles the mind. I can’t imagine how Lewis and Clark and Sacajewea must have felt once they walked all the way here (I personally was mentally exhausted from a six-hour JetBlue flight with the free snack mini bar). It certainly merits getting your face on a coin named after you, even if it’s a coin no one wants because Americans ain’t got time for dollar coins :-/ Hence why we left Europe.

– Listen to the men at the bike shop. They know what they’re talking about. Please buy my bike.

– The farmer’s markets are incredible. The strawberries and blackberries are fresh, juicy, and out of this world.

– Alcatraz is a sad experience. I got caught up beforehand in the glitz and the glamour of it’s famous inmates, true crime stories! and Hollywood interpretation, but it’s a cold, desolate island that once house a maximum-security prison for criminals, psychopaths, and the families of the men who surveilled them. Times were tough for the inmates. Just looking at the surviving buildings now, weathered down and somewhat rotting, you imagine how the effect that would have had on the prisoners. Americans have the most incarcerated population on earth in 2015 and prison is an awful place to end up, but these guys were locked up even before the concept of ethics review boards or prisoner rights remotely existed, so it was truly a terrible place to be. Especially on windy summer nights when laughter and music from the piers across the bay would waft over into the cells, bringing along with it the aroma of chocolate brewing over at the Ghiradelli factory. I left Alcatraz feeling a bit weatherworn myself.

– California has the best burritos. Compared to California, New York doesn’t even have burritos at all. We’ve been out-burritoed. Mas El Farolito por favor.

– Nobody will steal your bike helmet. Ever.

– Bay to Breakers was super fun, would never be allowed in New York, and the best way to end this post. Yee hawww

Posted in America., Cities, FYI, Just for Fun, Musings, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment