Posts Tagged ‘USA’

Highway 1 and Los Angeles (27-29 Nov)

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, we drove down from SF to LA along the old State Highway 1, which is a really pretty stretch of road along the Pacific Ocean coast. We started off in San Francisco on Thursday morning. We made it to Monterey by noon, and visited the big and very well-made aquarium there. The aquarium has lots of interesting exhibitions, including one on jelly fish and one on octopi, squids and related animals. The marine research institute which is associated with the aquarium also does some groundbreaking research particularly in the deep sea right off the coast, which we were also shown a movie about.

We had lunch in Carmel, and also had a look at the very picturesque mission there – unfortunately, the grounds were closed since it was Thanksgiving day so we could only peek in through the gate. The afternoon, we spent driving through the barren but really beautiful landscape of Big Sur, the road always meandering along the coast line. We spent the night in San Luis Obispo, around half way between SF and LA. The next day, we went further south along the coast. We visited the grounds of the mission La Purisima, which was very interesting to see and gave a good impression of what lives the Spanish missionaries must have lived in those days. Afterwards we stopped by in Santa Barbara where we walked through town, soaked in the beach town atmosphere, and visited the very pretty old court house. As a last stop for the night, we drove through Malibu, but since it was already getting dark, we didn’t see much. We stayed for the night in Thousand Oaks, very close to LA.

Saturday was our last day before flying back to SF. We spend the day in and around LA – starting with a very brief visit to the Getty Center, which was very impressive in its location, architecture and the art on display (and all for free!). We didn’t have nearly enough time to look at anything in depth, but we vowed to come back another time. We then went to Venice Beach, looking at beach goers and hipsters, and spending quite a bit of time watching skaters in the beachfront skate park. Next stop – after a quick Mediterranean lunch somewhere on the way – was Hollywood, with the walk of fame and the hand prints in front of Grauman’s Chinese theater. Before we left for the airport, we took a drive through Beverly Hills and tried to spot some stars’ houses for fun – but most were too far off the road to really see anything.

All in all, it was a super fun trip, and we will definitely spend more time in LA soon.

Moving to San Francisco

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

End of June / early July marked the end of our stay in South Africa – after about a year and a half the time had come to move on. For work-related reasons, J had to move a few weeks before me, while I was wrapping up my last project in South Africa. The departure was therefore quite gradual – selling off furniture (mostly IKEA things we had bought in Germany and shipped to SA when moving there) over the course of a couple of months, firstly the non-essential things, later more and more of the stuff; putting everything in boxes and shipping it; J leaving; and lastly me moving out – the last few days I spent in the guest room of a colleague (and got pretty sick, not a good way to spend the last few days)!

On 11 July, my project was finished and I left the country that same night to fly to London. Despite the unfortunate timing that had seen J leave multiple weeks before me, we were lucky in the fact that she was booked for a training in London for the following week, so we met in London for a day and a half before she went to her training. I flew to Germany for a week to meet up with family and relatives (before moving to the next continent, again being far from most of my family). My week in Germany consisted mostly of a lot of driving – flying into Berlin and staying in Potsdam for a couple of days, and then driving to Frankfurt, Mönchengladbach/Köln/Leichlingen, and lastly Hamburg, from where I flew out again on Friday to meet J in London. From there, we then departed to San Francisco.

Arriving in SF, I still had about two weeks off, which was good to get organized, buy furniture and move, and unpack and get settled. On the first of August, I then went back to work in my new office in San Francisco.

After having spent more than five months in SF by now (time flies!), we really have been enjoying the time and we love it. Especially compared to Johannesburg: even though Joburg is a really very nice and livable city despite all its bad rep, SF is just so much more vibrant and exciting. Particularly for me, with a strong interest in technology, being in SF where you feel that you are at the forefront of development, is fantastic.

We haven’t nearly spend enough time scouting out the surroundings yet, unfortunately – two busy jobs just makes it a bit difficult sometimes, but we have done a few things that were definitely worth our while, such as visiting Berkeley and the East Brother Light Station, a tiny rock island in the bay with just an old light house and a fog horn (very important for the foggy bay); driving up to Point Reyes and eating cheese at the local creamery, visiting the computer science history museum in Mountain View (definitely super interesting for a CS geek like me, including one of the two working Babbage difference engines); and going to the Charles Dickens Christmas market in Daly City. Apart from that, we have been eating out in incredibly many different fantastic restaurants – just within ten minutes walk of the area we live in in Nob Hill, there is so much choice to pick from! Only downside is the cost – SF is really extremely expensive. For some of our restaurant bills in SF, we could have been eating out for a week in Joburg!

Another point we are really enjoying in San Fran is the walkability – in Joburg, you had to take your car everywhere, because it was dangerous without, but also because the distances were just too far. Now, we can walk to work, to restaurants, to town to go shopping, etc. And if we need to go further, we just take an Uber, a Lyft, or catch a cab – all from an app on our phones – such a difference to SA (where we were both still using employer-supplied BlackBerries)!

November Holiday Pt. 2: USA (7 – 14 November)

Monday, December 9th, 2013

After coming back from Kruger Park, we said goodbye to my brother who was traveling onward in South Africa, and then had about a day to prepare for the rest of the trip. On Thursday 7 November, we flew out to Austin via Atlanta, to attend a wedding of two INSEAD classmates. Especially the first leg of this flight was extremely long with more than 16 hours on the plane – but everything worked out like a charm.

The wedding was beautiful, and we were so happy to be part of this and also get to see a couple of INSEADers from Europe and the Americas (and even though we had the longest journey there, some others flew in from Europe just for the weekend, which is pretty insane). Austin itself was nice, even though J was disappointed that it wasn’t Texan enough… Maybe next time we should go to Dallas 🙂

The next stop on our trip was San Francisco. I had never been there before, and was quite amazed by the city. Not only can you tell that this is the technology capital of the world (paradise for a geek like me :)), but also the amount of city life that is going on, with shops and bars and culture just at every corner felt very refreshing in comparison to Johannesburg – which is very nice to live in, but for the most part at least in those areas that we spend most of our time in is just very suburban.

In SF, we met up with a bunch of INSEAD classmates (for a board game night at Yammer, which was a lot of fun) and some other friends. Also, in addition to just walking through different neighborhoods and taking in the vibe of the city, we rented bicycles one day and cycled across the Golden Gate Bridge, and then took the ferry back, passing Alcatraz on the way. Despite being very touristy, this day trip was very nice, and the bridge is indeed quite an impressive sight.

Some pictures follow.


5 Continents in P6 Pt. 7: Toronto, Washington (Again)

Monday, February 11th, 2013

From Washington, we took a plane to Toronto — we wanted to see another country on our trip and neither of us had been to Canada before. We had been worrying that it would be way too cold up there, but it actually wasn’t too bad, and the first two days we had quite nice weather. On the first day, we visited the CN Tower, a Toronto landmark that between its construction in 1976 and 2007 (when Burj Khalifa overtook it) was the tallest freestanding structure in the world. With a cloud-free sky you could see quite far from up there, but more interesting than the view to the sides is the view down — the observation deck has an area with a glass floor, and even though it should be perfectly safe you get kind of dizzy just looking down through it. After the tower, we went to Toronto Music Garden, a garden designed after J. S. Bach’s First Suite for Unaccompanied Cello (which is quite an interesting concept, and makes for a nice garden, even though it would probably be more beautiful in summer), and walked around through the city bit.

The next day, we went to Niagara Falls. We had booked a tour that was gonna pick us up in the morning, and we were expecting it to be a bus — instead it was a black stretch limousine, with only three other people! Traveling far outside the peak season does have its advantages sometimes! The falls themselves are amazing, especially the ones on the Canadian side (the Niagara river separates Canada and the US, and there are two falls next to each other, separated by an island that belongs to the US). The Canadian falls are shaped like a horseshoe, and enormous amounts of water are thundering down so that the falls are always covered in a cloud of mist. With temperatures well below freezing, that meant that all the trees and plants in the proximity were covered with a thick layer of ice — quite an amazing sight! After the falls, we went to the small and cute (albeit somewhat touristy) town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, which actually was the first capital of Upper Canada (which now is Ontario) in the late 1700s. After we spent some time walking around the streets there (and getting a hot tea to warm ourselves up), we then as the last stop of our tour went to a winery, where we tasted some of the local wine, especially the ice wine which the region is famous for. In the evening after the tour, we went for dinner with some INSEAD students who are now in Toronto — which was great fun.

Starting Thursday evening and running all through Friday, we had a big snow storm, which meant that we spent most of the time just relaxing in the hotel. By Saturday, when we were supposed to fly out to Boston, the storm had left Toronto… but collided with another one in the north east of the US to form the massive blizzard “Nemo”, which hit especially Boston really hard. Of course, our flight got cancelled, but we also thought that it simply might not be a good idea to fly there even a day later when probably the city would still be cleaning up the damage and potentially be without power or public transport. So instead — we ended up going back to Washington because we found a cheap flight. In Washington, we basically only spent the night, to then on the next day go back to my relatives in Chadd’s Ford, PA. In effect, instead of our planned five-city loop we ended up retracing a four-city itinerary, since after Chadd’s Ford we will go back to NYC and fly back out to Germany from there.

Some pictures follow.

5 Continents in P6 Pt. 6: Philadelphia, Washington

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

After New York City, we headed out to Philadelphia – well, sort of. We actually went to visit my relatives, who live far our in the countryside west of Philadelphia, in Chadd’s Fort (which apparently is one of the best school districts in the area). There we witnessed some of the typical American idyllic lifestyle – huge houses with two-car garages, no sidewalks because you have to drive everywhere anyway, shopping of super sized items at Costco, etc. It was interesting to experience that, too, especially after the busy, crammed and crowded streets of NYC. And of course it was also nice to catch up with my family.

We also went into Philly proper for a day, to check out the city and meet a friend of J’s. The city is certainly not as exciting as New York, but it features some important landmarks of US history, namely Independence Hall, the site at which both the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitution in 1787 were drafted and signed, and the Liberty Bell, which serves as a symbol of American freedom. Especially the visit to Independence Hall was thought-provoking — these men crafted a document more than 225 years ago, forming the first modern democracy, and even though it certainly has its flaws and needed some amendments too, it still lies at the core of the world’s most powerful nation. Other than these sights, we also visited the Wanamaker organ, which is a huge organ, located in a department store (now Macy’s, but it used to be owned and operated by name-giving John Wanamaker, who was an organ lover), ate the famous Philadelphia cheese steak, and wandered around the streets for a bit. In the evening, we had dinner with J’s friend and went to a Jazz club.

Before we left Chadd’s Ford, we went to Gettysburg with my relatives, which is about two and a half hours by car from their place. J and I both didn’t know much about the American Civil War, but the museum at Gettysburg was very good and informative — both about the war in general and about the battle of Gettysburg in particular, and why it was so important. It also showcased Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address, which he gave on the occasion of the opening of a war cemetery a few months after the battle. Interestingly, back then the speech didn’t elicit unanimous praise — on the contrary, some even ridiculed the short speech.

Our next stop was Washington, D.C. As a city that is completely planned and centered around the government buildings and the National Mall, it is quite impressive. Just walking around between all the monuments, memorials, the White House and Capitol Hill gives a sense of the power that these institutions have. On top of that, there are of course the museums, most of which are free and huge — you really have to pick and choose if you are only there for a few days. We visited the Museum of American History, the Holocaust Museum, the Museum for Natural History, and the Air & Space Museum. We also took a tour of the Capitol and went into the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court and the Folger Shakespeare Library – a pretty tight schedule for two days!

Some pictures follow.

5 Continents in P6 Pt. 5: Germany, New York

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

After having spent a few days in Germany, mostly for me to sort out stuff related to my South African visa application, we started on a last trip before we are going to start working again in March: we went to the US East Coast with a short detour to Canada -thereby ticking off the fourth continent within a month.
The first stop (after some delays on our flight due to snowy weather in Europe) was New York. Given that I had never been to the US before, what better city could there have been to start the trip than New York? We were able to stay at the apartment of a friend of J’s, conveniently located in midtown Manhattan. New York was even colder than Germany, but since it is so much further south, the days were much longer, which was great for sightseeing.

In the six days we spent in New York, we did a lot of things – this city really provides endless opportunities! We did some of the obvious touristy things such as going to the top of the Empire State Building (really, really freezing cold there in the cold January wind with temperatures of about -10 centigrade!) , a cruise to the Statue of Liberty (unfortunately both Liberty Island and the neighboring Ellis Island which features a supposedly very interesting immigration museum have been closed since Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc there), the 9/11 memorial (very impressive, with two square black pools in the locations of the twin towers), and visiting the Guggenheim museum (just missing the end of a big Picasso exhibition, so that half the museum was closed to set up the next show). We also did a lot of shopping, both for clothes and for gadgets (I got an iPad mini, while J opted for the less expensive option, a Nexus 7).

Most of the time, however, we spent walking around the city, checking out different areas and neighborhoods – and I must say, in NYC this is really a worthwhile activity. From the glamour and blinking lights of Broadway and Times Square to the luxurious storefronts of Fifth Avenue; from busy Wall Street to hip(ster) Williamsburg; from huge Central Park to the elevated Highline Park, which has been built on a former railroad viaduct and leads through abandoned and refurbished industrial buildings; from walking through Chinatown feeling like a colder version of Hong Kong to hearing people everywhere speak with so strong American accents that I wouldn’t know anymore how to exaggerate them.

All in all, I was very impressed by the city – so many things to see, do, and experience! It was interesting, however, how man things already felt familiar because I had seen them in movies or on TV – you get the feeling that you’re in one – if not the – cultural center of the world!

Some pictures follow.

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