Round Up

Here’s a bit of a round up of my travels – what I liked, what I didn’t, what worked well, what I’d do differently next time and just other general bits and pieces.

London

London in late June (early summer) is light.  It’s light at around 3.30/4.00am in the morning until around 10pm at night.  I found this a little difficult to get used to, especially coming from winter in Australia.  My advice if you like your sleep, make sure your windows are closed, blinds pulled down and perhaps invest in some earplugs and an eye mask.

Find a Waitrose, M&S or local fruit stall to stock up on fresh fruit.  Pret a Manger is a great cheap place to find breakfast or a sandwich and they are everywhere.

The underground was really easy to use.  I would suggest getting an Oyster card before you arrive in London.

I would definitely stay at the Rydges Hotel Kensington again.  It wasn’t really walking distance to all the action, but it was a few underground stops away and there was definitely enough in the area to not need to be.  It was close to the underground, supermarkets, plenty of restaurants etc.  I ate at the Hotel restaurant, the Jam Cupboard and was really impressed with the meal.  And of course, Kensington Palace and Hyde Park were just down the road.

There are people out late on the streets, but a lot of stuff doesn’t open til later in the morning.  So use it to sleep in or explore the streets while its quiet or go for a walk through Hyde Park.

Grand Cayman Island

The Caribbean Ocean is stunning.  However, it is very salty.  It played havoc with my hair, hats and clothes.  My suggestions would be to travel with a small container of hair treatment or at least wash your hair after every beach visit.  Rinse anything that you wear into or around the water so that the salt doesn’t ruin it.  Don’t pack overly good clothes.  Make sure it’s beach friendly, because truly that is where you will spend half of your time.  I reckon I didn’t use 1/4 of the clothes I packed for this very reason.

Sunscreen is a MUST.  I can’t stress this enough.  Even coming from Australia, the sun was so bitey.  Please be careful or you will end up very, very burnt.  And make sure you drink enough water.  Dehydration can happen rapidly.

Take an underwater camera, disposable or otherwise.  Schools of fish, stingrays and starfish can all be found in stunning clear water less than 1/2 meter deep.  So even if you aren’t into snorkelling or scuba diving, you can be assured to see sealife somewhere!

This is the place for water sports.  And because the waters are so calm and warm, it’s the best place to give them a try for the first time too.  Snorkeling, stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, scuba diving – just give it a bash.

Despite the fact that Cayman is not huge, it is not really that easy to get from one part of the island to the other.  A lot of the attractions are spread across different parts of the island.  My advice would be to either hire a car, or if you want to hit up numerous attractions pick up a tour.  Generally the tours visit the same locations, so choose between what you will see on the tour and what you can get to by local bus or taxi easily.

I would definitely stay along 7-Mile beach again.  A self-contained room, like what you’ll find at Sunshine Suites is perfect.  That way you can prepare the majority of your meals and then just splash out on the odd one.  There are some great value buffet meals around – like XQ’s and the Marriott’s Buckaneer’s feast.  But don’t forget to try some local specialties.

New York

If you are happy with a not so close up snapshot of the Statue of Liberty, just catch the free Staten Island Ferry.  If you want a better close up, I would suggest taking one of the paid ferries, which travel closer to the statue.  Of course, if you actually want to access Ellis Island and climb the statue, then that’s another option again.

The museums are huge.  Central Park is huge.  A lot of the time, you will need to decide whether you have time to dedicate a whole day or whether you want to fit more into your day.  I chose to do a little of each thing, rather than one or two things, but that’s just me.

New York is an easy city to walk around.  I walked most places, but I found that cabs were affordable and used them on occasions such as late at night or for further trips.  Bring good walking shoes.

New York is a noisy city.  Earplugs did not work for me.  Get yourself good and tired during the day and then have a few glasses of wine before bed, perhaps go to bed with the TV on snooze and hopefully that will give you a few good hours before daylight.

I found it easy to eat relatively healthy in New York.  There are plenty of shops such as Pret a Manger, Fresh & Co, Hale & Hearty where you can get fresh salads, sandwiches and fruit and they are open all day serving breakfast through to dinners.

New York is literally the city that never sleeps, but the city doesn’t sleep in either, so if you are into getting out there and seeing all the sights you can stuff into your visit, plan on some long, long days.  There are people out on the streets until late at night, and you can dine at any time of the day.

I wouldn’t stay here any less than 4 nights next time.  I stayed at the Affinia Manhattan in Midtown, across the road from Madison Square Gardens and a 10-15 minute walk from Times Square.  I felt this was a perfect location.  The hotel, whilst old, had been recently renovated.  The rooms were large and funky, if not still showing some signs of age.  Niles Restaurant had great meals and hotel guests were entitled to a 20% discount on dining in.  There were a load of restaurants around the area in any case.

Seattle

I stayed in Belltown and I don’t reckon I could have chosen a better place.  Walking distance to the Space Needle/EMP, Pike Place Market, the shopping district and the waterfront, loads and loads of restaurants and bars to choose from – what more could you want.  Seattle is an easy city to walk around, and its such a pretty place, there’s no reason you wouldn’t want to.

Get out and visit Mt Rainier – it’s worth it.  I chose Mt Rainier over Yosemite, as Mt Rainier is only a 2hour trip each way.  I chose Evergreen Escapes and although I probably paid a little more, the service and quality of the day was well and truly worth it.

Things don’t get going that early in the morning, so go for a walk around the markets, sleep in or do breakfast somewhere nice.

I wouldn’t stay here any less than 4 nights next time.  And I would definitely stay at the Ace Hotel again (I had a private room, but you can book otherwise).  The free breakfast was awesome.  The place smelt so clean and fresh and the staff were awesome.  The bed was the most comfortable I stayed in the whole time I was away.  FYI – Ace also have a hotel in New York.

San Francisco

San Francisco is not really an easy city to walk around.  A lot of the streets are actually at a 45 degree angle.  Obviously if that’s what you’re into, then go for it.

There are homeless people everywhere, as with all cities, but I didn’t feel threatened anywhere else.   I didn’t do my research thoroughly enough and ended up on the edge of Tenderloin (well I knew there were homeless people around, but just not quite the extent).  In saying that, Macys, Saks Fifth Avenue, the Hilton and the Westin were all about two blocks away and they weren’t immune either.  I probably would have felt more comfortable staying in the Fisherman’s Wharf area, seeing as that’s where I spent most of my time. There’s loads of restaurants here and most of the tourist attractions are here or leave from here.  Because I didn’t feel safe here by myself, I would suggest the city sightseeing buses or guided tours with hotel pickup/dropoff.

I chose to stay at the Best Western Hotel California.   The vegan restaurant at the hotel, Millenium was fabulous.  Don’t let the fact that its vegan put you off – the meals are so hearty that you probably won’t even notice.  But I wouldn’t stay here again.

If you want to go to Alcatraz, book in advance if possible.

Pack warm.  Even in ‘summer’.  July (summer) is the foggiest month.  I would say it was more akin to winter in Perth.

Singapore

Let’s face it, I don’t think there’s many parts of Singapore that you could go wrong for accommodation.  But that said, I like indulging in everything that Singapore has to offer.  The only thing that would determine my accommodation is this – if you want to relax by the water, have kids or want to indulge in water sports – head to Sentosa.  If you are keen for shopping – stay on Orchard Road.  If you are into luxury – head to Marina Bay.  If you like Museums and great food, perhaps head for Chinatown or the Raffles area.  If you want a quieter, greener area, try around Cuscaden Road.  Keep in mind, nowhere on the island is more than a 10-20 minute taxi ride and Singapore’s MRT system is fantastic.  So you really can’t go wrong.

There is always something new to do in Singapore.  Keep an eye out on www.yoursingapore.com, www.timeoutsingapore.com or even just make sure you pick up the tourist brochures at the airport like Where and you will find out all you need to know about where to go and what to do.  I can recommend any tours by Tour East (www.toureast.net), especially the Night Safari with dinner, which I find to be the best value.

Singapore is not just about tourist attractions though, so if like me, you had no idea how much history Singapore had particularly in relation to World War II, make sure you check out Fort Siloso (on Sentosa), Changi Prison & Chapel, Fort Canning or the Old Ford Factory for starters.

Culture vultures will not want to miss the Chinatown Heritage Museum and the Peranakan Museum.  There are also numerous walking tours through Chinatown and Little India.  And for art lovers – you must stop by SAM or the Art Science Museum.  But sometimes, the best thing about Singapore is that even if you just stroll around the streets, you will get a really good picture of the country, its food and its people.  And don’t be afraid to try anything here – the food is amazing.

Again, things don’t get going until around 10/11am in the morning, so use the time to enjoy brunch, sleep in or just explore the streets or Botanic Gardens while it’s quiet.

Hotel 1929’s terrace rooms are the best.  That said, I would only chose one of these if I were by myself or with a boyfriend etc, simply because the rooms are on the small side and the toilet is situated in with the shower, surrounded by glass.  The hotel itself is in a great location, the staff were amazing.  Free wifi, good coffee, free breakfast, free cookies and drinks.  Well worth the price, which was much less than a lot of the other big name hotels

Don’t bother with a transfer here, just grab a cab from outside the airport.

Overall

Whilst there’s lots of conjecture over what works and what doesn’t when trying to combat jet lag, what worked for me was a) following the time clock of the city I arrived in (ie. even if you are tired, make yourself go out for dinner or even just sit on a city sightseeing bus and go to sleep when the sun goes down) and b) try Jet Ease (or No Jet Lag), they may be called something different in your country, but I found this homeopathic remedy to work a treat.

Book transfers.  I know you can catch taxis, but I prefer to know that I don’t have to bothered thinking about where I’m going and how I’m going to get there after a long flight.

I booked a lot of tickets on line which saved time queuing up.

When you are budgeting, make sure you include for tipping – I found this added incredibly to my bills in Cayman and the US.

Everyone will tell you this – but don’t over pack.  You won’t use it all.  And if there’s something  you need while you are there, if you need it bad enough, you can buy it.

Buy a second battery for your camera.  I take lots of photos and the best investment I made was in a second battery.  I find there are lots of days where I spend all day snapping away and not having to worry that I’m running out of battery is a relief.  Obviously make sure you have lots of spare cards if you are also this way inclined.

My best flights were with Emirates, Jet Blue and Singapore Airlines.  I was surprised that you had to buy food on the six hour Virgin flight from New York to Seattle.

Order a low fat meal for the flight home!

Any questions?  Please drop me a line and I’ll be more than happy to share my point of view!

Flying, flying and yep – more flying!

Day 27/28:  San Francisco / Hong Kong

Leaving San Fran last night, it occurred to me that I couldn’t think of any redeeming features about the place at all.  It’s not pretty, day or night, its miserable, I didn’t find the people friendly, the homelessness is saddening, the wharf is really touristy – and no seals – Alcatraz is hard to get a ticket for, the weather is crap, the streets are so hilly that it’s not fun to explore.  The best things about it were the meal at Millenium and the chocolate at Ghirardelli.  It’s funny how some places draw you in and others – well others kind of slap you in the face.

But I’m back in the air again and on my way home.

All this flying is getting tiring. I’ve now flown six different airlines, eaten so many different airline meals and have seen lots of movies including some I wish I hadn’t (I’m talking to you the Incredible Burt Wonderstone).  I’ve noticed that there are screaming children and inconsiderate, dumb people on every flight (why do you always choose to use the loo as soon as the hosties start service and seriously, how many times does she need to tell you to put your seat to the upright position and turn off your mobile phone?)  There’s different rules for what you need to do at security checkpoints at different airports – shoes on/ shoes off, laptop in cover/laptop out of cover.  There’s good airport lounges (Changi/Seattle) and not so good ones (Miami/Perth).  But it all adds to the experience of travelling.

Sitting in Hong Kong International Airport, waiting for my connection to Singapore, I smile to myself knowing that I’m almost home.

Counting Down

Day 26:  San Francisco

Today I was supposed to do an urban adventure walking out onto the Golden Gate Bridge along the Pacific Coast, visiting San Francisco’s most exclusive neighbourhood and the Sutro Baths.  But guess what – I found out yesterday that I’m the only one booked on this tour.  This is the first place I’ve ever been to where they don’t like to run tours for solo guests.  I’ve done a few of them now and they turn out the best because you can generally tailor them a bit more and also see a bit more.  But in San Fran, they are incredibly eager to move you to another day with other people or cancel.

After the cancellation of my wine tour yesterday morning, I just decided to go with the cancellation on this one too.  I figure my heart is already not into this place, and if they are trying to talk me out of these tours, then their hearts aren’t in it either, so it would be a waste of time for everyone.  Whatever.  San Fran is not my place.  The cards keep falling to show this.  Today is my last day here and I can fly out in the early hours of tomorrow morning that I never have to come back again.

So yesterday in the Hard Rock I mapped out a whole new plan for today, which was all very fine and well until I started researching it a bit more, and quite frankly, everywhere in this town is filled with homeless people.  Please don’t get me wrong – there was homeless people in New York and there was homeless people in Seattle.  They were also in London.  And I was fine with it – you read my blogs, it certainly didn’t stop me from getting out and about.  But the vibe here is different, a little more in your face and menacing if I can call it anything, a bit more drug addled and its making me feel uneasy.  I’m not feeling confident as a solo female traveller in this town.

So even though I know I am not making the most of the city or probably even giving it a proper chance, at the end of the day I don’t have to and I’d prefer to just feel safe.  So I jump in a cab and just head back to Fishermans Wharf – yes, where I spent yesterday, but there’s other stuff I haven’t seen, and frankly it’s the only place I feel kind of ok about.

Instead of the woeful hotel breakfast, I decide to dine at Pier 39, overlooking the water.  There’s still no seals.

I contemplate hopping on a tram, but the line is too long.

I stop by Ghirardelli for a chocolate hot fudge sundae.

Oh yes, it tastes as good as it looks
Oh yes, it tastes as good as it looks

I wander around the Hyde Street Pier.

Hyde St Pier
Hyde St Pier

I hear an evacuation test alert sound out across the bay.

I see a clearer picture of Alcatraz today.

Alcatraz from Hyde St Pier
Alcatraz from Hyde St Pier

I have lunch at Tarantino’s.

I spy the famous Bush Man – a homeless dude who hides behind bushes around Fisherman’s Harbour and scares the crap out of people walking by.  My video isn’t very good and won’t upload anyway, but here’s one from the web:

That dude had some serious money in his bucket – more than I’ve seen in most tip jars.

There’s also another homeless man that walks around with a cat standing on his shoulders.

Arriving back at my hotel at 2pm in the afternoon would normally be a bad thing, but I figure at least I can store up some sleep for my long flight ahead.

My transfer arrives at 10pm tonight, and I’ll be out of this town on my way to the last destination of my trip, my  Singapore.  I can definitely say, I won’t be leaving my heart in San Francisco.

Um, ho-hum

Day 25:  San Francisco

I was looking forward to getting out of the city on a cycling wine tour through Californian wine country today.  I thought this might make up for yesterdays opinion of San Fran.  After a very bland, boring free breakfast (why can’t I go back to Ace where there’s waffles and granola?), and with about half an hour to go before the tour pick up, the tour company calls.  Seems no one else was booked to do my wine tour today, so they cancelled it, citing that I wouldn’t have a very good time by myself.  Because I’m having such a good time in San Fran anyway.  They are probably right, I’m certainly not in the right frame of mind to spend the day making small talk with a guide I don’t know.  Good to see my bad run in San Fran is continuing today.

I was determined to start today with a positive attitude, but its not starting out very well, is it.  I just have to keep trying to remind myself to turn it around.  OK, well I can try and move my city sightseeing bus to today and that will give me more time to see the sights of San Fran.  Done.  I arrive at Fisherman’s Wharf to start the tour.

It’s FREEZING today.  It’s foggy.  And yes, this is summer.  I’m dressed in a real hodge podge of clothes trying to keep warm because I sent my warmest jacket home by mail from New York after running out of room.  I’ve got my newly purchased long sleeve Seattle shirt on a zip up sweatshirt and scarf and I’m still cold.  Un-glamorous and cold.

This bus is probably a good idea for today.  I’m just going to sit here and take photos out the window.  I see that the bus stops at the Asian Art Museum – yay, but its closed on Mondays – of course.

San Fran tram
San Fran tram

I intend on getting out at some of the stops, but the thought of having to wait for the next bus in the cold is not appealing.  So I sit on the bus until it stops off at Union Square where I head to Macy’s for something I know is sure to cheer me up.

Trans America Building and Café Zoetrope
Trans America Building and Café Zoetrope
Far away view of the Lombard Street (crookedest street)
Far away view of the Lombard Street (crookedest street)

Shopping

Walking into Macy’s, I feel like a hobo.  But I just have to forget about it and remember, you don’t live here, so who cares what anyone thinks.  I actually manage to find a few pieces that I like and which will hopefully fill some of the gaps in my wardrobe (hahaha – gaps in my wardrobe, that’s hilarious).  Stepping outside I fend off another homeless dude.  I’m not being heartless, the hotel literature tells you not to give them money and I don’t think he’d fancy my new floral skirt, so I have no other option.

Union Square
Union Square

I cross back over Union Square and get back on the bus hoping to continue on my loop, but this bus loops around Union Square twice, meaning that its already covered the other parts I wanted to see.  But that’s ok, because soon enough we end up back at Pier 39.  There’s seals here, that’ll cheer me up!

Pier 39

There’s no seals here.  Not one.  In everyone else’s photos of San Fran that I’ve seen, there are seals littering these pontoons.  On the way here, the guide was saying what a nuisance the seals have been throughout history and all the different ways they had tried to get rid of them.  Well, there are no seals now.

Not even one...
Not even one…

I wonder around the pier for a while.  There’s a shop called Chocolate Heaven, which stocks – surprise, surprise – all sorts of chocolate, so I grab some Ghirardelli chocolate to take home for the family.  And you can see Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge from here, through the fog.

Alcatraz
Alcatraz
Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge

There’s souvenir shops (including one for left handed gifts), pearl shops, all sorts of restaurants, an aquarium and a carousel, all set on the water, a bit similar to Fremantle, only there’s nothing at Fremantle except fish and chips.  It’s quite a nice vibe here, but its still cold and really glary.

Pier 39
Pier 39

There’s a fresh fruit stall, with massive strawberries.  I buy a few for later.  I’d like to buy a bit more fruit, but there’s no bar fridge back at my hotel, so there’s no way to keep it cool and fresh.

Sweet!
Sweet!

Then I see something that I know will make my day better, shining like a beacon in the distance, guiding the distressed ship into the shore…

The Hard Rock Café.  Thank goodness for rock.  The Hard Rock was first created in London in 1971, by Isaac Tigrett and Peter Morton.  It was designed to be a restaurant where the classes could mingle happily, and it worked.  Bankers and plumbers packed the place.  As did bands like the Beatles and the Stones.  One of its biggest fans was Eric Clapton, who requested Isaac put up a plaque to permanently save him a table.  Isaac told him ‘we don’t do plaques, but how about we hang up your guitar?’  So this is how it all began.  There are more than 72,000 pieces in the Hard Rock collection world wide, the world’s greatest rock memorabilia collection.

I’m so glad to be here, just to enjoy a good meal in an environment that I love, that I don’t even bother really looking at the memorabilia to see what’s here in San Fran.  I do spy Michael Jackson’s black hat, but I’m sorry Lola – I couldn’t get a photo because people were sitting in front of it.

Sitting listening music, feeding on fries, biting off pieces of my swiss mushroom burger between sips of red, I feel better and start to map out a plan to make tomorrow a better day.

I jump back on the tour bus for a while.  Enroute, I learn that my hotel is on the border of the part of town called Tenderloin.

Tenderloin

Though there is argument over the exact borders of Tenderloin, it is generally accepted as being bordered by Market, Van Ness, Geary and Mason Streets.  I am on Geary Street.  It sounds bad, but there’s a Hilton round the corner, Macy’s, Maxazria BCBG, Gucci, Tiffany, Saks 5th Avenue, the Westin all two to three (short) blocks away, so you just can’t tell.  There’s plenty of homeless people hanging around those high end addresses.  They are down at Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Financial District.  I think that’s the overwhelming part, is that the homelessness is not just confined to one area, it’s everywhere.

Some of the streets around the worst parts of Tenderloin
Some of the streets around the worst parts of Tenderloin

It’s believed the area received its name because members of the police force posted to the area were paid higher salaries for the hazards they had to deal with, which enabled them to buy better cuts of meat.  There are other stories as well, who knows.  But it’s pretty down and out.

The bus takes me back to Union Square, which is a couple of blocks from my hotel.  There’s a crazy black dude sitting on the wall on Union Square.  As we pull alongside, he starts shaking his head crazily, flapping his arms around and screaming, as if he’s trying to get something out of his head.

I’m back at the hotel by about 2.30pm, so I think that’s a good sign that perhaps a nap would be a good idea.

But just before I do that – just a little rant for the day on tipping.  You know Australians are known world wide as being bad tippers.  It’s not customary to tip at home, so most of the time I’m sure its just ignorance, though I hardly think that’s an excuse if you’ve read some of my other blogs – going to a country, learn something about it.  But can I just say, even though people expect to be tipped, I can’t say I’ve actually seen much of the behaviour that warrants it.  I don’t think nicely asking how your meal was is all they have to do.  Not ignoring you is a good start, grunting at me certainly doesn’t make me think about tipping and when you walk away in the middle of me asking how I can buy something additional off you – you guessed it – you ain’t getting any more of my money.  I think for me to pay way more than what my meal / ticket / directions would cost me at home you need to be making my experience worthwhile.  Answer my questions, make me feel like I’m worth your time, then your tip will be worth it.

Rant over.

I make a reservation for dinner downstairs and set my alarm.

Millenium

Millenium is dedicated to supporting organic food production, small farms, sustainable agriculture, recycling and composting.  Fresh produce is delivered every day, organic whenever possible.  The gourmet menu is created out of vegetarian, healthy and environmentally friendly foods and completely  free of genetically modified foods.

And best of all, I don’t even have to leave the building.

The complimentary bread is fresh (you hear that Boudin?) and comes with an awesome spread which I unfortunately cannot remember the ingredients of except parsley.  My potato and chard roulard, with mushroom cream sauce, mixed mushrooms with broccolini is amazing.  And dessert, which is green tea and lemongrass crème caramel, served with thai basil-lime ice cream, sesame tuile basket, five spice biscotti and lychee syrup – to die for.

Amazing and meat free
Amazing and meat free
Art on a plate
Art on a plate

While probably not the cheapest meal for one to spend for oneself, sometimes you just need to do something for the soul.

Something else that’s good for the soul – laughing.  Kicking back, finishing off my beautiful sweet strawberries, I’ve just seen on the news something that made me laugh – have a look what San Francisco TV station KTVU-TV did!

Didn’t You Notice Sum Tin Wong KTVU-TV???

Stephen Colbert says those names are of the wrong ethnicity and they should have used Hau Yu Lan Dis Ting.

Bahaha

Disappointment Leaving, Disappointment Arriving

Day 24:  Seattle / San Francisco

I don’t want to leave Seattle.  I wish I had way more time to enjoy this city.  Obviously I knew that the music history of the city would reel me in, but I didn’t expect how pretty it would be and what an awesome vibe the city emanated.

There’s still time for a couple of last minute things this morning before I fly out, so I head to the Pike Place Market to find the gum wall, Rachel the pig and the piroshky shop.

I’ve walked around and through the markets a couple of times over the past few days but have just not been able to locate the gum wall.  I will find it today if I do nothing else!

Pike Place Markets

Pike Place Market is a public market overlooking the Elliot Bay waterfront.  The Market opened August 17, 1907, and is one of the oldest continually operated public farmers’ markets in the United States.  Named after the central street, Pike Place runs northwest from Pike Street to Virginia Street, and remains one of Seattle’s most popular tourist destinations.

The first building at the Market, the Main Arcade, opened November 30, 1907.  In 1963, a proposal was floated to demolish Pike Place Market and replace it with Pike Plaza.  This was supported by the mayor, many on the city council, and a number of market property owners.  However, there was significant community opposition, and in 1971, an initiative was passed that created a historic preservation zone and returned the Market to public hands.

To market, to market
To market, to market

The Pike Market Performers’ Guild, founded 2001, represents Market street performers.  Among its members are Artis the Spoonman – the man whom the Soundgarden song ‘Spoonman” was penned.  Performers may receive donations and may display their recordings for sale, but are prohibited from active solicitation of donations and from active sale of “any product associated with the performance”.  Each performance is limited to one hour if any other licensed performer is waiting for the spot.  Electronic amplification is not allowed, nor are brass instruments or drums.  Certain performance locations are further limited to “quiet” performances where even hand-clap percussion is not allowed.  Unfortunately I am too early for any such performances, but onward with the search for the elusive gum wall!

Gum Wall

The Market Theater Gum Wall is a local landmark in Post Alley under Pike Place Market.  Under.  And this is where I’ve been going wrong.  I’ve been up and down the market stretch, but not under.  Finally, I find the steps that take me under the market to this brick alleyway wall covered in used chewing gum.  Parts of the wall are covered several inches thick, 15 feet high for 50 feet.  The wall is by the box office for the Market Theater, and the tradition began around 1993 when patrons of Unexpected Productions Seattle Theatresports stuck gum to the wall and placed coins in the gum blobs.  Theater workers scraped the gum away twice, but eventually gave up after market officials deemed the gum wall a tourist attraction around 1999.  Some people create small works of art out of gum.  It was named one of the top 5 germiest tourist attractions in 2009, second to the Blarney Stone.

Ew,
Ew,
ew...
ew…
...and ew!
…and ew!

Rachel the Pig

I didn’t know where the start looking for Rachel, but she found me.  Pike Place Market’s unofficial mascot, Rachel, a bronze cast piggy bank that weighs 250kg, has been located at the corner of Pike Place under the “Public Market Center” sign, since 1986.  Rachel was designed by local artist Georgia Gerber and modelled after a pig (also named Rachel) that lived on Whidbey Island and was the 1977 Island County prize-winner.  Rachel receives roughly US$6,000–$9,000 annually in just about every type of world currency, which is collected by the Market Foundation to fund the Market’s social services.

The biggest piggy bank I've ever seen
The biggest piggy bank I’ve ever seen

Piroshky Piroshky

What is a Piroshky?  The most simple answer is that they are hand held pies with fillings as diverse as the cultures and people who make and serve them.  The beauty of Piroshky is that everyone makes it a little differently with recipes passed down from generation to generation.

This bakery started at the Pike Place Market two decades ago and embraces and integrates the taste of the Northwest into their own traditional recipes.  These piroshkies are made from scratch and hand moulded into their very own unique shapes.  These massive wedges of goodness are too good for words and rather light, not like my memories of my Polish grandmothers buttery kitchen.  Probably not really breakfast fare, but I couldn’t leave Seattle without trying them.

Potato and Mushroom Piroshky
Potato and Mushroom Piroshky

But now its time to leave Seattle and move on to the next part of my journey.  Travelling along the freeway towards the airport, small tears form at the corners of my eyes.  I don’t want to leave.  I don’t feel like this about many places – Singapore has a new competitor – it’s only distance and cost that will keep me away from here but I will definitely want to come back and spend a serious amount of time here in this warm, artsy, inviting city.

Boarding the plane and all prepped for takeoff, the captain tells us the words no passenger wants to hear.  We have been further delayed due to a mechanical problem.  One of the switches (which one?????) is sticking and we may have to go back to the terminal.  It’s a nervous wait, but the captain finally advises we have been cleared for takeoff.  So have we really, or are you just taking a chance?  Would it be better to have to board a new plane with a clean slate, or continue to fly on this plane, which may or may not have an issue?  We obviously have no say in the decision.  All I can say is, it better not be the luggage hold switch, cause if you lose my precious Sub Pop 200 CD to the skies, you will pay!

It’s only an hour and three quarters flight to San Francisco, so it’s not long before we are touching down, on what is possibly one of the smoothest landings of my trip to date.  Always the way!

Leaving the airport, a thick fog is rolling in from the left and every square inch of the landscape is dotted with box shaped homes and buildings.  The boxed up scenery is replaced by ivy covered hillsides before giving way to the cityscape.  Pretty soon we are driving through the uninspiring streets of San Francisco.  The first thing that stands out is the sheer number of homeless and down’n’outs.  It’s around 5pm on a Sunday afternoon, which is the part that shocks me.  But by now, I’ve seen my fair share of homeless in America’s cities.

The hotel is not awesome.  I was so spoilt at the Ace.  The foyer smelt clean like Aesop products and the towels smelt so fresh and the place was light and airy and funky.  So basically this hotel is the entire opposite.  Inside my room, there’s leftover cake and coffee from someone else and even used soap in the shower.  I step outside the hotel to head to Fisherman’s wharf for dinner, and am immediately accosted by an obvious drug addict, her eyes literally rolling around in her head.  I tell her I have just arrived and have no cash, but she says ‘how does that matter?’  Obviously, she’s not on the ball, but she freaks me out with her eyes rolling around like that and I retreat back into the hotel.  Ok, so in the other cities, the homeless have just moved on and left you alone, but these ones are obviously more active.  Regroup.

I wanted to go to Fishermans Wharf, but now I don’t know whether to just stay in the hotel.  I kick myself in the butt, go outside and grab a cab.  You can do this – c’mon!  There’s sourdough chowder bowls to be tried!

The cab driver takes the crap out of me for talking too fast.  Are you kidding?  The rest of the world teases us Aussies for being such slow, laid-back talkers but according to this dude I’m talking a hundred miles an hour.  Can’t win.

Fishermans Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf is a popular area of San Francisco for exploring.   It’s name comes from the city’s early Gold Rush days when Italian immigrant fishermen settled in the area and fished for the Dungeness crab.  From then on it remained the home base of San Francisco’s fishing fleet.  Despite redevelopment into a tourist attraction during the 1970s and 1980s, the area is still home to many active fishermen and their fleets.

The Wharf
The Wharf
Nice summer's evening down at the Wharf...not
Nice summer’s evening down at the Wharf…not

Before dinner, I step inside the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum.  My sister Jen and I used to love watching Ripley’s on TV when we were young girls, so I think there’s sure to be some fascinating stuff in here!  There’s a couple of interesting things, but nothing that really blew my mind.  If I’d known, I would have bought a Ripley’s book instead of a ticket because it probably contains more than this building.

Believe it...or not
Believe it…or not
The remains of a car whose driver was trapped inside for over 89 hours under tons of rubble after the 1989 earthquake
The remains of a car whose driver was trapped inside for over 89 hours under tons of rubble after the 1989 earthquake
Robert Ripley - his best friend once described him as having no fashion sense and dressing like someone had thrown a can of paint at him.  Nice friend!
Robert Ripley – his best friend once described him as having no fashion sense and dressing like someone had thrown a can of paint at him. Nice friend!

Not to worry, I’m really here to try a sourdough breadbowl, so I arrive at Boudin and grab a seat.  Now Boudin is a bakery that has specialised in baking sourdough bread for over 150 years, which is why I though they would be the best place to try this local dish.  My bread was definitely not oven fresh.  It was kind of, well… stale-ish.  Surely it should have been absolutely fresh from the oven almost.  I buy fresher bread from Tony Ales food market back home.  Three quarters the way through my meal, a bread basket is placed on my table – because that’s exactly what you need when you’ve just consumed a big bread bowl of chowder.

Sourdough Clam Chowder
Sourdough Clam Chowder

I’m beginning to think I really should have stayed back at the hotel.  What about chocolate?  Ghirardelli must be around here somewhere.  They’ve been here since 1852.  Between 1852 and 1895, Ghirardelli’s Chocolate Factory was located at four different sites before the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company took over the Pioneer Woolen Mills on North Point Street—today’s site of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Manufactory & Soda Fountain and Ghirardelli Square.  Hot fudge sundae would be perfect!  But the small shop is packed and I just can’t be bothered waiting.

Chocolate down at the wharf
Chocolate down at the wharf

The air is super chilly here down on the wharf, so I cut my losses and grab a cab back to the hotel.  Probably a good time to mention that a lot of the streets literally run at a 45 degree angle.  Up, then down.  Up then down.  You wouldn’t want to be drunk in a cab on the way home up and down these hills, and I’m praying the complimentary tequila shot I got upon checking in at my hotel doesn’t come back up unexpectedly.  I’m not having a good start to my time in San Fran so far.  Maybe I’m just tired.  I’ve been on the go sightseeing, taking in new information and new experiences every day for the last 24 days, at times running on adrenalin.  I keep thinking that I should have stayed in Seattle longer and skipped San Fran.  But I know these days happen and can just hope that maybe tomorrow will be better.

Jubilation and Paradise

Day 23:  Seattle

Today has dawned a stunningly blue, beautiful warm day – the absolute definition of a perfect day.  This is going to be a good day, I think to myself.  Yesterday I couldn’t see Mt Rainier from either the seaplane nor the Space Needle, but today I think the Gods are smiling on me.  As they have been since the moment I arrived in this awesome city.

Sub Pop Records Silver Jubilee

Happy 25th birthday Sub Pop!  Hip Hip Hooray!  Anyone who knows anything about the grunge scene in Seattle, knows the name Sub Pop.  Founded in 1986 by Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman, SubPop achieved fame for first signing Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney and many other bands from the Seattle music scene and are often credited with taking the first steps toward popularizing grunge music.

In early 1988 Pavitt and Poneman quit their jobs to devote their full attention to Sub Pop and “almost went bankrupt after a month”.  That August, SubPop released “Touch Me I’m Sick”, the first single by Mudhoney.  They intentionally did a limited first pressing of 800 copies to in order to create demand, a strategy which was later adopted by other independent labels.

Pavitt and Poneman studied earlier independent labels and decided that virtually every successful movement in rock music had a regional basis.  The pair sought to create a cohesive brand identity for SubPop.  The label’s ads promoted the label itself more than any particular band.  The label also sought to market a “Seattle sound”, which was accomplished with the help of producer Jack Endino (also known as the Godfather of Grunge).  Endino recorded cheaply and quickly; in order to operate this way, he utilized some consistent studio techniques, which gave the records a similar sound.

In November 1988 Sub Pop released “Love Buzz”, the debut single from Nirvana, as the first entry in the Sub Pop Singles Club which was a subscription service that allowed subscribers to receive singles by the label on a monthly basis by mail.  At its peak in 1990, the club had two thousand subscribers.  The club made Sub Pop a powerful force in the Seattle scene, and effectively made the label’s name synonymous with the music of the Seattle area and helped to secure the label’s cash flow.  They made a deal out of a self proclaimed “Loser” ethos, any shirt or cap from Sub Pop will tell you that, hell – they’ll tell you that.

Losers for 25 years
Losers for 25 years
Sub Pop Gum Ball
Sub Pop Gum Ball

Mindful that gaining the attention of the American mainstream music press was difficult for all but the largest indie label, Pavitt and Ponemen took inspiration from alternative bands like Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers and Dinosaur Jr and sought to publicize the label via the British music press.  In March 1989, Pavitt and Poneman flew Melody Maker journalist Everett True to Seattle to write an article on the local music scene.  As Pavitt had anticipated, the British press became enamoured with Sub Pop and the grunge sound.  Poneman explained the label’s success like this: “It could have happened anywhere, but there was a lucky set of coincidences.  Charles Peterson was here to document the scene, Jack Endino was here to record the scene.  Bruce and I were here to exploit the scene.”

After the mainstream success of Nirvana, many successful grunge bands had left Sub Pop for major record labels.  Soon afterwards, a joint venture was formed with Warner Brothers Records, thereby ending Sub Pop’s status as an entirely independent label.  The label opened offices worldwide and began major investment in new artists, but without achieving great commercial success, prompting a scaling down and a return to Seattle.

Just so happens that Sub Pop are holding their 25th anniversary bash today in Georgetown.

In honor of our 25th anniversary year, we at Sub Pop Records will be hosting an altogether free event in Seattle’s historic Georgetown neighborhood. Along and surrounding Airport Way, we are fairly certain there will be some combination of… Actual live bands, playing actual live music! Some sort of art-related something or other! Like, in a gallery space, we’re thinking! A record fair-type event! Food! Beer and wine! (The food and beer and wine and soda or whatever, you will have to pay for! These parts are not free!) Good times and opportunities to embarrass yourself and those who’d always hoped for better for you! Plus, bands!

Further details will be forthcoming…

SUB POP’S SILVER JUBILEE
Saturday, July 13, 2013
In the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle, WA
FOR FREE !

Jubilee advert in the local newspaper The Stranger
Jubilee advert in the local newspaper The Stranger

Unfortunately I had already made plans for the majority of today, which means I miss all the bands that are playing.  An hour before I arrived on Thursday, Mudhoney made history by playing on the top of the Space Needle (first band to ever do so) to celebrate the occasion, which would have been fabulous.  But at least I’m still in town for a bit of the party, so I decide to grab a cab to Georgetown and just having a wander around.  The day commences at 10am, but Loser ethos is fully apparent when by 11am, most things are still not set up – food stalls with no food, goods stalls not able to take payments yet.  It almost feels like a wasted trip until I get a free CD from one stall, probably one of the only perks of being here so early.  I spy the temporary Sub Pop Mega Mart and head on over to check it out – this would be the jewel in the crown.  But it’s not open.  A couple of minutes the guy says.  A couple of minutes later, he says a couple of minutes.

While I’m waiting, I reflect on all the stuff I learnt yesterday:

  • Chris Cornell was stinky back in the day, as were most of the guys in bands;
  • Zanna, Andy Wood’s fiancé, is back in town and apparently not doing too well, having lost custody of her two children;
  • Stone Gossard drives a Prius;
  • Mike McCready is a really nice guy and has a bobble head doll created in his likeness;
  • Pearl Jam are creating a new album, which is according to Mike McCready’s discussion with Charity, much more rockin;
  • Courtney Love is not very popular in this town, and has a penchant for just taking off down the street after people; and
  • Jeff Ament spent too much money redecorating his apartment, and then had trouble selling it.

I don’t think I’ve ever learnt more in a tour!  But anyway, I digress.  Finally the Mega Mart opens.  I flick through the CD’s and freak out when I see a copy of the Sub Pop 200 CD.  I panic and grab the CD in case other people realise its here, rushing over to the til to claim my prize, at a crazy $10.  Sub Pop 200 is a compilation released in the early days of the Seattle grunge scene, way back in December 1988.  It features songs (many of them first releases and otherwise unattainable) from Tad, Nirvana, Mudhoney, Souundgarden, Green River, The Fastbacks, Girl Trouble, Catt Butt, The Screaming Trees, Steve Fish and The Thrown Ups.  I realise later that a) Seattlites may not be so excited about this CD seeing as they probably had unlimited access to it when it first came out (you could certainly never find this kind of gem in Perth) and that b) it was only $10 and c) I should have taken my time and had a look for any other possible gems at absolutely ridiculous prices.  I grab a couple of gum balls and a colouring in book for my inner child before I stash my treasure into my backpack and run to try and find a cab.

Waiting around for Sub Pop
Waiting around for Sub Pop

Crap, I can’t find a cab and I am scared I will run out of time because I hung around longer than I should have waiting for the mega mart to open.  My tour to Mt Rainier starts at 1pm, I don’t know what time the pick up time for the tour is, it’s getting towards 11.30am and I’m still perhaps a half hour away from getting back to my hotel.  I pop into a motel and ask the manager where the best place to grab a cab from is.  He tells me, “well, this ain’t Manhattan, so you won’t be able to just hail one out in the street, I’ll call you one”.  Very kind.  Thirteen cabs go past me while I am waiting for the one he called.  I am starting to panic, thinking I’m going to miss the tour.  Nonetheless a cab finally turns up, driven by the self proclaimed ‘ugliest taxi driver in the world’ and I am finally on my way back downtown.  The driver is hilarious telling me that he married so late because he’s so ugly and his wife only married him because she felt sorry for him being so ugly.

Ugly or not, the driver gets me back to my hotel with about half an hour to spare.  My phone beeps, letting me know that the confirmation message I sent to my tour group for this afternoon has been rejected – it was letting them know I was confirming the tour.  Oh crap, I call the company and he say’s that yes I am confirmed and that the pick up should arrive at 12.30 (half an hour early, and oh look, it’s 12.29 right now!)  Aargh!  I grab my stuff and run downstairs.  A couple of minutes later, Marty arrives.

Mt Rainier

Marty is my guide for a nice comfortable trip (brand new Mercedes van thank you!).  I am the first pick up on the list, so I get to score the front seat.  There are eight others on my trip, mostly Americans, with one lady from Sydney.  We travel out into the country side, all the time getting closer and closer to Rainier.

Ascending to 4,392m above sea level, Mount Rainier stands as an icon in the Washington landscape.  An active volcano, Mount Rainier is the most glaciated peak in the contiguous USA., spawning six major rivers.  Subalpine wildflower meadows ring the icy volcano while ancient forest cloaks Mount Rainier’s lower slopes and wildlife abounds in the park’s ecosystems.

Mount Rainier is a massive stratovolcano located 87km southeast of Seattle.  It’s the considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.  It is on the Decade Volcano list as one of the 16 volcanoes with the greatest likelihood of causing great loss of life and property if eruptive activity resumes – because of its large amount of glacial ice, Mt. Rainier could potentially produce massive lahars that would threaten the whole Puyallup River valley.

Although Mount Rainier is an active volcano, as of 2010 there was no evidence of an imminent eruption.   Apparently it erupts roughly every 500 years – it’s about 70 years overdue.

On the way to Rainier
On the way to Rainier

The scenery along the way is stunning, firs of all types, rocky river beds and beautiful turquoise lakes.  We keep an eye out for wildlife – elks are usually visible along the way, but this is a beautiful Saturday, so perhaps the number of visitors to the mountain today have scared them away, because we don’t see any.  We travel to the part of the mountain called Paradise.  And that’s truly what it looks like.  We have over an hour and a half to go off and do as we please.  There are numerous trails up and around the mountain, catering for different abilities.  I forgot my asthma pump in the business of the morning, and because we are so high up, play the safe road by taking a lower path around the side of the mountain.  And this is what I’m rewarded with…

Panoramic Rainier
Panoramic Rainier

By no means is this second prize.  I can feel the cold air blowing towards my face as I look up in marvel at the mountain face.  I can’t think of anything to say to describe the mountain, but possibly awe.

In full glory
In full glory

I snap away taking photos like every other tourist, making sure I get lots of ‘selfies’ in.  Knowing how much I hate ‘touristy’ photos, posing in front of every landmark in site, I know you’d all be so proud of me.

Me and Rainier
Me and Rainier

Around six thirty pm, the sun is starting to set on the skyline, and we prepare for dinner in the remaining daylight.  Marty pulls out actual table cloths, napkins, plastic plates and wine glasses.  Then a spread of delicious looking food – grilled chicken breast with chimichurri sauce, mixed salad leaves with persimmon and strawberry vinaigrette, quinoa and chickpea salad and grilled mushroom, capsicum and eggplant, with white or red wine and cookies to follow.  Such a divine spread in an even more divine setting.  This continues to be a fabulous day.

Cascadian Feast
Cascadian Feast

Making sure to throw away all scraps, cause we are in bear country now, we pack up the picnic and load back into the van.

You in bear country now!
You in bear country now!

Our last stop on this magical tour is Narada Falls, which is running in full flow.  The spray off the gushing water kisses your face as you watch on.  We linger for a few moments before making our way back to the comfort and warmth of our vehicle for the long ride home.

A Waterfall to end the day
A Waterfall to end the day

We finally arrive back into Seattle around 10.30pm.  It’s been such a long and beautiful day.  It was a tour I thought would be worth splashing out on to do it right, and my gamble paid off.  Seattle has showered me with another perfect day.  I will sleep so well tonight.

Expect the Best

Day 22:  Seattle

Oh what’s this – another day filled to the brim with new and exciting things to do?  Righty then, best I finish my granola and yoghurt, wash it down with my coffee and get on with it.

Scenic Flight on a Seaplane

Taking a Seattle seaplane tour is a quintessential Northwest experience – apparently.  So I’m here at Kenmore Air on Lake Union to experience the “unique thrill of flying off the water and soaring over one of the most beautiful parts of the world”.

Ready for takeoff!
Ready for takeoff!

Boarding the small seaplane, every seat is a window seat.  We snap on our belts and put on our headphones to listen to the narrated flight.  We skim across the water for a while, before taking off.  It’s a lot smoother than I thought and soon we are flying over Lake Union’s famous houseboat communities, the beautiful University of Washington (U-Dub as the locals call it) campus, lakeside and seaside estates, Seattle’s professional sports stadiums and downtown skyline.

The Lake Union floating homes
The Lake Union floating homes

We also fly over the gasworks park…

The gasworks park, where Linda says yes to Steve's marriage proposal in the movie Singles
The gasworks park, where Linda says yes to Steve’s marriage proposal in the movie Singles

It’s an amazing view from the plane and you can see a lot.  It’s unfortunate that it’s not the clearest day so you can’t see Mt Rainier.  But I’ll be going there tomorrow anyway, so it doesn’t worry me in the slightest.  Interesting fact – there is one boat for every five peeps in Seattle!

Touching back down onto the water, the ride is over and another first accomplished – ride in a seaplane – tick!

Nordstroms Surprise

I hadn’t really planned to do any ‘shopping’ in Seattle, but when I drove through on my way from the airport and saw Nordstroms and the shopping strip around 5th Avenue, I decided I could put away an hour to drop by and have a look around.  I was coming down the escalators on my way out of the department store, when I heard a voice start singing.  “I know that voice”, I thought to myself.  But it couldn’t be – surely not in Nordstroms.  When I made it to the ground floor, I was right though – it was J Mascis, of the mighty Dinosaur Jr, now more commonly a solo artist.  Just singing and screaming away on his guitar.  J has a unique kind of voice, wallowy and mellow, his music melancholic and beautiful, his guitar work quite fabulous.  And he was just playing away here in Nordstroms, so I just stayed and watched.  Wow, what a day!

Still can't believe it...J Mascis playing in Nordstroms!
Still can’t believe it…J Mascis playing in Nordstroms!

What a Bitch!

Now I needed lunch and I needed it fast.  When I’m in a locale, I do like to try the local food – fish, chips and mushy peas in London, conch, jerk chicken and beans and rice in Cayman, pizza and mac n’ cheese in New York – and now in Seattle, I’ve had Northwest salmon, Elliot Bay shrimp and now I’m going to try biscuit.  Biscuit in the US is different from biscuit in Australia.  Our biscuits are sweet – like cookies.  These biscuits, which generally come as a breakfast or lunch meal, are more like huge scones.  And they are crumbly like scones too – I’m not sure why this concept is so popular, but hey, who am I to judge.

Just near Pike Market is a café called Biscuit Bitch, where you can buy just such biscuit meals.  All the meals have names like Hot Mess Bitch, Smokin Hot Seattle Bitch, Bitchwitch (breakfast sandwich) and Straight Up Bitch.  My lunch is You Lucky Bitch, which is basically house roasted Cuban pulled pork, grilled onions, melted swiss cheese, fried egg, bitchy sauce all wedged between – well, biscuit!

You Lucky Bitch
You Lucky Bitch

Apart from aforementioned crumbliness, sandwich was good!  And it comes with chips, which I assumed was chips – as in hot potato chips/fries – but no – they mean a packet of chips.  I’m so confused!

Space Needle

My brother in law – hi Mike! – had one request of me for my trip to Seattle and that was a visit to the Space Needle.  The Space Needle is a tower located at the Seattle Centre.  It’s the symbol of Seattle and was built for the 1962 Worlds Fair.  Reaching 184m in height, the Space Needle was the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River when it was completed.

It is built to withstand winds up to 89 m/s and earthquakes of up to 9.1 magnitude.  The earthquake stability of the Space Needle was ensured when a hole was dug 9.1m deep and 37m across, and 467 concrete trucks took one full day to fill it.  The foundation weighs 5850 tons, including 250 tons of reinforcing steel.  The structure is bolted to the foundation with 72 bolts, each one 9.1m long.

From the top of the Needle, one can see not only the downtown Seattle skyline, but also the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, Mount Rainier and Elliot Bay and surrounding islands – unfortunately it isn’t clear enough to see Mount Rainier today.

Being a major symbol of the Pacific Northwest, the Space Needle has appeared in numerous films, TV shows and other works of fiction – It Happened at the World’s Fair (1962), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), Austin Powers:  The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999), Frasier, Grey’s Anatomy and iCarly.  The Space Needle has been used for some other purposes as well, including a large 57 piece Lego construction set of it that has been released as part of Lego Architecture’s structures.

Space Needle from the Seaplane
Space Needle from the Seaplane
View from the Needle
View from the Needle

EMP Museum

The EMP Museum (formerly known as Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame or EMP|SFM) is a museum dedicated to the history and exploration of popular music, science fiction and pop culture and it’s located on the Seattle Centre site, along with the Space Needle.  It was designed by Frank Gehry and founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

There are a few exhibitions on at the moment, but I’ve got limited time, so do I whiz through each or pick one to see properly – ah darn it, let’s whiz through them all.

The first was Nirvana – Taking Punk to the Masses and it contained loads of memorabilia from Nirvana’s rise out of obscurity into grunge spotlight.  Broken guitars, old set lists and gig posters – even the In Utero models.  It’s all here along with interactive videos and billboard narrative.

Moore on that later...
Moore on that later…

The second was Jimi Hendrix.  This room contained a number of outfits that Jimi wore as well as news articles and reviews, including this interesting little snippet….

Bahahaha
Bahahaha

But more on Jimi later.

The final one, which I was looking forward to the most – Women Who Rock – turned out to be the least interesting.  I thought it would be an awesome display of some of history’s greatest female rock pioneers – Blondie, Chrissie Hynde, Patti Smith, Stevie Nicks…. but no, it was just a bunch of outfits worn by people like Madonna, Christina Aguilera, Brittany Spears and this little gem from Lady Gaga…

Gaga's famous meat dress...ew
Gaga’s famous meat dress…ew

Disappointing.

Anyway, moving on, cause I got a tour to catch.

Stalking Seattle

Outside the EMP, I wait for my tour bus.  Before long, a big black SUV pulls up with “Stalking Seattle” plastered on the back.  This is my ride.  I meet Charity and find out I’m the only one booked on this tour – it’s all about me.  “Have you heard about the movie Singles?”  she asks.  “OMG yes, my sister and I are addicts”.  Charity is super excited at this as most people haven’t heard of it.  “And, do you know who Andy Wood was?”  she asks.  “Oh yeah, I love Andy!”  she’s even more excited now.  “This is going to be such a good tour!” she says and off we go.  I tell her that I saw J Mascis playing in Nordstroms today and she’s like “No way!  Norstroms – really?  That is SO cool!”

The basis of this tour is pretty much to stalk out all the grunge and Singles related sites around Seattle.  The ‘grunge’ scene, if you must call it anything, suddenly became a way of life to the outside world.  Long johns and flannelette shirts, which Seattlites actually wore to keep warm in the North West’s miserable weather conditions, were seen on the high fashion runways thanks (or not) to designers like Marc Jacobs.  Anything remotely related to grunge was marketed and sold.  Bands who had hardly played a gig were suddenly signed to record labels.  And everything went a little bit crazy.

But if you were into the music, actually really loved the music, it was a great time in music’s history.  There were some fantastic bands, a lot of which are still around today.  Mudhoney, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains have all released new albums this year.

Around this time, Cameron Crowe, film director and Seattle native, made his film Singles.  It was a story about young 20 something singles living in Seattle and actually featured quite an all star cast – Bridget Fonda, Sheila Kelley, Bull Pullman, Campbell Scott, Jim True, Matt Dillon, Kyra Sedgewick, Tim Burton and Eric Stolz.  Not to mention cameos by Alice in Chains, Chris Cornell and Stone, Jeff and Eddie from Pearl Jam.  It was quite comedic and there are heaps of classic lines in it, which Leigh and I repeat over and over and over.  I couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve watched this movie.  And on a rainy day when I think about that era, I always pull out Singles and rug up on the sofa with a glass of red for a good laugh.

I’m aware most of this will go over your head, but Leigh – this one’s for you, let the stalking begin:

Andy Wood's apartment where he lived until his death of a heroin overdose in 1990
Andy Wood’s apartment where he lived until his death of a heroin overdose in 1990
The apartment building where Jeff Ament lived from 1990 until 2011
The apartment building where Jeff Ament lived from 1990 until 2011
The Crocodile Café - where Nirvana played Smells Like Teen Spirit and Mad Season played their 1st show
The Crocodile Café – where Nirvana played Smells Like Teen Spirit and Mad Season played their 1st show
The Virginia Inn where Steve met Linda for 'water' in Singles - this is the view from where Linda lifted Steve's car door button
The Virginia Inn where Steve met Linda for ‘water’ in Singles – this is the view from where Linda lifted Steve’s car door button
...and inside - this is the booth where the couple was snogging while Linda and Steve were trying to enjoy their 'water'
…and inside – this is the booth where the couple was snogging while Linda and Steve were trying to enjoy their ‘water’
The original Sub Pop Records location.  The lobby was used as a 'fake shop' where Debbie Hunt went to film her 'Expect the Best' video
The original Sub Pop Records location. The lobby was used as a ‘fake shop’ where Debbie Hunt went to film her ‘Expect the Best’ video
The Moore Theatre where the video for Even Flow was shot - remember Eddie falling backwards from the rafters into the audience
The Moore Theatre where the video for Even Flow was shot – remember Eddie falling backwards from the rafters into the audience
The Central Saloon - Mother Love Bone played their last gig here before Andy Wood died
The Central Saloon – Mother Love Bone played their last gig here before Andy Wood died
The Singles apartment block where Cliff, Jennifer, Bailey, Steve, Debbie and Pammy lived
The Singles apartment block where Cliff, Jennifer, Bailey, Steve, Debbie and Pammy lived
The garage under the apartment block where Steve gave Linda the beeper to park underground next time
The garage under the apartment block where Steve gave Linda the beeper to park underground next time
Linda's Apartment "I was just nowhere near your neighbourhood..."
Linda’s Apartment “I was just nowhere near your neighbourhood…”
Black Hole Sun sculpture - possibly the inspiration behind the Soundgarden song
Black Hole Sun sculpture – possibly the inspiration behind the Soundgarden song
The Paramount Theatre where Andy Wood's memorial was held in March 1990
The Paramount Theatre where Andy Wood’s memorial was held in March 1990
The house where Kurt Cobain shot himself (now remodelled)
The house where Kurt Cobain shot himself (now remodelled)
Sub Pop's current offices, this is the view at the back of the building - Mark Arm from Mudhoney runs the warehouse
Sub Pop’s current offices, this is the view at the back of the building – Mark Arm from Mudhoney runs the warehouse
Bad Animals Studios - Alice in Chains, BB King, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Soundgarden all recorded albums here
Bad Animals Studios – Alice in Chains, BB King, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Soundgarden all recorded albums here

These were not the only places we saw (I’d be here all night uploading photos otherwise!).  We also drove over to Renton to see Jimi Hendrix grave, Jimi’s sculpture in Pine Street, the alley where Debbie’s bike tyre gets a flat on her way to meet Jamie, the 5 Point Café where Andy Wood used to hang out, the original Sub Pop mega mart, the Metropolis (considered the birth place of Grunge, co-run by Chris Cornell’s ex wife Susan Silver), the street where the newsstand in Singles was built, the Comet Tavern (where Mia Zapata from the Gits was last seen alive before she was murdered in 1993), the Re-Bar which was used for the scene where the Spanish dude dumped Linda and her friend consoled her, the building where Andy Wood and Jeff Ament worked in whilst it was a cafe, the chair dude where Linda’s friend asked “if you got married, would we still go out dancing?” and two rock stars homes, which I’m not sure I should post pictures of, given that they are neighbours of Charity and she only showed me cause I was such a fan of the whole scene (cough, cough, ahem – Mike McCready and Stone Gossard – I didn’t tell you).

Hard Rock Café

I wasn’t actually going to visit this Hard Rock Café, because let’s face it – it was going to be hard to top the Caymans with their Eddie Vedder’s brown jacket display, but Charity tells me that there’s some Andrew Wood memorabilia in this one, so I trek down there with my camera.  Now I think Seattle is wonderful, but I don’t want to paint it as perfect, because it’s not.  It still has all the big city problems that any other city has.  It’s quite obviously Friday night in the city centre, cause even though it’s only 7.30pm, fights are breaking out between gangs of youths on the street, and the amount of homeless people wandering around is staggering.  There are a lot of addicts in this city and I won’t lie, it does make you feel a little uncomfortable at times.  But generally they don’t bother you, just say no to their plea for cash (which you have to remember is usually going to fuel their addiction) and walk on by and they leave you alone.  Charity said some of them act as car parking attendants to trick people into giving them cash.  Crafty.

So anyway I was glad to find the café and go on in.

Unfortunately they way they have set this one out is with all the memorabilia on the outside walls with booths in front of them, so you can’t take photos without bothering the people sitting in the booth, and because it’s a Friday night, it’s packed.  I can see the Yield sign from the Pearl Jam album of the same name.  And Andy Woods Lakers Jersey and a guitar.  There’s a drum head with signatures on it, which I can’t see, but I find out later is signed by the members of Mudhoney.

Andy Wood's Lakers jersey and guitar and drum head signed by Mudhoney
Andy Wood’s Lakers jersey and guitar and drum head signed by Mudhoney

But nothing else.  And the service is pretty bland.  This is not Hard Rock’s finest hour.

The Original Starbucks

I’m passing by Pike Markets on the way home, so I pop by just to see if I can find the original Starbucks shop.  I’m not really into Starbucks, there’s just too much cream and syrup (sorry – Layers of Delicious!) for my liking – but this is THE original Starbucks – so this stop is for you Katie.

The first Starbucks Coffee store, founded in 1971, was originally located at 2000 Western Avenue.  In 1977 it moved one block away to 1912 Pike Place where it has been in continuous operation ever since.  The store was opened by three partners:  Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl and Gordon Bowker.  The sign outside this branch, unlike others, features the original logo – a bare-breasted sirenn that was modeled after a 15th century Norse woodcut.  From just a narrow storefront, Starbucks offered some of the world’s finest fresh-roasted whole bean coffees. The name, inspired by Moby Dick, evoked the romance of the high seas and the seafaring tradition of the early coffee traders.

Today, with more than 17,000 stores in 55 countries, Starbucks is the premier roaster and retailer of specialty coffee in the world, or so they say.  Sorry, but I’m just not a fan…

The original Starbucks
The original Starbucks

After today, I simply cannot believe I am in Seattle!  I never thought this would happen in a million years, but here I am, visiting the stories for real.  This is the other side of the world for goodness sake.  The musicians I have idolised since my teenage years walked these streets, crossed these lights and sat in these chairs.  I am so, so, incredibly excited.  I just can’t believe it.  Who would have thought…me, in Seattle….. Wow.

The Land of Bigmuff Superfuzz, Subpop and Long Hair

Day 21:  New York/Seattle

Given that I was 3kg over already from Cayman, I need to do something about my luggage, by shipping some home ahead of me. I found the New York post office on my travels last night and figure it would cost me the same to buy a new suitcase and have to lug it around. Fingers crossed it arrives. Lesson learnt – pack way less next time, way more wisely and listen to others when they say anything you don’t have – you can buy.

Although I’m not flying to Seattle until this afternoon I’ve only got a couple of hours before my transfer arrives so I just chill out at the hotel. I am so exhausted but just can’t seem to catch a sleep in. That was ok in Cayman where the pace was slower and the nights were earlier but the last few nights I haven’t been to bed before 11pm! I’m desperately hoping Seattle is quiet and more laid back.

Seattle means one thing to me – grunge.  Not to be confused with rubbish and grime, I’m actually talking about the huge music scene that occurred in Seattle in the late eighties and early nineties, which became a worldwide phenomenon and boosted a host of local garage bands to international stardom.  My favourites were Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney, Green River, Malfunkshun and the short lived Mother Love Bone (R.I.P L’Andrew the Love Child).  This was my kind of music.

Seattle Grunge Scene
It went a little bit like this…

Not to mention all the long hair, flannel and doc wearing dudes that came with it.  In some respects, I’m still waiting for that era to come back…. But whilst back in the real world I know that ain’t going to happen, I can at least relive it a bit with a few days in the Emerald City itself.

For those of you who don’t really care for grunge or music (seriously who wouldn’t care for music!), Seattle is also home to Amazon, Boeing and Starbucks.

It’s after 6pm when I arrive in Seattle, but by the time the transfer arrives its after 8.30pm, not to mention that I’ve gone back in time three hours from New York time.  I’m tired and hungry.

Finally we are on the road and as soon as we leave the airport, I think “Wow, this is a pretty place!”  Seattle is surrounded by mountains and pine trees (think the Christmas tree type).   The sun is just setting on the horizon, bathing Seattle city in pale golden light.  I can see space needle on the horizon.

We reach the city after only about fifteen minutes and I am blown away by how pretty the city is as well.  There are heaps of trendy looking shops, different stuff than I’ve seen to date, the trees are lit with fairy lights, the buildings are cute.  I really wasn’t expecting this.

I’m staying at the Ace Hotel in Belltown, it’s a kind of high end backpackers but with private rooms available.  It’s an extremely funky place.  My room is freaking awesome.  Free breakfast, free wifi, huge ass bathroom with gourmet soap and toiletries (including cotton balls, makeup pads and q-tips), a selection of snacks, an awesome window overlooking the street, my own sofa and bathrobes (do you know how many hotels don’t have robes these days!).  There’s a book to read called “What to Read in the Rain” (it rains about 160 days a year here, not called the rainy city for no reason).  The cool thing about this book is that they encourage you to take it home with you (for the small sum of $15).  The book was created to promote literacy in Seattle, with proceeds going to support 826 Seattle, which teachings the essential skill of writing to thousands of the Seattle area’s young people free of charge.

My room
My room
But where's the bathroom?
But where’s the bathroom?
...just behind this massive swinging door!
…just behind this massive swinging door!

From my window I can hear the laughter and chatter of people sitting for a drink at the Cyclops Café downstairs.  In the twenty minutes I’ve been here, the vibe is artsy, yet unpretentious, relaxed and kind of warming.  I’ve totally forgotten about being tired and decide to walk down to the waterfront for a seafood feast at the Crab Pot (the ad I saw about giving you a bib and just letting you go at it sucked me right in).  Surrounded by people delighting in the Seafeast (a meal where they basically plonk a massive pile of seafood, potatoes and corn on a piece of paper in the middle of your table), its comical to listen to all the banging on the tables as all manner of shells are cracked open and then discard with a ‘ting’ into the metal bucket waiting patiently at the foot of the table.  For myself, I order the bay shrimp cocktail and grilled Atlantic Salmon, which comes surrounded by broccoli and red potatoes, so good, perfectly washed down with a glass of white wine.

Miners Landing - Home to the Crab Pot
Miners Landing – Home to the Crab Pot

The waterfront itself is also very pretty.  There’s the obligatory eye/wheel (depending on which city you are in), an aquarium and eateries lining the wharves of Alaskan Way.  The sun is still setting over Seattle, it seems to take a while to go down, which suits me fine.

Stunning
Stunning

I finish off the evening with a cup of butterfingers flavoured ice-cream as I walk back up to 1st Avenue and along its streets, past the Pike Place Markets back to my hotel.  I am so excited for tomorrow so I can explore this beautiful city, but I am now ready to sleep.  And my bed feels like a big fluffy cloud…

Punk Chaos Meets Shanghai Glamour

Day 20:  New York

Most people probably don’t know this about me, but growing up I wanted to be a fashion designer.  I made scrapbooks and notebooks of research on design and sketches of outfits I was going to create.  But in Perth in the early 90’s, there wasn’t a lot of opportunity in the creative arts fields, and with the dream seeming an unrealistic dalliance, I threw my sketchbooks away and went down a different path.  I still love fashion and clothes though and am always looking for something a bit different.  And with New York being home to Alexander Wang, Philip Lim, Marc Jacobs, Vera Wang and so many others…. what better way to spend my time in one of the fashion capitals of the world, than checking out some exhibitions and backing it up with a bit of shopping.

So a fair bit of the last two days has been dedicated to fashion.  While yesterday was about punk couture, today’s style agenda is far more refined, with a visit to the Museum of Chinese in America.  On the way to the museum, I just want to make a stop to visit the Statue of Liberty.

Walking from the hotel towards the pier, I take in the surroundings.  This is a city where people sing in the middle of the street.  People all around me are talking – most into phone headpieces, but some I think, to themselves.  I get handed a brochure for botox.  Not happy Jan.  Obviously I have my concentrating face on today, which makes the wrinkles on my forehead stand out.  I grumpily push the brochure away.

It’s really sticky and humid today.  I succumb to a cab ride the rest of the way.  Geez New York cab drivers have an opinion about everything.  Tour buses shouldn’t be on the main roads causing traffic jams, he can’t drive properly, she’s taking up two lanes.  They weave in and out of the traffic, stop/start, stop/start, screaming up behind other cars.  It’s best not to look.  I wonder how they’d react if you asked them to pay a bit more attention to their own driving?

Staten Island Ferry

The Staten Island Ferry is a free ferry that runs between Manhattan and Staten Island, Brooklyn.  Some use it to commute to work, but mostly it’s a run for the tourists to get snaps of the Statue of Liberty.  So why is it free?  Well the owner of the land on which the ferry terminal was built, sold the land on the pretext that the fare would never be more than 5 cents – this was back when 5 cents was a considerable amount.  At some point in history, it became more expensive than 5 cents to actually collect the 5 cent fare, so the fare was made free.

Free ferry
Free ferry

Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty was a gift from the people of France to the United States, “in recognition of the friendship established during the American Revolution.”  Frederic Auguste Bartholdi was commissioned to sculpt the statue in recognition of the 100-year anniversary of the America’s independence from England.  The statue was completed in France in July 1884 and arrived in New York Harbor in June of 1885 on the French frigate Isere, which transported the Statue of Liberty from France to the United States.

Statue of Liberty
Statue of Liberty

The official name of the statue is Liberty Enlightening the World.  The statue has recently undergone renovation and only reopened on the 4th of July 2013.  Even though the statue was a fair distance away from the boat, and the day was not very clear, I still couldn’t help but thinking it would have been bigger.  It was good that the ferry ride was free, but if you really wanted a decent photo and didn’t have a great zoom, it would be a much better decision to pay for one of the other ferry services, as they go closer to Ellis Island, where the statue is housed.

Museum of Chinese in America

Currently, this museum in the heart of Chinatown is exhibiting “Shanghai Glamour: New Women 1910-1940’s” and “Front Row:  A Look at Chinese American Designers”.  I love the glamour of the 1910-1940’s in Shanghai.  The exhibition explores how women and their fashionable dress epitomised the seduction and mystery of Shanghai while it was modernizing in the early 20th century.  The exhibition features 12 outfits from the era, on loan from the China National Silk Museum in Hangzhou, and on view in the US for the first time ever, alongside outfits from prominent private collections.

Shanghai Glamour
Shanghai Glamour
Some of the best American Chinese designers on display
Some of the best American Chinese designers on display

The second exhibitioncelebrates the rise of Chinese American designers who have made their mark in New York and includes works from designers such as Anna Sui, Vera Wang and Vivienne Tam who emerged in the New York fashion scene just as the city was transforming its identity from a garment centre into one of the fashion capitals of the world.

The museum itself also contains displays about the lives of Chinese in America, with interactive displays, audio visual corners, posters, letters and all sorts of objects from the beginnings of the Chinese community in this country.  It was a very worthwhile look at just how hard it would have been to leave home miles and miles away to begin a new life in a country so very different to your own.

What the?
What the?

The rest of the afternoon is spent trying to get in some shopping, but I have a bit of trouble getting into my shopping groove here and only buy a couple of things.  Lola asked me on Skype this morning whether there was a Lush store here in New York, and it was good timing because I actually walked past one on my way to the theatre last night, so I head straight there for a nice soothing bath bomb for later.  Some of the shops I thought would be awesome, aren’t quite so.  I’m having trouble finding things to my fussy cut and fabric requirements, without the expensive price tag.

I’ve got a hankering for steak tonight, so I pop into Ruby Tuesdays.  It comes with a side of broccoli and mashed potato (my favourites), but the potato is just not like mums – I’ll be desperate for Mum’s mash when I get home.  Sitting at my booth, sipping at my wine, I can feel the ground vibrate whenever the subway train rattles by down below.  I feel tired.  I think all the walking, all the thinking and learning and the humidity are getting to me.  I’m desperate for a sleep in, but can’t seem to make it past 6.30am.  I’ve got a late flight tomorrow and nothing planned for the morning, so fingers crossed I can stock up on sleep before I hit grunge town.

I walk along the streets of Times Square to take in the lights for one last time.  My time here has gone by in a whirlwind and I’ve barely scratched the surface of New York.  I’m so far from home, but I wonder whether life will have another trip to New York in store for me?

City Nights and Bright Lights
City Nights and Bright Lights

A Big Day of Sights in the Big Apple

Day 19:  New York

They are right when they say that New York is the city that never sleeps.  It’s a cacophony of horns and sirens all night long.  But it serves to remind me that I am in Nu Yawk!  So I jump out of bed and head off eager to explore the city which everyone is so sure I will love.

Walking through the streets, I pass the Empire State Building, the Avenue of the Americas, Bryant Park, Magnolia Bakery, Trump Tower – all things I have heard about, but can now visualise.  The streets of New York are easy to navigate, like a huge grid, and there’s so much to see at every turn.  Yellow cabs weaving into and out of traffic, New York police directing traffic, steam rising from the sidewalk grids above the subway….and people everywhere.

It’s a warm day, with quite a sticky tinge to it, but it no less makes for a nice day to explore.  First stop is Rockefeller Centre.

Rockefeller Centre / Top of The Rock Observation Deck

With the country facing economic catastrophe and the world between two wars, John D. Rockefeller’s vision for his centre never wavered.  Rockefeller Center and the observation deck were his gifts to Manhattan- a place for locals and visitors to marvel at the city he loved.

Although Rockefeller spent most of his life engaged in philanthropy, his biggest venture was the creation of the “city within a city” – constructed during the Great Depression’s worst years, the project gainfully employed over 40,000 people.  The Rockefeller Center officially opened in May 1933, and during its first decade, the complex bustled with exciting tenants.  Throughout the 1930’s, Rockefeller Center steadily improved, including some accidental innovations like the Christmas Tree tradition in 1931 and the skating rink in 1936. By 1939, more than 125,000 people were visiting Rockefeller Center daily; on its own, it would have been the 51st largest city in the U.S.

Part of the Rockefeller Center is Radio City Music Hall.  I was surprised to see the line up for Radio City on October 10, because on my flight to the UK, I had watched a documentary called ‘Searching for the Sugar Man”, which was basically about a musician named Rodriguez, who some say was better than Bob Dylan, but whom never achieved any fame in the US at the time, but became a huge star in South Africa.  He was surrounded in mythology until a couple of fans tracked him down.  It was quite a remarkable story, and good to see that American audiences will now get to see what all the fuss was about.

Radio City Music Hall
Radio City Music Hall
View from the Top of the Rock
View from the Top of the Rock

30 Rock

30 Rock was a television comedy created by Tina Fey.  The series’ name refers to 30 Rockefeller Plaza in which the NBC Studios are located.  I became a fan of the show after being introduced to it by my sister and brother-in-law (thank you Leigh & Mike) – so here you go guys – a couple of snaps from the real life place….

Ta da...
Ta da…
...

By the way – Tracy Jordan advertises water on TV.

Central Park

Central Park was the first landscaped public park in the United States.  Advocates of creating the park–primarily wealthy merchants and landowners–admired the public grounds of London and Paris and urged that New York needed a comparable facility to establish its international reputation.  A public park would offer their own families an attractive setting for carriage rides and provide working-class New Yorkers with a healthy alternative to the saloon.  After three years of debate over the park site and cost, in 1853 the state legislature authorized the City of New York to use the power of eminent domain to acquire more than 700 acres of land in the centre of Manhattan.

The people's park
The people’s park
Central Park backdrop
Central Park backdrop

The park is massive.  It goes for miles and include a castle, a zoo, a lake and boathouse and lots and lots of other things.  There are people using every square inch of it – quick sketch stalls, pramercise (not to be confused with prancersize – this one consists of mothers exercising with their prams and not middle aged ladies dancing around with camel toes), kids activity groups, bubble blowers, dancers, cyclists, joggers, musicians…there’s no way I will get to see even half of it.  And I need to get to the Met.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The MET as it’s known more commonly is currently running an exhibition entitled Punk: Chaos to Couture, which showcases the emergence of punk fashion from its beginnings onto the high end fashion runways in the 1970’s.  It was an interesting exhibition, outlining the different types of punk fashion and displaying outfits by designers like Dolce and Gabbana, Alexander McQueen, Junya Watanabe, Helmut Lang, Yohji Yamamoto and Malcolm McLaren to name a few.  There were also t-shirts that were worn by Adam Ant.

The imposing façade of the MET
The imposing façade of the MET
Punk Chaos to Couture
Punk Chaos to Couture

It explored the do-it-yourself, born out of necessity approach that made punk fashion an exciting movement.  It was all about anti-establishment, politics and of course sex.  Throughout, the exhibit referred to back to its most commonly known retrobates, namely Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols, the Clash, Patti Smith and even Blondie.  I hadn’t actually realised myself just how much punk fashion had made it to the runways.  All those safety pins, staples, rips and tears created an inspiring movement and who would have thought it just started because someone’s clothes were torn and they needed a cheap, quick fix!

Tiffany & Co.

Leaving behind my inner punk and now channelling my inner Holly Golightly, I arrive at Tiffany & Co. located at 727 Fifth Avenue, the very store featured in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  Stepping inside, you enter a magical world of glimmering display cabinets filled with coloured previous stones and dripping diamonds.  I would hate to think what some of these pieces sell for, but I buy myself a small gift to commemorate the trip, because let’s face it – it’s just one of those things you have to do in New York.

Standing outside Tiffany & Co
Standing outside Tiffany & Co

Times Square

Times Square is only a few blocks, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in punch.  Whilst, not in its full glory by day, you can see all sorts here.  Superheroes and giant Elmo’s wander the streets, tackling tourists for photos.  Tour bus touts ply you for business on every corner, I even heard an NYPD officer yell at someone in the exact same voice as the officer from the Simpsons!

The Naked Cowboy
The Naked Cowboy

By 1928, some 264 shows were produced in 76 theaters in Times Square, showcasing the new popular culture born of America’s immigrant stew – vaudeville and musicals, jazz and the movies.  Today it remains the busiest theater district in the world, and is also home to MTV, Hard Rock Cafe and Madame Tussaud’s.  But I would say the best things about Times Square are free.

Discovery Times Square

DTS plays host to a number of special exhibitions.  Currently running are The Art of the Brick and Bodies: Pulse, and I want to see both.  Unfortunately, you can’t take photos inside Bodies, which is a real shame, because that stuff is amazing.  These are real bodies, left to science to show the inner workings of, well, your body.  Apart from full body models, there are all sorts of body parts, blood, muscle systems and slices of brain and other parts.  Particularly shocking is the cross section of two legs – one from a smoker and the other a non-smoker – the smoker’s lower leg was just black.  This was repeated in the lungs on display, where the smoker’s lung was soaked in tar all the way through.  It was disgusting.

This is (was) a real body!
This is (was) a real body!

I was luckier with the lego exhibition though and took a heap of photos.  These were absolutely amazing.  This guy has down the rounds of all the talk-show, late night show and news-shows around, showcasing his lego talents.  It’s extremely hard to believe this is all done by normal lego bricks.

Amazing...
Amazing…
This one's for you Leigh!
This one’s for you Leigh!

After lunch at Hard Rock (of course) and a spot of shopping at Macy’s I’m heading home for a nap before heading out tonight (only 20 minutes kip though – don’t worry).

Everyone asks you what show you are going to see on Broadway when you come to New York.  I’m not that huge a fan of all those musicals out there.  I really wanted to see a rock show or some WWE.  But there was nothing of interest until…I logged onto an entertainment guide whilst in Cayman for one last check and came up with something I really wanted to see, and was lucky enough to be able to get a ticket for.  A few years ago, I stumbled across a documentary about the making of a new musical, which was being composed by Damon Albarn (from Blur) and his fellow bandmate Jamie Hewlett (whom together formed part of Gorillaz).  It was a reproduction of Monkey:  Journey to the West and it looked amazing.  But that was years ago and I’d never heard anything about it since, it was obviously a UK thing.  But now, here it was debuting in New York, right during my visit.

I hailed a New York cab in peak hour (thank you very much, not that he had much choice because he was technically dropping off other passengers and hadn’t pulled away from the curb yet) and headed off to the David H Koch Theatre.

Monkey:  Journey to the West

It’s the story about a monkey born from a stone who grows up to realise that he is not immortal and decides he doesn’t like that.  After being encased under a mountain by Buddha for 500 years, the mischievious monkey is released into the protection of a monk in order to guide him on his journey towards enlightenment.

It’s part theatre, part acrobatics, part audio visual light show and the result is fairly amazing.  The entire show is done in Chinese with English subtitles.  Scene 3, which is the Heavenly Peach Banquet is ethereal.  Chinese maidens fly across the stage, their beautifully coloured, flowing gowns flapping gently after them.  The acrobatics in the show is amazing and reminiscent of the acrobatic troupe I saw in Shanghai many years ago.

Entry to the Theatre
Entry to the Theatre
My view for the show
My view for the show

The music was all composed by Damon (who actually went off and studied Chinese music) and Jamie bought the set and costumes to life.  It was the best kind of show to see in New York.

It’s been a long day and my feet are so sore from so much walking.  After a cab ride home, I’m thinking a late night slice of pizza with a couple of glasses of red would top this night off perfectly…