Los Angeles -> San Francisco Road Trip

Los Angeles -> San Francisco Road Trip

One weekend me and my friends decided to drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco, spend one night there and drive back the next day. It was absolutely amazing trip, even though not everything went quite as planned. We found out google lied to us, but we were ok with it. We did so much in these two days, to really take advantage of where we were. Here’s a couple of things we did and what we learned.

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First, we decided to take the PCH and the 101 up. So we drove right along the coast from Santa Monica, to Malibu and Oxnard. Unsurprisingly we were the only people driving up the coast after the “monster storm” that came to LA the day before. And even though it was still raining a little, the view was absolutely amazing and worth it. We had fallen in love with Malibu in the few weeks we have been here, so we enjoyed driving through the town again. The coast is gorgeous and I definitely recommend taking the Pacific Coast Highway for at least this part of the trip.

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Right before we hit Oxnard, we hit a very rural part of California, which actually surprised us. Lots of farms that spanned forever. In Oxnard we got a little lost. We turned off the GPS and assumed we would just continue going straight and we would hit the PCH headed north again. Well, we were wrong. Somehow we ended up heading east through more fields and driving through orange groves. It was gorgeous and worth the extra time. But eventually we turned the GPS back on, now to get on the 101 heading towards Santa Barbara.

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As we drove down the 101 we were constantly in awe. The landscape was surprising to us. We drove through mountains, hills, on cliffs along the coast. It took us a little over 3 hours to get from West Hollywood to Santa Barbara, so the perfect time to stop for a break and some food. Quick suggestion: a small cafe called The Shop Cafe. Amazing brunch food and you get the food pretty quickly, making it a great stop on a long trip. Also the food is AMAZING!

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We hopped back onto the 101 heading north. I don’t know what I imagined the Californian countryside to look like, but I was surprised. The rolling, velvety hills just kept going as we drove north. It was beautiful. Eventually vineyards started popping up and the highway straightened and flattened. At this point we hit a bit of a rough patch. The trip was getting long, we had already driven for 6 hours out of the expected 6.5 and according to Google Maps we had another 3 hours to go. So we ate a lot of snacks and stopped at a rest stop in San Miguel, a really cute town. What also woke us up was a small patch of forest with lots of pine trees, something you would find in the North East.

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After 9 hours, around 4:30pm, we finally hit San Francisco. We parked the car ($45 overnight parking), checked into our hotel, Union Square Plaza Hotel. After 9 hours in the car, we decided to walk to Fisherman’s Wharf. So up, over the hill and down Powell street we went. And when we reached our destination, we were rewarded with a beautiful sunset. We walked along the Wharf popping into different stores. Most importantly we bought a bunch of saltwater taffy, something I have never tried. So worth it, it was amazing! They had many flavours, anything you could think of, from cherry to sangria to pina colada!

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We walked down the road to Ghirardelli Square and started looking for a place to eat dinner. By chance we walked by The Pub BBQ and decided to share a bunch of appetizers and it was an amazing choice. The food was great paired with their drinks, so I definitely recommend! For dessert we went to Ghirardelli and got their famous hot fudge sundaes and sea salt caramel hot chocolate. And it was the best hot chocolate and sundae I have ever had! I will definitely have dreams about them.

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The best part of the trip came next. I finally took the cable car in San Francisco from Fisherman’s Wharf to Market Street! So worth the $7 ticket! It was too cold to hang on to the side of the car, but I will definitely do it in the future! This time we enjoyed the heated cabin.

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The next day we went to one of my favorite brunch places, Honey Honey Cafe and Creperie. Such delicious food and countless options! Just in the line we all changed our mind about what to get three times. One of the reason I like this place so much, other than the food, is that no matter how busy they get, you never feel like they are pressuring you to leave.

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After brunch we found the Painted Ladies, which is a must in San Francisco. They are gorgeous and I would move in, if I could! Naturally, the Fuller House house was next! Another house and neighborhood I loved. So we drove around a little and looked at more houses.

 

Golden Gate Bridge was next. We drove over it, in pouring rain. You could barely see the bridge as we drove over it, but that didn’t matter. We still had the experience and it was great. We drove to Sausalito, which is the most adorable town! There, we stopped for lunch at The Spinnaker, which was quite fancy, but totally worth it. Though the view from the restaurant was non-existent when we got there, soon it stopped raining and the fog cleared up, so we were rewarded with an amazing view of San Francisco! This, of course, meant that when we drove back over the bridge, the experience was even better! The view was beautiful, so we decided to drive through the Presidio, stop for a little and get a few pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge from there.

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After that, it was time to get back onto the highway and head home. We took the I-5 this time, since google promised a shorter amount of time.  Since we drove in the evening and at night, we couldn’t enjoy the view as much. But before it got dark, we got a quick look at Dublin and Pleasanton, where we stopped for gas before the long journey home. They were both really cute towns surrounded by great country. IMG_3904

We ended up getting back to LA at around 11:30pm and decided to get milkshakes as a reward and as a nice cherry on top of the road trip. Mel’s Drive-In was the perfect way to end the road trip, their milkshakes were so delicious as were their fries.


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Apple Picking

It’s the beginning of fall, which in America means it’s prime time for apple picking and other fun fall activities! I’ve never been apple picking and I was told I was definitely missing out on lots of fun. So, on the first fall weekend, we got up bright and early (about 6am) and headed to The Big Apple farm in Wrentham, Massachusetts.

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It was beautiful weather! It was chilly enough so that you could wear a cute plaid outfit (which we all did, of course), but it was also sunny and the orchard just looked gorgeous. We got to the farm a little before 10 and already there were lots of families with little kids running around, picking apples and taking lots and lots of pictures (as we soon did as well).

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We paid for a small bag, which cost $25, and started walking through, looking for our favorite apples. The Big Apple has a beautiful orchard on top  of a hill, so you are also rewarded with an amazing view.

We managed to fill up our bag fairly quickly (and even snacked on some apples there), so we got back into the car to drive down and visit their store. In the store they have ciders, donuts, caramel apples, honey sticks and, of course, other vegetables and more and more apples! I personally tried the caramel apples and the cider, both of which were absolutely delicious! I also heard the donuts are amazing, so I suggest you try those too!

 

That concluded our trip, but there is more you can do at the farm. I saw they offered hayrides, eventually pumpkin picking and maybe even more! My new American experience was a lot of fun and suggest you try it out as well!

 


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Air Canada: the long, long flight

 

Air Canada: the long, long flight

img_0997When I was looking for tickets to get back to Boston I looked at the price and dates, and Air Canada turned out fit my criteria the best. I have never traveled with them before, so I didn’t know what to expect. Well, I was certainly surprised. 

Pre-flight

One thing that surprised me was that I could not check-in online before the flight. I understand that it is probably because of increased security, and even though you usually can’t check into flights to America, it still surprised me. That’s because you couldn’t even choose your seat online. It was a little like stepping back about 10 years, before online check-in and seat selection was an option. At the airport everything was fine. Of course lines were longer at check-in, because everyone had to check-in at the counter, instead of just dropping off their luggage.

At the Prague airport I had my very first experience with the e-gate passport control. I heard horror stories about people getting stuck between the gates, the camera not recognizing their faces and all sorts of other great anecdotes. So, as I was nearing the e-gate, Alena told me she would stand right there and watch as I embarrass myself. So much faith in me… 😀 I managed, without getting stuck and on my first try!   

Flight

The flight itself was fine. It was a 9 hour long day flight, so boredom comes naturally with this. However, boredom hit earlier, faster and harder than usual, but I will talk about that later. There were a couple of turbulences, but nothing the airline can affect. Somehow, I became the translator and the short-flight-connection coordinator/expert, when Czechs all around me started asking me to either translate the safety briefing or customs forms.

The service was nice. Only one flight attendant made me feel like I was bothering her when I asked for the English version of the customs form instead of the French. Other than that, the flight attendants were very nice!

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Gluten-free food is always a bit of a problem. However, I actually had really good chicken on this flight, it wasn’t completely dry and tasteless! Shocking, I know! One thing I don’t understand is why I always get pretzels as a snack at the beginning of the flight. I wish I could get something else to nibble on. Oh well.

In-flight entertainment

Where do I begin. There were no screens. You could rent an iPad from the airline for $10 or download the app. However, if you are going to do something like this, there should be a sufficient amount of warning! Shoot us an email, saying something like “hey, there won’t be any in-flight entertainment, so bring a book or a magazine. Make sure you download the Air Canada app, so you can enjoy some in-flight entertainment. Thank you and goodbye.” But no, instead, halfway through boarding, they announce over the intercoms, hey so if you have internet on your phone or your tablet, download the app for in-flight entertainment. Except guess what, not everyone has internet in their phone, a lot of people are traveling internationally, so naturally they don’t want to pay the extra money on data. And if you are leaving the country, chances are you are out of data! So please, Air Canada, don’t assume, and warn your passengers that the flight isn’t flying in this century and that for the 9 hour flight you will only have your thoughts to distract you.

I wrote half of this article on the plane ride, when I was very bored and a little mad. I was quite happy with Air Canada, but I do wish that for the price of that ticket, I could have had free in-flight entertainment. That might just be me. It is a good airline and I did like this connection! Just make sure you bring things to do!


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South Africa Part 4

This trip was very different from the ones before. In 2012 I went to South Africa with my friends and we tried to make a difference. For the first time, we got to see the real Africa, the small villages, the citizens of which have nothing. The schools in tents and the students that walk four hours to get to those schools, but they are so dedicated, they don’t mind. It was a very different Africa. It was the poor side. The empty side. The type of place where you could drive for hours without meeting anyone at all.

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We chose a school in Ubhevu, and small town in the eastern part of South Africa, because of connections we had to the school. Ladysmith is the closest major town. It is about 20 minutes from Ubhevu.

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As we approached the school we just stared for a little bit, until we remembered the cameras we were holding in our arms. They had three tents and they used a church as classroom space. On the first day there we got to know the head of the school, some of the teachers and some of the students. We found out what they would need the most and what how we could help with the budget we had. To help them, we bought them a fridge, a freezer, paint for the building and sports equipment. The fridge and the freezer was the most important thing we could get for them, because the students at the school were very dependant on the food they served at the school. Their options were limited, since it was usually the director of the school who brought the food in every day, because they had no way to store it there. The sports equipment was a way to bring a little bit of fun to the academic day, since their PE classes were very limited without any equipment. The paint was a way to bond with the students. One of the days we spend just painting their one building and putting the handprints of all of the students and us on the walls to mark our time there.

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On our last day there we gave the best students some gifts to support academia in the school. After a long day of hard work, we walked around their village, met new people and saw some of the houses they lived in. We got to walk with some of the students to the well, where they all had to go each day to get water. They tried to teach us some Zulu, their language.

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This was a very important trip for me, since I got to find out how schooling works in South Africa. I could only help a little bit, but they were so grateful for the little help we could give.

Come back soon for more stories from South Africa!


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South Africa Part 2

My second trip to South Africa was in the summer of 2010. This trip was very similar to the first, because I went to all the same places, Kruger Park and Cape Town. I did get to experience a couple of new things though.

In Cape Town I went to Robben Island, the prison that was used during the Apartheid. Robben island was originally used as a place for Lepers, it isolated the sick from the populated city. So one of the places we saw was the graveyard specifically used during the epidemic. We also saw the prison that was used during the Apartheid. The tour guide used to be a prisoner on Robben Island, so he gave great insight into the recent history of the island, where Nelson Mandela spent 27 years.SA6

In Cape Town we also took advantage of the sunny, cloudless skies and we went up to the top of Table Mountain. We were amazed at the beautiful view from the top. The city spanned below us and we could see all the way from the small township on the outskirts of the city to the rich parts and even the soccer stadium where FIFA was hosted.

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While we were in Cape Town, we also rented a car so that we could go see sights that were slightly more removed. On our way to the Cape of Good Hope we got slightly lost. Instead of getting on the highway that would lead us to the Cape, we drove along the coast, with the ocean on one side and a township on the other. Getting lost actually worked in our favor, because we got to see more of the city and the towns surrounding it. As we drove through the different towns we noticed that they were very Dutch, still maintaining the look the first Dutch settlers brought with them in the 17th century._DSC1742

The Cape of Good Hope is one of those places that is a must see. Definitely go up to the lighthouse, from there you will be able to see the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean meet. From the lighthouse you can clearly see the difference between the two oceans, because of the temperature of the water. And, of course, it is a great place to take pictures! :)

Another trip we took was to some of the wineries in the area, Klein Constatia and Groot Constatia. Both were great and both were just gorgeous. Whether or not you like wine, this makes a great trip, trust me, I was too young to drink when I went! South African wine is delicious, so I definitely recommend going to the wineries!

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Kruger National Park was a very different experience this time around. It was the dry season, which mean fires. Every year, fires take over the Kruger National Park and a large percentage of the land is burned, destroying the natural habitat of thousands of native animals. It was a huge difference to the never ending sea of green that I saw just a few months earlier.

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Kruger Park concluded my trip this time and it was a great way to end it. That was the last time I went to Kruger Park, but I went to so many other interesting places the next time I visited, so come back for more stories from South Africa!


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