Part 2 – San Francisco!

San Francisco

Eeeee, San Francisco! We stayed near Union Square at The Herbert and I’d definitely recommend it. We struggled even more to find somewhere in budget in San Francisco, probably because we left it a little late. Eventually I went through an old newspaper article, googling all the suggestions and The Herbert looked like the best. It was a good choice – pretty basic with a slightly slopey floor and no air-con, but comfortable, friendly and perfectly located. Stepping out the hotel minutes from Union Square was great.

IMG_0390

We found this article helpful for choosing where to stay:

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Travel-g60713-c2838/San-Francisco:California:Union.Square.Vs.Fisherman.S.Wharf.html

Being where we were, we were pretty well set for days of wandering, walking and exploring. Which I think is what I enjoyed most about San Francisco, just stepping out and taking an excessive number of photographs of buildings. And always with a good breakfast to get us started! We went to Sears, because we’d read we should, but really the most unbelievably delicious breakfast was here. It’s small and gets busy so you have to time it right, but our short wait was so worth it. Even if we spent a large portion of the day’s budget on breakfast!

Breakfast for absolute champs

Breakfast for absolute champs

Of course, we did all those things you’re supposed to do – we caught a cable car, wandered around Fisherman’s Wharf and made friends with the sea lions and explored China Town.

We also took a day out to cycle the bridge – DO IT! It was super fun on our comfy bikes and the views were amazing. When we got to Sausalito it was so sunny it felt like being on holiday in the med. Perfect.

(We used Bay City Bike but there’s quite a few companies around Fisherman’s Wharf and there’s probably much it, definitely book online though for a discount even if just the day before).

We also had a delicious dinner with my friend Will here: Le Colonial. The Ca Hap La Chuoi (steamed sea bass, wrapped in banana leaves with noodles, tomatoes and mushrooms) is exceptional. Don’t forget a lychee cocktail!

And lastly, we drank cocktails in The View and watched the sun set. And decided we were moving to San Francisco. Pretty special.

Sunset over San Francisco

Sunset over San Francisco

Next up… Yellowstone!

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America ‘merica!

David and I have recently been on the most amazing holiday. I’ve several motivations for blogging about the trip when I’ve not got around to it for previous holidays (sorry, Iceland). Firstly, everyone’s been asking about it so I feel a tad more justified in indulgently telling all. Plus, I want to. I’m happy to repeat the stories because it makes me remember all the cool things we did. And finally, I found some of the most useful stuff for planning this holiday and others in the past was the blogs and comments that people have written, just like this. So it would be nice to contribute in some way.

So I’m not going to give you a blow by blow account (although I happily will, if you want!), or tell you every single place we ate and everything we did. I’m just going to pick and choose, and share the things that are popping into my head all the time as I think about our holiday. [edit: turns out everything pops into my head so this blog is a lot more comprehensive than planned! I’ve had to split it up…]

The first thing anyone asks is – what was the best bit? I genuinely can’t choose. Yellowstone was everything I hoped for and more. Watching orcas in the Salish Sea was by far the most moving experience. And San Francisco was fabulous. So basically ALL OF IT.

Seattle

We started our adventure in Seattle. The best bits:

Pike Place Market – yes, it is chock full of tourists. Hoards of them posing outside Starbucks. For someone who struggles with crowds, it did get a bit overwhelming. But we still really enjoyed exploring and our various foodie discoveries:

Breakfast – Le Panier

Snack time – Piroshky Piroshky

Lunch (nicest, sandwiches, ever) – Michou

The first evening, we ate here on recommendation and it was delicious.

Another night we drank cheap margaritas and I learnt that my husband (partner of 7+ years) doesn’t really like tequila. The nachos were fairly standard, but the tacos were delicious! They literally make tacos from any meat going – duck, pork, cod, rabbit, beef cheek. Go go go!

Whale watching. Unbelievable. We organised our trip through Clipper Vacations because they were the only operator that left from downtown Seattle with a lunch break in Friday Harbor. It was a long day, and when we went for dinner we were a bit off balance being back on dry land (and not because of the margaritas!) Completely worth it though.

Beneath the Streets – a great way to spend an hour or two, particularly for history / architecture types.

Obviously we did the Space Needle – we booked online via the app all of an hour or so before we went and it was completely worth it given the queues. It was much more fun than I anticipated with some super views.

Space Needle

The Space Needle

View from the Space Needle

View from the Space Needle

Where to stay?

Finding accommodation for the whole trip was tricky, we wanted somewhere reasonably nice and fairly central for both cities because we only had a couple of days in each but were still on a budget. When we got to searching, it became obvious that the cheapest option is to go for shared bathroom facilities but we decided that balancing budget with having the best experience we could meant spending a little more for our own bathroom. After a bit of digging and reading lots of reviews, we went for Hotel Max. For both Seattle and San Francisco we found the best deal going direct via the hotel website.

Image: Hotel Max

Image: Hotel Max

Decor and helpfulness was superb but our first room was SO. NOISY. They did move us with no trouble, but we heard a guy next to us getting checked into our old room and I wondered how often they have that problem. Still, location was perfect and David appreciated free Craft Beer hour! All the little quirks add up to a great place for a city break, including the mini bar credits you get for forgoing housekeeping!

Next up… San Francisco

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All we can control is how we choose to show up

Today is a Tuesday, which means it’s a yoga day. It takes a lot to get me to go back out when I’ve got in from work, particularly when there’s snow on the ground, but I’ve pretty much spent all day looking forward to it.

Today our fabulous teacher was focusing on how we deal with stress, how we can choose not get stressed in different situations, how to focus, how to be calm, how to deal. Whatever crazy new pose she threw at us, we breathed, we considered, and then we did what we could.

Probably one of my favourite things about yoga is how often in every single class, Laura starts or ends a sentence with “it’s okay.” When I first tried it, not really sure whether it was going to be for me but to be perfectly honest, feeling like I’d try anything to feel a bit more levelled out, I remember really clearly lying on my mat and Laura telling us that it was okay if we couldn’t do much more than that, we’d showed up, maybe that was all our body could offer us today, but another day we’d be able to do more. It is OKAY. Just taking an hour out of the day is an achievement sometimes.

Although there’s always a focus, a theme, to the sessions, I tend to take away my own lessons, maybe depending on what I’m battling with. Sometimes it’s acknowledging what I can do, when I’m tired, when I should try a bit harder, sometimes it’s being open to new ideas, it’s taking control, doing poses to strengthen my back instead of berating my body, not comparing myself to others around me, or judging, or worrying what I look like.

There’s a lot of take-aways there.

I was expecting today to be me making peace with my rubbish hips, because of the positions we were doing and the fact that I know my legs just don’t have the strength or flexibility for me to do what the others do and it normally frustrates the hell out of me. But no, today was about:

1. Live and let live = do not glare at the heavy-breather man for being distracting, doing his own thing, and breathing heavily and enthusiastically on his special mat. Okay, maybe a couple of times the irritation crept in, I’m sure you can hear it in my words, but I tried. I focused. And I’m sure I’ll be reminded of it next time I want to sigh at someone for doing things differently to how I would do them.

2. Be present = do not look at the clock. I only did once today, and trust me, that’s an achievement. I annoy myself with it, because it’s not like I’m bored or want to leave. It’s just a combination of normally being very aware of the time, how much time is left, and wanting to get home to my husband, my dinner, my warm house. This is one of my constant battles, and I enjoy class the absolute most when I’m so involved I don’t sneak a glance. (Note to self: maybe position myself somewhere other than my usual corner, where I’m not directly opposite the clock?)

3. Switch off. This is a big one of yoga. One of the reasons I enjoy it, as I explained to a colleague the other day, is that I get an hour where I’m so focused on what I’m trying to make my body do, that I forget to worry about our heating, or tomorrow’s meeting, or the damaged sofa. It’s not hard because you’re literally too busy doing something else. But when you slow down, rest, take a moment, then it can be hard. But it’s not just switching off mentally, it’s also quite nice to put. the. phone. away. I’m using it seconds before class, and the minute I step out. I was even looking forward to not having it on me for an hour today! As if only by going to yoga can I disconnect! Silly fool, I can turn it off WHENEVER I WANT. It’s ironic, because I can actually be a bit useless with it, I forget it or leave it on silent and then tend to start spouting my well-practised “why do people think they have the right to get hold of me whenever they want?” speech. I used to say this ALL THE TIME. I think I need to take a step back from the phone. And spend more time on my mat.

Also, I completely stole my title from my yoga teacher. I know she won’t mind.

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Everything I Never Told You

I’ve been trying to think of a way to write about all of these books. I’ve made a list, accidentally lost said list (I thought WordPress autosaved, what happened there?!), and trawled my inbox and bookshelves to remind me of those books I won, got given, bought on a whim. But what now? The best place to start, feels to be the book I finished most recently. Not only because it’s fresh in mind, but because this one really made me want to talk. I’ve had the first line of the following post going round in my head since a third of the way through, although I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

Everything I Never Told You
Celeste Ng

November 2014 | Blackfriars

November 2014 | Blackfriars

This book is full of loneliness. It seeps out, slowly to start with, and then you can’t really avoid it as you get swept up, or away, in Everything I Never Told You.

Firstly, let’s start with the fact that this book looks great. Really great. Super job, Blackfriars. It’s one of those where I knew it was on my to read list, but by the time I got around to purchasing it I couldn’t actually remember why it was there. Because it wasn’t just the story that pulled me in. I think I heard about it, I was interested, it was doing the rounds internally at work before I left Hachette towers, it looked fab, even the title is my kind of title. The kind of one liner I’d have used for my MSN name back in the day.

So, I went for it. The first thing I noticed was the endorsement used on the front: “This ghostly novel calls to mind The Lovely Bones.” Which put me off, a little. Not that I didn’t think The Lovely Bones was excellent, I just wasn’t taken with the “ghostly” concept, and “calls to mind” suggests it evokes something else, but maybe doesn’t stand on its own. To me, anyhow. From reading the blurb, I was expecting a book about people, about a family, about fitting in, or not, and about the weight of everyone else’s choices. And that’s what I got.

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

This is how Celeste Ng starts her debut novel. And I’ll be honest, it doesn’t really brighten up from here. There are moments of love, and happiness, but they don’t seem to matter. There were times, scenes, comments, that really made me flinch. I know people do and say terrible things sometimes, and it’s like not I only ever read chirpy, fluffy stories, but it cut to the quick. I think Ng is brave and I think it must have taken some strength to write. Everyone has their own fears and concerns, but I think loneliness is all pervading. It tugs at the heartstrings, and made me shuffle over to be a little closer to my husband as I read.

As the story unfolds, you learn more about Lydia, her siblings, her parents and the circumstances that have lead to them living in small-town Ohio, hearing the news that their daughter’s body has been discovered in the local lake. The beauty’s in the detail, and the way that Ng unveils her characters; actions do speak louder than words. I was driven to keep reading, not primarily because I wanted to find out what happened to Lydia, it almost didn’t matter, but just to know more.

So I kept going, even though at a basic level, this book made me sad. Not in a ‘have a good cry’ kind of way, either. I found it confrontational. And that’s probably no bad thing. The issues Ng confronts – race, ambition, success, feminism, ethnicity, marriage, family, are real and can be difficult and upsetting; challenging; inspiring; and isolating. Ng develops a varied cast, and all with insight and sensitivity.

It’s not a long novel, but it’s a massive read. Plus, it’ll look wonderful on your bedside table.

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There’s a hashtag for that #CantLiveWithoutBooks

So, as we’ve established, I’ve got an awful lot of books to fill you in on. 30+ in fact. I seem to be getting through them quicker and quicker. Books are ever present. In every form. I read my kindle, I click & collect from Waterstones, and I listen to audiobooks as I go for a walk at lunch. The one thing that assembling my list of books from the latter part of 2014 has done, is that it’s made me think maybe I get through them a little too easily. Partly I write my succinct reviews because that’s what I’m like, I’m more likely to throw you a one liner in real life than talk you through it, and if I do, you know it’s really caught my attention. But also, sometimes, I can’t entirely remember them. Even the ones I know I enjoyed. They merge and blur with getting on the train, finding my seat, and trying not to nod off. So, whilst I always want to read more and more, I’m also going to try and be patient. And maybe in doing so, I might find the space to write a few more reviews. It’s easier to do when you’re not halfway through the next story.

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London? Done

So, earlier this year I got myself a new job. A London job. I bought my extortionately priced season ticket, embraced being at the station before 7am, and commenced. Friends and family know I’ve never been a London fan, happy to work there / could never live there kind of approach. And *spoiler alert*, now I no longer work there, I pretty much proved myself right. Except I loved working there way more than I thought – I liked the pace, I liked the multitude of options for breakfast (take 2) and lunch, I met some of the best people and explored and adventured more than I would have done if I hadn’t been in the City. The whole work thing is kind of complicated, but it was only when I came to leave that I wished I’d have made the move sooner. I got to enjoy the commute, I developed a taste for Franco Mancas, I liked my lunch hour wandering Bloomsbury, and I will absolutely miss those evenings when I ended up sticking around for something or other and walking back along the South Bank. I thought I’d have a lot more to say on the subject, but I’ve got a ridiculous amount of books to blog about, so I’ll leave it there. But I do miss my friends. And Pret.

David and I did the National Literary Trust book trails in August - London + books = win.

David and I did the National Literary Trust book trails in August – London + books = win.

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Contemplation and enthusiasm. Ambition and strong coffee. Words and words and words.

So I joined the party, a little late, probably, and read We Were Liars.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart; 2014

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart; 2014

I was worried it would be too quick a read, as in its physical form it looked a little slim. But it held its own, and I didn’t feel it was missing anything by the time I’d got through it. It even took me longer than expected – in that it took me a while to get it into it, and then “post-twist” I found myself racing through. There is, of course, a massive plot twist – as you’ll know if you’ve read any of the hype before you pick up the book. I really do think it would be thoroughly spoiled if you knew what was coming, but I’m also looking forward to reading it again from a fully informed perspective.

So, the book. It is, as you’d expect, very good. It’s a weird one though, if you’ve read any of the reviews floating around, and there are many, there are a lot of people declaring it the best book they’ve ever read, and others who can’t wait to list their criticisms (some of which are so obviously a knee-jerk reaction to the praise it’s getting, it’s laughable). This is one of those books where I can read both the positive and negative comments and think “hmm, I can see their point.” Which leaves me slightly unsettled. What I mean is…

“The writing style irritated me.” Well, yes, I can see how it might. But actually, for me that was a big plus point. Because she writes how I write. All lists and twisty sentences and inference.

“I saw the twist coming.” I didn’t. Maybe I’m just not very observant, or maybe I don’t read enough books like this to have a catalogue of possible endings in my head. But maybe it was careering somewhat too obviously towards a conclusion. Maybe.

“The characters are clichés of themselves.” True, I think. But it’s a novel. A work of fiction. And I quite liked that. Because people can be contemplation and enthusiasm. Ambition and strong coffee. And maybe if you were reading another type of book, from another type of author, you’d find out a bit more depth. But maybe, that tells you all you need to know? (Have you read my twitter bio? Hopeful, organised and often hungry. I was always going to like E. Lockhart’s style).

“The best book I’ve ever read. Not just the best YA book, the best book. Ever. Of all books ever.” Or similar. I think what these reviewers are trying to say, is they love it. And I did, too. But I don’t think it’s the best thing ever written. It’s new (literally and in terms of the content) and I think that helps. It’s original. And it definitely has a place in top YA lists. But let’s not get carried away.

“It’s heartbreaking”. It is. In a way. I didn’t sob the way I did when I read The Fault in Our Stars. But then some people I know didn’t sob when they read that, so let’s face it, it’s entirely subjective. But I did get to the end and feel battered and not a little distressed. Because under the style and the panache of this book, is a plot line that when you let your imagination get involved, will really get under your skin.

 

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