Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Trip to New York

Our trip to New York was great! We went for three nights and three and a half days. It was me, Anna, Carlos, Martin, and Veronique. New Zealand, Ukraine, Spain, and Germany (x2) :D We had a tight schedule, so we mostly just saw the greatest things in Manhattan.

Overall feeling of New York. It is a very diverse city. There is a lot of old and historical architecture mixed with the huge skyscrapers. There are a lot of parks, even in downtown. I was very surprised by the amount of trees and generally green and space around there. It's a contrast to San Francisco downtown for sure. It is also much bigger than San Francisco and much cleaner than I expected. If only they maintained the subways properly/better and got the homeless people who trade in souveneers on every corner....

I liked the subway, because we could get to anywhere we wanted in a reasonable time. It's a very comprehensible system of tracks. We bought a seven day pass that got us free access to all subways and regular buses in NY. It saved us a lot of money!

We took an overnight flight on Friday and arrived in NY at around 7. We dropped off our bags at the hotel in Brooklyn. We had to leave them in the lobby but the receptionist told us it's ok, but he "is not liable for anything". The hotel itself was much better than expected. Everything was neat, tidy, and new. We were also just a few meters from the subway.

Day one, Saturday. All day it rained so we decided to make it a day of museums. We saw the Metropolitan museum and the National Museum of Natural History. We tried going to the Guggenheim, but it was closed at 6 pm. We also did not get to see the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). For most of us it was enough of museums for that day and the rest of the trip. Luckily the next two and a half days were sunny (but cold, around 10 degrees celsius and down to 3 at night! it was warmer on Tuesday though..).

Day two, Sunday. Walked through Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan downtown, wall street, Twin Towers memorial. Staten Island ferry. China town. Little Italy. Musical Chicago on Broadway. World's best cheesecake. Search for clubs, bars, and roof bars was unsuccessful.

Day three, Monday. After a late night we left the hotel only at 9.30 in the morning. The first destination was the Empire State Buildig. It opened at 10, but when we arrived at 10.30 the lines everywhere, outside, inside to the tickets, inside to the lifts were huge. We spent around one hour in those lines. It wasn't that long. The view from the 86th floor is awesome. It is an open space viewing area. See photos. After that we set out to see the Grand Central train station.

Day four, Tuesday. Central park. Ice skating rink. Nice barbeque place in Times Square.

Our flight was at 18.00. After the barbeque we set out at 16.00. Unluckily for us the subway wasn't functioning well so at 17.20 we were at the point from where it would have taken us at leat 50 minutes more to get to the airport. We got out of the subway and took a taxi, which took only 15 minutes. We were at the airport 15 min before the flight and were in sitting inside the plane five minutes before take off! It was a lucky break for us, very lucky.

In the news on the plane we saw that one hour later there was a breach in security at the JFK airport, where we flew from. Someone was discovered to be walking inside who did not go through the security check. Two terminals with almost 2000 people was evacuated and 18 flights were cancelled or delayed for at least 2 hours. While in we were in the air, there was also a 5.6 earthquake in San Jose. People said it was relatively a big one --- you could definitely feel the shaking! So, it was crazy day, but everything turned our way and we made it home!

Friday, September 7, 2007

Scenic train trip to Denver, Colorado

The trip was AWESOME!

I didn't get into too much detail here. Pictures speak louder than words...

Our trip took place over the the Labour long weekend, Saturday 1 September to Monday 3 September. It was six of us --- me, Anna, Ben, Carlos, Brendan, and Tina.

On Saturday at 4.30 in the morning we set out to Oakland (close to SF), where the train station is, in a rental car. The train was leaving at 7.10, but we decided to have an extra hour just in case (it's around 1 hour drive from where we live).

We arrived but the garage gate was locked -- the still grid was down, and we wondered how we would drop off the car. There was a guy in the same situation there already and he already called up security. They came shortly and opened the gate for us. The train station was only a few meters away so it was no hassle to walk over there.

The train trip itself was great. We traveled in a sleeping car with two person cabins, which was great! There was a dining carriage, where we had food three times a day (included in the price too ;)). Past the dining carriage there was also a scenic carriage with non-tinted windows which were on the roof also. Basically we didn't move that much, ate a lot of American food (I think there is a cheesecake shot in the photos), and slept (but not that well, at least on my part).

We arrived into Denver around 21.30. Walked a couple of miles to our motel and decided to go out to the downtown (city center) for beer in a bar. It wasn't too bad, but I was pretty tired and was glad to return to the motel room. Ben and Carlos stayed to check out another club and came back an hour later.

The next day we walked around and rode around on Denver's free mall bus (no cars are allowed in the very heart of the centre). There was some kind of food festival going on. So we checked it out. I tried some deep fried alligator meet, but it tasted like chicken to me. I was a bit disappointed with it, to be honest :( Basically the rest, just have a look at the photos. The weather was great, so we lucked out on that front for sure---both on the train and in Denver.

Most places, such as museums were closed (it was a Monday and a holiday after all).

One more thing worth mentioning is that on the way back in from the plane we saw a huge fire, or a lot of smoke to be more precise. The whole bay area (SF to SJ) was suffering from the smoke particles for over a week later. Apparently 100s of acres of land burnt somewhere a few 10s of miles south of my work. In the mornings I could see that everything was blue and you could smell it... not that great for your lungs I would think. When I was leaving work on one of the days the sun was out, but it was red-brown... that's how thick the atmosphere was... It's all fine now though. Here is the story in the local news.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Trip to Los Angeles 26-28 May, 2007

I won't go into too much detail, only as much as time permits. A lot of things you can see from my general pictures on flickr. I have added some previous photos from San Francisco, Bay to Breakers, and modified/added more to Santa Cruz beach party photos. So check out everything. It might take a while, but you can skip whatever you want, or just sit back and watch the slideshow :) This particular trip is in this collection. Also there's some description on almost every set and the titles of some photos are commenting on what's happening. Unfortunately flickr does not allow to upload videos. So I'm still using my webshots account for that. The videos, all from day two of the trip are here. This includes the exclusive video of Torsten flipping his hair at the Whisky a Go Go club. (I got the camera only several days ago, so I didn't find the option to change video quality. The vids are 320x240 15fps. Now I found the option and from now on I'll be taking high quality 640x480 30 fps video clips).

Ok, here it goes. For this trip we hired a car as is the custom here. Peace of mind if anything breaks and the size of the car needs to be large for such a long trip and four people. It was me, Ben, Carlos, and Torsten. As usual the rental car agency gave us a bit of a headache. It was amusing how incompetent they were. All it was, they were not applying the IBM corporate rate for the car so it was almost twice as expensive (even though I've booked everything over the phone four days in advance). Anyway, instead of our planned 1600 leaving time, we set out around 1730. The drivers were Ben and me, everyone else could not be added as a secondary driver due to them being under 25. Anyway, it took us eight hours to get to our Motel as we got into a nasty traffic jam just outside San Jose. I slept or at least tried to sleep most of that trip in the back.

I don't know what I was thinking, maybe because Torsten smokes, but I booked a smoking room at the motel.... Somehow we got to sleep, but only because it was nearly two in the morning. Everything smelt like smoke. I changed the room as soon as I woke up the next morning.

Day 1

Day one was Hollywood boulevard with the Walk of fame. Then Beverly Hills, followed by us trying to see the Hollywood sign from a mountain opposite it, but the smog was too thick. Lastly we tried to go out to bars/clubs in Santa Monica beach.

Hollywood boulevard was a let down. The area looks like it hasn't been touched since at least 1970s. It's literally the Ghetto. Walk of fame was better, at least someone cleans the paving stones. A lot of famous and surprising people got a star there (see photos).

Beverly Hills was everything we expected including the fact that we saw trees instead of celebrity houses. Saw a white long hummer limo outside Playboy Mansion. Someone even told us there was a party there that night. Somehow I don't think old Hue had us on the VIP list though...

Looked for a couple of hours how to get to the mountain that overlooks the Hollywood sign. In the end we were too late (around 1830) and the smog became too thick.

In between Beverly Hills and going out we went to some area of Sunset (I think) boulevard that was actually a gay area ( you can see the gay cruises ad on photos). We ate at some Italian grill place and noticed a lot guys holding each others hands and other "unusual" activities. Only then we realised where we were... Oh well, a new experience :)

Santa Monica beach proved nothing new in terms of night life. Same old stuff... bars shut very early, some at 1 (if you remember in California the law prohibits sale of alcohol past 1.30 in the morning). We wondered into one bar after waiting for about 20 minutes at least. Nothing spectacular. Wasn't even worth a picture.

Day 2

Downtown LA was great, followed by the Community Center which held the 30 years to Star wars celebration. We finished our day with going to Malibu beach. At night we went out to some clubs on Sunset Blvd.

Downtown LA has magnificent architecture. I think it is far better than San Francisco. There are so many different style buildings and so many abstract art compositions. I don't think I've ever seen this kind of thing in such a large scale. If you are in LA, definitely check out the downtown (but only before 4 pm -- it becomes dangerous after that :)) Other dangerous parts of LA is Eastern and Southern LA.. the guides and the policeman, whom we asked for directions, all said to avoid these...

Star wars celebration was on that day (Sunday, 27 May 2007). We saw some dressed up fans, but not that many. You needed to go inside the Community Center to see everything. The entrance fee was $45 per person so we decided against it :O

Malibu beach was so so. It wasn't that warm and it wasn't very spectacular. Saw some surfers, some girls, the pier. Afterwards we went to the university that's located very near the beach, overlooking the harbour. Very cool to study here for sure!

In the evening we first decided to have the real American experience dinner at International House of Pancakes (IHOP). Of course, we all ate far too much. There is a picture of Carlos showing how full he is... Went out to first Whisky (a) Go Go club where there was live music (I have a short video, see link at the beginning). The club is one of the most famous ones. A few celebrities came there for a whisky -- there is a celebrity wall, which didn't come out on the photo. Saddle Ranch was our last stop. It was fun watching people fall off the mechanical bull. I've never seen that live before (see videos again). All in all not a bad night. There was an idea to go to a crowded strip club (as they are open later than bars). But decided to leave it until I/we get to Las Vegas :D

Day 3

Queen Mary ship and Russian submarine inside, followed by Venice-Muscle beach where a body building competition was going on.

Queen Mary is a ship built shortly after Titanic. It is bigger than Titanic. We didn't go inside as it was expensive in terms of money and time. Russian submarine, called Scorpion, was fun. It was build in the 1970s. It's a small diesel submarine that magically could hold over 70 crew members inside!

Muscle beach was great fun. First the beach is great, very wide --- basically Bay Watch kind of beach. Not that many people as the water was still about 16 degrees. The bodybuilding competition was the best thing. Even though I couldn't actually see much (or take many pics) it was cool. Got some free stuff, bought a muscle beach t-shirt. The best thing was (as I discovered a little later) that Ms Fittness America signed me a couple of her pictures :) And no, she's not a deep voiced mutated female bodybuilder. She looks like a (very very nice looking) model. You can check her out here. Anyway, the Californian atmosphere was finally present!

Journey back was uneventful. A large drink of coke at McDonald's and another stop in the middle of nowhere, that's all there was to it.

Friday, May 25, 2007

More Santa Cruz BBQ photos (I'm in it this time)

Here is where I got the photos from (Kristie, flatmate, took them):

I got the best pics out of there and posted them on my webshots

(Soon I'll start using Flickr instead of webshots)

Check out these, done by Sebastian
Santa Cruz beach party
Bay to Breakers in SF

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

More pics from Santa cruz beach party and Bay to Breakers Masquarade

Pictures from Timo... Have a look. I'm on several of them... somewhere

Mount Hamilton
Wasn't there that time, but cool pics

Santa Cruz
Had barbeque, played volleyball, and had a bonfire with some guitar songs (I tried to sing some but failed miserably, of course. Luckily Daniela could actually sing...). Got kicked out at 2200 --- always the case.

Bay to Breakers
This was Sunday, 20 May. Meant to be a run at 8 am, but it evolved into this dress up drinking carnival. Awesome atmosphere.. music pumping on the streets of San Francisco... 7 miles of this walk.

Some test photos from new camera

Here is the new album
This is photos of our house, my car, frosty, Wednesday soccer. I'm just starting so some photos didn't come out as good.

As usual, you can see all my public photos here:

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Trip to Monterey/Pebble beach/Carmel

Hired a car for the day so it is big enough for five people and for safety/peace of mind. Was a fun trip. Here are some photos (done by Markus, whose 2.5 week visit ended this Monday, 7 May and he is gone back to Dublin, Ireland --- he works there, but he is German)
Again, all my public photos can be seen here

Maybe will add some more to this, but not very likely. Enjoy the photos! By the way, I think the camera was in some weird mode, so photos look grainy and washed out. But still, it gives you and idea.

Here is more or less our itinerary.