California: San Francisco Day 5 and 6

You can definitely feel the difference between Southern and Northen California. San Francisco is a bit chillier and it was really cloudy once we got there.

The flight between LA and San Francisco is really short. By the time you go up and you have to land again.

San Francisco, just like LA is really easy to get around using Uber/Lyft. The difference here is that public transport seems more convenient and accessible. One ticket is $2.5 and you can board another bus/street car up to 2.5 hours afterwards.

There is also SF BART which will cost you around $8 from the airport to Powell St.

After we arrived we headed downtown to find something for breakfast. As expected most places have lineups so keep that in mind. Brunch is a big thing apparently in SF.

This trip was a lot less structured due to not having enough time to plan and the shortness of our stay. 20170327_105731-2.jpgFrom Powell St once you’re out and the Cable Car is pretty much the first thing you see. It’s a huge attraction and always have a large crowd waiting to go for a ride. Tickets are $7 per person and are sold nearby.

We got on a street car and headed to Pier 1 since we had tickets to Alcatraz later on. Pier one is full of small markets where you can buy coffee, a snack, bread, cheese, honey, and other foods. Your stay in there would most likely depend on your budget.

Pier 39 and Alcatraz

This was our first big event for the day. I don’t think I need to explain what Alcatraz Island really is. It is amazing how they managed to turn a prison into a huge tourist attraction that brings so much money.

SAM_9964-2.jpgI think the best place to buy tickets is from http://www.alcatrazcruises.com. Not trying to advertise or anything but they’re the ones that actually sail to the island and not just around it. For $35 you get 2 way ferry ride plus audi tour of the cell block. I have to say it’s totally worth it. There is a boat schedule all over the island so you can plan to stay as much or as little as you’d like. Once you land there’s a bit of a walk until you reach the cells.

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The place is still pretty accessible since you can get a small bus/train that goes from the landing all the way up. Once inside, you get your audio tour and you’re on your way. The tour last 45 minutes and it’s pretty interactive.

There are also other events happening on the island which unfortunately didn’t have time to explore.

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The last boat departs Alcatraz at 5:30PM so after everything we had dinner in a Thai restaurant in a sketchy neighborhood and called it a day.

Next Day

We began the day boarding the cable car to the Fisherman’s Wharf.

20170327_115025-2.jpgThe ride is real fun. Obviously you can get to the pier much cheaper with streetcar but I don’t know if you can experience such a ride anywhere else. It takes probably 45 minutes to its final destination. You can see Alcatraz from there as well.

Once at the pier there are plenty of things to do. 20170327_120002-2.jpgOne of those things was Hyde St Pier where you can go aboard those ships but I wasn’t really excited to see those. Not to mention the Maritime Museum in San Diego is probably much better for pretty much the same price.

There are also a lot of places where you can rent a bike, scooter or other means to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. Sadly we couldn’t do any of those so we headed back to Pier One.

From Pier one we walked around and grabbed a fairly long streetcar ride to Twin Peaks.

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There’s not really much to do there but if you want to get the best view of San Francisco this is it! Plenty of tourists here.

Looking back I don’t think we were explore most of San Francisco but we were happy with everything we saw.
Definitely wanted to check Golden Gate Park or walk across the bridge itself. Another time maybe.

In the meantime if you ever fly from San Francisco through JFK make sure you have enough time to transfer flights. We had one hour so due to delay we spent 12 more hours flying through Salt Lake City and Boston.

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California: Los Angeles Day 4

Time certainly flies when you’re having fun.

This was our last day in LA and there were still things to see so we had to prioritize.

First stop: Griffith Observatory

I picked the observatory since it was the closest to where we were staying. Plus the place is quite popular, have an awesome view of the city and the Hollywood sign.

Getting there is a breeze, but parking not so much. Good advice is if you go before 10AM, even if you pay for 1 hour parking you can stay until 11AM. So I’d suggest going at 9, look around and spend the rest of the time inside the observatory. There’s a lot to see inside. If you go at night you can even see the stars.

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Second Stop: Little Tokyo

That’s where we had to part with our vehicle and continue on foot. Little Tokyo as you can imagine is the place to get japanese food and sweets. It’s a tiny gem in the heart of downtown.

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Third stop: Hollywood

You can’t say you’ve been to LA if you don’t visit Hollywood. The place isn’t anything spectacular but it’s just something you have to see. We saw plenty of names on the walk of fame including this:20170325_163956.jpg

Also visited Madame Tussauds museum. You can skip it if you’re not dying to take selfis with celeb statues. I wasn’t too disappointed considering we paid $15 for going after 4PM.

The ticket also includes Marvel Heroes 4D which is the cheesiest thing I’ve ever seen. It has water splashing in your face which is rather annoying and your chair moves from time to time. You can really skip that.

Hollywood blvd itself is crowded and here and there you can see Spiderman, Superman, Batman, and even Zorro. There were also 2 Michael Jacksons waiting to take a picture.

While everything was fun it’s nothing spectacular.

The next day we had to leave really early in the morning to San Francisco so that was all for LA.

California: San Diego Day 3

The next day we had to leave early since it’s a 2+ hour drive to San Diego. As usual traffic starts to get busy early in the morning in LA and we definitely wanted to escape further delays.

Best way to get there is to drive down highway 405 and then take highway 5(not sure if they classify them as highway or freeway exactly down there). Almost got on highway 73 which is a toll route. Avoid if you don’t want to pay. It’s not like you’ll be driving on a bad road if you take the free one.

First stop: La Jolla

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This gorgeous beach is characterized by fairly long walkway along the beach and sea lions/seals. I couldn’t quite distinguish between both. I think everything we saw was sea lions but I might be wrong.

Finding a parking is tricky. There’s plenty of spaces and plenty of vehicles. We found a parking spot a bit far but it wasn’t too bad. Parking is free.

Over there you can walk, run, sit, watch the seals, and obviously take pictures. While it is a touristy area there are no snacks or anything to find around. Plenty of restaurants in the area but it’s a fairly rich area so expect to pay good money for your meal. It was already 10:30AM when we got there so after a bit of exploration we headed to Old Town San Diego

Second stop: Old Town

We had sushi for lunch. Not the most typical food to find in a place called “old town” but it wasn’t even my choice. Old town is a funny place that, as you can imagine, looks like an old town. It’s more to capture tourists attention and not really an authentic place. Didn’t spend much time after lunch since I wanted to catch the USS Midway before it closed.

Third stop: USS Midway

This is a must see for anyone even remotely interested in ships, history, aviation and the military. I spent 2 hours exploring and this wasn’t anywhere near enough to see the whole thing. The ship is split into 2 main areas: the top deck is full of planes, helicopters and occasionally a few vets telling their stories which are quite interesting. The lower part of the ship is where the kitchens, engineering, telecommunications, and everything else that supported the mission was located. I don’t want to go into details cause there is really a lot to see. You also get an audio tour included so you can listen to stories and aircraft descriptions. There are certain things that you have to wait for so I’d suggest go for those first thing you get on the ship.SAM_9863-2.jpgSAM_9867-2.jpg

A little note on getting there: parking is $10 flat, but you can park around for much cheaper. I found a spot right across from the ship for $2 for 2 hours.

Fourth stop: Balboa Park

Now this was really a surprise. While I expected a nice park this surpassed all my expectations. It is surrounded by so many things to do. There’s a bunch of museums, restaurants, a church, and a botanical garden. This alone can take you almost a whole day to explore. The park itself is big. North of the main area is the San Diego Zoo which we didn’t have time to visit. Considering it’s not something unique to San Diego I guess you could skip it.

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Last Stop: Sunset Cliffs

We wanted to see the sunset. Unfortunately traffic wasn’t our ally. We went a bit too late. Didn’t make the view less impressive though. But considering we had to drive back to LA we didn’t spend a lot of time there. Also, it was getting a bit chilly.

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Don’t feel stressed if you have to drive at night. Highways in California are fairly bright. Be advised that we encountered a police checkpoint along the way. It’s a really weird thing to someone coming from Canada.

 

California: Los Angeles Day 1 and 2

Haven’t posted anything in a very long time but this is definitely a trip worth mentioning! It was my first time going to Los Angeles and I have to say it took quite a bit of planning in order to get everything right in such a short amount of time. I had only a week so there were many places I needed to skip, and a few I actually forgot to go to. This is by no means a complete guide of what to see if you go there but more like realistically what to expect on your trip.

20170326_071520.jpgThe flight from Halifax to New York wasn’t anything memorable other than the fact I couldn’t tell much of what the flight attendants’ were saying since they had a pretty thick Caribbean accent and for some reason they didn’t know where we were actually going. Our flight was at 6AM and customs open at 5AM. There might be a bit of a wait but at no point do you have to rush to catch your flight.

The Flight from New York to LA was longer and significantly better. It is good to notice Delta serves delicious snacks and Starbucks Coffee! There is even breakfast on flights from NY to SF/LA! Since Delta operates from one terminal we had to catch a small shuttle bus to our gate. Maybe we could have walked but staff directed us to the bus and it didn’t take us a lot to reach our next departure point.

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The best way to move anywhere from Los Angeles airport is to get either Lyft or Uber. It costs $9.75 per person to use the flyaway bus to Union station. We ended up paying less than $18 for Uber share from the airport to our destination in Korea Town.

After that point, we realized using Lyft is cheaper than getting the subway for short distances.

We took a rental car from a company called Sakura Rent-A-Car which doesn’t sound very familiar, but managed to get this beauty for a really decent price! 20170322_223346611_iOS.jpg

If you’re renting a car you’re better off doing it downtown. You’ll probably get a better price and avoid paying those weird airport taxes.

At that point it was already past 3PM so we didn’t have much time to waste. A word of advice: traffic in LA is really bad! Expect huge delays on the highway. Keep in mind that some highways have tolls so do some research before driving anywhere!

The Grove

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The grove is probably one of the trendiest outdoor malls in LA. Even heard plenty of celebs hang around there from time to time. It is not exactly big but it is certainly charming and attracts large crowds(with money). Next to the Grove, there is a farmers’ market which has a lot of foods to try. Cannot comment on the quality of the food they were selling, but it is probably worth trying a bite or two in the area. Parking is $4 per 1.5 hours and there is plenty of spaces. We didn’t spend more than 2 hours overall but it all depends on how much you’re willing to spend on shopping.

Being exhausted and drained from the jet lag the only thing we had strength for was dinner in Little Tokyo. After all you can’t go wrong with sushi!

Day2: That’s when things started getting more dynamic

First stop: Santa Monica Pier

It took a bit of driving to get there(as I mentioned earlier traffic can be quite the obstacle to move around fast).

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Weather is always gorgeous in LA

The pier is pretty lively even at 9AM. Parking is $2/hour right near the ferris wheel. There is not a lot of places to go around the pier and it wasn’t exactly hot enough to swim so 1 hour was sufficient to walk to the end of the pier and see most of it. Of course, if you want to ride on any of the attractions around it might take longer.

Second Stop: Venice Beach

This is definitely one of the most popular tourist destination in LA. It is really crowded which means it might be wise to keep an eye on your wallet! There are people cycling, walking, and those trying to sell you CDs with doubtful music quality. We also passed by the famous muscle beach(below)

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Makes me wonder if Arnold ever trained in here

The area is really colorful in so many ways. The stores on one side and all the palms and the ocean on the other.

 

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Another reminder weed is legal in California

Third Stop: Abbot Kinney Blvd

This street is full of stores and restaurants. Everything is quite colourful and unique(and probably expensive). There are plenty of cafes, one ice cream store, some restaurants and boutiques. I’m sure this street alone could take you the whole day but we had to move on.SAM_9779.JPG

Fourth Stop: The Getty Villa20170323_150017_HDR.jpg

This is a must see on a nice sunny day! Parking is $15 until 3PM and $10 afterwards. It closes at 5PM but I think 2 hours is quite enough if you’re not really into reading every label on the museum exhibits. There are a few gardens, and a small amphitheater. Entrance is free which is surprising considering everything you get to see inside.

It is the right spot if you need to relax, look at the museum exhibits, and even be creative.

Fifth Stop: El Matador Beach

From the Getty Villa it was almost an hour drive to the beach. It was our last stop for the day. As you could probably imagine it was a lot to see in just one day and if you have the time I definitely would not recommend doing it as fast as we did.

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The beach is fairly small but has those unique rocks that you can see on the image. There were many people taking photos and the parking lot is really small so keep that in mind. We actually had to park on the highway and walk down to the beach from there.

Things to consider when driving to Malibu: the road is saturated with traffic lights. It feels like a highway but you have to stop every now and then. It becomes annoying after a while.

That concluded our first full day in LA. Next day we were heading to San Diego.

 

Istanbul Pt 4

This was the last day, left for seeing whatever was left from previous days, and some shopping on the side

Kariye museum 

Kariye Museum

This seems to be the farthest place on the map we went to visit. It seems to be one of the reasons why many people decide to skip it. I wouldn’t recommend making that mistake. It won’t take much of your time, and it’s definitely worth seeing it. 

To get there all you have to do is change trams from T1 to T4 at Topkapi(not to be confused with the palace. They’re not even close) station and then get off at Yatan station. After that you need to walk a bit, which might be confusing if you don’t have a map.

Mosaics Museum

That was the other thing on our list for the day. I went there mostly because it was also included in our museum pass. It won’t take you long to visit and quite honestly if you have to pay separately for it it’s not worth it. Not that it’s not beautiful but there’s almost no description of the mosaics. It will take you 20 minutes probably to see it all. 

After that we had enough time to some more shopping and have dinner.

One thing to consider is that the Grand Bazaar is not working on Sundays!!!

Overall, we could have seen something more on Sunday. There was enough time for that.

Things we actually wanted but didn’t see for one reason or the other:

  • Galata Tower: it was too hot and didn’t find how to go up using public transport
  • Dolmbahce Palace: After reading how little time you have inside, and the fact that the tour is with a guide only, we decided not to go. Can’t even take pictures inside
  • Basilica Cistern: from a friend I heard that, while the place is interesting it’s nothing spectacular
  • Princes Islands: it was either bosphorus cruise or the islands. We choose the cruise. If you have more time, it’s probably worth seeing
  • Fatih Mosque: I thought we might not have enough time to see the other things. It’s a bit off course

Leaving Istanbul by Airplane is not complicated at all. We got the Tram from Sultanahmet, switched to Subway at Zeytinburnu and got off at the airport. It took roughly one hour and it wasn’t complicated at all.

Make sure you arrive there 3 hours earlier. At the time of our visit airport security checks were a little more strict than usual. That, and we were flying through New York.

Istanbul Pt 3

Day 2: Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, Hagia Irene, and the evening Bosphorus cruise.

Actually, the first thing we decided to do in the morning is go to Blue Mosque again hoping there won’t be as many people this time. It turned out we were wrong, and at 10AM they were just as many as the previous day. Waiting time was roughly 20 minutes, so it wasn’t that bad. Conclusion was, that no matter when you decide to go, it will always involve some waiting time.

Lineup

 

After that we went to Topkapi Palace. Like I said previously, having a museum pass is certainly beneficial. There were quite a lot of people in line waiting to buy tickets, but we went in without worrying about that. While the palace is open until 7pm, the harem closes earlier, so keep that in mind. The entry to there is another 15 lira, but entry is included with the museum pass.

There are plenty of things to see, and unfortunately they don’t provide a map of the palace unless you rent an audio guide. Turkey is also the first country in my experience where I go to a museum, and couldn’t find any information about the place unless I pay extra for it. That would be understandable if they didn’t already charge as much for the entry. I doubt paper is such a rare commodity in there, but unless you’re really in a hurry, you should be able to see everything anyway if you search around. Don’t skip on exhibits, because they’re all worth it. Nothing inside the palace falls in the “boring” category.

Hagia Sophia 

This was the second biggest attraction for day 2. It’s not as time consuming as Topkapi Palace, but there’s plenty to see inside, and doesn’t involve as much walking. I can’t describe much here, but I can say that the size of this monument really struck me. Unfortunately, as usual there’s absolutely no information available freely around.

If you like Islamic calligraphy(not sure if I’m calling it the right name), you might spend even longer exploring inside. There was a nice exhibit on the ground level.

You can also climb on the second level and see the restorations of the original Christian wall paintings from up close.

Hagia Irene

I almost forgot to mention this one. Compared to everything else, this is probably the least exciting place to visit. The church had no drawings inside(they might be restoring them, but at the moment of our visit there was only a giant cross), and no information whatsoever on the history and its significance. It costs 15 Lira if you buy tickets, so my suggestions is, if you don’t have a pass don’t bother going there.

Alternatively you can hide inside from the heat outside and relax for a bit. There’s hardly anyone inside.

Bosphorus Scenic Trip

Now this one is a bit tricky. You can’t buy tickets online, so you have to go on the spot and buy them. It’s not as busy as I thought so going at least 15 minutes prior to boarding will guarantee you a good seat on the boat. Make sure you buy tickets in advance, otherwise the counter might be closed.

 

http://www.sehirhatlari.com.tr/en/that’s their website for more info.

*There are many people who stay around the city and try to sell you a tour of the bosphorus. I can’t comment on their quality, but you’ll definitely pay more. The one I got is like the regular ferry and for 20 lira both ways per person you couldn’t possibly go wrong. 

You have two options. You can take the long or short tour during the day(25 and 10 liras), or you can take the sunset cruise(20 lira, and that’s the best deal in my opinion)

http://www.sehirhatlari.com.tr/en/timetable/sunset-cruises-415.html – that’s the link to the sunset tour schedule

As you can see the ferry leaves at 18:25 from Eminönü

The boat itself stops at different parts of the city and goes to A. Kavagi as a final stop. You can get off at any place. During daytime you could probably take the bus back or wait for the same ferry to come back. I’m not sure how that would work out during the evening cruise. We got off at the last stop and got back on at the same spot.

The boat arrives at around 8:30PM and you have around an hour and a half to grab dinner somewhere. There are plenty of restaurants along the coast. The more scenic ones are more expensive. There will also be plenty of people trying to grab your attention so you buy something from them. Just ignore them if you want and pick the place you like the most. All restaurants serve fish, so if you don’t feel like spending much you should go for the restaurants in the back which are probably twice as cheap. Just a suggestion, if the restaurant is too busy with locals, it probably means the food is good, but it also means you’ll wait very long time to get anything. That’s what happened to us at least.

Other than food there’s not much to see in the village. It’s small, and once it gets dark you don’t have much choice other than to go back on board. Make sure you get that last ferry, otherwise you’d be stuck in there for the night.

We arrived back around 11:50 pm, and the trams were still running, but if you live farther you might want to check just in case, because I think public transport runs until around midnight in Istanbul. Eventually you can grab a taxi if there’s nothing else.

That concluded day 2 for us.

Istanbul Pt 2

My stay in Istanbul lasted exactly 3 days, so I’ll try to outline what’s worth seeing, and how long does it take on average to see every attraction. You can tailor your own trip that way. I’ll start with the ones that took me the longest, going to the shortest. Keep in mind that your time spent on exploring might vary depending on your personal interests.

*At the time I was there some of the museums were being renovated, and time might vary in the future!

  1. Bosphorus Tour(including the evening scenic tour) – 3-6 hours
  2. Topkapi Palace – 2+ hours
  3. Hagia Sophia – 1 – 1.5 hours
  4. Istanbul Archeology museum – roughly 2 hours
  5. Blue Mosque – 30 minutes, depending on waiting time
  6. Mosaic Museum – 30 minutes
  7. Kariye Museum – 30 to 45 minutes
  8. Hagia Irene Museum – up to 30 minutes
  9. Any other mosque – 20-30 minutes per visit(free)

I’ll start with the order I visited each place, and I didn’t have to rush anything. One thing to consider, if you want to visit more museums, is to grab a museum pass

Museum pass.

It cost 85 lira, but grands access to every single museum on my list(Kariye Museum isn’t mentioned but it grants access just as well). That way you avoid the lineups, and save a bit in the end. If you don’t plan on visiting more than 2, it might be better just to buy tickets, but like I said, that way you save some time to see other things. Oh, and with a pass you can visit the Harem in Topkapi palace, and that alone is worth a lot(more on that later)!

 

Day 1

 Our arrival time in Istanbul was somewhere around 9AM, and it took us roughly an hour(plus breakfast) to get to the hotel. Check in time was at noon, so we had to find something to do before we could go back to the hotel. Fortunately, our hotel was right in the heart of the historical part of the city, Gulhane station on T1, to be price, so we didn’t have to go too far or waste time in order to start our tour.

I thought we might go to Topkapi Palace first, but we passed by the Archaeology Museum on the way, and spend roughly 2 hours in there. That’s also where we got our museum passes. It was relatively early on Friday, so people weren’t rushing to go in. Glad we did that first, instead of Topkapi palace.

The archaeology museum is pretty big and if you’re into it you might spend a lot longer to see everything. Two hours should be considered the minimum.

 At around 12:30 we went back to the hotel, left the luggage in the room, and decided to go to Blue Mosque or Hagia Sophia. Everything in the area is walking distance away so no need to hop on the tram for this. Weather was rainy, and still there were plenty of people lining up to go inside the mosque. We decided to go back again the following morning hoping there would be less people in line. Lineups go fast enough so if you could spare 15 minutes you’ll go in. There are guides waiting outside that offer you instant entry(for the appropriate price of course).

We went south and visited Sokollu Mehmet Pasa mosque. There were only 2 other visitors, but the place is nice enough and doesn’t take a lot of your time. It’s a nice mosque to visit! No pictures allowed though 😦

After that we went north again, and surprisingly ended up at the Grand Bazaar. The place is huge, full of store that sell mostly jewellery, clothes, and occasionally some Turkish delights. What grabbed me though, was the sights above those stores. If you look up when walking you could see all the history and architecture of the bazaar. It wasn’t our shopping day so we just passed by on our way to Suleymaniye Mosque and exchanged some cash.

That mosque is located at a very good spot. It’s almost as good, if not better than Blue mosque, and doesn’t have as many visitors. Unfortunately, there are many beggars in the area. Actually Istanbul is one of those city with too many beggars on the streets. I haven’t been to many touristy destinations like this one, but I thought developed(cause I conside Turkey to be one of them) countries should have better social policies regarding the poor. We took a few shots in there and continued our walk. (once again, we had no agenda, or clear idea where exactly we might end up).

After a short walk through a quite sketchy (the area north of the mosque)

neighborhood we found ourselves at the Golden Horn with a great view of the other side of the city. From there you get access to the ferries across the bosphorus, and of course the spice bazaar. You can pay for ferries with the same Istanbul pass you’d use on the subway, and trams.

New Mosque is also located in there, but we didn’t visit it. Maybe we had a bit too much for 1 day and it was close to 8PM already.

Those were a lot of places to visit in one day, and I recommend you take it slower. No point in rushing things. After everything we decided that Topkapi and Hagia Sophia should be the first places to go on Saturday.

 

*forgive my writing. I might have spelling mistakes, especially on the names of places in Istanbul.