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.

 

A guide to Istanbul Pt.1

Intro

Before I start, let me just say that I tried to find as much information about Istanbul before I went there, and somehow most of the things I found seemed outdated. After 3 days in there, I decided to share my experience in case you find yourself in a similar situation as I did. Some of the things I write might not apply to anyone, but coming from Canada here’s how things like:

  • Getting there

Most people fly to Istanbul, but I was previously in Bulgaria so I got a bus from Sofia, which was a)cheaper b)just as convenient as getting the plane.

The night bus from Sofia is a decent option if you’re on a budget. I got my ticket from the central bus station in Sofia(Subway stops there so it’s not hard to find), and cost me 50Leva one way. The bus leaves from “Serdika” station, which is on the other side of the street across the railway station.

I got my ticket from “Metro”, but there are other companies that go the same route for probably the same amount. I can’t comment on their quality, but metro was okay. They gave some snack before we left, and coffee/tea, even though I didn’t feel like drinking coffee at 11PM.

The ride went smooth, and the only time we had to leave the bus was when we crossed the border. Check your country’s passport requirements for entry into Turkey. It wasn’t an issue for me, but for other countries, you might have to pay for visa on entry. A small thing to consider is that security isn’t as tight and nobody bothers you during the trip, so in a way I find the bus even better than flying there. (I hate airport security)

The bus arrived there around 8-9AM the next day. There was supposed to be a free shuttle bus to Sultanahmet, but it never showed up, and we got on the one to Aksaray. You can also get the subway from the central bus station. It is roughly 5 minute walking. Depending on where you’re going you should probably switch to tram at Aksaray station.

  • Public Transport

This part is pretty straight forward as long as you get it right. There are 2 ways to travel with the public transport. One is a token, called”jeton”, which costs 4 Lira(as of July.2014), and Istanbulpass which gives you some discount, and you can charge the card at any station. I’m not sure exactly how much discount you’re getting, but if you change a bus or subway within a certain time period you pay only 50% on the next trip. You can also use it for more than 1 person, which makes it even more convenient. It will save you a lot of money so I’d really recommend buying one. I got mine from an employee since the machine was broken and I might have overpaid a bit, but it’s well worth having one if you’re staying 2+ days.

To put things in numbers traveling with a pass costs roughly 2.45 lira on the first and 1.20 on the second trip.

I avoided taking the bus, and I have absolutely no idea how convenient it is for foreigners to take. Fortunately, going around the main parts doesn’t require taking a bus. Walking should be fine for covering most of the historic part of Istanbul

Trams have a good announcement system, and there are also instructions in English on interchange stations. Same goes for the subway.

I actually used public transport from my hotel to Ataturk airport on the last day. It took me roughly an hour from Sultanahmet on Monday morning(considering traffic and commuters), and it’s really easy and cheap. You just have to switch from Tram to Subway at Zeyitinburnu station.

  • Changing money

That’s another thing which bothered me before going to Istanbul. It might be convenient for people coming from Europe to use ATMs, but for me having only Canadian dollars it meant I had to find some place to exchange money. Didn’t try any banks, and went straight to exchange offices. I actually saw some pretty good rates at the airport when I was leaving, but they might charge commission, so check before giving them any money.

For me the best places to change money was in Grand Bazaar. Avoid changing around the main touristy areas since they’ll probably sell you liras for much cheaper. Look for “no commission” sign and you’ll probably be fine. I changed money in 3 different places and never had issues.

Do your research beforehand, and look for the difference in “buy” and “sell”. If it’s too big then it’s probably not a good rate you’re getting in there.

Many places accept credit cards, but companies usually charge fees for using them abroad.