San Francisco – my favorite city in the USA!

Pardon me for the lack of posts, the summer weather has been very distracting and I’ve taken two separate week long trips to Europe recently, there will be many posts and pictures to post soon. Hope that everyone is having a nice summer so far (if you’re in the northern hemisphere that is). Last month I revisited one of my second homes for the first time in a few years: San Francisco.

Landing in SFO

Landing in SFO

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Hubby in front of a cute house in Cow Hollow

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Magnificent colors of San Francisco

We arrived the weekend before pride weekend so the vibe was getting really hyped for that, in fact in San Francisco they have dubbed the entire month of June “pride month”. Its reputation as the gay Mecca is so felt that you almost can’t tell the difference since every day feels like a part of pride month.

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Street art in the Mission

Rekindling with some of my favorite things in San Francisco was a true joy after years of absence. Some of those things include the nightlife, the stunning architecture, the scenic walks, the beautiful parks, and of course….the food. Some of my favorite spots in the city from previous visits include Japantown, the Castro and the Mission. In Japantown you can enjoy the architecture in the peace plaza, a video store with hundreds of Japanese anime selections, delicious sushi places including a cute place where little sushi boats pass by seats at the sushi bar (beware, it gets addicting and the bill adds up), and even Japanese crepes! The Castro has great gay bars and restaurants and the famous Castro theatre. The Mission has great places to sample Mexican and Salvadorian food, go to brunch along Valencia, and sun tanning in Mission Dolores Park is a must-see for anyone on their first visit.

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Mission Dolores Park aka “gay beach”

On this visit, I got to see some of my friends whom I haven’t seen in years! My friend Christian who recently moved from New York picked us up at the airport and showed us his area called Visitacion Valley, owing to San Francisco’s Spanish influence. It’s a quiet area in the southern part of the city filled with Chinese families, quaint houses, and scenic views at McLaren Park.

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View of Visitacion Valley

McLaren Park

McLaren Park

Even though I spent a whole month in 2011 exploring the city, I still hadn’t seen everything so I decided to get a new orientation for the city. San Francisco is pretty easy to circumnavigate by foot or bus, but some things are just out there are hard to get to. Thanks to Christian, we were able to visit some of San Francisco’s harder to reach points. We started with the gorgeous Twin Peaks, arguably the best scenic view of San Francisco. It’s located in the southern part of the city, and affords panoramic views of multiple angles of the city. You have to fight your way through some tourists to get a good picture, but it’s well worth it.

Christian & I with a view from Twin Peaks

Christian & I with a view from Twin Peaks

For lunch, we met with my friend Katie who is an Oakland native and checked out the cleverly named SoMa SteEat Food Park, where you can get really fresh food of any sort of ethnic variety at a reasonable price from the numerous food carts or a few sit-down places. I tried the paella spot and the Burmese cuisine, both very good choices.

Stack of logs for the brick oven pizza spot, now that's fresh!

Stack of logs for the brick oven pizza spot, now that’s fresh!

We proceeded to check out the Richmond District, where there isn’t much to see per se, but along Geary Blvd there’s some nice architecture in the form of Russian churches and dozens of restaurants and coffee shops. We got a refreshing bubble tea at Infini Tea, which has a wide variety of flavors of milk tea spanning from quirky to conventional. They even have a happy hour for discounted teas and quick snack foods. Afterwards, we made our way to Sutro Baths at the end of the Outer Richmond District along the Pacific Ocean. In its heyday in the 1890s, Sutro Baths was the largest indoor swimming complex in the world, with natural pools of salt water that were fed by the ocean during high tide. There were also many cultural exhibits, and the creator of the baths even made a railway to increase visitation to the baths due to its isolated location along the sea. It was wildly successful up until the Great Depression and after years of decline it was mysteriously burnt down, arousing conspiracy theories. The ruins remain beautiful and protected by the National Park Service, and it’s a great way to spend a few hours exploring the sea caves, walking along the ruins of the baths, and hiking up the trails with incredible views of the Golden Gate Bridge by the cliff sides.

Christian was a bubble tea virgin!

Christian was a bubble tea virgin!

Sutro Baths from above

Sutro Baths from above

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Ocean views from Sutro Baths

My friends Juan & Kevin hosted us for the weekend in their apartment in Nob Hill, and they showed us some cute little spots in the neighborhood. We had dinner at the Bell Tower, which was very good considering that I usually don’t go for bar food. Also, the staff is beyond friendly and the service was excellent. Another amazing place we ate at that weekend was the Pancho Villa Taqueria right on 16th Street down the block from the BART station in the Mission District. The lines are really long, but the authenticity of the food and the quality of the ingredients are unbeatable, even to Mission standards.

Cute houses in Nob Hill

Cute houses in Nob Hill

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Kevin, me, Juan and hubby at The Bell Tower

Kevin, me, Juan and hubby at The Bell Tower

Juan & Kevin & Mexican food <3

Juan & Kevin & Mexican food ❤

Also while I was in town I had the pleasure of seeing Beach Blanket Babylon, a San Francisco staple. It’s the longest running musical revue in the world complete with an over the top performance with highly extravagant and detailed costumes and wigs. I’m lucky enough that my host is in charge of the entire wigs department so not only did he hook us up, but he gave us a tour backstage and a behind the scenes look of the wardrobe department, where we got to meet some of the actors before the performance. It’s an experience definitely not to be missed as the show is highly entertaining and extremely unique.

Back stage at BBB

Back stage at BBB

Wardrobe at BBB

Wardrobe at BBB

The remainder of the trip was spent just leisurely strolling the streets for beautiful houses and buildings in the gorgeous areas of the Nob Hill, Cow Hollow, Telegraph Hill, and North Beach. I’d definitely recommend doing most of San Francisco by foot since you’ll pass by so many unexpected treasures that way. The buildings are ornate, detailed, and colorful, and every street looks different. And of course, the San Francisco hills, fog, street cars and view of the bay add to the dramatic effect of this gorgeous one-of-a-kind city.

Coit Tower

Coit Tower

Old theater in the Mission

Old theater in the Mission

Street art in the Mission

Street art in the Mission

More street art in the Mission

More street art in the Mission

Have you ever been to San Francisco? What are some of your favorite experiences you’ve had here?

My other passport

What’s an unpleasant but necessary last minute thing when planning certain international trips? Your vaccinations. Last year I went to the travel vaccination center in preparation for my trip to the Dominican Republic and Haiti. I got the Typhoid vaccine which is good for 3 years. I also got the Hepatitis A shot, which, if you get a booster shot after 6 months up until a year, I am now covered for life (I got mine yesterday). Now for any and all upcoming trips to Latin America, Asia, and Africa, I am one step closer to being prepared.

Passport & vaccine passport

Passport & vaccine passport

When traveling into the developing world, sometimes you need proof of certain vaccines even to get into the country. This can all be tracked by your very own vaccination passport. Getting shots is no one’s idea of a good time, but being prepared traveling into the developing world is very necessary for your health. Mosquitoes are the bane of the existence of many when it comes to nasty airborne disease. The other main concern of course is clean drinking water. To protect against these things be sure to research thoroughly which vaccines you need before entering a country. Also, make sure to do your research before you visit your physician to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.

After a month in the island of Hispaniola, I was extremely grateful and humbled by the positive attitudes of many of the people who deal with hardship daily. You’ll never realize how much of a privilege clean drinking water is until you’re denied the option. More to come on this trip in a future post.

Have you gotten all your shots? Planning on a trip which requires one? Would love to hear from you!

New Year’s in Paris

I visited Paris for a couple of days and celebrated the New Year over there. What can be said that hasn’t already been said before? It’s a world renowned capital filled with culture and good food. A city of great beauty, great attractions, and of a majestic quality. There’s nothing like someone’s first trip to Paris. Except that this was my second trip so I got to enjoy it I feel in a bit of a more authentic way.

In my years of travel I’ve acquired a bit more connections so I had a free Parisian apartment to stay in this time, some friends who live there whose knowledge greatly matched any guidebook, and a better sense of travel than when I went there 3 years earlier. I had an even better time visiting Paris than my first, thanks to the company I was with.

Conciergerie


Arc du triomphe

But, I was there with 2 Paris virgins so of course I still went and saw many of the famous sights. Luckily, the Paris Museum really prevented me from breaking the bank. A 2-day pass only puts me back 42 Euro whereas one entrance alone could cost 18 Euro. And I say it’s nice to have your productive days crunched into a time frame, so that I could fully embrace wandering aimlessly for the rest of my time there. See, I’m a Libra, so balance is very important to me. Sure it’s great to see all the culturally acclaimed things in a city since history has endowed Paris with a lovely cornucopia of museums and sites, but what really interests me is what the city is really like.

Notre Dame

Well I’ll tell you…the city is its delicious food…and of course I don’t only mean French. Paris has absolutely delicious Lebanese, Ethiopian, Cambodian, and Chinese food..among many others I’m sure. What makes Paris great is that in terms of European cosmopolitan melting pots, it’s only rivaled by London. French colonialism has guaranteed a rich array of immigrants from every corner of the world to call this city their home. And although that causes problems to the French sensibility at times, that’s what makes France charming. It’s an very modern and culturally trendsetting country on one hand, and on the other it’s a country extremely steeped in its history and proud traditions of art, language, cuisine, and wine. France plays by its own rules and that’s what makes it an interesting place to visit, no matter how cliché visiting Paris can be.

Eiffel Tower

Been to Paris? What are your thoughts on what’s the best thing to see and do there?

My second home: Puerto Rico

I have the good fortune of visiting Puerto Rico very often and having a lot of connections there, after living there for a year. I’ll probably be posting about it a lot so that you can have the best trip on the island as possible (I’ve already hosted a bunch of friends while living there and helped others plan their trips there since). Here’s some myth-busting and an introduction about what you can expect in my second home, Puerto Rico.

I had the opportunity to live and work in Puerto Rico for a year, and it’s a place that is very special to me. I want people to enjoy Puerto Rico’s splendors, but I also think it’s important to bring awareness to the complex situation of this U.S. commonwealth.

A photography of Old San Juan.

The marvelous Old San Juan

Most people do not realize a few things about Puerto Rico:

  1. Puerto Ricans are US citizens.
  2. Its cosmopolitan capital, San Juan, is home to a mixture of Americans, Latinos, Europeans, Caribbean Islanders, and Asians.
  3. It is not a third world country, by any means.
  4. Puerto Ricans invented Spanglish.
  5. It has political parties with conflicting visions for the commonwealth’s future: some Puerto Ricans advocate for U.S. Statehood, some for independence from the U.S., and some would like Puerto Rico to remain exactly as it is.
A photograph of Cueva Ventana

Cueva Ventana

Puerto Rico is a true adventurer’s paradise, and a great first trip for people who want to explore more outside the continental U.S.A. It’s convenient, too! You don’t need a passport, the currency is the U.S. dollar, and Puerto Ricans typically speak a good mix of familiar English as well as Spanish. The people are beyond friendly, the weather is consistently great, and goods and services are inexpensive.

Puerto Rico is big enough to explore, but small enough that you can see it all in one visit. I’d recommend renting a car and driving through the countryside, where the real treasures await. Puerto Rico offers a diverse landscape, including: mountains, beaches, caves, rainforest, and desert. You can go zip-lining, check out some beautiful architecture, and sample the delectable foods and exciting nightlife.

Playa Flamenco, Culebra

I met so many people with different personalities, and from different walks of life. It’s a lot of diversity set in one small island. And everyone seems to live in relative harmony, it really feels like to be Puerto Rican is to have true brethren. Also, even though my Spanish was limited when I first arrived (and Puerto Rican Spanish isn’t the easiest to learn), I always felt welcome. Once I started making friends and my conversational Spanish improved, I really felt I had found my second home.

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El Yunque rainforest

San Juan gets many visitors from all over the world, and since it’s a small city, you always end up meeting a lot of new people. I’ve made great connections there with islanders and non-islanders alike. I also think that spending time in Puerto Rico provides a valuable lesson for a U.S. citizen, because it helps you to realize more fully how diverse your own country’s borders can be. The attitude change can especially be valuable for a New Yorker, since living in Puerto Rico forces you to learn how to slow down, relax, and appreciate what you have in the present. Aka acclimating and embracing island time, whether you like it or not (but how can you not like it?). Living there for only a year has profoundly affected how I view my life, now.

Here are some recommendations for your visit to Puerto Rico:

To eat:

  • Fefo’s or El Jibarito in Old San Juan for Puerto Rican food – try the mofongo/trifongo.
  • Tayzan in Condado for sushi and other Asian food – try the sweet plaintain sushi.
  • Café la Princesa in Old San Juan, for a nice date ambiance and a little bit of everything – try the seafood paella.
  • Piñones (in the beach area close to Isla Verde) for Puerto Rican food – my favorites are seafood alcapurrias and pizza empanadillas, among many others
  • Luquillo kiosks (in the beach area close to El Yunque) for Puerto Rican food – for even more seafood alcapurrias and pizza empanadillas (and many others)!

To drink:

  • Medalla – a brand of Puerto Rican beer (not the best, but classic to the island)
  • Chichaito – sweet shots of many flavors, which you can split with a group (available at 3 Cuernos bar in Old San Juan)
  • Acerola – a sweet cherry juice, special to Puerto Rico

Nightlife:

  • Club Brava in Isla Verde – for a night out on the club
  • La Taberna Lupulo – a bar with many microbrews and good mix of locals and tourists, in Old San Juan
  • Small Bar – the name says it all, in Condado
  • Circo – a gay club in Santurce

Sightseeing:

  • Cueva Ventana & Cueva del Indio – 2 caves to go hiking in, in Arecibo; beautiful and simple ways to enjoy nature, and just a quick 45 minute drive from San Juan
  • Bioluminescent Bay – I think the one in Vieques Island is much better, but the one in Fajardo is more accessible
  • Beaches – El Escambron in San Juan, La Montserrate in Luquillo, Crashboat in Aguadilla, Cerro Gordo in Vega Alta, Playa Sucia in Cabo Rojo, Playa Flamenco in Culebra, Sun Bay in Vieques, and Playa Escondida in Vieques
One of the many intimate natural escapes.

Waterfall in Maricao, Puerto Rico

Basically, a trip to Puerto Rico cannot disappoint. It’s a hospitable environment, with great weather, and with such a wide range of activities and adventures, there’s sure to be something for everyone. How could you go wrong?

Myth-busting Mississippi

Mississippi may not be very high on most traveler’s itineraries, but all you need for a trip is a little curiosity. And I certainly am a curious person. I have the good fortune of having a friend from New York who lives down in Vicksburg, Mississippi who I spent a long weekend with recently.

Mississippi is a land of perseverance if there ever was any. The weather was beautiful in the winter when I visited but it’s oppressively hot and mosquito ridden the rest of the year. The threat of the mighty Mississippi River is a real one since the Mississippi Delta received the USA’s most damaging recorded flood in the past century back in 2011. Not only that, but Mississippi is also where hurricane territory meets tornado territory. Mississippi suffered significant damage from Hurricane Katrina.

Evening light on the Mississippi River

Mississippi is both a shocking and surprisingly marvelous state. It’s very informative to visit and experience first hand. Since many parts of Mississippi are impoverished, many buildings are re-purposed or used in duality. In many cities in the northern USA you’ll just see them completely abandoned, even if they appear usable. In Mississippi, you’ll find a hospital that has a 5 star restaurant in it, a country style restaurant doubling as a knickknack store, a gas station that became a restaurant, and a school that became an area for shopping. Nothing goes to waste there. People hold on to possessions for life “just in case they ever need it”. People fix things, instead of throwing it away. Mississippians adjust to their circumstances.

Mississippi is also filled with surprises. I had the pleasure of visiting Natchez, which in the 1850s had the most millionaires than in any other city in the country, and Mississippi being one of the 10 richest states at the time. Thanks to this, Natchez and the state of Mississippi have impressive architecture. It is also worth noting how colorful many of the buildings are also. Natchez has beautiful antebellum mansions in every corner of the town and many have become museums that are open for visitors. It is a town located on a bluff over the Mississippi River giving it amazing scenic views looking at Louisiana on the other side.

Monmouth Plantation

Monmouth Plantation gardens

Finally, you’ll be surprised by how great the food is. You get a mix of southern food and Creole food that comes up the river from southern Louisiana. In Vicksburg, there’sT’Beaux’s Restaurant for delicious shrimp étouffée, gumbo, red beans, and pretty much everything else Creole. And on the road from Vicksburg to Natchez there’s the Old Country Store in Lorman that serves up the best fried chicken and southern food you can imagine in a very hospitable environment. Also, it’s worth mentioning that it’s been featured on the Food Network. In Jackson you can even get delicious French pastries and other baked good in the cute Fondren District. La Brioche has great gelato and macaroons.

Mississippi may have many factors that proceed to give it a bad reputation, but when you have low expectations most of the time that just leaves more room for you to be impressed. There are no absolutes when it comes to good and bad destinations to explore. Happy wandering.

Pretty architecture in downtown Jackson

Time to go!

Dear followers,

I’m leaving today for a 3-week jaunt to the Midwest! Starting off in Chicago to stay with my best friend, then going to see a friend in the Milwaukee area, then we are taking a week-long road trip up to northern Minnesota and then the twin cities Minneapolis and St. Paul. And then on the way back, pass through the mysterious state of Iowa. And once back in Chicago we will head over and experience all that is Detroit. If time permits, maybe even see a friend in Cleveland. The Midwest is not the most commonly traveled area of the country, but it’s a shame because there’s some beautiful scenery around the Great Lakes. But that’s fine, more adventure for those who seek it 🙂

Where are you going in the near future? Share your travel plans and ideas in this post or any post on my blog. Are you from the Midwest? Have any suggestions for some must-see place for me to go to?

 

Happy travels and get lost!

-The Wanderlust Guru

 

PS – I have now connected my Instagram with my WordPress, so feel free to follow me on Instagram @wanderlustguru so you can keep track of the pictures of my Midwest jaunt and all my future travels.