San Francisco – January 2010

July 6, 2010 at 7:55 pm | Posted in cafe, Cafes & Restaurants, Food, General, museum, Out and About, Random, Tourism, Travel, USA | Leave a comment
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This was my second visit to San Francisco but the first time as an adult so it was time to party!

San Francisco (218)

I got a great deal through Expedia and stayed at the Hyatt Regency in downtown. The room and service were excellent –  just what I needed at the end of a long trip.

Now onto the stuff. It’s always about the stuff! Oh I’m going to be completely touristy here.

Well why not start with one of the most well known prisons in the world. Predictably the ferry trip over was surrounded by fog thus helping to create the ideal atmosphere.

Alcatraz - San Francisco 2010 (118) Alcatraz - San Francisco 2010 (121)

You can opt for an audio guide or not but obviously it’s better with one (and comes with the ticket anyway). I was somewhat familiar with the prison but didn’t know that it was also a military fort, a Native American sit-in protest site and lastly a nature reserve. Many of the buildings are in a state of neglect (probably managed by the Parks Service to keep it at the same level from when they took it over).

Alcatraz - San Francisco 2010 (22)

I rather liked the tour. It was a little tiring walking around but the various anecdotes (such as prisoner escape attempts) made me forget all about sore legs! Or perhaps it was the refreshing sea air.

Alcatraz - San Francisco 2010 (111)

I went early and would suggest the same as it helps to bypass more tourists and maximises the amount of time you can spend on other sightseeing.

Alcatraz - San Francisco 2010 (86)

It may be a bit cliché to go and visit Alcatraz but it is worth the trip.

Fisherman’s Wharf and surrounds
Along the bay is the tourist destination of Fisherman’s wharf and Pier 39. There are an abundance of shops catering to tourists, it’s a bit of a trap but enjoyable to wander around in. Also at Pier 39 you can also check out the seals.

Fisherman's Wharf - San Francisco 2010 Sealions at Pier 39 - San Francisco 2010 (1)

Throughout the Wharf, Piers and San Francisco you’ll come across stores selling clam chowder in sour dough bowls. I finally tried it at Boudin’s Bakery (which also has a tour but I didn’t go on it). I thought the dough was a bit, well, sour but on the whole rather nice and filling.

Clam Chowder Sourdough bowl (Boudin Bakery) - San Francisco 2010

Lastly, you might be interested in checking out Musée Mécanique which houses a number of historic penny arcade machines. Most, if not, are still useable and looks like it could be a lot of fun (and just a touch geeky) to play around with.

Musee Mecanique - San Francisco 2010 (1)

Golden Gate Bridge Area
After a bit of a mammoth walk around San Francisco I walked towards the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Don’t worry there are public transport options I just felt like walking.

Before I got there I walked briefly through the presidio where there was a warning about the potentials for coyotes! Even so the presidio was surprisingly calming and relaxing.

Presidio Walk - San Francisco 2010 (2) Presidio Walk - San Francisco 2010 (1)

There’s also the chance to visit the Walt Disney Family Museum but I didn’t have time to go in and check it out. Not to mention the $20 entry fee seemed a little steep.

Walt Disney Family Museum - San Francisco 2010 (3)

At the base of the bridge you’ll find Fort Point. It’s free to enter and a very informative museum covering the history of the fort and military, the bridge and some of the city’s history as well. Top it all off with some excellent views from the roof of the fort and it was definitely one of my favourite places.

Fort Point at the Golden Gate Bridge - San Francisco 2010 (5) Fort Point at the Golden Gate Bridge - San Francisco 2010 (1)

Other areas
Castro District – Otherwise known as a the LGBT heart of the city. Having heard so much about it for years I expected something particularly wild but it felt like it was a bit gentrified. A rather relaxing and easy going spot. In many ways it was the same sort of vibe as Sydney’s Oxford Street and London’s Compton Street.

Chinatown – Some Chinatowns can be smaller than you expect (London) and others exceed expectations. San Francisco falls under the latter, with numerous shops and cultural establishments down and around a long avenue.

Chinatown - San Francisco 2010 (1)

The Haight – I think I completely missed this iconic district after getting slightly turned around at Alamo Square. It’s apparently worthwhile but I don’t know. I’m not a hippy/ flower power kind of guy. Still it’d be another reason to come back to the city.

Museums that weren’t
Cable Car – I’m not entirely sure if I’d even found the correct spot. I was basing my search on an online mapping reference without having double checked the website. Lesson learnt.

Chinese Historical Society – Prominent signage exists throughout Chinatown and the surrounds. I was quite interested in checking it out but when I reached the ‘open’ museum I couldn’t enter and there didn’t seem to be any information on how to enter or what to do.

The Chinese Museum that wasn't - San Francisco 2010 (2)

Lombard Street – It’s a twisty, twisty street. That’s about it. Still one of those things traditional tourist spots.

Lombard Street - San Francisco 2010 (1)

UN Plaza/Civic Center – San Francisco was where the UN Charter was signed so I couldn’t help but take a few moments at the UN Plaza. Although only a few moments, it felt a little seedy.

UN Plaza - San Francisco 2010 (1)

Ferry building – I came through on the weekend when it housed a farmers market on top of its regular shops. There were plenty of tourists and locals around calmly queuing for the various goodies on offer.

Coit Tower – This impressive tower stands atop a bluff looking out over the Bay. When I walked up I was too early, on a clear day it would be worthwhile to pay and take in the views from the top.

Coit Tower - San Francisco 2010 (4)

Food and drink
Mama’s – A brilliant breakfast at Washington Square. It’s popular with tourists and locals. The staff are busy but will try and help as much as possible.

Vesuvio – A number of people recommended this relaxed bar and it’s perfect for a catch up with friends (which I did with the wonderful LadyeeNerd)

Vesuvio - San Francisco 2010 (2)

Cafe Trieste – On a side street near a church this crowded cafe offers the usual assortment of coffees and snacks. Apparently it’s quite popular. The mocha was reasonable and sitting outside offered some decent people watching.

Blue Bottle – This was a late recommendation but it was a good call – thanks LaydeeNerd. The Blue Bottle was located at the Ferry Building and there was quite a queue on the weekend. While the mocha wasn’t as sweet as I’d like it was still nice and other patrons seemed happy with their brews.

Peet’s Coffee – A local coffee shop chain and it was excellent. The staff were friendly and the coffees tasty. I wish it was warmer so I could have tried their chillers as well. Oh well yet another reason to come back.

On the whole I liked the city but I don’t think I could live here. It’s not just because of all the hills but the city just seemed too quiet for me. There was a considerable lack of bustle. I’ve grown used to a certain level of activity after living in Sydney and London. Perhaps I could learn to thrive on less – but not yet.

Certainly for a holiday spot it’s great and well worth multiple visits. Often it seemed as though each corner brought out a new type of district, each with its own flavour. Hopefully next time I’ll go beyond the city core as well!

More photos at Flickr and locations at Google Maps.

Allan’s Patisserie Review

July 6, 2009 at 10:14 pm | Posted in cafe, Cafes & Restaurants, General, London, Out and About, UK | Leave a comment
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I decided to check out the newly opened Allan’s Patisserie at London Bridge after a heads up from SE1. I could have easily given it a miss.

Granted we got there towards the end of the day so it may be understandable but we found the staff abrupt and very slow to take our order from us (despite being the only people there), I ordered a panino and got a sandwich instead (if they’d run out of panini it would have been nice to be told). In the end between a hair in the bread and less than stellar tomato it was just easier to stop eating (with less than half finished).

The volume of coffee and tea was appreciated. The quality of former was ok but I still needed to add sugar to the mocha while the tea retained its teabag at the bottom.

Meanwhile the decor for the top floor was quite nice with some reasonable chairs and couches to sit in and chat with friends. If only the food was better!


May 20, 2009 at 12:59 am | Posted in cafe, Cafes & Restaurants, Coffee, Food, General, museum, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Visiting Brighton why not check out this quick guide:

Brighton (3) Brighton (64)


  • Toy and Model Museum –  This museum costs £4 and if you’re a particular fan of model trains then you’ll want to check it out. The central collection of trains and tracks looks impressive but after pressing the start button only one locomotive runs. The collection also house other period toys, tin models, railways and dolls.
    Brighton - Toy and Model Museum (3) Brighton - Toy and Model Museum (4)
  • St Bartholomew’s Church – I’d read that St Bartholomew’s Church was something to check out due to being the ‘tallest church‘. Besides that there’s not a great deal to recommend it. While certainly a nice church it’s nothing to write home about.
    Brighton - St Bartholomew's (2) Brighton - St Bartholomew's (3)
  • Volks Railway – A small rail service running since 1883 along Brighton’s foreshore. It’s cheap, short and silly but randomly fun (for a 10 min trip). £1.70 one-way trip
    Brighton - Volks Railway (5) Brighton - Volks Railway (2)
  • Madeira lift – Not an attraction per se but while walking toward the Undercliff I randomly found the Madeira Lift. It’s basically just a lift and it takes you down to the beach (through the Concorde 2 bar). Basically it’s just random!
    Brighton - Madeira Lift Brighton - Madeira Lift (3)
  • Undercliff Walk – A coastal walk from Brighton and Saltdean. Walking it was somewhat disappointing and I don’t think it was just the weather. After taking 20 minutes just to get past the marina I was now properly walking next to the white cliff face with uninterrupted views of the sea on the other side. I felt small next to the steep face and rather peaceful looking out on the sea. This lasted for about 20 mins before the constant monotony set in. The unending parallels of cliff, path and water weighed heavily. You can’t readily leave the walk (which made me ponder what would happen if there was a storm or less likely a tidal wave). By the time I reached Saltdean I’d been walking for about 1.5 hrs (and you can go on a bit further). I walked up to the high road and caught a bus back to Brighton. If you have a bike then the ‘walk’ might be a lot more fun. If you go on a sunny day don’t forget to bring some water with you.
    Brighton - Undercliff walk (5) Brighton - Undercliff walk (4)
  • West Pier – Not an attraction per se but the ruins of one of Brighton’s piers is on the shore and a good starting point to walk along the beach towards Brighton Pier.
    Brighton - West Pier (2)
  • Brighton Pier – This pier is filled with carnival attractions (some may close depending on weather), video games, poker machines and food outlets.
    Brighton - Pier (6) Brighton - Pier (8)
  • North Laine – Spread out over a number of streets (check the Google Map) North Laine features a variety of shops from comics and clothes to cafes and the huge flee market of Snooper’s Paradise
  • The Lanes – Similar to North Laine, the Lanes consists of a multitude of small shops, eateries etc dispersed throughout a number of winding lanes. While not as extensive as I’d imagined it was still interesting to walk around.
  • Royal Pavilion – This former Royal Palace is probably one of the major attractions in Brighton. You’ll be charged £8.80 and get a complimentary audio tour. The Pavilion with its distinctive domes and turrets is now owned by the city with most of the fittings on loan from the Queen. The Pavilion is an excellent example of Chinoiserie and Regency decor. Some of the most notable rooms are the Banqueting Hall with its impressive dragon ensnared chandelier, the ‘modern’ kitchen and the music room with its hand woven carpet and gold cockle ceiling. No photography is permitted inside.
    Brighton - Royal Pavilion (5) Brighton - Royal Pavilion (13)
  • Brighton Museum and Art Gallery – This museum is located in the same park as the Royal Pavilion and its free (unless there are special exhibits on). It’s reasonable and varied but not spectacular. In addition to a history of Brighton the museum had sections on world cultures, ceramics, art deco and Egyptology.
    Brighton - Museum and Art Gallery

Food and Drink

Brighton surprised me by having a high density of cafes and eateries. Here are the ones I visited but there are plenty of others!

  • Red Roaster – This cafe had been recommended and it seems popular with the locals but I found it wanting. My mocha only had the barest hint of chocolate and was generally weak. While the environment was cosy the wall colour is a very bland light beige. My sandwich was reasonable and filling.
  • Tic Toc Cafe – I definitely enjoyed this cosy cafe located in the Lanes with its light atmosphere, couches and decorated walls. The mocha was delightfully sweet without the need for extra sugar. The staff member was also friendly and helpful.
  • Scoop and Crumb – This cafe has a wide selection of sundaes and waffles. It claims to have the largest menu in the UK. Even my dull sounding choc fudge sundae was tasty and comes topped with a few streamers!
  • Bill’s Produce – Beyond the plastic flaps at the entrance you’ll find a small but plentiful fresh produce selection. Rustic wood tables are in the middle. One wall is filled with canned and bottled produce and the other side is where the display cabinets (sandwiches etc) and cooking are done. Prompt friendly service. While I initially thought that the volume of food (compared to London prices) was badly skewed I was mistaken. Not only did the food smell and taste wonderful but by the end of the meal I was satisfyingly full.
  • Shakeaway – An ice cream shake shop. Fairly expensive and is popular with tourists and young people. While tasty and filling I just don’t get the hype. Perhaps I’m just too familiar with Cold Rock to be impressed?
  • Choccywoccydoodah – Great atmosphere, very fun and an array of tasty chocolate. Mocha was good and had the option to use their brand of white, milk and dark chocolate. A little bit costly but worth it.
    Brighton - Choccywoccydoodah
  • Pompoko – This Japanese restaurant was cheap and the servings while not enormous were reasonable and the food was a decent quality. The food was served quickly and the staff were friendly.


A caveat on this section. I went out on a Tuesday night and as a result every bar we went to (and those we skipped) were all quiet. Brighton has many other bars to check out as well.

  • The Mash Tun – A student bar with outside seating. I thought that the on tap beer price was a bit excessive but besides that it’s a fairly stereotypical bar.
  • The Windmill – A little further out from the centre of Brighton (not a big thing in small Brighton). Prices were reasonable, staff friendly and a fairly relaxed atmosphere. Unfortunately due to lack of numbers I can’t comment about the type of clientele.
  • Heist – A cocktail bar with leather couches and tables on one side and bar stools on the other. Even on Tuesday this bar had quite a few people ranging from young student types to the middle aged. Our cocktails were fairly good and not too expensive.
  • Royal Pavilion Tavern – Luckily, we made it to the upstairs club area while it was still free entry. Apparently Tuesday is indie night and while I’m no expert it’s probably fair to say it was more heavy/rocky than indie. Plenty of people some even danced but sadly I wasn’t feeling the music enough to dance. That or I wasn’t drunk enough – difficult given the queues at the bar (lack of staff?).

Map at Google and photos at Flickr!


January 21, 2009 at 11:29 pm | Posted in cafe, Cafes & Restaurants, Food, General, museum, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Back before the Games Release Craziness ruined my social and blogging life I went to Canterbury. About an hour out of London this is an easy day or weekend trip.

Canterbury (236) Canterbury (56)

The City’s most well known attraction is Canterbury Cathedral the seat of the Anglican Church. The Cathedral looms over the city skyline and is easy to find as you walk through Canterbury’s medieval streets. The history of the building is fascinating with murders, money and of course faith all part of the picture. I’d strongly recommend an audio guide or getting onto one of the guided tours as it will add much needed colour to the history of the building.

Canterbury (224) Canterbury (210)

St Augustine’s Abbey– The ruined Abbey complex lies just outside the city centre and is easily accessible by foot. The Abbey was founded in 597AD by St Augustine and flourished for a time before being dissolved by Henry VIII and ultimately destroyed in 1703. The ruins were eventually excavated as part of the UNESCO World Heritage site that is Canterbuty city. I would recommend hiring the audio guide as it provides much needed context but I found myself getting bored quite frequently and having to pace around the same spot for prolonged periods while the guide blathered on. Nonetheless still interesting and a very picturesque experience to walk around the shattered remains of a building that once rivaled the Cathedral.

Canterbury (241) Canterbury (206)

St Martin’s Church– The UK’s oldest and longest in continual use Christian parish. This small church nestled at the top of a hill in amongst gravestones and next to a prison is this stone church. It’s free to enter and there should be a member of the parish on hand to provide some background to the building. Informative, reasonably quick, not far from the city centre and St Augustine’s Abbey.

Canterbury (204) Canterbury (95)

Westgate Gardens – Lying on the Western side of the City (past the river) is a stretch of gardens that border the Westgate Towers. They’re pleasant and a brief diversion from but nothing particularly different. Although being there on a wet day has probably influenced my opinion.

West Gate Towers – A medieval tower at the western side of the city, while it has a small museum, it’s not very informative and the main reason to come is to climb to the top and look out over the city.

Canterbury (221) Canterbury (20)

Roman Museum – A small, cheap museum that’s fairly well appointed. The museum is found on one of the side streets near the Cathedral. It provides a run down on the ancient history of the city from its early days as a Roman outpost to the decline that happened when Roman rule fell. The museum also features some excavated mosaics.

Museum of Canterbury– which also features an exhibition on Rupert the Bear (if you’re interested!)  The museum covers the history of the city from its earliest beginnings to today. It does duplicate much of the information from the Roman Museum so you could probably skip that one if you’re pressed for time. Within the space available there seems to be a reasonably good amount of well presented information.

Norman Castle – Near Canterbury East station are the ruins of the Norman Castle. The ruins are free to enter and there are a few information boards around the site that explain the building and its use as a defensive structure, prison, factory and historic relic. Take a few minutes to soak it up before moving onto the rest of the city.

Canterbury (73) Canterbury (37)

The Canterbury Tales Experience – Not a site I would particularly recommend but if you’re bored or a fan of the Canterbury Tales then this might be for you. Actually if you’re a fan of the tales you might want to avoid it! Over the course of about an hour you’ll enter into a long road (mimicking the journey of the tales) and spread along it are spaces representing several of the tales. At each of these you’ll stop for about 10 minutes to listed to one of the stories. Unfortunately, this method of translating literary works leads to a fair amount of boredom and pacing around as each area is a static display with only the words to entertain.

 GreyFriar’s Chapel – Closed when I was there, the chapel straddles a small stream in a pleasant field and nestled within the city limits but accessed through a narrow alley.

Canterbury (162) Canterbury (69)

Another attraction closed during the colder months are River Tours. I did walk along the some of the river and it was quite nice and presumably either a river tour or walk during the better months would be an excellent break.

Canterbury (150) Canterbury (201)

I stayed at the  Canterbury Cathedral Lodge . It’s run by and within the Cathedral’s grounds. It was reasonably priced and well appointed with a complimentary breakfast. Admittedly, I don’t think it’s the place for a boozy weekend but that wasn’t an issue for me this time around. While the precinct gates close at night you’ll be able to come and go as you please with your hotel key.

Canterbury (66) Canterbury (175)

Food and Drinks

Cafe St Pierre a seemingly popular and busy french cafe on the high street

Inpresso for lunch, it’s a homewares store meets deli. Mediocre mocha, reasonable quiche, great side salad. Nice atmosphere, excellent value.

The Old Weavers restaurant. I ate a salmon fillet for dinner. It was a very large serving with mash and side of vegetables. Nice but not great. Still price to amount of food ratio is good. As the name suggests the venue is an old weavers house that dates from 1500AD.  Reasonable service.

Cafe Bohois a small, loud and brash. Filled with loud walls and many many clocks. The small tables and chairs makes me feel gigantic. I didn’t eat but there appears to be a reasonable range – desserts looked delicious. The cafe was doing a bustling morning trade. The service reasonable and while the mocha is good it was a little burnt. The manager runs a tight ship with the staff in spite of the cafe name. He was very friendly buying roasted chestnuts from the vendors outside and offering them to the customers. That was my frist chestnut – won’t be rushing back – but that’s not the cafe’s fault!

Coffee and Cork– It has lacklustre mochas but an excellent coffee shop atmosphere. Couches, board games, music and a bar. Appears popular with students and knitters as it also has a Knitting circle.

The Old Buttermarket– Is a Nicholson pub that’s like a Weatherspoon’s. It’s a sprawling pub and very busy, which is understandable as it is near the cathedral. While cheap the roast was tough and chewy. Not recommended – although maybe for a pint.

Tiny Tim’s Tearoom. A small wooden tearoom with a 30s style. Offering a variety of freshly made food and high teas. Mocha was nice and rich.

Final Thoughts:

Canterbury is a wonderful city and a great way to recharge from life in London. Canterbury has endeared itself to me with its winding medieval streets, centuries of history behind it and touches of modernity. I managed to get most of the sites above done on Saturday and by the time my train departed at 5 on Sunday I was well and truly done – it wouldn’t be a stretch to say bored. As a result I’d say Canterbury would be good for a day or day and a half, any longer and you’ll have to look into going further afield.

More photos over at Flickr and the map is at Google!

Coffee @ Goswell – my new favourite place

August 6, 2007 at 6:00 am | Posted in cafe, Coffee, Food, General, Out and About, UK | 3 Comments

There are a few things I look for in a regular coffee shop and luckily I’ve found a place that meets most of these needs in Coffee@Goswell, located on oddly enough on Goswell street near Old Street, Barbican and Angel stations. So how does this cafe measure up against my needs?

First and foremost is the coffee (obviously) and not just any coffee but a mocha. For me the definition of a good mocha is it must be sweet, at least a little thick and of course chocolatey without adding extra sugar to mask the lack of chocolate or other sweetener. Not having to add sugar is a fairly big indicator on the general quality. Australian coffee was sometimes a miss but on the whole it was reasonable and sweet. Of course having the Lindt cafe so close may be skewing my assessment. Meanwhile in London the coffee has been lacklustre. I’ve resorted to Starbucks. Of all the shame but at least their mochas are usually the same standard. C@G has excellent coffee, thick, sweet and easy to drink, therefore being a big plus for them. Of course this might just be my palette’s reaction to the weak coffee I’ve been subjected to over the past few months.

Second, the atmosphere and amenities. Ideally, I’d like a place that is relaxing and has comfy chairs, almost a la Central Perk in Friends. On this score C@G does well with sofas around a central table with other tables and chairs on the side – so plenty of seating. Along one wall is a stretch of eltrical sockets for those with laptops and a few internet cafe PCs as well. The cafe has wi-fi (pick up the code at the counter) but what do you expect from a cafe using the @ symbol? I don’t feel out of place reading a book, working on my laptop or pulling out my DS. However, on the flip side there is limited seating outside; it is basically just a bench and I may be wrong but I don’t think there are bathrooms inside.

Third, other food and drinks. Other than their coffee I’m also a fan of their berry smoothie. Very tasty but I’ll have to start expanding my choices to see if they are all as good. My big disappointment is the lack of a kitchen and set menu. The cafe offers a selection of pre-packaged meals (sandwiches and salads) as well as any number of cakes. I can’t be too harsh on them though (well I’d like to be) but it seems as though this “style of cuisine” is the norm for most cafes. On the plus side at the end of the day the staff put any uneaten cakes and pastries out on a table and they’re all free. Yes free food is really the clincher for me!

C@G is open 7 til 8 every day and they stop serving about 7:45. The staff are friendly and helpful. I’ve only been there a few times and they already seem to know me. If you live in the area and hankering for good coffee Coffee@Goswell is an excellent choice.

UPDATED 13/01/08 – Two additonal points on C@G – First and most important is that the wifi is now free with purchase which should mean more money for you (although I have experienced their router dropping out). Second, apparently this place is dog friendly (there are dog treats on the counter) and people bring their dogs in off the leash. However, I’m not really a fan of letting them wander everywhere and I think as dog owners you should watch where they go so they aren’t bothering anyone or blocking anything.

Although if the staff aren’t concerned by them going behind the counter then who am I to complain? Oh right a customer.

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