Not much to report. Travelled four hours by train back to NYC. As before it was very difficult traversing the city to get to JFK. Eight hours back to Europe.
Day 86 – Helsinki
Jetlag. My old nemesis. Been through the mill today with it. Landed about 10am Finnish time, headed into the city centre on the very efficient and well priced train. Oh how nice it is to have efficient transport again! Weather is about 12 degrees cooler too, raining too. Couldn’t check in so headed to the art museum til I could, would not normally go to a gallery feeling like this, does not help with the concentration!
I was actually so jet-lagged I went to the wrong gallery and only realised it was wrong when I was half way round! It was still nice tho. Main gallery is the Finnish National Gallery. I only know one Finnish painter, a print of whose I have hanging on my wall, Akseli Gallen-Kallela. It was interesting to see the history of painting here. It was only after the 1917 Russian revolution that Finland finally declared independence. A lot of this history of reflected in the art, finding an identity, getting over the war.
I had to force myself to walk around to stay awake so I strolled by the harbour area, stumbled across a big beach volleyball tournament, watched people swim in the sea and sat on the steps on the parliament building and had dinner. And it stopped raining and the sun came out too. Seems like a very nice city, though small.
Russian orthodox cathedral, Helsinki
Day 87 – Helsinki
Started out with a wander around the shops, so many cool designs and fashion places. Spent an hour at the history museum, hadn’t realised how politically connected Russia and Sweden were to Finland. Finland only has a 100 years of independent history. Checked out the cathedral, which is situated on a hill and dominates the skyline.
Using your metro card you can use the ferry network too, so I headed across to a nearby island called Suomenlinna, which has a big fortress on it, cannons, museums, restaurants and lots of nice walks, and views. Only a ten minute ride, highly recommended.
Cannon on Suomenlinna island
Submarine on Suomenlinna island
Me sitting on a cannon
Really like the quirky public art and statues here. The train station has four domineering men holding lights.
Day 88 – Helsinki to Tampere
Checked out my hotel and walked south down to Kaivopuisto park. A lovely spot looking out across the Baltic. I had coffee a lovely cafe and walked back into town through the area of Kaivopuisto, with views across lots of interesting looking islands, not sure of they are private or public.
Jumped on the train in the afternoon and headed two hours north to city of Tampere. I wanted to see somewhere other than Helsinki and my friends Jenni and Charlie live here, both of whom I know from Brighton. I say live here but actually it is in the sticks in a lovely rural area where they built their own house, where they live with their two boys Axel and Eliel.
Had a nice walk around the area and the sun came out too so we had an ice cream. Jenni made me try her liquorice ice cream, which was one of the most disgusting things I have ever eaten! It made me cough it was so grim. Finns are obsessed with liquorice but ice cream should not be combined with it IMHO.
Day 89 – Tampere
Headed forty minutes into the nearest big town to where I am staying, Tampere. My first stop was the Moomin Museum! You might possibly think that it would be just for children, but it was actually a great museum for adults too.
If you don’t know, the Moomins were a series of books created by Finnish author Tove Jansson, in the 1940s to 1970s. The books were made into a TV series and quickly became a hit. I remember watching them a child so it was great seeing lots of the original artworks, tv programmes and stories behind the characters. It was a really interactive museum, highly recommended.
I then headed to Tampere cathedral. It is famous for having a some macabre skeleton frescos but it was also has some other beautiful frescos by the artists Hugo Simberg and Magnus Enckell. The cathedral last has some beautiful stained glass windows too, a very unique and peaceful place.
Spent the rest of the day wondering around the city, watched a Finnish rock band who had designs of being the next Rolling Stones and ate some blueberry pie (Finns are obsessed with blueberries).
In the evening I went with Jenni to watch one of her kids in an athletics competition, went to some Finnish shops, met some Finnish people and and played with some Finnish children. Finish.
Day 90 – Tampere to Helsinki
My last full day on my trip and a nice round number to end on. 90 days away. Currently on a train back down south to the capital for one more day in Helsinki.
I looked around the Russian Orthodox Cathedral called Upenski Cathedral, with it’s fascinating gold and green exterior.
I then walked all the way around the harbour back to Cafe Ursula where I went earlier this week and chilled out there with coffee. In the evening I watched a huge choir perform in Senate Square as part of the opening night of the Helsinki Festival. Ended the day by doing some essential Moomins shopping! I have developed a liking for them so bought a Moomins spoon and two Moomin towels!
As I prepare to leave Finland, some general thoughts on the country and the people. It certainly has been a nice five nights here, everyone seems very friendly, it’s very organised and easy to get around. With a population of just a few million people it is also very quiet and has an easy pace of life. Definitely would recommend coming here and also getting further afield than just Helsinki.
Spent the majority of the day travelling. Caught the 11am train to Boston. Four and half hour journey, train was pretty good compared to most in the USA, relatively quick too. Arrived at the hotel and then headed out to walk round the old part of town.
Massachusetts state building
The Old State House, Boston
Headed up to Boston Common, past the Old State House and the new one too. It’s pretty steamy here like NYC but immediately it feels nicer. Less honking. Less screaming. Less grime. The metro works too. I have been here before, but that was in winter, and my overriding memory was never wanting to go outside so I don’t think I did very much!
Hotel is pretty cool, it’s called Citizen M and it has only been open two days. It is a ‘smart’ hotel, so you check yourself in on a computer and everything in the room is controlled by an iPad, including the heating, lighting and blinds. There’s loads of free movies too. It’s a pretty small room, good for one, but loads cheaper than most hotels in Boston, which seems to be very pricey.
Day 86 – Boston, and art
Boston is blessed with two amazing art galleries and I visited both today. The Museum of Fine Arts and the Isabella Stewart Gardiner Museum, both within five minutes walk of each other.
The Museum of Fine Arts is truly world class. They have a huge collection of Monets, some fantastic 19th and 20th century American art, some beautiful Asian pieces, all in a modern, sleek, well presented gallery space. I spent three hours there, highly recommended.
The Isabella Stewart Gardiner Museum began life from a private collection she started with her husband. They created an Italian style mansion, over four floors, which they inhabited the top floor and the rest was opened to the public, in 1901. She died in 1924, and the entire collection was left to the public, with a stipulation that nothing could be changed. The museum is very unique, unlike any I have visited. It is like you are wondering around someone’s beautiful home.
Because nothing could be moved it can be difficult to see some pieces, as they hang on the sides of walls and you have to crane your neck to see them. Also some were stolen in 1990 but as nothing can be moved the empty fames remain, as they have never been recovered. They included a beautiful Vermeer and some Rembrandts. Overall a fabulous museum!
In the evening I stumbled across a great soul band performing outdoors (in video), so I sat and watched for an hour which was very enjoyable!
Day 87 – Salem
I jumped on the train this morning and headed north to the town of Salem, famous of course for the witch trials. I did learn however that the town was actually at times in its life the largest port and the richest town in the USA. A lot of trade from Asia came through the town. This led to the establishment of what is now the Peabody Essex Art Gallery. I had not intended to visit but I stumbled across it.
For a town the size of Salem if is remarkable to have such an amazing gallery. The focus is on both American and Asian art. Super friendly, great exhibition space, highly recommended. It never ceases to amaze me how that so many US cities have such fabulous art galleries with fabulous collections of world class art.
Of course the major reason for visiting the town is the witch trials, that happened here in 1692. Mass hysteria and paranoia led to many residents of the town to be accused of witchcraft, and also people living across the entire area. As you walk through the town there are many artefacts of what happened, including a graveyard and also a memorial listing each victim. There is also a tackier side, with witch this, vampire that, monster shops, etc.
It is actually a really nice town, compact enough to walk around, a nice harbour, a great veggie restaurant called ‘Alive’ too where I had lunch.
In the evening I saw a great film at the cinema called ‘The Farewell’. It is mainly in Mandarin, partly in English. Very interesting study of cultural Aandgenerational differences.
Day 88 – Boston
Last day here. Did some boring work things this morning, reality is looming! Then headed up to Bunker Hill, in the area of Charlestown. It is a large obelisk monument marking the Bunker Hill battle from the revolutionary war in 1775. You can climb 294 steps to the top for fabulous view across the city. I did just that and in 30 degree heat and massive humidity it almost ended me.
I also walked around the harbour area and saw the USS Constitution. Named in 1797 by George Washington, she is the oldest naval commissioned vessel still afloat.
In the afternoon I got the metro across to Back Bay, lots of posh shops here and also a Trader Joe’s my favourite shop, so I stocked up on supplies! I walked back via Boston Common to the cemetery where some of the earliest settlers of Boston are buried. This includes two co-signers of the declaration of American independence, Samuel Adams and Robert Treat Paine, as well as that revolutionary hero on horseback, Paul Revere.
I have enjoyed Boston, lots to do here, nice people, easy to walk around, great art galleries, come visit!
It is my last full day in the US today, flying back to Europe from NYC tomorrow. Have been in the US since I entered into Honolulu way back on 19 June! I always love visiting these lands, and have enjoyed getting to know new parts like Hawaii, Oregon and Washington. Til we meet again… See you in Helsinki.
Not much to report today almost entire day was spent travelling. Jumped ahead three hours. Staying in cool rented apartment with a separate lounge, washing machine and everything.
Day 80 – Philly
I headed out early to get to the Philadelphia Art Museum as it opened at 10am. Before you go in you walk up the famous ‘Rocky’ steps’. If you haven’t see the 1980s film it is where old Sly does a thing where he runs up and cheers or something. Can’t remember. There’s even a statue to him here as well! Bit OTT. Loads of tourists posing for photos impersonating him outside.
Well. What can I say about this museum. Fantastic! I spent three and a half hours perusing their collection and I loved it. Apparently they are expanding the museum in conjunction with a design by Frank Gehry. The bulk of the collection is European, Asian and American. They also had an impressionist exhibition on, all from their own collection, pretty amazing to see all in one place, including some beautiful Monets.
I particularly love Chinese, Korean and Japanese art and the gallery has some fabulous buddhas and early Chinese sculptures. They even had some Chinese tomb guardians that were virtually identical to a pair I saw in Tokyo. The American art collection was great too, particularly some fine portraits by Whistler and Singer Sergent. I am off to New York tomorrow and have already planned the four galleries I am going to see, so excited!
In the afternoon I visited the oldest part of the city. This included the Liberty Bell. I knew it was famous. I just didn’t know why. A guide explained they think it was rung after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but was not called the Liberty Bell then. It was more around the time of the civil war, when abolitionists used the symbol of the bell as a rallying cry against slavery that it more popularly became known by the name we use today. As for the crack, it happened about 150 years ago and has never been rung since. Next to the bell hall is Independence Hall, where the declaration was signed in 1776.
Independence Hall, Philadelphia
George Washington statue outside Independence Hall, Philadelphia
Independence Hall, Philadelphia
The other place I visited was the Museum of the American Revolution. It was very interesting and I learnt lots about the war that I had not known. For example, I did not know that it was the alliances with France, Spain and other European countries that ultimately won America the war. Before those countries became involved, Britain was close to defeating them. It was interesting seeing some of the oldest US flags ever made, learning about why the colonists had such a disagreement with the British and how a nation was ultimately formed. Great museum.
I ended the day treating myself to a great vegan meal at a restaurant called ‘Vedge’, highly recommended if you are ever in Philly!
Day 81 – NYC, Williamsburg and the Brooklyn Art Museum
Started the day by taking a train north to Penn Station in New York, pretty quick journey at 1 hour 20 minutes. Expensive though at $78, and considering the poor state of American trains and train services.
I opted to stay over in Williamsburg, next to Brooklyn, I last was here six years ago and stayed in Manhattan but fancied a new area to explore. Williamsburg is what you might call ‘up-and-coming’ or ‘in the process of gentrification’. Walk down the street and it is vegan bakery, drug den, macrobiotic greengrocers, brothel, locally-sourced shoe shop etc, you get the idea. My hotel is just to the north of the gentrification and is what I would call a ‘seedy’ area, but seems safe enough.
In the afternoon I explored the Brooklyn Art Museum. All museums here seems pricey to get in, think this one was $16 but I guess coming from a country where nearly all museums are free it would seem like that. The gallery is pretty modern and has some great pieces in its collection, including some nice Monets, a few Singer Sargents and a Picasso or two. As it is off the tourist trail it was also mercifully quiet.
In the evening I explored Williamsburg, heading down to the regenerated waterfront and watch the sun set. You can see some great views of the Manhattan skyline, it was a great way to end my first day here.
Day 82 – NYC, The Met and Central Park
As was yesterday, it was baking hot and hideously humid today. The NYC metro is NOT the place to be on a hot day. It is like Satan’s lair. Add to the fact that the whole network needs about $1 billion invested in it, it is a pretty horrendous experience using it quite frankly. Plus there was engineering works!
Anyway, I did end up getting the ‘L’ to Manhattan and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met). It is quite a collection, it rivals the National Gallery in London or the Louvre in Paris for its diversity and depth. Again pretty pricey at $25 but you can use the ticket for three days running. Not that you probably would want to face the queues again! It is VERY popular.
However, that aside I spent over four hours there. The American galleries are superb with some fantastic John Singer Sargent portraits. There are also a series of rooms from houses across the last couple of centuries, showcasing the extravagant homes Americans built for themselves. The highlight was a lounge designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for a home in Minnesota from the 1920s, it was simply stunning.
The European collection is vast, with a number of Van Goghs, Monets, Turners and more. The Egyptian, Roman and Greek galleries are very popular too. It really is a fabulous place to see the development of world art, from many hundreds of years ‘BC’ right up to the present day.
The other gallery I visited was the ‘Neue Gallerie’ just up the road on Fifth Avenue. It has a focus on German and Austrian art, and on paper it looked good, as I visited an Austrian art exhibition in Japan and loved it. The gallery, not so much. Expensive, brief, uninspiring. No.
After all the art I needed to rest headed to nearby Central Park. I strolled along by the joggers round the lake and chilled on the Great lawn before heading with to the WB.
One thing I really dislike about NYC I am afraid are the people. It is the rudest most impatient city I have even visited and it drives me mad! People working in shops, cafes, restaurants are surly, rude and don’t smile. Drivers constantly honking their horns and screaming at each other. Why is everyone so unhappy? I’d genuinely like to know! I’ve spent time in other big US cities like LA and Chicago and it nothing like this.
Day 83 – Battery Park, the UN, Chrysler Building, Grand Central Station, Freedom Tower
Still not loving NYC but bits of it are good! Still boiling, everyone still grumpy and rude. Decided to look around the UN building as I read they do tours. But not on Sunday apparently. It’s Sunday. Wondered around what I think is ‘mid-town’ saw the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building and Grand Central Station, well the first two just from the distance. It’s quite hard to see them as there is always another skyscraper in the way!
Headed down to Battery Park, right on the southern tip of Manhattan. I was living my Madonna in ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ fantasy! I went to where they filmed the scene where Roseanna Arquette knocks her head and loses her memory. That film was such a big part of my young life, I watched it countless times and it was part of my growing obsession with Madonna. I used to be be such a big fan I cannot even tell you! Down at the southern end of Manhattan you can also see the new ‘Freedom Tower’ which replaced the WTC after 9/11. I am not visiting the memorial as have done that before and was a pretty harsh experience.
The volume of tourists there however was astonishing, all queuing to get on both to see the Statue of Liberty. I just watched from afar. Back to the museums tomorrow, planning on visiting the Guggenheim and the Museum of New York, hopefully will be on safer and familiar territory there!
Day 84 – The Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of the City of New York, New York Central Library
Back on more familiar territory today with art and that makes me happy. Got to the Guggenheim at 10am so was pretty quiet looking around. It really is a stunning building. Opened in 1959 and designed by world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, it is one of the most famous galleries in the world.
The Guggenheim, New York
I read the best way to view the art was to get the lift to the top floor and work your way down. It really is the easiest gallery to navigate, as you walk down one massive spiral staircase all the way to the bottom. I was a little apprehensive that I would not enjoy the art, as it nearly all post-1950 and I struggle with abstract and surrealist art. However I actually really liked it. They had a great Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition, some beautiful Kandinskys and a fantastic Francis Bacon triptych.
Afterwards I headed to the Museum of the City of New York. I found out lots about the history of the city. Starting in the early 16th century, Manhattan was settled by the Dutch, and was called New Amsterdam. It was claimed for the Dutch East India company by explorer Henry Hudson (who the Hudson River and Hudson Bay were named after). However, in 1664 the Brits rocked up and said, ‘er we’ll have that thanks’ and just took it over! How bold.
It was then renamed New York, after the Duke of York. It is a very interesting museum, exploring in separate exhibitions subjects such as the history of activism in NYC and the Stonewall riots. New York rapidly became the second biggest city in the world, after London, and then proceeded the build innovative skyscrapers, building the Empire State Building which beacame the tallest building in the world for forty years.
I also headed to midtown and looked round some shops, then looked around the New York Public Library, made famous by Ghostbusters! I generally had a better day today, party because more people smiled and were nice to me! Maybe the weekend people were just having a bad day. Ended the day watching the sunset back in Williamsburg on the river.
My last day in New York today, moving on to Boston tomorrow. Had quite a weird time here, some great highlights in amongst some boiling weather and horrendous transport. Wouldn’t rush back here but would recommend the art galleries!
This blog is a bit different from the others. Partly because I haven’t done a huge amount! But mainly because my computer was in for repair and I only just got it back.
My time here in Laguna Beach was always going to the downtime in the middle of my trip and so it has come to pass! As I am minutes away from the beach, with great weather and good company, it really is a great place to unwind. I have done a few things however…
Balboa is a small area north of Laguna, technically I think it’s part of Newport Beach. It was created in the late 19thC by dredging the sandbars to create a holiday destination island. There is a small ferry that carries a maximum of three cars plus passengers on the three minute journey to the island. It’s really nice wondering through the lanes of the island looking at the beautiful and undoubtedly multi-million dollar homes. One of them was flying a ‘Trump 2020’ flag! Urgh.
This whole area is dripping with money. This is the real OC. It does however have its contrasts. I mainly use the bus to get around and that’s when you see the real wealth and ethnic divides in California. I usually am the only white person on the bus, and there is usually a number of homeless people using it too. When I got off at Newport there were homeless people camping in the bus terminal, right next to multi-million dollar homes.
California generally has a very scant public transport system, as most people who can afford cars just drive everywhere. There is a bus that goes up and down the coast but really it is almost impossible to use public transport to venture inland.
Anyway, back to Balboa. Once you venture off the island onto Balboa Peninsula, you are greeted with miles of golden sand beach and two piers to explore. It reminds me of Victorian British seaside towns, with amusements, candy floss and piers. Very cool.
I heart Encinitas 🙂 Liz and I have been coming here for years. It is a small town about one hour south of Laguna. It’s very laid back, lots of surfers, hippies and vegetarians – what’s not to like! We always eat at this great veggie restaurant called the Lotus Cafe. It is connected to the nearby ‘Self-Realisation Fellowship’ temple and gardens.
The gardens are perched on the top of a cliff overlooking the ocean and they’re spectacular. The temple was founded in the early 20thC by Paramahansa Yogananda. The original building fell into the sea but the gardens remain. There is a newer temple here now and you can come and stay at the retreat.
Sawdust arts festival
The Sawdust arts festival happens in Laguna twice a year, during the summer and at Christmas. Laguna has a long history of art, as I mentioned in my previous post, it was established in the early 20thC as an artists colony.
This artistic legacy led to this festival being established in 1965. It is a place for local artists and craftspeople to display and sell their pieces. You pay a small fee to enter and then you can wander around the stalls, and listen to local bands sing, and buy food from local restaurants and cafes. What a great idea!
My main reason for going this year was to buy some specific artworks. There is a local artist in Laguna called Hedy Busan who mainly works in impressionist art styles. I saw her work at the festival last year but didn’t buy anything and regretted it. So this year I bought three original pieces from her. I can’t wait to hang them in my art gallery at home!
For the second year in a row I got to spend a special day with my special friend Liz. Her 45th birthday. Yes. 45. We drank the finest French champagne on the cliffs overlooking Treasure Island beach with good friends. Ate an inordinate amount of crisps. We then ended the evening at a nearby asian restaurant called ‘Starfish’. Happy birthday my lover! X
Temecula is a small town about 90 minutes inland from the Californian coast and the centre of an emerging wine growing industry. I visited three vineyards there – Calloway, Leoness and Weins. You pay a fee and then get given a card allowing you to taste any six wines. Good job I ate lunch before I went because I (and Liz) felt rather merry by the time we were onto our 13th and 14th glasses hahah!
The scenery in the area was very reminiscent of the Mediterranean and with good reason – the area was chosen because the climate is virtually identical to the Med and therefore excellent for grape-growing. Whilst not as large or well known as other areas in California, such as Sonoma and Napa, it is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.
Tomorrow I fly north to Seattle, to spend eight days driving around Oregon and Washington states, which I am looking forward to immensely! I will however miss my second home and my best girl Liz too 😦 Until we meet again X
After ten days in the beautiful islands of Hawaii, I headed to Kona ‘International’ airport to fly east to California. First a quick word on the airport…..quite the weirdest international airport I have ever flown from! It is ‘international’ due to the one flight a day to Japan. The entire airport is a series of sheds joined together. I was surprised there weren’t chickens running around departures. Hilarious.
Anyway, after five hours in the air, I touched down at LAX. The landing was amazing as we came into land during a fantastic sunset and had the best views I have even had across LA. My best girl Liz was there to greet me and whisk me south back to Orange County and my second home, Laguna Beach.
Day 47 – Laguna Beach
So I am staying here with Liz for three weeks. As many people who know me may recall, I have been here a few times! I regard it as my second home, so after seven weeks on the road, it is fabulous to be able to unpack my suitcase and chill for a while. After a morning spent nattering and catching up, we headed down to the beach and caught up with some good friends. West Street Beach in Laguna is a glorious stretch of ocean. I jumped in the sea, and whilst not quite as warm as Hawaii, it was great to be back! I also caught up with my friends Jody and Damien. Damien has been unwell and it was so nice to see him looking much improved and to see Jody’s ever smiling face too!
West Street Beach
Me and Liz on West Street Beach
We ended the day with dinner at a favourite dining spot called ‘La Sirena’, which does fantastic Mexican food. It has been so lovely slipping back into familiar routine with good friends.
Day 48/49 – Hanging out
Combining these two days as haven’t done very much! Liz worked all day Monday so I was flying solo again. I did some exploring in Laguna to what had changed. Mainly a few new houses being built and unfortunately a few businesses gone under too. I think the shop rents here are very expensive and some local businesses can’t afford the rents. Quite a common story.
There is a great library-run bookshop I always visit, to look for bargains. Partly because I think it is the shop that someone recently bought a first edition book that appeared on the Antiques Roadshow and sold for £100,000s! So I intend to find such a book myself. Still looking…
Also been hanging out at the beach and swimming, though the water here is very different to Hawaii and the waves are a lot bigger with additional rip-tides so I have to be careful. It is now in full summer mode here so it is very busy. However where I am staying is up in the hills so it is nice and cool and devoid of tourists!
Haven’t done much else! Mainly reading and swimming in my hammock. it is a hard life. No, it is.
Days 50/51 – Drag shows and Independence Day
Wednesday’s highlight was going to the weekly drag show! I never really see much drag at home but seem to much prefer it here. Was a great show with five performers, my favourites being Wilhelmina Caviar and April Showers! Everyone here lip-syncs whereas UK performers tend to sing live.
I also walked up to the the gorgeous Heisler Park. Considering the value of land around here, it is is nice that there are still some great sports on the coastline to sit and admire the view. There is also a 9/11 memorial in the park that I always find very moving to see, as it is a part of the girder of one of the towers.
Thursday was Independence Day. I had often heard that it was a big holiday where everyone goes to the beach, well at least here in California that is, and they weren’t wrong! The photo below shows the volume of people down on the sand! However, the day started with a jolt and I experienced my first earthquake. Was a pretty surreal experience, we were sitting outside on a wooden deck, on stilts, overlooking a canyon and the ground started shaking! Not the safest place to be perhaps! The house shook side to side for about 6-8 seconds. The epicentre was up in rural California, east of LA, so even though it was a 6.4 magnitude it wasn’t felt particularly strongly here.
After that, I slipped into my stars and stripes vest and headed down to West Street Beach with Liz. After finding a small square inch of sand, we settled down for the day with our towels and picnic. We must’ve appeared very amateur compared to others who had bought huge tent constructions, sound systems, cool-boxes, you name it!
The waves were huge so unfortunately I could not swim. However because quite a few people were drinking, lots of people did attempt to go into the water, and that caused many headaches for the lifeguards, who had to keep stopping people from going in. In fact one person got into trouble and a helicopter had to land on the beach to rescue them.
In the evening we went to see some more drag and watched the fireworks on the beach. In the US, every city has their own display, and they all coincide at 9PM. Sitting on the beach, looking up and down the coast, you can see multiple displays at once which was pretty cool. There is certainly a huge amount of patriotism here, way more than you would ever see in Europe. At times it does seem pretty OTT, but it is very much in the American psyche that they are the best country in the world and that they should celebrate its, which I guess isn’t such a bad thing. It certainly was an experience to witness it!
Days 52/53 – more earthquakes, a trip to San Clemente and art
Friday I jumped on the bus with the other losers and dropouts (who doesn’t have a car right?) and headed south down the coast to the small town of San Clemente. It is similar to Laguna, a nice seaside town, with a pier, lots of surfing and local shops. As rubbish as the public transport system here is, at least it is cheaper, it was $2.00 for a 45 minute journey on the bus, at home it is about £5 for a return to town.
San Clemente pier
San Clemente beach
In the evening I scored a free ticket to ‘The Pageant of the Masters’. I went last year and it was amazing so was glad to go again. The premise of the show is that famous paintings are recreated on stage using real people. It is difficult to explain and you can’t take photos, but it truly amazing how they present these paintings that look incredibly realistic. The theme was HG Wells’ ‘Time Machine’. A couple travel back through time using Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebook as a guide to visit paintings through history.
The evening however started with another earthquake! Still focussed up in rural California and this time a 7.1 magnitude quake. I was at the theatre at the time and you could see the lighting rigs shaking. Let’s hope that the end of them!
I also got some great shots of the local hummingbirds feeding at dusk. People put out sugar water for them and they go crazy for it!
Saturday was art day. I realised I hadn’t been to a gallery in weeks! Withdrawal. There is a great gallery called the Laguna Art Museum here in town. Laguna is famous as an artists colony, dating back into the early twentieth century. Artists relocated here, predominantly from the east coast, to take advantage of the light and surroundings and to paint ‘plein air’ (outdoors). The ‘Laguna Beach Art Association’ was formed in 1918, with the art museum following in 1929.
The museum has a great collection of American impressionism, with William Wendt and Anna Hills two particular favourites. Both artists were instrumental in establishing the art colony and the museum.
I then headed down to ‘Treasure Island’, perhaps not as exciting as it sounds however! There is a huge hotel here called The Montage, surrounded by public beach and gardens, which is Treasure Island. It’s a nice place to hang out, people watch and look across the Pacific.
‘Treasure Island’ Laguna Beach
‘Treasure Island’ Laguna Beach
My final thought for the day is fruit! Now I like a smoothie, as anyone who knows me will tell you. The fruit here in California is so amazing, and tastes so great in a smoothie. The grapefruit and oranges are so sweet, and luckily a friend of Liz and mine called Jody recently delivered a huge box of assorted goodies so we have been working our way through that!
Hiroshima is known throughout the world as the first place to have an atomic bomb dropped on it. It happened on 6 August 1945, during WW2, and three days later the city of Nagasaki was also destroyed, leading to Japanese surrender to the Allies.
A few years after the event, the city debated how best to remember the visitors, and they decided to create the Hiroshima Peace Park, along with a museum dedicated to showing the world what happened. I visited the museum and it was as moving as you might expect. You walk through galleries showing the impact of the bomb, on the people and the city. Photographs taken during the event show groups of stunned people with all their clothes blown off and the skin scorched. Buildings blown away. Children’s toys scorched. Houses turned to rubble.
The most poignant artefacts are the things that were left behind. A child’s tricycle. School uniforms. Lunchboxes. All presented in the museum for us to remember the impact of what happened that day.
By the end of 1945, due to either casualties on the day or people who died due to the effects of the bomb, it is estimated that 140,000 people died, with countless other families ripped apart and ruined.
I also learnt why Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen. It was because the American military were looking for sites that would have the biggest impact, where the blast would spread the widest and have the greatest casualties.
The museum is set in the grounds of what they call the ‘hypocenter’ which is the area directly below where the bomb exploded. There is one building now known as the A-bomb dome that remained standing and has been left as reminder of the horrors of nuclear war.
Hiroshima is a fascinating place and a testament to the hours of war. Whilst it is not easy to see, I think if you visit Japan you should come here.
Day 31 – Hiroshima
I visited a fantastic art gallery today, the first one in what feels like ages! I have been really unlucky as nearly all the galleries I wanted to see have been closed for one reason or another. I am always amazed how small regional galleries can have the most amazing permanent collections and the Hiroshima Museum of Art is no exception.
It contains works by Van Gogh, Chagall, Degas, Manet, Rousseau, Munch, Modigliani and Picasso to name just a few. If these works were in a major gallery you would queue to see them and be surrounded by crowds. Here I had them virtually to myself. Always check out local galleries where you travel, you never know what you may see! I also visited a second great art gallery in Hiroshima, with works by Dali as a highlight.
In the afternoon I visited the rebuilt Hiroshima Castle. It was originally built in the 17thC but like everything else here was destroyed in 1945. It has been rebuilt with a museum inside, explaining the history of the castle. You can climb up to the 5th floor and enjoy views across the city. As you can see from the video it has been raining a lot today, in fact it has not stopped raining since I arrived! It is the rainy season after all.
Just to end I wanted to share this photo below which is a genius idea but which I have not seen anywhere else. Locakable umbrella holders. Loads of galleries, museums etc have them, to stop everything being dripped with water, you simply insert your umbrella and lock it, taking the key. Since the Uk is obviously the wettest country in the world, why don’t we have them!
Day 32 – Kobe
Today I headed east to the city of Kobe. Apparently it is famous for dead meat but I chose to ignore that and headed the wonderful Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art. As luck would have it there were having an Impressionism exhibition, I couldn’t believe my luck! I couldn’t take any photos but they had a wonderful exhibition including works from Monet, Picasso, Sisley and my new favourite artist, Maurice De Vlaminck. It is interesting how the collection came to be. The owner of gypsum production company, in the 1970s, decided to start collecting art so that his workers had a more pleasant environment to work in, and he amassed this amazing collection for them to enjoy. It now is touring Japan for us all to enjoy. What a wonderful employer.
The gallery also has a great permanent collection, including some Japanese impressionist paintings from the early 20thC, a movement I had not been aware of but which I loved! Particularly an artist called Heizo Kanayama.
Outside the gallery there are also some great sculptures, including a big apple and a large girl!
I then strolled along the harbour front to Meriken Park. Whilst parts of the walk were nice, Kobe is one of these cities that has dedicated itself to the car and sacrificed the pedestrian, building a monstrous two tier freeway going right through the harbour front. It may have been built after the large earthquake that happened here in 1995. I only vaguely remember it but the monument in Meriken Park says that over 6,000 people died sadly. Meriken Park also contains the iconic Kobe Port Tower, shown below.
Kobe Port Tower
Kobe Port Tower
Day 33 – Osaka
A short hop east to the city of Osaka. Signs up everywhere warning people about security measures in place for the G20 summit next week, glad I am not here then! Plus I might accidentally see the Trump.
Weather is a lot nicer here, cooler and no rain. Headed out to Osaka Castle in the morning, along with every tourist in the city it would seem. Climbing eight floors to the top you get some great views across the city. Running out of steam I headed to the river and the lovely Nakanoshima Park, marooned in the middle of the river on an island and very peaceful. After nearly five weeks away, travelling around on trains, planes, buses, subways, taxis, by foot I am starting to flag a little! So I lay on a bench and looked at the clouds for an hour and it was great.
In the evening I headed south to Dotonoburi, a crazy, neon canal-side area of Osaka with shops and restaurants. There is a famous advertising sign called the running man that all the locals go crazy for and take endless selfies in front of. I don’t know why. There was also a man dressed as a wolf, dancing on the front of a boat to Michael Jackson songs, sailing up and down the canal. I don’t know why.
Day 34 – Osaka
A very lazy day today, feel like I am running out of energy! Plus it was super humid and that is the worst kind of weather. Anyway I spent the morning at the Apple store, trying to fix an issue with my MacBook, then wondered through the side streets of Osaka, visiting a few little community style temples that no tourists ever come too and it was great.
I then headed back to to the riverside park I went to on my first day here and snoozed by the river. Lovely.
In the evening I sampled the local speciality which is called Okonomiyaki. It is a kind of vegetable based pancake, cooked in front of you on a hot-plate. The veggie option was cabbage, eggs, potato, cheese, with a mayonnaise topping with some other stuff I wasn’t sure of! But it was delicious.
I then visited Osaka Tower and went up the tallest building in the city to see nighttime views across the city, a nice way to end my last evening here.
Day 35 – Osaka
Today is my last day in Japan, and in Asia. I have not visited Asia for quite some years. I think the last time I was here was way back in 2005. I really love the culture and people and energy of this continent, it is everything I wanted it to be. Challenging, awe-inspiring, welcoming and a world away from my everyday life.
I am heading off to Hawaii tonight, but I just wanted to end with some thoughts on my time in Japan.
Life in the land of the rising sun
Japan truly is the friendliest country in the world. It is also the politest and most orderly. Everything you have heard is true. I like and respect order and efficiency and this country has it in bucketloads!
The Japanese people have embraced technology, without forgetting their culture and history. Technology like robots, sushi conveyor belts and self parking car garages sit alongside Shinto temples, kimonos and origami. This seems to be true of both young and old.
There is a real respect for older people, which is great to see and sadly lacking in many countries.
It is the tidiest country with the fewest bins. They have hardly any public bins, yet the place is sparkling!
There is a strange attitude to smoking. There are loads of signs telling you that you can’t smoke in the street, and yet you can still smoke in bars and restaurants.
People cycle on the pavements more that then road and you just have to get out their way quickly it would seem!
The attitude to tattoos is similar to the UK in the 1950s. In my current hotel it says you can’t use the spa if you are drunk or have tattoos. They pretty much equate the two together. They seem to have a view that tattoo=criminal. As much as I obviously look like a Yakuza overlord, I just used it anyway #rebel.
The trains. Oh the trains. Not ONE SINGLE TRAIN I used was even one minute late. I will leave that there for you to consider.
The Japan Rail Pass is a brilliant idea and a great cost-efficient way to get around. Highly recommended.
Plastic. The Japanese, and Korean, people love plastic and plastic bags. The UK is certainly way ahead in our environmental outlook that’s for sure.
My final note I am sure to be back here one day, there is so much more to see. Aloha, I’ll see you in Hawaii.
On day 14 of my trip I said goodbye to Korea and headed over to the land of the rising sun – Japan. I had some amazing views of Busan as I took off, see my video. It isn’t very far to get to Japan from Korea, only two hours flight from Busan to Tokyo. I had to pick up my SIM card and rail pass which was pretty easy then I jumped onto a train into the heart of the biggest city in the world! And boy does it feel big!
I immediately felt a difference in the people. On the train there was none of that Korean shoving to get a seat. It was so much more orderly and respectful. I arrived into Tokyo station at rush hour with a large suitcase which was as much fun as you can imagine…! However there are so many rail lines it is actually pretty easy to get around.
First thing I did when I got to my hotel was laundry! I literally had nothing left to wear.
Day 15 – Finding my way around
I just checked and I walked 23,000 steps today and it is only 6pm! I decided to do some sightseeing today and book some of my onward tickets. I have booked a ticket up to the island of Hokkaido in the north next week which I am really looking forward to. I bought myself a ‘Suica’ card for the metro and set off exploring. A few dead ends to start with though, as the Museum of Western Art is closed the entire time I am here and the National Museum was insanely busy so I thought, no. I should’ve known better than to turn up at 12 noon. Going to have to do that another day.
I did walk around the gardens off the Japanese Imperial Palace which were lovely, and also the Gojo Tenjinsha, a shrine in Ueno Park surrounding the National Museum. I also stumbled across a display of flowering bonsai trees which were beautiful. I know keeping and pruning bonsai is a Japanese art form, the people looking at them were fascinated by the trees.
I then headed on the metro down to the Shibuya district, with the famous crazily-busy pedestrian crossing that seems to appear in loads of films. I tried to go to a conveyor belt sushi place for lunch but like everywhere else here it was crazy busy so I bought some cooked aduki bean rice and salad from a shop and headed to the park instead!
Veggie food here is certainly no picnic but it is a little better than Korea so far. In the afternoon I visited the forest park that contains the Meiji-Jingu shrine. There was also a beautiful garden with water lilies and irises so I decided to eat my lunch there in the relative peace. Tokyo is fun but you need to escape the noise sometimes.
Finally I visited the famous Harajuku district. This is the area where all the trendy young things hang out and shop, so I was in good company. I went to a vintage shop and bought some sunglasses, as I lost both my pairs already!! It was a really interesting sight, seeing all the crazy outfits everyone was wearing, especially after the conservative nature of Korean young people.
Day 16 – Museums
Learning my lesson from yesterday, I headed out early to the National Museum of Tokyo. I was very glad I did, as for the first few galleries I had the place to myself. The museum is actually four galleries in one, with an entrance fee of about 600 yen which is about £5!
The main gallery has artefacts from Japan including some amazing buddhas, masks and some wood prints images. Similar to Seoul Museum, it was incredibly well presented and laid out. I also went to the museum cafe and after explaining to the waitress that I don’t eat no meat, she found a special tofu burger meal I could have which was very kind of her, and delicious too! The other galleries focus on Asian art in general, with stunning Indian buddhas from the second and third centuries being my highlights. Overall I spent five hours there and it was fantastic.
In the evening I checked out the Akhihabra district, otherwise known as Electric Town. Well it was quite the assault on the senses. I looked round some of the game arcades, which were pretty funny, as they were packed with middle-aged businessmen playing retro games, presumably reclaiming their youth after a busy day in the office. The area is also full of ‘maid cafes’. Which is kinda what they are, lots of young women dressed as maids standing in the streets with menus trying to tempt (mainly men funnily enough…) into the cafes, where I think they put on performances and food comes in ‘kawaii’ style – cute. On the flyer I was given the highlight were teddy bear shaped omelettes!
Day 17 – Closed, closed, closed
Well the lesson of the day is to check museum websites before you travel. I went to THREE art galleries all of which were closed. Closed. Closed. What were the chances I turn up when all three are closed to put together new exhibitions. After the weeping stopped, I headed over to the Roppongi district. There is a great art complex there called the National Centre for Art and there was a fabulous Austrian art exhibition on celebrating 150 years of diplomatic relations between Japan.
Now, I would not normally consider Austrian art to be high on my agenda, but boy was I wrong, it was fabulous. Gustav Klimt is probably the artist from the exhibition you are most likely to have heard of (‘The Kiss’) but the whole exhibition was very interesting, concentrating on the 19thC and early 20thC. I also discovered two fantastic new artists, Hans Makart and Egon Schiele. The painting below is ‘Sunflowers’ by Schiele and I love it! The most famous painting in the exhibition was ‘Portrait of Emilie Floge’ from 1902 by Klimt, another stunning painting.
Day 18 – Shinjuku, Harajuku and Asakusa
Today I decided to mop up a few of the remaining areas of Tokyo I had yet to visit. I started with Shinjuku. There is a beautiful garden there called Shinjuku Goyen, free to get in on a Sunday and the perfect place to lie down on the grass and do nothing! Shinjuku is more famous for its nightlife, so I am heading out there tonight to see what it has to offer.
I then got the metro over to Harajuku, made famous by Gwen Stefani perhaps, Harajuku girls. Anyway, it is very trendy and hip. I visited the Kawaii (cute) monster cafe for lunch. Oh my. I guess it is more for kids but was fascinating anyway to experience it. The cafe itself is a crazy, neon, OTT visual experience, and the staff put on shows, complete with cute dancing monsters.
Finally I headed east over to Asakusa. This area contains the oldest temple in the city, Senso-Ji. As it was a weekend it was packed. It is very touristy, lots of things to buy, lots of street food stalls, but interesting nonetheless. It reminds me of what I saw in Korea, a less sanitised version of the city.
Day 19 – Robots
My last day in Tokyo and I looked to the future. Literally. I visited the Museum of Science and Emerging Innovation in the Odaiba district. The best part was watching a demonstration by ASIMO, the resident football-playing and dancing robot! It was really interesting to see how human they had made it, and what it could do. ‘He’ could also jump on one leg! The museum had lots of interesting exhibitions, including using cells in medicine and space exploration, where you could look round one of the actual living pods used on the International Space Station.
Nearby there was also a huge robot thing which my friend Dom reliably informs me is called Gundam, and it is based on some cartoon or something that was popular once. Anyway it was pretty impressive, and it looked like a transformer. Another oddity in the area included a replica of the Statue of Liberty (not full sized). The area also has fantastic views of the city, as all as of the ‘Rainbow bridge’.
Me and my friend Lady Liberty
I have really enjoyed Tokyo, everyone is so friendly and welcoming and willing to try and speak with you. This goes for everyone who works for the rail system, anyone in a cafe or restaurant, anyone who works in a shopping centre, a 7/11 store, you name it. It definitely is the friendliest and politest country I have ever visited. The most efficient too!
Tomorrow I have my first experience of the Shinkansen trains (bullet trains). I am travelling five hours up to Hokkaido in the far north of Japan. I can’t wait!
Memphis, in the words of Marc Cohen in the song he made famous (Walking in Memphis), is the home of the delta blues. And Elvis.
Rock n’ Roll, soul and the blues
Music made this city and is a big part of why so many tourists come here. ‘Beale Street’ is the main place to hear the blues, as well as soul too. It seems pretty commercialised these days, and a lot more white than it was from what I have read. In the ‘Rock & Soul’ Museum, I learnt all about the history of the blues, soul and rock & roll and how Beale Street was a largely black community. In the days of segregation, black people bought and ran businesses here, and also played the music they loved. This music originated in the fields, where their ancestors had worked as slaves.
So much of what I have seen and heard in the south has been influenced by slavery.
The blues were essentialy created by W.C. Handy, a black musician from Alabama. He wrote and recorded what’s acknowledged to be the first blues record, ‘Memphis Blues’. Lots of other artists began their careers here, for example Al Green and of course Elvis.
The influence of Elvis is everywhere. Rock & Roll music, which he personified, was essentially black music that white people took and popularised. I’d never really thought before how much of Elvis’ music is influenced by black culture.
The Rock and Soul museum is really interesting, definitely worth a visit. You watch a film all about the blues and soul, and then they give you a self guided tour to go round the museum, it also allows you play lots of great songs too. Interesting exhibits too on Stax records and the prejudice that black musicians faced/face.
National Civil Rights Museum and Martin Luther King
One of the most interesting and moving experiences I have had on my trip was visiting the National Civil Rights Museum. Housed in the Lorraine Motel where Dr King was assassinated on 4 April 1968, the museum is a fantastic testament to the struggles that black people have undergone in the US.
The museum highlights various pivotal moments in African American history, included events in Selma, Birmingham and Memphis. Standing in the room where Dr King was killed was a profoundly moving experience. Another particularly emotional exhibit allows you to feel how the young people of the south might have felt when they staged a non-violent sit-in in cafes across the south, to protect against segregation. You can also sit on a replica bus of the one that Rosa Parks sat on, when she refused to give up her seat to a white person. Bearing in mind how recent this history is, it is somewhat difficult to believe this all happened.
I visited the museum on the day of the Trump inauguration. It felt very ironic and symbolic too, considering the things he has said about ethnic minorities. I hope America does not take a step backwards with regards to civil rights, including LGBT rights.
A quote I have always loved from Dr King is ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere‘.
Of course, like every other city I have visited, Memphis has a great art gallery, the Brooks Art Museum. Bit of a journey out of town to visit but well worth it. One artist I discovered is a local Tennessee artist called Carroll Cloar. Born in 1913, he made his name painting surreal images of the southern landscapes and the people who lived there. A couple of his paintings are below.
One of the things I love about travelling is visiting all of the amazing museums and art galleries around the world. One of the best I have visited is the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The history of Austarlian art is more varied than you might think, with Aboriginal art only really coming into its own in the 1970s, and white Australian art finding its voice in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Here are a few of my favourite pieces from the gallery.
The skyline of Sydney must be one of the iconic skylines in the world. I have been here three times over the course of 16 years and have never failed to be awed by it. The opera house was very controversial when it was built, it was over time and over budget built it is now firmly one of the iconic buildings of the world. And what a view!
Here’s my videologue of the few days I spent in Sydney.
I’ve also had the great joy of meeting up again with two friends, who I met in very different ways! I met my friend Amy on New Years Eve in Sydney in 2004, both being rather the worse for wear with alcohol! But we hit it off & stayed in touch ever since. I’m greyer and Amy is married with two kids but we haven’t changed really.
Louisa used to be my manager when I worked in Lewes in Sussex! But a professional relationship became a friendship and when she moved back to Sydney we stayed in touch. It’s been great to see both again.