March Madness

I think the name of the college basketball tournament (“March Madness”) nicely sums up the month of March for me, so I may as well borrow the title.

Like the tournament itself, my March started a little slowly. I rode the ebbs and flows of the work world, getting significant results, and finally drawing together a nice plan for my dissertation (finally!). This will see me staying in Boulder for 2 more weeks! As usual, the weather was pretty variable, and I somehow got sunburnt in mid March. A couple of days later we were in almost a foot of snow (approximately 30cm for all you metric people out there). The arrival of this snow ironically ushered in the start of spring break.

The week leading up to spring break was surprisingly relaxing for me, so I had hoped to make the most of the nice weather. Unfortunately, just when I had some time on my hand, temperatures plummeted. This was coupled with the arrival of Saori’s friends – Takumi and Shinichi. They had come all the way from Japan for just 6 days! Serious dedication. Anyway, to make the most of their short time here, we squeezed in many activities. On the first day of Spring break (saturday), and as many people were struggling to get out of the area to sunnier climes because of the snow, we went down to Denver for a Nuggets basketball game. Temperatures were very unfriendly, but it was nice to venture around Denver as I have yet to do that yet. As for the game it was awesome (or gnarly in honour of the Californian opposition). We managed to obtain tickets for the 15th row as part of a family night out package. Despite the opposition (Sacramento Kings) not being the best on paper, they offered up a good game, which made for enthralling viewing. I even managed to get myself a free t-shirt, which made the night even sweeter. Importantly, our Japanese guests also loved the experience.

The next day, we went on a hike up the flatirons, despite the foot of snow. I started out thinking about 5 people would be going in total, but there turned out to be 10 of us in the end. As I had the most mountain experience, people looked to me for guidance and advice. Conditions were treacherous, and I wasn’t entirely comfortable being responsible for so many people, but we made It with no incidences! After this, we had a well deserved burger at the Sink, and explored pearl street. Shattered!

On Monday (25th), we (Saori, Shinichi, Takumi and myself) flew out to san Francisco! Because of the flatirons trek, and other events, I had to stay up really late to pack. I always seem to do that! We arrived at our hotel at 3pm, and wasted no time in going to the Golden Gate bridge. It’s strange how a pile of steel can be so iconic. After this excursion, we headed to the Japanese centre to get some ramen for dinner. Eating Ramen (long noodles) with chopsticks was one of the hardest, and least dignified, things I have ever done. Of course, being surrounded by Japanese made me look like a complete amateur!

Tuesday was an action packed day, as it was Shinichi and Takumi’s last day. Firstly, we ventured over to AT & T park to have a tour of the home of the San Francisco Giants. I don’t really have any real interest in baseball (unlike my Japanese friends), but it was a surprisingly enjoyable experience. The stadium is literally right by the water, and sometimes home runs land in the bay. Being a little bit sad as I am, I quizzed the tour guide about the earthquake adaptive measures that have been put into place in the stadium. Following this, we caught a bus to Pier 33, and boarded the boat to Alcatraz. Honestly, I was sceptical of the Alcatraz thing,as I though it was going to be overtly touristy, but I was pleasantly surprised. The audio tour of the prison complex was first class. It helped that it was a glorious day, but I would encourage any visitor to San Francisco to venture over there. We came back, had some delicious Clam Chowder, and then went back to the hotel to get some well earnt sleep. This didn’t last that long and Saori and myself had to get up at 4am to help Shinichi and Takumi to get to the airport.It was sad to see Shinichi and Takumi go. Despite the language barrier, making communication difficult, I could still tell they were really nice, genuine people. For Takumi it was his first ever trip outside of Japan!

Not surprisingly we were extremely tired, and had a cheeky second sleep, before checking out and moving into the fancy hotel. By lunchtime, we had managed to get down to the Mission district. Very interesting place, and despite there not being any real ‘sites’, it was a great place to people watch and get out of some of the tourist traps of San Francisco. To make the place even sweeter, I had the nicest burrito and nachos ever at a place called Taqueria Los Coyotes. I really am going to miss the quality Mexican food over here. Wearily, we came back in early evening, took advantage of the spa facilities at the hotel, and then I went out to Chinatown whilst Saori rested. I literally went everywhere in Chinatown – from the gate to the dodgy alleyways. Great fun! Played a bit of roulette with a Chinese menu (none of it in English), which proved unfortunate as I ordered the most disgusting ‘dessert’ of warm ginger milk. It looked like really runny rice pudding crossed with curdled milk. Never again!

On Thursday we explored the less popular areas of the bay area. First, we took the bus over to Treasure Island. Unfortunately the romanticism of its title was not a reality. The island is man-made and located in the middle of the bay between San Francisco and Oakland. It was like a ghost town, with scores of abandoned Navy buildings and closed off areas. In all our time there we saw just 6 people, despite there being a claimed 19,000 people. Very surreal place. After this though, we continued over the bay bridge to Oakland. I was pleasantly surprised by Oakland. Some nice parks and marina areas (especially Jack London Square). There was also a useful free bus service, which allowed us to explore lake Merritt. It was nice to get out of some of the crowds of San Francisco.

Friday was arguably my favourite day in the USA so far. It was a beautiful day, so we rented a bike and biked the Golden Gate Bridge. Sure it was a little hilly, but completely manageable. Crossing the bridge was a little sketchy, with wandering pedestrians, but we got over eventually. We then descended into Sausalito, and parked up. As we were in a seaside environment, we thought it would be rude not to have fish and chips! First time I have had them since I left the UK. The sun made us sleepy so we lounged around in the parks and explored the area. After spending almost 4 hours there, we mustered up some strength (partly with the aid of ice coffee for “Orca”) to climb up the hill and head back. Just as we were cycling back, the fog started to role in, resulting in a large headwind which made it tough. However, the fog made the experience even more rewarding, as I got to see that iconic image of the bridge shrouded in fog. Not really seeing much, we biked back over the bridge and explored the Presido Park, before returning our bikes. We got back just in time, and caught the cable car back to the hotel. The cable cars are great, but try to go in the early morning when it is quiet as otherwise the chaos makes the experience not so pleasurable. As the posh hotel was only cheap for 2 nights we checked into hotel number 3 just down the road. Bit dodgy, but the bed was massive(7×7). For dinner we sampled some Indonesian cuisine, which was delicious!

Saturday was our last full day in San Francisco. Again the weather was very kind to us, so we went over to the Golden Gate park, along with the hordes of people. We ambled around, and rented a pedal boat on the lake. A little more classy setting than the last time I was on a pedal boat! After this we caught the bus to Coit Tower to catch the evening sun. Unfortunately a storm was just coming in, so visibility wasn’t as great as we would have liked. Walked around the tourist trap of fisherman’s wharf a bit more, before heading back to the Japan Center for our final meal. Did a bit of shopping, checked out of our hotel, and then caught the train to our airport hotel. Got there by 10pm, so we had a luxurious 5 hours of sleep. Our flight home was at 6am, so we were back in Boulder by late monday morning. A really great trip! It was sad to think that san Francisco will probably be my last unexplored city that I will be going too. I would definitely consider living some part of my life over there.

So that was March in a nutshell! I wonder what April will bring……

On an unrelated note, I would encourage people to watch this music video by Vampire Weekend for the superb New York collage. I don’t think there is a better one out there.

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