Firstly, YES, I’M ALIVE. I’m sorry for not updating my blog. There is a reason why I haven’t posted sooner: I found that when I came back from holiday, it was extremely difficult to get back into the flow of writing, especially since I was trying to write ABOUT the trip. The words just wouldn’t come out in a steady stream; I was writing about an event that spanned two weeks so I didn’t know what order to write in, and which bits to leave out. Furthermore, I wasn’t sure how a holiday that I went on would be interesting to other people reading my blog. I found writing this post boring, so it was difficult persuading myself that other people would enjoy reading it! Anyway, give it a read and leave a comment telling me whether or not you found it boring:
To be honest, the fact that I was in America was more exciting than America itself. Flying over, there was something surreal about the last half-hour of the plane journey. I’d dreamed about this trip for years – which is a totally corny thing to say, but it was how I felt.
Just to recap, the reason for our holiday was because Airbnb (An online platform to find/rent rooms for holiday accommodation, that my family is part of) was hosting a conference. So we thought that was a pretty damn good excuse for a trip across the pond. And yeah, a “conference” sounds boring, but it wasn’t that kind of conference; it wasn’t the type with the smart suits and the formal language and the speeches that carry on for eternity. In fact, if you just stick with me for a while longer, I will explain it in more detail.
We started off our fifteen-day stay, in Palo Alto, with some friends that we’d hosted in London previously. The journey to their house wasn’t exactly exciting. We had to endure an excruciatingly long queue – or “line” as they call it in the U.S. – at the airport. I felt like I was being so ungrateful for the fact that we were on holiday – IN CALIFORNIA, but there was no denying my boredom. After the queue, there were a couple of really grumpy staff members – okay, so I admit there WAS one friendly one, who seemed to me to be “typically American,” but there were also two that I remembering as being awful. After that, there was a helluva lot of waiting around before we finally went to pick up a rented car and drove to our friends’ house.
Now, here’s something you should know about being in Palo Alto: You could be anywhere. I mean, there’s nothing about it that screams “America” or “look at me.” Really. If there was a contest for the most unspectacular place, Palo Alto would be so insignificant it wouldn’t even qualify to participate; the judges wouldn’t notice its existence. Okay, that might be going a bit far, but you get my point: If the whole of America was like Palo Alto, I’d jump on a plane home and never waste my time dreaming about that country again. It was hard admitting to myself that I was slightly disappointed about… Palo Alto, or the whole of the U.S.A? I wasn’t sure whether the rest of America was be like this. There was one nice street in Palo Alto – called Castro Street, not to be confused with the Castro Street in San Fran – where we had dinner. Gosh, that meal was delicious… I better make a quick detour to tell you about it:
Our hosts took us to a restaurant called “Asian Box.” The food followed a mix-and-match format where you chose a base (Rice or noodles), a topping, a sauce etc. and then ate it from a cardboard box. I chose something with beef, expecting the same quality of meat from the Chinese restaurant I’m used to going to. But no. The beef was phenomenal – so tender! And together with all the other toppings the meal totally surpassed my expectations.
Getting back on track 🙂
Although we were staying in Palo Alto, during the day our trips were mostly outside and around the city. Our hosts were kind enough to show us around which I’m really grateful for.
After Palo Alto, we set off for Yosemite, a place I couldn’t pronounce until I knew we were going there. Lucky I never said the name, otherwise I probably would have embarrassed myself by calling it “Yo-seh-might.” Just to quickly clarify, it’s pronounced “Yoh-seh-mi-tee.”
Yosemite is a national park, famous for its towering granite cliffs, waterfalls and giant sequoias/redwoods. To be honest, I spent most of my time there trying to work out the difference between redwoods and sequoias. I still don’t know the answer. However, I did manage to get a couple of selfies in the the woods. Oh, and the cliffs were magnificent. Especially on such a gloriously cold and gloomy an evening as one of the ones we went on. The funny thing is, there was something insanely lovely about the bleakness. I was standing near the edge of a grey cliff surrounded by stone wall in the spitting rain. My hands were almost numb from cold. The sky was a murky grey of failed candy floss clouds. And I was just looking outwards, downwards, at the tiny lights of the houses below. So so far down. At dusk, God! The sky seemed so BIG that day, the drop so high and rough and grand. Thinking about it, the main attraction of Yosemite is that everything is big. The trees, the cliffs, the national park itself.
The hotel room we stayed in was gorgeous and quaint (which is something a British person isn’t meant to say when traveling in the US) By day we’d took long car rides along the winding roads – simultaneously indulging in the luxury of an 80’s New-Wave radio station. Oh, and I saw a coyote for the first time!
After three days in Yosemite, our next destination was – finally – finally – finally SAN FRANCISCO a.k.a The City. You have heard of “Tales Of The City,” right? If not, it’s this really successful 80’s series written by Armistead Maupin, and it’s set in – surprise, surprise – San Francisco. It starts off being about an naive, innocent young woman from Cleveland, who moves to… San Francisco. Immediately, it’s a huge CULTURE-SHOCK for her. Why? Because she’s thrust into a lively world of drugs, promiscuity and outrageous, mind-boggling secrets. She’s surprised by the fact that homosexuality is commonplace, a theme throughout the book, as her friend Michael is gay. So, anyway, my mum bought me the first three books of the series, so I could get to know the city before we arrived.
One of the most famous parts of San Francisco is Haight-Ashbury. The place is famous for its hippie and “alternative” culture. Naturally, I wanted to go there. It turned out luck was on my side. We walked down Haight Street, in Haight-Ashbury, a few times. I actually passed by Amoeba Records, a shop Isadora (Yes, check out her blog!) recommended to me, but unfortunately it was closed; at least I got a glimpse through the window – it definitely looked like the kind of place I’d like!
What surprised me about Haight-Ashbury – and actually, San Francisco in general, was the amount of homelessness there was. This was a really stupid generalisation, but I had previously thought of “all Americans” as being very wealthy; as I found out, that’s not true everywhere. I guess I hadn’t really thought about it before. So it’s not really fair to say that I’d thought of all Americans as being wealthy; rather, I was especially surprised by the amount of un-housed people I saw in the streets – in the U.S.
The thing about the homelessness in San Francisco is that it’s very very obvious. It’s not like in London where you see a few people here and there on the pavement, or tucked away in doorways. In San Francisco you see people on the street with their sleeping bags and belongings everywhere. I mean, not just on the street; on buses, in parks, in squares. I felt bad because I was on holiday enjoying myself, but there were people there struggling to get by each day.
There were actually homeless people protesting outside the Airbnb conference centre one night. Apparently the reason they were against Airbnb was because they didn’t agree with people owning multiple properties and letting them out for money; they believed that the people doing this were hogging the houses on the market, making the prices for the remaining houses go up. However, it’s only a very small percentage of people on Airbnb who own multiple properties, so most of the people on there aren’t affecting house prices that much.
The conference centre was huge; there were around 1,500 people attending, from 40 different countries. The conference itself mostly consisted of talks from the founders and higher members of the company, which I actually found really inspiring. I guess you could describe the whole atmosphere as inspiring; all the people who were there were there for a reason: to meet other members of the community and watch the talks. As a result you could walk up to pretty much anyone and start a conversation with them, and they’d happily chat with you for the next half hour or whatever. Really, it had a similar sort of friendliness to that of a festival or concert. Added to that was the loud, upbeat music playing when you walked in and the smaller workshops where you were encouraged to discuss specified topics with fellow hosts. I ended up talking to so many people that I began to worry that I might start to mix them up or forget their names. In the end, of course, I forgot most of their names.
I also went on two of the trips organised as part of the conference. One was a walk down the Golden Gate bridge at sunset. SO BEAUTIFUL. It felt weird actually being on the bridge, after having seen it in films, you know what I mean? It also took so much longer to walk down it than I’d thought it would take.
The next day me and my mum went on a mini volunteering “trip” with Airbnb. It was very different from the Golden Gate one since it wasn’t a walk. We took a bus to the basically assembled Ikea stools to put in the housing that was created for veterans. And I was pretty good at it, I am pleased to say. You know, I imagined myself to be really bad at that kind of DIY thing… but I surprised myself.
Oh, and I forgot to say that there was LIVE MUSIC at the conference. XD XD XD Just, you know… saying.
The next Airbnb Open will be in Paris. *books tickets*
I really felt like I could have done with three more days in San Francisco. Just to round the trip off and see… a few more things. I’m DEFINITELY going back to America. I might not go to San Francisco next time, but I will return at some point.
Thank you for surviving up until this point in my post. Comment telling me your U.S.A experiences!