San Diego: The Pacific Port

So this year has been pretty busy for me. Namely because in addition to the one or two trips I normally do, I’ve also been travelling for work. Last week was my fifth business trip in the last six months. It’s been a crazy half year but I’m fairly certain I’m done with travelling for the rest of the year haha.

It’s not like I’m getting sick of it or anything, but it’ll be nice to just chill at home and play some video games or something for a change.

Anyways, last week I went to San Diego for another conference. I was really looking forward to this trip because California is probably the state I wanted to go to the most. As a result, I decided to take a couple days off of work after the conference and just travel the state a bit more. I’ll write about those couple days in a future post and just focus on San Diego in this one.

The San Diego skyline at night.

I haven’t looked it up but my gut feeling tells me that San Diego is the furthest American city in the contiguous United States from Toronto. It’s literally at the bottom left corner of the country and is really close to the Mexican border.

Actually, I just looked it up and I’m pretty sure I’m right.

Anyways, considering how the city is next to Mexico, I kinda expected the city to be similar to San Antonio. For one, they both have San in their names and they both seemed to be cities that would have a lot of Mexcian influences. I wouldn’t say that I was necessarily wrong, but there was one major difference between the two cities, the Pacific Ocean. San Diego is located right off the Pacific and so the ocean really influenced how the city feels and developed. 

A setting sun and a bunch of ships.

It’s pretty neat because the airport is in the city so when you’re landing it almost feels like you’re flying right by the skyscrapers. Then, all of the sudden the skyscrapers disappear and you’re left with the harbour. It’s cool because that means when you leave the airport, you’re on a road where one side is just a ton of ships and the other side is a bunch of planes.

The geographical location of San Diego really makes it a special city because it’s a warm water port of the largest ocean and it’s incredibly close to an international border. As a result, there is a huge military presence in the city.

The US Navy has a huge base in the harbour and they even have their own airport. So when you look at the city from above, you actually just see two airports essentially side by side, one for civilians and one for the military. This means that during your stay you end up seeing a ton of different vehicles. Everything from sailboats to aircraft carriers and commercial jets to attack helicopters.

It definitely does give the city a bit more of a unique feel to it. The United States has the largest military and Navy in the world and so it’s interesting seeing a portion of it just hang out so close to the city.

Aircraft carriers are huge.

And of course, San Diego has a ton of beaches and parks since it’s so close to the ocean and the weather is fairly temperate all year round. For the most part, the conference I went to took up a lot of my day and so by the time it ended the sun was pretty much setting and so it didn’t really make a lot of sense to go check out some of the more natural places.

However, one night we did go out and go to Balboa Park (which my head canon totally has it where the park is named after Rocky). The pictures online made it look really nice and so I thought it would be a good walk.

But apparently the park is huge and not all of it is scenic. Especially at night.

Some stacks of wood we saw in the dark park.

We ended up walking around the sports complex section of the park in literal darkness and so there wasn’t much to see. Given that it was super dark and chillier than what I expected a Californian city to be like, it wasn’t the most magnificent of park visits, but it was still a fun walk.

I had a proper chance to actually check out some of the scenic aspects of the city a bit more the morning before my flight out. We went to the Cabrillio National Monument which is on a small peninsula in the city. That was a nice short trip since it gave a pretty awesome view of the city from an elevated position.

So not only was it really easy to see the layout of the city (and the military base!) it really made you appreciate the sheer size of the ocean. Being from Toronto, it’s sometimes easy to forget exactly how large the ocean is. Well, it’s huge and every time I see it I always just feel so at peace. I kinda wish I lived near the ocean. That would be nice.

The Cabrillo National Monument with the military airport in the background.

When it comes to food, the Mexican influence definitely plays a huge part here since their Mexican food is pretty top tier. We went to this one restaurant that also called themselves a “tequila museum” since they served a bunch of different types of tequila as well.

Was it the best Mexican food I’ve ever had? No, that’s still reserved for that one meal I had in San Antonio. But still, both the food and drinks were absolutely fantastic.

Speaking of drinks, apparently San Diego is really well known for their craft beers since they they have a lot of breweries in the city. I got some local beer from the store and they weren’t that special, but the craft beer we got in restaurants were pretty good. Given more time I think I’d like to try more of their beer.

Some good beer and a turkey sandwich.

That’s definitely one of the perks of being in America, their selection of beer and (non-Asian) snacks is definitely better than Canada.

Overall, my trip to San Diego was pretty great. There seems to be a lot to do in the city, especially if you are into beaches and outdoor parks. Unfortunately, I didn’t have as much time to go to as many places as I wanted to go to, but the places I went to were pretty nice. I feel like a lot of times when people talk about going to California they always just mention places like San Francisco and Los Angeles, but I can definitely recommend San Diego as a place to check out as well.

San Antonio: The Alamo City

One of the definite perks at work is that I have the chance to travel. Last week, I had another conference to attend. This time, in San Antonio. It was my first time in Texas and so I was actually quite looking forward to the trip since I’ve heard so much about Texas but never had a real reason to visit.

The first thing that was apparent to me was that it was hot. When I left Toronto it was like 6 degrees outside and when I got to San Antonio it was like, 35. I was sweating like crazy on the first day when I was walking around outside.

I guess that’s expected though considering how it’s literally Texas and quite a bit further south than Toronto is.

A Texan sunset.

Texas has a slogan “six flags over Texas” which represents the six countries that had sovereignty over the state throughout history: Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, Confederate America, and modern America. San Antonio is a really interesting city because it really embodies this evolution. It’s a city that mixes all of these cultural and historical elements into one neat package.

I never really considered Texas of all places to be multicultural, but I was proven pretty wrong pretty fast on my trip there.

One obvious example of Texan history and culture would be the Alamo, a church turned into a siege area during the Texas Revolution. Honestly, it wasn’t very visually interesting but the Alamo is a very important Texan symbol and it’s smack dab in the middle of San Antonio. It seems like the city is pretty proud of that piece of history and when you learn about it, you can understand why.

The Texas combo, the Alamo and a sheriff.

It’s a pretty classic story of the underdog prevailing against a stronger opponent through pure determination and force of will. Modern day America is definitely a powerhouse country today, but it wasn’t always this way and things like this are a pretty good reminder of its history and origins.

This is further expanded upon if you go visit the other Missions in San Antonio. In total there’s five churches-turned-communities scattered around the area which showcases how San Antonio came to be. Once you start going through the history a bit, you realize that Texas and Mexico have a pretty deep and intertwined relationship.

Even though the Texans beat the Mexicans during the Texas Revolution to gain their independence, it’s interesting that San Antonio really feels like Mexico. Now, I’ve never been to Mexico before, but from what I’ve seen and heard, San Antonio looks and feels pretty much like what I’d imagine Mexico to be like.

The Historic Market Square, featuring a ton of Mexican shops and restaurants.

There’s a lot of Mexican influences in the city. When you’re walking around the streets you hear a lot of Spanish and all of the more cultural or historical buildings have a very Mexican style to them too. Considering how it’s also fairly close to the Mexican border, San Antonio has a really different feel to it as compared to any other American city I’ve been to.

The unique atmosphere also extends to the other parts of the city too. For example, one of the most famous landmarks in San Antonio is the Riverwalk, which is an (artificial?) river system running through the middle of the city. It’s below ground level and so you’re just in this like, path that has a ton of restaurants and bars flanking it.

Some restaurants by the Riverwalk.

The feel there was really nice both during the day and at night. There was always a lot of people there so it felt really lively and the combination of the water, plants, and decorations was pretty beautiful as well. Overall, it’s definitely a tourist trap, but it’s totally worth checking it out and just enjoying the walk.

Speaking of walking, San Antonio is surprisingly walkable which is nice because they don’t have a subway system so there’s limited options to get around. For the most part I just walked everywhere and that was enough to get around downtown. One interesting thing I’ve noticed is that there’s a lot of motorized scooters in the city.

And by that, I don’t mean the electric scooters like the ones you seen in Asia a lot (cough Taipei cough). I mean legit scooters that just have motors on them. Apparently it’s a fairly recent trend where instead of renting out bikes, you can rent out a scooter. You just scan the code on your phone and it unlocks, allowing you to take it for a ride. Then, when you’re done you just leave it somewhere.

True American freedom, untethered scooters.

That was kinda interesting since it just meant that all around the downtown core you saw these scooters strewn around the city. One of the Uber drivers I talked to had a pretty strong opinion about them, and I could see where the complaints are coming from, but it’s an interesting idea.

When you’re out and about walking around, it’s likely that you’ll also come across the San Fernando Cathedral. During the day it’s a pretty plain cathedral and looks as standard as they come, but come nighttime they put on this pretty cool light show which I can totally recommend.

San Fernando Cathedral lit up with some projection mapping.

They use two projectors to turn the cathedral into an animated display of the history of San Antonio. It’s a 30 minute show and actually really worth watching. I walked by it twice and both times there was a decent sized crowd watching it. It’s also kinda funny because the projectors are run by a Windows computer so one time I walked by and it was booting up and you could see the Windows boot screens.

Considering the amount of Mexican influence in the city, it also meant that San Antonio has a ton of Mexican food. And of course, they’re all legit. I ate so much Mexican food in the five days I was there and it was all delicious. I keep thinking back to the chicken and beef fajita I got in the traditional Mexican market there and man, that was so good it was almost unbelievable.

Probably the best Mexican meal I’ve ever had.

Aside from Mexican food, you’re in Texas and so Texan barbecue is definitely something I wanted to try out. That was also really good so it honestly felt like during my entire trip I was just eating meat or Mexican. Not the most balanced diet but it was delicious. I was actually really pleasantly surprised by San Antonio partially because of the abundance of such good food. One part of me wasn’t very surprised since it kinda makes sense if you think about it, but I certainly wasn’t really expecting it.

Overall, I had a really good time in San Antonio. Not only did the conference I attended go well, but the city itself was also pretty fantastic. A decent amount to see and the food was great, what’s more to ask for from a work trip? The Mexican influences to the city has really sparked an itch for me to go check out Latin America though. It’s not super super far and now I really want to go haha.

Vancouver: The City of Glass and Nature

So despite being from Canada, I’ve actually yet to write any posts about any Canadian cities.

This is going to change right now.

Last week, I had the chance to visit Vancouver for work. I had to provide on-site support for another project and so I got flown to the other side of the country to do that.

The Rocky Mountains are quite rocky.

I have some family in Vancouver and so I’ve been there before, but as with any other place I’ve visited due to family, it means that I actually didn’t have that much time to check out the city too much since I was always just hanging out with family or doing other things. So, this would’ve been my first “real” trip to Vancouver where I would have a bit of time to go check out whatever and do some sightseeing.

Coming from Toronto, the first thing you notice about the city when you arrive is how beautiful it is. Toronto has a problem where the city is relatively grey. There’s a lot of skyscrapers and condos, but a lot of them are somewhat old, made of concrete and clustered way too close together so they don’t look super nice. I love Toronto, but Vancouver is definitely a much more aesthetically pleasing city.

Nature vs City.

This is due to the fact that Vancouver has more newer buildings it seems, so there’s a lot more glass and metal over concrete. Plus, Vancouver is in a part of Canada that has both the ocean and mountains, and so you end up with a city with a nice mix of artificial and natural elements.

I love the ocean and so I might be a bit biased here, but I really like just hanging out by the water and chilling. Unfortunately, Vancouver is still a part of Canada so you can’t just grab a beer and chill by the water like in Hong Kong or Korea or something, but it’s still really nice to just hang out.

One really nice part of Vancouver is Stanley Park, a giant park just outside the downtown core. I rented a bike after the conference one day and just biked all around the park and it was absolutely breathtaking. You got a lot of nice views of the Vancouver skyline and got to check out a lot of cool natural sites too. Definitely worth checking out, especially if you can bike cause the bike trail isn’t difficult and is quite nice.

The Siwash Rock in Stanley Park.

Speaking of biking, Vancouver is also surprisingly great for it. I pretty much never bike in Toronto because I enjoy life and prefer being alive. But in Vancouver, the infrastructure for biking is wonderful. There’s dedicated bike lanes and paths and feels super safe to just bike around the city and check things out.

Sightseeing by bike is pretty wonderful too. You can cover lot more ground on a bike and especially after standing around at a conference center for nine hours a day, it’s nice to use different muscles in your legs. Also, when you’re biking, you can also go to random places that wouldn’t normally be worth it to walk or bus to. For example, there’s a park called Dude Chilling Park in the middle of nowhere in the city. It was within biking range and I had to go check it out for the memes.

A bunch of dudes chilling and a garbage can.

Totally worth it. The park itself was pretty dull and unexciting, but it was literally free to bike there and so it was worth it to just take a few pictures in front of the sign. Plus, when you bike to a place, not only do you obviously get to that destination, but you also have a chance to just pass by other cool interesting things along the way. If you feel so inclined, you can just park your bike somewhere and check it out.

That’s how I ended up at False Creek, a small inlet in the middle of the city which I had no plans of visiting, but when I passed by it, I was blown away by how cool it looked. It was a really nice place to just sit and watch the sunset after a really long and tiring day.

Damn, that was a cool spot.

My favourite picture of my trip to Vancouver.

Outside of checking out the natural sights, I also had a chance to visit a few more cultural areas like Granville Island. From there, you have another pretty great shot of the city and ocean, but they also have this public market which sells a bunch of fresh produce and is a pretty good place to grab lunch or breakfast or something, but overall not very exciting.

Another place I went to check out was Gastown, the original settlement for the city. Since it’s one of the oldest areas in the city, it was specifically preserved in an older architectural style and has some neat restaurants and shops. Unfortunately though, it’s pretty touristy so you’re just walking down the streets with a bunch of people waving their cameras around. But still, kinda reminds me of Main Street Unionville and still worth checking out.

The steam clock in Gastown.

Outside of sightseeing, Vancouver is still a major city in Canada, meaning that the immigrant culture is very real and you can get a lot of amazing food in the city. Specifically, Vancouver is known for their Japanese food. Honestly, outside of Japan, it’s hard to find a place that has better Japanese food than Vancouver.

Due to its proximity with the Pacific Ocean, Vancouver has a ton of Japanese immigrants who decided to open up restaurants. And considering how it’s literally the same ocean, you end up with people who know exactly what to do with the fresh seafood available to them. The sushi and stuff in Vancouver is pretty awesome and I would definitely recommend.

In addition to traditional Japanese food, Vancouver also has some cool fusion cuisine too. Probably one of the most famous of these are Japadogs, which are essentially hot dogs made with Japanese ingredients and toppings. I’m always down to try interesting things like that and it was actually pretty decent. Definitely a pretty cool twist on your traditional hot dog.

Japadog with Kobe beef, teriyaki sauce, Japanese mayo, seaweed, and fried onions.

So in this blog post, I’ve already compared Vancouver with Toronto a couple of times. One of my favourite things about Canada is that we’re a country of immigrants and despite being an extremely large country, our major cities are similar in the fact that we’re united despite the diversity. Everywhere you go, you see people from all over as both tourists and residents. You walk down the street and hear people talking in a multitude of languages. To me, this is what Canada is all about.

But obviously, considering the geographic distance and differences, there are some differences in the people. For example, I already mentioned how there’s a lot more Japanese people in Vancouver. But even the way the general population looks is a bit different too since it seems like they tend to dress more casually, so you see less suits and more people in bike or athletic wear.

You also smell more weed in the air and see more homeless people in the streets.

Overall, Vancouver just seems like a much more chill place than Toronto (explains the Dude Chilling Park). But at the same time I still felt like I was in Canada and never felt out of place. It’s very far from my home, but it still felt like home, if you get what I mean. I definitely wouldn’t be adverse to spending a longer amount of time in Vancouver and would love to go back another time.