London: The Seat of the British Empire

For the last couple of years I’ve been trying to do some sort of trip in February. It’s not really high season for a lot of places and it just kinda seems like a good time to go travel. This year, I decided to take a trip out to Europe.

It was a bit of a spontaneous trip so I figured that going to somewhere in the UK would be easy since it’s an English speaking country. And then considering how London is the largest city in the UK, a major transit hub, and how I have a friend living there, it just made sense to go visit.

The London Eye at night.

As a dude from Canada with roots in Hong Kong, London has played an interesting role in shaping my life. Obviously, Canada and Hong Kong would be the two places that have affected me the most and both of them were at one point part of the British Empire.

And considering how London was the capital of the British Empire, in a way it makes it the progenitor of the two countries that have affected me the most. It’s a weird relationship.

The Canadian embassy in London.

Anyways, one of the things I’ve always heard about London was that it’s always rainy and grey. When I first got there it definitely seemed like the case since it was very overcast and immediately started to rain and hail the moment I got on the bus.

But that only lasted for like thirty minutes and after that the skies cleared up and I never saw a single bit of precipitation again for the rest of my trip. It was actually pretty awesome since it meant that it was perfect sightseeing weather.

And there was a lot to sightsee! As a major global city with a lengthy history, I spent a couple days just checking out the classic sights.

My first stop was to Buckingham Palace where I fought my way through the horde of tourists to see the changing of the guards. The amount of tourists in London is kind of insane and it felt like literally everyone was at the palace watching the ceremony.

A bunch of tourists taking photos of the changing of the guards ceremony.

It was alright. It kinda felt like one of those things that isn’t super interesting but since it’s so famous it’s one of those things that you just kinda have to check out if you’re there. The coolest part was when the band started to play songs and people started to sing along. They even played the Game of Thrones theme song which was pretty cool.

Another popular attraction I checked out was the Tower Bridge, which is not the London Bridge. For some reason I always thought London Bridge was Tower Bridge but apparently they’re different bridges. They also look nothing alike either. Tower Bridge is a pretty unique looking bridge with some cool architectural elements and London Bridge is.. just a bridge.

Tower Bridge, which is not London Bridge.

Actually, this whole thing of me mistaking things was a pretty common theme throughout the trip. To be honest, it felt a bit weird to be in London.

You know that feeling when you walk into a room you’re super familiar with and it just feels different? Maybe someone repainted the walls to a slightly different colour or maybe they changed some of the lights so things are lit a bit differently. It’s an odd feeling where something feels so familiar but at the same time there are obvious foreign elements injected into it.

That’s how I felt about London. A major example of this is the language. Obviously everyone spoke English but it’s a different English to what I’m used to.

Shakespeare probably couldn’t write fire like this dude.

When I go to foreign countries that don’t speak English, I typically try my best to at least learn the basic pronunciation of things and places so that I don’t seem like one of those ignorant tourists. In London, I think I just assumed I’d be fine but man, I mispronounced so many things haha.

Like it blows my mind how many words there are there that are read so much differently than what I would expect. For example, I always thought the River Thames was pronounced with a proper “th” sound but apparently that’s not even close. Or how I keep adding an “i” to Westminster because my brain keeps reading it as Westminister.

Or even just stuff like talking to people and saying something like “it’s a couple blocks away” and they wouldn’t know what a block is. I honestly have never been more aware of my Canadian accent and mannerisms more than when I was in London.

St. Pancras is also spelled too similarly to St. Pancreas.

This whole “familiar unfamiliarity” business also extends to random other things in the city too. When I’m walking down the streets, so many things are similar to stuff in Canada or Hong Kong so it feels relatively comfortable but off at the same time. You can really see the influence they’ve had on everything from street names to public transit systems.

And I think to me, this was the most interesting thing about London. Of course, London is a great city regardless. It’s a large, modern city with a lot of multicultural elements. But, so is Toronto and so I kept making a lot of comparisons in my head. Yes, London has a lot more local culture and history than Toronto, but they both have a similar feel in some regard.

Like probably my favourite day of my time in London was the very last day when I hung out with some friends and had a day out in the city. We walked around a bit to check out some random stuff but for the most part we did less sightseeing and just went to areas where the locals hung out.

A random house on a bridge.

That was fun and really cemented the idea that London is a truly big city and has a lot to offer if you just kinda explored the side streets and districts. I think it’s a bit more authentic and interesting when you do that as well.

Overall, London was fun. Now that I’ve done most of the major sights, I’d totally go back just to explore the non-touristy stuff a bit more. It helps that London is one of the most accessible places in Europe for someone from Toronto too, so it makes it easy to go to other places in Europe from there.

Which is exactly what I did since I went to Norway afterwards! Blog entry to follow.

Santa Cruz: The Surf City

So when I knew I was going to San Diego for a conference, I figured it would be a good idea to take a couple days off afterwards so I can explore California a bit more. There were a lot of potential options of where to go, but one of the main driving factors was that I wanted to check out this concert.

Long story short, one of the bands I really like was touring with a bunch of other bands all throughout America and they had a bunch of stops in California when I was there, and after some planning and consideration, I decided to Santa Cruz would be where I would go check out this concert.

Now, I know that Santa Cruz is commonly referred to as just “Surf City”, without the “the” article in front. But I realized that all of my other travel posts use an article in front and so I have to keep it there for this one too.

A lone surfer heading out to the ocean.

Just doesn’t feel right if it doesn’t have it, but it also doesn’t really feel right to include it, so it’s a lose/lose either way.

Anyways, Santa Cruz apparently doesn’t have their own airport and so I had to fly to San Jose and then take a series of buses from there to get to Santa Cruz.

Coming from San Diego, my first impression of Santa Cruz was that it was a lot more grey and drab than San Diego. It didn’t really help that the weather was overcast for the entire time I was there, but between that and the copious amounts of uh, strange people on the streets, it definitely wasn’t the most welcoming experience.

Just from walking around on my first night I immediately noticed a few things. Firstly, Santa Cruz is definitely a city that revolves around their beaches and ocean views. Their coastline is beautiful and honestly a bit unbelievable.

A view of the ocean along West Cliff Drive.

However, another thing I noticed was that the city was incredibly dead. Like, you’d imagine the beaches and wharf to have a lot of activity and bustle, but it was super quiet. There just weren’t that many people walking around, and a substantial chunk of those that were were obviously homeless.

Granted, I did go to Santa Cruz in December, and for a city that probably survives entirely on their coastal tourism, December probably isn’t one of their busiest months. That said, it was a bit eerie. Neat though, since normally you’d imagine a place like this to be populated with a ton of people just having fun and enjoying life, so the juxtaposition was interesting.

Something about the combination of beach and Christmas doesn’t feel right.

Anyways, after walking around alone in the dark on my first night, I decided to rent out a bike for my second day and bike along the coast. That was an absolute wonderful idea. Like I mentioned, the city’s coastline is unbelievable.

There’s this bike trail right next to the coast and it’s just kilometers of cliffs and water. I wished it was a tiny bit warmer, but the weather definitely didn’t detract from the awesome views.

There were a ton of big waves and so all along the coast all you heard were the waves crashing against the shore. Some people were even taking advantage of the water conditions and were surfing as well. I’ve always wanted to try to surf but unfortunately I didn’t think that it would’ve been a good idea to try with such a short trip.

A surfers memorial.

During my bike ride I took frequent stops at random places to just look at the ocean or to check out other sights or parks that I would pass by. It was an interesting bike ride and would recommend it to anyone that could bike and was checking out Santa Cruz.

One of the places I checked out during this bike ride was the Seymour Marine Discovery Center. Honestly, it’s a place for kids to learn about the ocean and marine life, but as a guy that loves this stuff too, it was a nice little stop.

They have this overlook next to the center that also has a fantastic view. It was incredibly calming and peaceful to just stand there and soak up the sights and sounds of the ocean. Right by the overlook was a few whale skeletons put on display as well. A bit sad, but nevertheless still interesting to check out.

A blue whale skeleton outside the Seymour Marine Discovery Center.

Speaking of things that are interesting to check out, Santa Cruz also has an incredibly famous wharf that extends almost a kilometer out into the ocean. To be honest, many of the shops and restaurants there don’t seem particularly exciting, but you can get a pretty awesome view of the beach from there.

But by far the most interesting thing on the wharf are the sea lions. Between my trip to the wharf and the marine center I learned a lot about the differences between seals and sea lions and I’m fairly happy to confirm that yes, they have a bunch of sea lions at the wharf.

A bunch of sea lions just chilling.

On my first night I could hear them but I couldn’t see them so when I went back in the morning I was actually really surprised to see so many of them. They were just kinda chilling by the wharf. It was my first time seeing sea lions in the wild and it was kinda incredible. They were really loud and honestly bigger than I thought they would be.

Other things I checked out in Santa Cruz were some of the parks and beaches. Both of these were fairly straightforward. The parks were forested with some rivers and walking paths and the beaches were big and sandy. I think that my trip was probably at the worst time to go check out these places though since they were relatively empty and there wasn’t too much to check out. As a result nothing really stood out from these brief stops on my trip. 

I will say though, the Neary Lagoon Park is an interesting park since it’s literally next to a sewage treatment plant. And at night there’s literally no lighting in the park so it’s just pitch black. After going to Balboa Park in San Diego at night, you’d think I learn about going to dark parks but apparently not.

This is a pretty dark park.

I swear some of those ducks splashing around in the water were planning to kill me. Glad to report that I didn’t die.

Finally, I can’t end this post without at the very least talking about the main reason why I went to Santa Cruz, the concert. For those that know me, I listen to some less than mainstream music. This concert was a deathcore concert featuring Slaughter to Prevail, Oceano, Chelsea Grin, and Whitechapel.

For people that listen to this genre, it’s pretty easy to know why I wanted to check it out. It was an incredibly solid lineup and so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go. It was at the Catalyst, which is a club in downtown Santa Cruz. The venue itself was pretty alright and the show was absolutely amazing.

Slaughter to Prevail performing with the classic combo of mask and no shirt.

It was a bit annoying because apparently people could smoke in the venue and so in between sets people were just smoking.. all the things. By the end of the night I’m pretty sure the smoke machine was only responsible for like half of the smoke in the room. It smelled pretty bad.

But, that said, it was a fantastic show and I would totally do it again.

So my original goal was to check out this concert and being able to sightsee Santa Cruz was a bit of a bonus. Turned out it was an awesome bonus because Santa Cruz has some pretty beautiful spots. So overall, a really great trip since not only did I go to a sick concert, but I also had a chance to check out a wonderful city I probably wouldn’t have visited otherwise.

Deathcore, improving people’s travel experiences one concert at a time.

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.