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AngelaLewis

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Schools In Chengdu

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Schools in China

I’m not sure if the schools are the same all over China or just in this area which is Chengdu, but I suspect they are the same. mekids4

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Children start in kindergarten at a very young age and for the first two weeks they stay for the morning only and then after their initiation they stay all day till about 5pm.  They start at two and half years old when they can barely speak their native language never mind English but the schools here in China are very different from home.

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It turns out that I am teaching at the best Montessori Kindergarten in Shuangliu, I was offered this school but had to do a demo class in front of many teachers and the headmistress, thankfully they liked me and offered me the job right away.

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For those reading that don’t know, Montessori is a method of education developed by Dr Maria Montessori, it is a child centred method of approach and has been used for over 100 years in many parts of the world.  Montessori teaching is based on the development of the whole child, physical, social, emotional and cognitive.  Students are usually in mixed age classes from 2.5 to 6 years old, they learn concepts from working with materials rather than direct instruction, and they work with the environment and very often use natural materials.   The students lead their own education and have freedom of movement within the class.

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In our school they arrive at about 8.30am every day, they go to get their health check on the way in to the school, which the teachers do, by taking their temperature and looking at their tongue for any signs of illness, they then proceed to their class, throughout the morning they will have lessons and colour and maybe make things. At around about 11am they have lunch having had a milk drink about 9.30 to 10 am.  The lunch is delicious and freshly cooked by chefs who make wonderful recipes from scratch with fresh ingredients arriving at the school daily.

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The children have their lunch about 11.30 to 12 noon then they have a sleep, there are small stackable beds in the school which the teachers lay out in the large hall like rooms attached to the main classroom, once they have eaten their lunch they are put to bed for their sleep which will be for about 2 hours.

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When they wake up they are given a drink of water and taken to the toilet etc. before being taken back to their class for more lessons.  As an English teacher I have to teach every class in the school once a week.

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There are 500 children in the school and another200 which I teach at another school within walking distance of my kindergarten.  I go to the other school every Tuesday and teach full classes every day except Friday when I will be just mixing with the children talking to them in English and also observing their studies and encouraging them.

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The school is a huge gated complex incorporating the main school which is built over 6 floors with each class having two rooms to work in, one for the main bulk of the lessons and the other for quiet time or sleep time or whatever is needed any particular time in the day.  Also on the school grounds are offices opposite the school and a play area in between with proper, child friendly surfacing and play equipment like slides and climbing frames.  There is a covered play area set underneath the school like an open basement, it rains a lot in Shuangliu but is also hot most days so the covered area suits in all weathers There are guards on every gate into the school, no one is allowed inside the gate if they are not a parent or approved guardian of the child.  At the entrance you have a credit card style card to scan on entry, which recognises each individual identity.  Once inside the school has 5 floors with huge class rooms on each floor, in all there are 13 main classes and 2 baby classes where some are as young as 2.

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As I have already mentioned lunch is prepared freshly every day and consists of fresh local grown produce and local farmed meat and the menu varies every day but always with rice or noodles, plenty of vegetables and meat, there is no sugar or dessert for lunch just proper food.

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There is a canteen for all the teachers to eat their lunch, which is provided free by the school, we have to go next door to the primary school for our lunch, which is a short walk across the school yard.  Every teacher gets their own food then cleans their utensils after use and replaces the steel serving trays used, ready for the next people in line; the teachers from both schools eat at this same place.  The food is so nutritious, but nothing like you would imagine Chinese food to be like, basically the food sold in Chinese takeaways in the UK is not the food you find here.  I have not seen any dishes that are sold in the UK actually sold here at all, everything is so very different, also as we are in Sichuan province where there tends to be a colloquial way of cooking which for Sichuan involves lots of oil and lots of spices especially Sichuan peppercorn.

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This week I sat in on a class which is what I do every Friday, this week was class 3 and I enjoyed every minute, first they all walk in a circle observing concentration at keeping your feet following the line around the room while also being very quiet, then they all sit in a circle and address each other to say good morning and also to the teacher.  After that they have a break of water or milk, whatever they prefer, with a small piece of fruit.

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There are 40 children in each class usually with about 3 teachers so after they have had their snack they are split into 3 groups depending on what they each prefer to do and one teacher goes with each, the group I was with did Origami which is the Chinese art of paper folding, we all made a boat, this is done to help the children’s concentration and it really did the job, they were all completely focused and enjoying making their boats.  While we made boats, one of the other groups went off to colour and the other group was learning about balance and poise by carrying a tray with objects on it, around the room on the line I mentioned earlier.  This teaches them concentration again and balance and helps their memory, as they have to remember where they put their trays down and what was on them.

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After the crafts we all went in to the basement play area and danced to music with hand movements and dance movements, which was obviously well known to the children; I tried to keep up at the back.  Then they moved onto climbing frames and they had to walk across the plank without anyone holding them, learning all about balance again and concentration.

trays2I have to say as well, that hardly any of the children I have taught so far have had any behavioural problems apart from the odd couple and that is out of 700 children.  They don’t eat junk food at all in school and any sweets or desserts; they live a far healthier school life and eat healthier food than we do at home.  I am enjoying learning about the Montessori Method of teaching and learning, I think it’s making for more confident, healthy children.

 

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City life (A Westerner in the East)

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City Life (A Westerner in the East)

You are probably thinking, what could be different? City life is city life, right?  Wrong, city life is similar in many ways to the West, but in China the cities are all bigger and not just a little bigger, hugely bigger, the skyline is completely awash with high rise blocks of apartments which-ever way you turn.  There is no escaping the high rise blocks that blot the landscape for mile after mile on whatever road you decide to take.  I live in a suburb of Chengdu called Shuangliu, it takes an hour and a half to get back in the city, although I say get back, but really I’m still in the city, I live near the airport and every now and then, through the summer haze I catch sight of a plane flying off to some foreign land or bringing more people to Chengdu.

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The enormity of China is evident in everything you do here, the amount of people everywhere is just immense, it is just like a beehive full of millions of buzzing, busy bees, coming and going, living their lives in the best way they can.

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I am from a small village in a tiny country called Wales and most of the Chinese people have no idea where that is, in fact most of the people see a Westerner and think they are from America, I am pointed out many times by children to their parents or sometimes even adults and sometimes I hear them say “Meiguo ren” which even with my limited knowledge of Chinese, I know means “American person”.

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But to get back to city life, the noise is unrelenting, which I know it is in most cities but the road traffic is just on another level in Chengdu, and everyone beeps their horn constantly, there is not a minute of any day or night while staying in the city that you won’t hear the horns beeping by many, many motorists, no matter if you close windows or even put in your earplugs.  Over here if you want to get somewhere, you beep to get someone slower out of your way.  They have cycle lanes which every manner of bike inhabits, from the simple pushbike to three wheeled motorised vehicles carrying all sorts of wonderful stuff, to tuk tuks and silent but deadly electric scooters, that if in a hurry think nothing of mounting the pavement and beeping you out of the way.

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The amount of people who travel on these vehicles varies from just the rider to the whole family and I mean the whole family, I have seen a motorbike carrying the rider with wife holding baby on the back with two smaller children standing on the kickboards, either side of the handlebars, none with helmets or restraints of any kind!

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The stuff you see carried by one of these vehicles is also eye-popping, large piles of cardboard stacked and bundled ready for recycling, where the bundle is taller than the bus riding alongside and wider than that same bus, but somehow the 70 year old gent seems to manage to balance it all while zipping about like a little ant in and out of the traffic, like Shane Williams on the rugby pitch, dodging each vehicle as he goes.

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The age of each vehicle also varies greatly from seemingly 100 year old three wheel carts to modern day racing bikes!  On the motorised front, all manner of vehicle you can ever imagine I have seen cross my path on the roads of Chengdu, but none are more deadly than the electric bikes which apparently are the law now, no motorised bike is allowed to run off petrol or diesel so they are all electric, but at least that makes for a quieter commute.  Unfortunately when I say deadly, I mean they are the ones to watch for because you can’t hear them coming, if you don’t see them either, you are a goner.

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While walking the roads of Chengdu you must and I mean must, always be looking all around you at all times because they can creep up on you when you least expect it, like when you are strolling along the path by the river admiring the city skyline as the sun dips below the horizon, creating a warm glow all over the city, when suddenly BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, another one wants you out of their way, there is no place these bikes won’t go, so beware at all times.

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And don’t be fooled by the dual carriageway system, oh no, you look at the road and think “ok, so this is for the traffic heading West and the opposite side is for the traffic heading East” makes sense right?  But oh no, the traffic could be heading in any direction on any side of the road, don’t get me wrong, most of the vehicles like cars and buses and trucks do follow the rules most of the time, but no one else does.  On one of my walks back to Mrs Pandas hostel one night, which is pretty central and within the busier roads in the city, I saw a young girl of about 18 cycling in the middle of the road on a dual lane one way road, which was jam packed with cars at peak time, these two lanes were not as wide as some of the other roads, as it ran alongside the river, but she was trying to balance in between the cars and she was going in the OPPOSITE direction.  Astounding!!  Yet I only ever saw one accident, which was pretty minor, a slight bump when the cars were in one of the many traffic jams.

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They have traffic lights at most junctions and when the green man starts flashing, again, don’t be fooled into thinking you are safe to cross the road, not always.  Just like in America vehicles can still turn right on a red light but unlike America, where, if there is someone on the crossing, on the right, they have right of way, NOT IN CHINA, in China the car is king, so you need to be aware at all times that you could get knocked down unless you seriously watch what you are doing.  No iPod while walking the streets of Chengdu.  If you come across a normal zebra crossing, don’t think that if you wait on the edge of the pavement that anyone will stop for you, because they won’t, if you want to cross it is up to you to dodge the traffic and go for it when you find a space, which could similarly apply to crossing anywhere on the road, even if no crossing is present, however I like to try and find a crossing, therefore if I do get knocked down then at least I have something in my favour!! LOL!!

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Even though this city life is mad, I love it, it makes me smile every time I am at a junction just watching the clamour for space, when the lights change and the masses begin to move again, it is a fascinating sight to behold and can keep me mesmerised as I try and capture this hubbub with my iPhone camera!!! And bang, I miss my cue to vehicle dodge, dicing with death, yet again on another crossing; alas I will wait for the next light change!!

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China Life!

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So far, so good, or not good, whichever way you look at it, I love the idea of living in China and starting my new life but I miss my children so very much, so much more than when I was traveling for fun.  It is all really exciting but there are also many teething problems, from the course itself to Wi-Fi, vpn’s, hostel accommodation, translation problems, bank accounts, phone sims etc. etc.

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There are so many differences between the Western world and China that I think I will have to re learn everything from a Chinese perspective.  Everything and I mean everything is difficult, there is no familiarity in anything you do or anywhere you go.  Usually when you visit any country you always find some kind of comfort in some things which are similar to your own country, like when in a country that speaks another language you can at least decipher some words by comparing them to an English similar word, like toilet and toilette in France but in China that is impossible, because everything is written in symbols.  The Chinese have developed a way of writing their symbols in letter form which is called Pinyin which helps people decipher the symbols and it also does make it easier to learn the language BUT it is still hard to translate because Pinyin is not used by natives it’s the symbols that are are used all the time, everywhere, on shop signs, on menus, on street signs, receipts, just everywhere!  (not sure why I seem surprised by this)

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It is surprising how we subconsciously are able to translate in other countries that have alphabets similar to ours, but we just can’t in China at all and this makes it so much harder to do anything!!  The food is very different, none of it looks familiar apart from the rice and noodles, but all the stuff they put in with the rice and noodles is unfamiliar.  They have weird liquid with all sorts of stuff floating in it, such as a brown liquid resembling coke with chunks of jelly and brown bits, with cream colour bits sprinkled on the top, it is supposed to be nice but how can we try these things when we have no idea what is in there, it’s so hard to find out, because even when a native who speaks our language, explains the ingredients, we’re still none the wiser because we,ve have never heard of them.

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I am a pretty fussy eater so I just have to learn the language in order to eat better, so far I have just been pointing to food which looks familiar, I pointed to something I thought looked like green beans, it turned out to be some kind of melon, which had been pickled and tasted very bitter, I didn’t like it but I’m sure it would have been really good for me.

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I need to experiment more and I do intend to when I know more of the Chinese language.  I literally can’t learn fast enough.

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Today I went to a Chinese supermarket, I bought some apples, crisps, and some sausage things, all the rest of the stuff I had no idea what it was!! I am so lost here, there is so much to learn but it is a huge challenge that I intend to conquer.

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Hardly anyone speaks English, not that I think they should,  but it just makes things more difficult, they are very helpful and try their best and it is surprising how you can be understood by using some Chinese and mostly hand signals but the language barrier is so, so frustrating, I wish I had learned more before I came.

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We have Chinese people helping us to sort everything out but because the Chinese government are so strict on every little thing, it all takes a very long time, there are so many hoops to jump through for everything.

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In order to get a visa there is so much you have to do before you even get to the country.  I am here on an X1 visa which is a study visa which means I can study and do some work while here, but if I wanted to work full time I would need a Z visa and these are mostly only available to those with degrees and lots more information including DBS checks, Health Certificates etc etc!!

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My visa has not been stamped with the amount of days I am allowed to stay, even though I have been granted a visa for a year and this means I cannot open a bank account with the preferred bank because they will not allow me to open it without the number of days displayed on the visa, the only way around it is to get my residents permit which I need to get within 24 hours of moving into my apartment.  I am not moving into my apartment till next week.

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I tried to get an account with a different bank which was allowed, only because of my circumstances, but for that account I need to have a China phone number, they took my details, filled out the forms then they phone the United Nations to check up on me, if all is ok they then ring me to come back to the bank to open the account.

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I need to get a Chinese sim card but even that is complicated and we end up spending hours at China mobile with an interpreter helping us.  There are queues everywhere you go and you just have to wait in line.  I want to buy a phone over here but everything is in Chinese and you can’t change the settings so I’ll have to give that a miss.

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The difficulties settling into a new country are many, but the new culture has many interesting positives, the bike hire system is wonderful, you set up an account on your wechat to scan the QR code of the bike and you just jump on, ride wherever you want, leave the bike there and you get charged for how long you use it, which is usually very little for a whole day.  You can find a bike practically anywhere you go, they are left all over the city, there are so many, and you will never have a problem finding one.

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Wechat which I already mentioned is similar to WhatsApp, but over here everyone and I mean everyone uses it, not just to communicate but to pay for goods, advertise or market any products, group chats, business group, get togethers, you name it you can do it on WeChat.  Even the most rustic trader in the backstreets of Chengdu will accept payment with QR code which means you scan the code into your already set up WeChat bank account and the money goes straight to the vendor.

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They seem so advanced technologically but so behind in every other way.  They still use squatty toilets, now the last time I was in China we stayed in fancy hotels, such as the Sheraton in Nanjing and the International at Beijing which had proper Western toilets and I naturally assumed that most places did, obviously during my time here we came across the squatties but I stupidly thought that over time they would gradually be replaced with Western toilets.  It was 2009 I was here last so you would think that in 8 years they would have caught up right???? Wrong!! How ignorant of me to assume they wanted to, of course they don’t, because they like using their squatties as they find them more hygienic than Western toilets, so there was no intention of “catching up” Stupid me!!!!!

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By squatty toilet I mean a hole in the floor with a china toilet bowl inlaid into the hole with ridged areas either side which are supposed to be non-slip, for you to place your feet while you squat over the hole? Apparently this is more hygienic? Hygienic my arse!!! I am petrified of falling in, the non-slip pads are not always non slip and you almost always splash pee on your feet!! Especially if you are out having few drinks!!  These toilets are everywhere; you might be lucky and find one single Western toilet at the end of a row of squatties but most often not!!  I have stipulated that I don’t mind immersing myself in everything Chinese but I must have a Western toilet in my apartment please, please, please!!!!!

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The joys of living in China are many, watching the Tai Chi and Qi gung along the riverbank every morning, hoping one day to join in, the beautiful gardens and parks, the amazing Bonsai gardens.  And the people are so friendly, mostly anyway.  My first impressions of China this time are mixed, but this time I will be working and studying here for a longer time, whereas the last time I was only here for a month.  I’m sure that once I start work the time will go quickly and I will be home with my darling children in no time.  Thankfully there is Facebook messenger and Whatsapp so I can contact them whenever, although not too often, don’t want to get on their nerves!!!

shipThere is so much to say about China and I’m sure this will give me so much to write about for the next year!  Hope you enjoy learning about this wonderful yet daunting country, through my blog!

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Cherry Blossom Festival!

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They don’t do Easter over here in San Francisco, I’m not sure if that applies to everyone or just the family I am staying with, having said that I haven’t seen Easter eggs for sale in the shops or any mention of it, hardly anywhere, I was so glad, I don’t like it back home, all that money spent on chocolate, what a waste, it is all so over the top now.  I had read in the week about the Japantown Cherry Blossom Festival which was being held all weekend and really wanted to go today as it was the final parade which goes from City Hall to Sutter Street in the heart of Japantown.  The Festival was in its 50th year and even though it is hosted in San Francisco, it is for the whole of Northern California!!

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The festival wasn’t starting till 1pm so Finbarr and the family took me on a trip over the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin headlands which can be seen from San Francisco across the Bay, it is a large mountainous region which has Muir Woods and Mount Tamalpais as part of its landscape, this time we went to the old lighthouse which is at the end of a rocky outcrop on the headland and provides stunning views across the bay to San Francisco skyline.  We walked and took some pictures of the stunning views then made our way back to the city.  Finbarr showed me where he cycles every day after work, what a beautiful cycle that must be every day!

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They dropped me off in Japantown about 12.45 so I took a walk around all the food stalls, and decided to try the spam masubi, I remembered Finbarr told me his son liked them so I got one for little Finbarr to take home.  It was raining, unfortunately; apparently it was the first time it has rained since the year 2000, typical, I must have brought it with me.  I ate my lunch which was lovely; it is like a big sushi roll of rice covered in vine leaves with spam in the middle! Yes Spam, apparently it’s big in San Francisco, they have different flavours too! I had a Japanese beer to wash it down with and waited for the parade.

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I went to see some of the Japanese shops and visited the Bonsai Exhibit, as I have probably mentioned many times before, I love trees, in any shape or form, but the Bonsai are amazing, I spoke to the guys who grew them about how to care for them, it all sounds very interesting, maybe when I have a house again I might get one!

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The rain was very heavy during the parade but it didn’t dampen the spirits of those performing, they just covered themselves with plastic coveralls and carried on.  There is a Cherry Blossom Queen; The Grand Marshall Konishiki Yasokichi (three time Sumo champion) is in attendance along with the chief of police, heads of Japantown, and other famous Japanese elite.  The highlight of the parade is the Taru Mikoshi which is a portable Shinto shrine believed to hold a god or deity; it is made of barrels of sake with a phoenix on the top.  Two men dressed in Sumo wrestling garb stand atop the Mikoshi and blow whistles while dancing on the top, holding on to coloured ropes to ensure safety.  There is an opportunity for you to apply to help to carry the Mikoshi; a Facebook page is set up every year for volunteers to help carry it through the town on the parade.  It was quite a sight; I was too late but wished I had been in time to volunteer to carry it with the thronging crowd!

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The whole parade was very colourful with many people in traditional Japanese dress, it was very musical with lots of bands playing as they went down the street and it lasted for about an hour, there were many, many floats and lots of people walking with small children in school groups attending also.  There was also a huge computer gaming community, who I saw on the stage after, but I really didn’t have a clue what that was all about, seeing as I don’t play these games.  After the parade there was plenty of entertainment on the outside stage, singing and dancing, not just Japanese culture but also Japanese bands singing current stuff.  All in all, I’m so glad I went, it was a lovely day, it would have been better if the sun was shining though!!

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Watching the Sea lions at Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf!

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I had heard before I came that I should go to Pier 39 but I thought it was because of the fisherman who still land their catch near the pier but there is so much more to Pier 39 that the fishermen, to be honest it is a bit of a Blackpool type place in that is has amusements, shops, bars etc. on the pier which is huge but of course you are in San Francisco as opposed to dreary old Blackpool.

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It’s brightly painted with many shops selling everything from expensive chocolate to even a shop just for left handed people called the lefties shop.  I took a pic as two of my children are left handed so I thought they might like to see it, lol!!

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There are many bars and places to eat, selling mostly seafood, but I did see a fish and chip shop but it was $10 for fish and chips so I thought I will give that one a miss, I don’t need fish and chips that bad.  There was a luau bar which looked just like the South Pacific islands or even Hawaii with palms and grass skirt decor, I am going to try that one out next time I go.  This time I went to the sports bar which had lots of memorabilia from different American sports, adorning the walls and ceiling. Paris Roubaix was on the tv so I decided to have a cider and watch the race, I met some French people who watched some of the race with me, they were from Paris and I was telling them that until now Paris had been my favourite city but San Francisco might just change all that!!!!

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The best part about Pier 39 is the many Sea Lions who visit every day, they lie around on the pontoons and fight with each other, and it looks as if they are performing for the public.  There are viewing areas in this part of the pier where you can just sit and watch the sea lions perform, they have chosen to come here of their own accord.  After the Earthquake of 1989, the Sea Lions made an appearance in 1990 and the scientists can find no reason why they suddenly came and no reason why they stay, but they are there in their hundreds, not just a few.  It is lovely to just sit and watch them fight with each other and jump off and on the different pontoons or just bask in the sun.  I took lots of pictures and of course there were many seagulls also around the pontoons, you are not allowed to feed the sea lions so no one does, we all just watch, although some people feel the need to make the same noises as them, now I can understand when kids do it but grown up people, making sea lion sounds, just sounds stupid!!!

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By the time I came off the pier it was getting dark so I made my way over to Fisherman’s Wharf which is just further along the front and the tram was heading back to where I needed to catch my bus so I jumped on and took a trip through the city in the dark, it looks just as wonderful all lit up.  I got off at Montgommery then caught the Geary bus back to the place I am staying on 16th Avenue.  Everyone was in bed when I got in so I quietly made my way to my room! Another fabulous day!

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Millennium Coastal Path

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My name for my blog is adventure Nani, I chose this name because I was going on a huge adventure traveling the world looking for adventure but what I realised while traveling, was, I was always searching for adventure, and have always been an adventurer.   You can find it everywhere, you don’t need to travel the world, you just need to get out there in your own back yard, adventure is where you look for it.

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I believe adventure comes in many guises, it is not just about the extreme sporting type of adventure like jumping from planes, bungee jumping, downhill biking and the like, it is about searching for fun, enjoying your life, living in the moment, and that can be done anywhere, especially in your home town.

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I have been doing more cycling recently because I am at home enjoying time with my children before I leave for another big adventure in the big wide world and I have spent more time on the Millennium Coastal Path which has been such an adventure.

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I have cycled this path for many years but more as a means to an end and a way to get form a to b, apart from when I cycled it with the children when they were small, over the years different points of interest have appeared to me, while cycling with my children the main thing was the cycling and we would stop to throw stones in the sea and other times we walked the dog there along one of the beaches,  but mostly we just had fun.

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Over the years as my children grew up we took part as a family in charity bike rides where the emphasis was on getting to Sandy Water park from Burry Port to enjoy some refreshment in the Sandpiper and then to carry on up the path toward Tumble stopping at various hostelries along the way, raising lots of money for charity as we went, dressed in all kinds of wonderful fancy dress.

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My children no longer come cycling with me, sadly, as they are all busy with their adult lives so I have plenty of time on my hands and one of the things I noticed while traveling was my love of wildlife, which was always there, but has grown a lot.   I especially love birds and could watch them all day.  The good thing about the cycle path is the many places along its length where you can enjoy nature and watch the different species of birds from Swans with their young and Ducks in the many lakes to seagulls hovering in the wind on the seashore, watching them in their own habitat is far better than any sanctuary or zoo or wildlife park.

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Millennium Coastal path runs along the coast of the Burry Inlet from Pembrey  country Park to Llanelli Discovery centre and is 7 miles of green tranquillity with lakes and wildlife conservation areas along its length.  It is mostly easy cycling for all levels of cyclist on mostly flat tarmacked wide path.  The path is also for pedestrians so beware if you are cycling, of people straddling the path.

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From its entrance at Pembrey Country Park so many delights await.  Riding through the marshland at the park towards Pembrey beach especially at high tide is wonderful as the water laps right up to the wall, which was built along the beach to house the path.  When the tide is out you might sometimes see cows grazing out in the marshlands to the south of the path, but be very aware of the times of the tides if you dare to walk out to the sandbanks, only do it at low tide and make sure you are back in plenty of time to watch the tide come in and completely cover the whole area very quickly, it kind of sneaks up on you when you are not looking and if you are across the sandbanks when the water starts to swell in the channels which carry the deepest water then you can be cut off from the path.  You must know about tides and times before you venture off across the marshlands or you can come a cropper, which many people have in the past.

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Having been brought up in this wonderful area, I have grown up knowing the intensity of the tides and how they can catch you unawares so I feel obliged when writing about this wonderful place to warn of the dangers too, having said that, the beauty far outweighs the dangers and if you are aware then you are safe.

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After cycling along the marshlands and Pembrey beach, where you can also take the children to play in the huge sand dunes, so much fun can be had running up and down the massive dunes and playing hide and seek.  You could also stop and take a little walk north to watch the golfers play on the Ashburnham golf course, one of the finest Championship Links golf courses in Britain which runs at the north side of the path.

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While cycling past the golf club up on the hill to your left you will reach Pembrey old harbour where you can cycle down to the end of the jetty and admire the views of the Gower peninsula.  After which you will reach the holiday park where many static caravans are holiday homes to mostly people who are from the valleys and love to visit the seaside as often as they can and then a little further along you reach Burry Port harbour where you can sit awhile admiring the boats in the harbour, take a walk out to the wonderful lighthouse or sit and enjoy a coffee in the little café or enjoy a glass of wine in the Yacht club.  The harbour has something for everyone, on the walk out to the lighthouse there is also a lovely beach with rock pools to go exploring for crabs and tiny fish.

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There are bridges over the two harbours where it is advised to dismount in case of pedestrians, which takes you on to the next section of the path which runs past the lifeboat station and along the pretty Burry port beach where you can sit and watch the many people in the water either swimming, kite surfing, fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding or having fun on their jet skis, there is a slipway at both ends for you to launch your boat or jet ski but I’m sure you will need permission from the harbour master.

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From this area the path goes a little inland due to a section of the path being badly damaged a few years ago during a storm, it goes through much greenery with a lovely lake to watch the wildlife and take your dog for walk or you can use your remote control boats and have fun on the lake making sure not to disturb the wildlife.  There are smaller paths which lead down to the beach or up to the earth sculpture near Bay Bach in this section, peaceful trails where the only sounds are the sea and the birds.

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If you love skateboarding or having fun with your scooter there is a small skateboard park in this section, a safe place for the kids to have fun away from the main road.

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Following the winding path toward Bay Bach you come to a clearing just before the hill which most of the locals call Telly tubby hill because it looks similar to the hill in the popular children’s programme.  If you stop and look right just before the railway bridge you will see the earth sculpture that is Telly tubby hill which juts out into the sea, and is made from PFA (Pulverised Fuel Ash from the old industrial works which dominated this area many years ago and is used for remediation and ameliorating industrial landscapes in effect making them safe again and able to grow vegetation).  PFA has been used for the infrastructure of the paths, the community woodland and the bridges completely enhancing an area which was once ugly and industrial.  The earth sculpture called “Walking with the sea” is a winding wide path curling ever upward to the curved top and looks like a giant winding road, a great climb and fun for the dogs to run up and down.   Where the earth sculpture juts out into the sea a bay has been formed which is called Bay Bach and many locals go there to swim at high tide, kayak, and fish off the side of the mound.  It is also a pretty place to just go for a walk.

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On the opposite side of the path to the bay is another pretty lake surrounded by community woodland with biking trails going through and leading to more lakes where you can see swans and ducks swimming with their young as well as terns, gulls, waders and wildfowl.

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Although I love birds I am not totally familiar with all the different species but am learning more about them all the time, if you go for a walk along the beach just behind the earth sculpture you will see many swallows (I think they are a type of swallow) nests in the remnants of a jetty which has remained from the time of industry, if you sit on the beach and watch in the early evening, you will see many swallows fly in and out of the nests which are holes in the wall of sand built up around the remaining jetty supports.

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If you are cycling, this part of the path is the most arduous, there is a slight incline which takes you up over a grass covered railway bridge and down the other side into a wide expanse of green meadow abundant with wild flowers with a path that runs alongside the railway with crossings at intervals which enable you to cross the railway and sit at the water’s edge while watching the world go by.  Just past the meadow is another lake with much wildlife and surrounded by a small wooded area.

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At the top of the railway bridge part of the path there is another sculpture this time made of silver coloured steel, it is like a huge needle and stands about 10 feet tall, it contrasts well with the green of the grass, and the blue sky and red coloured path.

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After cycling through the meadow and past the lake you pass through a wooded area just before the large cricket field in Pwll where you can sit on one of the many benches during the summer months and watch a leisurely game of Cricket while eating a picnic or you can buy something to eat or drink at the Cricket Pavilion café while the children play in the wonderful new play area near the tennis courts.

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Once you have enjoyed the cricket, take the path which now runs alongside the Pwll lakes which were constructed for fishing purposes but because of the tidal nature of the water levels, it is now more of a conservation area where you can watch the wildlife while quietly sitting on one of the pontoons.

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Carry on cycling past the lakes and you will come to a long stretch which passes Festival Fields, the site that was reclaimed from the old steelworks and used for the National Eisteddfod which is a Welsh annual festival which moves around Wales to different locations every year, usually alternating between the North and South each year.  A fantastic display of Welsh talent, if you are a visitor to Wales you must visit an Eisteddfod, it’s a wonderful display of singing, poetry, dancing, art and much more, all done in our native language, Welsh.  There are translation facilities available free to anyone who needs it.  The times of year to visit the main Eisteddfods would be June for the Urdd Eisteddfod which is specifically for the young people of Wales and consists of many school children competing for the prestigious prizes available.   The main Eisteddfod which is open to all age groups is usually in August and the international Eisteddfod is always held in its home in Llangollen every July where people come from around the world to compete in the many competitions.

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Just before you come to Sandy Water park which is a huge lake and conservation area for many different wildlife species you will cross the dragon roundabout, named so because of the huge dragon sculpture in its centre, there you will see the giant rugby posts with a sospan at the top in honour of the greatest rugby team there ever was “The Scarlets” (whose song is “Sospan Fach” a song about a little sospan) who are Llanelli’s favourite sporting greats.  Under the posts there is a steel art installation in the shape of one of the All Black players trying to tackle Phil Bennett while he is on the way to scoring a try in the game that we all remember when we beat the All Blacks in 1973.

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As you pass by the tribute to the Scarlets you can either go up the hill which takes you along the beach front in Llanelli to the Discovery Centre or you can take a cycle around the lake to the Sandpiper and enjoy some light refreshment in the beer garden or you can watch the ducks, geese and swans on the lake and take some frozen peas to feed them (feeding them bread is being discouraged as it is not that good for them).

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The Discovery centre is a magnificent building designed in the shape of the top half of a ship and it houses a lovely café where you can enjoy a cup of tea and some home-made cake, there are toilet facilities there and a bike shop downstairs where they sell and hire bikes and help you fix any punctures while also selling spare parts for the bike, if they don’t have what you need they can get it from their other shop so you can always guarantee they can get what is needed.

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This is a very small section of Wales’s Coastal path, just a seven mile stretch of the 870 mile long path which runs around the whole of Wales’s Coast, we also have the Offa’s Dyke path which runs the length of the Wales/ England border which makes Wales one of very few countries to have a navigable path around it’s whole perimeter.

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The start of this section at Pembrey Country Park is home to one of the largest beaches in Wales, an eight mile stretch of golden sands on the edge of forested park with trails for horses, bikes, walkers, runners etc.  Many sports are played at the park where there is also a dry ski slope.

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Carmarthenshire is a wonderful place to visit for a holiday, it has so much to offer, you won’t want to go home and the piece I have talked about in this blog post is just a tiny section of such wonderful coastline and inland countryside.  You won’t be disappointed, bring the children to enjoy the time of their lives and give them a  holiday to remember, my children always remembered the fun they had in the outdoor places we went and in Carmarthenshire we have it all especially along the Millennium Coastal Path.

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Climbing Mount Untersberg!! With one crutch!! In the snow!!

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Climbing Mount Untersberg

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Whilst visiting Salzburg I had read online that the cable car ride up Mount Untersberg was a “must do” and it sounded pretty fab so I just had to go for it.

 

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In Salzburg they have a ticket for 25 Euros which gives you 24 hour passes to most of the wonderful sights, museums and public transport in Salzburg, (there is so much more to Salzburg than the “Sound of Music” tour which the locals don’t get anyway as it’s a British made film).

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I bought the 24 hour ticket on the day of arrival and kept the Untersberg visit for the following morning with a view to taking the cable car, looking at the views, taking some pics and then coming back down and making my way to the Hohensalzburg Fortress to finish my 24 hour period (unlike other cards in other cities, the Salzburg card is valid for 24 hours from the time of first use, others are valid only during the day of purchase).   I bought my ticket at about 1pm but as I said I saved my trip to Untersberg until the second day and left on the first available bus in the morning which would get me to the cable car at opening time of 9am.  The bus trip there took about 40 minutes and the views on route are pretty spectacular of snowy mountain scenery and wonderful green valleys with pretty little towns interspersed between the green valley landscapes.

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The Untersberg cable car is the last stop on the bus, there is a little walk to the cable car entrance and on the bus I met someone who, like me was looking for the cable car entrance, we chatted, his name was Brice and we enjoyed the cable car ride chatting about our travels and looking out at the disappearing valley floor and up at the magnificent mountain skyline, he was from America and studying in Germany with some time off for travel.

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The views from the cable car are pretty spectacular! Have I mentioned before how I love cable cars?  At the bottom of the mountain the weather was pretty warm for an early spring day, the sun was shining and I would say it was about 20 degrees but as we approached the top we could see huge changes in the weather, when we got off the cable car and headed toward the peak of the mountain, we were knee deep in snow and there was a snowy blizzard going down!!!  Good job I wore my snow boots (the only boots I had taken, in anticipation of loads of snow but actually only the second time to use them to their full capacity lol).

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Mount Untersberg is one of the most popular hiking destinations in and around Salzburg because of its spectacular views, as you step off the cable car you are faced with an incredible view of Salzburg city as well as a full 360 degree panoramic view of the Dachstein Massif and the awe inspiring Hoh Tauern mountain range.  While on a clear day you can see all the way out to the Salzkamergut lakes where the famous opening scene from “The Sound of Music” was filmed, Berchtesgadener Land in Germany and Lake Chiemsee in Bavaria.

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The cable car takes you as far as 1320 metres up but the peak can be seen in the distance at 1973 metres, there is a restaurant at the cable car station with toilets and a viewing platform and if you walk through the covered area it brings you out on to the path which leads toward the summit.  I love to climb mountains so with the blizzard swirling snow all around, I made my way toward the summit to see if there was a way through the snow where I could get to the top, Brice was also trying to do the same and further along the path we met Tommy from Norway and Eh from Estonia who had both met on the couchsurfing website in one of the hangouts and decided to climb the mountain together.  We all made our way through the deep snow, following a path used by some skiers which had steep downs and equally steep uphills, we could see the summit marked by a large wooden cross but the way up was very craggy and rocky but not all visible due to the snow, luckily after we had been walking for about an hour the blizzard stopped and the sky cleared to the most magnificent views.  I bought a panoramic information brochure back at the cable car station which gave you more of an idea about which mountain was which and how to orientate yourself at the top, needless to say we stopped and took many, many pictures, the sheer beauty of the snow-capped mountains and alpine landscape was just jaw dropping.

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We reached the summit after a very arduous climb with all the others going ahead of me, leading the way, I was still walking with one crutch after my leg breaking in Thailand so it was difficult for me, plus they were all much younger and faster than me, but to be fair, we worked as a team and they helped me every step of the way, especially when we were on the way back down and I realised my phone was not in my pocket!!! Shock horror, I knew that if it was lying in the snow that was it, all my photos would be gone along with all the information I use my phone for, I was in a very huge panic, close to tears, but they offered to go back and look for it and thankfully found it hanging by the charger lead, which had been in my pocket, from the top branches of a tree which we had had to use to help us slide down a particularly tough section.

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The views at the top were so beautiful we spent a long time just taking it all in, absorbing the scene before us in awe, looking out over the huge ranges ahead of us and behind us and at every turn, the purity of the snow covered peaks was just awesome, it was just so beautiful and unspoilt, we were at the highest point for miles, it was so serene and peaceful with just the birds for company and the four of us enthralled by what we were seeing.  The photos we took don’t really do justice to the actual amazing sight but it will remain in my memory forever.

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If I hadn’t met my new friends I would not have attempted the climb on my own while using a crutch, it just wouldn’t have happened, I was so grateful for meeting these people who shared this special memory with me.  Needless to say my original plan of just being up there for an hour tops, was completely scuppered and by the time we came back down to the cable car station it was lunch time and we were all hungry so we ate together in the restaurant, delicious local traditional fayre, while exchanging travel stories.  One of the most valuable experiences of traveling, for me, are the people you meet who share your passion and share the special moments with you.  The people you meet, mostly really enhance the experience.

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Wow what a morning, I didn’t make the Fortress as my time was up on my pass card so I decided to take a walk through the old town instead which was wonderful and full of traditional craft shops and pretty eateries while horse drawn carriages transported tourists through the cobbled streets.  One of these streets was also used in the filming of “The Sound of Music”.  My visit to Salzburg was far better than anticipated and a place I would love to come back to one day.

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Muir Woods

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Friday was a day off for Ingrid so she asked me if I wanted to go to Muir Woods with her,  Finny and her friend Claudia, I have heard much about Muir Woods and the Giant Redwoods that reside there that I just had to say yes.  Muir woods was definitely on my list of places to go in California, I love trees and a chance to see the oldest in the world was something that really excited me, the weather was lovely so we set off to pick Claudia up, who lives quite close to Ingrid, the traffic was very busy but we set off from Claudia’s and began our trip over the Golden Gate Bridge and into Marin County to the National Park that is Muir Woods.

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It took about an hour to get there in the car, passing through wonderful scenery, we also happened to go through Mount Tamalpais National Park on the way there which was very beautiful.

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On arrival at Muir Woods, the delights that await you are not immediately apparent; there is an entrance gate with car parking and a small café with a toilet block available.  The charge for entry is $10 but we were all allowed in free because we were with Claudia who has a pass.

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Once through the entrance gate the sheer enormity of the trees hits you, there are several just through the gate and as you walk along the designated pathway more and more Giant Redwoods loom over you.  The forest is made up of other trees and flora and fauna and is a protected area.

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Many of the Redwoods are over 600 years old, a few are 1,000 years old and cover most of the forest, as well as Bay Laurels and Big Leaf Maples and the large Douglas Firs which all compete with Redwoods on height.   The forest  also has a very diverse undergrowth, many trees have fallen over or have been uprooted due to bad weather over the years but the conservationists advise to leave them disintegrate over time on the forest floor, thereby providing habitat for various insect species and nourishment for the soil.

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Because of low light on the forest floor, many of the plants that cover the ground are shade loving plants, the sun does not reach these plants at any time during the day so the sword ferns, mosses and redwood sorrel thrive under the shade of the Giant Redwoods.

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While walking through the forest it’s not just the enormity of the Redwoods which catches the attention but also the ground cover of beautiful spring wild flowers such as trillium, clintonia and redwood violet.  The silence is captivating and the energy you feel from being in amongst such great trees is truly revitalising.  There is one area called Cathedral Grove where silence is encouraged in order not to disturb the flora and fauna and the peace you feel in this area adds to the huge sense of wellbeing you feel just being around such greatness!

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Ingrid and Claudia decided to go to the café for something to eat and a drink so Finbarr took me on one of the trails which takes you higher into the forest, where more and more Redwoods reside, some with such huge circumferences that you can stand inside part of the tree.  I am a bit of a tree hugger and once I found one thin enough to hug I just had to go for it.  I can feel the energy being absorbed into my body when I hug trees; well that’s what I believe anyway.

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In Japan they have scientifically proven that the practice of “forest bathing” can improve your health.  It is believed to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system and improve overall feelings of wellbeing.  So what’s not to love about visiting forests especially one as special as this one?

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I have always wondered what it would be like if trees could tell stories, imagine how many they could tell, they have seen so many people pass beneath their branches, so many world changes while they just continue to grow majestically higher.

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Some facts about the Redwoods you might not know are; they are specific to the California Coast and have been growing there for hundreds of years.  There are two species in California, the Coast Redwood which can be found at Muir Woods and the Pacific Coast Highway from southern Oregon to Big Sur. Closely related is the Sequoia Dendron gigantem, which grows larger in bulk but is less tall than the Coast Redwood.  Giant Sequoias can be seen in Yosemite and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.  I am going there on my road trip next week, so I really hope I get to see these giants!

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Redwoods thrive so well on California Coast because of the fog which provides enough moisture during dry spells.  Surprisingly they also benefit from fire, which gets rid of duff on the forest floor so redwood seeds can reach mineral soil.

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The information centre at the park has lots of information about the animals which frequent the forest including deer, raccoons, and many different types of bird and insect. They also have a little shop selling mementos of your day at Muir Woods.

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I had the most wonderful day, not only because I got to see the beauty of the Giant Redwoods but because I met a lovely new friend, Claudia and I got to spend the day with her and Finny and Ingrid, the places I have visited are always enhanced by the friends I make along the way.

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Cycling in Golden Gate Park

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Golden Gate Park is the largest park in San Francisco, a bit like Central Park in New York but not quite as big, there are many things to do there, many lakes, a golf course, museums, Chinese Garden, botanical garden amongst many other things.

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I haven’t ridden a bike since December 2014.  In 2015 I was struck down with a thyroid condition which led to me losing most of my muscle tone and contracting Rheumatoid Arthritis, which meant I had no strength and apart from that my joints were very swollen, especially my knees and fingers which meant no cycling! Toward the end of 2015 I started to get better and by 2016 my muscle tone was coming back, however during 2016 I lost my business due to my illness.  I later decided to make the best of a bad situation and do some traveling, I didn’t have any money so I sold all my personal belongings from a three bedroom bungalow and with the money I made from selling all my stuff I put together a plan, to try and do the things I might have if I had gone before I had my children, trying a little couchsurfing, helpxing etc etc, in order to write a book about my adventures and reasons for doing it.

pirate2The quite underneath the pirate statue reads :   I like to think this symbolises me at this moment in time, roaming the world in search of adventure!!

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My youngest boy was joining the army and to be honest with you I felt bereft, losing your children to adulthood is not easy to accept, anyway to get back to the cycling, because I was traveling I had no opportunity to cycle and then I broke my leg in Thailand in October 2016 which was definitely not conducive to cycling.  I had the opportunity a couple of times since, while in Europe but was a bit scared and nervous in case I fell off and because I was on my own.

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Well now I’m in San Francisco and Finbarr has kindly offered to lend me a bike, we talked about cycling over the Golden Gate Bridge but I was still nervous so today, Ingrid, Finbarr’s wife lent me her bike to go to the GG park.  I was a bit shaky when I got on, mainly because it is such a heavy bike and I was cycling on the right hand side of the road as opposed to the left which has become automatic living in the UK.

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It was a very special day, I realised how much I missed cycling, the park has cycle lanes and is easy to cycle around, there are special places of interest dotted all through the park, there are some parts where you have to cross the main road but I just used the crossings when I was a bit unsure.

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The sun came out this afternoon and it was lovely and warm, I wore my Bynea cycle gear to ride, it felt so good to be back in the saddle and also to be wearing my cycle gear again. I was still a bit nervous about coming off as my knee was clicking quite a lot and painful at times but on the whole I loved it, I just cycled round with a permanent smile on my face, taking it easy and stopping quite often to admire the flora and fauna.

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I stopped by the lily pond which was devoid of lilies but saw a crane, as I was about to take a photo he flew from one part of the lake to another and the photo caught him mid-flight, such a splendid sight, such a huge wingspan and such an elegant glide!  While there I met a lovely lady from San Francisco and we chatted about our lives, I love meeting new people!

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In other parts of the park I sat amongst the large dandelion like flowers, sat on the bench by the lake, watched the waterfalls, watched the other people in the park enjoying the beauty, again the trees are wonderful and many different species are housed in this park, willows, cedars, redwoods and many others.

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There are a couple of lakes where you can just sit and enjoy the peace, a golf course, a polo field, bowling green.  There were supposed to be lessons today at the bowling green but when I got there, there was no-one to be seen so I just carried on cycling.  It was a wonderful day and when I got home Ingrid had made a lush turkey chilli with corn bread!  It was just amazing, I also went shopping this morning to Trader Joe’s with Ingrid and another shop I forget the name of, we did the weekly shop before I picked up my laptop from the repair shop!  $95 just to fix the wire, less said about that the better!!!!!

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Ruin bars of Budapest

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On my journey of adventure I like to find unusual places, you have to do some of the touristy bits but it’s always good to find other stuff which you usually find by accident, by just walking through the back streets or just getting on a bus and getting off somewhere that looks interesting.  However if you are pushed for time and you want to see as much as possible, within two days, in any place, it is always good to use search engines.

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I usually Google “What to do free in Budapest” or whatever city I happen to be in.  I am traveling on the tightest budget imaginable but I have found that many of the best things to see are free anyway, like the parks, monuments, street art, rivers, waterfalls etc. etc.  i.e. “The best things in life are free”.  Well Budapest has a lot to offer for free!

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One of my favourite places in Budapest is the ruin bars.  One of the most famous is Szimpla Kert on 14 Kazinczy Street in the Jewish district of Budapest, amongst all the trendy night spots and outdoor party places of Budapest nightlife.

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Ruin bar was started in 2002 in another building but due to its immediate popularity they moved to its current address because there was so much more room, initially a factory with housing attached it had become dilapidated and set for demolition but the four owners saw the potential and opened the place as a community hub for anyone to go at any time just to hang out in comfortable arty surroundings.

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The Jewish district is not far from the centre of Budapest, I was staying in a hostel on Andrassy Ut which is quite close enough to walk, or you can use the tram cars,  buses or even underground, the public transport in Budapest is easy and fun to travel on.

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Even though I have spoken about this as one of the free highlights of Budapest, obviously if you would like a drink in the ruin bar you have to pay for it, it’s about the same price as at the other local hostelries but so much more interesting.

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The rooms have all been covered in graffiti style art; you can even add your own name to the wall.  When you enter downstairs there is a dance room toward the back and a beer garden with an old decorated car with lounge seats to relax with your drink, in between there is a quirky room with old computer monitors and strings of lights all looking very electrical art installation like!  There are pieces of bric a brac everywhere and I mean everywhere, old junk shop finds have been used as furniture, nothing matches, everything is just thrown together in an eclectic mish-mash of styles which all adds to the charm of this very chilled out space in the city.

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In the nights it is party central and you often have to queue to enter, not because they pick and choose their clientele but because everyone wants to go there to feel the vibe, young or old, all are welcome.  I went during the day, you get to see the place better and it is not so full, so you can walk from room to room marveling at all the different collections of junk in every nook and cranny, from old bikes to mannequins to light fixtures made from plastic glasses, it is an unpretentious artistic haven.

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It’s not all about drinking and parties either; they have special events throughout the year and encourage all ideas for festivals or fun times.  I went on a Sunday when they hold a farmers market in the downstairs central walkway area, with all local produce for sale from local cheeses to arts and crafts and traditional entertainers working the crowd.

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It is built over three floors with every inch of wall covered in street art and every inch of space adorned with eclectic memorabilia.  I just love it there, it had such fantastic relaxing atmosphere, and I could have stayed all day but needed to move on to see more of this fantastic city.  I will write about Budapest in another blog post but the ruin bars deserved their own post, so glad I found them!!

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After relaxing with my glass of Hungarian red wine which was quite nice and adding my name to the wall in one of the fab rooms I made my way back towards my hostel and found a quirky little diner selling traditional Hungarian Goulash which is made as a soup in the traditional manner, this I enjoyed with a Hungarian beer which was exceptional!  I definitely picked the right time of the year to come, not too many tourists overcrowding everywhere.  The diner was also tastefully decorated with music themed memorabilia, although it seemed a traditional Hungarian place there was a very distinct American diner theme with burger style meals on offer as well as the traditional fayre.

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It’s always worth exploring as much as you can on foot, this is when you come across these quaint little places, as a rule I hardly ever eat out, mainly because I am on a tight budget but also because I see eating out as a social thing and traveling solo I prefer to buy at supermarkets and eat in the local park or somewhere of interest.  I don’t mind having a drink in a bar on my own, there is always someone to talk to but in restaurants people tend to be in their own parties, so I avoid it mostly.

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