Santa Cruz and the case for celebrating your birthday away from everyone you know

First of, Santa Cruz is a very pretty small town just around 1.5 hours South of San Francisco. One of its main draws is the location right by the Pacific, and the other is the small town version of Coney Island they put right on the beach, making the boardwalk look like a 1950s Pleasantville movie setting.

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I chose Santa Cruz because I wanted a little time away from the big city, some quiet and some beach, to get some rest and level my head from the excitement of San Francisco. I also wanted to drive, but not too far, so I rented a car and GPS for my little getaway. To book the GPS was a genius move as it turns out, because the nice GPS lady lead me spot on exactly where I needed to go, always letting me know well on time when I needed to make a turn or exit a freeway. I remember being in Nashville two years ago driving with the Google maps lady and almost losing my cool or crashing the car quite a few times…I do not recommend it. Anyway.

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At first I was a bit disappointed when I got to the rental car company as they have overbooked the convertible class and had none left for me, and I was so hoping for a flashy American car, like a Mustang or Corvette. In the end I got a solid Nissan. Not exactly what I expected, but I got free insurance and fuel upgrades and insofar you can’t fault Dollar for their service.

Arriving in Santa Cruz I checked into the Rio Vista Suites, a lovely little Victorian house with only a few rooms. I don’t usually name-drop hotels but this one has convinced me with one simple thing: having the absolute most comfortable bed I have ever slept in. Seriously. I did not want to get out of bed, ever. The only thing that got me out of it in the end was the great weather and the thought of lazying at the beach. But this bed was like a fluffy big cloud and I am still considering writing the management an email asking where they buy their beds. Seriously. I can’t stress this enough.

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During my short stay here I also celebrated my birthday. And by celebrate I mean sleeping in, not caring about a thing, doing only things I want to do, which was mainly the sleeping in part and driving up and down the coast, occasionally stopping for the nice views and getting coffee or food. I did absolutely nothing and it was amazing. Doing absolutely nothing is extremely great at any given time, but on your birthday it makes for that extra special something. The fact that I was thousands of miles away from my loved ones actually made it all the better, as bad as that sounds. Of course I was constantly checking my phone to see if anybody has thought of me and sent me electronic birthday wishes, and when they did it made me very happy. But not having to do the birthday party thing, trying to get people to go out with you and socialise or come to your place and socialise, or even just getting a big enough crowd together that doesn’t make you depressed at the fact that so many people you would like to see are scattered around the planet, well, Europe at least. Not having everyone ask what your plans are for your birthday celebrations and look at you funny when you say ‘nothing’. When all you want to do is enjoy yourself without culturally dictated rituals you aren’t all that comfortable with.
That whole part was a revelation.

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This plus the scenic views of Santa Cruz and the sound of the ocean waves breaking has made me more relaxed in those three days than I have been in a very long time.
You should try both things out for yourself sometime.
Put yourself first. Treat yo’ self.

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I take myself out to the ball game

One of the very few things I planned for this trip (I like letting things come my way rather than to plan things and maybe stress over keeping on track with my to do list) was watching a baseball game at the AT&T park. There is just something about baseball that makes it so utterly American, I just had to check it off my to do list, because why not and who knows when else.

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For somebody who is so in love with San Francisco as I am, the Giants are the ideal team to get you into the sport. They have a faithful following of fans whose excitement for the game will pull you along all the way through 3.5 hours of watching men throw and catch a tiny white ball. From the moment I stepped off the N-Line at the ballpark, all dressed up in an official T-Shirt from the Dugout to blend in and pretend I know what I’m doing, I was surrounded by people in Black and Orange who just took me as one of their own. Some people were actually dressed in Giants merch from head to toe, literally, from the hat to the shoes, with belts, scarves and blankets on top. These people don’t do the fan thing half-arsed.

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The first thing to do was go to the customer experience stall where I was given a certificate for my first ever attendance, so I am now officially claimed by the Giants as one of theirs. I had enough time to walk around the entire ball park, looking at all the food stalls and merchandise shops, and of course the glass box with the three trophies from 2010, 2012 and 2014. These guys have a thing for even years it seems, hopefully they can win it again this year. Fingers crossed. Although do not ask me where they currently stand in the league, I have no clue.

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After finding my seat, which was waaaayyyy up on the highest balcony or View Reserved as they call it, which are literally the cheap seats, although the view is better than I expected, I went and got myself a bowl of those famous garlic fries. For $8.50 you get quite a big heap of fries with chopped garlic cloves and parsley. They are as tasty as everybody says and on the plus side you also get two enormous breath mints with your serving, which I guess is especially helpful for the couples hoping to end up on the Kiss Screen later on.

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As it turned out it wasn’t hard for me to follow the game itself despite my lack of knowledge and the sheer length of the game. And I have to admit, the names of the Giants team kept my childish self entertained for a good while. Madison Bumgarner and Joe Panik must be some of the most awesome names in the history of names.

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Don’t Panik.
The Giants won that night.

I lost my heart in San Francisco

That was ten years ago.
Now I’m just being reminded why. There is so much beauty here to discover in this city, even within the ruggedness of some of the rougher areas. The touristy activities are a lot of fun, sure. I have been waiting in line for a cable car ride and paid a fortune to go on a ferry ride too. But try and wander around one day, aimlessly, and you’ll find things and places you didn’t know you were looking for. It is also the only way you will find the hidden postcard views of the city, the really cute houses and the cosy artisan cafe’s, because those won’t be in any guide book.

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I spent my entire first day just walking. I walked around the ferry building, walked through the farmers market inside the ferry building, walked around Fisherman’s wharf and the little park by Ghirardelli square. A caffeine induced madness made me decide to walk all the way back to the hotel, past the curvy Lombard street and along Mason Street, because it looked like a pretty short walk on the map. What I didn’t account for was that walking along this route, even when walking straight ahead the entire time, I was actually walking up and down a few hills. And these hills are no joke to walk. Especially not in the sun. I was rewarded with great views at the top of each hill though, and that totally made up for falling into bed exhausted at 7pm.

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On the Sunday I planned on having a good chill to finally get my body clock adjusted to local time, and because I was switching hotels I couldn’t really go anywhere for long anyway. First I spent some time people-watching at Union Square (there are a lot of tourists, and a few homeless people asking for change, yes. But every now and again you’ll see the old man in a white tracksuit driving around in a mobility scooter blasting some Latin American tunes). Later I took a bus to Alamo Square, where I shot loads of pictures of the Painted Ladies and then just sat down in the grass and read a book.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

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Speaking of taking loads of pictures: I somehow thought it was a good idea to restrict how many rolls of film I bring along with my three cameras, and so I only brought ten. After two days I have already shot two full rolls of film. After day three, another film was full. I am going to stay here for 14 days….you do the math. Luckily I have found a little gift shop on the way from the final stop of the Powell-Mason cable car line to Fisherman’s Wharf which just happened to sell a select sortiment of 35mm film. As it turns out the owner of the shop used to be a photographer and develop his own film, and as it happened he talked me into buying a UV filter for my Konica’s lens. Because of course I needed more equipment.

On day three I spent some time riding cable cars (they move slowly) and after strolling through the market behind Pier 39 and watching (and smelling) the hordes of sea lions located at the pier, I got on a bay area cruise ferry for an hour of taking pictures of the skyline and the Golden Gate. Good thing I brought my wind and rain resistant jacket too, because as soon as the ferry left the pier I felt a big giant gust of wind hating my face and hair and trying to make me fall in front of 100 people. And those are all people who will fight you for your space at the front end of the boat. It was totally worth it though for this view though.

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I just bloody love this city.

Photographer problems #2

Forgetting you carry two analogue cameras in your hand luggage when going through security and spending an extra ten minutes waiting for a security guard to go through your stuff, only to give you an odd look when he picks up your ancient cameras. Like, why are you still using these when you have a smartphone???

That.

Packing issues

Photographer problems #1:

Imagine this: A) You have all of the below cameras. B) You can only take 23kg of luggage on your two week trip. Which and how many cameras do you pack?

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Shouldn’t be a big deal, I know, but when you have to think about the ones you’ll have to leave behind you’ll feel like you have six puppies and you have to decide which of them to bring back to the shelter. It feels evil and mean and you’ll spend minutes and minutes apologising to this inanimate object for not picking it as your favourite. I have packed my suitcase a full five days before my trip; I have clothes, shoes, passports, everything I need; but I have yet to make a decision on these seven beauties.

On top of that, you’ll have to make room for all the film you’ll need for two weeks. And you might go a bit overboard, but that’s fine.

(Please note that in this entire text, when I said YOU, I mean myself. I’m talking to myself.)

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