I always thought this was one of the biggest flower shows in London but after catching a Better homes and Gardens special the other night, turns out its not, but don’t let that deter you, its still one of London’s most prestige flower shows and occupies a good couple square kilometers of the Royal Hospital park. As a testament to this, tickets sell out almost as fast as Big Day Out (used to), so getting in early to save disappointment is a must. Tickets are available by date and by time with the cheaper ones being later in the day or towards the end of the show dates.

Sloane Square is the closest tube stop but there are plenty of buses and other unofficial cash-inners doing regular runs. Walking down Lower Sloane St, take the right into Royal Hospital Rd. to get to the main entrance and collect your tickets, otherwise you will end up having to circle the whole block as there are no other entrances (one on the south western side but its for members and media only).

Some very handy tips are listed here which will help you through the day but in general it’s a sea of people everywhere you go and a little bit of a maze to get around.

Main Avenue

Main Avenue is the first place to start with larger companies and stores displaying and selling products and flowers. Smaller vendors with crafted items and garden ornaments branch off from this along with fully recreated garden entries, these ranged from rustic to ultra modern minimalistic styles. Unfortunately getting a nice wide shot can be quite difficult with the crowd and little ol Mavis doesn’t help by elbowing you in the ribs or obscuring your shot with some wayward pointing.

The definite highlight is the Great Pavilion which houses hundreds of displays of cut flowers, new varieties, exotic plants and exhibits on how to go completely over the top with them. Some of the simplest displays were just as eye catching as the elaborate thanks to some clever arranging.

One of the first things even the most casual observer will notice is the variety of colours, think Hyacinths don’t come in magenta, think again. The next observation is the countless new hybrids and completely new varieties available and not just thanks to the UK’s flower friendly climate. For the most part, viewing is rather easy in the sense that similar varieties and countries’ natives are grouped together. There was even an Australian natives section, sadly amongst all the colour and flair it looked more like the backyard of my old share house after not mowing it for 9 months than a flora display.

The Bonsai exhibit stood out in an understated simplistic way but was dwarfed in size, colour and sheer “Whoa! That would’ve taken FOREVER” with a ceremony display of Thai flower arranging in the shapes of animals (elephants and fish) and temples garnished with further origami style weave crafting of dried leaves and reeds.

Further creativity was on display with the finalists of the Chelsea Young Florist of the Year competition, where entrants had to create a jacket made from or heavily cover in intricate live flower designs.

Back outside, you’d have more luck finding a spot to eat, rest or use the bathroom at a music festival than here. Long queues and people who don’t function well in crowds (or are too old to care) are a problem but if you come prepared with some snacks or don’t plan on staying more than a few hours it wont be enough to ruin your day. Even better when you realise you’ve gone the whole event without getting hayfever! πŸ˜€

Photo tip: A mid range zoom macro lens should cover all your needs for this event. A wide angle may be helpful for the bigger displays and “getting it all in” if you manage to squeeze your way to the front. Ambient light is still plentiful even in doors thanks to semi opaque ceilings so flash wont be necessary.

Next up, we hit the shops at Hammersmith and Covent Garden.

Complete Chelsea Flower Show 2011 photos here

London 2011 part #1 – Arrival, Soho Shopping
London 2011 part #2 – Central London sight seeing
London 2011 part #4 – Shopping – Hammersmith
London 2011 part #5 – Shopping – Covent Garden and Soho
London 2011 part #6 – Shopping – Camden
London 2011 part #7 – Shopping – Shoreditch
London 2011 part #8 – Hyde park, Piccadilly Circus

London photo gallery here
Chelsea flower show photo gallery here

The best thing about seeing the sights in central London is their close proximity, barely a couple km’s separates the majority of them so a few hours and footpower is all you’ll need. The trade off is of course having to compete with thousands of other tourists.

Trafalgar Square

Getting the Tube to Charing Cross will pop you up at fountains galore, Trafalgar sq. Like with alot of popular tourist spots there are always scammers, pick pockets and crazy bums accusing you of stealing their sandals so keep your wits about you and know where or how to contact police/security. Security here patrol the area and are easily visible.

Buckingham Palace

Fountain at Buckingham Palace

From here we took a short walk down to Buckingham palace where less than a month before Prince Willy and Cath tied the official knot. If you time it right you’ll also get to witness the famous “changing of the guard”. You can then cut through the gardens to the back of Cavalry Museum where you find guards on foot and on horse back ready to be demeaned with peace symbols and cheesy grins in a photo.

Mounted guard at Cavalry Museum

Big Ben

Westminster Abbey

A couple blocks from here are 2 unintentionally gloomy buildings thanks to period architecture and a typically overcast London day, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament featuring Big Ben. There always seems to be road or building works in this area so you may need to cross the road a few times to get a good spot. On the plus side, with the tower being a lot taller than the adjacent buildings you can get a photo of it from just about anywhere.

London Eye

From here its another short walk across Westminster Bridge to the London Eye. Even with the typical London haze and boring skies it’s a great way to see a broad view of the city and if you time it right you might even score some sweet sunset photos.

Tower Bridge - Lego version ;)

Tower Bridge - Lego version ;)

If you have time to spare, continue along Southbank. There’s usually artists and small market stalls set up along the way and the rug store closing down sale style of the “Under croft”, London’s longest running central skatepark dating back to the 70s. Further along there’s the Tate modern museum, Millennium bridge, London bridge and then the Tower bridge (what people think is London bridge).

Travel tip: If you’re catching the Tube back from this end of town, try not to get stuck at Monument or Bank stations during peak hour. This is a major business area and center for multiple interchanges. If you’re new to Tubing, its definitely not for the faint hearted (or short of patience/fitness). Also note, even though on the map the interchanges look close together there are some considerably long tunnel/escalator runs so it may actually be quicker to spend longer on a train than running through tunnels, especially if you have luggage.

London 2011 part #1 – Arrival, Soho Shopping
London 2011 part #3 – Chelsea Flower show
London 2011 part #4 – Shopping – Hammersmith
London 2011 part #5 – Shopping – Covent Garden and Soho
London 2011 part #6 – Shopping – Camden
London 2011 part #7 – Shopping – Shoreditch
London 2011 part #8 – Hyde park, Piccadilly Circus

London photo gallery here
Chelsea flower show photo gallery here

Waiting to depart San Fran at SFO airport, there was about a 40min delay. Why? To film some kind of ad/porno for the Lufthansa A380 we were about to board. It featured a burly silver foxed pilot clad in obligatory leather jacket and aviators disembarking to a waiting Harley then riding to meet a lady friend. Pin point accuracy for realism I’d say. While it was interesting to watch a couple takes, why they couldn’t choose another time/flight (one that wasn’t about to board) I have no idea, but like any A380 the wait was more than worth it with lushness abound on a 3 week old model, still had the new plane smell πŸ˜‰ And off we set…

Filming of Lufthansa A380 "ad"

Exterior A380 tail cam

It’s a running joke and a long time clichΓ© about its miserable weather but its really hard to deny it when you’re flying into Heathrow through sheets of wispy drizzle and grey haze, once again, London DID disappoint.

It had been about 5 years since I last set foot on the convict exporter’s soil but it all came rushing back as soon as I purchased an Oyster card (essential for public transport and small purchases at selected stores) and made a bee line for the Tube. First timers may choose to take the express from the airport into Paddington then transfer, but for a fraction of the price (at the expense of crowdedness depending on the time you travel) you can just as easily take the Piccadilly line straight into the city. As we were staying at Bloomsbury, we saved ourselves some Tube tunnel running with all our luggage and stayed on till Kings Cross/St. Pancras Station, strategically pre-empting a quick jump off for the next leg to Paris πŸ˜‰

The Wardonia hotel (full review here) is only a short walk from the station but having come out the wrong subway entrance with pouring rain we missed the street sign scurrying for cover and subsequently took the scenic route.

Travel tip: Apart from major centers, very few streets are sign posted. Street names are usually on small plaques posted high on the traffic flow side of buildings, so if you’re walking against traffic you will have to look backwards.

With the luggage dropped off, we had just enough time to pop into SOHO for a quick look. It was still early in the evening, yet we were disappointed at how many of the shops were closed or closing, strange for London we thought, however it wasn’t till the following morning when we were “discussing” with the Macca’s chick why we couldn’t get breakfast at 10.32am… turns out it was 11.32am thanks to daylight saving time…oops.

Travel tip: Always check your destination to see if they’re in DST. Better yet, confirm local time at the airport as you try to get through immigration, if your pilot, like ours doesn’t do his courtesy spiel on arrival.

Even though most of the shops that were on our list had to be checked out another day, we still managed a look in at Niketown, Johnny Cupcakes London and JD Sports. Niketown is London’s flagship store with the usual run of latest and greatest but with a different continent comes different stock and region specific releases. A “Nike – London” tee over a clichΓ© Union Jack one was an easy choice πŸ˜‰ This store is also home to different Nike exhibits, last time I was there they had a history of Air bag technology and the different shoe models it appeared in, very cool. This time on the back of the Football season they had a little skirmish of 3 on 3 inside a small “field” complete with goal nets, definitely added to the experience, almost made me want to pull my shirt over my face and do aeroplanes.

Just down the street is JD Sports, direct competitor to Footlocker and most of the times beats them in range and quantity of stock especially in clothing. Sneakers are on par but they both do slight variations on one another, though JD still has plenty of “JD exclusive” tags and ample sale/clearance racks.

Johnny Cupcakes London

Johnny Cupcakes‘ London store conveniently opened a few months before we arrived so it was high on the must-see list. The small store is nestled with the many other cool boutique stores in Carnaby, a short walk down from Oxford Circus. Following the limited edition trend of the JC range, there were plenty of London exclusives with one drawback… limited sizes ): Thankfully my ADD took over and I soon forgot about the disappointment when their Rube Goldberg style machine kicked into action πŸ˜€ The prices are almost identical to USD however thanks to it being it BP it works out to be quite alot more expensive (about 60%!), but when you see a shirt with a double-decker bus topped with frosting, its hard to say no!

There is also plenty of eating spots in this area, so it didn’t take long to pop into an Asian quick serve spot for some dumpling soup.

Early to bed, early to rise for a big day of sight seeing planned with the central London landmarks and the world renowned Chelsea Flower show up next.

London 2011 part #2 – Central London sight seeing
London 2011 part #3 – Chelsea Flower show
London 2011 part #4 – Shopping – Hammersmith
London 2011 part #5 – Shopping – Covent Garden and Soho
London 2011 part #6 – Shopping – Camden
London 2011 part #7 – Shopping – Shoreditch
London 2011 part #8 – Hyde park, Piccadilly Circus

London photo gallery here
Chelsea flower show photo gallery here

Piers near Fisherman's Wharf

Our final entry for San Fran, is two of the other famous landmarks, Fisherman’s wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Boardwalk near Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman’s wharf

If you’ve ventured out this way for Alcatraz, then you might as well take the short walk west to Fisherman’s wharf. Only if you’re suffering an injury should you pay attention to the pedi-cabs gathered around the Alcatraz exit, it’s a short, easy 10-15min walk along a scenic path.

I was half expecting to see a bunch of little market stalls here but instead it pretty much an outdoor mall on wooden slats. Shops are the usual tourist fair and of course there’s a million tourists. The Aquarium by the Bay, countless restaurants and the big carousel are highlights but otherwise only a short stop of about an hour is required.

It is also across the road from a transport hub so getting to and from the downtown area is no problem. A lot of the trams/trolley cars run from here too so if you haven’t been on one yet, now is the time. Not exactly comfortable or fast or quiet but a whole bunch of nostalgic fun non the less (:

Fisherman's Wharf

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

Like with a lot of tourist attractions that are a bit out of the way, a simple alternative is to book a “tour” ie. A bus picks you up and takes you there, but also like a lot of these attractions, its way cheaper to spend a little time researching, making your own way there and saving a bunch of dollars. There are plenty of places to view the bridge up close but we thought we’d try something a little different and take in a docks/beach walk along Marina Blvd to Crissy Fields. During the warmer months this would’ve been very pleasant, unfortunately on the tail end of winter the winds made short work of the few layers we had on.

Travel/Photo tip: always pack at least a wind breaker, even in warmer months. Depending on how long you intend on shooting, a plastic bag and a full water bottle or some weights for your tripod to minimise shake and some form of cover (another plastic bag will do) for the camera as well to keep out the sea spray, sand and grit will be a good idea.

Golden Gate Bridge

Unfortunately the sub-par conditions made for rather pedestrian photos and it wasn’t too long before the wind chilled us completely to our bones and we scurried off in seek of warmer pastures.

Arriving back at the CBD around 11pm (sun sets late round these parts) we returned to a Japanese restaurant we discovered on our first night and quickly became an instant fave, Maru Sushi not just for the food but for its late night trading hours and close proximity to our hotel. It was also conveniently just up from Lori’s Diner – a 50s inspired diner complete with mini jukebox on the tables and a 1959 Ford Edsel inside. It was a fitting breakfast stop for our last morning in SF and a perfect way to see off the great U. S of A.

Lori's Diner

Lori's Diner

As we made our way from the hotel to the BART station and out to SFO it began to bucket down, no doubt pre-empting what we could expect at our next stop…. London!

Milpitas 2011 – Great Mall
Yosemite 2011 part #1 – LA to Oakhurst via Bakersfield
Yosemite 2011 part #2 – Yosemite National Park
San Francisco 2011 part #1 – Arrival
San Francisco 2011 part #2 – Shopping – Haight, Downtown SF
San Francisco 2011 part #3 – Chinatown
San Francisco 2011 part #4 – Japantown
San Francisco 2011 part #5 – Alcatraz
San Francisco 2011 part #6 – Fisherman’s wharf, Golden Gate Bridge

Complete Yosemite 2011 photo gallery here
Complete San Francisco 2011 photo gallery here

Alcatraz

Besides the Golden Gate bridge, Alcatraz would have to be one of San Fran’s most notable landmarks, even if you’re not a history buff, heading out to view the period architecture is worth the trip alone.

First things first though, the sooner you book the better. I recommend making a booking at least one month before travelling, preferably more if you want your choice of days and times. We chose Alcatraz cruises after reading glowing reviews, sure enough they didn’t disappoint, exceptional service and quick responses via email. However, due to their popularity, as mentioned, tickets sell out long in advance, so get in as soon as you can.

I would also recommend getting the earliest ferry out there, that way there’s fewer people on the island. We caught the second ferry out and it was already starting to get a little busy. See the website for more information on best times of day/year to travel.

Getting to the pier early is essential as well, as the ferry leaves right on time. Even if you get there 5-10min early its still not enough as they begin queuing the next boatload at least 30min prior, so you’ll have to try and get through that crowd and security. We saw more than a few people turned away because of their tardiness. The good thing is, buses regularly travel from the downtown area, it takes less than 30min and there’s some nice scenic views and pretzel and coffee kiosks on the wharf to help pass the time while you wait.

Don’t worry if you missed out on your cuppa or snack before hand, there’s plenty available on the ferry. Its also your last chance of something to eat as no food or drinks (other than water) is allowed in the facility other than at the ferry dock. The ride is about 30min where you get to see the whole of the city framed by both the Golden Gate and the Bay bridges.

Alcatraz - dock

Alcatraz - changing area

Once on the island, you will be greeted by one of the volunteers and given a brief run down of the facility before being able to freely roam the island. The walk from the dock to the actual prison is a bit steep but nothing too strenuous. Once in the main building there is an audio tour set available which steps you through the cramped cells and production line style clothing and shower facilities. If only jails were more like this today, it would deter alot more criminals!

Alcatraz - main cell block

Alcatraz - prisoner cel

There are cells that are open so you can get photos but access to the upper levels and a lot of the other buildings is restricted so this cuts the viewing time down considerably. Exit through the gift shop for the usual merch and a wall of some of the (in)famous inmates. Night tours are also available for the thrill seekers. There is no time limits for staying on the island so you can be as quick or take as much time as you like. Ferries depart approx. every half hour.

Travel tip: as per the website, weather conditions vary a lot since its essentially a little island out at sea. Always take at least a windbreaker and something warmer if you’re going later in the afternoon, even in the warmer months. The notorious San Fran fog can also play havoc with your visit but could very well make for some interesting photos.

While we were out that way, two other must see’s were on the list, Fisherman’s Wharf and the Golden Gate bridge, they’re up next.

Alcatraz - watch tower

Alcatraz

Complete Alcatraz 2011 photo gallery here

Milpitas 2011 – Great Mall
Yosemite 2011 part #1 – LA to Oakhurst via Bakersfield
Yosemite 2011 part #2 – Yosemite National Park
San Francisco 2011 part #1 – Arrival
San Francisco 2011 part #2 – Shopping – Haight, Downtown SF
San Francisco 2011 part #3 – Chinatown
San Francisco 2011 part #4 – Japantown
San Francisco 2011 part #5 – Alcatraz
San Francisco 2011 part #6 – Fisherman’s wharf, Golden Gate Bridge

Complete Yosemite 2011 photo gallery here
Complete San Francisco 2011 photo gallery here

Japantown - Peace Pagoda

Japantown is a short bus ride from from Union Square, catching just about any bus on Geary St. will get you there. Arriving earlier in the morning will give you free run of the place, even though it didn’t seem to get very busy. The “town” is based around a couple shopping centers sharing the Peace Plaza, an open area with the unmissable Peace Pagoda. Surrounding blocks house smaller businesses mostly restaurants and eateries, but having just had a big breakfast there was only one thing on our minds… TOYS!

It is definitely one of the best spots in SF for anime and collectible vinyl figures, I will just list the major ones but in general, the place isn’t -that- big and can easily done in a couple hours of slow browsing.

Japan Video and Auto Freak

Japan Video – as the name suggests, lots of dvd movies and animated series, plenty of JDM stuff for sale and rental. Small selection of toys but a healthy range of plush items.

Auto Freak – if you need to “Asian” up your car or if you want it to look like an EKKA showbag exploded on/in it then look no further this is the place with all manner of novelty knick knacks to do just that. Pedals, gauges, neon, covers, stickers, air fresheners, tissue box covers… you get the idea. They also have a range of die cast model cars and sponsored and novelty race/drift inspired shirts.

Amiko

Amiko – complete cuteness overload in this store with a fair portion of it dedicated to child and baby wear. Small range of men’s tees but the rest is all girls or kids. A few plushes but focus more on practical items based on popular characters like Hello Kitty, Doraemon, Domo-Kun etc.

JPNToys

JPNToys – much more along the lines of a traditional collector toys store with all the staples – blind boxes, vinyl figures, action figures (Revoltech, Figma, Transformers), plushes and plenty of themed tee’s. Prices were pretty average, but there was a small clearance section and selected items on sale so resistance was futile when it came to a Gloomy bear wall clock for $18US.

Moritaya

Moritaya – another explosion of plush with extra Rilakkuma and Pickachu and adaption of these characters to accessories like pens and keychains and household items. They also stock a selection of imported make up.

Katachi

Katachi – this store had a lot of different bits and pieces but focused mainly on Japanese ornaments and souvenirs in the way of Kimono wearing dolls, framed artwork, lanterns and replica and full sized Samurai swords. There’s also a good selection of chef knives and pocket/hunting knives. This was also one of the few places we saw in SF that stocked Toki Doki shirts.

Kinokuniya bookstore – is huge. Not just Japanese/Asian related either, there’s plenty of quirky arts and craft and cooking books. Downstairs has Manga galore, a huge range and more than likely the ability to chase after selected titles/issues for you. Ample stationary and a small selection of toys and clothing as well. The website is just as extensive with many country specific variations, Australia included.

Japantown Collectibles

Japantown Collectibles – definitely saving the best for last with this one, easily my fave store in SF. It’s an unfortunately small store crammed wall to wall, floor to ceiling with figures, models and collectibles. With the hoarding style of display it was both exciting to be hunting round for treasure and frustrating that a lot you couldn’t get to and while helpful, asking the staff every time you wanted a price or closer inspection got tiring rather quickly. Never the less the range of model car kits was enough for me to not walk out empty handed, sadly most items went begging due to the size of their packaging and the dwindling size of my luggage space!

Next up, we head to THE bighouse, the Rock… Alcatraz.

Milpitas 2011 – Great Mall
Yosemite 2011 part #1 – LA to Oakhurst via Bakersfield
Yosemite 2011 part #2 – Yosemite National Park
San Francisco 2011 part #1 – Arrival
San Francisco 2011 part #2 – Shopping – Haight, Downtown SF
San Francisco 2011 part #3 – Chinatown
San Francisco 2011 part #4 – Japantown
San Francisco 2011 part #5 – Alcatraz
San Francisco 2011 part #6 – Fisherman’s wharf, Golden Gate Bridge

Complete Yosemite 2011 photo gallery here
Complete San Francisco 2011 photo gallery here

Chinatown SF

San Fran’s Chinatown is one of the biggest in the world outside of Asia thanks partly to the early gold rush days. You could easily spend a day traversing the hills sampling cuisine and buying any number of knick knacks and knock offs, though if you’re on a schedule, a few hours in the afternoon is enough to get the jist of it.

Doublepunch

We actually started by overshooting Chinatown by a couple blocks north to check out some toys at Double Punch. This is a well rounded store with a good selection of all the regular pieces you’d expect to see at an art toy store. Most are reasonably priced with a few sale items floating about. While the retail store is pleasant enough, unfortunately I had found the online experience far from it and recommend everyone to stay well clear of it. Service was extremely poor, replies were dragged out and vague at best and little attempt was made to find a solution to simple requests to gain my my business. Sad when all I wanted was to purchase some items and pick them up from the store to save on the horrendous international postage charges. A few of the pieces were getting tough to find so I wanted to make sure I could secure them, of course after a few weeks of toy blocking I gave up and hoped to find them in store. Of course, they were sold out by then. Thanks a lot, bastards :(

Unpleasantries aside, while you’re out that way, pop next door to Recon/Darkside Initiative skate store, a designer skate store in the vein of Supreme or HUF but with a lot friendlier service. They carry the usual designer items of clothing and a small range of sneakers. Being a smaller slightly out of the way store they also had a few older models/colours of items that have been sold out else where, Undefeated caps and tees where the ones that caught my eye.

The bus stop is barely a block away which took us back to Chinatown. If you’re looking for model kits then Sun Entertainment is the way to go. The store is very unassuming from the street with only a small sign, in fact you’re more than likely to walk straight passed it. They stock a large range of model kits, regular vehicles along with Gundam (inc. Master grade) and similar anime favourites. There’s also a small selection of figures and slot cars.

While there are plenty of el cheapo souvenir shops around the place Far East Flea market dwarfs them all. Perched on top of a hill its about the size of a large Crazy Clarks store and with the same mish mash variety of “everything but the kitchen sink”. This is definitely one of the best places to buy cheap souvenirs, either Chinese/Asia or San Fran related. Its not all junk either, there are some quality ornaments, cool Asian toys and retro items like vintage Coke or Star Wars metal lunch boxes along with all manner of household and travel related items. They even have replica weapons like swords and nunchucks, not too sure how you will go trying to get them through customs though!

Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory

The last stop in Chinatown is a must for the novelty factor alone, the now famous Golden Gate Fortune cookie factory. No more than a little business operating out of a cramped store front in a lane way, but thanks to plenty of online love its grown popular, to the point where you have to pay if you want to take photos! $1 if you can squeeze to the front but def. worth it to see the things being made. Of course there’s plenty of cookies available for purchase, a couple bucks will get you enough to wish you’d never want to see another one again! “Tough cookie not so tough when stuffed with tough cookie”…. or something :p

Chinatown Entrance SF

We keep the Asian theme going next with a cuteness overload in Japantown.

Milpitas 2011 – Great Mall
Yosemite 2011 part #1 – LA to Oakhurst via Bakersfield
Yosemite 2011 part #2 – Yosemite National Park
San Francisco 2011 part #1 – Arrival
San Francisco 2011 part #2 – Shopping – Haight, Downtown SF
San Francisco 2011 part #3 – Chinatown
San Francisco 2011 part #4 – Japantown
San Francisco 2011 part #5 – Alcatraz
San Francisco 2011 part #6 – Fisherman’s wharf, Golden Gate Bridge

Complete Yosemite 2011 photo gallery here
Complete San Francisco 2011 photo gallery here

Haight

Haight is one of those suburbs that has a young creative vibe and a slew of quirky shops to match. Sure, you cant swing a stick without knocking the fake glasses or beanie off the -back- of some hipster kid’s head but in general it has the eats of West End and the boutique shopping of the Valley/New Farm in Brisbane. If you’re heading out early (re: before midday) pop into one of the many cafes on Haight St. Most seemed pretty busy so you may be in for a short wait if you’re after a table.

The People’s CafΓ© was right near the bus stop so it was an easy choice πŸ˜‰ Food was quite good, reasonably fast turn around even if the service was a bit average, free WiFi more than likely makes up for it for most people. Judging from recent Yelp reviews this place has since closed, possibly rebirthed under a different guise?

Bellies full it was time to burn some Greenbacks, starting at the Masonic Ave end of Haight st…

Stussy – one of the larger stores we’ve come across but nothing out of the ordinary for the range. They did have a clearance rack with some old school Stussy designs though. Seeing their Stussy “Peace Dollar” vinyl figures on display in all forms of disrepair and missing pieces gave me the warm and fuzzies knowing I had a mint one waiting for me from my LA haul πŸ˜‰

Super 7

Super 7 – local designers obsessed with Star Wars and Anime, they have a good range of their own shirt designs and a small range of toys and books. Shirts are overpriced but there are some fun original designs like the “Weapons of mass destruction” that has a bunch of space ships and vehicles from movies like Star Wars, Tron, Battlestar Galactica etc. Toys and collectibles also fetch a premium, a few odd pieces may have deserved the extra tax but Kidrobot items not so much since the KR store is just across the road.

Super 7

True Sole

True (Sole) – set up like a clearance store, they had some of the cheapest new release sneakers we saw in California with a good $10-20 less than regular retail prices. They also had older models on clearance, just cross your fingers they have your size. There’s also a small selection of clothing and accessories.

California Surplus

California Surplus – Listed as the sister store to the one in LA, this one was mostly focused on the surplus side of things rather than the work wear. They still had a small selection and thanks to a misjudgment on clothing for the day, a pair of overpriced Dickies pants were a life saver.

Shoe Biz II

Shoebiz II – This second store leans more towards the sneaker niche market. A few rarities along with clearance items on footwear and clothing. This was the only place at the time that I saw the Nike Air Vengeance‘s in “maize”, didn’t have to tell me twice πŸ˜‰

Shoebiz 1 – Caters more towards women’s shoes and boots, plenty of stock but you will have to battle a thousand other women as it didn’t seem like there was a time it wasn’t packed.

Adidas Originals – up the Willy Wonker glass elevator from Shoebiz 1 is a small selection of Originals gear leaning towards the more outlandish designs and colours. The clearance bin is always a welcoming sign and this one had an out of production Adicolor jacket for $40USD *yoink* along with some sneakers and a few other bits and pieces. If you’re looking for range you’re better off heading to the Adidas store in the Westfield in the city.

Kidrobot – pretty much the same as the LA store apart from a couple older Michael Lau figures. More fuzzies when I notice they were selling for $150-200, 10 times what I paid for mine πŸ˜‰

Loyal Army

Loyal Army – and then there was one. This is their only retail store left now, not in short due to a decline in their designs from cute and kitschy to trying too hard to be “now”. In saying that there was plenty of multi-buys and clearance items to be had.

FTC skate – renowned for knowledgeable and friendly staff, this is a good sized store with decent range of all things skate related.

Amoeba Music

Amoeba Music – Not having time to make it to the one in LA I was really looking forward to popping in here, and it didn’t disappoint. Wall to wall, floor to ceiling of music. Its what iTunes would look like if it was a real store, just with less thieves and a more user friendly environment πŸ˜‰ It took well over an hour just to paw through the electronic music and hiphop (with a quick detour through punk) for a yield of about 35 cds, so make sure you put aside the right amount of time proportioned to your musical appetite.
Since these cds were going to be shipped back with the bulk of our haul, I stripped the cases to save some weight. The guys were only too happy to take the empty cases back (:

Downtown

The two major stops for the downtown area were the Westfield and Nike Flagship store. The Westfield was unfortunately a fruitless experience even with Champs, Footlocker, Vans and Lids on the directory save a store exclusive track jacket from the multi-level Adidas store. A couple doors down at Shiekh’s had a much better result with a large range of clearance items and new range footwear and clothing, easily one of their bigger stores too. Jordan Rare Airs were a steal at $60USD.

The Nike Flagship store, while in all intent and purposes was very similar to just about every other one in other cities fell short because of this. If you’ve been to one you’ve been to them all as the stock was almost identical to that in LA.

Next up we head to the two (little)lands of the orient, Japantown and Chinatown.

Milpitas 2011 – Great Mall
Yosemite 2011 part #1 – LA to Oakhurst via Bakersfield
Yosemite 2011 part #2 – Yosemite National Park
San Francisco 2011 part #1 – Arrival
San Francisco 2011 part #2 – Shopping – Haight, Downtown SF
San Francisco 2011 part #3 – Chinatown
San Francisco 2011 part #4 – Japantown
San Francisco 2011 part #5 – Alcatraz
San Francisco 2011 part #6 – Fisherman’s wharf, Golden Gate Bridge

Complete Yosemite 2011 photo gallery here
Complete San Francisco 2011 photo gallery here

San Fran - Little boxes on the hill side

As we rolled into San Fran with the weekend traffic it was as much excitement to be in a new city as it was relief to ditch the car. As much as a benefit the car was we were keen to get away from having to battle traffic and that damn GPS voice over bitch! There’s only so many times you can hear “recalculating route” before you lose it completely and it was not a moment too soon!

Neon Monster

On the freeway in it was nice to catch glimpses of the stereotypical San Fran hills and period buildings. We had a bit of time and fuel (car had to be returned back as empty as possible – insane, I know!) on our side so we decided to head out to Neon Monster. Its just out of the way enough to make it a bit of a hassle to get to and being a lone store it warrants a dedicated trip, but its definitely worth it. Bout the size of your regular boutique shop, the space is divided in half between collectible vinyl toys and books. There’s a good range of both but what makes this store a cut above the rest is the prices. Most full priced items were less than most places we had come across and there were plenty of items on sale or marked as clearance, most notable was the “twofa” deal on Kidrobot plushes. Sadly, about a month or two ago they closed their doors for good, however they have kept the online store running. Other art commitments were cited by some of the staff as their new focus so we will be sure to keep our eyes open for their work.

Heading to the CBD it was nothing short of a 70s cops and robbers movie with the steep rise and falls of the San Francisco landscape. If by chance you have hired any kind of “sports” car, take extra care as even with the 4wd riding height of the Ford Focus we were bottoming out on some streets and that was before the “spirited” driving πŸ˜‰

Arriving in the downtown area, went from bad to worse thanks to road works and one way streets, the looming deadline for car return wasn’t helping either. This was also the time we gave up on the GPS as it kept redirecting us to the road works and subsequent road closures. Switching to map only view and calling your own shots is definitely the way to go. Once that was sorted it wasn’t long before we found the hotel, unloaded our luggage and returned the car.

For the San Francisco stretch we chose to stay at The Park Hotel on Sutter (full review here) which was central to most amenities and was very reasonably priced.

Initial view of the city had hints of New York City. I was expecting it to be more laid back like LA, just less spread out but thanks to its density it was a lot more hustle and bustle like NYC. The driving and people’s attitudes at times reflected this but it only took about 15 seconds looking at a Google maps print out for someone to ask us if we needed directions, that’s always a good sign (:

Now car-less, our mode of transport was back to the humble public transport system, luckily SF’s Muni and BART systems are very efficient and quite easy to get your head around thanks to the smaller grid-like layout of the city.

Map in hand and a revitalised sense of discovering new frontiers we headed off to San Fran’s boutique shopping hub, Haight.

Milpitas 2011 – Great Mall
Yosemite 2011 part #1 – LA to Oakhurst via Bakersfield
Yosemite 2011 part #2 – Yosemite National Park
San Francisco 2011 part #1 – Arrival
San Francisco 2011 part #2 – Shopping – Haight, Downtown SF
San Francisco 2011 part #3 – Chinatown
San Francisco 2011 part #4 – Japantown
San Francisco 2011 part #5 – Alcatraz
San Francisco 2011 part #6 – Fisherman’s wharf, Golden Gate Bridge

Complete Yosemite 2011 photo gallery here
Complete San Francisco 2011 photo gallery here

09.23.2011

Mil-what?
Milpitas is probably an unlikely stop for most travellers with it being over shadowed by San Jose in the south or Oakland in the north for stops on the way to San Francisco but when there’s a place called the “Great Mall” we couldn’t resist taking an overnight detour.

Milpitas

We took the 120 out of Yosemite to the 205 then the 680 which pretty much dropped us right at our hotel, The Marriot TownePlace Suites, which we strategically planned due to it being directly across the road from the Mall.

The day started off with a free continental style breakfast which for me included a portioned cup of the now extinct in AU, Corn Pops. Memories of eating them for dinner at uni came flooding back and it was a sign it was going to be a good day (:

Getting to the centre within the first hour of opening on a weekend day is definitely the way to go. No problems with getting a covered park right near an entrance and it’s a casual stroll for a good hour or two before the crowds start rolling in. It opens from 10am Mon-Sat. so you even get a nice little sleep in.

So to the shopping… with over 200 stores I guess it can lay claim to the “Great”ness but where to start? Since there were so many stores I’m going to refer back to the mall directory to help me remember them all and list them alphabetically.

The Nike factory store is a good place to start, big variety and I must say we bought more here than at Citadel. Cortez’s = $35USD, girls Airmax 90 = $30USD, Omar Salazar SB’s = $35USD *yoink* plus an array of apparel and tee’s at throw away multi-buy prices.

Reebok also has an outlet store and then there are the usual mall suspects, Champs, Converse, Finish Line, Journeys, Shiekh Shoes, Sports Authority and Vans. Footlocker gets a special mention as this one seemed to be one of their few clearance stores. Normal fair up front but at the back it was pile after pile of mismatched boxes, pairs and markdown on top of markdown stickers. For the most part there was a reason why most were reduced but there were some diamonds in that rough, biggest problem was finding how much they were. This thankfully paid off when a pair of Punkrose Retro Hi-Tops purchased, basically the bastard child of Chuck Taylor and Vans. Going by the reduced tickets and percent off markings, the guesstimation came to about $20 down from $100. Not bad at all right? Not even close, the sales guy stumbled back wide eyed before calling his colleagues over. While we were thinking…”Oh great we’re gonna have to put these back”, he turns the register readout around to show… $2.17 inc tax. What??? He even got the manager to check and sure enough that was the price! Free lunch then (: This further enforces my claim that the internet is not the best place for bargains πŸ˜‰

$2.17 inc tax!

After that, seeing items on sale just wasn’t the same, after all, its no $2.17! But we continued no less. Sanrio and Toys R Us were the only major places for toys though there were a couple places with a limit selection of anime and game related merch. Sears has an appliance outlet store if you’re chasing down some cheap Aldi-esque appliances.

What mall stop for us would be complete without a Wetzel’s Pretzels stop? Yep, just so happens there is one here too πŸ˜‰ and it has stolen the torch for best pretzel’s ever. The fresh pretzel bites were a cut and a half (no pun intended!) above all the other stores we’ve tried, deeeelicious.

All pretzelled and bargained up we waddle out to the car and hit the road once more for our final USA stop, San Francisco!

Milpitas 2011 – Great Mall
Yosemite 2011 part #1 – LA to Oakhurst via Bakersfield
Yosemite 2011 part #2 – Yosemite National Park
San Francisco 2011 part #1 – Arrival
San Francisco 2011 part #2 – Shopping – Haight, Downtown SF
San Francisco 2011 part #3 – Chinatown
San Francisco 2011 part #4 – Japantown
San Francisco 2011 part #5 – Alcatraz
San Francisco 2011 part #6 – Fisherman’s wharf, Golden Gate Bridge

Complete Yosemite 2011 photo gallery here
Complete San Francisco 2011 photo gallery here