Archive for the ‘ The Great State Escape ’ Category

Where’s Waldo? A First Timer Recap of Bay to Breakers

This past weekend I celebrated Bay to Breakers with a group of friends.  Bay to Breakers is a marathon, race thing in the city where… actually to be honest I’m not sure what the purpose is.  Regardless, over the years the event has turned into a drunk debacle where people around the city come together, dress up in costumes (although some opted to go nude) and drink from 7am onwards.

My friends and I had planned our costume theme weeks in advance.  We were going to go as a safari with an animal hunter because animal costumes are easy and I really just wanted to dress up like a safari hunter.  But the day before and after a long visit to Target, we couldn’t get our act together to pull off animal costumes.  So while standing on the street corner somewhere in Berkeley, we decided the easiest costume to put together last minute was “Where’s Waldo?” or “Where’s Wally?” for my UK readers.

The event started way early Sunday morning but we decided that 6am was just a little wee to early to start dressing up and drinking.  The Waldo crew decided to meet at 10am instead.  By the time we arrived at Hayes and Lyon, everyone around us was intoxicated and openly drinking on the streets.  There were various other Waldo groups roaming around, lots of Party Rock-inspired outfits, a few smurfs, several blind mice, and numerous cops grabbing open drinks out of party people’s hands.  This reminded me of my college’s homecoming but with costumes, nudity, and san tear gas (erhmmm… my school became unfortunately infamous for street parties).  At one point, my group of friends and I got caught in several rounds of flip cup on Fell St.  My favourite story of the day was when my poor roommate got sandwiched in the crowd and ended up getting too close for comfort with a hairy, nude man… her recap of the story and where her hands at one point unfortunately ended up near made for a good story Sunday night as we tried to recover from the events of the day.

Bay to Breakers-ers enjoying the view of the race from their fire escape.

I’ve had my fair share of weird city events but Bay to Breakers definitely takes the cake.  If you are ever visiting the Bay area when this is going on, I would highly recommend checking it out.  Here’s are some tips from a first-timer:

  • Dress up… normally-dressed individuals stood out like a sore thumb.
  • If you’re visiting the city with your kids, might not be the best idea to bring them if they are of talking age.  I saw some parents walking around with their strollers which was fun but I wouldn’t bring round 5 to 11 year old unless you want to get into an (un)fun conversation about the birds and the bees.
  • Definitely pregame before this or have a little flask with you.  Liquor stores are crazy during this time and why would you want to waste time in line?  #queuehater

Are there any cool city-wide events in your area?  Let me know, I would love to check them out while I’m living in the states.


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Big Sur, Carmel, Monterey, you SUR are beautiful!

Here are some photos from my weekend in Carmel, CA.  I also wrote a blog post on the debaucheries of the weekend.  You can check that out here.

Kelp on Monastery Beach, Carmel, CA

Pulling over near our cottage

Exploring the town of Carmel-by-the-Sea

Julie Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur, CA

Point Lobos, Carmel, CA

Point Lobos, CA

Waves vs. Kiley & Marci.  Kiley and Marci won by a smidge.

Point Lobos, Carmel, CA

Brunching in Monterey, CA

Big Sur, CA

What a Belle! Carmel, CA

On Wednesday before the long President’s Day weekend, my two coworkers – Kiley and Amy who recently moved from Toronto, Marci, and I decided to do a road trip down to Carmel, CA.

We left the city on Friday around 4pm.  The drive to Carmel took about 3 hours and I suggest not driving up to the area when it is dark.  The roads to our cottage on Palo Colorado were windy and the dark with no streetlights made it semi-sketchy (ie. we could have easily drove into the ocean).

The first morning there we went into the beautiful town of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Brunch at Carmel Belle.  Simple, homemade food.

We started off with brunch at Carmel Belle, an adorable cafe where the focus of the food was on the taste of the fresh veggies it used rather using lots of sauce.

Afterward, we wanted to go hiking but the cute town of Carmel lured us into wandering around and we ended up spending too many hours browsing through the shops.  We did, however, stop by a tourist information center and learned that Monastery Beach near Carmel is one of the few beaches that still allows bonfires and open alcohol.  A throwback to the old school style of beaching.

Kiley, Amy and I were really into the idea of doing a bonfire on the beach.  It seemed so quintessential California that we just could not not do it!

We got to the beach around 9:20pm, hoping that maybe we could bandwagon off of someone else’s bonfire since we were four girls and 3 out of 4 of us had threw back a few already.  Fire + alcohol = Smokey the Bear saying “Only you can prevent wildfires”.

There were no bonfires… actually wait, there wasn’t even another living soul there.  Luckily, we brought wood from our cottage, propane, and a lighter to start a fire.  Mankind has been starting fire even before we learn to fish so how hard can it be?  (Disclaimer!  I’m not an anthropologist, I have not a effin clue if fire came before fish).  Ignoring the fact that we were the only ones on the beach which is the start of horror films, the fire plus the abundance of stars in the sky made for a beautiful night.

Fire was made thanks to Kiley and Amy.

Kiley and Amy successfully started up a fire!  We let the fire go until it burnt out.

Sunday morning we went hiking in Point Lobos which was one of the highlights of the trip.  The park was a combination of walks along the coast and hikes in the trees.  The girls and I chose to walk along the coast.  Minus some sketchy moments where I was legitimately afraid of falling into the ocean and being another lost soul to the sea, it was one of the best walks I’ve ever been on.  Nothing like standing at the edge of land and next to the ocean to make you think all your grand life problems are meh small.

Walking along Point Lobos, Carmel, CA

California is surely one of the prettiest states.  For more photos of my weekend, click here.

A Day in Charlotte, North Carolina

I arrived in Charlotte Thursday night before the Martin Luther King long weekend to visit my friend Chadd from Queen’s University and my exchange school Universite catholique de Louvain.  Chadd was out of town working until Friday night so I decided to spend the day on Friday getting to know Charlotte.

The day began by walking into downtown Charlotte along Tryon St., which on a map is actually uptown and can cause a lot of confusion among directionally-challenged tourists.

Please turn to your left and take in the beauty that is…

The Bank of America Stadium!

Walk a little further and you’ll hit The Green which Charlotte Tourism describes as…

“Giant books and pages as well as a walkway of magical sounds enliven this literary-themed wonderland of a park. Colorful benches and the fantasy Fish Fountain offer areas to relax.  Dine alfresco or indoors at restaurants along the park. “

…but my pictures pretty much captures all that you’ll see.

It was cute and probably my favourite part of the city although that title wasn’t hard to get.

Next, I had lunch The King’s Kitchen recommended by many Yelpers.

The King’s Kitchen is a not for profit restaurant where proceeds goes back to the community.  The food was fresh and absolutely affordable.  For $9, I got a plate full of southern fried chicken, spinach, butternut squash, and mac and cheese and corn bread and a biscuit to start!  I absolutely recommend checking this place out if you’re ever in the city.

Nom nom nom

After I finished lunch, I continued to walk around town but after a few blocks I realized I had reached the end.

So I decided to walk along the other two major streets – College St. and Church St. but that also didn’t take very long.

Still having 4 hours to kill before Chadd got off work, I hopped on this little bus.

Gold Rush Transit Trolleys are free and WARM!

So I took the free bus from…

… Where the large circle is to where the arrow points to.

And then from…

… Where the circle is to where the arrow points to…


I was almost that “bus rider” that falls asleep on the bus and going round and round with it.

… Back to where I started.

I then proceeded to do the same thing with the Red line but I’ll spare you the details and my horrific graphic design skills as it doesn’t get all that exciting and I’m sure you can predict how that went.

I want to say the rest of my weekend in Charlotte was amazing but I wouldn’t know because I convinced Chadd and his friend to road trip it down to Charleston with me.  By convincing, I mean peer pressuring them to priceline a hotel after they’ve had one too many 2AM in the morning.  I should feel bad for coercing them but I really don’t.  Evil?

Another state to cross off my list.  47 left.

Tea, Grits, and Some Good Ol’ Southern Hospitality

Last weekend I went to Charleston, South Carolina for a mini vacation with my friend, Alanna.  Charleston marks my first time ever going down that south in the States and as you can imagine, the culture down in the Southern States is significantly different from the North.

Here are a few key differences:

(1) Southern Manners. Maybe it was the years of growing tea leaves and drinking tea but everyone I met was so incredibly polite and always remembered their please and thank-yous.  Someone said good morning to me while walking down the street and I didn’t even know how to respond.  I think I gave them a very unattractive, open-mouth shocked look when they said good morning.

(2) Country Music. This.  This is the very very reason why I need to move to the South.  Majority of the stations played country music.  When you’re music surfing in the car, 90% of the stations you land on are honky donky station.

(3) Food.  Good thing Zac Brown Band prepared me for what was to come with southern food with their song Chicken Fried because that’s exactly what it was.  There was loads of deep fried food, sweet tea (yum!), grits, and pie.  And everything was loaded with creamy sauce.  I learned on this trip that I do not like grits and they have now joined green peas and dill pickle chips to my small list of food I dislike.  I don’t see myself adopting the southern diet anytime soon but I definitely would go back again just to sip on some sweet tea by the sea.

During my 3 night stay in Charleston, Alanna and I did your typical Charleston tourist thing including:

Walking Around Downtown.

Charleston has the most charming downtown life.  It’s very French inspired with many of their street names in French and sits right by the water.  At the intersection of Market and Meeting, everyday vendors go and set up shop in an old building and sell their work.  Some of the notable items include hand crafted straw baskets, candles made in recycled wine bottles and beer bottles, paintings, and deep fried peanuts (including the shell and all which you’re suppose to eat).

Along East Bay St is where all the bars and restaurants are located.  Alanna and I tried Amen for dinner after walking by it hungrily.  I definitely recommend Amen.  We also went to Magnolia on the same street another night based on the many, many reviews on Yelp.  Magnolia is a fancy little restaurant that requires reservations well in advance.  They serve typical southern food and seafood but in an upscale manner.  You can serve grits at a nice restaurant and charge an insane amount for it (sarcasm).  Despite the reviews on Yelp, Magnolia was just okay.  I would definitely do Amen over Magnolia.

East Bay is also close to the famous waterfront where you can walk along the water or sit on a swinging bench.

Charleston Waterfront

I would say you’ll need about half a day to a full day walking around downtown.


One of the things I really wanted to do in Charleston was visit one of their many plantations in the Charleston area.  On the advice of a few locals we spoke to, Alanna and I went to Magnolia Plantation.

Magnolia Plantation is one of the plantation still owned by the original family and in this case the Drayton family since 1676.  The plantation was so well kept over the years.  We did a house tour of the Drayton home and then walked around the gardens and trees.  The gardens was absolutely gorgeous and words can’t really describe how beautiful the place was.  I posted some photos here for you to see.  I wish I scheduled my time out in Charleston better because I could have easily spent a day walking around the gardens and trees there.


Charleston has tons of beaches and we lucked out with some great high 70s weather.  Two of the beaches we went to were Folly Beach and Sullivan’s Island.  Folly Beach is more of your typical beach that attracts a good mix of people.  Alanna and I witnessed a wedding that was happening on the beach the day we went.  Sullivan’s Island, on the other hand, seemed more secluded and felt more residential.  Homes surrounding the beach must be in the millions.  They were gorgeous and ridiculously extravagant.

Shem Creek

Someone told us to check out Shem Creek which was near Sullivan’s Island soooo… we did.  I can only describe Shem Creek with a big OH EM GEE.  Whereas Charleston is a charming, Nicholas Sparks-esque city, Shem Creek is everything but! Let me start by saying that Shem Creek is on the top of my favourite things to do in the Charleston region but I don’t think I was quite prepared for what Shem Creek was when I first arrived.  We came on a Sunday night for dinner after being told that they cook what they fish that day.

Shem Creek has a row of pubs and restaurants by this creek.  The night we went, there was a huge oyster fest and everyone was gathered outside shuckling on oysters and listening to a live band cover country songs (or putting a Southern tang on top 40 songs).  The oyster fest started around noon which means that everyone around us had been drinking since noon.  I felt like I walked into the set of Sweet Home Alabama.  I really didn’t know what to do or think about all this.  On top of it all, there was a motor boat going up and down the water which I assumed meant that they were pub-boating from one place to another.  #onlyinthesouth hashtag here?

Shem Creek Oyster Fest

My overall impression of Charleston was great.  I am strongly considering retiring here because I love it so much.  If you ever decide to go visit Charleston, which I strongly suggest you do… my number one advice is to rent a car.  I unfortunately had to learn that Charleston’s public transit sucked after being stranded trying to walk back to the hotel and being stranded.

To see photos of Magnolia and my trip, click here.

2 states down, 48 more to go!

Pictures of Charleston

The Great State Escape Challenge

I decided during a recent vacation in Charleston, South Carolina  – somewhere between being at an Oyster Fest, watching people boat from one pub to another, thinking… they actually really do this down here – that I wanted to take full advantage of my US Visa as much as possible.

This means that over the course of the next three years, I’m going to try and hit all 50 states.  And so it begins…

— The Great State Escape Challenge —

During this challenge I’ll blog about each state and the city or cities I’ve visited.  There’s a few already on my wishlist such as Nashville, Tennessee (home to my beloved country music) and Savannah, Georgia (someone recommended me to go there for St. Paddy’s Day).  There’s also a few states that I’ve already done but repeats are always fun.  I’m sure Vegas is different when you’re over 21 and not crying because your mom didn’t let you go on the roller coaster ride at Circus Circus.

Let the games begin!!!

US States

California – I Live Here
District of Columbia
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Rhode Island
South CarolinaCharleston, 09/11/2011
South Dakota
West Virginia