Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Round the world travel: Oakland and the East Bay, California, USA

Where I am

The most dangerous city in America (don't tell my Nan).  Home of police shortages, gang battles and serious poverty.  Also, a thriving live music scene, large student population and pretty, pretty lakes.  It's a place of stark contradiction.  Only America can so skillfully produce cities that blend from safe and prosperous, to terrifying and povertous in a few blocks.  Moments of nervousness aside, I was charmed by the whole East Bay area from Oakland itself, up to Berkeley and Emeryville.  The press have started calling the city Sanfrancisco's Brooklyn.  Maybe in a few years I'll agree. 

Where I stayed

My first Airbnb experience! It was excellent.  A little over budget, but so, so worth it.  I rented a rooftop cabin overlooking Lake Merritt, complete with it's own balcony for sipping tea and watching the sunset.  It was small, maybe about the size of my living room at home, but contained everything I needed - kitchenette, shower, bed, sofa and the security of knowing there was no where for any marauders to hide.

This was the perfect option for a longer stay.  Three weeks in a hostel is a hard limit for me.  Just not happening.  Airbnb is such a great idea.  Having a whole place to myself, a kitchen for homecooked food and space to just 'be' was amazing.  I got to feel like I really lived there.  I totally wish that were true.

What I read

White Teeth - Zadie Smith.  Picked up a battered copy from Walden's Books down the road from the apartment.  It was nice to hold a real book again.

What I listened to

NPR radio. God I miss it already.  Like the cool Californian version of Radio 4, full of interesting interviews with authors I'd never heard of and opinion pieces on local politics.  Endlessly interesting and informative.  Must check if I can stream it online...

What I ate

Homemade turkey chilli, spaghetti bolognese and chicken tikka masala.  I made a big pot at the start of each week and made up some pennies from the rent.

An ice cream sundae at Fenton's Parlour.  This was a proper old skool ice cream parlour with red leather booths and a soda fountain.  They make all their own ice cream and serve protions so enormous I couldn't make it through even half the child's size.

Chowder in a sourdough bread bowl along Fisherman's Wharf.  I wish I knew what happened to all the middle of the loaves...

The best Italian pizza I've had since Rome at Arizmendi's bakery.  They have a daily special. I got the veg and feta day.  So good.

My first taste of soul food at the renowned Brown Sugar Kitchen.  In the middle of bloody nowhere, this place was worth the trek.  I had the pulled pork sandwich with a side of macaroni cheese, but they're famed for their buttermilk chicken and corn waffles.  They should be famed for it all, because this was unbelievably tasty.  I understood my host's use of capital letters when informing me of this place.

Coffee and a biscotti at Caffe Trieste, haunt of the best of the beat writers, where I jotted notes in my Moleskine and wished I had but half the talent of Kerouac on a bad day.

What I did

Ran the perimeter of Lake Merritt.  It is a perfect 5k path with herons and geese for company and a mix of beach, trail and road.

Walked the length of the trendy Piedmont Avenue and tried on every velvet thing in every vintage shop.  Had Gollum-esque converstaions with myself about not buying them.

Browsed the huge selection of secondhand books at Walden Pond. A treasure trove of literary adventures with lovely, lovely staff.

Visited the friendliest Doctor in Temescal (guess it's easy to be friendly when you charge hundreds of dollars...) due to an attack of hyperchondria.  Diagnosis-I'm so healthy normally that I mistook the symptoms of being out of my routine with imminent death. Oh yeah. I'm cool.

Did my long run to Berkeley's campus where I marvelled at the frat houses and fountains and outdoor desks and tried not to offend the librarian with my sweatiness.  Universities are my spiritual home.  It was a great cure for a bout of homesickness.

Strolled the uber-bustling farmer's market at Jack London Square of a Sunday morning.  Bought weirdly coloured tomatoes and an organic corn dog. Yep, the only way I was eating a corn dog.

Went to the Oakland Museum of California's Summer Nights late open evening.  I loved, LOVED, this museum.  It was a cool, informative muddle of art and history and science all presented in a style that would make the denizens of Shoreditch jealous.  The summer nights program also meant that you could tie dye your own shirt while listening to a local DJ and drinking beer.

Did the most painful and exhausting hill run, 7 miles in 33 degree heat on hills you can only find in the East Bay.  Ended up visiting the Botanic Gardens for some shade.  When I finally gave up and collapsed on the scrubby trail two deer gambolled into my path and we watched each other till I had mentally stopped cursing the world for being unpleasantly hot and hilly.  Thanks, Universe.

Sat on the balcony reading.  Sat on the balcony writing.  Sat on the balcony watching the world go by.  It was good to slow down for a while.

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