My 20 Day United States Itinerary

I wanted to go for sixty days initially, then one month, but in the end around three weeks was the most workable solution with work and life being how it was.

I booked my flight from New York to London first, because I didn’t know how long I would be able to spend in the states, and booked my flight from London to Los Angeles later. Both flights were with Norwegian Airlines. My itinerary covered California, New York and Massachusetts, ticking off places and things I’ve alway wanted to do!

London to Los Angeles: 11 hours with Norwegian Air

A long, exhausting flight made worse by the fact if you don’t pre-pay and pre-book your meals, you will have to pay in flight or starve. I starved on principle.


2nd – 5th July: Los Angeles and Venice Beach

I spent two nights in a hostel in Hollywood, and one night in a hostel on Venice boulevard about five minutes from the beach. 

<Greyhound bus>


5th – 6th July: Santa Barbara 

A brief stop to see the pretty Spanish influenced town of Santa Barbara on the pacific coast



6th-9th July: Carmel-by-the-Sea, Monterey and Big Sur

Arriving in the evening of the 6th allowed me a day and a half in Carmel and one day exploring Big Sur and Monterey



9th-12th July: San Francisco

A few days around the time of my birthday to stroll through landmarks, hilly streets, historical neighbourhoods for gay rights and wonderful bookshops

<Delta Airlines flight>


12th – 16th: New York City

Museums, bookshops, markets, seeing friends, eating lots of food and spontaneously attending a street party in Brooklyn!


<Greyhound bus>

16th – 18th: Boston, Massachusetts

Visiting the pretty and quaint city of Boston, and Cambridge for the prestigious Harvard College.


<Peter Pan Bus>

18th – 19th: Falmouth, Massachusetts

A very quick visit to the coastal town along Cape Cod


<Peter Pan Bus>

19th – 21st New York City

Back to New York for my flight home: time for museums, Coney Island, Chelsea and more Brooklyn adventures!


5 Big Ol’ Myths About Travelling Across America

Many of us would love to travel across the States but there’s always a reason not to. My advice is to just book your flights as soon as you have the capacity to do so, and you’ll soon find the solutions for any issues you expected to come up against.

Here are some common misconceptions that I found to be completely workable when I was in the States.


It’s not possible to do it without a car!

Not true. I never learned to drive, but the United States has a very decent bus and train network. You can buy Amtrak passes and Greyhound bus tickets or multi-stop passes. Many cities have public transit, uber is popular and it’s perfectly acceptable to use your legs to cycle and walk too!


It’s going to be so expensive.

It’s probably going to be pricier than staying in Western Europe and if you’ve travelled in Asia or South America you might sense that you are literally just burning away money in comparison to how cheap the cost of living is.

Finding a place to stay isn’t cheap, but Couchsurfing is a possibility. Flights and getting around may cost you. But my biggest expenditure on the daily was things like gifts, shopping and paying to get into museums – all optionals. By eating at delis, markets and grocery stores my food budget was often around $15-$20 a day.


I need someone to go with.

No, you don’t! Going to the States was my first solo female travel trip. I wanted to go alone, but even if I wanted a companion no one was available to go with me at the time.

I rarely felt like I was alone because everyone was so chatty and friendly wherever I went. People would ask to accompany me round cities, I met people in the hostels, got invited on dates (polite blushing) so you really don’t feel that absence at all!

And for every other situation, you can befriend someone’s dog!


Many places are quite dangerous, aren’t they?

If you’re going to be caught up in a criminal incident, the only thing that needs to happen is that you are in the wrong place at the wrong time. It therefore means that in the middle of the safest place on Earth, you could come up against an issue.

Everyone warned me about this and that place. Here isn’t safe and there isn’t safe. Poverty, homelessness and drug abuse are serious issues in big cities and there are some very desperate people in desperate situations. Do your research, be aware of your surroundings and be sensible. As a woman alone without insurance, I made sure to be back before it got too late into the night in a few cities – but it’s not always a necessary precaution and in many places I was out roaming until late and felt completely safe.


Hmmm… Now is just not the right time. Maybe I’ll book for next year.

Next year will not be the right time either! You’ll always find the reason not to! Find a cheap flight, close your eyes and press “book”!

Return to New York: Museums, Galleries and Feminism. 

 The plan for my very last day was ambitious. Wake up early, get breakfast from Duane Read, go to the Museum of Sex, then walk to Central Park to quickly see it as I walked up to Dylan’s Candy Bar to get a sugar hit, get the subway to Washington Heights to see the Cloisters, the metro down to the Bridget Dugmore gallery to see the exhibition, back to the Brooklyn Bazaar for Le Sigh before getting back to my hotel at 8pm to get to the airport for 9PM. This would be accomplished in a 10 hour period. Right…

Well, I started off well, getting breakfast from Duane Reed and getting to MoSex in good time. I was planning on only seeing the Zana Bayne exhibition, where she displays her pieces including a replica of Lady Gaga’s Yoü and I outfit. 

This is a free exhibition, but I already decided to see the whole thing and I’m glad I did. It’s sexy, political and a lot of fun. I would have liked to have done the sex personality quiz but I couldn’t find the artefacts they wanted!

From there I decided I was close enough to walk to Bridget Dugmore on 99 Bowery. It wasn’t too ambitious, had I not stopped off at every single shop that caught my eye on the way. The exhibition was pleasant, very small and I probably could have just gone on to the cloisters. What I didn’t realise was that it closes at 4:45PM, so I had one hour to get there and see all I wanted to see. Not worth it. I went straight to Brooklyn.

I took a macaroni cheese from a burger store and ate it as I walked around Bedford Avenue. The Brooklyn Bazaar Le Sigh Women and Non-Binary goods market wasn’t quite open yet, but I was glad I went when it did. There are so many handmade zines, cosmetics and jewelleries. There are a lot of creators who I would like to recommend, but my specific favourite was: a funny, chatty, lively, witchy chemist and alchemist called Ash who creates scents and sells wonderful stones. She was intelligent, fun and I bought her scent Clitoria Vittoria. I mean of fucking course. The name was excellent. She also gave me a tigers eye stone as well, I told you – she’s brilliant and a great new person to meet and conclude my trip.

I was cutting it really fine to get back to Manhattan and take my flight, but I managed it in good time walking to Penn Station, taking the Long Island Rail Road to Jamaica where an enchanting woman chatted with her friends for the journey and probably wondered why I was staring but it was because she was beautiful, and finally the Airtrain to JFK.

I write this now as we take off heading back to London and I’m sad. It’s been a trip of learning, exploring and simply being alone with me and my mind. It has exposed parts of myself I like, parts of myself that have made me proud and parts of myself that I endeavour to change. It has given me perspective and a distance from things that I needed, and when I land there’ll be a lot of reality to deal with, but this was a trip I really needed.

Return to New York: Midtown, Coney Island and Chelsea

Back in New York, I was aware that my days on this trip were numbered. I had so many things to do and time was not on my side. I’ll tl;dr – there were too many things on my itinerary than hours remaining, so Washington Heights and the Cloisters museum, Museo del Barrio and revisiting Central Park will have to wait until next time.

Upon arrival, the first point on my agenda was to refind the deli I ate at last time. It took a long time thanks to Maps.Me deciding to place the pin in a place the deli wasn’t, but I guessed it was Sunac Deli, and I was right. Sadly, after more time searching than I would have liked, they didn’t have the mashed red potato or cajun shrimp, so I took sesame chicken instead but it was too sugary.

After my deli meal, I went to Bryant Park, a sweet little park near my hotel, on 42nd Street. Like all New York hotels, a lot was happening in such a small space, and there were accordion shows and people chatting in chairs, with buildings towering above in every direction.

I stayed there for a long while, watching the world go by and making use of the free wifi. 

It wasn’t far to Grand Central Station, and I didn’t mind seeing it again, so I walked there too, then walked back via an adorable Japanese bookshop, a Ricky’s Beauty Supply and into my bed to sleep.

The following day, the itinerary checklist began in earnest.

First, Cipriani La Specialità for The Art of Watches. This was a (free) grand exhibition of Patek Philippe watches. I am of the opinion that a watch does nothing that a good smartphone doesn’t, but having travelled two months with Alessio and his love of simply saying “Patek Philippe”, I figured I had to go. And it was free. I still think they are functionally obsolete, but these watches were unmatched in beauty and elegance.

Cipriani La Specialità was also very beautiful and ostentatious, making me feel a little self-conscious by just how out of place I was. Especially when a wealthy but boring man was droning on about his watch, then his glossy wife asked “but where did you buy me this one?”

From midtown I made my way to Coney Island. Coney Island was one of my happier nostalgic places in this world.

My anxiety was quite high as I travelled here, so I spent a long time easing that talking to friends with the free wifi by Nathan’s. I was also feeling sad because I had last been here with my Mum and that nostalgia stung a bit. It’s one beautiful memory I have of her, taking selfies on that beach. Unfortunately, at this point this was where my first truly bad experience travelling happened and it’s jaded my opinions of Coney Island a little. I mention this because I now can’t be unbiased about what I write, and I will always write honestly about my travels without sharing too much of myself. I will say that I really enjoyed the Coney Island Art Walls.

I left Coney Island and with a lot of time left in my day but not a lot of phone battery, decided to get off the subway at 14th Street-Union Square. 14th Street fast became my hub in downtown like Times Square was my hub in midtown. Wherever I was, if I navigated to there somehow I could probably get to where I needed to be.

From 14th Street, I walked to Chelsea Market for dinner. Chelsea Market is big and diverse and full of places to eat. I chose Giovanni Rana for pasta. Make your own pasta dish bars are quite popular, and I selected to have tonnarelli amatriciana, with fresh tonnarelli. It was a massive bowl of pasta, and I’m absolutely grateful that it measured up to my high expectations. A light heat, fresh ingredients and well cooked. Finally, an Italian dish I can recommend!

Chelsea Market is close to the High Line. I had already walked it heading South with my Mum, but it was a nice way to get back to midtown so I headed that way. There are beautiful sceneries, architectures, flowers and bars along the way. 

And a very sweet guy really begged me to call him so we could go on a date later and I said I’d call him but my priorities changed, because I’m a terrible person. Also I didn’t want to go on a date with him, even though his chat was alright.

My priorities changed, because once I got off the High Line at around 35th, there was an amazing view of the New Yorker building, and it began to rain. Then I realised my idol Patti Lupone was performing in War Paint RIGHT next to my hotel. I wanted to try and meet her, but sadly it wasn’t to be. 

I think that hindsight is 20/20, and instead of going to Coney Island I would have gone to Washington Heights instead, but had I done that, I would not have had a nice time in Chelsea. Walking along the Chelsea High Line as the sun set was truly a trip highlight, and definitely a top experience in New York. 
Favourite sights: Bryant Park, Chelsea Market, Chelsea High Line. 

Hotel: Hotel Shocard

Positives: Very modern, clean, great decor, friendly staff

Negatives: Small rooms, quite dark at all hours with dodgy lighting, no breakfast

Falifornia: Falmouth, Massachusetts

Cape Cod had been on my travel itinerary since childhood. Not only had it featured in the childhood fictions I loved, but in the children’s atlas where I learned to feel excited about the variety in the world and eager to see it all. I wanted to go when the fall colours made it deep reds and oranges, and nearly left it off the itinerary for this trip, were it not for seeing no reason not to go. It was a decision between Sandwich and Falmouth, and Falmouth won due to its proximity to Martha’s Vineyard and cheaper hotels.

I arrived on the Peter Pan bus from Boston, which was a very short journey, stopping beforehand in Bourne.

The walk from the bus station to my hotel took me along the Main Street, where I returned after checking in. It’s a simple street similar to all the streets in tourist locations in the states. Long stretches of gift shops, ice cream parlours, bakeries and restaurants.

I wanted a drink and some lunch, so like the health nut I am, I had a granita from Ben and Bill’s Chocolate Shop and took a croissant from Maison Villatte. The patisserie had come recommended here, but the granita was more like a slush puppy that hadn’t been well mixed. The croissant I took to eat on the beachside and it was very buttery and almost melted by the time I was on the beach. 

It was a nice beach to walk along, what I really loved was the variety of stones and shells washing up along the coast. Like an excitable child, I found myself running along and collecting anything that glittered in the right way. And I have the audacity to ask why my bag became so much heavier.

The beach abruptly ends to make way for a private beach, and by walking along the adjacent road, it’s possible to follow to beach until the Knob.

 That’s what I did. The scenery is beach, but slowly the long Shining Sea Bikeway weaves through grass and river and thick forest, then back to beach. 

The Nobska Point lighthead looms above at this point. This is what I walked 5.3km for. A beautiful beacon on the hill. I had never been so close to a lighthouse, but always felt drawn to them from their fantastical ideology in fictions.

It’s a 45 minute walk back, so when I did arrive back it was time for dinner. I selected DiVine Pizzeria despite knowing I probably should get seafood. I mean this is New England, right? But this pizza looked so good, and it was. The staff were friendly and treated everyone like a local.

I wrapped up my day there, exhausted from my long day, and the following morning I had an early bus. Despite allowing 45 minutes for the 15 minute walk, I arrived at the departure time on the dot due to getting lost a record of two times., my longtime friend had failed me and the place I pinned was not the place where the bus stop was! I saw the minutes ticking by, quicker and quicker and I had three minutes until it departed, with no sign of the bus. Luckily, I stopped the Mum of a friendly cyclist family and she pointed me in the direction of the Shining Sea Bikeway – another old friend – which took me to the station, sweaty, out of breath, but in time for my bus.

Falmouth was lovely. I was premature for the autumnal colours but it was okay for me. It was peaceful, scenic and rich with Cape Cod beauty.

Right now, we’re here in Boston

When I last visited Boston, Massachusetts, I was with my Mum. She much preferred the charm and clean Boston to the hustle and bustle of the Lower East Side of New York and I really liked it too. I vowed to return, and I had a few things firmly on my agenda.

I arrived from New York using Greyhound, and the journey took around 4 hours. My plug outlets refused to work, but otherwise the journey was fine.

My hotel is in Chinatown, and Boston is a fairly walkable city. My plan was to walk to Faneuil Hall and get food, then go for a stroll to the common. On my walk, I was approached by a man.

“Sorry miss, I just see that you’re a beautiful lady. Do you mind if I walk with you?”

I hesitated. I wasn’t really planning on company, but at the same time, I really did need to take a daily portrait… 

I let him walk with me, and despite him touching my shoulder to steer me, an erratic tendency to switch sides when he walked and calling me “baby”, he was pleasant enough. He was from the projects in Roxbury and had a tough upbringing, but now he sells tobacco for a company. He walked me to Faneuil Hall, but even I could see it was touristy and I lost interest. Instead we went to North End, then had to leave pretty abruptly but I took his email for if I want to meet for dinner (I didn’t).

I was grateful for this diversion. North End was very quaint and beautiful. Everything had been preserved from how it originally was. 

It was a nice walk, which took me to the Boston Common where I took a lemonade and sat out in the sun taking selfies.

From there I was beginning to feel a little hungry, so I searched for food and found a little food court in Downtown Crossing. I took a Louisiana blackened chicken with rice, and I continue to be defeated by the portion sizes in the states. I couldn’t finish it at all! My dinner concluded my day so that I could launder my very dirty clothes.

The next day I decided to visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum and check visiting Harvard off my bucket list.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum comes so highly recommended by me that it has its own blog post here. An actual first on this blog!

Harvard is accessible by the MBTA, you can take the red line heading to Alewife, and get off at the easily named “Harvard” stop. Once you leave the station, Harvard yard is waiting right there for you. 

In the Harvard Yard you’ll find lots to see – the statue of John Harvard, the memorial library and church and the opportunity to walk around saying you can “pahk ya cah in the hahvid yahd”. 

I found it interesting to walk a little further down Massachusetts Avenue and look at the Law School because I am a massive fan of Legally Blonde and Legally Blonde: The Musical (also a few very important real life people went there too. But mostly Elle Woods). There are a few museums such as the Peabody Museum, and the Semitic Museum which I would have particularly liked to see, but I spent too long at the ISGM and arrived thirty minutes after it closed.

There are a few cafés and restaurants to eat in, I took a huge ciabatta panini from a deli with a few continental foods and a fresh lemonade from shake shack then I headed home.

With big players like Washington DC and the mighty New York City so nearby, I think Boston often gets overlooked. One of my favourite songs is about this city, so it will always carry a special place in my heart. There is so much history and so much beauty, I hope European visitors don’t overlook it for much longer!

Favourite sights: North End, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Hostel: HI Boston Hostel

Positive: Really clean, great rooms, in a great location with lots of activities, a nice breakfast and a really nice, communal atmosphere

Negative: only that the wifi can be a bit patchy, which is fine because you’re on holiday BUT it did also affect the laundry card machine.

UNMISSABLE BOSTON: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is up there with some of the greatest museums I have ever been in, in my life. In ways that were completely unexpected, that museum
was beyond words exceptional.

You can get to the museum from the Museum of Fine Arts subway stop, and the address is here. If you visit the museum within two days of the MFA, you can access discounts, as well as if it’s your birthday or you are named Isabella. None applied to me, so my entrance was $15.

Who was Isabella Stewart Gardner? 

Gardner was a collector, philanthropist, and patron of the arts. She inherited quite clearly a shitton of money from her Dad, which enabled her to curate this incredible collection of art, furniture, fabrics and much more. 

What can I expect from the museum?

This museum is unlike anything I have ever experienced. If you enjoy art, interiors, decor, history and culture, you will love this museum. It is designed around a spectacular courtyard, with themed rooms circling around the green, landscaped centrepiece. The life of Isabella, her personality and passions seep through the museum. You can really feel this personal touch, it tells a story but encourages you to develop your own opinions and foster your own creativity as you go around. The placing of objects invites you to make your own connections and understanding. In short, the whole museum is a gallery.

What did you love about this museum?

Isabella was a lover of the renaissance era and Venetian art and furniture. She was an Italophile like me, who collected things rich in Italian history. Her collection also includes Arabic, Indian and Dutch pieces too, with an entire Dutch room and a Chinese Loggia.

My favourite rooms were the Veronese room with its beautiful mirror piece, the Titian room and its connections to the centrepiece Europa running through the entire room and the grand Gothic Room on the third floor.

On the second floor I was in love with the early Italian room and the adorable little salon. 

Finally, the courtyard is breathtaking.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner museum is unlike anywhere I have been and I cannot recommend it enough. I don’t think you will find a similar experience anywhere else.

Harlem History and Brooklyn Charm

On my first visit to New York City, my Mum
straight refused to visit Harlem. She said it was too dangerous and wouldn’t go there. I vowed to visit this time, in the morning so I could then go on to Brooklyn later in the day.

I could walk to Harlem from my hostel, and on the way I strolled to the popular Levain bakery for a soft, indulgent brioche. It was milky, not too sweet, fluffy and just delicious. Almost croissant like, but still cakey. I watched the world pass as I ate, then carried on up North.

Around the Harriet Tubman memorial, Harlem becomes distinctly Black focused, which is why I came. For the rich black history. The murals and the bookshops. The people were just as friendly, with a guy stopping me to chat and offering his hand in marriage as a solution to my not being able to move to New York.

From Harlem I took the train straight to Bedford Avenue which is in the heart of hipsterised, gentrified Williamsburg in Brooklyn. 

First on the agenda was the Mini Mall. This was really cool, and definitely didn’t give off the Too Cool To Talk To You vibe. I ended up buying a whole lot of gifts here and a pair of shorts for me. 

From there I walked to the City Reliquary, but after spending $40 on shorts I didn’t also want to pay for entrance there so I instead followed a poster for a yard sale and went to that instead. There I met Dollfille, a living doll with really beautiful fashion, and I looked around my first yard sale.

The plan from here was to go to Artist and Fleas, get lunch and then make a plan from there. In actual fact I saw that down one street there was a few fairground rides. I became curious and followed it down. There were fairground games, Italian food vendors and Italian flags and a huge shrine at the bottom of the street. It didn’t yet make any sense. The vendors who chatted to me were Italian, but no one really divulged more than “it’s a festival we have every year”. The police explained that they carry the shrine at around 4pm, and it’s an Italian community thing. I was so curious I decided to come back around 4pm.

Artist and Fleas was nearby, but it was as I expected, very closed off and up itself and I didn’t love any of the things on sale so I left. 

Opposite was Smorgasburg which was a big Brooklyn hipster food market with trendy vendors lining. I am so disappointed in myself to admit that I chose to order a spaghetti doughnut. I know. It tasted exactly as bad as it sounds, but it was fun to eat at the “beach” of the East River. 

By this point I could head back to the festival, stopping first at a funky pink little gift shop that caught my eye. It’s Brooklyn Broads, a feminist gift shop that donates 10% of all the proceeds to Planned Parenthood. Although it’s pricey, all the gifts are created by female artists who the shop supports. I enjoyed looking around and it was very photogenic.

I finally made it back to the street festival, where it had really picked up. People were crowding around the shrine, and the sounds of Italian American Brooklyn accents punctuated the air amongst frying funnel cake and calzone.

A local explained to me that it was a long festival that happens every year. They carry the shrine up and down the block to a band, there is food and on the Sunday a mass. One young Italian American guy told me he is involved in carrying the shrine – called in Italian a “giglio”, or lily. It’s a huge heavy thing, but in Italy they carry it for almost twelve hours!

It was quite a spectacle to behold. The music, the carrying of the giglio, the culture and the celebration that was in the air. Everyone knew I was a tourist but I didn’t feel like an outsider at all as the whole block and its diverse community joined in.

I stayed until nearly 8pm, soaking up the celebration, taking photos, meeting people and hearing their stories and watching them parade the giglio. Above everything, this was the most perfect way to spend my day.

Although Manhattan’s midtown has many must-see sights, events like this that are just so true to the community makes venturing out of the centre so worth it.

Favourite sights: Levain bakery and Harriet Tubman Memorial in Harlem, Mini Mall and Manhattan Skyline in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Lower East Side Exploits: New York City Day 1 and 2

Returning to New York City was like a “hello, old friend” after all the new encounters on the West Coast. I arrived at JFK and strutted through the encounter like it was habit, with a casual air I assumed to be very New York. Confusion fell onto my face when I had to decipher the AirTrain – but I quickly understood to reach Manhattan I could take the Jamaica bound AirTrain then the Long Island Rail Road to Pennsylvania Station.

At Jamaica, I was able to pay for the AirTrain as an exit fare and the Long Island Rail Road. At Penn Station I boarded the 1 train to my hostel up on 101st Street. When a man got on the train with trackmarks and dried blood on his legs and sat opposite a very cute Latino man and a rabbi, I laughed and thought of course. It’s New York at 1am.

The hostel I stayed at wasn’t pleasant, all the money went on the outside with a very basic interior. It was clean but aging, and the locks on the door decided when they wanted to open. Still on Pacific Standard Time, around 2:30am I managed to sleep.

The next day, I decided to tackle the Lower East Side. I booked a tour of the tenement museum that morning for 11AM and headed straight there. The tour I booked was Hard Times, the story of one Italian and one German Jewish family who lived in a particular tenement building on the Lower East Side. You visit the rooms they inhabited, hear their stories and look at their documents. I have wanted to visit this museum for a long time, and I can really recommend my particular tour and the educator Kimberlee who was knowledgable and lively.

From the tenement museum, my plan was to visit a few bookshops and a Tokyo fashion store, but everywhere was closed so I instead strolled down to Little Italy, which was lively but a little touristy, and through Chinatown down to the Brooklyn Bridge.

In between the two was a little park inhabited almost entirely by elderly Chinese people! From the bridge I headed back North through the Financial District which is very grand and an interesting sight before taking a trip through Soho, Noho and Tribeca.

There were a few interesting shops – Maman Bakery, but also a little marketplace which was so up itself. The staff really acted like they didn’t want you there. In addition, at this point the street cat calling became relentless and continued right until I got home. That really put a damper on how I felt about the people in this part of New York!

I got all the way up to Washington Square Park and realised it was time to eat, but also knew the prices would rise as the numbers of the streets rose – we were approaching Times Square.

So I walked back down to a pizzeria for a slice of New York Pizza and hated it so much I left most of it. It was in the artsy hub of Greenwich Village which had a great atmosphere.

Nearer Times Square, there’s a big deli where I got brown rice, mashed potato and cajun shrimp! It was lovely!

I ended my night at Times Square, which is a must do and a spectacle for first time tourist, but with one visit under my belt and as a London dweller who finds Piccadilly Circus annoying, I could have taken or left it.

My second day was rather similar as it was so rainy and I spent it mostly strolling around the Lower East Side with my friend – only there are two additions: we visited the Tokyo fashion store, and ate at the Cheese Grille for National Mac and Cheese Day! The Mac and Cheese was quite nice – a bit too thick and stringy and the crispy breadcrumb layer was too buttery and the pasta a little too soft, though.

The Lower East side has a lot more charm and grit than midtown. I recommend strolling through both to see the contrast between spectacular skyline and getting a cricked neck from looking up and the history and culture of the Lower East Side.

Favourite sights: Greenwich Village, Tenement Museum, Little Italy

Hostel: Broadway Hotel and Hostel

Positives: Rooms are shared with one other, very close to the subway

Negatives: Too much money for what you get. It’s very old and needs refurbishment.

The City by the Bay, San Francisco

Years ago, my friend told me that in San Francisco you will hear sirens of fire engines, and it’s because there are so many homeless people that when they die, the fire engines are sent to collect their body.

Another friend told me the homeless population was so severe and so alarming that she found it hard to enjoy the city.

In Carmel, I told a man I was going to San Francisco. He replied “Good luck. Don’t go out at night. My niece was in Golden Gate Park at night and some crazy guy just shot her.”

In between this were pockets of people telling me it’s just like any other city and I’d be fine, but I was very aware of the fact I’d be arriving in the very dark of the night. I would have no data to call a taxi, and possibly no wifi to get an uber. 9th July would be the day I would die. I’d venture aimlessly into the Tenderloin and get ravaged to death by zombies.

Or not. The upbeat track from Lady Gaga’s Born This Way album, “Fashion of His Love” came on shuffle as we crossed over the bay on glittering bridge – Oakland behind us and Port of San Francisco illuminated in red ahead of us. It was so gloriously camp and I felt a sudden rush of joy and understanding why exactly I was here.

I hopped off the bus and waiting right there was a taxi driver named Phillip, who told me to call him any time, day or night, if I needed to get home safe.

“And don’t use Uber!” He said, in heavily accented English. “The Uber drivers, they cut the red light and if there’s an accident you’re not protected!”

“I’m trying to boycott it” I said, sadly. “It’s very convenient but they’re not a good company.”

He told me no matter what the meter says, he’ll charge me $10, but I gave him a pretty nice tip anyway.

Music City Hostel was where I stayed. By day a recording studio and place where rockers go to jam, and by night a bed for travellers. One such was a young woman cycling down the North American West Coast. She had been travelling for two years, and we bonded over the our shared values and complete shock over the lack of an American social care system.

“There are so many poor and homeless people!” I exclaimed. “In Los Angeles a section of one street in downtown was like a favela! Can’t they see the system is failing these guys?”

“There IS no system to fail them!”

I talked endlessly, having come from Carmel where I had no one to talk to, and then we fell into an amicable quietness as we prepared our travel admin and slept.

The next day, my personal life back in London got chaotic. It was wrought with anxiety and stress and I didn’t end up leaving the hostel until late afternoon. With back-home drama, it was hard to see the city and be in the moment. I walked up to the Golden Gate bridge, a long and taxing walk, but I couldn’t find a good vantage point in the Presidio.

I did find the very pretty Palace of Fine Arts, and the beauty of a woman in a blue dress changed the dark spirit of my day. I joined the Chinese tourists clustered together taking selfies, and walked along the waterfront. An astonishingly handsome man with a cute baby stopped me for a chat and recommended me some places to go eat and see.

Behind me was a beautiful view of the bridge, clouded by the San Francisco fogs, so I just walked up to the Ghirardelli Square, too exhausted emotionally and physically to go any further and took a sub-par meal from a diner there. I went back home because sometimes you need a still day when you go away.

The next day, I was determined to make more things happen. It was my 24th birthday. My hostel mate Hannah wished me happy birthday, and my first point of interest was the Ferry Building – by way of Sephora, of course.

The Ferry Building hosts a huge fresh food market on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and since I hadn’t eaten much yesterday my stomach felt like a bottomless pit. I got a crispy, flaky croissant and a pretty nice macaron to eat as I strolled around, then contemplated just how I’d get to the Castro.

The F Train.

These old streetcars shuttle up and down the cities, tackling the steep hilly streets so you don’t have to. A friendly guy began chatting to me about his favourite places to go in San Francisco, what job I do and asked for my number. I gave him my email and he boarded the bus with me. When I mentioned the word “boyfriend”, suddenly the stop at current was his stop.

As we ferried down Market, the streets began getting gayer and gayer. Flags waved in the wind and I knew the historical Castro was very close. I had seen this place in movies like Milk, and read about it again and again in my quest to Know Our Damn History. A huge rainbow flag waved over the Twin Peaks bar, the oldest gay bar in San Francisco, and we were here.

I strolled down, entering the colourful shops with ephemera and souvenirs, unable to stop myself from buying the small bits and pieces as gifts. Then I saw Dog Eared Books, a bookshop with immediate personality. It was wonderful, and as I chatted to the staff I remembered it was my birthday. I told one staff member I loved her badge, she thanked me and I went on my way. Then her colleague tapped me and said “Happy Birthday”. He presented the badge to me in his palm, and they smiled as my jaw dropped.

“Are you SERIOUS?!” I gasped. “Really? This is for me?”

“I have one spare.” The girl smiled. I bought a book and some more badges and pinned the badges to my coat. I couldn’t stop smiling.

It was time to head back and find some food as I was beginning to feel lightheaded, and on the F Train back a Spanish couple began to chat to me. They were from North Spain, and initially thought I was a local. When they realised I wasn’t, we spoke about Spain and their British tourists and the homelessness situation in San Francisco. They wrote me their address and told me whenever I was in San Sebastian, I could be their guest.

I took the F Train to Fisherman’s Wharf, but it was so touristy and I was so exhausted I walked straight through it to North Beach/Little Italy, stopping only to pick up two postcards in a shop where the walls were lined with toy cars.

North Beach became apparent because of the Italian Flags all over the posts. I was looking for Il Casaro, a well acclaimed restaurant for Napolitano style pizza.

I watched the chefs make it right in front of me, and ate like a little Napolitana before heading on back down to my last stop – City Lights Bookstore.

The bookstore was in the heart of the Beat Culture of San Francisco, opposite the Beat Museum and with its own section dedicated to Beat Literature. There were seats where you could pass the time reading their books – this was a bookshop that really loved books. Downstairs in non fiction was packed to the brim with social science books, a section called “Muckracking” and a children’s section full of activisty children’s books. My favourite was called “A is for Activist”. I wanted to wheel the whole bookshop to the till and say “I’ll take this, please.”

My journey home took me through Chinatown. I said I loved Bangkok Chinatown the most – but I loved San Francisco Chinatown more than I could have expected. The shops were full of cute kitschy pink goodies, but sadly they were all closing.

I photographed murals as I passed them, and outside my hostel photographed a punky cool girl wearing a bag that read “hex the patriarchy”. I became so excited, telling her I was in love with just how radical and how political and me this whole city was.

It had been a great birthday. On the Monday I found it hard to love the city but by Tuesday I found it hard to leave. The rich history and rich present, the culture and the people, the art and the books. It was so much more than I expected.

I didn’t see the worst of homelessness because I was never very near to Union Square, but what was always alarming was the amount of homeless wheelchair users. Something was clearly amiss in qthat situation, and it was evident of a much larger issue that I didn’t see.

I’m sad that I didn’t visit as much as I wanted to in San Francisco, but I am grateful for all I did see!
Favourite sights: The Castro, The Ferry Building, The City Lights Bookstore

Hostel: Music City Hostel

Positives: Clean, well located just off Polk Street. It’s fairly close to the Tenderloin but far enough away to not experience any big problems

Negatives: The small bathrooms lock from the inside, but you can still open them with a card key from the outside regardless of whether it is locked from the inside. In my opinion this design flaw is a massive issue! You of course must always knock before entering, but that doesn’t mean people still forget and almost every time I used the bathroom for any length of time, someone would enter.