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San Francisco – a love that never fade. It is impossible not to fall in love with this city that has EVERYTHING! I just have to return over and over again since I moved back home to Norway from California in 1999. Here are some of reasons why San Francisco is my favorite city, and I also include some places which are in decent driving distance from the city.

Eat

There are plenty of good places, but I will confine myself to pick out three places. Two of them which is restaurants. Burma Superstar in 309 Clement St is a must visit. There is no reservation and you have to expect to wait for a table. Go to the nearest pub and they will send you a message when its your turn. I’m no salad lover, but was completely sold after trying their specialty: Tea Leaf Salad. If you order it, you will get a rare gourmet experience.

Spot number two is The Cliff House, right on Ocean Beach. Go here early so you get a table by the window. The breakfast is amazing. The building was first set up in 1863 and for many years it was a place for the rich and famous. Among other things, several American presidents have been guests there, like Theodore Roosevelt. Although the building withstood the great earthquake in 1906, it has been destroyed by both a dynamite explosion and two fires, but the building has been restored and rebuilt. After a the breakfast, take a stroll along the beach or on the Lands End Trail.

The third place is a city. About one hour north of San Francisco is Healdsburg. A cozy little town with many vineyards and several gourmet restaurants. The city is known to be a little paradise for people who love habaneros. We had an enchanting evening with dinner on the terrace of Madrona Manor. Highly recommend.

Diversity

You find everything in town By the Bay. Chinatown, Koreatown, Little Italy, Japantown, the hippie district Haight-Ashbury, the Financial District, tourist trap Fisherman’s Warf, the gay Castro district, Golden Gate Park, a former military area in Presidio, millionaire district of Sea Cliff where the late Robin Williams lived, Union Square, Latin Mission district and many more exciting areas that have their own character. Take your time and just soak up the special atmosphere that characterizes their respective areas.

I actuallty spend my first hours in the tourist trap Fisherman Warf every time I come to town. I have to keep the tradition alive and buy a bread bowl full of clam chowder.

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Castro.

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Ashbury Haight

Shopping

Haight-Ashbury has many interesting specialty stores, and here you can some very good bargains. Are you fond of expensive brands, then the area around Union Square is the place to go. But a trip to Gilroy Outlet Malls may be well worth a drive of 1.5-2 hours. 133 stores including DKNY, Kenneth Cole, Levi’s, Brooks Brothers, Adidas, Nike, Jones New York, J.Crew, Guess, Nautica, Reebok, Polo Ralph Lauren, Rockport, Timberland, Coach, Tommy Hilfiger and Banana Republic. You just have to buy a new suitcase or bag so you can fit everything 🙂

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Alamo Square

Attractions

Go to Alamo Square and then you get a chance to take the photo of the Victorian houses that you see above. Its mandatory to drive/ride/walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. But please note that in summer there is a lot of fog and you can be very unlucky and not get to see this beautiful city in the background.

Alcatraz is also a place you should visit. A historical place that has been both prison and a place where Indians occupied for 19 months over 40 years ago. Book your tour early, even before you leave for your holiday. And book a audio tour so you get the history of the place while walking around. Drive down Lombard Street – a one way street with eight sharp turns. Take a tour or two with Cable Cars – a great way to get over to Union Square. Jump off at Lombard Street and get your photo of a Cable Car with Alcatraz in the background. Coit Tower gives you the opportunity to see the city and surrounding area with a 360 degree view point.

Sport

There is something for every taste. Check out at least of America’s favorite sports baseball, football, ice hockey or basketball, even if you are not particularly interested in sports. San Francisco got baseball and american football, Oakland baseball, football and basketball, while ice hockey can be found in San José.

The Americans also have a lot of passion for university sports and it can be a great experience to see football or basketball at Berkeley. If you choose Oakland Raiders, go early and catch atmosphere around the stadium. A lot of fans come several hours before the game and they have their own place in the parking lot where they eat, drink and enjoy themselves.

Festivals

There are very many different festivals in the area, but if you are there in early August, buy a pass to Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park. The festival is gigantic with many scenes and 60-70.000 people attending the festival. And the music is of very high class. When we were there in 2012 Foo Fighters, Metallica and Stevie Wonder played.

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Smell before taste…

Wine

Only about 100 kilometers north lie the two wine regions Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley with many award-winning wineries. It is possible to take a day trip, but rather find a winery and stay a few days. We spent four days in Healdsburg, and had a wonderful time where we enjoyed good wine tasting and gourmet restaurants. Among other things, you can visit the vineyard of film director Francis Ford Coppola in Sonoma Valley or take a wine train in Napa Valley.

Parks

Go east to beautiful Yosemite Valley. If you want to stay in the park, book early. Several fantastic hiking trails, but do not be surprised if you meet a bear or two. I’ve been there twice and both times I have seen bears. The first time a mother and a young cub crossed my path just four meters ahead of me on the trail 🙂

Visit the ghost town of Bodie, which is in very good condition. Everything is just like it was when the mining town was abandoned in 1943. The city had 10,000 residents in 1879.

If you travel four to five hours north of San Francisco you reach the Redwood National and State Parks. The Redwood are the highest – and one of the largest – tree species in the world. A very beautiful place in Northern California. Among other things, there are places where you can drive your car through a tree. Visit the charming town of Ferndale and you get the feeling of going back 100 years in time.

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Nevada Falls in Yosemite National Park.

Long trip

Drive Highway 1 to Los Angeles. Allow plenty of time, since large sections only have two files. Lots to see and do. Use the Scenic Drive to Carmel, see Hearst Castle and stop in beautiful Santa Barbara which includes taking a horse back ride in the hills. I’m not fond of Los Angeles, but Venice Beach is a must. Just to people watch 🙂

 

 

Love at first sight

On a mountain between Bleak and Andenes

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The view towards Bleik.

Photos of beautiful scenery, I will never get tired of looking at them. Many times I immediately think: – I got to go there.

I was in Tromsø visiting friend. It was Wednesday afternoon and my plan was to stay until Saturday. To waste some time I was looking at some pictures. And then pictures of the northern part of Andøya poped up. And I changed my plans. A few hours later, 2:30am, I headed south.

Luckily this was a place I could go to there and then. I had time available and I was very close. Only 220 kilometer and a ferry ride away…

The morning hours were spent in beautiful Senja, before I took the ferry from Gryllefjord to Andenes. Unfortunately a very sad and horrible experience. Dirty, lousy service and very expensive. One of the employees actually said to me: – In the north we are thives.

It was so true. And trip is not even beautiful. Someone should clearly give the owners a kick behind so they might wake up and create a journey they can be proud of.

But at least it saved me a big detour and the sun was shining, so I survived.

Bleik

After getting ashore in Andenes I drove ten minutes before I found the exit. Not hard to find even though it was not marked. It is not allowed to drive up the road to the observatory, but there is no reason to complain. There is a nice dirt road to walk. Best of all, it’s only 20-30 minutes walk up there. So the access to this incredible views is something most people can do.

I hiked across the mountain range south of the obervatory before I went up to Røyken where you get a superb view of both Bleik and Andenes.

And yes, I lost my mind like so many others. I wanted to take a picture of myself, so I lined up the camera on my tripod and jumped out on the edge towards Bleik to get ready before the timer was done. The camera took the picture, and when I looked down it was 200 meters straight down. If I had lost my balance there was no way I could have saved my self. It would be bye bye Mr. Sætre. I only made one attempt. And of course the picture was horrible.

As soon as I started down the other side of Røyken the sight which appeared in front my eyes only became more and more beautiful.

The small beaches

The contrast is interesting, since Bleik is dominated by the 2.5 kilometer long Bleikstranda, whereas if you drive around a headland and just two kilometers further north towards Andenes, there are many tiny beaches which will take your breath away.

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Small and lovely beaches.

On the seaward side of the last mountain towards Andenes I hiking down to ledge and my stomach turn once again. Although the ability for good pictures lured me to the ledge, I was more careful this time.

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Andenes.

A small and easy hike. Anyone can do most of it. And it does not take away the joy of how insanely beautiful it is. I have grown up next to Sunnmørsalpene where step mountains drop straight down to the ocean, but this is arguably one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever done.

A trip to Vesterålen, Lofoten and Senja should be on everyones bucket list. And put this hike on top of that list.

 

The pearl of Southeast Asia:

Hoi An

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Hoi An at night.

Many people will probably disagree that Hoi An is the pearl of Southeast Asia. Choosing one particular place that stands above the rest in this extremely large geographic area is impossible. Although I have only visited three countries in Asia when this was written, this place has to be one of a kind.

We had been in Hanoi, Halong Bay and Sapa before we got to Hoi An. We had decided to take some quiet days here since we had some days of hefty sightseeing the last week. Its nice to charge your batteries and leave your watch in bedside drawer.

Although we were backpackers, we turn flashpackers when we got to Hoi An. The hotel was incredibly nice, but compare to Norway it was still cheap. Sometimes you just need some luxury.

Soup

Local food is something the best part of your journey. Stay away from McDonalds and Burger King in foreign countries 🙂

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Fell in love with vietnamese soup 🙂

The good restaurants are plentiful in Hoi An. And it was anything but easy to pick out which we should go to. But we usedTripAdvisor, and each meal was amazing. Luckily I had already ordered soup in Sapa. Back home I almost never have any soup, but here I ordered one soup dish as a starter to every dinner even though I knew I only had room for the main course.

Fresh herbs and spices made the soups the best ever.

The different soups was so good that I could go back to Hoi An just for the soup.

A walk in the rice fields

The beaches was also amazing and luckily there was not to many beach-lovers there in the middle of summer. The locals were actually not allowed to be on certain parts of the beach. But they loved getting sand between their toes. They had 100 meters of shoreline, and in the weekend they stood neck to neck on the little beach spot which they had been allocated.

I’m not so happy to stay to long on the beach, because I’m quickly becomes restless. The solution was simple. An hour on the beach and then I jumped on the motorbike I had rented. A wonderful type of transportation if you want to explore unknown areas and it is also excellent for a photo safari. But it is crucial to be really careful. Its easy to get lost and the traffic is way more chaotic than at home …

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Two women working in the rice fields.

One morning, I wanted to walk along some rice fields. And of course, I asked for permission. After all, this is someones property and workplace. The pictures didn’t turn out as I hoped. But I had a feeling that l was in a place with unknown factors. Suddenly I saw movement in the corner of my eye and jumped. But I was not the one got the most frightened. A snake took off in the opposite direction. I chased after it with my camera, but the snake was in familiar areas and much faster than I had thought, so unfortunately I never got a photo of it.

Twice I got up at 4:30am to hunt the sunrise. Both times I got disappointed. But I got a chance to witness the local fishermen working hard in the early hours of the morning.

At the World Heritage List

The city has no more than 90,000 inhabitants, therefore, Hoi An has not a big city center. And thats a good thing. The downtown is amazing idyllic and charming. Not surprisingly, the city is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Walking the streets here at night are incredibly romantic. The city also has a big food market with a wide variety of food and fruits. For me, it was slightly odd that you can buy goose that is still alive.

And of course you can do some buy some amazing tailored clothing. Tailors in Hoi An has an excellent reputation, so do not worry if you think it is too cheap.

There is also an excellent solution if you have no space in your luggage. You can buy a whole new wardrobe and send it home. A postman came to the shop and took care of the shipment while we were in store.

Loud snoring

The spa is must go if you are in Hoi An. We ordered a two hour massage at Palmarosa Spa. Ten minutes before it was over, I suddenly woke up. My friend and the two masseurs burst out laughing.

Maybe not so strange, I had snored loudly while she massaged my face. But until I fell asleep, there is no doubt that it was the most comfortable massage I ever had.

Sad and happy:

Bosnia & Hercegovina

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The frontline of the Balkan war in Mostar. A school in orange is rebuilt on the croatian side of town, but on the bosnian muslim side there are still ruins.

 

In 2011 we planned a vacation to Croatia. Three and a half weeks there sounded too long out, so I started to check out the surrounding countries. Mostar emerged. And immediately it struck me that I had to go there.

After four days in Dubrovnik, we headed to the Bosnian city that has 113,000 inhabitants.

Right after we passed the city borders, we drove by a large graveyard and it was a heads up to of what we could expect to see. For immediately we got one shock after another. Nearly every building was full of bullet holes, even though the war had ended 18 years earlier.

Snipers

Mostar was constantly in the media spotlight during the Balkan war in the early 90s. The day after we walked around the town and on the main street Bulevar, which was the front line during the war, you could still see and feel how the brutal the world can be. On what was – and still is – the Croatian side there was a high school. Painted in orange. While on the opposite side – the Bosnian Muslim side – there was two buildings in ruins and the rest was full of bullit and shell holes.

No surprise. Because on the Croatian side of the Bosnian town, they build new houses and shopping malls in high speed. They have used a lot of money for many years and there is no sign of the war. Unfortunately though, the Bosnian Muslims have no money to repair or rebuild their part of town. They are reminded of the horror of the war on every street corner.

But there is one exception on the Croatian side. 100 meters from the orange high school there is a bank. Or a former bank. The building is a ruin. We entered and immediately a felt sad. Original bank papers that was dated back 20 and 30 years was still there on the ground. One could easily pry into other people’s life if one wanted to. On every floor there was thousands of cartridge cases. This was a place where some of worst killers who participated in the fighting in Mostar used.

The bank was in fact a snipers nest. From there, they picked out their victims one by one. If you ask me, this building should have been demolished years ago. Instead its open so anyone can go there to see the evidence of the horrific acts which was carried out there.

Were spoiled

One becomes sad, miserable, angry and furious when visiting a place like Mostar, but the Bosnian Muslims are incredibly cheerful, hospitable and welcoming.

We were recommended to stay at Hostel Majda. Often this mean that eight people are staying in the same room, but they also had two double rooms. We paid 150 norwegian kroner a night and then we got breakfast included. And the breakfast was amazing, Bata’s mother (Bata ran the place) served us eggs, toast, fresh tomatoes and other vegetables. You have to have a big appetite, because she did not take no for an answer if she asked you if you wanted more.

One advantage of staying in a hostel is that you meet adventurous people. They’ve been in places outside the tourist traps and they willingly share experiences. They are usually much more outgoing and the atmosphere is always good. It almost feels like you are among friends. Next time I’ll go to Mostar, I’ll stay at Hostel Majda again. A luxury hotel can never give you the feeling of being a part of a community like Hostel Majda did.

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Bata in action 🙂

Lets talk about Bata. How do you describe this man? Crazy, full of enthusiasm, always smiling and at lot of knowledge about his beloved Mostar. A day trip with him is a must. It is full of history, madness and beautiful places to visit. You will forget about the hours in a crowded bus. This is an experience not to be missed. Book early for his trips are really popular.

The world’s best tomatoes

Of course, you can”t miss watching the locals jumping from the famous bridge Stari Most. 50 meters further down is a perfect vantage point as well as a great place to soak up some sun.

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Stari Most.

The Bosnian food is very good. The tomatoes are the best I’ve ever had. And the meat is always so perfectly seasoned. I simply loved the local food. But do not get shocked if your platter it packed. They give you a lot of food.

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A lot of food, but tasty food.

There is also several interesting attractions in the region. Kravice Falls and Pocitelj is on the intinerary on your trip with Bata. We went on our own to Blagaj which has a very special climate and is home to an astounding 170 bird species. Blagaj Tekkke (also known as the monastery Dervish) was redeveloped in 1520 and is a beautiful building near the river Buna that flows right out of the rock face which is 200 meters high. You can take a small boat into the cave where the water comes straight up from the abyss. River Buna starts just here.

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Blagaj Tekke

Mostar is only 140 kilometer from Dubrovnik. Leave two or three days for Mostar, hop on a bus and go to the Bosnian town. It is without a doubt one of the best choices I’ve made on my travels.

I got to go back every year:

Liverpool, England.

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A street corner by the docks.

Obviously my passion for Liverpool FC is the main reason why I must return to the city by the river Mersey. But Liverpool is so much more than football.

The first time I went there was in 1994. A sad sight. The decay in the center was clearly visible and apart from football, I was not tempted not to return.

It took 10 years before I went back. And the city had gone through a major change. Today its completly different and when you walk in downtown it is like coming to a brand new city compared to the early 90s. Much thanks to the fact that Liverpool was the European Capital of Culture in 2008. Unfortuantly they have made the same mistakes as in so many other places, mixing several styles of arcitecture side by side.

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People watching

Even if you do not like football, there is much to see and do, including walking in the footsteps of The Beatles. There are also many great museums to spend your time. And the shopping is first class. But there is one place you need to visit, and I’m there almost every time I visit the city even though it is not for religious reasons. Liverpool Cathedral is the UK’s largest and the fifth largest cathedral in the world. Head to the top which gives a breathtaking view of the city.

There is another thing I have to do each time I visit. I need to sit in a chair by the window table at Caffe Nero in Bold Street. I normally spend two hours to eat lunch because the show outside the window makes the time go by very fast. It’s all about people watching. This is a perfect place since it is a pedestrian zone. It does not matter if its summer or winter, the girls walk around in mini skirts. And their skin is blue during the winter time, but they do not seem to care.

Eat in a church

England also had a bad reputation when it comes to food. But that has changed completly. So also in Liverpool. My favorite is Alma de Cuba, a wonderful restaurant located in a former church, where they have a bar downstairs. Other restaurants you should try are Gusto, Bem Brazil, Lunya, Sapporo Teppanyaki and 60 Hope Street. If it late at night then go to the Mayflower. A perfect place for hungry football fans.

The nightlife is just unbelievable. Here’s something for every taste. And people are incredibly outgoing and nice. If you do not thrive at night in the city of Liverpool, yes then it’s you who do something wrong …

You’ll never walk alone

Even if you are not very interested, you should also see a Liverpool match. The atmosphere in the pubs next to the stadium is quite unique and they sing all the time. They are packed and the heat is intense, but it’s simply a must in the hours before the game. And you will never forget when a choir of 45,000 people singing You’ll never walk alone inside Anfied. If you do not get goosebumps, then you never will. I know people that has no interest in football who said that this is one of the coolest thing they have ever experienced.

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The view from the Kop. Liverpool beat Manchester United 2-1 on this lovely afternoon.

I have also been at Goodison Park – Everton’s home turf – and the atmosphere has been impeccable there as weel.

The city of Liverpool is so much more than football. Go and find out for yourself 🙂

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Cruise on the river Mersey.

 

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