Top Ten Travel Bucket List. Day Three- San Francisco and Sydney

I once read a quote from some famous author who was insistent that it was necessary to thoroughly travel one’s home country before going abroad. I can’t remember the author or the exact quote, but I do remember that I found him or her to be full of it.

For me, travel is about doing something you enjoy, but doing it in a place that makes you feel vulnerable and out of your comfort zone- new cultures, crazy cuisine, ways of living that challenge your sense of ethnocentrism. But after some consideration, I appreciated what the author was getting at. We do have the chance at these experiences within our own boarders, which inspired me to put San Francisco as my number seven destination on my Travel Bucket List.

7. San Francisco, California

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One of my favorite and at the same time least favorite things about myself is that I have very few serious interest and many things of some interest. It’s great for meeting and getting along with a lot of various types of people, but the drawback is that I grow bored with subjects and topics quickly and feel the need to move on to something else for a while. San Francisco’s wide array of ‘must sees’ make it a perfect destination for people who are similar to myself.

The first stop in San Fran is indeed one of those things of some interest- ghost hunting!

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The supernatural has always intrigued me. In fact, my favorite spot in my home city is Old Gray Cemetery, believed to be home to a ‘Dark Aggie’, a dark, shadowy figure that roams the graveyard by night. So of course the haunted island in San Francisco Bay is a must! First up, Alcatraz.

Alcatraz Island is home to the most notorious prison in the United States, and is on virtually every “Visit San Francisco” list imaginable. At first glance, I had absolutely no desire to visit Alcatraz. How much fun can you possibly have running around in an abandoned prison? Then I learned about the night tours…

Even without the stories of spirits haunting the prison, Alcatraz at night is already creep enough. You take a ferry after the sun sets, as the fog is starting to crawl toward you across the bay, to an abandoned, isolated prison. Add in the stories of people heading moaning, crying, and jingling, plus many unexpected sightings in the darkness of the cells, and you’ve found yourself one creepy, exciting night.

After ghost hunting, it’s time to go celebrate some history and party in the Castro District.

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San Francisco is the soul of gay culture is the USA, and at the heart of the city’s gay scene is the Castro District. Today, same sex couples can walk down the street holding hands, seeing an overwhelming amount of rainbow flags to symbolize gay pride and gay friendly establishments.

The US military offloaded thousands of servicemen discharged for being gay in San Francisco. Many of them settled there, and later influxes of youth to the city during The Summer of Love cemented the Castro as the gay district. It was home to Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician elected to California office who was assassinated along with San Francisco mayor George Moscone in 1977, and has perhaps the country’s most tear jerking history with the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.

Whether you want to get a crash-course in gay culture, learn about the history of the gay rights movement and Harvey Milk, party with drag queens and cross dressers for a night, or just have a good time, the Castro District is one of the top destinations in the world. Don’t forget to take San Francisco’s famous trolley line to the district and avoid the big city traffic.

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After getting in some photo ops at the Golden Gate Bridge and spending the afternoon in baseball’s most scenic location, AT&T park, to catch a Giants game, its time to change the way you think at the Exploratorium. Described by The New York Times as the most important science museum opened since the mid-20th century, this museum’s motto is to change the way the world learns.

Galleries include human behavior, allowing visitors to experiment with memory, emotion, and judgment, Fisher Bay Observatory which holds a seaglass restaurant, and an outdoor observatory where you can simulate your own storms which a massive rain machine.

The museum also has exhibits featuring music, art, and performance art and how it relates to science. The Exploratorium is not your usual museum, and its extremely high ratings from travelers of all types make it a must see location.

6. Sydney, Australia

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Next I’m heading back out of the country to The Land Down Under. Australia is known for a lot- its millennia of native culture, a diverse ecosystem seen nowhere else in the world, amazing surfing, and giving us Outback Steakhouse’s Bloomin’ Onion (okay, that’s probably not true, but let’s pretend it is). It’s also known for hosting the 2000 Olympic Games in its cultural center of Sydney. First stop in Sydney is to a literal urban jungle at the Toranga Zoo.

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Not only does the zoo offer the amazing mixture of seeing rare animals in a weird, jungle setting with city views in every direction, it also offers animal encounters which allow guests to feed giraffes, touch a koala, catch a bird on your wrist, or feed an African lion. Such a cool experience for animal lovers.

In addition to the up close experience with the animals, this zoo offers a Sky Safari that allows you to look in on animals from above without having to trap them in holes in the ground, and a Wild Africa Encounter through an ‘African Savannah’ where zebras and giraffes roam freely in a vast area. Toranaga Zoo is not your average zoo, and the up close experience with rare animals alone is worth a visit.

Next, take a day to learn about some new sporting events not as common stateside. Australian Rules Football (rugby) and cricket are Australia’s two most popular sports, so meet a fan and bring them along to the stadium to explain the game and the rules to you. What’s a vacation if you don’t learn something new or discover a new interest?

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Speaking of learning something new, I’m dying to take some surfing lessons. Where better than Australia? Bondi Beach and Manly Beach in Sydney offer up awesome surf as well as awesome views (both of the shore and the scantily clad Aussies).

Even if you aren’t up for surfing, a nice day tanning at the beach is an amazing way to spend a day relaxing while traveling and to rejuvenate you for the rest of your trip.

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Finally, who could go to Sydney and not take in the architectural wonders of the Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House and Botanical Gardens? Admittedly, opera really isn’t much for me. But this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and one could even be lucky enough to visit during a famous rock or pop star’s tour, which the Opera House is also know to hold. Either way, this is just a brilliant building, and seeing it is a must!

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That concludes numbers six and seven on the list (and admittedly the least exciting to write about, which I think shows). Tomorrow it starts to get exciting in the build up to number one. Rio de Janeiro and Switzerland!

Top Ten Travel Bucket List. Day Two- Palau and Amsterdam

Yesterday I kicked off my week long Travel Bucket List series with an intro telling you what you can expect for the next week and a look at London, United Kingdom as my #10 destination. If you didn’t read yesterday, scroll down and give it a read!

Today features another travel wish list usual suspect at #9 with Amsterdam, Netherlands, and a more unconventional choice at #8 takes a look at the Pacific islands of Palau. Let’s literally jump right into it, shall we, to a look at two destinations where water is the key to your travel plans.

9. Amsterdam, Netherlands

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No, you’re not looking a painting or a CGI image from a movie screen. That’s just some of the beautiful architecture you can expect to see when visiting Amsterdam. Known for its culture and it’s infamous Red Light District, there’s a little something for everyone whether you like to keep it low key, or get into a little bit of trouble. But since this is a PG travel series, I’ll leave the getting into trouble for you to look into 😉

The first stop in my Amsterdam vacation won’t be a stop at all, but a ride through the canals that not only contribute to the city’s character, but keep it from drowning. I know, I know… Canal boat rides are so cliche. But the canal rides in Amsterdam come with a lot of options that make them a lot more fun and worth giving a day of your trip to.

Boat tours through a famous city, in my experience, have been the worst. I pay to have someone boat me through the city, pointing out this landmark or that house, but in no time I feel bored, trapped, and regretful of wasted time. You could always choose to do a guided tour if that’s your style, but I like to roam and have options. Amsterdam offers these options while still giving you the canal experience. The first, more expensive and adventurous option is to rent a boat and do your own exploring. The second option is to hit up a company with a day pass. You receive an all day ticket and can hop on or hop off to your heart’s desire. Feeling bored? Jump off. Want to see another site? Jump back on bored. You can get the canal experience and some insight into the city, maybe even discover a stop you’d not planned on visiting, and all at you own leisure and pace.

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Next, lets take a trip to the library. Yes, I said the library. Yes, I’m serious! Amsterdam’s Central Library is a modern marvel of architecture. Ten floors, 300 computers, three restaurants, and a stunning view of the city aren’t even the main attraction.

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that books are a huge hobby of mine. If you haven’t, you just learned a new fact about me. But even being the largest library in Europe and housing millions of reading options, we still aren’t even to the best part.

The modern architecture of the building is stunning even in photos. 

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The best feature of the building? Notice anything missing? All artificial light sources in the library are either invisible or hidden. The architects who designed the building wanted natural light to be the main focus, and decided to build all artificial light sources either into the design or the furniture. Maybe its just me, but I found that extremely cool. While at the library, I can’t forget to take some selfies with a stunning view of the city in the background!

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Finally, a little art- both on a canvas and in the ground. Check out the amazing art created by Dutch masters and also the amazing tulips that The Netherlands is famous for.
I’m not even going to begin to touch on all the amazing art museums that are at your disposal while in Amsterdam. For a more comprehensive list of options and description- check out this great article from The Telegraph that is a great guide to the art scene.

The two highlight museums are the Rijksmuseum (RM will be used as abbreviation) and the Van Gogh Museum. The RM features the work of Rembrandt, as well as giving you works of other artists who are apparently really renowned, but I’ve never heard of (like I said, read The Telegraph article. I’m a very casual art lover at best). The RM also is a showcase of royal furniture, clothing, and precious metals and jewelry. The Van Gogh museum offers, well, a lot of Van Gogh. Over 200 paintings as well as drawings and other pieces make this the world’s largest collection of work from one of history’s most celebrated artists.

Finally, time to check out the tulips! If you’re like me, you love flowers. Every summer, I plant as many as my 7×5 foot apartment patio will tastefully allow, and my local florist knows me by name. The Dutch take flowers to a whole new level, making living art out of their beautiful tulips.

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Been to Amsterdam? Leave a comment with your favorite stop or hidden gem. It’s never too early to start planning.

8. Palau

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On the surface, Palau looks like your everyday destination to a week of paradise. To get to the true intrigue of Palau, you have to go under the surface to find what makes this chain of over 250 islands stand out and worthy of a Bucket List.

First, a bit about Palau. Located hundreds of miles west of Indonesia and the Philippines, Palau is out of the way, and I mean out of the way. A flight from the United States will take about four layovers before even making it to the islands. Speaking of the United States, Palau is governed by the US as part of a 1947 treaty, English is its main language, and they use the dollar as currency which makes it a very American friendly destination.

What makes Palau a perfect destination for me personally is that its not only rich with experiences with nature that are extremely rare, but it gives a living look at history that any history buff go crazy over. Let’s start our vacation with a few relaxing days laying by the clear oceans with a book and some booze, but then its time to explore!

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On the surface, this looks like any ordinary tropical lake. Take a closer look. Like, really close, to the bottom corner. See those pin points of orange? Welcome to Jellyfish Lake in Palau.

Connected to the oceans by a series of underwater channels, millions of jelly fish pass through this lake everyday. The coolest part? You can go swimming with them and live to tell the tale. The golden jellyfish is a subspecies of jelly fish that, for whatever reason, does not possess the ability to sting predators.

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You can touch them, hold them, swim along them. Let’s be real- who wouldn’t want to experience this? I’ve never been diving, so a quick course in snorkeling will be a must, but its a small price to pay for the once in a lifetime experience of Jellyfish Lake.

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The next reason that Palau makes my Bucket List- it’s a living window into the history of the United States and World War II. I’m a history buff. While the Pacific conflict in WWII isn’t exactly my favorite subject of history, it’s still very cool to learn about and this is how to get a real life look at it’s history.

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To give an extremely abridged version of the history (this blog is in the middle of travel week, not history week, after all) the USA and Japan had a lot of conflicts centered in or around Palau, including the Battle of Peleliu.

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The clear waters of Palau’s oceans offer amazing views of still intact wreckage from the battles, and the jungles also provide looks at deserted tanks and crashed planes.

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I say again- who wouldn’t want to experience this? Palau is often overlooked as a travel destination, but it easily lands on my Bucket List, and after reading, hopefully yours.

Tomorrow we are coming back state side for my #7 destination, San Francisco, California, and heading down under to Sydney, Australia. If you’re enjoying the travel series, don’t forget to subscribe or bookmark me. Until tomorrow, bon voyage.

Top Ten Travel Bucket List

Like the other 99% of the world’s population, I love to travel. And like 99% of those 99%, I don’t have the money to do it as often I’d like.

A few days ago, as I realized I was pushing thirty years of life and that my time was getting shorter, I realized that barring some extreme change in fortune, I’m likely to never see all the places I want to see before moving on into the afterlife, or reincarnation, or whatever our deaths bring. Considering that I don’t play the lottery, my odds of striking it rich are even slimmer. So I compiled my first top ten Bucket List.

How fun it was! Sitting down and thinking about how I have to hurry and do a set of things before dying. It felt pretty morbid to be honest, and made me wonder why people create these lists, but since I did one, I shall share it with you now. I’ll be doing a few a day, so if you enjoy what you read, subscribe or keep checking back for updates!

10. London, United Kingdom

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I’ve already been to London once. You might be asking, why put it on your bucket list if you’ve already done it? Well, to start, I was sixteen on my first visit, which meant that I didn’t get to experience a lot of the things that adult me would have loved to do. I also simply couldn’t even begin to mark off half of the thing on my ‘to-do’ list in a weeks time.

During the first visit, I also visited London like a tourist. Adult me likes to travel, meet strangers, and do things that people who actually live in that city do. I’m not knocking people who travel like tourists. Each to his own, and I’m definitely guilty of sneaking in lots of tourist trap events into my schedule. But I just love spending about half of a vacation in a fantasy land, pretending that I live where in reality I’m just a visitor, and I’m successful with all this money to blow that I’ve saved up for months just for this one week of glory.

But mainly, it stayed in my blood. I don’t know what it was about that city, but even with daily rain, and icy cold rain at that, I felt like I was close to paradise. I loved the pace and culture of the city, and I found the locals I encountered to be lovely, spirited people. Londoners get a bad rap. Or maybe it was just my sparkling personality that brought out their best… (I’m so modest).

First on my list of London to-dos… SOCCER! The beautiful game, the world’s sport, and a passion and hobby of mine. This trip will be planned around around a huge, important match involving my favorite club, Chelsea F.C. playing in the friendly confines of Stamford Bridge Stadium. This dream is ultimately what puts London on the list for a second visit. I would also love to see any of the other major London clubs while visiting- Fulham, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, or mostly Queens Park Rangers.

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Next on the list is a ride on the London Eye. I’m not sure why my travel party was so against doing this on the first visit. To me, this is the ultimate London experience. In the course of a single ferris wheel ride, you see an entire city from a unique perspective that is rare to find anywhere else. You can see all your proposed destinations from afar before even getting to them, and imagine the great photos you’ll take from the top to create life long memories with or even display in your home. Plus, I really like ferris wheels. They scare the hell out me, and I love the rush that will come from riding the world’s most famous one.

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Lastly, I want to take a day trip and visit Stonehenge. Why? You’re guess is as good as mine. I’m not sure what it is that draws us to a bunch of large stone in the middle of a secluded field, but I want to go see it. The mystery, the marvel, and intrigue. Who knows, maybe I’ll find that one clue that unlocks the mystery 😉

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Tomorrow I’ll be highlighting numbers eight and nine on my list- Palau and Amsterdam, Netherlands, respectively.