Saturday 24 October 2015

Retro Transport of San Francisco

I stayed in San Francisco as a guest of and San Francisco Travel, though I paid for my own airfare to the USA.

I've just spent a few days in San Francisco, as part of an epic rail journey up the west coast of the USA from Los Angeles to Seattle (arranged by

It was my first time in the city, and the first thing I noticed is that San Fran is about 100 times more visually appealing than LA (sorry LA, I love you but it has to be said).

The second thing is that SF has a bizarre array of public transport. Its cable cars are of course famous; I spotted this one at Union Square:

They're marvellous fun to ride on, and though the cable car fares are as steep as the city's hills, they can be used as part of the public transport network as they link with other services. 

Having to transfer between a hotel at Fisherman's Wharf and the Handlery Hotel (a classic family-owned hotel popular with Australians), the most logical route was via cable car. 

Straight away on the ride you realise why this technology, whereby the vehicles are hauled by ever-moving cables beneath the streets, was invented in San Francisco. Those hills are steep! The slopes would presumably have defeated both horses and the motor technology of earlier times. 

For a Melburnian, it was also a great opportunity to see a working version of the transport which was once a big part of our city. Melbourne had cable trams from the late 19th century through to the 1940s, progressively replaced by electric trams. 

San Francisco has plenty of conventional public transport such as buses and trains, but it also has a fleet of incredibly cool retro trams which cruise down Market Street and along the waterfront. Here are some I spotted near Pier 39:

You have to admit, these vehicles look like they belong in The Jetsons. 

I was told by a local that they were brought back into service temporarily some years ago, and people liked them so much that they became a permanent feature. Like the cable cars, they connect to other transport; but their fares are just the regular city fares. 

So if you're going to San Francisco, I recommend you take some rides on these fine retro vehicles. 

The way to avoid the steep $7 one-trip fares on the cable cars, by the way, is to purchase the San Francisco City Pass from the Visitor Centre on Market Street (or other outlets).

In addition to providing discounts on various attractions, the pass also provides unlimited access to the public transport network - including the cable cars.

Monday 19 October 2015

Taking the Broad View at The Broad, LA's New Art Museum

I stayed in LA as a guest of the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board, though I paid for my own airfares to the USA.

Timing is everything. On my latest visit to Los Angeles I was lucky enough to be in town just three weeks after the opening of The Broad (pronounced 'brode'). 

Situated in the city's arts and civic centre in Bunker Hill, west of the Downtown, The Broad is an art museum showcasing the postwar and contemporary art collection of Eli and Edythe Broad. The couple, now in their 80s, have been collecting art for five decades, and their collection finally has a dedicated exhibition space.

And what a space it is, inside and out. The building already has a striking neighbour, the Walt Disney Concert Hall:

And The Broad's exterior is equally eye-catching:

Those gaps in the exterior (known as "the veil") aren't just there for show. They allow plentiful natural light into the building, while being angled and shaded so it doesn't fade the artworks. This is the ceiling on the top floor, allowing the light to enter from above:

Architecture aside, it's a marvellous collection of art. I recognised many famous names of the late 20th century art world, such as Warhol, Lichtenstein and Rauschenberg. Jeff Koon's giant colourful works were also prominent. But there were many other names that were new to me, all attached to impressive pieces that looked marvellous in the natural light.

Here's a selection of what I saw:

As you can see, there's a lot of diversity among the works on display; and a lot of fun.

Entry to The Broad is free, but demand is so high that you need to reserve a timeslot via the institution's website at As there's a fair bit of attrition among these free tickets, though, you can also try your luck by turning up at The Broad on the day and seeing if they'll let you in. It's located at 221 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles.

Friday 9 October 2015

Architecture of Old Strathcona, Edmonton, Canada

When Narrelle Harris and I visited Edmonton, Canada, in 2013, we decided to stay in the neighbourhood of Old Strathcona, in the city's south.

Strathcona was originally a separate city, established on a different railway from the one which ran to Edmonton. Eventually Edmonton absorbed its rival, and Strathcona declined into a dodgy place that was literally the wrong side of the tracks.

However, in recent years Strathcona has had a revival, becoming a lively nightlife and theatrical centre. This renaissance has been greatly assisted by its wealth of old buildings.

Thus the old fire station...

... stands near a cluster of theatre buildings which are the hub of the annual Fringe Festival:

There's a certain amount of street art scattered about Strathcona's alleyways...

... but personally, I was more taken with the commercial buildings along the main drag, Whyte Avenue.

There's something very boxy and utilitarian about the North American commercial buildings of a century ago, quite different from the more decorative buildings of the same period in my home city, Melbourne. So I find them fascinating to look at:

Saving the best for last, however, I ended up at MKT, a tavern within the former Strathcona train station. This combined two things I greatly admire - railways and craft beer - in the one convenient location:

So I drank a beer from Alberta at slightly too early an hour on a warm day, and enjoyed the architecture of the railway which had created the neighbourhood in the first place.

Disclosure: On this trip, I travelled courtesy of the Canadian Tourism Commission.

Friday 2 October 2015

Geelong & the Bellarine: Travelling to the Other Peninsula

Last month I spent a few days in Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula, courtesy of the local tourism authority.

I was researching a craft beer story, which will appear in due course. In the meantime, I'd like to share a few images of other places I visited while in the region.

The Bellarine is, for whatever reason, less renowned than the Mornington Peninsula to its east. Both of them stretch around the southern end of Port Phillip Bay south of Melbourne.

The two almost meet here at The Rip, the turbulent channel where the bay connects to Bass Strait:

At that Point Lonsdale lookout near the town of Queenscliff, there's a marker bearing the distances to various other places, some near and some far:

North of Queenscliff, I stopped for quite a decent long black coffee at Pik Nik. As its form suggests, it was once a service station:

I spent the night at the attractive Starhaven Retreat in Indented Head (there's a great place name for you!). It's a grand modern home that functions as luxury bed-and-breakfast accommodation, with a friendly resident couple as hosts.

This is the view from the retreat's balcony across Port Phillip Bay (you can just make out the tall buildings of central Melbourne on the horizon)...

... and here's the retreat's dining table, set for dinner:

After sampling much beer, it was good to have coffee at one of central Geelong's newest and hippest cafes, Freckleduck:

This was my breakfast choice - baked polenta with roasted and pickled mushrooms, kale chips, beetroot hummus, and poached eggs ($18). All the flavours. Probably good for you too:

Disclosure: On this trip I was hosted by Tourism Greater Geelong & the Bellarine.