The Quiet Traveller: Day 37 – San Francisco

The previous night had been an interesting one, as it provided examples of the best and the worst of humanity.

The best happened as I was just sorting out my bag in my dorm, when Wesley, a Chinese traveller with a very un-Chinese sounding name, presented me with a poster of the Golden State Warriors basketball team. We had been chatting briefly over the past few days, but I was rather taken aback by this kind gesture, wondering what I had done to deserve this gift. I neglected to tell him that basketball was one of my least favourite sports, and instead grinned and made positive head nodding motions.

The worst of humanity happened whilst I was sat in the lobby charging my electronics and planning future days. A man took up a seat next to me with his laptop, appearing to be rather frustrated. He struck up a conversation with me and asked if I knew how to use the Apple device finder, which I did. He explained that he believed he had left his phone on the bus, and that therefore his wife was going to be maaaad. At this point, I felt sorry for him and appreciated the difficulties of his situation. I did my best to get the FindMyiPhone working, but unfortunately it seemed someone had turned the phone off or it had ran at of battery. At this point, things got weird. The guy started accusing the bus driver of taking the phone, making it clear that he had taken the phone due to the colour of his skin.

At first I could not believe what he had just said. But as he kept talking about it, I realised he was deadly serious. This was an odd feeling to experience, because I had never encountered such an overtly racist person before. This confirmed to me that racism was most definitely alive in 2010s America.

I immediately ceased my efforts to help him, made an excuse to get away, and left him to suffer the wrath of his wife. Looking back I really wish I had challenged his views, because they were simply unacceptable.

Having seen the best and worst of humanity, today I was going to see what humanity could build, with a walking tour of San Francisco organised by the hostel. This appealed to me for several reasons: it was free, had no charge, and did not require money. But in all seriousness I was also interested in the architecture and neighbourhood history of the city.

The tour left from the hostel at 9, led by a native moustache sporting volunteer called Henry. Right from the start, he made it clear that no tips were expected. I liked Henry so far.

Henry took our group through the various hills and highlights of SF, including the Filbert Steps, Lombard Street, Telegraph Hill, Russian Hill, and Nob Hill (huehuehue). What was interesting was that he described 1850 buildings as ‘old’ whereas in Britain we have tea cups that are older. Of course, I don’t think much survived the early 1900s earthquake. He also took us through Chinatown, which was a fascinating experience, complete with a park full of older Chinese women practising what looked like Tai Chi in full tracksuits.

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Filbert Steps – I believe they’re officially a road or something.

The weather was perfect, and combined with some seriously steep hills, I was soon feeling the burn on my thighs. What I found very enjoyable though, was the sense of security and safeness that I felt walking around with a San Francisco native and a medium size group. It’s all well and good walking around on your own to recharge your introvert battery and get some alone time, but simultaneously you have to be constantly switched on and constantly vigilant, especially in areas that you are not familiar with. It was refreshing to let Henry lead the way, knowing that he knew the city and its inhabitants like the back of his hand.

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I assume the cars are parked sideways so they don’t roll down.

Henry also told us that some of the inhabitants enjoyed vehicular vandalism, and that it was wise not to leave contents inside vehicles as often that would result in the window being smashed and aforementioned contents in the hands of light-fingered new owners. He also told us about the Smart car flipping epidemic. This was to do with San Franciscans buying Smart cars for their parking abilities on the steep slopes and in narrow spaces, but unfortunately opportunists had taken the chance to flip them over, because unlike a lot of American cars, they are very light. Cow tipping, urban style.

I chatted to some of the group as we walked through the streets, and to my surprise, I finally met a Simone. I think she was French, as Simone’s are most likely to be, but it was just an oddity to finally meet someone with the female equivalent of my name.

A few hours later, I parted ways with Henry and the group, and set off to experience the most touristy thing in SF; the cable cars. These aren’t really used much as public transport any more, they’re more tourist attractions in their own right, pulling themselves up the steep inclines. I boarded one at the cable car turnaround after a lengthy queue (they literally push the cable car around with their bare hands). A rather shouty driver barked at me to stand clear of the middle lever, which the driver uses to control the speed. Cable car drivers have to be very strong to wrestle with these levers, because they grip the cable which hauls the car. And over the course of history this has gone wrong on occasion. But today was my lucky day, and I disembarked the cable car a little underwhelmed to be honest, but I was glad I had ticked off a major attraction.

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Cable car remixing station.

Upon return to the hostel, I used a payphone like it was the 1980s, in order to phone my uncle in New York to let him know I was stateside. My phone deal did not allow for foreign calls or messages without a hefty fee, and emails were read intermittently, so I decided my best bet was the payphone. I felt a like I was some sort of gangster film the way I had to slot my quarters into the machine, which probably hadn’t been used in at least several months if not years.

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An antique specimen, possibly a voice communication device?

The day ended once again looking at the sun set behind the bridge. The lyrics ‘Lost my mind in San Francisco’ from the song London Thunder circled in my head, which was partly true because of the snorer in my room driving me mad. But the city itself, had endeared itself to me. Yes there was a lot of crazy, but there was also a vibrant atmosphere, one found at the edge of a continent facing the great abyss of the Pacific, with the sun beating down on the days of youth. (Well that got very descriptive).

 

 

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The Quiet Traveller: Day 36 – San Francisco

Today I witnessed a classic US-style argument, something that could only take place on this enormous land mass. I only caught the tail-end of it, and I did not understand what it was about, but judging the hostile atmosphere between these two gentleman, I could tell it would have been regarding something ridiculous.

As the shouting came to an end, and one guy stormed off, the other jeered: ‘I’m a San Francisco Californian motherfucker, that’s right, walk away, going to change your underwear pussy’. It was like a scene from a bad film, and as I walked on by I had to stifle my laughter.

This hilarious incident happened on the way to the bike rental shop, for today I planned to cross the Golden Gate and cycle down into the town of Sausalito, before boarding the ferry to take me back across the bay.

As I geared up in the shop, I had to watch a cringe-inducing health and safety video, which concluded with the cheesily-grinning presenter reminding me to ‘high five’ my fellow cyclists. Sadly, I was the only person in the shop at the time, so I consoled myself that I was not going to get the aforementioned high five, and hit the road. I had also decided that I did not need to pay the extra dollars for insurance, something which would come back to haunt me later that day.

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Excellent conditions. None of the infamous fog.

It was great to be back on a bike, especially on a designated route with the sun beaming down on a fresh April day. My bike was a standard rental, and not particularly good, but it did the job and did roll along at a fair speed. Once on the bridge, I found it surprisingly long (2km), and rather stressful to navigate. I mean finding your way is very easy (it’s a bridge, duh), but there’s a lot of other bikes and pedestrians, which led to a few close calls. The wannabe professional cyclists were the worst, as they did not seem to appreciate that the entire bridge was crawling with tourists. However, the views definitely made up for any stress, and I took multiple stops along the span to soak them up.

Once over the bridge, I stopped at the viewpoint and then headed down the hill road to Sausalito. This was probably the best part of the cycle journey, cruising down a green hilltop, with the sun on my back and wind slicing through my helmet holes. There were a few cars, but it was nowhere near as busy as the bridge itself.

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That line up tho.

Stopping for a beasty sandwich and big bottle of OJ on the way down, I felt refreshed, but alas, other specific areas of my body were not so merry. It turned out that the bike seats were not as comfortable as they looked, and this combined with the long period since I had last ridden a bike meant that I would be aching over the next few days.

Upon arrival in Sausolito, I had to park my bike. Which seems fine on paper. But no. There are specific parking areas where you must park, and pay to park. Madness. I begrudgingly left my bike, and set off to explore Sausolito. Apart from having great views and yacht clubs, there wasn’t a huge amount to do. All the food and shops seemed well out of my price range, so I was glad I had filled up already. However I did come across an excellently named shop called ‘SOXalito’, which sells a fine selection of socks.

Overcome by the witticism of the name, and needing a souvenir from my time in California, I purchased a pair of reasonably priced socks, which depicted a sloth with a beer hat on, and the phrase ‘Get Slothed’. This was very much in line with my ethics and morality on life, so I decided that this was an excellent investment.

This was a highlight of the day. Soon after, I experienced a very low point. I went back to the bike park to collect my bike, stopping to put my bag down and check the leaving instructions on the way. I soon realised that I had lost my bike lock key.

I made my way back to where I had taken a seat upon arrival, scrabbling around on the floor like a raccoon. I emptied my bag. Checked my pockets. No luck.

An American family noticed me and my raccoon activities, and asked if I was ok. I explained my situation, and to my surprise, they began helping me search, with the dad even inspecting the inside of a bin for me. Clearly, the raccoon vibes of my desperate searches were strong.

I was now starting to panic a bit, and I have to say, this one was one of the most stressful experiences of the trip. I had neglected to pay the extra for insurance, the last boat home was leaving soon, and the bike had to be back at the shop by 8. My head hurt and my chest felt rather tight. In desperation I asked a traffic officer if they had seen a key where I was earlier, and she said no, but I could phone the police department to see if anything had been handed in. That just made me more stressed, as the thought of having to talk to more people and explain the situation once again was not something I wanted to do at that moment. Especially loud American cops with their shooty bois.

I was very angry at myself for losing the key, and I took a seat by the water’s edge to search my bag one last time. I did so and then gave up, contemplating what the hell I was going to do. And then I looked over my shoulder, and I saw the American dad and his son walking in my direction. Surely not.

Low and behold, they had found my key. It had been where I put my bag down by the bike ticket machine. The relief of holding that key in my hand was like heroin. It flooded through my veins, and I could feel the stress of the situation escaping out of my body and into the atmosphere. It was very much like the passport incident in Queenstown, but much more intense. I thanked the dad, who said no problem, and rejoined his family. I couldn’t believe they had kept looking long after I had been raccooning next to their picnic.

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Font game strong.

If somehow you’re reading this, American dad, I am very, very grateful. Thanks to him, I was able to make the ferry home, and dropped the bike off at the shop in time. That was enough cycling for this trip.

The Quiet Traveller: Day 34 – San Francisco

Venturing into the city centre, away from the coastline, I intended to visit the Beat Museum, which chronicles the Beat Generation of the 1950s living in San Francisco.

My observations of the day made me realise that America was a rather strange place. Something which struck me as rather backwards was the lack of PIN needed when using your card. Which meant you could simply find a card, and use it, feigning signatures if necessary. Although I suppose the introduction of contactless has created a similar issue. To be fair cards usually get cancelled very quickly once lost anyway.

Before setting out, I decided to grab some snackage from the hostel vending machine. I was delighted to see a classic KitKat on offer, a delicacy rooted in traditional English cuppa break culture. However, this was not just a two finger job. It wasn’t even a four finger job. This was an eight finger beast. Only the American nation would even think to create such a monster. I felt this summed up America, over the top to the point of being slightly impractical, and meaning that ‘have a break, have a KitKat’, was more like ‘have a lunch hour, have a KitKat’.

Interestingly, I found the wide streets of the city a lot less stressful that the packed shorelines. They were also a lot less busy, although I feel this may be because the rents and houses are so expensive that real people don’t actually live in these areas any more. As I would find out over the next few days, this was a major issue in the city, and one that also plagues a lot of central areas of UK cities as well. Nevertheless, it was nice to recharge and walk around freely after the intensity of the tourist areas.

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Bansky style streetart near the Beat Museum summing up US foreign policy.

I spent a good hour or two at the Beat Museum, which was a very reasonable $8, and I learnt a bit more about the Beatniks like Kerouac and Ginsberg. It turned out that the beatniks were the foundations of the hippie movement that exploded in 1960s California, but the hippies were much more loud and hedonistic. I got the impression that the beats were much more internalised characters, although I’m pretty sure a lot were just as hedonistic as the hippies that came after them.

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Complex reasoning was not one of Ginsberg’s strong points.

I exited the museum through the gift shop, which also functioned as a second hand book store. I stumbled across an old edition of 1984, something I had been meaning to read for a long time. Happy with the $5 price tag for a rather cool find, I took it over the till, where the cashier complimented my choice. However, he also charged me an extra 37c, which was because I had forgotten that in most US states, tax is not included in the price. This was something that quietly infuriated me through a lot of my trip, as often it was akin to Ryanair making you pay extra just to breath their pestilence-filled cabin air.

I also decided to pay a visit to Lombard Street, probably one of the most famous streets in the world. This twisty-turny road is a bizarre phenomenon which is now packed with slow moving cars and pedestrians alike. Unfortunately, skateboarding and other similar activities are banned, meaning the only way you can skate it is on the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.

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On the way back to the seafront hostel, I stopped at a shopping precinct type thing to have a browse. Upon encountering a shop that solely catered to the clothing needs of dogs, I gave up trying to understand America.

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Yappin hell.

 

 

The Quiet Traveller: Day 33 – San Francisco

As always in a new city, the first day was to be pure exploration. To wander around the neighbourhood and get a feel for the metropolis. As I set off in the direction of Fisherman’s Wharf, the main seafront area of SF, I couldn’t help but observe a few oddities from a British perspective.

Firstly, there were several instances whereby Americans would simply say ‘Excuse me’, and then make their move past/through. This was very bizarre, as the appropriate protocol is to say ‘Excuse me’, followed by at least 47 utterances of ‘sorry’, and finally topped off with a varied menagerie of diplomatic hand signals. But alas, these savages were very to the point.

Secondly, something which I noticed before even setting foot out of the hostel, was the lack of kettle. That’s right. No kettles. This was supposed to be a developed, first world country, yet to my dismay there was no rapid boiling facility available to make a fresh brew. This was a red flag that I was venturing out into a very strange country.

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Blue skies, blue water.

Walking through Fisherman’s Wharf was a bit overwhelming, as the sun was shining down and thousands of people were milling around, browsing the tourist tat shops. I wasn’t as tired as when I arrived in Australia, but I still felt like I needed a day to fully realign my body clock to Cali time. Sporting my resting bitch face, enhanced by my tiredness, I was approached by a man who waved an official looking badge in front of me. Slightly alarmed, I snapped out of my stupor, wondering what I had done wrong. It turned out that this man was claiming to be the smile police, and he had stopped me for not looking happy enough. Naturally, this made me very unhappy, and so I grudgingly accepted some smiley face stickers he was waving at me and turned on the afterburners, not wanting to be conned/mugged/forced to smile on my first day in the States.

Eventually, I found something right up my street, the WW2 Liberty Ship SS Jeremiah O’Brien, and the USS Pampanito, a WW2 submarine. I took the opportunity to explore both, finding the sub absolutely fascinating, but the ship a little overpriced. I thought they would be packed, given the huge crowds on the Wharf, but it seemed the public had no interest in history. For me, this was ideal, as the vessels provided a quiet refuge from the baptism of fire into the country.

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America HAD to come to the rescue. Ok guys, we get it. Yeah but we HAD to.

My day was completed with a shopping trip to Safeway, something which I had not done for a long time since the brand had disappeared from the UK a long time ago. This was a rather confusing experience, as there were a lot products which I simply did not understand what they were. The biscuit selection was also pitiful, but I managed to curate a small basket of produce that looked edible. One thing I also noticed was the sugary milk. What’s up with that?

It had been a mixed first day in the States, but I was looking forward to the prospect of exploring beyond the local tourist vicinity and seeing the city and surrounding area proper over the next few days.

 

 

The Quiet Traveller: Day 32 – San Francisco

Today was a travel day, but not just any travel day, this was a time travel day. The journey across the Pacific would take me back in time, as I was leaving Auckland in the evening and arriving in the morning of the same day. It’s obviously no different to any other long haul flight, but to think you have time travelled is pretty cool.

Kicked out of the hostel at 10 (figuratively speaking), I hopped on the Skybus to the airport, and in case I wasn’t already awake, this preliminary journey made sure I was. As the bus speakers played a selection of chart-topping tunes, the driver threw the bus around the streets towards the airport, rattling my bones and making me look forward to the relative comfort of an economy class long haul flight seat.

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N78. Relax? Oh go on then, if you insist electronic board.

Auckland airport was mildly snazzy, although lacking in seating I found. Contenting myself with a perch rather than an actual seat, I made the most of the 30 mins free WiFi (why WiFi should be a paid for service in an international hub baffles me), before taking a wander around. I ended up buying one of those curved travel pillows; not just for the flight but for hostels, as often hostel pillows can be of varying quality, ranging from the structural stability of a Mars bar on a hot day to military grade titanium. At least with my new purchase, consistency was assured.

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Found in the airport toilet, this author’s struggles with DIY is a problem for the ages.

As I people watched and thought ahead to my new destination, I was a mixture of anxiety and excitement. When you think about it, new people are everywhere. Each one walking by has a life, family, dreams, hopes, and desires. To become good at and comfortable with constantly meeting new people is to open yourself up to lots of new worlds. So even if it can be draining at times for introverts, it’s always a positive thing to do. As I looked ahead to America, I was curious as to what it would be like during election year. Looking back, I’m so glad I got in and out prior to the orange gibbon.

The flight itself, with Air New Zealand, was relatively uneventful, apart from the mad time travel aspect. Upon arrival at San Francisco international, I was looking forward to wearing cold weather clothes, as I had heard the weather was known to be very changeable. However, the Bay Area had decided to make my week there a scorcher, which was appreciated to an extent.

Immigration was rather intense, as I suspected it would be. Interrogated by an unimpressed woman, who looked at me as if I had just thrown her dog off the Golden Gate, I was asked where I had got the money to come to the USA. Shakily replying that I had worked at a thing called a job like lots of other people do to get money, she went on to ask if I knew anyone in the States. Giving the answer that my uncle lived in New York, I answered a few more standard questions (business or leisure etc.), until I was finally given the all clear to proceed. This confirmed my suspicions that the United States was a slightly nutty country, as I would find out many times over the next few weeks.

I caught the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) into the city, and then caught a bus from Montgomery Street Station. To say I was thrown into the deep end of the public transport system would be an understatement. Boarding the bus by dropping a few quarters into a slot, I found myself on a crowded classic American style city bus, surrounded by people of all colour, age, and ethnicity. It was about 1pm, and here I was, awkwardly standing with my huge backpack in an iconic city ready to be explored. It seems like a banal experience on paper, but I remember this part of the trip so well, and it was simultaneously stressful, exciting, and energising to find myself there.

Eventually reaching my stop, I hopped off and completed the short walk to my hostel, HI Fisherman’s Wharf, an old fort and barracks located on a hill overlooking the bay. It was an ideal place, slightly out of the way, great views, clean, INCLUDED BREAKFAST, and not too busy. A famous icon glinted red in the distance, and I was struck by how impressive it was. It’s much bigger in real life.

I was quite tired by now, and as it was early evening I headed out in search of sustenance. Luckily there was a food truck night on at the bottom of the hill, so I headed down to check it out. It was a really cool setup, lots of different foods and a good crowd, despite the shitty DJ in the middle ruining it. Filling up on steak strips and chilli, I topped off my evening with a monster doughnut (when in Rome). I had become very aware of my accent during the past few hours, and my British awkwardness was baffled when the cashier asked my name followed by asking how I was in a weirdly genuine fashion. I was confused, as in Britain myself and a lot of people generally try to carry out transactions with the least amount of syllables possible. I think Britain is one of the best places to be an introvert – unless you live in the North, whereby it seems they will chat to anything with a pulse.

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Food and food and food.

Clambering into my top bunk after watching the sun set behind the bridge, I made a nest with my new pillow and enjoyed the ‘new city to be explored’ feeling.

The Quiet Traveller: Day 31 – Auckland

I did very little today, apart from some washing, listening to new music on youtube, and mentally preparing myself to go to the United States of America. I was finding Auckland to be a bit of dull city to be honest – Wellington did not seems as big, but at least it had a bit of history and character.

The Sky Tower in particular is an example of trying to inject some character into the city. You can jump off it (with all the necessary safety equipment) which is pretty cool. But ultimately it’s just a bigger building in a city full of big buildings. Maybe I’m wrong and just need to spend more time there. But that was my impression.

Auckland also seemed to have a high proportion of homeless people, and it seemed I was asked for change so often that it would have been a good financial investment for them to acquire a contactless point of sale device. Sadly, this seems to be commonplace in cities where there is a lot of money earned by a top group of people.

On the bright side, thanks to the decent internet at my last two hostels, I was able to follow the football, during which England beat Germany in a friendly, a result of a late Eric Dier goal to cap off a rather unexpected comeback. Whilst cooking dinner, a rather depressing blend of pasta and whatever vaguely edible things I had in my food bag, I struck up a conversation with a German guy cooking next to me. Naturally, it was only polite to quickly turn the conversation towards football.

According to him, the German media had diagnosed a lack of motivation as the reason for the loss. This was immensely satisfying to hear, as more often than not a lack of motivation is what is splashed all over the back pages after an England defeat.

Surprisingly, the day ended by catching up with Veronika, who I had already said goodbye to in Wellington. It’s a small world, and New Zealand, it turns out, is even smaller. Parting ways after 3 weeks in New Zealand, we had made plans for a Vienna/UK reunion, which is yet to happen, but remains firmly in the pipeline. It was very rewarding to make a new friend in a land far away, partly because it reduced the drain that meeting new people puts on me, but also because it’s one of those things you can’t buy. And the best things in life are free 98% of the time. 2% reserved for custard creams and other tastinesses.

The internet also told me that back home, the name Boaty McBoatface was winning the poll for the name of the new scientific research vessel. Upon reflection in 2018, this should have been the ominous warning sign that things were about to get a lil’ crazy on this planet. ‘Onwards to the land of Trump’ I have written at the bottom of the page.

P.S. I borrowed the cover photo from Wikipedia. There wasn’t many things worth taking a photo of in Auckland.

The Quiet Traveller: Day 30 – Auckland

As I awoke from a deep and interrupted slumber, I could feel the excitement of a new city waiting to be explored. If only you could bottle this feeling and consume it at will, a crisp refreshing beverage to quench the exploratory thirst.

I didn’t have much planned for Auckland, I was only here for a short time, so I simply headed off in the direction of the harbour. Wandering through the streets, I noticed a distinctly financial feel to the city, mostly due to the skyscrapers and high number of banker suits bustling to coffee shops in-between meetings regarding how to shaft the general public with maximum efficiency.

Wearing my Nike shorts and plain t-shirt I looked very much out of place, which got me thinking that as a tourist, you are probably much safer wearing a suit in a large city, as it looks like you live there and therefore aren’t to be messed with. Things such as bum bags simply make you stand out as a target even more. Speaking of bum bags, why are they suddenly so fashionable? To clarify, I was not sporting a bum bag.

On the way down to the waterside, I stumbled across The Globe. Quite literally. It was a pop up Globe, a recreation of the London theatre as it would have been in Shakespeare’s day, with an open plan ground and stage, and then seating around in a semi-circle above. Curious, I got closer to investigate, and discovered that there was a performance of Twelfth Night this very night. The best part of this was a ticket price of only $10 NZD, and seeing as I had nothing else to do, I decided to give it a go.

Fast forward a few hours, and I was standing where the peasants traditionally stood, whilst people with jobs and more money had paid for seats in the semi circle. Ironically, the standing area gave the best views, as you were so close to the stage to see the actor’s expressions close up. Waiting to go in however, I felt a bit underdressed, as the crowd seemed to be full of blazer toting elites – and I quote, ‘I’ll just grab a wine here’ said one. No one ‘grabs’ a wine. Beer, yes. Wine, no.

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My view of the stage.

The performance itself was actually a lot of fun, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. As is often the case with Shakespeare, the sexual innuendo and general filth of some lines was a highlight. Interestingly, the cast was also completely made up of men, as it would have been during Shakespeare’s day. Because of the plot of Twelfth Night, this meant you had sometimes had a man playing a woman pretending to be man, which got a bit confusing given I hadn’t read/seen the play before.