Flying anxiety, or fear of flying, can be debilitating for some and stop others from travelling anywhere that is only accessible by plane.
It’s an anxiety that sufferers usually keep to themselves or only let their close family members in on because they’re embarrassed or ashamed of their phobia.
Jody Yarborough, who lives in San Francisco, knows the feeling well. She suffered flying anxiety for years but didn’t seek help until she hit “rock bottom” travelling to a friend’s wedding.
FLYING ANXIETY – A PERSONAL STORY
Jody was an anxious flier up until about seven years ago when she did something about it (more on that later).
“I was set to be at my best friend’s wedding and I couldn’t get on the plane,” Jody told Bright Lights of America.
“That’s when I hit rock bottom. I noticed that it was starting to bleed into other areas of my life. I was getting a little agoraphobic and experience general anxiety.”
At its worst, Jody’s flying anxiety meant she was taking cross-country train trips to avoid flying
Jody was always a “white knuckler”, but she did what she had to do to get through most flights.
“I’d have a lot of pre-flight anxiety and I’d be obsessing about something going wrong before I’d even approached teh airport,” she said.
“For many years I stopped flying altogether and just took the train. I’ve done coast-to-coast train trips and my husband is happy to take the train but you’re obviously not doing that for overseas trips.”
Flying anxiety not only affects the sufferer, but it also touches the lives of those around them. It can curtail family trips and holidays with friends.
“One day I took the train up to Washington State for a funeral and my honeymoon was planned around me being in this no-fly-zone,” Jody said.
Jody describes flying anxiety as “an introverted fear”, or the kind of feat that isn’t easy to spot.
“For the vast majority of people who have a fear of flying, you wouldn’t know it to look at them,” she said.
“There’s a stigma about it and it leads to people being ashamed of their fear and not talking about it.
While Jody is comfortable with flying, it took getting to that “rock bottom” moment of feeling unable to get onto the plane to her best friend’s wedding that sparked action.
HOW TO CONQUER FLYING ANXIETY
It all started for Jody with a simple Google search seven years ago. Jody typed “fear of flying” into the search engine and hit enter.
That’s where she found San Francisco’s not-for-profit Fear of Flying clinic. Run out of San Francisco International Airport (SFO), the clinic was founded in 1976 by avid aviators Fran Grant and Jeanne McElhatton.
The duo, both former private pilots, lived through an era when only men got jobs flying commercial planes.
Fran’s husband had a fear of flying himself, which she and her friend Jeanne couldn’t quite understand since they loved it so much.
So they started the Fear of Flying clinic as a non-profit because they wanted to help people like Fran’s husband get onto planes with less anxiety and more confidence.
The classes have changed over the years as flying and aviation grew and evolved. It’s all about explaining the process, not only of flying and what goes on in the pilot’s galley and in the air traffic control tower, but also what’s going on in your brain as you begin to feel anxious.
Jody credits the classes with allowing her to get back to flying and believed in the program so much that she has become a volunteer for the organization, eventually becoming board president.
WHO TAKES PART IN FEAR OF FLYING COURSES?
Each “clinic” runs over two consecutive weekends and can include people suffering from low-level to higher-level flying anxiety.
“Everybody has their own story and impetus for why they need to fly,” Jody said.
“We get a lot of mothers who don’t like to fly and they notice they are passing their anxiety to their children, which they don’t want to do.”
Then there are those who need to fly frequently for their jobs and want to be able to do so without the crippling anxiety that comes with it.
“We get to know everyone so that we can support them and understand what the problem is,” she said.
“In the last class we had a guy who had never flown before period. He was 34 years old and he didn’t know what to expect.
Then there are clients dealing with multiple anxiety issues. Some don’t have a fear of flying but have claustrophobia.”
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE FEAR OF FLYING COURSE
There are four main components of the clinic, the last of which is optional:
Pilot presentation and cognitive behavior therapy by a therapist
A visit to the maintenance hangar and onto a plane that’s being worked on. A Q&A session with a flight attendant
A trip to the Air Traffic Control tower
The graduation flight
Day One – Pilot/Airport Therapist Sessions
A United Airlines pilot gives an overview of flying and an overview of the pilot’s role/responsibilities.
The airport therapist goes into cognitive behavior therapy to find out what fears the group has and what they imagine may occur or go wrong on a flight.
Day Two – Maintenance Hangar
Students get to visit the maintenance hangar at San Francisco Airport and United Airlines staff volunteer to show them an aircraft that’s in to be checked over.
They get an idea of how the maintenance process works and is carried out on the ground.
A flight attendant answers questions and then students get to sit in the cockpit with the pilot and learn about the plane.
Day Three – Air Route Control/Air Traffic Control Tower
The second weekend begins with a presentation by an air route controller and a visit to the Air Traffic Control tower.
“An air route controller is actually someone who sits in a dark room about 50 miles from the airport and handles the air traffic from region to region,” Jody said.
“They’re handing off flights from the Bay Area, all the way over to Las Vegas. They also watch the weather really closely and if they know there’s a back-up in, say Washington DC, they can coordinate planes back here to deal with that.”
Jody says the trip to the Air Traffic Control tower is usually surprising for most people because it’s nothing like you see in the movies.
“It’s very quiet and it’s very structured and it’s ideally very low stress because they don’t want a bunch of stressed-out and tired people in there directing planes,” she said.
“And just to see all the blips on the monitors and know that each one is an airplane is really cool.”
Day Four – Graduation Flight
This is probably the day that most students dread, but it’s not a compulsory flight, and some students take the course knowing that they won’t take the flight at the end.
The plan is to take a relatively short flight to Seattle or Portland to give students a taste of flying and ease them into it.
They hop on a plane, have lunch at the airport, “get their wings” and fly back home in a day.
“We’ve never had any freak outs bad instances. The class I was in on, we were seated to the back because we were such a large group,” she said.
“I remember these two flight attendants who were just so nonchalant about flying.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP ANXIOUS FLYERS
Jody says the biggest thing that friends and family of anxious fliers can do to help loved ones is to be patient and understanding.
“I think that the pressure that we put on ourselves [as fearful flyers] is more than anyone else can put on us because it is so debilitating,” she said.
“I would just encourage people to talk about it, just to verbalise it with people they feel safe with. Also check out our Facebook page, and leave a note there.
When I was starting to get help I went on the web and listened and heard other stories and that made me feel that I wasn’t crazy. And that was a huge part too.”
Many US airports run similar flying anxiety programs (see below for links to other clinics).
“I would encourage people to reach out and get help because the thing for me was that doing nothing was not an option because the fear only gets worse.”
“You want to fly as comfortable as you can. We don’t tell people that they’re going to end up loving flying, but I know now that if I have a trip planned, I can get through it.”
Find out more about the San Francisco Fear of Flying clinic at http://www.fofc.com/or call 650.341.1595.
I was so excited to stay at this Ottawa Hostel that I was counting down the days to my flight. It might seem like a strange sentiment and maybe even a strange way to kick off this post, but that’s how I felt.
This Ottawa Hostel ticked all the boxes:
It’s in an Ontario Heritage Building
A building with an intriguing past
It’s close to the heart of Ottawa
And it’s really affordable
They run some great activities, including a tour of the building and its history
It’s like the ultimate experience travel
Now that I’ve teased you enough, I had a room booked Hi Ottawa Jail* … actually, make that a cell. The Hi Ottawa Jail is a 150-year-old former jail that housed everyone from death row inmates, to immigrants waiting out a quarantine period, people who couldn’t pay debts and children convicted of crimes.
If I believed in all things ghostly I’d tell you that “some” say it’s haunted. Numerous hangings have taken place inside the building, so I suppose that could be true.
Want to know more about why you need to stay at this Ottawa Hostel? Here we go.
From the outside, it doesn’t look like a jail. In fact, I trudged right past it through ice and snow, dragging my suitcase behind me.
This Ottawa Hostel can be a little spooky in the right light.
Then I realised I’d gone too far, turned around and saw the imposing wrought-iron gates that lead up to the building that looks more like a Victorian-era county hall than a jail.
Hi Ottawa Jail first opened as an Ottawa Hostel in 1973 just a few months after the jail (known as Carleton County Gaol) closed down.
Can you believe that Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh opened the place? Me neither, but he did. Anyway, the building underwent major renovations (so don’t worry about the conditions, they’re great) to restore it and was sold to the Hostelling Association by the City of Ottawa for just $10.
Of course there’s more to the $10 story, the city has the option to buy the building back for the same amount at a later date.
Want to know more history? Keep reading, it’s below my review and experience at the hostel.
You can’t be expected to explore a city like Ottawa without a full stomach. Especially in the colder months with you’ll definitely be using extra energy to keep warm.
The kitchen, dining and common rooms all adjoin on the ground floor of the building. Breakfast is free and includes cereals, boiled eggs, toast, bagels with jam or cream cheese and fresh fruit like oranges and rockmelon.
And coffee and tea. Lots of coffee and tea.
Like most hostels, you’re welcome to bring your own food, store it in the kitchen fridges and cupboards and cook your meals there too. It’s a great way to meet other travellers, especially if you’re on a solo trip. The kitchen is well equipped for whatever you feel like making, and you’ll be saving previous adventuring money.
THE HI OTTAWA JAIL TOUR
History buffs take note, the 11am daily tour of the jail is pretty cool. You get a bit of history of the place but not so much that it’s overwhelming or boring.
Sign up for and meet in the lobby for the Jail Tour.
And you get to see parts of the hostel that you may not want to venture to on your own. It all kicks off in the lobby and you might want to get there a little early because my Sunday morning tour was packed.
Funnily enough it all begins in the dining area, which used to be the “minimum security” area of the prison. It also housed immigrants for their six month quarantine period, though it turned out to be a death sentence for many of them since hygiene wasn’t great and disease was rife.
Stairs between floors had holes cut in them so guards could see inmates ascending or descending.
I won’t spoil the tour by revealing everything, but you get to see solitary confinement cells, where prisoners were stripped and shackled spread-eagled to the floor for months on end sometimes. With just 15 minutes “exercise” time.
Not a comfortable way to life, especially since there was no glass in the windows. Imagine the freezing winters. Plus any misdemeanor could land you in solitary.
Children (of which there weren’t many as beatings were a preferred form of punishment) and women were kept on a higher level of the building.
There was a hospital at one time but it was shut down because of the poor hygiene standards in the jail. If you were lucky, you’d get one bath a month. All in the same bathwater.
Death Row and the Hangman’s Noose
Then there’s death row on the upper floor, which is also where hangings took place. Each inmate moved up a cell as they got closer to their execution date, until they were in a cell on their own, between two steel doors.
The doors above would be opened for the public to view executions.
From there they were paraded back past the death row cells to an alcove off a stairwell, where a door would open so the public could view the hanging.
Although only three court-sanctioned hanging took place here, it’s thought that guards carried out their own unofficial hangings here as well.
Patrick James Whelan was one of the most famous executed inmates because of the circumstantial evidence he was convicted on.
Whelan was said to have assassinated one of the Fathers of the Canadian Confederation, Thomas D’Arcy McGee in 1868. McGee was opening the door to a boarding house when he was shot in the neck by someone waiting inside.
Whelan’s protested his innocence up to his death, and it is thought that he was just an Irish-Catholic immigrant in the wrong place at the wrong time. Half of the population of Ottawa turned out to watch his hanging after a trail that is widely known to be a farce.
Yes you will be staying in jail cells. Some have had walls knocked out to create double rooms and dorms but others are a single jail cell that inmates would have experienced.
The Hi Ottawa Jail Hostel cell I stayed in was the double cell.
Actually, a cell meant for one would have had three people bunking together. Without bedding for much of the jail’s history, so I guess body warmth was necessary at night.
So, what should you expect from this Ottawa Hostel in terms of rooms? There’s the top tier of jail comfort – the deluxe double room that comes with a en-suite or kitchenette so you don’t have to mix with the great unwashed. It’s spacious nicely decorated.
Each cell is labelled with the name of a former inhabitant and their crime.
Or you can go for the Historic Double Cell, which is located in the former solitary confinement area. Don’t worry, there’s glass in the windows now and no shackles.
I stayed in a double jail cell for white collar criminals and it had everything I needed. A comfy double bed, warm bedding, a reading light and bedside table, hooks and a shelf for clothes etc and enough space for my suitcase and boots.
As mentioned above, there are dorms with bunk beds for bigger groups or single cells for solo travellers who want to keep to themselves. Known as the “Authentic Jail Cells” these single cells are just 3×9 with one single bed. A little squeezy but a cool experience.
The showers and bathrooms are clean and warm which is a huge compliment compared to other hostels I’ve stayed in.
On my floor the toilets were on one end of the hall, while the showers were on the other end. There are hooks for your clothes and towels in the shower stalls and separate bathrooms for males and females.
Downstairs you’ll find a little common area where you can hang out and watch TV or talk to other travellers. I visited during the 2018 Winter Olympics so there were always people down there watching events.
There’s also an impressive collection of VHS videos (blast from the past!) and board games.
Things To Do
Solo travellers don’t need to worry about feeling left out, especially when there are groups staying at the hostel, there are heaps of activities to take part in.
The Otttawa hostel runs pub crawls on Friday nights (weather permitting) – a staple of hostel life, let’s be honest. The pub crawl will take in a live music venue and a bar for the all-important drinking games. And you can be quarantined in your cell if you get too rowdy. Or if you’re still upright, go on to a club for some dancing.
The pub crawl locations are chosen with safety in mind, but they’re also places that will be easy on the hip pocket.
If you visit in winter like I did, join the hostel’s tour of the Winterlude festivities. Winterlude is lots of fun and there are some great attractions to see and skating to partake in. You can hire skates from the hostel as well.
Sundays is pub trivia night over at the Kat & Kraken pub. Now can you see why I was so excited to stay here? It’s basically got everything I’m interested in! I will pub trivia to the end!
Things You Should Know
Staying in a jail brings with it a few unique experiences and issues that you wouldn’t normally face in a hostel or hotel.
Your door has a steel sheet over it for the most part but the bars are exposed at shin level and above head-height. This means that you can hear everything that everyone else is saying.
While you still get your privacy, there are open bars to keep with the jail aesthetic.
That’s why there’s a strict quiet policy after 11pm. I didn’t mind it at all, but you can grab a pair of earplugs from the 24-hour front desk if you’re worried. I think it added to the atmosphere of being an inmate in the jail.
Amenities include free wifi, laundry facilities, luggage storage, a backyard and bbq for the warmer months (it was covered in snow when I arrived), lockers, and a little library in the lobby.
The hostel is located in the heart of Ottawa, walking distance from heaps of major attractions like Parliament Hill, Byward Market, Winterlude, and the National Gallery of Canada just to name a few.
In person: 75 Nicholas Street, Ottawa, Ontario, K1N 7B9
Getting there frrom the Airport: Take the 97 Airbus from Ottawa International Airport and stop at Laurier 2A (the next stop is written above the driver). Then it’s less than a 5 minute walk to the hostel.
*Disclaimer: While all opinions in this post (and all others) are honest and my own, it was sponsored by Hi Ottawa Jail Hostel.
For us, dating while traveling is a little different than dating at home. Why? Well, at home we are probably a little bit cliche. We dress up, go to a nice dinner and then maybe catch a show or movie.
But when on the road, our dates involve more exploration and adventure rather than talking over a meal. One time my now husband and I had an afternoon date while in Den Haag (The Hague, Holland).
The sun was shining and it was a pretty nice day, but it was a bit chilly because it was the middle of winter. It was a perfect excuse to walk a little bit closer together though so I wasn’t complaining.
Anyway, we had a lovely afternoon strolling through the town learning a little bit about the history of the area. We decided to make our way down to the beach, making a pit stop to admire the beautiful Peace Palace.
When we finally arrived, we were glad to see that the pier was pretty much empty (I mean who wants to be at the beach in cold weather? We do!) We decided to walk along the shore and enjoy the view. It was quite the romantic stroll until an unexpected wave crashed in, completely soaking my bottom half. IT WAS SO COLD!
My husband immediately started laughing at me, so hard that he was red in the face. Meanwhile I’m wet, cold and embarrassed, but couldn’t help but laugh either – it was pretty funny.
The picture (above) is from right after it happened. After I could laugh about it. Our date was cut short that day, we hopped on a bus to get back to our hostel so that I could change my clothes and warm up my feet. It is definitely a date that neither of us will ever forget!
So the guy that I’ve been talking a lot in Facebook is in the Netherlands for his studies. It also happened that I was sent to the same country for a business trip. So to make the long story short, we decided to meet up for the first time.
We clicked instantly and we decided to give it a try. One night, while we were on our way home after a whole-day sightseeing trip in Amsterdam, we realized that we forgot to print my train ticket. Unfortunately, the ticket printing service in the train station was already closed.
I had it on my phone but I ran out of battery. So our only way was to go to the nearest internet cafe and print the ticket from there. We only had less than an hour before the train arrived and all the internet cafes that he knew doesn’t print.
Time was ticking fast and we were running around the city with the rainy Amsterdam weather until finally, we saw a hotel that permitted us to use their computers. We were able to print my ticket after series of login attempts because I FORGOT MY PASSWORD!
That evening, he told me that he admired me even more because I bring adventure and excitement in his life. *aweee*
So far, that was the best dating experience we ever had. It was very romantic and exciting. Until now, I am still with the same guy and I can’t wait to see him again.
A Disney Castle and a Serenade
Carly from Flight of the Educator, follow her on Instagram.
When I was working at a hotel in an adorable walled Medieval town in Germany, I met a guy that forever ruined romance for me in the US. Sadly it ended when I had to go back home, but I’ll never forget him or how special he made my time in Germany.
On our third date, he took me to the Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria. It’s well known as being the castle that inspired the Disney blue and white castle.
The date started with adrenaline because he let me drive his very fast car on the Autobahn; a dream for an American girl who had the propensity to speed! As fast as I drove there, it felt like time stood still as we toured the remarkable castle.
The views were stunning, but since I always seem to travel alone, it was made all the better by hand holding and smoochies.
I was still in the romantic bubble when we went back to his house where he cooked me dinner. Is there anything sexier than a man cooking for you? Yes, yes there is.
I was never very good at dating at home. It’s intimidating and stressful and I never really embraced it. However, while on my travels and in need of some local tips and friendly conversation, I tried Tinder in New Zealand.
Turns out, I much prefer the Kiwi approach to dating. Brits seem to play it almost too cool, much to my frustration. What are they really thinking? Do they actually like me or is it a waste of time? There’s just too many questions!
The honest and relaxed Kiwi vibe to romance was unexpected, but a refreshing change. I chatted to a few locals, and quickly realised their attitude was much more outgoing and I was feeling it.
After just a day of talking with one particular local we arranged to meet up. However, the day of our first date got off to shaky start. Staying in Christchurch, I was preparing to meet up for a walk around the city (personal tour guide anyone?).
That’s when out of nowhere I was experiencing my first earthquake! A common occurrence in Christchurch, but it took me by surprise. Tectonic movement aside, that didn’t deter me from our date and instead I saw it as a sign that I should probably get out and about ASAP.
Thank goodness I did, because I’m now lucky enough to call this Kiwi my partner. What are the chances?! I had never expected anything to come of what was initially a quick fix for my lack of a social life, so it just goes to show how easily circumstances can change.
I like to tell people the story of how we met because I think if it hadn’t been for his carpe diem attitude convincing my apprehension to just go for it we’d probably have never met! It confirmed that dating outside the UK was more desirable for me, and it clearly paid off!
Now you know that there are a plethora of school types to choose from. Apart from the American international schools, there are charter, public and private schools to navigate.
This post is, of course, focusing on the international school side of things, and to get the most up-to-date information, Bright Lights of America spoke to the Australian upper school principal of Alto International School in Palo Alto California, Karen Relf.
Ms Relf has worked in education for over thirty years and hails from Queensland, although she hasn’t taught there for the last 20 years.
Instead she’s been travelling the world, teaching in the UK and South Korea, and working in various administrative roles in Jordan and China. Suffice to say, Ms Relf has loads of experience in teaching internationally. She has been at the Californian school since 2016.
AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL SCHOOLS ADVANTAGES
You might be wondering why you should choose an international school over any other type. As always, it’s all about personal preference and your situation. As with all school selection it is about the ‘best fit’ for both the student and the school.
You’d be surprised how quickly most children adjust to their new surroundings.
International schools are suited to kids who have moved around a lot with their families but also for students and families who value a diversity and an internationally minded approach.
It’s for these reasons that children are already pretty good at adjusting to the new environment of a school in a new country, Ms Relf said.
“There are good and not so good International Schools, and while there aren’t as many available in the US as there are say, in Europe or Asia, it’s important to choose a good one,” Ms Relf said.
International schools are also more likely to offer studies in languages other than English, which is great if you want your kids to keep practicing that second language they’ve picked up.
For example, Alto School has a high percentage of students hailing from German-speaking countries. So it runs a German immersion program in the elementary school and then offers both an English and German track in the Upper school through the three International Baccalaureate programs – Primary Years Program, Middle Years Program and Diploma Program.
Starting Mid-Year (or whenever)
The great thing about international schools is that they’re used to children beginning mid-year or whenever it is their families arrive in the US.
They’re equipped to help your child settle in and usually accept kids at any time of the year.
Ms Relf said that differing education systems across the world mean that students are usually placed in grades according to their age, as opposed to their grade level.
This also helps with the challenge of beginning a grade in the middle or closer to the end of the school year.
“We have children starting all the time,” she said.
“But if it’s closer to the end of the year, say two weeks before summer, we’d have a new student shadow another student for those last weeks to enhance the transition before we break up.”
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN AN INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL
Speaking of the International Baccalaureate (IB), Ms Relf highly recommends enrolling your child in a school that offers it, especially if there’s a chance that your family will be country-hopping again in the future.
The International Baccalaureate
For those who aren’t already familiar with the IB, it’s a curriculum for students aged from three to 19 and focuses on critical thinking and inquiry.
The best thing about it, is that it’s internationally recognised by colleges and universities and is taught in over 150 countries across the world.
The program also promotes intercultural understanding and respect, and what better place to learn that than at an International School?
Just to reassure you, the IB is accepted as a pathway to university/college in both the US and Australia.
A Diverse Curriculum
US schools can be very different to what you might be used to from your own education.
Ms Relf recommends asking to look over the curriculum of a school before committing to it. Depending on your future travel plans and your child’s age, they may benefit from a wider curriculum.
You’re looking for an education across a variety of subjects, and not just a hyper focus on the core Maths, English and Science. It will help them settle into different schooling systems in other countries if necessary.
Competitiveness vs. Education
Especially in places like the San Francisco Bay Area, the pressure of competition can be a little much.
Make sure there’s a healthy balance between study and down time.
I’m not just talking about in schools either. It feels like it stretches to all facets of life, from work to your downtime.
So of course kids are going to pick up on that, especially if the school they attend is all about rankings and admission exams.
Ms Relf said that talking to the school about its philosophy on balancing achievement expectations with emotional well being is a good idea.
So how do you properly gauge the school environment though?
Diverse Teaching Experience
Another great advantage is that a lot of international schools boast teachers from all over the world, who bring new and different teaching experiences to their role.
As an example, Alto School has teachers from the UK, Australia, the US, Germany, Canada, Austria, Switzerland, Peru, and Columbia.
With such a wide field to choose from, it’s easy to see how they, and other international schools, are able to employ the best teaching staff on offer.
Visit the school
Do as much research as you can online beforehand, utilise expat and parenting Facebook groups to get opinions from other parents and get a feel for the area.
But don’t make your decision based on that information alone. Ms Relf recommends making appointments to visit any school that you’re thinking of enrolling your child in, even if it’s not an international school.
“We offer shadow days for the students to follow an existing student around before they begin, to get a feel for the school,” she said.
Allow me to introduce you to two affordable San Francisco art galleries (for the price of just one).
That’s right, you get to waft around feeling refined and upper classy (or if you’re like me, a level above a beret-wearing dog) all for the low price of $15 per adult. Kids under 17 get in free.
Let me explain. Paying general admission to San Francisco’s Legion of Honor will get you free entry to the de Young museum on the same day. And vice versa.
So you get two affordable San Francisco art galleries for the price of one. I was a little worried about getting “all arted out” in an hour, but I was pleasantly surprised.
If you break it up with a nice lunch and a stroll through Golden Gate Park, you’ve got it made!
AFFORDABLE SAN FRANCISCO ART GALLERIES
Collectively known as San Francisco’s Fine Arts Museums, the de Young and the Legion of Honor are two of the most visited artistic institutions in the US today.
Assessed together, they are also the largest art museum in California with about 150,000 pieces of art in their collections.
You’re probably wondering about the two galleries and how the collections are divided between them.
THE LEGION OF HONOR
This museum has a gorgeous view of the water and the North Bay from its lawns, but you’ll probably be distracted by the building itself.
The Legion of Honor is arguably one of the most beautiful buildings in SF
Based on the neoclassical Palais de la Legion d’Honneur in Paris, the French government gave permission for the replica to be built in San Francisco in 1915. But World War I meant that ground wasn’t broken for another six years.
It opened its doors on Armistice Day in 1924 and its donors asked that it would “honor the dead while serving the living”. So it became an art gallery dedicated to the Californians who died on France’s battlefields during the war.
This is where you’ll find European art, including painting, sculpture and ancient art, spanning 4,000 years. And works from famous artists such as Rodin, Monet, and Renoir.
Address: 100 34th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 9.30am-5.15pm (Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas days).
General Admission: Adults $15, Seniors $10, Students (with ID) $6, Under 17s free.
Contact: +1 888.901.6645
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE LEGION OF HONOR
While the Legion of Honor feels a little more refined and old-world then its counterpart, its draw card is its obvious beauty and famous works of art.
The first stop presents itself even before you get inside the Legion of Honor. Auguste Rodin’s sculpture, The Thinker, is world renowned although it was originally only 70cm tall when it was sculpted in 1880.
Rodin’s The Thinker graces the Legion of Honor forecourt.
Although seemingly lost in thought, the piece was first called The Poet and was meant to represent Dante Alighieri, the Italian author of The Divine Comedy. He was said to be leaning forward to look over the circles of hell, which his epic poem focused on.
The Thinker was enlarged in 1904 and it became even more popular. Casts exist around the world, including in France and San Francisco, where it graces the forecourt of the Legion of Honor.
While not included in the general admission price, both museums often host special exhibitions with their own entry fee.
Set out over four large exhibition rooms, Rodin’s sculptures intermingle with Klimt’s paintings, which are on loan from European and US collections.
Gustav Klimt’s portraits and landscapes on display include the Beethoven Frieze and The Baby.
For the kids
There are lots of sculptures and paintings that will capture the attention of younger art lovers. But one room in particular seems to catch the most attention from children and it involves embalming.
The mummy of Irethorrou can be viewed through CT scans.
The Mummy of Irethorrou dates back to around 500 BC and is on display complete with sarcophagus and funerary wrappings.
Irethorrou, a priest, is now displayed behind glass, but archaeologists have used CT scans of his body to create a view of ancient Egyptian funeral practices.
Using a human-sized screen, you can look at the Irethorrou’s body from any angle and see the amulets carefully placed all over his body, examine bones and teeth.
Then you can gaze right at Irethorrou’s face – a reconstruction of what he looked like in life, taken from scans and reconstructions of his skull.
Framed at the end of a long corridor of art-filled rooms, hangs Claude Monet’s work. Perfectly framed by the doorway, is the unmistakable sight of Water Lilies.
The famous Water Lilies by Claude Monet is perfectly framed.
It’s only fair that such a celebrated painter gets a prime position. It’s not his only work in the Legion of Honor though.
My favourite is The Gorge at Varengeville, painted in 1882, when the artist was 42-years-old.
How can you not love the cottage by the sea in The Gorge at Varengeville?
Despite many a search, I couldn’t find any information about this painting, so we’ll all just have to be suitably impressed with the mystery and skill involved.
Speaking of French gentlemen, we come to Auguste Renoir. His was the only painting with both a kitten and a baby in it that I found.
Smooth as a … kitten?
Well played Monsieur. By the way, it’s called Mother and Child and is one of many works of the same or similar name, created by Renoir.
Apart from that obvious win, he was well regarded in impressionist circles and related to many other famous Renoir’s, it turns out.
Get yourself over to Gallery three then look up. Then pick your jaw up off the floor.
The ceiling has both Islamic and Christian influences.
You’re staring at a ceiling from the Palacio de Altamira, which is made from painted and gilded wood.
It’s from a place called Toledo in central Spain and dates back to the late 1400s. The designs have an Islamic origin, but the ceiling also displays Christian motifs.
Mary Queen of Scots
If I had to pick a sculpture from the diverse collection inside the Legion of Honor, it would be Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse’s depiction of the Red Queen.
The intricate work in this bust of Mary Queen of Scots caught my eye.
The French sculptor first trained as a goldsmith and worked in both England and Brussels.
Oh, and Rodin was his apprentice at one point.
THE DE YOUNG MUSEUM
Surrounded by the greenery of Golden Gate Park and facing the California Academy of Sciences, the de Young museum has been around in one form or another since 1895.
The de Young Museum was designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, and Fong & Chan Architects of San Francisco.
What will you find there? The quick answer is “everything”. Its collection covers cultures from all over the world ranging from the beginning of known human history to today.
So you’ll find American painting, sculpture and other types of art spanning the 17th and 21st centuries. There’s a mix of contemporary and older artwork from Africa, Australasia and Polynesia.
Before we get into what’s inside, let’s pause just outside for a second. The copper-clad building is a sight to behold, especially with the twisting tower jutting up at its back.
Address: 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr, San Francisco, CA 94118
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 9.30am-5.15pm (Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas days)
General Admission: Adults $15, Seniors $10, Students (with ID) $6, Under 17s free.
Contact: +1 888.901.6645
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE DE YOUNG MUSEUM
The de Young is my pick for families with younger children. That’s not to say that they wouldn’t like the Legion of Honor, but the de Young collection seems to be slightly more catered to them.
From the layout of the art work, to the outdoor art area, where children can run around a small portion of the Golden Gate Park and explore interactive pieces.
Garden of Enchantment
Your fist stop has to be the Garden of Enchantment, set over an acre of land surrounding the de Young Museum.
The most San Franciscan pirate in existence was created by Peter Coffin.
Attractions with names like the Pool of Enchantment, Menagerie, Fog Bog, Stone Pine Room and Wisteria Poles, you know it’s going to be an adventure.
And there’s one decidedly shiny addition that catches the eye and puts a smile on even the most stoic faces.
It’s a sculpture by Peter Coffin called Untitled (Pirate) and features a cast aluminium swashbuckler who is a genuine site to behold.
With two hooks for hands, a parrot on each shoulder, two peg legs and both eyes patched, this pirate still seems to be a force to be reckoned with.
The most San Franciscan pirate of them all!
de Young Museum Cafe
Anyone else completely famished? All of this wandering and art-gazing has given me an appetite to rival Mr Pirate out there.
My lunch. Also known as the chicken and dumplings.
So once we’ve shown our Legion of Honor ticket and gotten free entry to the de Young Museum, I’m heading straight for the cafe.
It’s got all the tasty-looking salads, sandwiches, yoghurt and granola pots, pastries and coffees that you can handle.
But if you visit on a Sunday, like I did, you can also take advantage of the brunch/lunch menu.
I went with the chicken and dumplings, and felt very fancy and refined… were it not for my glass of orange juice. You can order wine though.
Barbro Osher Sculpture Garden
If you decided to eat lunch outside you’ve already noticed the Barbro Osher Sculpture Garden.
Yes, that is a giant safety pin you see before you.
But if not, it’s time for a little stroll out there. And did you know that you can rent that space out for, say, a wedding?
Anyway, back to the garden. It’s got some pretty whimsical pieces, such as the giant safety pin, or more traditional pieces of sculpture.
The best part is that your little ones can run around and play around and touch the pieces.
Lots of fun for everyone!
Gallery five was one of my favourite rooms of art in the whole museum. There is sculpture and art of every type imaginable and it’s colourful.
A visit to gallery five comes highly recommended.
As you walk down the corridor, through the Art of the Americas, you’ll see Viola Frey’s imposing sculpture, Man Observing Series II.
When I first saw it, I thought Donald Trump was staring down at me, it was a little scary. But once you get into the room and look around you’ll see why I liked it so much.
Doesn’t this soundsuit (centre), by Nick Cave, just scream Elton John costume?
There is a great collection of pieces like a soundsuit by Nick Cave (no, not that one), three tribal mask-like pieces by Willam Morris (definitely not that one) and a stained glass window by Judith Schaechter. I don’t know any other Judith Schaechter’s.
Next door in gallery four lives the work of the Native artists of western North America.
This bear was carved out of wood and was probably once part of a totem pole.
This is where you’ll find intricate wood carvings, masks, woven fabrics and a pretty cool painting of the world coloured by climate.
It’s all about native artists using the resources they found around them to create works that have lasted centuries.
History through art
One of the most striking pieces hangs from the ceiling in gallery 16, in the 20th Century and Contemporary Art section.
Cornelia Park’s Anti-Mass reconstructs the charred remains of an Alabama Baptist Church.
In creating Anti-Mass artist Cornelia Parker took the charred remains of an Alabama African-American Baptist Church that was destroyed by arsonists.
The floating cube of charred wood hangs from the ceiling, suspended by wires, to create the effect of a building risen from its own ashes.
The Maori Portraits
This free exhibition was on loan from New Zealand the de Young, and it was one of the most memorable parts of my visit.
Gottfried Lindauer’s portraits (from left): Tamati Waka Nene, Pare Watene and Eruera Maihi Patuone. Pictures: de Young Museum.
It’s made up of 31 portraits of Maori community leaders from the 19th century.
Some are painted from photographs and others sat for artist Gottfried Lindauer to be immortalised in startlingly-realistic paintings.
Lindauer was born in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) and ended up painting the largest number of Maori portraits that exist today.
You can feel the strength and resilience in every man and woman portrayed in these portraits. Their eyes capture yours. It’s just breathtaking.
Be sure to catch the exhibition if you visit before April 1, 2018.
+ Get there early if you want to make a day of it. Especially if there’s an interesting special exhibition on.
+ If you want to see a special exhibition, you can book online in advance to secure your tickets and avoid disappointment.
+ Wear your comfortable shoes and clothes. You’ll be standing and walking around for most of the day.
+ Have fun!
At a loss for ways to celebrate Australia Day in the US? If you don’t have Aussie friends or a community around you, you might end up feeling like there’s no one to share the joys of being from The Great Southern Land.
There’s no reason why you can’t take the celebrations to work and make everyone an honorary Aussie for the day. Otherwise, check out my guides to finding Aussie expat communities in San Francisco or across the US!
Disclosure: I won’t celebrate Australia Day on the 26th this year, because I don’t think it’s inclusive of all Australians, and it represents the beginning of all the bad things that colonisation meant for the Aboriginal people.
That, however, doesn’t mean that I won’t celebrate it on January 27th, along with the Triple J Hottest 100. I’m not adding this to be political or controversial. It’s just how I feel about it all, you’re free to celebrate it when or however you want to.
1. CONFUSE AN AMERICAN COMP
This one is great if you have a bunch of Aussies to witness your prowess with bogan slang. You can either take turns or get together in a pub or somewhere similar and embark on this as a group.
What’s more patriotic than celebrating Australia Day in the US by taking the piss out of Americans? The answer to that is nothing.
Here’s what you do: walk up to an American and string together the most bogan sentence you can think of. Basically one that you’d never even say within the bounds of our “girt by sea” nation. Keep a straight face while they look at you with a bewildered expression. Walk away or see how long you can keep it up before cracking up.
If a gingerbeer burger is one step too far for you, never fear, check out this recipe for Gingerbeer bundt cake instead!
Walk around saying “Bundeeeeeee” for a bit and you’ll get in the spirit in no time.
Bundaberg Brewed Drinks has kindly given Bright Lights of America a pack to giveaway*! Scroll to the bottom to find out how to enter!
As a total side note, I had surgery in the US late last year so Mr M and his parents were nice enough to be prepared early and stocked up on the Bundaberg gingerbeer to settle my stomach in advance. It made a huge difference to have a taste of home!
3. WATCH THE CASTLE
It’s an Australian classic, a movie that stands the test of time and transcends generations. In summing up, it’s the constitution, it’s Mabo, it’s justice, it’s law, it’s the vibe and… aah no, that’s it… it’s the vibe. I rest my case.
The Kerrigan family first graced our screens two decades ago and they’ve had a special place in our true blue hearts ever since.
The Castle Movie Highlights - YouTube
This is much more fun if you watch it with people from other countries and refuse to explain any of it. Just watch them. It’s doubly hilarious. Then spend the rest of the week walking around asking “How’s the Serenity?” and saying things like “This is going straight to the pool room” and “Tell him he’s dreamin’!”.
You can try the same with Muriel’s Wedding but I think it might be more of an acquired taste.
4. GET A PIE INYA
Nothing will make you feel like you’re back home at the footy or at the school canteen then a meat pie or a sausage roll.
You can make your own and there are plenty of recipes out there to help you do it, or you can bypass all of the fuss and annoyance of “soggy bottoms” by buying some.
While we’re on the topic of food, let’s talk about lamb. Depending on where you live in the US, it can get pretty pricey and difficult to find.
But sometimes only a lamb roast will do to celebrate Australia Day in the US, so what are you to do?
First of all, convince your family/friends that you NEED a lamb roast otherwise it’s not really Australia Day. You can do that by making them watch this year’s lamb ad. Or go straight to 2016’s version, which is my favourite and I’ve helpfully provided for you.
Australia Day Lamb 2016 | Commence Operation Boomerang - YouTube
Now get yourself to Costco or a specialty butcher and spend some of your hard-earned dosh on that leg of lamb. It’s only once a year. It’s worth it!
6. KILLER TUNES
It’s not a party without some killer tunes and we all know that the only place to get them is on Triple J.
When we were younger, we’d wish each other a Happy Hottest 100 Day because it seemed a little more fitting to us. Especially since we had to work that day. No beach for farmers.
Anyway, no matter the time of day or night, crack a tinnie, kick back and listen to the best songs of last year. Get your mates round and bet on the top song or where your favourite will come out in the list.
Any gathering brings out my competitive spirit, but this one really speaks to me since it combines talent and wit with eating.
Get yourself a value pack of Tim Tams at the very least, and if you don’t have a gathering to get to, take them with you to work.
Explain the concept to all those poor people who haven’t yet had the good fortune to meet a Tim Tam or use them on a competitive basis.
Tim Tam Slam Tutorial - YouTube
When you inevitably win, let it be known that you will require the other participants to supply you with a replacement Tim Tam packet.
8. GREEN & GOLD
On any other day I’d ask if you were OK if I saw you in the street wearing green and gold. Or I’d stop and wonder whether the Olympics were on.
But on Australia Day, you can find your most patriotic clothing and wear them proudly. It doesn’t have to be too crazy on the colourful scale. A necklace or a tie will do.
Or, maybe your green and gold flip flops? Thongs for us purists.
9. ROACH RACES
This is here especially four our New Yorker Aussies. You know how some pubs in Australia hold races with the weirdest animals to celebrate Australia Day?
Well here’s the New York equivalent. Capture as many of the little vermin as you can and keep them in a shoebox till the big day.
Then create a little racetrack and bet on which creepy crawly will make it to the finish line the fastest. Personally I won’t be doing this because roaches are my worst nightmare, but I’m sure someone out there will be game!
10. LISTEN TO AUSSIE PODCASTS
My favourite thing to do, Australia Day or not, is to listen to Australian podcasts. It gives you a nice hit of Aussie accents and makes you feel like you’re a bit more in tune with what’s going on back home.
Comedy is my bag so my recommendations will basically be the funny ones:
Taking a Winchester House virtual tour has been a little tricky since the contract for a movie about Sarah Winchester, played by Helen Mirren, was signed.
Winchester will hit theatres in the US on February 2, 2018, and has been in production for a few years. But from the time the ink dried on the film contracts to now, visitors weren’t allowed to take photographs inside the house.
It’s a rule that is heavily enforced by Winchester House tour guides, along with the “no touching” rule that hopes to preserve the mammoth mansion.
Disclosure: Winchester Mystery House kindly led a bloggers tour of the mansion and allowed us to photograph it from the inside. While the tour was free, as always, my views are honest and my own.
SARAH & THE WINCHESTER MYSTERY HOUSE HISTORY
Before we head inside on the Winchester House virtual tour, we should probably run through some of the history of the place.
Winchester House was seven storeys tall before the 1906 earthquake
You can read up on it all here, but in a nutshell the Victorian house and gardens were once home to the richest woman in the country, Sarah Winchester.
Sarah Winchester’s Early Life
Sarah was born sometime in the decade from 1835 (records aren’t definitive) in New Haven, Connecticut to Leonard and Sarah Pardee. Her father built carriages and made his money during the Civil War by making ambulance carriages to the Union.
Sarah would have been known as a well-rounded young woman. She had more than four languages under her belt, was a talented musician and attended Yale College’s female arm, the Young Ladies Collegiate Institute.
It was no surprise then, that she married the heir to the Winchester Repeating Arms fortune, William Wirt Winchester in 1862.
The couple’s only child, Annie Pardee Winchester, was born four years later but their joy would be short lived.
Annie survived just forty days – her body was not able to metabolise proteins, leaving her severely malnourished. Her death left a lasting sorrow on her parents, but it was not the last that Sarah was to face.
William’s father died in 1880, leaving the Winchester Repeating Arms Company to his son. But a year later William succumbed to tuberculosis. The deaths left Sarah with $20 million of inheritance and almost half of the stock in the company.
Winchester Mystery House
The fortune made her one of the world’s richest women and she spent a few years traveling Europe before moving to California in 1886, to what is now San Jose.
Sarah Winchester bought what is now known as the Winchester House and 161 acres of land. It was just an eight room farmhouse, but from that time on the house grew exponentially to up to 600 different rooms.
The legend surrounding the house and Mrs Winchester is that she was told by a Boston medium that she was haunted by those killed by Winchester rifles and she herself would die unless she continuously built a house around her.
There is no evidence of the meeting ever having occurred, or that Mrs Winchester was an “occultist” or that she communed with the spirits of the dead.
Yet she continued to design her own extensions to the Winchester mansion, that her faithful team of builders and plumbers carried out.
Winchester House has a lot of strange features packed into its many rooms.
Even if Sarah didn’t hold seances or believe in the occult, she had a way of designing that would undoubtedly be seen as kooky, at the very least.
Winchester House & the Doors to Nowhere
Even though she was designing a mansion for the ages, Mrs Winchester didn’t waste time or money on architects or interior designers.
Stepping out of this upper floor Winchester House doorway would give you quite a shock.
Instead she did all of that herself. As you can imagine, she spent a lot of time sketching designs, presenting and explaining them to her builders, who would then have to make her drawings a reality.
Imagine explaining to a builder that you’d like the installation of a few doors on the higher floors that lead nowhere.
I don’t mean that the doors would open to a wall, although those do exist inside Winchester House. Step through one of these doors and you’ll find yourself falling a fair way down into the garden. Or down a shaft to the kitchen.
Why would anyone create something so dangerous and confusing? Unfortunately, Mrs Winchester was not keen on guests, to the point of being reclusive.
And she didn’t leave letters or journals documenting the thought process behind her designs. So no one really knows why much of the house is the way it is.
Stairs to… the Ceiling?
Glance down some of the branching corridors on your way through Winchester House and you’ll come across a strange sight.
Staircases, complete with banisters that climb up into the ceiling. On the surface it doesn’t sound all that weird.
Except there are no doors at all at the top of these staircases. No trapdoors, no hidden doors and no way of getting from the staircase up to the next floor. Unless you’re a ghost (in which case you wouldn’t bother using the stairs to start with).
Exploring this labyrinth must have been fun, because no blueprints exist and as the Winchester mansion spread up and out, rooms were tacked on wherever they would fit.
There are no shortage of corridors inside Winchester House.
Speaking of stairs, as Mrs Winchester got older she began to suffer from severe arthritis that limited her movement. The Switchback Staircase was designed to help her get to her bedroom from downstairs without too much discomfort.
It’s only rises 2.7 metres (nine feet), but the Switchback Staircase has seven flights of forty-four steps that rise just two inches.
Stained Glass Window
Almost everywhere you look inside Winchester House, you’ll come across stained glass windows, whether they’re in window or door frames.
The Tiffany Company Stained Glass window cost $1,500
The most famous piece of glass art within the house is also its most expensive. The ornate window is inset with pastel designs and flowers but we’ll never see it in its full glory.
There’s no doubt that the Tiffany Company designers meant for the $1500 stained glass piece to send coloured beams of light dancing across walls and floors as the sun moved.
But Mrs Winchester had different ideas. She placed her most beautiful window in front of a wall on the north side of the house so the sun never touches it.
Many of the house’s windows were designed by the Tiffany Company, not to be confused with the jewelry designers and manufacturers of the same name.
Stained glass panels are prominent in Winchester House.
Tiffany glass was made in New York by Louis Tiffany between 1878 and 1933. It was inspired by a trip through Europe and specifically by London’s Victoria and Albert Museum collection of glass.
Lucky Number 13
This is where superstition is said to come into play. It’s said that Mrs Winchester’s favourite number was 13, so much so that she used it in details all over Winchester House.
None of the furniture inside Winchester House is original.
Chandeliers were modified to hold 13 lights, there are 13 ceiling panels in many rooms, some rooms hold 13 windows or the stained glass windows hold 13 jewels, 13 stairs in a flight, 13 railings holding up a banister, and the house has 13 bathrooms.
Sarah’s fascination with the number even extended to her will, which was made up of 13 parts, and so was signed 13 times.
Even though the number 13 is widely thought of as being “unlucky” in superstitious circles, in Italy it is just the opposite.
The Unfinished Sections
In a house this big, with constant planning and building going on, there are bound to be unfinished bits and pieces.
Although there are 40 fireplaces in the house, only 17 have chimneys.
You can take the Mansion tour for a peak at some of the rooms that were still being worked on when Mrs Winchester died in 1922.
They are packed full of bits and pieces that were salvaged after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake that felled parts of the building and pinched a door shut, trapping Mrs Winchester inside a bedroom.
There are balustrades, sconces, windows and banisters, as well as lots of other things that my non-construction trained eyes couldn’t identify easily, or correctly.
If you look closely at the photo of Winchester House in its earlier days you can even spot the parts of the building that the scraps came from.
Wall Coverings… NOT Wallpaper
Far be it from me to get fancy, but it’s important to point out that the intricate designs that cover the walls of Winchester House are not the result of a roll of wallpaper.
Winchester House is full of Lincrusta Walton wall coverings.
Apart from the beautiful designs offered by these wall coverings, they became popular in Victorian circles because they were washable without causing degeneration. So they were seen as sanitary.
It was so popular that you can even find Lincrusta Walton wall coverings in the White House. You’re probably starting to understand how Mrs Winchester ended up spending that $5.5 million on her home.
Winchester House Victorian Gardens
While a lot of the focus was placed on the building, it’s easy to forget that Mrs Winchester had six acres of land to play with.
Visit in spring or summer for the best views of the Winchester gardens
That meant gardens, particularly Victorian ones. So Sarah had her fair share of gardeners to tend to the vast grounds.
When you visit today, you’ll only get to see a portion of what would have been The Winchester Estate, as fair chunk of it was sold off after Mrs Winchester’s death.
Trellises and hedges make for great places to sit and relax
Don’t be put off by the little parking lot and the small area in front of the house that fits a fountain and some beautiful hedging.
If you’ve got a little time before your tour of the house, head outside and tour the gardens on your own.
It’s thought that $1.5 million was spent on the gardens and surrounding orchards (when they existed) so there had to be buildings to house farming machinery and to store the surplus fruit and vegetables that were harvested.
Winchester House: Everything you need to know
Winchester House is at 525 S Winchester Blvd, San Jose, California
The Mansion tour runs just over an hour and takes you through 110 rooms of the house. It’s a great coverall and the best tour if you’ve never visited before. Discounted rates apply for groups of 15 or..
Opening a US bank account can be a little tricky for expats who don’t have a Social Security Number, but it’s not impossible.
If you know what you’re doing and what banks need from you, it can be one the easiest parts of setting up life in the US.
OPENING A US BANK ACCOUNT
There’s no law stating that “non-resident aliens” can’t open a US bank account, however banks and financial institutions may deny their applications for other reasons.
The USA Patriot Act, brought into affect after the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Center, puts more onus on financial institutions to collect personal information from its customers.
This is why they will ask for a US address to tie your checking, savings or credit accounts to. You will also be asked to provide your Social Security Number, but if you don’t have one there are ways around that rule.
START BEFORE YOU MOVE
The easiest way to get your first US bank account up and running is to open an account with a US-based multinational financial institution that has branches in your home country.
The earlier you open it the better because they’ll have more of your financial history to draw from when you arrive in the States.
Some of these banks also offer free transfers between your accounts in the two countries.
Atlas Wealth Management provides financial advice to Australian expats. Its Managing Director Brett Evans suggests you go into your Australian branch to chat about your move and opening a new US account before you leave, as some US branches aren’t as clued-in.
“This can be the case if you have an Australian Citibank account though our experience shows that not all US Citibank branches are aware of this and clients have experienced problems in the past which usually need to be escalated and are then resolved,” Mr Evans said.
“HSBC in the past also provided this convenience but we have noticed in the last year or two that they have been operated more on a solo basis with very little benefit of account portability between jurisdictions.”
HOW TO CHOOSE A US BANK
If you haven’t had the time to open an account at home, there are plenty of US banks and financial institutions that will take your business.
Do your research before you choose the financial institution to open your US account with. You’ll most likely need a checking and savings account to start with but be warned, interest rates are so minute here that they’re almost non-existent.
Mr Evans recommends sitting down to think about what you’ll need from your financial institution before committing to one.
“We normally recommend clients deal with the larger institutions if there is the need to access their accounts in other states (due to travel inside of the US) as well as the ability to conduct national and international transactions,” he said.
“With the rise in popularity of currency exchange brokers, the requirement of being able to conduct online international fund transfers with your bank isn’t as important anymore because more often than not you can get a far cheaper exchange rate with a currency broker than your bank.”
He said the only exception ATLAS has seen is for money transfers between US and Australian Citibank accounts, which offers “quite competitive rates”. Although he still recommends checking with a third party provider before committing to a transfer.
“The other problem that we have seen with clients working with the smaller banks is that when they have travelled overseas quite often the smaller US banks will restrict or remove access to funds, whereas the larger banks are well structured to handle these types of transactions.”
Do Your Research
What should you look for in a financial institution before opening a US bank account with them? The easiest way to compare accounts is to use comparison websites such as NerdWallet.
The fee structure: Some charge fees for transferring money between accounts more than the set limit, monthly account keeping fees, and a host of others.
Online portal/Mobile banking: The US banking system seems to be stuck back in the early 90s. Maybe even the 80s. Some financial institutions don’t offer these options.
Bill pay: Some banks, such as Wells Fargo, allow you to pay bills through your online account. But be warned that not all banks have this facility.
Person-to-Person money transfers: Forget about it. For the most part they don’t happen here. Which brings me to my next point.
Cheques: Or checks as they’re called here. You’ll be writing them for bills, rent, or just to pay people back for things. Find an institution that doesn’t charge you a fortune to print check books.
Credit Union v. Bank: Don’t discount credit unions when you’re doing your research. If you’re worried about ATM fees, some offer free transactions at certain other banks’ ATMs.
Checking and Savings Accounts: What’s the Difference?
The two most common US bank accounts that you’ll open when you arrive are checking and savings accounts. They’re pretty self-explanatory, but it doesn’t hurt to know exactly what they’re traditionally created and used for.
A checking account is the one you’ll work out of for daily transactions. It’s the account that money will be withdrawn from when you make debit purchases in person or online. It is also the account that any checks (cheques) you write will come out of.
It’s important to check whether there are minimum monthly balances required or service fees attached to this account.
A savings account basically does what it says on the box – it’s where you put the money you don’t want to spend. You’ll want to compare interest rates because, frankly, they are pitiful in the US so you’ll want to get the best rate possible.
Some will also require minimum balances and service fees so keep a weather eye out for that.
Types of US Financial Institutions
While many financial institutions portray themselves as a one-stop shop, there are some that offer specialised services depending on your needs.
Savings banks were originally established as a place for lower-income workers to save their money. There are many online-only versions that provide higher interest rates than are available in traditional bricks-and-mortar financial institutions.
While Savings and Loans associations tend to specialise in building up savings and granting mortgages and other loans.
Credit Unions are not-for-profit organisations that have a restricted membership. The parameters mean that only a specific person can join and those restrictions could extend to where you live, work or which union you’re a member of.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
Financial institutions are legally required to collect personal information from you to verify your identity before opening a US bank account. The easiest way for them to do that is to get your social security number (instructions on getting your SSN).
If you haven’t been issued one yet, or your visa doesn’t allow one, you need to show two other forms of photo-identification instead. One of them must be your passport.
Driver’s license issued in that state
Proof of employment
You may be asked for your current and past addresses, past employment details and date of birth. The bank will photocopy your identification to keep in its records.
So if it’s going to be more difficult, how do you go about it?
What is a Secured Credit Card?
No doubt you know the drill – you need a credit card to build your credit history, but without one, it’s almost impossible to do.
There is a way to get a credit card though and it’s relatively pain free, you just have to keep an eye on your spending for the first six months or so.
Secured credit cards are issued to people with little or no credit history or those with bad credit.
Secured credit cards generally work by getting a cash deposit from you and then using that as collateral in case you don’t pay your bill.
If you place a $500 deposit on your secured credit card, your “credit” limit is equal to $500. To be clear, that money is held by the issuer so that if you don’t pay your bill somewhere down the line, they can use your deposit to cover themselves. That money does not automatically go towards covering your purchases.
Once you’ve built up trust with the issuer, you’ll get your deposit back and if your credit rating is good enough later on they’ll offer you an unsecured credit card.
What is an Unsecured Credit Card?
If the secured credit card system doesn’t seem right for you, try unsecured credit cards instead.
You’ll usually be approved for a low limit (between $200 and $500) but you won’t need to put down a deposit.
An unsecured credit card basically works like a normal one. Be warned that since they pose a greater risk to financial institutions, they also tend to have the highest rates and fees associated with them.
Use Your Secured & Unsecured Credit Card Sparingly
Now that you’re trying to build up a good credit score and history, don’t go crazy with your new credit card.
There are a few rules you should follow to ensure you don’t ruin your chances straight out of the gates:
Use it sparingly
Try to spend less than 30% of the limit each month
Pay it back in full before the due date
Unsecured Credit Card Perks
When you’re choosing your credit cards, be they secured or unsecured, remember to look out for the perks that are offered.
Some will offer you a percentage of cash back on what you spend during your first year, others will entice customers with free shipping on online purchases from certain stores.
Or you can opt into monthly or quarterly benefits. For example, Discover offers 2% cashback on petrol (gas) and restaurant purchases during the first quarter of the year.
If you’re driving a lot or have a long commute, that could end up being beneficial for you.
US BANK ACCOUNTS MADE EASY
That’s the Bright Lights of America guide to opening your first US bank account and credit card.
Do you have any experiences to share that will make it easier for others to get through the process unscathed?
Have I missed something important that needs to be included in this guide?
That’s what the comments section is for! Please let us know so that we can build the best easy-to-follow guides for new expats moving to the US.
Beginning on Thanksgiving evening and ending on New Year’s Day, the festival made such a big impact on locals and tourists out for a memorable night in San Francisco, that it stuck around. In part anyway.
Since the inaugural Illuminate SF, some displays have been made permanent, while others are only commissioned for the yearly festival.
During the two months to the new year, the San Francisco Festival of Light includes light art and museum tours, talks with the artists, and free guided tours.
But if you’re not lucky enough to be visiting during the festival, don’t fret, a big portion of the light art pieces have been made permanent. And they’re sprinkled around San Francisco liberally.
SAN FRANCISCO NIGHT TOUR
It’s easy enough to create your own San Francisco night tour of the Embarcadero and through the many neighbourhoods.
While you’re marveling at the architecture by night, you’ll be getting a different view of the regular San Francisco tourist spots.
Light art is scattered through 17 different neighbourhoods and most of them are free to view. Some are inside the San Francisco International Airport though, so if you’re flying in or out, you’re in luck.
I’ve created a few Illuminate SF itineraries that group the closest and most easily accessible light displays together to make it easier for you to get around.
Just pick one, depending on where you’re staying or where you’ll be for dinner and go from there!
What You’ll Need
There’s just a couple of things you’re going to need for this San Francisco by night tour:
A Clipper card or spare change for public transport (if walking’s not your thing)
Good walking shoes
A jacket (yes even in summer)
A camera (totally optional if you’re not a shutterbug)
A sense of wonder and adventure.
Now that’s said, let’s go exploring!
A QUICK STROLL THROUGH NORTH BEACH
The north-west corner of San Francisco is unsurprisingly home to North Beach, a mix of famous tourist stops and beautiful neighbourhoods.
There are three spectacular pieces of light art that I’d recommend you visit. It won’t take long, and I’ve even got a little bonus for you.
1. Jacob’s Dream: A Luminous Path
We begin at church. Actually, at a cathedral – Grace Cathedral (1100 California Street, San Francisco) to be exact.
Picture courtesy of San Francisco Travel
Inside you’ll find Jacob’s Dream: A Luminous Path, lit up day or night (open 8am-6pm). That’s apart from the beautiful architecture, stained glass windows and the labyrinth on the stone floor.
Created by Benhamin Bergery and Jim Campbell, the artwork is based on the ladder Jacob dreams about in a bible story. Look closely and you’ll see figures moving up and down the ladder.
2. Language of the Birds
A 15 minute walk brings you to a busy part of San Francisco. The North Beach Plaza holds the historic City Lights bookstore, but we’re looking for a former topless bar. Actually the second-best known topless bar in San Francisco called El Cid, if you believe the internet.
Now it’s a Chinese restaurant, but it’s also where DJ Tom Donahue discovered The Beau Brummels. Hence the mural covering the building. In front of that building you’ll see illuminated books flying like birds, suspended above the plaza.
Created by Brian Goggin and Dorka Keehn, the work uses solar power and at night runs through a lighting sequence.
3. The Bay Lights
You can either take a 30 minute stroll or catch a taxi/uber to 344 The Embarcadero to see The Bay Lights. There are good vantage points of the bridge’s west span on The Embarcadero so take your pick and get ready to have your breath taken away.
Renowned light artist Leo Villareal lit up The Bay Bridge in 2013 after a group called ILLUMINATE formed to create and commission uplifting works of public art. It is created from 25,000 individually programmed LED lights that sparkle and twinkle in a never-repeating display across the bridge.
4. Bonus Round: Buckyball
I’m calling this the ‘bonus’ because it was a temporary display for 2017’s San Francisco Festival of Light. It wasn’t a permanent display so you can’t visit it anymore, but I can show it to from my visit.
Buckyball was situated just outside the Exploratorium (Pier 15, The Embarcadero) and was also created by Leo Villareal, which is probably why it’s so mesmerising.
The illuminated sculpture was programmed by Villareal using custom software and displays more than 16 million distinct colours over its array of pentagons and hexagons.
CENTRAL MARKET NIGHT TOUR
Central, or mid Market, is a mix of tourist spots, tech giants, shopping in restaurants. It also has its fair share of light art and it’s a good place to while away your San Francisco evening.
There are six great displays scattered over the area that are all within walking distance.
You’re used to looking at pedestrian signals at traffic lights, you probably don’t even register them much anymore. But you’ll notice Matthew Passmore’s on the corner of McCoppin and Valencia streets.
Picture courtesy of San Francisco Travel
Handsignals was a project of MoreLab replaced the customary Walk/Don’t Walk flashing signs with symbols that are more in line with the Mission District’s vibe. It’s playful and fun.
2. Bonus Round: Trillian + Dodi
Another bonus round, because this one was scheduled for removal in January 2017. When I got to Patricia’s Green in Hayes Valley (just off Fell Street), I felt like I was in a little corner of Pan’s Labyrinth.
They cast patterned coloured light across the green grass of the small park. The lights are programmed respond to noise, so do a bit of talking and see what happens!
Designed by Ned Kahn, Firefly (431 Polk Street, San Francisco) uses wind power to swing thousands of clear panels in patterns.
Picture courtesy of San Francisco Travel
The 12-story sculpture looks like rippling waves of glass during the day, but at night, tiny lights flicker throughout the piece to look like fireflies darting through the night.
Head over to the San Francisco Public Library (100 Larkin Street, San Francisco) and go inside (Monday & Saturday 10am-6pm, Tuesday-Thursday 9am-8pm, Friday 12pm-6pm, Sunday 12pm-5pm).
Walk behind the grand staircase, then look up. You’re staring at Nayland W. Blake’s light art work, created in the Beaux Art Tradition. The names of 160 authors, whose works grace the library’s collection, have been etched onto glass and suspended in front of lighting that gives the illusion of stars.
To read the names, take a walk upstairs.
5. Caruso’s Dream
Onwards to the AVA apartment building (55 9th Street, San Francisco) for a taste of whimsy. This is a place where piano-shaped objects hang from buildings.
Picture courtesy of San Francisco Travel
Artists Brian Goggin and Dorka Keehn put together the piano canopy from glass and steel salvaged from warehouse windows. Tied together with rope and supported by wooden braces, the piece is fully secure, so you don’t have to worry about a Warner Bros.-style cartoon accident.
During the day you’ll see prisms of light reflected onto the footpath by the sun shinning through the glass. At night they are internally lit, and flicker to the music of Enrico Caruso’s operas if you tune into 90.9FM between 4pm and 10am.
We finish our San Francisco night tour at the Federal Building (90 Seventh Street, San Francisco), home to James Turrell‘s light art work.
It’s nestled on the south facade of the building, inside a three-story opening on the building. Inside are neon lights that glow into a single block of colour and ribbons of light extend across the building.
LIGHT ART IN YERBA BUENA
Located just south of Market Street, the Yerba Buena district is a perfect place to explore after dark if you’re staying in the heart of the city.
There are eight light displays in a two block radius and it doesn’t take much walking if you’ve already been shopping at Westfield or strolling Union Square a little earlier.
The Jewish Contemporary Museum (736 Mission Street, San Francisco) structure makes up the first stop on our tour. Built around a 19th Century red-brick power plant, you’ll notice metallic blue steel structures jutting at odd angles.
Picture courtesy of San Francisco Travel
Artist Daniel Libeskind arranged 36 diamond windows into the steel to create a beautiful contrast at night when viewed from outside. During the day you can enter the museum (Adults $14, Under 18s free) and see the shafts of sunlight pour through.
2. Lamp of the Covenant
As you can guess, we’re staying at the Jewish Contemporary Museum for this one. Only really visible during opening hours (11am-5pm daily, except Wednesdays when it’s closed and Thursdays 11-8pm), this display was created by David Lane.
Once you arrive in the lobby look up. The Lamp of the Covenant refers to the light that is placed over a synagogue altar, although in this case it’s made of globes and other antique objects.
3. Pardes Wall
Our last stop within the museum is for another Daniel Libeskind piece. It is also in the lobby, but is slightly more metaphorical. The lights are embedded in the lobby wall, spelling the Hebrew word for orchard.
Picture courtesy of San Francisco Travel
Libeskind is referring to the knowledge and insight that the museum offers as an orchard.
4. Love Over Rules
It’s time to leave the museum and head over to Annie Street (between Mission and Jessie streets). Look up and back in the direction of the museum and you’ll see the neon Love Over Rules sign.
Artist Hank Willis Thomas’ light piece, Love Over Rules
Created by Hank Willis Thomas in 2017, Love Over Rules were the last words the artist’s cousin spoke to him before he was murdered.
“My cousin, Songha Willis, was murdered in Philadelphia in 2000. A month after he died, I found a recording of the incident, and his last words were ‘love over rules’.”
5. Monument for V. Tatlin
Onto the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (151 Third Street, San Francisco) for the next few displays. You’ll have to buy a ticket online or at the museum for these (Adults $25, under 18s free). Head up to the fifth floor and enter Pop, Minimal and Figurative Arts: The Fisher Collection.
The collection includes work by artists like Andy Warhol, but we’re here to see the work of Russian artist Dan Flavin. His light art is a tribute to fellow Russian Vladimir Tatlin, a painter and architect who championed the avante garde movement in the 1920s and was passionate about bringing art and technology together.
Also by Flavin, Untitled can be found within the same collection and is difficult to miss. The colourful display spans the rainbow with ten lamps soaring eight feet high.
After all of that walking and looking thoughtfully at museum pieces, it might just be time for dinner. Luckily the next stop is a restaurant.
Picture courtesy of San Francisco Travel
Just a few metres south of SF MOMA is the W Hotel (181 Third Street, San Francisco). Inside the restaurant you’ll find a 8 metre (27 foot) sculpture called Lumina, created by MADLAB.
The light sculpture is based on “cosmic star clouds, bioluminescent jellyfish and the brain’s neural networks”, according to its creators. ..
It took a move from the country NSW town of Gunnedah to the United States to turn young Aussie Chloe Cox into a rodeo star making her mark on the international circuit.
Despite the fact that her parents both rodeoed in Australia – her dad was a bullfighter and her mum a barrel racer – Chloe was more interested in competitive swimming than horse riding.
All that changed when the family upped sticks in 2009 to Pennsylvania so her brother could race dirt cars. A year later they shifted to North Carolina to pursue NASCAR.
Chloe was just 9 when she came to the US, and although it was exciting, it was also a nerve wracking prospect.
“We started coming over here in 2005, so it was nothing new, but I did not like the thought of leaving all of my family and friends,” Chloe, 18, told Bright Lights of America.
“I didn’t find it very tough going from an Aussie school to a US school. When we moved my parents chose to put me back half a year, since the school years are different, and I believe that helped me a lot.”
Picture: Emily Gethke Photogrphy
She relished the opportunity to join the US education system, where she believes the academic opportunities are “far better than those in Australia”.
Her biggest challenge was grappling with American spelling and grasping the metric system.
“I have been in the US for nine years this year, I’ve been dreading this year ever since we moved. I’ve now lived half of my life in the USA,” she said.
“Rodeo has become a huge part of my life. It has created a feeling of home that I haven’t felt since we moved to the USA,” she said.
“The world of rodeo has opened up many opportunities for me and I have received several offers for a full ride to college rodeo. One of the reasons I am so passionate about rodeo is because it brought God in to my life in a way I never expected.
I was struggling with a lot of things, especially being homesick and putting my faith in God has helped me deal with that a lot.”
Picture: Emily Gethke Photogrphy
Last year she competed in 17 US states as well as in Canada, giving her a chance to catch up with other Aussie rodeoers.
For Chloe there’s no question about where her heart lies. Despite having spent half her life in the US, she still sees herself as an Australian.
“I will never lose my love for Australia and wish I could move back right now, but sometimes other things get in the way. I actually get offended when people say I’m practically American now.”
“I plan on moving back to Australia, but I am not sure when. The rodeo world is completely different in Australia than it is here, so I would like to accomplish my rodeo goals before heading home.”
So what’s next for the burgeoning rodeo queen? It’s not quite what you’d think.
“I plan on attending Southern Arkansas University in the fall of 2018. I will be receiving my BSN(nursing) so I can pursue a career as a Physician Assistant (PA),” she said.
“The nursing side of it will just help me receive patient care hours before applying to a PA school. I plan to continue rodeoing for the next four to five years and then take two years off to complete PA school and then start rodeoing again.”
Even though she admits to feeling pangs of homesickness, Chloe isn’t sorry that her family moved to the US.
“Moving to the US has been a great experience and has opened many doors for me, but I will always miss home. Australia is a beautiful country and nothing compares to it.”
You can follow Chloe’s rodeo career and wish her luck on her Facebook Page.