After staying up into the wee hours, dreaming of San Francisco..

.. A special episode of The Old Grey Whistle Test, centering around singers & songwriters from California in the height of the hippie revolution, slunk onto my screen around 2am the other night & presented me with a new discovery: Judee Sill.

Blighted by a fearsome opiate addiction for much of her life, Judee passed away at the all-too-early age of just 35. She never really made it “big”, & the recent rediscovery of her work has prompted questions & confusion as to why Judee never experienced the attention & admiration that the likes of Janis Joplin & Joni Mitchell enjoyed throughout much of the sixties & seventies.

Part of the California-based hippie-folk-rock scene at that time, Judee grew into music alongside the likes of Graham Nash & David Crosby. Her voice is effortlessly beautiful & her lyrics are alive with an almost (almost) innocent poetry & a refreshing lack of self-indulgence, despite the open secret that she was kind-of a bitch. You can let this stuff wash over you & be little more than a collection of pleasant background melodies, or you can sit down, relax & let it flow through you. Either prospect is an enticing one for me.

But the thing I like most about Judee is that somehow her voice & her songs are pure San Francisco, although she spent most of her life in & around L.A. Something about listening to her sing takes me straight back to that bright, white skyline, those sun-kissed, golden hills & a bluest-blue sky above the Bay; & anything that can transport me there - even for a moment - is fine by me.

Buzzfeed has collated a list of 45 of the most powerful images in photojournalism over the past twelve months.
Pictured above is one of my favourites. The sign reads “Thank you, Facebook”; a sentiment shared by many citizens involved in the various uprisings throughout the Middle East.
During his years at Harvard, working to build the social network that now boasts some 350 million users worldwide, I can’t help but wonder if Mark Zuckerberg ever envisioned his creation playing an instrumental role in the lives & liberties of freedom-fighters half-way around the world.

Buzzfeed has collated a list of 45 of the most powerful images in photojournalism over the past twelve months.

Pictured above is one of my favourites. The sign reads “Thank you, Facebook”; a sentiment shared by many citizens involved in the various uprisings throughout the Middle East.

During his years at Harvard, working to build the social network that now boasts some 350 million users worldwide, I can’t help but wonder if Mark Zuckerberg ever envisioned his creation playing an instrumental role in the lives & liberties of freedom-fighters half-way around the world.

BBC iPlayer: American Nomads
An inspiring documentary from accomplished travel writer Richard Grant, as he treads through some of the old stomping grounds from his early travelling days to meet some of America’s most chronic wanderlusters.

BBC iPlayer: American Nomads

An inspiring documentary from accomplished travel writer Richard Grant, as he treads through some of the old stomping grounds from his early travelling days to meet some of America’s most chronic wanderlusters.

Welcome Home: A Burning Man adventure

I stumbled across this video after drowning my post-playa blues in a bout of internet surfing. Created by three Australian virgin Burners, it’s one of the most agreeable depictions of what life in Black Rock City is really like.

View more from these guys at vimeo.com/WallabyWay

Burning Man 2012 Tickets System: Thoughts & Issues

So the Burning Man organisers seem to’ve put forward a rather misguided new ticketing system for the 2012 event.

It’s one that I find to be both needless & inconvenient. The UK Burners’ group on Facebook have been having a field day with it, with dozens of largely negative posts appearing on the Wall within hours:

"Yes, this will lead to a serious increase in touting I suspect, as at least this year there were was no black market until after all tickets sold out, this year the black market begins immediately after the first lottery phase."
"I too am concerned about possible delays in booking flights, car/bike hire and motels for pre & post burn."
"Can we get the regional reps to voice concern over this proposed lottery system for allocating tickets? Its of particular concern to us who have to get cheap flights earlier in the year!"
"Soooo, the more you pay the greater the chance you get in? that sucks! If they know they will sell out they should abolish price tiers. that originally existed to encourage people to buy ahead, so why need it?"
"Then there’s a major flaw in the system - not the ticketing system, but the community. We have a self-policing ethos on so many levels - leave no trace, media intrusion, gifting - yet when it comes to buying tickets to an event, we lose our moral compasses? Personally I think that would be a pity."

Of course..

There’s always one post that lowers the tone, followed by the slightly tragic inevitability of the internet argument. Although to be fair the second person did have a rather good point:

"Oh balls. ‘Whiney and entitled’ roughly translating as ‘foreign and needing to buy plane tickets’?"
"It seems a bit knee-jerk considering yes it sold out…after 6 months (whiney and entitled better describes the people that still hadn’t got their shit together by end of July despite repeat warnings that ticket numbers were getting low). Sigh."
Black Rock City from above: Burning Man 2011
An awesome hi-res aerial image of Black Rock City in 2011, captured by the GeoEye satellite from more than 400 miles above the Earth’s surface. See if you can spot your camp!
Explore more fantastic Hi-Res satellite images at www.GeoEye.com

Black Rock City from above: Burning Man 2011

An awesome hi-res aerial image of Black Rock City in 2011, captured by the GeoEye satellite from more than 400 miles above the Earth’s surface. See if you can spot your camp!

Explore more fantastic Hi-Res satellite images at www.GeoEye.com

AirBnB: A whole new way to travel

For those of you who haven’t yet come across the revolution in travel that is AirBnB, I urge you all to give it a thoroughly good look next time you decide to embark on a grand adventure.

The website facilitates a radical notion for those with spare rooms in interesting locations; to offer their free spaces to intrepid travellers as a fresh alternative to the impersonal & often expensive experience of the hotel.

I’ve never been a huge fan of hotel rooms, unless of course one has been booked to play host to an unabashed party of Jagger / Richards proportions. I find them to be slightly soulless & isolated from the world outside. I’ve always been a fan of the guesthouse or the budget hotel primarily because of the fellow travellers you meet when staying at such places.

I have, however been a somewhat-fan of the hugely popular travelling community of CouchSurfers, a website full of interesting & immeasurably generous people who quite amazingly throw open their doors to anyone who would like to stay, provided of course that the gust maintains a certain respect for the host & their house rules. They ask for no monetary payment in return, only that you don’t come home drunk in the early hours & proceed to throw their TV out of a closed window.

However, something about staying at a strangers’ house always leaves me feeling a little uncomfortable.. My host can be as nice as pie, but I can’t help feeling like a bit of a freeloader, & when you’re practically living on top of someone who you’ve not even had the chance to get to know properly, the selfish bastard in me always has this niggling sense that my vacation is not entirely my own.

AirBnB combines the many wonderful qualities of CouchSurfing (open doors, interesting encounters, cost-effective living arrangements) with the privacy & sense of personal space that comes from staying in a guesthouse or budget hotel.

It’s essentially CouchSurfing, but you pay monetary reparations for your room & board. It’s often much cheaper than staying at a hotel, even the budget ones, but you have this personal connection with your host the moment you step over their doorstep. On a recent visit to California, my host Maria allowed me to stay at her delightful home in the Glen Park area of San Francisco for the equivalently tiny sum of $30 per night. Not only that, but she also took me out for lunch on my last day in the city.

Yes, you’re paying for your room, but your host has installed a degree of trust in you not to take the piss with their offer to stay. Paying even a small sum towards the cost of your bed & board by no means gives you free license to engage in whatever loud & obnoxious activities you damn-well please, but then neither does a hotel, really. It does however give you a sense that your room is genuinely your own for the time that you’re there. It’s hugely important to have a personal sanctuary away from the stresses of daily life, as really, isn’t that what holidays are all about?

On the flip-side, you also have this delightful dynamic with not only your host but the other people that may be staying in the same building. Travelling in this manner is a great way to meet people from all walks of life - some have just moved to a new city & are using AirBnB while they search for a more long-term living arrangement, others are in town on business, perhaps only for a matter of hours rather than days or weeks. Most though, are people who love being on the road & want to stretch out their time by staying somewhere inexpensive. As you’d expect from such a place, many bonds of friendship can easily be made in the light of wide-eyed excitement through travelling. Vacations put people in the most personable moods, & AirBnB is a really great way to make connections.

For those looking for something a little more extravagant, interesting or downright bizarre, you won’t find anything like the plethora of weird & wonderful abodes on Expedia or TravelSupermarket. The website’s imaginative hosts offer not only rooms in shared houses, but entire homes, skyscraping penthouses & spaces that wouldn’t look out of place in a Miyazaki animation.

Check out this gigantic houseboat in New York, a cozy hobbit-hole in New Zealand & my own personal favourite, the Boeing 727 “fuselage-home" in Costa Rica.

I’d recommend using AirBnB to anyone. It offers the unique experience of enjoying some of the world’s more quirky & interesting places to stay, as well as a fantastic opportunity to meet fellow travellers from all over the world.