Monday, August 25, 2008

San Francisco!

Sleeping on an inflatable mattress can now be added to the list of novel experiences provided by this trip. I didn't have any trouble sleeping, and woke up refreshed the next morning. I took a hot shower and went downstairs to find Kay already up and about. She taught me how to use their futuristic coffee machine and then made scrambled eggs and baked some bacon in the oven. The breakfast was great and afterward I sat with Wayne and talked for a while until we were ready to head into the city.

We took a drive around Oakland and ended up at a park near the port of Oakland. There were some good views of the city from there, so I took some pictures.

Wayne has an apartment in Northbeach that is prime location for seeing the city. He kindly offered to let me stay there and I'm SO glad that I did. The location was far better than the hotel I had reserved in the financial district! Around the apartment was an Italian neighborhood call Little Italy. There were several pizza places, some bars, and a restaurant called The Stinking Rose that billed itself as "a garlic restaurant." I didn't eat there, but the name made me laugh.

I helped Wayne carry a printer down to his truck and then I was on my own. I opened the window and sat on the couch for a few minutes... to savor the silence... and then I could hear the sound of the city. Every city has a sound, this city has a special sound, the sound of San Francisco. Through the window I could see Coit Tower! I decided to head outside with my camera and walk to the top of Telegraph Hill to see the tower up close.

The walk up to Coit Tower is rigorous, but the view is worth it. In fact, every step of the way was a rewarding view until the coup de gras at the top... a panorama of San Francisco and the bay. I could see Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, the City, Oakland, it was a brilliant view! I decided to take the elevator up to the top of Coit Tower. While riding up in the elevator, the radio played Louis Armstrong - What a Wonderful World.

I see trees of green... red roses too
I see em bloom..... for me and for you
And I think to myself.... what a wonderful world!

Okay, maybe I'm just really cheesy, but I seriously live for these moments. I mean, could there have been a better song at that moment? It's funny that I was in San Francisco, at Coit Tower, and the most profound thing was the elevator ride.

After waiting in line to get back down, I walked back to the apartment and looked at a map and some notes I had taken earlier. I couldn't seem to pick up any internet and had no phone signal in the apartment. Once in a while I'd get an open access point on my laptop wireless, but the connectivity was fleeting. I had written down the name and address of a much lauded place in Chinatown, which was walking distance from the apartment.

The House of Nanking seems to be known for it's "soup nazi" style service and accommodation. The food is absolutely incredible, and I like to think I know a thing or two about the subject. The woman who greeted me was one of the owners. She said "You come alone next time, you go away... today you sit here" and she sat me at a table that already had three people at it. Okay, I was sort of expecting that kind of thing, but sitting with strangers? They were cool people and they were finishing up anyways. I ordered a beer and some fried pork potstickers to start. After they were served, I ordered the scallop tower. This was seared scallops on lemon slices with an incredible sauce. I admit I can't even remember what that sauce was, but it was amazing!

I finished my meal and washed it down with a second beer, *I'm on vacation* and then decided to walk around Chinatown. I walked into a the Vital Tea Leaf tea shop and there some employees were conducting tea tastings. I sat down at the crowded bar and watched the guy do his thing. He did not want his picture taken... but he talked about the steeping process, and how the tea is made. While he spoke, he brewed pots of various types of tea and poured cups for the 7 people he was speaking to. During the time I was there, a few people got up and left and a few people arrived. He was really funny and informative and I bought 3 different types of tea by the time I was ready to leave.

Well the tea tasting was taking up some valuable time, so I decided to get up from the bar. I shook John's hand and carried my newly acquired tea back to the apartment. From there I decided to wander over to Fisherman's Wharf. It was another rigorous walk and I made a decision to figure out the public transportation a little better. Without an internet connection, I feel like an idiot! Along the way I realized I was losing a little steam, so I got a cup of coffee and a slice of pecan pie. I ate the pie in a small park near a church and then continued towards the wharf.

Fisherman's Wharf is a jumble of restaurants and arcades and commercial crap along the waterfront mostly on the north and northeast shore of San Francisco. The thing I wanted to see was the Pier 39 sea lions. Some time ago, a rowdy group of sea lions took over part of the marina next to Pier 39. The authorities decided to leave them be and now several of the docks are host to a large colony of basking sea lions. I took a few photos and a video and then noticed that there were a few antique looking street cars buzzing past. I hopped on board the F line and rode it part way around its loop.

I hopped off and got on another street car going the other direction. When I arrived back at Fisherman's Wharf, I continued my search for the elusive clam chowder. This time I looked a little further west because this seemed more "foodie" ... suddenly it seemed like everyplace was selling clam chowder in bread bowls. picked a place and also got a Corona to wash it down. The seagulls harassed me a little while I ate, but it was delicious.

I walked lazily back up into the city, unsure of what to do next. I had already done more than I'd planned for my first day, and wanted to find a place to watch the sun set behind the bridge. I noticed the famous "Crooked Lombard Street" to my left and decided to hike over to it and see what might be at the top of the hill. Lombard Street is allegedly the "crookedest" street in America. It certainly does have some curves, and the grade is quite steep. I could tell the sun was coming down fast on the other side of the hill, so I quickened my pace. When I got to the top, there was a small park where I found a bench that provided a perfect view of the sunset and the Golden Gate Bridge. I sat for about 15 minutes and watched the sun go down before heading back toward the apartment. Once again I must say, I really appreciate these quiet moments to myself. A familiar odor wafted through the air and I smiled knowing that someone else nearby but out of sight was enjoying the moment in their own way.

At Clear Lake, my cousin Nick recommended a taco place in The Mission called Pancho Villa Taqueria. I looked it up online and saw that it was recommended by many other folks, so I wrote down the address and directions while I was at Kay Kay's house. This would require riding the BART, which I was excited to do. The BART, Bay Area Rapid Transit, is the heavy rail system that serves San Francisco and surrounds. The system is extremely modern and although the locals complain about it, just like everywhere else, it is actually a pretty nice train. The gauge is wider than most, so the trains are wider and more spacious inside. The floors and seats are plush and the walls were soft. This made it even quieter. When the train started and stopped, it was very smooth... it was as though Goldmember from the third Austin Powers movie had designed a mass transit system.

The downfall of the BART is that there is only one set of tracks for a significant portion of the system. Wayne pointed out to me after the initial publishing of this article that it is in fact ENTIRELY interlined through the city of San Francisco. This interlining, as it is known, increases the likelihood of a malfunction affecting the entire system. It also severely restricts the frequency of service along the route. Due to the expense of laying the tubes under the bay, this is a difficult situation to rectify.

Anyways, if you want to know more about the BART, go to their website. This blog isn't about mass transit. I arrived safely in The Mission and walked to Pancho Villa. The place was pretty busy, a good sign. I waited in line for about 15 minutes and decided to stick with some items I really knew well... I ordered one chicken taco and one al pastor taco. Al Pastor is marinated pork and spices roasted on a vertical spit in a sort of gyros like manner. It's my favorite taco filling. I opted for the HOT salsa, and maybe I should have looked before I leaped. This was REALLY HOT. The tacos were excellent, though.

I took BART back downtown and ended up walking back through Chinatown to the apartment. I must say the character of Chinatown changes at night in a manner consistent with my own neighborhood in Chicago. Feeling slightly apprehensive about my lone walk through a quiet city at night, I kept to the busy streets and arrived safely back at the apartment. It was only 8:00... too early to retire. I had already chosen a spot from which I could get an excellent night shot of the city at Coit Tower and so I decided to walk back over there. I don't like wandering solo at night anywhere, but I've found that there are always people out until around 10:00pm no matter where you go in the world. If I stick to well-lit areas and don't wander off the beaten path, I significantly decrease the likelihood of falling victim to evil doers.

It was worth it, I love the photo. I made my way back to the apartment one final time for the day. I stopped at a liquor store and picked up some chips and a single bottle of Fat Tire ale. I watched a documentary about WWII... those never fail to put me to sleep.

- Andy


Shenandoah bed and breakfast said...

San Francisco is in my all time favorite list which is popular all over the world. It is a stunning peninsula surrounded by water on three sides. Plenty of places are sited over there and I don’t think so that it has any place which can’t to see.
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco Bay Waterfront, San Francisco Ferry Building and Fisherman's Wharf History & Nature are my most favorite places.

Window Installation California said...

This was lovely, thanks for sharing this