"To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted." -- Bill Bryson

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

San Francisco: Day 3, Part 1

It's Saturday morning in SanFran, which means it's Farmer's Market day! Sarah and I head to the old ferry building by the piers.

We hop off the BART onto Market St which spits us right out at the ferry building. It was PACKED! By some fluke of fate we stumble past Rachel working at the Cowgirl Creamery booth.

We purchase some DELICIOUS cheese from her and wander about looking for other pieces to our perfect picnic. After a couple loops we end up with fresh bread, blackberries, apples and salami. All of it is super fresh and all natural.

We find a bench overlooking the water with a clear view of the Oakland Bay Bridge.

Everything is amazing. With happy, full bellies we walk back up the piers. It's amazing how much more crowded it is compared to when we were walking around on Thursday. We head back to the Musee Mecanique, this time equipped with quarters! We wander around spending our quarters on such things as the gypsy lady:

who told me "You have plenty of common sense. You have great gifts. You have a fondness for good company. Do not be over generous. You will succeed." She was delightfully creepy.

Finally quarter-less we head towards Ghirardelli Square. The entire way we get to watch the Blue Angels showing off (this time with red, white & blue smoke). There's also a couple old biplanes flying around and doing tricks.

Ghirardelli Square is equally as packed, but we do manage to pop into a store and grab a free sample of their seasonal pumpkin spice chocolate.

By this time, we're exhausted, so we stop and put our feet up next to a fountain in the courtyard. With my luck though, I get in the way of a small toddler who decides to splash me with fountain water. This isn't just any splash either. It looks a little something like this...

Mildly displeased that I look like I peed myself, we leave and head to The Buena Vista to drink Irish Coffee. Luckily it's only 2 blocks away so we find it without mishap. It's a pretty neat little bar.

It's wall to wall people but as we're standing there looking lost, a couple at the bar leaves. We sidle up to the bar and order an Irish Coffee.

Our bartender isn't the most talkative, but the other bartender is an older guy with a sweet handlebar mustache who looks a little something like this:

We notice that there's a painting on the wall of a man who looks remarkably like this bartender. We ask if it's him, and it turns out it is! I'm still not sure why he's so famous (perhaps it's the mustache) but I do buy a postcard from the shop next door that depicts the painting that is hanging in the bar.

Our next stop in the afternoon is shopping! Apparently Union Square is the place to be. Our original plan is to walk it. On the map, it's only 2 miles, so how bad could it be?

View Larger Map

We begin our hike UP Hyde St. It turns out to be the steepest hill I'd ever climbed in my life. Halfway up we almost throw in the towel, but there's a crowed gathered a bit higher up so we press on. Turns out the the crowd knew some inside info. It's one of the best of the city.

We pause, huffing & puffing, to admire the view before pressing on. At the next intersection we stop & consult the map for a better, less uphill route. Our new route takes us down a hill which surprisingly spits us out to the foot of Lombard Street, the 'crookedest street in America.'

By this time though, we're practically dead on our feet, so we give up and hail the next cab that passes. This is probably the best decision we could have made. The drive is another 15 minutes up and down some serious SanFran hills.

Our quiet cabby drops us right in the center of the square. Our first stop: Levi's. Then, on to H&M. Success! We spend a little too much money in Union Square. Packages in hand, we find the BART and head back to meet up with Rachel for a night on the town.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

San Francisco: Day 2

The next morning we wake up bright and early-ish. Rachel heads off to work and since Sarah and I are on Texas time (two hours ahead), we rise and shine not to long after she leaves. Rachel recommended a great place a couple blocks away called Atlas Cafe. It's a cute and quiet place full of people tap-tap-tapping away on their MAC computers. I get a pumpernickel bagel & coffee; Sarah springs for a bagel with sun-dried tomato spread, onions, cucumbers and tomatoes with fruit on the side.

The tomatoes are BEAUTIFUL as is the fresh fruit. I gotta admit, California produce is pretty spectacular. Sarah's friend, Hol, is supposed to pick us up from breakfast, but when Sarah calls to see if he's close, we find out he hasn't even left yet. We decide to find a Wells Fargo (for me) and do a little bit of exploring around the Mission.

It's a really cool area and we find a couple of old, run down theaters that look like they could be fabulously converted back to their old glory. If only someone would come along and give us money to fix them up...

Finally Hol finds us and we head to Muir Woods for some light hiking. The drive is beautiful and very exciting because we get to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge!

Sidenote: be prepared for a million photos of the bridge in a later post.

So we arrive at Muir Woods: an official state park with a few really nice paths laid out through the redwoods.

I particularly liked this tree. He seemed to have a very wise face:

It is beautiful in the woods and oddly quiet; there aren't even birds chirping. In fact, there are signs that say something along the lines of 'please be quiet so you don't disturb the birds.' We do come across a deer at one point, which is very exciting. Also, Sarah decides to climb into a fallen tree only to exclaim "holy crap there's a person in here already. holy crap, there are TWO people in here already."

I took an awkward photo just for memory's sake. Can you see the other person's feet?

We loop back to the entrance, hop in the car and head to...NAPA!

We pass through Sonoma, which is exciting in itself. Along the way I get really excited because I recognize all sorts of names that I know. Sonoma-Cutrer is a wine we sell at the restaurant I work in, as is Cakebread, Gloria Ferrer & Cline. We end up passing through the city of Napa and go a little north to what is technically St. Helena to the V. Sattui Winery. What made us head to V. Sattui? They. Have. Food! Sarah was in San Francisco a year ago and she and her sister stopped her to eat. Coincidentally enough, when my family visited Napa about 10 (wild guess) years ago, we ALSO stopped and ate at V. Sattui.

We sidle up to the tasting bar, cough up $5 for a tasting and settle in with our lovely wine expert, Tracy, who took this photo.

We're supposed to get only five tastes, but Tracy just keeps pouring us stuff. While I'm happy about the free wine, none of them really inspire me to purchase any. I was hoping to find gifts for everyone back home, but I'm pretty disappointed with the selection. Sarah buys a riesling for us to drink with lunch (which I cannot complain about) and we buy a smorgasbord of delicious treats from their deli. Pesto penne, truffle oil macaroni & cheese, ravioli, gnocchi, stuffed portabello; all were so amazing that I am actually salivating now.

We sit in a lovely area within view of the vineyard under some marvelous shade trees. The only word I can think to describe this: glorious.

After our picnic we do a bit of exploring around the winery. It is every bit as beautiful as the picnic area.

But the day is running short. We head home and by the time we reach Rachel's place she is already asleep (another early day for her tomorrow). Plus, after all that hiking, drinking and eating, Sarah and I are completely exhausted. To bed we go so we can rest up for all that's in store for us tomorrow.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

San Francisco: Day 1, Part 2

So the walk to the piers is not a short one, but we stop and see a ton of stuff on the way (ie City Lights where Jack Kerouac hung out:

some other cool bookstores:

and the 'Little Italy' of San Francisco also known as North Beach:

I gotta say, their Italian places looked much more legit than the ones in New York City.

So we walk. And we walk. And we finally come upon the Fisherman's Wharf (still dragging our luggage, of course).

From there is a beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge. AND we discover that it's FLEET WEEK! Apparently the Navy has this special event every year just to show off their stuff and give all us a cool show. Basically the entire day Navy jets (specifically the famous Blue Angels) fly overhead doing amazing stunts.

Here's an ok photo of them:

We wander away from Fisherman's Wharf towards all the other piers. We pass the bakery where sourdough bread bowls were invented and sight see our way towards Pier 39.

If we consult our handy-dandy google map, we find that Sarah and I had walked about 2.5 miles since lunch.

View Larger Map

We roll up to Pier 39, find a sunny spot and just sit for awhile and watch the Blue Angels fly. It is actually pretty inspiring and they are doing some amazing stuff there. We can't forget about the famous San Francisco sea lions though...they were there too, also basking in the sun.

But the Blue Angels tend to out-shadow the seals. Sarah manages to get this amazing photo of them:

Rachel sends me a text that she's back in her office so we head out towards her office building (only another 15 minutes walk or so). The building is very cool. There's tons of exposed cement and metal. Apparently it used to be a popcorn factory! We drop our bags off in her cubicle and head across the street to a Starbucks for some much needed rest and a regroup. We need to figure out our next plan of action! We have about 3 more hours before Rachel gets off work that we need to fill with as much SF as possible. Now, by Rachel's office building was a staircase. It seems to extend straight up into the air and points towards the Coit Tower. The Coit Tower has been mocking us for the entire day. We've been able to see it from everywhere we've been in the city and it seems that this staircase will be able to deliver us to the tower. While sitting comfortably in the sun, sipping our coffee, we decide to climb the few hundred steps to the tower.

Here they are:

Renewed, we begin our climb. We reach the top of the staircase only to find that we've been deposited in the middle of a pathway winding between some lovely houses (they are bundled so closely together and in such a hap-hazardous way on the side of this cliff that they look like tree-houses).

They also all have lovely gardens, which Sarah sneaks into:

The path takes us on a winding route between them, up a few more small staircases and spits us out onto a street with the tower still looming high above us.

Luckily, a woman is powerwalking past us, so we stop her and ask for directions. She says "I'll show you!" and powerwalks off. So we powerwalk after her and she takes us too...more stairs!

Apparently this is her normal exercise route because she shouts to us that these will take us to the tower and then she takes off up them. These stairs also wind through some truly amazing houses. All of the houses have amazing gardens that you'd only know about if you were walking on these stairs. By this time I've removed my sweatshirt and thrown my hair into a ponytail and we're both huffing and puffing and taking frequent breaks.

After some more serious stairs, we reach the top.

Our tour guide (aka the powerwalking lady) is stretching at the top and says "oh you made it!" Did I mention she was probably around 60-years-old?

The climb was well worth it though. There's an amazing view of the bay and Alcatraz.

And the tower is pretty cool as well.

But what goes up must come down, so we head back down, taking a different route this time. The stairs we take this time spit us out into a stereotypical SanFran looking neighborhood.

The street we're on happens to be Hyde Street, which leads us back to the Piers. At Pier 39 a Navy band called "The Destroyers" is playing cover music dressed in their uniforms. Very interesting sight to see. Rachel had told us about this really cool museum of old arcade games called Musee Mecanique. With another hour left before we meet up with Rachel, we decide to find it. It turns out to be AWESOME. Arcade games and weird boardwalk attractions from as far back at the 1920s fill an old warehouse. All of them have been restored to working order.

Some are creepier than others

We vow to come back when we have more time and more quarters. We meet Rachel back at her work and hop the BART to the 16th and Mission stop. From there we walk to her place. The coolest part about her apartment is that each room is huge and have a bay window!

Her room is the window on the left

For dinner we head to Papalote for real mission burritos. It's probably the best burrito I've ever eaten. But after walking more miles than I care to remember, we head home to pass out!