Sunday, 20 January 2008

in Frisco.

So here I am in San Francisco, late at night scamming dodgy internet while Elsie catches some zzzs for her meeting early tomorrow morning. The hotel we are staying in is extremely nice, and apparently Billie Holliday used to have a room here (where she was subsequently arrested...)!

The flight from Chicago was uneventful (apart from a few minor delays which are apparently par for the course) and I made friends with a nice Montessori teacher whom I swapped ipods with for an hour or two on the flight (of course I put mine on an Australian only playlist, haha). I think the Aussie accent is a bit of a boon here, because it seems pretty easy to start a conversation. It was already evening when I arrived and I got Elsie's message about which route to take from the train station to the hotel a little too late, and ended up walking through quite a dodgy (and amazingly small and isolated) part of town. The homelessness here is really awful - apparently it's much more prevalent here than further north, because the weather is basically like Adelaide's - ie. they don't die off from the cold. Nice, eh? Before I left I was getting pretty frustrated with the rising homelessness problems in Australia, but now I *really* hope it doesn't get worse becuase it's just horrible seeing a few people on every streetcorner begging for money, and people sleeping in doorways all over the place and everybody just walking past and not even seeming to notice.

Anyway, after I made it to the nice hotel, we went to dinner at an Indian restaurant, which was very good, but just goes to show that Chicken Tikka Marsala is the same the world over (or at least the Anglo world anyway).

On Saturday we had many grand plans, but it got a bit lost in the wash. We had breakfast next door to the hotel at this excellent little hole in the wall which you wouldn't expect from the outside to be nearly as good as it is. I had a great little (big) fruit salad and a hash brown (which it turns out is just an ordinary potato fritter but they top them with stuff). I also had a freshly squeezed orange juice which I would've sworn black and blue had added sugar but the waitress seemed amused that I even asked so I guess they're just good at growing oranges here.

We started out for the Napa Valley, but ended up driving over the Golden Gate Bridge (which is *way* bigger than I expected and absolutely beautiful and awesome and I sang this in my head becuase I'm a complete nerd) and then going to Muir National Park which is notable for it's Redwood trees. California is freaking me out in general because a lot of their flora is shared with Australia. The same (or similar at least) Redwoods grow in Tasmania, and they have gumtrees all over the place. It's so weird seeing a bit eucalyptus tree right next to a huge American-looking pine tree. Then again, at home you don't get squirrels in the gum trees so that clears things up quite quickly.

We finished at about 4:00 and, not having had lunch, decided to eat at a restaurant one of Elsie's colleagues had seen on the bay. It turned out to be a (country club-ish) fish restaurant, and, not wanting to order a steak (which was the other option on the menu) I ordered a piece Petrale Sole which is a local fish, and it was really good! Not fishy at all! We also had a beautiful view out onto the bay where *lots* of yachts were moored, and even saw a few seals too.

Later that evening after getting back to the city, Elsie and I went in search of dessert and ended up at Bi-Rite Ice-Creamery which was absolutely delicious. I had a salted caramel ('car-mel') and a honey lavender and both were divine and I'm very glad I got a large because I doubt I'll ever get back. It was a teeny place, but it turned out to have a sister supermarket which was a little organic shop a bit like the Store only nicer and a bit more hippie. We bought a local ash rind chevre and some local beers and had a nightcap back at the hotel (once we'd tracked down a bottle opener).

Today we were a little more efficient with our time and we got up and had breakfast at the same place. Elsie and I then took a cab to Golden Gate park and had a wander around. We saw some painters and some tai chi/sword practice type people, and then we headed for the Japanese Tea Garden which I'd really wanted to see. It was quite nice and all, but (duh) not as good as the one that I saw in Japan. We then went into the Botanic Gardens and looked at the native Californian plants, which were unfortunatly not that exciting since it's winter here. Still, Golden Gate park is big and all lovely, and the locals obviously use it a lot for running especially and photography but also just hanging out. It really drove home the idea that it would be so good if they could do something like that with the Parklands.

After the park we tried to hail a cab with little success, and jumped on a bus instead. The San Francisco Muni seems to have one advantage over Adelaide which is that it's cheaper. Oh and also, the drivers can speak three languages. Walking up the street to the hotel we passed a bit protest/meeting. We concluded it was either a Black Panther rally or Barak Obama speaking.

In the afternoon we went out to the Napa Valley ('wine country' - I think they must be confused because isn't that France?...hehe). First we went to a massive winery called V. Sattui which also had a gourmet section which was the main reason we stopped there - lunch. Elsie and I shared a heap of lovely salads (including Jambalaya which is like a Spanish fried rice) and then we went on to the next winery which I can't remember the name of (maybe I'll fill that in later). We finished at a place called Louis M Martini (great name) and I tried three red wines. I asked about the terroir and the lady asked if I worked in the industry. Ha! Actually nothing I had all day screamed at me but I tried a variety there called Petite Sirrah which I'd never had before which was interesting. It's certainly a very pretty region even in winter, and they have these little yellow flowers that grow under the vines which are quite sweet. The wineries are massive and so in the middle of the vines are huge and often quite beautiful old mansions - from crazy second empire constructions, to the quintessential red american barn. All in all though I think I like Australian wine tasting better, because here they make you pay for it - anywhere from $10 for three wines up seems to be the going rate. Also they're big and busy, and it's not such a relaxing or unique experience.

In the evening we went to a sushi restaurant for tea ('dinner'), after this guy in the street gave us a few helpful suggestions but then turned out to be selling a (free) tourist restaurant map/begging. Then back to the hotel to plan my day tomorrow.

All in all I'm enjoying things here very much. The people are all very friendly and not the loud, arrogant stereotype we have of them (sorry). Everyone I've met has been really extremely helpful, although that being said most of them have been in service industries and thus work for tips (cynical? me?). Still, it seems genuine. The men hold the doors open for women and people seem nicer on the roads too. Actually speaking of the roads, they're amazing here - they have such huge and efficient freeways it's really easy to get anywhere, and also you can hail a cab anywhere in the city and they're pretty cheap. It's very hilly though and my stomach drops everytime a cab driver fangs it over a giant hill in the cbd. The differences in driving are still freaking me out, although not in the way you'd think. The driving on the wrong side of the road seems ok, but I keep trying to get in the driver's side when aiming for the passenger's seat (pretty embarassing in a cab) and thinking I'll have to pay the tolls. And speaking of the roads: the weather. It's very nice here, much warmer than Chicago and pretty similar to Adelaide weather in winter (not surprising since we both have grapes). It's been lovely weather to be out and about, although apparently tomorrow it's supposed to rain.

All in all I like it here, but I don't think I'd want to live just doesn't feel quite comfortable for some reason. For a supposedly chilled out, hippie city, it doesn't really feel that different than any other, and I kind of feel like it's either quite localised or actually quite shallow. But tomorrow I'm going on a big walk around the city by myself so we'll see what I think after that. Sorry still no photos - I did not have the prescience to pack my camera-computer cable. Hopefully Tuesday evening I'll get them up. Sorry if this is all a bit inarticulate - it's late here. xoxo


Hannah said...

I know what you mean about stereotypes, every American I've actually met has been just lovely yet we still love to hate them... Loving the updates -- keep them coming!

PS - "fang it", hehe.

Margie said...

Sigh. Trips. Holidays. Tourism. Sigh.

Amanda said...

I visited Adelaide (I'm from SA, but living in NJ) in September for a month. I spent that month going to the driver's seat instead of the passengers, and then did the same thing in reverse when I got back to the town in NJ I live in now!