Wednesday, 23 January 2008

leaving her heart in San Francisco (no, not really...)

I spent Tuesday taking myself on a walking tour of the city. First of all I went and bought myself an umbrella from Walgreens for $8 (and I have to say it feels a lot sturdier than any other umbrella I've ever owned) because unfortunately it was a drizzly grey kind of a day. I then wandered to Grace Cathedral which is huge and beautiful from the outside and on the inside the stained glass windows were the most colourful and complex that I've ever seen (although I didn't take any pictures as it didn't seem quite the thing).

Chinatown which isI then spent and hour or two wandering through absolutely huge, but basically is just like the one at home only much much bigger. A lot of the shops were pretty touristy (although many of them had nice things) and there were lots of restaurants and a few other specialty shops, such as Chinese medicine shops and tea shops. I bought a pack of Dragon Eye tea, because I love the Jasmine Dragon Eyes, and the lady in the shop said the regular kind is rarer but perhaps even tastier. I haven't tried it yet because the hotel (the Hotel Mark Twain I can now say since I'm not there anymore) didn't have a kettle in the room despite having a coffee machine (apparently this is standard for America). Chinatown was fun, but a bit samey after a while, and I think it would be more fun if you lived there and could actually go searching for interesting ingredients or bargains.

After Chinatown I'd built up a bit of a hunger, so I went to Boccadillos which the internet recommended. It was a cute little Spanish place which seemed popular with local business people as it was quite 'nice' inside (wooden floors, square white plates etc) but pretty reasonably priced. It turns out a boccadillo is a little roll, about the size of a bap. I had the lunch special, which was a small bowl of the soup of the day (roast capsicum/bell pepper), a choice of two boccadillos (I chose prosciutto+walnut+parsley, and chorizo+garlic+rocket) and a little green salad. It was very nice, but I got bitten a bit when what was supposed to be a $12 lunch ended up at $27! That happens a lot here actually - the food seems really reasonably priced but then you have to factor in tax and a tip which takes the price up at least 20%. Of course it doesn't help when you order dessert (yoghurt with huckleberries which are a bit like currants) and a pear soda...oops...

Following lunch, I headed for the City Lights bookstore, detouring on the way to look at some pretty houses I spied and accidentally ending up on the Hindley St of San Fran. Ooops! City Lights is quite famous as it was central during the 60s to the Beat poets. It's still owned by one, and is also just a nice independent bookshop, over three stories with tall shelves and wooden floorboards. I meant to buy a 60s book, or at least an American one, but ended up with some non-fiction on equal-temperament.

Next I climbed Coit Tower which is a tall tower that gives you great 360 degree views of the city and bay. The views were pretty spectacular, even though it was a bit foggy, but there were bits of chewing gum everywhere.

From there I headed for Crookedest St (I'm not sure if that's what it's really called) but it's so crooked it pretty much looks like a long line of connected Ss. I found myself at the bottom and hadn't thought about why the street might be so windy - of course it's because it's so steep that they couldn't cut it straight. Since my way home was from the top though, I had no choice but to climb it! Actually the road leading to it was much worse, because on Crookedest St the footpath was steps, whereas the street before it was just steep and very uneven because the driveways had to be flat). San Francisco is a very very very hilly city (I didn't really realise exactly how hilly, even after the stomach-turning taxi rides, until I started walking) and you would develop very strong legs living there. And you certainly wouldn't want to be in a wheelchair...unless of course you had someone to help with the uphills...

I rode a cable car home, after sweet-talking the driver into letting me jump the long queue, and found myself between a family from Elsie's neighbourhood in Chicago on the left, and two Sydney-siders on the right. It's a small world. The cable cars are very old, and remind me of the old trams. They were invented because the streets are so steep that horses were getting pulled over by their heavy carts and date back from those days. Nowadays they seem only used by tourists, and there's only two short lines, but it's certainly a hoot. I'm surprised they're still running though because the OH&S is a nightmare - the sides are open and you face the street, and you can stand on the runningboard and just hold on if you want. They're powered by an electric motor which pulls the car along a cable sunk under the street, and the driver controls it using a few big levers from the middle of the car. They also have regular trams which look great because (like a lot of American infrastructure it seems) they're also really old - they look like they're from about the 50s with rounded edges and come in bright colours (mostly green and yellow).

All in all I walked about 7ks, and it was nice to be out and about even if it was a bit nippy and hilly.

I met Elsie and her boss back at the hotel, and we had Moroccan for dinner. It was pretty good, and they had a belly dancer after dessert. It was a bit weird because customers were encouraged to put tips town her top and in her skirt, which I wouldn't have thought was exactly traditional... still at least there was no audience participation...

Today I only had the morning to spare as we had to be at the airport in the early afternoon (getting on a plane takes hours here as the whole process takes ages). I had breakfast with Elsie next door in the excellent diner again (actually, contrary to expectations, all the food here has been excellent, especially the fruit) before going for another little walk. I went to find a local Frank Lloyd Wright building, which I think I found but it was a bit of a boring one and didn't really look any different to lots of the other nice old buildings in the city. I then went for a little shopping which was fun as well as frustrating. I went into the Camper shop (and found my shoes $100 off) and then into the Ted Baker shop (and found my red dress 40% off). I then went into Anthropologie which was huge and even more awesome than I expected but I thought I was in a big hurry and only spent a quick 15 minutes in there, in which time I managed to buy a lovely black dress. I will be dragging Elsie back there in Chicago for a proper look I'm sure. After rushing out, I realised I was actually an hour ahead of time (I should really take my watch off Adelaide time already) and so looked in a few more shops like the Gap and Old Navy, Bloomingdale's which was quite fun because you hear about them all the time on TV. The Gap is a bit like a big navy blue Esprit/Country Road, Old Navy is like a big el-cheapo Esprit/Target and Bloomingdale's is like David Jones only with more posh brands. American clothes in general seem much more reasonably priced though (although I think the unlisted sales tax plays a factor here too) and they seem to actually have shops aimed at people my age - everyone is not expected to be 15 years old or 40. Certainly it looks like I'll have no trouble finding pants which fit my bum, which will be refreshing, and even though I'm already pushing my luggage limit, I don't care because it's such a welcome novelty. I have 3 pairs of pants and one is two years old and one is five years old so I really think I should just get them while the going's good.

After the shopping I met Elsie's boss for lunch at the Zuni cafe, wandering through some dodgy neighbourhoods to get there (honestly, it's amazing how quickly on the same street it'll go from DODGY to quite nice and back again). I saw City Hall (their town hall) which is huge and beautiful and UN plaza (boulevard? place?) which was pretty cool, but made me a bit cross because there's all these bits cut into the marble about men and women deserving dignity and basic necessities, and being equal regardless of race, nation etc and there's all these (black) homeless people sitting on the sculptures. Also sitting on the sculptures were heaps of seagulls which here are a bit more terrifying because they're the size of cats (I'm not kidding either). Maybe the obesity epidemic is spreading to McAnimal Kingdom as well. The pigeons here are also a bit scary because there's millions of them and they're not afraid of people but are liable to fly up around you in a big flock if someone comes running from the other direction.

Anyway, I digress. The Zuni cafe is quite famous and I had very high hopes for it, but they were a bit too high as it turned out. It was good, sure, but it was a bit of a posh place without the food being particularly special. Like Grimaldi's with fancier service but without the food being quite as tasty. I had a bowl of egg pasta with mushrooms, walnuts and sage, and Jeff had pasta with clams, which turn out to be cockles. Then it was back to the airport and here I am on the plane (again). It's American Airlines, which is just like Virgin only without the optional frills (ie. a 4 hour flight with no tv) but I did manage to snag an emergency exit row with extra leg-room.

I pretty much caught everything I wanted to see and I think four and a bit days there was about right. I would've liked to have wandered through Haight Ashbury, but we drove through, and to be honest, it looked pretty touristy and like there wasn't much genuine hippiness left, so I'm not really that upset. I also wouldn't've minded walking through the Castro (the gay neighbourhood), but I'm not really upset about that either, because my prevailing impression of San Francisco is that it's just a regular city and most of the really unique interesting stuff has been so touristified that there's not much left underneath. Or maybe it's just really hard to find. The buildings are beautiful and there are nice ones everywhere - it really does look like in the pictures in a lot of places so it's a lovely place to wander around. The big old Victorian houses with the bay windows are so pretty, and made more so since they're painted in lively pastel colours, and even the new houses are built in similar styles so they all blend well together. San Francisco was a fun place to spend a few days because there's lots to do and see, but I'm not sure I really found the heart of the place, and I think I'd prefer somewhere where I'm enough of a novelty to get easily chatting to people, because although I saw a lot of great things, I sort of felt like just another tourist with a dollar sign on her head and I'd like to be able to interact with a place a bit more meaningfully than that.

(Post-script: Oh rubbish, I just found this guide to San Francisco, and am beginning to think I was very much on the tourist trail, even though I didn't think I was...oh well...)

(PPS. I've added photos to the last post if anyone wants to go and have another look).

(PPPS. I'm back in Chicago safe and sound, and watching it snow from Elsie's window. I've been attempting to take a photo of a snowflake (they really are visible beautiful geometric patterns like in the encyclopedia) which is not working out so far, but not for want of trying! Have been having a lazy day inside which is a bit of a waste but I think I needed it. When Elsie gets home from work we're going to the mall.)

(PPPPS. More San Francisco photos in another post soon - blogger is being a bit difficult at this stage.)

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