Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Colin Churcher - San Francisco 2006

Saturday 2 September

Pictures of this trip can be found at:

Everything went according to plan and we met up with the group at San Francisco airport where we purchased a Muni Passport for $24 - good for unlimited travel for 7 days. Eventually, we used this for 13 cable car rides and 15 other rides. With cable cars costing $5 per trip and no transfers and other rides $1.50, we certainly got our money’s worth. Our bags came through quickly and we got to the Sir Francis Drake hotel around 1500 which was earlier than expected - the plane was 30 minutes early.
We walked into Chinatown along Grant. This was pretty disappointing as it is all souvenir shops. Stockton is more interesting with food shops and restaurants.
We saw a really grungy looking bar and went in for an Anchor Steam beer, a local beer which was pretty good.
The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory is in a little alley. Two Chinese women were making fortune cookies - they take circles of hot dough, place a fortune in it, fold it in half and then bend it over a form. They were not particularly friendly, probably because we didn't want to take their photos for 50¢.
All you can eat Dim Sum $5.
We found a Chinese restaurant which was pretty good. The food arrived very quickly and was all extremely hot.
- Chicken and abalone conge
- Plate of roast duck
- Stir fried spinach
- 6 Pacific oysters steamed in ginger, soy sauce and hot peppers – these were enormous.
We took a trolley bus to California. There were a lot of small Chinese women a the stop who swarmed us to get on but we found that we could keep our places by judicious use of our elbows which worked particularly well against the schoolgirls.
We were now ready to try out the cable cars and traversed the California line from Stockton to the west terminus and then back to the Ferry Terminal. The cable cars are $5 for a single journey with no transfer privileges. We figured that was the normal $1.50 for transportation and the $3.50 for entertainment as the drivers seem to be extraverts. The California line cars are different from the others in that they are double ended with two grips. These can change direction merely by changing ends whereas the others only go in one direction and have to be turned on a turntable at each end of the line.
At Embarcadero we watched a ferry come in and then took the F line (on a Pacific Electric PCC car) along Market Street to Stockton. We watched the crew turn a cable car and then returned to the hotel.

Sunday September 3

Morning tour of City Hall, Alamo Square, Mission Dolores, Twin Peaks, Golden Gate Park, Dutch Windmill, Cliff House, Outer Richmond, Presidio and Fisherman's Wharf. This gave us a good idea of the layout of the city and provided some thoughts on what to do on the free days. Our guide, Lucy, was excited at the large number of bison we could see in their paddock in Golden Gate Park. Normally there are not too many to be seen and they are mainly sitting down. There was an unimpeded view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Presidio viewing area – exceptional for this time of year when foggy weather prevails.
Lunch at Chick's Seafood Restaurant on Pier 39
- shucked oysters, these were pretty good, quite small shells but the oysters were very plump.
- Petrale sole with lobster sauce/fish and chips (heavy on the batter but light on the fish).
- Bottle Korbel California champagne.
Quantity was more important than quality but it was a pleasant restaurant with a good view across the water to the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz.
Alcatraz tour.
Ferry and tour was well organized. The audio tour of the cell blocks was particularly good with commentary from both prisoners and guards.
Fisherman's Wharf is terrible, like a gigantic fun fair although it acts as a magnet for tourists and keeps many of them away from the more interesting areas. We went to the terminus of the Hyde cable car but there was a long lineup so we decided to take the 30 trolley bus to Columbus and Stockton and walked around North Beach, the Italian area. There were lots of Italian restaurants and many people were eating, even at 4 o'clock. We sat outside at a table with lattes. One group of mothers and children went inside because it was too cold outside tables. At one point, two extremely large brown dogs were sleeping on the sidewalk and everyone had to tip toe around them.
A crowded 45 trolleybus brought us back to Union Square.

Monday September 4

We had breakfast at the diner across the street from the hotel. As it is Labour Day people seem to be getting off to a slow start. We took the Mason cable car to the end of the line and walked across to the Hyde terminus and came back to the Cable Car Museum. We still had to wait a few minutes for it to open at 1000. This was very interesting as it had a viewing area to see the winding machinery as well as exhibits demonstrating the working of the cars and history of the system. The only disappointment was that there were no dvds or good technical books available.
We took a cable car back to Market Street - there was a delay while two men changed the grip which was pretty interesting. There are two narrow plates in the centre of the track which have to be opened to allow the grip to be removed. They then extract the entire assembly, including the lever and ratchet, using a pulley hung from a ring in the roof of the car. The new assembly is dropped in and secured. The men were waiting for the car ready with the new mechanism as they had been advised in advance, presumably by radio.
We waited a long time for an F line car end eventually decided to take the underground in stead to the gay district at Castro Street where we had lattes at Cafe Flore. There was a long walk along 16th, past the Mission Dolores, to Mission Street and to the 24th block. Parts of Mission are not very savory and I was on full alert for several blocks. Many people were just standing or sitting on the sidewalk. They seemed to have no purpose. We had lunch at a taqueria called El Farolito. We had a burrito each with rice, avocado, sour cream, black beans and cheese, one with marinated pork and one with chicken. With two Mexican beers it came to just under $17. We lined up to give our order and to pay and were given a plate of nachos and a ticket which we surrendered for the food. They came wrapped securely with foil and we peeled back the wrap and ate from one end pouring in salsas and eating optional hot peppers. “As large as a new born baby”, this was a very filling meal and lots of fun. The place was crowded and loud with Latin music.
From there we took the 49 trolley bus north up Mission and Van Ness to Lombard. After a detour into a model shop we walked to the top of Lombard and walked down the crookedest street in San Francisco. It was surprising how many cars drove down it just for fun. There were two traffic patrolmen at the top and one at the bottom.
It was then a downhill walk to Washington Square and a very crowded trolley bus back.
After a relax we walked out and had a couple of martinis at the Gold Dust bar where there was semi live music. To get the most out of our passports we took an evening cable car ride on the Mason line. On the way back the cable car stopped right opposite the hotel.

Tuesday September 5

Silicon Valley, San Jose.
Strawberries, artichokes, garlic were growing in abundance.
Typical California scenery is golden/brown grass with Liveoak trees.
At Monterey we saw pelicans, cormorants, sea otters, seals and herons, also hawks. Mary bought a latte at Cafe Ida which is the bordello mentioned in "Cannery Row."
Pacific Grove. There were good views of the coastline, many deer, including some in people's front yards.
Carmel, where Clint Eastwood was the former mayor, was very chic and very expensive.
Bide a Wee Motel - didn't know that this name was used in real life – just thought it was used in fiction!
Lunch was bread and cheese
Sancerre goat and Midnight Moon, a Dutch goat cheese, and prosciuto
Talbott 2002 Chardonnay from Sleepy Hollow vinyard.
Quite thick, good nose with hints of honey, caramel, oak, citrus. The cheese shop even lent us some glasses for our excellent wine. We sat at a pleasant table with a parasol for shade. The lady in a rock shop offered us a knife to cut the Ciabatta bread.
There was a short stop to look at the Carmel Mission
The Big Sur Highway was built along the coast in the 1950s by convict labour. There are some excellent views of the coast and some interesting elegant bridges, all built of concrete.
We visited the Big Sur Lodge which is a state park containing a lot of Redwood trees. They can reach up to 110 metres and 10 metres in diameter. There was a pleasant walk among the giants, it was very still and very quiet. There were a great number of cobwebs on the trunks and we also noticed some enormous oyster fungus. There was a shallow brook which helped to make the short walk very pleasant indeed.
We came straight back to San Francisco using the Car Pool lanes.
Cable car into North Beach for dinner at Rose Pistola. Italian
- Zucchini chips - incredibly light and crispy.
- Farinata - this was much better than any Farinata we had in Italy where it is below pizza and is strictly for the low income. The chickpea flour was cooked with caramelized onions and there were olives and sage in it.
- Cioppino - a seafood soup with crab, clams, shrimp, calamari, bread in a nicely seasoned white wine broth. It was good but pretty labour intensive.
- Cheese - California (lamb chop), Irish, Forme d' ambert
- Pannacotta with black Mission figs.
Storrs Santa Cruz Chardonnay - Light with some oak citrus bursts in the mouth.
We took the Mason cable car back to the hotel and were just turning from Washington into Powell when the cable stopped. We sat there for a little while after coasting into the curve and a Hyde car came up behind running down the grade. There was some chatter on the radio and then we resumed. We only had to get to California and all the way is then downhill. It is great to be able to get off the cable car and then walk straight into the hotel.

Wednesday September 6

We woke up late today.
Took the N line out to the end at Judah and then walked along the beach to Golden Gate Park Chalet where we had lunch.
We walked for some way in Golden Gate Park as far as Spreckles Lake. There were very few buffalo to be seen whereas on Sunday the herd was waking around in the Paddock. We then took the trolleybus No. 5 as far as McAllister and Pierce, then walked around Alamo Square to look at the houses known as Painted Ladies. These are exquisite but would need a great deal of maintenance. The painting alone must be very expensive as the trim details and different colours are very painstaking. There are some good views of them with the San Francisco skyline, including City Hall, as a back drop.
We walked along Steiner to Haight and caught a diesel bus No. 71 to Masonic in the Haight Ashbury area. Coffee at “Coffee to the People”.
Haight is the original hippy area and it still retains its character today with lots of backpackers and cheap clothing stores.
We walked along Haight, admiring the blow up legs disappearing into a second floor window, then turned down Cole to catch the N line back to Powell.
Mason cable car to Columbus and supper at a Bolivian restaurant on Powell.
- La Paceña beer
- Salteñas, fried yucca, chicharron de pollo, fried plantain, queso fresco, papas huancaina and salad.
It was good to talk to the servers in the restaurant about La Paz and places we had visited in Bolivia. There were masks and costumes used at El Gran Poder.
From there it was but a short walk round the corner to Green for the revue Beach Blanket Babylon. This has been going for over 30 years but was pretty good because it was very topical. It was centred around San Francisco and some of the costumes, especially the headgear, were amazing. The singing was good - it was entertaining and amusing. The Clintons and the French poodles were particularly good. Two headdresses at the end were spectacular, a panorama of San Francisco with a cable car climbing a hill and a multi-tiered wedding cake with a door which opened to show the Seven Dwarves which were animated (the main character in the revue was Snow White). We had a bottle of California Merlot during the performance.
Afterwards we took the cable car back to the hotel - it stopped for a short time at the same place as yesterday. I noticed that one of the pulley wheels was stopped when we went past the barns.

Thursday September 7

We went out over the Golden Gate Bridge but couldn't see it because of the fog. The first winery was in Sonoma County.
Gloria Ferrera concentrates on sparkling wine - part of the Freixnet chain. We tried the following:
- Sonoma Brut
- Blanc de Noirs
-1997 Sonoma Cuvee - melon, sugar.
-1989 Carneros ETS toast, deep flavour. This was, by far, the best, 15 years in the bottle. Apart from the 1989 these were not exceptional.
Sonoma is built around a so called historic square. We had lunch at the location of a former hotel which had been knocked down and completely rebuilt.
- Oysters on the half shell/Caprese salad
- Gnocchi/foie gras
- Ledson Carneros chardonnay - honey with a dry finish, poor nose.
- Cheese tray:
- Tete de Moine
- Bermuda triangle goat
- St. Andre
- Pecorino
These were well cared for and at their peak.
In the afternoon we visited the Artesa winery, owned by Cordoniú.
- Chardonnay - reasonable nose but a sour finish.
- Pinot Noir - excellent nose, cherry, tannin,
- Albarino - pleasant but not as good as the Portuguese ones we have tried.
The winery was very well designed and set in a hill making use of water flowing in the gardens and entranceways. They use hawks to keep the birds away from the ripe fruit. The Visitor Centre was well laid out and long on presentation panels because there is not much of interest in the actual production – just a bunch of barrels. Three or four people were in the bottling room but there wasn’t a very good view or explanation of this.
We returned to San Francisco over the Bay Bridge which is being rebuilt to repair the damage from the 1989 earthquake.

Friday September 8

We took the Mason cable car to Columbus for latte and round pastry banded with raspberry at Mara's Italian Pastry. Both here and at several other places in this area the wooden table tops had been decorated with Italian postcards covered in many layers of a Varathane type varnish. It looked good but the varnish had been allowed to pool at the sides. The two large brown dogs were again asleep on the sidewalk but this time they were joined by an alert looking grey dog.
Dim sum at Gold Mountain on Broadway
- steamed stuffed mushrooms with brown sauce
- shrimp siu mai with a real shrimp on top, yellow sprinkles and meat and mushroom inside.
There were many different items but no tofu of any type or eggplant. It was getting busy when we left but there were very few Caucasians in evidence.
The underground part of Muni was pretty well messed up by a switch problem at Embarcadero.
We had to wait a long time for a J train to Balboa Park and were turned out at 30th Street and had to wait for the next one. Noe Valley is an interesting neighbourhood with many houses painted in interesting combinations of colours. Balboa Park seems to be just a gigantic set of streetcar barns. We caught an M line and were turned out at West Portal to catch an L line through the tunnels as far as Castro Street where we abandoned the underground and caught a Milan F line tram (1814) to the Ferry Terminal. This allowed us to see Market Street and there weren't the delays we experienced on the underground. We visited the Streetcar Museum and gift shop which is run by volunteers.
This was followed by a stop at a bar with a view across the water where we could watch the boats come under the Bay Bridge including a Fire Department boat.
We walked along the Embarcadero right up to Hyde where we were unable to get a table at Buena Vista for their famous Irish Coffee. From there we went along Columbus to Trattoria Volare
- Jacob's Creek Cabernet Sauvignon which was Australian and not Californian as shown in the menu - Good nose, black cherry, blackcurrant, vanilla, tobacco tannin.
- Plate of Pasta Volare (shared)
- Veal saltimboca a la romana/Baked rabbit with balsamic reduction.
- Tiramisu (shared)
Cable car back to the hotel and cocktails at the Starlight Lounge which was a nondescript bar at the top of the hotel with an unspectacular view.