Unfortunately, one of the first things I did walking in San Francisco was kick a piece of garbage. This is walking down Market Street heading to the Ferry Building. I look around the street, and notice more garbage around, this being on a major walking street. I probably would have given it a pass, but I simultaneously noticed that there was more than one person walking around, picking up garbage on a Saturday. Despite this, there was still garbage strewn about, not tons, but enough to keep a couple of people constantly walking around picking the stuff up. Could use a few more garbage cans, but the garbage beside those cans I saw shows me some people still won’t bother. I now understand why Americans remark on how clean Canadian streets are, it seems we just try harder not to throw our crap all over the place.
But things pick up from there. It was a glorious Saturday, the sun was out, and so were the people. I was giving my new Sony RX100 MK6 the first real vacation test – I decided to leave the big SLR home and see if this little guy could replace it. I’d already tested it around home and suspected it was going to come in pretty close!
It was crowded at the Ferry Building Farmers Market, and surprisingly, inside was packed as well. Lunch was upon us, and we were wondering if we were going to find a food place to sit at, when we stumbled upon the Slanted Door . Peering inside, we saw empty tables. By this time, we had been casting about the crowds for a place to eat for some time. Available seating was the only criteria now, so down we sat for lunch. It turned out to be quite good food and service – a theme that continued for the rest of our trip.
Sated, we continued out and explored the pier and the market. It’s a big market, but the lineups discouraged me from wanting to buy anything. It seemed to be a mix of locals doing there shopping and tourists doing there touristing. Looking out at the water was nice – Calgary was still grey and frozen when we left, no water or green yet. We walked up south toward the Bay bridge – a moments confusion on my part on it being the Golden Gate bridge, I forgot there was another big suspension bridge in this city! In the unexpected, there was a dance class being taught in the shadow of the Bay bridge. Better venue than a dance studio for sure!
Walking back towards our hotel, we found out that it was hotter than expected and a longer walk than expected. Hark! I see a pub ahead – “The Thirsty Bear”. We certainly were thirsty by this point, and feeling a bit bearish from all the walking, so in we went to sit by the bar and admire the two ancient hand pull taps in front of us, along with some regular taps to the side. The hand pull taps were not just for show, they were hooked up to kegs of naturally fermented beer. On top if it, one of them was a stout. That would be my beer of choice to start with. It went down soooo good after all that walking, I was content now. “But wait,” the bartender said, “we have the same beer on a regular tap nitrogen infused rather than CO2 carbonated, quite different.” Intrigued, I order my second of this Macgowans, seeing the head is much smoother and fine bubbles coming out as expected from a nitrogen beer. Tasting it – oh my. Like a different beer indeed, much smoother, very close to a Guinness, perhaps a bit nuttier. Glad I had it for a second, as I was going through it slower savoring the more subtle tastes compared to the more raw naturally carbonated version. Wondering if the natural carbonated cask might have benefited from a few months aging?
But alas, we were not going to hang around in the pub long enough to find out! We continued on our long journey back to the hotel. Consulting the googles, I see we are passing by Yerba Buena Gardens; might as well walk through it. It is a nice urban park – lots of people out lounging on the grass and the cherry(?) trees in blossom added some nice accent to the lovely trees.
We wandered through the park, then back to our hotel, The Pickwick . This turned out to be a pretty good choice of hotel – it’s not right in the middle of everything you’d want to see, but close enough to Market Street and the Powell Cable Car turn around that you can head there and travel wherever from there. The rooms are older, with a bit tighter private bathroom, but everything is nice and clean. Considering the more modest price, I’d say this is a good “Pick” (see what I did there?) if you are willing to put up with the few minor quibbles.
Time for a little rest before dinner, but where to go with so much to choose from? We went with “something close” as we’d walked enough for the day, so off to the googles again. The other criteria was “seafood”, so we settled on John’s Grill, evidently a long time classic that has been dined at by famous people, they have a long list on their web site. Considering this place dates to 1908, they have had the time to accumulate that list for sure. We step in and I am immediately reminded of fine dining at an older establishment – this is traditional, semi-casual dining, in a more formal old school decor. We were seated on the second of three levels, with an opening to the ground floor below us. I could see stairs to a third level that was not open that night, but I can see that would be useful for the more famous people to give them a private dining experience for them and their entourage.
Concentrating on the seafood (why would an Albertan eat steak in San Francisco?) I noted the dishes are more traditional too, heavy on the heavy sauces. I went with a lemon sauce, which was one of those “what was I thinking?” moments, as I hate lemon on fish. Still good, just avoided the sauce. There was live piano emanating from the downstairs, so much nicer than the standard sports game roar in most pubs these days. If you were wondering, they DO play “I Left my Heart in San Francisco” IN San Francisco. This was a nice piano rendition, but alas no one broke into song they way you would expect Americans to at the playing of their national anthem, despite this being one of the official songs of San Francisco. I had mischievous thoughts of starting to sing the lyrics and trying to get everyone to join in, but I suck at remembering lyrics, so I’d have not not made it past the first couple of verses. But it was still a nice moment. Back to our room to bed, our first half day in San Francisco done.
For our second day and first morning in San Francisco, an early priority was to find a place for breakfast. To the googles again (What, you think I actually research all this stuff in advance?) we find a place called “Mo’z Cafe” that upon further inspection in person looked promising, plus it was just down the street from our hotel, so convenient! I was a bit touchy of digestion following the previous night’s heavy course, so I opted for Oatmeal and a fruit platter. My partner went with pancakes that day if I recall correctly. Plus coffee, neeeeed coffee. The food was really good, to the point that we didn’t bother trying another breakfast place the whole time we were there. On another morning, I had eggs Benedict Lox to die for, some of the best smoked salmon I’ve had, and I know a good smoked salmon. If this place was in Calgary, they’d be overrun with people – not enough good breakfast places in my city, but here the competition is much keener – I’m sure I’d have found a place nearly as good not far away; at least based on all our other dining experiences while in San Francisco. About my only quibble was the coffee – a darker roast of decent quality, but I’d prefer something with a little less char.
The adventure of the day was going to be to go see the Golden Gate bridge, via cable car on the way, further destinations to be determined. We had purchased the three day transit pass (on our cell phones), a deal as it also included the cable cars, which are $7 on their own, not part of a regular transfer. Off we went to the Powell Street turn around, following the googles advice that a Streetcar then an “76X” bus would get us there the fastest. The googles did not account for the lineup to get on the streetcar, with us catching the third streetcar that came down and did the turn. So for course, we miss the 76X bus. What we didn’t know is those come only infrequently, and I really should have consulted the googles again for an alternate bus, rather than just waiting for the next 76X bus. That gave us time to hit the drug store, and just gawk like tourists. My gawking face is out of practice, I think I just looked bored.
But we eventually got the next bus, showing our electronic pass stored on our phones to the bus driver. So nice compared to having to dig out cash or fiddle with tickets. Surprisingly for a tech city, I saw a fair number of people use cash on the bus, with the delays of counting out quarters and small bills that goes along with it. Trying to stay off the grid perhaps? But I was happy with my three day pass, the MUNI app worked well for both of us, despite the dire reviews talking about it crashing all the time and bus drivers not honoring the passes.
The bus was a quick ride to the Golden Gate Bridge Plaza, a good spot to get a classic picture of the bridge. Being a beautiful blue sky day, I had no problem getting my classic photo. But my bucket list item to be checked off today was to walk across this bridge, and stand at the center of it looking at the sights that may be seen. So, off we went, walking along the east side of the bridge; the west side being for cyclists. Let me say that one does not properly grok the scale of a mega project such as this without *being* there – you start walking along and think ‘this is a big bridge’. After ten minutes of walking to approach the first pier, it dawns on you, this is a *really* big bridge. Going to be walking for a while… By the way, they say allow two hours to cross both directions, a fair estimation allowing for some wandering on the other side and stops on the bridge to admire the views. Think about bathrooms before you start crossing, there are public bathrooms on both sides, thankfully!
There was one strange thing I saw before we reached the south pier – a section of bridge where people had thrown coins over the railing (dropping a hat in the process?), to land on the beam a foot below. Sure, you could climb over the railing and collect the coins with a bit of nimbleness, but you’d have to have no fear of heights and nerves of steel to do it for the few bucks you might collect. I can only assume this was some form of ‘make a wish’ or good luck action to deposit money here, and not elsewhere from checking other spots I could see. I’m going to file that one under ‘peculiar habits of people’.
I’m a bit of a fan of form and function architecture – to see something like the Golden Gate Bridge which is both beautiful and functional at the same time, well that’s why it was on my bucket list. The day was clear with a bit of haze – very nice for getting a view of San Francisco, Alcatraz, and the Bay. While there were a lot of people walking across, it was not quite as busy as I expected – those crowded shots I saw must have been an outlier because there was no reason for there not to be a lot of people there on a nice Sunday in San Francisco. Or perhaps we just got lucky. We spent some time at the south pier – seeing this monster up close with its giant size rivets really gives you a sense of how small you are in comparison to this bridge. Evidently, you can buy real rivets from the bridge online, available from a retrofit done to replace them for earthquake proofing.
I was surprised at how close Alcatraz was to the bridge. I can see now how the currents could just sweep an escapee swimmer out of the Golden Gate Channel and into the Pacific Ocean. Yet, you look at the distance to San Francisco city proper and think it should be possible, given the timing is during slack tide, preferably with some rudimentary boat. I’m not going to volunteer to try!
The one thing that detracts is the car noise. The speed limit is 70km hr, so the cars do go flying by, and they are right there just across a little fence. If you want some peace and (relative) quiet, you should stop at one of the towers – they are big enough to stand behind, blocking most of the traffic noise. Other than that, it was a great walk back. I actually sunburned a bit from the sun / water reflection; wasn’t expect that in a city known for grey days and fog!
Crossing back into San Francisco, we were both hungry. The crossing had taken a little longer than expected, and we were both at the point that sitting for a while for a bite sounded wonderful. We decided to skip the Bridge Cafe and try for something a little more upscale, so we decided to catch a bus down to Golden Gate Park, and hit the Beach Chalet Brewery, at the end of Golden Gate Park, just off of Ocean Beach. We research and find the 28 will take us there, the bus stop is just right over here somewhere… We cast about, and come around the corner to see our bus stop with the bus just pulling out. We manage to wave the driver down to let us in and congratulate ourselves on the great timing since we were already hungry and didn’t want to wait… wait a minute. Where is this bus going? A look at our moving dot on the map shows the bus leaving Presidio going east, when we expected it to turn south – we’re going back to downtown! I quickly formulated a plan – watch the map and get off at the first commercial area, and see what there was to see for lunch. Seeing an area coming up, we get off and proceed to walk a block north, into what turned out to be the Marina District. At first there were no restaurants, but as we proceeded further east, choices finally started to show.
We walked into a Japanese place advertising sushi, called Mamanoko. I have to say, for stumbling into the first sushi place we randomly came across in San Francisco, we did pretty good. A nice looking place, new and clean, simple decoration, but still evocative of Japan. I got the bento sea box. A nice selection of sushi to be had with an excellent ahi poke. At $19, it was worth it as my only sushi experience in SF.
After our excellent lunch, we decided to proceed back to the water, to check out the San Francisco Maritime Museum. Catch the #30 bus that goes right by our lunch stop, would take us right there. But where is the stop? Don’t see one on this block. Walk up to the next block. Construction signs, saying go up to the next block! Walk up there, see no stop. I can see a bus shelter on the other side, with stops for the #30 bus we want, so I know we are on the right street. Still not seeing any signs or anything. Finally my partner notices that the stop sign has a “bus stop” stencil on it. Duh! They are are just frugal and use the stop sign for double duty. To be fair, my previous bus experience went against me here – I am used to bus stops always being AFTER the intersection, so I wasn’t even looking that close at those stop signs, expecting them to be just stop signs! Oh well, we ended up walking half way to the museum before we figured that out!
Finally arriving at the San Francisco Maritime Museum, we find it to be nothing that special, however it was free, an excellent value! They did have some cool ship artifacts- plus, bathrooms. Lunch beers were catching up and a free bathroom is always appreciated! We wandered through the park towards the boats, here was an item that was on my list, so we paid to see the floating part of the museum. I was quite impressed with the SS Hercules, never seen the inside of a steam tug before. It’s a pretty good size boat in it’s own right, with that classic look you see in old Disney or Loony Tunes cartoons. Unfortunately, the Balcutha was off limits, heard one of the staff talking it was being prepped for renos. Too bad, I would’ve liked to see the inside of such a large old sailing vessel. That left the Eureka to be the star of the show – a passenger ferry that ended it’s life as half car half passenger ferry, plying the Bay area waters from 1890 to 1958 – pretty respectable life for a boat now the largest existing wooden ship in the world. Walking around this beast reminded me strongly of the MV Anscombe of similar configuration but half the age and size. Many a great vacation began and ended riding this ferry across Kootenay Lake. Sadly that boat sank shortly after it’s retirement due to improper maintenance of piping. The Eureka lives on though, an impressive vessel of it’s day still impressive now. I certainly don’t regret spending the $15 entry fee to see these and other boats – you can see they need every dollar for upkeep that sadly seems to be behind.
Next, we wandered down to Fisherman’s Wharf, passing the Hyde Street cable along the way. That is a good spot to get a view of the cars coming down the hill. For once, I was actually looking to buy some touristy trinket – fridge magnets. The expected touristy kitsch was evident, but a lot of shops were closing already owing to the Sunday. But there were still plenty of open tourist souvenir stores, one with a whole wall of magnets to pick from. I’m not a shopper, so I set my shopping goals low. Three magnets later, I was done my “must” shopping for this trip! I honestly don’t know what makes people congregate at these tourist shopping spots. Sure, a t-shirt and such is nice, but why all in one area – do you need to shop five stores than overlap on merchandise to boot? I’ve even seen the same souvenir “re-branded” with the local destination name: same shit, different name. I guess if shopping turns your crank, shopping in a different city must be something special?
The supper hour was upon us, so we proceeded over to the Ghirardelli, recommended by a former local as being less touristy. I can’t really confirm that as we ended up entering McCormick & Kuleto’s Seafood & Steaks having explored only a tiny corner of Ghirardelli. It was dinner time, we were hungry. We were served by a charming transgender person by the name of Rachel. Twenty years ago, I probably would have reacted with ‘WTF?!’ but this being San Francisco and transgender issues being so much in the forefront, I embraced the experience – this of all places in the USA was the place to experience a slice of this culture. Rachel was a wonderful server who really worked hard to make sure you were having a good time, excellent service even accounting for the generally good service we were getting in San Francisco.
Now in the blue hour after dark, we decided to ride the cable car back to our hotel. We waited at the Hyde and Beach street turnaround, listening to an older lady talking to some tourists. The lady also liked to ride the cable cars, and was comparing notes about unique things in different cities with the tourists. Nice to see some locals into cable car rides! Riding the cable car after dark is a bit of a different experience. Feels more like a sedate carnival ride with the city lights going by, going up and down the hills. I noticed that automobiles really run red lights here. So do cable cars – I assumed coming up to one light he was going to stop, but nope, he let go of the rope and let the car accelerate down hill and through the changing light. Mental note if I’m ever driving there, do NOT assume the cable car is going to stop! However, further down the road the cable car did have to stop for a car on the tracks. This fellow had turned right in front of us, then realized they were on the wrong street and wanted to back up, uphill! If you know anything about how cable cars work, you KNOW the last thing they can do is back up! After a few moments of cable car honking and indecisive maneuvering by the car, they finally get the bright idea that perhaps they should just park out of the way of the cable car and figure out there next move. Stupid drivers are universal. We proceeded up a hill then down one of the steeper streets, I kinda went ‘whoa, pretty steep’ in my head, but the kids in the car with us started screaming like it was a roller coaster. The cable car brakeman was grinning, he got a kick out of the kid’s reactions. But the night was not quite over. Being a Sunday, we were warned we’d have to transfer partway to a bus due to maintenance. Bummer, I wanted to ride the whole line. ‘Walk rest of the way?’ I queried my partner, but they had had enough walking for one day so we had the blah bus ride the rest of the way back to Market Street.
Monday dawned upon us cloudy, but not rainy – yet. We went to Mo’s for breakfast – bacon and eggs this morning for me, I was feeling good! Goood eggs… Today was going to be a second try at Golden Gate Park, no messing up buses this time! There are many things to see in the park, the one must was the Japanese Gardens for me. I knew this park was big, so was expecting a bit of walking. It’s actually a bit of a challenge to find stuff, we found some signs of which way to go confusing. But eventually we found the Japanese Gardens, and paid our entrance fee. I love zen gardens, so was really looking forward to see what zen I could soak up here. We lucked out and managed to join up with a free tour that was just starting. Great speaker who told a lot about the history of the park and the significance of different parts. Deteriorating history reared its ugly head again, in the form of the Pagodas one of which were deteriorating quite badly. The tour guide stated it was too expensive to restore, and would eventually come down. This is why you pay museum entrance fees happily, and donate to boot, so that these things may be kept for future generations, hopefully to appreciate.
One thing we noticed while in and around the Japanese Gardens was the number of cherry trees in blossom, with a lot of people around taking pictures of trees. It seemed to be an unusually prolific blossoming, as the news was even mentioning how spectacular the trees were this year. It’s too bad I didn’t have blue skies this day, I could have gotten some really good shots. There were a lot of people around taking pictures with tripods. Sigh. You don’t need a tripod to take a picture of a tree sitting there in perfectly bright light conditions. Unless you have a large format camera. I saw no large format cameras. I saw lots of SLRs on tripods. Even with film, tripods were not required on this day. Yet, people are convinced they will get a better picture using a tripod. Old habits die hard? I do give the people taking the phone picture credit, that might actually turn out good, if it has green foliage in the background rather than the sky. I was sitting there, and took a quick snap of the posers, so I was looking up into the sky a bit. The washed out grey sky is going to make a way bigger difference than any tripod being used that day – you need to adapt to the conditions you can’t control. I’m not displaying much sky in most of my pictures from this day owing to the blah washed out sky. Good technique will trump good gear just about every time in photography. Thus ends the photography lesson.
Lunch ended up being a pretzel truck, really good – especially with the cheese dip. They say Americans add cheese to everything, well in this case the cheese was a good call. We sat in front of the Music Concourse, among the Sycamore Trees that were not yet leafed out. Strange things, all gnarly and moss covered. We were entertained, both by watching two recent graduates (I assume) doing a little photography shoot among the columns. I was hoping they’d get a little closer together for a better shot, but I wasn’t going to go tell them to pose for me. There was also a dog walker with a pack of dogs. The dogs seem to get what is required of them – no chaos of leashes being tangled up every which way by roaming dogs. They were all calm, some standing, some choosing to lay on a bench while the walker took a break.
Plants were to be the theme of the day, as our next stop, just south of us, was the San Francisco Botanical Garden. While the Japanese Gardens were smaller than expected, the Botanical Gardens were larger than expected. While I couldn’t tell you when the best time of year would be to go, this certainly wasn’t that bad for flowers, and new green foliage.
My new Sony RX100 MK6 got it’s first real test at this site. A hummingbird had been flitting about and settled on a near by dead plant stalk. I stalk as close to the bird as I dare and snap off a bunch of shots, some even with him flying. I do say, this camera does have the speed of an SLR, and managed to get some pretty good shots considering the still too far away bird. I should have put the camera in burst mode, but hey, I’m still learning. I certainly would not have done much better with my SLR which eludes me on getting good action shots on the fly. Did I just make a pun?
The long tour in the Botanical Gardens meant we didn’t have time to visit the deYoung Museum, or the California Academy of Science, but at least we walked by and admired some of the outdoor exhibits at the deYoung Museum. I liked the “bilateral” Pirate. Symbolizes to how we overtime morph the truth into things that really didn’t happen. The one legged pirate with the parrot and eye patch, and hook for a hand isn’t really what most pirates were, but it is what we think of when you say “Pirate”. Could this be the next step, the “Super Pirate” with TWO of every stereotypical feature?
Next Stop: Chinatown! This was on my “must see” list in San Francisco, along with finding a nice hole in the wall Chinese diner for dinner. While the diner part turned out awesome, I honestly was a bit underwhelmed by Chinatown for some reason. We proceeded through the Dragon Gate, and walked down the first little bit of the street. You could see it was the touristy part, gift shops everywhere. I could see the lanterns strung across the street, but somehow I expected there to be more color. Perhaps it is better at night, but we never went back that way owing to our next adventure. I stepped into one of the slightly higher end stores, hoping for some nice stuff – I happen to like pewter figures and if something good came up, I was buying it. Nothing in the first store – still too much trinket low end stuff. Next door looked a little more promising, so in we went. Some nicer stuff, but nothing jumped out at me. The sales person asked what I was looking for, and I stated something a little nicer, which might have been a mistake. He said, “Oh, you need to visit my brother’s store across the street, here let me take you over”.
Off we went to “Michael’s” across the street. Little did I know at that point that ALL the stores on both sides of the road are “Michaels”, didn’t figure that out until I looked at the photos and the street view of the area! So we get passed off to another salesman. At this point, I’m becoming cautious, I can smell a sales pitch a mile away thanks to previous experience watching my Dad in sales. Not to mention, I looked at the price of a nice looking little antique style cabinet, $11K, are they kidding me?! He showed us around, and we both went “meh”, especially considering the prices! Well, he wasn’t going to settle for “meh”. No, we had to go downstairs to see the good stuff. I’m a little more concerned now, as “downstairs” was that much farther from the exit door, but I was also intrigued by what “the good stuff” might be, so off we went downstairs to see what there was to see. Holy mother of bling. I have never seen so much shiny glittery stuff stuffed into one sales room in my life. You think that shot of the store had a lot of bling, no, downstairs had the REAL bling! I’d have taken a picture, but sales dude had already politely hinted the camera should be put away, so you’ll just have to imagine it. It was impressive, gaudy, but impressive none the less! Now, there was some nice stone carvings among the mix, most of them BIG. Too big to put in a suitcase, so wasn’t going to be for me. There was a chandelier that was literally ceiling to floor. The whole thing gets dismantled, should I be interested in buying it… Not interested, especially considering the eye watering prices. But wait! Everything is being cleared out, going to auction, big tax bill! If we only can sell here, BIG discount, that piece, $22 thou, I can let you have it for…. 3 thou! How about this one, you can’t find quality like this, only $15 thou, you can have it for 2 thou. This went on and on in variations of form. I wasn’t minding at first, he did have some really great stuff, so I finally indicated I’m looking for something small. Well, he pulls out these Foo dogs, which were small, compared to what he had, but still a little big for my suitcase. Plus, he was trying to hawk three of ’em, “for good luck”. Yeah, lucky for him if made the sale! The foo dogs were nice, but not quite my cup of tea, so I went back to studied disinterest in everything he had in the store, he’d give up eventually, or I’d get pissed off and leave. My friend was not so good at the studied disinterest part and kept getting sucked into one or another thing, like a really ornate divider, very nice – but not coming back on the plane with us! Finally the sales person relents, not too far from me being pissed and just leaving. We scurry up the street, putting a little distance between us and the store.
Now we are hungry – that shop gobbled up most of our exploration time in Chinatown, time to explore something to eat. We don’t see a lot on the street we are on, so off to the googles. A highly rated place, “New Woey Loy Goey” is a couple of blocks down from us, so off we go, should be easy to find, right? We walk down the the two blocks, turn right as instructed, expecting to find the place right on the corner or just down the way. Nothing jumps out. No sign, no sign even of a restaurant. WTF? The googles fails! OMG! We could randomly wander about until we find something, but let us try the googles once more, surely it will not fail us again. This time, it pulls up “New Lun Ting” (aka Pork Chop House) supposedly just back the way we have wandered in our shock that the googles failed us. We wander in the direction the map takes us, and find our self just across the street from the presumably recently closed New Woey Loy Goey. OK, at least we didn’t walk for blocks looking for another place. In we go. The place is small, with decor that looks to have been updated last on the 1970s. But it’s timeless – could have been updated in the 1950s for all I know. It looks acceptably clean, there are a few patrons, and the smell emanating from the kitchen is promising. We order a selection of chicken, beef, seafood and rice. I certainly don’t remember what was ordered, my friend did the ordering. But man, was it good! And cheap! That beef dish had some spicing I had not encountered before – lovely smoky and spicy taste. Best value we had the whole time in San Francisco, by a mile. We were a bit late getting there, so the place had cleared out by the time we were finishing up. The server and cook looked to be running the place as well, struck up a nice conversation with them trying to explain where “Calgary” was relative to the west coast of Canada. Then another customer showed up and it was back to work for them.
We wandered around a bit, but didn’t seem to be on any sort of night life street. I wasn’t keen to go back down the street to Michael’s to see if it was better at night, just a little sales shy after than marathon session! We ended up walking up the hill (steep!) and catching the cable car back to Market Street. I know, we’re boring and old.
Tuesday was our last day, and it dawned rainy. Oh well, it was bound to happen, and at least it wasn’t a downpour – just a drizzle we could live with. We even skipped the cheap umbrella idea, chance it that the light rain didn’t turn into much more. Watching the locals, I could see parallels with Calgary. The older people were being sensible with rain coats and/or umbrellas. The youngsters were out in t-shirts and shorts, not a care to the cool drizzle. Not much different that the youngsters in Calgary out with a light hoodie in very minus winter weather. My friend had noticed a pretty big Catholic church called “St.Ignatius” on the way out of Golden Gate Park and wanted to check it out.
So, off we went on the bus, dropping off at the church. One thing we had noticed on the buses, you can board from the back as well as the front – just scan your pass / electronic QR code. But, I had noticed every time I scanned the thing, the “bleep bloop” sounded more like a “fail” than a pass to scan. But no bus driver had ever flagged us to that point. Today, I discover than you need to open the app, then the pass, then the ticket, THEN the QR code. I had been scanning… something else that looked like a QR code. But with no one challenging us over several bus rides, could you do this indefinitely just boarding from the back?
I have to say, visiting that church was a good call. I took way more photos than I expected. Every alcove was a different saint, there were only a few ‘blank’ alcoves to be filled. Plus, it’s a pretty big church. To top it off, it was a good test of the low light performance of the Sony RX100 MK6, another confirmation that this camera is pretty close to an SLR in low light performance.
I was doing a camera vs phone face off, the phone was doing pretty darn good – until the church – the little bitty phone sensor just doesn’t pick up the colors or detail the way the bigger camera sensor does. My SLR would do better, but I doubt that much better than people other than photo geeks would notice. OK, I will admit, that for these low light conditions, a tripod would have been useful to allow some slow shutter higher ISO shots. But I never would have shot as much as I did lugging a tripod around. I have a few creative tricks. The circle dome was just a little big for the Sony’s wide end. Get thee down supplanted on the ground, and snap the shot straight up lying with my head on the ground. Good thing the church did a good job keeping the floors clean. Did I mention it rained the whole time we were at the church, like, hustle from the bus into the church to avoid getting wet? Then the rain is gone just when we leave, not to return for the rest of the day. I will take any divine weather intervention I can get!
The San Francisco Zoo was our next stop. Rather than try and figure out a “cross town” bus to head roughly southwest towards the zoo, we went back to Market Street and grabbed the L line LRT to the zoo. San Francisco’s transit tends to all converge on Market Street. While there are possibilities to cut across, it is just easier to go back in and then out again to the zoo. Not much different from Calgary, where most lines converge on downtown – easiest way to cross town is usually through downtown. The LRT is a different beast though – high floors, with platforms underground that are high. But you get out into the ‘burbs and the thing has stairs that decend down inside the car, allowing you to step out onto a low curb. For wheelchairs, you get on at the end at limited suburban stops, where a higher platform allows you to roll on with the stair retracted. Not the most elegant solution, but it does allow the LRT to function on both high and low floor stops. As far a zoos go, San Francisco isn’t quite top tier – probably similar to Calgary’s (at least pre-flood). So, nice zoo, but not blow your socks off level of zoo. I had seen most of the animals before, other than the Bongo. The gorilla area is nice, watched him sitting down in a feeding tub. The lemur exhibit is a similar idea to Calgary’s, having a viewing area from above. They have more lemurs and a bigger area though. Their African Savanna area, also is a similar idea to Calgary’s. I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed. The zoo met my expectations but if you have limited time, skip the zoo, better things to be had in San Francisco. One thing I loved though was the lack of people. There was NO ONE around for what had turned into an OK day, alternating from cloudy, slight spitting rain to sunny and warm. If this was Calgary, there would have been a decent crowd, but here, I could have thrown a football and had no one to pass it to there were so few people around on a Tuesday.
Our plan was to skip lunch and have an early dinner, since we were going to Alcatraz that night. We took the N line back to Market Street, then transfered to the F line, a historic streetcar that still serves a useful transit route. The cable cars are fun, but really too slow, and the crowds often mean you’re waiting one or two cars. Sad to say, my age is showing as the inside of this car reminded me of the old trolley buses we used to have in Calgary when I was a kid. This car was in excellent shape, wondering if they did a recent refurbishment on them. A pleasant ride down to the edge of the touristy Fisherman’s Wharf, coming at it from the other direction this time to see if we missed anything. Not really, it turns out – our initial run at closing time on a Sunday had really taken us pretty much to the end of the touristy area. We settled on “Fog Harbor Fish House” for dinner. I was a little nervous about sub-par quality or sky high price, being right in the thick of the touristy zone, but I need not have worried. The fish was excellent, and the service was good. Perhaps just a little spendy for what you got, but considering the location, they have to pay the rent somehow! Being on the second level made for nice water views, even from our third row from the window seating.
Appetite satisfied, we moseyed back to the Alcatraz departure pier. Pre-buying tickets is a good idea, the night tour usually sells out well in advance. Bonus if you buy online, you just bring your ticket and you’re good to go. They do a pre-boarding photo. I was thinking for security, but no, they actually try to sell these things upon your return. In this day of selfie-everywhere, I wonder how good business is? If you are going to try that, do something creative like having a mock-up Alcatraz cell that you can enter, for a price, and photo. That might be worth paying for!
The boat ride was nice – a mostly overcast evening with bits of rain floating about the bay. The sun was poking out a bit here and there, so I got a few nice pictures. Alcatraz loomed up under a dark cloud – appropriate for what the island represents. You disembark and get a little pep talk about what the evening is going to be like, and are instructed to walk the switchback road up the hill to the cell block. There is even a shuttle for those really not able to walk so good. Once inside you get an audio guide, even has a little screen on it to show you a picture of where you need to go next in case you don’t understand the vocal description. I was skeptical that the audio tour would be any good, but I was pleasantly surprised – it is geared more to adults, even with some spooky sound effects to help set the mood. You learn about what life was like in the prison, the history, the famous characters that were there. What surprised me most was that by today’s standards in the USA, Alcatraz would be considered luxurious. This being nicer than a modern prison mainly in that each prisoner had a whole cell to themselves. Nowadays, a double bunk replaces the single bed you have here, and at times you have three people crammed into a tiny little cell. But why would private enterprise prisons want anything different? More money for them, more likely repeat customers, plus the public tends to rant on the side of “lock them up and throw away the key”. I’m not a believer in the supernatural, so I’m not freaked out by being in a dark prison after dark, but it does help to make a spooky atmosphere. Photography is also more interesting with the sun down and the sky going all blue, the windows contrast the yellow light inside for a nice effect. The Sony RX100 MK6 surprised again by pulling out some usable photos of the exterior lit up with next to nothing in light. One thing I didn’t like about the camera, it eats it’s battery much faster – I would only count on 200 shots, assuming you keep the reviewing to a minimum. Next time, I will bring a battery pack to charge the camera if I’m on a full day trip. With USB-C charging it is easy to recharge. But in the meanwhile, I was switching to cell phone and conserving the camera, annoying.
So we finished off our last night in San Francicso with a beer – surprisingly hard to find a place open near Fisherman’s Wharf after 10pm, but we did find something at the Argonaut Hotel. Then, finally, got to ride the cable car the whole way back in the dark. Fun!
Final impressions as a first time tourist to San Francisco and the USA? It was progressive and regressive at the same time. Credit cards still requiring a signature every time, despite using PIN, sometimes. Swipe?! Really? So insecure! More cash usage than Canada for sure. But a properly working bus card, unlike Calgary, plus there transit system is pretty easy to understand, once you know about Stop sign bus stops… I was somehow expecting high tech wonders, with the city being near so many tech company giants, but no. Alternative transport was showing with lots of share bikes and e-scooters to be seen, the climate helps that cause. The character of the city was great. No bad service, only one sales hustle. Homelessness is prevalent, but even the bums seems to have a style to them, there certainly were a lot more variety of characters to watch walking by when you’re sitting at a window looking at the street. I certainly could visit again, there were many things on my list I did not cross off – plus I miss the seafood, never a bad fish meal in San Francisco!
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If you want to see all my San Francisco pictures together on one place plus a whole lot more, this is the spot.
My normal Flickr home page is this spot.
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