Friday, July 29, 2011

San Francisco {Days 1 & 2}

A few weeks ago Andrew went up to San Francisco for the first week of his Six Sigma training.  He kept telling me “you would love this place!” and talked about how fun the city was and how I would have so much fun taking pictures of the buildings and streets.  As it turns out, the next week of training took place over my birthday, so I asked for a plane ticket for my present! We decided to come up a day early so we could go exploring before Andrew started training on Monday.  Saturday morning we got to the airport at the crack of dawn and boarded a plane to The City by the Bay.  We caught a cab from the airport to our home for the week, The King George Hotel in Union Square. 

The King George Hotel was built in 1914, just in time for the great World’s Fair (The Panama- Pacific Exposition, 1915), which was an effort to rebuild and the city after the devastating earthquake of 1906.  The hotel remains a beautiful building, even after almost 100 years!  Though I can’t claim to be an extensive traveler, I have stayed in my share of hotels over the years… and I have found The King George to be a completely different experience.  I just love how unique the place is.  The rooms are smaller than contemporary establishments, but so much cozier.  The décor is warm and inviting, and the lounge and tea room have plush couches and chairs and the walls are adorned with portraits of the British monarchy and other pieces of art that take you back in time. 
Another interesting aspect of our hotel is that it is in the heart of downtown San Francisco.  While the brightly painted and elaborate architecture of the old buildings give the city color, the throngs of people from a variety of nations give the city life. In any given moment out on the streets, you will hear languages from all over Europe, China, Japan and accents from Australia, England, and the southern States.   An old woman will ask you for a quarter so she can buy a burger, while the coiffured fashionistas make their way to Saks Fifth Avenue.  People-watching is far from dull.   And the best way to experience all these different sorts of folk at once?  Ride one of the historic streetcars.  You will not be disappointed.  
After we got to the hotel on Saturday morning, Andrew and I wanted to do some exploring.  We looked over a map of the city and decided that a visit to the Fisherman’s Wharf would be fun.  We walked down to Market Street, where you can find many options for public transportation.  One of the brightly colored streetcars caught my attention.  Andrew mentioned that he had ridden one the last time he was in the city, and that it only costs $1.50.  I’m all about getting places cheaply, so we jumped on board.  In hindsight, I’m very thankful that we were at the end of the line to board the car, because the poor family in front of us caught the attention of this old man sitting in the back.  Sure, the streetcar was full of people, and it was loud as it screeched along the tracks, but this man talked at a decibel that far exceeded what was necessary.  He was the kind of guy who talked and talked and talked and talked and… well, you get the idea.  He cornered said family in front of us and hollered about tractors and Minnesota and baseball games and who knows what else for the entirety of the ride.  I glanced at Cornered Dad at one point, and just grinned because he had his iPhone recording this man and was laughing to himself the whole time.  The old man never noticed. 
A few rows back from Loud Guy was my favorite character on the streetcar: Sweaty Fat Guy with Harmonica.  He was sitting next to the window and had these big black headphones over his ears.  His eyes were half closed and his cheeks were bright red with heat from the crowded car, and every so often he would wipe his shaggy hair off his forehead.  Every couple of minutes he would come out of his half-closed eyes head-bobbing reverie and would raise the harmonica to his lips and proceed to blow on that thing like the notes of music were the last he would ever play.  Then he would stop abruptly, shout out a “woohoo” or “yeah,” take a look around the car, and wipe the sweat from his brow. 
A few stops down from where Andrew and I boarded the streetcar, a family of four came on, along with about 20 other people.  The mom found the last empty seat next to me and sat down with her son on her lap, and her wide-eyed daughter standing in front of her.  The dad stood by them holding the overhead railing.  As Sweaty Fat Guy with Harmonica went through another cycle of blasting his harmonica, the mom looked over in surprise.  She turned her head to me, and saw me smirking in amusement, and simply said “entertainment?” and smiled.  As Sweaty Fat Guy with Harmonica ended his concerto, the mom looked at him again, and happened to catch his eye.  He pulled one headphone from his ear and shouted, “Where are you all from?”
The mom answered, “South Carolina.”
Sweaty Fat Guy with Harmonica hollered, “Where?”
She answered again, “South Carolina.”
A third time he yelled, “WHERE?”
“South Carolina.”
“Rhoad Island???”
All the nearby passengers were now laughing at this exchange as South Carolina Mom told him for the last time.
“Ah yeah man, South Carolina, I love that place!” he shouted.  “My pastor is from there, he’s like my best friend.  God I miss that guy.” 
Without waiting for a response he stuck the harmonica to his lips and played once again.  South Carolina Dad looked at his wife and said in a Carolina drawl “we certainly ain’t big city folk.”
By this time the streetcar was so crowded I doubted another soul would fit.  From the back of the car I hear Andrew calling me (we had gotten separated by the crowd) and we decided to exit a stop early. 
We got off near Pier 27 and walked down towards Pier 39.  Since we didn’t have any plans set, we meandered the area and I took some pictures here and there.

Pier 39 often has a bunch of sea lions basking in the sun.  This guy looked like he was posing for the camera!

So excited to be in San Francisco!

Andrew has his game face on.

We stopped at an Italian restaurant and had some pizza and bruschetta.  It was soooo good!  Our table was right near an open window that looked out onto the street and allowed a nice breeze in.  

It was a lovely lunch and it was nice to sit and relax. 

Next we walked to Ghirardelli Square, a must-see if you visit San Francisco and have any inclination to like chocolate.  Andrew and I shared an espresso hot fudge sundae and officially filled our sweet quota for the week.  I don’t know how someone could eat a whole one alone; they are so rich!  

Inside the shop they have employees making all the fudge sauce and waffle cones by hand, and several machines, including these two, which take the chocolate from coco bean to rich delicious dessert.

Right across the street there were two art galleries that I wanted to visit.  The first was a gallery by an artist named Margaret Keane, who is famous for her “big eye” paintings.  I found her work to be very intriguing.  Here are some examples:

There is an interesting story surrounding Keane and her work.  In the 1960's Margaret's work was sold under the name of her husband, Walter Keane (no one really knows why)... but eventually Walter started taking credit for all of her paintings, saying the he was the artist.  The couple divorced, and still Walter claimed to have painted all the works.  The case went all the way to Federal Court, where it was stated that each person would have to paint something so the rights could be proven.  Walter showed up to court with his arm in a sling saying he'd hurt it the day before.  Margaret then sat and painted one of her "waifs" for the court to see, and the jury pronounced the work and all rights to be hers.  Margaret now lives in the Southbay area, and even though she is 84 years old, she is still painting!

The second gallery we visited was called Vitkovsky Fine Art, which featured the works of Russion artist Vladimir Vitkovsky.  His work is soooo cool!  He has a bunch of paintings with clocks and clock towers, but I couldn't find any online, but here is an example of his style:

After we finished browsing that gallery we hailed a cab and went back to the hotel where we spent the rest of the day napping, saw a movie, and visiting the diner next door at one o’clock in the morning.

Since we were up so late the night before, Sunday morning warranted a good long sleep, so we didn’t head to breakfast until about eleven.  There is a restaurant right next to King George called Café Mason.  Anytime I’m traveling, I like to try eggs benedict at different places (something I started doing on our family trip to Hawaii when I was 12)… and Mason’s were pretty good.  Not as good as the Spices restaurant next to our Maui hotel when Andrew and I were on our honeymoon… I literally had those every day they were so delicious.  But I liked Mason’s anyway.  After breakfast we headed out to the pier again and booked tickets on a “Bridge to Bridge” boat ride.  We had some time before the boat left, so we went back to Pier 39  to the famous Boudin Sourdough shop and bought some Asiago Cheese Sourdough bread and wandered the docks for a while before heading back to where our boat left port.

There are lots of street entertainers around the Wharf

An old WWI submarine they had near one of the historic piers

The “Bridge to Bridge” included the Golden Gate and Bay bridges as well as a loop around Alcatraz.  It was so cool to be able to see the famous landmarks in person! Naturally, I took a score of pictures:

Isn't he so handsome? =)

The Bay Bridge and the San Francisco skyline. 

On the boat, our guide mentioned a church called St. Peter & St. Paul (one saint wasn’t enough I guess) and a bookstore called City Lights that was started by a beat generation poet named Lawrence Ferlinghetti.  We found a route back to the hotel that went by both sites, so we decided to check them out.

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I thought this bookshelf built into the wall was so cool!

City Lights was a weird little place… I’m sorry did I say weird?  I meant “cultured” or “a literary landmark for independent readers.”  The books on the shelves were the sort you’d see in the hands of a pot smoking free thinkers who hate government and think showering is beneath them.  But in any regard, it was an interesting store.

Once we moved past the bookstore we encountered some really cool architecture, then we entered Chinatown, which encompasses several blocks of San Francisco’s downtown area.  I felt right at home among the tiny shops and restaurants with the ducks hanging in the window and scent of incense that lingered in the air.  

Ah, home.  I miss Singapore.  I think smelling all the food really got me craving Asian food, so for dinner we went to this little Indian place called Naan N’ Curry where we had… naan and curry :D  It was wonderful!  The chicken curry reminded me of Wednesdays at SAS when they’d have the rolls and curry for $1.50 Sing during the midmorning break. Yum.  I loved it!

By the time we got back to our hotel that evening we were both pretty tired so we spent the rest of the evening watching The Hulk on my computer.  It was a great day!


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