Tuesday, November 4, 2014
I had been to San Francisco once before, when I was much, much younger, and remembered it as a really cool city. I was married back then and spent the weekend with my then wife. I remember touring Alcatraz, taking a helicopter ride around the city, wandering Fishermen’s Wharf, visiting the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, and hanging onto a trolley car.
In the 35 or so years since then, both I and San Francisco have changed. We’ve both aged, in some ways gracefully, in some ways not so much.
Holly and I did a whirlwind, one day tour. We had intended to do the 49 mile scenic drive but friends that live in Napa Valley suggested we take a tour bus instead. I’m glad we did. I should have realized the downtown traffic would suck, but all the construction made it even worse. And there was a lot of construction. It seemed like every other street was being dug up.
We scoped out some of the tour companies and settled on the Big Bus because its basic 1-day tour would take us across the Golden Gate Bridge, one of Holly’s must do items. The tour wasn’t cheap, $40 a person, and the bus only ran from 9am to 5pm. They had lots of add on tours that really cranked up the price. If we had had more than one day, we may have been tempted.
We caught the tour bus across the street from city hall which was decked out with pennants and flags congratulating the Giants on their World Series win.
We had a real live tour guide on our first bus, which wasn’t the case on most of the buses. The tour guide told us that the capitol dome was embossed with real gold leaf but the gold on the lower balconies was fake. No one got off to take a closer look and to peel off a souvenir.
I guess city hall was built back when California had money.
The tour bus was a double-decker with an open top. We snagged a seat up top, at the back. The bus bounced and jounced and the wind whipped our hair into frenzied knots. Taking decent pictures was a tough prospect, but I managed to get a few.
We made it across the Golden Gate Bridge and paused for a few minutes at a pullover on the other side before re-crossing back into the city. Everyone knows the Golden Gate isn’t gold, but it sure is nice to look at.
Back on the city side, I got a decent good shot of the entire bridge. You can see what I was talking about with the road construction. The approach lanes to the bridge were torn up for several miles.
Coit Tower was built using funds bequeathed by Lillian Hitchcock Coit to help beautify the city. She was a quirky rich lady who smoked cigars, wore trousers, and dressed like a man so she could sneak into the gambling dens. And this was in the 1800s. If she had been alive in the ‘60s, she might have been a hippie, albeit one with money. Holly’s kind of woman – contrary, cantankerous, and fun to be around.
The bus drove past the TransAmerica Pyramid which looked much bigger 35 years ago when it was the biggest, baddest boy on the block. It was the eighth tallest building in the world when it was built. When the tour bus passed it, the footprint was much smaller than I expected. Still, it’s an impressive sight.
Of course no visit to San Francisco would be complete without passing through Chinatown. When we had had enough bus touring, we got off and spent half an hour searching for the Chinatown Gate. It’s quite beautiful.
It didn’t take much imagination to know that we were in Chinatown. Strings of Chinese lanterns were draped across the road. Its streets were lined with stores selling mostly cheap imports, restaurants, and markets selling strange-looking foods. This was a place where English was a second language. Made it more authentic.
While on the tour bus, our guide told us a story about Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church. Baseball great Joe DiMaggio married Marilyn Monroe on January 14, 1954 at City Hall. However, they posed for wedding photos outside this church. Why not just get married in the church? Because DiMaggio’s previous marriage had not been annulled.
One of the things I don’t remember from my last trip was Pier 39. I did a little digging and discovered that it didn’t open until late in 1978. That’s about the time I went so it may not have been open yet. The pier is filled with small shops, restaurants, and an impressive two-story carousel. One of the animals on the carousel is a panda – my granddaughter Chloe’s favorite animal.
We stopped at a spice shop called The Spice and Tea Exchange that had very interesting spice blends, some packaged with accompanying recipes. The owners were very talkative and helpful. We bought several slow cooker spice and recipe packs. Holly had also been looking for a particular salt and peppa’ blend to recreate a treat we enjoyed on a trip to Belize. You slice an orange into wedges, take a wedge, sprinkle this spice on, and eat it. You get quite the sensation of sweet, juicy, and salty, with a hot pepper bite. Very refreshing. We found something we thought would work and bought it – jalapeno salt. It wasn’t quite spicy enough. Should have gone with the ghost pepper and salt blend.**
Our tour bus guide told us another story, this one about the sea lions pictured below. They appeared here not long after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. If you’re old enough you might remember that the earthquake began minutes before the start of World Series game 3 being played at Candlestick Park. Sadly, I’m plenty old enough and I remember because I was watching the game.
Anyway, the sea lions took over these piers used by fishing boats. The boat captains complained and the city attempted to chase away the sea lions using… wait for it – fire hoses. Yes, the city thought that spraying water-loving sea lions with, um, water would make them go away. Notice they’re still here.
Sea Lions 1, San Francisco 0.
However, even a city can turn lemons into lemonade. They moved the fishing boats to another area, let the sea lions stay, put up “interpretive signs” and turned it into an extremely popular tourist attraction.
I had visited Alcatraz on my last trip to San Francisco. Holly wasn’t interested so all I got was this picture. That’s okay because I suspect Alcatraz is one of the few things in San Francisco that hasn’t changed much in 35 years. It’s still an impressive hulk floating in the bay. It reminded me of a short-lived 2012 series where the guards and inmates disappeared when the prison closed in 1963 and reappeared in the present day.
And of course, no visit to San Francisco would be complete without stopping at Fisherman’s Wharf. To prove we were there, I took a picture of this sign.
While in the Bay Area we spent some time with friends we met through our RV manufacturer’s forum. Mike and Joni were the most gracious and generous of hosts. They treated us like royalty, something we are not used to. I can’t thank them enough for their hospitality. If Mike and Joni are looking to adopt, I’m available.
They live in the Napa Valley and Mike took Holly and I on a tour of the de facto Wine Capital of the United States. He drove us up and down the valley, letting us tour the Castello di Amorosa, and to enjoy some wine tasting.
The castle is a gorgeous reproduction of a medieval castle complete with dungeon. I read the owner’s blog detailing his decades long search, design and building of this castle. It was a true labor or love. No wonder the wine’s so expensive!
I have family (on Holly’s side) that are into the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) which is a group that relives the Middle Ages without the plague and other nasty stuff. I wonder if the castle’s owner would let them hold a feast in their dining hall?
The courtyard is almost as magnificent as the dining hall. The only thing missing are lords, ladies and other nobles.
After marveling at the castle for a while, we wandered down to the dungeon, which is the tasting room. I don’t think medieval dungeons were this clean or staffed by such friendly people.
Mike and I tried five different wines. Each wine had a distinct flavor with specific overtones, undertones, and whatnot. As you can tell, I’m not a wine connoisseur. I could tell the wines were different but not why. Still I did end up buying a bottle of a moderately sweet, slightly carbonated wine.
I hope some day, when Holly and I have a fixed address again, to return the favor to Mike and Joni.
** Note from Holly – The Spice and Tea Exchange – this is a franchise type store. The recipes John mentioned are the brainchild of this particular store. They come up with recipes using their seasoning blends then package them with the recipe. If you are interested in purchasing the recipe packets, you have to go through this particular store. The Spice and Tea Exchange, #273 PIER 39, San Francisco, CA 94133 Phone:(415) 393-0401. You can browse spices online at The Spice and Tea Exchange but any purchases made online go to the main franchising company, not this store. We plan to call and order from the store itself so we can get more recipe packets. They’ll drop ship to us for a flat rate.
All the way down past Fisherman’s Wharf we found the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park with cool ships and displays to explore. We got in just a little before closing so we couldn’t explore much but what we saw looked good. There is a visitor center across the street from the pier but we didn’t even get to stick our heads in there before they closed up (we were playing on the ships). We planned to go back but didn’t make it. If you are heading for San Francisco and think it would interest you, the web site is San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.
While in San Francisco we ate at Las Margaritas in Fisherman’s Wharf. We don’t eat seafood and were having trouble finding a place with decent alternates (and a place to eat that didn’t reek of fish, I was having a little trouble with that). We wandered a good bit and stumbled upon Las Margaritas. We are very happy we did. They started us with a Tequila menu… yes, they have a whole page listing different Tequilas you can order. I’m sure we could have sampled a few and hurt ourselves but it was late and we still had to find our way back home so I went with the house Margarita and John had a specialty beer (probably to the utter disappointment of their bartender – all that training and nobody to appreciate it). Our food was excellent! John had a chicken mole dish and I had something that was very good, but I don’t remember what it was (hey, I had that margarita, remember? I’m a lightweight… and I’m typing this two weeks later).