Monday, August 4, 2008

Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair

I'm sure most of you have had this cross your mind by this point, but there's a huge international city just an hour's drive north of me that I haven't written about. And it's probably high time I changed that, so without further ado...

Jill and I came back from the array last week very late on a Friday night- so late that the train back to Mountain View was really not feasible, so I ended up spending the night at her house in Berkeley. This worked out rather well, honestly, because I had to go through San Francisco anyway to get back to Mountain View. Even better, the Fisherman's Wharf Hostel had a bunk and breakfast for under $30 for Saturday night- quite a steal in a metropolis like this- so I nabbed it. And with that, I had a whole weekend in San Francisco.
First stop, cable car! I just happened to come out of the subway to find a cable car waiting with no tourists swarming around it, which I found fascinating in itself because the lines for the Fisherman's Warf- Union Square cable car often wrap around the block due to sheer tourist numbers. But as it turns out, cable cars in San Francisco are a lot less crowded on the other routes, and as an additional benefit this one ran all the way to Van Ness, the first street I needed to get to the hostel. Really not a difficult decision...

Also unlike the heavily touristed line, here there was plenty of room to either sit down or stand, but I was warned in advance that standing was more fun. And I agree with that...
Once I made it to the hostel, it was immediately obvious that it was the right decision to make. The Fisherman's Wharf Hostel is actually one of the more famous ones in the world with good reason- it's located in the park that stretches all the way from Fisherman's Wharf to the Golden Gate Bridge, specifically in an old barracks building of Fort Mason. And I mean, damn. The next time you stay in one of the biggest cities in the world in a gorgeous park with a view like this right outside the window and the rest of the city within walking distance, all for just a few dollars, let me know.
Now perhaps you noticed in the Golden Gate Bridge picture that there were a lot of sailboats. And there's actually good reason for that- I just happened to catch the Sailing Festival happening in the bay that weekend. The best part of it, though, were these two old vessels (shown while crossing in front of Alcatraz- whose touristic intrigue I never quite understood but whatever). When I first spotted them I thought they were just having a nice romp around the bay, but pretty soon some loud booming noises made me pay more attention. If you looked really closely you could see that one boat was flying a US flag and another the Jolly Roger- and there were wisps of smoke originating from the deck, meaning they were firing at each other. Sweet!

They carried out their mock battle for quite awhile, but I don't know who won. For whatever reason, I don't think they wanted to sink one of the ships.
After unwinding by watching the sailboats in the harbor, it was time for a walk. (Which is, it should be mentioned, what I did most of the weekend. Hills be dammed, I walked through most of the city of San Francisco.) After a quick jaunt to and away from Fisherman's Wharf to say I'd been I sort of walked with vague direction that happens when you know the geography of a city but are too lazy to have a map, admiring the views. This isn't the most advisable of methods, of course, because then you'll do something like walk up Lombard Street just because you'll think it's fun to walk down it.
The iconic view of Lombard Street, complete with the perpetual cloud of tourists taking pictures. Mind, I walked up the other, steeper side of the hill where the cars were backed up a fair bit just so they could come down this windy stretch- and it should be noted that here the cars park in the street perpendicularly to the curb rather than parallel, and EVERYONE'S wheels point into the curb. Anything less would be just plain silly.
A house on Lombard Street which I liked just because, well, look at how the guy's car is parked in the driveway. I'm pretty sure most places having your car parked on a tilt like that would result in some concern, but here the guy's just happy that he gets to get a great view in one of the prettiest cities in the world.

I've decided, by the way, that if I had a choice I would live on top of Lombard Street- the view can't be beat, and you would definitely always be in good shape. I might have to wait a little on that though, as even a tiny slip of a house here goes for millions of dollars.
What I happen to think is one of the best street names in the world. It was in Little Italy. I went there for dinner and happened to choose a place where they put a little free dish of little European vanilla-flavored tea cookies for desert. I consumed said little cookies in copious quantities as a child, so they did not go unappreciated.

After that it was getting dark, meaning time to head back to the hostel because wandering around in the dark in a strange city isn't the smartest of moves. I was fine with it though as spending the entire day walking does get you tired, and everyone knows it's fun to talk to fellow travelers in a hostel. (In case anyone is curious, it should be noted that the Germans were the dominant crowd I came across at least. I'm thinking they're fans of the current exchange rate.)

The next morning, after discovering with delight that the free breakfast included waffles, I poked my head outside. Definitely typical San Francisco weather, but not as nice as yesterday-
Guess the sailboats didn't mind, as they were still out, but fog doesn't exactly leave you brimming with an urge to sit and watch. And because the bus stop was nearby and I'd already walked most of the way the day prior, I caught the bus towards Union Square instead.
The bus, of course, went through Chinatown (which I hit up the evening prior but was a lot more vibrant in the morning), which bustles with markets on Sunday morning and has nary an English word in sight. I even noticed at one point that I was the only non-Chinese person sitting on the bus, which absolutely delighted me because it was like unexpectedly stumbling into another country.
Union Square, which had a free art exhibit going on that I thoroughly checked out. I'm pretty sure you're supposed to wander around Union Square to check out the shopping, but that activity was never my forte so after awhile I just wandered into a Thai restaurant for lunch and, later, a bookstore. After that, I wandered out to the CalTrain station to get back to Mountain View.

So all in all, I was rather happy with how this weekend turned out- it's difficult to not like San Francisco, of course, and dipping a toe in the international hosteling world again was fun. Plus it's always nice to find yourself in an unexpected mini-vacation over the weekend, even if you have to go to work the next day.