OK, I’ve blogged the Amnesty International conference, now for the rest of my San Francisco visit.
I flew in (way too early) with Aaron and JoJo from our Seattle Amnesty International group. Hopped BART (with the AirBART connection) from the Oakland Airport (rates are always cheaper flying through Oakland). Aaron went off in search of wi-fi and the place he was staying. JoJo and I had reservations at the hostel downtown, but had to wait to check in, so stashed our luggage in a locker next door and headed off to eat at the Shalimar Restaurant, an Indian-Pakistani restaurant with delicious food and affordable prices (and mostly an Indian and Pakistani clientele). We liked the food, and kept coming back!
Then we got our passports. No, not the ones you fly with, but the ones that get you around on the San Francisco MUNI transit system, including buses, trolleys and cable cars. The latter being especially important, as (1) both JoJo and I love riding the cable cars and (2) they are too expensive without a passport – $5 one way, no transfers! Yikes! Gouge the tourists!
JoJo and I hopped a cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf. We ended up on the end of the Hyde Street line, near the Aquatic Park and Ghiradelli Square (alas, I can’t eat chocolate anymore, except I can get away with an occasional chocolate chip cookie, although I did stop at a Ghiradelli store at one point to get some for my co-workers back in Seattle). JoJo wanted to see what was further up the hill, which turned out to be Fort Mason, the former Army base. We wandered around the park and took some pictures of the statues, and talked about going further and hopping a bus back, but we didn’t have a transit map yet.
So, we decided to see what was down at the wharfs below, which turned out to be Fort Mason Center, a collection of non-profits using the space, many of them art related (although, I especially loved that the Ploughshares Fund was one of the organizations there, rather appropriately). Especially fun and enlightening to wander through was the SF MOMA Artists Gallery (lots of pictures of that).
After that, it was getting time to go check in to our hostel rooms, so after looking at the long cable car line, we asked if they had a MUNI system map at the booth and I bought one. One thing I neglected to thoroughly search for before I left was coffee houses in the areas we would be visiting, and after wandering around trying to find an alternative to Starbucks with no luck (which, now that I can’t drink the fancy drinks, having trouble with milk and milk substitutes, I’m stuck with their bitter regular coffee, so it’s not only an anti-corporate thing) decided to find a bus to hop back. We ran into Aaron while waiting, then JoJo and I hopped an already packed bus and discovered the adventure of a SF rush hour. People kept pounding on the bus and berating the driver, even though the bus was totally packed, with people even riding up front of the line most bus companies don’t allow.
After checking in at the hostel, we did find time to take our two cable car commute (transferring to the California Street line) to the conference hotel, the Holiday Inn on Van Ness, and check in for the conference, running into Aaron again, who walked went with us to the Justice Without Borders movie (see last entry for details of this and the rest of the conference).
JoJo and I walked back to the hostel that night through the Tenderloin, where we had been earlier that day (ironically, photographing the police station, among other things). It was really jumping (and I was really jumpy). It’s a bit beyond our Pioneer Square area in Seattle, even. There were about 3 fights ready to break out on every block. The parking lot across from the hostel, and outside my window was also jumping, sometimes menacing, others laughter, I’m not sure if people just like the echo or what, but to the wee hours of the morning.
After the conference the next evening (and lunch at a nearby Indian-Pakistani restaurant, dinner at a Morrocan one, both with fellow Amnestistas), JoJo and I were heading back to the hostel by cable car and ended up with another group of AI folks in search of a drink, in a trip that took us through Chinatown (very pretty at night) and North Beach (which I always love) to a brew pub (wine for me, beer, and for that matter, soda, due to the bubbles also on my can’t drink list).
Sunday, the conference was out at noon; and JoJo and I had until Tuesday evening at that point (staying a couple extra nights on the hostel on our own dime, well, a bit more than that, but affordable). Our first expedition was down Market Street, past Lotta’s Fountain to the Ferry Building. Behind the Ferry Building was a statue of Ghandi, and great views of the Bay Bridge.
It was the wrong time of day for photographing something on the eastside of the city, however (although we did), so we were going to go across town and catch the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset. Right!
We hopped a 1 across town, and waited awhile (after just missing one) for our transfer to the, 29, I seem to recall, to the Golden Gate. As we waited, we watched sunset on the weather vanes of the nice neighborhood we were in. Night was really closing in by the time we got there. JoJo got one usable photo of the bridge, I see online. You can’t really see it in mine, including the great one of me that JoJo took with my camera, smiling with a pitch black background. There’s a bridge behind me, honest!
Thinking of nothing better to do, we ended up getting off at the cable car line on the way back and going to Fisherman’s Wharf again, deciding to walk across the touristy kitsch to catch the other line on the way back. We found a lot to look at though, although the wharf going to the ships being closed at night (and in the early morning when we returned, another one we never got around to).
Wandering through JoJo spotted a museum sign, and the word free, and we entered another dimension, or at least time. We found the Musee Mecanique, an old time arcade, with Laughing Sal at the entrance, an entirely scary, maniacal, mechanical, laughing clown (and I’m someone who doesn’t usually find clowns scary). I’ve got photos and video of this one (the little girl’s response is priceless).
Of course, I did not get out of the arcade for free, but it was a lot of fun for a few quarters. There was that kind of creepy, carnival feel to many of the antique attractions. Old time music boxes and player pianos as well (have video of a couple of those as well, all shorts from my digital camera).
After that, we wandered on up to Pier 39. Still a few stores open, but most of them and the carousel closed down for the night. Outside we found followed the barking sound and watched, amazed at the large gathering of seals in the moonlight. Alas, too dark for a picture (at least without a much better camera), we decided to return in the morning. I couldn’t help thinking we should have had Aaron and his two beagles with us (and, indeed, a dog on the pier did join in the barking).
We started the next day at Fisherman’s Wharf again. All the seals were still there, as noisy as ever. Lounging on the piers (or boat launches?), occasionally sitting up and bellowing, fighting each other, sometimes even diving in the water. They’ve found paradise (I’ve heard the fishermen are not so enthused)!
Inside the courtyard for Pier 39, they started the carousel for the day as well (a double decker), and we wandered through the shops, including an Irish one that sold hats made in China (where all the hats at the hat store were made as well, saving me from spending money on yet another one).
Then we hopped the trolley (those are the ones with the overhead cables, the cable cars run on a system underground) to find the Filbert Steps to Coit Tower. Fortunately, JoJo stopped a lot to take photos, given how steep it was and how much more out of shape I am, so we took it at a leisurely pace. A lot of pretty flowers and trees on the way up. I saw a few of the famed Parrots of Telegraph Hill while waiting for JoJo after the steps.
I took a lot of photos of the WPA murals inside the tower (having a low light setting on my camera), and we decided to pay the $4.50 to go to the top (the only admission paid during our visit, we did a lot for free). Took a lot of photos there as well. Then on the way out, we had the flock of parrots fly in. I don’t have a good enough camera to do them justice, but did get a few, at a distance, before they noisily flew off to somewhere else.
Then we walked down to North Beach, the Italian neighborhood, and the beautiful Saints Peter and Paul Church. While in North Beach, I suggested we go to our favorite pastry shop from our trip two years ago (again for an Amnesty conference) – Stella’s. Aaron joined us two years ago for breakfast, complaining of no wi-fi, and we tried pieces of different, delicious, pastries. Unfortunately, there was less I could eat this year, so I tried the cookies and was amazed at both how good they were and how affordable (and was able to buy coffee as well).
After that, we walked back downtown, and caught the BART (unfortunately, not covered by the bus pass) to the Mission District, and especially Balmy Alley, with all those beautiful and meaningful murals. We took a lot of photos there as well, in fact I ran out of room on my camera. JoJo loaned me a 256 media card, but I filled that up just before we got to Mission Dolores.
First, though, we ate at the Taqueria Vallarta near Balmy Alley. I had a delicious $1.50 taco, which JoJo started with as well, then sampling a tamale and burrito. I had one of the juice drinks (frescas?) as well. Good, and uncarbonated.
We decided to walk through the Mission District to Mission Dolores, but found a lot more murals along the way to stop and take pictures of, including the San Francisco Women’s Building, which I managed to take some photos of, thanks to my low light setting (and my further lightening with my photo editing software when I got home).
You guessed it, once again, it was too dark, this time for Mission Dolores, even though I deleted a few photos from the disc JoJo lent me to try to take one.
That night, after I bought a back up, 1 gig disc; we decided to go out to an Irish pub. Johnny Foley’s, near the hostel, was, unfortunately, packed, and I didn’t feel like standing (no music had started yet, although there was later when we walked by). So, we went back to the hostel and I checked online and found the address to The Irish Bank, not far from the Chinatown gate, it’s set on an alley with an outdoor courtyard we sat at (on a nice, warm, evening; although the night before it did pour rain on us).
On the way there, JoJo took pictures of me trying to help a group of English ladies (“from the countryside”, they explained to JoJo, in their accents that reminded me too much of an old Monty Python skit; then again, they’re probably still talking about how funny JoJo and I were) find their hotel and where to catch the cable car once they were settled.
JoJo did one better on the way back, helping a couple young ladies with a lilt find the Irish Bank, delighted that they asked, and showing them the way through photos on his camera! They must be still talking about us, too.
Final morning on Tuesday, so we put our extra bags back in a locker and headed back to see Mission Dolores in the light. JoJo wanted to go in as well (I felt cautious), and talked to the priest, who was from the Phillipines (having asked about JoJo’s ancestry first, and where we were from). He said we were welcome to look around and take pictures, and pointed the way of the courtyard and the old Mission.
So after a little more time in the Mission District, we headed back downtown, and decided to eat at the Shalimar one more time. It was only 11:30 and it turned out they didn’t open until noon, so we wandered around, including into an art gallery and another Irish shop, this one more authentic, with clothing made in Ireland. I bought a bookmark with my mother’s maiden name on it (finding I come from marauders on that side as well, I’m Scandinavian on the other side, so maybe Vikings). Then there’s me! Oh, well, I guess I don’t want to do any marauding anyways.
After lunch we have a mission before we go. To make it to the Golden Gate Bridge in the daylight and take some close up pictures (it is in some shots from Fisherman’s Wharf, fortunately. . .) . So we hop the bus on the transfer and as we take the turn toward the bridge, a thick fog descends. You can’t see the bridge at all. So, I previously having whined about wanting to make it to the beach, suggest we try for China Beach, which looked like it would be below the fog line (nearby Baker Beach being socked in), and was close to the more frequent #1 we needed to get us back downtown in time to catch BART to the airport.
We walk through this beautiful neighborhood, finally hearing the ocean and looking down over the fence. Then we head toward the road down, only to realize it’s gated, and discover the beach is closed, still, for cleaning the oil spill (we saw part of it near Fisherman’s Wharf the first day). We took photos through the fence of the beach and the people in white cleaning it up.
I wanted to stop for one more cup of coffee before we headed back, and to use the restroom. I found the restaurant I saw from the bus, Angelina’s Cafe and Deli. Alas, they don’t have restrooms (and I don’t think another cup of coffee a good idea until I use one), so I was ready to head back, until some one told us we could use the one in the laundermat next door, which we both did (perfect for our perfect wash out of a last trip). I ordered coffee and a cookie. JoJo went across the street and got us some healthy bananas at the market, and then tells me it’s already 4! So I have to gulp it down and run for the bus. A bus again packed, even though near the start of it’s route (2 passed us by going and we still ended up on a packed one, all were following one after another).
So, transfer to the cable car for one more ride downtown, picked up our luggage, went down to BART (JoJo took yet another great shot of a musician who looked a little like Carlos Santana playing under an iPod advertisement at the BART station. Back in Seattle, JoJo’s still taking photos of me and everyone else, tired and waiting for the bus!