Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Morocco/Spain diary: Day 1

Thursday, 9 October, 2014

Saturday, 13 September, 2014. 04:20 Dubai time

We are about half an hour from landing in Dubai, after a 14 hour flight from Sydney, which departed just after 21:00 Sydney time last night. It’s been dark for the entire flight, and the sun will probably rise a bit after we land.

Check in, customs, and security clearance at Sydney was quick and easy, with the airport not very busy when we arrived. We wandered the shops a bit, then had dinner at the Chinese dumpling restaurant in the departure lounge area. We had steamed vegetable buns, vegetable spring rolls, prawn dumplings, and salt and pepper squid.

We boarded the plane well before departure, and found ourselves on the lower deck right near the front of the plane, only four rows back from the cockpit. All the first and business class is presumably upstairs, where from the bottom of the staircase near us we can see the liquor bar up there. The seats are wide and comfortable, with plenty of space for legroom, which is nice. And the entertainment system is amazing, with a thousand or so movies, TV shows, and music albums to choose from. And the touch screens actually work, unlike all the others I’ve seen on planes before.

We were served a dinner, for which M. got a vegan meal which had some sort of grainy potato cakes with vegetables. I chose the fish dinner which was chunks of battered and fried fish in a sweet and sour sauce with rice. With it I had some white wine, which was a Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc blend from Bordeaux. The food was quite good, and the bread roll was the best I’ve ever had on a flight.

After that it was the long haul of the mid-flight. We tried to sleep as much as we could, though first we watched a movie each. I chose The Muppets, which I hadn’t seen before and which was pretty good for any Muppets fan. In the middle of the night when most people were asleep with their screens turned off, M. went for a toilet break. She held on to seats along the way for balance and accidentally touched everyone’s screens as she went turning them on and leaving a trail of brightly lit screens behind her. Thankfully they didn’t seem to wake anyone up and I turned them off again.

I think we missed the mid-flight snack. Breakfast was served about three hours before landing. I had a frittata which came with mushrooms and baked beans.

06:34 Dubai Airport

We are waiting for our connecting flight to Casablanca, which leaves in another hour. Our flight landed here just before 05:00, when the outside temperature was a very warm 29°C. We went through the transfer security check and ended up in terminal A, which is where our next flight leaves from, so we didn’t have to travel to one of the other terminals by the shuttle train. We walked around, looking at the various airport shops for a bit, before sitting to rest and wait. We saw some camel milk chocolate, which I might buy some of on our way back through coming home. I tried to get onto the free airport WiFi, but it doesn’t want to connect for some reason.

M. got a milky mocha drink from a Starbucks, and we each ate one of the chocolate chip oat bars we brought from home for travel snacks. The sun has just come up outside and our next flight is during daylight.

09:17 Casablanca time.

We are a bit over halfway through the second flight, high over the Mediterranean, just south of the Ionian Sea between Greece and Italy. Our trajectory took us over northern Egypt, and a direct route would have taken us over Libya, but the flight map shows an obvious curving detour to the north to avoid flying over that country.

We were given a continental breakfast of croissants and fruit after take off, with a sweet orange muffin for me and a bread roll for M. We’ll get a lunch before landing. The menu says it is chickpea and sweet corn salad with iceberg lettuce and chicken pastrami, followed by a choice between chicken machbous, marinated in distinctive aromatic spices and slow cooked with rice, garnished with roasted pine nuts, or lamb apricot tajine served with red and yellow couscous. I think I will try the lamb. Oh and a chocolate walnut brownie for dessert.

Our estimated arrival time in Casablanca is 12:24. We expect to be met by a representative of Intrepid Travel, who will take us to our hotel and let us know the details for the beginning of our tour. Then we just need to stay awake for the rest of the day before having a good long sleep later.

17:49. Hotel Les Saisons, Casablanca.

We are resting before an early dinner tonight, followed by an early night to catch up on sleep and hopefully kill any jetlag. Our flight landed just after 12:30 and we got off quickly because we were again near the front of the plane, this time just behind business class on the 777. The queues at customs were short and we were through fairly quickly. My bag was already on the carousel waiting to be claimed, but M.’s took a few minutes to arrive. From there we took our bags towards the exit, only to have an official wave us towards an x-ray machine, which scanned our bags before we could exit the terminal.

We emerged from a door marked Terminal 2, and looked in vain for the person from Intrepid who was supposed to meet us. I noticed a display board outside directed greeters that our flight would be emerging from Terminal 1. So we walked down fifty metres or so where Terminal 1 was marked and there was another exit from the baggage collection hall there. After a couple of minutes of searching, M. spotted a guy holding a sign with a very modestly sized Intrepid logo on it, along with the logos of two other tour companies. We introduced ourselves and he had our details on a sheet of paper, but then he said he was waiting for six people, so we had to wait a little for the others to arrive.

An older lady spotted the same fellow, and then another lady also travelling alone, bringing us up to four. The other two ladies were from Melbourne and Sydney. The four of us waited for the two stragglers, but after half an hour or so they never showed up. I used the time to withdraw some Moroccan dirhams from an ATM, and one lady tried to get a local SIM card for her phone from a kiosk in the terminal. The same lady also discovered her luggage had been searched – the contents rifled through and disordered. Eventually the guy got on his phone and arranged for another person to come to the airport and wait for the final pair, while he took us to our hotel.

The temperature outside was hot, with the sun beating down out of a cloudless sky. The driver led us to a black van, roasting in the sun, and loaded our bags for us. We got in and turned the air conditioning up to high to cool ourselves down as we drove along a toll motorway to the city. The landscape around Casablanca looks very brown and dry, with lots of date palms and some other scraggly looking brownish trees scattered around.

We arrived at the Hotel Les Saisons after about a half hour drive, and checked in. There was no information on our tour at the desk, so we still have no idea what time we are meeting up tomorrow. The hotel seems a bit run down, but reasonably well kept and clean. Our room is huge, with a large entry area and closet, and a huge bedroom, though the bathroom is a little small. The view from the window is nothing to write about, just a dusty side street and run down building opposite.

View from Hotel Les Saisons, Casablanca
View out the window of our room at Hotel Les Saisons.

After washing our faces, we set out to have a quick look at the old medina, which is across a main road from our hotel. We entered the nearest gate and found ourselves in a maze of narrow sinuous alleyways, full of shops and cafes and the odd hotel or two. There were fruit vendors selling from carts piled high with bananas and apples and dates and prickly pears. After a while these petered out and the medina turned into a residential area, full of kids playing in the streets. The narrowness of the alleys didn’t stop motorbikes from roaring down them faster than was really advisable given the density of pedestrians. There were also bicycles, guys pulling trolleys, then tuk-tuks, and eventually in the more residential areas small cars squeezing between the tightly packed buildings.

Medina of Casablanca
Medina of Casablanca.

The residential areas got a bit labyrinthine and we almost got lost, but kept on heading roughly northwards, guided by the sun. Eventually we resorted to checking the map and GPS on M.’s phone, only to discover we were only halfway through the medina, when we thought we must nearly be at the northern end of it. Helped by this, and checking once or twice more for bearings, we eventually emerged right next to Rick’s Cafe, our goal.

Cool down
Boys cooling down at a fountain.

The cafe was closed, and a sign stated it opened for dinner at 18:30. It was only 16:30 now, and we were pretty exhausted, rather than explore for another two hours, we headed straight back to our hotel to rest, stopping briefly to look at Cafe Maure and Casablanca Jose as candidates for dinner, and then to look at the bazaar stalls outside the southern wall of the medina near our hotel. We also stopped in at a convenience store right around the corner to buy two bottles of water, which cost a mere 12 dirhams for the two.

We’ve since decided to head out to Rick’s for dinner, catching a taxi there at 18:30. I asked the hotel reception guy to make a booking for us, but he said we didn’t need one – nobody in Casablanca takes bookings, he said, it’s too much work.


We have just returned from Rick’s and M. is having a shower before I also have one and we drop into bed for some well-earned sleep. The hotel receptionist told us a taxi to Rick’s should cost only 30 to 35 dirhams. We hailed one on the street outside and I didn’t think to ask him to turn the meter on, but it turned out he had done so. The price on it was 5.80 when we got to a Ricks, which confused me and I handed the driver a 50 dirham note, which he waved away, asking if I had any small change. I gave him some of the coins which I had received in change for the water, and that satisfied him, taking about 8 dirhams worth. So the fare must have been just 5 dirhams and 80 of whatever the smaller unit is.

Rick's Cafe, Casablanca
Rick’s Cafe, Casablanca.

At Rick’s we asked for a table, only to be told that we could eat at the bar if we wanted, because all the tables had been booked! Counting ourselves lucky, we agreed to eat at the bar. I ordered the sea bass with rice, while M. got a stuffed capsicum. We also ordered some roast potatoes to go with it, and a starter dish of goat’s cheese fritters with honey and nuts. We were given some delicious warm bread rolls to start with, half of which had olives in them. Everything else arrived at once, and it also included a dish of mixed vegetables (carrot, zucchini, and cauliflower with herbs) and a dish of ratatouille. For drinks we had gin and tonics. Everything was pretty good, without being outstanding. The atmosphere was nice too, and as we ate several other people arrived and also were seated at the bar for dinner, despite not a single one of the “reserved” tables being filled by the time we paid our bill and left.

Fried goat's cheese balls
Goat’s cheese fritters. Rick’s Cafe, Casablanca.

We hopped in another taxi for the short ride back to the hotel. I think this one neglected to turn on the meter, and when I handed him the smallest change I had left, a 20 dirham note, he merely thanked me and got back into the taxi. I think he was keeping an eye out for if I demanded some change, but when I didn’t, mostly because I had no idea how to do it sensibly in French, he slowly drove off. Oh well, that’s still insanely cheap for a taxi fare back home.

We still don’t know what time the tour leaves tomorrow. I figure we’ll have breakfast and if nothing eventuates by 09:00, we’ll call Intrepid and see what they say.

Urban exploration

Sunday, 4 May, 2014

I went for a walk with my wife today. From our front door, it took us about an hour and 15 minutes to return. This was enough to let us explore parts of a neighbouring suburb where we have only walked a handful of times before.

We walked down to Greenwich Point. At one place along the main street, a sign points between two adjacent blocks of flats, indicating “Path to Reserve”. (A reserve being in this context a park.) I knew there was a park further along the road, and thought this path would lead through the bushland along the waterfront behind the houses, emerging at the park. So we ventured down the steps into the bush. The path led a hundred metres or so, then descended a steep set of rough sandstone steps to a tiny beach, on which were beached a couple of rowboats. I could see steps leading up from the far side of the beach, so we crossed the sand and climbed up again.

On this side, however, the steps led nowhere except up the slope to the rear side of a couple of houses. There was no path to follow – the only exit was directly into the back yards of the two houses. We’d stumbled on a semi-private path meant to be accessed only by the residents of these houses. We didn’t fancy going all the way back to where we’d started, and we could see a woman on the back porch of one of the houses. So I called out and said we’d gotten lost in the bush, and could we walk through her yard to the street. She said we could, so we walked through her property to the front gate and back out on to the street.

From there it was still another hundred metres or more to the park. I’m not sure what that sign back at the beginning had been meant to indicate, but there was clearly no path to this park from that sign. Anyway, once at the park there was a proper, well-maintained path along the foreshore bushland, behind the houses, all the way around the point to the ferry wharf. This was a much nicer walk, giving us good views of the harbour, the boats, and the surrounding headlands.

It’s nice to be able to take scenic walks – and get lost on them – within about half an hour’s walk from home!

San Francisco diary – Day 13: 13 Feb 2014

Monday, 7 April, 2014


We got up slowly this morning, had breakfast, and then headed out around 09:00. We walked down Post Street and then crossed Market to 2nd Street, which we walked south along until we reached AT&T Park, the home field of the San Francisco Giants baseball team. We had tickets for the 10:30 guided tour.

Willie Mays Plaza
Willie Mays Plaza, outside AT&T Park.

We arrived quite early, so walked around the park clockwise, seeing McCovey Cove and various other things around the perimeter. The weather was dry, but a low fog hung around, making it impossible to see across the bay. We reached the large Giants Dugout store on the west side of the park and confirmed this was where our tour would start, than continued our circuit a little to see Willie Mays Plaza at the largest entrance to the park. Then we returned to the store to wait for the tour to begin.

18:00, San Francisco Airport.

There were about twenty people on the tour. An older man introduced himself as Emmett and led us on the tour. Unfortunately there was a big Valentine’s Day charity event being hosted in a huge marquee on the playing field, so we weren’t allowed on to the field at all, but the tour took us through the visiting team changing rooms, the practice batting cages, the press media room, and out into the stands at the highest, or “view”, level, from where we had a great view of the entire field. In the visitor changing room was an old door from Candlestick Park, which was signed by every player for the Giants and every visiting team during the entire last season the Giants played at Candlestick. Emmett said the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum in Cooperstown wanted the door, but the signing was the idea of the manager of the visiting team rooms and when he started he offered to buy the door for the cost of a replacement – $80 – and the Giants management accepted, so the signed door was his personal property, and he wanted it displayed in the Giants visitor rooms. We also got to walk through the memorabilia museum section, which premium game attendees have access to. It contained lots of game gear, signed baseballs, shirts, and so on, as well as the two World Series Championship trophies which the Giants won in 2010 and 2012.

AT&T Park view
Inside AT&T Park.

The tour concluded just after 12:00. We exited the park and walked back over to 2nd Street to walk back up towards a place we’d passed earlier on our way to the park: The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen. We went in to get some lunch and joined a queue of a dozen or so people waiting to order. It was clearly popular. M. got a Mousetrap, which was the simplest sandwich they had, with four different types of cheese on it. I got a Mushroom and Gruyere, which I think only had two different types of cheese. We also ordered a bowl of spicy tomato soup, which came with a small paper bag of croutons. All of the food was really good, and the sandwiches both came with a small apple, which we also ate after finishing off the sandwiches.

From there we walked back towards Market Street, cutting west at Mission to head towards the Target store there to get a clipboard to protect the comic artwork Shaenon had given me. On the way we actually ran across a stationery shop, so went in. We asked where the clipboards were, but found they were all a different style to the ones we have at home; they were just a single hard board with a clip at the top, and didn’t have the folding front cover that would give all around protection. We looked around a bit more and I found a hadn’t plastic shell case with a clip on the front designed to protect documents. It was a bit pricey at $16, but I wanted something strong so I bought it.

Grilled cheese and tomato soup
Lunch at the American Grilled Cheese Kitchen.

The next stop was the Ghirardelli shop on the corner of Market St and New Montgomery, which we happened to pass right by not longer after M. said she might have to get some Ghirardelli chocolate at the airport as a gift for my mother. We picked a selection of chocolate squares and had them wrapped with a ribbon.

We returned to our hotel by about 13:30 and relaxed for a bit before having showers and packing our luggage. We checked out just before 16:00, then sat in the lobby for a little while as M. had a cup of water from the dispenser there. We decided to head straight to the airport and wait there, even though our flight check in won’t be for a couple of hours yet, as there wasn’t much else we could do.

We’ve just had a walk through the airport check in area, looking at the SFMOMA shop for a bit, then sitting in a food court to while away a bit more time until we can check in. I got an apple to tide me over until dinner on the airside of security.

(Written later)

We headed to the United counters to check in about 3.5 hours before our flight. The queue we joined was mostly Japanese people, evidently for an earlier flight to Japan. However, after waiting for about fifteen minutes, nobody had advanced in the queue at all, and all of the people at the counters were still there talking to the check in staff. We realised something was wrong. Fortunately, an airline staff member came by and said that this queue was for people whose flight to Tokyo had been cancelled, and all passengers checking in for Australia should move to another set of counters. Once we’d done this, we were in a queue which actually moved and checked in a few minutes later.

Last sunset in SF
Last sunset in San Francisco.

We had our exit row seats again. The man in the row of three with us was a geophysicist who specialised in geothermal energy. He was travelling to New Zealand via Sydney for a conference there.

Saturday, 15 February. (Written later)

The flight passed uneventfully and we landed a little bit early on a warm and steamy, rainy Sydney morning. Saturday morning, as we’d skipped Friday by crossing the international date line. The taxi driver who took us home said the weather had been fine until the rain started that morning. I guess we brought it back from San Francisco with us.

San Francisco diary – Day 12: 12 Feb 2014

Friday, 4 April, 2014


We allowed ourselves a small sleep in this morning, getting up at 08:00. After breakfast we left to catch a 38 bus all the way west to Land’s End, where the city meets the Pacific Ocean.

We got off at the terminus on 48th Avenue, just a short walk from the Cliff House and Sutro Baths. We walked down to the baths and then out to a lookout point facing Seal Rocks. There was a lone angler down by the water throwing a line into the churning swell, and on the lookout point were two men with spotting telescopes on tripods. We struck up a conversation with them; they were out here to watch birds. They pointed out some oystercatchers, which I got a long range photo of, and mentioned a few other birds they saw out there occasionally. At one point we saw a whale surface to breathe, quite close to the shore. The men said it was a grey whale. We watched the streams of bubbles it left on the surface for a while, but didn’t see it surface again.

After a few minutes enjoying the view and the brisk morning air, we walked up the hill and around the path to the north, to another lookout where we had a views of the Golden Gate Bridge. The weather was overcast and grey, but the cloud was just high enough to let us see the bridge, with just the very tops of the towers occasionally disappearing into the fog.

We walked up the hill from there to the U.S.S. San Francisco memorial, which overlooked the ocean, then on to the same bust terminus where we’d arrived. One bus was just leaving as we approached, so we had to wait ten minutes for the next one.

The Castro
Castro Theatre, The Castro.

The bus took us back east to the intersection with Divisadero Street, where we caught a 24 bus south. This took us into the Castro district, the heart of the gay and lesbian community in San Francisco. It was fairly obvious from the street decorations and some of the businesses. We stopped in at a cafe for a late morning snack. M. had Moroccan mint tea and I decided to get a bowl of chick pea soup. The soup was thick and peppery and came with some hot Irish soda bread, all of which was very good. M. shared a bit of the bread and soup too and agreed.

Following that we walked down Castro Street and one of the side streets to have a look at the various shops and other things. There was a place called Posh Bagels, where we stopped to buy some for a light lunch after the soup. They had an interesting selection and we got a dried tomato bagel with cream cheese and a pesto bagel without.

We ate them as we walked across from Castro to Valencia Street, heading towards the Mission district again, but this time to walk down Valencia rather than the parallel Mission, as a man who was running a shop in Sausalito had told us that this was a more interesting street to look at. It had many interesting shops and galleries, and we stopped in several to have a closer look.

Cafe La Boheme
Cafe La Boheme, The Mission.

When we reached 24th Street, we crossed the block over to Mission, intending to catch BART back to our hotel. But we stopped in Cafe La Boheme so M. could get a coffee and we sat in there for a while with all of the other customers who were basically just sitting at tables and using their laptop computers. We stayed for about half an hour, and in that time I think only one person actually got up and left. While there we thought about what else we could do, and decided to visit Stella’s bakery in North Beach, after it had been recommended to us by our waiter at Nick’s Lighthouse restaurant.

We planned a route involving catching a 49 bus north to Union Street, then a 45 east to Columbus Avenue, where we thought the bakery was. The first trip was a long one, punctuated by a woman at the back screaming and telling other people to stop talking to her, and the bus driver threatening to stop the bus and call the police.

Eventually we made it though and then we had to figure out where on Columbus Avenue the bakery was. At first we walked north, but turned around after we exhausted the length of street we’d walked down before, because we knew it was somewhere we’d passed already. Heading south we thought the area didn’t look right, but eventually we spotted the sign “Stella’s”, and it was right next door to Calzone’s restaurant where we’d eaten last week! We went in and looked at the various Italian biscuits and cakes, and bought a couple of pieces of almond biscotti and a chocolate dipped shortbread finger. They were all nice.

(Written later)

We walked back to our hotel down Stockton Street, through the heart of Chinatown which we’d only seem from the bus before. It was an incredible feast of sights and smells, as we passed dozens of Chinese grocery stores and places selling dried fish and mushrooms, and others selling unidentifiable dried things for Chinese medicines. Several of the places were labelled in Chinese script only, with no English signage at all. Just before the Stockton Tunnel we saw a small procession of people, about a dozen ranging from children to one very old man with a long beard, dressed in colourful Chinese robes and playing small drums and bells, walking along the street and stopping to poke their noses into shops they passed and shout out some sort of greeting – possibly Happy New Year since the Chinese New Year was just a week or so ago.

Chinese grocery

At the tunnel we climbed the steps up to the street above, then walked up the hill to the top, then crossed over to Powell Street for the remainder of the walk back to our hotel. We rested for a short while and changed for our dinner appointment at the Tonga Room in the Fairmont Hotel. This was a hike up the steep hill all the way to the top of California Street, where the hotel is situated. On the way out we confirmed with our hotel reception that we had booked a late checkout for 16:00 tomorrow.

Once there, we entered the main foyer and found a map showing the way to the Tonga Room, down two floors. The room is an old swimming pool which has been converted into a South Pacific themed restaurant, with tables surrounding the pool which still exists in the middle. At periods throughout the evening, simulated thunder and lightning play while rain gushes from the ceiling above the pool, making it sound like a tropical storm. A boat with a grass thatched roof floats on the pool, berthing at one end to allow a three piece band to step aboard, then drifting out to the middle as they play.

We ordered some cocktails first, M. getting a zombie, while I got a mai tai. I was slightly disappointed that the mai tai came in a coconut shaped ceramic mug, and not a real coconut, but the drink was good. For food we ordered some shiitake egg rolls for an appetiser. These came with what the waiter said was called “Tonga sauce”, a combination of soy, mustard, and molasses. It was thick and brown and slightly sweet, and very different from any other sauce I’ve ever had with spring rolls. For mains M. got the kung pao with tofu, while I chose the Tonga hot pot, a combination of “Hawaiian seafood” in a spicy coconut curry sauce. With these we got the “forbidden rice mix” a blend of four different types of rice, resulting a black and brown combination with a delicious nutty flavour.

Tonga Room storm
The Tonga Room.

The food was all very good. We ate slowly to savour the evening and the music and give us time to get through our cocktails. I got a glass of Sauvignon Blanc to go with my fish, while later M. ordered a pineapple royale cocktail, which was served in a whole hollowed out pineapple. For dessert I had the dessert sampler, which had a small coconut pudding with crunchy nuts and a blue sauce, two bite sized caramel tarts with something marshmallows on top, and three different flavours of mochi ice cream: green tea, coconut, and mango. After eating we got up to dance a bit to the band. There was an older couple doing some slower dancing as well.

We didn’t leave until after 22:00, by which time we’d been there over three and a half hours. Several tables around has had people arrive after we arrived, who then left, were replaced by a new group of people, and who had also left! But we were having fun on our last night in San Francisco, so we didn’t care.

When we finally left we walked back down the hill to our hotel and virtually dropped straight into bed.

San Francisco diary – Day 11: 11 Feb 2014

Thursday, 3 April, 2014


We hopped up when the alarm rang at 07:30 this morning, ate breakfast, and dressed for a day of walking. The day was dry, with some patchy cloud and blue sky, perfect for a long walk.

We hopped on a 45 bus at Stockton Street, taking it out to the Cow Hollow shops again. Here M. got a take away coffee from the Coffee Roasters cafe where we’d stopped the other day and drank it as we walked north the few blocks to Lombard Street to pick up a 28 bus out to the Golden Gate Bridge. One arrived shortly after and we got on. However, it continued along Lombard Street into the Presidio instead of turning onto the freeway out to the bridge, so I asked the driver if the bus was stopping at the bridge. He said we wanted a regular 28 bus, this one was a 28 limited stops! He let us off at the next stop and told us to take a 43 back to Lombard Street and get the regular 28 from there. We did so, and that backtrack and waiting time took us about ten extra minute, but soon we were on a normal 28 bus heading out the Golden Gate toll plaza and visitor centre.

Bridge from south
Golden Gate Bridge from the visitor centre.

The bus dropped us off in front of a visitor centre and souvenir shop. We had a quick look inside and took some photos from the lookout towards the bridge, then proceeded up the steps on to the shared pedestrian and bicycle path on the east side of the bridge. We beg and the walk at 09:30 precisely and took almost an hour to reach the other side, stopping several times for photos and to enjoy the view along the way. The weather was dry, but there was a low cloud hanging over the bridge, just touching the tops of the towers, and a mist over the bay making the city skyline hazy in the distance, but visible. We could also see Alcatraz and Angel Island through the mist.

The path was separated from the traffic only by a narrow fence, and it was quite loud the whole way across, except for where the path dodged outwards around the two towers which afforded some insulation from the noise. There was a fence running from near the toll plaza to the small concrete tower on the landward side of the first main tower, and I thought there would be a fence all the way across, to prevent people climbing over the railing and potentially jumping off, but after the concrete there was no fence at all. The railing was sturdy and chest high, but it would have been trivial for someone to climb over it and jump off the bridge.

Looking ahead Golden Gate detail
Walking across the Golden Gate Bridge.

There were a few other walkers out on the bridge, as well as dozens of joggers and cyclists who passed us in both directions. Near the middle of the bridge two pedestrians were staring down into the water below, so we stopped and looked, and saw dolphins or porpoises playing in the water. Later searching revealed they were most likely harbour porpoises.

At the northern end of the bridge we stopped at Vista Point for a quick photo. This is the same place our wine tour bus stopped yesterday, but this time the weather was much clearer and we could see the city reasonably well, though there was still a bit of low cloud and mist hanging around the bridge. From there we walked the short distance to the Alexander Avenue exit of the freeway and took this road down to Sausalito. There was no footpath by the road, so we had to walk on the roadway, staying outside the white painted line that indicated the traffic lane. We chose to walk on the left, facing any oncoming traffic, rather than have it come up behind us. It was lucky we did so, because cyclists were using this area as well, and it would have been bad to have them tearing down the hill, racing up behind us as they did so. The oncoming cyclists were struggling up the hill and so a much less dangerous proposition. We thought it was really weird that there wasn’t a pedestrian path, but I guess that’s America and their car future for you. Maybe it never occurred to anyone that people might want to walk down this road.

View of Sausalito
View of Sausalito from the approach road.

Anyway, we reached the outskirts of Sausalito about 11:10, and then took another twenty minutes walking along the footpath that appeared there to reach the water and the first shops and cafes along the waterfront. By now the sun was out and we were getting hot from the walking, so took off our coats. It really was a beautiful day, especially compared to the rain and icy chill of the past several days. We looked in various shops as we walked along the main street. It was full of boutique fashion shops, art galleries, jewellery shops, and similar things, mixed with some restaurants and a few cafes and cheaper souvenir shops. Mostly it was fairly fancy though, like a rich suburb, and the neat and large houses spilling down the hillside above gave that impression too. Overall it was slightly reminiscent of Positano’s steep seaside hill covered in buildings.

One shop I looked in had lots of scrimshaw and other nautical arty stuff like model ships and prints of sailing vessels. On a stand in the middle was a large chunk of woolly mammoth tusk, polished and for sale for only $11,000. Another shop had lots of prints of black and white photos of old movie and sports stars and scenery from various places, all no more recent than about the 1950s. We went into a sweets shop, where the woman behind the counter sounded relieved to have anyone walk in. I presume business must have been bad the past few rainy days. We bought a selection of taffy in various flavours.

Mexican Cantina, Sausalito.

After a while we found a cafe for lunch. They had an eclectic collection of ethnic dishes plus some American staples. M. had a grilled cheese sandwich while I tried a “chicken kabob”. It came deconstructed on a plate with the grilled chicken pieces on a salad of lettuce and tomato and yoghurt, with pita bread on the side. I assembled some into a wrap and topped it with hot sauce. The chicken was good, and there was a substantial amount, meaning I had to eat the remainder with a fork after the bread was gone.

Following lunch we continued walking north along the main street, which split into a couple of parallel streets for a few blocks. Here we found a jewellery store run by a woman, Katya, who made fused glass stones and set them in hand made silver and gold pieces. M. liked a bracelet which came with three stones of different sizes. The sample had light blue glass, but M. preferred a darker blue. Katya said she could make one up for us, it would take a week to make. When we said we were flying home soon she said she could ship it to us. So M. and I picked out some dark blue glass stones from trays of stones in a rainbow of colours and assembled them to test how they went together. We said it could be M.’s early birthday present, and made arrangements to have the item custom made and then shipped to us.

We continued strolling around, taking a walk along the boardwalk and looking at all the expensive yachts and cruisers moored in the marina. We checked the ferry terminal to make sure we knew where to go and how to get tickets for later, then continued to the last few galleries and shops. We looked into one gallery that had a lot of stuff we liked, including bronze frog sculptures that were glazed with various semi-lifelike colours, some colourful, almost cubist paintings, some artworks by Dr Seuss, and some amazingly lifelike glass jellyfish suspended in solid glass. There were also graceful bronze sculptures of ballet dancers, one life size and two maquette sized, and a collection of colourful bronze animals, decorated with a strange mixture of colours and symbols. M. liked these but I thought they were a bit too busy.

Giant burger
Special cheese burger, Napa Valley Burger Company, Sausalito.

About 16:30 we entered the Napa Valley Burger Company restaurant to have a drink before having dinner there. I ordered a local red ale and M. got a Pinot Noir soft drink, which was essentially carbonated grape juice. At 17:00 we were hungry enough to order dinner. M. got the veggie burger while I chose the special cheese burger, which came with four different types of cheese on it. Each came with a salad on the side, which included some dill pickle slices and a pickled yellow chilli pepper. The burgers were both good and filling enough that we were very glad we hadn’t ordered any fries or other sides. We left about 17:45, intending to get the 18:10 ferry back to San Francisco.

By now the sun had set and the sky was turning pink and purple, making the evening very pretty. We took a few photos then headed over to the ferry wharf to buy tickets. After that we joined the short queue of people waiting on the “no bicycles” queue, next to the much longer queue of people who had bicycles. The ferry pulled in on time and disgorged a large number of passengers, presumably mostly commuters coming home from work in the city. We boarded and climbed to the topmost of the three decks to get a spot in the open air at the back to enjoy the views. The trip was chilly with the wind of the ferry’s motion, but beautiful in the deepening twilight with the lights of Sausalito, the Golden Gate Bridge, and San Francisco framing the bay around us. The ferry passed close by the far side of Alcatraz, giving us a good view of the night-lit island and old prison building. After half an hour on the water. We pulled into the Ferry Building terminal and disembarked.

Golden sunset
Golden Gate Bridge at sunset.

We walked up Market Street and Sutter Street back to our hotel, where we took advantage of the relatively early evening to relax a bit.

San Francisco diary – Day 10: 10 Feb 2014

Wednesday, 2 April, 2014


We spent today on a bus tour of the Sonoma and Napa Valley wine regions, and just got back to our hotel a while ago. We got up at 07:30 because we needed to have breakfast and be dressed and ready in the lobby at 08:10. We made it right on time, and had time to withdraw a bit of extra cash before a driver arrived to pick us up. A light rain was sprinkling outside, but it looked like it might clear up.

The bus dropped us off at the Greyline tour company office near Fisherman’s Wharf, where we paid for the tour we’d booked and then went out to board a different bus. We climbed into the seat directly behind the driver, where we had a good view out the front windows. The driver went to check how many were in our tour group, and returned with one straggler, making a total of 22 passengers in the bus.

The driver was in his sixties and named Gordy, and kept up a non-stop patter on the microphone while driving. He started with a history of San Francisco as we drove through the streets towards the Golden Gate Bridge, pointing out various landmarks along the way, including the house Joe DiMaggio bought for Marilyn Monroe, and a bunch of fancy restaurants. He mixed it up with some chatter about wine, talking about different grapes and growing regions around the world and so on. He had the odd speech pattern that he almost never added the “s” when forming plurals or possessives: “They bought a hundred acre and planted six different grape vine.”

We stopped briefly at Vista Point on the north side of the bridge for a view, but the fog was thick over the bridge, so Gordy herded us back on to the bus fairly quickly and continued the drive north and over east into Sonoma.


As we entered wine country, Gordy turned the topic of his commentary to the ways and means of growing grapes, talking about the annual process of growth and harvesting and trimming back. He pointed out the hibernating vines on the hillsides, saying this was the time when they cut back the stalks to about three inches in length. He noted some were longer, because the growers elected to cut them back in stages, first to about nine inches, then a later cutting back to three inches.

This is the life
Wine tasting at Nicholson Ranch.

The first winery we stopped at was a place called Nicholson Ranch. It was halfway up a small hillside and the place next door had an alpaca in a pen right nearby. There was a large pond out the back with water running down the hill in a small waterfall into it. The lady in the winery told us the waterfall had only started running for the first time in a year a couple of days ago, with all the recent rain. They let us taste three of their wines: an unwooded Chardonnay, an oaked Chardonnay, and then a Pinot Noir. The unwooded was the nicest of the three, with a slightly unusual flavour I don’t recall having in a Chardonnay before. They had a reserve red of some sort for sale at $50 a bottle, but not offered for tasting, which displeased one of the ladies on the tour with us. She wanted to know how she was supposed to know if she wanted to buy any if they wouldn’t let her taste it. We wandered up the hill a little, getting a view of the vines and a bit of the valley, though the view was spoiled a bit by the busy road cutting through it.

After leaving here, we travelled across to the parallel Napa Valley, where we stopped at our second winery, Madonna Estate. Here the staff were more eager to have us taste wines, and offered nine or ten different varieties. We didn’t try them all, but selected ones that sounded interesting to us. The Pinot Noir here was nicer and they had an interesting Cabernet Sauvignon with some hints of grassiness reminiscent of a Sauvignon Blanc. They also had a Gewürztraminer which I had to try; it was okay, but I’ve had better. I tried a couple of others, including a slightly sweet moscato, as well. I might have considered buying something, but they said that unfortunately they didn’t ship overseas, so it was moot.

Wine tasting at Madonna Estate.

The next stop was the small town of Yountville for lunch. This was a very pretty looking town, which seemed to have been built for day trippers from San Francisco, with lots of restaurants, boutiques, and arty shops. Lunch was at everyone’s own discretion, and our group scattered in different directions. We got lunch from the Bouchon bakery. M. had a lemon and poppy seed scone and a small brioche with salt on it, while I had a tuna nicoise sandwich on a ciabatta roll. We ate sitting in the open courtyard by the bakery, and the weather was pleasant enough that I took my coat off and just had my short sleeved polo shirt.

After eating we took a quick look at some of the shops housed in a picturesque old two storey wine cellaring building. One was a chocolate shop called Kollar Chocolates, which had exquisite looking hand made chocolates as well as a selection of gelati. I wanted to try the chocolate and the lemon cookie gelati, but was wary of mixing them. The woman behind the counter said the lemon cookie was “wild” and recommended it, and M. said I should just mix lemon and chocolate. So I got a small cup with a bit of both flavours, and both of them were really good. M. bought some boxes of the chocolates for her parents and brother. Then we went upstairs and browsed around. I looked in a photography place which had large frames prints of photos of vineyards and other local scenery. Some of them were amazingly beautiful. M. had me try on a hat, of the flat cap style.

Yountville shops
Old wine cellaring building turned into shops, Yountville.

We used the toilets there and then went back to the bus to rejoin the rest of our group. We had a bit of a wait as Gordy rounded up a straggler, who was a woman who we’d learnt had come to San Francisco from somewhere near Philadelphia for a horror film festival. She had said that she was into action and adventure, bungee jumping, zip-lining, rock climbing and so on.

But we were soon on our way to the third and final winery. This was Sutter Home, which Gordy told us was one of the biggest wineries in California and owned several brands and labels. The tasting room was next door to a lovely old wooden home with a huge tulip magnolia tree out the front in full flower, making it pretty as a picture. Here we tried their white Zinfandel, which is actually a pink colour, making it technically a rosé wine. It was very nice. Then we tried a red Zinfandel, and then a slightly sweet white, possibly a moscato. After the woman had given us these and explained a bit about them, she ushered us all into the main bar area where we could try five other varieties of wine they made, which included a couple of dry styles, a Gewürztraminer, a bubbly pink Moscato which was very sweet, and a port. Altogether we had the impression that these wines were sweeter in general, and Gordy commented that Sutter Home became popular because they made sweeter wines that appealed to Americans with limited experience with wines. M. and I agreed the best wines of the day were at Madonna Estate.

By now we were two hours from San Francisco and it was about 15:00, so it was a non-stop trip back to the city to drop us off at our respective hotels. Gordy dropped the bungee woman near but not exactly right in front of her hotel and she said, “Oh! Are you leaving me here?!” When she’d disembarked, Gordy commented that she did bungee jumping and jumping out of planes and stuff, but she didn’t want to walk six car lengths to her hotel. Gordy dropped us at the corner of Sutter and Powell, just a short walk from our hotel.

The drive back to San Francisco.

We rested for a while, then went out a bit after 18:00 for dinner. We walked down to the King of Thai Noodle House, since we’d enjoyed the dinner there a week ago. We got a table right away, near the front door this time. M. ordered a pad thai, while I opted for the chicken and pumpkin curry. We also got a serve of egg rolls. The whole lot came at once. The curry was delicious and quite hot with chilies while the pad thai was made with thinner noodles than at home and had a slightly different taste, but was still recognisably similar.

On the way home we stopped at Walgreens to get more milk and Grape Nuts for breakfasts, hopefully enough to last us until we leave. I also wanted to get a tub of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream, but they didn’t have any of that flavour. So we dropped the food off in our room and went out again to the other Walgreens on our own block and found it there. We took it back to our room for dessert while we relaxed into the evening before bed time.

San Francisco diary – Day 9: 9 Feb 2014

Tuesday, 1 April, 2014


I think the hotel is on to us. After a week of taking two or three apples a day from the reception counter, they’ve stopped putting a bowl of apples out there.

We woke up lazily this morning, only being ready to leave by about 09:30, when the cleaner came around and knocked on our door just before we were ready to go for the day. We stopped in at Bar Norcini, an Italian-ish style coffee bar in the foyer of a hotel down Powell Street, so M. could get a coffee.

After that we braved the rain once again and caught a 38 bus west along Geary Street to the Richmond district. There we changed to the 44 bus south to Golden Gate Park, but only after stopping in at the Cafe Coco on the corner where the bus stops were to buy some bagels for lunch. The staff seemed confused by what we wanted to order, and eventually gave us four bagels, toasted and spread with a thin layer of cream cheese. This was close enough, so we went to catch the next bus.

When the bus arrived at Golden Gate Park, it dodged around the roadblock set up to stop traffic entering the park (I presume this is a thing they do every Sunday). In the park was a huge number of people. At first I thought it was a protest or rally or something, but it turned out to be a queue to get into the Academy of Sciences! The bus driver said it was a free entry day today, and he could drop us here at the back of the queue if we wanted, instead of driving all the way to the museum and the bus stop there. We said no, we were going to the de Young Art Museum, and a lady on the bus said that would be fine, as they weren’t having a free day today. The queue was astounding. It snaked a good three or four hundred metres, unsheltered from the rain, with about half the people huddled under umbrellas. This queue made the one at the Exploratorium last Sunday look tiny.

From one museum to another
Looking at the queue for the Academy of Sciences, from the observation tower of the de Young Museum.

The bus let us off right in front of the de Young Art Museum, and we scurried to the nearest likely entry point, which looked like it would be around the far side of the attached cafe. However a security guy ushered us into the cafe through a door and did a bag check on us, then let us proceed through the cafe to the museum entry hall beyond. We paid $8 each for entry to the permanent exhibits (which included a $2 discount for taking the bus there), but declined to pay extra for the temporary Bulgari art exhibit. We went downstairs to leave our coats and umbrellas in the coat room, and also left the bags with our bagels.

Back up to the ground floor, we started with the Native American Art section, which had exhibits of Mayan and Aztec works, including a room full of fragments of wall murals from Teotihuacan, and lots of pottery and ceramic sculptures. There was also some Olmec and a bit of Inca stuff, and a few things from other Mesoamerican and South American cultures. There was also a substantial section of Eskimo and Inuit art, much of it carvings of walrus tusks or whale bones, as well as some wood.

From here we transitioned to modern American art, with various contemporary sculptures, abstract works, and so on. There was a room dedicated to the building of the Bay Bridge, with archival photos of the construction process, as well as artistic lithographs of scenes of the bridge under construction, and architectural drawings. This section done, the time was a bit after midday and we felt like lunch, so we returned to collect our bagels from the cloak room, then sat to eat one each. We decided then to move to the cafe to eat the second one, in case we weren’t supposed to be eating there, but the cafe had a sign outside saying “no external food”. So we stood outside the cafe doors and ate our second bagels, then went inside and got some cups of water to wash them down.

Modern art
The modern art section.

Back in the museum proper, we ascended a level and started on the American paintings section. This began with works around the 17th century, mostly portraiture. It progressed through landscapes and still lifes, following the progression of European art. There were a few sculptures as well, and a selection of antique furniture and furnishings to show off the developing American styles. This section concluded with American impressionist works and the beginnings of abstraction. There were also other galleries full of native art from Africa, Oceania, and Asia, but we decided to skip these and spend the rest of the afternoon over at the Conservatory of Flowers, a short walk away through the park.

We collected our belongings from the cloak room and walked through the misting rain to this old exhibition style building, that looks like it is made form white rattan from the outside. We paid $8 each to enter and found ourselves in a tropical wetland, warm and humid and lush with greenery. We had to remove our coats and I also took off my jumper. Scattered amongst the foliage were dozens of orchids and other tropical flowers, in a wide variety of colours and shapes. We progressed around the building anticlockwise, entering another section where they kept highland tropical plants, and where the temperature was much cooler. Another section contained aquatic plants, with a large pond filled with lilies, rice plants, and other things. They had a model of a giant Queen Victoria Lily from the Amazon, which you could walk under to see the structures on the underside of the giant leaf, but there wasn’t a real one visible in the pond.

Purple orchid
Orchids in the Conservatory of Flowers.

Back through the lowland section and across to the other end of the long building, there was a room full of live butterflies. This was very cool, although it seemed to have only about five or six different species that I could distinguish. We checked we weren’t carrying any butterfly hitch-hikers as we left the room and finished our circuit of the conservatory. Then we exited and walked back to the bus stop at 8th Street, right outside the park. A bus approached as we were waiting to cross the road to get to the stop, and we managed to wave it down as the light changed and get on board.

We rode back to the intersection with Geary Street and changed buses on to a 38 heading back towards Union Square. We got there just before 16:00 and decided to see if we could get a table at the Cheesecake Factory for an afternoon tea. Bbt the wait for a table was still about 45 minutes. Instead, I got a slice of the carrot cake cheesecake to take away, and we went down to the Starbucks on level four, where M. got a mocha coffee and we sat at a window table, looking through the huge Dior banner out on to Union Square. The cheesecake was really more carrot cakey, but that was fine by me and it was delicious.


After that we headed back to our hotel room. We showered and changed into nice clothes for dinner. While M. was finishing up, I went downstairs to the lobby to book a winery tour of Napa Valley for tomorrow. We are taking an eight hour tour, which will pick us up from the hotel lobby about 08:10 in the morning. That done, we left our room to wait outside the hotel for Lisa and Rick to pick us up in their red Mini and take us to the dinner booked at Greens Restaurant.

They arrived on time and we piled into the small car for the trip north to the old military wharves where the restaurant was located. Mary was already there waiting for us, but Casey had begged out because of coming down with a migraine today. The restaurant was moderately large and full of diners. Panoramic windows faced west towards the Golden Gate Bridge, which we could barely see glowing with lights through the foggy night. On a clear day at sunset, it would be a gorgeous view.

The menu was impressive. We chose to share some first courses, choosing:

  • an Indian sampler of basmati rice, red rice, and chick pea salad with Hamada Farm raisins and cashews, warm coral lentil dhal, gingered beets, roasted cauliflower with lemon oil, pepper flakes and mint, pear-winter fruit chutney, and toasted cumin papadums;
  • roasted Hamada Farm figs and Burrata on grilled walnut levain, with arugula salad; and
  • and artisan cheese plate with Bellwether Farm San Andreas cheese, Andante Dairy Rondo cheese and Piccolo cheese, quince paste, Marcona almonds, and warm Italian bread.
Indian sampler
Indian sampler at Greens.

For the main course, I chose the butternut squash and sweet potato gratin with poblano chilies, grilled onions, smoked cheddar and fromage blanc custard, served with tomatillo sauce, cashew cream, grilled polenta and rainbow chard with pumpkin seeds. M. picked the goat cheese ravioli with savoy spinach, kale, spring onions, almonds, brown butter, pecorino fiore sardo, and crisp sage leaves. We also shared a bottle of Planet Oregon Pinot Noir with everyone, which was light and very transparent red, but full flavoured and complex for a Pinot. It was all really good. For dessert I had the banana cake, which came with a banana and coconut sorbet and chocolate sauce, also very good.

Over the meal we chatted about all sorts of things and had a great time, but eventually we had to leave. We split the bill, and it was lucky we’d remembered to get some cash just before going out, because we needed most of what we’d withdrawn so far to cover it. We said goodbye to Mary in the car park and then Rick and Lisa drove us back to our hotel and dropped us off. It was a lovely evening out, with good food and company, and a very nice way to finish off our Sunday.

San Francisco diary – Day 8: 8 Feb 2014

Monday, 31 March, 2014


We rose sleepily this morning and realised we didn’t have enough Grape Nuts left for breakfast. So we got rugged up and ventured forth into the rainy morning to go to Walgreens and buy some more.

That taken care of, we decided we would make the most of the wet weather by catching a bus first to Cow Hollow and the Union Street shops there, then moving on to the Haight-Ashbury area to look around there. We considered an option to extend the day’s travels by walking over to Golden Gate Park and checking out the Conservatory of Flowers, but we didn’t have enough time before it closed in the afternoon.

We took a 45 bus from Stockton Street, which took us up through Chinatown on Stockton, which was something I’d never seem before. I’ve always gone through Chinatown on Grant Avenue, but one block over on Stockton was a much different experience. Instead of the restaurants and touristy shops, it was full of Chinese grocery markets and fresh fruit and vegetables. Basically it looked like a more “real” area than one dollied up for tourists.

The bus turned on to Union Street and crossed the busy Van Ness into an area of San Francisco I’d never been to before. We got off near Octavia Street, where the Cow Hollow shops began. We walked down one side of the street for about five or six blocks until the shops ended, then returned on the other side. We stopped in at a nice old fashioned cafe called Coffee Roasters, where M. had a coffee and we got an oaty slice and biscuit to keep us going until lunch. Both were sweet with fruit and honey, and very yummy.

Shopping day Daphne
Shopping in Cow Hollow.

We popped in at various shops that took M.’s fancy. There were little boutiques and knick-knack shops full of all sorts of bric-a-brac. One had cool steel dice, about three centimetres across, though they were way too heavy to be practical – they would dent or smash any table you rolled them on – clearly they were meant only as decorations. In between we braved various intensities of rain and wind, though it never got really heavy, and was more a nuisance than anything else.

We finished Cow Hollow a bit after 13:00 and then walked north a few blocks to Lombard Street, where we could pick up a 43 bus to Haight Street. We were waiting in the slightly heavy rain when M. saw a 43 turn onto Lombard from a side street just past the bus stop where we were waiting! We scrambled up the street to the next stop, but had to wait for the next bus to come along once we got there. Thankfully that didn’t take too long, and we sat for the ride south to Haight Street.

I’d planned to get off after the bus had turned on to Haight, but as we arrived and were about to turn the bus stopped to let someone else off and we spotted several cool looking shops on that corner, so we scrambled to get off the bus as well.

Jammin' on Haight
Jammin’ on Haight.

The closest shop was Jammin’ on Haight, which was amazing. It was like stepping into the 1960s, with psychedelic tie-dyed clothing of all colours and descriptions. What’s more, they had 20% off all T-shirts. I looked through the racks, which were sorted by predominant colour, and found several that were very cool. But one caught my eye as soon as I saw it, with a neat tie-dyed turtle design on it, amidst a sea of psychedelic colour. As I held it up to look at it, a shop assistant said that that was very rare – it had been designed specially for the Grateful Dead, but never released because one of the band members died just before they were about to be sold. They were hidden away, and they found a box of them recently, and now this shop had about ten of them to sell. It was priced almost twice as much as the other T-shirts, but it was clearly the stand out design of them all. I tried it on for size and it was perfect, so I bought it. As we were paying, a second assistant at the counter started telling us the same story about the Grateful Dead, and we said the other woman had already told us! But cool… it’s neat to have such a great shirt with such a great story behind it.

We walked slowly up Haight, towards then past Ashbury Street, again stopping in at any shops that looked interesting. We saw the Loved to Death shop, where Kari Byron shops as shown on the Oddities TV show – it was slightly creepy but very cool. And we went into a soda shop called The Fizzary that boasted over 900 flavours of soda. The bottles were arranged on shelves sorted by flavour: root beer, sassafras, birch beer, lemon, orange, cherry, other berries, other fruit, colas, energy drinks, exotic and unusual, and “uncategorisable”. These latters included such things as maple bacon soda, coffee cola, and other weird stuff. They had some imported varieties, but most of it was American. I asked them if they had any passionfruit, and they said there was one from Hawaii, but they didn’t have any in stock at the moment. I also asked how long the place had been there, because the decor looked like it must have been around since the 1950s or earlier, and the guy said they only opened two months ago! I said they’d done a really good job of decorating the place then!

Over 900 soda flavours in The Fizzary. But no passionfruit.

After looking in a book shop we ended our return traverse of the street and went to the nearest bus stop to catch a 71 back towards and along Market Street, completing our triangular trip for the day. By this time it was after 16:30, and the rain was still tumbling down.

On the way back from Market Street to our hotel, we stopped in at the Giants Dugout store on Geary Street to book tickets for a tour of the baseball park on Thursday morning. We booked a 10:30 tour, but when I went to pay, their system didn’t like the foreign Visa card, so I dashed around the block to an ATM and got enough cash to pay for it. Then we went back to our hotel for a while and decided what to do for dinner.

I searched the net for some place nearby that did a vegetarian burger. One recommended place I found was Roam, in Cow Hollow, which we must have walked right past earlier today! But I eventually found Burger Bar, at the top of Macy’s on Union Square, just a short walk away. We put our coats back on and braved the rain once again to head there. We got a small booth in a secluded spot and perused the daunting menu. I got a local 8 Ball dark porter ale, then chose a buffalo burger with extra mushrooms and peppercorn sauce. M. picked the veggie burger with no additions, and we got some sweet potato fries to share. It was all pretty good.

We had decided to go upstairs to the Cheesecake Factory for dessert, but when we got there there was a one hour wait for a table, so we ditched that idea and just came home. I shot some photos of the rainy streets as we walked, and I hope some of them turn out well.

Waiting for the cable car
This one turned out okay.

San Francisco diary – Day 7: 7 Feb 2014

Sunday, 30 March, 2014


The first day after the conference was a change for me. We allowed ourselves to sleep in a bit longer, getting up about 08:30. We had an appointment today at noon, so we had the morning to fill. The weather was again cold and drizzly, so we planned to go to the Jewish Museum to keep indoors. After breakfast we walked across to the laundry on Stockton St I’d spotted the other day and dropped off a bag of laundry for cleaning. The woman weighed it and said it would cost $15.

After returning to the hotel to get my camera bag, we walked down to Mission St, where we popped into a Starbucks to get some coffee for M. I sat watching the people walking through the rain outside, and noticed there was another Starbucks right across the road! We figured the museum would open at 10:00, so we timed our arrival for that. However, when we got there and tried pushing open the doors, we noticed a sign saying it opened at 11:00, and a security guard inside shook his head at us and gestured at the sign. We nodded our understanding and stalked off again into the rain.

We passed Yerba Buena Gardens across the street, which was less of a garden and more of a simple grassed park space. We went into the Target store above the Starbucks to kill some time, but it was kind of boring so we headed down to the cinemas and food court area on the ground floor. The doors there turned out to be locked too, but opened a minute later as the clock ticked over to 10:30. We sat and watched the rain outside for half an hour, M. trying the free WiFi as we sat.

At 11:00 we went back to the Jewish Museum, where a few other people were huddled under the doorway out of the rain, waiting for it to open. When we went in, the first thing was a security check, with a bag search and metal detector. Then we dropped our umbrellas, my camera bag, and my coat at the cloakroom and paid $12 each to enter the exhibits. We figured we could come back later in the day to finish the remainder of the museum after we had to leave at 12:00. But that turned out not to be necessary, as the museum was fairly small, holding only three exhibition spaces upstairs and one open space downstairs.

The upstairs ones were all displays of work by Jewish artists. One room was devoted to an audio display, with seats and headphones scattered around. It was a study of the relationship between Jewish and black musicians. There was a big poster of Ella Fitzgerald on a wall, but little else visual to look at. The next area was very good, with a display by the artist Arnold Lobel, who illustrated many classic American children’s books, such as the Frog and Toad series. A woman was leading a group of kindergarten kids through the exhibit, sitting them down and reading them some stories that Lobel illustrated. She was doing an excellent job of engaging the kids, asking them questions and getting them to interact and think about various aspects of the story and artwork. The final area upstairs was a display of works by Jason Lazarus, a modern Jewish artist, with various paintings, sculptures, and other works. One was a display of photos donated by museum visitors, being photos that they didn’t want to look at any more because it hurt them too much. They were almost all photos of people, just lining a wall, but knowing where they had come from made an impact.

Jason Lazarus at CJM
Art by Jason Lazarus at the Contemporary Jewish Museum.

Downstairs was a display about the history of kibbutzim, and here was a guide taking around a tour group, so we overheard a lot of what she said about them. Then we looked around the gift shop briefly, and it was then noon and time to head to the Cartoon Art Museum.

When we got there, there was a woman at the front desk looking helpful, and another woman looking busy. I said to the helpful looking one, “We’re here to see Shaenon,” and the other one raised her head and it was her! She had been busy drawing comics – it looked like an episode of Monster of the Week she was working on, but she hurriedly packed her paper and pens away and called on the phone to her husband Andrew to come down and meet us.

The four of us went out for lunch, braving the rain. They asked what we would like and we said just something simple like sandwiches or soup. They took us to a Boudin Bakery on Market St where we each had a sourdough bowl, mine and Andrew’s with chili, M.’s with butternut pumpkin (or “squash”) soup, and Shaenon with tomato soup. It was good having a warm lunch on such a drizzly day. We chatted about various stuff, a lot to do with the different experiences in the US and Australia.

After lunch, we went back to the museum, where Andrew took leave to return to work. Shaenon showed us around the museum, giving us a comprehensive guided tour and commentary on the various displays. They had a temporary exhibit on the work of Ronald Searle when he was in America. I knew his artwork from the St Trinians and other British stuff he did, but never realised he did work in the US as well. The next section was a huge display of original art from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics, by the dozens of artists who contributed to that work. Most of it was inked comic page art, but there were a few pencil only pages towards the end, after digital production had developed enough to be able to produce a page from a pencil drawing. There were also some colour paintings of covers and scenes, including one which had been loaned to the exhibit by Gaiman himself. Shaenon said it normally hung in Gaiman’s living room!

The next area contained original artwork selections from the permanent collection, which spanned the gamut from the Yellow Boy through old comics like Krazy Kat, Little Orphan Annie, Dick Tracy, Blondie, to more modern ones, Peanuts, Garfield, and so on. The variety was much greater than that, and all very cool. It was though almost exclusively American, and I asked Shaenon if they had much foreign stuff. She said alas no, they really should try to get more European and Japanese comics, and she asked me about Australian and New Zealand comics.

The last section of the displays was devoted to art from Sam and Max, with art going back to the mid-80s, which is longer back than I had expected. The tour done, Shaenon have me her original art from the two Monster of the Week strips that I’d bought from her. Then she said goodbye and vanished into the back of the museum as she had another friend to call and arrange to meet that afternoon. We browsed the museum shop briefly, then ventured out into the rain again.

On the way back, we stopped in at the Levi’s store to try on some more things for me. I tried another sale shirt, which they now had in what should have been my size, but it didn’t really fit properly. Then I tried some jeans… which took ages as it was hard to find a good size and fit that I liked. I seemed to be halfway sized between 34 and 36, but they only had limited 35s. I tried a bunch of 36 in different styles, but none were pleasing enough to get. Then they found me a 35 in black, which felt the best of anything, so we bought it. They didn’t take the Levi’s discount coupon from the back of a tourist guide we found, because that was actually printed by a different company who just stocked Levi’s jeans, not the actual Levi’s store themselves. Anyway, it was still cheaper than at home.

We went back to the hotel and dropped off my camera bag, then at 17:30 went out to pick up our laundry. On the way back we stopped briefly in Kar’ikter, a shop full of books and knick knacks related mainly to Tintin comics, but also some Asterix and a few others. After getting back to the hotel we thought about dinner. M. suggested Indian food, so I searched and found several Indian places. The nearest one was also the highest rated in a restaurant review site, so we decided to go there: Amber Indian Restaurant in Yerba Buena Place.

Achari duck
Achari duck at Amber Indian Restaurant.

We headed over there and found it to be fairly fancy looking. We got a table and the interior was a lot larger than it looked from outside. The menu had some familiar dishes but also some really unusual ones. I chose the achari duck, while M. picked tofu and vegetable koftas. We also had samosas to start, some rice, and a pesto naan. The food was really good, with the duck dish being outstanding, coming with a delicious spicy sauce and a mound of spinach mixed with some grain like couscous or semolina which had a very interesting and nice texture. M.’s koftas came with a spicy nutty sauce and were also great. It was also very filling, so I didn’t even dare a look at desserts.

On the way home, we stopped in at Westfield so M. could try out some raincoats she’d seen the other day in one of the shops there. She tried a beige one which looked good, and after long deliberation decided to buy it. Just as we were about to pay, the woman at the counter came out and said, “Did you see these also come in other colours back here?” and led us to a different display we hadn’t even looked at! They also had salmon pink, dark purple, and black ones. But M. decided the beige was best and we bought that.

We returned to our room fairly early, hoping to get a slightly earlier night tonight!

San Francisco diary – Day 6: 6 Feb 2014

Sunday, 30 March, 2014


After the usual routine this morning I left for the conference in time to arrive for the 08:30 Human Vision keynote talk, by Ed Chi of Google. He talked about scientific analysis of social networks and how they grow, giving case study examples of Wikipedia, Twitter, and Google+. The next session had talks about how visual quality as perceived by humans isn’t necessarily dictated purely by visual artefacts, but also by image subject matter, context, and surrounding context such as who looks at the image with you.

During the shortened tea break (due to talks going over time), I went out to eat an apple quickly, and bumped into Kristyn, who I’d met at this conference three years ago, and who M. and I visited at her home in Paris on our trip there in 2012. I had no idea she’d be here, so it’s lucky we happened to meet. She suggested we have lunch, and I said that M. was here, and I was meeting her at 12:15, so we arranged to meet again in the Hilton lobby at 12:10 to walk over and meet M.

The next session of vision talks again ran well over time, and I actually had to skip the entire last talk to make the meeting time. Kristyn had two colleagues with her, Albrecht and Alastair, and they were planning to walk over to the Moscone Centre to see the Photonics West exhibition there this afternoon, before flying out this evening. We walked over to Westfield where we’d be meeting M. outside the Rolex shop. We had a bit of trouble finding it, but eventually did, and met M. there.

We walked out and down Fifth St a short way, stopping in at a cafe for lunch. I had a Reuben sandwich on sourdough bread, which came with a choice of stuff, of which I chose the fruit salad. M. had a wheat bagel with cream cheese. We ate and chatted, swapping tales of work-related technical stuff, and food, and travel. Kristyn it turned out had moved back to Portland in Oregon. She recommended a restaurant called Greens up on the north side of San Francisco, as it was vegetarian, for M. We’ve checked out their website and it looks good indeed, so we may head out there one evening before we go home.

We said goodbye as we left the cafe, as we were heading different directions. M. and I went back into Westfield and went up into Nordstroms to have a look around. It was four floors, almost all of women’s fashion stuff, with a little bit of men’s clothing. That done, we headed back down and parted out on Market St, M. heading back to Union Square and me to the Hilton for the last afternoon of the conference.

There were more interesting human vision talks, including the fun last session on art stuff, followed by a discussion session in which they brought out free beers and pretzels, and opened up for questions and comments to any of the day’s presenters. I joined in with some comments about the growth of Wikipedia to Ed Chi. There was some later lively discussion about video quality, with the movie making guy from yesterday adamant that 4k video was a waste of bandwidth, since the human eye can’t tell any difference whatsoever from 2k, and that 4k uses up so much more data that they have to compress it to the point where it actually looks worse than 2k.

At the end of the conference, I went back to our hotel, where M. arrived a few minutes later. She had been to a tailor to get the button on her coat fixed before it fell off. She found one using Google, and it was on the fifth floor of a building on Geary St. When she got there, it looked like an office building and the tailor was behind a closed wooden door. She opened it tentatively and found the office full of tailors working on various clothes. The woman in charge asked what M. wanted, and she said she just wanted a button sewn on. The woman took the coat and gave it to a tailor, who fixed it in a few minutes. When M. asked how much it cost, the woman told her it was free!

Powell Street BART
Heading to the Mission on BART.

We decided to go to the Mission district for dinner. We caught BART down to 24th Street, and then walked the block to the Velvet Cantina where I’d had dinner last year with Mary and Casey and Lisa and Martin. I got shrimp enchiladas, while M. got a vegetable burrito. The burrito was enormous, but full of good veges that M. liked. We also had margaritas. We didn’t need to consider appetisers since they gave us chips and salsa, and I didn’t even want to think about dessert after the last two nights. The total price was very cheap considering we had drinks, and the food was really good.

Dinner at the Velvet Cantina
Dinner at the Velvet Cantina.

We walked another block up Mission Street to see the sights a bit before turning around and heading back to the BART station and riding back to Powell Street. We walked over to Mason Street and up the steep hill to the Fairmont Hotel, where we booked dinner at the Tonga Room for Wednesday night, the last night before we fly home. The concierge there suggested if we had two mai tais there they would have to drag us out! The Fairmont is an incredibly swish looking hotel. It looked like the entire foyer was made of polished marble.

We walked back down the hill along Powell Street and to our hotel, getting some more milk for breakfast at the Walgreens on the way.