San Francisco 2017 Diary: day 7

Friday, 3 February, 2017. 21:36

I got up this morning and had a shower before heading out to meet Stuart in the hotel lobby. We walked to Millbrae station, stopping at the It’s-It ice cream factory to try to get an ice cream sandwich for a pseudo breakfast. Unfortunately they didn’t open until 10:00, so we couldn’t, which meant I had no real breakfast at all, my bagels having run out yesterday.

We got to Millbrae about 09:30 and then into the city a bit after 10:00, getting off at Embarcadero. From there we walked across into the Ferry Building to look around a bit. I said we could at least get some ice cream here, from Humphry Slocombe. But when we arrived at the store it didn’t look open, and a woman was setting things up. I asked when it opened and she said 11:00! Not having had breakfast, I was getting hungry now, so I bought a currant bun from a bakery, which was nice, to hold me over until lunch.

Ferry Building

We walked north along the Embarcadero, having planned our morning to arrive at Golden Boy Pizza at 12:30, the time and place designated by Scott for meeting up to have lunch together. We stopped in at the Exploratorium gift shop, but didn’t have time to justify paying the admission fee to the museum proper. Stuart said he wanted to buy some San Francisco souvenirs for his kids, and I suggested some of the things here might be good, but they weren’t really tourist souvenirs, as in labelled as from San Francisco. I saw a cool looking science tarot deck, which was a tarot deck reimagined with scientific imagery. It was attractive, but cost $30, which was too much to justify.

We continued a bit further north, then turned inland at Levi’s Plaza, to take the Filbert Street steps up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower. Last time I was here I’d walked down these steps, which are attractive as they pass between the gardens of many houses, but climbing up them was certainly more exhausting.

At the top, Stuart was as surprised by the coyote warning sign as I had been last time. We walked to the northern lookout point near Coit Tower and took in the view across the bay and out to the Golden Gate Bridge. Then we walked into the base of the tower to look at the art deco murals. As we walked in, we could here choral singing, and we discovered it was a group of teenaged girls giving an impromptu recital inside the tower foyer. They seemed to be some choral group on a sightseeing trip, and did a couple of songs to a sprinkle of applause from the dozen or so people watching before they left.

Telegraph Hill
Down the hill from Coit Tower

Stuart and I didn’t go up the tower as we wanted to make sure we were on time to lunch. Instead we walked down the western side of the hill, again on Filbert Street, and then across into North Beach. We actually arrived with plenty of time to spare, so wandered a round a bit, checking out Washington Square. We noticed the bronze statue in the middle and assumed it was George Washington, but it turned out to be Benjamin Franklin, so we wondered why it wasn’t called Franklin Square.

With a bit of time still available, we found a cafe called Caffè Trieste. We’d originally popped into another cafe, looking to sit and get some cold drinks, but there was no menu at all and the lady behind the counter said they served hot coffee, tea, and cold brew coffee. I asked if they had cold drinks, and she said they had cold brew coffee. I said we were looking for a milkshake or soda or something, and she said no, they didn’t sell those, so we thanked her and left. Stuart said the place was far too hipster, with the whole no menu and nothing but coffee and tea thing.

Caffè Trieste
Caffè Trieste

Caffè Trieste was more traditional, and indeed seemed to have existed there since about 1900 or something judging by the state of the building and the furnishings. The blackboards above the counter listed various hot and cold drinks. Stuart wanted an iced chocolate, but the board listed iced coffee in multiple variations and no iced chocolate. There was however an intriguing thing called a chocolate New York egg cream. We asked what that was and the lady said it was chocolate syrup blended with milk and soda water, making a fizzy chocolate drink. We both gamely decided to try it, and watched her make them, using a spritzer hose for the soda. We took the drinks to a small table in the back, surrounded by walls festooned with old photos of various people who looked like they should have been famous. One was labelled with Burt Lancaster and another Bill Cosby, but they were the only ones we recognised at all. The drinks were… interesting. They tasted okay, but the fizziness was an odd thing together with the chocolate flavour.

Columbus Cafe
Old sign in North Beach

After finishing the drinks we walked over to Golden Boy Pizza, which had a small queue of people out the door waiting to buy slices. Stuart checked inside for Scott, but he wasn’t there yet. He arrived a few minutes later, sporting a beard we hadn’t seen before, and we went in to get slices of pizza.

Scott recommended the pepperoni, which Stuart had, but I tried the clam and garlic which was on the menu. They also had a sausage pizza, and a pesto veggie, and I think just a plain cheese and tomato sauce. The slices were squares cut from large rectangular slabs of pizza. The place is a tiny hole in the wall with two rows of stools along stainless steel counters, but at first there weren’t any seats available so we stood at the counter facing the chef who was busy making more pizzas. Some people left pretty soon though and we grabbed stools. Scott said they were pretty uncomfortable, and he wasn’t wrong. Stuart said it seemed they operated on the same principle as Japanese ramen restaurants, where you go in, sit down, eat your food, and get out as fast as possible.

Vege pizza
Vegetable pizza in Golden Boy

The clam and garlic pizza was delicious. Very cheesy, but in a good way. I added some garlic and parmesan from shakers on the counter. After finishing, we chatted a bit more and then decided to get another slice each. This time I opted for one of the pesto veggie ones, which was also very good, and got an IPA beer to go with it. They had several on tap, and I just said the first one after the woman rattled off a list of options. We chatted about lots of stuff, mainly catching up on things that have happened on each of our jobs since last we saw one another.

Out of the harsh light of day
Golden Boy Pizza

After finishing our lunch, we said goodbye to Scott, and Stuart and I went around the block to a gelato place we’d seen earlier. We each had two flavours in a cup, and I selected the walnut and banana, and the crème brûlée, which were both thick and rich and very nice. After this, we walked back south down Powell Street towards the Cable Car Museum, turning the single block west at Washington Street. I’d never been here before, and didn’t quite know what to expect.

Sutter Street cable car
Historic cable car, Cable Car Museum

Entry was free, which was a pleasant surprise. Immediately after going in, you can go downstairs or upstairs. We chose downstairs, and were amazed to find ourselves in a dark room under the street level where a few huge pulley wheels were turning noisily, feeding steel cables under the street. It seemed these were the actual pulleys and cables that operated the cablecar system! After looking at this for a while we went upstairs, which was even more amazing. There were indeed museum-like exhibits with old cablecars and bits and pieces of equipment related to their operation and history, but there was also a large open area you could look down on from the mezzanine, where twelve large vertical pulleys, each at least a couple of metres across, were feeding and powering four separate cables, one for each of the operating cablecar lines. It was pretty cool.

Stuart looked through the gift shop and bought some souvenir pencil cases for his kids, while I wandered around, reading about the history and technology of the cablecar system. I tried taking a 360° panorama photo of the interior because it was so cool, but the stitching went a bit wacky with the close objects.

Cable sheaves
Working sheaves driving the cables, Cable Car Museum

Leaving the museum, we walked across to Stockton Street and south through Chinatown, crossing over to Grant Avenue to avoid the Stockton Tunnel. Then we went to Union Square and into Macy’s to sit for a bit and rest and get a drink. Stuart got a chocolate shake from the Ben & Jerry’s there, and it looked so good and thick that I also grabbed one. Refreshed, we walked over to Powell Street station to catch the train back to Millbrae.

There we walked back to the hotel, where Stuart relaxed in the hotel bar area while I went back to my room to have a shower and pack before my late check out time of 18:00. It was about 17:10, so I figured I had plenty of time, but when I tried opening my room, the keycard wouldn’t let me in. It seemed the system hadn’t been properly set to take into account my late checkout. So I had to go back down to the lobby and ask for help getting into my room. The concierge called someone and told me they’d meet me at the room to let me in. So by the time I had my shower I had to rush to throw everything into my luggage and then leave to make it downstairs and check out on time.

I met Stuart in the bar and he said Quan had contacted him and wanted to join us for dinner before heading to the airport. So we waited a few minutes until he arrived, then went for a walk out to the Elephant Bar up the street.

They had a fifteen minute wait for a table, but we had plenty of time, so we waited. It seemed like it was quicker than that, and we were seated at a booth table by the window looking out on the bay, though it was dark outside. I chose a set of three street-style tacos, one each of chicken, carnita (pork), and Korean beef of all things. Stuart tried the jambalaya after I explained what it was, and Quan had a chicken and vegetables dish, which he requested without the cheese that was listed in the menu, and which indeed seemed an odd addition. My tacos were a reasonable size for a meal, while the others’ meals were huge.

Walking back to the hotel, it was raining lightly as we left the restaurant, and it started getting heavier very quickly, so we ducked into the foyer of another, smaller hotel to wait and see if the rain would ease up. It did after a few minutes, and had stopped by the time we left and continued walking, and held up until we got back. We picked up our luggage and grabbed the next hotel shuttle to the airport.

Quan wandered off somewhere else while Stuart and I checked in. Check in was quick, but the guy at the counter asked me an odd question when he saw I had an exit row seat. He asked me, “Are you willing to put others before yourself?” I had to ask him to repeat the question to make sure I’d heard it correctly, and indeed I had. I said, “Sure,” which seemed to satisfy him, and he explained he had to ask me for security reasons. After this Stuart and I went through security. The wait to board took quite a while, but finally we boarded the flight. The plane is very full for this trip, nothing like the one over.

(written later)

The flight was uneventful and felt quicker than usual, so it’s possible I dozed off briefly. The guy on the window side seat form me was travelling to Canberra for a week to work with the Australian Defence Force, and had his arrival day in Sydney to sightsee. I hope he had fun, though the weather in Sydney on arrival day (Sunday 5 Feb) was really hot, approaching 40°C. The aisle seat next to me was taken by a young woman who was flying home from New York for her father’s funeral in Perth. She said she only booked the tickets three hours before getting on the plane in New York.

At Sydney Airport I breezed through the immigration and customs, picking up my duty free Scotch whisky on the way. There was only a short queue for taxis, but the taxi took ages getting out of the airport because they had to merge into an almost continuous stream of cars leaving the airport car park. It was a very warm ride home, but I got home about an hour and a half after landing.

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