Monday, 31 May 2010

Sunday 30th of May 2010 - San Francisco

Up at about six thirty this morning, hadn't had a bath last night which is a little yucky, however it was quite late and I was very tired so I had one this morning, not sure why, however I really prefer bathing in the evening, still at least I was fresh for another busy day of sightseeing!

Breakfast at the hotel was something that looked like it had been scrambled eggs in a previous incarnation and burgers! So I decided to visit a restaurant called Sears fine dining that I had spotted near Union Square. Popped in there and ordered the Eggs Benedict, which appeared to please the waitress immoderately, they were rather nice, although the muffin had gone a touch soggy in the middle and the overall thing was a little sweeter than I would have chosen.

So from there I walked to the contemporary Jewish Museum which I had remembered would open at 10, I arrived outside at 09:30, and chilled by a foutain/pool, apart from fielding a bloke who wanted to sell me a rose it was very peaceful, so at ten I ambled round to the entrance, where I discovered that the museum actually opened at eleven, as I walked up and down 3rd street I spotted the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, as I had a Citypass I had free entry to it and so I ambled over, unfortunately it also did not open until eleven, however it had a cafe, so I went in and had an iced tea to pass the time, on opening I went in and up to the second floor where there was an exhibition celebrating years of the museum, they had some Bracques, some Lichtenstein, and a couple of other interesting works, however for contemporary art even the Casino in Luxemberg outclasses it by a huge amount.

On the third floor there was an exhibition by a photographer who made my snaps look like Alfred Stieglitz.

Disappointed and not expecting much, although buoyed by the fact that according to Jewish law I am Chinese, I walked over to the CJM, was security cleared, paid and went in, on the 1st floor there was a fascinating exhibition on the Torah, I am ashamed to admit that I didn't know that much about it, I guess I always assumed it was like the Bible, and I was fascinated to learn more, just how important the shapes of the letters are etc.

On to the ground floor where there was an exhibition called "Our Struggle". Background - a few years ago a Jewish woman in France was given a copy of Mein Kampf (My struggle - Hitlers antisemitic rant and autobiography) I'm guessing by someone who didn't like her. She drew on 30 pages and then thought it would be interesting to see what other people would do, so she handed pages to all sorts of different people, Jews, Gentiles, Men, Women, religious, atheistic etc. and asked them to make a piece of art with it.

The exhibition is simply stunning, so moving, thought provoking, just so wonderful, so many things to remember, just one - a real physical gold tooth sitting on the page, I almost burst into tears. Why didn't SFMOMA have just one thing up to this standard?

Emotionally drained I purchased another shirt and caught a taxi up to the Nob Hill Cafe (see yesterday), got a table just next to the kitchen and ordered Bruschetta and Trancia di Calamari. The Bruschetta was good, the tomatoes weren't quite ripe enough, however it was still pleasing. Then a plate came up with a piece of what looked like floured and fried meat with capers on top, pasta and snap peas, oh well I thought and cut in, it was a wing of squid, absolutely perfectly cooked, with a light sauce that took it into the sublime category, the pasta complimented it perfectly, frankly it was one of the best things I have ever eaten in my life, I cannot think of anything that could have been done to improve it, the word sublime is overused, in this case it was perfectly apposite.

Once, when I was in the student area of Hamburg, or St. Pauli I went into a cafe and said "Espresso bitte" and the chap behind the counter asked me in English if I wanted an Italian or German espresso, I asked what the difference was and he replied that they both had the same amount of coffee but the German espresso was twice the size. I ended the meal with a German expresso!

Walked down the hill a bit and stumbled into the cable car museum, which was very interesting, I find it amazing that all of those cars, on all of the routes, are run by underground cables. I then decided to catch one to Fishermans wharf and do an harbour cruise, unfortunately I caught the car going the other way! Lazily caught the car back up the hill and came back to the hotel. Last night in San Francisco so I had sushi again!

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Saturday 29th of May 2010 - San Francisco, Monterey, Carmel

So I awoke this morning relatively early, and packed my rucksack ready for my day out :-) I had called and confirmed the reservation yesterday, and on doing that had arranged for a pickup from my hotel at 08:15, as breakfast at my hotel starts at 08:00 during the weekend I decided not to risk it. Stood outside in the glorious sunlight and relaxed until the bus arrived, this the took us to Fishermans wharf where we checked in for our individual trips. The bus for Monterray and Carmel set off at about nine twenty, we had a garrulos driver whose name I cannot recall.

The drive was along the coast, parts of it were spectacular, and even the less spectacular bits were pretty, after the coast we drove inland for a bit, the scenery was sort of a cross between Devon and Souther Spain, brownish rolling hills. We stopped along the way at a chew and spew for the oldies to avail themselves of the facilities, and I had a cup of hot brown water.

Then more driving and we arrived in Monterey, now I don't want to upset anyone however it seemed to me to be just an indistinguishable tourist location, T-shirts, fudge, and dubious restaurants, I wouldn't have minded if it had had a little individuality like Provincetown however all it had was pictures of John Steinbeck everywhere. I went to a restaurant called "Fish Hopper" where the clam chowder tasted less pleasant than regurgitated vomit, and the deep fried fish... 1 piece from a fish like coley or pollock presumably had no flavour, the 2 deep fried prawns? had been cooked to such a degree that they were like greasy cardboard, and the six or seven bits of squid had no flavour whatsoever. I appreciate I may have been unlucky, (and believe me there wasn't that much less on the plate when I finished from when I started) and normally their food may be passable , however it was the worst restaurant experience I have had in North America and up there with my attempts at ordering takeaway Chinese food in Florida and fermented red tofu as the worst food I have ever tried to eat. And this insult to my tastebuds cost a bleeding fortune as well.

Whilst I malign Monterey I must admit that the Aquarium does look quite impressive from the outside, unfortunately our stop was only for about 75 minutes, so I only had time for a short wander and a rainbow sherbert icecream (which was nice) before boarding the bus. We then headed off for "The 17 mile drive" overall you can see how beautiful the scenery must have been before golf courses and architects whose idea of an artistic statement is "f*ck you" arrived. We saw some deer on one of the golf courses near bird island, which was nice, and Bird Island was not unattractive. We also stopped at "the lone Cyprus" the tree that is the logo of Pebble Beach golf course, it does look quite striking out there on its own, as I was taking photographs a squirrel ran up to the fence I was at and poked his head through, I got a couple of lovely photos :-).

We then stopped at the Pebble Beach clubhouse, it appears that they are hosting the US Open golf tournament in June (apparently it moves around a bit), I was surprised to learn that it is a public course with no members, however in preparation for the tournament they are denying the public the opportunity to spend 495 US Dollars on a round. I purchased a very nice shotglass celebrating the tournament and ambled relatively contentedly, although slightly peckishly back to the bus.

We then headed on to Carmel, which was a little strange, quite regimented and at the same time a little quirky (albeit in a "look at me, I'm quirky" sort of way) I actually rather liked it, we had an hour and an half to amble round which was very enjoyable, I had an iced coffee with the bubbles from bubble tea in it which was interesting and not unpleasant, and a cheese croissant which was very paletable.

Then back to the bus for 17:30, the driver asked where we wanted to be dropped off, now an invisible friend of mine called Jennifer* had recommended a restaurant called the Nob Hill Cafe so since we were to be arriving in the city at about eight I asked to be dropped there. On the way back we stopped at "the garlic capital of the world" (bless them) the shop was quite interesting however I didn't purchase anything as I don't want to know the havoc that garlic could wreak on my clothes in two weeks!

Anyway just after we set off on the final leg the old couple in front of me (he had taken photographs approx every three seconds of the trip, and she had done nothing but text her friends) started whining about their dinner arrangements, so I checked my phone and realised that we were indeed running a little late, once we had dropped people off at various hotels around the airport (people you save on the hotel, but then you have to lose a lot of time, and probably pay a lot of money to get into town), and at various train stations I realised that I wouldn't arrive at the restaurant until nine at the earliest, and that is a little late for me (I know my Spanish and Italian friends would be shocked at this as they don't even look at heading out before ten) so when he stopped at Union Square I alighted there.

On the way back to the hotel I pass Sushi Toni (or Swiss Toni as I thought of it), so I pulled in there and had some sushi (three nights in a row!) which was really rather good, however for three days I have had Spider Rolls (Deep fried soft shell crab, rice etc., etc. held together by seaweed, it is about an inch and an half round) because I rather enjoy it, however I cannot work out how to break it in two, and with the legs pointing out on the end bits even I cannot fit it all in.

And so to bed.

*Although I never actually think of her as Jennifer, in the same way as when Jose, Carol Ann or Cindy pop up I always need to do a sort of mental translation.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Friday 28th of May 2010 - San Francisco

Light today as I am quite tired

Not sure if I have mentioned how twee my hotel is, very nice, but flowers everywhere and there was a teddy bear on the bed when I arrived.

Awoke fairly early, didn't breakfast as I wasn't hungry, walked down to Union Square via a different route, and now realise that Mr. Bolt could probably make it in ten seconds (although the hill might slow him on the way back). Just missed the tourist bus, so I sat in the gorgeous sunshine and boarded the next bus. A gorgeous trip and I got off in the Golden Gate Park where I went to the California Academy of Sciences, an Aquarium, Planetarium, Natural History museum and Rainforest (which I missed), very good I thought.

And the De Yong which had a fantastic selection of Impressionist paintings from the Musee D'Orsay, really fantastic. Then a taxi to Fishermans wharf (a long journey, about 20 dollars) where I ate a crab at Nick's Lighthouse, it was served with ketchup and melted butter (I really think someone needs to introduce the Americans to the delight of a really good mayonnaise with shellfish) and it wasn't at all bad. Then to the Stonehill Creamery where I had a strawberry and bananana confection made for me which was also very pleasant.

Decided to go to the contemporary Jewish museum for the rest of the day so caught the bus again and got off in Union Square, it was such a lovely day, and I remembered someone mentioning a restaurant at the top of Macys so I popped up there where I had a piece of cherry cheesecake, when I told the waitress that it was gorgeous she replied "so are you" :-)

So I walked off to the museum however when I arrived there I realised that it was only about twenty minutes until the museum closed, so I decided to come back on Sunday or Monday. Just next door to the museum was a fat and lanky shop, so I purchased four shirts and a jacket, although to be honest I didn't realise just how expensive the jacket was. Walked back to the hotel purchasing (a lot less) sushi on the way, from Maru Sushi, which again was lovely.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Thursday 27th of May 2010 - San Francisco

As I said I awoke at about 04:30, which was quite good, stood outside and had a couple of cigarettes, then tidied, repacked my daypack and generally pootled around. Then went down to breakfast, awful bread, a surprisingly good croissant, lovely melon, and a valiant stab at an omlette that didn't really come off, to drink, tea, not great, but what does one expect?

Then popped to reception a couple of doors down the road, and asked them a) where can I go for free internet access? And b) Where do I go to pick up a tourist bus? They answered a) Well we provide it (some hint on checking in would have been appreciated!) and b) Down the road, turn right for Union Square, and they are just outside Maceys from about 09:30. So although there was still a time to go I set off, the morning was nice and I debated leaving my coat in the hotel, however it was just on the edge of chilly so I took it.

Walked down the street, turned right at the appropriate juncture and was very soon in Union Square, ambled around looking at it, a nice concrete open area, reminded me of Neuilly Sur Seine, however surrounded by expensive shops, the weather turned a little inclement then, and so I retired to a cafe on the square and had a very palatable cup of cafe latte, after this I went to the bus stopping place, and signed up with the first bus company that came through, the bus had a covering at the front of the top deck, and we went through the city, China Town, North End, Pier 39, Fishermans Wharf, Golden Gate Park and such. So I rode all the way round the first time just to get a handle on where things were, popped out for a cigarette in the viewing area the other side of the Golden Gate bridge and got drenched, it really was raining very had. I was blowing steam on the top deck as we were coming back!

Got off at Fishermans Wharf, have to admit I was expecting more from it, quite a few restaurants and a number of relatively unimpressive shops, tried an "In and Out" burger as everyone speaks so highly of them, it really was quite pleasant, the chips were not at all bad either. Being the glutton that I am I then went on to Alioto restaurant because I wanted to try some of the crab that San Francisco is so famous for and the restaurant had been spoken of very highly by people on my bus trip. Sadly they didn't do crab and their "Bay shrimp creole" was not really that impressive, bay shrimp were the smallest prawns I have seen, and to be honest were up there with the cheapest frozen prawns I have purchased, the bread was very good though.

Walked up to the cable car station and caught it up to Union Square, very enjoyable, the hills really are rather steep! I sat inside the car which was quite good as it started to rain again.

Walked over to the bus stop again and got on another bus, this one did not have a covered top at all so I took my place downstairs, we went round again, however having another guide (Anne on this trip, Shona on the first one) meant that although the general gist of the guide was the same there was different frosting which was very interesting, when we arrived at Fishermans wharf the weather had improved and so we went upstairs where Anne dried the seats that we passengers were going to use and we sat down and on with the trip, just before we reached the golden gate bridge it started to get a little wet, and whilst we were going across it certainly felt like there was hail driving into my face and by the time we reached the viewing point I was totally drenched. Then sat inside the bus and was almost dry by the time (over an hour later) that we reached Chinatown where I left the bus and had a walk through.

Just after the gate (present from Taiwan, 1970, Fu Dogs), there was a Starbucks which fulfilled a pressing need of mine, although there was some schoolgirl who seemed irritated that anyone else was in the queue, which as she came in five minutes after me, and I was also on the verge of exploding, was a little irksome. My hotel is a few blocks along from Chinatown, so I walked back, and arrived back at about 16:30. Started writing this, and at about 17:15 I went down to the Wine and Horses doofers, olives and devilled eggs, lovely :-) The white Whine was also quite pleasant, however there was a very loud bunch of men discussing their imported Italian wine (or possibly wine faked in America, I wasn't sure, and when they said it would always taste the same from year to year I realised that it would be crap anyway, and the flog it for 18 dollars a bottle!) so I left quite quickly.

About half a block from my hotel there was a sushi restaurant where I ordered three sets of rolls, Spider, Monster and Tiger. In the description of Monster it mentions the number 4, so I assumed that there would be 4 pieces per roll. Wrong! 8 pieces of Tiger, 8 pieces of Monster, 5 pieces of Spider, but they were HUGE! I had to take half of it away in a doggy bag! All of them were gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous, I will have to go back to Oisi, although I'm not sure they use all of these sauces, and I feel even guiltier about Kim not tucking in, the crunch from the Crab and Tempura was lovely.

Then back to the hotel, a bath and soon to bed...

Wednesday 26th of May - London to San Francisco

Wednesday 26th of May

Well checked in yesterday, and BA managed to run my flight :-) Was on the upper deck of a 747 in a backwards facing seat. Why does a cabin crew strike mean that we had economy food and drink? Also they had problems with the entertainment system although as I didn't really want to watch anything that didn't worry me. Flight was a little delayed by headwinds so we landed about half an hour late at about five. Immigration and baggage were a doddle and my taxi dropped me off at my hotel by six.

Stood in reception for about ten minutes until someone came by and said that I needed to check in at another hotel just up the street, so I went and checked in there, where I was given two physical keys! I haven't had a physical key for an hotel for years it always seems to be cards these days. One key for the front door of the hotel and one for my room. The hotel is done in an old French style, and my room is done in "cutesy" down to a teddy bear on the bed (photo to follow) with a lovely fire although as the weather is reasonable I probably will not need that.

Started to go out for a walk, however I got paranoid about some chappie who was going into the hotel, so I went back, picked up two bottles of water from a fridge (free water is something that I think all hotels should offer). went back to my room and had a bath, why are the baths in America so low? It is something that always surprises me anew every time. After moisurising to bed! Have been having a lot of trouble with sleeping back home (3-4 hours a night) so I am delighted to report that I fell asleep at about half eight, and awoke at about half four.