Monday, November 19, 2012

San Francisco, Day 1


Today we got up at about 9:30, mostly because my phone hadn't updated the time. Our hotel room is in the corner of the building, so we have two long windows that give us a pretty good view of the city, including the Bay Bridge.

We basically had no plans for the day, so we just went out and started wandering the city. Alyssa and I are sort of like-minded about cities; they're very daunting, and we wouldn't want to live in one. Duluth is often called the poor-man's San Francisco, mostly because they're both located on a hill and have a famous bridge, but the difference in size is simply astonishing. San Francisco has such a wide variety to it that as we walked through it, it felt like being somewhere entirely different.

We stopped for breakfast at a place called The Melt, where we each had an Egg-in-the-hole with bacon. It was a good start to the morning, but left my desire for a true brunch unsatisfied.

We made our way to Chinatown by GPS, eventually arriving at the Dragon Gate, which marked the formal entry into the area. I'm not sure exactly what defines the borders of Chinatown, because there was a gradual increase in the density of Chinese writing even leading up to Dragon Gate, but it's nice that there was at least a half-hearted attempt to simply declare, "Here be Chinese". Once we were past that, we stopped into a number of the shops.

Most of the ones Alyssa was interested in were filled from floor to ceiling with knick-knacks; chopsticks, chopstick holders, small boxes, figurines, tea cups, tea pots, incense, stickers, pens, shirts, and San Francisco themed stuff. Most of it was very cheap, in price if not in quality. While she looked at some puzzles, I tried to figure out how the tea cups were put together - it was easy enough to find the seam where the decal was applied, but it looked quite good, like hand-glazed ceramics. Alyssa and I both saw lots of things we wanted to buy, but we put it off because we didn't want to fill up our suitcases in the first day, nor did we want to carry things all around the city. I also saw a little figurine that I thought was hilarious; it was the three monkeys miming "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" but there was also a fourth monkey that had his hands over his genitals.

From Chinatown we headed to Fisherman's Wharf, stopping on the way at a sushi place. Alyssa had a bowl of chicken udon, which was far too much food for her. I looked through the list of rolls, and picked one on the basis of name alone: the Godzilla roll. This turned out to be a mistake, because what I hadn't realized was that it was going to be a gimmick roll. Instead of being eight or so bite sized pieces, it was four giant pieces. While this looked impressive, sushi is meant to be eaten in a single bite per piece, and this showed why, as the large pieces fell apart when taken in two bites. It was delicious though, with shredded crab and eel in the middle, so I guess I can't complain.

We knew we were at Fisherman's Wharf by the burst of activity there; within a few minutes I saw a street preacher, a contortion act (which had too many people around it, so I could only hear the MC describing what was going on), and a golden statue man. Alyssa and I walked along to one of the piers to go out and look at Alcatraz, which looks much closer to the shore than I would have thought. I'm not saying that I could swim it, but I could totally swim it. Perhaps the waters are treacherous? At some point in this vacation, we're going to visit Alcatraz, so maybe I'll re-evaluate from there.

We had a pretty funny conversation when we saw an island with a restaurant on it by the pier. I joked about it being able to move, and Alyssa told me that I was being dumb, but then it turned out that we were looking at Forbes Island, which was built from a houseboat and actually does float - it's just that the effect is quite believable. After looking it up online, it seems that there are underwater dining rooms in the "island", which makes me kind of want to eat there, even if the prices are a little bit high.

Pier 39 is probably what most people mean when they say Fisherman's Wharf, but to me it seemed to be the definition of a tourist trap. There were lots of "specialty" stores that sold various kinds of souvenirs and things like that, but nothing that blew my mind. I had a spot of heavy disappointment when I saw a store called Magnetron, but it was almost all fridge magnets. I'm not sure why I thought they would have ferrofluids, electromagnets, or anything awesome like that, but they didn't. Alyssa seemed much happier there than I was. There were also large crowds, which don't agree with me. However, I did get to use a "coin-per-view" machine to watch some of the people moving around on Alcatraz, so that's a plus.

We rode a trolley back into downtown, and then had some confusion about exactly how to get back to our hotel. Unfortunately, Alyssa entered the wrong thing into her phone, so we ended up walking in the wrong direction for about a dozen blocks. We only realized we were going wrong after we were nearly at the top of a large hill. Alyssa wanted to take a taxi, but I said no, mostly because taxis (and pretty much every form of communal transportation) make me uncomfortable. On the way back, once we knew where we were going, we had another mistake where Alyssa made a wrong turn and we ended up going in the opposite direction of our hotel. We bought a piece of cake, which we ate later in the day, and I took over the navigation. I also gave Alyssa a lot of crap, as I am wont to do.

Once back in our hotel room, we settled in for a nap and rested our feet.

We had a late dinner at Oola's, which was said to have the best ribs in San Francisco. There were served with a soy ginger glaze with some coleslaw on the side, and since they were the best ribs I've ever had - the kind that pull right off the bone as you bite - I'm inclined to believe that they're the best in San Francisco. I wish I could make ribs that good. I also had some brussel sprouts with sage, butter, and capers on the side, a good choice, because the plate that we split really benefited from it. Oola's was a small place, maximum seating of about fifty people, which gave it a nice, cozy feel. We were given some hot towels to wipe our hands once we finished with the ribs, a nice touch. For desert, Alyssa had creme brulee with some orange in it, which was exceptionally good (I got to finish it when she became full), and I had a chocolate caramel cake with vanilla ice cream. I had initially thought that it would just be a slice of cake, but it turned out to be a mini cake all on its own, drizzled with fudge that was added with a flourish by the waiter when he brought it to the table. The inside was filled with a quite warm swirl of chocolate and caramel. I might ask Alyssa if we can go there again, though when you're taking a vacation it sort of feels like a shame to eat at the same place twice.

When we got back to our hotel it was after ten, so we watched half of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones before we were too tired and fell asleep. (Alyssa has never seen them, so this is part of getting her cultural education.)

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