Thursday, November 22, 2012

San Francisco, Day 5

Probably because we spent yesterday lazing about, Alyssa and I got up around 8 am. The Academy of Sciences didn't open until 9:30, but taking the bus and walking through Golden Gate park took almost exactly enough time, and we arrived right as they opened.
California Academy of Sciences

The first thing we saw when we got through the doors was a T-rex, which looked a lot smaller than I had thought it would. Alyssa suggested that perhaps it was a scaled down version, but the sign didn't say so, and so I'm forced to assume that it wasn't. If that's the case, the T-rex just got a lot less scary for me. I think I'm mostly remembering the skeletons from when I was little, which seemed much bigger. Or perhaps it really was scaled down.
T-Rex Casting
Alyssa and I ate at the cafe there, as we hadn't had breakfast; she had a ginger scone, and I had some pumpkin coffee cake, along with some fruit that we shared. Just outside was probably the highlight of the whole place for Alyssa; nearly a dozen baby ostriches. They were only twenty days old. Compared to how scary and mean adult ostriches can be, the babies were adorable and cuddly. We weren't allowed to pet them, but they came close enough to the glass that we got a good look at them. Alyssa called them ostrichlings, but I don't think that's a real word.
Ostrich Chick
Herd of chicks
The ostriches were part of an exhibit on earthquakes and tectonic activity; the ostrich diverged from other species because because of the shifting tectonic plates. Personally I think it was just an excuse to show off some baby ostriches.

We went into an interactive exhibit which simulated two earthquakes; the 1901 earthquakes, and the 1989 earthquake. Because of the safety concerns, they just did side-to-side motion instead of up-and-down motion, and perhaps that's why they felt weak to me. Or perhaps it's just that the worst part of an earthquake isn't the shaking that you personally feel, it's the fact that they could take down buildings. At any rate, I'm less scared of earthquakes now too.

There are two large spheres inside the Academy. One is the planetarium, which we elected not to visit, and the other is a rainforest, which is awesome. You enter through an airlock in the bottom, and we could feel the wet, humid air flow in. There were also serious looking signs about this being a USDA containment site and federal penalties for absconding with butterflies, so you knew that they meant business.
Rainforest sphere on the right
For the most part the three levels of the rainforest were filled with frogs, lizards, snakes, and spiders, though the top level had most of the butterflies that you weren't supposed to touch. The butterflies were allowed to land on you, which seems a little bit unfair. Alyssa took lots of pictures of everything. The best of the animals was definitely the giant orb weaver spider, which was nearly as large as my palm, though it was nice to see the butterflies flying around. I ducked and flinched back every time they came flying at my head, which I think is a totally natural reaction, but which Alyssa found hilarious. One of the cooler pieces of the exhibit was a part where you could stick your arm into a hold in the wall and it would simulate a boa constrictor squeezing you. After watching some children being really scared of it, I stuck my arm in. It wasn't any worse than a blood pressure cuff, and I was going to add boa constrictors to things that I'm no longer scared of, but when I tried to pull my arm out and found I was trapped I had a brief moment of panic before the hole in the wall let go.
Lots of plants, trees, and running water 
This frog has the worst sense of camouflage 
Butterfly feeding area
Sorry for the glare, but it's the best orb weaver picture we could get
At the top of the rainforest sphere were elevators down to the basement, but first was an extensive butterfly checking procedure with multiple mirrors. The woman ahead of us had a butterfly sticking to her, and she seemed even more scared of it than I was. The butterfly guard (no idea what his actual title was) seemed really nonchalant about the escape attempt.

The basement floor of the Academy of Sciences is taken up with lots and lots of sea life, including an acrylic tunnel like they had at the Aquarium which went under the rainforest. For the most part, there were a lot of repeats, with a couple exceptions. The first was the shrimp, which came in a much larger variety. They have little bits that come off of them that I refer to as mustaches  and you can see them using them like a cat uses whiskers. I think the best thing about them was the full display of color. Second, there was a swamp area with large turtles about three feet long, and an albino alligator. Third, they had seahorses, in three varieties; there was a potbellied seahorse whose stomach bulged out in a kind of gross way, a leafy sea dragon that was delicate and colorful, and a lacy seahorse that made the leafy one look like it was a brick truck. It amazes me that something like that doesn't just get thrashed by the first thing to see it, but I guess nature must be a little less violent that I thought. And finally, there was also a scuba diver tending to the fish, swimming by the floor to ceiling windows of the tank, which made me want to go reef diving somewhere, possibly for our next vacation.
Giant Seabass
In the backyard was a winter themed exhibit, which consisted of two reindeer. Their giant antlers were imposing and impressive, but they looked pretty bored and sleepy. Sometimes I really wish that there was a safe stimulant that we could give to animals in cages so that they would move around for our amusement. There was also a presentation thing in the center of the Academy where they made snow every half hour. It was fun to see the kids play in it, and weird to think that lots of those kids had never seen snow before. Hearing stories of people seeing snow for the first time is one of my favorite things.

After the Academy of Sciences, we went through their little park thing in the middle and over to the Japanese Tea Garden for some tea. Alyssa was skeptical that they actually had tea, but I had lots of hope, because a tea garden without tea would just be a garden. To the north was the de Young museum, which had a dominating presence and a surprisingly modern building for fine arts. We didn't go there today, and perhaps we won't on this trip, but I sort of wanted to check it out, if only to get contrast to SFMOMA.
Fountain at the Music Concourse
The Japanese Tea Garden did, indeed, have tea. I'm not sure what I expected, but it was exquisitely manicured gardenscape. There were koi ponds, soft moss, old trees, and lots of plaques everywhere to explain what everything was. The garden itself is more than a century old, which is more than enough time to have gotten that old worn feeling to it that I so enjoy; if I could fill our whole house with things that looked like they'd been sturdily used for centuries, I would. We ate a plate of tiny sandwiches while looking out over the intensely planned garden, and had a cup of tea each; I had something earthy whose name I can't remember, while Alyssa had the Jasmine, which was a little too flowery for me, though probably only in comparison to what I was drinking.
Garden with tea house

Our tea and tiny sandwiches

There was lots of bamboo

One of the many peace lanterns

Large Pagoda
Temple Gate
Bronze Buddha, cast in Japan in 1970

On our way back we took a different route through the park, seeing lots of sculptures that seem to dot the area. My favorite of those was a wine sculpture, a vase that stood nearly ten feet tall and was covered in six-inch tall figures in the process of making wine. It combined a lot of things that I really like; tiny people carrying out large tasks, complex processes that give visual variety, and bronze casting. It was also done by Gustav Doré, who did the woodcut of David fighting the Angel on my favorite t-shirt.

The bus back was crowded and slow, and it was a relief to get back to our hotel room. Alyssa said that she gets happier by the day that we don't live in a large city, and I'm in total agreement with her. We called ahead for the Duck Tour, which I'm still not entirely informed about, and managed to get there right before it left (but after our spot was forfeited) due to the slow, crowded street car. The duck tour will have to be saved for later, I guess.

Tired of the public transportation network, we walked south through Little Italy towards the Stinking Rose, a restaurant where we'd made reservations. Little Italy is more towards my tastes than Chinatown; I generally like Italian food better, and the desserts are worlds better. The aesthetic is also more pleasing to me, and less crowded and commercial. I don't know if that's the respective cultures in play, or just these specific places. The Italians are sort of known for being gaudy (or more kindly, Baroque), but that's not really reflected in Little Italy.

The Stinking Rose is a garlic themed restaurant, which I've wanted to go to ever since I knew it existed. I love garlic more than any other herb. At the Stinking Rose, every dish has garlic in it, usually a lot. The world's longest garlic braid winds itself backward and forward through the restaurant. The seating has a lot of variety to it, and we were placed nearly a window with a vaguely circus theme to it, lots of enclosed booths behind us that Alyssa really liked.
The Stinking Rose
Circus-type booths

For an appetizer, we got garlic, soaked in butter and oil, then cooked for a long time. It was so soft that you could spread it over bread like butter. There was also a small pot on the table that I thought was a garlic-heavy pesto, but which turned out to just be a garlic relish, with lots of raw garlic in it. I think I made the mistake of eating too much of it just because I like that sort of kick that garlic, wasabi, and horseradish share. For dinner, I ordered a dish based almost solely on the name - the Silence of the Lamb Shank, served with a chianti glaze and fava beans. Alyssa had some kind of pasta. The lamb was perfectly done, and delightfully garlic stuffed. We considered the garlic ice cream, but decided that it would be unique but not very good.

We walked back to our hotel room, and definitely would have taken a taxi instead if either of us knew how to hail a cab. It didn't help that for most of our walk we were going down a one-way street with all of the traffic moving the other way. After we got back to our hotel room, I went back out and foraged for dessert, ending up at a cupcake and ice cream place. For Alyssa I grabbed a tiramisu cupcake (which I swear she ate in a single bite, as I turned around and it was gone), and for myself I had three different scoops of ice cream, the best of which was a corn flake ice cream that had no chunks in it but tasted exactly like a bowl of cereal.

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