The first airplane trip that Jon and I took together was when we had been together about 6 months. At that point, I think we were both thinking that we were in the relationship for the long haul. The extended stay trip is kind of a milestone in a relationship, because it is a great opportunity to assess different skills (how does this guy react when he is tired and cranky and the airline loses his luggage?) Plus, there is the other important factor to be considered: will being around this guy 24 hours a day for several days drive me to the brink of insanity? So, to test our relationship (or just to take a vacation, whatever you want to call it), we flew to San Francisco in February 2009. I had never been to San Francisco before, but Jon had been there several times. We flew into the Oakland Airport, and had decided that for this trip, we weren’t going to rent a car. San Francisco has pretty good public transportation options and we are both physically fit and not opposed to walking places. Once we landed, we took the shuttle bus to the BART station, to make our way into San Francisco. It was dark by the time we got to the BART, so we couldn’t see any of the landmarks, and it took us a couple of stops to figure out that we were going the wrong direction – we had gotten on the wrong train… Oops. So, we hopped off, went over to the other track, and got back on in the right direction. That boo boo cost us about 20 minutes, but we were none the worse for the wear, and made it into the city without further incident.
Once we got there, we went and found our hotel, The Baldwin. The Baldwin is located about a half block from the gates of Chinatown, with a nice central location. The pros, it is a neat historic hotel, with a big clawfoot bathtub. Our room had a view into the condo across the alley, which had some really cool artwork and furniture. Of course, we tried not to snoop too much into the lives of our millionaire neighbors, but hey, they left their shades open! Some of the reviews on one of the travel sites said that the garbage trucks going through the alley in the middle of the night kept them awake all night, but we didn’t have any problem with that. The cons, the bed was soft and creaky, and past its useful life. The hairdryer was attached to the dresser in the room, so you couldn’t really do your hair in the bathroom. That was really just a quirk, but odd nonetheless. They didn’t have a continental breakfast, but most big city hotels don’t. They did have coffee and tea in the lobby at all hours, but no coffeemaker in the room.
Once we got settled, we headed off in the direction of Chinatown to find something to eat. The shops were closing, so could couldn’t peek around into any of them, but we managed to find a conveyor belt sushi place that looked decent. We enjoyed a meal of sushi and chatted about what we were going to do in the city. We headed back to the hotel so we could be up early to do some touristing!
The first full day in San Francisco started out with no rain and somewhat overcast. We had a quick breakfast at Starbucks, and then headed out for a walk up the hill to Coit Tower. Wow, that is a hike! Once you are almost at the top of the Telegraph Hill, which is steep, you have to climb up a series of steps to get to the Tower itself. Luckily we weren’t in a hurry! Coit Tower has been a San Francisco landmark providing butt-burning workouts since 1933, when it was completed at the bequest of funds by Lillie Hitchcock Coit upon her death in 1929. When Lillie Hitchcock was 15 years old, she began a lifelong affliation with the Knickerbocker Engine Company Number 5. As the story goes, in 1858, the Knickerbocker Engine #5 was understaffed, and the men were struggling to pull the engine up Telegraph Hill. Lillie Hitchcock was on her way home from school, and threw her books to the ground and began to help pull the engine up the hill, imploring other bystanders to join in the efforts. The Knickerbocker Engine Company never forgot her efforts and made her an honorary member of the department. Although Coit Tower really does resemble a fire hose, the architects insist that it was not intended to portray any sort of firefighting equipment.
Coit Tower is decorated with dozens of murals that were commissioned as a project under the Public Works Administration, President Roosevelt’s Depression Era New Deal federal employment program. The murals were mostly done by students and faculty form the California School of Fine Arts and depict city and rural life, the disconnect between the rich and the poor, and other everyday subjects. The murals are incredibly detailed. You can read the titles of newspapers in the pictures, and each time you look, you will see something different. When we went, it was free to enter the rotunda where most of the murals are (I’m not sure if it still is) – you just have to pay to take the elevator to the top. Since we had never been, we did take the elevator up, and I think it was worth it to see the panoramic views of the City. I probably wouldn’t go up every time though. It is like the Seattle Space Needle, it is the type that you only need to see every 5 or 10 years.
Coit Tower Mural
While at Coit Tower, Jon’s friend Pablo joined us. Pablo and Jon met when Jon lived in Sacramento, and they have been fast friends ever since. Pablo made the trip from Sacramento to join us and spend a couple of days. It was my first time meeting Pablo, but I could immediately see why Jon likes him.
After we left Coit Tower, we headed over to get a look at Lombard Street. Jon told me it was really close to Coit Tower, and at the time, I didn’t know enough to not believe his distance estimations. It was, if I remember correctly, about a half hour away (remember we are walking), down one big hill and back up another big hill (remember this is San Francisco). Some of you have heard Lombard Street called “the crookedest street in the world”. Well, apparently it is not, but it sure is close. The block is so steep that in order to accommodate cars, the street was built with a series of extreme switchbacks. In between the switchbacks are little flower gardens. I’m not sure who maintains the flower gardens, but if I lived there, I certainly wouldn’t want to be out there digging in the dirt when someone came barreling down the hill with no brakes! My theory is that all the little flower gardens are roadside memorials to the residents killed by crazy car-wielding tourists. But it sure is fun to take pictures.
Next we headed over to Fisherman’s Wharf. This was a downhill walk from where we were, but sometimes walking downhill is just as difficult. This walk is dotted with mansions, and I think several are being used as embassies. Tough life working in a mansion… But on the way, we found Patagonia! No, silly, not the geographic area, that’s in Chile and Argentina. The store! And they were having a sale! I found a really cool laptop bag with room to hold extra stuff. It is perfect for traveling with your computer. The only thing that has kept Jon from trying to steal it is the fact that it is lavender, that that Jon’s laptop doesn’t fit in the laptop pocket. Of course, that doesn’t always help. Sometimes he just takes it anyway.
All that shopping built up an appetite, so when we got down to the wharf area, we experienced another of those big city traditions that we just can’t get at home – In & Out Burger! Sometimes I just crave a hamburger, and these ones are so good. I’m sure I don’t want to know how many calories are in them – because I’m convinced that they butter the buns. But after all that walking I think I deserved it.
Down at the wharf area, there is a little museum run by the California Parks Department. It is pretty cool. It shows the location of all the shipwrecks that they know about in San Francisco Bay. There is an exhibit about the dangers of the Bay and the hazards that the sailors experience from back in the 1800s to today. And it’s free! We poked around in there for a little while and then it was on to the big reveal – Fisherman’s Wharf.
Fisherman’s Wharf is one of those ultimate tourist traps. I knew that before we went, but didn’t really know what it would be like. It is built on a Wharf (duh) and is kind of like a big, outdoor shopping mall, with all the stores catering to every imaginable tourist desire. T shirts, music boxes, candy, expensive art and lots of over-priced food. We wandered around for a little while, but it really isn’t that big of a draw for me. I was really more interested in finding the sea lions, but there weren’t very many hanging out on the day that we were there. Locals told us that there have been fewer and fewer of them in the last couple of years (maybe they are all heading up the Columbia River to chow down on the salmon at the dam).
Alcatraz Island from Fisherman's Wharf
That night was Valentine’s Day, and the next day was our six month anniversary. So, to celebrate, we walked over to North Beach and found a little hole in the wall Italian restaurant that was actually huge on the inside. The three of us enjoyed a delicious meal and Jon and I split a bottle of wine. Sorry guys, I have absolutely no recollection of what kind of wine it was – something Italian – but it was tasty. Funny though, I still remember that I had some delicious gnocchi, and Jon had eggplant parmesan.
That dinner wrapped up our day, and we walked our overstuffed, happy selves back to the Baldwin. I swear I walked 20 miles that day (Jon says it was only really 7 or 8), so I slept well!