Friday, October 4, 2013

Long Weekend in San Francisco

Way too early on Thursday we boarded a plane in Boston, and headed to San Francisco, ready to visit with Daniel and Sarah for the weekend, eat some good food, even do a little wedding dress shopping.

We left the house at 6 am, thinking we would have plenty of time to catch our 9:30 flight, but traffic into Boston was already heavy and we made it to the airport with little time to spare. Although we were fine, I hate cutting it so close. But it's very hard to judge what Boston traffic is going to do. We could have left at 5:30 and ended up waiting at the airport for an hour. You just never know.

I spent the flight obsessively reading "Orange is the New Black" the excellent memoir by Piper Keirnan, on which the hit TV show on Netflix is based. I know part of my fascination with this story is because I also have a family member that spent some time in prison. It's a window into what that experience is like. As a white, upper middle class woman, Piper didn't fit the stereotype of your typical prison inmate, but gradually over her stay she comes to the point in her self knowledge that it was her choices and decisions that ended up putting her in jail, and that she had no one to blame but herself. Prison is horrible, but in an awful way it can also be a lifesaver. It's a puzzle and a contradiction to a bleeding heart liberal like myself. Strangely, this theme of contradictory thoughts will be repeated over the course of our weekend.

We took Bart into the city from the airport. Daniel had to work on Thursday, and Sarah, who had flown in the day before, was having lunch with a friend in the city. Taking Bart was very easy, but here's the contradiction. Bart is efficient and took us within a block of our hotel, but the stench of urine as we made our way up the escalator to street level was overpowering. San Francisco is such a beautiful city, but at street level it is often flat out disgusting. The homeless wander about disconsolately, huddle in corners, crouch in doorways, sleep in piles of plastic and rags in the middle of the downtown shopping district. Yeah this liberal girl gets angry at the situation. I dislike the ugliness and the nastiness; but what is the right solution? They need housing, and help, but in San Francisco nobody is going to force them into a shelter. But it also makes me much less inclined to like this city as much as I once did.

A little afternoon shopping with Lee and Sarah and eventually we pick Daniel up at the Caltrain station and see his new apartment. It's really a cool apartment, in Portilla Hills, with views of the city, a nice kitchen, shiny floors. My boy is coming up in the world! California is definitely agreeing with Daniel. Despite working very hard at his job, he still finds time to have a lot of fun too. I'm very happy for him.

Dinner was at Izakaya Sozai , a popular Japanese restaurant in the Sunset neighborhood. We got there early, and since they were very small, they had to push two tables together to make a table for 4 so we had to wait a bit even though we had a reservation. But once we were seated it was very good. It wasn't a sushi restaurant, per se; their specialties trended more toward noodles and yakatori, various grilled meats, veggies and fish, on skewers, with dipping sauces.

Although I was plenty tired I slept rather fitfully that night. Lee and I have a new mattress at home. It's a Temperpedic, and they have a different feel. It took us almost a month to get really used to it, but now we love it and other mattresses just don't feel as good. Spoiled!

Friday morning Sarah and I went off to do a little wedding dress shopping. This was really fun. Sarah and I shop well together, leaving the other person plenty of room to wander through the racks and try on things without trying to make joint decisions. But this of course was a different experience. We went to a little shop called "And Something Blue" (clever title, no?) where Sarah had made an appointment. The shop owner met us there, and explained how things would work, since this was our first experience with wedding dress shopping.

She asked Sarah what she thought she was looking for, what the venue was like, what type of material and style appealed to her. And, of course, her budget! Then we went through the racks, Sarah picking out some dresses, the shop owner suggesting a few others. Only one of the dresses was outside Sarah's budget, but it was so pretty we just couldn't resist.

We had 6 dresses for Sarah to try on in an hour, but Sarah is good at knowing pretty quickly what she likes, and even more importantly, what she does not. And since she is small, it was very easy for her to step in and out of the sample sized dresses, which were all too big. We could get a good approximate idea of how a dress would actually look by the use of large clips fastened in the back! It was kind of funny, but it worked.

My job was to take pictures, and notes. Sarah gave each dress an impromptu grade. Sometimes it was obvious that a particular dress was not for her, sometimes a dress initially seemed right, but then paled beside another dress she subsequently tried on. The rejects were either too prom dressy or too matronly. The winners were more modern and stylish, with some sort of detail that made them a bit romantic, and a bit different.

We ended up with 2, maybe 3 dresses that were contenders. No, you can't see them yet! You'll just have to wait. We have another couple of dress appointments this Friday in Minneapolis. I bet by the end of those we'll have a very good idea of the dress that will be "it".

After dress shopping Daniel and Lee reappeared. It was lunch time so we used Yelp to find a recommendation for Vietnamese food that wasn't too far away. I don't remember the restaurant's name, but it was great, with wonderful Pho, and other very good dishes. I'm always happy when we discover a place with good Vietnamese food!

After lunch we drove down to the marina area near the Golden Gate Bridge to try to watch the America's Cup. I took this opportunity to play with my camera a bit. The day was overcast and cloudy so the light was not the greatest, but I knew if I tried shooting in Raw, I might end up with better pictures.

What is Raw, you ask? Well, I've just learned myself, so this explanation may be a little confused. Most of the time when you take a picture the pictures are saved in a format called JPeg. I don't know what that stands for, but the data is compressed, and although they take up less room on a memory card, the compromise is that you lose some of the pixels that make up the picture. Although much of the time this really doesn't matter, in low light conditions it can make a difference. If you shoot in Raw the pictures aren't compressed and you have more data to work with when you edit your pictures later on. That's the simple explanation.

For awhile, the American boat, sponsored by Oracle, and the New Zealand boat, sponsored by Emerites, meandered around the bay aimlessly. Periodically they would speed up a bit, and then slow back down. Apparently they have to complete their course in a certain amount of time, and if there isn't enough wind they don't race. They were waiting for the wind to pick up.

Suddenly they were off! Sailboats don't just line up and go. I don't entirely understand boat racing. I know there is a course, with marks that the boats have to go around, but often they don't all seem to start in the same place. And these are not ordinary boats. Very large catamarans, with sails made of a material more like airplane wings that cloth sails, these boats are not built for safety. They fly through the water at an astonishing rate of speed, often with only an edge of the hull still connected to the earth.

We watched them until they sped out of sight behind Alcatraz. Filled with a cheery sense of exhilaration we wandered back to the car and decided to rest up a bit before dinner.

That evening we ate at Delfino's in the hip part of the Mission District. It was a fabulous restaurant. This is one of those areas of the city where one block is full of good restaurants and shops, but if you turn the wrong corner you can suddenly be in a very sketchy area. It's not so much that it seems particularly dangerous, but it can go from nice to iffy in a couple 100 yards. I'd rather stay where it's nice, thank you very much!

The next morning it was back to The Hong Kong Lounge for dim sum. We had eaten at this restaurant on our previous trip to San Francisco, back in March. It is the real deal, reminiscent of the best of Asian dim sum, although their dumplings are not quite to the Din Tai Fung standard. The last time we ate here I almost made myself sick, eating a ridiculous amount of dumplings, pot stickers, and congee. This time, with Daniel firmly ensconced in California and more confidence that we would be back here soon enough, I was able to control myself, and only ate a normal amount of dim sum, instead of twice my body weight.

We had lots of fun at Hong Kong Lounge. Our friends Corry and Jeff were able to join us, and so was Tim, my former brother in law. We had a good time catching up with everyone in between bites of dumplings.

It was a rainy afternoon in the city, so Daniel suggested that we try out the Exploratorium, a science museum overlooking the bay, with exhibits that appeal to grown ups as well as children. The exhibits were great, especially the ones involving human perceptions and the brain. I especially enjoyed anything involving optical experiments and illusions.

Sarah, Lee and I all had the same reaction to this museum. At the beginning of the museum exhibits there were a bunch of children, but after about an hour of participatory exhibits, the younger set peters out, and by the time an hour and a half had passed we were ready to go as well. The museum required so much concentration and attention that we couldn't enjoy it much longer than that.

When we left the museum the rain had stopped. We found a Blue Bottle coffee shop in the Ferry building and had some excellent nicely decorated coffee. San Francisco may have some serious problems, but they sure know how to brew coffee in this city.

Lee and I left San Francisco for Carmel Saturday afternoon. He had to prepare for his meeting on Sunday. My plans were to go on a long run Sunday morning and then meet the kids in Carmel By The Sea later that afternoon. We were staying at a nice, unpretentious golf resort. Tired and not very hungry, we ambled through the twilight to their pleasant restaurant, and fell into a dreamless sleep.

My Sunday morning run was only 8 miles. I didn't think I'd have any trouble finding an easy out and back, but it was harder than I thought it would be. We were in Carmel valley, and the space between the two mountain ranges was pretty limited. When I found a trail it would eventually head into an area marked "Private! No Trespassing!" I finally found what seemed to be a good trail, but even it dead ended at a locked gate that required a permit in order to proceed. I guess Carmel isn't that interested in providing good places for visitors to run!

I did have one amazing experience on this run, however. On my way out I passed a newborn baby calf, still wet from its mother's womb, curled up beside her while her mama licked her dry. I could hardly believe my eyes, and silently kicked myself for leaving my phone behind. By the time I passed the pair again on my way back, the little calf was standing and nursing by its mother's side. How cool is that?!

Sarah and Daniel drove down to Carmel for the afternoon. We walked around Carmel by the sea, admired the ocean, browsed through the shops. I found another miniature teapot to add to my collection (I guess now that I have three that makes it a collection!). After lunch we did a couple of wine tastings. Carmel is not ideal for wine by California standards, being too cool and foggy much of the time. They grow mostly Pinot Noirs and Sirahs. They were okay but nothing worth buying and shipping home. Hopefully on our next trip we'll have time to go to Napa again.

After one more excellent Japanese meal in Mountain View that evening (Daniel insists that the best Asian food in the area is found in some of the smaller towns south of the city), we headed to an airport hotel for the night. Back to New Hampshire early Monday morning, with only two days at home before heading to Minneapolis for my nephew's wedding. We are one trip through our three trip fall travel marathon. Will we make it? I hope so!


  1. I just got done reading that memoir, too. It was good! Have you watched the show? That's what got me interested. I must say, I like the "real" (book) Piper better than the show Piper. :) Go figure!

    It was great to see you last weekend!

    1. I agree on all counts! The show got me interested, but the book is better. Jengi Cohan drives me crazy after awhile so I don't know how many seasons I'll be able to stand.

      It was great seeing you too! And Henry! What a doll! And your pictures were great! I can't wait to hear about Kilamanjaro....



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