Friday, March 13, 2015

Hopping and Skipping through SF

NO BUS CONTENT today. Instead, I'm going to cover a whirlwind trip to the San Francisco Bay area. In some ways, this may feel like a re-tread of HNY from 2013 (link here). That's not just a coincidence; we tried to eek out a little honeymoon flashback out of this trip. This got really long. Sorry. While I recognize this is public, in a way this is how I record things for my own memory, so, details are important. :)

In looking back through my posts from last year, I realized that I never posted about a trip I took last Winter to San Diego. My sister and her family were thinking about moving to SF from SD, so Boo and I thought we ought to go visit and help them decide while soaking up some needed sun. Last Winter was a typical dreary, but less snow on the mountain than usual (but still more than this year), so we were in need of an adventure. Unlike our trip to SF described in the link above, the departure to SD was very smooth. The exodus from Oregon to SF was almost equally smooth this past week. Rather than a crack-of-dawn departure, we flew out around 7, so we both ducked out of work a little early and cut across town catching rush-hour traffic heading east out of Portland. It wasn't nearly as bad as it might have been, though. Even after missing the economy lot on the first try, we still had time to nab a sit-down bite to eat after cruising through security before our plane boarded.

BART It On Down the Line
SFO BART entrance
We picked SFO rather than Oakland because of the direct integration with the BART. Apparently, Oakland now has a $6 one-way people-mover from the airport to the totally-doesn't-feel-safe stadium BART stop. Yeah... even with the people-mover, standing on that platform at 10 o'clock at night sounds awfully, uh... exposed. I'll take the direct step-onto-the-train deal at SFO, though the walk to the station was quite long. Our flight terminal'd about as far away from the main terminal as seemed possible. Maybe it was having full day-packs on our backs that made it feel so long. Maybe it was just the drain from flight. Regardless, SFO has all kinds of interesting things to look at, and I don't mean the people. Newark Airport is best for that. SFO has museum pieces strewn about in display clusters throughout the airport. We looked at a couple which had just concert posters from the 60's and 70's for venues in the Bay Area. Very cool. BART was a key component through our 4-day stay in the Bay Area. We love BART.

No Renoir and that's no Monet
The place we had honeymooned (Renoir Hotel) has been shut down for a while. Maybe that issue with not having heat during the cold snap did it. Maybe it was just time to renovate. Boo and I walked by it on our first full day in SF, and it has been gutted. It looks like they removed every bit of reusable material, from the marble to the chandeliers and the wood trim on the windows, it has been picked clean. The first floor has been stripped to studs. We wondered if the building was going to get razed, and replaced with some fancy new tower like the Twitter headquarters down the street. That would be very sad. Based on internet news, it looks like it there was a plan to go boutique and then there was a fire. Not sure what the plan is now.

5th floor hallway mirror selfie
Since they weren't open for business, we got a one-night room at the Hotel Whitcomb just down the street. With out late arrival time, we ducked into the bar before last call for a quick taste before checking in. The bar-tender was really annoying, acting the braggart buffoon to maximize tips from better dressed patrons, leaving we travel worn to fend for ourselves. At least he didn't hassle us like the others, so maybe we got off with the better experience. One short pour and an unsatisfying bottled beer later, Boo and I left unimpressed. The front clerk was efficient, and we were checked-in and in our 5th floor room quickly. The room was small, but effective. No coffee maker nor mini-fridge, but we were just looking for a safe bed. The fact that we were the room at the end of the hall next to the fire escape (the homicide room) wasn't lost on me, but I kept the "homicide" part to myself.

Thai Re-try
We didn't stay in the room very long. We were both more interested in getting some food and a better drink, so we hit the streets of Tenderloin. After a little walking about, we found Lers Ros again. Like the first time, it was sooo tasty. The management had added more tables, and the place was much busier than the last time, but the food and service was just as memorable. We'll go there every time we visit SF, so long as they're open.

5 Mile
The following day, we re-traced some other steps we had taken 2 years earlier after checking out. We visited some old Grateful Dead haunts (the Bill Graham, Warfield Theater, Great American Music Hall and the Fillmore), hit JapanTown for some incense and then BART'd to Berkeley to meet up with my brothers, sisters, their families and my folks at a rented house to celebrate my parents 50th wedding anniversary. All told, we clocked over 6 miles with 20 pounds of day-pack on our backs. Bed, when it came, was welcomed. In a stark difference from the last time we walked through Tenderloin 2 years ago, the city smelled different. Two years ago, it was during a cold snap, and the homeless were in shelters, leaving just the skunky smell of cannabis. This time, it was sunny, warm and smelled of old urine. It was so bad that it clung to our clothes and we had to throw everything we were wearing into an immediate wash cycle at the rental house. Yuck.

50 Years
Friday was anniversary day. 50 years. We celebrated with a renewing of vows, led by my brother-in-law. There's a ton of back story on him, but for now, let's just say he's an Episcopal minister working with the SF youth through his Braid Mission. Through his contacts, we were granted access to Grace Cathedral on top of Nob Hill for the vow renewal.

Now, old couples are cute. They just are. When you put them in a big cathedral, surrounded by family while they repeat wedding vows, its all the cuter. The ceremony was little-kid-friendly short, creating time for the little kids to play on the playground in the park across the street (see picture). We picnic'd and then hit China Town. I had expected more culture and less kitsch, but it was nice to walk the street with my brother and sister. We joined the mass quitting-time exodus from downtown SF across the Bay via BART. The underground station and packed train were very different from the trips we'd had thus far, but everyone was polite, and went about their business.

Ca me plaƮt
My brother-in-law and sister hired a French chef to cater a celebration dinner at their house in Berkeley. Having never really had French food, I didn't really know what to expect. Wow. I've been ruined for red meat now. I don't know what it was called or how it was prepared, but we were cutting through rare steak with butter knives, the flavor popping and the meat melting in our mouths. Absolutely incredible. It was paired with simple vegetables and tiny potatoes, seeming almost like a simple country dish. Fantastique!

After eating far too well the night before, Boo and I chose to double-down and hit a local brunch place for breakfast the following morning. Unlike all of the storefronts along Market Street, none the handful of cafe's along Solano Avenue in Albany CA claimed to have the city's best breakfast. Yelp led to Bistro 1491 and Sunny Side Up. The Bistro didn't seem casual enough, so we slid into a window-side table at Sunny Side Up. We could have split a single breakfast, the portions were so big, but they were good. It felt very Portland; very chill and real with a mix of folks ranging in age and demographic. We routed my out-of-town sister and brother to go the following morning and they loved it too. Boo and I spent the rest of our final full day in the Bay walking the shops along Solano Ave, enjoying the sunshine and the sense of real free time.

Our final day started with a flurry of get-out-of-the-house activity. With so many folks sharing one house, it was actually less chaotic than it could have been. Still, we had time for 3 pots of coffee, and conversation before we checked out. We ended our stay back at my sister's house on her sunny back deck listening to the birds before grabbing a final ice cream at iScream. Yummy.

The drive to SFO was longer and more heavily traffic'd than expected, including the "departure" curb at the airport. So, we arrived at the terminal a little more stressed than we'd like. Unlike the flight down, Boo and I were helping my folks get home too, so that added some pressure too. Once their bags were checked and my mom in an airport-approved wheelchair, they whistled through security. Boo and I made it through okay, but not nearly as easily as our last few flights. We dashed for the gate and bought some plastic-sealed sandwiches for dinner on the flight home.

PDX airport was its typical smooth go. We left the folks at baggage claim while we shuttled to the economy lot. By the time we got back, they had their bags and were ready at the curb. Home bound within 30 minutes after the plane touched down and walking in our front door 60 minutes later (after routing through the close-in East side) was way better than I could have expected. Overall, it was a great trip. Boo and I are already planning our next one, but it may happen before the Hootenanny.

That's it for today. Thanks for following along. More sanding and paint-related tales next time-

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