So it kind of went down like this, because like many of my decisions, I find it difficult to explain myself. I originally intended to go to Toronto in early April during Ching Ming (清明) during which time Mum would also be there. I booked time off work and searched and searched for flights – amongst the choice of two airlines I had. The prices were ridiculous for a weekend in April (not a high season) that was not a long weekend. I only saw “shoulder season” prices that wouldn’t move lower in seat sales and, uhm, shoulder season doesn’t/shouldn’t exist here!! Just plain gouging. Then I started looking for all the cities I could get to redeeming Aeroplan miles and I could go to Dallas, San Francisco and Chicago! I don’t know anyone in Dallas and I haven’t talked to my cousin in Chicago in too many years. So I contacted another cousin working in San Fran and finalized my California getaway. I have not been in California since 2005 summer!
While I went to Vegas in November and it was fun, I had to be on proper behaviour because NPY’s parents came with us. And going back to Halifax for Christmas is nothing new or interesting. So I hadn’t been anywhere interesting since October! It’s high time (for me) to go somewhere because there are stretches of the year when I’m really stuck in the city with no reprieve (i.e., during busy season or high season).
Enough of the reasons. I went to San Francisco for a little over three days … alone. It was interesting to see friends’ and colleagues’ reactions to that and I get mad at the gender inequality as no one would think twice about a guy traveling alone. Sheesh, it’s not like I went to some really foreign and non-English speaking country! Just to be on the safe side, I didn’t tweet to clearly state I was alone and this post is only going up now I’m back to Vancouver.
Getting to the airport on Wednesday evening – first time during rush hour, from working downtown – was an experience and positive one. Of course if I need to leave immediately after work to get to the airport, I’ll be stuck for a few minutes longer. But it was no problem in the end. I give Vancouver “+2” for having a clean, fast (under 30 minutes) mass transit option to the airport that costs just $3.75 and for most of the underground journey, my phone was still working. I traveled light with just a carry-on because I’m loathed to pay to check baggage, so I could go catch my Super Shuttle immediately on deplaning at SFO.
It’s funny how I plan but then don’t stick to the plan and spend time adjusting the plan – but the planning has enabled me to know how I can adjust the rest of the plan. As I head to my first couple of destinations on Thursday, my heart sunk at the prospect of going all the way to Golden Gate Park in uncertain weather conditions. Instead, my “city hike” over 10 hours and 16 km (10 miles) hit up the following sights (and where I ate/shopped): my firm’s San Francisco office – Chinatown (Fancy Wheat Field Bakery) – Fisherman’s Wharf – Ghirardelli Square (Black Point Cafe) – Lombard Street – Union Street Shops – Fillmore Street Shops (Bun Mee) – Japantown – Union Square (Uniqlo, Sugar Cafe, Osha).
I was issued a new badge when I arrived at the Vancouver office and when I arrived at the San Francisco location, I cursed to myself for not looking up how to get in: you had to swipe to access each of the elevator banks. I was sure my firm’s badge did not get me elevator access. After some deliberation, I approached the security concierge and he looked at my new badge and it was largely similar to what he had seen my SF colleagues carry and I was given a temporary pass to the elevators. My walkaround the office was eye-opening and yielded some ideas for me to bring back to the Vancouver office.
- Chinatown: loved it, it’s old but so functional (cf Honolulu) and has all the Chinatown character a nerd like me could want; I was seeking out Golden Gate Bakery famous for egg tarts and the massive line to get one. There was no line because they were closed to go on vacation! Bugger!
- Fisherman’s Wharf: bigger than I expected and I wish Halifax’s waterfront could be so lively for it is not very quaint any longer but not as big a destination
- Lombard Street (and any other uphill): the runner in me relishes tackling any hill – I was dressed appropriately and didn’t feel any fatigue except from the shoulder ache that came from my cross-body bag getting heavier throughout the day
- Ghirardelli Square: the greeter tried to recommend me on the value of the 80-pieces bag but I want to choose – had great fun getting as many pieces as possible into a “Chinese take out container”, thinking about what flavours various friends would enjoy trying and aren’t regularly available in re-sale stores
- Boutique rows: once I saw the location of Union Street, Fillmore Street and Hayes Street shops, I wanted to hit all three stretches after leaving Lombard street – Hayes ended up being out of the way, not that I’m much of a boutique shopper – I ended up shopping at Uniqlo at Union Square
- Bun Mee: to add to the guides and recommendations for where to eat, I downloaded the 7×7’s The Big Eat 2013 list and recalled the name Bun Mee when I walked by it on Fillmore street – got the recommended item which was banh mi crossed with Sloppy Joe crossed with Thai red curry!
- Union Square: the gathering place, West Coast Style – bigger than my imagination dreamed up (which thought it would be square-shaped, funny)
Partway into Friday, only my second full day, I thought my vacation had gotten a bit lame. I wasn’t explicitly missing NPY but I did miss him!
It was another full day although the laundry list of sights is shorter and I only walked a measurable 5K in the morning: walk on Market/try to visit Twitter HQ – lunch (Brenda’s French Soul Food) – Caltrain to Sunnyvale – Apple Company Store – Caltrain to San Mateo – half an hour in SM – Muni to Off the Grid.
The food adventures were really good on Friday but the sightseeing for some reason left something to be desired. For starters, I didn’t clock as many miles of walking, just about 6.5km for the solid/calculable walking before I was sitting a lot on mass transit and traveled a total of 100 miles. I felt like such a fan girl to take the Caltrain to Sunnyvale (one hour each way) then take a local bus (20 minutes each way) just to visit the Apple Company Store and get merchandise I’m not sure most people know is exclusive to the Company Store.
The day’s “triumphs” consisted of in commuting somewhat seamlessly. I thought I was merely “lazy” (yet ended up walking a lot) to look up local transit routes but talking to Ken who has visited several times and is now settling in for a longer stay, the number of transit options can make life for the noob or tourist difficult. I was self-fulfilling this Spark podcast the common fear of buses. But I figured out which zones/how much to pay for Caltrain and although I walked in circles before finally determining which Muni bus stop to wait at, I was doing better than some of my fellow bus riders. Sitting at the back of a Muni bus was a colourful experience and made the way-too-long ride memorable – it took forever to get through gridlock on 5th. There were a pile of conference-attending community college honours society students from OK in the city for the evening. They were so wide-eyed and fascinated by what the city has to offer. “I’m on a bus!” one woman kept repeating – apparently she just drove everywhere back home. A greasy-haired/ totally fabulous guy heading to his friend’s play at deYoung entertained the OK people with his liberal, non-chalant chatter. The guy next to me comes from Indiana but lives in States between stints in China (Chongqing) and most recently South America (Peru/Chile). One woman was new to living on the city and couldn’t tell the tourists where the bus was heading. The OK teacher chatted up a med student transplant from NYC. And you know I have my story which I largely kept to myself.
I left Off the Grid with time to spare before my transfer expired but cut it close when the GPS real-time updating system failed spectacularly. I realized the system was probably real-time as opposed to just listing when the next bus is scheduled to arrive when the next bus was due to arrive in 4 minutes but then – baffling – wasn’t due to arrive for 6 minutes! I fumed as the estimated arrival time bounced around, up and down and finally it was “Arriving” but no bus showed up. I watched the update tell me two buses had “Arrived” but it was a lie. I imagined that something really bad had happened on the stretch between Fisherman’s Wharf and my bus stop to cause this huge delay. I did not dare believe the third bus was truly “Arriving” and it wasn’t even packed to the gills. It was plain frustrating.
Off the Grid was cool with thirty vendors parked in a circle and a really good selection of food. The venue was military grounds, the clean, cool fog from the bay settled above the circle, and music sparked some people to dance. I seemed to be in a Spanish food mood and got empanada, chorizo bollitas and dessert “taco”. Can’t shake the pushiness in the man who didn’t seem so happy selling me only a $5 snack and not a $9 meal. I need to sample widely.
By Saturday I was bored and tired of walking up to Market and through SOMA. I didn’t load up music and podcasts and have to stay aware of my surroundings anyhow but the walking was a little boring and I could only cheer myself with how awesome it is to be able to walk – I don’t get to walk to work any longer (live too far) and I wouldn’t walk to far if I have to take into account a travel companion.
I logged another 15km walking and it was so cool how it all just adds up: Tartine – Moscone Center for the marathon expo – The Creamery – MOMA – dinner at The House.
My walk to Tartine took me through more industrial areas. I was pleased to walk by Adobe and Zynga but then it was dull. So while you can go to LA and spot stars and see for yourself so many places you know from movies and pop culture, San Francisco is the analogous city for tech people. Mission reminded me of Victoria Drive and Commercial Drive, depending on which street I peered down. I don’t know how early I needed to be but there was a line up out the door at Tartine at 9:45. It took 15 minutes to get in, another 15 to order. The almond croissant was worth it though.
On Friday night I was alerted by a road closure sign that there was a marathon on Sunday. A Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon. At which expo a girl once told me she got a hairband I very much want. And Americans do expos better. So I had to go. I didn’t find the hairband but did walk away with some samples, an inspired feeling of fitness and Runner Girl stuff I finally saw at a good price.
For lunch, I met up with blogger and writer Angela Tung. We have been following each other’s blogs and Twitter feeds for years. I was honored to receive a copy of her memoir to review and through it, an intimate glimpse of her life. And when we met, we chat easily as friends and lingered over lunch. Then she invited me to join her visiting MOMA. It’s a smaller collection than in New York where she used to live and I’ve visited but the really impressive exhibit is The Clock. After we viewed the other exhibits and I had a couple hours before dinner, I should have returned to The Clock and borne the long queue again!
My cousin Adele was away from SF on a road trip for most of the time I was there. It was only on my last night I saw her for dinner at her favourite SF restaurant, The House. By the name, I would not have guessed it was a izakaya place. She knew what to order (sea scallops! and getting garlic noodles as the carb) and we sampled widely new dishes and established favourites. I was sad that we did not have room for a delicious sounding creme brûlée (mango?) with Asian flavours.
What did I miss? Lots!! Guy friends usually asked me if I had gone to Alcatraz and I hadn’t and I don’t feel like I missed so much because I’m not sure it was my thing. I didn’t make it to Golden Gate Park which looked so very far away and one experience with Muni in three days was quite enough for me. I don’t know what I missed for missing Golden Gate Park but I didn’t make it to a beach. It wasn’t “sunny California” as you know it those days or even at SF beaches and I’m not a “beach person” but the principle of going to California and not making it to a beach … prickles a little at me. Most of all, I’m mad at myself for not returning to the wharf area. Adele had recommended going to the Embarcadero area but I didn’t know what I missed out until I saw Hemispheres Inflight Magazine’s Three Perfect Days: San Francisco article: farmer’s market (although I did come upon a tiny one at UN Plaza), Coit Tower that looked so dauntingly far away and Filbert Steps. I would have been happy with steps. I could have done more, but as they say, I’ve left something for the next trip!
Sunday morning, I told the Super Shuttle driver that my flight is United and international so I got deposited at the International Terminal of SFO. The day before, I had difficulties checking into my first flight (United) but managed to check into my connecting flight (Air Canada) so something is different from the usual cross-coded flights I take. My flight really was a United flight (duh) and Air Canada at SFO wouldn’t deal with me and spoke in lingo I did not understand – that it’s is a “transporter” flight and for some reason would depart from a different terminal than International. While Air Canada to Vancouver was an international flight, United to Victoria was considered domestic?? I was skeptical I could check-in at a United self-help kiosk but it worked with my irreproachable official government-issued document (my passport) and even spit out my Air Canada boarding pass. I was not to linger in the International Terminal and head to Terminal 3. That was fine and Terminal 3 was busier than pristine International Terminal and then I learned my gate, 33, is not in Terminal 3 but a Transfer Shuttle away at Terminal 1! I had to seek out Gate 71A which connected via long walkway to Gate 87A then clamber down stairs with my bulging carry-on and board a shuttle bus. I was not a happy camper but as the shuttle bus drove in lanes on the tarmac with traffic instructions painted on the surface (e.g., “STOP”), I got a little more excited to be on the same level as the aircraft. Even more interesting, from Gate 87A to Terminal 1 (domestic), we drove by the seams of the airport where baggage is unloaded to be sent up to baggage claim, a maze of conveyor belts overhead carried items across the terminal and we even drove through the underbelly (a tunnel) under the airport. Neat. Terminal 1 is old and teeming with domestic travelers and depressing at the gates but the hallway is open and seats are equipped with electrical outlets.
I happily read some more of one awful teen lit novel – Matched – and set up the images for my dining recap post and ate my banana date tea cake from Tartine washed down with Peet’s cafe au lait. At 10:30 when my plane was to board, I head to my gate only to hear the tail end of an announcement that the gate had been changed to 71. From the prettier terminal I had come from! A transfer shuttle away! I found Gate 39 where the shuttle leaves Terminal 1. More stairs with heavy carry-on suitcase. The friendly shuttle bus driver made me feel more uncertain claiming he didn’t think my flight would be out of Gate 71 but he’s not an airline agent and he set me down at Gate 71A, saving me from the long walkway from 87A. At Gate 71, the monitor still said the flight was going to Kansas City which worried several passengers including myself but it was all okay. The aircraft hadn’t even come in yet so I wandered and saw pamphlets for SFO Museum which is spread across the terminals. Too bad I didn’t get to see some interesting exhibits because I never passed through that terminal (T2) and I’m not sure where the Aviation Museum was.
Aeroplan did not present me (without charging more miles) a direct flight back to Vancouver. Some people couldn’t stand for it but I was a-okay with connecting in Victoria where I hadn’t flown to before. I love kicking back in an airport – plug in, get onto the free wi-fi, listen to an airport “theme” Songa playlist, and wrap up loose ends like finances and uploading photos. And I got to check into a different airport from “the usual” (Vancouver, Toronto, Halifax), 1/5 of the way to Foursquare Jetsetter level 5x. :D
And it turned out that flying into Victoria was a real treat. It was just a little reminiscent of flying into Halifax with trees encroaching onto towns but the lumpy hills/mountains that stretched across the island and being sandwiched in a little jet between clean white clouds and the greenery was (almost) breathtaking. Also, I hardly get to fly into Victoria, most often just driving.
— wyn (@whoiswyn) April 8, 2013