SAN FRANCISCO IN JULY
For the first time in San Francisco last week, I was struck by this city’s multicultural population, as well as by its cold climate. Although I was warned for the fog blowing in that could dramatically lower the temperature to unpleasant levels, I was shocked. I travelled from Canada (Kelowna, BC) for about three hours south by air and would expect the warm Californian climate to already envelope me in SF, but no such thing happened. Kelowna has a land climate and although we are having a cool summer so far, it apparently is warmer than SF. Who would have thought that even when putting on a t-shirt, a sweater on top and then on top of that a knee length, performance fleece hoody, I was still cold, standing on the beach right outside Golden Gate Park trying to get a glimpse of the bridge that was disappearing in the fog.
My feet started to feel quite affected by the damp cold within a day of arrival and they reminded me why I left a similar climate in Amsterdam, Netherlands thirty years ago: damp and cool. My plan to retire in Mexico still stands!
I loved the vibrant neighbourhoods to which my hosts took me at all hours of the day. My hosts traveled from their Glenpark neighbourhood to meet me every day at my hotel close to the airport to take me out for the day’s un/scheduled sights. My visiting friend from Canada and I chatted with neighbours who explained the Glenpark history of several of the homes—originally small homes–renovated or even torn down and rebuilt to much more impressive treasures, in a variety of styles apparently unrestricted in any way by city architectural or design requirements. My host was surprised, as he had never ever spoken with any of the neighbours and was sure his housemate hadn’t either in all the years they had lived there. It must have been that friendly Canadian wholesomeness that nobody was startled when we initiated a conversation.
The Mission was my favourite with its Latin flavour, its colourful streets and marvellous paintings spreading out over whole buildings, such as the Women’s Building. With our host (born in Mexico) as our guide, we enjoyed some great meals in tapas restaurants there. A meal of tapas is my preferred type of eating: grazing on a number of small dishes with foods that explode in your mouth with flavour, with a carafe of the best sangria I ever had to complement it all. We spent some time with the beautiful people in the Cava bar, the gorgeous Latinas willingly posing for my photos. I was too shy to ask the men, but then of course, there are the marvellous Mariachi musicians always willing to pose. The bad boys were there as well, so we did not stay too late, although the place had a uniformed guard on duty at the premises–a phenomenon I had not seen before. My friendly date for the night made sure that I arrived at my hotel safely.
On another night we had a scrumptious Indian meal at the Shalimar on Jones Street, another authentic place with great cooks and visited by a colourful collection of food lovers.
Of course there are the tourist traps and we briefly visited those as well. San Francisco reminded me in that way of Amsterdam, my hometown from the past, with large crowds mulling about, there to tick off the sites on their to-do lists. The Golden Gate bridge is a strange phenomenon to me: an iron structure painted red that brings in so many tourist dollars and is so often even hardly visible. For somebody used to all types of public transportation back home in Amsterdam, the novelty or riding a cable car or street car through a busy city is not that mind blowing. Anyway, I did get some moody photos of fog with a ghostly structure faintly in its centre and we did drive over it as the weather was too cold and windy and wouldn’t allow for a pleasant walk. As my host would say: next!
The Wharf in my view really is an overpriced tourist trap. We chose to have a bread bowl with chowder at a restaurant further up the street with a blues band playing instead of trying to ingest the fare displayed at the Warf’s crowded street-side Chinese run seafood stalls. We skipped all of the shopping opportunities, with the exception of the purchase of an extra warm fleece vest against the cold that I really needed. I did enjoy the Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista pub and admired the bar keeper’s skills producing this delicious drink ten at the time.
We spent some time in the Castro neighbourhood, the predominantly gay entertainment district. A surveyor approached us in the Starbucks to see if we were willing to complete the survey on his laptop for city planning and architectural designs, supposedly. We each got paid a nice amount of $25 for our trouble. Perhaps not surprisingly in light of the location, my girl friend and I were typecast as a gay couple and the man was surprised when we informed him that our male companion was my friend’s husband. Although our plan was to see a show in the Castro theatre, we did not make it, as other events were asking for our attention. I took out some cash from an ATM and promptly left my bankcard behind. That’s about it for my visit: left my heart and my money in San Francisco.
Driving south down the coast to Carmel and Monterrey I got a taste of the rugged, rocky beaches interspersed with sandy crescents, where surfers hung from sails overhead resembling strange birds hovering over the crashing waves. This is a beautiful coast and mostly deserted.
We spent a night with friends of the family in their ocean view vacation home on the coast, a perfect getaway of unassuming grey-weathered cedar-clad buildings, with perfect high end, but casual furnishings, situated in a large xeriscape garden with meandering paths. It must be nice to be wealthy.
We ordered expensive glasses of Pinot Noir and an ice cream desert on the patio of the Lodge at the Pebble Beach golf course overlooking the 18th hole: worth every penny. This is indeed a gorgeous place and very American-casual: lodge guests and tourist alike stroll through the premises apparently without a care in the world. That would not be possible on a high-end golf course in Britain. Yes, California style is understated elegance and very casual; I have seen what that means now. One pleasant circumstance on arriving home: reading my Visa statement, my bills turned out less in Canadian dollars than the receipts read!