Friday, January 23, 2009

San Francisco: Part II

After a day spent walking up and down the hills of Chinatown and clutching for dear life on the trolley poles, Jan was ready to throw our MUNI passes in the nearest trashcan. We cabbed it to Fisherman's Wharf and took a short harbor cruise around Alcatraz and back before heading down to Capurro's for a seafood dinner.

The weather was beautiful and the street performers were out in force, along with the city mandated percentage of panhandlers.

Sunday and Monday were spent at the Food Show, but we were able to finish up early on Tuesday afternoon. We were in the rental car by 2pm, speeding around the city to take in as many sights as we could.

We saw the Painted Ladies...

before heading to the Presidio...

so that we could walk the beach at Chrissy Field...

and take a few snapshots of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Golden Gate Bridge is a wonder to see. It's one of those iconic man-made sights, on a par with Mount Rushmore and the Eiffel Tower for wow factor. Joggers jogged, children played in the sand, and Jan and I smiled at being able to just be in these particular surroundings. We were also in what appeared to be a panhandler free zone.

San Francisco is relatively small, so we were able to cover a lot of ground. As the rented Corolla struggled up some of the steeper hills, Jan white-knuckled the armrest on the passenger side and wondered out loud if we were going to make it. Thank God for automatic transmissions. We drove down Lombard, billed as the "crookedest street in the world", before heading up to Haight/Ashbury. Jan wanted to do a little souvenir shopping, and met a young guy that intended to prove, later that night, that he was Jesus Christ. The reveal was still a few hours away, so we weren't able to make it.

We stopped at Caffe Delle Stelle for some Italian food before dropping off the rental car and walking back to the hotel. When we got there the street in front of the hotel was blocked off, and a harried film crew was loading up their equipment for the night. We were never able to find out what they were filming. I asked the night clerk at the hotel if she knew, and she didn't even know that they had been filming. Now that's laid back.

That's how I'll think of San Francisco from now on, a laid-back city with underlying stress. I wondered more than once if the stress was due to the fact that there had not been an earthquake in a while, and the denizens of the city were waiting for the other shoe to drop while pretending that they didn't care.

It is beautiful, though.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

San Francisco Trip

Well, it wasn't that kind of trip. Mrs. Troubadour is starting a new business, and we were in San Francisco to attend the Fancy Food Show, a three day trade show with hundreds of vendors from all over the world. I was there in my official capacity as escort and chocolate taster. We arrived a full day early so that we could see some of the sights.

We checked into the King George Hotel about 10am on Saturday and hit the town.

The King George was a little shabby, but very clean. The staff was nice, and although the hotel is technically in the Financial District, it is only a block away from the Tenderloin, a neighborhood apparently known for its dense concentration of panhandlers. Many times we'd walk out the front door only to see a panhandler stationed directly below the canopy of the hotel entrance. Most days we'd be accosted by someone asking for spare change at least three different times before we had even walked a single block. Some of the folks asking for money were obviously street people, but more often than not the "friend in need" was better dressed than we were. That's saying a lot. I'll never make GQ's best dressed list, but Mrs. Troubadour is no slouch when it comes to fashion. Maybe this is an accepted way for everyday San Franciscans to supplement their income. I really wanted and expected to love this town more than I did. Perhaps if I'd been able to take a single walk in any part of the city without being treated like an easy mark by almost everyone I encountered.

We did enjoy ourselves. Union Square is just a few blocks from the hotel. We hopped a trolley

and headed in to Chinatown.

We trusted the advice from our Lonely Planet guidebook and popped into a few highly recommended shops. They were full of the crap that you would expect to have a "Made in China" sticker pasted on the bottom , but there was something comforting about seeing the useless junk in its natural environment. A retail yin to the manufactured yang of eastern prosperity. It was worthless and oddly appealing.
After a few hours of hill climbing we stopped inside a likely looking basement restaurant for Chinese food. It was probably the best meal we had during our five day stay in San Francisco. I noticed that we were among only a handful of tourists in the crowded dining room, a very good sign when you are eating Chinese food.

Rejuvenated by a great meal, we decided to give Lonely Planet another shot, and walked to Stockton Street so that we could experience what the guidebook author described as "street market chaos." Truer words were never written. The pungent smells,

beautiful colors, and sometimes strangely disturbing shapes of some of the unfamiliar roots, fruits, herbs and fungi caused the massive crowd to spill out into the wide street as shoppers, deliverymen and tourists all vied for the same piece of ground.

After the market we ended our Chinatown visit at the mural depicting San Francisco life in the 1930's.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Paris is Intoxicating: Day Three and Adieu

We had to leave for the airport by 5pm. I thought the girls were going to cry. I thought I was going to cry. A three day trip to Paris is too short, and Jan and I both vowed that the next time we came it would be at least for a week, if not two. Indiana Jane and The Professor were up early, out the door of the Edouard VI and speed walking down to the Metro and into the heart of the city.

My last day in Paris was my first day in a week without the Lufthansa Flu. I could breath, smell, and most importantly, taste. The patisserie was a few steps from the hotel, and the lemon tart was delicious.

I suggested to Jan that rather than trying to cram an exhausting day of speed sightseeing into our schedule, we allowed ourselves to just be. We stayed close to what we now considered to be our neighborhood, taking in the architecture and doing a little last minute shopping.

We felt at home, and we must have looked it. Two college aged girls stopped and asked us for directions. A harried looking man in his thirties asked me in broken French if I spoke English. I spouted my phrase book French to the shop keepers with gusto, and was rewarded with smiles and remarks in French about the weather. We were treated like we belonged, and we felt like we belonged. From now on Paris was going to be our city, and we would visit her often.

Before we knew it, our first date with the City of Love was over, and we eagerly anticipated a long romance, and our chance to get to know her better.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Paris is Intoxicating: Day Two

The buildings that comprise the Musee du Louvre made us stop in our tracks. The former residence of the Sun King was magnificent in every way I could imagine: beautiful, enormous, regal. We paused to take photos before heading inside.

We knew going in that we couldn't possibly see everything in the Louvre in one day, or even one month. We also knew before going in that we would return to Paris again and again. Today we would look at the French sculpture exhibit before trying to get a glimpse of the Mona Lisa.

It was a Herculean effort to see as much as we did.

Even Mercury has to stop and take a short rest.

No surprise that this guy would be hanging out in the City of Love.

There are lots of other musicians in Paris.

If you are determined to see the Mona Lisa, be prepared to fight your way through the crowd.

After the Louvre Jan and I took a leisurely stroll along the Seine, taking in the sights and wishing we had more time to spend in this incredible city.

I bought a few posters from the vendors along the Seine as we made our way to Notre Dame. The lines to get in were long, so we were content to take a few photos before stopping at a small Bistro to get some hot soup.

Warmed by the soup and tired after a long day, Jan was ready to head back to Notre Dame to hail a taxi. I suggested that we walk a little more, crossing another bridge to get to the other side of the Île de la Cité. We were rewarded by a rendition of "Ma Vie En Rose" from this gentleman.

We strolled a bit more, invigorated by the perfect song for the setting, before grabbing a taxi and heading back to the hotel. We had dinner at one of the bistros on Boulevard du Montparnasse, then walked even more, taking in as many of the sights as we could before reluctantly calling it a night in preparation for our last day in Paris.

Tomorrow: Day Three and Adieu.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Paris is Intoxicating: Day One

I woke up early, still suffering from the Lufthansa Flu. Even at 5am there is life on the Boulevard du Montparnasse, although the pharmacies and patisseries are still closed. I walked for a few hours, watching the street sweepers remove a million cigarette butts from the sidewalk as the recycling trucks slowly prowled the boulevard to make room for another night of wine enhanced joie de vivre. I got back to the hotel at 7am and rested up while Jan showered in preparation for the day.

On our way to a neighborhood bistro the lens popped out of my glasses. There was an optician close to the bistro, so I stopped in to have it repaired. "Bonjour. J'ai casse mes lunettes. Povez-vous me les reparer, s'il vous plait?" The Berlitz French phrase book I picked up years ago before heading to Montreux has once again proved its worth. A few minutes later I could see again, Jan got an espresso and a smile at the bistro,

and we were on our way to Rue Cler.

We had lunch at a small cafe on Rue Cler, where Jan tried out her phrase book French on the waiter. After a great meal I stopped at the pharmacy to get some cold remedies while Jan shopped, then it was off to the Eiffel Tower.

Our three days in Paris were filled with clear skies and sunshine, but it was still windy and cold. Jan wanted to get to the second level of the tower, because there is a post office there that will stamp your postcards with an official Eiffel Tower postmark. We waited in line for about an hour and were rewarded with magnificent views of Paris.

After that it was back to the hotel to meet up with Indiana Jane and The Professor. The four of us took the Metro to the Champs Elysees to have dinner and pick up tickets to the Louvre.

We left the girls on the Champs Elysees and headed back to the hotel. Around the corner from the Edouard VI we saw a man actually roasting chestnuts. Being from Texas, this was my first experience with chestnuts. They smelled wonderful.

Tomorrow, day two.