I woke up at 6am after having a nightmare about a pelican (ugggggh even typing the word makes me shudder, I hate them so) and couldn’t go back to sleep which is why our tiny stay in San Francisco is getting a LAVISH NOVELISIC RECOUNT while the entire week we spent in the glorious city of New Orleans had like, one instagram photo and a shaky video. We are not quite as diligent about travel blogging as we thought we’d be it seems. But if you care, read on! - by Laura.
So: Rather than spend two hours stuffed in a vent (airports aren’t that bad actually, but every prolonged mid-flight wait I’ve ever had melds into one claustrophobic, uncomfortable, sleep-deprived hellscape) on the way back to New Zealand, Tim and I decided it’d be fun to make an extended stop-over, and effectively add another thumbtack to our world map of smugness (much in the same way that in 2005 we drove into the outskirts of Wales and stayed on a farm for one night, so yes, we’ve travelled in Wales, in goes the thumbtack). So from New Orleans we flew to San Francisco, arriving at 7pm to stay for two nights, with roughly one and a half days to play with.
Much like our night in Clarksdale, which we did while driving from Nashville to New Orleans, we haven’t been here long enough to get a grip on the place. By all means I imagined San Francisco would be amazing, based on youthful obsession with the TV show Full House; the time when Dawn Schafer’s family went on vacation there and it was the last happy time they had before her parents divorced (Babysitters Club Portrait Collection: Dawn’s Story); and various pop songs. Also just the fact that San Francisco is one of THOSE cities, like New York or London or Melbourne, it just seems to herald excitement and opportunity. But I just don’t think we’ve been here long enough to properly form an opinion on it. Bits of it are very, very cool though, for sure.
We’re staying near Union Square, which is a very beautiful area – the streets towered over by flashy buildings filled with flashy clothes and shiny electronic goods. It’s very grand. I love cities, give me concrete over nature any day (seriously. I hate nature, it hates me, we keep a respectful distance from each other and everything’s cool. There is zero will-they won’t-they with me and nature – we just won’t) and as such, it’s fun to just wander round and take it all in.
There is a notably huge number of homeless and generally vulnerable people here, that we never saw in any other place we’ve been to in America on this holiday – really, shockingly large numbers of people. It’s fairly distressing – not in a “oh no, these people are ruining MY holiday” kind of way, no! Just the fact that every person who asks you for something or sits on the corner is…a human life. Like all of us. Which is really stating the obvious of course, but still. There is just a lot of visible need here. I have no idea what resources are out there for people in these circumstances. I hope whatever it is, it has plenty of funding.
We decided not to stress ourselves out by trying to have the definitive San Francisco experience in such a short time, but also thought we should do at least one properly touristy thing. So we waited for the cable car. The temperature here is blissfully NOT New Orleans level of heat, where you feel like the layer of sugar on top of a crème brulee, basically blowtorched into meltingness as soon as you step outside. But in the middle of the day, with the sun shining right on top of you, a solid non-exaggerational hour’s wait for the stupid cable car can sorely test your ability to not be a grump (especially when you are a grump like me. Sample dialogue “Sorry I’m being grumpy Tim. It’s because I’m grumpy”) and especially when the cable cars seem to move increasingly slower and are being sent off not totally full and people continuously approach you and ask you for money – and why not, you’re effectively stuck there, I’d approach you too if I had to – and when you finally, after the full sixty minutes queuing, get out-hustled to the cable car by the surprisingly agile tourists all around you – well. It’s a little testing. It is also a pretty fancy problem to be having, you know, waiting a while, while on a delightful holiday, so fear not, I have some perspective here. But still! It is testing.
The cable car was TOTALLY WORTH IT though and I urge you to try it if you’re ever in San Francisco with time to spare. Once you’re on it, buttocks snugly locked into the deeply curved benches so you don’t have to worry about falling out (I was worried) your sore feet dangling off the edge, the cool breeze rushing past you as you go uphill much faster than it ever looked while you were queuing dolefully, why, it makes a grump like me feel almost…blithe. Tim has a super sunny personality so he was FINE throughout all of this, in case you were wondering, and so it goes he was even tail-waggingly happier once we alighted the cable car. You go up, and up, and up the Wellingtonian-esque-ly high hills, and with each block that you travel up, you get to pass the crosswise-y street and peek down it – sometimes the streets stretch downhill for miles to the ocean (or sea? Geography?) and sometimes there’d be huge buildings and sometimes it’d just be a quiet residential street. Like the whole city was a pop-up book, just for you, each street you passed a different page. We got off at Fisherman’s Wharf because it was the end of the line, and just as we were about to find the cable car that would take us back down again, we decided we might as well go to Fisherman’s Wharf even though everything we’d read about it basically said “don’t go there! It’s a tourist trap! It’s just a gaping hole full of tourists, awful tourists, you’re not like them! You’re different! You’re a cool traveller!” Because, well, we’re tourists and we’re here and whatever.
Fisherman’s Wharf was GREAT! Beautiful, sun-dappled, not even that busy, with hilariously vocal seals to watch from a safe distance (apparently they smell nasty, so as well as laughing at the seals we could also laugh at the crowds of people on the pier next to them); a beautiful ocean (or sea, whatever) to photograph on your phone and then grapple over which instagram filter made it most look like you were on holiday in 1972; the smell of sourdough wafting over from a huge bakery. I know I said I hate nature but the ocean is pretty cool, I guess. It’s definitely pretty.
We’ve eaten some excellent food while here. Did that old staggering-around-looking-for-a-place-to-eat-while-growing-increasingly-tense thing on our first night here and ended up at this place called Grand Café, which was expensive (relatively – what we mean by that is it was what you’d expect to pay at a mid-level place in New Zealand) but fine, especially their maple bacon popcorn. On our full day here we literally googled “San Francisco Hipster Brunch” (it autocompleted with sinister swiftness) because we figured if something was being celebrated or derided as “hipster”, then it was probably alright, really. We ended up at a place in the Mission called Boogaloo, which was really pretty excellent. An early White Stripes album started playing as soon as we walked in, the person serving us had very cool tattoos, and there was, as is America’s wont, bottomless filter coffee. I had a vegan breakfast (one of many) of grilled polenta, sautéed vegetables, slaw, black beans, salsa and avocado. It was really really good! Tim had scrambled eggs, chicken-apple sausage, corn muffin, and home fries. Unfortunately I got full very quickly because of the pre-brunch waffle we’d had at Blue Bottle Café beforehand, but Tim managed to finish what I’d left. He said he could make better scrambled eggs but otherwise his meal was great.
I’m going to really miss American brunch. I don’t even care if I sound like a dick for saying that. They just have really, really great brunch.
Finally, upon the recommendation of a friend who is really really cool and fancy and therefore we trusted her, we had dinner last night at a place called Pizza Napoletana. I know everyone says that particular pizza is good and so on, but this was really, really perfect pizza. Arrestingly excellent. It just was. The menu was very simple. There were about seven pizzas. Nothing else whatsoever. No variations. No changes to the ingredients. Just the pizzas or nothing. There were some red wines, some white wines, and a couple of Italian beers. They would stay open until they ran out of that day’s batch of dough. We got there at 9.30, and fifteen minutes later there was a large, irregularly-shaped but approaching circular pizza in front of us, with cherry tomatoes, smoked buffalo mozzarella, rocket (or arugula as they call it here) and lots of olive oil. It’s redundant to say it, but smoked buffalo mozzarella is soooooo deliciously smoky. Tim and I also shared a bottle of fizzy dry red wine called Lambrusco, which the person serving us coolly poured into two glasses for us both to approve (seriously, way cool. Even though I always freeze up and forget what you’re supposed to do when asked to okay a bottle of wine, I still resent if I’m with Tim and the person automatically gives the glass to him.) It, too, was delicious.
We then went a few blocks down the road to an incredibly fancy bar called Agricole, which reminded me a little of Matterhorn – very casual yet VERY FANCY. I had a punchy drink called Hanky Panky which was gin, vermouth, fernet and orange peel, and Tim had a drink rather disgustingly called Monkey’s Gland which was gin, citrus, absinthe and grenadine. Both were wondrous.
San Francisco wins us over with its amazing public transport (there are like, fifty different ways to get around the city); its really good food, its beautiful buildings and the fact that the cable car tracks often make it sound like someone’s tap dancing nonstop. After the ferociously friendly South everyone seems a bit indifferent here, but on the whole we most definitely want to return.
My inability to return to sleep has now been dealt with because it’s a reasonable hour to get out of bed and do stuff. Thank for reading my novel about my thoughts about San Francisco!