Sunday, September 21, 2008

San Francisco

So, a week in San Francisco! Alan loves the place and has raved on about it for years. I'd never been to California, even.


We flew on Southwest Airlines; bounced off San Diego and up to Oakland. Caught a BART train around the bay which deposited us in San Francisco itself. The city lies on the northern end of a peninsula and is hemmed in on three sides by the sea. You have SF Bay to the east and the Pacific to the west. The Bay Bridge connects roads east to Alameda and Oakland, while the Golden Gate connects to the mainland further north. Drive far enough south down the peninsula and you end up in San Jose.

However we didn't have a car for this trip so all our sightseeing was to be done in the city. Once off the BART train, we found ourselves at the south-eastern end of the city, and not knowing how the public transport worked, we went by Shank's Pony to our motel. Which was about two miles away, up and down San Francisco's steep hills... We walked up Lombard Street. The one in the film Bullitt, with the car chase. That really steep one. I was a little rosy by the time we reached the motel as I was also hauling the rucksack full of our gear...

Once refreshed, we wandered into town. Found ourselves in the main business district and walked along the seafront. It was a little grey. Wandering on to Pier 39, we encountered the sea lion population who set up home there years ago. Now they are a tourist attraction. There's loads of them.

Sea Lions

We were tired though, having got up early for our flight, so went back to our micro-ranch and crashed out for a while. Later on, we took a walk down Union Street to find some food. Found a half decent pub although it was full of noisy students, and then found a pizza shop opposite which had some unusual options on the menu, but the pizza was good.


Saturday morning came and we walked down the hill to the park next to shore. Nearby is one of the cable car terminus/turntable areas. They drive down, rotate 180 degrees on the turntable and drive back again. It cost $5 for a single journey or $11 for the day, so we bought day tickets. These are great as they are valid on any of the public transport types around town, and there's a lot of different things to ride. Our first ride on a cable car brought us not only the fun of riding it, but a chance to see how they change the cable clutch too, since the current one had worn out. We stopped in the middle of town while men changed it over, which was very interesting to see.

A cable car leaving its turntable (this is actually another line but it looks much the same)

We caught breakfast in Starbucks before walking through some gardens which are normally public space, but this week it had been taken over by Oracle corp who were holding a msssive conference/shindig. The map said the Old Mint was behind the gardens and we thought there might be a museum, but the building was all closed up and didn't look like it had seen any life in a long time.

So we carried on towards the sea, took a slow amble along the promenade and got lunch in Gordon Biersch Brewery. San Francisco is full of breweries :-) The Asian Arts Museum took some of our afternoon; they had an exhibition of Ming Dynasty arts and objects which was interesting. Travelling a few blocks over took us to an area of interesting shops including Timbuk2, makers of cool messenger bags. We sat in a small park for a while nearby before going back to the motel for a breather. On the corner of the street by the motel was the Black Magic Voodoo Lounge which sold nice enough beer.


Breakfast was found a block down the hill in Cafe Le, a small place but very friendly and serving delicious bagels with sausage and egg in. By the time we had eaten and walked halfway across town, the cable car museum was open so we went in. This was fab. The cable cars run on cables set under the street; there are channels in the road between the rails where the car's clutch grabs on to the cable and is hauled around at a steady 9 mph. The cables radiate out from the central building. Although there are three car lines, there are four cable loops. One loop is shared between two lines. So we got to see all the mechanisms working.

The four cable loops running over their wheels; kept turning by the engines underneath

Heading on into town, we found a shop in Union Square which sold transport passports. It was still very economical for us to get a week's pass for $25 or so. We made use of it immediately by riding trains and buses to the 21st Amendment Brewery (named after the amendment to the Constitution that repealed Prohibition). Here, we found the best beer of the holiday. They had plenty of choices and each one we tried was really great. They are housed in a wonderful big open, airy building and serve good food too. Lunch was very nice.

We emerged from the brewery with big merry smiles on our faces and got on a train to take us back towards town. Swapping the train for a streetcar halfway along, we ended up by the tourist boat piers.

One of the many colourful streetcars that ply the rails alongside the water.

We got on a tour boat for a 90-minute cruise around the north end of the Bay. This was great. They took us out past all the waterfront areas of interest and headed west towards the Golden Gate Bridge. The boat became surrounded by kite-surfers, windsurfers and sailing boats as we progressed, the surfers wanting to use our boat's wake to jump from. They took us right underneath the bridge and a little further out the other side (sadly not quite far enough for me to get a sunlit shot of the whole bridge, even in my widest lens!) but it was cool to see it up close. Next they took us around Alcatraz Island; we didn't land but went completely around it. It was a good cruise.

Sailing boats below the Golden Gate Bridge

Back on shore, we took a bus (route 30, which we would come to know very well) up to San Francisco Brewing which we'd walked past on our first day. Their beers were OK but very ordinary. Perhaps we'd been spoilt by our fabulous lunch, but they left us a little disappointed. So we left there and got another bus back down the hill to a curry house that we had seen an advert for. This turned out to be a slightly strange place; a combination Irish pub and Indian restaurant. They were sorely understaffed and it took ages to get served, although the food when it came was good.


This is getting ridiculous, I could be here all week writing the rest of this so you're just going to have to put up with me in speed-writing mode now.

Splendid breakfast in Cafe Golo, long bus ride to end of Golden Gate Park, paddling on the beach, walk through park by model boat lake. Boats being chased by ducks. Bus to other end of park, walked the length of Haight into town through hippy area filled with dodgy characters. Caught some tasty Nutella crepes for lunch, bus back to motel. Rested, visited Russian Hill bookshop as we'd run out of reading matter. Walked down the hill, frustrating evening trying to find non-touristy/expensive food. Don't bother looking in the Fisherman's Wharf area for good food...

Fishing boats in the morning light


Breakfast in Starbucks for their nice yogurt/granola pots. Walked along to the pier with historic boats on; namely S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien the Liberty Ship which was very good (and seaworthy), then the submarine moored next door. Musee Mechanique; full of ancient and modern coin-operated amusements; very cool. Lunch in the sourdough shop. Various transit to the Y-Que t-shirt shop (closed again) so went to Toronado pub on the next block. Got chatting to a local chap who was most amusing and filled with local knowledge and details, made the whole place seem more alive. Great pub; loads of good beers on tap, obviously a popular spot. Transit via post office to Coit Tower where we took in views over the city, before retreating to the Rogue pub. Bus to Thirsty Bear brewery for dinner (yum). Cable car up to Ghirardelli for their ice cream (yum).

View from Coit Tower


Breakfast in Cafe Le again. Walked down to pier and watched fog rolling in and around the bridge. Lots of pelicans, and swimmers. Wandered along to get the cable car up to the California line, changed cars, rode to the end. Walked up to Japantown where there were many cool shops. Ate good lunch in Japanese place. Alan wasn't feeling so good so we got a bus back up Van Ness and spent a quiet couple of hours. The bus contained a man with his pet Green Iguana, Vernon. I always take my lizard for a ride on the bus, doesn't everyone? Wandered down the hill again; Wandered up to Hyde Pier to look at the historic boats. Tried a couple of pints in The Cannery and ate dinner in the Irish pub on the corner - fish and chips! Walked up Lombard for one last look at the city and back to bed.

Sailing boat going for a jaunt around the bay


Up at sparrowfart, caught bus to Market street, BART to Oakland and the link bus to the airport. Flight delayed. Got on eventually, flew to Las Vegas, spent ages waiting in a queue of about 20 planes to leave, flew over Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam and back to Austin. Delays and time difference meant it was 19:00 by the time we got home. Alan cooked grilled chicken and we drank some beer.

Golden Gate Bridge on Friday morning, with traditional San Francisco mist rolling in

Thursday, September 18, 2008

House of Blues

So, we hie ourselves over to the House of Blues as previously indicated, to experience the joys of Getting Into a Gig In Dallas.

1) Join line.

2) Collect wristband for being over 21, so we can purchase alcoholic drinks. (given the average age of the crowd was about 14 this might actually be a good idea)

3) Get searched airline-style; empty pockets, Security Bloke waves magic wand over you. Alan empties his pockets which are filled, as usual, with keys,change,knife,wallet,more keys,bits of the Berlin Wall etc. Knife ends up in bin, to much aghastness; naturally they can't hold it for us until after the gig, that would be far too convenient.

4) Security Bloke has to search bags too of course. I asked him what he's looking for. Professional cameras and pens. Pens?! Yup, in case you draw all over the artwork inside the venue. Right...

5) Show tickets. (and we don't do this first because...?)

6) Get beer.

7) (optional, but the just rewards of getting there so damn early) Get seat! Woo! We don't have to stand about for five hours!

Then of course we sit through two support bands before the act we have come to see arrives on stage. The first lot were meant to be the Black Dahlia Murder although Alan wasn't convinced they were the same chaps as he'd seen online. They were a bit ropey but the second lot - Between the Buried and Me - were OK. Children of Bodom were very good, their set was a bit short but the musicianship was good. I have no notion of what they were singing about, this is a Death Metal band after all and intelligibility comes second to raw sound. Of which there was lots.

Top marks to House of Blues here, for their PA system was actually very well set up and was a pleasure to listen to. Please take note, La Zona Rosa in Austin; when we saw Squeeze and Fastball there the other week, an otherwise good concert was destroyed by the appallingness of the PA!!

Minus a point or two for the freezing cold air conditioning, even Alan got cold and that is saying something! Alan ignored the cold by ogling the extremely fancy Soundcraft mixing desk, lit up in bright colours and with LCD screens instead of endless rows of knobs, very swish if you like that sort of thing.

Children of Bodom brought their own lighting too, lots of forward facing extremely bright strobes which started making me want to sneeze. I had a stonking cold this last couple of days, and I also have photic sneeze reflex (don't laugh, you might well have it too) so these bloody lights were having an effect and I'm probably the saddest git in the building watching the gig with sunshades on. I don't care, they worked!

So we escaped unscathed after a mostly enjoyable evening. Round 1 complete!

~~~~ Happy interlude ~~~~~

Friday was mostly spent at the zoo! We took a tram (Dallas has trams!) a few stops down the line to Dallas Zoo which is supposedly the biggest zoological experience in Texas, and it was very good indeed. Lots of really very large enclosures for the animals, and a good variety of those. And even a monorail ride to keep Alan happy!

We repaired back to the hotel and eventually ended up in the West End Pub again (top marks to them for remembering what we were drinking from the night before) and enjoyed our beers, before trying the barbeque place round the corner.

~~~~ Round 2 ~~~~

And so we find ourselves approaching the House of Blues again for the second night. Proceedings went in a similar vein to the night before. Security Bloke seemed surprised we had come back but was pleased we had done so. The bar staff had changed around so the girl waiting tables recognised us from the bar the previous night. Dang!

We kicked off with The Willowz, who were from California and a little, well, young; really. They were OK-ish but had some work to do.

Next up were the Eagles of Death Metal which a lot of people seemed to recognise. This lot were a bit of an experience. The singer looked like he was straight out of a 70's porn movie, complete with dodgy moustache. He totally hammed it up all night which was most amusing. They didn't play any death metal; it was pretty straight rock and not bad either. I'd see them again.

And finally, the one we were waiting for: The Hives! Out they bounced, all dressed in matching black-and-white blazers and suits, and proceeded to pound us all night with the coolest, rock-solidest beats; this is punk you can dance to. Maybe you know their tune 'Tick Tick Boom'. They hammered down the tunes and were really tight as a band. Very cool stuff. I am noticing on the Wikipedia entry it says they are known for their "hilarious self-glorification"; yup, I'd go with that, the singer was laying it on thick all evening to a most amusing degree!

Alan and I always say the bands we enjoy most are the ones who look like they are having a good time on stage (Rush; Shiny Toy Guns are other examples) - I'd say The Hives belong there, they were well worth the trip.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Dallas World Aquarium

Here is a Leafy Sea Dragon in this outstanding tropical habitat and aquarium in downtown Dallas. Top place. We are now in the West End Pub next door, enjoying a fine beer. Going to see Children of Bodom later tonight at House of Blues round the corner.