Monthly Archives: November 2014

Taking advice, part II

Even before we started getting tips from Russian Hill Andy (who actually gave us a handful of nuggets that maybe we’ll share some day when we come out with the In the Big Picture Box Set), our vacation had some direction.  Of course we are not traveling blindly through the vastness of Northern California  We have all of the guidebooks and Web-site information that we (mostly Jen) have amassed over the past few months.  We have sketches of memories from our epic California 1999 trip, which took us from LA to San Francisco to Sonoma Valley to San Diego and back to LA.  And we have recommendations from friends who have traveled and/or lived in this part of the country.  Today was a day that we relied mostly on this last source of information.

A little beach access before reaching the seal colony.

A little beach access before reaching the seal colony.

The ribbon of coastline that stretches south from the San Fran/San Jose metropolitan area is wall papered  with state parks, interspersed with farmland (this area produces ¾ of the nation’s Brussel sprouts and a lot of artichokes as well, we’re told).  We might have bypassed all of it to get to our lodge in Big Sur if it weren’t for our friend Trisha, who pointed out one special park along the way.  She told us that Ano Nuevo was worth the visit, and she was right.

Like many of the other parks we passed, it’s right on the Pacific.  It is a former dairy farm where the cow barn is now the visitors’ center, the horse barn has an interpretive movie, and the farmhouse is home to rangers and base for volunteers.

Lanie is almost as big as a newborn seal.

Lanie is almost as big as a newborn seal.

Hiking trails extend from here through fields and along the beach.  All of this, we agreed, would have been enough to warrant a stop, but the real draw for us and the dozens of people we saw along the paths, were the hundreds of elephant seals basking on the shoreline and throngs of California sea lions staking out nearby Ano Nuevo Island.  It’s about a mile and a half (some of it through deep sand) out to the viewing platforms above the marine mammals, and most of the viewing platforms are populated by docents with binoculars who can show and explain the situation in more detail.

Out at the seal beach.

Out at the seal beach.

It seems that a few years after the park was established in the early ‘60s, the seals decided to make it their bi-annual jamboree site.  As many as 10,000 seals congregate here at the peak of mating and molting seasons.  At the time of our visit, juvenile seals occupy the beach, but in a few weeks, the adults will start pouring in and the whole place will be covered in seal.  The ones we saw were between two and six years old and many of them were huge and blubbery.  The adults are amazingly large and unbelievably blubbery.


This seal winked at me.

This seal winked at me.

Even though we won’t get to see the colony in full swing, this was a good time to visit.  In a month, when mating season starts, the park limits the number of people out there and the amount of time you can spend gawking.

Trisha knew all about this, and was nice enough to relay this information.  We owe her a big thanks.


Condor or buzzard?  For our purposes we'll call it a condor.

Condor or buzzard? For our purposes we’ll call it a condor.

After roaming around the state park (where we also got to see sea otters, the remains of a shipwreck,  a bird that might have been a California condor, and seals jumping out of the water, either in celebration or to avoid great white shark attacks), we headed south in pursuit of another tip from a friend.  A few years back, our pal Jamie had a transformative experience at a taqueria in Santa Cruz.   Given that Santa Cruz coincided with dinnertime  on this driving leg (and, surprisingly, we had yet to sample Mexican food since getting to California) we hunted down the place.

It was a little out of the way; Santa Cruz turns out to be a bit of a sprawling community and we were well past the center of town before we started hitting the right numbers on Water Street.  It was very inconspicuous — a good sign for a truly transformative taqueria, though if we didn’t have the exact street number we would have definitely driven past it.

It was a beautiful day in Santa Cruz.

It was a beautiful day in Santa Cruz.

And it was good!  None of us seem to have been actually transformed as yet.  Nadia is not likely to roam the greater Boston are looking for a sauce to correspond with Taco Moreno’s.  You won’t see Lanie or Zoe pulling up to gas stations in Revere reputed to sell carne asada with a West Coast savor.  But if Jamie ever does find a taqueria that he feels is on par with Tacos Moreno of Water Street in Santa Cruz, we’d be happy to join him for a burrito from time to time.

Advice and commentary


Action shot of quality parenting on Russian Hill.

These Californians are a friendly people. Also, very prone to giving out advice and commentary. Never before have we been approached in a public place by some random stranger who tells us that (a) they approve of something we’re doing, and (b) here’s what else we should do to be even better, but here it seems to happen all the time.

The first one was Andy on Russian Hill.  We were sitting in a tiny park at the top of the hill, eating our bits-and-pieces lunch, and he was out walking his dog. He opened by telling us that he could tell we were very good parents.  We waited warily for his follow-up, wondering if this was meant for sarcasm (since shortly before the girls had been fighting bitterly over salt and pepper packets for their hard-boiled eggs). Luckily he seemed to have missed that part and was instead impressed that none of the girls were wearing headphones or looking at screens.  (Nadia was listening to this speech and clearly barely restraining herself from sighing and rolling her eyes.)  He went on to tell us that his grandmother always said that you should do one good thing for someone every day – that’s how you earn your place on the planet – and that we should now pass on the favor to someone else.  We have been keeping our eyes peeled for screen-less children to compliment.

This is advice I would definitely take if I were fool enough to drive here.

This is advice I would definitely take if I were fool enough to drive here.

The next day it was a woman on the bus, who later identified herself as a teacher. She asked how old the girls were, and then immediately jumped to asking me if I had been able to stay home with the kids at all.  It wasn’t clear what she would think of Bob staying home instead, but fortunately she approved.  It’s a good thing, because the kids’ behavior on the buses was not always the best, and I imagine she would have blamed daycare.


Nadia saw this piece of advice on the street in Chinatown and thought it said, “No dumpling”. I can’t quite figure out the crab thing.

Today at the pool we met a man who was testing the chlorine level.  Maybe he’d heard us yelling at the kids or something, because he launched right onto an impassioned speech on how much we would miss them when they were gone, no matter how much we might look forward to that day.  He and his wife had thought they’d be happy, but after dropping their youngest off at college they’d had to pull over to the side of the road to cry. Of course, now they’re living the life, traveling around to various state and national parks as the whim takes them, and volunteering in exchange for room and board. He very much wanted us to recommend this strategy to our parents, and went so far as to come back later with the website address for signing up.  (“Once you’re in, you’re in for life!” he told us gleefully. Clearly he is not acquainted with any of our parents.)

Even though I’m making fun of them a little, we did enjoy talking to all of them, and do like being in a place where people don’t always keep a polite distance. We have encountered many examples of kindness here – various strangers helping us without being asked when they saw us squinting perplexedly at bus maps; the cable car operator who beckoned the kids out of the interior of a packed cable car to instead stand outside with him in the back; the woman at the café who pulled kids onto her lap so as to offer us chairs; the couple who were talking to every person on the beach, trying to find the owner of some car keys they’d found on the ground; the many patient souls who have smiled rather than glared when a bunch of noisy children invaded their quiet park/bus/restaurant/street corner. It seems like a happy place, and we can easily see why.

View from the cable car caboose

Grip man’s view from the cable car caboose

Museums That Do Not Suck

…the life out of you, that is.


Sand art at the Exploratorium

We’re not really big museum people, generally. When I was doing a whirlwind tour of Europe during college with my friends Julie and Nancy, we visited a lot of museums.  I don’t know why, really – we didn’t enjoy them all that much.  In fact, we eventually devised a system where we rated various museums on their life-suck potential – as in, how fast they would just suck the life right out of you, leaving you staggering weakly around, with barely enough energy to get to the exit.  And yet the next day there we would go again, marching glumly off to see 15th-century Hungarian equine portraiture or something.

(Sometimes it wasn’t our fault. One time we signed up for a day-long tour of microbreweries in Belgium.  After we arrived and got on the bus, the tour guide cheerfully announced that they hadn’t had enough people sign up for any of the three tours they were offering – the aforementioned brewery tour, a tour of WWI historical sites, and some kind of medieval art tour – so they were consolidating them all and taking the whole group to a little of each.  I can’t imagine anyone was very happy with this arrangement, but probably no one less so than us.  I believe this was the beginning of our collective hatred of those Madonna-and-child paintings with the gold halos around Mary’s head.)


Very cool wall at the Exploratorium. Every square was created with the method it lists.

Luckily I’ve gotten past the idea that I must go to all these museums just because you’re supposed to.  One of the benefits of going to Italy with the kids last year was that we felt no guilt about skipping the whole lot of them.  Instead of queueing up to see David along with 20,000 other tourists, we were happily wandering around the city, looking at fountains and street performers and eating gelato.

There are exceptions, of course. I coIMG_4911uld have spent all day wandering around the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, for example.  And there are plenty of quirky little museums out there that are entertaining simply because of their existence.  My friend Ken and I once spent a happy afternoon perusing the many fascinating exhibits of the Museum of Medical Oddities in Washington, DC, which features such items as a giant hairball surgically removed from someone’s stomach.  There’s nothing life-sucking about that. And of course, we’ll never forget the St. Louis City Museum, which is still my kids’ favorite place in the world. But overall I feel like museums have too much stuff and too many people, leading to sensory overload followed inevitably by life-suck.

Sketchpad mirror at the Exploratorium

Sketchpad mirror at the Exploratorium

So, we’re particular about our museums.  And the ones we visited here in San Francisco were all winners.

Zoe has already written about the Exploratorium.  There was much that was cool about this place, but the thing I liked best was that you could really tell that the exhibits were put together by various scientists tinkering away in the central lab area with blow torches and hammers.  They just had that kind of pieced-together-with-what-was-on-hand feel to them. The exhibits spanned a wide range of topics – from physics and chemistry to a big area about sociological research on sharing – but all were really well put together in a way that made you want to read the walls of text that accompanied each exhibit. Also, they had a drinking fountain coming out of a toilet.  Zoe and Lanie tried it; the rest of us passed.



Inside the rainforest dome

Inside the rainforest dome at the California Academy of Sciences

The California Academy of Sciences was more of a natural history museum and aquarium.  We had about three hours here and wished it were longer – they had to kick us out at closing time.  Among the exhibits were a room that you could go into to see what an earthquake felt like, and an albino alligator.

Claude the albino alligator

Claude the albino alligator

Finally, a hidden gem only a few blocks from our apartment – the Cable Car Museum.  I have to admit that we only went to this place because it was close and it was free.  However, it turned out to be so much cooler than I would have expected.  “Museum” was a misnomer, really.  Although it did have various exhibits on the history and mechanics of cable cars, the real highlight is that the building houses the powerhouse of all four San Francisco cable car lines.  The huge open center of the room was all the exposed machinery that keeps the cable cars running along under the streets.  You could watch the enormous wheels turning and see the cables disappearing in various directions as the four lines dispersed across the city under the floor.  It was loud and a little smelly and fascinating – and we were still full of energy when we headed, a little reluctantly, back out the door.


How’s this for adventure?

Tree climbing

Tree climbing

Giant bubble bursting

Climbing cell phone towers

Climbing cell phone towers

Conversing with catfish

Conversing with catfish



Experiencing with drug culture #1 (Coin-op attraction in Musee Mechanic)

Experiencing with drug culture #1 (Coin-op attraction in Musee Mechanic)

Super stone slide

Super stone slide

Russian Hill Andy's fourth tip: Don't eat things that were hanging up.

Russian Hill Andy’s fourth tip: Don’t eat things that were hanging up.

Dragon baiting!

Dragon baiting!

Experiencing drug culture #2:  queuing for medical marijuana evaluations

Experiencing drug culture #2: queuing for medical marijuana evaluations

Bus route navigation!

Bus route navigation!

They're like roller coasters on the downhills!

They’re like roller coasters on the downhills!

Experiencing gravity on steepest street ever.

Experiencing gravity on steepest street ever.

Eating our way through San Francisco


At the farmers’ market

Eating on vacation is a tricky thing.  It can put a sizable hole in the budget, which is not helped by the fact that Zoe, and increasingly often, Nadia, have outgrown the children’s menu.  This is one area where our usual efforts to widen our children’s culinary horizons clash with our innate cheapness.  We sigh inwardly as we tell Zoe to go ahead and get the $17 fish and chips (which she will completely demolish) rather than the $6 chicken fingers.

Hard-boiled egg with a view

Hard-boiled egg with a view

On the other hand, food and drink are such important parts of travel.  We would no more skip San Francisco’s famous cuisines than we would skip the cable cars and the Golden Gate Bridge.  So we try to strike a balance.  Bob packed his suitcase with some homemade goodies to sustain us — granola bars, beef jerky, pumpkin seeds, almonds.  We’ve rented an apartment with a kitchen, and procured some basic staples for breakfasts and snacks.  Before we set off in the morning, we load up the backpacks with provisions, and have mostly been enjoying picnic lunches. Our old friend peanut butter has made an appearance once or twice.

The Cheese

The Big Cheese, partially vanquished

Our first day out we stopped at the famous market in the Ferry Building for lunch supplies.  We ended up with a large hunk of aged goat cheese, which had a taste and texture somewhat similar to Parmesan.  Little did we know that attempting to cut the thing would be the ongoing bane of our existence.  Even normal metal knives (never mind the plastic we initially attempted) cower and bend when they encounter this monster.  On the plus side, this has proven to really make the cheese last; after cutting off a relatively small amount we have to retire in exhaustion.  (The other day Nadia actually managed to hack a bite-sized piece off for herself, and was wildly furious when Zoe then bumped into her and caused her to drop it as she was slowly savoring it.)  We may be bringing home the remainder as a paperweight.


Zoe's teddy bear, pre-baking

Zoe’s teddy bear, pre-baking

Remains of bear after dinner

Remains of bear after dinner

Another item we have been enjoying in great abundance is sourdough bread.  On our second day here, the girls did a workshop at the famous Boudin bakery in Fishermen’s Wharf.  They created their own creatures out of dough, and then got to take home a sizable creature-shaped loaf.  We’ve been eating this bread ever since, and still haven’t cracked into Nadia’s turtle.  Luckily it goes well with infinitesimal slivers of aged goat cheese.  (Also, we found that if you want to use up some bread by making french toast, and you don’t have any vanilla or cinnamon or sugar, a packet of hot chocolate mix that a previous tenant left behind does the trick quite nicely.)

Zoe in giant garlic hat

Zoe in giant garlic hat

Anyway, going low-budget for a couple of meals a day frees us up to live it up for the last one.  We enjoyed a fabulous Italian feast at the legendary Stinking Rose, a garlic-themed restaurant in North Beach, the city’s Little Italy (Zoe’s choice for her 13th birthday).  We had an adventurous dinner in Chinatown, where we just told the waitress to bring us a bunch of different dishes (with the stipulation, for certain children’s benefit, of no seafood or spicy food).  We had seafood (well, 3/5 of us did) across the street from the Pacific ocean.

For Mr. Sadana

For Mr. Sadana

We had gelato and pastry in North Beach, hot fudge sundaes at Ghirardelli’s, cappuccino in the Haight, and wine and microbrews everywhere.  (We did enjoy one budget meal, at In-N-Out Burger.  Nadia’s teacher is from California and he gave her strict instructions to eat there.  Nadia was skeptical as she is not a big hamburger fan, but was won over immediately.  Bob and I couldn’t believe we were getting away with $20 for lunch for 5 people, and no agonizing over the order — cheeseburgers and fries, the only options.)

One of our favorite meals was at a little place right down the road from us, the Nob Hill Cafe.  We’d had a long, chilly day of biking and buses, and were relieved to finally arrive.  However, despite its being a Sunday night, the place was packed.  Bob and the girls ran home for sweatshirts while I kept our place in line (which, given the size of the place, was outside).  In the end, the “25 minute” IMG_5171wait turned into more like 40, but was made more bearable by the fact that we could sit at a little sidewalk cafe table and drink wine while we waited.  We chatted with the equally cold and hungry family sitting next to us (people are very nice and friendly here) and the time went by pleasantly.  The array of breads, pastas, and pizzas that we ordered to share was well worth the wait, although I think the girls were a bit disappointed with their caramel flan dessert (which they said tasted like alcohol).IMG_5100

Tomorrow we set off down the coast, and already have our next target in our sights — a little taqueria in Santa Cruz that our friends have been raving about ever since they were here a few years ago.  After that it’s down to Big Sur, where culinary options are presumably more limited, so we’d better live it up while we can.

The Exploratorium

On Thursday, our first day in San Francisco and my birthday, we took a trip to the Exploratorium. Before going there, I thought it would be a regular science museum (even with its name), interesting to me, but not so much to my sisters. Some people (Mom) think I never should have taken this view because of the name, but I’ve learned that names can be misleading. It’s a tactic many school-related things have used, giving something a name that makes it sound fun and interesting but turns out to be some long, boring assignmeIMG_4896nt. My math teachers have recently taken to calling tests a “celebration of knowledge” or a “brain bash.” Whatever my doubts, the museum certainly lived up to its name.

The exhibits were basically cool or fun interactive anything. There was no particular order and sometimes no instructions telling us how it relates to science. We just went to what looked interesting. You could power a light bulb or a hairdryer with a giant wheel; watch your own surprise reaction in slow motion;  bounce water drops on a machine blowing air at you, and a whole variety of other things. At one point, we walked past the lab where scientists design and make new exhibits. What a fun job that would be!IMG_4907

 I think my sisters’ favorite thing was the magnetic sand. In one exhibit, there were large, strong magnets coming out of the ground. The magnets ended up in a tub full of sand. The sand stuck to the magnets and looked like hair. Nadia and Lanie compared it to hedgehogs. You could drop handfuls of sand and watch them stick, connect the two magnets with a strong bridge of sand, or feel the sand jump out of your hand onto the magnet. Nadia discovered that you could also make “hairstyles”. The Exploratorium was a great way to start our trip.

CAA of S (California Academy of Science)

Me and my family entered the museum.  The guy at the ticket booth looked at our City Passes.  He ripped out the one that was for the California Academy of Science.  But he also ripped out another one, too.  (ed. note: The mistakenly ripped ticket was for the Bay Aquarium or the Monterrey Aquarium.)  Oops.  “Sorry,” the man said.  “Get the man at the desk to write a note.”


Working on Junior Scientist packets in the Galapagos area.

We went to the desk. A man was there.  We explained. He understood.  He wrote a little note. (ed. note: He actually stapled his business card to the mistakenly ripped ticket.)

Mom told us there was a packet we could do while we were looking around.  We went to the man. (ed. note: It was a different man from the two already mentioned.  This man was in the coat check area.)  The man told us it was free but he had to see our parents’ ID card.  Dad showed him his.

First, the man showed us a little pack.  It had a ruler, a box of colored pencils, a magnifying glass, a tape measure, a pencil sharpener, and a marker.   We got a pin to show that we were junior scientists.

We kept the things in a backpack, but were supposed to give it all back at the end.  (ed. note: Except the pin.)

Other things of note from the California Academy of Science:


Seeing the coral reef from down below.


Watching birds and butterflies in the rainforest canopy.

A visit to the penitentiary

This was my third time to Alcatraz, and although I seem to really enjoy it and try to pay attention, every time I take the tour again it seems like new information.  It’s possible that I have just naturally forgotten things in the 15 or so years since Jen and I visited during our Pacific Coast Highway tour.  I would say this is probably the case, but I do suspect that maybe they change up the stories a little.  It used to be that one guy maybe escaped but probably drowned.  Now it’s three guys who got out on to the roof and disappeared and nobody knows where they went.  Also, the Marines stormed the building to quell a riot and dropped grenades through a hole in the roof?  I think they have Marvel writers working on the audio tour narrative.  Next time it will be Iron Man locking Capone back into his cell after Scarface drinks ionically charged bathtub gin and mutates into The Big Boss who can control minions and melt steel with his brain.  (The new cell will be made out of Starktanium alloy.)

Anyway, even if they embellish the story a little now and then, it’s a great tour with gravelly-voiced guards right there in your ears and  former convicts chiming in now and then.  The place is physically remarkable in its gravity, being plunked in the middle of a scenic cornucopia.

Where they have definitely made improvements on Alcatraz is in the plants.  Apparently volunteers have been revitalizing the gardens since my last visit.  Hundreds of the specimens planted by guards’ families and inmates alike had survived neglect since the prison closed in the 60s, and these have been brought back into refinement.  Currently on the island there is an art exhibit by a former political prisoner from China and I think at least part of the idea is that beauty in a prison is supposed to be a jarring contrast.  The rejuvenated landscaping along the walkway up to the prison performed this task at least as successfully as the art exhibit did, the various flowering (even in November!) specimens stood out beautifully against the concrete and rusted metal of the prison and fort installations.

We did not take the gardens tour (I did not think the kids would be up for an hour of hearing about plants), but we saw plenty of beautiful things that seemed even too exotic for California just in the normal course of walking about.  Here are some pictures:







Mist shrouds the island as we approach.

I think the girls liked it, too, but it was hard to tell.  It is a somber place, even with all the flowers, and the girls didn’t have that much to say afterwards.  The weather added to the gravity of it all.  It was foggy enough that you couldn’t see the island from the mainland, or vice versa. It was very different from the first day here, when the visibility was excellent.  One really felt isolated on that island today, whereas yesterday you could see clearly from half the streets in downtown San Francisco.

Upward mobility and downward car chases

San Francisco can be and often is broken down into contingent parts based on ethnic groups.  Chinatown.  Japantown.  North Beach, which is like little Italy.  Broadway, which my friend Kevin told me is dedicated to, well, broads.  The Tenderloin is a section of the city which is where the butchers live.  Or maybe the cattle ranches.   Jen won’t take us there ever since she and Charles got chased by unsavory types, probably butchers, a few years ago.

Another way in which I believe the city can be more accurately segmented is by altitude.  Some people who have been here before may be familiar with the bayside attractions.  These are basically at sea level (though our bike ride yesterday required one major hill to get us up into the Presidio), as are several city blocks that seem largely to be devoted to high rise buildings.


Cycling the flatlands near the Bay.

Cycling the flat lands near the Bay. (No we didn’t go across the bridge.)

After that the city itself begins to rise.  And rise and rise.  There are several rings of rising. Chinatown is on one side of the city a ring or two off the bottom level.  Several neighborhood names hint at their altitude: Telegraph Hill, Russian Hill.  Our apartment is in Nob Hill.  We are very near the top of the city.

Driving up here from the airport on Wednesday night/Thursday morning, I noted the climb.  You go up a hill, it flattens out a major intersection, then it climbs again.  This, of course, is what made San Francisco prime setting for 70s movies that involved car chases; or perhaps there was a rule that if you set a movie in San Francisco, there had to be a car chase written into the script.  Because who can deny the extreme please of watching an Impala catch air at the top of a hill and bottom out mightily at the next intersection.  And then, repeat the process because like I said this city is ring after ring of upward mobility.

I mean that upward mobility part. In the taxi to our apartment I noticeed of the climb, but it really caught my attention at the very last section of hill, where the grade increased significantly.  It was hard to believe it was even a road anymore and not an elevator shaft.  For this final block, the cars were parked nose-in.  It would have been too much for the emergency brake to withstand, parking parallel to the street on this block.  I didn’t notice it during that first drive, but Jen says that there isn’t just a sidewalk on that part of Taylor Street.  It’s a stairway.

That kind of barrier definitely keeps the riff-raff out.  At least it prevents the riff-raff with lung problems from making it up here, and those are among the worst kind of riff-raff.   To be clear, there are lots of coughing masses down by Fisherman’s Wharf, but up here near the top the living is good. Take a right out of our door and walk uphill half a block..  This will take you to Jones Street.  There doesn’t seem to be anything higher than that.  And it is perfectly clear of riff-raff.

We sit up here in our apartment like Roman emperors looking down from our sanctuary among the seven hills.  I’m not even the first one to make this connection.  Lanie noted today that the terrain reminded her of the Palatine Hills (yes, the utterance of one freakishly well-travelled seen year old).


Happily walking downhill

And while being loftily imperial is a positive for us overall, I can’t say that I mind the riff-raff as much as some people.  This is a city of very interesting people.  Where San Franciscan altitude really makes an impact is in the area of logistics.  Each morning so far we have happily trotted outwards and downwards toward the touristy parts. It’s a breeze covering the mile or two down to the Ferry Terminal or Alcatraz embarkation port.  On day one as we were descending through Chinatown, I was thinking that it wasn’t going to be fun herding the kids back up to Pleasant Street later in the day.

Enter the cable car, often thought to be an outdated form of transportation kept around for nostalgia’s sake.  Truth is, cable cars climb like Zoe’s friend Shannon, which is to say they climb incredibly well.  Without cable cars, San Franciscans would be skinnier than they already are, except their thighs would be bulging.    Other tourists may ride them from one end of the line to the other.  We – are we really tourists if we’re this clever? –  hop off at the highest elevation possible, and I can survive without having to coat my quadriceps with IcyHot to address my sore muscles.  Cable cars are very useful things here, and it’s all because of the hills.  They are a luxury even the Roman Emperors lacked.


Happily riding the cable car uphill.

Today’s cable car actually got stuck on the last steep grade up the far side of Taylor Street (which is not steep enough to require a sidewalk staircase, but it’s pretty steep).  Even trusty cable cars have trouble climbing sometimes.  It may have been that the car was overloaded with people, but probably it was because of the enormous amount of sourdough bread we were carrying (the reason for this is a somewhat long story).  Everyone was asked to get off and walk up to the next corner.  We were close to the top, so we just walked the extra block up to Jones Street, pleased with our quick mastery of San Francisco public transportation.   From Jones Street, everything is downhill, including our apartment. We’ll rest up tonight – and likely eat some bread – then head off tomorrow downhill towards another day of adventure.

Make way for the emperors.

John Cleese and Getting Lost

I’ve been in San Francisco this week, at a conference for work.  I love this city.  (Even apart from the fact that as I was arriving amidst the sunshine and palm trees, the news was showing a cheerful-looking reporter (probably drunk) standing in the snow in Bangor, ME, talking about 12 more inches in the forecast.)

Here’s the coolest thing about the conference: recognize this guy??  Yes, he’s gotten a lot older, but is still hilarious.

John Cleese!  John Cleese!

John Cleese! John Cleese!

Much of his lecture was about the value of making mistakes, which came in handy when I got lost on my morning run the following day.  I looked at my map before I left, and thought I would run along the water for a while then take a left and cut back to my hotel.  Unfortunately, the map failed to show a several-story-high cliff in the middle of this route, and sadly I had forgotten to pack my grappling hook.  I tried to get around the hill, past the hill, and eventually even resigned myself to going over the hill.  I found one of those cool San Francisco staircases winding upward into hidden gardens, past beautiful homes looking out over the Bay.  It was beautiful.

However, all that winding meant I totally lost my sense of direction, and the series of turns that I IMG_4880needed to make to get off the hill completed the process.  I was desperate enough to start attempting to navigate by the sun, and found myself taking quite a tour of the city — Telegraph Hill, North Beach, Chinatown. (Know how many joggers are in Chinatown at 7 am?  The same as the number of non-Chinese people — one.  I did not exactly blend in.)  Eventually I spied Macy’s in the distance and, better yet, managed to find my way down to it and the
n on to Union Square.  I don’t know how many miles I ended up running, but my fitbit buzzed for my 10,000 steps before I got back.

Late Wednesday night, after the conference ended, the rest of the family arrived.  We’re ensconced in a cozy flat in Nob Hill and looking forward to five more days in the city.  I’m glad to be done with the conference, except for having to put away the corporate credit card.