San Francisco, Part II

Trying to catch up on post-San Fransicso tasks – both at home and at work – has contributed to my lackadasial approach to this blog. Now that I have some time, thanks to a bad case of bronchitis, I shall finish writing about my trip. One of the biggest lessons Lexcie and I learned is that we both don’t do well with lack of sleep.

California Wine Country
Both Lexcie and I didn’t get much sleep the previous night, although he got a few more winks than I did. Unfortunately, the first day did not give a chance to sleep in, as we had to be in San Francisco by 8:30 to catch our Extranomical Tour of San Francisco and California Wine Country. We arrived early enough to get some breakfast, then hopped a quite-cramped Ford Econovan driven by a German tourguide. We were the youngest couple aboard; most were in their 50s and 60s, with the exception of the two young girls being toted around by their grandmother. There was a Spanish couple aboard, and it was quite impressive to hear the tour guide narrating in both fluent English and Spanish.

Our first stop was Muir Woods, where all the redwood trees are. They weren’t the giant sequoia trees I remember from elementary school textbooks, but they were still quite impressive. Supposedly the larger trees are up north, towards Oregon.  In order to get to Muir Woods, you have to drive through this mountainous path – one of those scary roads you only see in movies, with hairpin turns and no guardrails. Our driver was going about 40 miles per hour with only one hand on the wheel, and I thought I was going to be sick. I had to close my eyes and not look down. I probably should have been more trusting, since he drives the path every single day, but it was still pretty frightening. Anyways, we took about an hour walk through the woods and took lots of pictures of trees and branches and trees and branches and deer and trees. Did I mention we took pictures of trees?

After we left Muir Woods, we drove past the Palace of the Fine Arts – which I suppose is equivilant to New York’s World Fair Pavillion, but we didn’t visit because we were a little bit behind schedule. We then stopped at our first winery, Viansa Winery, where Lexcie and I had our first wine tasting ever. We quickly learned that neither of us are big fans of red wine, and wound up drinking and buying dessert wines at the subsequent wineries, Robledo Family Winery and Jacuzzi Family Winery (yes, the same people who make the bubbly bathtubs). We probably bought the most wine out of anyone on the trip, but we were also the only ones who stayed sober – and the rest of the couples were hedging on us being the drunk ones! We grabbed some lunch and ice cream at Sunflower Cafe in Sonoma, then stopped at Sonoma Cheese Factory, which was cheese heaven. There were samples everywhere, and I think I had about two of every cheese in that store. I don’t understand how Lexcie does not like cheese. Oh well, more for me!

After Sonoma, the tour guide took us through a brief walkthrough of Sausalito, and then to see the Golden Gate Bridge. It was even more spectacular than I imagined. It was a bit hazy out, but we had the perfect view from this rocky cliff, which actually turned out to be part of the San Andreas Fault. Although I do not have all the San Francisco photos uploaded yet, I do have one of Lexcie and me standing in front of the bridge.

When the trip was finished, the driver was nice enough to go out of his way and drop us of in San Francisco’s Mission District, where we met Lexcie’s friend Ajay and another friend for dinner at Chow. It just so happened to be Lexcie’s birthday that day, so I decided to embarrass the heck out of him, without any knowledge to himself or Ajay. The waiter brought him a candle-topped cake and had the whole cafe join in a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday.”

Soon, we had to head back to Oakland, and our lack of sleep had caught up with us. We started getting grumpy with each other, and bickered about everything from maps to VZ Navigator and how vacations should be scheduled. After picking up our rental car from a lot in Oakland, my getting us lost on the way back to San Francisco, driving around an hour trying to find a parking spot in the Haight-Ashbury and finally checking into The Red Victorian, we zonked out and finally got the much-needed antidote to our fussiness – sleep.

San Francisco
The next day was another early morning, so we didn’t get to fully experience the Red Vic yet, which I will explain in further detail later. We had to be at the piers early to catch the ferry to Alcatraz Island, where we had tickets to tour “The Rock.” We caught a PCC from Haight-Ashbury down to the piers, which was neat. On our way, we passed a barn full of what I thought was the city’s famous cable cars, but it turned out to be these motorized knock-off tour buses – the same company that does the double decker bus tours in Manhattan. When we got to the correct pier, we had to get on this long line so one of the tour guides could take our picture against a fake Alcatraz background in hopes that we would buy an expensive tourist-trap memory photo. Instead, Lexcie grabbed my camera and took a photo of her as she was taking a photo of us.

The ferry ride over was quite a nice ride with beautiful views of both the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. As we neared Alcatraz, we began to notice more and more seagulls. Turned out that Alcatraz, besides being a historical federal penintentiary, is also now an aviary refuge and registered national park. The tour itself was very interesting, but “The Rock” didn’t seem as harrowing as I thought it would be. We did get to go inside the cells, the recreaction area and all parts of the prison that was not closed off for refuge reasons. And, boy, did it ever smell bird poopy. I’ve never seen so many ducks, seagulls and pelicans in my life. Half of the photos we took on the island have a bird in it somewhere! I purchased a book, Battle at Alcatraz: A Desperate Attempt to Escape the Rock by Ernest B. Lageson, for the plane ride home. If you ever go to San Francisco, Alcatraz is a must-see. Just watch your head!

After we returned to the piers, we decided to take it slow and strolled down to Fisherman’s Wharf. Nice area, but talk about sensory overload. There were so many people, so many things to do and so many people coming at you, saying “Come on this tour! Go on that tour!” There were also lots of tourist traps abound. We found a shop that sold little wooden cable cars so I could buy one for our Christmas village, and then we found a fish and chips stand for lunch. Fish always tastes better when you eat it near a harbor! We also saw some sea lions, but only about 10 or so – we happened to be visiting during mating season, so most of them were down South doin’ their thang.

Next on our to-do list was to take a cable car ride. However, when we arrived at the route’s terminus, there was a queue (yes, I said queue – these are the kind of words you latch on to when you have a British boyfriend) of about 100 people roping around the area, waiting to get on a cable car. Now, cable cars only hold about 20 people at most, and headways were about 30 minutes, so we said, “No way.” Instead, we caught a bus to Chinatown, which was a lot crazier that New York City’s Chinatown. We mosied on throughout the shops, and I got yelled at by a Chinese vendor for taking pictures of his frozen fish. After we did a bit more walking, we managed to catch a cable car in the middle of its route and rode it up and down some hills (weeeeeeeeee!) until we ended up in Union Square.

It was pretty hot at that point, so we found a Crate & Barrel store to cool off in, and wound up testing all the couches until we found a comfortable one to veg out on. See, unlike New York, we didn’t have sales associates coming at us from all directions, asking, “Can we help you?” They just left us alone to kick back and relax. We then were getting a bit hungry, and decided to eat at Historic John’s Grill, at the urging of one of my co-workers – that is, until we saw the prices. Since we were getting a little tired anyways, we decided to head back towards Haight-Ashbury and see what we could find there. Well, for less than the price of a John’s Grill appetizer, we were able to get two entrees and two drinks at the charming Best of Thai Noodle.

We headed back to the hotel after dinner just to relax and enjoy the kooky hotel room. If you haven’t visited the Red Vic’s website yet, do so, so you understand exactly where we were staying. We stayed in the Sunshine Room, which was kind of neat (except the headboard fell down in the middle of the night). When we woke up the next morning, we went downstairs for a communal breakfast in the cafe underneath the hotel, where they encourage you to sit at tables and talk to random people. We would up sitting with a couple from France. Lexcie spoke some French, and the guy spoke some English, while the wife and I just nodded. It was a neat idea, though. We discussed vacation times in the U.S. and how we don’t get as much time off as Europeans. The man worked for a French electric company, and he and his wife were in the U.S. for three weeks. Yeesh, I only get 10 days!

Frank’s BBQ/Evolution Concert
Saturday, we drove to Merced, where my friend Frank was having a huge barbeque. A lot of my friends I made through Journey’s website and concerts were going to be there, so we decided to go. The drive itself from San Francisco was quite long, and it was quite a change of scenery from the Bay Area. But it was neat to see a different part of California, as we drove through wind farms and almond groves.

It was great seeing a lot of old friends and meeting people I’ve talked to online for years but never had a chance to meet. It’s a funny thing about Journey fans – it’s like we knew each other already even though we hadn’t physically met. We had an auction for the Arms of Life fund (Jake and Travis are the sons of a Journey fan) and raised $1,000. It was fun watching everyone rip on the band throughout the auction. Even throughout the recent Journey turbulence, we all still had a good time.

Afterwords, most of us met up in Stockton to see the West Coast Journey tribute band Evolution (not to be mixed up with the Long Island Hugo-fronted band). On the way there, Lexcie and I were following this creepy ice cream truck on Santa Fe Road. No, this was not your happy, jingly Mr. Softee truck, but a grey, spray-painted, windowless Chevy Suburban with a “Caution: Children” sticker on the back. A total pedophilemobile. It was driving 30 m.p.h. down a 55 m.p.h. street. Searching for something (or someone)? We also took a few shots of Amtrak California and BNSF trains.

The concert was held at the Stockton Empire Theatre, which was a nice little venue, albiet hot as Hades. Although I usually like to dance around at concerts, it was just too steaming to do so at the show, and most of us wound up sitting. However, Evolution puts on a great show. In fact, I liked them better than the New York-based Evolution simply for the fact that they branched out from the Dirty Dozen (for you non-Journeyites, Journey’s greatest hits and played Augeri-era music. Plus, they didn’t have a scary Steve Perry clone fronting the band. Afterwords, Lexcie and I were too tired to go out with my friends after the show, so we had to say our goodbyes. Hopefully, I will get to see them during the next big show!

Gold Rush Country
On Sunday, Lexcie and I decided to drive up north to Gold Rush Country. We had picked up a few brochures in the hotel lobby, and decided we would start off with Auburn, which according to the brochures, was a bustling historic town. Bustling? Hardly. It looked like a ghost town! We wandered up and down the main street, where at least 80 percent of the shops were closed. We wandered into a shop that sold Swarovski crystal, and the owner told us the town had been dead for three weeks and no one knew just why. Kind of sad, actually, because it looked like a neat town.

With not much else to do in Auburn, we decided to drive along Historic Route 40 (Lincoln Highway) to see what we could find. Two abandoned buildings piqued our interested – an old gas station and El Banditos Gun Shop, which, quite amusingly, had a gun shot through one of its windows. We drove for quite a long while, until we made a wrong turn somewhere. We wound up on another mountainous, curvy road (and although not as scary as the route to Muir Woods, would have been interesting to maneuver in the dark). Suddenly, after what seemed like miles, we found ourselves on the edge of a dirt road that said, “County Maintained Road Ends Here. Proceed With Caution.” Well, guess we weren’t on Route 40 anymore! So we turned around and headed back, and eventually stopped in Colfax after Lexcie noticed the Greyhound stop and said, “Hey, I’ve been here before!” Unlike Auburn, the town actualy had some movement, so we stopped in an antique shop, grabbed some lunch and then checked out the historic train station.

We soon had to meet my friend CJ, Mark and Marcia in Walnut Creek, so we quickly drove through Nevada City and then back South towards San Francisco. We got our first real dose of California traffic as we got stuck in a few Interstate jams. But through VZ Navigator and Lexcie’s maps, we found an alternate route and only made it to dinner an hour late. It was great seeing CJ, Mark and Marcia again, and we also met two of their friends. We talk online all the time, but it’s so much more fun when you’re in person.

We took Route 4 back to Stockton that night, which was another curvy, wheeeeeeeeeee road, but also a little scary (at least to me) because it was a bit foggy out. I’m don’t do well with fog, but Lexcie couldn’t tell. What was funny about the road is that before every traffic there would be a sign that said “Traffic Light Ahead” – with flashers – even though the traffic light was in plain view. I mean, I could understand a need for a sign if I was about to round a curve and get hit with a traffic light, but it was ridiculously redundant.

A Family Affair
On the last day of the trip, we headed back to Oakland, where we checked into the Jack London Inn again. Lexcie decided to consolidate all the suitcases in the car while I checked in and used the bathroom. So I checked in, got my key, went upstairs and the room was dirty. They didn’t bother to clean the room from the person before! By this time, I was dancing in my pants because I had to use the bathroom, so they quickly “upgraded” the room for us. Yes, we went from 70s furniture to 80s furniture!

After taking a nap, we decided to check out Jack London Square, then took BART to Millbrae to meet Lexcie’s aunt, uncle and cousins for dinner. As we waited for them at Millbrae station, we ran around taking pictures of BART and CalTrain. Another difference between California and New York – transit cops would have been up our arses for taking pictures the way we did! His family is so nice, even if his cousin did scare me about Oakland at night. We ate dinner at Moonstar Buffet, which is the best Asian buffet restaurant I’ve ever been to – even Chris, the notorius buffet hater, would be proud.

Before we returned to the hotel, we met Ajay and his boyfriend for ice cream. They took us to Mitchell’s Ice Cream, which is supposed to be the best ice cream in San Francisco. The place was so hoppin’ that you needed to take a number to get served. However, for the amount of anticipation built up, it just tasted like regular ice cream – I still think Islip’s Coyle’s Homemade Ice Cream is better. It sort of reminded me of the time Mom and I spent over an hour in line to get a hot dog at Pink’s Hot Dogs in Los Angeles – only to realize they were nothing like Nathan’s.

We returned to the hotel early in ancipation of the next morning’s flight, only to find out our room key wasn’t working anymore (three strikes for Jack London Inn).

Home Sweet Home
After five days in the Bay Area, it was finally time to return home. On the way to the airport, Lexcie realized he had two cans of soda in his carry-on. We tried to gulp them down, but Kirkland Signature root beer isn’t that great at 8 a.m. So we left one can in his carry on, figuring that if he could get to California with a screwdriver and eyedrops over 3 oz. – not in a Ziplock bag – on the way in, he could leave with a can of soda on the way out. Well, Southwest caught it and put it aside.

Again, my theory that Southwest is the greatest airlines was disproven to Lexcie yet again. Although we got on our correct flight at San Francisco, the connecting flight at Baltimore was two hours lates then sent to another gate. Argh! He’s never going to fly Southwest with me again. I just want my free flights!

When we arrive home, Obi was so excited to see us that she peed all over the couch. I think we were up until 3 a.m. that morning, we were so jet-lagged. But we had a lot of fun, and realized that, with the exception of maps and VZ Navigators, we are vacation compatible :o)

Pictures to come soon.

One Response to “San Francisco, Part II”

  1. […] I saw Lexcie was getting restless, but we had promised Chris we would wait for her. At least the West Coast Evolution show had […]

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