The Road Less Travelled #10

Madonna Estates Vineyards


Instead of Baywatch Cafe I headed across the street to Mel’s Diner, despite warnings from the front desk guy that it was an evil chain.  It is a chain but only in California, and not even all over California.  They give you plenty of food but it’s crowded in there so service is a little wonky.  I don’t need anybody to dance attendance upon me while I’m scarfing down an omelet and coffee so it didn’t really bother me.

Now it’s time to start exploring.  Instead of bothering with that confounded 511 website, I just used Google maps to find my way around.  So much faster and less of headache.  Google maps told me to walk up to Jackson Street to catch the bus.  And by up, they meant UP.  My goodness.  These hills.  It’s a workout, that’s for sure.  How you San Franciscans get on with it everyday is beyond me, but I guess it’s what you’re used to.  It made me wonder if the city was very accessible to the disabled and elderly.

It took me about 15 minutes to go a quarter of a mile up that hill.  I’m sadly out of shape, I know.  The bus took me to the Castro, San Francisco’s gay community.  Previously, I always thought of San Francisco as one BIG gay community.  I don’t know where I got that impression.  At any rate, I always like gay communities because there is such an emphasis on community.  I’ve never been to a gay community that is run-down, ramshackle or derelict in some way.  There’s always interesting shops and curious things to do, and San Francisco really exemplifies that.

If you’re funny about such things, I really wouldn’t worry about it.  It’s not like everyday there’s a gay pride parade, just people going about their business.  There are some interesting stores with names like Rock Hard, Sit’n’Spin and Hot Cookie.  I can’t remember what Rock Hard is, but Sit’n’Spin is a laundry place and Hot Cookie is well, a place that sells cookies.  And their cookies are great, let me tell you.  They do also sell chocolate dipped macaroons in the shape of men’s parts, in case you were interested.

There were better variety stores in the Castro, and the souvenirs were a lot cheaper.  I collect snowglobes and a friend of mine collects magnets.  I was able to get a snow globe (not one of the cheap ones, either), two magnets, and some postcards for about $6.  You’ll be lucky if you could find such a deal in Fisherman’s Wharf.

After the Castro, I took the street car back down Market Street so I could transfer to Stockton Street to see China Town.  I’ve been to China Town in NYC, Honolulu and Philadelphia, you might ask yourself why I’d be so interested but I just can’t stay away.  Besides, China Town is really the only place you can get pineapple stuffed buns.  If you ever read my Hawaii trip report you may remember the mad hunt for pineapple stuffed buns.  It’s something I used to eat as a kid when I lived in Japan, and whenever I am in China Town anywhere in the world I have to find them.  I found three different bakeries with pineapple stuffed buns, so I bought one from each to taste test.  I also bought red bean paste bread and other carb-filled junk I don’t need.

China Town is full of junk, but there are some random curious wonders if you care to spend half an afternoon looking for it.  If you need ginseng or oolong teas, this would be the place to get it.  The trick is to shop where the locals are shopping.  You don’t see the locals buying China girl looking dresses, or those cheap $5 slippers, or “silk” pajamas and handbags.  Yes, I bought all of these things.  There’s really no rhyme or reason.  I felt like I needed them.  I’m sad to say that my China girl slippers snapped the next day.  : (

After China Town I went back to the hotel to rest a little bit.  This is the advantage of staying in the city.  When you get worn down you can come back to your hotel, rest up a little bit and then head back out again.  Besides, you need to be close by so you can stash your souvenirs.  You don’t want everyone to know how pounds of pineapple stuffed buns you bought.  It could be humiliating.

In one of those brochures at the front desk I saw an add for the Winery Collective that is down in Fisherman’s Wharf.  Warning bells should have gone off in my head but either I wasn’t paying attention or they weren’t loud enough.  They offer wine tasting and all this other wine related stuff, so I thought it would be interesting.  It was actually quite expensive.  It was $25 for six pours, and you really couldn’t mix and match unless you gave this impression you were about to buy something.  All of the wines were priced higher than my budget allowed for, so I ended up just tasting.

The woman who poured for me was really nice though.  We had a long chat about teaching abroad.  Apparently she was teaching English in Sendai, Japan when the big quake over there happened.  It was interesting to hear her perspective.  She gave me a few tips on applying to teach abroad, something I’ve been thinking about lately.

After the Winery Collective, I went to ride the cable cars.  What a disaster.  I only did it because it seemed like the tourist thing to do.  The queue was ridiculous.  I stood in line at the terminus on Hyde Street for about 30 minutes before I gave up.  I walked up Hyde and saw that there were additional stops, so I waited at one of those.  Three cable cars went past me because they were full.  I’m sure locals don’t ride the things because they are horribly expensive ($6 each way) and a completely ineffective and inefficient way to travel.  While I was waiting a limo pulled up and offered to take all of us for $5 each.  Nobody took him up on his offer.  The only reason I continued to wait is because I was on the phone with someone and didn’t realise that an hour and 15 minutes had passed before I was able to ride on the car.  Then I was stuffed in with about 30 other passengers.  It was madness, and just to go a few blocks up the street to Hyde Street Seafood House.

Dinner was excellent.  If you’re looking for seafood, I’d give Hyde Street Seafood House a try.  The prices are reasonable and it’s not all stuffy and over the top fancy.  There were quite a few other people in there dining alone.  I started with grilled calamari followed by garlic shrimp.  Really good.  They specialise in en papilotte (I think I spelled that right) where they wrap everything in a paper and bake it, or something.

I got back on the wretched cable car to go back down to catch the bus only because the cable car was RIGHT THERE at the door.  Otherwise I would have walked.  I wish I would have then I would not have witnessed such a grand display of rudeness from the grip guy (or whatever they’re called).  These Japanese tourists got on with me, but they could not understand the instructions that were being barked at them.  The operator wanted the man to come around to the right side, so that me and the woman could sit down on the bench.  Obviously they did not speak or understand English so they kind of stood there looking lost.  The operator just screamed at the guy, “Come around, or you’re gonna get left!”  Eventually he seemed to understand, so he came around but then he didn’t get that you’re not supposed to stand directly behind the operator.  So the operator just basically shoves him into the correct place and says, “All you have to do is say excuse me!  Geez!”  And then everyone started laughing.  I thought it was so rude.

When you work in a position like that, one that sees hordes of tourists everyday, I get that it grates on your nerves.  Tourists are looking for the perfect vacation and we’re not easy to deal with when we’ve plunked down a crapload of money to enjoy ourselves.  But that’s really no excuse to talk to people like that.  They were older and foreign, so maybe apply just a little bit of patience.  If you don’t like your job, quit.  There’s many in the unemployment line that will be glad to take up where you left off.

It’s amazing how the wind just randomly picks up in the evening.  By the time I got back to the hotel I felt frozen through.  Definitely need another crepe and hot mocha from Squat’n’Gobble.  I think I’ve eaten there three times since being in San Francisco.

Next morning I was still freezing so I could not go out for my morning run.  Instead I went to one of these neighbourhood gyms and paid an astronomical $25 guest fee just to be able to run indoors.  It’s one of those gyms where everyone is already slim and attractive.  They don’t go to get in shape; they just go to prance around in coordinated exercise outfits and designer water bottles.

I had my tour with Extranomical scheduled for today.  I did Muir Woods and 3 wineries.  Very nice.  I really enjoyed it.  The tour guide was funny and informative, but I do have to say that he was a bit long-winded.  I think most of us just wanted to have a nice relaxing ride but he went on for quite some time.

I liked Muir Woods but I think after Yosemite and Mt. Hood, I was pretty much all hiked out.  It’s still cold to me, so after a quick go around the trail I sat in the gift shop until it was time to go.  If you’re coming here on your own without a tour, I’d get here very early.  Extranomical got us there before the other tour buses arrived but as we were leaving it was like a plague of tour buses coming down the hill towards Muir Woods.  The guide said the best time was middle of the week in the morning.

My tour group consisted mostly of foreigners.  There were only about 5 or 6 Americans total.  One crazy guy called me “Queen of the trees” and we hadn’t even started drinking yet.  I thought he was Ukrainian but turns out he was from Croatia.

We stopped at Gloria Ferrer first where they gave us a glass of sparkling wine.  I didn’t really care for this winery so much.  We didn’t really taste anything, it was more of “look at our show room and buy stuff!”  Second, we visited Madonna Estates.  This was my favourite. This is a small family owned organic winery that dates back to before Prohibition.  They were able to survive Prohibition because they sold to the Catholic Church.  The woman there was extremely informative.  I took gads of notes.  I didn’t buy anything but I think I will join their wine club just as soon as Maryland lifts its ridiculous restrictions on mail order alcohol.

Lastly, we visited Cline Cellars.  I felt rushed here but this place is much bigger.  They said they’re family owned but it felt corporate.  I hardly had time to contemplate one pour before I was given another.  I couldn’t take any notes or even remember the names of whatever I tasted.  I did buy from them though and only because I didn’t want to go home empty handed.  A bought a Zinfandel and a blend, and some chocolate wine sauce, because I really need chocolate wine sauce.

At this point, several of us are a little tipsy.  Everyone is much friendlier by now.  It was still a little bit early by the time we headed back to SF, so the tour guide rode us up to the Headlands so we could get pictures of the bridge.  Finally!  A clear shot.  This whole time I was never able to get a good picture but in the afternoon the fog is gone and I could see the whole thing.  Nice.

I had dinner at New Country Sky, some Chinese spot across from the hotel.  I had to do a quick dine’n’dash because I had tickets to Rigoletto at the War Memorial Opera House.  I am a huge fan of opera and I kept seeing the signs all over the city.  I did a quick search on the website and found there were still reasonable tickets left.  It was a great show.  I won’t bore you with all the details because I know opera is not everyone’s cup of tea.  I had a great time.  I met some nice people and we had a great discussion on opera during intermission.  I think this was the best time I had in the city.

The next day I slept in a little because it’s time for me to move on.  Only two hours to Monterey but the hotel said they were strict about the check in time.  I tried to go to Lori’s Diner because the Extranomical Tour Guide said it was way better than Mel’s but I had an issue with parking.  I found a metered space.  I got out, read the meter carefully.  Read all the signs and proceeded to put my money in.  This guy comes running out of a hotel and says, “Don’t park there!  They will tow you!”  I was really confused by this because according to the signs I was good, but if a local gives you a warning you should heed it, otherwise it would have been a very expensive breakfast.

Whatever, it’s time to go San Francisco.

Coming up:  Monterey, Morro Bay, Paso Robles and the end of our adventure


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