Monday, October 29, 2007

Day Five: Headed home

Our travel home day was basically that; traveling and lots of time changes, in the wrong direction this time. The only major item for the day was our meal at the Buena Vista Café in the San Francisco airport. I really wanted to try it but we didn’t have time while in the city so we decided to stop in for lunch. I wish we would have saved our money and had McDonalds. It was such a downer to end the vacation with such horrible service. Our waitress took ten minutes to finally greet us, never brought water or napkins even though I asked twice, didn’t bring half of the items we ordered, and never smiled. It was horrible, and everyone around us seemed to be having the same experience with her. She even mentioned in the end that she could tell we were upset but never once apologized or offered to compensate us.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Day Four: Lots of walking

Thursday was our mix n’ match day. The day where we see all the things we wanted to see but didn’t have time to earlier in the week. It involved being out the door at 8:30am and walking; yes that’s right WALKING, all over the city until about 4pm. We started at Union Square Shopping Center. Most of the shops were three times out of our price range but it was fun to see the products and displays, much classier than Target. Union Square would be a great area for anyone who enjoys a good name brand shopping spree. Be careful because there are a few nice shops on the side roads as well like Gap and Lucky Jeans and you don’t want to miss them. If you’re like me and would rather see the little Ma and Pop shops you should still take this small detour and stop by Union Square.

Chinatown was next on our map and we walked the hundred blocks there with some amazing views of the city. Chinatown was just opening for the day so it was fairly quiet only a few other early riser couples like us. We had the chance to quietly browse through the shops at our own leisure. I added Jade and bone figurines to my collection for less than a dollar. And yes, that made my day. If you want the full experience of this neighborhood walk a few blocks off the beaten path for a less tourist experience. That’s all the warning I’m going to give.

On the way to lunch we detoured to Lombard Street, the crookedest street (actually its not, but it is the most famous). Unlike smart people we approached Lombard from the bottom and after taking some pictures realized we now had to walk up the 27% incline. While walking we were able to see the house used in filming the Real World – San Francisco. At the top, twenty minutes later we had some more great pictures. Unfortunately we weren’t able to rent a car to drive down it and when I suggested a GO CAR Matt wasn’t very receptive to the idea. I mean who wouldn’t want to take an open frame go cart down one heck of a steep hill?

After all that walking we walked some more to In & Out Burger. Only a fast food joint to most but a California haven to Matt and I. The history behind this stop begins almost three years earlier during our last trip to California. During that vacation we visited Los Angeles, San Diego, and Tijuana (not California – I know). On every block corner there was an In & Out Burger lined with cars. They were like Starbucks and even with them being so prevalent we were unable to eat at one during our stay. So of course on Tuesday when we saw the In & Out right after eating we vowed to return later in the week. In & Out Burger was California’s first drive-thru hamburger stand, now the dinner is decorated as a 1950’s dinner (imagine that). They even offer merchandise online.

After eating we walked to the cable car line and rode on one of the old lines. There are only three working cable car lines in San Francisco and some say the world. The car was fun and we had the best seats; hanging off the side. We paid five pucks a piece to get on at the turnaround point and received a commemorative ticket for our fee. But you don’t have to buy tickets you can jump on any of the old Trolley’s once they are on their route. Even though we were slightly taken on the whole ordeal I got a commemorative ticket - damn it! And I helped to keep the lines running plus I got some great shots while we waited at the station. So technically we paid ten bucks for the pictures, totally worth it… yeah – shut up.

As the day went on we walked; yes walked again, all over town and saw many of the areas famous houses. We stopped by the Octagon House; not that great but it’s painted a nice purple color. We also saw the house used in the movie Mrs. Doubtfire and not too far away the mansion romance author, Danielle Steele calls home, Spreckels Mansion. My favorite house on our little tour was the Atherton House of 1900 California. The Atherton house is claimed to be one of the most haunted homes in San Francisco. It’s believed the house is hounded by four ghosts of previous owners and even though we couldn’t go in for a tour and see any floating orbs or anything it was still interesting. In between seeing beautiful houses in Pacific Heights and walking Cow Hollow we strolled over to the Palace of Fine Arts next to the Exploratorium. The Palace was built for the 1915 re-dedication of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. It is amazing and worth the short trip there. The best part is, in a city where bagels cost four dollars the Palace of Fine Arts is FREE as well as the all our housing viewing, which is great when you’re on budget. After a full day of walking we did some online research and headed over to Ken’s Chinese for the best Chinese I have ever eaten. The Crab Rangoon (Puffs) were made with real crab and a wonderful pepper mix. They aren’t located in Chinatown but it’s worth it to stop in.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Day Three: Traveling

Before all the trouble with Mel’s (mentioned in yesterday’s post) we had a very busy day. Before getting to San Fran we had made two tour reservations for the day with Super Sightseeing Tours. They picked us up right at our hotel door in the morning and took us back to “base” where we would leave for our different tours. Even the ride there was a mini tour every time we passed something interesting or old we learned the history of the building and/or the events that took place there. Every bus we rode on was very nice, new and clean. I was a little weary at first because a few previous experiences, but they were very enjoyable. Our first tour was to Muir Woods National Monument with our tour guide Jay. He was great, tons of knowledge about the area locally and at the woods. You could tell he had a real passion for the area. The area was so peaceful and the trees were remarkable. These sequoia sempervirens aren’t the biggest trees around but they are the tallest. The national monument was created by President Theodore Roosevelt on January 9th, 1908. Muir Woods is the 7th National Monument and the first created from privately donated land. While there we also saw the historic place where the UN had their first meeting and tribute to FDR. There are a few trees on the path that you can walk right underneath. Jay schooled us in all the history of the woods and its founders William Kent and Gifford Pinchot.

Afterwards our group headed to Sausalito. There we stopped at the Finger Hut Gallery and grabbed some food at Hamburgers. Their cheeseburgers are first-rate huge beef patties with all the extras. Once the quick stop was done it was back on the bus for some more of Jay’s vault of vast knowledge for the trip home. Once we made it back to San Francisco we had an hour to shop before hopping on another bus headed to The Winchester Mystery House. This guide was slightly more erotic then Jay. In our hour drive to the house she spent time making fun of the people on the street and off based comparisons between Americans and people from other countries. Needless to say it was an interesting ride that ended with her openly asking for tips. In the end it was worth it because we were able to see and tour The Winchester Mystery House. Our sixty-five minute tour was lead by an enthusiastic Matthew which just made the whole adventure so much better. I wish we would have had time to do the underground/Behind the scenes tour but since our bus was twenty minutes late leaving we were a little rushed as it was. The house was nice it was interesting to learn the history of the house and Sarah Winchester’s obsession with the number thirteen. Also sad to see the house wasn’t very furnished and the furniture that was there wasn’t original because the house was heavily looted after Sarah’s death in 1923. So after another exciting hour ride home hearing about how churches are older in Germany than the U.S. (DUH – people have been living and practicing religion there longer) we made it home and had our dinner experience at Mel’s. On a positive food side we ended up eating at Round Table, a pizza joint a few blocks down the road. Good taste at a decent price and who doesn’t love pizza?

Overall the day was great and we learned so much not only about our destinations but the city itself. If you decide to book with Super Sightseeing Tours ask for Joy he’s worth it.

Day Two: Sightseeing

The Opal did redeem itself when the next morning we went to the front desk and spoke to someone who seemed to know a little more than our previous associate. He was wonderful and unlike the woman the night before totally understood that we wouldn’t be happy having to change our room on our honeymoon. The man was so great he gave us an update to the Executive suite which I must say was amazing. I plan to write a letter to the hotel expressing just how great he was.

After getting our new room we headed out to do our sightseeing. From our research we learned that the boat from Alcatraz was only two miles away and since we walk that all the time we figured no big deal right? Wrong, our friendly research and tip from a friend left out the fact that the walk was all uphill. We someone lived through the walk and made it to the Fisherman’s Wharf and pier 33 to get on the boat to see the famous prison, Alcatraz. Tickets for the tour of Alcatraz go quickly, if possible you should purchase your tickets online a few days before. We didn’t have to wait in line for tickets and so as soon as our departure time was called we were able to get right in line. On the way there make sure to sit on the top of the boat, you’ll be eaten alive by deer flies or some breed of killer flying thing, but the views are worth it.

Alcatraz was great; the island was such a remarkable place. They give the audio tour for free (well I’m sure it’s included in the price but they make it feel free). The tour was information and better than the normal audio – type in the number ones found in most places. It was interesting to hear opinions from actual prisoners and guards plus it was narrated by Gunny, what more do you need? Make sure and take the small walk through the family housing area around the bay by the boat dock. There you will find some really amazing views and maybe even some wild life.

After Alcatraz we went to Pier 39 – Fisherman’s Wharf; the local tourists trap. The people at SFT Travel were right, a waste of time but we went anyway. We’re tourist, we have to. We had lunch at The Eagle Café, a little over priced but with great views of Alcatraz and the sea lions. The food is delicious and the portions large.

After lunch we walked over and saw the sea lions slightly closer. They’re neat as long as the wind doesn’t shift. Just trust me on that. We also got to see the carousel although Matt wouldn’t let me ride it. Spent some more of our day shopping at Ghirardelli Square where I got some delicious chocolate samples.

Later we grabbed a taxi to Golden Gate Park to see the Japanese Tea Gardens. For four dollars a piece the price wasn’t bad but the gardens aren’t very big at least not as large as I expected. Even though there were many people in the gardens it was very tranquil and calm. Since that didn’t take as long as we planned we stopped by the Conservatory of Flowers just to view it, I really liked the bird house look of it. On the way back to the hotel we detoured to see a few more sights since we had the time. The first stop was the corner of Haight-Ashbury, the location of the 1960’s “hippy” movement. We also saw a Ben & Jerry’s on the corner. Sadly it was slightly cold for ice-cream, but I have a pint in the fridge at home so I think I’ll be ok. Next up we walked by the Painted Ladies a cross from Alamo Square. They were attractive especially knowing how famous they are. Now when we’re home watching TV and they are shown we can both yell… “We’ve been there”. We’re dorks so we’ll find it fun.

Later we headed back to the Opal and had dinner at Mels, San Francisco’s very first drive in. It was nice, the food was good, service was fast, and customer service was great. Prices weren’t horrible either. My chili and the three cheese grilled cheese was delicious. I would have given Mel’s an outstanding review it if wasn’t for our next day. After spending another long day out sightseeing we were exhausted and decided for the sake of our feet we’d just eat at Mel’s again. Apparently Mel’s has great food but the service is touch and go. Our first night we were greeted at the door with waters in hand. Our second trip it took over ten minutes for someone to acknowledge us and another five to get waters. After having the waitress basically call me a liar about whether or not I was allowed to order a bowl of chili the night before we just chose to leave. The restaurant wasn’t any busier the second day, only the servers had changed and they were horrible. Not a single one smiled or greeted/acknowledged for the thirty minutes we were there. Our waitress had an attitude problem and was rude and snippy the whole time, she acted as if we were some burden she had to deal with and in no hurry. For this I would not recommend them.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

San Francisco - A honeymoon review

We spent a few days in San Francisco earlier this month. The next few post are review of this trip.

On Monday the 8th we left from our little local airport which was supposed to make the trip easier. I had more issues with their security than anywhere else and I’ve had the pleasure of playing red light green light in Mexico. I’ll admit some of it was my fault but I can’t travel without hand lotion, but after I bought my twenty-seven cent zip lock baggie we were good to go. I’m still trying to figure out how the easy open zip lock bag would stop me if I had disastrous plans even though I’ve had it explained to me, but whatever. I guess we should feel safer knowing my lotion is in a bag and under three ounces. The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful until we got to the hotel.

We spent the week at The Opal, a hotel built in 1908 located right down town. I was happy with the appearance of the hotel but very disappointed in the customer service aspects. The day before we left Matt called ahead to make sure our room was all set and they reassured us everything was fine. So imagine my surprise when we check in and they tell us they gave our room to a guy off the street who didn’t have a reservation but really wanted a king suite. So they decide to “upgrade” us to a Junior Suite but for only one night so we would have to get up the next morning and store our luggage until our actual room is ready. Sometimes I swear I live in an episode of Seinfeld. I mean what is the point of a reservation if the hotel doesn’t hold the room. A reservation is an agreement that I will pay for said reserved room and they will hold this now paid for room. I upheld my end of the agreement why didn’t they? Plus when you do give someone’s room away you could at least make up a better reason other than some guy off the street wanted it. But the room was nice, comfortable and clean.