Day 2: There's a 4:30 am ?
By Matthew Pedone
Saturday, October 18th, 2014
Saturday comes around quickly, with the help of a wake-up call from the front desk on the loudest phone I have ever heard. Apologies to the guests trying to sleep in the next room, or in the next hotel. I've heard fire alarms that were quieter than this thing, and I went to a university that worried they’d have to rouse students from the effects of any given night's partying. I heard later that the band GWAR once stayed here, and even they said the phone was, "A touch on the loud side". That last part's not true, but what I’m saying is that this phone is loud. Which is probably good, as we’ve only slept for about five hours after a pretty long day.
I’m not sure Sarah is as thrilled about having come to Michigan as she was the night before. 4:30 is a time of day she hasn’t seen much since working overnights while in school, and almost never gets up this early. Neither do I, for that matter, especially not after going to bed so late. The world feels unreal, shadowy around the edges, as we drag ourselves out of bed and get our stuff together. Fortunately, we had planned ahead last night, and really just need to get dressed and head out.
We pile into the car, head over to Enterprise, return the car, and take the shuttle to the airport. It's a little later than I'd hoped. I worry about bigger airports. Our local airport back home is pretty small, something like 15 gates. Even when it’s busy there, it’s not all that busy. Detroit is a big airport, though, meaning more gates, which means more people, and DTW is notorious for sending you to the far side of the airport to get your flight. Sarah reassures me that it's 5:15 in the morning, though, so how bad could it be? We’ll check our bags, head through security in no time.
Then we descend the escalator, and see the lines. My heart skips a beat, as I picture us standing in that line, watching the clock tick ever closer to our boarding time, then departure time, and wonder if we’ll even have time to make a McCallister-esque mad dash to the plane, and what we’ll do if we miss our flight. As we descend farther, I realize it's for three different airlines. Of course, Southwest's line is the longest. True to form though, the line zips along, and we're done in 15 minutes.
On to security where there seems to be some confusion among a group of people about going through the pre-check line, even though the TSA agent is telling them to go through it. We duck behind them into the regular line, where we're stuck behind no one at all, and buzz right through with no problems. We find our gate, get some breakfast from the least organized coffee shop in the airport, and settle in with our exhaustion.
The flight to Denver is uneventful, though we experience what the pilot calls, "Some light chop". It wasn't too bad, but I don't want to experience anything heavier. In Detroit, we had tried to figure out how long we'd have to get to our connecting flight in Denver. My 5am math and reading comprehension thought we’d have two hours, Sarah pointed out it was closer to 45 minutes. Our flight was supposed to get in around 8, plenty of time to get to our connection at 9:15. We land, and I check my phone - 9:44!
We’re in Denver.
It’s only about 7:45. Plenty of time.
Denver's airport is beautiful, and they have what might be the coolest minor detail I've seen in an airport - water bottle filling stations. It makes sense: you can't bring a full water bottle through security, but staying hydrated is a good thing, and filling a Nalgene or similar bottle in a water fountain is messy and difficult. So, Denver installed these vertical taps that sense when a bottle, and even shut off automatically. On top of everything else, the water is filtered. Tasty, clean water, that reduces plastic waste? Yes, please.
Waiting at the gate, we realize that we've flown so much over the past couple of weeks (we flew down to Baltimore the previous weekend for Sarah's grandmother's 2nd or 3rd 90th birthday party) that we're catching re-runs of CNN's human interest stories. At least it's better than stories about people freaking out over Ebola.
Airborne, we are soon passing over the Rocky Mountains. Gotta say, this is one of the coolest views I've seen. Sarah agrees. She's flown more than I have, so some of the fascination has worn off for her (plus, she's not exactly a fan of flying, so she's more likely to sleep through the flight than look out the window), but even she was taking pictures of these massive, snow-capped mountains. One of the things that fascinates me about them is the way the ground is flat right up to the base of the mountains, and then just starts going up. In New Hampshire, the ground seems to gradually rise to the mountains, making it difficult to distinguish the base of a mountain. Not so in the Rockies. Another thing I wasn't expecting was that the range isn't just a row of mountains. It's more like three stretches of mountains, with relatively flat valleys in between.
This leg is probably the longest of our flights, clocking in at over three hours, though we land just an hour and a half after taking off, thanks to the magic of Time Zones! I love time zones so much. I love them in a way that is indistinguishable from not liking them in any way whatsoever. Anyway, after a couple of hours, after flying over the desert between Reno and Las Vegas, we can actually see the Pacific Ocean. Sarah and I briefly debate whether we're looking at Big Sur or Monterey, until I realize that I am looking at the Pacific Ocean for the first time in my life!
The ground below us changes to hills and trees, and then to sprawling suburban developments, and then to some sort of rectangular inlet, that looks man-made. The women in the row across the aisle from us start freaking out about not looking out the window. I peer over, and see just water. I look out our window and see...just water. The plane descends, lower and lower, with nothing but water out each window. I trust the pilots and the flight crew, but this is the freakiest landing I've ever experienced. There is no indication out either window that there is any land anywhere near us until just before we touch down, when the tarmac appears.
SFO feels like a converted hotel, but it is nice. We pick up our luggage, and start the next phase of this adventure - getting to the place we're staying for the next three days.
We wanted to stay in the city, not on the outskirts, and not in Oakland. Nice hotels in the city run anywhere from $300 to $600 per night, so they were out of the question. We poked around on Airbnb.com, and found what looked to be a nice place, in our price range, available for three of the four days we were planning on staying in the city, so we booked those three nights. We received nearly instant confirmation, and the owner was in contact with Sarah a couple of times after that, and said he would e-mail check-in instructions a day or two before our trip. A day or two before our trip came and went with no word from him. We've since learned that there are ways to get in touch with the renter, and that we probably should have done that Thursday or Friday.
Instead, we hop on the BART train out of the Glen Park station, then take a bus 14 stops. This is fun with two weeks’ worth of luggage. Once the bus clears out a bit, and we don't have to hold on for dear life at the front, the trip goes much more smoothly. We get to see some of the scenery, and get off at the top of a hill on 9th avenue, where we are treated to our first glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge, peeking up above the trees of The Presidio.
Just barely visible in the distance. This sight makes up for getting up at 4:30am.
Also, our neighborhood for the next few days.
On top of that, the apartment we are looking for is virtually right next to the stop. So, we walk over to it and ring what looks like a doorbell, with no response. Sarah checks her email again, then calls airbnb.com customer service, then, through some sort of dark wizardry, she manages to get a text message to the owner, who informs us that check-in wasn't until 3:00. It's just after noon. Which is actually 3:00 to us. Time Zones!
At any rate, he verifies Sarah's e-mail address, and resends the e-mail. I don't know if it went to the wrong address the first time, or if sock gnomes have gone digital and are stealing e-mails now, but we get the second one, get inside, and finally, mercifully, get to sit down. We also look around the apartment, which is basically a studio space. One bed, a tiny kitchen with the requisite reduced-size oven and reduced-size fridge, tiny bathroom with sink, toilet, and shower, and a small kitchen table with two chairs. If this sounds like I'm being negative, I'm really not, because the place is great. It's clean, it's in a nice neighborhood, and it has more than we had expected.
We put our stuff down, relax for a bit, and then started looking at some maps of the area. We need lunch, and we figure we could do some exploring after that. As noted, the neighborhood is very nice, with a lot of bakeries and other restaurants. We'd seen that we were close to Golden Gate Park (not actually near the bridge), and decide to head in that direction. On the way, we stop at a nice-looking place called "Chow Park", that offers locally sourced organic food. We get shrimp and pork dumplings, and a sausage pizza. Delicious.
As we come out of the restaurant, we realize we were about a block from the park, and continue in that direction. The park is nice, though it has roads through it, which I find weird for a park, but no one else (anywhere) seems to. I guess with parks of this size, you can't just expect people to drive around. Traffic would be a nightmare.
Our first stop is the Botanical Gardens, but there's a fee, and if we're going to have to pay, Sarah wants to bring her nice camera, so we move on towards a pyramid-looking building off in the distance, which leads us to a fountain and a statue of Francis Scott Key. In San Francisco. Odd. Anyway, we now see the pyramid-like building from the back, and it looks like an inverted pyramid now. What the hell? And it's not just me. Sarah has the same reaction.
Same building, looked at from different angles. Message about looking at things from more than one point of view, or someone just messing with the hippies?
I suppose it depends on…how you look at it? (Sorry, that was terrible.)
It turns out, this is the de Young Museum. Specifically, it is the observation tower. I can't find confirmation, but it definitely seems like the twisting nature of the structure was designed to make it look different depending on your viewing angle. Pretty cool.
We walk around its outer grounds, looking at some of the sculptures they have on display out there, then cross the street and decided to follow a path into the woods, coming out at an exit from the park, and facing the decision to either go back the way we came, to leave the park, or follow another trail back into the park. After consulting a map, we decide to follow the other trail. I thought it would lead through the woods like the previous trail, which it does for a while, giving us a couple more glimpses of the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as the "hills" on its far side. Those aren't hills. Those are mountains. Suddenly, our plans of hiking out there on Wednesday seem a lot more intimidating.
Pictured: "hills". Also, get used to seeing shots of the bridge for the next few posts.
We walk on, and find the trail follows one of the busier park roads, which divides the small bank of trees in which we are walking from the rest of the park, and, in particular, the exit we need to get to, as we are getting tired, and need a break. Eventually, we find an underpass, and make our way down a steep embankment to it, walking on a sidewalk back into the park.
I don't know quite where we are, but it seems like we're skirting the edge of the park, so when I see a path leading off the sidewalk, I suggest we take it. We walk for a short distance, and I realize that the houses we can see in the trees look familiar and we are just about to the exit we had just been at. We stop, reassess, consult Waze, and set out, only to realize that this too is a mistake. Finally, we find the road through the park and stick to it. After a few minutes, we see the back of the de Young museum, and the trail that we had followed earlier. Success! Home is just a quick walk through the park and then four blocks uphill.
By the time we get back to the apartment, we need a shower, lots of water, and rest.
Once we're all rested, we unpack a little, and, after a brief interruption from the owner's mother unlocking our door (she didn't realize anyone was here), try to figure out where to go for dinner. None of the places we'd thought about going before the trip are feasible. Either they're too expensive, closed, or we’d need to go back in time a couple of months to make reservations. So, we decide to take the bus into the city, pick a neighborhood, and find a restaurant.
This is also known as a "bad plan".
Well, not bad, per se, just not great.
And, really, it wasn’t the plan itself that wasn’t great, it was the execution.
This is about where it all went wrong. Well, a few blocks from there, anyway.
It might have been a good plan had we researched a little better. We get out on Market Street, in the financial district, search for "restaurants near me" and set out. The problems with this are two-fold: 1) we have no idea, really, where we are, and 2) we have no idea which way we are actually going. Looking at the map, it makes sense, but looking at the street names, we realize we’re going in the wrong direction. We’re trying to get to 4th street by walking along 7th, which runs parallel to 4th, a couple of blocks away. I'm not the most knowledgeable about the layouts of cities, but even I know that wouldn't work. So, we hang a left on Mission St.
If you've never been to San Francisco before, here's a tip: do not walk down Mission between 7th and 4th at night (a particularly notorious stretch of the SoMa neighborhood). I wouldn’t call it scary – nothing happened to us, and we didn’t see anything - but it’s sketchy and dark, and I feel out of place. So, we scurry along, playing a bit of leapfrog with another couple clearly doing a better job of fitting in by smoking pot as they walk. I don't really care, except that we’re walking in their second-hand smoke, and eventually it is all we can smell.
A note about downtown: we walked through some sketchy parts, and some kinda nice parts, and we found the same thing in all of them - homeless people. Now, I know there are homeless in every city. I've seen the blankets under bridges in Manchester, tossed quarters in cups in Boston, but here, they are everywhere. Every block. Every subway entrance. Virtually every store. They aren't aggressive, but they are ubiquitous. It was a little unsettling to see in a city that is so affluent.
Anyway, after a good deal of walking, we find a little bar and bistro called "Annabelle's" and sit at a table in the bar. Our server, a young black man who reminds me of a flamboyant Kevin Sbraga, brings us water and a couple of drinks, and is super helpful in giving us advice and information about getting around the city, and things to do. The food is pretty good, too, though I have serious entree envy.
We start with a beef carpaccio, which is tasty. I decide to get the rib eye, as it comes with garlic fries and bourbon jus. I had been leaning towards the seared scallops with smoked sweet potato and leek nage - nage being something I've heard of but never even seen on a menu - but I chickened out. Sarah gets that instead. The leek nage is delicious; a salty, thick puree. The smoked sweet potato is also a puree, and also delicious. The two of them together is even better. And, the two of them, coupled with the scallop and some of the prosciutto that also came with the dish was phenomenal. Blargh. I should have been more adventurous!
After dinner, we walk for a bit, then catch the bus out to the Embarcadero, where we see the Bay Bridge in all its nighttime glory, when they light up the cables in various patterns. After some pictures, we walk up the Embarcadero, seeing the Ferry Building, and the first couple of odd-numbered piers before heading back to Market Street to get the bus home. The bus takes forever to show up, and then the ride itself takes almost an hour. I'm almost asleep before we even get to our stop.
Oh look, a different bridge!!
Which, technically we never do, as we get out a block too early, and instead of being right at our door, we have to walk a block. Uphill. Ugh. Fortunately, there is a bathroom, a bed, and frozen Reese's Peanut Butter cups waiting for us inside. A nice end to a tiring, but enjoyable first day in San Francisco.