San Francisco Trip: Day 5

 

 

Driving the Crooked Street in the Mustang

 

(Mary Beth)

10/25/11

(Written from home at 8:30 P.M. on 10/26)

Our last full day in San Francisco was incredible! We rented a red convertible Mustang and drove up to Sonoma for the day to check out the wine country. The Mustang was Craig’s idea – but it was an excellent one!

We visited several wineries and did tastings. My favorite winery was the first one we visited – Seghesio. I thought the wines were tasty, and the girl who worked there was very down-to-earth and super helpful. She didn’t seem to mind at all that we were “newbies,” and showed us the ropes. We felt much more knowledgeable at the rest of the day’s stops, thanks to her.

We also visited Coppola, Gary Farrell, and Arista. We tried to go to Joseph Swan, but they only do tastings by appointment on Tuesdays. (Well, la dee DAH!!!)

The tasting experience was much the same at each winery. You go in and, for about $10-$15, they describe and give you a few sips of about 5 different wines. You drink what you like and dump what you don’t like. At each of the wineries, they started us out with a white (mostly Chardonnay, but Seghesio had a Pinot Grigio), and then proceeded with a number of reds – their “specialties.” The reds were typically Zinfandels or Pinot Noirs. The wines were good, but we didn’t buy anything. We very much enjoyed the experience, but I think I enjoyed the drive with the top down in the fall sun and the movie memorabilia at Coppola as much as anything.

We opted to not do a wine tasting at Coppola since those wines are readily available here at home in Kansas City. Instead, we ate outside on their restaurant patio – a gorgeous setting overlooking their vineyards. Just beautiful. The movie memorabilia there included the Godfather’s desk, 5 of Francis Ford Coppola’s Oscars and numerous other Golden Globes, etc., plus tons of items and photos  from Apocalypse Now, a Tucker car, and lots of other fun stuff.

When we got back to San Francisco, it was about 5:30. On a whim, Craig got brave and drove the Mustang on Lombard Street, a.k.a. the “crooked street.” Craig had expressed a small bit of anxiety over driving in the city (what with all of the street cars, buses, and crazy traffic), so I was pretty excited that he decided to tackle Lombard.

Overall, a lovely day and a perfect end to a memorable trip!

 

About Our Accommodations, etc.:

While in San Francisco, we stayed at the Hotel Carlton. We found it by reading up in Frommer’s San Francisco 2011. It was reasonably priced (about $95/night, I think?), and the location (Nob Hill) was okay. (As I mentioned before, we did not feel comfortable when we walked south or east toward Union Square, and we were careful not to do that again after our first day.) We were central to everything in San Francisco, and anything/everything we wanted to do meant an easy walk to this bus stop or that. We did buy a 7-day Passport that allowed us to take any “Muni” (Municipal) bus, cable car, or street car in the city. This made it extremely convenient for us to get around.

The hotel was “charming.” I mean, it wasn’t overly plush, or anything – not by a longshot. When I first arrived, I really thought, “Hmm. I’m not sure I want to stay here,” and I even told Craig to hold off on unpacking. My biggest complaints (shocks) were agey carpet (just kinda yucky) and no counter space AT ALL in the bathroom. (There was just a pedestal sink in there.) There was also an icky looking sort of scuzz around the bathtub area – both in and out. Like, you know, this place is pretty old and some of this stuff needs to be replaced or updated. I would liken this to our apartment on the Plaza (if you knew us back when). Clearly, this was an old building. I think it was built in the 1930’s?? Not sure.

Well, the hotel quickly grew on us, and we happily stayed. The staff was super friendly and helpful. They answered every request quickly and with a smile. (We had them repair a breaker that was out when we arrived, had them bring extra pillows, more coffee, etc.)

The restaurant (“Saha,” known for Arab Fusion cuisine) was good for breakfast AND dinner. Dinner was pretty awesome, in fact. Each evening, there is a happy hour at 5:30, and the hotel serves wine in the lobby. During the happy hour, this man plays the organ… All funky… like the theme from “Sex and the City.” He’s pretty rockin’, believe it or not. Turns out the organ guy also works behind the front desk – cool, huh? And, last night, he helped us decide what we should order for dinner in the hotel restaurant. Good stuff.

The room was small, but adequate. I was occasionally awakened by the sounds of guests in the hall or upstairs (some guy taking a bath right above my head at 1:30 A.M.), so the walls were pretty thin. The hotel guests were mature, though… There was no “ruckus!” The bed was quite comfortable; I slept very well every night.

There were also several other restaurants and bars within walking distance, and we liked going to those, as well. Very convenient.

If you don’t mind a little “charm” in your hotel, I think you will very much enjoy the Hotel Carlton.

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San Francisco Trip: Day 4

(Mary Beth)

10/24/11

(Written at 6:30 A.M. on 10/25/11)

Yesterday was a lolligagging day. Well, it was supposed to be, anyway! Our plan had been to do a little shopping, get some souvenirs for the kids… that sort of thing. By days’ end, though, we had covered a great deal of the city and were worn out in a good way.

We started our day with breakfast in the hotel restaurant, Saha. They were out of quite a few dishes, and the waiter said this was because it was the end of the work week. Huh? It was Monday?? Whatever. It was totally fine. I had the eggs benedict, which were SOOOOO much better than “fine!” Craig? Fool.

After breakfast, we called Melody for some advice on shopping, and we headed back to the Cow Hollow area where we had been on Saturday. Having lots more time, we wandered a lot, and ended up buying some cool stuff (for me! — it’s my birthday, after all!). We didn’t find anything for the kids, though, so after lunch, we decided to head back to the Fisherman’s Wharf area to find, you know, cheesy kid souvenirs. (Boring long story about lunch… basically, we wandered and wandered and finally settled on a place called “The Grove.” While I was in the bathroom, Craig ordered me a “quesadilla” instead of the “chicken enchilada” I had asked him to order. So, yeah… lunch was “fine.”)

Down at the Wharf, we wandered a bit more, checking out some of the enormous ships that are moored there. It was a little more chilly than the other days, so we hustled a bit. But, we got to see what we wanted to see, included a couple of sea lions who were play fighting on an adjacent dock. Cute.

It was not so easy for me to find gifts for the kids. I don’t know why! If they had been WITH me, I’m sure they would have been grabbing items EVERYWHERE and giving me the “can I have this can I have this can I have this?” treatment. I was trying my best to imagine what they would be grabbing, but I was coming up rather empty. Okay. With Emmie, she would have been grabbing the super dorky stuffed animals. But, just as if she HAD been there, I couldn’t buy them — they just weren’t CUTE enough! (You know… cheaply made stuffed animals? Not cute enough? Anyone with me on this?)

We stopped for a drink at a nice enough place, and from our seat at the window, enjoyed some quality Wharf people watching. We lucked out, and the “Bush Man” was scaring people from behind his “bush” right across the street from our window. The Bush Man is a street person (homeless guy??) who has fashioned a “bush” out of some tree branches. He holds the branches up in front of him and parks himself in front of a trash can. As unsuspecting tourists walk by, the Bush Man growls at them and slowly reveals himself, “GaaaaahhhhhhhrrrrrrrrrOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWL!” Then, he laughs in a freaky/nice way that says, “ha ha ha, don’t worry, I ain’t gonna kill you.” Then, he demands a dollar for his “work,” saying, “Hey, man. I made her holler! You gotta GIVE me a DOLLAR! HA HA HA!” What’s funny is that the bush man scared the crap out of me the other day down on the Wharf. We were on our way back from our Alcatraz tour, and he TOTALLY got me. Well, I would SO not have given him a dollar. See, when someone scares you, you really just want to kick them real hard in the Adam’s Apple. At NO POINT did I feel compelled to give the man a dollar. F*cker.

But, yesterday, I had so much fun watching his “act” and watching other tourists doing what we were doing — just taking it all in and enjoying being “in on it…” I’ll be honest. I almost gave him a dollar. Craig brought me back to my senses though. Right. I’m still mad at the man.

I am leaving out the sweet little morsel that Bush Man and another street vendor creep got in a big ol’ Jerry Springer inspired argument while we were watching from the restaurant across the street. Craig and I saw this man get out of his van and pour what looked like motor oil on the bush man. He did it twice! WTH? When we walked over where we could hear the two, the Bush Man was loudly putting down the man in the van. It was very weird. Craig guessed that Bush Man was in van guy’s “territory” or something. Who knows.

We went in probably 4-5 more stores and finally got some stuff for the kids.

Then, we took a long, interesting bus ride across town to a restaurant our friend Molly recommended called Fang. The bus ride essentially took us all the way from the Wharf area to the downtown or Union Square area. What was so weird was that this was a “double” bus, and it filled up almost immediately — mostly with Chinese-speaking kids. The kids seemed to be about middle school age. There were plenty of adults, too. The bus was PACKED. It was about 5:30, so we couldn’t figure out where all these kids were going. Maybe home from school? (Like, Chinese School?)

Fang was amazing. We ordered WAY too much food, but everything was just incredible. Best hot and sour soup EVER. Every hot and sour soup I ever have in my life will undoubtedly pale in comparison. The flavors of everything were just fresh and amazing. We were pretty adventurous in the items we ordered: onion cake with peanut sauce, julienned snow peas, steamed seafood pot. Everything we had was just amazing. Incredible place. Thanks for the tip, Molly! 🙂

We were SO full after eating at Fang. We took a cab home, and hit the hay happy. :))))) Another wonderful S.F. day.

Today (10/25) we are renting a car and heading to wine country! We know just enough to be dangerous. LOL Pretty sure we’re going to Sonoma over Napa, but we’ll see. Craig wants to rent “something fun” instead of “just” a compact. Hmm. “It’s my birthday,” so what the hell!!!

San Francisco Trip: Day 3

(Mary Beth)

Whale Watching with San Francisco Whale Tours

Day 3, Sunday, 10/23/11

(Written at 7:30 A.M. on Monday, 10/24/11)

Yesterday, we went whale watching. This and the Alcatraz tour were the two activities I had been sure to reserve even before we ever left Kansas City. It was funny; when I read the reviews for the whale watching, everyone either gave the trip and company a huge 5 stars, or they gave it 1 star. The determining factor in each case was numbers of vomiting, seasick customers on the excursion. 🙂

Needless to say, Craig and I went hopped up on Dramamine. Less drowsy formula. I took my extra Dramamine with me just in case other passengers showed up unprepared.

When we arrived, Victoria — biologist and deck hand — greeted us with two questions: Did you take seasickness medication? And, did you bring food and water?

Thank you. What is UP with people? Here is a person giving you evvvvvvery opportunity to NOT screw up your day! And, yet, STILL, there were a handful of people who did not take seasickness medication. I only became aware of one girl, though, who was ill. She was apparently miserable for the entire 6 hours, which I simply cannot fathom. Ridiculous! Before we left, addressing ALL of the passengers to give us a briefing, Victoria pointed out that I and one other passenger had extra Dramamine with us and were willing to share. I gave pills to two different ladies. So, for me, there was just no excuse for getting sick.

Now, about whale watching…

I went into this knowing that it was entirely possible we would return to the mainland having seen little more than a dolphin or a seal. I had prepared myself that even if I just got a six-hour boat ride out to the Farallon Islands on an exceptionally beautiful and temperate October day, that would be “enough,” which it was. But, we were SO not disappointed! During our day, we saw a gray whale, about a half dozen humpback whales (including 3 traveling together), harbor porpoises and harbor seals, and sea lions. Wahoo!

It was fun. It wasn’t fun like riding a roller coaster is fun. It was fun like catching fish is fun. There’s a LOT of waiting and patience involved between sitings, and it’s not like you are getting to see the whole whale each time it surfaces… This is no dramatic Free Willy, you know? Still. It is truly amazing to have the opportunity to be so close to these enormous, magical creatures and to occasionally steal a glimpse of them. I had an awesome time, and I would recommend the experience to others.

If you watch the video Craig posted, you will get a good idea of what it was like.

Below, I will give more details of our day. The “play-by-play” if you will. This is likely to be boring and is mostly for ME. So, read at risk of boredom! 🙂

We met at the booth for San Francisco Whale Watching Tours at 7:40 or so. We used the restroom, grabbed a tasty coffee from the coffee shop next door to SFWW, and used the restroom. By then, everyone had pretty much arrived. Victoria gave us a briefing about how the day would go. At that time, and all day long, Victoria made it so very clear that she just loves her job. I LOVE that characteristic in a person! How fun to be around someone who loves to share their passion with others. We all walked down to the boat together, and we received a briefing from Captain Tom.

Captain Tom was probably our age (40-ish), or possibly even a bit younger. Like Victoria, it became very clear that whales and maintaining a healthy, unpolluted ocean environment were very important to Tom. All day, from both Victoria and Tom, it was really emphasized to us how important it is to take care of the ocean environment. And, yes, as I had read prior to the trip, Tom was sure to stop to scoop up every bit of trash (or “rubbish”) that was spotted along our route. By day’s end, 12 partially-inflated balloons attached to ribbon and one kid’s marine-themed sleeping bag had been snatched out of the ocean. All of this trash was spotted in the water very near the Golden Gate Bridge, meaning it was closer in to the mainland. All of the stopping was a bit annoying. Yes, I do understand and support the idea of leaving things even better than you found them. Definitely. It was just a bit laughable. Each time we stopped, Victoria would yell, “More balloons!” And, Craig would say to me, “Kit Kat wrapper!” or “butterscotch wrapper!”

After Tom’s briefing, Victoria introduced her husband, Matt, and their good friend, Jason, who both work for the Bay Aquarium (also in Fisherman’s Wharf). They had come along on a Sunday in hopes of seeing some great white sharks. Whoa! That made the trip seem even more exciting. I didn’t know if we would spot any great whites (we didn’t), but I suddenly felt even better that we would see SOMETHING. “Hey, the friends and family came along — this should be a good day,” I thought.

It took us about an hour and a half to reach the first island of the Farallon chain. We began slowly circumnavigating the island, and Victoria gave us the skinny about the Farallons. (Victoria, mind you, is a small, pretty, 20-something lady with a HUGE voice. OMG. No problem hearing Victoria!) We learned that the Farallons are protected as a coveted National Wilderness Area (a very rare distinction), which means the ONLY humans allowed to step foot on the islands are working for the government. Victoria explained that if they are on the Farallons, they are biologists who are conducting animal research — mostly about birds. There are hundreds and hundreds of bird species who call the Farallons home.

Victoria didn’t get all the way through her spiel before we spotted the blow (or “spray”) of a gray whale. SO EXCITING! Captain Tom stayed a good distance away from the whale (the law says we must stay 100 yards away), but we followed the whale for probably half an hour as it circled the island. There were one or two other whale watching vessels who joined us (including one that did not abide by the 100-yard rule) — not cool, which Victoria and Tom pointed out gently. The experience of seeing and following a whale is neat. Like I said before, you must have some patience. When the whale surfaces, you HEAR it before you SEE it. 🙂 Each time a whale (or, heck, any other animal) would surface, Victoria would whoop and holler (she gave us fair warning about this before we ever left). I heard her friend, Jason, making fun of her one time, and she said, “Wait until I see a great white; my head actually pops off!” LOL It was good, actually, because lots of the passengers got excited, too, and most were helpful in trying to point out sitings to others. (But, some passengers were completely quiet and not at all enthusiastic or helpful to others. cough cough CRAIG HOPE cough cough … chuckle.)

After the gray whale finally eluded us, Victoria explained a bit more about the Farallons. They are smelly because of all the bird and seal poop. Um UNDERSTATEMENT, as it turns out. When we got downwind of the island?? NASTY!!!!! Just smelled like steaming, simmering poo. G-ross. There are tons of mice on the island, which is a problem, apparently, that biologists are trying to figure out. They don’t know how to get rid of the mice without endangering the birds. There are also tons and tons of flies. On a less windy day, the flies plague the whale boat and passengers all the way back to the mainland. Ick. Glad for the breeze, I was!

Next, we headed farther west toward other islands in the chain. We spent the brunt of our time in a wide open area where we spotted the 6 or so humpbacks. My first humpback siting was probably my best “siting” of the day because he flipped and I actually got a great glimpse of his tail! SO AMAZING! I was so excited, I made the dude next to me give me a high five (which he readily did – so funny).

My second favorite experience of the day was when we saw 3 humpbacks traveling together. They totally went under our boat. Well, that’s what I am telling myself. All I really know is that one minute they were on the starboard side, and the next moment they were on the port side. Pretty cool, huh? The video Craig got is of this time… again, we probably spent 30 to 40 minutes in that area, and saw several humpbacks.

After that, we headed back toward the mainland. On the way back, we saw seals or sea lions sunning on the buoys near the GG Bridge… so cute! Little lazy buggers. We also saw the harbor porpoises on the way out and back. (They are like dolphins, but are smaller and don’t have the “beak” nose.)

Nearly everyone (including Craig and I) napped much of the way home, and Victoria said that’s how it is every time. It’s sort of like being on an airplane — what else are you gonna do for a two-hour boat ride? (Plus, when you add in the Dramamine…)

Overall, great day and great experience.

We stopped for a beer at a bar at Fisherman’s Wharf so we could watch the Chiefs vs. Raiders (in Oakland) game. We didn’t stay long; amazing as it sounds, the Chiefs were pummeling the Raiders, and the bartender changed the channel for some St. Louis fans (boo) when the score was Chiefs 28 to Raiders 0. We came back to our hotel and had a two-hour nap.

Then, we got up and walked down to a tiny, adorable Italian Bistro. It was a lot like our favorite Cayman restaurant — Edoardo’s, but much, much, MUCH smaller! We were one of 3 tables when we arrived, and no one came after us. There were probably a total of 10 tables in the entire place. Very small. Our dinner was delicious. Craig had Gorganzola pasta (creamy, fatty goodness!) and I had penne puttanesca, hold the anchovies. Pretty good. The tiramisu was DELISH. Cute place, great food.

Today, I am 99 percent sure we are going to rent a car and head up to the wine country. We have lots of recommendations from friends, so it should be a fun day. Looking forward to seeing some pretty landscapes.

Gosh, I am SO glad we came here for my birthday. The weather has been absolutely PERFECT. The natives are sure to tell us it’s not always like this. We have really been fortunate. It’s been sunny and warm every day. SO BEAUTIFUL!

 

 

San Francisco Trip Blog: Day 2

(Mary Beth)

Day 2

10/22/11

(I’m typing this at 6:10 A.M. on Sunday. I’m in a hurry, ’cause we want to leave our hotel by 6:30 A.M. to get to our whale watching adventure. This will be quick, but I just can’t skip blogging today because yesterday was just so much fun!)

Yesterday (Saturday), we took the bus down to Cow Hollow and met our friend Melody and her family for breakfast at Rose’s Cafe. The Cow Hollow neighborhood is adorable. Beautiful, well-kept row homes in a hilly area on the northwest side of the city. Rose’s had excellent food. Craig had a smoked salmon pizza with eggs on it (yum!), and I had a polenta dish with eggs and chicken tarragon sausage (mmm…polenta wants to be grits!).We had a very nice visit with Melody, Ross, and their two cutie-pie boys Cy (2) and Decker (1). They are Gerber babies!! So cute. But, watching Ross and Melody do the Parent Rodeo definitely made Craig and I grateful that we are past the sippy-cup, droppy droppy, put everything in my mouth, make Mommy do tricks phase! (If I had time, I’d go back and put the hyphens in that adjective phrase. Can we just pretend they are there?)

After, we went back to the hotel (again — bus) and changed clothes. Then took the bus BACK down to the wharf area and rented bikes from Blazing Saddles Bike Co. From the bike shop, we biked about 8 miles across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. I swear I read somewhere that this trek would be leisurely and flat. Where did I read that? Okay. Well, it wasn’t. DAMN! Lots of hills. It’s San Fran-freaking-cisco, right???? LOL Well, it was do-able nonetheless. And, I felt much, much skinnier by the time we reached Sausalito. Oh. And, I didn’t take any water with me for the bike trip! WTH?? I told Craig, “What the hell am I doing biking 8 miles with no water? I don’t even go around my neighborhood without water!” We were glad to reach Sausalito, and there was no question that  Sausalito was “far enough.” (We had originally wanted to bike to Tiburon to go to a placed Melody and Ross recommended – Sam’s – but that was before we heard it was 20 miles to Tiburon.)

We wanted to eat lunch on the water, and we found this “fancy-pants” place called The Spinnaker. I thought I was going to get kicked out for dress code — people were dressed VERY nicely for a 2:30-3:00 lunch. Weird! But, the place was beautiful and right on the water. So, basically, we were sitting right there in the bay with an amazing view of Alcatraz, the city, Sausalito (the houses/town), and a peek of the GG Bridge up over the hills of Sausalito. I kept thinking to myself, “See all that land? You just biked all of that. [satisfied grunt]”

We sort of did a “tapas” thing for lunch… pot stickers, crab cakes, salad, bruschetta, and clam chowder. AMAZING FOOD! Great lunch.

Then it was back to the ferry landing for the ferry back to S.F. What a mess! Cattle operation. Huge line of bikes like us, plus plenty of pedestrians. We BARELY missed the first ferry — meaning we ended up first in line for the “next” ferry. We were feeling pretty patient, though, and we “made friends” with some nice girls from Boston.

It was a pretty ferry ride back with the almost-setting sun highlighting the bay views. Oh, and there were TONS of sailboats out there. All day. So pretty!

We got back to the hotel around 6-6:30 and did a quick clean up. We went to a restaurant/bar next door to our hotel. It’s called “Fly.” Had good food and we could still watch the end of World Series Game 3. (Everything went the way of St. Louis last night, and Albert Pujols hit two homeruns while we were watching. We are rooting for Texas, though.)

Okay. Enough for now. It’s off to whale watching. I have low expectations for whale sitings, but if the weather remains beautiful, it WILL be a great day on the water no matter what. Looking forward to “relaxing” compared to the past two days, too.

 

San Francisco Trip Blog: Day 1

(Mary Beth, not Craig!)

My 40th birthday is coming up next week, so Craig and I decided to celebrate with a trip to a place we’ve never been. We picked San Francisco, and I’m so glad we did. There is SO much to do here! I think of this blog as a way for me to keep some great memories, but I am posting it, ’cause I know some family members (okay, hi mom!) like to read about what we’re doing. 🙂

Day 1 San Francisco

Friday 10/21/2011

(I am typing this blog entry on Saturday at 4:55 A.M., so it’s earrrrly on Day 2)

Happy 40th birthday to me!

We had a very good, very fun first day in San Francisco. I am so glad we decided to come here – I love the city life, culture, and just the experience of being somewhere new.

We flew in on Thursday night (10/20) after I got finished with student-led conferences. Flying in late was a great idea. We slept a LOT on the plane, and we got to experience a full first day on Friday, as a result.

We both woke up early – probably 5 A.M.?? But, we forced ourselves to sleep in just a little bit. After we got up and got going, we headed down for breakfast at the hotel restaurant, Saha. The restaurant is billed as specializing in Arab Fusion Cuisine. Huh? Craig had the eggs benedict, which he said was “fine,” (I never met a “just fine” eggs benedict!) and I had the Yemeni Breakfast, which I really liked. The Yemeni Breakfast was 2 poached eggs served over a traditional Yemeni fava-bean dish. It was seasoned with cumin and topped with a bit of what I will call a Yemeni pico de gallo. YUM. I added a bit of hot sauce to it at the table, and it was sort of like having chili for breakfast.

After breakfast, we had a lot of time to kill before our scheduled noon trip to tour Alcatraz. We decided to head downtown to the Visitors Center to get a transportation map of the city. Well, not having a transportation map, yet, to tell us which route to take downtown by bus, cable car, etc., we decided to walk. It wasn’t a long walk, but after about the sixth homeless person, we realized we would have felt a lot more comfortable getting there by vehicle. Whew. We walked very fast through the part of town south and east of our hotel, and I, for one, tried to maintain that “don’t eff with me” look on my face that says “I’m not the one you want to mug.” Despite my remarkable focus on looking tough, I noticed San Francisco is a culturally rich city, to say the least!

At one point when we knew we were close to our destination, Craig stopped to look at a map on a street corner.  But, when a homeless person began making the rounds and asking another couple for a donation, I had to shoo Craig along… “Come on. Close the map. You look like a tourist. Let’s go.”

Thankfully, we made it downtown. We knew we were “safe” when we saw Nordstrom and the Gap.

We spent some time in the area of the Visitors Center getting oriented. We studied the options for public transportation and ultimately decided to invest $27 each for a 7-day pass. This would allow us to ride nearly any public transportation, and the convenience alone made it seem worth the price to me. By the end of the day, we were definitely glad we had purchased the passes.

We took a cable car (a.k.a. trolley) from downtown to the Wharf area. (It is very difficult to get the “lingo” down for street cars and cable cars. Why don’t they just call the trolley a trolley??? It’s obviously a trolley???) From where it dropped us off, near Beach and Hyde Sts., we then walked quite a distance east to Pier 33/Alcatraz Landing. Again, a real slice of humanity! Tons of good people watching at Alcatraz Landing. It was a real international crowd, too – lots of folks speaking foreign languages.

The Alcatraz tour was very good. Quality stuff. I had heard it was excellent, and I was not disappointed. The audio tour was great – a great way to learn. The audio provides lots of “real life” prison sounds and is narrated by former prisoners, so it really makes an impact. Of course, the BEST thing about the audio tour was NO ONE WAS TALKING. Wow. I cannot TELL you how great that was. The prison area was very, very crowded with tourists. But, since everyone was walking around with headphones on, intently listening to the narration and instructions of the audio tour, it was oh so pleasantly uninterrupted.  No yapping… no “smarty pants” tourists making too-loud comments… no sons talking loudly to hard-of-hearing mothers in a foreign tongue… Just me and my own personal, serene audio-tour world. I decided I should put together some audio instruction lessons for my classroom! “Okay, kids. Everyone put on your headphones…”

The audio tour of the cell area probably took an hour or so. The tour guides you all over the premises – inside and out. We learned a lot. The most memorable parts, for me, were the specific information about a failed escape attempt during which prisoners overtook guards, and learning about the men who did escape Alcatraz. These men made fake human heads out of soap, paper mache (sp?), and other materials. Having secretly dug through their cells with spoons (or other tools, depending on the theory to which you subscribe), the men placed the dummy heads in their beds to fool the guards, escaped out of their cells to a utility hallway, climbed from there to the roof, and somehow got off the island. Did they survive? No one knows. But, the three men are still considered fugitives. Fascinating stuff! Craig says I have to watch the Clint Eastwood film “Escape from Alcatraz” which is based on the above escape.

We got back on the 2:00 ferry back to the mainland. Our feet and legs were pretty tired from all the walking in the city and at hilly Alcatraz. We had been emailing back and forth with our friend Melody Thomas who lives in the Bay Area, and she suggested we go to Buena Vista Café for a “famous Irish coffee”.  Sounded good to us.

At Buena Vista, I had a yummy cobb salad with fresh Dungeness crab and lots of blue cheese and bacon. Mmmm. The Buena Vista is an Irish Pub. It’s very popular, so you share tables and take whatever seat you can get. (More restaurants should operate this way, in my opinion!) We shared a table with some very nice folks. They stayed on their end, and we stayed on ours. It was perfect! We enjoyed the sit-down, the food, and, yes, an Irish coffee. Not bad at all.

After, we headed right across the street to catch another cable car back to our hotel area. The wait for the cable car from the Wharf area was MUCH longer than the morning wait downtown. Everything just seemed to be moving slowwwwwwly. And, at the station, this old, hippy man was playing his electric guitar and singing. Sounds pleasant, right? Uh, no. In the words of Randy Jackson, he was MORE than “a little pitchy dawg.” Oh, it was rough. Worse, after each horrible song, the man kept canvassing the line of people asking for donations. Hardly anyone was tipping him. In this real deadpan, monotone voice, he kept saying stuff like, “That’s okay. You can keep ignoring me” and so forth. AWKWARD!!!!

Our cable car ride back south was jam-packed. We got lucky and got a seat, though. We had happily ridden as “standers” on our jaunt out to the pier area (felt like a real S.F. tourist!), but after a lot of walking, we were happy to sit down.

Because we ate lunch so late, we opted to skip dinner. We got back just in time to enjoy a wine happy hour provided by our hotel (with a keyboardist playing live music, even!). Afterward, we lounged around reading the news on our phones, half-listening to the TV, and fell asleep.

Again, great first day!

Today, Saturday, we are looking forward to meeting Melody and her family for breakfast in the Cow Hill area. We aren’t super sure what we will do after that. We had tentatively planned to rent a car for the day and head out to the wine country. But, now, we are thinking of doing that on a weekday – either Monday or Tuesday. We may just make today a bit more leisurely. I woke up thinking massage and manicure, but I haven’t mentioned that, yet, to Craig. LOL We’ll see. Maybe some shopping?

Site got hacked on 10/19/11

Getting hacked can suck.  Especially if you run a commerce site and you make $ online.

In my case, I am just a stupid blogger who posts rants about politics and tries to make a joke once in a while.  Not a huge loss if my site goes down.

On the other hand, I could be flattered.  Maybe I caught the attention of some disgruntled international nerd who decided to whack my ideas.

I thought I did everything right.  I kept my wordpress version updated.  I deleted any spam.  My PC is virus protected.

In the end, I was only offline for about 22 hours.  I want to thank JustHost.com for their quick response to restore my site.  I want to also give Kudos to the human that answered the phone when I called their tech support.  Frankly I was shocked I got a human so quickly.  They were helpful and got my issue working and resolved.

On the dark side, I read many reviews and posts that JustHost had a weak security scheme and susceptible to these hacks.  Maybe so, but I would argue that many web hosting providers will run into these issues.  I trust they are working to fix the holes they have.

I am staying with them for now.