Tuesday, September 25, 2012

San Francisco

This past weekend I managed to get out of town for a bit and spend some time in one of my favorite cities - San Francisco.  I had a bunch of flight credit on Southwest Airlines that was going to expire at the beginning of October and needed to be used.  In a casual conversation with Lisa we concluded that San Francisco would be a great town to visit.

San Francisco has been a town in which I have spent a lot of time.  Between September of 1999 and December of 2002, I spent almost 18 months working in the Bay Area.  Needless to say, that time had allowed me to become pretty familiar with San Francisco.  Regardless of how much time I have spent there, I always enjoy a visit to the City by the Bay.

We left on our trip on late Friday afternoon when we were both done working for the day.  As was normal the trip on Southwest Airlines was on time and went without a hitch.  We had two seats together in the middle of the airplane with Lisa at the window and me in the center.  She had never flown into San Francisco before but she had heard the approach and landing at SFO was pretty dramatic because of the proximity of runways to the bay.

I slept most of the way there but finally woke-up as we came over the last set of mountains and into the Bay Area.  Approaching SFO from the south, the airplane spent the last 5 minutes of flight over the waters of the bay.  Lisa seemed pretty surprised at how close we came to the water before we actually landed.  It's always an amazing thing to the land at SFO!

Even though San Francisco has a ton of public transportation, we rented a car as we expected to go further afield from the city than would be practical in a cab or public transportation.  Leaving the airport we were soon engulfed in rush hour traffic.  We headed north on US 101 towards the Golden Gate Bridge.

We crossed the Golden Gate and stopped at the northern vista point.  Walking out on to the bridge I experienced that sense of awe I always do when I am there.  It is just amazing to think of the complex engineering and construction methods that were used to build this bridge.  And all of it was done over 75 years ago!

Lingering on the bridge for a long time we shot tons of pictures and let our selves absorb the magnificence of the sights.  We watched a large container ship sail in from the Pacific Ocean and under the bridge.  Despite the massive size of the ship, it was dwarfed by the bridge!

Leaving the immediate area of the bridge we used the last hours of sunlight to explore the beauty of the Marin Headlands.  Parking the car at one of the many turnouts we hiked down to the path that leads to Point Bonita lighthouse.  The path to the lighthouse leads through a dramatic tunnel carved through a massive rock face.  We were stopped at that point as the door through the rock was shut and is only open during the day on weekends.

Despite the near proximity of the Marin Headlands to San Francisco, we came across a small group of dear grazing along the steep hillside.  I was utterly shocked to see such large wild animals wandering about so close to the city.

As the light began to fade we made our way back to the car and then along the winding, twisting road that would lead us back to Route 101.  Crossing back over the Golden Gate Bridge we negotiated the San Francisco city center to find our hotel - The Palace Hotel.  This hotel was originally built in 1875 but was destroyed in the great earthquake of 1906.  After the earthquake it was rebuilt and has stood at 2 Montgomery ever since.  The hotel is beautiful inside and out and made for very nice place to stay for the weekend.

After we checked into the hotel we had dinner at one of my favorite Chinese restaurants in the city - the R and G Lounge.  I don't know if this place has won any awards or not, but to me it makes some of the best Chinese food I have ever had.  (This restaurant is listed in the book 1001 Things to Do Before You Die.  The reference is in the section on "Exploring the Neighborhoods of San Francisco.)  They also make an especially strong Mai Tai - which explains my difficulty in walking back to the hotel!

On Saturday we spent the day enjoying downtown San Francisco and Fisherman's Wharf.  It was a fabulously beautiful day but by the early evening a dense fog began to roll into the bay from the Pacific Ocean.  Waiting in line to catch the Powell & Hyde Line cable car back towards our hotel, we were extremely cold as a stiff, cold wind blew in the fog.

For dinner on Saturday we went to the oldest restaurant in all of California.  The Tadich Grill can trace it's lineage the whole way back to 1849.  They describe themselves and their history in this way on their website.  "Suppose you had some out-of-town visitors, and they asked you to take them to a "traditional, authentic San Francisco restaurant." You could do no better than to take them to Tadich Grill, which is not only San Francisco’s, but also California’s, oldest restaurant. But you need to warn them: Tadich Grill takes no reservations and is usually packed at lunchtime and dinnertime, Monday through Saturday."

The food was good and the setting was definitely unique.  One of the more interesting aspects of the restaurant was the bartender who served us.  He looked like he had been pulled out of the 1930's or 1940's.  His look and his mannerism were quintessential of those times.  It was pretty amazing and we had an interesting conversation with him about how many people tell him the same thing.

On Sunday morning we got moving as quickly as we could.  Our destination for the day was Chinatown.  We arrived in Chinatown to find the place mobbed as it was their annual "Autumn Moon" Festival.  The largest thorough fare through Chinatown was closed off to car traffic.  There were lots of vendor stalls set up in the street hawking everything from Chinese groceries to back massages.  Chinese dragon dancers weaved their way through the crowded streets and musicians playing traditional Chinese instruments sat on the street corners playing for tips.  It was a unique experience as the crowds were large and there was so many exotic things to see!

After spending a good bit of time in Chinatown, we drove around the city to see some sights we hadn't yet seen.  We managed to drive down Lombard Street - the famous "most curvy street in the world".  But soon it was time to head to the airport.

Dropping off the rental car we got on the sky train to the terminal.  While passing the international terminal we got the chance to see something I had never seen before.  There was a Lufthansa Airbus A380 airliner at one of the gates.  It was so freaking large!  The A380 is currently the largest airliner in the world and only entered service about 4 years ago.  It has a double deck cabin for the whole length of the airplane.  (The previous world's largest airliner - the 747 only has a double deck cabin for 1/3 of the airplanes length.)  I've always wanted to see one of these airplanes in person and I was thrilled to see it!

Our flight left SFO about 35 minute late, but the pilot did a good job making up some of the time.  By 7:00PM Sunday we were back on the ground in Denver and our short little sojourn to San Francisco was over!

Attached are a few of the photos from the trip.

(Lisa in front of the Golden Gate Bridge)

 (Me on the Golden Gate Bridge)

 (One of the towers of the GG Bridge)

 (The GG Bridge from the Marin Headlands)

(Path to Point Bonita Lighthouse)

 (Riding the Cable Car)

 (Fisherman's wharf)

(Lobster and crab on display at Fisherman's Wharf)

(Lisa with Alcatraz in the distance)

(The sea lions at Pier 39)

 (Dragon dancers on parade at the Autumn Moon Festival in Chinatown.)

(Man playing a traditional Chinese instrument at the Autumn Moon Festival)

(Another group of dragon dancers making their way through the crowd.)

(A Chinese Band)

On the day-to-day life front things continue along their same normal path.  Zack has been doing a lot of after school activities and took part in his first Math League competition on Monday.  He's doing a good job with his school work and it shows in terms of his grades.  He has never had all A's and B's before in his middle school career - normally his grades would involve at least one C or D.

For me, work is the main driver of life right now.  I continue to work crazy hours as I am frequently up before 4AM for conference calls with my team in India. We had to have some major work done on our 1998 Ford Explorer and I had to do some serious consideration of whether I was going to retain it or not.  In the end run I decided to put the money into it.  It was one of those repairs that kept getting larger and larger.  It started out as a $500 repair but ended up several times larger.  It was one of those problems where once they solved the first issue another even bigger issue became apparent.  Oh well!   Zack and I call the Explorer "The Beast" and hopefully with the repairs it went through this week  it will continue to live up to it's name and work faithfully for several more years to come.

My general contractor continues to put the final touches on the kitchen.  Last week they tried to replace 2 of the cabinet doors that had been damaged in shipping.  Unfortunately one of the replacement doors was also damaged!  So there is yet another couple of weeks until the new door comes in. Grrrr...  Oh well, it at least is usable and looks pretty good.  But I just want it 100% complete.

And that's about it for now.  Have a great week!

Thanks and peace to all! ~J.

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