Monday, 18 October 2010

San Francisco

Wednesday (13th) after arriving at our fantastic Hostel, we got ourselves refreshed and headed out to see k-os (a hip-hop artist) Slim (a club) - good timing! One of the support acts was a rapper called 'Astronautilus' or Andy (it has to be noted that he was a white rapper, unlike the majority in his profession). Anyway he had great banter on stage and some very cool songs. After his set he came down to sign CDs etc and Joss had a bit of a chat with him. It started out with which was his best CD to get and went on to him telling her about his travel adventures and our trip on the trans-siberian and trans-continental...which at that point he told her his father worked on Amtrak!

A crazy diner decorated for Halloween

Thursday (14th), we had a pretty leasurely day checking out some of the local sights. We walked to the Ferry building where we sampled one of the top sandwiches in San Francisco - that we found from the grubstreet San Francisco sandwich register online! Afterwards we wandered along the water and piers to Fisherman's wharf, which is actually a bit of a tourist trap. It feels like a theme park, but without the fun of rides! Instead it has lots of shops selling overpriced and mostly useless souvenirs and crap to tourists - mostly domestic we think. Even the surrounding streets had more of the same. American consumerism at it's very best. However, the wharf did provide some good view of Alcatraz and a little further away, the Golden Gate Bridge!

Indulging at the Ferry Building
That is Alcatraz in the distance

Friday (15th) we were off early for a wine tour of the Sonoma Valley. After collecting all of our participants we travelled North to cross the Golden Gate bridge. On board we had our great driver Mitch who knew Australia pretty well, a couple from Mississippi (Liz & David) who must have been Republican (no judgement), 2 young English guys (Muz & Joe), a young couple from Texas (Caitlin & Austin) and another young couple from New York (Heather & Trevor). Before going across we stopped to take in the view. Unfortunately for us, all that we could see was a wall of white fog, which was surprising considering how nice the day was. It seemed like localised fog covering just the bridge - we could not even see the top of the bridge poking out! It was so foggy that even when we crossed over you could barely see the bridge structure and it was only a few metres away! It seems that the fog is quite typical of San Francisco. Needless to say we were a bit disappointed as we were expecting it to be a great photo op, however we had more exciting things to look forward to. After crossing through the fog bridge we made a brief stop at Muir woods, a preserved red wood forest typical of what was abundant around the bay area before humans decided to cut it all down and build houses and the like. The trees were up to about 800 years old, and well they were pretty big, but we felt a little underwhelmed as it was pretty crowded and we kept comparing it to Yakushima in Japan.

Muir woods
Cafe in Sonoma where Paul had a fantastic smoked duck sandwich - awesome

After Muir woods and some lunch in Sonoma, we got down to the business end of things, the wine tasting. Unlike nearby Napa, Sonoma is closer to the coast and a little cooler so has a more diverse selection of wines. It is known for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, as well as the big Cabernets like Napa. We visited three wineries, the first Larson estate, a family owned estate with a freindly boutique feel and some terrific wine. The second was Robledo family estate, owned by a Mexican migrant who started out working in the vineyards in Napa and moved up to own his own winery! This place was a bit bigger, and although it had nice wine did not have the same feel as Larson. Last but not least was Clarbec winery. We arrived at the vineyards to find Beckie (the wine maker) set up for tasting with a table in a clear area between the vines. She showed us the vines and the difference between the grapes that were ready for harvest and those not quite there. Of course we also got to taste her wines (in very generous quantities), and afterwards we drove to her nearby farmhouse so we could purchase some! It was by far the best wine tasting of the day, and perhaps one of the best we have done! After this winery we started to notice some of the first round wine tasters were getting quite tipsy (probably due to the generous helpings at the final winery), and afterwards Mitch told us that we were able to drink on the bus it made for a very enjoyable trip back to San Fran. After returning we all decided to carry on our own and head out to some dinner!

Outside and inside Robledo family estate
Tasting the Clarbec wines among the vines

Saturday (16th), again another bit of lucky timing found us in San Fran at the same time that the Treasure Island music festival was on! We went along to see one of Paul's favourite groups Kruder & Dorfmeister, but the other highlight was Mike Snow. The festival itself was quite good, however it would have been much better had it not been so cold! Treasure island is a man made island in the middle of the bay, so it is low and flat and gets the breeze coming off the water all the time! Luckily though we had packed warm clothes so were pretty comfortable.

Paul and K&D on stage

Sunday (17th) we did some shopping and had a generally leisurely day wandering around some of the San Fran suburbs, including the historical Alamo area. We had fun in San Fran but could not help but notice the very large number of homeless people begging in the streets, not just the main drag but everywhere. Perhaps it is the effects of the recession but we were quite surprised to see so many of them around, and considering the U.S is the richest country per capita, you can't help but judge them on how they treat their poor in a city like this.

Alamo park and the famous painted ladies

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