I was ready for a break and really looking forward to heading to SF, a place I had been once before for a day trip but didn’t really ‘get’. When I said I was heading there I was inundated with ‘go here go there, you must do xyz”…. My go to place got longer and longer!I arrived on the Saturday afternoon, having been in Sacramento for 4 days at the Balanced Body summit for master trainers- awesome fun. I left a little early so I could go to the Speakeasy evening in SF - a MUST my friend said!! I had found a fancy dress shop in Sacramento, bought a flapper dress, long white gloves, a string of pearls, cigarette holder and a feather head band - I was ready for the prohibition era!.
Train, train and train lead me to the Civic Centre where I was staying - “don’t go down 6th street” I was warned… I didn’t really get why until I came out the subway to be greeted by a group of guys hanging about and a smell that I was unfamiliar with. If this wasn't 6th, what was 6th like? I would find out.
I lugged my suitcase up the stairs, the guys sitting at the top of the stairs asked if I needed help, sadly my initial thought was that they would run off with my case (which weighed 23Kg and was unlikely….). I could manage anyway (of course) but the fact I thought that was not where I wanted to be thinking.
Across the road and luckily the hotel was close by. It really did look like its pictures on the website - there were 4 juke boxes in the entrance lobby, very random and out of place but cool!. Friendly staff who got to recognise me pretty quickly and after 6 days there a sense of it being weirdly home. Breakfast was included - yum pastries and donuts…. The start of understanding why Americans are obese.
Up to my room, sorted things out and dressed in my jumper hiding my flapper dress underneath, I wandered to find my meeting point for the Speakeasy evening and have some dinner. It really is quite logical getting around the streets - even for someone as directionally challenged as me, although I did go the wrong way a number of times which I quite enjoy! As I walked, I passed different pockets and at some point I felt more at ease - I was in Chinatown. I realised then how much more used I am to Asia than a Western environment.
Meeting point found, dinner eaten way too fast - jumper off, pearls on, lipstick done - back to meeting point. Got my instructions and followed my map to the secret entrance. I rapped on the door and was greeted with “hello what are you doing here?’ Brain was not in gear as I said I wanted to go to the bar!! the whole point of the evening of course being it is a secret place to drink “there’s no alcohol here’…. Doh. It was only after telling someone about the evening that a few pennies dropped about the email I had got - won’t tell you in case you ever go.
All I will say now is that it was awesome fun - an interactive theatre experience, most people dressed up, fun cabaret, great stories and one of the best things I’ve been to theatre wise - exceptionally glad I decided to go.
Cab home - bed - sirens, a sound I’m not used to hearing much anymore and sleep.
Sunday - it was the day to get my shopping out the way. I went for a run figuring out the lay of the land, loved being on some ups and downs! Breakfast was to be in a cafe I'd seen and thought would be cool - damn it was closed. Hence began my wanderings, ending up in Starbucks!! I had gone a bit out my planned route but found my way back on track to find a few places that had looked interesting on my google searching.
What continually surprised me, for the whole trip was the homeless loitering about, sleeping in doorways or in the middle of the pavement (sidewalk….), or meandering aimlessly down the street. Some quiet, some loud, some alone, others in groups. It was something I can’t get over. I walked under a heavy road way bridge - a row of tents on the other side, at least these guys had something over their heads at night.
I did my shopping, up and down the main precinct - Saks, Macy’s, Bloomingdales - all the names I knew only from TV shows. I went in them and almost turned straight out ! Not my places anymore - although I will admit to getting a new pair of high heels in the sales - one of the things on my list. Also was nice lingerie, something I find hard to get in Singapore. I did (yay) but was surprised that even in the big stores the choice was still pretty crap!! If anyone knows where to get some please feel free to tell me.!
The day was nearly done and I headed back the my breakfast cafe where I was hoping to go to a workshop they were holding that night which in the end it didn’t happen so I went ‘home’ to settle down for the night - sirens lulling me to sleep.
Monday I had booked myself into a couple of Pilates classes at a studio whose owners I had met while at the summit. Always good to go to other classes, hear new ways to cue and do different exercises - plus I needed to move! It was in the Mission district, I headed down Valencia St and came across the most random alley full of graffiti art - and it was artwork. Bright colours and bold political statements being made. I did my classes which were fun and wandered on - the areas went like this: Castro, Haight Ashbury, Golden Gate Park, Ocean Beach, Golden Gate bridge, Fishermans Wharf, Pier 39 to watch sun set and a walk home.
Castro is a super fun place - the ‘gay’ area with pedestrian crossings painted in rainbow colours - buildings were bright and there was an atmosphere of joy, upbeat and very easy to hang about there. Onto Haight Ashbury - the hippy alternative area I was told I would like. Tie dye galore and all a bit pretentious and commercial for me - yes there were random shops but nothing out of the ordinary and I didn’t really get what the fuss was about. On to the huge park that I had intended to walk through until I figured out the scale of the map and that it would take me all day so I hopped on a bus and found the beach. And there was the Pacific Ocean in all her glory! A long strip of beach and water you can’t go in. Whenever I go to other places and see the sea/ocean and horizon line it always somewhat surprises me how far you can see being so used to the sight of tankers in Singapore, which in a bizarre way I like - but to see the water and sky meet is beautiful. I wandered along the sand to the big house/building/hotel place and sat with a Long Island Iced Tea contemplating life (as ever). A cab ride took me to the Bridge and I walked half way over happily snapping away while being blown by the wind. Then I noticed people really interested in the waters below - the whales had come to see us and were happily spouting water as they went along! It was sooooooo cool to see them and the bridge is a pretty awesome feat of engineering.
My next cab took me to Fishermen’s Wharf, touristy and not really my kind of place so I headed along to Pier 39 - also touristy and not my kind of place but it was somewhere I could sit and watch the sun go down while clicking away at the bridge and Alcatraz as they were silhouetted against the setting sun. Rose wine and calamari accompanied me as I chilled out and then I sat and watched the sealions on the pontoons as they settled in for the night.
I was now in a dilemma - do I walk back knowing it is dark or cab? Wine made me braver so I walked to my hotel and ended up on Hyde Road. The higher part, no problem but as I neared Market St the scene changed and there were the homeless, or groups (gangs???) hanging about. Where to look and walk? I didn’t want it to be obvious I was not trying to walk close to them, nor be too close. Somehow I worked it out and got back ‘home’ safely - albeit a little rattled and swearing I would not do that again.
Whether the guys on the streets are dangerous or not - I have no idea. Possibly not. But as a woman walking down a road when it’s dark, on her own in a country she doesn’t know - I’m going to think the worst. Was I a bit daft for taking the risk? Possibly. Am I glad I did - absolutely. I got to experience what I would consider to be a reality of SF.
Deep breath as I went to bed - sirens.
Tuesday - up and out across the water today to go to Layafette and another studio. Wow what a different area! A 30 minute train ride took me to a well-to-do town, clean and crisp and absolutely no loiterers here. Great studio, super fun primal patterns and pilates class and great to see a very different part of California. A train took me Rockridge - it was recommended to go and see Claremont spa a HUGE white building that can’t be missed. Well it can be if you walk the wrong way! I got there though - further than anticipated but happy to go into a second hand shop and buy, yup another pair of shoes! Cheap!!! YAY. White building seen and photographed, and yes it really was very shiny - I hopped on a bus to Berkeley.
Not quite understanding how the bus payment worked I said to the driver that I really had to pay $5 as I don’t have change?… Erm yes seems that way. He made my day though and let me ride for free and we had the most delightful chat about life. I alighted (i.e. got off) at Berkeley University - mmmmm don’t get it and what the fuss is about. Yes it’s big, some nice buildings but erm….. The ‘homeless' guy with tourettes sitting on the union steps was quite amusing bless him. I wandered into the town - which comprised of 2 streets, not what I was expecting at all - I had pumped the place up to be something it wasn’t. Train ride back to SF and a bit more aimless wandering the streets before being home by nightfall - sirens.
My evenings were mainly spent in my room working on all the photos I took during the day. It was bliss to be behind the camera and look at the world through a creative lens.
Wednesday was another class day - this time core40. Yes i really did run every day and do classes - I don’t see any reason why not still move and exercise while away, it is part of my life!. What a class - 40 minutes on a reformer combo thing, not pilates but many moves similar and I loved it when they inclined the machine - reminded me of the GTS I used to work with in Hong Kong. My legs and butt were knackered at the end, plus running up the streets - double whammy! It was great and I left feeling invigorated and ready for breakfast! Today I decided to sit and chill and write and read, not wander about - just take in the city and the financial area. I had a photo shoot planned at 6pm, so I got my stuff ready and sat enjoying a glass of Prosecco before heading to be snapped.
It was an interesting shoot - the photographer likes to capture the person underneath the model, so the conversation was deep and meaningful as I posed to start with and then sat and chatted. As the red wine went down so did my defences and emotions about how I felt in SF came to the surface and tears to my eyes. I’ve not seen the photos yet. He paid me the nicest compliment though, that who I am is closer to the surface than most people. I’d rather hear that than be told I’m beautiful and that is something I’ve realised recently about how I feel about places i’ve been to. Those I like the most are the most authentic and sad to say SF doesn’t fit that.
The shoot and more the chats went on longer than anticipated and I climbed into bed at 1:30am knowing I had to be up to go to a wine tasting tour the next morning being picked up at 8am…. sirens.
I woke with a slight headache - oops. A 30minute run got that out of me and my tour bus collected me and the other 5 guys to head up to Sonoma - much better than Napa said Simone our driver. And I did believe here! There were 3 older people - 2 of them married and the other at 75 had recently lost his wife. He was such a beautiful man, a wisdom to him that was just there without him telling you anything. The other 2 in the group were on the last day of their honeymoon, at the ripe old age of 25! Such a contrasting 6 people. We crossed the bridge and more photos later, we got going to the first winery. 10am time to drink!!… We went to 3 in all - the last being my favourite as a place, the first had a lovely white wine. It was an amazing day - after the first wine went down everyone loosened up a bit (surprise surprise) and along with Simone being the bubbly chick she is the bus atmosphere was fun. The last place was heaven - rolling hills, amazing villa they had built with an open area outside I can imagine having a great party (wedding I’m guessing) in and one of the few places who grew the grapes organically. I simply loved the scenery and felt like I could be in Europe - maybe not so Asiafied?. We and stopped in Sonoma itself for a hour to wander -such a cute place!! So old fashioned and nice and from a movie set including the Grocery store! Plus amazing ice-cream!!!
The trip home was a traffic nightmare - into the city and in the end I walked back as it was quicker and I had to head to the Armoury for a workshop…
Now if you didn’t know, SF is well known for an open view to sex, porn, bdsm and kink. The Armoury was the old army place - and then got taken over by kink.com who made porn movies there for years until closing down (financial decision) a few months ago - however the sets remain. They also do workshops on sex so I thought why the hell not and went to one called “Bedroom Bootcamp: Basic Training for Better Banging presented by Rain DeGrey”. Rain DeGrey was a porn star for a number of years in the Armoury - I’ll let you google her if you chose. It was erm interesting, can’t say I warmed to her much - and many things she said I did know (not claiming to be a sex guru, but I read a lot...), and to be honest the main take home is that good sex (however you like it) is about communication - which is really the foundation of good relationships. A cab home to contemplate the day and evening and start to organise myself for my last day. Sirens.
Friday - what to do? I wanted to run to the crookedest street so off I went and yeah you know it, I didn’t find it!! I don’t know what I did wrong - yes a wrong turn I know I know. I still had Saturday though!. Anyways - run - breakfast - wander to graffiti alley as I thought I had lost the photos (in the end I hadn’t) but I wandered into a different street as well in the Mission district. Amazing how 2 parallel roads can be so very different, Valencia with it’s boutique shops and cafes, Mission St with it’s street sellers and run down buildings. Fascinating. I had booked myself into core40 again - luckily I was told my teaser sit pull was the best she’d seen that day… Really great workout. I wandered back to my hotel and mistakenly went up 6th street. It was mid-day and as I got closer to Market St there were more and more guys hanging about. I honestly didn’t twig that I was on 6th until I got to the end and then I saw the street sign and I got it. Definitely the worst street I’d been on and that was in the day time.
I had a tour of the Armoury that evening, I walked down and stopped to have a cocktail in the Armoury bar - it was friday after all. The tour was great, the tour leader very very knowledgable and the sets were mind boggling, thought provoking, scary and exciting! I’ll leave it to your own imagination what I might have seen - but I will say if you go to SF it is worth a trip there.
A wander home (it was still light!!) and as I neared the hotel there was some kerfuffle going on, there were the cops and some guy on the ground just outside my hotel… Summed up my thoughts about SF. Into my room, suitcase prepared plus an extra bag - yes I bought a few things, and I was ready to sleep and return to Singapore. Sirens.
Up to run and find that damn street. Out the hotel and across the road …. 2 policeman and a guy on the ground - need I say more. You’ll be pleased to hear I did find the crookedest street and it is lots of little cobbled hairpins - super cute! The view at the top was awesome, you can see down to the financial district with the bridge just in the skyline. Well worth getting up the steep roads!
I’m glad I found it and then weeeeeee down hill, oh then up, then down then up and then where the hell was I!!! Yup a few wrong turns again. I ended up on Jones St (YAY), a road I knew where it went so down I headed and saw tables being set up in the middle of the road. Food supplies for the homeless. It warmed my heart it was being done, sad that it has to be done. It left a good feeling in me that SF do care for those on the street.
Home - check out, the guy said I needed to stay 3 more nights! It was weird to be going. I’d got used to the place, my room, the guys on the front - but not the sirens and smells and drugs and homeless- that I could never get used to.
Bus to the airport and 16 hours later Singapore.
How can I end…. It was great to be away and to see such a different place to ‘where’ I’ve been used to for a while now. San Francisco is fascinating - the way the districts are so close and all walkable, the ups and downs of the streets, the trams in the middle, the rich to poor, the skyline, history, hustle bustle and the homeless too. Then just a short drive away to some of the richest areas in the region and into wine country so opposite to SF itself.
I loved wandering and not being on a time scale and I had so many different experiences that my emotions were all over the place. It’s not a place I’d rush to go back to, but it is a place I am very glad I spent the time in that I did…