Tuesday, September 4, 2007

San Francisco, Day One

We arrived at SFO about 8:30 in the morning and took BART to Powell Street near Union Square. After some philosophical ponderings on BART’s choice of filth-gathering upholstery and carpeting, and amazement at how the landscape really did look like Italy, we emerged into the crowd of tourist and pan handlers around the cable car turn-around. It was over-cast (which we soon learned was really just fog), we were tired, we had a lot of luggage (which we usually don’t have, except that I had my work attire and my wife had her painting rig), and we had a 4 block climb up Powell Street to our hotel. I had planned on taking the cable car up the hill, but the line was probably an hour long. How silly.

The Hotel Beresford was small and quaint, everything that the Monte Carlo wasn’t. The room was tiny with a view of a brick wall and a square of now blue sky (hurray!) above. But it was perfect, with a fridge stocked with good beer at cheap prices.

We left the hotel just before lunch time and headed straight to the Asian Art Museum. Well worth the visit. The walk to the museum, however, was even more worth it. We took Market Street from Union Square along the edge of the “Tenderloin,” and let me tell you, I thought I knew what homeless drug users were, but I had NO IDEA. DC doesn’t have a homelessness problem compared to San Francisco. Maybe they all just congregate near the sex shops and liquor stores and cheap hotels along Market, and maybe if you pulled all of DCs homeless together in one place, there’d be just as many, but I’ve never seen anything like this, not in Europe, not in New York, not anywhere. People of all ages and races, both sexes, talking to themselves or yelling at each other, scabby and dirty and skinny, sprawled on the sidewalk or stumbling out of alleys, scores of them. There were also scores of people like us walking along as well, so I never really felt unsafe, more uncomfortable, as if I had surprised someone (or a lot of someones) in an intimate and embarrassing moment. We didn’t notice the drug-addled homeless masses anywhere else, not even in Haight-Ashbury, at least not to the same extent.

As the shock of the Tenderloin wore off, we explored China Town, Northbeach, Telegraph Hill, and Union Square.
San Francisco is a deceptively small city. We walked everywhere and I was always surprised by how short a time it took. The hills are, of course, daunting, and make things seem farther apart, and aside from some huffing and puffing and a little sweating (only on my part), we had no problem negotiating those hills.

We had terrific food at Nanking Palace on Kearney, recommended by Frommers. It was full of tourists, so we were a little skeptical at first. But we let the waitress order for us, and it was unbelievably good. We didn’t even eat dinner that night, save a glass of wine at a vinoteca close to the hotel. More to come.

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