Travel There: The Last Bites of San Francisco

Happy and Relaxed in San Francisco

Happy and Relaxed in San Francisco

The time to head south is drawing close, but let me tell you about a couple more meals in San Francisco.

Not Your Dallas Goodfellas

On Saturday night after Pinot Nights we hung out at my nephew’s condo.  Confession:  I’m not good at hanging out.  I feel like I need to be DOING something – so I read while we hung.

However, I was quite happy to put down my Kindle when the Goodfellas Pizza arrived.  You need to know that a Goodfellas Pizza in San Francisco is a whole different thing than your Goodfellas Pizza in Dallas.  I haven’t been to the Dallas Goodfellas, but browsing around on the internet it was easy to tell.

The important thing to remember when ordering Goodfellas Pizza in San Francisco is that you only need to order a slice.  Heavens know what we would have gotten if we had ordered a whole pizza.  As my nephew went around taking orders, he tried to impress upon each of us that we could each have whatever we wanted, because you ordered it by the slice.  There was quite a bit of haggling as the other guys tried to convince my nephew that we should all just agree on a type of pizza and order one.  What eventually arrived was an array of huge pizza slices, but each slice was more like three slices.  There was plenty of each type of pizza and more to share.

Sunday Night at Vicoletto

There’s one more thing you need to know about the area of San Francisco called North Beach, where my nephew’s condo is located.  Another name for the area is Little Italy.  That explains why in the few days we were there we ate so much Italian food.

On Sunday night we walked to Vicoletto’s.  Like the other restaurants in the area, this is a small, neighborhood-type restaurant, greatly removed from anything resembling a chain.  Most of the world was still wherever they were after America played a playoff game in the World Cup – and it was a Sunday night.  However, Vicoletto’s was not hurting for business.

What they were suffering from was a lack of waiters.  For reasons that were never exactly clear, our waiter was the only waiter for the whole restaurant.  It might have been a small place, but it wasn’t that small.  A large party of perhaps twenty lined one side of the restaurant and then couples were sprinkled about the rest of the room.  then there was the four of us.

For being the only guy there, our waiter did a good job, but it was obvious he was stretched.  The lack of waiters had no effect at all on the food.  It came out hot and seriously delicious.  We’d brought our own wine and paid a corkage fee.  Their food and our wine made for a wonderful experience.

One of the things I liked best about my nephew’s North Beach digs is the whole walking to the restaurant experience.  the walk there whets your appetite and the walk home helps digest the food.  I like my house in Texas with a yard and garage, but there’s nothing wrong with having the world within a few blocks of your home either.

Monday morning we got up early and hit the road.  Come back next week and find out about the incredible scenery on Highway One.

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Travel Talk: The Japanese Tea Garden and More

The Japanese Tea Garden at Golden Gate Park.

The Japanese Tea Garden at Golden Gate Park.

Foiled by the unreliability of the Golden Gate Park Shuttle, Bill and I entered the Japanese Tea Garden. We were unfortunately underwhelmed.

The Trouble with Travel

You know me.  There’s no one who loves travel more.  But travel comes with a price.  The more you do it, the more room for comparison.

I like Japanese Gardens.  We’ve got a great one over in Fort Worth and there’s another nice one in San Antonio.  We saw one in Lotusland a few days before our visit to San Francisco and a few days after our visit to Golden Gate State Park, we saw an amazing Japanese Garden at the Huntington Gardens.

Judge for yourself.  This photo was taken in Portland.

Judge for yourself. This photo was taken in Portland.

Still no Japanese Garden that I’ve ever seen beats Portland’s Japanese Garden.  Two years later, my senses are still reeling from the beauty we saw in Oregon and the Portland Japanese Garden was among my favorite attractions there.  So that should give you an idea of how stunning it was.  (As gorgeous as their Japanese Garden was, it was still my second favorite garden in Oregon.  Crystal Springs Rhododendron Gardens was the best.)

Small and Sad

You can’t judge a book by it’s cover and I suppose you shouldn’t judge a garden by the price of admission, but we were surprised by the $7 entry fee.  That’s more than Ft. Worth’s garden, though less less than Portland’s.

The first thing we realized was that the garden was very compact.  Fort Worth’s garden is huge and so is Portland’s, though not as large as its sister in Texas.  Size isn’t everything , but the size does add to the charm, because in the bigger gardens you seem far removed from the every day world.

In every part of San Francisco’s Garden I felt cramped.  I had the sense that just a few feet away was the world, because I could hear it and see it all around me.  There were also crowds of other folks.   The Tea House was humming with business and the line for it wandered through the garden.  Serenity was in short supply.

Looks magnificent in the picture, but up close it's scary.

Looks magnificent in the picture, but up close it’s falling apart.

The sad part was the evident disrepair.  The gardeners are doing a great job, but the park needs to hire a company of carpenters and painters.  Right now – before the wooden structures rot away!  Peeling paint and rotting wood are just unacceptable.  The Tea House has a rollicking business.  Devote some of the revenue to maintenance.

The Rest of the Story

After the Japanese Gardens we waited around for a few moments hoping the shuttle would make an appearance, but it didn’t.  So we wandered over to the Botanical Garden.  Two things kept us out.  It was closing in less than an hour and they wanted another $7.  The last $7 each we spent had not been a good investment.

So we thought we might walk a little.  We headed toward the Cherry Tree Azaleas, got a peek of Stowe Lake and strolled past the Rose Gardens.  We were tired.  It was chilly.  We decided to call it a day.  We weren’t going to get to see all of Golden Gate Park on this visit either.

I’ll Be Back

In spite of the disappointing Japanese Garden, I plan to go back to Golden Gate Park.  I want to see the Conservatory of Flowers, the Dutch Windmill, The Chinese Pavillion, Strawberry Hill, the Carousel and the list goes on.   Next time I’m thinking about bikes or one of those surreys I saw people riding.  I guess next time I’ll need to do a little more research and be a little more prepared.  Third time’s charm, right?

Next week I’ll wrap up my stay in San Francisco, but for now I’ll leave you with a few more shots from the Japanese Garden.  It was pretty.  It just suffered from comparison.

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Travel There: Drat That Golden Gate Park! Foiled Again!

You can get one of these at the de Young Gift Shop.

You can get one of these at the de Young Gift Shop.

One of the first things I saw pass by, on the road outside the de Young Cafe, was the Golden Gate Park Shuttle Bus. Unfortunately, that was also the last time I saw the Golden Gate Park Shuttle Bus.

Running Out of Day

If you know me or visit the blog frequently, you know Mr. Bill and I have completely different body clocks.  I fought it for years, but I’ve learned life is a whole lot easier if I cooperate with Mr. Bill’s clock.  So even though I woke up raring to get out and start sight-seeing, Mr. Bill wasn’t quite as eager.

He slept later, enjoyed playing with his grand-nephew and eventually started wondering what we were going to do for our morning meal.  We weren’t exactly the first people to enter the de Young.  I’m not really complaining, because we’d been having a lovely time, but there was a whole lot of Golden Gate Park to see and not much time.

Where’s the Bus? 

My trusty Golden Gate Park brochure informed me, “On Saturdays, Sundays and legal holidays…take the free park-wide shuttle which services all major Golden Gate Park destinations…The free shuttle operates 9 am – 6pm every 15-20 minutes.”  I’d seen one shuttle go by, so I thought that by the time Bill and I finished our meal and were ready to see the park, another shuttle would be by.  I figured it would be the best way to see the most of the park in the least amount of time.

See the park is 1017 acres, so the idea of walking the whole thing is overly enthusiastic, especially late in the afternoon – and remember, I already thought it was a little chilly.  So we stood next to the shuttle sign and waited and waited and waited.  We waited well over twenty minutes and if you add that to the time we’d spent in the cafe after seeing the shuttle, then you know that something was going on.  This wasn’t just a free shuttle running a few minutes late.

At first I wasn’t too worried.  I just perused my map and guide, familiarizing myself with what we would see.  Eventually, I realized we weren’t going to see anything if we didn’t start hoofing it.  In a panic, I read every sign in sight and realized we were quite close to one of the attractions I was most interested in, The Japanese Tea Garden.

I think Bill would have been just as happy calling it a day, but he is a good husband, so he trailed behind me as I marched towards the Japanese Tea Garden.  I had some sightseeing to do.  Come back next week and I’ll tell you about it.

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Travel There: The de Young Museum at Golden Gate Park

deyoung tickets07242014This trip to San Francisco was my second, so I’d already knocked out these San Francisco points of interest:

Jane’s Must-See Attractions in San Francisco

Golden Gate Park

I’m convinced I saw the very best of San Francisco on my first trip, but that didn’t make me any happier about missing Golden Gate Park.  We actually got into the park, but it was the end of the day and both the driver and the navigator were exhausted.  So the park was a must-see for this trip.

At the top of my list in the park was the de Young Museum of Fine Art, so that’s what I plugged into the GPS.  Last time we’d been to the park we didn’t have our electronic buddy, which explains why we were so disgusted and disgruntled.  This time we did have it, but we ran into another problem.  The GPS was telling us to turn into the park at one location and there were all kinds of signs telling us we couldn’t.  Finally we found a sign directing us to enter for de Young parking.  Victory!

deyoung brochure07242014

Instead of folding it up and putting it in my pocket, I should have studied the map. Following my nose wasn’t a good idea.

The De Young

I confess, I don’t do spontaneous well.  By the time I visit a museum, I’ve usually studied the map ad nauseum and know exactly where in the museum I want to go.  Having not had the opportunity to do that, we walked into the de Young and followed our nose.  Unfortunately, at the beginning, our nose didn’t lead us to much stuff we really wanted to see.  Maybe that’s the reason so many people claim they don’t like museums – they’ve been following their noses around!

Different strokes for different folks, but we all know what we like.  Bill and I are less fond of modern and tribal art than we are traditional figurative art.  Bill told me to just put up the map and enjoy myself, but that wasn’t very good advice.  We saw every piece of modern and tribal art in the museum, before we found our good stuff.

Now once we found our good stuff we were plenty happy and we took a long time perusing delightful pieces. Here’s a few samples:

Rainy Season in the Tropics by Frederic Edwn Church

Rainy Season in the Tropics by Frederic Edwin Church

California Spring by Albert Bierstadt

California Spring by Albert Bierstadt

Petunia by Georgia O'Keefe

Petunia by Georgia O’Keefe

Not everything was paintings.  There were some sculptures and decorative arts, but these were the postcards I picked up in the gift shop.

View from the Hamon Tower

View from the Hamon Tower

After our tour of the art, we went up in the Hamon Tower.  The view was actually quite amazing.  The light was not cooperating, so we didn’t get a good shot of the city vista – which would blow your socks off – but this picture gives you an idea of what you see directly below, when you’re up there.

Food Time

To my list of favorite places to eat in San Francisco I’d like to add the de Young Cafe.  Its a nice crisp modern sort of place that sits next to the Sculpture Garden.  Outside is patio seating and there were people sitting out there, but it was a little chilly for my Texas blood.  While we ate, we were serenaded by a big orchestra playing in the Temple of Music across the street.  It doesn’t get much better.

Kudos delivered, I’d like to have a do over.  This is one of those cafes where you really should have some sort of idea of what you’re doing before you actually get to the selection part.  They have a card menu to order from, they have pre-made snacks and sandwiches available to browsse and then they’ve got a sort of coffee bar, but that has a blackboard menu that you might miss before you get around to ordering.  So, if you ever go, check out ALL the options before you make a selection.

One Last Thing

Everybody but me probably already knew this, but if you’re also out of the loop, San Francisco actually has TWO Museums of Fine Art.  The Palace of Legion of Honor and the de Young.  The Palace is out by Lincoln Park and may be one of the most impressive buildings I’ve ever seen.  I know the view from the portico is certainly one of the best.  The grounds were covered with brides having their pictures made with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.

If I only had time to see one of the museums, I would choose The Palace, for two reasons.  One being the spectacular nature of the venue.  The other being that the art is more classical.  Also, now that I’ve seen them both, I think I’d be quicker to return to the Palace.  I wish I’d had time for the special exhibition of Impressionist portraits they had while I was there.  However, you should take time to see both at least once and then choose your favorite based on your own taste.

After our meal we headed out to explore the rest of the park.  Join me next week to check it out.

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Travel Here: Well, Maybe Not Exactly Here

My view of Wylie from my office window.

My view of Wylie from my office window.

If you’ve been following me on Fridays you know we’ve just moved to Wylie.  It’s a part of my beloved Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex, but nothing about it is very metro.  I need to get used to that if I’m going to live in the rural backwater of Heath, but for now, it’s a shock to my system.  Travel Here will stay a part of my blog, but please understand, when I say “here”, I don’t exactly mean right here, in Wylie.  I mean here in the Dallas area.

What About Wylie?

OK, so what about this place we’ve moved to?

The Good Stuff:

  • Reasonably close to my bestie’s house
  • Reasonably close to the house we’re building
  • Reasonably close to George Bush Turnpike, which will get me to everything else
  • Reasonably close to Firewheel Town Center, which is OK for shopping, restaurants and movies
  • An amazing Kroger Marketplace is close
  • A branch of Capital One, my bank, is nearby
  • Pretty much every fast food joint imaginable is around the corner and Raising Cane’s is within striking distance
  • The high school mascot is a PIRATE …how can you not love that!

The Not So Good Stuff

  • We don’t love the floor plan, the garage or the low ceilings of our rent house
  • Kroger Marketplace is NOT Market Street, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Central Market, which all used to be close to me
  • A Raising Cane’s within striking distance doesn’t compare to a Hook Line & Sinker I can walk to!
  • I’m church-homeless – AGAIN!
  • I do not have a creek/private nature preserve
  • Adding 20 minutes to the drive to work is no fun, even when you only have to go in twice a week

First Impressions

All that being said, I’m here now and the eventual result will be our wonderful new home on a pond by the 3rd hole of the Buffalo Creek Golf Course, so I’m not going to whine too loudly.  I have made some interesting observations however:

  • Folks here are real nice, if you run into them outside your neighborhood – especially at the nearby Capital One and at the Dairy Queen drive-thru.  They chatted me up like I was their long lost cousin. (Perhaps that was because I had Precious with me.)
  • They’re not so friendly if they live in your neighborhood.  I’ve gotten one tentative wave so far, but not so much as a nod or a meeting of the eyes from anyone else.
  • In West Plano most customers at Chipotle ordered chicken or veggie burrito bowls with brown rice and black beans.  At my new nearby Chipotle they order beef burritos with white rice and pinto beans.

I just keep telling myself that this is temporary.  I really live in Heath!

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Heading to Heath: Did We Find Our Rental?

Is this finally Home Sweet Home, for now?

Is this finally Home Sweet Home, for now?

Monday night things looked grim.  Yet another landlord had nixed our six-month lease issue and the list of issues with our friend’s house was growing.  After we saw it, we realized the house didn’t have a straight-forward answer to our pet issues. My Precious is house-trained to use a doggie door, but the way the house was set up, we didn’t know where we could put it.

That Left the Wylie House

The Wylie house was our only option, if we didn’t rent my friend’s house.  When Bill first saw that house in Wylie, he hated the floor plan, but that bad floor plan was looking a whole lot better, now.  We had one month, minus one day, to find a place to live.

The Wylie house was within our budget and that counted for a lot.  My friend’s house was 10% over our budget and we’d have to maintain the pool.  When you’re building a house, budget is very important.

Wylie was also a lot closer to our build.  Not only would it take much less time going back and forth, but the gas consumption and wear-and-tear on the car would be less.  Oh yes, and we could get there without going on the tollroad – a savings of over $14oo if the build takes six months.

Then there was my puppy.  You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  She needed a straight shot out her doggie door to her potty space.  She’d had that for fourteen years.  Even if we had figured a way to route her through a sunroom, we’d never have gotten her all the way around the pool before she stopped to do her business.

All things considered, we had to reconsider the Wylie house, bad floor plan and all.  But first, we had to find out if the owner would allow us a six month lease.  Tuesday night, we crossed our fingers and called the Wylie landlord.

Then Out of Nowhere!

The Wylie landlord called back with good news on Wednesday morning.  While Bill was filling out the application, I got a call out of the blue.  An agent I’d talked to on the weekend was calling to let us know her owner had re-canted on the pet thing.  I reminded her that we also had the six month’s lease issue.  We discussed it a bit and she said her landlord would be a fool not to take our contract.  So we decided to go take a look.

It was perfect!  We loved the floor plan.  It was in our budget.  It was three miles from our build.  There were several possible doggie solutions.  Life was good.  We called the agent back and asked her to find out about the six month thing.  We only wanted one landlord checking our credit.  We take our credit score very seriously.

Euphoria Sets In

We were feeling a whole lot better.  We didn’t have an answer yet, but certainly something would work.  Wouldn’t it?

Well, “out of nowhere” didn’t work.  The agent had been so sure, but not sure enough.  I was standing in the grocery store when she called me back and I wanted to throw something.  I called Bill and he sent the application to the Wylie landlord.

We’re Approved

I didn’t sleep much Tuesday night.  Intellectually I knew our credit was great and that we’d be approved, but there had already been so many landmines.  I won’t keep you guessing anymore.  We were approved.  In fact, we’ve moved in and the bad floor plan is a lot better than we thought it would be.

But while we worried about finding someplace to live, a lot more happened.  Come back next week and I’ll catch you up with our build and maybe tell you a few moving adventures.

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Travel There: Pinot Days in San Francisco

Pinot Days Brochure

Pinot Days Brochure

If you recall, this vacation went through a number of alterations before becoming a reality. In one of the original stages, a trip to Wine Country was penciled in, but by the time we went, Napa and Sonoma had been erased. Instead we enjoyed Pinot Days at City View At Metreon.

How We Got There

When you’re visiting your hip nephew in San Fran you do all kinds of cool things.  Take it from me, Uber is cool.  It’s like a taxi, but a lot more chic.

Since all I did was go along for the ride, I don’t claim to know all the details, but to quote Uber “request, ride, and pay via your mobile phone.”  That means you don’t call or hail a cab.  You request a ride at a certain time with the app and the car shows up.  If you wonder if you have time to go to the bathroom, the app tells you where the car is and how long before it will be to your pick-up point.  You don’t have to ride in a cab either.     A sleek black SUV picked us up and the driver was dressed very professionally.When we left the wine event my nephew punched a few buttons on the phone and by the time we got downstairs our car was waiting.

Uber’s website says they do have taxis, but that wasn’t our ride.  Nephew says it’s about the price of parking and since we were going to a wine tasting without a DD it was a lot cheaper than a DWI.  Dallas is an Uber city, but I haven’t Ubered here yet.  Let me know if you have.

Where It Was

Meteron is like nothing I know of in Dallas.  It’s like NorthPark‘s Food Court on steroids, but the anchor store is a Super Target and for kicks there’s an AMC Cinemark.  You got it?

Well, upstairs there’s something called City View which is a huge event space.  They do weddings, corporate events, whatever.  The “restaurant-centric mall with multiplex” is amid the Marscone Center and City View overlooks the Yerba Buena Gardens.  Yeah, it’s cool.

How It Wa2014-06-21 16.56.19

I’m just going to be straight with you.  This wasn’t the most fun I ever had tasting wine.  I used to live on the Central Coast and spent Sunday afternoons at Castoro Cellars Tasting Room, Edna Valley Vineyard and other local wineries.  My first date with Bill was to a function called Art and Wine at the Dallas Museum of Art.  We’ve been to Dallas Opera Wine Tastings. We have also been to other wine festivals, like the Paso Robles Wine Festival.  We know from wine tastings.

The Metreon was cool and I loved looking out over Yerba Buena Park and San Francisco’s Financial District.  However, I got a little tired of Pinot and there was a crowd.

I love wine, but I’m no wine connoisseur.  Were I a wine connisseur, I’m sure the opportunity to compare so many Pinots in one afternoon of tasting was euphoric.  However, there were so many people crowding around the tables that there was really no way to have a decent conversation with the winemakers and that’s one of the things I like best about a tasting.

There was also nowhere to sit.  There were community baskets of crackers and cheese to give your palate a break, but no where to give your sore dogs a break.  Am I glad I did it?  Yes!  Would I do it again?  Probably not.

But come back next week, because we’re going to Golden Gate Park.

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