Travel Diary- San Francisco, California

Tues 23 October, 2018

12 hours in San Francisco

You’ve seen those 24 hours in….. Videos on Youtube, where fast talking GoPro laden youngsters squeeze all they can possibly experience in a city into a day? We had the privilege to experience our own version, but we only had 12 hours to squeeze everything in before we had to head to the airport to catch an evening flight back to Sydney. Not to mention neither of us wanted to wear the GoPro. *Shrugs*.

It wasn’t our first time in San Fran, for my wife her last visit was more recent (~2009); while the last time I was in San Fran, the Internet wasn’t even common knowledge yet (~1990), so it had been a while in between drinks for me. This time, the main reason why we were in San Fran , was due to the fact that my uncle and his family had recently relocated to Cali, thus our first 36 hours in California was spent with relatives in the sprawling burbs of the Bay area. On our final day before dawn, we headed out with all our belongings and into Central San Francisco with my cousin, leaving all of our luggage with her as she went about her day-job, while we explored San Fran on our own.

Hour 1 (7am): We first walked to the famous San Fran waterfront, and orientated ourselves to the North and proceeded to walk along the waterfront towards all the piers. The riverside walk was a decent stretch but made even better as we got to experience a sun rise on our final day in the States.

Hour 2 (8am): At this early hour on a Tuesday morning most places were still shut,  so we didn’t see all the sights and sounds visitors associate with the piers but after poking our heads in on a sleepy Pier 39, we were ready for breakfast.

San Fran is known for its Sourdough bread, so it was a given that our breakfast was going to contain yeast and bacteria. Yum! We selected the café for no apparent reason, except for the fact that it was open and the staff looked friendly. We ordered a Bacon and Egg Sourdough roll, and the same again but in a Sourdough wrap.

The Sourdough wrap was the stand-out of the two, it was super fresh and you know how usually a wrap has no real flavour, as after all it’s less than a millimetre thick, predominantly there to add texture and keep your contents together…But for this Sourdough wrap, the sourness was quite evident and it was real nice and chewy.

Hour 3 (9am): After breakfast we continued on from Pier 39 to Fisherman’s Wharf, and unfortunately most things were still closed, but no matter, we had a bus to catch! After having a positive experience with ‘Big Bus’ in Chicago, we rejoined Big Bus for their Hop on Hop off tour of San Fran. We boarded at Stop 1 – Fisherman’s Wharf, and watched San Fran go by from the comfort of the bus, while being entertained and educated  by the tour guide. In the first hour the Big Bus winds its way through the hilly streets of San Fran, making stops at Lombard Street, Treasure Island, Presidio Park, Washington Square, Haight Ashbury before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge (which I’ll have to take their word for, as I had fallen asleep by then – as I’d been up since 3am….. too excited I was).

 Hour 4 (10am): The bus tour was around 2 hours and 30 mins long? After crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and stopping at a park which looked back at the orange suspension bridge. The Big Bus then continued and made stops at Fishermen’s Chapel, North Beach, Little Italy, Painted Ladies, Alamo Square Park, Embarcadero, Civic Center, Botanical Gardens, Blazing Saddles, Chinatown Walk, DeYoung Museum, & finally Legion of Honor Museum. Before completing the loop and returning back to Fisherman’s wharf, just in-time for an early lunch.

Hour 5 (11am): Walking along the line of restaurants at Fisherman’s, they were all out sprucing their wares to the tourists (each restaurant pretty much having the same menu), we chose this place simply because he was sprucing the loudest. No doubt we ordered the Clam Chowder Bread Bowl, and the Deep-fried Oysters with fries sounded interesting, so we went with that as well.

The Clam Chowder was very creamy and rich, and it was neat how the soup was served inside the large hollowed out bread roll; so you can get a spoonful of chowder, some clams, and some soggy Sourdough all in a mouthful. Hehehe. The deep fried battered oysters reminded me of chicken nuggets (oysters are an acquired taste), so my mind was expecting the taste of chicken nuggs when I placed the nugget in my mouth, but instead it was a mushy fishy thing. So you can say I wasn’t much of a fan of the deep fried oyster, but the chippies were good though!

Hour 6 (12 noon): After lunch we just walked. Our initial intention was to ride the Big Bus in the morning, to orientate ourselves to Downtown and after we’d seen everything from afar; then we’d decide what we want to see up-close so on the second go on the bus we’d hop off at all the stops we were interested in. But we worked out that all the stops we were interested in, were in fact within walking distance of each other. So we just ended up walking.

Hour 7 (1pm): We walked through the Italian part of San Fran on our way to Chinatown.

Hour 8 (2pm): Being Asian, we had to visit/make an homage to Chinatown, the largest in North America and the largest grouping of Chinese outside of China! We walked the narrow footpaths of the main strip, and ducked in to a Bubble tea joint to rest-up (those hills, even the mini hills are a killer).

Hour 9 (3pm): And after being juiced up on sugary milk tea (there wasn’t such a thing as 50% sugar) we just kept walking and walking, and some more walking (at the end of the day we had racked up 27,000+ steps, according to our Health app).

Hour 10 (4pm): On the Big Bus we had heard that there was a roof top precinct with a roof top garden and bar. So we walked around the general vicinity, always looking to the roof-tops trying to ID this aberration, whilst trying to locate the ground floor entrance which would take us up. But unfortunately, no luck in locating this garden in the skies. But we did find this other private building which allowed randos to catch the lift up to the top of their building, to escape from the hustle of San Fran, to read a book or just sit in silent meditation. You just sign in at the Security desk, present a form of identification like Driver’s license (for us it was our Aussie Passports) and then we were on the 11th floor, only one other girl was up there enjoying a book. I used the time to chill out, listening to a podcast (I told you that I was a huge podcast fan!), while my wife explored the roof-top and took some pics.

  Hour 11 (5pm): And then it was time again to eat. Haaha. We had been told that we could find markets selling food inside the San Francisco Ferry Terminal building,  so we headed there (after some failed attempts to try a few cafes but to find that they didn’t do evening trade). It was a little unexpected, to find a ferry terminal with a large majority of the concourse space given over to markets, selling food, desserts and artisan wares. We checked out the stalls, and purchased ourselves some Argentinian savoury pastries (as we had never tried them before). And we had them at this outdoor dining area attached to the Ferry Terminal. The pastries were like a large biscuit, with topping like mushrooms and onions baked onto the surface, held in-place by melted cheese. It was different, it was interesting, and tasty enough. And then we were trying to decide our exit strategy from San Fran Downtown. Either leave for the airport earlier and beat rush hour, or to hang about and leave after all the office workers had left the city. Being cautious people (and there wasn’t much more we wanted to see in Downtown), we opted to leave earlier and get to the airport with plenty of time to spare.

Hour 12 (6pm): We picked up our luggage from my cousin’s workplace, and then we were saying good-bye to San Fran and essentially finishing up our 3 week epic US trip! We had spent time in four states, experiencing Summer-like heats, to Winter-like (for us, it was sub-Winter-like) chills, eating a bit too much, while probably not buying enough souvenirs for family, but most importantly we did manage to spend quality time with US relos which was the most important thing.

Hour 13 (7pm): We ended up catching the train to the airport (an Uber was going to take more than an hour), and once we were greeted by the Qantas ground staff (although they were American), it still felt like coming home! ……Then we had 2.5 hours to entertain ourselves before our flight left.  Haaha.

I think you too can replicate our 12 hours in San Fran, as most flights from Australia to the States enter via LA or San Fran, hence your departure would be via one of these ports. Perhaps next time specify to leave via San Fran, and choose to stay one night (instead of just using San Fran as a connection point) so you too will have 12 hours on the ground and do what we just did. I think if you’re not going to hit all the museum’s or head out of Downtown, 12 hours is plenty of time to see what you want to see and eat what you want to eat in San Fran. Not to mention you’ll be so warn out from all the walking, that you’ll sleep like a baby on the night flight back to Syd!

**Note: The all-day Big Bus Tour ticket is $55 (USD) per adult, $49 if you purchase your tickets online which allows you unlimited hop on and hop off from 8am to 8pm.

Travel Diary- Chicago, Illinois

Sun 21 October

We were so not prepared for a mid-Autumn cold snap in the mid-west. Only a week ago we had left Houston Texas where it was hot and humid, around 30 degrees C and on this clear Sunday morning it was only 1 degree C! Like what the!

This was our last full day in Chicago so we didn’t want to waste it, so we forged ahead with our prior plans. Pulling on everything that we had (for me it was beanie, gloves, a thick jacket over a long sleeve shirt which was over a t-shirt, but for the lower half it was just jeans, a pair of ankle length socks and a nearly worn down pair of Lacoste casual sneakers). On top I felt really toasty warm, but for the bottom half, we had to keep walking to maintain warmth.

We were staying a stone’s throw from the famous Magnificent Mile i.e. Michigan Avenue; so it was always a treat to walk down this stretch of road, lined on both sides by high end stores.

And this moment was truly unbelievable, like straight from a movie scene. The whole entire Michigan Avenue was shut down (well the bit near the bridge), to allow a construction company to raise some steel girders to the top of some high-rise they were erecting. But don’t picture tall cranes, but check this out!

They had a helicopter hover right down (probably only 20m off the ground) to pick up a steel girder. And like a buzzing bee, the laden chopper lifted up into the sky, taking its load to some tall building out of sight! The entire road was closed for a good 20 minutes while the helicopter came back multiple times to pick up its load. Crazy! The noise of the helicopter in full throttle so low to the ground, was pretty amazing. The pilot had to be pretty skilled to manage it.

And when the road was opened again, we continued on our way to Chicago River, to join our morning Architectural River cruise.

On a nicer day, a stroll along the banks of Chicago River would be real nice. A step down away from the cars on the surface level, and with restaurants and cafes sprinkled along the way it would be a really nice way to pass some time. But on this morning everything was still closed as it was early, so we were just walking to stay warm.

But as soon as the River Cruise company were ready for passengers, we climbed aboard the open top boat and settled ourselves on our metal benches. Oh boy, this was going to be a painful 90 minutes (I thought to myself) as my butt was fighting a losing battle to try and warm up the cold metal seat with my own body warmth.

The cruise was a slow putt up and down Chicago River, where a tour guide provided commentary on all the iconic buildings within sight lines of the river. He added in scripted jokes, personal antidotes and considering he was just as cold as we were, he did a great job of conveying his passion for his city and the buildings which stood on its land.

My favourite part was when the engines were shut down, allowing the boat to just drift, it was so tranquil and there is something fresh and reviving about cold cold air which we don’t experience here in Sydney.

When the tour ended, I stood up and literally couldn’t feel my legs! They were completely numb from the cold and inactivity. So as we walked off the boat, down the gang-way back to the dock, I was just praying that I wouldn’t stack it. I was like “Come on legs, we’ve done this over many decades, just do your thang, muscle memory, muscle memory!” And thankfully we got off without a hitch.

So as we trudged back up to the street level, it was 11am and too early for lunch; and an hour seemed long to just hang-about in the cold before restaurants started to open for their lunch trade. We decided to walk back to our hotel, thaw out and then worry about what to eat for lunch.

But like an aberration, when we walked past Michael Jordan Steakhouse, they were already open! Thank God! We had spoken about eating here, as I was a kid of the 90s and grew-up watching No. 23 play. And to eat at his restaurant, that was going to be a dream come true! Although their steaks were on-average $60 US each, we were like whatever, we’re hungry cold and miserable, let’s just do it!

And thanks so much to the Maître d’, we were just walk-ups and it was clear that he was expecting a full lunch service but he still accommodated us.

We were presently surprised to find that they had a breakfast/lunch menu, so we didn’t have to order like an $AUD100 piece of steak. So we ordered an Italian Beef Sandwich (a must try when in Chicago). It was a roll, stuffed with tasty rare beef and other fillings, and it came with a gravy boat where you drizzled the gravy into your sandwich. For me, I was just content using the gravy as a dipping sauce for my tasty thick cut chips!

My wife had a savoury Bacon and Cheese Waffle, served with 2 large pieces of fried chicken. If you ask my wife what memorable meal she had in the States from this trip, her answer will always be this dish! I think it was a combination of the situation (we were cold and hungry), and then we were served up this awesome meal. The waffle had bacon and melted cheese bits cooked through the batter, while the fried chicken was crispy and it also came with a hot dipping sauce. Finger Freakin’ Licking Good!

And when we were done, tummy filled, blood flowing to all the extremities, we were steeled to confront the cold again. And it must have warmed up, as all of a sudden it wasn’t so bad the second time around. Not to mention after 2 blocks we ducked into Starbucks for some hot beverages and the use of their Wi-Fi. And another 2 blocks after that, we ducked into a high rise shopping mall for some retail therapy.

Chicago is a very pedestrian friendly city, depending on time-of-year and package deals, accommodation near and around the Magnificent Mile is quite affordable. It was an idyllic spot to set up camp for a number of days, and we highly recommend others to make Chicago a future destination.

Travel Diary- Nashville Tennessee

Tues 16 October

Is this sad to admit? But one of the initial reasons why we chose to travel to Nashville was to see the Parthenon in Centennial Park! Not the country music or the ‘Hot’ chicken, but to see a replica of a now crumbling ruin in Greece?

We grew up reading the Harry Potter series, and after all the books and movies were released we were searching for another similar series to fill the bespectacled broom-flying void HP had left us with. And the best we could find was the Percy Jackson series, about a teenage Greek Demigod (and we subsequently completed the 10 book Percy Jackson/Heros of Olympus series over the next 2 years). In the 8th book of the collection (Mark of Athena), the main story-line was the quest to recover the missing statue of Athena Parthenos. And in good old Nashville Tennessee, inside the full-scale replica of the Parthenon was a 13m (almost 4 stories tall) replica of the statue, painstakingly reproduced following ancient records right down to the colouring and 3.5kg worth of gold leaf.

When we arrived at Centennial Park there was less than 60 minutes before the Parthenon was to close for the day (we had spent too much time at previous stops having red wine slushies). So we made straight for the ticket seller and literally just climbed the stairs until we  reached the main level where the statue stands. I was later surprised to learn that we had by-passed the art gallery on the lower floor *shrugs*

Although signs stated no photography, everyone were taking pics with their phones, thus so did we.

There was a sense of awe within that space, like being in a gothic chapel. All talking was made at hushed tones, and there was a sense of peace and tranquility being in the presence of the goddess. Often reality doesn’t meet expectation, but after all the anticipation of coming half way around the world to see this, it really did meet our expectations.

But the best part for me was the gift store, where I held a replica of a replica, a 3-inch tall replica of Athena Parthenos. Holding the statue I tried to picture an almost 2 story tall shield, a 3 story tall spear and a 6 foot tall Nike standing in the goddess’s palm. Incredible! If you’re ever in Nashville, the Parthenon is definitely worth checking out! – $8 US entry fee per person.

And once we had enough of the gift store, we spent some time walking around the Parthenon and Centennial Park as the sun was setting.

A great way to get to all the touristy attractions in Nashville, is to purchase an Old Town Trolley tour ticket, which allows you unlimited hop on and hop offs from 9am to 5pm.