Saturday, May 23, 2009

2 of 5: San Francisco - Day One - Just a Small Town Girl

Sensory overload started the moment we arrived at the San Francisco airport. The crowds of people traveling at high speed on conveyor belts, airport shops overflowing with kitsch, glass cases filled with art displays, and confusing signs leading us to our first experience with BART would be enough to undo anyone. Even though I've traveled in Europe, lived in Chicago, and visited New York it was almost too much for this small town girl.

The first challenge was to decipher the BART ticket machine. A mistake in calculating our fare could leave us stuck in the station unable to exit at our destination. Finally, with tickets in hand, we boarded the train for a noisy 20 minute ride to the station at Powell Street in the heart of the city.

Emerging from the dark tunnel into the bright and bustling streets near Union Square, I found there was too much to look at and it all became a blur. Fortunately Gary still possessed his senses enough to purchase three day transportation passes and navigate through the chaos to our nearby hotel. We checked in at 10 am, left our suitcases with the hotel clerk, and returned to the dark tunnel for a quick Muni train trip to the Embarcadero. 

After a turn through the beautifully restored Ferry Building and a refreshing lunch in a below the street 1930s night club, we boarded a cable car for a ride up California Street to Nob Hill. A quick peak at the opulent Fairmont Hotel lobby was followed by a short walk past an exclusive gentlemen's club to the quiet sanctuary of Grace Cathedral. Started in 1928 and finished in 1964 the concrete structure combines 20th century engineering with 12th century Gothic aesthetics. The long walk through the 11 circuit Chartres labyrinth on the cathedral floor helped me unwind and settle into a moment by moment mind set for our four days in San Francisco.

We covered a lot of territory on Tuesday afternoon: side trips into lush hidden alleyways on Russian Hill; views of the city from hilltops and block after block of row houses crowded close to the street; a toe bruising walk down the steep sidewalk beside the brick covered serpentine of Lombard Street; and an excursion into City Lights Book Store as we strolled down busy sidewalks in North Beach ending in the Financial District surrounded by banks. 

On our way to enjoy a cocktail and spetacular view of the city from the 52nd floor of the Bank of America Building we literally stumbled upon an exhibit of books created by Henri Matisse. It was a treat to see an original printing of my favorite called "Jazz."

After a side trip into the South of Mission District to enjoy a sandwich at a quirky little place called "Custom Burger" we walked through the Civic Center and checked out the main branch of the public library. An exhibit of pen and ink drawings of San Francisco buildings from a unique San Francisco Chronicle comic strip called "All Over Coffee" by Paul Madonna was another enjoyable surprise of the day.

A welcome Muni bus ride back to our hotel ended a whirlwind first day in the city by the bay. 

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