We walked around a little bit in the afternoon and saw the end of the cable car line, which of course is at the bottom of an enormous hill. We wanted to have one fancy dinner on our trip, and that evening we went to Millennium, a swishy vegan restaurant in the former Hotel California. We always like trying out restaurants that use all locally-grown and seasonal produce (à la Jamie Kennedy for our wedding), and this one had the special advantage of having no dairy on the menu, so for once David didn’t have to pick his way around what he could eat. My appetizer was crispy black bean fritters (they reminded me of the falafel at Mont Fort in Oakville) and the main course was a cornmeal-crusted Portobello mushroom with wilted bok choy and pomegranate seeds. It was totally delicious and very filling – definitely a place to go if you are in town.
Friday was our huge day of exploration. We started off by climbing up to the Knob Hill area, passing Union Square on the way. San Francisco is of course a very hilly place, and David and I were using leg muscles we didn’t even know we had. After scaling the first peak (parallel to a cable-car track), we found ourselves looking at a beautiful vista down another hill towards the harbour. San Francisco is like Venice in that way, though – everywhere you turn you think you've found "the" shot of the city, only to round a corner and find another great view. In this case, we were looking at the well-known Transamerica Pyramid. Keep that in mind for later.
Next we wandered (climbed) over to Grace Cathedral, a really lovely Episcopal church on Knob Hill. Mom and Dad had seen it when they were in San Francisco, and told us to go because it has replica doors identical to a set in Florence, Italy (David's hometown). Called "The Gates of Paradise," the bronze-cast plates were designed by Ghiberti, and after the original doors and this second set were made, the mould was destroyed. David noticed that the Grace doors were pretty muted, while in Florence - it being such an art history and tourism-minded city - they keep them polished up to a shine. The doors are really beautiful. It is so neat to have seen them in their two different cities.
We went inside Grace Cathedral, which, of all the large cathedrals I have been in, had the kindest, most welcoming and honest feel I have experienced. Sometimes, with large and potentially imposing structures like that, there is an attempt at telling you that all are welcome and that diversity is appreciated there, but the atmosphere of the place tells a different story. Here, there was a very genuine feeling. A feature of the cathedral is the Interfaith AIDS chapel with its altarpiece designed by artist Keith Haring. There is a prayer labyrinth on the floor of the nave, as well as outside up on the cathedral courtyard (everything in SF is "up on" something) – the outdoor one is a replica of the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth.
(The organ is a 1934 125-rank Æolian-Skinner, in case any of my organist classmates are reading this. With additions made in 1974 by Casavant Frères - CanCon!)
Near the entrance of the cathedral there is a beautiful piece of art in bas relief (David can contradict me on this if he ever reads my blog) created to honour the institution of the United Nations in San Francisco (we learned something new) in 1942. It's a beautiful piece, and I wish I had taken a picture because I can't find one online.
In other news, David tells me that in Star Trek: The Next Generation, the headquarters of the Federation were in San Francisco. (Because the headquarters of an intergalactic UN would totally be on Earth. In the United States.)
Next, we wandered over towards Lombard Street, taking in the sights of various impossibly parked cars along the way. At one point I went to take a picture of a particularly slanty street and thought "it doesn't look that slanty in the camera"... only to realize I had unconsciously "straightened" the view looking through the camera!
Because of all the hills and implausibly intersecting streets, San Francisco ends up having a lot of great little nooks and crannies. We have decided we want to live there (David says there is a well-respected arts school in the area....!)
Lombard Street is awesome looking! We trekked up there and watched the cars wind their way down. I knew you'd wish you had been there so I took a video for your edification.
After that, we headed down towards the touristy marina area. [Sidebar: I remember Dennis Dewey during a workshop on Biblical Storytelling giving us an anecdote about learning the story of the Good Samaritan by heart. In learning a story, you want to create concrete, visual references for yourself to move through as you tell the story (so that it is storytelling and not memorization). The parable starts out "A man was going down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho..." Dewey stopped there and asked how many of us had been to that part of the world. He said "if you've been there, if you've ever walked that road, you know it really is DOWN from Jerusalem to Jericho." Well, in San Francisco you really do head DOWN towards the marina.]
After that tastiness, we walked all along the marina walkway (very pretty area) chatting about this and that* and bit by bit making our way towards the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. This was quite a walk, so when we got there it was really, really satisfying. We saw Alcatraz as we walked through the Fort Mason area by the water – I was surprised by how close the island is to the shore compared to what I had pictured. I really kind of thought it was out in the middle of nowhere but if you meant it you could swim to shore. Maybe I was thinking of that island they shipped Napoleon to. The second time.
They have restored an ecological feature of the area by rebuilding some nature paths that had been eroded (Andrew can correct my useless environmental language, if he ever reads my blog) and we got to walk through some nice shrubby trails winding up to the bridge.
Another interesting revelation was how noisy it is on the bridge! I totally hadn't thought of this when looking at so many photographic images of it, or taking it in during the opening credits of "Full House" in days gone by. The traffic whips past and there are several little rumble strips or something, which all makes it very jarring. Anyways, it was an awesome sight, especially to see the enormous support wires (wires is the wrong word; they are thicker than telephone poles) and to have such a great view of the marina and the city beyond. And the Rock. (Insert favourite Nicholas Cage quotation here).
This is a cross-section of the main cable, that spans the length of the bridge. It's made up of 27,572 small cables!
We made our way back down to get on the bus, which took us to the entrance of the marina area. From there, we hopped on a trolley car to get us back to our neck of the woods. By this time our feet were pretty tired, but as I was standing in line in a kind of daze David said "so, do you want to sit down inside the car... or stand up, outside the car?" Well of course, it had to be outside! So, we rode back over all those hills, standing on the running board of the cable car. We can't believe this is legal... but it is SO fun. Some of the hills are steep enough that as you crest them and are about to go down, the view gives you that feeling of starting to descend on a roller coaster... except this is actual traffic, and you think "uh oh." Definitely a fun way to take your life into your own hands.
After that, always fans of pub food, we enjoyed a meal at The Chieftan Irish pub, just down the block from our hotel. It was really tasty – I had shepherd's pie that was served with real Irish soda bread made from scratch (mmmmm) and an Anchor Steam, a local SF beer. The name made me nostalgic for T.O's Steam Whistle. You knew you were in California though because David on the other hand enjoyed a curried vegetable wrap, which was equally delicious.
To round off the day we relaxed (read: conked out) in our swishy hotel room and caught "Gladiator" on our mondo flatscreen TV.
The next day was a long one of multiple plane transfers – however, it all went smoothly which was excellent. We rounded it all off with a ride home in style on the DART 539 with door-to-door service to Hawk Hall. Thanks, David, for planning us such an awesome trip!