Monday, March 24, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO: A BRIDGE TOO FAR

I wont go into detail about the rest of my time in Brazil.

To be honest, with the exception of the fact that I made some good new friends, I rather disliked my time there, which seemed to consist almost entirely of bed bug bites, sunburn and looking over my shoulder to make sure I was not the latest tourist crime statistic.

By the time it came to say goodbye to my new friends there, I was glad to be on my way back to the USA.

I was not, however, looking forward to the journey. A relatively painless flight from Salvador to Sao Paolo followed by a twelve hour layover and a twelve hour flight from their to Atlanta. Another four hour layover and then a four hour flight from Atlanta to my final destination, San Francisco.

I won’t lie. It was bloody murder. At Sao Paolo airport, perhaps the shittiest I have ever encountered, I dumped my bags and approached the tourist counter and asked if they could point me in the direction of some good eating in their fair city.

Well, the idea seemed to throw them but, after a short while the woman behind the counter reluctantly scribbled something on a piece of paper and said “give to cab"

So, following her advice, I dumped my bags in left luggage and did indeed give paper to cab. Where did he take me, I know you are dying to find out? Some of SP’s fine Japanese food? The source of the finest feijoida in the known world?

Nope, a dodgy old food court in the nearest shopping mall where the best I could manage was a slightly grim “by the kilo” place that provided me with some greasy pork to take my blues away.

There was at least free wi-fi and I could mail one of my new found friends in Salvador with the simple words, “I have descended into the very pit of Hell”

Well, that enjoyable interlude managed to kill, oh, about an hour. So, by the time I finally left Brazil, some eleven hours later, I was very happy to extend the middle finger to the least favourite country of my trip so far through the window of the rising plane

Bye Bye Brazil and good riddance.

OK, taking into account the long flight, by the time I finally touched down in San Francisco, I was to use the technical term bloody knackered. Fit for nothing in fact, which was a bit of a shame as I had an invitation to a rather lovely party from the splendid Melanie Wong.

Like any true Englishman, I girded my loins and dragged myself under the shower to wake myself up and then met Melanie about forty minutes after I had checked into the hotel.

It was a splendid party, as much as I recall. Great food, some excellent wines and good conversation. But, I was so bushed that I took the offer of an early departure to head back to my hotel and to bed.



I was not feeling hugely better the next morning. This was that sort of tiredness that makes you weary to your bones. The sort that a good night’s kip can’t help. I had even developed that twittery eye thing.

I was ready to stay in bed the whole day which would have been a bit of a shame as I rather like SF and only had a couple of days to kill there before heading down to Santa Cruz for Thanksgiving.

So, it was just as well that I had made an arrangement to meet another chum, Alexandra whose foodie credentials I had tested once before on a fleeting visit to the city and who had been incredibly helpful suggesting and organising things for me to do on the West Coast leg of EAT MY GLOBE.

First of all, a trip down to The Ferry Terminal, which was pretty enough but a decent hot chocolate aside, did little to lift my spirits.





What did help however, was Alexandra’s suggestion that we head across the bridge to Berkeley and, after a rather splendid fried chicken sandwich at Bakesale Betty’s go on a bit of a gelato crawl.



First up a visit to The Latest Scoop for whom Alexandra was doing some work. After a quick chat with the owner, Peter, we dived into the cold storage room and came out with about 10 packs of different flavoured ices and sat down to have a bit of a sampling. Strangely, this seemed to make me feel a lot better and when Alexandra suggested moving on to try a couple of other places to make a comparison, I was beginning to think I might be up to the task.





If I was up to the job, the other places were not. In fact, the gelato at two other places (whose names escape me) we tried bordered on the actively rank. The shops looked the part which, this being Berkeley, they would, but the ice was more air than taste

“air is free” Alexandra intoned wisely explaining the basic economics of style over substance. Something Californians do oh so very well.

By the time Alexandra dropped me off back at my hotel, I was beginning to feel more like my normal self (who said “fat, ugly and stupid?”) and decided to go and treat myself to the one meal that I always crave when feeling slightly under the weather in the USA, a big fuck off steak.

Alfred’s is one of the great institutions of San Francisco and served up, as it had done on previous visits, one of the best steakhouse experiences in the whole of the good old US of Stateside. There are few combinations better for curing a middle aged man of all ills and, by the time I had sucked down a couple of excellent martinis, swallowed up a plate of crispy calamari and gnawed at the bone of a top steak, I was feeling as close to as right as rain as it is possible to get when one has a face like mine.







And, with that, I hit the hay feeling much happier than I had the night before.

The next day I did the tourist thing. Well you are forced to aren’t you?

I walked along by the piers to Fisherman’s Wharf, which was as dreadful as I recall.

I looked at The Golden Gate Bridge, which was as unimpressive as I recall.



I stared across at Alcatraz which was as foreboding as I recall and I ate lunch at a place in Chinatown which was as underwhelming as I recall.

That evening, I had arranged to meet the lovely Deborah Morales. “Who she?” I hear you ask. Well, without Deborah Morales, there would be no EAT MY GLOBE. Without her help and the excellent service of Airtreks.com, I would never have been able to figure out my flights to all these far flung prices at all these odd little times at a price that would not involve me selling my house.

Inevitably, I found Airtreks on The Internet at the end of a frustrating day searching for a way to fly into Tokyo and out of Helsinki (go one, you try it) Finally, more by luck than judgement, a Google search of “multi-city flights” brought up the website to Airtreks and, after sending in my request, I was contacted by Deborah less than 24 hours later. Since then, she has show the patience of any number of saints helping me fly from New York to Guadalajara and from Hong Kong to Yangshuo.

I wanted to see what she looked like in person and she offered to buy me a drink at a wine bar close to her office. I forewent the offer of supper as I was beginning to fade once again and had to be up early the next day to head down to Santa Cruz, but it was great to put the face to the name. I really recommend them if your travel needs ever require a little more imagination.

San Francisco had served its purpose. It always strikes me as the sort of place to pass three days and no more before boredom sets in. I had hardly done it justice, but, as a place to rest up after the rigours of my recent journeys, it did alright by me and it was better than Salvador, Brazil but, that ain't saying much.

Next stop, Santa Cruz.

1 comment:

Alexandra said...

Ici on College Ave., and Sketch on 4th St. in Berkeley, silly man!