Thursday, 26 June 2014

Twin peaks, The Castro, City Hall & FABULOUS Thai Food

First: The pagoda style building that I saw a few days ago and did not know whether it was Japanese or Chinese style definitely is located in JapanTown, as I found out on today's ride. 

Not located in Japantown are these buildings though:

They are somewhere along the way to Twin Peaks.  Yes, there even was a TV series by that name. But those fictional twin peaks were set in Washington State.  So why am I heading to Twin Peaks, SF?  It's a place with its own name on a map. And it's supposed to offer a fabulous view of San Francisco.

View from Twin Peaks, NOT my picture
If it's not foggy, that is !

But a certain optical fuzziness only increases the further I head up the hills (A visual image of a hill per se is not discernible, but the road keeps going up). As if the fog wasn't enough, wind gusts out of varying directions try to rip me off the bike.g

Again: What you're supposed to see (not my pic) ...

...and today's reality
As soon as I head downhill again, the sun comes out.

And where does this downhill lead me to?

To the biggest Rainbow Flag I have seen in my life.

I go to a bank here to exchange those pesky 100 $ bills that no store will take anywhere. (NOTE: 100$ bills are much more annoying if one doesn't have any !)

 I stay away from a Manicure Place with the name of Hand Job.

I wonder whether seamen come here.

Before arising out of the topographical and writing-level depths of the Castro, I find a cigarette store that sells me cigarettes for about half the price that I paid at Fisherman's Wharf yesterday. 

The way home turns into a kind of random walk, governed not by chance though, but by in which direction I spy an interesting building.

Then I see another cool looking building in the distance.  I head towards it. Two things happen when I get close to it. 1) I start assuming that it is the SF Opera house.   2) I have to pee.

So I lock the bike and start running up the fancy stairs to use the operatic facilities.  Not so fast, says the friendly and voluminous woman officer manning (?) the security checkpoint just inside the doors of City Hall.  Empty backpack, take off belt, watch, cuff bracelet. Step through metal detector. Put all the bling back on.  And run again.

Then I have time and more importantly patience to start taking some pictures inside and outside SF City Hall.

It reminds me of flowing lave !

After City Hall, I am contemplating whether I should go back to the hotel to charge the battery and find a place to eat.  Along the way, at Polk & Bush, I am lured in by a restaurant sign. Modern Thai. Why not?

I still have to get used to the fact that even Asian restaurants in San Francisco have wine lists as long as some of my longer blog posts.

Since I don't know one California wine from another one, I just take a 'cheap' one and it is not bad at all.

I order one of the lunch specials, Green Curry with Shrimp.

And OH BOY, is the food ever good. I should have checked at what time they open for breakfast, so I can come here several times tomorrow!!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Uphill to Grizzly Peak & downhill to the Oakland-SanFran Ferry

After lunch with Alan at La Note in Berkeley, I head into the hills to follow Alan's invitation to see his place of work, namely Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

After a brief stop at Telegraph Avenue I keep climbing higher and higher.

Since Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is home to quite a few Nobel Prize winners and one of them has his office quite close to Alan's office, I told Alan as a joke to snap his fingers if we ran into one of those giants of science.  After a trip to the cafeteria, we walk by a lecture hall with some high school students listening to a guy in his 50s.  Alan gives me a strange look and starts snapping his fingers.  This picture was taken on the way back: Saul Perlmutter, Nobel Prize in Physics in 2011, talking about supernovae ;-)

Saul Perlmutter giving a lecture to high school students

This is where I want to send special greetings to a particularly thick member of the Berkeley or Where-ever Police. 

I don't like wearing bicycle helmets.  Bicycle helmets are not mandatory in California for riders of regular bicycles. Apparently they are mandatory in California for e-bike riders (beats me!). 

So I'm pedaling quite quickly up this really steep hill.  A cop drives down the hill in his copper mobile. About a minute or two later I hear a car approaching slowly behind me and then there is a HONK.  Copper addresses me through his opened passenger-side window!  Good Day, how are you?  At least he's a polite copper.   Where is your helmet?  Aliens abducted it?  Can I see your LBNL badge?  Aha, I look like a genius because he thinks I work here, but then who would trust the judgement of a cop when it comes to matters of genius! A helmet is mandatory when riding a bicycle within LBNL grounds; Please push your bicycle until you have passed the gate.   YOU A-HOLE !!!!!.   I mean, technically he's right, but why not just tell me not to do it again and have a miserable day all by himself instead of spreading it around?
Anyhoo, I get off the bike and start pushing it up the hill. Copper has left already. Something in my gut tells me that he's one of the sneaky ones who will come back 5 minutes later to check whether he can inflict more suffering.  Pushing the bike is not so bad actually and the gate is much closer than I had thought.  And just when I move my sweat-drenched body and my bike through the gate to NON-LBNL territory, I see the copper again.  My gut feeling has been well calibrated over the years.

I thank Karma that copper has possibly not fully realized that I am riding an electric bicycle and that consequently I would have to wear a helmet even outside the gate and keep pedaling up the hill.

After I leave another high number of vertical meters below me, I run into the Lawrence Hall of Science.  Very Nice.   A life-size model of a whale (I was running too fast to read the description) .  The whole thing reminds me of Science World in Vancouver, but on a grander scale and with more youngsters in attendance to study the miracles of nature.

yes, it is as high as it looks ;-)

The Bay at my feet ...

... and the refuse of San Franciscans below my feet.
Then it's downhill through gorgeous California greenery. Hard to believe they have been suffering through a long drought here.

Not much to say or show about Oakland, so we'll jump right to the ferry terminal

The Oakland to SF ferry approaching:

Then it's time to ride the ferry right through the Oakland container harbour. But it looks a little like the banks are littered with ancient war machines abandoned after the last interstellar war.

OK, so it's just a container port ;-)

No, I am sure they had put back the missing section again before they built the replacement East Bay Bridge.
Alcatraz seen under the Bay Bridge

Alcatraz again

Passing under Bay Bridge

Now that the ferry has passed under the Bay Bridge, San Francisco can't be far.
And indeed, there it is:

While the line-up on the Oakland side was pretty much non-existent (~20 people?), the time is 18:30 and this is rush hour. I wonder how many of the people lining up on the SF side will actually make it on the ferry.

Berkeley by BART ( + colourful Chinatown & frightening Financial District)

The view from the street in front of my hotel

Actually, a brief visit to Chinatown is first on today's agenda:

Chinatown beckoned me using the fancy gate it presents to Bush Street, which I was heading down towards the Em-barcadero.

And I am very glad I was lured in; a nice break from the car-crazy streets right next to it.

But then other architectural styles catch my eye.

I leave Chinatown to get a closer look at the Transamerica Pyramid.  Of course, as is often the case with very tall buildings: you can't find them anymore when you get to distances of 1 or 2 blocks away because other buildings block the view.

Adding another bear to my collection
On my search for the Transamerica Pyramid, I imagine armies of busy financial workers spending their days in these towers:

 Then I finally find the friggin Pyramid again:

A quick check in the San Francisco Ferry building reveals that the next ferry to Oakland would not leave until 2.5 hours later, so BART will have the honour of transporting me and the bike to Berkeley.  Finding a store that sells cigarettes around here is difficult, but finally I find the one hidden store on the second level of Pier 39 that does.

The San Francisco Ferry Building

Like the Tram !!

Then it's time to take the bike on BART. The dark windows in this picture indicate that the train presently is travelling through a 6 km long metal tube (The Transbay Tube) that BART engineers fabricated on land and then dropped to a depth of 41 meters into the mud of San Francisco Bay. It was fastened in place by dumping sand and gravel over it. And this thing has been in operation since 1974.

San Francisco is located in an earthquake zone.

Anyone still wondering why I don't like dark windows in BART?

But I make it out of the tube unrattled and unscathed.  Getting out of the BART station wasn't quite that simple:
Lets just blame it on my tourist status that I manage to have my bike 'nailed' into place by a pair of those moving wings in the exit gates.  As if this wasn't bad enough, the woman in the booth that finally hears my knocking and releases my bike from the grip of those things decides that she should give me a lecture on proper procedure as well.  Ah well, let's hope it improved her day ;-)

The hallowed gates of University of California at Berkeley:

In Berkeley, I meet Alan for lunch at La Note, a French restaurant. Their Salad Nicoise is quite good and their Viognier is even better ;-) 

Alan texting