Sunday, May 31, 2009

San Francisco to Carmel May 14-19,2009

San Francisco Streetcar
May 14,2009

Robert asked me what I wanted for my birthday. His birthday is a couple of weeks before mine so we celebrate it jointly. Last year we took a car trip to St. Louis & Memphis. I told him I wanted to fly somewhere.

He found a deal on Southwest Airlines, $99 one way to San Francisco. Normal fare is $399 per person one way. Travel section has itineraries & an option to check rates on Expedia, Travelocity, We decided to stay downtown for a couple of days. After that to rent a car to see outlying areas for 2 days, turn the car back in downtown & stay another day near Union Square. Parking in town is impossible & expensive even if you can find it at all. The cheapest rate is over $25 a day plus 25% city tax, making it around $50.

Hotel Serrano
405 Taylor/O'Farrell

Everyone who had stayed there seemed to love the Serrano, a boutique hotel owned by Kimpton which specializes in older luxury facilities. There was a charming virtual tour. Instead of $200 we were able to book for $109 on Thursday and $124 on Friday. We liked it so much that we made reservations at another Kimpton hotel nearby, the Sir Frances Drake for the last couple of days of our visit. Of the other hotels mentioned on Yahoo Travel the Larkspur seemed like a good value when we stopped by to look around.

Larkspur Hotel
524 Sutter St

It was a mistake to wait until the day before we needed it to reserve a rental car. There was a big road race on Sunday, Bay to Breakers. This was the 95th year for the 12 km race and 62,000 visitors participated in it. Enough of these runners were not locals and rented cars so that by Friday there were none available at Hertz and Alamo. Thursday the rate for rental cars was $40; it was $79 the next morning. We were able to get a Chevy Impala from the Enterprise Leasing offices in Hotel Nikko. There are extra charges if you book online or if you pick it up at one place and drop it off at another such as the airport.

222 Mason Street

We purchased Protege 2 section rolling duffle bags from
It is 30x14x16, weighs less than 8 lbs, has a handle & separate zippered bottom compartment for carrying shoes or wet swim suits. Item 157271579.

If you order it to be delivered to a store near you for pickup there is no shipping charge. Website indicates what most bought who purchased the same type item plus there are reviews of the item researched. It is a great bag.

We decided we needed new bags because our old ones would be too heavy when packed to make the weight of 40 lb per person & that we would each need a bag. This travel duffle was too big for hand carried luggage but if the other passengers all put a bag in the overhead compartment there won't be enough room so our bags would have to be checked after all.

Hand carried bags are limited to 10x16x24. Checked luggage can be no bigger than a total of 62 inches. Southwest Airlines allows 2 bags per customer if they weigh less than 50 lbs apiece. Any additional bags were $25 each. Many of the competitor airlines are charging for any bags you bring, carryon or checked. American Airlines charges $15 for even one bag.

An improvement since we last flew is that you can check in online 24 hours in advance & pirnt a boarding pass before ariving at the airport. If you are not checking a bag you go right to your gate.

I had custom luggage straps from England that have our names woven into the strap which makes it easy to find the bags on the lugage carousel, ordered it from one of those in flight magazines in 2002. 1-888-307-8727

It is a good idea to get a name tag with a clear pocket for your bags so you can make temporary name tags that can be changed out. You make double sided address labels with the destination address on 1 side & your home address on the other. You flip the label over when you fly home. If a thief reads your luggage tag at the airport he could rob your home at his leisure since you are going to be gone for a time. If your bag is temporarily misplaced it will be sent to your hotel.

Our flight left New Orleans at 10 am with a brief layover in Denver, arriving in San Francisco at 5 pm. Locals in the Denver airport wore shorts and sandals although it seemed cold outside to us.

There were neat displays of pioneer tools and a crazy quilt with sampler stitch book in the Denver airport.

Our options from the airport when we got to San Francisco were to take a Speedy Shuttle bus for $17 a person or the Bart transit for $5.35. We took the bus but if we had known that the Bart station was around the corner from our hotel we would have used that. Our driver gave us a $4 discount coupon to use on the trip back to the airport but it turned out to be with a rival service, not Speedy Shuttle.

Doorman John asked if we were the Schneiders, teasing us about what took so long to arrive from the ariport. You can play a hand of Black Jack with the desk clerk when you chek in. If you win you get a bottle of red or white wine. We had a score of 21 & chose the red, a Chilean carmeniere, Carmen wineries. The hotel has free wine tasting every afternoon from 5 to 6 pm in the lobby. They were doing the carmenire & a sauvignon blanc which we tried the next evening since we were too late for it that day. There were vintage board games on a table in the lobby such as Monopoly, Trouble & Sorry. The samples were generous for the tasting, a regular large glass of wine.

If you like the wine they are serving there is a large wine store next door to the hotel.

Our favorite concierge was Ed Gomez. He gave us a tour book & map on wine country. Sonoma is closest to San Francisco. Napa had more brands that I see at the stores in New Orleans. He was fond of the Russian River area.

Our room was just like the picture. The morning we checked out I opened the closet door for the first time, discovering these fuzzy $10 socks, lounge wear sets & leopard print terry robe. If you even tried on the robe they would charge you for it. They could tell if you had because there was a paper band on the inside waistband that tore when disturbed. The robe was made of scratchy material that I didn't care for. The bed had pressed sheets with high thread count that felt like Egyptian cotton. The room was quiet. We slept soundly.

They had complimentry supplies for guests so we had them bring us some toothpaste. I packed some new travel toothbrushes with built in toottpaste that we saw on the Today show but we needed the toothpaste after we used them the first time.

After unpacking we walked 2 blocks east to purchase a 3 day cable car pass at the downtown end of the street car line on Powell Street. The other end of it is on Beach Street in front of Fisherman's Wharf. We took the Powell-Hyde car to Fisherman's Wharf. We never did walk south of Powell as it borders the Tenderloin district. There is also a Powell-Mason cable car. Although they start at the same point & end at the same point Powell and Hyde are 4 blocks parallel to each other. We regretted later not purchasing a week pass for $24. One way is $5, 3 days is $18, a month costs $40.

It is important to watch where you sit on the street car when taking pictures. Make sure the sun is to your back for best results. Before noon sit on the left side of the car going to the Fisherman's Wharf (north); in the afternoon sit on the right side going toward downtown (south).

There was a herd of homeless panhandlers everywhere we went, looking for something for nothing & street musicians getting nothing for something.

sign: "why lie, it's for beer"

The funniest was a man by Pier 39 who had one string on his violin; the rest were flying in the breeze. He couldn't play but at least he wasn't singing. It sounded like he was stepping on kittens during a fire drill. Another guy wearing a Dalmation costume had 3 dogs wearing hats sitting on a park bench.

We ate supper at Boudin's Bakery/Museum. They pronounce it "bow deen". We told the cashiers that we pronounce that word 'boo-dan' and that it is a sausage in New Oreans. They didn't believe us. A transplanted Minesotan at the museum sales counter said they have a sausage up there like boudin made with potatoes instead of rice. Supper was their clam chowder in a sour dough bread bowl, very good.

There was no restroom in Boudin's so we had to use the public facility outside. Robert told me there was a homeless drunk in the men's room trying to keep warm under the hand dryers. It was so cold that I purchased a black fleece hooded genuine San Francisco jacket for $12 from a souvenir shop near Pier 39.

harbor seals, Pier 39

San Francisco to Carmel-by-the-Sea May 15

Hiking San Francisco May 15

On our first day we followed the walking tour outlined in the AAAA book starting at Union Square. There are heart-shaped sculptures at the 4 corners of the square, symbolizing the heart of downtown.

The statue in the center of the square symbolizes the Goddess of Victory. There was an art show in the square for the week.

The Westin St Frances has a big clock in the lobby suspended from the ceiling where everyone used to meet. When women wore white gloves & dressed up for lunch the hotel had a man who cleaned coins for customers so their gloves would not get dirty. The coins were intended for staff tips & never left the building.

Neiman Marcus has a beautiful stained glass domed ceiling from the City of Paris department store.

Around the corner on Maiden Lane there was a brick wall designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Next to this wall was a 2 story galleria shopping mall with glass ceiling.

Wells Fargo Bank Building was on the corner, #44 Montgomery Street. There was a stagecoach robbery museum in the lobby. Kids played on the simulated stagecoach ride upstairs. If you could guess which person was the culprit based on a list of clues/evidence you got a plastic sheriff's badge.

We watched a silent movie about a stage coach robbery then took a quiz. Questions were about the robber's descritpion, how many robbers there were, what kind of guns they used, which direction they rode in, description of their horses. There was a plaster cast of 3 suspect robber boot prints & 3 horseshoe prints. You were supposed to guess which one to follow on a pursuit.

Hotel Nikko was designed with the Chineese business executive in mind

222 Mason St

We walked up Telegraph Hill to the top of Coit Tower, chatting with a New York fireman & his girlfried who is an accountant. I think we climbed every hill in town. I can't see how we missed it if they had one more staircase.

The base of Coit tower has murals from floor to ceiling of the lobby

We ditched the walking tour. It seemed that it was designed by a deparved manic depressive patient. You would be on one street, told to turn the corner, go down this lane, take a left at the next corner, then a right, but wait! go back to the first street half a block from where you started. It wasn't just that, it was also up & down hill at the same time. We were no longer speaking to each other. This had never happened to us before. We both love to walk. When we lived in Old Metairie we used to walk for hours in the evenings. We were fed up, were just going to take their word about anything historic/ folkloric. It was time for lunch at Pier 39, the Wipe Out Restaurant.

After lunch we took the thrilling jet boat tour of the Bay. It ruined us for any other tour or boat ride. Forever.

Bridge by AT&T Ballpark that was designed by same man who designed Golden Gate Bridge. He designed this when he was 12 years old.

cheap souvenirs, Pier 39

octopus sushi, Fisherman's Whart

Musee Mechanique is a penny arcade anchoring Fisherman's Wharf. Robert met the owner, Daniel Zelinsky, a man about his age whose grandfather had started the collection. Daniel has retooled the machines to take quarters instead of pennies. He keeps busy making sure they all work.

I put a coin in a fortune telling machine. It spit out a card that told me I talk too much & to stay home next time. No revelation there.

Rare steam powered motorcycle that still works

Other tours available were a double decker bus, rented bicycles, a fire engine across the Golden Gate Bridge, the duck, segway, & a two seater go cart/motorcycle with self guided tour. The segway cost $70 for 2 1/2 hours. Most of the tours are based on Beach Street. Duck tours are based on Taylor/Jefferson Street. Go carts are on O'Farrell.

On the way back we made reservations at Cobb's Comedy Club on Columbus Street in Little Italy. Our neighbors at the next table that evening were Melanie Moffett, a wine exporter & her husband Don who is an executive with Kaiser. Besides Jeaneane Garofolo comics Marc Maron, a Jewish philosopher & Paul Gilmartin, a Republican politician, entertained us.

Columbus Street/corner of Lombard

We returned to Boudin's for a tour. We learned there were several foods invented in San Francisco. Sourdough bread in 1849; Joe's Special in 1850 (scrambled eggs with hamburger & vegetables); the martini - 1860; Chop Suey - 1860; the Mai Tai by bartender Vic Bergeron at Trader Vic's - 1940; the fortune cookie - 1914; Irish coffee - 1952; Crab Louis - Hotel St Frances. This dish has lettuce, Dungeness crab, hardboiled egg & pink dressing.

View in microscope of live bacteria in sourgdough yeast.

San Francisco to Carmel-by-the-Sea May 16

Muir Woods - Napa Valley May 16

It was our last morning at the Serrano. We had breakfast at Sears Fine Foods. In the 1970's Jay Leno interviewed a waiter from Sears Fine Foods named Sidney who was 108 years old and seated 50 customers per hour.

Robert had the Swedish 18 mini pancakes; I had the sourdough French toast. We ate at the counter. The waitress gave us a token to play the slot machine on the way out. Somebody did win it while we had breakfast. If you hit a jackpot you get a free meal on your next visit. Breakfast is served until 3 pm.

439 Powell

We picked up the car and drove to 1000 Lombard for our turn down the 9 hairpin curves of San Francisco's most crooked street.

this is also the view from the top, standing at the top looking out and not down

This flyer advertised an apartment close to the top of Lombard for $4,300 a month. One advantage to walking down or up the hill. I recommend down as a person who has experienced this hill in every known dimension.

Other transportation we saw were Zip cars and some by City Share. These type cars are shared by several drivers with a choice of compact sedan, convertible or truck. The car is parked in a lot with the key left in it. Reservatons are made by phone or online 24/7. The driver gains admission with a magnetized metal card which he scans out when he exits the car. A bill is submitted immediately online. Gas and insurance is provided, enough to cover $1 million per incident. Drivers get the car by the hour for a few hours a week for $5 an hour and 40 cents per mile = $6 an hour or $40 overnight per 24 hours and 10 cents a mile. Drivers have to commit to at least $50 a month useage, pay application fee of $30 and come up with a refundable $300 deposit. There is a trial program, $30 for 60 days with no contract or fees. If you are using the car to donate to Goodwill they give you $10 useage credit for up to 4 times a year. There are also discounts at other merchants for members. They clean & wash the car once a week.
We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, stopped briefly in Sausalito then hiked for an hour in Muir Woods to the left and north of the bridge. It is free to cross from San francisco but $6 to get back to San Francisco from the other side. The other bridge into San Francisco, the Oakland Bay bridge costs $4 to get back into town. The other route is Hwy 101 if you are on the San Francisco side of the Bay and there is no toll.

Muir Woods is the closest stand of redwood trees to San Francisco. It is in the mountains 17 miles north of the bridge.

We saw the wine train in Napa Valley. It goes from Napa to St Helena for lunch and dinner. If you must ride the train it is $50 a person. A 3 course meal is $99 and a ride in the dome with a 5 course meal with one glass of champagne is $125. You don't get to tour any wineries.

We toured Domaine Chandon, paying extra for a tasting plus the tour. Chandon came here in 1973 from france and had its first American vintage in 1978. They make still wines here plus sparkling wine. Their guest reception building has a roof that looks like a half cask and the lights in it are different sized globes and different heights to look like bubbles in a glass of champagne.

There was a garden of different vines to show us what the difference was. Chardonnay leaves are the broadest. There is a cousin of pinot noir, pinot meunier which I had not heard of before. I can see as I type this that the spell check on the coputer is as unfamiliar with that word as I was.

Domaine Chandon is a patron of the arts. There were some smudgy oil paintings, figure studies in the lounge. I commented that it was a good thing their wine was better than their art and another guest agreed, pointing out that the female figure in one nearby looked like a man. I said it was a man because you could tell due to his elbows being highter than his waist in the picture. She quipped, "Admit it, you are the artist."

Our tour guide was Denise. She served samples of a year old pinot noir in the cask room.

Our bartender was Marc in the tasting room. Robert had 3 glasses of a still premium wine, called a flight of wine. He had Chardonnay carneros, pino vnoir and pinot meunier. We did not care for the pinot meunier. It was sparky and sharp. The carneros was good and the pinot noir was ok.

I had a choice of premium or standard champagnes. I chose the premium flight. The Etoile chardonnay chanpagne was sublime, tasting of honey and almonds. The Etoile rose champagne was also very nice as was the pinot noir champagne. I prefer the chardonnay champagne. Champagne comes in 5 levels of sweetness - deux, demi sec, extra dry, brut and naturelle. There is no sugar added to naturelle. The difference between champagne and still wine begins with extraction of the juice. Still wine is crushed and chamapagne is pressed. Only the champagne made in France may be called by this name. Elsewhere it is called sparkling wine.

Etoile = stars. Champagne was invented in the mid-18th century by a monk named Dom Perignon. It was a lucky mistake. His comment when he first sampled it was " I am tasting stars!"

Curing rack invented by Madame Clinquot, originator of Veuve Clinquot

Some of the other guests were celebrating a special occaision. Their driver, Tab Borge waited in the parking lot with his 1947 Packard convertible. He told us he had purchased this vehicle from someone in Georgia and refinished it himself. He charges $125 an hour for a minimum of 5 hours for winery tours. He is a retired paralegal and was proof reading a deposition while he waited.


We had supper at a nice restaurant in Napa called Brix. It had beautiful flower gardens, herb gardens for the restaurant and producing citrus trees. Service was available on the patio under an arbor. It was so charming. In San Francisco it had been cold but it was about 90 degrees in Napa. The wine list was as extensive as it was expensive. $11 a glass, $40 a half botle for brands we had never heard of. There were bottles on the menu for up to $425 apiece so we had herbal iced tea.

Robert had the filet and I had the steak. My steak had a bed of spinach and was great. There was a basket of garlic toast and pieces of herbed biscuits with creme fraiche. This meal and the one the next day were the 2 most expensive meals we have ever eaten. It was over $100 for supper and this was with no dessert and iced tea to drink.

7377 St Helena Hwy, Napa

There was a dearth of places to eat and places to stay in the area that we could see. All we found on the highway from Napa to St. Helena was that restaurant and a mom and pop delicatessen. All the hotels inthe AAA guide were asking for a two day minimum, over $200 a night.

We have Best Western membership so called the reservation line and were able to get a room for one night in Napa after all. Our room had a lovely balcony and it came with a free breakfast at Denny's next door. There was also a Jacuzzi plus the swimming pool. With discount it was $175.00 + tax. My best guess is this is about twice what it should be worth.

Best Western in the Vines
100 Soscol Ave, Napa

There is a delightful film just out in dvd, Bottle Shock, based on a true story set in the Napa Valley. It was completed just in time for the January 2008 Sundance Festival and got a standing ovation later at Cannes. It is about Jim Barrett, lawyer who bought a broken down chateau with vineards and sets out to produce a world class wine.

Chateau Montelena was built in the 1880's by Alfred Loving Tubbs. The property originally had 476 acres. In 1972 when he was about 45 Barrett purchased 250 acres for $273,000, replanted Chardonnay vines and brought his brand, Cahteau Montelena to market within 4 years.

At that time California wines were not recognized by European connoisseurs. A Britsh vintner from Paris, Stephen Spurrier challenged California vineyards to a blind tast testing as a publicity stunt intended to prove the excellence of French wine.

The end result is that it changed the wine business permanently and wine from other countries and not only California began to get seriuos attention; South America, Australia, New Zealannd, Africa, Canada. Alan Rickman as Steve Spurrier is perhaps the actor in this film most are familiar with but it also stars Bill Pullman, Chris Pine, Freddy Rodriguez, Dennis Farina, Bradley Whitford, Miguel Sandoval, Eliza Dushkyu and Rachel Taylor. If I may say so it was perfectly cast and masterfully done. It is a great screenplay. One critic said it best, calling this film the equivalent of Rocky for wine afficionados.