Friday 6 August 2004

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© 2004 Giles Orr

This morning we went half a block for breakfast at Cafe Expresso where a ham and cheese croissant and an Oregon Chai cost $8 ... It was good though. We came back to the hotel for about an hour, then bought three day MUNI passes in the lobby and took the number 5 bus to the far west end of the Golden Gate Park. Damn that park is huge - nearly 5 km long not counting the panhandle and 800 meters wide all the way!

We walked down to the waters of the Pacific and dawdled on the sand as the fog cleared around Seal Rocks and Cliff House. Then we walked into the park by the bizarrely anachronistic Dutch windmill. Barbara wasn't impressed by the idea of walking the full length of the park - the bus that drove us out went along the side of the park from 2nd Street near the east end past 48th Street at the west end, and the idea of walking nearly 50 blocks was a bit daunting. But we did it. We skipped the Buffalo Enclosure on purpose and the Redwood Grove by accident, ending up at the Arboretum very hungry. Rather than leave the park in search of restaurants, we chose to eat hot dogs.

Coming down the steps from Coit Tower the previous day (once we got past the beautiful gardens into the really steep part) we noticed a lot of wild blackberry bushes. All the ripe ones in reach of the stairs had been eaten. There were a lot of bushes in the Golden Gate park as well, and it made a really great intermittent snack for me. Barbara had a few but I really gobbled them up.

Next we went to the Japanese Tea Garden, which is fabulous. Many bonsai-ed/manipulated trees, pools, bridges, and miniature stands of trees. Very peaceful. We stayed a while, looking around some or just sitting. I bought some Kasugai roasted peas in the store. I meant to get the "Hot" (horseradish) ones, but grabbed the wrong bag. Not bad. Then across the road to the Strybing Arboretum, also very pretty. We went through the really nice AIDS Memorial Grove on the way to the Conservatory of Flowers. The Conservatory is a large Victorian-style greenhouse, really beautiful. We took several pictures approaching it and then found out last admittance was 1630 and we'd arrived at 1645! Damn. But our eyes were drawn to the nearby Dahlia garden where we both used copious quantities of film (both real and digital) on those very quirky and beautiful flowers.

We walked out of Golden Gate Park right on to Haight. Six blocks down it intersects Ashbury, and from that intersection the area takes its name. It was the center of everything Hippie in the Sixties, and home of Janis Joplin, many of the Beat poets, the Grateful Dead, and many others. Now it's mostly an "alternative" area, feeling a lot like Little Five Points in Atlanta. But the Hippie heritage lives on in names and merchandise. Of course profiting from others was hardly a guiding hippie practice.

Haight-Ashbury is dominated by clothing stores, shoe stores, bars, music/video stores, restaurants, head shops, and tourist junk shops - pretty much in that order. The head shop we visited had gorgeous bongs, some up to $240. Most of the pipes were about 45 cm in height. One had a fabulous (3-D) octopus wrapped around it. They also sold "artificial unisex urine substitute."

Piercings and bizarre fashions are common. Homeless people are common. There are make-shift shrines to former residents.

We stopped at the Magnolia Pub & Brewery, where we ordered "Weather Report Wheat" (not enough flavour) and "Stout of Circumstance" (good).

From Magnolia we headed out of Haight-Ashbury to Buena Vista Park. There was some fog, and Barbara was pessimistic about the views. We skirted the park, admiring the beautiful and expensive houses around it. Downhill a bit we entered Corona Heights park - not elegantly kept at all (bare dirt, dry grass, battered fences), but the views are indeed spectacular, covering the majority of the north of the peninsula. Most of the city was in shade and a little was fogged, but it was pretty amazing. Cold and windy too, but we were prepared. We enjoyed it for a while, and finally walked down and down, ending less than two blocks from "Catch" on Market. "Catch" was highly recommended by Lonely Planet, but prices were higher than they'd suggested and there was no "plain" seafood: it was all "salmon with Shitake mushrooms in a balsamic vinaigrette reduction ..." Blah blah blah. I want it boiled, fried, or grilled with butter, period. So, to my considerable regret (I'd really been looking forward to that particular restaurant), we abandoned that plan.

As we waited at the trolley stop Barbara laughingly complained that all the guys were checking me out, not her. She held my arm possessively. That area (Market and Castro) is trendy, upscale, very nice, and very gay.

We rode the Market trolley to 4th street and walked to King of Thai on O'Farrell, recommended by our hotel guy Matt. Matt is my culinary hero: he eats only Asian, and King of Thai was dirt cheap and very good. Weird fusion though - I had a Vietnamese-like noodle soup with Chinese barbecue pork. Barbara had Pad Thai, and we both had Thai iced tea. Then back here, very tired.

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by giles