San Francisco | An Essay from a First-Timer

You read that right. An essay. Not a photo essay. An honest-to-god, I-really-wrote-paragraph-after-paragraph essay. Strange for me, yet cathartic.

I frankly am unsure what has happened to my blogger self. Maybe I went a little too deep into the blog world during our time in South America. Maybe that had absolutely nothing to do with it. Maybe I was just a little too tired of playing tourist. (I know, I can barely believe that I’m saying it myself). I’m not sure that’s it exactly. Actually, I’m sure it’s not. I was equally as excited to travel to California–super, super excited, in fact, but I just wasn’t as motivated to document it all.

It’s not that I wanted to “keep it to myself.” I certainly loved my time, will cherish until the day I can cherish no more. I’m still trying to ascertain what exactly caused my waning love for capturing and sharing life on camera. The camera isn’t the only issue. While blogging is usually something that I am itching to do, lately, it simply hasn’t felt that way.

Today, for the first day in quite some time, I finally really feel like sharing what I’ve been up to in the last few months. Sadly, now, when I look back at the photos (the few I took), I wish I had pushed myself a bit more. I mean, seriously, look at my only two photos of the Golden Gate Bridge. And we even walked to its midpoint.

All this to say, despite my photos and my very delayed post, our time in California this past December was, as I said, truly time I cherish. And unlike most of my posts, I will try to express my experience through my words, rather than my photos.

First, it was unexpected–a trip that I didn’t have to plan, but simply got to tag along for. Jordan was offered a serendipitous trip to a conference in San Francisco and I, a free trip down. Since we had basically just arrived in Vancouver, I had no pre-arranged job, and the holidays were coming, we decided to take advantage of the opportunity to spend time in SF, see some family, and explore just a few of the amazing things that the six states of California have to offer.

We drove down the coast at about 55 mph with our friend in her VW van. We listened to music, talked of everything and anything, and took in the landscapes. When hunger, sleep, or curiosity got the best of us we stopped, eating some expensive, pretentious, dressed-up-as-working class, oh-so-delicious veggie burgers in Portland (Should “working class” really ever be a “concept” for a restaurant? As a rural, Middle America-raised person, this just seems crazy. But it really was good), marionberry waffles in Ashland, and coffee with Leah in Redding. Late at night, we rolled into Berkeley. Our friend’s brother and his girlfriend came out of the apartment to meet us. We spent the night around their kitchen table, chatting, sipping Corona’s, exchanging opinions and seeking recommendations. Technically, all this part was supposed to be the preamble to our trip, but I must admit to you that all of it, even the strange, can’t-take-a-hint, Kurt Vonnegut worshiper working overnight at the Shakespeare-themed hotel, means so much more than a preamble. It set the stage, but was an adventure in its own right.

And then I boarded the commuter train from Berkeley to San Francisco.

I don’t know exactly how it happened. I don’t know how quickly it happened. But it happened. What I do know is that I’m not alone. That city got me. Got me good.

The architecture, the hills, the bakeries, the restaurants, the parks, the street art, that Chinatown, the dim sum, the seafood, the coffee, the Beats’ history. It’s all there surrounded by beautiful bay scenery. I can’t say I’m going to move there, but I can say I have every intention of being a serial visitor. I spent the better part of entire day visiting bakeries, sampling sourdoughs, and indulging in bread puddings, lattes, and just-because books. I felt completely overwhelmed and unprepared for the barrage of steamed pork buns and fried tofu. I spent an hour perusing a certain bookstore and even had time to read poetry in the corner of it. I had an old-school Italian latte. I learned first-hand who Jet Martinez is (that’s all you, Em). And I was overjoyed at the Anchor Steam, Lagunitas, and Russian Rivers that I found on menus.

All of this was made better by being surrounded by people we know. People we like. People we love. After spending the previous four months meeting new people, struggling to communicate in less-than-less-than-perfect Spanish, and forcing myself to continually connect with strangers, seeing some of our old friends from Montreal and especially Jordan’s sister, Emilee, and her fiancé, felt, well, simply put: nice. Really, really nice. And easy.

While the others spent the time at the conference, Emilee, Max, and I walked and explored. We did things that tourists do and ate and drank thinks that tourists eat and drink. There are usually decent reasons these things became touristy, after all. Of course, I can’t speak for either of them because they are the ones who spent time with the crazy lady who happy-kicked when she saw the bookstore and forced them asked them if they wouldn’t mind following in the footsteps of the Beats for just a bit the better part of an afternoon. I can, however, say for myself that I really enjoyed learning from their experiences, hearing their stories, and getting to know them better.  I’d only met Max once before and truthfully, Emilee and I admitted to each other that this trip was probably the most time we’d ever spent together.

***

I haven’t been to all that many places, but I’ve been to a enough to know how I generally react to a new place. I rarely meet a city that I can’t convince myself to like. By now, I have learned how to make the best of whatever opportunity to see a new place I’ve been given. You give me one hour with the good ol’ Internet before my visit, and I’ll find my niche within the city. Rarely, though, after just a short visit, have I liked a city as much as I liked San Francisco. Sure, you can tell me it’s just the fact that I was with people I knew (I know it didn’t hurt) or the time or year (actually super rainy the whole time). But I think that it has more to do with the city’s “otherness.”

Like I said, I usually do a solid job of researching before I travel to a place (there have been exceptions to this, of course, but ask the husband, who will confirm that I made an itinerary for when I visited him for the day in Pierre, South Dakota). I do this so that I don’t miss out on the “otherness” that a city has to offer. I want to see what makes a place what it is and what is special (a quaint, but very appropriate word) about it. The thing about San Francisco is that you really don’t have to look. Yep, I did touristy things, I sought out of few things. But really, San Francisco is an entire city of itself. It feels distinctly itself. I didn’t mind not having every hour or every day planned while there, because no matter what we did, it would feel like San Francisco. I can’t say that I feel this way in most cities, unless they are set in a very unique natural environment (e.g. Vancouver or Tucson would simply not be as cool without their scenery. I’m not saying these cities do not have many unique qualities, just maybe a little less sense of it than San Francisco from the point of a visitor).

I liked that city-is-the-site feeling.

The city is full. Of everything you’d want from a city (except maybe affordable housing, I suppose). It has culture, history, cuisine, the water. There’s a lot that the city of San Francisco can teach you, that much is obvious. It’ll challenge and thrill you if you want it to, but somehow, it also put me at ease.

I had a feeling I’d return on more than one occasion, so I had zero qualms about spending a night ordering in and watching Escape from Alcatraz. Even if I had, being able to order great food and watching a movie in a historical Haight-Ashbury apartment would certainly have qualifed as time well spent.

In the midst of SF movie night, I realized that I, personally, felt confident while in this city. I was only there temporarily and was under no obligation to learn everything about the city in order to assimilate and make it feel like a home. I took the bus, navigated as needed. When I was confused or lost, I asked for help. I was (and still am) in amazement about how much easier being a tourist is within your own country.* For one, there’s a common language. Secondly, I forgave myself for not knowing everything to know about the place, something I had rarely allowed myself as a US-er living outside the country (post for another day).

This felt good.

***

The day that we left, Emilee and I headed to a grocery store, loaded up on bread, cheeses, veggies and salads. We made our way just across the bay to the Marin Headlands. Picnicking with a view of the city that just left me feeling so fulfilled in such a short period of time seemed to be the very definition of bittersweet. The city carried on without me. It remained unchanged; I did not. It put me back at personal ease–a place I hadn’t been in quite some time.

The bittersweet feelings quickly subsided when I realized I still felt just as happy, just as curious, and just as forgiving of myself as I did that morning. And I was already outside the city. Yeah, I was still technically on vacation, so that made it easier. But no one has told me that this had to stop when my vacation does. This little realization gave me a new outlook on the next stage of my life–the Vancouver Stage, if you will.

Okay, I live here. Okay, I don’t want people to see me as the ignorant resident hailing from south of the border. I do want to learn more about the country, the province, the city. While I will continue to make an effort to learn about the place I’m currently calling home, I refuse to beat myself up for not immediately knowing the name and location of every city in BC or being able to tell you the exact number of MPs (308, though, I know now) in the House of Commons. Letting myself off the hook, just even this little bit, makes me much happier about what I’ll be learning. Much more likely to appreciate stumbling upon the things that make my new home unique.

Our picnic that day was lovely. It was simple and peaceful. In that moment, I was surprised and deeply glad to have found a bit of self-forgiveness that I didn’t even know I’d so badly needed.  With my hair flapping in the wind and a mouthful of brie, I felt happier. And only half of that was due to the mouthful of brie.

Below are the few images I captured from our days spent in San Francisco. They tell only a smidgen of the story.

*This seems like the kind of thing you can only appreciate once you’ve left it.

Seal-Spotting | Our First Vancouver Visitor and Skipping Town for the Day

lighthouse park, north vanouver british columbia sunset

We had our first visitor here in Vancouver. Considering we only had one visit (but two visitors–yea for my parents!) during our stay in Montreal, we feel that having already taken our tally up to one visit after a mere couple months in Vancouver is pretty good.

Leah was here for four super quick days. The time seemed to go so quickly. Unfortunately, Jordan and I both had some submission deadlines to deal with during her stay and I had to work two of the days she was here. Jordan and Leah spent one day visiting Capilano Suspension Bridge Park (a funny choice for people who have a fear of heights) and the 49th Parallel Cafe. I’m now forgetting, but am pretty sure they also made a trip to UBC’s campus, so the proud brother could show his sister were he runs his algorithms and codes. 🙂

Even despite having to work, I managed to get in my fair share of coffees, second breakfasts, craft beer exchanges, and chats with Leah. That said, I pretty much failed to document all of it. Towing the D-SLR around is not always my idea of convenient fun and my camera phone is quite laughable. Leah, on the other hand, has a fair share of nice photos from her time here.

We got to show her our favorite haunts in Gastown,* slurp down huge bowls of shoyu and garlic ramen on Denman,** eat one of the best brunches ever (let us ignore the fact that it’s really only my fourth official brunch ever),*** and shop the vendors at Granville Island’s Public Market.

Fortunately, I did have one day free during her stay. The three of us rented a car and drove north, stopping in Squamish, Whistler, and Lighthouse Park. We had no specific plans, but simply wanted to see what we could. None of us ski, so that wasn’t really a draw, but none of us are immune to the beauty of the islands along the way and snow-capped peaks. And certainly, none of us were immune to the childlike joy that sweeps over a crowd of people when they start to notice the seals just out in front of them.

vancouver from a distance sunset

Senior Pic:

park

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british columbia

Following photo courtesy of Leah:

in village

British Columbia

Oh, these two together. It really is like old college times. But better. Because we drink better coffee and eat better food now.

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Meant so much to us that you came, Leah! Can’t wait until we can meet up again.

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*Alibi Room and Six Acres are our favorite haunts at present.

**Went to Kintaro Ramen.

***After a way-too-long discussion about where to get second breakfast on Friday, we decided upon Cafe Medina, a place known for its Mediterranean-inspired brunches. It’s hyped, for sure, and you’ll most certainly have to wait in line with us if you come to visit, but it’s actually that good. And I say this as someone who doesn’t even support the brunch phenomenon.