Friday, May 23, 2014
Trip Likes and Dislikes
When you're planning a vacation, of course you assume things will be wonderful. Sometimes they are, sometimes it's us. It's not that bad but we seem to have a magnet for small screaming children, douchebags and apparently we drive Wonder Woman's car as we seem to be invisible on the road. (Wasn't she the one with an invisible plane or something?)
Then you have things that far exceed your expectations and make you fall in love with where you've chosen to spend your precious vacation days. So, below I will list the things that the Mr and I liked and disliked about both of our destinations this year. We'll start in Carmel.
What we loved:
The charm of the architecture. Many of the homes are done in a tudor or Cotswold style which are both our favorite home design. The Comstock fairy tale cottages are my dream homes. Click here to see more of them and fall in love yourself.
The weather. I am NOT a warm weather person. Summer is my least favorite season because it can never just be 83 degrees or less but in Carmel, it is. It's a good 68-70 degrees according to some of the locals we talked to most of the year. 60 and below is considered parka weather and 75 and above is cause to complain of a heat wave. I would love nothing more than to curl up with a blanket on the beach every night.
The hidden corridors. Carmel has plenty of little hidden nooks and crannies to explore and unless you actually lived there, I don't know if you could ever really explore them all but it's fun to try!
The quiet. There are no street lights, there is a curfew for kids and even though we were about 5 blocks from the beach, we could hear the ocean waves. It made for some amazing sleep at night.
A few select people. Valerie at Candlesticks, the server at Katy's (I hope you found your earring!), the server at Little Napoli, the lady at Yves Delorme, the chatty gal at Parts Unknown and the dude at the Cheese Shop. It was nice to see amidst the snob parade there were some down to Earth people.
Let's move on to San Francisco:
Walking everywhere. We stayed in Pacific Heights, a few blocks from Fillmore Street so there were good restaurant choices to walk to quite a few nights. I probably wouldn't say that walking that last trudge up from Buchanan to Gough especially on the hot days but I never felt better than when I was walking in that city.
Green spaces. I found I really needed those spaces to breathe and sitting in Lafayette Park, Crissy Field or the area in front of Ghirardelli Square was a great way to get that hint of nature in the city. You could go across the GGB and really get that breathing room in the Marin Headlands, Point Bonita and other spots if you don't mind paying the bridge fee.
Melting pot. I love seeing people of all kinds sharing the sidewalks and their cultures and lifestyles with each other. There was nothing I loved more than seeing the little pockets of older men in the morning in Japantown at their favorite diner chatting away before starting their day or walking down Fillmore and seeing a small group of friends enjoying each others company. We have that here of course but one thing I really wish we had here was a strong Asian community like Chinatown and Japantown. They are so cute and there's nothing better than listening to a torqued off old Japanese lady screaming at the boys to do their jobs and they run because mama means business. It's part of the reason we love Hawaii so much. The culture is plentiful and that's something that a Caucasian mutt like myself longs for.
Here's where I would normally put the weather for them as well but lucky us, we got one of the "rare" 3 day hot snaps where we got up to 88 degrees and triple digits a little further out. But the first time we went it was in the upper 60's, lower 70's just like I like it and neither trip did we ever see fog! We saw it our last full day for 10 minutes and it went away. I'm told this is super rare so thanks for clear skies both times!
91.1 Jazz station. It became our nightly ritual to drown out the downstairs neighbors by flipping on the radio. Quickly KCSM became our favorite station and if you're not local, no worries, you can go to their website and listen live! Evening jazz is my favorite. I'm listening as I type.
It's a pedestrian city. There are not many places there you can't walk due to how compact the city is on itself. There's also a lot of public transportation too so a car isn't necessary if you're going to stay in the city the whole time. (You shouldn't though...some cool road trips out there)
Culinary inspiration. I tend to get inspired when I go on vacation to recreate our favorite meals when we get back. If you're looking to get inspired in the kitchen, San Francisco has some pretty awesome examples of how delicious food can be. I always challenge myself to try to remake our favorites a little healthier. Must remember to buy Bi-Rite Creamery's ice cream cookbook to make the Ricanelas (cinnamon with snickerdoodles) ice cream.
The few locals that were awesome like Armando at the shop at Ghirardelli Square, the hipster guy at Glaze who was genuinely interested in talking to people and would even go on the street to say hi to someone who passed by and the guy at that cafe where we had a less than successful breakfast but he was really nice and his pride in the restaurant showed. Oh yeah, the hipster server at Brenda's who almost jumped out of his skin when we asked how he was doing and then proceeded to be super chipper after that and spread the cheer. I promise, not everyone are jerks just waiting to make your day bad. ;-) Oh yeah and the awesome 911 operator. Lady, thank you for being as cool and calm as Halle Berry in The Call and keeping me from becoming a quivering heap. Seriously, I wouldn't do well with one of those operator's you hear on the news that is giving the caller attitude. We'll get to that.
What we were less than enthused about:
Carmel wise, the amount of stuck up, money bags walking with their noses in the air was plentiful. The first night or two, it was uncomfortably so but I remembered we wouldn't really be in town long with our side trips and got over it.
No addresses. While some would call it cute or charming, try telling that to your GPS. This also means, if you live there, no mail delivery. You must go to the post office to get your mail and people actually get ticked off when people try to put an address on their homes. To read more about Carmel's "cute" quirks including no street lights and needing a permit to wear high heels, click here.
The dog parade. I'm a dog person. I lurve me some furry four legged nuggets. But my God man, on day five, the fluffy dogs wearing designer sweaters and the owners giving you the "don't even THINK of looking at my dog" looks, it got irritating. Dog parades begin about 8:30am and continue into the evening when they put Precious in her blingy bed and rub olive oil on her pads so they don't callous up. Beach dogs are cool though, there's a definite difference, they'll be the ones ignoring their owners tennis ball if you have something more interesting in your area. So yay beach dogs for acting like real dogs!
The prices. Carmel is expensive for the sake of being expensive. When you make San Francisco look reasonable price wise, you do a bit of a double take. They have no chain stores within the confines of Carmel by the Sea which means that quick loaf of bread you forgot will cost you double if you succumb to laziness. Don't do that. Drive a mile up the road to Safeway, get their club card if you don't have it already and shop at semi-normal prices. Restaurants are pretty ridiculous as well. While we don't mind dropping some green on an amazing dinner ($90 with tip at Mission Ranch for prime rib and filet mignon or $60 at Katy's Place for breakfast-watch those drinks and sides, they add up), we had less than stellar meals for $40 plus tip and felt like they should be giving us lube before the bill. You can find some wallet friendly gems like Flanagan's Pub, The Cottage (sign up for their email club and get 15% off), Little Napoli and R G Burgers. A little FourSquare research should work to your favor.
Things that were San Francisco specific on the 'no bueno' list:
Lane Splitting. If you don't know what this is, be glad. It's where motorcycles can ride the lines in between cars on any road. It's supposed to be only where there is traffic but we've seen it at other times. Is it legal? From what I've read technically but as long as it's done responsibly, Ponch and Jon will look the other way. The first time I saw this, I was 13 years old just after my dad moved to SoCal and some dude did that and my dad opened his SUV's door to cut him off from doing it. An argument ensued, my dad won. I can't help but get that same urge when it happened to us but I didn't. If you tried that crap where I'm from, you would be lucky to come out with your cycle intact. It's dangerous for everyone involved. Yes, there are responsible cyclists but we saw plenty of irresponsible ones and given how completely distracted car and truck drivers are, I just can't get on board with that. On our way to the San Jose airport this jerk came out of nowhere (the Mr looked 4X!) when another car was letting us over into his lane and almost hit us then had the nerve to beep at US. I went OFF, screaming at Miss Starbucks on the back like a crazy person and she made sure her boyfriend wasn't next to us at the light. That just sets us both off and we're not in good moods after dealing with being paranoid to change lanes anywhere we drive. BIG TIME annoyance.
A pedestrian city. I know I listed this under the likes but here's the problem with it being a pedestrian city, if you're in a car, you will get screwed by lollygagging crosswalkers every single time! You wanted to turn? Oh, sorry...you'll have to wait for the 50 snails crossing each way and the two jerks that wait until the countdown is at 2 on the signal to run across a four lane street. Where I'm from, you cross the street in a moderate to hurried pace so as to give the turning cars a chance to let three or four go at a time. If you don't, we have a name for those...hood ornaments.
This "every man for himself" mentality everyone seems to have. Look, I get it, San Francisco has some grody people hanging out on your commute. We've passed several lovely pimps and their ladies and junkies all asking for money depending on the neighborhood. But we also passed a bus stop where there were 20 people all spaced almost 8" exactly from each other, none of them looking at each other, none of them speaking to each other and you got the feeling no one would piss on the other if they were on fire. I understand not wanting to interact with people who are just going to ask you for money or be rude or throw feces or whatever but really, what does it hurt to look at a person you pass on the street and smile, nod or say hello. That is in the Mr and I's blood and as much as we tried not to a few days in, I didn't care anymore, I looked at each person as they looked down, away or frowned at me and smiled. I didn't care if I looked like a stupid tourist because if I could just make ONE person smile, I felt like I would've made a difference. I got her. A heavier, older lady trudging up Post St with a grimace on her face as we were walking down. I smiled at her and slowly her smile turned upside down and she smiled back in this funny way like "oh my God, my smile muscles still work! Thank you lady!" The Mr looked at me weird and was like "what was that about?" I said "I smiled at her and she finally recognized a smile and smiled back!" He laughed and said that was so weird to see her looking so angry like "back off mother effer!" to a person discovering their ability to smile. People of San Francisco, acknowledge one another! You don't have to carry on a conversation or say more than hello but dang man, the world is a better place when you don't have such an isolating tone to your demeanor!
Dogs. Locals love their dogs. I want to love their dogs too with an "aww, how cute!" or "hi sweetie!" but unless you're at a dog park, they don't want you acknowledging their dogs if you pass them on the street. We learned this very quickly in Carmel but didn't know if that would seep over into the city and it did. You walk past someone with a dog where I'm from and it's an open invitation to say hello or ask to pet it. You walk past someone with a dog there and they yank them closer to them, look down and the sad thing is, the dog's mimic that behavior! That is SO un-doglike! Most dogs love new people or making new friends but city dogs are like "screw you, I've got a date with a ball in Alamo Square and no, you can't play!" I finally broke down at the UPS store when the guy had his Yorkie with him and I asked "may I pet your dog?" "Yes, her name is Pearl" and I showered her with attention and squeaked her toys. It was like a form of torture for me passing so many adorable dogs and to be given that vibe like "MY DOG, MY FRIEND, DO NOT APPROACH US!" Lighten up people, you know your dog is cute, let some of us verbally admire your dog too. I shant pet without asking or if you don't want me to. Sheesh!
Claustrophobic. Sometimes it can feel like the city is bearing down on you. I swear the Transamerica Pyramid bent down and tried to swat at me. Tall buildings are everywhere, not much breathing room which is why the green spaces are so important. Heck even if you're close to the wharf area where there aren't tall buildings, there are so many tourists that you can barely move. Get there at 7am and enjoy the seals before the throngs get there and get a clear pic of the Fisherman's Wharf sign with no people in front of it.
"Grime of the City." Our home had a no shoes policy because she didn't want the "grime of the city" being brought into her light carpeted home. I get that, we obeyed even though it was annoying. Grime of the city is a polite way of saying the crap, urine, barf and other bodily fluids that intermingle when businesses hose off the sidewalks in the morning from the sins of the night. Enjoy your walk! :-)
I would normally put prices here but we came from Carmel so things were actually cheaper than they were the week before for us! But if you're going only to San Francisco, the prices are probably higher than where you live.
California 'quirks' we encountered between Big Sur to Calistoga.
When I spent my summers there, I didn't pay attention to this stuff but these things were pretty glaring as an adult.
Since California is a part of America, where we drive on the right, it is customary that sidewalk traffic should resemble that. Oh. My. God. STOP zig zagging in front of me as we approach each other. If you want to dance, buy me dinner first otherwise stay on the right side of the sidewalk so we can all walk in peace!
Restaurants are blazing hot and all have heaters on the patio. In Carmel, we went to Katy's Place and it was so hot in there, there was just no way we could stand even being inside so we said we'd eat on the patio. When we got out there, they stuck us under a heater and the Mr's hair almost caught fire from the heat and we moved to the next table. I understand having heaters on the patios if needed but good Lord, 90 degrees outside and 10 hotter in a restaurant is not comfortable. I would've had to strip down if I ate inside a lot of these places and ain't nobody wanna see that!
Where we're from, when you have your turn signal on to get over in front of me and I'm giving you the room to do so and you're STILL not getting over as though waiting for an engraved invitation, I flash my lights to let you know, "hey, I'm letting you over." This only seemed to confuse people which would then turn off their turn signal and try to get away from the crazy person flashing their lights. Is this a regional thing because we've done it everywhere we've traveled and never had an issue except there.
California doesn't seem to know how to make proper cream filled donuts or hot chocolate. Where we're from, you have a choice between bavarian cream/custard and cream like what is inside a Twinkie or a Krispy Kreme donut. We have learned to ask when in a new area and not one place carried anything that wasn't that gross custard. Knock that off! ;-P (But the Mr thanks you for your regional buttermilk bars. He gives Donuts and Things on Polk his seal of approval)
Hot chocolate where we're from is more than watery milk and unsweetened baking cocoa. I got three or four hot chocolates in 16 days and each of them sucked. One time I put two sweeteners in it and that rectified it but I shouldn't have to do that. I am spoiled because I make killer hot chocolate like Ghirardelli does but yeah, won't be ordering that there again.
This isn't a strike against SF but it needs to be mentioned that a 911 call was how we ushered in our Mother's Day Sunday. At 1am, I thought I dreamt about someone knocking on the door. I had that burst of adrenaline and tried to calm myself down so I could go back to sleep. After a few breaths, I heard it again. I shook the Mr and told him someone was knocking at the door. At that point, we both thought it was a neighbor and figured they forgot their keys, their flat mates would let them in and we'd all get back to bed. I'll say the fact this woke me up at all on the second floor should say how loud these people were banging. Then they started banging on our door. Now we'd never met these people but we could certainly hear them laughing, hootin' and hollering and they spoke English. When we went to the top of the stairs, there were two or three guys talking very aggressively in Spanish. I took just enough Spanish in high school to know that was what I was hearing. I told the Mr I wanted to call the cops, it had been 10 minutes and even if it was the neighbors, it needed to be dealt with. Then they tried to break in. They were trying to push all their weight against the door and even tried reaching through the mail slot. The Mr gave me the green light to call. The 911 operator was amazing. My mouth got dry and my voice was shaking like a puppy as she had the Mr and I hole up in the locked bedroom until the police came. Well, of course, by the time the three cops got there, the men were no long banging on the door. The neighbors came out about three minutes after they got there and they asked him if he heard anyone knocking. He said no. Um, dude, you must be on friggin' Ambien to not have heard that but yet you heard people talking on your porch? They flat out LIED to the cops. They said it was probably some drunks mistaking our house for theirs (not likely) and they would patrol for a few hours. With the dick next door saying he heard nothing (again, imagine someone trying to break down your door for 10 minutes and pushing on the intercom with that loud, horrid screech), if they did come back the cops would just think it was the d-bag tourists. Thankfully there were no other issues and again, I don't hold it against San Francisco or the rental and we still felt completely safe there, but I just had to tell the story! LOL
It's not like the little things that irritated us made the trip bad or anything, just a few things that were annoying. (And after someone attempting to enter your house in the middle of night, they seem small in comparison) Even Hawaii isn't paradise and we have our irritations there like flying roaches, high prices, tourists stopping their cars in the middle of the road, etc. So, we really loved this trip and felt like honorary locals by the end as usual when we throw ourselves into it. We felt like a week at both places was just enough time to absorb it all and relax as well.
I will say, I'm surprised how much I miss walking those slanted streets. It made us feel like we were earning our meals! I miss both cities for the wonderful things they offered. It was a true Jeckyl and Hyde vacation in a good way so we feel like we got a little bit of everything.
If you made it this far, you deserve a reward, take tomorrow and the next day off. I insist.
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