What do you do when you have been there before?

What do you do when you have been there before?
by Janice Nigro

There are certain cities in the world that you can never return to too many times. San Francisco is one of those places. But what do you do if you have been there before? Or even lived there before? On my weekend trip from Los Angeles I wasn’t exactly sure what I would do (without scuba diving), other than what I normally do when I am in San Francisco.

Cities evolve and the big ones are dynamic. So the first thing to remember is they are never exactly the same as the last time.

So my trip began differently even before I arrived there. I booked an accommodation through Airbnb which is what everyone else in the world seems to have already done. While my initial motivation to use Airbnb was financial, I soon realized that Airbnb opens up possibilities for accommodations in virtually any section of the city (or just about anywhere on the planet). Anyone who is familiar with San Francisco of course knows that it is really a small, big city-small in terms of geography, big in terms of what it has to offer-so there is no neighborhood so far out of reach. I decided nonetheless to book accommodations in an area of the city that I had spent some time in but was a little outside of my usual neighborhood. It was easy for me to choose because I knew the city well. I ended up in an area that is technically the Castro but borders the Mission District.

It was a brilliant choice in terms of transportation around the city. Or I had forgotten just how easy it is to get around San Francisco relative to Los Angeles which covers a much greater area with much more traffic. I chose a private room in a private home. It was a lovely home, and I had lovely hosts who had endless ideas for things to do around San Francisco for that weekend. I have to admit though for what it was, I found it still expensive. It was just less than a hotel. Interestingly, Airbnb rates are based on occupancy in the city which for that weekend probably like most weekends was a gigantic convention of tens of thousands of people. It was in some ways though a more intimate San Francisco experience because I had hosts to discuss my daily exploits with in detail. Although I was hardly there for more than the time to sleep and get up and take a shower.

One of my favorite old things to do was to eat at a restaurant called Delfina which happened to be about two blocks from my cozy room in the Castro. For this trip, I had the distinct luxury of walking out the door and reaching the restaurant in about five minutes. Since I was alone this time, I also was seated immediately without a reservation at the bar. I am usually forced to eat at restaurants alone as I am often a single traveler, but not usually in San Francisco. The bartender was chatty and full of cheesy lines which I told him at the end always work anyway. The guests in the chair next to me, changed frequently over the course of about an hour or a little more as they waited for their tables. Like a speed dating scenario, I gave them my two second expert advice on what was good on the menu. Here, I stuck with my tradition, the fish, as Delfina cooks fish better than any other restaurant in town. I am happy to report that nothing had changed in this regard. The wild salmon that was on its last six days in season on the west coast did not disappoint. I suppose this fish was particularly special in light of the fact that in Norway where I lived for seven years there is no longer wild salmon.

While I had planned a definite dinner at Delfina and dim sum at Yank Sing, I also tried something new, a food truck. Food trucks now are parked in an area of North Beach and they serve delicious food but not inexpensive food. It struck me here how much the internet has changed business for everyone. Anyone anywhere can sell something and take a credit or debit card. So these food trucks in addition to having a modern take on the food truck, were a visual example of the way the Google-oids and Yahoo-ans who have invaded the city have made life more convenient for us all.

San Francisco is a great walking city. When I lived there, I used to take marathon walks across the city on weekends (sometimes dragging my poor friends along) to enjoy the sun and pretend I was a first time tourist even though I was living there. These walking adventures, I am always looking forward to repeating when I revisit the city. It is an amazing thing to do, to be able to walk through each of the different neighborhoods and end up at the Golden Gate Bridge…again. An iconic structure I thought I would be lucky to see once in my life, and now I have walked over it, driven over it, ridden my bicycle over it, and run over it many times. The difference this time, was that I have a new device that tells me exactly how far I walk. I repeated my old walking tours, and on this four day weekend, I covered nearly 30 miles all within the confines of the city. My own version of Bridge to Bridge, but several times. I sometimes wonder why people need to join a cross fit club when you can just walk up to Coit Tower along Montgomery Street once a day.

One thing that was completely different was the weather. It was October and although it is well-known to residents that this time period is Indian Summer for San Francisco, it was extremely hot, as in over 30°C hot. This meant that I could actually wear my flip flops while traversing the city. So even though I was engaged in one of my favorite weekend activities in San Francisco, I do not recall ever traversing the city in flip-flops. Furthermore, one of my favorite places to escape crowds is the beach at Crissy Field. On this weekend, the beach was packed with people who were in their bikinis and shorts.

Since I knew the city somewhat, I did meander with purpose. In addition to the traditional sites, I crafted foot journeys that would take me past places that held good memories for me. And the street artists. I spent a lot of time one day discussing with an artist her process for creating intricate block prints of fruits and vegetables, and then, how scientists are like artists. A close friend afterwards remarked, “Of course, otherwise you are an engineer.”

While I meandered, I took photos. I suppose taking photographs is an obvious thing to do, but it is always fun to try to take interesting photographs with my iPhone. Not just pictures, but attempt to take artistic photos with an iPhone. While I was intensely photographing the underside of the Golden Gate Bridge, a young man asked me if I was at the Golden Gate Bridge for the Instagram meet. “What is that?,” I asked. It is where people meet to take photos and talk about what to put on Instagram. He suggested that I use Instagram to draw more readers to my blog, but Instagram is not going to help me so much with my underwater photos. One thing I am certainly not going to do, is take my iPhone underwater with me. But it was an interesting 20 minutes of insight on what moves people to socially interact in a city such as San Francisco.

IMG_1677 copyright

When I was not walking, I was challenging myself to reach destinations by public transportation. This idea sounds a bit boring until you take a bus across town and find out what a harrowing experience it is to ride a city bus across Sacramento and then Clay streets through Nob Hill. You are nearly perpendicular and yet I have never heard of a bus accident in the city. I discovered a new bus for me, bus 24, which would take me all the way from Fillmore and Jackson Streets to Bernal Heights, where some friends were staying, in the span of about 30 minutes. And I discovered the Clipper card which you can load up with money and use on any form of public transport in the city, including MUNI, BART, and even the ferries. It is brilliant.

My primary purpose for the trip was to meet with friends who were visiting San Francisco from of all places on the planet, Tasmania. It is a great thing about cities such as San Francisco; they remain timeless, desirable places to meet up with people who otherwise live around the planet. In the process, however, this time I made some new ones.

©2014 Janice Marie Nigro/janikiInk.com

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