The first day in San Francisco did not start great. We had a mediocre breakfast at the hotel (it was included in the price, and it was below even train standards). The idea was that I’d do a training swim at Aquatic Park each morning before we’d do our day.
The point of the trip to SF was for me to do the Alcatraz Sharkfest. I’d done a few little swims along the beach at Virginia Beach in warm water, which in retrospect probably didn’t help. But the reality was that after all those warnings about how you have to be able to swim a mile in 40 minutes in a pool to do the swim had finally gotten to me. Sure, sure, the cold was bad, but I have a built-in wetsuit. It would have been uncomfortable, but the reality is also I’ve done swims in water that cold before. I looked up my training records from 2015. I did at least one swim of close to an hour in Lake Mascoma when the water temps were about the same as they were for Alcatraz.
I cannot swim a mile in 40 minutes in a pool. My best time was about 47 minutes. I could deal with the fear of sharks. I could cope with the cold. But the sheer, unrelenting “YOU DO NOT BELONG WITH US” message from the event organizers is what finally did me in. (The reality? Plenty of people who swim at my speed have done that swim safely in organized swims with escorts and I know it).
I couldn’t make myself do that training swim, even with the kindly encouragement from someone sitting on the beach. I suspect he was a swimmer himself, but I am not sure.
But the whole, “You don’t belong thing” just got to be too much in my head. I don’t know where my swimming is going to go. But it’s not going to be constantly taking the little micro-aggressions from being the only fat chick in the gym at five-thirty in the morning, where I also only belong as the pet “good fatty” and have to deal with the goddamned workout monitors who compare their workouts to mine so they can allay their fears about their own bodies. Ultimately it sucked the joy out of it. (Please, no inspiration porn reassurance. It’s all one with sucking the joy out of my swimming, as I know what that shit is code for. I should be strong enough to stand up to it. It shouldn’t matter. But the reality is I was being nibbled to death by ducks. Just… don’t. You wouldn’t want to deal with a Noël who decided that other people’s thoughts and feelings didn’t count at all. You really, really wouldn’t.)
Okay, that was a downer to write, but I felt like it needed to be said. On to stuff that’s a lot more fun.
Golden Gate Park
We had intended to take public transportation while in SF. But figuring out a bus in a strange city is often problematic. We got lucky. An off-shift trolley driver was heading in the direction of Golden Gate Park, and he just… gave us a ride. It was amazing. A ride, discussions of landmarks along the way, some advice about transportation for tourists… He even dropped us off right at the Japanese Tea Gardens, where I had wanted to go. We weren’t quite sure how we’d get back to the hotel, but figured if worse came to worst, we’d try out the Uber app or get a taxi.
Golden Gate Park is about a thousand acres of cultivated land similar to Central Park. Very similar, in fact. In the early 1870s, San Franciscans decided they wanted a park much like Central Park in New York, and chose some sandy dunes on which to build it. The designer of Central Park threw up his hands and said that it wasn’t possible, but they found another engineer who was able to put the output of the city’s horses to good use, use that to anchor plants on the sandy dunes and slowly transform them into the park we know today.
When I comment most concentrations of human habitation are as artificial as a space ship, this is the kind of thing I mean. I can’t NOT see the engineering behind it. Engineering can be done intelligently or poorly, but it’s going to be done for people to live comfortably. And yes, a nice park with grass, trees and such is part of living comfortably. Golden Gate Park is an example of this done quite well.
Japanese Tea Gardens
I really wanted to see them because I am a fan of the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire. The books are urban fantasy revolving around the idea that the Fae world and the mortal world are side-by-side and places often have these little pocket universes (called knowes) that only the Faerie can access. In her books, one such knowe is in the Japanese Tea Gardens. When I went to SF, I had to see it.
The gardens are beautiful in a way I love. I like what you can only call “cultivated beauty,” and the Japanese style of gardening probably best exemplifies it. It is beautiful and serene and lovely. As we were strolling through the gardens, Peter, who has never read the books, commented that it seems to him that San Francisco has these little worlds tucked away in it as you go about the city. I can only imagine that this is part of what inspired McGuire to write such a vivid storyverse.
California Academy of Sciences
Unlike my usual mode, this vacation really didn’t have a plan. So, we just decided to do what we wanted on a whim. After visiting the Tea Gardens, we went over to the California Academy of Sciences. After a little bit of debate on how much money we wanted to spend, we finally decided that we’re always up for a science museum. We were slightly dubious of the timing because it also looked like Wednesday was Field Trip Day. We decided that if we couldn’t handle a bunch of children enjoying a museum, we were losing sight of Who We Were as Humans. It turned out to be a decent financial decision as well as an enjoyable museum trip.
You see, San Francisco has this tourist thing available called a City Pass. You get admission to several attractions such as the science museum, the DeYoung Art museum, aquaria and a boat trip around the Bay. Also included is unlimited Muni use for seven days. (At $2.50 per trip, not including transfers, that really did turn out to be a decent deal for Peter and I).
We could have spent all day there, but didn’t. We knew our time in SF was going to be limited, so we only spent most of a morning there, seeing the planetarium show Incoming! They got George Takei to do the narration, and he did a great job, but what was even better was that they were interested in keeping it as up to date as possible. This means they didn’t necessarily have the funds to re-record Takei’s material on a regular basis. An astronomer working for the Academy interspersed the show with current updates. The guy was great.
Of course we went to the Aquarium because, dewd… Aquarium. I wanted to be a marine biologist from the ages of about 9-11. I always want to go to the aquarium. It’s a given. We also visited the living roof. I’d heard of the concept before but never seen one. The idea is that roofs in cities contribute to temperature changes in a city (especially heating them up in the summer), and that a green roof with a habitat for local flora and fauna helps to offset this. This also insulated the building, lowering heating costs, and helps to filter rainwater drained from the roof and avoid pollutants. The birds up there aren’t too afraid of humans, so it was cool to see some local birds.
After that, I was fading, so we grabbed some coffee and some water. The water was sold in waxed cardboard cartons rather than plastic bottles, which makes sense. I wince at how much plastic we throw away, and the water tastes fine in it. While we were on the lawn drinking our coffee, we watched the children on their field trips also taking a break. Gymnastics was on a lot of the children’s minds (Simone Biles had not yet won her gold for floor, though) and they were doing a lot of tumbling routines on the grass. They ranged from hesitant to skilled, and it was fun to watch them trying out their abilities there.
We then decided to leave the museum and do something else, but as we were walking through to the exit, we were caught by a couple of other exhibits – one on earthquakes and then the Osher Rainforest. Part of me didn’t want to look at the earthquake exhibit, but then I thought, “You are in Earthquake country and know nothing about earthquake safety. Maybe a little education would be useful?” We learned quite a lot, but I am going to admit I am glad we never actually used the knowledge.
Then we went on to the rainforest. I loved it. We were shunted through an airlock, bringing to mind the scene in Dune where Jessica finds a wet planet conservatory in the governor’s palace in Arakeen. (Nor were we likely to be the only people to comment on that going though, I expect). Then we went up a spiraling ramp with a gentle slope to see a tiny simulated rain forest, and discussions of the ecology of it. At the top, something magical happened.
There were butterflies everywhere, but this one decided to make a friend.
We couldn’t top that, so decided to move on to see something else.
The deYoung Museum of Fine Art
This museum really has a diverse collection. I don’t have the art education to explain what we saw in any meaningful way, but I enjoyed this very much. We spent a lot of time in the Art of the Americas, seeing everything from modern Inuit to ancient Andean work. From there we went on to more modern stuff, seeing some amazing glass pieces, to modern paintings we loved to at least one mostly blank canvas that had us both biting our lips because we couldn’t see where that kind of thing belonged in a museum. I don’t have the education to understand why that canvass required either skill or insight. Maybe someone with a real art education can fill me in. Understanding the skill and use of color behind a trompe l’oeil? I get that! And there was a lot of work that really did just make you stop, stare and think. Obviously we took no pictures. But, if you enjoy art, it’s totally worth it to spend a lot of time here.
By this time, it was getting on to late afternoon, and we hadn’t had any lunch. We decided to take the bus back nearer to our hotel and decide what we wanted to do for a small meal.
End of the Day Adventures
Both Peter and I are somewhat unskilled at dealing with walking directions in terms of Google Maps, and our phone batteries were dying. But after a false start or two, we were able to catch the correct bus that would take us to a stop near our hotel. By then, my client had sent me a bunch of work. So while I spent some time in the hotel room working on that, Peter went off in search of a small snack. He came back with sandwiches from around the corner from a shop run by an Eastern European family. Tasty.
We decided we wanted to get sushi at least once while we were in San Francisco, so I again consulted Lord Google to see what was A) Local enough to get there by public transportation easily and B) not gut-wrenchingly expensive.
We settled on House of Sushi, about six blocks from our hotel. Easy walking distance except for a hill that was eye-crossingly steep on Greenwich Street. (We weren’t too far from that curvy road on Lombard Street, to give you a general idea). This was what I was looking for – a little hole in the wall place with decent prices and good food. As indeed it was! We went with chef’s choice and enjoyed our sushi immensely.
We decided that most of our day on Thursday would be to be really touristy and enjoy Fisherman’s Wharf.