Sunday, January 24, 2016

24 Hours in San Francisco

Last week, my friend Rustin informed me that he was coming to San Francisco for exactly 24 hours.

Thanks to El Nino, that turned into 20 hours due to flight delays. Not to be deterred, we set out on a San Francisco highlights tour, curated by none other than me and organized by whatever I felt like doing. It was kind of fun for me to realize, on limited time, exactly what I wanted a first-timer in San Francisco to do and see.

We spent Friday evening, after the airline finally delivered Rustin to the Bay Area, just boppin' around The Castro -- San Francisco's gay district. What a treat! I'd never spent much time there other than passing through, and I loved the vibrant atmosphere. The crowds (albeit small, due to a bit of rain) were warm, talkative and friendly. And in Rustin's own words on the experience, "As a lonely closeted teenager, I often dreamt of a magical place called San Francisco where I could openly be myself. I finally got to take my Mecca."

It warmed my heart to watch this old friend drink it all in and see him feel giddy/elated/validated to be surrounded by people just like him. Two men or two women holding hands and kissing openly on street corners without being afraid or harassed? A new and thrilling sight for him. According to one of our Uber drivers, San Francisco is the place where "you can be anything you want to be." Amen and hallelujah I love it. (Uber driver also told us: "I'd pick Superman over Batman. A rich guy's parents die and he starts running around the city saving people? That don't happen.")

We crashed for 4ish hrs at the Adelaide Hostel near Union Square, which was an awesome/clean/accessible find. I live about an hour south of the city, give or take traffic woes and pricey train rides, so on a condensed schedule it was most time effective (and added to the adventure!) to find local lodging. If you're ever in SF and don't want to shell out for a hotel, stay here for $30/night! To be honest, I've paid more for actual hotels in SF that weren't as good/clean as this place and definitely weren't as close to the epicenter of the city.

Early the next morning, we embarked on my highlights tour, as follows:

Alamo Square
Yes, "whatever happened to predictability..." (I'm sure you can finish the song) Also one of my favorite views of the city! I love the row of Painted Ladies houses. (I would have also gone to the actual Full House house -- the white one they zoom in on during the opening credits -- a few blocks away, but turns out Rustin wasn't as into the show as I was/am, so we hopped along to the next adventure!)

Golden Gate Bridge

Brunch @ Seed + Salt
A good call for Rustin, my gluten- and dairy-free friend. Also, yum. I recommend the horchata chia seed pudding and also the toast with lemon curd or avocado. Plus the decor was everything I'd ever want in a kitchen. Minimalist? White? Wood accents? Greenery? Sold.

Lombard Street
The crooked part, of course! We walked a good chunk of the way between brunch and this spot, which turned out to be awesome because I loooove San Francisco housing and I'd never explored this area on foot.

Some drool-worthy houses:

And a drool-worthy view:

Ghirardelli Square
Because chocolate.

Pier 39 & Fisherman's Wharf
Things not to miss here: the creepy vintage arcade (LOVE TIMES A MILLION), the musical piano staircase, the sea lions (if you're here during the right months) and I also recommend the clam chowder or chili in a bread bowl at Boudin Bakery. Classic. (I also encourage a trip out to Alcatraz for the audio tour that launches from this area, if you have the time! Book online in advance!)

Cable Car Ride
I had to list it, but there's no photo because it didn't actually happen because the cable car line wasn't running. Boo. But if you're ever in San Francisco, shell out the $6 cash (included if you have a 1 or 3 or 7-day MUNI pass) for this experience. It'll take you right from the pier area back down toward Union Square, if you want. And be sure to ride standing on the outside step and hang on to a pole. Favorite!

Here's an old photo from my first trip to SF 5 years ago:

Oh how I love Chinatown! I like to be here any time I'm in the city. Fun shops, excellent food, and of course, the fortune cookie factory in an alley! (Don't be a chump -- pay the 50 cents they ask for photos.) I also picked up a couple bags of X-rated fortune cookies to give to some friends. Time will tell if the contents are actually sexy or just hilarious.

Union Square
This place was under construction (as was everyyyywhere) due to the Super Bowl coming in town next month. There's an ice rink here in the winter usually. And, all the shopping you could ever want. I took Rustin to the top floors of Macy's to get some of the best photo ops overlooking the square. Word to the wise: take the escalators. The elevator is a trap.

Here's a photo of Union Square from a couple years ago, so you can see it not all banged up (and here is one Rustin posted -- daaaammnnn)

The end! The whirlwind trip concluded with a chaotic trip to the airport (thanks no thanks to a flock of protestors) BUT....all in all such a great time on such little time. When Rustin moves here to be in his gay Mecca, we'll check off the cable car, Alcatraz, the ferry building and the Mission (where one goes for the best Mexican food and vibrant street art and also mariachi bands).

And for you who can eat gluten, make sure to hit North Beach (the Italian area) and go to Tony's Pizza. I recommend getting there mid-afternoon, and/or ordering takeout and eating it at the park across the street -- otherwise you'll be waiting for your entire life. Eat the sausage & stout pizza. Never look back. Come visit and I'll eat this pizza with you!

I love that I live so close to such a wonderful city. It's no wonder people sing about it keeping their hearts.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

My New Year's Trip to Panama


See how good I am at the Spanish? OK so I've been back from Panama for a couple weeks and I kept meaning to post pictures and tell stories but it just felt like such a large task that I was dragging my feet. (Literally I hurt one of my feet working out this weekend and have been shuffling around. Literal foot dragging.)

I want to skip any travel advice or yada yada because you can find that anywhere on the Internets. All I want to do is simply tell you my 5 favorite parts of my first time traveling to Latin America, and then I'm going to give you pictures. And thus, a memory is successfully recorded :) Here we go!

My 5 Favorite Pana-Memories
(in no particular order)

1. Snorkeling in Bocas del Toro. Think island chain. Think a girl who gets very nervous about sea creatures and underwater mysteries. But put me over a shallow coral reef and let me work my way into it.....sold. Love me some starfish and coral and little schools of tiny fish. Plus wearing flippers is fun. Happy happy.

2. I drank straight from a coconut. With a straw. A woman hacked it open for me with a machete. It cost $1.

3. The infamous muddy bicycle ride. For those of you familiar with The Neverending Story, I refer to this wayward adventure as The Artax & Atreyu Remembrance Tour. Basically we were told by the owners of our jungle bungalow (jungalow?) (is that an exotic male escort?) that we could rent bikes and go on a leisurely ride up the island to a picturesque blue lagoon. In reality, we slogged through some mud up to our knees and never made it to the lagoon and it was pretttyyy funny. And sweaty. But you can't hate any activity that ends with cleaning yourself up in the ocean. People pay a lot of money for that kind of mud spa experience.

4. Casco Viejo. Aka, the historic district of Panama City. The rest of PC was just...a city...for me. But THIS area...special piece of my heart. It was very European, with narrow streets and balconies and tiny cars and plazas strung with lights and new buildings mingling with old buildings and crumbling churches and lilting street music (I heard a local boy band play "Bailando" by Enrique, my life is complete)....all on a small peninsula surrounded by the ocean. If I had a home in Panama, it'd be here. I'd also have to pay my left arm for it. It's fine.

5. Fireworks on the islands. My favorite memories always have to include fireworks, and this trip was no exception. Rather than boating in the dark over to the main island in the Bocas archipelago for the NYE festivities (see: drunken fiestas that would have been great in their own way), we opted to stay over on our more Caribbean island (Bastimento) and just play it cool. And literally, I think we were the only non-locals around. We had a leisurely dinner taking shelter from the rain, line-danced with some local teenage girls, then watched the random fireworks pop up all over the islands across the water (and some really close to us). The fireworks were followed promptly by a torrential downpour.

The end! Honorary mention to all the lovely ceviche I ate (notably at Las Clementinas, if you're ever in Casco Viejo -- eat the ceviche and also eat breakfast there!) and also honorable mention to a great tan in the middle of winter. And to seeing a giant ship go through the Miraflores locks at the Panama Canal because whoa.

Saludos amigos! Esta bien!