Sonntag, 17. Juli 2011

Goodbye, Fog City! (Week 12)

After completing Bikram Yoga Teacher Training on June 18, i embarked on an epic vacation that has led me through 5 different States, 10 different National Parks, and about a dozen more State Parks, National Monuments & National Historic Sites of the Western US! In my posting after Graduation Day, i said that i would miss Bikram & the Yoga Community - but as a matter of fact, for the past 4 weeks i didn't miss either of the two. Hell, I didn't even miss the practice itself, but who can blame me after taking almost 100 classes in 9 weeks!?

My travels were basically divided into 2 "loops"- the big, 2-week National Parks Loop with my friends Dieter & Martin, which led us through 10 National Parks in 5 different States (for details, see my previous posting in German) and a smaller 9-day State Parks Loop with Kati (details will follow soon!), which still saw us cover 1.000 miles all over Central California in a cool '91 VW Vanagon campervan. And inbetween those 2 trips i had the opportunity to spend a week in San Francisco - and what an eventful week that was! Both, my 35th birthday on July 1 and US Independence Day on July 4 fell into that week, which pretty much guaranteed an exciting time, but that was only the beginning.... as it turned out, The City had a lot more in store for us! Here's how the story unfolded:

Dieter, Martin and I returned from Yosemite National Park late on Thursday night, July 30. Navigating into San Francisco was a lot easier than expected: the Highway took us straight onto The Embarcadero, and from there it was only one left turn to arrive on Broadway & the Green Tortoise Hostel, where Kati was already checked in & waiting for me. Parking seemed easy, too - we found a spot at the corner of Vallejo & Sansome Streets, which - after a thorough inspection - all 3 of us considered valid parking (Boy, we were wrong... but, to offer an excuse, it was late and we were all tired from a long day). After taking only the most essential belongings to our rooms and spending the 1st night at the hostel, we decided to make some room for Kati in our Dodge Caravan the next morning - only to find out that the vehicle (including our luggage) had been towed half an hour earlier by the San Francisco Municipal Transport Authority (SFMTA)!

Looking at the empty spot & the red-coloured curb with white capital letters ("TOWING ZONE") on it, i asked myself how we could have been so blind/stupid - we had clearly parked in a bus stop! But the night before, a big vehicle had been parked in front of us, really close to the curb, casting a shadow on the already dark sidewalk, and none of us spotted the sign or the marked pavement. Anyway, the car was gone. Now, when stuff like that happens to you in Vienna, you're in for a half-day odyssee to the Kfz-Verwahrstelle Simmering, and given the size of San Francisco, i was expecting even worse. But it was surprisingly easy to get our car back from the SFMTA's centrally located vehicle storage south of Market Street, and the woman behind the counter even tried to cheer us up with some pseudo-friendly banter: "So, is it nicer in San Francisco or in Sydney?" Needless to say, nobody bothered to tell her that we're actually Austrians (not Australians) after we had just paid 350 USD to retrieve our car.

Determined not to let my birthday get spoiled by the San Francisco authorities, we drove down to Saratoga. This was the only night the 4 of us could spend together (Dieter & Martin were flying back home the next day), and we had concert tickets at The Mountain Winery, a beautiful small outdoor venue overlooking the Silicon Valley. My birthday present was to see one of my favourite bands, Calexico, opening up there for Canadian singer/songwriter Neko Case.

Dieter, Martin, Katrin & me at the Mountain Winery

The Mountain Winery offers great dining packages as well and we treated ourselves to the 3-course "Chateau Deck" just before the concert. Thanks to Patrick from the Mountain Winery, who also happened to be a Yoga Teacher at Bikram Yoga San Jose, we got a discount that ended the day in good spirits... just as the concert did. Calexico played for an hour in daylight, clearing the stage for Neko and her interesting backing band, which included a slightly heavier set woman who turned out to be an excellent background singer that complemented Neko's voice perfectly. Listening to their harmony singing on that warm summer night, on a wooden bench, with my arms around Kati (who i hadn't seen in 3 months)... i think that was the first time i actually enjoyed being seated at a concert!

Back in San Francisco, we enjoyed more sightseeing & sunny weather, although the Golden Gate Bridge was, of course, covered in mist most of the time. We were staying at the Green Tortoise Hostel in the North Beach District, but were actually accomodated in a another building just a few blocks down, in Bartol Street. It was your typical little San Francisco house, wedged inbetween its neighbours on an inclined street, with small but cute rooms, 2 shared bathrooms & a kitchen, that the hostel rents out mostly for couples who want a little more privacy. And for 60$ a night the room was pretty much a bargain! I mean, when you can step out on your balcony in the morning, and look straight at the Transamerica Pyramid while brushing your teeth, you know that you're a pretty lucky guy!

Though i had never been to San Francisco, the city felt somewhat familiar in a creepy kind of way: David Fincher's ZODIAC is probably my favourite film of the last decade; i've seen it several times and it has certainly left an impression on me. The movie is not so much about a serial killer (which left many fans of Fincher's earlier work - "7even" in particular- disappointed), but rather a homage to the city by the bay. Whether it was the skyline with its distinctive Transamerica Pyramid, landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge, street names like Herb Caen Way or other Zodiac trivia, i was oddly familiar with a lot of things and constantly spotting all these places i had been to before in my head. The most bizarre moment was when i went out to buy the San Francisco Chronicle one morning (the city's newspaper which features prominently in the movie) and found out that the Zodiac Case is still making headlines these days! I guess it just shows (as the movie does) what a long-lasting impact that serial killer had on the city's psyche!

And still, San Francisco exceeded all expectations. I had heard before that it was the city with the most "European" feel to it, but i wouldn't necessarily agree with that. Its unique setting, architecture, climate & blend of population set it apart from any other city in the world. There really is no other place like The City! I'm not sure if i would wanna live there permanently (remember, it's foggy there, even and especially in summer!) but it is certainly a cool place to be at! Another big thing in San Francisco was the city's beloved baseball team, the San Francisco Giants, who captured their first World Series Title last year. The huge pride of the city was still evident in many baseball caps & jerseys worn all over town, and just like L.A., San Francisco comes across as a city that loves baseball, only with a more successful team. Kati & I dressed up in our Giants outfits and visited AT&T Park on our last night, when the Giants were playing the San Diego Padres. However, just as in LA, i didn't seem to bring luck to the home team, and the Giants lost 5-3 despite leading twice.

Other highlights in San Francisco included our daily picknicks at MacArthur Park, a walk through the Castro & Height districts, a spicy dinner in Chinatown, a daytrip to Sausalito on Independence Day, teaching my first Bikram Yoga Class in The Mission, and a ferry cruise through the Bay, with foggy vistas of the Golden Gate Bridge & Alcatraz.

Oh yeah, and a hearing at the SFMTA where i tried to appeal our parking citation and towing of our car. As you'd expect from a city like San Francisco, home of Google & the DotCom Boom in general, the SFMTA hearing officer (a very kind lady called Ms. Roberts who spent some time in Vienna in her twens) actually used Google StreetView to verify if the towing was valid. She came to the conclusion that it was, and couldn't do anything about it, but she spared us an additional 250 $ for the actual parking ticket (which had yet to be issued, apparently!), due to our unfamiliarity with the San Francisco traffic.

the corner of Vallejo & Sansome

The final highlight of our week in San Francisco was when i tried to take solving the Zodiac Case in my own hands, driving up to the corner of Washington & Cherry Street, near the Presidio Park. As Mark Ruffalo in the movie - and probably many other amateur sleuths (or crackpots, as the Vallejo Police Department would call them) before & after him - i stood on that ominous street corner, where the Zodiac killed cab driver Paul Stine on October 11, 1969. As of today, the case is still officially unsolved in California, and i'm afraid that even after my thourough inspection it will remain just that. Damned, i wish i had inspected the corner of Vallejo & Sansome that well...

the corner of Washington & Cherry...

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