Monday, April 30, 2012

SF - San Francisco graffiti

This was an awesome display of graffiti on Haight on the way towards downtown.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

SF - Saturday city walk

I was strongly encouraged on Friday night that a real SF thing to do was to visit Dolores Park on a sunny Saturday. I was also told that this was hipster central and that I would be offered drugs there more times in an hour than I had in my entire life.  So I decided to start my day there and either hang out or make my way to other parts of the city, possibly Golden Gate Park.

As it turned out, there were hipsters, but it wasn't all that extreme.  It seemed more like urban people hanging out at a park because the weather was nice.  Nobody offered me drugs, but a naive-seeming couple of young hippies did offer me a bottle of Campucho or something, which is a fermeted drink, supposedly full of healthy pro-biotics that actually turned out to be quite delicious, like a fizzy apple cider vinegar.  So I didn't stick around the park long, but made my way towards Golden Gate park, walking through a very pretty residential area that I believe was above the Castro district.  After the park, I cut back through an older residential district that reminded me of a Raymond Chandler novel. Still very pretty, but fewer trees and lots of sun-baked concrete.  Many Chinese people seemed to be living here, perhaps several generations in.  Then I cut down to the Haight-Ashbury and walked along Haight back to the BART downtown.  Lots to look at in San Francisco.  Below are the pictures, with comments from time to time.

Another trike!
The Mission Dolores, after which this district is named.

I've learned in SF a new design principle, the relationship between trees and the buildings next to them.

Not excessively hipsterish.

Lots of streets in SF end in stairs.

Looking back from the stairs.

How nice a view do these people have!

And check out their little rooftop terrace.  Jealous!
See what I mean about buildings and trees complementing each other!

Not sure what this mountain top is named, but I will walk to it one of these days.

Getting into some classic SF Victorian houses.

Stately somebody's manor.

This is the second one of these I've seen.  Disturbing.

Go Vegan.

What you are picking right now.

de Young museum, looks kind of Star Trek like.
Food trucks in Golden Gate Park. No more chowder! :(

This was the Chandler-esque neighbourhood.

Hope you enjoyed my walk as much as I did!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

SF - Friday cinq à sept west coast style

Staff Meeting, Friday 4:30 PM

They love their trikes here don't they?

See the beauty, touch the magic.

SF - The New Steed: "The Beetle"

I knew I needed a bike from before I even got here.  You just can't live in the city without a bike.  I soon learned, though, that you can't take bikes on BART during rush hour.  You can, however, take a folding bike.  So that started me on a bit of research on that little sub-world of consumption.  Turns out there are cheaper ones like Schwinn that you can buy at Target, middle range ones, with Dahon being the big name there that are sold at bike stores and finally insane high-end ones (I'm talking like $1,500) for idiot bike nerds.  I kept my finger hovered over the refresh button for folding bikes on craigslist for a week or so until I found one that fit most of my needs for a decent price.  It's a Dahon one-speed, been through two owners, a bit of deterioration in the headset and rear hub, but overall runs fine and doesn't look brand new or fancy.  I paid $140.  The equivalent brand new is $300, so that seems a pretty good deal.  It shaves about 10-20 minutes off the commute and turns my rage at waiting for the bus into joy at never being passed by the bus on the same route.

You may know that my primary steed is The Moth.  Light, white and deadly efficient, The Moth is a legend on the streets.  You may have encountered it as a soft, off-white blurring and a slight feeling of disorientation as I blow by you going up St-Laurent.  I shall christen my new, Bay Area mount, The Beetle.  It's black and low to the ground.  While the moth flies over your head, dazing your senses, the beetle burrows beneath you, undermining the ground you are riding on and leaving you in a pile of rubble.  Either way, you're fucked.

I present to you, The Beetle!

On BART when it is allowed to be (no handicapped people were displaced for the taking of this photo)


folded, with arm of nearby commuter for size comparison

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

SF - House on the Berkeley Hill

The Uplands is a beautiful residential neighbourhood on the South Side of Berkeley, at the foot of the hills.  This house is not really representative of the houses there, as it looks more like an LA house, with its palm tree and isolation from its neighbours.

Chien lunatique

SF - Backyard chickens in Oakland

When the BART train comes out of the tunnel on the East Bay side, it passes a pretty poor neighbourhood in Oakland, according to my mom, this area is called The Bottoms.  But it looks like there has been an infusion of urban renewal hipsters. I took a terrible photo out of the train, but you can see this nice old house with two yards next to it.  Those yards have urban chickens and you can see the guy out there feeding them from time to time.  I'll have to get out there on my bike and explore on the ground.

Monday, April 23, 2012

SF - random shots from my Friday night walk home

I was looking forward to walking from my office through SoMa (South of Market) to catch the BART train at the last SF stop last Friday.  However, it turned out not to be so great.  You may have all felt a great tremor in the Force that evening, as if a thousand voices had cried out and suddenly been silenced.  That was me realizing halfway through the walk that I had left my book at the office.  This tragedy weighed on my mind for most of the trip.  SoMa is a newly-developed area and kind of dull.  Lots of converted warehouses and new condos.  The only interesting architecture was the new SF Giants baseball stadium, which looked quite cool from the outside.  I did get some nice views of the Bay Bridge.  The Golden Gate Bridge is the famous one, but I always love the sturdy utility of the Bay Bridge, myself.  They are twinning it (none of the steel is manufactured in the U.S. which is causing some controversy) which will be cool to see.  That won't be done until 2013.

When I got to Civic Center, I realized my mistake, as it was totally packed.  It's the bottom of downtown, so it gets the most transit riders, plus the train arrives already packed.  So I had to stand, smashed in, trying not to breath on the head of the person in front of me, while listening to this too loud white trash guy overtalking to an attractive, younger woman who didn't really want to be in the conversation but was friendly nonetheless.  Awkward.

Bay Bridge from the SF side, the landmass  on the other side is Yerba Buena island.

Struts for the Bay Bridge

SF Giants new stadium in China Basin

SF - Redwood Regional Park

The Bay Area is a megalopolis, but one that is surrounded by a lot of nature.  There seem to be beautiful national and regional parks ringing the entire area and especially in the hills above Oakland and Berkeley.   I've definitely been to all of them as a kid and sometimes more recently for xmas walks with the family, but I can't really remember them all or differentiate them in my head.  Since I've gotten so into walking Mont-Royal, I thought I should make an effort to do some nice hikes while I'm here and get to know better these parks.

I started this weekend with Redwood Regional Park, which is in the hills above Oakland.  It was recommended by a work colleague as well as my parents.  It has a cool history.  It was originally part of the massive redwood forest that went from Oregon down to central California (which itself was part of a much bigger forest that covered the west but much of which died off due to a climate shift).  These redwood were frickin' huge!  Two of them were so tall that they were used as navigation guides for boats coming into the Golden Gate.  The hills behind Oakland became sources of lumber for the development of the area in the 19th century.  It was basically clear cut.  There are stories of stumps that were 30 feet in diameter (to compare, the widest tree in the Redwood National Forest, which has the tallest trees in the world is about 20 feet in diameter).  Even, those stumps got devoured by humans, used up as firewood over the decades.

Ring of adolescent redwoods
In the beginning of the 20th century, the area was closed off and protected because it was a water source. The saplings of the felled redwoods were allowed to grow and today over 100 years later, we have a lovely park of adolescent redwoods.  What's really cool is that many of today's redwood are clustered in these ring formations, growing out of the saplings that fell around the original trees.  So the ring represents the rough circumference of the original tree that was felled.  You can kind of imagine what the forest looked like then, which must have been just insane, truly prehistoric, where a single tree would have been as wide as a house and going to incredible heights, without a lot of ground coverage.  It really makes me want to go to Redwood National Forest, where there still are some redwoods of that size left.

All in all, it was a beautiful hike.  I stayed off the biggest trails and at first saw only a few joggers.  As the day went on, I ran into a lot of people walking their dogs. I saw the tail end of a good-sized doe crashing away from me in the woods and an osprey flying above the trees.

Spring Forget-me-nots as identified by my mother

Thursday, April 19, 2012

SF - Public Transit

BART train a'coming (Rockridge station, looking up into the Berkeley hills)

So far, my biggest challenge is the commute.  I am spoiled in Montreal, where I have a 5-minute bike ride or 15-minute walk to work.  Here, I have a 20-minute walk to the BART station, a 35-minute BART ride under the bay to the Mission District and then either a 30-minute walk to the office or a 10-minute bus trip.  It works out to about an hour more or less each way.  I am figuring out a way to bring a bike into the mix. The problem is that on the hours that I'll be commuting, I can't take the bike on to the BART trains.

For those of you who love discussing public transit in Montreal over at the Montreal City Weblog, you'll be interested to hear that commuting here is friggin' expensive!  I have to pay $2 for the bus on the East Bay side, another $3.65 for the BART train and then another $2 for the Muni bus in San Francisco.  That makes $7.65 for a one-way trip if I choose not to walk.  There is a monthly pass for the BART, but it only applies if you ride it within San Francisco, so it is useless for me.  So that is roughly $15 a day!

I can't say how good overall the system is in terms of capacity, but during peak periods, there are plenty of trains and buses.  However, all the information around the buses and trains is pretty poor here.  BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit, the train system) has a decent website, though trying to figure out their new Clipper Card was not easy.  The Muni (the bus system in SF and I think they oversee BART as well) site is just shit.  It took me 45 minutes to figure out how much a basic bus ticket cost in San Francisco.  It's kind of ironic that in the heart of the tech industry, their websites are so bootleg.  AC transit is the bus system for the East Bay and it is on an entirely different management, thus different website, different costs, etc.  There is some general transit website called that is supposed to help you with finding info for all of the various transit systems, but it seems like a javascript-burdened mess as well.  Maybe I need to dig deeper.

BART train arriving.  It does have a kind of '70s futuristic look.