Monday, June 30, 2008

California, USA: Golden Gate Bridge, a San Francisco landmark

A trip to San Francisco would not be complete without visiting its most popular landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge.

Completed in 1937, the bridge is close to 2.74 kilometers long. It's the second time I had my photo taken from the view point at the north end of the bridge. Unfortunately, it wasn't as sunny as my 1993 photo since the famous San Francisco fog had already enveloped the area. And it sure was cold today! After a visit to the bridge, we had dinner at a Thai restaurant near the San Francisco International Airport. The long journey back to Manila begins.

Part 1: Napa Valley, California wine tasting experience
Part 2: San Francisco's cable car
Part 3: Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, California

California, USA: Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, California

Fisherman's Wharf is to San Francisco what La Rambla is to Barcelona. An iconic tourist attraction and neighborhood of San Francisco, California, it is full of life and culture.

There were street performers here too. And a lot of tourists from all over. It encompasses the northern waterfront area of San Francisco from Ghirardelli Square or Van Ness Avenue to Pier 35. Attractions within Fisherman's Wharf include Pier 39, San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, the Cannery Shopping Center, Ghirardelli Square, Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum, the Musée Mécanique, the Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf, and Forbes Island.

One reason to come to Fisherman's Wharf is for the food! And I asked my classmate Armand to pick his favorites at Fisherman's Wharf. First on our list of things to taste is the clam chowder of Boudin which is served in a sourdough bread bowl. There are a lot of stalls which sell clam chowder but they say Boudin's is the best.

After having our hearty soup in Boudin's outdoor kiosk, we went to the food stands by the restaurant row to check out the fresh seafood, mostly shrimp & crab snacks. Most notable of the delicacies here is the Dungeness crab. We got servings of breaded shrimp & chips and calamari and chips.

From the restaurant area, we walked towards Pier 39, a shopping complex that was built on a pier. Along the way, you'd notice a lot of street performers, cruise lines leaving for a trip around the bay, and a great view of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge on the other side of Pier 39.

The character of the buildings of Pier 39 fit a particular theme, very American. I wonder if these are old buildings adaptively-reused. It would have been fun to explore the shops and the restaurants. But we didn't have much time.

One thing which caught my attention were the fruit stands near the entrance. You can also check out the stage in Pier 39 which plays host to free performances by tricksters, magicians, jugglers, comedians and mimes. And don't miss the sea lions resting in Pier 39's K Dock.

Part 1: Napa Valley, California wine tasting experience
Part 2: San Francisco's cable car
Part 4: Golden Gate Bridge, a San Francisco landmark

Sunday, June 29, 2008

California, USA: San Francisco's cable car

It's been 15 years since I last visited San Francisco. And one of the things I was not able to do then was to ride the famous San Francisco cable car. The San Francisco cable car system is part of the San Francisco Municipal Railway or Muni. It is said to be the last permanently-operational manually-operated cable car system in the world.

We bought ourselves a day pass on the Muni for US$11 which gives holders unlimited use of the cable car and other lines of the Muni for a day. A single ride on the cable car will cost you US5$. It was indeed an experience, and an even better one if you're cool with standing at the sides. We took the Powell-Mason line from Union Square to Fisherman's Wharf where we were going to have a late lunch.

Part 1: Napa Valley, California wine tasting experience
Part 3: Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, California
Part 4: Golden Gate Bridge, a San Francisco landmark

Saturday, June 28, 2008

California, USA: Napa Valley, California wine tasting experience

Napa Valley, California is a world-class wine-producing region or viticultural area of the U.S. It's a very popular attraction since people troop there for the winery tours which most definitely includes wine-tasting!

Obviously, I'm now in sunny California. I arrived in chilly San Francisco late last night on a flight that was three hours delayed! Napa Valley is about an hour from San Francisco and we made a late morning drive to Napa Valley, said to be the second most popular destination in California after Disneyland. We first stopped over in the city of Napa for lunch at the Historic Napa Mill at this restaurant called the Napa General Store. I had a crispy chicken sandwich that was served with chipotle mayo, lettuce & house-cut fries. I heard their Asian-inspired food is also worth trying, creations of their Vietnamese chef.

After lunch, we proceeded to St. Helena to visit some wineries. There are just so many of them so we dropped by two of the popular ones.

Our first stop was at the Beringer Vineyards which is the oldest continuously-operating winery in the valley. The entire winery site was in fact designated a Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.

I joined the Introducing Beringer Tour which costs US$15 and includes wine-tasting inside the original Stone Winery. We were given samples of their Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah, and Sparkling White Zinfandel.

We then motored to the Robert Mondavi Winery for more wine-tasting. Mondavi is said to be the father and founder of the American fine wine industry. He founded the winery in 1966 with the goal of surpassing the finest wines in Europe. Sadly, he passed away a month ago at the age of 94.

At the winery, they offer wine-tasting of three wines of your choice for US$15. I tried out their 2002 Vine Hill Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006 Napa Valley Fume Blanc and 2006 Moscato d'Oro which I really liked.

It would have been fun to visit more wineries but we didn't have much time. So we called it a day. Thanks to my hosts, Armand and Iris, and their friend Mark, for taking me to Napa Valley today.

Part 2: San Francisco's cable car
Part 3: Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, California
Part 4: Golden Gate Bridge, a San Francisco landmark

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Illinois, USA: Random musings from DeKalb, Illinois

DeKalb, Illinois is a university town playing host to Northern Illinois University. We'll be leaving DeKalb in a few days. I can't imagine this has been my home away from home for the past four weeks! Did you know that barbed wire was invented in DeKalb, Illinois? There are a lot of heritage structures in DeKalb which remind us of this aspect of its history.

Some of the highlights during our stay were a barbecue picnic where we grilled some steak, nights out and karaoke in Starbusters every Wednesday, home-cooked dinners, and a picnic hosted by the Filipino community in DeKalb and Sycamore. Thank you to the Fil-Am community and to all the friends I met along the way. I had one hell of a time!
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