Tuesday, September 1, 2015

An afternoon in San Francisco, by the Bay

As I mentioned in my previous post "Books, food and airplanes in Alameda" my eldest daughter who was in the area for business meetings visited my two grandsons - her nephews - and me during the week-end we were on Alameda Island.  On Friday evening we went to a Lithuanian restaurant in Alameda.  On Saturday my daughter and her fiance decided to take my two grandsons to the Exploratorium Museum near Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco.  The museum site indicates that "The Exploratorium is a museum of science, art, and human perception ... We create tools and experiences that help you to become an active explorer: hundreds of explore-for-yourself exhibits; a website with over 50,000 pages of content ... etc."  Their stated mission is to change the way the world learns.  The Exploratorium is the brainchild of Frank Oppenheimer (1912-1985,) an experimental physicist and university professor.  It is a huge museum.  Wikipedia has detailed information on this museum - click here to access it.   (Two photos of Exploratorium below courtesy Bruce Damonte.)

The Exploratorium is located at Pier 15 on the Embarcadero, along the San Francisco Bay (see map above.)  The distance from our lodging in Alameda to Pier 15 in San Francisco is only 14.4 miles (23 km.)  We did not think it would be a long trip.  Wrong!  We left around 11:20 am and arrived at the Embarcadero at 1:30 pm!  It took over two hours ... The reason being that vehicles have to pay a toll to cross over the Oakland-Bay Bridge to go into San Francisco.  During the week-ends the lines to get to the toll booths are very crowded.  Once on the bridge, it was bumper to bumper traffic all the way.  (Click on collage to enlarge.)

I did not remember the Oakland-Bay Bridge being that crowded when we drove on it back when I lived in San Francisco in the 1960s.  My husband's sister and her family lived in Oakland for a while.  Before we were married we would drive across the bridge to visit them.  My husband, a boy-friend then, had a 1955 MG TF-1500 green convertible and it was fun crossing the bridge with the top down - it was quite windy.  We wore WWI aviator leather helmets and I also tied a long white silk scarf around my neck - I wish I had taken pictures then.  Below is an MG TF-1500.

The construction of the Bay Bridge started in 1933.  The bridge opened in November 1936 (6 months before the Golden Gate Bridge.)  It was the longest bridge at the time.  The final cost came to approximately $77 million.  San Francisco celebrated for five days when the bridge opened with more than one million people taking part in parades, Navy air show, air parades, football games, etc.  Automobile traffic used the upper deck and the lower deck carried trucks and trains until this deck was converted in 1958.  The bridge was closed for a month in 1989 after an earthquake caused a section of the upper deck to crash into the lower deck.  Below are period photos of the Oakland-Bay Bridge, courtesy San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.  In 2002 the eastern section of the bridge was rebuilt as a self-anchored suspension bridge.  It opened in September 2013.  The cost for this reconstruction was about $6.5 billion.

Below are some vintage postcards of the Oakland-Bay Bridge.

I opted out of visiting the museum and asked to be dropped off on the Embarcadero near Fisherman's Wharf.  I knew it is a very touristy sight but the view of the Bay is beautiful from there.  I also longed to eat some good San Francisco sourdough bread and knew the Boudin Bakery and Restaurant was near Pier 41.  San Francisco sourdough bread is very popular.  For many years Parisian Bakery in the Bay area, established in 1856, sold their fresh sourdough bread at the airport as well.  Many travelers bought bread to take home.  Unfortunately Parisian Bakery was sold to Interstate Brands Corporation of Kansas City.  They changed the recipe and accelerated the way the bread was made for added profit.  But the bread did not taste the same.  The corporation went bankrupt and shut down Parisian Bakery in 2005.

Fortunately the Boudin Bakery is still making their wonderful crusty bread with the chewy and sour taste inside.  In 1849, Isidore Boudin, son of French master bakers, had emigrated from Burgundy in France to San Francisco and established a bakery to serve the Gold Rush population.  The bread was delivered by horse-drawn wagons.  Isidore established his bakery in North Beach and baked bread the way he had done in France - a fermented technique.  He captured natural yeast found in the air for his "mother dough" (the leavening base.)  But, in San Francisco, the air was different because of the fog and the sea.  Isidore's wild yeast made his bread into a "sourdough" bread.  The Boudin Bakery declares that they continue to use the original 19th century sourdough starter till now.  There are several sourdough bakeries in the Bay area and all together they bake more than 3.5 million loaves of sourdough bread every week - bought by customers and delivered to local restaurants.  Photos below courtesy Boudin Bakery.

The Boudin Bakery near Fisherman's Wharf is a two-story building with a 30-foot observation window where one can see the baking process, from the original dough to finished loaves of bread.  On the ground floor is Baker's Hall - a market with an assortment of breads and baked goods as well as regional gourmet food and gifts.  There is also an espresso bar.  Upstairs is a full-service restaurant and a Bistro bar.

As I went to a small table in the Bistro, I passed by a wall full of vintage postcards of San Francisco - I took a quick photo of the wall but did not have time to stop longer.  There is also a bakery museum upstairs, but I did not take the tour.

I ordered the "Ceviche Trio,"  an appetizer, which is a sample of Alaskan Halibut, Gulf Shrimp and Calamari Ceviche with thin-cut fries and sourdough bread and butter - plus a cold local India Pale Ale beer.  The Ceviche was well presented and interesting.  The bread was delicious.

Then I walked back towards Fisherman's Wharf by Pier 39.  It was a lovely sunny day, warm and windy.  Many people were about.  Some were watching men playing and singing.

I remember Fisherman's Wharf from decades ago.  It was mostly popular for the seafood restaurants there.  I liked to go close by to the Buena Vista Cafe to drink one of their famous Irish coffees.  They claim to have invented it.  They also declare serving up to 2000 Irish coffees per day.

Nowadays there are more tourists, more fast food places and souvenir shops.  But now, also, the sidewalks are larger, benches are plentiful and the area is decorated with many lovely flowers as well - some professionally planted and some, like this small yellow flower below, just trying to find a spot to grow.

I spent most of my time people watching, or strolling along the railing near the water to take a look at the Bay, or the boats, or the seals.

I liked to stop and read the information panels,

then go back and watch the activity on the Bay.

I came by a gate standing above weathered wood and rails.  It looked like the gate shown on the top of the information panel above.  The area was empty of people.  As I walked around it, I could see some shiny items under the railing.  As I approached I realized they were the infamous "love locks" that vandalize public property now everywhere.  I am pleased to report that the City of Paris, in early June this year, removed all the love locks from the Pont des Arts - 45 tons of locks (although the 700,000 or more love lock keys are still rusting at the bottom of the Seine River.)  Now they will start removing the love locks from other Paris bridges.  See my post on Paris Love Locks here.

As I was watching a small boat full of people going on a bay trip, a large cruise ship slowly passed in front of me.  It was the Golden Princess on its voyage to Alaska.

Now it was time to take a last look at the Bay and Alcatraz Island in the distance before meeting my daughter, her fiance and the grandsons.

After another look at Coit Tower I entered the car.  We drove by all the new tall buildings in the area and re-entered the Oakland-Bay Bridge - no toll in that direction.  Traffic going the other direction though, towards San Francisco, was still bumper to bumper.  The trip back to Alameda Island was much faster.

The grandsons loved their afternoon at the Exploratorium museum - they said they could have stayed there much longer as there were so many fun interactive computer displays to play with - but it closed at 5:00 pm.  I, also, enjoyed my lunch and had a very pleasant afternoon by the San Francisco Bay.  I played with three of my photos - and could not decide which one to show.  Which one do you prefer?  (Click to enlarge.)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Books, food and airplanes in Alameda

In early July I flew on Southwest Airlines from Nashville, Tennessee to Oakland, California.  I sat next to a window and could admire the scenery below.  (Click on collage to enlarge.)

We stopped in Las Vegas, Nevada, for about one hour.  My husband and I visited Las Vegas in late 1960s I believe, but not since.  There were gambling places then but nothing like the current extravagant casinos.  Below are some vintage postcards.

I was surprised to see so many slot machines in the airport, but I think they are everywhere in Las Vegas.

Since I could not go into town and visit the casinos I bought two postcards.  I was amused by Las Vegas calling itself "The City of Light" and their own Eiffel Tower - a half size replica from the original monument in Paris.

Next, we landed at the Oakland International Airport which is about 10 miles from Alameda Island where I was to stay for two weeks with two of my grandchildren.  (You can read about my stay there in my last post.)  As a pure coincidence my eldest daughter, Celine, was having business meetings in the area.  She was able to visit her nephews and me on the week-end.  On Friday night we went to eat at a downtown restaurant on Park Street called "Papa Mama Lithuanian Restaurant."  Since we had never sampled Lithuanian cuisine we were happy to try a variety of dishes.  Celine started with Fried Lithuanian Rye Bread and then ate a pretty colored Borscht (Šaltibarsčiai .)  Her fiance Michael had the Stuffed Chicken Roll (Vištienos Suktinukas) and the boys had the Flour Dumplings (Koldunai) made with traditional handmade dough stuffed with 4 different fillings: beef and pork meat, chicken, potato and cheese, and potato and mushroom.  I had the Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Balandeliai.)  We also drank the special Lithuanian Amber Tea (Gintaro Arbata) with small amber pieces in it - different and nice.

As I mentioned in my last post it was difficult to follow the Tour de France on television as the program came too early in the morning.  Luckily, on Park Street, I found a shop that had the last copy of a Tour de France magazine.

On the same street - which is the main business street in Alameda, I found a large independent bookstore called Books, Inc.  While driving around I found another bookstore, Wilmot's Books, selling second-hand books (my favorite.)  I did purchase several books there, mostly mysteries, but some non-fiction, and a French book (some of the books shown below.)  I talked with the owner of the shop for a while.  He gave me some interesting historic information on the island.

On the following day, Saturday, we drove over the Bay Bridge to San Francisco and I'll have a future post on our afternoon there.  We came back to Alameda for dinner.  The choice of restaurants is very large in Alameda for such a small island.  I had a restaurant guide and as you can see in the collage below, on the purple page, the longest list of restaurants is for Asian eateries.  Many Chinese and other Asian people have lived on Alameda Island for over a century.  Caroline Leighton (book pictured above) who traveled to the West in the 1860s and 70s lived on Alameda Island for a while and mentioned in her memoirs that her neighbors were Chinese.  Actually the population of Alameda now is about 35% Asian (but when I went grocery shopping it seemed more like 75%.)

We went to dinner at China House, a restaurant off Park Street, located on the second floor.  It looked to me like Chinese restaurants I used to patronize when living in San Francisco in the 1960s.  China House was established in 1968 and the decor is vintage, classic 1960 American-Chinese style.  The same family has owned the restaurant all these years and we were told the decor, pieces and ceiling covering were hand painted in Taipei, Taiwan.  We ordered several dishes, family style, and when we were finished my grandson (8 years old) who is learning Chinese, told our server, in Chinese, how delicious the meal had been.  She was quite surprised and told us his Chinese was very clear and good.

For dessert, we just walked a block down Park Street to Tucker's Super Creamed Ice Cream.  There was a long line of local people waiting from the street all the way to the counter.  Tucker's has been in business on Alameda Island since 1941.  They offer shakes, floats, sundaes and 34 different flavors of ice cream.  The building is long and old, with an open front to the street and a back patio.  I sat in the back while my daughter bought the ice cream.  In front of me was a large wall painting that made me feel like I was in Italy rather than California.

On Sunday morning while daughter was getting ready for the airport we gazed at the lagoon.  Her studio was an "upgraded" accommodation with lagoon view. We had some bread leftover and the birds were not shy to come close to us to fight for it.

The great egret did not even look in our direction, though.

Daughter called from the airport to report that she had driven by a small aviation museum and suggested that the boys might enjoy visiting it.  So we drove there to investigate.  There were just two mothers and children outside the museum and they soon left.  The airplanes in front of the museum are the only ones the kids can climb into.

The museum is small but there is a good assortment of vintage airplanes with clear information on their type.  There are airplanes in the hangar and also outdoors.  The white airplane below with a red nose, and the inscription "Magnificent Obsession II" and No. N751JR on its tail is a 3/4 scale replica of the fames "Red Tail" Mustang - Jurca MJ.77.  These airplanes were flown as bomber escort over Europe in WWII by the illustrious "Tuskegee Airmen" the African-American military pilots.

Grandson is reading the info panel in front of the MiG-15 fighter.  This Russian airplane was designed in the late 1940s by Mikoyan and Guryevich (MiG) with advanced German aviation technology.  It was one of the most famous aircraft of that period with strong and dependable performance (first flight in December 1947.)  As a sideline, my father's first cousin, who was an Armenian like my dad, was a friend of Artem Mikoyan (the aircraft designer) and his family and visited them several times in Russia.  The Mikoyans are Russian Armenians.  (Click on collage to enlarge to read.)

A couple of interior rooms are dedicated to Aviation history and African-Americans in aviation, men and women such as the Tuskegee Airmen and Elizabeth "Bessie" Coleman (1892-1926,) first African-American female pilot.  There is also a room dedicated to women in aviation.  Below on the right-hand side is Amelia Earhart and on the left hand-side is a picture of Baroness Raymonde de Laroche, born in Paris in 1882.  She was the first woman, in the world, to obtain a pilot's license - on March 10, 1910.  She died in 1919, aged 37, during a training flight, piloted by someone else (she is buried in the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris.)

Another room contains many uniforms, such as a Luftwaffe German pilot leather flight jacket.  A video runs in another room and there are more rooms with exhibits.  Frankly, to read and look at everything would take more than a day as there is so much aviation history there.

Outdoor the boys enjoyed looking at many vintage and retired military aircraft - aircraft from the Vietnam War era to the 1990s.  There is even an ex-BOAC Short Solent Mark III flying boat.  It was once owned by Howard Hughes and was substituted for a Boeing China Clipper in the Indiana Jones' movie Raiders of the Lost Ark.  The  Oakland Aviation Museum is a small museum, a bit rustic, but the right size for two small boys to enjoy on a sunny day.  As for me, even though I worked for 26 years with airplanes I still like to look at them.

Leaving through the small gift shop I bought a couple of little toy planes for the boys ... and some old postcards for me.  The bottom postcard on the left is on Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the bottom postcard on the right is the US Army Air Force pounding German supply lines over Italy with planes like the B-26 Marauder.

Then it was time for the boys to climb back into the two airplanes outside and play-act as ace pilots while I sat on a comfortable bench and watched them.

My mind wandered - so many different airplanes ... large, small, beautiful, frightening ...?  Could your mind turn an interesting airplane like this one

into any of these?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Two weeks in Alameda ... and the Tour de France 2015

Several months ago our youngest daughter asked if I would be willing to stay in Alameda, California, for two weeks while our two oldest grandsons (6 and 8 years old) were to attend an immersion Chinese language summer camp.  This is how I came to spend two weeks in the island of Alameda with my two grandsons and their Chinese au-pair.  My husband stayed near Nashville with our daughter's family that included our two youngest grandchildren (2 1/2 and 3 1/2.)

Our daughter took a week to drive the children across country from Nashville to Alameda, but I flew there.  She flew back and I had her car for transportation while in Alameda.  Even though I spent almost ten years in San Francisco (in the 1960s) I had never been to Alameda.  Alameda is an island, adjacent to Oakland and east of San Francisco across the Bay.   It was established in 1853 and incorporated in 1854.

The children had classes from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm then 45 minutes of Chinese language study at home with the Chinese au-pair (they have been studying Chinese for 3 years at least.)  The school was in the same block where we stayed, and we could see the shore from our window.  I have placed a red mark on the map below to show where we stayed (bottom right of map.)  The purple area across from our lodging is a big shopping center with many restaurants and shops, including a large Safeway grocery store and a Trader Joe's.

The first week there was very cool and foggy with sun only during parts of the afternoons so I did not take many pictures.  I went to the post office in the shopping center to mail several postcards and stopped to take the picture of some pretty purple flowers.  That is when I noticed how close we were to the shore.

I crossed the road and was surprised to see clearly the outline of San Francisco across the Bay.  The following week was sunny and I drove on this road, Shoreline Drive, often and stopped to take pictures and will show more in a future post.

Alameda is a laid-back city, a bit old-fashioned.  It is very quiet during the day with mothers walking with their baby carriages and children, seniors strolling and many bicycles driving around.  The automobile speed is 25 MPH everywhere on the island which was good for me - I could look around as I drove.  Alameda is popular for its Fourth of July celebration which is said to be the second oldest and second longest (3 miles/5 km) in the US, but I missed it since I arrived there on July 6th.  We were staying on Park Street - which is the main business street.  I walked a bit around it and admired the art deco Alameda Theater around one of the corners.  It was opened in 1932 and in 2006 the City of Alameda spent $16 million to renovate it.  (Interior pics courtesy Alameda Magazine.)  Click on collage to enlarge.

Parking is not easy in this city and it took me a while to take pictures of the many pretty houses I saw.  I read that Alameda has more pre-1906 earthquake era homes in the Bay Area than other towns along the coast.  Many Victorian houses are mixed among the old Mission and Craftsman style California houses.

Real estate is not as expensive in Alameda as in San Francisco, but it is still higher than the national average.  I checked the price of some of the least expensive houses for sale - and they were not very large houses.  Here are four of them:  the asking price for the house on top left is $800,000 with 2 bedrooms and 2 baths; top right house is $629,000 with 2 bedrooms 1 bath, 1100 square feet, built in 1913 with no updated kitchen.  Bottom left house is $719,000 with 2 bedrooms 1 1/2 baths and 1100 sq feet, built in 1920.  Bottom right house is $650,000 with 3 bedrooms 1 bath, built in 1915.  Some similar houses have just sold and in many cases they sold for more than their asking price.  An average house a bit more modern is over $1 million.

The downtown area along Park Street does not seem to have changed much from the way it looks in vintage postcards.  It is a designated Historic Commercial District on the National Register because many buildings date back to the 1880s.

Wi-Fi access was practically non-existent in the building where we stayed so I never opened my little notebook computer.  I could not even get internet access on my iPad.  There was a television there, but on the West Coast the Tour de France started at 5:00 am which was way too early to wake up the children.  I only saw the last hour or less each day and I missed watching the Tour.  I did see the last two days of the Tour when I returned home after staying near Nashville for several days.

I was able to look back at all the stages of the Tour de France on the French web.  This site had many videos and photos of the Tour.  The site tells viewers to share the photos with friends.  So, I am posting below some of these photos - courtesy Tour de France, France.  The Tour started in Holland this year.  When it went through Belgium, the King of Belgium came to greet the cyclists.

As the Tour rode in Belgium and the north of France they drove by and also stopped at some of the War Memorials along the way.  The Australian War Memorial is on the top left below next to Chris Fromme of the UK laying a wreath at the Commonwealth Memorial.  They also stopped by Francois Faber Memorial - he was the winner of the 1909 Tour de France and was killed during the First World War.

This year the Tour welcomed the first African team - team MTN-Qhubeka of South Africa.  The team was so proud when Steve Cummings, of the UK but a team member, won the stage on July 18, Nelson Mandela's Day.  Another team member, Daniel Teklehaymanot, of Eritra, won the polka-dot jersey twice (best mountain climber.)

As usual the viewers were shown beautiful landscapes along the way.  There were thousands of spectators lining the route from very young to very old - some in outlandish outfits.

What I like about the Tour de France is that it is really an international event.  The teams are made up of top cyclists from many countries.  Some of my favorites are not even from France - I like Peter Sagan of Slovakia, Mark Cavendish of Great Britain, Nairo Quintana of Columbia and Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland.  In the center of the collage below are the hostesses who deliver the prizes on the podium at the end of each stage.  (Click on collage to see better.)

This year the Tour de France started July 4, 2015 and ended on Sunday July 26, 2015.  It was made up of 21 stages and it covered a total distance of 3,360 kilometers (or about 2088 miles.)  There were 9 flat stages, 3 hill stages, 7 mountain stages, 1 individual time-trial stage, 1 team time-trial stage and 2 rest days.  It was raining on the last stage but when they ended on the Champs-Elysees in Paris the sun came out.  I was hoping that Chris Fromme of Great Britain would win the Tour, and he did.  He was born in Kenya, educated in South Africa and speaks fluent Swahili (see him below in Paris.)

On the side of my blog you can read more on the Tour under the category Tour de France.  I explained some facts about the Tour in a post in July 2009 - you can read it here.  The Tour de France is the world's largest annual sporting event.  It has a worldwide television audience of 3.5 billion people with over 188 countries broadcasting it.  With 4,700 hours of TV coverage 121 different television channels across the world show this race every year.  (Here, on TV in Atlanta, the ceremonies in Paris last Sunday of the end of the Tour were cut short and a NASCAR show came instead...sigh!)  More than 2,000 journalists from many countries attend the Tour each year.  It also attracts 12 million+ spectators along the route who do not have to pay to watch it.  Below is Chris Fromme winner of the 2015 Tour de France and also overall winner of the polka-dot jersey.

Where do you get to watch a live sport event like this for three weeks free of charge?  The French Air Force flies over the last stage of the Tour whether it is a French cyclist or not who is winning.  I don't think this would happen in the US which is so nationalistic about sports (USA!USA!) and somehow it would end up not be totally free to watch.  I may be wrong, but I attended the cyclist events at the 1996 Olympic Games here in Atlanta.  I still remember, sadly, that when the audience realized that no US cyclist was left running the 4,000 meter track cyclist race they left en masse before it was over.  Hardly anyone was watching the winner receiving his gold medal ... It was Italian Andrea Collinelli.

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