My recent ten-day business trip to Texas was preceded by a wonderful day in San Francisco.
Arriving at the Stanford Court Hotel, I asked if my room had a view. Not from the third floor, confirmed the Reception Staff. Would you like a view? I explained this was my first visit to the city and a relaxing 36-hour precursor to a gruelling business trip in Texas. My Receptionist smiled: Let’s see, shall we?
Key in hand, the elevator whisked me to the 14th floor and a large double aspect room overlooking the cityscape; waning sunlight highlighted the extraordinary variety and texture of this famous skyline that stretched all the way to the Bay and Bridge. I thanked not just my lucky stars, but the hospitality of Stanford Court.
After a languorous and welcome bath, I ventured out to the Ferry Building to meet a friend of many years, whom I had not seen for three or four. She lives here now; she and partner waiting for me at a French-style wine and charcuterie place inside this magnificent building. Within its walls, the building hosts myriad chic restaurants and food stores, the exterior still performing its original function as a ferry terminal. We had a gentle and lovely evening, drank probably too much, laughed (never too much) and a rather wistful parting came only too soon.
My body clock had not yet adjusted to US time and waking earlier than hoped, I decided to visit the hotel gym – unusually good and spacious for its type. Regime complete, I scooped up a hearty breakfast from the lobby and returned to my room, where I enjoyed delicious poached eggs, bacon and steamy coffee and luxuriating in a rare and perfect silence took in the remarkable panorama, sharper now in the morning light.
After a few hour’s work, at midday exactly I donned flatties and set out for my San Fran Walk. Deliberately eschewing map or advice, I preferred instead to follow the famous Forte Nose, trusting my instincts to draw me to interesting places and neighbourhoods.
Meandering first through Chinatown I paused here and there to look in the windows of groceries, health and household shops. I crossed over to roam down a side-street peppered with bohemian cafes and stores whose signs told me I had entered North Beach. I decided to stop at one tiny, but welcoming spot for coffee and some freshly squeezed orange, the latter a reminder that I needed oranges and lemons to make my own morning juice in coming days, for which purpose I had packed a traditional squeezer.
Coffee imbibed and fruit acquired, I continued through North Beach noticing the growing number of Italian places and faces, some of which threw a casual but friendly greeting my way. From North Beach then and down, down, down towards the Financial District and its glassy towers. I was not ready for them yet, so diverted left across Sacramento, up Powell and on Columbus Avenue I spotted Saints Peter and Paul Church. Despite my collapsed Catholicism I cannot resist a bit of candle action and thoughts of a comfy pew, classic carvings and glorious glass windows drew me up the steps and into this magnificent place of worship. Here, my passion for flame and colour rewarded, I lapsed into long reverie before stirring myself back onto Filbert Street, into the sunshine. Turning left I saw my first truly serious slope, which led to another, higher and still more serious slope.
Can they be serious? I thought. Who on earth decided to build this city on these hills? Before I could change my mind, I drew breath and got going and drew breath and drew breath … Although I knew not where I was headed, the anticipated view drew me (not without more breaths) to the summit and Coit Tower, which sits atop a green spot from where the views are beyond spectacular. Looking down, vertigo overwhelmed and I sat awhile until things settled and holding the handrail, began a long, slow descent to Lombard, from where I found Broadway, sight of the Bay … and the Ferry Building.
The outline of this familiar edifice was a joy; to get there I meandered through the Financial District, huge glassy towers and wide shining monoliths abounded, rendering me tiny, and not a little intimidated. The streets were quiet and few stopping places were in evidence. With the Bay glistening between the buildings, I forged on until I reached The Embarcadero from across which the Ferry Building Marketplace rose in splendour.
Tired now and happy to see last night’s destination in daylight, I strolled across the waterfront and admired the Oakland Bay Bridge where I sat awhile to revive my energy with another coffee. Duly restored, I set out back towards the City climbing up and up, down and down, up again and down again until I reached California, home to my hotel.
I decided to eat and meandering here and there, found the Gallery Café, a place that celebrates the inertia and moodiness of its staff with highlighted cuttings in the restrooms. Reader, I can corroborate, for the server who greeted me did so silently, with scowling demeanor. So famished was I that a welcome and huge chicken Caesar salad, fat chips with mayonnaise, a large glass of dry white duly arrived and I settled happily with the New York Times. Almost an hour spent here, scanning the paper and watching the world go by did the trick, and soon I was revivified and ready to move on.
Not wishing to be hotel-bound quite yet, I decided to seek out Tartine, the Bakery recommended by YoungestOfAll, my talented Patisserie Chef daughter. Guerrero Street ran through a whole different world, one which reminded me of Clerkenwell and Shoreditch – familiar territory indeed. It took nearly two hours to get there but with plasters bought along the way to protect my blistering heels, I found it, identified not by the shop front so much as the queue snaking out through the door.
Approaching, I realised that some relief was needed and decided to buy a treat, so that I could use their facilities. Alas, the interior of this clearly much-loved café precluded the eat; it was full to capacity with people waiting for whatever they had ordered and with the line from the front door too onerous to consider joining, I slipped through the crowd to the restroom. Calculating then how long it would take to be served, I decided instead to navigate to the counter, where nose-to-glass I admired the array of exquisite confections and concoctions.
Although the afternoon had progressed slowly enough, by now time was galloping along and in checking I found it was almost 7pm. Seven hours walking – no wonder I was fading. But where to find a taxi? I walked and walked, heading I hoped towards Nob Hill where Stanford Court awaited. Lucky me; before too long a taxi loomed large and I climbed in, grateful to the God of Cabs for delivering this one, now.
The driver asked where I was from and what I had been doing that day. I told him. Hell, Lady! he exclaimed. I’ve lived here over twenty years and I have NEVER EVER walked up them hills. Are you mad? No, I assured him … just curious.
At 7.30pm then, too tired to eat I stepped into a hot bath and clambered abed, sinking quickly into the deepest slumber. I awoke refreshed – albeit with rather sore feet – more than ten hours later, ready for my Houston-bound flight and the rigorous days ahead.
Thank you Forte Nose for pointing me in such rewarding direction. But even greater thanks to San Francisco for a splendiferous stay, wonderful walk and deep, deep sleep.
© Giovanna Forte 2017