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All things must pass

All things must pass away

And so, little more than a week ago, we had to leave our temporary residence in Bernal Heights for “home” in the UK.

But I do not want to put that experience to one side just yet (and we will be returning next year), without paying one final tribute to the neighborhood.

So here, in this fifth and final article in the series, are this visiting Englishman’s ten reasons for loving Bernal Heights.

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A cautionary note for residents before I start.

In a little under a fortnight we could neither cover every blade of grass, trip over every upturned pavement slab, nor eat at every café or restaurant, so this will be no more nor less than a personal account of those people and places we actually encountered.

Where I have written on a subject in one of the previous posts in this series, I have tried to keep it short.

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For ease of reference they are listed in alphabetical order.

1. Accessibility

A few years ago, the thought of staying so far from Fisherman’s Wharf or Union Square would have been unthinkable. After all, many of the maps produced by the Convention and Visitors’ Bureau do not stretch as far as Bernal Heights. And few guide books even make passing reference to the neighborhood (the Alemany Farmer’s Market might just get a mention).

But once we had swapped hotel for apartment living, we have moved progressively further out. Hayes Valley begat the Western Addition begat Noe Valley begat Noe Valley again. The gentle hike up to Bernal Heights Hill from Precita Park last year, followed by lunch in Progressive Grounds, was enough to convince us that this is where we wanted to base ourselves next time.

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Accessibility was not the problem it might have seemed. The 101 and 280 freeways were barely three minutes drive from our cottage, the 24 Divisadero Muni bus ran along the bottom of our street and there were several other lines operating through the adjacent Mission district. Having become attached to the J Church Muni Metro line during our stays in Noe Valley, we often walked over to 29th Street to catch a direct line downtown.

 

2. Architecture 

One of the things that most charmed us about Bernal was the sheer variety of housing. No long rows of Queen Annes, Bay Windowed Italianates or Sticks here, but a real diversity of property. Their relative smallness and, in many cases, quirkiness, made wandering around the area a fascinating and often surprising adventure.

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The fact that Bernal Heights featured as low as nineteenth in a recent survey of the number of single millionaires living in each San Francisco neighborhood (Noe Valley next door came third, and even the Mission, evidence of its growing gentrification, was sixth), reinforced this impression of the relative modesty and affordability of the area.

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Though it would still be out of our price bracket!

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3. Cafés

Having seduced us to stay in Bernal Heights in the first place, Progressive Grounds was first on our list of watering (and feeding) holes on our arrival.

And it was also the last!

Our final meal in the city – scrumptious grilled lavash wraps and coffee – was bought there and carried ceremoniously up to the hill where we consumed it whilst continuing the perennial debate about the identity of each downtown building – now you see Coit Tower and the Transamerica Pyramid, now you don’t.

We had encountered Martha’s, or Martha and Brothers to give it its official name, on both 24th Street and Church Street during our stays in Noe Valley, and were delighted to find that there was a branch on Cortland. Strong coffee, excellent pastries and outstanding service were on offer, and the tables outside were perfect spots for watching Bernal go about its business (and counting the number of 24 buses that passed by in each direction).

It would be a real shame if Starbuck’s was to take over the Badger Books site or any other vacant lot in the neighborhood in the future.

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We ate good, wholesome breakfasts at both the Liberty Café and Moonlight Café (the interior of which is pictured above). Although the former enjoys a stronger, city-wide reputation, we were particularly impressed with the latter. Perhaps our expectations had been lower (you order at the counter rather than be served at your table), but we were pleasantly surprised.

And last, but by no means, least, we called in at the Precita Park Café for Mitchell’s ice cream during a Sunday afternoon walk around the northern slope. This is undoubtedly somewhere to explore further on our next visit – the food looked delicious.

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4. Diversity

The traditional equation of a single ethnic grouping with many of San Francisco’s neighborhoods has been diluted in recent times. I have already mentioned the influx of affluent white tech workers in the historically Hispanic and Latino dominated Mission. And the edges of the boundary between North Beach and Chinatown have become increasingly blurred.

In the past three hundred years, Bernal Heights has been inhabited by Native Americans (the Ohlone), Latin Americans, Irish, Italians, Scandinavians, African Americans, Filipinos and other Asian nationalities, so it is hardly surprising that there is a refreshing ethnic mix in the community, one that hasn’t been quite so evident to us anywhere else in the city.

And this diversity was not only about ethnicity.  Young families, the elderly and lesbian and gay couples were all in evidence.

The visible contrast in the demographic between Bernal and neighboring Noe (“Stroller”) Valley, was especially dramatic.

 

5. Dogs

I wrote about the apparent “dogs rule” phenomenon on Bernal Heights Park in my article last year, and we were able to enjoy it at close hand on this trip. The top of the hill must sometimes seem like the canine community center for all of San Francisco.

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But it was the excitement of those tied up outside the Good Life Grocery every time I called in that provided the most entertainment and could not pass without stroking them. I can report that I still have all my fingers.

The absence of a doggie companion was the only thing that prevented us from feeling truly at home during our stay. In fact, at one point I feared we might be contravening some by-law by not owning one of our own, at least, walking half a dozen of somebody else’s.

 

6. Friendliness

I referred to the warm greeting we received everywhere we went in one of my earlier articles, and I’m pleased to report that we continued to be treated well throughout the remainder of our stay. The only establishment that we didn’t feel entirely welcome was the Wild Side West, though we liked the quirky back garden.   

I should add that we had been a little apprehensive about staying in the neighborhood before arriving in the light of the shooting of Alex Nieto only a few days before we left the UK. However, we detected none of the tension (perhaps we were too far away), and felt completely safe at all times, including late at night when we often walked back from Mission Street.

 

7. Hill

We could while away hours on the hill, picking out landmarks in all directions, having a picnic and watching the dogs at play. For us, it is a far superior viewing point than Twin Peaks, which most of our compatriots, and many residents for that matter, will only have visited.

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Our only regret is that we omitted, as we had planned, to go up onto the hill at night – another reason for returning as soon as possible!

 

8.Library 

Again, I have already recounted the story of my visit to the library to print some documents. This is somewhere else I would want to spend more time in the future.

 

9. Restaurants

We only ate out twice in the evening in the neighborhood, but both were outstanding experiences.

On the recommendation of Emperor Norton himself, who lives in the neighborhood, we dined at Piqueo’s Peruvian restaurant on Cortland on our second night. It was fortunate we had made a reservation as it was packed, even though it was Wednesday. Granted that it is small and intimate (and just, perhaps, a little too dark), but we were, nonetheless, impressed by its popularity.

And rightly so.

Service was attentive and professional and our food was excellent. It took a lot of convincing to persuade my wife that we shouldn’t return there rather than try somewhere else.

But we did eat somewhere else.

Acting on another local resident’s recommendation, we had our last meal at Vega, a family-run Italian, again on Cortland. We had made a reservation for 8pm. On arrival, we were told that we might have to wait a few minutes while previous diners finished off. We were offered the small table by the front desk (and the open front door!) which we politely declined, preferring to wait for a table in the main dining room.

For that we received a free glass of wine each!

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After we had finished our starters, we were asked by the waiter if we would mind moving to another table for two for the remainder of the meal in order to accommodate a larger party that would necessitate putting tables together. We were happy to do so.

Our reward this time – a free glass of sparkling wine each!

Sadly, we weren’t inconvenienced any further and so had to pay for the bottle of wine – and food – we had actually ordered.

The meal was excellent, though the short walk back up the hill to the cottage was somewhat less enjoyable in the circumstances.

 

10. Stairways

Again, I have already written about these in a previous post. Suffice to say that this was another charming feature of the neighborhood, offering stunning views and keeping us fit (if I keep saying/writing that I might just believe it).

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The only thing we don’t miss?

Climbing up from Mission Street via the Eugenia Stairway late at night to get back to the cottage.

No, I lied.

We do miss it!

Au revoir, Bernal.

A bientôt.

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For fifteen years I believed unquestioningly the received wisdom that San Francisco Zoo was to be avoided at all costs. Underfunded, rundown and more concerned about entertaining its dwindling number of human visitors than caring for its residents, the its reputation had plunged to an all-time low. And then, on Christmas Day 2007, a member of the public was savaged to death by an escaped tiger, the same animal that had bitten a keeper just twelve months before. Among locals, confessing to liking it became nearly as criminal an act as admitting to paying a visit to Pier 39. And it was too far removed from the tourist bus trail to lure outsiders to its Ocean Beach location.

But today, on reading that the zoo was making a comeback, we set aside any such prejudice and took the combined J and L Muni lines to Sloat and 47th to join the young families and school parties that appeared, understandably, to represent the main customer base.

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The first thing that strikes you is the beautifully lush setting. And there has, and continues to be, a tremendous amount of work being done in recent years to rebrand and remodel the Zoo around different habitats and focusing on conservation. As someone who has two world class wildlife parks on his doorstep – the John Aspinall Foundation zoos at Howlett’s and Port Lympne in Kent in England – I wish them well and applaud the passion that was evident in the friendly, welcoming staff.

To recommend a zoo as the perfect place to take the kids is like proposing that an aquarium is the best spot to encounter tropical fish. But the children’s zoo here is a delight. It is a spacious and clean where the children are encouraged to learn about, and engage physically, with the inhabitants, all of whom are only too willing to be petted – and fed. A steam train that picks up a thrilling speed on its short route and an indoor carousel provide added excitement.

Photographed below are just a few of the adorable characters that live at the Zoo. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many animals actually out on display, particularly in the afternoon, than I did on our visit. Generally, they are taking a siesta or just merely playing hard to get. Some, for example the snow leopard and beaver, made themselves unavailable, but the vast majority were clearly visible and untroubled, even stimulated, by the interest shown in them by the public.

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Now Singapore it is not. Nor Toronto. Nor even San Diego.

But it is a zoo that is trying hard to heal a reputation that had been seriously harmed in a market where the alternative “big beasts” like Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman’s Wharf, hold all the aces. And it is doing so in the right way by concentrating on conservation.

TripAdvisor places it 87th out of 520 attractions in San Francisco which, on my limited mathematical analysis, means it is in the top sixteen percent, which, in one sense, is not too shabby. But a city zoo, especially one in such a lovely setting, should be doing better. It deserves greater support from prospective benefactors, San Francisco residents and out of town visitors alike.

And yes, we did see both the baby sumatran tiger and giraffe!

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‘Tis the night before the start of our our tenth – and longest – stay in San Francisco. And the first to be spent in summer in the enchanted city.

We spent a week in the southern neighbourhood of Noe Valley last spring, and whilst much of that time we were elsewhere, we enjoyed its relaxing, civilised atmosphere so much that, when we had to decide where to rent an apartment for four weeks in June this year, we chose it above other likely candidates such as the Mission and the Sunset . This will enable us to acquaint ourselves more with the neighbourhood and adjoining districts as well as providing a good base for visiting other parts of the Bay Area, familiar and previously unexplored alike.

So where is Noe Valley? And what we have let ourselves in for by living there? It sits immediately south of the Castro and east of the Mission in a sunny spot protected from the fog by steep hills on three sides. Its borders are broadly defined as between 20th and 22nd Street to the north, 30th Street to the south, Dolores to the east and Grand View Avenue to the west. Our apartment is on 28th Street between Church and Dolores.

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A look at a map of the greater San Francisco area would suggest that it is relatively remote, and it is undeniably off the tourist trail. But public transit and local roads render it easily accessible to downtown and the South Bay respectively. The J Church MUNI Metro line was our constant companion on our previous trip and will be so again, at least for the first half of our stay before we hire a car for the trip to Tahoe.

Noe Valley is a quiet but cosmopolitan residential neighbourhood with a classy small town feel. Its preponderance of comfortable, even affluent, young families has lead to a change in its nickname from the hippie-inspired “Granola Valley” in the seventies to “Stroller Alley” today. But it also attracts couples and singles of all persuasions, notably gay and lesbian migrants from the Castro. A healthy number of artists and writers complete a sophisticated demographic. The population of approximately 21,000 comprises 70% white, 15% Hispanic and 7% Asian, with the remaining 8% coming from all corners of the globe.

It is blessed with a significant number of classic two storey Victorian and Edwardian homes. Broad streets and brightly coloured exteriors have the writers of guidebooks reaching for words like “cute” and “quaint”. Property prices are inevitably expensive.

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The neighbourhood gets its name from José de Jésus Noé, the last Mexican alcade (Mayor) of Yerba Buena, the original name for San Francisco. He owned the land as part of his Rancho San Miguel but sold it to John Meirs Horner in 1854. Horner laid out many of the wide streets we enjoy today, and the name “Horner’s Addition” is still used for tax purposes by the city assessor’s office.

The main development of what was traditionally a working class neighbourhood came in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, notably after the 1906 Earthquake and Fire. Today, its interest for outsiders lies essentially in the eclectic shopping and dining experience to be found along the stretches of 24th Street from Castro to Church and Diamond to Dolores. Coffee shops, restaurants, one of a kind clothing and gift stores and bookshops abound, along with one of the best farmers’ markets in the city.

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This will be our fourth apartment – the first two were in Hayes Valley and North of the Panhandle (NOPA) – and, as with previous years, our aim is to blend as far as possible into the local community for the duration. With four weeks at our disposal on this occasion, our “live like locals” strategy has more chance of success than in previous years where we have stayed for no more than a fortnight. We are particularly looking forward to hiking up Bernal Heights, Twin Peaks and Buena Vista Park, as well as reacquainting ourselves with the Mission.

But the extended stay still enables us to satisfy our tourist cravings and revisit the usual suspects such as Golden Gate Bridge, the Palace of Fine Arts, Golden Gate Park , Beach Blanket Babylon and Haight Ashbury, and, of course, three pilgrimages to AT & T Park to support the Giants in their (currently faltering~) hunt for back to back World Series titles. Any trip would not be complete without expanding our understanding of the Bay Area, so Berkeley, the Zoo, Castro Theater and the de Young Museum, all places we have criminally neglected until now, are on our list.

Having always , with the exception of our first visit in October, visited in spring, we will be also be able to throw ourselves into four of San Francisco’s celebrated annual events – the Haight Ashbury Street Fair, North Beach Festival, Stern Grove Festival and San Francisco Pride.

Our last two vacations have coincided with Crosby and Nash and Elvis Costello gigs at the Warfield. This year, we move to the waterfront at Pier 27/29 where we have tickets for the concert being given by the Steve Miller Band and the Doobie Brothers at the America’s Cup Pavilion. And finally, a short detour to Tahoe is also scheduled.

I hadn’t actually realised until I wrote this just how busy we are going to be!

San Francisco – your “wandering one” is coming home again.  

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Finally, after a pre-season match against the Oakland A’s in 2008 and a rain-curtailed “friendly” against the Seattle Mariners two years later, I made it to my first two Major League Baseball (MLB) games at AT & T Park for the opening weekend of 2012.

On Saturday evening the San Francisco Giants entertained the Pittsburgh Pirates in the second of a three game series, and then hosted the Philadelphia Phillies in the opening game of three on Monday evening.

This is not a match report on either game, though I will briefly outline  the action. It is more a series of impressions on the baseball experience.

So – the figures. On Saturday, the Giants squeezed out a 4-3 victory in the ninth after trailing both 2-0 and 3-2 earlier in the game. CRedit should go to much-maligned, and many believe, grossly overpaid, starting pitcher, Barry Zito’s second quality performance at the start of the season.

A disastrous first innings by star pitcher, Tim Lincecum, in which he gave up four runs, meant the Giants were always chasing the game against the Phillies’ Roy Halladay. Despite Buster Posey’s three hits and improved pitching by Lincecum and the bullpen, the deficit was too much for Giants to pull back, eventually losing 5-2.

One win and one defeat, not altogether unexpected, so I’ ll take that.

Although we had already printed our tickets at home back in the UK, we wanted to get to the ballpark well in advance of Saturday’s 6.05pm first pitch. We disembarked from a Muni Metro car at 3rd and King at around 4.30pm, just in time to be welcomed through the turnstiles with a large number of equally excited fans, most wearing the Giants’ orange and black colours.

One of many reasons for wanting to get to the park early was that it would guarantee us securing the day’s free gift on entry. Although on Saturday this was a rather modest foam finger, the use for which is modelled in the photograph below, we received a far more elegant A5 size Giants 2012 schedule fridge magnet at the Phillies game. This was the first of a host of fan-oriented activities on both nights.

And it is this emphasis on ensuring that the spectators, especially families, have a memorable experience at the ballpark that is so impressive about American sports in general, and the San Francisco Giants organisation in particular, and which I want to concentrate on in this article.

Amongst the other gifts scheduled to be handed out at future home games during the season were bobbleheads of the most popular players, including Sergio Romo, Madison Bumgarner and Pablo Sandoval, a Brian Wilson gnome, a Matt Cain t-shirt, fedoras, knitted hats, texting gloves (sic), trading cards and caps. Some of these are limited to the first 20, 25 or 40 thousand fans through the turnstiles, one of many clever marketing ploys to get the spectators eating and drinking early inside the stadium rather than at the bars and restaurants around the “yard”.

For children aged 14 and under, they would be greeted at selected games with snap watches, rope necklaces, and Super Hero capes. Many of the above gifts were presented by companies such as Subway, See’s Candles, Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area and PG & E.

And then there would be the games that celebrated past glories such as the “Turn Back the Century Game – 1912” and the 2010 Giants World Series Team Reunion. On another day Virgin America would be providing two for one flight vouchers for all fans.

And it still doesn’t end there!

San Francisco is renowned for its commitment to diversity, demonstrated in a range of festivals and street fairs throughout the year that showcase its ethnic communities.

And the Giants play their part. Certain games are designated “heritage nights” where the culture and history of peoples that have played a key role in the history of the Bay Area is celebrated. The list includes Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Mexican (Cinco de Mayo), Irish, Jewish, Italian, Polynesian, African American, Filipinos, and, this being San Francisco, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

And then there are the games that are dedicated to firefighters, law enforcement officers, masons and even singles! And, again, it wouldn’t be San Francisco without a series of food festivals, including one where leading chefs from around the area set up stall and offer their wares at a fraction of the price that one would pay in their restaurants.

Once inside the stadium, the off-field entertainment, both before, during and, on occasions, after, the game, is excellent. In the lead up to the start of the Pirates game, the crowd was treated to Jefferson Starship ripping through their – or rather Jefferson Airplane’s – catalogue of classic songs, including Somebody to Love and White Rabbit. They returned to lead the traditional pre-match rendition of the American national anthem – not perhaps their finest hour, but I doubt the great majority of the crowd, wrapped in the emotion of the moment, were too concerned about that.

Although the breaks between innings in a ballgame are rarely more than a few minutes, the gaps are filled invariably with quizzes, competitions and interviews played out on the large screen / scoreboard, with yet more prizes and special offers available to the lucky fans. The middle of the seventh community singing of Take Me Out to the Ballpark is another tradition that raises the crowd’s spirits, even if the Giants are faltering.

Perhaps the most popular moments are when the camera scans round the crowd to hone in on unsuspecting couples whose duty it is then to kiss each other in front of 41,000 other people. These bring huge cheers, notably when a chaste peck turns into a more passionate clinch. On more than one occasion I wondered whether the “victims” had ever kissed before, might even be on their first date, such was the embarrassed on some faces. But most carry it off with good humour.

The antics of Lou Seal, the Giants’ larger than life (particularly around his midriff) mascot, contribute to the party atmosphere. A feisty character, his finest moment is when he strides and struts on the roof of the Giants dugout, leading the ninth innings rallying cry of Dont Stop Believin’ by Journey, which has become the team’s unofficial anthem since the World Series season of 2010. And it had the desired effect in the Pirates game in inspiring the team to pull round a 3-2 deficit to secure a walk-off win in the bottom of the ninth, adding a triumphant note to the spectacular fireworks display at the end.

Oh….and there’s always a baseball game going on if you get bored with all the ancillary entertainment!

I shall now turn to the other visible demonstration of the fan-friendly approach that epitomises the Giants organisation – the provision of refreshment.

For anyone unfamiliar with American sports, and, as a result, erroneously supposing that the food and beverages at venues barely extend beyond Coca-Cola, Budweiser, hot dogs and hamburgers, would be astonished to see the variety and quality on offer at AT & T Park.

Amongst the dozens of outlets at the stadium are California Cookout, Clam Chowder, Crazy Crab’z, Mission Creek Cantina, Cinnamon Roasted Nuts, First Base Carvery, McCovey’s 44 BBQ, Gourmet Sausages, Tres Mexican Kitchen, Long Taters Baked Potato, Doggie Diner, Haagen Dazs, Outta Here Cheesesteaks, Pier 44 Chowder House, Say Hey! Speciality Sausages, Port Walks Pizza, Ghiradelli, Mashi’s Sushi Bistro and Edsel Ford Fong’s. Some of these have multiple stands.

But the crowning glory, the signature dish, the product singularly responsible for the unmissable, pungent aroma of the ballpark, apart from on Grateful Dead Day when it is overpowered by the heady waft of dope, are Gilroy’s garlic fries, served up in generously filled trays at many of the aforementioned stands. These are the must eat” option, not only for the human visitors but also for the savvy seagulls that swoop and hover over proceedings in the latter stages of the game.

And yes, of course, soda and beer dominate the drinks scene, but this is San Francisco and elegant dining is available too, as witnessed by the Francis Ford Coppola wines my wife and I gravitated towards on both evenings.

My only quibble with all this eating and drinking – which clearly provides the Giants organisation with massive income – is that it is so enjoyable that a significant proportion of the sell-out crowds that flock to every game feel the need to keep going back for more – and more – and more – during the actual game, meaning that they miss a not inconsiderable part of the play. If you have the misfortune to sit behind someone who is constantly getting up out of their seat to stock up on yet more food and drink, it can be very annoying.

Now, I like a drink and something to eat when I watch football, cricket or baseball, but not at the expense of missing the play. I will get that out of the way before the game, or, occasionally, during a scheduled interval in play, such as half time in football. After all, I am there for the game, no more, no less.

But baseball, with its short breaks in play between innings, doesn’t allow one to do that. There is no lunch or tea interval as in cricket, where you may have between 20 and 40 minutes in which to satisfy your hunger or thirst.

So I do understand, not only the urge, but also the compulsion to eat constantly during the game, particularly when the fare is so tasty. And if you have children badgering you for a hot dog, coke or ice cream, during the play, it’s hard to resist.

But for some people, and not necessarily those with families, the actual game appears almost incidental – or rather that it is no more than a part of the overall experience or the excuse for attending a foodie extravaganza.

By the end of Saturday evening when we sat in section 324 View Reserve Infield, overlooking from the clouds (if there had been any) third base, I wondered whether I had been the only spectator in my block who could honestly claim that they had seen every single ball pitched during the game. Even my wife had had to make a call of nature (your fault Mr Coppola – who was at the Phillies game) during the seventh innings!

That said, I was one of the first in the extensive queue for the gentlemen’s restrooms at the end!

By way of contrast we sat in section 135 Lower Box Infield, immediately to the right of the bleachers on Monday evening and the “problem” was almost non-existent. The higher you sit in the stands the more likely you are to have people leaving their seats obscuring your view.

The situation would be worse – if that is the correct word, if it weren’t for the army of incredibly hard working vendors of hot dogs, cotton candy, ice cream and beer that flit amongst the crowd from beginning to end. Their energy, good humour and efficiency are a sight to behold.

Lessons to be learned for future visits?

1. If it’s a night game in spring or autumn (or summer for that matter) take a blanket. Although both evenings were clear and relatively still, it became decidedly chilly when the sun went down.

2.Choose seats at a lower level than section 324 – few fans struggled to make it back to their seats without pausing for breath. More chance of catching a ball there too.

3. Take more photos to supplement my report. This article  would certainly have benefited from that.

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Having been back in the City for the past three days and nights, I am pleased to report that we are making great progress on the primary objective of this trip –  visiting locations we had, criminally, either  not patronised at all or given short shrift to on our previous eight trips.

The only part of Nob Hill we had explored previously had been the top floor restaurant of the Fairmont Hotel during an evening excursion on our very first (coach) trip 17 years ago. Whilst we contrived this time to try to access the Top of the Mark in the period between breakfast and lunch services, it gave us the opportunity to spend more time in the stunning Grace Cathedral, with its dazzling stained glass and murals.

A walking tour of the Civic Center took in a visit of awesome City Hall, which including access to Mayor’s office as well as the supervisors’ meeting chamber. The irony of a constant procession of (heterosexual) couples making their wedding vows within feet of the bust of Harvey Milk could hardly be lost on anyone aware of the ongoing debate about gay marriage in the country in this election year.

A return visit to flower bedecked Macondray Lane, likely inspiration for Barbary Lane in Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series of books, has been another highlight.

I don’t know whether it is the responsibility of the oh so lucky residents or the municipal authorities, but somebody really ought to repair that iconic wooden stairway before it rots away completely. That said, it did take my weight comfortably, so it may be more robust than it looks.

A few more random reflections on the trip so far:

1. As I start to write this on Opening Day, and look forward to Opening Night, when we will be part of the MLB experience for the first time, can there be another town that loves its sports teams more? Even major financial institutions fly Giants flags from their stratosphere stretching rooftops and vagrants -with little else to call their own in this world – besport team baseball caps or fleece jackets.

2. There may be no better place in the city to spend $5 than Hyde Street Pier with its collection of historic ships, notably the Glasgow built Baraclutha or the paddlesteamer ferry, Eureka, that once brought more than 2,000 commuters a day from Sausalito and Oakland?

3. We have, by using the J Church line from the Embarcadero to our apartment in Noe Valley, finally discovered the fabulous Muni Metro system – doh!

4. But we won’t desert the Muni buses or the crazy, clanking F Streetcar service, both of which provide the perfect stage for San Franciscans to play out their anxieties or set the world to rights.

5. Noe Valley is proving an excellent place to stay. It has the feel of a suburb but, because of the J Church Muni Metro, allows swift access into town. Both Hayes Valley and North of the Panhandle, where we stayed in the past two years, much as we liked them, still felt as if they were “in town”.

6. The main thoroughfare in Noe Valley, 24th Street, provides an eclectic array of shops and restaurants, and it is interesting how the Mission at the eastern end morphs into Noe Valley as you travel west along the street. Tacquerias give way to smart cafes and trolleys to strollers –  a fascinating example of how San Francisco’s neighbourhoods coexist so fluidly.

7. On our first morning we walked into town via the Castro, the former Irish catholic neighbourhood that, since the sixties and seventies, has became the focal point for the gay community. As with other areas it boasts many beautifully renovated residences.

Enough for now – the Haight and the Giants beckon!

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