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San Francisco vol3

In eat drink man woman, out and about, san fran, stateside, west coast on December 9, 2010 at 12:46 pm

My stay in Berkeley will forever be linked to the mournful note of the train horns, as they passed along the tracks to the station close by, late at night, they would flower out, and I’d lie and try to hear the chitterclatter of the trucks rolling across the railings.

That and the sound of skateboards doing their own imitation of trains as they chased their shadows across the creases in the sidewalk. Nothing to remind you that you’re not in Blighty, but the sight and sound of some fresh-faced youths, or not so fresh-faced men pushing themselves along, before the glide begins, hips pushed forwards even as they lean back and bend their knees. Ah California’s love affair with the skateboard, for brief envious moments as I watch them slide past, I want to regress back to my childhood so I could put the hours in getting to a level of competence well above where I am now, which is rolling for a couple of steps before falling off.

Late nights by the water, with the lights reflected in the Bay, lovers whisper of a breeze, fluttering over your flesh. Getting a bit nippy, but just a thin merino jumper (thank you uniqlo) suffices to keep the chill away.

Enjoy a couple of drunken nights out in San Francisco, one when I’m still staying in Berkeley and the BART finishes running at about midnight I think. And I’m immensely glad that I got the number of the bus that runs back from town. Only when I put my bike in the rack on the front and settle back into my seat, drowsy with the alcohol, do I realise I have no idea which way this bus is going to get back to Berkeley and on top of that I have no idea whether I’ll be able to recognise where I’m staying once I get there. 

Bus takes me over the Bay Bridge, so far so good, then heads down the freeway and before you know it we’re in Oakland and apart from my daylight jaunt to Bakesale Betty’s none of this looks familiar, bus is on the fuller side with people sleeping, listening to iPods, chatting amongst themselves, and I’m staring out the window trying to figure out where I am, who knew the bus would roll through Oakland first.

Cue a good half an hour of fretting, and nervous neck twisting,  and finally sight is caught of a landmark I know and I’m sighing withe relief and looking for whatever I have to pull to get this bus to stop.

2nd, I get a call from Sacha, friend of a friend whose out with some friends in the Mission District, and I’m now staying in the Tenderloin, right in the heart of town and its no big leap to head out to see him and drink a couple. Once again I’m seduced by the simple act of riding a bike through the darkened streets. Loving the wide roads, the reminder to look out for the tram lines, and just the general feeling of those late night runs to someplace new, to drink and carouse, and just have fun. Also the knowledge that I won’t have to do anything but ride back to the hostel makes it a whole load more inviting.

So end up in this bar in the Mission, drinking cider, making small talk with the barmaid, over something that seemed really interesting at the time, but which I can’t quite put my finger on. Knocking back shots of rum, and defending the going out side of London from the table of Americans. My only point on that is DO NOT GO OUT DRINKING IN SOHO! Do Not Want! Just go to Shoreditch and Brick Lane and get twisted there, cheaper – relatively – and it’ll go on for longer, and if you want to be a dirty stop out in hopes of performing the walk of shame there are places where you can continue drinking into the wee hours.

After the drinking, I expected to ride straight back to the hostel but got the rumbletums, saw some bright lights and what do you know ended up in the Californian equivalent of the kebab shop, filled with as many drowsily drunken people as you could swing a stick out, as I leant across the counter, and ordered a couple of burritos’ before sitting and waiting like everyone else for the foil wrapped food present to make its way to me. I’m pretty sure I ate it when I got back to the hostel. Ahhh yes I remember now, everyone was in the downstairs kitchen, well six or seven people and drinking games were ensuing, and I just wanted to devour my burritos in peace, though I did drink a beer that someone offered me. Good Times!

On close to my last day in town I decided to ride the cable car, the bike was all bagged up, and where I was staying if you walked up the hill you got to a cable car stop, which then proceeded to take you down the steep ass hill, with a rattle and clank of chains as us tourists hung on the side, taking photo’s and being told not to stand in the entrance/exitway. For such an archaic piece of machinery, it does the job, and its nice to just stand on there and watch the slow descent down to the water, down past the edge of Chinatown, and into the more professional business section, skyscrapers ahoy.. It just feels like one of those things I have to do, and having missed out on the Alcatraz tour, those mothers get booked up early, it makes me feel as if I actually spent time in San Francisco and got a glimpse of how living here on the regular would feel.

Round the corner from me, hey that’s what happens when your hostel is located right slap bang in the center of town, is a pretty good Diner that has been recommended in my guide-book, so I’m in there like swimwear and eating, the scrambled eggs, bacon and home fries like there’s no tomorrow, sat right up at the counter with the short order cook, working right in front of me. It’s a cosy place and there’s a queue outside, which takes ten/fifteen mins to negotiate as eaters finally relinquish their space. The foods great, you can’t really mess with the all american diner experience and it’s always good to watch your cook sweat over a hot stove, right there in front of you, see the skill with which he works the skillet, and the custom of the never let it run out coffee refills, is manna from heaven for the coffee addict.

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San Francisco vol2

In all about the ride, eat drink man woman, out and about, san fran, stateside, travelling, west coast on December 6, 2010 at 11:34 am

So I’m in Berkeley and its nice, got a real laid back charm, probably from it being a university town, the campus itself isn’t far from where I’m staying, right before some hills stop your forward path, all cut lawns and open space, with big old stone buildings.

Berkeley’s more constant inclines than steep ascents, and what you think is just a leisurely rise, soon turns into something a bit more teeth grinding, but the traffic is well-trained and I’m enjoying just tooling around. I get the BART into San Francisco on more than one occasion and let it whisk me into the heart of the city. And as with most buses on the west coast they come rigged with bike racks on the front which you can shove your bike onto and sit back and relax as it takes you back to the wherever you need to be.

Kyle from Trackasaurus Rex/Orange 20, back in LA has told me about this place out in Oakland, called Bakesale Betty’s which does the greatest fried chicken sandwich. Kyle does not stint on his praise of this sandwich and told me that I would be remiss if I didn’t try it. So come the weekend, cometh the jaunt down into Oakland, google directions, written onto a slip of paper, as I try to remember which straight road I’m supposed to ride down.

Crisply, affluent Berkeley slides into more down at heel Oakland, and the road seems to go on forever and I’m counting crossroads, trying to make sure I get the right turning. The sun for once has come out. Its been grey in Berkeley and its been getting to me, the dreariness, just sitting there in a washed out sky, it hasn’t been as warm as LA and I’ve been pondering wearing more than my regulation t-shirts and shorts.  But the sun comes out and it is glorious, pitched against a picture perfect blue sky and soft tremulous fluffy white clouds.

After a small detour round a bit of strip mall, it shouldn’t even be described as a strip mall, it’s on a junction, big car park, set of businesses arranged along the junction. It looks kind of like a smaller version of an industrial estate, just businesses backing onto a shared car park. I ride round it, and see the queue before I see Bakesale Betty’s.

Motherfucker is down the block, and it’s not just long, its two/three/four people deep. There’s a stretch of ironing boards set up as tables, which are all in use as people scoff their sandwiches, and I’m starving just looking at them.

I’m not even going to try and pretend, or extend the suspense, the sandwich was better than advertised with a lovely citrus dressing on the masses of lettuce salad that comes with. It takes a good half an hour to eat, and every bite is glorious. The cookies that I purchase at the same time are something special as well..

The Haight:

To get upto Golden Gate Bridge, I ride upto Haight Ashbury, and the drag of shops and bars and diners and restaurants along that thoroughfare is crowded whenever I make the journey. But I come to like this part of town not for that drag, but the neighbourhood that leads upto it, the lazy Bohemianism, the casual slightly sleazy charm, the record shops that spring up, specialising in funk and soul, and other things, but who cares about those. They are the quintessential record shops of your dreams, and I don’t even collect records. Quiet, crate digging affairs, with quality vintage posters and charisma by the wall load. Just being there made me want to spend money on vinyl that I would never play.

And the bars and the murals that dot the wall along that side of town just add to the feeling of creativity and social rebellion.

Pixar:

One morning I wake up and decide its time to go to the cinema. Toy Story 3’s been out for a while and I’m going to see it, morning screenings are cheapest and I’m donning a pair of 3d glasses in a deliriously empty cinema. It’s as if I’m a VIP and they’ve cleared the room for me.

Now some of you may know I am a big Pixar fan, from way back in the day with Luxo Jr, and Red’s Dream, and where I’m staying in Berkeley is just down the road from Pixar (obviously this is America and just down the road means an entirely new town, but what the hey). But I don’t make the pilgrimage, I’ll tell you the Roni Size fanboy moment that still fills me with embarassment another time, to explain why I don’t.

But Toy Story is a joy, and I’m enraptured immediately, just the whole coming of age thing, and the evilness of the pink bear, and the passing on from one generation the next. Just plain flawless, I’m still not sure whether they’ll ever be able to top the first dialogueless opening to UP, but there isn’t a week film in the Toy Story Trilogy and how often can you say that about a movie trilogy. toy story 3 empty cinema.

Coast road:

So to get to Golden Gate Bridge, I’m riding through Golden Gate Park, where deep in the center is a  fine art gallery/museum, a rusting hulk of deep brown metal and glass atria, with a spectacular view-point at the top of a tower, more about that later, and opposite it San Francisco’s natural history museum, this lovingly crafted steel construction, topped with a green eco roof, attempting to make sure it has a tiny, tiny carbon footprint. you ride past both of these and then take a road which curves and dips, away to the left which brings you out by the water’s edge finally. The road that winds along, though relatively not that windy, runs along the high bluff, with a drop to the blustery beach, to the left and across the road, a slice of greenery snakes along, with a bike path running its length. The further along the road you ride, the further out the green tufted dunes spread, sending a fine then heavier deposit of sand across the road. The breeze isn’t too strong and I’m not trying to pull too hard, and as usual its just nice to roll along, no particular destination in mind, just follow the road for as far as it goes. Attempting to look over the dunes to the ocean that is ever constant on my right side.

When I get to the end of the road, which takes a turn inland, at a boarded off junction, where some road works are being completed. I sit, drink some water and just watch the people walking along on the sand. It’s another grey day in San Francisco and looking out across the waves it feels like the sun’s never going to shine again.

The ride back I make along the bike path, which is higher up than I’d at first thought and allows me a better view of the ocean and a chance to commune with and avoid fellow cyclists, and joggers. To my right, hidden previously from me by the cycle path and the greenery growing on it is a long row of two storey houses, that sit along a smaller arterial road. Each one looks like it’s been drawn by a child, sloped roof, windows and doors making a face. I wonder what its like to live so close to the sea, to smell it and feel it and hear it, but not be able to see it over the dunes. How frustrating would that be? Would it frustrate me.

I eat one of the biggest wrapped sandwiches I’ve ever ordered, several different types of meat, twisted around cheese slices, and sip on a coffee as reward for the ride I’ve just made…

Swirl, sniff, sip, swallow

In all about the ride, Argentina, eat drink man woman, Sud America on August 17, 2010 at 3:03 am

So a whirl of us from the hostel went on a wine tour, hired some bikes from mr Hugo, mine had a basket on the front and some snazzy purple brake calipers, and went riding down the bumpy fractured roads amongst the vineyards for tastings at the various Bodega’s on the map/flyer that Mr Hugo had given us after we’d rented the bikes.

To say it got messy would be an understatement. Wine and riding don’t mix, the two broken spokes I returned the bike with can attest to that. But it was fun. Matt the escalator was knocking back the absinthe he’d purchased at the liquor factory we’d started out at before the sun had risen to its highest point.

We did a proper wine tasting at the Trapiche Bodega, which was a lovely mix of old and new, new buildings modern, glass and metal hidden behind old original walls, with shiny metal vats for the fermentation of the wine set into the main buildings in long rows.  Before discovering a small outdoor bar round the back, down a long dirt road, and off the beaten track. It was just like someone’s large backyard, which just so happened to have a bar in it, and a cooker, on which the owners made home-made pizza’s and empanadas’.

Then it was off to Latitude 33 for more wine tasting and casting envious glances at the food that was brought out for the other cycling wine tasters. Obviously I managed to get the bods to break out a bottle of rose for the people, and how sweet it was.

Drunken ride out to the very last winery, when I’m trying to ram into the back of the people in our group, I have no idea what took over me, though I’m pretty sure it was the wine. Which precipitated me breaking like two or three spokes in the front wheel, tipsily pulling them out, and then trying to figure out where everyone else had got to. Finally found them and drank even more wine. And good it was too.

Rolled back to Mr Hugo’s and handed back the bikes, making sure I pointed out the broken spokes, a shrug, and a never mind shake of the head, and then the big man was pouring house red all round as the bike was rolled back in with the others.

A good day was made better when we rolled drunkenly back to the hostel and you know when you’ve been out on the lash from lunchtime and you think you’re talking at an acceptable volume, but in reality you are shouting like a five-year old trying to get their parents attention. Well that was the situation when we hit the hostel a whirlwind of drunkenness and loudness. We had been drinking since noon so we could be forgiven a little bit….

Bs As Night numero dos

In Argentina, Buenos Aires, eat drink man woman, Sud America on April 20, 2010 at 3:10 pm

I love meat! Have been just to bursting with chicken, sausage and steak at the hostel weekly BBQ. I’m liking this city and their take on eating more and more. Going to be having lunch with another London bod and doing cultural art gallery type things. But the meat on meat on meat plus salad both leafy and egg, make me happy, my belly is round I’ve just drunk a litre of beer and am now listening to an Argentinian singer, barbara barale, myspace.com/barbarabarale she plays guitar and the harmonica every so often and the English guy next to me is in love with her, she is his perfect woman, up on the roof of the hostel, the full moon overhead and the spires and domes that make up the skyline in this part of town lit up against the night sky. Making me think of north African cities and the call to prayer wandering out all over you.

Barbara’s okay her guitar playing is a bit shaky, and shes singing in castellano which i dont understand,  and has some strange echo/reverb on her voice which I’m not feeling, and as many of you know i find fey singer songwriters kinda hard to get my head round, but it just tops off a night of concentrated carnivorous action which has my stomach distended and a slothful identity bestowed upon me. I’m finding her songs palatable because the night has been good to and I can’t be churlish right now.

Wonder if I stayed for a couple of nights in the best hostel in London town whether I would have as good a time as I’m having here and the other hostels I’ve stayed in which have cared about their patrons.

Red lights wink on rooftops, pylons, aerials, towers, all around, clouds lit by the light source just out of sight behind that wall. The wind is soft and cool up here on the rock, ruffling hair and complementing the wistful barbara’s songs. There are swinging hammock chairs which I want to sit in and to rock myself off to a deep slumber. If I haven’t said this before I love being in hot countries, love the feeling of the cool night after a hot day, the chilling of your being as the sun sets. The lethargy and langour that comes from being hot, then warm, then cool. As kevin says i’d love it if I was living somewhere warm

Drunk in Japan

In eat drink man woman, japan, travelling on February 11, 2010 at 12:44 am

You go travelling, you meet up with people in hostels, eight to a room, grabbing the top bunk like your back at camp, nine with no fears, similar age, similar/dissimilar interests, you share the bare bones of who you are, or you undress your inner self and let it all hang out, you make friends, you make enemies, you become lovers, you have one night stands, you view the dorm as an arena and go sport fucking, you have awkward goodbyes, you add them as facebook friends, you never contact them again, you crash at theirs when you hit their home city.

You go out and get drunk together in this strange new city, because your young and magical things happen when you do. Life slips past quicker/smoother/happier/brighter/better, and your new best “friends” will look out for you, make sure you get home safe, and your having a whale of a time. Because you are quicker/smoother/happier/brighter/better, even as you shout loudly on the quiet metro, because you’ve drunk too much whilst playing kill your liver, and now your dying for a piss, and if you don’t piss your bladder will burst, and you’ll need to have a catheter inserted and will have to piss into a bag for the rest of your days, you try and stay awake on the metro, but are defeated by languor and fall asleep missing your stop and have to walk home through a part of town that your map doesn’t cover. Spend too much money on shit alcohol to keep the buzz going, spend too much money in general, lose your “friends”, lose your watch, lose your memory of what just happened, lose what you just ate, lose the next morning.

Photo’s never lie though, they prove you had a great time.

And we did.

eat hearty

In eat drink man woman, japan on January 27, 2010 at 4:17 pm

I was going to keep an Araki like journal of my eating habits and take a photo of everything I ate, but I’ve been remiss lately, as when the food arrives I’m hungry and just head straight in rather than recording the moment for posterity, so there aren’t as many photo’s of food as I would like, or the people serving me the food for that matter. You know what its like you get a new diary for the new year, and you get all eager about making sure your organised and you use it and use it and use it, for the first four or five months and then for some reason you stop using it, or you use it less, until your not using it at all. Well thats what my vow to be Araki like, is like, except I stopped taking photo’s after the first week or so. But I promise to do better, really, cross my heart.
So the food in Japan’s been really good, even the takeout stuff that you get in family mart, especially loving the corner bento box places that do rice, some sort of tempura or curry and gyoza, with lots of different variations, not that expensive but tasty tasty.

One of the things I love is the window displays, where you get the plastic food on show. I love, love, love that. They are fucking amazing, I really want to be able to drag the staff out the front of the eaterie and show them what I want by pointing at the plastic versions of their food. “want that ONE!”
Had some really good sushi here as well, though you wouldn’t expect anything less would you, had some in a place round the corner from Yakitori Alley which is close to Ginza, a row of food places, designed to feed and water the salarymen and women who pile through on their way to get a train back to their homes. It was lovely, nice interior, great fresh sushi, got a “we don’t speak english from the chef”, but as is always the case, his english was better than my japanese, and then a startled young girl was dragged from upstairs to speak to me, even though her english seemed to be worse than the chefs, and I was working from the see image, point, “want that one” school of ordering. I got the sushi selection and some yakitori. It is amazing what they can cook over here, no piece of the bird is wasted.

I also had some good sushi in Osaka, in a place by Juso station, which was pointed out by a forumenger, Pete whose teaching english over here and is staying out in Kobe. He said they had an english menu, which when I went in they couldn’t find, but they were friendly enough, and the whole point at food picture on the menu worked a treat, and the sushi was excellent, was trying to try different sushi’s from what I would normally go for, and I had a vague idea of what each one was, it was just try and find the ones which weren’t squid or octopus. Almost like Sushi roulette.

and last but definitely not least went to a noodle place in Shibuya, I was taken there by a friends brother whose been in Tokyo for the last couple of years. Down some stairs to a basement kitchen. Machine at the front where you push buttons for the food that you want, which is basically noodles, and meat, take the tickets, wait for a seat to become available, which you can see on a board up on the wall, kanji light up as a seat is vacated, and walk through to a long run of one person booths, which face onto a curtained area, where the staff work and walk along behind. You can’t see them, they serve you through the curtain, and give you a little sheet to decide how you want the noodles, special sauce, deeper flavour, extra garlic, and then they bring it to you, sweep it through the curtain and you have some of the tastiest ramen you can eat. If you want you can order extra noodles as well.

Food is fuel, but its better when the fuel actually tastes good.

Loving this flight more and more

In eat drink man woman, travelling on January 17, 2010 at 5:21 pm

Just about to tuck into a seafood pot noodle, get in! The smell of it wafting down the cabin was too good to ignore. Fuck Ryanscsare and Sleazyjet, fly with a proper airline, he drinks keep coming, the foods not bad, haven’t tried the pot noodle yet so can’t comment on that, but I’m willing to give it a big thumbs up on the smell alone, also I’ve never eaten pot noodle with chopsticks so that side of it should be interesting.
Side note, there’s a little girl about three of four who keeps running up and down the cabin, not shouting or screaming just energy needing to be expended, she’s watching Pixar’s up in as haphazard a manner as I’ve ever seen, standing on her seat headphones on (why do airlines have such shit headphones? Probably something to do with cost effectiveness, bulk buying and the fact that travellers steal anything that isn’t nailed down) but I digress, she watches like ten maybe fifteen mins before she’s off again god knows where you can only walk up and down in a straight line, as they say on facebook LIKE!

One Week Til The Great Escape Starts

In eat drink man woman, leaving on January 7, 2010 at 8:57 am

Just finished putting the last of my  stuff into storage, the paid for kind.

The unpaid for kind (thanks to the kindness of good friends with garages, basements, attics and wide open front rooms) will be done on wednesday. Then two nights sleep under a thin blankie on the sofa and its off to see the bits of the world which have captured my imagination since I was a teen. Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Brazil, The West Coast of the States, Vancouver, New York, then seeing the family in the West Indies, before heading back to Blighty for a passport stopover and a quick departure to Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

Thirty odd years of stuff, cd’s, books, hifi, photo’s, prints, clothes, shoes, old school reports, love letters from ex’s. Shit you thought you’d thrown out, but which magically reappears from the back of the cupboard. So much stuff to tell the story of a life, yet it fits into so small a space. Its amazing how much you can pack into 50 sq feet, when you have no other choice, and it probably only amazes you because you’re the only soul whose seen what was once spread across a three bed flat, placed into boxes and tetrised into a storage container. There will be much seperating of wheat from chaff when I return.

But for the time being its time to sit back and try to forget the ever present butterflies that flutter in the gut, reminding me that the city I’ve called home for most of my adult life won’t have me in it for at least a year. Will it miss me? Will I miss it? Will I want to return? and if I do return will I want to leave as soon as I get back?

The questions sit unanswered and I’m not really that tired, just a bit subdued. Time for a bath and garlic and chili prawns me thinks.