Jul 16, 2012

San Francisco: living in a bubble amid conservatism in America

You heard all about it....it's the gay city. It's the mecca of internet. It's pretty. It's liberal. Indeed, the Bay Area has been attracting dreamers, nonconformists and inventors for decades. Many brands we know today were founded here ranging from North Face to Levi's to Google and Apple. Therefore, one probably shouldn't be surprised by the progressiveness of the city. At the end of the day, these are the grand children of those who pursued the "go west" motto. What does not get as often mentioned is the fact that the United Nations was founded after a conference in San Francisco. Here is to one of the most international cities in the U.S!

Although less famous than the Golden Gate, Bay Bridge in San Francisco is as nice.

A view from famous hills of San Francisco in Castro neighborhood.

At San Francisco MOMA, Mexican artists Kahlo and Rivera are together again.

The best way to explore the city is by walking although bus service is also pretty good. Everyone loves the street cars but it charges a rip off fee of $6, so beware! Market Street is in the heart of the city. A good way to walk the city is to start on it until you hit Embarcadero and watch the ferries and the Bay Bridge. Walking along the shore towards North, you can see the old terminals transformed into tourist attractions, such as cafes and restaurants. One of them is the Fisherman's Wharf with its extortionate prices and terrible crowds. Nevertheless, it has a good view to the notorious Alcatraz Island which used to be a terrible corrections institution, closed today. It also allows you to see the sea lions of the Bay along with a view to the Golden Gate Bridge. You could now go to North Beach, a lovely neighborhood away from the crowds of the wharf. There are many Italian restaurants here as well as a nice local flair: street bands play music, people walk by and it has almost a Mediterranean feel. The more privileged are up on the Russian Hill which looks like the Bebek neighborhood in Istanbul.

First place for espresso in the West Coast back in 50s,
Cafe Trieste in North Beach, San Francisco.

A fire in the pier of San Francisco.

A view from Fishermen"s Wharf to the Bay.

Fishermen"s Wharf attraction sea lions in San Francisco.

If you happen to be in the city during weekend, the mass at the Glide Memorial Church in the rough Tenderloin district is a cultural experience that shouldn't be missed especially if you are not Christian or are Catholic/Orthodox. On Fathers' Day there I was, at a church as welcoming as no place I have seen including of homeless and gays. Their greetings started in many languages. There was an orchestra that played jazz, a power point presentation on screen in the back while an auction took place (of a cake) proceeds of which went to the church. The church encouraged you to take out your phone and text your friends about your experience but you could also use it to make a donation by cellular phone. The church wanted followers on Twitter. It had a hashtag too! At some point, I had to hold hands with the people (which was nice) and hug someone (nice too). It was religion American style so to say which at some point turned it into an entertainment. In a way, it shows you that creating a community does not have to be all boring and serious and in IT land California even churches are using social media. 

The notorious Alcatraz island in San Francisco.

Community service at Glide Memorial Church,
in Tenderloin San Francisco.

Chinese musicians at work in San Francisco for the community.

A view from Russian Hill to the city, San Francisco.

San Francisco has the largest Chinatown in America and you can find here wonderful bargains be it teapots, woks, umbrellas even kites for kids. There is also great food here. I am on the look out for places that are filled with Chinese or where there are lines in front, especially bakeries. Many dum sum places had huge lines in front of them. Lee's Restaurant was full of Chinese and did not disappoint.

Entry into America's largest Chinatown, San Francisco.

Artefacts for cheap in Chinatown, San Francisco.

Lee's Restaurant at Chinatown, San Francisco.

Another not to be missed district in San Francisco is Castro where some cafes do not provide you any WIFI connection (Samovar) because we should not always be connected. Indeed, this new agey, capitalism bashing but capitalism benefiting hypocracy is everyhwhere in the city. There is all this yoga, tea and natural life people: mountain biking was also invented in San Francisco. It is said that the least number of Starbucks in an urban area are located in San Francisco because people value local business over chains. In fact, some millionaires are said to dress in downtrodden hippi clothing rather than posh suites. To me this seemed more like an illusion of escaping capitalism while everyone played with their latest ipod or iphone. What is really sad is the number of homeless people in San Francisco. After the hype of the de-institutionalization that was supposed to bring them back to community, many now live on the streets amid all the wealth in one of the largest economies of the world (California) and the richest country in the world. If you do not really care about all this though, Union Square shops would be an option where you can shop until you drop.

True to the spirit:
yoga room at San Francisco airport.
The famous Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco.