On the road again

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This was supposed to be the year of no travelling but I’ve been forced to set off once again and am currently trapped in San Francisco. Lenovo (the Chinese company who bought IBM PC – much more of them later) invited me to go to their annual International Think Tank in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (its about technology and teaching & learning). Given they were paying for most of me, I took up the offer. I then realised that the trip coincided with the bailiffs evicting our tenant in England, and that I should head off there as well and make sure he has finally gone (if you want to know more about that saga, don’t ask Ann!). So I have three weeks away.

I had to stop in San Francisco in order to save AUT many thousands of dollars. If you break the trip for 24 hours, it’s called a round-the-world-trip and costs less. So at great personal cost I have had 36 hours here, and leave at 22.40 for I know not where (well North Carolina, but I couldn’t actually put my finger on it on the map).

We were here a couple of years ago, and so I wasn’t really certain what to do with myself. However, when I woke up it was a beautiful San Francisco summer’s day – ie the sun was out. The hotel I’m staying in has a bar and restaurant on the 36th floor which is called the GrandView (always straightforward the Americans). I had my breakfast looking out at the bay and it is very impressive. It reminds you what a pity it is that, for six months of the year, you probably can’t see it for the fog.

Was intending to revisit the Museum of Asian Art (if you get here, you must go) but found a leaflet advertising a Victorian House walk – no competition. Twenty of us set off with the guide from Union Square upto the Lower Pacific Heights (a Real Estate name: it used to be Japan Town, and it’s not as posh as Pacific Heights belmont would be Lower Devonport). Everything ranging from terraced houses to mansions. A lot of it is gentrified restoration. The 50s and 60s covered all the redwood buildings up with stucco and the 90s and 00s have been uncovering it. So a lot of beautifully restored houses in what is now a conservation area, though you can paint the houses whatever colour you want, and you’re allowed one garage in the ground floor (only in California is that called restoration and conservation!) Very very interesting. As we moved into Pacific Heights proper, the houses got bigger and we learned that Bill Cosby lived there, and Robin Williams lived there (and filmed Mrs Doubtfire there) and Don Johnson lived there (a prize for anyone who can remeber who Don Johnson was).

After a couple of hours we found ourselves in Union Street which is where there are lots of shops and galleries, and which today was holding its annual Street Fayre. The street was closed and was a combination of fairground, wine festival (with beer rather than wine) and arts and crafts fair. I had a Knish for lunch ( a prize for knowing what that is) and bought a couple of things.

I then got a bus back through Chinatown. From my hotel you can see on one side Louis Vuitton, Gucci etc and on the other a sprawl of small scruffy, Chinese shops. It is spookily like the hotel in Shanghai I stayed in last year from which I could see Louis Vuitoon, Gucci etc on one side and a sprawl of small scruffy Chinese shops on the other.

I thought after all the bustle of the Street Fayre and Chinatown, I would head off to the Yerba Buena Gardens. Its a complex of arts centres and gardens and, according to the guide books, has a restful tea cafe in there. Entering the garden I became suspicious as there appeared to be about 10,000 people milling, with lots of tents and stalls. In the background, some sort of middle eastern singing. I saw a t-shirt with ISRAEL IN THE GARDENS and was just getting the idea when the singer stated shouting ‘Where are you from?’ ‘From Israel!’ someone shouted back (Much cheering) ‘And you’re boy scouts!! the singer shouted (more cheering). ‘So we’re safe!!! (Uproar). Retreating swiftly – and reassured by a man outside the gardens with a banner saying ‘Jesus Christ Loves You’ – I headed off for a cafe, avoiding the one with the big sign saying ‘Healthy ‘N Natural Cream Puffs’ and ended up in the Museum of Modern Art cafe. Not particularly excited (on a Sunday) by the current exhibition – ‘Understanding Modernity’, I stuck to the coffee (as they call it in the US) I was genuinely disappointed to find there is a Freda Kahlo exhibition staring in two weeks time. There is also an exhibition of Women Impressionists starting at the de Young Museum in two weeks, so bad timing.

Off back to the hotel again, but go slightly off the beaten track to look for the World’s Largest Book Store (actually the World’s Largest Book Store in San Francisco) and find that thing you sometimes find in cities. You cross a single street and suddenly you’re in a different place. Ann and I noticed this last time we were here – you can move from the luxury hotels to the urban poor very quickly. I find myself on a street that is completely run down. There’s a man lying down on the ground next to his wheelcahir and just as I move to help him, I realise he is lying there eating some peanuts. Somebody else goes across to him and steals the peanuts and an argument starts. The rest of the people on the street are hustling or high and I make yet another hasty retreat.

So an interesting day. Very San Francisco. I can never quite work out whether I like San Francisco. Boston, it’s obvious. Here it’s very interesting and there’s always something going on, but it’s more mixed. I guess I’ll just have to keep coming.

Next stop, Winston Salem and Wake Forest Universty. A prize for anybody who has been to Winston-Salem (no great risk for that one.).

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