I Left My Heart in San Francisco

Tony Bennet and these images say it better than me!

Am home now, and have just woken up after 16 hours (!!!) of sleep – I was totally exhausted and barely slept for more than 4 hours a night over the past two and a bit weeks. The NMC conference was fantastic, the ECAR panel session went well although I was pretty run down by that stage from all the flying and lack of sleep and I barely made it through my section coherently (note to self: presenting at one conference per overseas trip might be all I can manage in future).

It was wonderful to meet so many people I had only known in Second Life previously (Larry, Heidi, Nick, Alan), and to catch up with a lovely colleague/friend I hadn’t seen for two years (Barbara). I also met the lovely Joanna, the wonderful Lyr Lobo (who has already invited me to a SL Renaissance-style party in SL!), Reuben, Craig, Intellagirl (who sat next to me on a SL panel and answered hundreds of questions so eloquently), and best of all, I met the FAMOUS Second Life artist, Stella Costello whose art work I have admired since starting in SL!!!! I met a whole lot of other new people (some who are coming out to Australia so I will see again soon!) and saw a lot of other famed SL personalities in the distance (but was too shy to intrude and say hello). I’ve forgotten everybody’s names – but I hope I will get more opportunities to speak to people in Second Life that said hello to me in passing at both conferences!

But the best part of my trip by far came at the very end when all the work had finished and I had a few days of R&R in San Francisco before flying back to Sydney. What a magical, gorgeous, fun and exciting city San Francisco is!!!! Plus I had *the* most amazing tour guide ever (my favourite mysterious blog commenter) who took me to absolutely every corner of the city and beyond (thank you DDD, in fact I really cannot thank you enough!!!!!).

I so totally fell in love with San Francisco – I didn’t think any city would rival Paris as my favourite, but SF would at least be on par if not better!!! I adored it!!

So, I am definitely planning to travel via SF to any other conference I ever go to in the US in future. And here are my tips for travelling and getting around in SF to remind me for next time – I’ll put this under the fold so as not to bore anybody!

1. Where to Stay in SF: thanks to the fantastic advice of a friend who had lived in SF, I stayed in a tiny boutique hotel called the Cornell Hotel de France. The room was small but very clean and cosy and the most amazing charming ambience. It was in the French district of SF (SF is nothing if not multicultural) and just near the corner of Powell street, the street which has a cable car stop – in one direction the cable car goes to Union Square (great shopping and my favourite American department store, Nordstroms) and in the other direction it goes right to Fisherman’s wharf and Ghiradelli’s square. Additionally, there’s an amazing and hugely popular Italian pizaa/place across the road, as well as a laundromat (which will wash and fold your clothes with same day service – a bag of dirty clothes for $12!!!) and several little corner stores selling water, diet coke, bread, emergency medical supplies (I had blisters) etc etc all right across the road. It is a perfect location for getting around in a gorgeous part of the city, and at the heart of everything exciting going on! Not to mention the owners of the Cornell are serious collectors of Jeanne D’Arc memorabilia and the restaurant is just incredible, filled with paintings, tapestries, statues, and all sorts of French peasant trimmings. I organised a special deal which included acommodation, breakfasts and dinners for an incredible rate. Even though I didn’t eat there all of the time it really saved me from bothering to get out on those days when I was so totally exhausted I didn’t want to move. I will definitely stay at this hotel again. I drove past a lot of huge chain hotels and they really had no charm AND they would have cost a whole lot more. The one thing missing from a boutique hotel was having a refigerator in the room – and no room service of course, but these were minor inconveniences given the great locale advantages and huge cost savings.

2. Places to Go in SF

a) You absolutely *must* go on the cable car – it takes you right past famous streets like Lombard streeet (and you can hop off on and off at each stop), and has the most incredible views of the city, the water, Alcatraz – everything! Sometimes you have to queue up for 45 minutes or so to get on if you’re catching it from the city centre but it is totally worth the wait.

b) Ghiradelli Square and Fisherman’s wharf – not just the chocoloate factory but this area has the most amazing street full of art galleries in it – just walk along the street and plan for an entire afternoon of gallery hopping – artists as diverse as Picasso, Dali, Chagall and Dr Seuss, as well as hundreds of local artists, sculptures and designers all along the area. This area also is where many of the SF tours begin and end (though most have hotel pick up and return).

c) Muir Woods – just a 30 minute bus trip away and you’re in the heart of a gorgeous protected forest with some of the largest redwood trees in the world. It reminded me very much of the Tasmanian wilderness – it even had Australian Eucalypts planted throughout the valley! – but it was just such a lovely morning to get out of the city to be surrounded by nature. In fact, this was one of the few spots I took hundreds of photos in, it was so incredibly pretty.

d) Sausolito – this is a charming little artist colony to the north of the Golden Gate bridge. I was very tempted to spend money here in quirky little arts and crafts shops. What I found most fascinating though was all of the houseboat communities around this area. Some of them were simply huge houseboats, and not really boats (they couldn’t actually sail anywhere) but just huge houses built on the waterfront.

e) North Beach – a gorgeous Italian district, divine restaurants, the best chocolate gelato ever

f) Haight-Ashbury – WOW! This area is the original hippie district, where the entire hippie movement began, and it is the funnest place ever. I never laughed so much as when I walked into one store and was assualted by a visual feast of hippy costumerie – it was drag queen heaven and the clothing was so outrageous that again i was tempted to buy a tie-dyed peace out spandex flared minidress just for the fun of it. I also almost bought some huge false pink and purple eyelashes with diamonds on the end of each lash just for the fun of it! It was simply too funny. There were a lot of vagrants and strange looking characters hanging out in the street though – it was authentically hippie in many ways. The funniest thing I saw was some guy walking along with a bright traffic cone (in Australia we call these “witches hats”) on the top of his head, with a can of coke stuck in the top! As I said to my friend… (and not for the first time) “ONLY IN AMERICA!!!”

I went to more places but these were my most memorable! But since I am definitely returning to SF, any recommendations will be most welcome.

3) Tipping and Service Charges

OMG – this bit is the most difficult of all for anybody from Australia not accustomed to travelling in the US. People there get paid a minimum wage and so it is expected that you pay a tip or service charge on top of everything – cab drivers, waitresses, anything where you get a bill and there’s a gap under “service” which you have to fill in. On my first trip to the US I got really annoyed about this because I didn’t understand it. But now I budget an extra $150 for tips and always carry a lot of $1 bills so that I can give tips. The most important person to tip is any cab driver or kerbside check in person at the airport when you have luggage they have to lift and move for you. The more you can tip the easier it is for them to look the other way when you have overweight baggage!!!

4. Skin Care! This is especially a tip for my sister who is travelling to the USA with her family later this year. The 14 hour plane trips are just hell on your skin. The air conditioning is not only fierce and dehydrating but after the 6 or 7 hour mark you actually get a burning sensation on your face, your eyes dry out and ache, and your lips get swollen and cracked and very sore. After doing this a few times now I actually went and sought some advice from several people and here’s my now-tried-and-tested-and-successful tips:

a) Immediately before and directly after the trip, apply this nourishing, hydrating mask on your face – you will be utterly amazed at how it regenerates your skin.

b) During the flight, use an eye mask (I used one of these patches – they’re a tad expensive but any time I have a special occasion I use these and they are just amazing for removing dark circles and fine lines, and giving your entire eye area a lift) to soothe your eyes!

c) Drink tons and tons of water – yes the bathrooms on the plane suck but the discomfort is better than getting ill. Right now you aren’t allowed to carry bottles of water through any of the security check points but you can still buy them on the other side of security to take on the plane.

d) Liberally apply lip protection at frequent intervals throughout the flight. As a long time flautist I’ve always used blistex as do all my musician friends.

I never used to worry about skin care when I was younger but since hitting the scary age of (*whispers so nobody can hear*…. 40!) I’ve started caring enough to invest in some decent products.

OK, I guess I’d better go unpack… thanks once again to everybody I met who was so fun and friendly 🙂

2 thoughts on “I Left My Heart in San Francisco

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