San Francisco

Part of a collection of travelogues by Trevor Hopkins.

[Pictures here]

As is often the case, I was rushing about to finish off things at work, and then of course I had to drive back from London on the evening before the flight (on the following morning). We'd promised to take Sebastian to a fireworks display at a local pub (with a little friend), which we did, and then had to ferry Sebs to the Grandparents, and his little friend home - so all we could cope with after that was an early night.

So, on the morning of departure, it was frantic packing in the Hopkins household - we packed loads of stuff, which was just as well, since when we arrived in San Francisco, one of our two cases had gone missing! Unfortunately, it was the big one, which contained all Tracey's stuff - so poor Tracey had to survive on the clothes she was wearing, plus a T-shirt and socks stolen from me!

We hired a car at the airport - there's no other way of getting around the SF and Bay area! This was good, since we were treated to quite a spectacle when arriving in San Francisco by car. It was dark and damp, and the lights from the city towers were highly surreal - either that, or I was hallucinating from tiredness! At the hotel, all we could cope with was cocktails (a Cosmopolitan for Tracey - we're currently watching the DVDs of Sex and the City) and dinner, and so to bed.

The principal purpose of the SF trip was to attend a gallery opening by an artist friend called Julie. We already have one of her pieces over the fireplace in the gym/bar at home, and we like her work very much - so we were fully anticipating purchasing something while we were there. For the gallery opening, we struggled down the freeway from San Francisco to Menlo Park, in awful weather - heavy rain and lots of spray. This was the only poor weather for our entire trip - just as well, since Mario (Julie's husband, who's a Brit and a very old friend of mine from the Manchester University days) maintains that Californians are terrible at driving in the rain (not enough practice!).

The building containing the gallery is owned by Julie's father, along with quite a lot of other buildings in the area. I guess it helps being a struggling artist if your parents are well-off. We arrived in time for the end of the public showing, and the start of the gallery opening party. Live music was provided by "The Mermen" - apparently a quite well-known "Surf Band", although quite possibly misnamed, since none of them looked like bronzed surfers, and, indeed, not all of them were men!

Of course we bought something - in fact, four original artworks, plus a print of another piece where Julie sold the original to someone else. Not quite as bad as it seems, though, since three of the works are a set, and quite small (only 9 inches square). All four pieces are on the theme of the sense of smell, with the scents themselves being represented by flakes of gold leaf attached to the surface of the oil painting itself. Apparently, the adhesive used to fix the gold is very poisonous before it dries, so this phase is done by the artist in gasmask and rubber gloves!

We were invited to dinner at Mario and Julie's place on another evening. Now, Mario's a professional computer science researcher, and Julie's an artist - lovely, lovely people, both of them, but not exactly naturally organised! So, their dinner menu was ambitious - duck with figs and acorn squash stuffed with wild rice, followed by chocolate mousse. Nice in parts, but not all quite brought together - cooking like this requires precision timing and attention to detail to get it just right. Interesting evening, though. We were completely enchanted by M&J's daughter, Sophia (then two-and-a-half) - beautiful and a natural centre of attention.

Mario and Julie's house, on a hillside in San Carlos overlooking the Bay, is very interesting. It's an upside-down house, with the (huge!) living room on the top floor and with wide windows leading onto a "deck". Normally, there's lots of Julie's works on display, but of course these had been stripped out for the exhibition. Downstairs, there are bedrooms, Mario's workroom and Julie's studio. Mario and Julie are gradually reworking the place, and the bits which are completed are quite astonishing - the bathroom with the sunken mosaic-tiled bath and the ceiling painted to look like the sky (complete with biplane!) was particularly impressive.

We stayed in the Hotel Monaco, which describes itself as a "boutique hotel". I'm not quite sure exactly what this means - possibly that the rooms are not that big (at least, by American standards!). Nevertheless, our room did have a four-poster bed with a canopy and curtains all around - this can either be regarded as slightly erotic or like something out of Harry Potter - take your pick!

Although not large, there was a rather nice spa at the hotel. One morning, both Tracey and I had a pedicure and manicure. Tracey also indulged in a rather ...err... intimate waxing afterwards. I was of course banished to the outer wasteland - or at least the hot tub - while this look place, although I could hear the giggling emerging from the treatment room even over the noise of the bubbles. No screams, though.

But the stay wasn't all laying around, resting - oh no! On a couple of mornings, we did manage a more energetic work-out in the hotel. We also took a walking tour of San Francisco, walking from downtown over to Fisherman's Wharf - up and down all those hills! I certainly found my calves aching the day after! Once arrived, we wandered around being tourists, looking at the ships, Alcatraz, etc. - I now have several photographs to be sub-titled "Tracey escapes from Alcatraz". We ate lunch in an outdoor restaurant - a real novelty for Brits in November!

We also bought yet another painting, this time from a street artist and really cheap - this one was done using aerosol spray paints (we watched - fascinating!). Now I know what happens to graffiti artists when they grow up. On the way back, we managed to walk down (not up!) the famous steep and winding street which always appears in pictures of San Francisco (Lombard street). By the way, I've always understood that "Lombard" is a personal description (like Dinky or Yuppy) - "Loads Of Money But A Real D*ckhead"

On the last day, our flight back was quite late in the afternoon, so we drove around some of the less touristy areas. Of course, we did have time for some touristy things, including the coastline and views of Golden Gate Bridge - another photo opportunity, of course. The trip back was uneventful - about the best thing you can say about a flight, of course - and, since we got a cheap upgrade, we even managed to get some sleep on the plane.