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If you're going to San Francisco

Calcuttagutta endeavours to bring the light of understanding to the far corners of the galaxy. This is why I have now decided to brave the wilds of the American civilization, risking death and discrimination in my way (flying is unnatural; and as a foreigner in America I do not have a right to privacy, for example, should the state choose to search my belongings without probable cause; thank you, PATRIOT Act). I confess I was worried.

San Francisco is really rather lovely, though; and it is slowly wearing down my prejudices with good food and sunlight (but not the harsh, evil kind -- there is wind). I must say I get why the hippies liked it so much.

In order to help our readers on their way to a similarly enlightened state, here are Calcuttagutta's tips for successfully navigating the city. (Caveat: If someone better qualified contradicts these tips and helpful suggestions, Calcuttagutta is not responsible for the result of any stubborn adherence to them.)

1: Do talk to homeless people
While out walking aimlessly on our first day, we were approached by a man named Tony, who walked along with us for a bit trying to give us information about what to do and where to go. At first we thought he was insane, but he told us he was not and all his information was coherent and helpful. On the second day, as we were firmly lodged in the hell of the infinite line in our attempt to get on the fabled cable car, another guy (a Vietnam vet from what he said) spent a lot of time and energy telling a lot of people who would not listen that it was stupid to wait in the two-hour line at the bottom of the hill to get on it; we should get on at the second stop, where there were 10 people. Having had good results from Tony's advice the day before, we did as he said; after fifteen minutes we were on the cable car and well on our way to Chinatown, while the line below had hardly moved at all.

2: Get on at the second stop
The Cable Car is the tourist trap par excellence, but it is also very cool and so we fell into it. And it was fun. Rather less fun was the fact that we spent longer in various silly lines that we did not have to be in than we did on the cable car itself. First, there was a line to buy tickets. Half-way through we found out we could buy our tickets on the cable car. The second line was the infinite one from which we were saved in the nick of time (after only fifteen minutes). Unless you absolutely MUST stand on the outside or sit on one of the seats, there is no reason to spend hours of your life in this way. Go to Chinatown instead and have some tea. Or go get a good coffee. The line at the second stop had 10 people ahead of us. The one at the first had a few hundred.

3: You must visit the Blue Bottle Coffee Company
Tor has google fu and can find out where to get good coffee in different parts of the globe. He directed us to this lovely café full of weird coffee contraptions and (more importantly) very good coffee. It was rather full in the middle of the day on Friday (although there were still chairs outside), but at a little past 8 in the morning on Sunday it was all but empty. Note, however, that they do not start serving breakfast proper until 9 (unless your preferred breakfast is a delicious, delightful cup of coffee, of course). That said, one of the people who works there (who appears to be rather on the nutty side of coffee appreciation) said that while their drip coffee is unsurpassed, they do not, in fact, have the best espresso in San Francisco; you can find that at Fourbarrel. So now you know. Calcuttagutta did not have time to verify this claim.

4: You must also visit the Red Blossom Tea Company
Note, I do not say that you must absolutely buy something at the Red Blossom Tea Company (thought I congratulate you on your willpower if you can manage not to); the prices are high. Regardless of the size of your wallet, however, you can smell the tea and dream of better things. It sits like an oasis of calm in the middle of the colour and bustle of Chinatown (which is also worth a look, and is a good place to find a pretty fan that will make wind when the Pacific won't).

5: And you MUST ABSOLUTELY visit the City Lights Bookshop
If you've been to Paris without stopping by Shakespeare & Co you need a good talking-to. We were therefore delighted to find it has a sister shop in San Francisco. Or perhaps a friend shop. The proprietors have known each other for decades, and there is some inter-referencing going on. It is three floors of glory, from poetry and beat literature, via a strange ordering of novels into "fiction" and "European", and down to everything from physics to literary theory. Not quite as wonderfully overstocked as Shakespeare & Co, and I do not think anyone lives there, but well worth a visit. Because you know you'll need a book or ten for the flight home.

6: You should pay your respects to Yoda
A long long time ago, in this very galaxy, in fact, a man named George Lucas got round to making rather a wonderful series of THREE films. In these, there is an excellent chap who is 900 years old and still has not mastered the finer points of grammar. He probably does not need it. Lucasfilm HQ has a statue of Yoda in the middle of a fountain. You do not see these things every day (unless you work at Lucasfilm and are very diligent), and so we recommend taking in the sights on the way to Golden Gate Bridge (which, due to its ability to connect disaster films and bad tv series, cannot be ignored). If you have the inclination, you could also do worse than dropping by the Exploratorium between the two (to do science). (Worse = the tsunami-exposed beach.)

7: Layers, man
Leaving cold Norway (or some other northern country, like Edinburgh) you might think that California is hothothot. San Francisco aims to surprise, and while there is a lot of sunshine, it is frequently offset either by wind or by fog. The fog, especially when combined with the wind (which is what you get, say, at the Golden Gate Bridge, if you are lucky), can take the weather from "oh, isn't it nice of the breeze to take the edge of this burning sun" to "oh, dear, did we pack the mittens?". So how does one prepare for a day of walking? The answer is layers. And a big bag to keep them all in when the sun beats down.

8:Don't freak out
Americans are notoriously friendly. It is important, when greeted with a friendly "hi, how are you today" by a combined force of 8 Apple employees, to not run screaming for the hills. That gives entirely the wrong impression. They seem to be appeased by a friendly smile and perhaps a "lovely, thank you". And perhaps a comment about the weather. They may persist in talking to you about how the difference between "powered isolation" and "noise cancelling" is "simply grammatical", or how (in Tor's case) "you look like John Lennon's son". In such cases it is important to smile and nod. They are just trying to be friendly.
Are, Tor, Jørgen, Karoline, Ulf likes this


Tor,  23.07.12 15:44

In particular the bit about not freaking out at overly friendly Americans. Before I came here, I didn't think there existed actual people who say "right on, man" in reponse to almost anything you say, but apparently they do.
Camilla, Are likes this

Are,  24.07.12 22:54

Marvellous :)
Arne,  02.08.12 15:54

We rented bikes in San Francisco and when we returned them, the guy in the bike-store complained about a rush of people - concluding that the reason must be the up-coming 4th of july (two days ahead). And then, staring out into the distance, he said 'I can't believe 4th of july is on a wednesday this year' and continued that it usually was on a weekend.
Camilla, Are likes this
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