Friday, September 5, 2008

Wine and politics don't mix

Um, wine and politics don't mix. At dinner tonight with fellow conference attendees, my table got into a heated discussion with an attendee from Turkey (who I befriended last night in addition to Monika from fascinated with international gals) who said her country believes that Bush coordinated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Seriously. She said it's common knowledge in Turkey that Bush orchestrated Sept. 11 so he could look good. And, she said, "The trouble with American people is that they believe their government" - as if she felt sorry for us for being duped.

Honestly, I didn't take offense to the views she shared because I think her country's perspective illustrates how much is at stake with rebuilding our reputation internationally. I thought it was an interesting conversation about global perspectives, but some people at my table were REALLY offended.

And, our table was getting along so well before we talked politics, which of course, I brought up first (idiot!!!!). I don't even remember how. Oh yeah. When I said I was from Cleveland, someone at my table mentioned that Ohio will be crucial again for this election, particularly with the new Palin twist, and I mentioned how my mom caved into the Republican strategy because a woman is part of the ticket (she was crushed Hillary didn't get the Democratic nomination). Mom left me a VM today saying how great she though Palin's speech was last night, and I have to admit, Palin's a spunky, compelling speaker. It's awesome to see a woman break the political glass ceiling, but I don't agree with her politics...teaching creationism in schools, pro-NRA, drilling in Alaska, etc. I supported Hillary in the primary, but I'm inspired by Obama and will vote for him in November (don't go Republican, Mom!).

Last night and today, I've tried to engage my Turkish acquaintance in conversation with others at the conference since she confided that she's really insecure about her English and so, was kind of keeping to herself. We'll see what happens tomorrow, and I'm curious what Monika from Poland will share about her country's views (if I dare ask...this could be bad news) since she skipped dinner tonight. Lord knows what kind of comments from people I don't know might show up on this post tomorrow. Free speech, baby.

P.S. Alltel has shitty service in San Francisco, so I haven't really been able to make calls all week from my cell. I guess the cell towers are more spaced out here, so some of the cell companies don't get good service. Tonight, Phil and I had to schedule an IM date since we haven't talked all week. Hooray for technology! I'll be back home tomorrow night. Great trip, but I miss my hubby and pets.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Hot child in the city

Today was another smokin' hot day of sunshine in San Francisco. Apparently, San Francisco's summer months are September and October (they call August "Fogust"), but even so, it's unseasonably warm here. This was my last day within the city limits since I transferred to my hotel in Burlingame for my conference, which started this evening. I'm pretty proud that I was able to cover as much ground as I did for the five days I was here. I feel like I could spend weeks here and still have full days packed with sightseeing. If you look at this map, you'll see a breakdown of all of the neighborhoods in San Francisco. Here are the ones I roamed in: Union Square, Financial District, Nob Hill, Chinatown, Mission, North Beach, SOMA, Fisherman's Wharf, Russian Hill, Outer Sunset and Outer Richmond. Whew! My quads, calves and hammies are all sore from hiking the hills all week, but I'm a happy girl, and I'll always remember this trip.

I accidentally mapped the location of my USA Today meeting using the wrong address, so I had to scramble this morning to make it there on time and so ended up grabbing a cab. Turns
out my Greek driver is related to Jim Rokakis, Cuyahoga County treasurer and the speaker at the annual meeting of Cleveland Heights' Home Repair Resource Center (I'm a board member). George said Rokakis was a Cleveland councilman 30 years ago and campaigned to establish a Greektown neighborhood. Didn't know that. He said he lost touch with Rokakis and gave me his contact info to pass along. Crazy coincidence.

My USA Today meeting went well, and we chatted mostly about biz applications for social networks, travel and 5ks/half-marathons. Apparently, there's a sold-out Nike half-marathon in San Francisco
every October that awards finishers with an exclusive Tiffany pendant. Sign me up!...Next year, of course, cuz this year's event falls on my bday.

Had a bit of bad luck trying to find a lunch destination. First walked from the Financial District to MOMA in SOMA (closed) where I had hoped to grab a bite and see the Frida exhibit...guess I'll have to wait till it comes to Cleveland. Then, I walked back toward my hotel to Canteen for brunch (was supposed to be open till 2 p.m.), but also was closed. Ugh! Finally walked to Nob Hill and crashed at Sugar cafe since I had already checked out of my hotel. Fueled up and caught up on e-mails/calls.

I had one hour before my next meeting, so I g
rabbed a drink nearby at Top of the Mark on the 19th floor of the InterContinental Mark Hopkins. During WWII, it was customary for servicemen to have a farewell drink here with their sweethearts and toast the Golden Gate Bridge for good luck. Then I walked a few more blocks to the Cable Car Museum for a two-minute stop to see the winding wheels that pull the cables for all of the cable cars. It was pretty cool. Right outside, I grabbed the cable car down Powell to Market and jumped off to make my meeting, with minutes to spare. Yessss!

Here's some advice for your next trip to San Francisco. Don't wait in the long lines at the cable car turnarounds (at the end of each line) to board. Just walk up the street a little and hop on at the nearest next stop. There's usually zero wait compared to 30 minutes or more.

Also, if you're staying in Union Square, always stay to th
e east of Taylor or risk exposure to some shady individuals. As with any major city, a posh neighborhood can turn on a dime based on what street you're on.

I stayed at Hotel Adagio this week, and I loved it! It's part of a boutique hotel chain, joie de vivre, and right across the street from Hotel Monaco. When I was looking into hotels months ago, I stumbled upon Hotel Adagio after completing a hotel matchmaker quiz based on my personality.

My conference started tonight, and so far, I've made friends with Monika with Discovery Channel in Warsaw, Poland, and Jane, who lives in San Francisco. Monika and I bonded over our sunburned hair parts since we both got in this past weekend and got more sun than we bargained for. There are only 27 conference attendees from across the country, so it should be fun getting to know everyone.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Crooked streets and a bazillion steps

Since I couldn't fall asleep last night after Sarah left (stupid Claritin), I got some work out of the way so I could have some play time today -- my last full day in the city since my conference starts tomorrow afternoon near the airport.

I had a morning meeting with a Fortune reporter about Cleveland's solar initiative and another scheduled with USA Today, but that got bumped until tomorrow. Fortune's building is near the wharf and I got there a little early, so I popped over to the market and savored a spinach and goat cheese croissant. I'm totally obsessed with Cowgirl Creamery.

After my meeting, I returned to my hotel and eventually made it over to Boulevard (back near the wharf) for lunch. I had a fantastic salad comprised of organic Snow Queen peaches, goat cheese (I know), mixed greens and pesto. Very refreshing. Also tried their lobster bisque and ice
d tea with raspberry puree. All were delish. I've decided that good restaurants have cobalt goblets, which I love, and Boulevard was no exception. Don't ask me why I think that has anything to do with anything.

While I was eating, an older gent stopped at my table to "congratulate" me for dining alone. He said he dined alone quite a bit, but never saw a woman eating by herself. Great. After that, I felt like a complete loser.

After lunch, I found a quiet spot to have a client conference call and
then picked up some new rags as part of my sunburn management strategy, so I don't look like a complete tourist ass. Then I headed over to Musee Mecanique on pier 43, a free, time-warped arcade with mechanical fortune tellers circa Big, nickelodeons and quirky games like an arm-wrestling machine (I ran out of quarters before I could beat that machine's ass).

I had Grandma "tell me" my fortune (a card popped out), and apparently I'm a virtuous person, but I have so
me trouble with the devil..."The devil will get you if you don't watch. out." I also had my next career predicted, and I guess it's in the stars for me to practice psychiatry. And, I learned what my friends call me behind my back: wild (huh? I don't think ANYONE has ever described me that way).

I tried to get to the crookedest street (Lombard), but somehow ended up walk
ing up to Coit Tower...way, way uphill. Coit Tower is shaped (unintentionally, supposedly) like a fire hose and is named after a confused hussy who joined the fire squad after being rescued by firemen. I guess she also used to gamble in North Beach dressed in men's clothes.

I just walked around the first floor of Coit to see the mura
ls and then walked down the Filbert steps...and then up the Filbert steps until I thought I was going to fall over. It was San Francisco North Beach boot camp hell. I pretty much just clung to my Fiji water and map until I made it all the way back up the hill. When the guy I met this morning suggested it as a destination for my neighborhood immersion quest, he should have told me to wear my work out gear. It was not pretty, my friends.

I finally found Lombard and Hyde to see the crookedest street, so I jumped on the cable car and hung off the side to Union Square since I didn't have a baby or stroller to hold (kinda sad though).

Laid low at my hotel and then headed out to explore the Mission neighborhood before dinner at Foreign Cinema, a super cool indoor/o
utdoor restaurant that projects foreign films each night on the side of a building visible from the courtyard. Tonight, they showed Je T'aime. Absolutely wonderful ambiance and good food. I think my server thought I was a camel because I downed about a liter of water since I was still so thirsty from this afternoon. I had heirloom tomato soup and curry chicken with a summer potato and celery salad (no mayo...yes!).

I hiked a few hills in semi-darkness to catch the J train back to Powell station with my thumb on my pepper spray trigger the whole time. Today's Chronicle include
d a story on the front page about the increase in crimes/robberies against tourists, which freaked me out, so I booked it to my stop.

As a side note, I've noticed that San Francisco has quite a large homeless, mentally ill population. Sarah and I couldn't figure out if the city has great social services for people with mental health issues, which is why the high population, or if the reason is the opposite and the city's services suck so more people are out on the street. Don't know.

Second side note: I found out tonight that the large 6 x 6 grates I previously didn't notice on sidewalks in front of restaurants and shops are actually loading docks that go down a shaft underground to get large items inside. Pretty cool to see them open.

Last, but not least, Ella is going to be the new face of in-store signage for Target Baby. Go Bug!

A couple more meetings tomorrow and then I switch hotels and start my conference. Still three nights till I see Phil.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A beautiful day to go to jail

Well, Sarah and the Bug are at the airport getting ready for their red-eye back to Minneapolis. Hopefully Sarah doesn't run into any Republican National Convention craziness in St. Paul. We had a blast during our three days together, and Ella was a real champ!

This morning we took the ferry to Alcatraz and walked the prison and the grounds. The audio tour was really well done and featured former prisoners and wardens telling the tales of the big house. The escape stories were fascinating. The cells of the three prisoners who escaped (and were never found) were preserved to show how they placed dummy heads made of soap in their beds, widened their cell vents with spoons (over a year or so) and climbed up the pipes to the roof to escape on a raincoat raft. We also got to go inside the D Block isolation cells where no light came in...creepy. The view of San Francisco from the island is so picturesque. The prisoners never went a day without realizing all they were missing.

I scored the Alcatraz dining hall cup that Michael Symon used to serve risotto in his Dinner Impossible episode that took place at Alcatraz. I'd like to think that I'll make risotto and eat it out of my cup, but for now, I'll be realistic and say that I'll use it for soup and cereal.

So far, Sarah and I made good use of our muni passes. We've ridden a cable car, streetcars, the train and a bus. And, we got to be pros at plucking Ella from her stroller, collapsing it and carrying it aboard with us within 30 seconds. I was the happily designated Ella holder on transit (pretty peanut) and was rewarded with graham cracker crumbs on my shirt and I don't even want to know what else. Her adorable smile showcasing her four teeth always made me forget. She's such an easy going baby and reminds me of my niece, Alessandra. Sarah and I giggled any time we got the feeling that whomever we were chatting with thought we both were Ella's mommies.

After we made it back to the mainland from Alcatraz, we stopped at the Ferry Terminal to snag some yummy baguette sandwiches from a bakery and my beloved cheese from Cowgirl Creamery. While we were waiting to be seated at Greystone yesterday, we browsed Wine Spectator magazine and read about the top 100 cheeses. Cowgirl's Red Hawk made the list, so I picked up a chunk. We sat outside and ate our sandwiches, blueberries and cheese. Mmmm! After our quick lunch, we caught a long train ride to visit Cliff House and the beach. We had a gorgeous 30-minute or so walk through Golden Gate Park and passed the Dutch windmill, pretty flowers and a random guy playing his drum set on the street (?). We also walked through a neighborhood with the Victorian houses that are identified with San Francisco.

Sarah was determined to have Ella's piggies touch the Pacific, so we pushed the stroller on the beach up to the water. Ella was tickled with the sand, but quite the mess, so we had to strip off her pants. Thank goodness she's not modest.

We walked up the hill, oceanside, to visit the Cliff House and get a great view of Seal Rock. Today's weather was gorgeous and much warmer than expected, as it was supposed to be around 71 degrees. I think it ended up in the low 80s, so I am now sporting a hillbill sunburn on my chest and arms since there was zero shade once we left Golden Gate Park and I had zero sunscreen with me. And, I was so diligent all summer! Good times.

After Cliff House, we walked back toward Golden Gate Park and took a bus to the section of the park that houses the Japanese Tea Garden. We stopped in for tea and cookies and then walked around the grounds. Everything was very zen and relaxing, and we were glad we made the trip.

For dinner, we ended up at a Japanes
e/sushi joint called Hang Zen (which I thought was hilarious). Ella got her first taste of chopsticks and chowed down asparagus and teriyaki chicken. Then we crashed at the hotel and Sarah helped me prep for my meetings tomorrow until their car came to take them to the airport. Boo hoo! I don't know what I'm going to do the rest of the week without having the luxury of stuffing my giant purse underneath the stroller.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Sonoma makes wine, Napa makes auto parts

As much as I would have loved to tour Sonoma, we actually stuck mostly to Napa since this is Sonoma wine weekend and we figured the roads and vineyards would be packed. We scheduled our day for four winery stops and lunch at Greystone, but just made it to three, even though we were pleasantly surprised by light traffic (at least in the morning).

We completely maximized our rental car. Picked it up at 8:30 a.m. and got it back 20 minutes shy of closing at 8 p.m. I was excited and yet slightly terrified at the thought of navigating San Francisco's crazy hills, but to my relief (and a little disappointment), the route we took to Golden Gate Bridge was nothing crazy. I had imagined sparks flying as we raced over hills. Oh well.

Our first stop was Cakebread for some buttery chardonnay that I've sampled from some of my favorite restaurants in Cleveland and elsewhere. During our tasting, Ella paid us back for yesterday's late night with a bit of fussiness. There were a couple wine snobs in our group, and as Sarah said so beautifully later in the car about an older gentleman on our tour, "if he didn't shit on a schedule, his life would fall apart." Ha!

Cakebread ages its wine in French oak barrels that cost more than $1,300 each and only last a few years. Crazy! We also learned that Napa has 14 types of soil within a five-mile radius, which makes it perfect for growing different types of grapes.

A downside to traveling to Napa with a one-year-old is that you can't attend any official winery tours. A few weeks ago when Sarah asked if she could bring Ella along, I called a bunch of wineries I was considering for a visit and asked if they were family friendly for small children. Luckily, about half were.

We visited St. Supery not so much for its wine, but for its self-guided tour. The indoor part of the tour was pretty sterile, but did feature a station where you could test your ability to sniff notes of fruit, straw etc. in different wines. That was pretty interesting. Outside, we got free reign of wandering the demonstration vineyard and had a blast sampling grapes off the vine, which were tiny and acidic, but good. Rows were marked for different wines, and the grapes did taste different from one another.

We saw a ton of kids and families at St. Supery, which was two minutes down the road from Cakebread. For as close as they were, each vineyard offered a completely different experience.

We scheduled a late lunch on Greystone's terrace on the campus of the Culinary Institute of America in case Ella was ornery. But, she was a doll during our fantastic two-hour affair. Built in 1889, Greystone is the former Christian Brothers Winery, and before that was a monastery. The building is gorgeous, and the terrace overlooks the hills of St. Helena. We were blessed with sunny, mild weather and yummy food.

We started with t
oday's temptations, an assortment of starters selected by the chef. My friend Michelle suggested trying these when she was in Sonoma a few months ago, and they did not disappoint. There were five starters to sample for each of us, and they included chilled potato leek soup, buffalo mozzarella with basil puree and bacon bits, fried green tomatoes (on a stick!), mushroom bruschetta and flatbread topped with hummus. Since Ella was such a good girl, we all got dessert. I had the chocolate molten lava cake (my favorite!), Sarah had a peach tart and Ella had some melon ice cream. We left with full bellies and big smiles, even though we stayed a lot longer than we planned.

Next was Domaine Carneros, a sparkling wine vineyar
d aka champagne. Apparently you can't call wine champagne if it's not produced in Champagne, France. Whatever you want to call it, our tasting flight and accompanying cheese plate was great! We were able to sample a rose sparkling wine, which I've been curious about, and it was good. Once our server knew Ella's name, she came out with their signature, limited edition rose sparkling wine for 2008 which is called Ella after Ella Fitzgerald. Sarah bought a bottle as a memento.

The grounds here are gorgeous. Lush hillsides, a lake and a lovely terrace for tastings. Champagne, cheese, scenery...what more could a girl ask for? The staff here were all very friendly, and the terrace was packed with people, so it seems like a popular place.

Initially when we thought we'd have more time, we planned to v
isit a vineyard in Sonoma and then detour to Highway 1 for some ocean-side scenic driving. We left Domaine Carneros just before 6 p.m., and everyone else must have decided to head home at the same time because traffic was much heavier on our return trip. We abandoned our Highway 1 idea because if we didn't get the car back by 8 p.m., we'd have to pay for another day's rental since all rental agencies are closed tomorrow. However, we found an incredible scenic stop just before the Golden Gate Bridge and drove up a curvy cliff for some awesome views of the bridge and San Francisco, so we ended up with a good compromise.

Got back to the hotel, plotted out tomorrow's adventure and then we all crashed. Tomorrow is Alcatraz! I'm even more excited since I saw Michael Symon's first Dinner Impossible episode, which featured it.