Thursday, October 7, 2010

San Francisco, Week 4: Vallejo, Berkeley and back to SF

Vallejo was hot, very hot. After all our complaining about cool temperatures and fog, we found we had hit the mother lode of heat – from the refrigerator to the frying pan! One of our first quests was to find a grocery store. We had been told it was “a few blocks down Tennessee Avenue, turn right, a few more blocks and you’re there – but it may be too far to walk…., we’re not sure, we’ve never done it.” We arrogantly thought: no problem, we walk everywhere. Ha! We headed out, mid-morning, and by the time we had walked four blocks, we were dripping with sweat. By the time we had reached the “turn right”, our feet and tongues were swollen (we hadn’t brought water, of course), and we recognized we were in the proverbial American “gasoline alley” that stretched as far as the eye could see with McDonalds, Jack-in-the-Box, Burger King and Chevron. No grocery store in sight. So we plodded along a few more blocks, took a left, did a square and staggered back to the marina. As we dragged our feet along, we noticed the locals in their air conditioned cars or enjoying the shade. Mission: not accomplished. Oh well, we do have our canned stores…..

Restaurant at Vallejo Marina

We figured that Vallejo may be a town in recession. On our walk, which was during a working day, we noticed quite a few working-age people at home or in the streets. Many of the businesses were closed with bars across windows and doors. All along the river, most of the huge industrial plants seemed closed and abandoned. Although the marina area was very beautiful, there seemed to be a pall over the place. People were helpful, but there wasn’t that feeling of easy-going friendliness we had encountered in other parts of the Bay area. The next day we cast off and retraced our tracks.

Looking back to the Bridge between SF Bay and San Pablo Bay

This time we decided to explore the far eastern side of the Bay and headed for Berkeley. Doug had called ahead and we discovered the Berkeley Yacht Club would offer reciprocal rights to us. We arrived about mid-day, tied up to their dock and liked it so much we stayed for five days.

Ka'sala at the Berkeley Yacht Club

We arrived on a Sunday and were invited to join the members for their weekly potluck. We met several people who were very friendly and helpful. Doug took the opportunity to buy a BYC t-shirt with the inscription:  Sailing for the Masses, which kind of encapsulates the political idealogy of this city. (We were cheerfully warned that politics are not a topic of conversation in the Club) On the dock, quite a few people stopped by to chat with us, ask about our boat and our plans. We were very grateful to those who offered to drive us to a grocery store, give us access to showers, shared with us how to get around, and made suggestions as to where to go and what to see.

Berkeley Yacht Club

The weather continued fine and we took advantage of it to do some very long walks into the city. The marina at Berkeley is at the end of a causeway on a nub of land that juts out into the Bay. Surrounding it are elongated parks on both sides, with shallow salt water bays behind them. Stretching all along the Bay on the eastern side is a huge 8 lane freeway that is filled with thundering traffic 24/7. Alongside the freeway is the active Amtrak system. The whole area reverberates with the roar of the traffic and wails of the train whistles day and night. The first couple days I could hear it all the time, but eventually these sounds became white noise and faded into the background.

Berkeley Freeway

For the People, Statue on Pedestrian Bridge

We crossed a pedestrian bridge over the freeway and immediately we were in the city. About 10 blocks in is the busy San Pablo Street. All along this leafy boulevard are ethnic restaurants, shops and grocery stores. I figured I’d hit a bonanza when we discovered a very well stocked Mexican tienda. It was filled with products we hoped we would later find in Mexico and I took my time going through the shelves to see what they might be. Beautiful fresh peppers, tomatoes, papaya, cheese, and meats, as well as shelves and shelves of canned, spicy things I would need a Mexican cook to explain to me how to use. An exciting glimpse of what was coming!

At the top of University Street, which slowly stretches itself up to the hills, is the campus of Berkeley. All around the campus is the vital business district. Lots of young people, cool housing, inexpensive restaurants and bars – the whole place hums with vitality.

An Interesting Abode

We found quite a few Indian restaurants and, on our first day of exploring, had lunch at the Chaat Café. We each had an Indian wrap. One consisted of Tandoori chicken and the other a very spicy lamb kabob, lathered with mint and cilantro and wrapped in tender Naan bread made on the premises. My mouth salivates as I write this a week later! It was so delectable! The next day we made a special trip back to enjoy the whole experience again!

Chaat Cafe, Berkeley

Another bonus was to find a Trader Joe’s. This exceptional grocery store is like a deli from heaven at a fraction of the price. We were able to stock up on things like olives, fresh pasta, French bread and, of course, the famous Two Buck Chuck. Yes, you can get about 8 different varieties of wine for $2.00, or $23 and change for a case. Unfortunately, or perhaps, fortunately, we have to carry everything we buy, so we could only fit a couple bottles each into our backpacks, in order to be able to carry the food too!

Trader Joe's, Berkeley

On another day I found yet another amazing grocery store – the Berkeley Bowl. When I was first told about it I thought it might be some kind of emporium, but it turned out to be the biggest, most diverse place to purchase food I have ever encountered. Trader Joes on steroids! There were fruits and vegetables and many other products I had never heard or seen before and a selection so vast it would take hours to do a week’s shopping. All I could think about was all the cookbooks and recipes I have which ask for ingredients I can never find and my mind boggled at the possibilities for experimentation. Between Two Buck Chuck and the Berkeley Bowl, combined with the fact that the moorage was extremely inexpensive, we thought we might be able to stay in this town for a very long time. I wonder if they are hiring at the university??

Berkeley Cafe in converted factory

But all good things must come to an end and we realized that not only were we leaving Berkeley, we were also beginning the last phase of our stay in San Francisco. We had one more thing to do and that was to attend the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival at Golden Gate Park the first couple days of October. Another reminder for us was the return to foggy, chilly weather. The aim of this trip was endless summer, yet to date, we felt we had left it in Vancouver two months ago! Definitely, the time had come to head further south.

Breakwaters at the entrance to the Berkeley Marina

Historic Berkeley Pier
History of Berkeley Waterfront

We scooted across the Bay early in the morning and returned to the San Francisco Marina. Lucky for us there was a spot available and we found our way back to the same basin we were before, but on a different dock – right across from the Safeway. We met up again with Silas Crosby, who had anchored, under sail, at the Aquatic Park. Meredith had friends coming down from Quadra to attend the Bluegrass Festival, John was on a short holiday with his wife, so Steve, Doug and I went together to experience this music extravaganza.

Banjo Stage, Hardly, Strictly Bluegrass

I could hardly believe the famous names in the lineup for the festival. (You can see for yourself here: and We decided that the Saturday session would be the best for us and I had a list to see Joan Baez, Steve Earle and the Dukes, and Richard Thompson.

Richard Thompson

However, over the course of 7 hours and six stages spread around the park, we saw numerous musicians we had never been acquainted with, but soon became fans. Robert Earl Keen, Hot Tuna Electric, Conor Oberst and Gillian Welch really stood out for me, but the caliber of the entertainers was so high I think it all was fantastic. And the amazing thing was the WHOLE THING WAS FREE!! It was a gift from Jim Hellman (of Hellman mayonnaise fame) who GAVE this festival to the city. This was cultural philanthropy on a scale that I couldn’t imagine happening in Canada. Wow!

Arrow Stage

I just wish my body had the stamina to see all the entertainers over the three days, but our one day of standing for 7 hours, plus miles and miles of walking really took its toll on our legs, feet and hips. I will have many memories to treasure from the day we were able to attend.

Steve Earle and the Dukes

And now, our time in San Francisco has come to an end and I am finally caught up with this blog! After provisioning, and doing the laundry we headed back to Sausalito to give back the key the Sausalito Yacht Club had so generously given us to access to their club. We expected, weather permitting, to leave early Wednesday morning to catch the tide to ferry us out of the Bay and into the Big Blue once more. Depending on wind, we planned to go as far as Half Moon Bay, or continue on to Santa Cruz or Monterey. We ended up leaving a day early.

No comments:

Post a Comment