What the Sultan saw

Dave - @10:19 pm

We started today having been in San Francisco for two days and yet to actually see any of the city. Partly because of the interminable fog, but also because we were too drunk to care on Eurovision Day. So today’s plan was to set off on foot and have a wander around. But first, we had to get through the Championship playoff final, which saw Middlesbrough attempting to re-enter the Premier League. Since kick-off was at 7am, we watched it in bed on a pixelated stream that froze every five minutes – the frustration of this distracted from the frustration of the actual football, which was awful and let’s never mention it again.

When we were done with that ordeal, we decided to skip breakfast and head down to Fisherman’s Wharf for a “bread bowl”. I’d previously described the idea of getting soup in a bowl made of bread to Michelle, but I think she was a little incredulous. And maybe also a little bit excited about the washing-up avoiding implications of such a thing.

If you’ve never seen a bread bowl, it’s basically a giant spherical sour-dough loaf that has been hollowed out and filled with a thick, creamy soup. I had harboured hopes that they would do a vegetarian version for Michelle to try but sadly they only do clam chowder, which is only vegetarian friendly in the loosest possible sense of the word. So while I scoffed a hearty meal, Michelle had to look on with envious eyes.

Overall impression? It was okay, but basically tasted like a really impractical mushroom soup.

A bread bowl. It's a bowl, made of bread.
A bread bowl. It’s a bowl, made of bread.

Apart from novel ways of serving soup, San Francisco is also famously cold. Mark Twain is often misquoted as saying “the coldest winter I ever spent was the summer I spent in San Francisco”, and though inaccurate in attribution, this quote is nonetheless spot-on in spirit. It’s bloody cold when the fog rolls in, as it had today, and the temperature seems to drop two degrees with every five steps you take towards the sea. So shivering a little, we sought shelter in an interesting looking building: the “Musée Mécanique“, which seemed a little like a pushy-coin machine joint at Whitby. It kind of was, but turned to be so much cooler.

The museum collected together a huge array of coin-operated machines – from early 20th century racey postcard viewers to “modern” arcade cabinets like Pole Position and Raiden. It was basically catnip for the two of us and we spent most of our growing collection of spare quarters happily making mechanical buffalo sniff around a dead Indian or creepy marionettes dance. Oddest thing was the “what the Sultan saw!” machine, which promised an erotic peek into the peccadilloes of olde timey perverts, but turned out to be a weird, jiggling triangle with legs. Whatever floats your boat I suppose. We also spent some time on an original Pong machine (drool!) which proved to be a skill that we have both long since forgotten.

Harder than it looks.
Harder than it looks.

Next stop was the actual pier part of the wharf, which was a pleasant little shopping street containing, among other things, an NFL shop (yet more Packers merchandise purchased) and a left hander shop (for freaks like me and Ghandi). We also came across a tacky souvenir shop that posed a deep philosophical and moral question to us.

You’ll remember that we’re collecting state number plates – we’re down to six remaining, with yesterday’s North Dakota. Well, this souvenir shop had walls full of actual car license plates including, you guessed it, all the ones we need. The tricky Vermont, Hawaii, West Virginia. All there, all actual license plates. So we’re kind of torn – does it only count if we see them on an actual car? Or can we call it job done? I don’t think we’ve yet decided, in the end we just settled on a photograph and I suppose we just wait to see if we see any in “real life” in the next week.

Does this count?
Does this count?

Next we headed into the city for a walk up to Lombard Street, the very iconic windy San Francisco street that looks like motorist hell but which turned out to be jam packed with both cars and tourists photographing the cars. It’s a pretty street, but a hell of a walk up some punishing hills to get there. So it was a relief to walk back downhill and over to Coit Tower for yet another mist-shrouded view of the Golden Gate bridge.

Now it gets a little bit nerdy (if playing arcade games and spotting license plates wasn’t already sufficiently so). Before doing anything at Coit Tower, we kind of got sucked into an Ingress “mission” which led us off into the backstreets of San Francisco looking for portals to hack. This proved to be an excellent diversion, because it took us round to the Greenwich Steps, a lovely little staircase that reminded us both of an Ewok village and led past some very charming back gardens that we could perv on. It was a great find, and very nice to get away from the busy city (until a herd of tourists marched up in the opposite direction!).

A herd migrates up the Greenwich steps.
A herd migrates up the Greenwich steps.

It was warming up now, so we strolled down to Union Square with some fanciful sounding cold drinks and sat for an hour watching people go by. You ever notice that about fifty percent of the people in any given city square look like spies surveilling other people? Union Square seems to be particularly spy friendly, with lots of long lenses, wide brimmed hats and talking into collar microphones.

So with yet another American city inefficiently, yet enjoyably, touristed we decided to grab a Lyft back to the hotel and have a meal in ready for tomorrow’s drive up the coast.



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