I remember I landed first time in San Francisco 12 years ago with absolutely no clue where I was going to stay or where I was going to work. I had couple of friends and connections from Romania, which for me at that time were enough 🙂 With little work experience, cultured shocked by a completely different world, naive as I could be at 21, but with an incredible thirst for learning, discovering and to understand what was the “American Dream” about, I was very enthusiastic to experience America for the first time.
It was one of the toughest experiences of my upbringing. I had to commute very long distances by metro and bus and work hard to pay my rent in the Bay Area. It was difficult, however it was one of the best things that could have happen to me as it toughened me up for life. It was an eye opener to understood that nothing comes easy and only by working hard one can reach his or her dreams. Overcoming these challenges in a foreign country made me more confident and interested to travel and discover more.
A huge reason why I ended up having a great experience in US, even though it was hard, was because of the great Romanian friends I had there. They supported and advised me when I needed most and on top of this we had lots of fun too 😊
Monica, a former high school colleague of my older sister, was one of those reliable and loyal friends. She took me under her wing while sharing the same accommodation with me for three months. We are still good friends, and I was so excited to pay her a visit once again, this time after a decade.
Arriving in San Francisco Today
We entered San Francisco via the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. It was very busy, as I remember it. While we queued to pay the toll we heard someone honking the horn and when we looked we saw this family in a car next to us shouting: “Bine ati venit in San Francisco!” which in Romanian means, “Welcome to San Francisco”! They saw our Romanian plates and were welcoming us. How kind, it was a great feeling! The traffic continued slowly through the enormous bridge overlooking San Francisco Bay giving us enough time to take pictures, admire the bay, the downtown’s skyscrapers and the massive vessels passing through. It was picturesque and refreshing, just as I knew San Francisco. That decade passed seemed just few years back. I still can’t believe how time passed so fast.
As soon as we crossed the bridge we took the exit towards Monica’s apartment in downtown. JP was anxious about where to park Brutus in town while we would be visiting Monica. As we progressed through the busy streets JP's anxiety worsened. It became evident that would be almost impossible to find a place to accommodate our 3.5m height truck as most garages in those towering buildings were underground.
Monica had told me she would do some investigation about suitable places to park around her area, so I was still hopeful. Parking on the streets was out of question for JP. We read about several break-ins in the area and with the current opioid crisis ongoing the last thing we wanted was leave Brutus unattended on the side of the street.
When we reached Monica's address she quickly came down to greet us. We were both so happy to see each other and were looking forward to sharing some more quality time together 😊 Monica offered us a glass of an excellent Duckhorn Zinfandel while we discussed where to park for the night. The wine was superb, but we figured we have no reliable solutions to park the truck 🙁
After some time of deliberation, as there were no secure options to park the truck in downtown, JP offered himself to leave me and Monica to have some time together while he would take the truck to the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point where he would spend the night alone with Brutus. It was very nice of JP as Monica and I could catch up after so long time.
When JP left, we went out for sushi and wine. We were walking on the streets, passing through vibrant places, restaurants and bars. It was a cosmopolitan authentic atmosphere which I loved. It was great to have a night out with Monica. I missed that. She took me to a great restaurant, Elephant Sushi, where I had one of the best Japanese sushi prepared by Japanese chefs. The best dish was a sea bass flambé, which was literally on fire. We had a blast!
After dinner we headed to the wine bar next door where we closed the night with a glass of Californian Zinfandel in the company of Monica’s new roommate, Ioana. It was great, a girl’s night out, talking girly stuff, forgetting about the world, eating and drinking well in a fun and cozy atmosphere. What a great chance!
Next morning when I woke up in Monica’s apartment she had already left for work. While I was preparing to leave her apartment to explore San Francisco on foot, JP had woken up early to move the truck from the Golden Gate Vista Point to a daytime paid parking spot by the Presidio Visitor Center, since it is not allowed to park at the Vista Point during the day.
We met for a coffee and planned our day walking from the Financial District to Chinatown progressing through Columbus Avenue, Little Italy up to Russian Hills, then the famous Lombard Street and finally around Fisherman’s Warf.
We started our walk through these multicultural neighborhoods enjoying street art at almost every corner. We stopped for lunch at a small boutique Japanese restaurant specialized in ramen and gyozas. The place is called Ramen Underground, located in the busy Financial District. Since it was a regular weekday it was packed with people and we had to queue for about 10 minutes for a table. We waited on the side walk observing the dynamics of San Francisco, the people rushing on the streets. We felt part of that environment even if it was for a fraction in time. When we got our table the service was fast and the food was fresh. It was well worth the wait. We loved our ramens and the gyozas!
We walked through the streets of downtown through Chinatown and eventually Little Italy. As we were in Little Italy we reached Trattoria Pinocchio restaurant where I have worked 12 years earlier. It was closed for renovation and while I was trying to look through the window I recognized Giovanni, the owner, coming out of the side walk. We went to say hello and I mentioned that I had worked at his restaurant 12 years earlier. He was kind and pretended that he remembered me too, we both laughed while I pretended to believe him 😊.
We continued our visit to the Church of Saint Francis from Assisi for some moments of reflection, quiet and peace. We found a prayer of St. Francis which attracted our attention and we would like to share it with you.
Soon we were at the famous Lombard Street known for its steep, one-block section with eight hairpin turns. We took a couple of pictures and the challenge walking up the hill.
It was a beautiful sightseeing from the top of the hills. We walked around the lovely neighborhood with its postcard type of properties and took pictures with the famous cable cars. From there we could see the bay, the port and the well-known Alcatraz Island where the notorious prison is. It was a very pleasant stroll.
When we reached the port area we walked from the Maritime Museum to the Fishermans Wharf looking for a fresh seafood restaurant. We were hungry, but to be fair all places alongside the pier looked mostly touristic traps and we wanted something more authentic. On Tripadvisor we found a well recommended joint nearby. The place had great reviews and it was called “The Codmother”. We ordered a very nice fish and chips which was deliciously cheap and cheerful 😊
It was great to see that San Francisco conserved its special atmosphere, diversity, and its vibrant free spirit it is knowns for. We have been so lucky to experience it, and I have been even luckier to experience it one more time.
With the night approaching we left to pick up the truck from the Presidio parking lot. From there we drove back again at the Vista Point of the Golden Gate Bridge where we prepared to receive our friends Monica and Ioana whom we invited over for dinner in our truck 😊
Although we asked Monica and Ioana not to bring anything they did not arrive empty handed. They brought lots of snacks and good wine. We had a good time in the truck while JP cooked pasta carbonara which we paired with a nice chardonnay. We enjoyed each other’s company and had dinner with a beautiful view to the Golden Gate Bridge. Pretty special, really.
The next morning we woke up at sunrise with the beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge coming through the clouds. We admired the majestic landscape and decided to take the truck up the mountain in the Golden Gate National Recreation Site for even better views. We parked at the Marin Headlands parking lot from where we enjoyed the vistas of the Bay and San Francisco from way up, opposite side of the bridge from where we were standing at the Vista Point. We pictured the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco for the last time before heading to San Jose, where we would be meeting again our friends from Las Vegas, Abel and Vanessa.
We arrived in San Jose about 11am, where we had to do some quick admin pit-stops for laundry and meet our friend Abel.
As we were relatively nearby to the first McDonalds restaurant opened in 1955, we decided to check it out, especially that we saw the documentary about McDonald’s beginning just few weeks back. JP and Abel are burger fans too so going to the McDonald's #1 Store for lunch was a pretty cool idea. The store still preserves McDonalds original layout, with the golden arches placed over a glass and metal, red-and-white tiled exterior. The building largely follows the McDonald brothers' original blueprints, which they had introduced when they began franchising in 1953. Inside it looks like an old school fast food, while the menu is identical with any other McDonald’s you visit in USA. It was pretty cool to visit the first McDonald’s restaurant.
Satisfied with our lunch we went to visit Vanessa, Abel’s wife at work at Intel. We were excited to be invited to experience the Intel Museum.
It was inspiring to have the opportunity to visit a technology company in Napa Valley, to understand their vision, drive and what makes them so successful. We learnt about the microchip development history and their vision of smart cities reliable solely in renewable energy and AI connected. It was more and more clear to us that the future is about technology, big data, connectivity and artificial intelligence.
Thank you again Vanessa and Abel for a great tour and welcome in San Jose!