August 2008


On my first day in SF and with nothing better to do, I decided to take to one of the city’s steep inclines: the Telegraph Hill.

Located just behind the Italian quarter of North Beach where I was staying, this charming residential district right beside Chinatown is also home to many of the city’s famous Victorian houses.  A peaceful area to wander around (if you like climbing hills) but I had a goal: go up the hill to the Coit Tower

The view from street level and Coit tower looming at the top.  Still flat…

Until you reach end of the road and suddenly, it rises up to a 60degree incline (!)  This is the part where your leisurely walk becomes a huff and puff climb.  Walking these hills is not a joke. It takes serious stamina and determined feet to climb up all the way.

Note the cars parked on the left side, I’m still amazed at how San Franciscans have mastered the skill of parking on an incline!

In between the climbs, you are rewarded with this view of the Financial District.

Finally, my goal. I’m not really sure why this tower was built but I heard somewhere it resembles a fire hose’s nozzle which, somehow, it really does.  Actually, the only reason why I huffed and puffed my way is because of its Art-Deco architecture.  Being an Deco enthusiast, I just had to see it.  The murals inside are supposed to be superb but I only saw part of it since it was closed.

And to top it alll, this view of the Golden Gate Bridge on a nice clear day!

Worth the climb I say if you have time to kill and don’t mind burning a few calories.

Bring water though.

I missed it the first time back in 1994 and I wasn’t about to miss it out again.

If Manila has  Corregidor and New York would have Liberty/Ellis Island, then in SF, every tourist brochure  would say that you have do the Alcatraz.

Not that Im a big fan of prison camps but of course, there’s a lot to be said about the tourism marketeers of SF in trumpeting this island and making it one of the ‘must sees’ attractions in the city.

And so off I went and booked a ticket.

Tip: If you have limited time in SF (read: you want to cram in all the sights), then I suggest that you take the night tour. Its about $6.00 more expensive than the day tour but makes sightseeing time more efficient if you don’t fancy clubbing out at night.

In a nut shell: Alcatraz holds the notoriety of being the most toughest prison camps in the US. It was also the setting for the 1996 Nicolas Cage/Sean Connery nuclear action movie ‘the Rock’ which saw terrorists annihiliating SF from the the island.

There’s no missing the island (quite literrally) and given SF’s geography, you’re always within a street’s eye-view of island.  Alcatraz calling!

Here’s my first view from the ferry.

Note: the waters of SF Bay can be incredibly choppy (like that of Manila’s going to Corregidor) , the difference however is that it get’s biting cold in SF. There was a group of kids who opted to stay outside the covered area of ferry and I was almost tempted to do so until I saw them getting spashed all the way by the wind and waves.  Stay indoors, it takes only 20 mns from the ferry to the island.

My first view.  Wind was biting cold.

And I had no jacket.

I thought it was SUMMER in the city!

The island tourist infrastructure is very well develped.  Upon arrival, one is greeted by a guide who in turn leads the tour group (always a BIG one) to place where they can get their pre-recorded headsets . Very well narrated I must say. Here’s a view of the main cells.  Eeriily quiet without the hordes of tourists.

Until the next batch arrvies.

Obersvation: The island was crawling with Pinoys. Our guide was Pinoy.  The one who handed me my head set was Pinoy. The security who was roaming around was Pinoy. And fellow who manned the cash register was Pinoy.

Funny, I think I was only Pinoy tourist.

A view inside one of the cells.  This size reminds me of a studio-type condo unitit I checked out a few months ago, only that was a bit bigger.

the toilet (?)

the isolation room if you ever found yourself not behaving. Shudder.

Ironically, one of the best views of SF can be seen from Alcatraz. Pehaps a way of tormenting it’s inmates?

One of my favorite parts of the complex was the dinning area, then apparently the most dangerous area in the island. Yes, according to our guide especially when you have hundreds of America’s most hardened crimminals together at lunch time all wielding knives and forks with perhaps with an axe to grind to the guards or their fellow inmates!

Makes sense.

At the end the sign says it all.

An interesting tour.  Worth the US$31.50 (morning tour $24.00) for its well thought of recreational experience.  If it’s your first time to SF, you’d probablly have to do it unless you really dont dig crimminal history.

Tip: the pier (number 5?) where the ferries are is in a relatively obscure part of part of SF so if you take the night tour, best to get a taxi back to where youre from.

Well the guys behind this men’s magazine thought Krista Ranillo is worthy enough feature.

And so where we at Old Manila Walks.  Check us out on page 98 of the current issue.

Thank you FHM for your little blurb!

And a belated THANK YOU to Masigasig magazine for having us in your three-page Batang Negosyante section of your June, 2008 issue!

Very nice read indeed and I totally support your advocacy on encouraging entrepreneurship.

Best of all, this magazine’s FREE! Grab your copies at any GLOBE service shops.

Of course everybody says they love San Francisco.  A city whose image has been splashed at every tourist brochure and travel agency poster for as long as I remember. And what’s not to love?

a. Rolling hills – lots of huffing and puffing!

b. Supposedly great weather -I found this questionable

c. Romantic atmosphere-in a Hollywood sense

d. Diverse cultures – to  a certain degree

And so with these post-card images in mind, I headed out to the city by they bay. My goal: to as much hills as my feet can take me in three days.

Naturally, since I do walking tours in Binondo, I had to do a WOK in one San Francisco’s biggest tourist draws: Chinatown.  And so on my first day I signed up for a walking tour (US$42.00) at a leading tour outfitter called WOK WIZ who lead us through ins and out of this historic neighborhood.

In a nutshell, Chinatown is one of the oldest places in San Francisco having been founded during the early days of the gold rush which turned the city into a rollicking, cash-rich boomtown (think Silicon Valley in the pre-dot com bubble burst).

Let me WOK you through:

The part where most of Chinatown is located — all 24 square blocks- is in a ‘relatively’ flat part of the San Francisco, meaning the hills are easier to walk around  as compared to the more steep parts around the city. Most of the streets intersect each other in a chessboard pattern with the two main roads being Grant Avenue  (tourist strip) and Stockton Avenue (market street)  being parallel to each other. Both are about a kilometer long (i think) and everything in between is considered part of the neighborhood.

Pretty compact and, to the first time visitor, quite BIG.

Grant street- heart of tourist Chinatown. Chock full of Chinoiserie in its most disneyfied form. Think Golden Gate posters, cheongam-shaped champagne wrappers , oversized cloisonne jars, Chinese shoes,  screaming ‘I LEFT MY HEART IN SAN FRANCISCO’ tshirts- a good introduction really to the tourist frenzy of the neighborhood.  And if you ask me, the place to get cheap post cards if your so inclined to send one.

For architecture buffs  (like me), the side streets of Chinatown has perhaps one of the most eye-catching and kitschiest arcthitecture in the city with Chinese details (authentic or otherwise) flaunting their colors and their details seemingly to attact the attention of the passers-by.

There is a certain symmetry in the streets of Chinatown. Almost all buildings have kept their 19th cenutry (?)  height which is three stories.  Still very human-scale and not overpoweringly diminishing.

Eye-candy!

How San Franciscan can you get with this?

And the grand daddy of San Franciscan chinoiserie architecture! This three storey bank building which used to house the telephone exchange.

I think it looks Japanese.

Our little group with our guide in a red hat to the left in a place called Ross Alley, which if memory serves me right, is called ‘Ku-Lu-Song’ in Cantonese. Then I saw the Chinese characters 呂宋, suddenly and a eureka moment ! Lu-Song is the Chinese name  from where Luzon derives its name from!  It was said that a lot of the Chinese who went to the Americas came from the Philippines. The Manila connection perhaps?

After about 2 hours of walkabout, we ended at a local restaurant where we had a sit down lunch of noodles, dimsum and the like. Here’s a  last bite of the tour with chef Shirley Fong-Torres; local San Francisco celebrity, founder of WOK WIZ tours and coincidentally also the brother Ben Fong-Torres former editor of Rolling Stone Magazine.

Overall, I have mixed reviews of this tour, on one hand, it was a good introduction to SF Chinatown, the guide was perky (enough) to get my attention for a moments and having grown up in the neighborhood certainly helped with a lot of insider stories.   However, I think it would have helped if there was more flow in the overall conducting,  some parts (like the tea shop visit) was interesting but quite dragging. It was sometimes hard listening to guide given all the noice.  And there was also a sense of ‘exoticizing’ everything, why else would you let the group in a store selling live snakes, turtles and what not?  Perhaps because it was a Caucasian group?  Maybe its just a different perspective.

All told, I found SF Chinatown to be a very interesting place to wander around. A totally new experience from our own Binondo whose Tsinoy character is so totally different from her other version across the Pacific.

Im back on the blogging groove thanks to the evangelical preachings of Awesome Anton and Satirical Spanky , I hope not to loose the momentum (again).

And besides, I have two years worth of material to catch up and blog about.

Let’s continue where where we stopped, so here goes…