Simple San Francisco style

 

You can tell a lot about a place by its food. Move away from the heart-clogging diners around Union Square and travel beyond the reaches of the cable car for a taste of the real Frisco.

Heading to San Francisco for my first visit, hippies, Haight Asbury and the Golden Gate Bridge are three images that immediately sprung to mind. For many tourists it’s updated with the tackiness of Fisherman’s Wharf, aggressive panhandlers downtown and of course, the interminable wait to ride on the cable cars.

I wanted to get back to the hippy roots of the city but in the opposite direction of Haight. Greens, an iconic vegetarian restaurant that opened in the ‘70s, called my name. Getting there turned out to be half the fun.

Skipping the hour queue for the Powell-Mason cable car, we jumped on the Market St tram all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf. I love the old streetcars from around the world that whiz down the 6 mile route from the Wharf to the Castro, and travelled it most days we were in town.

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Once we headed beyond the Embarcadero, directions to the Fort Mason restaurant were sketchy. While the map, on paper at least, showed a clear route down Bay Street, on the ground it was illusive. Instead the footpath lured us over the hill to the marina, through the small national park. The ascent was bolstered by spectacular views of the bay and the Marina on the other side welcomed us. The sprawling Green Meadows Park felt a million miles away from the homeless in the city centre.

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With literally five minutes to spare before the end of lunch service we finally arrived at Greens, relieved to be welcomed to a table. The stress evaporated as we sat in the light-filled converted warehouse, watching yachts bob outside in front of the iconic bridge. The view is complemented by a spacious interior design using mostly reclaimed timber, high ceilings and large artworks.

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The food, crafted from organically grown produce was some of the freshest I’ve ever tasted (and I’m both a gardener and organic market shopper at home).  The menu has echoes of its 70’s wholefood roots but has swapped stodge for simplicity. The baby potatoes and corn in my grilled brochette is probably the most flavorsome I’ve ever eaten complementing, rather than competing with, the chimichurri sauce and spicy Mexican slaw.

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The ambience at Greens enhanced the experienced. While only a couple of diners remained so late in the service the staff didn’t hurry any of us, as if understanding the importance of atmosphere on good digestion.

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Calmed and sated by our lunch, we ambled back through the sculptures of Green Meadow Park and took in the views of Alcatraz, Fisherman’s wharf and the bridge once more. Without the pressure of time and unknown geography and buoyed by an organic beer with lunch, we could relax into the beauty of the national park.

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Greens is worth an excursion, so close to the hackneyed San Francisco tourist sights but a million miles away from the urban tension. Choose it for the sheer simple flavours of the produce, inspiring natural design of the restaurant and the iconic views. But also for the path less travelled, which was as refreshing as the meal itself.

How to get to Greens

The walk from Fisherman’s wharf should take about 30 minutes, when you know where you’re going. Click the link for directions.

 

New York highlights

Unexpected

Dogs – in Macy’s, on the street, in boutiques…

Pregnant women – especially at the Brooklyn markets, it’s a fecund borough

Frozen yoghurt – where our current epidemic started, let’s hope we find a cure…fast

Children playing in fountains on hot days

80s Brit pop – playing in stores and cafes, including quite a few indie bands from my youth, nostalgia city

Bipolar weather – either a chilly all day downpour or sunburn

Subway buskers – the best ever, amazing voices, strings and brass

Ten dollar psychics – on every street corner

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Art

Subway art – lovely surprises, including the subversive Tom Otterness Life Underground  bronzes in the nooks and crannies of ‘our’ 14th St station.

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Museum Mile – annual 5th Avenue street festival where 10 blocks are closed and museums open free for three hours. Visited the Guggenheim, The Met (including the Punk exhibition), listened to DJs, watched buskers and gasped at the glory of Central Park at sunset.

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Murals in the lobby of the Chrysler building (and you thought all the deco loveliness was on the outside?)

Dia:Beacon – perfect rainy day trip up the Hudson to Connecticut. For lovers of modern art only, this place is like entering the Tardis (“it’s a lot bigger on the inside”) Richard Sera, Warhol, Sol Le Witt all standouts as well as the most comfortable sofas ever experienced in an art gallery. Check out the Metro North Getaway Package for a reduced price train trip/museum entry.

MoMA PS1 worth a trip to Long Island, more modern art than you can poke a stick at, the eco themed Expo1 studded with gems from Meg Webster’s Pool to classic Ansel Adams prints.

 Food

Like the weather food is equally polarized. Equal number of vegan and porcine themed eateries, food stalls and products.

Markets – visited the Fort Greene and Union Square farmers markets, gobbled our way through the Brooklyn flea food stalls barely leaving room for a late afternoon trip to Smorgasburg in Williamsburg. IMG_2637

Food trucks – Van Leeuwen’s vegan ice cream was our fave.

So little time, so much amazing food to choose from !

 Architecture

The Empire State and Chrysler buildings around almost every corner. Viewed from Williamsburg, the Hudson, the Highline and all places in between.

Grand Central Terminus – best view from the mezanine Apple Store (tip: free wifi) at rush hour, watching all those busy little ants below and the star map above.

Frank Gehry’s IAC building – from the High Line, the Hudson, during the day, the magic twighlight zone when it’s see-through and at night.

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Ceilings to remember – Rose Main Reading Room and the NY Public library, Bethesda Terrace in Central Park and of course Grand Central.

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…and speaking of the High Line, it deserves it’s own post (here it is). We stayed two blocks from the start and walked 5 lengths of it during our stay. We were wowed during the day, loved it as a pedestrian express route uptown, a spot to drink an excellent morning coffee from Kava but it was on a summer’s night that it totally blew my mind and senses.

 Parks and gardens

While the High Line is a 21st century Central Park, it’s the pocket gardens the breath clean air into most neighbourhoods.

Jefferson Market Garden – a standout Greenwich Village green spot, lovingly tended by volunteers.

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Washington Square – for buskers, the fountain and food trucks.

And also

Happy Hour – what a wonderful institution. Cheap drinks, cheeky bartenders, chatting with the locals. Margaritas at Mole worth a detour. 

West Village – woke up to birdsong every morning, great neighbourhood bars and restaurants, espresso and a potential ‘Little Melbourne’ (can we start the trend and call it ‘LiMe’?) with Crumpler and Aesop around the corner. Plus the usual $10 psychics, healthfood stores and dogs.

Summer fruits, flowers and Tropical Storm Andrea.

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Off the beaten track in Bali

With most Australian travellers heading to the famous beachside resorts in the south or making a ‘spiritual pilgrimage’ to Ubud, you’d think that was all there is to island. If you’re not in Bali to party, there’s so much more to do and see.

Here are 5 top tips for a relaxed tropical holiday in Bali, off the beaten track.

1. Tirtagangga & Karangasem, East Bali

Mount Agung is for more than climbing. At the base the mountain sits the serene villages of Tirtagangga (the home of the famous water palace) and neighbouring Karangasem. Small bed and breakfasts offer a quiet alternative for those who wish to avoid the crowds. A pre-breakfast walk in the paddy fields gives a glimpse of traditional village life and time for contemplation. This is the old, slow-paced Bali, away from the shopping malls, glitzy restaurants and beaches but still close enough for day trips to sample the other delights if you choose.

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2. White Sand Beach, East Bali

On the coast between Candidasa and Karangasem is a hidden beach. Road access is a little rough and it’s best reached by hiring a driver. The East is not fabled for it’s beaches let alone sandy ones, so it’s an unexpected gem. It’s far enough off the main road to have no electricity, precluding any resorts for now. Small warungs dot the beach and for the price of a meal or a drink you can use a sun lounger and umbrella for as long as you like.

copyright Gill Stannard

3. Lovina, North Bali

Sometimes referred to as ‘Mini Kuta’, Lovina is thankfully more sedate and less populated than it’s southern cousin. While it has a beach and the type culture that goes with it, my favourite find was the Warung Bambu restaurant and cooking school in near by Pemaron. Classes begin with a market visit to buy ingredients which is half the fun and ends with feasting on the fruits of your labour. We managed to have a lesson for two, at no extra cost, with a menu catering to our dietary preferences. If cooking’s not your thing, the restaurant is one of the best in the area and often books out at night.

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4. Munduk, North Bali

The Dutch colonials favoured this northern hinterland when the equatorial climate got too much. Munduk is a lush cornucopia, growing coffee, cacao, cloves and other tropical delights. Get a local guide to take you for a walk around the plantations. The terrain can be steep and despite the elevation you’ll work up a sweat but it’s well worth it, with waterfalls to help you cool down. The township itself is quiet and tourist facilities are limited, which is just how I like it.

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5. Seririt, North Bali

Right in the centre of the north coast, Seririt provides more upmarket and quieter options than Lovina’s more backpacker-ish feel.  For now the area is off the main tourist radar, so it’s a delightful place to spend a week beside the pool, with a range of good quality resorts  that make a great alternative to the madness of Ubud. There are also some black sand beaches and a host of options including snorkelling, diving and dolphin trips for the active or a soak at the local hot springs.

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While Australians tend to congregate in the beachside party towns of Kuta, Legian and Seminyak, European tourists tend to flock to East and North Bali. So, even if these locations seem unfamiliar, don’t be surprised if accommodation is tight during the northern summer holiday months of July and August. 

Have you got a favourite hideaway in Bali?

The Hermitage, St Petersberg

Love art? Like art, even a bit? Then the Hermitage has to be one of the places to see before you die.

Anything to do with travelling in Russia will necessitate a fair degree of patience. There are queues everywhere and that’s not just at the museum but the traffic jams en route. If you’re visiting the Hermitage independently do yourself a favour and buy tickets online to avoid at least one of the queues.

Once inside, the four buildings open to the public showcasing the phenomenal collection can be confusing. It’s worth doing a little research in advance to familiarise yourself with the layout and locations of your must-see art works.

Many tours (and they are numerous) don’t get beyond the first floor. If Da Vinci, Rembrandt and Rubens are you’re thing, expect long queues of tourists one by one experiencing the masterpiece though their viewfinder. Amazing how few actually take in the art with a naked eye. It’s all point and shoot and onto the next one. But the walls of the same rooms are covered in Old Masters, step away from the groups and you’ll be surprised what the guides miss. A Caravaggio or two, for example.

5 tips for surviving the Hermitage

1. Look up. The building itself is a living artwork.

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The Raphael Loggias are breathtaking. I could have spent all day just looking at the ceiling.

2. Start at the top. The second floor houses the 19th and 20th century Western European Art collection. The masses are often too exhausted to make it up the stairs to experience these delights. Picasso, Matisse and Renoir hang out up there with Gauguin and Cezanne. There’s also Monet, Van Gough and Kadinsky.

3. Look out.

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Get some perspective. Take a moment to gaze out the windows. Just don’t stand on the seat to take the picture!

4. Pace yourself. Even the most hardened art lovers find it hard to take it all in for more than 3 hours at a time. If possible, stagger your visit over a couple of days or if that’s not possible, read up in advance and make a plan of attack.

5. Visit in winter. Those serious about art brave the snow, don their furs and visit St Petersburg in winter to avoid the queues. This way you can view your favouite works without the distraction of the picture snapping tourists.