Tim Foolery

Sights and Sounds of San Francisco

We only had one full day in San Francisco, so we had to make it productive.  We got up early and ventured away from out Bunk Room at San Francisco Proper and hit the town.  It was warm (22C/72F) with a cool breeze off the bay – which made it a perfect day to walk this hilly city.

Walking from our hotel in the Tenderloin, we passed by dozens of people living on the streets and digging through trash cans – many of which were just throwing the trash back out onto the streets.  That neighborhood is very gritty.

After grabbing a quick breakfast we ended up walking down to the Palace of Fine Arts, then over to the Bay.

Palace of Fine Arts

Palace of Fine Arts

Palace of Fine Arts

The Golden Gate Bridge on a hazy summer day.

We continued out walk around the City stopping off to meet a friend for a drink at the Palace Hotel.  The restaurant wasn’t open when we arrived, so we had to cocktail in the lobby for a bit.

The Lobby at the Palace Hotel

Finally, after a drink and some lunch, we headed off to grab some ice cream from Salt and Straw on Fillmore.  We enjoyed our ice cream and listened to music at the Fillmore Jazz Festival.

I do love Salt and Straw Ice Cream. What is your favorite flavor?

This basically brought out day in San Francisco to a close, as we had to head back to the hotel and get ready for dinner at Saison.  We did visit the rooftop bar at our hotel, the San Francisco Proper.  The views were lovely, but it was just so crowded and it was hell to get a drink.

What are you favorite things to see and do when visiting San Francisco?  What touristy things do you always skip?

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San Francisco Proper, a Member of Design Hotels

Hotels in San Francisco were not inexpensive for the weekend we were looking to stay. Even using points seemed a bit cost prohibitive. After a few weeks of checking and rechecking hotel prices, we found we could snag a room at the San Francisco Proper, a Member of Design Hotels, for only $210/night. The room we’d select into was a Bunk Room – yes, a room with bunk beds. We hadn’t slept in bunk beds since college and thought it would be a fun change of pace, plus the price was right for us.  We knew we wouldn’t be spending much time in the room, so even a tight space would suffice.

We checked into the hotel close to midnight after taking BART in from SFO. The public transit connection was easy, as BART goes directly from SFO to the Civic Center Station which is just meters from the hotel. The hotel is located in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco and if you haven’t been before, know that it isn’t the bright, shiny, tourist friendly area that you usually see in magazines. This area is gritty, dirty and full of homeless and drug users. As we walked up the stairs from the BART Station we had to step over many people laying on the stairs. We saw people buying and selling various narcotics and something I hadn’t seen this up close and personal since I studied in London many years ago – we had to step over a man who was actively shooting up, needle dangling out of his arm.

I don’t live in an ivory tower thinking this stuff doesn’t happen, but it was more blatant and obvious than I had seen in years. I won’t pontificate on the state of the opioid crisis in America or the horrible state of our mental healthcare system, but I will say that this problem is multifaceted and more specifically for this post, be aware of your surroundings when you stay at this property. Other than the difficulty in carrying suitcases upstairs and over people we had no other issues with the people in and around the hotel.

The night manager was working check-in when we arrived. She greeted us by name, I’m assuming because we were the last people to check in that day. She was very welcoming and gave us a quick, but thorough rundown of the hotel and reminded us of their award winning restaurant (Villon) and rooftop bar (Charmaine’s) . If we wanted to visit the bar, she suggested we seek a staff member to escort us. At first I thought this was because of the homeless on the streets, but it was actually because the line to get to the rooftop bar was quite long and with an escort we can bypass the line. We opted not to visit the rooftop bar our first night, but did swing by the next day. The bar was lovely, but just too packed and understaffed when we were there. It was an utterly beautiful day in San Francisco, so everyone wanted to be outside enjoying the sun and the warm breeze.

Charmaine’s, the rooftop at San Francisco Proper

A simple beer on a beautiful day. Plus who doesn’t love a cat coaster?

Our room was exactly as presented, a bunk room. I never really pay attention to square footage stats on hotel websites, I just figure a standard rom is a standard room. This bunk room was small, 16m² (175ft²). There was a small table and chair that one could use to work or dine.

The eponymous bunk beds in our Bunk Room

The closet had the minibar, which was properly stocked and had luggage racks, an iron and ironing board. It was tough for us to use the ironing board because we had two suitcases that were taking up much of the room, but we managed.

A surprisingly well stocked mini-bar.

The liquid refreshments in the mini bar.

The room had two TVs though, placed at the foot of each of the bunk beds, and they were controlled by the same remote, efficient, but strange, nonetheless.

The remarkably elaborate system to control the room the size of a shoe box.

The bathroom housed the toilet and the shower, while the sink was in the main living space. The bathroom had a rolling barn style door, which doesn’t give you much privacy, but in a room as small as this, there isn’t much privacy period.

Bathroom

Bathroom

Single Vanity in Main Room

The water temperature and pressure were on point throughout our entire stay.

The hotel uses Aēsop bath products, which were in bulk containers, which I do appreciate as I find it so wasteful to have those mini shampoo, conditioner and body wash containers. My biggest concern with the bulk containers is a previous guest messing with the contents (pouring something into the shampoo, for example). These quality products smelled like mint and other herbs, when times comes we may swap out our current guestroom toiletries for this brand. Have you used them before?

We chose not to dine at the Proper, despite the rave reviews of the restaurant. San Francisco is such a great food town, the idea of dining in our hotel was a bit unpalatable. Have you dined at Villon? I’d love to hear your take on it.

While the Bunk Room at the San Francisco Proper doesn’t come close to rivaling the Mosaic Suite at the Prince de Galle Hotel in Paris, or quite frankly the AC Hotel Portland Downtown by Marriott, it was a fun experience to try a Bunk Bed and a beautifully designed hotel. I would consider staying here again, but I think I’ll steer clear of the small Bunk Room.

Have you stayed at the Proper before? What did you think of the neighborhood? What about your room? Did you get a bunk bed? Speaking of, when was the last time you slept in a bunk bed?

Redwoods Road Trip – An Introduction

For the past couple of years we’ve been taking some time each summer to explore the national park system. This year, we had to be in Portland, Oregon for a wedding the weekend following the Independence Day Holiday, so we decided to couple this joyous occasion with a trip to the Redwood National and State Park in Northern California.

Redwood National and State Park

Regular readers know that I loathe a good road trip. Most people say a road trip gives them an unparalleled sense of freedom, for me it is the opposite. I feel trapped. I feel completely out of control. I’m just not a car nor a road trip guy. That being said, you can’t really fly into Redwood National Park, and it would be cost prohibitive to fly from Chicago into the smaller airports near the park, then fly to Portland then back to Chicago. So a road trip it is.

We started by flying into San Francisco, staying a couple of days, then driving up to Mendocino Country, where we have an uncle with a home where we could stay for a couple days. The trip continued up the coast to the Redwood National and State Parks, then ultimately up to Portland for the wedding, ending with our often taken United Flight 464 from PDX to ORD (that afternoon flight feels like home to me, since I’ve probably taken in at least two hundred times over the past two decades.

Some of the trip isn’t worth writing about, like the flights to and from Chicago, and some things that are worth writing about, don’t warrant an entire post, so I’ll end up grouping things together, hopefully these posts can help you plan a trip through this beautiful part of the country. Over the next few weeks I’ll write about:

  • Proper Hotel – a Design Collection Property
  • Sights and Sounds of San Francisco
  • Saison – Fine Dining San Francisco
  • Hendy Woods State Park
  • Off-Roading in a Prius
  • Baechtel Hotel
  • Inn at 2nd and C
  • Redwood National Park Hike
  • Grants Pass Hotel
  • Casual Dining on the Trip
  • AC Hotel – a Revisit

Our trip wasn’t a luxury vacation, but a chance to see friends, family and explore a beautiful and based on our visit, extremely underutilized part of the National Park System.

Have you explored this park?  What are your favorite things to do in San Francisco or Portland?

Hof van Cleve – Belgian Fine Dining

When traveling we love to explore local cuisine and if we can pair that with a fine dining experience, we will do everything we can to make that happen. I find myself looking more toward the World’s Fifty Best Restaurant list first, before Michelin or other fine dining guides as the World’s Fifty Best is in more locations are isn’t always showcasing restaurants of extreme price points.

I had no expectations of finding a restaurant in the areas we were visiting, they were touristy Bruges (particularly) and Ghent seemed less of a fine dining city, but I was pleasantly surprised when I found the restaurant that is ranked number 50 on the World’s Best Fifty list was located just a few dozen kilometers from Ghent. I knew that we weren’t going to drive back to Ghent after the tasting menu so we decided to stay at Lozerkasteel about 6 kilometers from the restaurant Hof Van Cleve. If you haven’t read about the beautiful Lozerkasteel, coupled with their shady business practices, I suggest you take a look at my review before booking with them.

We made reservations online about 3 weeks prior to our visit to Belgium and there were some hiccups when it came to booking, but after a couple emails with the surprisingly quick to respond team at HvC, we were booked with reservations at 19h30 on my final Tuesday in Belgium.

Our hotel arranged for a taxi which dropped us off at 19h15 and we were immediately welcomed in and seated.

The gardens leading to Hof van Cleve

Most of the tables were being seated at the same time. The meal is such that I believe they only do one seating a night, but it isn’t all at the exact same time – I don’t think they were turning tables during the night, so the guest who had that table had it for the whole night.

The first thing I noticed upon arrival was the uniforms: beautiful grey pinstriped suits for everyone. They even had matching belt buckles that I thought said HvC, but it was actually a Belgium designer who helped create the loom. I was envious, but couldn’t find a tactful way to ask for their belt “Excuse me sir, would you take off your belt”, and I didn’t have time to track down this designer. That’s next on my post trip research plan.

As we sat, a glass of champagne was offered and I don’t think I have ever turned down a glass of quality champagne in my life. Menus were delivered and we had already made up our minds that we’d be doing the full tasting menu with wine pairings. Hell, that’s why we stayed at the double-charge guesthouse. Menus were removed and our glasses were topped off.

Each course progressed the same. A new glass was delivered, then a couple minutes later the wine poured with a brief, yet detailed description of the selection was offered. Then the food arrived with another detailed description, and often details as to why the wine was chosen to pair with the course. Stellar service.

Any detailed questions on the wine were directed back to the sommelier, which I appreciate. You can’t expect servers to be fully versed on all aspects of the wine, that being said, when I asked about the region the wine came from they knew where it was from, some basic characteristics and the neighboring regions. They were definitely ahead of the competition.

The restaurant was celebrating their 30th anniversary, their Golden Anniversary. The tables were decorated with golden accents, many of which were custom created for the occasion by local artists. Even the courses were accompanied by gold garnishes.

Amuse
Tomato + Rocket + Shrimp

Amuse Bouche

Bread Service with Sea Salt and Amazing Olive Oil

Seafood Amuse Bouche with Roe

Line-Caught Sea Bass
Grapefruit + Sorrel + Quinoa

Lobster “Oosterschelde”
Bear’s Garlic + Cauliflower + “Old Bruges” Cheese

Lobster “Oosterschelde”
Bear’s Garlic + Cauliflower + “Old Bruges” Cheese

Codfish Northsea
Green Asparagus + Cockle + Lovage

King Crab
Parmesan + Curry + Bouillabaisse

Milk-Fed Veal “Lozere”
Green Pea + Pointed Cabbage + Morel

Second preparation of Milk-Fed Veal “Lozere”
Green Pea + Pointed Cabbage + Morel

The Cheese Trolley – A Delicious Addition

Beautifully decadent cheese course

Strawberry “Mariguette”
Rhubarb + Mascarpone + Salty Lemon

Chocolate Van Dender “Mexico” 70%
Sea Buckthorn + Bergamot + Apple

The chef joined us for a few minutes midway through our dinner. We had a bit of a communication breakdown. I congratulated him on his 30th anniversary. He paused and asked if we were celebrating our anniversary….which technically we were, so we confirmed. Well, before the main desserts were served, a small cake with a candle came out. The server asks which of us were having our “anniversaire”…which is French for birthday. Ugh. The chef thought we were telling him we were here for a special birthday, not congratulating him. The worst part, this conversation was in English, so I wasn’t butchering the French language. Double ugh. I made Mike blow the candle out and eat the cake immediately. We were both embarrassed.

The misunderstood anniversary surprise

The other funny part of the even came about ¾ of the way through the meal. I asked the somm if he could call our driver at the appropriate time for a proper pick up. Evidently we had asked WAY TOO EARLY. The driver said to call an hour before we wanted to be picked up. The somm did that oh-so-typical French thing where he looks at you, puffs up his cheeks then slowly blows the air out. It is the equivalent of a less rude eye roll / shoulder shrug. He looks at me and says he’ll take care of it, but worst case scenario the cab is late and we all hang out and they serve us more wine. Yeah, that’s an awful option. The cab arrived before we were ready, but they waited without an additional fee.

Hof van Cleve was such a unique experience. The food was wonderful, but the service really knocked the whole meal out of the park. It was definitely an expensive meal. It wasn’t the most expensive meal I’ve ever had, but it was a close second. This restaurant isn’t for the faint of heart, but I loved it so much more than Steirereck in Vienna, which ranked much higher on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.

Have you been to Hof van Cleve? Where did you stay? Was your wait staff surprisingly hot? What was your favorite course? Mine was a tie between the Tomato + Rocket + Shrimp Amuse. or King Crab.

Packing Cubes – Worth it or a Waste?

Packing cubes are those small, plastic/fabric rectangles used for packing clothes that zip up and are billed as life changing additions to your travel program.  I have friends who tout their benefits and say that they allow them to pack much more into the same suitcase than they could before.

Of course that claim is silly, these packing cubes don’t bend the laws of physics, they just help you keep a bit more organized.  I’ve always considered myself to be a pretty efficient packer – I can mostly live out of a roll a board suitcase (that easily fits in the overhead bins of all but the smallest of planes).  The only time I need to step up to a larger suitcase is when my activities at the destination are quite varied.  For example, recently we took a nine-day trip to the west coast where we had a fine dining experience, then hiked multiple days and then ended at a wedding.  This obviously necessitated several different outfit changes.  Otherwise, I’m using a simple 20-inch suitcase for everything.

I’ve been trying out packing cubes for a few months now, and I’m just not sold.  I bought a three-pack of ebags packing cubes from Amazon and have used them on almost every trip since late 2017.  I’ve tried different packing configurations – loading up my undershirts, boxers and socks into the largest of the cubes and filling my outer clothes around it in the suitcase.  I’ve put those same items split between the two smaller cubes and use the larger cube for my slacks and dress shirts.

The three pack of travel cubes from Ebags.

I just don’t get it.  I do like how everything looks like and organized in my suitcase, but I struggle with finding things, and then struggle with what to do with my dirty clothes.  Usually I don’t unpack when I arrive at a destination, I’ll just live out of my suitcase.

What am I missing here?  How do you use packing cubes?  How do handle dirty clothes while traveling (my mother-in-law made me a dirty clothes bag, but that goes against the sleek aesthetic of the packing cubes)?  Are packing cubes worth all the fuss?