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Painted Ladies: A San Francisco Walk About

Its time to fall in love with some painted Ladies in San Francisco.  The Fighting Couple has been on lots of tours and by tours we mean, academic, informative, open-ended questions, catered to a small group, kind of tours. We don’t follow umbrellas. We learn so much on “good” tours that we like to go on tours even when it’s a city we have been to many times.

There are three types of Victorian homes: Italiantes, Queen Anne and Stick.

There are three types of Victorian homes: Italianate, Queen Anne and Stick.

So on a recent couple’s trip to San Francisco;I jumped at the chance to go on a Victorian Home Walk.  Enter our guide, Jay.  Jay gave one of the best tours I’ve ever been on.  I’ve always had a fascination with Victorian homes. I find them beautiful and after going on the walk with Jay, I adore them even more.

Painted Ladies Tour

I met Jay with a few other folks at Union Square. As an introduction to what we would be seeing, he explained how the area once was full of single family housing prior to the 1906 earthquake.  Standing there looking at a crowed shopping center and the sea of humanity milling around, it’s hard to imagine the now commercialized area was once home to thousands before the fire associated with the earthquake leveled the wooden homes. Jay was very knowledgeable about the housing patterns before and after the earthquake and fire changed the city.  I have a mid-blog post confession.  I am curious. (Mike would say nosey!)  You know when you are on a “good” tour when the tour guide can actually answer your questions!

Pacific Heights

Our exploration of the antique homes took us to the Pacific Heights area. Going on the Victorian Home Walk is just that: a walking tour.   Our first stop was the gorgeous Queen Anne Hotel. How I want to stay there! Before we went inside, Jay trained us to spot the three types of Victorian homes: Italianate, Queen Anne, and Stick. Then we ventured inside the splendid hotel and had free rein to look around. It’s gorgeous! The former girl’s school is a Victorian’s dream hotel. Its plush interior and ornate furnishings represent classic Victorian style, and like Jay said, “No one could stuff a room like a Victorian.”

Gorgeous example of craftsmanship, but the paint is far from authentic.

Gorgeous example of craftsmanship, but the paint is far from authentic.

As we walked down Pine Street to Webster and over to Broadway, Jay pointed out how Victorian homes changed over time. As technology improved, the outside of homes became more decorative. But then it wasn’t hip anymore to look ostentatious. For instance, during the 30s and 40s any ornate fixtures on the outside of the homes were replaced to make it look more modern or in my humble opinion: plain. The exteriors were painted stucco or replaced with dull siding. The first floor gardens of the Italianates were removed to make room for the automobile. The boxed shaped livery stables are now condos.

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My favorite home on the tour. It’s so delicate.

One of my biggest fascinations was the change in color of Victorian homes. Painted Lady, anyone? No, that’s not a Yuppie drink at your favorite bar. It’s the term originated in San Francisco for Victorians painted with three or more colors. Most Victorian homes weren’t painted that way to begin with; in fact, painting your restored Victorian multiple colors to accent the trim and gingerbread didn’t become popular until the 1960s. Originally, Victorians were painted with three colors: the window trim was painted black or very dark green, highlights were white and the overall house color was one color, usually an earth tone that would not fade or show the dirt like brown or dark green. If you see a beautiful home today with a rainbow of colors (yellow, green, blue, red), it’s fun and makes the house pop, but it’s following the pop culture of 40 years ago, not the original color schemes.

Another classic Italianate style Victorian.

Another classic Italianate style Victorian. Note how there is now a garage where a garden once grew.

The pace of the tour was steady, but not like a race. I never felt at any time that I was rushed. It was also casual enough that there was appropriate downtime to quiz our guide on the things we were seeing. “Why does this house have three doors?  Why does this house have a bay window but the one next door doesn’t?  When was this built?” You get the gist. I’m sure Jay was glad when I stopped asking questions!  This tour tops our things to do in San Francisco list.

Did you know that you can “Ask the Fighting Couple Anything?”

Celebrity Mansions

The tour lasted roughly two and a half hours. We ended the tour in the she-she-la-la area of celebrity mansions overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. Jay pointed out Jessica McClintock mansion-painted all white like her designer wedding gowns. We saw the house from Mrs. Doubtfire and the house a few doors down where Robin Williams lived. Jay was full of celebrity gossip from those who live or lived in the area. But you’ll have to go on the tour; I won’t dish any here.

What struck me most about this tour was Jay’s unique knowledge about the individual homes we saw. It’s wasn’t the kind of stuff you could find in a history book. It was the type of information he personally gathered from living in the city and doing tours for 20 years.  Most of all, I never felt like I was on parade. In fact, I felt like a local being shown around by a local. I wasn’t on tour bus with a bored driver reading an approved script over a microphone.  I was shown a local side of San Francisco, a place where people live.  

Jay the Victorian home fountain of knowledge.

Jay the Victorian home fountain of knowledge.

And just like a local, when we ended the tour at the Union Street Shops, Jay showed us which restaurants to the get the best sandwich, the best pasta and the best seafood. I treated myself to a to a pumpkin spice cream puff at Pacific Puffs.

The next time you are in San Francisco; don’t miss the  Victorian Home Walk. It will be the best $25 you spend in the city.

A special thank you goes out to our friends at Victorian Home Walk who provided this experience.  Check some gorgeous painted ladies out next time you are in San Francisco.

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Our Day of Decadence in SFO

Move over wine, there is a new industry in the Northern California: one that is creamier, cheaper, and won’t get your fired if you keep it in your desk drawer and partake all day.

Chocolate.

Sure, San Francisco is known for Ghirardelli; A chocolate so popular there is an entire city square named after it. But if you think Ghirardelli is the only chocolate maker in town, you will be missing out on the city’s emerging industry. Just Google artisan chocolate in San Francisco and you’ll get more than 200,000 hits!

The Bay area is quickly becoming the United States gourmet chocolate heart. Fueled by technology moguls who have given up buying vineyards and making wine with their millions (that’s so 1993), many of these dotcom wonders are turning to creating the next best thing: chocolate.

Chocolate San Francisco1000 Fights got an up close and personal tour of the city’s best chocolate stores and chocolatiers. As part of Gourmet Walks Chocolate Tour we got the 411 on the city’s best chocolate while learning about how chocolate is made and why you should eat it (not a problem for us). As part of an intimate tour, the group only had seven people. Now the Fighting Couple are very particular about tours. We don’t like big tours and we expect someone who knows their stuff. We got just the right kind of experience with the Gourmet Chocolate Tour. It was a small tour and Beth knew a lot about chocolate, but more about San Francisco. That’s the benefit of a tour, you get the chance to interact with locals, asking your questions and get a different perspective.

Our tour guide Beth began with some chocolate education by showing us what chocolate comes from: the cacao bean. We got to touch, smell and worship the bean. Beth explained the entire chocolate miracle: from the bean to production. We even got to taste the cacao nibs, which are cacao beans that have been roasted. It’s the rawest form of edible chocolate. We also learned why 1000 Fights loves white chocolate. It’s the fat of the bean. Yes, white chocolate is the cacao butter and unfortunately, doesn’t have the same health benefits as milk and dark chocolate. However, it won’t stop us from eating it.

How to eat ChocolateOur walking tour started at Justin Herman’s Plaza and moved into the bustling Ferry Building Market Place. We started at the self-proclaimed chocolate mecca, Scharffen Berger, where we got a first of many tastes as part of the Gourmet Walks. Just like fine wine, we were told to enjoy the chocolate experience. Instead of popping and chomping on the chocolate immediately, look at it, feel it, smell it and enjoy it. Let the taste sink into your palate and close your eyes. Absorb the chocolate and decipher the flavor. Does it taste of fruit, woods, milk or cream? Remember, wine and chocolate are some of the world’s finest substances, savor them.

The tour continued to Recchiuti’s, local chocolatier where we enjoyed spring Jasmine Tea Chocolate: Jasmine blossoms and green team infusion blended with pure dark chocolate and Burnt Caramel Chocolate: smoky burnt caramel infused in fresh cream with 70 percent dark chocolate paired with spring water. Recchiuti’s is gourmet chocolate on steroids. Just walking into the shop, makes you feel swanky. Even the walls are covered with its descriptions of chocolate heaven-including Lavender Vanilla Chocolates and my personal favorite, Lemon Verbena with organic local lemon verbena steeped into whole cream and blended into decadent chocolate ganache.

Next we continued through the Ferry Building to LaCocina, a local company which specializing in giving local food entrepreneurs a leg up. We had the opportunity to eat the up and coming NeoCocoa truffles including Salted Caramel Milk Chocolate Truffle with Hawaiian black lava sea salt and the seasonal Pumpkin Spice Truffle. If you go to San Francisco, check out the Ferry Building Marketplace. There aren’t just chocolates there. While we were on the tour, we found  ourselves wishing we had more time to come back and take it in a bit more.

ChocolateAs Beth led us out of the Ferry Building, we started towards Fog City News. In true San Francisco style, we saw a protest. Free Tibet! Locals will say if you don’t see a protest or someone scantily clad or less, you haven’t seen the true San Francisco. As we snaked along the city, we stopped in on Fog City News. The news stand and chocolate shop carries any magazine from any country you want and the chocolate to go with it. The staff personally tries every chocolate offered and I interrogated them, “What does this taste like, do you recommend it, what else would you buy?” The staff knew the answers! You can get chocolate from the world at Fog City News as well as local Northern California favorites. I bought Maison Bouche’s Fleur de Pecher (that’s a peach blossom chocolate for those of you in Lake Woebegone) and Ginger Elizabeth’s Vanilla Been Toffee Almond Desert Bar.

LeonidasAt every stop on the tour, we tasted the incredible offerings, including hot chocolate (at Leonidas) and the opportunity to buy chocolate. The tour even offered a discount card. It made a dent into the $80 worth of chocolate I bought along the way. Beth told us to pace ourselves with the chocolate. I did well until the sixth stop and by then I couldn’t fit anymore chocolate in my stomach. Luckily, we could take it in our “to go bag,” that included Swiss Chocolate maker Teuscher’s famous champagne truffles, obsessed by celebrities including Oprah.  One of the biggest takeaways from the tour is that unlike wine, fine chocolate won’t run you hundreds of dollars. The most expensive chocolate in the world is a fraction of the price of the world’s most expensive wine. For a couple of dollars, you can get a piece of chocolate flown in from the capitals of Europe or better yet, Northern California!

White ChocolateThe three hour tour ended at the Piece de Resistance: CocoaBella Chocolates in the Westfield San Francisco Center for even more tasting and explanations of the chocolate industry. CocoaBella carries designer chocolates from around the world. If it’s not beautiful and tastes amazing, CocoaBella doesn’t carry it. I couldn’t resist buying the Vanilla Cupcake Chocolate made with sweet cream and vanilla frosting ganache mixed with tiny cake pieces from Norman Love, a chocolatier in Florida or Turin Italy’s Guido Gobino’s Peppermint Infused White Chocolate. I bought the most chocolate here, including CocoaBella’s Hazelnut Toffee with Alaea Hawaiian Salt. Luckily, I have hid it where no one in my family can find it.

There’s no better way to spend an afternoon in San Francisco than walking around the iconic city and tasting the mind blowing, marriage altering, moan inducing chocolate of the town. We highly recommend Gourmet Walks. We can’t wait to go back and check out their other tours. After all we, left our heart and more chocolate we’d like to taste in San Francisco.

 

A special thank you goes out to our friends at Gourmet Walks who provided this experience.  Check them out next time you are in San Francisco.

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Adventures in Chinatown

 

I love Chinatowns.  I really do.  I am an egg:  white on the outside and yellow on the inside. Some of the best places to discover in our major American cities are their Chinatowns.  Chinatowns offer an affordable visit to another culture and country.  Taking a stroll down the busy streets offers the sights, sounds, tastes and flavors of the orient.  It is not to be missed!

Some of our favorite Chinatowns: Washington DC, Seattle, Vancouver, BC, San Francisco, LA, and Lima, Peru?!

To really enjoy Chinatowns we put together a few helpful hints:

1) Learn some Lingo

2) Check out the Art & Music Scene

3) Bings! (Chinese Dessert)

4) Hang out with the old guys!

5) Gwa-lious! (Our secrets to navigate a Chinese Fruit market)

Learn some lingo:

How to say hello in Chinese
Hello!

Learn some Chinese!  I can’t tell you how many times, flashing a little of my mandarin skills has gotten me some great authentic grub.  At one establishment in DC, I engaged the waiter on the quality of koi fish in the tank at the entry in Mandarin.  After seating us in a preferred section of the establishments, I attempted to order a fish dish. My selection was promptly rejected. “Something better for you”. That little clue to what I was presented to eat was an understatement.  So good!  A little preparation can result in a huge surprise. After engaging waiters and owners of establishments, bills have discreetly disappeared.  It is a Chinese tradition.

Some key words to help:

Hello- Ni Hao

Goodbye–sye gian

Tastes very good- Hen Hao Chur

Thank you– xia,xia

Art and Music

One of the greatest attractions in Chinatown is the art and music scene.  The Asian genre of art is 1000s of years in the making.  Chinatown festivals include “double ten” day (Oct. 10th), Chinese New Year (early spring), and many, many other regional celebrations.  These are great chances to expose yourself to Chinese Music and Art.

Wall art

Chinese pastorals of falling water, green steeps, and animals are amazing:

Ever wonder what those little square red things are on Chinese paintings?  They are the artist signature, as well as his teachers, as well as his teacher’s-teacher.  You get the idea.  Paintings with many red marks is a really good sign.

Pottery

Don’t know who Ming was or how he was awarded a dynasty, but they apparently made some really amazing pottery.

Music

Chinese Music started at the dawn of Chinese civilization with documents and artifacts providing evidence of a well-developed musical culture as early as the Zhou Dynasty (1122 BC – 256 BC). Today, the music continues a rich traditional heritage in one aspect, while emerging into a more contemporary form at the same time.  (Wikipedia)

Take a quick listen to some of the most haunting Chinese Folk music:

Bings

Chinatown is a delight to all of the senses!  Not just sight and sounds, taste too!  We could delve into the many delicant dishs that you only find in  Chinatowns…but desserts are rare. With that said, there is one really good exception, “the bing.” Bings are pretty simple: shaved ice, condensed sweetened milk, and some fruit flavors syrups. In the more authentic dojos, you can get real fruit! A passion fruit bing on a hot day is nectar of the gods!

Have your ever tried one?

YUM!

 

Chinese Chat

I really love to talk to old people. I love to chat with stringy bearded, glassy eyed gentlemen. They typically hang out in parks, around a board game, or they surround a small table with an elaborate tea set. Some of most meaningful conversations I have had in my life have been with these wise stewards. Conversation topics have ranged from expected topics: Sino-American relations, contrasting the traditional Chinese method of education.  We also covered some remote topics including the healing power of green tea, the long term harm that comes from drink beverages with ice(?????) and a particularly long and involved discussions of the virtues of breast milk.  Travel slow. Take a hot afternoon to sit in the shade of a with one of these fellows and the world will be opened to you.

The fruit

Asian fruit is so good! Some of my faves: yellow watermelon, yu longs, mega grapefruits, passion fruit. Some of these are available at different parts of the world, but there is nothing like an Asian fruit market. While living in Southern Taiwan, every morning we headed to the fruit markets for breakfast. These farmers markets offer fleshy fruits that are difficult to describe. We must offer a warning…fruit markets are usually adjacent to meat markets. These stands are not intended for the faint in heart. If seeing various family pets, snakes, and rodents displayed for purchase in non-living status, this is not the place for you.

 

Chinatown on Twitter:

 @sfchinatown  (SFO)

@312Chinatown (Chicago)

@scidpda (Seattle)

@OurChinatown (New York)

@LondonChinatown (London)

What is your favorite Chinatown?  What makes it special to you?

Leave us a comment and let us know.

 

 

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