Posts Tagged ‘photos’

Just some parrots chilling on 16th Street

August 26th, 2017

Parrots on 16th Street
 

While heading down 16th Street earlier this evening I spotted some parrots; not the wild variety you find on Telegraph Hill but rather the domestic variety. A man eating at Pakwan on 16th Street brought along a few pet parrots. While two of them sat on a tree branch attached to a bicycle (pictured) a third sat with the owner, attempting to open a glass Coke bottle with its beak.

All of this was, of course, surrounded by amused folks taking photos of the colorful birds with their phones — myself included.

Venice

August 21st, 2017

Venice
 

In June after visiting Barcelona I took a flight to Venice and stayed for a few nights. I only visited the main island chain, though there are a handful of others that I would have liked to check out if I’d had more time.

From the airport — located on the mainland — I took a vaporetto (water bus) to meet my Airbnb host’s son. I was glad to have a local show me around because the layout is pretty confusing. These days Google Maps can help you get around Venice pretty well, although the location services and compass hardware on your phone are sometimes misleading due to the thick stone walls mixing the signals up a little.

Anyway, the Airbnb happened to be larger and more beautiful than it looked in the photos; much nicer than my own apartment in San Francisco.

Venice airport Venice AirBnB Venice AirBnB Venice AirBnB
 

The location I stayed at was relatively quiet, but steps away there was always something unexpected around every corner: historic buildings, bustling canals, local restaurants, temporary art installations, etc. Venice is weird like that; you can walk from an ultra-crowded touristy street to a seemingly abandoned alleyway in well under a minute.

If you’ve ever seen photos of Venice, the photos are not a lie — the entire city is a maze of buildings lined with canals, walkways, bridges, and town squares. Just wandering around and marveling at the place was easily the best activity in the city.

Venice Venice Venice Venice
 

The most touristy thing you can do in Venice is take a gondola ride. It’s absurdly expensive with a fixed, regulated price of 80 euros for a 30 minute ride. At a price like that it made me question whether I should continue my career as a software engineer when I could potentially make far more as a gondolier. Time to learn some Italian?

Although riding in a gondola didn’t really interest me it was fun to watch them, especially when the gondolas got into sticky situations like tight turns, going under bridges at high tide, or simply getting stuck in a traffic jam like in the photo below.

Venice
 

Before embarking on a gondola ride apparently you can tell the gondolier where you’d like to go. For whatever reason, couples riding gondolas seemed to enjoy taking a trip under a certain white bridge, often kissing while under it.

Did they know this is the Bridge of Sighs where prisoners were taking from the Doge’s Palace to the jail on the other side of the canal? I can’t even begin to guess how this weird tradition originated, but come on folks, just stop already. The least you can do as a tourist is spend a few minutes looking up basic facts about where you’re going on Wikipedia.

Venice
 

The second most touristy thing you can do in Venice is visit Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square.) During high tides it tends to flood and become a pigeon birdbath, but it’s also home to three of the most famous buildings in Venice: Saint Mark’s Basilica, Dodge’s Palace, and St Mark’s Campanile — the big brick bell tower that stands over the square. The current version of the Campanile is a re-creation of the original, which suddenly collapsed in the early 20th century after standing for nearly five hundred years.

The plaza takes its name from Saint Mark from the gospels in the bible, and the basilica there is allegedly home to his remains. According to legend, Venetian traders stole these remains from Egypt and hid them from Muslim customs agents by covering them in pork. It’s a fun story but as to whether it’s true… who knows.

By the way, in the first photo below there’s a building with a giant clock on the facade. Several buildings in Venice have similar clocks, but this one is particularly impressive in that the lone hand points not only to the hour, but the current zodiac sign, planetary locations, and phase of the moon.

Venice Venice Venice Venice
 

As for practicalities, everything from cargo to deliveries to people with medical emergencies in Venice are transported by boat. Forget UPS trucks, in Venice they’ve got UPS motorboats. Local delivery and garbage workers have specially designed hand carts with two sets of wheels on either side capable of going up and down stairs.

Venice Venice
 

Venice doesn’t have a lot of traditional artwork — no fresco would survive the climate, obviously — but these days the city is lined with temporary art installations. From a flying car to lifelike statues of female swimmers, there wasn’t enough time to see all of it.

Venice Venice Venice Venice Venice Venice
 

There’s a quirky bookstore in Venice called Libreria Acqua Alta, which roughly translates to “High Tide Bookstore.” Since it sits on the ground floor of a building on a small canal, the store floods frequently. Rather than put up a flood barrier they’ve come to terms with the water, storing many of the books in bathtubs, high up on bookshelves, or even on an indoor gondola.

In the back there’s a small patio with a staircase made out of books. It’s not the most stable staircase, but at the top there’s a nice view of the canal outside. On the other side of the wall, there’s a “fire exit” which leads directly into the same canal. The bookstore is also home to a number of cats.

Venice Venice Venice Venice Venice Venice
 

I’d say the best time to wander around in Venice is at night, when the street lights come on and it’s getting dark. It goes from beautiful to surreal during that hour, to the point where I had this feeling like I was somehow walking through a painting of a place that couldn’t possibly exist. And yet, there it all was.

Venice Venice
 

Finally, on one evening not far from my Airbnb I heard live music echoing in the distance and took a short walk to find it. I pulled out my phone to record the journey, and while it struggled to stay in focus with the dim light I did eventually find a band playing outside a local church in a town square. See my video below:


 

I only went on two tours in Venice, but both are really interesting and available in English:

  • The Free Walking Tour has a starting point that’s difficult to find, but it’s otherwise very well organized and goes into a lot of detail about Venice’s history. The tour shuns most tourist attractions, focusing instead on how the island once operated, the constant restoration required due to the saltwater, and some of the historical quirks like men bleaching their hair with urine and why there’s so many stores selling masks. If you go bring questions for your guide and a few euros for a tip at the end. Advance booking is recommended.
  • Speaking of history, the Doge’s Palace Secret Itineraries Tour grants you access to the Doge’s Palace along with a tour of the secret parts of the palace (many rooms are rebuilt from the original plans.) Back when Venice was an independent country, this was the seat of government and as such includes everything from jails to courtrooms to torture chambers to secret passages. A walk across the aforementioned Bridge of Sighs is included in this tour. At 20 euros it’s a bargain. Definitely book this one in advance to skip the super long ticket line.

For the rest of my photos in Venice, check out this Flickr album.

Barcelona

August 16th, 2017

In the very first post in this blog, I justified its creation by stating that I had some things to talk about, or “In other words, no vacation slides” as I said at the time. Realistically I wanted to start a blog to talk about my fascination with a local immersive art installation known as The Jejune Institute rather than an aversion to vacation photos.

Look no further back than my 2012 visit to Copenhagen to see an example of a violation of the principles outlined in that first blog post. Yeah, I lied… though somehow I never got around to writing about my 2013 trip to Shanghai on this blog for whatever that’s worth. So forget the no vacation photos thing and let’s move on.

As I wrote in my first post about my vacation to Europe this summer, I started and ended the trip in Barcelona because I booked cheap flights. This meant I stayed at two different hotels a few days in June and again a few days in July.
 

My trip’s first hotel was Hotel Via Augusta in the L’Eixample District, near the Gracia neighborhood. L’Eixample means “expansion,” and it’s literally an expansion of the original part of Barcelona. The original city is now known as the Gothic Quarter and was once surrounded by a wall. After the city wall was demolished the city built outward, mostly in large, dense blocks that had tapered edges to accommodate streetcars. That last factoid plays a pivotal moment in Barcelona’s history, so read on.

Gracia is an older neighborhood that wasn’t originally part of Barcelona. Even though most of the buildings look new, the streets are very narrow with a layout that’s slightly more contemporary (less chaotic) than the Gothic Quarter. It’s a lively, family friendly neighborhood that doesn’t attract as many tourists as other parts of town. That said, it’s walkable from a number of Metro stops and not far from Sagrada Familia. Gracia grew on me quickly with one exception — it’s completely dead on Sundays. Depending on your schedule this can add a significant challenge when you need food. For my part on Sunday I found a “takeaway” lunch at a sushi restaurant (they have Philly rolls in Spain!) and a gazpacho dinner from a convenience store.

Barcelona Barcelona Barcelona Barcelona
 

It’s fashionable everywhere to gouge and generally hate on tourists; Gracia was no different. But I couldn’t help laughing at this anti-tourist sticker with a skull and selfie stick “crossbones”:

Barcelona
 

Further out in the L’Eixample District, the architecture takes on a life of its own. Local architect Antoni Gaudí and his contemporaries built — or in many cases renovated — buildings with their own modernist styles. Not all of them survived Spain’s civil war intact.

Barcelona Barcelona Barcelona Barcelona
 

The most astonishing architecture near my first stop is also the most famous: Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, an enormous church that’s been under construction since 1882. Gaudi knew he wouldn’t live to see the end of the construction, and as fate would have it he was killed by a collision with a streetcar in 1926. His original plans for the structure were also destroyed in Spain’s civil war.

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
 

With the interior largely complete, the exterior still has one facade and several more towers to go. Will it be complete by the deadline of 2026? I doubt it, even though they’ve switched from stone to modern reinforced concrete for the main facade — which has barely begun construction. Still this is an amazing building to visit and its unfinished, changing nature is a part of its allure.

For better or worse, I booked tickets for the tower on the Passion facade. The ticket included an elevator ride up, but (unbeknownst to me) not back down. The views from there were spectacular, but the path down involves narrow stone staircases. The last part of the climb down has a handrail on one side, and a steep drop on the other. This is an alarming descent, especially when the temperature is 95 degrees and your hands are a little too sweaty to firmly grip the handrail.

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
 

Fast forward to the end of my trip, and I stayed in at Hotel Cortes in the Gothic Quarter, the old and original part of Barcelona. Like many folks in Barcelona, the guy running the front desk when I arrived barely spoke any English. Fortunately others in the hotel spoke English fluently, and my limited (Castilian) Spanish was enough to get by.

Everyone will tell you the Gothic Quarter is the most touristy part of Barcelona, but it’s also historically significant, and even today is quite lively. That said, if you want to check out the architecture, wake up early on a Sunday when everything’s closed and stroll the narrow streets for a few hours. It’s a gorgeous part of town when it’s empty, and the clash of styles between the old buildings and the modern street art really shines.

Even during the day, the restaurants, bars, and cafes a little ways off the beaten path are worth checking out. In particular I found a bar with excellent gazpacho, a taqueria (yes, really) with killer margaritas, and vegan British pub with not only good beer, but surprisingly good food.

Barcelona Barcelona Barcelona Barcelona Taco Alto, Barcelona Gazpacho, Barcelona
 

Though the Gothic Quarter can be touristy, one part in particular stands out as a serious tourist trap: La Rambla, a wide street going down the middle of the neighborhood towards the sea. Despite a few useful shops, for the most part the place is crowded with tourists and poorly rated restaurants, including (of course) Barcelona’s Hard Rock Cafe.

As a general tip for traveling, remember this helpful rhyme: “Hard Rock Cafe, Stay Far Away.” I’ll get into that more when I discus my trip to Florence.

Barcelona
 

From the Gothic Quarter I wandered up to Montjuic, a scenic viewpoint on a tall hill. An aerial tramway connects the hill with a (man made) beach. It’s fun to find your way up the hill, especially because not all the pathways are marked. On the way there I happened to walk past “El Gato de Botero,” a large metal sculpture of an overweight house cat. Silly, but worth checking out. The top of Montjuic sports a hotel, a couple restaurants, and an immaculate garden.

Although it’s not included in the panorama below, from several vantage points on top of Montjuic you can easily spot Sagrada Familia. The numerous cranes are a dead giveaway.

El Gato de Botero, Barcelona Barcelona Barcelona
 

On the opposite side of the city from Montjuic (yeah, I got around) there’s another high vantage point: Park Guell. Built into the side of a hill, Park Guell is filled with lush gardens, meandering pathways, playgrounds, and a number of homes designed by Gaudi. Commissioned by a man named Guell, the place was intended as a small village for a handful of rich families with sweeping views of the city. Ultimately it was a failure, and the place was eventually handed over to the city to be used as a park.

The most built out and decorated part of this development is near the bottom, with a number of buildings, man made cave-like structures, fountains, and mosaics. This part currently costs extra to enter most of the time, although it’s arguably no more or less interesting than the rest of the park.

Barcelona Barcelona Barcelona Barcelona
 

The street art scene in Barcelona is pretty wild, especially in the Gothic Quarter. I took dozens of photos — too many for an already long blog post — but here are a few works I found interesting and representative.

Barcelona Barcelona Post No Bills, Barcelona Barcelona Barcelona Barcelona
 

While I explored Barcelona mostly on my own, here are all the tours I went on:

  • Sagrada Familia top views. For 29 euros you get to go up one of two towers and get an audio guide. You have to book this one at least a day or two in advance. Third party operators also provide tours, but I suspect you’re better off sticking with the official tour.
  • Free walking tour of the Gothic Quarter. This is a very well put together tour available in three languages (each with a different guide.) Even though it’s free, they do encourage tips at the end of the tour so it’s more of a pay what you want kind of thing. You don’t have to book in advance, but if there’s no space available you may not get in if you show up at the last minute.
  • Craft Tours: Barcelona Beer Tour. Who knew Barcelona has a beer scene? This is the same company as the free tour, but it costs money upfront — and includes tapas and a lot of beer. This one has to be booked in advance.
  • Craft Tours: Discover Gaudi & Modernisme. Another tour from Craft Tours that also requires booking online, this one goes into detail about the modernist architecture in Barcelona in the L’Eixample District, mostly around the time of Gaudi and his contemporaries. The tour ends after a brief Metro ride at Sagrada Familia.
  • Park Guell Monumental Zone. While Park Guell itself is completely free, the core “Monumental Zone” costs seven euros to enter, and you generally have to book in advance — though if you arrive very early in the morning it’s free. It did seem a bit overpriced, though maybe the guided tour option would be more interesting.

For more photos, see my Flickr albums for part one and part two of my Barcelona trip.

A robot served ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery

July 30th, 2017


 

Yesterday just before 7 PM I got an unexpected series of texts from a friend:

I got ice cream from a robot
I’m at 18th and Dolores.
 

There’s a robot here
Bi-Rite Creamery

Intrigued, I texted back letting her know I was on the way; what sort of maniac could say no to watching a robot serve ice cream? I raced over from BART, practically running down 18th Street.

The “robot” as it turned out was a pair of robot arms attached to a mannequin torso, sitting on a table under a tent on the sidewalk outside Bi-Rite Creamery. A guy waving around a pair of HTC Vive controllers caused the two arms to scoop up ice cream and sprinkles — for free — to robot and/or ice cream fans passing by the creamery on 18th Street.

Not wanting to spoil my appetite for dinner, I declined the ice cream, but happily watched as others partook. My friend said the ice cream was oddly flavored with a mix of blueberry and anise, but is the taste really the point? Much like robot arm serving coffee in Cafe-X in the Metreon, sometimes it’s the mechanized process that’s the star, not the resulting food products.

The robot did seem to have a camera in its “head,” and I noticed there was an unused Vive virtual reality headset sitting on the table. The desktop PC controlling everything had a high-end GeForce GTX graphics card glowing from under the case’s grill which seemed capable of driving the headset. When I asked the operator if the VR headset worked with this contraption he confirmed that it does, though he said it’s difficult to see what he’s doing while wearing the headset.

Perhaps in the future this might be addressed. At that point it’s only a matter of time before a remote operator could use this device to serve ice cream, then a few years down the line the contraption could be fully automated with artificial intelligence to remove the need for a human operator at all, thus putting hard-working ice cream scoopers out of a job.

For now though this device not only requires a human operator, but also requires the recipient of the dessert to carefully move their bowl as the ice cream drops out of the serving spoon.

 
Watch my video above to see this somewhat chaotic process in action, and check out some photos in the gallery below.

Ice cream robot at Bi-Rite Creamery Ice cream robot at Bi-Rite Creamery Ice cream robot at Bi-Rite Creamery Ice cream robot at Bi-Rite Creamery

Visiting the top of Coit Tower

June 11th, 2017

Coit Tower
 

Despite living in San Francisco for (checks watch) almost 14 years now — and the Bay Area my entire life — somehow I’d never bothered to take the elevator to the top of Coit Tower… until yesterday.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve climbed up Telegraph Hill more times than I can remember. I’ve walked up and down the staircases of both the Greenwich Steps and the Filbert Steps, as well as semi-staircase sidewalk along Filbert Street from Washington Square on the western side of the hill.

But Coit Tower itself? Sure I’ve gone in and looked at the murals, but as for the trip up to the top I was always turned off by the price and the long lines.

Well, it turns out you can take the elevator ride to the top either for free, or without waiting in line — but not both. How? Let me explain.

If you’re not interested in paying, all you have to do is sign up for a library card at any SF Public Library location. Once you’ve done that (or renewed your card if it’s expired) visit the Discover & Go website and log in with your library card and PIN. From there you can get free access to various local museums, pools, etc. Select the Coit Tower option, which includes “Free admission for up to two adults accompanied by up to four children under 18.”

Or if like me, you’re more turned off by the lines than the price, book a reservation with a skip the line ticket at least one day in advance. In addition to a $2 advance booking fee fee, adults pay $9.00 but residents of SF with a valid ID only pay $6.50. Seniors and children get a discount as well regardless of residence status. (All prices are as of this writing in 2017.)

In my case the employees seemed a little confused by the skip the line ticket, but accommodated me nonetheless. If there’s a line at the front door, just present the printed pass and they’ll wave you through to the gift shop. From there, the cashier took my pass, gave me a hand stamp and a receipt, then told me to go back to the elevator and wait for the next group.

Once the elevator operator has taken you to 15 or so stories up you’re actually not at the top — you’re at a lower observation platform for people with disabilities. Assuming you’re able there’s still two flights of stairs to climb.

 
Coit Tower
 

The top of the tower looks pretty much like what you’d expect from the ground — it’s an open air viewing area with sets of three windows on each side. That said, to my surprise, many of the windows were open. Visitors were sticking their cameras out of them to take photos. I wonder how many people have accidentally dropped their cameras?

From these windows, weather permitting there’s an amazing view of North Beach, the bay, and downtown. Click the photos in the gallery below for a full view.

 
Coit Tower Coit Tower Coit Tower Coit Tower Coit Tower Coit Tower
 

Despite being an iconic tourist attraction, I was surprised by how non-touristy it felt at the top. The atmosphere was relaxed, the elevator operator was very chill, and the only crowd was the line in the lobby.

I should point out there is a second activity at Coit Tower that isn’t as well advertised, and I have yet to try it myself: in addition to the Depression era murals in the lobby, there’s a small second floor above it with more murals. This second floor was closed to the public up until 2014 and still isn’t as open as the lobby. You can book paid mural tours either in the ticket window at the lobby, or through the skip the line website (see above.) Or if you’d rather not pay anything, SF City Guides has a free tour of the murals on a regular basis. Both include access to the second floor area.

Are there other floors in the tower? I’ve long heard about how the tower’s original caretaker lived in a small apartment located within the tower, but always assumed the tale was apocryphal. Yet according to SF Gate the apartment was real:

If you are up there at the right time, you can see staff coming out a door, beneath Ben Cunningham’s “Outdoor Life.” This is something else as unknown as the second-floor murals: the long-rumored Coit Tower caretaker’s apartment, now converted to an office.

What were they thinking?! With a location like that, even a cramped apartment could have easily fetched a steep rent — especially if it included unlimited roof access. I’d certainly consider moving in.

Visiting the new Venus sculpture at Trinity Place

June 1st, 2017

Trinity Place sculpture garden
 

Trinity Place, the aggressively rectangular apartment buildings in mid market are still under construction. But the main plaza and much reported on Venus sculpture by artist Lawrence Argent have already been installed and are ready for their close ups.

So, how can you go see it?

From Mission Street between 7th and 8th Streets, the Venus sculpture is clearly visible from a fence. One might think the sculpture is accessible from there — not so. The gates in the fence are locked (presumably residents have a key.)

But if you walk around to the 8th Street side of Trinity Place between Mission and Market, there’s an alley without a gate. And that’s where things get interesting.

Walking down the alley, I noticed something unexpected: a sculpture seemingly trapped in a blue/green ringed glass container. This was at one end of a small hallway leading to the plaza where the Venus sculpture rests. At the other end of the hallway, what do you know — a second trapped sculpture. Both seemed reminiscent of the main attraction in that they all exhibit eerily modern looking distortion applied to what otherwise seem to be classic Greek or Roman-like works.

 
Trinity Place sculpture garden Trinity Place sculpture garden
 

It turns out that the Venus sculpture is the largest part of a a series of art installations called C’era Una Volta, which includes the aforementioned sculptures, the plaza itself, and a number of intricate rock carvings.

Without C’era Una Volta, Trinity Place would look like a bland, generic apartment complex; with it, I could almost forget the buildings even existed. The modern, whimsical sculpture garden was easily captivating enough to distract me from the otherwise uninspired surrounding architecture.

 
Trinity Place sculpture garden Trinity Place sculpture garden

Hiking Mount Davidson

May 7th, 2017

Mt. Davidson

 
San Francisco has “seven hills,” depending how you count. Before I’ve written about hiking up Mount Sutro, Twin Peaks, and Bernal Heights. Yesterday I finally got around to hiking around Mount Davidson, the tallest of all the hills.

Back when I lived in the Parkside neighborhood in the mid 2000′s, I remember occasionally seeing this giant concrete cross on a hillside and wondering what the deal was with that. Of course, most of the time it’s so foggy on the west side of the city that you can’t see it, so I rarely gave it much thought.

Then a while back I was re-watching Dirty Harry which features a sequence where Clint Eastwood’s character has to deliver a ransom. He winds up all over the city, including Forest Hill Station and finally makes his way to the cross on Mount Davidson. Although he’s forced to make a bunch of random stops in between, in real life Mount Davidson is only about a 30 minute walk from Forest Hill Station, or a ten minute bus ride on the 36. Something to keep that in mind if you’re not delivering a ransom payment to a crazy killer.

Anyway, back to the real world: yesterday I managed to take the elusive City Guides tour of Mount Davidson. Elusive because it’s only offered twice a year. And even then, only when the weather is good. If you’re interested in the tour but your schedule doesn’t line up, the tour guide also runs a website about Mount Davidson with information about the park.

Interestingly, not many people seem to know about Mount Davidson, despite the sweeping panoramic views. It’s a little harder to get to than Twin Peaks. The park attracts dog walkers and bird watchers — I spotted a pair of hawks and a bluebird without paying much attention.

 
Mt. Davidson

Mt. Davidson Mt. Davidson
 

So what’s up with that giant cross, anyway? It turns out a church group used to build temporary big wooden crosses up there every year for Easter. At some point they decided to build a permanent one. This caused a first amendment issue when the park became public, city owned land. As with ten commandment issues at courthouses, you either can’t have them, or you have to allow anyone else to put their religious statues nearby.

While it would have been funny to see a 100 foot tall statue of L. Ron Hubbard next to the cross, the city’s voters decided to sell off the land under the cross to a group of private citizens in order to avoid the issue. This is explained in signs all around that part of the park.

 
Mt. Davidson
Mt. Davidson
 

On a clear day, the views are amazing. The towers downtown look like tiny from so far away, but you have a view of Sutro Tower, Twin Peaks, and a partial view of Bernal Heights.

There are trails and stairways leading up and around the park. None are particularly well marked or maintained. Many don’t seem officially sanctioned. If you decide to go on your own, I’d recommend just wandering down whatever paths you like. The park isn’t big enough to get lost.

Finally, here’s a panorama from the east side of Mount Davidson’s peak. Click through for the full size version.

Mt. Davidson

Muni Murals outside Laguna Honda

May 7th, 2017

About a year ago, the wall facing Forest Hill station at Laguna Honda hospital got the mural treatment. Today I (finally) found myself over there and decided to check it out. Among other aspects, the mural features two fun depictions of Muni over the years that connect the past with the present.

First, here’s a Muni trolley exiting Twin Peaks tunnel at West Portal. This represents the original West Portal station, a glorified bus stop with a facade that looks similar to those of the old piers along the Embarcadero.

Muni Murals

 

The second Muni-themed part of the mural depicts a modern Muni Metro LRV heading to the nearby Forest Hill station. Once known as Laguna Honda Station, it’s the oldest San Francisco subway station that’s still in use today. Regular Muni Metro riders can identify the station’s platform level in the mural by the checkered pattern on the wall. Or you might recognize it from a certain Clint Eastwood movie.

Muni Murals

 
“But wait,” is the question I doubt anyone would ask, “Which Clint Eastwood movie that takes place in San Francisco could you possibly be referring to?” Well, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for the next blog post to find out. Try not to let the suspense kill you!

The Cable Car Museum

April 3rd, 2017

Some museums require a complicated explanation about how to get there; not so with the San Francisco Cable Car Museum. Both of the Powell Street lines stop outside of the museum, and the California Street line has a stop a few blocks away.

Despite living in San Francisco for almost a decade and a half, I’d never visited the Cable Car Museum, and decided on a whim today to pay a visit.

Most of SF’s tourist attractions fall into one of two buckets: a horrid tourist trap (Pier 39, Grant Avenue in Chinatown) or are actual gems that you shouldn’t miss (Telegraph Hill, Musee Mecanique, Cliff House.) The Cable Car Museum, I’m happy to report, falls into the latter category. That said there’s not much to the museum itself. The real show here is watching how the cable car system works.

I suspect an average tourist doesn’t give much thought as to how cable cars work — it’s just a weird old wooden train with a bell, right? Just like a big version of Mr. Rogers’ trolley? Anyone with that notion will be in for a shock if they visit the museum and watch the motors pulling the cables. More on that in a moment.

The Cable Car Museum is free to visit and is open most days. There are bathrooms open to the public, and of course a gift shop with books and trinkets. Much of the museum consists of panels explaining the history of the system, how it was invented, etc. Most of these factoids you could just as easily find on Wikipedia.

The most interesting of these exhibits explain in detail how the mechanisms that power the cable cars work, for example the grip and the truck pictured below.

 
Cable Car Museum Cable Car Museum
 

Another cool feature are the old cable cars. Did you know that at one time they had two cable cars hitched together? Or that ads on public transit apparently go way back further than you may have thought? These are the quirky little details you won’t find anywhere else.

 
Cable Car Museum Cable Car Museum
 

But like I said earlier, all of this is really secondary to what the museum is really about: seeing the mechanism that powers the cable cars up close. It’s like a factory tour in a way — the museum’s located inside the building that powers the entire cable car system in San Francisco.

Several enormous wheels spin a thick braided metal cable, one for each line. That cable is what the “grip” mechanism in each cable car latches to, which is what propels tourists between Powell and Market and Fisherman’s Wharf. Normally you can’t see those cables since they’re underneath the street, but here they’re in full view.

Apparently it’s some guy’s job to sit there watching the cables, checking for damage as they wiz by, and if there are any frayed bits they have to be repaired at night when the cable cars aren’t in service. While I’d assume this is the sort of job that could be easily automated, in the spirit of preserving a historical system maybe that would be cheating.

 
Cable Car Museum Cable Car Museum
 

In the basement of the building you can see the wheels that act as pulleys, tilting the cables into different directions for each line. Unfortunately it was too dark down there to get a usable photo.

A portion of the building is devoted to a machine shop. The cable cars are custom made, so if a part needs to be replaced it’s not like SFMTA can go on Amazon and order a new one. I spotted several fresh looking grip mechanisms sitting in one corner, ready to be installed as needed. Since it was a weekend there was unfortunately no activity in the machine shop. There might be more action to see if I’d visited on a weekday.

One last fact to mention here is the noise level. With the motors driving the giant wheels and the cables spinning around, this is not a quiet museum. Check out my very brief video below to look and listen to those motors in action.
 

Honey bears invade BART station

March 22nd, 2017

BART Honey Bears from fnnch
 

A series of fnnch’s honey bears have invaded the Powell BART/Muni Metro station as I discovered on the way home this evening. These are among the larger honey bear murals I’ve come across, though I think thees are the same size as the one that was once across the street from Dolores Park.

According to Broke-Ass Stuart, these murals are a little different from fnnch’s other work in that they were painted on panels that were then taped to the wall. It’s an interesting mural technique because it makes it simpler to put up (and remove, presumably) but also opens the door to this type of street art installation in a confined space where spray paint fumes wouldn’t be welcome.