Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Non-Typical (Typical?) Berkeley Weekend

26 - 27 July 2014

Granted, I have not spent much time in the Bay Area, but from anecdotes shared by friends, it seems to be that the non-typical experiences are the typical experiences of this NorCal realm.

Saturday - 26 July 
After a short, late night flight Friday night and soon-to-bed, Saturday was a blissfully-allowed, slow-to-get-going morning.  I was staying with friends going to graduate school in the Berkeley area and we decided to make a go at visiting Muir Woods that day.

Alas - apparently Saturday, July 26th was the same day everyone in the NorCal area decided to descend upon this local grove : no room at the inn of any parking lot associated with the woods.  We waived off on the idea, heading along the windy mountain road that hugged closer and closer to views of the ocean to get to Stinson Beach. 

Alas - apparently Saturday, July 26th was the same day everyone in the NorCal area who was not at Muir Woods decided to descent upon this local beach : traffic was backed up for over a mile back from the beach front, and no parking spots in sight once we patiently endured the line inching closer to the sea salt scent.

The thing is: as a visitor, I was still having loads of fun just getting a little safari ride tour of the sights around.  I've seen so little of NorCal, that all of it was a thrill.  And, when you are with good friends, even miserable circumstances are made enjoyable...in the end it is only the snafus of travel that we talk (or write) about...we very rarely repeat the tales of the courses that ran smooth.

We gave up on the Stinson Beach idea, but were starving, so we double parked for a little in-the-car picnic of a homemade kale salad.  Then: the day gifted us with an additional tale of woe to tell - the rear-view mirror broke from its foundation and remained swinging and dangling the rest of the driving-day, completely useless for anything besides a good laugh (with two co-pilots our driver made out just fine without it).  As was aptly said by one of the car companions, "we are heroes in this moment."

Since we remained keen on getting some sort of feet-on-the ground experience while in that area, we made a spontaneous turn towards the San Francisco Zen Center when we saw a sign.  The narrow, barely-paved road down to the center is anything but zen: your car will bump rather violently at each of the long-ignored potholes as you descend.  We parked next to the far end of a hidden parking area, uncertain if we were even allowed to be here or not.  There was a man getting out of his car as we pulled in and we asked if there was anywhere we could hike here.

He gave us a sly look, with the suggestion that non-Zen folk will be sniffed out, and aren't supposed to walk through the area, but advised us to "just be cool" and we'd be fine to walk through the center to find the public walking area in Green Gulch Farm (which is just beyond the center).  We figured we had little to lose, and thought we could successfully "just be cool."

We made it to Green Gulch Farm, which permits for pleasant strolling, along whispering eucalyptus groves, past green houses, and bordering just-budding lettuce patches.  We even had a little sword fight (once sufficiently far away from the zen center of course) with bamboo sticks, which, combined with the enjoyment of the walkabout in nature, sufficiently worked out our "stuck-in-traffic-on-a-Saturday" kinks.

Once back in Berkeley, I took a little urban hike up the hill from where my friends live and got a nice panorama of Berkeley and distant views of San Francisco on the horizon beyond...and even some city-dwelling red wood spottings.

We made polenta pizza together for dinner, as a happy little family, had a dessert trek down the street to Menchie's frozen yogurt, and then a projector viewing of Saint Young Men (anime fans - don't miss seeing that one).

Sunday 27 July 

I woke earlier on Sunday and headed to the Bart around 0830 in order to meet a friend visiting from over seas who was in San Francisco for a few days.  We met at the Ferry Building, and did some aimless meandering around the various market stalls inside.  My favorite was the "The Wild Forest Products" vendor, selling a wide variety of mushrooms and even a grow-your-own mushroom kit.  We got coffee from Blue Bottle Coffee and headed across the street to a grassy knoll covered in clover blossoms to simply chat.

As she was flying out that night, we had but a few hours to catch up.  However, that is the great thing about deep friendships - it is the quality of time together, not the quantity, and two hours truly felt like several days in terms of the soul-sharing conversation we had in that span of time.  We parted ways at the Bart, her waving in that classic farewell movie scene manner as the train car pulled her from view.

Once back in Berkeley with the two friends I was staying, we all decided to drive to the end of town, and walk half an hour on a pedestrian path to get to the Berkeley Kite Festival.  Kites of every shape and size abounded.  We were without one to fly ourselves, but there were enough to vicariously go around.  We managed to successfully gain a free funnel cake and sat on the grassy hill sides to take in all the flyers.  As we left there was even a synchronized kite flying routine, matched up to a rather intense, Marvel-comic-film-esk song...I still don't understand how they could fly like that without crossing wires.

On our walk back to the car we happened upon Takara Sake - a sake museum and tasting room.  While my friends did a $5 tasting, I watched a video on the making of sake and studied a illustrated diagram that explained how sake was traditionally made.  They have an area where they are making sake in-house which you can peek into as well.  It is worth stopping in, whether you like sake or not.

We did a grocery store run on the way home and then made saralatkes (special, and arguably the best latkes), grilled vegetables, and bacon on a pancake grill placed in the center of the kitchen table as an interactive dining + cooking experience.  We capped the night off with a partial viewing of The Wind Rises...but, having all seen it before, decided to go to bed before we got through the whole thing since I had to leave at 0400 the next morning to fly home.

All-in-all...a non-typical Berkeley weekend, which is actually a typical Berkeley weekend in the end.  Bottom line being: you really can't have a bad weekend in the Bay Area.  So, go without plans, and you'll happen upon spontaneous plans that go wrong and unintended plans that go better than planned, both of which are necessary for a grand weekend.  If you are with the right people, which I was, everything is a delightful adventure, even doing nothing at all.

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