Friday, May 20, 2011

The Perfect Day: San Francisco

Whenever I head back to my native California, I usually have a list of places that I absolutely have to go to during my few weeks at home. Here is my list for San Francisco.

1. Breakfast. This is a tough one. I have two favorite breakfast joints in the city. The Pork Store Cafe in the Haight and St. Francis Fountain in the Mission.

The Pork Store has a special called "Eggs in a Tasty Nest." It's 2 eggs nestled in a bed of hashed browns with bacon, grilled green peppers, fresh tomatoes, onions & garlic topped with cheddar cheese and served with biscuits. I swoon a little bit every time I have breakfast here. The garlic, the hashed browns, the cheese, the biscuits, the free coffee refills and the line of locals hanging out the doors of this classic café. It's always crammed with people and the place is buzzing with conversation and spoons clinking coffee mugs. I love that sound.

St. Francis Fountain is a classic diner.  Operating since 1918, it's apparently San Francisco's oldest ice cream parlor. Either way, I'm a classic bacon and eggs kind of girl and their bacon is cooked perfectly. The home fried potatoes are great and they have mimosas. And poinsettas (cranberry juice and sparkling wine). I'm just saying.

2. Lunch. 
I miss Mexican food the most when I'm away from home. One of my favorite places for some kickass tacos and quesadillas is La Torta Gorda in the Mission. The tortillas here are mouthwatering and the salsa...amazing. I'd probably have lunch here, take a mural tour of the Mission with mural tours, and then head to Philz for some amazing coffee.

3. Dinner. It's a tie between Burma Superstar and Ti Couz.

Oh Burma Superstar. How I love your tea leaf salad, ginger lemonade beer and mango chicken. How I also love the fact that the Richmond location is right across the street from the Green Apple Bookstore. It's the perfect place to kill an hour or two while you wait for your table at Burma Superstar. They don't take reservations. Or you can head up the street to one of two Irish pubs.

Ti Couz. Word on the street is that this amazing French creperie located in the Mission is closing. However there is some discussion that it's being sold and not completely shut-down so I'm holding out hope. It's cozy, delicious, and the blood orange mimosas are a perfect way to enjoy a lovely San Francisco evening...or morning. Anytime is a good time for a mimosa.

4. Drinks.
The Monk's Kettle in the Mission. Great place for a beer.
The Alembic Bar in the Haight. Great place for a whiskey.

5. Coffee
I'm a coffee shop snob. I admit it. I love coffee shops and can easily spend hours enjoying a delicious latte while taking advantage of the free wi-fi. My absolute favorite coffee shop in SF is Philz in the Mission. They have other locations, but the one in the Mission is my favorite. I'm also a fan of Haus and Sugar Lump. Just down the road. Honestly you can't walk two feet in San Francisco without stumbling across a fantastic coffee shop. These just happen to be the ones I frequent.

My favorite thing to do in San Francisco is usually just walking around. I love hitting up the thrift stores in the Haight and having a picnic in Golden Gate Park (weather permitting...). The Asian Art Museum is one of my favorite museums to go to, but the natural history museum (California Academy of Sciences) is really fun too. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Blogger is going crazy

I have no idea why or how, but for some reason Blogger reposted my blog posts from the past two months or so. Sorry if it overwhelmed your blog feed. I know it did mine. The past few days have made me super happy that I moved over to my own domain using WordPress as a design platform. 

But don't worry, I'm still going to keep this blog going. I'll probably just double post things, but regardless -- I'm pretty happy to be at least stepping back a bit from Blogger with a brand new shiny website. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

10 Things I Love Most About My Road Bike

1. Connecting with nature. Nothing says "I love getting up close and personal with nature" more than  a wasp stuck in your sports bra while barreling down a steep and very busy mountain road at 50 kilometers an hour.

2. Exploring new areas. There is something indescribably special about cycling an extra 15 kilometers up the wrong mountain pass after cycling 60 kilometers already. In those moments all I can think about is how lucky I am to be exploring such a beautiful area and how much I would love to smack the guy who gave me directions.

3. Adrenaline rush. Clipping along downhill with a steady headwind as a semi-truck speeds past you causing your bike to hop to the side in a few heart-stopping "Oh my God, I'm really going to die" moments is probably my favorite way to spend a Friday afternoon. 

4. Relaxation You know how relaxing it is when you're scared out of your mind cycling down Alpe d'Huez and you would love to stop but are unable to pry your fingers from the brakes? Yeah, me neither.

5. Quality time with boyfriend. Sure we could have a romantic dinner followed by a long moonlit stroll through the park. Or we could spend a day together with helmet hair, gnats stuck in our teeth, covered in salty residue from sweat and and grunting monosyllables as we pant for oxygen while pedaling our bikes up a 10% grade. 

6. Empowering.  Being unable to unclip from your pedals and toppling over in front of a crowd of competent cyclists is a real confidence-builder.

7. Chafing. It builds character. I'm also single-handedly supporting Johnson & Johnson. 

8. Oblivious Pedestrians. I love it when I'm cruising along at 30 kilometers per hour down the bike path and a pedestrian steps out right in front of me. Slamming on my brakes so suddenly that I risk spinning out and then getting yelled at for riding my bike in the bike lane is about as funny as getting hit in the head with a hand pump.*

9. Bike Grease. I've never been a fan of that whole "my clothes are clean" look, which is why I'm glad that pretty much every item of clothing I own now has bike grease smeared somewhere across it. My shoes have bike grease stains. My calves and arms have bike grease stains. The bathtub and floor have bike grease stains. Hell, even the cat has bike grease stains. Bike grease is in these days. 

10Looking Good. Spandex shorts with foam wedged into the crotch? That's hot.  

*I would never advocate the use of violence because someone steps out in front of you on your bike. Unless you're racing or you're doing a time trial or you're having a really good day on your bike and you're in the zone. **

**Apparently I'm not supposed to have caveats about hitting people with a hand pump in my disclaimer about not hitting people with a hand pump. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Gear: Ski Boots and Socks

After much research I thoughtfully selected my ski boots and favorite ski socks. Ha. Just kidding. I got the boots on Ebay and the socks were a Christmas present.

Nonetheless, I lucked out. And with the ski season coming to an end, thought I'd throw up a few photos of my ski gear. Starting with boots and socks.

You can also check out a piece I wrote for Matador about my skis a few months back.

Darn Tough Vermont Over-the-Calf Cushion Sock:

I, um, only have one pair of ski socks. I dry them out at night, okay?! Ski socks aren't particularly expensive, but they're not cheap either. And as a friend's grandma once told me "It doesn't matter how good the sale is. It's not a bargain if you're broke." Considering I now clip coupons and haggle over being overcharged 49 cents, I'm guessing I fall into that category.

At any rate, these Darn Tough socks were a gift and though most people moan about getting socks from relatives, I was pretty darn excited. Get it? Darn? Darn Tough? Because they're socks. And they're darned. And they're tough. And...


Tough crowd. A Darn Tough crowd. Ok, I'm sorry! I'll stop. These socks are the Darn Tough Vermont Over-the-Calf Cushion Sock. I know that some women get irritated by the array of girly colors offered for most women specific outdoor gear, but I would just like to take this opportunity to thank Darn Tough for making some burly ski socks and coloring them purple. They match my boots and this, for some reason, makes me happy. It's the little things.

Up until I'd gotten ahold of these socks, I'd used some old backpacking socks I found in my sock drawer. Backpacking socks are great for backpacking, but they didn't quite do the trick with my ski boots. These Darn Tough socks are ultra comfortable and come up high enough that they prevent any rubbing from my boots. They also fit really snuggly preventing any weird bunching up or rubbing and they kept my feet nice and warm. I've only worn them one season, but they've held up really well. Not too much pilling and no obvious worn or frayed areas. Also they don't smell that bad after a day of skiing. Well, at least according to British guy who I made sniff them. What? I wasn't going to do it and somebody had to.

They normally retail for $19.95, but you can probably snag them on sale right around now since it's getting toward the end of the season.

I bought these boots on Ebay. I'm not kidding. I scored them a few years ago when I was first thinking about getting into skiing. It was another few years before I actually did hit the slopes so these guys sat on the top closet shelf for quite some time before coming into contact with skis or snow...which means they're probably quite outdated. I lucked out on these guys though. They fit perfectly, are super comfortable while hiking up and offer plenty of support on the descent. Occasionally I find my feet getting a little bit chilly in them after sitting for awhile, but that's rare. 

At any rate, I'm not a ski equipment expert. You may have gathered that I'm not an expert in anything related to skiing except falling. However, I know when I'm comfortable and in these boots, my feet are happy. Well, as happy as they can be when I'm marching them up snowy peak after snowy peak. I have a love-hate relationship with my body, but not with my boots. These boots are at least 4 years old and have seen two seasons of backcountry skiing. Aside from some scratches and normal wear and tear, they seem to be holding up pretty well. My only complaint is that I look like an idiot when I'm trying to walk down stairs in them. Scarpa, can you fix that? Hello? Scarpa? 

Monday, May 9, 2011

It's like I'm trying to kill myself...

Weekend Recap: 

Friday: 60 kilometers. Strong headwind. 15 kilometers on main highway. Semi-trucks barreling down within inches of my handlebars. Cried at least once. 

Saturday: 110 kilometers. Col de la Machine (1111 meters). Col de Carri (1202 meters). Col de Herbouilly (1352 meters). Got lost once. Swallowed approximately 3 bugs. The remaining insects landed in my sports bra. 

Sunday: Sat on couch. Stared at wall. Occasionally got up from couch to procure beer from fridge. 

So basically a typical weekend.  

One of the advantages of being broke is that instead of taking the train to my friend's house (60 kilometers away) like a normal person, I can wholly and completely justify taking my bike...which is what I did Friday. After making a pros and cons list of course. 

Pro: Relaxing. Fast. Comfortable. Minimal sweating. No bugs in teeth unless you hang your head out the window, which I only do occasionally. 
Con:  8 euros

Pro: Free. Exercise. 
Con: 60 kilometers. Arrive sweaty and with bugs stuck in my teeth. Strong headwind. 15 kilometers on main highway. Strong possibility of death by traffic accident. 

Something is clearly not right when spending eight euros supersedes my concerns over death.  Alright, the truth is that I prefer to ride my bike. Just don't tell anyone. My sanity is already in question. I don't need this added to the list of reasons I should be institutionalized. 

The plan was for me to meet British guy at a friend's house who lives in a renovated farmhouse in a small village outside of Grenoble. My only mission was to obtain a bottle of wine along the way. French Easter holiday hours rendered this mission impossible.  

Complete side note, I would like this:

British guy asked if they have a model for clumsy people because otherwise he wouldn't trust me with this thing and a bottle of wine. He's just a little bit upset right now because I've broken two glasses this month. Considering how many hours there are in  a month and how often I use glasses, I think that's pretty good. He disagrees. I'm going to IKEA tomorrow to get more glasses for him and a plastic sippy cup for me. 

At any rate, after two and a half hours of cycling against a strong headwind, spitting bugs out of my mouth, and resisting cardiac arrest every time a truck barreled past me on the highway, I arrived. British guy was waiting in the garden and our friend's five year old daughter showered me with flower petals. The table was arrayed with a bowl of strawberries from the garden, goat cheese from just down the road, fresh bread, and a bottle of sparkling wine. 

There was nothing to be desired that evening. A long bike ride, delicious wine, amazing food, and good company. If I could save one memory from my time in France, that would be it. I can't think of anything that could top that evening. 

Saturday we met up with another friend and cycled 110 kilometers through the Vercors and over three cols. We stopped in La Chappelle en Vercors for lunch at a great local restaurant. But I'll write about that tomorrow...

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Never Dive into Rivers: How I broke my nose in Germany

I was studying abroad in Germany and I was desperate to be back in a boat. Living in Humboldt County-- aka Six Rivers-- for so many years had spoiled this little whitewater kayaker, and I was feelings pangs of homesickness and a longing for something familiar. Which is why I went in search of a kayaking club and how I got in contact with Friedrich.

Friedrich wrote back to say no outings planned till August, but would I be interested in teaching kayaking? He needed some help with a basic whitewater kayaking course and if I was interested we could meet to discuss. 

I needed a job and I wanted to kayak so I wrote back expressing my interest and we set up a time to meet on the banks of the Neckar-- the swollen brown river moving sluggishly through Heidelberg. A few days later Friedrich showed me around the boat house before dragging out a few misshapen plastic boats. We slipped into the river and played along the eddy lines. After 10 minutes he offered me the job and told me to show up the following Friday. I was surprised. Shocked. Didn't I need to sign some paperwork or liability forms? Friedrich shot me a bemused expression before reminding me that this was Germany, not the U.S. If someone drowned on this Class I river it was their own damn fault. 

Panic set in. I didn't know any of the kayaking vocabulary in Germany. Rushing to the bookstore I found an introductory kayaking book and began memorizing as much vocab as I could. When I met my class for the first time, I was so overcome with nerves that I could barely stammer out my name. But they smiled encouragingly and while I corrected their kayaking technique, they corrected my German. A few weeks passed effortlessly before I decided they were ready to learn how to roll. 

As I stood on the dock illustrating how to perform a kayak roll, my students began to murmur concerns about the temperature of the water. I couldn't believe it. The water was tepid at best. It certainly paled in comparison to the hypothermic conditions of the Pacific Northwest waters. In an effort to convince them that the water was fine, I jumped in. Unfortunately I didn't carefully ease in, being wary of rocks, as I had instructed my students to do. Oh no, I did exactly what I had told them never to do. I dove. 

My hands slammed into the rocks bouncing off and colliding with my face. The force of which spun me around and I scraped along the rocks, cutting deep scrapes into my back and shoulders. Gasping for breath and still in complete shock, I surfaced and launched myself back onto the dock like a seal. My students stood around me in a circle as I struggled to comprehend the extent of the damage. Blood gushed from my nose and beads of blood were forming along the scrapes on my shoulders. 

There were exclamations and questions of concern coming at me from all directions until one student bit his lip and asked "So, is the water cold?" 

Laughing in spite of myself, I told them to get in their boats and warm up. I'd follow in a second, just as soon as the bleeding stopped. Feeling a little like Chuck Norris, I completed the class, trying to ignore the throbbing pain increasing around my nose. As I stowed the last boat in the boat house, a student turned to say good-bye before encouraging me to stop by the hospital. "Your face is really swollen. You look terrible," were her exact words. Germans. Glancing at my watch, I hopped on my bike and pedaled to the hospital, hoping to get in a visit before my university courses that afternoon. 

Parking my bike, I jogged into the hospital where a nurse looked at me expectantly. I explained my situation before being informed that since the doctors were on strike and my situation was obviously not life-threatening, it could be hours before a doctor would be available to examine me. I asked her if she thought it was worth waiting. In true German fashion, she told me that of course it would be good to have an x-ray done, but that since my nose--if it were broken--had broken cleanly, there was really very little that they could do other than give me painkillers and tell me to take it easy for a few days. 

I told her I'd come back and rushed off to class. Over the next few days the swelling subsided and the flesh around my eyes turned marvelous hues of purple before fading to a sickly yellowish color.

While rumors circled around that I had gotten into a bar fight over a World Cup game, I boarded a train headed for the North of Germany to meet some extended family members whom I had never seen. Over coffee and cake that afternoon, I regaled them with the story of how my face had come to be so swollen and well, purple. 

Nodding before taking a sip of coffee, my cousin gestured toward me as he admonished his kids "This is why you should never dive unless you're sure of the depth." They gazed somberly at me before one daughter piped up "But she is a kayaking instructor. She should know that."

Only Homer Simpson could sum up my feelings at that point.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Grenoble on a Sunny Spring Day

Paris is chic, beautiful and busy. Sporting elegant architecture, museums on every corner, and food which people travel thousands of miles to sample, Paris is a place of self-importance.

Grenoble then is the backwards cousin who has no appreciation for the so-called finer things in life and prefers hiking boots to high heels and tartiflette to tartare de boeuf. 

This simple, alpine city will never match the Parisian way of life; its architecture, food, effortless style and elegance. But I wouldn't want it any other way. 

Grenoble has embedded itself so deeply into my heart that I can't imagine living in France and not being here. Weekends in the Chartreuse, Sunday morning cycling around Alpe d'Huez and the Col de la Croix de Fer, backcountry ski outings before work. A life that revolve around skiing, climbing, hiking, cycling in a city that is surrounded by peaks; comforting sentinels with their jagged edges softened by snow. 

And as I rambled through town on a Saturday morning, I stopped to pick up a pain au chocolat before roaming aimlessly through the morning markets. I hiked up to the top of the Bastille and looked out over the town. Families were picnicking in the field behind the ruined fort, students grilled out, and others like me were simply sitting on their own and enjoying the view. 

Grenoble isn't Paris. But I love it all the same.

Isère river

View from the Bastille 

Téléphérique up to the Bastille

Walking along the Isère

Place Victor Hugo 

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