Thursday, June 30, 2011

Day One: Sydney

*this post has photos coming but I'll add them later

Ahhh, sleep, the elixir of the angels. Jarrah was up crashing around at 3:00 a.m. and I was like "Somebody just kill me now." David somehow got her to take the iTouch into the bathroom and (never been achieved before) go back to sleep until six, and now we're all up and starving. I actually find the peculiar, unexpected hunger pains to be the worst part of crossing the International Date Line.

Not sure what we're doing today, but it's a free day before our coach trip to the Blue Mountains tomorrow. I know we're seeing Carolyn and I'm thrilled about that.

Yesterday turned out to be a great day. One of my guide books says "No matter what you do in Sydney, or how long you stay, it will always seem like it was not enough," and I concur. We had a day that was nothing like the time we spent here eight years ago, but it was special in a new way.

First, a walk across the pedestrian bridge--very near our hotel--to Darling Harbour, or Cockle Bay Harbour, or whatever adorable thing it goes by. It's very touristy, with places to see giant crocs and numerous gelato opportunities, but it's still pretty. We ate breakfast in one of the dozens of cafes, and I couldn't resist taking a photo of my first lemon-lime-and-bitters and flat white in far too long--they were both perfect. While we ate, we watched the new (to us) monorail going over the water, and thought it might be fun to take a ride. It's a circular route and we got a day pass, so we got on and off a couple of times.

Our first stop was the Powerhouse Museum, which has been in the same spot since the 1800s, and it was a wonder. The space itself was a fascinating warren of nooks and crannies and tiny staircases, and it was full of interactive gadgets and displays about computers, space, fashion, engines, and more. We enjoyed losing our balance in the space capsule (David swore it wasn't moving, but my stomach told me otherwise) and seeing how conductive we were in the electric chair. Also loved learning about the evil-sounding chemical compounds in famous perfumes. The space was cavernous, dimly lit and pleasantly warm, which was really perfect for a family of sleepyheads. Even the kids playground out back was cool.

Across the street was Hannah's Pies, but not those pies, Dear Readers. Not a cherry in sight. These were glorious little hand-held meat and veg pies, and they were sooo good. We wandered around a very non-touristy neighborhood, pies in hand, enjoying the cool, overcast day, the likes of which we never saw during our last visit during a particularly brutal Oz summer.

Back on the monorail, we headed to city center and strolled through the pedestrian malls during a busy workday afternoon, with many people rushing to and fro, street performers, giant blinking signs. I wondered what Jarrah was making of big-city life, but she seemed unfazed. After what seemed like a long way, we passed through a stand of trees and emerged in Circular Quay, with the grand Harbour Bridge rising up before us. This took me back to our last trip, when we stayed in The Rocks, and it was like no time had passed. We walked around the perimeter of the Quay (well, Jarrah ran) admiring the harbour and the Opera House (Jarrah was excited because she'd drawn it in school), wandering past the people enjoying glasses of wine and surprising numbers of cigarettes as the sun went down over the sparkling water and the crazy lights of Luna Park began to twinkle.

We were feeling nicely spacey, kept semi-alert by the chill and our stroll. Not quite up for the walk back, we found the free green bus that would take us up George St, but ended up missing it. Here's where I could tell that Jarrah was starting to lose it, in less dramatic fashion than I'd pictured--as the bus pulled away and left us in the now-dark depot, tears began to roll down her face and her little shoulders heaved: "We missed it...we missed we'll never get home." Readers, you'll be relieved to know another green bus came along, we got good seats, and our final stop of the night was "Grill'D," a burger place in Harbourside. We were a bit too finished to fully enjoy it, but man, those were some good burgers--David got lamb, and I had a combo of chicken, carrots, salad, "beetroot" and sweet chilli sauce...oh, soooo good. I absolutely love the Australian penchant for putting beetroot on everything.

The bed was comfortable, at least I think it was. Then again, I think I would have passed out on plywood as long it reclined 180 degrees.

G'Day, Mate

We're here, in Sydney, at the end of our first day. The ParkRoyal is no Four Seasons (where we stayed eight years ago when the U.S. dollar actually meant something) and our view is of multiple freeway overpasses instead of the Harbour Bridge, but hey, it's clean and has a bed.

Jarrah is sacked out, making it only a paragraph into The Little Mermaid, announcing she couldn't possibly sleep with a light on, and then falling unconscious seconds later. Quite frankly, it seems a miracle of the extra-long-lasting lamp oil variety that she made it to 7 p.m. The kid slept maybe five or six hours on the plane, and ever since we arrived around 6:30 this morning, she's been climbing statues, running after seagulls, screaming, singing, and racing up the Sydney Opera House stairs. Aside from a shower, David and I do not allow any time in the hotel room after morning-arrival international flights--it's part of our jet lag system--but I assumed I would cave after Jarrah melted down constantly or simply sat down and refused to move. Neither happened. She was like a one-child pep squad the entire day, despite a jam-packed schedule I will describe anon. I asked David if she seemed sort of manic and he said, "I think she's always like this, but it's particularly noticeable when we're so blunted." (He didn't say "blunted," of course.)

She was also an absolute champion on the 14-hour flight, NOT ONCE asking "How much longer?" Not ONCE, Readers. Distance flying seems to agree with her--she watched about four movies, played video games, ate junk food and snoozed, and never made a peep. Uncanny, I tell you. Downright spooky. People were actually complimenting us, probably suspecting that we had her heavily drugged. (Nope, unless you count Pop Tarts.)

Strangely,the flight seemed fairly quick, distinguished only by the sweetness of the Qantas staff, the rad-ness of their extensive new seat-back menu, and the frequency of the snacks. Oh, and the way that every single person around us was easy-going and nice--how often does that happen on planes? But there were two distinctive events. One is that I left my Netbook at security (I know, shades of Yellowstone, when I left my Kindle) and took a chance letting one of the flight attendants know. Well, sake's alive if she and about five others didn't make it their mission to find and retrieve said Netbook before take-off. Now I held no hope that I'd ever see it again, let alone that I'd see it before this flight. But someone ran it to the gate with minutes to spare. It was so exciting I started cheering "YAY FOR QANTAS!" Seriously, Australians rock, but you already knew that.

The other distinctive event was far more distinctive. In fact, it was nearly surreal, and in the happiest of ways. I used David's iPhone to "check in" on Facebook when we got to LAX, a little self-indulgent gesture that tickled me to bits. My friend Carolyn in New York wrote "When are you leaving?" and for some reason I actually responded "In an hour!" Suddenly, a text came through--it was Carolyn, saying "I'm here, too." Having not seen her since our Smith reunion three summers ago and missing her terribly lately, I was over the moon that I might have a few dishy minutes to catch up in the terminal, of all places to run into each other. When I reached the gate she indicated, I could see she was going to London. But then she appeared and said she was actually going to Sydney--on our flight. OMG!!!! I ask you--what are the chances that someone whom I haven't spoken to in months but have known for 25 years was going to be on MY FLIGHT TO AUSTRALIA?? I couldn't even get my mind around it. 'Course, it would have been pushing things for her to be seated near us in the Airbus, and what with meals and sleeping I never did catch up with her during the flight, despite telling her I was going to need the full 14 hours for the scoop. The happy news is that we're going to spend some time together in Sydney tomorrow while her friend is at work, and we laughed that we've had to fly to another continent in order to hang out.

I'm proud to say that all three of us enjoyed the day in this beautiful city despite our tiredness, and are looking forward to less-haggard fun tomorrow. I'll catch you up on today's events when I'm not getting narcoleptic over my keyboard.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Another Continent Beckons

This time tomorrow we'll be on our way to LAX. And construction begins the next morning. I've been trying to clear every surface in the bedroom. Harder than it sounds.

Jarrah and I have been catching up on errands today while David is at work. It's a hot, quiet day. First, we had breakfast with Lisa, and walked her through the strange and labyrinthine process that is keeping our plants alive, or at least alive-ish. Then, I sent a bunch of e-mails to the brave souls who will be checking on our construction (thank you, brave souls!) Next, the P.O. ("Mommy, remember I had a tantrum last time we went to the post office?" "Scarily, yes, I do." "What was it about, Mommy?" "You were mad about something.") and Macy's Home Store ("Mommy, I'm pretty sure it's going to be upstairs." "What's upstairs?" "Whatever you're looking for.") and finally, ProfessioNAIL ("Mommy, why is the 'n' being used for two words?" "Because it's adorable.") where little J got to sit in a teddy bear chair with a built-in DVD player and light-up foot bath. ("I'll definitely be coming back to this place!") She couldn't understand why I had my eyes closed during the massage ("Mommy, are you sleeping?") and why I balked at her fashion choice ("Black nails with a white skull on the big toes.")

Come to think of it, the day hasn't been so arduous. Though I did wake up and vacuum the hell out of everything and felt sort of hungover while I was doing it, despite having only one fabulous homemade strawberry daiquiri at our BBQ yesterday. But you will no doubt be amazed and confused when I tell you we haven't even gotten the suitcases out of the garage yet. I'm just weird like that. I don't like too many signs of leaving until it can no longer be denied. Or I'm just a big procrastinator. Either way, I have lots and lots of lists but don't tend to put them to use until an hour before.

So, this time tomorrow, picture me packing.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Adventures in Phonics

Jarrah and I have been reading The Cricket in Times Square (a classic from my childhood) together at bedtime, and it's quite a challenging read. She's so good at saying long words I'm sometimes surprised when she's still furrowing her brow after saying it right: then I remember that "bedclothes," "forlornly" and "concentration" are not in her daily lexicon.

We take turns reading a page, which can be a lengthy process, so I figured maybe it was just tiredness catching up with her when I heard the following sentence:

"We tip over the Leenex, break the glass in the alarm clock, and throw all the small change on the floor." (This is from a chapter in which Tucker Mouse concocts elaborate schemes to frame someone else for the two dollar bill Chester Cricket has eaten.)

"Wait a sec..." I said. "We tip over what?"


"Is there some reason you're not pronouncing the 'K'?"

"I thought it was silent."

Well, that was a knee-slapper. I get that pronunciation is a tricky knot to untie. Speaking of which, I better get back to my knitting.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Well, That Would Be Awkward

Jarrah had this conversation with her Pop-Pop (my dad) on Father's Day:

Pop-Pop: Are you going to snorkel while you're in Australia, Jarrah?

Jarrah: Maybe. I'm worried about getting eaten.

Pop-Pop: Oh, the fish won't hurt you.

Jarrah: What about a Great White?

Pop-Pop: No Great White is going to spot you.

Jarrah: But what if I accidentally get slathered in meat?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

And The Painted Ponies Go Up And Down

It's summer! At least if we go by Jarrah's calendar. She finished up Monday with a peculiar half-day schedule (like an afterthought) but I was fortunate to slip in early and be present for the "graduation ceremony." The first thing I saw was all the kids wearing crowns that said "I'M A FIRST GRADER!" around the brim, which got me crying straightaway. Then Mrs. Robl called them up one by one and presented them with an honest-to-goodness gold medal on a stately blue ribbon and made a little speech about their accomplishments. Jarrah's speech was about her stink bug performance, her reading abilities, and how she's always respectful. I was especially proud of that last part, hoping I had something to do with it. Later, I noticed that the medals were engraved with their school, teacher and year, and it was just another reminder how lucky we were to score Mrs. Robl this year, who always gave that little extra for the kids. I think it was harder for me to say goodbye to her than for Jarrah, though I know she will always be up for a chat if I poke my head into Room 42 next year.

The past week has also seen a flurry of preparations for our long hiatus from San Diego this summer. We'll be traveling around Australia, but don't worry, Dear Readers--you'll be right there with me as I do some of my travel live-blogging. Like our last trip eight (!) years ago, we'll be flying into Sydney and out of Melbourne, with a visit with David's folks in Perth in the middle, but this time we'll also divert to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef, which happily has its high season during Australia's winter. We'll also be taking some driving trips outside of Sydney and Melbourne, which we haven't done before. I'm pretty excited, but also nervous about a 14-hour plane ride with Jarrah, and told her "at some point during that flight, someone is going to scream 'Get me off this plane!' I figure it'll either be you or me." David says definitely me, but never fear: I plan to be heavily sedated.

Back at Chez Sam, we'll be getting a spanking new bathroom remodel, which will hopefully (a girl who's never before hired a contractor can dream, can't she?) be nearly complete on our return, since it involves moving the walls of our bedroom. We'll have various friends popping in and out to check on the progress, but we're certainly placing a lot of power in the hands of some people with pickaxes. Sometimes, a girl's just gotta have faith.

I've been struggling the past couple of weeks with my stand-up comedy venture, and it's partly because it's really hard, but mostly because I'm really lame. Meaning, because it's hard, and scary, I do what I've always done in those situations and procrastinate like it's going out of style, meaning I don't labor my re-writes like Tony commands. This week was better than the last--he said I seemed to be paying attention even if the result is still too wordy--but last week I was chagrined when he exploded "You're like a Shakespearean actor up there, declaiming all over the place!" I said "Whaddaya want from me? I was in grad school for like 27 years." But I've realized the bigger issue is having been a teacher for so long. In a way, I don't have the appropriate wincing and self-loathing required for a truly successful comedian--wait, what I am I saying, I have both of those in spades--what I mean is I'm just not as awkward in front of people as I should be. I'm all bluster and confidence after years of trying to make kids care about Walt Whitman. Now I need the material to back up the confidence.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Kinder Play: Bugz

In all the excitement over leaving for San Francisco, I didn't have a chance to post a report about Jarrah's kindergarten play, Bugz, in which she starred as the stink bug. You can watch a bit focusing on her below, or even the whole show at 33 minutes if you are so inclined!

The kids rehearsed hard for weeks, and Jarrah had a brief artistic crisis a few days before in which she buckled under the demands of her weighty role. Not only did she have a lot of lines (which she memorized like an ace) but she had to be the butt of scorn and derision by 82 other bugz. Apparently, the kidz got a little retro and were saying stuff like "Hey, Stinky!" when Jarrah's performance was especially convincing. There was even a moment when she considered stepping down and allowing someone with a thicker skin to understudy.

Luckily, Jarrah's teacher (who could see the dramatic fruit had not fallen far from the performance tree) helped shore her up, and told the offending kidz they were going to lose recess the next time they made fun. Surely a more convincing argument for forbearance was never made in kindergarten.

And, of course, I had a heart-to-heart with my little stink bug. I told her the role was challenging, yes, but that she'd been chosen to play it because she could handle the challenge. I also told her the greatest artists must often live in quiet desperation until their light has a chance to shine. And I finished up with the most important consideration: she had the chance to inhabit the greatest role for women since Hedda Gabler, and she must swallow her tender feelings and play it to the hilt.

I am happy to say she womaned up. (Whaddaya want? I just directed The Vagina Monologues.) And thanks to Sophia T's mom, we were in the front row to see it. Jarrah was loud, proud and clear (a rare quality among the toothless set) and I thought I recognized a little Method happening in her Stinkbug Sulk. With each exit, our illustrious principal was there to high five her, and she was the first person thanked in the program. The kids also sang six songs, a few of which made me cry, and all in all it was a fine evening. I could see that their music teacher, Mr. Sullivan, was so excited to see them do well, and I was touched by that.

We had a post-show dinner with Jarrah's friend Dani and her parents at a neighborhood Italian restaurant that's been around 50 years, and watched the sun set over Cowles Mountain. It felt like our celebratory long weekend had already begun.

Jarrah Highlights:

Full show:

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Day Four: Mournful, Grace

The last morning of the trip, I am sad. How did it go so fast? We call for a late check-out to prolong the agony and get 1:00. So that gives us time for breakfast and a stroll, at least.

We're not sure where to go. The now-infamous iPhone tracker chooses a place for us that sounds close by and maybe is as the crow flies--but it's high above Union Square. When we get there, panting and hungry, it's a couple of sorry croissants under glass and a bunch of teenagers on the internet. Neither of us is feeling it. The iPhone finds another name, The Persimmon Cafe, only a couple blocks away, and finding it empty, we decide to make it work.

Over coffee and the strangest omelet I've ever eaten (and by strange I mean delicious) composed of spinach, caramelized onions, toasted walnuts, Granny Smith apples and smoked gouda (and maybe an egg or two) we enjoy a few minutes of peace, sure to be our last. Wafting through the air is Annie Lennox's "Why," a song that always makes me want to burst into tears:

Let's go down to the water's edge
And we can cast away those doubts

Some things are better left unsaid

But they still turn me inside out.

Followed by Michelle Shocked's "Anchorage:"

Hey Chel, you know it's kind of funny
Texas always seemed so big

But you know you're in the largest State in the Union

When you're anchored down in Anchorage.

By the time some John Mayer kicks in I widen my eyes at David and whisper "I think this place should be called the Mournful Song Cafe."

And sure enough, it's consistently true.

When we emerge on the sidewalk after, I say: "Let's walk straight up this hill."

"Any particular reason?"

"Good things tend to be at the top of hills."

We walk. Straight up. About four blocks. After two I am pretty sure I'm having a heart attack. It's so steep there appears to be nothing at the top but air.

So when we crest that last curb, I gasp for more reasons than one. There in front of us is the historic Fairmont Hotel in all its glory, and off to the left in a leafy square, Grace Cathedral, looking for all the world like someone has just ripped it out of France. In the middle of the square stands a stately red-stone mansion--we never found out whose--and a lovely park. This, Dear Readers, is a corner of San Francisco I've never seen before, and we've found it by serendipity.

"See?" I say. "I can smell where the good stuff is."

We wander into the Fairmont and admire the gaudy Versailles-style furnishings, sneak into the empty ballroom and discover a stage behind the velvet curtain. "When we get rich, I want my very own theater attached to the house."

"When we get rich, you can afford to rent a theater that's NOT attached to the house."

"Oh. Right."

We never do find the famous Tonga Room tiki bar with the tropical rain showers every 20 minutes. Next time.

Grace Cathedral is even cooler inside. Flying buttresses for days. Stained glass. Hushed reverence. I am really impressed by their open-door policies. Any one can marry any one at Grace Cathedral. And they offer something called "religious immunity," meaning if religion has ever made you feel alienated for any reason, you have a clean slate here. The whole business just makes me feel good.

So good that I am reluctant to descend the great hill, back to our regular life. This particular square is the quietest, least populated spot we've visited all weekend. And just four blocks--slightly easier this direction--will return us to the murder and mayhem.

We check out with only seconds to spare. And the BART is even crazier on a Monday holiday--at one point they kick us off the train and tell us the next one will be going in the opposite direction. But eventually we make it back to Albany and my brother and Jarrah pick us up. We have sandwiches and he takes us to the airport.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Day Three: Victorians and Comedy

Sunday morning we have breakfast at the hotel, which I normally wouldn't do, but since we've become such creatures of leisure and can't seem to rise before 9:00, we're on a bit of a schedule. The breakfast is perfectly fine except the waiter takes exception to my asking if the toast is actually sourdough or maybe perhaps it is wheat. He says I am wrong and it's just "really toasted." Okay.

We scurry out to Union Square (looking like Disneyland on Christmas) to find the yellow sign held aloft by the delightful Jay of the Victorian Homewalk Tour, which begins with a bus ride into Pacific Heights. The bus smells intensely of urine, which I assume is planned as part of the gritty urban experience.

I love that Jay has our every need anticipated before we do. He explains that our first stop will be a convenience store for water, and then we'll be visiting a refurbished Victorian (now a hotel) which will be our last potty stop. (Maybe he doesn't say "potty," I can't be sure.) At the end of the tour (cleverly designed so we climb NO HILLS) he walks us to Union St. in Cow Hollow and points out his favorite restaurants, explains precisely how to take the bus home and what we'll be seeing from it, and hands us transfers, good for the rest of the day. I love a man with an eye for detail!

And I love the tour. So does David. We learn so much, but it's all casual and light and we get to see where they filmed Mrs. Doubtfire and Party of Five. ("They were orphans? Trust me, they could not afford that house.") The time flies by. On the way, we learn how to distinguish between the three kinds of Victorians you see in San Francisco. My memory is addled, but here's what I recall:

Queen Anne: Very ornate. "Gingerbread house" accents. Turrets. Pointy roofs. Circular windows. Can combine elements of the other two styles as well--anything goes.

Italianate: False fronts (like a big fancy visor at the top of the building.) Three-sided windows. Ionic columns.

Eastlake Stick: Detailed machine-made "cut-outs" in the trim. Furniture-style columns that look like fancy table legs.

Afterward, we take one of Jay's suggestions and have lunch at Perry's Cafe, where they also will not give me sourdough, even though I could swear I see it on other tables. We start joking that there is a conspiracy to conceal the city's sourdough from us. But my chopped salad is freakishly delicious, in the way food in this city often is.

We stroll down Union St., picking up a couple of cupcakes for later, and hop the bus to Union Square. As promised, it wends through North Beach and the "non-touristy" part of China Town on the way, which is fun but doesn't tempt me to get off. I'm wiped out, for some reason, and we have a big night ahead of us.

After a little rest in the room, we change and head down Market for dinner at Farmerbrown. The restaurant is very manly, the decor dark and woody; the menus are soldered lead and difficult to lift. Everyone around us is eating big shanks of pork and huge, buttery biscuits, sipping bourbon from jelly jars. After my own bourbon concoction, I have difficulty managing my fried chicken, even though it's amazingly juicy--I get this syndrome after a few days of restaurant meals where my mouth just feels tired and all I want is a salad or a bowl of spaghetti from my own kitchen.

We hop the BART to the Financial District, which is quiet and somehow very pretty at night, and walk a few blocks to the Punchline Comedy Club, where we have a reservation for the San Francisco Showcase. In keeping with the theme, the place is packed, and the host asks if we want "the comfy seats or the non-comfy seats." David obligingly requests comfy, and we're led to a claustrophobic corner off to the side where we're instructed to wedge our tushies between some other people on a bench. Ummmm..."Can we see the non-comfy seats?" Turns out they have great sightlines and are roomy as all get-out, but there's some issue...the host hesitates...and I say politely, "What will our getting those seats depend on?" David gets very nervous when I ask questions like that, and starts waving frantically and insisting that the other seats are sublime, but suddenly the host decides we can have the good ones and that is that. "Darling," I say to David as we settle in, "it's okay if you don't want to get involved, but don't cover my swagger when I'm in the zone." He'll get used to me someday.

As I'm currently taking a stand-up comedy workshop, I watch with a more than recreational eye as the many, many comics take their three minutes. There are a few that are truly hilarious, and their material--I note--is not so much the point as the way they deliver it, combined with their connection to the audience. There are a scant few instances of flop sweat, but I suffer for those people, as it is so, so obvious that the slightest pause or missed inflection can send the whole set hurtling into the abyss, never to be recovered. I know for a fact that such occasions are in my future if I choose to pursue this line of work.

On the way back to the BART, I insist on going my way, without looking at the map or the GPS. "I can smell the fastest route," I boast. "Hmmm." says David. But he lets me walk us around in circles for a bit and find my way. "See!!" I say. "Totally fast."

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Day Two: Ferry Building/Pier Walk

Fabulously refreshed morphed into totally famished, but I was determined to breakfast at The Ferry Building on the strength of several Facebook recommendations. We had fun figuring out the BART and happily discovered that our destination was a mere two stops. When we emerged, we could see the clock tower rising above the water, surrounded by little white kiosks for the farmer's market. "Why don't I remember this at all?" I asked David, mystified. Perhaps because the last time we were in SF, it was fronted by a freeway. Now that earthquake precautions have brought it down, it's like a whole new world along the piers.

I guess everyone else likes it, too, because soon we were nearly swallowed by the human crush pouring towards Blue Bottle coffee (sadly, I never got close enough.) But we did enjoy a fresh baguette from Acme Bread with warm, melty cheese and homemade preserves from Cowgirl Creamery while watching the birds wheel over the bay. Then we caught a free "SF City Guides" tour of the Ferry Building's history which was really nice, especially admiring the mosaic-covered Great Hall upstairs (no one was up there!) while giggling over the circa-'50s photos of its conversion (it's since been un-converted) to fluorescent-lit, shag-carpeted office cubicles.

The sky was spitting a bit, but being the optimistic San Diegans we are, we reckoned it would clear up and started walking towards Pier 39, the object being The Rocket Boat, a ride involving high speeds, Led Zeppelin and views of the city from under the Bay Bridge. It was warm and lovely on this leg, with views of Coit Tower and Telegraph Hill peeking from behind the buildings. About half-way there, we saw a big sign: "CHOCOLATE TOUR--FREE!" with an arrow pointing to a warehouse on the edge of the pier. Well, we're not idiots, so we followed the arrow into a sweet little shop featuring treats for sale and the tour, starting in half an hour.

Well, it was interesting. And I use that in the sense that nine out of 10 people who visit my Nia class for the first time use it. We had a very enthusiastic little bespectacled gal for a guide, who sequestered us behind a curtain to watch a video about what cacao beans look like in the wild (gross) and what they look like after fermenting (grosser) and then we had to nibble some bitter seeds and try not to whack each other while passing around giant wooden paddles imported from Ghana. After the surprisingly long lecture about the integrity of real chocolate during which I struggled to stay awake, there was the much anticipated tour of the factory, which turned out to be about 10 feet long, though it did smell good, but whether or not there was chocolate being produced I couldn't confirm since I didn't see any chocolate river or candy trees or anything. Then, 90 minutes later, it was finally time for the much-anticipated tasting, about which I was already crestfallen since I'd learned they only make dark chocolate, in six varieties (but NO ADDITIVES, people!) including "Earthy" "Floral" "Fruity" and the "Well, Yeah." prize for "Chocolatey." Fruity was the best, but it was still gross, and though we were only given a rabbit-pellet sized portion of each, I passed mine to David after a lick. We did learn that they make all the dark chocolate bars for Starbucks, so next time you're at the register paying for your latte, pick one up and look. Or buy one if you like that yucky dark chocolate taste--it's all natural.

Back out on the sidewalk, I was getting hungry and it was still a long walk to Fisherman's Wharf, but we pushed on. When we finally got there, the line for the Rocket Boat was absurd and--in general--the amount of people groping for clam chowder and commemorative shot glasses was undealable. I am so over Piers 39 through 47. I suggested we walk even further to Ghirardelli Square, as I believed there would be some tasty lunch options there. But getting there used up my last ounce of blood sugar, and all we saw was more chocolate. And cupcakes. Believe it or not, I can't eat cupcakes when I'm starving. We thought about jumping on the cable car back to our neck of the woods, but the jumping plan would have to wait until the hour-long line died down. The sky was darkening and the drops were growing more aggressive and I realized I was near tears. I get that way when I haven't eaten. Someone had the smart idea to get a soft pretzel and a Coke, and after we shared those I could feel my personality returning.

Apparently not enough to make me smart again, though, because my next plan was to walk back to the Ferry Building and get "lunch" (it was like 4:00) at Gott's Roadside, a diner we'd first tried in Napa and swooned over. "Are you sure?" David asked. "It's like three miles." I was sure.

We started walking. It started misting, full-time. Which turned to light rain. Then steady rain. And then driving rain. We were wearing t-shirts, no umbrellas. We walked. We got wet. Eventually we got cold. Surprisingly for me, I didn't complain much. There was no point. I got very quiet except for the occasional snorfle of rain water that had leaked down my face and off my nose into my mouth. And the squelch of my sodden shoes. (My shoes and purse took two days to dry, and even my bra was soaked through.) The saddest part was a couple miles in when I realized with great certainty that we would not be having a hot, delicious lunch at Gott's Roadside because no one was going to serve us in this state. I announced as much, and David sadly agreed.

We hopped the BART for the last little bit and, if anything, it was even worse to be given a wide berth by all the normal, dry people while we dripped all over the seats and stared into the middle distance like we'd recently been rescued from a boating accident and were now suffering from PTSD. I am happy to say I still had the presence of mind to squelch into the Walgreens next to our hotel for snacks and bubble bath ("This one says relieves stress and tension...I think that's what we want") and--needlessly, as it turned out--umbrellas.

Even though we never got any lunch, the wet, freezing walk was almost worth it when I sank neck-deep in the scalding, frothy tub with bubbles singing in my ears. The kind people at Hotel Palomar had no idea what a good deed they did that day.

Again with the holiday weekend theme--we couldn't find a single Open Table reservation at a decent time, but we certainly weren't going to miss dinner as well as lunch. The hotel restaurant, Fifth Floor, was also full, but they treated us like royalty in the bar/lounge, complete with a halibut "amuse bouche" courtesy of the chef. We shared a salad, a burger and about 8,000 fries, but strangely, I wasn't very hungry. My feet, however, were extremely grateful that our evening plans involved a walk directly across the street and no further: to the Metreon to see Bridesmaids.

One more holiday kvetch: we had to sit in the front row. The whole time I was convinced there was something terribly wrong with Kristen Wiig's left nostril. Now I realize it was just the angle. When the movie ended around 11:00, I was perfectly content to curl up with my book and once again drift away cushioned by the white cloud of the freakishly comfortable bed. I miss that bed.