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Vacations: This vacation (Permalink):

San Francisco, 2013
From Tuesday, Jun. 18th, 2013 till Wednesday, Jun. 26th, 2013
Comment by Nicholas Pisarro, Jr. on Jun. 13th, 2013, modified Sunday, Jul. 14th, 2013 at 4:53 AM
Click on the city names in the calendar to see our blog for the day.


San Francisco Notes

Neiman Marcus, The Rotunda 415-362-4777.

Bouchon Bistro 6534 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599 707.944.8037

Castello di Amorosa

Comment by Nicholas Pisarro, Jr. on Jun. 13th, 2013, modified Saturday, Jun. 15th, 2013 at 7:27 PM

Rachel Notes

Some our favorite wineries are Far Niente and Nickle and Nickle (they are sister wineries but with very different wines). You should make an appointment as soon as you can as they book up pretty quickly. We also love the Lynmar Estate (Address: 3909 Frei Rd, Sebastopol, CA 95472
Phone:(707) 829-3374). Finally, we love the Silverado Wineries as well. Please note that wineries open at 10 am and most close by 4 so you want to be conscious of making the most of our day. There are many policemen patrolling the roads so be very careful about not drinking and driving (not only for policemen, but they are certainly also a deterrent). We have split a tasting (don't do this at Far Niente because they pair their tasting with cheese and you won't want to share the cheese!!!) or only two or three tastings because it becomes too much wine. Also, take lots of snacks with you to make sure your tummy is always full. For, lunch I highly recommend that you make a reservation at Bouchon. It's own by the same guy who owns French laundry without the exorbitant prices!

So exciting! You should definitely spend a day in golden gate park (go to the Academy of Sciences, the Japanese tea garden, the conservatory of flowers) and you should also go to the farmers market at the ferry building. I've heard that the Alcatraz tour is outstanding, but I've never been. You'll also want get in touch with those Italian roots in North Beach (it's a great full day if you do north beach and Chinatown in the same day- go to the golden gate fortune cookie factory!)

Comment by Nicholas Pisarro, Jr. on Jun. 17th, 2013, modified Thursday, Jun. 20th, 2013 at 7:55 PM

Regina Notes

If you get a chance, you might want to get in touch with my cousin Carol. Carol & her husband own two shoe stores in Berkeley.

While we were there we met for dinner in the Farmer's market. Carol selected a restaurant with a view of the Oakland Bay Bridge. After dark you can view a light show art installation on the bridge. It was a fascinating computer generated show where patterns are created with light. No pattern will ever repeat for the two years this installation will be on view. Don't miss it!

Comment by Nicholas Pisarro, Jr. on Thursday, Jun. 20th, 2013 at 6:47 AM

Chris Pisarra Notes

You will go through the Lafayette and Walnut Creek stations before you get to Pleasant HIll. Give me a call when you get to Walnut Creek and I’ll start out for the Pleasant HIll station to pick you up.
Tuesday, Jun. 18th, 2013 — San Francisco
Comment by Nicholas Pisarro, Jr. on Jun. 19th, 2013, modified Sunday, Jul. 14th, 2013 at 4:54 AM

We had forgotten how breathtakingly beautiful San Francisco is!

We were promptly picked up at 5 AM by our limo driver's assistant, John, who whisked us to JFK by 6. The TSA line was short, so it took less than 10 minutes to get in. But I had put a corkscrew in our carryon which they objected to. Checking the bag meant leaving the secure area and going through the whole process again, the single glitch in a particularly smooth trip.

That was still way less time than the TSA line we experienced at Jet Blue a couple of years ago.

We took the BART train from SFO which dropped us off a couple of blocks from the hotel. A friendly homeless vet gave us directions to the hotel in exchange for all the change in Nick's pocket. The Handlery, booked up solid, upgraded our room to a small suite in the back—quiet and roomy enough so one could fuss in the night without waking the other. We then went out for a little lunch.

Nick observed that the neighborhood at the hotel was Park Avenue, with ultra high end art galleries selling Picassos (!), Chagalls, and Dr. Seuss at what must be astronomical prices, but by the end of the block to the west, it was 14th Street of 1972. San Francisco has a homeless population that is off the charts, and we saw "Lieutenant Dans" everywhere we looked. A salad at a diner, The Pinecrest Diner, on the 14th Street side of the block was off the charts delicious!

After a time zone nap, we headed out for an explore. It was cold and breezy, even by San Franciso standards. We went into the Park Avenue section, which was shopper's heaven, in search of a better guidebook. Then to the start of the Powell Street cable car terminus for a weekly ticket.

Our plan was to take a cable car to the famous Lombard Street, which came off fine, and we took in the crookedest street and its immaculate homes. But part two of the plan was to take a cable car back—makes sense, but they seemed to have broken down—none were to be seen. That meant walking back to the hotel on the same hills we just rode over! At least we skirted some of them.

We got back just in time to meet our son. We caught up on stories while we ate dinner at a mixed bag Chinese restaurant next to the hotel. It was too cold to venture further.
Wednesday, Jun. 19th, 2013 — San Francisco
Comment by Nicholas Pisarro, Jr. on Jun. 20th, 2013, modified Thursday, Jun. 20th, 2013 at 6:34 AM
Getting the lay of the land—our first full day exploring San Francisco. We covered a lot of ground.

San Francisco's Chinatown starts but a few blocks away from our hotel, so we thought it would be fun to find some Dim Sum for breakfast. Nick punched in a few recommended Dim Sum places into our GPS and we headed out. We walked down Stockton Street and went through a long underground tunnel which came out near the location of the first place we had marked—but we discovered it was just takeout. The second was not there. An awning across the street from the 2nd said Yummy Dim Sum so in we went. Locals of all ages were eating there, a good sign. Pleasant enough and cheap enough—$6.50 for two plus a $1 for water. That was likely the cheapest breakfast we'd ever had together.

We decided to keep walking around. Off to the Golden Gate Cookie Factory, on Ross Alley, a hole in the wall with 4 or 5 people sitting in front of machines that presented piping hot disks that they folded into fortune cookies, so much for fantasy. We bought a bag of almond cookies that turned out to be delicious. Then to Grant Avenue, the main drag of Chinatown. We stopped an St. Mary's Cathedral in the heart of Chinatown. Built in 1853, it was the first "Cathedral in the West". It survived the 1906 Earthquake unscathed only to be torched by the fire afterwards. But the walls were left standing and they rebuilt it.

We noted that the Chinatown of San Francisco was different from the one in New York. It was much more open and lively, with a Gate presenting an entrance way. The buildings had pagodas and other Chinese designs to them. New York City's is on very narrow dark streets without colorful buildings, much dimmer and dirtier.

Next we walked down Jackson Street to The Embarcadero. Jackson Street seemed to have many great high end Chinatown restaurants. Great Eastern had photos of Obama eating there. We'll head back there for our next Dim Sum foray.

We wound our way to the Ferry Terminal Marketplace, to ogle the culinary festival. Little tastes stimulated our appetites and since it was now 11, we had an early lunch of oysters (Nick only), a Sea Bass sandwich and two chocolate squares at a fancy chocolate shop. We took the F-line Trolley back to our hotel to let our feet, and the rest of us, recover.

Our afternoon plan was to head over the Fisherman's Wharf, using the "trusty" Powell Street cable car, stopping at the Cable Car Barn and Museum—about mid-way. One trick with the cable car is not to grab it at a terminus, where the line wraps around the block, but catch it a few blocks along its path and crush one's way onto it. Barbara ended up hanging on to the side while Nick got an outside seat. She was about to drop off when we got to the barn.

The Barn had Nick's eyes glazed over looking at all the gears and wheels—the true gear head that he is, but the ancient transport system let us down again when it was time to leave. No car in sight and we heard the rattling cable grind to a halt, a sure sign that none were coming. At least it was all down hill to the wharf area.

Whoa! Tourist heaven, but amongst all the crush of people we struck some gold. After Ben & Jerry's we went to Pier 39. We walked to the end of the pier to watch the sea lions ignore everyone and snooze away. We continued walking and stopped to watch a humorous team of acrobats, and poked into a left-handed goods store. Hunger and exhaustion set in.

Yelp to the rescue. It led us to the Fog Harbor Fish House on the second level, a window table watching the setting sun and seafood to die for. Not just the fish were cooked to perfection but the vegetables and the mouthwatering dessert were too. The restaurant claimed that all their seafood came from sustainable sources. The owner of the vast establishment actually came by to close our window shade and chat with us and other dinners. He said tuna was caught in a way that created no by catch. The waiter posed for a photo.

Since the cable car was a bust, we took a packed F-line trolley again which wound around the Embarcadero and up Market Street to our hotel.
Thursday, Jun. 20th, 2013 — San Francisco
Comment by Nicholas Pisarro, Jr. on Jun. 20th, 2013, modified Friday, Jun. 21st, 2013 at 5:40 AM
A trip to Golden Gate Park

After all we did yesterday, today's activities were a bit abbreviated—just a late morning to early afternoon trip to Golden Gate Park.

We had a late breakfast at the neighborhood diner, the Pinecrest, sharing an Italian Omelet. The portions are huge. We don't understand how one individual could eat so much food.

We used our new found experience with San Francisco public transportation to take a No. 5 electric bus all the way to Golden Gate Park, at the other end of the peninsula. The electric buses are like a cross between a trolley and a bus. The get their power from overhead wires, but drive around like a bus. Of course, they can't stray too far off their chosen path or they get disconnected.

At Golden Gate Park we visited the Conservatory of Flowers and the Japanese Tea Garden. In both cases, we went on the free tours.

The tour of the conservatory, a giant victorian greenhouse, was led by a docent. She had encyclopedic knowledge of the impressive plants and their jungle habitats. The orchids, scattered about where all spectacular, but the highlight of the conservatory was the butterfly room, a low netted space, literally filled with hundreds of butterflies. They flitted about us, hopped from flower to flower and you could get one to stay on your hand if you were gentle. Their beauty was magnificent.

While walking around, we got a call from Carol Fabretti, a 2nd cousin of Barbara's who lives in Berkley. We plan to get together later on our trip.

At the Japanese Tea Garden we were carded! The clerk said we looked too young to be seniors.

The Tea Garden tour was led by a volunteer of an outfit call San Francisco City Guides that do little tours all around town. He explained the colorful history of the gardens, dating back to 1894, and their colorful managers, some whom actually lived in the gardens, until the Japanese internment of World War II.

By now it was 2 PM. We headed back on the No. 5 bus, helping an older Brazilian couple with directions. We had a different salad at the Pinecrest and hung out in our room for the rest of the afternoon.

For dinner, Nick supplied dinner in—a Pestoburger from Pearl's Deluxe Hamburgers, just a few blocks away.
Friday, Jun. 21st, 2013 — San Francisco
Comment by Nicholas Pisarro, Jr. on Jun. 21st, 2013, modified Saturday, Jun. 22nd, 2013 at 4:10 AM
We met Rachel [Seltzer] Leonard and her sons at Fisherman't Wharf. In the evening it was dinner with Joe & Marilou Ursino.

Rachel met us at Fisherman's Wharf with her newborn, Eli, and 2 1/2 year son, Beckett. The little girl Carla grew up with is now a mom with two darling children. We were able to catch up on each other's lives.

Rachel took us around to some sights. We went to the National Maritime Museum to see their exhibits and then board some of the ships they had on display. Each was beautifully restored. Beckett's eyes were aglow with the big ships. The car ferry had a collection of old automobiles from the '20s and '30s. The steam tug was in operating condition.

Then, for something a little more exotic, we went to the Musee Mecanique, a hall filled with restored penny arcade games, dating from the 1890s to the present. Almost all were fully functional and hungry for quarters. While some were games like air hockey and boxing, many of the older ones were automatons—human figures such as the Drinking Man, fortune tellers, or Laffing Sal. Not a few were a bit creepy in their themes, like simulating executions or showing the San Francisco earthquake and fire. There were player pianos, music boxes and orchestrions.

Rachel had to leave—nap time for the kids, but we stayed in the area for lunch. Yelp led us to Scoma, but the presence Maseratis and Ferraris parked outside hinted that this was a bit more lunch than we desired. We had a fine light meal and a spectacular view of the fishing boats at the 2nd floor of Tarantino's Restaurant.

Dinner was hosted by distant cousin, Joe Ursino, his wife Marilou, and his sister, Anna, at Ristorante Umbria. For many years, Barbara corresponded with Joe and Anna's mother, Theresa Nucatola Ursino. At first, Barbara was trying to establish the connection between her family and the California Nucatolas, but over time she and Theresa developed a very close bond.

Our fabulous Italian dinner featured antipasti, homemade pasta, delectable main courses and alcoholic desserts capped by the owner, Giulio, sitting with Joe and heaping praise on their close and long friendship. Joe had been a restaurant owner too.

Former House speaker Nancy Pelosi's sister walked by the table. She's a regular at the restaurant.

Giulio picked up the tab, an incredibly gracious gesture that ended a memorable evening with family brought about by Barbara's genealogy.
Saturday, Jun. 22nd, 2013 — San Francisco
Comment by Nicholas Pisarro, Jr. on Jun. 23rd, 2013, modified Monday, Jun. 24th, 2013 at 8:23 PM
The S.F. Zoo and dinner in North Beach with Nicko.

On Joe Urino's advice from yesterday, we had breakfast at nearby Sears Fine Foods.An In spot of breakfast we had to wait on line to get in. We treated ourselves to a shared Eggs Benedict.

To get to the zoo, we discovered another San Francisco transportation system—subways that turn into street cars. Under Powell and Mason, there's a MUNI subway station. The L-line sped us out of downtown. It emerged out of the dark, onto the street, and slowed down. Row houses and a thousand little local stores line the route to the zoo at the west side of the peninsula.

Nicko met up with us. The zoo has many popular African, South American and Australian mammals. Nicholas was quite knowledgable about them, especially the Australian ones. It was easy to cover most of the zoo.

We hadn't been to North Beach yet. Using Yelp, we found Franchino's.. A quick bus ride got us to the intimate restaurant whose colorful owner greeted every customer and wedged us in. The dinner was mouth watering with even the side dish pasta cooked to perfection—smoked salmon salad, two veal dishes and pasta with calamari. Limoncello with sherbet for dessert.

Nicko us showed us around North Beach, but wind and cold had set in so we grabbed a bus back to the hotel.

A great day with Nicko!
Sunday, Jun. 23rd, 2013 — San Francisco
Comment by Nicholas Pisarro, Jr. on Jun. 24th, 2013, modified Sunday, Jul. 14th, 2013 at 4:56 AM
After the indulgent breakfasts, we simplified them a bit with a cinnamon muffin from a local branch of Boudin San Francisco Sourdough.

We left Powell Station about noon and took the BART across the bay to meet Carol Fabretti, her husband Cy and son Cyrus. Although Barbara and Carol are 2nd cousins they had never met before. There was lots of catching up to do and we exchanged stories for hours. Carol is going to try to attend the family reunion in September.

Back on the BART, we went 3 stops further out to meet Chris Pisarra and his wife Gail. Although Nick and Chris are 2nd cousins, they had never met before either. We enjoyed dinner, conversation, and their sculpture museum home.
Chris drove us back to town, stopping at the Ferry Terminal so we could watch the fascinating light show on the Bay Bridge.

This wonderful, heartwarming day was made possible by Barbara's genealogy—finding relatives all over the world.
Monday, Jun. 24th, 2013 — San Francisco
Comment by Nicholas Pisarro, Jr. on Jun. 24th, 2013, modified Wednesday, Jun. 26th, 2013 at 6:02 AM
A drizzly morning and another muffin for breakfast.

We were off on the 5 line again to Golden Gate Park and the S.F. Academy of Science. Highlights were the planetarium show on earthquakes and the rain forest dome where one wanders around with free flying butterflies. At the bottom of the dome was an aquarium featuring sea life of the Amazon and S.F. Bay area.

In the evening we rented a car to pick up our son at his office in Burlingame. From there, we drove to Woodside to meet Marcel Becker, our German exchange student from 1995. We ate at Buck’s of Woodside and eccentric restaurant decorated with some of the oddest memorabilia that could be seen anywhere.

Nicholas and Marcel are both techies. Nicholas visited Marcel in Hamburg about 8 years ago. Since then, Marcel married, moved with his wife to Virginia and then California, bought a house and is preparing to apply for American citizenship. We are thrilled to have maintained a relationship with Marcel all these years and that we planted the seed in him to having a life in the U.S.
Tuesday, Jun. 25th, 2013 — Yountville, CA
Comment by Nicholas Pisarro, Jr. on Jun. 25th, 2013, modified Tuesday, Jun. 25th, 2013 at 6:41 PM
We got up, bright and chipper at 6 AM to pack and head north to Napa Valley for the final phase of our little sojourn.

Our first stop was Sausalito where not much could be seen because of the fog and rain—uncharacteristic for this area at this time of year. At least traffic was light, and the rain didn't dampen our spirits.

We stopped at the St. Helena tourist information office, where Nick encountered a helpful and informative guide, who made wonderful suggestions.

Our first stop in the valley was Castello di Amorosa, recommended by Joe Ursino and Cy Taghavi, Carol's husband. A vintner named Daryl Sattui spent more than $30 million dollars importing bricks, stones, and iron work for Tuscany and Austria to build a grand castle in Napa. We took a full guided tour of the castle, from turret to dungeon, ending up in a tasting room where we tried 12 wines from ordinary to extraordinary.

Off on the Silverado Trail. We were reminded of the peacefulness and tranquility of the Tuscan countryside. We arrived in Yountsville. Rachel Seltzer and Veronica Schoenen recommended we eat at Bouchon, and the meal did not disappoint. The French bistro reminded us so much of eating at Taillevent, in Paris, about 35 years ago.

Our B&B was two doors away from the restaurant so we had an easy checkin. After a brief rest we followed up on the tourist office to go the Mumm Napa Valley Vineyard. There we were charmed by the waiter, who served us glasses of their best sparkling wines as well as pleasant conversation. We bought a little chocolate to go with the sparkles. Locals at the next table chatted with us, and then gave us their wine glasses, a souvenir of the tour. Wow! What a pleasant experience.

Barbara loves champagne, so she was very happy!
Wednesday, Jun. 26th, 2013 — NYC (tomorrow)
Comment by Nicholas Pisarro, Jr. on Jun. 26th, 2013, modified Thursday, Jun. 27th, 2013 at 9:45 AM
7 AM: A steam train just chugged by our B&B in Yountville!

The B&B served a delicious bacon & cheese omelet for breakfast. We went for a stroll to mail our post cards and pick up an almond and chocolate croissant for the flight, at Buchon Bakery next to where we ate lunch, yesterday.

Though it was a bit tight on the timing, we got a last minute tour and tasting at the Robert Mondavi Winery before a dash to the airport. This was a bit different experience from Castello di Amorosa. The winery facility here, was ultra contemporary—decorated with modern art and mission style architecture. The wine itself, is manufactured to very scientific and ultra high standards. And the tour guide, was enjoying the group so much she ran way overtime. She brought out an extra wine, Muscato D'Oro, that had everyone raving. Nick thinks the worst wine here was better than the best wine at the other wineries (and 1/2 the price!). But no time for dawdling in the gift shop.

We now had little extra time to get to the airport and make our flight. The trusty Garmin (Carman SanDiego III) got us to the airport within a minute of when it said it would, though it took 5 to 10 minutes of driving in every tightening circles to get to the car rental return. Unlike JFK, lines everywhere were super short, so we had no trouble getting the plane and a bumpy ride home.