An impromptu walking tour in San Francisco

 Achy feet. Time to sit down and rest. Sean had been waiting for me in this quaint coffee shop in the Mission District while I visited Mission Dolores. We had a window seat and I people-watched while eating my slice of delicious vegan lemon and poppy seed pound cake. Although I’m not a vegan, it seemed appropriate that I eat that while in San Francisco.

The Mission was the morning’s walk final destination. We had a big breakfast at Sears Fine Food on Powell Street and set off down Sutter. We hadn’t realised we were in the Theater District until we saw the signs. There didn’t seem to be too many theatres in the area to warrant the name. However, the whole area had a neighbourhood feel to it, very relaxed and welcoming.

An old-fashioned cafe in the Theater District

We turned left at Laguna Street in the heart of Japantown, the first Japanese American community in the country. The architectural style of some buildings, the signs in Japanese characters and the pagoda definitely sets the neighbourhood apart. It seemed like the right place to go for sushi.

Japantown

We pushed on uphill towards Alamo Square. Beautiful Victorian homes (whether genuine or inspired by that style, I don’t know) line the streets of this area, The Fillmore. The most famous ones are the Painted Ladies, a row of cheerful Victorian houses opposite Alamo Square on Steiner Street.

They are so famous that tour buses stop here for tourists to take photos. I’m sure the people who there aren’t amused. There was an episode of House Hunters set in San Francisco in which the potential buyers were looking at an apartment across the street from the Painted Ladies. If I remember correctly, one of the things that put them off was the noise from the tour buses.

We stopped for a breather at Alamo Square. It is such a beautiful park; and as it sits on top of a hill, the 360 ̊views of San Francisco are amazing. At that point, I regretted my choice of footwear. My boots were stylish but were not made for walkin’. Comfort trumps fashion sometimes.

I look stylish but at what price? Oh, yes, and those are the Painted Ladies in the background

We shuffled uphill towards 16th Street in the Mission District. This is where Sean and I parted ways. I was intent on visiting Misión San Francisco de Asís, also known as Mission Dolores. Sean wanted to sit down, read his book and drink coffee.

Dating from 1776, the mission is the oldest intact building in San Francisco.  The original church feels cosy and welcoming and the gilded altar is gorgeous; whereas the Dolores Basilica next door seems grand and overpowering in comparison. I struck up a conversation with another visitor, who turned out to be a Californian history buff. The information he shared with me about the mission gave the visit a different perspective.

Mission Dolores

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How film and literature influenced my travels

Literature and film have a great influence on people’s lives and also in the way they travel. Some people follow in the footsteps of their favourite authors or characters and plan trips around their adventures. I have been to places described in books I’ve read and films I’ve seen and loved every experience. Although this is not the way I plan my trips, I have to admit that those books and films influenced the way I perceived those places. The nerd in me was thrilled.

Barcelona

I feel a special bond with Barcelona, the land on my ancestors, so I was especially excited to go back after I read a book called Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones. This historical novel tells the story of the construction of the Santa Maria del Mar Cathedral during the Middle Ages. It was especially moving for me to walk around the nave, the aisle and the transepts picturing the stonemasons hard at work. Another building of special significance for me was La Pedrera, or Casa Milà, because my great-great-grandfather was one of the stonemasons who built it.

Santa Maria del Mar Cathedral

Rome

I’d love to say that Roman Holidays inspired me but Angels and Demons was fresher on my mind. I looked up at Bernini’s sculptures on top of St. Peter’s Basilica and wondered what secrets the Vatican is still keeping. I followed a couple of Swiss Guards just to take a picture. I was disappointed that the Fountain of the Four Rivers at Piazza Navona was covered with tarpaulin. I wish I’d gone to the church of Santa Maria del Popolo to see the Chigi Chapel but there’s a limit to the number of churches one can visit on a trip!

Swiss Guards
Me and Swiss Guards

Paris

I can reminisce all day about the City of Light but I’ll just mention one glorious moment: looking up the bell towers of Notre Dame to get a glimpse of Quasimodo. All I saw was the gargoyles but it was good enough for me.

San Francisco

There are so many films and books set in the City by the Bay! It was electrifying to walk on the footsteps of Al Capone along the corridors of Alcatraz. Scenes from the film Escape from Alcatraz inevitably came to mind too.  Back on terra firma, Lindsay Boxer, from the Women’s Murder Club novels by James Patterson, took me on a tour of the city in her patrol car and Mel Gibson was still trying to figure out What Women Want.

Alcatraz Island

Montreal

Tempe Brennan, Kathy Reichs’ fictional forensic anthropologist, works here, owns a condo (which I, unsurprisingly, couldn’t find,) goes shopping at Rue St. Catherine and jogs along the Lachine Canal.

Bucket list

Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul (Turkish novelist, winner of the Nobel Prize in 2006)

Inspector Morse’s Oxford (Morse is a British TV series – 1987-2000)

V.I. Warshawski’s Chicago (V.I. Warshawski is a PI in the series of novels written by Sarah Paretsky)

How has literature, or film, influenced your travels?