Leaving San Francisco

Our last day in San Francisco dawned clear and bright again, as if giving the thumbs up to the huge numbers expected to take part in, or watch, the annual Gay Pride parade in San Francisco.

We take a brief stroll through the Lower Haight neighbourhood and catch the light rail to Civic Centre and head up the stairs to the surface where Market Street is already alive with the sights and sounds of the parade.  Corporate floats and groups from the Police, from the District Attorney’s office and a range of organisations demonstrate  the vast range of people proudly proclaiming their sexuality.

Huge crowds line the streets with lots of people getting into the spirit in a variety of outfits.  Even church groups have entered floats.

The size of the parade is enormous.  We watch for a while and then decide to use the BART to take a trip acros the bay to Oakland.  We make the trip to Oakland, have a coffee and a break, and a short walking look around the downtown area and then return to the Embarcadero BART station to find that the parade is still underway.

We watch the last groups to end the parade: the rubber men of San Francisco and the Master and Slave groups, before the parade abruptly ends, and the street cleaning teams swing into well drilled action, shifting barricades, sweeping rubbish and using motorised street sweepers to get everything back to normal.

We walk on up the hill to Chinatown, where we browse amongst the usual array of shops selling a host of items, and find a tea shop where a very pleasant staff member explains the intricacies of the variety of teas available; with a reference to the parallels with wine appreciation.  We’re hungry by this stage and find a simple Chinese cafe serving excellent dumplings; and enjoy the break, before walking on to nearby Little Italy, where leafy streetscapes provide an inviting setting for a large number of cafes and restaurants offering Italian delights.  

We are served coffee in cups which, while describing them as ‘buckets’ may be an exaggeration, are still enormous by comparison with what we are used to. We are reminded again that we are really spoilt in Newcastle by the number of good quality coffee outlets.

By now, it’s time for a trip home and a rest before our final dinner at what turns out to be a magnificent restaurant called NOPA – or ‘North of Panhandle’

NOPA specialises in simple, woodfired cuisine, and we really enjoy a dinner of Wood Baked Gigante Beans, Feta, Oregano and Breadcrumbs; a Moroccan Vegetable Tagine, with Almonds and Lemon Yogurt, and Sautéed Greens, Carrots and Garlic Confit.

It’s an early start on our departure day, and we pack and tidy up before catching a cab direct to San Francisco International Airport where we are eventually aboard our flight to San Diego.  An uneventful hour and a half later and we’re in another cab and finding our hotel just to the North of the Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego.

Our room’s not ready yet so we walk down to the San Diego Convention Centre and register and have a bit of an orientation walk around the Centre which is playing host to around 16000 educators and exhibitors for the 2012 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Conference.

Now lugging another bag full of programs, vendor advertising and other bits and pieces, we catch one of the free conference shuttles back to our hotel, check in and have a quick break before walking down to the Marriott and a reception hosted by Intel, which gives us the chance to catch up with some friends from past conferences and other educators.

We end what has been a long and busy day with a nice dinner and discussion with a teacher colleague from Sydney and her family before a stroll back to our hotel through the Gaslamp Quarter which is abuzz with restaurants and bars. Tomorrow will be a full day of ‘conferencing’ topped off with Ed Tech Karaoke.

Hanging around in better joints this year

One of the wonderful things about this trip is that, unlike last year, it’s not a trip being done on’my last legs.’ After returning from ISTE and the USA in July last year, I underwent bilateral knee replacement surgery and the knees which had carried me around for well over fifty years simply became ‘somebody that I used to know.’  Now, beyond the issue of setting off the machine at airport security, the ability to walk without pain, and get around a hilly city like San Francisco has actually left me in tears of joy on more that one occasion.  It is difficult to describe how regaining a level of mobility can reinvigorate and provide such simple pleasure.

We’re now on the last afternoon of our stay in San Francisco.  All up, we’ve cycled and walked for many miles around this beautiful city; engaging totally with the lovely local neighbourhoods and streetscapes.

For the first few days, as described in past posts, the weather has been foggy and dreary.  Yesterday, however, as if to reward, San Francisco parted its mists and wonderful clear days have followed.  We set off yesterday morning to catch a bus and then walk the rest of the way to the top of Twin Peaks; the highest hill in the main San Francisco area.  The knees were totally without pain, and we kept on, all the way to the top, where a huge pink triangle adorned the hillside.

The pink triangle is a community recognition and respect for the gay people who, in the concentration camps of the second world war era were marked by the Nazis with a pink triangle to set them apart from Jews, who were marked with yellow; and the Seventh Day Adventists with purple, and so on.  It’s a powerful reminder of the way that humanity can create such an horrific focus on what sets us apart: rather than a commitment to the wonderful things which we all share as people, members of the human race.

The view, on a clear day like yesterday, from Twin Peaks was stunning.  We spent ages just admiring the view, looking out over the areas where we had previously walked and cycled, and looking across the bay toward Oakland, with its shoreline studded with massive container terminals.

The skyline of downtown San Francisco and the sweep left around to the Golden Gate Bridge, shining in the sunlight reminded us again of the reason that so many people see this as one of the most lovely and liveable cities in the world.  We were able to pick out the general area where the loft in which we’re staying is located.  You can see it marked with a small circle on this shot.

That street to the right of the circle, which runs up toward the downtown skyline is Market Street, which is to be the route for the Gay Pride march on Sunday, and we walk down off Twin Peaks to the Castro area where many gay couples are already gathering to gear up for the celebrations to come.  We then head back toward our loft, stopping at a relaxed cafe called ‘Bean There’ for a Mediterranean vegie platter, coffee and free wifi.

I then elect to use the rest of the afternoon to work on finalising my presentation for ISTE while Lynette heads out to go shopping and to get a massage.

We top off a great day by trying another one of the restaurants which our AirBNB host has recommended. It’s literally just up the street and around the corner and we enjoy some great Indian food at Indian Oven.

We’re planning on trying out more of the public transport options tomorrow and using the BART to whizz across to Oakland under the San Francisco bay.


Bridges, new paradigms and possibilities

Apparently Mark Twain once remarked that “The coldest Winter I ever had was a Summer in San Francisco.”

It was certainly cold and foggy and moist yesterday morning as we set off to cycle over the Golden Gate Bridge.  Leaving the Lower Haight, we zig zagged across town via the Panhandle and Masonic Street and then down  through the Presidio to reach the approaches to the Golden Gate Bridge, which was completed in 1937.  

It’s an amazing feat of engineering and, looking over the side, one can only wonder at the absolute blackness of spirit which must drive people to climb the red railings and plunge to the chill 90 metre deep waters of the Narrows below.

As the fog toyed with the tips of the towers, we pedalled across the massive bridge with scores of others, and then down the other side to Sausalito, where we sought refuge in a bakery cafe and struck up a conversation with an English couple from Nottingham who were gearing up to make the return trip back up the hill and over the bridge.

We headed along to the ferry wharf and loaded our bikes onboard in the special racks which acknowledge the popularity of cycling across and riding the ferry back.

Our route back to the ferry terminal took us right past Alcatraz, and I was reminded of the family history that I’d been researching where Peter B Whannell, one ancestral tearaway, having set off from Australia with someone else’s wife, and then been run out of a Canadian goldrush settlement, enlisted in the California Infantry in 1861,  at a recruiting station set up on Alcatraz Island, and later transferred to be based at the Presidio.

We disembarked from the ferry and rode our bikes back along the Embarcadero past Fisherman’s Wharf and the milling throngs of tourists.

Our accommodation in San Francisco and Boston has been booked through AirBNB  and we’d enjoyed attending a ‘meetup’ dinner with other ‘AirBNBers’ at a restaurant in the Mission area the night before, so we’d been asked to provide some feedback and decided to visit the AirBNB offices to see what a young ‘tech startup’ looked like.

We weren’t disappointed.  This is a remarkable example of the way that the possibilities within workplaces are changing and many of the usual paradigms about a workplace are being challenged.  As we sat providing feedback to AirBNB representatives, another employee skateboarded by past the large communal kitchen where, at 12.30 each day, everybody comes together to maintain the sense of family.

We passed ‘stand up ‘ desks, and staff working at other spaces with their dog snoozing peacefully at their feet.

This visit was a powerful reminder of the fact that the world of work can now mean very different things for people and that the role we assume is part of what school is all about needs reassessment.

It will be great to include some of the imagery from this visit in my presentation next week at ISTE 2012 in San Diego to emphasise the message that we simply must move from ‘School Planning’ and have authentic conversations with community and everybody around what it might mean if we are to legitimately begin “Planning School”

After a walk through parts of SOMA, (South of Market), we headed back to Lower Haight to relax before a great dinner at Maven, a nice small bar with food about half a block away from our accommodation.

This cheery and upbeat bar was a reminder of what is possible when small bars are supported to develop and create a vibe within a neighbourhood.


We’ve now seen at least seven small bars within 200 metres of our accommodation, with lots of people going about the business of enjoying their night’s entertainment in establishments which suit their needs.





Summer in San Francisco

After a bit of a sleep in while we still get our body clocks in line, we headed out and found a cafe nearby for breakfast before working out a plan for the day.  Despite the fact that it’s supposed to be summer here we were rugged up in layers and jackets and scarves with a predicted maximum of 13 degrees.

Our loft is in Haight St, so we decided on a walk West to the Haight Ashbury area, famous as the centre of the flower power movement back in the sixties and the place still has a vibe which makes baby boomers smile with nostalgia for a period where so many believed that things could be so different.

The area still has the occasional waft of smells from the sixties and lots of shops dealing in smoking apparatus and ‘pre-loved’ clothing fit for a sixties resurrection. Hip dudes skateboard in the street while long grey haired, wide eyed veterans search for their yesterdays.









Like most of San Francisco, beautiful streetscapes abound, with intricate woodwork and beautifully decorated terraces.

Just along from the intersection of Haight and Ashbury we find a bike hire store and set about getting hold of a couple of bikes to explore a bit further afield with a ride through Golden Gate Park.  We sign up for a 24 hour hire and head West through the park.  The temperature rises markedly as we near the Pacific Shore and then proceed to Lands End.

All up, a walk and cycle through some fairly hilly terrain of around 20 kilometres or so. We’ve managed to see a good slice of the Western part of San Francisco and plan to attack a ride across the Golden Gate tomorrow.  Tonight, it was a dinner in the Mission, organised as a ‘meetup’ by AirBNB, the service we used to rent this loft in San Francisco and the apartment we have booked in Boston.


San Francisco

What more can we say?

Left Monterey and headed North to Silicon Valley where we managed to get lost and then have a drive around the massive headquarters of Facebook.  We stopped and were about to visit the Epic Cafe for a coffee break and were politely informed that the cafe was only for staff and invited guests.  Fair enough; but no ‘like’ button.

It was then back onto the 101 and North at between 70 and 80 miles per hour, along with 3 and 4 lanes of traffic with everything going wonderfully until we hit traffic just South of the city and then spent an hour crawling into town.

Luckily Lynette had Google maps happening via 3g and iPad and we were able to get to our AirB&B logt only fractionally late.  This place is lovely, and we’ll be here for five nights!

So, much more to come, but, in the meantime; the installation at Union Square, where we stopped to enjoy some live music courtesy of the summer solstice celebrations says it all.

Nowhere for flowers to grow

Scott McKenzie may have had a hit with his advice: “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair..” but, I’m afraid there’s nowhere for any blooms with this hairstyle. It doesn’t matter though as we greet a lovely sunny day in Monterey, and drink our ‘Foglifter’ coffeee as the fog slowly begins to burn off out over Monterey Bay.

Yesterday afternoon, we had a walk along Cannery Row, where, for the first half of the 20th Century, the demand for canned sardines created a bustling industry here in Monterey; providing the characters and backdrop for the famous John Steinbeck novel Cannery Row.

One of the signs tells the sadder side of the story: ‘From boom to bust in fifty years’

Now, it is a row of retail, restaurants and retreats: a tourist drawcard.

We found a nice restaurant and enjoyed some great seafood, with baby clams and pasta along with very tasty seared scallops, washed down with some very nice local Pinot Noir and a tall schooner of Lagunitas India Pale Ale.

Despite it being early summer, it was extremely chilly as we walked along to a local bar to catch a band playing covers of classic rock hits with the conclusion that we missed the quality of the live music at our usual local: The Wicko.

This morning, we say goodbye to Monterey and will have a quick look at the coastline south of Monterey Bay before heading North to Silicon Valley and then into Lower Haight for 5 nights in SFO.

North on route 101

We left Santa Barbara after a great night’s sleep and a visit to the AT&T store where a friendly staffer named Andre set up Lynette’s iPad with an AT&T microsim and we activated to enable her navigator seat input while travelling.

Heading North we were able to use 3G to stream Triple J and connect to the car audio via a simple 3.5 mm connector cable we’d brought along for the trip.

A coffee stop at San Miguel, along the El Camino Real, or ‘royal highway’ showed that there are plenty of small country towns in California where teenagers sit, bored outside coffee shops, dreaming of somewhere else.

We actually had a great coffee and a quesadillo, before rejoining the 101 and keeping on our journey North through what is the largest vegetable growing area in the USA, producing a host of produce: lettuce, broccoli, strawberries etc etc.

The green vegetable fields are a stark contrast to the brown hills and dusty surrounds.

Just outside Salinas, (another song: ‘somewhere near Salinas, lord, I let her slp away….) we turn West and head for our overnight stop in Monterey, just near Cannery Row, complete with banners on streetlamp poles with quotes from Steinbeck’s novel.  We’re off to sample some of the local seafood and some live music.

LAX and Santa Barbara

An uneventful flight from Sydney to LA saw us touching down and going through all the usual formalities before catching the shuttle to the rental car depot.  We had the choice of a number of ‘standard’ size cars and settled on a Dodge Avenger.

We set off on to the North, through Santa Monica and onto the Pacific Coast Highway aiming for Santa Barbara.  In fine California style, every corner has a song so; as we passed the Malibu pier, with ancient strains of Beach Boys in our heads, it’s a quick stop for a picture of the car with the pier in the background.

Further North and we pass the strawberry harvest underway at Oxnard just South of Ventura, and then back onto the main freeway heading North, just after the junction with the Ventura Highway; complete with memories of America, and that wonderful era of the west coast acoustic sound.

LA to Santa Barbara Pacific Coast Highway.mp4 from Roger Pryor on Vimeo.

Well my bags are packed….

Everything packed and ready to head to Sydney to stay overnight before flying out tomorrow, Monday 18th.

Getting everything organised for the trip has been helped enormously this time by Tripit, a great application which works on the laptop, phone and tablet.

Tripit automatically scans your email inbox for confirmation emails from online bookings and puts together an itinerary which can also be added to manually.  A great way to end up with all booking confirmations, notes, links to websites etc etc all in the one place and auto syncronising across all devices.