The Streets of San Francisco

Yesterday was the first day of our vacation in San Francisco. We landed just after noon and made our way on foot to Nob Hill (after a gruelling walk up the hill with luggage and backpacks!), one of the many neighbourhoods in this pretty city and where we had rented a furnished apartment for the week.

We took the BART from the airport and got off at the Emabarcadero station, and from there we walked along California Street to Grace Cathederal. Our apartment was on a quiet street behind the cathedral, on the top floor of a three-story town house, with a private rooftop terrace and sun room. The view out over the bay from here was amazing, a definite promising start to our trip!

After we put our luggage away, we decided to got for a short walk around the ‘hood, just to orient ourselves. As we walked around we were pleasantly surprised to find all sorts of local, independant bars, cafés, grocery stores and restaurants on almost every corner; and also a very high number of dry cleaners and laundromats everywhere!

At first, we had planned on taking a short walk around, but once we started we soon became enchanted by these bars and cafés, as well as the quaint little cable cars which trundled by on a regular basis, so our walk took us on a longer route than anticipated, and we eventually found our way downhill (and there are plenty of hills here, with cars parked at crazy angles!) to the end of Hyde Street where there was a pier looking out onto the bay and Alcatraz Island. Lots of old sail and steam ships were anchored here, and the breeze coming from the Pacific via the Golden Gate Bridge was a welcome relief on the hot afternoon.

From here, we continued on to Fisherman’s Wharf, which had a much tackier, touristy feel to it, but which also gave the city more flavour and variety, I felt. It was like being back in Blackpool in the UK, or Niagara Falls in Ontario.

Later on, we bought food and wine and ate in the sun room on the rooftop, with a great view over the bay as the evening fell.

A Powell & Hyde Streets cablecar
A Powell & Hyde Streets cablecar

The Leslie Street Spit

It was another hot day in Toronto today. El Franco and I went out on our bikes to donate some no-longer-needed books to a local library branch and soon realized the temperature wasn’t exactly conducive to cycling around the city streets, which is what we’d originally intended to do. The heat was sultry with barely a breeze (it was around 33°C), so we quickly decided that a trip to the waterfront was in order, where it would be cooler with the wind coming off the lake.

We rode down Bathurst to Queens Quay, then along the bike lane until we reached the harbourfront, where we stopped and sat on a bench under the shade of a small tree. The water here was smooth and relaxing with an almost gelatinous look to it, as it slowly swelled and surged. People were arriving at the marina in their boats, tying hawsers to the jetty and shouting instructions and warnings to each other as they did this. The lake looked so peaceful, almost hypnotic with the clouds above reflected in the water below.

From there, we continued along Queens Quay, past the bustling Harbourfront Centre with its many visitors and tourists, until we reached the recently-created Sugar Beach on the west side of the new Corus building at the foot of Sherbourne Street. This tiny, man-made beach with its pink umbrellas was populated by a few sun worshipers and families with small children. On the other side of the Corus building the new George Brown College Centre for Health Sciences campus was under construction, and there’s now a small park there called Sherbourne Common, which is filled with fountains and artificial streams and water features; perfect for soaking ones feet on a hot summer’s day!

After a while, we left the Common and rode towards the Gardiner Expressway, where we turned onto Cherry Street and, after stopping for a stroll around the T&T Supermarket, continued on in the heat until we reached Cherry Beach, then went east along the bike path as far as the entrance to the Leslie Street Spit. It was here that El Franco decided he’d turn around and make his way home slowly. I, on the other hand,  had been wanting to visit the Spit for a long time now, so I turned into the entrance and went to check it out.

The Leslie Street Spit is North America’s most remarkable public urban wilderness. It is a 5-kilometre long peninsula, built by lakefilling, that juts into Lake Ontario close to downtown Toronto.
– Friends of the Spit website

The main road down the length of the Spit branches off at a number of points to smaller trails, some of which go down to the water where you can view many of the birds (some 300+ species on the Spit itself!) in the trees located safely across marshes and bogs, where prying humans are discouraged from venturing closer. I had heard that there was a bird sanctuary here—a few people had told me this already—and as I rode along there was a definite flinty smell of  feathers and guano in the hot, humid air. At the end of one of the many side trails, closer to the bird sanctuary, the scene was almost primordial, filled with wild flowers and lonely-looking lagoons; if it weren’t for the fact that you could still see the city skyline and CN Tower, and yachts  in the distance, you could almost imagine you were in a much wilder and exotic terrain.

At the very tip of the Spit, the land is full of rubble from the various demolition projects going on around the city, and it’s here that some of the bricks and concrete and rocks from these demolition sites end up—slowly, over time, increasing the encroachment of the Spit out into Lake Ontario.

There’s a small lighthouse at the end of the trail, which looks out into the distance and the immense size of the lake, where sail boats careen slowly across the water and the occasional sound of Sea-Doos disturbs the peace and tranquility of this area.

Below are some photos I took on the way to, and at, the Leslie Street Spit.

Graffiti in Toronto: A Jane’s Walk Event

On Sunday a friend and I took part in one of the many, free, guided walking tours that were taking place around the city on this first weekend of May. The Jane’s Walk event wasn’t taking place only in Toronto though; events like this were happening in a number of North American and international cities, all on the same weekend.

Jane’s Walk celebrates the ideas and legacy of urbanist Jane Jacobs by getting people out exploring their neighbourhoods and meeting their neighbours. Free walking tours held on the first weekend of May each year are led by locals who want to create a space for residents to talk about what matters to them in the places they live and work. Since its inception in Toronto in 2007, Jane’s Walk has expanded rapidly. In May of 2010, 424 walks were held in 68 cities in nine countries. (www.janeswalk.net)

The walk we had chosen was named “Graffiti in Toronto”, guided by Jason Kucherawy of Toronto Urban Adventures and which took us on a tour of the grungy yet artistic underbelly of the city. The walk traversed a section of Queen Street West known as Graffiti Alley; a series of back street lane ways filled with garages, garbage bins, the back ends of stores, hidden doorways and litter-strewn parking spaces.

These alleyways are just one block south of a very busy and thriving Queen Street West and would surely go unnoticed if you didn’t know what to look for. If it weren’t for the graffiti, there’d really be no reason for anyone to venture down here. It’s an unpleasant and unsavory-looking stretch, and you don’t see the graffiti very much at all from such an oblique angle when looking down the length of the alleys.

It’s only by walking along this length that you get to see the amazing pieces of artwork sprayed on almost any available surface; from garage doors, cinder block walls, the back doors of stores, to the seedy exits (or maybe entrances!) of bars.

As we sauntered down the lane ways, we even came across a couple of graffiti artists in the middle of a piece-in-progress. It was certainly an eye-opening experience and, given the 100+ crowd of people following the tour guide, it felt like a very safe one, i.e. not something I’d like to do at night!

Here are some photos I took of some of the pieces we came across.