Day Three: A Tour of Chinatown (Taoist Temple, Tea House, Chinese Herbs, Shopping and Dim Sum), A Romantic Dinner, The Double Mint Twins and The Vampire Tour of Nob Hill.

Our day began with breakfast at the Café de la Presse, a French bakery and coffeehouse, which also sells international newspapers and magazines. The tiny French quartier borders Chinatown and the café is across the street from the entrance gate to Chinatown.

Chinatown is a whirlwind of activity both night and day!

Our tour began at Portsmouth Square which is mainly dominated by men gambling in corners. Women have begun to bring children to the playground area, but the park is still dominated by idle men playing mah-jong or doing t'ai chi, which is the tradition.

The architecture in Chinatown is very bold and colorful.

The streets are festooned with red lanterns and the lamp posts are beautiful with dragons and tiny bells.

There is NO end to the rows and rows of souvenir shops in Chinatown, which sell decorative soaps, lucky cats, jasmine and green teas, paper fans, Buddhas, silk slippers, jackets and robes and a million other trinkets.

This colorful row of houses is known as The Painted Ladies.

 

Many of the wrought iron balconies are gorgeous with Chinese symbols, dragons and cranes.

During our tour, we stopped in a Chinese herb pharmacy, where Nina bought some White Flower Oil, which can be used to cure headaches and muscle soreness.

The hundreds of red lanterns make Chinatown feel like a festive and exciting place.

Next, we stopped at the Red Blossom Tea Company for a demonstration about the various types of Chinese tea.

The white jasmine tea smells absolutely incredible! Nina just had to buy some of the Phoenix Eye Jasmine tea (more for the smell than the taste!).

The tea cups were so light and delicate, they felt like hollow bird's eggs.

The entrance to a jewelry store in Chinatown.

This bank used to hold the old Chinese Telegraph Exchange. It served as the telephone exchange until the 1950s.

The entrance to a Taoist temple.

One of our better photos standing in front of a Taoist shrine. Nina put a dollar in the offering box and got a tiny red square with Chinese characters on it on a red cord. Alberta, our Cantonese speaking tour guide, blessed it by waving it around in the incense smoke.

A statue representing a female Chinese person. We learned how to honor our ancestors by lighting incense. You light a handful of incense (don't blow on them). Then, you bow in different directions to each of the incense holders.

Scary looking monster statues!!!

 

We also learned how to ask for your fortune. You throw two half moon pieces of wood into the air. Depending on how the pieces land on the floor, you may receive a blessing. If “approved”, you shake a canister filled with sticks with Chinese characters on them. Next, you select the stick that is protruding the farthest, read the characters or ask for a translation from the volunteer, then chose the appropriate fortune card hanging on the wall.

Next, we visited the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company (where Nina was charged 50 cents to take one photo!). The machine squirts dough onto rotating trays of flat, metal disks. Then, the workers scoop up the warm, flat, circles of dough, place a fortune inside, then bend the cookies on a rod in front of them.

According to Alberta, this street, with a balcony filled with drying laundry, has been used in several movie scenes, including “The Pursuit of Happyness.” We met the Chinese man who played the zither on a street corner in the movie.

This plaque shows a perfect map of Chinatown.

We enjoyed an excellent dim sum lunch with our tour group. We ate many Chinese food items we had never heard of including a log of sticking brown stuff wrapped in seaweed, a white dough bun filled with lotus seed, pork pot stickers and a variety of teas.

 

Some photos of us with our wonderful, Cantonese speaking, San Francisco native, tour guide, Alberta.

 

A beautiful building in Chinatown with ornate balconies.

An old Chinese building guarded by foo dog statues and decorated with two fish (a symbol for a happy marriage).

One of many Chinatown produce markets on Stockton Street. According to Alberta, the Chinese do their grocery shopping daily, many of them still don't own a refrigerator. Nina bought some lychee fruits.

While boarding a bus in Chinatown, we witnessed a bit of a fight. Hordes of Chinese locals were attempting to pack themselves onto a completely full bus. The large black bus driver told them no more people could fit. One elderly Chinese woman threw a fit and yelled, “you bad bus driver, you very mean man.” So, the bus driver yelled back in a fake Chinese accent, “you bad passenger, bus full.”

We were planning on dinner and tropical drinks at the Tonga Room, a Polynesian theme restaurant complete with a rain forest and thunderstorm, but it was closed for a party. Nina was really disappointed and the atmosphere and drinks would have been fun. However, we ended up stumbling into the Nob Hill Café, which turned out to be our most romantic, most delicious and most reasonably priced meal.

Dinner at the Nob Hill Café was perfect. Plus, we got to meet “the twins!”

These elderly twins are well known in San Francisco. Vivian and Marian (born eight minutes later) were two of the original Double Mint Twins. The twins were “dressed to the nines” in matching hot pink and black hats with giant bows, matching leopard print jackets and matching black and white pant suits. Plus, they were each wearing roughly a pound of make-up! They were real eye catching and obviously loved the attention.

The vampire tour meets in front of Grace Church on Nob Hill. The cathedral was inspired by the Notre Dame in Paris, complete with a Rose window.

 

The mansion in the background is a gentlemen only club established during the days of railroad and gold money. Apparently, there is a tunnel from the mansion to a row house across the street, where club members held mistresses. Nob Hill (also known as Snob Hill) is one of the wealthiest areas of San Francisco with the fanciest mansions, hotels and restaurants.

Our tour guide, Mina Harker, told us about the “history of vampires” living throughout Nob Hill. Several “goth” members of our tour group seemed to take the information very literally. We were more interested in the history of San Francisco.

The doors to the Grace Cathedral are known as the Doors of Paradise. The doors consist of bronze and gold plate replicas of stories from the Old Testament found at the Baptistry in Florence, Italy.

While the Vampire Tour was highly entertaining and interesting, it was unbearably cold, at night, in the fog, on Nob Hill, the highest point in San Francisco. We now have a keen understanding of Mark Twain's famous quote, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” We were prepared for temperatures in the 60s and brought warm clothes, but the wind was bone chilling. We both returned to Colorado with sore throats and colds.

The lobby of the most famous and most expensive hotel in San Francisco, The Fairmont. (For some reason, the picture is a rather spooky purple).

The grand staircase at The Fairmont Hotel has been used in several movies, including “Gone With The Wind,” when Scarlett falls down the stairs.

 

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