Day 593 OUT OF Beijing: Hidden Gems of SF Tourism Tips.


A close up of the Giant Buddha on the second level of the Hua Zang Si Buddhist Temple.

A close up of the Giant Buddha on the second level of the Hua Zang Si Buddhist Temple.


Jill’s site, SF Tourism Tips, is in a never ending process of being updated and improved.  Jill wanted to update her “Hidden Gems” page and so we decided to head into San Francisco for the day.

I really admire Jill’s trait of never being happy with “enough” and always wanting to better her site and the experience for the people that visit it and want to learn more about San Francisco and how to improve their trip to our lovely city.

We went into San Francisco, by Golden Gate Transit from Petaluma, and then walked around the rest of the day.  We did have to catch one bus ($2.25 USD) to the Columbarium in the Richmond District, but otherwise all our travel was on foot and for free.  Since we are car-less, we didn’t have to pay a toll to get into SF ($6 USD on the GG Bridge), parking ($2-3 USD per hour) or deal with worries about car crashes, gas, or tickets.  The cost to get into SF on Golden Gate transit was $10.75 per person.  A very good exchange for comfort, relaxation and 1.75 hours to either talk or check emails as we rode in on a very comfortable and clean bus.

A longer shot of the bridge with the new movable divider on the left.

A longer shot of the bridge with the new movable divider on the left.

This is also part of our frugal living in that we want to see how realistic it is to live car-less and only use mass transit.  We actually really enjoy mass transit and we’ve met some wonderful people who are traveling around the world and living a upwardly mobile vagabond life like we are at the same time.  I also had a great conversation with a bus driver that will be retiring in one year and his hopes to do a ’round-the-world trip right after his job is over.  We talked about where to go, what to see, and I sent him some links on how to get great deals on flights and cruises.  I’m hoping we catch the same bus he drives, again, and we can see how he has progressed on his plans!

Our first stop was the Columbarium and it was magnificent.  It is one grave site in San Francisco that is taking interments and it is kept up beautifully.  Harvey Milk’s memorial is there as is Carlos Santana’s father’s ashes.  There are also many other people, and memorials, that are stunning and touching.  It sounds a bit strange to think of this as a place to visit and enjoy, but it is, and we actually were there during an interment and the family and friends were quite joyous and happy.  If you are interested in seeing it, make sure to call ahead and ask for Emmit to give you a tour.  He has been with the Columbarium for many, many years and knows stories and the history like no one else.  We will have a tour when we go back next time with him to learn more about this amazing structure and final resting place.

We walked over to Pizza Orgasmica and had their lunch special of salad, beer and a pizza for $10.50 each.  It was delicious and utterly filling.  I also was able to check in on one of my favorite apps, Untappd, and add the beers that Jill and I tried for lunch.  It is a fun social app and keeps track of how many beers you’ve had and gives badges for different categories.

Jill's pesto pizza.  Yummy!

Jill’s pesto pizza. Yummy!


We then headed down to Hua Zang Si Buddhist Temple.  This is a Buddhist Temple in the middle of the Mission District.  That, alone, would make sure it is a hidden gem.  It was originally a Lutheran Church and later became a temple.  We were blown away by the two Buddhas, especially that massive one on the second level, and the friendliness of the monks that were at the temple that day.  Most of them didn’t speak a lot of English but they seemed so happy and content that words weren’t needed to express what they were feeling.  As we walked back outside into the Mission District, we saw this gorgeous mural of Carlos Santana.  The cultures are so different and yet they are side by side.


After the temple, we headed down to Southern Pacific Brewery in the SOMA district.  Again, this was all just walking around and seeing the sites so we could experience it as if we were tourists and make sure to give people a “true to life” impression of what they can expect as they cruise around the Streets of San Francisco.  By the way, where are Mike Douglas and Karl Malden when you need them?

Our refreshing beers at Southern Pacific Brewing.

Our refreshing beers at Southern Pacific Brewing.


This brewery is only about 3 years old and it is inside a very cool tin roof hangar type building.  The beer is good and the food seems to be fairly priced.  We didn’t eat any food while we were there but had a great time talking to the bartender and just digging the atmosphere.  It will be added to a new page Jill is writing about all the different brewpubs in San Francisco.  Did you know there are over 15 at this point with 10 more scheduled to open during 2015?

By the way, this was also the same day we say the Austin Healey and the Tiny Tesla I’ve just posted about.  There is so much to do in San Francisco when you just walk and observe so check out SF Tourism Tips and find out all the newest information for all your San Francisco tips!

Day 457 In Beijing: Istanbul Archaeology Museum, Part 2.


Probably my favorite display in the whole museum.

Probably my favorite display in the whole museum.

As I mentioned in the previous blog post, Jill’s and my trip to the Istanbul Archaeology Museum was cut short.


Because I turned off my cell phone, with the Turkish SIM card in it, and didn’t realize that when I did that, and then attempted to turn it back on, it would lock me out if I didn’t enter a pass code.

Now, I’m guessing that pretty much every single person in Turkey knows this, which is why they didn’t tell me about this, but since i’m a foreigner, I didn’t.

It is actually a fairly smart way to stop people from using your phone if they steal it since they wouldn’t know the pass code to get in and your SIM card would then be worthless.

They could still sell your phone, or put in their own SIM card, but it does make it slightly more of a hassle than in the USA where they don’t have automatic kill switches or locked SIM cards at this point.

I believe they are trying to pass a law to make automatic kill switches in cell phones in the USA but the phone corporations are against it and putting lots of money towards killing it.

Which means, of course, it would be beneficial to everyone except the phone companies since they wouldn’t have as many consumers having to buy phones when theirs are stolen.

In other words, it is only common sense to have a kill switch which is why the phone companies are against it.

But I digress.

We continued the tour around the museum for a bit and then headed down to the Turk Cell store to figure out what to do.

When we arrived, the salesperson that helped us yesterday was there and helped us right away.  He laughed a little bit at our predicament and was very kind.

We then prepared to head back but realized our ticket was for single entry and we weren’t going to be allowed back in.

At this point we were pretty tired and decided to take a break.

We knew we’d be heading out to see Jill’s friend, Kaan, in a few hours and just made the choice to head to the ferry early and take our time and enjoy the clean air, beautiful blue skies and blue waters.

All in all, I think we made the right choice.


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Day 456 In Beijing: Istanbul Archaeology Museum, Part 1.


The beautiful sarcophagus.

The beautiful sarcophagus.

After lunch at the Sefa Restaurant, Jill and I headed over to the Istanbul Archaeology Museum.

Jill had told me that this is one of her favorite locations to visit because the buildings are gorgeous and the displays are amazing.

We were quite excited as we climbed up the hill and entered through the gates.

Sadly, however, it is mostly under renovation and so the buildings were mostly covered in scaffoldings and tarps.

We pressed on and went inside and checked out the displays.

Again, they were under renovation, and some seemed jammed into places where they wouldn’t ordinarily be, it was still very powerful and moving.

My personal favorite was the massive onyx sarcophagus right after we entered the museum.

It was at least 4 feet tall, 7 or 8 feel long, and it was as impressive as anything I had seen up to this time.

I stood there and just was amazed at the power and strength of it.

Sadly, I didn’t seem to take pictures of the cards next to any of the art pieces and so I don’t have many answers as to who they were made for, why they were made, or when they were made.

Hopefully, next time we go, we will be able to have more time to see each art piece and note where they came from and why they were made.

Our time in the museum was cut short and I will explain this in the next blog post.

Until then, enjoy the amazing pictures.


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Day 451 In Beijing: The Blue Mosque, Part 1.


About to enter the Blue Mosque.

About to enter the Blue Mosque.

Jill and I ventured over to the Blue Mosque or as it is also known, the Sultanahamet Mosque, after we survived the two Medusa looking right at us in the Basilica Cistern.

We had been able to see the outside of it, but because of prayers times and not be allowed in as we are not Muslim, we had not been able to go inside on this trip.

We made sure that we would be visiting during a non-prayer time and wanted to see it before it got really busy.

The Blue Mosque is, like the Hagia Sofia, quite huge but it doesn’t seem to be as big inside and there is a lot more space saved for prayers, since it is a working mosque, and that means it gets quite crowded.

We headed over and got in line.

There were probably about 150 people ahead of us but since it is free, and one only has to cover up, and take off their shoes, the line moves pretty quickly.

I was lucky and only had to pull my shorts down a bit so they covered my knees.

Jill had to cover her head with a scarf, which they loaned to us, and since it was hot, she wasn’t particularly happy about it.  I don’t blame her but otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to go inside.

Once we got inside it was gorgeous.

It is much more ornate than the Hagia Sofia and beautiful in a different way.

I truly love the hanging lights, and the stained glass windows, with all the ornate tiles covering the walls.

There was some beautiful pieces of art dedicated to Mohammed and the Muslim religion on the walls and we took our time seeing it all.

One of the major differences with the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque is that the Blue Mosque is basically just one single large room: A mosque.

Therefore it is much easier to go in, look around quickly, and leave.

Since Jill was hot, and we were starting to get hungry, the Blue Mosque probably only took about 20-30 minutes total.

It would have been nice to have gone right when it opened, so it was less busy, and had more time to just relax.

Maybe next time.


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Day 448 In Beijing: Hagia Sofia, Part 5.


The mirror over the exit reflects the mosaic.

The mirror over the exit reflects the mosaic.

Jill and I have back in Beijing for 2 weeks and we keep finding more and more amazing pictures of our trip as I write these blogs.

It is actually making us itch for another trip as soon as possible and rekindles our desire to live in both Turkey, and Greece, in the not to distant future.

There is just something about the people, the culture, and the land that calls to us.

I have lived in a lot of different places ranging from Healdsburg, to San Francisco, to Albuquerque (home of Breaking Bad!), to Edinburgh, Scotland, to Sendai, Japan and now to Beijing, China.

For some reason, Turkey and Greece just seem like home already.

Maybe it is just because we are on vacation but Jill lived in Turkey for 3 months, 3 years ago, and she absolutely felt like it was home.

This will be the final Hagia Sofia post for this trip, unless I run across more pictures and have to throw them in, and I hope you have enjoyed seeing this magnificent building through our eyes and lenses.


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Day 447 In Beijing: Hagia Sofia, Part 4.


The scaffolding and the interior of the Hagia Sofia.

The scaffolding and the interior of the Hagia Sofia.


Jill and I decided that the pictures were not quite enough to show the beauty of this amazing structure.

We decided we’d do a quick video.

It really is hard to comprehend all the work, time, and architectural knowledge that went into making a building like this about 1500 years ago.

I hope you have enjoyed visiting it and might even be tempted to go to Istanbul and see it yourself.

Trust me, as you will see in the next few weeks, this is just the start of places, and things, to see in Turkey.



Day 446 In Beijing: Hagia Sofia, Part 3.



The view of the dome through the chandelier.

The view of the dome through the chandelier.

Jill’s and my journey continues.

You would think that one blog post about the Hagia Sofia would be enough.

However, it isn’t even close to enough.

I’ve got hundreds of pictures that I could post but I’ve decided to limit them.

I’ve cut it down to about 40 or so and they barely even touch the surface of the amazing Church/Mosque/Museum that is the Hagia Sofia.


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Day 444 In Beijing: Hagia Sophia, Part 1.


A mosaic of Mary and Jesus.

A mosaic of Mary and Jesus.

This might take awhile.

So, I’m going to keep it short and sweet and let the pictures speak for themselves.

The Hagia Sofia is mind blowing.

There is no other way to describe it.

From the outside is it monumental and awe inspiring.

From the inside it compares to anything I’ve seen in my travels around this Earth.

I’m planning about four days of posts on the Hagia Sofia because there are so many pictures and a video or two.

For starters, the history of this museum is amazing.

It was build in 537 and was an orthodox church until 1453.

It was then a mosque from 1453 until 1931.

In 1935 it became a museum.

It was the focal point of the Eastern Orthodox Church for nearly 1,000 years.

The amazing dome has collapsed at least once and had to be rebuilt.

The other domes have also collapsed.

It has been ransacked and almost totally destroyed through the years but somehow survived.

It had many Christian mosaics on the walls that were then covered by the Muslims who took control of Istanbul.

Luckily, they didn’t destroy the mosaics, but instead, were plastered over and, therefore, saved to be renovated and shown as they are today.

It was a joy, and a wonder, to stand underneath the dome of the Hagia Sophia and just take in the history, the art work, and the power.

The best way to explain it is to click the wikipedia link and then look at my pictures.


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Day 436 In Beijing: Galata Tower.


The view from the Galata Tower.

The view from the Galata Tower.

Jill’s and my true vacation, and about 100 future blog posts, starts now.

We woke up, had a nice breakfast in the little cafe right around the corner from Andac’s apartment, and headed out to see the Galata Tower, or, Galata Kulesi if you want to see the Turkish name for it.  It used to be called Galatea, which is Gaelic, because the Welsh people originally settled there, built it, and named it.

Jill had been here before, since she’s now been to Turkey 4 different times to my 1, and she thought it would be a good starting point for our adventures.

We walked in and paid for our tickets.

I think it was about 9 USD or something like that.

It was worth 100x that for the view alone.

We went in the elevator and headed up.

The elevator was empty so we took a few pictures and I loved how the elevator buttons were set into a replica of the tower.

When we reached the top, we walked up a flight of stairs, and then out onto the tower ledge.

It was truly amazing.

There were only a few other people there so we had it almost to ourselves.

The Galata Tower was originally built in 1348 and is about 200 feet tall.  The walls are about 9 feet thick.  Just stop and think of that.  It is almost 700 years old.  But that is nothing compared to what we will see later on during our vacation.  It is truly mind blowing to think of the history and what has happened in this part of the world.

It was used to make sure the city wasn’t attacked and also for a few crazy inventors to jump off of with either a glider on their back or strapped to a rocket.  I imagine Wyl E. Coyote would have approved of this idea. Supposedly, both inventors survived and proved their products were reliable.  Have to be impressed with their salesmanship if not their sense of sanity.

It was a truly wonderful way to start the day and see so much of Istanbul in one simple tower.

We stayed up there for an hour or so and just breathed in the fresh air, watched the seagulls, and remembered what it felt like to be alive, free, and have the world at our feet.

After 7 months in China, we had forgotten a lot about ourselves.

We had become somewhat unhealthy, both physically and mentally, and both seemed to be coming alive again.

Just the feeling of the people, the culture, the architecture, the country, and the ease of everything was settling back in and it felt like we were home.

Jill had lived in Turkey for 3 months, at one time, and I’d visited for 3 weeks, and it seemed like everything was just right the second we arrived.

That feeling would continue for the next month and only become more evident and more true.


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Day 253 in Beijing: A Temple Excursion.

Juxtaposition of time and architecture.

Juxtaposition of time and architecture.

During the Spring Festival, there are loads of temple festivals going on all around Beijing.

We decided, on the last day of the festival, to venture out and see what they are like.

We decided on a smaller one because we didn’t want to be shoulder-to-shoulder with the crowds and pushed along by everyone else.

We met our friend Federica and paid the 10RMB to enter and were surprised by how few people were around since this is a major holiday.

We looked at the signs and realized that it had actually ended the day before!

We had checked online and the webpage stated it would continue to today but I guess the websites were not correct.  This is actually a pretty common occurrence, from what we’ve seen, where many of the websites are horribly outdated or just have incorrect information and no one seems interested in fixing them.  This could be a big business opportunity if someone wanted to fix these issues but no one seems to care.  C’est la vie…or maybe it would be better stated at, “C’est la Chine.”

The temple’s name is “Dongyue miao” and it is quite beautiful.

It was originally built in 1319 and has 376 rooms.  There are also massive stone tablets that reach about 20 or 30 feet into the sky.  They are covered with old Chinese writing and explain the auspicious events that occurred in the past.  These stone tablets were made to give thanks to the Gods for allowing prosperity.

A full restoration was done in 1997 and, from the pictures that were posted, it needed it.

It looked like it was it utter disrepair and the massive stones had fallen down into dirt and refuse.

They did an excellent job and it is quite beautiful and stunning.

Since there weren’t a lot of people, we were able to take pictures of some of the statues and look into each of the little rooms that have depictions of each part of this Taoist belief system.

Each room had a “Department of…” and they ranged from “Department of signing forms” to very obscure and more spiritual departments which I didn’t understand.

It didn’t really matter though, as the statues were amazing and I could get an idea of what kind of location this department was in and if it was a hopeful department or a hellish one.


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