San Francisco was another of the huge destinations we knew would take a whole post on its own, but this is still going to be a long one. Grap a cup of coffee or tea and join us in our adventures in San Francisco.
First, though, a quick tip. If you plan on visiting Alcatraz, you should definitely reserve your tickets at least a month before, because the place sells out weeks in advance. We learned this when we went to get our tickets and the only ones we could have got were packages including city tours and would have cost us more than double the original ticket price, and even those sell out fast. Since we are not swimming in money we decided to skip it this time.
The story behind this weird Victorian era mansion is tragic. The lady who built the house, Sarah Winchester, used to be married to the main heir of the Winchester repeating firearms factory and they had a child. Soon after the child died, followed by the husband. The widow, who apparently was spiritual even before, got an idea her husband and child were in fact killed by the spirits of people killed by Winchester firearms and now they were after her. Her solution was to build herself a new home and keep on building it forever. She was assured the spirits would find and kill her if the house was ever finished. At first she kept the house small, but after she almost got trapped in her house in the 1906 earthquake she concluded she needed to build whole new rooms to survive and thus the craziness began. The best part of the whole thing was, she apparently started to build without any coherent plan and according to the tour she had one room where she had spiritual seances, asking spirits to tell her what to build next, and thus the house became a labyrinth of stairs leading nowhere and doors opening to brickwalls or to nothingness.
You’d think the builders would have notified her of these minor problems, but apparently she fired anyone who dared to even hint there might be something weird going on, so her staff just stayed quiet and built whatever they were asked to. And the same applied also to the servants of the house, who just had to cope with the changing enviroment on a daily basis. There were a dozen carpenters working around the clock for almost four decades!
There are a lot of weird and moody details, like the hideously expensive front doors that were never used and the expensive ball room that was never used, except by the lady of the house, who used to play the organ there in solitude.
The most interesting part of the tour was the widow herself and it was a shame the tour concentrated so much on the house and her wealth, instead of her. But I am under the impression not many people knew her, and so she herself remains a big mystery. Even though after her death (she died in her sleep) her servants were interviewed, they couldn’t tell much about the widow.
The Winchester Mystery house is actually located south of San Francisco in San Jose, but it’s only an hour’s drive from downtown. Also you need to remember to book tickets online at least a day before to get the tour you want since they do sell out. We took the Estate tour which includes the basic Mansion tour and a Behind-the-Scenes tour. Even though the mansion tour gives you the basic understanding of the house we’d still recommend you take both tours. Besides, you get to wear a hard protective cap in the latter tour to the envy of everyone taking just the first tour!
Photography was not allowed inside the house, but here are some photos from the garden.
*** because it’s worth the visit if you’re around there, but without a more personal approach it’s just a house with weird details.
The Fisherman’s Wharf of San Francisco is a famous tourist area and holds many interesting places to see. Our picks were the WWII submarine USS Pampanito, the Boudin bread museum, the Wax museum, and Musée de Mechanique. By the way, the whole are has only one public toilet and it’s awful. Either go to toilet before or hold it in.
USS Pampanito is an old submarine used during WWII, now working as a museum. Take the audio tour, because without it you won’t get anything out of the ship. The audio tour is really good and it has the navy veterans who used to sail in this boat telling about it in their own words.
The biggest eye-opening moment for me was… well, I knew submarines are small inside but this small? The place felt tight for just the two of us and it was always a hassle when other visitors wanted to pass us. To think it used to have 40 men on board when operational is just unimaginable. I have no idea how they could make to their battle stations in less than half a minute when the call was made. It took me half a minute just to make through one doorway with my backbag, camera and short legs.
The surprisingly funny part of the tour was the first toilet, with it’s very manly flushing lever which was big enough to make you think it would shoot you off the can to heaven. And the first toilet was housed in a huge room compared for example to the log room which was no larger than a regular small closet back home. Totally claustrophobic space to work in. It was impossible to take a picture of it from the small window on its door.
**** (remember the audio guide!)
I know this is quite sad, but I’m excited about bread. The regular bread at grocery stores back home and generally everywhere else is just unforgivable compared to a well made bread, and I’ve been learning to make good bread myself. The museum is situated within the Boudin bakery building, and they also serve food, so it was a good place for lunch. The museum was closed due to a private event, so we settled for a tomato soup in a bread bowl. Quite interestingly, the soup was the best part of the lunch since the bread had a very sour, close to vinegary taste to it which wasn’t that good on its own. With butter it could have been delicious but they had none. 🙁 Also the premises downstairs were quite loud, but half hidden underneath the stairs there are some quiet tables.
** (not nerdy but bread-geeky)
Wax museums are funny places. I suppose in the past they used to be the only way to see great and famous men and women “live” instead of just as drawings, or maybe in early photographs. Now that people have an over-abundance of media filled with high quality photos and video of almost anybody, wax dolls are becoming unnecessary and sort of mundane. Then again, why do people go to see zoological museums with stuffedanimals? Maybe the wax museums have a similar appeal to us. Maybe part of the charm today is that you want to see how lifelike the dolls can be, since we know how most of the people really look like.
Well, let me tell you about our visit to the San Francisco Wax museum located across the street from the Pier. Outside the wax museums of the world they tend to have some choice dolls on display to show you the quality. Here they had the (current) Pope, Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. Pope was very good, Angelina was OK, but something had gone wrong with Depp. Despite the warning signs we decided to buy the tickets. Going down the stairs I noticed the carpet was very old and worn through. And then we got to the cellar where the dolls were, I looked up at Leo and Kate, and the only thought in my head was: “Do you think they’d return us our money if we’d just go back?” @___@
I think it took me something like three rooms before I could overcome my initial shock and just focus on the experience itself rather than the appearance of the dolls. There were some very good dolls, too, so there must have been more than one artist making them. But some of the dolls were just unforgivable. To add insult to injury, most of the dolls were fitted on “wrong” bodies. Most of the dolls stood very stiffly, almost like their head was fitted on the bodies the wrong way around. Also some of the dolls had too large heads compared to their bodies and sometimes when there wasn’t enough room for a sitting doll, they had just cut the legs short to fit the doll there. It was almost scary to see the familiar faces fitted in these horribly mutilated bodies.
The museum featured wax dolls made of historical figures in addition to current and past celebrities. There was Cleopatra VII with other “Vixens” and artists and scientists, and other themes from our past. The most puzzling part of the whole thing was the wax museum’s rather clumsy attempt to display different religions. The Hindus were shown bathing in brown water, Judaism was displayed as Moses holding the Commandments, Buddhism was shown as a man sitting in lotus position with long earleafs, and Taoism as three Asian men sitting in a garden. Christianity was, of course, given the largest space and the biggest “wow” effects with Jesus giving his famous sermon on a mountain (sorry, my knowlegde of the Bible is a bit lacking in details). And how was Islam displayed? Well, apparently after 9/11 and all that’s happened since, Islam has become a bit of a sore spot and the wax museum had withdrew its display of Islam from the show and instead put up a plate telling about Islam and stating they didn’t know how to display it. You know, after all the other religious images with their incredibly tacky representations I suppose they could have just as well put on some Muslim dolls praying and been just as respectful about it as with all the rest.
The best part of the tour was when we found a wax doll version of the famous last supper painting of Jesus and his disciples. While I was waiting for Joonas to get back from the restroom (yes, they had clean ones inside!) in front of the scene, a twenty-something couple strolled by. They looked at the scene and then the young man said to his girlfriend: “Look at Jesus. He didn’t look like that. They should show some respect!” Then they left. I looked at wax Jesus. Sure he was displayed here looking quite thin, but considering all the other dolls he was a very good specimen. Also I’d really like to know how he thought he knew how Jesus looked like since to my knowledge there are no pictures of him. And the western image of him with his blonde hair etc. is most likely totally wrong since he was born in a Mediterranean country.
An obligatory part of any wax museum is of course the chamber of horrors. Since I’m easily scared I let Joonas go in first, but really there was nothing to be afraid of. The chamber of horrors had the most basic horror characters like the Frankenstein monster and Dracula, but also Anthony LaVey, the head of the Satanic Church. I must say it must be some achievement to be included in the chamber of horrors while you are still alive. Oh well, maybe he has more scariness value over here. 😉
As for whether you should visit this place, the answer is… *laughter* Trust me, go somewhere else. But it was entertaining regardless.
On Fisherman’s Wharf there is a museum of mechanical amusement devices like old Victorian era machines where you put in a coin and see a woman undress. Of course all the machines had been rendered safe for children so no undressing there. The best part of the place is, it’s totally free, except if you want to see the machines work or play the games you need to pay for those (remember to come with pockets full of dimes and quarters). A neat thing is some of the items are so large, more than one person can enjoy the display with just one coin. The oldest mechanical entertainment machines in the museum are self-playing pianos and other musical machinery, and as soon as people realised you can see moving images by showing pictures fast enough, naughty images were displayed. The moving images were stored in the most beautiful machines where you have to move the handle, changing the images yourself. If you move it too slow the timer runs out before you are finished with the film, so there is no time to stop and admire the images at slow speed. The oldest machines were moving dolls, which danced and sang witty tunes. Then there were games from the beginning of the 20th century, up to a few brand new ones.
The museum itself is basically just a hall where all these machines are put on display, all operational for the public to use. The good thing is that you can experience the machines yourself just like they should be. The problem is, however, that the machines themselves don’t tell you much about themselves. There were a few machines with notes saying how old they were and other background information, but most of them didn’t. Also since the machines are just placed here and there in the huge hall, it was hard to get a full picture of the place and how the machines had developed. Also some of the machines where you peaked in and opened curtains to see dolls dancing should have had notes stating if they were in their original attire or if the shows had been altered to make to make them suitable for all ages.
Located east of San Francisco in Alameda (just on the other side of the bay) there is possibly the best place on Earth – the Pacific Pinball Museum. The Museum owns over 800 pinball machines and they let the visitors play 90 of them. You only need to pay for admission after which you can leave the premises and come back freely for the rest of the day.
When I was a kid I played pinball once and it was horrible. I just couldn’t hit the flipper buttons hard enough and the ball wouldn’t move, not even to the bumpers. It was total hell and convinced me that playing pinball requires strength. Well, WRONG! It doesn’t. Most likely the machine’s owner just hadn’t maintained the machine. 🙁
When we walked in the museum, the museum owner introduced us to the place by first showing us some of the oldest pinball machines they had and told us how the machines had developed over time. Then she showed us how the machines were turned on and let us loose. Time has never flied so fast! The place was full of people just playing, even whole families from grandparents to grandchildren.
The best part was playing so many different machines from so many eras. In the oldest playable machines you could feel the machine clanking as the ball hit various objects, whereas the most modern ones are completely computerized. It was also interesting to see differences between the machines. You would think designing a fun pinball machine was easy since there always seem to be the certain objects in certain places, but no. Some just felt good straight from the start and gave you good feedback on what you were doing and where the ball was going, and others just felt bad and kept on throwing the ball directly out of the game between the flippers.
Just like in the Musee de Mechanique, there weren’t that many signs telling about the machines, making the place mainly about playing the games. Also, it would have been interesting to see the rest of the vast collection of pinball machines even though you couldn’t play them yourself. There was some original pinball cabinet artwork and artist biographies on display, though.
One thing the pinball museum did manage to do to me. Now I want to own my own pinball machine! The pinball machines in Finland are ridiculously expensive to play so I always just look at them longingly, but after this experience there are pretty much just two options for me. Either I have to buy one for myself or I have to move to San Francisco just so I can visit this place.
Located in downtown San Francisco, the Cartoon Art Museum just happened to have an Avengers Assemble exhibition. \o/ The museum was a lot bigger than I expected, but there were many smaller exhibitions at a time so the Avengers exhibition itself wasn’t that big. The exhibition was basically a collection of original artfrom old Avengers comic books. If I remember correctly there were none colored, just the inks or pencils.
The most interesting part was to see how the cover images and panel pages had been put together before computers – with scissors and glue! Also you could see how the artists had altered and corrected their work to fit the title and other obligatory parts of the magazine over their original drawing. And you could see the collaboration between the artist and the inker in some artwork on display. You could see the pencil lines and then how the inker had either followed the drawing or sometimes drawn a leg in a different position. Also you could see how the inker had worked his way around the picture using thick markers on large areas, changing into a smaller pen when inking close to the characters. You could also see them making mistakes and correcting them with white ink. The originals are size A2 whereas the magazines are about size A4, which means much of the shaking of the hands and other mistakes get lost when you downsize the drawings.
So even though the exhibition was small, it was still very interesting at least to Joonas and myself since we both have done a lot of drawing and inking and could see the technique behind the artwork. What would have been nice, though, would have been some signs telling which characters were featured in the art. Since most of the drawings were very old and the costumes have changed since then there was one woman I just didn’t recognize and it’s still drawing me crazy. Even the museum staff didn’t know her. Any ideas on her identity are welcome (she’s on the back wall, the left-most image where she’s alone. She has a face mask and her sleeves widen like in a witches’s outfit.)
(Sorry, no photos, since it was not allowed.)
San Francisco’s de Young is a fine arts museum located in the Golden Gate Park. As soon as I noticed they had a Gaultier exhibition I was jumping up and down in excitement. I had to see it! So in we went and the exhibition was just amazing, even better than I expected. It was so beautifully put up, with “living” mannequin dolls and scale to match! The exhibition told a story very well with choice, very well thought details I think many people missed. At one point there was a doll standing next to a TV displaying an old French movie, which had worked as an early inspiration for young Gaultier. The doll was telling something and I was watching the TV and in the film the leading woman started to sing, and at the exact same time the doll next to it started to sing the same song. It was just a magical moment.
Going to a high fashion exhibition is not very nerdy, but fashion geeky it is and, hey, it was a museum. 😉 If you are in San Francisco, definitely go to see the exhibition as it’s just so fantastic and Gaultier is so very talented. Of course, if you don’t like Gaultier’s style, you might not find the exhibition as inspiring. But hey, he was the man who invented the cone tits for Madonna and placed the corset over all the other clothes. If that doesn’t make you a legend, nothing will. Oh, and he has also designed many clothes for scifi movies like the Fifth Element. The sketches for the clothes are amazing.
Joonas: I wasn’t that into it as we went in, not really knowing Gaultier’s work, but man, this was a seriously inspiring show. The scifi work especially, but also a lot of the other stuff, conjuring up images of what could be, whether it’s foreign culture mashups or adoration of Eighties punk.
It just happened that when we were in San Fancisco the Bay Area Derby (BAD) Girls had two matches in one night, so we just had to go to see it. It was our first time in a match and we knew only the most basic rules, having learned them from the teenage movie Roller Girl. Since we had wanted to see the game for a long time, this was like a dream come true for us. Lucky for us the organizers showed a short film on the screens pre-match, going through the basic rules, but we were still bit lost in the beginning. As the game started we quickly begun to understand what was going on and what the different signs from the judges meant. It’s not that complex.
The games were Oakland vs. San francisco and Richmond vs. Berkeley. Each team had players with appropriate names like Sinnocent and Aunti Christ, playing under number 666. Since roller derby is nowadays a wild girls’ sport, I was a bit nervous as to what kind of an audience we’d see. I expected to see heavy alcohol consumption and rocker dudes yelling and throwing punches. Well, in reality the audience consisted of just very normal people from all levels of society, from a few weeks old baby to retired people.
The only thing that took me by surprise and left a bitter taste in my mouth were two people who just happened to sit next to us during the second match. The other one was a really obnoxious woman who had some one woman show going on, where she laughed out loud (nothing bad in a good laugh, but it was all fake) and waved her hands around so carelessly I had to change my seat or she would have knocked me out at some point. She also started to make naughty moves on an elderly man who had come to see the match with his wife. I just couldn’t believe my eyes, it was just so disgusting. As if that wasn’t enough, behind us sat the husband of one of the Richmond players, and he was such an idiot he ruined the game for all of us. At first his yelling was funny but soon it got a really nasty tone. He kept yelling the other team looked fat and ugly, and whenever one player was there he kept on calling her a traitor. It was so vile even the obnoxious woman next to me turned around and told him to watch his language. And the nice elderly couple changed seats because they couldn’t stand listening to him any more. I don’t blame them. I think he should be made to apologize for his behaviour by the other team. So Berkeley Resistance, one Wrecking Belles’ husband owes you a big apology. Punch him in the face once for me.
***** (without idiot men and obnoxious women)
I had to make a choice between the Hearst Museum and the Rocicrucian Museum in San Francisco, which both hold Egyptological collections. The Rocicrucian museum is not in fact very Egyptological to my understanding but rather a group studying “ancient wisdom”, so perhaps not the most respectable group in my books. Though I don’t know if that just used to be in the past and now they educate people about the real ancient Egypt without the wisdom part. 😉
We decided to go to the Hearst museum since it was closeby, and it was a very good choice. The museum has an exhibition about conservating Egypt’s past with examples on conservated objects and how much it all cost. I believe the idea behind the exhibition is to show the cost of the often invisible museum work and thus inspire people to donate money for the museum. For me the exhibition was very interesting since I have never seen the figures for all the work conservators do, and I bet nowhere else a museum would get an idea to be so frank about the costs. The exhibition also had very nice artefacts on display and some rather famous pieces, too. During weekdays there would have been a conservator present at work and to answer questions from visitors, but since we were there on the weekend I sadly missed her.
That’s all for today. Next Sunday I’ll tell you about our ride to Seattle and the city itself. On the way, nude cowboys and “party planner” women of the past!
Mia & Joonas