If you’re wondering what kind of traveler I am, I’d say I’m a meanderer.
A fully committed wanderer travels without a fixed destination, his appendages likely bearing deeply insightful tattoos in foreign characters, including one that, loosely translated in English, says: I go wherever the wind takes me, because the wind is unpredictable, at times hasty, others calm, coming and going on a whim, kind of like an uninvited guest that you sometimes wish you actually had invited, a wandering citizen of the world, which is what I am.
A meanderer, by my definition anyway, has an idea. I have specific sites I want to see, things I want to do. I just don’t know how or when I’ll get there.
Take San Francisco, for instance.
The planning process came in the form of an internal dialogue consisting of spurts of landmarks: Fisherman’s Wharf! Lombard Street! Golden Gate! A neat museum that looks like a palace!
Even with these things in mind, I allowed for the opportunity to be sidetracked.
It’s how Phil and I ended up paying for a a minute-long cab ride after walking for the better part of the afternoon in the general direction of some destination, hoping to run into a cab on the way. We didn’t. That is, until we stumbled upon a stray cab in a quiet neighborhood nowhere near the city center. It brought so much joy that we hailed it, disregarding that parts of the structure we were heading to were clearly visible from where we stood.
“You want to go there?” the cab driver asked. He had just returned, as promised, from dropping off passengers, probably sensing our desperation.
A $4 cab ride later (including the standard $3.50 fee upon getting in), we were there.
We tipped him handsomely.
It’s how we ended up biking 5 miles from the Wharf, through the busiest street with miniscule bike lanes (this, after years of not coming in contact with a bike), through bike paths, through bike-unfriendly paths, up a monstrous hill, to a friend’s apartment deemed the point of exhaustion and no return, our fatigued legs comforted only by shawarmas and falafels (To be continued in a later entry).
On this particular day, we decided to go to this museum at the suggestion of a friend who’d seen it while touring the city. Columns? Water? Palace-like structures? I felt my camera salivate.
After consulting our GPS-enabled mobile devices, Phil and I decided we’d walk there. And that’s when it got interesting.
Before going further, I should probably describe what kind of traveler Phil is.
Phil is Super Type A to the max. He indulges my impulses, but sometimes his orderly instincts kick in to keep me in check. It’s fine when I suggest things like, Yes, let’s bike to the Golden Gate Bridge even though we only have an hour before the last ferry leaves, which will likely mean we’ll have to make the exhausting trip back on our bikes, or on foot, or on all fours, crawling.
When it gets frustrating is when I know Lombard Street is in a certain direction because, you know, I have a sneaking suspicion the steep hill leads up to it.
“Wait,” he says. “Let me check Google Maps.”
I, in turn, indulge his compulsive need for structure and anticipate the glorious moment I’ll – no he’ll – say I was right.
The intensity with which people apply to landmarks can be jarring. It’s as if checking off sites were a competitive sport, with the losers being the poor saps subjected to viewing these pictures afterward (Hi, losers).
I’m sure my lack of actual touristy competitiveness comes from family vacations that required 7 a.m. starts and 11 p.m. lights out. They involved itineraries with too many to-dos and to-sees, and not enough to-enjoys.
Lombard, as expected, was winding.
This park, on the other hand, was tucked away in a quiet neighborhood. We took silly jumping pictures and caught our breaths under some trees.
Though we did reach the Wharf, there was nothing exciting or notable there. I kind of liken it to one of those things you have to see just because and, upon getting there, are immediately nonplussed about being there.
We eventually wandered over to the beach by Ghirardelli Square, where we watched two swimmers suit up for some laps in the cold water. One of them, the girl in fact, was training for this.
We talked to Jerry the watercolorist who, after denying my attempts to photograph him, agreed to a picture after being charmed by the bespectacled Phil.
Jerry, one of the amazing Jerrys we met in San Francisco, used to be a 9-5er but now spends his days painting and selling his art.
By the time we got to the museum, it was closed. No matter. We were there for other purposes. Phil and I paid our $4 cab fare and happily joined the loiterers still milling about.
“I’ll take it from here, little lady,” said Phil, architect extraordinaire.
He then led us in the complete opposite direction of the main entrance, causing us to walk the entire perimeter of the non-scenic backend of the museum before returning to our starting point.
It was fitting, really.