Reading through the adventures of my fellow JYA writers, I must confess I am pretty jealous of them, for actually being abroad! My program, which compares climate change issues in multiple countries around the world, has begun, but I have yet to leave the country. Before heading off to Vietnam, Morocco and Bolivia (in that order), we have two weeks of orientation in the lovely and currently quite cloudy city of San Francisco, California. Despite not actually being “abroad” yet, I’ve had a thoroughly wonderful and invigorating experience thus far.
My program (IHP Climate Change: The Politics of Food, Water, and Energy) began last Monday, August 29, but I had the opportunity to come out to San Francisco a few days early and see more of what the Bay Area has to offer. The highlight of those few days would have to be hiking Mount Tamalpais, which stands a mighty 2,572 feet tall. Though this may not seem particularly high compared to well-known peaks in other parts of the country, Mount Tam provides stunning views of Marin County and the city of San Francisco, and on a clear day you can see all the way across the bay to Berkeley, Oakland, and beyond.
My fellow classmates and I (24 in total) are currently staying in a hostel in downtown San Francisco. I’ve never shared a room with five other people before, but it’s actually easier than you might think! Talking to some of the other hostel residents, a large percentage of whom are Europeans traveling in the US, has definitely been a highlight. San Francisco is a fascinating and beautiful city, but inequality is seen more sharply here than almost all other places I’ve been. There are shiny new apartment buildings and skyscrapers going up all over the place, driven by a rapidly expanding tech industry, but this expansion and skyrocketing rents are forcing long-term residents out of their homes and onto the streets. We have also had site visits in other parts of the Bay Area that painted this picture of inequality more vividly, including a tour of depressed areas in Richmond and Oakland. Even though I haven’t left the country yet, these experiences have been invaluable already in broadening my perspective.
On a slightly different note, the food in San Francisco has been some of the best I have ever had. My program provides a stipend for lunch and dinner most days, and I don’t even want to think about transitioning back to Deece food come January. Though this isn’t going to be a food blog, I’ve been so blown away I feel I have to share some short descriptions of my top five meals thus far.
5. Nob Hill Cafe. This Italian restaurant was about 15 minutes away from the hostel, slightly removed from the hustle and bustle of downtown. I had chicken parmesan with penne (because I have a longstanding problem with ordering anything but chicken parmesan when it’s on the menu), which was fantastic, and the garlic bread with pesto was also delicious.
4. Tacorea. I went to this Mexican/Korean fusion spot on my first day in SF and had a loaded breakfast burrito with spicy chorizo, egg and perfectly crispy tater tots. Adventurous burrito ingredients can always go either way, but Tacorea definitely nailed it.
3. The Perennial. The Perennial is a restaurant committed to progressive food systems and farming techniques (such as aquaponics and carbon farming) that was recommended to my classmates and I by our faculty. Their ethical food sourcing and sustainability efforts are commendable, and the food itself was also superb. Although my entree (rainbow trout) was tasty, the real highlight for me was my appetizer, cherry tomato toast with butter and pesto. I’ve never had sweeter tomatoes, and the toast (baked with a perennial and sustainable grain called Kernza) was perfectly crunchy.
2. Taqueria Cancun. I could have constructed a top five list of burritos alone, and Taqueria Cancun definitely deserves the highest spot amongst them. I had the super burrito (which includes pretty much all of the delicious ingredients available) with carne asada; although adventure and creativity are always admirable, Taqueria Cancun’s more “typical” burrito was perfect and came with delicious guacamole and chips.
1. Honey Honey Cafe and Crepery. I waited over 45 minutes with friends to order at this popular brunch spot, but I can safely say it was worth the wait. I ordered the chicken pesto savory crepe with potatoes and scrambled eggs on the side, along with a lemon crepe for dessert. The potatoes were fresh and fried just the right amount, and the lemon crepe was sweet (especially with whipped cream!), but the chicken pesto crepe (with tomato, swiss and fresh basil) was the best thing I’ve had in SF. I’ll probably go back this weekend and order the same thing if we’re being honest.
Experiential learning is a big part of my program, and as a result I’ve had the opportunity to visit a ton of really interesting sites around the San Francisco area. One of my favorite visits was the Presidio area, which is an old military base currently in the middle of a lengthy renovation process. As work on the buildings progresses, the site itself still exists as a public park providing wonderful views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands.
Abroad-not-abroad has been a wild ride already, and I haven’t even left the country yet. I head to Vietnam late this Sunday night, and I’m sure more eye-opening experiences, tasty food, jet lag and good stories will follow, so stay tuned!