Perfect Bag for Europe Trip

I have an upcoming conference in London coming up. I have a bazillion miles so I'm bringing hubby along on miles. The last month I have been obsessively making travel plans using a combination of Rick Steve's and Michelin guidebooks, Tripadvisor.com, a selection of travel blogs, Expedia and Lonely Planet.

I'll have to do a separate post on my search for the ultimate carry-on travel bag and walking (but cute) shoes. Today I'll focus on day bags. I want something about the size of a large purse or tote that zips at the top or is otherwise secure. I love messenger bags, but I don't want something somebody can just slip their hand into after lifting the flap. It can't be just a shoulder bag as I want a cross-body bag that can leave my hands free when necessary and be easy to keep nearby on trains. It must be able to hold water bottles for the two of us, our guidebook, camera, iPod, a sweater for myself and any other stuff we need for a day. A plus would be holding a days worth of clothes so I don't have to dig into my larger bag after a night on a train.

I searched for like a week obsessively before buying this bag:

The Silverlake Canvas Flap from The Sak. "Casual, cool, and very functional; this Scotch-Guarded canvas flap is a real cutie! Clever zippered pocket inside the flap makes it easy to organize all your essentials. The lining is our exclusive print created by Parisian graffiti artist Gilles Jourdan. Contrasting leather trim and Shiny Nickel hardware. Shoulder strap adjusts up to 22 inches. Zippered main compartment and exterior front pockets. Interior features 2 open pockets and a back wall zippered pocket. Dimensions: 15.00" long, 3.50" wide, 9.00" high. 22.00" strap drop. " $99.00

Somehow I thought it has a zipper under the flap, but it doesn't, you just lift up a lightly magnetic flap and reach right in. It is totally cute, extends to be a cross-body bag and would definitely hold all of our stuff for the day. The scotch-guard is an awesome feature considering our tendency to spill and it also comes in other colors although I ordered the one shown. When it came and I realized it didn't have a zipper I felt torn between keeping it because its cute or returning it because it didn't meet all of my requirements. I still haven't decided what to do with it, but I'm still looking for a bag.

Also under consideration is the Keen Irvington bag ($75.00 from eBags, also at REI). It comes in 5 colors, including the standard laptop looking black, girly pink, an awesome green and grey and the red above. Hubby actually picked the red color for me and I trust his judgement. An interior light turns on when bag opens, off when closed, helping you locate items with ease. The neat thing about this bag is that the flap folds up and functions as a roomy tote as well. It's large enough for my laptop so it is versatile enough that I could get a lot of use out of it.

Next up is the cheapest option ($29.99 on sale at GAP). It is cute cute cute, but very very basic. It is a cross-body bag, no zipper on top, but the right size. I'm thinking of buying it anyway, just because it's so cute and then bringing it along as a tote to through souvenirs in as we go. It comes in khaki, green, and black.

Diva in a carry-on recommends this messenger bag with a rave reviews...touted as 'the perfect messenger bag', it's now just $99! Originally $179.00 USD and available through eBags on sale. It was cute, but again no top zipper. Good for smaller laptops, but it didn't strike me the right way. The price is definitely right. Tumi is a good quality bag company and their stuff lasts forever.

I also strongly considered these bags by Tom Bihn, Sherpani, Crescent Moon, REI, and hundreds of different Etsy stores but was too lazy to do separate descriptions of them.


San Francisco in an Afternoon

San Francisco is known for being a very romantic city. Despite the fact that the two times I’ve visited have been alone and one of the two was during absolutely horrid, bitter cold March weather, the reasons for this reputation are clear. First of all, San Francisco, despite its hills is a very walking friendly city. Its neighborhoods are perfect for spending hours wandering around, looking at the architecture, wandering through the shops, and enjoying the views, in other words perfect for a walk together. While the city has a lot of shopping, particularly in the Union Square area which is eminently accessible to tourists, being on both the cable car, bus line and metro line, it seems almost a crime to be indoors when there is so much wandering to do, a fact that would be sure to keep my husband happy as I would never drag him around asking for his opinion in San Francisco.

Even on your own, San Francisco still has a lot to offer. In just 4 hours of wandering I was able to hit a lot of the touristy highlights. My hotel was the Hilton at Fisherman’s Wharf. I wouldn’t recommend it for a good nights rest as the windows weren’t glazed to keep out the noise of the nightlife and the rooms weren’t particularly luxurious, but the location can’t be beat, a mere block from the wharf and right next to one of the cable car lines. This meant that after my meeting and business lunch I was able to switch into my jeans and t-shirt and stroll right over to the waterfront. It will never be like San Diego where strolling along with your bare feet enjoying the feel of the sand is more de rigour, but it is beautiful all the same.

The wharf is home to the sea lions at the pier, the Aquarium of the Bay (with its clear underwater tunnels), great views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, a famous carousel and tons of shopping and great seafood restaurants. If I’d had kids with me I could have easily spent a day at the wharf, it felt like the state fair, people wandering around getting too much sun on their noses and eating food on sticks as they strolled. I skipped an actual visit inside the Aquarium (there’s always next time) and hopped on the cable car near the Hilton. The prices have gone up since the last time I was here with a one way ride costing $5.00 and a day pass $11.00. Being the sucker that I am I bought a day pass and only had 2 rides. There really aren’t enough routes to justify the day pass.

The cable car takes you through downtown, including Chinatown, and drops you off right at Union Square, shopping central for San Francisco. The square is bordered by Powell, Post, Geary, and Stockton streets. It is home to typical department stores and luxury stores and haute couture shops. With the value of the dollar what it is and the winter weight not yet gone, I was in no mood to splurge, so I pressed on passing the Moscone conference center which was hosting the American Diabetes Association meeting and the setting up for the Apple WWDC which happened today. I wish I could have been there. That block was nerd central.
After a quick stop off for a soda and a sit to watch the Carousel at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts I turned to reach the Science Museum. I was disappointed to learn that it is closed until fall 2008 for renovations. With not enough time to do the Museum of Modern Art justice before it closed, it was back to Union Square, back on the trolley and on to Ghirardelli Square which is at the other end of Fisherman’s Wharf from where I started, between Beach and Larkin streets. You can stop in their store and get free samples (chocolate square with peanut butter inside, heaven) and take a tour to see how the chocolate used to be made when their factory was in operation. It also the home of McCormick & Cavoletto’s, my restaurant for the night. (Ghirardelli Square open Mon-Sat 10a-9pm, Sun. 10a-6p)

This restaurant boasts some of the best views of the bay and wharf around, but apparently if you don’t get a reservation and are a walk-in party of 7, you get put in the back room and can’t enjoy them. Oh well, the food was good and the cocktail menu was inventive and fun. Once I saw Pisco Sour on the menu, I flashed back to memories of my trip to Chile and knew what I was going to order, but I kept reading. There were the typical Cosmopolitans of course, but there were also other more original cocktails on their “modern cocktails” list like white grape and basil which sounded intriguing. One of my colleagues got this later drink and it was delightfully refreshing, summery and tasty. (yeah, I snitched)

There was a lot more of San Francisco that I didn’t see in my half day tour. There is a Cable Car museum, Wax Museum, the famous Museum of Modern Art, and tons of boutiques ripe for some retail therapy. But, on a perfect sunny day, with no fog, no wind and not too hot temperatures, it seemed a shame not to simply walk the city, take in the sights and get sun on my nose. Even the locals were impressed and out in droves.

My previous adventure to San Francisco showed me the second most visited tourist site, next to Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown. I have vivid memories of a rat over a foot long (including tail) running up the wall of my Chinese restaurant and half of my dinner party screaming and running out, leaving our poor hosts with 30 people worth of food prepared and only 15 to eat it. The shopping was fun, even if I had no use for dishes, Buddhas, or other Chinese chotchkees. Chinatown is definitely worth a visit if you have a longer stay.

Everything I saw on this trip was free. No need to pay $15.00 to go over to Alcatraz, I have a great photo from the pier and I’ve seen the History Channel special so I don’t need to visit. The cable car took me past the famous street with its curly cue turns which my transportation engineer husband would loathe (sit on the right hand side going down the hill or the left hand side going up to get a good view). You can have a perfectly great day in SF without spending a dime, just walking around. Just bring your sunscreen. I still need to visit the SF MOMA (Museum of Modern Art), go up to the top of the Coit Tower for the view, and actually ride one of the carousels with my sweetie before taking him out for some great seafood, so I’ll be back.


Uncharted Too Scary

I've been enjoying our new PS3 primarily as a Blu-Ray player. Kids animated movies really show up great and I can tell a difference in the video quality with those types of films. Major action movies also show up noticeably different. The rest don't have too much added value in the Blue-Ray format, so I can keep having Blockbuster send me DVD versions of those.

Before he left Hubby played through Call of Duty IV and I played a few levels before we turned the rental back in. Enough to realize that apparently my childhood lack of console gaming left me without a fundamental grasp of how controllers are supposed to work. I had to play on the easiest level and even then, half the time, by the time I figured out how to look in the direction I was being shot from, figure out how to reload my gun and shoot, I was dead or very wounded. With hubby gone for awhile, I figured I'd work on my six-axis controller skills and so I bought Uncharted. It's basically a modern day Indiana Jones where the main character explores ancient south american ruins, ruining them even more in the process, kills a bunch of bad guys, etc. I enjoyed the puzzle like aspect of most of the levels. It wasn't a strictly shoot-em-up type game and had a decent plot. I got all the way to level 15 or so, then like the most recent Indiana Jones movie, they had aliens/monsters show up. I tried, I really did try to finish the game, but I just can't take suspense. I don't watch horror movies, not because of the blood and guts, but because I can't get startled or deal with knowing I am going to be startled. The game just got too scary for me to calmly shoot the aliens/monsters and I ran out of ammo and promptly died. If they were normal jungle troops, no problem, but scary monsters which move on the walls and ceiling I can't deal with. I'll have to let hubby play past the scary part and then keep going when he gets back. I told my guy friends and they all laughed. This game is not scary at all according to them. This launched them into a discussion of which games are actually scary like AVP2 and a bunch of others I hadn't heard of. Oh well, call me a chicken, but I just don't do scary, even a little bit.

So what did I do instead? It was too much effort to go out and rent something, there was nothing on cable, so for the first time in my life I used pay-per-view. For $2.95 I watched 27 Dresses, got a few laughs and went to bed. Shameless chick-flick which made me feel like I'd lost a few brain cells by the end of it, but it definitely wasn't scary. To prove to myself I'm not a totally lame and shallow girl who only watches girly movies, tonight I rented the new Rambo IV movie. While there was plenty of action, I must say that it was a shameless ripoff, barely 90 minutes long, and only made it to theaters everywhere because of the success of the earlier movies. Some series should just stick with 3 movies, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Rambo. More is just shameless, unnecessary, and a waste of 90 minutes.