Monday, September 30, 2013


The inevitable 'list'. Every food lover has got one (especially those who live in big cities), and it always ends up being ridiculously long once it starts. I track mine with the Urbanspoon wishlist, as I like how easy it is to see what I've recently bee interested in, or if there's anything on my  'list' in a particular area that I might be in the mood to go to. How do you guys do it?

One spot that's been on this 'list' for-absolutely-ever is Cibi. I've always been intrigued by the Japanese inspired menu that is mentioned on the website, but have always had the impression that it's a small space and would be hard to get a table at, and not to mention parking since it's just off the shopping end of Smith Street.

I do love to be proven wrong about these things.

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After seeing a post Agnes wrote about Cibi, I was determined that weekend to visit for myself. I was absolutely pleasantly surprised with how easy it was to get a park down the side streets off Smith, how spacious Cibi was and that we could get a table in an instant, even with the perfectly sunny weather which meant droves of people were out and about. 

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Cibi is half cafe, half adorable Japanese style homewares, which meant, if it weren't for Brad, I would have probably spent all the money I had left in my bank account to make my kitchen look cute. It's quite dangerous. 

The cafe side is high ceilings and a myriad of mismatched chairs and tables. Just perfectly charming against clean white walls and a pop of colour from an art piece or two. 

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I loved that our table was one of those old sports boards where they record the winner of some cup or competition each year. Bit sad to see that this particular board wasn't around for very long!

On the weekends Cibi offer up a Japanese breakfast plate, based on a traditional grandmother's breakfast. It's not a long menu, with only three items, which makes selection pretty straight forward. 

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Brad settled in with this latte, whilst I indulged myself with a lovely green tea (no chai around here). 

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Brad ordered the 'Ultimate' breakfast with a grilled salmon fillet, tamagoyaki (a free-range egg omelette), seasonal green vegetables, potato salad, home-made pickles (tsukemono), Natto (fermented soy-beans), Umeboshi (sour plum) and nori (dried seaweed) served with brown rice and a heartful (just following what the menu says) miso soup. 

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The tsukemono, natto, umeboshi and nor were all served on a separate plate, and Brad took his time to pick through them as each provided quite a different mouthfeel and flavour. I recall the umeboshi being particularly lip-puckeringly sour, but did leave a nice aftertaste. 

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My 'More Vegetables' breakfast was essentially the same as Brad's, but with pumpkin nimono replacing the salmon, and without the extra plate of nibbles. 

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I adored how simple and clean the breakfast plates were, leaving you feeling quite nourished with all the goodness present. It's not served piping hot, but more of a 'cool' temperature, which is quite refreshing on a warmer day. I adored how sweet and smooth the pumpkin was and naturally loved the sweet tamagoyaki's as well. 

The miso soup, which I forgot to take a picture of, is really a standout as well, steaming away as it's placed on the table, it comes packed with fresh vegetables, carrots, seaweed, spring onion, giving it quite a bit more sustenance than other miso soups you'll find around town. I would quite comfortably come back just for that!

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So if Cibi is on your list too, don't wait two years like me to visit! Find yourself a lovely sunny morning and amble your way over to tuck into a breakfast your body is likely to be thanking you for and then leave with a spring in your step.

45 Keele Street

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Two Lost Boys

I've just realised how long it's been since my last brunch post, so feel it is necessary to share the most recent brunch adventure from last weekend, which happened to be just off Chapel Street, an area Brad and I used to be in for breakfast all the time (hi Dukes!) but seem to be frequenting less and less these days. 

We ended up at Two Lost Boys, a new venture, nestled in quietly next to Windsor Station by Michael Almagor and Justin Kony. 

After perving on the menu online through the week, shortly after they opened, I decided a weekend visit was needed quite promptly, as beetroot and sweet potato fritters were calling my name from the concise, but playfully creative menu. 

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I breathed a sigh of relief upon arriving to see that the cafe didn't have a line out the door, as many of the other popular cafes did on the walk over...although I'm sure that's not far off from happening soon! 

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I loved how open the space was, with generous windows, and a cool and light colour palette. It was nice to have space to breathe and not worry about my elbows bumping into other people constantly. I also totally adored that the coffee counter looked like it was made out of old doors, so cute!

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We perched ourselves on the tall communal table near the entrance of the restaurant, where we had a perfect view of the kitchen and all the food in transit…and all the smells that gently wafted over…it really got the appetite going! The cafe extended past the coffee counter where individual tables rested up next to windows, perfect for getting lost in a book or two.

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The coffee beans are sourced at Two Lost Boys from Monk Bodhi Dharma, and come out looking beautifully made, perched on sky blue crockery. I opted for a lovely smooth and not overly rich hot chocolate instead of my usual chai, as they use Calmer Sutra chai, which I've decided I'm not such a big fan of these days. 

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Whilst the whole menu's really a bit of a tease, the sort where I want to order everything on, Brad and I still zero-ed in on our favourite menu items. 

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So for Brad that means baked eggs. At Two Lost Boys it's done with French style white beans, topped goats cheese and herb crumb crust served with two slices of sourdough. Whilst Brad generally prefers his baked eggs a little more saucy, there's no denying that this was absolutely delicious. It had the sort of consistency that meant it spread nicely over bread, rather than being the sort of baked eggs you would mop up with bread. Small difference, but a difference all the same. The mediterranean influence was clear in the slightly crunchy herb crust seasoning. Yum.

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I knew before arriving I was going to end up with the sweet potato and beetroot fritters…because…well, where else have you seen that combination in Melbourne hey? I absolutely adored the two of these together, a beautiful smooth texture from the sweet potato and the flavour and sweetness of the beetroot really coming through and sweeping me off my feet. Happy sighs!

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They were topped with a few folds of smooth and cool house-cured salmon carpaccio, horseradish and walnut cream, which was so delightfully rich, light and cheeky, a touch of spinach and two gorgeously poached eggs. There's nothing here to disagree with. Whilst I've always adored corn fritters, I certainly wouldn't say no to seeing more of these around the brunching circuit!

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Brad and I loved our brunch at Two Lost Boys. With smiley, friendly service, and delicious food, I think these Two Lost Boys have definitely found a home in Windsor. Get in before the rest of Melbourne does! 

2 Maddock Street

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Hero Subs

Disclosure: I was kindly invited to try Hero by Brand Works

What is it that makes a hero? A superpower? A sidekick? If you turn to many a comic book, or most kids films in general these days, the general consensus is that it's not what's on the outside, but what's on the inside that makes a hero.

Although it always helps if you have a rather funky skin tight suit (hello Captain America)!

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The new 'Hero' in Melbourne's CBD, located behind the RMIT building, encapsulates this concept…but in sub form, where the filling is king, and is supported by some damn good looking exterior (bread) as well. Eleena and Michael (who you may know from The Grain Store and Reading Room Cafe) were inspired by the subs they had in New York, specifically in and around Brooklyn-Queens, which were filled with quality produce and big and generous flavours and wanted to bring that to Melbourne, with it's own local twist.

When I was first invited to go, I wasn't really that interested in going, as my general impression of subs equalled hard bread and dry and boring filling. However, with a bit of encouragement from Daisy, I dragged Brad down on a Saturday…although only after we had brunch (Brad's a little old-fashioned like that sometimes, it's kind of adorable). 

Although having brunch before-hand was kind of a bad idea as there was a lot of sub to be had. A lot.

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Whilst Hero may not have a bat cave to hangout in, they do have a rather slick and tidy HQ, where all the produce, that is locally sourced mind you, pops out in cheery colours against the black. 

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The menu's not giant, is entirely in capitals and with a lot of hashtags (to encourage a bit of twitter trending no doubt), but there's something there for everyone (except gluten free peeps unfortunately, crossing fingers this might change in the future), from muffins, to Italian bread pockets, to subs with all your favourite proteins (or polenta fingers, if you're vegetarian). 

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The first sub I tried was the #THROWBACK, with veal, pork, orange and fennel meatballs simmered in Nona's homemade sauce with baby spinach and shaved grana padano. 

I braced myself to prepare to give the teeth a workout and make a mess tearing the bread apart. Oh goodness. I was about to get an education and be converted to the way of the Hero sub. 

I was pleasantly caught off guard with how soft and fluffy the bread was, my teeth effortlessly sinking in and pulling it apart, along with delightfully rich and saucy meatballs, which were beautifully tomato-y with a bit of zing to it. So tender as well. And cheese. Yes cheese. Yes. 

I wasn't very clever and ate this entirely with my hands. My grey jeans were soon covered in red sauce splotches, but it was glorious. A glorious reminder of the delicious Hero I had just consumed. Let's call them battle scars.

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We also tried the #KIDROYALE, which seems to have become the signature for Hero, with it's smoked hickory rub slow roasted beef, onion jam, honey dijon, baby spinach and crispy onion rings.

Yeah, you heard me right, crispy onion rings. 

This is not the type of sub you want to eat if you have to eat it in a rush and get back to a multimillionaire dollar deal in your suit after lunch at the office, as you'd be returning looking a bit of a mess. It is however, the type of sub you want to eat if you want good solid sustenance and a wallop of flavour that leaves you licking your fingers clean. The savoury  beef, so tender, balanced nicely with the sweetness that the jam and the dijon had to offer, and the crunch of the onion rings provided a nice texture contrast. 

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I also had a nibble on a panko crumb prawn from the #CATCHER which was fried to crisp perfection, sealing in all the sweet juiciness of the prawn.  

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There were also a #PARADISE sub, with lemon and thyme roasted chicken, lettuce, hard boiled egg, crispy bacon croutons and caesar dressing (essentially a caesar salad in a sub), floating around…but I just couldn't have any more. Although as the theme seemed to go, it was delicious, but a messy eat!

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When Eleena came around to ask how we were all doing, as we started discussing how full we were, and asked us if we wanted doughnuts…well, there's only one answer to that isn't there now? So we were soon presented with 7 freshly fried chocolate jaffa doughnuts.

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Now normally jaffa is not quite my thing, whilst I love chocolate with just about everything, I don't really love it with orange. However, I honestly hardly noticed the orange in these hot, gently dusted with icing sugar, fluffy little beauties. Fresh from the fryer, they were an absolute treat, with a warm chocolate filling that gently oozed out. My only complaint is that the hole in the doughnuts where the chocolate filling is piped in is not quite big or deep enough, so you don't end up with chocolate in every mouth full…but I guess I'm just being greedy now.

Worth every calorie though? Definitely.

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So let's be honest here. Hero subs are a hell of a mess to eat, which is a possibly downside, depending on who you are, but personally, I love food that's finger licking good, and that's exactly what I was doing post Hero sub session. Delicious, locally sourced, this is the sexy older brother that Subway wishes he could be. So to me? This Hero is solid. 

Tenancy 1, Entry via Stewart St
RMIT Building 80
445 Swanston St
Melbourne 3000

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Monday, September 23, 2013

America - San Francisco - Take me out to the ball game...and Alcatraz and Mama's!

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Once you know your dates for San Francisco (assuming that you are all going now), the first thing you need to do is book your tickets to Alcatraz. 

This was wise information that was passed on to me, that I now share with you. This is particularly if you plan to go in the summer months. 

When we rocked up on the 18th of June for our 8:45am boat to Alcatraz island, there was a big signboard out the front saying that the next available tickets weren't until the 29th of June. Walk by that sign a day later, and we're looking at somewhere around July 9th. Not even kidding.

And make sure you get your tickets from the official ticketing page at Alcatraz Cruises, there are some other suss looking ones out there.

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But back to Alcatraz, you must have heard of the famous island just a few kilometres out from San Francisco city. Also lovingly referred to as "The Rock", Alcatraz was a military fortification at birth, but functioned as a prison for most of it's working years, that housed many of America's worst criminals and gangsters back in the day. 

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To get there, you need to take a ferry that's serviced by the National Park Service. When you buy your Alcatraz ferry tickets online, you also have to allot which boarding time you want, the earliest being 8:45am, which is also the one I would strongly recommend. More on why later.

Brad and I had again been blessed with perfect weather and although it took a while to get the boat filled up, the 10 minute ride over was just beautiful. Fantastic views of the San Francisco bay behind you. 

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When you reach the island, you're given a little briefing of what you can and can't do on the island, which is actually a National Park, home to many birds and plant species. After, there's a short movie viewing giving some history to the island. Did you know that other than being a prison, in it's retirement years after, the island also played a role in politics, when Native American activists occupied the island for a good 19 months? I thought that was pretty interesting!

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Whilst you could just walk the island and take in the views (it's not a long walk around), the value is in the audio tour (included in your ferry fare) that takes you around the abandoned prison. 

It gets pretty crowded pretty fast though, and even though we came in on the first boat, we had to follow a line to get to the audio tours….I would hate to think how long the line would have been if we had come midday! 

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One of my favourite things about the audio tour, is that the narrating is done by ex-inmates and correctional officers, because there's that cool 1920's, prohibition era, gangster swag in the accent. It really made it feel as if you were being taken around the prison by the people who used to work there, when the cells were full and probably a bit noisier than they are now. 

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The chuckles and guffaws in the recordings, following the retelling of a story or a memory, or the heavy sighs when the officers would recall a man who was jailed in The Rock for 15 years with no visitors, it gave the whole visit so much more character. 

One of my favourite stories was, funnily enough, in the dining room, which was an absolutely huge space. By law, the food served in the dining room was not only supposed to be nutritions and tasty, it was required to be well presented as well, so none of this slop stuff.

So the story goes, that one time spaghetti was on the menu, which was great for the inmates. They loved it…until it was on the menu every day…and the quality started deteriorating. The inmates weren't happy, with one inmate saying that if he was served spaghetti one more time he was going to flip…and so the next day…they started flipping tables. 

Aaah. Good times. 

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For the most part though, I was a little surprised at the rather decent conditions the inmates lived in, as so many of the quotes appeared to paint a much harsher picture, maybe it wasn't super plush, but it looked basic and clean and I loved hearing that the inmates would play checkers with the guards, and had access to a library where many of them would end up reading philosophy. 

Cool right?

I guess there was the occasional riot though. Not so sweet.

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There are absolutely beautiful views out from the island of San Francisco, which the prisoners hardly got to see, but that you should definitely not miss out. Just a word of warning, it's incredibly windy out, especially if you decide to explore out a bit further from the safety of the buildings as I did...I was nearly blown over!

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There are set times for return boats and again, the line for this got pretty long, so again, I would hate to have arrived midday and try to be leaving with the whole lot of stragglers mid-afternoon. Just saying. Get here early.

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After we returned back to Pier 33, where we were subject to looking at photos of us posed in front of a faux Alcatraz in the hopes that we would buy them (I'm honestly surprised people do), we made our way down to Pier 39. 

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There's not really much going on down there, it's super-dooper touristy and super windy (so make sure you rug up a little), with some nice views of Alcatraz island, but importantly there are sea lions.

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Sea lions! Just chilling out on a bunch of wooden platforms by the pier, where they laze about in the sun, bark at each other and roll. So freaking cute. Apparently the numbers drop in summer, but in winter there are pictures where the platforms are just piled up with them! 

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This guy had the right idea to chill out from the others. Clever sea lion...

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From there, we strolled on down towards Washington Square to visit the famous "Mama's" to get our lunch situation sorted out. Or well, breakfast and lunch, since we merely had a few museli bars between 7am and 1pm or so. On the way we started discover San Francisco's hill situation…really worked up a bit of an appetite! 

Brad had read about Mama's on a guide when doing some research online, and although we had been forewarned about lines…well…I didn't quite realise how bad it was. I mean, it was a Tuesday and at 1pm we figured most of the work lunch crowd would be wrapping up…we were so wrong.

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We faced a line that stretched around the cafe and back down a couple of buildings. I was in disbelief. Whilst neither of us would normally ever wait in a line like this in Melbourne, Yelp wasn't giving me many other options nearby and we didn't know where to go…so we thought we would brave the line.

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So the way the line at Mama's works is that you gotta wait right in front of the restaurant, where they tease you by having the top half of the door open, kinda like a stable (I can't think of what this type of door would otherwise be called), until there's enough space inside to join the queue at the counter to be in line to make your order. 

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Peeking inside, Mama's is completely adorable, like your grandmother's house, but a heck of a lot more yellow. I adored the wood blade ceiling fans, and the original menu from when Mama's first opened in 1964. Think there was hardly anything over $1 back in the day…could you imagine?!

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Now once you make your order, there's still no guarantee that you'll have a table waiting for you either! Which meant after an hour and half, after watching the chefs churn out breakfast like no one's business and paying for our meal, Brad and I were evilly glaring at the table of Asian tourists who were just sitting around their table, not eating and playing with their tablets. Some of us are hungry yo. 

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Look, don't ask me how or why we stayed in the line that long. I thought Brad was keen to try it and he hardly ever suggests places to check out, and by the time we stuck it out for 20 minutes, it seemed like a shame to move on. So I entertained myself by yelling 'Yay! Exodus!' every time a couple of people left the cafe.

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So by the time we sat down in our table, we were both a bit quiet, and rather depleted of blood sugar, but fortunately tea and coffee showed up at our table quite promptly. I had to hold back a chuckle looking at Brad's 'latte'. What would a Melbourne barista say? The foam looked just terrible. But it was caffeine, and at that point anything would do.

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Our food arrived promptly after, quickly crowding our tiny table with colourful, abundant happiness. Again, why did I order three things when I know American portions are ridiculous?

Oh right, we hadn't really had anything sustaining to eat for the past 6 hours. Right.

Mama's all day breakfast menu is broken down essentially into omelettes, eggs and french toast. We had it all covered.

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My 'S.O.B (South of Border)' was a fluffy, fluffy omelette wrapped around Spanish chorizo, black beans, homemade salsa and pepper jack cheese. Not so sexy when opened up, but yes, yes and yes it was delicious. I never realised I enjoyed beans so much, especially with cheese and a bit of kick from the chorizo. 

Also America, I still don't understand with your obsession with potatoes for breakfast. I don't.

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Brad's Huevos Rancheros came with two poached eggs, spanish rice, black beans and avocado with Ranchero sauce. I was too busy inhaling my omelette to really sample much of Brad's, but I quite liked the fluffy and tomato-y rice and the freshness of the salsa.

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And although gluten is not always my best friend, I just had, had to try one of the french toast's. Had to right? Whilst the Kugelhopf did tempt sorely, I couldn't go past the chocolate cinnamon french toast with fresh seasonal berries and bananas, liberally piled on top like the prettiest red and blue bouquet I had ever seen. 

Also generously covered in chocolate sauce. 

Yes. Yes. Yes. Delicious. And fruit makes it healthy, no?

I'm still intrigued that french toast is such a big thing in the states, yet you'd be hard pressed to find somewhere in Melbourne, a city that I feel takes it's brunch scene much more seriously, that's well known for it. Intriguing isn't it?

Mama's was very tasty, and although I did enjoy the food, would I wait again? Hell no. Most Melbourne places would still do a much better brunch, but there's the history and character and charm that the little corner cafe has that the Melbourne joints don't have.

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Tummies filled we decided it'd be a clever idea to tackle walking up Russian Hill, which I believe is the steepest hill in San Francisco. Oh my calves! 

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I did find it absolutely fascinating though, can you imagine what it would have been like to try and build houses here? I was also very tempted to see if it was possible to tip cars. I mean, surely you were all thinking the same thing when you see the cars on an angle like that….

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After the long hike up, you're rewarded with simply stellar views, accompanied with a cool breeze.

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A few blocks over, and you'll come across Lombard Street, which is famous for being zig-zaggy and incredibly beautiful with well tended flower beds in full bloom. It's hilarious watching the cars peek in and out of the flowers as they very, very, very slowly wind their way down the hill. Great if you're a tourist, sucks to be a local!

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Rather than walk all the way back into town, I thought it might be fun to catch one of the cable cars down the hill. The one we flagged down had the funniest conductor and driver pair I had come across, the jovial pair sounded like a pair of cops in a comedy film!

There's a few cable cars you can catch, two of them go through Powell Street, and then split off to go up Hyde or Mason, and another goes across town, East to West (and back) along California Street. It's $12 per person, which is frankly a little steep, but as a tourist, you gotta do it right?

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Unfortunately our cable car was having issues with it's grip, so after paying and squeezing onto the cable car (there's a good chance you won't get on if they can't find space for you!), we had to wait at the next stop to get a truck to push us down the hill and then again at the next stop, where they had to call someone to bring over a new grip to fix it. I was half worried we weren't going to get the full ride back, but I was very impressed with how quickly and efficiently help and services arrived (metro could learn a thing or two hey?)

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And it was also absolutely fascinating to watch how they changed the grip out. Quite a lot of swinging involved surprisingly!

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A short break back in our apartment, then it was off to AT&T park to watch us some baseball! 

Unlike Alcatraz, you can book tickets for the baseball just a few days beforehand, like we did, at surprisingly reasonable prices. Although the official website might be out of tickets, there are plenty of legitimate sites that sell pre-bought tickets as well, Brad got our tickets for about $25 a piece from Stub Hub

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We were watching the San Francisco Giants play the San Diego Padres and it was all good fun watching and listening everyone get into it. Whilst I have a rough understanding of how baseball is played I kept poking Brad throughout to explain things to me and kept getting lost on what innings were, and why isn't he out yet, and is that a foul, and why are they taking so long?

I make a great sports girlfriend. A great one. 

It did kind of surprise me how slow the game was to watch, as there's really not as much running as you see in the movies, but a heck of a lot more strikes! We at least got a few home runs though.

One thing we also weren't prepared for was how cold it got towards the end of the night! Even though we were both bundled up in jumpers and leather jackets, an extra blanket thrown over (like a lot of the other attendees had) would have been awesome.

So I was quite pleased when he headed away from the game for a bit to find sustenance. Warm warm sustenance. I was pretty impressed at the variety of food one could order, as we walked by stand after stand trying to decide what to eat.

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At the end of the day though, you must simply have garlic fries. Must. And make sure your partner has some too so you don't unwittingly take them out with garlic breath. That garlicky. 

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And also a clam chowder for me, and a hot dog with the everything. 

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The game lasted quite a while, we didn't leave until just past 10pm (or possibly even later) with the hoards of people from the stadium. Tell you what though, it was a relief to hit the bed after all the walking and the early start…as we were facing yet another one the next day…to Napa Valley…! 

1701 Stockton Street
San Francisco
CA 94133

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