Despite that, I always feel a sense of euphoria when I stumble upon second hand bookshops overseas.
The musty smell of the shop, the yellowing pages and the cheap price of books give me more thrill than shopping for clothes unless the garments are second hand and cheap.
Here are a few of the hidden treasures I’ve found during my travels:
BOOK OFF, Japan
BOOK OFF is one of Japan’s second hand book store chain. I was introduced to it by my host family in Fukuoka. At the end of my summer school, I sent home a heavy box of Japanese manga.
Popular manga usually go for 200 yen for a book while older manga are 100 yen. Foreign language books are not cheap though.
When I visit Japan (which is not often), I always have my eyes peeled for a branch of BOOK OFF on the streets. (There’s even some BOOK OFFs in Paris, if you are ever there.) When I see a BOOK OFF, I can’t help popping in to see their collection.
During my last trip to Japan, I had a free day waiting for the evening to come so I could go to Gintama Land. I found a BOOK OFF on the second floor of a building and spent hours in the shop, thumbing through comics.
Books in BOOK OFF are always in pristine condition. They look even better than most of the books on my shelf back home.
The Japanese usually read books stores while standing (it even has its own phrase “tachiyomi“). On weekends, it’s quite a sight to see everyone standing, reading while facing the bookshelves.
Bouquinerie du Centre, Nantes
I was looking for a place to have lunch in the center of Nantes when I came across a second hand bookstore “Bouquinerie du Centre”.
The selection wasn’t a lot but it had titles which weren’t easily available in Singapore.
Trying to look smart, I picked up a few Simone de Beauvoir’s books which looked easy enough to be read. Le deuxième sexe wasn’t available, unfortunately.
But I must confess that the books are still in the suitcase since my move to my new rented room in August 2011.
Adobe Bookshop, San Francisco
While in the Mission District looking for lunch (again!), I found Adobe Bookshop. The shop was in a state of orderly mess with stacks of books arranged alphabetically according to author and genre.
I browsed the rows and rows of books, squeezing through bookshelves and found a man snoozing in one of the armchairs.
While I was looking for something to buy back home, a man came into the shop. He said he accidentally bought the same book and asked if he could exchange it for another. The shopowner agreed.
The old gentleman came to my aisle and was looking up and down for the author’s row. When he asked me if I knew where the author’s book was, I helped him in his search. We found it.
He then asked if I had my lunch as he was going to grab a bite. Although he didn’t feel threatening, I pretended that I just ate because I don’t think I should go around having lunch with strangers I’ve just met, even if it was in a book store.
While browsing, I overheard the shopowner telling a customer that the shop will be closing down as the landlord wanted to increase the price of the rent. I looked at the price of the books and wondered how the shop manage to stay open in the first place.
When I paid for my books, the shopowner asked if I was from overseas. I answered, “Singapore”. He then said that he was collecting foreign currency and if I had any money from Singapore to exchange with one of the foreign money in the plate.
I did have a S$2 note and I chose a pre-Euro coin from France. I said my thanks and left with my books.
I think the shop would have closed down by now. I feel sad.
This post was inspired by this week’s #Travel Talk on Twitter (#TTOT): Hidden treasures.
Have you stumbled upon hidden treasures when travelling? What was it?
Before I went to the US, I thought travelling there would be really expensive. But I realized that budget travel in San Francisco is possible after spending 8 nights in The City as a side trip of a business event.
While I’m not The Frugal Traveler, for the trip, my goal was to spend less than US$100 a day, including accommodation. I think I might have exceeded that budget because I bought tickets for some once-in-a-lifetime activities, shows and tours which easily costs about US$30 each.
In any case, I’m a frugal person to begin with so the trip was probably a budget travel success. Probably.
A short summary of the hostel reviews:
-Fisherman’s Wharf Hostel wins at free breakfast and nice view
-Pacific Tradewinds wins at having a fantastic location (and a cosy group, if you are a sociable person, which I am not).
Save on transportation and museums with CityPass
The CityPass (US$69) was a good investment since I was in the city for 8 full days. It includes 7-days of transportation on MUNI buses and trams and the cable car, but not on BART, as well as 9-days admission to five different museums.
I did a spreadsheet before I headed off, taking away things like the aquarium and the one-hour cruise in the bay, but I realized that I would save money getting the pass.
Sure, it was quite expensive. But it includes cable car rides which are US$6 one way–unfortunately, taken only by tourists. Just by taking the cable car 12 times, I would get my money back, not that I actually did it.
Turns out, the aquarium was actually very lovely. The other museums were even better. Sadly, I missed out on the California Academy of Science because there was other more exciting stuff for me.
There’s also an option for an Alcatraz Island tour with CityPass but you’ll need to personally head down to Pier 33 to get the booklet.
Save on food with Yelp
I love food too much to eat only cheap fast food while in San Francisco. Luckily, I have Yelp on my iPhone to guide me to good locations.
I usually narrow down my food choices to eateries with only one dollar sign (cheap!). I also use the checkin coupons to save on drinks. Since I do not have 3G on my phone, I would redeem the coupon first then show the folks at the restaurant my coupon later.
I’ve managed to save 50% on my latte at M Cafe, grab a free coffee at Sushi Taka and 15 percent off some stuff at a shop-which-will-not-be-named.
Save on sunscreen with Walmart
Surprisingly, sunscreen is a lot cheaper in the US than in Singapore or Malaysia.
Walmart was selling its homebranded baby sunscreen at 2 for US$5. It took all my willpower to only take four in my basket. I wanted to take 10.
The sunscreen worked very well. I didn’t get sunburnt on my cycling trip to Sausolito. (OK, maybe wrapping myself in an oversized cardigan, a scarf around my neck and tights helped.)
Save on clothes with thrift shops
K introduced me to thirft stores in San Francisco. I was in luck that day because I immediately found an oversized cardigan at the first store we stopped at. It was only $5 after I rounded to price up for donation.
Since I wore my clothes immediately, I felt very conscious of other people smelling the thrift store smell on me. (But it’s probably all in my head.)
I also bought two dresses from Thrift Town and a vintage belt from this other place.
Favorite store: Thrift Town
2101 Mission St
(between 17th St & Clarion Aly)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Save on books with second hand bookstores
Similar to thrift shops, I love the second hand bookstore I found in San Francisco.
I picked up two books. One was the Spanish version of Bridget Jones’ Diary which is pretty much priceless in Singapore because it cannot be found.
There was also a 30 percent discount at Adobe Bookstore because it was closing down. It was rather sad that the building owner was raising the rent too high for the bookstore owner.
3166 16th St
(at Albion St)
San Francisco, CA 94103
Save on once-in-a-lifetime experiences by reading local papers
I picked up a free SF Weekly as reading material from one of the newspaper-dispensing things. I flipped through the events listing while having breakfast and almost had a heart attack when I saw that Dita von Teese’s Strip Strip Hooray show was in town for a two-night performance.
The last time Dita was in Singapore, it was a local star-studded event! And I believe tickets weren’t even for sale. So this show was a not-to-be missed for me.
For SF, the standing-room ticket was only US$35. When I tried buying online, tickets were sold out. I decided to try my luck at the box office and tickets were still available.
While I had to stand for a full three hours and look past other people’s head to peep at the stage, the atmosphere was amazing. People cheered and I cheered myself almost hoarse. The host was funny, the audience who were asked to go on stage for a dance competition were really sporting too.
And I got to breathe the same air as Dita von Teese! OK, that might be a bit stalkerish, but it’s DITA (Warning: That video is more Fatal Frame rather than sexy.)
I spent seven nights there and loved the location. It’s between Chinatown and the Financial District. Plus, Union Square and Market Street is within walking distance. For the facilities and location, the less-than-US$30 rate is darn cheap.
The area’s also safe for a solo woman traveller since I didn’t see many shady characters hanging around at night.
I was given the Haigh Ashbury bed in one of the two rooms on the fourth floor. There are six beds in each room. I believe the third floor has extra rooms (and showers) as well.
The room is not tiny as there’s still space for everyone of us in the room to open our luggage. There’s also storage underneath the bed. Remember to bring your lock.
My bed was comfortable. The room is nice and toasty at night if we keep the windows shut. Sheets were clean. Two mirrors in the room, in case you are a mirror person.
There were two power outlets which were shared among six girls who probably each have 2 devices. Other power source is available in the hangout area.
If you are a people person who LOVEa making new friends, this is the perfect place for you. You’ll make lots of friends with the guests and staff in the kitchen/hangout area.
Unfortunately for me, I’m not that much of a people person so I kept to myself most of the time. (The hostel actually inspired my ealier post on ISFPs and hostels.)
The fourth floor is the hangout area. Unfortunately, the hangout area is the thing between me and the bathroom. So most of the time, I have to not-so-discreetly walk to the bathroom while everyone’s chatting about. (Psst, the shower next to the toilet has hotter water than the other one.)
If you are a light sleeper, the hostel has lights out at 12 midnight (hurray!) and most people leave the hangout area for some place else. Just in case, bring earplugs for snory roomies. I got mine from Daiso which has a branch right on Market Street.
Overall, the Pacific Tradewinds Hostel is a great place to stay. Do remember to make advanced bookings because they had to turn down a lot of people while I was there.
Pacific Tradewinds Hostel
Pro: Great location, cheap (<US$30), safe area, near good food
Cons: More power points please.
During my San Francisco trip, I had the chance to stay at two different hostel. Well, “chance” doesn’t really describe my situation. I had to book separate places because I misinterpreted my work schedule.
This is the Fort Mason branch of Hostelling International’s three hostels in the city. I didn’t pick the other two because they seem to be in shady locations. For a solo woman traveler, safety is always a priority.
I got off one bus stop too early and had to drag my luggage up an extra slope. (I should have stopped at Van Ness instead of Polk.)
After I reached the Fort Mason entrance, there was another slope to conquer. The slope’s not too bad and there’s a beautiful community garden along the way to distract me.
The hostel front desk is on top of the hill. There’s plenty of parking space around.
I lived in this building. The stairs leads to the breakfast room.
The front desk person is curt but I don’t expect hostel staff to fawn over me so it was the right amount of civility. She used a marker to write that day’s date on my receipt for use as an entrance pass and my breakfast slip.
I was lucky enough to get one of the smaller dorm rooms. There was only six beds instead of some other’s 10 to 12. There’s a radiator in the room for those cold San Franciscan nights.
I had the lower bunk which is good because there’s no ladder to climb up the upper bunk. You’ll have to step on the rungs (which were quite high). Under the bed is a luggage space which I locked with my padlock. I couldn’t find a power point in the room.
Room access is with an electronic card. My Room 13 was right outside the bathroom so it was convenient for showers. The bathroom was bright with three showers with three toilets.
There’s a theater and a large kitchen. I did a bit of blogging in the kitchen since there was Internet connection there.
Hostel with a view
The view from the hostel itself is not too fantastic as it’s covered up by trees. But if you stand at the edge of the hill, you’ll get a great faraway look of the Golden Gate Bridge (if the weather is gracious with low fog).
In the mornings, cyclists will ride past the hostel since it’s along the way to the bridge.
Breakfast was great. I had a bagel with peanut butter, a fruit (which I forgot to take away), unlimited coffee and juice. The breakfast lasted me from 11am to 3pm.
One thing cool about Fort Mason on Friday is Off the Grid. At least there was one the Friday I was there.
The event brings the street cards and food trucks around the city in a central location. Head banging music and crowd expected. I had the chance to try out the Creme Brulee Cart there.
Fisherman’s Wharf Hostel
Pro: Good view, great breakfast, space, cheap (US$29.99), safe area
Cons: Far from most sights, a bit of a trek from nearest bus stop, slopes, no power point in room
During my week vacation in San Francisco, I relied a lot on Yelp and its local reviewers for advice on what to eat. The app was also very useful to narrow down eateries that were still open at the time I want to visit. A lot of the stores seem to operate at a very specific time range.
Yelp, with its HQ in San Francisco, is also promoted a lot by the restaurant themselves. A lot of the shops proudly display Yelp stickers or have Yelp-related promotions, such as the half price-coffee I got at M Cafe. I am not sure how both parties benefit but it sure benefits me as a consumer.
Thanks to Yelp and one or two IRL (in real life) local recommendations, I had some very amazing meals while in SF.
Sammich, panini, torta, burger
Torta from La Grande Torta in Mission district
I made one friend at the hostel! (Good job YQ!) K brought me to thirft stores and to eat real Mexican food.
My torta was stuffed with all sorts of meat. I washed it down with hot chocolate spiced with cinnamon. Mmmm…
The Godfather Panini from M Cafe
Found the shop through Yelp. The sandwich was dripping sauce when I ate it. Good but not absolutely fantastic. I love the warm toasted bread. (Psst, Wi-Fi password there is godfather.)
Sandwich from Freddie’s Sandwich at Pine Street
Daily special at the highly rated Freddie’s Sandwich. It was so big I packed half of it in a container for dinner. Yummy!
Philly Cheese Steak from Buster’s
I was looking for real steak but ended up with a sandwich. (Stupid non-local me.) Surprisingly nice with melted cheese and bits of beef.
Hamburger from In-N-Out Burger
Do burgers count as sandwiches? In my book, bread with meat in between equals a sandwich, so here it is. Jesse from Discovery Walks recommended the place as the best burger place.
Instead of cheeseburger, I went with hamburger because I am clueless about which burger to choose. It was alright. The fries felt a bit flat.
Hotdog from Zog’s Dog
Accidentally stumbled upon the stand while waiting for a walking tour to start. My first American hotdog! The meat was hot from the pan and my mustard flavored the plain bun very well.
From the crème brûlée cart. Stalk them at @cremebruleecart
The cart and its goodies were something I’ve heard about even before the work trip was known. It’s quite fun to know that a food cart would announce its location on twitter for its fan to look for it.
I had the dessert when Off the Grid was happening at Fort Mason. Off the Grid gathers about 10 food carts/trucks in one location with head banging music and not much moving space.
I also picked up a nutella and strawberry creme brulee when I saw the card downtown. Sweet!
Not my best meal in SF .I just arrived in San Francisco from San Jose and I was really hungry for food so I picked the cheap set.
Straberries were humongous. I ate all, except four, in one sitting. It washed away the bad sushi taste.
Pizza from The Golden Boy
Another Discovery Walks guide recommendatiom: a Sicilian pizza joint.
I picked the one with clam garlic topping. It tastes of salty seafood but the crunchy crust tempers the saltiness. I got one to go and sat on the grass at Washington Square while the locals lounge about soaking up the sun. (I was in the shade.) It was a very satisfying meal.
Clam chowder in sourdough bowl from Bordin at Pier 39
I had a coupon for a free drink at Pier 39’s Bordin so I got myself a clam chowder in sourdough bowl.
After a taste of the bread, I am now in love with sourdough. But the soup was already cold by the time I got it so it wasn’t fantastic.
Pho from Golden Star Vietnamese Restaurant
My very first Yelp-referenced meal, also my first sit-down meals in SF.
I was hungry for something soupy and checked for good and cheap food places around the hostel. Turns out the restaurant is around some corners so I grabbed my jacket and went in search of the place.
I was served a medium pot of tea. It wasn’t really good tea but I drank probably the three-quarters of the pot because I am that thirsty.
The dish itself wasn’t salted enough. But it was satisfying because of the hot soup and the large chunks of meat. Mmmm….
Breakfast at M’oz Cafe near Union Square
I was heading to the SF MOMA on Bay to Breakers day so I looked up breakfast places around the area.
The hash brown is flaky and tastes 10 times better than the piece of potato McDonald’s gives me when I order its breakfast set.
Royal prince burrito at Sushi Taka on Kearny-Sacramento Street
A sushi place just around the corner of my hostel. I found it funny that its opening hours was from 8am to 2.30pm on weekdays. It feels like they don’t need to earn money.
I was planning to go with “I left my heart in San Francisco” as my blog title so it would mirror my San Jose entry’s song title as blog title. In the end, I decided to skip the cheesiness since it’s too predictable to use that.
Anyway, I’ve fallen in love with San Francisco. Although it’s blasphemous to say this, but, yes, I’ve fallen in love with the City more than I did Paris.
Before the trip, all I ever heard from people was how much they loved San Francisco. Not a bad word was said.
It was annoying and also scary. How is it possible for everyone to like a place so much?
So I decided I would buck the trend and not like SF. I came to the place expecting to dislike the weather, the buildings, the smell of the subway (Paris’s Metro smells like piss), the touristy Golden Gate Bridge. Basically, I was being a psycho.
But in the end, I didn’t. I fell in love instead.
At first glance, the City feels like any other city. The buildings are not as nice as Europe where the old buildings are amazingly gorgeous.
But San Francisco grew on me.
At every other corner, there’s something beautiful. Mostly the sea, sometimes bushes of flowers (lavender grow aplenty here), murals, the sky, metrosexual men and cute babies.
The museums and exhibits are great too. I never thought I would like the Aquarium but the beautiful jellyfish made me stop and stare.
Yelp is heavily promoted by businesses and that’s what I used to help me find good food. I had lots of great food–not the stuff I see on American shows but good stuff.
The place is also walking friendly (if you don’t think about the hills). I got lost about once everyday but with each turn, I would get closer to my destination so it was alright.
Checking the To-Do list
I went back to my pre-US blog post and found the list of To-Do’s. Here’s a check to see how many I’ve conquered.
–eat burgers at McDonald’s
+I ate In N’ Out burgers, also had breakfast at McD’s. That counts, right?
–eat hotdogs from hot dog stands
+I had a Zog’s Dog.
–run for cover while super aliens destroy the city
+Hmm… Planet of Apes didn’t happen.
–drink soda (what flavor is it?)
+Had a watermelon-flavored soda.
–buy Old Spice
+As I tweeted: bought @OldSpice shower gel to bring back to Singapore. Need to find a man to make him smell like “the man your man could smell like”
–watch Mad Men on TV
+My hotel didn’t have AMC. :(
–watch Game of Thrones on TV
+I only caught bits of it at the hotel. The hostel is TV-less.
I picked up a pamphlet for Discovery Walks SF when I was at the airport. Since I had no plans for the day I checked in, I decided to join the Fisherman’s Wharf tour since my hostel was just nearby.
I don’t think I’ve ever joined a walking tour before. Hmmm… I did try to join one in Paris but I was too stingy to pay the tips so I didn’t.
I’m glad I did for this tour. I didn’t have breakfast so I grabbed a small bite (croissant and coffee at Ghirardelli, a combo offer) before heading to the meeting point.
I looked around to find someone wearing orange. I saw a girl in an orange T-shirt and a dark jacket taking pictures. She then walked away so I had to look some more.
Then I saw a guy with a lump of orange next to him. The lump of bright orange turned out to be a vest and he zipped it on.
Putting on my not-shy, cheerful face, I went to ask if he was from the tour and he was. Jesse, the bearded tour guide.
No one else went up to him so we started the tour with only one participant (me!). It was great because I didn’t have to share tour guides with other people.
The tour was great. The sun bright and warm while the wind chilly.
Jesse was a very engaging guide too, always accommodating even when I ask questions like: “What do they call Irish coffee in Ireland?” “What is the size of San Francisco when compared to London?”
The greatest tip I got from him was that Bay to Breakers was happening this Sunday. (I had the impression that it was a weekly event but turns out it’s only an annual thing.)
He said the event is one of the two in SFO where “everybody” would have the same amount of fun. Other events, take Gay Pride parade for example, makes people happy but the most happy would be the GLBT folks. The other everybody happy event is Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.
While I’ve read a lot of guidebooks about San Francisco. Jesse shared other tips that I haven’t come across. These include
Don’t stir your Irish coffee.
The company which made glasses for Irish coffee went bankrupt and one of the coffeeshops bought ALL the leftover stock and is not letting them go.
Don’t drink the Irish coffee if it’s in a mug. Tastes not as good.
In N Out serves the best burger in the US and its special menu doesn’t sound too appealing to me.
Berkely will make a really nice day trip (though I’m still more into Sonoma.)
Tram is better than cable car as it passes cooler neighborhood.
Locals don’t visit Fisherman’s Wharf’s Pier 39 as much as tourists do.
Interestingly, I’m liking the US more than I thought I would. Blame it on the TV and the dark side of the Internet for making me think that the country’s weird.