Stage One – San Francisco
After travelling for a very, very long time we spent only one full day and two nights in San Francisco. It was a welcome chance to get our bearings, to refresh and refuel. To say to ourselves; “Here is where it starts.”
It was raining when we got to The City by the Bay, and after settling in S and I travelled by local bus into the heart of the city. The bus ride was an adventure in and of itself. Two guys at the back of the bus got into a rather heated argument about whether the air vent on the roof of the bus should be open or closed – S and I found this quite amusing at first, a welcome diversion from the monotony of bus travel. Until the argument got much louder and more heated. And at some point it dawned on me that we weren’t in Scotland any more. That we were in America. Where everyone can carry a gun just about anywhere they want to. After that, I was less amused and more terrified. Eventually they settled down. And, a few stops later (after one of the guys had already left the bus) the bus driver finally asked, “What’s going on back there?” leading me to believe that he was quite aware of the threat of danger himself.
It was a strange sort of paradigm shift, let me tell you.
Exploring the city in the rain wasn’t much fun although we did our best. We first tackled some necessities (getting a USA phone number, for instance) and then got down to the business of Adventure.
We rode the Cable Cars. Obviously. They were as I remembered them. Charming. A much-needed reminder of bygone times when nobody really needed to be anywhere in all that much of a hurry. I loved them.
At Fisherman’s Wharf we were both over- and underwhelmed. There was a lot of neon, I’ll grant you that. And perhaps on a nicer day, or later in the day it would have been something to see. But we didn’t bother staying long.
We did visit the Musée Mécanique, which was equal parts fascinating and frightening. Again, I like harking back to an earlier age, but papier-mâché fortune tellers have always scared me.
This guy is super creepy. As are his good buddies, the wooden dancing men:
I’m sorry, but that’s just FREAKY! Although, considering we did spend about an hour there wandering about and paying the odd nickel to watch some of the fascinating machines actually working, it was well worth the visit.
Knowing, as you do, my adoration for all things Amusement Park, consider the following:
This one is made entirely out of toothpicks!!! How awesome is that??
After we had spent all of our dimes and nickels we wandered away down the Embarcadero towards the Ferry Building. We stopped in for something to eat at Johnny Rockets. Because S had never been to one. And because they sell milkshakes. And play excellent music. And you have a mini-jukebox at your table.
See? There IS reason behind my madness, even if I am the only one who sees it!! 🙂
We saw many iconic images during our walk including Alcatraz (as seen in yesterday’s post), the Fog City Diner (of cookbook fame) and, of course, The Ferry Building itself.
When we returned to The Ferry Building the next morning the view had changed somewhat. See if you can spot it…
Yes, folks, that’s right. The sun was shining. Glorious, warm, American sunshine. Nothing beats it, trust me. The Scottish sun, even at its highest and hottest, just can’t hold a candle (and yes, I am aware there is only one sun…).
We met up with a dear friend of mine, Jeremy, whom I hadn’t seen in years. He took us for coffee at Blue Bottle Coffee in the Ferry Marketplace which was, quite possibly, the best coffee I’ve ever had (And I’ve been to Italy. And the Italians know their coffee!). Oh, my! Can they ever brew a good cup of coffee. If you haven’t been and get the chance to go – do it. RIGHT NOW. that’s an order!!
After that we went for a short walk in the sunshine (see above) and then stopped for something to eat at The Plant Organic Cafe. Where the food, company and conversation were all extremely satisfying.
When we parted with Jeremy (with promises to meet up later that night) we headed straight to the Alcatraz Ferry. Even though our scheduled ferry didn’t leave until much later, the folks at the ticket office were very kind and let us take an earlier crossing (freeing up our afternoon for more frivolity).
What can I say about Alcatraz that you don’t know or can’t guess? It is over-commercialised, yes, but even so it is an eerily silent place with whispering ghosts in every shadowy corner.
OK, so I may be employing a bit of poetic license there, but the fact is there’s a chill in the air on the cell blocks. Anyone with a modicum of imagination can picture what the place was like when it was actively being used as a prison and wish themselves elsewhere.
We learned a lot – the audio tour is very useful. We saw the scarce windows (above) and the solitary confinement cells just opposite. We saw the mess hall and the warden’s office. We saw the depressing visitor’s area. We looked through the plexiglass into the ventilation shaft where the only people to escape Alcatraz snaked their way to the roof.
We walked in the rec-yard where you have an exceptional view of the bay and of the city. A perfect means of punishment for some of the prisoners who were sentenced to be on The Rock for life.
Of course, the prison closed in 1963 and now it’s a tourist trap. But, like I said, if you can imagine them, the inmates are still there, whispering to each other through the closed bars…
Anyway, I digress.
After we got back to the mainland we walked towards Fisherman’s Wharf. At some point it struck us that it might be a fine idea to rent bicycles and ride over the Golden Gate Bridge. No, I’m not joking. That was our actual thought process. Wouldn’t it be fun to ride bikes across the bridge? Well, yes, it would.
So we rented bikes.
And we rode.
And then we rode some more. And then, when we eventually arrived at the base of the gigantic, monstrous, insurmountable (teeny, tiny) hill leading to the roadway across the bridge – we realised we didn’t have time to cross it and get the bikes back in time. So we took a few pictures and rode back.
I may be exaggerating a little, but I swear to you it felt like we rode for about 100 miles. All uphill.
The end result was worth it, though. I mean, look at these pictures:
So then we rode back to the city and dropped the bikes off. And walked around a while, and rode more cable cars. It was, of course, necessary for us to visit Lombard Street:
Having wrung all the fun we could out of one day in San Francisco, we returned to the hotel to freshen up a bit, then headed back to the airport to pick up our rental car.
This was not a simple task. This car would be our mobile home for the next 20 days! Somehow we snaffled an upgrade, and I sure am glad we did. Look how pretty he was:
We then drove back to the city and met up with Jeremy and some other friends for a much-deserved and much-enjoyed night on the town. There were drinks and merriment and laughter. The perfect end to an excellent start to our vacation.
San Francisco was beautiful and warm and welcoming. We could have spent much more time there. Certainly one full day did not do it justice. However, our plane was leaving from New York City in a few short weeks and we had a lot of miles to cover.
So, we went to bed on the 18th of May full of excitement for the next morning when we would really and truly begin our Epic Road Trip Adventure and the next day we woke early and drove out of the city towards Sacramento.
With my longing for, and love of, the open road, with the sound of wheels on asphalt and the wind coming through the open window it’s not hard to understand how my mind barley lingered on the beautiful city we were leaving far too early. Somehow, though, I found time to regret our departure.
Perhaps this is why: