Posts Tagged With: San Francisco

Welcome to The Rock

As I type this, I am sitting at a pavement café in the sunshine, sipping a pinot grigio and watching the world go by.  It’s a bit different from last night’s activity, when we took a trip across to Alcatraz Island.

We started the day on our feet and thankfully (miraculously) found some flat streets to explore.  Our search for breakfast got a little sidetracked and we ended up eating about three hours after setting out.  This is no doubt a testament to the multitude of things to do and see in this city.  Our aimless pootling took up most of the afternoon and I couldn’t really tell you what we actually did, but it was a lovely day.  The main event, however, was still to come.

Alcatraz has a long and varied history but it’s most famous for being a notorious prison.  We had a fascinating tour and many and varied talks about the island and its inmates.  At the end, as darkness fell, we were treated to “the sound of the slammer” as all the jail doors were automatically closed at once. We were asked to think about how that sound made us feel, and a lot of the other visitors expressed some horror and discomfort, but I was fine.  Clearly my conscience is a lot clearer than other people’s! The place did take on a much more sinister air when we were allowed to venture upstairs to the hospital area that’s normally out of bounds, and also when we found ourselves traipsing back downhill in the dark. Put it this way, I don’t think they have to worry about people missing the ferry home!

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If you’re going to San Francisco…

…. Then you might want to know it’s a tad hilly.  Built on 43 hills, in fact.  Which doesn’t really mean much until you’re walking or, even worse, cycling up (or down) one of them, and facing a row of five more equally steep ones ahead.

We are big fans of walking around cities because it’s good for you, it’s usually quicker (and obviously a lot cheaper) than using public transport, and you get to see a lot more of the world around you than you would from behind glass in a small metal box.  And San Francisco bills itself as a pedestrian-friendly city.  However, even we have limits. In this case, we’d still like the full use of our limbs by the end of the trip.

So we started our first morning in the city by hopping on one of the historic streetcars, and boy were we glad we did.  We only wanted to travel about one mile but with the vastly steep gradient it seemed to be about the same vertical distance as it was horizontal. It’s possible to ride on the outside of a streetcar while just hanging onto a not-very-sturdy-looking pole, but you do have to listen very closely to the conductor chappy who will shout commands at you to ensure you don’t make an unscheduled and ungainly dismount as the streetcar hurtles around a sharp bend or otherwise lose any of your extremities when it squeezes between two parked vehicles.  Several times I looked up to see a large coach about two inches from my face.  The most impressive thing about the streetcar, however, or the scariest, is that as you are hurtling down a 40% gradient you realize that the only thing actually slowing you down and stopping you from crashing is essentially a man holding onto a large stick jammed into the driving mechanism.  So you’re essentially riding in a giant go cart on some of the steepest roads in the country.

Not content with just one adrenaline-fueled ride for the day, we then decided to rent bikes and see the city on two wheels.  Now I can speed along quite happily on a spin bike that’s fixed down, I’m not quite so proficient on a real bike.  So I’m pleased to say that I managed to ride right through the city centre quite happily and without incident.  I even managed to navigate at the same time as the husband had temporarily (I hope) completely lost his sense of direction.  We covered a substantial chunk of the city’s various neighborhoods before venturing across the Golden Gate Bridge.  It is every bit as spectacular as you’d expect, and every bit as busy.  There are plenty of places to get great views of it, and, most importantly, there was no sign of a rampaging Godzilla.

Once on the other side of the bridge, we cycled into Sausalito which is utterly charming and reminiscent of an Italian coastal village (not that I have been to Italy, but that’s what it looks like on telly). It’s also incredibly posh and expensive and apparently the home of George Lucas.  After a small potter about, we treated ourselves to a rather nice free ice cream then got the ferry back across the bay for food, drink and a rather well earned rest.

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A Room of One’s Own

We arrived in San Francisco in the dead of night and managed to locate our hotel. It’s much like the one I remember staying in when we went to New York almost a decade ago when we had less money and lower standards i.e. somewhat basic and compact but right in the heart of the city.  The thing is, when I say “compact”, I realize that my frame of reference has become vastly americanised over the past two years, because this room is about the size of the average British bedroom and the bed is about the size of the average British bed too.  After two years of oversized everything, it’s a shock to see something “normal” again.

The bathroom is a feat of minimalist design, I have to say.  It’s perfect if you are the kind of person who likes to take a shower while sitting on the toilet, talking to someone sitting on the bed and also keeping an eye on the front door at the same time.

But, as I say, it’s right in the heart of the city, just off Union Square, which you can’t beat really.  The husband did notice a few ladies, ahem, “working” outside last night (actually, it was perhaps more concerning that he recognized them so easily – should I be having words with him?).  We are about to head out now into the morning to see what this city has to offer us in the daylight hours.

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