Published: July 19th 2012April 22nd 2012
Golden Gate Bridge
I really need to clean my camera lens.
I almost couldn't believe what Davies had just texted me.
"U guys get the bad news on istanbul departure? 7hr delay apparently, due to weather. i have a 3:30am departure now! WTF"
Penelope, Rebecca, Claire and I were just boarding a bus to Istanbul's Ataturk Airport and the weather was fine, so what the hell was going on?
Although hoping against hope that it was just some mistake, our worst fears were realised when we arrived at the airport.
Thunderstorms in Istanbul the night before had delayed several flights and they were still clearing the backlog. For some reason, our flight which was meant to take off at 2030, was now taking off at 0415 the next morning.
This now meant that I would be touching down at London Heathrow at 0630 UK time, giving me just enough time to rush back home, have a shower, re-pack, and then rush back to Heathrow to catch a 1130 flight to San Francisco. Any further delay, and I would not be catching that flight.
Meanwhile, we had to occupy ourselves for the next nine hours
in the airport.
After a couple of hours lounging at a brasserie and milking
A View To A Kill
The climax of the Bond film "A View To A Kill" took place on the Golden Gate Bridge. This view is certainly one to die for.
its Wi-Fi, we were then shooed away like hundreds of other passengers from the Turkish Airlines Airport Lounge. I've never quite understood the value of having airport lounge membership. I did now.
After finding out that a short stay at the airport hotel was going to cost us 100€ each we then settled on rows of airport benches near our gate. With my headphones in to block out the noise and my jacket over my eyes to block out the light, I surprisingly managed to get four hours of solid sleep, although having a mild case of food poisoning probably helped. Making use of an empty airport gate to lie down in and to charge my Blackberry, it was finally time to board what was the
crustiest plane ever. It must be the reserve plane from the 70s wheeled out by Turkish Airlines for emergencies such as this. It was certainly stained and well-used.
Having bade farewell to Claire, Davies, Penelope and Rebecca at the luggage carousel at Heathrow, I dashed off home to ready myself for a return to the airport in just under two hours time.
It was all quite comfortable in the end thanks to Heathrow
The main thoroughfare through Chinatown.
Express. At almost £40 for a return it is definitely a rip-off but it is literally the fastest way to get home (and back) - a one way journey of 45 minutes vs 90 minutes - and I would be expensing it anyway, so f*ck it.
The reason I was able to expense it was because I was being sent to San Francisco by my employers for a one-week management course. After working at my company for four years, I have finally managed to earn a promotion and a trip to the company's headquarters in California.
Jumping onto an 11-hour flight isn't ideal after what I had just been through but it was infinitely better than having to go straight into the office for work on a Monday morning. Essentially a day flight, I didn't really sleep too much on the plane despite my knackeredness.
I arrived at San Francisco International Airport around 1430 in the afternoon California time. With the company's offices being 30 minutes south of the airport in Redwood City, I didn't really see much point in going into the office for just a couple of hours so instead I stored my luggage at the airport
Palace Of Fine Arts
The prettiest structure in San Francisco?
(for US$24 - farking rip-off) and headed 30 minutes north by BART (rail) to San Francisco, to have a look around.
With a reputation as being one of the US's cooler and more liberal cities, I was quite excited about coming here.
Getting off at Powell station in the middle of town, I got out my list of tourist things to do. First up - cable car ride. Lo and behold, right in front of the station is the start of a cable car route and a queue to board what is an institution in San Francisco.
Just as well I got on the cable car as well because the streets of San Francisco are famously steep - there are even signs on the pavement instructing drivers to park their cars at a ninety degree angle so that they don't roll down the hill. There is no way I could drive my old 1984 Mazda 323 around here.
More of a tourist gimmick than an effective form of transport, I was still glad to take the cable car ride. It's a pretty cool experience with people hopping on and off in the middle of intersections and hanging out the
Flanked with loads of shops, restaurants and other attractions, the place felt like a carnival.
side of the cars. First quintessential San Francisco experience - done.
The cable car dropped me a few blocks from my next destination, Fisherman's Wharf. As the name suggests, the area was where the fisherman did, and still do, their thing. It is a bit of a tourist trap these days with lots of shops, restaurants and other attractions based in the area. The first thing I come across is a shitload of seafood restaurants selling fried crab and the famous clam chowder served in a sourdough bowl.
I walk west to Ghirardelli Square which is to be completely honest isn't the most amazing thing you've ever seen. It's red-brick exterior is home to a shop and restaurant complex and is all rather pleasant.
Having ticked off three things off my list in an hour, my next stop was Pier 39.
The long wooden pier has been built up over the years and is home to loads of restaurants and shops, a carousel, and the aquarium. The place felt like a fair or a carnival.
I had to get back to Powell in order to BART
myself back to the airport but I decided to walk it to
Having to negotiate eight sharp turns, the speed limit on this road is 5mph.
get a feel for the city and to tick off a few more of the things on my list.
Firstly, there was Lombard Street, the most "crookedest" street in the world that consists of eight sharp turns to negate the effect of the 27 degree incline that is too steep for most vehicles. Hedges and well-kept gardens make the street rather attractive along with the red bricks of the road itself.
Secondly, I took a walk through Chinatown, one of the biggest Chinatowns I've ever walked through. Apparently it is the single largest Chinese community outside of Asia. I walked down Grant Street, the main thoroughfare of Chinatown. Full of traditional Chinese architecture, murals, shops, restaurants and decorations, it definitely felt authentic. I'd like to see how it compares to actual towns in China - one day I will be able to tell you. Unsurprisingly there are a lot of Asian people in San Francisco, so many that I feel I have to mention it. A lot like Auckland and Vancouver.
Lastly, I took a walk through the financial district which isn't too exciting - just lots of really tall, glass office buildings although the Transamerica Pyramid is rather unique.
Iconic building in San Francisco's financial district.
Just before I get to Powell, I pass by the landmark Union Square, the heart of the city, and all the shops that surround it.
So I had basically ticked everything off in the space of three hours. Win.
It was then back to the airport where I was eventually picked up by the hotel shuttle and driven to the Sofitel in Redwood City, literally across the lagoon from my office. Yeah not across the street, across the frickin' laggon. Having slept in Istanbul's Ataturk Airport the previous night and with the time now being 4.30am in London, and 6.30am in Istanbul, I was now f*cking exhausted.
I won't bore you with the details of what was essentially a working week, and nor do I particularly want to write about it (believe it or not), but I will say that one of the advantages of travelling on business is the fact I don't need to worry about spending money. I ate and drank very well all week and I didn't spend a penny. The other cool thing about travelling on business is wearing a suit and walking around as if you're important.
I also travelled around the Bay Area
San Francisco Apartments
I really like the residential buildings and architecture in San Francisco. The terraced houses and more specifically, the bay windows. The older buildings are predominantly built with wood and I find them relatively unique in style.
a bit during the week taking in Palo Alto and San Mateo in the evenings. Palo Alto is nice, particularly the fairy-lighted University Avenue, which is alive with the students of nearby Stanford University eating in its restaurants and drinking in its bars. One notable thing about the Bay Area is how spread out it all is. A whole lot of small-ish towns and cities within fairly close proximity. You really need a car to get around easily though. I had to taxi everywhere with workmates which can get pretty expensive, pretty quickly.
Anyway, Friday came around and I was to stay in San Francisco for the weekend. Sunday flights back to London from here are so much cheaper than Friday ones that the company is actually paying for my hotel for the weekend! Perks FTW.
After hitching a ride into town with a couple of my colleagues, I rocked up at Hotel Union Square which was located near er, Union Square. A pretty good location - although to be fair, San Francisco is relatively compact so you're never too far away from anywhere - and quite a nice hotel too. I then went down to lobby to meet
Opened in 1898.
three more of my colleagues - Lee and Marion, who were staying in the same hotel, and Ricky, a colleague from Singapore flying back out that night.
Looking for somewhere to eat, we walked from Powell towards the ferry building.
I had noticed it when I first got out at Powell at the start of the week, but we all noticed it again as we walked along Market Street - the sheer number of homeless people. I'm not sure why there are so many - I guess the climate here is fairly mild, but they were literally everywhere. Does the high social tolerance here extend to homeless people? As I was buying my BART card at the start of the week, a guy came up to me and asked me where I was going. I told him the airport, which costs $8, and he then offered me a BART which he said had $10 on it, for the $8 I was about to pay into the machine. I don't know why I trusted him but I paid him for the card which did in fact have $10 on it. But wow, all for a $2 profit - he must be
Bridge linking San Francisco to Oakland, looking pretty at night.
On the water side of the ferry building were a few restaurants that looked quite nice, but some of them were more like lunch places and were closing up and the others were pretty expensive - even if you're expensing your subsistence, you don't want to take the piss. We eventually walked around the corner to Pier 2 and found restaurant called Sinbad's.
The waiter in there was a Chinese man who you could describe as a bit of salesman, and a bit of a showman while being rather irritable at the same time. You could say he was a bit crazy.
The restaurant had a rather romantic setting, lit only by candlelight - to the point where you almost couldn't see what you were eating - and with a view of the lit-up Bay Bridge. I started with a clam chowder which was good, and had the seafood combo which was OK.
After Ricky took off back to Singapore, we decided to go out for a drink or two but couldn't really find any decent looking bars. There was a queue of posers outside a snotty looking nightclub, but no bars just to have a quiet one.
The heart of San Francisco where concerts, protests, and ceremonial and non-ceremonial gatherings take place.
We eventually went into what looked like an Irish pub which turned out to be quite the place.
There was an old man on a keyboard who was belting out some rather cringeworthy renditions of current pop songs to the squeals of a crowd of geriatric women that surrounded him. All the bar staff where wearing black and white striped referee tops, as this was also a sports bar. Opposite the bar was a smorgasboard of food that you could order, set out like a canteen. It was like a corny, warped, Irish, old-boy alumnus, after-the-game, adult frat party compendium gone wrong. It was awful. We couldn't drink our drinks quickly enough. The last straw was when the old man started singing "Move Like Jagger". Imagine a Jerry Springer lookalike dressed in a red shirt and a black waistcoat trying to churn out "Move Like Jagger" with all the singing ability of Jerry Springer, and a crowd of drunken elderly sorority girls baying for his undies.
It was then that we accepted that we should probably call it a night.
The next day we stopped by a place that is apparently famous for its breakfasts - Sears. There was
Aquatic Park Beach
The only "downtown beach" in San Francisco.
even a short queue outside.
The inside was set out like your old 1950s, brass-decorated, tea room.
I ordered the famous Swedish pancakes - all 18 of them - with sausage, bacon and eggs on the side. There would be no need for lunch.
And just as well too. After saying goodbye to Lee and Marion who were flying back to London, I bought a pair of shoes that looked better with shorts than white Chuck Taylors, before grabbing a cab to Ghirardelli Square to pick up a bicycle.
The weather was absolutely sensational. It was almost a heat wave, weather that was pretty much unseasonal for April - 25 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. Weather that was perfect for a bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco's most famous landmark.
I hired my bike from Blazing Saddles, a huge rental store that specialised in "Biking The Bridge". At $50 for the day, it was expensive but the whole operation from signing up, getting a bike, getting a helmet, receiving bike instructions, receiving directions, getting a map, a bike lock, a bike pouch, and a bottle of water was very slick and very friendly.
View Of San Francisco
From the Golden Gate Bridge.
They had to be today because business was booming.
I began my ride by riding past a small, but picturesque beach where the California babes had their bikinis on show on this glorious day. I ride through Fort Mason Green which is absolutely going off. A mainly young crowd were sunbathing, drinking and throwing footballs and frisbees. The smell of BBQ wafted through the air and music was booming.
I then get onto Marina Boulevard and pass children playing "soccer" on the fields by the water, and then the marina. I cycle in a straight line for what seems like forever before coming across the Palace Of Fine Arts which is surprisingly striking. With its massive rotunda and a pergola of Corinthian columns, it looks like something you'd more likely find in Vienna
. The picture is completed by a lagoon with fountains spraying out of it. Arguably the prettiest sight in San Francisco.
I continue my ride around to Fort Point, which is almost right underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, before ascending onto the bridge itself.
Its pretty crowded up there. Pedestrians and bicycles are competing for the narrow footpath that runs alongside the road and progress is slow. Not
Cute, affluent town over the water from San Francisco.
that I'm complaining - the view from up there is stunning and you just couldn't have hoped for a better day to do this. The azure of the sky contrasts magnificently with the iconic red of the bridge as it overlooks the glistening ocean, and towards the green headlands and the city.
I eventually make it over to the other side where I pause at a lookout for some panoramic shots, before continuing on my way.
After a nice speedy decent down a winding highway road, I roll into Sausalito, a cute, pretty and well-heeled township over the water from San Francisco. I aim to take the ferry from here back to the ferry building in San Francisco but the next ferry isn't for another hour so I spend the time eating ice cream on some steps by the water.
The ferry takes about half an hour although getting off the boat takes a while as every single passenger and their dog seems to have parked their bike on-board and it takes a while to get off the boat. I get off eventually, and set off towards Golden Gate Park via Fisherman's Wharf to avoid the hills.
Man, those hills.
I'm usually able to handle most physical challenges so it was a bit embarrassing having to walk my bike up some of those hills, hills that about ten years ago I reckon I could've climbed. Not now, with my under-used thighs. It is an unpleasant reminder that I'm not getting any younger and that I need to make sure to make sure I keep up the use of my muscles.
I pass through Fort Mason and pass by the marina again before getting a bit lost trying to get into the wooded, ex-militarised, and now expensive-house-dotted area of The Presidio. I go back and forth a bit but eventually find access after cycling past the Palace Of Fine Arts again.
It is about 6pm and the bike shop closes at 8pm so I was running out of time to get to the Golden Gate Park. After the exhausting hills of The Presidio, I finally manage to get on a long road that takes me all the way to the park. It takes longer than I think, but I eventually make it.
Golden Gate Park is huge
. 20% bigger than Central Park
to be precise. As a result it feels a
In Golden Gate Park.
bit 'wilder' than Central Park with a lot more areas that are undeveloped and dense with shrubbery. There was no way I was going to see all of it but I end up managing to pass through the Music Concourse which is headed by a soundshell and flanked by a fine arts museum and the California Academy of Sciences in gleaming buildings. I cycle through some gardens and ride by the entrance to the Japanese Tea Gardens before managing to get glimpse of Stow Lake.
By then, I had half-an-hour to get the bike back to the shop and I was miles away
. Three of them to be exact, over the undulating landscape of San Francisco. The city is very cycle-friendly with bike lanes everywhere, but it's just those damn hills. And car traffic.
I summon all my remaining energy and put the pedal to the metal in my race to get back to the bike shop. There was something exciting about this challenge. Despite the effort I was putting into my cycling, I was still able to notice just how many other people were cycling, jogging, playing sports and getting out on their boats. The people here are really
The tourist part of town.
into their outdoor pursuits and with the space available, this is a great place to do it.
As I run the bike back up to the shop, the time is 8:02pm and the place is still open. Mission accomplished.
It was an awesome bike ride, really enjoyable and something that I reckon is probably more enjoyable to do solo - a great experience in perfect weather.
Where I was eating a $40 meal at restaurant the night before, I was now eating $6 fried shrimp with curly fries on a concrete ledge next to a homeless guy in Fisherman's Wharf. Unfortunately for him, I was too hungry to give him my leftovers.
With my thighs burning after about seven hours of cycling, the last thing I wanted to do was walk back to Union Square, but I couldn't seem to find a cab anywhere and every one that I tried to flag down wouldn't stop. Stopping at a bus stop, I couldn't work out when and where they were going. Public transport here isn't as straightforward as it is in London and I ended up taking a lot of cabs - one downside about this place.
So f*ck it,
Alcatraz from the incoming ferry.
I walked all the way home. Ah, damn hills...
Suffice to say, I didn't go out that night, despite the fact it was Saturday.
I had one more thing to tick off on my visit here - a visit to Alcatraz.
I was booked on a ferry about 4 hours and 15 minutes before my flight back to London. I would have booked one for the day before, but the tickets had sold out. I was cutting it about as fine as I could.
Cabbing my way to Pier 33 to save time the next morning, I picked up my tickets, got myself a coffee, and then queued to get on the boat. The sun had gone away and the wind was really cool.
As the ferry approached "The Rock" I was out the front of the boat taking snaps when a huge wave crashed against the boat and completely soaked me, much to the amusement of the other people on the boat. It wasn't just me that got soaked however - my camera also felt the full force of the water and was struggling to work. Although somewhat ironic, having your camera stop working just before you're about
Inside The Cellhouse
Rows of cells inside the main section of the cellhouse.
to visit an iconic tourist attraction is not ideal. Thankfully my camera was still able to take pictures provided I could leave it switched on the entire time.
Coming ashore, I raced up to the cellhouse to get to the front of the queue for the audio tour. I figured I had about an hour to do the 45-minute tour before catching the ferry back to San Francisco, and a cab back to the hotel for my 3pm shuttle to the airport.
By all accounts the audio tour was good and it did not disappoint. As well as telling you what you were looking at, it also told you the stories and significant events that occurred at each different part of the main cellhouse, often voiced by the former inmates themselves. You really got a good idea of what life was like in the prison and of some of the personalities that were incarcerated here over the years.
It was a shame I was rushing through the tour. With my mind preoccupied with catching my flight and getting my camera working, just like the prisoners on the island, I couldn't wait to get off it. Although I was satisfied that
Looking out for prisoners trying to escape the island.
I 'did' the island I would've liked another half hour to take in what I was seeing a bit better and getting more into the atmosphere and the story of the island.
Queuing to get onto the 1410 ferry I was a little worried I might not get onto it, worries that thankfully went unfounded. The boat arrived back at 1430 and I was in a cab by 1435, back at the hotel by 1445. No problemo.
And then the shuttle was 15 minutes late!
On the way to the airport I was sweating. And I was being dropped off last!
All's well that ends well though, another job well done.
Final thoughts on San Francisco?
The people here are definitely friendlier and more laid back. Their reputation for social tolerance and liberalism is well founded.
Strangers actually talk to each other here as well, which is refreshing. I find Americans are generally more willing to say something than the people in London. So if something is annoying everyone, someone here is more willing to say something whereas someone in London is more likely to put up with it so not to disturb the peace. In saying that,
It shouldn't be funny but it is - there are stickers on the beams of the bridge urging people to "seek help".
I think Americans in general though are more likely to do something embarrassing and/or cringeworthy as a result.
Could I live in San Francisco?
It wouldn't be the worst place in the world to live, the lifestyle would be good, similar to back in New Zealand. I also like an American accent on a cute girl, though only in isolation. If I hear it all the time it would get annoying. I'm not really into American sports either, I would miss the football too much - real football where all players have to actually use their feet to kick the ball as opposed to just one guy who tries to hoof it between some posts every now and then.
I think it comes back to the fact that I'm not sure I'd like living in the US as much as I would in Europe with its array of different cultures and language right on your doorstep. In saying that I'd love to live in New York for a short while.
And with that, 17 days on the road have come to an end. Enough travelling to keep me happy until my next holiday - in just two weeks.
Hanging Out The Cable Car
I wanted to do this but was instructed to sit inside the car on my ride by the conductor. Grrrr...
Catch you soon!
There are more photos below