Published: December 27th 2006August 7th 2006
Day one: After arriving very early into San Fran I checked into one of the best hostels I have ever stayed in, the Green Tortoise. Its greatest appeal is the free internet and free bagel breakfast every morning but it also has little touches like a sink in the room and every dorm bed has its own indivdual light -seems like heaven to backpackers!They also do other free stuff like meals and live music and films...I could go on but perhaps I should start telling you the other reasons why I love San Francisco! Whilst enjoying my free bagel breakfast (last mention of free stuff I promise) I met Mary, another english backpacker and we agreed to meet later to do a bit of a tour of San Francisco together.
We started by visiting the Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill -this was built using money left to the cityof San Francisco to be used "in an appropriate manner for the purpose of adding to the beauty of the city which I have always loved.". Whether it achieved this or not, I can't be sure but the views from the top of telegraph hill across the bay and the city are
beautiful. It gave me that first sight of the famous golden gate bridge and even the walk up there reminded me of so many films and tv series ('mrs doubtfire', 'so I married an axe murderer', 'Bullitt', 'the sweetest thing', etc). So we then wound our way down the hill through some gorgeous gardens, past some amazing houses, towards the Fishermans Wharf. Random fact; apparently there is a law that no more houses can be built in san francisco hence the price for property is very high, hence the population consists mostly of trendy, young, high flying exectutives who can actually afford to live there. I don't know if this is true, it could just be a rumour but the population (apart from some of the tourists) definately seems quite young and the general feel of the city is young and bohemian.
So down at fishermans wharf, there are various piers (this city having one of the largest natural harbours in the world, so you'd hope so), the most famous of which is pier 39 - here there are lots of shops, plenty of ice cream places, a few fairground rides and their famous sea lion colony. The sea
lions arrived in 1990, some people think this was due to an earthquake which caused them to abandon their previous habitat. Its great fun to watch them lollop about, basking in the sun and playing. Interesting fact, how can you tell sea lions from seals? sea lions have external ear flaps...you learn something new everyday....So moving further along the fishermans wharf area, we encountered lots of street performers, from jazz musicians, to break dancers, even a guy dressed as a bush to scare unsuspecting tourists by leaping at them! So after recovering from this, we went to the part of the wharf where all the seafood restaurants/ takeaways were situated and I had a clam chowder in sourdough bread bowl - an authentic san fran delicacy! It was nice although tasted a bit more like cream of chicken soup than fish! It was delicious anyway.
So having stuffed ourselves at the fishermans wharf with ice cream and all the rest, we walked up to the top of lombard street, the "crookedest street in the world". I think the reason that this street has so many hair pin bends is a combination of the steep gradient (it was incredibly steep)
and a tourist attraction. Call it what you will, its got a great view, is very pretty with the gardens and the houses and gave us a good place to watch the sunset from.
In the evening, we went out in some bars near the hostel, there was lots of live music in the various bars we visited and it was my first real taste of american drinks portions, I asked for a vodka cranberry, I think I got a triple vodka cranberry by UK standards! We also made friends with a couple of american girls who were really cool.
Go to bed very late the night before so got up late and spent the day relaxing, doing stuff on the internet and eventually went to the cable car museum. It was actually quite interesting, the technology to work the cable cars was developed in 1873 and is still in use today.
No visit to San Francisco is complete without a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. Its evidence of the power of dreams as they said it couldn't be done, yet here it is. The reasons they said it couldn't be done
is because of the depth of the golden gate, the strong currents of the ocean and the speed of the wind. The bridge actually is designed to sway in the wind. So I walked to the other side and back just so I could say I'd done it! The weather wasn't great on the way over but improved on the way back. The colour of the bridge although it looks red from a distance is called international orange.
Then on to Ghirardelli Square near the fishermans wharf for a wander round the beautiful shops and to wander in and out of the famous chocolate shops there to try and get as many free samples as possible!Its full of shops selling incredibly beautiful but incredibly expensive things! Usually quite unique pieces of jewelleryand art/ glass ware. Nice for window shopping.
From here I took the steepest cable car in San Fran (up hyde street) to Union Square which was great fun!Hanging out the side! As for Union Square, its a nice enough square surrounded by posh shops and with a monument in the centre. But not really worth the hype.
So from Union Square I walked back up
to my hostel via China Town. Every major city has one! But this one was quite cool. For one thing it was huge, full of interesting little sculptures and also full of chinese people going about their daily lives, not just there to work in shops for the tourists. I always love wandering around china town though, no matter what city I'm in.
Today I went on the Alcatraz and angel island day tour. Naturally Alcatraz was my favourite and I had two princes by the spin doctors in my head as we went across the bay (thats a "So I married an axe murderer" reference incase you missed it!) It was really interesting and definately worth visiting! make sure you book your tour in advance though if you only have a few days as they book up fast and thats why I went to Angel Island too because I didn't book in advance. There were no amusing ex guards doing tours of Alcatraz though like in "So I...", but an audio commentry for self guided tour round.
After a hard day's day tripping i headed back to Ghirardelli Square for a famous ice cream sundae..........mmmm............delicious...was
also served by my first transvestite, felt very bizarre having never met a transvestite before!
Well after all the hype, I had to visit Golden Gate park. Although its full of people who never left after a Grateful Dead concert, its also one of the largest landscaped parks in the world and really nice to have a wander round. Theres a planetarium, arboretum, conservatory of flowers, lots to see and do and not enough time to do it in! I did go into the conservatory of flowers though and it was really beautiful and interesting - check out some of the photo's!
And then I flew home in the evening. San Francisco airport was nice and I had my eyes photographed for US security, always fun! And so I returned home on the day of the drama with the terrorists, but luckily the only way it affected me was waiting a bit longer for my luggage (about an hour longer!). Back off to Australia at the end of september, blog for that arriiving in the next few days.
There are more photos below