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Published: July 29th 2011
Golden Gate Bridge
Suspect the partial view might be quite common
The decision was made long ago that San Francisco was worth a week. We knew it probably deserved longer, and we were right, but a week was all we could reasonably spend. Being highly competent researchers, but challenged occasionally when it comes to detail, we never really understood that the bit that is actually 'San Francisco' is just 7 miles by 7 miles. There are other 'bits' that cover a very large area, but then they aren't really San Francisco, just cities that have somehow attached themselves to the matriarch's train, so to speak. Of course, an area of 7 miles by 7 miles is going to be pretty easy meat to deal with in a week. We could do it using the 'foot Falcon' without a worry.
One of the advantages of creating a major city in an area of 49 square miles, and particularly if it is a place that a lot of people from different walks of life want to live, is that they have to live pretty close to each other. There are 75,000 people in the city but it is not a 'rack-em and stack-em' sort of place. It is more that
A nice day on the Bay
Fog burnt off, beautiful summer day
neighbourhoods have distinct boundaries and people do live close. Chinatown is bounded by streets that are well known and accepted. There are many Chinese people outside this area but they aren't in Chinatown. Similarly, the Tenderloin is an area that has 'borders'. There are less well-to-do people, homeless, almost homeless, people who are 'off with the fairies' (if I am allowed to use that phrase) and people who might want something from you for nothing all over the city I am sure. Certainly, there are plenty around Union Square, from time to time, and down in the Mission District. But the Tenderloin seems to be their own personal territory, just as Chinatown is Chinese territory.
So, the hotel we chose to stay in happened to be in the Tenderloin. Not far in, though. Right on the 'border' as far as we could tell. We had an 'efficiency' on the corner of O'Farrell and Jones Streets. The room was comfortable enough, clean and had a microwave, sink, TV and wifi. The 'efficiency' element referred to the way you needed to move around in a confined space with a bloody great king sized bed jammed into the room.
first morning, after having been expertly shuttled into the city from the airport where we had dropped off our rental car, we went for a walk. With no idea where anything was and only a rudimentary understanding of the geography, we moved off smartly and with great confidence down a street that, very quickly, started to look just that bit dodgy. We found out some days later that this little section of the city had the highest crime rate in the entire place. Fortunately, our instincts cut in after a little while and we did a quick U turn – looking confident and knowing what we were doing at all times. We didn't bother going down those streets anymore. We had, after all, seen them already. You do need to appreciate, though, that within 200 metres of our little efficiency, there were 4 and 5 star hostelries including a Hilton and the like. They, of course, were outside the Tenderloin. A very popular cafe was within 100 metres, complete with queues every morning for their famous breakfast.
We did much of our exploring by foot. Union Square – and a great big Levi's shop (which was having a sale
the day we went there) – were just down the road. There were many other shops, generally flash ones, in the vicinity as well. We visited more than was absolutely necessary but it wasn't a major drama. Chinatown was not far away. It is a major tourist attraction seemingly sustaining itself by being the place that new, Chinese, arrivals come to before they move into the greater San Francisco or USA. Obviously, a lot of the families resident in Chinatown have lived there for generations but there are also a lot of people who have come in from other places. We met a very pleasant young man from Hong Kong who had been there for 7 years and was very much a San Franciscan and proud American, if sad that he had not been back to Hong Kong often. He sold us an unlocked, no plan mobile phone for a reasonable price. About the only place we could get one that was not on-line – and on-line ordering can be a problem for those of us with no fixed abode.
Japantown was also not far from our abode. Easy walking distance. No Chinatown though. Much of the area is
Hopefully by design
very much a standard neighbourhood, possibly housing Japanese people but you couldn't really tell that from the street. Very neat though, as you would expect, and some attractive Japanese gardens. The real Japantown was apparent in the large shopping malls. We wandered through enjoying the feeling of being back in Japan again. All very comfortable but it did strike us after a while that the places were much more Japanese than any place we had seen in Japan. There were simply no American stores, restaurant or fast food chains and you don't move far in Japan without those.
San Francisco seems to be awash with hop-on, hop-off buses. Most offer very similar tours but they were all very busy during the time we were there. We have found in other cities that they offer a good way to quickly get to know the key places that a new city has to offer. Same-same here. We were lucky to hop on one that had the drivers doing the commentary rather than a guide. Significantly cheaper than the competition and very well done for the most part.
As with most of the cities that we have really enjoyed, San Francisco
has a real buzz to it. Possibly a function of having so many people of different types, classes and interests in a confined space but there also seems to be a desire in many people to enjoy themselves. There are plenty of places for people to play up. Fisherman's Wharf is one of those re-done wharf precincts that every good port city has but it seems a bit older than most. They take a precise aim at the money spending tourist here and probably hit the target. We didn't come away laden with souvenirs but did have a good clam chowder and some very good fish.
The Haight Ashbury area was interesting primarily because it looked little like I thought it should but a lot like could have been expected. The old hippies and flower children are grandparents now and that is possibly reflected in a neat neighbourhood with touches of flair in the colours of houses, the arty shops and types of businesses they carry out. There are plenty of indications of what it was but most of it is either on sale for the tourist and making a nice profit or well hidden these days.
highlight of our stay in San Francisco were dinners – on separate nights – with friends. Dave and Merry Jo we have met through travelblog. An interesting trip across the bay, a wonderful dinner and some of the best conversation we have enjoyed for a long time. With American Sue and Billy Beige from the African truck we were able to rekindle friendships developed on a Dragoman truck through Africa last year. It is often hard to get to speak to locals about their country beyond the basic stuff. It is easy to chat along about the weather, travel, the roads, places to go and stay, but we don't get the opportunity for real discussions of issues that face the places we are visiting. In the USA we can understand the language, read the newspapers and, occasionally, see the TV. It was a real highlight to be able to talk frankly to real local people about their country.
As we left San Francisco we agreed that this is a place to which we could easily return. Lucky really. We need to drop the leased car back here in 4 months time. But that wil lbe a very quick visit.
How to brighten up a tunnel
paint a rainbow in the entrance (actually across the Bay in Marin County)
We will try to put this post up shortly and get back to real time posting in the next week or so.
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