San Francisco - As easy as 1-2-3 (part III)


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North America » United States » California » San Francisco
September 18th 2018
Published: September 28th 2018
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It was our final full day in San Francisco. We were advised by the owners of the property that they would be returning from lake Tahoe for one night only before jetting off somewhere else. Yesterday when we arrived back at our accommodation at 09:30pm, the house was in relative darkness. Lights were on in the front room but these had been turned to low on the dimmer switch. The owners were at home but had already retired to the upper house. We wouldn’t have to sit and make small talk after all!!

This morning I awoke about 8:00am to the sound of movement in the kitchen, then silence. Fifteen minutes later more movement. We couldn’t stay shut in our room forever although we still had to remember we were guests in someone’s house. It somehow didn’t seem right to wander around the house in my undies!! Especially with the owners sat there eating their cornflakes reading the morning papers. They are people who we have never met but are trusting us, complete strangers, with staying at their home when they are not there. Something the owner had mentioned to Roisin when we originally made contact was that they never
The parallel street of San Francisco...The parallel street of San Francisco...The parallel street of San Francisco...

...with the wiggly bit of Lombard Street in the distance (circled)
rent out the room whilst they are away. Roisin obviously made a good impression on the owners for them to trust us. For this reason, we felt we should make the effort and meet them face to face. Roisin left our room. I heard one of the owners greet Roisin and introduce himself as Matt. I then heard a female voice talking to Roisin. I stayed in our room as I had stuff to sort out. Forty minutes later, still in our room (I had a lot of stuff to sort out!!), I heard the front door open then close. Moments later, Roisin came back in and told me that they had now left for the airport. Roisin, me and my undies were once again, home alone!! (before anyone comments, I know it should have been ‘my undies and I!!’)

The plan was to return to the Presidio today, maybe get close up and personal with the Golden Gate Bridge. Take a walk on this 1.2 mile fantastical fete of engineering? Perhaps we’d take a stroll along one of the coastal trails. However, plans can change. This had only been a mere suggestion more than a plan. There is a tower in San Francisco that I would have liked to have visited during any one of our last two trips here but other stuff such as visiting the 1960s hippy neighbourhood of Haight-Ashbury, riding the cable car down California and Market, visiting Alcatraz or watching the baseball all took up valuable time so something had to drop off and, on both occasions, it happened to be Coit Tower.

Coit Tower sits at the top of Telegraph hill neighbourhood only three and a half miles from where we were staying. The tower, built in the 1930s at the bequest of Lilian Coit is art deco in style and is 210ft (64m) high. It was dedicated to the volunteer firemen who had died in San Francisco's five major fires. The design of the tower resembles a fire hose nozzle but I had been reliably informed that any similarity is purely coincidental!!

After taking the short walk down to the medical centre, we took the tram to Embarcadero and Greenwich. From there we cut through a small park, across Levi Plaza to the bottom of the Greenwich steps that would take us to our final goal. I say us. Roisin took one look at the gradient of the steps that, for all intent and purposes, in her mind, disappeared in to the clouds, and said ‘I’m off to Starbucks. Have a nice time!!’

I started my ascent. Wow! it does look rather a lot of stairs. And they’re only the one’s I can see, I thought to myself. ‘1-2-3…’, I started counting. I should have guessed seeing a Nepalese Sherpa at the foot of the steps holding a ‘for hire’ sign that this was going to be slightly more than the moderate climb I’d expected!!

The first hundred and twenty steps were made up of half a dozen flights of stone steps cut and set in to the hillside. There then followed a wooden walk way that not only led to the next stage but also to a number of houses and apartments that had been built on the side of Telegraph Hill. Stage two was a series of wooden steps with a handrail, something I was grateful for in helping me through the ‘burn’ as I made it up a further hundred and fifty steps. I now found myself on a narrow road. To the left, the road weaved off up in to the distance whilst to my right, the road ended a hundred yards or so in a cul-de-sac. The Coit Tower was still above me and still out of reach. I thought I’d reached the top. I was barely half way. I found the next flights of stairs in the cul-de-sac. They were not visible from the top of the stairs I had just conquered. It wasn’t until I walked in to the dead-end that I noticed an unassuming stairway, brick this time. No signs. Just steps. Every couple of flights had a terrace with a path leading to dwellings. The people who lived up here were either extremely fit or must be constantly knackered!! They need to take a packed lunch even if it’s to nip out for the Sunday morning papers!!

The final count was 487 steps but the view from the terrace and car park in front of the tower was breath-taking (or was it just me still gasping for oxygen!!)

I was not surprised to see a statue in the centre of the car park. I was surprised, though, to see that figure was Christopher Columbus, the famous Italian explorer, gazing out across the bay. The statue stood on a pedestal and was surrounded by a circular flower bed bordered by a marble ring.

Inside the tower around the base were numerous murals depicting life and industry of San Francisco. I paid the entrance fee of $9.00 in return for an ink stamp on the inside of my wrist before joining the line for the elevator to the observation deck.

The lift attendant was in a chatty mood. However, with five Chinese, three Germans an Australian and myself who managed to avoid eye contact, he had his work cut out.

‘Hi, where y’all from?’ he asked as he closed the elevator doors and pushed a button to start our ascent. Fortunately for me (but unfortunately for her), the Australian said; ‘Australia.’

‘Oh! Wow!’, the elevator attendant couldn’t have sounded more patronising! ‘Where abouts?’

‘Just outside Brisbane’, came the reply.

‘Wowww! That’s a long journey’. I had no idea if he was telling her it was (a fact she probably already knew!) or just showing off that he knew where Australia was!! Silence… then with no warning: ‘So do you fly toward the sun coming here or away from it??!’

Now that’s a question none of us (well, the two of us who understood English) expected.

‘No idea!’, said the Australian now looking a little embarrassed.

‘Cool!’, said the attendant as the elevator came to an abrupt stop and he opened the doors. ‘The observation deck is to your right’.

More bloody steps!! I had to climb another 26 steps up a spiral staircase that led, finally, to the observation deck. My Nirvana!!

It was a relatively clear day across San Francisco. There was a band of cloud hovering out past the Golden Gate Bridge but was keeping its distance…for the moment! The Coit Tower provided an excellent 360-degree view of the city. Out to the west I had a clear view of the grid like pattern of a typical U.S road system; the wiggly section of Lombard Street Clearly visible (see photo – circled)

With its iconic clock tower, I could clearly see the Ferry Building below in the shadow of the Bay Bridge. Ironically, this bridge was one of the structures that contributed to the Ferry Buildings decline.

Opened in 1898 to serve the gold rush, the Ferry building was the transportation focal point for all those arriving from outside the city. In fact, the ferryboat became the only way travellers could access the city. At its peak, as many as 50,000 people a day commuted by ferry. Then the 1930s arrived and they built not one, but two bridges across the bay and that was the beginning of the end for the ferry. The elegant two-story Ferry building with its repeating interior arches now houses a variety of food stores and cafes.

My favourite building amongst the San Francisco skyline was easy identifiable from this height. The 240 metre, 46 story TransAmerica pyramid building gets its name from its futuristic shape. It is the second tallest skyscraper on the San Francisco skyline after the SaleForce Tower. This iconic building with its characteristic shape is, in my view, San Francisco’s answer to the Chrysler building in New York. It may not be the most important building in the city but it is certainly the easiest recognisable!

On the way back down the Greenwich steps I passed a few locals walking up to an apartment. One of them was carrying the shopping and walking up the steps…backwards!! Further on, a young man in athletics vest and shorts was hurtling up the step two at a time. Then I had to make way for a young girl who was bunny hopping up the steps. What was this?? Had I just run in to a competition for: how many different ways can you ascend the steps to Coit Tower??! Or had I strayed on to the set for an updated remake of a Monty Python sketch: ‘The Ministry of Silly Ascents!!’

I said in a previous blog that we wouldn’t be revisiting any of the attractions we had visited on previous occasions. Well, change of plan! The time was past 3pm. The next free shuttle to the Presidio was not until 4pm. Time was pressing on. Fisherman’s Wharf was only a few minutes’ walk away. As we hadn’t eaten lunch yet, this was probably the nearest place to pick up a bite to eat.

Fisherman’s Wharf is not, as you may think, just one pier but the collective name for a complete waterfront area in the north of the San Francisco Peninsula. It got its name from the time in the mid to late 1800s when Italian immigrant fishermen came to the bay to take advantage of the influx of population due to the gold rush. We ventured in to the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf – Pier 39. This is the Wharf’s main shopping centre and one of the city’s busiest tourist areas. The stores and restaurants are on two levels – that’s double the tat!! The atmosphere and vibe on pier 39 is like a seaside town with every other store selling overpriced souvenirs. One of the stores – Alcatraz has the unique selling point of all their souvenirs having the convict black and white striped pattern – how original!! I’ve always dreamt of a black and white striped bottle stopper!! Unlike UK seaside towns having candy floss (cotton candy) or fresh ringed doughnut stands on every corner, here stalls selling crab and clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls appeared at every turn!!

We passed a Christmas store – always worth a visit. Ironically open seven days a week (Except Christmas!!) Another store worth a mention is Lefties. This store sells nothing but left-handed paraphernalia although the name of the store suggests a NY mobster’s nickname!! They sold stuff such as left-handed tin openers, left-handed cutlery, left-handed mugs. They even had left-handed pens!! Hang on a minute. Isn’t a left-handed pen just a pen held in the left hand?? Who would be suckered in to buying such a thing?? Perhaps a left-handed mug!!

At the end of the pier there were excellent views of the city skyline as well as the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges and Alcatraz. However, for the star attraction you just need to head towards the constant crowd of people. Welcome to the colony of sealions who have made the k-dock pontoons their sunshine spot since 1990 after the Loma Prieta earthquake hit San Francisco in 1989 and where they have remained ever since.

So, that’s Alaska ticked off. It seems a long time since we were in Seattle waiting to board the ship but have done and seen so much since. We only skirted the state of Alaska but even so, we still saw some magnificent sights. This has been an experience that we would highly recommend. Not only have we been fortunate to visit this place of awe and wonder once but we will be returning in eighteen months where our sole mission will be to spot a bear (preferably one that is roaming free and hasn’t been shot and mounted on a wall!!)

Our flight home was almost as uneventful as the outward flight. It was a night time flight. These aren’t my favourite types. I feel that I should try to get some sleep but I never know when. Local time says 8pm which is too early to close my eyes yet UK time it is 4am when I should be fast asleep! The time zones just mess with my head!!

It was five and a half hours in to our ten-hour, twenty minute flight. All the cabin lights were dimmed. Silence all around except for the distant cry of a baby and the heavy breathing of a fellow passenger several rows in front. On most flights, one can find something known as a snack wall. This is a tray of snacks such as biscuits, nuts, small chocolate bars and other confectionery left in the galley for passengers to help themselves should the urge arise without the need to call for cabin crew which may, in turn, disturb other passengers. Roisin came back with several packets of ‘goodies’ that she placed on the central armrest between us. I picked up one of the packets, ripped it open and picked out one of, what felt like two gummies. The kind you tend to get in Haribo Super Mix. I popped it in my mouth. After swallowing the first one, although not unpleasant, left a peculiar aftertaste. I then ate the second one which tasted slightly better. That’s a new one, I thought. I’ve never seen gummies on the snack wall before. Minutes after swallowing the last gummy, I became aware of Roisin fumbling around. She then turned to me, and said alarmingly: ‘Where’s my ear plugs!!’


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