San Francisco, USA - 'Let's go (let's go) to San Francisco ...'

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January 10th 2019
Published: March 8th 2019
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I wasn’t looking forward to this journey; a) it was overnight and I’m hopeless with those, as I can’t sleep on planes, b) we had to transit to another plane somewhere in the middle and our experiences with plane swaps had not been good so far and, c) we were flying with American Airlines and the airline crew I had spoken with in Hawaii had told me they were the pits. It didn’t get off to a good start as we were told, at the departure gate, that the flight was overbooked and three volunteers were needed to move to another flight the next day. OK, well that can be anybody but us given that we have a connecting flight to catch. Much to my surprise we actually boarded and took off on time, at 11.25 pm for a five hour flight. So far, so good. The cabin crew were just this side of pleasant and just the other side of efficient (I’m one of those people who likes to have the emergency exits clearly pointed out to me but, hey, who needs critical information?) and we settled into our journey once we were in the air and everyone but me seemed to doze off.

About an hour into the flight a passenger called for help when the chap next to her became ill. She quickly vacated her middle-row seat and one member of the crew went to investigate, shortly followed by another. The crew faffed about for quite a while, clearly out of their depth, and their bing-bongs for other crew to attend were ignored though the patient’s family members, who had been scattered around the plane, joined them in the now congested aisle. The pilot eventually declared a medical emergency and asked if any passengers were suitably qualified to assist. The lady in the aisle seat next to me volunteered and a sick bag and oxygen were produced. Much drama ensued. The lady who had been sitting next to the poorly passenger and had been standing in the aisle all this time asked if she could sit in a crew seat. She was told that no, that was not allowed, but she could sit on the floor. After refusing to do that she was offered a metal box to sit on but was told that the airline would not be responsible or liable for any resulting problems. Quite rightly, she again refused. We hit turbulence after about another hour and passengers were told to be seated and buckle up. ‘How am I supposed to do that?’ the seat-less passenger asked. She was eventually manoeuvred through the throng of people queuing to use the only accessible loos on the aircraft to the seat vacated by the medic next to me. Never again, she told me, would she fly with American Airlines and I suspected they would shortly receive a letter for compensation given that she barely sat in the seat she had paid for! On approach to landing the poorly passenger was unceremoniously propped upright into one seat from his position lying across three and everyone resumed their original seats. A paramedic team was waiting for the plane and passengers were asked to remain seated until he could be safely removed from the plane. The paramedics seemed as inefficient as the crew as they were so keen to help the patient’s family members with their luggage that the poorly chap just wobbled unsupported and unaccompanied down the aisle and the steps to the ground. ‘Is that right?’ I asked the medic lady now seated next to me again. ‘Absolutely not,’ she said as she shrugged and gathered her belongings. Oh well.

Our connecting flight was due to depart Los Angeles at 9.45 am. It was initially delayed by an hour due to weather conditions at our destination airport. We finally boarded for an 11 am take off but then taxied to the cargo area of the airport where we were ‘parked’ for another hour. Strewth. Eventually, we took to the air and our flight of just an hour took us over the stunning Californian coastline into the fog-shrouded environs of San Francisco. I scanned the area for THE bridge but couldn’t see it. As always with connecting flights, I was pleased to see our luggage had made the same trip as us, having heard the horror stories of American Airline passengers going to one destination and their luggage to another. We were efficiently collected by the transport we had arranged, sharing it with another couple who were dropped at a nice-looking hotel in the middle of what seemed to be an area populated by the indigent and homeless, before being dropped ourselves at the Lombard Motor Inn on Lombard Street (with a name like that, where else would it be?). Did we have any room requests, asked the check-in lady. A room with a view of the bridge would be nice, we said. We can do that, replied the lady, but the room is on the third floor and the lift is out of commission after today, for a service. We’ll take it anyway, we said, thinking a few flights of stairs would be worth it for the view. We quickly ensconced ourselves into Room 314 where the famous bridge could be clearly seen from the balcony, though at a distance, before calling in to Bobo’s Bar across the street for something to eat and returning to our room to finally fall asleep after another tiring travelling experience.

The next day we slept in until 11 am. Unheard of for us. Good job we’d put the ‘do not disturb’ sign out! We had a lazy afternoon, thankful that we had built ‘free’ days into our itinerary, as today was 12° and rainy so not conducive to sight-seeing. A doggy day-care facility was on the corner opposite our street and I sat on the balcony watching the dogs being delivered and collected. San Francisco drivers seemed to opt for reasonable sized cars, including some ‘smart’ cars, and there were many Fiat 500s pootling about (I love those cars!). Surprisingly, given how enamoured the San Franciscans seem to be about their dogs, there were not many hatchbacks about and the cars were mainly of the saloon variety meaning the dogs had to be transported on the back seats. I also had a wonderful view of the bridge and across the streets of San Francisco which seemed to be mainly low rise with flat rooves. We took a walk to a nearby supermarket in the late afternoon and noticed the area seemed safe and we felt perfectly at ease walking the streets.

We once again used the HOHO bus to get a feel for the city. The weather improved, though was not as hot as we had become used to and we made sure to wrap up warm! The bus took us through Polk Street, Nob Hill, Russian Hill, past the Chinatown Gate donated by Taiwan (I’ve no idea why!), Union Square, Coit Tower, Pier 35, Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, the Visitor Centre, Washington Square, the Embarcadero Centre, Union Square, the Redemption Centre, the Hilton Hotel where the great and the good have stayed, the Civic Centre in the middle of the Tenderloin area (which we were told was to be avoided at all costs as this was the main area for crime and the homeless), Alamo Square, Haight Ashbury, Golden Gate Park, across the Golden Gate Bridge into Sausalito (Marin County), the Botanical Gardens, the renowned Victorian ‘Painted Lady’ houses, the Conservatory of Flowers and the Californian Academy of Sciences. The sun shone for the trip, though the temperature didn’t increase too much. The ride across the Golden Gate Bridge was wonderful, such an iconic sight, and we could see it clearly in the sunshine on approach and from the viewing point in Marin County. The properties in Sausalito on the Marin County side were very attractive and offered marvellous views across the bay. The Haight Ashbury area wasn’t as ‘hippy’ as we hoped it would be though there were still some vestiges of its flower power and the Summer of Love days. My impressions were that the city was certainly extremely hilly, with some vertiginous heights involved in parts, and we saw the cable trams which are famous in the city running on their tracks on the two main routes they still operated. Of course, we also saw the famous section of Lombard Street, known for being the crookedest street in the world and situated at the top of the street our hotel was located on so we could easily investigate it further. Properties there are incredibly expensive, often topping 3 or 4 million dollars! The HOHO bus trip, as always, gave us lots of information and a feel for the areas of the city we wanted to explore further. We got off the HOHO bus down at the Embarcadero and had a meal there before buying tickets for a trip across to Alcatraz the next day. Online warnings had been that waiting times were long and bookings should be made 90 days in advance! Scare tactics? Who knows?

We set off to make the walk back to our hotel. Did I mention San Francisco is hilly? Geez, that’s an understatement. Our walk back to our hotel necessitated us walking up. Up, up and up. There was no way to avoid it. The inclines were not only long, they were steep! It was hard work .... I couldn’t face the steps up the crooked bit of Lombard Street and we went the long way round where, at one point, I was reduced to walking backwards! Didn’t do my back any good at all and I was glad to eventually make it back to our room just to be able to lie prone on the bed!

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