(Day 766 on the road)
San Francisco at last. I have been looking forward to coming here for a while now. I guess it is just one of these cities that I can associate various different things with, a city that somehow captures my imagination. Who wouldn't think of the Golden Gate Bridge spanning the bay, of ancient Cable Cars rattling around the impossibly steep streets, crooked Lombard Street, busy Fishermen's Wharf, forbidding Alcatraz, the Summer of Love and much more?
I had been in San Francisco when I was about 14, and my memory of that time is pretty much reduced to Ghirardelli Square and the Golden Gate Bridge. In a way, not remembering much about a place is a nice thing, as it meant that I could explore it all over again. All the same, I hope that I remember more about the places I visit this time around. Otherwise, ten years down the line, I could repeat this exact same trip and it'd be all new again. Can you have Alzheimer at 32 years of age?
Suzanne lived in a very nice and light apartment in a good location of Frisco, which proved somewhat detrimental to my
energy to go out and explore. But I had a full week in San Francisco, so I was still able to take it somewhat easy and strike a good balance between relaxing at "home" and sightseeing. And had I come a few weeks later I would have stayed in an even nicer apartment, as Suzanne was just in the process of buying a beautiful condo. Way to go girl, and it was so great to see you again!
On the sightseeing front, I of course took in all the things I described above, plus a few that I didn't know about before I came here, including the liberal neighbourhood of Castro, the picturesque Palace of Fine Arts, the Exploratorium (a great hands-on science museum), and Golden Gate Park. What a lovely, beautiful city!
But exploring the various, quite distinctive, neighbourhoods of the city, I couldn't help but notice just how many homeless people are around everywhere. I am not sure just exactly what facilities are available for people in need, but unless these offerings are just not taken up by the homeless for whatever reason, I feel that there is just not enough being done.
between the Iphone-operating banker crowds in downtown passing the guy in the shabby clothes pushing his supermarket trolley with his sole belongings couldn't be greater. In Europe, people often moan about high taxes, but I guess the flip-side of the coin can be seen in the number of these homeless people - lower taxes translate into more disposable income for the ones who have a job, but also into less money for social welfare it seems.
Using the bus system it was easy enough to navigate the streets of the city; they are laid out on a grid, as in so many US cities. And as apparently it is easier to find true love in San Francisco than a parking space, it was definitely the way to go. Although driving here in America is of course ridiculously cheap, with a gallon (3,785 litres) of petrol costing just $3,20, or about $0,85 per litre, or about 0,67 Euro. A litre of petrol in Western Europe sets you back a cool 1,40 Euro, roughly double what it costs in the US. No wonder people here in the US drive everywhere in those massive, petrol-gulping monster-cars (although there are less of these
around in San Francisco I feel). In this context, banning plastic bags in supermarkets (as they do here) is laudable but seems somewhat trivial and petty if the issues that really matter are just not tackled.
One other thing that I just can't seem to get used to is that prices here in the US are mostly quoted excluding sales tax. You think the ice cream you are buying at McDonald's costs the advertised 99 cents? Or that you are getting a good deal on those pair of shoes for $98? Think again, as the final price that you actually have to pay is always higher than the advertised one. I found this especially misleading in restaurants - if your dinner costs $9,99 according to the menu, the total you pay will be about $13: 10% for tax, and then another 10%-20% for tips, which are near mandatory here. So, the advertised price is pretty much 30% lower than the actual one. Nice.
Honestly, I don't get it, no matter how much I think about it. Am I missing something here? Who the heck cares about how much tax is added to the price that the shop charges?
As a consumer, I am only interested in the final price. Having to calculate for myself how much I am really paying for something makes the whole process extremely cumbersome and much less transparent than needed. I have never seen anything like it anywhere. It just makes products appear cheaper than they are, so advertising something for $99 that really costs $110 after you add the mandatory tax is not only confusing, but downright misleading.
Anyway, I am not going to change the system (I would though if I could!), so moving on. The best way to see the San Fran is by riding along in a cool Segway. I had done it once in Rome a few years ago with my good friends Tina and Joko and have been fascinated ever since. The technology behind this machine is just amazing. If these little wonder of technology only were cheaper; $5500 just seems a little on the dear side of things here. Ah, one day...
On my final day in California, Suzanne had a special treat set out for us. We took a day-trip down to what I thought would bring us to Big Sur. It did, but
along the way we passed Pebble Beach, the world-famous links golf course. I knew that it was in California somewhere, but I had no idea that it was less than two hours south of SF. Driving the 17 mile coastal road around the Pebble Beach peninsular and seeing the five or so awesome golf courses was just amazing, and for just a minute I was toying with the idea of teeing off. That is, until I found out that the green fee was $500 for 18 holes. Oh, and you had to book months in advance, too. Maybe next time.
After Pebble Beach, I figured things could not quite live up to its splendour, but Big Sur, the famous coastal stretch and a place I had been wanting to visit for years, proved me wrong. I have seen many coastal roads and everything that comes with it in my life (dramatic cliffs, deserted beaches, crashing surf), but Big Sur topped it all. The road hugged the steep hills as if in desperation, and the numerous viewpoints that we stopped at were just breathtaking. As with many amazing places around the world, the pictures I took can only offer a
hint of how stunning this place really is.
Unfortunately my time in the US was coming to an end the very same day, with my flight to Mexico (via Atlanta) was leaving later that evening. We thus had to soon rush back to the airport and were only able to travel a short bit of the 90-odd miles of Big Sur - I definitely want to come back one day!
For now however, Mexico (and the rest of Central America) beckons. The journey continues...
Next stop: Tulum (Quintana Roo, Mexico).
To view my photos, have a look at pictures.beiske.com
. And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon
(and most other online book shops).
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