Arriving in San Francisco

Published: July 30th 2015
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It's 22.43 on the 28th July. So here we are in San Francisco, and in this blog I will write predominantly on how we found ourselves here.
We got up in Seattle, for the last time, at about 7am - aiming to leave the hostel at 8.30 for our 9.30 train. Thankfully, the train station was only a couple of blocks away from us, so we arrived by quarter to 9, all kitted out with bags and cases (some carried, some dragged) and checked out luggage. We then spent the next half an hour in several queues that were apparently necessary to board a train, before we found ourselves directed to the top floor of carriage 13 of the huge Amtrak train - which was complete with viewing cabin, sleepers (which, of course, we did not have), a dining room carriage, a parlour carriage, and a whole host of coach carriages.
The train seemed a luxury compared to the buses we were used to - there was more than enough leg room, reclining seats, curtains and a fold down table. We departed at 9.35, and begun to make our way south towards San Francisco. As we were used to long journeys now, we all hunkered down in our usual way, getting out books or podcasts, writing or watching out of the window as the train passed through the suburbs of Seattle, made dreary by he grey clouds and intermittent rain. We got off only once that day, when the train stopped for a 'fresh air beak' in Portland. Here, we got off and walked the length of the train to the station building to buy a coffee and stretch our legs. Apart from that, we didn't leave the train for the whole 24 hour trip, and only left our seats once more to pop across to the café cart in the evening.
As the light began to fade, we begun to pass through scenery that was reminiscent of Northern Ontario - mountains, pines, rivers and huge sweeping tree-filled valleys. This made great viewing, the tops of the mountains lost in a ghostly veil of clouds, as we began to wind down and go to sleep. Indeed, by about 10pm everyone had drawn their curtains to the darkness outside and silence descended over the carriage. Sleep on the train would have been relatively pleasant - as far as sleeping upright can be comfortable - if it was wasn't for one middle aged man who dressed and spoke as if he was still in high-school in the 70's, who held no less than 3 speaker-phone phone calls at 12am, 2am and 4am - each lasting at least half an hour. If he wasn't doing this, he found other ways to be obnoxious. His music was always on full blast through his headphones, he was constantly coughing, hacking and spitting, and just generally being unpleasant and anti-social in every possible way. I consoled myself with the thought that he most probably didn't have any friends, acting as he did.
We did manage to sleep a little however, and we all woke up at around 8am, into a very different landscape. The trees were gone, replaced my scrub and yellow grass matting the smaller, more rolling hills. We began to pass through more built up areas as we approached our destination, running alongside an inlet or other covered in sprawling refineries and dockside machinery, and finally we unloaded in the uninspiring neighbourhood of Emeryville just off the Bay Bridge.
We sat around for a while, waiting for our bags to appear, then bought the $5 tickets for the Amtrak bus into the city. The day was grey and cool, which gave the palm trees a distinctly sad look as the bus speed up the ramp and on to the bridge. From here we got our first view of the city in the mist. Although actually smaller in terms of population than Seattle, the skyline looked more impressive and somehow older at the same time. Our bus stop at Union Square came quickly, and we unloaded onto the busy Market street. We realised that this was clearly the downtown area of San Francisco, as we were surrounded by Macy's, Nordstrom and a whole host of other banks, shops and huge high-rises.
We decided quickly that it would be a good idea to dump our bags down in the hostel rather than drag the suitcase up the hills of San Fran, so found it a few blocks away on Mason and put them in storage until we could check in at 3. Free of bags, we headed the short distance to the nearest Starbucks, watching a guy getting arrested on the way, found a seat, and waited for 3pm to come round - almost falling asleep where we sat.
Eventually the clock crept around to 2pm, so we walked down to the Target near where we were staying and bought our lunch for the week, then stopped by a place doing pizza by the slice for lunch. By the time we had eaten it was 3pm, so we made our way there and checked in. We were in a room of the 5th floor of the old building. The room was a little small, but had a sink and was clean - so we were more than thankful for it. The hostel itself was really nice - with a huge living area and an indoor balcony around which all of the room were located.
We chose our beds and pretty much crashed immediately. Everyone woke up in stages at about 6pm, and Rosie. Kate and I headed downstairs for dinner (probably of either soup or instant noodles), then played a few rounds of knock-out whist. At about 9pm Kieran appeared, who was to meet us that evening in San Francisco and then travel with us pretty much from there all the way to the end of the trip in LA.
It was great to see him again, and we sat and swapped stories for about an hour (Kieran had been to Cuba, Peru and Bolivia before he came to San Fran) before tiredness beat us and we called it a night. I wasn't feeling all that tired at this point, however, so I decided to strike down Market and onto one of the pier's that looked out over San Francisco Bay. The view was breathtaking in the still night - the lights of the bridge and the shore on the other side of the black water twinkling, and the great skyline towering up behind me. It was gone 11.30 by the time I had returned, walking up the Main Street alongside scattered groups who were walking back from the baseball games or from the restaurants in the surrounding districts, and I instantly fell asleep.
Rosie and I woke up and went downstairs at about 8.30 the next morning - the hostel provided a free breakfast of pancakes which you had to cook yourselves. What we didn't know, but perhaps should have expected, was that because the breakfast ended at 9, by 8.30 the kitchen was rammed. Consequently, our pancakes were either burnt, undercooked or disfigured (ir all three) as we had a pan that was two small, a spatula that was too big, and a hob that was right at the back and could be either violently hot or pathetically tepid, and nothing else.
We ate, nonetheless, and agreed with Kieran and the other two that we were to leave the hostel at 11 that morning. In the meantime I ran 3 miles down to a park that had some pull-up bars and the like - so by the time I returned it was nearly time to leave. The plan for the day was to walk down Market to the bay, then up to the famous pier 39, and finally down towards the hostel via the huge China Town. We headed out along Market, heading down to the old Ferry Building as I had done the night before, the street now being full of people shopping and commuting. It was a clear, warm day, and Market was one of the only street in San Fran that doesn't really go up a hill. Once at the coast we headed along the beautiful, wide, palm tree lined promenade towards the fisherman's wharf.
It took us about 40 minutes, at a pleasant stroll, to reach pier 39, which was so full of brightly coloured souvenir and food shop fronts that it looked a little like Disneyland. We headed up to the upper level, and onto the Sea Lion viewing deck, where we spent a good half an hour watching the huge sea lions that basked on the docks between piers 39 and 40 loll around on top of each other and quarrel in their loud barking voices - all framed by the beautiful harbour of East San Francisco.
We wandered back through the amusements, then crossed over on one of the roads that lead back into the downtown. It is this North-East corner of the city that has the famous precipitous streets, and up one of these, walled in by tall, coloured terraced houses, we climbed all the way to Coit Tower - which rose up above the city. From here we had a wonderful vantage point over the harbour and the straits beyond, all now baking in the midday sun.
From here we descended into China Town, the biggest in America, and spent an hour or so exploring its narrow streets and sampling some of its famous Dim Sum. I managed to buy 2lb of chow mein for $6 from small, aged and ferocious Chinese lady purely by accident, with which we strolled South, and eventually back to the hostel, detouring to Target to buy a few more groceries we had forgotten.
It was probably 5pm by the time we got back, and we were all a little sleepy from the sun and the heat of the bustling, lively city. For the following couple of hours everyone amused themselves by reading or showering or doing washing then, by 8ish, we reassembled in the living area to spent the rest of the evening playing cards. Finally, everyone turned in at about 11pm while I stayed a little later to write my journal, then followed the others up shortly after.
So we're here in San Fransisco - a beautiful city, and one of our last on this journey. And now we have only 3 more days to squeeze in everything the city has to offer.

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2nd August 2015

San Francisco
Do you remember that there was once a habit of San Francisco being called 'Frisco' in songs and trendy books, which San Franciscans absolutely loathed and managed to mount a successful campaign to persuade everyone that this twee shortening of the city's name was not to be used at any time, ever, under any circumstances. Loved the picture of the big freighter in the river - where was that? The obnoxious (great word!) anti-social guy on the train sounds an absolute pain and sadly that kind of behaviour is not uncommon. I remember travelling back on the train from Edinburgh to Kings X a few years ago (after Aunt Daphne's funeral) and a family got on at Newcastle and took the four seats around a table across the aisle opposite my seat. They then proceeded to set up a music system with speakers on their table, play appallingly bland pop music at loud volume, talk loudly (so that they could hear each other over the music), eat endless quantities of food with open mouths and just generally act in, well, an obnoxious way as if there was no-one else in the carriage. Wonderful. Strangely enough, Ruth had a similar experience when travelling down a couple of hours behind me on the same day. A woman student opposite her - in a quiet carriage - was shouting into her mobile phone and her conversation was liberally leavened with the words 'fuck', 'shit' and other oaths all delivered at maximum volume. Ruth being Ruth asked her firmly to desist which led to a extremely tense and strained but merciful silence for the rest of the journey. Seattle sounds a fantastic city, but the weather is very unpredictable as you found. San Francisco also sounds great and your description of your arrival and the city reluctantly revealing itself through the mist and vapours as great. Sounds like it quickly warmed up though. See you in just over a week - can't wait.

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