Busy days in San Fran

Published: August 3rd 2015
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It's 12.00 on the 2nd of August. So we're now at the beginning of our last week of the trip, and I am currently sitting on the bus from Sacramento to LA. In this blog, I will write about how we managed to cram most of San Fransisco into 3 short days.
I woke up at 7.30 on Tuesday, and met Kieran in the kitchen to make pancakes. We got up at this time because the kitchen was yet to get busy, so we had freedom to cook at our leisure - so consequently the pancakes turned out much better than they had the morning before. We ate while pouring over the map and deciding our route for the day. It was only just gone 8 by the time we had finished, and we weren't to leave the house until 11am, so we went out for a wander round the city for an hour or so.
We first went up Mason to the Chinatown gate - which was pretty unimpressive truth be told - then walked up the classic steep streets of San Francisco (this particular hill was Nob Hill) to the city's cathedral. On the way up we spotted Dara O'Briein, a famous Irish comedian, on a street corner and had our photo taken with him. He was particularly cheery that morning as I don't think he's all that well known in the U.S., so had probably been left alone for the most part.
Anyway, we reached the cathedral, which was like a smaller Notre Dane on the outside, and somewhat bare and sombre on the inside. After snooping around for a couple of minutes - and pretending we didn't see the $10 suggested donation sign - we walked back down the hill, through the business district, and to the Ferry Building where a farmers market is held every Tuesday morning. It was already getting hot, and we spent a happy half an hour in the sunshine sampling the nectarines, plums, peaches and grapes freshly brought in from the valleys surrounding San Francisco.
We wandered our way home back up Market, arriving at the hostel at about 10.30, just as Rosie and Kate were coming out of the shower and Matt out of bed. I showered and got ready, making my lunch of Mac and cheese and packing my bag full of water bottles. We left not long after 11am, and began the long walk through the city's beautiful, affluent but mercilessly hilly residential areas - passing through Japantown on the way. After an hour or so we turned North, and headed up a particularly formidable gradient to the entrance to the Presidio. The Presidio is part a huge park, full of twisting paths and towering palm trees, part a sort of governmental or administrative complex of important looking sand coloured buildings surrounding huge lawns of manicured grass, and part beach.
We walked through the park first then found ourselves, a little off-route and in the middle of one of these grassy plazas. A little foot-sore, we decided to take a break here and have a bite to eat, then spent a little while throwing the ball around with the Golden Gate Bridge looming in the background. We moved on, following the freeway that eventually crossed over and before long emerged over the crest of the hill and to the base of the bridge. It was, as you might expect, huge - stretching out far over the narrow stretch of water that separated northern San Francisco from the mainland (called the Golden Gate), it's two towers rising high and square into the clear sky.
The area around was rammed with tourists milling about, and still more pouring over from the other side. We started out, the walkway being on the right - or East - side so allowing a view of the skyline and Alcatraz in one vista. It took at least 30 minutes to cross, as huge container ships passed underneath and windsurfers skipped along the water far below, catching the strong breeze that blew in from the Atlantic. We didn't stay too long on the other side, long enough to enjoy the view beck over to the city and watch the waves crash on the rocks below, then we were heading back across.
On the other side we cane down off of the hill, and stuck to the path that ran along the waters edge - and onto Crissy Fields. These backed immediately onto the beaches, and on these we took our next stop, eating and resting our feet. Once we were fortified a little, we started back towards home. On the way we stopped at the incongruous but impressive Palace of Fine Arts on the edge of the Presidio - a Romanesque domed structure with winged walkways lined with columns. We wandered through this curiosity, then left to the Presidio and headed for the hostel.
It was uphill almost from the off, but this offered an incredible view down to the shoreline once the summit was reached. From there we really just counted down the countless blocks to the hostel, now tired and sun-blasted, but with the sense we had used the day well. We returned at about 6-7pm, having walked for 8 hours and about 22 miles. The rest of the evening was spent cooking and playing cards, before heading up to bed earlyish - wiped from such a active day.
The next day, Wednesday, started as the day before. Kieran and I were up at 7.30 to cook breakfast, however today Kieran was heading to Berkeley to see the university of California while I went out for a run and to do s little training before everyone else was up. We were ready for 11 once more, and the 4 of us headed out to Union Square to jump on the bus to the most Western point of the city - Lands End.
The bus was crammed and hot, but cheap and fairly quick. As soon as we got off of the bus, it hit us how different the weather was on this side. Here, it was cloudy, windy and cool. We walked to the beach, and had our first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean. The landscape was remarkably reminiscent of Northern Cornwall, which big rollers crashing on tall, jagged rocks, all above a slate grey sky.
We explored these rocks and the ruins of an old bath house on the coast, then created a hill to the south which separated this part of the coast from the Ocean Beach beyond. The beach was a thin but incredibly long sandy strip extending far into the distance. We wandered down here a little way, then turned inland at the base of the Golden Gate Park - which was, in effect, San Fran's Central Park, stretching 48 blocks towards downtown.
We made our way through, following rambling paths past the Dutch Windmill, and around little lakes where bold little raccoons had made themselves at home, and to the buffalo pen about 1/3 of the way through the park. The buffalo were a little disappointing, just 4 indistinct brown lumps in the folds of a collection of hillocks at one corner of the pen. We carried on through the park for a little while longer, following the edges of meadows and lakes, before we turned North at roughly halfway down, and headed up out of the park and to the bus stop.
We got back to the hostel at about 5 and cooked ourselves some food. That evening, at about 7, Rosie, Kate and I walked the 3 miles to the Twin Peaks - two undeveloped hills to the south west of the central city - to see the view over the cities skyline at sunset. As we headed down Market street and into the large and thriving gay district of Castro, it became more and more obvious that the famous fog of San Francisco had come at just the wrong time, and was sitting stubbornly upon the hills.
Regardless, we ascended the steep winding streets on the cities edge, the wind picking up and the temperature dropping, and finally climbed at least 7 sets of stairs to reach the road that ringed the summit of one of the hills. Turning around towards the city, we found we could see no further than about 30 metres. This was a little disappointing, but it was also very atmospheric. We sat, still in high spirits, for quite some time as darkness fell, then eventually headed back down the side of the hill.
On the way down, however, we came across another small hill which was considerably lower down than the twin peaks, so we climbed it and, as we reached the summit, the whole of San Francisco was unveiled before us. The view was incredible, and we sat for the best part of an hour watching the cities lights and hearing it's sounds in the distance. When we'd finally seen enough, we came down off the other side of the hill, rejoined Market Street, and followed it the several miles back to the hostel, and to bed.
I was up at my usual time the next morning and, as Kieran was taking the bus to the Muir Woods that day, set out on my own into the city and to the famous Crooked Street on Lombard. It took me about 40 minutes to walk there through the undulating streets, but it was worth it. The street was a short section of Lombard street which was built on a steep incline, where the road takes a series of sharp turns in an 'S' shape, bordered by banks of rhododendrons on each side.
I wandered down the street, which was exceptionally pretty, then made my way back to the hostel for a shower. We left a little earlier that day, the 4 of us, and walked first past the grand Town Hall and Opera House, then up yet another hill to Alama Square, around which are the Painted Ladies, the classic San Francisco houses painted in different colours. We tested there for a short while, then headed on to the other end of the Golden Gate park to which we had entered from the day before.
Once there, we had our lunch, the strolled around the varied buildings, tea gardens, fountains and amphitheatres that stood within the Eastern end of the park.
We were all a little tired from the long days we had had before, so before long we headed back to Market, and walked the hour and a half back to the hostel. Arriving at about 3. We spent most of the afternoon reading and grudgingly beginning packing, before heading down for dinner and to catch up with Kieran at about 6pm.
I had decided that I would like to head back up twin peaks that evening to see if I could get the view - and sensibly no one else was too fussed about coming, and spent the evening playing cards. I headed out, making the bottom of the hill within the hour and seeing a bank of cloud approaching the hills summit. I practically run up the 300 metre hill, and caught 30 seconds of the view before the clouds descended. I then came down off of the hill as quickly as I had come up, and hot-footed it to the smaller hill as to catch the city as the light leaked from the sky.
Thankfully, the view was even better than the night before. The taller buildings in the skyline were more visible, and I sat watching the cities lights wink on one by one until the coolness of the evening forced me to lower, warmer ground.
And thus, satisfied, I headed home along Market, through Castro with its lively bars, past the little homeless encampments in the parks that flanked the road at regular intervals, past the busy theatres and restaurants and back to the hostel just in time for bed.

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