04.05.2008 - 08.05.2008 30 °C
San Fran (they don't like you calling it that apparently) - a unique city. Its really nice in several ways. The architecture is wonderful - lots of wooden colourful houses. The people are lovely - laid back, all trying to be "groovy". The weather is, well, funny. One minute it is scorching hot, then a few seconds later it can turn bitterly cold with howling winds. The layout - easy to navigate, and the public transport - wicked - especially as their tube system is called the "BART" - Cowabunga Dude!
Our 1st hotel we stayed at was the Serrano - we got it for $119 a night (rack rates of $235 a night min normally) - through Hotwire - our 1st stab at it - a webiste where you tell it your desired area, you are offered a price but only know the star rating, and if it is a customer favourite, and what facilities it has. You don't know what hotel you have chosen until you pay up front. It didn't take a genuis to do some reasearch and narrow down what they were offering to a few hotels. Nice result - a "boutique" hotel - which we reckon means they stuff the room with LOADS of chargeable extras, give you a free glass of wine each day, and offer you aromatherapy. All in all a great hotel - very pleased with it. And no, we had no aromatherapy, and no Tarrot readings – both were on offer.
And a great location – one block from the Cable Car (Read Tram) system. It’s basically an upside down ski lift – the cable runs under the road and drags the cars around. There used to be about 32 routes but there are only two now since the great quake of – some time in the past. It’s a cute system, it’s also crap. The queues are horrific, even in the week. The cars are sometimes backed up in a line of three, yet they only let one go every quarter of an hour or so. Then they don’t really go where you need them to go. Worth a try for the tourist novelty element but after that you give up. Try and catch one from anywhere other than where they terminate and you’ll be confronted with full cars.
(these guys are turning it round on a turntable)
(this is what you are confronted with all the time and this was after a 40 minute wait)
The buses on the other hand are fantastic. They are the ones with electric overhead cables. The 1st one we got we were greeted with a female driver so jolly she practically sung each stop name. The 2nd one, the driver went to great lengths to explain to me the workings of the system etc, and I never even asked. Uber friendly drivers, and clearly paid well.
We had a good laugh on one of the busses – we stopped and someone disabled was clearly boarding – the driver activated the lifting ramp and it whirred away. I couldn’t see, but I knew something was up. The ramp sounded strained, and the bus leant to the right quite severely. The driver, a young chap, said, “hehe – I think you may be too heavy”, “what was that?” the guy on the lift responded, “um, nothing”, “what did you say??”, “umm. I think you may be a little heavy”. “I catch the bus every day, I know how it works!!” he barked. Then he appeared. He was sooooo huge, in a mobility scooter, that we had to put our feet on the chairs for him to get past.
Jabba the Hut had boarded our bus!
I know, I’m being fattist again, but you just can’t not notice these things. Unreal. God knows how long his batteries don’t last on his scoot.
We have spent a fair amount of time at Fisherman’s Wharf (read Brighton with clam chowder) – it’s actually quite cool – tonnes of seafood restaurants (at horrific prices) and various other tacky novelties that suite the sea side. They have a “Ripley’s believe it or not” place there – like a freak show but with more technical things to see too. We loved the Kaleidoscope room – all mirrors , including the floor – we had to probe with our feet a few times before we stepped in, it didn’t seem like there was really a floor at all! The best bit was a walkway where the walls rotated around you – so you got the feeling the floor was rotating sideways. It was so effective that you found yourself shifting all your weight to your left foot to stop yourself “falling over” (even though the floor never moves). SO much so, I walked through a good four or five times, knowing the trick, but each time, I found myself leaning to one side. Funny how you can’t tell your brain something is nonsense when it has already made it’s mind up!
They also had a giant “pin head” thing where you make an “impression”
(yep, she made an impression)
San Fran is steep! – you’ve seen Bullit, you’ve seen the Streets of San Francisco, it’s very very steep in places. We made the mistake of walking UP Lombard – the most crooked street in the US – you know, the really windy street. It was so steep that you could almost touch the ground in front of you without leaning forward. And we walked up it. Doh! – I don’t have pics as we happened upon it and I had no camera on me. We’ve done a lot of walking here, and my beer gut is still on the rampage. It’s a shame. I lost weight in Asia, but cakes and beer in America are taking their toll.
We went on the obligatory Alcatraz Tour – we did the “Night” one. Not quite sure how they get to that conclusion. It is from 5.40 pm until 8pm and it is still not dark by then… A great tour though – one of the ones with headsets on where the whole thing is read by the real guards and convicts. We synchronised our tapes perfectly, and then consequently played the fool each time we were told to stop, turn, look up etc. Childish but fun :-)
(B&W from now on - I found it more "fitting" :-) - and the light was poor ! )
Just before we boarded the outgoing boat they made us stand in front of a tacky background poster of Alcatraz and took a picture…. On the way back on the boat the pictures were there for sale. We laughed our socks off! – Everyone on the tour, standing in front of Alcatraz in great sunny weather. $24 bucks too! We both joked that is was just one step ahead of having a cardboard cut out of us in prison gear with our head poking through the “head holes” like you see at the sea side. No way would we pay, amusing as they were. Then Kirstin overhears someone behind us say , “why don’t you just take a picture of the picture”. Genius!! So I did. Off with the flash, K holding the pic really still…. And here is the masterpiece!..... ( a bit of reflection from the glossy photo paper...)
The people sitting next to us on the boat we clearly miffed they’d paid for theirs. Totally miffed. They stopped talking to each other after looking at what we were up to and pushed their pictures aside.
We’ve eaten some great meals here in SF, including a Fondue at the “Matterhorn” – a Swiss Fondue-only joint – hilariously when we arrived the woman said “you here for the Fondue?” – Duh! What else would we be here for (and it has “Fondue Festival” on a giant banner above the entrance…..). SF has more restaurants per capital than anywhere else in America. We’ve eaten well. Problem is it’s mega costly. We are spending at least $200 a day, plus at least $120 a day on accommodation, plus taxes. And we are trying to be careful. You just can’t do it on the cheap. This alerted us to the fact New York is going to be mega costly. The accommodation alone is at leaxt three times as much.
So much so that we have changed our flights (Again!) so we are now going to be in NY for 1 and a half days rather than 1 week. We figure £150 in fees is far far less than it’ll cost us to stay in NY for a week. Rather daftly we’ve changed our flight twice now. So flights to the UK for £400 for the both of us have been topped up with two changes now, at £150 a time lol. £400 flight, £300 in changes. We are learning by our mistakes though, that much is a comfort at least.
We won’t be scheduling long stops in big cities in future. We get bored quickly and it’s desperately expensive.
Today we got adventurous. We went cycling! – We hired bikes and cycled over the Golden Gate bridge. We then had the choice of catching a ferry back, or cycling another 8 miles to the next port (Tiburon). We stopped for lunch and a few beers, then hit the next leg. And some hills. By the time we got there, 16 miles away, we were both knackered, thirsty, and we’d missed the boat!
(Had to get the bridge in at some point... and not bad from behind either)
No probs – more beer, a kip on the grass and we got the 5pm boat.
(Tiburon - a nice place - pretty, peaceful, not a place to party though)
When we got back we had to cycle to the starting point to return the bikes. The moment we both mounted our trusty steeds we both yelped out “My Arse!!!” – talk about saddle sore! – after 16 miles of cycling for untrained sloths like us, the last thing you want to do is get back onto the saddle – I rode all the way standing up!.
A lovely day again. Great scenery, met an expat who was very content and chatty and got maybe a little healthier.
We’ve found out on Saturday there is a HUGE 20 min firework display on the Wharf, and Los Lobos (a lalalalal Bamba! – remember?) are playing. Sorted. Then we are flying to Fort Lauderdale in Florida on Sunday and hooking up with someone I’ve know on the Internet for years (Poker) for a tournament and dinner.
Then it’s Orlando and Shuttle Launch time!!! :-)