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Flight Out San Francisco

13th May 2010

Chilling Out Tour of San Francisco

    I made my mind up that after yesterday's long haul flight, today was going to be a chilling out day. Breakfast at the hotel was a pretty laid back affair; make your own toast, grab a muffin or two and get your own coffee in the reception - no dining room! Fortunately I am easily pleased.
    This was followed by a leisurely stroll to Union Square to pick up one of the many bus tours on offer. There was a short wait for the bus to turn up, so I took a seat on the square steps. Whilst seated, a guy came along, very carefully opened up the waste bin nearby, took out food containers and searched them for discarded food, and found nothing. He wasn't bothered. He just carefully closed up the waste bin and carried on his way. He looked like many of the other, what San Franciscans call, "homeless people" that drift around the streets. I have heard that some actually wander into hotels and help themselves to breakfast buffets. What really puzzled me was that shortly afterwards a well dressed woman, complete with case on wheels who could have been mistaken for a tourist, inspected the same bin for food.
    Along came the bus and I hopped on, and had a brief chat with a young English couple who were cramming as much of America into two weeks as they could. Good luck to them. The tour took us around the outskirts of Chinatown, the Transamerica Pyramid, Lombard Crookedest Street, Coit Tower and terminated at Fisherman's Wharf. Here I had an hour to kill before the next bus took us onto the Golden Gate Bridge.
    The primary focus of Fisherman's Wharf is the huge selection of Italian seafood restaurants. Fishermen from Sicily and Genoa first arrived here in the late 19th century and founded the local fishing industry. Since the '50s, tourism has taken the lead in the area, although boats still go out to fish, the speciality being Dungeness crab (I also came across Ipswich clams). I did get a chance to see Alcatraz in bright sunshine today, and walked along Pier 45 to take in a glimpse of the World War II submarine USS Pampanito. This fought several battles in the Pacific, sinking six enemy ships. Berthed directly behind it was the SS Jeremiah O'Brien. This was one of hundreds of supply ships mass-produced during World War II to supply "beans, bullets and black oil" to American troops throughout the world. The design was British, using pre-fabricated sections, and the American shipyards could produce each ship in 6 weeks.
USS Pampanito
SS Jeremiah O'Brien
"Scooter" Convoy
    Along the Wharf there was a motley collection of street "statues", not a patch on their UK counterparts. But the highlight for me of this short break was a superb blues player. I could have listened to his playing for hours, but alas the next stage of my tour beckoned. Whilst waiting for the tour bus to turn up I was amazed to see a convoy of those "scooters that people stand up on" contraptions come down the street. I didn't know whether they were all on a guided tour or were receiving driving lessons. Whatever the case, they made me grin.
Golden Gate Bridge Shrouded in Mist
Unusual Traffic Negotiations on Stockton Street
    The bus tour continued along Lombard Street through the suburbs towards the Golden Gate Bridge. Our driver, Richard, was both highly informative and witty; in fact a real hoot. He drove us to the bridge but it was nowhere to be seen; totally engulfed by the notorious sea mist that sweeps across the bay. We traversed the bridge and parked up at a view point on the Marin County side for a 15 min. photo opportunity; mist and all! It was a pity since there would also have been spectacular views of San Francisco across the bay. The tour continued back to San Francisco with Richard pointing out the $30M mansions owned by the likes of Sharon Stone. A further detour via the Civic Centre took us back to Union Square.
City Hall Rotunda
    After a casual examination of the offerings of the artists exhibiting their wares in Union Square, I headed west to the Civic Centre to take in the glorious spectacle of the City Hall Rotunda, a really beautiful building. The original building crumbled during the 1906 earthquake, this replacement building costs $300M, with 10% of that being spent on the foundation to improve its resilience to earthquakes.
Haight Statue
Three Faces Statue

    Since the Haight district lies some blocks to the west of the Civic Centre, I marched off in that direction. It is only when you do a lengthy hike like this that you realise just how hilly San Francisco is. Haight was the hippy Centre of the Summer of Love during the swinging '60s. The area contains some stunning "Victorian" architecture, though only a fraction of the buildings were built during her 1837 - 1901 reign. The Buena Vista Park, once known as Hippy Park, sits within Haight, and its summit beckoned me, partly due to the need for some strenuous exercise, but also due to the breathtaking panoramic views it offers. It was a tough climb to the top, but my, what splendid views. The park also contains a variety of wind-sculpted pines and cypresses, some dating back to before the park's foundation in 1867.
Colourful Hotel in Haight
Haight Houses
    I left the park and picked up Market Street for the long hike back to downtown. It was on this hike that I noticed how many people got around on foot, by cycle or skateboard. They are a healthy breed in San Francisco, especially since there is nothing but hills to contend with. I stopped off at a cafe since I was parched. Inside the cafe a chap was playing classical music on an acoustic guitar, which was quite enjoyable. I hung on for a while listening to his playing and scribbled notes on today's activities, which you are reading now.
    In the evening I dropped down a street from Geary and discovered a crowd of homeless people all gathered together looking as though they were getting ready to sleep against a wall for the night. They were in no way intimidating. Indeed I was touched to hear one of them asking one old fellow shuffling down the road if he was OK. They look out for one another.
    A short distance down this road I came across a Moroccan restaurant. The menu looked interesting, so I went in. I have learned over the last six years how to go into a restaurant on my own, and now I can manage it without relying on a prop such as a book to hide behind. Life is too short to worry about self consciousness, and if a waiter gives me a bemused expression because I am on my own, I can give a steady, steely look back and an acerbic reply. To start with a chap brought a large bowl to my table and with my hands over the bowl, he poured warm lemon water from a kettle over my hands, after which I dried them on a towel. Rather grand and civilised plus essential since Moroccan's tend to eat with their fingers. I had a Moroccan lentil soup, followed by chicken cooked in almonds, raisins and honey. It was truly delicious food. The meal was followed by more hand washing, plus a Moroccan herbal infusion in which I detected cinnamon and mint. During the meal a belly dancer appeared and gyrated for half an hour. From where I was seated I was directly facing her. She was an attractive woman, but after a few minutes I just wanted to get on with my food. But there again I didn't want to appear rude. The other guys at adjacent tables were more interested in their mobile phones. It made me think, am I now too old to ogle at scantily clad women? Perhaps I'm losing touch with the female of the species.
    Afterwards I headed off back to my hotel, still suffering from jet lag and lulled into a sleepy state by the gorgeous food. I was harshly woken from this blissful state by one hell of a bang about 50m behind me, which had heads poking out of windows and doorways. I then noticed a cloud of smoke drift away. Within 90 secs eight police cars had turned up. Apparently some clowns had set a bomb off next to a parking meter. I shan't let that disturb my sleep.

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Flight Out San Francisco

Uploaded from Adante Hotel, San Francisco on 17/05/10 at 15:35 PST

Last updated 17.5.2010