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San Francisco San Francisco

16th May 2010

Golden Gate Park, Academy of Sciences, Japanese Tea Garden and the Pacific Ocean

Bay to Breakers Walkers
    A leisurely start to the day with a street car ride to the Golden Gate Park. The trip proved to be very colourful; today was the 99th Annual Bay to Breakers Day. Serious and not so serious runners and walkers take to the streets for this annual footrace from the Embarcadero to the Pacific Ocean. All those participating, mainly young folk, tended to be in fancy dress. All the pavements of the street car route were full of people who had completed the course or dropped-out. Hoards of them were boarding the street-car; by now standing room only. The event also explained why the traffic in the city was chaotic, and people in the hotels were having great difficulty in getting cabs. As I entered the park on foot, the main thoroughfare was crammed full of the walkers in full spirit, still wending their way to the ocean. A colourful, lively and noisy sight they were.
Orchestra Playing in the Music Concourse
    Heading across the Music Concourse I could hear the strains of "The Blue Danube" being played. There was plenty of seating available in front of the orchestra, so I took some time out to listen to more Strauss and Mussorgsky.
Cleverly Disguised Seahorse
The Living Roof Environment
    The Californian Academy of Sciences beckoned me. This place was astounding. It contained an aquarium, planetarium and natural history museum all under one living roof. Fish, reptiles, insects, birds, butterflies, an African penguin colony, a coral reef and a 4-story African rainforest all have a home here.
Banded Orange Hecolonican Butterfly
A Small Bird Landed Nearby
    The roof of the building was a living laboratory. In depth studies monitored plants and animals on the roof and served as a foundation for comparing future changes and diversity. I observed many Brewers Blackbirds flying around and landing on the roof. These smaller relatives of the European blackbird search for seeds, berries and insects. The official on the roof explained to me that a lot of the green vegetation on the roof was wild strawberries. These were small and so close to the ground that a casual bystander like myself could not see them, but the birds could locate them and feed.
    The planetarium's special effects were absolutely stunning (a lot of money pumped into this by NASA). The show gave a potted history of the universe in a highly informative manner. I learnt a thing or two. The soothing narration by Whoopie Goldberg was seductive.
    The various aquariums were equally as amazing, ranging from tropical coral, Californian coves, Amazon river and swamps. If you ever visit San Francisco, you must visit this centre. I thoroughly recommend it.
A Small Bridge in the Japanese Tea Garden
Pagoda behind the Trees
    As the centre approached closing time, I headed over to the Japanese Tea Garden. This is a fabulous oasis, and would be even more so when the weather is warmer and the flowers are out. I mentioned the other day the history of the garden, and there are copious numbers of Bonsai trees. Seeing these gave me a pang of guilt; my eldest daughter gave me a Bonsai kit a Christmas ago and I still haven't got around to having a go with it. The viewing and walking created a thirst, so I called into a conveniently placed Japanese tea-house for Genmai-Cha Set (green tea roasted and partnered with brown rice to give it an earthy taste) and Hawaiian Mochi cake (chewy sweet coconut cake).
Buildings in the Japanese Tea Garden
    The trek from here to the Pacific Ocean is around 2.5 miles as the crow flies. However, this huge park has so many trees, hills and twisty trails, and as the tour guide said the other day it was easy to get lost in here. I took so many twists and turns, I must have walked about 5 miles. It was worth it though. The trees in the arboretum came from all over the world and I was spell bound by their beauty. The climb up to the top of the hill in the middle of Stow Lake revealed excellent views too. Clumps of pretty flowers made the picture complete.

Golden Gate Park Flowers #1
Golden Gate Park Flowers #2
    I wound my way down to the ocean and stood there on the water's edge for sometime just taking it all in. It was a two year build up to getting out here, and it was an emotional occasion meeting this great ocean for the very first time. I stood and gazed, savouring the tang of the salt air in my nostrils again. A bit different from the salty tang I got from the North Sea at Shingle Street with my son two weeks earlier. The sheer scale of this vast ocean is overpowering. Even though the aim of this trip is serious walking in the Rockies, I couldn't help but marvel at the sight before my eyes, even if it was just another expanse of grey sea. The muddy North Sea it was not.
Pacific Ocean Looking South
Pacific Ocean Looking North
    I retired to the Beach Chalet restaurant for a meal as the cloud hidden sun sunk below the horizon. This building was built by the city of San Francisco in 1925. The ground floor originally housed a lounge and changing rooms for the beachgoers. Upstairs a 200-seat bar and restaurant hosted views of the crashing waves. During the Depression-era, a government funded work program commissioned Lucien Labaudt to paint frescoes showing a condensed history of San Francisco and the development of the Golden Gate Park. These frescoes still adorn the downstairs walls. I enjoyed a meal of Clam Chowder and Dungeness Crab with salad, washed down with California Kind. The bar specialises in microbrews, and the beer I had was a medium bodied copper ale with crisp hops, a nice malt finish and lingering bitterness.
    The long journey back to downtown provided an opportunity to reflect on the San Franciscans. On the whole they are polite, happy-go-lucky, easy going bunches who tend to get on well with each other irrespective of their backgrounds. It often seems as if everybody in San Francisco knows each other, the way they laugh and joke with all and sundry. The city is heaving with an enormous number of people who would be regarded in the UK as misfits and eccentrics, those on the margins of society. But nobody bats an eyelid over here at the odd-balls. Respect is perhaps the word I'm looking for. Everyone seems to have a respect for others: respect towards the misfits and multitudes of beggars, and a reverse respect from the beggars and hustlers who don't force themselves upon you but just wish you a good day. On the journey one such odd-ball climbed onto the street car with a microwave oven under his arm. He had "rescued" it from a skip. He was content to stand and chat to the driver as we proceeded. The microwave nearly took the driver's head off when we had an emergency stop; a car had crossed right in front of us as it went through a red-light. Everyone on the bus politely shouted in unison their disgust at the speeding car; a close knit crowd.
    I got back to my hotel around 22:30, and normally by this time I'd be wanting to crash out. However, today I seemed to have energy in reserve and it seemed as though Id' finally worked out the jet lag at last. The sound of music emanating from a bar across the road needed investigating. Across I went and ordered a beer and soaked up the atmosphere. The music was provided by a rotating collection of bands of decent calibre, mainly rhythm and blues. What really amazed me were the dancers on the floor area. They were all jiving and were definitely not amateurs, they certainly knew their stuff. They seemed to know each other and I guessed they must do this regularly at many venues. They genuinely showed their love for dancing. I was very impressed by the talent being displayed. The whole place was just heaving with noise, laughter, colour and joie de vivre. But I was an observer, not a participator, and for the first time on this trip I felt lonely.
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Uploaded from Adante Hotel, San Francisco on 17/05/10 at 16:20 PST

Last updated 18.5.2010