Iconic SF

Trip Start Sep 02, 2007
Trip End Sep 16, 2007

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Flag of United States  , California
Sunday, September 9, 2007

On Saturday morning, I tried to get a cable car but there was a replacement bus service part way. I felt sorry for the kids who looked so disappointed standing in the bus queue. When I did get on one of the famous vehicles, I had to sit inside in the boring section, and they weren't letting people hang off the sides like you see in the postcards at all.

I got a bike from a hire shop called Blazing Saddles. In the US they use the term bicyclist. I can't work out how to pronounce it. It just sounds silly when I say it! Biking the Bridge is a very popular tourist activity and rightly so, it was great fun, but I was constantly seeing other cyclists with 'Blazing Saddles' branded handlebar bags. I didn't like the fact that everyone knew where I'd been and where I was going!

It was hot when I set out from the hotel, but by the time I got the bike it was cloudy with a stiff breeze. I'd only cycled a few blocks when I realised I had to make the archetypal SF tourist purchase - warm clothes - as a result of coming out unprepared for the changes in weather. I emerged from the shop with a new pair of fluffy earmuffs.

The ride along the waterfront to the bridge was pleasant, if rather chilly, along a cycle path that passed beaches, a marina, parks, reclaimed sand dunes, lagoons and a former airfield, shared with lots of other cyclists, joggers, dog walkers and strolling families. On the bridge there is a separate cycle path but the traffic still thunders past a few metres away in a constant stream. It's hard not to enjoy doing something as memorable as crossing the Golden Gate Bridge though. There were lots of tourists doing just that, much to the annoyance of the local bycicyclistists, by the looks on their faces, who were crossing the bridge to actually get somewhere.
On the other side the feel is completely different. Marin County is a headland crammed with view points, redwood stands, walking trails and waterfalls. It would have been nice to explore on foot a bit, but I had a fast-aaproaching appointment so I carried on, coasting downhill, enjoying the hot sunshine, towards my destination - Sausalito. This bayside town is a world away from The City; very quaint with villas covering the hillsides and boardwalks tracing the shore, but it is so touristy. I made the mistake of trying to purchase a birthday card and was immediately caught up in a seething crowd of holidaymakers buying souvenirs and ice lollies. Making a quick exit I headed for the ferry and joined the back of a long queue - a large proportion were pushing bikes. I was wondering how we'd all fit in but the whole lower deck is given over to bike stands. It's very well organised and you even get a ferry ticket when you hire your cycle.
It was a great journey back across the bay, with choppy waves glistening in the sun and boats bobbing about. The views are first of the Golden Gate Bridge, followed by the entire spread of the city along the north edge of the peninsula, a close-up of Alcatraz, after which the Financial District's skyscrapers come clearly into sight, and finally of SF's other bridge - the Bay Bridge. That's pretty much everything ticked off the list then!
Running late, I cycled all the way along the Embarcadero (waterfront thoroughfare) to return the bike, got a bus back to my hotel, did a wonder woman change into my evening wear and flew out to get a taxi to a gallery opening in SoMa (South of Market). I was on a blind date, meeting a couple who I'd been put in contact with by a friend of Darren's (thanks Charlie!) Luckily they were running even later than me and weren't at the gallery when I arrived so I had the chance to catch my breath, look at the art and discover there was no free wine. Some of the paintings were beautifully detailed and when Tom and Katy arrived they infected me with their enthusiasm and knowledge of art. After pondering enough canvases, they took me for a cocktail in a nearby bar and I had a very interesting time discussing everything from Burning Man to immigration to reality TV.
My dinner destination that night was The Stinking Rose, a garlic restaurant. It's quite an infamous place as you can imagine. It's still a 'big thing' for residents to brave eating there apparently. I met the birthday girl Alissa and her friends for drinks first, and then we headed to eat. Walking in, the smell is pretty overpowering, but after a while you stop noticing it. The roof of the restaurant is decorated with the longest garlic braid in the world (348 feet). To begin, we got served bread with an extremely strong but moreish garlic pesto and after that everything else tasted mildly garlicky: my taste buds must have been knocked out by it! For dessert, the table shared garlic ice cream. Hehe! It was yummy. I got on a Margarita tip at the restaurant (I'd never actually had one before this summer - thanks for introducing me Jo! - so am still in my honeymoon period) and over the course of the meal we'd all got pretty rowdy, having sung/shouted a total of four rounds of Happy Birthday.
We headed off, vapour trails of garlic odour in tow, to the Tonga Rooms. I'd picked up over the course of the evening that this wasn't an 'ordinary' nightclub. No sireee! It was Hawaiian-themed, complete with a grass-roofed bar and seating around a pool. Tropical rainstorms were scheduled every half hour. It was so tacky it was good. After each downpour, a live band would travel up the length of the pool on a 'boat' (floating platform) towards the dancefloor, and play a lounge set with a tropical twist to the small crowd of dancing couples. We clearly weren't the usual clientele but we got right into the swing of things. As well as my blue Margarita, I was coerced into sharing the lava bowl (see photo) - a big bowl of sickly punch. I was taught how to play Waterfall: everyone starts drinking through straws out of the bowl at the same time and each person has to keep drinking longer than person before them, going round in a circle. It made me dizzy!

As the drinks flowed the people I was with started to compliment my accent. I had the stereotypical idea that all Americans loved an English accent, but I hadn't had any comments either last visit to NY or here. But now I got told that it was very cute and that my voice was soothing!  
When the Tonga Rooms was dying a slow death around 1am, a smaller group of us went on to another club. This was more like it - an intimate venue with a DJ playing good quality and classic house - and I danced my socks off. Got a shock when I went to buy a drink and was told they stopped serving alcohol at two. It's Californian Law apparently, but it's so early noughties! It was probably a good thing to switch to water in hindsight.
At some point I realised everyone I had come with had left, but I'd got chatting to Eli, a friendly Pakistani guy who was shorter than me. He'd lived in Cambridge for 2 years. We hit the dance floor for what didn't seem that long a time, but it must have been. When I popped to the loo, I came back to an empty club with all the lights on. Reluctantly I realised it was probably time to go home.
Back at the hotel I set my alarm for 3 hours' time as I was getting up to go to church!
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