San Francisco

Trip Start Apr 13, 2010
Trip End Aug 27, 2010

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Flag of United States  , California
Saturday, August 7, 2010

The rest of the journey from Sacramento to San Francisco took longer than it should have due to heavy traffic in and around Oakland. Although this was only the first of a handful of long greyhound trips I had already begun to wonder if I had made a mistake. However, my thoughts quickly changed once we approached San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge appeared, dense in fog, away in the distance. Unlike most other cities I had visited so far I had no initial bad feeling or hesitation about San Francisco, the minute I arrived I knew I would live it.

My stay actually got off to a really bad start. I arrived at the Hostelling International Hostel downtown and attempted to check in, only for the receptionist to tell me there was no reservation in my name. I turned on my macbook to check the confirmation and showed him. Turns out a hostel down the road had recently opened, calling itself 'International Hostel' and had even copied and pasted the same description from the HI hostel on the website. I wasn't the only one it had happened to. I immediately had a bad feeling about the place that I'd be staying, and I wasn't wrong. There were no lockers available anywhere for valuables. The guy working there suggested I place everything in the office and assured me they were safe, despite the office having two doors at either end of the room, both of which were wide open, the second of which was completely out of sight when he was working the reception desk. I decided to keep everything on me, making an extremely heavy backpack. Secondly, the shower in my room had a notice saying out of order. I returned back downstairs and asked if there was somewhere else I could shower as I'd been on a bus for twenty-four hours. He handed me a pad of paper and asked me to write down my room number and the problem; '404 - shower'. Later I found that the shower was working and the out of order notice had been left up there since the last time they cleaned, which was anyone's guess. Other than that just the usual hostel problems. Idiots screaming and banging throughout the night and my very considerate Asian room mates coming back in during the early hours, turning on their laptops and tapping away endlessly. During the second night I had three different people staying there. I actually had more than three which was worrying for a four bedroom room. The hostel had overbooked by 17 people and they couldn't work out which room everyone was in. By 1am new people were still turning up into the room. When I returned to the hostel to collect my other bag before getting the bus the same guy was working, and there was around twenty angry looking travellers all surrounding the desk.

But I don't want to write about the hostel too much as I don't want to take away anything from the city. I do have to mention though that after a nightmare first night my morning got even worse when I stopped in a camera store to buy a simple protective filter for my lens. The guy working there attempted to sell me a poloriser filter for $100 and when I told him I didn't need it, subsequently dropped the price by $10. I eventually got he filter I needed but before I could leave he insisted on cleaning my lens despite my protests. Now I have four lovely black specks in my viewfinder which, short of returning the camera to Nikon for a hefty price, are stuck there. Thankfully they are safely in the viewfinder and not in the sensor or lens so the image quality is completely unaffected. I'm mentioning this because after two nights with next to no sleep I was feeling pissed off to say the least. I got the metro out Lower Haight after I had read a review online of a helpful camera store. Once inside I explained the problem to the guy and he had a look for me. Instead of trying to get me to buy one of the lens cleaning kits he explained what had happened, insisting it would not affect the quality or performance of the camera and said it was just one of those annoying things we have to live with. After wards we dicussed a few techniques and he gave me advice regarding a shutter speed effect I was after, not once attempting to push a sale onto me. After leaving the store I kind of felt like I should have bought something in there just to say thanks. I jumped on the F line tram heading back towards the city along Market Street. As I did I asked the driver if my transfer was still valid. He laughed and said yes and then gave me another one, extending my time another ninety minutes. It's times like this, being the person I am, that I tend to focus on the wankers and idiots in the world and forget about the decent people

Feeling better about things, helped by a few coffees, I was keen to see the city. I headed down to the end of Market Street and out along a pier parallel to the Bay Bridge. After a cloudy start to the day the sun had come out and so had the rest of the tourists along the water front. Further along the harbour the tour guides were out and about trying to sell tickets to Alcatraz cruises and other tours. The famous Pier 39 was packed to the point where it was difficult to move. Vendors were selling clam chowder served in a hollowed out crusty bread buns and fisherman were breaking off the limbs of crabs. I considered walking out to the Golden Gate Bridge but after consulting the scale on the map I thought I'd best leave it till later and get the bus. Instead I walked up Powell Street, the route of the cable car, and up the famous steep streets. As well as being such an iconic image, the actual neighborhood looked like a really nice place to live; clean, quiet, laid back and totally unique. After descending the streets back down I grabbed a salad and sat in Union Square. While taking a few photos a homeless guy asked if he could help me in any way by holding something. Not sure I need you to 'hold my SLR camera', and if I did I still don't think I'd accept.       

That night I made my way to the Golden Gate Bridge. The sunshine of the daytime had been replaced by an ever increasing thick fog that consequently dropped the temperature. After working out the bus routes I arrived at the foot of the bridge. I was taken back by the height of it, although in fairness I couldn't actually see the top of it. I began taking photos but before long gave up. There was certainly no way that I was going to attempt to walk the mile and a half across to the other side. Despite the fog I was pleased with some of the pictures I came back with, I think in a way the fog gave them a uniqueness and stopped them looking like a set of postcards. I arrived back at the hostel and after the Asian computer geek had stopped playing with his synthesiser and left (yes he was actually travelling with a full-sized, 49 key synth) I was looking forward to a good nights sleep, although we all know that wasn't going to happen.

The next morning, already my last day in San Francisco, and it started gray and overcast. I slept in too, well till about 10am anyway. I was late to check out but I don't think they would have dared say anything to me at the front desk. I asked them to store my bag for me until my bus later that night and went to find somewhere for breakfast. I ended up in a typical American diner, complete with booths and stools along the bar. I decided on a banana waffle (it'll be back to Bran Flakes in the UK) ad thought it was strange that they'd put a ball of ice cream on them, with it being breakfast. I was soon to find out that the yellow, ice cream scoop sized object that was positioned in the middle of my waffle was actually a huge ball of butter.

I spent the morning around Union Square and the financial district, exploring and taking it easy. I gave in and bought a pair of Levis as the jeans I had been wearing for the last three months had just about worn out and would no longer stay up round my arse! There were pairs on sale for $30 but knowing my luck none in a 32. Later in the day I made another trip to the Golden Gate Bridge. This time was considerably less foggy, but considerably more tourists. I walked to the other side of the bridge, realising I was desperate for the toilet about halfway across. I'd bought a bus ticket so once back on the other side I wasn't left walking back to the city. I made another stop, this time at Alamo square to photograph the iconic coloured Victorian houses. Another bus towards the city and one final stop along Market Street. This was near the Opera house, Asian Art Gallery, City Hall and various other auditoriums and venues. The buildings were impressive, it was just a shame that the courtyard linking them was rife with homeless people.

My day ended by picking up my bag at the hostel and taking the F line tram for the final time to a Starbucks while I waited for the Greyhound bus. I wish I would have had more time in San Francisco. I think if i Had it would have easily become my favourite city so far, even more so than Montreal or Vancouver.  
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