San Francisco

Trip Start Sep 03, 2007
Trip End Jun 17, 2009

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Flag of United States  , California
Thursday, October 25, 2007

We were dropped off at Union Square near the centre of town and about 5 blocks from the hotel. We decided to walk and all along the streets there were homeless people gathering and some had already bedded down in the alleys and doorways. Not quite the dreamy San Francisco we were expecting. We were not hassled but occasionally asked for 'change' and arrived at the hotel about 1930. We were both very tired and after a shower we just picked up sandwiches and a coffee from a nearby Starbucks, went to bed and watched the latest 'Harry Potter' movie on the TV.
Friday October 26th

Refreshed and ready to go. A walk along the main Market street, having breakfast on the way and buying a 3 day, 'All Transport' pass from touist information. We joined the queue for the cable car and then boarded the "Powell Hyde Cable Car Line' to go to the waterfront, some 4 miles away. This was an experience! Yes they really do hang onto to BOTH sides and the 'riders' take their chances with parked cars, oncoming traffic and trams and Yes - it was fun to join them!!!  The trolley song is spot on - it clangs as the driver rattles his bell as the only means of warning, it bumps as the iron wheels go over points and junctions and everyones heart goes thump as a car or van will suddenly cut across or a pedestrian steps out. This must have been one of the first ever white knuckle rides!! The only brake system is four blocks of wood that the driver forces down onto the track by hauling on a big lever. To make the car go he hauls on another lever to force the moving underground cable onto a cam under the car. The simplest methods are always the best but it sure wouldn't get planning or safety permission today.

We walked along the waterfront which is rows of shops and restaurants and went to Pier 33 to get tickets for the Alcatraz ferry. These trips were well booked up and the first available were for Sunday. We walked back and had a look round Pier 39, which has been developed into the main tourist centre with more shops and restaurants. It overlooks the sealion area, where a large colony is ensconced on floats, provided  to keep them from invading the wharves and jetties around. You could hear the noise from way away.

We spent all afternoon at the waterfront with a few performers in different areas. " Fower tha ayvaning, weez waynt ta Bubba Gumps Shrimp Restaurant. Ait waz kainda nait, ain tha chow waz rail gurd". OK a bit touristy but good fun. The restaurant had all the 'Forrest Gump' themery and overlooked the harbour, where a full moon lit up the boats and the water - a really pretty setting.  A tram car ride, not a cable car but old trams that they have collected from all over the USA and which run through the streets. I'm sure I spotted one that was the spitting image of a green Blackpool single decker, open top tram. 
 Saturday October 27th

 More sightseeing on a sunny 72 deg day. A cable car ride to the victorian area near Alamo Park, where the colourfull old houses have been well maintained. This was highlighting more the feeling that San Fran is just one big movie set. Remember the houses on the sloping street in "Mrs Doubtfire" - it was here.

We had already experienced the serious hills on the cable car and you got the real impression of Steve McQueen's car chase in "Bullit".

Down the road and we came to Lombard Street, 'the crookedest street in the world'. All twists in order to negotiate the very steep hill that the houses had been built on. You've seen it but I can't remember the film - "Herbie  ??"

We wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge and had spotted a 'Bike the Bridge' company yesterday. We hired the bikes and set off along the bay waterfront, up to and across the GG bridge with scary views from the centre. At the other end we saw a vulture soaring over the cliffs - they may be butt ugly but they sure can fly. Across the other side we caught the ferry from Sausalito back across the harbour. A pizza supper and then the tram back. There were so many people the driver gave up collecting fares and just packed us all in and set off. This was real San Francisco 'just get on with it' attitude.
Sunday October 28th

The day trip to Alcatraz. Seeing that the inmates spent their efforts trying to get out, it seemed ironic that so many people were now trying to get in. A fully loaded ferry left every half hour for the 30 minute ride to the island. Alcatraz - it comes from the Spanish, 'Isla de los Alcatraces' meaning 'Island of the Pelicans' and we saw several of the birds flying round the San Fran area. The island was originally a civil war fort defending San Fran bay and then became a military prison, before becoming a federal penitentiary. Al Capone, "Machine Gun' Kelly and Robert "Birdman" Stroud were all residents. How many more movies come to mind - Sean Connery in "The Rock".

We joined a talk on the escape attempts, which was fascinating. Cold, strong, swirling currents although the sharks were a myth. We walked round all the cell blocks using an excellent audio guide. Solitary cells, exercise yard and the cells that the rooftop prisoners were in. Remember Clint Eastwood in "Escape from Alcatraz? This was based on a real escape story and they found some personal effects on a nearby island but it was always denied as no bodies were ever found. Did they make it? It makes good folklore.  Alcatraz was eventually closed due to high running costs as everything had to be shipped in. A really intriguing place.

We had been told of a good Italian restaurant for supper, thanks H - Mr Petroni sends his regards. It was an excellent finish to our stay in San Francisco, which we found a real buzzing place with lots to see. Obviously made famous by the 60's 'Flower Power', it is a place that still has a lot going for it but also a lot of social fallout, whether instigated by the hippie generations reputation for San Fran or not - I don't really know.
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