Blazing Saddles and Waltzing Matilda

Trip Start May 22, 2010
Trip End Jun 28, 2010

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Flag of United States  , California
Monday, May 24, 2010

The day dawned cold and grey. I rugged up in one of my Newcastle Knights jackets, with my other one – the waterproof one – in my backpack. If it rained I would definitely need it considering our itinerary for the day.

Shane commented to the lady at the reception desk of the hotel. "I thought it was supposed to be warm in California!" To which we discovered that actually, spring and summer come late to California – around August/September. Which would explain why it still feels like winter here.

Cereal and juice bought at a Seven Eleven was hurriedly consumed in our room. We were in a big hurry to start our first real day in San Francisco.

The cable cars run until late into the night – I know because I can hear them clattering along Powell Street, just outside my hotel room window. They sound a bit like trains, and the drivers ring an old fashioned bell as they come up to the stop at the end of the street. Some even have a little tune that they use, just to mix it up.

This morning, we caught our first San Francisco Cable Car. They stop at the bottom of Powell Street and clunk their way over the hill from Downtown (where we are staying) to Fisherman's Wharf (where our day would begin).

The smell of the bay hit me before the sight did. A pungent mix of seaweed, fishing and general saltiness assaulted my nose, and I knew we were close.

The Wharf area is very tourist oriented. The street where the Cable Car terminates and the surrounding streets are lined with cheap souvenir shops selling cigarette lighters, mugs and the obligatory I love SF t-shirts. Every clothing store had a rack of 'windcheaters’ (American for spray jackets) out on the sidewalk. Naturally this meant that rain was imminent, but we weren’t about to let the threatening clouds ruin our plans for the day.

Blazing Saddles is a highly appropriate name for a bicycle hire company (and one that Shane will attest is exactly how he felt the next day). There are many bike hire businesses in San Francisco, but this one was the most convenient for the beginning of our planned two-wheeler tour.

I’m not sure how I should feel that the man serving us took one look at me and ushered me towards the bike with the largest, most cushioned seat available. But I suppose I can’t complain, because I am the only one of us who a day later hasn’t felt the ‘blazing saddle’ effect.

After a slightly wobbly start (the only bike I’ve been on in the last few years is stationary in a Spin Class) we were off. The cool weather and brisk breeze w orked in our favour; we didn’t overheat at all, and it was actually a relief to get the blood moving.

San Francisco has some beautiful bike tracks around the Bay, and this was our first destination. I almost jumped off my bike as we rounded the wharves and the two biggest landmarks in San Francisco came into view at the same time – the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. A wide concrete jetty jutted out into the Bay, and we raced towards it, frantic to take those first snap shots.

From here I boasted that Spin classes had made me a pro at cycling. Mel went one better and claimed that the hill which was the next part of our ride was so easy that she ‘could ride up it with only one leg’. The boys both managed to make it to the top. Mel and I gave up and walked from about halfway up. In our defence, it did look much shorter from the bottom than it really was.

San Franciscans seem to be big on dogs. We continued our ride down the other side of the hill and around a marina, to a large waterfront park. It must have been a dog friendly area – dogs were cavorting on the grass, in the water on the small Bayside beach, and along the sandy gravel pathway we rode along. I felt a pang as I thought about how much Darcie would have loved to be here.

It only lasted a moment though, because we were climbing again. And this time I wasn’t stopping to walk, because we were about to ride right onto the Golden Gate Bridge.

The wind buffeted us as we rode out onto the bridge. We kept to the right wherever possible, but sometimes large groups of walking tourists would block our path, and we had to move over, which put us in the path of the serious cyclists who zoomed past us at regular intervals. The walking and riding path seemed far busier than the car lanes, separated from us by a nice solid steel barrier.

We stopped under the first support beam for photographs. I had to close my eyes and point the camera upwards – I tried to look up, and a wave of vertigo nearly knocked me off my feet. That bridge is HIGH!!! Whenever we stopped we could feel the bridge bouncing under the weight of the cars. I was more than happy to get back on my bike and keep riding.

The very enthusiastic girl at the desk where we hired the bikes had spat out some directions to us in a thick Russian accent about routes to take on the other side of the bridge. We decided that we would try the one that would take us down into the picturesque town of Sausolito, where there were cafes and restaurants for lunch before we could catch a ferry back across to San Fran. Only problem was, none of us had been able to understand the directions she had given us!

Shane lead the way, and we were almost airborn down a very steep, narrow road, with cars and RV’s nearly blowing us over as they came within inches of us! The bike brakes were squealing, as I tried to stay as close to the edge as possible, without going onto the rocky and very uneven verge. I soon lost sight of Shane, and Mel and Bede were out of sight behind me.

After several hairy twists and turns, always heading steeply downwards, finally we reached the outskirts of Sausolito, and a place where I could stop. I located Shane parked on the pavement outside the first house of the village, and we waited there for the others to catch up.

A group of four once more, we continued on, me at the back, Bede and Mel up the front and Shane before me.

Mel squeaked and I looked up. Her bike was out of control! On one side there was a steep drop into a garden, and on the other the road. Mel couldn’t reach her brakes properly, and she tried to put her feet down to stop herself going over the edge. The bike swerved wildly and straight out onto the road! Luckily no one was coming, and she managed to get the bike under control once more. Needless to say she walked from there.

Sausolito looks like a postcard. The road that leads around the water is the only flat road in the village – everything else is built on the steep slope. Houses there are several levels, and I would daresay worth well into the millions. They don’t look uncomfortable perched on the almost cliff-face – in fact, they seem nestled comfortably in amongst the greenery.

Lunch at an Italian restaurant was quiet – we were the only people in the cafe, although the food was delicious. Another thing I am noticing about food in America – everything comes with fries, and soft drink refills are free, and you almost feel obligated to accept them. Staff look at you with confused expressions when you decline the free refill.

“’s FREE!” they insist. Often it’s just easier to let them fill it up than to explain that you’re not thirsty.

As we boarded the ferry back to the city, the clouds started to break up, just a little, letting glimpses of blue through. The wind was still like ice, and the Newcastle Knights spray jacket came out for the first time. The ferry cut through the water easily, and for once I didn’t feel even a little bit seasick.

We passed quite close to Alcatraz, the island jutting out of the water almost like one of the rocks along the Big Sur coastline. It is quite vibrant with colour – there are flowerbeds still flourishing there from its time as a prison island. But more about that later.

The sky fluctuated between slate grey and aqua blue as more clouds scudded over. We dropped our bikes back to the Russian lady, and wandered back along the waterfront towards Fisherman’s Wharf. Jackets came off, went back on, came off again as the sun disappeared and reappeared behind clouds – that’s how much of a difference the sun made to the temperature.

“What’s going on over there?” Mel asked, pointing to a crowd of people leaning over the main pier of Fisherman’s Wharf. I squinted in that direction, but I couldn’t make anything out.

“Oh my God!” she cried. “Take a look at all those seals!”

Finally I could see what she was pointing at – hundreds of seals lazing about on several big floating rafts between two of the piers. We set out in that direction.

The seals were actually Sea Lions, and they ranged in size from tiny babies to huge, blubbery males. All were sleeping, what we thought was peacefully, until one would roll over and on top of another one. A roaring complaint would ensue, waking up some of the bigger Lions and generally causing havoc. The big ones would sit right up and roar louder than all the rest, and the chaos would settle down once more, all the heads dropping back to the timber.

One big Lion was right near the edge, and as he snored his head flopped off the side and into the water. He just kept on sleeping, blowing bubbles into the water as he breathed. It mustn’t have been comfortable, because after a few breaths he woke up, lifted his head and growled at the water quietly, before falling straight back to sleep and blowing more snore bubbles.

Further on, a mother Sea Lion was sleeping with her baby. Her very NEWBORN baby. As in, the umbilical cord was still attached. A lone seagull – just like everything else in the states, even the seagulls are larger than life – decided that the still bloody umbilical cord might be a nice meal. He snuck forwards, a tiny bit at a time, and then lunged, once, twice. The tiny seal lifted its head, wondering what was pecking at it. The mother looked up, and the seagull backed off, and we could all breathe again.

We waited in the sun for the Cable Car to take us back over the hill to our hotel. After a quick nap and shower, Shane and I headed out for dinner, planning to meet Mel and Bede later at a bar that was playing 50’s rock n roll music.

Shane and I had a very 50’s night – we ate at a themed diner. Shane smashed a steak, and was over excited about the presence of veggies on his plate. I had a Chicken Ranch salad, because it had tomato and avocado with it. Needless to say the lettuce was drowned in ranch dressing, but it tasted amazing anyway.

The bar that had been spruiking 50’s rock n roll was tiny and narrow, decorated in a very 30’s style. There was no room to dance, which was disappointing. And the music wasn’t true rock n roll. The band – a trio of crusty old men with a lead singer who could have been Kenny Rogers’ doppelganger – spent more time chatting up the two Canadian women who were sitting in front of them than they did actually singing.

“I’ll give you a back rub,” Kenny Rogers offered. “And it comes with a complimentary front rub.” Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

In the deepest darkest corner of the bar, a long, skinny man sat at his table like it was a throne. Dressed in ultra skinny leg jeans, a velour jacket and with his lank, greasy black hair hanging in tendrils about his sunglasses clad face, he looked like a cross between Michael Jackson and Aldis Snow. I think he thought he was better than both of them too. He sat alone for a long time, until his entourage arrived. He greeted their enthusiasm magnanimously, like true royalty, although I’m not sure if he could even see through his dark glasses in the dark corner to recognise who had joined him.

The highlight of the event was Shane’s decision to try a local San Franciscan brew. Called Prohibition Ale, Shane screwed up his face and claimed that it tasted like burnt tyres, and the colour looked like it had been made in an old oil drum, just like during the real Prohibition. I took a sip, and thought it didn’t taste too bad. It was quite bitter, but it didn’t make me want to dry retch the way beer normally does. Which apparently meant that I just had absolutely no idea about what constitutes good beer.

The night wasn’t quite cold when we walked out past nine, so we took a wander around the streets. The beggars were still out in force, including one lady who looked like she might put a Voodoo curse on us for walking right by, and a man in a wheelchair who we actually saw propelling himself along with his feet once he thought we were out of eye line. Props like dogs, walking canes and wheelchairs are important props for the beggars of San Fran.

We waited in Union Square (a small piece of architecturally designed parkland) for over ten minutes to pose in front of a giant love heart sculpture that was being commandeered by two Hispanic couples. Once we got the shots, we wandered on.

A busker on the side of the street was playing jazz on his trumpet.

“I wonder if he knows the Baby Elephant Walk,” Mel enthused. That was more than enough prompting for Shane, who took a fiver out of his wallet and marched straight up to the guy. A murmured conversation, and several screeching test runs later, and the Crusade’s try scoring tune was blaring out through Downtown San Francisco.

“I have to say I’ve never been asked for that one before,” the busker commented. “What’s the significance?”

So Shane explained about our footy team, and what we do to celebrate when they score a try. We walked away with a fuzzy feeling in our hearts, and as we reached the next corner strains of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ followed us.
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Fallon on

Awesome, love the shots! I've never made it to San Fran, so I'm pretty jealous.

BTW: It's windbreakers...hehe.

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