Near Perfect Day in the US of A

Trip Start Aug 04, 2011
Trip End Jan 04, 2012

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Flag of United States  , California
Sunday, December 18, 2011

What makes a good day into a perfect day and what knocks a perfect day just down enough, but not enough to spoil it? Today had that right combination of things that gave pretty much that combination; a blend of activities and occurrences that made the day special and memorable while just providing enough irritations to keep it from the top spot, although I don't know what holds the top spot from the top of my head. Today was an excellent day.

The City Pass has proved it’s worth; we have done everything on the pass which means we have made savings. It’s kind of one of those false economy savings when you consider that you probably wouldn’t have done all those things if you didn’t have the pass but matter not; we enjoyed every activity. Today would use up the last ticket on the pass; ladies choice, the Exploratorium. The alternative choice for this ticket is to visit an Arts Museum but Kate prefers her interactive science exhibits and so that’s where we went.

Our day started with a stroll along Post street towards Powell. Everything now is becoming recognizable. You know which shops are coming up and which people work in which shops. Every day we walk past a pet shop which has a couple of little dogs that appear to guard the shop during closing hours and always have a peek in and every day I look inside a bar which looks like a place I’d like to pop in and chill for a beer sometime. San Francisco has developed a homely feel with us where it feels like your 'local’.

We queued with a load of tourists at the corner of Post and Powell for the world famous cable car (free on the city pass - $6 one way otherwise). Several passed us by full at the seems, children hanging from the sides. The driver suggested getting on at the bottom of the hill, and so quickly we found ourselves walking 5 minutes the other way from where we wanted to go to queue for 20 minutes to go back. The queue snaked around the bottom of the hill at Powell station, at the point at which the tram hits it’s terminus and is turned around on a little turntable to start its long slug back up the hill. We waited and watched for our turn. During this time we noticed the homeless. They are simply everywhere in this city, and I don’t think it is just this city, but they are noticeable. Their behavior is harmless but which just leaves a sour taste in your mouth. It takes a bit of getting used to as you stand in a queue and have person after person rooting around in the dustbin next to you drinking out of old Starbucks cups and picking out throwaway scraps. You feel sorry but you can’t help everybody. You want some of them to help themselves. That’s life. One guy was trundling around selling a San Francisco based magazine, a bit like the Big Issue in the UK. He was friendly and talking to the crowd while the crowd just ignored him. When he came past us he seemed to target me in a way that suggests my face is constantly wishing I would not to have to make contact with him . I shrugged him away and then immediately felt guilt. $1 is all he asked for. Kate’s face agreed with my sentiment. I found some change, gave it to the man and refused the magazine; I wouldn’t read it anyhow. "You’ve got a great man there lady, you’re very lucky" He chirped to Kate. Worth every cent for someone who is at least trying to get by. I just felt a bit ashamed not to give more. We’re spending all our money on frivolous touristing.

Once it got to our turn in the queue we found seats on board and were smug to notice that after a couple of stops a few of the tourists we were queuing with before we decided to walk down the hill were still queuing. In fact they jumped onto out tram, but only as standees – an uncomfortably long trip standing up.

The tram ride was butt clenchingly uncomfortable with the steepness of the hills. The varnished wooden seats just mean you slide along into the next person unless you hold on tight – but it’s a great experience. We hopped off at the top of the ‘Crookedest Street’ (Lombard at Russian Hill) for a little while to take in the quirkiness of the place before moving on. This section of Lombard Street is best known for the one-way section  between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets where the road has 8 sharp switchbacks to help reduce the steep gradient of the hill. This has given the street the distinction of being the crookedest or most winding street in the world. It was a funny looking street but what caught me out the most was a Chinese woman that suddenly feinted for seemingly no reason right in front of my eye line. I was just scanning over all the people scuttling around the bottom of the hill on a busy road to take photos when this woman just slumped to the ground. It was pretty disturbing. I started making moves over to help her out with no real wish to actually get there (I wasn’t too keen on getting there in case she was dead) when one of her friends got there first and helped her up. She was a bit shaken but seemed ok. Must have been the wonder at seeing such a winding road.

Kate and I manipulated the bus system and our included bus passes to their most usefulness in order to get to the Golden Gate bridge. It was sadly a little cloudy (but thankfully not foggy) which makes the photos a bit dull but it was a great wonder anyhow. This is the sort of stuff I have wanted to see. I’m now looking forward to the Hoover Dam and the Brooklyn Bridge, which in my view are two even greater engineering marvels (as I’m sure the rest of the engineering community would agree).

Post viewing we were a little stumped as to how we were meant to get back to the Exploratorium by bus because our maps just didn’t seem all that clear. Distance wise it looked like a mile or so and so the decision was made to try and walk in the right direction along the bay front until we reached the Fine Arts museum and Exploratorium. An excellent decision.

Along the front we came across a lovely stretch of greenery named Crissy Field which once housed an airfield (In the 20’s I think) but is now home to many San Franciscans all walking their dogs and taking a break from the city. The bay along side the field has a pier jutting out from the mainland where locals go crabbing. This day just happened to be a Sunday and so families were out crabbing in groups on the pier with Seals swimming around the baits pinching bits of food where they could. It’s one of the only places I could think where seals are seen as a nuisance! We just thought they were funny and elegant. We stayed and watched the crabbers and the seals for a bit and then walked along the bay with all the dog walkers until we came right up to the Exploratorium. It was a little over a mile and well worth the diversion.

I want to say that the Exploratorium is just for kids but it isn’t. I want to say that the Exploratorium is childish and silly and I will. I want to say that Kate was wrong for choosing it over the De Young museum of arts but I can’t. Because we had a great time.

It’s a souped up Science museum with tons of stuff going on housed in a big warehouse attached to the fine arts museum. Loads of different interactive exhibits for the learning of kids, and loads of things to play on for adults. Kate and I spent about 4-5 hours in here playing with everything and we could have spent longer – in the end we left when the place closed at 5pm.

Our evening was just as good as the rest of the day really. When we came out of the Exploratorium it was just about sunset and so we walked around the Fine Arts building (which is beautiful) as dusk fell. With all the Christmas lights coming on in what is a lovely area of houses I couldn’t help feel that the people living in this area must be quite pleased with their lot. It’s a lovely setting.

Mel’s diner was our stop for dinner. Another 50’s style restaurant in which they serve you in ultra quick time and give you some excellent food. They served us so quickly she was asking us if we wanted deserts when I had a mouthful of burger while holding the rest of the burger in my hands. We had barely started eating our mains. Well, I suppose we’d complain if they were slow about it.

Now the piece de resistance. Muppets in the AMC cinema. Near perfect day. Only ruined by the fact I had to walk out of the cinema a couple of times to get some attendant to realize the sound from the main characters voices was only coming out of the left speaker of the cinema. Nobody else except me and Kate seemed to care. We had paid our money – I wanted to hear Kermit in all his glory.

After about 20 minutes the film paused and a group of attendees came in en force and said they were trying to sort out the sound problems being experienced (I don’t think the other people in the cinema thought there was anything wrong) and so we could either wait until it was sorted or come back later but either way here are some free tickets. Woohoo. Everyone was given free tickets, we sat through the movie and enjoyed it but sadly they never really got the sound sorted out. Ah well, you don’t win them all.

A queue for a ride on something world famous, a bit of charity that made me feel good about myself, an Engineering marvel shrouded only slightly in cloud, a crooked street framed by feinting woman, a seal stealing some crab bait from a trap, a dog digging himself into a hole in the sand while ignoring his owners desire that the dog chases a frisbee instead, a Science museum only ruined by the abundance of children – damn them, a scrumptious dinner which was served just a little too quick and a good film with poor sound but with free tickets.

Conclusion – near perfect day.
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