Chilling on the dock of the bay

Trip Start Apr 18, 2011
Trip End Dec 09, 2011

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Flag of United States  , California
Sunday, May 29, 2011

I decide to give the wearing of flowers in my hair a miss and get dropped off by the Amtrak train in Oakland (this is the closest stop to SF). Once again, as its night, the station is filled with a whole number of homeless characters; some sleeping, some fidgeting, some mumbling to themselves, others a combination of the three. Becoming the world's richest economy has only been feasible at the expense of so many of its residents. Obviously I'm not hanging around all the 'right' places (i.e. you're not going to find me at the Hilton or some Michelin star restaurant) but I definitely feel like a more comprehensive social security system wouldn't go amiss.

I go to get on my 8th underground system of the journey and after politely avoiding too much interaction with the locally stationed tramp, eventually concede to giving him a couple of quarters after he helps me purchase my fare. This is the first time I have given out change on my journey.

As a break from the norm I decide to walk directly to my hostel without getting lost. First impressions are good, I feel safe and it seems lively. However the fact that 43 of my previous 51 hours had been spent on either trains or buses (and with my 8 hours not travelling been spent descending into the canyon) I decide to take full advantage of a bed and have an early night.

The initial poor weather of my first day means I go to the local shopping centre and toy with the idea of taking more money from elsewhere on my trip to subsidise a bit of a spree- I resist. After devouring some Korean spicy BBQ chicken complete with rice, clear noodles and brocolli I walk out onto the gradually brightening streets. With no real direction I find myself wandering into the best Chinatown I've visited, then onto the small strip that is Little Italy and eventually toward Coit Tower for some great views of the city - this is also the first time I eye the Golden Gate bridge.

Other high points for the day include going down to the waterfront to see the comical geniuses that are sea lions, viewing Alcatraz from the bay and the geographical high points of repeatedly walking up and down hills (see vid).

The next day, I bite the bullet and pay $20 to hire a bicycle for the day- this I do not regret. The sun is shining and in no rush I ride from the west coast of the San Francisco peninsular round to the Oakland bridge on the east. Also deciding to take a brief tour over the Golden Gate which is pretty spectacular in itself. Bit windy though, have to keep my wits about me to not inadvertantly go against the motives of the warning signs that are systematically placed every 100 metres or so. Nice little break from the exertions of the Grand Canyon - a 20km bike ride over hilly terrain and hurricane force winds.

The hostel is fantastic; great for meeting people, lots of organised activities, tasty $5 dinners, all-you-can-eat breakfast of fruit, oatmeal, bagels, scones and toast. I make friends with a Belgian girl called Aurelie and along with a few others go see the city at night from another high-rise hotel bar. Once the skyline loses its draw we move onto a discotheque and I make it my personal responsibility to ensure everyone in the group gets up to dance.

I am happy with my decision to see one city more thoroughly than attempting to visit two, as I get to see everything at a more leisurely pace. Including a particularly hungover day with a guy called Tom who resembling the caddy from Happy Gilmore doesn't fit your stereotypical law graduate.

Having just come from Auckland, he offers me the privilege of using his van (called Pauline) for when I make it to New Zealand. this is an extremely enticing proposal. I have a big decision to make; a personal road-trip in my own vehicle, being flexible with the possibility of having a lone traveller to fill the other vacant seat versus the Kiwi Experience - a bus route which circles both islands in a tour format, going to all the major points of interest with a fairly hefty clientelle of youths (this has in the past been referred to as the Chlamydia Experience). Decisions, decisions, decisions.

I also manage to meet three other Brits (Ryan, Jack and Pep), one of whom is a die hard Barcelona fan (i.e. tatooed on his ass) This makes for interesting banter upto and during the game but doesn't change the fact that we get dominated by a ridiculously good team.

United's loss aside, San Fran has been amazing, and it's a worthy end to a fantastic American trip. Even the Pacific Surfliner train back down to LA delivers spectacular costal vistas, winding tracks through silicon valley and even views of more sea lions, to which the conductor points out two of the more famous members - Lawrence C. Lion and Lucille. A fitting end to my last Amtrak journey, reaffirming why it was chosen over flying, but I definitely want to return and go by car.

I have one more night before I need to be at LAX but this probably wont require a seperate blog (although I am staying in Inglewood so we will see).

Somehow over the last 6 weeks I have managed to steer clear of fast food which has been difficult considering how cheap and prevalent it is across the country- yes it has definitely occured to me that I like setting myself little challenges (whether it's bread, fast food, saving for travelling, etc.) I also think it has been a novelty to be in the US for so long and to be surprised by how much the culture changes between regions and states.

Anyhow, as my time here draws to a close I cant help wonder how my next destinations will surpass the good times I've had here. I suppose I should take solace in the knowledge that the majority of my memorable moments have been as a result of the people I've met. And with travellers by definition likely to be everywhere, it seems probable that the good times are set to continue.

Right then, I'm just popping over the international date line and the equator for my first taste of the southern hemisphere and Kiwi life.
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