If you're going to San Fransisco...

Trip Start May 24, 2009
Trip End Nov 05, 2009

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Flag of United States  , California
Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I arrived in San Fransisco from New York after my first internal US flight to meet up with Helen, another friend from camp who had decided to join me in California (Nutmeg having left the US for Italy to stay with some family).  The flight from NYC was at 7am which meant getting picked up at 3.45am from the hostel so I'd decided that rather than try and sleep for 3 or 4 hours the best idea would be to stay up for the night.  Luckily I slept for the majority of the five and a half hour flight so wasn't feeling too sleepy when I got to the hostel.  That was until I found out that in order to get to the hostel I had to climb four flights of steps!  Not a pleasant experience when you're carrying around 15KG on your back and 5KG on your front!  Well I survived that little work out and found Helen already asleep in her bunk after her overnight train from Portland, Oregon.

Having settled in we were advised to grab some lunch from the local sandwich shop, the Good Luck Sandwich.  All the staff at the hostel swear by it and it possibly was the nicest sandwich I've had since I've been here!  Re-fueled we cracked out the map and decided to take a walk to Fisherman's Wharf, the tourist area of the waterfront, filled with bars, restaurants and tacky souvenir shops galore, not forgetting the famous Pier 39 Sea Lions.  Following the 1989 earthquake a colony of Sea Lions took up residence on one of the docks at the pier and have lived there ever since.  You can hear and smell them a good distance before you actually catch site of a Sea Lion, unsurprisingly as there where A LOT of them there!  Climbing all over each other to lie in the sun the daft things loll all over wooden pallets that float in the bay.  Every now and then a little flight would break out when someone climbed over someone else's head but for the most part they seem to get on pretty well.

The next day we had tickets for a visit to Alcatraz, the former US prison on an island in the middle of San Fransisco Bay.  Tickets sell out quickly, even at quieter times of the year and we'd had to pick up ours the day before, although the staff at the hostel said that in the middle of summer they sell out a week in advance!  The fog had come down pretty heavily that morning and by the time we reached the ferry you could barely see the island from the mainland which made it pretty eerie making our way across the bay.  By the time we reached Alcatraz the temperature had dropped and no sunshine was making its way through the clouds, making what is without doubt was always a desolate spot even on a sunny day, even more miserable.    

Making our way up the hill we found our way to the main building, which houses the cell blocks, dining hall, offices etc.  The National Park Service were putting on a talk about the Bird Man of Alcatraz and we decided to listen to that before we started the audio tour around the building.  It was quite interesting, apparently Robert Stroud the 'Bird Man' was a real nasty peice of work (unsurprising really for a double murderer), nothing at all like the way he was portrayed by Burt Lancaster in the film.  Not that them stopped them from selling copies of the film in the gift shop as we say later on!  After the talk we started on the audio tour, a self guided look around the main building with your own Ipod like audio player.  It was quite funny to see everyone stopping and looking at the same spots but I can imagine it gets pretty crowded and annoying during the summer.

Having spent a few hours looking around the island we caught the ferry back to the mainland, hoping that the fog had drifted offshore a bit and that it was warmer back in San Fran, unfortunately we were wrong.  Walking back to the hostel you could actually look up and see fog drifting past at building height!  San Fransisco has a unique climate compared to the rest of California and it's not unusual for it to be a lot cooler there than just a few miles outside of the city, but that took even me by surprise.

Day three dawned and the plan was to head up to Golden Gate Park and check out the California Academy of Sciences, which combines a natural history museum, acquarium and even it's own rainforest.  Unfortunately by the time we found our way to the museum through the park it was 1 o'clock and they had a sign up outside to say that on that day they would be closing at 3pm!  We'd be told that you really need to spend a whole day there so the prospect of paying $25 for two hours was pretty unappealing.  Instead we decided to check out what else there was to see in the park, which takes up 1017 acres, making it 20% bigger than Central Park in New York (by the way, in case you were wondering I did get that info from Wikipedia, I can't claim to know if off the top of my head!), pretty big.   Having briefly wandered around the sculture garden of the neighbouring De Yong museum we headed over to the Japanese Tea Garden.

On Saturday a group of us from the hostel took the metro up to Mission Delores Park to experience a real San Fran Saturday and hang out with the locals.  Mission Delores was the original site of the Catholic Mission established in what later became San Fransisco (no Wiki there).  The orginal Mission building is still there and a Latin American community has grown up around it and the park just in front.  On most Saturdays the locals come and hang out in the park, making the most of the sunshine, playing music, picnicing etc.  This Saturday happened to be a particularly sunny one so a large number of people had come out to sunbathe and the line for the local ice cream shop was around the corner.  In fairness, it was pretty good ice cream, all handmande and organic, with a large number of weird and wacky flavours.  I had three scoops, balsamic strawberry (really nice), malted vanilla with ginger caramel (also good) and lavender (odd)! 

San Fransisco being the home of more than a few hippies there were a few other intersting sites (and smells) in the park, including the 'Really Really Free Market'.  This was basically a jumble sale but without the sale element...they just give the stuff away!  I had a quick look out of curiosity and some of the items available included old shoes, half used bottles of clothes detergent, hats and plastic pots...a fine collection!  There was also a free bbq, open to anyone who wanted a bite to eat, at absolutely no cost. 

Saturday night arrived and a few of us from the hostel fancied a night out.  A bit of googling later and we found a club up the road which was having a end of summer beach party.  This involved covering the whole club floor with sand, various bits of fishing net and plastic fish.  Quite an experience!

On Monday Helen and I and two others from the hostel, an Australian couple, decided to hire a car and take a drive down Pacific Highway 1 to Carmel-by-the-Sea, a small coastel town known for being expremely picturesque.  On the way there we stopped off at town other places, Santa Cruz and Monterey , but unfortunately for us, the nice weather that we'd had over the weekend had passed and it was very overcast.  In Monterey we stopped off for some lunch and I decided to try an American speciality, Clam Chowder.  Really tasty and served up in a hollowed out bread bowel so really filling!  After lunch we carried on driving to Carmel, the drive along the cost just as beautiful as you imagine it to be, although it would have been even more stunning if the sun had come out.     Carmel itself is a small town which seems to be aimed at the rather more well off holiday crowd, the typical tourist shops replaced with small boutiques and branches of Gucci and Prada as opposed to Seven 11 and Quicksilver! 

Day 7 - Myself and the Aussies took the train out to the University of California - Berkeley campus for a look around.  Berkeley is one of the famous Ivy League universities, similar to our Oxford and Cambridge.  The campus is beautiful, lots of impossing while marble buildings surrounded by lawns and woodland, it must be a stunning place to study, and the town of Berkeley itself seemed pretty nice, with lots of coffee shops and little places to eat.

For our last day in San Fransisco we took a walk up to Lombard Street, famous for being the crookidest street in the city.   Due to the steepness of the hill, the road is a series of switchback curves and the pavement is made up of a large flight of steps.  The hill really is ridiculously steep, walking up it was a definate effort, I feel sorry for anyone that lives there, not just because of the hill but also the number of tourists taking pictures (oops).  On the other hand, as you can see it's a becautiful street, in between the switchbacks are flowerbeds filled with hydrangeas, which must look pretty stunning in the summer.

.From the top of Lombard Street we hopped onto one one San Fransisco's famous cable cars heading down to Union Square, the shopping district of the city.  We stopped off for lunch at the Cheesecake Factory, a restaurant known for...well...cheesecake, but also it's generally huge portions.  The fact that with each menu they give you a seperate booklet full of calorie counts for each menu item should give it away and I'm pretty sure I consummed my daily recommended calorie intact in one meal!  The craziest thing I saw there was the carrot cake, which must have been at least six inchs high, and sliced up generously, I wish I'd taken a picture of it.  Ridicously full we waddled around the shops for a while before heading back to the hostel to prepare for our overnight bus to San Diego, 
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