Night 18: Golden Gate

Trip Start Jun 20, 2012
Trip End Jul 18, 2012

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Where I stayed
Royal Pacific Motor Inn San Francisco
Read my review - 3/5 stars

Flag of United States  , California
Saturday, July 7, 2012

We drove 135 twisting turning miles today. Weather began cold and foggy, but warmed up to the low 70's when away from the sea. Nearer to the ocean, it never got past 61 degrees.

San Francisco, I think, is even louder than it's raucous self usually us because I have spent the past two weeks camping in the wilderness. The sound of ambulances and drunk kids carousing beneath the hotel room is too much tonight. I can't sleep in cities anymore. I might have to move out of Chicago now.

Hotels in San Francisco stink for many reasons. Here is the list: 1) They are usually small, sometimes wit communal bathrooms. 2) SF has huge occupancy taxes. 3) They almost always have paper-thin walls. 4) They cost twice as much as you want to pay. 5) They literally stink.

This hotel was secure and clean, which is a surprise because it is wedged between Chinatown and the Red Light District at Columbus and Broadway. But the neighborhood is loud. Of course, this could be relative to the places I have been sleeping for 16 nights.

Today we began on the Sonoma coast near Plantation at Ocean Cape, a rather creative name. We cooked a good breakfast at camp and broke at a reasonable time. A few miles south in CA-1 we had our first stop at Fort Ross State Historic Site. Here the state maintains some very old structures from Northern California's brief time as a Russian colony in the early 1800's. 

The Americans (Monroe Doctrine), British, and Spanish "kindly" reminded the Russians that they had no claim to the land. The Russians said it was the closest place they could grow crops to feed their Alaskan colony at Sitka. They even brought Aleut kayakers to hunt otters (which the British Hudson's Bay Company felt was its right.) War seemed in order. The tumolt of post-Napoleonic international politics caused the tsar to abandon such a long shot.  This kind of obscure, but important, history excited me. This is why I have always been curious about Ft. Ross. My long curiosity made it a no brainer to pay the simple $8 per car entry fee

We self guided around the premesis. The gift shop and museum are pretty good. From here is a trail. If you veer left, you walk through a stand of cypress trees. The surrounding hills were yellowing and the ocean was throwing quite a bit of fog. Fog is a good way to see historic sites. It's like walking through a soap opera flashback.

Past the cypress grove was a stockade protecting a handful of wooden buildings. Some were reconstructions and some were repaired original structures. The buildings were fascinating mazes full of interesting attic-like smells. Andrew was having a good time as he always does when I loosen his "leash." His entusiasm for exploration made other visitors giggle. 

He ran unto the Orthodox church, which had new walls. The roof, though, had planks that were the length of the building and about four feet thick. This was obviously redwood. A little icon hung on the wall and a big bell with old icons carved into it hung outside. Imagine if the colony worked and Russia controlled the Pacific Northwest. How history would be different. The nukes definitely would've flown.

From Fort Ross CA-1 goes back to the towering and twisting ways that seem to be the road's trademark. At a few places we were 600 feet above the ocean. Huge volcanic rocks lined the beach. The redwood groves slowly gave way to windswept shrubs and burnt orange hills. South of Ross were a lot more state lands and beaches and a lot fewer mansions.

Soon we passed into Marin County and toward Tomales and Point Reyes Station. Every few miles, we would pass a long line of parked cars on the shoulders. Every one of them had California plates. The object of these weekend crowds? Oysters. Some people walked off with laden dripping shopping bags. Obviously, the people of San Francisco love sucking on shell fish. I remember years ago, being disgusted as my Bay area cousin sucked down a raw squid-like creature while showing me around Monterey. These people must love shellfish like we Chicagoans live beefs and deep dish. In fact, when I later got to Frisco, the top story in the Chronicle was that native oyster populations were practically extinct. It made the nightly news too. I fell in love with clams in Oregon, but was not ready to take the plunge with oysters.

Point Reyes is an odd piece of land. I have visited it once on a windswept Christmastime day. When I say "windswept", imagine hurricane-force winds and flooding rains. We were warned by the ranger to be careful, but we wanted to see elephant seals. We were successful, but I destroyed my first cell phone in the rain. Today was calm and sunny and crowded with visitors from the city. Quite an improvement.

Reyes lays along the famous quake generating San Andreas faultline. The fault here is filled with water and us called Tomales Bay. Point Reyes is shifting northward on the Continental plate and the rest of California is sliding the other way. The infamous 1906 quake left its mark on the land. In fact, the land and even plants on Reyes more resemble that of California near Los Angeles. This land has moved hundreds of miles.

We skipped lunch so simply visited the national park VC, enjoyed the huge elephant seal statue in the Libby, and collected a map and postcards. The idea of a 90 minute round trip drive to see elephant seals when we were so hungry seemed like a bad one. I was a bit disappointed because I really do love elephant seals.

We drove into the familiar Marin Headlands. We have been here a couple times in our past travels. Those previous trips were with the aid of an airplane though. The Headlands are full of steep yelliw hills, fog, Mount Tamalpais, and more CA-1 twists.

With traffic, it took a while to get to the Golden Gate, that passageway of water through the Coast Mountains that greeted the 49er's who arrived via ship in search of Sutter's gold. We passed Sausalitoband headed straight to the iconic big red bridge, realizing when it was too late that we were out if money and that there was a $6 toll. Jessica scrambled to collect change. We were so desperate that we used a dollar coin, ironically with the image if Polk (the president who took Californua from Mexico.) Polk made Frisconpossible in more than one way, I joked, but no one laughed. History jokes aren't so funny to 99% of people... not even my wife and son.

We were now in San Francisco. We parked in the Presidio to get our bearings and to research hotel options. We got an expensive room in a perfect location for what we wanted to do. Rate for SF hotels, this one had free parking. 

We made our way leisurely across the city, getting stuck in traffic on Lombard Street. Jessica's belly began to really grumble with all the waiting. Soon we checked into our hotel and parked the can for the night. Driving is frowned upon and mostly useless in SF. There is no parking and the parking that is available is almost as much money as parking in Chicago's Loop. The hotel was in the edge if Chinatown and the edge if North Beach, the Italian neighborhood. We were near Columbus Avenue, the rice and 'roni dividing line. Italian or Chinese? We went for Italian eating on Columbus at a great little cafe called Cafe Puccini. I chose not to eat clams again and went fir the ravioli and had a banana pop. Civilization felt pretty good right about then.

We walked down to Chinatown to shop in the various junk stores that line touristy Grant Street. We didn't go to the real Chinatown on Stockton tonight. Stockton Chinatown smells like the ocean. On Stockton, the gutters are full of blood from slaughtered animals and urine and moucus from people passing by. Grant caters to tourists and tries, unsuccessfully thank God, to present a cleaner image. It is still like the rest if Chinatown: cramped (once by a nativist law), stinky, intense. Like the French Quarter of New Orleans, it is a wonderful and natural soup of human activity. Pickpockets roam the crowds looking for marks. Lookouts are on every corner. You can buy almost anything.

Vendors try the old Maxwell Street tactics. Dim Sum restaurants have women out on the streets inserting themselves into conversations to shove fliers and menus in the faces of passers-by. There are grabbers, ready to take you by the arm into their shops to peddle dollar store trinkets for twice the price. A woman in one shop kept handing Andrew toys and telling him that "Mommy buy for you, yes?"

Paper lamps... Traditional Chinese street musicians... Tong club members watching the throng from balconies... That church tower warning us to keep our eye on the time... Culture abounds here. So does history. SF has the first Chinatown. The Chibese came seeking gold along with everyone else in 1849. By the 1860's they made their way as workers on the transcontinental railroad. By the 1880's, SF nativists pushed for the ban of Chinese immugratns and housing discrimination forced them into this little area. In San Francisco, the egg roll was invented, as was chop suey, fortune cookies, and everything else Americans consider Chinese. These things are as Chinese as a hamburger or frankfurter is German.

As night and its dangers moved in, we passed into Union Square. Here are the fancy pants stores. One was, I swear, selling Picasso and Chagal paintings. The Square looked bare without the Christmas tree. Andrew saw the cable car fall down Powell Street. I knew the turntable was a couple blocks to the south so we walked down Powell.

Powell, and the city to the immediate south and west of it, is the capital of panhandling in America. Swearing and insane bums... Joke-telling bums... Amputee bums... They are all here. So are the bums who offer free travel advice and then want a tip. I al from Chicago so am familiar with all these tactics, but to encounter it all at once is amazing. It is like the Super Bowl of begging. Every once in a while you pass a bush with the aroma of human excrement that I know so well from my weekends unloading delivery trucks on Lower Wacker Drive back in Chicago.

The turntable us pretty cool and Andrew was enraptures by it. The cable car moves into the round table via its tracks and then the conductors physically push the car around on the table so that it faces the other way and the cable can pull it back up Nob Hill on its route to the wharf.

On the way back we picked up some used movies, some more Chinatown trinkets, and pot stickers. We sat in the hotel room listening to the city buzz and heave around us. Sleep was tough to come by for sure. 
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