San Francisco

Trip Start Aug 18, 2010
Trip End Aug 31, 2011

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Flag of United States  , California
Monday, June 11, 2012

The trip to San Fran was easy and simple enough, via a shuttle or two and a flight with Southwest, I arrived at my USA Hostels accommodation on early Monday afternoon on a sunny but definitely cooler day. The wind was already whipping up around the bay and I had heard the famous Golden Gate Bridge had been shrouded in fog and clouds for a few days before my arrival, scuppering many a tourist photo in the process. Anyways back to the hostel; it was in a decent location, about 5-10 minutes from the main square with well thought out bunk beds each harbouring a light and storage area for phones, wallets etc. built into the bunks themselves, even the top beds. Now maybe you haven't stayed in your fair share of hostels but these little things make hostel life so much easier and make hostels far more memorable! The roommates seemed decent enough too which always helps, and the hostel also boasted its own built in cinema, a little library/reading room, and ample space in the kitchen for their free pancake breakfasts. As an added bonus there was also a free pool and Foosball table!

I took it pretty easy the first afternoon and evening, tucked into some pancakes in the morning and opted to join the free walking tour the hostel provided which was ultimately a great decision. The group on the tour was a mix of people, nationality wise as was to be expected, and even though we were all friendly enough on the guided tour, we didn’t know that the next 48 hours would pretty much be spent in each other’s company. The walk itself was also very informational and useful, to get my bearings in the city and better understand the vibrancy and history of the place. San Francisco is a unique city and undeniably a beautiful one with plenty of charm.

The walking tour took us to the Union Square for some photo opportunities before we meandered on to Chinatown in which we were educated on the history of segregation of the cities past. San Fran’s Chinatown is also allegedly the birthplace of the Chinese fortune cookie, created by a Korean I think we were told, and also is allegedly the birthplace of the term hooker- the word used for ladies of the night. Now this source of information was passed on to our guide by an elderly local man called Bruce Lee- not the same of course as the deceased martial arts and movie star- but we were told that this Bruce has yet to be incorrect on his gems of knowledge. The story goes that in the past, a few blocks of the city were handed to the Chinese immigrants for themselves to self-govern within the city as the local’s didn’t want the community’s to mix. So in the Chinatown area, the alleys and roads are noticeable narrower to squeeze a growing population into a pre-determined set area. In these narrow alleys ways, gentleman looking for a lady friend would gather on the road level while above them on the verandas and fire escapes the ladies would use hooks on ropes and pick which customer they would want by lifting the hats off the chosen client and the idea was the man would go upstairs to collected his hooked hat. Pretty awesome if it is true.

After Fortune cookie tasting we walked up through to a another area full of history as we visited Vesuvius bar which is and was a famous watering hole for many artists, writers and actors in the beatnik movement. Situated next door is the City light Book store which published many of the controversial works the authors produced in that era. We carried on through to a lookout point for our first glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge, and we were in luck as the day was very sunny and clear despite the cool wind blowing around. After a few photos of the famous surroundings and steep streets we moved on the more touristy area of Fisherman’s Wharf and enjoyed a hearty famous Clam Chowder whilst looking over the docked boats and massive cruise liners. At this point a few people made their own way to do their own separate things but a few of us decided to take advantage of the good weather and rent bicycles and ride over the Golden Gate. So in this group were a couple of French cousins, a Londoner, a German girl and myself. Once we had our bicycles we set on our way for the expected 2-3 round trip.

On the way along the bay coastline, we sighted Alcatraz clearly for the first time, and rode past white sandy beaches leading up to the foot of the Golden Gate, which seemed increasingly daunting on our approach. The wind was gusting against us too which made the ride an interesting one, but we stopped along the way for photos and amazingly enough watched a surfer take on the waves at the base of the bridge, easing away from being smashed into the rocks on each approach. We then headed up the hill to tackle the lengthy famous bridge itself. There were plenty of other riders on the paths and some less used to the two wheeled mode of transport than others, combined with the gusting winds, making for a slightly dangerous ride. As we eased into our comfort zone and took in the sights and awe of the massive red bridge below and above us, I made quite the spectacle of myself.

Now admittedly I was being a bit brave taking photos while riding, and as I had slipped my camera back into my green Springbok jacket, I think my flip-flops (sandals/jandals/thongs/slops depending where you from) caught between the pedal and the surface and I flew over handlebars as I must have jerked on the front brakes at the same time, I remember seeing the bridge surface approaching my face, stretched out my hands (the most common cause of wrist breaks) and shielded my face. Within seconds I assessed myself, hoped nothing was broken, and despite some grazed toes and knees and sore hands was in one piece. The German girl and one of the French guys looked in horror and thought I would have broken something as the accident looked quite dramatic. Luckily the next two people to my aid were a South African women with her American husband-doctor, who asked if I was ok which I mainly was; besides a bruised ego and some cuts. So yeah from then on my nickname was Superman for my brief flight. Sadly my camera didn’t survive the crash.

The bike was actually damaged too but ride-able and we moved onto our final stop, a small town called Sausalitto sitting on the opposite side of San Francisco where we enjoyed some beers and got chatting and  laughing about the day’s events. It was an awesome little place with fantastic view across the harbour of Alcatraz, San Fran and the bridge. We caught the ferry back to the city, with a fast dipping sunset offering the most scenic of day endings, and me camera-less to take photos of it. By the time we returned our bikes, sneakily adding mine to the queue outside so they wouldn’t know the damage and charge me, it was getting much cooler and darker. We caught one of the famous trams back to the hostel, rested up a little and that evening went for Thai meal with the same group of people. This was followed by a hostel planned pub crawl which turned out to be a bit of a waste but at least we got to see a few different bars. It was by this time I realised I was having issues with my bank cards and would need to think of a backup plan for cash! It was a very good sleep that night, although a surprisingly slightly sunburnt and unsurprisingly sore one.

Wednesday, the same group, with the addition of a cool Japanese girl and a Moroccan guy, we went down to the wharf early on and took out tourist trip to visit Alcatraz.  I had learned to dress warmer as the wind and island on which Alcatraz is based were not for the faint hearted. There were massive crowd of people on the prison-island but it was worth it as the  audio tour was fantastic and well worth the money. With a well-developed audio narrative guiding you through the different cell blocks, the courtyard, dining areas and of course filling you in via different voices, of hardships, revolts, many attempted escapes and the one famous successful one that did succeed. With our senses overloaded and bodies cold, we headed back to city centre and enjoyed a final massive oversized meal from the famous cheesecake factory, before exploring a bit more of the city and by early afternoon went back to rest up.

It was for many of us our final night on the Wednesday and I wanted to visit the Vesuvius bar and another dive/blues bar we had been told about called Saloon Bar. With the same posse and an additional American girl we braved the cold night and walked to the bar, grabbing a pizza slice on the way, and had a few beers at Vesuvios. The crowd was eclectic for sure but I really liked the place. I didn’t think some of the group would enjoy Saloon Bar but I was set on going.

It was an odd bar for sure but what a fun night we had. There were creepy looking people at the place, the crowd the perfect mix of carnie looking derelicts from a B grade horror film. Many toothless smiles greeted us along with the usual array of beards and mullets and bad tattoos but the crowds bark was worse than their bite and we settled in to the very very cheap bar. The bands were playing a mix of moody bluegrass and folk which is what I wanted and as everyone eased in to their surrounding despite some initial misgivings. The Japanese girl had guys hitting on her straight away and the French guys were fending off a crack head toothless lady at arm’s length. In amongst the crowd a hunchbacked old wrinkled lady scoured the dance floor while a midget like female musician with spectacles thicker than brick walls would walk up to you and just stare before cackling away- fun times.

It was fun through, the beers flowed, the music howled and before long the dance floor was being scorched, even the toothless lady getting a couple dances. The American girl who had joined our group was a dark horse as she confessed that she is or was a "dancer/stripper" and in her drunken state danced “seductively” with anyone near her, getting the older guys creepily eyeing her out and trying to feel her up. Before we knew it, the bar was calling last rounds and we caught some cabs back to the hostel bidding some goodbyes to new friends after a fun filled day.

The next morning the remaining few us, the German and Japanese girls and myself headed to the famous and hippy shopping streets of Haight-Ashbury. It was a bit of a bus ride to get there but well worth it and there were plenty of cool cafes and shops in the area and we spent the morning walking through the Golden Gate Park and taking in the sights, picking up souvenir trinkets and heading back to the hostel by lunchtime. With the usual swapping of emails and Facebook details I had to catch my shuttle to the airport for my LA-Sydney-Brisbane flight. It had been an amazing few days spent with good people in a city I really enjoyed. There is still so much more to see, but I am sure there will be a next time. My adventure had not quite ended though as my shared shuttle journey was spent chatting to a cool kiwi nurse who offered me some sleeping tablets for my long scheduled flights which worked a treat but in hindsight could have been a silly thing for me to do, as the pills could have been anything!

With my US trip all but wrapped up, I did the usual airport killing time routine between flights and another very average trip on the American, United airline, but thankfully the stopover between flights was bearable. Even more thankfully, my friend Rosie was kind enough to pick me up from the airport in Brisbane and we spent the afternoon chilling out, well mainly. I had my bank card issues to resolve and a bachelor’s party to attend the following day on the Gold Coast, which was a source of confusion as the guys organising it had made some late arrangements and I wasn’t 100% of the days planned events. So with no money available at the time and a frozen account, and serious jetlag, a bachelor’s party the following day was not looking like a good idea in my tired state.
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mom on

I dont know if you have heard about the Australian oldest backpacker at 93 ( I think). Made me smile as he is off doing his thing after his wife died.
Your travels have really been full of information, stories and wonderful experiences as well as being tough. What a life

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