We arrived in San Francisco late in the evening, and the first taste of North America we received was the customs official yelling at people to fill the immigration lines. There was no please, or thank-you, and he was harsh and loud. We quickly figured out how to take the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), and took it to downtown. The BART system was much older, louder and dirtier than what we were used to. It was also run by an actual person, and not by a computer. At one point the conductor came on the loudspeaker and started yelling at someone standing in the doorway of one of the cars. This was a big contrast to the ultra modern system in Hong Kong or Singapore, where everything was fully automated, smooth, silent, and which also used the wind generated from movement for ventilation. The San Francisco subway lines were stuffy and hot.
When we arrived at the station, we walked out into the middle of the city. This moment was the only time in our whole trip that we ever felt nervous walking around. We walked a few city blocks to our hostel and right away were handed a map. The guy checking us in proceeded to draw a big circle with the letters DNG on top of it. This, he explained, is the Do Not Go zone, and is the bad part of the city.
We were tired from the flight, so we went to bed right away. The next morning, we woke up at 6am from jetlag, and went to the kitchen of the hostel to make some free pancakes. We decided to explore the city this day. Walking through China town was not as impressive as it would have been if we had not been to China. Then, we wandered down rolling roads through the financial district, and onward to Fishermanâ€™s Wharf. On the way, we stopped to walk up Telegraph Hill. On the top of this hill is a building resembling a lighthouse that was built by a rich woman who dedicated it as a memorial for the firemen of San Francisco. We then walked past Lombard Street and into the Fishermanâ€™s Wharf area which was packed with buskers, eateries, and plenty of shopping. We stopped here and split a bowl of San Franciscoâ€™s famous clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl from one of the many food stalls just outside the seafood restaurants. The chowder was pretty tasty. While we ate, we listened to a busker who played synthesized music through a digital clarinet/wind instrument. It was really cool how he had to learn to play the drums with his mouth and fingers!
After lunch, we followed â€œThe Embaraderoâ€, a wide street that the cable cars run down the middle of, along all the piers. We stopped at pier 39 to watch the sea lions sprawled out on wooden planks. When the sea lions are there, no boat traffic is allowed. Therefore, these sea lions have basically taken over the pier for themselves. We walked all the way back along the piers to pier 1/2 where the ferry building is located. The ferry building is a huge building with a clock tower, and is filled with gourmet restaurants and specialty gourmet grocery stores. One store only sold mushrooms, and must have had at least 50 different types.
It was late afternoon by this time, so we walked back to our hostel through the financial district and through another plaza where a North American market was set up. People there were selling everything from souvenirs to photographs. We didnâ€™t try bargaining for anything. We continued walking and ran into a square that had artwork on display and for sale. On the stage in the square were some live performances put on by a church group.
By the time we got back it was dinner time, and we found a neat retro 50â€™s/60â€™s diner complete with jukeboxes at each table. There was a small plane hanging from the ceiling, the waiters all wore aprons with silly looking hats, etc. We were both so tired that we just ate quickly and then collapsed at the hostel.
The next morning, we woke up early and had a huge breakfast at a small diner. Then we walked to the South Of Market Area (SOMA) and stopped at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). We figured that if we were going to experience San Francisco, we needed to try and appreciate some of the artistic culture that the city is known for. We spent most of the morning being amused by abstract art such as works by Salvidor Dali, a white paint painting, and a toilet that an artist picked from a hardware store and stated â€œit is art because I say it is artâ€. Some of the exhibits were crazy, and some were really good. Luckily, we were fortunate enough to visit the museum at the same time they were having an exhibit on Frida Kahlo, a talented Mexican painter, who was overshadowed by her more famous husband Diego Rivera, also a painter. We were both very impressed with her work.
After the museum, we dared to walk into the DNG zone in order to get a great picture of one of San Franciscoâ€™s infamous rolling roads. Although we were still on the outskirts of the area, we must have passed at least 10 to 20 crazy people having conversations with themselves. We couldnâ€™t imagine what the heart of the DNZ zone would be like, but neither of us was willing to find out. We walked along the edge of the area very quickly, and walked onto Haight Street, which is located in an area lined with private/independent fashion stores, rehab clinics, smoke shops, etc. The Lonely Planet mentioned that a Gap store opened in this district, and the people living in the district werenâ€™t happy about the commercialism moving into their area. The store had numerous windows broken, graffiti, etc. and was basically pushed out by the residents.
We stopped for lunch at a store that only sells homemade BBQ/grilled sausages. There were many types to choose from. Tara had a beer sausage, and Adam had an Italian sausage with a root beer from a local soda store. After lunch we walked to Alamo square, which is a small park the size of a city block, set in a neighbourhood of old Victorian houses, called the painted ladies. Theyâ€™re called this because theyâ€™re all painted different pastel colours. These painted ladies are a famous San Francisco landmark, and can be seen in the opening credits of â€œFull Houseâ€. After walking around this area, we wound up at a trolley car stop, and took the â€œFâ€ trolley to pier 33 for the Alcatraz night tour. Along the way, a woman entered the trolley with crutches and sat down next to a crazy woman. We eavesdropped on a conversation between the two. The woman with crutches explained that she had â€œa hip problem and thatâ€™s all they would tell herâ€. The other crazy woman kept telling her she had to fix it and to just â€œsnap it back in thereâ€, and then just kept repeating that phrase. The woman with the crutches said â€œI donâ€™t know, just please stop itâ€¦â€ and put her hands on her ears. It turns out she was crazy too. Then a third guy started talking about how his femur and hip were replaced with titanium. All three of these people got off in the DNG zone. The woman with the crutches stood up and walked off without using them. This was quite a site to experience.
The F trolley curved along the piers and we got off at pier 33. There was a short wait until we were ferried over to Alcatraz island. After a short introduction with some anecdotes from a park officer, we were given headphones and an mp3 player for a self guided audio tour through the cell blocks. The audio guide was actually pretty good with excellent actors and sound effects. The stories were about life in prison, attempted breakouts, etc. One of the stories talked about one prisoner who spent his time in solitary confinement playing a game. He would pull a button off his shirt, and since the cells were pitch dark, he would flip the button and spend time finding it. It sounded very lonely. There was also a story about how a few of the prisoners managed to overtake the guards and hold them hostage for a few days while they attempted to get off the island. Eventually, there was a gunfight and most of those prisoners and a few guards were killed.
We wandered up and down the cell blocks and other parts of the buildings listening to all stories. This whole tour lasted about 2 hours. Some parts briefly took us outside where it was extremely cold and very windy. As it got darker, the island took on a whole new look, and started to become more and more creepy. We took the early ferry back to the mainland before the sun totally set because Tara was extremely cold. Then we took the cable car over the hills and back to the hostel.
Our last full day in San Francisco, we woke up and had another hearty breakfast at a diner. Then we walked along the cable car tracks until we reached the cable car museum. The cable car system in San Francisco now consists of four major lines. There is one loop of cable that runs the length of the track and ends at the museum where the tension on the lines can be adjusted if they stretch too much. These cables are in constant motion. To move the cable car, the driver has two levers: one lever clenches or loosens a clamp on the cable car to adjust traveling speed, and the other applies the breaks to slow the car down. The system is very similar to a ski lift. When the car travels around corners, the driver may decide to use the cable to drag it along, or they could decide to drift around the turn.
After the cable car museum, we continued walking over the hill and back to fishermanâ€™s wharf. There, we rented bicycles for ridiculously more compared to anywhere in Asia. For the same price, we could have lived for 3 days in Thailand. We followed the path along the cost, up and over the Golden Gate Bridge. Luckily, we had great weather this day, and the views were fantastic. It was extremely windy on the bridge. After we crossed we zig-zagged down the hill into Sausalito, a small neighbourhood across the river from San Francisco. We stopped there to enjoy a late lunch of fish and chips, then caught the ferry back with almost 200 other tourists on bicycles. Unfortunately, we ran out of time, and wasnâ€™t able to see the Golden Gate park, or the beach on the west side of the city. We were so tired from the exercise, that we went to bed early, and got up at 4am just in time to catch the first BART train to the airport. The rest of the day, we were in transit through Vancouver and then finally back in Ottawa.
It was a once in a lifetime trip that we wonâ€™t ever forget, and we both sincerely hope that everyone enjoyed the blog.