Back up north and on to San Francisco

Trip Start Jun 15, 2007
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Trip End Jun 27, 2008


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Where I stayed

Flag of United States  , California
Sunday, June 1, 2008

Let's start this entry with a quiz - a quiz question that I cannot understand or get my head around.  A quiz question that left me feeling confused and bemused for some time.

A man arises at 9am on a Sunday morning, spends a full day relaxing (as everyone should on a Sunday) and then leaves to return a campervan to it's original location. He then makes his way to the airport, boards a flight at 7pm and settles in for the 12 hour non-stop journey ahead of him.  12 hours later, he arrives at his destination only to discover that he has hit a time vortex somewhere along the way and it is now 12 noon on the same Sunday and he still has a full day ahead of him although he has been awake 22 hours!!! How is this possible??

Answers, on a postcard, to Is Time Travel Possible? International Date Line.  Answers to reach us no later than July 1st - or is it June 30th or would it in fact be August 15th 2020?

You can probably guess from this that I have struggled, and continue to struggle with the concept of crossing the international time line.  It really has to be the strangest thing I have ever experienced but Nicola assures me it is not really that complicated and I need to move on.

So, moving on, we made the trip back up north and into the correct seasons and land of water going down the plughole the right way.  It had been six months since we went to the southern hemisphere, and that amount of time being upside down is no good for anyone.  We were met at the airport by Scott, an ex-colleague and friend of ours who lives and works in SF.  He had kindly offered us a bed at his place right in the heart of town and best of all he had taken some time off work and would be hanging out with us for the week. 

First job was to make sure enough caffeine was drunk to get us through to evening SF time and therefore shock the body into sleeping at the right time.  Nine coffees later and we were tripping (literally) through the streets taking in a street fair with live music and excellent street food.  I (Pat) first came to SF about seven years ago and absolutely fell in love with the place - this impression did not change as we walked around the streets taking in the atmosphere and the sights.

After an absolutely superb nights sleep, we woke up at the normal time of 9am and ventured out to the Golden Gate bridge. It never fails to impress to see this iconic landmark stretched across the bay.  Like so many of the sights, you see them a million times on TV or in books, but nothing ever takes away the feeling of seeing them in the flesh.   After a quick walk half way across and many photos later we took the bus over to Fisherman's Wharf and wandered around the million or two touristy shops and then went to watch the seals. It is amazing how many seals are down there and what is more amazing is the pungent smell that comes from them - they stink - and the noise they make.  But they are interesting to watch especially when one of the really big male seals gets annoyed and turns ugly.

Following Fisherman's Wharf is was time to head to the place that offers the best vantage point in any major city - a McKinsey office.  It is true that my old company seem to have offices in the best possible places and as a tourist are unrivaled.  So we headed up to the top of the McKinsey building and got spectacular views across the bay, the Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz.  It really is a great (and cheap) way to get a perspective on a city.

Unfortunately, the next day jet lag kicked in and it was 2.30am before we felt even remotely tired.  However, we forced ourselves to get up at a reasonable time (is 10am reasonable?) and head to the best cafe in town.  Pat's cafe is where I went seven years ago and got myself a commemorative Pat's cafe mug.  Unfortunately the writing has worn off so it was time to get a replacement mug - and being a Pat in Pat's cafe you get a free Bucks Fizz.  Result!! Thanks Ma and Pa for calling me Pat(rick) as had you not I would not have had a free glass of bubbly.

Today was only going to get better as we had heard that up in Union Square the 46th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing contest was taking place and the ten time champion was making an appearance - although he has since retired from the game.  The only way to arrive at the 46th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing contest was obviously by cable car so we took the historic trip up through SF and arrived just in time to hear mayor Gavin 'Nice Hair and twinkly Smile' Newsome (not the bloke of That's Life as I first thought) give his welcoming and opening speech.  Let the bell ringing begin.  First of all it was the 'amateur' round where local celebs (when I say celebs I am talking 'the bell boy from the Hyatt hotel' or the 'librarian from the city library'.  We were hoping Governor Schwarzenegger would make a last minute surprise appearance but apparently the Governator is not a competent bell ringer and didn't want to humiliate himself).
The amateur sections were hilarious and very entertaining - but before long it was time for the pro's.  There were approx ten ringers in the pro's section and they were good - genuinely really good.  They had the full thing going on - showmanship, tuneful bell ringing, everything.  In fact we came away with a new appreciation and respect for cable car bell ringers across the world!!  I don't know the name of the guy who won it but (sorry about this) his face rang a bell. 

To end the day nicely we headed off to the San Francisco baseball park to watch the Giants take on the New York Mets.  What an experience that was!! Nine innings of glorified rounders that was very very entertaining.  A few Brits have told me that baseball is boring - no way!! It is great fun - even if just from a people watchers perspective.  The evening seems to be more about the food than the game as you can buy every single food type from every corner of the world in one ball park.  It is amazing.  A guy in front of us ate and drank the following during one two hour game - nachos, burger, hot dog, garlic fries, ice-cream, a long chewy sweet thing, a cinnamon stick, three pints of beer and a Pepsi.  Oh and probably some nuts as well.  That was one guy during one game!!! Best of all he only weighed about 8 stone. One family to the side of us - with a combine weight equaling that of a small battleship - ate double that amount each.  I was in awe at the eating prowess.  Screw the game - they should have an eating contest in the middle of the field.  First to explode, wins!! It was a great evening's entertainment even though the Giants lost 9-6. 

A new day and a visit to the prison-sur-le-mar  - Alcatraz.  A return visit for Pat but a first time visit for Nic and probably the 20th visit for Scott.  A short ferry ride across the water to the island and off we went for a wander around the prison and what remains.  Nothing has changed in the seven years since I last went and many of the outer buildings still remain in a run down state - it seemed a shame to me then and it seems a shame now that these have not be renovated or turned into some sort of tourist information place. However, a couple of days after we visited, there was an article in the paper reporting that plans were in place to have a hotel on Alcatraz - what a great idea!! The newspaper article was ridiculing the idea and the US National Park service were quick to assure readers that it would under no circumstances be a themed hotel - WHY NOT!!! How cool would it be to stay in your own cell on Alcatraz? I think they are missing out on a wonderful opportunity here - you could get different sized cells based on price and the real budget option would be solitary confinement - no windows and a hole in the floor for your toilet.  They could set it up that you have to dig your way out of the room to go for breakfast.  They could even provide stripey pyjamas!! Seems a wasted opportunity to me - I know I'd go and stay!!

While we there a former inmate was on the island signing his new book - the author I think must have been in his late 70s and didn't look like he would hurt a fly.  It surprised me to discover he was once an armed robber and was one of the last inmates at Alcatraz.  He was there when it was shut down in 1963.  Contrary to popular belief, Alcatraz was not a hard line prison - according to former inmates it was one of the more relaxed prisons - it just happened to hold some of the more dangerous prisoners of the time.  It's a great place to visit and re-visit.

Our final day with Scott was spent cruising around in his very nice soft top BMW, taking in some of the last lot of sights.  First stop, Lombard Street and the famous windy, crookedy street.  I have no idea why this street exists as Lombard Street pretty much cuts through the whole of SF in one straight line but for some reason, in the middle it, it is all squiggly.  (actually, I just wikipedia'ed it and here is the reason for those that are interested - The switchbacks design, first suggested by property owner Carl Henry and instituted in 1922,was born out of necessity in order to reduce the hill's natural 27% grade, which was too steep for most vehicles to climb and a serious hazard to pedestrians used to a more reasonable sixteen-degree incline' Now you know!!)
Roof down, and off we went winding our way down the 'swithbacks'.  Once at the bottom, we turned around and had another go. 

Next it was time to drive over the Golden Gate bridge to see what is on the 'other side'.  Sausalito - Nuclear Free Zone is what greats you there, plus more spectacular views of the bridge.  I really liked the views from this side as you get to see the bridge and the whole city in one vista.  After stopping for many many photos we drove to Sausalito proper and had a wander around and had lunch there - very nice place and even nicer is that they offer free ice-cream to any serving military personnel, and rightly so.  After a couple of hours in 'little sausage' we headed back over to SF city and headed for Haight - hippy commune of the 60s!!  If you ever want to see the effects of LSD and other chemically manufactured drugs then head to Haight - it is not a pretty sight!! There are so many insane people that all happen to be in their 50s and 60s - plus there is a ratio of four homeless people per street corner.  I found it quite depressing but I am sure for those that grew up in the swinging 60's it conjures up images of whatever things went off during that time - free love, world peace, drugs, etc etc.  Haight is considered 'Bohemian' and it is therefore one of those trendy places everyone wants to live - personally I wouldn't want to spend too much time there.  In saying all of that, it was very interesting and another great people watching place.  We did see a group of tourists being given a tour by an obviously ex-hippie who used the words 'Groovy' and 'Far Out' far too excessively.

And with that, our jam packed week in SF was over.  We really saw a lot (hence the length of this blog) and have Scott to thank for providing us with a fantastic week.  First of all it was good of him to provide us with a bed for the week, but more so, it was great to see all the places of interests and get to hang out with him too. 

Feeling exhausted, and ready for some chill out time, we decided to head for the calm, peaceful, tranquil haven of ........LAS VEGAS!!!!!
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