I checked out of the hotel and arrived at the airport in plenty of time to reserve an exit window seat. Passed through security and went looking for a beer. Stocks were seriously diminished for some reason so I sat down to finish my book and wrote a letter to my brother. Leaving the land of rollerblades and mobile phone hands free sets behind me.
This flight actually has a reliable trip distance thanks to the seatback screen information instead of having to rely on the web. I also got plied with lots of booze and sat next to a like-minded girl called Carly who was on her way back to Adelaide after her round-the-world trip.
I liked New Zealand immediately when I noticed the red line painted around the baggage reclaim carousel. It was quiet so things may be different at other times but in this case the protocol was impeccably observed. To pass some time while I waited for the Airbus Express service to start I spoke to the Air New Zealand desk about flights to Queenstown. It turns out that I could amend my existing itinery for £40. This tool my mileage up to 28,896 (or 99.6%) of the maximum 29,000 allowed on the Escapade ticket I hold.
I made my way into the city as the rain dried up and the sun rose. Checked into a hotel, had a quick shower to freshen up, skipped breakfast to offset the jetlag and went exploring. I gave myself an adrenalin shot by doing the SkyJump – twice. Jumping off the highest tower in the Southern hemisphere on a fan descender controlled free fall for 192 metres sure wakes you up quickly.
I went for a walk today to assure my legs that they are not redundant after yesterday’s Segway tour. I wandered through Soma and Mission, stopped for an ice cream at Mitchell’s and then climbed Twin Peaks before descending to stroll through Golden Gate Park. The walk up is pretty tiring but you can drive (or be driven) most of the way up.
I got all the way down to the beach and the Dutch Windwill but was exposed to the wind that almost blew me from the summit of Twin Peaks earlier. It felt like my legs were being sandblasted so I hightailed it back along Fulton to the Civic Center. All told I clocked up over 17 miles today.
I really like San Francisco but I don’t think that I could ever live here. Building a city on a major fault line just seems to be fundamentally flawed to me.
I planned on going up Coit Tower yesterday but I simply ran out of time. Accordingly, it was item number one on today’s agenda before going to look at San Francisco’s crookedest street: Lombard street. It reminded me of the start of Nacimiento road but in daylight and maybe only a couple of hundred yards long. I ended up in the Ghiradelli area and the Franklin Bowles galleries looking at Dali’s Alice in Wonderland suite, some Rembrandt etchings and a large collection of amazing work from LeRoy Neiman.
As I was in San Francisco I couldn’t just hire a bike for a quick whizz round. I simply had to try out a Segway tour. They are the weirdest thing at first but you soon get used to them (that is unless you are the woman who ran herself over with hers during the orientation and decided she didn’t want to go anymore). The tour lasted for a couple of hours, was good fun and quite informative but once I dismounted it was like I’d forgotten how to walk normally. I went for a sit down in the Boudin Bakery to recover and have something to eat before heading back to the hotel for the night.
“As a general rule, you will work eight hours a day, five days a week, with Saturdays, Sundays and holidays devoted to recreation.”
– Alcatraz regulation #20
To celebrate being free of the car I headed down to Fisherman’s Wharf and ended up in a bar called Jack’s at The Cannery. 68 beers on draft awaited me and it was Happy Hour. It turns out that most of the people in there were British. There were people from the Lake District, Manchester and Leeds. With the exchange rates as they are I think that this is going to be a common occurrence this Summer as tourists shun Europe.
I soon got talking to a family from Michigan. The son was interested in traveling after he’d finished his studies but was apprehensive at the same time. I told him that he should just go for it, it would be one of the best things that he could ever do and that I felt exactly the same way until days before I left.
After they left the bar my next conversation was with a big, bald, bearded biker from Alabama who was a really nice guy. We went on to drink a lot and I don’t have a clue what time I left. I’m fairly sure that I was way under the strictly enforced 40 drink limit though but I felt like I’d smashed clean through it this morning.
Once I was feeling vaguely human again I set off down Market Street to the wonderful shops in the Ferry building and then on to book myself on a boat for a tour of Alcatraz. It turns out that I’d picked a special day for a visit. Darwin Coon was incarcerated here and today was back for a signing of his book. It smacked a little of profiteering to me – akin to the recent glut of autobiographical books from reformed football hooligans of the 1980s. It really is quite an eerie place but outside the cells – thanks to the lack of predators – it has returned to be home to the birds that gave the island it’s modern-day name (derived from La Isla de los Alcatraces). I also learned the somewhat startling fact that 1% of the US population is in prison and of those, 40% are functionally illiterate.
Once back on the mainland I continued walking along the shoreline until I stumbled across the Sea Lions on K dock of Pier 39. There are hundreds of them, they’re noisy and they stink but they’ve been drawing a big crowd since 1990. I would say that they’re the best thing about Pier 39 which is mainly devoted to selling trinkets to tourists.
The day was pushing on so I queued for a ride over San Francisco’s hilly streets on one of the famous cable cars. I wasn’t expecting to have to wait in line for quite so long though. A good 30 minutes is apparently the norm for the Powell and Hyde route but it’s a damn sight easier than walking!
Well that’s the drive over and done with. I drove through at least half a dozen Beaver Creeks and giggled at every single one of them. Today I drove by Silicon Valley, Paolo Alto and Mountain View into San Francisco itself.
The trip down the coast has been spectacular and I’d do it again in a heartbeat if I got the chance. I did miss a lot of the view points out as I think that I’d barely be a quarter of the way along the journey right now if I were to jump out of the car every single time there was something to photograph. Besides, I had already passed the stopping area a lot of the time before I noticed that there was a great view to my left. Keeping my eyes on the road was uppermost in my mind as there are a lot of treacherous corners along the way. I almost wish I had a chauffeur.
I handed the car back at the airport but San Francisco had no record of the rental and got on the phone to get the contract closed. Edward in Vancouver was bordering on being apoplectic and tried to charge me $5,000 for an unauthorised drop off. I didn’t ask if that was US or Canadian – not that it really matters with the exchange rate. I did tell him that there was no way I was paying that as I had it in black and white on the rental contract in front of me that it was okay for the car to be returned to San Francisco airport. The staff at the airport could see this and were perfectly happy to accept the car. I informed Edward that I had handed the car back, was about to head for the airtrain and that he could reach me on my mobile once he’d cleared up the confusion at his end. 20 minutes later I received a call from a guy called Peter – I guess Edward was having a lie down or something – who apologised and said that everything was okay.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to drink a lot of beer and stay up aaaallll night!