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North Beach and Cable Cars

sunny 32 °C

I had been told to expect cloud and the cold. Well, since I've been here I've had nothing but sunshine and shorts weather. Today was no exception to that.

Yesterday I enjoyed my hour doing not much in Washington Square; just sitting back and watching the people go by, so as it's the launch pad to North Beach I made my way back up there this morning. I went there via Chinatown's Stockton and did my usual fruit and vegetable shop. So far, North Beach is as O.C. as San Francisco gets (which isn't very). It's a smart neighbourhood, which is centrally located in the city. As well as being the home of San Francisco's Italien community it's the historical home of the beatnik culture. I popped into Grace Cathedral which sits on the Washington Square's outskirts and stayed for Mass, then made my way west up the steep hills to Lombard Street. I don't suppose Lombard Street means much to you, right? But I'm sure you've seen or at least heard of the most crooked street in the world? That road that winds in sharp turns down the side of a San Francisco hill? Well that's the top of Lombard Street. So I went up it, took a few snaps.

From Lombard Street I made my way north east to San Francisco's tourist town, Fisherman's Wharf. I can't quite comprehend why we tourists visit this area, other than that it is where tourists visit. Fisherman's Wharft resembles the most dire combination of tacky tourism, with souveneir shops lining the roads, and a pittyful attempt to inject some class, with restaurants and stalls serving poor attempts at chowder (stay in New England if you like your chowder). I found perhaps the neighbourhoods main and only attractions after a poor attempt at avoiding souvenier shopping - a Bay view over to the Golden Gate Bridge and the prison at Alcatraz Island, and the lazy sea lions of Pier 39. After writing a few postcards and picking up my tickets for tomorrow's visit to Alcatraz I headed for one of San Francisco's romanticised cable cars.

When I first heard that San Francisco had cable cars, perhaps like most of you I pictured the sort of machinery that transports you to the top of ski runs. I was very much wrong. San Francisco's cable cars are in fact a tram network, but are also cable cars in the strictest sense. The car are powered by a constantly moving cable that runs beneath the road. When you walk over it's tracks you can hear and even feel the humming of the cables below. As it was the ride that would take me back in the direction where I'm staying I needed to take the Powell-Market Car. My advice to anyone who also wants to have this classically San Francisco experience is to walk to Fisherman's Wharf, exploring Chinatown and North Beach on the way, and take the car back. The queue heading back into the city centre is always much shorter than the one leaving it. I jumped on board and paid my $5 to the conductor. The cars are only small and one of the most popular and quintessential ways to ride it is standing hanging of the car's side. That's where I put myself. As well as being the classic way to ride the cars, it is also perilous, as the cars pass very close to te traffic. The proximity of the car's route to other vehicles combined with the journey up and down very steep hills, making a firm grip essential, are what make the 'hanging' option so popular. After getting to Market I hopped off and popped over to the Westfield Shopping Center. I'm now very concious that VAT is going to be 20% very soon and when tax is so low here, and prices low generally, I'm doing my best to stimulate the US economy.


Posted by MattOGrady 11:23 Archived in USA

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