A Travellerspoint blog

On My Bike

sunny 13 °C

All of a sudden the glorious weather has diappeared. I woke this morning to find fog hanging over the city. Oh well, it was good while it lasted.

In hindsight I was actually fortunate with today's weather, because today's activity involved substantial physical exertion. I hired a bike to explore the city's outer limits. I picked the bike up in Fisherman's Wharf and began by making my way along the Bay shore up to the Golden Gate Bridge. The cycle to the Bridge from the bike shop was about three or four miles and it was a further two over to the Gate's other side. Unfortunately the fog was hanging over the Bridge so I really couldn't get any of the photos that I wanted, but cycling through the fog, ringing my bell to warn pedestrians who might be in the cloud but who I couldn't see, was an experience to say the least! The strong wind on the other side made spending much time there uncomfortable so I was soon back on my bike (yes, helmet on also, making me quite a picture!) and back over the Bridge.

Once back on the city side I headed west along the shore, past popular Baker Beach and around the city's rump to Golden Gate Park. This was all about a nine mile trip. I thought Golden Gate Park would be something like New York's Central Park, but it felt much wilder. The trees were imposing and it generally less maintained. What else does it have that Central Park doesn't? That would be a bison farm - very random. After both cycling and walking up and then down many hills I returned to the bike shop late in the afternoon, all in all doing about twenty miles of cycling, which was a much needed cardio workout.


Posted by MattOGrady 22:24 Archived in USA Comments (0)

And It's One, Two, Three Strikes You're Out ...

sunny 31 °C

Oh America. I think I may have finally fallen in love of it's favourite pastime - baseball.

This afternoon the San Francisco Giants played the Cincinnati Reds, who are at the top of the league they play in. AT & T field is a charming stadium. It's small and sits right on the water. I was able to get good, very reasonably priced tickets when I turned up at the stadium, and quite unknown to me, it was an absolute sell out (does no one work on Wednesdays?!). I picked up a cold beer and made my way to my seat around third base. I had requested a seat in the shade. When I went to see the New York Yankees in 2003, my Dad, brother and I found ourselves exposed to the hot sun and it was pretty uncomfortable and also detracts from the sport - I didn't want to fall into that trap again. So I sat back, sipping my beer, not imagining anything that could be quite as American as this - but ah, there was! I didn't have my famed Giants garlic fries, so they were added to the beer. Then, not to long before the game was due to commence at 12:45, the announce asked, "To honour America, please stand and remove your caps for the singing of our national anthem." I obliged him and directed my attention to the Stars and Stripes. For a brief moment I felt as though time had paused. Although it was only the third time I had heard the anthem since being here, it brought home that my trip would soon be ending. It gave me a brief moment to reflect and as I was listening I felt very grateful to all the people who had helped make this country home for the last three months.

Well enough of that - let's get to the game. I will say immediately to those who say American sport is dull and doesn't need concentration, that this was an absolute thriller! It started very ominously. In the first innings Cincinnati made a home run to take a 2 - 0 lead. Many blamed the new, twenty-one year old Giants pitcher. Things didn't get much better for San Francisco and by the fifth, after some more home runs they were looking at a 8 - 0 deficit. To their credit the Giants picked up two runs to bring the score to 8 - 2. However, by the time of the seventh the Reds had gone to 10 - 2, it all looked hopless Then the eigth innings happened. Perhaps this was the result of the seventh innings stretch (as American as apple pie). Incredibly the Giants, with the combination of home runs and singles turned a 8 - 2 deficit to score six runs and bring the gap to 10 - 8. We were all cheering, high-fiving and beer was going everywhere. Go Giants! I sure felt sorry for those people who had left early. Then the sublime happened and the Giants brought in two runs to tie the score at 10 - 10. Now if I thought that AT & T field went wild when that happened, the ecstasy when the Giants took a 11 - 10 lead in the ninth is indescribable. Surely this was the biggest comeback in their history? They couldn't mess this up now could they? So close to winning, all they needed to do was see out Cincinnati's inning in the ninth. Of course, Cincinnati set their stall out in the first and this was never going to be the case. The Giants held the Reds to a single run and all was tied at the end of the ninth at 11 - 11. I had thought that baseball ends in a draw, apparently it doesn't - there must be a winner. It took a further three innings, the game finally ending in the twelth with Cincinnati winning 11 - 12. I was supporting the Giants, but at that point I wasn't too concerned about who won, the game had been so entertaining.


Posted by MattOGrady 12:32 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Can't Stand The Heat? Get To Alcatraz Island

sunny 38 °C

So much for the San Francisco fog! Today has been the hottest day the city's experienced for twenty years!

It was chance rather than good planning on my part that I was able to escape the stifling atmosphere by taking a cruise to a fabled island - not Treasure, not even even Tracy, but Alcatraz Island - the home to the former maxium security penetentiary, which is now a National Park. If you're coming to the city, please don't assume you can simply rock up, buy a ticket and jump on the boat. This is a remarkably popular attraction and an advance online booking, at least a week in advance, is essential if you hope to actually step foot on the island.

Mine was an afternoon visit. The sail to the island was short, which results in the question, so why couldn't you just swim out? The prison exterior was considerably less intimidating that I had expecting, however this is without down something that leads you into a false sense of security, for once you are island I doubt even JK Rowling's dementors could be as successful in sucking the life from your soul. The prison is dark, the cells tiny, the opportunity for exercise small and privacy non-existent. I thought the most interesting part of the audio tour was learning about an attempted escape where the escapees came remarkably close to setting outside the prison walls, only to have their plan foiled by the necessity of taking hostages who they then murdered. I wonder if they had a plan to get from outside the prison walls to anywhere else, because my initial question of "Why couldn't you just swim?" was soon answered. The water in the Bay is freezing cold and if your muscles weren't sapped with energy and your body pulled under the water by rip currents, then the sharks that patrol the waters probably would have you. Who said prison was a soft touch?

Once I was back in the city I took a route back to the Tenderloin that I though my avoid the worst of the hills. I should have remembered from my attempt to go running on Long Island, New York, that my sense of direction is utterly hopeless. It wasn't so much that I got lost (it's very difficult to in a grid system), but I hit some of the city's biggest hills, the main ones being those that California Street runs over.


Posted by MattOGrady 11:43 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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 Comments (0)

Everything's Cheaper In Chinatown

sunny 25 °C

Today I explored the Chinatown and Nob Hill areas of San Francisco. I set out late in the morning to Stockton on the other side of Union Square, up Stockton (by 'up' I mean both along and literally up as the hills here are imposing!). Chinatown is divided into two quite distinct sections; touristy Chinatown and Chinaman's Chinatown. Chinatown proper sits on Stockton. It is very different to New York's Chinatown. Even though this was the first Chinatown in America, and is very much closer to China, it is considerably smaller than New York's Chinatown. Perhaps its size explains another difference between the two; San Francisco's Chinatown lacks the smell of rubbish that lingers in the air in Chinatown-New York. One of the fantastic advantages of Chinatown is that everything is cheap, whether you're buying fruit or a padlock or looking for a haircut. Whilst I was walking around I popped into a few market-shops selling to buy fruit and vegetables - I didn't buy the flapping fish!

I walked to the end of Stockton and I started to spot lamp posts painted with the Italien tricolour. I hadn't realised there was a Little Italy in San Francisco, although I shouldn't have been surprised. The thing is, it really is very little, perhaps just half a block. Nevertheless, on this hot day the geleto was fantastic! Not far from the end of Stockton I found Washington Square, which is a little treasure. I found a spot on the grass and within minutes I was fast asleep in the hot California sun. About three-quarters of an hour later I roused myself and I was fully recharged to explore Nob Hill. Nob Hill is a hilly and charming neighbourhood. The pastel painted terraces aren't terraces as we know them, instead they are smart attractive buildings, most with stunning Bay views.

After hiking up and down and down and up plenty of hills that make up the Nob Hill neighbourhood I made my way back to where I'm staying, a neighbourhood called The Tenderloin. This is a very sketchy area and I don't have any plans to be out after sunset. There is a significant homless population in the neighbourhood because of shelters, which are forrunately located quite a few blocks away. However, the hostel provide a 'safe corridor' into the city that avoid the less safe areas and instead sticks to the road that is more heavily policed. I hope I don't, however, give you the impression that homlessness is unique to The Tenderloin, it is endemic across the city; from the best places to the worst and the places tourists don't visit to the places they do. I stuggle to appropriately describe it. I want to say it is a problem, I am sure the homeless people belive it is, however it isn't treated as an afflication by the city and its population. Instead, homelessness is seen as a part of San Francisco as much as the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island are fixed in our finds when we think of this city. I, though, am disappointed by the tacit acceptance or permanency of their condition that this view implies. Viewing it as a part of the city's character neglects solutions to the problem (or whatever you choose to describe it) and I have found no one yet who has thought a solution necessary, let alone even suggested one.


Posted by MattOGrady 22:38 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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