San Fransisco is our current location in our newest odyssey as we visit North America. We plan to drive from here to Yosemite National Park and then north into Oregon through some of the scenic roads for which it is famous. Then we will return back to San Francisco down Highway One along the Oregon and Californian coasts before we head back home on a little over three weeks.
We had an excellent flight from Melbourne to Los Angeles with a connection from there to San Francisco. I had applied to Qantas for an upgrade using my frequent flyer points. Upgrades are a really good way of using points as the value for money they provide is much better than buying airfares or redeeming points for products in the Qantas Store. We were fortunate to get upgraded from Business to First Class on this long 14 hour sector to LAX from Melbourne.
I read the the other day that Qantas was just rated is one of the three top airlines in the world and their first class service is truly outstanding. I only wish that I could fly this way all the time! Qantas only offers first class on its Airbus A380 flights. All their other aircraft only offer business class, so it is quite special to get a seat in the front end this big plane. The service was fantastic and one of the things we really enjoyed was being able to sit together for lunch – nothing like a beautiful meal cooked to order at 40,000 feet. What a way to fly!
We made it to San Francisco by early afternoon on Thursday, a little jet lagged but looking forward to an interesting time for a few days. We had booked a Super Shuttle transfer to our hotel at Fisherman’s Wharf and this trip was just the opposite of our ride to LAX. Our driver was rude and without any sense of humour whatsoever. He drove aggressively and couldn’t understand anything of our Australian accent. I told him that we wanted to go to our hotel at ’Thirteen Hundred Columbia Avenue’ but this was totally incomprehensible to him. Fortunately, a young lady who was also travelling in the van translated this as ’One Three Zero Zero Columbus Avenue’ and this was duly entered into his GPS and we were then on our way. I’ll have to remember more of the ways that Americans use English if we are going to have an easy time on this trip.
San Francisco is a dynamic city and very much going ahead. There is an enormous amount of construction and refurbishment going on here. It is also very expensive – I understand this city to be the most expensive city in the USA for housing. It is also the most expensive city that we have stayed in for many a year. Our 3 1/2 star hotel room at the Holiday Inn (including breakfast) is setting us back around $A500 per night. I’m looking forward to travelling on to some of the small towns on our way north where hotels should cost us around a third of this amount.
California has been in a very deep drought for the last few years. It is tinderbox dry and has suffered from many bad wildfires. Yet the other day, ironically, it rained for some hours at over four inches of rain per hour. This caused serous flooding and one of the major highways was inundated with almost two metres of mud. Many trucks were trapped and cars surrounded by mud up above window level. Talk about going from one extreme to the other!
We slept in yesterday and spent the day pottering around the Fisherman’s Wharf area. We could see the famous Golden Gate Bridge in the distance as we wandered around the various piers and taking in the views and the local surroundings.
Near Pier 39 is colony of Sea Lions. These visit the area seasonally and haul out on any of the pontoons positioned off the end of the pier. They are a significant local attraction and their presence shows just how many fish there are in the harbour area. In fact, San Francisco has one of the last urban fishing fleets in the world.
We could have spent hours just watching the variety of people in the street. They came in all shapes and sizes and wore a variety of fashions. Many of them would never have passed the ‘fashion police’ in my my household. Some people were advertising tours and others who were obviously down on their luck were soliciting funds for their own use. This guy had collected a few donations from passers by for his version of charitable donation.
Our second day (today) started with a small group tour around the city. It was advertised as ‘seeing San Francisco from a local’s perspective, and it certainly did that. We saw places tat we would never have seen on our own. There were just ten people on this very personally conducted tour which covered every area of town from the exclusive parts of the city to the sections of town that were famous in the hippy days of the 1960’s. Some places look as though they are still stuck in that era and haven’t changed much at all.
We spent the last part of the day visiting Alcatraz. This famous prison closed in 1963 and is now owned and run by the National Parks Service. It housed some of America’s worst prisoners – most of them marked as unable to be rehabilitated. I have visited a few old prisons in Melbourne, Perth and Argentina but this would be the most brutal of any place that I have seen. It is stark and foreboding and would have been a horrible place to be imprisoned or even as place in which to work in any form of custodial role. Yet, warders and their families lived just below the cell block on the island during the time it operated.