A glimpse of San Francisco

The seven sisters (painted ladies) with the city behind them. I wouldn’t want to live in a tourist attraction.

After a very nice breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant we were ready to catch the shuttle bus into the San Francisco city centre. But it turned out to be a shuttle for a lot of hotels in the area, not just the Marriot. The driver came into the foyer and told us the bus was full – but if we wanted to stand for the half hour trip into town we could do that. Pete and I shrugged and got on the bus. In the scheme of things a half hour stand wasn’t a big deal.

Within a few minutes a young couple who looked Japanese offered us their seats. We refused, as you do. It was our choice to come on a bus with no seats. But they insisted and so we thanked them and sat down. We exchanged a sheepish glance. It was one of the first times we’d actually been faced with the fact that people thought we were OLD.

Little boxes on a hillside…

The bus went along a freeway. It was interesting looking at the suburbs spreading up into the hillsides around the bay. It reminded me of that Pete Seeger song – little boxes.

We hopped off the bus in the city’s central square, once again thanking the young couple who’d stood for us. The day was cool and although the drizzle seemed to have moved away, we weren’t sure. A line of double decker, open-topped buses stood in a row, offering sight-seeing tours and we thought we’d better do that rather than just walk around. That way, we’d get our bearings and see some of the main sights without wearing off any more shoe leather.

The view from the bus

Like the rest of the world, we’ve seen San Fran in the movies. We knew about the steep roads courtesy of Steve McQueen’s movies, the tram cars were familiar – they’re the same as the older style used in Melbourne – in fact, that’s where they came from. And we knew about the hippy flower days of the sixties and seventies, when we were young. That vibe still remains in areas like Haight Street. The whole inner city is bright with colour and quirkiness. Street art was flourishing even back in 2011, a little earlier than many places. Given a choice between Washington, New York and San Francisco, San Francisco won hands down for me.

Lombard St

Lovely American architecture

What it says

Back to the days of flower power

I’m sure the food’s lovely

Wonderful street art

Stevie Wonder’s paver (and a few others)

After the bus tour finished Pete and I caught a tram down to Fisherman’s Wharf, another place we’d heard a lot about. The place was packed with tourists, many of them doing what we were doing, stopping for a seafood lunch. Of course we had clam chowder. It was delicious and very filling and we regretted the fish and chips we’d ordered as a main course. Hey ho. We did our best, then wandered around the waterfront.

A road to the Bay

Fisherman’s Wharf

There’s more to Fisjerman’s Wharf than just the restaurants. We ambled through the tourist area, picking up a couple of Tee shirts to take home, then checked the historical precinct.

 

A sub and a Liberty ship

Alcatraz stood on its island in the middle of the bay but we couldn’t get on a tour. A submarine, and one of the original liberty ships built by Rosie the Riveter and her companions, were moored at the quay and were open to visitors. Read all about them here. In fact the liberty ships were actually built in the waterways next to our hotel. The factories are long gone, replaced by parkland.

Alcatraz

After a full day we boarded the shuttle bus back to the hotel. We were looking forward to having a pre-dinner drink, then enjoying a steak in the restaurant. But at around 6:30 on a Friday evening the bar and the restaurant were both closed. When we enquired at reception we were told the bar and restaurant were only open from Monday to Thursday. The clerk couldn’t suggest any restaurants nearby but we could order a taxi into the city. Apart from that, we’d find an order-in menu at the back of the amenities folder in our room. He assured us the food was good.

We were frankly amazed. This was a Marriot hotel. But I suppose it was in a more industrial part of town, no doubt frequented by business travellers rather than tourists. We schlepped back to our room to consider options. We looked on the internet but there wasn’t anything within walking distance of the hotel so we opted for a delivery to the room. Pete ordered a veal and mushroom casserole with a salad and a beer.  I ordered lasagne – after all, who could mess up lasagne – and a bottle of Chilean wine. We were told the food would be delivered in about an hour.

Two hours later Pete rang to find out what the hell had happened. After the usual pathetic excuses they said the delivery should get to us in ten minutes. Make that more like fifteen. Whatever. At around 9:30pm at last we had food.

Or so we thought. My lasagne was disgusting, grey mush which might have been meat between a couple of sheets of pasta. It was totally horrible – so bad that I wrote am email to the company complaining about it. Pete’s food was a bit better without being brilliant so we shared that.

Chicken and mushroom casserole with rice

“Lasagne”

This was our last evening in America. It certainly didn’t end in quite the way I would have hoped although it was memorable – for all the wrong reasons.

Our breakfast venue

Next morning the hotel restaurant being closed, we caught the shuttle bus (not crowded this time) into town and found a bar serving a cooked breakfast. It was a fun place and Pete enjoyed chatting with some of the folks there. Really, on this, our last day, we didn’t do much just strolled around the city, visiting some of the shops and malls.

Later in the evening we collected our bags and went to the airport for the long haul home. San Francisco to Los Angeles, then the seventeen-hour flight to Brisbane on Qantas.

It was going to be nice to be home.

 

Crossing America

San Francisco and the bridge

After our stay in Washington we would be flying across America to San Francisco on the west coast. I’m not sure why we weren’t on a direct flight, but we weren’t. We would be flying to Detroit, then on to SFO on Delta, which Pete thought was the better of the US airlines. In fact, before we left Australia, Delta informed us we’d been upgraded from business class to first class. How nice. We arrived at Washington’s airport in plenty of time for our flight and discovered a few… unexpected things about air travel in the USA.

Although airports everywhere are trying to shorten queues and reduce the number of staff at airports in various ways, up to this point (in 2011) everywhere we’d been we went up to a counter, checked in our luggage with the clerk, where we watched it disappear via a conveyor belt, and received our boarding passes. Not in Washington. For a start we had to wait a looong time to get served, despite being business class/ first class. And then when we checked in we were given a boarding pass and told to take our suitcases up to baggage handling ourselves. Then we had to go through security. When I noticed other people taking off their shoes I asked a staff member if that was required. She looked at me as if I was a bit stupid or just being difficult. There were no signs telling passengers what was needed, or if there were I didn’t see them and I STILL haven’t been through any other country’s security where shoes had to be removed – unless they set off the alarm. It was also the first time I’d been through the full-body X-ray booth.

Business class boarded first and we sat watching the other passengers file down the aisle. Many of them had suitcases which were almost as large as the bags we’d checked in and the cabin crew stuffed the luggage anywhere it could fit in the overhead lockers. Obviously, everybody was avoiding checking in luggage. We landed in Detroit and found our flight to SFO had been delayed several hours. Despite our business class/first class tickets we were not permitted into the airline’s lounge so we kicked our heels clock-watching with everyone else.

At last, we boarded and we were off. Flying across America takes as long as flying across Australia but the view is very different. In Australia most of the flight is over desert, the red heart of the country. In America we crossed farmland, enormous rivers, large cities, and mountain ranges. And maybe a bit of desert. The view out the window was great.

City, river, and hills

Farmland

Mountains

I can’t say the same for business class service. It’s a five-hour flight so we were offered a meal. We were in the last row of the business class section (I never did see any sign of first class) so the choice was a do-it-yourself hamburger, or nothing. The salad had already been snapped up by everybody else. We were delivered a tepid meat patty, a cold bun, a slice of plastic cheese, a lettuce leaf, slices of tomato, and some dressing for the burger, with potato salad (I think) and a slice of cake. I didn’t finish the burger and only tasted the potato salad which was inedible IMO. I probably ate the cake. It was the worst meal we had on any flight anywhere, by a long way.

First class meal

By the time we got to San Francisco it was quite late. We’d booked two nights in a Marriot hotel situated between the airport and the city that offered a regular shuttle bus into San Francisco. The place had a nice restaurant with an inviting menu but it was too late to eat a meal, so we sat at the bar and had a couple of drinks with some nuts before we wandered off to bed.

We’d have tomorrow and a good part of the next day to look around before we headed home.