Monday, 18 August 2014

San Francisco, part 1

For the slightly naive and overly-optimistic traveller (i.e. someone like me) the first thing that hits you when you arrive in San Francisco is that it is cold. Bloody cold actually, and very foggy.  If you’ve packed for Californian sunshine, stepping off the plane in San Francisco brings you back down to earth with a jolt.  But the inauspicious welcome from the damp, extensive tentacles of pacific mist that lingers long over the city belies the truth. San Francisco is a fantastic place and after four days, I have fallen in love with it. 

We began our tour on Thursday evening by taking the cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf for a typical San Franciscan dish: a sourdough bread bowl of chowder.  This is essentially a fish and vegetable soup, served in a bowl made of bread. I’m not a big fan of fish, but even I thought it was super-tasty. We ate at the blue mermaid chowder house, which had a lovely atmosphere and really friendly staff.  (Thanks Matthew for getting this for us!) The walls were decorated in a suitably maritime manner: oars, sails, ship’s wheels, submarine windows and even an entire rowing boat adorning the ceiling.  We didn’t linger long (after all - we’d had an 11 hour flight to get there and it was about 5am in the morning English time), so we took the cable car back to our hotel.

Sadly I don’t have a photo of this cable car ride, but here is a photo of Vincent on the cable car on another day. According to the guide book, there was a plan to get rid of the cable cars a while ago and replace them with a more efficient form of public transport, but the good citizens of San Francisco protested against this and the plans were soon dropped. I can see why. The cable cars embody the romance of a bygone age in the way that steam engines do in the UK. The cars themselves are wooden vehicles that look like old-fashioned trams and smell of oil and varnish and olden days. They are attached to steel cables that are embedded in the street and run at a constant speed of 9 miles per hour. The cables make a constant clickety-clickety-clickety noise as they whirr up and down the steep hills of the city and the drivers of the cars ring soft sounding bells to announce their presence at each stop. Ding-ding.... ding-ding.....clickety-clickety-clickety.... ding-ding...... ding-ding .... clickety-clickety-clickety.... It’s all very atmospheric.

The best way to ride the cars is to stand on the footplate and hang onto the outside of the car. This way you get to feel very daring and adventurous, travelling at the hair-raising speed of 9 miles per hour. :-)  Actually, it does genuinely feel a lot faster than that, especially if you happen to be hanging on to the very front of the tram, going down streets with gradients of up to 30% (some of the streets in San Francisco are the steepest streets in the Western Hemisphere). Thanks to Ellie and Larry for contributing to the cable car fund!

When we got back to our hotel room, at the dizzying height of the 34th floor at the Grand Hyatt, we found that they’d given us some champagne because it was our honeymoon, which was really lovely! So we raised a glass to San Francisco and forgave the chilly introduction.

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