Today started quietly – all this holidaying is starting to wear us out I think! We didn’t get out til around 9. No big adventures planned for the day, but breakfast turned out to be a small adventure. We started walking down down Market st toward the bay, figuring we’ll find plenty of brekky options on the way. But nope, not in the financial district. Just like Martin Place back home. It’s pretty much devoid of all life outside of business hours. After a good 15-20 minutes of walking we found a Starbucks that was open. That’ll do.
During our stay here, every streetcar we’d been on had an advert for the train museum, so thought we’d give it a go. It’s on Steuart St, not far from the ferry building. I don’t know if there’s such a word as museumette. But if there is, it’s be perfect for describing the small room that we entered – after waiting 10 mins for the proprietor to come back his smoke/coffee break. Though small it was perfectly formed, and crammed a good bit of info about San Francisco’s public transportation history – including how 16 year old Maya Angelou became the first woman ti drive streetcars in San Francisco. (Fun Fact, remember it for trivia nights! 🙂 ) In San Francisco they like to think of public transport as “your second car” which I think is a great way of looking at things. It’s a pretty good way to get around town, and so many options. Cable Car, Streetcar, Bus, Trolley Bus, Underground train… it’s all very cool.
After our brief stop at the museum it was time to get a streetcar to Fisherman’s wharf, so we could hop on the hop on hop off bus, to visit the Academy of Science. Yesterday’s Big Bus tour guide talked about it a bit, sounded good, so thought we’d give it a go. It’s on Golden Gate Park. It’s a little like New York’s Central Park, in so far as it’s a long and relatively skinny piece of parkland. Lovely to see a bunch of eucalyptus around, too. Unike Central Park it has a few more buildings – botanical gardens, conservatory of flowers, the de Young museum, and the aforementioned Academy of Sciences. Doug our tour guide was very entertaining, did a great job and told of heaps of different things compared to when we took the same route of the Big Bus yesterday.
Entry to the academy was far from cheap ($40 each!) but it sure had a lot in it to see. A large aquarium, a simulated rainforest environment full of butterflies (lovely!), and a small enclosure with a few turtles and an albino alligator. And tasty lunch. Most interesting of all though was the “earthquake simulator” – where you stood, ostensibly in an old San Francisco house, which then shook in a way similar to the 1989 earthquake, and then, the much larger 1906 earthquake that destroyed much of the city. The simulation only went for 30 seconds, the actual 1906 event went for 90. Must’ve been terrifying. Thankfully we had solid handrails to grab on to. I won’t be at all upset to totally miss any earthquake here, that’s for certain.
We then hopped back on the Big Bus – this one felt like it was suffering imminent mechanical disaster, or the driver was just having gear/shifting trouble. Either way, it was a little disconcerting, though I guess there would be worse places to break down than the middle of the Golden Gate bridge. Mercifully every time the engine or gearbox sounded like it was ready to part ways with the rest of the bus, the driver coaxed or threatened it back in to action, and we eventually made it back to Union Square.
Perry went back to to hotel, but my adventure continued on. I walked over to the Cable Car Museum. Just an easy 15 minute walk, said the directions on my phone. Just a few blocks, you know, nothing to worry about. But as soon as I set off … holy crap. The first four blocks were all uphill. Very uphill. I did some googling so can now throw the following facts and figures at you. Out hotel is 28 metres above sea level. Three blocks later, (corner of Powell and California) it’s 73 metres above sea level. The fourth block of my journey (corner of California and Mason) – 87 metres above sea level. So yeah, 60 metres up, in four blocks of travel. No wonder it took me a while. For the record, my watch is telling me I climbed the equivalent of 22 flights of stairs today. Seems legit.
Anyway after much huffing and puffing (but not blowing anybody’s house down), I made it to the museum. Glad to say it was worth the effort, it was really interesting. And a ‘living museum’ of sorts – as it’s also the engine house that powers all of the cables for the whole network. But I’ll probably totally nerd out in too much detail in a seperate blog post later, so if you can skip all the boring technical details of the cable car network. I also walked by the hotel where Tony Bennett first sang “I left my heart in San Francisco”, commemorated with a statue, and a renaming of the street to “Tony Bennett Way”
Luckily the trip home was easier – I took a different route so could swing by the “Ross for Less” cheap clothes shop again to buy a new belt. (No the last one didn’t die due to being under too much pressure, thanks very much!! 😀 ).
For dinner we walked a very small way up the Powell St hill to Maru Sushi, a lovely Japanese restaurant. Friendly service, awesome miso soup, and great food, at good value. Recommended! (Yes, believe it to not, we didn’t go off to a show tonight).
Then it was time to me back to room and pack up ready to leave tomorrow. 😦 As I’m sitting in the hotel room writing this, I can hear a cable car going past, the gripman (driver) dinging the bell like there’s no tomorrow. (Apparently there’s even a yearly bell ringing competition, go figure). Re-packing made me realise I (of course) bought way more crap already than I should have – but so be it, we’re on holidays! I guess it’s also time to reflect a little on our stay in San Francisco. We’ve been blessed with perfect weather the whole time – even the locals are saying how unusually good it is. It probably adds a bit of a rose-coloured-glasses tint to the city, but it’s just a lovely place. There’s the natural beauty of the bay, and the Californian redwoods. There’s the beautiful built environment of mostly early-20th-century housing. Then there’s the cultural beauty of a city that welcomes, lives and breathes diversity – in places like Castro and beyond. Like all cities it has its flaws, but there are many, may worse places in the world to spend your time.
Other random things we learnt – nobody, at all, has a front yard in this city. Backyards are also very uncommon. But no matter where you live in the whole place, you’re never more than a ten minute walk away from a park. Just as well, else all the people we saw with dogs would be having some problems. It’s not all sunshine and happiness – San Francisco has a considerable homeless problem, yes even outside the Tenderloin area. There are people begging pretty much on every single street corner, and many more just wandering the streets. According to Doug our Big Bus guide, due to the good quality of care given by all the organisations in the Tenderloin, a lot of other cities provide their homeless and troubled residents with what he called “Greyhound Therapy” – ship ‘em off to San Francisco and let someone else deal with them. Charming.
What else – now it’s fully legal for medical and recreational purposes, it’s kinda surprising just how often you smell weed being smoked, like, everywhere. Seriously you can smell more dope here than in Amsterdam. It’s kinda pervasive. It doesn’t have the “coffee shops” like Amsterdam though. I don’t know you get it – and because I am, at heart, so very boring, I’m not at all interested in finding out.
Maybe this is more an American observation than a San Francisco one…but in Starbucks or anywhere else that needs your name, I shall henceforth be known as Joe. Nobody understands “John” – yeah, I know, it’s a very challenging name it’s true But because I don’t say “Jaaaaaaahn,” nobody seems to have a clue what I’m saying, and usually say “Joe?” and I say “Yep sure”. So there we go. I’m Joe, pleased to meet you. The other confusing conversation we’ve had many a time seems to be an evolution of last time’s “thank you”/“of course!” head scratcher. These days, after saying “thank you”, the response is almost always a cheery “Mm-hmm”. I still don’t get it, but hey, I am a foreigner after all. I smile and nod, we go our seperate ways, everyone’s happy.
Tomorrow: Seattle! But just like last time we visited, I have left at least a little piece of my heart in San Francisco. I hope, one day, I’ll again have the opportunity to return.