Monday, November 24, 2008

Bilbo and Agnes's Marvelous Vacation - Part 1: San Francisco

Yes, we are finally back from our long (and long overdue, if I may say so) vacation. As you all know, we left on Saturday the 8th for San Francisco, where we connected on the 10th with our cruise to the so-called "Mexican Riviera." We arrived back home at 2:00 AM on Friday the 21st, slept for a few hours, then packed and drove up to Pittsburgh, PA for an early Thanksgiving and family reunion hosted by my sister and her family. We finally got home for good yesterday afternoon about 4:00 PM.

I'll tell you about Mexico tomorrow...today, our adventures in San Francisco. Those of you who received postcards or letters from us while we were on the road may already have heard some of this before, but stick with me and I'll try to keep it moderately interesting...and there are pictures.

Our son-in-law Vin drove us to the airport on the morning of our departure, and turned out to be more of a help than just being a chauffeur. As he helped load our two suitcases into the car, he suggested we might want to weigh them...whereupon he recommended take along a third, empty, suitcase just in case. Good call...when we got to the airport, it turned out that one of the cases was about 3 pounds overweight, while the other was about 0.0003675 grams under. The airline (Delta) petulantly refused to allow the overweight suitcase, and so we had to repair to a distant corner of the concourse to transfer some stuff into the extra suitcase...so that Delta could then happily charge us $50.00 to accept the third bag. This, as you might suspect, put Agnes into a happy frame of mind at the outset.

Once we got underway, the flight to San Francisco (via Atlanta) was mostly uneventful, if a bit bumpy. I received my usual choice seat in the absolute last row, right next to the lavatory, from which I had a great view of the other 9,000 people on the completely full flight all trying to shove their carry-on baby grand pianos into the overhead bins.

We arrived in San Francisco on time, where we were met by a nice lady from Princess Cruises who helped us collect our bags and put us into a cab for our hotel, the Mark Hopkins on Nob Hill.

By this time it was fairly late, so we just had dinner in the hotel. Before bed, though, we took the Princess representative's advice and booked a four-hour tour of the city for the following day.

The tour bus picked us up at 11:00, and we soon ran into a problem unforeseen by the driver...a Veterans' Day parade that seemed to be on every street he tried to enter. We spent a good bit of time stuck at various intersections as we waited for the police to stop the parade long enough for a few cars to pass at a time. The driver kept up a colorful commentary on all this ("This is San Francisco, for Pete's sake...how long can a Veterans' Day parade be? Now a gay pride parade, that would tie up the city all day...and they'd plan and announce it two years in advance...and then they'd have a few extra days of pre- and post-parades and street festivals!").

The tour eventually got underway and covered all the major areas of the city, including a drive across the famous Golden Gate Bridge and a stop for pictures at a scenic overlook...

The Golden Gate Bridge is not, of course, golden at all...it's painted International Orange so that it will be visible to passing ships. The Golden Gate is actually the name of the narrow channel into San Francisco Bay that the bridge spans.

We also got nice views of the wonderful mixture of 1880's-style Victorian homes and 1950's-60's vintage "cowboy" architecture in the city's neighborhoods. The Victorian structures tend to be beautiful, and the "cowboy" homes more boxy and utilitarian. We got a look at some of the most famous Victorian homes, which were made famous as a setting for a television show some years ago...

San Francisco sits on a major fault line which ensures that it will suffer frequent earthquakes. After the major quakes of 1906 and 1989, improvements were made in construction and design to make the city more earthquake-resistant. We learned that most low-rise buildings in the city are framed with wood, which is more flexible in the face of earthquake pressures. The guide drew parallels between San Francisco's recovery from the 1906 earthquake which pretty much destroyed the city, and New Orleans' recovery from hurricane Katrina: within a year of the 1906 earthquake, everyone was out of temporary housing, whereas in the same time frame, some people in New Orleans were still looking for housing. In addition, although San Francisco was almost totally destroyed in 1906, by 1915 it had been rebuilt and was hosting a World's Fair!

At the end of the tour, the driver dropped those of us who wished on the Embarcadero, the boulevard which runs along the bay, near the infamous tourist trap of Fishermans Wharf. Fishermans Wharf is composed of souvenir shops, restaurants, 15 gazillion tourists, 88 million street people, performers and vendors, and approximately 156 billion sea gulls, whose role in the ecology is to turn garbage into poop and deposit it on anything that doesn't move...or doesn't move quickly enough. The predominant color of Fishermans Wharf is gull-poop white.

We then spent a few hours walking around the city, which is actually very small and (in terms of distances) very walkable. It's built on a fairly small peninsula, which makes it compact...the problem is the hills. As I told John when I wrote to him, before the Almighty rested after the creation, He discovered He had a great many steep hills left over, and decided that San Francisco would be as good a place as any to store them. And these are, indeed steep hills. You can tell native San Franciscans because they have enormously strong legs, one of which is longer than the other, and massive lung capacity built up from years of hiking up and down these ridiculous hills. Fortunately, the city enjoys breezes from the bay which blow away the smells of burning brakes and clutches. Some of you may remember Bill Cosby's early and somewhat lesser-known stories about driving in San Francisco...they're all true.

Agnes wanted to see the famous Lombard Street - noted for being very picturesque, very steep and very, very crooked. We hiked up from the waterfront to the foot of Lombard Street (a chore in itself), and then hiked up to the top of the crooked portion...Agnes can tell you it is 249 steps in each direction. It was difficult to get a full picture of the street, but this is what one section looks like...

From the top of Lombard Street, we had some very beautiful views of the city...including one of its most infamous tourist attractions: the former Alcatraz Prison (which we did not, unfortunately, have time to visit).

After finally descending back to the waterfront, we found a restaurant for dinner, and then decided to ride one of the famous cable cars back to our hotel. This was an adventure. When you see the cable cars in the early morning, they look very picturesque and have lots of room available:

Unfortunately, when you ride them at about 9:00 PM, you wait in a vast crowd at the terminus of your desired line, and then enjoy the ride ($5.00 one way, no transfers) packed into the car like sardines, except with less space. The conductors all speak Old Church Slavonic to ensure that, even if you can hear their announcements, you don't have any idea where you are. We quite literally found our stop by accident, and were only able to exit the car near our hotel because I rabbit-punched my way through the crowd to the exit with Agnes in tow.

That was our day as gawking tourists in San Francisco. Tomorrow, we'll summarize our visit to the Mexican Riviera. Yes, Mike, there will be pictures so you won't have to read too much at a time.

Have a good day. The travelogue continues tomorrow.

Bilbo

9 comments:

Gilahi said...

Welcome back!

The Mistress of the Dark said...

Beautiful pics and welcome back. I missed ya :)

John said...

Welcome back. Looking forward to more vacation tales.

bandit said...

Nice description of your flight and day in Frisco. Looking forward to reading about your vacation adventures. Reluctantly I must take up for Mike....I need the pics also. Mike and I were just talking on Saturday about our short attention spans.

fiona said...

So glad you enjoyed "The City". Great pics!
The cable car, reminds me of the time we tried to ride one with two five year olds and a baby...never did happen :-(
I just wish you both had been able to dash across the Bay for a visit! Next time hopefully?

Mike said...

If I'd have known you were going there I would have sent you to Petaluma to visit my cousins. They would have been really surprised. That's because I haven't seen them in 20 years.

Dr Zibbs said...

Sounds like a great trip.

Melissa B. said...

My sister and her family live in San Fran. We've been to Alcatraz a few times...you should make the trip! Did you meet the Bush Man down at Fisherman's Wharf?

Bilbo said...

Melissa - by "the Bush Man," I assume you mean the fellow we saw briefly, crouched down between a trash can and what looked like a very large potted plant. We weren't quite sure what to make of him. The most outrageous person we saw was a fellow who zipped around on a skateboard while juggling flaming torches...but it was only a matter of degree, because we saw a lot of outrageous persons...