But we weren't home yet. Geoff and I had landed in San Francisco. We walked up the air bridge and looked over at the computers near the gate next to ours. We each were hoping there would be an Air New Zealand stewardess waiting to call people to their flight, but while the electronic scrolling sign was advertising a flight home there was no one to talk to. We left the airport feeling as though we'd been away far too long.
The train in to SFO proper was uneventful, and it didn't seem that long before we'd navigated our way through the streets to find our hostel, checked in and claimed our bunks. From there we collected some pamphlets from the front desk and started to plan our stay. Geoff's must-see was Alcatraz, and I was hoping to see Muir Woods. But overall I was pretty cruisey about where we were going to go. I knew our couple of days here wouldn't be long enough to see everything and I really wanted to see the city with my Aunt (who used to live here), so I wasn't expecting a lot from this trip. It was going to be a taste. What a taste it turned out to be!
That afternoon we thought we'd walk through Chinatown and down to the wharf to get a feel for how long it was going to take us the next day. Chinatown was a vibrant place full of activity, sounds and smells. In some part I was disappointed that a lot of the shops were very similar to the occasional Asian shop found at home - full of souvenirs and two-dollar junk.
I found myself drawn to the shops selling swords and heavy wooden carvings as there was some beautiful-looking craftsmanship. People would stand at the entrance to their shops in an effort to entice customers into their domain. One promised me they would get the sword to NZ for me and was disappointed when I respectfully declined.
Through China town we only made it along a couple more blocks before we decided we were getting hungry and the wharf was a bit far away for this trip. We started to think we would take the cable cars tomorrow instead of walking. The reminder of San Fran's famous attraction set us off in the direction of some of the cable lines in order to investigate that avenue of transport. But not before we saw evidence of Christmas spirit in the park:
I was fascinated by the idea of the cable cars. In Wellington (NZ) there is a well-known cable car and I had used it a couple of times when staying with cousins. There are two cars which work in tandem - one being pulled up the hill as the other rides down. It is a simple system - cars go straight up and straight down the steep hill and the car doesn't have to turn around at either end. These cable cars were obviously very different, and I was caught by the sound of the cable which I could hear running under the street.
Despite our grumbling stomachs we resolved to follow the tracks to the top of the hill, and I'm glad we did because we chanced upon the Cable Car Museum. We hadn't seen anything about it in our tourist flimsies, and it wasn't an extravagant affair. But it was the building where the cables were powered from and there were some wonderful posters explaining how the system worked as well as the history of cable cars in San Francisco.
After the museum we kept up our mission to the top of the hill. I can't remember if the following photo was taken from the very top or not, but the island out in the harbour is Alcatraz, and that's where we were off to the next day!
The next morning we set out for the Wharf. This time we followed yesterday's decision and took the cable cars. They weren't a particularly expensive form of transport, but they had become such a tourist attraction that they wouldn't be worth using if one were to live in the city. The journey was interesting and it was great to see the principles we'd read about yesterday being put into practice!
We made it in time to buy our ticket out to the island and although there was a significant queue, it really wasn't long before we were on the ferry and on our way. Alcatraz was an amazing place and an amazing tour - I learnt so much about the place.
The island was initially a military prison, then a state penitentiary, home to some protesting Indians (of the 'Native American' kind) and finally a state park and tourist attraction. It really deserves a post of its own, so for this post I'll just put up some of my pictures which I especially like, and leave the explanation to another day.
Our next day in this fair city was spent with Dylan of Dylan's Tours. I've just been scouting around the internet to see if he has a website, and he doesn't, but there are a lot of reviews around and he's had positive comments all the way. I agree completely. IF YOU GO TO SAN FRANCISCO BOOK A DAY WITH DYLAN'S CITY TOURS! Even the locals think he's amazing! Dylan taught us so much about the city and took us to a little bit of everything. He managed to take us through most of the districts, including Mission, Marina, Castro, Tenderloin, Knob Hill and Twin Peaks. He even took us out to Muir Woods, so I was happy!
During our drive around I learnt that although people think of SFO as being all the populated areas around the bay, the city itself is actually squeezed into an area 7 miles by 7 miles, which makes it only 49 square miles in area. Combine this with the fact that the population of the area exploded around 1749 during the goldrush, and there is the reason for the football team calling themselves the 49ers!
Our fellow tourists were pretty much all Australian which made for great conversation and a little across-the-ditch teasing. Dylan had obviously had plenty of experience with the rivalry and put in his comedic two-cents in every now and then. Again I could write a post on its own about this day, and it would be filled with some amazing facts about the city, but I'll tease you with some photos instead:
(incidentally, the chapel at my high school was dedicated to the same)
Ju's Little Sister in front of the.. um.. pretty building. (hey, 12 months is a long time!)
That evening, although Dylan had recommended we go see the movie Milk, we were pretty done in from an exciting couple of days.
San Francisco was our last stop before we turned our noses in the direction of The Land Of The Long White Cloud (New Zealand) and I was glad we had booked more than a day in that great city. Though I was exhausted and ready to go home, I was entranced by San Fran and would love to return there some day. One day, I hope, I will be able to travel there with my Aunt and she can show me all her favourite places. Dylan's local and personal knowledge of the city was invaluable, but there were questions I wanted to ask here while I was there - questions I hope one day to have answered.
I'm not a city person. But I will be raving about this trip for a long time to come.