San Francisco

With Viva Las Vegas behind me and the first 5 days done and dusted, it’s time for San Francisco to show me what she has to offer. The first thing you notice when you arrive in San Fran in Summer….. there is no Summer!!! It’s just like being at home for the Winter, but the good thing is that it’s not home, it’s San Francisco. There’s still a fair bit of sun left in the day so it’s off exploring I go once all checked in at the Handlery. Very nice hotel and the rooms appear to be recently renovated so it’s nice and modern. With white fluffy bath robes! Anyway, back to the exploring. With the fact that this city has over 70 hills all over, I’m conscious of how many I will go down and therefore will need to come back up over on my journey back to the hotel. I find myself in China Town and thinking that I’ve got my bearings already in these new surroundings. I even made it all the way down to the start of the Italian district, when I think to myself, “self, you better turn back around before you get lost”. So I go down a block and head back up the way I thought I came. Long story short, I did end up back at Union Square which is where I started from however that was not the way I thought I was heading – lucky for me!

It’s probably almost dinner time now (around 6:30pm ish) even though the sun is still up shining brightly. I walk around aimlessly for a few blocks looking what appears to be popular spots and I find “Lori’s Diner”. It’s an upstairs joint so I head up and once again tell the waitress “table for 1 please”. She takes me to a booth and as I sit down I experience the true meaning and feel of a diner. The seat has the indent in it of the hundreds of others who have sat in the same seat and the same booth that I find myself in right now. How very authentic. Imagine in your head what you picture an American Diner to be (and the sights of them that you’ve seen in the movies) and that’s what this joint is to a tea! It’s fantastic, with the old juke box playing a range of music from back in the day, the waiters/waitresses all have their little paper diner hats on and everything looks like it would have back in the 50’s/60’s. Steak, garlic vegies (they were the yummiest), baked potato with sour cream and a little dinner roll was placed in front of me. I was tempted to go for a milkshake too but played it safe with a water instead.

After dinner I head back up to Union Square where there was a large crowd dancing 50’s swing style. It was great to watch and there was even a guy giving half of the group lessons on the steps. The band that was playing “Slim Jenkins” was amazing and they really had the style and feel of jazz/swing music mastered. I wanted to stand there to watch and listen all night long, while swinging my hips from side to side like I had no control over them. The band finished and the crowd quickly dispersed. So I headed back over the road and towards my hotel when I came across another little 3 member band ‘ish. Three guys, one on lead vocal and drums (with flaming drumsticks too!!!), one on bass guitar and the last guy on electric guitar. They were amazing! Such contrast to the swing band that had my attention not 5 minutes earlier.

As the sun sets on my first day, I head back up to my room and turn in for the night. The bed here is very comfy too. The yanks certainly do know how to fill their hotels with the comfy beds and pillows!

Day 2 and I’m up early to start my Napa Valley Wine Tour. With a freshly toasted bagel in one hand and a caramel latte in the other I’m ready to tackle the day. Our tour guide is Eric (he will be known as the first of 3 “Eric” tour guides that I have had the pleasure of meeting). He also drives the bus for the day too. Sorry, my apologies…. “Coach”!! (reference for you there Cass!) First stop is Jacuzzi Wines (yep like the hot tubs). Got to taste my first US home grown/made wines here and to be honest, ours puts these ones to shame. Although I did like the last one, which the name escapes me right now but it sounds like it’s a house name out of Harry Potter. Zinfandel….. or something like that??? It’s not long til we arrive at our next winery. Actually it’s right across the road from this one, literally. The gardens and surroundings are just gorgeous and so peaceful. Again, not much chop of the wines but the place was still amazing. Geez we’re spoilt with good wines at home. Then it’s off to the little town of Sonoma. This is where we stop for lunch and a look around. The town is beautiful and I could see why the people who live there are so friendly and laid back. Keeping with the wine theme of the day, I head over to the Cheese Factory and choose a selection of cheese, salami, sun dried tomatoes and crackers to have for lunch, with a side of the juiciest red grapes. So delicious!!! The park is the central part of the town with its resident family of ducks that roam around the gardens and fountain. After lunch it’s back on the coach and off to our last winery “Madonna Winery” (not named after the 80’s pop star). The Cab Sav here is to die for!!!! Yu-umm! But $50 a pop and no shipping back home, I settled for another tasting instead. A big day and we’re back in San Fran. Sushi for dinner tonight and the place quickly packs out with a line forming out the door and back up the stairs to the street (I arrived at the perfect time).

Day 3 ad it’s our Safari Tour, with tour guide “Eric” number 2. This guy is fantastic, with his safari getup ad all. We were also all given our own little safari helmet and cheetah print knee blankets. Just like the travelling Uncle out of Fraggle Rock. It’s cloudy, rainy and windy early on a San Fran morning (like every morning I’ve been told). But our first stop is the Golden Gate Bridge. When you look at the photos, remember that it felt worse than it looked. But lucky the photos turned out ok. We trekked over every part of San Fran that we could, and by that I mean we went past the most zig zag street in the world “Lombard Street”. Apparently earlier in the year a limo tried to go down it with a group of students on board, on their way to their formal. They thought it would be a perfect moment to remember and experience on their special nite. Turns out that it takes the city of SF 12 hours to find a crane to extract the limo out of Lombard Street once it got itself stuck on turn number 3!!! Wouldn’t you be spewing if you were the car after the limo! During lunch I got chatting with an American couple on holidays and the lady works for a production company “Python People”. Turns out she’s just come back from Australia where she setup a series of the show all around Queensland and the Northern Territory. I haven’t had a chance to google them yet but she talked about meeting Bob Irwin and working up in “Carnes” aka Cairns.

The tour finishes down at the pier and onto our ferry across to Alcatraz. I might just add here (this goes for any future reference of sights and places too), that everything appears so much smaller in reality than it does on TV or in the movies. A short 15 minute ferry ride over the island and we’re off exploring, that’s Piggy and I. With a self-guided tour headset on we begin to relive the time when this place housed the worst of them of all. This is the place where you go when the maximum security places can’t handle you. The fact that it’s freezing and blowing a gale just adds to the eeriness of the empty concrete yard where you know that’s this is where they must have plotted with each other on their planned escapes (reference for you Lola!!).

All that inhabits this place now are the gulls, and their babies. Big fluffy brown versions of their parents, in their nests waiting to be fed. A local guide even found one mummy gull with her baby underneath her wing with its beak and one little eye peering out of the white feathers. It wasn’t until we were out of the tour and had returned to the outdoor paths of the island that I remember Piggy was in my pocket the whole time. Sorry no photos within the cells but did get some outside.

With that ticked off my “to-do-list”, the ferry takes us back to the pier. It’s at this point that the good times of the day come to a halt. I find myself walking aimlessly around the place trying to find out how I’m going to get back to Union Square from the Wharf (which by the way is not a walk that anyone would want to do). I asked one cable cart driver which one I had to take to get me back to the hotel, and without looking at me he pointed over to the big blue bus across the road, heading the opposite direction, saying “you need that one”. Ok, good to know but there was no way I was going to catch ‘that one’! Anyway, as it turned out after another good 30 mins of walking around what seemed to be the same 2 blocks not knowing how the heck I’m going to get back to the hotel, I decided to take a breather and have some dinner. It’s around 7 pm by now and still light (love these long days of sunlight). I decide to take a look at Pier 39 and I find little fish and chip shop with the freshest catch of the day right off their boats. It was just what I needed and plus it was out of the cold wind. It’s amazing what a belly full and a regroup can do for you when you feel like things are getting on top of you.

And with that I’m back onto the main road and low and behold….. another Big Blue Bus!!!!! I quickly shuffle on over to it and it is going to exactly where I need to be. The added bonus is that the driver is giving running commentary, telling jokes and a history lesson all in one, along the way. He also had his iPad going playing songs that reference SF in one way or another. “Who Let the Dogs Out” because there are more dogs in SF than children. Adam Lambert because American Idol auditions were in town and Tony Bennet’s “I left my heart in SF”, that one is self-explanatory. There were a few more but can’t remember them. He is fantastic!!!!! Just imagine the Asian guy out of The Hangover and that would be this guy. Exactly what I needed to pick up my spirits. Everything is good in the world again. And with that my time in San Francisco is almost up.