San Francisco

The Golden Gate Bridge is iconic land mark, it is heralded along side the likes of the Paris’s Eifel Tower, Cape Town’s Table Mountain or London’s Big Ben. I was fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of Table Mountain with a cascade of cloud flowing down its steep slopes but I did not whiteness the red struts of the oddly named bridge rising through a thick layer of fog; maybe next time. It is in fact oddly coloured for it is the gate to the Golden State not withstanding the fact that it is a bridge not a gate. Standing on its roadway in the centre of the bridge you can feel the surface vibrating under the wheels of the roaring traffic and looking up you can really appreciate the scale of this colossal steel structure. In the distance, past Alcatraz and the northern shores of the city stands Bay Bridge; a grand bridge in its own rights, it would be a tourist attraction if it weren’t for its big brother; so it stands unnoticed or more like overlooked as you survey the city from the lofty heights of the Golden Gate’s vehicle deck.

When visiting the Golden Gate Bridge one must first sample a clam chowder and a local brew at Pier 39. Although our eatery were glad to see the back of us I thought it a rather pleasant spot to watch the bustling tourists potter about strolling from shops selling tat only to visit stalls selling similar tat before indecisively ambling along the street in search of a restaurant before returning to the first one they had their eyes on. Anyway I digress, our restaurant were glad to see the back of us because George, my brother who I have in tow for the next few weeks, told any potential punter that the chowder was mediocre at best and yet he was miffed that his cordial “thanks, good bye” was met with a blank stare.

I’m bias but I recommend hiring a bike, it is the perfect mode of transport to see the entire city, and don’t fret they are electric so those hills for which San Fran is famed for are nay bother. Its a city made for two wheeled exploration, from the wide bike lanes, the traffic lights which are timed to turn a succession of green along the length of a street at a cyclists pace, to the parks; even ragamuffins in escalades with hip hop a pumpin, back up and let you past with aa smile at the in numerable stop signs.

So post chowder follow the coastal path west on your electric bike and you will be treated to a view of Alcatraz, I hear the tours are fantastic but we were on a whirl wind whistle stop ride. It looks pleasant enough, I don’t know what all the fuss is about, I recon I could swim it, how inescapable can it have been? Yachts approach its rocky out crops as they race around Alcatraz to the bridge and back, flaring their spinnakers to harness the most out of the wind.

Standing at the foot of the bridge at Fort Point looking at the goliath feet which support the road you cant help but wonder just how the hell they build this whopper?! Then after crossing the bridge and back for no apparent reason, its just a bridge at the end of the day and thus an arbitrary exercise, turn your sights towards the Golden Gate Park; you have a choice of route via Baker Beach or through Presidio Park. We chose the latter, it is incredible just how much green space and woodland is in the middle of the city, you wouldnt even know you were in an urban area; there is even a wild population of coyotes. Which is surprising for Americans normally shoot any wild animals so that they can pose for a photo and hang the remains on their living room wall, not that I like to generalise. Emerging from the park or leaving the beach you pass through the posh part of town Presidio Heights. Be prepared to feel poor for there are some serious houses out there complete with white picket fences and American flags.

Golden Gate Park is just the next colossal green space in the city; football pitch’s, tennis courts, more trees, two sorry looking bison, picnics and fairs, families enjoying the weekend sun and lots of cool people…cyclists. its a good place to relax and sip an ice cold beer out of a brown paper bag. There is no public drinking in the US.

From the park we take to the city, scaling some of the near vertical San Francisco streets, the harshest of which can boast a 31.5% gradient, Filbert street. We zig zag down Lombard Street to be met by a horde of photo snapping tourists (I join in), it has to be the most famous of all the streets and it must be said….its stupid. The city planners just ignored the fact that this is a hilly region and stubbornly stuck to the grid system. I’m a big fan of the grid network, finding one’s way around is spectacularly easy. But who in their right mind thinks a 30% gradient street is a good idea? Why not put a few bends in there like a European city and avoid heart attack inducing slopes.

As with most cities around the world it has its less polished side though, if you skirt down side streets away from the restaurants, bars, galleries and boutiques you will notice a fare few homeless people. Often with trollies to transport their processions and takings from bin diving they wander the streets or perching in door ways. I noticed that many of these soles are in their twenties, and a number seem to have mental disorders that or they just love singing or randomly shouting out. It is perhaps a reflection of the poor social care in the United States. Watch your footing There are the occasional needles on the sidewalk or in the gutter and we even saw one chap on 7th Street shooting up openly on the sidewalk in broad dal light.

Sweaty and en route back to our residence we skirt through the city centre to see the cable cars, not trams, for they need a good pull up the steep streets. Tourists primarily, sit smiling or stand holding a well polished brass rail, enjoying a ride on the rails. Trains are cool after all. We are staying near an area called Mission, graffiti decorated most walls, including that of the school; its great art work though, artistic, colourful and child friendly. It has a real community feel and seems to be primarily a Hispanic area to me but that might be because we went out for burritos for dinner. Stomach full of beans, rice, cheese, some description of meat and its time for an early night before starting the cycle along Route 1.

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