American Roadtrip, Part 1: Tales from San Francisco

The last time I posted an update here it was the beginning of June, and the beginning of our 2014 American road trip. We were gearing up for the 3 hour journey back to England and then the 11 hour plane ride all the way to the West Coast. Well, now we’re back I can safely say the trip was AMAZING, and I have a tonne of stories which I’ll be posting up here now I’m over my initial holiday blues phase.  So, today we will start where it all began – in San Francisco.

So we had three days in SF before we drove onward and out of the city, and we certainly made the most it. Now, before I start, I think it’s important to mention that San Francisco is exactly what you see in the movies. Y’know how sometimes you visit places and you see the iconic landscape only to pan around and see the rubbish? Well, SF was not like that. The hilly streets, the trams and the old Colonial houses – they were all there! Everything you see on postcards, on TV and in books, you are greeted with it all in this amazing city. It’s safe to say my first impression of San Fran was a good one.

San Francisco

We arrived at the Hilton in Union Square at about 6 in the evening, pretty tired from all the travelling, but we immediately went out for a little explore. We had a wander around here and there, taking in the scenery, but we ended up (naturally!) in a bar. One thing we found throughout this whole trip was how the States has suddenly become hip to microbrewery/craft beer bars. The country which once seemed to pride itself on their Budweiser commercials has caught up with the rest of us and has crafted some fine tasting beer (NB: I’m trusting the judgement of my fellow travelers here, I controversially don’t drink beer). After the drinks began flowing, that’s when the crazy stuff started. I have two events from that first night which particularly stood out. By the end of our trip, these two stories paled into insignificance, but still, here they are in all their glory:

  • After leaving the Tap House, we decided to pick up some supplies from a CVS store. A man was on his phone, clearly having trouble figuring out what milk to get for his baby. Now, as a father you would assume he’d be able to figure out this small yet rather important task, but he seemed so baffled he eventually asked us. Not having a baby myself, I suggested whole milk. I tried to roll with some kind of maternal instinct – surely it must have been better than the skimmed milk he was eyeing up.
  • We were crossing some traffic lights after the baby incident, heading back to the hotel where we were suddenly approached by a man holding a book. He walked right in between us, stood there and stared. Convinced I was going to be mugged, I just tried to act casual. Then in a sudden turn of events, he asked me to say a prayer with him over the bible he was holding. How can you turn a fella down, eh? On reflection, the book didn’t actually say ‘Holy Bible’, so the man probably owns my soul now or something.

And all that was only day one folks…

San Francisco

The next day we headed to Fisherman’s Wharf before we caught a ferry over to Alcatraz. While walking across a city might be tiring, you are guaranteed to see so much more by avoiding the taxi ride – not to mention the money you save.

Fisherman's Wharf San Francisco

We were situated in Union Square and took a walk through China Town, up to Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower before heading down again to Fisherman’s Wharf.

China Town San Francisco

The views from Telegraph Hill were phenomenal, and if you’re looking for a good shot of the Golden Gate, you can find it here. Unfortunately, we hit SF on a particularly foggy day, so we didn’t get the amazing shot we were looking for but hey ho! We did however get this incredibly cheesy photo…

Golden Gate, San Francisco

Now as cool as it was to be on Alcatraz Island, it didn’t have the wow factor we were looking for. You really get a bargain with the ferry ride and ticket cost, but we were looking for more info on the infamous prisoners that stayed there. Instead we got a self guided audio tour of the cell house that didn’t always correspond to where we were in the prison. But still, it was cool to be there and to stand in the memories of the prisoners, listening to the stories of the people who lived on the island, and hear the escape stories whilst picturing how they managed to pull it off.

Alcatraz Island, San Francisco

After serving jail time, we headed for our reservation at the Boudin Bistro in Fisherman’s Wharf. If you’re looking for good food and a sourdough bread overload, then this is the place for you! I had an amazing corn and crab bisque in a sourdough bread bowl, which I regret I could not finish. If you’re ever in the area, I would definitely recommend it – the food was lush, just don’t go OTT on the sourdough bread that comes before your meal. You’ll just live with regret.

After our mini adventure around San Fran, we knew we were going to have to go through the boring stuff and pick up the car from Alamo. This turned out to be a mini disaster, however, once we  got on the road (finally) we underestimated our ability to understand an automatic drive in one of the busiest cities in America. “Does a tram go in this lane or does a car? What foot do I use to control the brakes?” This city could turn any driver (and passenger) into a nervous wreck on the road, so just beware! Luckily, trusty Google Maps guided us out of the city and onward with our American journey.

Street Art San Francisco

Before I wrap up this post, I just have a couple of things to report about SF in general. I was really impressed with the modern touches, like recycling facilities in the hotel rooms and free WiFi pretty much on every street – or even how clean the city was. However. these don’t make up for San Fran’s biggest elephant in the room. Despite the money poured into making this great city a modern metropolis, it still fails to have the power to help the overwhelming number of homeless people lining the streets.

Of all the places we visited, SF seemed to be the worst for it and we found ourselves wanting to give a few dollars to every person we crossed paths with. Perhaps it was just the contrast of the clean city image that made it all the more shocking to deal with. The city was a picture postcard of the modern American Dream, but I definitely left with a bittersweet feeling.

Bay Bridge San Francisco

*All picture rights reserved.

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