Friday morning, and we awake to San Francisco shrouded in its perennial fog. What a change from the sweltering temperatures we enjoyed in Southern California!
The city is at its best from a distance, but that means exercise: climbing one of the many hills to view it from above (perhaps from Alamo Square, where the postcard-famous “Painted Ladies” houses are, or perhaps from Lombard Street, the most wiggly street in the city). Or you can view the waterfront skyline of the city from the Bay, from where it looks dynamic and charismatic, or even from the Bridge, which of course is an experience in itself.
We’ve been staying in The Grove Inn and the people here have been really helpful and friendly. We would definitely recommend the hotel. Josh can’t do enough to make sure that we have all the advice we need, and we haven’t felt at all threatened being here, so fortunately our taxi driver on the first evening must have been a bit OTT with his warnings about the area. These ladies are just a stone’s-throw away.
We had to visit Haight-Ashbury, though it’s lost a lot of its flower-power appeal. You can buy plenty of tie-dye shirts in the shops, but the street corner is now dominated by a Ben and Jerry’s. It feels like all the soul that is left here is in its patchouli and nicotine stained fingernails, rather like Camden.
Down at the tourist packed piers, you can escape the crowds and noisy buskers for an alternative form of entertainment. Musee mecanique is like a Victorian Amusement Arcade. You just need plenty of quarters…
One of the reasons we decided to come to S.F is because of a dream that Karen had about 18 years ago. Karen’s nanny (Rita Wise) was on her death bed, but one night Karen dreamt that they both flew to S.F, under the Golden Gate Bridge and then visited the zoo. It was a peculiarly uplifting and warm dream. A couple of days later she died, but Karen remembered the jumper that she was wearing in the dream, and has always wanted to come to S.F and bring her nanny’s jumper with her – a sort of revisiting for them both. Flying under the bridge is somewhat impractical, so we decided to bike it instead. You can see Karen in her nanny’s jumper in these pics.
In the rather charming village of Sausalito you can see Bill Dan working with stones to make these incredible sculptures that appear to defy gravity. You can see his stuff on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/user/bebalance . Sausalito is a must-see destination – even if it’s just to look back over the landscape, and as you can see, when SF over the bay is grey and misty, this little village is a beautiful sun-trap. It comes with the large numbers of tourists that also think this place is worth a visit…but if you cycle about you can probably find a quiet spot (interestingly, you can’t just lock your bikes up here…you have to park them with a valet…at the cost of about $2 or $3 – that perhaps shows you how up-market this spot is).
A quick visit to Union square provided more interesting stories for us as we had a mooch about this classic hotel.
We’ve had some really memorable moments in San Francisco. We caught up with friends in Glen Park (thanks Helen and Leslie for delicious pizza and a delightful evening), we enjoyed our cycle ride, and we were pleased to discover some of SF’s charms.
But even so, we’ll leave San Francisco with reservations about the city. The centre part of the city is a big disappointment. Downtown is dirty, with its aging buildings faded and peeling; all over the city the traffic is congested, even though the area is well-served by public transport; the Embarcadero down by the seafront is commercialized beyond excess; and most distressing are the hundreds of down-and-outs sleeping rough in the streets or pushing their belongings around in trolleys. Junkies shoot up in City Hall Park just metres away from newly-married couples posing for photos on the steps. Tramps sleep all over the place; the city teems with the mentally ill or dispossessed; and even in the more artistic quarters like Hayes Valley, demoralized twenty-somethings mooch dolefully over their drinks. San Francisco seems like a city that has lost hope. It’s one of the most eye-opening places we’ve seen in many trips to America. Obama, what are you doing? If there is ever a city that should demand an answer to this question, then it is SF. There should be so much hope here, but we struggled to find it, and our thoughts are that the American system is letting these people down, and the government needs to sort that out.