Friday, 31 October 2014

San Francisco

Don't know what he is, but he's very pretty!

From Estes Park to San Fran and now about to head off across the Pacific to Hanoi in Vietnam through our longest ever night and all in two and a half days!

Our last day at Roger and Jane's was a strange old day, we had to stay at home all day waiting for our bag of climbing gear and warm clothes to be collected by DHL for shipping back to the UK. Collected between 9am and 6pm they said, phone call at 5pm said, yes should be with you by 6pm, if not call back. Called back at 6.07pm to be told its too late and won't be collected until 28th! After getting more and more insistent and not taking 'no' for an answer, I went through his manager and then on to the branch manager, all of them saying it won't happen tonight. After 40 minutes on the phone and my total insistence, I finally got a result! Collection tonight by a third party at 9pm which did actually happen. Let's hope it gets delivered now!

San Frans Bay bridge by night
This is Jack, he has trouble controlling his muscles
In the intervening time we all sat down to ABC's 'Dancing With The Stars', the US version of our BBC 'Strictly Come Dancing'. Two of our UK judges were on the panel, Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli, even Alan Dedicoat asking for the scores and the format was so similar we could have been sitting in the UK.

Early on Tuesday we were up to say a fond farewell to Roger and Jane, a 2 hour drive to Denver airport, dropped the car off and caught our 2 hour flight to San Fran. arriving at our airbnb by 3pm (we gained 1 hour as we put out watches back 1 hour to Pacific time). 
Blind Kit, who doesn't let it hold her back
The BART (Bay Area Rapid Transport) train from the airport worked well, followed by a 10 minute walk to the house and Jackie was in cat heaven with three very friendly cats to fuss, two of which are disabled. Kit is blind, Jack can't control his muscles very well, walks very strangely sideways and up and down with head bobbing about and falls over when jumping on and off the bed, and only Siouxsie is normal. They are all loveable, happy and great to be with, but the house is more like a hostel than a house. Cassandra lives there, but doesn't ever seem to go out. She doesn't work and seems to live off renting her rooms out and playing computer games online all night. She seems nice enough but the house is full of people, there's only one bathroom and it all feels a bit odd!

and 'normal' Siouxsie with her plastic pink nail covers!
The State Building, with big screen set up for the Giants vs Kansas City 'World Series' baseball match final. Kansas were the underdogs having last won in 1985, but the Giants won 4-3, to the jubilation of the locals - fireworks, shouting, horns blowing, the lot. Strange for a little game we play in the UK only for fun and call 'Rounders'!
A cable car being turned round at its terminus
The location Is good though and the transportation system in San Fran is excellent. We bought a three day pass for the MUNI system which, at $23 each, allows us unlimited travel on the Metro (which goes underground and along roads by lifting and lowering the entrance/exit steps to convert from one to the other), the bus system and the very old cable cars, which are now an historic moving landmark. There are now only 4 cable car lines, one travelling up and down California Street, which is the very steep hill with flat bits where roads cross, that has been made famous is several films (one starring Steve McQueen if I’m not mistaken Bullitt?) 
In the cable car going down the famous California Street hill. Bizzarely they stop in the middle of the road and you get out into the middle of traffic, negotiating your way through cars to get to the pavement (sidewalk). Health and Safety?!?
Golden Gate Bridge and Fort Point underneath
We visited the Cable Car museum, which is actually the power house for the four lines, each being driven by a 510hp motor and turning a huge pulley that pulls, at 9.5mph, a two mile long continuous cable that lays below the road surface on the cable car tracks. Each cable car has a clamp that grips the cable by operation of a lever and propels the car along, either fully locked or partially clamped to ‘slip’ at a lower speed. Braking is by wooden blocks which are forced down onto the rails by operation of a lever. It’s hard work for the operator and it’s expensive – the wooden blocks have to be replaced every two days and the cables last only about 200 days. 
The powerhouse. 510hp motors and big reduction gearboxes drive the four lines marked 'Hyde', 'California', 'Mason' and 'Powell'
The apartment block used for Hitchcock's 'Vertigo'
It’s archaic, but as it’s an historic landmark it cannot be changed in any way, but it’s massively expensive to run, it’s old and rickety, not very comfy, but hugely popular and every one seems full. The ‘Steetcars’ and trolley busses are comfier and go to the same places, but they are not as popular as the cable cars. We travelled on them, of course and it was great fun, some of the operators and conductors being characters that had us laughing throughout the whole trip.

The Fairmont Hotel, with 'Giants' flags flying ready for the match
We’ve done most of the sights, going to the Golden Gate Bridge and Fort Point (the point of departure for the military who went off to the Pacific war in WWII), Fisherman’s Wharf with a view of Alcatraz out in SF Bay, went on a guided walk round Nob Hill, where we learned about the four men who built the western railway, the great earthquake and fire of 1906 that destroyed two thirds of the city, the ‘Top of the Mark’ bar on the top floor of the Hopkins Hotel, where military men and their wives went to drink before setting off to the Pacific War, the block of apartments used in Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’ film, 
With our guide on the Fairmont roof garden
the Grace Cathedral, the front of which is a copy of the Notre Dame and finished with a tour of the very luxurious Fairmont Hotel, where most Presidents have stayed and Tony Bennett has used and sung there for many years, first performing his song ‘I left my heart in San Francisco’ there many years ago. ‘How much would it cost to stay here’ someone asked. Our guide suggested a minimum of $1500 per night, upwards! Apparently you can rent Tony Bennetts room when he’s not using it and apparently JFK stayed here many times and it is believed Marilyn Monroe flew in here by helicopter for a secret liaison with JFK, but of course no-one will say for sure! We finished the tour mutilating the song, despite the songsheets handed out by our guide!

All in all, a very entertaining place to visit, fairly expensive and two days is enough! It’s very cosmopolitan with lots of different languages being spoken and foods of every nation on sale from reasonable prices to ridiculous! Although we are still in the US it feels a world away from Colorado and we’ve felt we had already left the US. We’ve also been shocked by the number of homeless people and beggars on the streets, some of which are at least honest, as their cardboard signs say, “why lie, I want it for pot”! It’s legal here as well as Colorado, but even so!

One of many signs on the Golden Gate Bridge. It's a 'popular' place to end it all apparently
The city's 'wiggliest' street. I'm sure that's been used in films as well
Tonight though we are leaving, I’m writing this at the airport waiting for our 1:05am flight out to Taipei in Taiwan and then on to Hanoi in Vietnam. 14 hours of flying and all at night, arriving in Hanoi at 9:30am on 1st November, virtually missing out 31st October. We’ll go from being behind everyone else in time to being in front of most after crossing the International Date Line somewhere in the middle of our flight. See you on the other side…
The 'attack of the seagulls' - she had food! A sign said 'you can feed the pigeons but the seagulls will just take what they want!'

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