Friday, June 24, 2011

San Fran, Cali

Cue the pitchy belting of 'CaliiiiforniAAAA, CaliiiiiforniAA, here we cooooommmmmee'. But I think you should save your lung power for southern Cali, where this chart topping number is more aptly aligned with, because I went right up north to San Francisco. One instantly links California with a beach, easy life and a healthy glow- and as much as this is accurate, SF is distinguished with a different glow. 
Known for its gradients, bridges, movie locations and bay, it is the New York City of the west coast. This trip is a special one, on the grounds that it is a. spent with my dad, b. at the complete other end of continental America c. my target is now complete: I have covered 10/50 States of this gorgeous country!

Like with most drives from an isolated airport, you rip through some dodgy parts of town, that are not highlighted in your brochure, but offer a 'realness' to the city. Still, I was looking forward to arriving at union square to our hotel. But with a 3 hour time difference, a 6 hour flight behind us, the deepened bags under our eyes gained a couple of llbs/kgs as the day worn on in SF, and our body clocks ticked on in the wrong time zone! Not significantly affected at all mind you, we soldiered on till the sunset colors made a nice spread in the sky.

The sunny climes failed us not on our first proper San Franciscan day, above: rich azures and below: our fully stretched calves preparing to be put through our paces around the city. By going on foot you gain a lot more out of San Fran than an open top tour bus would offer. 

Renowned for its architectural splendour, the buildings marking the city centre are finished with intricate relief, and with details that take a second glance to pick out. Most, if not all the buildings in the union square district are post 1906 constructions, following the devastating earthquake that quashed the city of its identity. The lay of the land took a dramatic turn for the worst when the iconic Victorian town houses were utterly demolished, forcing residents to uproot from their home turf into further regions, notably Pacific Heights. 
Pacific Heights today, is home to the wealthiest of folk in sizable mansions on sizable gradients. Our first tour, was the ‘Victorian Home Tours’ that was based largely in the big shot domain. Lead by the lovely and well-versed Jay, we made our way around the houses, stopped for some quick but informed history of significant homes, all the while my index finger was attached to knob of my camera. When I say beautiful homes, I mean stellar to the utmost. I have a thing for property and their respective values, so I was in real estate heaven with rows and rows of unique homes. Below are a string of credits to the San Franciscan name:

Many a times, have these stately mansions graced numerous postcards and movie scenes- with their photogenic looks, they take the starring role.

Even the technical properties, of which they are made up of is interesting. Notably, red wood was the key component to their structure, but knowing that San Fran lies on the San Andreas fault line, it's a risk!

And my ultimate shot was snatched from a home that is globally recognized, as 'Mrs Doubtfire's' home. The exteriors and interiors were shot on location on 2460 Steiner Street.

It is because of Mrs. Doubtfire (and among other reasons) that my childhood was so great- I had this movie to enjoy on repeat. Almost 20 years after the film set the box office on fire, it reigns as a blockbuster family hit- deservedly so. 

Interestingly, a lot of front doors are painted red in San Francisco, because it provides with Fend Shui- locals are pretty spiritual about it, so if you go and see blood red doors- you now know why. 

As promised, we had a distant yet blatant view of the bridge, engulfed in dense fog. Shrouded in mysterious mist, the fog filtered through the bridge's harp strings and stationed itself comfortably across the middle. In fact, the fog crawls on the streets of the city, and creeps around bends, obstructing visibility but is a pillar to the city's myth and beauty.  I am drawn sometimes, into what I can't see.

You cannot go to San Francisco without riding on the cable cars that appear in every San Francisco based film. With its point of origin in Union Square, my dad and I were very close, and it was just a case of getting there early, because as you can imagine the number of tourists swell by the second.  

Standing upright across the entirety of the ride, from Union Square to Fisherman's Wharf was more of a challenge than I had anticipated. Because the roads undulate, your grip is so tight, it produces friction burns! It's a hop on, hop off service at regular intervals, stopping at the Lombard street which unfortunately I did not see in full but am in the know of its history and appeal. For those who are unaware, the street starts at the top of a steep hill, and levels out to a horizontal street at the foot of it, making it one of the steepest streets in the world. 

How residents can scale such a precipice on a day to day basis is crazy. A pleasant touch to this the extreme zig-zag are the preened bushes and flowers, flanking the loops and somewhat eases the intensity of the climb or descent. 

Pulling the lever back, the cable car ground to a shuddering halt at our destination: Fisherman's Wharf.

Hugging the coastline is Fisherman's Wharf on the periphery of San Francisco's bay overlooking Alcatraz, Oakland and Sausalito making up the scenic 'Bay Area'.Once an industrial sight with pockets of outright blight, much of the waterfront has been restored to add to another one of the city's sights.

A far cry from the pristine Victorian  image hanging in Pacific Heights, the Wharf aims at satisfying tourist urges with commercialised versions of classic San Fran food and tacky 'I love ....this and that' merchandise. The famed New England Clam Chowder is a perennial favorite, and an absolute must for an authentic experience at the Wharf. 

Perched on my seat, slugging at my thick soup, not a cloud hanging in the sky, except v-shaped constellations of sea gulls commuting across the sky to the waterfront, in hopes of snatching some sustenance. In all honesty, the Wharf is a vicious tourist trap, so be on guard for a bit of cheapness in the quality of everything- even though I went more than once.....

Unexpectedly, I met with Nate, a friend of mine whom I first met in London, and then in Chicago, then New York and now San Francisco- the pair of us do get around!
Also a first timer to San Fran, Nate was taken by the sweeping  California dreaming atmosphere and shared the love for it with me in equal measure. Speaking of first timer, I had never swam nor put my feet in the Pacific Ocean before, but the opportunity was right in front of me..

Nice waters, but frigid temps.....brrrrr, I'm used to the luke warm Aegean waters!

Little did I know that I was to frequent the Wharf 5 times in my 3 day trip, solely for some soup.
Following some soup, lay a beautiful 'California Sunset Cruise' ahead of us. My Dad and I boarded at Pier 43.5 onto the Red and White Fleet that would ride us along the expansive coastline into the  Pacific sunset for the next 2 hours- much deserved after our punishing walks!

Starting off with a small loop near the Bay Bridge waters, the captain vocally tracked our route proving with information of each notable site of San Francisco.

In the misty distance!
On board, our ears were treated to Ella Fitzgerald and a live singer bringing the past to life with some 60-70s classics. Because it gets really windy in San Fran, I got a chill standing outside, thus took to the sights from the warmth of the indoor deck and swayed back and forth with Ella and the waves.

Approaching an island to our left was the infamous Alcatraz. No need to stretch my definition of it, as most of you will know that is it a prison, or was at least and now serves as a recreational area for tourists who harbor morbid curiosity for the former penitentiary- myself included, but hadn't the time to satisfy my interest.

Just off 'The Rock' is the chic Sausalito bay area community on an 8 mile length of land. Mirroring the up and down geography of San Fran city, Sausalito is in fact an exaggerated version of it.

Sausalito stems from a Spanish derivitive meaning: 'small willow grove'. 

These anchored sailboats are packed into the harbor area so tightly, that the waters are hardly seen in between. A yacht club was founded in 1942 in Sausalito, promoting yachting, sailing and cruising. Some of the yachts are really exclusive, you can tell by the sleek finishes on each of them. 

Making a swerve around the sailboats, we pounded the waves to the icon of San Fran: The Golden Gate Bridge. A recognized symbol of San Fran, from its birth till now, it is probably the most photographed bridge in the world; my dad and I added 4 catalogues worth of photos to the records.

It was simple, I sat gazing at this man made marvel and gave my undivided attention to the sunset spilling over the bridge. It was pretty spectacular on all fronts, particularly as some quiet contemplation ensued while a cool brisk of air fanned my already wind-tossed hair into further knots!
In my thinking period, my appreciation for this year in America materialized in a spectrum of emotions; I'm so happy and moved by all that has befallen me since I first came, California was a fitting end to my target of visiting 10 states and a poignant conclusion to the year. 

And so our short weekend romp ending on a high; a literal high actually, with the Golden Gate Bridge towering above us in its Golden glory and the frothy foam playfully splashing against our ferry.
I could have done a heap more, but the vitally San Franciscan experiences were accomplished once, if not more than once.


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