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USA - SanFrancisco
30.11.97 - Leaving for USASince I bought my plane ticket some three months after Joe and Brad, I was unable to get a flight out of Sydney with them and left, instead, on the plane one day earlier. I couldn't believe my luck then, when I found out I would be travelling on the same day as a girl I knew through my course at University (Leah) and her friend (Amber), who would be travelling through South America on their own holiday.
After a mostly uneventful flight to LA I left them both, since I would be continuing on to San-Francisco while they would be travelling to Miami, and waited for my connecting flight to board (I did not have time to go into LA itself and have a look around). I pretty much slept the whole trip to SF, arriving at the airport at around 7pm on the same day.
I headed straight from the airport to a hostel I had booked myself into from Sydney in a airport shuttle service (these were my early days of travelling when I was ultra-cautious about accommodation and travel). I went out looking for some dinner after checking in and ended up eating in a joint practically right next-door to the hostel. The food was good and typically American (a hamburger, chips and thick-shake) but it ended up costing me US$8 - not a very economical start to my holiday!
After dinner I headed back into the hostel and watched a shitty movie on TV with Keifer Sutherland in it (I can't remember the movies name) and then headed off to bed.
31.11.97 - First Day in San FrancisoI managed to sleep in 'till 10am today - so I wasn't badly affected by jetlag even on my first day in SF. I had some information I had collected from the hostel front desk on SF and planned on reading it when I got myself breakfast, but I had trouble locating a decent place for breakfast so I ended up not planning my travels around the city at all! I walked around the city all day, up and down the streets and all around the place, having no idea where I was going in particular. I saw a lot of the city and it was good to wander just to get orientation in the city.
I picked up my bags from the hostel where I had left them all day and headed out to the airport on the bus to meet Joe and Brad off their flight in. Actually I had no idea what time their plane was coming in since I had never bothered to check it, but I thought it was a reasonable assumption that they would be arriving on the same plane that I had come in on - only one day later. Luckily I was right!
After I met up with Joe and Brad we rang Joe's uncle to come and pick us up from the airport - he arrived shortly after and we all headed back to his place South of SF city in San-Mateo.
1.12.97 - ShoppingWe didn't wake up until 11am this morning so we didn't make it into the city until later in the afternoon to start our shopping (we had planned to buy most of our travelling gear in SF). We ended up buying our backpacks and some thermal underwear at The North Face factory outlet in the city, which was all we achieved for the day before heading back to San-Mateo on a very slow bus that stopped pretty much everywhere.
It took us close to 1 1/2 hours to get back home and the trip was not without incident. Before we had even reached the airport stop, a trashed black guy got on the bus and started making a lot of noise. We had no idea what he was saying (in fact I'm not sure he was saying anything in particular) but he ended up coming over and sitting down in the seat next to me. He was talking to me and the others but we still couldn't understand him! It was all making us a bit uncomfortable considering he was getting a bit physical and we had our expensive, new, backpacks with us and didn't particularly feel like losing them at this early stage of ownership.
Eventually the guy was making such an annoyance of himself the driver asked him to get off the bus. The guy moved away from us a bit but didn't get off. The driver had to stop the bus and confront the guy; telling him if he didn't get off the bus he was going to have to call the police. The guy got off.
We eventually made it home, we had to catch a second bus to get close enough to our place to walk the remainder - the SF public transport system sucks, but it's meant to be one of the better systems in the US!
2.12.97 - FreakWe got up early today and did some shopping, a bit south of where we were staying, in Redwood City. We visited three different camping shops in the area but I bought most of my stuff at REI including my sleeping bag and a maglite torch.
While we were walking around Redwood City, we met the same damn weirdo we had encountered the night before! We couldn't believe it! We were miles from where we had seen him the day before and to catch him again seemed inconceivable to us. I was buying a coke from a vending machine outside a shop when the guy walked out of the shop practically straight into me. I had just picked up my change from the vending machine so my wallet was out and I tried to hide it from his view by moving it behind my body from him. In doing so some money fell out onto the ground - jingling around for a few seconds. I thought for sure he was going to try and get my wallet off me but he didn't seem too with it and I don't think he even noticed.
He started talking to me again: "you got a light, mutha-fucka?! you got a mutha-fuckin' light?". I kept on repeated that no, I did not, but again; he didn't seem to be listening. I pretty quickly put my wallet away and extracted myself from the situation as soon as possible. One thing about the US, we are just not sure on how far these little confrontations are going to go. This guy was a big, strong black guy who wasn't acting too friendly towards us -- quite frankly it can get pretty scary when you don't know what to expect.
After all our shopping was out of the way we headed down to Stanford University for a bit of a look around to compare it with our own University (University of Sydney). Standford has a nice campus, but it seemed pretty dead compared with our own Uni. There didn't seem to be many students wandering around or any kind of life outside the classrooms at all - perhaps it has to do with the lack of pubs on campus? Sydney University has about 5 pubs.
After Stanford we headed back to Joe's cousin's place, stopping off at the mall near their place to buy some shoes - I now have pretty much everything I need for the rest of the trip. Tomorrow we plan on doing some sightseeing in the city!
3.12.97 - Sight-Seeing in SFWe started our sightseeing in SF by heading up to Market St and Union Square which is the shopping region on the city. Unfortunately it was raining all day so it wasn't all that exciting for us -- for some reason we had spent two beautiful days shopping instead of sight-seeing. They have had quite a lot of rain in the US, everyone is blaming it on El-Nino.
None of the shops had opened yet, even though it was reasonably late by Australian shopping standards, though I guess the shops stay open consistently later in SF than in Sydney. We headed towards the Civic Centre of the city, which was pretty cool, with a market taking place in front of the Town Hall. Unfortunately the Town Hall was undergoing renovations at the time which kind of spoiled a good photo.*
* this was to be a consistent theme of our travels.
We bought some food at the markets to carry us through the day, and we headed off to wander through the financial district and Chinatown. Both were nice, though Chinatown is pretty much the same in any city. I bought a cheap T-shirt for US$5 with "San-Francisco - California" written on it. Gotta love touristy crap!
We continued walking up to North Beach and Columbus St. which is the Italian part of the city. There were some really nice shops and restaurants in this area and we ended up having dinner there later that night.
We continued down Columbus St. until we reached Fisherman's Wharf and piers 39 and 41 which were all very touristy. We took a ferry across to "The Rock" (Alcatraz) to have a look around. Alcatraz was interesting but disappointing at the same time since large areas of the island were closed off For Your Own Safety. It would have been better if the island had been more fully restored so that it was safe to walk around the whole lot. It felt as if you were missing some really interesting sites simply because they were in too poor a condition to walk around.
After returning from Alcatraz we walked up some very steep streets to reach Lombard St. -- the "crookedest street in the world" -- which was pretty lame overall. You almost get the feeling the modifications made to the street were done solely to obtain the dubious honour.
After all this walking we needed a break, so we headed into an international pub and had a Budweiser beer each which we all decided was very weak. We had a good chat with the people in the bar -- a Scott, an Aussie and an Irish girl (almost sounds like the start of a bad joke). We also spoke with the only American in the bar.
After our break, Brad and I headed out to find some dinner after losing Joe who disappeared on a shopping expedition to the other side of the city. We had some of the best pizza we had ever tasted in a side-street off Columbus St.
4.12.97 - BerkeleySlept in 'till 9am this morning and headed straight out to Berkerly University to check out one of the reputedly "alternative" Universities in the US (it is meant to be the origin of the hippy movement). We caught the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transport) out to Berkeley which is one of the better bits of public transport we've come across in SF (if only they would extend it to San-Mateo!).
We stopped of for Nachos for lunch and then headed onto the campus. We were disappointed to find how conservative everyone looked. Our own university was far more diverse than this! Eventually we found a few people who looked somewhat more alternative.. but still nothing special. King Street in Newtown right close to Sydney University is far more interesting a place than anywhere we found in Berkeley. We did manage to find a camping store on Telegraph Street that had some reasonable polartech tops and me and Brad bought one each - feeling the cold after leaving 40C temperatures in Sydney to arrive in a SF winter.
Berkerly WAS a nice campus though, and we much preferred it to the sterile Stanford environment -- it was just a little disappointing after all we had heard about its alternative roots.
We headed back 'home', stopping at the shopping mall near our place to get some dinner. We had some time to kill before connecting with our bus so we checked out Sears. Sears was hilarious -- you can buy stuff there that you would only find in industrial supplies stores in Australia; like huge air compressors for pneumatic power tools. Brad joking asked if you could buy the kitchen sink there and the sales guy straight-facedly replied that kitchen sinks were now handled by a separate store that Sears had bought out. We took some stupid photos and left before we got thrown out. After that we decided that a great way to keep ourselves amused was by paying out American consumerism; in fact, Americans in general are fun to pay out. One of the sales guys asked us if we were trained in school to defend ourselves against the crocodiles - what an idiot (we hoped he was joking but, unfortunately, he wasn't).
5.12.97 - Haight and Ashbury and Golden Gate ParkAll we did today was head into the city and visit the Haight and Ashbury and Golden Gate Park.
Haight Street was pretty cool with lots of really interesting shops -- actually I wanted to take some photos of the inside of some of the shops but I wasn't allowed. Perhaps they thought I was collecting evidence for the police or something?
We continued to the end of Haight St. until we reached Golden Gate Park and walked the full length of the park to the Ocean at the other end. GGP was good except we found it next to impossible to get away from the network of roads that cris-crossed the park. From there we caught a couple of busses to get us home so we could prepare for the next day -- Yosamite Park!
8.12.97 - Taxi!About the only interesting thing we did today was catch a taxi back from the mall. Americans are somewhat crazy -- our taxi driver (a woman of about 40) took my question on where all the pubs were in San-Mateo to be an invitation to tell us all about her drug and alcohol addiction problems. We really didn't want to hear it but we got to anyway. Then when she finally dropped us off she wouldn't stop talking and it felt rude to just get out of the car... She ended up giving us a full written page detailing the pubs in area and even gave us her personal beeper number so we could reach her any time! Weird.
9.12.97 - Bay CruiseWe didn't get around to doing much today, we went into SF again and took a boat tour around the Bay. The tour was good because the weather was perfect -- clear and sunny. We went under the Golden Gate Bridge which was the first time we had seen it properly.
We then headed to Coit Tower to check out the, reputedly, excellent views from its top. We had plenty of jokes about the name of the tower, but never actually climbed it because US$5 seemed a little steep (no pun intended) to just walk up a stupid tower.
We planned on checking out the Castro (the gay centre of SF) just to see what it was like, but in the end we didn't have time and couldn't be bothered anyway - we were kind of touristed out in SF.
We finalised the details for skiing in Tahoe -- we will be heading off for a two night holiday to ski in Heavenly and check out the Casinos!
14.12.97 - Departing for Paris