Day 11 of Trip to Land of Free
July 6, 2010

I had to put the ‘Land of the Free’ in the header today because it is July 4. There is a lot less patriotism on the West Coast than the East Coast (or at least in Helen and my view). I suspect that it might have something to do with the demographics of the population in California.

We decided to leave the hotel slightly earlier than necessary and rather have breakfast at the airport. The taxi ride was about 40 minutes back to the LAX airport and the check in process was relatively painless again. Security was much tighter though. They took longer to screen our bags and the visible presence of police and security staff was increased. They frisked search Helen because she was wearing a dress and they said that even though she had gone through the scanner there was a risk she was concealing something. By the time we had cleared security it was 9:55am and the restaurant we wanted to go to said they only serve breakfast until 10am. I pointed out that it was 9:55am and so they should serve us breakfast and they looked most disinterested. I was up for an argument but Helen just walked out and said their loss. We won’t hurry back to that chain anytime soon and I hope they feel the pinch! American service is generally quite good but this was the 2nd ridiculous bit of service we had in 2 days (we had an incident at the Rite Aid as well). We ended up just getting pastries & fruit from the bakery take-away and eating them at the gate.

Our plane left on time with no issues at all. We flew on American Airlines again and I have to say that we have now had 3 flights on them and all 3 have been really good. I am probably tempting fate by saying that and no doubt I next flight on them will be terrible (let’s hope not!). We arrived in San Francisco at 1:20pm and we collected our bags and headed into the City. We were at our hotel by 2:00pm which shows you how quickly everything went. Our hotel is the Courtyard Marriot at Fisherman’s Wharf right near the Pier. It is a newly renovated hotel and probably the nicest room we have had out of all the hotels we have stayed in. We are also in walking distance of everything.

We immediately went out to find a place for lunch and ended up at Denny’s which is a Wimpy type restaurant. We all had burgers (what else could you have?!). The service was terrible which is also not something you generally experience in America. It was so bad that I never bothered to tip at all. I hope they got the message. I think they sensed our irritation in that when they did eventually come to take our order they apologised for not coming sooner but they were very busy. There was only one other table of people in the restaurant so I would hate to know what they would have done if there were 3 tables! They must have been busy doing their nails or something that kept them that busy because it was noticeable what they were doing.

After lunch we went for quick walk around the Fisherman’s Wharf area much to the general & loud complaints of Michael & Stephen. The reason being they were in short sleeves and it was freezing cold. The weather in San Francisco was beautifully clear but a cold wind is blowing off the Bay and so it is quite chilly. The temperature is around 17 degrees but it feels more like 12-13 degrees because of the wind. Of course this encouraged us to look at sweatshirts etc and I ended up buying a really nice jacket and Michael got a San Francisco tracksuit top. The shop assistant wanted to put it into a bag but Michael said ‘No, No’ and grabbed it out so he could wear it. We got back to the hotel at 4pm and enquired about his evening and we were told that the Pier would be choatic so we should try for a restaurant at around 8pm so that we got a table by 9:30pm for the fireworks over the Bay.

We followed their suggestion but they were totally wrong. There were about a million people in the Wharf area. The line for the toilets were the longest I have ever seen (maybe 50 people in line outside the toilets). I gripped Chloe’s hand as there was a real risk we would not see here again otherwise. The Pier area was just teeming with people and we very quickly figured out that we were not going to find a restaurant at all. After trying one in the Pier area we thought we should try a few in the roads behind the Pier but those also were totally jammed full with waiting lists of 20 groups. We found the grocery store and found ourselves cheese and cold meat and biscuits and salad and fruit and just had that instead in our hotel room and we watched the fireworks from our balcony of the room. The check out clerk was an education for the kids. This being San Francisco you get all types and I am not sure he/she knew what type he/she was. We think she was a he and is now on his way to becoming a she. Very wierd – I would have preferred to select another check out till if I had noticed earlier. I almost made Helen pay so that I had the minimal amount of contact with he/she.

The fireworks started at 9:30pm and probably weren’t as spectactular as they could have been because it was quite misty tonight. However they were very loud (probably because of the mist) and we could feel some of the booms from some of the fireworks going off. The fireworks went on for 20 minutes and it must have cost them a few million dollars. In Chicago they told us that they had cancelled the July 4 fireworks this year as it cost the city $30m each year. I wondered why they just didn’t rather down scale and spend say $3m instead? Surely you can get an amazing display of fireworks for $3m (that’s over R20m in fireworks). I have no doubt we (South Africans) could have easily put on an excellent show for that money and still have managed to expropriate a few Rands to smooth things for those in decision making positions! The display was quite impressive here despite the misty conditions. At the end we could smell the fireworks even – Helen said it was the smell of burning money!

We also discovered today on checking in that the Alcatraz Tours were fully booked until Thursday (and we leave on Thursday). I came straight up to the room and checked online and fortunately found a multi-island tour that includes Alcatraz and we could get on it on Wednesday at 9:30am. It was double the price of Alcatraz alone but we couldn’t come all the way to San Francisco and not go to Alcatraz. We are hoping tomorrow is a little calmer in the Wharf and Pier areas and that we can get to see them without risking our lives by being squashed by 1 million people or risking losing one of the kids (though Stephen is hard to lose now that he is bigger than Helen it is more likely we will lose Helen first).

As the kids only went to their room at 10:15pm this evening I doubt that we will be up early tomorrow. We will no doubt take a City tour tomorrow (Monday – today for most of your already as my computer clock says it is 8:30am in SA – and I have just spoken to my PA who is already at work when I am about to go to sleep!).

Enjoy the day!

P, H, M, C & S

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