Day 12 of Trip to Land of Free
July 6, 2010

For those of you back in Cape Town envying us because we are enjoying summer when you are enjoying winter – don’t. It was like a winter’s day in Cape Town in San Francisco today and this is mid-summer for them! Helen remarked yesterday already that there are a lot of people in SF wearing SF branded merchandise. I speculated that it was because people came here expecting warm weather and they ended up having to buy a jacket of fleece. I am now convinced that is the reason especially after we have now bought 3 ourselves! It was a grey day the whole day. We never quite worked out if it was mist or cloud. Around lunch time it cleared slightly in the South but within an hour or so it was covered up again. It was also very windy and that bit through any clothing you wore.

None of this prevented us from taking an open top bus tour though. As I only managed to rouse the rest of the family at 9am (I was awake from 7am working on my laptop in the dark!), we only had breakfast at around 9:30am. We then got our tickets for the bus tour and as we were first on we got the front row seats. We were fortunate in that our tour guide told us we had the best driver in the fleet (amazing how lucky we are because every time we have had a tour of some sort we have been told we have the best driver). The tour guide was actually quite good and without a doubt the best we have had so far. Stephen remarked that he was good despite not being able to speak English. Everyone who seems to run anything in SF seems to be of Asian descent and so you can guess what descent our tour guide had relatively easily now. There are 860000 people living in SF (all of them were on the Pier yesterday to witness the fireworks) and it also has the biggest Chinese population of any city in the US.

The tour takes you along the Bay (pretty much where we had walked yesterday) and then turns into the City itself taking you the financial district and continuing up to the shopping area, City Hall and then back down again through Chinatown, North Beach (which isn’t on the beach), past Lombard St (Paul has walked up to that because it is his nickname – you can ask him what it stands for) and then back down to the Pier again. As an aside, Lombard St is amazing in that it is the “crookedest” street in the USA and tourists come just to drive down it. It is one way and it is pretty much one hairpin to the next, each hairpin being about the length of a car. As I mentioned the tour was very entertaining (even though a tad cold) as the tour guide had a good sense of humour and he gave interesting information. For instance he told us that last year there were 4 incidents in SF where people shot at the cars in front of them because they were driving to slowly (not kidding!). What also made it entertaining was that our ‘excellent’ driver almost managed to knock down 10 pedestrians (on separate occasions – Stephen was counting), came very close to taking off a car door and almost rear-ended two cars parked at the traffic lights. No one got the least bit excited (except Stephen, Michael and me) each time of these events occurred so it is obviously standard driving technique in SF. I would hate to know what the damage would be by the other ‘lesser’ drivers!

We got off the tour at Pier 39 and managed to actually walk down the Pier this time. There were quite a lot of people still but nothing like last night when you just couldn’t move it was so packed. We did a little tourist shopping and then found a place to have lunch. 3 of us wanted Clam Chowder for lunch so we found a suitable place and enjoyed our Clam Chowder in a Sourdough Bowl (which you can eat once you have finished the soup. After lunch we ambled back to the hotel and stopped in at a luggage shop to buy another suitcase as there is no way we can get everything we have bought into our current suitcases.

This afternoon we visited Ghiradelli Square (Ghiradelli is a chocolate based founded in SF) which is just a few blocks from our hotel. We then walked back again and did some more shopping on the way back as well. The plan was to take the Night Tour departing at 6pm and then get off in Chinatown and have dinner there. However by the time we got to the bus the line was so long it was clear we weren’t going to get onto the bus. We decided rather to take a taxi up to Chinatown and got a restaurant recommendation from the concierge at the hotel (who of course is Chinese). The taxi drive was probably the most entertaining thing we have done. We had an Italian taxi driver and he tried to persuade us that Little Italy had good food and restaurants. I nodded and said thanks. He was an extremely aggressive driver and as it was rush hour we weren’t moving much. He shouted out the window and honked constantly as if by honking (hooting for the SA people) the cars would miraculously move out of the way. The poor guy in front of us (who in my view wasn’t doing much, if anything, wrong) took the brunt of the honking and abuse and pointing. Half way through the trip the taxi driver turned on the radio and what channel did he select – the Classical music channel! It was a clear antithesis. Every time I looked back (I was in the front seat) everyone in the back seat was grinning. I really had to contain myself. I reckon an outbreak of laughter might have gotten us thrown out of the taxi.

He did get us to the restaurant safely though but he was quite disdainful of the restaurant. We gave it a try and really enjoyed the food. We had some excellent, tasty dishes including Peking Duck. It was probably the best value for money meal we have had so far. We then decided to walk back to the hotel. It was about a 20-25 minute walk. What is noticeable is that SF could do with a wash. It is quite grimy especially when you compare it to other major cities like London. Even Chicago was cleaner than SF (though SF is much better than LA). There also seems to be more vibrancy about SF in comparison to LA (even though SF has far fewer people living here). When we got back to the hotel we nipped into Ben & Jerry’s for a quick Sundae to round off the day.

It is now 12:15am and I need to go to bed and to sleep. Helen (of course) managed to squeeze in another few hours nap in the afternoon today so she will be up for another hour or two reading!

Enjoy your day.

P, C, H, M & S

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