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San Francisco

USA | Monday, 9 June 2008 | Views [829]

I write as the Coastal Starlight, an Amtrak train, caresses the California coast on my way to Los Angeles, the only person in my sleeper cabin, sipping complimentary champagne. Now before your imagination takes flight, to spare my credit card yet another assault, I opted to pay for my ticket with cash 30min before boarding, with the result that I’m sitting on the side of the train without the views, hence forcing me to make good use of my time in alternative ways – updating my blog.... here begins my diatribe on the fair city San Francisco.

I arrived at morning rush hour from a restless night’s flight to find a balmy city, the sun already high in the sky. Immediately, the vagaries of Downtown meet you as you step out the BART (underground train) station. It’s not that I had no foreknowledge, it’s that I didn’t expect the amount of nattering, put-on familiarity of strangers only because I was walking the streets with a suitcase, and then there’s the obviously mentally ill, homeless, and inebriated – not characterisations of the same people. Yes, San Francisco is the postcard photos, but it’s also many other things.

And that’s the sentiment I learned most about in my 7 days in the city. It’s a place of contradictions. Beautiful weather lasts 2 or three days, then the fog bellows in from the Pacific, and for the next 3 days a pall covers the city like the Table Cloth falls off the side of Table Mountain. But with the fog comes the cold wind chill, forcing you to ditch the board shorts and t-shirt that was uniform in Hawaii for a slacks and overcoat, encouraging thoughts more of London than of California. But this is the true San Francisco, so know this when visiting “the city”.

Over the last century almost 100 movies were shot in this city, popularising it’s vistas throughout the world, and with good cause. Using the MUNI (public transport) Weekly, the travel pass used by the locals, I ventured around the city with unlimited glee, with only a $1 surcharge on the cable cars. But if you visit SFO, can you really not ride a cable car or two? The trolleys alone bring back images of yesteryear, as do so many of the Victorian houses, and quaint diners which function just like they’re shot in movies – down to the bucksome waitress swishing a pot of coffee! Background music in all shops and establishments is positively retro – maybe a dedicated radio station – but tastefully so, spinning the likes of Foreigner, Billy Joel, Gladys Night, Stevie Wonder, and early Elton John. I enjoyed the playlist so much, meal times even got me to reconsider my stance on 80s music :D

SFO is a very cosmopolitan city, more than any other I’ve encountered. P-flags adorn more buildings than the Stars And Stripes, nationalities and languages from all over the world can be seen and heard, but locals are largely Latino and African Americans, with a sprinkling of Asian and White faces. Couples are both cross race and also for each persuasion, this in a city where a bar is named The Makeout Room with by-line “PDA encouraged”. Of course, the Castro District is best described as gay headquarters, but only in the next neighbourhood is the birthplace of Hippies and LSD, Haight and Ashbury (an intersection). There’s the well-off Seaview with vistas of Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific, and the more eclectic Mission District where I found my lodging, each coexisting so easily side-by-side. I’ve visited many cities, and what struck me about San Francisco is that I didn’t see one place where I wouldn’t reside. Now some neighbourhoods ask from some adjustment, but none are totally reprehensible... it’s all a matter of taste... and wealth. But if you compare the neighbourhoods, you’ll find either modern architecture, or the characteristic Victorian look. But more than that, public transport is well developed and utilised throughout, leaving no “dead spots”, and almost all areas have views hills or valleys, it being San Francisco.

I can’t say I left my heart in San Francisco, but I can admit to it making a worthy impression on me, and even the Americans I met along my journey.

Tags: bay area, california, mission district, san francisco, sfo

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