Travel Blog: Week 7

USA Week 7: 24.12.2012 – 30.12.2012 Monday:- Christmas Eve!! Today couldn’t be more different to yesterday. It was beautiful – the sun was shining and it was warm in the sheltered areas. Today we wanted to explore the city and was to the Golden Gate Bridge. For those who don’t know San Fran is hilly, but…….until you walk it for yourself I’m not sure you would realise just how up the ups are, and how down the downs. It was


Week 7: 24.12.2012 – 30.12.2012


Christmas Eve!!

Today couldn’t be more different to yesterday. It was beautiful – the sun was shining and it was warm in the sheltered areas. Today we wanted to explore the city and was to the Golden Gate Bridge.

For those who don’t know San Fran is hilly, but…….until you walk it for yourself I’m not sure you would realise just how up the ups are, and how down the downs. It was good exercise!! It’s an eclectic mix of architectures and so there’s interest everywhere. We even saw the cast of a nativity going into the church.






After almost 3 hours of walking we were in sight of the bridge it just was getting any closer. We realised we weren’t going to get to the bridge and be back in time for our evening plans so decided to make the most of the rest of the day. We’d already walked through the wharf area and then the harbour which was full of runners, cyclists and the Segway tourist groups so took a seat and sat in sun.


Lunch beckoned and traditional clam chowder in a sourdough loaf (for Tammy) and calamari for me from the wharf filled the gap.



After a quick change back at the hotel we were off to the opera house for the nutcracker – don’t you know! The cheap seats were fantastic and so was the show. Just perfect to set off the Christmas spirit.





Dinner at a swanky restaurant – our biggest bill to date – and back in time for bed before Santa arrived.



IT’S CHRISTMAS – happy holidays everyone.

After opening cards and presents we took a run down to the wharf in the sunshine. We just made it before the in set in. It wasn’t the best of days so we visited the union square Christmas tree, my soon to be new home at the hostel (seemed friendly enough) and a Thai restaurant for the most blow your head off Tom Yum soup – and that was the medium strength one!

Where do you go on Christmas Day when it’s chucking it down? The cinema of course – with popcorn and snacks obviously. The cinema complex was in a huge shopping mall – closed for the holiday but busy all the same.

We saw Impossible. A film based on a true story set in Thailand on Boxing Day of 2004 – the tsunami. Watch it – it’s fantastic (care if you’re squeemish though).

It was still chucking it down. Where do you go on Christmas Day when you’ve already done the cinema? A bar! We found one – a good one. Very sociable people in full Christmas spirit. It’s a small world – we met Jeff and Jason from Brighton. They were just starting a 2 week road trip to Vegas. The conversation, stories and drinks flowed. 6 ‘dark and stormys’ later (Ann – my new favourite drink – what have you started!!!) it was time to leave whilst I could still walk. I did sleep well though.


I did not feel like a run today strangely! Tammy managed one though.

When I eventually got up we walked to the Coit Tower – via some not so classy areas.

An amazing place built on the funds bequeathed by Lillie Hitchcock Coit. Fantastic views of the city and murals on the inside. The tower was surrounded by eucalyptus trees and the hummingbirds buzzed around.



The walk down was through a residential area with its own little microclimate – all sorts of plants; ginger, aloe, hydrangeas, rhododendrons, fennel, magnolia. Awesome.



China town was the venue for lunch. We found a packed restaurant full of Asian people and had the biggest plate of food each for the grand total of $11. There were a few unusual items on the menu which I have to say we avoided.



Feeling full we walked through Chinatown

and met the Brighton boys for a taxi ride to the golden gate park – we deserved a lift as it was a long way and pretty cold. We did walk the park though and had great views of the bridge.




Back to the hotel before heading out for food. Today we tried an Irish bar/restaurant. Great atmosphere, great food, soft drinks only for me (well until the rather generous sambuca shot) and live music. Bargain!

Tonight was the last night in San Fran for Jeff, Jason and Tammy. So we had a few more for the road.


Tammy was up early for the BART train back to the airport. I had breakfast with Jeff and Jason at the bakery around the corner before waving them off for their road trip. Time for me to get packed up and move over to the hostel. Still carrying too much in my bags I made 2 trips to the hostel before settling in to a chilled day putting my feet up. I was in a 4 bed dorm and had the top bunk.


From the look of the beds there were 2 other girls here already. I soon met Olga and were sharing our own stories. Olga had come over from Russia and was spending a few days here before going on to Hawaii. Bonus – she had a city pass with a few more days on which she gave to me. I now had free entry to a number of attractions including the aquarium. Yee ha.

By now I was hungry but not in the mood for a restaurant. A few groceries from the neighbourhood store and I rustled something up in the kitchen. Olga and I sat together. She’d been here a while and knew of all the facilities in and around the hostel and I was soon up to speed.

An early night. I had a long voucher filled day ahead tomorrow.

Early night yes, good sleep no! Oh the life in a hostel. One of the girls came in late, one new girl checked in even later, and one had about 6 calls on her mobile in the middle of the night.. Things can only improve


Bleary eyed I took my time getting out of bed – the bathroom was occupied anyway. (Lauren – I’m sharing with another Karen, so you know what that means about the bathroom floor, wet, wet, wet!)

I slung on some clothes and headed for the kitchen and the lure of a free breakfast. It was buzzing, and understandably so. The breakfast was pretty good. Quite a selection for a hostel. Oatmeal (some flavours only possible in the US), pancake batter to make your own (this was surrounded by abandoned frying pans thick with burnt on batter – I gave that a miss), bananas, oranges, bagels, toast, jam, peanut butter, etc, etc, you get the picture. I found plenty before heading back to try out the shower. Again, pleasantly surprised. It was strong enough flow to wash the shampoo out of my hair and hot enough to stand under. Dressed and squeaky clean I headed out.

My plan was to get to the Golden Gate Bridge today. First I wanted to find out about shipping stuff home – there was a post office in Macy’s. If you had your own box, and fortunately someone had left the perfect one in the dorm (which I nabbed), it would be around $60 dollars to send home.

So onwards…..well a few paces anyway. There was a school band with cheerleaders and the full works in union square. Fantastic!


Now onwards. I knew I needed a #71 bus, followed by a #28. I waited at the bus stop and a #9 came along going in roughly the same direction, so I got on. A change of plan. I got off at Haight street and walked to the golden gate park. Haight Street and Haight Ashbury were so interesting (Debs – if you’re reading this you’d be in heaven. It’s very bohemian and jam packed with vintage clothing stores. I stopped along the way to try on a few things but my bag is already full to bursting so just window shopping) and very reminiscent of Brighton with really artistic graffiti everywhere. I even got offered weed on one street corner – ovbiosly I decleened as it says havoc wit me speelling.




I stopped for lunch then walked through the park. A different route to the previous visit.





I found an old carrousel, tennis courts, conservatory of flowers, and thankfully toilets (I know tmi) along the way.



I found myself not at the bus stop for #28 but the academy of science. I had a free pass for this so I went in. The bridge will be another day. I loved the science place. It had a huge aquarium on the lower floor and a bio-dome covering three floors. Right up my street.







There was even a working science lab where one woman was in the process of skinning a dingo for an exhibit – random!!

Considering my attention deficit disorder (according to Tammy) I managed a good 2+ hours before heading back via Haight Street and the elusive #71 bus. I did make a stop along the way to buy yoghurt, which fitted in my bag, and cereal, which did not. So with cereal box in hand I caught the bus back to Market Street for the final walk back. I made a discovery – a closing down outdoor shop. It had bio-degradable shampoo – woo hoo! Just what was required for the Belize project. I arrived back at the hostel fully ladened with cereal in one hand and shampoo in the other. Rock and roll!!

A quick turnaround and out for food. Pad Thai and a beer at a restaurant across the road. I will sleep well tonight.


Today, I felt a bit like Forest Gump but slower – no I didn’t eat a box of chocolates – I walked, and walked and walked.

I was a little more motivated today and managed to get up and out for a run down to market and the bay. I was now staying at Post Street which was further up the hill, so the run back was tough. Straight to breakfast – yoghurt and cereal f course, then back to the room to change. Then out. Today I was going to give the bridge another go.

I waited for the #71 bus but #6 came along, going to the Castro district so I got on that. Such and interesting place!!!!




Very open minded!!! And men everywhere – sadly mostly in couples and holding hands. I grabbed a sandwich for lunch and, as I was in the area, decided to walk to the Twin Peaks.


It looked close according to my little map but after 2 hours of walking up hill I was beginning to behave my doubts. I could see the peaks but getting there was proving tricky. Finally I found some steps which cut through the houses, and after about 6 flights (my little legs were cream crackered) I made it. In the bright sunshine, and amongst the other tourists who I now realise had driven, I took in the amazing view of the city. From bridge to bridge and beyond.



Where is a bus when you need one. I started the walk back but after about 20 minutes I waved down a passing bus. The driver took pity on me and let me on. The bus took me back to Castro.


By now it was about 3:30. Did I have time to get to the bridge way off in the other direction. I gave it a go. It took 3 buses – #43 which I initially got on the wrong way (I mouthed a particular word which the lady opposite must have recognised and she pointed me in the right direction), #71 to the park area, and then #28. It was cold and took a while for the final bus but I met the most interesting lady from Hong Kong (now living in San Fran) and we shared our travel stories. She also gave me good advice for where to get off for the bridge and the best route to get back to Post. Perfect!

The bridge was impressive. A bit of a tourist trap (really!!) but definitely worth the trip. By now it was almost dark and cold. Do I stay of do I go? I decided to walk the bridge – it had to be done. 40 minutes one way and 30 back (less stops for photos). The car headlights streamed across the bridge and the tyres on the road surface sounded like heart beats. Awesome.



Back on the bus I was so ready to put my feet up. #28 stopped and started through the rush hour traffic, and then onto to #30. Through Chinatown so it was packed.

Finally, I made it back. I ate in the hostel eating up my left overs and then to the room to start my packing. Check out was 10am.


My last day in San Fran!

Up early, down to breakfast – once finished the remainder of my cereal and yoghurt was moved to the ‘free food’ shelf. Help yourselves.

It took about an hour to pack up, including boxing up the last of my cold weather clothes. I checked out and headed out. First stop the post office to send my box on its way. (Dad – this should be with you within 2 weeks). Next stop the Bay Area as I wanted to use the free attraction vouchers I had been given. I did have a little cheeky ride on the cable car but walked some of the way before jumping on the bus to Chinatown. I got off just outside a small Chinese restaurant – pretty basic but full of Chinese. No one spoke English but I pointed at the food that looked good. For $3.75 (about £2.50) I got a small bowl of dishwater style soup, a mountain of rice, pak choy, something which looked like small spare ribs, and something looking like dim sum dumplings (not entirely sure what they were made of but there were tube like things in them). Everything tasted delicious and I’ve lived to tell the tale. As the restaurant was packed I was joined by a couple of colourful guys – they were doing a dim sum crawl (like a pub crawl) through Chinatown.

I walked the rest of the way to the bay and treated myself to a couple of the “best chocolate truffles” in San Fran. I had 30 minutes to kill before I need to queue for the boat tour so I wandered through the shops of Pier 39 and watch the sealions. I was told to start queuing half an hour before the tour start time. I got there with 20 mins and there were already a couple of hundred people there. I had no idea it would be that many. Fortunately I got on the boat and took the tour under the bridge. It was chilly but the sun was shining which made for a most pleasant hour.






Next, a whistlestop trip to the aquarium. Apart from the escalator through a tube surrounded by water there wasn’t much to see.




I thought I’d ride the full cable car route back but the queue stretched back a fair way so I got the bus. Packed again but eventually I made it. I had 3 hours before the airport shuttle would collect me. I headed for the cinema – nothing on within the time frame. By now I was starving but the food court in the mall, where the cinema was, didn’t inspire. Finally, I went to Tad’s famous steak house. What I didn’t eat was boxed up and I gave it to a homeless guy. I don’t think I’ve mentioned the homeless yet, but in San Fran they are everywhere. Some are a little worse for wear but actually there are all civil and at times entertaining.


Back to the hostel. Bags into the shuttle and off. Some of you may know that one of my nicknames is dilly day dream. Well, I went to the international terminal – I was going to Belize, right? – I was going via Houston. So that domestic. I’d queued for half an hour in the wrong place. I needed to get to terminal 3 which thankfully was close but with my bags it was fun. All went well after that and I boarded for the 3 hour flight to Houston. Now just for Belize.

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