Thursday 5 August 2004

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© 2004 Giles Orr

The hotel's "Continental Breakfast" in the morning was about as bad as it could be - no-name donuts, fake orange juice, and coffee. We caught the hotel shuttle to the airport. We arrived around 0710 and after initial check-in we were confronted with the worst security line-ups I've ever seen. Apparently mornings are bad. But despite that we were at our gate at 0810 for our 0910 flight.

SFO is a mid-sized airport. Happily, BART (public transit trains) goes right into it although apparently that extension is only a year old. A ride to the Powell street station cost $5, which gave me fond thoughts of Toronto where it would have been $2 CAN. And get this: BART is the subway and it appears to be entirely independent (separate fares) of MUNI who run the buses and cable cars.

There's a cable car turn-around right at the Powell street station, so we walked by that on the way to the hotel. The cable cars go on a turn-table 20 or 25 feet in diameter where they get turned by hand about 160 degrees. Huge line-ups, which are apparently perpetual.

We got to the hotel around noon. They didn't have a room ready so we left our bags and headed for Chinatown on my suggestion of finding a Chinese Bakery for lunch. Barbara was fascinated by the herb stores with their shark fins, dried seahorses, dried scallop, and ground deer antlers. The Chinese bakery we found ("Napoleon Super Bakery") cost $4 for six or seven buns, enough for lunch for both of us. It was very good, although I paid for it later.

Walking through downtown San Francisco is interesting: the map shows you eight blocks of straight road and you find yourself stumbling up a 30 to 40 degree slope for two or three blocks. Only to limp down the other side of the hill, legs burning, two blocks later. By the time I'd been in SF an hour I'd heard two different tourists say "Not another hill!!" or its equivalent. But the views from the top ... This is a beautiful, beautiful city. And the temperature - the thermometer sticks at 70 degrees F and doesn't go anywhere all day. It's wonderful.

We headed north and went to Peter and Paul Church for a few minutes (it has a gorgeous rose window) before making the painful climb up Telegraph Hill.

At the top of Telegraph Hill is Coit Tower. It's not very tall, but it doesn't have to be. $3.75 gets you to the top. I was disappointed - you can see all around but they've plexi-glassed all the viewports, which are also fairly narrow. We descended fairly soon and enjoyed the view (north and north east) from the parking lot with lots of others. Eventually we went down east, down the steps through incredible gardens of rich, rich houses, and being glad we were descending instead of ascending as our west approach wasn't nearly as bad as an east one would have been. We were overflown several times by a noisy flock of what I think are wild parakeets.

We walked northwest along the Embarcadero to the hordes of tourists at Pier 39. We skipped its very conventional attractions (bungie harness, bad restaurants, and knick knacks) to move on to Fisherman's Wharf. Not that that's a lot better, but it has the U.S.S. Pampanito, a retired World War II sub which Barbara agreed to visit with me. $9 to get in included an audio tour device and an hour inside incredibly cramped quarters. It's huge on the outside but tiny and cramped inside. I enjoyed it immensely - definitely a mechanical engineer's idea of fun. I think Barbara was less enchanted but at least interested.

We spent a little while at the Musee Mecanique next door, full of the precursors of arcade games - every bizarre coin-swallowing machine you can imagine.

My stomach started feeling bad when we got back to the hotel in the early evening (late evening Milledgeville time), and I hadn't been very hungry anyway so I sent Barbara out on her own for dinner. I watched some TV, went to bed around 2200 after she got back. I was ill for most of the night. Around 0730 I realized the only thing I'd had different from Barbara were two chinese buns that had something like mayo on them - not good stuff to leave sitting in a display counter for hours, but then we had BBQ pork buns and that's meat. Barbara pointed out they leave the meat buns on display unrefrigerated and that made her uncomfortable. It had never occurred to me in a lifetime of eating at Chinese bakeries. She's right, although it's never made me sick before.

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by giles