Jamie – 20 December 2011
San Francisco is a pretty laid back city and our time here has been similarly relaxed. As Bec said, we are staying in the Fisherman’s Wharf area and it has given our time here a very nautical feel. Sea breezes, ships, piers, bridges, sandcastles, and dozens of crab shacks – all just outside our front door. Steve, our camp doorman (we are in SF after all) has the enthusiasm and energy I normally associate with a happy-go-lucky five year old which may explain why our children love him so much and why he never fails to have us laughing whenever we enter or leave the hotel. People like Steve make holidays memorable and infinitely more fun.
Saturday was a gloriously sunny day so the boys and I hired bikes and rode from our hotel to Sausalito. This took us along the southern foreshore of San Francisco Bay to the Golden Gate Bridge, which we rode across on the west side (looking straight out over the Pacific Ocean) and then along the northern foreshore down into pretty Sausalito. From there we caught a ferry back past Alcatraz to the Ferry Building in the Financial District and then had a short ride along the Embarcadero back into Fisherman’s Wharf.
It was a relatively easy ride – probably about 12 kms – and took in many of the city’s best views. Foster had a low-speed head-on with an elderly gentlemen as he rounded a corner on the bridge. Thankfully no one was hurt but both ended up on their backs and were a bit shaken up as they remounted. On reflection, my years of shouting “left lane” at Foster on previous rides probably didn’t help the poor boy – in the US they drive/ride on the other side of the road/track. Nevertheless we all agreed it was a great day that we really enjoyed.
On Monday we explored San Francisco’s famed Chinatown. Bec had researched this well and our first visit off the cable car was a fortune cookie factory. I was surprised to see how manual it was – there were a couple of old chinese ladies folding the warm biscuits by hand, after inserting the obligatory paper fortune. We bought a bag of 20 for $3.50 and Bec howled with delight at her first biscuit’s fortune. Had I not been the one offering her the bag I would have felt sure that I had been set up.
We then found an excellent Yum-cha (Dim Sum over here) restaurant around the corner where we sat next to the kitchen and watched them folding hundreds of dumplings by hand while the trolleys came past offering all our favourite dishes. Our family of five emerged from an absolute feast for less than $35 which seemed astounding given the quality of the food. We did seem to be almost the only westerners in the restaurant which might explain the great value.
Later in the day we visited Pier 39 to say hello to the sea-lion colony that live (voluntarily) on the pontoons at the end of the Pier. These 350 kg animals feature along the entire California coast and many of them, being creatures of habit, return to San Francisco to live the good life on the pontoons. When not sleeping they seem to enjoy yelling like crazy, probably just to wake the others up. No way I could sleep through that noise. Did I mention the smell?
Today we all walked along the foreshore to a great museum call the Exploratorium, which promotes itself as a museum of science, arts and human perception. This reminded me a lot of the NEMO museum in Amsterdam which we visited (see earlier posting) and offered over 450 participatory exhibits. It is a lot more than just levers and buttons. Many of the exhibits require you to use all or large parts of your body. Our children’s favourite was a tornado machine you could stand in as a vortex of steam swirled around you. I loved an exhibit which allowed you to release a drop of water into a cup full of water and, if you had set the flash timer correctly, a camera would record the exact moment of impact. If you were lucky you could also have your own image recorded as a reflection in the resultant drop blast. Very clever stuff. Here is Sari’s excellent effort using a 365 millisecond flash setting.
The museum is contained within the Palace of Fine Arts Building, which is itself an amazing landmark building.
While beautiful and a great place to base ourselves while in San Francisco, the Fisherman’s Wharf area has a lot of buskers and beggars. The buskers include a wide variety of musicians (of greatly varying quality), artists (mainly quick portrait artists and the spray can variety), the standard statue performers, and then there are the weird ones – like the guy dressed up as a dog who has three real dogs dressed in sun glasses and Christmas hats. The idea being that you have your photo taken with them all for the special price of $5.
One guy who we will not miss when we leave is a dishevelled guy who hides behind corners and jumps out at you with arms waving very aggressively. As soon as you yell – and everyone does – he replies “made ya holla, now gimme a dollar”. He has done it to us twice now, guaranteeing that he will never receive any money from the Adamson family. I would not be surprised to read about his untimely demise one day when he makes the mistake of jumping in front of a highly strung NRA member. Another memorable individual I guess.
Only five days till Christmas !