Thursday, 5 December 2013

Travels in the US - Part 3 of 3 - San Francisco

Another 4 hour flight over Arizona and New Mexico brought us to San Francisco and its scary airport..the runway starts just a few meters from the water's edge or so it seems. There were serious doubts that our two suitacases would arrive with us as the Austin Airport ground staff had taken an agonisingly long time to search our suitcases, because they happened to be locked. Some search equipment was faulty and we had to go to the far end of the airport for the search. Then a very stressed out baggage handler seemed to think that there was not enough time to get the cases to the other end where our plane awaited.

San Francisco
(more photos via link at the end of this post)

Anyhow, despite Marisol's apprehension and the strong probablity against a convenient outcome, the suitcases appeared on the carousel, where our friend Jerry had agreed to meet us. It transpired that Marisol had her unique effect on all of the electronics as Jerry's car keys and his gadget for toll payments both failed. But nothing that a combination of IT knowhow could not fix!

Cable car and Lombard Street
(more photos via link at the end of this post)

We were soon driving down the usual maze of US highways in this quaint (manual) VW, which Jerry has lovingly owned through his postings at Washington, Frankfurt and now San Francisco. After a brief rest stop at Jerry and Margarita's home we headed straight across the Golden Gate bridge for a lunch across the bay in a small town called Tiburon. Later we drove around the famous undulating hillside roads in SF, with Jerry urging his car through traffic, as we drove around the more famous sites. This included Lombard street and its snaking section down a hill, with a million Japanese tourists, and finally parked near the Coit tower. In the fading light while we walked down the hill at Coit, Jerry's VW began to spew smoke from the engine, and appeared to be on fire! Oh dear, too much action for the poor car for one day. We patched up the car as best, and made it home to call it a day (a long day which had begun at about 4am in Austin!)

Coit Tower
(more photos via link at the end of this post)

Over the next week we had relentless tourist action, as Jerry and Margarita showed us everything there is to see around the SF and the bay area. We drove through Sausalito to Tiburon on day one, then later in the week we drove to Palo Alto and to the hallowed grounds of Stanford. On another day we were invited to Jerry's daughter Carolina's home in Mill Valley, where Marisol took my photo in front of Avatar's Punjabi Burritos, which later led our friend Loli to comment that this perhaps referred to a Donkey curry! We also spent some time with Andres, the elder brother of Carolina who also lives in SF just down the road from his parents.

(more photos via link at the end of this post)

There were further excursions to the stunning Muir Woods, which is the last remaining forest of the famous Redwood trees. A magical place which we did not want to leave. A wrong turn of the GPS had given us a fantastic tour of the surrounding area with its spectacular scenery of mountains and the Pacific and an extra twenty miles to our route! We approached the Muir from the far side and we did not see the famous trees, which are generally more than 100 meters tall, untill we were within the car park!

Muir Woods
(more photos via link at the end of this post)

We could not really come this far and not include a trip to the Napa Valley to taste some wines, and we picked one winery with a beautiful castle, suggested by those in the know. The drive through the valley was nothing short of spectacular, but the wines at this winery turned out to be average, for us honed on the Rioja wines. The winery specialised in Italian grapes and just like in Australia, we found the wines overpriced. The barman who attended to us was rude, and at one point when he ignored my request to not serve the last few drops of a bottle to me, I tipped the contents of my glass into the sink. He was loudly angry with me and proceeded to treat us badly while trying to chat up some ladies who were also trying out the same wines.

We left but as I was leaving I let him know that we found him very rude, which led to further loud outbursts from the man, an arrogant Italian. As we were making our way out the manager approached us and asked what the commotion had been about. We apologised for having made the fuss, but explained how we had been treated. The manager was very apologetic for the behaviour of their staff and immediately offered to refund all costs (which we duly accepted). Generally we found people to be utterly polite and this was definitely an exception.

De Young Museum
(more photos via link at the end of this post)

In between there was enough time to walk around SF, China Town, the famous Fisherman's Wharf, the Painted Ladies (some brightly painted town houses), and a visit to the De Young Museum of Modern Art. This turned out to be a delightful building (Herzog and de Meuron) with some excellent exhibitions, including one of recent works of David Hockney some of which we had seen already in London and Bilbao. Here we found that the most recent work in the show had only been completed a month before, perhaps a few days before the exhibition opened. It was a rainy day and it was lovely to be indoors at this beautiful space set in wonderful park grounds. 

And we noticed that just down the road from Jerry's place a huge set of tents housed a Cirque de Soleil show. So we made our arrangements and one evening walked over to see the performance. We were not disappointed, it lived up to its reputation. It was called Amaluna.

(more photos via link at the end of this post)

Not to be missed, we managed to squeeze in a visit to UC Berkeley campus just hours before catching our ten hour flight to London and on to Bilbao and home. This brought back memories of the heady days of student unrest in the sixties and the seventies, Haight Ashbury, Kerouac and Ginsburg. Alas the Haight Ashbury district of SF is a shadow of its past and how I saw it the first time I was in SF about thirty years ago.

And so finally the saga of the suitacases. The travellers life is hard. We arrive at last (after 24 hours) at Bilbao, and were the only passengers whose luggage did not show up! While we wondered what to do with a sinking feeling, an airport worker walked up to us and asked "where have you come from". We revealed glumly that we had come from San Francisco. "Oh" she said "come with me". We rushed over to another carousel where luggage that needed to go through customs appeared and sure enough there they were!!!

Many thanks to Jerry and Margarita

A long and wonderful trip was at an end..and we proceeded to ride out the jet lag with smiles on our faces!
Click here to see more photos from San Francisco

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