We felt the earth move in San Francisco

Community Highlights North America We felt the earth move in San Francisco

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Yes, we really did feel the earth move. I am sitting in our room on the 8th floor of our hotel in downtown San Francisco on our last morning here. A couple of days ago, we were in this room when the ground shook. That was scary enough, being on the 8th floor. But I remember from Geography, my favourite subject at school, that this city is on the San Andreas Fault. Two tectonic plates are fretfully moving in opposite directions, occasionally causing catastrophic earthquakes. The worst was in 1906 when 80% of the city was destroyed. I quickly found an earthquake website and discovered that we had just experienced a 3.8 magnitude tremor, focussed near Oakland on the other side of the Bay. I then found out that tremors of this scale occur on average once or twice a day. So, we just better get used to it.

When I say “cool”, I mean that in more than one sense. The temperature here is 12C, the same as in London, and feels quite chilly after Hawaii. We have dug out our gloves and hats and I am wearing long trousers for the first time in weeks. But it’s also a very “cool” city in the modern sense of the word, with some very interesting characters around. We frequently smell cannabis wafting around. Cannabis is legal in California although you are not allowed to smoke it in the street. But I think the police are not too bothered. Anyway, they never get out of their patrol cars or wind their windows down, so they won’t be able to smell it.

On Sunday we flew here from Maui (Hawaii), which took 4½ hours with United Airlines, a rather cheapo Easyjet-style airline where checked baggage costs extra and the only free refreshment is a small bag of pretzels and some water.

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After landing we whizzed off in a taxi down massive freeways which swept into SF with a distant glimpse of one of the bridges across the bay, all very dramatic and exciting. To my delight, our hotel was on one of those upsy downsy streets on which I had seen so many car chases in the movies. And our nearest street corner had one of the traditional “cable cars” running past. These were invented by a Scots engineer, Andrew Smith Hallidie and were built in the late 19th Century. Most of them were discontinued but three routes still run, admittedly more for the benefit of the tourists than anyone else. There is an underground steel cable which moves constantly, to which each car grips with a kind of claw operated by the driver with a big lever.

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The next morning, we bought a day ticket for the cable car at Walgreens. We then stood at the cable car stop near our hotel and two cable cars failed to stop, perhaps because they were on a green light and had to keep up their momentum. We therefore walked down the hill to board another one. We stood at the back next to the conductor who was also operating the breaks. A woman who was with us said they don’t always allow that. The conductor said we could stand there provided that there was “no yelling”. Well, that’s what I thought he said. Actually, it was that we mustn’t stand on the yellow (“yella”) rectangle where he needs to be to operate his brake. “You can yell as much as you like”, he said. It was all very exciting and we had a great view from the back of the cable car with the conductor explaining various sites to us with his terse American humour.

We got off at the top of Lombard Street, famous for its very tight hairpin bends. Then back on the next cable car down to Fisherman’s Wharf, a rather tacky touristy area, but with wonderful views across the bay. After coffee and the biggest pain au chocolate we have ever eaten, we mooched around the seashore and found a big platform with about 100 barking sea lions and caught a glimpse of part of the Golden Gate Bridge. There was a great view across the bay to Alcatraz. We waved to Alberto, son of our friends in Washington, who is studying physics across the bay at Berkeley Uni.

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Jane looking for Alcatraz and Alberto

We then watched the cable car being rotated by hand on a turntable before riding it back over the mountain and right down the other side to the end of the line.

The next day we walked back down to the bottom of our hill to pick up a Number 7 bus. It was full of rather dodgy looking characters who also smelled dodgy. Most of them looked as though they were stoned. We were heading for the junction of Haight Street and Ashbury Street (or simply “Haight-Ashbury”) which, in 1967, became the international focus for the “summer of love” As the saying goes, “if you remember [it] you really weren’t there”. However, it’s more than 50 years ago now, so perhaps not remembering it means you are simply not of retirement age.

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The area is still full of hippy shops and other interesting trendy shops. We found a very elegant hat shop run buy two smart Thai men. Jane bought a hat which, to my mind, makes her look a bit like Diane Keaton in Annie Hall.

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Jane in her new hat

We also found an excellent organic supermarket. After stopping for juice at a coffee roastery we wandered into Golden Gate Park which, confusingly, is not the park near to Golden Gate Bridge. We wandered around the delightful Japanese Tea Garden before having our own little Japanese Tea Ceremony in the café.

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We then walked past the rose garden and caught another bus with more sweetly smelling fellow passengers than the last one, to the base of the Golden gate Bridge. We try to be sparing with our selfie taking but couldn’t resist the urge this time.

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Selfie (featuring the new hat)

This afternoon we fly to Las Vegas, not because we want to see it, but because it’s the easiest location to start from in order to pick up a campervan for touring the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley. Originally, we planned to start here in SF and drive there via Yosemite, but we couldn’t hire a van one way.

This map, which was generated by this website, shows where we have been so far, a total of
19,585 miles. As will now be apparent, we are going “round the world”, not in 80 days but in about 70 days. As a keen geographer, I need to prove to myself that the world is, in fact, round.

Post script from Las Vegas

I didn’t get time to post from SF, and we are now in Las Vegas, staying overnight before picking up our campervan in the morning.

SF airport gets the prize for the coolest airport we have encountered, complete with yoga room which Jane made use of and an announcer who sounded like a frustrated poet, making dramatic pauses at unlikely places in the sentence when giving us the most mundane information about delayed flights.

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The one-hour flight was spectacular, starting with a sweep of the SF Bay area, before crossing snow-capped peaks around Yosemite and on into the mountainous desert. No vegetation and hardly any sign of civilization until, in the distance we saw this very neat square which, as we drew closer realised was Las Vegas, like a massive oasis. As we circled the city we saw all the main buildings on the famous Strip including scaled-down mock Empire State Building and Eiffel Tower. Good. No need to look at the city I thought. I’ve seen it now.

On arrival we immediately saw slot machines around the airport, even in the baggage reclaim area, presumably for those who cannot wait to start gambling, even until they have collected their cases.

Jane has a “fear and loathing” of Las Vegas and our brief experience of it has reinforced this if anything despite Emily’s advice to “embrace” the city. Massive roads, golden buildings and ginormous billboards advertising personal injury lawyers hasn’t help me either. We popped out for a meal, taking about 10 minutes to get across the road. The fine for “jaywalking” is $250 so we didn’t dare cross even when the road was completely clear. We tried a German bierkeller but were immediately driven out by the loud noise and massive TV screens on the walls. We then found an Italian restaurant, expensive but extremely good food and excellent service. So, we were please to find that it’s not all burgers and pizza as we had suspected.

This featured blog entry was written by Robin Logie from the blog Becci would have loved it here.
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By Robin Logie

Posted Thu, May 17, 2018 | USA | Comments