30 Days of Indie Travel- Day 9…ONE DAY
BootsnAll says: Travel helps us better appreciate the present moment instead of always looking to the next thing. Describe one perfect day you had while travelling. Where were you? What were you doing? And what made it perfect?
My perfect day came the second day of a trip to San Francisco after a summer working in San Diego. Straight from exploring Los Angeles, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, we rocked into San Francisco on the Greyhound early in the morning and discovered that fog is cold, man. We also discovered that you can do all the research you want, if a motel makes up a new name for its neighbourhood you might accidentally end up staying in the Tenderloin. We spent that first day wandering around Chinatown and Union Square. We had the best Chinese food of our lives: four courses for 8 dollars. (Helps if you pick the restaurant with the most chinese people in it, not the one with the biggest dragon outside).
On our second day, we decided to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a nice day, sunny but not too hot. As someone who burns pretty much the second they come into contact with sunlight (like a vampire), I appreciated this. After the oppressive desert heat of Vegas, where I actually fainted on our last day, it was a welcome change to be comfortable outside again.
We grabbed a bus down towards the water and walked through the beautiful Golden Gate Park. We found a small independent bike rental place near the bridge and rented 5 bikes for the day. After trying the franchised rental places in vain all day, we were relieved to find they didn’t need to put a security deposit charge on our credit cards. The franchises had wanted as much as 800 dollars as insurance.
We set off towards the bridge, its big red beams looming over us as we drew nearer. Locals were out on their bikes too, as well as large groups of tourists. Despite the obvious popularity of this activity, we found the bridge pretty quiet in the bike lane and could cross at our leisure. We stopped every now and again to take a picture.
We had been expecting to find the cycle challenging, not exactly keeping up our usual fitness regimes over the summer, but it was a breeze. Every now and again, especially on hills, we would stop as one of the group’s chains would pop off the sprocket of their bike. We became master mechanics.
We turned left and up a hill as we came off the bridge at the other side, outside Sausalito. This hill proved arduous and most of us walked our bikes us rather than tire ourselves out. The most stubborn of the group insisted on cycling up. Once at the top, because of the height, the wind started to kick in big time. We had to hold on to our bikes to keep them upright. We joined the small group of people at the viewpoint which overlooks the bridge and provides a great view of the city.
We had brought treats and a packed lunch with us so we found a sheltered spot and had a makeshift picnic on the ground. Food had never tasted so good.
The journey back went smoothly too. I began to hum Scott McKensie’s “If you’re going to San Francisco” under my breath as I pedalled. (I never said it was a cliché-free day!). Once off the bridge we cycled aimlessly for a while, having a few hours left on our bikes. We passed the Palace of Fine Art, a beautiful building that takes the mind back to grander times. We spied a newly-married couple taking their wedding photos in front of the building.
We reluctantly returned the bikes, haven grown quite fond of them. We hadn’t made plans for the rest of the day so we decided to seek out Lombard Street, the so-called “Crookedest street in the world”, for the kitsch factor. Following a trusty pocket map the motel had given us, we came across an unavoidable obstacle – one of San Francisco’s famously steep streets. At what seemed like a 45 degree angle, we trudged up the hill, clutching whatever we could lay our hands on to keep us from slipping and falling down the slope. Walls, telephone poles and trees all became anchors. Like crazed rock-climbers, we were determined to do this without assistance. Locals laughed as they met us coming from the opposite direction, saying we must be crazy to attempt the hill and that all normal people just take the tram up. Our determination grew stronger.
We made it to the top and soon we were at Lombard Street. It had been worth it. Impossible to describe properly, it really had to be seen to be believed. It was drawing quite a crowd. Cars streamed down the street, people excited about getting the chance to drive it. People at the bottom of the hill greeted them with cameras. We walked down it ourselves, marvelling at the houses that lined the street and wondered how the people who lived here put up with the constant tourists presence.
It was getting dark now. We made our way back towards the water, to Fisherman’s Wharf. There was a carnival atmosphere in the air, with the arcade games lighting up the darkness. The smell of popcorn and cotton candy was in the air. Business was in full swing down here, souvenir shops and outdoor apparel stores being the main draws. We split up to get food, some heading to Subway. I went to the 7-11, where I had perfected the art of getting as much value out of their nachos as possible. Only charging for the nachos themselves, you were free to load up on as many toppings as you liked. Chilli, jalapeno, onions, cheese, salsa. I assembled a huge mountain of nachos and toppings and proudly brought them to the counter. The cashier smiled at my effort, looking impressed and possibly a little horrified at my work of art.
As I was paying, a homeless guy chased my friend around the store and all of the staff got involved too, turning it into a weird Benny Hill sketch. We met up with the rest of the group and took a bus back to our motel. Stopping off at a nearby shop to get toiletries, we saw something unexpected. It was a cider that’s made in Ireland and extremely hard to get in the States. Feeling a swell of patriotism, we bought a few to take back with us.
Once back at the motel, we ate our low-brow food and had some cold ciders from home while watching a romantic comedy on tv. Ending on somewhat of a sleepover party note, that was a perfect day. The company, the weather and series of events all made it so. That was the day I fell in love with San Francisco. Over the next few days, we visited Alcatraz, Pier 39, Japan Town, more of the Tenderloin. The love affair deepened and lasts to this day.