I was lucky enough to have a partner who was brave and willing to take a road trip from Los Angeles all the way up to San Francisco. The drive was endlessly entertaining with the supped up monster trucks that could crush my little car back home and the arrogant and careless drivers who push in, cut you off or are all over the road. A number of times I had to remind my boyfriend that it was on the right hand side that we had to stay.Now as we had been staying with family previously, this was the first time it felt like we were really alone, had to fend for ourselves and dealing with real problems like putting in gas without a petrol attendant. Thank goodness I didn’t have to do it but I was forced to pay. Here I just held out a handful of money to the cashier. He was not impressed.
I was though, by the American scene that lay before us. A group of policemen had gathered around a house with a fairly sloped roof. Atop it were one ragged looking man and several officers all with their hands on the butts of their guns. There was no violence, the homeless looking dude just calmly knelt and then lay forward and waited to be arrested. A fire truck had extended the ladder onto the rooftop explaining how the cops had gotten up there but not how the man had or how they were going to get him down in cuffs.
You can see the police crowded around him
I must say that landing in the USA, I didn’t really feel one of those “oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’m here” moments like the Eiffel tower in Europe had been. I think my moment in the USA was hearing people talking in the shopping mall. That and seeing a man eating fried chicken while driving on a six lane highway. So Los Angeles was quite anticlimactic, but San Francisco I had high hopes for. When we started seeing the criss-crossed electric lines for the trams and the houses had changed to look so neat and adorable in their pastel and clapboard, I began feeling my old touristy self again.
Tram lines overhead
Quaint houses in San Francisco
Our trip took a little longer than expected so by the time we made our way to Golden Gate Bridge it was in 5pm traffic which was fine by me because it meant we had to go a little slower. I recall my heart pounding, tears forming, attempting to take both photos with my phone and record a video with my boyfriend’s camera. It was quite something to behold. The bridge was incredible too...
The towering structure is just incredible. The sheer size of the blots and suspension cables is mind blowing. Unfortunately you can’t really appreciate the Golden Gate Bridge when you are on the Golden Gate Bridge. We crossed over and made our way to the Marin Headlands which have an incredible view of the Bay and are perfect for selfie opportunities. The cold wind and smell of urine made it a little less than pleasant but the view was breath-taking (more than the scent).
Golden Gate Bridge
As a Joburger, I’ve never really encountered street signs with parking info – we only ever saw them in our K53 books when learning to drive. I wish I had taken a moment to attempt to decipher what was inscribed upon the board outside of our accommodation but after being in the car all day, freezing on the bridge, multiple one ways and my very average navigational skills, we just wanted to get inside. The no parking on a Wednesday, Friday and doomsday and only between 7am – 4:15pm or whatever ridiculous restrictions, was a little too difficult to make it out. Besides, I had only just gotten over my jet lag and my head was barely rid of travel fuzz.
All of the accommodation was done on Air BnB. It was not an easy task because unlike in SA, the American Air BnB has random hidden costs that you need to make sure you don’t get caught by. Kind of like their sales tax which changes per state and gives you a fright at the till every time.
When looking for accommodation our initial idea had been hostels but we soon discovered it would be the same price for a BnB which has a little more privacy and far less people. I am not frowning upon hostels as I have done my fair share of backpacking but when in a couple I think it better to take the bed and breakfast route.
On the app you have the option of looking up the areas as well as your rates which is all well and good until you get into the accommodation overview and see that they also charge a cleaning fee and some of them a residential levy/tax thing; causing the costs to go from R400 per night to over R600 or sometimes close to R800 or more. So it was after much scouring that we found our place.
I love that there is no key exchange, just a code for a keypad that unlocks and lets you in both the apartment building and your room. I must say that of all the places, this one wasn’t the loveliest because we were paying for the area more than anything else. We stepped out for a bite to eat a few blocks up.
I was surprised and how much the streets smelled of urine. I guess that perhaps there aren’t as many homeless people in our suburban areas or maybe it is more that we don’t spend that much time walking and using public transport whereas in Europe and the US it is the best way to get around in case you only find a parking space open on Wonderdays.
The biggest shock of my life was when we tried to buy fresh fruit and an apple cost R9. For one. I could have died and that was very the moment I realised that I was going to have a hard time not putting on weight on this trip.
The room we stayed in was tiny, basically leased out to travelers like us. It had one window which opened up to the hall meaning that there was never any true sunlight. It is easy to get lost in that eternal night and thank goodness we had put an alarm on for the next day. We rushed to get the hired car to the dealership as we had not been able to return it the next night. Much to our dismay there was a ticket upon the window for parking on the street on ‘a that’ day and getting in the way for street cleaning. It was way more than what we had budgeted for, even split between the two of us, so we kind of just pretended it didn’t exist. The minutes that he ran a check on the car were breathless and when he said we were free to go, we bolted out of there faster than our legs could carry us.
One thing I loved about San Francisco was the way the buildings looked European. Not the overpriced plastic veneer of those in L.A. They were homey and quaint and the trams made it feel like my second home – Prague.
I had seen a stunning Pantheon looking building on Instagram a few months prior which just happened to be in San Fran so once we had bought our three day bus passes, we made our way over. It really was lovely, a pond with ducks and the enormous dome. It looked somehow out of place and just in the right place at the same time.
Pantheon at the Palace of Fine Arts
We stopped for Popeye’s fried chicken a little later that day – one of the most invaluable items that I carried in the backpack was wetwipes which allowed us to clean our hands before eating and after returning from less than savory toilets. We then made our way over to Haight Street which after enough searching we found the street that time forgot. Filled with vintage clothing shops, stores filled with smoking paraphernalia and of course individuals offering various narcotics for sale.
San Fran was the start of the Hippie revolution so even though marijuana isn’t legal there, it isn’t really frowned upon. There were a large number of homeless people who looked worn out and some strung out after a lifetime of partying with no real thought for the future. It was fascinating to see because we don’t really have anything like that here at home.
A handy tip for travelling if you don’t have roaming and GPS but are dependent on Wi-Fi is to download an area on Google maps so that you can still access it once you've left the Wi-Fi behind. You can also mark little stars on places you would like to visit so it is all set out for you. We would spend each evening picking out places we might like to visit and activities we would want to partake in.
On the second day we made it down to Fisherman’s Wharf where they sold clam chowder for ridiculous prices while you got to inhale the fishy scent off the water.It was a little less than ideal so we gave it a skip but what made the trip worthwhile was discovering the old arcade museum which housed vintage coin operated games that were still operating. I literally cried when I got to play with the Sorting Hat.
Arcade game from the museum
San Francisco is renowned for its hilled streets which my poor feet will not soon forget. We walked and walked and walked some more. There was this amazing winding street on Lombard road. Unfortunately the same as Golden Gate, you can’t see it when you are on it. you can only be really hot and miserable, try to stand on a little wall to get a photo, not get a photo and make your way over to an In and Out instead.
Looking down over the beautiful Lombard Street
Hilly streets of San Francisco
We got on a little tram that was fascinating to watch at work. There are cables that run all through the city and the tram has to basically climb one line and when moving to a different area, release and bite down onto another line. It really was quite something to watch the operator go. He needs a large berth around him so that no limbs were lost.
A Streetcar named fun
That evening we managed to find a Czech restaurant which I will not dwell on as it was extremely awkward with my highly broken Czech but it was a memorable experience all the same.
We also stopped at a Target one night and searched for decent priced semi-healthy foods. I have never turned so many simple items over and over in my hands trying to decide if they are worth their ridiculous prices or not.
San Francisco was a great city I grew quite fond of but it wasn’t my favourite. There were some unique hippie places like Dolores Park and the super hairy legged girl waiting in the line for the delicious homemade ice cream at the Bi-rite creamery up the road.
On this trip I made a decision to live in the moment as clichéd as that sounds. I didn’t take nearly as many photos as I normally would have but I chose to explore and be there when it all happened. I was inspired by a photograph of an old lady up against the barricade at a parade and standing next to her were younger people, all taking photos with their phones. She simply stood with her hand under her chin and the most serene expression and gentlest of smiles on her lips. She was watching it as it occurred. It’s like that when you travel - you may not know exactly where you are or what you are doing but you are having fun exploring another country and in a few years to come you will think back to those real moments that you took to stop and truly experience and there is nothing that could ever beat that.