California Dreams

San Francisco Travel Blog

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View from top of Macy's
My last morning in Canada got off to a flying start.  Rushing round my bunk collecting the various belongings that had managed to scatter themselves round amazingly in the three nights I slept there, one or two things would inevitably be left behind.  No doubt amongst this privilged group is the handful of metal coins that inevitably end up all over the floor, on the bed, on top of high places they have no way of reaching and other strange locations, regardless of where I am.  I think it took me the best part of an hour to pick all the money off the floor in my room when moving out of the house in Anfield for the last time. 

More significantly however,  I left my laptop charger + foreign plug adaptor thingy still plugged into the socket next to my bed.
Union Square
  I realised this as the cab taking me to the airport was just turning onto 5th avenue, when I belatedly thought to myself "now what haven't I packed that I should have."  I was going to ask the driver to turn round and I'd run back in to get it, but time was short and in the end I had to run to make my flight on time so I guess it was the right decision to make.  As luck would have it, one of my roomates, a 36 year old student from Kentucky, also called James Michael, has a Dell laptop and was happy to let me use his charger whenever he wasn't.  I will still have to buy one at some point of course, but for now lets see how long my good luck lasts, because any one that I buy in the state will need yet another adaptor in order to work back in the UK, and based on how many times I had to nip back to recollect my old one while in the states, it would probably need me to buy more than one.
Yerba Buena park and fountain.



So anyway,  the flight was an eye-opening experience.  I hadn't realised that you go through immigration and customs and all the necessary procedures for entering the US before even boarding the plane.  It makes sense of course to find out if you will be refused entry before you actually get there, but the European way generally is to send you back if that is the case.  The result of this was on leaving the aeroplane, you emerge through the same gate that departures use, into the main departure lounge.  This for some reason really disoriented me.
Night time at Yerba Buena
  It was busy and full of people heading in the opposite direction to me.  

After collecting my bags the next step was to figure out how to reach my hostel.  Originally I had anticipated just getting a taxi to each place but a check on my bank balance forced me to reconsider that option, and therefore I had no directions, and indeed no American money at all to use the phone with either. Just as well really, I didn't have any money to pay the cab with but likely wouldn't have realised this until arriving at the hostel. "What's the big deal you say?  Just use the bureau du change like anyone else?"  Well a great idea in principle, but I welcome anyone to walk around a major international airport carrying half their own bodyweight in bags that always manage to fall into the most uncomfortable position possible on your shoulders; following the clearly marked signs for the currency exchange only to keep bumping into obstacles such as armed guards standing next to a roped off area with big "No entry" signs plastered over it.
Me and some cool stuff.
Twenty minutes I staggered all over SFO's international terminal, getting hungry, thirsty and every so slightly frustrated. 

The next logical step of course was to go to Subway, so I did.  6 inch Italian BMT on wheat bread with light mayo and extra pickles is enough to make any situation seem a bit better, even more so when the seating area has wi-fi internet.  I had to pay to use it,  $2.50 for 24 hours if I recall but this seemed the best way of finding my way to the hostel.  They have directions posted on their website (www.adelaidehostel.com) and recommend taking BART.  Great advice, now what the hell is BART?  I still haven't figured out what it stands for, but it is basically San Francisco's version of the monorail/underground/subway train that most cities in this part of the world have.
Aerial view of SF, similar to the view out the window on the plane on the way in.
  $5.15 to get to Powell St Station, and then it is just a simple matter of following these directions to get to the place:

1. Take BART going towards San Francisco
2. Get off at the POWELL ST station.
3. Go NORTH onto POWELL ST.
4. Turn LEFT onto GEARY ST.
5. Turn RIGHT onto TAYLOR ST.
6. Turn LEFT onto ISADORA DUNCAN LN.

Easy enough?  Ha!  Somewhere between steps 2 and 3 it should mention which exit to use.  I recall being put in a similar situation when going to Liverpool University's open day for clearing students, the directions said leave Lime St Station and turn right up Brownlow Hill; I left the station and turned right to end up on Greater Norton St, which invalidated any further instructions and left me very confused.
Mine no more.
  If my memory serves, I ended up phoning Dad to ask for the number of the university switchboard to ask for directions, which didn't really help matters as I was totally unable to describe where I was.  As it turned out, I was actually pretty much where I was supposed to be but enough of that diversion.

Annnnnyway,  I didn't know where Powell St was,  didn't particularly understand how the road system worked, despite it being the simplest possible configuration you could think of (indeed that is an interesting point, north american cities seem to all have these criss crossing perpindicular streets which have the same name along their entire length, compared to European streets which twist and turn and go all over the place, changing names more often than David Beckham's hairstyle)  But somehow this knowledge didn't help me, I think some part of my brain ends up switching off when I carry my pack around,  or maybe the straps on my shoulders and back cut off some of the blood to my head because I have real trouble thinking when confronted with any kind of problem in these situations.
Not the view from my hostel sadly, but a nice picture nonetheless.
  The solution to this particular conundrum was to ask a cop for help.  I saw two of them at the bottom of a hill just standing round, presumably to give foreigners directions.  So I walked down this steep hill and politley enquired if they knew where Isadora Duncan St was.  They didn't, to my not great surprise, but knew where Taylor St was, the last place listed on the directions.  Can you guess which way it was?

I bet you can, right back up that bloody hill!  Eventually I found the place, checked in and was given a key to room 6.  It is a 4 bedded dorm.  Three of us are guys, and the other is a German girl called Jasmine. I wouldn't like to be in her position but she seemed happy enough.  She has been here for 10 days and is planning to stay for a while, I think as a student.
The USS Pampanito.
  The aformentioned James Michael has been here for two weeks and will be for another week.  He used to run his own plumping company but has decided to come back to student life.  It is a bit of a shock to him he says,  especially having to find a job that pays $12 an hour.  The last guy is called Gary, and is French.  I never met a frenchie called Gary before and suspect that is a name he adopted after being fed up of teaching americans to pronouce his real name or something.

After settling in I decided to go out exploring the city on foot.  I didn't plan to be out long, and didn't bring my camera or a map, both of which turned out to be a mistake.  I 'wandered' around for about five hours, ending up at Fisherman's Wharf and discovering that it didn't seem all that brilliant.
I think I walked down this street while lost.
  Everyone who heard me say I was going to San Francisco inevitably would say "Go to Fisherman's Wharf, it's brilliant."  So I did, and found it was not unlike Blackpool.  Maybe I wasn't in the right area or something, but it wasn't something that made me think "wow, I have to tell everyone else about this place when I get home" 

To be fair however, Blackpool doesn't have a world war II submarine docked on one of it's piers for you to look around, which is a shame because it was a fascinating piece of history.  Only $6 for access and a portable audio tour thing you carried round.  The USS Pampanito had a crew of 85 men, a fact I kept reminding myself of when I had to move out of the way to left one of the other 8 people on board walk past me.
Yes, this is a man dressed as Darth Vader walking across the busiest square in San Francisco, along with a guy wearing a cardboard box.
  The audio commentary was a perfect balance of facts from a cool female voice, and actual accounts from the crew, including it's CO.  Listening to them talk about life on board their sub in the war you could almost imagine what it was like at sea.  They also described a mission to sink Japanese troops ships, only to discover afterwards that they had been carrying British and Australian POWs.  The story goes that they surfaced to see lots of rafts floating and then a tall guy stood up waving an Aussie soldier's hat and shouted "You can bloody well sink our ship so you can bloody well pick us up you stupid yanks! We are British and Australian prisoners you've sent into the water"  All 83 survivors were picked up, making what was a crowded sub more like a zoo.
Yes, this is a man dressed as Darth Vader walking across the busiest square in San Francisco, along with a guy wearing a cardboard box.
  There was no doctor on board, the closest being the pharamacist's mate, but remarkbly only one man died from hypothermia.

After the spine tingling tour of a 50 year old war machine,  I spent an hour or so walking along the coast up as far as the Ferry Building, which was something else I had heard a lot about and didn't seem particularly great.  The Liver building is more impressive in my opinion.  From where I was standing, I could see lots of buildings which looked kind of cool.  But it was getting cold and I wanted to head back home before it was dark, so I started walking back home.

In principle the simple network of streets makes it easy.  Taylor St runs all the way across the city, as does Post St, and where these two intersect is where my hostel is.  Just keep walking in the same direction and you will find one of them eventually.  So of course I ended up hopelessly lost.  Chinatown is without doubt a really cool place, full of culture and history, but not somewhere you want to be walking round on your own at night, without any idea where you are going.  The downfall with the above mentioned theory about the intersecting streets is that if you walk in the wrong direction, it may take you several hours before you realise.  As a result I was constantly guessing that I had gone far enough to have reached Taylor or Post by now, and changed direction.  It is a 45 minute walk from Fisherman's Wharf to Union Square, the nearest place of interest near the hostel.  I managed it in about 2 hours.  Still I saw a lot of the city, and didn't get mugged despite obviously being a tourist.

I asked for directions several times off people, but mostly they didn't seem to know either which struck me as rather odd.  The last set of people I asked were the valets for the Marriet Hotel.  Once I had managed to tell them where I was going, they were convinced I meant Addadgio not Adelaide they laughed.  I had crossed the street to ask them for help, but if I had walked for another 50 yards I would have ended up on Taylor St and found my way home. 

This sadly is the end of my day.  Sad because for a while I thought I would be going to Murphy's Bar,  an Irish pub celebrating it's 10th birthday that a large party of the guests from the hostel were planning to go to, and had arranged transport.  Jasmine invited me along so I rushed into the shower to wash away a days worth of sweat and grime from travelling, and was all dressed up ready to go when she casually reminded me to bring some ID.  I haven't needed ID for a while to get into pubs so was surprised by this.  I asked her if they check up on people often, and she replied that anyone who even looked a few years older than 21 would have to produce some ID.  21.  I am 20 and am legally entitled to do anything an adult can do back in the UK.  Same goes for Canada.  Sadly in the US it means I am only old enough to learn to drive, buy cigarettes, get married, own a gun, adopt children, donate blood,  start my own religion, be sent to prison instead of a youth institution for breaking the law but not buy or consume alcohol.  What a load of crap.  The other James in the room, who conveniently goes by the name Michael asked where my fake id was.  I told him that I never really used fake ID, and if I did, it would probably have been designed to convince a doorman I was 19. 

As it was, they went and had a great time.  I stayed behind and ended up watching World Trade Centre with some swedish people and a girl from LA.  This was kind of boring except for the constant game of musical chairs we played as people came and left the TV room.  It's also a really cheesy film but I feel I can't really say much about it, so soon after the anniversary of the event it is about.  So I went to bed and so ended my first day in San Francisco.

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So I had a late start today,  slept in after the excitement of getting lost in Chinatown.  By the time I emerged into the fresh Pacific air I was determined not to stray too far away from the vicinity of the hostel, so mostly took to walking around Union Square and sitting in different places to watch a city go by.

I posted yesterday a photo of a man dressed as Darth Vader, the funny thing really is that I was the only person who took any notice of him whatsoever.  For the rest of the people nearby it was no more exciting than one of the hundreds of pigeons swooping down over you.

This is a shot of Union Square taken from the viewing lounge of Macy's department store.  Being a weekend it was absolutley jam packed full of people, so my plan to buy some of their famous cheesecake was scuppered.  I hate queueing up with tourists,  we all have different approaches to how queues work, and being British I generally end up being pushed in front of a lot.  Inevitably I got bored of staying in the same place for a long time, so stretched my legs and walked away, although this time taking note of the general direction in which I was travelling.  I also noted that there was to be a free viewing of a film in the square, everyone was invited, just bring a pillow or blanket to sit on, because it will get cold.  The plan was to come back and take part in what would have been for me a unique experience.


The day before I had seen the seaside parts of town, so decided to head in the other direction.  Stopping to pick up a slize of pizza enroute to nowhere in particular, I ended up in this remarkable park.  Known as the Yerba Buena Park, it has a strange fountain that you can sort of walk in, or at least walk around.  I wandered around taking photos of the surrounding buildings, which were pretty cool looking in a few cases, then saw a crowd of people walking through a door.  There they were turned back by a kindly looking black man, and all went round to another entrance.  Despite the fact that I had correctly worked out the system and his role in it, I felt that I had to go and ask him what was happening.  "Go round to the other entrance"  "What is inside once I do?" "Oh, you didn't know?" "No, but I would love to" "It's a Japanese Taiko Show" *blank look ensues* "Basically they play different kinds of drums really loud" "Cool, how much is it?" "$40" *another blank look* "I promise you it's worth it"

He had a badge saying volunteer usher on it, so I decided based on this, and the large crowd of both Japense and Caucasian people who he had directed to the other entrance that I should give it a look.  Happily my favourite line for events like these proved useful: "Do you do a student discount?", that saved me $6.

Bear in mind that I had no idea this show was going on, I had just literally walked around and seen a crowd of people, so followed them.  It could have been the biggest letdown of the trip (that came the next day) but actually it was just bloody brill.

Without regurgitating the lengthy speeches the master of ceremony gave between each act, Taiko Dojo was started in San Francisco by a man now known as Grand Master Tanaka.  I presume his parents weren't so full of themselves to actually call him that as a child, so he must be pretty good at whatever he did to earn such a title.  He teaches anyone who wants to learn the art of Taiki.  It is hard to explain more than the kind black man told me, that they hit drums really loud.  There is also dance involved a bit, and lots of improvisation going on.  I will try to add a video or something to say what it is really like.

Suffice to say I loved it,  I can still feel my joints shaking with the booming of the drums.  There were also two acts by a martial arts demonstration group who were incredibly funny.  None of this kicking pieces of wood in half crap or anything but lots of acrobatics to modern music, with fancy kicks and other martial arts stuff thrown in. 

The grand finale was a piece called Tsunami, Grand Master Tanaka's original composition back in the 60's when he first came to San Francisco.  It builds up slowly, gathering momentum until the last part which is a series of duets played on the biggest drum I have ever seen or imagined in my life.  It is a double sided affair, with one person playing each side.  They look to be tryign to smash down a wall or something the way they play it.  Their heads only come up to about 1/3 of the way up it's skin.  This part is improvised, with Tanaka providing a backing rhythm.  There are always two people playing it, but slightly staggered so that when one finishes, the other continues for a few minutes while the new guy warms up. 

I think the best way to convey how amazing this was to listen to is to say that just this final stage lasted well over fifteen minutes, and not once do you think to yourself "you know, they should really think about adding extra bits into this" or anything like that. 

It was a great way to spend $34, and afterwards I was able to get some cool nighttime shots of the San Francisco skyline.  I arrived back in the hostel at around 11pm, and saw a sign up saying they had 4 free baseball tickets for tomorrow (Sunday),  so I went up and asked about them and just like that, I was going to the baseball game.  But that is another story for another day.


View from top of Macys
View from top of Macy's
Union Square
Union Square
Yerba Buena park and fountain.
Yerba Buena park and fountain.
Night time at Yerba Buena
Night time at Yerba Buena
Me and some cool stuff.
Me and some cool stuff.
Aerial view of SF, similar to the …
Aerial view of SF, similar to the…
Mine no more.
Mine no more.
Not the view from my hostel sadly,…
Not the view from my hostel sadly…
The USS Pampanito.
The USS Pampanito.
I think I walked down this street …
I think I walked down this street…
Yes, this is a man dressed as Dart…
Yes, this is a man dressed as Dar…
Yes, this is a man dressed as Dart…
Yes, this is a man dressed as Dar…