Last day lose a day.

Here we are in the hotel lobby. We officially checked out 4.5 hours ago and we fly out in 7 hours. What joy! Today is 31st July and we arrive home on Aug 2nd.

We were back on the cable car again this morning. We managed to get up and get going so that we avoided the sometimes 2 hours long queuing. They really do go close to each other and I have no idea how the hangers on don’t get wiped out by passing buses etc. the hills continue to amaze. I can’t imagine why they decided to build a city here. Then you read a little history and find that a relatively short time ago there was an earthquake and the not long after a fire. This city has been destroyed more than once and they didn’t get the hint.

China Town was one of the areas we had missed and we found ourselves there by accident today. The fruit and veg shops looked great and also the fish shops, some dead fish, some alive. However the frogs didn’t seem to be to my taste. We had a transport pass and we didn’t really care where we went as we were aiming for a slow day before we leave. We found the cable car museum and that was great. Not just a museum but also the “engine room” which powers the whole system. Amazing but very noisy. The cables run underground and the cars grip onto them and get pulled along. The trick is to grip just enough to go fast enough. There are also brakes – wooden ones, which are pushed against the rail when slowing is necessary. Surprise surprise they wear out every three days or so. The motors driving the whole thing are now electric (500vDC) but they used to be steam powered. I cannot imagine the noise that would have made.

Next we hopped on the F bus. I’m sure there is a more efficient way to get about but we like these buses and we know where this one goes. Pretty hopeless really although we have jumped on and off other routes.

The old bus started out pretty empty but in no time it was so full that no one else could board. The drivers make their own announcements and some are very funny. They are also very patient with people trying to pay the exact money, “No bus in North America makes change. No, you can’t pay too much, if they see that on the cameras they’ll put the price of a ticket up.”

The hills, the hills. Another thing to

Organised? chaos.

remember. San Francisco has provided yet more highlights. This holiday has been full of highlights and now we just have to fly back for some highlights of the domestic variety.

Cruisin’ the bay

We started our day by heading up to “our” coffee shop for breakfast. 

We decided to have more of a slow day today so by the time we were ready to do anything (apart from trying to make sense of the Qantas app) it was almost lunchtime.

Off down to Fishermans Wharf again and another one gets ticked off the list. Clam chowder in a bread, sour dough, bowl. Pam decided to have the waffles and enjoyed them even though the Nutella didn’t sound too good.

We cruised across San Francisco Bay and got to see the bridges and the city from a different perspective. We also sailed around Alcatraz. This island prison from which no escape was possible! Well, now a seven year old has made the swim from the island to shore. Nevertheless the temperature of the water would stop most people before they got in over their knees. We got lots of info about the city and especially the details of how this eight miles long bridge was built and what may happen in the next earthquake.

The local bakery was advertising tours so we had a look. What a process they have! I could not believe the amount of bread they make. 6000kg of flour each week. Watching the guy shaping the loaves for their second prove was amazing. He could do six in the time I take to get one wrong. I picked up a few tips and will be having a go at bigger holes in my loaves when I get back.

We stopped off at The Hyatt on the way back to our hotel and they had some very nice beer. I asked the bartender what hop was in it but that was a step to far, quite why I asked, I’m not sure.

Last night’s restaurant became tonight’s restaurant and I got the meal that wasn’t available yesterday. Pam had the ravioli that I had yesterday. It was all very nice but we sat outside and it was just a bit too cold and windy. SF weather is really changeable and  much colder that we expected.

Our last day tomorrow. We fly out at 11.30pm so maybe there is time for some last minute touring still.

Peace, love and a good feed

This morning we headed off to “the good coffee shop” for breakfast. I’m not addicted to coffee by any means but there is something satisfying about a coffee.
We took a cable car ride up a few hills to the centre of the shopping district. It is impossible to describe the hills. They just keep on going and every time you look down a side road they’re doing the same thing. San Francisco must look like a whole lot of egg cartons when viewed from the side.

Map reading to the fore and off we went. We hopped on a bus and got off not too far from where we wanted to be. Haight and Ashbury again. This time we were in search of food and that wasn’t so easy. Plenty of freaks and shops with odd things for sale but not too much food. We ended up in a shop with a lot of promise. 

A painted lady. First done by beatniks and now kept up by rich IT workers.

The pastrami sandwich (to share) was good but the cappuccino was built to a different plan. More map reading and we arrived at the Conseratory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park. It’s a nice park with few directions but the Greenhouse is amazing. 5 or 6 rooms of different climates with different plants. It really was stunning place.

The lady who had the job of greeting everyone pointed us towards a bus and we were back in the shopping district (Bloomingdales in a Westfield complex) in no time. From here we caught an old bus thingy with electric power and running on rails. The driver was a bit of a character. He used his horn to the max and gave a running commentary as he drove along his route. He seemed at once both aggressive and laid back – laid back for his passengers and aggressive to erring motorists. Several people have felt the need to apologise for Trump, this one was very public.

We finally got to see the Sea Lions on Pier 39. We’re told that these guys used to live on a rock but after an earthquake they moved into the harbour area. The authorities were under pressure to get rid of them as they were climbing onto and messing up people’s boats but they realised that they were making more money from tourists so they said the boat owners could go jumpand the sea lions are still here.
We set off for the Bay Bridge but en route we decide to head for a feed or a drink. We had seen a place that advertised on their wall “drink with dignity”, naturally this was the place for us. The beers were excellent but wine? Well, as the barman said, “we’re not much of a wine bar, it’s Chardonnay for white and Cab Sav for red.”

Even though it was uphill we decided to head back to find a place to eat. Our criteria may not have been the best, popular, noisy or queuing places were out immediately. Anyway we found a place where the only queue was at the single toilet. By the time we were settled there was a queue at the door. Our waiter was a bit of a character but he brought us a basket of bread and a bowl of chillies so I wasn’t going to comment. He did everything right for us, described the wine, gave a taste, smiled and approved our menu choices. I ordered a creamy sauce ravioli job and loved it. I must have missed the cream bit in the menu but I’m glad I did, it was delicious. Pam went for a chicken and mushroom dish and maybe thought better of Italian food than she previously did.
One thing in bartenders (not a snack!) favour is that, when it comes to spirits, they seem to have an individual approach to measuring a shot. My Glennfiddich this evening was perhaps even bigger than I would give myself. We seem to spend a lot and spend a lot of time in the lobby bar in order to save the 12.50 per day charge for wifi in the room #stingy Marriott.
At the end of the day it was the familiar refrain, “that was a nice day”. How lucky we are that we have only had good days!

I should have worn some flowers in my hair

50 years since the summer of love. How very exciting and I didn’t even know I’d think it was!

See the banjo player on the corner.

Fancy being in the Haight Ashbury area. So many things happened in this far away place of magic when I was about sixteen and discovering the music that would stay with me forever.

As is fitting for old farts we took a bus tour. Our driver was very good and gave a great commentary. He even let us know about his driving, “You may hear some honking as I try to get this bus across three lanes before the bridge. Prius and Volvo drivers are best, never cut in front of a Range Rover, the others are more polite.”

Cable cross section.

The Golden Gate Bridge has fog at its top and apparently this is normal. It’s covered in a red primer and looks good. The military wanted it to be yellow and black stripes but luckily that idea was ditched when the local people heard about it. The cables holding the whole thing up are made of many strands of wire about half pencil size. Enough to circle the globe three times. People actually walk along the cables once a month to check on its integrity. When it’s windy it sways 11′ each way.

The weather in San Francisco has been a bit of a surprise – to us that is. Mark Twain once said, ” The coldest winter day I ever spent was in San Francisco in summer.” Because its water on three sides the fog hangs around and then when the wind picks up it’s really quite cool. Most of today is meant to be sunny but still only a top of 18 degrees.

When we were in San Francisco’s equivalent of Central Park we came across these musicians. No hat out for money, just a bunch of guys having a good time. If we weren’t on a bus I may have stayed a bit longer.

Check out the one armed sleeper.

On Fishermans Wharf there is always something happening. We came across this busker, Orion Griffiths, “If you follow me on Instagram it would mean the world to me.” He’s balanced on a rolling metal pipe with paper cups holding two more boards on top. Pretty impressive really.

San Francisco really is a hilly place. The only flat pieces are where the bay (hi to Otis) has been filled to allow more building. I have had Sanfrancisco Bay Blues in my head since we arrived, I wish I could remembered more words and get it out. Maybe I could busk, that would clear the place. I’m reading Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography and I find he spent some time in SF, if I’d paid more attention to his lyrics I would have known that anyway.
I have to say I quite like this city. I’m certainly not planning a move but it has something about it. It’s not as energetic as NY but there seems to be some sort of buzz about it. Maybe it’s just because I can see all of these old houses that used to be full of beatniks and flower people as well as the cable cars and of course the hill where Steve Macqueen did that great car chase in Bullit. Then there’s the food Po Boys sound attractive but they turn out to be just another sub/sandwich. Maybe crab or chowder soon.

Shit that’s a lot of water

This is the small American falls but it is enormous.

I haven’t been in a position to see the whole falls yet but this Canadian one is unbelievable. So much water. So much spray. So much noise.

The river flows along here and then it just flops over the edge. By my calculations it would take just five and three quarter hours to fill (or empty) Sydney Harbour! That’s some hose.
We walked along and around this afternoon and found that everywhere is further than you thought if you don’t know where you’re going. We even happened upon Idiot Alley where the music is loud and the general noise is louder. All of the most awful commercial ‘let me take your money’ shops and arcades. Fortunately we know where they are now and we can stay clear. More fortunately they have been kept back from the actual falls.

We decided on a bus tour. At first glance Niagra seems to have the falls and that’s it but really, there is a lot more. Our tour guide/bus driver was a retired principal and, as another passenger said, he used the “tell’em, tell’em again and tell’em what you told ’em” principle. Anyway he obviously loved his town and was pleased to tell us all about it. The highlight of the tour was probably not the butterfly farm or the rapids or the flower clock or even the behind the falls walk. It was called The Hornblower, for no apparent reason, and it entailed getting into a pink poncho and standing on a large catamaran as it sailed up to the falls. To say we got sprayed is an understatement. My watch got misted and my phone refused to recognise my wet finger. Many people on the boat were way more excited than we were but we were definitely having a great time. Another thing to remember for a long time.

We didn’t go for the hotel meal this evening but went to Cousin Vinnie’s. A vaguely Italian place with live music outside and us inside. The food was slow but good and the music was good but not overwhelming, as it was outside. In fact it was so quiet that I only recognised about 20% of the songs : Pam did much better.

We shuttled off to the airport early in the morning but not before breakfast (in the restaurant that could most benefit from a time and motion study) thankfully. We drove along past Lake Ontario and it really looks like an ocean, albeit with tiny waves. The bank looks normal and then it’s water as far as the eye can see. It rained all the way there so once again we had just lucked in on the best weather. Rain for traveling and sun for sightseeing. The flight was delayed for half an hour and was a cheapo with no food supplied. By the time we arrived, having lost a few hours we were ready for the next stage/meal.

The drive into Fishermans Wharf took us through some of the less salubrious areas of San Francisco. The houses don’t look good but the surrounding area looks worse, truly brown and parched, like an Australian desert with very little vegetation but somehow more barren. Maybe I see the well adapted plants in Australian but here I see only the dry hard brownness.

Our hotel is the same as any – just fine and the bar food and drink is good. Tomorrow another tour and we’ll look into a game of baseball perhaps. Along with the important things like sourdough and a fish taco. We have four nights here so we should be able to take our time and get ready for our last flight. (for this trip, no death wish there).

Grand central on

Who knew a railway station could look like this? We were told that Grand Central Station was worth a look so as dutiful tourists do we went to check it out. I expected a station in the old style, fancy building with tracks inside. Well, the building was fancy alright but inside was a revelation. Shops of all descriptions. A fresh food market. A food hall. An expensive restaurant. Huge halls and passageways leading to trains. Inside all of this was a mass of people using it all. There were people who obviously had no where else to go and were eating the cheapest food outside alongside people in suits and fancy gear having a quiet drink or eating a good meal. Many people just appeared to be wandering (us) and lots were sitting on the stairs. As well as all of this it was obviously a functioning station which seemed to have been designed as a multi-use space. Amazing! Really worth a visit.Off to the airport at 6am. Not the first time but definitely the first time we’ve gone to Laguardia- it sounds like something poisonous in the water or an STD! Anyway we got a cab and got there with no problems. The airport itself is being rebuilt and I’m sure everyone thinks it’s a good idea, it’s very crowded. We left an hour late and with only a bagel (me) and a muffin (Pam) for breakfast. By the time we arrived at 1.50pm we were rather hungry. A bacon sandwich and we’re off to see the falls. Not that we had to go far, we can see them from our window.

The falls on the left are on the US side and the ones on the right are Canadian. Canada definitely got the best of that deal, there’s are horseshoe shaped and have an unbelievable amount of water tumbling over the edge. The lake that it comes from is so large it looks like the ocean as you drive by. There’s no fear of the water running out. Lake Erie runs into The Niagara River and on to Lake Ontario 2,400,000 litres per second. That’s 120 of our Jamberoo pools every second!

Rockefeller to Brooklyn 

We booked our tickets to go up to the top of The Rockefeller Centre online and decided to have tea first. We ate at a table in an area that becomes an ice skating rink in winter. Very nice but the usual problem; our sharing plate of calamari would have fed a table of six. Anyway that’s a third world problem for sure and the following meal was very nice. Our “server”, that’s how she referred to herself, was telling us stories about her drinking a beer called Crazy Bitch and ordering too much pasta and taking it home. Very odd but interesting. We hoped to see the view from the Top of the Rock in daylight and with the lights on and we managed that. We were 70 floors up and the lift was very fast, so fast that some had trouble with their ears.

I liked this window.

I guess most people go up the Empire State Building but we were glad we chose this one, The Empire State was one of the few buildings we could recognise. We spent an hour there and really thought that we got our money’s worth.

On our China cruise a couple of New Yorkers gave us their contact details and asked us to get in touch when we arrived. We did, so in the rain today we caught the subway down to Brooklyn and met them at their apartment, five floors up with a view out towards Staten Island. Naturally we didn’t know what to expect but they were very welcoming and took us for a walk around Prospect Slopes, their area.

It was fascinating to see such a different streetscape. Brownstones of all shapes and sizes. What we would call a terrace but referred to as row houses. Even the fire escapes we’ve all seen in the movies! This is an area that we would never have stumbled upon and we had a guided tour. We also were taken inside their son’s home, a four storey brownstone with the most amazing woodwork inside. It was much lighter and larger than it looked from the front and four storeys made it a large home. One of the other houses I photographed was, I was told, a cathouse. Guess which one. For those as dumb me a cathouse is a whorehouse.

I’m not sure I believed these fire hydrants were real.
We really did feel privileged to be given this insight into an area we would never see and to top it all off Amol and Muntaj wouldn’t let us pay for lunch. We have met some lovely people and these two were certainly in that number.

Liberty Island +

Up early again and off in a yellow cab to downtown New York. Apparently down town refers to South and Uptown North. Mid is unsurprisingly in the middle. We weren’t at all sure what to expect so we went to the huge queue and asked the guy in the coloured shirt. He tol us we were meeting a guide and where we should go. Good job he knew what we were doing! Sandra was our guide and she was a no nonsense kinda gal. She had little patience with people who wanted to stop and dawdle. More than one group of people was left behind as we marched on. We really appreciated this and got along with her approach well.

The original torch had to be replaced when a munitions dump blew up with a force equal to 5+ on the Richter scale. It started out as all copper but then they added the windows before it was replaced altogether. The builder was the same on that built The Eiffel Tower and the internal structure is very similar.We had to walk up about 247 steps to get to the pedestal, from where we could see the city and surrounds. It was a foggy day but that actually looked quite attractive – in a foggy kind of way.

After our Herculean efforts at stair climbing we came back down and back to the ferry and Eliss Island. This is where the first immigrants were processed. The doctors were called six second specialists because that’s how long they had to assess each person. Anyone who was suspected of being unhealthy physically or mentally was marked and sent to the infirmary for further checks. Initially it was a four or five hour process but it ended up being several days as things got busier. 300 to a room dormitories were the answer and when they were full people had to sleep on the benches. The whole place has an odd feel to it. On the one hand people (often poor, ignorant and non English speaking) were treated pretty poorly but on the other this was the start of a new and comparatively successful life for many of them. Of course many of them were extremely successful. The five major hotdog firms were all begun by Ellis Island immigrants. We celebrated this by having a sampler of one hotdog from each of the companies for lunch.

Back to the ferry and downtown before we were back on the subway. This time we bought our own tickets and made our own way. The system was still stuffed but at least we were wise to it and hopped off at 42 St rather than bypassing the stops that we would have preferred.

Ellis Island started off just a three acre dot but as the river was fairly shallow it was gradually filled in and expanded to what it is today. New York and New Jersey disputed the ownership, which is shared with the Federal Government but The High Court decided that they share. NY has the original 3acres and NJ has the rest, even though it was NY that filled and built the expansion. Blind justice I guess.

New York snapshot and show

Hotel breakfasts are never wonderful but when you’re supplied with a little bottle of Tabasco to go with it things do improve. After ignoring pastries, pancakes etc we headed off with our guide. First stop Central Park with all of the horses and carriages waiting to take guests around the park. The whole place is totally man made. The only natural features are the rocks. Manhattan is built on rock, granite and that makes skyscrapers a whole lot easier to build than they are in, say, Dubai.

Who knows? Maybe an itchy ear.
Our guide was very sensitive to our needs and soon realised talking about things we may have seen in movies was perhaps not useful. However John Lennon was more relevant to us. Apparently Yoko was the one who said no to the statue and went for his two favourite songs and a place of peace. Nice one Yoko.
The Dakota Building is just over the road from the park. When it was built (on the wrong side of the park) critics said to the builder, “You might as well go out with the Indians in Dakota.” He had a sense of humour and called it Dakota. Obviously he did well and that side of the park was soon full of desirable buildings. Apartments here are sometimes three floors, not just flats. The statue is designed by a woman. Women weren’t admitted to art schools at that time but the designers saw her work and commissioned this from her.Central Park certainly is looking as it’s designers envisaged. They said it would take 100 years before the trees etc were established.
We were on the subway a couple of times. They were so hot. It was like a very hot day with an huge injection of dirty steam. Most oppressive and pretty rank.

This horse is trying to hide his old chip packet.
Movie watchers may recognise this. In winter there is the big tree with skaters in front.

Memorial to the 374? fireman who died 9/11
Each vertical wall has water running over it.
One of the new towers to replace the 9/11 ones.
The stock exchange.
Apparently this is a popular postcard image of some church or other.
We had no thoughts of visiting the twin towers memorial but it was interesting. Our guide explained just how many other buildings, subways, shops etc were effected by the blast. The memorial is very classy and when they’ve finished the building it will all be very impressive. We had lunch in a cafe which served as an emergency medical post. The sandwiches were obviously designed to keep people alive for a long time.

Rare roast beef.
We finally got back on the subway to go to see The Book of Mormon. The trains were running on a special timetable so that track work etc could be carried out on the weekend. This meant that the express train was stopping at all stations. No real problem, just takes longer. Then suddenly it skips three stations so we have to get off and go back in the opposite direction. We arrived with not a moment to spare.

These photos were taken just before they said filming was not allowed. It would be a shame to delete them. A great show, go and see it if you get the chance.

Look for the busker above the boy.
A walk down our street to Times Square for tea in an Irish pub and then checking out the buskers. They were much better than the the sax players we had seen all day. I have photos of the area and the video displays but the pictures don’t do it justice. Massive HD screens advertising all sorts with every person looking very glamorous. The people on the street weren’t all glamorous and some were a long way from it but it was a very friendly safe-feeling crowd.

Leaving Swiss efficiency

We were in the airport more than two hours before our flight today. Nothing unusual here, we are always early. We found there to be an enormous queue to get to the check in desk with few staff around to answer questions etc. nevertheless we got through and thought that we could now take our time and catch up, on wifi, with family and friends. Bad idea. We found ourselves in an even longer queue in order to get into the secure area.

Of course we got through that, although there were some comments made between ourselves about the shambolic system which we were required to use to display our bits and pieces for examination. Once on the other side we relaxed and had a coffee and a muffin. When Pam said maybe we should go on to the gate and wait there, I thought why not – as good a place as any. So we did, or at least we tried. We actually joined another queue and waited to again show our documents before being allowed to go on and join the next queue to board the plane. One guy in the line was telling us that his gate closed in one minute. He didn’t seem to be too worried, he said it would be okay but his French wife, who was in  another line, was not so happy. Once we were on the plane there were no complaints but I did feel sorry for the airport and flight staff who must have to deal with a lot of irritated people.
We made it to New York and found out a few things. Through the taxi drivers window we saw typically American houses, school buses and freeway over passes. When we got into Times Square (our hotel) we discovered the alternative to the garden of five senses. This is the overload of five senses. So loud, so bright, so hot, so fast, so very different from any other experience. We lost a few hours today so that’s the excuse but we came back into our hotel to eat rather than brave the outside world for any longer.