San Francisco – Cable cars, Chinatown and Crabs

SF SkyscrapersSan Francisco – arrived here very late on Friday night – 11 pm SF time, working out to 1 am Chicago time. Fortunately the bags arrive quickly and Hertz get me a Dodge Magnum with a huge Hemi engine to drive the way to the city centre.

A sidenote: I have taken the Tomtom satnav with me on this trip, and I noticed that it gets rather confused by the sudden location changes as I travel across the continent. I turn it on as I leave the airport but it takes ages to get a satellite fix, so that I am halfway to downtown before it springs to life and guides me to the hotel. Maybe it’s suffering from jetlag too!

The Omni San Francisco is just the right kind of place I want to stay the weekend: an upscale four star with excellent service, a great room with a very comfortable bed and good location in the financial district just next to Chinatown. Not to mention that it also offers very good prices over weekends when the usual business customers are at home!

Cable carSaturday morning I wake up at a leisurely hour. Yes, I want to go out to explore, but I also need some rest and recuperation after my to-and-fro travels last week. After an excellent breakfast (blueberry pancakes with lots of maple syrup – yum!), I set off up the hill of California Street towards Chinatown. Right outside the hotel I see my first San Francisco cable car of the day! These trams moved by underground cables were apparently common in many cities even in Europe, but only in SF have they survived replacement by buses, and have now become the icon of the city just as London’s double-deckers. It’s a glorious sunny day, starting off fresh, but soon I have to take off my leather jacket. Chinatown is a three by five block rectangle of streets crammed with restaurants, dim sum parlours and little shops selling not only cheap chinese artefacts, Chinatown paradebut also expensive furniture and jade and ivory carvings. Suddenly to the sound of beating drums a long red paper dragon comes round the corner, followed by other costumed dancers in a long parade. It’s some kind of celebration, presumably with political overtones as then several men with rather serious faces appear, waving Taiwanese (?) flags, escorted by San Francisco’s Finest appropriately riding Harleys.

I continue walking into the North Beach area on the way to the harbour. Here China gives way to Italy, instead of dim sum we now have pizza and gnocchi, and street caf├ęs offering espresso coffee. Quaint touches of an old Italian community abound, there’s even an Alfa Romeo garage with 1970s Spiders being serviced!

From North Beach I walk down to the waterfront: Fisherman’s Wharf is an obligatory stop for SF visitors. Yes, it’s one giant tourist trap, with dozens of souvenir stalls, and “I escaped from Alcatraz”-T-shirt shops, but the view makes it all worthwhile: the blue waters of the Bay with bobbing sailing boats, Alcatraz Island with its white prison in front of the hills of Marin County, the orange span of The Golden Gate bridge to the left. Here too, plenty of restaurants: San Francisco offers the most diverse cuisine in the whole of the US! I stop at one of many crab stalls and enjoy a wonderful crabmeat roll with a Bud to drink.Crab sandwich

I walk along to Pier 39, which features the highest concentration of tourist tack, but also a unique attraction: a sealion colony that established itself right here sometime in the 1990s occupying three wooden piers and then refused to go away. Apperently they find the spot congenial for rest and recuperation after dodging the sharks in the Bay! The crowds are getting thicker still, but this is no ordinary Saturday afternoon: it’s the “Navy Week”, and the pilots of the “Blue Angels” squadron are about to start a show over San Francisco! A free airshow is not a thing to miss, so I watch the F/A 18s roar in and perform their evolutions over the water and the city.

Time to go back to the Omni to get the car and pick up my boss at the airport. He’s come in direct from Milan via Frankfurt – claims to be awake and well after the 11 hour flight, but that’s a tad optimistic. We head for a restaurant nearby the hotel and by the time he’s finished his steak, he’s already nodding off!

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