Say Goodnight

Just do me if you please

 

18th December 2010

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We were off to a slow start this morning. With no real rush to get up and no real plan for the day we enjoyed a wonderfully lazy and gloriously gradual wake up. We couldn't stay in bed all day however and eventually headed out onto the damp and drizzly streets of San Francisco. After only a short walk we were at the corner of Union Square with Powell Street where we came across one of the city's most iconic sights, the historical cable cars. They've been rolling up and down these hills since 1873.

In their heyday they had over a dozen lines but now there are only three still operating, Powell & Hyde, Powell & Mason and California Street. To visit San Francisco without riding a cable car would have been like going to Venice and not riding a gondola. It had to be done.

We waited for the Powell & Hyde line. We chose that one in particular because I knew it went past the top of Lombard Street, another famous landmark, known as "the world's crookedest street".

The first one that arrived was standing room only and could only take on board four people. Apparently they have a capacity for sixty. We had to wait for the next.

When it arrived it was equally as packed. We squeezed ourselves on, paid our $5 each to the conductor and walked inside the enclosed section.

I was secretly disappointed that we weren't hanging onto the side standing on the splashboards. That would have been fun.

Instead we stood at the back not far from where the conductor stood once he collected everyone's fares. He also seemed to be the brake man, an important job to stop up careering to our death at the bottom.

In addition to the conductor there was a gripman at the front who controlled the movement of the cable car. With both hands and some considerable strength he released this enormous handbrake and with a jolt we hooked on to the underground cable that dragged us slowly up Powell Street towards an area known as Nob Hill.

Julie and I contained our sniggering to a minimum. It was a very steep incline. We were even finding it difficult just stopping ourselves from rolling to the back.

"At least were not walking up it" said Julie. It certainly was not a good city to start a walking tour business nor hiring those segways to get around, that would be lethal on these hills.

We soon turned left up Jackson Street, passing the Cable Car Museum nearby, still going uphill.

At the next schedule stop, the conductor got off and quickly popped into a grocery store to pick up some supplies. He didn't delay us much, he was in and out in flash.

He then went one better at the next stop, as we turned onto Hyde Street. He jumped off to pick a take-away for lunch from Sun Kwong Chinese Restaurant!

He was quite a character, apologising and offered to share his wontons with everybody. We all had a good chuckle about it.

We got off at the top of Russian Hill at Lombard Street just at the point where Hyde Street fell away suddenly down hill. From here we could see over the bay towards Alcatraz.

The drizzle had now been replace by proper wet rain as we crossed the road and stood at the top of Lombard street huddled beneath a small and very pink frilly umbrella. (It was the only one we had packed.)

Looking across the city we could see the tall Coit tower resembling a fireman's hose high on Telegraph Hill. Beyond that we could just about see the top of the Bay Bridge, San Francisco's "other" suspension bridge.

We looked down Lombard street zig zagging madly down the hill. It was busy with cars driving slowly around the eight awkward bends.

Fortunately we didn't have to follow them down the wonky road, there were steps to the left taking you directly down to the bottom.

The weather could have put a real dampener on the day but we refused to let it. Arm in arm and under the cover of our very camp brolly we walked down Chestnut Street towards the San Francisco Art Institute.

I knew that somewhere inside was a mural by Diego Rivera, a renowned Mexican painter who was also the husband of the even more celebrated Mexican artist Frida Khalo.

Housed in what looked like a former monastery with a bell tower and cloisters (but it wasn't) we walked around the inner courtyard trying to find the mural. We were having no luck. There were no signs anywhere. They certainly weren't making a big fuss over it.

We eventually came to an office where a lady looking just like a cadet from Police Academy sat behind a desk complete in full security officer uniform.

"Hi ... we're looking for uh ...." I began.

Before I even finished the sentence she replied with a big cheesy grin "It's just behind you on the right!"

We walked inside the Diego Rivera Gallery, a large empty room but even then we couldn't find what we were looking for. Not until we turned around and noticed it was behind us!

Finally we stood and admired the painting entitled "The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of A City". It was a mural showing people hard at work painting a mural which was quite an interesting concept.

He painted this in 1931 and was one of three he did in San Francisco around the same time before moving on to Detroit and then New York. His popularity soared until he got carried away and he let his communist ideals influence a fresco at the Rockerfeller Centre where he placed an image of Lenin. He left America soon after that.

Back out on the streets things were looking up. The rain had stopped, it was all down hill and just as we were starting to feel the rumblings of hunger we stumbled across Pat's Cafe on Taylor Street.

"I'm sure that was No.3 on Trip Advisor for breakfasts" said Julie.

It had a great welcoming vibe as we walked in, all brightly decorated and nice friendly staff. We sat down and had a massive mug of coffee each.

Julie followed it with a buttermilk pancake. After the trauma of the Griddle Cafe in LA she was pleased that she could choose to have only one.

When it arrived it was so delicious and not at all oversized that she wished she had gone for the three.

I went for the Eggs Florentine which instantly became my new favourite dish for breakfast.

Two toasted muffins each topped with wilted spinach and a poached egg covered in a buttery hollandaise sauce. When I cut into the perfectly cooked egg the runny yolk oozed soothingly all over the dish.

It was the most gorgeous comfort food ever and I was so disappointed when it came to an end I wanted to order another one!

We didn't rush to leave. We made the most of having some where warm to sit so we had a fresh coffee fill-up and sat back admiring the funky little cafe.

With our guide books sprawled out on the table we knew we weren't far from Fisherman's Wharf and our minds turned to where we were going to eat next! Only because we were getting a little concerned that it was going to be filled with nothing but the usual tourist traps.

It was over half an hour later before we left. The rain was still holding off but it had now turned really cold. We walked briskly (to warm up) down Taylor Street to the end of the line for the Powell & Mason cable car.

At the end of the line there was this huge turntable waiting for a cable car to arrive so it could rotate and send it back the way it came from.

We could have waited to watch one being turned around but we didn't want to be seen as nerdy train-spotters.

We were only a stones throw away from Fisherman's Wharf and I got a little animated when I saw the famous wharf sign. The large ship's wheel with a red crab in the centre was the image I remember most from my father's old cine film of his California trip in the seventies. The incredible sight of those fresh giant Dungeness Crabs for sale in the fish market was what I associated with San Francisco.

Well, that was then and this is now and we couldn't see any fresh crabs anywhere. Mind you, we weren't looking very hard. All we could see in tourist trap central was souvenir shop after souvenir shop. We didn't stop at any but in hindsight it probably would have been wise to have bought a "I Heart SF" umbrella.

We were focused on our next destination, the large warehouse on pier 45 which was home to the Musee Mecanique, a museum of old penny arcade games.

It was free to enter and we could have walked around without spending a penny but to get the most out of the visit you had to put your quarter into the slot and enjoy the pleasure of watching the antique mechanical entertainment.

It was a privately owned collection of around 300 vintage nickelodeons, mechanical puppets, pinball machines, old school video games and many more arcade curiosities from the last century.

There were some real classics inside.

Such as Laughing Sally who rocked back and forth with a demented shriek and the Jolly Lad a creepy laughing sailor from HMS Victory.

I'm sure I've seen him before in some 1950's B-movie set in Coney Island.

I don't know if their intention was to make you laugh or to give you nightmares but there was something about their hysterical laughter that sent shivers down the spine.
There were other less disturbing puppet style fairground attractions such as the Palm Reader and the Grandmother Tarot Card fortune teller but even they were a little eerie.

The oldest artefacts were the hand-cranked nickelodeons where you could watch old time peep shows like "What The Butler Saw".

Another was showing a sequence of images from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake in glorious 3D!

They were simply amazing. The sense of history and nostalgia was outstanding.

With $5 exchanged into quarters we were kept amused for over an hour in the arcade. It was great fun. We shook the hand of Uncle Sam, tested our strength with an arm wrestle, and measured our passion on the Kiss-o-metre. Julie was Wicked and I was apparently a Dead Fish.

We had a great trip down memory lane with the classic binatone tennis video game and the Ms. PacMan game.

Our favourite however was the old photo booth. They just don't make them like this anymore! (Oh dear, how old does that make me sound?!) I know you can still get your passport photos taken in booths but they only give you 4 copies of the same image. When our daughter Hannah was growing up we used to love sitting her inside one of these and have four different photographs of her taken.

The cost of film and developing chemicals had obviously risen since when the photo booth was made. They were charging $3 per sitting and it only accepted notes, which we didn't have.

We were determined to get our photograph taken so we quickly crossed over to one of those souvenir shops we had ignored earlier and broke into a $10 bill by buying a postcard.

Back in the booth we adjusted the seat and both squeezed inside. We fed it our dollar notes and then without warning it flashed into life blinding us four times.

The strip of photographs was soon ejected, still wet from the developing. We picked it up carefully, holding it at the edges as not to smudge the ink.

We really loved the result. Processed in black and white it was a timeless keepsake of our trip to San Francisco. (For some reason we always look better in black and white!?!) Leaving the Musee Mechanique behind we left through the back door onto the quayside of pier 45.  

If we were in the slightest bit interested in Naval History we would have been in for a treat with two world war II vessels moored alongside the pier.

The first we came across was USS Pampanito a restored World War II submarine that saw active service out of Pearl Harbour, patrolling the Pacific Ocean and beyond sinking six Japanese ships in its time. Unfortunately one of those was carrying British POW and 900 soldiers were lost.

For a few dollars you could board the submarine and have a self-guided tour of its inner bowels. Julie's lack of love for enclosed spaces and walking over narrow gangplanks meant that we chose not to step into claustrophobia.

USS Pampanito, San Francisco

SS Jeremiah O'Brien , the other relic from the second world war, was just a little bit further down pier 45. Known as a "Liberty Ship" it was involved in the storming of the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.

Once again it was open to the public as a museum and had on offer a guided tour but neither of us had any real interest to get on-board.

I'm sure that it would have been quite fascinating if we had allowed ourselves a drop of enthusiasm but we just couldn't muster any up. Our attention was mostly taken by the island in the bay that looked remarkably like a battleship.

It was of course Alcatraz a mile and a half away in the bay. We had already pre-booked a tour of the eerie fortified prison in the mist for later on today.

I was so excited but we still had a few hours to kill before then.

For now we had to make do with admiring the world's most notorious prison from afar.

We walked back down pier 45, past pier 43 and a half and on to pier 41. Looking back towards where we came from we saw the SS Jeremiah O'Brien framed inside a large arch known as the Ferry Arch, a wharf landmark.

Next up was pier 39 and the authentic maritime feel was suddenly lost, replaced by a shopping experience.

Pier 39, San Francisco

There were plenty of eateries here including the ever present Hard Rock Cafe, and a fish restaurant inspired by the Forrest Gump movie called the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.!

Fish & seafood was naturally the most prominent type of restaurant on the pier but another popular cafe was Chowder's serving soup from hollowed out loaves instead of bowls. Judging by the overflowing bins the sourdough bread mustn't have been that tasty. (or perhaps the soup was too filling.)

We walked the length of the crowded pier to the end where we again saw the dark and brooding Alcatraz out in the bay. The anticipation was building. I was getting more and more excited about our trip later.

We made our way slowly back down the pier escaping the packed shopping alley briefly to have a look at the pile of seals resting on the wooden platoons floating between pier's 39 and 41.

They were quite a sight, all stacked up on top of each other.

On the opposite side of the pier we found a little wine bar called The Wines of California. (How long did they spend coming up with that name? For that level of inspiration they probably spent a small fortune on a team of consultants to come up with it.)

Then again that's exactly what they served, only wines from the wine producing regions of the golden state.

With time on our hands it was the perfect place to sit down and relax for a while. We shared a plate of breads with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping and washed down with California's finest.

I had an outstanding Merlot, a Villa San-Juliette from Paso Robles an area some 30 miles inland from Cambria. Julie had a glass of Sunce Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley just north of San Francisco.

The Wines of California Wine Bar was an oasis of calm in the middle of this shopping mall on stilts. For most of the time we were the only people in there.

The rain was coming in again. We were sat outside overlooking a small harbour where a number of boats were moored but we were quite sheltered from the weather.

Beyond Pier 35 we could just about see the dramatic Bay Bridge lost in the mist.

With an empty plate and two empty glasses it was either time to move on or order another round. Drinking in the afternoon is not clever so we decided to leave the wine bar.

It was only 3pm and we had another hour and a half to waste before our Alcatraz tour.

There was absolutely nothing here to keep us occupied. Although a shoe shop did tempt us in through its door for five minutes. Julie does like her shoes.

There was a large carousel in the centre of pier 39 which could have provided us with another five minute distraction but it didn't seem to be working today.

It was probably down to the rubbish weather.

We walked from pier 39 towards pier 33 where the Alcatraz Cruises were located. It wasn't at all far.

Some where in between we noticed a crowd gathered looking down into the harbour. We joined them to see what catching their attention.

It turned out to be an enormous pink starfish clinging onto one of the pier stilts.

It looked a very peculiar yet amazing creature. Just five legs and nothing else. How the hell did evolution come up with that one?

We wondered what kind of starfish it was and the answer came from the most unlikely source. Sunk into the pavement like Hollywood's Walk of Fame was San Francisco's equivalent with a Walk of Sea Animals. We had apparently just been looking at Ochre Sea Star.

When we got to Pier 33 there was already a queue forming, with people standing out in the rain so they could be the first on the boat. It hadn't even arrived back from the earlier tour yet.

We sat and watched them from beneath a canopy with a beer in our hands; a far more civilised way of waiting for the boat to arrive.

The "Alcatraz Flyer" soon sailed into port and after a ten minute turnaround the queue began to move. We finished our drinks and joined the back of the queue, snaking slowly around the crush barriers. Before we got too wet the queue shuffled beneath a canopy.

It turned out that the purpose of this shelter wasn't so much to keep us dry but to funnel us through for a photo shoot. As we turned the corner we were startled by bright floodlights then told to smile for the camera. They didn't ask nicely, it was an instruction, we didn't seen to have an option. Dazed like proverbial rabbits in torchlights we vacantly stared at them open-mouthed. We must have looked so gormless.

"Hmm ... I don't think we'll be buying that one" I said.

We moved on without complaint and boarded the ferry boat sitting inside on the upper deck.

The windows quickly steamed up. After a few minutes of not seeing through them and worrying I was missing out on something I went outside into the drizzly rain to photograph the views. At first I stood at the front to watch Alcatraz approaching but it wasn't that exciting.

Far in the distance I saw the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time which was a thrill but it lacked any impact as I could hardly make it out through the gloomy fog.

Looking back towards the city was more rewarding. The end of pier 31 looked wonderfully historical with a brightly painted facade.

It had a message of Welcome Home across the top.

The further away we sailed the more of the city came into view but also the more it faded into the fog. It was mostly shades of grey with the exception of the beacon sparkling from the top of the Trans-American Building.

Bored of being on her own Julie joined me outside in the cold.

It didn't take long before we reached the island, circling around the Northern tip.

There was more on 'The Rock" than just the prison. We passed close to the power house with its tall thin incinerator chimney, then came the derelict officer's club and the enormous water tower literally "towering" high above.

We docked on the Eastern side. As we got ready to disembark we were instructed over the loudspeaker that we would be split into three groups. Julie had the clever idea of waiting to be in the last group, the rational being that there would be a lot less people in the last group as it was human nature to push to the front, and she was right.

The first thing we noticed as we stepped onto Alcatraz was the graffiti on the building nearest the dock. It said "Indians Welcome An" I don't know if they ran out of paint or ideas of what to say. It looked more likely that the United States Penitentiary sign in the centre had just been placed over the top of the slogan. "Why hasn't it ever been washed off?" I asked Julie not really expecting an answer which was fortunate as I didn't get one. I just got a quizzical "How the fuck should I know?" look.

It also said at the bottom "Indian La" which we easily guessed once said Indian Land. In 1969 the island was occupied by 14 American Indians in an attempt to reclaim the island for their people.

Protesters camped out on Alcatraz for two years before being forcibly removed. The island was never returned to the Sioux nation which in one way was fortunate as we probably wouldn't have the jail to visit just a few tepees and a totem pole.

Alcatraz is now a national park and is part of the Golden Gate national recreation area. We were met by a member of staff and we followed her up the hill into a small auditorium where we were shown a brief Introduction to Alcatraz film. It wetted the appetite perfectly and we couldn't wait to get inside.

The day was now slipping into the twilight hour which really notched up the eerie atmosphere.

It took us a while to reach the prison as it was further up hill.

They did have a small battery operated shuttle bus to transport the more infirm members of the group up. Whilst we were sorely tempted we chose not to share a ride with the octogenarians.

We entered the prison through a small side door, there was no grand entrance, and we queued up like a new intake of inmates waiting to be stripped and showered.

Of course we didn't need delousing, we were just handed an audio-tour guide and given a quick demonstration on how to use it. Press play to play; press stop to stop. Simples.

We listened intently to the audio guide as it took us up the staircase into cell Block A. Some of the voices were recordings of real inmates talking about their experiences, together with some well chosen sound effects it all made for a very dramatic commentary.

Alcatraz was originally built during the mid-19th century as a military base to protect the city of San Francisco but its purpose gradually changed into a military prison during the civil war when they realised it's natural borders was ideal for captivity.

It was some 66 years later, in 1934, when it became the maximum security Federal Prison that we know.

During it's short working life span, (it only operated as a prison for 29 years) it was home to the most notorious criminals of the time, often moved here because they were causing trouble where they were.

Al "Scarface" Capone and "Machine Gun" Kelly were probably the two most famous inmates.

Another famous prisoner was Robert Stroud, probably better known as the Birdman of Alcatraz. The audio guide explained that he was actually never allowed to keep birds here. The nickname was one he had acquired in a previous prison because he was a keen ornithologist and reared a few birds.

We walked down the first block of cells, down Sunrise Alley as it was known. All the corridors had been given street names like Broadway, Times Square, Michigan Avenue or Seedy Street. I have to admit that the first thing that entered my mind was Elvis Presley singing Jailhouse Rock!

The second thing I though was that conditions didn't seem that bad.

The only other prison I'd been in before was Beaumaris gaol, a dark oppressive Victorian jail.

In comparison Alcatraz was like a holiday camp.

The cells were a cosy 5ft by 9ft. The bed had warm blankets and the toilet was only three steps away. Always handy in the middle of the night. It was well lit to encourage reading and had two shelves for your books.

If it wasn't for the iron bars for doors I would have said that I had stayed in worse hotel rooms.

Of course I'm only joking. Prisoners risked their lives to escape. There were many attempts over the years. None succeeded.

Some made it out but most were captured or shot before they even got to the water. Those who did make it into the bay didn't survive for long. Either the strong currents or hyperthermia got them. The idea that the waters were shark infested was a myth however, probably started to keep the inmates from even dipping a toe into the bay.

It didn't stop some but they all perished. Their bodies were either fished out, washed up or sunk to the bottom. Although some were never recovered and were officially labelled as missing presumed dead. Perhaps, just perhaps, one did make it.

One who almost made it was John Giles. He had a cunning plan.

Inmates were given jobs to do whilst they were incarcerated and he worked on the dock off loading army laundry. Over time he stole an entire uniform. His audacious escape strategy was to dress as a soldier and simply walked on board the army boat and sail away from Alcatraz. And it worked!

Unfortunately for him the boat didn't go directly to San Francisco and to his freedom but to Angel Island a military base. His absence from Alcatraz had been noted and by the time he reached the island there was a welcoming party waiting for him.

Another escape attempt that the excellent audio guide brought vividly to life was known as the Battle of Alcatraz.

In May 1946 three prisoners had an escape plan which involved forcing their way into the rifle gallery overlooking the cells and overpowering the guard. The first part worked as they armed themselves with firearms and clubs and left the guard on duty tied up and unconscious.

Armed to the teeth they forced there way into the solitary confinement cells and released all the prisoners, although only two joined the escape attempt. The others returned inside the safety of their cells. They forced the guards they had taken hostage (nine in total) into a cells #403 and #404 in Block C.

They needed to find the keys to open the yard door and searched the guards. They found the bunch but guard Billy Miller had removed the key to their freedom. Frantically trying all the wrong keys they ended up jamming the lock. The door was impassable and their escape attempt was all but over but they didn't surrender.

In frustration bank robber Joseph Cretzer unloaded his revolver into the trapped guards in cell #403 wounding several, one fatally. He was Billy Miller.

Standing outside the cell where it all happened, looking at a photo of the murdered guard and listening to the scene unfold in our headphones was an extremely spine chilling experience.

We were instructed to move on and enter a passageway through cell block C between Broadway and Seedy Street. There we stood and listened to the story unfold of the siege that followed.

The US Marines were called in. We heard the boom between our ears as they lowered grenades on wires and then detonating them. Smoke and tear gas filled the cell house as several attempts to regain control were beaten back in a fierce battle.

Another guard Harold Stites was killed.

After almost 48 hours the escapees were eventually trapped and killed, dying from multiple bullet wounds and shrapnel. Their bodies were found in the cut-off through cell block C.

Again we shuddered with the terrifying image the amazing audio guide had conjured up.

Next on our self-guided tour we walked through the visiting room and administrative offices then out through the main entrance.

We both gasped together as we saw the stunning view of San Francisco. It was so amazing we pressed stop on the audio guide so we could take our time to absorb the incredible sight of the city sparkling in the darkness.

We stood arm in arm admiring the view for a while before pressing play and carrying on with the tour. To be fair the audio guide was perfectly paced, we weren't rushed through nor were we bored and standing around a lot.

Back inside the jail we walked through the administration offices and the cell house through into the prison's canteen and kitchen.

There wasn't much to see in the dining hall just a large empty space. It was also known as the gas chamber because of tear gas canisters that were fixed in the roof space above the eating prisoners. Of course they weren't there now.

The kitchen had a little more of interest with utensils and produce laid out as if it may have looked. Much of the kitchen duties were done by the inmates so it was surprising to see hanging from hooks on the back wall several long knives and a very large chopper.

Did they really have America's most troublesome criminals working in the kitchen with lethal weapons within easy reach?

The audio guide ended the tour at the kitchen but we hadn't seen all that there was. Open exclusively between 6pm and 7pm was the hospital wing, the floor above the canteen and kitchen.

We walked up the staircase into a very dimly lit corridor. On either side of the hallway were several operating rooms and at the end was the ward.

The absence of the audio guide explaining to us where we were was quite noticeable. We all just shuffled around in the dark looking into dark rooms wondering what the hell we were looking at.

It was extremely eerie up there and if Alcatraz was haunted you could easily imagine the corridors of the hospital wing would be where the ghosts would congregate.

We didn't loiter and made our way out and down to the dock area.

There were short films and some lectures taking place if you wanted to get more out of your visit but we decided to leave on the first boat out of there. The last boat would not have been for another hour or so later.

"What if you missed the last boat?" wondered Julie, "I wouldn't want to be stuck here overnight" her eyes widening by the awful thought of being stranded on Alcatraz.

It wasn't long before The Alcatraz Flyer arrived and we were one of the first on board!

With no food allowed to be consumed on the island the first thing we did was by a large pretzel to share. We both took a bite each and found it difficult to swallow. We may as well have eaten cardboard. We hadn't eaten since breakfast but we weren't that desperate.

Back on pier 33 we walked out past a wall of photographs. Ours was up there somewhere but we didn't bother looking for it. They were asking $22 for two copies. We noticed that all the ones that hadn't been collected over the past few days were still up in date order. We almost felt like we had to buy ours just to take the stupid picture down from the wall. We didn't and it's probably still up there.

Not sure what to do next we mulled over our options, either walk around Fisherman's Wharf area and hope to find somewhere where a vegetarian (who doesn't eat fish) could eat without having to smell fish or head back to the hotel and order room service.

We didn't really make a decision, we just found ourselves heading back towards pier 39, drawn towards the light which turned out to be a huge conical Christmas tree.

The pull of festive decs lead us to the front door of the Hard Rock Cafe where we walked in by what must have been the effect of hypnosis.

Some how the spell was broken and with our free will restored we decided not to eat here and just had a drink.

We sat at the bar with a cold beer each watching the music on the TV and admiring all the memorabilia. The Grateful Dead featured quite prominently on the walls. I must admit that I hadn't heard of them until I found The Black Crowes who cite them as a major influence.

"Do you want to go for a walk around the room?" asked Julie. I did and I set off to look at as many items as possible without infringing on any diners personal space.

It was a bit awkward when I wanted to take a closer look at Jerry Garcia's guitar over the heads of a couple eating but they didn't seem to mind.

I got quite excited when I saw a poster for the Black Crowes going back to March 1999. It reminded me of why were in California and that tomorrow night we'll be there at the Fillmore saying goodnight to the bad guys.

I returned to the bar where I came across this amazing toy in the corner. It was like a huge iPad, a touch screen display which had images of all the Hard Rock Cafe memorabilia around the world. Pictures of guitars, drum kits, costumes and gold discs floated up the screen.

Touch the screen and all the information about that item was displayed. You could also zoom in on the image as you do with an iPad by sliding two fingers apart.

It was such a cool piece of kit. I could have easily spent all night playing on it.

I had already spent ten minutes on it which wasn't long enough. When I rejoined Julie it was time to go.

We headed back towards pier 33 where we caught a tram on the F-line back up Market Street. The tram didn't look anything like the cable cars, they seemed to be more of a cross between a bus and a train. They were certainly a striking vintage 1940s in style with a retro green and cream livery.

It rattled its way up Market Street. We got off at Kearny Street and walked the rest of the way to our hotel, through Union Square which had been transformed into a wonderland of fairy lights.

In it's centre there was an ice rink. Before Julie asked I quelled any ideas of having a go at skating.

I've only ever been ice skating once before, on a school trip to Deeside Leisure Centre where I almost lost the top of my thumb. I was just about getting the hang of it when a mate of mine David "Coch" (that's Red David because of his ginger hair) slipped. He tried to stop himself by reaching out for me but he only succeeded in bringing us both down in a heap and my hand caught his skates as we fell, slicing a deep cut into my thumb. Physically and emotionally scarred I've never been on the ice since.

We reached The Clift hotel. It was 9:30pm and we hadn't eaten properly since breakfast. The restaurant at the Clift looked too posh for our look "what the cat dragged in" scruffiness so we went straight to our room to order food.

It arrived promptly. It was only then did we notice a lack of tables in our room. "The Mondrian had a decent table" I said "and a much better view out the window" added Julie. LA 2 San Fran 0.

We ended up sitting in bed eating our meals off of our knees. Julie only had a chicken sandwich which she could have eaten standing up and I had a bowl of mushroom risotto which I could easily scoop up with a spoon so it wasn't too bad.

With food in our stomachs we were rejuvenated. The night was still young so we headed down to the Redwood Bar but once again the place was packed. It didn't seem like the type of establishment where you could just walk up to the bar and spend the rest of the evening leaning on it, so we left and sat in the lobby where we had a beer delivered instead.

The first beer went down very quickly so we followed it with a second and a third in quick succession. Then a wave of exhaustion suddenly hit us. We just had to get to bed before we slipped into a deep sleep. Fortunately we made it without incident.

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