Say Goodnight to the Bad Guys

Do you know when to freeze or take flight
20th December 2010


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It's such a shame that today's our last full day.

We seem to be slipping into a routine where we stay in bed until 10am then make away up the hill to Honey Honey for breakfast. It wasn't anywhere near as busy this morning which gave us more time to browse the menu.

Julie went for pancakes which again hit the spot whilst I went for Huevos Rancheros which was disappointingly bland.

There was no kick to the black beans. I expected a chilli hit but none came.

The two eggs were also cooked "over easy" whatever that meant. I don't think it was suppose to mean easily over cooked to the point of being chewy.

We made use of the free wi-fi this time with the iPad. We'd already Skyped Hannah so we just browsed the internet for news of the bad weather at home. Heathrow was still shut which was a concern. As fun as it seemed to be stranded out here over Christmas in reality missing the whole festivities with our grand kids would have been upsetting.

Before we could leave San Francisco we had a couple of must-sees we had to see, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, the quaint Victorian houses known as the Painted Ladies around Alamo Square Park and also Haight Ashbury the spiritual home of the hippy movement.


The quickest, easiest but not the cheapest way of fitting them all in today was to catch an open-top tour bus and from Union Square we had a choice of three different companies.

Ironically their reps were touting for business near a sign that said "No Soliciting in Public Areas".

Our decision was made easy as only one could offer us stops at all three of our must-see attractions. At $30 it wasn't too extortionate either so we hopped on board the Open Top Sightseeing tour bus.

We left Union Square and made our way along Market Street until we came to the first "sight", the San Francisco City Hall.

The first thing was saw however was a bizarre two headed six armed sculpture in front of the Capitol building. The Hindu style god looked strangely out of place.

The hardly audible audio guide explained that the original city hall was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and the fire that followed.

The civic centre that stands here today was completed in time for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. A world fair to celebrate not only the opening of the Panama ship canal but also the rebirth of San Francisco after the terrible destruction nine years earlier.

It was an impressive building based of course on the original US Capitol in Washington D.C. The impressive baroque dome was inspired by the dome of St. Peter's in Rome.

We looped around the city hall then turned up Fulton Street where we began to see a few pretty old fashioned houses popping up. The best examples and the most photographed were found along the Eastern side of Alamo Square.

The bus stopped on the North-East corner and we got off to have a closer look at the charming "six sisters". They looked like pretty little dolls houses fringed with lacy fretwork and painted in cool pastel colours.

I took one photo and then .... aargh .. camera trauma!

"oh for fuck's sake" I exploded in to a tirade of abuse against my Olympus. The camera had shut down and it wouldn't switch back on again. The batteries were flat and I had no replacements. I was so annoyed with myself.

Off we set in search of a shop. There weren't any around Alamo Square but we asked a friendly local Iranian family who suggested we should perhaps head down Fulton Street and turn left. Good call as we thankfully found a 97c Plus Store on Divisadero Street.

It sold everything including Gold standard Supa batteries.

"Should you get a few extra sets?" said Julie reminding me of the ones we bought in Pushkar India that lasted a whole three photos!

"No, they'll be fine" I said "We're in America now and these are Supa strong."

We returned to Alamo Square to take a few more photographs. The view over the city behind the picturesque houses was breathtaking.

It wasn't long before the next Open Top Sightseeing tour bus came along and we jumped on board. Next stop on the tour was Haight Ashbury but with the weather looking very unsettled we decided to stay on the red bus and continue on towards the Golden Gate before it rained.

The bus drove down Haight Street and stopped at the entrance to the Golden Gate Park, a huge 3 mile by 1 mile green space. It then stopped again at the California Academy of Science deep inside the park.

With hindsight I would have liked to have got off here. There was plenty to see and do.

If the Natural History museum, aquarium and planetarium inside the Academy of Science wasn't enough there was also the de Young Art Gallery where they had a Van Gogh, Gaugin, Cezanne and Beyond exhibition and a Japanese Tea Garden where there was a 11ft tall Buddha statue.

We could have spent all afternoon here I'm sure.

Onwards we travelled on the big red fun bus through the Presidio district towards the most famous of San Francisco's sights, the Golden Gate Bridge.

We got off at the car park at the South side and walked to the viewing point. In one respect it was just a bridge, a very big one but still just a bridge. On the other hand you couldn't help but be impressed by the incredible feat of engineering.

Completed in 1937 it took over four years to build what at the time was the tallest and longest suspension bridge in the world.

It's now slipped to No.9 in the charts.

The Golden Gate Bridge is 2.7km long with the main span stretching a spectacular 1.2km. It's strange how the Humber Bridge near Hull, UK is actually 200m longer but hasn't quite got the same appeal!

I took a few photos and admired the famous Californian landmark from afar. Then to my total amazement Julie said "Come on then" and started walking towards the bridge.

I couldn't believe what I was seeing. She becomes rigid with fear walking over the 176m span of the beautiful Menai Suspension Bridge near our home. She's even had nightmares about falling through the side railings into the Menai Straits 100 feet below.

She was now determined to cross the Golden Gate Bridge suspended 300 feet above the water. She was feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Sometimes she can be bloody amazing!

With six lanes of traffic and a pedestrian walkway on either side the bridge was much wider than I expected. Not that Julie noticed. She kept her focus only on what was ahead of her which was quite important to avoid the steady flow of cyclist in her way.

We set our sights on the first tower and walked together at a quick pace towards it. Every now and again I stopped to take a photograph but Julie couldn't wait for me.

If she stood still she swore she could feel the bridge move. With the vibrations from the incessant traffic of Highway 101 hurtling past she was probably right but it could also probably be explained by how her knees were shaking with terror.

Unable to stand still she said "Sorry, I just can't stop" and marched on ahead. We spent most of the first section walking separately.

I caught up with her by the time we reached the first tower.


It was fascinating to see up close the thousands of rivets holding together the steel plates. The sheer scale of the bridge was never more apparent than here.

There was a large commemorative plaque at the base listing the names of the architects, geologists and chief engineers such as Joseph B. Strauss who is accredited with the design and other directors and contractors.

I began to read it but Julie was long gone. She wasn't hanging about. She was on a mission to complete the crossing as soon as possible.

I caught up with her around the mid-point of the suspension where the 1m thick cable was at its nearest but then stopped again to take a photograph of "the mid-point". The view looking back towards the city from here was stupendous.

By the time I zoomed focused and snapped, Julie was miles away so I decided to put my camera away for the second half of the bridge and walk alongside her.

With the finish line in sight she seemed a little bit more relaxed.

Although when we walked past an emergency phone for those who felt their only answer was to jump to their death she was suddenly reminded that if you fell off the bridge "the consequences .... would be fatal and tragic".

"There is hope." it said "Make the call". Julie almost did.

We finally made it across. It took us over 45 minutes in total by the time we reached the car park on the North side. Fortunately the Open Top Sightseeing bus made a pick up from here (the only company that did) otherwise we would have had to walk back across the bridge.

There was a great view back down the bridge and also across the bay to the city.

We didn't have to wait too long before the double decker red bus arrived. Up on the open top we were the only idiots there. After a few minutes of hurtling across the bridge we could see why. At that speed the chill factor of the wind was freezing.

We huddled together on the back seat protecting ourselves against the elements but to no avail. Our faces contorted and turned to stone, our ears were numb, our cheeks were numb. We could hardly speak as our mouths were frozen. It was ridiculous.

Eventually we pulled up at Fisherman's Wharf where we had a peculiar 20 minute "rest" period where the bus parked up and was going nowhere. Opposite us was a Chinese Emporium which left me shocked and speechless. In it's window was a carved Elephant tusk. I thought trade in ivory had been outlawed? I suppose we were in the wild west.

I took a photograph and ... the batteries died on me.

"I don't believe it. Supa batteries my arse!" I'd only taken about ninety photos and I'd used up all the power. It couldn't have happened at a better moment though as next door to the evil bastards with the death of a majestic animal on their hands was a camera shop which had proper batteries for digital cameras.

It was now about 2pm and we hadn't eaten for literally hours so we spent the remaining 15 minutes sharing a stunning plain jacket potato from a Hot Spud cafe.

Back on the bus with greasy buttery chins we returned to our seats at the back and we soon moved on following the circular route back towards Union Square. One place that caught our eye along the way was a club called Bimbo's where someone was celebrating their 16th Birthday.

"Wow now there's liberal parenting for you" we thought, but it was probably the club itself that was reaching that milestone.

Much more exciting however was when we spotted a genuine Banksy work of art high up on the side of a wall above Broadway and Columbus.

It was a painting of a child dressed in a pair of shorts, a baseball cap and a gas mask saying "If at first you don't succeed - call an airstrike" .

We were then straight into the concrete canyon of downtown looking up at the skyscrapers that flanked Montgomery Street. The TransAmerica pyramid looked especially impressive close up. We also rolled past the Wells Fargo offices which had a genuine stage coach in the window.

I wanted to get off the bus and open up an account!

Instead of depositing our tuppence in a bank account we decided to stay on the bus.  Haight Ashbury was calling. We couldn't leave without visiting this historical district.

All we had to do was stay on the the bus because it re-traced our route earlier today, through Union Square, past City Hall, up to Alamo Square and then along the pan handle before driving down to Haight Street. We got off at the end just on Stanyan Street.

Before we even stepped onto the pavement we were offered a selection of drugs by a gaggle of pushers. One guy just stood there chanting "Marijuana, Marijuana, Marijuana" I don't know if he was selling or deep in transcendental meditation.

Another asked us "Whizzer?" which confused me slightly as the only whizzer I knew about was a kids comic called "Whizzer and Chips". I don't think he was selling comics.

Others offered us the full smorgasbord of narcotics. None of them hassled us, they were just making themselves available if required.

During the Summer of Love in 1967 this must have been a special time and place to have found yourself. With flowers in their hair and everyone sharing all that free love everything seemed so idyllic.

The music around that time was also phenomenal as local artists like Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Carlos Santana and The Grateful Dead provided the soundtrack and their influence spread across the world.

San Francisco became the centre of the musical universe and artist like Jimi Hendrix, The Doors flocked to the Fillmore Auditorium to perform.

Thousands flooded to Haight Ashbury to turn on, tune in, drop out. But the dream turned sour when the love was gone and the drug induced paranoia set in.

I have to admit that whilst we were walking up Haight Street we weren't feeling the love. We felt a nasty undercurrent of malice from some spaced out wasters littering the pavement. It felt like somewhere you really wouldn't like to be after dark.

All the retro clothing boutiques and alternative lifestyle stores were all interesting enough but the vibe was not pleasant. I was expecting something similar to the dreamlike atmosphere we found in the town of Glastonbury but I was sorely disappointed.

We soon reached the crossroads of Haight and Ashbury and turned up Ashbury Street to seek out the house of The Grateful Dead. They only lived at No. 710 between 1966 and 1968 but that period is now part of rock and roll legend including an infamous drugs bust.

There was no sign or commemorative plaque to say that this was the house, only an image of the guitarist Jerry Garcia (who most kids these days think of as a Ben & Jerry ice cream!) on a paving stone outside.

It was a very pretty house with lovely Xmas tree in the window.

I'm sure whoever the current owners are they must be tired of the constant flow of people coming for a gawp.

Back down on Haight Street we found ourselves inside a bar called Magnolia. It promoted itself as a gastropub and microbrewery. Good food and good beer under the same roof, how can you go wrong?

Unfortunately and rather surprisingly in the centre of alternative lifestyles their menu didn't have one meat-free dish. Although we did get to share a bowl of fries with an amazing garlic mayo to dip.

The brewery side was more like it. They had a drinks menu written on a chalkboard with plenty to choose from with names like Blue Bell Bitter, Spud Boys IPA, Prescription Pale Ale all of which were brewed on-site.

We plumped for the Kalifornian Kolsch a light golden lager. It arrived in a disappointingly small test tube size of a glass. No big jugs here. Three gulps and we had almost finished. At least it was nice.

The waitress then walked by and said something which I could have sworn was "would you like more ale?" but in a peculiar mock ye olde tudor accent; so I said "No, thanks"

"Are you sure you don't want anymore garlic mayo" asked Julie "She's just asked if you wanted more aioli"

Doh! We could have done with some more of that yummy mayo. Never mind.

It was now around 4pm and already starting to get a bit dark outside. "We should be going" I said but we didn't have an exit strategy other then catch the open top sightseeing tour bus. We weren't looking forward to the hop-on hop-off bus ride back to Union Square. It would have to go over the Golden Gate Bridge and back and stop at Fisherman's Wharf for twenty minutes before looping around to where we picked it up this morning.

A better idea would be to catch a taxi but that was easier said than done. We saw none for a long time and then when we did they were either occupied or they didn't see us.

Eventually we caught the attention of one. He slowed down, not exactly coming to a stop, and wound down his window. "Where you going?" he blurted.

"Geary Street" I replied. I could see by the way he sighed and rolled his eyes that he wasn't impressed by my vague answer. It would have helped if I had said where along the 5km street we wanted. Before he drove off in disgust I managed to quickly say "The Clift Hotel". That got a better response and he waved us into his cab.

Once inside he became quite a pleasant guy as we got chatting about where we were from and so on. He was from Chandigarh, north of Delhi. He was hoping to fly home over the holiday period but he was saying the prices for the flights had almost doubled in price. We wished him luck as he dropped us off on O'Farrell Street, parallel with Geary Street and just off Union Square.

After a quick drink at our new favourite bar the Gold Dust Wild West Saloon we returned to our hotel room for a bit of a siesta. We tried to get some shut eye but we just couldn't.

In the next room they must have been holding auditions for XXX Factor or something as there was a couple were having very VERY loud sex. It was pure porn overdub with plenty of "Yeah baby" and "Ride me honey" in between several yelps and grunts of ecstasy. It was very off putting but we finally we dozed off.

I thought I would perhaps slip into an erotic dream but I actually dreamt about double entry book-keeping, some spreadsheets and bank reconciliations!?

Two hours later we woke up. If it wasn't for setting an alarm we would have quite easily slept straight through to tomorrow. Instead we were woken by the beepity beep of Julie's phone and we forced our bleary eyes to open and get up. We didn't want to miss our reservation for dinner at a fine dining vegetarian restaurant called Millennium.

We'd never been to a vegetarian restaurant that was this high-brow before so being a little more formal we made a bit more effort and got dressed in our tidiest clothes. As it happened there wasn't any need, most of the other diners were in quite casual dress.

It located inside Hotel California, (Yes, I kid you not!) a Best Western hotel at 580, Geary Street, only a short walk from our hotel.

We arrived on time but had to wait for a table to become available. It was incredibly busy.

Our waiting room was of course sat on stools near the bar which I went up to and ordered some drinks.

Julie fancied trying a gin & tonic. It was such an odd choice for her as it's not her type of drink at all. In fact I can't remember her ever drinking a G&T, although she does like a Gin Fizz cocktail.

As I was ordering I was suddenly struck stupid and couldn't think of what to have myself. I ended up ordering a gin and tonic. "Ah well, don't knock it 'til you tried it" I told myself. I took a sip and "Eugh!" It did absolutely nothing for me. I knocked it back quickly to get it over and done with. Julie wasn't that impressed either. It's perhaps an acquired taste.

In time our table became vacant and we relocated to a table for two in the window. I took it as a compliment, they wanted us to be their public face for the evening!

The hungry tramp roaming the street outside peering in was more interested in the pair of marrows on the window sill than looking at us however.

For the first time on this trip I was spoilt for choice. I could pick anything from the menu confident it did not contain meat nor fish. It felt liberating.

We shared a starter of Crusted Oyster Mushrooms, which sounded fabulous until they turned up and were just your usual deep fried breaded variety.

The chilli jam they were served with was superb however and made up for the disappointment.

For our main course we both chose the same dish called a Yuba Roulade. I think it was the mashed potatoes that swung us. It wasn't just potatoes though, it was an edamame bean and potato mash with horseradish. It reminded me of a dish (stwnsh ffa) my mother used to make regularly when I was young but with broad beans.

It was well presented on the plate but it looked nicer than it tasted. I guess it wasn't what we expected. The roulade was like a large spongy spring roll filled with shit ake mushrooms, wilted greens and something they described as a char sui style seitan filling. I'd not heard of it before but it turned out to be a wheat gluten meat substitute thing.

It was plenty filling but the Asian fusion didn't work for me. Even the stir fried sprouts lacked seasoning. The best bit was the star anise, shallot and red wine reduction which added a rich quality of flavour to the otherwise disappointing dish.

We left Millennium without dessert, choosing to spend the remaining hours of our last night in California in the Redwood Bar at the Clift Hotel.

It was once again filled to the rafters but luckily there was just one free table left for us. We sat facing the wall on two throne like chairs, looking at the most amazing portraits.

A well-groomed man (on the left) and a beautiful woman (on the right) looked down on us from high up on the wall. Their illuminated images were captivating. Then something quite magical happened. "Oh my God, she's just looked at me!" I said not quite believing it myself.

Having turned to Julie and then back to the portrait she was still again. I began to doubt what I had seen. I was on my second whiskey but surely I wasn't that drunk that I was seeing things.

I didn't take my eyes off her, waiting for it to happen again and then it did. She lifted her eyes, looked straight at me, then coyly looked away, turning her head ever so slightly. She was absolutely mesmerising. I then turned to look at the bloke and he glared at me, looking mean and moody and then looked away with distain. They were amazing.

Instead of going out with a bang on our last night we ran out of steam around 11pm and headed for bed and some sweet dreams.


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