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Up Hill and Down: Exploring San Francisco

We were met at our motel the following morning by Virginia, Cindy's cousin, who had kindly agreed to act as our guide for the day. Whilst waiting for the bus which was to take us to the railway station some of the women admitted they hadn't ridden a bus since the days of school trips, but at least they could keep me right about the funny money. Why are the 5's bigger than the 10's? – to confuse silly tourists of course! We had a ride on a 'bendy' bus to the railway station at the edge of the city and a long trip into the city centre on the super clean, efficient underground train - the BART.

Cable car at Fisherman's Wharf

To me the term cable car conjures up images of edelweiss, Alps and Julie Andrews singing. But here in San Fran the cable cars are trams that are pulled along by cables running under the tracks, as opposed to streetcars which are trams powered along by a trolley from the overhead lines. The city of SF is built on a series of hills and the cable cars are a popular way to get about. Just how popular we would soon find out. On that sunny, Saturday morning it looked like the world and his wife wanted to ride the cars. The queue, oops sorry, line, for the cars that run from downtown SF to Fisherman's Wharf reminded me of the wait for of a popular roller-coaster ride on a busy bank holiday weekend.

Want to know about the San Francisco cable cars? Read this


"Och well, we'll just walk a wee bit and get on further on, when the cars are less busy" Wrong! Anyone who has stood waiting for a car of 30, 40 or 50 minutes is not going to be as foolish as to get off before the end to the route. We walked along a few blocks and realised that if we wished to see Fisherman's Wharf before nightfall we'd better take a taxi, but the cabbies didn't seem too keen for any fares. We eventually persuaded one to stop and half the party disappeared bay-ward. Meanwhile we trundled along another couple of blocks before we too grabbed a cab. The driver did an illegal U-turn and headed up hill and down, up hill and down and up hill and down the famous Lombard Street, named in the tourist maps as the 'Crookedest street'. We rejoined the others at the bay and gazed across the water at … the fog. I knew the Golden Gate Bridge was there somewhere and I'm sure it would have been splendid if we could have seen it. I could make out the two support legs, but the car deck and support towers were hidden from view by the mist. I didn't know if the mist was lifting or falling and therefore it I'd see any more of the bridge or not, so I dutifully took the obligatory tourist snaps of the bridge.

I soon discovered the main reason to come to the Fisherman's Wharf was to visit the famous Scoma's Fish restaurant as recommended by Gina. The menu was huge, the service was exceptional and the food was wonderful. There was just so much of it. My choice of a mixture of shellfish on a bed of salad was as big a helping as I would put out for the 5 of us at home.

All of us felt decidedly stuffed following lunch and walking was quite difficult. We ambled sedately along the wharf past numerous barrows selling lovely craft-made jewellery, paintings, pottery, and glass, and small kiosks with the usual tourist stuff. We came across boats offering rides out into the bay to see the Golden Gate Bridge close up and to cruise around Alcatraz. This seemed like a good way to spend a post-lunch hour, and Cindy, Ione Anna-Marie, Harriet and I chose a trip on the Lovely Martha. The landlubbers opted to walk around the side streets at the harbour area. We assumed our rightful position as Queens, on the upper deck of the boat, which we found gave the best fun when we hit some swell – we were rocking and rolling! Our skipper was a raconteur and we soon learned the history of the bridge and were told, at least 5 times, that "we were going to do what 90% of the people who live in San Francisco have never done – sail under the Golden Gate Bridge". And sail under it we did! We were favoured with the mist lifting before we reached the bridge – the influence of the Queens perhaps?
Alcatraz: could you escape from here?
The prison of Alcataz looked a formidable place to spend any sentence and in it's lifetime no one is known to have survived an escape bid, although 5 former prisoners are not accounted for.