Sunday, January 15, 2017

San Francisco by foot

One afternoon, I finally had a chance to go on a walk of San Francisco by myself! Daddy had a reunion with his fellow Don Bosco alumni while Mommy (who wanted to join me on my whirlwind tour of the city) was dissuaded from joining because it was cold and I was going to go to as many places as I could on foot. So Daddy dropped me off the BART station and off I went. Finally a chance to get a lay of the land!

Getting off the Embarcadero Station, I started walking around, typical tourist with camera on my neck, taking in the sites of the tall buildings. I remember being in Sydney for the first time and reacting the same way... but for San Francisco, which is also an old city, somehow, this tour was different. But that's because I've been here several times before but this is the first time I was in the city on my own, touring on my own terms. Exciting!

I found quickly enough that walking aimlessly, trying to immerse myself in the vibe of the city wasn't as exciting as I thought it would be so I decided to jump onto the cable car to see more of the city faster.

I joined the queue right behind a Chinese family who was in San Francisco on holiday for the first time. The mother told me that it's the family's first time and they wanted me to guide them where they're supposed to disembark. This forced me to make an itinerary on the fly. I suggested that they go to Fisherman's Wharf and to the Ghirardelli Square, which would be a hit for their kids (come on... who wouldn't love the idea of being in a chocolate shop and in seeing seals on the pier, right?). I, on the other hand, would be going to the maritime museum to see some boat history. After all, the waterfront is strait known as Chrysopylae, the Golden Gate.

The cable car passed the houses that have made San Francisco famous: Victorian style mixed with modern architectural details... with bay windows reminding me that I was, indeed, in San Francisco. It wasn't stiff, like what I imagine Victorian architecture would be because San Francisco residents added playful details to their design... like teddy bears painted on garage doors.

So I eventually disembarked the cable car and the family went to the Fisherman's Wharf. I then went to the Maritime Museum to see the boats.

I wanted to see the actual boats so I went to Hyde St Pier to see them in the boat park. But there's a fee to get on the boat so I opted to just take photos from the pier. No need to be on the boat at this point... especially those that wouldn't be moving off to tour the sea.

But the most interesting aspect, for me, was to learn about the importance of the maritime industry for San Francisco. So back in the museum itself, I started looking into the details. Of course, the national parks were mentioned, along with John Muir, who is famous for making people realise that wilderness conservation is important.

And then there were the photos of boats. San Francisco must have looked and smelled so differently then compared to what it is now. I imagine it smelled of fish and seawater and there must be a lot of sailors and merchants plying the roads here before... perhaps it was quite seedy as well, just like the images of ports in movies. But on a bright sunny afternoon like the day I visited, the city had a very wholesome vibe to it: kids playing about, people reading books or exercising... a relaxing walk indeed.

And then there's Alcatraz, the famous prison which I haven't set foot in yet. Perhaps, one day, but not today... I heard that buying a ticket must be done well in advance because it's a high-demand tour.

After my visit to the boats, it was time to go up the hill again. I've planned to visit the Cable Car Museum and I was lucky to find out that the cable car I was on was making a stop here. The driver's shift ended and we had to wait for the next driver. So I jumped off the cable car and made a whirlwind tour of the museum. 

Turned out that I didn't need to hurry because it took the new guy around 15 minutes to get settled into the cable car I was riding.

And then I was back on Powell St. I opted to skip Union Square and the big shops because I've had my share of malls in Waikiki. So I just started walking again, aiming to reach the City Hall, which I've heard, looks really pretty.

But then I saw this building to my left that looked like a museum. I just had to take a picture of the facade... it turned out to be the US Mint building. I found it apt that the lighting during time I was walking there made it look like it was speckled with gold. Appropriate, I thought, for a building that makes coins.

I decided to walk on a parallel road to Powell St. I got worried when I heard sirens blaring and when I saw a police car, a firetruck, and an ambulance whiz past me along the same direction I was walking. And people smoking weed were staring at me like I was a weird one... but of course, I must have stuck up like a sore thumb... my map was out and so I looked like a tourist who made a wrong turn. Or perhaps they were so stoned that they'd stare at anyone the way they looked at me.

I ended up where the homeless people were staying... they were living on the street and there were public facilities (like portable toilets) set up so that they could, at least, not poop or pee on the road. The emergency vehicles that passed? They all stopped at a corner where a homeless person collapsed and needed medical attention. Walking past this scene, for me, led to a jarring realisation: life in the city is not all that glamourous. People could live in extreme poverty out here. But "extreme" here is quite different from the Third World version of extreme poverty.

But anyway...

I took another turn and I ended up in an art gallery! It's the International Art Museum of America.

The only art exhibit that could be photographed look like Winnie the Pooh's house. But inside, there were many interesting pieces... the ones I liked most were parts of this huge collection of paintings done by a guy who I think might be a Dalai Lama; I'm just not sure if I remember the description

As I went out of the museum, I saw that the sun has already started to set. I then proceeded to the nearest BART station and went back to the station where Daddy was waiting for me with his fellow Bosconians.

What a good day for an extended walk. Next time, I'll visit other neighbourhoods of San Francisco.