The morning after the wedding, we were up at 6am to leave for the airport, for our horribly long flight to San Francisco.
This was our first time flying Premium Economy with Virgin, and it was worth every penny. Patrick’s great height means that the length of his thighs is equal to the distance between the back of the seat in front to the furthest back point that you can sit. If the person in front keeps their seat upright, it’s uncomfortable; if they lay it back, it’s unbearable. Politely ask someone not to put their seat back, you say? Yeah, we tried that once… It turns out that people are extremely rude! Who knew? Anyway, seeing as my beloved is deemed some kind of space-waster by the powers-that-be, the only answer is to splurge.
The first leg of our Californian Extravaganza was a two night stay in San Francisco – city of love, cable cars and serious hills. I’m a big Charmed fan, so I was really looking forward to experiencing this picturesque and eclectic city. We landed at around 2pm local time, which was actually 10pm back in the UK, so were fairly knackered. The plan for our first afternoon was to check into the Sheraton at Fisherman’s Wharf before heading out to Chinatown for an early supper.
The hotel was very pleasant – a bit business-oriented, but with spacious, clean rooms and excellent facilities. Navigating the city was tricky and it was significantly colder than we had imagined. After some serious sleep-deprivation, we were just about ready to jump into the first restaurant we saw – not the greatest start! After some pretty horrific all-you-can-eat dim sum – just thinking about the non-specific mince makes me a little queasy – we decided we’d be best off getting an early night.
Heading back to the hotel, we seemed to attract every crazy, rambling, homeless person. Having lived in London and Birmingham – the latter in some very dodgy areas – I can honestly say that I had never felt unsafe walking around a city until we were in San Francisco. An attempt at using the cable car was disastrous – the queues were about three cars’ worth long. Once you’re on, it’s a bit of a crazy ride – I was too busy trying to cling on for dear life to really make the most of the scenery.
Day one written off due to excessive tiredness, we were in bed by 8pm!
Today, we planned to visit Alcatraz, to do some general exploring, and dinner at the Stinking Rose. Our body clocks were still a little crazy, so we were up super early and decided to make the most of it by hitting the gym! The hotel’s gym was lovely, and we worked hard to earn a proper American buffet breakfast of waffles, bacon and sausage.
We decided to carry on the activity kick and walk to Lombard Street, San Francisco’s unique zig-zagged private road. It was very cool to see how the city formed around the crazy landscape. Despite having packed for what we had imagined to be a typical Californian August, we managed to scrape together enough warm layers – as well as a hot coffee – to make the day’s sightseeing a bit more comfortable.
The Alcatraz tour was a really amazing experience. The atmosphere on the island is so eerie, and learning about the varied history was fascinating. We all know about its role as a high-security prison, housing some of the most dangerous criminals of its time, but I didn’t know about the island’s importance in the fight for Native American rights.
The cells were absolutely tiny, and it’s amazing to think of the difference between what we consider to be basic human rights now and then. One particularly interesting fact was that Alcatraz was one of the only prisons of its time to use hot water, because they didn’t want the inmates to become so acclimatised to cold water that they could swim away with any ease.
The island is a nature reserve now, and the plants were really beautiful. It also offered some spectacular views of the San Francisco skyline and the Bay Bridge , which seemed to be half-swallowed by the cloud.
Back on the mainland, we decided to find a City Tour bus to soak up as many of the sights as possible in our last afternoon. Unfortunately, we had no luck finding the always-reliable and sensibly-priced City Sightseeing bus, so we gave the first one we saw a try. How much? Try twice the price of a City Sightseeing bus!
The cold weather was starting to cause some serious sense of humour failure, especially when the only words you could actually understand over the speaker were “you think it’s cold now? Just wait til we get to the bridge!” Ha, frickin’ ha. We abandoned the bus at the Golden Gate Bride, and bought coffee to warm our hands. It turns out that public transport in San Francisco isn’t half bad (considering I live in Wiltshire!) and so we got a proper, fully-closed bus back to have dinner at the Stinking Rose.
The Stinking Rose was one of the things I was most looking forward to about our trip. The whole restaurant is a shrine to garlic – every dish contains the stuff! The food was spectacular – they start you off with a bowl of garlic and parsley in oil, with a tonne of bread. Patrick had meat loaf, and I ordered pork chop, as it’s one of the things that American restaurants do spectacularly well.
Pork chop is just a run-of-the-mill Thursday night dinner type of thing here, but our cousins across the pond manage to make it juicy, succulent and the size of your head! Both dishes were delicious, and despite the piles of amazing, garlicky bread, we managed to save some room for the garlic vanilla ice cream! It was very strange, but tasty nonetheless.
The only let-down at this restaurant was the service – I was always led to believe that service in American restaurants is excellent, because serving staff are so dependent on tips. In San Francisco, this didn’t appear to be the case. I don’t know if it’s because we Brits have a bad reputation when it comes to tipping, and so they decide not to bother trying to earn any, but seriously, I’ve had friendlier service in France!
The next morning, the barely-Anglophone Eastern European waitress at Bourdain’s Bakery was even worse. I’m a huge believer that the location of your mother’s uterus on your date of birth should not affect how your life works out – I’d campaign for completely open borders if anyone would listen! But I won’t go into how much I feel it’d make the world a better place right here. It just drives me crazy when business owners appoint those who cannot speak English in service positions, just to save a buck.
One of the things I absolutely adore about Californian cuisine is their propensity to put all kinds of foods into bread bowls! I tried a scrummy bacon, mushroom and pepper scramble for breakfast, but the best thing has to be the more liquid things – clam chowder; chilli; soup.
After breakfast, we got a cab to the airport to pick up the hire car and start the road trip. I’m hoping that it was a combination of jet lag and a comedown from the adrenaline of the wedding, but we were so disappointed in San Francisco, and desperately excited to move on to sunnier climes! So many friends and family absolutely adore the city that we are determined to give it another try some day, not least because we would love to take our future children to Alcatraz. If we’d had more time, we would have made sure to visit the Walt Disney Family Museum, and if we’d had more money, we’d have stayed in a more intimate boutique hotel. Our recent travels to the same safe places have dulled our exploration skills, and I think those are essential in a city like San Francisco.
I’m aware that the first instalment of our honeymoon write-up may make me sound like a misery-guts, but I promise there are happier times to come!
Coming up – Napa