We simply cannot believe that eight weeks could go so quickly. At the beginning of this amazing holiday, the idea of taking two whole months off work and just motoring off into the desert to places beyond seemed like a plan that might go on forever. After a couple of weeks on the road, that feeling was almost stronger. We wanted to run away and do this forever! And yet here we are in San Francisco with no more sleeps to go before we jump onto our long flight home. We fly out today!
One thing we are really glad about is the quality of San Franciscan weather forecasting. They've got it wrong more often than not. When they forecast showers for Friday, we got a beautiful, sunny day. And even this Sunday morning is meant to be cloudy and wet, and unless they have blue clouds here in California, I think we've got another sunny one on our hands.
While I have another blog posting in mind about travel tips for Aussies in America (to be done when we get back to Sydney) for this last posting here from the USA I'd just like to tell you a bit more about how wonderful a place San Francisco is to visit. Come on over some time: it's only a short 14.5 hour flight across the Pacific from Sydney!
For starters, my last pan shot (sniff...) of the holidays. The view from our hotel room.
When I watched this pan shot a second time, I realised the Golden Gate Bridge is virtually invisible in the picture, so don't strain your eyes looking for it.
Here it is, in one of Pammy's mega-zoom shots taken from our hotel room balcony. One of the tourist brochures I picked up tried to describe the colour of the Golden Gate Bridge as 'vermilion-orange'. Nice try, but I think 'pink' still hits the spot, as this photo shows.
"Make sure to visit the Coit Tower," said our good mate Zora in one of her emails to us. And so I went to Wikipedia to find out all about it, and it has a remarkable background story, which you can read here. The short version is that a wealthy San Franciscan woman, Lillie Hitchcock Coit, bequeathed a large sum of money to the city to help beautify it, and the first thing built was this tall tower on Telegraph Hill, from which you can enjoy the very best views the city has to offer. Do read the Wikipedia entry when you get time, as she was a wonderful eccentric who had quite a 'thing' for firemen. The allegation about the size, shape and symbolism of the tower is just scuttlebutt, probably. This photo of the Coit Tower taken from the waterfront streets shows what a prominent landmark it is.
Inside the Coit Tower, which was built during the years of the Great Depression in the early 1930s, a team of artists with Socialist sympathies decorated the walls with murals.
Naturally enough the murals caused quite a bit of controversy at the time – workers revolution and all those threatening bears – but now they are an essential part of the fabric of the building.
After travelling up the super-slow lift which takes you near the top of the tower, you then need to climb another 37 steps to get to the top and enjoy the views, which are spectacular. In the distance you can see the Golden Gate Bridge spanning San Francisco Bay.
We didn't know there was a bus which takes you up to Coit Tower, and so we climbed the steep streets and the thousand or so steps to get there. Phew! Once we had taken in the views, we discovered the bus's existence and caught it for the ride down to Fisherman's Wharf, on the harbour. At Pier 39, these sea lions have set up a permanent colony on these pontoons, entertaining the crowds.
We retired to the Crab House Restaurant on the Pier and were lucky enough to be given a good window view.
The decor of the Crab House is all white tiles, with decorations of hand-painted crab shells all around the walls. It felt like a really big bathroom. Almost everyone there ordered, devoured and enjoyed the restaurant's famous crabs, but quite frankly folks, if there's one type of seafood I cannot be bothered with, it's fiddling around trying to get meat out of a crab. Too much hard work (although yummy USA-style crabcakes, which are almost all-crabmeat, are another delicious thing altogether). And so I tucked into a superb plate of mussels and shrimp, while Pam had a crab omelette, which was excellent.
The next morning, a Saturday, we wandered down to the Ferry Plaza Markets to check out what is claimed to be one of the largest and best farmers' markets in the USA. It certainly lived up the hype: it was huge, covered several areas, starting with the large, restored Ferry Building itself then spreading out into the streets and squares nearby, under the cover of countless marquees. Buskers entertained the throngs at this waterside setting, while dense, busy crowds of locals and tourists shopped for gourmet foods and fresh produce.
The quality of the produce here was really impressive, and extensive. Specialist in all sorts of goods provided whatever you wanted in their chosen field (wait till you see my 'Tasty Salted Pig Parts' T-shirt!). The peppers and chillies stands were both colourful and rich with variety.
The mushroom specialists had over a dozen different varieties in artfully arranged profusion. This is a colour photo by Pam, but it looks like a painting already.
And the fruits! Persimmons, figs, pomegranates, grapes and lots more in abundance. You really could come here and buy all the ingredients you need for a gourmet fantasy. The only thing I noticed the markets lacked was fresh Asian ingredients. I saw no Chinese cabbage (wombok), choy sum, pak choy etc, and no lemon grass or Thai kaffir lime leaves, etc. I know they're probably all available up in Chinatown, but it seems the local mainstream Californian cuisine hasn't fully embraced traditional Asian ingredients yet.
Everywhere we went as we wandered around San Francisco (and we love to wander!) the charming variety of houses adds so much character to each and every street. We liked the way these simple, plain clapboard houses went all out on showing an impressive facade. Keeping up appearances, as they say.
And as you can see in the photo here, the wires of the cable cars, and the cable cars themselves are another constant in many views. We ended up not going on any cable car rides, alas. The crowds to get on the cable cars, especially those cute old-style ones where people 'hang-off' the sides, were so huge that we couldn't be bothered queuing for 40 minutes for the ride, when we could walk the distance required in the same time.
And so that's our last posting from here for this incredible journey across the United States of America. We've had such a wonderful time, the weather has been outstandingly kind to us everywhere and the people we've met along the way have been a pleasure to talk to as well as being very friendly and and helpful. I really like ordinary, everyday Americans!
Just doing this blog itself has been a buzz, too. As well as all the terrific (and often very helpful) comments posted here on the blog itself, we've had stacks of personal email messages from friends and relatives who've been taking the journey with us from the day we started. So, a big THANK YOU to everyone for coming along with us on the trip. You've been great company, and we look forward to seeing and actually talking with so many of you when we get home in a few days' time.
And an especially big THANK YOU to our support team back home who kept things ticking over superbly while we swanned around the place over here: Colin and Barbara for looking after transport, logistics, mail, bills and unexpected problems; Fraser for house-sitting in the wilds of Marrickville; our neighbour Katerina for watering the garden; Zora and Sean for mopping up operations after Pammy's art show, and much more. And Benno, master Photoshop guru, for the beautifully tricked up photo of Pam and I at Grand Canyon, which has served at the top of the page for almost every posting on this trip.
Bye for now, see you soon, from Jamie and Pam.