After several weeks (and months) of planning, steady packing, purging and sorting, I've found myself in the US, in the colourful, rainbow-bannered, gay San Francisco suburb of Castro. Having not seen any of the rest of San Francisco since I was 10, my fresher impressions of the city are of enticing food shops, florists, very friendly people on the streets, quirky timber architecture stacked tightly along hilly streets, amazingly courteous car drivers and dogs.
I arrived in a bit of a daze after the long flight, including an adrenalin-rushed transfer between domestic and international terminals in Sydney (less than an hour) and very little sleep (enormous selection of inflight viewing to compensate). Although the main flight was 12.5 hours, it was made comfortable with all the luxuries of long-haul travel that I'd forgotten from budget domestic flights - food, wine (ironically, my shiraz was "Rolling" 2006 Shiraz with a girl cycling in the hills on the label - bodes well for a cycling adventure), flight socks/toothbrush/blindfold pack, soft blanket and pillow and over 200 choices of things to watch.
Evidence of US security paranoia began on the flight with an announcement that there was to be no congregating of people anywhere on the plane, especially around the toilets. My fingerprints were scanned and my photo taken at immigration. I'd better behave in my time here!
Since navigating the airtrain, Bart and local bus with the help of dear friend Kristen and her Dad, John, to Kristen's cosy 1930's apartment, we've been out walking the streets, enjoying delicious roti-wrapped curry, the most amazing icecream (I had balsamic vinegar) and chatting with gregarious locals, both homeless and not. Crossing streets and looking the wrong way is not a danger in this part of town as drivers stop in the middle of the street or intersection to give way to pedestrians, not just at the zebra crossings. I thank them with friendly waves and smiles in gratitude. If this was Australia, I would have been flattened by now or at least have been verbally abused or honked at for stepping out in front of traffic.
Being a predominantly gay area, pampered pooches take the place of children. They are everywhere, of all shapes and sizes. Near the corner of Castro and 18th Street, there is a pet shop (of which I'm sure there are many similar) which is like a glamourous home and food store for cats and dogs: dog cupcakes and iced biscuit bones, organic treats, hair products, massage oil, glamorous collars, stuffed toys, squeaky toys and clothing for the dog and owner. As I entered a fluffy, freshly brushed white standard poodle left the shop and as I left, a bit bewildered, a huge St Bernard and a smaller dog came in for a browse. I'll try to get a photo.
There are plenty of bicycles here, of all types. The only lock used is a neat little d-lock to lock frame and wheels securely. Not the skinny locks seen around Brisbane. My bike may be staying where it's safest - in its box - until I fly to Alaska in 2 weeks. Walking is great around this area, particularly for people-watching, window browsing (though I some I choose not to) and checking out the architecture.
For more photos go to my picassa album