Friday, June 12, 2009

San Francisco

"The City", as San Franciscans like to call their town, has been home for me for almost a week. After that brief time, I'd be happy to call it home for a longer time some day. Cosily settled into Kristen's 1920's flat (see sketch below) with a soft bed that folds out of the wall on an ancient mechanism, and green views of the back and neighbouring gardens, I've been venturing out daily to explore the different modes of transport (with the exception of cycling), hilly streets, architecture, street murals, food spots and outdoor gear shops.

I rate this city in my top 5, along with Lisbon, Buenos Aires, Barcelona and Bristol (can I include Brisbane?). Its diversity of people, districts (gay, Chinese, Italian, Latino, hippy, yuppy), grand parks, hilly terrain, old and new architecture and food have all entranced me. The City does have its flaws, as all do, with homelessness (street people with paper cups and escaped shopping trolleys overflowing with belongings, begging on almost every block) and an icy climate, even in summer. Despite June being the start of summer, I don't recall being warm or close to hot in the time I've been here. Frozen would be a more familiar sensation for me here (good training for my trip north) and I often wonder how all those without homes to sleep in at night cope. Thankfully the colourful and elaborately painted timber buildings, which must keep painters in demand, brighten the many grey days, psychologically.

One of the most noticeable things about San Francisco is the lack of smog. Mist and clouds abound but pollution seems absent. This would be partly due to the chilly sea breezes but also the fact that many people use public transport or ride bicycles and the majority of cars are small hybrids. Buses, trams, cable cars, muni (underground bus) and BART (Bay Area rapid transit) all run on hydro and wind-powered electricity. The odd buses that escape the cobwebs of overhead power cables, normally connected to by long antennae, run on biodiesel. I have made the most of testing all these public transport modes to get around town, as part of a "City Pass" deal - a week's pass to key city destinations (galleries, Academy of Science) and unlimited travel on all public transport except the BART.

The main connection from the Castro, where I'm staying, to the city is the "F" line - a tram line running trolley cars salvaged from all over the nation and world - Kansas City, Boston, Philadelphia, Alabama (see photo from 1947), Cleveland and from Milan, Italy. Each is has a unique colour scheme and style of its era, from elaborate Victorian to streamlined 1950's with its history displayed inside.

With bicycle paths criss crossing the city, cycling is popular and anything goes with bike types and dress, though helmets are consitently substituted with dapper hats or hairdos. Lycra-clad cyclists seem an endangered species here.

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