san francisco, day one

If you're new around these parts, here's a quick note of explanation. I've kept a travel journal for every trip I've taken since 1982. Since 2006, with my trip to Peru, I began keeping these journals online, on this blog. I write it almost exactly as I would if I were writing for myself. So be warned!

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Tuesday was a long travel day, from Buffalo to JFK to Oakland and into San Francisco. Our four hour wait in JFK extended to five, then close to an hour wait on the plane for takeoff. We took public transit from the Oakland Airport into town. If you go to San Francisco, you should always check fares to Oakland. It's usually less expensive and always much easier.

So by the time we got into Oakland, with the time change working against us, we were tired and bedraggled. Imagine our surprise when the front-desk clerk told us he had no record of our reservation!

The hotel was completely booked, not one unreserved room, and Hotels.com - did you know that is an offshoot of Expedia.com? - had oversold them by 15 rooms. In chatting with him about it, we learned that this has been happening a lot. Recently when the San Francisco Marathon was on, the hotel had to send 50 people in cabs to a hotel in a nearby city. It's been something of a nightmare to them, but this person could not have been more gracious and unflappable.

He said he'd book us a room at a hotel around the corner, at their expense, and then there were plenty of rooms for the next two nights. But that hotel was oversold, too, as was the second one he called. Finally, the poor guy made what must have been a scary decision - there were six rooms that were reserved but for which guests hadn't shown up yet, so he gave us one of those.

There is nothing quite like sinking into a clean, fresh bed after a long day of travel. We were so tired and very relieved.

We're staying at The Prescott, a bit more luxurious than usual for us, but the online deal was very good - although of course that only works if the reservation service actually books the room! The front-desk clerk upgraded us to include breakfast (not always done in the nicer hotels) and an afternoon wine reception.

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Since we've been in San Francisco several times, we've done all the big tourist attractions, at least the ones that interest us. We just want to hit a few favourite spots, do a couple of new things, and soak up the atmosphere. San Francisco is a really special place. It's so beautiful, the houses rising on the hills, the Bay, the views, the bridges. It also has an energy and an excitement found in very few US cities.

We had a brief breakfast in the hotel, then took a bus to the Chestnut Street area, a fun neighbourhood not far from the Bay. The bus goes through Chinatown and North Beach, another cool SF neighbourhood, and provides a nice little tour. Time zone difference being what it is, by the time we got to Chestnut Street, we were hungry again, and stopped at a great cafe for coffee and breakfast burritos. Chestnut Street has been infiltrated by Starbucks and Gap, but for the most part it still has an independent feel.

From there we walked to the Bay, cutting through a piece of The Presidio to the Golden Gate Promenade or Crissy Field. This is a walking and bike path right on the bay, with a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge. If you walk the entire path, you can visit the historic fort at the base of the bridge. If I recall correctly, this fort was almost torn down when the Golden Gate Bridge was built, but preservationists were successful, and the bridge was designed to go over it. (On the Fort Point website you can get the whole story and see how the bridge now shelters the fort.) On our first trip to San Francisco together in 1988 (which was my third or fourth time here), Allan and I hiked down to the fort. We were fascinated with the Golden Gate Bridge and learned everything we could about it.

This time we strolled along the Bay, enjoying the perfect weather and the incredible view. Along with the cyclists and walkers, there were dozens of dogs romping on the sand and playing in the surf. Some were with their owners who were walking on the beach, but there were also many dogwalkers with six, eight or twelve dogs each. It seemed an ideal place for both dogs and people, such a beautiful and relaxing setting.

We're not taking photos here in San Francisco, as we already have hundreds of photos of these areas. But a Google image search will give you an idea.

We took the bus back to the hotel, had some tapas and wine at the bar, and headed to the ballpark. I really like the "new" (now ten years old) park in San Francisco, sadly named AT&T Park, but beautifully designed and situated on the East Bay overlooking the Oakland Bay Bridge. We've been to this park once before, and had also been to Candlestick, where the Giants used to play.

We met a friend from Joy of Sox, and a friend of his, for the game. It was a wild one: the Giants were up 9-2 after six innings, blew the entire lead, but came back to win 10-9 in ten innings. Unfortunately for us, I neglected to consider our seat locations and didn't use sunscreen. We sat in the blazing sun for eight innings and now have strangely-patterned sunburns.

After the game, our SF friend brought us to a great Chinese restaurant, very different than the Chinese food I eat in Toronto, and a real treat. Then we went to their neighbourhood bar hangout.

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