San Francisco 2017

San Francisco 2017

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Lombard Street San Francisco

Air New Zealand flies the Boeing 777-300 between Auckland and San Francisco and in Premium Economy the attraction is their SpaceSeat. There are only six seats abreast and in the centre isle the two seats are each angled slightly outwards so you have a wide armrest that doubles as an additional table to the one which folds out of the seat arm. Each seat sits in a pod and the seat back reclines and the whole seat slides forward for sleeping. In addition the seat base can be tilted upwards to support your thighs. Probably as comfortable a seat as you are ever going to get without going for the full lie flat seat in business class.

We had a problem with the airline in reserving a seat in advance on this leg of our journey although seats on every other leg were reserved without problem. We tried to reserve on line and there were no seats available together. Air New Zealand did not answer my email requesting an explanation then our travel agent emailed us the day before we left saying they had managed to reserve us two seats together at the side. The only problem with that was the seats on each side are meant for passengers traveling alone and are offset to provide more privacy. When we checked in we were allocated two centre isle seats without us asking and when I queried the change they had no explanation.

You probably think that this is a lot of fuss about nothing but when you have paid over twice the economy fare you do expect to be able to reserve a seat in advance. The Air New Zealand web site says that they require an extra 50 per seat per flight for advanced seat reservation yet that did not apply to the previous flight. This is Air New Zealand behaving like Ryanair and spoilt what is supposed to be a premium service. Not only that but the sparkling wine on boarding was served in plastic cups and the food was sub standard compared to the previous flight.

As a result the next long haul flight we do will not be with Air New Zealand despite their SpaceSeats which they have ditched anyway on their latest aircraft. The new seat configuration will replicate the 787 with 8 seats abreast instead of 6 but the price stays the same. More Ryanair tactics. Virgin Atlantic who flew us home in a 787 was much improved compared to their flight out to Hong Kong.

Overall I think we will be choosing airlines in future who are flying the Airbus A380 aircraft as we both thought, even flying economy, it was roomier and quieter, and we did not suffer so much from jet lag.

Westfield Shopping Centre Dome

Once again I had pre-booked the transfer between the airport and the city, this time on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system. You get a voucher which is exchanged for round trip tickets at the desk in front of the BART station in terminal G. Trains depart every 10 minutes and it takes half an hour to Market and Powell Street station in downtown San Francisco.

Our hotel was the Cornell on Bush Street which was a short walk up Powell, "up" being the operative word, dragging our heavy suitcases behind us. The hotel is very quirky being French with a distinct allegiance to Joan of Arc who us Brits burnt at the stake you might remember, never the less there seemed to be no hard feelings!

The owners seemed to have covered everywhere they could with French medieval decoration and every floor devoted to one famous French artist. Our floor was Matisse with prints of his work in our room and even the ceiling painted. The elevator and plumbing also seemed to be 19th century French although we were assured it was more 19th century American.

We had to wait for our room to be prepared and so walked back downtown and wandered around Union Square. The last time we were here in the late 70's we stayed in the Westin St Francis on Union Square but we were both working then and the Cornell was half the price now we are retired. I remember the huge atrium and the lifts which emerged onto the outside of the building which did nothing for Sue's vertigo.

We wandered around the Westfield Shopping Centre which has 170 shops and restaurants, over 9 stories and marvelled at the circular escalators. It was so huge that we had problems finding our way out as everything was designed to make you pass every shop.

Broken down cable car

The hotel restaurant was closed for dinner as the owners were en vacances to add to the French atmosphere. Across the road was Uncle Vito's, an Italian pizza and pasta joint. It was cheap and cheerful and we both enjoyed the pizza and the pasta.

I downloaded the MUNI app to my mobile phone and purchased two three day tickets. This gave me three days travel of the whole municipal transport system including the cable cars but not including BART. Note also that the three days are from midnight to midnight so you should not activate your tickets until you want to use them.

We hopped on the Powell - Mason cable car at the junction of Powell and Bush right next to our hotel. The cable car actually stops in the middle of the junction as it provides a flat surface avoiding the steep gradient on either side of Bush so in crossing to board you take your life in your hands! The photo above shows that junction and how they deal with a cable car that has broken down.

It is a good idea not to board the cable cars at the terminus at the Powell and Market junction as there is always a big queue there. Walking for a few stops saves queueing and you can always jump up and ride on the running board.

Lombard Street mural
Lombard Street mural

The bell chord is only for the use of the conductor and you should shout to the gripman or the conductor when you want to get off.

We alighted the car at Lombard Street where we were confronted by a mural of two naked people and someone had covered up the blokes willy with an appropriate label.
We then had to walk steeply uphill to the most attractive part of the street. This is supposed to be the crookedest street in the city with beautifully planted shrub and flower bed and expensive property overlooking the bay. The photo at the top of this page is taken there.

Having arrived at the top of the hill we realised we should have caught the Powell - Hyde cable car which would have dropped us off at the top of the hill rather than at the bottom.

Cable car going down Hyde Street

We were not far from Fisherman's Wharf however, and it was all downhill from here. By this time Sue was having her daily coffee withdrawal symptoms so we found ourselves in Boudin Bakery which is famous for its sourdough bread but also serves Peet's coffee which is a favourite of ours.

Tied up in the harbour was the SS Jeremiah O'Brien which I recognised as a Liberty ship. This one was built in 1943 in just 56 days and over 2700 were built primarily to transport food and war materials to Britain during WW11.


On then to Pier 39 as Sue wanted to see the seals and very smelly they were too. Shops on the pier and along the wharf were mostly tee shirt shops although there were a few museums but it was nice weather and we decided to investigate a harbour cruise.

The Blue and Gold fleet company which owns Pier 39 offered us a round trip to Sausalito calling at Angel and Tiburon Islands for the princely sum of $21 senior fare for the two of us so we hopped on one of their ferries which gave us great views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island on the way.

Seals at Pier 39

It would be possible to make a day of this trip, getting off at Angel Island which is a state park where you can climb to the top of the hill for great views across the bay. It is an historic place where immigrants were first housed just like Ellis Island in New York harbour. German and Japanese POW's were also held here prior to being sent on to POW camps during WW2.

Angel Island

You could also get off at Tiburon Island which looked like a classy place full of shops and restaurants. Here, as in Sausalito, are the homes of the wealthy who can enjoy nice sunny days when San Francisco is shrouded in fog. Sausalito, as well as being a pretty place, is also full of shops and restaurants and also famous for its houseboats but they are over 2 miles from the ferry terminal so you need to have some transport to get there.

San Francisco city skyline

We would have liked to stay in one of those places for dinner but the last ferry did not allow enough time so we caught the next one back and admired the views of the city skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Golden Gate Bridge

We also sailed close to Alcatraz Island where you can visit and be shown around the infamous prison. Here was where Al Capone, 'Machine Gun' Kelly, 'Doc' Barker and the 'Birdman' of Alcatraz were imprisoned.


We bought a few tee shirts at Fisherman's Wharf before getting the cable car back to Bush Street.

That evening saw us back on the cable car to Jackson Street in Chinatown looking to renew our appetites for Dim Sum. The restaurants we were looking for in Jackson Street were both closed so we assume that they only served at lunchtime, however, we found the Peninsular Seafood Restaurant open which advertised Hong Kong style Dim Sum. Only problem was that they did not serve them in the evening so we finished up with Szechuan Prawns, Lemon Chicken and Singapore Noodles, all expensive and pretty average we agreed as we walked back up Grant Street to Bush.

Next day we took a tram along Market Street to the civic centre. We had remarked on the number of homeless and mentally disturbed people we had met, right from boarding the BART train from the airport when a black guy who seemed completely spaced out sat close to us. In the civic centre area this also seemed full of these people and the city authority had even provided a mobile shower truck so they could keep themselves clean.

Here is an article from the San Francisco Chronicle all about the problem.

San Francisco City Hall

The City Hall was well worth a visit. It was built in 1915 and has a dome which is higher than the Capitol Dome in Washington which I suspect was on purpose. After the 1986 earthquake, the then mayor spent half a million dollars to make it earthquake proof and also took the opportunity to renew all the gold leaf.

San Francisco City Hall

It is free to enter and is full of newly married couples having their photos taken on the marble staircase where Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio were photographed when they married in 1954. You can also have a guided tour of the building but we just wandered around as our time was limited. We then caught a trollybus along Hayes Street to Alamo Square to see the Painted Ladies. This is a picturesque row of Victorian Houses, much photographed, neatly arranged in front of the skyline of the city centre.

We then rode on a trollybus but we didn't have the fare (I just couldn't resist it) but we did have our MUNI app tickets and alighted at the Golden Gate Park.
This runs for three miles to the ocean and is half a mile wide. We walked to the Victorian Conservatory of Flowers which was not a patch on Kew Gardens and then, after about a mile, managed to find the Japanese Tea Gardens as by that time we needed a cup. Problem was they wanted money to enter so we turned around and found a nice little coffee bar in Eighth Avenue before catching a very modern tram back into town.

The Painted Ladies

We intended to investigate the Castro area but after arriving at Church Street the tram plunged underground and we found ourselves back at Powell. They then announced that a tram had stalled so we sat there on a tram going back for some time while nothing happened and eventually decided, bugger it, lets go back to the hotel. We did have a problem when we were confronted with an automatic barrier to get out of the underground station and we only had tickets on our mobile phone. Turned out you just pushed against the barrier and it opened.

Conservatory of Flowers

That evening we ventured back to Fisherman's Wharf with the old Market Street Tram and found ourselves on an Italian one. They operate old trams from all over America and the world and even have some old Melbourne trams although we never saw one. It took over and hour to get there and we were stationary in Market Street for most of the time. One of the locals told us this was quite normal at that time of night.

We sat opposite some guy telling two guys of ethnic Chinese origin all about his problems with his mother. The Chinese guy in the middle just sat there pretending he wasn't there while the other wished the guy whose mother was a problem would get off at the next stop but he didn't! Americans do like to converse loudly with you and we were asked on one occasion what we thought of Donald Trump. I said we thought he was a bit silly and that we could not understand why the Americans voted for him. We were told that even those who had voted for him now deny that they did.

Yerba Buena gardens

The Pier Market on Pier 39 was an up-market chippie where we had Pacific Cod in beer batter washed down with a nice bottle of Napa Valley Pinot Grigio for a very reasonable price. Our printed guide informed us that Fisherman's Wharf was not the best place to eat seafood but we were well pleased with our choice and caught the cable car back to our hotel where I was told off by the conductor for tapping the gripman on the shoulder to ask him to stop at Bush.
The gripman is the guy in the middle of the car who operates the huge lever which grips or releases the continuous cable running in a trench below the track at 9 mph. The conductor also operates the brake at the back when going downhill.

On our final day we walked downtown to Yerba Buena gardens. This used to be a no go area full of drug dealers and homeless people but it has had a makeover with fountains, waterfalls and an up-market cafe. We sat in the sunshine and admired the cityscape before catching the BART train back to the airport. Following the signs we then caught the airtrain to the terminal for Virgin America only to be told to go back to terminal A for Virgin Atlantic.

Unlike most international terminals there are hardly any restaurants or shops here which took us by surprise but managed to get a sandwich and a beer while amusing ourselves watching the aircraft land and take off simultaneously from four different runways.

Virgin Atlantic served us Prosecco in a proper glass and the food was much improved from our previous flight. We still do not like the 787 aircraft and we were still suffering from jet lag a week later.

We arrived back in Cheltenham by coach in two hours from Heathrow and spring had sprung.

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