California #1 – The City – San Francisco

 

As you might be catching on I am game to travel. I have my group of travel buddies who will call me or send me an email suggesting a trip. This time the content simply said “California $400 return…”. That is a deal that is hard to pass up.

In 2014 Anne sent me that email and so we jumped on the amazing airfare and planned a 12-day trip to California. I had spent almost 10 years not travelling much between being in law school, building my career, paying off student debt and then meeting Kirby and the kids. My travel had stalled and I had forgotten how much I love it.

Last night three years later I sat down to drink one of the precious bottles of wine from that trip (see post #3 for lessons on importation of alcohol into Canada) and it spurred me on to write about that adventure.

The planning

The planning for a trip for me is almost as much fun as going on the trip. Anne and I sat down at a local restaurant Britt’s Pub with our computers and had a glass of wine and started to plan. We booked the airfare that started it off. The key with airfare is to keep looking on a regular basis and check airports other than your local one. This airfare came out of Bangor Maine, which is a 3-hour drive from home. The cost of gas was about 50 and the parking about 100 so for $150 we saved hundreds of dollars each on airfare.

We then talked through what we wanted to see and do. She wanted to see some of San Francisco, I wanted to do some hiking and we both wanted to hit wine country. So, there you go we had a rough plan.

I have to admit the biggest thing about travel is finding people you travel well with. Anne and I have now travelled several times together. We have similar travel styles and travel well together. We are both (fairly) easy going and we both are very fair about money. You need to find those people so that you enjoy yourself both planning and while you are away.

Getting there

The only downside to such a diverse trip is the huge amount of gear we needed to bring. We would be spending several casual days touring the city, several rustic days camping and a couple of luxurious days touring wine country. We each had a large backpack of gear plus a hockey bag of camping gear.

We drove down to Bangor and had no problem crossing the border. It is important to bring your travel documents and have a plan when doing that. Anne and I decided to go on a spontaneous weekend to Bangor without a plan one time and spent about 1.5 hours at the border basically bring interrogated because we had no hotel booked and no plan. I mean really come on, look at us, what trouble would we be up to?

The extra bag cost $100 to ship each way but the camping would save us 2-300 per night rather than being in a hotel so we figured it was worth it for the saving of money but also for the experience of camping and hiking.

The flight is long covering the country but we arrived and happily made our way to our hostel for night #1.

Hosteling

Yes, I said hostel. I had never stayed at a hostel before. Anne had and suggested that for San Francisco to keep our costs down we would stay at a hostel. I was open to the idea as long as we had our own room and she assured me it was just like staying at a hotel….

After a long day of travel, I was very excited to get to the hostel. We wanted to take a nap and then go out for dinner and see the city.

I have to admit that when I first walked into the room it was like returning to university dorm life. The bed was small and on a metal frame, the bathroom was shared and down the hall and worst of all is was SO hot. The weird part was it was really cool outside and there was a beautiful breeze that evening, but inside the room we were sweating just standing there…

Lesson #1 from San Francisco – I do not hostel. Perhaps this decision is based on one bad experience and I should give it another try but after all of my amazing experiences with AirBNB and other places to stay I’m going to stick this one in the lesson learned and not to be repeated column.

Alcatraz

I am usually not a big fan of tourist traps but this is a case of a historical site that has such a cool story but we both really wanted to go. Down by the water you buy a ticket for a boat to take you to the island and your entrance fee. We went with Alcatraz Cruises and they had series of boats and the wait and cost was very reasonable (I think it was about $40). The boats leave from Pier 33 and there are a few different reputable companies who you can order tickets from.

Alcatraz prison is on an island about a 20-minute boat trip from San Francisco. It is famous for being on an island, it was a maximum security federal prison and it was in operation for about 30 years. It was notorious as a place to send the worst of the worst and having been there is was a very depressing and seriously strict place. The prison boasted that no one successfully escaped from Alcatraz. Being on an island with strong currents surrounding it the very few prisoners who went “missing” were presumed to be drowned.

I have to admit it was a great tour and was completely worth the visit.

 

GOcar

One of our friends suggested that we rent a GoCar to tour around for a day. We looked it up online and I have to say it looked neat so we booked one. When we got there we realized the cars were TINY. Looking at this tiny gocart and the huge trucks and traffic on the streets we asked the attendant whether we could take it for only a short while and whether we would have to pay for the whole day.

We had decided I would drive so we hopped in. I had to ask Anne to give me a minute because I was SO scared pulling out onto busy downtown street in this tiny little vehicle.

 

Well that didn’t last very long! That go car was so much fun. We took it all over the city, to the golden gate bridge, down the worlds twistiest street and even a stop over to REI to pick up camping supplies.

We pulled into the depot to return the car just a couple of minutes before they closed. It was such a great day and so easy to park.

The only thing I have to say is that the sound system was broken so we couldn’t hear the tour (and directions on where to turn etc.). Luckily we had a map and made our own tour but it was a bit disappointing that they hadn’t maintained the cars. I would suggest you aks for a car with a working sound system if you want the guided tour.

The Golden Gate Bridge

One of our stops with the gocar was at the Golden Gate Bridge. We had decided to walk across the bridge and have lunch on the other side in Sausilito.

I had such a hard time on the bridge. I have a fear of heights but I was almost paralysed as I tried to walk across. Anne was hanging over the edge taking pictures and I was limping along as far from the edge as I could possibly be. Photo credits 100% to Anne.

It was beautiful and when the fog subsided it was such an amazing view.

On the other side it turns out that Sausilito is a lot further from the bridge than we anticipated so we decided to go back and have lunch in San Fran. I couldn’t tell you where we had lunch but that day was all about conquering fear.

Pride Festival

We were lucky enough that while we were there it was one of the cities pride festivals. We decided to walk to the festival and listen to some music.

Walking in San Fransico is a bit daunting. First off it was very hot that day. As you walk along one moment you are in a high end shopping area then a block later you could be surrounded by the drug trade. We were walking along and all of a sudden we had a woman standing next to us that was very high on drugs – we made some distance but decided to hightail it out of there when she threatened to kill us… A few minutes later we walked by two guys and their dogs, the dogs went at one another and we almost got caught in the middle of it. Poor Anne was having a rough time in the middle of all that excitement.

Arriving at the pride festival the area was alive with excitement, colour and entertainment. We moved around having an icy cold beer and watching the interesting sights.

That afternoon we went to a movie. The day called for a little less excitement and a lot more air conditioning. The last night we also pulled the shoot on the hostel and made our way down the street to a hotel so we could get a good night sleep with air conditioning and proper beds.

 

Next thing we knew it was time to get the car and head to Yosemite. We had a great time and enjoyed what the city had to offer and I’m glad I went.

 

Mountains here we come!

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