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2006-03-21 - 1:25 a.m.

I'm not going to try to go into too much detail about San Francisco- you saw how successful that was with my Melbourne/ Adelaide trip. Besides, I've really started embracing the writing thing again- whether it be in here, in my pen-and-paper diary, or taunting teenyboppers with my outspoken opinions on mailing lists, so it would be silly to get too hung up on writing about the (albeit recent) past when I have so much to say about the present.

Now that I've put down that disclaimer I'm bound to write heaps...

The weeks leading up to our departure were one farewell party/ get-together/ drop-in after another, but come midday of Friday 24th February we were on a plane bound for Jane's new life. As expected neither of us slept- it's not 100% a "can't sleep on planes" thing, because I have managed a bit here and there, but I certainly can't do it on the way from home to somewhere. So 14 hours later (yet 5 hours earlier), we were in LA. Things were stress free until then, but LAX is stressful at the best of times. Collect bags, line up, go through customs, re-check bags, line up again for 30 minutes and go through more security checks on the way to the connecting flight, wait a couple of hours for said connecting flight. And really we just wanted to sleep. So by the time we got to San Francisco and we were having rental car issues (apparently it's unheard of over there for major companies to accept someone else's credit card, even though I'm sure that the flippant use of credit card numbers over the internet originated in said country) I just wanted to get a cab to the hotel and crash. However we persisted, got a rental car, drove on the right hand side of the road across the Bay Bridge narrowly avoiding the maniacs, and found the hotel only to find we had to make our own parking arrangements.

I cursed our choice to get a rental car many times that week. Sure the company paid for it, but that money could have been used elsewhere I'm sure (Jane got a US$4000 relocation package, and the car and first week's accommodation alone came to close to $1500). Still, by the end of the week we'd saved ourselves numerous cab fares, driven across every bridge we could find and settled Jane into normal life with some grocery shopping. So it was probably worth it.

Finally we got to have a sleep, before heading down the main street of Berkeley for some very cheap very good Taiwanese cuisine. I think we picked the right area. Certainly everyone in Jane's office applauded her choice not to live where the office is. Berkeley is a little bit Newtown and Marrickville, but also a bit George St Cinema District. And the amount of homeless (mainly black) people around downtown Berkeley station is both intimidating and sad.

Anyway, day one pretty much ended with dinner. Which meant that we woke up bright and early th next day. In the morning, Jane got some addresses for places to look at from the internet at the library, then we rushed down to one place (almost resulting in an argument because Jane insisted that her walking speed was her walking speed and nothing could change that, while I didn't like the idea of missing out on checking out a place by mere minutes due to lack of effort), which was not too bad, particular for it's cheap price tag, and at least it let us know that Jane would not be living in a dump. This place was about $800 per month, while the place she ended up settling on, today in fact (she has been living short term in a furnished apartment in the meantime) is $1095 a month.

Had our first BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit- the equivalent of the New York Subway or the tube) experience going under the bay to downtown San Francisco, to begin our sightseeing- familiarising ourselves with the public transport was another way in which Jane started feling at home. The first place we looked at was the Ferry Terminal, which was a constant reference point thanks to the clock tower at the end of Market Street (which cuts neatly through the wider city area and as far down it as you go you can see straight back to the clock tower), and then we caught one of the renowned cable cars up California Street, essentially to the middle of nowhere, but I decided the closest place to interest was Japantown.

San Francisco is an oddly built city. I can't think of any other like it in the world. Surely anybody else would have seen the hills and decided to build at the base of them, or a scattering of McMansions on the tops of them, but no, they've laid a grid system right over the ever changing contours and built houses into the sides of hills. The result being you consult your trusty lonely planet and say "we should be able to head straight down Haight Street to the hippie corner", not realising that while the street is indeed straight as the crow flies, you go up and down about 5 hills in that time.

So lunch was Shabu Shabu at a Japanese noodle bar, before I lead Jane up-down-up-down and up Haight Street to what was, in 1967, the most famous intersection in the world, Haight-Ashbury. Plenty of hippie relics, but also big clothes shops, and an Ice Cream chain store. It was cold, we were tired, and not in the mood to do much other than hop on a bus back to the ferry terminal once we'd reached our desired destination.

We had an evening nap, until 9pm, leaving it a little late for dinner by the time we got our act together, as Berkeley has a distinct lack of open-past-10pm restaurants (where's BBQ Kings when you need it?), but did manage a couple of mammoth and very tasty slices of pizza before finding a decent cocktail place, where even the most alcoholic and elaborate drinks were no more than $7. Most cocktails were $5 (plus tip of course). Bloody Australian Government liquor taxes- anybody would think they're trying to discourage excessive drinking over here.

So the next day we had plans to take the car for a spin across the Bay Bridge (the top deck leads into San Francisco, while the direction we travelled from the airport to Berkeley was underneath so the views weren't great) and then the Golden Gate. It had been threatening rain for some time, but it held off long enough for us to discover the car had a flat, and one of the essential tools for changing a tyre was missing (thankfully it wasn't the spare). So we had to find a hardware store, and at this point the rain started, and then after buying the tool, we went back to the hotel cold, wet and defeated, and slept for a couple of hours before finally changing the tyre. The spare was a joke- emblazoned with "temporary use only", it was about half the thickness of the other tyres, and we knew immediately that we wouldn't be driving across the Golden Gate in it. A trip to the Rental Car agency near the airport would be needed to fix the tyre.

So we did that the next morning- despite our concerns for the tyre we went the long way, checking out another spectacular causeway/bridge, and at least going against the traffic, and by midday we were on our way with 4 healthy tyres. The rain didn't really abate all day, but the view of the city from across the Golden Gate bridge was still fantastic. It was the first use I made of the camera all trip.

Not much else to speak of during the day, but the rain got worse and worse, to the point where I stopped into a pharmacy to buy a golf umbrella before going to an Irish Pub for dinner.

Tuesday was our second big San Francisco sightseeing day (after the one that involved much walking up and down hills). The weather was surprisingly gorgeous (at least until about 5pm), we were in much better moods and frames of mind, and we managed to see (and eat) heaps. We started with the Mission district, where the thing to do is find the ultimate burrito. And lets just say, you're not spoiled for choice. We walked around the vibrant district before heading up to the Castro district, which is basically the gay capital of the world- proud rainbow flag flying and all. Had a coffee and crepes (it was shrove Tuesday after all), before catching the Metro (a bit of a cross between a bus and a tram, although this particular one was 100% tram) all the way to Fisherman's Wharf, which is the tourist end of town. The Darling Harbour equivalent. You can't go 10 metres without finding a stall selling clam chowder in a sourdough bowl, but we chose a restaurant, where Jane bought said staple, while I couldn't resist a famous San Franciscan dish called Cioppino- a tomato broth swimming with crab, mussells, prawns, fish, and a hint of fennel. Mmmm.

And that's the first half of my trip. The next day saw Jo starting her new job, and me carrying the tourist baton on my own for a couple of days...


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