Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wed 22 Oct - San Francisco, CA

After too short a stay in South Lake Tahoe, we headed back to San Francisco, ignoring the hotel breakfast and making our own breakfast in the room.

All packed and ready to leave by 8am. Bye South Lake Tahoe. We think we will have to come back for a longer visit in 2017. Far too many hikes yet to be discovered.

We opted for a slower but more scenic way back to the Bay Area, driving on the 88 through Carson Pass and El Dorado State Forest before heading down the mountains. Di drove otherwise she gets a bit green on the windy mountain roads.

The scenery was fantastic and the fall colours in the trees looked at their best in the morning light.

We were heading up through the pass on the right - a mere 3,000 metres above sea level.

This area was called Big Meadows and to the right was a lovely large pasture area.

We figure when the Pony Express came through here they would have swapped horses here and left them to be fed and watered.

As we headed up through the pass we had to stop to look at the views and also what appeared to be solar panels on the very cliff tops, see below. No explanation or obvious nearby settlement for this power use had us a bit puzzled.

The view to the other side of the glacier carved valley was beautiful - no comment about Di here...

We did note that small pieces of ice and snow were up this high, presumably largely from light rain showers. California is in drought and their snow season has not really started because the weather has been described in San Francisco as 6 months of summer.

We figure this is as close to snow as Hans will get in this trip. He is absolutely fine by that.

The drive winds up and down across the Sierra Nevada ranges and past many small lakes and dams. All very pretty, set up for fishing and recreation, presumably hunting too.

By 9.45am we felt like a break and stopped for coffee and a snack at this popular place, Cooks Station.

A station house has been here since 1863 and was a Pony Express stop for a few years. No Di, that monster truck is not our rental car.

The menus gave the story about this old place and its history but it's obvious this structure used to hold a water tank. By the way the menu had 8 pages dedicated to breakfast options!

For $13 we had a great "2nd breakfast" and coffee and were served by a waitress who was a real character. She looked rough and skinny but was cracking jokes with everyone. A great break in our journey.

Back on the road we finally got down the mountains to an area known as Ione (elevation 70m) which was basically farming land and small towns.

This landscape looked very familiar...

We have definitely seen this vista before... could be Australia...

But wait the next car was coming on the wrong side of the road... What the...?

We then hit the Lodi Wine Trail. Vineyards everywhere.

Evidence of just a few vineyards in the area.

One funny thing was we finally found a great Rock radio station, out of Sacramento, with a DJ called Bob Keller.

Bob was very knowledgeable about rock and was also a funny guy. Today was apparently... "National Nut Day" and didn't that just start the jokes about never having enough nuts... We were laughing and loving the music theme of rock featuring Harmonicas. We were sad when we finally lost the signal as we got closer to the Bay Area.

The road continued into the California Delta - wait Delta?

This is a predominantly dry state but nope the way we went (route 12) took us along levee banks and drawbridges over large canals and waterways. Unfortunately no photos because the roads and bridges were narrow and no real places to pull over.

We eventually reached the suburban outskirts of San Francisco - and hit a traffic jam several miles long on the 4 lane highway. It was eventually explained by a 2 car smash but left us a little short of time so we stopped at a place called Pleasant Hill (nope we did not agree) for a Togo Sub Sandwich instead of our intended lunch at Red Lobster. Next time...

Back on the road with Hans behind the wheel heading into downtown and we got excited about going over Oakland Bay Bridge. A $4 toll seemed reasonable to us.

The nice man to collect the cash even smiled for the camera.

The bridge on ramps and the bridge itself are about 5 miles long in total. We were warned by the sign board "not to text or call and wreck it all". Clever slogan.

Oakland Bay Bridge today is largely a new bridge after the tragic collapse of part of the old bridge in an earthquake in 1989. The old bridge is still there in places, but did not appear to be in use.

Looks good with the San Francisco skyline appearing to the right.

We are getting closer and closer to downtown San Francisco.

Getting to the car park to return the car turned out to be very easy. Take the off ramp on 5th Street and follow it through almost to the end a small block left and right and we are there.

Our rental car was due back at 3pm and we dropped it in at 2.35pm. We cleared out all our gear, took the lift up to street level and found our hostel - directly opposite where we exited on the other side of the road. 321 Mason Street.

In all our travels we have never had a shorter distance to wheel our luggage!

HI downtown was very well rated for location and we understand why. It's just 2 blocks from Union Square to probably a fraction of the nightly rate for many of the neighboring posh hotels.

We were able to check in despite a 3pm check in time and were given a small room with a shared bathroom and a "double bed" that was actually one of those tri bed bunks.

Di thought that Hans would not fit lengthwise and went downstairs to check on alternatives. None available - the place is fully booked and she was told that at $99+tax per night we had got a really good deal!

OK we will make it work with Di sleeping "upstairs".

The rest of the hostel's facilities looked good as we put on a load of washing, made a cup of tea and checked emails etc in the kitchen area and then put our clothes in for an hour to dry. With an hour to wait we decided to check out the local "hood".

Yep, we are close to Union Square. This is Powell Street with the street car (trolley) and the iconic Westin St. Francis hotel. Union Square is to the right.

An obligatory selfie in Union Square. It is very different from what Hans remembers from more than 17 years ago. All cleaned up with people even having coffees and wines at tables in bistros. Although lots of homeless people, often mentally disturbed, still wander nearby.

There is something you instantly notice about San Francisco, the gap between the have and have nots is huge and more evident than elsewhere (even LA or NYC). Lots of beggars standing outside Apple stores, Armani exchange and posh hotels. There was even one outside our hostel.

We stopped into this Art Gallery and admired photos by Jim Marshall and Brian Duffy of iconic musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Beatles, David Bowie, Greatful Dead and more.

Fantastic images which you could buy for somewhere between $2k and $8k. We took a business card and dreamed on.

By 5pm we were back to collect our dried clean clothes and have quick showers before heading out for a light dinner at a cheap, local Thai place that looked good.

The Old Siam was excellent and in fact the dish Di chose of Basil Chilli Duck was perhaps one of the best Thai stir fries Di has ordered in many years. Yummy and cheap at $12 with rice. All up, our bill was $22. Surprising bargain for quality and quantity.

Back to our hostel for some blogging and relaxing in the lounge area.

A lazy evening followed as we overheard the young travellers giving each other travel and accomodation tips. And also preparing for pub crawls. Ahhhh... Youth. Good night.


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