|The Golden Gate Bridge seen from Alcatraz|
We descended the snowy Sierra Nevada Mountains, leaving the majestic sequoias behind us. Soon we passed through Fresno to meet The Golden State Highway and then continued heading northwards along The Central Valley.
Increasingly, the landscape seemed colourless, tending towards desert and not green and colourful like the California dreaming of my youth. Where were the orange orange groves and the red tractors ploughing rich, black earth? We passed Merced and Modesto - flat, low-rise working towns and then onwards towards Highway 580 which curves westwards through humped and sunburnt hills towards San Francisco.
The Bay Bridge took us from Oakland, across San Francisco Bay. There was Alcatraz Island to the right and beyond it in the misty distance the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. I was wishing that Frances's road trip CD had included that Scott McKenzie song..
All across the nation
Such a strange vibration
People in motion
With minimal navigational difficulty we made it to The Travelodge on Lombard Street. It was dusk by now with street lights blinking on and so we set off to find an evening meal in our bohemian neighbourhood. How cool to be in San Francisco at last! The hilly geography reminded us of Sheffield. Further up Lombard Street we strolled to the summit of that famous snake-like section that careers downhill like a slalom course at a ski resort. I intended to drive our black jeep down there before we left!
The next morning we headed for Fisherman's Wharf where blubbery seals were basking and we soon found the pier from which ferries leave for Alcatraz. It was a diamond day and soon we were disembarking at the famous prison island.
|On Alcatraz Island. Can you see the word "Free"?|
Audio headsets enriched our tour. We saw where so many bad men were once incarcerated. It was good to observe that the place has not been gentrified or turned into some kind of Disneyland attraction. There's a palpable sense of decay and emptiness at Alcatraz and if you closed your eyes you could almost hear the echoing of prisoners' footsteps and the shouted commands of the prison guards.
The next day we crossed the famous Golden Gate to visit Tiburon and later I took my family on a selfish pilgrimage to the famous Haight-Ashbury district which was once the very core of the so-called hippy movement of the late sixties. What is a hippy anyway? Did people who were labelled "hippies" ever describe themselves in that way? I doubt it. They were just people seeing the world in a different, kinder way. They said "Make Love Not War" and "Bring Our Brothers Home" and some of them tie-dyed their T-shirts or smoked pot.
|My family at Haight-Ashbury|
I loved San Francisco. It felt so "right" to me. In another life I could have easily been a San Franciscan. I had plenty of conversations with local folk and we saw terrapins in Golden Gate Park, dodged roller skaters, rode on a tramcar, visited The Mission and walked around Russian Hill and saw the Camera Obscura at Cliff House and watched Pacific waves crashing on Ocean Beach:
I left my heart in San Francisco
High on a hill, it calls to me
I have visited many cities in my life - from New York to Johannesburg and from Bangkok to Marrakech - but of all those foreign cities only San Francisco felt like it might have been home. Frank Sinatra sang that Chicago was "my kind of town" but to me it would be San Francisco every time. Oh, and I did drive our trusty jeep down the west end of Lombard Street...Wheeeeeeee!
|The Camera Obscura at Cliff House|