(The pelican's lair.)
When planning a vacation, many people like to find information about their future destination. They 'Google' their hearts out to know what people recommend that they visit, what parts of town are safe, and overall get an idea of what they should do.
Kinda takes the fun out of discovery, doesn't it?
However, there is something everybody should do, and it's not as contradictory as it seems. I'm an avid supporter of self-led exploration of a place, but before one takes things into their own hands in a place they've never been to, one must make sure to jump on the bus with no roof first.
This is exactly what we did. We hopped on the bus (which, thanks to the internet, was free) and took in two hours' worth of sights of this 700,000-person, 49-square-mile city.
The incredibly entertaining Filipino bus driver and tour guide showed the busload of us everything from the house from "Full House" and "Mrs. Doubtfire" to the Golden Gate Bridge and epic San Fran City Hall.
We found out that our driver has six families back home, was once married to a woman with a pitchfork, and that he took the blue pill by mistake today. A drastic change from a confused Texan contemplating suicide. We also found out that having a hooded jacket is not only necessary, but required by law.
When sitting on the bus' upper deck, some of us got taken out by tree branches and tunnels, so they didn't make it to the end of the tour...
I'm a firm believer in the idea that pictures are better than words. However, the internet service seems to disagree with me, so words will have to do:
- Golden Gate Park has a complete university – among other complex structures – within itself, being bigger than New York's Central Park.
- A nice Victorian-style mansion in the heart of the city costs a couple million dollars, or about the same as a deluxe shack in Vancouver.
- The city hall is epic. Earthquakes took it down twice, so it now sits on a rubber foundation. Also, what appears to be the Hindu god Vishnu is the city's mayor.
- There are real Italian restaurants here after all; today's restaurant was on Pier 39 (right on the bay), and was more authentic, more tasty, and half the price of the travesty we visited yesterday. It was so good that I didn't even remember that I brought a camera...
- Commercial vehicles aren't allowed on Lombard Street, and the speed limit is 5 MPH. The tour guide says that it is the second most crooked street in the world, with top honors going to Wall Street in New York.
- Tunnels can take off heads.
- The film industry is the second biggest in the city, with the first being tourism.
- Suicide jumpers end it all on the right side of the Golden Gate Bridge, the color of which is known as "International Orange." Or, if that's too complicated, it's known as "rust."
- Russian immigrants were among the founders of urbanized San Francisco.
- The Italian quarter is quite safe.
- One of OJ's lawyers graduated from the local law school, and OJ himself finished high school blocks from there.
- The cable car is still used as normal transit; a one-way ticket is five dollars and the best view is from one of the outside seats. Bring a scarf though.
- The barracks near the Golden Gate (there are two of them) in Presidio are no longer exclusively military living areas, but can be rented by anyone. The rent ranges from $2,000 to $10,000 monthly.
- Parking is usually paid in addition to your living space in most of the city, and it starts from $200 every month. They even charge you when you turn your head, so living in San Francisco can be quite expensive.
- The toll for the Bay Bridge is four dollars, and six for the Golden Gate; both tolls are in one direction.
- In addition to the cable car, there is a 'regular' tram from the sixties coated in various liveries, there is the biggest trolley bus fleet in the US (it and Vancouver's are the biggest on the continent), the huge bus fleet, the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train, and the CalTrain (West Coast Express, SF-style). A ticket for regular transit is two dollars.
- The cable car is controlled in the same way it was over a century ago: by huge, old-school levers. At the end of every line, there is a turntable: the operators get out, push the car onto the turntable, turn it themselves, and push it back out. There is even a conductor.
- It's windy everywhere.
- "Churros, churros, churros, churros" are all over town, and you can have your house in any style, as long as it's Victorian.
- Sea Lions annexed one of the docks off Pier 39.
- What was once a cannery is now a hotel; not far from it is a bakery that makes sourdough bread the size of most houses in the shape of crocodiles and turtles.
- Cable cars have more power than the Governator; their stops are in the middle of intersections, and they have the right of way even when they don't. They even make people give riders free chocolate.
- I only saw one VW "hippie van," and it wasn't even in tye-dye.
- Hills in San Francisco are a way of life.
- No thongs, except on feet.
- Alcatraz closed in the sixties since it was too expensive to maintain; now, it is the city's most profitable tourist attraction, since the first thing people want to do when they arrive is go to jail. During peak tourist season (fortunately not now), you must book your Alcatraz tour ticket at least one month in advance.
- "Alcatraz" is Spanish for "pelican." If one tried to escape the Pelican jail or succeeded but was recaptured, one had to wear a ball and chain for three months as punishment.
- Latino TV is very addictive.