Sunday, December 12, 2010

Frisky in 'Frisco

Clang, clang, clang goes the trolley as we left our hearts in San Francisco.
The northern California city, offering up so many familiar song phrases or views from television shows and movies, lived up to that reputation and then some — the impossibly steep street for the car chase in the movie Bullit. Alcatraz out on the island. People hanging off the sides of cable cars as they chug uphill, blocking the flat intersection at the top as new riders clamber aboard.
But Ian managed to refrain from tucking a flower into his hair for the day.
Once again, we rode a Grayline tour bus, at this time of year nearly empty of tourists ready to listen to Ken Washington give his history of the city he calls home, a spiel he has given for 30 years now. But the bus looked familiar, causing Vicki to get that confused look on her face, until Ian said, “It’s the same bus as runs from Victoria to Sooke.” So it is.
The 3 1/2-hour tour takes in everything from city parks to the Golden Gate Bridge, with a brief summary of its suicide count. It’s somewhere over 1,700 so far, although speculation is a couple of hundred more have died by jumping off its railings but their bodies have never been found. Washington chuckles as he relates how police foiled one attempt when an officer brandished his weapon and told the would-be jumper, “If you jump, I’m going to shoot you.” She climbed down.
The city’s neighbourhoods are intriguing in their similarities and differences, all at the same time. A lawn mower in San Francisco must belong to the city because homeowners have no need. Houses reach to the sidewalk front and back, with grass nearly non-existent and dogs looking perturbed as they walk at the end of a leash.
The houses built since the fire following the 1906 earthquake appear to be joined structures until our guide points out the mandatory one-inch gap as a fire guard between structures. Should fire break out in one home, firefighters first aim the water to the roof, where it will run down and fill the gap between the homes, thereby protecting the neighbours.
Neighbourhoods have been settled by Chinese, Japanese, German and Russian newcomers, all bringing a little of their own architecture to the row houses, giving each neighbourhood a flavour all its own, even though each covers a small area. All feature a large, central park since that is where people spend their outdoor leisure time.
Golden Gate Park, home to an aquarium and art gallery, is the premier showpiece, particularly since its half-mile by three-mile area was carved out of sand dunes. What grows there is a marvel of gardeners’ knowledge and effort.
To sit atop Twin Peaks and see the neighbourhoods below stretching to the sea beyond is to marvel at architecture in both homes and standout public buildings, as well as understand the perseverance necessary to carve a city out of steep hills.
It is populated with a people proud of their ability to deal with adverse weather. With a high of 65 degrees F on this day, many are bundled in puffy down-like jackets, with toques and scarves wrapped around their heads. Our guide points out that all are outside enjoying the sunshine.
This year the famous fog rolled into the harbour and blanketed the city in July.
It didn’t leave until mid-October. Wine lovers groaned to hear, as a result, there hasn’t been much of grape crop this season.
Then it’s off the bus, back on the cable car and home for a glass of wine. Australian.

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