Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Week 25 : Downtown San Francisco

The final couple of days of the first stage of our epic journey sees Amy, my Wheaten Terrier, and I slightly foot-sore (pad-sore), slightly home-sick, and slightly overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle which is big-city San Francisco. The deaf sign language symbol for London is, I believe, the hands held up to the ears, signifying a loud and busy city. It may appear strange for deaf people to identify London by something they cannot hear, but I – as a virtual traveller - understand where they are coming from. You don’t have to be there to hear it, you don’t have to hear it to know it. Just take a look at the Google Earth image of downtown San Francisco and you get a headache. There is a lot going on here.

All you can do is to make a drunken bee-line to one or two places you particularly want to see and leave the rest to the next time you virtually pass by. Thus Amy and I called in for a pint of Guinness at
Kate O’Briens on Howard and 2nd , bought a hot dog at The Dog Out on Market Street and headed up towards Haight Ashbury. Haight Ashbury, I explained to Amy as I tucked a flower in her fur, is resonant of youth, peace, love and music.

During the 1960s, young people from all over the world flocked to San Francisco – and in particular to the streets around Haight Street and Ashbury Street – to “turn on, tune in, and drop out”. As Amy and I walked the streets, which are now more of a tourist destination than a beacon of the alternative culture, I couldn’t help wondering why they came here. The district is looking a bit tired and shabby. As I caught a reflection of Amy and I in a shop window I decided it was a suitable place for us. We were looking a bit tired and shabby as well.

We cut down through Ashbury Street to Golden Gate Park. At three miles long and one mile wide it is one of the largest urban parks in the world. Within its borders you will find three museums, numerous ornamental gardens, half a dozen lakes, and a herd of buffalo.

The herd of buffalo are to be found in the buffalo paddock which was established at the end of the nineteenth century with the aim of protecting the largest of all the North American land animals which, by then, were on the verge of extinction. The first herd to take up residence all died of TB whilst the second – acquired from the legendary Buffalo Bill – had “temperamental problems” (it took 80 men to recapture one escaped bull). Amy and I gazed over the fence at the huge beasts. I was trying to imagine a time when they roamed the great plains in their hundreds of thousand. Amy was trying to imagine them in bite-size pieces.The trouble with my travelling companion – as I have suggested a number of times over the last six months – is that she has no soul.

After Golden Gate Park, Amy and I threaded our way north until we reached the mighty Presidio. The
Presidio was a military encampment from 1776, when it was established by the Spaniard Jose Joaquin, right until 1990. It still dominates the most northerly part of the great promontory that houses San Francisco city. But now the military have been replaced by nature : the guns by rare wild flowers, the tanks by butterflys, and the cannons by slithering lizards.

It was a nice thought to bear in mind as we headed for the east sidewalk of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, where, as well as pedestrians, dogs are allowed to cross over to Marin County. It was such a rare event for dogs to be allowed to do anything within a national park or monument, that Amy and I walked to the middle of the bridge. Then we headed back for the city and the airport. The first stage of our journey was now over. A short holiday had been promised.

Over the last six months we walked some 430 miles. We had seen the Pacific Ocean, crossed mountain ranges and explored forest paths. We had gazed in awe of fine buildings and wonderment at engineering miracles. We had seen whales, zebras, snakes and bison. And, in reality, we had never left the grey and wet streets of West Yorkshire. This virtual travel business was turning out to be fun.

However we had only just scraped the surface. We had covered just one-tenth of the total distance from Los Angeles to New York (via Seattle). We needed to be in this in the long-term.

Therefore, I said to Amy as we looked over the side of the Golden Gate Bridge, a short holiday at home for a few weeks and then back to it. When we return we will need to trek north through the wilderness of North California and Oregon. “Now that will be some challenge”. “Wuff”, she replied.

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