Well to get there we got up at an ungodly early hour and caught the 24 hour (London, take note!) tube to the airport. Our fellow passengers on the tube at 3am in the morning we're about as savoury as you can expect at that hour of the morning...
But we arrived at JFK in one piece. We checked in for our Delta flight and found out that Delta is like the American Easyjet/Ryanair - there was a rather unexpected $25 charge for each piece of checked luggage! Boo! We joined the baggage drop queue even though the desks weren't yet staffed. There was some strange (and to us, slightly dubious) system where once checked in, you could take your luggage outside of the terminal building and some one man band guy outside would check your bags. But we decided that we rather wanted to see our bags at the other end so we wanted in line for the standard baggage drop.
We sorted ourselves with some food for the flight as we'd be getting only a complimentary drink and biscuit. Now a biscuit might sustain you for a flight the length of NZ, but the width of the States is some 6 hour flight and a biscuit is never going to cut it.
After a standard flight, where you had to pay for the headphones to watch the movies and pay for the movies, we landed into San Fran. Our landing was less than perfect, with a bit of a sideways slide but taxying to the terminal the passengers burst into applause, which amused and puzzled me no end. Was the clapping for:
(a) the pilot reining in the sideways slide and getting us to the terminal safely?;
(b) was that actually a good landing? (I hope not - it had me gripping the arms of my seat in sudden fear!); or
(c) is it just those awfully polite American's showing thanks for the pilot?
We figure out our way from the airport to downtown San Fran and step out onto the main street into a crowd of people waiting for the cable cars, shoppers, hobos, homeless, and people, who, for whatever reason, are a few slices short of a loaf. We arrive into our lovely hostel (Adelaide Hostel) and relax for the remainder of the avo, doing those boring chores even travellers can't escape - laundry. We've put our clocks back again, gaining another 3 hours and hit the hay pretty early - we're looking forward to being in the same time zone for a few weeks!
The next morning we tuck into the free and generous breakfast at the hostel before catching an old street car down to Fisherman's Wharf for our ferry to Alcatraz. We catch a presentation about Al Capone and spend ages listening to the really good audio tour of the prision building. Ryan loved it and even I was totally impressed by it.
Back in Fisherman's Wharf we head to Pier 39 to explore what is a massive pier full of eating places, shops, some fair rides and more. We try a corn dog (actually just a NZ hotdog, but with different batter) and check out the slumbering, lumbering mass of Sea Lions that have taken over some wooden pontoons.
From the pier we head inland, walking to and up Lombard Street (the crookedest street in the world). Its so steep they've had to zig-zag the road down the hillside. Then we join the lengthy line for a ride back into the centre of town on a cable car which we hang off the side of, like farm dogs on the back of a truck!
On our second day we hit the streets in search of the Mission District murals. After walking about 17 blocks (the San Fran blocks are somewhat bigger than the short NYC blocks!) we find the Balmy Alley murals we are after, showing social, political and community concerns painted into colourful murals. It's said there are around 600 murals across San Fran, so the ones we see are just a fraction of what's out there.
Then we head off to Alamo Square and the Painted Ladies - a row of colourfully painted Victorian and Edwardian houses. A number of these houses survived the 1906 earthquake and during the war years the houses were painted battleship grey with surplus Navy paint, until in the 1960's an artist began painting the houses bright colours and it caught on and become known as the 'colourist movement'.
On our last day in San Fran we decide to walk across Golden Gate Bridge. However, this turns into a rather arduous walking adventure as there is w*** all public transport that goes near the bridge, so we end up walking to the bridge from near Lombard Street. The weather has taken a dive from the previous chilly days (maybe between 10 and 15 degrees!) and is cold AND foggy! Typical for San Fran during summer we are told. We can see part of the bridge through the fog, and optimistic that the weather will clear, we have some coffees in a waterfront cafe and wait it out. Eventually we carry on and the weather does clear. When we are on the bridge. We join the crowds walking, jogging and cycling the bridge and walk almost a kilometre over it - to its half way point!! Weary and foot sore we make the long walk back to Lombard Street and bus back to our hostel.
We're ready to leave San Fran and find some warmer climes, some more pleasant streets to wander (streets and plaza's slightly less overrun by beggars and crazys). We have our last night in our hostel (which with friendly staff, close location to Union Sq and the main street, a great lounge to hang out in and super homecooked meals each night for just $6) is one we'd fully recommend, and pick up our rental car first thing the next morning...