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25th November 2011

A Hike Around Familiar Haunts in a Festive Setting

Union Square with Tree and Skaters
    Having spent a considerable amount of time taking in all the touristy things in San Francisco at the start and end of my Rockies trip, I was not going to bust a gut revisiting them all. Incidentally, anyone reading this, and wanting a view on my exploration of San Francisco, can visit the relevant sections of my Rockies blog. My short stay in the city will help me recover from one set of jet lag, and allow me to chill out and roam around art galleries with Marcia; her artistic view of the world would be highly informative and appreciated.
    Breakfast was scrambled eggs with onion plus hash browns; I just love American breakfasts. Soon I was visiting all the art galleries down the south side of Geary Street with Marcia. It was refreshing to get her critical eye of the works displayed. Works on display were mainly by American artists with the occasional sprinkling from old masters such as Rembrandt. Some of the paintings really fired my imagination in the inventiveness of the design, or the sheer technical excellence. Indeed one large and delicate sculpture was beyond words, and had Marcia enthralled. I was indifferent to most of the works, and some made me think, "Come on, who are you trying to kid with those amateurish smearings?".
Marcia with the Blue Santa
    Weaving our way down Geary via the galleries brought us naturally to Union Square. This was just teaming with people. It was Black Friday, a glorified pre-Christmas sales day, and was also a public holiday tagged onto the back of Thanksgiving Day. It seemed as if half the city was out shopping. The square was brightly decorated, with a huge Christmas tree dominating, so manicured to perfection that I had to check that it was real. Various palm trees were delicately decorated in lights too. The trumpet flower trees still dangled their "trumpet" flowers, and another beautiful tree displayed groups of stunning purple flowers, even though it was well into autumn.
    Hundreds of camera flashes added to the magical effect. Swarms of skaters circled around an artificial "ice-rink"; I think the surface was silicon based, but the skates looked genuine. Umpteen Santa Clauses peppered around lit up the faces of young kids, including Grinch, the Grinch that stole Christmas in the Dr Seuss story. This "bad" Santa stood out from the others; he had a green Grinch head and green leggings. Marcia had to explain to me that Grinch stole all the presents from the little people, but turned good in the end, and the story ended with a "happy ever after". In some ways Grinch behaved liked British politicians, expect they never gave anything back.
    The atmosphere was marred a little by a huge mob of animal rights protestors on the square, right next to the skating rink where they would have the most impact. They waved banners and posters displaying horrific scenes of animal cruelty. I'm not sure what the young kids would have made of the huge contrast between the jovial Santas and these awful banners. I wondered if that was the cause for the huge police presence around the square; a bomb squad vehicle also stood by. Crumbs!
    We needed to get 3-day travel passports for the MUNI streetcars, busses and cable cars, so we walked down Powell to Market. The pavements were absolutely heaving. Buskers pumped out music on every street corner, and these guys were good, very good. Halfway down Powell, Marcia was accosted by a blue Santa, all in good fun. The atmosphere was infectious. The one thing that struck me last year and today about San Francisco was the friendliness of the people. It was as if the city was one big happy family. Everybody laughed and joked with each other as if they were all best friends, but I guess most of them were strangers to each other. Even many of the street beggars seemed to have a sense of humour, though statistics dictates that out of the many hundreds, some ought to have.
    Armed with our travel passports, we caught a streetcar down Market that would take us along the waterfront to Pier 39. As the old, ornate, Italian streetcar trundled along, we passed a long protest march, accompanied by a fleet of police vehicles. The protestors were very vocal, echoing the same concerns shared by the rest of the world regarding the financial gloom and doom crisis, and the mismanagement by the fat cat financial managers. I could now appreciate why there was a large police presence in town. Down by the Ferry Building, a large tent city had been erected by the protestors, similar to that in St Pauls, London, and countless others across the globe.
The Bay from Pier 39      (please use scroll bar)

Golden Gate Bridge
    As we alighted at Pier 39, we were greeted by a huge decorated Christmas tree. We fought our way through the crowds up the pier, and on the tip we savoured a lingering view across the bay to the Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito, Alcatraz and the Bay Bridge. It only seemed like a week ago since I was last standing here. The sea lions at the end of the pier even seemed happy to see me.
    Marcia was amazed I had never tried pumpkin pie, so she dragged me into Castagnola's on Fisherman's Wharf to try a slice. A resident piano player was twinkling the ivories and singing his way through a string of songs covering the last forty years. He had a powerful voice which he used effectively to establish a rapport with the diners around him, and soon he had them wrapped around his little finger singing along. It was a lovely atmosphere, one where you would be quite content to work your way through a bottle of wine whilst joining in with the singing. As for the pie, it was different but I shan't complain if I don't come across it again.
    A detour past Hyde Street Pier to the Ghiradelli, via a handful more galleries, seemed to be the order of the day. This place is a chocolate lover's dream; Marcia was in heaven. Ghiradelli Square was packed with families, patiently and excitably waiting for the Christmas tree lights to be switched on. Christmas had well and truly arrived here.
Hyde Street Pier with Alcatraz Aglow Behind
Macy's Store Front
    Jet lag was starting to catch up with me. As we made our way back to Union Square, the streetcar passed the outskirts of the financial district. Here, all the tall buildings had long strips of lights running down the edges of each building, effectively making them standout against the inky black sky like a chalk drawing on a blackboard. Near the square, we had a quick meal, before I retired for the night, deadbeat, but full of joy at having seen such sights again.

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Uploaded from Adante Hotel, San Francisco on 28th November at 18:35

Last updated 29.11.2011