Friday, 5 September 2014

Golden Gays

Today started with a pre-breakfast hike from our hotel, up the steepest hill in the world, to Lombard Street, or more specifically the bit of Lombard Street which is featured in all the films, where the road zig-zags because it's too steep to go straight. As usual for San Fran, it zig-zags through beautiful gardens filled with bougainvillaea and rhododendron which are ripe with the scent of tea tree oil.

We had breakfast at the Buena Vista cafe, which is, confusingly, no where near Buena Vista park. In fact, it's in the Fisherman's Wharf district at the bottom of an incredibly steep hill where the trolley buses rattle and clatter. Breakfast was a couple of delicious poached eggs and a lovely cup of tea.

From there, we doubled back on ourselves to see the sea lions on Pier 39, barking, mooing or squawking like a weird cross between a pack of dogs and a swarm of seagulls, whilst they sun themselves on the little wooden jetties there. They're a comic little community. I'm not sure why they stay there with hundreds of tourists standing on the pier, staring over them, laughing every time they yawn, or push each other into the water.

Fisherman's Wharf is a ghastly part of town by anyone's standards. It's chockablock with Ye Olde World wooden warehouses, selling fridge magnets, glass-wear and nasty trinkets. There are terrible human statues everywhere and people sail around on segways, those curious two-wheeled vehicles which you use if you're too lazy to walk and want the world to know how much fun you're having. A man was sitting with a guitar playing blues music because he was too fat to play anything else!

We walked ten miles along the top of the peninsular, past various yachting clubs and empty beaches to the wave organ, which is situated at the end of a spit of land which stretches into the bay between Alcatras and the Golden Gate Bridge. It's actually somewhere I've longed to visit for many years. The "organ" consists of a set of tubes with earpieces at the end. The waves crash over and into the tubes and a series of rumbles and pitched sounds creep up the tubes to meet the waiting ear.

We visited at the wrong time. It's apparently best at high tide (5.30am) on a full moon (yawn) and I was incredibly disappointed. Some of the tubes sounded pretty cool, but most, to my ears, simply sounded like the noise of waves. It was at the wave organ that we heard the very sad news that Joan Rivers has died. Nathan met her once. She fed him chicken soup. He said she was a wonderful woman. Kind. Friendly.

From the wave organ we trekked further North, past curiously unnerving tsunami hazard zone signs ("in case of earth quake, go to higher ground, or inland...") through scrubland, and past more empty, wind-swept beaches, to the Golden Gate Bridge. The fog descended on us at that point, and the wind started howling.

We decided to walk across the bridge, just as I decided to do with Fiona exactly 14 years ago when we were last here. It didn't go very well then, and it was fairly catastrophic today. Bridges terrify me. As I walk across them, I find myself grabbing hold of all my possessions to stop myself lobbing something into the water below.

There was a poster a little way along the bridge for the US equivalent of the Samaritans. The sign was next to a telephone and said something along the lines of "if you're distressed, there's always someone to talk to." In my horror, it didn't occur to me that the sign was there for potential suicides. I thought it was for people, like me, who didn't know if they'd be brave enough to cross the bridge!

I shuffled my way to about a third of the way across, almost exactly where I'd got to the last time, then a gust of wind threw me into a tragic paddy, and I sat, like an old lady, waiting for Nathan to venture further across on his own. At that point a young man stopped me and asked if I'd take his picture, and I felt too embarrassed to say I was suffering from Golden Gates-a phobia, so, with one hand on a railing, and the other holding his phone, I did the honours. As I handed it back with shaking hands he asked if I was okay, "do you need to talk?" He said. I imagined that he thought I was a jumper!

We've come home for a rest because our legs feel like they're made of lead.

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