What an actioned packed few days in and around the San Francisco area, starting with Silicon Valley.
Silicon Valley, where companies such as Uber, Facebook, Google and Apple all call home. A ‘valley’ which is home to more than 4 million residents. Put that into perspective; it’s virtually the population of Scotland. The traffic is horrendous and given it’s the technology hub of the world, you wouldn’t be stupid to think that it could do with racking some of the big brains that work there to make the place look, from the outside, a bit more ‘techie’. I’ve seen more advanced looking buildings in Salford. The place is just a huge, massive, ginormous industrial estate. Very plain and boring bricks, mortar and tarmac. Maybe it was just me that was expecting to see things of the future there: people travelling about on segweys, tall mirrored glass buildings with art-deco artictural designs created on 3D printers, offices with water slides coiling around the building, robots hovering about carrying luggage and providing valet services, leafy breakout areas where employees of the world’s dominant companies eat their lunch of California roll sushi.
We fought our way through the traffic and headed over to Google HQ – just finding the HQ is a task as they have over 40 buildings – thank god for Google Maps hey! You can’t actually go in the offices but you can go into the ‘gift shop’ where you can purchase pretty much anything you can think of but with ‘Google’ decorated all over it. One thing you can’t buy there though is a Google phone, which I found a bit ironic. Also, just to demonstrate the point made in the previous paragraph, the only toilets which you can use at Google are some rough port-a-loos which they’ve parked outside the building.
Disappointedly (I was anyway, Mill wasn’t too bothered), we joined the line of traffic out of the valley and made the trip across the water to Oakland. This part of the world has some stunning bridges and the one connecting Palo Alto and Newark is just one of them. The water was so peaceful, it looked like a vast mirror.
Oakland was quite less scenic. Apparently the area has made some significant improvements over the recent years as the overspill of people from San Francisco (which lies on the west side of The Bay) has increased the appeal of the place and brought swarms of younger, hipper people who can’t afford to live in San Fran. The place we stayed however was, for want of a better word, a shithole. The motel was just off the freeway, which was convenient, but it was heavily fortified and in an area which you could tell had some deprivation issues. The motel manager was rude, the room stunk of curry and there was a relentless humming which made the floor vibrate. Not to be prudes we didn’t complain and as we only had an evening in the place, it’s something we had to be prepared to put up with.
We stayed in the area because we had booked to watch some basketball at the nearby Oracle Arena. We were watching The Golden State Warriors Vs the Sacramento Kings. The Oracle Arena is only a temporary home to the reigning NBA West League Champions as they have a new place being built in San Francisco and directly next door to The Arena is The Colosseum, home to the Oakland Raiders baseball team.
I know virtually nothing about basketball but it turns out that is slightly more than Milly, but we did manage to muddle our way through the evening by either conjuring up rules as we went or by asking our neighbouring spectators. What I do know is that Golden State won quite convincingly and my best player was Klay Thompson. It was good fun because aside from the game, they make it a really fun event. Cash prizes, clothing giveaways, big screen camera shots of the fans, a DJ set and cheerleaders all play their part in entertaining an energetic crowd. It’s not a cheap affair, going to a game, $70 each for the cheap tickets and $40 for parking (we jumped an Uber) make it a rich mans sport to watch but for a one off it’s a must-do, especially when you’re watching top of the league play!
Morning came and as no brekky was on offer from the pootel, we joined the stack of traffic which was migrating across the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge from Oakland to San Francisco. Yet another stunning piece of architecture and civil engineering have created this 5 miles long bridge linking the two cities. The span of water which separates the two is home to a man made island called Treasure Island. It was build using trash and was home to a military base during the civil war. The island now contains a few villages and acts as a joint in the aforementioned bridge.
We’d got wind that in Downtown San Fran a skyscraper which was under construction had come under some issues the previous evening, a strut supporting a concrete pump and crane about 50 odd floors up had failed and caused part of a retaining wall to lean. The authorities had cloaked off half the city in response to this, but luckily by the time we’d arrived it was back open. You could however see the crooked structure from the exit ramp of the freeway and it didn’t look in the best of shape! We successfully navigated our way around it though and headed over to Fisherman’s Wharf where our hostel for the next 3 nights was situated.
The hostel was a bit bizarre. It’s on an old military camp called Fort Mason. It’s a large hostel, possibly housing 100 people at a time. It’s in a great location 2/3 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge and 1/2 miles from a host of other entertainment on the Pier. There’s a real eclectic mix of people in the hostel too. It’s not just young backpackers as you tend to get in hostels- certainly what you’d expect in San Fran – there’s families and older people here too. One guy who we made the acquaintance of during our stay was Scott. Scott was a unique character; wearing a foot protective boot because of an injury sustained whilst out dancing, he’s in the hostel for the foreseeable future due to a severe leak in his apartment. He was in our room for a couple of nights, but he doesn’t tend to sleep much as he stays he’s up all night working for one of his two jobs. One job is a store attendant at Macy’s and the other is in Corporate Finance.
As soon as we’d chucked our bags onto our bunks we were off to explore this beautiful city. We set about walking down the coastline towards the Golden Gate Bridge and over it to a couple of lookout points on its Sausalito side. Before heading over The Bridge, we wandered to Fort Point which is an old fort which lives under The Bridge’s southern arch. The entire area is littered with forts, batteries, military lookout points and air fields because during the civil war the Unionists fortified the place, concluding it a strategically important site.
We then headed over the giant red structure to the distant northern shore, stopping many times on route to gain sights of the City’s skyline. Wonderful stuff. Finally making it to the far side we took the opportunity to take yet more photos and walked up to Battery Spencer, another old military lookout point with some amazing views. Its crazy the amount of gun turrets which surround the bay – obviously the cannons aren’t there anymore but it must have been a formidable area back in the day.
With the sun going down and our legs getting tired we headed back to Fort Mason to chill out for the evening.
So we’d walked about 15km and were understandably pooped, so a good night’s sleep was very much needed. Unfortunately one of the other guests saw to it that this was not going to happen. She waddled into the dorm about 11pm, just as Milly and I were nodding off, totally out of breath and wheezing. The room wasn’t up any stairs or owt – she was just utterly unfit and she plonked herself down in the bunk next to ours. Well, it got to 2am and Milly had had enough – it was like trying to sleep next to a train station. We ended up leaving the dorm and ‘sleeping’ on the floor of the common room next door.
Very sleepily we dragged ourselves over for breakfast early doors because we’d booked to take a trip across the water to Alcatraz. You’ve probably heard of Alcatraz or The Rock. It’s an island about a mile off the pier and on it is housed a derelict prison. The prison was notorious for housing Al Capone and Robert ‘Birdman’ Stroud and also for having a number of convicts try and attempt escape from it. It was open from the early 1930s to the late 1960s. It ended up shutting because the salt water which surrounded it, twinned with the strong sea winds, corroded it at an exponential rate and the State couldn’t afford to maintain it. Ironically the rain and wind were hammering the place whilst we were there. It actually added to the theatre though.
Before it became a prison it was a military prison (another military compound) then they turned it into a regular prison when there became less need for it to be a military prison. Following its closure a group of Native American’s squatted in it for nearly 2 years as a campaign against the persecution against their ancestors.
We learned all the information because after docking on the historic island we marched up to one of the old staff chambers and watched a cool movie performance which cronicalled The Rock’s history.
Following the film we mosied up to the cell house and took an audio tour around the entire prison. The audio tour was great although it over glamourised it massively. Some of the stories which it detailed have probably had similar situations happen at Strangeways but as this was at a place in the middle of the Bay and has been given a far more sinister narrative it obviously makes it more appealing to the tourist.
We got back to the hostel after throwing back some lunch on Pier 39 (basically a large tourist market place with restaurants galore) and thankfully they changed our room for us so we didn’t have to suffer Darth Vader’s snoring for another night. By this time we were dead on our feet after not sleeping the previous evening so we decided to grab 40 winks before having a night out.
Following an earlier blog post, a family friend, who I’ve not spoken to in years, got in touch to see if we were intending to make it to San Fran – we got in touch and arranged to meet up with him and his wife for an evening. Introducing Russell and Mor Wickens. They’ve just moved here a few months ago from Tel Aviv and it was brilliant to spend time with them during our short stay. We grabbed a couple of beers at the hostel cafe then headed Downtown and met a group of their friends for even more beers. We thoroughly enjoyed the evening but certainly didn’t enjoy the sore heads in the morning.