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San Francisco - The Beginning Of The End

In 2011, my best friend and I decided to road-trip the coast of California. It started in typical 'Longface and Bird' fashion - me (Bird) eating a Meatball Wrap at 6am in Gatwick Airport (because I was on holiday, and I could) and Longface sat opposite with her sensible breakfast, amused yet quietly judging me.

We were very popular on the plane. I believe the flight attendants mistook Longface (a few weeks shy of 24) for a child and thus gave us free peanuts. It was a lovely affair - they watched fondly as we played cards, and I (never mistaken for a child, even when I was one) got some free vodkas out of it. In hindsight - we should have known then that we had peaked too soon...

First of all, I should tell you that San Francisco is a wonderful city. Eclectic, vibrant, cultured and colourful - it has it all. The commercial hub of Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39, the magnificently ominous presence of Alcatraz glaring over the bay, the breathtaking sunset over the Golden Gate Bridge, the pulsating nightlife of the Castro district and the mouthwatering world-famous cuisine were but few of the many reasons I chose this city as the starting point for our trip (and the fact that it has a place called Nob Hill...). But despite all of these wonders, the first thing I remember about San Francisco is that it was surprisingly cold. Unlike many parts of California, San Francisco, particularly the bay area, is often windy, foggy, cloudy and just downright chilly. Looking back, it probably wasn't THAT bad. If we had been wearing vaguely normal attire, it would have been fine, but naively assuming that all of California would be hot; we had filled our suitcases with summer dresses and sandals. Big mistake. Now most people would have seen this as grave disorganisation on our part, but not Longface. To Longface - this was Strike 1 against San Francisco.

Strike 2 was the hills. Those endless, horrendous, soul-destroying hills. How anybody gets anywhere on foot in San Francisco is beyond me. Granted, there are many flat parts of the city, but it seemed that everywhere we wanted to go to involved at least one massive hill. Of course, we could have hopped on a cable car but that would have involved being sensible (not a strong point for Longface and Bird). All in all, by the end of Day 1, Longface was not too impressed.

Day 2 started off better. We took what little layers we had and toddled on up and down the hills to the bay area, enjoyed (tolerated) our first (and last) Corn Dog and headed off to catch the ferry to Alcatraz. Now I don't know if it was the fascinating history, the novelty factor or the Seagull that loitered threateningly above my head for a good three minutes on the ferry ride over, but I believe that Alcatraz is the only truly fond memory Longface has of San Francisco. Its rich and bizarrely glamorous history is enough in itself, but there's also something strangely intoxicating about the place. Situated on its own island, its proximity to the city is almost threatening, and you can't help but think how being so close, and yet so far from civilisation would have driven the prisoners to madness (at least the ones who weren't already nut-jobs). And the island boasts a lovely view of the city skyline, so that was a nice plus. In fact, we were in such a good mood after Alcatraz that I persuaded Longface to walk to the Golden Gate Bridge with me that afternoon.

Now if I were to die tomorrow, it is safe to say that there is little wisdom I could impart upon departure from this world. But one thing I can say with absolute authority is that you should never walk from Alcatraz (or the ferry dock) to the Golden Gate Bridge. And if for some reason you do, never decide to then walk back. As I mentioned, we weren't dressed for San Fran's ever-changing climate, nor were we dressed for a seven-hour hike. The bridge might have seemed a comfortable little jaunt away, but that is because it's HUGE, not close. But ignorance is off we went. We walked through a lovely park, an expensive neighbourhood and something vaguely resembling a marina. Then as it started getting cold with sunset drawing nearer, we found a delightful dual carriageway. Not quite sure whether it was a pedestrian path any longer, we clambered along the bank and finally made it on to the bridge. I'm sure the colourful sky was beautiful behind me, but all I remember is being absolutely freezing in a windy hell-hole after walking for hours in sandals. But even then, the impressive enormity of the bridge did not escape me. It really is magnificent. But magnificence aside, it was cold, the sun was gone and we had no idea how to get home. We reasoned that the safest thing to do was to go back whence we came. This was an utterly terrible idea. What was a long but vaguely tolerable walk in the light of day was a creepy, cold and insufferable slog at night. But we were on holiday, we were best friends and we were funny, we made it work.

But despite our singsongs and wisecracks, San Francisco had the last laugh. As we walked back through the previously lovely park, the Ranger drove towards us, parked across the path and ran into the woods. We thought "how strange" and carried on walking along the water. Later, in the distance we saw a crowd of people, some police cars and yellow tape. So I (ever so street-wise) said "let's not go there, let's carry on this way". Then, a few minutes later we noticed another police car ahead of us. As a Policeman spotted us, I realised that the Ranger had blocked off the area behind, the crowd was blocking the area to our right, the sea was to our left and the final police car was blocking off the area ahead... We had spent the last fifteen minutes casually strolling through the middle of whatever the hell they were blocking off. The Policeman hurried towards us asking us if we'd seen anything. Utterly oblivious, we asked, "What's happened?" He replied that there had been a shooting and that the perpetrator was somewhere in this area. To an outsider, what happened next was Longface shooting a quick glance in my direction. But I knew better.... Strike 3. San Francisco - you're done.

Unfortunately for Longface, we still had a few more days in San Fran after that and so we did all the usual stuff. Wine tasting in Napa Valley became a glimpse at our holidaying future as we sat on a bus full of old women. Longface enjoyed it but only because I accidentally sat in a water fountain, thus giving myself a giant wet patch on my rear much to the amusement of the entire Nana Express. We ate our weight in Mexican food and had ice cream on Union Square (that's not a thing...we just wanted ice cream), and then on our last night we headed to the Castro District - our final San Francisco mistake. Now that's a different story altogether, but suffice it to say that the next day, we picked up our rental car horrifically hungover and drove (the wrong way) towards the coast much like San Francisco itself - everything a little foggy and under a dark cloud of drunken shame.

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