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Simon’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 08 May 2008

Location: San Francisco, California, USA

MapWe signed up for a boat trip to - and, more importantly, around – Alcatraz, an island that imprisoned some of America’s most naughty boys up until the late sixties. Although parallels can be drawn between this place and Robben Island, one important distinction is that most of the inmates of the South African jail were innocent: all of the inmates at Alcatraz most certainly were not.

The boat only takes ten minutes to get to Alcatraz and, once we’d disembarked and walked up to the jail house itself, we were a little subdued: it’s a forbidding edifice. We took the extremely informative audio tour, which featured commentary from former guards and prisoners alike, and the presentation was so atmospheric that we were glad to feel the sun on our faces again.

Once we got back to the mainland we felt a little more retail therapy was in order, and we deiced to take one of SF’s legendary trams to Union Square. We bought an all-day pass and dutifully got on a tram that was going in the right direction: well, hung from the side of it is more accurate! The drivers rival Badgerline in their grumpy grinding of gears and, after less than five minutes, the entire tram-full was told to get off as there was a problem with the power, apparently. “Cheers ta drive thanks very much!” we chorused. He didn’t get it…

We walked the rest of the way and went to The Cheesecake Factory for what I supposed our grandparents would have called High Tea (it was about 3.30pm). Situated eight floors above Macy’s on Union Square, we sat in the sun and scoffed a slab each of sumptuous cake with nary a guilty feeling. Top!

We thought we’d give SF’s municipal transport authority another chance and took another tram back, only for that to also stop short of what we’d assumed would be its destination, the Chinese driver was even more cobby than the previous guy – amusingly so, in fact – but we were lucky enough to find ourselves at the bottom of Lombard Street, the world’s most crooked street. It’s also one of the steepest, and the litany of Japanese tourists at the top of the hill did turn to watch as I staggered, puffing like Ivor the Engine, into view at its crest. It was well worth it, as the view back down the street is spectacular: bizarre too!

For dinner we went to a genuinely wonderful place in Little Italy. Called ‘The Steps of Rome’, it was very welcoming and provided excellent Italian food that we really enjoyed. Fresh pasta smothered in homemade pesto, a rustic red wine for me, a flowery white for t’wife, and it was all we could do not to choose something from the sweet menu.