Our Train Trip to the West – Part VII

San Francisco, CA

Tuesday, May 13th:

In Spanish there is a saying: “Martes 13 no te cases, ni te embarques”, which loosely translates into English, “On Tuesday the 13th, do not get married or start a trip”. However, we are not superstitious and were eager to start our journey that would take us to our third visit to the fabulous “City by the Bay”. So, by 9.00 am we were seated on our “deluxe motor coach” and departed toward our next destination. Mark headed West towards I 80. The scenery was monotonous, as it usually is on a highway. As we were approaching the Bay area, traffic lines and cars multiplied. Close to noon, we did our usual stop in a Mall, in the outskirts of Oakland. We bought some food stuff in a Trader Joe’s and eat our lunch on a bench.

Golden Bridge
San Francisco’s Golden Bridge

We arrived into San Francisco and found out that Mark had never been there, so he got a little confused on how to get to our hotel. I had some idea, because of our previous visits, and tried to guide him through the narrow and steep streets. Our hotel, The Chancellor, was located just one block from Union Square, a very convenient location. The Powell-Hyde cable car line just passed clacking in front of the hotel, but we didn’t take a ride on it this time. We had had that experience on a prior visit to San Francisco.

We got to unpack some of our stuff, but didn’t have time to rest. At 3.00 pm, we embarked on a tour of the city. Rosalie, previously for New York, was our guide. She took us around and showed us the usual spots: the Civic Center, Alamos Square, with its picturesque Victorian Houses, and Twin Peaks, were we made a stop, to admire the view of the city at our feet. It was a clear day and we could see for miles, from the Golden Bridge (and Marin County) to the Bay Bridge (and Oakland), and everything in between. We could even see Mount Diablo, about 30 miles away. What a treat to the eyes!

We continued our City Tour stopping at the Golden Gate Park, then at the Golden Bridge proper. We drove around The Presidio and ended at Fisherman’s Wharf for a “dinner stop”. It was about 5 pm, still early for us to have dinner, so we walked around, took a look at the sea lions camped on Pier 39 and had a cool bear at place called, Bistro Boudin (famous for its sourdough French bread.) Then, we returned to the meeting point, in front of the Aquarium, where our bus picked us up, for our return trip to our hotel. Other famous attractions like, The Embarcadero, Telegraph Hill, North Beach (the Italian neighborhood) and Chinatown, were passed by. For us it didn’t matter too much, we had been there before.

On our trip back, Mark, and us, had the most scary experience during this trip. We were coming down Powell St, when crossing one avenue, he (and most of us) discovered that the street ahead of us was going down at an almost 45° degree incline. He had barely time to make a right turn on the avenue, avoiding a possible disaster for the huge bus and its passengers. With a sight of relieve, Mark continued his driving. Luckily, we had with us two residents of San Francisco, Betty and Jorge, who were able to point him into the streets that didn’t have a steep incline and he brought us safe and sound to our hotel.

For dinner, we picked up a restaurant that was close to the hotel and of which we had read a good review at Frommer’s online travel guide: Kuleto’s. Their Italian specialties looked appetizing and we both enjoyed two pasta dishes. The service on the other hand wasn’t to great. After dinner, we took a walk around Union Square, window-shopping at the mostly expensive stores, and were surprised to hear that Saks Fifth Ave was transmitting what it sounded like opera on its sidewalk speakers. As we came closer we distinguished the voice of the “Divina” Callas. We lingered there for a while and went back to the hotel. It was time for a rest.

Wednesday, May 14th:

There were no programmed activities for the morning. Marité got her chance to sleep late. I preferred to have breakfast in the hotel and taking advantage that the hotel had free internet access in a computer at the lobby, checked my e-mail account, which I hadn’t done for the last 10 days. There wasn’t nothing important, so I sat and read the paper to kill some time until Marité got up. When she did, we went looking for a Citibank, as we needed some cash. By the time we came back, it was almost lunchtime. We didn’t have much time, as at 1.00 pm, we were going on a tour of the Muir Woods and Sausalito. So, we popped in at Sears Fine Foods, a bustling restaurant next to the hotel. The food was simple, but abounded and delicious.

Redwoods in Muir Woods

As said, at 1.00 pm gather again at the front of the hotel. This time Mark didn’t take us. His bus was too big for the curvy highway that leads to the Muir Woods. Two mini-buses took us there. The Muir Woods is a forest, only 45 minutes north of San Francisco, in Marin County, where the dominant trees are ancient redwoods, some over 600 years old. Redwoods are the oldest living things encountered in the planet. The oldest known Coastal Redwood is about 2,200 years old. Many of the specimens are over 250 feet tall and with trunks over 14 feed wide. We enjoyed a short and peaceful rest, marveling at the beauty and strength of these giants, before heading back to the bus that would take us to Sausalito.

Picturesque houses at Sausalito

Sausalito is a residential community at the end of the northern end of the Golden Bridge and faces the San Francisco Bay. It has a reputation as an artistic enclave and its picturesque settings have made it a tourist attraction. Many of the tourists come to visit the chic stores that border the main thoroughfare of the town. We, instead, headed to a nice spot, next to the water and had a glass of cold wine at the deck. After about one relaxed hour, got back to the mini-buses and returned to our hotel.

We had made arrangements to meet with some friends we have in Mill Valley, Gail and Rodi. We had several phone conversations during the day and changed our plans a couple of times. Finally, it was decided that Gail, who works in the city, would pick us up and we would have something to eat at their place. So, around 6 pm we were again crossing the Golden Bridge and a little while later we were at their place. Rodi’s brother, Carlos and his wife, joined us soon after. Rodi had gotten together some very tasty appetizers, accompanied with good wine. He had also prepared two pizzas and when they were ready we all sat in the front of his house to enjoy the meal. The sun had set over the hills, but there was an orange and red glow still shinning in the sky and some clouds drifting overhead. Everything was peaceful and quiet. We all joined in silence at that moment and let the magic of that instant fill our spirits. Then we continued enjoying our meal and the conversation.

Night did enveloped us and we had to go back to San Francisco. Next morning we were leaving very early to board the California Zephyr and start our journey back to the East. So we said goodbyes to our good friends hoping to see them soon. Carlos brought us back to the hotel and we finished packing our bags. It was close to midnight when we finally got to bed.

Our return on the California Zephyr