I’m amid a wonderful dream about cookie dough when the upwards tilt of the car suddenly jolts me awake. I open my eyes to the sight of an endlessly steep hill, upon which our car is ascending. Before me, all I see is black asphalt and blue sky. We must be in San Francisco, I conclude.
Misha sits behind the wheel, calmly staring ahead of him He casually turns his head to the right, in the direction of a frantically pedaling biker riding alongside. After letting the biker pass the intersection, Misha turns right. Sparkling blue water is within view. We continue straight on the road, until turning onto another road, running along the coast. To the right are piers. We search for Pier 33. Not willing to pay the $25 parking, we backtrack a few blocks. We park our car beside Pier 19/21 and walk the quarter mile to Pier 33, where our tour commences. At 1pm, we follow the crowd loading onto the ferry. Minutes later, our boat departs to Alcatraz Island. A brief 1.5 mile sail later, we dock on the island, often known as “the rock.” Alcatraz Island was initially developed for military purposes, housing, among other things, a lighthouse and a military prison. More than half a century later, the facility evolved into a federal penitentiary, holding some of the most notorious criminals in American history, including Al Capone, Robert Stroud (known as the Birdman of Alcatraz), and George “Machine Gun” Kelly.
We descend the 2 story ferry onto the island’s shore. Above us stands a massive rectangular prison, made completely of rock. Misha and I decide to take an audio tour. The creepy voices of former prison guards and prisoners, the obnoxious slamming of cell doors and the deafening screeches during food riots fill our headphones as the narrators details what life was like in the prison. I listen in awe to tales of escape from this impenetrable prison. The chillness of the air and somber lightening cast a creepy ambiance. I am thankful that Misha is beside me to quiet my fears. After exiting the prison, Misha and I explore the rest of the island, including a nature trail and a scenic view of the foggy San Francisco skyline. A quarter after four we board the ferry and position ourselves at the head of the boat, in perfect view of the sun setting on the city.
With rumbling stomachs, we decide to have a cultural meal in Chinatown.. The voyage to get there consists of steep hills and even steeper stairs. After a 2 mile walk, I am relieved to see Chinese lanterns and foreign symbols hanging from buildings. The recognizable English chatter is replaced with a language I can’t understand. We pass markets filled with large amounts of meat, unique fruits and cheap souvenirs. We select one of many restaurants and fill up on tea, sweet and sour soup, dumplings, egg rolls, rice, chicken and unappetizing beef. As we are about to exit this ethnic area, a tea shop catches our eye. We splurge on bags full of Puerh and Blue tea, famous for their digestive and relaxant benefits, and a tea pot. Our wallets a few bills lighter, Misha and I continue strolling through Chinatown, where we encounter some, well, interesting characters. One man stands on a deserted staircase, eyes closed and singing to no one in particular. His broomstick serves as a microphone. Across the street a man laughs wildly to himself, before huffing and puffing like a tired dog. We walk another block, where we encounter a woman screaming at her cheating lover, loud enough for the next city’s Chinatown to hear. We pass strip clubs with large bouncers and hefty dancers and entire pig carcasses roasting in windows. Ready for some normalcy, Misha and I walk back to our car. Key in the ignition and we’re off to Sunnyvale, where Misha’s friend, Laxman, lives. This will be our home for the next 3 nights.
We wake up and get dressed for our first full day in the city on the bay. Thinking we’d save a few bucks on gas, Misha and I take the train to San Francisco. Unexpectedly, the commute takes 2 hours. And even then, we’re 5 miles from where we want to be – Golden Gate Park. Desiring some exercise, I don’t mind making this walk. Plus, walking is an awesome way to explore a city. We pass palm trees, ascend and descend hills, and admire various forms of architecture. Midway through our trek, we arrive at the city hall and take a few minutes to admire its tall arched ceilings and long hallways before continuing. Over an hour after departing on this walk, or should I say trek, we arrive at the colorful intersection of Haight and Ashbury. Barefoot individuals boasting dreads and appearing not to have showered in weeks flood the sidewalks. The first man we encounter offers us weed, as he holds the leash of his curious dog.
“No, thank you,” we tell him.
The street is lined with every tie-dye item imaginable, smoking devices of all shapes and sizes, and replicated Tibetan clothing At the end of this street rests Golden Gate Park. It only took 90% of the day’s sunlight, but we’ve arrived. Given the soon approaching darkness, Misha and I go on a short walk through the park, aiming for the De Young museum. We walk on green grass, pass numerous sports fields and trails and encounter more hippies, before arriving at the museum, only to find out that the exhibit is closed for the day. Needless to say, we’ll be taking our car tomorrow.
Tomorrow comes and we head to Twin Peaks, a pair of hills measuring 925 feet in elevation. We climb to the top of one of the hills, not knowing if it’s the South or North peak, and snap a few photos of the city off in the distance. Satisfied, we drive to the world famous, Golden Gate Bridge. We hike to a pier to eat lunch and admire this impressive 2-mile long masterpiece. After snapping nearly 100 photos, I understand why this is the most photographed bridge in the world. I even convince unusually brave birds to take photos with me and the bridge by bribing them with bread crumbs.. Not having gotten our bridge fix for the day, we head to the Bay Bridge, connecting San Francisco and Oakland. This bridge is one of the longest in the United States and utilizes a double suspension and two decks. We cross the lower deck and arrive at Treasure Island to watch the sunset over the city. Since Misha is taking the California Basic Educational Skills (CBEST) Exam at 7:30 the next morning, we smartly agree to conclude our adventure for the day. We cross the bridge again, this time along the more scenic upper deck, before heading back to Sunnyvale.
After an unusual, good night’s rest, I wake up refreshed. Misha is already in the city taking his exam so I hop on the train to meet him once he’s done. After an hour of anxiously waiting to hear from Misha, I receive a text from an unfamiliar phone number. It’s Misha, informing me that the car got towed, and that his phone is inside the car. While Misha retrieves our vehicle, I do a bit of shopping on Market Street. Shortly after 3 pm he grumpily picks me up. As it turns out, Misha parked the car along a curb, with about two inches of the front bumper leaning into a driveway. The grumpy old lady living in the house took it upon herself to call the tow company. Misha knocked on the door to inquire why the woman felt the need to have the car towed. Her response was short and rude. She proceeded to close the door in Misha’s face. This resulted in a 2 hour bus ride, a 45 minute walk, and a $700 ticket.
My heart wants to stop by the woman’s house and yell at her. But my mind knows not to. So instead we head to the Land’s End National park; a windy and rocky shoreline at the mouth of the Golden Gate straight. We sit along the edge of the Sutro bath ruins and peaceful watch another graceful sunset while listening to crashing waves below us. Our moods are lifted as we soak in the beauty.
Tonight we’re going to celebrate Laxman’s birthday. But first, some grub. We stop at Fisherman’s Wharf, a flashy tourist trap, near Pier 39. We purchase some delicious crab, and stop by Gharidella Square for some free chocolate before heading to the party. We meet Laxman at his friend’s apartment, where the festivities are just beginning. We are surrounded by intelligence and enjoyable conversation as most of Laxman’s friends work for Google and Apple. We discuss careers and travels before singing Happy Birthday to a stumbling birthday boy and heading to the bars. We bar-hop along Poke street before heading back to Sunnyvale. A good night’s rest is in the works in preparation for tomorrow’s drive.