Tuesday, August 05, 2008

California: Golden Gate Bridge

I'll bet you completely forgot that I never finished my posts about our trip to San Francisco. Oh wait...maybe you were actually just wishing that I'd forget to finish my San Francisco posts. Well no such luck. I'm going to stick it out until the very end, assuming that I actually remember the end of our vacation by the time I get around to writing about it. My new goal is to finish by Thanksgiving. :) Here's the next chapter of our exciting adventure.

The day after checking into our hotel near Union Square, we woke up early and had a relaxing breakfast in the penthouse lounge of the Donatello before walking a few blocks down to the start of the cable car line. We waited in line for 20 minutes or so, which is why I took so many pictures of the cable cars coming in for the turnaround. It was really quite a fascinating, because I didn't really have any idea how this old-fashioned method of transportation actually worked until we got there. At the end of the line, the car comes to a stop on a rotating wooden platform, and then one of the operators actually pushes the whole car around in a circle to get it going the other direction. It was a genius design back when it was invented in the late 1800s, but it's so amazingly inefficient by today's standards. I wonder if they would have updated the method of operation by now if the cable cars weren't a National Historic Landmark!

When it was finally our turn to board, we jumped on the Powell-Hyde line and I took the last seat that was left. The car was full enough that Chad had to stand inside, but what we didn't realize was that the car would continue to stop for passengers regardless of the fact that we were already full. We were completely shocked at how many people they squeezed onto each car! At every stop more people piled on, and the operators kept barking orders to the standing passengers to keep crowding together so that more people would fit. Poor Chad was just about squished by a mass of tourists! Thankfully, many people were only riding to the top of the hill to Lombard Street (the "crookedest" street in San Fran), so the second half of our journey wasn't quite as crowded.

We hopped off the trolley at the end of the line, which is down near Fisherman's Wharf. At this point we started walking to the west, with our destination being a bus line that would take us to the Golden Gate Bridge. The walk to our bus stop ended up being a bit a of a haul, not because of the distance (it was just under a mile), but because of the huge hill that we had to walk up next to the old Army post, Fort Mason. The view of the fort and the GGB from the top of the hill was beautiful though and well worth the hike!

Unfortunately we arrived at our bus stop right after the bus had just left, so we had to wait about 20 minutes for the next bus to the bridge to depart. Once our bus departed, it was a short couple of miles to the parking lot of San Fran's main attraction. After taking a few pictures of the bridge with hundreds of other tourists, we set off on our journey to the other side.

Our walk across the Golden Gate Bridge consisted of me taking tons of pictures, and Chad trying not to look out over the railing at the water below. He walked mostly on the edge of the walkway right next to where the cars were whizzing by, and had no interest stopping a lot for me to pull out the camera. There were so many beautiful views I just couldn't help myself, but every time we stopped I could see the look of tension on my dear husband's face--his uneasiness in high places was certainly taking its toll!

As we'd discovered driving across the bridge a couple of days before, the sheer size of this architectural marvel is so astounding when you're up close. You don't really realize how long it is (it's still the second longest suspension bridge span in the U.S.) until you set out to walk across! It took us around 45 minutes to walk the 1.5 miles across, including all the stops for picture taking and reading about the bridge along the way. Thankfully, the weather was beautiful and perfect for a stroll. It was of course incredibly windy, but the sun was shining and it was extremely warm for San Francisco. I didn't even need my jacket most of the time! When we arrived at the north end of the bridge and stopped to take some pictures, I decided I'd bust out the zoom lens and take a few shots of the city and Alcatraz. Unfortunately, the wind was so strong there was no way I could hold the lens steady enough to take a decent shot!

One thing that we found a little shocking on our trek across the bridge was the plethora of these signs, which say "The consequences of jumping from this bridge are fatal and tragic." The signs were accompanied by a suicide hotline phone. It made the trip across a little morbid and depressing, since I certainly hadn't previously realized that it was common for the bridge to have so many jumpers. According to Wikipedia, there is a suicide from the bridge about every 2 weeks. There have been multiple documentaries and studies done on the subject, which sound terribly disturbing to me. Apparently there are only a couple of people who have ever survived the jump, since the fall is so far that people hit the water at a very high rate of of speed (ironically, 88 miles per hour, which might only be ironic if you're a Back to the Future fan like I am). As morbid as the the whole thing was, I have to admit I chuckled a little that they felt the need to say that jumping was "fatal and tragic." Was it not enough to say that it was fatal? Is there a time when a suicide attempt isn't tragic? Really?

Okay, sorry for the depressing digression. Back to the story.

After finishing our 3 mile hike across the bridge and back, we started to sit down and wait for the bus to take us back to the Fisherman's Wharf area. As Chad was looking at the map, he noticed that Crissy Field (an old military airfield that's now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area) was nearby, and remembered that there was a big sports warehouse near there that we had talked about visiting. We decided to just walk there, since we were in our good walking shoes and it didn't look very far on the map. It ended up being about a mile and a half, so we were a little pooped by the time we got there since that brought our total walking for the day to almost 6 miles.

We shopped around Sports Basement for a while and bought some new shoes and other athletic apparel, and then grabbed energy bars and drinks for a quick lunch. We headed off to find a bus stop, although we weren't really sure what bus to get on since we hadn't really planned on being in this location in the first place. Thankfully, Chad was very good at reading the route map, so he figured out a route that would work and pointed us towards the proper stop. As luck would have it, on our way there we accidentally happened upon the most beautiful scene, where I of course had to stop and take a few more postcard worthy pictures. The building turned out to be the Palace of Fine Arts, which is surrounded by a big pond with a fountain and tons of ducks and geese. It was so gorgeous!

A few blocks later we came to our bus stop, and thankfully the bus was just getting ready to head off towards our hotel, so we didn't have to wait at all. Much like the cable car, the bus was crazily crowded. Fortunately this time we both got seats, which was nice since we were pretty exhausted from walking almost 7 miles that morning! We made it back to our hotel in the early afternoon and enjoyed a little rest and relaxation to recover from our fun-filled morning!

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