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San Francisco, an Attractive Holiday Destination in the ‘Golden State’ Californi

by Ron Meijer in Travel and weekendtrips , 13 oktober 2004


Since the dollar has become this cheap, a trip to California is for many at a top position on their wish list. To do something completely differently instead of the worn out holidays to France, Spain or, even worse, Ibiza. California, also known as "the Golden State", is about twelve hours flying from Amsterdam. There’s no bothering about connecting flight, because there are nonstop flights to San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. How and what kind of booking you make, is for you to decide.

However, booking a complete holiday might be more expensive as when you take care of some things yourself. We booked a round-trip Amsterdam - San Francisco and a motel in the city. Beck’s Motor Lodge faxed us that everything was taken care of, and when we arrived, we found out it was. Immediately there was the first amazement with the caretaker, she couldn’t understand how her own fax, which we showed her, had "traveled" all the way to Holland! Just when you think you’re in the land of unlimited opportunities! Something that earlier already stroke our attention with Americans: they know there’s more outside America, but they’re not so sure, it seems like.



Climate and Transport

Let’s talk about the climate first. The most common idea is that it’s a sun-drenched state with fitting temperatures, but that's not true whatsoever. There are no bigger differences in temperature than there are in California and it’s all depending of the region you’re in. A famous expression is: “There is no colder winter, than a summer in San Francisco.” This we experienced while we were visiting Alcatraz - "The Rock" - in the bay of San Francisco.

Make sure you pack a warm sweater or a coat together with your summer clothes, even if you go there in the middle of the summer. The public transport is excellent: bus, tram, trolley and metro will take you to all the out-of-the-way places of the city. Day and week cards are for sale everywhere. For a one-way-ticket you pay cash with the driver of the tram, bus or trolley.

San Francisco is hilly so a good pair of outdoor shoes you’ll learn to appreciate. You can set the clock at it, at four o'clock the temperature drops remarkably. It’s also striking that there is hardly any air-conditioning to be found over here; which makes it more quiet. Even in most of the hotels you won’t find one and if there is, you are in a (too) expensive hotel. By opening the window for half an hour you are guaranteed to have a cool bedroom.

The Golden Gate Bridge

Six traffic lanes and a footpath and the second biggest span in the world shape together the spectacular Golden Gate Bridge. Some figures: Every day 118,000 cars cross the bridge, the two big cables have a length more than 2300 meters and are one meter thick. The amount of cement used in the piers is enough to construct a road of one and a half meter wide between San Francisco and New York. The bridge is 2.7 kilometers long and the traffic lane is just under seventy meters above the water. From Ford Point or Vista Point you have a beautiful view over the bridge.



While we were over there Ford Point was under occupation of the military. Since September 11 the Golden Gate Bridge is under extra protection because of the threat of new attacks. Very strange to see the modern army in a fort again, which was completed in 1861 to protect the bay from attacks.

Alcatraz

Alcatraz is Spanish for Pelican and refers to the first residents of this island which is located one and a half kilometer of the coast of San Francisco. In 1859 the American army founded a fort there for the security of the Bay Area. During the years afterwards until 1963 it functioned as heavy secured federal prison, one of the toughest in America. Here tough gangsters like Al Capone, Doc Kelly and Machine Gun Kelly were imprisoned with the prospect of never leaving the island again. All together thirty-nine men tried to escape in spite of the cold freezing water and the strong currents. Ten died, five were never found and the rest was arrested again.



Tip: in the summer it’s best to make reservations as early as possible, sometimes even days before!
Since 1972 the island is taken care of by the National Park Service. Originally the officials thought the visitors would come to enjoy the nature of the island, but soon they found out the prison happened to be the reason for a trip to the island. It’s a boat trip of fifteen minutes from pier 39 and pier 41 to Alcatraz. On the island you’re free to do what you want to do, there’s no obliged main tour to walk.

There are ranger programs where you get a short explanation from a guide, but you can also explore the island by yourself. Make sure you buy tickets including the audio tour. When you enter the cell-house you'll get a MP3-player. This player will give you further information at different spots in the cell-house through the voices of guards or prisoners. In the cell-house you will experience the isolation which the prisoners must have felt permanently.
About four hours we have spent on the island and I didn’t regret one second of it.



At Alcatraz we also experienced the worst weather change you can imagine. We left for the island while the temperature was about 28 degrees Celsius; after a couple of hours we saw a huge fog approaching the island, preceded by a freezing wind. In a few minutes the temperature dropped about twenty degrees and we didn’t know how fast we had to get ourselves somewhere inside! This visit to Alcatraz was very impressive and to my opinion a must for every visitor of San Francisco. And when you get home you really should rent the movies’ "Escape from Alcatraz" and "The Rock". You will watch them in a completely different way once you’ve visited Alcatraz!

Cable Car Museum

Since 1873 San Francisco has a cable car system. The horse tram wasn't very practical because of the steep hills in San Francisco. In 1947 they tried to replace all the cable trams by busses, but under pressure from the people three lines remained. You can sit or stand inside and on the outside of the tram, but always hold on tight.

The cable car has always two employers aboard: the gripman, who controls the handgrips for the transport in the middle of the car, and the conductor who comes by for the tickets. When you’re in San Francisco, you really should make a ride with the cable car. The most pretty ride you’ll have with the Powell-Hyde line from Nobb Hill towards the Bay, especially at the part where you go downhill for the last time. The cable cars at these lines can only drive in one way, as contrasted by the California Street Lines.



At the end of the line you will find the so-called turntables where the gripman and conductor will manually turn the cable car. Very interesting is a visit to Cable Car Barn, where you'll find a repair work shop, a museum and the power station of the whole cable car network in San Francisco, all together. Here you can have a look behind the scenes of the system, see examples of the mechanisms and the engines and wheels which actually propel all the lines. The entrance is free.

China Town

China Town in San Francisco has got the largest Chinese population outside of Asia. And that you’ll notice. We’re entering China Town via Dragons Gate on the south side and very soon you fancy yourself to be in the Far East. Countless numbers of typical small shops, stuffed until the last square centimeter with all kind of Asian goods, from lamps and statues to incense sticks and real Chinese tea. Whatever you can come up with, it’s for sale here. A visit to a real Chinese temple is worth the trip. Although in our opinion China Town in New York seems to be more Chinese. Many of the temples are also open for tourists, although they’re skipped by many. We did visit a temple and it’s important that during your visit you’ll show some respect (don’t start to make photographs without permission). Very special was the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company, a small bakery at Ross Alley where the famous “Fortune Cookies” come from.

Castro Street

Castro Street gave us mixed feelings. This street is very "homosexual". Here gays are parading hand in hand with a look on their faces which seems to say “this is how we always do it” but when they come to the end of the street they quickly let go again. An example of the double facedness of San Francisco. In this street you’ll find a gay baker, there are gay shoes for sale and you can find anything to keep your household clean in a gay way.



You know what I mean: it’s not about quality but about buying stuff by the motto “buy gay goods so we’re helping each other”; it’s not our cup of tea. I considered the sphere to be very oppressive. Everybody was behaving politically correct and they were all too friendly in a wrong way. Though it’s something to be seen and an example for what ghettos might lead to.
AIDS has violently struck San Francisco and most of the ones who became infected are, because of the retarded system of healthcare, depending on self-help-groups which are strongly organized over here.



At the start of the epidemic the conservative Reagan refused to do anything at all, using the motto “they are getting the punishment they deserve.”
In the Golden Gate Park there is made room at a beautiful spot for a memorial for those who died because of the AIDS epidemic. A beautiful quiet place to sit down at for a couple of minutes.



 







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