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Friday 1 Nov 2013
San Francisco, USA

Big hills and even bigger trees

Today was a very special day, one I am sad to have missed at home: My twin nephews, Charlie and Oliver, had their first birthday.  I know they won't know that I wasn't there - they won't even realise I missed almost all of their first year - but I was sorry to have missed today in particular, especially having spent 5 weeks getting to know them over the summer.  But through the joys of technology, I was able to speak to my brother on FaceTime and see the two little boys crawling around the living room and trying to eat anything they could get their hands on.  Sam took me into the kitchen to see my sister, Cath, and the boys made a break for freedom.  Oliver crawled into the kitchen behind Sam, while Charlie made a beeline for the stairs... At which point, I left them to it and spent the rest of the day with a grin on my face.

Ailsa and I decided to release the car from captivity and headed out across the Golden Gate Bridge.  Driving over it was great fun, but I'd have loved to have been a passenger too. It seems as a driver you have to watch out for other cars who are more interested in the Bridge than their lane...!  We found our way up to Muir Woods, another great memory from my family holiday in 1988.  We have photos of Sam and I being dwarfed by the huge Redwoods and the place left a real impression on me then.  This too was closed off by the Government Shutdown, so I'd had to wait to come back.  We had a lovely stroll through the Redwood Grove, still peaceful despite the number of other visitors.  I was still overwhelmed by the scale of these beautiful trees and it brought back memories of home.  I hope I can take my nephews somewhere amazing like this when they're old enough to enjoy it.

Driving back, I took Ailsa down through Sausalito and managed to find our way across to the viewing area on the Marin headland, high above the Golden Gate Bridge.  (This was the scene of my famous disappearing act 25 years ago, which scared me as much as it did my Mum.  I got myself stuck halfway up a scramble slope and had to keep going up as I was too scared to go back down.  It seems I was AWOL for quite a while before finally popping up at the top.)  We had a stunning clear view across the bridge to the San Francisco skyline and the bay beyond.  I love this city!

We spent the rest of the afternoon just driving around the city.  We headed to the Castro, the heart of the gay community, unmistakable by the rainbows adorning each building and the flamboyant characters in the street.  I don't wish to be stereotypical, but the Castro does it for you!  Great fun.  From there we kept driving up and down hills until finally pulling over to see where we were.  We'd almost reached Twin Peaks, the lookout the Bill took me and Verity too, so I decided to take Ailsa there too.  Turning the corner, we were greeted by what looked like an impenetrable wall of concrete: Diamond Heights.  The hill was even steeper than Hyde Street and looked impossible - until my cheeky side piped up and decided it might be quite fun to try and drive up...


It was!  It was ridiculous and steep and everything about it said it should not be possible to drive up, but it was so much fun!  Giggling helplessly by the top, we had no idea where to go next, but somehow found our way up to Twin Peaks.  The sun was beginning to set behind us and we watched as the shadow of the hills crept slowly along Market Street.  Beautiful.  Thanks again to Bill for showing me these places before or we'd have missed out on so much.  We made our way back across the city, up and down hills (mostly down, including one road that took us down seven steep hills in a row, which is quite unnerving as you can't actually see the road until you've started going down!) until we finally reached Fisherman's Wharf.  

Then we ticked off the final must-do on my list:  We caught the cable car from the Wharf right across to Powell Street.  We had to queue for an hour to get on, but I made sure I got a space on the back platform next to the brakes guy so I could watch as we went up Hyde Street.  Standing there as the hill dropped steeply away behind me, I began to question that logic as I felt more and more nervous.  After my last trip up this hill on a cable car, why did I choose that spot!?  Thankfully, this ride was uneventful and we made it all the way to the top.  I wanted to cheer out loud but nobody would have understood my little victory.  I had to settle for a grin at Ailsa, who was packed inside like a sardine. I ginned even more widely as we sailed past the Swenson's Ice Cream Parlour a few minutes later - so, it still exists, even after all these years. (In case you missed the story, have a look at my earlier blog: The Bill Leach 25c tour of SF.)

We jumped off in Union Square and went to Macy's before going down to the Westfield Centre for some late night shopping.  Unfortunately, I had remembered the times wrong and it was already closed.  We had dinner at the Cheesecake Factory on the roof of Macy's and caught the cable car back across town.  This time we sat on the outside and I grinned happily again as we made it successfully back down THAT hill.


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Zoe's Big World Adventure Part II - #1 America

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Here I go again! After the incredible experiences of my first Big World Adventure, I'm off again for part two, starting with a classic American Road Trip through California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona...

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