Tuesday, December 29, 2009

San Francisco, We Finally Meet

I'm 41-years-old. It has taken me a long time to visit San Francisco. Well, I'm in San Francisco right now as I type. I'm here for the first time. San Francisco, we finally meet.

It had become a running joke with some of my friends, the fact that I had not yet been to San Francisco. After all, I am known for being a traveler. I've been to 20 foreign countries. True, it's not 100, but it's more than the average person has visited. And in these countries, I've usually visited multiple cities.

For example, in Holland, I didn't just go to Amsterdam, as most tourists do. I also went to Rotterdam, Delft, Utrecht, The Hague, Dordrecht, Haarlem, Gouda, Leiden and Kinderdijk. In Spain, I didn't just go to Madrid and Barcelona. I also went to Segovia, Toledo, Alicante, Malaga, Cordoba, Seville, Granada, Caceres, Zaragoza, Avila, Salamanca, Burgos, Valladolid, Santander, Bilbao, San Sebastian, Girona, Sitges and Montserrat. And don't even get me started on Italy. In Italy, I even went to Fanna. FANNA. Have you ever heard of Fanna? Well, neither have most Italians-- not even those who live in the northeast, where Fanna is secretly located.

Si signori, I had been to Fanna, but not to San Francisco. I had been to Ljubljana, Slovenia, but not to San Francisco. I had been to Bucharest, Romania, but not to San Francisco. I had been to Haifa, Israel, but not to San Francisco. I had been to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, but not to San Francisco... My friends were really giving me a hard time about this, especially after I had gone four years living in Los Angeles, neglecting to visit San Francisco (in favor of San Diego and Las Vegas).

Last year on vacation, did I go from L.A. to San Francisco? Nope. I did, however, go from L.A. to Morelia, Mexico. And Patzcuaro. And Janitzio. And Tapalpa. Have you heard of those Mexican towns? Probably not. I hadn't before last year. But I had heard of San Francisco. Everyone has. People travel from all over the world to visit San Fran. Not I. Not until this week. Finally.

San Francisco, we finally meet.


What the fuck was I thinking, waiting until age 41 to see this city, which is basically a concrete-covered roller coaster of merciless, mountainous hills? The sidewalks here aren't sidewalks. They're walls. You turn a corner and see a wall. You have to crane your head up to see the top of the sidewalk. You don't walk the sidewalk. You scale it. They shouldn't be called sidewalks in this city. They should be called sideclimbs.

Let me explain. I get to know new cities by walking. I'm a major walker. Even if I have taxi fare, when I'm exploring a new city, I walk it. A bus is passing by? So what. I keep walking. It's the only way to really get to know and feel a city, in my opinion.

So: Visit here at age 41? Why didn't I visit here at age 21, when my younger bones put a real spring in my step?

Here's another question: Why am I sitting here writing in my blog, when I am only here for 10 days and should be out seeing the city? Here's the answer: Because my 41-year-old legs can't take it. My ankles and knees are kill-ing me. I'm taking a break.

San Francisco has given me a rude awakening: I am aging. This is my first vacation where I can't walk and walk and walk for hours and hours and hours, then go back to my lodgings, take a shower, change clothes, and experience the nightlife.

Nightlife? That requires more walking up or down hills--prohibitive hills. My body needs to recuperate. I'll just sit here and type...

My first encounter here with a steep, sidewalked hill was quite deceptive. It was on Christmas Eve, when I arrived in town. I'm staying in Nob Hill, and decided to go to Grace Cathedral for Christmas Eve mass. Wow. What a beautiful cathedral, and what a lovely mass. And it gave me a good intro to walking in this city...

You see, on my way to Grace, I was walking along Pine Street, following the map from my Fodor's guidebook. I could see that it was a short walk to the cathedral. Just turn on Taylor Street, walk a block, and you're there. Well, I turned on Taylor Street, and saw an uphill climb so steep, that the sidewalk actually had steps carved into it. As I huffed and puffed my way up the eternal steps, I thought, This isn't so bad. At least the sidewalk has been turned into steps. Steps are easier to climb. If all the steep sidewalks are like this, it won't be so bad...

They are not all like that. In fact, that stretch of Taylor Street is the only stepped sidewalk that I've seen.

Let me just say, so I don't sound like a whiner, that this city is really beautiful. The word that keeps coming to my mind is "wow." That's because, in these few days that I've been here, as I huff and puff my way up a hill, feeling like Shelly Winters in The Poseidon Adventure, I always get a reward once I reach the sidewalk's summit: The view. And the only word that seems to come out of my mouth when I behold the view is, "Wow."

Uphill I'll go... Walk. Up. Hill. Huff. Puff. Sigh. Breathe. Creak. Damn. Climb. Huff. Puff. Ow. Up. Up. Ouch. God. I think I can. I know I can. Pause. Breathe. Fuck. Sigh. Walk. Up. Hill. Up. Up. Step. Step. Huff. Puff... you're at the top. Turn the corner, take a look, and..... "WOW!"

The bay! What a beauuuuutiful view.

Does any city on earth have a more beautiful natural setting? Barcelona, Florence, Lisbon and Quebec City, among the cities I've seen, are runners up. But really, they don't hold a candle to the bay of San Francisco, and views of it, and the sea of roofs below, from the city's hilltop sidewalks. True, I've never been to Rio de Janeiro or Vancouver, but I can't imagine their cityscape blending so seamlessly with the geographical setting as San Francisco's does.

I guess I should just leave it at that. I'm tired, but I really do need to go out there and see more of this charming city. I should stop writing, gather my strength and tackle more of those hills. They're a bitch, but it's because of them that I can turn a corner and say, "Wow!"

All of this beauty comes at a price.

San Francisco, we finally meet... and you are kicking my ass.

Over and out. Out I go.... Huff. Puff. Huff. Puff....

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