Before long, it was time to leave Las Vegas, described by someone we met as a display of all that is good and bad about America writ large. That is certainly a fair assessment. There is nowhere else like it in the world though, so for that we doff our caps in its general direction.
So, from the ridiculous back to the sublime. After we scoop up our motor with its inexplicable New Mexico plates, it is time to take a road trip to San Francisco.
I’ve seen the movies (all of ’em), and by this point I know what makes a high quality road trip experience:
1. Quality driving music – check
2. Snacks (bizarrely nicknamed ‘Snackatiles’ by the Mellotte family), in this case Reese’s Pieces – check
3. Partners in crime, splendid Fife bezza Buffie and super travelbuddy Kim – check, check
Off we set, destination Bay Area, with our hearts full of the promise of clam chowder and moustaches.
To epitomise the west coast road trip experience, there is only one thing eluding us…but after driving ourselves over the edge, figuratively, not like Thelma and Louise, we finally find what we are looking for.
Frequent Californicators will know of In ‘n’ Out Burger, a veritable institution of a fast food restaurant with enough cachet to distinctly separate it from grubby counterparts McDonalds and Burger King. It has a simple, on appearance scant, menu of hamburger, beef burger and cheeseburger.
However, a secret menu exists, only known in certain circles and accessed by a fiercely protected password which you knowingly deliver to your smiley server with a perceptive and pronounced wink.
I couldn’t possibly divulge how we ordered the below (animal style, we said we wanted it animal style) but we bagged ourselves a tricolour Neopolitan style milkshake with a heady mix of all the classic milkshake flavours and a special topping on our burgers of secret In ‘n’ Out sauce. It doesn’t look like much, but we were near tears with excitement.
A little known fact about this emporium is that it is family-run, by Lynsi Torres, the only grandchild of its founders, and youngest female billionaire in the US. She took on the presidency following the untimely death of both her father, by an overdose of painkillers, and her uncle in a plane crash.
They are only in five states, adding Texas, Utah, Nevada and Arizona to their humble beginnings in California. Also, they are staunchly religious. Next time you are in, check the underside of your cup and wrappers. Despite the double-entendre of a call out for your mystery meal, you’ll find bible chapter and verses marked shorthand.
Righteous burger wrappers point to Revelation 3.20: Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
Whilst the virtuous French fries bag links to Proverbs 20.16: For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity.
Our awe and wonder, at the food not the God bothering, earns us free stickers. Score!
Not long after the burger love-in, we arrive in San Francisco’s Nob Hill (no comment), exhausted like 5 year olds on Christmas Day.
We’re up with the larks the next day to head over to world famous decommissioned prison, Alcatraz. Booking ahead is a must, and once we have checked in we are ferried across on these wonderfully Eco boats, part powered by solar and wind.
Then, the familiar island, oft known as The Rock, rolls into view offering great views back across the bay to the city.
On debarkation, we’re briefed by one of the volunteers. The audio tour is voiced by former staff and inmates, unfortunately Al Capone and Robert ‘Birdman’ Stroud’s voiceover fees were too high. Given the prison’s eventful history, this seems like the way to go.
But first the obligatory intro video which reveals its chronology, from military fortification through to its occupation as a wave of Native American protests in the 70’s. It is a history I know little about so tees us up well for the full tour.
With the stunning views of the bay and the city noises wafting across on the spring air, I can’t help but think how torturous it must have been to be an inmate here…with a full view of outside life sprawled out in front of you.
The tour takes us through life on the rock including a glance into the recreational area,
the dining and kitchen area (where knives had to be shadow marked to track more easily),
and, of course, the cells themselves (try saying that after a few ales.)
(Liana rues the day she stole that bathrobe from that hotel…)
There is an interesting exhibit in the Dining Room where a writer has followed the post-incarceration lives of 5 convicted US felons and examined their roads to retribution. It profiles each of the rehabilitated criminals, including their crimes (serious shit like murder and the like) and looks at their lives now.
Here is an example. Meet Phillip Seiler, convict of second degree murder in the 80’s. Now enjoys sailing the San Francisco Bay at weekends with his wife and walking his dog…he probably also has a GSOH.
It is a challenging exhibit, and many find it in poor taste.
But it certainly provokes discussion, it’s all we can talk about the next day.
Before the tour wraps, we also learn about the siege that took place in ’46 when prisoners managed to make their escape after digging walls out over time with spoons, and take control of Alcatraz for two days in an effort to gain freedom.
One brave prison officer took his life into his own hands when he locked himself in a cell with the keys that the prisoners needed. He was shot dead for his trouble. That could well be the literal translation of ‘taking one for the team.’
When we return to the mainland, we celebrate freedom with a visit to the Boudin Bakery on Fisherman’s Wharf.
The dish du jour here seems to be the chowder, served up in huge bread bowls. Buffie opts for Clam Chowder, I for Crab and Corn Bisque. We are not disappointed, with this or the crisp Sonoma Valley Chardonnay that accompanies it.
Then it is onwards for more city sauntering. Firstly along the wharf,
then to wonderfully crooked and expertly manicured Lombard Street (I believe Liverpudlian parlance would decry it ‘on the wonk’)
then through the city to Pacific Heights where have some light retail therapy in the independent boutiques and shops d’objet (stuff shops…you know, doodahs for the house and gifty trinkets.)
The most hilarious item we saw was a book called Feminist Ryan Gosling, where the author pairs images of Ryan alongside feminist sayings to hilarious effect. More info on where to get it at www.feministryangosling.tumblr.com
After a busy day, we are reunited with Claire and Kerry off of the Coachella chapter. Usually London-based, they took to the road in a convertible after the festival to drive the Pacific Ocean Road through Big Sur ending in Frisco.
We head out to Lolinda’s, an Argentinean restaurant in the Mission area. We catch up on travel stories over an amazing dinner of sharing platters.
We also take a tour of the Napa and Sonoma valley wine list. What starts off as tasteful and demure…
…ends with us wearing another tables’ party hats (evidence would suggest as beaks at one point) and virtually hugging the waitress on our departure to other Mission hostelries.
Of course, what this scene, a real rarity with this particular group, really needs is more alcohol. Tequila shots and Pabst at Doctor Teeth, then an entirely necessary bottle of champagne at The Clift Hotel. Entirely necessary I say.
Due to the ungodly hour we went to bed, we didn’t wake till 1pm, desperate for fresh air in our lungs and filtered water in our systems. After a rescue breakfast of a three egg omelette with bacon, cheese and avocado, we throw ourselves in the car and head north over the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County. After only 30 minutes drive we arrive at the beautiful Muir Woods National Monument, which is 550 acres of stunning headlands. Over half of this is home to old growth Coastal giant redwood trees which are amongst the oldest in the world.
There is a series of beautiful trails through the forest, some covered by boardwalks in order to protect the flora and fauna.
Our instructions are clear.
We spend a couple of hours meandering through the trails, slowly starting to feel like more wholesome people rather than hungover idiots. God bless you nature…
The Giant redwoods dwarf us. Here is a photo for context. Look at how wee the people are!
They are so huge that you can even clamber into them.
A handy nearby timeline demonstrates just how old they are.
It is stunning out here, from deep inside the forest to its canopy.
Our farewell evening is spent at quirky French restaurant Bouche, which is amusingly also on Bush Street. The wild boar is delicious.
And a world first for me awaits my attention on the desert menu, goats cheesecake. Yes please thanks.
Not only am I saying goodbye to San Francisco, but it’s here I must say goodbye for the final time on this trip to fabulous Kim. We’ve managed to meet up in four different countries since we met in January, an impressive feat given our hectic travel schedules.
The absolute highlight of this trip has been the top notch people I have met, and Kim is one of the best. I couldn’t have finished the Inca Trail without her. Come see me in London soon kiddo.
And the soundtrack was:
San Francisco’s very fine KFOG radio station
Kim Wilde ‘Kids In America’
The Cure ‘Pictures of You’
Bruce Springsteen ‘Born To Run’
Karen O And The Kids ‘All is Love’
Blackstreet ‘No Diggity’
Phil Collins ‘Easy Lover’
Phil Oakey ‘Together in Electric Dreams’
The Breeders ‘Canonball’
Patti Smith ‘Because the Night’
Elbow ‘Open Arms’
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