Viva la San Francisco!

Viva la San Francisco!

Most cities are many things to several people. Every city, however, has one quality that is universally agreed upon. While the popular slogan for San...

San Francisco, the hilly city in California, casts a spell on residents and visitors alike

Most cities are many things to several people. Every city, however, has one quality that is universally agreed upon. While the popular slogan for San Francisco “Everybody’s favourite city” makes it one of the most sought after tourist destinations in the world.

I find Rudyard Kipling’s observation most appropriate to describe it. Kipling’s cryptic one liner… “San Francisco has only one drawback, Tis hard to leave”… says it all. San Francisco, the hilly city in California on the tip of a peninsula surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay casts a spell on residents and visitors alike.

It has an interesting history too. Although native Americans had fished the waters of San Francisco Bay for centuries, they did not establish any permanent settlement within the city limits.

The first recorded history of the city is from 1769 when its Bay was discovered by Don Gaspar de Portola, leading a Spanish expedition. The first permanent structure built here was the Spanish mission complex for St Francis of Assisi in 1776 probably earning the city its name.

Later a fort, the Presidio of San Francisco came up overlooking the entrance to San Francisco Bay. After coming under Mexican control in the 1820’s California revolted against Mexican rule and declared itself a republic.

The California gold rush of 1849 propelled by the discovery of enormous amounts of gold in Sierra Nevada also ushered in many changes.

California ultimately joined the United States and San Francisco as the gateway to the gold fields was transformed from a sleepy outpost into a world class metropolis bustling with activity. The icy cold grey waters of the Pacific ocean, fog filled skies, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, Victorian houses, a financial district that is the hub of activity, the crooked street that leaves you sitting on the edge of the seat as you drive up and the famous Alcatraz prison are enduring images that stay with you.

The Golden Gate Bridge is a suspension bridge spanning the Golden Gate, the one mile strait connecting San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. A walk along the bridge provides a fantastic view and one sees many tourists taking pictures at this most photographed spot.

For me, this was a particularly exciting place as the Golden Gate had been etched in my memory ever since I had read Vikram Seth’s book many years earlier. We were surprised to learn that this picturesque spot is the second most used suicide site in the world, which is probably why there is a special telephone installed here connecting it to a crisis hotline.

PIER 39 is a wonderful place offering amazing views, shopping places, eateries and an awesome view of sea lions. Located along the waterfront, the locales are picture perfect offering views of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, Angel Island Alcatraz and the famous city skyline.

Full of vibrant energy, the idle chatter of tourists, selfie obsessed youngsters and crowds out to enjoy a leisurely stroll, this is sheer magic for those who love being by the sea there is no better place than this to experience its awesome expanse and all that it offers.

The Lombard Street famous for its steep one block section with its eight hairpin bends is rightly named ‘The Crooked Street’ and is truly “one of its kind”. Even at the five miles per hour speed you find your heart pounding with the tension and excitement and you heave a sigh of relief at the end of what seems an incredibly long journey.

The “oohs” and “aahs” added special effects to the remarkable feat of driving up and we wondered how one could traverse through it unhurt… A visit to the Ghiradelli Chocolate Company shop after the tension filled crooked street drive was just the “yummy break” that served to relax us and get us ready for the interesting tour of Alcatraz the high security federal prison on Alcatraz island that was said to be operational till 1963.

The Alcatraz Island came to house the Federal Bureau of Prisons in August 1834 after the buildings were modernised to meet the requirements of a top notch security prison. Situated in the middle of the Ocean notorious for its cold waters and strong currents it housed many ruthless criminals like Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud better known as the Birdman of Alcatraz, George “Machine Gun” and Alvin Creepy Karpis, the longest serving inmate among others.

An audio guide helped us through the three storey cell house and we got to see the warden’s office, the visitation room, the library, the barber shop, the dining rooms and the small but deadly prison cells.

The audio outlined the 14 escape attempts including the successful “Escape from Alcatraz” made into a feature film where Frank Morris, John Anglin and Clarence Anglin managed the most intricate escapes in prison history.

The soap used to create the artificial head that was put in place to hoodwink the guards outside the cell, forks, spoons and all other stuff that the inmates used for their escape, the spats in the dining area as part of the diversionary tactics are all intricately explained here.

The corridors of the Prison named after major American streets such as Broadway and Michigan Avenue are also interesting and the care with which the prison material is maintained is truly appreciable. Attracting millions of visitors the former prison in the icy waters left a lasting impression on me.

The high point was watching the DVD of the film ‘Escape from Alcatraz’ after we had seen the prison. As we drove back to the Bay area where we were staying, we recalled the beautiful sights and Kipling’s words yet again. Not just hard to leave but easy to love, if I may add my own.

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