If you’re going to San Francisco

…be sure to…have a passport photo that looks like you. As I discovered after being detained by US Immigration for two hours when I arrived last night – just what I needed after 21 hours of travelling. The problem is that my passport is nine and a half years old. On the photo I have long blonde hair…but it’s still me! People do get hair cuts after all. But then the plastic over the photo is bubbled (and always has been) but I suppose it does look a bit dodgy. Anyway, after the first immigration man looked backwards and forwards between me and the passport for a good ten minutes he sent me to wait in the Immigration with the visa-less students, the Polish who had told the first official she was getting married in the US then suddenly couldn’t speak English anymore, the Arabic woman and her toddler who were getting deported, and the British family whose father had an expired Green Card. For the first 45 minutes or so it was quite interesting, just like one of those Airport! programmes on TV. But after another 45 minutes I was just tired and close to tears…..what if they actually didn’t let me in? But after looking at my passport, along with my driving license and student ID, the immigration officer finally decided to let me in – after thinking about it for another half an hour. Welcome to America!

Luckily, arriving at my hotel more than made up for the drama of getting in. I’d booked it online with minimal research so I was delighted to discover it was exactly what I’d hoped for. The Hotel Majestic is the oldest hotel in San Francisco having survived the great earthquake and subsequent fire of 1906. It’s old, and a bit shabby round the edges, but full of character and with the friendliest staff. My room even has a canopy bed and a roll top bath.

After beating the jet lag (which I know isn’t that hard in this direction) by staying up with a couple of glasses of wine until 11pm local time then sleeping until 10am, I’ve had a great first day in San Francisco. I’ve walked all over the city, miles and miles up and down its famous hilly streets. I started off walking over to Telegraph Hill, which as the name would suggest is a hill, it’s got a tower on top that you can go up for great views of the city (when it’s not shrouded in mist!). On the way I stumbled on the Cable Car museum which was tiny but cool and you could see all the big wheels and pulleys actually running the cables. I love walking everywhere in cities because you do just happen on stuff all the time.

Before I went up Telegraph Hill I went to the Beat Museum and to the City Lights book store, made famous by the beat poets. I don’t really know that much about them, apart from reading Jack Kerouac’s On The Road when I was 19 and thought I was cool, but I love that era.

You can drive up Telegraph Hill but the are also steps cut into the steep sides, so after a mercifully short climb to the top I took the elevator up the 210ft Coit Tower. From the top there are panoramic views of the city and despite the mist it was pretty impressive. You could just about see the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance, and Fisherman’s Wharf and Alcatraz island below.

After I came down from Telegraph Hill I walked back downtown through the Financial District then to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). I’m loving still having my student ID because I got discount here and at the Beat Museum. SFMOMA was great – some really cool photos in an exhibition called The View From Here and a new exhibition with some Andy Warhol stuff that was interesting to see in real life.

Right, nearly there, after SFMOMA I walked west to Alamo Square to see the ‘Painted Ladies’ – old Victorian houses painted all pastel colours. I wanted to see them anyway but also, just before I came away, my sister-in-law said I had to take photos of the ‘colourful houses’! I’m absolutely loving all the San Francisco architecture; there are so many different styles and colours and weirdly shaped buildings designed to fit on the steepest of ‘Frisco’s hills.

From Alamo Square I headed back to my hotel, and bought a new ukulele on the way!! It’s a concert uke (the next size up from the soprano which I already have), solid spruce top and it’s lovely…and only $99, which I think is quite cheap but I’ve not quite figured out the exchange rate yet.

After a quick pit stop, I went out for a delicious burger to a diner that’s in an old cable car carriage. And now I’m back at my hotel drinking raspberry cider in my room and watching the World Cup. I think tomorrow’s plan is Golden Gate Bridge and possibly the science museum, then Fisherman’s Wharf and Alcatraz on Sunday. And Monday morning I pick up my car and leave this city…although I’m bit terrified of driving for the first time in America on these crazy city streets!

That’s all for now – Tune in next time for more of Sarah’s Adventures in America. Coming Soon!

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