I put in a request for a window seat on my flights from Guatemala to San Fran, and ended up with the whole row to myself for both flights!
The benefit of this was slightly negated by the five hour stop-over in Mexico City. I only spent about 7 hours in the air but the trip took me about 17 hours door to door. They had a massage area in Mexico but it was $40 for 20 minutes, which I couldn’t bring myself to spend after the Central American prices. Instead I read for a while, had some lunch, and then used me remaining Mexican Pesos for the biggest frozen margarita known to man!
I landed in San Fran late on Monday evening, the immigration process took longer than usual since my flight had come from Mexico City. In fact when I finally got to the front the official said “well you stuck out like a sore thumb on that flight”.
I always end up feeling guilty when going through immigration, even though I have nothing to feel guilty about, and therefore end up acting in a weird nervy way. I find it off-putting the way they ask questions pretending to be making small talk when really you know it’s to find out info.
When I’d applied for my ESTA visa (which Dermot and I discovered you have to get even if you’re just changing flights in the states!) I was planning on staying in a hostel in SF, but then James booked his flights out and we were staying at his parents’ just north of the city.
I didn’t know their address but had to put an address on the immigration form, so put my original hostel address. Then as I was in the queue I got a text from him with their address just saying “Get a taxi and I’ll see you there”. So I ended up crossing out the hostel address, leading to a mess of a form that probably prompted more questions and ended up in me being the last person out of there (other than the Mexicans who had to go for second round screening)
When I got James’ text I was 95% sure he was joking and that he’d come to meet me at the airport as we’d planned, mainly because it was such a blunt response to my excitable message that I had landed. However there was a small part of me that worried that after the flight from London and then the journey from the airport to his parents’ place he’d changed his mind about coming to meet me. So I went through customs and into the exit hall with some trepidation, not wanted to look to eager in case I was then disappointed. I needn’t have feared, there he was to greet me, having got excited every time the doors opened for the last half hour, only to see another elderly Mexican lady shuffle out.
We drove back to Saucalito and had a little midnight snack and caught up on all the stories of the last month that we hadn’t been able to tell over patchy FaceTime. Once I realised it had now been 24 hours since I’d woken up we decided to call it a night. I then woke about 6am because I was so excited about the beautiful sunrise over the bay 😊
Saucalito sits just north of SF across the Golden Gate bridge, so has a stunning view across the bay, past Alcatraz to the skyscrapers of the city.
We hopped on the Saucalito ferry, and made the bold move to have breakfast beers at 11am. We were after all “on holiday” (what I’ve been telling myself the last 6 weeks!)
The ferry building in SF was such a treat. Every shop in there was the sort that you’d have one of on a street in London and that would be “the good place”, but they were all lovely foody treats.
We then took a stroll along the embarcardo which runs along the East side of the city by the bay. It was full of healthy sorts on their lunchtime jogs. We walked the whole way up to near Fisherman’s Wharf at the north of the city and went for lunch at an excellent vegetarian restaurant called ‘Greens‘. Reviewed by James Torrance, 2014: “The only vegetarian restaurant I’d actually go to”.
It had a great view out over the bay, and we could see seals and pelicans as we lunched. As soon as we sat down a waiter swooped over and put a tasty looking dish on the table….we tucked in, thinking this was a Californian take on the bread basket. I had been eyeing up one of the starters on the menu, and quickly realised that this dish was virtually identical. Just as I said to James…”do you think they gave us this by mistake?” (as we were halfway through eating it) the waitress appeared and said “ah, so they did give it to the wrong table, well, enjoy!” what a bonus. So I had a second starter too 😊
By the time we finished dinner it was tipping it down with rain. Up until a few weeks ago all of California was in severe drought, and though it still is, it certainly didn’t feel like it in SF, with rain teaming down most of the 2 days we were there. We were lucky that it held off whenever we wanted to do outdoor activities!
When weighing up how to get back to Sausalito we were amazed that Uber still worked exactly as normal in a different continent. Wooed by this technological brilliance, and the attraction of a rain-free journey, a taxi it was.
That evening we went for dinner with James’ dad (his mum had already headed back to the UK for Christmas) at a delicious place called Sushi Ran in Sausalito. It definitely topped any of the sushi I had in Central America, and in fact most that I’ve had in London!
The next day we caught the ferry into town again. No beers this time, as one of the tasks to achieve was to collect the rental car that will be accompanying me for my 3 weeks in the states.
I was actually really nervous for driving, because since my test 8 years ago the only driving I’ve done has been a loop of the Icelandic ring road. Whilst stunning, it was not the most taxing drive and didn’t really involve any interaction with other cars!! The first thing the guy at the rental place said when we arrived was “oh, you booked the really small car”…. I’d ordered the smallest possible car given my low driving confidence, but ended up going one size up: to a Prius (my parents will be proud)
I’d booked the car hire when I’d thought that it would just be me on the US leg of the trip, when in fact it ended up being: James, Sajni (who recently moved from Deloitte London to NYC), and Saj’s sister Bansi.
Once we’d got the car we drove uptown to meet Saj and Bansi, who had just landed from NY that morning. We had breakfast and then went on a little driving tour of SF. I mean why not start off by challenging myself with major city traffic and insane hills?! All I can say is thank goodness I had an automatic, otherwise there would have been some definitely smashy-smashies on the hill starts. They seem to find it amusing to put a ‘Stop’ sign at the top of all the steep sections of road, leaving the car teetering on the edge, and a moment of faith switching from the brake to the accelerator. The automatic even rolled backwards a little at those points…which shows just how steep it was!
A SF visit wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Lombard Street (“the crooked street”) where my passengers put their lives in my hands as I edged my way down the switchback bends.
We then drove downtown to ‘The Mission’, a Mexican area with tonnes of colourful shops and graffiti where we found a faux-grungy bar to shelter from the rain. In Californian style was full of bearded types with MacBooks. Then we pootled around town a bit more and to complete my driving challenge I drove home across golden gate in the rush hour traffic, dark and pouring rain!! I feel like it was the ‘pass plus’ course I never did all in one.
We went for another wonderful dinner with James’ dad in a cute town called Mill Valley just north of Sausalito, and then said our farewells as we were getting up at silly o’clock the next day in order to drive back into town, add James to the rental car (I’m not sure he could handle just me driving for a week!), collect Saj and Bans (it turned out that their hostel was right next to Greens restaurant – handy since they’re both veggies!) and then set off up to Napa Valley for the first wine tasting appointment of the day at 10.30am… 🍷