Monday, March 10, 2008

San Francisco, Ahoy!

I had ended my previous post rather abruptly! And then got busy with lot of other things including trying to shift this blog onto my website and some mundane tasks. Finally today I decided that I will complete this travelogue. I have already posted the pictures shot during the 45-minute train journey from Sunnyvale to San Franscisco and some street views of the bustling city on my other blog View from Passenger Window.

As soon as I alighted at the San Franscisco station I didn't know what to do and where to go. The railway station seemed so much like a Bangalore city station, much smaller and cleaner of course. People rushing in and out of the station, shop keepers doing brisk business, taxis waiting for customers outside the gate, people buying coffee, newspapers from the Starbucks outlet etc. Deciding to seek help I accosted the ticket inspector of our train and asked him for a city map. He was surprised and asked me where I wanted to go. When I said I had no particular plans, he beckoned me to follow him to one of the shops and gave me a map of the place. "Go to Pier 39, it is beautiful place," he said pointing to a location on the multicolour map. Then he had a rapid dialogue in Spanish with the shopkeeper and turning to me said: "Bus no. 30 goes there. It stops just outside."

I thanked him profusely and walked out and voila! the scene is no different from any railway station in India. Dusty streets with choc-a-bloc traffic, taxi drivers screaming for clients (in India auto drivers would fall all over you, here they only call you with bright beaming smiles). I decided to talk a walk and started plodding along the pavement and then guess what I saw. A row of two wheelers which had every made and model one can think of; Yamaha R1, Ducati Monster, BMW GS 1200 Adventure and of course the ever trusty Hamara Bajaj Legend 4 stroke scooter and then a moped too.

Though I am fascinated by big bikes, both sporty and cruiser type models, I didn't shoot any pictures because they are so common here. What is uncommon is the Bajaj Legend and the Moped, which sports the Jawa name but I very much doubt it is something else.

After oogling at the bikes for sometime I decided to head on and took a good look at the map. Not used to map reading and accustomed to asking people for directions, it took me a good 20 minutes to figure out my present location on the map and where I had to go if I was to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. I walked back to the railway station and then went to the bus stop. Soon one of the heritage electrically operated Road Trains pulled up. Getting in I asked the driver whether that bus would take me to Golden Gate Bridge. "You can take another bus at the Laguna," replied the driver. I tried to figure out the locations on my map but it was impossible, so I just decided to go with him.

People load bicycles on the bus and travel. Notice the electric wires atop the vehicle which power it.

Luckily the $1.50 ticket was valid for 5 hours (11 am to 4 pm) and I could travel on any city bus, anywhere in the city of San Franscisco between that time. I got in and sat down waiting for the bus to start off. The relative silence was shaken by a sharp screeching noise, I was shocked and wondered what had happened. It was the bus starting off on its journey across the city. The journey was slow for two reasons, chaotic traffic and the second being the electric contraption atop the bus, which necessitated the vehicle to move only in a particular lane. After about half an hour I got off at the Laguna bus stop and was lucky to find another bus (No.28) which took me to the Golden Gate Bridge and Park.

Bridge built of wires this thick.
Getting off at the area I marvelled at the beautiful sight of the sea, mountains and the man made engineering marvel of a bridge. The entire recreation area around the bridge is protected place and there are remains of an ancient fort at the sea level. The entire area has been notified as the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and facilities for numerous leisure activities has been created. Hiking, Cycling, Camping, Beach, Sailing, Surfing, Ferry crossing etc. I walked along the cycling and hiking trails exploring all the buildings, vegetation and natural formations and revelling in the panoramic view of the sea.

The view of the San Franscisco downtown aka Fisherman's wharf area and the Alcatraz from the Golden Gate Bridge is simply awesome. I could just stand there and stare into the ocean all day and never get tired/ bored. Due to being extremely sunny and bright my pictures haven't come out too good. Next time I walk across the bridge I will shoot better pictures.

Far below the main view point of the Golden Gate Bridge is the fairly well preserved remains of a ancient fort. According to the Signage around the area the native Americans saw the arrival of first European ships in 1775, when Spanish ship San Carlos sailed in through the golden gate. Captivated by the beauty and reach of San Francisco harbour Lieutenant Juan Manuel De Ayala, commander of San Carlos said: "The harbor of San Francisco is one of the best I have ever seen in these seas, from Cape Horn northward... A fine harbor: it presents on sight a beautiful fitness, and it has no lack of good drinking water and plenty of firewood and ballast."

The next year Spain established their military post, mission to spread Christianity and a settlement. This fort/ settlement remained a small outpost of no great significance till the Gold Rush started in 1849, when the town was transformed overnight into a cosmopolitan city. Gold diggers, treasure hunters and adventurers landed here from Asia, South America, Europe. All of them expressed awe at the beauty of the Golden Gate natural formation. Since then several years have passed and history is witness to what has happened.

The man.... ....and the bridge he built.
Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge was started in 1933 and completed in 1937. This bridge is considered one of the greatest engineering efforts of the century. Over 40 million vehicles pass over the 2,737 meter (2.7 km) bridge annually. It is awesome to see that 1.7 km length of the bridge is the main span of the 90 ft wide suspension bridge, which is 27 meters above water level. The towers on either which gives the bridge its imposing and majestic look are each 152 meter tall. I am truly impressed by this great engineering wonder. And I am also happy to note that the surroundings of the bridge has been maintained excellently as a recreation area. Due credits have been paid to the people involved in the bridge construction. The chief engineers statue has been installed at the entrance along with several other important details.

One thing I found a little disturbing is the lack of awareness and respect to heritage among some people. Graffiti on the walls of the forts are quite common in this area and the government seems helpless. I wonder what motivates these people to spoil national monuments and deface them with graffiti.

These graffiti was on the inside walls of a underground passage way in the fort at San Franscisco

An feature of US conservation that every country in the world has to emulate is to involve common people in the efforts and raise donations for the maintenance of the monuments. Donation boxes with appeals for support can be found at every monument, state park and museum in the US making entreaties to visitors to contribute for the maintenance of the space. This way people will be interested in their heritage and help maintain the same. Will India be able to follow suit?

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