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July, 2000

"The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco."
- (Mark Twain)

San Francisco is a city of contrasts; a city with its ups and downs - literally. The best example of the contrast is when I saw a homeless man walking down the street drinking a Starbucks FrappuccinoŽ. I have a job, a car, and a home, yet I can't afford to drink Frappuccinos! But this is San Francisco in a microcosm. The city that personified 60's liberalism has recently been invaded by Silicon Valley dot-com millionaires.

The Golden Gate Bridge, with its Ominous Fog...

We were first hit with the city's dichotomy on our first time outside the hotel room. As we walked down Geary Street towards Union Square, we both came to the puzzled realization: "Why is it so cold right now?" We huddled under our jackets, when suddenly the sun came out from behind the clouds. We quickly doffed our jackets and wished that we had worn our shorts. This too-cold/too-warm cycle continued throughout the week. However, being from Canada gave us a high tolerance to cold weather. I coped by wearing shorts, but with a windbreaker (just in case), even though some of the locals wore parkas and mittens (no joke).

Due to fog, our incoming plane was re-routed to San Jose.

The highlight of our trip was probably our visit to Alcatraz. Although some people think that Alcatraz is morbid, it's an interesting historical site. We heard that it is hard to walk up and get tickets on a whim, so we bought tickets over the Internet a few weeks before. On the morning of our visit, we simply walked up to the ticket booth (there was no lineup), showed our confirmation number, and received our tickets. The ferry ride alone was worth the trip to Alcatraz, as we got to see the San Francisco skyline from the bay. After departing the ferry, we hiked uphill a quarter-mile to the cell block building. We opted for the audio tour, so we got a walkman that played a tape describing a tour throughout the building, with historical facts and sound effects that added to the gloominess of the island. The Alcatraz tour took about 2 1/2 hours in total, and was well worth it.

Julie on a Cablecar

We did the usual touristy things in San Francisco, the most memorable experiences being:

Lombard Street, "The Crookedest Street in the World"

We also saw many of the city's museums, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Cartoon Art Museum, the Exploratorium, the M.H. de Young Museum, and the Asian Art Museum (I'm a sucker for museums). But the city is internationally reknown for its quality restaurants, and we tried all types of food. My favorite meal was the roast chicken at the Wolgang Puck Express in Macy's, but we also had a great meal at McCormick and Kuleto's in Ghirardelli Square, with a scenic view of the bay. We also lined up to have breakfast at Sears' Fine Foods, where we had the classic 16 mini-pancakes. We of course had the clam chowder in the sourdough bowl (at 8:30 in the morning), and the It's It ice cream snack (Julie thought it was too chocolatey). As well, we ate at a few chinese restaurants that we just wandered upon while we were walking around.

Overall, we had a good time. The only negative thing that was particularly memorable was the number of homeless people out on the streets (we saw more bums than in a Sisqo video). It was a bit disconcerting to see the sheer volume of panhandlers out on the streets, especially around the Union Square area. From what I've heard, many lower-income residents of rent-controlled apartments were evicted to accommodate all the new high-tech workers that flocked to San Francisco. Since many of these lower-income people had nowhere else to go, the number of homeless people grew substantially. However, it must be said that the panhandlers were generally innocuous and posed no danger to our safety.

To summarize, "The City by the Bay" was a memorable trip. It's a city with a definite, unique history; one foot rooted from the 19th century Gold Rush, the other foot rooted in the 21st century high-tech revolution. It's a city of contrasts; a city of varying sights and sounds; a kaleidoscope of a city.

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