Treeleaf Diary,  The United States

Treeleaf Diary entry 1.2: USA - San Francisco

June 22: Mission Golden Gate Bridge. Or, what on earth was I doing in the USA, vol 2

I had made it to San Francisco, or as the locals prefer to call it - SF or San Fran.

The day after my arrival was also my birthday and the only day from sunrise to sundown I was able to spend in San Francisco - the reason I decided to fly a couple of days earlier. I hadn't made any real plans, simply wanted to walk around in the city and breathe in everything I see, to playfully determine if it really is "my city" or not. Did not need to go far for breakfast - it was served on site at the hostel buffet. Real American toasted bagels with jam and butter (of course, now that I google them I find out they originate from Poland!).

During the morning Whatsapp call with my parents and sister I was given "instructions" that my nephew wants to see the Golden Gate Bridge - a 1,3 km long suspension bridge that is considered to be one of the modern day wonders. Of course, this became the main mission of the day because I decided to find that bridge no matter what. On foot. However, the bridge happened to be much farther from my hostel than I initially thought. Long live superficial plans! :D

My main target for the day was to reach the bridge but I decided to take the route along the oceanside (SF is mostly surrounded by Pacific ocean) to be able to see as much as possible of this beautiful city. Seemed like a small detour on the map! Stepping out the front door, I did not have to go far to be able to see the characteristic up-and-down streets (that were still as if drawn with a ruler across the city) of San Francisco going in every direction, backed by breathtaking panoramas of the downtown. Add the unusual architecture, fresh ocean air, completely different trees and plants. Even the small car parks looked different, like some tiny ocean-view terraces. I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to simply be there and move around freely, admiring the incredible houses, gardens, exotic flowers and blooming bushes that were lining the streets in many places. Those mini streets that were built on quite steep slopes were my absolute favourites - found some similarities with our own small town Viljandi - narrow, barely two-person wide "streets" built from wooden planks, with many stairs and bridges. I don't even know if they can even be called streets or were they more like passageways but they were labeled and allowed passage, surrounded by lush green gardens and bright coloured tropical flowers and birds. I even noticed a real hummingbird hovering in the nearby flowery bushes, for the first time in my life I was lucky to see one with my own eyes. They are so tiny!

Among the lush green flowery gardens, people's homes could be seen, built tightly side-by-side, and with doorways that seemed as if portals to other dimensions, some almost completely hidden amongst the leaves and flowers - only a narrow, half covered walkway leading you to the door. I found myself thinking time and time again that I would love to live here, in a place like this. Exactly in that kind of a home with a "secret door", hidden by the nature's embrace which alone is enough to activate the inner fantasy world. What's behind that door? Who lives there? They may have all been homes of artists, for all I know. That's what the general vibe there was, one that is appreciated by any kind of creative people. And there was plenty of art in that city.

One of the actual tourist attractions that I decided to visit on my path to the oceanside was a tower with 360° city views - Coit Tower. It was built as a gift to the city to enjoy its beauty from every angle. The viewing platform is located on floor 13; there was also an art exhibition on the ground floor, with paintings of farmers and other agricultural work from a century or so ago, which created a curious contrast with SF of today. The whole city could be seen from the tower, and one of the places that was specifically pointed out was the small island that held the former infamous federal prison of Alcatraz (that is now a museum) which was known as the most brutal and strict prison in the States.

“If you’re going to San Francisco, (Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair)”

That good old Scott McKenzie hippie song is now playing in my Youtube and also in my heart. There is a certain feeling of slight regret that things and times are not the same there anymore. But, life goes on, let's move forward. Unfortunately, I didn't think to put flowers in my hair on that day...

San Francisco, as everyone probably knows, was the main hippie town of old, but just as it happened in our own Kalamaja, what hippies (or nowadays rather hipsters) started, the real estate developers and wealthy people overtake, once the region has been turned into a more livable, harmonious place with happy and peaceful people. Once the ground has been fertilized with positive energy, so to say. I was told only the really wealthy people can afford to live there now. But oh well. Still, a beautiful city, at least that oceanside northern region with its gorgeous architecture. You don't easily find boring, box shaped, plain houses here. There is no uniform standards, each house is different and invites you to admire it.

My route took me through the popular seaside tourist area that is called the Fisherman's Wharf. A lot of activity was seen on the piers, with a great variety of seafood delicacies on offer, along with other local, mostly tourist oriented stuff, souvenirs and the like. There was quite a lot of people there, which was a stark contrast to the amount of souls I had met so far on my walk. The sea... no, the ocean! pulled me more than the souvenirs and food, so I left the tourist crazy behind and went to walk on the piers - of which there were many. As a complete surprise to me - I saw real pelicans flying across the water, in a triangle shaped form like geese, but in an attack form, fast - fish hunt was taking place. These were large birds and they seemed to follow some special pattern known only to them, or perhaps a current or the movement of the fish? In any case, they made regular circles, disappearing into the distance, and then suddenly reappearing after a few minutes, then disappearing again. Almost like cranes and eagles circle around, but their rounds were wider. Occasionally they dove down for fish. Fascinating!

Soon I had to leave the pelicans behind and continue my bridge hunt. Hereby I have to mention that I was extremely lucky with my choice of day (even if in truth I made use of the one and only day I had in SF, so not much of a real choice). In the Coit Tower I had visited a few hours before, the elevator boy (who, by the way, reminded me of a character from some movie where he had to speak the same lines over and over again every day with dull politeness and compliance) had said that it was an extraordinarily clear day, which was most unusual for SF. I found that surprising, after all it's California which should always be warm and sunny, at least compared to Estonia... But not the case in San Fran where fog from the ocean is the norm. And the temperature was around 20-23 degrees. Not hot at all in combination with the constant wind! In other words, the Golden Gate Bridge is usually wrapped in fog and is not even seen on most days, apart from the red tips of the bridge construction. A completely different story on this day, however, where fog occasionally surrounded only the opposite shore, and it came and went with the wind. Very lucky, although a bridge fully wrapped in fog would have been magnificent in different ways, even mysterious. For the lift boy, however, it meant a little deviation from the usual script, it seemed, and I got the sense he was rather happy about that change in his everyday!

The Golden Gate Bridge

The road there was long but I made it. The bridge was visible already from afar but I wanted close - nose-against-the-bridge close. And it did provide a spectacular view! The Golden Gate Bridge has been described as the most beautiful and most photographed bridge that used to be the longest suspension bridge in the world (right now, at least at the time of writing this, this record belongs to Japan. Of course.) I later read as well about this bridge being the number one favourite suicide spots in the world. Who knows what energy or symbolism draws them there. Perhaps the fog... Just disappearing into nothingness...

I find myself struggling to put the essence and even the sight of the bridge into words, so perhaps it's better to let the photos do the talking. I took some steps on the bridge as well, to make physical contact with it. Initially I thought I might walk across it to the other side to see what's there but walking a mile next to a constant row (or 4) of cars no longer felt like a good plan.

Coastal hiking trails and the way back

I continued my way past the bridge, towards the Marshall beach, which was the starting point of the most beautiful coastal hiking trails I had seen in my life. Simply gorgeous landscape right next to the ocean waves crashing to the shore, looking as if almost untouched by human hand, crisscrossed with narrow and exciting trails, inviting you to discover them. If I remember correctly, the whole area was once a military base (sort of like Paldsiki in Estonia); there are fortified areas, battle equipment (that I didn't get to see), memorials for WW 2; it was off limits to civilians for a long time. I was more drawn by the nature there, however. It was completely different from what I've seen, and there has been enough of WW leftovers in Europe...

I tried to walk through most of those trails that I came upon, as much as I could. The ocean wind was cooling, I even put my cardigan on, it got rather chilly at times. Something I didn't think of, however - I didn't have a hat... And the sun was heating without remorse. The result was that the next day, my whole scalp was bright red and very tender, never before have I had my scalp burned like this :) Even the skin peeled off days later, unbelievable. How naive. But it's really hard to realize with the constant cooling wind how painful the sun's rays can be when letting them shine on you for long periods of time. And I walked for hours.

After the hiking trails I started finding my way back to the hostel where I had left my backpack. For a moment I managed to get lost in a very strange spot, where I literally had no idea which direction to go in, despite seeing part of the city in the distance as if on the palm of my hand. Luckily, I saw some locals coming out of their house or someone had just arrived home by car (was I literally on their private courtyard already?) and I asked them for directions. They seemed a bit surprised to see some foreigner walking around there but were happy to help, even just to get rid of me :) I am grateful to them all the same. Didn't look like a place that tourists found their way into. Ever. Having been pointed to the right direction, I walked back along California street. One last place I tried to unsuccessfully find on my way to the hostel, was the famous Lombard street with its snakelike shape but it evaded me even after a half-hour search in the neighbourhood, so I gave up. I probably walked past it and by that time I was too tired to go back and have a second look. That cable car passed me by as well, but I decided not to take a ride on it. Wanted to save money again :) Writing it down now, years later, it seems almost funny, I could have tried it out! Isn't it always the case that we regret the things we didn't do more than the ones we did... Although, "regret" is a rather strong word in this case, it was more like ticking a box in some list, so you can say you've done it! But who actually needs those ticked boxes? Did I actually need another tourist attraction? Not really. And not doing things simply for other peoples sake anymore.

Sweet surprise from the universe

I walked so much that I barely had time to find something to eat. But there was a a certain peculiar event on my path. Because I haven't celebrated my birthday properly for years already, and the first day in a completely new city (not to mention foreign country) is not something to motivate a serious introvert to find company, my plan was just to spend quality time exploring a city that held some significance for me. Regardless of the fact that doing exactly that I actually forgot to take care of myself enough to sit down for a tasty lunch (or find a hat...), which actually was my original plan. Instead of a cozy hour in a café somewhere, enjoying a tasty cake with a cup of coffee, I found myself walking a half-marathon - all for a bridge!! :D Still - those amazing beings who look out for me (call them guardian angels), had different plans. Following your heart and inner guidance is often a very lonely process, especially in the beginning. Despite my dreams coming true and the immense feeling of gratitude I felt for having such opportunities, on that day I also felt sort of forgotten by everyone. Until, walking on yet another pier I found something that simply felt like a gift from above, something that said "We haven't forgotten about you!" Some time before I turned to that pier (at Aquatic Park), I had walked past a huuuuge ice cream and chocolate shop that had the quality chocolate feel to it. Almost like Lindt in Europe, I suppose, different types and tastes, etc. It may have been called Ghirardelli? (I Googled it, yep, local produce, highly praised) I was so excited, went inside with the decision to buy something to try out, birthday and all, but ended up buying nothing as they were very expensive :) But back to the pier. It was a rather wide one, with some more private pockets to the sides. In those were tall concrete benches, facing towards the ocean, possibly for fishermen? Nothing of what or who was on the bench could be seen from the middle of the pier, that's how tall they were. I found an empty one, and decided to take a little break there, looking at the ocean. I walked to the railing, and saw something sitting on the bench. A dark blue paper bag. Alone and forgotten, sort of how I was feeling at times. There was no one around, not even close, apart from a few fishermen on the other side of the pier. On the bag it was written "Ghirardelli"... I couldn't help myself and peeked into the bag (perhaps it was just left behind as empty litter). In it were unopened boxes with different chocolates. I looked around, is anyone searching? Nada. There was a receipt in the bag, showing a purchase time already 3 hours ago (the shop was nearby). I thought for a long while what to do, should I offer it to someone or... but for some reason it truly felt like a gift from the heavens almost, that was just there waiting for me to arrive. Wishful thinking or a true gift? Someone or something still remembers? :) As nobody seemed to look for it, and considering the super suspicious nature of most Americans, I packed the abandoned chocolate into my bag and took it with me. And enjoyed every bit of it. Amazingly good!

Checking the map later, I measured the approximate length of my route from the hostel to the hiking trails to be around 7 miles (11.2 km). And back from there, along a slightly shorter and direct way. When I got to the hostel, I charged my phone and took a few hour break (I was kindly allowed to sit in the common area), then it was time to set out again. Los Angeles was waiting, and to get there I had booked a night bus that departed at 11 pm in a rather dubious and dark area, which was night and day (literally :D) from the parts of the city I had spent all of my day so far. But nothing bad happened, I simply had to wait a few hours in a nearby metro station (at the night bus stop there was only a post with a sign, next to a car park surrounded by a fence, that's it, and it was really cold outside as well! I had left all my cold time weather clothes at home in peace :)). At least it was warm in the metro station, and they also had a Subway there which provided me with my daily meal. Never got to eating that birthday lunch, though... But I do remember sitting in that metro station, eating that Subway, watching people rushing by to catch the late night trains.

New experiences, new explorations awaited. The city of angels and the home of Michael Jackson. Hollywood and Beverly Hills. And a group of fans that I could not wait to meet! Hee-hee!

To end this post, I'll leave you with the same old song about the days of a different time:

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