Once the party champions are crowned, I have to shift into high gear. I have just over an hour before my bus leaves, and I still have a few last minute decisions to make. First things first – phone charges while I shower and get out of the very sweaty clothes I’ve been running around in all day. I’m very sorry my new roommate is going to have to bear with a pair of very smelly socks in the laundry basket, but not much else I can do. Flat’s been cleaned, I check the mail, toss out the last of my milk, and I decide against some last minute additions and finally make a judgement call on a jacket – not taking one on the grounds that they’re all winter/ski jackets and if I do need one, it’s probably going to be better long term if I buy it there.
Finally, at 8:30 I’m out the door, giving one roommate a final farewell (at least 2 of them will be gone into new accommodation and quote possibly replaced by the time I’m back), and stumble my way down village run, belatedly remembering that I wanted to polish my boots before I left, but it’s too late now. Hopefully they’ll survive till I get back.
As it happens, the snow and slush are so low that I make good time, and wind up in Rexall buying a new pair of sunglasses (somehow managed to wreck the pair I bought in March already) and grabbing some travel sized toiletries. I was contemplating just buying tiny containers, but I’m almost out of shampoo anyway, and I like knowing I’m covered. I’m taking enough risk not bringing a towel all things considered.
The last bus out of Whistler is the Greyhound at 9pm. It’s clear why there aren’t more buses around this time – only two passengers get on here, and another two in Creekside. Plainly people don’t like travelling to Vancouver at night – but definitely beneficial for me, as I get to spread out over two seats. Greyhound might not havea great rep, but when it’s quiet it’s by far my favourite choice for trying to get some sleep. As it happens, I have a very comfortable 2 hours getting to my destination, although I’m not expecting to keep that up.
When I get to Vancouver, my knowledge of the city fails me when I blank on exactly what station I need to go to. I forgot that I didn’t come to Van via plane, and as such this is a new route for me. I mull over the problem for a few minutes, before deciding, screw-it-I-have-the-time and just riding Expo to Waterfront and hopping onto the right line from there.
Thanks to this, it takes about an hour for me to arrive at Vancouver’s airport, but I’m pleasantly surprised to find that unlike Toronto, the place isn’t teeming with other early arrivals. Within five minutes, I’ve even found four seats together – the holy grail of the sleeping-in-transit-traveller. Space to stretch out without resorting to the floor.
Unfortunately, they are still airport seats, which were designed for anything but comfort, so sleep eludes me. The best I can achieve is a sort of deep dozing, although my paranoia at sleeping while my bags sit next to me probably didn’t help. It also starts getting cold, and my choice not to bring a jacket suddenly seems very stupid.
In the end, I have to get up and walk twice, maybe getting 2 hours of semi-sleep in between. The rest of the time I’m stretching my legs, eating food I don’t really want and playing Pokemon Go, before heading back to my check in office for 3am so I can start checking in for my 6am flight.
Now, I’ve done enough flying by this point to understand the frustation at the time expectations involved in flying. Two hours for domestic and three for International – even though you know full well you’re just going to be wandering around the airport for an hour and a half, you still give yourself the time just in case. I finally figured out why – American airline companies.
Alaska Air’s check in desk didn’t even open until 3:30! When it did, I was one of the first to get checked in, which took an age due to slow computers that were causing problems, only to be sent to another line – there were several planes flying internationally at six, but baggage check didn’t open till 4. When we finally got through that minefield? Its time for 20 questions at an electronic booth before, you guessed it, another line. American Border Control/Customs wasn’t open until 4:30. And they were having just as many issues as the airline had with the computers – they weren’t reading something properly and were being super slow. Despite – again – being one of the first in line, I didn’t manage to escape and find my gate until 5:10, with less than 20 minutes before my flight boarded. I couldn’t believe the impracticality of it.
On the plus side, my flight not only left on time, but ended up landing early – we were in the air for less than 30 minutes before touching down in Seattle, leaving me with over 3 hours to prepare for my connection.
Good thing too, because I needed it. Seattle Airport is CHAOS. I have to do an entire loop of the terminal before figuring out I had to go down a set of hidden escalators (lots of construction going on), get on a train, and follow the signs for baggage claim. Once there, I just had to keep going right, and eventually made my way to the next departure gate.
(And yes, I’m aware I probably could have just stayed in the departure area given that I’d checked in electronically, but I was so turned around I figured I’d just go with what I definitely knew would work).
For the Seattle to San Francisco leg, I’m flying with Delta Airlines at 9:50, and they allow you to use an electronic boarding card (unlike Alaska who insisted on paper copies), so I could walk through with my passport and phone. I’m even doing this trip with just my large Jansport backpack, so it’s all carry on – no delays at bag drop or pick up.
The biggest problem however, is my sleep deprivation. This flight was meant to happen after 3 days in Seattle and with a good nights sleep – not four hours of semi-sleep after being awake since 8am the previous day. I can barely keep my eyes open while I wait for the flight.
Once we get on board, we get some more bad news. San Fran has requested more time between flights due to a backlog, and our flight gets pushed back 10 minutes. Which turns to 40, and means we’re all climbing the walls even before the 2 hour flight starts. Granted, the pilot does his best to cut the time down, and we only land 15 minutes later than planned, but it was still a very long trip with my head in it’s current state.
I’m staying at a place called ‘The Green Tortoise Hostel’ which isn’t far from the bay, but is far from the airport. They have an arrangement with the Airport Express SF shared van which gets you door to door service for $16. My phone obviously isn’t working since I crossed the border and refuse to pay Fido’s daylight robbery roaming charges, so I have to go down to the baggage claim and find the shuttle bus desk, which has phones with direct dials to the right buses. As luck would have it, there’s a bus coming in a matter of minutes, and I find myself wedged into the back of a van as we set off towards my first stop on the East Coast hop.
The most obvious thing you notice on your way to San Fran, is that it’s not all on the giant hills everyone sees in the media. On the outskirts, most of the ground is flat, oblivious to the rep or the freeway we’re zooming down. In fact, it’s nearly half an hour before the San Fran I recognised as San Fran started to take shape, and we all got an impromptu tour of the streets on Central San Francisco.
The streets feel very tight, thanks to the height of the buildings and the angle of the walls. Part of me can’t believe they built on the hills rather than levelling the place, because it’s a very strange thing to see. The streets themselves also feel wrong to me, because the ratio of restaurants/takeaway to shops and generally things I recognise seem way off.
The Green Tortoise is on Broadway Street, not too far from Chinatown and the harbour. San Francisco is so expensive, that most hostels are in slightly grungy parts of town, and this one has a few ‘adult’ bars in view from the windows, but otherwise looks pretty good. The hostel itself feels old fashioned, but I have a feeling that it was a conscious choice so isn’t a con. The biggest issue for me is getting the key to work – the lock on the door is an absolute nightmare – everyone in the room needs a few minutes to figure out how to get back in.
I only have 2 1/2 days in San Francisco, so I need to get busy, but between not wanting to look at my computer for head issues and the sheer anguish of travel, I’m both unprepared and tired. I immediately learn that Alcatraz is often booked solid, so going tomorrow might not be as possible as I’d hoped.
There’s probably pleny I could be doing in the city, especially giving my much-shorter-than-I-realised itinerary, but the downside of my migration from Canada means I’m both tired and exhausted. Rather than plan anything (especially since I’ve just missed most walking tours by 5 minutes), I pick a direction and just go wandering.
The first thing I notice is just how cramped the city feels. Between the steep hills and the height of the buildings, the city feels smaller than it is, burying you in its presence. It’s also very easy to lose your way given that it uses the same grid system North America seems to love for its cities.
I was hoping to find Union Square, the hub of San Francisco, but my attempts were best described as laughable. Mostly through luck, I stumble across the Embarcadero, which is also hosting a small market today. One gentleman was selling these amazing pendants made from sawing out American quarters, but I had to resist purchasing.
Thankfully, I had an easy direction to wander in – the Farmers Market inside the Port building. I was so hungry by this point, and hadn’t been able to find anywhere that wasn’t really fancy or Subway. This wasn’t exactly a cheaper option, the stands were all shop/take-out style, but at least I didn’t feel out of place walking in.
I ended up grabbing fish and chips from a fish stand, mostly because I haven’t had good battered fish since arriving in Whistler. It’s just not something that they do in Canada – and boy was this worth the $15. Batter was light, and fish literally fell apart in my hands. Fries were so so, I spend a little extra to get garlic fries, which were nice, but honestly too much after half a portion.
Now fed, I figured I’d wander back via the pier, and check out Alcatraz Landing to see if I could grab tickets. It’s less than 10 minutes away, and the pier is full of attractions and sights to keep you occupied.
Unfortunately, I got some bad new when I made it to Alcatraz Landing – there’s a sign up saying the next tours aren’t available until Sunday. I do however learn, that they sell 50-100 extra tickets for the first boat on the day, but people start lining up at 5am (ticket office opens at 7:30) to get tickets.
Fisherman’s Wharf is just a small distance away, but honestly by this point my body is crashing hard, so I decide to had back to the hostel and make plans for the next couple of days. There is a group Indian meal happening tonight, but I’m so full from lunch I decide to skip it, and instead have an early night to guarantee I’ll make it to Alcatraz tomorrow.