Well, I’m certainly moving fast. There’s a lot I wanted to see on this continent, and I had about 6.5 weeks spare in which to do it. Seems ample? Maybe not.
I headed from San Diego up to Yosemite National Park. The main valley floor is surrounded in nearly all directions by sheer granite rock faces. It’s a really rather spectacular place to visit. I did a couple of the shorter hikes, giving great views over the valley. There were many more far beyond my ability. California is a massively varied state, although equally massive physically.
From there I went by train (mostly) to San Francsico. If ever there was a weirdly positioned city, this is it. Nearly all of the downtown streets negotiate huge hills. It’s a nice place, although rain and cold after the continual sun of southern California was a pretty strange experience. Downtown feels really tourist oriented (even if you do nearly trip over the homeless sometimes) which is a bit of a shame really. The whole of the wharf area has been painfully stripped of any character by commercialisation.
I met with Tom Whaples as he was (fortunately) in town. We explored some of the city further from the tourist hub. The ‘Mission’ district is much more the local ‘hipster’ area – with much more of a focus on art and supporting local businesses. There were some neat little stores around there, and a great park with views over the whole of downtown. We also headed out to Glen Park area – the actual park seems to exist because the hill was just too fierce to actually build houses there. Trust me, that’s saying something.
Cable cars (trains pulled by a cable embedded in the ground) continue to run in the city downtown (the last system of its kind!). There’s also a streetcar (tram) system, running underground in the centre, as well as an overground central line running historic streetcars (from multiple US city networks that have long since been replaced). Add to this electric and diesel buses. It’s a pretty crazy network, it could probably be more efficient. Still, the whole setup is run by the local government and is pretty cheap – something nearly all UK cities could learn from.
The Golden Gate Bridge is truly spectacular. It makes a fun walk, with great views of the city and into the distance. Despite being overcast, I got sunburnt this day. Wholly not impressed.
Then managed to meet with Tom Cairnes (yes, another Tom) due to fortunate timing (he’d just finished a 56-hour train journey, I commenced my own train journey the following day). Was fun. Spent rather a while marvelling at how the electric buses change overhead cables to turn corners (it transpires that in San Francisco the Fahslabend system is used, whereby use of indicators transmits a radio signal to the wire switch).
So, the train journey up to Seattle took 22 hours. Actually, the ride was fairly entertaining – the continually changing landscape makes for an interesting ride. Heading north, it slowly changed from mountainous to more watery. The ride was stupidly cheap: 908 miles for $110 (£62). (For those strangely interested in statistics, take a look at my train log.) A good way to travel, but even the bus is quicker.
The people of Seattle seem really friendly. It’s a very down-to-earth city, and everyone I encountered was rather helpful. The city itself is a bit more concrete based though. There’s not masses there, but the cute market and random little places make it pretty interesting. The Fresno district has a park at an old gas-works. It gives great views of the city, and it’s a pretty unusual surrounding for random picnic areas. On the subject of food, there’s a well known cuban sandwich shop (Paseo) nearby – and they really are good pork subs.
I stayed out in the ‘International District’ (read: Chinatown). A couple of blocks away was an Asian grocery store (Uwajimaya) featuring a book store (Kinokuniya). I found myself far too entranced there by the various ‘cute’ Japanese artefacts. Never mind the fact I couldn’t read any of the books there – it was a pretty awesome little place.
I’ll really miss the States. For all of the failings, it has so much to offer.
And then my next stop: Canada.