Port of Call: San Francisco




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San Francisco was the first port of call on the very first cruise Janis and I ever took, a repositioning cruise from San Diego to Vancouver. We had driven through San Francisco before, taking one of the highways over the Golden Gate on our first trip to California together. But we never actually stopped to take in the city. This was our first time seeing some of its famous venues.

Our cruise ship, the Radiance of the Seas, seen as we walked up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower
Our cruise ship, the Radiance of the Seas, seen as we walked up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower

The city is famous for a number of tourist attractions and we had no idea which we would see on our stay. We were surprised to find that many of them were within walking distance of the cruise ship’s pier.  In fact, the pier was only about four and a half miles from the Golden Gate Bridge.

The closest landmark to our ship was Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill. The tower was named after Lillie Hitchcock Coit, an eccentric woman who smoked cigars, wore pants and loved to frequent San Francisco’s gambling halls. She helped a short-handed fire crew on her way from school when she was fifteen and was made an honorary mascot of Knickerbocker Engine Co. No. 5.

Coit Tower
Coit Tower

When she passed away she left a third of her ample estate to the city she loved and the city built Coit Tower in her honour. The 210 foot tower was built in 1933. An apocryphal story says the art deco tower is shaped like the nozzle of a fireman’s hose because of Coit’s fondness for firefighters, but the resemblance is actually coincidental.

The Financial District seen from Coit Tower
The Financial District seen from the top of Coit Tower

We climbed to the top where you get an excellent view of the city. One of the sites we could see, even from the garden by the parking lot, was the famous zig-zag street, a short section of Lombard Street which has been used in movie chase scenes, notably The Love Bug (1968) and What’s Up Doc? (1972). The clip below has Herbie racing down the zig-zag street early in the scene.

It looked to be walking distance so we hoofed it. It is only a mile away, about a twenty minute walk. And it is worth seeing, a fascinating piece of history. The zig-zaggy part is only a block long and has eight switchbacks traversing to navigate the 27 degree slope.

At the foot of the switchbacks on Lombard Street
At the foot of the switchbacks on Lombard Street

A block further we came to Hyde Street where some of the famous cable cars ply up and down the hills. Naturally we had to take a ride. We went up the hill and soon found ourselves at another interesting venue, the power  house. Here you can learn about the history of the cable cars and see the huge wheels that move the cables in action.

Janis and I hop aboard a cable car
Janis and I hop aboard a cable car
The Power House, the core of the San Francisco cable car network
The Power House, the core of the San Francisco cable car network

We took a cable car back down the hill to Fisherman’s Wharf. We cjecked out the famous Ghirdelli Chocolate Factory at the west end of the strip and then headed east. We stopped for lunch at one of the many restaurants along the way.

Many of the restaurants along Fisherman's Wharf command an excellent view of the bay
Many of the restaurants along Fisherman’s Wharf command an excellent view of the bay. That’s Alcatraz in the left background.

After lunch we walked along the road taking in the sights when all of a sudden a piece of shrubbery jumped up and roared at me as I approached. I jumped about two feet in the air and my wife and friends had a good laugh. The shrubbery was the world famous Bushman.

David Johnson, the Bushman
David Johnson, the Bushman

Some humourless local businesses have tried to shut him down and the city has occasionally charged him with a misdemeanour (he always gets acquitted by a jury). We thought he was a hoot. We crossed the street to watch unobtrusively as he startled a few more tourists. A good laugh.

Further along we cam to Pier 39 where a lot of large floating platforms are home to a herd of sea lions. Noisy, smelly sea lions! Entertaining to watch.

Dozens of sea lions lounging around Pier 39
Dozens of sea lions lounging around Pier 39

After Fisherman’s Wharf we still had lots of time before our ship departed so we hoofed it to Chinatown which is just over a mile from there, a 25 minute walk. The old buildings of Chinatown are a sharp contrast to the soaring towers of the nearby Financial District.

Chinatown with the Transamerica Building in the background
Chinatown with the Transamerica Building in the background

On the way back to the ship we came across two more interesting sights. One was a Chinese restaurant featuring a huge mural of a jazz club. The Sun

The New Sun Hong Kong Restaurant on the outskirts of Chinatown
The New Sun Hong Kong Restaurant on the outskirts of Chinatown and its amazing mural

And we passed an area on Broadway that looked to be San Francisco’s sin city strip – adult book stores, strip bars, etc. featuring colorful names like Big Al’s, the Roaring 20s and the Hungry I Club.

Colorful strip bars and adult book stores along Broadway
Colorful strip bars and adult book stores along Broadway

We made it back to the ship for our late sailing and caught the vibrant evening skyline as we left. All in all, a fun time in San Francisco.

San Francisco at night from our cruise ship
San Francisco at night from our cruise ship. The Coit Tower and the Transamerica Building are prominent landmarks.

Here are a few more photos of our visit.

Janis and I at the foot of the zig-zag part of Lombard Street
Janis and I at the foot of the zig-zag part of Lombard Street
At the top of the zig-zag block
At the top of the zig-zag block, Coit Tower in the distance. The bridge in the distance is the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
A sea lion hoists itself onto a floating wharf at Pier 39
A sea lion hoists itself onto a floating wharf at Pier 39
More sea lions at Pier 39
More sea lions at Pier 39
Chinatown
San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest Chinese community outside Asia
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Alcatraz, once a notorious prison, now a major tourist attraction. We did not see it on this trip. Maybe next time.

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Sicily and Mount Etna




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To celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary we spent a week in Paris followed by a Mediterranean cruise. The first port of call was Sicily. The ship passed through the narrow strait between the island and the toe of Italy’s boot and then into the harbor of Messina, the island’s third largest city. A golden statue known as the Madonna of the Letter greets you as you enter the sheltered bay. The latin quote at its base says “Vos at ipsam civitatem benedicimus”. It means “We bless you and your city” and is a taken from a letter sent by the Virgin Mary to the people of Messina in 42 AD.

The Madonna of the Letter
The Madonna of the Letter greets ships arriving at Messina, Sicily

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean and is rich in history with Greek, Roman, Phoenician and Byzantine influences. There are many ancient ruins as well as cathedrals to visit, but we opted for a trip up Mount Etna. The only volcano I had seen up close before was Mount Saint Helens in Washington state.

A bus took us along the shore road that included a number of short tunnels as we wended our way south. We stopped at the town of Giardini Naxos where we saw a copy of the Winged Nike, Goddess of Victory. The original is in the Louvre in Paris. The metal statue was created by Italian  sculptor Carmelo Mendola in 1965. It stands on Cape Schiso looking out to sea. It marks the spot where Greeks landed to found a colony in 734 BC.

Winged Nike at Giardini Naxos, Sicily
Winged Nike at Giardini Naxos, Sicily

From there we went up the coast to the small town of Giarre where we visited the artisan jewelry factory of Gival. It is located in a grand old mansion, a beautiful building which features gilt ceilings in its spacious lobby.

The ceiling at Gival Jewelry
The magnificent ceiling at Gival Jewelry

In the basement we saw a number of artisans at work. Later we were treated to complimentary drinks and snacks. The banquet room had a display of seven swords in a fan shape on the wall.

Artisans at work making jewelry
Artisans at work making jewelry
Swords on display in the banquet room
Swords on display in the banquet room above the table of goodies

After we left the jewelry place, we took a long and winding road up Mount Etna, passing a number of vineyards along the way. The road took us to the Sylvestri Crater, the highest point you can reach by car or bus (1900 metres). Etna erupted at this point in 1892 but it has been dormant since then. The Google Earth map below shows the crater.

As you can see, there is a restaurant nearby as well as a large parking lot. The entire complex straddles a lava flow from higher up. The landscape is stark and almost barren. A few grasses have managed to emerge in places.

The Sylvestri Crater
The Sylvestri Crater

A roadway between the restaurant and the parking area runs right over the lava flow. This flow, a guide told us, is less than twenty years old. Etna is still a very active volcano. Unfortunately, some people don’t know how to take pride in this piece of heritage and litter could be seen on the lava.

A fair amount of litter was evident on the lava flow.
A fair amount of litter was evident on the lava flow.

Nearby was a gondola ride to a higher elevation. It was a bit foggy on the day we were there so we did not go higher. But what we saw was spectacular. I’d love to be there when Etna is actually erupting. That would be one heck of a sight!

Hardened lava is everywhere.
Hardened lava is everywhere.

After some time on Mount Etna, we took the bus back to our ship. I’ve got more pictures in the accompanying Photo Gallery. And a few additional links.

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Photo Gallery: Sicily




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The city of Messina, Sicily
Janis and I near Gardini Naxos
Janis and I near Gardini Naxos
The Gival Jewels Factory is in a beautiful Italian heritage home.
The Gival Jewels Factory is in a beautiful Italian heritage home.
Even the front yard sports some marble statuary.
Even the front yard sports some marble statuary.
The chandelier in the lobby.
The chandelier in the lobby.
An artisan at work.
An artisan at work.
Stark landscape near the Sylvestri Crater on Mount Etna.
Stark landscape near the Sylvestri Crater on Mount Etna.
Janis with a giant lava boulder.
Janis with a giant lava boulder.
Walking around the Sylvestri Crater
Walking around the Sylvestri Crater (on the left). The car park area is on the leftover the lava field. You can see a plume of mist on the left from a steam vent. 
Lots of trails to walk here.
Lots of trails to walk here.
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The Sylvestri Crater immediately in the foreground. 
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The long winding road back down to sea level.
Many vineyards along the way.
Many small towns and vineyards along the way.

 

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