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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Old Lisbon




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The second port of call on our 2009 trans-Atlantic cruise was Lisbon, Portugal. While had taken a shore excursion on our first stop, Tenerife in the Canary Islands, we opted to check out Lisbon on our own. Upon disembarking, there were free shuttle buses to transport us to the Baixa and surrounding districts which make up the historic centre of Lisbon, much like the 20 arrondissements make up the historic centre of Paris.

Lisbon has a lot of history behind it. It is one of the oldest cities in the world, predating London, Paris and Rome by centuries. The bus dropped us off at outside the Rua Augusta Arch – the gateway to Old Lisbon.

The Rua Augusta Arch was built to comemorate the rebuilding of the city after the 1755 earthquake.
The Rua Augusta Arch was built to commemorate the rebuilding of the city after the 1755 earthquake. The 100 foot high arch is surmounted by a 23 foot tall statue.

We passed through the arch into the downtown area, a warren of narrow streets with shops and apartments, as well as large plazas. The area was bustling with activity. It is largely a pedestrian only area though there are trams running up and down the narrow streets and some cars as well. Lisbon also has three funicular trams as the city lies on a hillside sloping down towards the Tagus River.

Busy pedestrian mall looking back towards the arch.
Busy pedestrian mall looking back towards the Rua Augusta Arch.

We noticed a large fortress off to our right so we decided to check it out. The Castelo de Sao Jorge is in the Alfama district, one of the oldest districts in Lisbon and the only one not destroyed by the 1755 earthquake. To get there we strolled up some narrow streets, passing the Lisbon Cathedral along the way.

Lisbon Cathedral
Lisbon Cathedral

The castle itself is Moorish and was captured by Christian forces in 1147 during the Second Crusade. Lisbon became the capital in 1255 and the castle was renovated and extended over the next hundred and twenty -five years.

The Castelo de Sao Jorge dates from Moorish times.
The Castelo de Sao Jorge dates from Moorish times.

We spent a good while there exploring the castle and walking along the battlements which command a panoramic view of Lisbon.

On the castle ramparts with the city in the background.
On the castle ramparts with the city in the background.

Then we walked back towards the central part of old Lisbon. Along the way we watched as the trams made their way through the narrow thoroughfares.

Up the hill from the Rua Augusta Arch we came across the San Justa Lift. The Baixa district is flanked by steep hillsides, one leading to the Castelo on the right and another to the Bairro Alto on the left. The San Justa Lift takes passengers from the Baixa up to the Largo do Carmo (Carmo Square). Construction was started in 1900 and completed in 1902. Originally powered by steam, it converted to electricity in 1907. It stands 45 metres tall (about seven stories) We did not go up the elevator but did take a funicular later in the day.

The San Justa Lift carries 24 passengers at a time from the streets of the Baixa to Carmo Square.
The San Justa Lift carries 24 passengers at a time from the streets of the Baixa to Carmo Square.

Further up the road from the lift is the impressive Rossio Square. The square features a large fountain and a statue of Pedro IV (Peter the Fourth). During the Spanish Inquisition, the square was the site of public executions, the notorious auto-da-fé which saw its victims burned at the stake.

Fountain in Rossio Square
Fountain in Rossio Square. You can see some of the inlaid Portuguese pavement below the fountain.

But its most striking feature is the Portuguese pavement. Portuguese pavement is a surface created with inlaid stones of different colours to form intricate patterns.  The Rossio plaza is particularly striking because of the optical illusion it gives of waves and motion. You can see in the video below that my camera did not like it much.


We wandered further up the hill and came across Lisbon’s Hard Rock Cafe (seems every major city has one!) And across the plaza from the Hard Rock we found the Ascensor da Gloria, one of three funicular trams in the city. This inclined railway dates from 1885. We hopped the tram and later walked back down to the Baixa.

Walking back down we passed a little shop whose door was flanked by two carved wooden figures. These figures seem to be popular in Lisbon. We saw quite a few of them at various places.

Carved wooden figures flank the doorway of this establishment.
Carved wooden figures flank the doorway of this restaurant. Such figures are popular in Lisbon.
Strolling back down to the Baixa from the Bairro Alto.
Strolling back down to the Baixa from the Bairro Alto. You can see the Castelo de Sao Jorge in the distance.

All in all we had a terrific time in Lisbon. A lovely city with many interesting sights.



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Photo Gallery: Lisbon




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Here are some additional photos of our visit to Lisbon.

At a park along the waterfront we found these interesting benches before we went into the city itself.
At a park along the waterfront we found these interesting benches before we went into the city itself.
The 25 de Abril Bridge and our cruise ship as seen from the ramparts of the Castelo de Sao Jorge
The 25 de Abril Bridge and our cruise ship as seen from the ramparts of the Castelo de Sao Jorge
The battlements of the Castelo.
The battlements of the Castelo.
One of the turrets of the Castelo.
One of the turrets of the Castelo.
Another turret.
Another turret.
Flags flying above the Castelo.
Flags flying above the Castelo.
The battlements had narrow slits fro snipers to shoot through.
The battlements had narrow slits for snipers to shoot through.
Most of the buildings in Lisbon have red tile roofs.
Most of the buildings in Lisbon have red tile roofs.
Streets are narrow in parts of Lisbon.
Streets are narrow in parts of Lisbon.
Heading back to the Baixa district from the Castelo de Sao Jorge.
Heading back to the Baixa district from the Castelo de Sao Jorge.
Statue of Pedro IV in Rossio Square.
Statue of Pedro IV in Rossio Square.
Lisbon's Hard Rock Cafe. Seems every major city has one!
Lisbon’s Hard Rock Cafe. Seems every major city has one!
How sixties! The Hippie cafe Convenient Store, its door flanked by two wooden figures
How Sixties! The Hippie Cafe Convenient Store, its door flanked by two wooden figures
The Gloria Funicular Tram.
The Gloria Funicular Tram.
Looking back down towards the Baixa district.
Looking back down towards the Baixa district.
Another carved figure.
Another carved figure, this one outside a bakery.
Lots of sidewalk cafes in Lisbon.
Lots of sidewalk cafés in Lisbon.
A last panoramic view of Lisbon.
A last panoramic view of Lisbon.




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