Welcome to the last part of TDN editor Trevor Johnson's blog about his and his girlfriend's five-week road trip from Washington DC to San Francisco, which took place earlier this year. As our episode begins, they've just rocked up in Napa Valley, California... (Click to read part one, part two, part three and part four)
We walk to the Old Faithful geyser. It’s indeed very faithful, and spurts every five minutes or so, but is clearly a more modest cousin of the big one in Wyoming.
Then on foot to find Sterling vineyard after finally deciding which one to see. This involves a slightly comical walk through a semi-industrial area.
Then... rain...? Are we going to lose our “no rain” record? A few drops, it hardly counts.
At the end of a long path through the Napa Valley countryside we finally see the gates to the “winery” wtf, and we’re given the usual very friendly greetings.
The patio and its view is lovely but the amount of wine they pour is a bit on the stingy side – it’s almost like some people are happy just to sample the different varieties.
We trudge back to the hotel and I am afflicted by “afternoon alcohol legs” although I stoically choose not to burden Rachel with this news.
So. Napa Valley. Yes, the Napa Valley trip may be remembered with the passing of time as “the difficult Napa Valley trip”, failing, as it did, to provide the dreamed of bus tour of multiple “wineries”, a hazy day spent squinting at the legs of local Cabernets, the rolling vineyards blurry impressions through the glass as I hold it aloft against the weak spring sun, and local experts murmuring their agreement as I identify “chocolate notes”, unaware that I have said it about every wine that day in the hope of being right at least once.
A stressful start as we battle to book somewhere to stay in San Francisco on da internet while contending with a slow wi-fi connection, the raucous conversations of a chainsaw-voiced woman on reception and the endless pops-ups on Trip Advisor, which crash first my computer and then the hotel’s. Grrr.
Rachel again succeeds in finding us somewhere that sounds good and we set off, stopping at Lake Berryessa on the way to satisfy my interest in the Zodiac case.
We fail to find the scene of his most infamous crime, which was always going to be difficult as the site is partially submerged by water in the winter months and is therefore hard to identify. I am 80 per cent sure we didn’t find it but will be double checking as there is a chance that the place where we picnicked may have been it.
Was this it? Probably not.
Back on the road for the push to San Francisco, our final stop (blubs, is comforted by daytime TV host). Excitement Mounts Part 53 as we near the Golden Gate Bridge, passing Lucas Valley Road, which I’m tempted to drive to see as it’s where George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch HQ is based (not open to the public, obv).
Then, without warning, we’re on the bridge, which has such narrow lanes for traffic that I’m concentrating too much to enjoy it, although when we stop to pay a toll I see something else out there in the bay, a tiny island they call Alcatraz...
Then begins the Second Stressful Bit of the Day as Rachel gets us to where the hotel should be – but isn’t. Not only is it “isn’t” but it’s in a really bad part of town. Or would be, if it existed. Welcome to Tenderloin. This is a superdodgy area of the city that we’d read about on Trip Advisor (the headlines for two reviews of one hotel we nearly booked here were simply: “Welcome to Bum Town” and “WORST HOTEL EVER”).
We thought we’d avoided Tenderloin with our choice of hotel but, as we turned into our street, the countercultural, pastel-hued vibe of San Francisco vanished in the blink of an eye and we were thrust into a world of unfortunate but nevertheless scary street types storming up and down the sidewalk: arguing, begging, shouting and, in the case of one chap standing in a shallow doorway, his back turned, even smoking a pipe, and not the sort my Uncle Brian was partial to in the 70s.
We drive round and round the block, making precarious lane changes in our desperate, sweaty quest to find the hotel, which fails to reveal itself, even though we’re sure we have the right address and have seen the entire length of the street. We reluctantly stop the car so that Rachel can phone the hotel for directions, and I look out to see, a few feet away, a gentleman rolling around in a pile of cardboard boxes, slobbering over half a doughnut.
After Rachel’s phone call, we locate the elusive Serrano Hotel, which was hidden behind a ton of scaffolding. The stress continues as we suddenly realise it’s time to get all of our stuff out of the car now. We unceremoniously remove everything and dump it – muddy hiking boots included – in the hotel lobby.
I ask the doorman, John, for his advice on where not to go. His advice is that “down the hill (ie our street Taylor)” or behind the hotel is to be avoided. Everything else is fine. This advice echoed what we’d just heard the man on reception telling a woman guest a few minutes earlier:
WOMAN (checking in): So can I get there by walking down the hill?
MAN: No. Running? Yes. Walking, no.
We take the car round the corner and feel almost cruel as a very brusque man takes delivery of it without examination or comment. Goodbye little car, you served us well. 4,480 miles on the clock for our trip. Eat it.
Attempt to catch tram to Fisherman’s Wharf but they are packed so we walk instead. Archetypal San Francisco streets of swooping, pastel-coloured houses.
The wharf is the biggest tourist magnet in the city but it’s good fun and the street entertainers innovative. Including this guy hiding in a very convincing trash can:
Gives you quite a shock.
Looking out to Alcatraz:
Wander back through North Beach, vaguely on the lookout for a Cafe Trieste, where the rough guide says Coppola (legend has it) wrote the Godfather screenplay. I was sceptical of this claim until I Googled it and found this picture of him with the owner, writing it at the cafe. Thanks to www.npr.org/ templates/ story/story.php? storyId= 4801959. Amazing!
Me, brainstorming ideas for The Godfather Part IV in Cafe Trieste. "An android has infiltrated the Corleone family - but who is it?"
Pass through Chinatown on the way back:
I nip round to David’s Delicatessen and bring cinnamon danishes and coffee. Castro, the uber gay area, is best seen at Sunday lunchtime, says our guide book, so we set off on foot, via a whole new area of Bumsville – complete with man weeing a few feet away from us – that goes on forever.
We reach The Mission, an area that used to be the first home for immigrants when they arrived back in the day. It fails to impress us, or we fail to find the heart of it, but we have better luck when we move on to Castro, despite all the loud male shrieking and booming, and the ridiculousness of all the dog ownership.
Fabulous coconut chicken and saffron rice for lunch, then a stop at a peace rally in the park on the way back.
Music from old time lefties Sue and the Vets, good tunes, cut short by the arrival of the related peace march, with protesters (bring home the troops) entering the park.
Sue and the Vets.
Out for CHINESE food in the evening. Streets practically deserted. Wake up, San Francisco!
The GGB seen through wet ferry windows:
And here are our Alcatraz pics...
This is the cell of Frank Morris, played by Clint Eastwood in Escape from Alcatraz. He and his neighbours, two brothers, miraculously tunnelled through their air vents, into the narrow utility corridor behind their cells, and climbed on to the roof. They attempted to cross the strong currents and icy waters of the water around the island. It is assumed they drowned but no-one knows for sure. Some people doubt the official version that they used spoons to burrow through the brick. It certainly seems unlikely. What isn't in doubt is that they created paper mache heads, which they stuck in their beds to fool the guards. Mazin'!
Solitary. For them what has been naughty.
That's the end of the road trip. Thanks very much for reading, and good luck if you're going to do one yourself. Driving across America is a pleasure – the whole country is based around highway travel, after all. Give it a go – you'll never forget it.