This from John, the shuttle bus operator who expertly hustled us at SF airport. We’d had such a long day – 32 hours by the time we touched down – that we took the easiest option and allowed John to boss us and two other couples into his unmarked people-mover in the carpark. John, who came from Vietnam 35 years ago, was a great fund of local knowledge. We were staying at the Donatello Hotel which turned out to be a good choice. We were pleased with our room though initially I couldn’t work out why the bathroom mirror had a black square on it:
Our flight to San Francisco left Auckland five hours late – leaving at 12.30 a.m instead of at 7.15 p.m. There was a mechanical fault which turned out to be unfixable and another plane had to be substituted. The new plane was about 70 seats smaller so some passengers were put on the flight to Los Angeles while others must have been bumped. We ended up in seats we didn’t like but at least we were on the plane. Thank goodness that we had Koru Lounge passes – at least we were moderately comfortable though it was still a long five hours and way past our bedtime! Air New Zealand handled it all really well and the service during the flight was great. I even got a kiss from John, the head steward, when we left the plane because he’d never kissed anyone from Hokitika before. We had a late but gorgeous dinner at the hotel and tried to familiarise ourselves with the tipping process. Ryan the bar-tender said the easiest way was to simply double the sales tax. We also discovered pretty quickly that sales tax (about 8.5%) is not included in the displayed price so by the time you add tax and tip having a meal was a lot more expensive than it looked on the menu. Love New Zealand’s no tipping and GST inclusive prices! We had breakfast next day at Pinecrest Diner which was just down the road. We were fortunate to get a table straight away and were soon eating a HUGE and very tasty breakfast – Spanish Omelette for me (omelette, toast, home-made hash brown, avocado, salsa and sour cream) and a Pinecrest breakfast (sausages, mushrooms, omelette etc etc) for Eddie.
Suitably fortified we went off to catch the #5 bus to Golden Gate park. Luckily we’d had a big breakfast as it took quite some time to find the right bus stop during which time we inadvertently wandered down some dodgy streets. Eddie was very brave about his broken toe and insisted on catching buses rather than cabs. The bus trip was a great way to see the suburbs. I was impressed to see that there was a queue to get into the California Academy of Science but less impressed at paying $30 each (!!) to get in. There were some great exhibits but there wasn’t a lot of bang for the bucks (I think I’ve been spoilt by Te Papa) and the crowds later on made the experience positively unpleasant. Eddie was very keen to see the show in the planetarium (the largest digital one in the world) but as we were going in (after queuing for some time) we found that it was about earthquakes which, since the dreadful earthquakes in Christchurch, we’ve learned quite a lot about. It was pretty good (and I imagine hugely expensive to produce) but we were a bit bored by the end. We liked the aquariums (including the white alligator which apparently wouldn’t survive in the wild) and seeing a kiwi as the logo for the exhibit about plate-tectonics. Unfortunately the stuffed kiwi in the ratite display had a broken beak! We spent the next day buying gourmet food and red wine and lugging it back to our hotel in preparation for our expedition. At Bevmo Eddie thought he’d gone to heaven with all sorts of deals like buy 2 bottles of the same wine and you get the second for 5c. That was a heavy trip back to the hotel.
We picked up the camper on Sunday morning. We got lost instantly and ended up in a housing estate before figuring out how to use the GPS. Eddie did a wonderful job of driving out of SF which we were pleased to be leaving behind. San Francisco is pretty cool but it is still a city and not massively differrent from others that we’ve been to and yes, quite expensive. So, we were off in our Dodge Grand Caravan (think small people mover), stocked up and heading to U.S.50 – the loneliest road in America.