Perhaps I've conveniently forgotten the extreme incline of Wellington's streets, but in a world undulation championship, I'm confident San Francisco would beat our nation's uneven capital.
I did expect San Fran to be steep. I was an avid watcher of Full House in the 90s, after all. What I didn't imagine was an encounter the equivalent of Mount Vic on a sick combo of steroids and acid - very high. After being bombarded with stories about supersize-me America, I also didn't predict the Californian city to be so Wellingtonesque. From its pohutukawa-lined suburban streets, to the slightly skewed houses atop dodgy-looking hills, the biting wind even on a good day (the two cities could certainly share the same "can't be beaten..." motto - it's cold here), and the same high earthquake risk, I feel right at home.
The similarities aren't only aesthetic. For decades, San Fran has been the most liberal city in America, embracing people of all ethnicities and sexual orientations. There are recycling receptacles next to every rubbish bin and most eateries boast: "organic beef, no added hormones or antibiotics". It's a foodie's paradise, and goodness was it a pleasure to dine here. Sound familiar?
The views from the clifftops and valleys are unique, though. There are three hard-core climbs from our hostel at Union Square to the sea. Normal people take the cable car, a historic and leisurely way to look at things, but weirdos like myself run it. Even stranger people hop on a bike for eight hours (yes eight!) and cruise this crooked city. To quote the Americans, we did "lollygag" a lot at all the awesomeness on the way.
You have to find something good in hills - right, Wellingtonians? So here goes: you feel a fantastic sense of achievement once you reach the top (that's Mum-ish of me isn't it?) and you see some sweet views. Our ride took us puffing past the Victorian Painted Ladies (the gaudily coloured houses of Full House fame) followed by a couple of wrong turns up some streets so steep we had to get off and push our bikes. Eventually we made it to glorious Golden Gate Park, where the bison roam free behind some large wire fences and gophers pop out of their holes to cram their little mouths full before they're spotted by their hawkish nemeses.
The 4.5 by one mile green space (that's 7.2 by 1.6 kilometres petitioned for and granted to citizens in 1865) gives way to Ocean Beach. There is a lot of sand at Ocean Beach and some crazy people were swimming. Had it been hot it would've reminded me of a cross between Baywatch and Sumner in Christchurch.
We hadn't biked enough hills yet so we sweated it up Seal Rock Drive. A short ride along the clifftop and there it was. That architectural feat that all visitors come to ogle: the Golden Gate bridge. And there was no fog (which I hear is quite the miracle). Fun fact: it takes 25 painters working fulltime to keep the bridge in top condition. But as my engineer fiancé pointed out, who would know if the rust had set in underneath all those coats? Cue my fast pedalling exit.
We took a final whiz down another epic gradient into Sausalito (on the water and across the bay - think Eastbourne or Devonport) to a little eatery to watch the fog roll in across the city while we remained bathed in sunlight.
Isn't it strange that we've come from the other side of the world only to encounter a place so similar?
Where have you been that compares to New Zealand? And are there cities that, no matter how much you've heard about them, surprise you nonetheless?
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