Sep 30, 2011

United States of America - San Francisco

Major city of Northern California, San Francisco is rightly famous for its attractive hilly cityscape (43 hills in total!) characterized by Victorian architecture. The narrow bright-colored houses are a symbol of the city as well as the antique cable cars, very popular with tourists.

Distinct districts are easily recognizable in San Francisco for example the financial district, North Beach (the Italian district) or Chinatown. Some of them convey the athmosphere of local liberal communities. Haight Ashbury is home of the Hippie movement since the mid '60s: sex, drug and rock'n'roll! In the Castro, the historical centre of the gay and lesbian community, spring up rainbow flags.

In Chinatown

Haight Ashbury

Around the bay, the city is turned toward the ocean. Fishermen's wharf is the centre of the fishing industry and the starting point of bay cruises. Walks on piers offer nice views over Alcatraz. This legendary island has been a civil war fort, a military prison and an infamous federal penitentiary, holding some of the most notorious criminals of the time.


From the wharf can be observed a curious meteorological phenomenon called Advection fog: city hills trap the fog in certain neighborhood so while the sky is sunny over the whole city, the area around the Golden Gate Bridge is cloudy most of the time. Actually it took us three days to finally see the shape of the Golden Gate Bridge! See below how the bridge appeared to us on each day of our stay in San Francisco:

Golden Gate Bridge on day 1, day 2 and day 3

We rent a car to drive south and enjoy the rugged coastline of California:

At one point, we saw white masses on a beach near a parking lot full of people. We stopped and had the suprise of admiring wild elephant seals!! Piedras Blancas beach hosts a colony of elephant seals, resting for a few weeks after some month spent deep in the ocean to hunt. The older males cover up to 8.000 kilometres twice a year to the Alaska.

Pietras Blancas beach is a resting place but also where elephant seals come to give birth and breed in December and January. The seals resting in September (the one that we saw) are young-of-the-year and juveniles.

Our ride was heading toward Hearst Castle, former estate of William Randolph Hearst who inspired Orson Welles for its brilliant Citizen Kane. This colorful character, only son of a wealthy miner, built a media empire and was a business magnate with an enormous political influence.

Hearst Castle is located on hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean in the small village of San Simeon, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Hearst inherited this land - where he had spent an large part of his childhood - at the death of his mother, when he was fifty-six years old. He decided to built there "a little something". After 28 years of work, Camp Hill had become a never-completed estate of 165 rooms and more than 50 hectares of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways.

The main house "Casa Grande" is dominated by two towers, inspired by a Spanish cathedral. The three guest houses are no less enchanting. The houses and gardens are furnished with art and antiques from Europe. Hearst Castle is now a State Historical Monument.

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