Everything went very smoothly as far as disembarking the ship was concerned - we had a lovely last evening on the ship and said our goodbyes to all the wonderful crew who had looked after us so well. I set the alarm for 5.30 the following morning, and emerged on deck just in time to see the ship sail under the Golden Gate Bridge at 6am. I then stayed there, wrapped up in my coat and scarf, enjoying the nighttime views of the city and watching dawn break. (JL stayed in bed!) After watching the sun rise behind the Bay Bridge from our balcony, we said a sad goodbye to our cabin and made our way down to the main restaurant for a yummy cooked breakfast, then went to wait in one of the lounges until we were called at precisely 10.00 as stated to disembark. We collected our suitcase from the terminal and waved goodbye to our home for the past 3 months :-(.
We picked up a taxi to our hotel, only a mile or so away but up lots of hills, luckily our room was available even though it was only 11am, so we dropped off our bags, and then set off straight away. We walked west towards the Presidio park, just next to the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a pleasant walk, talking about 45minutes, with a few stops on the way for me to stock up on food for the next few days (I'm not counting on being able to find many full meals that are Emma-friendly, so will be doing a lot of snacking I think!). We strolled through the park, enjoying the sunshine and the views of the bridge, until we arrived at somewhere I have wanted to go for years since I first heard about it - the Walt Disney Family Museum! I warned JL that I would probably want to spend quite a while inside, and we went in. I spent the next three and a half hours in heaven!!! (JL on the other hand...!) The museum traced Walt Disney's life from before he was born, through his childhood, the early years of film making, the success of his first full length animated feature films, the growth of the studio, the planning and building of Disneyland (where we will be in 2 days!!!!!), right up until his death. There were informative texts, interviews, videos, audio tracks, models and authentic exhibits. It was amazing. I saw the special Oscar with 7 miniature ones that he got for the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, I saw the miniature steam train that he had running round his garden (which the one that goes round my Christmas tree is modelled on), one of the benches which he sat on in Griffith Park in Los Angeles (which we will be visiting in 3 days time!) as he dreamed up the idea of Disneyland, one of the original multi plane cameras that produced the very first 3D effects back in the thirties, lots of original drawings from early films, and lots of photos of the old studios (which we will also be visiting soon!). I got to electronically move a Tiki bird from the Disneyland attraction! And I even learnt a few things about Disney that I didn't already know (I was as surprised as you are!). It was a Disney geek's dream!!! :-) And a great start to the final weeks of our trip which are essentially a Disney pilgrimage! I will let JL add his own comments on the museum... [As I sat outside for two hours pondering the rest of my life after drawing up the divorce papers, Emma finally emerged with a huge smile on her face. What was I to do? ]
When we left the museum we walked back along the coast, firstly heading for an impressive looking building we had seen which turned out to be the Palace of Fine Arts, an amazing Greek style round building with lots of columns set by a lovely lake with fountains and swans. We then walked past some very beautiful, very expensive houses, down to a small beach (extremely windy!) for great views back to the Golden Gate bridge, past lots of sailing boats, through a park with fabulous views of Alcatraz in the bay and our (ex-)ship in the distance (sniff sniff!), until we finally arrived at the Fishermans Wharf area. We walked along Pier 39, where a colony of sea lions live (who I had heard but not seen during the sail in that morning). We then found a restaurant where JL got some oysters and prawns and I ate lots of chips! We watched the sun set behind the Golden Gate Bridge with seagulls flying all round. We then set off for the relatively short but surprisingly hilly and cold walk back to the hotel! It felt very weird not having any entertainment to go to that evening, and no chocolate on the pillow, and a bed which didn't move as you slept... :-(
The second day we had a tour booked, so we got up early for our 8.30 pickup. We were excited to go and get our complimentary breakfast, but were less excited when we saw what little there was! Still, it filled a hole! Soon the pickup shuttle bus arrived and took us to meet the main bus for the tour - Muir Woods, Sausalito and Alcatraz. We were given tickets to the various places we would be visiting, and had been assigned a ferry to Alcatraz for 11am. The driver told us that there would be no point going to either of the other places first as there would not be time, so instead he took us on a bonus city tour! We drove through Little Italy, and then Chinatown (the biggest outside China!), through the brilliantly named Nob Hill, past some lovely cathedrals, eventually stopping at the magnificent City Hall for a photo stop. From there we drove back past Union Square with all its fancy shops (and a Body Shop and a Lush!), and along the coast on the Embarcadero, stopping at the pier for the Alcatraz ferries, where we had to join a very long queue to board ours. We had a pleasant 15 minute journey across the bay to the island, passing the Aurora on the way out (the ship is in SF for two days) for our last close up look at her :-( We had lovely views around the harbour, for luckily the infamous San Francisco fog was not around today, and we saw an old fashioned sailing ship making its way under the Golden Gate Bridge. We arrived at the island to the bizarre sign saying "United States Penitentiary - Indians Welcome"! We watched the introductory film which was being shown and found out why: after being used as a maximum security prison from 1934 to 1963, it was then claimed as Indian land by Native Americans because they believed it belonged to them. After years of occupation they were removed by the authorities, but the signs remain. We also heard a fascinating story from one of the guards about an inmate who spent 10 years planning his escape by fabricating a soldier's uniform and, right under the watchtower, walking onto the boat going back to the city... Except he discovered it was the wrong boat and took him to nearby Angel Island, where he was caught and returned! We then made our way up to the top of the island where the main cell house is located. Here we took a fantastic audio tour, narrated by former guards and inmates, which showed us the tiny cells with their small bed/toilet/sink, photos of famous former inmates such as Al Capone, Robert 'Birdman' Stroud, and Machine Gun Kelly, and the isolation cells for particularly dangerous or disobedient criminals which were in complete darkness much of the time. We learnt about some of the things the well behaved prisoners could do in their small amount of recreation time, such as dominoes, baseball, and even crochet! We saw the cells of the three inmates who may possibly have escaped successfully from the island (their bodies were never found in the chilly San Francisco Bay) who spent years chipping away at the air vents in their cells with a spoon and making plaster models of their heads which they hid in their beds as they escaped through the vent, up the utility pipes, over the roof, and into the water! We also had incredible views back to the city, which the inmates were deprived of - they could just hear the sounds of daily life floating across the bay. Finally, we saw a recently installed art exhibition by a Chinese prisoner of conscience, which was a little bizarre but a good idea!
We got a ferry back to the city where our driver was waiting for us to take us on the Muir Woods and Sausalito part of the tour. On the way there we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, and then our driver took a short detour to an amazing view point/ photo stop. We opted to go to Sausalito first, because we were all starving by this point and the pretty seaside town has lots of restaurants. We found one which did me scrambled eggs, toast, fried potatoes and pineapple (yes, all on the same plate!) which was yummy, and JL some seafood pasta. We then had a bit of time left to stroll along the seafront, see the lovely fountain in the centre, and smile at the Christmas shop! As we drove out of the town we saw the busy harbour full of yachts, as we listened to the song "Sitting by the Dock of the Bay" which was written in Sausalito, and then the area full of quaint houseboats (which have now become a small village in themselves). There were even a few seaplanes parked nearby!
The next stop was Muir woods, named after the naturalist John Muir who was instrumental in establishing the National Park system. This protected area is 560 acres in total, with lots of hiking paths. We had an hour there to explore part of it, and see all the giant (up to 252 feet!) Coast Redwood trees. They were absolutely breathtaking, and I got a very sore neck from craning it to look up at the canopy! The was a pretty creek running through the woodland, which we followed for a mile or so before coming back along a different route. We saw a wide range of trees, including families with one large tree and several smaller ones growing out of its roots, all merged into one plant. We saw all sorts of weird knobbly formations, trees leaning at strange angles, and giant burls growing up the trunks looking like huge bees nests but in fact part of the reproductive process. My favourite part was called Cathedral Grove - you were asked to be completely quiet in this area amongst some of the tallest and most densely packed trees, which lead to a spine tingling feeling :-) I could have spent all day there, but sadly it was soon time to leave. On the way back, we stopped for a bonus photo stop at a lookout point where we could view Muir beach (where people supposedly swim despite the chilly waters year round), and incredible views out to the Pacific. A fantastic end to a fantastic day trip!
The coach dropped us back at Pier 39 where we stopped at a crêpe cafe which I had spotted and I had a gorgeous strawberry filled pancake! We then took one last look at the Aurora, waved goodbye, and had a leisurely walk back to the hotel (luckily finding a somewhat flatter route than the day before!). We booked our taxi for the following morning, spent a while enjoying the hotel's free wifi (such a luxury!) and had an early night ready for the next stage of our journey.