Thursday, July 2, 2009

San Francisco - June 2009


Lye's house in Oakland
For my first couchsurfing trip, I decided to take a short 4 day trip to San Francisco. This was my first time to California and it started off as quite an adventure. I had requested to stay with a number of hosts, but the only one who accepted was Lye. He didn’t live in San Francisco, but rather Oakland which was easy to get to on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). The BART line I needed to take went directly from SFO airport to Oakland and his house was only 4 blocks away from the station.

with Lye at the Ferry Building
I talked to Lye once on the phone a few days ahead of time just to confirm all the travel details. He lives with his wife in this beautiful house and I was supposed to stay in a guest house they built in their backyard. Lye told me beforehand that they were flying in from Boston on the day of my arrival. When I arrived at his house in the early evening, no one was home. I called him on my cell phone and he told me their flight was really delayed and that he wouldn’t be home until the middle of the night.

So here I am, a very long ways away from home on my first couchsurfing trip, and just about ready to spend the night on some dude’s porch. I was starting to regret joining couchsurfing. But while on the phone with Lye, he directed me to a spot around the side of the house where he hid a spare set of keys for the house, and car! He apologized profusely for not being home and told me to go ahead inside and make myself at home. He also said if I needed to go anywhere, I could use his car! I was quite taken aback by his trustworthiness.

Now there were 4 steps to get inside, but they were really wide steps so I was able to bum it up and pull my chair up with me. It was absolutely gorgeous once inside. There was a spare bedroom with its own bathroom! It’s like I was staying in a bed and breakfast. Lye felt bad I was all alone so he called his friend and asked her to come by to check on me. We chatted for a few minutes, but then she had to go so I was on my own again.

I relaxed for a bit and ate dinner, and I tried to wait up for Lye to get home, but I was very tired so I went to bed. I woke up the next morning and that’s when I actually met my host! So essentially, I had the keys to his house and car, I slept in his house, and I did all of this before even meeting him!

Anyway, Lye is a great guy and I hope no one ever takes advantage of his generosity. He was very helpful at planning things to do while in the city. We went out for dinner one night, and he took me on a driving tour of San Francisco. Even though things got off to a rocky start, he turned out be a great and memorable host.



Overall, pubic transportation in San Francisco is very wheelchair friendly. BART is mostly accessible, but not every station has elevators so keep this in mind when planning your trip. Be sure to purchase a Red Ticket for people with disabilities that will get you 62.5% off regular fares. Big savings!

I never rode the subway so I can’t make any comments on that, but from what I saw they look accessible.

Street Cars have a ghetto accessibility system. Every stop has these concrete ramps and a platform at the top specifically for wheelchair users. When you’re on the platform, you wave down a street car and then the operator manually folds out a metal ‘bridge’ for you to wheel into the car. Once inside there are the usually straps and tie-downs. It may seem old school, but it gets the job done!

Cable Cars are completely inaccessible. There’s no way for a person in a wheelchair to get on. These are ridden mostly by tourists because when you think of San Francisco transit, you think of the historic cable cars. You can still get around pretty well using other forms of transit.  


other couchsurfers I met up with
at Pride Parade
Before leaving for San Francisco, I had joined the SF Couchsurfing group and I learned that a bunch of CSers were getting together to watch the Pride Parade on the day of my arrival. That morning, I pretty much went directly from SFO airport to downtown and met up with other CSers to watch the parade. I ended up spending the whole day with people I had just met and it was a blast. I even met one girl there who was from my hometown of Ottawa.

Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is a complete must for any person of any ability when visiting San Francisco. Not only is it free, it’s completely accessible. You can wheel across and back without ever encountering any steps. Keep in mind that it can get windy, foggy, and cold (even in July) on the bridge. Be sure to bring a jacket!

The highlight of my trip was taking the Alcatraz tour. I thought an old prison would be a nightmare for someone in a wheelchair, but it turned out to be one of most accessible places I’ve every visited. It costs around $26, including the ferry and audio tour. If you can, buy your tickets in advance online and avoid waiting in the long lineups. However, if you’re disabled, you can just skip the lineups anyway. The ferry was no problem, but I couldn’t get on the 2nd level where you can enjoy better views. No big deal.

Once on Alcatraz Island, everything is fairly flat and really easy to get around. The main cell building is at the top. You can either take a tram that only seniors and anyone with limited mobility can take, but I chose to challenge myself and push all the way to the top.  
The main cell block is very flat and even has a modern elevator to get to the 2nd level. The only obstacle was a few steps outside in the courtyard, but other than it was extremely easy to enjoy the entire prison. No trip to San Francisco is complete without seeing Alcatraz.

horse zodiac in Chinatown
Chinatown is a popular tourist attraction in SF, but I didn’t have anyone to show me around, so I just strolled around aimlessly on my own. The main street is steep in some sections, but otherwise it’s very clean and there are many cool shops and restaurants.

Union Square is a great downtown meeting place. You can just grab a seat here and relax here with a cup of coffee while enjoying the free Wi-Fi courtesy of Google. There are stairs but you can get to the various levels by just going around the outside, along the sidewalks.

stupid sphinx in
Fisherman's Wharf
Fisherman’s Wharf is an over the top tourist trap. For some reason, it’s a major tourist attraction and I have no idea why because there is nothing authentic or unique about it. When you think of a fisherman’s wharf, you might think of a pier where you can buy fresh, live seafood off a boat, but not here. Instead, you get tacky souvenir stores, stupid museums like Ripley’s Believe It or Not, out of place sculptures, and an amusement park that’s a total rip off. It reminded me a lot of the over-the-top section of Niagara Falls. Check it out because you kind of have to, but don’t spend a lot of time here. 

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