From Irish Bar to Streetcar

Before I leave the Big Easy, there’s one last chance to pay homage to arguably it’s biggest local hero. Louis Armstrong Park is a huge tribute of statues, walkways and water features, although the modern art theme doesn’t quite match the traditions of Armstrong itself.

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The park also houses Congo Square, a place where the slave workers of the late nineteenth century would gather for their recreation. Even today, it’s a meeting place for local black families – or more specifically mums and their kids, who while away a bright and cold morning with loud conversation.

And so it’s north and west to San Francisco, and I’ve finally got a window seat. Which is just as well, because the clear skies mean we get fantastic views of the Mississippi.

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After four days in the south, the first thing you notice about San Francisco is how busy everything is. It reminds me of my last trip to the States, when I went straight from Nashville to New York City. The Chancellor Hotel is right on Union Square in the middle of downtown. It’s a great location, and from my eleventh floor window I can hear the clatter of the famous streetcars, coupled with the sound of live performers in the Square itself. On arrival, it’s a solo trumpet player, with a sound so melancholy I could by back in New Orleans.

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With my Irish roots, there’s nothing I dislike more than an Irish theme pub. But I’ve already read up about Johnny Foleys, and when the hotel receptionist recommends it, it seems only right to check it out – especially as it’s just a couple of blocks away.

Upstairs, the bar is busy with diners – but downstairs is where the entertainment is about to get started. And it seems to be an American tradition that Irish pubs here have a regular act of Duelling Pianos. It’s something I first saw in Memphis, and basically it’s a pub singalong, but with two performers and two pianos. It’s a simple enough formula, and one to keep the diverse crowd happy. On either side of me sit a Canadian graduate who’s interning for a credit card firm, and an Irish guy who’s most recently been living in Chicago. They’re joined by a group of Australians and party of gaming geeks from Wisconsin. Oh, and there’s a Bachelorette Party too. Its good introduction to town.

Thursday morning, and a couple of buses take me to San Fran’s most famous landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge.

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Whichever way you look at it, it’s an impressive structure. But don’t expect peace and quiet here. That view was only made possible by a lot of cropping – and avoiding the hundreds of Japanese tourists who seem to spend an age taking their own shots.

A much better idea is to head underneath the bridge to the Bay Trail – three and a half miles of great views looking back at the Golden Gate and taking in the sights of the yacht club too.

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The scenic walk takes you to Fisherman’s Wharf. I’ve heard a lot about this place before I came, and even considered staying in a hotel here. As it turns out, I’m pleased I didn’t, as they’re currently digging up half the road.

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I think I expected the area to be more polished than it actually is. The reality is a harbour area that essentially caters for tourists. Seafood shacks and more upmarket restaurants vie for business. It’s almost as if Whitby and the West End of London went out on a date together and ended up snorting a few lines of cocaine. Basically, it’s a bit screwed up, and doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be.

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Right. That’s the touristy stuff done with. Time for something more interesting…

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