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