San Francisco - Strange, but Free!

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francsico Among many familiar images of the greatest cities that come to mind from classic American movies, San Francisco is one of the most prominent. Of course, it's no Hollywood, but no doubt it at least shares second place with New York. San Francisco's notable standing among other significant cities is no accident, but is due to incredible uniqueness of its evolution. This city has repeatedly made its way into the history books, and has become one of the most famous cities in the world.

Cable Car in San Francisco San Francisco is surrounded by waterfronts; on the East lays the San Francisco Bay which at its widest point is almost 20 miles wide and spans 60 miles; while the Pacific Ocean lies on the West. San Francisco's close proximity to the ocean keeps its climate mild, with soft transitions between seasons. The locals sarcastically refer to its weather as "a phenomenon which is always with you". San Francisco is a city of skyscrapers, drifting sand dunes, glorious bridges, and wooden electric street cars which have been around for more than 150 years. Lombard Street, San Francisco This magnificent city has survived two catastrophic earthquakes and gave birth to a spring of the universal love - the hippy movement. This is the place where the television and the microprocessor were invented to forever change the way of life and work of the mankind. Here is where AIDS was diagnosed for the first time as a reminder that human civilization is vulnerable to diseases in spite all of its great technological advancement. Millions of tourists from all over the world come to San Francisco to find surprisingly that romanticism still exists on the far West. No wonder one of the popular souvenirs here is a music box that plays a nostalgic song "I left my heart in San Francisco..."

San Francisco at Sunset San Francisco is perhaps the least American city among all the US megalopolises. From the beginning, it has taken a very special place in the American history. The oddity of this city shows even in how it was born. San Francisco was founded in 1776 China Town, San Francisco by an expedition of Spanish monks who in a thick fog missed their destination, city of Monterey. Instead, they reached a bay which was later named after Saint Francis. Spaniards quickly built a Catholic temple, the so called Mission, which was supposed to bring knowledge and kindness, but brought devastation and death to the early natives. The land was taken from the natives in the name of Spanish crown by cruel force, with muskets and swords.

Alcatraz Island, San Francisco However, in 1848 history had corrected its miss. In an unusual turn of fortune, this sleepy settlement of 700 Christians became the headlines of all newspapers of the world: 70 miles from the settlement, in the foothills of Sierra Nevada, was found ... gold. Countries from around the world sent their best gentlemen of fortune, adventurers, swindlers, journalists, gangsters, builders, prostitutes and saints to dig, rinse, weigh, search and seize, for purchase and theft, construction and robbery, gambling and praying, binge drinking and poetry-making, for honor and deadly sin; they came to create unseen in history blend of races, cultures, languages, traditions, laws and freedoms - all that gave it its scathing, but accurate name - Wild West!

Downtown San Francisco One and a half century later, California has become the most populous and affluent states in America. New cities were built with incredible buildings and highways, new businesses were established, but San Francisco, the city were all these had begun, remains the symbol of everything that brought to this place people from around the world in their pursuit of happiness. Freedom and tolerance multiplied by incredible entrepreneurship, ambition and risk taking of the pioneers, created this astonishing city where you can find everything to your taste. Speaking of taste, there is no accounting for it in San Francisco. Its architecture can be described by just one word - eclectic. It seamlessly weaves quarters of Victorian houses of the late 19th century with Spanish villas, ultra-modern Catholic Church with imperial monumentalism of the City Council, pyramids of skyscrapers with bungalows of freelance artists. Here, in San Francisco, had blossomed the genius of Mark Twain and utter banality of Danielle Steel; socialists from the University of California, Berkeley, peacefully carry on an endless war with conservatives from Stanford University, although mostly in baseball matches.

Downtown San Francisco One can walk in the city forever. Each of the countless hills opens amazing vistas of the Bay, mountains, ocean and bridges. But the city is mocking you with its crazy landscape - you can not physically get over more than a couple of these hills by foot, but it always seems that the most incredible view is still ahead. And you start to believe that the famous American action movies with police car chasing and rolling over were made here, although the residents of these incredibly expensive neighborhoods see police only when they watch those movies.

Ingenuity of the American engineers is striking; both the American trolley and streetcar use just a single wire current collector; famous Bay Bridge's support beams are mounted on boat-like floating pontoons; skyscrapers are built on special rollers in order to withstand earthquakes. Plurality of sexual orientations is in plain view; an absence of a "rainbow" bumper sticker might tell that the car is likely rented by a tourist. There are many homeless people here, who contend for the warmer spot near the metro ventilation grids. Sea Lions on Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco Similarly, sea lions also fight for the best place on the floating wharfs. What is common for these two populations (homeless and sea lions) is that both are fed by the tourists; ones get some change, others get pieces of bread from hamburgers. Tourists have to sign up a month in advance to get to a tour of the notorious Alcatraz island-prison, once considered the toughest Federal prison in America. China Town strikes with its neatness and cleanness. Downtown impresses with its green squares and very few people.

Victorian Houses in San Francisco Wonders don't stop in the city itself. Outside of it, groves of giant sequoia trees border with renowned vineyards of the Napa Valley, petrified forest leads to geothermal wells and springs which guarantee eternal youth, although who can prove that? Mountain skiing resorts of the Squaw Valley neighbor the magnificent highlands of Lake Tahoe, and right next to it there is a vanity fair of Nevada casinos of Reno, the younger sister city of the famous Las Vegas.

Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco If you are planning to visit San Francisco, this utterly strange, contradictory, and all liberal city, do not try to prepare yourself reading numerous guide books. Just watch Basic Instinct - the movie that could only be made in San Francisco; you will find there everything you need: mysticism, haze, little homosexuality, cliffs and the ocean, Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone, and of course car chasing.

Well, maybe you shouldn't waste your time at all because when you come to San Francisco, you will be surprised and captivated anyway, and everything will be different from what you expected. The Bay Bridge at Night You will see this city from a different angle. The geometry of its images is unique and cannot be described by any stereotype. It will inevitably show you its unmatched, unusual and ever-changing sides that nobody has ever seen besides you. Don't argue about that with those who saw it before or after you. It was a different city, at a different time and for different people... Yes, it is strange, yes, it is unforgettable, and yes, you risk to "leave your heart in San Francisco..."

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