For so long I had told myself ‘International travel is just not for me’ and ‘I’ll focus on my career, my relationships and my home’….. all the while, deep inside I was yearning to travel over the seas. I just wasn’t confident I could do it. Something came over me during a bout of ill health in 2016 and I said to myself ‘find the courage within’. Somehow I did. Here is my travel journal of the American Dream 2018.
1 mobility scooter
1 portable hoist – Molift 150 with hard travel case
1 folding shower chair – Chameleon
1 year planning
16 pieces of luggage
5 week adventure
6 in our entourage
Adds up to the Experience of a Lifetime = Priceless
The day had finally arrived. Our American Dream 2018 was actually happening. We arrived at the airport with exactly 3 hrs til boarding our 14 hr QANTAS flight to San Francisco. Check-in went well but took time with so much luggage and equipment. I had packed extra pillows and bed raisers into the hoist case (affectionately nicknamed the ‘coffin’) which meant the weight I gave at check in was wrong – whoops first lesson learned! The QANTAS team were so professional and used the Eagle Lifter to transfer me as planned. (More on how we managed the flights in a future post). We scored a bottle of champagne and a bottle of red from Qantas cabin crew – they were super helpful and calmed my nerves!!
The SFO airline assistance people didn’t really seem to know what they were doing but we managed without any damage to the chairs or us! It was a bit of chaos but we got through customs and immigration no problems (stern customs officers, fingerprints taken and all). Then I got a selfie with a cop who rides a segway just before a sniffer dog came to do a sweep on an unattended bag!!
We were met by Jim from Access Options with our accessible Gold Dodge Caravan rental, with the front seat removed so I could park my chair up next to the driver. And make sure Allana sticks to the right!
Thankful for early check in at the Residence Inn South San Francisco not far from the airport so we could recover from jet lag. 2 days in one was a shock to the system for us first time out of Oz travellers.
After a good rest we set out in our Dodge rental, such a novelty to sit up the front in the passenger seat – except I had to navigate the double-decker freeways! Lombard steepest and crooked street – lucky we didn’t attempt it in our wheelchairs! On to the iconic Painted Ladies, friendly locals, tourists and all sorts of dogs. Access to Alamo Square Park was quite steep but no problem for my Permobile C350. The architecture in San Francisco is absolutely stunning.
In-van afternoon refreshment of a maple bacon scroll and my first real coke! (then we realised we had parked next to a homeless persons’ tent). The homeless flock to San Francisco because they have free healthcare and we were told that other state authorities pay one way fares to send their homeless people to this progressive city. The irony.
Our hotel does free dinner and drinks Mon – Wed so the make your own burgers were a hit and saved us so much of our travel dollar. We are already in love with sunny windy chilly San Francisco!!
SF we ticked two of our bucket list experiences. Driving across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. What an amazing piece of engineering. We sang and laughed our way up the steep winding road (and yes I got the front seat view). Sunny chilly 17 degrees but no fog! With the accessible car park pre-booked, Muir Woods was a special place with some of the oldest Redwoods and the freshest of air thanks to the precious, oxygen generating trees. They grow in family circles, so they can rely on their community if they get sick or injured. I thought that was a beautiful analogy for humankind to reflect on. We spotted a majestic eagle soaring above us. Along the accessible trail we crossed brooks, smelt the raw timber, felt the gentle breeze, saw squirrels. You really felt such deep respect for nature. Awesome life moments…..and so accessible!
Late lunch in Mill Valley and our first look at a US grocery store (strangely fascinating – and I thought the access sign was great) before heading home for free beer on tap and Nacho night. Fun fact: SF tap water tastes just as good as bottled water!
Assistant Manager Charles at our hotel has so much time for us and says I’m his number 1 guest LOL. Allana drove us downtown to Union Square where we parked in a valet parking garage – a brand new experience for us as non-car owners! We explored the streets and soaked in the friendly vibe. Iconic sights such as Macy’s Department Store, 5 star hotels, art deco buildings, the streetcars, UPS, Fed Ex and postal service vans. Everything looked so surreal. We stopped to take it all in and listen to a great Latin youth band in the Yerba Buena Gardens.
That afternoon we drove the Dodge down to the picturesque Presidio promenade, a former military base with spectacular views across the Bay. We wheeled in our chairs along the pathway with terrific views out to Alcatraz before crossing the Golden Gate in our chairs!! So windy and cold but worth it to glimpse a whale swimming under the bridge!!! Met tourists from Illinois, Texas, Belfast and Melbourne. I navigated home without Google maps and used an old fashioned paper map instead. Much more satisfying. Chinese takeaway at the hotel. What a perfect day!
Took a drive in the Dodge past AT &T Park – the home of the Giants baseball team. A very impressive and classy stadium; the Americans love their sport and have a real sense of pride and unity. We passed the Fisherman’s Market along the Embarcadero towards our new weekend hotel, the Argonaut. Found free street parking outside and explored the chaos of Fisherman’s Wharf (think Manly on steroids). Steel drummers played my favourite musician Jason Mraz so I enjoyed tipping them. Steve met Frank a lovely homeless man.
Dinner and drinks at Jacks Bar. So many beers on tap and $1 oysters. Gripped by the NBL play off San Francisco Golden State Warriors trumping the Cleveland Cavaliers!! Stafford the bellhop was super excited…. Chasing the sunset and we found the seal colony….. so freezing cold and this wind never stops. The Argonaut Hotel was very nice indeed – thanks to Julie from Have Wheelchair Will Travel for the recommendation…. It used to be an old cannery warehouse, now decked out in the nautical theme. We met lots of Aussies as well as people from France, Finland and a delightful couple from California’s capital, Sacramento.
It was so nice to have a full day to ourselves to just wheel along the flat area of the Embarcadero, exploring the sights at our own pace. The seals were highly entertaining pushing each other off the pontoons and showing off to the crowds. It got rather hectic in the Pier 39 area where there was a carnival atmosphere and a few too many tourists. So we kept wheeling along the Embarcadero towards the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Along the way we stopped for many photo shoots, passed assistance dogs in training, naked cyclists and environmental protestors! It was all happening!
The old ferry building is where they hold produce markets on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. I love a good market, and I wasn’t disappointed with delicious empanadas and ice cream sandwiches for our lunch as we looked out across the bay. We continued on to explore the baseball stadium and had a look at the two story Bay Bridge. I then realised my batteries were going flat so we headed back to the hotel – and I only just made it!
Romantic dinner for two at the Blue Mermaid restaurant where we both devoured the local specialty Clam Chowder – and I don’t even like seafood!
Steve and I had a delicious hotel breakfast of sausages and soft eggs with oven baked potatoes and then we checked out of the Argonaut hotel with Sammy the Seal in tow. Then we headed across the city toward Haight-Ashbury, the birth place of the hippy movement. Lots of colour, music and a strong aroma of the hippy weed. After we found parking, we explored the expansive Golden Gate Park which was full of happy locals and visitors alike. We saw some impressive things such as the Conservatory of Flowers, the De Young gallery and a mote around the island with paddle boats. Met some lovely people in the rose garden such as the Marist Sisters of San Francisco and the German lady that took our photo. Sunday swing dances in the park was uplifting and joyful. Such a diverse array of ages and cultures.
The highlight of the day was outdoor disco roller bladders dancing to choreographed moves to music such as Thriller and Daft Punk’s Lucky. People dressed in outlandish costumes such as Japanese ninja, Xanadu 80’s inspired and cowboy getup. This weekly gathering is known as the Church of 8 Wheels – love it! On way out of the park we had our first soft pretzel and heard the beats of the impromptu reggae band. They really know how to have fun in San Francisco! What an incredible, fun, accessible and progressive city – a fabulous start to our trip!
|Residence Inn San Francisco Airport/Oyster Point Waterfront
1350 Veterans Boulevard South San Francisco California
2 bedroom unit plus sofa bed in lounge
Roll in shower
Mon – Wed complimentary dinner and drinks
Location is on outskirts of city near airport
Accessible shuttle to/from SFO airport available
495 Jefferson Street At Hyde Street San Francisco, California
Deluxe King with Roll in Shower
Roomy hotel room. Added second mattress to raise the bed height. Roll-away option. Accessible bathroom. Pricey valet parking
|Length of stay||7 nights total – could have stayed another week
5 nights in Resident Inn South San Francisco 20 minutes from city – free parking and close to airport
2 nights in Argonaut Fisherman’s Wharf to be close to action and nightlife
|Transport||Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle Rental
Access Options Inc