25 First Impressions… 4months in San Francisco

So I’ve now been in San Francisco for almost four months and I’m loving it. (Wow! It has flown.) Don’t get me wrong, I do miss Sydney, Australia and as always the UK and my family, but at the moment San Francisco is incredibly exciting and I’m exploring and well, I guess feel a little like I’m on holiday more than anything else. So all things are good.

I thought though, I’d capture a few first impressions and observations I’ve made about this new land (well new to me obviously, it’s not like I’ve become Captain Cook and just discovered it), but this land of stars and stripes, and Oprah, and Mickey Mouse!


So here goes…..

1. Nothing is flat. San Francisco truly changes the definition of flat! If it’s not up, it’s down. You find you know your way around the streets and neighborhoods, by the roads you can cycle on that are flatter than the vertical climb or terrifying descent (always to a stop sign). Flat is now at 10%!

San Francisco, puts a new definition on flat!

San Francisco, puts a new definition on flat!

2. Earthquakes. This thought scares the bejeezers out of me! I’ve escaped from spiders and creepy crawlies in Australia but now just have the fear of the earth violently shaking and everything falling down. This doesn’t help with the rumours that SF is due for ‘the big one’! Awesome! I’m hiding under the massive oak table already. In fact I’m thinking about just camping out there.

3. Bu-eeee. This is the American pronunciation of ‘buoy’, or probably how the Aussies say it ‘boy’. Yes a pull buoy for swimming or a buoy you swim around in a race. Bu-eeeee!


4. Tourists. Yes yes I know most major cities around the world have tourists, so there is nothing different there. Come on, I’ve lived in Bondi for the past 6 years. However….these tourists are specific toursists who are cycling (or form of cycling, I think is what I’ll call it) and walking across the Golden Gate Bridge. Tourists who I actually think aren’t safe to be on bicycles. Surely you have to pass your cycling proficiency before being able to hire a bike? Tourists that keep looking down at the map on the front of their bike and swerving all over…seriously there are no turnings on the bridge, it’s straight. Tourists who try to cycle one handed whilst taking selfies or videos and wobble about all over the place. Tourists who just randomly stop, with no warning, to take a photo in the middle of the path. Tourists who really don’t appreciate that the bridge is also a commuter path and whilst we are not on the velodrome (it’s actually physically impossible to get above about 4miles an hour (yes that’s back to miles too), we would like to cross with our lives in tact, oh, and WEAR a HELMET! 

5. Miles not km. After 6.5years and converting from miles (in the UK) to km (in Australia), I’m now trying and struggling to go back to miles. Pace and speed is the biggest change as I’m so dialed into what min/km feels like.

6. Ritter. They have Ritter chocolate! This is the best and the worst news at the same time!


7. Sugar. It’s in everything. They coat everything in sugar. Nuts, chips (yes chips (sorry that’s fries), not that I eat these as I’m an athlete of course), even the bread is made sweet! Seriously! What’s that about?

8. Bad coffee. Ok on the verge of becoming a public enemy as I know they think their coffee is pretty good…and I’m sure if you are a fan of drip coffee it probably is amazing….but trying to get a good, even just a decent cappuccino around this place….is near impossible! Do they not know that a post training cappuccino is like, the law!

9. Awesomeness. They are a very enthusiastic nation. It’s “awesome” and everything is “amazing” and “so cool” and ‘great job’ and well I love it! It’s a great place.

10. Route. Argghghhh! This is still pronounced as the Aussies say it, and not like the English, which I guess is pronounced ‘root’ 😉 For some reason, the Aussie / American pronounciation has always annoyed me and I’ve never really got used to saying it that way, even if ‘root’ has a different meaning.

11. Water Yards. That km and miles thing….well there’s yards as well and 25yards seems to be the standard size of a swimming pool here. This was probably one of the biggest things that I was surprised to find, when I moved here. Thinking the USA was a big swimming nation like the Australians, it seems odd to find only 25yard pools all over the place, not big 50m ones. To be honest I was pretty spoilt in Sydney with 5, 50m pools in about a 2mile radius! Let’s say my tumble-turns are getting lots of practice!


Most pools are set up width ways!  

12. Round the bend. There are no roundabouts in San Francisco, or possible the whole of the USA. It’s all about 4 way stops. There are placed at every block, which is about every 50m (oops sorry slipping back to metric). A four way stop basically gives the person who arrives at the stop line first the right of way (after they’ve fully stopped of course). It seems to work quite well (apart from it can be hairy on a bike trying to stop when they come at the bottom of the ridiculous steep descents) – make sure you try your brakes first. 

13. Flip flops. Hurray! They have flip flops, not thongs! I never got used to calling them thongs in Australia. (Note: I found myself calling them thongs only last week! argh! Brainwashed!)

14. Fire Trucks. Yes they do look exactly like they look in the movies! 

so cool!

so cool!

15.  Fire Escapes. Yes these are just like the movies too. The ladders on the outside of the buildings.

 Fire Escapes

16. Jay walking. Pedestrians are very patient at crossing the road. Everyone waits for the green man (actually white over here). You even get a count down on the red too. 

Counting down.

Counting down.

17. Fitness. You thought Sydney and Bondi was a fit place to live. Well I reckon San Fran would probably rival that. Everyone is out and about running, walking, cycling. Everyone looks ridiculously fit too! It’s that love of the great outdoors and some amazing landscapes to run and cycle around. It’s infectious.

18. The Weather. I wouldn’t be British if I didn’t talk about the weather right? Well to be honest San Francisco has certainly put on an impressive show so far. It’s been amazing. Blue skies, sunshine and warm! However everyone keeps telling me this isn’t the norm, and in fact I think the Mark Twain quote is…” my coldest winter was summer in San Francisco”. So I’m waiting. I’ve definitely noticed the wind picking up and a definite chill about the past few days. Actually very true, I was running the other day down by the water and actually think I travelled backwards the wind was so strong. I definitely did impersonations of running man on the spot! San Fran also gets this random weather pattern where fog comes over in the afternoon and the wind whistles. Yet go just a few miles over the Golden Gate Bridge and it can be 10deg warmer!

I don't think these views will ever get old.

I don’t think these views will ever get old.

19. The Hunger Games. One of the most bazaar things I’ve noticed…in the Presidio, (which is a gorgeous federal park, great for running and walking through), the birds all chirp Rue’s 4 note whistle from The Hunger Games! Maybe they are all Mockinjays copying too or just mocking me which is more likely. It’s really quite freaky!

20. Grids and Squares. Navigation is easy in San Fran as everything is laid out in a grid with cross streets. So it’s easy to work out where you are and how to get around. Simple. Easy.

21. Cyclist. So it turns out, it’s the same all over the world. Cyclists still think they have the right to cycle through every red light rather than stop and sadly it’s not a legal requirement to wear your helmet. I see too many protecting handle bars and baskets.

22. Two wheels v. four. Sadly as I read more and more about the ‘war’ between cyclist and motorists in Sydney, it just seems to be getting worse and worse, I’m very pleased to say, that there is no where near the same hostility and angst between cyclists and motorists here. I’ve certainly not experience any grievances and in fact have found motorists incredibly courteous of cyclists, particularly at junctions. Happy days.

23. Almond Milk. I have yet to find skim milk and certainly nowhere that does a decent coffee serves it with skim milk. Now I can hear you all saying, “too bloody right, too! Coffee should be full fat milk”, however I like my skim milk. The only options here seem to be full fat or almond milk. 

24. Pain Cave. Yes I’ve found one here in San Fran, much like Turbo Studio (www.turbostudio.com) in Sydney, it appears to have the same meaning. #lovehate #pain #holes please insert whatever expletive you wish, but it’s also awesome! Shift cycling studio (www.shift-sf.com ) is my new pain cave. Turbo charged, power cycling sessions to put you in the hurt locker!

Shift-SF, an indoor turbo power studio is a great way to focus on power and technique.

Shift-SF, an indoor turbo power studio is a great way to focus on power and technique.

25. Avolicious. Yes the Americans love Avocado as well!! I’ve not quite educated them enough to make my beloved, Avo on toast with poached eggs, that was my weekend post training go to with a large skim cap (see point #8 and #23), but at least they love Avo’s too!

OK that’s my 25, but here are just a few more, well just because…

26. The Force is strong. Lucasfilms has it’s HQ in the Presidio Park, complete with Yoda statue!  

The Force is strong.

The Force is strong.

27. Parking – Part I. A last minute entry taking us to #27 and costly learning for me here. As mentioned in point number 1, San Francisco is not flat! So when parking, I try to avoid the steep roads. However what I didn’t know was that it’s the law to curb your wheels (turn your wheels into the curb), on any road steeper than 3%! Yes seriously!! 3% that’s all and I didn’t have my spirit level or protractor with me that day. Parking ticket for me! Grrrr!!

(Since generously donating to San Fran MTA, I have then been conscious of making sure I always curb my wheels, even on the flat just to make sure! However, it’s also worth noting, don’t over turn your wheels, resulting in the steering wheel locking, and the car not starting (automatic) and you having to call the tow company out, because you have no idea why the car won’t start and assume it’s a dead battery. However on waiting for an hour for the tow man to arrive, he successfully releases the wheel and the car starts. You now feel an idiot…1. To the tow man who easily solved the problem, and 2. To the owners of the car who you’d rung in panic thinking you’d broken their car! The only saving grace was that two guys from the gym had also tried and failed to start the car, so a few idiots today!

28. Parking – Part II. Oh yeah! Street cleaning! That’s another ticket! Thank you San Francisco for the welcome! (Park in the street on street cleaning morning and bam! Another ticket!) At least I’m learning and hopefully that’s my 3 donations to SFMTA.

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