In defense of bus tours

Being on vacation is a funny sort of thing. You’re off in your own world for a week, drinking mass quantities of wine and Starbucks, only to come home and have to catch up on what the world was doing without you. I went away for one week and Simon Cowell has already gotten himself a love child. One week!

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The vacation was indeed lovely. San Francisco is full of hills, colourful houses, sea lions, and unfortunately poverty. It’s quite foggy, quite pretty, and sourdough abounds. You can’t go anywhere without being confronted by sourdough baguette; it’s rather nice.

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Now, ordinarily when I travel I prefer to buy a guide book and a transit pass and build my own adventure. That’s what Hilary and I did in London and it was spectacular, mostly because the Tube is incredibly efficient, and we just made our way to all our favourite tourist spots. But San Francisco hasn’t got very good public transit, which is mildly ironic, considering they invented the cable car. Streetcars abound, but it’s rather like hopping on a city bus. Not that there’s anything wrong with city busses, but they’re less convenient than subways, especially when you’re travelling in a pack of six.

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So, instead, we bought a hop-on-hop-off tour bus package. And let me tell you, it was extraordinary. There’s something to be said for an organized tour. We learnt so much: San Fran’s China town isn’t the largest in the US, but it was the first; in the 1800s 75% of the city burnt to the ground; to rent a one bedroom apartment would cost about $1,300/month depending on the neighbourhood (and that only gets you a bedroom. You share bathroom, kitchen, and living room.) It was really interesting, and it was really convenient. We could hop on the bus in Fisherman’s Warf and ride it to Union Square all while getting interesting tidbits of trivia. We could hop on the bus and take a (chilly) night tour to Treasure Island. (Sadly there were no Muppets.)

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For someone who doesn’t like organized activities, I really enjoyed this organized tour. San Fran is not really that large of a city, and yet the tourist attractions are all rather spread out. Rather than just plot my course in my trusty guidebook, I could just hop on the double decker and be taken to all the popular tourist spots. In a big, big city (like New York, or Paris) I’d still buy my guidebook and walk around for ages. But in a small big city like San Fran the bus tour was the perfect solution. Who knew?

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~ Julia Maurice Sabre-Ocean

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