Thursday, September 6, 2007

SFO : A Travelogue

"The coldest winter i ever spent was a summer in San Francisco".
Mark Twain

Mark Twain said long ago that there were only three interesting cities in the US: Boston, New Orleans and San Francisco.
I had the pleasure of visiting San Francisco (SFO) this week. Mark Twain wasn't off the mark by too far. I have not seen Boston or New Orleans so far, but visiting SFO has already whetted my appetite to go to the other two.

It's hard to explain what is so appealing about being in the Bay area. Why that, i even complained to my wife a couple of times that i found the people there to be not so friendly. This impression i got after i stopped at a couple of places to inquire about a few things like a typical tourist. Yet, SFO and Bay area in general appealed me. There was something "cool" about it.

Talking of cool - well - i did not expect the weather to be that cold. It was not wintery; it was just pleasantly cold. Specially in the evenings by *Fisherman's wharf* and later at the Golden Gate bridge we had to wear an extra layer to protect ourselves from strong Pacific winds.

I had done some rudimentary planning of the places to visit, although i was not particularly looking to "complete" everything or "cover" somehow all the points. It's not my idea of a vacation. Ultimately what can be seen and felt good is what constitutes a vacation.

Vacation is also about moments. Some pictures just stay with you. The mental picture of those moments linger for a long time. Luckily SFO gave us many such moments. If i have to compile a short list, this would be it

1. The cable trolley
2. The topsey-turvey roads
3. The crowded Pier 39
4. The view *of* Golden Gate
5. The view *from* the Golden Gate
6. The view from the Twin Peaks
7. The cars lighting US-101 on GG
8. The huge, extremely tall and straight trees of Muir Woods
9. The ultimate view overlooking Pacific ocean on US-1
10. The Green Grapevines of Napa Valley and
11. My Friend's Victorian style house that we stayed for a couple of days

These are like snapshots planted in my memory. I presume these will stay with me for a while. It's difficult to single out one pearl from the chain of memory to associate very strongly with the city, but if i have to - then it has to be the the View of the Bay Area from the Twin Peaks. There are few views in the world that can match that awesome scene in my humble opinion. The US - 1 "overlook view" of Pacific would come close second, but really the twin peak view was the Signature photo of SFO for me.

The view from the twin peaks looked right down on the city all the way to the downtown SFO on the extreme end. On the left was Golden Gate hanging majestically and on the far far end was the bay bridge all mighty and strong. Between the city and the Bay Bridge lay the bright blue bay looking absolutely stunning. The small white yachts in the distance added to the magnificence of the portrait and the small hillocks surrounding the bay completed the striking character of that view. It was painted to perfection. On a clear day, that view from the Twin Peaks can match anything stunning in the world. The best thing about that view was it sort of encompassed the entire city in one digestible shot. Like someone was offering the entire city to you in one window. This is something rare, i thought.

Most cities give you their impression in parts, but the view from twin peaks was like ONE classic cinema scope frame in Eastman colors.

The cold wind blowing throughout the day was only increasing the pleasure of being there.

I have heard that people move *to* Bay Area and never *away* from it. It may not be entirely true but, could be close to it. Like how Joe, the wine server, mentioned at the Napa Valley's Markham wine tasting table - "California spoils you".
It struck me. The word "spoils" suited that notion.

My friend Jeetendra had just shifted to his new home. It was a vacation rental home. It was built in a true Victorian style. The patio, the small garden with water coming out from mouth of two lion heads, the Victorian furniture - all this added to our moments. We stayed with him for a couple of nights and i wish we could have stayed longer. That house was picturesque.

From his house we went to Muir Woods. A place complete with very tall Coniferous trees with the diameter of some of the trees trunk bigger than a living room at times. Some trees were more than a millennium old. The walk in the woods was both relaxing and intoxicating. It was hard to believe that such a site existed within less than 20 miles of urban population.

The other striking thing about this part of California is this - Within a 50 mile radius there were three things that coexisted naturally - 1) A hot,sultry and sunny beach like the Stinson's beach, 2) A Nilgiri Hill like Muir Woods and 3) A super cool technology zone like Silicon valley. All the three within a single large zone. This is particularly rare.

You have either of three in lot many places in the world, but a great hill station with a beach and a grand urban population all mixed in one Valley, that's something i have not heard of. Only seen at SFO.

Our trip to Napa Valley was a one day trip. We started in the morning and came back by night. It was time worth spent. Our wine tasting lasted for about 2 hours. The person across the table serving us wine was both informative and interesting. For 2 hours each of us tasted 5 different wines hearing all sorts of stories - some facts, some not so real notions. Ultimately it was worth each sip.
I brought a full bodied red wine - Zinfadel - as an encomium
to Joe, our server's , informative tour.

Right from Fisherman's Warf at Pier 39 to the return journey from Napa Valley with it's curvy roads, there was not a single moment i felt that this part of the tour was lame or this place was hyped. Everything made real sense and was worth visiting.

Even the car we got to Rent at Budget-SJC airport was sort of neat. It was the cute little PT Cruiser.

In last few years we have visited a few places like NY City and Washington DC, Florida Orlando and Key West, the Niagara, Vegas and Grand Canyon, LA and San Diego etc. I would like to believe that SFO ranked above these places on at least a few parameters. One of them would be weather and other would be a combination of picture perfect views and aura. I am tempted to rank these places in order of my liking. But that would be a comparison. And comparison is not usually healthy. It's quite possible that because SFO was the last place i visited, it's topping all of them. So i won't list or rank.

I would leave it at just that. SFO was truly a revelation.

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