I stepped out of India for the first time when I was 13. My parents and I travelled twice to Europe that year – stayed in a beautiful studio apartment in Germany on both occasions and set out across the neighboring states to do all the sight seeing we could, during our brief time there. I used to wonder, if it is possible to fall in love with a place so much. Years later, I met Sriram in London for the first time last summer. It was a perfect stage packed with character, cobbled streets, erratic weather and love in the air. I felt it was romantic that we both shared an enduring dream of living in London.
This summer, though we both wanted another serving of our London experience (almost all our travel plans point to Europe these days), we had to opt for a Plan B, after much thought, California. I did not know what to expect of the west coast – Sriram promised me it is an amazing place – “You will love it. I am sure!”, he said. So I decided to let it surprise me, resisted researching about it just so I could go with an open mind; I will see it when I reach it, I thought. And thus began our trip, on an evening flight; we landed a little after 9. A fine retired couple and a chirpy cabdriver contributed to an interesting taxi drive from the airport. We talked about San Francisco, Indian matrimony, palo alto and suggestions to visit muir woods. They were thrilled to hear we were recently married, curious to know if we had elephants at our wedding. It was a perfect start to our weekend getaway. Minutes later, we dropped them home, a beautiful mansion by the way, exchanged contacts and drove to our hotel.
Stanford and Palo Alto
Palo Alto is an elegant city and has a subtle vibe of tranquil in all its visual goodness. We had a pleasant first morning, walking along the cobblestone sidewalks with antiquated street lamps and flourishing greenery . It does not exhibit the pace or lifestyle of a traditional city life, reminding me of the little town where I spent my early childhood. We breakfasted at Crepevine, a handsome brightly lit place with colorful wall menu and beautiful spots by the window, overlooking downtown. After relishing some delicious food (a Santorini crepe topped with walnuts, pistachios and mascarpone filling, served with vanilla ice-cream on the side for him and a Swedish oatmeal pancake with strawberry sauce and maple syrup for me), we headed towards Stanford University, just a mile and a half away from the city. We spent the afternoon wandering around the main quad, the Hoover Tower and memorial church. It was exciting to catch a glimpse of the carillon and the beckoning far away view of San Francisco from the tower. Spreading across acres of land, we enjoyed walking in the open passages of the university, the off white walls with intricate frieze work columns, were a classic.
The bridge, The island and the Woods
I woke up to a beautiful morning, with a huge smile on my face. Everything seemed right and romantic about the city. A little after brunch, we headed to the station and in about a couple of hours, we arrived to the city – The Paris of the West, and checked in the hotel before heading towards the bay. San Francisco is known for it’s inconsistent weather, but we decided to walk anyway, a long evening walk to Fisherman’s wharf and then across the Golden Gate bridge. By the time we reached Pier39, I already had a dreamy feeling about this. It was like a scene out of a vintage novel – The noisy dynamic streets with seafood markets, the colorful trams bustling up the hill and the pastel houses stacked along the hilly roads. We walked across the orange bridge, the horizon outlining SF bay and the Pacific and thick clouds of fog crowning the bridge. Over a couple of hours later, after an uphill climb to Battery Spencer, we made it. The fog had cleared just in time for us to drink in the breathtaking view of the bridge, and SF city beyond it. So mesmerizing, that Sriram agreed to let me take pictures of him, for the first time, without reluctance. After about 12 miles of walk and a long wait for reservations, we dined in Gracias Madre. The city boasts a myriad of options for herbivores like us. It turned out to be a wonderful place; a very delicious vegan Mexican dinner was served for the night.
We spent the next two days trekking in Muir woods and Angel island. My first real experience that qualified as a trek was in the woods – underneath the canopy of the redwood trees rooted since a hundred civilizations before and bounding silent whispers of fresh water springs. The next day followed with more trekking, this time all the way up the Angel Island. Every-time I wondered aloud if a snake might pop out of a bush, Sriram, with an air of confidence said, “They don’t loiter around here. Not at this altitude.” We saw so many beautiful views of SF and the bridge from the island. But the reward waited atop the hill. When we reached at the top, we were standing above the city and the ocean. And we could see it all. It was hard to resist camping on the island. We almost started making our next getaway plans on our way down the hill, when we met a 3 foot yellow crawling visitor. I forgave Sriram’s enthusiastic confidence about snakes. California is now my second happy place to vacation.