Monday, February 29, 2016

San Francisco

Where do I start? This city is everything you have heard of, and more. I have been there four times, and have always left craving for one more day. Or maybe a week. Or a month. I can't put my finger on what is it that I like the most. And  I am sure I haven't even scratched the surface of it. Putting down some must-visits, which also have been some of my fondest memories of the city.
  • Haight Ashbury Intersection - Probably the most famous intersection in the world during the hippie era. You will still see remnants of it all over the street. Strong smell of weed, incense, quirky vintage clothing and a few Indian/Nepali shops thrown in for good measure. Almost feels like stepping into a different era. The houses are very retro and in sync with the theme of the place. Go during the day though. It is eye catching and colorful. Also, the eclectic crowd could seem a tad unfit for viewing in the dark. Parking is a bitch, but then that is true for pretty much all of San Francisco. 
Haight Ashbury Intersection

Roadtrips in US - Sequoia/Springville

I like how well placed LA is. National forests, vineyards, beaches - all within a 2-3 hour drive (or lesser). Makes summer weekends very pleasant. And spontaneity, fairly easy. S and I had not done a trip in a while. So, Sequoia happened in August last year. It is the forest with the very large trees. We have become extremely used to going to destinations with absolutely no plans. With the advent of airbnb, hostelworld and couchsurfing, the need to plan ahead of time has almost gone away. As usual, all camp sites were booked out in the forest. So we settled for Springville, about 35 miles from Sequoia. Chanced upon Michal's beautiful place through airbnb.

That house was beautiful! We had the room on the upper floor. The bed was tucked in a corner, with big windows on both sides and an incredible view. There was a large book shelf on the side with an eclectic set of books. Oh and not to forget, a beautiful wooden deck above the swimming pool, where you could sleep under the stars.
Stagg Tree

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Roadtrips in US - New Mexico

First long (and free) weekend of 2015. A weekend when I wasn't required to carry my laptop or my phone. So, New Mexico happened. It was one of those really short conversations, which ended up in us booking flight tickets, with no plan in hand. The intent was to stay away from the crowd, which on a long weekend is a pretty tough thing to do. Needless to say, we were extremely successful. New Mexico is solitude exemplified. With killer landscape. Our route was -

Albuquerque - Santa Fe - Abiquiu - Taos - Roswell - Carlsbad - Truth or Consequences - Albuquerque

Empty roads on a long weekend!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Roadtrips in US - Solvang and Santa Ynez

This happened back in February I think. Had just got my license. So picked up a rental on a random weekend. Solvang is a three hour drive from LA (130 miles). As you will notice in this post, I don't have a high opinion about this place. It is a fake Danish town built to cater to tourists. And I don't do pretentious. S says that I should write about the bad ones as well. Too much of good ain't a good thing. :)

The drive was quite exciting. My first time on a long run. Deliberately took a hilly route through one of the canyons of LA. With every turn I took, folks in the car prayed a little more. The drive hits the 101 after the canyon. Fairly straight and easy. For ignoramus, 101 is the west coast lifeline and LA's road nightmare. A freeway where no one sticks to the speed limit. I have been honked at for driving at 65! Anyway, now I know that thumb rule is to go with the collective speed, which usually is 20 above the limit. And you know there is a cop car hiding in the bushes, when the collective speed drops drastically. If your work commute involves driving through the 101, sympathy is quite the norm from well wishers. But that's just the LA version of 101. It gets drastically better as you start going north on it.

We spent half a day in Solvang and that too was a bit much. Way too many people and the Danish aspect was just so fake! Absolutely not recommended.
Glimpses of Solvang

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

New Year 2015 in Mexico: Baja California

Ok, so the names in this side of the world are all mixed up. There is Mexico which shares a border with California. But a part of Mexico is called Baja California. Which is not a part of California. If this wasn't enough, there is New Mexico, which is not a part of Mexico. It is a state in US which shares a border with Mexico. They really could have thought of simplifying this entire thing! Anyhow, this post is about New Year 2015 that we spent in Baja California. Yes, I am trying to get all the long due posts out of the way while my vacation is breathing its last.

The initial plan was a road trip from Tijuana to Cabo. But the cost of renting a car for that route was prohibitive. Not that we paid any less for our trip. Our final plan was to fly from San Diego to Cabo, pick a car and do the route - Cabo - Todos Santos - Loreto - Cabo (for the New Year). This was a week long trip. The group was a mixed bunch. All of us knew only a few people in the group. Sometimes stepping away from the comfort of known people is a good thing. The week was a blast and the new year was a memorable one.
The Group

Monday, August 10, 2015

Roadtrips in US - Los Angeles to San Francisco

Driving in US has been great! Except for a few minor 'incidents', I have largely been accident and injury free (to self and others). After spending about six months without a car, the ability to drive has been absolutely liberating. In a country where public transport is frowned upon, it is alarming how a small task like getting groceries becomes a challenge. Well, all that is sorted now. But the lack of public transport will always be a big negative for this country.

Anyway, moving to nicer conversations, the new ride is an eye candy. S said that in the city of sun and sand, a convertible is a must. Quoting her - What is the point otherwise! Honda was immediately out of the reckoning. So was BMW, Audi and above. Soft top convertibles got ruled out as well (heat, maintenance blah). After weeks of breaking our collective heads over it, zeroed down on Volkswagen Eos. A dark grey hard top convertible. Pretty much love at first sight. Has quite a bit of what kids call these days - swag. Or maybe am not using the word right. Anyhow, you get the picture. :)
The new ride :)
Few weeks after getting the car, a relatively free weekend came up. And without much thought, a friend and I left for San Francisco through the Pacific Highway (aka 1, PCH). The route - LA - San Luis Obispo - Morro Bay - Big Sur - Monterey Bay - San Francisco. Total distance one way was approx. 450 miles. The rule was to stop wherever the view catches our fancy. And the PCH is replete with such views. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Los Angeles - Sun, Cafes and Music

The shift to LA happened about a year back. I keep saying that change is a good thing, but this was no joke. Even I struggled significantly in the first few months. There is something extremely alien about unknown roads, foreign sights and sounds without the reassurance of a return ticket to home. To top it, I had left behind close ones and the charm of running back to the known and familiar was extremely high.

A year down, and I have found footing in the city. To a certain extent at least. It is true that LA can be pretentious. But that would be true for Delhi as well. Or a hundred other cities. You just need to find your space and figure out the stuff that works for you. For me, coffee, books, music and travel work. Ofcourse, there is always the friends aspect which I sorely miss. Making new friends in your thirties is a tricky one. Low on patience and high on sarcasm - a surefire recipe for a non-existent social life.

Anyway, this post isn't about my social life or my move to LA. Penning down a few places which you should visit whenever you are here. I will write about the road trips separately since that requires much more space. This is just about where you should sip on coffee or beer.