Take the BART (man)

It wouldn’t be a trip to another major world city if I didn’t take some time to analyse the public transportation network. (On my 2009 trip to the US East Coast, I compared and contrasted the systems in Philadelphia, DC and NYC. No one accuse me of not taking this geekery seriously!)

I should confess that I only actually made one journey on the BART – the Bay Area Rapid Transit. It could have been two, but I managed to misread the map so badly on my penultimate day that I didn’t realise that I could catch the BART all the way into The City from our local station. However, my only journey proved to be a long one. Pleasant Hill to SFO airport is almost an entire line – 22 stops and 70 minutes long.

BART mapIt was the yellow line that proved useful. Sadly, the lines don’t have fun names – instead using the stations at either end. 

One of my criteria for grading international transit systems is how easy they are to navigate by a clueless tourist. I generally consider myself to be fairly savvy, what with my love of public transportation and all, unless I’m operating in a foreign language. The BART has a fairly easy map (unless you’re an idiot and forget where The City actually is), but what is utterly flummoxing is its ticketing system. When you look up a journey online, it tells you the exact cost – mine was $10.05 – which I thought was random. When I came to buy my ticket, I came unstuck – I couldn’t work out how to buy a single journey. There was no station finding option, just an automatic $20.00 added to a ticket. It took a trip to the ticket office (who wouldn’t sell me a ticket) to get an explanation. Apparently I needed  to use the +/- buttons to get my ticket to the correct amount for my desired journey. What?? How crazy! Can you imagine what would happen if you had that system in London?

However, the train itself was very pleasant. You know that mild sense of panic you feel whenever you attempt to take luggage on the underground? Will there be space? Will I annoy people? Will I be able to keep it safe? [Or is that just me?] There was none of that on the BART – there was oceans of room and, possibly because I got on at the 3rd stop, I had a seat where my luggage could easily be placed in front of me. It was clean, smelt pleasant and for most of the journey we were above ground, running parallel to the highway, with plenty of pretty views to consume.

BARTInside the BART. See, spacious! (Although it was Saturday…)

Within the BART, you have what seems to be a pretty good system – for a state in which the car is king. Admittedly, if you have the misfortune of living north of the Golden Gate Bridge, you have no link at all, but otherwise it might work out. Of course, during our trip we actually only met one family who regularly used it – even though our last week was spent within easy reach of stations. (It may have helped that the family were originally from New York and had lived in Paris, so public transport seemed more normal to begin with.)

Oh, and obviously, for a certain generation there is a near uncontrollable need to say ‘man’ immediately after the word ‘BART’. If you don’t understand why, simply Google ‘Bart Simpson Man’ and it should be explained to you…

California Dreaming

I’m back. Actually, I’ve been back since Sunday, but the first day back at Vicar School (for the first day of the final year *gulp*) followed by a very full day back at church, followed by jet lag sucking all writing ability out of my brain has meant that blogging has been in abeyance.

As the rain lashes against the windows, the sun and heat of California seems like a dream. Was it only this time last week that I was sitting outside a bar in Berkeley eating sliders? Or sitting in a hot tub enjoying a glass of wine? Ho hum. Life continues in London and at quite a pace.

The highlights? Well, to follow on from my Silicon Valley adventures, we did return to Apple. Inside Infinite Loop 3, we spent over an hour sitting in the pleasant gardens outside the Apple canteen. (We arrived at ‘cookie happy hour’, surely any hour that involves cookies is happy?) Shannon had originally met the head of Apple’s ‘Evangelism’ team in May, through a mutual friend, and fixed up a meeting at his office so he could share some of his thoughts about the connections between business, the church and theology. Fascinating stuff.

Liz @Apple

While at Apple, it seemed foolish not to make the most of the company store and (finally) avail myself of an iPad. (Especially as our new friend provided his employee discount too.) It’s already been a smart move, given college’s decision to go paperless in its teaching as of next week.

There was also enough Mexican food to feed a Mexican family for quite some time. (Apparently ‘Cal-Mex’ is a thing in the same way that Tex-Mex is – who knew?) I can recommend specifically:

  • El Metate in the Mission area of San Francisco. (Home of an awesome al pastor tostado salad.)
  • Nopalito on Broderick St, to the north of the city. (Awesome sangria and dark chocolate & cinnamon popsicles.)
  • Facebook’s burritos.
  • The Paleo diet version of tortillas – lettuce leaves. A handy tip for a low-carb Mexican dinner.

Napolita feastBeautiful Mexican feast – all thanks to a recommendation all the way from Houston. (Randomly, after I posted this on Instagram, discovered that a London friend had eaten here last year!)

I also learnt some things that could be valuable to readers, should they be hopping over the pond any time soon:

  • Swot up on the Royal Family. In response to hearing my British accent, I was immediately asked – with immense excitement – how George was. George? Oh, the newest prince, obviously! People appeared genuinely disappointed when it emerged that I hadn’t actually met him.
  • Also swot up on Doctor Who. I was asked my opinion on the new Dr on more than one occasion (at this point, do I confess to the blog that I’m not that into the show?), and was at least able to recognise his name out of context! 
  • Don’t be offended if people think you’re Australian. The American ear genuinely struggles to discern the difference between British, Aussie and Kiwi – but then, how good are you at telling the difference between New York, Minnesota and Oregon accents? [To be fair, I’ve been mistaken for an Aussie in London too.]
  • Downton Abbey is a great leveller and excellent frame of reference. (Always laugh at American impressions of characters.) All of a sudden, there seems to be a greater understanding of the importance of tea – at one point, I even discovered a box of Earl Grey tea bought solely because it had a building that looked like Downton on it, which is no bad thing! Oh, and it’s a rare occasion that we Brits get to gloat that we see a TV series earlier than America does, series 4 begins on Sunday – they have to wait till January.

There are some specific blogposts to come, both here and on the Matryoshka Haus blog. (Want to know about public transportation in the Bay area? Stay tuned…) In the mean time, there ought to be some Friday Fun here tomorrow.

Foggy Frisco

Guidebooks are designed to be helpful and, while I’ve not made massive use of my Dorling Kindersley Guide to San Francisco (other guidebooks available), owing to other adventures, it has given me one very valuable piece of advice: “Never refer to San Francisco as ‘San Fran’ or ‘Frisco’. To locals it is ‘The City’ and anything else is offensive.”

Eddie Izzard helpfully explains this cultural nicety in this video, during which he also reflects upon another San Franciscan phenomenon: fog.

We were moved to watch this clip on Sunday night while driving back to our ocean view base. Almost as soon as the words “We could drink a glass of wine while watching the sunset over the ocean” had been uttered, fingers of fog began to creep over the hills adjacent to the freeway. Actually, they didn’t creep – to quote Eddie Izzard, the fog really ‘shifted it’. Within minutes visibility was minimal – there was absolutely no possibility of watching the sunset.

The fog in the San Francisco area is unlike anything I’ve ever known before. On my very first night, my view of the city en route from the airport was obscured by fog – on Monday, the iconic Golden Gate bridge was barely visible through the clouds. Goodness only knows how the Americas Cup yachtsmen manage to sail in it. Oh, and the weirdest thing is fog during daylight hours when it can be hot too. Hot in fog? That’s virtually unheard of in British meteorological conditions!

Over the weekend, we spent four nights staying in a friend’s holiday home in Pacifica – a town on the coast that adjoins the Pacific. (Could you have guessed that?) Honestly, it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever stayed (most of the most beautiful are connected in that they involve the Pacific), and the view out of the bedroom window was simply incredible.

On Saturday morning, I awoke to the sight of the ocean, with what seemed to be black seals frolicking amongst the waves. On closer inspection, I realised they were surfers…

Saturday morning surfers, Pacifica

But on Monday morning, the view was a little different:

Pacifica fog

Somewhere in amidst the fog is the beach (and probably more surfers). It was seriously bizarre because the temperature was just as high as it was on Saturday when I’d even braved the ocean for a swim! Obviously, because we are British (or because 2 out of the 3 of us are British and the 3rd has lived there for nearly a decade) we have developed an obsession with the fog, and can give you a rundown of what the temperature has been on each of the days we’ve been here (in both Celsius and Fahrenheit). But it’s ok, because we fit in with the locals – like the British, they are also obsessed with the weather, because it can change so dramatically between different parts of the region. Today, for example, it’s a full 10C difference between Concord (where we’re currently based) and ‘the city’. In the Bay Area, everyone instructs you to take a cardigan with you…

But don’t go thinking that it’s a negative thing – the fog of San Francisco is in many ways a positive. What else would give the city its mysterious quality? Who wouldn’t want to cross the bay and watch wisps of fog rush in? And quite frankly, Just Like Heaven wouldn’t have been half the film it was without it…

Golden Gate disappearing into fogGolden Gate Bridge beginning to disappear into the clouds.