1. San Francisco

My trip began at the end of January. Leaving my normal life behind for a while, I set out with a passport, some plane tickets, and a couple of bags, quickly packed the night before. For several years now, India has been calling my name, and that is where I am headed. On the way there, however, I have a few stops to make and a few old friends to visit.

My first stop was San Francisco, forty-nine square miles of ridiculously steep hills surrounded by ocean, mountains, and the entrepreneurial engines of America. San Francisco is a city I have long wanted to visit, and a fortuitous connection provided the opportunity to look up an old friend that I hadn’t seen in a few years.

In addition to being one of the funniest people I know, my friend Kyle was also in some ways the original inspiration for this trip. Perhaps thinking of the biblical tale of Joesph’s dream-inspired prophecy of seven good years followed by seven lean years, Kyle proposed a long time ago that life should be lived cyclically: work hard, save money, and live right for say, four years; then, for the following year, let yourself go – stop earning, spend your money, travel, and see the world. After a year of profligacy, begin the whole process again. One may quibble about the details, but whether through intention or happenstance, my life seems to have followed a similar pattern, and it is with great joy that I find myself at the beginning of another adventure.

Kyle and his fiance Connie very generously offered to put me up while I was in town. San Francisco is very much a city of neighbourhoods, and their apartment is located in a lovely area called Noe Valley. Quiet at night and thriving during the day, the closest comparison I can think of in Toronto is Roncesvalles Village, with plentiful coffee shops, restaurants, children, and dogs. (On the poster showing the style of bicycle associated with each neighbourhood in San Francisco, Noe Valley gets a tricycle.)

One of the biggest benefits of traveling in a Westerly direction is the ability to easily adapt to the time change. In the interest of avoiding jetlag, Kyle and I decoded to go drinking with a friend of his on the night that I arrived. Although it took a supreme effort of will to stay up until the clocks on the West Coast reached last call, the combination of beer, Margaritas and Sangria ensured I slept soundly the first night, and from the next morning onward, I was properly adjusted (albeit moving at a slightly diminished pace).

From brunch on my second day there, it felt as though the trip had truly begun. Over the weekend, Kyle and I decided to get out of the city. Meeting up with some of his friends, we crossed the Golden Gate bridge, driving North up the coast along Highway 1. With spectacular views of the Bay area, we wove our way up the mountainous terrain, sharing an amazingly tortuous and narrow highway with a never-ending processing of daring cyclists. Within the hour we were at Mount Tamalpais, and had a fantastic day of hiking down to Stinson beach. We also made a stop at Muir Woods, a beautiful, if somewhat touristy, protected redwood forest. While all agreed that the trees were not as big as one might expect, they were nevertheless straight and true, and generally an awesome sight to behold.

Back in the city on Saturday night, I happened to discover that there was a week-long Film Noir festival happening at The Castro. Various parts of San Francisco simply exude a 1940’s hard-boiled feeling, and it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. Slipping into a double bill part way through, I managed to catch the second half of the rarely seen Try and Get Me! and all of The Hoodlum, starring a young Laurence Tierney. The Castro is far and away the most beautiful movie theatre I’ve ever seen, and the place was packed, with many people dressed the part.

All in all, San Francisco is one of the most remarkable cities I have ever visited, and my time there was all too brief. Much like in Manhattan, a thriving cultural scene is compressed into a small geographical area, in which only the best of everything managed to survive. During the day, the heat of the sun is balanced by cool air, and at night, lights sparkle from the surrounding hills.┬áThe architecture is fantastic, with an interesting eclecticism, presumably at due at least in part to the various earthquakes that the city has experienced over the years. (Apparently the rule of thumb is that if a building survived the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes, you don’t touch it). My personal favourite was Columbus Tower, also known as the Sentinel Building (shown below, with the Transamerica Pyramid in the background), currently the home of Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope Studios.

Though I would rather have stayed, it was time to go, and I made my way back to the airport, Melbourne-bound.

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