I don't think I use the word shimmy enough.... Let's change that.
We went off to the Purana Kila (the "old fort") in Delhi, and somewhere in the vicinity, the driver dropped us off, right in the middle of a busy road. I don't know why we didn't fight him on the crazy drop-off point, but we ran through traffic towards a fence around the Kila, then wandered around for a while. Seeing no obvious entrance, we asked a soda-n-chips-sales-wala dude how to get in, and he pointed us in the direction of an opening in the fence. Thinking this was how it was done in India, we went in and up to an old abandoned door.
There was no getting in that large locked door without committing some sort of crime, so we wandered up the path, but our isolation and a quickly deteriorating sidewalk told us something wasn't right.
After about 20 minutes of herding the kids down the path, we were excited to see a main entrance! Unfortunately we were trapped behind a large spiky fence. A crowd of people gathered on the other side in amusement to see the foreigners in a crazy situation. One guy spoke to us to offer help, and was crestfallen to hear N respond in Hindi, because that meant that Indians do some very foolish things.
We handed the kids off to the complete strangers. I then somehow clawed over the fence. N tried for a second, then muttered something about impalement, and announced she wouldn't go. Then we just stood around for a while in some sort of silent standoff, until one of the onlookers wandered up the fence and came running back with the information that the fence was shorter up ahead.
This is when N started to shimmy up the fence. And the whole crowd shimmied along with her.
Shimmy shimmy shimmy shimmy....
Everyone celebrated, and this man had his picture taken with S.
You would have thought that all that shimmying would have gotten us into the place for free, but, alas, we had shimmied ourselves outside, right to the ticket booth.
In 1989, on our visit to India, my aunt announced that we needed meat and brought us to the meat market....
The meat market was a smelly, tiny, hot room with walls made of deteriorating, painted concrete. Large carcasses of various animals were hung everywhere. Flies covered the carcasses. When someone asked for a chunk of meat, the butcher took out a rusty axe and hacked at the carcasses.
Although this particular occasion sticks in my mind, such was the state of shopping in socialist India. And it still is, in many places, but you aren't limited to such quaint establishments at all, anymore. Asia, in general has become a hotbed of modern mall shopping, and although India seems to still lag China a bit on the mall front, it certainly has some nice places. Here are some photos of the Citywalk mall in Delhi. (Although this is way fancier than anything I remember in India, note that there are still beggars outside, security guards at the entrance, and probably a fly covered meat market or two down the block).
Mmmm, spicy coffeeshop paneer.... We don't have that back home.
When you only visit a place occasionally, it can feel like time travel. I last stepped out of India in 1996 (N about in 1990). When we walked back in, we were transported 16+ years into the future, and in many ways, India isn't the same place.
Here is the subway in Delhi.
Although I did see one of the first McDonalds in 1996, they are everywhere now.
One McSpicy Paneer, please! (no beef or pork served here)
Angry birds are everywhere now!
Check out the fancy cars in front of a faux Euro-Coffee shop.
The weird thing about India (and China) is that you can always step around the corner and see the olden days still. Although India hasn't moved as fast as China, it is still amazing to see how far things have come along.
That is where we are. It has been so long since N (or I) have been here that we are basically foreigners at this point. Truth is, N's family has almost all left, so she is all the more a foreigner. Actually half or my extended family still lives in India, so I have more roots here than she does, but try to explain that to the guy on the street who just sees me as a white guy with a local girl. OK, her Hindi is fluent, and mine is pretty bad, so that doesn't help either. I do get the white guy treatment , though, in that whenever I say something simple in Hindi, people start clapping, and everyone keeps asking me if the food is too spicy (I can outdo any of you with the spices, Indian people!)
The kids have heard so much about this mythical place across the world where things are totally chaotic but the food is really good their whole life, but this is their first visit. I kept asking them what they think of India but they were just so happy to finally be back in a country where YouTube works that they locked themselves in their rooms with iPads and told their secretary not to forward any calls. I guess kids have their own expectations about what is supposed to be exciting.
I have heard enough about how much India has changed that I was pretty curious myself to see the place.
We just left China after a year there.... Due to a pretty hectic schedule and tight Internet controls, I never blogged about anything there, but I have many pictures and will retroactively describe what we saw there.
For now I will do things backwards and describe our current India trip, afterwards I will do China.
I shall continue with my "California tutorial" with a discussion of the Bay Area Weather....
When I moved to the Bay Area back a decade or so, I was shocked by the weather.... It was nearly perfect, always! I mean winter, summer, spring, fall, the weather was about what you would get if you designed a giant self contained climate controlled biosphere hurtling towards Mars or something. I would just walk outside without a jacket or shorts or whatever and marvel at how great things were, then I would call up my parents back in Connecticut and just laugh and laugh, until they would be all "hey can we talk about something else now...." and I would be like "OK", but I wouldn't really mean it and then I would wait a bit and then just yell something like "gotta open my umbrella ....NOT!"
My friend Mark has moved to San Francisco, so I know what he is thinking at this point.... "Whaaaaa????". I am sure that his experiences are not the same. Bare with me, I will explain further.
But I am a curious guy, and SF isn't really at that different of a latitude than DC, which has pretty hot summers and cold winters. How could things be so different? The seemingly immutable rules of weather that I had grown up with dictated that there were seasons that were extremely warm or cold, and you *could* move to some southern place to avoid snow but you would pay for it with furnace hot summers and giant crickets and people speaking with funny accents. Not only do people not have accents in the bay area, but we don't have so much as a thunderstorm, and snow is a once in a decade event.
Here is a reference describing some of the reasons. It is all a really bizarrely grand conspiracy with many parts that lead to a giant natural climate controlled system....
cold arctic currents flow off the west coast
warm deserts sit to the east
warm air rises (duh!)
As the summer hits, the desert air heats, raising and sucking cold air from the ocean over the bay. Effectively this acts as a giant air conditioner that cools the whole Bay Area.
Furthermore, the pressure gradient causes a quick condensation of the moist ocean air, leaving a layer of fog near the ocean (ie- San Francisco), and no humidity elsewhere. The fog adds to the air conditioning effect that is already at its maximum in the west and makes these places miserably cold all year long.
As you cross the Bay Eastward, the fog ends, and the air starts to warm up. Eventually you will hit the deserts, but somewhere in the middle (precisely in the midpoint of the Popeye's Chicken on San Pablo Ave, I believe) the weather is perfect all year long. This is about where I first lived in the Bay Area.
Now you can understand what people mean when they say "microclimates". The whole idea seemed crazy to me at first, that the Bay Area has these city sized zones of regular weather patterns, and that you could actually drive to them and experience a different climate. But it is true. I used to stand in the Berkeley Hills on a beautiful spring day (in, say, December) observing a cold looking San Francisco completely covered by fog, and I would slightly raise an eyebrow, tilt my head and utter "fascinating" in a Vulcan like voice.
Some days the fog does roll right up to our house in the hills to the east, and when I wake up it fills up the bay like a lake, with us on the shore of a beach on a beautiful day. I have to remember to bring my coat on those days, for once I drive minutes downward, I cross the magical fog line and suddenly find myself in a cold, dreary place. I take comfort in knowing that beautiful weather is only a drive away.
Soon after I arrived in CA, I visited Sacramento. It is a kind of boring town with a cool little "wild west" historical district in the middle. What really stuck out to me though, was that after about an hour or so of driving, I suddenly realized how hot things were becoming, and looked at the temperature.... It was about 100 degrees! At first I thought a heat wave was hitting, but when I headed back to the bay, everything was back to about 70 degrees, and no one was complaining about it having been a particularly warm day.
A few years back, a rare heat wave hit, and the east bay was extremely hot for a few days (one of the only times I remember this happening over the last decade). We were miserable, but the solution was simple.... We drove to San Francisco which itself was experiencing a heat wave.... in the 70s!
Every town in the area has its own climate, you will become familiar with them as you travel around.
You will often hear it said that the Bay Area doesn't have seasons.... Lies! We do too! They are just places instead of times. Get in a car, you can drive to any of them:
Summer- Anywhere about a half hour east of the Bay, including the Pleasanton/Danville area, available by Bart.
Winter- Tohoe, Baby!
Yes, you can experience snow and all of its companion preppy like activities by driving out out to the hills. Last year, Z and I got trapped in a snowstorm somewhere pine'y and eastish in like April or May.
OK, I lied a bit.... The Bay does have a slightly bad time of year, the rainy season, which hits around Jan-Feb. When I first heard of the rainy season, I imagined monsoons, but it isn't like that. In reality, during those times of the year, the outdoors are often in a constant state of "almost rain". Occasional drops will hit, and you might get a minute of drizzle, then it will go back to its normal dreary state. When the clouds clear up, it *can* go back to t-shirt weather even in January (although typical January temps are in the high 40s, and it rarely goes into the 30s during the day.... It is more likely that it will go up to the high 50s than that). If this becomes too burdensome, I have two words for you.... Tiujuana, baby!
You never see thunderstorms, you never see snow (never = once per 5 year period, and everyone says "did you see the snow?" for the next year).
From what I hear, LA is kind of like this also (with its good and bad microclimates), but on average warmer. Some people find the Bay average a bit too cold, some people find the LA average a bit too hot.
There you, go, I have finished my whole post about weather in the Bay Area without once mentioning that cliched fake Mark Twain quote about SF (you can google it).
A friend of mine just moved back to the US after about 10 years in Asia.... to my own hometown area (the Bay). He primarily choose this location as the major tech center in the world, but I am going to try to get him to experience the equally unparalleled food scene there.
America has the worst (fast food) and best food in the world. Unfortunately the good stuff often costs more than the nearly *free* food you can get off of the dollar menu, but don't let that disuade you from trying out these things.
Here is the results of my 10 years of experimentation:
This restaurant used to be only in San Francisco (where parking and the crazy wait for a table made the trip sort of unbearable). Now it has two newer location in the East Bay. Definitely get the following two items,
Tea Leaf Salad
Vegetarian Samusa Soup
and if you are at the Oakland location, you can finish off dinner with a trip to Scream Sorbet, described below.
The Bay are is filled with great coffee roasters (Site glass, Barefoot, Four Barrel), and Modern Coffee is where you go to try the best of the best. The owners (Rob and Kristen) are really knowledgable about their coffee, and encourage experimentation and testing.
Show up on Friday at 12:30 for tastings (you can head over to the Oakland Farmers Market afterward).
Owned by former Chez Panisse Chefs, and as picky about ingredients. You will have to wait about 1/2 an hour in a line before you are served, so be greedy and get samples of multiple flavors when you do finally get in.
You can pair this outing with a trip to Holy Land, described below.
The quality has slipped a bit since opening, but it is still good enough to warent a visit.
This place is a remnant of the cold war, featuring East German culture and food (I don't actually think there is such a thing as *East* German food, it seems the same as German food to me, but the relics on the wall are all East German).
The food is reasonable, but you definitely go for the experience.
This place has the best chocolates in the world, all of them, on a wall. It also has some really rich chocolate drinks. Of all the things they offer though, my favorite is the homemade chocolate bars.... They don't just melt and shape someone else's chocolate, the owners have jury-rigged a conche machine, and threw in a bunch of beans that they have found worldwide. I liked it more than anything on their wall.
This is a great place for a casual lunch (I don't even think that they are open for dinner). They serve Indian fast food, all made to order. The old location was just a warehouse, but they have moved on to a slightly better place down the road.
This isn't an easy place to find, but it is worth it.
The menu tends to be vegetarian during the weekdays, but offers meat on the weekend.
San Jose suffers the curse of the awesome Peruvian restaurant that closes down. We used to be regulars at another great Peruvian place, The Inca Gardens, after that closed we found the Nazca. There seems to be a third Peruvian restaurant in San Jose (use Google to find it), but we haven't been to it, so go there and let us know how it is.
510 Embarcadero West
Jack London Square
Oakland, CA 94607
Phone: 510.238.9200 http://www.yoshis.com
This place serves jazz music and Japanese food. The old location is in Jack London Square, a new location has opened in San Francisco.
This place is the new face of Californian cooking. Gather only opened up a few years back, and is a place that I am sure Michael Pollen is proud of (in fact he must go there, given that it is at the corner of Berkeley University).
This is one of the only chain restaurants I've added to my list, and one that not everyone I know even likes. But if you order correctly, the food is amongst the best.
The trick is to go with a group of friends and order from the sides menu, and absolutely make sure to order the brussel sprouts. Go light on the pasta (a couple of orders of ravioli should suffice), get all the farro and vegetable based sides they offer. The meal will be cooked right there, and it will be great.
This is a gathering of food trucks offering gourmet items from a variety of local chefs.
This is a new phenomenon in the Bay Area, and you should definitely experience at least one Off The Grid event. I liked the Fort Mason gathering, but they were really spreading last year so you can probably find them anywhere.
It is hard to get into San Francisco and find parking for the farmers market. I still do it occasionally, because it is the most impressive of the farmer's markets. It is also held in the Ferry Building, where many fancy specialty California food stores can be found.
Once you have been to the San Francisco farmers market, find one local to where you live and go to that regularly instead.
We started on Sunday, June 26, 2011 and finished on Thursday, August 18, 2011. The whole trip took 52 days. We went through 28 states plus DC, 2 countries, and stayed at 23 hotels and 3 campsites.
N and the kids were really happy to be home. I was happy to be settled (living out of a car has its problems), but missed the excitement of the road.
I had now been to all 48 connected states in the USA, but it had been a decade where I hadn't left the country (well almost never), and I was ready to see more of the world.
School would soon start, and N and I had to start thinking about what we would do next.
I really enjoyed getting to see the country with my wife and kids, and I think the boys learned a lot about our nation that they never understood flying across it so quickly. And we have this blog as a reminder of the moment by moment excitement of an adventure that I will remember for the rest of my life. I don't know who will read this blog, but at the very least I suspect that Z and S will pass it on to their kids and grandchildren someday, and someday when they are old they can show the upcoming generations what a fun time we had on a journey to see as much as possible on a journey we took across our country.
We had one last lunch before returning. Anderson's Pea Soup is sort of a route 5 staple. Although it isn't as great as many of our Bay Area places, it shines above almost anything else on the SF-LA route. I guess we have made it a sort of "must stop place" on this stretch.
The kids love getting themselves photo'ed in this sign.