San Francisco 2.0

Traveling with the family took us to familiar cities in the US, and then some. For one thing, it’s much easier to visit the West Coast when you’re equipped with a car. Dad helmed the wheel and we covered so much more ground that way.

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First stop, San Francisco! No thanks to the Russian embassy (who held up our visas in spite of giving us a date to go back up all the way to New York), Alan and I were a day late meeting the rest of my family. As a result, we only had one full day to give them a taste of touristy SF.

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Thankfully, we kinda knew the city’s highlights, since Hurricane Sandy left us stranded there for a week.

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Paid a visit to my favorite Thai House Xpress (it was round the corner from our October hotel) — seriously, the best Thai food I’ve ever had in my life. I know, I know, this means someone needs to recommend me some extra-legit Bangkok joints soon. But until then, I shall always miss you THX.

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Other familiar sights + sounds included Ghiradelli Square, Hyde Street Pier, Pier 39, Lombard Street.

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This time the sun was out (though the wind was still out in full force). When Alan and I last cycled across the Golden Gate Bridge, it was foggy and misty. We couldn’t see more than 30 meters ahead of us, and our pictures were nothing more than us against a cloudy, white background. Not so this round.

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One new sight for Alan and I, though. The gorgeous Morada steps at 16th & Morada.

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These steps were the result of the neighborhood’s get-together – 167 steps of beautiful mosaic tiles forming a rich coastal scene.

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Stayed at a lovely 3-roomer on Airbnb, which turned out to be an accidental perk for my mom and grandmother. Mom fell in love with the 24-hour Safeway round the corner; I am not exaggerating when I say she visited it FOUR times in one morning. Alan attributed it to the “paradox of choice” one inevitably faces when in America — so many brands for one little thing. Mom just said the strawberries were “fresh and cheap.” (Grandma, in the meantime, seemed to have a lot of fun doing the laundry on our host’s high-tech washer + dryer :p)

Day 2 had us driving up to the Napa Valley area. I had wanted to go there for a while, since wineries always sound like a classy idea in theory. But as we were driving up, I was struck by a sudden and deep craving for… oysters. Thankfully, the Internet and mobile data will always be your best friend. A few quick searches and GPS re-calculations, and we found ourselves at Oxbow Public Market.

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We were soon indulging in Hog Island Oyster Co’s succulent, fresh oysters and digging into this amazing beef cheek, egg + double cheese sandwich. I got myself ice cream and cupcakes (#thisiswhyimfat) while adults (the real ones, not Alan and me) entertained themselves with this extensive spice store for 1.5 hours – again, not an exaggeration.

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And we were off again, but not before we made another detour.

The Villa Sattui wasn’t on our original list of wineries to visit but something about its signboard attracted me to it and we soon found ourselves turning into their driveway. Absolutely no regrets – $10 for 6 tastings, which you can split anyway you want, which makes for an affordable sharing (even Driver can drink!). Loved their off-dry Riesling from 2011, while Alan loved their Angelica, a curious mix of muscat and brandy. Our wine class proved ineffectual in helping us pick what wine to drink from their extensive list, however, so Alan resorted to the other method: picking whatever was most expensive. Haha!

20130517-IMG_2358It’s also a nice place to have a picnic! Grounds are free for customers.

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Next was Beringer, comparatively more formal. Their tours were pricey for information we weren’t particularly interested in (I mean, how many ways can you keep wine in a cellar??) so we headed straight for their tastings. I think this particular winery has a confusing layout – sweet wines and chocolate tastings are located in one building, while reds are in another.

20130517-IMG_2409Dad + Alan opted for the reserve reds. I just took a lot of photos.

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Robert Mondavi was closed by the time we got there but it looks like a minimalist resort, and a place I’d check out the next time I’m there.

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Day 3: Early in the morning my Mom mentioned she’d like to see Google and Facebook (she is a technopreneur, after all).

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Thankfully, my awesome friend Annie (who also works at Google) said she’d be glad to show my family around and thus we got our own behind-the-scenes tour of the company the world wants to work for.

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We couldn’t see the offices but dayum: if only my future company could provide blackberry flavored water, free lunches and sanitary pads (or tampons, if that’s your pick) in its bathrooms.

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We also took a look at Stanford, which is a ridonkulously swanky villa-esque heck of a campus. Insanely jealous of how beautiful the buildings are.

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Alan said he might apply for a grad school program there, on the basis of how great it looks (and its reputation + intellectual rigor might help too, heh).

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Okay, gotta dash now – we’re going to board our train from Yekaterinburg to Irkutsk. It’s a 56 hour train ride but apparently Olkhon Island, where we’ll be spending most of our days, is going to be lovely… See you all soon!

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