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Sunday 30/06/2002 12:17
This is my second visit to California.
About eight years ago I got a chance to attend an American style technology conference in the heart of that techno-paradise, Silicon Valley. I spent a week amongst 4000 of the most fanatical of all geeks - Mac Geeks at the Apple World-Wide Developer's Conference in San Jose. I had a ball. This was age of excess for the computer industry and no expense was spared.
The conference was held in a massive convention centre with keynote speeches featured on forty foot high screens so that all the delegates could get a glimpse of the latest revelation from Apple. Every evening, a different software or hardware company hosted a late night drinking session in one of the local sports bars, complete with video games, dancing girls and free t-shirts (geeks remember!).
But things are not looking quite so rosy for computer companies these days. Or perhaps, things are looking more realistic these days. Lots of companies are shedding jobs in expectation of leaner years; the dancing girls are gone and the drinks are no longer free.
California itself is still booming though and shows no signs of slowing. A documentary I watched last night predicted that California's population would hit 60 million within the next 20 years - about three times that of Australia, in an area twenty times smaller.
Some people (Californians) say California is a different country anyway. When you cross the border you leave the United States and enter somewhere a little bit more indivudal, a bit more easy going, a bit more likable. Of course they say that in New York too, and Chicago, and Seattle...
One of the reasons I like California, and San Francisco in particular, is that it reminds me of Australia. San Francisco has a lot in common with Sydney. They are both built around a harbour, they both feature bridges as centrepieces of the cities and they both sport year round outdoor lifestyles.
On this visit I took the time to enjoy the outdoors in 'Frisco and took a ride across the Golden Gate bridge, still one of my all time favourite landmarks. My friend and I hired a couple of bikes in the Marina district and rode along the harbour and up into Golden Gate park. From there we turned right across the massive red-iron bridge towards Sausalito. From the top of the bridge you can stare straight down at tiny yachts below, battling the fierce tides that rush through the Golden Gate.
On the other side of the bridge lies Sausalito and affluent Marin County. Sausalito seems like a nice, laid back kind of small American town and it's only the real estate prices that tell you you're just minutes from downtown San Francisco. From Sausalito we cycled another 8 miles (12km) to Tiburon on the tip of the peninsula facing the city and caught the ferry back to Fisherman's wharf.
The next day we had one of those moments of serendipity that makes travelling so nice.We managed to time our visit to coincide with the annual Gay Pride parade. Kin to the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, this celebration in support of homosexuality commandeers the city streets for most of a day. The floats were fun, the outfits were spectacular and the mood definitely carnivale.
That night we dined in Cityscape, atop the heights of the San Francisco Hilton. From there the views are panoramic and one giant window faces the Bay and the Golden Gate bridge, while another looks out over the city to the Oakland side. We stayed long enough to watch the sun sink down behind the bridge and then headed off in search of dinner.
For the final weekend in San Francisco we took a trip to the Sonoma valley, the smaller cousin to the more well known Napa.
Since the weather was nice I hired a convertible for the tour. Thinking it would be a pleasant way to wend our way through wine country I accepted the proffered Ford Mustang with pleasure. How wrong I was. The Mustang renewed my distaste for all American cars with a vengance. It was the single most miserable excuse for a car I've had to drive in a long time! The original probably would have been a different story but the 2001 model weighs nearly two and half tonnes and drives like a Volkswagen bus. On the twisty roads around the Napa it like a wrestling match.
On the personal recommendation of a friend we went up to the Benziger winery in the north and did some tasting followed by a very well presented tour of the premises. A picnic lunch in a local park completed the day and we headed back to the city.
Sadly this time I didn't have time to wander through Golden Gate Park or take photo's from the top of Quoit tower but even after eight years the place seem strangely welcoming, as though it remembered me from before.
I wonder if it will remember me again in eight years