A spring-break trip to California

This year, I spent spring break in California, mostly looking around
the Bay Area and SF, and I thought it was worth blogging about.

People

I was joined by my classmates from undergrad — N G Srinivas
(Princeton), Sathish Thiyagarajan (Columbia), Kishore Jaganathan
(Caltech) and briefly by S V Vikram (UC Davis). Also met Purnateja
Ghat (San Jose state) on my way back.

I also met species endemic to Stanford — Vimal Jeyakumar, Ananth
Raghunathan, H K Raghunandan, M N Chinmoy Venkatesh, Mohd. Saad,
Shashank, and Vibhav.

Summary

Here’s what we did over the past one week:

  • Day 1: Arrival at Stanford, Tour around Campus,
    Ike’s Sandwich, Planning, Relaxing.
  • Day 2: San Francisco — Pier 14, Pier 39,
    Fisherman’s Wharf, Golden Gate Bridge, Ghirardeli square, Hyde and
    Lombard Streets, Historic F-line tram.
  • Day 3: Komala Vilas (S. Indian lunch),
    Googleplex, Shoreline at Mountain View park, Hotel Saravana Bhavan
    (S. Indian dinner)
  • Day 4: Computer History Museum, Carribean dinner
    at Palo Alto.

  • Day 5: Twin Peaks, Dosa (S. Indian lunch), Scenic
    drive on the Pacific Highway (CA1) to Santa Cruz, Coldstone Ice Cream.

  • Day 6: Meetup with S V Vikram, Komala Vilas
    lunch, Meetup with Purnateja Ghat, Flight to Austin

Gory detail follows, each attraction roughly organized into one
paragraph, so that this can help anyone doing a trip to the Bay Area.

Note: The alternate text (“tooltips”) on the images act as captions, so hover on the image to see captions.

Day 1 — Arrival at Stanford

I was killing time all through Monday, so when Kumar came to drop me
off at the airport, I hadn’t slept. A night of careful preparation
ensured that I took everything I’d need.

Arriving at San Jose, I took a bus to get to Vimal’s place on the
Stanford University campus. After a brief discussion about TCP, Vimal
took me around the Stanford campus for a short walk, aiming to reach a
sandwich place called Ike’s. They make AWESOME, albeit slightly
expensive, sandwiches and anyone who visits Stanford must once eat
their sandwiches. It is clear from the long queues, that they are
really popular. Chinmoy Venkatesh soon arrived and we together went to
pick up Sathish Thiyagarajan and N G Srinivas (whom we often call
“NG”) from the Palo Alto Caltrain station. Nothing much ensued after
that, except some relaxation, looking around Stanford for a bit more,
clicking pictures and the like.

Sathish and NG arrive at Palo Alto Caltrain Station

Stanford University

Day 2 — San Francisco

The next day started with a trip to San Francisco. Sathish went
ahead of us to meet his classmate in SF, while NG and I met Kishore at
Millbrae and then embarked to the Embarcadaro BART station. After
getting off on Market street, we walked to The Embarcadaro. The first
thing that caught our sight was the Bay Bridge, and Pier 14. We walked
along Pier 14 to click a few pictures with the Bay Bridge and then
walked along the Embarcadaro towards Pier 39, passing along various
piers.

The Bay Bridge, as viewed from Pier 14

At pier 39, we made our usual touristy purchase of a San Francisco
T-Shirt, and looked at the sea lions. We continued walking along the
bay, to Fisherman’s Wharf. Since we didn’t want to spend too much time
there, we didn’t take the world-war submarine (USS Pampanito) tour. I intend to do
that when I get the next opportunity.

Sea Lions at Pier 39

USS Jeremiah O'Brien -- a ship that sank several German U-Boats during the World War II

We then joined Carlos and Sathish to get a view of the Golden Gate
Bridge. A bit of walking along the Golden Gate and a lots of pictures,
panoramas etc ensued. All those pictures are here. After
being satisfied with the view of the Golden Gate, we headed for lunch
at an Italian restaurant, which Carlos dropped us off at.

The Golden Gate Bridge

I loved this picture -- Kishore in front of the Golden Gate Bridge

After some good Gnochii, we were on our way to the Ghirardelli square,
which presumably was the location of Ghirardelli’s first
chocolate-making “factory”. In there was a small exhibit of fresh
chocolate being made. I had a Coffee ice-cream and trust me, it was
very hard to finish although it looked small. The chocolate was just
awesome.

Ghirardelli Square

After a short walk, we reached Hyde street just before twilight was
fading, got a view of the Golden Gate bridge from Hyde Street, and
walked to the top of Lombard Street. Walking down Lombard Street was
very nice. We then took the historic tram ride along the F-line, back
to the Embarcadaro BART on Market and got back to Stanford.

Historic F-line tram, built 1948

Day 3 — Indian Food, Googleplex, and the Shoreline at Mountain
View

Day 3 began with South Indian traditional lunch at Komala Vilas,
Sunnyvale — something that is not available in Austin. The lunch that
day at Komala Vilas was awesome! We had “Vendakkai Morkuzhambu” (Okra curry
in a sour-yoghurt gravy with spices), “Keerai Koottu” (Gravy made out
of Spinach), Beetroot and Peas “Poriyal” (Fried curry with sauted Beet
and Peas), and Rasam (Tomato-based soup, usually mixed with rice and
eaten), followed by a Madras Filter Coffee. In the background, songs
from old Tamizh movies played. Suddenly, I felt transported back home.

Komala Vilas

We then left for Googleplex, Google’s campus between Charleston and
Amphitheatre Pkwy, in Mountain View. I’d written to Carol Smith from
the Open Source Programs Office, who directed me to Ellen Ko. These,
as is familiar to some of you, are the people that manage the GSoC
programme. Ellen was kind enough to take time off her schedule to show
us around the campus and get us some OSPO / GSoC Swag! We also got to
briefly look at the Open Source Programs Office. Thanks, Ellen, for
hosting us and taking time off your schedule for us! After exiting the
OSPO, we went back to the Android Park or whatever-it’s-called to get
some “canonical” snaps in front of the Android, the
Cupcake, the Donut, the Eclair, the Froyo, the Gingerbread, and the
Honeycomb
.

Photographs with the Android

OSPO SWAG in a nice OSPO bag! Thank you Ellen!

Android versions

We then walked across to the “Shoreline at Mountain View” Park. The
park was very nice, with views of the bay. The bright sunny day that
was Thursday made the park present to us its full beauty. The park is
beautiful and was certainly worth the long walk that we took to reach
it.
Bay Trail! Shoreline at Mountain View Park
Shoreline at Mountain View Park

After the Shoreline Park, it was time for dinner. We went to Hotel
Saravana Bhavan. Having gotten quality South Indian snacks and food
after a long time, the dinner seemed heavenly! I sampled a variety of
dishes, including the Sambar Vada, Ghee Idly, Rava Kichadi, Masala
Dosa, Poori, Onion Uthappam, Gulab Jamun and Filter Coffee. I would
not recommend the Gulab Jamun. The Dosa was the Tamil Nadu style,
which does not appeal to me. The Dosa at Dosa, San Francisco was, IMO,
far far better in quality. We returned to Stanford after
dinner. Getting to Saravana Bhavan involved long walks, but it was
totally worth it.
Hotel Saravana Bhavan, Sunnyvale, CA

Day 4 — Computer History Museum, Carribean dinner

Day 4 was bad planning, bad execution. While NG, Chinmoy and Kishore
went to an Indian food place called Vaigai in Sunnyvale, Sathish and I
went to the Computer History Museum. We were later joined by the
others, just before the museum closed.

Even the 1.5 hours I had in the museum was by far insufficient to
explore and enjoy the museum completely. The museum is a must-visit
for any computer geek, and I really regret that I could not fully see
it. In fact, I missed their prime exhibits — A real, working PDP-1
and a working Difference Engine 2 rebuilt from Charles Babbage’s
original design. They in fact do demos on weekends. Their website, I
must say, is very poor on demo information. More information would
have probably helped us plan better. I must revisit this museum
whenever I get the opportunity to do so.
A road in rainy Sunnyvale, through which we ran to get to the Computer History Museum

However, let me stop ranting and talk about what I saw. They had
exhibits of slide rules, old calculators, punch card sorters and
processors, replica of the first IBM punch-card machine designed for a
census, exhibits on the history of IBM, displays of old
electromechanical machines to integrate differential equations,
displays of various op-amps including a two-valve package, exhibits of
old computers, Cray-1 and Cray-2 supercomputers, PDP-11, etc. I didn’t
have a lot of time to go through all that stuff.
A differential analyzer. This electromechanical computer integrates differential equations. The independent variables' initial values are set by what seem to be variacs, like the one seen on the right edge of the photo! Pretty cool, huh?
An Enigma Machine, which the Germans used to send encrypted messages by Morse code during the world war
A DEC PDP-11

The museum is certainly a visit. I’d recommend that you keep 4 ~ 5
hours to look around the museum. This entails that you should arrive
at the museum at least as early as 12 noon ~ 1 PM, since the museum
closes at 5 PM.
A Cray-1 Supercomputer

On Sunday, they had a demo of the Difference Engine 2.0 at 1 PM (This
information, for instance, could not be located on their website. One
was required to call the front-desk in the morning to figure out.),
but both me and my friends missed that, since we purposefully laid
more emphasis on spending time with S V Vikram in our planning.

We had dinner at a Carribean food place in Palo Alto. We met Vibhav
over dinner. This was the first time I had Carribean food, and it was
a new experience.

Day 5 — Twin Peaks, Dosa, the Pacific Highway, Santa Cruz, and
Coldstone ice cream

On Day 5, Ananth was free and Vimal decided to take a day off from
work. So Ananth booked a Zipcar and NG, Vimal, Sathish, and I joined
him on a long drive. First, we went to Twin Peaks. When we arrived, it
was all foggy, but soon, the fog cleared and we were able to get a
beautiful view of San Francisco downtown, the Bay bridge and the bay
beyond the bay bridge (To the South, I think). Sathish, NG and I
walked down a rather steep pathway to get better photographs. The
Market street, and LGBT colors at The Castro in San Francisco were
clearly visible. Market Street looked very nice, leading to the
downtown. The Golden Gate bridge was mostly obscured by fog. (Photos
here.)
An unintentional stretch on the Pacific Highway (California-1) as we
drove to Twin Peaks already gave us a glimpse of the natural beauty
that it had to offer! As Sathish put it, we had a “Roadrash
moment”. (More later.)

Downtown San Francisco. On the right, you can see the Bay Bridge. The conspicuous street right through the center is Market Street

After enjoying the views from the Twin Peaks, we headed to have
Dosa (South Indian crépe) at this place that was aptly titled Dosa in
SF. I got the Habanero-Mango Masala Dosa, owing to its closeness to
the Mysore Masala Dosa, which turned out to be a regrettable
decision. Heed their warning — it is EXTREMELY spicy — even for a
true Indian — possibly even for someone from Andhra Pradesh! Maybe
it’s the spicier than what a Mexican can handle too. Although that
Dosa was extremely tasty and delicious, it was equally spicy and I
regret having eaten it, for my stomach was terribly worried by the
large gulps of water I had to take between bites of Dosa. Their Onion
Rava Dosa was authentic, indeed. If only the Habanero Dosa was less
spicy (maybe they can custom-make it?) it would have been one of the
most satisfying, excellent Dosas I’d have ever eaten; much better than
(what was, in comparison,) the parody that Saravana Bhavan could
produce.

Remember that old game of the 1990s, from a then-young Electronic
Arts, called Road Rash? Almost everyone I know from my generation has
played it at some point of time — including a non-gamer like me. I
remember that Pacific Highway was the most beautiful of the routes in
that game. As we witnessed shortly later, photographs, let alone the
game’s graphics, can hardly capture the scenic land / seascapes of
that highway!

Images don't do justice to the beauty of the Pacific Highway

We drove on CA-1 from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. Unfortunately a
section of the highway providing access to the beautiful “Big Sur”
section of the highway had collapsed. We were also unaware that one
could still access it, albeit with difficulty, from the Southern side
— that might have changed our decision to see the SF-Santa Cruz
stretch instead.

Nevertheless, the SF to Santa Cruz stretch was enough to make this
the best part of our trip. That highway is not ranked as the most
scenic in the U.S. for no reason. Indeed, in future, after we obtain
our drivers’ licenses, we all (NG, Sat, me) decided that we should
definitely drive on this highway.

As we started off south from SF, there was the undulating road with
the beautiful Pacific ocean on our right. In no time, the highway
quickly transported us from a coastal view to one of a hill road
through a forest, and then again, presented a view with bare mountain
on one side and a beach on the other.

We got off at an anonymous beach and explored the beauty of the
place. The Pacific was desperate to drench our shoes and feet, or from
a more optimistic perspective, give us a royal welcome by washing our
feet (as is done, at least in India). More photography ensued. After a
while, we embarked further on our journey. Now, the Pacific Highway
took the form of something more like a Texan highway in spring — flat
land and green pastures on either side. Very soon, the highway morphed
into undulating green terrain on the left and the blue Pacific ocean
on the right.

The anonymous beach on CA-1, just before Half Moon bay, IIRC

Another view of the pristine beach!

Soon, we arrived at a beautiful bay — some tall-ish rocks on one
side, a steep precipice on the other, with an interesting shape that
seemed to have been a result of erosion and land-slides. And down
there, was the blue pacific, with waves sprawling on the beach below
the bay. I certainly failed in my attempt to capture this beauty
through my lenses. That’s something that cannot be seen in photos, but
needs to be experienced in 3D, along with the strong wind. It could
have been a little sunnier and warmer, though.

The bay, whose beauty I hardly succeeded in capturing.

That was followed by more scenic valleys, undulating terrain, and
views of the ocean. I haven’t seen a terrain that so smoothly morphs
from one kind to the other. You’ve traversed all sorts of landforms —
beaches, valleys, hills, plains, woods — as you traverse the
highway.

Another scenic bay

Following our drive through the Pacific Highway, we reached Santa
Cruz. We grabbed a bit to eat and drink. We abandoned the boardwalk
since it was a bit too cold to do that. Ananth and I had nearly no
protection, and we’d anyway seen enough of the sea. NG decided to go
and have a look for a brief while. The rest of us stayed indoors.

We drove back on another scenic highway (17) to Sunnyvale, but
since I was feeling sick, I chose to sleep. After some shopping at
Sunnyvale, we headed back to Stanford. While I stayed back at Vimal’s
and Ananth’s place, they headed to pick up some fresh icecream from
Coldstone. That Coffee ice cream was heavenly, and I downed a lot of
it till my throat became a bit unhappy and I’d had too much.

Whoa! That was an awesome day! Would have been even more awesome if
I hadn’t been sick after eating at Santa Cruz.

Day 6 — Meeting more people and return to Austin

After sitting up late into the night and trying to figure out an ideal
meeting time and plan for the next day, I concluded that it was best
to abandon plans of revisiting the Computer History Museum with S V
Vikram, and instead have lunch at Komala Vilas together.

NG, Vikram and Sathish and I arrived almost simultaneously at El
Camino and Poplar Ave, and marched off to Komala Vilas after
exchanging excited greetings! The food at Komala Vilas was
significantly substandard today. The gourd curry and the Koottu
(gravy) were not at all upto my expectations. The Potato Poriyal
(fried curry) was pretty good, though. NG and I had some good coffee
after that.

I didn’t have enough time to visit the Computer History Museum. I
decided to instead head toward San Jose Airport. After joining SVV, NG
and Sathish on the bus #22 back to San Antonio Shopping Center and
buying some food at Walmart, I waited till the others got onto bus #40
to Mountain View to see the Computer History Museum and show Vikram
the Googleplex.

Then I called Purnateja, whom I’ve known for many years, and asked
if we could meet at Sunnyvale as I passed through El Camino towards
Santa Clara transit center. I also sent Sujith Haridasan (KDE
contributor working on Plasma) a message, but he was too busy to make
it to a brief meetup at Santa Clara. Meeting Purnateja after several
years was exciting. We barely had time to grab a coffee and I had to
headback to get onto my return flight on time.

I arrived at the airport well in time for my flight, and after some
general banter on the phone with Kumar, boarded the aircraft. It was
nice to see a lot of Burnt Orange (that’s the UT Austin / Longhorns
color) around the pre-boarding area again after quite some while! As I
type this, I’m on the flight. My Thinkpad is clocking excellent
battery life after I shut off networking, bluetooth and put it on
Agressive powersave mode. Typing this blogpost is pretty much what
I’ve been doing all through the flight so far. I’m looking forward to
meeting Kumar at the Austin airport and get back to my home away from
home.

Yes, I’d like to drive around California again!!

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