Trace Back : Pismo Beach

Looking for a quick getaway to kill some stress and revive your spirits? Well you won’t have to go far if you live in California. Within 200 miles of bay area, there are several weekend getaway destinations that can give you just the right amount of relaxation and also hurt your pocket just a slight bit. This long weekend Agam and I visited the Pismo Beach area. We did not plan anything except for the fact that we would drive down CA-1 and stop at Pismo Beach. And so we bid on Priceline a month in advance and got ourselves a great deal at the Hilton Garden Inn at Pismo Beach.

We started from Mountain View at around 10:00am on Saturday morning and headed down CA-1. Our first checkpoint was Big Sur River Inn. A cute and comfy inn that allows you to stretch your legs and sip some mimosas as you watch little kids enjoy their easy access to a nearby shallow river. You can actually sit in the middle of the river and enjoy nature’s orchestra at leisure. The water tends to be a little cold, so be prepared for that. We enjoyed a sumptuous lunch at the Inn and drove down CA-1 south. There are a lot of vista points you can park at and enjoy the scenery. We took a few of those and enjoyed the 75 degree weather that blessed the area on Saturday.

It was close to 3:00 pm and we decided to make a short term goal to find a perfect spot to enjoy the sunset. But before that we needed another cup of coffee to rest our weary souls. And we found Sebastian’s store a little off Hwy 1. A cute little nook that served everything under the sun. We grabbed two coffees and walked to the nearby Hearst Memorial Beach. This beach was in the San Simeone area that seemed to be close to a lot of wineries and looked like a perfect little town on the central coast. You get the picture I guess … small, green, laid back, with a few churches in the vicinity and of course, right by the ocean. On this trip we basically ditched Hearst Castle and wrote it off our list as “too touristy to try”.

We then drove further to Morro Bay State Park to enjoy the sunset. We made it a few minutes before sunset and satisfied the child in us by climbing a few rocks and enjoying a cozy sunset by a quiet bay. I was surprised by how few people were in the park at that time. We got lucky 🙂

I love clicking sunsets. And sunsets are my “thing”. Just like coffee. And so I clicked to my heart’s delight. And finally I came to the conclusion that I click to capture my emotion, and not to capture a moment that I can share with others. And hence I click a lot. I click every dimension. It is my attempt to give shape and form to every feeling I experience as I am witnessing a phenomenon, a moment or a monument. And then I wondered whether people can see those feeling when they see my pictures. I secretly wished that they cannot. 

Moving on…The sun finally set, splashing vibrant colors across the sky and leaving us behind laughing and giggling at the circle of life. Tomorrow was going to be another day, another sunrise and another sunset. We resolved to catch the sunset on Sunday as well. For now we were tired and headed straight to our final destination – Hilton Garden Inn at Pismo Beach. A decent hotel in a decent neighborhood. Nope, it did not have ocean views, but you might catch a glimpse, if you stretched a little in the parking lot 🙂 We checked in and picked a Thai place in the neighborhood for a quick spicy dinner.
The food was OK. We retired for the night and started Sunday with a new and renewed spirit. We found out that there are some sand dunes nearby and ATV rides in the dunes is THE thing in Pismo Beach. And so we rushed to grab a quick bite at Lil’ Bits and drove to Oceano to rent our ATV. Angello’s had a decent inventory and we rented a two seater bike. After a small training session and a few videos we were ready to conquer the dunes. If you have been on a motorbike before, the experience is quite similar. But the thrill factor is that there are no rules, no lanes and a lot of dunes that you can ride and dash into. We started slow and then caught up. Agam was the primary driver, but I tried my hand on the beast for a little while. It is quite easy to get lost since all you see for miles and miles is SAND. 

We got back to the base and after a few attempts to clean the sand off us we drove to Monarch Butterfly Grove on CA1. It was a WOW experience to see SO many butterflies clustered around a few trees. There are so many of them that from afar they give a perception of fall leaves on the trees. We enjoyed the butterflies and then drove on to Avila beach to get some sun and some rest after the tiring ATV rides. After some sun soaking and ice cream binging we decided to head towards our next sunset destination: Montano de Oro State Park.

After a short drive through the countryside we were again by the bluffs and the ocean. This time we decided to take a short trail. The Bluff Trail is a short 2.1 mile hike to the most amazing vistas in this state park. The hike is pretty easy and offers grand views of the Pacific. Formations and vistas like I have never seen before, unfolded after every few steps. We found a nook that we picked for enjoying the sunset and after a few hops and leaps we were by the shore, waiting for the sun to dip. It was beautiful down there and we counted the seconds to the sun set. As soon as the sun dipped we took quick steps back to the trail to avoid the dark skies as we walked back to the car. A few rushed steps and we were down the hill, now planning a good dinner in downtown San Luis Obispo. 

Downtown SLO is a nothing short of Pearl Street in Boulder or B Street in San Mateo. Just a little more charming if I may add, with the creek running along it and several restaurants offering creekside dining. We picked Big Sky Cafe based on the Yelp reviews and it was very satisfying. We drove back to Pismo Beach and enjoyed a night in front of the TV. The next morning we packed our bags, grabbed a quick coffee at the hotel and drove back to Mountain View.

A short sweet and adventurous getaway – just what we needed, after a month of sickness and some rather hectic times at work.

On to more interesting things in life … like getting back to the rat race tomorrow.

Trace Back – Sonoma

Ever wondered why we travel? I cannot speak for you, but I travel to learn something new — to meet new people and have conversations with them that I can cherish forever.  I cannot have this sitting in my house, no matter how much I love it here. I travel to see the world I should be seeing, and not the one that I choose to see. I travel to capture moments of joy and splendor and pack them in my camera lens and share them with the rest of the world. I travel to forget who I am, and where I work, and imagine who I can be and what I can do. I travel to fall out of the rut of “work, home, play” and take a dip in the wonders of unplanned and untimed pleasure. 

My definition of travel is not exotic. I used to stay in Marriotts in my past life and that was only because I had the points and miles. I don’t like resorts that keep you in all day long and you don’t even step out to enjoy the local scene. I also don’t like travelling with a lot of people. I like it simple and I like it deep. I like it quiet and fulfilling, rather than rushed. There are some magical ingredients that make my travel special — serendipity is one of them. Be it finding a song that I had been looking for or finding a book that I always wanted to read.

So, last weekend, Agam and I drove to Sonoma County. The Russian River Valley area is a cute nook in this large county. As cliched as that sounds, our primary reason to step out of the house was to enjoy some fall colors.  I miss NY fall more than anything else. There is something pretty amazing about seeing a leaf fall. And you can argue that you can see it sitting in your backyard. But I would counter-argue that it is the backdrop that matters. When you are at home, there are so many things on your mind that dilute your experience. (I know I know, you have to master your mind and all that, but seriously, how many of us have done that so far?)

There is something overly romantic about fall. Something so calming. Of the 48 hours we were away, I spent a big chunk of my time romancing the fallen leaves. This weekend I reconnected with my photo-lover self. I feel that each scene is picturesque if seen from the right lens. And a good camera is just a bonus. I was not always like this. But somehow photography has helped me look at every view as a scene from a movie, crafted perfectly to bring out the best in its subjects. It does not matter what you are clicking. As long as you can appreciate the subject and let light play its games, you can turn every apple into a model and every landscape into a painting.

We left on Friday evening. US-101 was a breeze, but it got a little nasty after Sausalito. I am always appreciative of the variety of options the Bay Area offers for getaways. You can drive for an hour and get to some place perfect for a small and laid back getaway. Thank you CA. You are beautiful. We reached our cozy little B&B Inn at 8:15pm and met with our hosts. This B&B is tucked in the woods right on Hwy116 in Guerneville. Santa Nella House was a perfect place for us to park our tired souls for the weekend. The owners Bob and Betsy were very gracious hosts. They suggested some restaurants in the town nearby and we picked Boon for our friday night meal. They have a collection of tapas and main entrees. Their ingredients are fresh and locally grown. After a light meal and a quick walk in the neighborhood, we retired for the night.

The next morning I woke up early around dawn. I was curious to see the colors outside our window. Sinced we reached late in the night, we missed the daylight. Beautiful golden yellow leaves were a perfect way to start the day. Agam and I explored the property and I captured its cute little nooks to my heart’s content. The best thing about B&B’s is that you get to meet people from different places and vocations. We had some elderly couples celebrating their anniversaries, some Sonoma lovers from Boston and Austin and a young chirpy couple like us. It was a great mix and the conversations were rich and diverse.

We asked our hosts what we should do with our day and Bob gave us a perfect itinerary. We started the day with a short walk in the Amrstrong Wood State National Reserve, home to some really old and really tall redwood trees. We had a great morning walk. I got some great shots and even though there weren’t many fall colors, there was a lot of refreshing green. After our walk we drove down the Westside Road and made some stops at the wineries. Since our objective was not wine tasting, we avoided the usual suspects and reached for the ones with grand landscape views and which were tucked in a corner, away from the crowds. We stopped by Korbel Vineyards and decided against taking a tour. The tour we took at Sterling Vineyards in Napa was good enough and not that long ago, so we avoided it.

Sonoma is beautiful in fall. There is a bed of wineries on both sides of the road. Almost like a yellow blanket covering the fields, with an occasional red patch. Our first major stop was Copain Vineyards. A beautiful winery perched upon a hill with grand fields of wines unfolding below you. The view from Copain is breathtaking. They have a decent wine tasting offering and their Chardonnay was amazing and quite decently priced. We hung out in the area to sober down before we started driving down to Healdsburg. This was a perfect opportunity for me to slip away and capture some grape moments. What I love about macros is how I bond with the object. Again a cliched way to put it. But I really mean it. I try to capture it from different angles, proximity and dof. What joy it is to focus on just one thing. Just one object. Wish we could apply this to our daily lives.

After Copain, we drove to the charming town of Healdsburg. It has a pretty big downtown for its size. We were hungry and picked Costeaux French Bakery based on its reviews on Yelp. It was an awesome quaint bakery with a homely feel and it smelled of yummy butter baked goods. We thoroughly enjoyed our meal and took a stroll in downtown that was glowing with fall-struck trees.

As I window shopped at Limestone, a home store in Healdsburg, I heard a really nice song playing in the store and could not resist walking up to the cashier and asked for the song. I could have shazamed it. But I was lazy. The girl did not know about the song either and so she shazamed it for me and I finally got hold of the song. This is the serendipity I was talking about. And it only got better when I heard another song at dinner, at Chef Patrick’s in downtown Guerneville, that I fell in love with too. It was a known melody, but I liked this version more than others. This time I shazamed it and within seconds I had the song with me. We listened to it on our drive back to the B&B and marveled at the power of technology.

The next day we enjoyed Bob’s delicious french toast and then I spent some time reading Sophie’s World on the porch. It was magical to see leaves fall as I turned pages of my book. I could have lived that moment forever. It was time now to bid adieu to our hosts. Bob’s french toast recipe was a must have, and he convinced me into getting a cook book that featured recipes from the B&Bs in Sonoma area and also some from the wineries. I packed my book and we left for our days’ adventure.

Our first stop was Iron Horse Winery on Eastside Road. Another beautiful location with a sun drenched patio and gorgeous views of the valley. They also have a picnic area in the back that was right by the vines and was a perfect place for morning banter.  We further drove to the quaint town of Occidental and took a little walk. Something so charming about these small Californian towns. Our next destination was Sonoma State Beach. We took the Coleman Valley Road from Occidental all the way to Bodega Bay. It is a beautiful drive and the road attracts a lot of cycling enthusiasts, mostly professional ones.

We drove along the Bay and decided to take a stop at Spud Point Marina. Bob had recommended Chowder at Spud Point Crab Company and we were shocked to see the lines at this tiny little hole-in-the-wall place. They serve clam chowder — red and white, and crab cakes on weekends that are to die for. We savored the chowder and the crab cakes and after a small stroll along the marina, decided to head back towards Mountain View. That was our little getaway to Sonoma county. Full of yummy food, falling leaves, grape moments, just enough wine, serendipitous musical encounters and some relaxing moments spent in each other’s company.

Have  a Happy Fall!

First from the new place…

This morning I came over to our new home to spend some time with our paint contractor Choo. But the sun soaked patio was so tempting, that I stayed back, and here I am in our backyard, using Google Wi-Fi and writing my first blog post from 148 Granada Drive. It all still feels like a dream!  
Over the years I have developed many bad habits. A cup of coffee to kick start my day is my favorite one. My second favorite is to look for a good piece of writing before starting work. It should be simple, honest and preferably inconclusive. It should not be discursive or pretentious. A piece of writing that leaves some space for me to dream or explore, depending on the topic.
Most mornings I spend at least 20 minutes looking for the right piece. I have discovered some sources over the years that never disappoint me. And some I pick up from conversations with my father-in-law. And then there are days when I get up and the first thing I pick is the perfect read. It is as if the universe conspired to pick the right thing to present to me, first things this morning. And when this happens, I know the day is going to be just perfect.
Today was one of those days. A perfect read, a sumptuous breakfast, an indulgent stroll down to the farmer’s market, a quick shopping trip to buy some kitchenware and finally a few hours in my new backyard! This day has already redeemed itself for me. Whatever happens next is just a bonus!

Fun has just begun…

Today we started packing. Yup, the time has come. I am an obsessive planner, so I start early and pack room by room, so that I can unpack room by room and avoid chaos 🙂

Packing is a chore that I have come to enjoy. I have moved many times in life and I think I have finally come to appreciate the process. The key is to know that you are not simply packing objects. You are packing memories and magical moments.  We often make impulse buys, bring the object home and then forget about it. Packing reconnects you with the sequence of events that lead you to buying that object. And you relive the joy that you experienced when you bought it.

They say one should not believe in materialistic pleasures and attach emotions to inanimate objects. And I would agree. But then, one of the ways we have learnt to experience joy and satisfaction is by fulfilling desires. It is not the ONLY means of experiencing joy, but it is one of the most common means. So romancing with objects that were once your desire, by the means of packing, needs no justification.

Anyways, back to packing.  I have moved seven times in my life so far. From Delhi to Nagpur and then back to Delhi. From Delhi to Boulder and then to Chicago and then back to Denver. Then I moved from Denver to New York and finally from NY to Mountain View. Some of these experiences were memorable and some not so much. I don’t quite know how I packed for the move from Denver to NY. That is one week of my life, of which I have no recollection.  I was traveling for a project to Amsterdam those days. I think I came back on May 5th, packed and shipped some boxes to NY. Attended my graduation on May 11th in Boulder and flew to NY on May 12th. Phew! It was all made possible because of Nirali, my super roommate.

When I moved from NY to Mountain View, the situation was more relaxed. But that has been my most favorite moving experience so far.  I accurately remember the sequence of events. After living with Agam for two years, I was going to move by myself to a new place, and live alone for a few months (that ended up being a year), until Agam would join me in California. We had amassed a LOT of stuff in NY. We had built a home from scratch, and now it was time to split it into two. I obviously did not want to pay shipping, so I decided to let go of the furniture and heavier items. Since Agam was going to move to a studio, I could not have left much stuff behind either. So we spent nights and nights packing, reliving bitter-sweet memories and drinking several cups of coffee at wee hours of the morning. Agam helped me take some boxes to the post office and some I managed by myself. It was NY! We did not have a car and the post office was four blocks away. It was a challenge to drag the little dolly with boxes on it, in the NY spring chill, to the post office. It was fun! That is all I can say.

And of course, when the last set of boxes was shipped, we went to eat at our favorite Thai restaurant on Austin Street in Forest Hills. And that is where, just after the meal was over and the clock struck 4:00pm, we decided to buy our rings. The last minute dash to Tiffany, which was going to close at 5:00pm, is deeply imprinted in my mind. Of course we did not exchange the rings that day. This was just in case, we decided to marry each other we should have the right sized ring with us for THAT moment.

The next time, I experienced something similar to the Denver-NY moving experience was when Agam moved to Mountain View in spring of 2009. He came in on a Friday morning. We discussed that the 1- bedroom that I was living in would not be enough for the STUFF we both had. And so we walked to the leasing office, to ask if they had something available. They showed us the apartment at noon; we signed the lease at 3:00pm and got the keys sometime before 5:00pm. And so we had JUST the weekend to move. Since I was to go to LA for work on Monday, we had to RUSH through the whole process. The good thing was we were only moving from Apt 87 to Apt 66. But the bad thing was, we were not at all prepared. We pretty much used Ikea bags to carry utensils, clothes, and other STUFF from one place to another. We moved until wee hours of the morning and then the movers came in early morning on Saturday to move our furniture. So we packed and moved ALL we had in less than 24 hours. It was FUN!

And now that we are moving to our nest there are a lot of decisions to make. What to throw, what to take. It is not easy to let go of things you have amassed over the years. But I am seeing it as a fresh start. I don’t want to crowd the nest. So I have decided to be a minimalist. 

Given that we have a month to pack, I think it will be fun to see the walls become barren and the corners lose their charm, as we wrap up all memories and magical moments in big brown boxes. The house is already quite a mess. There are piles of DVDs that need to be given to Goodwill in one corner. I packed the frames today. They need special care. The books have begun to disappear from the shelves too.  This is my opportunity to lighten the load of STUFF we have accumulated over the years, and cherry pick the memories, we want to take along.

The countdown has begun, 34 days to go before the movers come to the door step.

Empathy Craze

On our way to Tahoe, we took a little detour to pick up some friends from San Francisco. We were pretty delayed already and a really bad traffic jam made things worse for us. The reason for traffic was the 2011 San Francisco Walk to End Alzheimer’s that was going on at Embarcadero.

I understand and believe in charity and donations, but I don’t understand the purpose or rather the objective of these walks. When I blurted out my ignorance, I was told that these walks create awareness about the cause. The media captures these events and then people donate. Ok I will buy the part about causing awareness – but there are other ways of doing it, social media being one of them. Moreover, a peace walk that results traffic jams does not sound like a peace walk to me. I’m not sure what purpose is solved by walking a few miles wearing banners and t-shirts advertising the cause.  I can see that there is intent, but to organize events that are not action oriented is channeling the intent in the wrong direction. It is like taking a short cut.

To add to the fire, David Brooks in his weekly article wrote about “Empathy Craze”. And I was sitting here nodding and affirming every line he wrote. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against charity. I am against hollow demonstrations. I am a proud daughter of a man who gave blood umpteen times in his life. He organized more health camps for the needy than I will even hear of in my life time. He cared for the cause and he supported it with action. And that’s what I was raised to believe in.

You want to support Alzheimer’s. Bravo!! Reach out to the families of the patients and tell them, that you will take care of the patient once a week, or twice a month, while they can go have a life. Now that’s action. Raise this awareness in the medical community so that someone decides to invest in research for a cure for this disease. Walking on a street in San Francisco, on a glorious day with banners and slogans, while the traffic stops to watch you and media gives you all their attention – that’s not action. All you did was GET UP that morning.  And may be for this generation that is enough, in which case I am a part of this generation and I am ashamed.

I am complaining not because they caused that traffic jam. I am complaining because they were  all talk and no action. I cannot describe it as well as David does – These days empathy has become a shortcut. It has become a way to experience delicious moral emotions without confronting the weaknesses in our nature that prevent us from actually acting upon them”.

…..About this month — it used to be my favorite. Not anymore. It doesn’t matter that all the festivals I care about happen to fall in this month. It doesn’t matter that my niece and my Mom have their birthdays lined up this month. It also doesn’t matter that I got married (for the second time) this month. This month is when I lost my father. For me he was with us just yesterday, and today he is no more. So whoever said time is the greatest healer, you were wrong — because this wound is as raw as it was a year ago.