In late June I had to get myself to Palo Alto, CA, in order to attend a week-long workshop at Stanford University. A new, revolutionary, research technology was recently invented there so Stanford offered a training course for those that wish to learn how to use it. The obvious dilemma for me was how to get there. Of the 3 major airports in the area, SJC is the one closest to Palo Alto, but I could not find any good flights out of ORD that would get me there early enough on the first day of training (I had to be at Stanford by 11am). OAK did not offer any exciting options out of Chicago so I had to go with SFO. That would have given me a perfect excuse to fly with Virgin America. However, none of their flights arrived early enough at SFO so that plan had to also be abandoned. Eventually, and after a bit of a search, I settled with the following itinerary: I would fly from ORD to SFO with UA and then, for the return, I would fly out of SJC to ORD via PHX with US. That would give me the chance to sample 3 new airports (SFO, SJC and PHX) and also get me some miles for my MileagePlus account. The only downside was having to fly with UA (not my top choice) but I guess I could handle that. Also, I had only flown once with US in the past (BOS-PIT in 2008) so now I could add a few more segments to my log on this particular carrier.
So here's a map of the entire trip as generated by www.gcmap.com.
Blue represents flights with UA and red represents flights with US
As I mentioned earlier I had to be in Palo Alto as early as possible so inevitably I had chosen a brutally early flight out of Chicago. A cab picked me up from my house and half an hour later I was at ORD. Whenever possible I like to travel with just one carry-on bag and this time was no exception. However, given the chilly weather in the Bay Area this time of year (temperatures were expected to be in the mid-50s (10C) as opposed to the 105 (40C) we had in Chicago during that week) I had packed some warm clothing making my bag somewhat heavy. Who would have though that California could be so cold in the summer?
I had completed OLCI the day before so once I got dropped off I headed straight to security. Once there I noticed an unrealistically long line extending to (and snaking around) the check-in counters. Apparently it was so early that security hadn't even opened yet. I found that odd. If there are enough people here ready to fly you would think that security would be open. Even after security opened, there was only a single person checking the passengers' IDs thus making the progress very slow. Eventually, after I got done I headed for the gate where our A320 was already waiting.
The A320 waiting at the gate
I was in boarding group 7 so I had to wait for pretty much the entire flight to board before I could make my way to the jetway. I was warmly greeted by the very friendly attendants, which caught me by surprise; you don't see this very often these days. Somewhat surprisingly once I got to my seat (35A) I saw nobody else in my row. Nonetheless there was not a sliver of overhead space available so I had to place my bag in the seat in front of me which reduced considerably the already very limited legroom. For a moment I thought I may have the entire row to myself but just before the door closed a couple of young girls showed up and sat next to me. One of them would prove to be quite a peculiar seatmate.
I'm glad I took this photo when I did. A moment later my seatmate showed up wearing possibly the shortest mini skirt ever made (I'm not sure if you could even call it a skirt; it was more like a thick belt). I wouldn't want her to think I was trying to take a photo of her legs...
We pushed back on time and took off to the east before turning around to face west. Having skipped breakfast I was quite happy to see the drink service starting almost immediately after we reached cruising altitude. Too bad I had to wait for 34 rows to be served before it was my turn. I opted for some water and also purchased a ham-and-cheese sandwich from the (again) very friendly and polite flight attendant. The sandwich was a bit dry but it satisfied my hanger just fine.
Sunrise over ORD
Getting ready for take-off
The sun peeking over lake Michigan
Does anyone know why this posture is so popular with people from the indian subcontinent? They are the only ones I've seen doing it. To be honest I find it quite annoying having someone's hands in my face, especially if they have also fully reclined their seat. At least in this case it wasn't the guy sitting directly in front of me.
I wasn't feeling all that sleepy so I chose to read on my kindle as the movie shown on the overhead monitors was not my cup of tea. However my seatmate (who had fallen asleep almost immediately after take-off) started progressively to treat me as her pillow. The one moment she was resting on my shoulder, the next she would literally use my table as a pillow (see photo below) and on a couple of occasions she almost leaned on my lap. Despite my attempts to make her aware of this she did not wake up for even a single second; I would push her gently away and she would just raise her head only to lean towards me again after 10 seconds. Fortunately after a while the skies cleared and I was given the opportunity to be distracted by the beautiful landscape of the Rockies. A second drink run followed.
What is this hairy thing on my table?
Finally some mountains
A very impressive ridge. The Comb Ridge perhaps?
Tonopah Test Range Airport (TTR) in Nevada
The skies remained clear up until we reached the Bay Area where a thick wall of clouds was waiting for us. As we descended through the overcast sky I managed a glimpse of Palo Alto which was visible through a tiny opening in the clouds. We landed on 28R about 15 minutes early but had to wait around 10 mins for our gate to become available, thus negating the early arrival.
Coyote Point Marina
This is the complete route of this particular flight, courtesy of flightaware.com
Some old school United paint scheme at SFO
Once off the plane I wasted no time and headed for the SkyTrain which would take me to the SFO BART train station. So, if one arrives at SFO on a weekday before 7pm and wants to use public transportation to get to Palo Alto (or anywhere in the Silicon Valley), one needs to do the following: 1) Take the SkyTrain to the SFO BART station. 2) Buy a ticket and ride BART north one stop to San Bruno Station. 3) At San Bruno take another BART train and head south one stop to Millbrae. 4) At Millbrae buy a Caltrain ticket and take a train heading for San Jose. All of this despite the fact that the Millbrae Station is just 1 mile away from SFO. Surely not the most efficient of configurations. There used to be a free shuttle bus between SFO and Millbrae but that's not the case anymore.
Taking the SkyTrain
A final look at SFO
BART train at SFO
Caltrain at Millbrae. Those bad boys were huge.
Palo Alto. This is were I get off...
Finally making it to my hotel...
A quick bite at Chipotle (Mexican Grill) to reward myself for making it there...
My time at Stanford was very productive and educational. The campus is beautiful and well-kept and the absence of students at this time of year made it very tranquil. The city of Palo Alto (which means "Tall Stick" in Spanish, referring to the redwood tree after which the city was named) is also very pleasant. I stayed at the Travelodge Palo Alto, one of the few reasonably priced hotels in the area (Palo Alto is generally fairly expensive). The hotel was a bit sketchy, the rooms looked pretty old, they were not terribly well maintained and the reception was staffed by ex-cons, but it was clean, it offered free breakfast, free wi-fi and was located close enough to the building where my training was taking place.
Here are some photos from Palo Alto and the Stanford campus:
Some modern architecture
Some other pretty buildings/sights:
A steller's jay. I'm particularly proud of this photo as this devil would not stay still for a second. I'm convinced it was on speed.
A ground squirrel taking a break from digging holes on the ground
On one of my days off I got the chance to head out to San Francisco. I was very excited about visiting Alcatraz and had bought my tickets online several weeks in advance as they tend to sell out pretty fast. I took the Caltrain from Palo Alto and headed north. On the way it became apparent to me that the early explorers of this part of the country had no imagination when it came to naming places: San Martin, Santa Teresa, San Jose, Santa Clara, San Antonio, San Carlos, San Mateo, San Bruno, and of course San Francisco. After about 40 mins, I got off at the Caltrain terminal stop located next to the San Francisco Giants baseball stadium. From there I walked along the waterfront and enjoyed the views.
Getting ready to head out to SanFran
The Bay Bridge
Stupid crane ruining my photo...
Modern buildings on the waterfront
Gothic space aviation art
The ferry terminal tower
The Transamerica Pyramid
I triple checked that no trains were coming in my general direction before shooting this photo
Yes, we are in San Francisco indeed...
Chicago has the Cloud Gate, SanFran has the Skygate
The Bay Bridge from afar
I walked all the way from the Caltrain terminal station to Pier 33 where the Alcatraz boat anchors. I joined the long boarding line and found myself a seat on the upper deck of the jam-packed vessel. The ride takes no more than 10 minutes. We anchored at the tiny harbor of the island and then we were allowed to roam freely. Once in the cell house we were provided with audio guides that guided us through the various prison areas, offering a lot of historical and other information. All in all a very interesting and eerie experience. I thought the audio guide was very well made. We got to see the different types of cells, the isolation units, we learned about the various escape attempts (the most famous being the one depicted in the movie "Escape from Alcatraz") and about the various revolts. At the prison's book/gift store there was a little desk where an old man and his wife were sitting talking to the guests. Apparently his name was Robert Luke and he is former Alcatraz inmate. He recently published a book about his life and his time on the Rock. On the island there was also a large number of seabirds who use Alcatraz as their nesting/breeding grounds. As a result the smell was a bit overwhelming at times.
My ride to The Rock
Our next stop. Alcatraz Island.
San Francisco from the boat
The famous welcoming sign
And here a bunch of photos from the Rock:
Unfortunately due to the dense fog over the bay the Golden Gate Bridge was not visible (not even a freaking pillar... very frustrating) so no photos of San Francisco's most iconic symbol. Bugger.
The Golden Gate Bridge in all its foggy glory
Leaving Alcatraz behind
Returning to town