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San Francisco: There and Back Again

Sun setting over Ocean Beach.

For the final leg of my North American tour I transcended the west coast on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight. Getting to San Francisco wouldn’t be much fun, boarding a coach in Vancouver at a ridiculous hour in the morning and dealing with an offensive US border guard before arriving at a closed King Street station in Seattle sounding its fire alarm. Only once I’d boarded the train could I sit back and relax. Upon leaving Seattle, a low lying sun bathed the carriage with the soft morning light. Bliss.

Food, glorious food

Arriving in San Francisco 22 hours later, I headed straight to the Ferry Building, where I grabbed a coffee from Blue Bottle and a breakfast roll from a stall whose name I’ve forgotten. There was just enough time for a brief stroll along Market Street before I headed to Potrero Hill for lunch with David at Plow. Now working at Nest, I briefly got to play with one of their intelligent thermostats, unveiled to the world just days earlier.

Shortly after returning to my hotel, I was back out again, this time to Palo Alto to have dinner with Steve at Gravity. I’ve always admired his perspective on situations, and this time he imparted some valuable advice worth paraphrasing here for future reference:

Assume success. The problem with you Brits is that you are such Debbie Downers; you always think you know the outcome and that it’s unlikely to be what you hoped for. Truth is you won’t know unless you try.

See also: Stay hungry, stay foolish. We talked a lot about the other Steve.

The gluttony of food (and friends) continued the next day, as I joined Tom for brunch at Universal Cafe. Yet the main event would be the wedding of Dan and Liz. They were getting married in Haas-Lilienthal, a beautiful victorian house that survived the 1906 earthquake and fire. A small intimate affair, I was offered yet more wonderful food, which I enjoyed in the company of David and Athena.

Scenes from San Francisco: The Raygun Gothic Rocket, a Blue Bottle coffee and the Shell Building from Market Street.

My last day in San Francisco was also the last of this trip. With my flight departing later that evening, I spent the afternoon on Ocean Beach, where gusty winds were proving useful to those flying their kites. I headed up to the Cliff House, visiting the camera obscura before enjoying some clam chowder and miserable waitressing in the bistro. With time being called on my holiday, I headed back to the Muni stop, leaving enough time to watch the sun set over the sand dunes. A fitting end to a fantastic trip.


In March I wondered if I could ever call San Francisco home again. Yet as I enjoyed these two short days in the company of old friends, witnessing their positivity and optimism, I left questioning the validity of my earlier position. Maybe I did leave a little part of my heart in San Francisco, after all.

Vibrant Vancouver

Sat in the front seat of another float plane, I enjoyed a breathtaking view of Vancouver as I descended into its harbour. For such a densely populated city, I felt I’d arrived somewhere small and friendly.

Across the Salish Sea

After eight days exploring North America, it was time to visit some of its more westerly extremities. Flying out from Toronto, my first stop was Saltspring Island, via Vancouver Airport and a float plane.

A Taste of Toronto

Some cities are best arrived at by air; only by flying over Sydney, London or New York do you get a sense of their scale and majesty. San Francisco is best approached by car, with some of the best views of that city seen as you cross the Bay Bridge. Others are best suited to arrival by train. Toronto is one such city.

Onwards to Ottawa

After four days in Washington, it was on to another North American capital, Ottawa. I encountered a city that was cold yet plentiful in ATMs that would refuse to accept my debit card.

Back in the District

My North American adventure started in Washington DC; ostensibly so I could attend an edition of this year’s An Event Apart conference. Yet it was also a good excuse to catch up with Shannon, who graciously planned a tour of the city for me and Andy.

Continuing Adventures in America

Having tried so diligently last year to reduce the amount of flying I do, I hoped to keep this year’s long-haul flights to one. With an important part of my family now settled in São Paulo, and some of my best friends based in San Francisco, maybe such lofty goals are foolhardy. Before I write about my most recent travels, I address the hypocrisy in taking such a trip.