Saturday, 7 October 2017

Hamburg: First Impressions (Erste Endrücke)

Some observations from my first 5 days in Hamburg:

1.     Sprechen Sie Deutsche? Before I got here, I was given the general impression that it is breezy to get by in Germany knowing just English because the Germans speak excellent English. This may not be entirely true because from time to time you will be faced with situations where you encounter a person who does not speak English, and this may pose challenges. At a grocery store in a train station, I ended up buying sparkling water instead of still water because I didn’t understand the German word for gas, when the shopkeeper told me I was buying “wasser mit gasse”. While this may seem like a first world problem (particularly because this particular misunderstanding would never arise in the third world), it may – for example - become challenging to go grocery shopping without the aide of Google Translate.

2.     Cash is king. If you don’t have cash or a German-issued card, be prepared to face problems.

3.     Doors on the metro trains do not open automatically – you must press a button! At times, I found myself waiting for the button to open as a train halted at a station – usually intercepted by some kindly German person who sensed my ignorance and pressed the button for me.

4.     It does not appear at any point that you need to show a valid ticket to use the metro/underground. The risk of being checked and fined for travelling ticketless exists, however. Buses are different because you need to show your ticket to the driver immediately upon entry.

5.     Sunday is rest day. Everything can be expected to be shut, and you may be hard pressed to find food. The exception to this is an infrequent phenomenon known as Verkaufstsonntag, when shops remain open to do business. I was lucky that my first Sunday in the city was a Verkaufstsonntag.

6.     With a sizeable Turkish population in the city, doner kebabs exist alongside German sausages and schnitzel.

7.     Many cycles, and cyclists of all ages and with and without helmets, are to be found in Hamburg. The city does its part by providing special lights at certain traffic signals for cyclists, along with those for pedestrians.

8.     There is a heartening abundance of coffee. If you are lucky you may find it priced at one Euro or less. But there are also fancier places where you will find it priced at 10 Euros or more (a case in point is the Kopi Luwak at Spiecherstadt Kafferosterei, near the Miniatur Wunderland museum).

9.     Rain. So much rain. I remind myself everyday to buy an umbrella, but forget and remember only when I get drenched.

10.  You get what you pay for. Beer mugs often come with a marking of 300ml/500ml/1 litre. Wine glasses often come with a marking of 100ml. This is to ensure some degree of standardization, and so that you are not being cheated of the quantity you are paying for.

11.  There is often fun graffiti to be found on random walls in the city. So far, my favourites have been “Fck G20” and “Pussy Funk”. Also, a dustbin with “Godot kommt nicht” (Godot is not coming) painted over.

12.  There are some city buses where you must pay a surcharge. These premium buses cost more, without any ostensible difference in quality or comfort (but perhaps they have fewer stops).

13.  Unlike in many cities, not all the entrances to an underground station lead to all the platforms of the station. You must be conscious of the direction in which your train is going, to be able to access the correct platform – or you could end up at the wrong platform without any way to get to the correct platform without exiting the station and finding your way back into the right platform.

Musings from Ataturk Airport (September 28, 2017)

I seem to find myself in the city of Istanbul during crossroads of my life where I have just finished one phase, and am embarking on another – times heralding a changes of some note, such as uprooting myself from one city to another, and leaving behind the security of a stable law firm salary.

In May 2012, I quit my first job with a law firm in Bombay to move back to Delhi to work there. I took a five week break to travel on my own in Turkey and then to London. Istanbul formed the starting point of my wanderings, and was also the city from which I would embark on a more adventurous exploration of the “interiors of Turkey”.

In September 2017, I find myself at the brink of an entirely different adventure – to quit another job in a law firm (one in Delhi, this time) and seek higher studies at a relatively advanced age, entailing my first entry into Continental Europe (barring the tiny sliver of Istanbul, which technically qualifies as the aforesaid first entry).

On board my flight to Istanbul, I note with some amusement that I am taking the same flight I took five years ago: Turkish Airlines flight TK-717, except it used to depart at 6:05 a.m. in 2012, while the 2017 iteration takes off ten minutes later, at 6:15 a.m. I note also that my hand baggage is the same one that I carried five years ago. It is possibly heavier now, burdened as it is by the strain of an Indian student moving to study in colder latitudes, but there is symbolism in the fact that it still bears the thick red cardboard tag of Turkish Airlines (for some reason, I liked it too much to remove it all these years).

It is a strange thing but sometimes memories get embedded in smells. I realize this as I step out of Turkish Airlines flight TK-717 into the crisp 20 degree celsius air, and I am taken back to my hostel from five years ago, and to the street it was located on – the bustling Istiklal Caddesi. I can only describe this smell as a delightful amalgam of delicious Turkish food and a fabric softener that smells fresh and comforting at the same time. Somehow this strange combination does not seem unpalatable in the least.

My layover in Istanbul is a shade under five hours, not offering enough time to get out of the airport and experience first-hand how much this city has changed in the past sixty four months. But an excellent lounge at the airport provides me with a slice of Istanbul at the reasonable/unreasonable price of 30 Euros. Apart from the excellent shower and spotless bathroom facilities (for both of which I would give due credit to the Turkish sense of hospitality and hygiene), I had the chance to experience some of the incredible food and beverages of Istanbul without leaving the airport. Köfte, peynir, mozzarella balls, varied beans and salads. Beer and more beer. Çay. It felt good to be transported back to the few days in 2012 when I had these at my disposal in abundance.

May 2012 and September 2017, in my life, form important junctures – to open myself to new life experiences, and letting go a bit, including of conventional ideas of job security and a steady salary. Istanbul was a great place to start both journeys. To that I say: Şerefe!

Thursday, 14 September 2017

A longish commute to work.

My commute to the office on my penultimate day of work, at my workplace of close to three and a half years in Delhi, turned out to be unexpectedly long and multi-modal.

After waking up in a bed in Lucknow:

- Drive to the airport in a car (Free, thanks to the generosity of a kind cousin who woke up early and dropped me).

- Flight to Delhi (Rs. 1905).

- Shuttle bus from Terminal 1D to Terminal 3 (Rs. 20).

- Airport Express Metro, Terminal 3 to Shivaji Stadium Metro Station (Rs. 50).

- Autorickshaw from Shivaji Stadium Metro Station to the office (Rs. 30, with some negotiation).

Total time spent on commute: 4h 15m (7:00 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.).

Total money spent on commute: Rs. 2005.

Number of automobiles driven during commute: 5.

Number of automobiles driven during commute by self: 0.

Carbon mileage: Unknown

[But Notes:

(1) A train from Lucknow to Delhi (instead of a flight) would have earned me more carbon credits, but set me back by an additional 3 hours (approximately).

(2) A taxi from the airport to the office (instead of taking three different types of public transport) would have earned me fewer carbon credits.]

Total number of coffees consumed: 0.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Metro Musings.

Has our addiction to smartphones made us de facto less empathetic beings?

Today I was travelling on the Delhi Metro, glued to my phone screen (frantically trying to learn a foreign language via my phone, because apparently you can do that these days), while simultaneously listening to music to drown out the excess chatter in the coach. The doors of the metro compartment opened at Patel Chowk and a visually handicapped man was helped into the coach, and seated in a spot across from me (after a lady got up to make space). I lost out the opportunity to offer my seat because by the time I sensed, from the periphery of my vision, that something was happening, and by the time I actually looked up from my phone, the gentleman was already seated.

A short while later, as I waited for the elevator at the underground metro station that fortunately opens almost right into my office building, I was steadfastly looking at my phone again (in an attempt to finish one more module of the aforementioned foreign language). As the doors of the elevator opened to deposit passengers from the overground, I failed to notice that amidst them was a handicapped man who was incapable of walking - he was sitting and dragging his body across the floor of the elevator, as he attempted to exit. Another person waiting for the lift - a middle-aged gentleman who was not glued to his phone - saw this and was cognizant enough to hold the doors of the elevator manually, to aide the disabled man's exit.

We like to multi-task and accomplish more than one thing at once (and this may be a good value to strive for: efficiency). But is this at the cost of becoming oblivious to things and people around us, which/who may require our attention as part of our obligations to being members of society?
And how much is technology to blame? I could just have been as engrossed in a book. Or sleeping. (But eight out of ten people on the metro will be found to have their phones in their hand.)

Has technology altered the way we choose to act in society? We could be surrounded by a mass of humans, squished up head-to-armpit in a metro compartment, but to seek a human connection, we will most likely still be endeavouring to balance our phone in our hands in a crowded compartment, to be able to connect virtually with somebody not present in that compartment.

Conversely: have we reached a stage where, to be sitting in a crowded place full of strangers, there may be some stigma attached to not be looking into our phone? Because we want to belie assumptions about us: assumptions that perhaps we are lonely, conclusions that are reached when we are seen without our friends at our fingertips in any given setting. Because to gaze around and make eye contact with a total stranger would be an undesirable outcome when in possession of a phone.

Chin up. Empathize.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

It's a Man(splainer)'s World.

A few weeks ago, Dutch cyclist, Anniemik van Vleuten suffered a terrible crash while competing in the Olympics Road Race, after being in the lead for much of the long distance race. As she lay in hospital being treated for multiple fractures, she was also administered a dose of Mansplaining by a gentlemen on Twitter. This gentleman tweeted to AvV: "first lesson in bicycling, keep your bike steady...whether fast or slow". Subsequent outrage by the Twitterati ultimately forced him to flee Twitter altogether.

Far be it from me to compare myself to AvV - an amazing cyclist with droolworthy Strava updates, who made a quick recovery after the horrific accident, going on to win the Belgium Tour 2016 in spectacular fashion - I discovered recently that the menace of Mansplaining is much more pervasive, and also exists in the realm of sphere of lesser cyclists such as I.

A few days after AvV got mansplained, I was out on my customary Sunday ride. Although less frequent than they used to be and than I would like, my Sunday rides are my happy place, my escape from the rest of the week. On this particular Sunday, I was so desperate for some solitude after a hectic week that I even declined a friend of mine who wanted to ride with me - she was perfectly understanding about my craving for "alone time". Little did I know there was some uninvited riding company coming my way.

As I was enjoying my me time, a cyclist passed me by, and bound as I am by bicycling niceties, I wished him a good morning and he returned the greeting. But it did not end there. This gentleman continued to cycle alongside me, and began a torrent of unsolicited advice:

"You should switch to clip-less pedals."

"Your seat is too low."

"You should do hill repeats."

"You should ride 3 times every week."

"You should drink water every 15 minutes."

"It's good that you already have a watch. Are you tracking everything?"

"How many kilometres are you riding today?"

"How many kilometres have you ridden so far?"

"Switch to a higher gear."

"Now switch to a lower gear."

Each of these pieces of advice and instruction was followed by this broad overarching piece of advice: "you need to do this if you want to make it big." This man insisted on cycling next to me for the next couple of kilometres where, after telling him repeatedly that I was, in fact, not interested in "making it big", I tried valiantly to de-couple myself from a riding partner that I had not signed up for. I would slow down so that he would just go ahead but he would linger back to continue the mansplaining. I would go faster, but he would catch up to continue the mansplaining. I was extremely relieved when, upon asking me which turn I was taking next (a u-turn) he finally informed me that we would be parting ways.

Mansplainers and mansplainer sympathists may argue that this gentleman was, in fact, doing me a favour by giving me so much free guidance. But that would be missing the point. Here was a man, who found a woman cycling alone and started dishing out tips and information from the seemingly entitled position of being a male cyclist, with the underlying assumption that he was a more superior cyclist.

Did this man bother to ask me anything about me first? Such as my cycling goals, past cycling experience, what I was trying to get out of my ride, whether there were any other demands on my time that would prevent me from meeting the magic number of three rides per week, whether I was even inclined to be a high mileage cyclist, whether I actually felt comfortable on my seat or in my gear of choice, whether I was thirsty enough to reach out for water every fifteenth minute. 

No, he did not. 

Would he have subjected a lone male cyclist to a similar tirade? I have my doubts.

My multiple protests of "but I do not want to make it big" were simply ignored. And when I asked him why he was cycling without a helmet, I was dismissed. Here it is: the arrogance of a man who could not concern himself with trifles such as the most basic rules of riding safely (Rule Number 1: wear a helmet), yet thought it acceptable to dish out a series of generic (and as it seemed, unending) recommendations to a female cyclist he did not know from Eve.

I always welcome advice and help from cyclist friends, we are all learning here after all. But does someone really have the right to impose advice on a perfect stranger in a complete vacuum, not knowing the first thing about them, not inclined to actually engage with them? This could have potentially been a fruitful exchange, perhaps if it had been a dialogue, perhaps one which did not commence from the assumption that I, as a female cyclist, needed to be told how to do things. Where it did not appear that the person giving me a monologue was just shooting his mouth off. 

Who knows, though, what if I followed this mansplainer's advice to every last word and "made it big" - would I be freed from the scourge of mansplaining? Probably not, as Anniemik van Vleuten's experience demonstrates.

Monday, 11 July 2016

A Haiku for a Drink

Recapitulating some memorable beverages in and around San Francisco, seventeen syllables at a time.

1. Dandelion Chocolate | 740 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110
Hot chocolate
with cookies in a pocket:
a kangaroo drink.

2. Grand Coffee | 2663 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110
Looking for caffeine,
found a lovely theater
of style art deco.

3. Boba Guys | 3491 19th St, San Francisco, CA 9411

Balls will cost extra,
succulent and flavourful,
at just fifty cents.

4. Anchor beers | Various locations
Beer is delicious,
diverse and crafty too, in
this part of the world.

5. Barbary Coast Pastry & Coffee | 5 Cyril Magnin St, San Francisco, CA 94102

Six a.m. latte:
For all groggy travellers,
you are a saviour.

6. Bottle Zup | 437 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94108
Sip, chew and then own.
Once you suck the last bubble,
the bottle is yours.

7. Cibo | 1201 Bridgeway, Sausalito, CA 94965
Caffeine goes so well,
as Tour de France-ers will tell,
with bicycle rides.

8. Philz Coffee | 549 Castro St, San Francisco, CA 94114
When in the Castro,
coffee tastes like rainbows with
hints of nuttiness.

9. Fume Blanc, Robert Mondavi Winery | 7801 St Helena Hwy, Oakville, CA 94562, United States 
What used to be grapes
now taste just as nippy as
the air they grew in.

10. Coffee Mission / Verve Coffee | 3325 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94110
The best coffee shops
are often found lacking in
a signboard above.

11. DOSA | 995 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110
Thousands of miles flown
for a whisky cocktail in
a place called Dosa.

12. Vita Coco | A grocery store in the Mission District
Electrolytes, they
come at a price, and often
a carbon footprint.

13. Tosca Cafe | 242 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133
Do not seek coffee
in Tosca's capuccino;
relish the Bourbon.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Defined by Dolores Park

Dolores Park: an artist's view

Far from the throngs of tourists at Fisherman's Wharf, and away from the concrete and glass of the Financial District, my favourite place in San Francisco lies further south: the glorious Dolores Park. By the end of my holiday spanning just under two weeks, I had managed to make time to visit Dolores Park no fewer than five times, to say nothing of the times I happened to be passing it by and wished I could be lying on my back in this park rather than purposefully marching off to wherever it was that I needed to go as an ambitious tourist. For this reason, I cannot help but feel that Dolores Park, with its infinite recall value, defined my visit to San Francisco in some ways, and deserves to be written about.

In comparison with some of the more iconic attractions of the city, it's not hard to see why the park is of limited appeal for tourists. It cannot boast of the wide avenues of the Golden Gate Park - the one park tourists in the city must visit on their rented cycles with the small bag displaying the logo of their bike rental company of choice prominently dangling off the handlebars. It is devoid of stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge craved by visitors and locals alike. And it probably escapes mention on the free map the tourist picked up at her hotel lobby, a truncated map that doesn't even deign to feature the Mission as a place worthy of tourist footfall.

At something of an advantage by virtue of staying in the Mission, and only about a mile away from the park (as Google Maps informed me in its resolute attempts to shun kilometric values on this continent), there was no doubt in my mind that this was a park that needed to not only be visited, but "experienced". Particularly since in the lead up to my trip, my friend and host, Tulip had promised me "a park near my house where we can roll down hills" (a promise she hastily reneged upon on my arrival).

In the days immediately before my trip, the city of San Francisco had been mapped by me with the precision that may have last been employed by European explorers in the Age of Discovery. This park featured right from the beginning amidst the galaxy of stars on my offline Google Maps of San Francisco, each of which was a must-go/must-do, for reasons elucidated by friends (a big thank you to Castorman for prepping me well about where to get the best food, ice cream and dessert in the city!) or sources found through extensive Googling. It is either design or coincidence or both that some of the city's finest eateries are located close to the periphery of Dolores Park. They too clustered around on the map like a small but significant constellation.

It was on a Thursday evening, scarcely twenty four hours after my entry into San Francisco, that Tulip and I made our way to Dolores Park. Passing through the weekly farmers' market en route, we shopped for the ingredients for our one-pot pasta dinner later that night, and snacked on samples from various food groups (mostly carbs), before arriving at Boba Brothers to revive our ritual of drinking bubble tea together (because nobody else really understood the charm of chewing on tapioca balls doused in tea, and for this, we only had each other). Armed with warm bubble tea to-go in styrofoam cups, off we went to Dolores Park. It was a chilly weekday evening and luckily, we didn't have too many other people to share the park with. As we soaked in the flavour of the taro-infused bubbles, we tried very hard not to soak in views of the girl whose amorous liaisons with her lover included aggressively de-robing herself at our twelve-o-clock. It is this casual uninhibitedness, this do-whatever-the-fuck-ery that, to me, epitomizes the park. This is the charm of Dolores Park. This is what kept bringing me back.

Drinking boba while watching beautiful dogs cavort around.

On the Sunday following this Thursday, we arrived once more at Dolores Park, our stomachs full of brunch, with Tulip's Ridiculously Young Cousin in tow. The weather had changed, the landscape too. The sun was sharp; the patrons of the park, out in large numbers today, enjoined to sunbathe in various degrees of undress. Having managed to dress all wrong for the weather (because how can you ever be sure of dressing right in San Francisco weather?!) in more layers than were necessary, my agenda was quite different.

Sunday scenes at Dolores Park include levitating newspapers.

First, ice-cream was duly procured from the legendary Bi-Rite Creamery. The glutton in me would not be restricted to one scoop, no. Not only did the scoops have to be two in number, they also needed to vary in flavour. My child-like demands were catered to by Mommy Tulip, but as sure as it was day in Dolores Park, I had under-estimated the powers of Sol de San Francisco. The lower scoop started to melt, and how! Meanwhile, gravity had its own fun at my expense: the scoop on top threatened to topple over before the scoop at the bottom could be consumed (or more realistically, melt away). What followed was a mad scramble to finish eating the ice cream before I could run out of tissues to wipe away the increasingly large globules of melting ice cream and/or before my jeans were completely covered in said melty mass.

Ice cream from Bi-Rite Creamery: a project unto itself.

The second order of business was to roll down the famed hills of Dolores Park. Given the crowds sprawled all over the high gradient hills of Dolores Park, my only option was to exploit a less popular hill-let at the lower altitudes of Dolores Park. And so I rolled, only to be criticized for my slow rolling speed by my stationary companions who watched from their perch at a respectable distance. Rolling down the steeper hills of Dolores Park has now been reserved for the bucket list.

Not even a full day had passed, and I found myself at Dolores Park the very next morning. Today's mission was to "test-ride" the rather expensive running shoes bought from another San Francisco favourite - Sports Basement. The purchase had been made mainly on the basis of the store guide's reassuring promise about "the liberal return policy of Sports Basement": that these shoes could be returned "whenever", just so long as they weren't too dirty. Dropping his voice a few decibels, this helpful gentleman had also advised me to take the shoes for a run before making the decision to return or to retain. I could think of no better place than Dolores Park for a trial 5K in these brand new shoes. The concrete-throughout running track would ensure that no unwanted trail dust be permitted to tarnish the pristine grey of the Brooks Ravenna 7. The hills would provide the much-needed challenge to my fitness that the flats of Delhi never could. On that morning, it was pretty much just me and the Dolores Doggies.
Brand new shoes + Dolores Doggies

A special mention of the Dolores Doggies. This is a class of dogs better behaved than many humans in San Francisco. It must be hours of flawless training that gets them here. They display no ill-will towards any man or beast, do not pounce or bark except within the confines of the games they play with their masters, towards whom alone all their attention is lovingly diverted. The Dolores Doggies struck me not only with their abundant cuteness, but also the remarkable discipline that clearly comes with being a dog in these parts of the world. These dogs are un-leashed without apprehension, and they proceed to make Dolores Park their private playground. They display the elation-in-oblivion that we adults have long left behind: once upon a time, when we rolled around in the sand pit in school, we had it too. Ridiculously Young Cousin informs me that this is the result of the dogs and owners passing special courses which bestow upon the owners a dog license. The owners clearly care enough about owning a dog to go through this effort. A far cry from back home in Delhi, the city where rich humans mercilessly buy huge dogs better suited for tundra regions, often starting a relationship of distrust and aggression, sometimes abandonment.

                                     Running on a dull day in Dolores Park

I negotiated the Dolores hills on my run that Monday morning. I went clock-wise around the park. I went counter-clockwise. I huffed and puffed up the steep inclines, and ecstatically hurtled down the generous downhills. Shockingly, I even managed fourth place on a Strava segment that goes by "Cut through Dolores, Eastbound". I examined the tracks of what I now know is the J  Church Muni Metro Line, wondering if I too would get the chance to peruse at the gorgeousness that is Dolores Park through the window of a train (I didn't). It was a dull day, but Dolores Park never really fails to make your disposition a little brighter.

Four days passed. In the interregnum, a whirlwind of tourist activity had ensured that I had checked the boxes off of some key attractions in and around San Francisco: Alcatraz Island, Lombard Street, the Cable Car from Powell to Fisherman's Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, Crissy Fields, Napa Valley, even Yosemite National Park. But one of the key points of attraction on my star-studded offline Google Map of San Francisco remained unexplored. Tartine Bakery. Whoever I had spoken to about Tartine warned me of the long queues that preceded entry into this hallowed institution, but always lovingly added that their baked goods were so worth standing in line for.

When Ridiculously Young Cousin and I arrived at Tartine on an auspicious Friday (auspicious only by virtue of this being a day on which we finally made it to this temple of flour, butter and sugar), the line was pretty damn long, "especially for a Friday", the locals said. Ridiculously Young Cousin wanted to bolt that very instant - legendary desserts be damned - but the Annoying Tourist had her way. In the half hour that we stood along the walls of the bakery that would test us before opening its doors to us, we debated over the menu and arrived at a consensus to order four things which we would split between ourselves. But when we were finally granted entry, crazed by the sight of some beautiful beautiful desserts, some of these decisions were un-done and new ones made in split seconds.

And of course, Tartine goodies needed to be consumed inside Dolores Park. That was always a non-negotiable part of the deal. This needed to be the "complete experience", no compromises. So we lugged our croissant, eclair, chocolate cake and chocolate hazelnut tart into the ever-refreshing greens of Dolores Park.

The Park put up quite a fight against us that day, almost berating us for our gluttony, as we tried to settle down with our varied snacks and respective iced coffees. The slopes of Dolores Park combined forces with the day's strong winds, immediately causing the cups containing our iced coffee to topple over and spill their contents into the same earth from where their constituent beans were once procured.

An iced coffee toast to Dolores (not out of choice: the glass refused to rest on the incline).

Next, the wind denuded The Best Croissant of My Life of a few precious flake, no doubt sparing us the burden of a few (negligible) buttery calories. The eclair was a poor choice for a dessert to be consumed on a windy slope in a park sans plate or cutlery, a decision for which my greed and I will humbly take the blame. The park and my clothes were soon speckled with the white creamy innards of the eclair, prompting the frantic use of those tissues which had not succeeded in flying away yet, and predictable analogies being drawn by peurile minds. The chocolate cake was then polished off almost single-handedly by me, with the fallout of being too stuffed to consider eating too much of the star attraction of the spread that day: the chocolate hazelnut tart. Ridiculously Young Cousin threw up his hands and refused to be of any assistance. We gave up and box-ed what remained of the tart.

The Best Croissant of My Life and the Chocolate Hazelnut Tart we could not do justice to.

That brought curtains on trip # 4 to Dolores Park. It should be added, however, that we did get to witness a brave soul who wished to roll down the steepest hill in the Park. At mid-morning on a weekday, the slopes were empty and free to be exploited by the horizontally inclined. In contrast to the lukewarm response of my companion a few days prior, this lucky boy's friends had placed themselves in a cheerleader-like formation to shout words of encouragement. As it turned out, our man turned out to be too chicken to go through with the task, and instead chose to half-roll down an easier slope. It is not enough for the Park's crowds to part to make way for the intrepid hill rollers - one must also be equipped with a sense of adventure or - at the very least - a stomach not bursting with confectionary.

I have always found it immensely difficult to cope with the end of a holiday. My last day in San Francisco arrived too soon, almost without warning as to the kind of emotional sledgehammer it would turn out to be. An ambitious list of last-day activities was prepared on my penultimate day, the dominant intention being to Carpe Diem -  I was, after all, down to my last miserable Diem. The one unalterable feature of this day needed to be to end it at Dolores Park (where else?).

This day did not go as per plan. I overslept and then squandered considerable precious time in trying to get from Point A (Mission and 24th Street) to Point B (Golden Gate Park), using a combination of failed modes of public transport: the mythical N Judah Train which Ridiculously Young Cousin had alluded to but I am absolutely certain does not exist, a bus that just happened to be the right bus but in the wrong direction, an Uber Pool cab that never showed up but charged me for a ride anyway. About 2.5 hours later, Golden Gate Park was finally accessed and conquered (if a 5K run can count as conquest, that is). Beautiful and vast, the Golden Gate Park is perfect for unleashing your active best in the Great Outdoors; for more chill vibes in the presence of (relatively) lazy crazies, there is always Dolores Park.

I was fairly miserable by lunch time when it dawned on me that I had accomplished scant little by way of seizing the day, and would now have to scratch out fun things like the Cable Car Museum from my schedule, to be able to wrap up what I truly loathed: shopping. Time was short, but I had promises to keep and things to buy. Aided by the kind intervention of Castorman, I finally made it back to the Mission on a bus that was going in the correct direction. An epic Mission-style taco and a shower later, I finally set out to seize...well, an afternoon.

There were going to be no two ways about it. I needed to spend my last evening in San Francisco in Dolores Park. San Francisco has a set of recommended spots from where the sun can be seen setting in all its splendour: Crissy Fields, Land's End, Bernal Hieghts. They had all been on my list, but I was almost out of time and when feeling so, so sad about leaving a city, going to a familiar and comforting place made the most sense. Shopping on that day was done in a rush and without much discernment: there could be no delay to Dolores. These last few hours needed to be memorable, which shopping never ever is. 

One last time in my Mecca in San Francisco

I think it was about 7:30 p.m. when Tulip and I reached Dolores Park. The sunset at Dolores Park is not something one is likely to read about in Lonely Planet or find on a picture postcard. You never really see the sun go down dramatically at Dolores Park, and yet that doesn't detract from the experience one bit. The Dolores sunset is dynamic. It is magical. Imagine a palette with constantly changing patches of colour. In over an hour and a half on that day - which happened to be a day short of the Summer Solstice - we saw the blue sky turn varied shades of yellow and golden, before evolving into an unbelievably fiery pink, and then settling into a lovely orange.

All the while, we were treated to a diversity of views on the horizon that I am confident most other view points in San Francisco would be hard-pressed to find. We could see buildings from the Financial District on the one side, "LA-style" palm trees in a cluster on the other, hills in the distance, and architecture of both domed and church-ey variety.

The Dolores Sky evolves, one day before the Summer Solstice.


"Los Angeles-style palm trees"

As we sat at a spot that Tulip confessed was her most favourite spot in the entire city, and resumed our endless exchange of views on life and people (I steer clear of the use of the term "gossip" but who am I kidding), we took in the very unique and very endearing sights of Dolores Park, which matched the diversity of the views on the horizon. A young girl crawling on all fours to try to catch a sea gull momentarily resting on the grass. A young man lazing in a hammock tied to two trees (we joked that the hammock could double up well as a parachute in the wind that evening). Three girls enjoying a lively game of UNO. A man engaging with his dog over a game of throw and catch using a ball and a fluorescent green plastic ball catcher. A group of boys walking with cans of beer to find a spot to sit.

The most special of them all to me was a man playing the guitar and singing a song that sounded so familiar yet so sweetly different. I found myself singing along: though unable to place the song, I knew the words. I realized a few minutes later that it was Tove Lo's "Habits", a song that I had listened to a lot in the recent past, including while walking around in San Francisco. What could only be described as a somewhat rough or edgy song had been effortlessly made so mellow and ballad-like by this guitarist - possibly even surpassing the original - that I was completely blown away. I don't think I will ever forget this stranger's cover of the song. It made me want to start playing guitar again. It made me realize that in Dolores Park, as in San Francisco, you can always choose your own rendition - of a song, or yourself. It's up to you what it should sound like, feel like. There are no limits. Don't hesitate, don't feel encumbered. You could be crawling on all fours or rolling down a hill. Or you could be that well-behaved dog that dotes on its human. Weirdly enough, "Habits", as sung by a total stranger in a version altered from the original beyond recognition, was the most unforgettable farewell gift from a park and a city that it was tearing me up to be saying goodbye to.

My San Francisco sojourn started and ended with an evening in Dolores Park. They were the perfect book-ends to a perfect holiday.

Tulip and I finally got up to leave, caught a glimpse of the sky on the other side of the hill where we were sitting, a sight that literally rendered us speechless for a few seconds. We exited Dolores Park one last time together, and ogled at the sky all the way to our last dinner together in San Francisco.

                                             Goodbye, Dolores Park, you beauty!