Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On San Francisco's Public Transport

One of my major complains with Bay Area is about its public transport. I specially realized the problem as I have been renting a car on every time I was visiting but after I moved here the car renting looked too expensive to continue (~900 dollar a month).

I am happy to be have been proven wrong at least about San Francisco's public transport.

Finding the route options
So this morning I had to visit a office in San Francisco at 9:00 AM. I figured out ways of transport using Google Transit and SFMuni. Google Transit works well for figuring out route from point to point. As expected routing involved
1) Walking to Cal train Station
2) CalTrain
3) Bus in San Francisco to destination.

Google Transit takes arrive/depart time as an option and I could figure out the right options without looking at too many time tables.

SFMuni website came in handy however as unlike Caltrain the Muni has multiple alternative routes that you can use depending on how much you are willing to walk with a reasonable 1/2 mile walking option I got quite a few buses to choose from.

The Experience

About the transport itself. Well Caltrain experience didn't start very well as it came about 25 minutes late and they asked us to switch platforms twice, but desptite that the train annoucements were helpful and they suggested that At Palo Alto station we can switch to the fast Mini Bullet Cal Train. Doing so we could easily make up for the delay and we did.

In San Francisco after getting down at Cal Train I could catch a single bus (I didn't follow the routing now as I learnt there were quite a few buses) to reach my destination. More interestingly the 2$ ticket issues was valid for next 4.5 hours, so I could use it for multiple return journeys, Muni train and Muni buses. AFAIK you can travel to almost all parts of the city using these two options.

Cost and Time
Overall I spent just 14$ for the round trip. One small point though, the Caltrains frequency varies from 30 minutes (before 11 AM and after 7 PM) to about 1 hour(11 AM to 7 PM), so your trip can get delayed if not planned well. Also it takes the slow train about 70 minutes from Mountain View Downtown to SF station, the faster (baby bullet) takes just 45 minutes.

Carrying Bikes
Carrying bikes in Caltrain is easy, they have two kinds of coaches offering either 24 or 40 cycle carrying capacity. In both my trips the train has enough space for few more bikes. The caltrain stations have different facilities for parking bikes. In general you can easily carry around your bike in SF and lock it to one of the many on street bike lock stands.

In conclusion, SF's public transport is about as good at other cities I have been too, of course nothing beats a proper metro transport like that in Hong Kong, Paris, London and New Delhi*, but MUNI is SF can get you from one point to other and quite time efficiently.

* Didn't get a chance to explore New Delhi metro much but it looked great though it still doesn't have full coverage.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The London Vacation

London turned out wonderful, I spent about a week of my time in London and I have fallen in love with the city, which I only realized some time later after leaving the city. I so want to go there again.

From UK Trip October 2009

From UK Trip October 2009

From UK Trip October 2009

The starbucks shops at almost ever 2 blocks - As I walked I would typically take a starbucks Chai tea latte to sip on (When in London, drink Tea) ; the Underground metro train system; the pretty efficient bus system, a spectacular night life which is live till 3 AM and also afterwards on the streets. The splendid British accent spoken English and a great mix of modern and historic architecture, London has just about everything you can want from a city. I explored the city by Tube/Underground and Bus using the oyster pay as u go card. I was arguing with my host, Ankur about San Francisco being equally multicultaral and lively but in retrospect London beats SF in those regards.

From UK Trip October 2009

The first two days were spent relaxing and coming in to the holiday mood. The only significant I and Ankur was going to Trafalgar square to see the "Diwali in London" festival which promised much more than what actually happened and was slightly disappointing and we decided to rather skip it and walk around river Thames all the way to Big Ben.

From UK Trip October 2009

At the middle of day2 I decided to head off to Edinburgh, which is mentioned in a future post.

Day 3: The old city of London Tour
Went around the main tourist attraction taking the New Sandman's Old city tour. Interesting pieces of info from the tour: London bridge isn't as fancy as it seems like, Most of the building however old they look are pretty much just 100-300 years old reconstruction of the original once which seems to have gone down 3-4 times each. Heard stories about Knights templar, specially their banking system. Evening was spent was a Couch surfing meeting at the Irish pub O'neil followed by watching movie "Sin Nombre" in Prince Charles cinema (I totally loved the movie, almost everyone did although it had a slightly tragic ending, well it was not Bollywood movie after all :D)

From UK Trip October 2009

From UK Trip October 2009

From UK Trip October 2009

Day 4: Buckingham palace, Westminster Catheral and abbey, Big Ben and Ceilidh dancing

Went around Westminster city, Buckingham palace, Google London office - which to my surprise didn't look very remarkable from outside, however the interior decoration was pretty good and most ideas were based on London theme, Westminster cathedral (Free!), St Paul's, Westminster's abbey, Big Ben. Then took random train journeys to Notting Hill Gate, Ealing Broadway before coming to Camden Town to attend the Ceilidh dancing event at the Cecil's Sharp House on the Friday evening.

From UK Trip October 2009

From UK Trip October 2009

Ceilidh dancing was among the best things I did on the trip. If you are in UK you must try searching for Ceilidh dancing events, quite a few of them happen on the weekends in Scotland as well as London.

Day 5: St. Paul's Cathedral, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, Millennium bridge and Tate modern.

Another day of sight seeing, I decided to start by visiting St. Paul's cathedral which besides being famous for its splendidness and history also provides one of the best Panoramic views of the city from the top.
I dedicate the rest of the day to the bridges and walking around them and river Thames. Much as I remember I walked across about 5 bridges including, Tower bridge, London Bridge, Millennium bridge and two others. Also went to see the Tate modern which didn't make much sense to me with all the modern art exhibits but its free entry so you can always give it a shot. In the evening I joined the New Sandman group's Pub crawl during which I met quite a few interesting people many of which became Friends.

From UK Trip October 2009

From UK Trip October 2009

This night I heard one of the funniest thing ever that was at Leicester square, the police caught a guy and while hand cuffing he said "You are arresting me because you are pu**ies", I so wished someone had a camera phone recording it and uploaded it to you tube. People do get crazy after drinking :P

Then my struggle of finding a Bus to home began and I cursed the Underground system for closing down and not being available. Night buses and transport didn't really feel as easy as did day transport and felt quite a challenge to accomplish in some cases because of multiple bus stands at every place offering different bus services and hardly any routing mechanism.

Day 6: The Temple Church, Greenwich and East Ham

This was effectively the last day in London as I had to catch flight next morning. There was quite a lot to see still. I started with a visit to the Temple's church (which is typically close on Sunday but was open this time). The stories and photos within the temple are pretty fascinating as is the architecture of the Church. then I decided to head to Greenwich. I thought it was probably some small place from where the Longitude goes across but it was almost a different suburb of London. It is more like a small town in fact. So I spent about 3-4 hours walking and watching the sights around which included a long round trip walk through the Greenwich tunnel, a walk around river side watching Greenwich university and other buildings from across the river (Thames).

From UK Trip October 2009

Now I wanted to go to see the Meridian and I figured that was in side the Greenwich Public Park, quite a long walk and I just about made it to the observatory but it was closed. Still the longitude is marked outside the observatory for about 100 meters and you can easily get some good photos on the road within the park.

From UK Trip October 2009

My plans to go to Wimbledon didn't work out, as it was already pretty late and the folks I met at the park were going to get some South Indian meal and I decided to tag along. The whole evening from about 6 PM to about 12:30 AM was then spent just for the dinner at Chennai Dosas in East Ham. Reaching East ham on a Sunday evening turned out to be quite tough, as we spent about 2 hours 30 minutes to reach our destinations talking trains and buses and walking quite a lot. It came to me as a surprise that few Underground stations were closed as early as 7 PM on weekends. Anyhow with a combination of few buses, we figured our way out.

Monday, November 02, 2009

The big move experience :)

This comes pretty late but I guess, I can still do justice to the events ...

As many people mentioned I didn't give enough advance notice about my moving to Mountain View, California. Well it was so because of my ever changing plans and some dependency on the receiving of Visa. I was earlier planning to leave by September beginning for a month long vacation and then heading right away to work. Lately decided to not take that long vacation but instead just have a 10 days stopover. So everything got decided at very close timelines and the departure seemed quite sudden.

About the move part, well moving to a different country could be quite challenging, even if you don't have too much to carry with yourself. Here is what ended up being on my todo list, I searched for these on net and didn't find a good resource.

1) Closing Service connections
- Telephone (I had none)
- Mobile (usually straight forward, just pay the bill online and give them a call to close the account)
- Broadband (again, I didn't have to do it, but this one may take time)
Approx 2-3 days

2) Selling your stuff
Stuff which you don't want to keep or gift away. (taking photograhs and sending email to right groups help, some cities you can use craigslit service for this).

3) Moving stuff you can't sell to your parents'/relatives' place
I could really send almost all my stuff to my relative and didn't have to sell anything. This made it simple. I sent a bunch of stuff from Hyd to Pune for about 8 K, which included bike, TV, computer, computer table, cot and materess. Moving stuff domestically typically could take 3-4 days.

4) Bike/Car NOC.
This one is interesting. You need to get a NOC from the RTA in your city/state to be able to transfer vehicle to other state. With a NOC someone can drive it for 1 year without paying the road taxes again.
If you want to change the number to get a local state number, that could be done too, it would need a NOC too (AFAIK). This took me about 10-15 days in Hyderabad though it should be done quicker usually.

5) Address change/update notifications to concerned departments/services.
Best idea is to switch to electronic statements quite some time in advance.

6) Start informing your friends and relatives, can take quite some time to bid byes to people :)

7) Carry proper adaptor for devices you are carrying with yourself.

Thats about it. I think I am forgetting some stuff, will add things later.