California diaries – Part 2

Of museums, mystery houses, and time with friends


This is an attempt to chronicle our Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4 in the cheerful State of California. As you read this, imagine a place where the sun is always bright, the roads are filled with passersby dressed for summer, and where the pavements are lined with shocking pink, blood red, and yolk yellow flowers in full hearty bloom.


The day begins with the notes of Ben- I’Oncle’s version of Frank Sinatra’s I’ve got you under my skin filling the room with a sense of beautiful melancholy. The sun crawls its way through the blinds, on to our feet, nudging us to wake up. We do, our heads heavy after a late night session of conversation, taboo and beer. After a full-blown South Indian meal at a restaurant nearby, we make our way to Winchester House.

The Manchester Mystery House

From outside, it looks like a fancy bungalow. But as history goes, it is the strangest house people around the area have ever seen. With around 160 rooms, 47 fire places, doors leading to nowhere, stairs leading to a dead end, it almost seems like a lego project left unfinished by a bored kid.

The house is a roofed maze, dark, dingy and uncomfortably narrow. The guide tells us that he has had a supernatural experience. He once saw the ghost of a man who was Mrs Winchester’s employee, walking along the stairs one evening. We refuse to believe, but walk closer to each other from that point.

Mrs Sarah Winchester was the wife of firearm magnate William Wirt Winchester. She attributed her husband’s death (due to pneumonia) and their child’s death (due to marasmus), as revenge by the ghosts of those who were killed by the Winchester rifles, and was convinced that the ghosts would follow her wherever she went.

There is also a movie loosely based on the myths surrounding the house. Click here to watch the trailer.

We discuss the story over hookah at Tangerine in San Jose, and then split to meet a friend at The Mint restaurant. A reunion after 15 years. Stories are shared, laughs are had.

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It’s 9 pm, but the night is still young. Next stop: The Sandwich spot. Cool evening breeze and chill beer keep us company, as we pull out episodes from the past, and make plans for the future.

Day 3 starts early. We catch the morning train from Sunnyvale to San Francisco, and head straight to Rooh. We are served a delightful drink called Kerala – a cocktail of rum, pineapple, lime and aloe.

A cocktail called Kerala at Rooh

With that, we are SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) ready. We walk by photographs, paintings, installations and a cluster of spiders.

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Spiders by artist Louise Bourgeois

Back in the house, we let the conversation dribble from one topic to another, as we gulp down spoons full of home-made mushroom soup. Before calling it a night, we head to Nirvanaa! for a scoop of ice cream each.

Day 4 is spent at San Jose Museum of Art, a tiny haven of art compared to the massive SFMOMA. Here, I walk alone from floor to floor, gallery to gallery, soaking in the many block prints and video installations, and making plans to buy a house made of bottles.

Mildred Howard’s installation

Andrea Bocelli’s Time to say goodbye runs in my head.

In no time, we are mid air, on our way back home. The State reduces to a pattern of bright dots. Like a 1000 stars shining for us. A reminder of the bright days and warm moments we had during the brief stay in the West Coast.


California diaries – Part 1

A visit to the Golden Gate Bridge and more.

A six-hour long flight from Philadelphia to San Jose, with a one-hour stop over at Phoenix. We finally reach Santa Clara after a 15-minute drive from the airport. There is a little exhaustion, but more excitement. It’s my first time to the Golden State of California. In the glow of street lights, I spot the difference in architecture between the East that’s home, and here. There are no sloping roofs above the buildings, for one! We are being hosted by my husband’s brother and his wife, who work in the Bay Area. At their place, we dig into a hot bowl of rice and Indian curry, put our feet up and watch random episodes of Takeshi’s castle. What follows is a good night’s sleep.


Next day, we have a heavy brunch at an Indian restaurant called Kamakshi Kitchen in San Jose, and then drive to San Francisco for two hours. As we approach the Golden Gate Bridge, the Pacific Ocean unveils its blue self. Massive and intimidating, it shimmers like a sheet studded with a thousand diamonds. And on it, rests the sturdy, rustic, orange vermilion Bridge. The mother of all bridges. A man-made structure that is 81 years old, and as scenic as the nature it is surrounded by.


The wind is cold and violent. And any attempts of taking selfies seem futile.


But then, what’s a trip to the Golden Gate Bridge, without getting a postcard-fit picture?


We are back in the car to observe the ocean-mountain-bridge trio from a higher view point. There are multiple view points along the curves of the mountains. Families stop strangers for a group shot, bicyclists ambitiously peddle along the steep climb. We quietly observe the mix of blue and green in front of us. Giant ships slowly sail like snails on sheets of blue, and the wind creates turbulence making the ocean crease like folds on a fabric.


Back in the car. The road, like a wave, climbs and dives. At many points, the path, even just a few meters ahead, remains a mystery, until we reach it. Such is the steepness. We step on the gas pedal and continue the climb. Next stop: Crooked lane.


Instead of driving along the crooked lane, we decide to walk it. We walk along the pavement of the road that is almost like a zig-zag maze. Cars and segways carefully meander along the narrow road that curves sharply after every few feet.


Meanwhile, we take our time to smell some flowers…


…and explore some vertical gardens.


At the end of the crooked lane, we turn back and see a swarm of lush green bushes guarding, and almost hiding, the grey tar roads between them.


Next stop: Pier 39. We are welcomed by a live piano concert by artiste Caroline Dahl. She is a composer of boogie-woogie and American roots music. If you are wondering what that sounds like, click here.


We halt for a few minutes and then float away along with the rest of the crowd into a sea of people hopping in and out of a hundred stalls.


On one side, rows and rows of boats rock gently on still water.


On the other, a lone boat violently bobs up and down to make it to the dock.


We walk past merry-go-rounds.


A giant leafy sea horse.


A neatly-laid piano staircase.


A railing full of locks.


And finally walk to the edge of the pier, where hundreds of seals laze around on the docks. Some barking, some pushing fellow seals into the water, and some sun-bathing without a care in the word.


We shop for a few pair of socks, and a couple of posters, before stopping for tomato soup in a bowl of sourdough bread.


By the time we are out of the Pier, the sun has begun to set. The Oakland Bay Bridge comes alive with a string of lights suddenly lit, marking a perfect end to our Day 1.


I’ll be back with notes from Day 2, soon.

Until then, happy travels y’all.




Back from the Golden State!

With a bagful of stories.

We gazed at the endless blue of the Pacific Ocean, only disturbed by the sturdy pillars of the Golden Gate Bridge; we marched along the steep roads of San Francisco, sometimes chasing the slow-moving cars along the famous ‘Crooked Lane’ at Lombard Street. We spent some mornings soaking in the brilliance of Paul Klee and Andy Warhol at SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), and evenings, watching a pod of seals share docks at Pier 39. We hopped on and off of ‘Caltrains’, and stopped to drink soup out of sourdough bread bowls and gobble spoons-full of Affogato. Some evenings we spent smoking orange mint hookah, and some others, getting spooked inside a 134-year-old haunted Winchester Mystery House. We bid goodbye to California, but missed our connecting flight to Philadelphia. Stuck at Phoenix for the night, we traveled along roads, marked with tall cacti on the sides, to a nearby hotel. Finally, we reached home at dusk the next day. Now, as we put our feet up, and leisurely sip tea at our patio, we miss the cool breeze of the Bay, and the bark of the seals. It’s been a good trip.