I talk about my sister, Rosa, a lot; my usual joke is that telling the stories of what she gets up to halfway around the world makes me seem way cooler. But for a couple of weeks in the middle of summer, I finally got to share a bit of her life in Berkeley, California, and come away with some fun stories of my own. We spent days wandering the hills of San Francisco; crossed the Bay to check out Marin County; made our way to Land’s End to paddle in the Pacific; spent a day in Davis where Rosa first lived in CA; and even navigated to Muir Woods via public transport.
I’ll be sharing all these adventures over the coming days in this Postcards from the West Coast series, but I wanted to start right where I did: meandering through Rosa’s hometown of Berkeley and its UC campus where she studies for her Master’s, and checking out the streets of Oakland where she was interning over the summer.
I landed at SFO on a Monday afternoon, and we spent the following three days exploring these more local areas; within twenty-four hours of being in the country I’d been fed pizza and Chipotle (“It’s Chip-oh-lay. Not Chip-oh-tl. Ok???”) and had a tour of the Cal campus. Rosa showed me the famous campanile, and I lost count of all the bear statues and memorabilia (#gobears).
Rosa also ensured I saw some of the best Berkeley has to offer in terms of nourishment, so (alongside our all-too-frequent trips to Trader Joe’s for crumpets and dried mango) we checked out Berkeley Espresso, the local Brazil Cafe, Philz Coffee, the Free Speech Cafe, Saul’s Diner, and Safeway’s very own croissants-out-of-a-tin (why, America?!).
She was also really keen to show me Oakland, so we took the Bay Area Rapid Transport (BART for short and, as Rosa was quick to point out, ‘not as rapid as it suggests’) and took a walk around Lake Merritt. The city has a bit of a bad rep, but a really fascinating and important history, namely as the town in which the Black Panthers were founded. It’s known as a place of resistance; after the election in November protests went on for days. Painted murals on city buildings etch echoes of its history into its very fabric. We ate ice cream lunch at Icey Cream, spotted pelicans, and checked out the local bookstores.
But even after all this Rosa had yet to show me a real hidden gem. We wandered through to the back of the campus towards the amazing Greek Theatre, and then started to climb upwards, making our way up the hill to the sound of Jack Johnson’s sound-check ahead of his performance that evening.
We got a little lost but eventually found the right (very steep) path. Eventually we found ourselves looking out over the campus, Berkeley, out to Oakland, and right across the Bay. And at the point of the very best view was a rope-swing.
There are a lot more stories to tell from my two weeks in the States, and I can’t wait to put them all together in this way. Given that I wasn’t planning on flying out at all until just a few months ago I couldn’t have dreamed of doing and seeing all the things we did, and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity (and to Rosa for putting me up (/putting up with me) for two whole weeks!).
But as well as the touristy experiences, perhaps the most beautiful and special moments of my trip were small and understated: learning how to order coffee and cross roads in this new country; seeing in real-life places I’ve only ever glimpsed on Snapchat; tripping over the pavement cracks on the way to the BART station; watching a local hummingbird feed and then sit, sunning itself on a branch not much bigger than its cobweb-thin claws; annoying neighbours by singing Disney songs at the top of our lungs the way we’ve done since we were kids. These little, ordinary-yet-extraordinary moments: seeing how my sister lives in this stunning and surprising place, and at last being able to share it with her.
Thanks to Rosa for all the pics of me, too, and to Wendy for this beautiful photograph of the two of us on the swing.