Rosa and I agreed from the outset that when I came to visit her we’d spend a day in Davis, where she spent a year studying abroad. It’s where she first fell in love with California, and it didn’t take me long to see why this little town and its big campus had stolen her heart four years ago.
We took the bus down to the Amtrak station and waited a while for the train. Trains in California are a little different to what I’m used to back home: for one, they’re double-decker (a novelty I never quite got accustomed to), and for another, they make a noise like someone’s sat on the keys of the world’s biggest organ as they make their way through the countryside. Our train was late, though, so there wasn’t too much of a culture shock on that front.
The train ride was beautiful, taking us along the Capitol Corridor route which wound its way past San Pablo Bay and north-east towards Sacramento. So far in the trip I’d seen parts of Marin as well as Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco itself, this was my first opportunity to see some of inland California, and although I had a book to read I don’t think I stopped looking out of the window for the entire journey. Around an hour and a half later, we arrived to Davis and 30+ degree heat.
We started a steady meander through the town while Rosa pointed out all her old haunts. Davis is a very compact little town, and although it feels a bit middle-of-nowhere I saw straightaway how it was the perfect jumping-off point into northern California. Its size and enormous student community made it feel very safe and friendly and it was easy to get your bearings pretty fast; meanwhile Sacramento is less than half an hour away, and San Francisco isn’t so far that you couldn’t take a daytrip.
Rosa took me to El Burrito, where they were showing six different sports matches and serving burritos bigger than I’d ever imagined; I only just made it through half of mine. From there, we headed up to the campus for a tour in the heat.
As well as being a top-level research university, UC Davis also has a strong agricultural focus; it started life as a ‘farm school’, and its veterinary school is the largest in the USA. As a result its campus is enormous, and its students make up 25% of the town’s population. It also features its own arboretum, so we checked out the redwoods and I made friends with one of the vet school residents.
The temperature was starting to hit 40 so we headed back towards the centre of campus. We refreshed ourselves with smoothies in the CoHo, where Rosa would FaceTime me in between classes, and then she showed me the beautiful library, and her notes in a book from four years ago which set her on the path which led her to Berkeley. We checked out the campus shop which, alongside stationery and UCD merch, includes its own miniature Apple Store, and even took a peek into the basement of the art building where Rosa spent whole nights developing film in the darkroom.
Davis is a quirky place; statues like the one above are scattered around the campus, known as ‘eggheads’. It’s also known for its transport system, firstly as a bike capital (the roads are widened to make space for the countless cyclists), and also, believe it or not, for its bus company, Unitrans. That’s because Unitrans is run entirely by the student body, from office staff, managers, mechanics, right up to the drivers. It’s also entirely free for UC Davis students, but the day we visited happened to be Save the Air Day, which meant all lines were free for everyone. We took a ride around the Q-line, going clockwise around the perimeter of the town. Rosa pointed out where she and her friends used to live, and we spotted Sacramento through the haze.
The whole time I’d so far spent in California had shown me that although I loved my time there, moving there to study and live as Rosa has done isn’t something I could ever imagine myself doing – but I felt like I might just be able to cope if it was Davis I was heading to (not that I’m planning on it!).
Tired and very hot, we wandered back towards the train station, stopping off in Rosa’s favourite bookstore. We opted to get the slightly later train at seven-pm; although it meant we’d be back quite late, this ended up being the best decision we could have made. If I thought the journey to Davis was beautiful, the trip back to Berkeley was something else. As the train curved around San Pablo Bay, we were gifted with the most astonishing sunset. We could only watch as the sun’s reflection span out across the water, and then as its orb disappeared behind far-off mountains leaving only a soft purple haze behind. It was incredibly special after such a beautiful day.
One of my favourite things in the world is being shown around a new place by someone to whom that place is important. Somewhere that might otherwise seem ordinary suddenly bursts into colour and significance when you can see it through the eyes of someone whose very self is in some way entwined with it. When you care about that person, that place comes to hold something special for you, too.