Last week, I got to travel to Palo Alto for work. It's been about a year since I've been. There were 4 things that made life less stressful this time. The first two had to do with public transportation, as I am determined not to start using Uber. (You know what you did, Uber.)
Clipper. I bought a Clipper card. Basically, you can load it with money and use it on all of the forms of public transportation. I used it on my CalTrain ride from the airport. I used it to take the VTA bus up and down El Camino Real. You can register it online so it's associated with you in case you lose it. You can load it up and set it to autoload online too.
The only downside is the weird distribution of the Clipper card dispensing machines. Palo Alto is something of a desert, with none at the CalTrain station. However, they're available at most Walgreens in the Bay Area, and I was able to get one there. You can also order one from the website, if you have the foresight to do this before your trip.
Transit app. Have you ever been in an unfamiliar town, on an unfamiliar bus, when the announcer says "Next stop schmumblybleh" and you press your nose against the glass in panic, because you don't know whether this is your stop and you're about to miss it? And you thought you were still in your home country, but the language the announcer is speaking is so intelligible, that now you're not sure?
Well, you'll get a mixed experience in the Bay Area. Some of the forms of public transportation have the little LED signs and a standardized, recorded voice that tells you what stop is next. Some don't. So I was pleased when I downloaded the Transit app and it was so specific about guiding me to my location. On the bus, it would say into my headphones, "You get off in 2 stops". I could look at my phone and see how many stops I had left. It would help me plot full trips with transfers. It also seems to use some sort of passive crowdsourcing, because after each ride it would tell me that information it collected while I rode would help other people get more accurate transit information.
The downside here, is that if it crashes, you suddenly feel very lost. Stay vigilant so you can figure out where you are if this happens. When the app crashed and I restarted it, it had no memory of where we were on our ride and I was too close to my stop to try to figure out how to plug in my destination and select the same route while also concentrating on my current location. Frustrating.
PerformanceGaines Plane travel almost always makes me feel sick for a few days after, so I try to push myself to exercise a little bit in hopes that I will recover faster. This is a very friendly, non-intimidating, new, open, and clean gym. They had everything I needed-- barbells, power racks, spotting arms for said racks, and even some TRX straps on the wall so I could wobble around trying to do some single-leg squats on my bad knee leg. A day pass is $30 which you can buy online in advance if you'd like. It's a little pricey, but I found the splurge worth it for getting my energy back up.
Immersion Spa Every time I travel from Wisconsin to the Bay Area, I do a web search to see if any Japanese bath houses have opened up. I haven't been to Japan for over 20 years, but how much I enjoyed the bath houses stuck with me-- particularly now that I live in a house with a 10 inch deep tub. San Jose and San Francisco have "Japan Town" areas (and Madison doesn't, in case you were wondering) so I keep hoping something will open up. Well, it has not. However, there is a new Korean bathhouse in Palo Alto called Immersion Spa.
How different could it be? As it turns out, not hugely different. A little different. There is an area for scrubbing yourself down, either in a western-style shower or the more traditional stool and handheld shower area. Then there are 5 features: 1. A big jacuzzi (instead of the Japanese still soaking tub I would have expected) 2. An ice bath, which didn't actually contain ice but was very cold 3. Steam room 4. Sauna 5. Himalayan rock salt-lined room, which is supposed to be full of positive ions or something. Immersion Spa also offers a number of full-body scrub services if you're into that sort of thing. Day pass here is also $30.
Other than that, the same stuff I remember was there. Lots of great food, especially sushi. Fantastic weather, of course. But why hasn't Palo Alto gotten the Ford GoBikes? C'mon, we even have bike sharing here in Madison.
As a side note, I received no compensation for this blog post. I just liked this stuff. And, although it has nothing to do with Palo Alto, I broke out the ol' Rick Steves Carry-On Backpack and was quite glad I did. It even got a positive comment from the TSA worker who asked me to get my laptop out and watched me zip the thing wide open so I could extract it quickly. I wore it as a backpack from the airport to the hotel and managed to make do without checked luggage. It was packed full, so my armpits ached a bit at the end of my journey (it could use an across-chest strap) but it enabled me jump on and off public transportation, and to run for my plane departing San Jose without wrangling a roller case.
Good to see you, Palo Alto.