To visit a new city for the first time and to connect with it, to really find a piece of yourself in it is magical without doubt. That is even why men travel, come to think of it...To satisfy the hunger for discovery and connection.
That first touch, first kiss with a city is what I get excited about when I travel and San Francisco was no exception to the rule. I was very, very excited to be going there. I had read all the cool city guides, and made an extensive list of all the restaurants I wanted to eat at and cocktails I wanted to drink. Even independent coffee and cigar shops had their own columns in my list. Locals' favorites mattered as well as all the typical touristic stuff. After 20 something years of active traveling, I finally have a pretty good idea of how I want to approach my discovery when I see new places. I believe that everybody has their own way of shaking hands with a new place. Some might prefer heavy listing and scheduling while others won't even book a hotel room before they set foot in the city. That's all very personal and personal is great. One thing I have personally learned about traveling is one can never really know what to expect from a new city until one is actually in it. Of all the things New York had thought me - and probably still is teaching- no expectations was the one single lesson I carry with me everywhere I go.
Other people's stories, movies or songs don't really matter. All you can expect from a new place will unveil itself as soon as you actually hear the unique buzz of the city. You know...sum of all the sounds that are very specific to a place. And the smells of course. Every city smells very differently. Only when you unite the smells and sounds of a city with photos you've seen or movies you've watched will they start to make sense. Only then a new place will become unforgettable in so many different ways.
So "Have no expectations and just go to San Francisco" was precisely what I did three years ago and boy did that work!..I fell in love with it. Absolute, unconditional love that brought me back here today. My second visit was just as amazing as the first one, if not more personal this time. On its many long and steep slopes that resembled the ones in Ankara, where I was born and lived until I was 24, I went back to my childhood streets and thought "Well, this feels homey". If you were used to living in a flat city though, you would probably feel like a space shuttle slowly reaching the peak to be launched into outer space. Needless to say my husband didn't fall in love with its slopes but he did love the sea and the seagulls and the sea lions at Pier 39 or anything that had something to do with the sea. Because that was his childhood connection San Francisco presented him. Even when we walked side by side, and stayed in the same room, ate the same food, took the same photos, our San Francisco experiences were still different. That's why discovery is beautiful and could be enjoyed alone just as much as with loved ones.
One thing everyone seems to agree on about this city is definitely how it makes you feel like you are somewhere in Europe. It's not necessarily European per say, in the way it looks but there's definitely something about it that feels very European. I didn't try to pinpoint why, just enjoyed it. I walked alone on its streets for hours, not feeling tired, only more and more excited as the hours passed. When my feet said stop, I stopped but kept teasing my mind and my heart, sitting at a local coffee shop, trying to name all the smells and listening to its buzz, tasting its coffee; just taking it all in. Ten years from now, if I ever smell that coffee again, I will remember and think of my moments in San Francisco and say to myself, "Damn I miss that city."
A city can also leave a trace in your heart through its people. I will never forget the beautiful and unique houses in San Francisco, maybe because I took 2 million photos of them. But I will most certainly never forget its people and their conversations. Like when I was sitting in that coffee shop, a woman, who looked to be in her late twenties, met with a guy, who wore a beanie and really cool jewelry. Listening to their conversation for the fist few minutes, I thought he was a designer of some sort and was there to be interviewed for a designing gig. They certainly didn't know each other and she was asking all sorts of questions to change that. Turns out they had met on match.com and this was their first date. Their conversation and the connection they were trying to make, made San Francisco only more interesting for me. I made another connection with the city through them, not because I'm on match.com but because I, too try to touch other people's lives all the time and want people in my life who can make a difference for me. I try hard to change and to connect every day in New York so yes, I will most certainly sympathize with two people trying to do the same in a coffee shop in San Francisco.
This city and I, we became very close friends. The kind of friends you share laughs with, not tears, fears or secrets; not the dark kind anyway. San Francisco has become what New York isn't. It's that good friend, who doesn't yet know me better than I know myself. We never had to go through difficult times together, only fun ones. Nothing but amazing food, great wine and truly unforgettable art, architecture, history...Have I mentioned good food?
Despite similarities -yes, rent is very high in San Francisco too- this city has or will never be like New York for me, my one and only. But it's not so bad either. It's my Europe lost in the States, my connection to a fun past full of good memories and who knows maybe even a future waiting to become my present. Whether I live in it some day or not, one thing is for sure: I will be back to connect with it a little more and yes, to have some more of its wines. San Francisco, you are beautiful in every way. See you next time.