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Going to San Francisco: the longest May 7 of our lives

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Un vieux pick up Ford tient compagnie à des voitures plus récentes sur le bas côté...

Although our plane doesn’t take off until Tuesday May 7 at 9.10am, our vacation begins the day before. We therefore took advantage of Monday to complete our preparations, and to pack our suitcases. Tomorrow, we are going to San Francisco (just like the song says).

The weather is fine at the beginning of May, and we take the afternoon off to rest. I take the opportunity to completely disconnect from my professional activity. For that, I watch a few YouTube channels, a good way to put my brain on pause. In the evening, we go for dinner at my parents’ who look after our daughters, so we can spend a little time with them before we leave.

Waking up (too) early, and going to San Francisco!

On Tuesday, when the alarm clock goes off to wake us from a brief nocturnal torpor, it’s only 3.20am. Even though we went to bed (very) early, it’s still far too early! The excitement of departure soon takes over. However, and while I’m ready in just a few minutes, Sarah takes a little longer. But, no worry: I’d anticipated this! I take advantage of these last few minutes to say goodbye to my cat. By the time my watch shows 4.00 am, we’re already in the car heading for Switzerland. 

Arrival in Switzerland airport

In less than two hours, we reach Ferney-Voltaire, where we’ve reserved a parking space ,via the ZenPark platform. Access is difficult, and the door that should have let us into the building refuses to open at first. Don’t panic, we’re a little ahead of schedule, and everything will eventually be back to normal.

Indeed, we leave the car, hoping to find it in the same condition. We’ve never used this platform before, and our level of trust isn’t at its highest. The transaction, for two weeks, will have cost us around a hundred euros. It saved us from paying for parking at Geneva airport, which would have cost nearly 500 Swiss francs. At this early hour of the morning, it’s still cool and the streets are still deserted. We take a bus straight to the airport before checking in our luggage. Finally, we have breakfast and go through security.

Going to San Francisco with two planes

Our flight to the USA will be in two parts. First, SWISS INTERNATIONAL AIR LINES flight LH 5749 will take us to Munich, Germany. We should arrive there at around 10.20am. Next, UNITED AIRLINES flight LH 7995 will take us to San Francisco International Airport. We’ll land in California at 14:30 local time.

First flight to Munich, Germany

Our first flight is not without surprises. The plane is far from full. Sarah and I are seated on the right side of the cabin. On the other side of our row is seated a young German woman. She is on the phone since we boarded the plane and won’t hang up until we reach cruising altitude. I immerse myself in Michael Connelly’s novel “Two Kinds of Truth”, which I’ve brought with me. Arriving in Munich, we only have a short time before catching our connecting flight.

According to our boarding passes, Sarah and I are not seated next to each other. Fortunately, we manage to get our tickets changed! After all, with eleven hours of flying ahead of us, it’s a lot nicer to be seated next to each other. 


As we stand in line at our terminal, on the United Airlines side, a female law enforcement officer pulls me aside and asks me a series of questions in an unwelcoming tone about my relationship with Sarah and my trip:

“Where do you live? How do you know each other? Where do you go? What are you going to do in the USA? How long will you be there? Have you rented a car here? Which rental company? How much luggage do you have in the hold? Who had access to this luggage? What about your backpacks? Where are you from today? I’m a little bewildered, having never had to carry out such an interrogation at the departure or connecting airport, but I manage to answer each question honestly. All the while, I don’t realize it at the time, but Sarah is also isolated to undergo the same treatment. Our answers are presumably accepted by the agents, as we are allowed to board.

Second flight, going (finally) to San Francisco!

A technology I didn’t know

Unlike our previous flight, this plane seems to be fully booked. The crew serves us plenty to eat! We start with an aperitif and a drink, followed by a hot vegetarian dish (for me) and an ice cream dessert. A snack is also offered shortly afterwards.

One feature of this aircraft catches our eye. The windows are tinted by means of a dimmer switch, meaning that the crew decides which tint to apply to the airplane’s windows, gradually darkening the glass. There are no manually-operated white shutters, as we often see, but a mechanism managed by the crew in general, with the possibility for each person to vary the tint of his or her individual window, as desired. For much of the flight, the windows remain tinted at maximum to simulate night (since it’s bedtime in California) and thus better absorb the effects of jet-lag. By the time we arrived, we were less tired than usual for this type of long-haul trip. So, it seems to be working!

Hector, the first encounter

In going to San Francisco with this first flight, Sarah sits on my right, against a window. On my left side, there is a man in his sixties with a moustache and a cap. As is often the case in this kind of situation – where you’re supposed to spend several hours next to someone you don’t know – we exchange a few banalities. We don’t settle for a few small-talks, however, and I learn a few things about him. His name is Hector, and he’s making the trip with three of his relatives in the seats in the middle of the aisle.

Who’s Hector?

The man explains that he lives in San Diego, California with his family and is originally from the Philippines. He also tells me that he knows a few French words such as “comment ça va?”, learned in Tunis where he worked for several months as a nurse. He loves to travel and has already had the opportunity to visit Saudi Arabia, many Asian countries and a few in Europe.

What does he do in this plane?

Today, he’s back from a ten-day trip to the Czech Republic and Austria. He would have liked to have visited Paris and a number of Scandinavian countries, notably Norway, but there just isn’t enough time. He’ll be back in Europe another time to explore this part of the world that inspires him so much. I explain him why we are going to San Francisco and what we will do during our road trip.

A trip is about meeting people!

Hector remarks that I’m very slim compared to him, who considers himself overweight. I’ll always remember this conversation, brief as it was, with this man who, as soon as he was seated, spontaneously shook my hand to introduce himself. As we often say, a trip is also about meeting people, and Hector was the first person on the list for this trip.

Some movies

Long flights are often an opportunity to discover or re-watch films on the small screen embedded in the headrest of the seat in front of us. As I have two young children and don’t go to the cinema as much as I used to, I’m taking this opportunity to catch up a little. 

I start with a film that hadn’t really appealed to me up to that point, but which I really enjoyed once it was over: Venom. It features a declining journalist who finds himself linked to an alien creature intent on protecting planet Earth from other aliens. 

Next, I immerse myself in a film I’d missed when it came out in cinemas but would have liked to see: First Man. It’s a drama about the life of Neil Armstrong during the conquest of space, a subject I’m very interested in. I found the film touching, in a good way. 

Finally, the third and last film I chose to watch is none other than John Wick 2. I hadn’t had a chance to see it yet, although I thought the first one was very good. This one is faithful to the previous opus, but also extremely violent. And the more time goes by, the less I appreciate this over-the-top violence, which can be found in some very good productions.

Landing at SFO: we are in California!

After a chat with Hector and three films, the plane finally lands in San Francisco. It’s time to get off, stretch our legs and, above all, wait in the (very) long customs queue. So, after spending a good hour filling in the ESTA from France a few weeks ago, answering some rather intrusive questions at Munich airport with Sarah when we switched to United Airlines to make our connection, spending a little time on the plane giving the same information provided on the ESTA on another piece of paper supplied by United, we still have to answer the same questions on a computer that takes our picture and, then,… wait… over an hour to be checked by an “inspector” who validates our passport.

We can then pick up our suitcase, which is waiting for us beside the conveyor belts. Obviously, this part of the journey is never a pleasure, especially after a twelve-hour flight, a long day, and when the destination airport – in this case SFO – is undergoing renovation… But that’s the price you pay for setting foot on the soil of the world’s leading power.

Fresh California air

Eventually, we emerge from the airport for a well-deserved breath of fresh air, which has nothing to do with the dry, recycled air of the plane or the oppressive atmosphere of the terminals. Sure, we’ve stepped outside and can breathe – slightly – cleaner air, but we’re still surrounded by asphalt. We’re enjoying the sunshine, while the cool breeze, typical of my Frisco visits, is blowing in. It’s a very pleasant feeling, especially after all that time spent stuck in the plane and standing in airport queues. We join the minivan that’s supposed to take us to our AirBnB in Daly City, a municipality southwest of San Francisco.

Arriving in Daly City

On the road, I spot my first Mustang of the trip (generation 5, GT, phase 2, dark blue), then quickly another one (generation 4, early 2000s, white) and yet another (2012 GT model, dark blue and customized). Traffic flows smoothly, thanks only to the considerable number of lanes on this stretch of road in the cityscape, with many cars on the road and all lanes occupied.

We finally arrive at our AirBnB and greet the man who appears to be our host, busy tinkering with his car. We punch in the code needed to enter the house and go upstairs to put our suitcases in the room reserved for us. By the time we get to know our new surroundings, take a shower and write a few lines on the blog I keep up for the family, it’s already 2:00 am in France. I close the computer when Sarah comes out of the bathroom, and we set off to wander around and look for a nice place to have our first-in-a-longtime American meal. 

In search of an American diner in Daly City

Well, let’s face it, American diners as we like them aren’t plentiful around our AirBnB. However, a restaurant 2.3 km (1.5 miles) away seemed to suit us both. It’s not next door and will allow us (or rather “force us” in Sarah’s mind) to walk a little before and after dinner. It’s an opportunity for me to see a blue 1966 Ford Mustang, like mine, followed by many others, including fourth-generation Mustangs (not very common in France) driven by mothers (even less common in our country).

The Boulevard Café

Finally, we arrive at the junction of John Daly Boulevard and Poncetta Drive, where we spot The Boulevard Café, the restaurant we’ve come to find. It turns out to be typical and just what we could have hoped for in our first meal. As soon as we step through the front door, we can feel the air-conditioning beating against the skin of our arms. Inside, we are the only travelers. Around us, a family, two old-timers in cowboy hats and a few couples here and there. This is America without tourists! The smaller tables seat a minimum of four people, and each table is well separated from the one next to it. It’s a restaurant just the way I like it! A spacious restaurant, a warm welcome and the scent of the cuisine permeating our nostrils. It’s just great!

A wide choice of dishes

Just as we had read about the restaurant before leaving our AirBnB, the establishment has been open since 2005. The menu offers a wide choice of dishes prepared on site using fresh produce. These include a number of starters and salads, sandwiches, burgers and pasta dishes. You can also find children’s menus and daily specials. The choice is so vast that it’s hard to decide.

Luckily, the burger menu isn’t too long and Sarah, who often has a hard time choosing – and not changing her mind – takes a little longer than I do to make up her mind. In the end, she settled on an all-American burger, while I opted for a mac & cheese platter. Sarah’s dish consists of half a pound of meat, tomatoes, onions, pickles, bacon, avocado and mushrooms. Mine is a mix of pasta, asiago and mozzarella. We both enjoy the comfort that comes with a good meal after crossing an ocean. We enjoy the moment, the simplicity of the setting and the authentic taste of the food.

Our French waiter

This first meal will undoubtedly stay in our minds for many years after this long day. What’s more, our waiter surprised us by addressing us directly in French, with a lovely American accent. We’ve been unmasked. As if to apologize for having discovered us, he explains his parents are of French origin. Also, he precise that he’s moving to Montpellier, France this summer to continue his studies and join his mother. When I ask him where his parents are from, his answer leaves us speechless. 

His mother is from Pau, south of France. His father is from a small town called Villefranche-Sur-Saône, “which you probably don’t know”, he tells us. When I explain that this is precisely where we live, he’s as surprised as we are. Yes, it’s a small world out there! Once again, we have a lot of fun chatting with him.

End of this (long) first day

On this unexpected coincidence (our second encounter on this trip), we pay and walk the remaining mile and a half to our AirBnB. It’s 8 p.m. here, or 5 a.m. tomorrow in France.

After these two flights going to San Francisco and a glimpse of Daly City, it’s time for bed. We decide to go to bed to soak up a little more of the jet-lag. By the way, tomorrow is likely to be rich in discoveries! We will starting with a visit to Alcatraz Island booked a few months ago.

It’s been almost five years since I last set foot in the beautiful State of California. It’s with great satisfaction and new suitcases (literally and figuratively) that I’m back, this time with my other half. I don’t need to count the many Mustangs I’ve seen today to fall asleep peacefully in this region I’m particularly fond of. Meanwhile, several thousand miles away, our daughters are about to embark on another day at their grandparents’.