I was on vacation in California (San Jose/Santa Clara), and just got back Sunday night. That explains why I've been away for a while. I had a wonderful time, visiting Berkeley, San Francisco, a couple state and national parks (including the Muir Woods) and some sites around San Jose. While those are wonderful experiences, I figured that I should comment on things that you guys might be more interested in. I'm going to chronicle some of my experiences with the various types of transportation I took on this trip.
This was my first ever time flying. My parents weren't big on travel and I really had no good excuse for taking a big trip previously. Beyond a few first timer "what the h*** am I doing?" moments including setting off a metal detector because I forgot to take make phone out of my pocket, things went smoothly. Since I was traveling with someone who had a disability (lung problems), we got to preboard every flight.
Beyond a few freaky points of turbulence around Salt Lake City, the flights themselves went smoothly as well. Of course, the more experienced flyers in my party said that it was "nothing" and it probably was, but to someone who's never experienced that before, it gives you pause.
The only true snafu was on our second flight of the return trip (yay, two layovers). As the plane was pulling into the gate at the Minneapolis airport, the pilot overshot the gate door by 18 inches, and we spent an extra 20-30 minutes waiting to get towed into place. This wasn't so bad, except for the fact that our next flight was about an hour after we first landed, and the Minneapolis airport is rather large, so we didn't have a lot of time to begin with, and it was ticking away. Thankfully , we got to ride an electric cart to the next gate, and made it just in time for pre-boarding.
In all, I was just impressed with how smoothly things went. There are the horror stories of the security checkpoints and delayed flights, because things going correctly rarely make good news or stories ("This just in, everything's A-OK"). Every single one of my flights was on time. Given the enormity of the task at hand, I'm surprised that airlines run as well as they do. Overall, it was a positive experience. I don't plan on jet-setting that often, though.
Trains (and buses)
The Bay Area has some pretty decent public transportation. I didn't ride on BART, but I did ride Caltrain and the San Francisco Muni. In all, it was about $13 per day for transportation (total of ~$26 for the two days we went to SF). I'd consider that well worth it for not having to find or pay for parking in SF.
In all, it was about like every other public transportation you'd likely take. Not much was noteworthy, except that the scale is far greater than Madison, and that one of the train announcers decided to have a little fun with us on one of our return trips (he hammed up his stop announcements to our great appreciation).
Oh, and light rail for commuting needs to be more prevalent.
We rented a Mazda CX-9 for our trip (not my choice). It was useful for our luggage and also for hauling around our travel wheelchair. I was one of 2 drivers (yay being 25), and for the trip we averaged about 21-22 MPG (and ~80 PMPG overall), certainly beating the new EPA and being just about at old EPA. It was a 6-speed manumatic, and it was able to keep pretty decent load at low RPMs and high speed. It seems like a decent hypermiling vehicle, but I felt out of my own skin, being in a different car (and class of car) and in a different location, so I didn't do too well.
I heard some horror stories about California drivers, and the guy we were visiting gave me a little primer on some of the quirks (u-turns are legal, and blinkers are rarely used). I tried doing some basic hypermiling, but DWB was hard since the car coasted almost too well, and I'm not terribly comfortable with FAS'ing. Still, even though I went consistently 5-10 MPH below the speed limit, other drivers were very courteous. They gave me plenty of room behind me and didn't really cut me off. I saw plenty of stupid moves in other places and lanes more to the left, but not really around me.
Also, I took to some mountain driving when goin up to a state park. That was a bit freaky, what with the no guardrails in some places. I tried to drive smoothly and efficiently but there's little you can do when you're making a huge climb on the way up and having to ride the brakes on the way down.
I was so glad when I got back to Madison and got into my Prius. I felt comfortable on the road again.
There was a lot of walking involved, especially around the state parks...and San Francisco. There are some wicked hills, and we had to push a friend around in a wheelchair. Sometimes it took 3 of us to get up those hills and still it was tiring. We averaged about 4-5 miles per day on our hike and SF days. It was quite a workout.
Oh, and we played games of "spot the hybrids" during our trip. The Bay area has a lot of them, and more than a few hybrid taxis.