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One of our favorite excursions is experimenting with public transportation. Here in greater San Francisco, a wide variety of transportation tempts us, and on a beautiful day in late January we left home at 8 in the morning to see what we could see. We began by talking across the street to the AC Transit bus stop. Our bus takes us through the commercial center of Alameda, through the shopping center, across the bridge to Oakland, and ends at the closest BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) stop.

We found the BART train almost empty, even before the end of rush hour, because we were headed away from Oakland and San Francisco, down the eastern side of San Francisco Bay, first past the factories and crowded houses of San Leandro and San Pablo, then along hillsides where the occasional cow could be seen in the occasional small pasture

The end of the BART line is in Fremont, where we boarded a VTA (Valley Transit Authority) bus which took us past a landfill next to an automobile assembly plant, onto and off two freeways, and into the outskirts of the high-tech complexes north of San Jose. Our bus stop in San Jose Our San Jose bus stop

We left the bus at the stop called Civic Center. We never did find any civic offices near this stop, but we did enjoy a lovely green park. Walking toward downtown San Jose, we passed a number of lovely homes, some of them still privately occupied but many of which had been turned into offices. We knew we were still in Civic Center territory because many of the businesses offered bail bonds or similar legal services.

We were tempted into a detour by a sign pointing us to the Guadeloupe River Bike Trail, but turned back before we found it (later we saw the river, which was a disappointingly concrete ribbon running through the city. Since we are in a drought, the lack of water was not unexpected).

A light-rail train running silently on tracks at the edge of the sidewalk glided silently past us. We made a mental note to try that sometime.

Morning in downtown San Jose A morning chat Downtown San Jose, midmorning, was quiet and peaceful, with stores and restaurants just opening with a mix of professional workers with briefcases, shoppers, and street people with shopping cards. We walked by a park; across the street was the courthouse, so we had found a major part of the civic center at last.

We stopped for an early lunch at Hanuman Thai Restaurant. The owner has lived and worked in nearby Milpitas for nineteen years and has opened this restaurant for her son. In a few months she plans to open another for her other son. She was right at the door, greeting customers and chatting about Thai food. We recommend this restaurant to our friends in the area, because it is delicately cooked and delicious, as mile or as spicy as a person might want.

HP Pavilion, San Jose The HP pavilion After lunch we started on the second half of our journey, walking west toward the HP Pavilion. Banners on light poles advertised "SAP OPEN" which mystified us until we reached the Pavilion and saw the banner photographs of tennis players.

The Caltrain station near HP Pavilion, San Jose CalTrain station Just across the street is the San Jose Diridon Transit Center, the station for Caltrain. We bought two senior-rate one-way tickets to San Francisco, which cost us under eight dollars. Again, the train was nearly empty (it was early afternoon and we were once again going counter to commuter traffic). We sat in comfortable seats watching the little stations and backyards of Silicon Valley cities flash past.

Caltrain stops at the edge of downtown San Francisco, near Candlestick Park. We could have taken a bus or trolley to Union Square, but chose to walk instead. Near our final destination, in the basement of Macy's department store at Union Square, we stopped for dessert at Ben and Jerry's -- milkshake for Bob, frozen yogurt for Elsa (we didn't try their newest flavor, "Yes, pecan" but appreciated its name.

Arrival in San Francisco Our train arrives in San Francisco A final walk past glamorous San Francisco shops led us to the BART station and our train under San Francisco Bay, where we boarded our bus for the final leg of our journey.

Since we are retired, we have the luxury of taking our time. With our various senior discounts, our day cost us relatively little -- less, in fact than we would have spent in gas for the truck. Best of all, though was the relaxed enjoyment of the countryside and people-watching which we'd never have managed behind the wheel.