Places that begin with S — Seattle started the love affair with this letter, Switzerland spurred my eyes upward to the high mountains, and Singapore sparked my curiosity. A friend’s wedding a few weeks ago brought me to San Francisco, nearly 3000 miles away on the opposite end of the continent.



Like with my first visit to Singapore, much of the trip was planned around the wedding; perhaps one day I will learn to schedule extra vacation to explore distant lands rather than book weekend trips only for weddings. In my spare time, I first headed nearly all the way to the coast to wander around Alamo Square and to take a look at the Painted Ladies. We have a similar strip of colorful houses — also near the edge of our peninsula — in Charleston, but they’re not built on a hill.



Alamo Square itself is effectively a large dog park. The views (like the one that opened this post) are magical and the sunset light was warm and pleasant. Evidently, being in Charleston has done two things: 1) convinced me that warmer winters are somehow more enjoyable than wintery winters, and 2) made me appreciate panoramic views even more. A balmy January evening allowed for both, neither of which I would have expected having spent the majority of my winters in Illinois.



A quick foot tour around the city itself, with a stop at Yerba Buena Gardens, showed that even warm winter climes can have a leaf season. In San Francisco’s case, leaf season comprised a single leaf, but it still stood out among all of the green. (So much green! In winter!)



The next day started slightly overcast with the coast especially so. While I didn’t plan the trip with enough time photographically, it was neat to add another “S” city to the list. I didn’t have enough time to get to know the city, but flying into SFO was a nice touch. It continues to be a hub for the aging but majestic United 747-400 fleet, a diminishing sight as twinjets like the 777 and A350 replace older quads. The 747 defined trans-Atlantic (and later, trans-Pacific) flight, and it’s impossible to overstate the significance it had on the commercial aviation industry.



The iconic 747 was not the only symbolism of the trip. My ride into SFO was on a United 767 (N659UA) that started service nearly 22 years ago, whereas my return trip was on a 787-8, the 767’s direct replacement. It just so happened that this flight was operated by N30913, the newest airplane in United’s fleet and the last 787-8 it had left to be delivered. The 767 changed the scope of North Atlantic commercial travel: trijets and quadjets were at last replaced with twinjets when the 767 ushered in the era of safe, twin-engine jet transport. The 787-8 is incidentally opening new routes over the Pacific that are too small for the 777 — which largely replaced the 747-400 on several trans-Pacific routes — but with an appreciable range and efficiency improvement over its predecessor.


My fascination with the 777 was for its pioneering the “Working Together” concept at Boeing. With the 787, my interest is selfish: Charleston is an unideal airport to fly to distant destinations from, as it requires at least one layover prior to connecting onward. Maybe one day the efficiency of the 787 will allow it to serve Charleston directly, giving travelers to whichever S-city the best of both worlds: a local airport with short parking-to-gate times but serving a wide variety of domestic and international destinations.




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