Alcatraz, where my childhood favorite movie was set, The Rock
After a week in New York and another one in hot, humid Richmond, where I had a very blessed time due to who was there, I finally arrived to the official destination of my trip: Mountain View, where Google has more employees then the number of people who live in my hometown of Marghita.
The trip there consisted of a long and quite stressful day, which started off with a rush and not getting a chance to say good bye to all my new friends, then my plane getting delayed, almost missing my connecting flight, scratching my rental car, taking two wrong turns on the 5 lane 101 Highway (with GPS of course), before, with God's help, getting to the GSuites in Mountain View.
Being quite tired after two weeks of vacationing, I decided to take it easy on that Saturday and mostly relax. Woke up late, eventually walked down Castro Street (which is where basically all social life is happening in Moutain View). Had brunch (I so love brunch :X:X) at the Posh Bagel (recommended by Google Now). While eating my really big strawberry jam pancake, I noticed that the next thing Google is recommending that I do is to visit the Computer History Museum. TripAdvisor also said it's the number 1 thing to do in Mountain View, so I decided to slowly drag myself over there.
MTV is a nice, quiet place. It's super boring, but it has nice weather, nice wide streets and tall palm trees. It's really nice to relax, but I wouldn't want to live there. And of course, like everything in California, it's sprawled out and it has a bad public transport.
The Computer History Museum was super cool. They had a recreation of the Babbage differential engine and they showed how it worked! Ever since reading The Difference Engine and then learning about what Charles Babbage had created and how Ada Lovelace may have been the first programmer in the world, I have been fascinated by these mechanical computers. While the difference engine was not Turing complete, Babbage later developed plans for the Analytical Engine, which had arithmetic logic units, control flow and memory, thus theoretically being able to calculate any computable function.
Of course, they had plenty of other things, such as parts of the ENIAC, a Google self-driving car (not that there are not plenty of them on the road in California), a Cray supercomputer, drones, robots, parts of satellites, original arcade games, and pretty much every computer that was built from 1960 to 1990. For geeks, it's a must visit.
On Sunday, after church, I went to see San Francisco. I went with the Caltrain, which was quite decent. It was definitely better than Romanian trains. I found the upper deck to be interesting, because each side had to be accessed separately, the part between them being used for luggages. The seats were also a bit cramped.
Because I didn't have any definite plans, I just started walking around from the train station. I passed the AT&T Park, home of the Giants, surrounded by all the statues and plaques of famous players. I continued walking around the piers and then along the Embarcadero. Eventually I turned into the city and went to the Coit Tower, which was closed however by the time I got there. Conclusion: San Francisco is more hilly than a roller coaster. The streets may look straight on the map, but they are going up and down several times and they really work your legs.
The only place I would have liked to visit in San Francisco was Alcatraz (one of my favorite action movies is The Rock), but tickets must be bought a month in advance, so the boat had sailed. Instead, I walked over to the Fishermans Wharf and took photos of it from a distance.
Pier 39 is a very crowded place, full of all kinds of shops. These shops include places like Chocolate Heaven, the best chocolate shop in the world, an Irish Treasure Ireland Gift shop, an Original Sourdough bread soup, a 7D cinema experience, a one man band playing at the entrance, the Aquarium of the bay, the Crystal shop with Swarovskis, We Be Knives, a knife shop, Lefty's, the San Francisco Left Hand store, Shirtique, Candy Baron and many others. In other words, you can find pretty much anything you could want there, mixed together on pier less than 500m long.
And it also has the Luigi's Pizzeria, where I had my worst eating out experience. Having learned my lesson that in America you order small portions, anything else being way too big, I ordered a small pizza. After some time, a pizza is brought to my table. I go wash my hands. By the time I get back, the pizza is gone. I look around very puzzled and the waiter comes to me explaining that "Ooops, that was the wrong order". Okay, no problem, it happens. After some more waiting, another pizza comes. I look at it suspiciously, because it's too small. I don't believe that an American small pizza is THAT small. I ask the waiter, and it turns out that it's actually a mini pizza, because he messed up my order. So he takes it back and I have to wait some more. After this, he finally brings the correct pizza. When I ask for the bill, he brings back a bill which had both pizzas on it, so I ask him to take it back and correct it. And after this I miss the last train back to Mountain View. :( Because who would have thought that in a city this size the last train on a Sunday leaves at 9:15.
During the week I got lost explored the Google campus mostly (they have dinosaur skeleton :D).
What's the most iconic landmark in San Francisco? The Gold Gate Bridge, so that's where I went the next Saturday. While I was there, I also visited the Google SF office, which is really well hidden and I found it only because of the badge readers at the entrance. But they have a TARDIS inside :D
One really cute thing in San Francisco is the fact that they have little snippets of information placed all over the place. You either have little metallic plaques with inscriptions on the sidewalk or poles with pictures and explanations, all over the place (at least along the Embarcadero area, where I walked most). It's a fun way to get to know some less well know tidbits of information, which would otherwise be ignored by most people.
Getting to the Golden Gate Bridge was more interesting. The bus system in San Francisco... is bad. There were 3 buses stopped with "Out of Service" in my station and because of that I barely noticed when my bus finally arrived, about 10 minutes late. There are (at least) two different bus companies, with different ticket prices. Plus the BART and the Caltrain. Which are all completely different systems which I don't think interact with each other. After going on the bus for half an hour, we cross the Golden Gate Bridge and then I'm waiting for it to stop, knowing that there is a stop right after. I keep waiting, and I get mildly suspicious that I might have to press a button to get it to stop, but I don't see any. After we get to Sausalito, the first village after, I see that there are actually some strips on the wall that you have to press to order the stop. So I had to walk back about 2.5 km until the bridge. And then cross the bridge, which is 2.7 km long. At least I did my steps for that day. And for another one too :))
The Golden Gate Bridge is... well... a bridge. It's nice and colorful, the sunset is nice, but you can't take nice pictures of the ocean because of it, it's quite windy and it's very long. But there weren't too many people on it. It's a once in a lifetime thing.
On Sunday I spent most of my time with the brothers and sisters from the assembly in San Bruno and I didn't wander around too much.
On Wednesday I went to the cinema to see Terminator Genesys. First off, good grief, the traffic is insane. I ended up leaving the car about 10 minutes away because the cars were moving so slowly. Second, the cinema itself was a nice surprise. It had very comfortable leather seats, with adjustable leg rests. Veeery nice. Third, the movie was ok. I mean it's a movie about time travel and robots. I didn't really understand why people were complaining it didn't make sense. It makes about as much sense as any other movie with grandfather paradoxes can make. Four, the ticket was cheap too, almost half the price of a movie ticket here in Zurich.
Which brings me to my most profound realisation I had from my US trip: that Switzerland is expensive. Food is at least 50% more here, movie tickets are almost double, electronics are usually at least 10-15% more, and they say clothes too, but I don't have much experience in buying that in either of the countries. When I moved to Switzerland, I knew everything was more expensive than in Romania, but then again my salary was also higher, so I didn't realize the actual difference in living standards.
I had a really great time in America. I met lots of great people, I saw many things, I got to see something of the different culture that is here, and even as a bussiness trip, I managed to get a lot of things done and schedule many things for my next quarter. I hope I'll be able to go again next year!