San Francisco 2013 diary: Day 1

Now that I’m caught up with writing all my travel diaries, there’s one more to be posted – my trip to San Francisco in February to attend the Electronic Imaging 2013 conference and present a paper there. (Oh and look, I’ve rediscovered the “read more” tag.)

Sunday, 3 February, 2013. 13:45. Millbrae BART Station

I am sitting here waiting for a train to San Francisco, after my flight from Sydney landed about three hours ago. The flight actually left Sydney at 16:20 Sunday afternoon (today), so I’ve arrived earlier thaI left thanks to crossing the international date line.

The flight was notable only for a few small details. When I checked in at Sydney, they charged me $70 excess luggage fee for the poster tube I’m carrying to transport my conference poster. At least I should be able to claim that expense back from work. I also asked about an exit row seat, and the woman at the desk said United charges for those. It was $160. I thought about it for a second, and the thought of being in a normal cramped economy seat for 14 hours swayed me to part with the cash. I’m glad I did, because I’m sure my flight was much more restful than it would have been otherwise. As it turned out I had the middle of three exit seats, with guys either side of me, both of whom spent part of the time watching boxing videos on their iPad or laptop.

The food was boring. The main point of interest was during the night when I had my eyes covered and was trying to snooze, when we hit some minor turbulence and the seat belt signs were activated. I heard a flit attendant ask a man standing in the open area near my seat to go back to his seat and fasten his belt. The man objected, saying, “If the plane crashes, I’m happy taking my chances here.” The attendant insisted and the man argued, saying, “You’re still walking around.” The woman patiently explained that it was her job, as it was also to look after the safety of passengers. The man refused to go back to his seat. Rather than escalate and make a scene, the attendant withdrew.

I must have managed to get some rest on be flight, because I was wide awake for the breakfast service and landing on time just before 10:50. Unfortunately we then had a wait of over an hour to get through immigration, as several flights had landed just before us by the look of the queues. After slogging through the queue, there was at least no wait for the baggage, as it had all been unloaded and was piled up ready to collect. I also had to collect my poster tube from the oversized luggage collection area. Then I walked outside to the hotel courtesy shuttle area. I didn’t remember exactly how it had worked last time I came to the same conference in 2011, and asked a group of four guys who looked like they might be attending the same conference if they were going to the Hyatt Regency. They said yes, in New Zealand accents, and before we could say much else, the shuttle labelled with our hotel name pulled up.

Five minutes later we were at the hotel and I checked into my room, getting one on the third floor with a view over the hotel carpark towards the airport and bay. I dashed back down to the lobby to collect my registration pack for the conference, then went back to the room and had a quick shower to wash off the travel grime. Refreshed, I set out with just my camera bag to head into the city. I walked north towards Millbrae, buying a banana at a small cafe along the way to tide me over until I can get a decent meal once in town.

I’ve noticed lots of people already wearing San Francisco 49ers gear or with decorated cars for the Superbowl game on today. I’ve just asked a middle-aged couple sitting near me on the train, both dressed in 49ers gear, when the game starts. They said at 15:30, which surprised me as I’d assumed it would be later this evening. They are going in to meet their kids at a bar in town and watch the game on a big screen. I guess it’ll be a bit weird in San Francisco today!

18:19. BART train from 16th and Mission to Millbrae

I took the train in to Embarcadero, getting off near the Ferry Building to see if the same woman who sold me the broccoli fridge magnet at the market there last time I was here was there. Some market stalls where there, but in various stages of packing up for the day, and I didn’t see the magnet woman.

I wanted to get to Fisherman’s Wharf as quickly as I could to get some food, so I hopped on a MUNI bus at the Ferry Building, paying $2 and receiving a transfer ticket which was good until 19:00! As it turned, out, this proved useful later on.

The bus dropped me off at the Aquarium and I walked the short distance to Pier 29. There were a few tourists around, but not very many. When I got to the pier, I saw the bar near the entrance there was full of people watching the Superbowl about to start on big TV screens. It was right across from Boudin bakery, where I wanted to get soup in a sourdough bowl. There was a bit of a queue, which gave me time to pick my soup from a choice of tomato, clam chowder, beef chili, or the daily special of yellow lentil with red peppers. I chose the beef chili this time, and took my meal out to the sunny tables outside, where I had a view across the pier to the TV screens inside the bar. From there I watched a bit of the pre-game stuff and then the kickoff as I ate.

34/365 San Francisco Sourdough
Chili in a sourdough bowl, Boudin Bakery, Pier 29.

I didn’t linger though. Once finished eating the chili and the bowl (which was delicious; you really can tell the difference immediately compared to what passes for sourdough back home), I had a quick look around, taking some photos of the Queen Victoria ocean liner which was docked a couple of piers down the Embarcadero. Then I walked towards Fisherman’s Wharf, wondering where I could get a bus to the Exploratorium or Presidio to seek out the Yoda statue near the Industrial Light & Magic offices. As I walked, I passed a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream stall, so I had to stop and get a cup of Cherry Garcia. I asked the woman serving if she knew where I could get a bus to the Exploratorium. She said she wasn’t sure, but she thought it was that direction, pointing in exactly the wrong direction to where I knew it was located. When I told her it was near the Presidio she said, “oh”, and then pondered which bus I should catch, asking her co-scooper for advice. They couldn’t agree on the most likely bus number, so I said I’d figure it out and thanked them.

Peace, Love & Ice Cream
Ben & Jerry’s, Fisherman’s Wharf.

I walked a few blocks inland to where I knew the bus routes tended to be and found a bus stop with a route map. That told me that if I walked another couple of blocks west I could catch a 30 almost all the way to where I wanted to go. So I did that, getting on the bus that arrived within a few minutes. On board, I pulled out my iPad and tried the GPS navigation on CityMaps2Go, which I’d preloaded with a map of San Francisco. It worked beautifully, showing me exactly where I was on the street map and allowing me to time my bus stop perfectly, leaving me a short walk to the Presidio entrance near the ILM buildings.

I don’t think I’ve ever been in the Presidio, and the art I saw was beautiful, with neatly kept lawns and gardens surrounding neat, modern buildings in a classic American architectural style. I walked along a path past a few buildings and through to the courtyard where the Yoda statue was, finding it exactly where I expected it. Nobody was around, so I took a few photos and then posed for a hand-outstretched self-portrait with it. As I was preparing to leave, two Indian guys pulled up in a car and wandered over purposefully. I asked if they were here to take photos of the Yoda statue too, and they said yes. So I asked them to take a photo of me and I took one of the both of them with the statue.

Me and Yoda
Me and the Yoda statue at ILM, in the Presidio.

As we were leaving, the asked me if there was anything else worth seeing around. I said there was a fancy dome thing over to the north side, which was beautiful in the sunset light. They got out tripods ad heavy duty camera gear from the car and went to take some photos. I asked if they happened to be in town for the Electronic Imaging conference too, but no, one of them said he was a local and his friend was visiting from Singapore. He told me the dome thing was the Palace of Fine Arts, and recommended I go to it for a closer look and to get some photos. So I followed his advice and walked towards it, crossing a street to get there.

22:18. Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport Hotel

I’m just about to go to sleep, but first I’ll finish off today’s events.

There were a few other people sightseeing at the Palace of Fine Arts, and a fine place it is to sightsee too. Monumental neoclassical architecture in golden sandstone hues, illuminated by the light of the setting sun, set next to a large pond full of ducks, grebes, and swans, reflecting the winter sky above and the colourful houses lining the street across a swathe of grass, where people were out walking or playing catch with a football. In the middle of the Palace there seemed to be a fashion shoot taking place, as a woman posed in a flashy yellow dress for a photographer, then appeared a few minutes later in a different outfit – I have no idea where she changed. A bench next to them held the yellow dress and bags full of other clothing.

Palace of Fine Arts
Palace of Fine Arts.

The sun set as I walked around and through the structure, which appeared to have no function other than being decorative. Then I walked back to a nearby bus stop I’d seen on the way and checked the map there. I determined that I could catch the 28 bus from this stop to the intersection of Lombard and Fillmore streets, then from there take the 22 bus all the way to the 16th Street and Mission BART station. Thankfully my transfer ticket from earlier was still valid!

While waiting on Fillmore Street for the 22 bus, I was near a bar where the Superbowl was on TV, and peeked in to see the score: Baltimore 28, San Francisco 6. No wonder there were disappointed people spilling out onto the street to smoke. I got on the bus and used my iPad again to track the route using GPS. A guy asked if I had Internet on the iPad, and when I said no, he said he wanted to know the score in the game. I told him the last I saw was 28 to 6, which he indicated was the score he saw 20 minutes ago. It turned out later than San Francisco almost pulled off a miracle comeback, but failed at the last minute.

It was dark by now, but I saw some interesting looking neighbourhoods as the bus proceeded down Fillmore Street. A lot of trees were decked with lights, which gave things a nice atmosphere. I spotted Mission Dolores lurking in the dark as we drove past – a place I’ve visited before. Then we reached Mission Street and I got off and went into the BART. Station there to catch my train back to Millbrae.

Walking home to the hotel from the station, I stopped on the way at El Torito to get some Mexican food for dinner. I picked what was marked as the “lite” option on the menu, which was a roast veggie enchilada and a chicken soft taco, with beans and rice. I also got a house special margarita to wash it down. It was good, but the serving was a bit big after my late and heavy lunch, so I left some rice on the plate, and barely made a dent in the complimentary chips and salsa.

El Torito dinner
Dinner at El Torito.

Then it was back to the hotel, where I am turning in and hoping to get a solid night’s sleep before getting up at around 07:00 to get read for the first day of the conference.

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