San Francisco diary – Day 2: 2 Feb 2014


The alarm woke us this morning at 07:30. M. slept well, but I had a very restless night. Nevertheless, we ate some Grape Nuts for breakfast and then rugged up for a bleak and wet day outside. It was cold and grey and rainy, so we put on all our layers. Despite this, it was very chilly and miserably damp as we walked down to Market St and then the Ferry Building to get a Blue Bottle coffee for M. The wind howled through the streets and made it very uncomfortable, but thankfully the rain was not too heavy.

At the Ferry Building we sheltered inside for a while as M. drank her morning coffee. She also got me a hot chocolate, which was nice and warming. We sat looking through the windows out to a windswept bay, with whitecaps spraying foam in the middle distance. I’ve never seen it look so miserable out there. We also saw some enormous seagulls, at least twice as big as the ones back home. After finishing our drinks we browsed in the book shop there for a few minutes before leaving.

We’d originally planned to take a ferry to Sausalito today, but the weather made us switch to an indoor plan, and we walked up the Embarcadero to the new Exploratorium at Pier 15. We got there just before opening time at 10:00, hoping to get in out of the rain quickly. But when we arrived, we were stunned to see a queue of people about 60 or 70 metres long snaking out across the exposed waterfront to the adjacent pier, then out along that pier a distance. We hurried out to the end of the queue, which was thankfully in the shelter of an overhanging roof, so we could close our umbrellas. But we didn’t relish the thought of the queue advancing slowly, leaving us in the exposed section for several minutes.

Queuing in the rain
The queue to get into the Exploratorium. The queue runs right across the middle of the photo (all the people with umbrellas), then towards the camera.

At 10:00 the doors opened and the queue moved into the museum fairly quickly. We advanced in steps to the end of the covered area and braced ourselves for the crossing of the unsheltered part. But we were fortunate as the queue moved very quickly after that. We almost didn’t stop in the open, moving quickly into the building and thankfully putting down our umbrellas again. Inside the building the queue was still about 20 metres to the ticket sale counters, but this moved fairly rapidly too. We only discovered the reason when we went to pay and the guy at the counter just gave us two tickets and said it was free entry today!

We dropped our outer layers and umbrellas in a locker then went inside to explore. The place was already busy with people, with lots of kids running around and trying all of the interactive exhibits. It was a little tricky getting a go at some of them, but with a little patience we managed to have a look at most things. Highlights included a giant virtual image mirror, which made it look as though you could touch a copy of yourself floating upside down, projected a few metres in front of the mirror. This was very popular, with several people constantly standing in front of it and gawking. There were also numerous other optical devices and illusions, perceptual illusions, magnetic and electric demos, fluid dynamics, chaotic pendulums, things that made noise or played with your hearing, and a section full of biological displays including lots of microscopes aimed at interesting micro-organisms or cells or other things. There was so much to see and do that even with hundreds of other people crowding the place we could always find an unattended exhibit to play with, or one we could have a go at with just a short wait. I think we managed to try more than half of them – trying them all would require a full day and some very good luck with some of the most popular ones.

Eye dissection
Exploratorium staff dissect a cow’s eyeball in front of curious kids.

As it was, we didn’t notice the time passing until it was almost 14:00, at which point we suddenly got hungry for our overdue lunch. We quickly walked past a section or two of exhibits we hadn’t seen yet, stopping at a few to try them out along the way. Then we looked in the museum shop quickly, and by about 14:30 we headed out and back down towards the Ferry Building, where we turned on to Market St and the Noah’s New York Bagels place we’d seen earlier, to get some lunch. Fortunately the rain had stopped by now and the cloud was breaking up a little, but it was still chilly and a little windy.

M. had a pumpernickel bagel with cream cheese and a blueberry bagel, while I had a pumpernickel bagel sandwich with pastrami, salad, and mustard. It was good and satisfying after the long time since breakfast. Then we walked back down Market St again and past Union Square and Macy’s to find the Hilton Hotel, where the conference will be this week. On the way we stopped in at the San Francisco Giants Dugout merchandise shop on Geary St, where M. bought a long sleeved Giants T-shirt. There was also one I wanted, but they didn’t have my size, so the guy phoned the baseball park store and is getting one sent over, which we can pick up on Tuesday afternoon.

Heading from there to the Hilton we got a bit confused until we finally located it, then got turned around inside the maze inside as I sought the conference rooms to find the registration desk. Having received my registration package, we left again and returned to our hotel. We rested for a while until it was time to go out for dinner.

We decided to try Italian tonight, and walked through Chinatown to North Beach. We found a place called Calzone’s on Columbus Avenue, which had been packed yesterday as we walked past and which M. liked the look of. We got a table inside, at a booth, and ordered some garlic bread and a calzone each, Mediterranean for M., which had eggplant, spinach, and cheese, while I had a Philly cheesesteak one. We also got a glass of wine each, Chianti for M. and a Zinfandel for me. The food was reasonably good, but the decor was very cool, with lots of bottles and strings of garlic hanging up everywhere over red painted walls. They had a liquorice cheesecake for dessert, which I had to try, and that was very good, with a strong liquorice flavour. It came with a minted mascarpone cream, which added a good element, and dripped with raspberry sauce, which was a bit discordant. But overall a good meal.

Calzones at Calzone's Liquorice cheesecake
Calzones and liquorice cheesecake at Calzone’s, North Beach.

We walked back with a very light sprinkle of rain which eased off quickly. The Golden Gate Bakery in Chinatown which we’d passed yesterday with a queue of about forty people outside it was still open, and had no queue, although there were three or four customers inside. Seeing how popular this place was, I decided I had to try a moon cake from there for the recent Chinese New Year. I got a lotus seed cake, which I will probably eat tomorrow.

Back at the hotel we showered and then turned in for the night. I need to be bright and early tomorrow for the start of the conference!

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