San Francisco Diary

San Francisco is a pretty coastal city. I and my husband Harshad went there late 2007 to attend the Oracle OpenWorld conference which is held at Moscone Center every year.

San Francisco is a west coast city in the US and we travelled from India on a direct Mumbai-New York flight. We spent a couple of days with friends at the east coast. Apart from New York we also visited Washington DC , tales of which I will recount elsewhere. Both these cities had very cold weather (it rained in NewYork) and I caught a cold and the beginnings of flu inspite of all the layers of clothing. We left for San Fransisco very early on Sunday morning. I suffered from a horrible ear ache (which is quite common in air travel) during the flight inspite of the usual remedies of sweet-sucking and yawning. I had not yet recovered when we reached San Francisco at 2PM on Sunday.

A car was supposed to pick us up from the airport and take us to the Hilton Hotel. The driver of the car, Frank, was waiting for us at the terminal of the San Francisco Intl airport. He and Harshad waited with other passengers to collect baggage while I sat on a stationary carousel next to it feeling quite miserable. The three of us walked out of the airport and Frank loaded our bags in the car trunk. We rolled out of the airport and I got my first glimpse of San Francisco. My spirits rose slightly as I saw the sun shining down on the city. Frank informed us that we were lucky as it had rained the previous nights. As we got close to our destination – which was at downtown San Francisco, I noticed an odd building. The building had various pieces of furniture stuck on it’s front. It was as if a chair, a table, lampshades and other paraphernalia were acting Spiderman and had started climbing buildings.  I asked Frank about it and he told us that the building owner – a man named Patel – had wanted to sell the property but was unable to find a buyer because of the high price he was expecting. So instead of selling it cheap, he decided to convert it into a art gallery of sorts and invited artists to display their work.

We reached the Hilton Hotel and I waited in their comfortable lounge chairs while Harshad checked us in. We went up to our room on the 11th floor. The bed was very lovely and springy and the room overall comfortable though small. The window looked out onto a jacuzzi and swimming pool which was on the 10th floor. I was still quite ill and just wanted to go to sleep. Harshad, who was attending Oracle OpenWorld in the capacity of an Oracle ACE director had to rush to the ACE Directors’ meeting and hurried out after a quick bite. I shut the curtains and went to sleep.

I woke up when Harshad returned after several hours. I was feeling much better after my restful sleep and felt ready to begin enjoying my visit. We unpacked and converted the nice room into a mess.

The conference had already begun and I was yet to collect my badge and kit. So we hurried to the registration counter. Though the desk was closing, the nice lady there ensured that I received everything and would not need another trip to the desk. The Hilton hotel where we were staying was one of the OpenWorld hotels and the Oracle Develop track was scheduled to take place in one of the numerous conference rooms. This was useful as we could connect to the OpenWorld website from the hotel lobby itself. I checked out the ScheduleBuilder and booked myself for some interesting sessions.

We then headed out to the Fly Trap restaurant for the OTN dinner party. It was some blocks away from the hotel, near the Union Square park. It was a pleasant evening with a sharp nip in the air. But it felt great after the bone chilling, teeth chattering weather at the east coast.  There was quite a crowd at the Fly Trap. I met a lovely couple called Todd and Heidi as also the Oracle OTN team. After an enjoyable dinner, we walked back to the hotel. Thus ended day 1.

The rest of the week was spent mostly between spending the day at Moscone attending various keynotes and sessions. The Oracle Develop sessions were better with focus on general technology and Harshad attended those at the Hilton hotel. Unfortunately my pass did not let me attend those but I caught the No-Slide zone sessions at the Yerba Beuna garden which were also interesting.

The evenings were spent attending Oracle events (OTN night and Thank you Concert) or catching the city sights. The OTN night which was held at Westin Hotel had a very interesting theme with goblins and witches and the like. And the Thank you concert held at the San Francisco Cow Palace was great with Stevie Nicks, Lenny Kravitz and Billy Joel playing simultaneously in three halls. We especially loved the Billy Joel show who sang our favourite numbers.

Though the conference was huge, the organization was awesome. Everything from the transport (there were buses plying from the conference hotels to the Moscone, Cow Palace frequently), the sessions, the events were smoothly executed. The only thing I was uncomfortable with was that the buffets did not mention what the food items were. Harshad and I are both vegetarians and we were never sure of what we were ladling onto our plates – the result being that we used to prefer eating out. There was a restaurant called Naan ‘N Curry right in front of our hotel. It declared itself to be serving Pakistani-Indian food. It was pretty nice and interestingly done up.  There was also a very nice Breakfast and Lunch place called Taylor in front of another side of the hotel. It had  yummy pancakes and waffles and stuffed omelettes…

Since we were in the heart of downtown San Francisco, all around us were designer boutiques and other big shops. We had a good time looking into the stores one evening and checking out their exclusive wares.

We also decided to visit Fisherman’s wharf and Pier 39 which are popular tourist spots. Before setting out, we asked the hotel travel desk for maps and tips. The manager informed us of the route and also helpfully marked it on the map. According to him, the route was a nice walk through China town and would get us there in about 45 minutes. We paid heed and wore our shoes and set off. Since all the roads or blocks or whatever it is they are referred as, are all well marked and mapped out, getting lost would have taken a lot of work. It was a lovely evening – all my evenings in SF turned out to be lovely leading me to believe that the city always has great weather – and we walked at a leisurely pace. We reached China town whose entrance is marked by a gate and dragon like creatures (or were they lions?) and enjoyed walking past the various shops selling Chinese curios and artifacts and manned by Chinese.  We soon left China Town behind and entered the Greek district. The trees here were shaped exactly like a broccoli floret and looked like broccoli too- I will upload the snaps and you can decide if that’s true.

We reached Fisherman’s wharf and walked along the many shops meant to lure the tourist – though there wasn’t anyone to lure in – apart from us. I  enjoyed the Ghirardelli chocolate shops which sell chocolates of an unimaginable variety. We walked to the Pier 39 where I wanted to visit the Aquarium. Unluckily it was 10 minutes to closing time and we were not let in. It was still a really pretty place and I had a very good time looking into all the cute shops there… there was one which sold just socks – oh how pretty they were.. of so many styles and colours and textures… I adore socks and bought lots of lovely pairs to take back…. There was a lovely carousel there though it was not open at the time. We went up the wooden stairs to the second level from where we walked to the ledge which overlooked the sea.. San Francisco glittered and shimmered in the night to our left and to the right was the dark sea with a lighthouse across. Right below us were the sea lions making a racket…

We decided to head back to the hotel by riding the Cable Car. SF has this Cable Car which operates only on certain streets like Powell Street and is more for tourists to enjoy than serve as public transport. It took us a bit of map reading to figure out where the Cable Car stop was but got there in time to catch it. It was a fun ride though the locals hopped on and off without batting a lid.

After our excursion to Fisherman’s wharf, we realized that everything pretty much winds up in the early evening, which is by 5PM. So I decided to visit Golden Gate early in the afternoon. Harshad joined me reluctantly – reluctantly because Golden Gate was pretty far away and required us to use public transport and took us into unfamiliar territory. But I was determined to visit the famous site and we set off. We had armed ourselves with maps and bus routes and bus numbers and walked out of the hotel to the nearest bus stop. We had to wait for just a couple of minutes before we saw our bus approaching. However, it just went on without stopping. This happened twice and we began wondering if we were supposed to flag it down. Just then, an old lady walked over to the stop and waited with us. I decided to ask her what the system was. Unfortunately, it turned out that she did not speak English! But she seemed to understand what I was saying and flapped her hands a great deal to make me understand her. I was perplexed with all the mystifying gestures and was wondering what to do when the third bus arrived on the street. We watched it in suspense as it approached the stop. The bus stopped and feeling relieved, we got on. The buses had a coin machine installed next to the driver. We inserted the required amount – we knew what the fare was and had stocked up on change- and the machine spat out the tickets. It was a nice ride where we saw a lot of the city. I enjoyed it because it was such a joy to be able to use public transport with no hassles – no interminable waits, no pushing – everything executed so smoothly and in an orderly fashion. The bus had a dashboard which displayed the next stop plus it was announced through audio. We got off at Park Presidio to take the next bus to Golden Gate. Another Indian and three American teens waited with us. A bus came in five minutes and we got on.

Luckily it was sunny when we got off at Golden Gate. The once-upon-a-time-prison island of Alcatraz was also visible out into the bay. We walked along the bridge- it had a cycle and a pedestrian walkaway on both sides – upto the center of the bridge. It was very cold inspite of the sun and I wrapped my scarf tightly around me. By the time we reached the middle of the bridge, a mist had come on and Alcatraz was no longer to be seen. But it was a beautiful view nonetheless of the very deep blue sea. We walked back and went into the souvenir shop – more to get warm than to buy anything. There were some pretty mementos there and I enjoyed checking them out.  Once we both felt our limbs come back to life, we left to wait at the bus stop. We got back the same way – only this time we noticed that the bus stops too had dashboards announcing how many minutes away was the next bus. All in all, it was a very pleasant experience. I definitely hope that some day the public transport in Pune becomes as safe and pleasant an experience. It was also heartening to see the bus being used by a lot of handicapped elders – all the buses had special seats allocated for them and the bus drivers ensured that they got on and off safely.

After the conference ended, we headed to Las Vegas with a friend and had a grand time. We came back and visited another old pal and her family in Union City. It was a lot of fun to get together after a long while and meet her cute barely-year-old baby. All in all, I really enjoyed being in San Fransisco. Oracle OpenWorld had thousands of people attending from across the globe. I felt comfortable being among a sea of people who were as unfamiliar with their surroundings as I was. And then of course there was the fact that not only had Harshad visited the city several times before but had also stayed in the very same area and even the hotel. So he was very comfortable with the area, the conference and the whole setting. This made it a lot more fun.

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