Beautiful Golden Gate

San Francisco Trip

I’m currently writing this being at 10.000m of altitude with the speed of 1.000km/h flying from SFO to AMS way back home.

San Francisco as seen from the plane

As you may know from my previous blog posts, I won a Google Code-in 2017. The Grand Prize was a trip to San Francisco, to Google headquarters and some fun activities. Here I want to sum up all of my experiences from this trip so far.

Just for the record, I have extended my staying here to one day before and two days after the GCI events were happening.

Beginning

Okay, so my journey began in GDN airport, at Gdańsk. I met with my friend (being the winner too), Grzegorz Stark there. We have boarded our plane before the 6.00AM. Flight didn’t take long, it was only two hours. After arriving at Amsterdam-Schiphol we’ve just moved to our terminal and waited some time. And there it was, my longest flight in my life (it was my 6th flight though).

Transatlantic flight experience

When we (me & my dad) sat in our seats, we immediately came to conclusion that the Embraer seats were much more comfortable. Everyone has received KLM’s blanket and pillow as well as ear headphones (which looked like some cheap chineese stuff, which they most likely were) so that we could hear movies or music if we wanted to. Because as you may or may not know, the Boeing 747–400s have screens in front of each seat to watch some stuff or track the plane.

But after some disappointment by the comfort, I can say now one thing.

No one ever has taken such a great care of me in gastronomic means as did the crew on the plane.

They even had whiskey, wine or beer speaking of drinks if you’d want one.

The whole flight from Amsterdam to San Francisco took about 11 hours.

Airport

Once we were at SFO, after we got off the plane we headed to the border security control, police officer asked us what is the reason we are in the United States, where we will be staying and how much money we had.

After that, we got our luggage and drove to the Hyatt Regency San Francisco by a taxicab van.

Hotel

Hyatt Regency San Francisco, view from the Embarcadero

Okay, I must tell you that the interior of the lobby has impressed me. I talked to some guy at the reception and received our hotel cards after giving them my Payoneer card for a moment (they put $480 on hold for this stay, you should know that if you’re going there too). Our room was quite nice. It was cozy, beds were big, our view maybe wasn’t the best, but I like city landscapes and my view conformed that.

View from my hotel window in the evening

After some quick rest we went outside and tried to look around the Embarcadero and went up the Market Street, we ended up in Chinatown eating some vietnamese food (I didn’t really like the vietnamese chicken soup, sadly).

In the evening we went to Marketbar for something to drink. The waiter was really funny, he asked me whether we’re on vacations and I’ve explained to him that I won the contest and that’s my trip and he was like ‘Ohh, you’re the programming king!’ and then disappeared for a moment. When he was back, he put his handmade crown made of two paper menus on my head and then started singing how I’m good at programming. It was really unique!

We ate our dinner in Subway in the same building as the hotel was. It was really bad, I mean, food was as always in Subway, but there were some addicts sitting in there as well as some homeless woman who wanted cash from us to buy her a sandwich. I think she missed the fact that she was holding a credit card in her hand.

Coit Tower & Alcatraz

In the second day, the day the GCI events had started we have climbed all the way up (by stairs of course) to Coit Tower. My dad has counted 398 stairs! Views from the top of this hill were really nice, we could see the famous Lombard Street, Golden Gate and Alcatraz Island as well as the panorama of the whole northern San Francisco.

Some views from the Coit Tower hill; left to right: Lombard St, Alcatraz Island, Coit Tower itself

The dock on Alcatraz Island

After that, we headed to Pier 39 which was the place of all Alcatraz trips to begin. There was a souvenir shop and a burger bar next to it. We bought some souvenirs for us and relatives and stood in the line to our ferry. The cruise was quick. I’ve spoken to the barman who happened to be a Norwegian.

When we exited the ferry, there was a woman telling some quick facts about The Rock (that’s how they call the Alcatraz Island) and told us some interesting places to visit there.

From left to right: guard tower and the cellhouse

We went to the first building and watched Discovery Channel’s short documentary about San Francisco and Alcatraz Island, it was like 15 minutes long and it was really educational, I learned a lot from there about the island and the San Francisco itself.

Next, in our way to the cellhouse we met some Poles! Milena and Konrad from New York, if you’re reading this — hello! Cellhouse was just a cellhouse.

Very surprising is the fact, that there are gardens on Alcatraz Island! There was some really beautiful nature, some plants, flowers. Also, the view on San Francisco from there was simply great! We could see the whole San Francisco skyline, it was really beautiful. But kinda hard to take a picture because of the huge wind.

Left to right: gardens with Golden Gate in the background, San Francisco, some birds chillin’ around

And BTW, speaking of San Francisco’s city centre — there is a real amount of homeless. They are everywhere in Embarcadero. You could also smell on the streets Californian law allowing people to carry 8g of marijuana for their personal use.

Hey, Google!

At 5.00PM we all met at the Hyatt’s lobby. A couple of minutes before I’ve already started getting to know all other winners. We met Stephanie, Mary and Josh (and maybe Cat too but I’m not sure) and headed to San Francisco’s Google office by foot.

We had some great fun in the elevators because someone wrongly heard Stephanie about which floor to choose and we all met at the 4th floor not knowing what to do, 7th was the correct one, we continued by stairs.

Stephanie transfering her enthusiasm onto us

We all were leaded to conference room where the GCI team gave us some quick talks about the contest statistics and how the next days will look. After that we have received our goodies that we were waiting for the whole time we saw them. That’s it, sweet Google Pixel 2XLs, Google Home Minis, pens, tshirts, blankets, jackets and so on…

We were also told about the game told Scavenger’s Hunt. That’s a game where you have a sheet of paper with some weird questions, like “who has a pet with a human name” and we needed to fill as much rows with the names of people as we could and people with the most names would win some extra stuff.

After that, we went to the canteen to eat. Just know, that Google won’t let you leave hungry. There was so much to eat.

We left to the hotel with our very-own Google badges which permitted us to be in Google’s buildings.

More or less all the swag we have received at our first day

Googleplex, Mountain View

Hey Arav!

On the second day (second with GCI events) we jumped into the coaches and drove to Mountain View, the city that consists of almost only Google buildings. Our day began with — of course — a breakfast, we could choose whatever we want and how much we want. Croissants were very tasty!

Next, we had some talk from Chris DiBona, the director of open source at Google, he procceeded to giving us the awards, that is the cogs statuetes for being the winner of Google Code-in. We’ve been taking the pictures with him as well as the other winner and mentor from your organization or with Stephanie & Mary if you were ‘alone’.

From left to right: ‘famous’ bridge over the stream, our Googleplex building, (part of) my breakfast

Later on, we had some Googlers giving us talks. There were some HR ladies which told us some golden rules for creating and maintaining our resumes, then there was another Googler telling us about one of his funny project which was about breaking some cipher. We had a fellow GCI winner from 2010 AFAIR telling us what did she do after the contest and how it impacted her life. There was also another Googler telling a story of how she was maintaining her 20% project (at Google, you can work 20% of the time on your personal project) and how did she turned this to a full time job at Google and got an investment of $300.000 for it.

Chris DiBona handing me the GCI award; CC-BY-SA by Stephanie Taylor

In the break between those talks we had a lunch and everyone was meeting with a Google of their domestic language. Me and Grzegorz met with Miro Majorek, who works at YouTube and is responsible for the 2nd most popular search engine in the Internet (the YouTube one).

Then we had an hour to visit the Google Store and Google Visitors Center. I’ve done some shopping spending $100 on Chromecast, some tees and a winter hat.

At the end of the day we had some talks from a chaperone of one of winners who happened to be GCI2016 winner and he told us his story and that he’s just graduated and is going to Harvard! Congrats!

Left: small shopping at Google Store. Right: we weren’t allowed to ride those bikes. Whoops

…fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun!

yeah, it’s a reference to Kazoo Kid trap remix

In the third day we were split to two groups: one who had choosen the Segway ride (mine) and one who had choosen the Cable car ride (Grzegorz’s).

We were in the lobby at 7.45AM from where we moved to Fisherman’s Wharf by a coach. We were at the segway tour place. We had some quick introduction to how segways work and how to behave on them and then we had a really quick training. It took us half an hour for everyone to get comfortable on this funny vehicle.

Our training

So we headed on the streets!

I must say that riding a segway is a really nice and fun experience and because of that I’m going to repeat that in my home country too! It’s just giving so much joy that you’d want to do this again!

We had a little break somewhere in the North Beach in the park, on the Coit Tower (again) and on the end of the breakwater with a beautiful view of the San Francisco’s skyline.

From left to right: me with Carol on North Beach, view from the breakwater

Once we reached Fisherman’s Wharf and gave our segways back, we went to The BBQ Pub for a lunch. We waited for the final meal really long, but it was worth it.

Then, we drove to the Golden Gate Visitors Center by a coach. Oh men, walking on the Golden Gate is such an experience. Really, I’ve never felt like that in my life. It’s not only the bridge, but when you feel very strong wind, this sound and vibrations of cars bypassing you with a big speed, people yelling to each other because otherwise you wouldn’t hear others. I will never forget this. I can say that this was the best thing that happened to me on that trip.

Oh sweet Golden Gate… 10 points for spotting Grzegorz
Our yacht, it looked really nice

Our last thing in the schedule was a yacht cruise. The yacht wasn’t small, it was even a little bit luxurious. We went to the place where San Francisco Bay’s and Pacific Ocean’s waters meet starting from Pier 40 (it’s not next to Pier 39, it’s on the opposite side). We had a great time talking with other Poles (me, Grzegorz, Konrad and Marcin were the only Poles, excluding our parents of course) and to some newly made friends. It was very nice to talk about Machine learning, Essential Phone and other stuff.

From left to right: San Francisco skyline as seen from the yacht, Golden Gate, San Francisco skyline after leaving the yacht

After we’ve been back to the hotel, we hung out in a much smaller group alone at San Francisco and we took some group photos with a Google and Mozilla signs.

It was a good time hanging out with those people

Goodbyes 😢

Me with Konrad (left) and Grzegorz (right)

On the Thursday, we had our last portion of GCI events. We had really, really interesting talks by Googlers, one saying what is Kubernetes and how to use it in a nutshell, second one was about open source licenses from the lawyer point of view and the last one was about Project Fi.

We also had a chance to grab even more hoodies, tshirts, pens and stickers for us or for others, we had a raffle too! The biggest prize was a Google Home (the big one), I choose the 10Ah powerbank with Google Open Source branding.

Mary putting raffle goodies on the table

Some of us, the winners also gave a talk about their experience during GCI. Shoutout to Liquid Galaxy guys, it was really funny!

It was our last lunch together, sadly. We were taking selfies with everyone and goodbye-ing. It was really hard, because you somehow make a connection with all those great people, that were the part of one of the greatest (or even the greatest, like it was in my case) thing that happened to your life.

Our group shot at Googleplex; CC-BY-SA by Stephanie Taylor

I will miss you guys, but I hope we’ll all meet in the future!

Wikimedia office

Selfie with Wikipedia logo at WMF office

At the same day I was invited by Andre Klapper who used to be my mentor during GCI contest to the Wikimedia Foundation headquarters. Srishti has greeted me at their reception and shown me their whole office. It’s almost a one big open space with some closed offices and conference rooms. This place wasn’t big, but I can assure you that it is one of the most cozy offices I have seen.


After that we have visited the Target to do some grocery shopping and drove to Merced Heights, to our Airbnb house by MUNI Metro (M line) which turned out to be a really convenient mean of transport.

But Merced Heights… Heights are there on a really big purpose…

Arch St, one of the steep roads

Some hiking and resting with the nature

On our last day in which we could do anything, me and my dad wanted to go to some places:

  • Twin Peaks
  • Haight-Ashbury
  • Golden Gate Park
  • Pacific Ocean beach

Twin Peaks

We got to Portola Dr & Twin Peaks Blvd by Uber and we started walking upwards the Twin Peaks. The path was okay, there was some climbing on the stairs. Firstly, we reached the south peak, took some photos and then the north one. View from there reaches really far. They were astonishing.

Panorama taken on Twin Peaks
San Francisco’s skyscrappers as seen from the north peak of Twin Peaks

We went down to Christmas Tree Point, which had a nice views too, there were some telescopes to look at Golden Gate or the skyscappers from very far.

We headed down to Haight-Ashubry through Ashbury Heights, which looked like a place of rich people.


A wild Dodge Challenger spotted

I forgot to mention, that in San Francisco and the Silicon Valley there is so much great cars. I’ve seen here so much Teslas, Mustangs and Hellcats that I will not see in Poland for the next 10 years.

There was even a Corvette or an Aston Martin driving somewhere.

But Camaros were quite rare. I saw only five of them.

Haight-Ashbury

This district was filled with tourists. There were many thrifth shops, mexican bars, smoking shops and souvenir shops. But there was a really big downside of being here. No bar had a free WiFi! Because we didn’t buy the US SIM card (prices were ridicolous) and almost everywhere was a free, public WiFi (well, at least in Embarcadero and Financial District).

But we’ve been to some shops with clothing and the range of products was really big and with very affordable prices.

Funny thing that when some woman asked me where I’m from she thought that there is a dictatorship in Poland.

Golden Gate Park

This place turned out to be slightly different than I imagined it to be, but no worries. The eastern part of the park was filled with people and children playing or laying on the grass. We joined them for an hour too. Laying here, in those 23 degrees with UV index of 12 was really nice. I could lay there all the day. But we had plans to fill! The western 2/3 of the park wasn’t so popular, there was less people and the park looked a little bit less nice. There were some turtles in the pond, seagulls, pigeons and some black birds that I don’t know what they were.

How Golden Gate Park looks like

Walking from the eastern side to the western side took us like 2,5 hours including resting on the grass and benches. At the end of it we went to gas station to buy some water and White Label Mtn Dew which was so tasty. I’m really sad Poland doesn’t have all of the flavors available in the US.

Pacific Ocean

The Great Highway which was between Pacific beach and GG Park was partly covered with sand. We took our shoes off and walked in the direction of water. Its temperature wsa quite similar to Baltic Sea’s. There were some people trying to surf on the one side and others kite-surfing. Fog was slowly covering whole San Francisco at that time too.

Drinking Mtn Dew White Label on the Pacific Ocean beach

Way back home

We wanted to get to our place at Merced Heights with Uber, but there was no WiFi everywhere! We went to Judah Street to do some shopping for evening and morning at 7-Eleven and then packed to a MUNI Metro N line which got us to Van Ness, from where we could get an M line Metro to our place. Big thanks to very kind man who payed for our tickets when we realized we have no cash left and we couldn’t pay with a card!

From left to right: Van Ness MUNI station, milk (Sargent St), more milk (view from our Airbnb place)

In the evening, whole San Francisco was covered with white, dense milk. We began to pack for tomorrow departure and went to sleep.

Now

Now? Now I’m flying at 10 kilometers over Hudson Bay knowing that I will spend next 11 hours at the Schiphol airport.

P.S. And adding all the photos at Schiphol airport.

Summary

This was my first time when I’ve been to USA. I liked it. I really liked it and I’d want to explore other big cities of this country if I will have a chance. I’m really glad that I had a chance to meet all those fantastic people, being them the GOSP team, GCI team, mentors and most importantly, other winners! Thank you guys (and Carol, Cynthia, Erika and Omshi!) for this beautiful experience. I will remember this till the end of my life, and you had played the major role in it.

Thank you!

Me 😀