Wednesday, February 24, 2016

USA 2015: Touchdown San Francisco and highlights of Silicon Valley

at Changi Airport with the Star Wars exhibit before going through immigration 
"By giving people the power to share, we're making the world more transparent." 
- Mark Zuckerberg
Serves the purpose of my sharing of travel stories of our family holidays. 

Our recent trip was a 3-week USA fall/winter road trip. Our journey began with a six-hour flight from Singapore to Seoul for an hour layover, and a connecting flight from Seoul to San Francisco for the remainder of the 18-hr trip. How tempting it was to spend a few days in South Korea. All of us remembered the wonderful time we had when we visited in 2014. For now though we focused our resources and energy on the West Coast.
all smiles while on transit in Seoul
SIA in-flight movies, shows and games kept us entertained for the duration of the long-haul flight. There were times when we chose the same movie and laughed together. Other times we silently watched our preferred shows while eating or drinking. Speaking of drinks, my husband and I decided we'd try the Singapore Sling. It was the first time we had any liquor on-board. 
Singapore Sling anyone?
During the flight we reminded the boys that we all need to get enough sleep on the second leg of our flight. That was mainly so we could easily adjust to the change in time zone and avoid getting terrible jetlag. Also to have energy for our first day touring the West Coast.

Touchdown San Francisco. We made the right decision in choosing our flight schedule. Leaving Singapore in the morning at 925 and arriving at the San Francisco International Airport at about 11am gave us ample time to drive around on our first day. And since we slept thru the few hours before touchdown, we were wide awake and raring to go by the time we landed in San Francisco.
the tourists are finally in San Francisco!
We were all too excited to be on the road right away. We cleared immigration in less than an hour as the queue was not that long. The immigration officer was a Filipino-American and he welcomed us cheerfully after asking some routine questions. Mark, Kelvin and I all had our photos and finger prints taken. Then we walked over to the baggage claim carousel and waited for our luggage.

Rental Car Center. We took the AirTrain Blue Line to get to the Rental Car Center from the airport. It's just a few stops away depending on which terminal you are coming from. The AirTrain is a very convenient means of transportation from the airport to certain areas nearby and it's FREE! 

We picked up our rental car after checking in at the Hertz counter. We got a Nissan Versa which rented out for less than US$700 for 3 weeks. We didn't get a GPS though since we planned to use Google Maps and Sygic app, powered by smart phone data plan (details on my budget blog coming out soon).

Target and Walmart. We initially planned to stop by Target or Walmart or BestBuy to grab some snacks but since we just had our meal on-board, we decided to forego grocery shopping. We were all too excited to go on our Silicon Valley tour. Anyway, I had a list of eating places which were along the route from the airport to the Silicon Valley just in case we felt hungry on the way. 

Silicon Valley tour. For those who consider themselves technology geeks or simply interested in technology, driving around Silicon Valley would be heaven. The where's and the what's of the history of technology is within driving distance from each other. It can take a whole day or even more depending on what you want to see or do in the area. In our case, I've narrowed it down to just a few locations - Hacker Way, Google Complex, Mission College Blvd.

this was our driving route in Silicon Valley initially following US101-S (Bayshore Freeway)
Facebook. 1 Hacker Way, Menlo Park, CA 94025

Less than 20 miles from the San Francisco International Airport (about 30 minutes drive) was our first Silicon Valley destination. From US101-S we took the exit to Marsh Road, turned right on CA-84 then left into Willow Road. We turned right and followed Hacker Way into the car park. We followed the footpath leading us back into the main road. 

Prominently situated in the corner of Willow Road and Bayfront Expressway (CA-84) was the unmistakable "Like" icon of Facebook. The main purpose of the walk was a photo op.

thumbs up!
We took multiple shots because we couldn't get the lighting right. There was only so much we could do with the sun shining brightly at almost 12 noon. It promised of a good weather at least for the rest of the day.

Googleplex. 1600 Amphitheatre Pkwy Mountain View, CA 94043. 

We drove to the Google compound which the two boys were just too thrilled to see. It was Kelvin's special request to go to Google. He has developed an interest in information technology (gadget updates and all) and has read about how interestingly different and relaxing the Google workplace environment is. Ira was also curious about it and couldn't wait to see it for himself. Unfortunately, only those who are working for Google or know someone who is working for the company can be granted access to the not-so-secret offices. The second best thing was the access to the Google compound and the Android Version Statue garden. 
You would immediately know if you've already reached the Google complex once you see Google signs/icons on the road (aside from the prompt from your car's GPS that is). I just had to take a photo of this Google road sign. I thought it was a nice sort of welcome sign for visitors to the area.
"Google's founders have had a good eye for imagining technologies will be significant in the near future. No one asked Google to develop self-driving cars, but it helped them with street views for Google Maps." - Barry Ritholtz
How useful Google Maps has been for us in planning driving routes not only during this trip but in all of our road trips since its launch in 2005. I just had to take a snap shot of this Google Maps location marker. I will be seeing more of these in the future as I plan more family road trips, I hope.

We parked along the Amphitheatre Parkway where several other vehicles parked. Then we walked up the hill of sorts, passing by a garden/park leading to the Googleplex.
our Google employee wannabes
how relaxing it must be for the employees around here
The boys immediately made themselves feel at home pretending to be Google employees making use of the company's creativity-inducing facilities. We walked around the area between Buildings 43 and 44 where we saw the latest Android Version Statue. We looked for the rest of the older versions but there wasn't any sign of them. How mysterious, we thought, that there was only one of them in there. We saw other visitors who were also as puzzled as we were and scoured the place as we did looking for the rest of the Android Versions. 
We decided to walk towards the next buildings in hopes of finding the statue garden there. Instead, we saw this dinosaur-looking sculpture wearing cute red heart-shaped sunglasses!

We circled the area and looked across the road wondering if we were in the wrong location. We asked around but no one seems to know where the statue garden was. As we were walking around, we chanced upon these Google bikes parked near one of the building. It was just too good a chance to pass for a photo op. Of course, we did not plan to grab and ride. A photo was enough. Although it might have been a good experience to ride one of these and cycle around the Googleplex.

Feeling down that we didn't see the other Google Android Version Statues we decided to drive around the area following Amphitheatre Parkway and Charleston Road. I think we might have driven several times after realizing we could actually do a Google Search (of course!). Then we consulted Google Maps. Apparently, the statue garden was located less than 1 mile away.

Google Android Versions Statue Garden. 
1981 Landings Drive, Mountain View, CA 94043. 
here they were, the rest of the Android Version Statues, away from the latest, Marshmallow
Driving past the statues on our way to the car park, we got even more excited to get close to these tasty-looking statues. We took a photo with each and every statue. It was too tempting to take a bite out of all of them, if only they were edible!

After Kitkat, we looked for Lollipop which was not together with the other statues. It was supposed to be at the corner of the driveway to the Statue Gardens but we saw the workers "uprooting" poor Android and its Lollipop. They said it was causing some traffic issues because visitors were stopping in the middle of the road to take a photo of it so they were relocating it closer to the other statues, near the building.
LOLLIPOP being removed from it's then location
lending a helping hand and bidding farewell
to sum it all up
I could grab a book, bring a donut or two, and relax in this garden for an entire afternoon
Before we left, I asked one of those working on the fallen Android what was the "correct" time to make sure we were not late for our Intel tour. I asked because the time in my watch which was supposed to be the correct time was different from the time in the car clock which was one hour ahead. He happily replied that it was almost 3pm and asked where I came from (of course, he probably have already figured out we were tourists). I said we were from Singapore and we just arrived and got confused with which time to follow (my watch or the car's). Then he said he has been to Singapore before and how lovely the beautiful the country was. We had a little conversation about what's new in Singapore then bid each other goodbye.

By 3pm we were done visiting Googleplex and decided to leave for our next destination which was less than 7miles away.

Intel. Robert Noyce Building, 2200 Mission College Blvd, Santa Clara, CA 94043.

It was a toss up between Intel Museum and the Computer History Museum which were about 7 miles away from each other. Since Kelvin was the one interested in technology these days I made him decide which one he wanted us to visit in Silicon Valley. He settled with Intel. I booked our Intel tour back in October. We chose to do the tour at 4pm to give us time to explore Googleplex. 

It got colder as later in the afternoon and when we walked from the Intel car park to the building entrance we could feel the chill in the air. We had to wear our jackets to keep warm. We arrived way ahead of schedule so we had time to walk around the gift shop and browse through some usual tourist items like shirts, bags and mugs. We also saw some interesting souvenirs like wooden puzzles. There was nothing that really stood out for us though so we didn't get anything.

Before our 4pm schedule we were called by the receptionist to inform us that we could already go and explore the museum - no tour guide needed. So we walked around and looked at the different exhibits there. The gallery had exhibits of micro chips evolved from the slightly older, bigger versions to the latest, smaller versions we have now. The gallery also showed what materials are used to make microchips (melted and refined sand) and how they are made.

The more interesting ones were the "bunny suits". These white suits help keep the work area dust-free as the making of microchips is very sensitive. The museum has a few suits for visitors to try on. Ira didn't have his size though so he just went for the one below:
our little man looks good in a bunny suit
and there's also one for taller visitors
So we've learned a bit of microchip history from our Intel visit. Our resident tech guy (my husband) served as our tour guide for some of the exhibits as he tried to explain what some of the things were and how they worked. Ira enjoyed playing with some of the exhibits meant to entertain the younger visitors - eg. balls that you can put in holes decreasing in size, etc. Then there was also the binary code interactive computer game which we all tried out. My husband again explained to us how the 0s and 1s work. For the life of me, I just couldn't get it but the boys seemed to understand. I guess it's a guy thing.

Overall, we enjoyed our short visit at the Intel Museum. It was educational and fun. Kelvin was delighted with his decision to opt for the museum tour. 
photo op just outside the museum before saying goodbye
By the time we got into the car we realized we were famished! It was almost 5pm and we haven't had lunch yet. Good thing our next stop was just about 15 minutes away.

Great Mall. 447 Milpitas Drive, Milpitas, CA 95035.

Our first outlet mall visit in this trip. Less than 30 minutes from Intel and about 63 miles to my Aunt's place, Great Mall was a good pit stop for us before our final drive of the day. We already knew where we were going to eat. Where else but Jollibee. We could smell chicken joy from the car park! 

We almost couldn't decide which to order so we got a chicken joy meal, a chicken joy and palabok meal, and a chicken joy and spaghetti meal. With lots of gravy, please. Yummy!

Jollibee for early dinner cum late lunch. We're famished!
There was so much to see at the Great Mall with over 200 outlet stores to choose from. We walked around for a few minutes but didn't really plan on shopping on our first day. If you are planning on going outlet-hopping in California, Great Mall has some shops which the others don't have - Victoria's Secret, The Body Shop, H&M, Uniqlo, and Cotton On to name some. For those with younger kids, and the kids at heart, there is also a Toys R Us outlet.

After dinner, with stomachs full of chicken and noodles, memories of and photos with Google Android Statues, and an overview of what outlet shopping was, we drove to the our final destination for the day. Overnight at my Aunt's place. A visit that was 13 years long overdue. We were welcomed by hospitable aunt, uncle and cousins (who were way taller than the last time we've seen them). And let me not forget Wally, their hyperactive pet dog, and Bryan, my cousin's boyfriend and the one who gave them the dog.

That's Day 1 of our road trip. Do watch out for the next 20 more days of our fall/winter US adventure.

Roadtrip 2016 Statistics:
Day - 1
Cities - 3 
State - 1

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