Summer in USA (2nd part)

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Sunday, 15th July 2012

In the morning we wake up, pleasantly surprised by not suffering from jet lag. Quite the opposite; for a person sitting by a computer until the night hours and waking up difficultly, this is a time shift exactly by their preferences.

We try our mobile phones and find out that it is not as simple as we thought. Despite both having the same phones, the same mobile operator, and in theory both having roaming activated, Barbara's phone does not work at all; my phone refuses to send SMS, but at least allows calls. (A few days later, my phone's ability to send SMS returned miraculously, Barbara's phone refused to work till the end.) We investigate how exactly to make international calls. After many experiments and googling, this is what we found:

The prefix of the phone depends on the country where it was registered: for example, my phone was registered in Slovakia, therefore it has a Slovakian prefix even when it is physically located in USA. (In hindsight, this is obvious. It could not work the other way.) When making an international call, you must first enter the code for international calling, then the code of the given country, and then the number of the called phone. In the whole process, the only important thing is in which countries the given phones are registered; their physical location is completely irrelevant (it will only influence your bills later). I call from a Slovakian phone (while in USA) someone in Slovakia = just like a normal local call. I call from a Slovakian phone (while in USA) to an American phone = first the Slovakian code for international call, then the code for USA, then the phone number. An American calls my Slovakian phone (while I am in USA) = first the American code for international call, then the code for Slovakia, then my phone number.

The good news: Because the numbers work exactly the same regardless of the mobile phone location, all your stored contacts will work exactly the same, regardless of who is in which country right now. The bad news: Always check your contacts right after storing them, because all the phones I have experimented with remove these international codes while storing the number, so the foreign number is stored as if it was from your country, and then of course you can not call it. It takes a while to find out all these nuances, because even when calling the correct number you often randomly get „the dialed number does not exist“ or „the dialed number is inaccessible at this moment“ message, even if you called successfully the same number a few minutes ago, and the given phone is turned on and unused.

Specific examples: An American has a phone number „(ABC)-DEF-GHIJ“; I store it in my mobile phone as „001ABCDEFGHIJ“ or „+1ABCDEFGHIJ“. I have a mobile phone number „0XYZ/ RST UVW“; the American stores it as „011421XYZRSTUVW“ or „+421XYZRSTUVW“. The explanation: „00“ is the Slovakian code for international call, and „1“ is the international code for USA; in the opposite direction „011“ is the American code for international call, and „421“ is the international code for Slovakia. People from Slovakia will give you their numbers starting with a zero before the city code (such as „02/ PQRS TUVW“ for Bratislava) or a mobile operator code (such as „09YZ/ RST UVW“), but this zero is used only in calls within Slovakia; you ignore it when making an international call. Americans have a simpler system; their numbers always start with a state prefix.

International calls

We go to the streets of San Francisco looking for the food sources. The three shops near the hostel are rather expensive. (Of course everything in San Francisco is more expensive than in our country, but there still is a difference between shopping in the equivalent of our small shop or our supermarket. These were the small shops, despite having the size of our supermarkets.) So we bought just a few things for breakfast; Barbara was shopping reasonably, I was experimenting. The peanut butter was great – you can find many different kinds in an ordinary American shop, and the one I chose was much better than the one that sometimes gets imported to Slovakia. On the other hand, we had a bad luck buying duck eggs. The lady at the counter tried to warn us, but we only understood that the eggs are cooked in a salt water, which did not sound bad. In the hostel we discovered that they are a) extremely salty (I have no idea which technology was used to achieve that; the shell was intact) and b) look strangely inside. I guessed that is some local specialty, probably Asian, so I ate them anyway. Barbara refused.

During breakfast we met Adam from Czech Republic, who was travelling USA for a few months. We talked a lot, he explained us some stuff and lended us a power adapter for American socket inlets.

Adam and us

After breakfast we started the big exploration of the surroundings. We started with the long Market Street, because we were looking for shops. We found the power adapters, 5 dollars a piece, and Barbara found out how much a one-week phone card would cost (but later we forgot to buy it). We found a market with fruits and vegetables, where we replenished our reserves.

On the pedestrian crossing instead of the red and green figures there is a red palm or a blue figure. When the red light starts, some stoplights will show a countdown how many seconds you have until the cars get the... whatever color they get (I did not notice). This was rather confusing at the beginning, because my automatical expectation from countdowns is „three, two, one, go!“, while this was „three, two, one, I hope you are now away from the road“. A good idea: The names of the streets were shown on large legends at the crossings, so the car driver only needs to know the name of the street to turn at, and even a stranger can easily notice it. (In Slovakia the legends with the names of the streets are on the houses, and they are smaller; so you have no chance to read them from the car, sometimes even from the opposite side of the street.)

My map of San Francisco did not contain the height information, which is rather important for a tourist. You mostly have a flat walk, but sometimes you encounter a rather steep hill, a few blocks long, and the map does not warn you. One of the city attractions is the historical cable car that can climb even such hills. We walk by foot through a nice park with trees and flowers; Barbara understands this stuff better, but even I noticed there are other things growing than in our country. There were also some birds Barbara identified as grackles.

Barbara in the park Viliam in the park

San Francisco cable car

Above the park there was a Chinese neighborhood, which really looked Chinese. The shops labeled with Chinese characters, the Chinese souvenirs in the shops (a lot of china cats with waggling paws), mostly Asian people in the streets. It was an evening already, so we tried a Chinese restaurant, where we had an exotic dinner at affordable price. Appetizer: spicy pig stomacs. Main dish: wonton (meat in pasta) soup for Barbara, snow cabbage fun soup for me. These were big soups full with lot of vegetables and pasta. Dessert: fried sweet potatoes, really yummy.

Chinatown Washington Cafe

(In USA they have a nice habit to offer free water with a meal. In this Chinese restaurant it was a tea instead, and they kept refilling our cups. It makes me ashamed to remember that in Slovakia you have to pay extra for the water, and then you get a miniature bottle with three gulps of water and your bill increases by two euros.)

After dinner we went to look at the skyscraper in the financial district – a pyramid reaching the clouds. We saw the bridge between San Francisco and the continent. We walked along the northeastern beach; a tourist attraction is the Pier 39 with a lot of shops selling chocolate or sea creatures. Nearby there were sea lions and people were taking photos of them (but it was too dark so we did not succeed to make nice photos).

Bridge to the continent

We travelled back by a tram, and it was extremely full. (Our later travels by mass transit were fine.) In San Francisco there are a few kinds of mass transit; the largest network of buses, trolley-buses and trams is called Muni. For two dollars you can travel 90 minutes or the whole night; that includes changing lines.

Monday, 16th July 2012

Today we walked westwards. We found a large park with a dog play area, and continued towards the Golden Gate Park. It is preceded by a long park called „panhandle“ (when you see the shapes on the parks on the map, you understand why), where we found some interesting trees with fruit that looked like buttons.

Painted Ladies Alamo Square Button-tree fruits and leaves

Golden Gate Park is a large botanic garden. The park with many diverse trees and flowers is freely accessible; it also contains some paid interesting things, for example a traditional Japanese garden. In the park we also saw magnificent large ravens slowly walking around. We have maybe seen 1/4 of the park (it would take the whole day to see the whole park), then we got tired and travelled by bus to the Golden Gate Bridge. We walked the bridge to the nearest pier; the wind was cold but the sight was captivating.

Romantic Viliam

Some kind of a flower Some kind of a flower Some kind of a flower Some kind of a flower Yellow poppyseed

Buddha before enlightenment Enlightened Buddha

The weather in San Francisco is treacherous; it changes during the day and according to your location. In the middle of the day in the middle of the city it is warm (very hot in the neighbor cities in the Bay Area), on the cost it is cold. One moment you are sweating in a sleeveless T-shirt; a few minutes later you are shaking wrapped in your coat.

From the bridge we travelled to the Lombard Street, famous from many older movies. Unlike the ruler-straight modern American streets, part of the Lombard Street keeps its original shape – a serpentine down the steep hill, surrounded by flowers; a tourist attraction especially for drivers.

Lombard Street

Encouraged by the Chinese neighborhood we also visited the Russian hill, but we were disappointed: merely houses, no Cyrilic or anything else that would illustrate the name. And the hill was very steep and very big. So we went down to the Chinatown looking for our favorite restaurant. Which by the way is called „Washington Cafe“. If it does not make sense to you why would anyone choose this name for a Chinese restaurant, the reason is: the restaurant is on the Washington Street. By remembering the name you also remember the address. This system is used rather frequently here, but we have not noticed it, so we were rambling around the Chinatown. Some people probably even do not speak English here, but when we showed a photo of the restaurant (including the English and Chinese names) to one lady, she showed us the direction. Appetizer: spicy jellyfish. Main dish: fun beef soup (I still do not understand what is so funny about these soups) for Barbara, soup with fish balls for me. Dessert: originally we wanted something else, but fried sweet potatoes again.

Spicy jellyfish

Today an interesting thing happened. Until now we communicated successfully even without the words (pick from menu using a finger, nod for a tea cup refill; the bills contain Chinese meal names but the numbers are Arabic), but now after making our order another waiter came and emphatically said: „No (something incomprehensible)! No (something incomprehensible)!“ My head was full of wild guesses (including crazy ones like „while devils not allowed here“), but finally we learned that the fried bananas we have originally ordered are not available; so we chose potatoes instead. (Barbara guessed that the incomprehensible word was „plantain“, some kind of banana. I did not know this word; for me, every banana was simply a banana. And the English translation in the menu also said banana. Well, you never know at which moment which knowledge comes handy.)

After a good dinner we bought some Chinese souvenirs (Mahjong – a traditional Chinese game, known in our country by its computer solitaire version, but in reality it resembles Rummy, except played with Domino-like pieces), returned tired to the hostel for our suitcases, and travelled by BART to Berkeley where Anna Salamon (successfully contacted by the phone) accomodated us in a big house called „The Outpost“.

continued...

viliam@bur.sk