To Chicago (a bit further) and back

png A glimpse at Google Headquarters

I was standing in the middle of it. I couldn’t believe it. Can you blame me? I wanted to go there for more than 5 years. And here I was, pretty epic stuff! But let’s start from the beginning, shall we?

Can You Really Do It?

So what is this all about? Is it that hard to visit the valley? Not at all! Well, maybe it is hard if you need a Visa to visit the states. Yep, living in a relatively unknown country can be both great and a hiccup at times. Truth be told, it wasn’t that hard to obtain a tourist Visa. So I won’t bother you with the details.

Ready. Set. Fly.

The flight from Sofia to Amsterdam and finally Toronto was living within minutes. I can’t describe how exciting that was. Fast forward a bit (it felt like 2 days), we were landing in Toronto. No problems at the border.

Welcome to Canada

png Look at that view!

The flight was ok. Someone was waiting for us at the airport and drove us right to a cute house in the suburbs of Toronto. I went to bed totally exhausted a few hours later.

On the next day, we visited the downtown. Hopped on the CN tower and enjoyed an amazing view. A quick walk around gave us a sample of what downtown Toronto was all about. It looked pretty cool, actually.

I had a lot of prejudices about the food in North America. I thought it was pretty bad. Well, nothing was further from the truth. The grocery stores were filled with amazing fruits, veggies and meat. A couple of fast food restaurants were offering decent meals with salads, grilled meat, beans etc. I was hungry pretty much the whole time, so I tried a lot of the stuff :)

Visting the Island

png The island near Toronto. Peace & beautiful nature.

On the next day, we visited the downtown again. This time, only to board a ferry to the Island near Toronto. The weather was nice, not very warm though. Just a long walk without much tourists. Pure joy ride with beautiful nature all around us. And yes, we walked on the grass!

Niagara Falls

png Can you believe this is real?

We went to the Niagara Falls and it was simply amazing! Just go there and make sure you are on the Canadian side!

png

png Still Niagara. Yeah, I know :)

University of Toronto

png What? I can die happy now!

No further questions, please…

New York, New York…

Our flight from Toronto to NYC went ok. The duration was more like three hours rather than the estimated one. That didn’t matter much, we were in the USA! Again, no problems at the border.

We rented a place at 117th via Airbnb for 6 nights. Now, the trip from La Guardia to 117th wasn’t as smooth as one might expect. The bus stopped us somewhere at 118th, yet we had to pick up keys from a key cafe. The address was wrong, though. We contacted our host. He gave us a new address and rented Uber for us. Running around 125th and it’s surroundings at night (with luggage) wasn’t the best experience of my life. We got it everything in check and soon enough felt the comfort of the bed.

Central Park

png Good morning, sunshine!

Today was a good day (at Central Park). NYC didn’t dissapoint. Central Park was pretty huge (as far as parks in big cities go) and widely diverse. We spent something like 4 hours in it, just the first day. So much to enjoy there. As soon as we reached the Downtown things changed a bit as we were entering…

png Ready for a swim?

Downtown

png Welcome indeed!

Downtown NYC was ok, I guess. It was pretty overcrowded most of the time. However, some parks were pretty good, considering the amount of people around.

The most amazing thing happened at night. We went to a Broadway musical - Aladdin. Should you do it, too? Just go!

png I am still looking for that lamp…

Brooklyn

Being born and raised in East Harlem (nope) I always wanted to visit Brooklyn. We just had to cross the bridge…

png Stunning views all around!

png Look mom, almost made it!

png Still wondering, was this sign made by Common?

While walking down Flatbush avenue one song was spinning endlessly in my head. Here, let me play it for you:

Come on, you’ve got to believe me. It was amazing. Here, take a look at Brooklyn park:

png Isn’t Fall an amazing season?

MIT-ing

Ready for Boston? Sure! We definitely were! The ride from NYC to Boston was about 5 hours long. The scenery was great, yet the weather was not. So, back to sleep.

Finally! At Boston! Now, let’s find something to eat! Probably the best restaurant in the world was nearby. The MIT canteen!

png Isn’t that plate just amazing? Delicious and nutritious, yummy!

Now that our tummies were full we had to find something for our souls (nope, even I don’t believe that):

png This really made my day!

And yes, we visited the…

png I could’ve stood there whole day except I had to get in…

And I couldn’t hear the sound of the police (not hard to get that, eh?)! In fact, everything about MIT was so open and simply amazing! We even snuggled into a lab exercise. Don’t tell anyone about that!

And with this little poster the dessert was served:

png How about a little souvenir from MIT?

Of course, I bought a book that I will never understand within the next 50 or 60 years, but you know what a player’s got to do (yep, you’ve got it. I am making fun of myself! ) …

DC

The first thing I remember about DC? Calmness. The weather was just right and the first view was… well, just like that:

png Straight out of Union Station

Relax, I’ll try not to bore you with the sightseeings:

png Gangstas were everywhere! Isn’t she a cutie?

png Not in Vegas, yet

My favorite spot was one particular museum. I won’t even try to lie about it.

png Dare I say it. The one that started it all!

png Do you get it?

So much to see so little time! DC was pretty cool, but the elections were coming. It was getting a bit cold, too. Can you think of someplace hotter?

San Francisco (Getting Hot in Here)

The news was traveling fast. I was a bit surprised by the election turn of events. But let’s not forget we were just tourists.

png I pinched myself and asked another person to do it for me, too. It was real!

png Isn’t that an amazing way to say goodbye to the day?

Live from the Valley

On one of those days, we were riding the Caltrain traveling from San Fran to Palo Alto. The weather was just great. It was California after all, right? But, where to?

Stanford

png Good thing we knew where we were going

Entering the premises of Stanford, I stood puzzled. Can I move here and just stay? Surely, the immigration officers might have something to say about that.

png We were getting closer

Ok, we were there to attend a lecture. And yes, the topic was deep learning. The guest lecturer was Andrej Karpathy. That should be enough to understand how excited was I about attending the lecture. Please, don’t ask how we were able to enter the building…

png The movie, eh lecture, was about to begin

The lecture was really inspiring. Lots of cool examples/demos showing state-of-the-art.

png Say bye to the campus

One Infinite Loop

png Feel like a tourist yet?

Visiting the Apple campus was pretty boring. We were accompanied by an Apple employee, but we weren’t able to enter any of the buildings. Next…

Flight Over the Valley at Night

My uncle had a really nice surprise for us. He organized a flight over the valley with a small plane. We were about to lift off from small airport at San Jose, fly to San Francisco and return. Unfortunately, we were a bit too heavy for the plane, so my uncle had to stay on the ground.

png The plane was eagerly waiting…

Not before long, we were cruising (not down the street) above the clouds. Some of them seemed really upset by us, maybe even trying to hit us with a lightning or something.

png Not so sunny now…

The sunset was closing fast. It was just unbelievable. We were right above San Fran, cruising at 140 mph and the view was…

Google HQ

One might think that visiting Google HQ will be a pleasant experience. Cool gadgets left and right. Tons of wacky experiments rolling around. Maybe I thought that Google HQ was the modern version of Bell Labs. Well, I was wrong or so it appeared.

png Prospective candidate willing to work for below minimum wage (as apparent from his sweatpants)

Sorry about that. I know it was a bad joke, but I’ll be ready when that janitor position at the 6th floor is available!

Going a bit deeper into the jungle revealed what the world of a Googler actually is.

png Life at Google

Here are some notable stops during the (very short) tour:

png Me and that car? We go way back - first met in my little country.

png Those guys were missing cool forks and stuff. Nevertheless, they were awesome!

png Android only for tablets. What a sick idea that was!

Overall, I was pretty disappointed. We were kicked out from the main lobby as well. We couldn’t peek at a single building, except for the gift shop, which was lousy too! Onwards!

Ride Along 1st

It was time for us to cut our wins and head to L.A. Silicon Valley was such a cool place. I almost didn’t want to leave.

We rented a car (first time ever) and started what appeared to be a totally not overrated experience! 2-day ride along the ocean with almost constant breathtaking scenery.

Our first stop provided us with fresh meat, fruits and this view:

png Come on, we didn’t eat that bird. Or did we?

There were just so many possible stops to make:

png No comment

And look at these guys:

png They were so close, but not too close

Easily, one of the most amazing days during our trip! Time for a break at Monterey.

L.A.

We arrived pretty late and had to return the car we rented. The drop zone was LAX and the traffic was horrific. My first drive in the USA had pretty stressful end. But it was ok after all.

We filled up the car right before leaving it and used a shuttle to the airport. The question was how to get to downtown from there? We asked around and a shuttle service was offered to us. What a mistake! The ticket was 17$ and we waited for like an hour before a shuttle to downtown arrived. After a good hour later we were in front of our hotel (something more like a motel…). Lesson learned: use Uber or Lyft for LAX <-> Downtown. I believe it would’ve been cheaper and faster.

png Just another sunny day in Cali

On the next day, I was waiting to see a police vehicle. There was this song that was spinning in my head. Over and over again. Yes, it originated from Campton.

Downtown L.A. was pretty much meh… Lots of homeless and mentally ill people were all around. Pretty sad picture… We went to Union Station to confirm our bus station for Las Vegas. While there were some amazing sights along the way…

png Somebody was already taking a shower!

There was this park (and surroundings) right next to Union Station, filled with homeless people. It was like nobody was seeing them. Huh, was that ok!? Nope! It really felt like a 3rd world country in there.

Later, we decided to visit the big park above Holywood. Right about when the sunset was starting it looked like this:

png A distant look at L.A.

Vegas (Huh? Never thought I was into gambling…)

The only reason we visited Vegas was the Grand Canyon. You can tell I was pretty skeptical about the trip. There were few surprises along the way, though.

Our bus dropped us something like 5+ km from our hotel. There were literally no people around. It was Vegas, there should be people everywhere, right?

We only had one backpack. So, we took a walk through some parts of Vegas. It was a walk among so many homeless people. In Vegas!?

png Not what you expect to see from Vegas, right?

Well, someone was definitely there to welcome us :) He was pretty cute, too!

png Say hi to Skipper. And don’t mind my torn sneaker, please!

IndyCar was in town and that was a little bonus along the way:

png The early retirement was most probably caused by a poor choice of sponsor

Finally, we checked in our hotel and were ready for exploration.

png Las Vegas is beautfiul?

png Impatiently waiting for the next show

png How’s that view for a cheap dinner from Chipotle? And we were all alone!

The Canyon

We were ready for our second road trip. This time the destination was the West Rim of the Grand Canyon. Pro tip: go to the south rim if you can!

Early in the morning, we went to rent a car from the airport. Bought 2-3 bags filled with delicious food and turned on the seat heaters. Driving around the desert without a rooftop made me smile. I haven’t slept well on the previous night and this really woke me up.

We drove for around 3 hours or so. When we arrived we discovered that it was worth it! The Grand Canyon is something that you have to see, it can’t be described. Even pictures can’t do a good job of presenting it.

png How about a hike down there?

png That eagle was watching over us. That surely made me feel safe!

png It is always nice to be at the edge

Back to Bulgaria

I can’t describe how happy I was when our plane landed in my home country. I’ve never been away for such a long period. Seeing friends and family after such a long trip was truly heartwarming (not only because the temperatures outside were way lower than those in L.A.).

Still, I felt like some part of me was missing. Left somewhere in the heart of the Valley?

Tips for Traveling Geeks

On Eating

Some say that keeping your waist in check is hard when on vacation. Is it?

Of course, you might be tempted to try out everything you see, and I mean everything… Tasting that amazing Italian chocolate ice cream might be your dream from day 1. That’s ok if you establish some rules.

First, find quality sources of food. Surprisingly, that was not a problem in the USA. Most grocery stores were great (yep, even those in East Harlem had amazing stuff in them!), filled with fresh vegies, salads, chopped meat (beef and chicken) and delicious fruits! You won’t be disappointed if you are into hot soups, too!

What do you do (now, things get a bit nerdy)?

Use 37% of your time allocated for food in exploring different options. That means trying new supermarkets, fast food restaurants, wholefood markets etc. Sample from all that looks ok. Then, in the rest 63% exploit what you’ve discovered. Think I am crazy (yeah, you are probably right)? Look at that: Who solved the secretary problem?

What should you eat?

This can be quite simple (if you do not allow nutritionists and other fads tell you what you should eat). Go full out meat, eggs, beans, rice, fish, leafy vegies, avocado, nuts (know why?) and all the fruit you can digest. Sometimes I was like “Yep, I am full. Let me just eat those 3 bananas and a handful of nuts”.

Where should you eat?

Personal favorite - parks, oceans, anywhere near water and pretty much anywhere the view is breathtaking. It helps you digest better (I am not aware of such “fact”)! One side effect of that is the amount you pay per meal. It is pretty cheap, so you don’t have to cut high quality delicious and healthy food.

How much should you eat?

You might notice something strange if you try this “diet”. You can eat until you feel full. There is nothing to be afraid of if you are an active tourist. Personally, my sugar cravings stopped after a week or so. Can this happen to you as well?

On Working Out

My workout regiment went south pretty much from the start. We were averaging more than 20 km (no, I do not know how much miles is that!) of walking. The initial exhaustion from that was there. However, after a week or so, our bodies were back on track. That’s when we visited the bars at Central Park (I am too embarrassed to share a picture of that!) and later had fun on some “playgrounds” in L.A. It was more of a way to relax than having full blown workout. I never visited a gym in the USA. The only real possibilities were the 2 nights we spent in Las Vegas, but somehow I was too preoccupied for that (lazy me!).

My first workout, after we returned, was pretty pathetic. I felt like I lost 30-40% of my strength. However, after 2-3 workouts the things are almost where I left them. It might’ve been good to take a break from the gym after all.

On Sleeping

Just sleep as much as you can! Let’s say that my nervous system wasn’t kind to me and I had periods of extensive “thinking nights”. Nothing good came out of that. So do as I say, not as I do - just go to sleep!

What should’ve done more?

Well, we should’ve spent more time in L.A. and the nearby places. Long Beach, Campton etc. Thankfully, my prayers to the Machine Learning gods have been heard. NIPS 2017 is going to be at the heart of Long Beach. December 04 - 09, 2017 doesn’t seem that far away. Already looking through airbnb…

Where to Next?

That one is pretty obvious! NIPS!

P.S. A wise man told me once

png Sometimes, a geek goes binary searching to the end of the world, only to find out that everything he was looking for was at O(1) from him