Saturday, March 7, 2009

Exploratorium and the Golden Gate Bridge

On Thursday the day dawned sunny as you liked, with a cool breeze. After a delicious breakfast at our hotel we headed off for a day of science at the Exploratorium.

The Exploratorium is just fabulous. It's a museum full of hands-on exhibits -- admittedly, for kids -- which are designed to teach you about various scientific principles. The building itself is the old Palace of Fine Arts, which was originally used for a world fair in 1915. It looks stunning, especially on the beautiful day that we saw it.

Inside, the first half is dedicated to physics experiments. We had fun playing with iron filings and magnets, and trying to get a small marble ball to jump through a series of hoops when we dropped it from a height. One of our particular highlights was a camera that was sensitive to heat instead of light. This let you see how warm you were, and what it looked like when you held something cold for a bit and then held up your hand (you got an awesome tattoo, depending on what you touched). It also proved that Leah's hands were much colder than mine.

Another highlight was the particle accelerator. This is basically a large clear globe with a small marble inside. You move the globe around in circles, and the marble spins around faster and faster and makes a terrific racket.

The back half of the museum was full of psychology things. I did an emotion test on Leah, and got her to tell lies and do embarassing things while monitoring her reactions (she doesn't like singing in front of strangers, but she likes to imagine herself on the beach). There was also a 'de-balancer' -- you stand on one leg in front of a big chequerboard panel which the other person then moves to-and-fro. It's very hard to stay balanced when they do this -- apparently this shows how you use your surroundings to keep yourself balanced.

Just before we left I got to have a go at the bubble table. You get to make enormous bubbles with giant frames, and if you're really good they float away (I wasn't good enough). There was another floor of experiments left, but we'd been there for 5 hours and it was time to go to our next attraction.

Eventually, we managed to get ourselves to the Golden Gate Bridge (the bus stop looked close on our map, but unfortunately it was missing some streets). After seeing so many photos of it, it felt a little unreal to be actually standing in front of it. We snapped a few pictures, and then braved the crowds to walk across it.

The bridge is 2km long over its main arches, but it felt a lot longer as we walked over. We did get some lovely views of both the city and the islands in the bay, but the bridge itself was unsurprising. It's constantly being repainted to stop it corroding, and we saw some of the equipment they use to paint the cables (it looks like a little box that winches its way up). We decided we didn't really want to have that job.

Wikipedia says the bridge is the most popular place to commit suicide, but thankfully we didn't see any of that. We did see plenty of signs and phones urging people to call for help, and apparently they're going to build a 'suicide net' around the bridge to deter people from actually jumping.

After we'd gone back over the bridge, we bussed back to Safeway to get some dinner, and then took a cable car back to our hotel. I rode on outside, which isn't as terrifying as it looks (the hills in San Francisco are fairly hair-raising). It is pretty good fun though, as long as you don't mind cold hands and ears.


  1. Wow that science place sounds like my cuppa tea! Can't wait to see photos of the golden gate bridge

  2. Yeah, it was really fun! Photos are coming soonish, I promise.