Trip Start Jan 22, 2006
Trip End Aug 16, 2006

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Flag of United States  , California
Tuesday, February 28, 2006

An early alarm call this morning and one that we couldn't ignore for once, as you have to book on a ferry at a specific time to be taken over to Alcatraz. Also we had to get through a Monday morning rush hour in San Francisco and find somewhere to park near Fisherman's Wharf. As we were getting ready to leave the room the local newscast was joyfully advising us of storm warnings for the day and how particularly dire the driving conditions were at that particular moment.

Although the freeway was busy and the visibility wasn't great because of all the spray on the road, we actually got into the centre of San Francisco with plenty of time to spare. It may have been raining but good luck was shining down on us when it came to finding a parking space, as we found one easily and even better it only cost $6 for the whole day (when apparently it can cost you an arm and a leg to park downtown).

Trying to dispel the image of coming back later to find our car on bricks or maybe not being there at all, we headed towards the ferry dock. We actually got to Pier 4 before we needed to, so we downed a quick coffee before climbing onboard. At this point the skies were already looking ominously black, but it wasn't torrential rain (yet!).

The ferry across to Alcatraz only took about ten minutes and this was filled by taking photos of the approaching prison and back towards the harbour. It hardly felt like we'd got onboard before we were disembarking and being met by a booming voiced ranger who told us what we could do whilst on the island.

First stop on the tour was a mini film about the history of Alcatraz. I had no idea that the island was originally used as early as the 1800s (as army barracks) and that some of the buildings dated back to that time too. It was then converted into a prison later that same century, with the most famous or infamous prisoners staying there between 1930 and when it finally closed in 1963. I thought that the appearance of the buildings were due to it falling into disrepair after it shut as a prison, but apparently there was an Indian occupation that took place in the early 1970s and when they were forcibly removed that the damage occurred.

After watching the informative film, we headed for the main body of the prison to complete a self guided walking tour. For this we were given headsets to wear and listen to an audio commentary that was mainly given by prisoners that had been inmates on Alcatraz when it was open as a prison. This was fascinating and certainly gave a good indication of how tough the life was, prisoners were only transferred to Alcatraz if they had proved too hot to handle for other prisons. I completely forgot that the video footage I was shooting couldn't hear the audio commentary that I was listening too, so perhaps my comments whilst filming weren't as verbose as they are normally (and maybe that's no bad thing!).

The tour also gave us some very interesting information about the various escapes that were attempted over the years. Whilst a few prisoners did escape, there is no evidence that any of the escapees actually made it back to the shore alive.

After about four hours of pottering around the island we decided it was time to head back to the shore. As we stood waiting for a return ferry, the heavens suddenly opened and we stood there shivering in torrential rain for about 15 minutes. This was a serious downpour too, we were not just slightly damp but soaked to the skin. I no longer have to imagine what it would be like to wet my pants, as all areas that fell below my coat line were drenched.

The result of this change in the weather, was that we didn't much fancy walking around San Francisco to explore it further. So after a huge but expensive meal in the Hard Rock Cafe that sits on Fisherman's Wharf, we headed back to the hotel to dry off and to change our clothes.

Then it was time for another shift at the internet cafe, so we could play catch up with our travel journals (I'm only a fortnight behind now!).
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