Trip Start Apr 01, 2013
Trip End Jun 28, 2013

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Where I stayed

Flag of United States  , California
Sunday, June 9, 2013

Having had a great sleep (assisted) despite the sirens, yelling, screaming and general noise from outside, I awoke around 7.00am ready to go. Dave, my room mate, was still sparko so I worked on my blog until the roofies wore off, and he woke up :)

We had the Alcatraz boat tour booked in for late this afternoon so decided to do some exploring of the city in the meantime.

We headed downstairs to have a crack at the free breakfast at our hostel and it was actually surprisingly good. Toasted bagels with cream cheese and raspberry jam. I washed it down with a coffee which wasn't to bad either by American standards which, when it comes to coffee, is pretty low.

Dave had some laundry to do so I headed down to get us a couple of 3-day passes for the cable car. In fact, the passes covered the trolley buses, the metro and the cable car so we had our transport around town well and truly sorted. I jumped in the queue for the Powell-Hyde Cable Car which would take us down to Fisherman's Wharf. Dave joined me in the queue not long after and we waited another 30 minutes before we could finally get on one. Apparently it was pretty busy because it was the weekend. Pigs arse because it was busy the following day (a Monday) also !

The cable car ride was pretty cool with me and Dave hanging off the side looking like your typical tourists. The cable cars are pretty amazing things and there is a fair amount of physical work required by the driver, especially when braking on the steep hills. We had a magnificent view of the bay and Alcatraz Island as we came down the hill to Fisherman's Wharf.

We got off and had a wander around, heading in the direction of the Alcatraz Cruise Ticket Office. We had decided to pick up our tickets early to minimise the chances of a stressful event later.

Once we had our tickets, we caught a trolley bus and headed down to where we needed to catch the cable car that would take us up to Lombard Street, the crookedest street in the world apparently. It was also where you get the 'money-shot' photo of the cable car coming over the hill with Alcatraz in the background.

We arrived at Hyde Street and were greeted by another long queue at the cable car station. We decided to start walking up the hill. Bloody Dave's idea. It wasn't long before we came to the first cable car stop on this particular route so we decided we might stand a better chance of catching one here. After 10 minutes Dave gave up waiting and decided he would walk up the near vertical hill. Me, not being quite the athlete Dave is, thought feck that ! I told him I'd meet him at the top, and off he trotted.

About 2 minutes later, the cable car turned up. I got on and I was soon racing past a knackered looking Dave. I waved to him with both fingers :)

I got off at the Lombard Street stop and waited for Dave to turn up. He eventually arrived looking totally wrecked. I on the other hand, was as fresh as a daisy.

I attempted to get the cable car/Alcatraz photo with limited success but we couldn't be arsed waiting around for another one. We started the walk down the crookedest street in the world which zig zags from Hyde Street down to Leavenworth Street. Bugger living on it, as there are cars coming down it all bloody day and night. We got the obligatory photos and then walked back down to Fisherman's Wharf and grabbed a burger for lunch.

Dave decided he wanted to have a look at an old submarine and a Liberty ship and as I had already done that back at the Intrepid Museum in New York, I left him to it and found a coffee shop where I could plug in my camera battery. I wanted to make sure my battery was fully charged for the Alcatraz tour.

After an hour or so, I met up with Dave and we went for a wander down to the end of Pier 35 to check out a heap of seals and sea lions that were residing on one of the jettys. Some were playing, some were grunting, but most were sleeping. Pretty cool though. We checked out a few of the shops on the pier to kill a bit more time before jumping on our boat to Alcatraz.

The boat trip to Alcatraz provided us with a great view of the city and both the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. It wasn't long before we were stepping off on to the dock leading to one of the world's most infamous prisons.

Alcatraz was a strategic military base and then a military prison before becoming a Federal Penitentiary from 1934 to 1963. It was also the destination of an Indian occupation in the 60's after the prison had closed. As well as being a home to the military, criminals and indians, it also had pelicans, snowy egrets, sea gulls, cormorants as its residents.

We went up to the theatre and watched a brief documentary about the island and its history and checked out a small museum containing artifacts relevant to Alcatraz and the US Federal Penitentiary system in general, before heading up the hill to commence our tour. We decided to do the audio tour and collected our headphones and started our tour in the Alcatraz cells.

The tour takes you through the prison cell blocks, dining hall, library, recreation yard, administration block and the warden's office. A few of the prisoners appeared to possess some impressive artistic skills. During their time in the prison, they had drawn a few pictures to keep themselves occupied and these pictures were still in their cells. Some of the cells have the gates open, so you can go inside, close your eyes and imagine what it must have been like.

Along the pathways, there are placards with pictures and stories of the island's most notorious criminals like Al Capone, Robert Stroud (Birdman of Alcatraz), "Machine-Gun" Kelly, etc. There are also pictures and stories of the prison guards who guarded these bad boys.

A few "well-behaved" prisoners had access to a library and were also allowed to play baseball. The baseball equipment used back then is also displayed in a cabinet on the wall.

The audio tour also portrays 'The Battle of Alcatraz', the story of a daring escape attempt by 5 prisoners in May 1946. The prisoners killed 2 guards during their failed escape attempt and 3 of them died in the process. The 2 surviving prisoners were later executed for the part they played.

There were lots of other interesting parts of the tour including going through 'D' block which housed the most dangerous criminals and those in solitary confinement.

It was also great to hear about the famed June 1962 escape attempt depicted in the Clint Eastwood movie, Escape from Alcatraz, where three prisoners escaped using fabricated dummy heads, made from a mixture of soap, toilet paper and real hair, and left them in their beds to fool prison officers making night-time inspections. They escaped from their cells by crawling through holes in the cell walls which they had dug with spoons over a 12 month period. They got off the island using an inflatable raft which was later found deflated on Angel Island. The FBI's investigation was unable to determine whether the three men successfully escaped or died in the attempt. The most plausible outcome is that they drowned as they had planned to steal a car and clothes when they reached the city and there were no reports of anything stolen at that time.

In total there were 14 escape attempts involving 36 prisoners whilst Alcatraz was a Federal Penitentiary. Alcatraz was closed because of its deteriorating condition and because it became to costly to run.

Having spent a solid 3 hours on 'The Rock', we jumped on the last ferry back to the mainland.

We made our way back to the hostel, got changed and headed out for dinner. We chose Morton's Steak House which was a high-end steak restaurant not far from where we were staying. We both ordered the New York Strip and Jesus it was good ! We washed it down with a nice Pinot from the Napa Valley before retiring back to our humble abode.

Big day and a good one.

Over and out !
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