Escape from Alcatraz!!

Trip Start Jul 27, 2003
Trip End Jul 26, 2004

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Flag of United States  , California
Monday, August 25, 2003

Hi all,

Well this may be another mammoth as we have done a lot since we last wrote - Vegas seems like a long long time ago now - British Politics seems to be our headlines at the moment and I see that not just New York is susceptible to the odd power failure. Anyway here goes with the latest Travelpod!! I have split it into two entries so that you don't all skive work on Monday morning reading and read it in two manageable chunks. Thanks as always for all your emails. Anyway here goes with San Franscisco. Enjoy.

Friday 22nd August
We got up early to see what San Francisco had to offer as we were not in the mood to take any of it in after our late arrival last night. Our hotel, which we had booked till Sunday, was very cool, very Art Deco and in a fabulous location right on Union Square in Downtown. We decided to walk upto Fishermans Wharf to get some tickets to go and see Alcatraz as it was the one thing we said we would do. The streets here are just fantastic, the hills are so steep they don't look possible. They are so inclined that if you get tired walking u them then you can take a rest by leaning against them!! The hike up the hill is always worth the view from the top though. (fellow 3 Peakers, I have a new challenge!!) We got to the ticket booth for Alcatraz and they were fully sold out until Monday so we decided to buy a ticket anyway and extend our stay till Monday. I knew I was going to love it here anyway. We got our tickets and headed to the library to sort out our car hire and our new nights accomodation for Sunday night.

The libraries here are very impressive and this one was no disappointment, a huge 6 story building with central glass balconies and a cafe. We stayed here for a while (typing Travelpod - Vegas) checking emails, offering priceline silly money for a Sunday night in San Francisco and also checking out car hire. I made an offer on priceline for 30 pounds and got a different hotel from the one we were at but it still looked good. It was called The Harbour Court and was featured in our Dorling Kindersley guide as being the only hotel on the Harbour. It was in Japantown and right next to The Ferry Building.

We headed out into the streets and did a bit of wandering. The climate here is just perfect a nice dry heat during the day with a sea breeze and then a nice chill in the evening. We headed back to the hotel to get showered and then went to check out our hotel bar which sold itself as the best place to watch the sunset. The bar was on the top floor and had floor to ceiling windows that gave a 360 view of San Francisco. We had a couple of Buds and just sat and watched the sun go down. We then headed out to get some food. It was just as busy outside our hotel by night as it was by day. Our hotel was right next door to Macys, Tiffany & Co, Borders Books, Theatres and Restaurants. We went two blocks to China Town and found a good little cheap buffet restaurant which was yep you guessed it - Eat all you can!! (Can you see a bit of a trend forming here!!)

Saturday 23rd August
Today was another gorgeous day so we decided to walk to The Golden Gate Bridge. We walked through downtown amongst skyscrapers, plush shops and chic boutiques. Then you get to the busy Pier area with all its shops and toursit attractions and all the local fisherman busy unloading the days load and people preparing clam chowder and fresh crab for you right in the street. Then round the next corner you are on the beach watching people sailing, water ski-ing, paragliding, parasurfing, jogging, flying kites, walking their dogs, sunbathing and swimming. Then you are at The Golden Gate bridge and across the Bridge you are in the mountains. It is an amazing city and I have just realised that it is probably my favourite of all.

The Golden Gate Bridge is preety impressive and looks amazing at the edge of the bay. It equally looks good when you walk across the bridge and look at San Francisco in all its glory. You can see the steep streets, the skyline of downtown, the beach, Alcatraz and the beautiful blue bay. Its such a compact city but has it all.

We headed back into town via Lombard street which is so steep they had to make it chicane so it is the worlds most crooked street. It was just a zigzag hill and the residents on the sides of the street had it all planted with bushes and flowers so it looked really good. There was an endless stream of cars driving down it. We headed back down to Fishermans Wharf where it was now really bustling as it was evening the pavement cafes were doing a storm in boiling and selling fresh crab. The people were spilling out onto the streets. After a long day we walked back to the hotel which was still really busy with all the shops still open at 9pm. We went into Borders Books and chilled for a couple of hours reading magazines and travel guides. We had our Blighty catch up with Hello, OK and Heat magazines and see nothing much has changed - still Westlife marriages and Ulrika stories!!

Sunday 24th August
We had to check out of the Sir Francis Drake today and walked the dozen blocks down Market street to our new hotel. It had amazing views of the bay and an amazing lounge with a big open fire which felt lovely in the Air Conditioned chill!?! They had complimetary Starbucks Coffee in the Lounge and a huge bowl of apples for guests. The receptionist invited us to attend their daily "Napa Valley Wine & Micro Brewery Hour" between 5 and 6 every evening. We expected it to be a bit of a sales drive but we thought we would head down if we were around at the time. We headed up to the Library to book our train tickets for Thursday morning to Los Angeles and to get somewhere to stay for our first night in LA while we decided what we would do when we got there. We got a good hotel in Little Tokyo which had spa facilities for just 30pounds. I checked out their website and they had a special offer on for just $179 so another bargain sought! It was also just 2 blocks from the Amtrak station which is what I wanted as we didn't get in till 7pm and we didn't fancy walking too far on the LA streets late at night. We also pricelined for a cheap hotel in Oakland which is a city on the other side of the bridge from San Francisco as this was where we were dropping off our hire car and where our Amtrak left from the next morning. I heard it wasn't that great a place so we just wanted somewhere near the station for a sleep and quick getaway in the morning.

We then headed to Pier 39 which is a shopping pier on the Wharf which is famous for having lots of Sea Lions. We wandered around the shops for a while and then started to hear the noise similar to that of a Sea Lion or a crazed lunatic. We headed to where the noise was coming from (K Dock) and we saw Sea Lions and I mean hundreds of them. They were all squeezing themselves onto the wooden dock area and pushing each other off for more room. Apparently they came here in the late 80s after a bad earthquake and they stayed ever since. Boats used to use these docks but the local council had to move them on in order to protect the Sea Lions.

We headed back to the hotel as it was nearly 5pm and we figured we had a good enough excuse not to be forced into buying a crate of wine to take home with us!! We walked into the lounge area and there was nobody there except another couple and they pointed at a sideboard and told us that it was help yourself. There were half a dozen bottles of red wine, half a dozen bottles of white wine and three big pitchers of local beer. So we grabbed a glass and had a very sociable piss up! We chatted to this couple who were from New York and over in San Francisco on vacation. We had a bowl of pretzels that kept getting filled up for us and it wasn't exactly an hour it was more a case of the hotel provide a dozen bottles of wine and 3 pitchers and when it is gone it is gone. The good thing is that when there are only a dozen poeple in the room it lasts for a while!! After many glasses of Napa Valleys finest we headed next door to a Sushi Bar called Ozumo. We were told that San Franciscos Sushi is amongst the finest in the US and I wouldn't disagree. We sat in the centre at the Sushi Bar while the chefs stood in front of us making your sushi and we had some amazing eel, salmon and tuna. We had had our fill of good food and wine at little cost and headed/staggered back next door to our hotel for a sleep.

Monday 25th August
We got up and left our bags at the front desk and then headed up to Pier 41 to catch our ferry to ALcatraz. It was only a few miuntes on the ferry and then you get dropped off on the island and you are pretty much left to wander at your leisure. Ferries head back every half hour and you can catch anyone you want. They had an intro video at the dock and a number of park rangers are on site giving talks. We headed up to the cells where we were given an audio headset for a self guided 35 minute tour. It is narrated by an actual prison officer from Alcatraz and features interviews with ex inmates and other prison officers. You can walk all through the prison and enter the cells which are pretty small. You can see Al Capones cell and "The Hole" where prisoners were put in solitary confinement in complete darkness sometimes for as long as a month. Its hardly surprising some went mad. You heard accounts of attempted escapes and of course one made famous by the film "Escape from Alcatraz". The three men thet escaped that day have never been found it isn't known if they drowned in the sea or if they got away. They are still on the FBIs most wanted list and there is a $1million award for information to there whereabouts. The tour was fantastic. The island is lovely. Views of The Golden Gate Bridge & San Francisco, it is abundant with wildlife. I wouldn't have minded a short stretch there myself. 3 hours passed in no time at all so it was time to head back. We got our ferry to the Pier and headed back to our hotel to collect our bags. We caught The BART (Bay Area Regional Transport) which is their Underground to Oakland and walked a few blocks to where we could collect our car from Budget.

I will leave it there for now and fill you in on the next exciting installment when I have more internet time. We are in LA at the moment so we are off to cruise Sunset Strip. I will try and get more of an update for you tomorrow. I am trying very hard to get some photos up here before we leave the US on Sunday night so fingers crossed I can sort that tomorrow for you.

You all take care and keep emailing.
Liz and Simon xxxxxx
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