San Francisco and Alcatraz

Trip Start Mar 12, 2012
Trip End Jul 10, 2012

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Flag of United States  , California
Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The time had come for my journey into the US of A. I've never been to the US before, so I was pretty excited and wondered if it would actually be like it is on TV and in films. So I arrived on Wednesday evening in San Francisco, to be met by my aunt and uncle (sort  of)who I was going to stay with. We got in the car and they gave me a quick mini tour of the city. We drove along the pier, and then I got my first look at the Golden Gate Bridge. It was pretty spectacular, and was lit up against the night sky. My aunt lives in a little town called Fairfax, which is in Marin county, over the GG bridge. So we drove over the bridge, which was a cool experience in itself, and stopped at Vista Point on the other side, where we got out, and we could see the whole of San Francisco lit up. Then it was back to the house, where I crashed out and had an amazing sleep. 

 The next day I had arranged to meet my friend Stefen who I had met in New Zealand, and we had gotten tickets to go to Alcatraz. Alcatraz was another thing I had been planning for ages, ever since I had studied the 'Siege of Alcatraz' in History, so I was pretty excited! So my Aunt dropped me at Pier 39, and I had a wonder around. It was packed full of tourists splashing their cash, with cafes, shops and restaurants taking up every bit of space. Not really my thing, but it was nice nevertheless. Then I met Stefen, and it was lovely to see him again! It was the first time I'd seen one of my friends again after saying goodbye to them, so it was good to catch up and swap stories about our travels since we left each other. Luckily Stefen had the good sense to book tickets for us in advance, as they sell out weeks before. We jumped on the ferry, and had a windy ride over to the island of Alcatraz. The water between San Francisco and the island is actually extremely rough, I wouldn't want to try and escape across it! 

 As we got nearer to the island, we could see signs about the consequences of trying to help prisoners escape, and the huge watchtower. Once we docked, we walked up to the main prison building where all the cells are. On the way, you can look into the morgue, which was pretty grim, with the body table still in it. When you enter the main building, you get given a headset, and you then take an audio tour around the building. It's narrated by four ex prison guards, and four ex prisoners, so you get each side's perspective. You walk around the building, and as you go, they explain what each place is, what it's used for, and lots of interesting stories about it. The normal prison cells weren't bad. Each had a bed, table, shelves, and urinal. However, the ones in Cell Block D, were pretty grim. This was the isolation block, and the worst prisoners had cells which were completely dark, and completely blocked off so they couldn't see anything outside. You were allowed to walk into these cells, but I didn't want to stay too long in there! The prisoners also had a library and playing field, which was pretty nice I thought! 

 The audio also told us about the escape attempts from Alcatraz. I'll briefly tell you about the two most famous ones. The first is known as the 'Siege of Alcatraz'. It's when five prisoners plotted together, and took over the largest cell block, by taking guards captive and locking them in a cell. It took a long time for them to realise what was happening, so more guards kept walking in unaware, and then being captured. However, there was one door the prisoners needed to use to get out, and one brave and clever guard who had the key hid it from them, and refused to tell them where he put it. Eventually, in frustration, one of prisoners shot multiple times into the cell where the guards where. One guard was killed, and 6 injured. Eventually the alarm was raised, and the battle raged on, with the prison being bombed to try to end the siege. When it was all over, two of the prisoners were dead, and the rest captured. Out of the remaining three, two were hung, and one was alllowed to live. 

 The other major escape was noticed one morning during roll call, where three prisoners appeared to be sleeping, and wouldn't wake up. When the guard went to one of their cells, and poked his baton through the bars to prod the man, his head rolled off onto the floor! The three men had made fake heads from soap and paint, and left them in their beds. Then, in the middle of the night they had climbed up the piping room, and using a raft made of rain coats, tried to escape over the bay. To this day, no one knows if they made it or drowned trying. The guards seemed pretty sure that they had drowned, and after going over the bay in the ferry and seeing how rough it was, it would have taken a miracle to make it using a rain coat raft! But who knows, maybe they did make it. They had pictures of what they would look like today, which was interesting to see. One really interesting thing that one of the prisoners said, which I thought was quite poignent, was that being on Alcatraz, and having San Francisco so close, meant you could see the perfect life, and it was just across the water. They could see what life could be like for them, and that was inspiration for some, but just depressing for others. 
After our tour we went back to San Francisco and chilled out in Fisherman's Wharf for the afternoon. Then I said goodbye to Stefen and made my way back to Fairfax, as I had lots to do. 
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Charlie on

Wow rowam this is awesome i didnt now you blogged :D

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