Tuesday, June 17, 2014

San Francisco, Day 3: Alcatraz

As I sit here writing this, I am listening to a band called All The Apparatus, an energetic group who I would describe as energetic big-band indie, but whose website describes them as "avante-garde dirty gypsy klezmer jazz indie anti-folk rock." They were palying along the docks as we were walking by and I loved their sound, and bought a CD. For a taste, here is one of the songs they played while we were watching: "Bourbon".

Buuuut... you're here to hear about Alcatraz, not some gypsies I found on the side of the road, right?

Okay. Well, let me start by saying that when we booked our tickets (about 5 days before we left) all of the regular Alcatraz tours were booked solid, and that was the sole reason why Gilles wanted to visit San Francisco. (Whoops!)

Luckily after some searching I was able to find an Angel Island and Alcatraz combination tour. It was slightly more expensive (to the tune of about $30 each), but it was a full day tour instead of the regular 2.5 hrs alotted for Alcatraz, and included another island that we had heard absolutely nothing about. Sound fascinating?

On a side-note, I am really happy with the location of the hotel we are staying in. On the corner of Jones and Bay street, it seems to be close to everything. (Granted, my legs are sore from all the walking and hills, but that can only be a good thing. Yet, somehow I still feel guilty at the end of each evening sitting down to write this with my glass of wine. Despite all my walking all day, my conscience is still telling me I should be getting in my exercises for the day. Wtf conscience?)

It would seem that I got side-tracked from being side-tracked. What was I saying?

Oh yes. We started out our morning today at a much more reasonable hour of 8am. To save time, we ate supper at the restaurant right within the hotel. That is so far, the only complaint I have had about this hotel. The breakfast is good, but it is standard continental breakfast fare and not worth $20 each. Tomorrow we are going back to Pat's Diner. :)

From there, we walked down to Pier 33. We got there with about 20 minutes to spare, which we spent perusing the gift shop and reading 'information stations'. It didn't seem long at all before they were snapping the mandatory tourist photo and herding us like cattle onto the ship.

Angel Island ended up being a beautiful state park. Angel Island was once an immigration station, where Chinese immigrants were held (often for months) before being allowed entry into the United States. The Island acted as its own little town, with its own hospital, fire station and grocery store. During WWII, Angel Island acted as a quarantine for soldiers coming home with various diseases caught overseas (Malaria, etc.). The Island also facilitated beautiful views of San Francisco, the Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, and of course, Alcatraz.

Alcatraz itself was much of what you would expect. Jails, jail cells, lots of concrete. :) We started by taking the audio tour, which we found ourselves pausing frequently to explore side-channels and read signs not included in the tour. From there, we went into the gift shop, where one of the former convicts (who got out of jail 3 years ago) was signing the book he wrote about his experience in Alcatraz. (!!!) We definitely got an autographed book, and I got my photo taken with the ex-con.

After this we ran down to catch the '200 years of history' walking tour. This was led by park guide Matt Murphy, and went into more detail about Alcatraz outside of the prison cells, helping us understand the actual history of the island and its surroundings. While the audio-tour was interesting and I wouldn't skip it if I were to do the tour again, I found this tour to be much more intriguing.

Gilles found the fact that the wardens' families lived right on the island (and lived quite a normal life despite their proximity to the jail) to be the most interesting tidbit of information for the day. Having read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and other war-time novels, this didn't come as too big of a surprise for me. However, I did find it very interesting that despite there being only 3 escapees during the time Alcatraz was Alcatraz (the federal prison), there were several successful escape attempts in the pre-Alcatraz days where the island was actually a military prison. In fact, the successful escapes were as simple as soldier-cons walking away from their jobs in San Francisco.

That's it for today... tomorrow we are heading to Six Flags, so you can expect a much shorter post, but perhaps some funny pictures?