Friday, 21 September 2012

Day 23 - Escape from Alcatraz

Today, the first of two whole days in San Francisco, we got up and discussed the terrible view from the breakfast room at our hotel.

Shabby view from the breakfast table.
Venturing out in the direction of Union Square we had a vague notion to do one of the Duck tours of the city and out into the bay.  If you never seen a Duck it's an amphibious vehicle designed originally for military use but now doing a roaring tourist trade in cities around the world where it can take passengers on tours both on land and water in one go.  I'd previously done the London one which was huge fun but Rachael was a duck virgin so we thought it would be a great way to see the city.
A duck.  The only way to do a city tour by land and water.  Well the only way if you don't want to get wet anyway.
We decided to get one of the cable cars from Union Square up to Fishermans Wharf to pick up the Duck tour.  The duck tour does advertise that they also run from Union Sq but apparently thats only if you book in advance, and are obviously psychic because there was no mention of that on their advert.  The cable cars are the old fashioned trolley cars you see in a lot of SF movies and they really are a tourist attraction only.  People who live in SF seem to use the electric trams and buses but the old fashioned trolleys are cool to look at.  We decided after one trip that we wouldn't bother with it again though.  It was heaving with people, you have to cling on for dear life on the steep hills (there were no seats so we were standing) and at $6 for a one way trip it was pretty expensive.  

Getting on the duck we were presented with our very own duck call noise maker.  We were instructed to use it as often as we liked whilst on the tour.  There was plenty of it for the first 10 minutes at which point everyone except a 2 yr old child on our tour got bored of it.
The lizard gains a duck bill.  Not sure it's a good look to be honest.
We had a very friendly and engaging tour guide / driver called Sky who regaled us with little tidbits of San Francisco history as well as pointing out the quirkier things to see on our route.  The duck is almost certainly not the best actual tour because I'm sure there was a lot we passed that didn't get a mention.  But it's a lot of fun especially when it goes out on to the water.

At this point both Rachael and I were experiencing something we've not felt since leaving England.  Cold.  No really, it's cold here.  We both had to buy tacky tourist fleeces because it's COLD. Brrrrr....

After the duck we strolled around Fishermans Wharf and decided to get a late lunch / early dinner.  We headed back to Boudin and had a lovely meal with a great view of Alcatraz island.  Boudin is a San Francisco bakery and restaurant famous for their sourdough bread. This was foreshadowing because we had tickets booked for the Alcatraz night cruise.
The boat over to Alcatraz was pretty quick with a cheerful information commentary about the island on the way.  The tacky tourist fleeces came into their own on the boat trip because with the windchill it was freezing.  We can't work out if it's just that we've been baking like lizards for 3 weeks and have therefore acclimatised to the hot weather further south, or if it's just bloody cold here in SF.

Alcatraz is an eerie place.  The buildings are largely unchanged since it's days as a prison and like Ellis Island in New York, the place has an atmosphere that is part creepy and part momentous. It's like the walls are talking.  The cell block has an audio tour that is part of the ticket and it's excellent.  There is audio testimony from actual wardens and inmates as well as dramatic retellings of some events.  These are accompanied by sound effects such as clanging cell doors and alarms etc. It's all very atmospheric and slightly sinister.  I certainly wouldn't want to do the tour on my own, it would be like walking around in your own personal horror movie.

A cheery message for those entering the cell block.
At least they were going to let us out at the end of the day - unlike these guys.
Rachael already looks worried and she's not even IN the cell.
In Isolation (where the really naughty prisoners go)
The view from Alcatraz back to the city is spectacular.  This is of course all the more strange since the inmates could see glimpses of the city from their recreation area but could not leave to go there.  This was probably an unintentional part of the punishment but an effective one none the less.
We think Chicago still wins the stunning skyline award though.

City skyline as seen from Alcatraz

Returning back to San Francisco on the boat we ran into a huge queue waiting for a taxi. I think sometimes we are spoiled in London because 300 people leaving a scheduled (daily) tourist trap would probably have a tailback of cabs waiting. As it was we had to wait about 45 minutes for a taxi.  SF clearly needs more cabs!

Tomorrow we are going hunting for Star Trek locations in SF since in the future Starfleet in based here.

Live long and prosper!

1 comment:

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