Alcatraz

Monday 13th October

We took a guided tour of San Francisco with Urban Safaris as suggested by Lynne O’Donnell from Helloworld in CT.  It was a great tour and they did take us to lots of the more unusual and off the beaten track locations around SF.  Our guide Eric was a real charmer and was very enthusiastic about his job.  He was indeed kitted out in safari dress as we travelled around in our zebra stripped jeep (singing “In the Jungle, the mighty Jungle, the Lion sleeps tonight………”).

We visited the Palace of Fine Arts, drove through the Presido (formally a military base, but now home to the George Lucas/Disney empire).   We also visited Baker’s Beach,  the site of the now defunct Sutra Baths and Cliff House, Golden Gate Park and Twin Peaks for the best views of San Francisco.  We lunched in the Castro district – the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) capital of the States and finally had the best cup of coffee we have had since arriving.

Then it was time for a quick ferry ride to Alcatraz, the island in the harbour, so close but so far, depending on which side of the bars you are on.  The infamous San Francisco fog rolled in just as we were boarding so it shrouded the Alcatraz in cloud and reduced visibility.  It gave us the feeling that at any moment it would rain, but of course it was only fog and at various times it would lift and then settle in again.  By the time we left the island it had dissipated.  Alcatraz is now run by the National Parks Service but originally commenced life as a military fortress, a military prison and a lighthouse.  In 1933 it became a federal prison and operated for 30 year

s playing host to some famous inmates – Al (Scarface) Capone, George (Machine Gun) Kelly, Robert (The Birdman) Stroud.  The NPS do operate good tours and certainly like to present Alcatraz in a more positive light.  Relaying stories of the prisoners being feed well, being provided with meaningful employment where they could earn money and being provided with activities where they could keep their minds and hand occupied.  Of course the stories that are usually associated with Alcatraz are the famous inmates and the sensational breakout attempts.

We enjoyed an informative individual audio tour of the cells and witnessed the high tech (as it was then) mechanisms used for the centralized cell door opening and closing.  It was very loud with lots of steel crashing open and closed again.  It eventually became quite cool and we were glad to head back to the mainland again.

We wandered back towards our hotel with the intention of finding a good Italian restaurant along the way.  Our first choice had a long wait for their famous pizza so we opted for another – North Beach Restaurant in Stockton Street.  We dined on their famous house cured prosciutto along with many other recommendations by our very attentive waiter (or as they are known in the US, our server). He matched our wines and olive oils to our meal.  We even purchased 2 bottles of the olive oil to bring back to Australia.  Actually we only bought one bottle, but our server was horrified that the price had gone up so much that he discretely popped another bottle into our bag.  After a delicious affogato it was time to go home.

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Alcatraz