Turning 180 degrees from Lombard Street and peering through the web of power lines, we caught our first glimpse of ‘The Rock’, an impressive beast of solitude in the middle of the San Francisco bay. Allowing gravity to steer us downhill to the Cannery District, we noted that many Californian cities/town tend to have such an area, owing to days past. Moving past the various shops and tourist orientated eateries our noses are lead us toward the Ghirardelli store, persuaded by the sweet aroma of fresh molten chocolate and free samples!
Back along the shore line and with the omnipresence of Alcatraz forever looming, we strolled past the morning beach stretchers, harbour swimmers, scattered homeless and seagulls squawking for a morning feed. It doesn’t take long before you arrive at the Maritime Museum, housed in an elegantly sleek Art Deco Building upon a tranquil harbour. We moved onward toward Fort Point and another vantage point over Alcatraz and the shoreline of The Bay area, with some great photo opportunities of the bridge.
Retracing our tracks we moved further along past Fisherman’s Wharf, with it’s overpriced chain restaurants, on to the Musee Mecanique, housing some of the oldest amusement games and machines in the world. Some of these are so macabre and disturbing, you’ll wonder what was wrong with the minds of the people who created them. Entry is free and you can play most of the games. We couldn’t resist having our fortunes told by some creepy looking wizard and a massaging palm reader, looks like Sarah is gonna have a better turn out than Matt!
Happy with the outcomes of our fortunes, it was now time to queue up in the blistering sun for our chance to see some ‘Rock’. After an hours wait in the midsummer’s sun, barely managing not to faint (Sarah that is, men don’t faint), we finally boarded the ferry across. Now Alcatraz is actually free to visit, it’s a National Park and free to everybody, however the only authorised way out there is by a single ferry run by a private company, so you’re kinda bollocked unless you swim the frigid waters. Even then you’d probably just end up arrested or dead.
On the island an audio guide is a must and being free you’d be stupid not to take one. Being lead through places like ‘Time Square’ OTHERS??????? And having the tour narrated by ex-inmates, you soon gather a sense of this being the worst place on earth to end up. One quote on the barriers in the waiting line is;
‘Break the rules and you go to prison, break the prison rules and you go to Alcatraz’
This couldn’t be closer to the truth. The audio guide continues to lead you on a journey, finally arriving at the commencement of the break out attempt that went horribly sour, now known as the Battle of Alcatraz. During this attempt several cons shot and killed two prison officers, with three cons eventually being killed during the battle, and two surviving prisoners also later executed for their roles. The battle was so intense the US Marines actually threw grenades into the prison, and you can still see the damage in some areas. A more successful escape attempt was made in June 1962, when three prisoners managed to get off the island and were never seen again. The FBI like to formally state that they all died, but as the case was apparently still being investigated in 2009 we’re not sure they’re so certain.
Taking some fresh air outside where you look over the sports courts, most of this side of the island is in a bad state of decay. Realising from here that you could almost reach out and stroke San Francisco’s city centre, you’re taken through what New Years Eve was like, with prisoners reminiscing on occasions where they can hear the festivities across the bay, and every so often the scent of a woman’s perfume on the breeze from a passing ship would gently tickle their nose. Having been lead though to the furthest end of the island, we finished our tour in the old mess hall before catching the ferry back to town.