The alarm went off all too early this morning and with a groan we both hauled ourselves out of our respective beds (sofas) to get ready. It took longer than expected to pack up everything and fit it into the car, mainly because our newly collated suitcase of purchases was too long for the space we had created for it. Eventually, Lizzie won at car Tetris, and after some delicious scrambled eggs (thank you Christopher) we had to dash in order to get into the city in time to catch our prebooked ferry toAlcatraz. The queues at the Bay Bridge delayed us quite a lot and as we approached the ferry terminal looking for parking we were cutting things a little close. Unfortunately, due to horrible drivers, we were unable to get into the right lane for the parking garages and ended up in a really expensive one a few minutes further down the road, but we managed to pick up our tickets and join the queue for the ferry in enough time.

Alcatraz

After having a souvenir photo taken (truly beautiful, no makeup and looking exhausted – not worth $22!) we boarded the boat and found seats. The trip to the island was relatively quick and we disembarked to listen to the mandatory ranger talk on the dock. This went on a little too long and most people weren’t really listening anyway. After a few photos outside we headed in to watch the 15 minute orientation video, it was quite interesting as it gave the full history of the island, the National Park Service are very keen to emphasis that it was not just a prison. Once the film was finished we wandered through a few small exhibits before heading up the rather steep hill to the Cell Block.

Three levels of cells.

On the way up we were able to look through the door into what used to be the morgue; I was quite disturbed to see the table, which resembled a large white draining board with a hole in the middle. Upon reaching the cell block, the first thing you walk through is the showers. These have no cubicles or curtains of any kind so that the wardens could keep an eye on the inmates and make sure there were no fights. At one end there was a barred area where stacks of clothes, shoes, blankets and pillows among others were in cubby holes in the wall, this is where prisoners were issued clean clothes and washing gear for their twice weekly shower. Having picked up our audio guides and being told how to use them we headed up into the Cell Block proper.

The cell block from the exercise yard.

The Cell Block tour was comprehensive, and by that I mean long, with detailed instructions as to where to walk, turn and stop along the way. It was somewhat irritating however that a large school group joined the tour just after us, and crowded every single place that the tour directed us to, standing in the way of pictures and rudely pushing us and others out of the way. At one point I paused my audio guide to let them overtake, only to be caught up in the next wave of the same group… fail. The tour took us all around the main cell block, showing us standard cells, the exercise yard, the dining room, the library and solitary confinement. A cell - most of the them were empty, but they keep some furnished for the benefit of the tourists.While obviously not the nicest place to hang out, it didn’t really seem all that bad. I hadn’t been aware before visiting the island that families of the prison workers lived on the island and the children were ferried to and from school in the city each day and when playing on the island could sometimes hear the prisoners. The tour was particularly interesting because for the most part it was narrated by ex prison guards and ex inmates, which made for a more accurate representation of what living there was actually like. The tour also discussed attempted and successful escapes as well as a riot that took place when several guards and prisoners died. Upon finishing the tour we handed back our audio guides and headed back into the sunshine. Having visited many of the exhibitions at the beginning, there was little else to do other than join the queue for the next boat back to the mainland.

A final view of Alcatraz from the ferry.

Once back on dry land we headed back to the car and decided to go on a quest for lunch. Having spotted a Wholefoods on our travels a few days previously we tried to find that on our GPS to no avail, but then heard an ad on the radio about it, so typed in the street name that we had heard. Upon arriving it was clear that it was the wrong place, and unwilling to continue searching in the middle of the city, we headed over towards the Palace of Fine Arts, hoping today to be able to take some good pictures, and not from a moving car this time. Our quest for a parking space was successful and we enjoyed a brief wander through the grounds, taking lots of pictures as we went. Our next and final stop in San Francisco was at the observation point for the Golden Gate Bridge at Fort Point, situated down near the water.

Golden Gate Bridge

The view from here was stunning and we got some good pictures in between dodging the spray that was being tossed up by the waves as they crashed on the rocks. Then it was back to the car for a final trip across the bridge and out ofSan Francisco. We made a final food stop on the way to Napa for lunch and dinner before heading to the Wine Valley Motel. The drive took just under an hour and once checked in we spent the entire evening in a very lazy fashion, mostly watching TV in the most comfortable bed ever.

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