After checking into our hotel we took a break and relaxed after battling the beast that is San Francisco traffic, it was not pleasant, and the only downside on an otherwise enjoyable drive. After an hour or so we did have to return the car that had safely got us up the coast. We made our way to drop it at the airport before returning into the city and finding some dinner, at a local Korean style restaurant.
|Cell Block C|
Saturday turned quickly into a very lazy day. The weather was miserable and raining that quickly dashed our plans to go out and explore some of the natural sights of San Francisco. So we headed out to the many shops that were in the area to explore and as we did we observed many, many people wandering around in Santa costumes. Puzzled we consulted Google to learn that this weekend was Santacon – essentially a giant pub crawl where the participants dress as Santa Claus. Sounding like a pretty cool event, this is something that I hope takes off in Melbourne.
|The gun gallery to keep prisoners in order|
In the evening we decided to go and see the new Hobbit Movie that is released earlier in the States than it is at home. The movie wasn’t bad and is a must see for Lord of the Rings Fans, although does take a little while to get to the crux of the story, and I would have thought that a trilogy for a book roughly half the size of a sing Lord of the Rings novel was overkill, but I am not film critic.
On Sunday we made our way to the notorious federal penitentiary – Alcatraz – The Rock. This island is well known for housing some of the greatest scum to ever become residents of the American prison system. Al Capone and the Birdman were among the more famous residents of this allegedly escape proof prison.
Upon arriving on the island we were given an overview of Alcatraz, originally used as a fort to guard San Francisco during the California Gold Rush. This Fort was one of two originally built, (the other sits under the Golden Gate Bridge). Alcatraz was also the site of a protest by Native Americans over their land rights following its closure as a prison. The Natives were eventually moved on and Alcatraz became part of the Golden Gate National Parks.
|MIchelle in Trouble|
We took a tour that went through some of the work areas in the prison and learned a little about how the prisoners lived. They were entitled to food, water, medical attention and shelter – anything else was a privilege. This included the work details that were often quite lucrative, by prison standards at least. We saw some of the areas where the prisoners would make clothes and items for the US Army during the Second World War as well as sights from the scenes of the Hollywood Movie hit The Rock and escape from Alcatraz.
Alcatraz was over 14 escape attempts during its life as a federal prison. Of those attempts there are a few that are better known for their success. In total there are 5 unaccounted for prisoners who attempted to escape, of those there are 3 that are still being pursued by the US Marshall’s office, as they are under the age of 99. On one attempt 2 prisoners overpowered a guard during a work detail and jumped into the water below. Although there are jaggered rocks in the water below, this raised questions about the success of their attempt.
|The ‘hole’ – Solitary Confinement|
The other most famous attempt at escape was known as the battle of Alcatraz. Six inmates attempted to break out of their cells and overpower guards and get the keys to the doors. However this attempt failed and US Marines were called in to re-take the prison. 4 of the inmates were killed and another 2 were later executed as co-conspirators.
|The old work quarters|
We also toured the cell house and saw some of the more famous areas. We walked past Broadway, where all the prisoners would enter when they were transferred into Alcatraz. We also went through cell block C, which was home to some of the most infamous criminals in the history of the US prison system. D – Block was the isolation, or solitary confinement unit of the prison, where the worst behaved prisoners would spend up to 23 hours a day in darkness.
After touring the prison we headed towards Fishermans Wharf, the heart of the famous San Francisco fishing district. It was a different sort of area, largely geared towards tourist and as such there is a variety of knick knacks available for purchase, from magic tricks, through to designer novelties for pets, and stores full of exotic candy. We enjoyed a fish and chip lunch before retiring to our hotel to relax for the afternoon.
For dinner we decided to go to a nice Chinese restaurant as our hotel was right next to Chinatown. We enjoyed a remarkable view of the downtown San Francisco. The restaurant also served lovely food, which made it a great way to finish our stay in this city.
|Cell block B|
Santa Con was a different experience, our friend Khalid from New York told me that he had been dealing with drunk Santa’s all day, and the SantaCon was just an excuse for Americans to dress up get drunk and start trouble with law enforcement and paramedics!
|A singing group on a Christmas truck|
We were also surprised to see a number of trucks towing trailers filled with singers ‘spreading Christmas cheer’ through carolling!