Upon disembarking at Alcatraz (commonly known as “The Rock”), we were given a short briefing by the tour guide at the boat dock and subsequently the liberty to explore the entire island on our own. There were plenty of guided headphones and maps for anyone who needed them. Besides, there were also a few free guided tours in and around the island, even one on the flower garden given by a botanist which showcased the various species of plants peculiar to Alcatraz.
We proceeded to the video room at the basement of Building 64 (Residential Apartments) where the history of Alcatraz was displayed for about 30 minutes. Then, we had a quick look at the gallery opposite the video room. Surprisingly, Alcatraz wasn’t entirely a prison as there were at least 300 civilians (family members of the staff) who stayed in Building 64, but there were completely isolated from the rest of the prison complex.
The island is about 22 acres and it wasn’t time-consuming or difficult to walk around it. However, they also provided buggies for some of the elderly folks especially for the steep slopes. A significant bit of history, Alcatraz penitentiary was shut down in 1963 due to its escalating operating expenses and in 1969, the native Indians took over the island for 14 months and claimed it as native Indian land. As such, you could observe Indian graffiti all around the island, most prominently on the water tower.
Next, we moved on the the main cellhouse, where the inmates were incarcerated. This place would give you the creeps if you’re not a person who horror. Nah, it wasn’t that bad actually, considering that the inmates were no longer there. We didn’t miss stopping by the gift shop within the cell house, which sold a variety of Alcatraz-themed merchandise.
A library was provided within this penitentiary and that was how most of the inmates killed some time. It was the pre-computer days, so nope they don’t have access to the internet, in case you are wondering. Most of them would have gone through all the books available in the library before their eventual release. I doubt I’ve even read that many books so far.
Besides the prison cells and walls, life wasn’t that gloomy actually if the prisoners were to assume that they were on a long holiday in Alcatraz. At least, they still had opportunities for a host of leisure activities as well as a breathtaking view of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. Besides, a facility like the recreation yard made it look all the more humane. Above all, their expenses were paid for by the taxpayers.
Next we strolled down to the parade grounds which gave us an awesome sight of the lighthouse, which was just next to the main cellhouse. Some buildings on the island, especially the officers club appeared dilapidated after years of being forsaken, which in my opinion needed massive restoration if they were to continue to appeal to visitors.
Up next would be the power house and industries building. Just like any penitentiary, the inmates were given opportunities to reform their lives by channeling their energies productively at the industries building. The Prisoners of Age exhibition was being held there when during our visit.
Having spent close to 3 hours exploring Alcatraz, we eventually headed back to Pier 33. When we finally arrived, it was close to lunch time and we were famished after that adventure. Hunting for food would be next on our agenda. We walked down to Pier 39 (part of the larger Fisherman’s Wharf) where there were a few eateries and attractions, surely a place not to be missed while in San Francisco.
Found a charming fish ‘n’ chips restaurant as we walked along the concourse and guess what? We had the fish ‘n’ chips and clam chowder! After lunch, we walked along Beach St (lots of gift shops if you’re looking for one) then headed towards Taylor St where the Powell-Mason cable car turnaround was. We purchased the single-day pass for US$20 (RM80.20) at the kiosk (you can also purchase on board cable cars). This pass can be used on cable cars, historic streetcars, Muni Metro subway and all bus lines.
As you might have already known, San Francisco is built on a ridiculously steep hilly terrain. Certain roads within the city is extremely difficult to walk, let alone cycle and that’s exactly what’s so peculiar about this city. If you want to appreciate its hilly terrains without much sweat, then I’d suggest taking the cable car. There is a one-block section of the Lombard St which is insanely curvy on a hilly slope and is dubbed the “crookedest street in the world”. This is surely a street you must visit when in San Francisco.
We were exhausted after almost an entire day walking around and decided to check out the Chinatown, which is located along Stockton St. It was pretty quiet then as most of the shops were already closed except for a few restaurants. We ended up having our dinner at one of the Chinese restaurants, which food was nothing but ordinary. After dinner we literally hiked up the steep slope of Clay St towards Powell St and boarded the cable car down to Union Square.
There was carolling at Union Square that evening and we strolled around the park for some time, while enjoying the sweet, melodious tunes of the Christmas carols. Shortly after, we walked back to our hotel, packed our stuffs and called it a night. We were flying off to Los Angeles the next morning, stay tuned…
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