03 April 2014

Travel tales: my introduction to San Francisco - the Golden Gate Bridge, The Ferry Building and Alcatraz.

I'm in San Francisco now! It's such a beautiful city, reminds me of Melbourne with its cool (very cold) weather, accessible public transport, friendly and eclectic mix of people and abundance of good food.

I'm staying with Larisa and her housemates for now, until tomorrow when I'll go to a hotel and then meet up with Carolyn. I love how blogging has enabled me to meet so many wonderful people! And it's nice having company in a new city.

When I arrived on Sunday, Larisa took me to some beautiful scenic spots with water views. It's so so beautiful here- endless blue skies (when it's not raining!), parks and beaches.

The Golden Gate Bridge:

San Francisco Bay:
The sun setting at Land's End:
Jumping on the Golden Gate Bridge:
Larisa and I with the Golden Gate Bridge as a backdrop:
We made pizzas!:
I explored downtown San Francisco on my own on Monday - visiting a mall and also the Ferry Building - which I loved more than the mall.
The marketplace inside was amazing, reminding me of the Chelsea Market in New York. It is filled with gourmet food shops and restaurants. I ate some oysters and some cheese. I really wanted this plate from Cowgirl Creamery but it's too heavy and expensive to send home.

On Tuesday I went to Alcatraz Island. It was so cold (maybe 10 degrees celsius) and wet, and on my way to the ferry there was a massive downpour, so I didn't feel my enthusiastic best. I was cold and wet and really struggling to be there.

It was worth going to Alcatraz through - I did a very informative audio tour which came highly recommended by my friends.former prisoners, guards and family members of guards narrated the tour. My ticket was $30 and the ferry ride was included. There's no food or drink allowed on the island, other than bottled water, and the island staff ship in this water because there's no clean water source there.

The sign on the dock of Alcatraz. The federal prison operated on Alcatraz Island from 1934-1963. The island originally served to protect the American goldfields and then as a military prison. Now it is a national park, open to visitors.

Alcatraz federal prison was known as 'the prison within a prison' - prisoners were transferred there from other prisons. Its aim was to punish not rehabilitate.

Inside a prison cell at Alcatraz. Prisoners received a cell, food, water and medical treatment. Anything on top of that was a privilege.

Looking up at the three storeys of cells in Alcatraz prison. Prisoners were segregated based on their race and severity of crime.

One of the arrival cells at Alcatraz. Each cell was 5×9 feet and had a bed, a small table and chair affixed to the wall, a sink and toilet.

Looking into the recreation yard at Alcatraz. Prisoners were allowed into the yard for a maximum of five hours on Saturday and Sunday, and their yard access stripped if they were badly behaved. Theh played baseball and softball, socialised and played horse shoes and bridge. Sometimes they spent hours focusing on these games to take their minds off the prison life.

The maximum security cell at Alcatraz. These were, surprisingly bigger than the standard cells.

Inside a maximum security cell in Alcatraz prison. It was cold, dark, bare and eerie.

In the library at Alcatraz prison. Prisoners read to escape. Some prisoners also studied for degrees.

Some of the better behaved prisoners were placed in the sunnier cells in Alcatraz There was recreation other than sports - art, music and sing alongs at night.

Through the prison window looking across to San Francisco. Sometimes prisoners could hear the fireworks and celebrations happening in San Francisco on new years eve.

Inside the kitchen at Alcatraz. Prisoners had the best food in the federal prison system at the time. They never rioted in the dining hall because they were so satisfied with the food.

While Alcatraz was not intended for rehabilitation, prisoners were expected to show some reform before being moved to another prison. Yesterday Bill Baker, a former prisoner, was there signing a book.

Some of the staff living quarters. The prison staff and their families lived on Alcatraz Island. Though they heard the prisoners at times, they never locked their doors as they felt safe.

A few thoughts:

Why wasn't I smiling in that picture of me inside the cell?

It was cold and bare and eerie. People had died inside prison cells. Prisoners would have felt great loneliness and isolation there. I don't believe a place like Alcatraz or the September 11 memorial is a place for smiling photos.

Alcatraz reminded me of Port Arthur - lonely, isolated, haunted. There's a sense of heaviness knowing people died from violence there - and it's obvious too - the bullet sprays in the floor - the evidence of a siege made me step back, and the prison cell dedicated to a guard who was killed showed just how dangerous some of the prisoners were. There was a sign in the museum featuring a picture of the guards and a quote "hours of boredom...seconds of terror".

Bill Baker, the former prisoner who was signing books, was incarcerated in Alcatraz aged 24 for three years. His crime was cashing fraudulent cheques, but he was transferred to Alcatraz for his ability to escape prison.

He was so well regarded by the tour staff who greeted us from the boat. She described him as "a loveable teddy bear who we just want to hug". He is 80 years old and only been released from prison recently, still serving parole. Perhaps the level of dignity and respect shown to him now is to make up for the time spent in Alcatraz.

Bill decided to do a residency at Alcatraz after spending a night in his old cell and seeing another former inmate there telling his story.He was open to any question and visitors were genuinely thankful to him for his time. You can listen to an interview with Bill on NPR.

There was a room dedicated to art inspired by modern day prison life. Much of the art was political, commenting on the isolation of prison and the way mental illness is as much a prison state as a prison cell. It was a salute to the need for rehabilitation and mental support that Alcatraz did not provide.


This is only the start of my holiday and I'm wanting to take it slower than last time. I'm hanging around at Larisa's this morning before heading out to explore further, and meet another friend I've met through blogging. I'm really missing Adam and feeling the cold. I'm trying not to take a million photos and stop and live in the present. I won't be blogging every day like last trip. You can see my photos on Instagram.



  1. Ohhh, great reflection on your visit!

  2. Oh, how I love San Francisco! I grew up there (well, in the suburbs). Have a wonderful time and soak it all in. And congratulations on your engagement. What an exciting time for you.


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