Day 14 of Trip to Land of Free & Wealthy with Lots of Choice
July 9, 2010

We were up early today (7:30am) as we had to catch a specific boat to Alcatraz Island. We walked down to Pier 33 which was about a 20 minute walk and picked up our tickets. We had about 40 minutes to spare so we grabbed some pastries and juice for breakfast and then got ourselves into line. Americans take every opportunity to make money off of you and so at every tourist attraction they take your photo against a fake backdrop and then you can purchase the photo when you come back, get down, finish the ride etc. If we had taken it up we would have had photos from about 10 different places so far! It does slow the lines down though and today was no different. We just skipped the photo shoot today but they looked at us strangely because it clearly isn’t something that is usually done.

The weather today was pretty much the same as yesterday – fog & cold. That didn’t stop us from getting onto the top deck of the ferry (it had 3 decks). It only takes 12 minutes to get out to Alcatraz but a lifetime to get back. The island is now a national park and apparently the biggest urban national park in the world. The brochure and also the national parks guide that spoke to us as we got off the ferry, tried to dispel some of the myths about Alcatraz including the one that it is impossible to swim to San Francisco because of the tide/currents/cold water. Every year they have the Alcatraz to SF swim and this year it was won by an 11 year old. So much for prisoners not being able to make it! From all the attempts though over the years, only 3 people were unaccounted for. The official line is that they drowned but the prisoners who were on the island at that time all believe they are in Latin America as they were all learning Spanish before they escaped.

The walk from the ferry dock up to the prison is quite steep – the equivalent of climbing up a 13-story building. We all made it relatively comfortably which speaks to our superior fitness and agility as a family. Of course my atheletic build gives me the edge in these sorts of walks. Inside the prison you pick up an audio tour which is done by previous inmates and prison wardens. It takes 45 minutes and guides you around the prison. It is by far the best audio guide I have ever heard. It is entertaining and filled with interesting facts. Chloe didn’t want to listen to the audio guide but we told her to take it anyway and she was very grateful we told her to as she really enjoyed it too.

I have visited a few prison’s now and every time I do I am struck but how uncomfortable and unpleasant it must be. Just seeing a prison is enough to put me off doing anything that might get me into one. Hopefully it has the same effect on the kids! At the end of the tour they take you through the gift shop (another American tradition of making a few extra $ from the sightseeing trip). One of the previous inmates had written a book of his experiences including meeting notorious criminals such as Robert Stroud – better known as the Birdman of Alcatraz. I glanced through the book and it was interesting to note that he had become a Christian after completing his sentence. He was actually in the gift shop doing a book signing and so Michael went over and asked him what made him rob a bank and he said “The Money”. Alcatraz had numerous other infamous people including Al Capone. They only accept high risk prisons i.e. those likely to cause trouble or likely to escapees. The prison was closed in 1963 mainly due to the cost of upkeep (they have no sewage on the island for instance) but also partly due to the fact that SF residents weren’t comfortable with a major prision on their doorstep and they became even more uncomfortable about it when one of the prisons actually made the swim over the bay (even though he was recaptured).

We took the ferry back to the mainland and picked up hot dogs on our way back to the room. We got back just in time to watch the end of the first half (and the rest) of the Spain v Germany game. I had a splitting headache (probably the thought of going back to work did it) and so had a short nap in the afternoon. As it was our last evening here we found a more upmarket restuarant for dinner. SF is a crab area and every meal I had been tempted but hadn’t taken the plunge but today both Michael and I ordered crab. In fact Stephen and I agreed to split 50/50 – he had a steak. However, it turned out Michael only managed to eat half his crab so we got the other half of his crab as well. It was a good final meal in the USA for us. The setting was particularly spectacular as well – the setting was over the water looking over the fishing boats. Helen and I got some last minute shopping in while the kids decided to head back to the hotel.

The rest of the evening was spent packing and watching TV. It is now 12;14 and we have to leave tomorrow at 7am to catch our first of 3 flights back home so I need to go to bed now! Enjoy the day – when I write next we should be back in London.

P, C, M, H, S

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