Thursday, August 12, 2010
12/8/10 - Alcatraz and some interesting bus rides.
Before I begin the daily blog (I'm seeing a pattern here...), Peta has reminded me to mention that yesterday in the lake by the Exploratorium, we saw a duck which was missing a duck, no wait, it's bill. It was missing its bill! It was eating cookies without a bill! It was quite possibly the freakiest thing ever! Seriously, it was like seeing a man without a face. An elephant without a nose. A ninja without a sword. I hope that it was removed by a park ranger to stop a disease or something, because if it lost it in an accident, that'd be terrible.
Anyways, today started later than usual. As we actually knew the date and time for our Alcatraz tour, we didn't really need to leave the room until later in the day. We still managed to grab our sub-par breakfast, though. Shredded potatoes has never tasted so bland...
The first thing I noticed today when we were outside was that the sun was actually out! This shocked Peta and I, as we were expecting everything to be covered in the nigh-prerequisite layer of fog. Turns out there is the occasional sunny day in SF.
Our bus trip took us to Fisherman's Wharf, right where the Alcatraz tour departed from. Seeing as this is pretty much the tourist center of the city, there are buskers and performers everywhere. We saw one such performer riding the bus with us this morning. He was a human statue, covered from head to toe in silver. Seriously, that was almost as bizarre as a duck without a - stop me if you've heard this one...
We had another look around Pier 39. It is essentially a massive tourist spot, but it has a very lively carnival feel to it, and has lots of great stores. Hot dogs were had for lunch. My first hot dog of the trip, and I'm not even in New York yet!
Afterwards, we double checked the date. After confirming 100% that today was in fact the 12th of August, the day that our tour was on, we went to the pier to board our ferry.
I've noticed a disturbing trend in American tourism - the fake photo. They get you to stand against a blue screen or a photo backdrop, and they take your photo as if you were actually in front of that attraction. Then they charge you $22 for the photo. The scary thing is is that people actually buy them! Heaps and heaps of tourists buy them, especially the American tourists. Seriously people, haven't you ever heard of Photoshop? It isn't that hard to superimpose yourself over any old background, and it looks just as fake...
This photo thing was out in force at the Alcatraz tour today, so Peta and I pulled highly un-enthused smiles when it was our turn to have our photo taken.
The boat trip over to Alcatraz was great. It offered amazing views of the SF skyline. I'm actually kind of glad that we didn't go yesterday, as all we would have seen is fog. Of course, the Golden Gate bridge was still shrouded in fog. I swear that nobody has actually seen the top of the bridge before and that all of the post cards are actually an "artists rendition" of it...
Alcatraz itself is actually very different to how it appears in the photos. Aside from the obvious huge, imposing prison, the island has some really nice gardens and plenty of bird life. But, let's face it, the main event was the prison, and it definitely didn't disappoint.
Upon entering the prison, you were given an audio guide to the facility. At first, I was like most people would be, and was under the impression that this was a cheap cop-out way of guiding you as opposed to an actual guide. However, the audio guide itself was highly informative, very well written and produced, and definitely captured your imagination about the lives of the prisoners. As an added bonus, the guide was completely narrated by prison guards and inmates, making it a very authentic experience.
Given the volume of people moving through the prison, I think that an audio tour is by far the best option for the experience. It allows you to go at your own pace, and you can always hear exactly what is being said.
The prison itself was very interesting. It had a real sense of history about it. I found it fascinating that these prisoners, the worst of the worst, were kept under 3km away from the pinnacle of society, yet due to the freezing cold waters and vicious currents that surround Alcatraz, they would never be able to reach there safely. Like a donkey with the tastiest carrot ever dangled over its head, these prisoners had no chance of ever eating the tasty, tasty carrot packed full of delicious freedom.
The various prison cells were also very eerie to look inside. To have your whole life in a space about the size of a wardrobe would be very difficult. Hell, imagine solitary confinement! Nothing but a square room, a bucket, and complete darkness. Definitely not fun.
I could talk for pages upon pages about Alcatraz and all of its many intricacies. But I won't. Instead, I'll just say that if you come to SF, make sure you go there. It is an essential experience. And book early, as it sells out weeks in advance. Also, turning up on the right day helps, too...
After browsing through Alcatraz's extensive (and actually pretty good) gift shop, we caught the boat back to the mainland. It was dinnertime, so being the creatures of habit that we are, we ate at Bubba Gump's shrimp restaurant again. We even ordered the same dishes! It was just as good the second time as the first.
Then, we caught another bus home, and we were privy to another interesting character on the bus. This time, it was a homeless person, who was yelling quite loudly at the back of the bus that he (and I quote) "got on the bus to take a shit, but now can only fart". Fun times were had by all, except the people in close proximity to him, to which I can only assume they gave him ample personal space.
Right, now I'm just going to check with Peta to see if there's anything that I've missed............................................. Nope! Oh wait, we watched a youtube video with talking cats in it. Funniest shit ever.
Tomorrow: Golden Gate Bridge! Bike Riding! Goodbye SF!