Desperate to get inside a prison others were desperate to escape from

Published: March 6th 2016
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The first thing we noticed as we arrived in San Francisco was this hills. Not natural green, rocky or brown hills but urban built up hills with roads and rows of tall houses clearly built on a slant. The first thing that dawned on us were that we were approaching these hills and therefore would have to drive on them. Hills are generally not a problem for us, but these were really steep and driving up and down them, stopping midpoint at the lights terrified us.

Although the car was automatic (so rolling back down a hill wouldn't be an issue), we are still not used to non manual cars and so were reaching for the gear stick at each traffic light. After the nauseating drive up and down one way streets getting into our hostel (parking in a steep slant) we were more than happy to return the vehicle a few hours earlier than needed.

The second thing we noticed was the weather was a lot cooler. It wasn't like freezing or anything, it was just that we grew accustomed to the high temperatures of southern California and its neighbouring states. Here, it was cloudy, windy and on occasion wet; pretty much like home.

On first impressions, San Francisco didn't "wow" us, it seemed just like any other major city with a walgreens/CVS store every 0.3miles. By this point on our US trip we'd seen more than our fair share of cities, so it was going to take a lot more for us to be impressed.

When speaking to other travellers in the past, San francisco always came up as one of their favourite US cities. We hoped we'd be able to say the same by the end of our time here.

We wondered around the streets walking up and down the steep hills, past the high end shopping area and the iconic cable cars, trying to get a feel for the city. It seemed pretty sophisticated with commuters clutching briefcases as they walked with colleagues after work with cafes on every corner.

What caught our attention again was the large number of homeless people here, not as much as in LA but still very noticeable. As we ate a late snack in Mcdonalds, a homeless lady came in and it was clear the staff were unsure what to do. It was interesting to watch as people stepped aside and she was able to go straight to the front of the que and order a couple of apple pies straight away. She was wrapped in long blanket although half of it was dragging some rubbish contents around with her on the floor. Sadly she held a very strong smell of urine and was in a dishvelleved way. Clearly aware she was centre of attention, she decided to lap it up and made a show of eating her apple pies, eating the apple pies slowly being sure to lick the dripping sauce off her very long finger nails and making sure every inch had been licked as she did so. We watched on as staff tried to politely ask her to eat elsewhere away from the till but could not distract her from her focused attempt to savour every last taste from her fingers and nails. Afterwards she smiled contently before dragging her blanket contently out of there.

We spotted other homeless people just sleeping on the hard concrete here not even attempting to seek shelter. It was sad to see.

One thing we really wanted to do here was visit the famous alcatraz island prison. Looking online a few days before, we went to book our tickets only to find out that they'd all sold out on the day we wanted. Luckily the ticket office hold about 100 tickets on a weekend for direct ticket office purchases, the problem was that alcatraz is very popular so the tickets can sell out by 8am (ticket office opens 7.30am). People actually queue up from 4am just so they can secure themselves a ticket!

Call us crazy, but as clubbers were returning home from a night out, we walked through the city at 3.15am towards the pier to join the queue for a ticket. We didn't want to miss an opportunity to see Alcatraz. It took us 45mins as we navigated through the streets, wondering just how safe it was to be out at such a time hearing sirens blare several times in the distance. Half the streets had no street lights too which made us feel on edge in this unknown edge.

Arriving at pier 33 around 4am, the security guard emerged from his car and said "you guys are real early, most people don't start queueing up until 6am... its low season now no need to arrive so early!" Basically we could've stayed in bed a lot longer. But we were there now, no point in going back, plus we were first in line. After about 30mins we realised we'd left our camera back in the dorm. Great.

We both agreed we wanted to capture memories through photos here so annoyingly Chris caught an Uber taxi there and back to pick it up. He also picked up a blanket which was much needed in the cool autumn morning. Apparently if you leave the queue (other than to go toilet) you lose your space, this is 'enforced' by the rangers there, luckily no else had arrived whilst Chris was gone.

Eventually people started arriving and the queue grew slowly as the day got lighter and we realised sleeping sat upright on the cold concrete ground was impossible. 7.30am and the ticket office officially opened!!, looking at the queue behind us there was definitely less than 100 people. We could've arrived at 7.30am and probably still have got a ticket!

Alcatraz is an island about a 30min boat ride from San francisco. Initially a military prison, it was eventually changed to a federal prison and housed some of America's most infamous criminals during its short 30 year life span. It is now a national park. There's been many films and tv programs about this prison, with the Clint Eastwood film 'Escape from Alcatraz' the most notable. The film was based on a true story on how 3 inmates escaped the prison deemed unescapable. As soon as we got off the boat we joined one of the various tours on on offer on the island. This one spoke about the many escape attempts from numerous inmates and questioned if any of them were actually successful.

During the tour we were led around a section of the island stopping at buildings to emphasise a point in the story. We found it so intriguing on the mystery and theories offered about the escape attempts.

After the tour we picked up an audio guide and followed the numbered sections into the prison, listening what life was like, not only for the inmates but for the guards and their families who also lived there. We even got to have a look in the cells in which the inmates were kept.

Before getting on the boat across to the island we got talking to a couple (Jazmine and Odafi) from LA who were also visiting for a few days. We spent the whole tour with them and also went for lunch together back on the mainland. They introduced us to a fast food restaurant called 'In and Out Burger' (yep more burgers) which they described as a "healthy fast food place". We're not sure on whether it was healthy but it was pretty good, P even loved her vegetable burger which sometimes never compares to the delicious veggie patties she's been enjoying.

We met up again with Jazmine and Odafi again that evening for drinks on the popular 16th st & Mission and chatted away until the tiredness of the day caught up with us. Outside a group of people had gathered, a girl had her phone plugged into a mini PA system and was playing songs off her phone. People were dancing, chatting and drinking away, it was like they just created their own bar/club outside.

When in San Francisco the main attraction to see is the golden gate bridge. The most iconic structure in California, we'd read that it was the most photographed structure in the world! We found out about a 'pay as you like' tour of the bridge at 11am so took the 2 bus journey there from our hostel. As soon as we seen the famous red bridge we both instantaneously started taking pictures. The engineering of it was impressive, we later learned on the tour how and why the bridge was built and what engineering genius went into its design. Some parts of the tour went over our heads as the tour guide excitedly explained things in depth. We walked along a short section of the bridge to get a better look at how this huge suspension bridge is supported and even jumped up and down to feel it move beneath our feet.

At the end of the tour our guide told us about a street festival happening over on 16th with lots going on. Not ones to want to miss out, we jumped on the bus to take us there. Instead we got off at the wrong stop and ended up walking towards the bendiest road in the world (Guinness world record). Built at the top of one of San Francisco's many hills this road has a total of 8 bends in it.

We watched briefly as cars zig zagged their way through before walking downhill towards the pier for lunch. Chris took the opportunity to resample another In and Out Burger whilst P ordered her regular veggie burrito bowl from the Mexican inspired chain Chipotle. Can't escape fast food.

Getting to 16th street, we wondered around looking for this street festival/party but didn't actually find anything. Popping into a thrift store to ask if we were in the right area all the bargain racks caught P's attention.

An hour later we emerged from the thrift store, turns out we were in the right area of the street festival but by the time we came out, it was no where to be seen. We'd missed it completely. Ah well.

The USA turned out to be incredible adventure and just like India (travelled to before the US) we had done and seen soo much during 5 weeks. At this point we were completely zapped of energy, we needed a holiday to recover from our extensive travels. As it turns out travelling like we had been was exhausting!! So for all those thinking of taking a similar trip, be in no way fooled! Its hard work!!! Fortunately we knew just the place where we wanted to unwind.

However turns out our time in the states was not completely over yet... end of US trip overview/budget etc coming up on the blog after next.

Accommodation: Amsterdam Hostel
Transport: 3 days by Car via highway 1 from LA

Date: 14/10/2016

Additional photos below
Photos: 34, Displayed: 29


6th March 2016
Many thought this ambitious idea was impossible

What a day!
Up at 3:15, and then packing in so much--yes, you work hard at your travels! Love your photos of the Golden Gate Bridge, your creepy experience on Alcatraz, and finding one of those fabulous SF thrift stores--hope P got some great goodies! When I've gone to SF, I've always had my little manual-shift car, and I'm always terrified (and sometimes roll back down) those incredibly steep streets--much better to walk them. And SF is always cold, windy and foggy.
10th March 2016
Many thought this ambitious idea was impossible

What a day
Ha. It certainly was. Glad you picked up on my enjoyment in the thrift store. Think another worthy trip to the states would be thrift store hopping. Oh how i'd wish I wasn't backpacking lightly with a backpack. You never fail to surprise us, driving SF in a manual car, rolling too 😆. You couldn't pay me to step in a manual car there. Ha, no way.
6th March 2016

Not wow'd by SF
One of our favorite cities. Maybe next time it will hit you differently. Glad you got into Alcatraz. The lines can be long but you were crazy enough to go early. A good story for the future. Eager to read your summary.
10th March 2016

Not wow'd by SF
Always the eager pair, an early morning was not stopping us. Not completely wowed no. I don't know what it was for us, maybe we'd visited too many cities and after travelling the big sur it was quite a adventure to top. We certainly needed to relax by this point and not another city break so I can imagine a few things added to that our overall feelings.
7th March 2016
Many thought this ambitious idea was impossible

Nice to read your story
Nice to read about your visit to SF. It brings back some memories from when we were there two years ago. /Ake
10th March 2016
Many thought this ambitious idea was impossible

Adventures in San Francisco
We are happy to hear it sparked memories from your trip too. So much to see and do there. We hear so many good things about SF but for us maybe tiredness had got the best of us by this point.

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