Wednesday, 21 March 2012



Within a month of Ric and I meeting each other began frequent trips back and forth across North America between Toronto and San Francisco. While I have never been to New York City, Washington, Boston nor a number of other American cities I will say that my favorite is San Francisco - the 'City by the Bay'. While many of the other cities seem to be uptight, I have always found San Francisco to be very laid back.

One unique feature of San Francisco is that much of it lies within the boundary of Golden Gate National Park. This includes - of course - the famous bridge and the Presidio and Alcatraz. The latter was phased out as an active prison a number of years ago but the buildings still exist on the island in the middle of the Bay and it is now one of the most visited of all of the national historic places - at least, on the West Coast. It is such a popular tourist attraction that one must book passage on a launch well in advance. On one Saturday in June of 2001 that was where Ric took me.

We were staying in a hotel in Berkeley and commuting to and from the City by the marvelous BART trains which service many of the suburbs  south, southeast, east and northeast of the city. Our first stop was for breakfast at one of the numerous eateries in The Castro and, to reach there, we left the train at Embarcadero for one of the iconic streetcars which still service Market Street from there to Castro.

The San Francisco Street Railway System collects streetcars from other places to use on the Market Street tourist route. This one is from New Orleans of course! I understand that there are a few 'Red Rockets' included but, as the manufacturer of street railway cars is generic, the Toronto logos have been painted over and replaced with that of an American city.

After brunch we journeyed to Fisherman's Wharf and the launch to Alcatraz.

To get to Fisherman's Wharf we alighted from the traditional streetcar at Powell Street and took a cable car over those steep hills to the wharf. A fun way to travel on these cars is on the inside running board, hanging on with one hand and giving a 'high five' to passengers on the cars traveling in the opposite direction.  Cable cars are NOT the fastest way by which to travel. This is not a 'Powell Car' but one on the crosstown 'California Street' line.

                                       Looking across to Alcatraz from Fisherman's Wharf

              The photo above is of the warning sign still in place beside the ferry landing slip. A little difficult to read but it is an admonishment  against transporting firearms to the prison.

Just up from the ferry slip are the administrative buildings for that part of the National Park. That is where one can purchase food, drinks and souvenirs.

The cells of each of the most famous 'guests' are all identified so we saw the one occupied by Al Capone, the 'Birdman of Alcatraz' as well as other notorious criminals of the 1920s and 1930s.

Also, the cells of the three who made their 'escape'. This claim is now seriously doubted - while they definitely did disappear from the prison, nothing has been heard from them - nor have they been seen - since.  The water in San Francisco Bay is very cold, the currents are extremely strong - and there are sharks. It is thought that they were trying to swim either to the Fisherman's Wharf area - about a mile - or to Angel Island some two miles to the north.

A dangerous criminal from 'Solitary Confinement'! I didn't notice this myself but, later, a friend commented that the floors of the prison were made of metal and, in solitary, no beds nor bunks were supplied so those in there could sleep only with their feet up  under their bottoms and with their backs against the wall. Another 'torture' was that many marinas were located near Fisherman's Wharf so, on holidays, merriment from the yachts could be heard clearly by the prisoners.

Ric and I took turns standing in the prison exercise yard. The breeze was pretty stiff so we had to remove our caps.

After the prison closed the site was taken over by a group of anarchists and, during the ensuing riots, the Warden's house was destroyed by fire. I am standing beside the lighthouse as Ric took the photo while practically lying in bird poop!

Some views from Alcatraz.

A mother seagull guarding her hatchlings beside the path up from the ferry slip. The green is the temporary fence erected to give the little family some privacy

Various views from Alcatraz - north to Angel Island, south to Fisherman's Wharf and west to Golden Gate

On our way to catch the launch back to Fisherman's Wharf we dropped into the Visitors' Center where Ric purchased an 'Alcatraz' jacket which I wear everywhere on cool days. As the back panel has the daily schedule of prison life stenciled upon it, I receive many comments.

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