January 21, 2016 (continued): Being raised in New Zealand - home of many coffee connoisseurs, my eternal search for a great cup coffee in the States continued with Blue Bottle Coffee. I’d heard good things about it, so I decided to start off my day there with breakfast.
I walked to the cafe from my temporary residence, seeing great little snippets of art and architecture along the way.
I arrived there early, yet a line had already formed out the door - thankfully it moved pretty quickly. I made my order of a eggs and toast with I think was a salsa verde sauce, and a mocha. The meal and coffee were a bit on the higher end of cost, but both were well made so I had no complaints. I also liked watching their cool siphon contraption and watching the barista stir the coffee in a beaker over an open flame, it felt like being in a mad scientist’s laboratory.
Finishing up my meal, I hopped on a tram towards my next locale - Alcatraz! Being a tourist in this city, why not visit the No. 1 tourist destination in the States. I pre-booked my tickets through the official site, before I left for my trip as I read that tours are nearly always sold out on the day.
Going into the tour, I only had a general knowledge of it being the most notoriously inescapable prisons, for the most hard core criminals. My curiosity leaned more towards why everyone who had visited previously, encouraged others to do so fervently.
The line for the ferry was snaked around the lot and I can see why you should definitely pre-book your tickets, we eventually hopped aboard and departed from Pier 33. The ferry consisted of indoor seating but of course, most people chose to wrap themselves around the outside decks. It was definitely a brisk, prickly combination with the mix of San Francisco winter winds and the speed of the boat but the view was worth it. We got to witness views of the Bay Bridge, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, and the mass of seagulls overhead and diving below - fishing for their next meal.
We arrived at Alcatraz and gathered near the dock where the docent welcomed us in and gave us a little introduction into the history. At the gathering point, you could still see remnants when the Native Americans took over the island. After the introduction we were free to explore on our own, and once inside you could get the guided tour headsets. Walking around the outside, it was a kind of eerie feeling seeing all the abandoned buildings where nature and time had taken over.
In one of the exhibits, they had displayed many of the prisoner’s personal stories of what lead them to be incarcerated. It was incredibly moving and gave you pause to not paint everyone in prison with an “evil” brushstroke. Many of them were in desperate times, stealing to provide for their family, or got caught up with the wrong people and were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I made my way into the main prison area, where they gave you headsets that guided you through with the corresponding numbers above each area. Seeing it in person you got to see how big the prison really was, with stacks up stacks, and rows upon rows of cells that were so tight you could practically touch each end with arms stretched.
It was also interesting to see remnants of the numerous escape attempts by inmates, from widening bars with a nut and bolt contraption and starving themselves to fit through, to the infamous Battle of Alcatraz where prisoners overpowered officers, and gained control of weapons and the hanging key from the gun gallery. You could still see the damage on the floor where security had dropped grenades through the roof in an attempt to corral the prisoners to a certain area.
Out of the Administration building you could see the skyline of San Francisco as well as the Golden Gate Bridge.
Back inside the Admin building, there was this creepy red handprint above the doorframe that wasn’t mentioned in the tour but through later google research is apparently from the Native American occupation.
I headed into the prison area where the only successful escape attempt took place. Four inmates were in on the plan and they had sculpted dummy heads in their likeness from soap, toilet paper, hair clippings from the barber and paint from the workshop. These were placed in bed the night of the escape. For 6 months they had widened the hole of the ventilation duct in their cells using various tools found discarded around the prison, this lead to the utility corridor behind the walls that was unguarded. Three of the inmates escaped successfully and their disappearance was only discovered the next morning.
I finished off my tour walking through various parts of the prison including the kitchen and underground where they showed a film on the history of Alcatraz. In the gift shop there was a former inmate there promoting his book on his experience.
I ended my tour and got onto the next ferry heading back towards San Francisco. My overall experience of Alcatraz showed me why many recommend visiting, it is thought-provoking, eye-opening, and you get to see humanity or lack thereof that took place. It is also being able to experience a piece of history that has been frozen in time, and how often do you get to do that?