Alcatraz & Golden Gate Bridge

I woke up feeling very achy this morning something to do with the fact that I slipped over in the bathroom last night and now have a bruise the size of California on my arse. Simon goes off in search of coffee while I catch up on a few emails and gradually the kids come to life.

We go out for breakfast before getting the car and driving down to Pier 39. We have booked a 90 minute tour of the bay which includes a ride under the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. We get on the boat and as we’re first on make a run for the top deck. The first sight of this trip is the famous sea lion colony. These massive, big, fat beasts slob out in the sun and occasionally make a huge splash as they dive into the water. Just at the end of Pier 39, they are huge in comparison to their relatively small New Zealand cousins.

We head out to sea and towards the Golden Gate Bridge, exactly as we have seen it on the TV; we learn from the commentary that it is painted continuously in “International Orange”. When it was completed in 1937 it was the world’s longest suspension bride and has been described as “possible the most beautiful, certainly the most photographed bridge in the world”. Well its definitely one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen, graceful and almost mystic looking with San Francisco’s famed mist swirling around it, its an awesome sight that even has the kids impressed. We spend ages taking photos and are pleased the information on the tour is so interesting and informative. Sadly I read later on the internet that one person every 15 days jumps from the bridge. Most successfully committing suicide.

Next stop is the infamous Alcatraz Prison. I always wanted to go here and although we couldn’t get any trip taking us onto the island we go close enough in the boat. As we near the island the wind picks up and within minutes it is really cold and chilly. Maisie cuddles close and says it’s scary and despite the bright sunshine it is an intimidating looking place.

Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary started life as a lighthouse before becoming first a military and then a federal prison. Because of its position in San Francisco bay and the surrounding freezing waters and strong currents “The Rock” came to the notice of the US government as an ideal location for holding criminals. The Great Depression and Prohibition gave rise to increasingly violent and organised crime and Alcatraz was the answer to the problem of where to house well armed gangsters terrorising the law enforcement agencies. The prison housed the nation’s most dangerous men and was genuinely feared by most of them.

We learn the names of some of the more notorious inmates, Al Capone, The Birdman (Robert Stroud) and George “Machine Gun” Kelly. I find it fascinating and it’s a good if gruesome learning opportunity for Ali and Maisie who lap it up!

We’ve seen some crazy things here today- a homeless guy with a sign saying “dollars needed for penis extension”, some mad fool on a skateboard being dragged up one of the steepest hills by a car and some interesting and strange looking characters. Although I haven’t felt unsafe here I have been more safety conscious than in any other city we have visited on our trip.

We check out the area of Russian Hill and drive across the Golden Gate Bridge before getting an early dinner. More delicious Italian food and red wine, we spend the evening sorting ourselves out for tomorrow. We will be driving towards Las Vegas and had hoped to stop off at Sequoia National Park but have realised it will mean two days of about 6.5 -7 hours of driving each day. Too far for the kids (And us) so instead plan to not take that detour and just head straight to Vegas. Hardly an entirely bad thing I think!