Friday, June 22, 2012

Day Twenty-Eight: San Francisco and Alcatraz

We awake to a dull morning, and a mood to match. I feel ill, the early shivers of a cold and the promise - or threat - of a headache. But I am not willing to let such things prevent my explorations. Tim has mapped out a route to take us to somewhere that he thinks sounds interesting, and it is a bit of a hike, that will take us along the length of the Tenderloin.

Before we depart, however, we partake of the breakfast spread provided by the Hotel des Arts, and it is the best spread we have had so far - bagels (although we brought our own of those), bread, muffins and pastries, also coffee, hot chocolate and fruit juice. Substantial enough for us travellers. Second stop is to Walgreens, where I pick up some anti-cold tablets that require me queueing for some time and displaying my passport - the sales assistant wishes me a Happy Birthday (it's tomorrow), we then manage to solve the issue with my SD card - it's a 4G SDHC, I need just the SD, but the shop cannot provide one. Nevermind, I've deleted enough video footage to give me a little space left. Then we head off down Market St. I feel rather under the weather, the homeless people are starting to make me feel down and an African American muttering something about how his people were kidnapped from their home doesn't improve matters. Seriously, if his people had of stayed in Africa, he would probably have half the opportunities he has today. Anyhow, the area was getting less and less appealing and by the time we finally reached the intersection - at which there was a nifty art store, I decided that I did not really want to go any further. The place we were heading to might be interesting, but to get there we had to walk under an overbridge, past a shabby looking motel outside which two people were trying to break into a car - I can only hope it was their car (they were being watched by motel staff) and my head was filled with fuzz. So we headed back, and I finally get my new SD card.

We met up with one of Tim's ex-co-workers at the Ferry building for lunch. It is quite an elaborate food court, with far too much choice. We decide on Mexican, which may not have been the best choice, but at least had seating. Then Tim and I catch the train out to the Golden Gate park and the California Science Centre. 

The centerpiece and main drawcard of the Science Centre for me is the four storey rainforest dome. It is pretty impressive. We have to stand in a short queue to enter, and then make our way up through the canopy, via a large walkway. Colourful tropical birds flutter around, gathering foliage for their nests, and two macaws sit on their perch, ignoring all and sundry. In various cages and terraniums we see frogs and snakes, spiders and lizards from one of three rainforest habitats - South America, Malaysia and Madagascar.
The albino aligator lurks in his swamp-like home. Although he lacks the cute appeal, he is certainly an intriguing specimen. We wander through the aquarium, looking at the range of fishes and other deep-sea critters, through the hall of stuffed animals (with live penguins) and into the tectonic plates display...
...where we see adorable emu chicks, out enjoying the sun. They are part of the Earthquakes/tectonic places display and although they are all the same age, some are a good deal bigger than the others. They run around looking utterly ridiculous yet cute at the same time. They are here to display the way continent drift formed genetic diversity - such as the emu and the kiwi. Represented also by stuffed specimans.
What sort of creature do you think this is? Look at the size of those eyes and the length of those canine teeth. What diet do you think it follows? Also, study the hindlegs and the feet. Now, hazard a guess.
It's a lemur
Before departing the Science Centre, we join the queue for the Earthquake house. Tim cautions me not to complain about it being so unrealistic, and I assure him that I shall not. After a short period of time we are show first a video on San Francisco and the San Andreas fault, then ushered into a tiny room. There are railings across the middle and on the walls, and although there is a bookcase and a rack of glasses they are all behind perspex. We are cautioned to hold on tight and experience first the 1989 6.9 magnitude quake and then the 1906 7.7 magnitude (magnitudes are from Wikipedia, not sure if they are completely accurate). Earthquakes are a heck of a lot less scary when you're a, expecting them, and b, in a room where everything is designed to be shaking hard many, many times a day. The earth movement was convincing, although they did point out they could do the back and forth movement, but not the up and down - and they also went for a fraction of the time of the original tremors. Still, an interesting experience and I hope that we do not have to face the real thin whilst here - or when we arrive home!

Alas, we do not have much time to fully explore the Golden Gate park as we must get back into the central city and prepare for our visit to Alcatraz. Catching the train back proves to take longer than we had thought - as it breaks down just as it enters into the underground tunnel, but we still make it back to our hotel, wherein we leave a short time later and head towards Pier 39, which is near where the ferry leaves from, with the intent to explore it rather first. We are quite amused to note that Googlemaps describes Alcatraz as "residential apartments". Pier 39 has a full-on boardwalk, with plenty of stores and entertainers, along with a healthy population of sea lions.
The Bay Area Bridge

Alcatraz in the background

The sealions of pier 39

Brown Pelican and Western Gull

Our ferry leaves as evening falls, and we get some gorgeous views across the bay. Thankfully, we take plenty of photographs, because shortly after the fog rolls in and obliterates everything.

San Francisco from the sea

Approaching Alcatraz

Heading around the west end

The Indians Occupied Alcatraz at one point (in protest)
Now gulls are the major occupant.
The Alcatraz audio tour was pretty well organised - we were all give individual devices and divided into groups, which meant that you moved around the relatively small and very spartan area without getting in the way of too many people. Life here for the criminals - and the guards (and their families) must have been pretty rough. San Francisco looks so close, but due to the frigid waters, the tides and other such things (although not sharks), escape was near-nigh impossible. We were informed of two escape attempts - one which was more of a riot and ended in a blood bath, and the other which was far more ingenious and in which three people did actually escape from Alcatraz (the movie is based on it) but their fates are unknown - they could have died in the water or be living in South America. Either way, Alcatraz was an interesting place to visit, but I certainly wouldn't want to live here!

Accomodation was pretty spartan

... But some residents added their own touchs
Oh no, we're trapped!

The "beautiful view"
After finishing our audio tour and having a nosy at the hospital, we are suitable tired and the weather is drizzly, so we race down to catch the earlier night ferry. The trip back is crowded and I sit on the floor, so engrossed in my book that we are halfway back before I even realise we've actually started moving. We scavenge up dinner on Pier 39 where I finally try seafood chowder in a sour dough bread bowl. It's a bit of a disappointment really, the chowder is a bit bland and by the time I've eaten it, it's a struggle to eat the bread bowl. The bread is massive. I dread to think how many calories I have consumed this trip and what my weight might be once I return home. The weather is drizzly and miserable, and we have to wait fifteen minutes in the bus shelter before the driver decides to open the doors and let us in, and then he doesn't stop when we pull the tag but drives a further stop before finally disgorging us at the square, wherein we make our weary way back up the suicidal staircase and drop, exhausted, into sleep.

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