Having arrived in San Francisco one of our first stops after being swept away by the Golden Gate Bridge, was another famous attraction Alcatraz Island. Some will be familiar with it from the many movies it has featured in and for housing notorious criminals like Al Capone, and Robert Stroud (aka The Birdman of Alcatraz). This wasn’t my first time to ‘The Rock’ as it’s often know, but it took many years to get me back inside the prison
We arrived at Pier 33, even getting an early ferry, there was a long queue of people discussing how, if they were prisoners, they would escape. After all it doesn´t look that far from shore.
The short ferry ride takes only 15 minutes, can be choppy, and if the fog is over the bay, the outline of the prison looks eerie. As we were approaching, we had the full imposing view. The imagery of the watchtower proved a bit intimidating but we couldn’t wait to start exploring.
Using the audio tour you can take your time and immerse yourself in the surroundings. It’s included in the price of your ticket and prisoners and prison officers narrate it.
As you step into the cells, you are instantly met with the past. Prisoners’ clothes, books, games, even shaving foam discarded where they lay as the prisoners left. Each cell evokes an uncanny, almost sinister atmosphere. We stepped into a solitary confinement cell, I couldn’t stay in there more than a few seconds. It was unnerving your imagination comes to life in such a confined space.
According to the audio guide, only prisoners who consistently behaved could go outside and enjoy the recreation area and a brief sense of freedom. The space wasn’t big but I imagine the prisoners found it extremely pleasant, especially the views of the city. On the other hand, is that another form of punishment, so near and yet misleadingly far?
We met Prisoner 1259, Kate bought his book, and had a photo taken. He appeared a sweet old man, but that is now, in the past he wouldn’t have been so kindly.
If you are expecting some sort of theme park, you are going to be disappointed. It’s eerie, dreary and depressing but in a strange way fascinating and that’s probably what is so surprising, Alcatraz lives up to its dark reputation – a MUST visit!
If you are doing the trip, I would advise you book tickets in advance as they sell out very quickly. Ours were all pre-booked as part of our package but those who arrived on the day were being turned away. The wait time was over two weeks. It will probably be worse in peak season.
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