Thursday, 14 April 2016

San Francisco.

We had the great pleasure of having two whole days to enjoy San Francisco when “Arcadia” docked there on Monday 11th. It was wonderful to be returning again – it’s been some 12 years since our last visit.

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Some of us were up at 7:30 in the morning to enjoy our approach to the Golden Gate Bridge ……

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…… and passing underneath to enter San Francisco Bay.

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We were soon approaching the city that seems to capture the hearts of so many people.

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With “Arcadia” nearly docked what lay in store for us was clear for us to see.

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Our berth was so close to the city that from the rear deck we could almost reach out and touch it ………….

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……. and a very short walk from the Embarcadero – the road serving the entire waterfront.

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We’d booked an early ticket to visit Alcatraz Island with it’s famous “federal prison”. Only a mile from the mainland it didn’t take long to get there by the water transfer.

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(Just to say we were there!)

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The island is home to much history, a lot of wildlife and some beautiful gardens but the main attraction is the prison which was home to such villains as Al Capone, Robert “Birdman” Stroud and “Machine Gun” Kelly. The atmosphere is quite special inside with rows and rows of cells which are no more than small cages.

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The cells were very sparse with just a bed, toilet and fold down metal table /chair.

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The prisoners were able to personalise their cell just a bit. Some passed their time crocheting!

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It was rather like a battery hen factory with three levels of cells. The rows had names like “Broadway” and “Times Square” and at the far end of this section were five solitary confinement cells.

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These isolation cells were known as the “treatment unit” and were used for the most dangerous and violent inmates. A stretch in this unit could last a few days or a number of years.

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The unit was called “the hole” by the prisoners and there were doors on the front of the cells which, when closed, kept them in total darkness. A recording of one inmate told of him ripping off a button from his tunic and throwing it on the floor. He would then spend the next hour trying to find it in the darkness. It was his way of keeping himself sane!

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The inmates could spend 24 hours a day in the cells if exercise wasn’t on the agenda ………..

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…….. and occasionally a visit was sanctioned and the prisoner could talk to his visitor through this small sealed glass window.

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The mainland was so close and yet so far for those incarcerated on “the rock”. They could hear the noises of the city quite clearly across the water.

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The prison closed in March 1963 when the idea of rehabilitation, rather than punishment, of prisoners began to be considered. This is a photo of the last prisoners leaving Alcatraz.

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These notices made it quite clear, to those who had been naughty enough to warrant being locked up in Alcatraz, what life was to be like for them during their stay!

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Outside the prison block there were gardens which some of the more trusted inmates were allowed to work in. These days an island with these sorts of views would be regarded as prime property!

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Officially there have never been any successful escapes from the islands (although there have been several famous attempts) With terrain such as this it’s not surprising there were very few attempts.

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Our last bit of exploration took us to the exercise yard. This must have been a great treat for prisoners to walk around but the authorities weren’t going to allow them to enjoy a view!

Alcatraz was fascinating and somewhere we’ve wanting to visit for years but ……..

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……..back on the mainland things were far more civilised. Our visit to the famous Pier 39 brought us into contact with the seal colony which makes it’s home on the pontoons. Viewing them from down wind they definitely had a ‘hygiene’ problem!

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Pier 39 is a very busy tourist destination with lots of the usual things for sale but it’s also a good place to eat with many different food outlets.

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Close to Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 was the start of the Powell-Mason Cable Car line. There’s a quaint turntable at the end of each line where the operators manually turn the car to face the right direction.

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The steel drive cable runs in a track beneath the roadway and the driver operates a lever to clamp onto it to be pulled along. The many steep hills in the city are no problem for them. The cable car routes, as they are so old, take you through some of the most interesting and beautiful parts of the city.

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Passing another car can be a bit hazardous for passengers who stand on the footplates and hang on – there’s not a lot of room!

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The Powell-Mason cable car takes you past Union Square to Market Street where ……

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……… you can pick up another historic form of transport – the F-line street cars. A fascinating old electric tram system where the very friendly drivers call out the stops and places of interest and ring their bells to warn other road users that there’s a few tons of metal and wood about to bear down on them! At the end of the F-line is the Castro District – the area of the city adopted by the 1970’s gay revolution.  

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Today it’s still a vibrant centre with a high proportion of LGBT people living, working and enjoying the area. Rainbow flags fly freely from flagpoles and windows and even the road crossings are rainbow coloured!

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Castro Street is wide, tree-lined and very clean – like everywhere else in this wonderful, friendly city.

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On our second day in SF we took a closer look at the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s an incredibly impressive and beautiful structure, taking four years to build and finished in 1937, it’s very much in the Art Deco style when you get up close.

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Some of the statistics are worth a bit of digestion!

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Another pic to say “we were there”.

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It was extremely windy on the bridge because the bay entrance funnels the wind off the Pacific Ocean. It’s difficult to keep the camera still to take shots of the tremendous views.

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A panorama view of the whole bay area.

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The towers rise 746 feet above sea level and from this view some of the Art Deco style can be seen. The bridge is painted red (it’s not red oxide and waiting for a top coat!) and in the morning and evening sunshine it glows a brilliant red.

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After a little unplanned detour (we caught the wrong number 30 bus back from the Golden Gate and ended up in Twin Peaks! Fortuitously, we managed to realise and get off near some lovely restaurants where we decided on a late lunch) we eventually found our way back to our original destination in Market Street (where there are some magnificent buildings to be seen).

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Another wonderful cable car trip, up and down some of the city’s many steep hills ……..

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……. took us past some original architecture which the city is famous for.

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The cable car passes across Lombard Street close to the much photographed “Crookedest Street” in the city. It’s the steepest part of Lombard and the zig-zag allows cars to descend the gradient safely. It perfectly planted with hydrangeas, roses and carefully trimmed trees.

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It has pedestrian steps each side but it’s still one heck of a climb! When you get to the top ……….

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………. you have magnificent views to enjoy. Lombard Street stretches ahead right down to the bay. “Arcadia” is berthed just to the right of the street lamp.

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With our time almost up, and travelling on another one of the superb historic F-line street cars, we took a trip back to the Castro for a last drink in one of the many bars there.

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It was dark when we surfaced from the Castro. The lights flooded the lovely buildings as we made our way back to the ship ready to sail at midnight.

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It was a beautiful sight looking back towards the city as “Arcadia” left port. Like New York, on the opposite side of the continent, San Francisco is a city which captures the heart and one which has to be returned to again and again. Thank you “Frisco” for your charm and your welcome. We’ll be back!

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