Day 18 | San Francisco the night of Alcatraz

Today we had breakfast at the home of pancakes, or more accurately the International House of Pancakes (IHOP). This chain is all over the place and many of the branches are a bit tired but the one on Lombard was really nice.  They are famous for the all day breakfast and most importantly for Angus when we arrived they assigned us our own pot of coffee.  Like all diner-type places we also quizzed the run-down on fried egg descriptions.  Very complicated but the food was delicious.  

We also slipped into some of the trendier shops of this Marina district including the cupcake and deli shops.  There are heaps of interesting things to see around here but most are bars and restaurants.  Back at the room we worked out how to get the bus into Union Square.  Parking here, like every city, makes a quick trip 20 minutes up the road a $50 privilege.  

Making our way to the bus stop the bus was already there so we got on.  The bus driver just nodded to our query about going to Union Square.  A few more passengers got on and we were off.  It was an electric trolley bus and we shot off.  Anyone standing was staggering down the aisle.  Each stop saw more people on the bus.  In this part of San Francisco there are a lot of stop signs and this bus driver took this quite seriously.  Lots of camaraderie was generated by catching passengers flying up and down the bus.  Some were quite elderly.  

While we were checking out a map one of the other passengers called us over to sit with her and  helped us with where we needed to get off and gave us a run-down of each of the suburbs we went through.  When all got off at the same stop and she walked us past and pointed out the square for us.  This was really reassuring as the bus trip was a bit crazy.  

One of the visits was to Neiman Marcus and Ryan, one of the cosmetic experts helped Rosie giving her a full makeover.  He was entertaining and flamboyant and great at making this interesting, giving Angus a small insight into the mystery of cosmetics – oh and some free samples.  We then stopped at a Starbucks (as they are from Seattle we consider them familiar) near the square and planned the next trek to the ferry to "The Rock" Alcatraz!

Sitting in Starbucks Angus got chatting to a security guard on a coffee break.   His name is Cesar Moreno and he's one of the guards at Cartier in Union Square.  As a kid he came from The Philippines and is 60 next year.  There is a big Filipino community all up and down the west coast.   He invited us to visit his town in Philippines where his uncle is the Mayor.  Him and his family go over every year or so but most of his family live either here or Hawaii.  American stories.

The trip left from Pier 33 about an hour before sunset.  We checked our tickets in and the lady that checked them (against our Queensland Drivers licenses) thought it was funny as she came from Everton Park, like we’re basically neighbours.  We had time to eat before lining up and getting aboard.  It was getting colder and windier.  

The ferry across had a lesson on the history of Alcatraz Island.  We sat outside, on the top level of the three, in the wind and it was great to get views of the city and the island in the setting sun.  The Island is only a mile out and so it doesn’t take long.  There were a couple of additional activities in addition to the great audio tour that the Parks department do.  We didn’t really follow the audio tour too closely and scouted around at all the changing light in the prison block and the surrounding buildings.  

We also sat in on a demonstration of the combined cell-block locking system.  Individual or all the cells could be opened from the end of the cell block so as to prevent the key being in jeopardy.  The noise of this mechanism is used for all sorts of movies because it is so oppressive.  

The night visit is well worth it and is extra spooky.  As a bonus for the night tour they opened the hospital and light it up with lamps to make it especially sinister.  

The ferry back was fun into the lights of San Francisco.  They are quite three-dimensional as the large buildings are deep and widespread centring on the Financial District and Coit Tower.  

Back on dry land we got a cab back to La Luna.  There were a group of guys waiting there calling out 'Taxi – you need a Taxi’ – we thought yay that’s easy and started to follow one of the drivers over to his ‘unmarked’ car – mmm yeah no thanks we’ve changed our minds as we quickly walked away – they were quite pushy and would trail you along the road.  They didn’t do much business it seemed.  

We started to walk thinking we would catch the bus – but realised it was a lot further than we originally thought.  We managed to hail a real taxi cab – we asked what the deal was with the black cars and he said they were gypsy cabs touting for business.  They don’t have meters or licences and would take you for a ride – literally. 

Another brilliant day in this beautiful city.  No plans for tomorrow yet might just take our last day in San Francisco easy.