Stuck in San Francisco

Day 8+9 – February 1-2, 2015
San Francisco, California
Best Western Grosvenor Hotel

The journey home, for better or for worse, was not an uneventful one. After landing in San Francisco we were informed that our flights to Chicago and, ultimately, Toronto had been cancelled due to weather. As the agent tried to find us new flights she apologized over and over for the delay and when she finally relayed the news that we wouldn’t be leaving until Wednesday (it was Monday) I think she was a little surprised when I responded, “Awesome!” I had never been to San Fran before but it had always been on my list. On the way to our airport hotel home for 2 nights my mind went crazy trying to think of all the things we would get to see and how I would get us there in one day.

Alcatraz was at the top of my list and I snagged us some online tickets for the first ferry leaving the dock the next morning. Muir Woods and the redwoods were next so I staked out some companies that do tours and I figured we would end our day on Fisherman’s Wharf. A full day for sure but I was determined to take full advantage of this extra vacation time.

By taking the hotel’s shuttle back to the airport we were able to hop on the BART train that took us down to the piers and we joined the line for the Alcatraz ferry. The ferry ride was smooth and it looked like it was going to be a beautiful day!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen we landed on the pier we were greeted by a Park Ranger, happy to tell us some brief history (it was originally a military fortress?), general directions and warnings to be careful and not try to take any unauthorized souvenirs home with us.

The first thing we saw when stepping off the pier is the original military barracks, with evidence from the 1969 19 month occupation by a group of aboriginal people. A lot of the barracks have been converted into presentation spaces and a small museum.

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Continuing up the hill and towards the cell house we passed the former Officer’s Club where they held dinners and dances.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As a detour before the cell house we stopped at the New Industries Building for a special exhibit, @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz. The New Industries Building is not generally open to the public so it was interesting to see this little slice of what used to be used as a workshop for inmates that had exhibited good behaviour. The space was filled with light and through the windows were gorgeous views of the bay and the city skyline. I can imagine how bittersweet it would have been for those prisoners lucky enough to work in this space. Out of the dark, damp cells and so close to freedom, but surrounded by water and ultimately trapped.

One of the Ai Weiwei exhibits in the building was With Wind, a traditional Chinese dragon kite with quotations from activists who have been imprisoned or exiled, including Nelson Mandela and Edward Snowden.

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Another exhibit in the lower gun gallery was Refraction, a bit hard to see through the small windows but gorgeous – an enormous metal wing made from Tibetan solar cookers.
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We exited the New Industries Building and continued up the steep hill towards the cell house where we lined up through the original shower room, one of the most dangerous rooms in the prison, to get our audio guides.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe audio guide provided with our entry fee was absolutely essential to the whole experience. It was narrated by four former correctional officers and four former prisoners who told stories of their time on the island while guiding you through the building. The sound effects made it feel absolutely real and hearing the stories from the men who lived through it sent chills down my spine.

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While we were there we were lucky enough to witness one of the park rangers demonstrate how the cell door closing mechanism worked. You could close anywhere from a single door to every single one on a row and hearing 20 or so steel doors slam shut at once was haunting.

When we were back on the mainland we started looking for a tour company that would take us to Muir Woods, but every place we checked was closed. Around the corner from one of the closed offices was a car rental place and we decided that was our next best alternative that would let us see even more of the area. Pit stop #1 was Fort Hood, a great place for a photo op of the world famous Golden Gate Bridge.

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I have to say that driving over the Golden Gate with the convertible top down was both a major highlight and majorly touristy, but sometimes you just gotta give in! The drive out to Muir Woods was as picturesque as it could get and the closer we got the more twisty and turny the road became, Jeff’s favourite.

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We took a mixture of some of the easier trails, criss-crossing over bridges before hitting Cathedral Grove and looping back. You know how you see pictures in National Geographic or read about something online and you worried you’re going to be disappointed when you see it in person? This was NOT one of those times. “Majestic” truly seems like the only accurate word to describe redwoods.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I wish we had had more time on the trails, it would have been awesome to do one of the more challenging ones, like the Ocean View Trail. But time was not on our side and after two hours in this magical forest it was time to head back South.

On re-entering San Fran we still had a bit of time on the rental so I quickly looked up a couple famous landmarks, the Fullhouse house, the Mrs Doubtfire house and the Painted Ladies…all of which we successfully spied on.

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We returned the rental car and as our last stop of the day we took all our quarters and blew them on vintage games at the Musée Mécanique, one of the world’s largest privately owned collection of coin-operated machines that you’re allowed and encouraged to play with!

{video courtesy of Musée Mécanique}

Jeff got his butt kicked by a strength tester, only for him to turn around and kick my butt at the original Pong game (so much harder than it looks!). I got my fortune read by a frightening robotic Grandmother and my little tin boxer was knocked out cold. Jeff got a blast from the past playing San Francisco Rush (so meta) and I happily used the last of my quarters to feed my Indiana Jones pinpall addiction.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was a full day, such a full day, but a totally magical day. It was a day that wasn’t planned and shouldn’t have existed, a free day that came to us out of thin air to cap off an already completely memorable vacation!

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