Day 2, our first full day in California, dawned bright and early. We had tickets for the earliest Alcatraz tour of the day, and had planned to bus down to Pier 33, but while we were waiting for the bus we realized we’d forgotten the tickets at the condo, and had to hurry back. Then we were running late, so we took a quick cab ride down to the pier.
We waited about 20 minutes once we got there and then hopped on the ferry to take us across to the island.
I was surprised, while looking through photos for this post, not to have taken a selfie on the boat with Alcatraz in the background, but now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure I tried and a guy with a giant camera stood right behind me and ruined my opportunity.
I did get this one of the island as we approached:
I’ll be honest. I wasn’t really that fussed to go to Alcatraz. I mean, it’s one of those “when in Rome” things – if you go to San Francisco, you go to Alcatraz. So I was happy to do it, but in the planning of the trip it wasn’t one of the things I was most looking forward to.
The island was interesting, though I was surprised that there wasn’t more to actually see and do. Granted, many of the buildings were under construction/restoration, so we weren’t able to go into a lot of them, but it still seemed a little like you get to the island, go up to the main prison building, take a tour, and then go down again. There are definitely other little tours, like one about wildlife on the island and another about escape attempts, but most of them weren’t available while we were there, and we had a pretty packed day, so we didn’t stay as long as some other people might.
The audio tour of the main building was neat. I appreciated that it was narrated by both former guards and prisoners, and it was certainly very well put together. The downside was that you couldn’t talk to the people you were with, or make comments, or really share the experience. At one point I made the motion to pause the audio recording and said, “okay, you know in “The Rock” where Sean Connery ties the bedsheets together and then swings them and throws them, and it catches around a lever and the cell door opens? Where is that lever?”
There may have been some eye rolling, and we quickly resumed listening to the recording. So I guess Hollywood is not always completely realistic?
I think what struck me most about the prison was the fact that in certain parts of it, the prisoners would have seen beautiful sunlight, heard the water in the bay, the birds, the noise from the city, etc. It must have been incredibly strange to hear all of that and then look around your tiny cell and know that you were probably never going to experience it.
It had been a little bit chilly that morning when we left for Alcatraz, but by the time we got back on the ferry, it was beautiful and sunny.
And I did get a selfie on the way back:
It was midmorning when we got back to the pier, and we decided to find something to eat on our way to our next activity. I thought we might find a little cafe somewhere with a terrace where we could sit outside, but in the end, convenience won out, and we went to IHOP. You may laugh at us for this. We really lived out the cultural experience.
On our way to IHOP, we saw this bus, and I started laughing and immediately grabbed my phone to take a picture. My good friend Dana calls me Koite (and herself Doina), and this bus basically said there is a tower built just for me.. right?
Our afternoon activity was to get back on the open-air bus, but this time take a longer, more informative tour of the city. It was a hop-on-hop-off tour, but we actually didn’t hop off anywhere – we were happy to let them take us around and show us the city. I like those kinds of tours because you get a good overview of what the city has to offer, and then you can go back later to specific spots if you want to. The tour began at Fisherman’s Wharf, and took us all around the city.
My favourite part of the tour was the Haight Ashbury neighbourhood.
It reminded me a lot of the plateau, the neighbourhood where I lived in Montreal, just a very bohemian, creative, unique, anything-goes kind of place.
This tour did take us across the Golden Gate Bridge, which was, well, windy.
Confession: I know that this bridge is a huuuuuge tourist attraction, and sure it was pretty, but I have to tell you, I really wasn’t that fussed by it. The Bay Bridge is far more impressive and pretty (I’ll prove it in the next post), and honestly, when we were driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, I was looking at the hotline phones that dot the pedestrian crossing, and couldn’t help but feel sad about the tons of people who flock there every year with one goal in mind. I was acutely aware that while we were on our fun-filled tour, someone could very well be walking the bridge with that in mind at that very moment. It was just a weird feeling.
On the other side of the bridge, in Marin County, the bus just turned into a parking lot, turned around, and headed back over the bridge. This is where I got my bridge selfie:
In the end, I was glad I snapped it then, because the ride back, we were driving into the wind, and it was SO strong that we could barely keep our eyes open. Ducking and hoping for the best was the only option.
Confession: at one point during the bus tour, I got majorly distracted from the actual sights by the Spanish-speaking little girls in front of us yelling, “chihuahua!” excitedly. Chihuahuas indeed. Three fat, adorable chihooahooas were hanging out on the sidewalk. Eeeeee.
We hopped off the bus a few stops early that afternoon, because it had taken longer than we had expected it to, and we had yet more to do that night! We took a cab back to the condo, grabbed something quick to eat at the grocery store again, changed our clothes and headed out for our first baseball game at AT&T Park.
Something kind of funny happened when we left the condo. We knew that the ballpark was very close to where we were staying. But the condo had several doors on several different blocks, and we had come in and out of a few of them, so we were a bit disoriented. When we came out onto the street, we stood there for a minute, trying to figure out which way to go. We had the sense that we should turn right, but there were a bunch of people in Giants shirts walking to our left, so logically, we followed them. A few minutes later, I stopped in my tracks and started laughing. Raising my arm, I pointed out that we were standing literally right in front of the ballpark – it was one block away from the condo, and impossible to miss.
What an amazing ballpark. We easily found our seats and sat down, and then just stared in awe.
McCovey’s Cove just beyond the outfield was incredible, and I loved that the park really didn’t take away from the beauty of the bay. I honestly could have just stared for hours at the scene in front of me.
The Giants were playing the Dodgers that night, so there were a lot of vocal LA fans there, but I was most impressed by the support for the home team. We had decided to cheer for the home team at every stadium we went to, and we were amazed that even though San Francisco lost by quite a lot, and had the night before as well, the fans were with them the whole time. We commented to a fan about it, and his response was, “they’ve won two of the last four World Series. They’ve given us something to support them for.”
Way more than we can say for our own “home team.” Ahem.
Speaking of our home team, the people who run the Rogers Centre in Toronto have a lot to learn from American ballparks. To use the accessible entrance (with elevator) at Rogers Centre, you pretty much have to either be in a wheelchair or be visibly mangled. I have been there with friends who have no visible disabilities but who need the elevator just as legitimately, and the staff have tried to turn them away. “You don’t look disabled,” one of their employees said once. Cue a lot of cringing on my part. In the States, first of all, the ballparks are all outfitted either with easily accessible elevators or escalators or both, and the kind, helpful staff direct you right to them when you go in (in fact, they are the main mode of “transportation” from the lower level to the upper decks), and if they’re not directly in front of you when you enter the ballpark, they tell you exactly where to find them. I was majorly impressed.
Apparently I didn’t Instagram my ballpark selfie that night, but I definitely took one – I probably didn’t post it because the ballpark and cove were so blown out:
The other thing that stuck out to me, other than the fact that there is sooooo much more of an atmosphere of fun, team spirit, and real involvement in the game, was the stadium food! There were the usual hot dogs, beer, popcorn and ice cream, but there were also a bunch of things you never see in Canada. Like churros! I laughed out loud when I saw the guy selling churros in the stands. And sweet tea, and lemonade. I definitely had one of those at our first Giants game. Love me some freshly squeezed lemonade.
I’m not sure I can describe how truly enchanted I already was with San Francisco. It’s a beautiful, intriguing city, and really just absolutely wonderful. All that day, I had been marvelling over the beauty of the place, and trying to figure out if I could just stay there forever.
And then the sun went down at the ballpark, and all I could do was sigh repeatedly.