Just a mile out in San Francisco Bay the waters part around the substantial lump of rock that is Alcatraz Island. The Island itself, of course, is surmounted by what is probably the most famous prison in the world – Alcatraz.
Usually the views of The Rock, and the views from it, are supposed to be fantastic. Today the entire Bay was shrouded in thick, dense white fog and you couldn’t see more than 50 feet in any direction. While it was a shame to miss the views, the fog certainly made our visit out to Alcatraz all the more atmospheric.
There are some interesting aspects to Alcatraz’s history, but really they pale beside the 30 years that it served as the country’s maximum security prison and home to Al Capone, Alvin Creepy Karpis, Machine Gun Kelly, and the Birdman. Seeing the prison is a fascinating and sobering insight to life in a tough place. The experience was brought to life by the absolutely excellent audio tour and the enthusiasm of the volunteers. We each spent a sobering minute inside the pitch darkness of the metal-lined ‘hole’, a place troublesome prisoners could be held in for up to 19 madness inducing days. We saw where what may be the only successful escape attempt originated (which thanks to Mythbusters, the boys were fully up to speed on). We saw the shrapnel marks where the Marines were called in the quell the Battle of Alcatraz. It was all completely fascinating.
One thing Jennifer and I have decided to introduce to our family is Rule Number 5 of Alcatraz’s rule book for prisoners: “You are entitled to food, clothing, shelter, and medical attention. Anything else that you get is a privilege.” Strangely, the boys’ tell us they fail to see the point.
After we made our way through the persistent fog back to the mainland we had lunch at the organic farmers market and then wandered up to Chinatown. Chinatown is a great place, full of little unusual shops and interesting smells – it almost felt more Chinese than Beijing did. The boys played in a playground surrounded by tons of old Chinese gentlemen playing go, chequers and cards.
We were aiming for a tiny shop down a small alleyway; we’d been warned it would be hard to find and that proved to be the case. Eventually, we followed our noses and found a tiny space filled with the lovely smell of baking biscuits. Near the front a man filled wicker baskets with fortune cookies and further back two women sat chatting loudly in Cantonese and deftly creating fortune cookies using a machine that looked older than they did. The man smiled and offered us samples of the biscuit and we bought a bag of completed cookies. The fortunate thing though was getting to see the cookies being handmade in such a lovely little factory.