Alcatraz Island

I visited San Francisco a few months ago on vacation — I wrote about the experience previously here, but there are some things I purposely left out to give them more attention in a later post.  Well, after being distracted by other random things, I have finally looked through all of my pictures and picked out some of my favorites.

First of all, San Francisco fog is the REAL DEAL.  The first day we were there, the fog was bad, but it cleared off pretty quickly.  The second day, the fog was worse when we woke and got even more thick as the day went on (as you’ll see below, you could barely see five feet in front of you when you were out on the Bay).

This is Alcatraz from the pier on Day 1 (we wouldn't have been able to get this shot on Day 2).
This is Alcatraz from the pier on Day 1 (we wouldn’t have been able to get this shot on Day 2).

Alcatraz was a high-security prison for the worst of the worst criminals in America.  Al Capone was housed there, as well as James “Whitey” Bulger of The Departed fame (one of my favorites — more Leo love).  It was used as a federal prison from the 1930s to the 1960s.  The guards had a number of checks and balances on the system to keep control of the inmates, but they still had jailbreaks, with a few missing and presumed drowned in the choppy San Francisco Bay waters.

My husband on foggy Alcatraz
My husband on foggy Alcatraz
Lots of disrepair -- adds to character
Lots of disrepair — adds to character
The social hall, which was burned out during a Native American occupation protest after the prison closed
The social hall, which was burned out during a Native American occupation protest after the prison closed
And places where you think you can walk -- you can't always walk there -- sometimes the staircases go to nowhere
And places where you think you can walk — you can’t always walk there — sometimes the staircases go to nowhere
Seagulls are the only full-time inhabitants now
Seagulls are the only full-time inhabitants now
This place kind of gives me the willies
This place kind of gives me the willies

One of my favorite parts of the movie was visiting the gift shop and checking out all of the cheesy and/or frightening films made about Alcatraz, including The Rock (if you are Nicholas Cage fan — or a fan of watching Nicholas Cage overact).  The Rock is one of the nicknames for Alcatraz, so they didn’t just make it up for the movie to make a point about chemical warfare (or whatever that movie was about).  Suspiciously absent, though, was The Book of Eli (also terrible, in my opinion).

What do you think?  Would you want to visit Alcatraz or are the bad movies enough to keep you away?

The Hills Are Aliiiive… in San Francisco

On our journey on the West Coast, one of our favorite stops was San Francisco.  We actually started with the idea of visiting SF and grew the vacation itinerary from there.

Well, let me just warn you– one of the first things you notice about San Francisco is that it’s not New York and it’s not D.C.  And by that, I mean, the city is big, and there are a LOT of hills.  I mean, of course I’d seen the San Francisco hills on TV, but I  kind of thought that the city was on a giant slope, or maybe there was one area of town that had a hill.  I was wrong.  W-R-O-N-G.  Instead of like here in West Virginia where we generally make our roads between the hills/mountains/what have you (or through them), they make the roads over the hills in SF.  No biggie, except when you have miles and miles to canvass and a limited amount of time to do so.  (Also, the hills are calf burners, not slopes.)

Every time I go to New York or D.C., I end up staying in a pretty much the same area of town.  In D.C., you’re in the NW quandrant.  In New York, you don’t have to go too far from Midtown.  So I was a little shocked when I started looking at the map and realized the things I wanted to see were miles and miles away from one another.  I thought, “No big deal, I’ll take the subway.”  But then I got there, never saw a sign for one— sort of forgot about looking for one, and then and decided the bus would be a better option.  Or the trolley car — those ran right in front of the hotel.  Well, we took the bus once.  We took the trolley car zero times, and the husband became exasperated and hailed a taxi thrice over a couple of days (including the trip to the airport).  Other than that, we got a little bit of exercise.

When we drove the rental car into town and saw where our hotel was (at the top of Nob Hill — more about that in the next post), I was concerned.  I would have not have taken the brand new Prius we rented up that hill if there weren’t already like 15 cars parked perpendicularly on the street.  (The Prius had 6 miles on it when we rented it — Six!  Seis!  XI! — I didn’t want to roll backwards into traffic with this shiny new car.)  But they were sitting there, not rolling over on top of themselves, so we decided to brave it.  We found the hotel, got our room, and started exploring.

I had the best Japanese food of my life about 20 minutes later.

We ate at Katanaya Ramen on Geary St.  I had some sushi with a quail egg on top:

Whatever the hell I got to eat-- with a quail egg on top.
Whatever the hell I got to eat– with a quail egg on top.

Mine was pretty decent.

But the husband got some soba noodles and kimchi fried rice.  When I tasted the kimchi fried rice, the clouds parted.  I heard angels singing.  There could have been some trumpets — it was hard to hear over the sound of me stuffing it into my face.  (No pictures available — too quickly disappeared.)

I think the owners were a little afraid of what happened at my table.  The chopsticks went down.  I mean, I can use the chopsticks.  I am proficient.  But no.  You cannot shovel rice into your face with chopsticks as quickly as you can with a fork.  (Or at least I can’t — I’ll put it on my skill development to-do list.)

Anyway, after we recovered from our delicious lunch, we set out to explore.  We walked down to the easternmost pier and made our way to Fisherman’s Wharf.  We saw a good amount of sea lion wrestling, which was good fun:

These sea lions are pretty awesome -- gotta say
These sea lions are pretty awesome — gotta say (they have  self-initiated wrestling championship playoffs)

We also had a good view of Alcatraz that day — much better than on our actual trip to the island the next day, when it was so foggy you would be eaten by a shark before you even saw it:

View of Alcatraz from Fisherman's Wharf
View of Alcatraz from Fisherman’s Wharf — dun dun DUN!

Waking up in sleepy Sonoma, we went to bed overlooking this:

View from the top of the Mark Hopkins
View from the top of the Mark Hopkins

Quite a contrast.

More to come about the history, the fun neighborhoods, and some of the sights we visited!

What’s your favorite city?  Do you have any travel tips for finding the best food?