18. Gardens, Trolleys, Chinatown, and Prison

We woke up from our deep slumber, checked out of the hostel, grabbed some complimentary danishes, and headed out to explore the city some more. We first went to the San Francisco Botanical Gardens. It was marvelous. It was divided into regions featuring flora and fauna from places all over the world: New Zealand, Australia, Chile, etc. It felt like we walked onto a different continent as we stepped out of the city streets into the gated gardens. We sat beneath a section of redwood trees for a while and enjoyed the peace and quiet.

Then we headed up to the Golden Gate Bridge again but it was so foggy we could hardly see much of it. We talked about what to do next when we suddenly realized that Alcatraz was nearby. We walked to Fisherman’s Wharf to get some more information and discovered that it was a major tourist area. There were street performers, musicians, markets, and all the usual suspects of a tourist trap. A young girl tried to sell Jimmy and I cologne. We found a fresh fruit market and bought some apples and dried mangos to keep on hand.

We found out it was only $11.50 to take the ferry and take a self-guided tour of Alcatraz. We were in. We sat on a bench near the pier enjoying the California rays, eating our fruit, and relaxing as we waited for our departure time. A large group of seals were also hanging out bathing in the warm spring sun.

We got on the ferry that slowly motored away from the city (just when we thought we couldn’t go any further west). Alcatraz is only 1 1/4 miles away but the further away from the shore we got the more incredible San Francisco looked. I had never seen such a big city from the ocean before and was struck by the contrast between the wide open sea and the condensed city scape.

I’m not sure what I expected, but I was surprised that a lot of the buildings were in ruins. Compared to Fisherman’s Wharf, it felt like we journeyed to a war torn country. We climbed up a big hill along the only main road on the island and finally got to the cell block at the top. It felt quite strange to actually stand inside a prison. The cells felt cold and small. We sat in some solitary confinement cells trying to imagine what it must be like to be encapsulated without any contact or stimulation—quite terrifying. Some of the cells featured profiles on the inmates, what their hobbies were, and so on. In a small museum-like section they had photographs of the actual inmates and the stories of why they were there. It was striking to see the faces alongside of the crimes—all while standing where they had stood.

Alcatraz was very intense and it was hard to imagine what it would be like to be to be a prisoner there with the shimmering city just off in the distance on an otherwise beautiful 12 acre island. It was very strange.

We headed back to mainland around dinner time and decided to take a trolly to Chinatown to find something to eat. We walked around for a while through the streets of Chinatown. Just about every restaurant we passed there was someone standing at the entrance calling us in trying to get us to eat at their place. We went away from the main touristy portion of Chinatown and found a smaller place that seemed more run of the mill and ordinary. It wasn’t very busy and we ordered some sort of family meal that seemed like a good bargain. It turned out to be a multi-course meal of wonton soup, egg rolls, show men, mixed veggies, sweet & sour chicken, and rice. It was wonderful. By the time we left the restaurant it was dark and Chinatown had been transformed to a marvelous city of lights. We walked through some shops and checked out some of the handcrafts and imports.

Eventually we came to an intersection and saw what looked like an old-fashioned trolly. We decided we would ride it down to Market St. where we needed to go to catch our bus for the night. We got onto the trolly which had open sides all around. At first we sat down but the operator encouraged us to stand up and hang on the poles along the side. It was a blast watching the night city lights flash by while the cool breeze blew over us. The operator was super friendly and we eventually told him where we were going to which he replied that we were going the opposite direction. He said he didn’t care and would let us ride back across town again for free. This actually made us glad that we went the wrong way since it meant that we just got to hang off the side of the trolly and see more of the city at night!

We got off the trolly and headed toward the beloved Greyhound station where you never know what to expect. While mulling around at the station we met a very talkative young guy who seemed really friendly at first but became gradually became more grating as time went on. Without our asking he told us all about how he was in the process of getting a divorce and how he was just getting out of the military. Then he offered to teach us some fighting and self-defense moves—which was awkward. Eventually the call came for our bus which gave us a reprieve from our chatty new acquaintance. We were so tired that we quickly fell asleep and our 8 hour ride to LA felt like nothing at all.

Next post coming soon!

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