Friday, November 13, 2009

muir woods, sausalito, alcatraz

So yesterday was our awesome dinky bus tour. We drove across the Golden Gate Bridge to Muir Woods. The Woods are 500 acres or so of old-growth redwood forest. It wasn't logged initially because it was in the bottom of a steep valley, then in the 1930s the Muir family bought the area to conserve the redwoods. So it goes without saying and all - they're huge. Unlike Australian bushland, very little light reaches the forest floor, because the redwoods are so dense. They had a cutaway section of a redwood that died in 1936 with the age rings marked out. A redwood that died in 1936 was a small tree in 900AD. That's how old they are. Pretty amazing.

Next stop was Saualito - supposedly a very pretty seaside town. It might have just been the area we were in, but it struck Mark and I as less 'pretty seaside' and more 'horrendously touristy'. Not great fans.

Back across the bridge and over to where the Alcatraz ferry departs. It's only about a 10 minute ride to the island - 1 1/4 miles or so, I think. It's the temperature of the waters and the strong currents that prevented escape, rather than the distance. Apparently if the winds were blowing the right way prisoners in their cells could hear the sounds of New Year's Eve parties on the SF shore. The actual prison is really quite small - one large rectangular building with regular cells, isolation and high security cells, the dining hall, and a door to the recreation grounds (solid concrete). There were also workshops, but those are all closed to the public due to disrepair. They have a great audio tour narrated by former prisoners and former guards that takes you all over the prison. What I didn't realise is that the guards' families also lived on Alcatraz! They had old army barracks (the place was a fort before a prison) converted to apartments, plus a couple of pretty swanky houses, for accomodation. There was two bowling alleys and a small supermarket on the island, and the kids caught the prison ferry (12 round trips a day) to and from school on the mainland!

Post-Alcatraz we went for a walk along Pier 39. Today, terribly touristy, but you can kind of see how it would have been a nice arcade in the nineteenth century. Pier 39 also has this great sea lion colony (making up for the lack of visible bison in Golden Gate Park). The sea lions started lounging around on some of the marina boat docks, and Californian law requires that boats give way for marine life... so now there's about eight floating platforms that the sea lions hang out on. And there's lots of them. Hundreds. They were mostly napping on the platforms when we were there, and they were crammed on! Every now and then one would be squished off the edge, or a new sea lion would jump on the platform and crawl across all of the others. To the others' disgust. Sea lions, it turns out, are quite stinky en masse, and very, very noisy. I had to take an audio clip on my camera of all the noise! They bark and bark and bark.

So dinner last night was at Bar Crudo, one of SF's best seafood places, apparently. It's all tapas-y. We had a taster plate of crudo (sashimi, with all different dressings - scallop with root vege puree and truffle oil; butterfish with orange and olives; tuna with soy sauce and apple; arctic char with wasabi and finger lime), lobster and beetroot salad (okay, but the salad worked just as well without the lobster in), half a fresh Dungeness (?) crab (so, so good. And a thinner shell than blue swimmers have), and seafood chowder (delicious, but very rich).

An that is that.

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