The Alcatraz Island – The Famous Tourist Trap

 

san francisco bay bridge
Golden Gate bridge (all photos in this post by hubby)

If you love watching movies, especially the ones based on true stories, actual historical places, or real people (those whose names became popular either because of their good deeds or their notoriety), then you have probably seen “The Rock” and “Escape from Alcatraz”. Both movies were set in the infamous Alcatraz Island, a small island located in the San Francisco Bay, about 1.5 miles offshore from San Francisco. Because of its topography and its size, the island was aptly nicknamed The Rock.

A tour of the island will bring you face-to-face with the site of the first lighthouse and US-built military fortification on the West Coast. In 1868, the entire island (with some areas converted into housing rows) became a military prison. Later on, The Rock became a federal penitentiary (1933-1963) that was off-limits to the public. Then, in 1964 and 1969-1971, a group of Aboriginal peoples (Indians of All Tribes) from San Francisco who were trying to save themselves from Native activism marred by public protests (they were being terminated by federal policy) sought safety on the island and stayed there for 18 months. This move by the Indians of All Tribes was monumental for it sparked a change in the federal policy towards American Indians.

the rock, alcatraz island
The Rock, Alcatraz island

It was only in 1972 when Alcatraz Island became a national recreation area, the justifiably popular tourist attraction that it is now (one of many prisons to become so), and to this day, it continues to draw in thousands of tourists, year in and year out.

The allure of the area extends far beyond the walls of the prison, although the same never fail to mesmerize tourists. The Rock itself exudes a unique appeal – the island is rugged and exceptionally beautiful at the same time, with gardens, tide pools, and bird colonies that will surely leave visitors breathless. Given that it right smack in the middle of San Francisco Bay, it offers an unparalleled view of the city.

It is worth noting that only inmates who posed greatest threats of violence and escape were sent to Alcatraz, which is considered a maximum-security prison. There, inmates were housed one man to a cell. Unlike inmates at other prisons who could spend their days out of their cells to do mandatory work programs, attend education classes, or enjoy recreational activities, Alcatraz inmates had to earn time out from their cells through good behavior.

remains
a building’s remain in the island

There is a cell house audio tour being offered, which is a self-guided tour featuring narration of former inmates and guards. You’d get a glimpse into the lives of the most notorious federal inmates in history such as:

Alphonse “Al” Capone – also known as “Scarface”, he was the brutal kingpin of the Chicago underworld. He was incarcerated because of federal charges of tax evasion.
James Lucas – he tried to kill Al Capone by stabbing him in the shower.
George “Machine Gun” Kelly – a notorious kidnapper.
Floyd Hamilton – Bonnie and Clyde’s accomplice and noted bank robber.
Arthur “Doc” Barker and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis – both are members of the infamous Ma Barker Gang.
Roy Gardner – last of the “Old West” train robbers.
Morton Sobell – convicted in the Rosenberg espionage case
Robert Stroud – the Birdman of Alcatraz and one of the most notorious criminals in American history. He was depicted as a kindly bird lover in the movie “The Birdman of Alcatraz” where Burt Lancaster played his part, but in reality, he was a homicidal sociopath whom officers in Alcatraz likened to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

alcatraz cells
cells

You’ll also see the recreation yard (or at least, part of what’s left of it), where inmates played their favorite sport of softball during their few hours of yard time on weekends. There are collections of objects made by notorious inmates, historic photographs and documents, escape materials, and inmate artwork, as well as items used by officers, including correctional materials, when Alcatraz was a federal penitentiary from 1934-1963; military prison period materials from 1859-1934; and the American Indian occupation of 1969 -1971.

Obviously, there is a wealth of knowledge and history waiting for tourists at Alcatraz Island. The rich history of the place makes it one of the most popular tourist attractions ever, and it surely deserves a spot in your list of must-visit places.

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The Musical Greats of Seattle

Seattle Skyline, Space Needle upfront (wiki)

Seattle, Washington, known as the City of Goodwill and also as Emerald City, is known for coffee, rainy weather, the Space Needle, and some great musical legends. While it may not be along the lines of New York or Hollywood in terms of being a magnet for entertainers, Seattle’s high quality of life, strong arts culture, and much educated populace are enough reasons for the city to generate more talent than anywhere else.

Here are some of the famous artists, musicians, and bands that came from Seattle or at launched their careers while living in Seattle.

1. Jimi Hendrix

Hendrix had a short-lived career, spanning seven years. In all of those seven years, the last three years catapulted and cemented his stature as the “Black Elvis”. These last three years of superstardom were and still are considered among the most influential in the history of pop music.

Jimi Hendrix was born and bred in Seattle. In fact, his first ever gig was in the basement of Temple De Hirsch, a synagogue in Seattle. His ticket to fame was touring with the Isley Brothers and going to London, where he attained worldwide fame as a singer, songwriter, and guitar phenomenon.

He died a premature death due to the fatal combination of alcohol and sleeping pills. He was only 27 years young then.

2. Ray Charles

Technically, Ray Charles isn’t a native of Seattle. He was born in Albany, Georgia on September 23, 1930, lived as a blind, orphaned young boy in Tampa, Florida, and later on moved to Seattle to get as far away as he could from where he currently lived.

He stayed briefly in Seattle, but it was noted that it served as the launch pad of his career. This was where he cut his first record and developed the genre-bending musical style that made him the international star that he was.

ray charles
Ray Charles, 2003

3. Quincy Jones

Quincy is a record producer, composer, arranger, conductor, film and TV producer, and musician rolled into one. His career spans six decades and his resiliency in the entertainment industry is proven by his record 79 Grammy award nominations. Of these, he has won 27 awards, including the prestigious Grammy Legend Award in 1991. He has worked with some of the biggest names in the music industry including Celine Dion, Frank Sinatra, and Michael Jackson. Incidentally, Quincy Jones was a good friend of Ray Charles, and in fact, owed his musical beginnings to the latter.

4. Nirvana and Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain grew up in the logging town of Aberdeen. In the late 80s, he formed the band Nirvana together with his fellow Aberdeener, Krist Noveselic. Nirvana was famous for grunge music, and it was in the early 90s, through the said genre, that Seattle shot to a type of cultural prominence it has never experienced before.

Kurt’s strong vocal prowess, uncanny command of melody, and adolescent rage combined to form hits such as “Smells like Teen Spirit”. Sadly, Kurt’s life was cut short when he took his own life at the age of 27, after struggling with depression, stomach pain, and heroin abuse.

5. Kenny G

Known as the titan of smooth jazz, Kenneth Bruce Gorelick was born in Seattle, Washington on June 5, 1956. He attended Franklin High School and University of Washington. After graduating from college, he became a successful jazz instrumentalist and even played along with Barry White while on tour. Eventually, he recorded his own work, which paved the way for his multi-platinum success. Over the years, he has sold over 70 million records and he continues to be a popular jazz instrumentalist to this day.

Some of other famous bands/musicians (living and otherwise) who hail from Seattle are:

Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam
Macklemore
Alice in Chains
Bing Crosby
Dave Matthews
Soundgarden

All these names are proof that Seattle has, indeed, a great musical history and that it has produced more talent per capita than any other city in the United States.

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Kurt Cobain, 1993

Where to? Emerald City versus City By The Bay

 

Twelve hours apart from each other by car and just about two hours by plane, Seattle and San Francisco tend to be two cities with a highly educated, nature-loving, culturally-rich population. They are both favourites among travellers, especially those who enjoy long driving trips. There are still a lot to see and do in between and what would you actually expect when you spend a week in each of these wonderful cities? There are so many differences and similarities, so let’s try pinning them down and maybe if you’d be in a pinch in choosing which city to stay longer in, this list would help.

seattle
Seattle (hubby)

Skyline and Architecture

Depending on where you stand, both cities offer perfect panorama skyline shots. Both define what makes each a unique city and would spell a character of being bustling, friendly or adventurous.

Seattle holds the most number of high-rises in Washington, numbering over 200 completed ones and is still growing. There are 13 listed complete skyscrapers and a lot more under construction. The tallest building in Seattle is the 76-story Columbia Center. A visit to Seattle’s observation tower, the Space Needle is a must-see!

San Francisco boasts of 436 high-rises and 21 skyscrapers, the tallest of which is the Transamerica Pyramid. Of course, the famous Bay Bridge, one that has the longest span in the world, at dusk would be a lovely sight.

Don’t forget to take your camera and a fast lens when going out at the blue hour for a captivating shot.

San Francisco skyline
Downtown San Francisco at dusk, famous bridge on facade (wiki)

spell rain over Seattle (Christian Bobadilla – http://hdrcreme.com/)

 

Weather

The best months to visit Seattle is between May and September, typically a mixture of clouds and sunshine with mild temperatures. Although many would say it is rainy all throughout, don’t be discouraged, locals would prove you that there are much more lovely days to walk by than not and  why not enjoy a dance in the rain while you’re there?

San Francisco’s Mediterranean climate is characteristic of the cool-summer and moist mild winters. The fog that blankets the city at times, gives it a mysterious aura that sends tourists wanting to discover more. September and October are the best months to visit San Francisco, for with its crisp air, mild temperature and there’s a bit of sunshine that would peak from the foggy landscape.

bay bridge fog
Makes for a perfect postcard (wiki)

Pacific Science Center, seattle
Pacific Science Center (wiki)

Culture, Entertainment and the Arts

Seattle and San Francisco fare well in the scene of music, entertainment, and the arts. Seattle has been a regional center for the performing arts for many years and is considered the home of grunge music being the home to artists such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Mudhoney. It also lists Jimi Hendrix,Duff McKagan, Kenny G, Nikki Sixx, and Quincy Jones to its famous  musicians. And though much younger compared to other cities, it is home to a number of museums such as the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture which holds 14 million artifacts and specimens. There are also a  lot of notable art galleries and studios mostly housed in the famous Pioneer Square. Overall, Seattle’s lively neighborhood would be dear and valuable to music and art enthusiasts.

Diversity describes San Francisco’s various museums. To name a few, there’s the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum and Learning Center, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the Mexican Museum, the Museo ItaloAmericano, the Museum of Russian Culture and the Museum of the African Diaspora. The museums’ names alone would describe the multifarious culture you will experience in the city.

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Palace of fine arts, SF (hubby)

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Seahawks (hubby)

Outdoor Activities and Sports

Seattle’s nickname “Emerald City” comes from the lush evergreen forests in the area and this is not just lip service. Strategically located between the saltwater Puget Sound to the west, lies the Kitsap Peninsula and Olympic Mountains on the Olympic Peninsula; to the east, beyond Lake Washington and the eastside suburbs, are Lake Sammamish and the Cascade Range, spanning all-over 7 hills. Thus, Seattle is perfect for hunting, as well as a handful of activities such as sailing and kayaking in the waters of Puget Sound, camping, skiing, , rock climbing, bicycling, and hiking: all year-round in the any of the hills and even the cities suburbs. Seattle boasts of more than 5000 acres of parkland, walking alone is worth an activity to do everyday in this picturesque city. It is fitting to be called the fittest city in the United States for all these activities citizens enjoy.

San Francisco Bay is famous for boating, sailing, windsurfing and kitesurfing and Golden Gate Park has facilities for such sports as tennis. There are a number of clubs and parks open for golf, swimming and rowing. The Escape from Alcatraz triathlon is a must for professional and amateur triathletes for its annual race. The city has a yacht harbor in the Marina District and hosted this year’s America Cup yacht racing competition.

Both cities’ professional sports profiles fare well in the country, not limited to football, baseball and basketball.

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Batting, SF Giants (hubby)

 

That each city is unique and offers diverse chunks of culture, architecture and entertainment is given. Seattle is a bit an underestimated city that has a lot to boast while San Francisco lives up to its reputation of being one of the best cities in the United States. It is in the best interest of every traveller to get the finest holiday experience in every city they visit. In the same way, there are several sites for online holiday comparison where one can get deals from to somehow save a few bucks which he or she can add to his or her pocketmoney. Seattle and San Francisco are two cities worth visiting, one may be cheaper than the other but with a good planning and some researching, you’d be able to enjoy the best of  both  these beauties!

Much Ado about the Space Needle

 

Seattle is considered the major commercial, educational, and cultural powerhouse of the western Washington region. It may seem like an ordinary city, but you would never want for anything when you visit the place. The city boasts of extraordinary and fun things to do no matter what age group you belong to.

At least three bodies of water surround Seattle – Lake Union, Lake Washington, and Elliot Bay. In addition, it’s where you’ll find Mount Olympic, Cascade, and Mount Rainier. Aside from these natural treasures, Seattle boasts of a thriving city life, world class museums such as the Seattle Art Museum, classic theaters, restaurants that serve world class cuisine, and many more famous landmarks.

seattle space needle
at 605 ft

Nevertheless, one of the most famous distinguishing features of Seattle is the Space Needle. This 605 feet tower, which was built for the 1962 World Fair, has become a favorite tourist attraction and a symbolic figure in Seattle. It is to Seattle as Sears Tower is to Chicago or the Statue of Liberty is to New York.

Edward Carlson envisioned the Space Needle, and he had the Stuttgart Tower in Germany to thank for the inspiration. Upon seeing the tower in Germany, he immediately made rough sketches on a napkin of something that would eventually become the Space Needle. Carlson’s original design had a top that looked like a floating balloon. However, the man who was responsible for bringing it to life was John Graham. For practical reasons, Graham and his team of architects decided to tweak Carlson’s original design, transforming the balloon top of the tower into a UFO. This is the sauce-topped tower we see now.

You’re probably wondering why Carlson would design something so futuristic. Well, the theme of the 1962 World Fair hosted in Seattle was “Century 21”, which explains why the Space Needle’s design had to be so. At 605 feet, the Needle seems to be teetering on a precarious ledge. However, the architects made sure that its concrete foundation was 30 feet deep in order to balance the structure. The actual tower and 24 lightning rods ensure that the structure is safe when lightning strikes.

Ever since it was created, the Space Needle has always had a light atop the structure. Through the years, this light has seen different “versions”, the most recent of which is the Legacy Light. The Legacy Light was first illuminated on New Year’s Eve of 1999/2000, as the whole world ushered in a new millennium. This beam of light shines its light skyward from the top of the Space Needle and is lit up to honor national holidays and commemorate other special occasions celebrated in Seattle.

The Space Needle owes part of its appeal to its observation deck, which is at 520 feet, and this provides a 360-degree view of Seattle’s landscape. Through telescopes found on the deck, you could zoom in on 60 different landmarks found around the city of Seattle.

The Needle also has a restaurant called the SkyCity, which revolves fully at 500 feet every hour. Incidentally, Where Magazine’s Visitors Choice Dining Awards named this restaurant “Best View”, and the Washington Wine Commission named it Best Restaurant for 2009. There is also the Skyline Banquet Facility that hosts events at 100 feet. If you want to go shopping for souvenirs, there is a gift shop at the base of the Space Needle aptly called the Space Base.

A trip to the Space Needle would be pretty special, and just the mere sight of this beautiful structure is enough to confirm that. If you haven’t been there, go and visit the place to find out why people are abuzz about it and why Seattle Weekly calls it the “Best Place to Get Engaged”.

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