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My mom loves to visit San Francisco. We try to fit in a visit to the city with her as often as we can. San Francisco was on the agenda for Monday. We didn’t know what we wanted to do but we had a lot of fun ideas.

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Heath and I decided that we could do an Alcatraz tour. In all the time we have lived here we have never gone on an Alcatraz tour. Our kids were too little and then when they got big enough to handle walking on their own we completely forgot about it. It was the perfect plan to go now. Well, all the way until Heath looked online for ticket information.

Tickets were completely sold out for months. Can you say tourist season? It has been a very long time since we took a day trip into the city and we forgot about tourist season. Heath goes into the city every day to work. But his building is no longer on the Embarcadero in Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s amazing how often he has relocated to a building in that same area.

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He’s in the financial district now and hasn’t changed.

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We could see his building at various times throughout our day. As we drove in he would point it out. He says his building looks like the tweezers in the skyline. Then he would describe it as the building that separates into two towers at the top. I thought I knew which one was his. He would try to point out the correct building and I would get nervous and tell him to just drive! Nerves may always accompany me into the city.

This time wasn’t too bad. It’s the city driving that always gets to me. It is good for me to go back occasionally. My heart races and I hate being in the thick of it all. As we come off the Bay Bridge and I look up at the massive buildings, I have the same thought. I can’t believe we lived here for six weeks! It’s a reminder that I am stronger than I think. But I digress.

Our potential plans included a myriad of tours. I loved the Duck Tour we went on in Seattle. I have seen Duck Tours driving around in San Francisco. Nearly every morning that I would walk my two babies to the park I would see a Duck Tour. The people on board seemed so happy even though most pedestrians were very vocal with their taunts and jeers. Jealousy. Heath has been on bus tours of San Francisco and said it was really fun. A few weeks before Gwen was born Grandma and Grandpa took Heath and the boys into the city for a Bay Tour. I stayed home with a pregnancy headache and have been jealous of them ever since!

One thing I have always wanted to do was get a family picture in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. With Gavin freshly at Scout Camp it would have made for a sad picture without him. We didn’t make it to the park anyway.

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This is a great family picture in front of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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The first plan we looked into ended up being the activity for the day. We asked about a Bay Tour. The lady told us one was leaving in 10 minutes. It was perfect! We paid for tickets and headed straight onto the boat. The tour that we went on was a longer boat ride. It was scheduled to last 90 minutes. I was so excited.

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Gwen wasn’t so sure. I hate how much anxiety has touched my kids. I hate to think they have learned these reactions from me. Gwen doesn’t hide her feelings. Whatever she is feeling she lets everyone know. And she was not interested in climbing onto a boat.

Part of the problem was the fact that we boarded so late compared to others. There were no seats inside and there wasn’t much standing room left in front of the windows. In order to see we kept climbing until we made it to the top deck. Unfortunately every seat up there was also taken. We stood in front of a hand rail and I hugged and hugged my Little Miss hoping to calm her nerves.

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Parker was a good big brother as he tried to help Gwen stop being nervous. My mom and I talked to her. We all wanted her to have fun but she was determined to let Fear run the controls in her mind. She kept telling me she wanted to go downstairs. I wasn’t interested in trying not to fall on our heads as I took her down the stairs on a rocking boat. I hadn’t gotten my sea legs yet. When she kept insisting she needed to use the bathroom I finally took her down.

We somehow managed to move through the static crowd and made it to the stairs. I told Gwen to hold on tight. My mom asked if we were coming back up and I told her I sure hoped so. Gwen and I walked down to the restrooms. She walked in and did her thing. As soon as she came out she grabbed my hand and took the lead. I had not said one word to her but she led me all the way back up to the top deck. Her nerves were gone as soon as her nervous bladder was taken care of. She was fine for the rest of the trip.

There was a lady sitting on the last bench right in front of where we were standing. She kept getting up to take pictures. She was away from her seat for longer periods each time she got up. Gwen watched carefully and when the lady got up again Gwen swooped in to take her seat. It didn’t take long for the man sitting next to the lady to get up and join her.

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Parker took his seat. The two of them played and giggled and enjoyed hanging out with each other for the rest of the trip.

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These collapsible binoculars came with the price of the kids tickets. Gwen and Parker looked out at the water with them once or twice. They had more fun turning them backwards and looking at each other exclaiming how small they looked! It was so cute watching them play together. They have their moments when they argue and fight. They have more moments where they so obviously love each other as a brother and sister. 

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It was awesome going underneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

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Look at the Golden Gate Bridge! An icon of San Francisco. It was a beautiful day too. So beautiful and sunny that Heath and Barry fried their faces. Gwen and Parker were a little pink. We were pretty well protected from the sun with our jackets on. It was a typical windy day in the city.

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So we didn’t get to go to Alcatraz for a tour. The Bay Tour we took circled the island very slowly. We learned so much about the island and its prison history with our audio tour. It was fascinating to hear so many facts and stories. Most of the stories were told by prison guards who used to work there.

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The island started out as a literal rock in the middle of the bay. Soil and plants were imported. Water and electricity were also imported. There was not a drop of fresh water on the entire island except for what was brought in from the mainland. They never said why the prison was shut down. My assumption is because it was too expensive to maintain. There were never more than 300 prisoners at one time. That’s still a lot of men to take care of.

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A few prisoners tried to escape. Nobody made it without being caught or drowning first. It must have been excruciating to realize you were stuck on an island a mere mile and a half from freedom. The place was heavily guarded and the water was icy cold with boats patrolling the area.

One man spent ten whole years carefully stealing a prison guard uniform, one piece at a time, including dog tags, out of the laundry he was in charge of. Ten whole years! It was half his sentence. He made it into a boat before someone realized he didn’t belong there and was hauled back to Alcatraz. The patience and ingenuity of the prisoners was amazing. Some stories were chilling like the prisoner who got into a fight with a barber and used the scissors as a weapon. Blood was splattered everywhere. That story was told by a prison guard. It was his recollection of his very first day on the job! Holy cow!

The prisoners were well fed. It was a heavy carb, protein, and fat laden diet with decadent desserts. If the prisoners didn’t finish all their food they were not allowed to eat anything the next day! I didn’t understand the thought process behind that other than the theory of keeping the men happy. Maybe they hoped the prisoners would eat themselves into a heart attack or gout.

For Christmas one year the prisoners formed a band playing a variety of instruments. The man telling the story said they butchered every song they played but they were happy doing something different.

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I still want to go on the Alcatraz tour but I feel satisfied for now with the amazing stories we were told as our boat circled the island. Maybe in the fall we can take the kids out of school for a day and go on a tour. The weather will be much warmer in the fall too.

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We didn’t see many seals or se lions even though the audio made it sound like there would be a lot. It’s been in the news lately that there just aren’t that many animals on the docks by Fisherman’s Wharf anymore. Nobody really knows why. It could be the warmer water temperatures with the unpredictable weather we have had. The animals arrived soon after the Loma Prieta earthquake but now they have mysteriously left.

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Another fun tour we thought about for a few seconds was this Rocket Boat Tour. It looks like a large ski boat that shows the riders a good time on the bay. I think both Gwen and Parker would have peed their pants if we did that! It looks fun though.

After our tour we went to lunch at Wipeout Grill. It’s been years since we ate there. Gwen was a little tike in a stroller the last time we ate there. The food was pretty good. We all got burritos. Parker loved the bathrooms the best.

Parker: Everyone goes into the bathroom together. Then you go into a little room with a ROOF on top! (You had to hear him say it to really appreciate the emphasis he put on the words) Then everyone washes their hands together outside.

It was a pretty accurate description. The restrooms were designed to fit the surfer theme of the restaurant. It was a coed line that led to maybe six separate water closets. As soon as one was vacant you could go in. Parker did say it was important to lock the door so the dial just under the door handle outside switched from vacant to occupied.

Each water closet was just a room with a door and a toilet. Adjacent to the line of people was a trough style sink with maybe four faucets for hand washing. The whole are had a striped canopy on the ceiling as if it was a roof at the beach. There were flip flops strung along the top of the wall for decoration. That was Gwen’s favorite part.

We walked around Fisherman’s Wharf a little after lunch. We popped into a couple stores that looked interesting. The best store was a puzzle store. They had tons of wooden puzzles that would blow anyone’s mind. We bought a matchstick game that I need to learn how to play. Gwen watched that demonstration. We also got a triangle puzzle. There are balls connected in different shapes and you have to figure out how to put them all back together on the triangle. It’s harder than it looks. There are about 25 solutions too. You can also use the balls to create a 3D triangle. The final game we bought is 3D Tic Tac Toe. That was a really fun place and we found some really fun games and puzzles.

An ice cream shop along the pier had the most delicious smells wafting around. They were making fresh waffle cones. Everyone really wanted one. I’m not much of an ice cream person. Most of it doesn’t tempt me at all. The Ben and Jerry’s kiosk had my attention though. I guess I’m an ice cream snob. If I’m going to eat it I want it to be the good stuff. So we got Ben and Jerry’s cones.

Parker grumpily chose not to have any ice cream. He was mad that we didn’t buy him a stuffed toy to remember the trip. He insisted he would forget the entire experience unless we bought another family pet. Gwen agreed. Mom and Dad stood their ground and no pets were purchased. The games from the puzzle store were enough.

Ice cream dripped as we licked and walked our way back to the parking garage. We piled back into the van and drove home. It was a great day and we all had so much fun.

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