5 Prisons for Law-Abiding Citizens

In this lull between fun summer TV like “True Blood” and the fall premieres of network television shows, many people have been binge watching the Netflix comedy, “Orange is the New Black.” Set at a women’s prison in Rockland County, New York, the series has generated new interest in jail. (From the outside, at least.) Here are five notable prison museums around the world with flexible visiting hours for an easy escape.

Alcatraz, San Francisco, CA
Built as an “inescapable” prison on an island off San Francisco, Alcatraz has had quite a few famous inmates, including Al Capone. The federal prison was closed in 1963 and has been a museum for several decades. In addition to the prison museum, it also has the country’s oldest lighthouse and a permanent exhibition on the historic Native American occupation. Tickets are a steep $30 and up per adult, but they include transportation, since you can’t make it off “the Rock” alive.Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, PA
Another stop on Al Capone’s “jail tour,” this Center City Philadelphia jail has been the set for several films including “Twelve Monkeys” and the Transformers sequel, and many TV shows about ghosts and jails. The self-guided audio tour (narrated by Steve Buscemi!) details the history of the prison, active from 1829 to 1969. Regular tickets are $14, and look out for special events; the Halloween Haunted House is especially popular.

Gestapo Headquarters and Pawiak Prison, Warsaw, Poland
Telling another part of the Holocaust, these two related historical sites in Warsaw show what it was like to be interrogated and imprisoned in the gruesome Nazi occupation. Part of the Polish city’s excellent collection of museums, they are free to visit and well-maintained, though very somber.

Robben Island, Cape Town, South Africa
The isolation of the small island near Cape Town made it a fitting site for a leper colony, a military training station and a place for political prisoners. Nelson Mandela was the most famous of former inmates for 18 years; he was one of dozens imprisoned during apartheid. Tickets are about $22, including ferry transportation to and from the mainland, a bus tour of the island and “interaction” with a former prisoner. President Obama visited the island and museum this summer, and was “deeply humbled” by the experience.

Tuel Sleng, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The secret prison of Pol Pot, dictator of Cambodia in the 1970s and leader of the Khmer Rouge, Tuel Sleng is now a museum cataloging the genocide perpetrated there. The museum contains the 6,000 detailed photographs and records of inmates left by prison staff, though as many as 30,000 were said to have been detained, tortured and murdered there. The museum is preserved as it was found in 1979, and is an important site, along with the “Killing Fields,” documenting and memorializing the victims of this dark regime.

Would you visit a prison?

Alcatraz Marks 50th Anniversary Of Famous Escape

They said Alcatraz was escape-proof, but 50 years ago yesterday, three prisoners made an ingenious break out, paddled out into the cold waters of San Francisco Bay and disappeared.

On June 11, 1962, Frank Morris and brothers Clarence and John Anglin were ready to bust out of prison. Over the past year they had patiently chipped away at the air vents in their respective cells with spoons. At night they’d replace the vents and cover the expanding tunnels with pieces of colored cardboard.

On the night of the breakout they squirmed through the tunnels into an unused service corridor and made their way to the roof. To keep the guards from noticing they were gone, they left behind dummy heads in their beds made of paper maché and real hair gathered from the prison barbershop.

From the roof they climbed the barbed wire fence and floated away on a raft made of rubber raincoats. They were never seen again. Fragments of their raft and plywood paddles were found on Angel Island, two miles away from Alcatraz. Footprints led away from the raft and a car was stolen that night.

A fourth man, Allen West, didn’t make it to the rendezvous in time and was left behind.

Did the three men escape? Despite many rumors, none of them were ever found. A ship’s captain said he spotted a body floating in the bay wearing a prison uniform. The body wasn’t recovered. Their files remain open.

%Gallery-158021%According to legend, they would return to Alcatraz for a visit on the 50th anniversary. As unlikely as that sounds, US Marshal Michael Dyke spent yesterday on Alcatraz hoping to catch the aged fugitives. He left at the end of the day disappointed.

Alcatraz, also known as “The Rock,” started life as a fort. During the Civil War, local Confederate sympathizers and privateers were imprisoned there. It continued as a military prison through World War I, when it housed conscientious objectors. Alcatraz became a Federal prison in 1933 and was used to keep the most troublesome prisoners. Its guests included such model citizens as Al Capone and “Machine Gun” Kelly. It was closed in 1963.

Now Alcatraz is a National Park and open to the public. Visitors can see the prisoners’ cells and other areas, as well as the escape route of Morris and the Anglin brothers. All access to the island is via the private ferry company Alcatraz Cruises from Pier 33. Check out the gallery for some views of the prison, as well an intriguing shots of the escape route.

[Photo courtesy Bruce C. Cooper]

6-course mobile gourmet meal served aboard NYC subway car

shops, hotels, and restaurants are all the rage, and dining cars are standard on most long-distance trains but what do you call a pop-up restaurant on a subway car? Earlier this month, a 6-course mobile gourmet meal was served on board a New York City subway car by supper club A Razor, A Shiny Knife with participation from “culinary collective” and Gadling favorite Studiofeast. Diners rode from Manhattan‘s 8th Avenue station on a Brooklyn-bound L train, feasting on caviar, fois gras, and filet mignon, all in under an hour. Courses from several supper clubs were prepared and plated before getting on the train, and perfectly timed to be served by waiters boarding at specific stops. A maître d’hôtel oversaw the luncheon, refilling water glasses (no alcohol allowed as per the MTA) and helping to stabilize makeshift “tables” tied to subway poles with twine.

The full menu posted on Studiofeast‘s website included:

– Hamchi Crudo, Bone Marrow, Trout Roe, Laproaig, Sweet Lime
– Foie en Brioche, Port Wine, Raisin,
– Ramp, Black Garlic, Cippolini, Morel, Thyme
– Petit Filet Mignon, Pomme Puree, Asparagus
– Pepper Jam, St Andre
– Chocolate & Gold Leaf Panna Cotta, Raspberry

The twelve lucky foodies (including two “walk up” visitors from Argentina pulled in to cover no-shows) were treated to the gourmet meal which cost an estimated $1,600, ending with gold-leaf-dusted panna cotta. The subway authorities were not satisfied customers, though no one was arrested or fined for the stunt. “Subway trains are for riding, not for holding parties,” said Charles F. Seaton from the MTA.

Event organizers have yet to announce their next meal-on-the-go, but the video hints at another unlikely location: San Francisco’s Alcatraz. Hoping for your own moveable feast? The Dinner in the Sky team is available for rent around the world.

Budget Travel: San Francisco

Frequently at the top of the best US cities lists, San Francisco is many visitors’ favorite, but might not be the first on the mind for cheap travel. But this easy-natured, west coast city, known for its counterculture, sourdough bread, and colorful Victorian homes, boasts just as many quaint neighborhoods and other understated gems as it does tourist landmarks. Easy on the eyes, easy on the heart-strings–now consider it easy on the budget.

Getting in: All of the major airlines fly into SFO, including JetBlue and Southwest. You should find ample options from United, since the airport is one of the airline’s hubs. If you’re staying outside of the city proper, consider the two other airports in the area: Oakland (OAK) and San Jose (SJC).

From SFO, the local commuter train (BART: Bay Area Rapid Transit) is your best bet to your hotel or hostel. It can drop you off at eight stations within the city itself. A one-way trip to one of the downtown stops is $5.35. Otherwise, a door-to-door shuttle (such as QuakeCity or SuperShuttle) costs $15–17.

If a slower pace is more your style, catch a Greyhound bus and disembark right in downtown San Francisco. Amtrak also stops nearby, but you’ll need to make your way ten miles from the closest stations in Oakland and Emeryville, in the East Bay.


Where to stay: Hostelling International offers reliably inexpensive options with their downtown and Fisherman’s Wharf hostels. Downtown is all about the location–just a block from Union Square, it’s in the heart of the city that’s renowned for capturing ours. The Fisherman’s Wharf location is more peaceful and removed–housed in the historic buildings of park-like Fort Mason. (It’s a bit of a misnomer: walking to Fisherman’s Wharf will take about 15 minutes.) Both come with free wi-fi and breakfast, and free or low-cost tours. But it depends on what you’re looking for–stores and nightlife outside your doorstep, or sprawling lawns and views of the Golden Gate Bridge? Either way, at about $25-27 for a dorm, and $69-75 for a private room, the price is right.

At hotel price, but still relatively reasonable is Good Hotel. It’s a new addition to the City by the Bay, and a new premise to the hotel world–it’s been billed as “the first hotel with a conscience.” What does that mean? Their decor is made of recycled goods, amenities are made of sustainable materials, and the hotel can link guests with philanthropic “voluntouring” events while they’re in town. Prices seem to range from $76–230, but they’re offering a winter sale right now–20% off a 3-night stay through March 5, 2009.

What to see: There’s only one reason to head toward Fisherman’s Wharf–to take the ferry to Alcatraz. The infamous jail-island is one landmark that lives up to its reputation. Self-guided audio tours lead you through the prison cells (and back in time) with stories of inmates like Al “Scarface” Capone and the “Birdman” Robert Stroud. As an extra bonus to the $26 cost, the ferry ride also makes for excellent bridge- and skyline-viewing.

Don’t let the hills fool you–San Francisco is a walkable city. If you’re up for an urban hike, you can join a free walking tour by San Francisco City Guides, or embark on your own. Choose the natural setting of Golden Gate Park, or ramble through any of the neighborhoods for distinctly different walks. A walk through North Beach (the Italian district) could include everything from perusing poetry at City Lights Bookstore and taking a cappuccino at Caffe Trieste to watching the wild parrots circle overhead at Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill. See what sights, sounds, or people pull your interest to linger or change your plans. At the very worst, hop on a cable car or one of the vintage street cars to bring you back where you started.

Who says all of the good things have a big price tag? The Saturday farmer’s market at the Ferry Building is as bustling as any other event in the city, and it’s ripe with the season’s best produce–grown on local, organic farms. Sampling is encouraged!

Just as exhibitions rotate in and out of the city’s museums, so do free days. Once a month, the admission fee is waived for many of the city’s art and cultural museums. That means the first Tuesday of every month at the de Young, which greets you in the entry courtyard with an Andy Goldsworthy sculptural installation. Then again, you can always enter the observation tower for free–you’ll get a great 360° birdseye view of the city. Or else, be one of the first to visit the new California Academy of Sciences, which reopened in September 2008 and features a four-story rainforest, planetarium, and a living roof that grows native plants. Stop by on the museum’s free day–the third Wednesday of every month.

If you find yourself needing to indulge a bit after all of the walking and skimping, consider Kabuki Springs and Spa for a relatively cheap afternoon ($22-25) at the communal bath and sauna, Japanese style. Just be sure to check the calendar before you go: the baths are designated solely to men or women on alternating days, and Tuesday is the only co-ed day. Or for a big (in all ways: hats, costumes, voices, fun) San Francisco experience, splurge on a ticket to Beach Blanket Babylon, a music review that spoofs the latest in pop culture–now in its 34th year.

Photo of the Day (11.30.08)

Flickr user jrodmanjr titled this image of San Francisco’s famous prison “Escape from Alcatraz.” I happen to like the play on words, almost as much as I like the perspective of this shot. Any time you’re taking a photo of a famous landmark, it’s fun to try framing it with some nearby objects to add some additional depth and personality. In this case, the chain link fence adds a playful, geometric aspect to the shot, forcing you to give it a second look. Well done!

Do you have any panoramic photos from San Francisco? Or maybe some candid shots from Sweden? Why not share them with our readers at Gadling by adding them to our pool on Flickr? We might just choose one as our Photo of the Day.