Delving into the depths of eerie Alcatraz
THE first things to greet you as you step onto "The Rock" is the chill coming off the San Francisco Bay and the howl of the icy wind that tears through your last-minute purchased souvenir jumper, while the seagulls squawk and circle overhead like it's their way of welcoming you to the now abandoned US penitentiary.
It's very little wonder famous inmate, Alphonse "Scarface" Capone, coined the famous words "Alcatraz has got me licked".
With nothing but 2.4km of hazardous ocean separating the city from the place where some of the country's biggest trouble-makers were sent, it doesn't take very long to put yourself into the isolating shoes of these history-making crooks.
Of course, the island didn't always serve as a prison, but perhaps it is the curiosity that lies around the years of 1934-1963 that makes The Rock one of the most visited US historic landmarks today.
And myself and partner, Rob, were lucky enough to be visitors - or maybe prisoners - for one very memorable day.
The National Park Service has done a terrific job of preserving the prison and keeping the place as very close to how it was the day it was closed by then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy on March 21, 1963.
Even the menu board in the cafeteria still displays what was the "last supper" served to inmates before they were led away in shackles to the waiting boats that ferried them back to civilisation.
Upon arrival, you are given a set of headphones to begin an audio tour of the island, with the voices of former inmates taking you through the eerie corridors and rooms that they once walked themselves, sharing their experience and tales of some of Alcatraz's ultimate, and foiled, escapes.
I can't remember whose voice it was, but I won't forget one former prisoner explaining how lucky you were considered to be if you were incarcerated in a cell that captured the warm rays of the setting sun.
Judging by how cold it is inside the place I can very well understand why.
He then went on to explain how New Year's Eve was one of the most exciting times for the prisoners - not because they were allowed to party their way into the new year, but because it was one of the very few times the sound of fireworks and laughter carried from the mainland across the Bay straight into their cells.
It was a reminder that there was still a free world that existed beyond the confinement of the prison.
The Alcatraz experience was definitely one of the highlights of our three-week holiday in America - along with the oh so Grand Canyon.
No matter how many photos, documentaries or stories you hear of its grandeur, I don't believe you can truly appreciate the canyon unless you see it with your own eyes.
The weight of the world seems to slip away when you stand on the rim and look out over one of the seven wonders of the world.
Seeing the dawn break over the canyon while the moon was still perched high in the sky, determined not to let the sun steal the show, was simply breathtaking.
And the Colorado River, responsible for carving the Grand Canyon more than 17 billion years ago, seemed like a small trickle of water from our viewpoint above.
But the best way to take in the size of this incredible place is definitely from the air.
We took a 45-minute helicopter ride into the canyon and, once you convince yourself you aren't going to plummet to your death, you quickly realise there aren't too many things that compare.
To have ticked off both these experiences from the bucket list at 25 years old, I feel pretty lucky.