A February 2001 trip
to Sacramento by Cheryl Morgan
Quote: Although few people seem to know it, Sacramento is the state capital of California. 150 years ago, it and the neighbouring city of Folsom were central to business life in the Golden State. In so much as California has history, it is here.
Hotel | "Marriott Courtyard Hotel"
"One never sees Summer-clothing or mosquitoes in San Francisco--but they can be found in Sacramento. Not always and unvaryingly, but about one hundred and forty-three months out of twelve years, perhaps." - Mark Twain (Roughing It).
There is a little artistic licence in that. Either that or Kevin and I have been very unlucky. On this trip there was a particularly nasty storm passing through and as a consequence some of my photos are rather dull. I will try to replace them when I go back on more normal weekends.
But to get back to the hotel, the Courtyard encapsulates everything I think is good about American hotels. It is relatively cheap, the rooms are large, clean and comfortable, they charge by the room, not by the person, and you are not charged for a breakfast you don''t want. Yes, it is quite souless, although the courtyard does add a bit of charm to the building and encourages guests to mingle. Also the air conditioning units can be quite noisy. But I have stayed in quite enough British hotels that have heaps of period charm and in most cases I would happily trade them for some value for money and decent service.
Also on the plus side, the hotel has a gym, a hot tub, and coffee makers in every room. The latter is unusual. Whereas almost every British hotel has a kettle in the room, the inability of the wimpy American electricity system to boil water in any reasonable time period has resulted in most US hotels not providing any in-room drinks. Thank you Marriott, this is a real lifesaver if you don''t have time for breakfast.
Rancho Cordova itself is something of a business ghetto. There are several low-priced hotels on the same intersection as the Courtyard, and many large office blocks. There isn''t much else. What facilities exist on nearby road cater primarily for business customers. Restaurants tend to close at 9:00 pm. If you want an evening meal, send out for a pizza or take the car. You will need to go into central Sacramento, or head for Folsom.
The rate quoted was the AAA discounted rate for that weekend. Room rates vary considerably; check hotel web site for more details.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on February 22, 2001
Courtyard Hotel Sacramento Rancho Cordova
10683 White Rock Road
Rancho Cordova, California 95670
Restaurant | "California Fat's"
When Lina took over the restaurant it was called China Camp, served standard Chinese food and was modelled on a mine. You can still see that influence in the profusion of bare timber. But Lina recruited Los Angeles designer Anthony Machado to create an atmosphere of Chinese-American fusion with a message of hope for the future. The basic theme is taken from Chinese temples with a colour scheme of jade, fuschia and royal blue. The centrepiece is splendid water sculpture flowing over the message, "peace". If you don't like the sound of falling water it may be a bit annoying, but I love it.
The fusion theme is carried through to the menu as well, with the Chinese influence blended with American, Mexican and Italian themes. This leads to dishes such as Peking Duck and Shitake mushroom pizza, or roast salmon on a bed of noodles.
I would recommend trying the combination starter (probably one between two) as this gives an excellent introduction to the range of flavours. I particularly like the tequila lime beef. For main course Kevin had the day's special, Chilean sea bass, and I had stir-fried shrimp and mushrooms. Sadly the ostrich was not available. We were far too full afterwards to try the dessert.
The only trouble is that we like this place so much that we have not yet investigated any of the 19 other restaurants in Old Sacramento.
1015 Front St
Sacramento, California 95814
+1 916 441 7966
Restaurant | "Marriott Courtyard Hotel"
Alongside the traditional American fried breakfast it offers a range of pastries (croissants, chocolate eclairs!) and a make-your-own waffle bar. This is a sure way to cholesterol overdose, but it is deliciously sinful. Even more temptingly, it is on an all-you-can-eat tariff, so you keep feeling obliged to have just a little more.
For those of you who are serious about sensible eating and don't feel that a session in the hotel gym later in the day will excuse a binge, they do offer fresh fruit and yoghurt as well. Or, if you really want, you can have both.
OK, enough of that, I'm putting on weight just thinking about it. But give me this over the traditional British bacon, sausage and baked beans swimming in grease any day.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on February 22, 2001
Courtyard Marriott by : Rancho Cordova
10683 White Rock Road
Sacramento, California 95670
Umeko in Sacramento has the benefits of being relatively close to our hotel and also of serving standard Chinese dishes for the benefit of Kevin who I am still trying to convince of the merits of raw fish. You can fill up on hot and sour soup followed by fried rice and typical stir-fry dishes rather than sushi if you want. There are also plenty of vegetarian dishes on offer. The lobster sounds very tempting and is nice when you can get it, but they serve it chopped up in the shell and getting the meat out is a major operation.
Another good point to note is the selection of Chinese desserts, comprising mainly exquisite little cakes and biscuits. I find these something of an acquired taste, and plump instead for the ice cream selection with interesting flavours such as mango, lychee, pineapple and coconut, or sesame.
Umeko Japanese Seafood Buffet
8353 Folsom Blvd
We also like their breakfasts. For the most part it is the traditional American fare, but with imaginative twists. We are particularly fond of the Polish sausage and of the "hats off" - mushrooms cooked in red wine and topped with melted Swiss cheese. The burgers are good too.
If I have a complaint it is that the staff are so keen to refill your coffee cup (for free, of course, this is America) that if I'm not careful I will end up with a caffeine-induced headache for the rest of the day. Kevin just pours the stuff back. I don't know how he does it.
The Balcony Cafe
801 ½ Sutter Street
One side of the road is given over to reconstruction of the old Folsom-Sacramento railroad and a history centre. The later was closed on this particular visit which is a shame as it has some interesting stuff from the gold rush days. Recently completed is a splendid reconstruction of the turntable from the old railway. Some rail fans obviously put a lot of care and effort into that.
One wall in the street has been decorated with a mural illustrating the history of the city. Interestingly, pride of place in the picture has been given not to Joseph Folsom who founded the city, but to the railroad pioneer Theodore Judah. Although Folsom was one terminus of the first railroad in California it is sad to note that the city no longer has a railway service. As Folsom is now fast becoming a dormitory suburb of Sacramento a link to that city's light rail service is under development and due to open in December 2003. A light rail link to the Amtrak station in Sacramento is also planned. When both projects are complete, just about every place mentioned in this journal will be accessible by light rail.
For more information about the history of Folsom see this web site and the separate entry on the Pony Express.
Attraction | "Old Sacramento"
Old Sacramento had got to a pretty run down state by the time that someone thought it worthy of preservation and what you see today is a mixture of original buildings and reconstruction based on old photographs. The Wells Fargo building (which still has an ATM to continue its status as a functioning bank) contains a small museum that includes a painting of how the town looked before the coming of the railway. Some of the existing buildings, for example the Eagle Theatre, are easily recognisable.
The roadways of Old Sacramento have been stripped down to the original cobbles, and the historical atmosphere is further enhanced by the availability of rides in horse drawn carriages. I also noticed a man in a splendid Civil War uniform - presumably he worked in the Military Museum. However, the look of the place is marred, even more so than in Folsom, by the tourist shops. Take a look at the shopping entry and you will see what I mean.
For more information see the area's official web site.
Old Sacramento (Old Town)
1101 Second St
Sacramento, California 95814
River cruises are available on the Spirit of Sacramento. Some trips are available in winter but a weekend schedule is only available April through October. The original Spirit was lost to fire in 1996 so the vessel that you can now see is a replacement, originally the Becky Thatcher of Cincinnati. While she might not own the original name, Mistress Becky certainly has spirit. She made her way from the Mississippi to Sacramento, under her own steam, via the Panama Canal, a journey of 8,500 miles. Her sister ship, the Matthew McKinley, is available for private charter. For more information see this web site.
The largest vessel, the Delta King, is a rather different prospect. She worked the Sacramento - San Francisco route from 1927 to 1940. After serving as a troop ship and barracks during WWII she was allowed to become derelict and sank in San Francisco. She was rescued in 1984, towed to Sacramento and renovated. Nowadays she works only as a hotel, restaurant and theatre. The menu looks good and I hope to try it out some day. Kevin has a hankering after staying in the magnificent Captain's Quarters suite, but when we will be able to justify spending $400 a night on a hotel room is another matter. See the Delta King web site for more information.
Also visible from the riverfront are two rather unusual bridges. Because Sacramento used to rely so heavily on river traffic any bridges that were built had to be able to accommodate shipping. This means having some means of getting the bridge out of the way. On one of the bridges the central section can be raised and lowered thanks to chains and pulleys in the supporting towers. The other bridge pivots on its central pier to allow boats to pass. If that isn't clear, take a look at the photos and it should become obvious.
Pride of place at the entrance is given to the Governor Stanford, the locomotive that pulled Central Pacific's first passenger service. By the way, those strange funnels that American locomotives have are spark traps. Early American engines burned wood, not coal, and needed to keep sparks safely inside the furnace. If you see coal being shovelled into such an engine in a movie you will know that Hollywood has goofed again.
My favourite exhibit was the Canadian National sleeping car, St. Hyacinthe. This has been fitted up with sound and motion to give the impression of travelling on a moving train. The museum guide stationed on the car said that this was "to give people who have never been on a train some idea of what it is like". This, of course, is a bizarre notion to us Brits, but apparently vast numbers of Americans have never set foot on a train.
Another imaginative exhibit is the Santa Fe Railroad dining car, which has been used as an excuse to display collections of various china patterns commissioned by railway companies. The museum is certainly trying hard to make itself interesting to people other than rail fans.
Taking steam engines through long tunnels such as those cut through the Sierra Nevada was a dangerous business. One exhibit, Southern Pacific 4294, shows an imaginative solution to the problem. This huge locomotive is built back to front, so that the crew can see clearly ahead while the steam spews out behind them over the carriages. Some 256 of these "cab forward" locomotives were built, but 4294 is the only survivor.
If your brought the kids, and they are getting tired of running over locomotives while dad admires the rolling stock, the upper balcony has a play area well stocked with Brio wooden train sets.
Finally, of course, there is the gift shop. Lots of books, lots of videos, and absolutely masses of Thomas the Tank Engine merchandise. This struck me as highly amusing, because Thomas and his pals are of course British locomotives. Thus, in this cathedral of American railroading, I found good old Duck, resplendent in Great Western Railway green. I think Brunel would have been pleased.
For more details, see the museum web site.
California State Railroad Museum
111 I St
Sacramento, California 95814
+1 916 445 6645
There are more and 80 stores, and they include names such as Donna Karan, Gap, Liz Claiborne, Nike, Van Heusen, Zales and Waterford/Wedgwood. There is also a small food court, because if you are serious about your shopping you could be here for a long time.
A particular favourite of mine is Book Warehouse, which seems to have excellent access to cheap hardcover novels. I have also noticed that Perfumania's discounts normally result in better prices than I can get at the duty free shops in Heathrow. Kevin, being a typical male, buys much of his wardrobe here on the, "I know what I like so I'll get the same thing again and again" principle. We have to drag each other out of the kitchen gadget shops because we don't have room for any more of the darn things, clever though they may be.
Folsom Premium Outlets
Gerhard Nonnemacher is not just any old hairdresser; he is a star of the profession. Years ago he owned the most fashionable salon in San Francisco. He has signed photographs bearing thanks from a range of famous clients including Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond, Mel Brooks, Liberace, Louis Armstrong and, of course, Tony Bennett.
What is more, Gerhard won competitions. In 1963 he achieved first place in the hairdressing world championships in New York. The trophy is very splendid, and he has a number of lesser awards to keep it company.
Gerhard retired years ago and came out to Folsom where land was cheap and living less rushed, but he could not give up cutting hair. So he opened a little salon and does occasional business for local clients, and for people who know him who will travel miles to have their hair cut by one of the very best in the business. The shop is open Monday through Thursday and bookings are recommended (phone 916-988-3453). The current price is $45.
The Razor Cut, 9353 Greenback Lane
The better stores specialise in things like craft goods. There are several shops specialising in Native American wares. Many shops sell antiques from the 19th Century so that you can take your own piece of history home.
Also more or less in keeping with the theme are shops selling locally produced food and drink. Discover California has a fine range of micro-brewed beers and local wines. Be warned, however, that they charge for the advertised wine tastings. If you have been in Old Sacramento on a busy day you will know why. If you are desperate for a drink, the Hogshead brewpub next door will be happy to oblige.
Now things start to get strange. I mean, why is there a Scottish shop in a place devoted to Californian history? Actually it is not really Scottish anymore; it is more pan-Celtic. I was pleased to find a Welsh rugby supporter t-shirt. I also noted that Charlotte Church had made it into the music section despite not being a purveyor of "Celtic music". That was about it for modern Welsh music though: no Catatonia, no Stereophonics, no Manic Street Preachers, not even Jones the Voice or our Shirl.
Then there is Evangeline's. I have seen many a joke/magic/costume shop in my time, but this place is magnificent. There are fabulous 50's skirts, Betty Boop costumes, a chain mail shirt, French Maid outfits and wigs of absolutely any colour you can think of. The shop has a separate "costume mansion" selling what Americans call "renaissance" clothing (basically anything from ancient Egypt to 17th Century). I rather liked the doormat bearing the legend, "wow, nice underwear!" but then I'm sick like that.
And finally, to cap it all, My Best Friend's Bakery, a shop devoted to producing the very finest in baked goods: for dogs. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to crazy California.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on February 22, 2001
Pony Express riders were held to high moral standards to ensure their effectiveness in delivering the mail quickly and efficiently. Their oath of office includes promises not to swear, drink alcohol or fight with other employees. Some versions of the oath I have seen also include prohibitions on gambling and cruelty to animals, though whether these are genuine or simply California's penchant for political correctness reinterpreting history I cannot say.
At Folsom the Pony Express terminus was the Wells Fargo Assay Office. This building, together with buildings on the site of the old stables, has now been converted into a museum. Exhibits cover the Gold Rush, Native Americans and Chinese immigration as well as the Pony Express service itself. You can find the museum web site here.
Even in those days, California was a land of venture capitalists. Judah got his backing from a group of four wealthy businessmen: Leland Stanford (later state governor and university founder), Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins and Collis Huntingdon. They formed the Central Pacific Railroad Company, and on January 8th 1863 work was begun.
The railroad was built mainly on the backs, and over the dead bodies, of Irish and Chinese labourers. The Irish, being white and relatively politically savvy, were occasionally able to insist on decent working conditions, but the Chinese were worked mercilessly and therefore should be given most of the credit for the achievement. Cutting through the Sierras was a phenomenal task, and on some days progress was measured in inches rather than miles. Nevertheless, the project was completed. On May 10th 1869 the Central Pacific met up with the Union Pacific at Promontory Summit in Utah for the formal driving in of the Golden Spike that would anchor the last rail in place.
The Golden Spike ceremony is the most famous event in American railway history. Many photographs exist of the event, showing Stanford and his friends shaking hands with their colleagues from Union Pacific. Only one photograph, by Andrew Russell, shows the hard working Chinese Labourers. The fine painting by Thomas Hill (more famous for his Yosemite landscapes) that hangs in the State Railroad Museum even manages to include one man who was not there, for all that he deserved to be.
Theodore Judah fell out with his backers shortly after construction began. He decided to return home by sea to New York to seek additional funds so that he could buy out his more wealthy colleagues. However, during the crossing of Panama he contracted yellow fever and died.
San Jose, CA