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phoebus - The Amazing Adventures of Sid - Week 2
Lake Tahoe, Sacramento, Napa, San Francisco
Checked out and began drive north along the US-395 towards Reno. Stopped off almost immediately after exiting the June Lake Loop, just before Lee Vining for a spectacular view across the Eastern Sierra and Mono Lake. Continued along the highway for quite some time, eventually entering Nevada and driving through Carson City (the capital) and stopping for gas and lunch. The Eastern Sierras are amazing, almost as mountainous as the Rockies. As soon as I entered Nevada, pretty much the first object I saw, after the state border sign, was a casino. Carson City was fairly largish with lots of casinos and crappy places to stay, although the northern part of the city, where the Capitol building was, was actually quite nice with lots of grassy areas and nice hotels (somewhere nice for the parliamentarians to stay I guess). Reno was not quite so nice, in fact it seemed from what I've heard of Las Vegas to be a smaller and dodgier version and having driven through most of it (which took all of five minutes) I decided to give it a miss and continue out on I-80 and towards Lake Tahoe (in fact the intended destination for the next day). The drive was quite pleasant as it passed through many mountainous areas and forests. I got to Lake Tahoe somewhere along the north-west shore and headed east, passing many excellent-looking small towns which seemed mostly devoted to water sports and skiing (the lake is surrounded by endless ski resorts, it looks like a fantastic place to ski), and there were plenty of water sports going on on the lake itself. Lake Tahoe is huge, roughly the size and dimensions of the Isle of Wight, and deeper than the Isle is high. The water is also very clear; apparently you can see objects as deep as 70 feet in certain places. It's also cut into two by the California-Nevada state line. Most of the shore is private beaches and resorts, although there are plenty of lookout points upon which to stop and admire the view. I drove around the western side of the lake, which took about two hours, via a road called Lakeshore Boulevard which was off the main highway and was obviously the area of the rich since is was all private estates and contained mostly enormous houses and private beaches. Eventually I made my way around the lake to the southern shore and booked into a Best Western hotel in South Lake Tahoe, about 100 yards west of the California-Nevada border. It's quite a strange town; huge casino and hotel complexes can be walked to within minutes on the Nevada side, but on the California side everything is much more subdued and directed towards good, clean fun such as water sports. If you intend to drop litter, make sure you know which side you're on: in California the penalty is $1000 and in Nevada it's $2000. I ate dinner in the Best Western affiliated restaurant (the LewMarNel), which was excellent, and served a superb (especially for America) wine list. I'm not sure if my perceptions were distorted slightly by the 20-year Tawny Port I finished the meal with, but the stars looked in spectacular form on the walk back to the motel room. Anyway, I guess I'll head back towards San Francisco tomorrow; Sacramento looks interesting so I may stop there on the way. Must remember it's Labour weekend next weekend so everything will be closed.

Still no pictures, I'm afraid; I must buy a digital camera.
Left South Lake Tahoe about 11 and drive around the western side of the lake, stopping periodically to admire various views. At one point the road meandered up the side of a large hill and came out on top of a promontory either side of which were lake inlets of emerald green water; quite beautiful. Headed away from the lake on the same road I entered it, state highway 89, and drove up to Truckee. Turned west on I-80 and ended up in Sacramento (or Sac City, as it's called), which turns out to be the state capital (and I always thought it was LA or San Fran). I called ahead from Truckee to book a room in the Best Western Sutter House, four blocks away from the Capitol building. I checked in and went and ate dinner round the corner.
Went for a walk around town today and wandered across a food market selling fresh fruit and various stalls with cooked food (Chinese, Mexican, etc.) Had some Chinese for lunch and wandered down to Old Sacramento. It seemed slightly touristy and full of gimmicks but retained most of the original building and boardwalks from when it was settled in the mid-19th century. Walked back to downtown along Capitol Mall up to the Capitol building, which is quite spectacular and huge. It's also surrounded by some very fine parkland with several memorials located around and about, with hundreds of quite tame ground squirrels running around all over the place. Went to a restaurant/bar for dinner called the Pyramid, which brews its own beer and tried a couple of the local brews. Sacramento is a nice city, somewhere I would definitely visit again as it has a good vibe to it with plenty of places to go and things to see.
Checked out of the hotel and went for a walk into town to get some food. Went to the square where there were loads of stalls selling food yesterday, but I guess they only do it on certain days as it was empty. Ended up buying a sandwich at a café and sitting in the park eating it in the sun, which was nice. Went back to get the car and headed south to the I-80 Business and out of town. I intended to turn off the interstate to go towards Napa, which I managed to do after making a somewhat long (60 mile) figure of 8 before ending back up where I started. Finally I was on the right route and passed through some excellent hills and mountains with the road like a rally track (route 121 - must drive it again some day). Entered Napa and after driving the wrong way for 30 miles, ended up in downtown, which is quite nice and mostly pedestrianised, but insists on following the custom with most American towns older than 20 years by calling itself 'historic' and putting up signs with constant references to it. Found a motel just out of town - the Best Western Inn Napa Valley - and checked in. Time was getting on so I went for dinner in a diner across the road and hit the sack.
Checked out of the motel and decided that it wasn't really worth going back into Napa town as it was mainly local shops and 'historic' places, so I continued south towards San Francisco. Drove the long way around through Sausalito, taking smaller roads, which were somewhat more interesting than the highways. Most of the bay area north of San Fran is marshy land, or in development, so there were lots of big bridges, which was quite cool. Drove in over the Golden Gate and down into downtown. The only hotel I knew how to get to was the Stanford Court that Rich and I stayed in a few days ago, so I decided it would be my first port of call. I saw a lot of other motels on the way, but they were a few miles out of town and didn't actually look that nice or safe. Checked into the Stanford Court (it really is an excellent hotel, but you pay for it - $140 for a night) and went for a wander around town. Walked down to the financial district and back around to the hotel. Ate dinner in the restaurant (which was also excellent) and hit the sack.
Checked out of the hotel and drove two blocks down and round the corner to the Best Western Canterbury Hotel on Sutter Street, between Taylor and Jones. I'd booked ahead the previous night for four nights stay (to take me to the day before the car goes back), as it was somewhat cheaper than the last place - $89 a night. Went out for another wander - walked down Sutter into Union Square (a huge area of shops, restaurants and bars with a large pedestrian square in the middle for everyone to sit) and continued onto Market St. Walked down Market to the Ferry Building and then around the shoreline to Pier 39, one of San Fran's main attractions. By 'main attraction' I mean main tourist area. The pier is quite nice, except for the fifty people per square foot and the vast array of touristy shops, selling Alcatraz, San Fran and fish-related goodies. At the end of the pier you can see all the way around the bay and next to it is another of those areas where the sea-lions commune in their hundreds. Driven on by the noise and smell (they really do smell unpleasant) I continued around the pier to the station where the Sausalito ferry comes in. Noticing a huge quantity of cloud coming over the hills I decided to wander back to the hotel up Powell St. After a couple of minor detours, through the Italian section, finding the bar on Columbus that Rich and I went to (Vesuvio), and going through Chinatown, I made it back in time for dinner. It turned out to have been quite a long walk, taking the best part of four hours, especially on some of the near-45 degree streets (of which there are many), which I was to walk up. I ate at the hotel restaurant, another good place, and hit the sack.

Miles covered so far - 1370.
I didn't do too much today since it's Labour Day weekend and most places are closed. I went for a walk downtown and ended up buying a digital camera for $650 in a shop on Market St. It's great - a Sony camera with 5 mega-pixels. Whilst in the shop a guy was arrested outside for threatening people with a knife, and the twenty minutes later another guy was threatening tourists with a bottle. The police were called again. Welcome to America! Walked back to the hotel and went for dinner. Ended up in a bar for a couple of hours (which was practically empty, as with everywhere else today) and drank and read until going beck to the hotel to sleep.

Pictures will return tomorrow, I promise.
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