Jen, Lily, and I returned from out vacation mere hours ago. Vacations are great but it is always nice to come home. Well, maybe not if you usually vacation in someplace really exotic, like say, Phoenix. But if you are among the common folk of this great nation and can’t afford to travel to a place quite as lavish as Phoenix, then its usually nice to come home, if for no other reason then your own bed is usually the most comfortable. Unless you’re me and you’ve been sleeping in a double bed for the past eight years which at any given time may contain three humans and one very hairy dog. And besides, it might not be Phoenix, but Sacramento is pretty freaking great.
Yes, we vacationed in Sacramento. I can’t tell you how odd I felt or describe some of the looks I got telling people that when they asked me where I was going on vacation. No, it isn’t your prototypical vacation destination, but it wasn’t too far away, it wasn’t expensive, and it has a lot of stuff Jen and I like, ok? There’s lots of history, like Sutter’s Fort and Leland Stanford’s mansion, there’s the state capitol, there’s Old Sacramento and the Railroad Museum…ok, maybe it does sound more like a 4thgrade field trip than a vacation, I’ll give you that. But you know what? We enjoyed ourselves dagnabit! Well, most of the time.
Our trip to Das Kapital began on Wednesday. We drove the hour and a half to Sacramento without incident, however finding our hotel was more adventurous then was expected or appreciated. You’d think in this day and age of Google maps, mobile phone GPS, and in-car navigation systems it would be impossible to get lost, but somehow or another I’m still able to overcome technology with alarming regularity. In my defense I don’t have an mobile phone GPSor in-car navigation, other than Jen with a map (for you young kids out there a map is like a Tom-Tom only on a big piece of paper and for you older folks a Tom-Tom is like a map inside a mini TV thingy that sits on your dashboard). I did have a print out of the directions from Googlebut unfortunately that didn’t take into account the Fix I-5 initiative and the many closed on/off ramps and detours. Couple this with Sacramento’s infernal insistence on making virtually every street one way and you can imagine our difficulty. Jen did a fine job as navigator using the downtown map in the visitor’s guide the city was kind enough to send us ahead of our trip and we finally reached our destination. Unfortunately we came by way of the local homeless shelter which was not as far from our hotel as one would hope and Jen immediately assumed we were to be staying in the slums. Our walk to our room at the hotel did nothing to assuage her concern. The front side of the hotel, a Ramada Limited, looked decent enough, but as we turned the corner to go down the hall on the backside to our room, the corridor resembled something out of a prison movie. It was dark, narrow, and hot witha concrete floor and that ominous prison hallway echo. I opened our room door with some trepidation. Fortunately, this is where the similarities to a penal institution ended. The room was nice enough and even included a small refrigerator. It wasn’t the Ritz, but it wasn’t San Quentin either. For better or worse, it was about what I expected and we were quite comfortable the whole trip. After making the several trips to the car to get our many bags, I realized that the prison corridor feel was the result of a somewhat hastily built outside wall of what was once probably an open balcony walkway. I’m guessing this was done to deaden the sound of the traffic from the freeway which was directly behind our hotel. And that’s a real nice feature.
A quick note on our luggage. There are three of us. Two adults and one baby. Three human people. Twelve bags. Thirteen if you include the Pac ‘n Play and fourteen if you count Lily’s booster chair as a bag. Now, Jen has never been one to under pack, but this is a lot even by her standards. If it was just Jen and me we could’ve gotten by on less than half that (hopefully). One tiny person extra and we’re like the Israelites fleeing Egypt. Babies, man!
I won’t bore you withan hour by hour recounting of our days, but I will bore you with a general overview. Wednesday night we didn’t do much, just went out to eat, figure out how to navigate the city–which once you do figure it out is pretty easy to get around in–and walked around a mall. We spent Thursday in Old Sacramento, which looks like Sactoprobably looked in the mid-1800’s. There’s lots of shops and restaurants, wooden boardwalks and museums and its right on the riverfront. We spent time in the California State Railroad Museum and the California Military Museum and just walked around window shopping and trying our best to stay in the shade and cool. Warning for the many others who I’m sure are planning summer vacations to Sacramento, it gets very hot. So hot in fact that we ended our day witha dip in the hotel pool. This was Lily’s first experience with a swimming pool, and while she was skeptical at first she eventually took to it and enjoyed it I think. That was a fun little baby moment.
Friday we went to the California State Capitol which, in addition to being the seat of state government, is also a functioning museum. And its free! We didn’t see Ahnold, but we did see where his office was. Jen kept insisting that we were allowed to go in and see it and kept bugging me to ask the two guards posted at the entrance if we could go in. In my mind something being guarded is usually a clue that its a no-no, but whatever. I refused to ask and we moved on. We walked down the Capital Mall, saw some of the monuments that are there, the Peace Officers Memorial, the Firefighters Memorial, and the California Veterans Memorial, and enjoyed the scenic park the best we could in 90+ degree heat. We ended up at Leland Stanford’s mansion and tooka tour of it which was pretty interesting. After that we went back to the hotel for a couple hours before meeting up with some friends who live in the area for dinner at a great Italian restaurant called Paesonos. Of course I got the dish that included copious amounts of sausage; my second such meal of the trip.
After checking out of our hotel Saturday and before heading home we had a couple more things we wanted to do. The first was to see Sutter’s Fort which is smack dab in the middle of town. We happened to be there on a demonstration day so there were all kinds of folks in period costumes doing things like weaving wool into yarn, making blankets on big looms (is that what you do on a loom, I’m not really clear on that), baking, cleaning rifles, and all kinds of other activities that would have gone on when the fort was functioning. As a history geek, I really get in to this kind of stuff and being a teacher, Jen does too. Plus she also likes history, so we totally geek out on our little nerd vacations. John Sutter was a pretty interesting guy, and while I won’t bore you with his story here and now, I might bore you with it later when I have some time to read up on him a little more. But I’ll probably save that for Past Tense so I don’t lose any of my loyal Life of Ando readers who are too thick to enjoy a good history lesson. Whoops, guess I shouldn’t insult them either. I meant thick in a good way, like, uh, muscular. Yeah, muscular, that’s the ticket. Let’s move on.
The last activity of our trip was a ride on the Southern Pacific Railroad steam locomotive. Or as Jen and I will forever after affectionately call it, the Locomotive from Hell. Honestly, I’m sure most of the time it’s a very enjoyable ride, but not when you feel like your being scalded by 1000 hair dryers pointed directly at your face. And they’re all on high. Throw in a melting, screaming baby and you’ve got all the elements for the family vacation experience of a lifetime! They said it was only forty minutes, but it felt more like four excruciating, blistering hours. It wasn’t at all the trains fault, it was just so hot and the side of the open gondola car we were in was about three feet from the surface of the sun. It was so hot in fact there may have been twin suns, like on Tatooine. Once we got moving the temperature went from blood boiling to merely blood simmering, but sitting there waiting for everyone to board was akin to being burned alive. I’m just sure of it. We had planned to head for home after that anyway, but the anticipation of sitting for the next two hours in a gloriously air conditioned car sealed the deal and trumped all other potential photo ops. I’m only partially sorry for this, as there was one or two more pictures I would’ve like to take, but in the interest of survival, both physical and marital, I think I made the right decision in foregoing those.
Other than the Train to Perdition episode, Lily was her usual angelic self. She was good in restaurants, cooperative in museums, and pleasent at the hotel. The only real complaint was that she had recently discovered that she can scream at an unearthly high pitch and volume and we were concerned our hotel neighbors may not appreciate it. Mostly because I didn’t appreciate it. Other than that, she did darn well for a six month old who’s parents were dragging her all over the city in oppressive heat.
Now, I will recommend Sacramento as a destination, but witha caveat. If you like historical stuff its great. There’s a ton there, a lot of which we still didn’t see, and a good deal of it is free or at least pretty cheap. The city itself is nice, withtree lined streets and some very cool neighborhoods with big, old, nice houses. We ate at several good restaurants and there were more that we wanted to try. But, if you’re looking for nightlife or sun and sand for your summer vacation, there are probably better places. OK, there are definitely better places. But we enjoyed ourselves and actually plan on going back in October. Hey! Its for business, Jen has a conference there. What do you think we are, dork vacationers? OK, you’re right.
For some pictures of this exotic locale, click the Photos tab above.