Sunday, 28 June 2009

The Golden West

Yesterday was politics, so today was history. Before it got too hot we made our way to Sutter's Fort, an historic military outpost founded before Sacramento.

The place was built by John Sutter, a chancer in every respect, who made his way to the West Coast from Switzerland in 1839 where he grabbed some land, built his fort, got protection from the local Indians, swore allegiance to Mexico, bought a lot of cannons on credit, and set up a sawmill. The waterwheel of his mill churned up the river bed and he discovered gold. The rest is history.

The fort is beautifully preserved and, like all state parks here, manned by incredibly knowledgable guides. Today they were all in period costume and we learned how to trap and skin a beaver and fire a musket. At noon the cannon was fired and Hannah and I decided it was high time to head back to the cooling ocean breezes of the East Bay.

Waiting for the fort to open (in the shade).



John Sutter, the man himself.

Hannah lines up the cannon.

There's more than one way to skin a beaver.

Endangered species.

Microwave, circa. 1839.

A sailor shows us the ropes.

Hannah with the cat'o'nine tails.

Loading the musket.


Stories from the wagon train. They weren't pretty.

Before firing the cannon...

...and after!

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Hot potato

Whenever I get bored of the politics of University Village I'm going to visit Sacramento. Everything is politics here! Store clerks discuss it as they process your credit card, baristas comment on it as they froth your milk, I'm sure the squirrels are campaigning against the signs not to feed them...

And it's still hot. We've holed up in a little air-conditioned coffee shop to wait for darkness, but as the afternoon draws on the temperature just seems to go up!

At least it was cool in the Capitol Building. Dating from the 1860s and totally renovated in the 1970s (when representatives apparently held session wearing hard hats) its designated as a State Park. As such it has an excellent free guide service and we jumped on the 10am tour. Our guide's mum turned out to be a politician and we got an insider's view of the current scandals along with historical facts.

Access to the political process here is incredible. Modelled on the English houses of Commons and Lords (of course!), there isn't a single closed session in either the house of representatives or the senate. The legislature is legally obliged to give you a seat in the gallery for any committee, and there are four television channels so if you can't make it here in person you can sit at home and watch. Go through security and you can wander anywhere within the building (our guide pointed out the leader of the house of representatives, one of the most powerful people in California, as she walked past and said hello), and you don't even need to be a citizen to propose a bill! I'm going to be back here...

After that we sauntered to Old Town (read: tourist trap) and managed to avoid buying anything more extortionate than a few postcards. Thankfully an air-conditioned mall stood between us and our hotel so we lingered there for some long, cool minutes. Now it's time to brave the heat again as we go to find some dinner - Hannah's found somewhere three blocks from where we're sat, so we'll reapply the suncream and load up on electrolyte-rich fluids. Oh, and tomorrow's meant to be hotter.

Strange sculptures on the way down to the Capitol.

Hannah and the rose garden. Possibly a victim of forthcoming budget cuts...? (The plants, not Han).

Waiting for the man.

Guarding the Governor's office.

Up inside the dome.

The seal of California in Tiffany glass. It's not a skylight, but one of the first electric lamps in CA!

I know that guy...

You can have access to the political process, but don't get too excited. This would not go down well in Berkeley.

Hannah dreams of (more) power.

A real Golden Gate Bridge.

An original goldrush inhabitant tips his hat.

Friday, 26 June 2009

State capital punishment

It is HOT out there! Hannah and I thought it might be nice to wander and see a little of Sacramento on our first evening, but although we bathed ourselves in factor 30 we weren't ready for the wall of heat that greeted us as we opened our motel door. There's a reason that Britain is sensibly placed in the North Atlantic.

Despite the crazy weather, Sacramento is a very nice little city. It's all about the government so the Capitol Building sits centrally, surrounded by ministries and consulates. In between are leafy streets, fountains, wide boulevards, and outdoor cafes. One of the parks was hosting a weekly free outdoor concert, and we sat on the grass (in the shade) nursing a cooling Budweiser.

Now we're back in our room, I'm sat in my underpants, and the air conditioning is on full.

Sacramento: surprisingly pleasant.

Oranges, property of the state of California.

The yellow rose of Sacramento.

Arnie already has himself a white house, he doesn't need to go to DC.

Party in the park!

Hannah gets the beers in.

Happy holidays.

Yep, it really is that hot.

But you're never far from home.

Do you know the way to Sacramento?

We don't. Having managed to squeeze a weekend away planned for the beginning of May into the end of June, this morning we couldn't find our train tickets. The house was turned upside down, we checked every place we'd been to the day we bought them, went through the recycling bin...nothing. Luckily Christine saved our sanity by lending us her car (thank you!)

Now here we are in a nice hotel room that has air conditioning. This is important, as temperatures here are forecast to rise above 40C tomorrow. 40C! That's hotter than it's ever got in Britain in recorded human history! I might have to put sandals on (with socks, of course).

Great Britain: not all that toasty.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Three days of the Logan

It's been a while since I've looked after Logan, but his day care has shut for a week and his grandma didn't arrive until today so I've enjoyed some quality time. We've explored the beach, read books on diggers (several times), been shopping, played cricket (almost)...they grow up so fast!

Boys exploring together.

Swinging with it.

What a glorious feeling I'm...happy again!


And just so my other baby doesn't get jealous, here's the latest on not-so-little-any-more Claire:

She's decided to skip that pesky crawling stage. Good luck parents!

Sunday, 21 June 2009

My way, or the Segway

As a commiseration present for dropping from a family of eight with the Hammonds present back to a family of two, my mum bought Hannah and I tickets for a tour of San Segway! What better way to endanger your life and the lives of those around you than on a two-wheeled scooter capable of speeds of ten miles per hour?

Even I didn't anticipate how much fun it could be! I can't comment on whether the tour narration was any good as I was too busy whizzing around the streets of SF, soaking in the sun, the views, and the people saying "wow" and taking pictures of us. Now we're ready for the advanced tour!

Here we are!

Choose your steed.

A Segway in repose.

Hannah is run through basic training...

...and then me.

Signing our lives away.

I managed to pick a happy machine with not too many miles on the clock.

And they're off! (In tight formation).


Two Segways and San Francisco.

Hannah demonstrates her mad skills.

Certificate of participation. I've never felt so proud!