Sunday, 30 August 2009

Lake Tahoe, August 29-30, 2009

We decided to drive to Lake Tahoe for the weekend, improving on our performance last year when we didn't take advantage of our location to explore more of California and nearby states.

We drove our landlady Julie's Prius (for which we pay at 3 miles to the dollar ), and to our surprise, found a Garmin GPS in the console. Nothing could be more convenient than using the car at the house, but so far I haven't enquired with ZipCars and City Car Share to see if these options would be cheaper, so I must do some research before we take another weekend car trip. Within 3 blocks of our house there are reserved spots for both Zip and City Car Share cars, so either would be highly feasible.

The route to Lake Tahoe from here, according to directions we printed in advance from Google Maps, seemed incredibly simple. Barry proceeded to programme the GPS but when we got to the first highway change, the GPS told us to go a different way entirely. What it was telling us made no sense whatever, but as Barry was driving he thought he'd better follow instructions. I am totally useless as a navigator, and once I diverge from a set path I rarely have the faintest idea how to get back on track. But once he determined that we were being directed somewhere other than he had intended, Barry realised he had set up the wrong destination. While we were stopped in a parking lot near the freeway exit we had taken, he set up the right end address (with some assistance from me, as he couldn't find the space character on the keyboard) and lo and behold, the GPS got us back on track with only half an hour's wasted time. But as it was Friday afternoon when we left (after Barry's class) we encountered very heavy traffic from rush hour as well as road works, so instead of the 3 1/4 hours it took us coming home on Sunday, the trip there took us 5 hours. Additionally, I discovered that I get just as confused looking at the GPS screen when going around loops and doing turns as I do in the real world. If I persevere, at the end of this 5 months I should at least be able to make a decision as to whether in fact a GPS would help me find my way in the world!

The hotel room Barry had booked on the Web was a suite with a full kitchen, though we didn't use it except to make tea. There was a fireplace and all the furniture was, as advertised, "rustic" and this included the wardrobe unit also housing the (rustic) TV a very quaint toilet roll holder!

We wandered about after we got in around 7.30 on Friday night, getting a feel for the place while we looked for a nice place for dinner - a pity it was too late to really see how beautiful it is . But it did seem a very prosperous resort town. It does more business in the ski season, but is a year-round resort with boating, para sailing, water skiing etc on the Lake as well as hiking. This may explain the rather strange logo of our resort, which seems to be a St Bernard, complete with brandy flask, but also wearing Hawaiian shorts! The state line runs across the main street, with Casinos on the Nevada side, more renowned for the shows than the gambling. We didn't even have a look at either of the big two - we are saving ourselves for a weekend in Las Vegas, if we get around to it.

We ended up eating in the restaurant of one of the hotels, but ate inside as it was starting to get a bit cool to be at an outside table. I had a conversation with the waiter about the Caprese salad I ordered, which featured almost flavourless Roma tomatoes- at this time of year, spoilt as I have been here in Berkeley by the heirloom varieties and the specialist stores where I buy my produce, I was expecting something a lot more tasty. There was no fruit offered for dessert but fresh fruit of various types seemed to come with many of the richer desserts, so I asked the waiter if the quality of the fruit was better than the tomatoes, in which case could they make me a fruit platter (but if it was not, then no thank you). He went away and returned with a large plate of fruit of passable ripeness, flavour and variety, but though of higher quality than the tomatoes, it was not very special. But he had tried very hard, and I have a weakness for raspberries, of which there were enough to lift the standard a bit. I really should have learned by now that it is safest to order a steak in most places in America, and not to fool around with fancy stuff except in gourmet enclaves.

On Saturday morning we wandered down to the gorgeous lake, ogling the mountains all around, had brunch on the shore and checked out the beach. We then drove through town back to the tourist information center but were a bit disappointed with the attitude of the young man who answered our questions - he seemed not to be too enthusiastic about any of the activities on offer. This is very atypical of people working in tourism in the US. But the people selling tickets for the various attractions had a lot more to say about how to best take advantage of them. We took the gondola ride up the mountain: it is the longest such ride we have ever been on, it apparently takes you 2 miles up the mountain, with one stop for sightseeing on the way up. I have posted all the photos we took (Barry commandeered the camera for some shots) on Flickr, where you can whiz through a slide show if you are interested. It is a long time since I used Flickr and I had forgotten it unfortunately posts photos in reverse order, so it will show you the shots from our sunset cruise before the shots from the top of the mountain down, before the shots on the way up. I will have to download one of the utilities they have which might make it easier to post the shots in the order they happened!

We zoomed up the mountain on the gondola (a view of the gondola's path up the mountain and the chairlift itself are pictured above), got off at the first stop to take some photos and check out the views, then got on the next stage. At the end of the second stage, itself a local summit, there is a cafe and a bar and various other lifts. The Tamarack Express is a chairlift which takes skiers, and the summer tourists, up to the top of the mountain, and at the level it starts from you can also take the Zip Flyer down again, which is basically like a flying fox: a soft canvas seat with safety harnesses that you buckle into and go whizzing back down - two at a time; they seem to go very fast and it is de rigeur to shriek, whoop or holler as you go. Way too scary for us! At this level you are close to 10,000ft high - you certainly notice the oxygen deficit when climbing uphill. We went for a pretty short hike along a ski trail. They do all the maintenance of the ski runs and equipment in summer, and keep hikers to the paths. There are dire warnings not to feed the rodents, as they may carry bubonic plague (I just was reading "The Shifting Tide", an Anne Perry novel set in Victorian London featuring the plague, and my book club only recently finished Geraldine Brooks's "The Year of Wonders", so I didn't have to be told twice!) I was impressed by the huge granite boulders and the fallen (mostly felled) trees littering the slopes: our companions on the chair lift reckoned this helps hold the snow in place in winter.

After enjoying the gorgeous views all the way down, about 20 minutes without a stop, we went in search of an ice cream. The place we chose was certainly an eye-opener. I had the kiddie cone, which was a hefty single scoop in a sugar cone, and very nice too. But most people were ordering the "like it" size, which seemed to be about 3 scoops of ice cream, mixed up on a marble slab with fruit, nuts, candy of various sorts, maybe whipped cream, and syrups and piled into a sugar cone basket, optionally dipped in chocolate and with crushed nuts or sprinkles. This size was the most popular, even quite small children were getting them, but the next size up, the "love it" was moving out the door too. It would feed a small nation state. I won't mention the obesity epidemic...

By the time they had made up Barry's "like it" I had almost finished my coffee kiddie cone, so I had to help him out by eating a couple of chunks of his choc-dipped basket and a taster of his ice-cream, which seemed incredibly sweet. I was having a bit of trouble with my back after the long drive on Friday and the various activities so far, and hoped a swim and a spa might be therapeutic. So we returned to the hotel, continuing to ogle the passing parade and the shops (one, called "Up Shirt Creek", had fibreglass versions of the Blues Brothers and Betty Boop out front, but they weren't enough to get me into the shop) as we walked .

The pool was pleasant but it was too warm - a bit like swimming in chicken soup, I thought - with a couple of spas, in the shade at this time of day. Barry enjoyed sitting in the spa and got into a conversation with an IT guy who works for the State in Santa Cruz, who had taken a long weekend break to take advantage of his compulsory Friday furlough (the state has imposed this form of unpaid leave on public employees to save some money, though I heard an interview on PBS this morning which seemed to suggest it actually costs more than it saves , as it defers revenue collections, delays trials and judgments and has other unintended consequences on federally funded programmes).

(I am really peeved: I have just lost a whole lot of text I had posted, probably because I inadvertently deleted it while trying to paste in a link to the Wikipedia entry about Lake Tahoe. I have got out of the blogging habit and will have to recreate this last half hour's work! But I have also lost a bunch of changes I had made and seem to be back to a much earlier version of this post, the first draft I started from. Extremely mysterious, as it tells me it is autosaving as we go, but there is no arguing with a computer, you may have noticed! )

After this swim/spa/rest time, we decided to take the sunset boat tour on the Lake to Emerald Bay. The dock was a lot further than we had thought so we only got there just as it was due to set off, but did mange to catch it. Lake Tahoe was formed by seismic shifts and slips, and after successive shifts which have changed its water level dramatically over time it is left with just one river (the Truckee) draining it (and this not to the sea but to another lake. You can check out the geology here :

Emerald Bay, on the west side of the lake, was formed much more recently by a glacier . The colour of the water is much greener than Lake Tahoe partly because of its depth, and also because of minerals brought down the hillsides by the waterfalls which feed it. The glacier carved out its typical V-shaped trench and shifted a lot of granite, leaving an island on which there is a ruined tea house (look carefully in the photo above) which belonged to the owner of a grand mansion at the end of the bay called Vikingsholm Castle (see below in its cliff-base setting). It was built in Scandinavian fashion by a very rich woman who commissioned architects and craftsmen during the Great Depression and supported them and their families well, rather than exploiting them. She wanted to furnish it appropriately but the various Scandinavian governments wouldn't allow her to plunder their national treasures, but with enough donations she was able to have her craftsmen study the classic pieces in the national museums and copy enough design documents that they could replicate them back at Lake Tahoe. She would not allow any trees on the property to be cleared so the house was built around the large trees already there, though she did use local timber and granite for all the construction. Several owners later, the State of California managed to convince the owners to donate the property , and they also recovered a great deal of the original furniture which had been dispersed and reinstate it, in accordance with the many photos that existed from the original owner's era.

I gather the tea house perched atop the granite island in the Bay was only used half a dozen times. With no access except by water , no permanent staff and no supply of water and electricity, everything including the kitchen sink - staff, supplies, fuel, silver, china, and all the food an drink had to be brought in and carted by hand up the steep hillside. And as she loved blueberries these were brought in from somewhere like Vermont for the occasion...ah, we don't do tea parties like this any more!

Our cruise included drinks and copious nibbles, billed as hot and cold hors d''oeuvres, but the sunset (like the food) was not very interesting. I'd expected the colour to be more spectacular because there was a bit of smoke about from the wildfires (local name for bush fires) around California. But it was very nice to be out on the water or down below warming up in the very cozy sitting rooms and chatting with people we'd met on board.

We went back to the hotel for cups of tea and read novels and watched a bit of TV, then on Sunday morning I headed down to the lake again. On the way my glasses came apart: I retrieved the lens but had to go back to the hotel front desk to beg some sticky tape for a temporary repair. Then went back to the lake, somewhat more gingerly, and went for a 45-minute walk along the shore , dodging under individual jetties. Just beyond the public beach the really nice lake front houses began, with lots of nice toys like boats and jet skis in the water, and I kept walking till I saw a pretty amazing looking place full of angles and wood and glass which I subsequently figured out must be the club house for a lake front golf course. Very spiffy indeed. By this time a considerable breeze had sprung up and though I was game for a paddle, the water was a bit too cold for a swim. Oddly, though the lake was pretty choppy, the sand was not being whipped up by the wind into my eyes or even against my legs - it was quite coarse particles
and maybe a bit damp.

I decided to go back to the hotel for a swim in the pool instead. Then we utilised our late check-out, went to a supermarket and found a temporary glasses repair kit for the grand sum of $2.99, and went to a local place recommended for brunch, where as soon as we entered, the screw on the other arm of my glasses also fell out. I left the sticky tape on the arm where it was, as it seemed reasonably secure at least till we got home, and Barry mended the other arm of the glasses with the tiny screw using the tiny screwdriver and the tiny magnifying glass in the kit. Then I could read the menu and order brunch, which was very welcome by then.

We drove back without incident, utilising the "go home" feature that Barry found on the GPS. Once we hit the familiar outskirts of Berkeley I ignored its directions and chose my own route back without getting lost at all. As we approached Berkeley, fog was descending from the hills - it had been gloriously sunny on the road till then. The neighbours upstairs had been taking care of the cat, and she did seem quite pleased to see us when we got in, though it is a bit hard to tell with a cat as skittish as Chiquita. I actually started on my blog post the very next day, but it is hard to make time and space: Barry has totally occupied the study and says I am not allowed to share the desk, so I need to use the kitchen table, which is not so convenient. Have I mentioned we don't have a dining room table? There is a table on the deck we could bring in for a dinner party, but the dining room is in fact currently furnished as a second sitting room. There is an octagonal table being used as a side table in the main sitting room, and maybe I will bring it into the dining room and set up my computer there - but the wireless signal may not be strong enough. I will experiment while Barry is away at his conference in Bilbao next week. That is space - and time feels a bit short as I have resumed activities including 4 exerise classes a week, hopefully 2 swims, Spanish conversation groups weekly (every second week including a pot luck supper and some reading to prepare), and just got started again with the East Bay Jewish Folk Chorus. The choir is performing at the Solano Stroll, which I wrote about last year - this year's is happeoing a week from tomorrow, Sunday September 13, and I need to master the music before then. There are 6 songs, 5 of which are new to me (though I know the tunes , but not the alto parts, of a couple of them). I have the music on the iPod and the computer and the sheet music with words on paper, so I need to practice lots. So I am off to do some listening and singing now.

1 comment:

Sue Catmint said...

Wow - last night I saw Stephen Fry in America and I decided I really wanted to check out the majestic nature of north America. The next day I see and hear about Lake Tahoe in your blog - is this a sign?????????