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Sacramento, California, USA: Moving Capitol
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Very few States in the world would have its Capital City move from place to place. Well, the Capital City of California State moved from Monterey to San Jose to Vallejo to Benicia to Sacramento to San Francisco and finally back again in Sacramento in 1874.
I had business conference to attend in Sacramento. I arrived a day earlier and checked in at Hotel Hyatt at Capitol Park. As the address suggests, the hotel is just across the road of the Capitol Building. California Tourism had planed the day for us.
Our first stop was a visit to Capitol Building. Just so you know the Capitol Building is open to all visitors. In fact, it has a tour office that organize tours every single day of the year save for the 3 holidays - Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year. After passing through security (cameras are welcome) we assembled under the Capitol dome - a huge piece of art that made the building famous. Marble statues and elaborate hand paintings adore the floor and the walls. The first (called ground in many countries) floor preserves the very early offices of the Governor and other officials. The second floor has series of exhibits that examine the history and recognizes the contribution of legislature, people and events that shaped the society.
The third floor has the Assembly and Senate Chambers. On Mondays and Thursdays, visitors are allowed to view the proceedings from the galleries above. We then quickly moved towards the East wing which houses the office of the Governor on the first floor. At the time of my visit Arnold Schwarzenegger was the Governor of California. Given his popularity, it was only natural to be excited to be visiting his office. Obviously, you can't walk in. The best you can do is take your picture outside his office where standing proud is a security guard and a bear made from solid brass. The security guard is in flesh and blood of course. He doesn't smile though.
There's no Governor's residence in Sacramento. This Governor flies in his private jet, parks in his private hanger and drives to office in a black Hummer. A private lift takes the Governor directly into his office. He usually returns back to his home town the same evening, unless there's the need for him to stay back, in which case he resides at the Hyatt - where I was staying! I am told very few people in Sacramento had the opportunity to see the Governor in person. Anyways.
On our way out we took a quick and partial round of the sprawling greens that surrounds the building. Designed in the 19th century as a Victorian garden, Capitol Park holds 40 acres of trees and plants from around the world apart from a Vietnam War Memorial; Rose Garden; Cactus Garden; Veterans' Memorial; Trout Pond; Memorial Grove; Father Serra Memorial and Firefighter's Memorial.
Our next stop was Old Sacramento State Historic Park. Just a 10-minute drive from downtown Sacramento. The fascinating history of Old Sacramento begins with the California Gold Rush.
Originally part of the New Helvetia land grant of Captain John Sutter, Sacramento sits at the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers. The commercial centre of the California Gold Rush, it became a crossroads of transportation, connected by steam boats to San Francisco. However, the centre of the commercial district gradually moved east, and the Sacramento riverfront became a slum. In the mid-1960s, a redevelopment plan took shape. Today, with 53 historic commercial structures sited on 28 acres, Old Sacramento is a National Historic Landmark.
In Old Sacramento stands the Railroad Museum - a must see by all visitors, young and old. The museum is the second largest visited railroad museum in the world attracting millions of visitors every year. The first, I am told is the railroad museum in York, UK.
The 100,000 square foot main exhibition facility divides itself in 6 sections - one each devoted to Transcontinental Railroad; Making America; Railroad Life; Travel by Train; American Icons and Small Wonders (toy trains).
On weekends, visitor have the option to take a train ride, in Victorian style coaches, on a 3-mile route along the Sacramento River. Being privileged guests, a special ride was organized for us. It was a fun 30-minute ride complete with enactments by actors dressed in period costumes posing as sheriffs, marshals and robbers.
It was lunchtime by now. We were invited by Hornblower Cruises to join them for a champagne and lunch river cruise. Onboard were excellent crew and staff; delicious cuisine and a enthusiastic Jazz player. We sailed for about 2 hours and disembarked about 5 miles downstream at the jetty of Hotel Le Rivage. This is an excellent hotel by the river that's only about 20 minutes away from downtown Sacramento. Visitors to the city, on business or leisure, can look forward to a comfortable stay in one of the plush rooms with a balcony.
After inspecting the hotel, we hopped on our bus that took us on a 10 mile ride to Old Sugar Mill - now a home for a group of family owned wineries. It's a good concept. Since family owned wineries have limited marketing budgets, a group of them come together to share a large premise. Collectively, they hold wine tasting and other festivals. On premises they also offer their venues for private parties. It must be good getting married with wine casks as a backdrop! That afternoon, we were the guests of Carvalho Family Winery. I am not a wine connoisseur, but I did enjoy looking at other folks rolling their tongues and shaking their heads.
The evening's dinner was hosted at the Railroad Museum. A number of wine makers and Sacramento's fine restaurants had their booths dishing out some fabulous stuff. For desserts we walked up to the river to board Delta King Hotel - a floating hotel. It just floats, doesn't move. It can't because the engine has been removed to make way for a theatre! Delta King Hotel, a beautifully restored riverboat is a quite a popular place for staying and dining. It has 44 staterooms, a fine restaurant, conference rooms and like I mentioned before, a 115-seat theatre. The fun was over. Beginning tomorrow, it would be serious business on hand.
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