The first morning of our vacation maintained the traditional approach with a walk to the Eagle Cafe on Pier 39 for breakfast. Two Eggs Benedict with fried potatoes, scallions, peppers, melon and orange slices, accompanied by orange juice and unlimited water and coffee, set us up for the impending trip to South Lake Tahoe.
We did not leave the city without an alarming revelation. Having lamented the demise of the Border’s bookstore in Union Square only a few weeks before on this blog, I was horrified that the Fisherman’s Wharf Barnes and Noble bookstore had also gone since our last trip, soon to be replaced by an extension of the adjacent Costplus World Market store. Barnes and Noble had again been a stopping point on our trip to Tahoe. where I invariably bought the books that I would be reading over the next few weeks. I am a great fan of the independent bookstore but the loss of both of the large branches in the city that I enjoyed visiting is a lot to take.
We collected “The Beast”, set the radio to 95.7 The Wolf and left San Francisco at 11.30am, crossing the Bay Bridge on a mild (58 degrees), bright morning. Now, American readers might consider applying a Chevy Traverse with the nickname “The Beast” to be rather an exaggeration, but if you are accustomed to driving a Mazda 2 back home, believe me it’s a monster! Once we had passed Treasure Island we saw part of the new East span of the Bay Bridge which, once opened in another couple of years, will offer magnificent views towards Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge.
The 180 mile drive to South Lake Tahoe along Highways 80 and 50 was untroubled, traffic steady and the weather lovely, the in-car temperature guage going as high as 65 degrees around Sacramento (which has one of the least attractive American downtown skylines in my experience). One of the most entertaining aspects of the journey was spotting the Adopt-A-Highway sponsors, two of the most intriguing being Friends of Obama (some might ask whether he still has enough to cough up the money to pay for the upkeep of a major road) and Jelly Belly.
The heavily snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains first came into view as we approached Sacramento, though they hid themselves intermittently over the next fifty miles before dominating the final part of the drive. We stopped for lunch at Starbuck’s in Hangtown Village Square in Placerville – note to self: remember to look up the derivation of that name. It was here that we experienced for the first time on this trip the classic, arguably over-effusive American customer service approach, exhibited by both the server and barista. For now, it was welcome, but I wonder how soon it would be before it began to grate.
As Tahoe approached the side of the road became littered with signs such as “watch for snow removal equipment”, “chain installers work east of this point” and “slow traffic use turnouts” (laybys to UK readers). But in the benign weather today, they were irrelevant.
As the road climbed to more than 7000 feet the scenery of the Elderado National Forest and the gushing American River, became ever more spectacular. And then…..the lake was teasingly laid out before us in all its beauty, only to disappear again as the twisting road plunged downhill.
We arrived in South Lake Tahoe at a little after 3.30pm, enabling us to fill “The Beast” up (it is so much cheaper than paying for a full tank of petrol at the outset) and return him to his Avis parents before the desk in the Embassy Suites closed. Once checked in at Harrah’s we sought out Powder House ski and boot rental (the best deal in the resort) before dinner at Applebee’s (my cajun shrimp pasta was to die for), a brief , unsuccessful spell on the Harrah’s slots and bed (not our liveliest St Patrick’s Day I’ll acknowledge,but we were tired and wanted to hit the ski lifts early the next morning as a major snow system was scheduled to explode upon the area on Friday afternoon).