Saturday, February 6, 2016

Road Scholar Tour of Mexico

It's winter time in Sactown so it's time to head south.  Mexico City, known for its cutting edge architecture and modern art, has been on my bucket list for sometime and I finally decided to fit it into my travel schedule this year.

Road Scholar, a travel company I have not toured with before, offered an intriguing program which took in three fascinating colonial cities - Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Queretaro - in addition to Mexico City.

I knew nothing of these cities but friends spoke highly of them so I decided to sign up.  Five other friends from Sacramento - Tom Graham, Peter Saucerman, Susan Twining, David and Kristina Vandershaf - were also interested in the trip and decided to sign on.

The "Sactown Six" joined 18 other travelers from across the U.S. and Canada for the Road Scholar Tour named "Mexico's Orgins: Silver, Culture and Revolution."

Road Scholar tours are known for its educational component and our daily itinerary included lectures by a historian on the history and culture of Mexico.  And in particular, the relevance of the cities to be visited to its history.

In addition, two local guides led the tours of the sites we visited.  The tour was very well organized and very interesting.  We learned a lot over the 14 days of the tour.

The Road Scholar program - itinerary, lodging, food, transportation and staff were all great.  There will be more Road Scholar tours in my future.

Guanajuato, a World Heritage site,  was the first of four cities we visited.  As it turned out, of the four cities, Guanajuato turned out to be my favorite (as well as for many of the others).

From an engineering standpoint, Guanajuato has a unique street system of tunnels interlaced under the city due to it being sited in a steep gorge.  The city is a visual feast for the eyes with the homes painted in bright colors as it rises up the two mountainsides.  The architecture, city parks, lively street life, especially at night, made this city a most memorable experience.

There are individual blog posts for the other three cities - San Miguel de Allende, Queretaro and Mexico City.  After viewing each post, return to the homepage, scroll to the next city and click the link to the relevant photo album.

To view the album, click on "Guanajuato" below the photo:

From Guanajuato

Friday, February 5, 2016

San Miguel de Allende

The second city on the tour was San Miguel de Allende, a small artsy city with a population of 140,000.  San Miguel is a popular retirement city for Americans and approximately 9,000 ex-pat Americans reside here, mostly year-around.

We spent three days in San Miguel.  Being a fairly compact and upscale city with colorful streets, nice parks, and historic town center, it is a very pleasant town to just wander and hang.

To view album, click on "San Miguel de Allende" below photo:

From San Miguel de Allende


The third city on the tour was Queretaro, a growing suburb to MX City with a population of 800,000. Many industries have located in the city's periphery but the historic district is well preserved and very lively at night.

We spent three days in Queretaro with a day trip to a small colonial village of Bernal, known for its towering monolithic rock formation.

To view the album, click on "Queretaro/Bernal" below photo:

From Queretaro/Bernal

Mexico City

Mexico City was the fourth and last city on our tour.  With a city population of 9 million and a metropolitan population of over 21 million, it is the largest metro city in the Americas.

The Road Scholar tour encompassed three days but we (Tom, Peter, Susan and I) added three additional days to see more of MX City on our own.

To view the album, click on "Mexico City" below the photo:

From Mexico City

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Coffee City USA

Move over Seattle, Portland, San Francisco . . .

The coffee scene has literally exploded in Sacramento and we're not just talking Starbucks and Peets.

A remarkable phenomena has been occurring in the urban core with home-grown coffee crafters led by Temple, Old Soul, Insight and Chocolate Fish creating a coffee culture second to none.  These local coffee purveyors have supplanted Sacramento's original Big Four (Huntington, Hopkins, Crocker and Stanford) to become the city's new Big Four creating new history with the coffee bean.

Being a java junkie, I have been watching in amazement and delight at the third wave of the coffee movement crashing on the shores of the capital city.

It is not just the sheer number of new coffeehouses that continues to populate the urban core but the high quality of the brew itself.  The local coffee crafters of the new Big Four continue to score in the mid to high 90's in Coffee Review, recognized as the national arbiter of quality brew-making with annual taste tests.

When time allows, I have been photographing and documenting the growth of the Sacramento coffeehouse scene.  Although not totally inclusive, here are some of my favorites.

To view the album, click on "Coffee City USA" below the photo:

From Coffee City USA

Saturday, October 24, 2015

AIA Downtown Architectural Bike Tour - 2015

I never thought I would live to hear the words "hip and cool" and Sacramento in the same sentence.  But believe it or not, Portland has come to Sacramento.  In the last maybe five years, and in particular, the last couple, downtown has been evolving into a lively and entertaining venue.

Midtown has been cool for some years but who would have thunk the K Street Mall would ever come alive . . . but it has, and with the new arena opening up in another year, it'll be unbelievable.

Sacramento will actually have traffic jams downtown at night . . . not just during the rush hour.

People are already crying about how difficult it is to find parking.  Uber and Lyft apps are going to be on everyone's smart phones, even for old geezers like me.

The other district that is quickly catching up to Midtown for millennial action is the R Street corridor which has quickly and dramatically changed from its former declining industrial base into hipsterville.

It was only a matter of time and with a new generation of young, hip developers coming of age and putting their money behind some really innovative developments, Sacramento is transforming its image from being a halfway stop between the Bay Area and Tahoe, to a dynamic city with a "there, there."

For it's third year, the local AIA chapter led a bike tour of downtown (and nearby) development projects. Most were in the core area and R Street.  But with the development momentum taking a wider arch in the new economic recovery, the tour took us to the South of Broadway area to see The Mill and to Oak Park to visit the Triangle.

Our tour leaders - Bob Chase and Peter Saucerman - arranged this year to have a few of the developers and/or architects of some of the major projects brief the group on their respective developments.  This was really a nice touch to hear about the background and vision for their projects.

For Bob and Peter, this was the third year of leading the bike tour and I would have to give them high marks for this one.  They are getting better with experience.

And with many of the developments we visited nearing completion and new ones in the pipeline, these tours can go on for many years without repeats.  I just can't wail until next year.

To view the bike tour album, click on "AIA Downtown Bike tour 2015" below photo:

From AIA Downtown Bike Tour 2015

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Empire Mine State Historic Park Hike

Empire Mine State Historic Park near Grass Valley was the destination for the October hike of the Sac County Hikers.  Twelve hikers led by Rich Blackmarr participated in the excursion to the foothills.

The 856-acre park with a maze of 367 miles of deep mine shafts and tunnels, some as deep as 8,000', was once California's richest gold-producing mine.

The impressive and unique feature of this state park is the juxtaposition of the mine's rustic 13 buildings on barren earthen ground in contrast to the lush landscaping of the Bourn Family residence and gardens.

The park has a Jekyll and Hyde personality and the dramatic contrast between these two areas are unlike anything I had ever seen.  It was like visiting two parks for the price of one.

The state park in its entirety is a real gem and well worth a visit.  Within the visitor center is a crude but very interesting 3-D model of the network of tunnels and shafts and a audio narrative of how the labyrinth was created using "hardrock" mining methods.

The docent led tour of the Bourn Cottage and Gardens was very informative and the self-guided tour of the mine structures and operations were excellent.  Most of the buildings at the park have been restored.

Although the hike itself was short (2 1/2 miles), the outing to the Sierra foothills and tour of the state park were outstanding.

To view the album, click on "Empire Mine Historic State Park Hike" below photo:

From Empire Mine State Historic Park Hike