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Coastal Family Week
March 15-22, 2016Dear Diary, Friends, and Families,
Written March 15+
This week we are doing what California is famous for: going to the beach. Of course, it is winter, so any ocean adventure is limited to just viewing. Truth be told, I haven't gone IN the Northern California Pacific in about a half-century. It was cold then and, even with global warming, it's cold now. But it remains beautiful.
On Tuesday, we drove out of Fresno, across the flatlands of the Central Valley, through Paso Robles, past dozens of wineries, across the foothills, to Cambria. The scenery improved as we went, although even the normally brown valley had some color. Must have been in honor of St. Patrick's Day this week.
We arrived at the Cambria Pines Lodge late-ish, and could barely work in a short walk in the quaint downtown before heading to dinner. The walk included stops at two of the art galleries in town and The Vault Gallery had a particularly nice selection of art work on display. (No pictures allowed.) This was one of those galleries that is intimidating for us because our own work seems so humble in comparison. Oh well.
Dinner at the Lodge was nice, even if a bit noisy. Our local newspaper, the Fresno Bee, occasionally has coupons offering a large suite, breakfast, dinner, and a bottle of wine for a very reasonable price, so the dining room was full. The mid-week deal attracts a "vintage" crowd and the included wine assured animated conversation.
Wednesday started with the western center of Cambria. The little town has an older downtown on the east and and newer one near the ocean on the western end of Main Street. We had no real purpose and were easily distracted when we ran across a "Working Artist Studio". The art inside was nice, but even better was the conversation with the resident artist Patrick and his cohort Ellen. The transplant (Patrick) and commuter (Ellen) from Atlanta had an infectious enthusiasm for Cambria and the laid-back Central Coast.
Across the street were more galleries and antique stores and I was stopped by a giant iron fighter, in the back of a little truck. Riccardo, the owner-artist, was inside the gate and I asked him if I could take a picture of the warrior, despite the no-photos sign. He was delighted. He said it was the first time in the six year history of the gallery that anyone had asked permission, so I was of course given permission. After that, he took Marianne and I inside his workshop-gallery and showed off his most remarkable kinetic sculptures. Most created fascinating shadow patterns, in addition to the quality figures themselves. His three-dimensional works on canvas were also special. Visit his website or, better yet, his West Cambria shop.
After a quick sandwich at "Sandy's", we headed up to the day's main attraction: Hearst Castle. We had not been there in decades, but then again, the Hearsts probably haven't either. It was a wonderful afternoon. Lots of story and lots of pictures.
Some quick background. William Randolf Hearst built his castle at San Simeon between 1919 and 1947, starting when he was already in his 50's and perhaps at his peak as head of the Hearst publishing empire. Reportedly, his annual income was around $400 million and he had always been a free spender on arts and architecture. The San Simeon "ranch" became his most ambitious project, built on land his father had bought decades earlier and where young William would go for summer camping.
Nowadays, the Castle is run by the California State Parks people and is visited by millions, despite its relatively isolated location. Visits are hyper-organized and, with a Disneyland-like efficiency, tourists are given a history of the place and of Mr. Hearst's presence there. I will explain our particular visit with pictures and hopefully just enough text to make it interesting.
After leaving Hearst Castle, we took a leisurely drive south and stopped to watch ocean birds and waves. The Moonstone Beach boardwalk provided an easy path to see birds and waves. Both demand more pictures than they deserve, but the process is fun, especially in the warm afternoon winter sun.
Some birds are regal, others goofy.
Thursday was unplanned today and that's exactly what we did. A little gallery viewing, a little shopping, a lunch stop at the French Bakery. We have been taken by Cambria, mostly for the art and the laid-back atmosphere. I'm not sure living full-time in such isolation would be my cup of tea, but we definitely need more time here. (Our souvenir for this visit was a set of four bowls by Michael Miller at Amphora Gallery. The RIGHT way to serve oatmeal.)
On our unplanned day, we also managed the ten-minute drive down to Harmony, Population 18 and proud of it. I'm not even sure where those 18 live, since I saw only a couple of houses that were not shops (a glassworks, a potter, a winery, and a tiny post office.) For us, the highlight may have been the small garden by the potter's shop. Grasses and succulents that we struggle with back in Fresno seem to thrive around here. We need to take lessons (or move to the coast!)
Our Friday drive from Cambria to Monterey was along one of America's most scenic highways. It had been decades since either Marianne or I had passed along Highway 1 and we looked forward to a great drive. We were not disappointed: Wild life; Spectacular scenery; Fun lunch; and a family party at the end. It could hardly have been better. Even the weather cooperated, not a given along this coast in winter.
We left Cambria with wonderful impressions and a conviction we would return. Soon we were driving along the Pacific coast, past San Simeon and Hearst Castle, another place we will return to. Just north of there, we came to the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Beaches and almost missed the seals among the driftwood.
Elephant seals were hunted almost to extinction a century ago, with just a single colony of a few dozen surviving on an island off the Mexican Coast. The Mexican government then outlawed hunting and the US followed a few years later. Now there are colonies from Mexico to Vancouver Island. Our guide said that the beaches around Piedras Blancas held only a dozen or two elephant seals twenty years ago, so the current population of over 20,000 is remarkable.
The piece-de-resistance of our day will be the drive itself, California Highway 1, The Cabrillo Highway. The Pacific is visible from almost every mile, sometimes from a flat coastal plain and at other times from roadways cut into steep rocks and sometimes falling rock hills. On this Friday we were lucky, the road was passable its whole length and the few one-way sections were not too backed up. It isn't always that way.
On Saturday morning Marianne visited a friend down the street while I worked a bit more on these diaries. We managed to work in our 30-minutes exercise sessions, but I think it will take more than that to hold off weight gain from a week on the road. Oh well, it's fun.
After the quiet morning, Tom and Chris tried to round up a tennis tournament, but some of the regulars were a bit flaky. Adam and Spencer had been at a "sleep over", during which the 13 and 11-years-olds failed to understand the word "sleep". Adam completely skipped the tennis and Spencer tried, but was not his normal stellar self. Leisa and Marianne came down for a bit to make a fourth, but Marianne's play was a little rusty after forty years.
Leisa's Hungarian chicken and "noodles" were wonderful. She has definitely moved beyond her Sicilian roots.
From dinner it was over to the Monterey United Methodist Church for a pair of sets by High Country, the most traditional bluegrass band Tom plays in. It was a nice-sized setting, not too small and not too big. It was great to hear the West Coast's oldest bluegrass band again. The band was established over forty years ago, and the guys are ... older now than then.
On Sunday morning, things started slowly. I did my diary writing at a nearby Starbucks and then came back to the Hidas Ranch to see who was stirring. Spencer was practicing his flute, having been inspired by Uncle Tom's music the night before. Leisa and Chris were puttering in the garden and the two dogs were begging for someone to play ball. (Adam was sleeping in, as any self-respecting teenager would do on a Sunday morning.)
All and all, a nice setting for guests. We will have to visit again!
The drive up to Los Gatos was uneventful, even on Highway 17 through the Santa Cruz mountains. The narrow lanes of this very busy, twisty highway may be my least favorite half-hour drive. I liked the Big Sur highway much better!
The welcome at Gabby and Mamal's was as sunny as the Hidas send off had been. The new puppy, Charlie Ann, greeted us, Ava serenaded us with her new guitar skills, Gigi and Ava worked together, as usual. Sam was himself, pensive watching TV, or happy with his cocoa treat.
Monday had a dentist appointment for Marianne and not much else was planned. I think that's mostly what happened - "not much else." Our afternoon highlight was Ava's guitar lesson. Not up to Uncle Tom's level --- yet. We can talk to him about keeping a space in one of his bands free for the future.
After guitar, it was math homework for Ava and "traffic" and drawing for Sam. Nice one-on-one time for Gigi and Ava and for Sam and Opa.
Tuesday morning and Ava prepared for school while Sam started the day with a bad earache. Plans for a grownup breakfast shifted so mom could take Sam to a doctor. Parents never know what a day holds.
Marianne and I dined alone and hit the road to Fresno. We were anxious to get back into our exercise routine after a week of more eating and drinking than exercise. At home, our garden greeted us with the first roses of the season, always nice, but a reminder that we face Spring garden work.
John and Marianne
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