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Coastal Family Week

March 15-22, 2016
Written March 15+
Dear Diary, Friends, and Families,

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.

d160315_20_firstshop.jpgWe 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.

d160316_02_cwestsign.jpgd160316_03_patellen.jpgWednesday 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.

d160316_04_riccardo.jpgAcross 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.

d160316_05_hearstsign.jpg 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.
We started in the visitor center at the bottom of the hill.  We picked up our pre-arranged tickets and wandered the small museum and later saw the giant-screen film "Building the Dream" that gave an overview of the Hearst family and their use of San Simeon.  Clearly, "The Chief", as William Randolf was called, spared no expense on the buildings, the grounds, the furnishings, or entertaining guests.  Reportedly, friends were given an arrival date, but were allowed to stay as long as they liked, as long as they behaved in a manner The Chief considered appropriate: lots of outdoor activity, limited drinking, full participation in group activities such as impromptu theater, and long horseback rides across the rugged hills.
The Castle is almost 1800 feet above the Pacific Ocean and the road that gets there follows the original dirt trail the family used to reach their favorite camping spot.  Today, all visitors ascend by bus, but in the day, Mr. Hearst's guests might land on the small airport before being escorted up in his fleet of comfortable cars.  The walk up to the church-like main house entrance gave an introduction to a place both grand and, it seemed, most livable.
The main house, where the Hearsts stayed and where the main indoor activities were arranged, looks like an old European cathedral, in part because it features parts of European churches brought over and installed in exactly the way Mr. Hearst envisioned.  It was fun to imagine him standing on his top-level balcony, welcoming awe-struck guests.
The pool, made famous by any of the thousands of tour pictures and films, is currently undergoing renovation, but it was still fun to imagine spending some time here on a warm summer day with The Chief's Hollywood friends and employees.  A nice perk.
The grounds are filled with flowers, fountains, and sculptures imported from around the world.  Despite the millions of visitors to "La Cuesta Encantada" (The Enchanted Hill), everything seemed as well-maintained as The Chief would have demanded almost 100 years ago.
Three guided tours are offered and we selected the Grand Rooms Tour, starting in the Assembly Room.  It was here where guests would gather for cocktails and conversation before the daily meal.  Reportedly, conviviality was a requirement of Mr. Hearst and "bullies or loudmouths" would be asked to leave, driven down the hill, and put on the next plane back to Los Angeles.
Meals were taken in The Refectory, with Mr. Hearst at the center of the table, and newest visitors nearest him (and his girlfriend).  As one stayed longer, distance to the host increased, perhaps a subtle hint that staying forever was not what The Chief wanted.  The table was always set with rather ordinary china, paper napkins, and condiment jars as they came from the store.  Mr. Hearst said that's what his mother had used here on their camping excursions and if it was good enough for her, it was good enough for his guests, no matter how royal.

(In the course of our tour, the guide provided a glimpse into the fabulously wealthy Hearst's very democratic views: no one could be called a "servant", only "employee"; no room service; in political life, Hearst was a crusader for women's right to vote and for their right to get a top-level education.  He was an interesting mix of ruthless businessman and charming reformer, traits he apparently carried on from his father.)
The Billiard Room came next and it was easy to imagine spending a few hours here with Hollywood stars, playing a few games.  This room, like everywhere in the castle, was filled with art work from around the world, in places especially crafted to fit each piece. 
One of our last stops was the house theater where we were shown a short "home movie" showing Mr. Hearst and his guests enjoying their time on the ranch.  These were people who knew a good time!  The last stop before boarding the bus down the hill was the indoor pool.  Fabulous.
So that was our visit to The Enchanted Hill.  We need to return for the two tours we missed (Upstairs Suites and Cottages & Kitchen Tours) and we recommend you do the same.  Pictures and captions just don't do justice to such a grand place

d160316_69_boardwalk.jpgAfter 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.
Waves.  Here are just five of about 40 photos I took, each different but somehow the same.  No need for so many!
From here, it was home for a brief rest and then another nice dinner at the Lodge.

d160317_10_bowl.jpgThursday 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.)

d160317_02_harmony.jpgOn 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!)

d160318_00_map.jpgOur 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. 
Fortunately we did pull off and take the time to look around.  In the parking lot there were signs to explain what we were seeing as well as a local volunteer who volunteered to answer our questions.  He explained that Piedras Blancas' beaches are home to about 20,000 elephant seals.  Right now, most of the males have left for the four month trip up and back to the Aleutian Islands and their summer eating.  Most of the animals we saw on the beach were young pups, just about to start their own solitary journeys up along the Pacific Coast, a journey that will see only half survive their first year.  The pattern of a solitary, feeding life at sea and a communal, fasting life ashore will continue for their whole lives.  Males may gain and lose almost a ton every year as they alternate three or four  months at sea with two or three months on the beach.

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.
d160318_09_seals.jpgOn the rocks just off the beach, were silver seals sunning on rocks.  The guide said this particular species generally stayed on these craggy rocks, away from both the elephant seals and from people.  (These are not the guys who are taking over piers in San Francisco!)

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.
From time to time, we would stop for pictures and almost always be followed by birds and squirrels.  We are not fond of squirrel swarms, but birds are always welcome, even pesky ones.  Occasionally, we would also find flowering plants clinging to the cliffs.
After a morning of all this scenery, I was getting hungry and Marianne wanted to stop at one of the haunts of her youth: Nepenthe.  Apparently this used to be a "funky lunch place with good hamburgers and views".  Decades later, it may be more professional than funky, but the view and the hamburgers were still worth the stop.
Our goal was Monterey and a gathering of Marianne's family.  Tom, Kate, and Clara were down from the Bay Area and we stopped by Chris and Leisa's to pick her up for a wine and cheese course at Klare and Jack's house.  We were celebrating (early) Tom and Kate's birthdays and we continued the celebration at il Vecchio's.
That ended our Friday, although rumors were that Tom and Kate kept going at a guitar gig of a friend of theirs.  It must be great to be young.

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.
The tournament was held in the neighborhood park, just around the corner from Chris and Marianne's dad's bench.
d160319_40_taller.jpgWith all that exercise, and naps for some people, it was on to another family dinner.  We started with a round of chit chat, including the observation that Adam is now taller than his older cousin Clara.  She was shocked, since she has been the "big cousin" all her family life!  I think it will only get more so, since Adam certainly has the tall Hidas genes. Spencer probably does as well, so the time will come when Clara will have to be happy with third place.  A nice trio in any event.

Leisa's Hungarian chicken and "noodles" were wonderful.  She has definitely moved beyond her Sicilian roots.

d160319_54_audience.jpgFrom 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.

d160320_10_music.jpgOn 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.

Speaking of treats, Mamal took Sam out for a "round" of golf.  The first fun was Sam's driving: the cart, more than the golf ball.  As four-year-olds will do, Sam listened to his dad's advice ... sometimes.  In the end, Sam earned positive evaluation from dad, and that was the real highlight.  He's lucky to have a good coach.
From there, it was home to Gabby's lasagna and the normal process of putting kids to bed.  And then mom, dad, Gigi, and Opa.  Nice day with family.

d160321_02_avalesson.jpgMonday 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.
That's it.  Nothing else planned.  Again.

John and Marianne


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