Monday, April 12, 2010
Day 5 - Monterey, Carmel & Big Sur
Day 5 started out with both of us on a high. I woke up confused, with my face in the Hub's belly. King beds in the US are just ridiculous. The Hubs' feet were hanging off the edge, but there was enough room for at least three other people in the bed. The Hubs attempted to convince me that this was because the kings of old were short but with multiple brides. I remain unconvinced.
We checked out as soon as we could and headed to Fins Coffee, which we'd spotted the night before. The signs were favourable - there was a table of police officers outside, with coffees but sadly sans donuts. We got chatting with them ("why hel-lo officer") and they offered to let us pose for photographs on their bikes. This was very much the highlight of the Hub's entire trip. If we'd won the lottery, it wouldn't have mattered. There was to be no better moment on this trip for him, than when he had to narrowly avoid the gas tank when mounting the bike. I was, sadly, in a dress and had to demurely demur.
Our first stop for the day was Henry Cowell's State Park, where we were going to check out what Americans call "Big Trees". That's a little bit like saying Keith Richards led a sort of interesting life. These things were HUGE. We were really hoping to drive through a Sequoia but it turned out that the big tree in question had fallen over a couple of years before. This upset the Hubs, who thought his childhood drive through it twenty years before may have contributed to its demise. Instead, we decided to take a trail through a redwood grove. They were incredible. I'd asked the Hubs what to expect, and he eloquently put it as something with "a big, fuck-off, red trunk"*, and he wasn't kidding. They were majestic, with new bark twisting round the trunk, extending higher than I could see. I was desperate to see a mountain lion (there were warning signs everywhere and the scenes in Twilight must have seeped into my subconscious), but I only got to see a squirrel. At the end of the trail, we grabbed a new Christmas decoration for the tree and set off for Cannery Row via Moss Landing...
... which had pretty much nothing at either of them. Cannery Row was a little stretch of resentful tourism with an Aquarium ($30 entry? Not unless we get to eat it!)and cutesy shops. It was top and tailed by the Aquarium and a by-the-ounce frozen yoghurt. Mine was 1/3 cupcake batter, 2/3 non-fat tart with 6 maraschino cherries, cookie dough, s'mores and brownies. The Hubs had cupcake batter, chocolate, raspberry, chocolate sauce, raspberry sauce, chocolate covered sunflower seeds and chocolate malt balls. We were made for each other. Having expended Monterey's tourism potential, we headed over to Pacific Grove and the Pebble Beach 17 Mile Drive. When I was planning the trip, I'd noticed a couple of reviews on Tripadvisor complaining about the admission charge and advising a visit to the Monterey Aquarium instead, so I was pleasantly surprised to find it was $9.25 and worth every penny. There were so many beautiful sights, they took our breath away.
By the time we finished gawping at nature, it was well past lunchtime and the Hubs' driving was becoming increasingly erratic. It was clearly time for a feeding, and so we popped down the road to Carmel by the Sea, where Clint Eastwood used to be mayor and still owns a restaurant, The Hog's Breath. This was an all-American meal indeed - Philly steak sandwiches and Dirty Harry Chilli dogs, copious french fries a must. It was a hell of a meal and we had to walk it off, thankfully the town had plenty of window shopping to offer, with everything priced in the "unaffordable" category. Once we'd appreciated our poverty-stricken status, we continued down Highway 1 to the Big Sur.
The drive was terrifying and amazing all at once, with hairpin turns and incredible views. It must be very similar to driving the Amalfi coast. Spectacular. I've never seen anything like it and it took our breath away. We were staying at the Chalet in Deetjens Big Sur Inn, which was roughing it - my way. That is to say that there was no air conditioning, no locks on doors, sunken into trees with a creek outside the window. There was insect mesh on the windows. The cabins there are single layer wood, and small, probably offerings less living space than in an RV, but you can smell the pine and hear the stream, which made it the closest to nature that I would ever be. The poison oak and rattlesnake warnings that were everywhere kept it that way. Thankfully, that was enough to dissuade the Hubs from pressuring me into any nature driven activity, though in a bizzare twist, I was tempted to try a trail in the morning.
For the evening, though, there was the Post Ranch Inn, nothing like Deetjens. We were going to eat at Sierra Mar, one of the "date nights" I'd planned. I'd been expecting a nice, mid-range place, and had picked it because of the picture windows over the sea at sunset. It turned out that mid-range means something different in the US, something best described by the Hubs. In fact, here is his guest entry:
Warning bells for any man about to buy his wife dinner
1. When asking the Wife what the ballpark cost will be, and the reply is "not like French Laundry"
2. Arriving... and finding a sentry. This was America, not Sierra Leone
3. Anywhere with a drive that features grazing deer and spectacular views
4. Wondering if Maybach had started a dealership in the area
5. The valet lets you park your own car, but still takes the keys
6. Walking into reception, you find discreet security and a quarter mile climb to the restaurant
7. The Wife walks in and says "this smells like a spa, I love it"
8. The maitre'd offers use of a $20,000 remote control telescope, complete with a consulting astrologer
9. While waiting for a table, three bottles of Petrus leave the cellars to the table next to what eventually becomes yours. Before 8pm
10. A smattering of random celeb and wealthy, tweed-wearing Germans on a Tuesday night
11. The Sommelier engages in a matching game with German aristocrats who, in their desire to find their favourite wine (described as "a merlot, but very smooth"), opening seven bottles before they gave up
Having said that, dinner was great. The restaurant projects over the ocean and the dolphins mill around just beneath. In the right season, you can see the whales as well. Surprisingly for a place with such obvious gimmickery, the food was good and the staff were really amicable and shared stories of growing up in California with us. After dinner, we indulged in the telescope and had a crash course on constellations before heading back to Deetjens where we sat up for hours drinking and reading the journals in the room to each other. When we'd first checked in, the Hubs was incredulous to discover that there was no television or heating. What it did have though, was years of journals that previous guests had completed while staying. They also hid money around the room, some of which we found (and replaced). We added some of our own as a tribute.
*He also said, for the benefit of AGL, "I'd like to see the French grow these"