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Pacific Coast Highway, Day 9: Monterey to San Simeon

The people of Carmel (Carmel-by-the-Sea if you’re being proper) don’t have addresses. Apparently only the poor get lost. (We’ve gotten lost numerous times, a sign we’re destined to be middle class forever.) Carmel is also the place where Clint Eastwood used to be mayor. We didn’t see him today. But we did see this bakery.

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We tried a shot of blood orange juice. It tasted like grapefruit, only sweeter.

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Carmel looks like the type of place that wouldn’t allow entry to anyone with a net worth less than five million. But it’s extremely dog friendly, and no one who likes dogs could be bad, right? Right. The people were friendly and welcoming, especially the ones who stopped to let us pet their pooches.

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The town is undoubtedly beautiful. If the Ferraris and BMW’s didn’t attest to old money, than the tasteful buildings and signs did. We stopped to check a painting that caught my husband’s eye. It was $57,000. We bought four because that kind of sale won’t last long.

Carmel is also the home of one of my favorite actresses, Doris Day. I hoped to run into her so I could ask if she remembered me from all those movies I saw her in.

Next up was Point Lobos Wildlife Reserve, Point Lobos being Spanish for “We charge ten dollars to look at seals.”

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Settle in. Since I had to pay, there will be lots of pictures here. It really is beautiful with interesting rock formations, plentiful vegetation

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And this guy.

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If you look closely, you can see him holding an itty-bitty sign that says “Will look cute for food.” I gave him none. Get a job, squirrel!

We saw so many magnificent vistas along the way here, I secretly wondered if Big Sur would be able to live up to our expectations. Would it be as beautiful as everyone said? Yes.

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Literally every second of today’s trip is a postcard waiting to happen. It’s not just the sheer rocks leading to thundering ocean; it’s the multi-hued flora the azure water, the hazy, purple sky. It’s everything. The beauty of Big Sur is neither overblown nor diluted by tourism. One guidebook said that it’s almost too beautiful to take in, and it’s true. After a while, you’re almost on sensory overload. The village of Big Sur provides a nice break.

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I wasn’t planning to stop at another bakery today, but then I learned the owners of this one are graduates of the CIA (the Culinary Institute of America—baking ninjas, if you will.)

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Add to that the words “famous” as it applies to their chocolate chip cookies, and I was sold. Scenic view, schmenic view. Me want cookies.

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We got a sandwich because I was getting hangry. (Hangry: anger induced by hunger.)They also served some of the best coffee I’ve ever had

But let’s get back to that cookie. There are certain defining moments in life—first steps, marriage, first child. And now the first time you try chocolate chip cookies from the Big Sur Bakery. They had toasted macadamia nuts. And chunks of pure dark chocolate. *pause to wipe tears* This was the most rustic bakery I’ve ever visited, but well worth the trek. From anywhere.

Have you ever seen Citizen Kane? Unfortunately I have. It’s one of those movies that college students are forced to watch during introductory media classes. We’re supposed to compare it to silent movies and realize what a forward-thinking genius Orson Welles was. Instead modern college students compare it to movies like Avatar and use it as time to take a nap. (Not diligent students like me, though. Hi, Mom!) Anyway, the rumor at the time was that Welles’ character was based on William Randolph Heart, the newspaper magnate. And the character’s palatial dream house, Xanadu, was a barely masked version of this place, Hearst Castle.

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Construction began in 1919 and lasted for 28 years. Most interesting to me is that the architect was a woman. 1919 plus female architect aren’t two things that often go together. On the five mile trek up the mountain from the visitor’s center, I thought a lot about the temporary nature of life. About the man who put all his treasure on earth and still lost his life. Then we arrived and I decided I need a house like this, only a little bigger. Maybe 180 rooms, nothing ostentatious. All I need is this thermos. (Name that movie.)

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If possible, the grounds are even lovelier than the house.

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*Fast fact: Hearst helped get Roosevelt elected. Then came the New Deal and Hearst began paying taxes at the rate of .90 cents out of every dollar. There went the friendship and a large chunk of Hearst’s wealth. He used his many newspapers to label the progressive measure the “Raw Deal.”

This is where the day started to go downhill. In an effort to get on the earlier tour, the hubs bought tickets from a guy in the parking lot, not really paying attention to the fact that he was Asian. No big deal until we realized that he was an interpreter and the tickets were leftovers from a tour group. From China. We were now the token Americans. My ever-friendly husband tried desperately to make conversation with a man who spoke six words of English. “You have pleasant daughter. High five.” Since no one else in our group knew what I was saying, I risked asking a question. If the house cost ten million to build then, how much would it cost now? Wrong question. I spent the next three rooms being lectured on how the value of the house can’t be measured because the artwork is priceless and irreplaceable. (“Where’s the girl who asked how much it cost? There. See, this is priceless because it’s 400 years old.”) Then I was berated because my daughter leaned against the marble edging of a fountain. (“Ma’am, don’t have your daughter do that.”) By the end of the tour, I was beginning to get the lip quiver particular to people with a tough outer shell like mine. But that didn’t lessen the utter splendor of the house and grounds. Everyone told us this was a must stop on our trip, and they were correct.

Next we arrived at our hotel and discovered one king-sized bed. Our four year old was ecstatic. “Yay, I get to sleep with you guys!” We were less excited. Even though we had our printed reservation stating the room was for three people, we were charged extra for a rollaway bed. By the time we gave up trying to get the charge taken away, we were exhausted and hungry. We found our restaurant, a place where they make pie from scratch. Unfortunately it didn’t agree with our price range. We settled for a less-than-stellar dive in town. Trying to still be adventurous, I ordered the calamari because I love seafood and have never tried calamari. Oh, my. I thought it would be cut into unrecognizable pieces. I was unprepared for the little tentacles reaching beseechingly from the grave.

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My husband made this fitting memorial from my leftovers. SOS: Save our squid. Rest in peace, little ones. I shall never trouble you or your family again; this is my solemn vow.Image

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About vanessagraybartal

Author. Eater. Wife. Mother. Not necessarily in that order.

3 responses to “Pacific Coast Highway, Day 9: Monterey to San Simeon

  1. Tdebo ⋅

    I love calamari! I have been enjoying living vicariously through your posts. I will be sad when your vacation is over.

  2. Valerie Harrintgon ⋅

    One picture of the back of Mira’s head and one comment about her leaning on marble. I’m facing withdrawal again…

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