Friday, 30 November 2012

November confabulating

Warning:  pretty much a health warning... this will be a very long post - you may not want to start what you don't want to finish.........

I had such a wretched start to my November ramblings...

When we went to Caifornia for my birthday trip, I kept a diary on my iPad.  I emailed this to myself and wiped the notes from the iPad.  Eventually I transferred the contents of the email to a draft post here ready to type up properly later. Of course, being tidy and (over) efficient I then deleted the email.

Meanwhile I forgot all this and a few minutes ago I started to type a new November Post - I then remembered the saved notes.  In my attempt to sort it out I deleted the wrong November Draft.  Did I say efficient?  This was the moment I discovered there is no bin/trash/recycle in Google Blogger from which you can retrieve your scrumpled up piece of cyber paper.  Those software writers are sooooooo lucky they live in cyber land and not in my kitchen.

Phew!  whilst rambling through all this I remembered there is a Google Mail bin.  Yeah, Saved!! the moral of that story is: There is such a thing as too tidy!

Firstly let's get through anything else that's November related before we set off for California with flowers in our hair.  Incidentally there are loads of California songs and I seem to know them, which Ken discovered much to his chagrin.

On the 1st of the month, we began our first day in Naples in the usual Naples way, i.e. breakfast at First Watch followed by  grocery shopping and returning the hire car.  The latter being a total nightmare.  I reckon I hadn't driven a yard in either country since I last followed Ken to return a hire car in Naples last year.  Add to this the statistic that I probably haven't driven a car more than a dozen times in six years and you can see I was already fretting.  Off we tootle. Three lane roads (not overloaded with traffic though) and I am trying to stick to Ken as I don't have a clue where we are going.  This got worse as I realised he didn't either!  He had set out for the usual Budget or Dollar or whatever at the airport.  In the car park there he remembered he'd got this particular car from somewhere else.  Off we go for my second torture of the day.  This time he overshot his mark and that took us all the way down to a main junction at the bottom of Fifth Ave -  I think it is called Five Corners!!! where he proceeds to do a u-turn.... moments before that I was very close to pulling in to the nearest hotel, parking and ringing him to say get a cab back to me.  Seriously, I am that scared.  I did a bit of loin girding thinking it must soon be over, only to suffer the u-turn performance moments later. The daftest thing of all this is that I am probably a better driver than sixty percent of the total idiots on the road.

Day two and it is off to the Driving Licence office to renew our licences - yes, mine does have to be renewed.  The logic is - we can drive legally on our UK licence but it does make for problems if there is a crump and it costs more on our insurance and basically most companies don't have the mechanism for insuring someone on foreign licenses.  All our visitors are covered if they drive our car on their own foreign licences so you would think that if I HAD to drive I would be covered too..... no ... because I live in the same house, it is assumed I am in the car hurling it up and down the highway daily and so I am not covered.  Add to this the indignity of paying a fine because we let our licences expire! and we have to do this every time we come back into the USA - so for us that's twice a year rather than once every ten years!!

I rewarded myself with a trip to Bealls, where I bought two pairs of shoes and then crabs legs at Grand Buffet.  English shoppers will love the Bealls deal.  We had coupons for $10 off and then we got another 30% off already reduced stock (one day deal) and then they gave us another $10 coupon at the till.  Crabs legs paid for then!

Our first Sunday arrived along with the first concert.  I actually went to this one (none since).  Ken got his first Regina's ice cream, but we had dinner at home, having eaten out three days in a row.

By day six we were packed and long-hauling it to San Francisco.

We got back mid-month and it started with a couple of Merry Maids (no, really) cleaning our apartment.  It cost an arm and a leg but two hours of cleaning by two people (so that's four hours of cleaning) really puts a shine on the place.  Can't say we clean the blinds and the tops of doors and fan blades ourselves all that often!  

The other two things of note are the same as every November - we went out for a Thanksgiving meal and a couple of days later we went to The Nutcracker.

I am not fond of Butterball turkey, ploppy potato and ploppy sweet potato and ploppy stuffing and squeaky beans in mushroom soup.  Followed by very, very sweet pumpkin pie loaded with cinnamon (the only spice I hate).  Ken and millions of Americans love it so I am decidedly the odd one out.  Nothing new there then.  No problem - we decided on Mel's diner and I would have their ribs - which I do like.  Mmmm... Thanksgiving Day so their usual menu is not on offer - I can have the turkey with aforementioned accompaniments or ham with the same or pork loin with the same or fish with fries.   I opted for the fish.  Obviously all the focus that day was on getting the turkey out - they actually managed to give me ploppy fish!

The Nutcracker however was its usual wonderful self.  Because I am feeling fed up with being here (again!) I had said to Ken not to bother booking but he said too late we already have the tickets.  So a very quiet me (I am trying not to appear to be a total a misery) went through the motions of going to the ballet.  Almost as soon as it started I knew why we were there.  I just love it and it is so intrinsically bound up with Christmas and a million memories for me that it is just a joy.  It is the best ballet music for sure and the pas de deux is a singular gem. I have just been watching the Royal Ballet version and I am telling you the Miami City Ballet knocks it into a cocked hat.

On the 30th I bought a new mini project - Hillside House and that's a whole other tale.

So lets do a quick flick back to the 6th and our California trip.  I can't do any better than the notes I wrote when we were there so here they are.  I apologise for the constant shift in tenses but it depended on when it was being written,




Tuesday 6th. November

Journey went without a hitch other than our seemingly endless messing around with time zones. This time we just added in Minneapolis time en route and then on to San Francisco which is three hours earlier than Naples.

We stayed at the Beresford Hotel slap bang centre of SF. I did my usual hotel inspector critique Such a shame - a little more effort and it would be a terrific boutique hotel. Instead of building on its lovely Edwardian bones... They had hidden most of them with things such as our 'award-winning White Horse Tavern, an authentic replica of an Old English Pub'. Well, no actually it wasn't. That said it was a nice hotel and good to get my first eight hours unbroken sleep in a long time.

Wednesday 7th November

San Francisco - I'm going where the weather suits my clothes.......

After a Continental breakfast in the bar we were off to see the city. This proved a tad difficult as Fog city was living up to its name. It was also very cold which was a bit of a bind. The preceding three days they broke heat records for the time of year; the day we arrived they began a three day record breaking cold for this time of year. This is to be taken literally. It was a set of three and three record breaking numbers.

We had chosen this coastal drive as somewhere we could go in winter from Naples where we would have suitable attire. We were frozen, even Ken was in a fleece! Being British we stiffened our upper lips (or rather the wind did) and climbed aboard an open top bus for two hours.

What a fantastic city. Talk about eclectic.  It would be a student architect's dream. Lovely, lovely buildings everywhere you look. We got back to Union Square and (over)stayed on the bus for a repeat stop to China Town for lunch and a mooch around the shops where I got suckered into buying a new camera. I never had any intention of buying one but decided I would have a look at one in a likely looking shop. I did the absolute tourist thing of leaving your brains at home. I have no idea what came over me ... Slick salesman, but I am not usually a sucker for that. He did the three stage knock down price thing, including... Have to ask the boss routine. At one point I began to say I have no idea what I should be paying for this or whether it is what I want - I will go and do some research on-line and come back tomorrow if its what I want. Never quite finished that speech before I had handed over my plastic for a camera and SD card for, as it turns out, twice what it would have cost me on Amazon. Thank heavens it is at least a camera I actually want and like. That didn't stop the occasional beating myself with twigs though. Ken bought himself a new man bag and purse. Talk about gender reversal!

Back to the hotel and I'm in the bed (clothed) to warm up! Ken has put on a sweater!!!!!!!

I was too cold to go out for a meal so Ken braved the elements to cross the road and pick up a good pizza which we ate in the bar.


Thursday 8th November


Up and at it around seven again for a car pick up at nine. We did a slight detour on our route to Golden Gate Bridge as Ken had to drive the crookedest street in the world ... Lombard Street.

Then off over Golden Gate Bridge to CA 1 and the drive to Napa. We stopped for a look at the view at Muir Beach overlook. Apparently you might have to wait around if you want to see the whales.... You'd think they would come to order.

It was one of the best drives ever. We were climbing up and down and winding round and round. No, really, it is a lovely drive. It seemed every time we hit about 400 feet we ran into rain. Even that was lovely as it brought out the glorious smell of the rainbow Eucalyptus that often stood either side of our road like vegetative leviathans.


We are now in Napa having done the Sonoma Valley and visited a vineyard up close and personal. The whole valley is a beautiful area with all the vineyards and impressive houses. It was like driving through an advert for California wines. Viticulture for as far as the eye could see. We also saw a couple of seaside towns en route (Stinson and Olema and others) that I wouldn't mind seeing again. When we give up on Naples I have plans for all sorts of extended holidays such as a whole month, maybe May or September, visiting this coast, doing a few days in each place. This is certainly one of the American coastlines worth doing at a more leisurely pace.



We are in a motel now for our overnight in Napa ... Big room with all the usual stuff ... So it is comfy enough. Trouble with me is that when I get in after a day out I don't want to go out again to eat. We sussed out several eateries in Napa and in a lovely little nearby town called Yountville, BUT they are very chi chi and pricey. We had decided on Celadon in Napa but now have reneged because at best it will be a hundred bucks plus. This town looks like it's where all the 'chattering classes' take their vacations! We did weaken our resolve and have a cake and coffee from a French bakery in Yountville called Bouchon Bakery. So, so nice in all kinds of ways. Later we settled on a sub from Subway and bought our breakfast ready for tomorrow from the supermarket. We know how to live.

Friday 9th November
and a shopping day in and around Sacramento.

Our first stop was Vacaville and a Coldwater Creek Outlet. I managed to get a pair of trousers and a top to get me through another day's holiday in the slightly chilly weather. Oddly the pair of earrings I also bought were the dearest item! It had better get warmer as we go south or I shall be the only woman in white cut-offs and goose pimples. Time for lunch and Ken and I seem to have become the over sixties homing pigeons for suitable old fogey food. He googled eateries nearby and came up with The Black Oak. Built in 1960 (historical by american standards) and barely a refurb since, it was the most amusing cross between Cracker Barrel and Perkins. It was crammed with purchasable nick-knacks inside the foyer to fleece you while you wait - always assuming your house needs soft toys or china ornaments. This was a low-key Cracker Barrel style but rubbish nick knacks. The restaurant (a loose term) was an almost identical Perkins layout and menu.... Ken was for the Liver and Onions plus salad and egg custard and me for chicken pot pie, soup and ice cream ... Three courses for under ten bucks.

Staggering under the weight of a huge mom & pop lunch, we then drove on to Sacramento proper and a doll's house shop called The Elegant Dolls House. It was interesting in its own way. I only managed to spend twelve bucks and some change. [any dolls house stuff is mentioned in my Bentleys Blog] Then on to Livermore and on our way to the beginning of our drive down the coast. Lovely sunny day today but still a nip in the air enough to wear a jacket and long trousers.

Each hotel has got cheaper as we have gone on and they have also got better each time. The Quality Inn we are now in at Livermore is excellent all round.


Saturday 10th

Great start to the day... Breakfast included at QI consisted of a choice of various teas, coffees chocolate, and cereals muffins, bagels, toast, jam, peanut butter, honey, cream cheese, yoghurt, cartons of milk, waffles, syrup, two fruit juices, bacon, eggs, potatoes, apples, bananas........ Almost had it all but I managed to get a grip. We didn't head to the coast drive straight away as Ken had found a dolls house shop in Pacific Grove... Off we tootled and I amused myself, as I often do, with the names of the places we drove through. Initially we were in cherry and garlic growing country. There was no doubt about it as my nose was telling me we were driving through an Italian restaurant.  Then through Castroville ..... who said Americans don't do irony! Apparently this is 'the artichoke capital of the world'... or so it proclaimed on its roadside billboard. It seems artichokes en masse smell like school cabbage. This town is closely followed by a sign to Pruneville.... no comment on its aroma. We then hit the coast and travelled past towns such as Seaside, Marina, Sand City... distinct lack of imagination not to mention confusing. It would be no use saying, "Do you want to go to the seaside?'' as you would only have a choice of one place, as for asking where the marina was, well it is in Marina......


Ultimately we found the really charming Pacific Grove filled with lovely little artisan type shops.... Ours... Number 213 was what seemed like the only closed store on the street!! We are pretty resigned to looking up dolls shops on the web only to discover they don't exist any more so it wasn't a huge surprise. We wandered off down to the sea and there were all sorts of interesting things to see. There was a couple having wedding photos taken, but there was only them and a photographer with not a sign of a guest. I wondered if maybe they are photos after the event not on the day itself, I hope so otherwise these were a well-suited pair of orphans without friends. It seems an odd thing to do? Believe me we weren't watching a modelling photo shoot! Then there was a clutch of cheerleaders. Is clutch the collective noun for cheerleaders? They were balanced on a bunch of rocks on the edge of the sea each one of them having their photo (professionally) taken. Clearly Lovers Point is THE place to be immortalised. Most of all I loved the truly wonderful restaurant ...the Beach House....which was being refurbed.... I got to talk to the painter and he said he'd grown up around there and he and all the kids he knew had swum in the small pool at the back of the restaurant many, many times and it was a meaningful place for Lovers Point inhabitants, so they were doing a beautiful job.

It was also a diving and surfing place. We watched a family of two lads and their parents arrive and unload their car....out came their inflatable dinghy, oars, diving gear, tanks and harpoon guns, knives (!), large coolers (plural) all from the back of an ordinary Honda CRV. That's an advertising opportunity missed.

As we left the town there was the incongruous sight of a deer complete with antlers grazing someone's front garden right on the edge of the sea.




We got to the main event of the day Smallsea Museum but managed to dangle the satisfaction a little longer by having lunch first  at the attached Bahama Grill. This was another tired, but reasonable, restaurant with OK food... the upside was eating something I'd not had before... it was a coconut shrimp but served with a bowl of rice with a mango salad and coleslaw and broccoli. We shared some ribs as a starter that were pretty good but again rather odd as they tasted very herby... sage?? This was followed by some excellent chocolates from a shop making them. Again, in America, that doesn't always bode well as they are (quite rightly) made for an American palate, but they were excellent. Ken returned here after the museum for some ice cream! All this was in a great shopping centre called The Barnyard in Carmel. It was full of nice shops in a pretty layout in groups of different Barn style buildings. Not a generic store in sight. Smallsea itself was just such a joy and more and must surely be the highlight of this trip. I will be astounded if anything tops it.




After the museum, we were off to look at the beach and check out Carmel proper before moving on to our next stop-over. Carmel is a very, very pretty town in a gooey sort of way; think Cornwall meets Disney.... A place to add to my check it out if we are in that area list for sure. Our overnighter was on the outskirts of Carmel ready to head off down the coast road tomorrow.


Sunday 11th

Last night was the poorest of our hotels. The Knights Inn. It did the job but we have been spoiled by the others. Breakfast was a bit makeshift in something resembling a large cupboard, so we took it back to our room. There wasn't a coffee maker in the room. That's a first for us in the States. I even checked with the desk in case it had gone walkabout. The previous evening we had to grab a coffee from the breakfast area before 9 pm after which it was locked up.

We set off on our longest driving day of the trip.. two hours to Hearst Castle at San Simeon and then three hours after that to Ventura.



We couldn't have chosen a more perfect day, high seventies, blue skies and views to the edge of the planet. This is a coast which is famed for its fogs coming in from the sea and many people aren't lucky enough to get the perfect day. As the famous CA 1 drive along the coast and the views from Hearst Castle were the main ingredient in this dish, we would have missed a lot.

Very soon into our trip there was a road sign saying hills and bends for the next 63 miles . Ken was as happy as... Well.... Ken. He truly loves driving and the more challenges the better. I just got out my white knuckles and wore them for the duration. Through the fear I did register that there is mile after mile of beaches and rocks and sparkling sea, exactly like when you see this road in the movies. We only stopped twice en route for a photo op otherwise if we had stopped at everything worth snapping we would still be there. For example, we passed a beach full of elephant seals ... And I mean full.. Tremendous sight. Being seasoned travellers (!) and blasé about such things (!) we drove on by.



As for Hearst castle - it was truly remarkable. I really felt as though we had gone from the sublime to the utterly ridiculous. On one level it is an astonishing feat but beyond that it is undeniably tasteless. An absolute paean to ostentation. I did my very best not to do the snotty English view of it all but failed miserably and by the time the Minstrel Gallery in the dining room was described as a 'music box' I just gave in to all my prejudices and snobbery and thanked God ( who after all we all know is English) for my having been born on the other side of the pond. In all seriousness it is a fantastic place to visit and unique. For once this word is being used accurately. Sadly for us, you would need a very long day or better still three days and very deep pockets to tour the whole castle. Again the viewing method was a bit of an anathema to us, being used to NT and such like.


There are three guided tours. You can't just wander around the place. The tours are - The grand rooms - the cottages and kitchen and the upstairs rooms. Each tour costs twenty five dollars and takes forty minutes. We didn't have a choice as there was only a couple space left that day. They were on the grand rooms tour at 1.20 pm. Clearly if you were coming in season you would have to take up their offer of allowing you to book eight weeks ahead; indeed I suspect you might be lucky even then to get what you want. You are car parked and started off from the visitors centre which is five miles from the house. You are then bussed up to the house with a guide and are very strictly made to stay on the grey carpet (in our case by a very seriously threatening cowboy) and to always to remain with the group.



We were shown four rooms and then allowed outside to walk round the grounds and then get any bus back down the hill. The bus trip is logical as the narrow track clings to the hillside and is almost literally just the width of the bus... There is a road up and a road down... Mr Hearst thought of everything! Most bizarrely of all he collected statues from all over the world and these are assiduously cleaned all the time as you would a kitchen work surface. They get sprayed with some bacteriological cleaner and wiped until good enough to eat off. They look dreadful, pure white, in your face, marble and alabaster. It was hard not to think that they had just been shipped in from Home Depot. You are probably looking at something from the sixteenth century here.

Our tour was followed by a pleasant three hour trip to our hotel in Ventura. La Quinta - again a great hotel for our overnighter ready for my birthday to tomorrow.

Monday 12th November.

Bit of a panic moment this morning when we realised Monday was part of the Veterans Day weekend which is a holiday for a lot of people. We wondered if the two shops Ken had planned for today would actually be open. Always assuming they were still there. Luckily the gods were smiling on me on my birthday.

Our first port of call on a blue sun-shiny day was Larianne's in Ventura. This was such an incredible dolls house shop. (again talked about in Bentleys).

By sheer serendipity the ladies who worked in the shop were discussing an eatery a couple of doors away called Allinsons. This turned out to be a real find. I suppose it is a sort of American diner type food all of which looked fabulous as it whizzed past us to all the diners. Obviously a favourite local eatery as it was pretty full. Nevertheless the service was terrific as was the incredibly good food.

Ken had a bowl of salad before his Monte Cristo which would have fed a family of four and tasted fresh out of the garden.... I helped him a little. The dusting of icing sugar on the Monte Cristo was the step too far for me. My Philly chicken was delicious, fresh and clean tasting and grease free .. A real gem.

Back in the car and on to My Dolls House shop in Torrance. Another fascinatingly different dolls house shop.

Satiated by two dolls houses we set off on our long drive to San Diego. Pretty much from now on it was a motorway trip in the dark, often in City rush hour traffic. Ken, as always, remained totally unfazed by five lane highways and a zillion cars buzzing around. It seemed like Los Angeles has spread north and south for miles and miles. As soon as you leave one small town and its spread, you enter another. We didn't get into San Diego until late and so we never managed to see any of it. This was our last hotel overnighter, at a Super 8, before flying out the next day to Naples.


Tuesday 13th November


We thought we might be able to do a bus tour of San Diego before flying out but I thought it was cutting it a bit fine for the airport, so we decided on a bit of a harbor drive instead. Admittedly that didn't give us much of anything except miles and miles of the naval base. By the time we got to anything scenic it was pretty much time to head on out to the airport. So, sadly, San Diego awaits a future trip. We returned the car to the airport which turned out to be a surprise shuttle bus ride away... See, Ken, you should never cut arrival at the airport time to the bone as you never know what might turn up. Added to this we were then set down at terminal one only to discover we needed terminal two which was a pretty good hike through the two buildings. By the time we had a bit of a fiddle with our computers and grabbed something to eat our plane was pretty much boarding. There are no meals on internal flights for cattle class; you can buy snacks if they have any left! Even the movie and headphones have to be purchased. I think Ryan air got their inspiration from American internal flights. We had an uneventful trip back except for the baby whale who sat in the seat in front of me. She immediately set her seat as far back as it would go and then flailed around in my lap. Luckily there was an empty seat so I moved!


That's certainly a birthday to remember. Thanks Ken.


[there are photos for most of the things mentioned here - just click on the photo album link]

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