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2008: Down the Coast

Marie-Hélène posed in front of one of Hearst Castle’s beautiful swimming pools.

In Santa Cruz, we have our very own little esplanade where we can walk or bicycle along the ocean whenever we get the urge, West Cliff Drive. It’s about a 15 minute drive from home, and is one of the unsung reasons that California is a natural paradise.

A few miles up the Coast from Hearst Castle, on a beach called Piedras Blancas,
each spring and summer a colony of elephant seals comes to stay.

From time to time, we explore the rest of the California coast, and spent a short week doing so in July 2008.

We drove down the Pacific Coast Highway, not for the first time, and marveled. Long segments of the road should never have been built, from an engineering perspective. The geology is simply unsuitable to build a road on, which is why the Mission fathers followed the inland valleys most of the time. Mountains drop straight down into the ocean in many places, and in some of them the ground itself is very unstable and slides regularly. The highway is then closed on both sides of the slide for up to months at a time while CalTrans fixes it.

Alex and Charlie in front of one Hearst Castle’s old firetrucks, restored and housed in the visitors’ center. The parents studiously avoid learning what the gestures mean!

Big Sur, perhaps the most beautiful stretch of the Highway, suffers these closures on a regular basis. Drive it while you can!

Our first stop on this vacation was in San Simeon, the village below Big Sur where Julia Morgan helped William Randolph Hearst build his summer home, Hearst Castle. We’d driven past it on earlier trips up and down the Coast, but never visited. It’s more of a movie set than a home, as befits its California media heritage, with pieces completely unfinished amid the staged spectacles of Citizen Kane.

The motel where we spent the night in the village boasted a few hundred yards of ocean frontage, with the Pacific lapping at the shore about 50 yards from the room. They lit campfires along the front during the evening. The boys heated marshmallows in the flames, and then sandwiched them between graham crackers with chocolate to make s’mores. This is the kind of camping that the parents like to indulge in, complete with a comfortable bed at the end of the evening.

Our next stop was Disneyland, one of our regular destinations and always a blast.

At Marie-Helene’s urging, while we were down in Los Angeles, we somehow found the time to go looking for a mantelpiece to upgrade our living room fireplace, She had heard that movie production companies purchased mantelpieces for sets in local stores, and she managed to find the store which had made the fireplaces for “The Titanic.” Everything there looked like something out of the BBC’s Masterpiece Theater, and of course Marie-Helene loved them all.

You can see how good it looks, right, even in a cramped space inside the store where we bought it? And you can see how packing to ship might be an issue!

And of course we had to buy one.

This was how the living room looked for Christmas, with the cards on the mantel between the lamps and the new high def. TV (my part of this year’s renovation bargain) off to the side waiting to be mounted above the mantel. Pretty cool!

Marital peace is worth the occasional crazy expense deemed indispensable by maman!

This was going to be the second renovation of the salon in eleven years, and it worked beautifully, except for the small matter of the cost, part of the reason that our summer vacation this year was of such a reduced stature.

The worst part wasn’t the cost of the mantelpiece itself, or even the cost of the installation (our contractor Paul was always very fair with us on pricing): it was the cost of shipping! The mantelpiece was all wood glued together in one piece in an “n” shape, and so obviously fragile that the cost of crating and shipping was hard to argue with.

Not a lot of pix this trip, I’m afraid, the entourage was going through one of its “no photos” phases. So I’ll add just one more, from the swimming pool in Santa Cruz that we visited just before the trip.