Sunday, March 25, 2012

Road Trip: Monterey and Madonna Inn

Beautiful coastline near Lucia Lodge, Big Sur

I first met my friend Keith on the isle of Skye, around 1985.  He was cheering up a newly divorced friend by hiking him up the Cuillins, and we were the only guests at the b & b as it was early spring.  We hit it off (even though I didn't like Bunnahabhain scotch), and I invited Keith to visit us in California.  He came a few weeks later, and being an Americanophile on his first trip West, he thoroughly enjoyed seeing movie studios, Venice Beach, and Fourth of July celebrations.  The next summer Peter and I were invited to go island-hopping in the Hebrides, which we did in Keith's van, containing his motorcycle, a dinghy, and his wife Anne's paints.  We stayed in castle and fishing hotels, spun around lochs in the dinghy, hiked and enjoyed the white sands, machair and seashells of the islands.   And so a fine friendship began, and nearly every year they came to America, or we visited them at their lovely 15th century farmhouse in Kent. The remains of a German bomber could still be seen in the bluebell woods, and they shot rabbits and pheasants which Anne cooked sublimely.  Memorably, they introduced us to the Lake District, the Scilly Isles, and the hypermarkets of Calais.

Now Keith and Anne have retired, and divide their year between homes in Baja and the Italian lakes. We actually see them more often than ever now, as we are a good stopping point on their long journeys.  This week was their 25th anniversary, and they decided to take a drive up the coast to Monterey.  We had another English house guest this week, Julian, and Peter and Paul stayed at home with him and the cats, but I ventured up north with Keith and Anne. 

Our first stop was Cambria, which though famous for its beauty, mainly interested me because it was chock full of antiques shops. In keeping with the English theme, I bought some Hammersley bone china. Not even a splurge: the cup and saucer cost $9!

 What I love about Hammersley is its beautifully detailed flower paintings.  Since our apartment has no views, no garden, no greenery, I like to surround myself with the stuff, and my computer desk is rather incongruously piled with little-old-lady obsessional collections of china roses.  The cats ignore it disdainfully, but if there's another earthquake I'll simply have to start all over again on eBay.

But I digress.  Here is a flower, presumably a lupine, we saw near Nepenthe.

We stopped to see the elephant seals north of Cambria, as one does.

We spent the first night at Avila Beach, in a hotel where every room has a hot springs tub. Very restful, only Anne lost her passport there, which rather cast a shadow over the rest of the trip.  There was nothing to be done but for them to go to the British Embassy in Los Angeles at trip's end, so we continued on our way and managed to have a good time.  Though I suspect that I enjoyed it more than they did, after that point.

We spent a couple of nights at the very comfortable Spindrift Hotel on Cannery Row in Monterey.  Below, the view from the hotel.  

Of course we visited the Monterey Aquarium, but I must admit none of us enjoyed it much.  The exhibits seemed to have been dumbed down since our last long-ago visit, and the number of truly obnoxious, screaming, pushing, ill-mannered kids was way up.  The fish were nice though.  Here are some sardines:

And here are sardines that we ate in an Italian seafood restaurant later.

My favorites in any aquarium are the seahorses.  I can watch their delicate swaying dance for literally hours, and don't care what I see, as long as I see them.

A rather melancholy little yellow fellow.

A sea dragon. Hard to photograph as they move so fast!

Dwarf seahorses


More jellyfish

Jellies that look like an alien invasion

The masses of noisy kids on school trips were truly insupportable, however, and an hour and a half at the aquarium was all I could endure, though it cost $30!  I was glad that I was going to meet my friends June and Billy for lunch.  They are also very old friends - I worked with June in the 1970s - who have lately retired and moved up to this area.  We had a delightful lunch and then they took me driving around their neighborhood, showing me Pacific Grove, old Monterey, and Asilomar, which I had always wanted to see. 


Asilomar is a conference center and refuge on 100 acres in Pacific Grove, on the Monterey peninsula, founded as a camp in 1913, with Arts and Crafts style buildings designed by the famous architect Julia Morgan.  The Wizard of Oz conferences are held there, and now that I've seen it I think it would be a lovely spot for a JASNA conference...only not being near a major international airport is probably the spoiler.

Me and June at Asilomar

Billy and June

Me on the sand dunes at Asilomar

Leaving Monterey, Keith and Anne and I then drove to the famously kitschy Madonna Inn for a night.

Madonna Inn

Madonna Inn was founded in 1958 by Alex and Phyllis Madonna, and it has remained frozen in time, which is part of its charm.  It's supposed to be over-the-top naff, but I found it attractive, comfortable, and fun, and enjoyed it enormously (which may say something about my taste level).  Throughout the hotel there are stained glass windows, elaborate wood carving and massive stonework, with touches of frou-frou pink and fairy lights.  Each of the 110 guest rooms is decorated in a special style, but we never saw the really fancy ones.  My modest room was called Pioneer and Keith and Anne were in Sonora.  It was cool and silent at night and I slept soundly despite the uneasy sight of the framed gun mounted by my bed.

Me taking a picture in the mirror

Stained glass everywhere

I climbed the hill behind the hotel to get an overview of the place

The lamps were pink

Beautiful flowers everywhere


As colorful as the flowers was the Carnival glassware. These goblets were on every table.  They were also on sale, so how could I resist buying a few?  I couldn't.

A room with a gun

For me, the very best thing about the Madonna Inn was the swimming pool.  Under the sky, with views of the foggy hills, the large pool is heated to 85 F, and is heavenly to swim in.  It was about 55 out and I had the pool entirely to myself.  So I frolicked and did underwater ballet exercises, most exhilarating.

As the evening closed in, Keith and Anne sat by the fire...

And then we had what was the second or third anniversary dinner of the trip.  The pink champagne cake was fresh and delicious - and huge.

Next day we drove back to L.A., and Anne was much relieved to be able to pick up a temporary passport at the British Embassy with a wait of a little less than an hour.  Soon they were off, bound for San Diego and then Milan, and I settled down to tea in a Hammersley cornflower blue cup, with suitably Italian gorgonzola cheese and fig jam, from Trader Joe.