Friday, February 24, 2012

Christmas 2011

A quick trip to Minnesota for Christmas with family. Most unusual weather-no snow and not even truly cold!

This was my traditional Christmas-great dinner, fun white elephant, singing, presents, almost exactly as we have done if for all the 40 years I can remember. E- has learned to love it all, but especially the day after.  December 26th-visit the Mall of America for lunch, gift returns and a visit to the Peep store.  Yes, a whole store dedicated to sugar covered marshmallows.  They manage to fill the store with extras-plushies, keychains and candles.  The really fantastic thing is that they are giving out free foam hats and almost everyone in our group of 12 gets one...and proceeds to wear them throughout the mall for the next couple hours.  We are quite a site-if you were there that day you could not miss us!

December 27th we take a special trip to the SPAM museum in Austin, MN.  A movie, some history, a practice factory, and samples!
Each Golden cube is an empty SPAM can.

 SPAM Craft


Movie theater entrance

They have Monty Python on a loop. Everybody can learn the words to SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, Eggs and SPAM

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Hearst Castle, Presidents's Day Weekend, 2012

The long weekend gave me a chance to see Hearst Castle, which has been on the list a long time!  We did actually try before, but were blocked by a rock slide on 1, the Pacific Coast Highway.  Turns out that happens a lot and if you are planning on driving it, better check out the status before you leave the house.

Drive down
Nothing eventful on the drive down-we took 101 down and got to see the wine region near Paso Robles before stopping in Cambria for lunch.  Cambria is a very sweet, sleepy seaside resort town where the food could be hit or miss, so we planned ahead and got brunch at Robin's.  Great reviews online and we weren't disappointed-an international twist with fresh local food (chorizo, avacado and egg in a sandwich, and lox and egg on naan).

After lunch we visited Seekers Glass shop just across the street.  It has been around since the 80s and one of the group remembers going there as a teenager!  Decorative glass objects in every style you can think of, but the dragon with hotdog took the cake for whimsy!

Hearst Castle
You can see it from the highway and you know that you are in for some great ocean views. The system is well designed-plenty of parking, giant visitors center with everything to keep you busy for more than an hour-movie, snacks, extra exhibits, gift shop and an outdoor patio.  Don't arrive after noon without reservations, the tours sell out!  Buses take you up the hill and give you a nice introduction to the estate and as a bonus it is narrated by Alex Trebek, though no one on the internet knows why.

Most people on their first visit would start with the Grand Rooms tours, but we went with the Upstairs Suites.  I find the more intimate parts of a fancy house can be more insightful.  What we find out is that Hearst was eccentric (if you are poor you are odd, but when you have money you are eccentric).  Changed his mind about everything, mixed and matched originals with replicas and wanted a house filled with lots and lots of ornate stuff.

Wow, what an uncomfortable place to live-too many things competing for your eyes.  This was his 'office'.

And a strange style, super fancy spacious rooms, but many narrow unfinished hallways and stairs.  After your official tour, you can wander the grounds to see the famous pools and guest houses.

 Outdoor Pool

Indoor pool-I think this is the best room in the estate.

I really enjoyed the fruit trees but there is no picking the fruit and they don't even harvest it themselves.  It is a lost money making opportunity!  They do sell the Hearst Ranch beef because it is still a working farm and folks would love a bag of oranges, or better, marmalade!

After all that grandeur he managed to add something tasteful as well.  The outdoor floor tiles are simple but pretty with a cohesive yellow/orange and blue color scheme and themed but not identical.

Drive home
We don't dilly dally because we drive back up 1 (Pacific Coast Highway) in order to see the ocean and the sunset.  It is worth it every once in a while, just be prepared for a slower drive, what with all the curvy parts and stopping for the view.

Final stop is dinner in a funky taqueria in downtown Monterey.  Thanks to yelp for the good reviews and my friends for the day out and their photos!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Labor Day weekend 2011

Remembrance of a summer weekend.

Sunday hike in the Redwoods
A hike in Big Basin is a fantastic plan on this Labor day weekend...but we know from past experience that it will be BUSY.  So being clever folks we get up earlier than we would like, hustle over to the park and it works like a charm.  We have no problems parking and are planning our hike by 9:30 am.

Since we are here early, we decide on a longer hike-the 4 mile loop hike to see Semperviren Falls.  On the way out we pass a bunch of campsites and a few groups on the dusty trail, but it is mostly quiet as we walk under the giant trees.  The falls is not all that impressive since it is the end of summer, so minimal water flow.  But it makes a lovely sound that is a nice change from the quiet of the forest.

The next part of the hike is right along the creek that comes out of the falls and it occurs to me that if we are going to see a banana slug, this is the place!  I love the banana slug-they are icky and fascinating at the same time.  They are only near the Pacific coast and are the mascot for the University of Santa Cruz.  Sure enough we turn the corner and right there in front of us are 2 banana slugs-bonus! They are a circle, head to tail, moving slowly and it looks like they are biting each other.  Huh.  That is odd, what the heck is going...ohhhh...could it be?  Maybe?  After we get home I look it up and sure enough they were mating-how cool is that!

The last section of the hike has information on some of the families that lived here in the 1800s.  Wow, it is not easy to get here in today, the isolation back in the day must have been extreme-not my idea of fun!  As we get back into the car around noon it is starting to get hot and crowded-score one for the early birds!

Monday visit to the Aquarium
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the best in the world and is a stellar way to spend a day.  They are able to keep sharks in captivity longer than any other aquarium but it only happens every other year or so.  They usually get ones that have accidentally been captured by fishermen, keep them until they are too stressed out and then release them. This time they have one that they caught on purpose-a male juvenile great white. 

Again we get up early so that we get in as the doors open, yup, everyone is coming to see the shark.  If your main thoughts of sharks are of Jaws or Mega-Shark, the real deal may be underwhelming.  In the big ocean tank he is totally at home, just another one of the guys slowly swimming around, checking stuff out, totally not eating everything in site.  Graceful and calm. The biggest crowd reaction was not even to the shark, but to the sardines.  The sardine school entered stage left and when they were front and center made a quick dive down and back to the corner.  The whole crowd gasped in unison, it was just so cool.

Of course the rest of the  day was wonderful, sea dragons, seahorses, jellies, rays, flamingos and spoonbills and yummy sustainable fish at the restaurant.    Maybe I shouldn't wait for a shark for the next visit!