Postcard From Northern California – Fort Bragg to Carmel

For those of you who are not too weary yet of hearing about our recent travels, here is the third and final installment. After this, I promise the posts will be briefer and more varied.
 

POSTCARD FROM NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

Part 3 – Fort Bragg to Carmel

 

We were far from having exhausted all the attractions Mendocino held, but Miki and Peter wanted to explore new territory, and as they caught me in an agreeable post-breakfast moment, we proceeded north along the coast. Just beyond Mendocino is Russian Gulch State Park, which, I was told, contained a waterfall worth a visit. Given that the sky was producing its own substantial waterfall at the moment, we decided to pass on this opportunity, and kept driving. We also did not appreciably slow down to inspect the Point Cabrillo lighthouse on our left, despite the beautiful 3rd Order Fresnel lens that I was told had been restored to full operation. We had just seen the lighthouse at Point Arena, and I guess we were a little jaded. In this way, we covered the seven miles to Fort Bragg in relatively short time.

 

When we arrived, Miki wondered, “How come we don’t see any soldiers around here?”

“Why should we see soldiers?” I asked, sounding confused, as I sometimes do in our conversations.

“Well, I thought Fort Bragg was a big military facility.”

“It is – in the Carolinas.”

“Oh…. never mind!”

 

Aside from the absence of soldiers, Fort Bragg also didn’t offer much in the way of excitement for tourists visiting in the rain. The museum in the center of town was closed when we arrived. There was a small co-op of antique stories, and Miki found some wonderful wrought iron hangers for pots to place on the outside wall of the house. Unfortunately for her, the capacity of our car was already maximized by the occupants, (who may have gotten a smidge larger during our travel), our luggage, and the wine we purchased in Napa. We consoled ourselves by driving further north to MacKerricher State Park outside of Cleone. From here, you can see ten miles of beach stretching in both directions, along with cypress and pine trees, seals lounging on the rocky shoals below, as well as an inland lake being visited by mallards and geese. The Park Service has lain out an impressive network of wooden ramps, allowing visitors (even handicapped ones) to make their way through some of the marshy areas in order to admire the scenery and the local wildlife. It was nice to see our tax dollars at work. Despite a chill breeze off the ocean, we made our way around the various observation areas, thoughtfully provided with plaques explaining to visitors some of the natural history they were witnessing. Peter, our chief photographer, was busy creating his own visual documentary of our travels, while I snapped various snapshots to refresh my memory in case of early senescence.

 

On our way back, we stopped at Glass Beach, on the north side of Fort Bragg. At the turn of the century, this beach was the local garbage dump. Since the majority of containers of the time were made of glass, the beach is filled with small, colored, translucent, smooth pebbles – the ocean’s way of dealing with the ugliness of man. We found ourselves transported back to our childhoods, as we wandered along the water’s edge, eyes downcast, picking up various glass baubles, filling our pockets with treasure. We noticed two elderly ladies carrying a plastic shopping bag, pursuing the same quest. I don’t know if kids today still play with colored glass marbles, stored for safekeeping in a cardboard cigar box under the bed. If they don’t, I’m sorry they no longer have the magic in their lives that captured the imagination of so many preceding generations since the time of the Pharaohs.

 

Our time on the North Coast passed all too rapidly, and it was time to wind our way back down towards home. We drove south to Elk, a tiny community of less than 300, where we paused to admire the coastal view. The people who stay in the few Victorian cottages perched on the cliff get the benefit of the serenity of a Buddhist garden (a number of Buddhas of various size and composition are scattered throughout the place), as well as a vista of dramatic composition: dark islands with giant, wave-carved portals, a peninsula filled with wildflowers and windswept cypresses jutting into the ocean spray, sandy beaches stretching to the north, and forests lining hillsides curving down to the Pacific below. It was easy to understand how the place attracted seekers of Nirvana.

 

Reluctantly, we departed Elk, making our way inland on Hwy 128, as it meandered through Navarro River Redwoods State Park. There is something about being in a redwood forest that is different from any other arboreal experience. Perhaps it’s the size and height of these towering giants, many already old when white men first set foot on this continent. Maybe it’s the quality of the filtered light, and how it is reflected in the milky pools on the forest floor. Or possibly, it is the soft, loamy fern-filled forest floor that cushions and silences the steps of the visitor, preserving the silence of the woods interrupted only by the thin whisper of wind from treetops. Whatever the reason, one would be hard put not to experience during a visit a sense of reverence, of peace, of the sacred. Filled with mystery of these ancient guardians of Nature, we consumed a quiet picnic lunch, departing the realm of this magical place, and reentering the busy civilization along Hwy 101. Traffic picked up considerably as we approached San Francisco, where we were treated to a spectacular view of the city and Alcatraz Island as we made our way across the Golden Gate Bridge. (Crossing the bridge during rush hour with three people in the car has the added benefit of avoiding the $5 toll imposed on other vehicles.) We drove along Golden Gate Park, and soon were passing through Silicon Valley, approaching the Monterey Peninsula close to sunset, and our destination for the night, Carmel.

 

There is no “off season” in Carmel, a fact we were soon to experience. The tiny city of 5,000 that once boasted having Clint Eastwood as its mayor is the host to innumerable meetings and conventions, as well as a steady stream of visitors from around the world. Drawn by its idyllic location, year-round pleasant climate, abundance of good restaurants and galleries, tourists provide a continuous stream of patrons for the local businesses. You may remember my mentioning in Part 2 of this Postcard that I had lost my folder in Napa of our advance reservations. Included inside was the dinner reservation I had made for our night in Carmel. I have been in this town a number of times over the years, as it is the site of one of our annual medical meetings, and knew a number of the local restaurants. I was fairly sure I had made reservations at Casanova’s, a popular Spanish and Italian eatery. When we arrived, however, they had no record of us, and the place was jammed, even though it was a Wednesday night. The hostess apologized, but was willing to accommodate us on their veranda. Evenings in Carmel tend to be cool; however, there was a heating lamp for our comfort, and we were reasonably warmly dressed (besides being quite hungry), so we accepted. It turned out to be a very good choice. Inside the restaurant was quite noisy, but we had the outside all to ourselves, as well as the entertainment of watching those walking by. (In Carmel, people watching can be quite entertaining. You’re as likely to see men in Pendleton wool shirts as ladies in mink coats sporting the latest trends in plastic surgery.) Despite our location, our service was very attentive (even more so when our Peruvian waiter discovered Miki’s Chilean origins), and the food was very, very good. Even Peter, who lives in Paris, was impressed with both the food and the presentation, to the point he took a photograph of the coffee service, as he had not seen it so elegantly done.

 

We stayed at the Best Western on the edge of town. This has the triple advantage of avoiding parking hassles (always a problem in Carmel), lower rates for bigger rooms, and the convenience of having a great French bakery across the street for starting out the morning properly fortified. The bakery also makes great deli sandwiches, which are useful carryouts if you were to spend the day (as we did) at Point Lobos State Park just down Hwy 1, and before Big Sur. If you arrive in early, you’ll be rewarded not only with a parking space, but also an opportunity to follow one of the volunteer docents around the trails as they point out the various flora and fauna of the area. The water is a more distinct shade of blue here, the most photographed tree in the world, the lone torrey pine on the point, still attracts every shutter bug that passes by, though much of the scenery I described earlier is reprised with subtle variation. We found a wonderful picnic spot overlooking one of the many coves near the end of the trail, and proceeded to enjoy yet another memorable meal together. After lunch, Miki wanted to do nothing other than find a good place to sit and watch the surf roll in. Peter and I, on the other hand, still needed to stretch our muscles before getting back into the car for the drive home. We climbed up the cliff trail behind us, and were rewarded with finding a small cove in which several seals just gave birth to their pups. It was an amazing sight, watching these animals lying on the sand below us. Beyond the cove was a field aglow with California poppies, reminding me of the phrase I learned in Norway “where the earth laughs with flowers.”

Just off the shore was a small island, almost completely covered with cormorants and other fishing birds. This was a fitting place for the end of our holiday.

 

On the way home, as a final treat, we stopped in Santa Barbara (actually Montecito) at my favorite restaurant (and probably the best bargain) in Southern California – the Montecito Café. Located inside the Montecito Inn, the historic hotel built by Charlie Chaplin to serve as a hideaway for the movie stars of the 20’s and 30’s, this always-popular place serves a variety of daily specials as well as standard fare at amazingly low prices. The food is always outstanding, the service good, and its worth going just for the desserts alone. Be sure you reserve your favorite on arrival, for it may be gone by the time you order it. (As you can tell, I live by the motto “Life is short and uncertain – eat dessert first.”) We were not disappointed, and hopefully, neither are you, as I end this Postcard.

 

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21 Responses to Postcard From Northern California – Fort Bragg to Carmel

  1. Jaime Campbell says:

    I\’ve so thoroughly enjoyed reading this.  You could write for a travel magazine!  I hope that I\’ll always remember the visual of the seals and your quote, "Where the Earth laughs with flowers."  Just beautiful.
     
    Thanks.
    Jaime.

  2. PJ says:

    Good Afternoon Jorge,  🙂
     
    Oh My Gosh! Oh My Gosh! Now I am determined to visit most of theses places that you have so eloquently written about. I am in a state of smiles, visions, and even hunger pains for DESSERT!!
     
    If you read back in your previous postcard, or even just as you posted the photos, you will note..I made reference to the famous "lone tree" at Carmel. It is so recognizable, even to this blonde. LOL.I have always thought about taking this route up the Coast and taking in all the scenery. Now that you have written and given recommendations, where to stay, eat, etc., it is even more tempting. I have to be second on that QUOTE list. My sentiments exactly.
     
    As for Miki, I too, would have done just as she did. Sit back and listen and watch the rolling tide. Oh My! Oh My! However, after reading further, had you done that with her, you and Peter would not have witnessed Natures own little pups. What an experience that must have been.
     
    The poppies and your most awesome phrase of all…."where the Earth laughs with flowers", well, it5 made me just sigh and smile.
     
    BRAVO, Jorge, on a most beautifully written and descriptive journey. I shall always keep the vision and the feeling of being there right along for the journey. I thank you!
     
    Until next time….Keep smiling.
     
    ~*~Paula~*~

  3. Unknown says:

    I was not at all disappointed!  What a picture you paint!  I loved the sea glass, the poppies, the coffee service, etc., etc., etc.  You have such a gift for description.
     
    Hugs and thanks,
     
    MuMo

  4. Beach Bum says:

    Glass Beach sounds right up my ally.  Glad you had such a great adventure – great reading about it.

  5. Gayle says:

    Jorge,
     
    You\’ve filled me with wanderlust.  From the glass beach, to the redwood forest – and the culinary exploits – ahhh…
     
    Thanks for sharing the memories.
     
    Gayle

  6. Aafrica says:

    what you mean eat dessert first? eat dessert *only*!

    i\’d love to have those glass pebbles! what a tranquil escape you had.

  7. SANDRA says:

    Oh Jorge…this is wonderful…Northern California..I must go there someday..my hubby was from San Rafel….I used to pour over his pictures of California…I could smell the grape vineyards….my spirit walked through California through my hubby\’s eyes..and now yours (smile)….Stay safe and well Dear One…Forever…Sandra

  8. Jill says:

    Dear Jorge,
    I enjoyed this one too! I don\’t know if others have the same experience as I do, but I find myself comparing your descriptions to things I have lived through. You stirr up memories of my past as I read along.
     
    Being that you told me your home country is Hungary, may I compliment you on your English. I imagine Hungarian is your mother tongue, but if I didn\’t know this I would swear English was your first language. Maybe you were raised in the U.S.? Again I must say your English is beautiful.
     
    At this moment I am taping a "Tour of International Gastronomy" for my T.V. show. Just yesterday I was taping in a Peruvian restaurante and the food was excellent! I thought of that because of your mention of the Peruvian waiter.
     
    Just to bother you a little (in a nice way) I would like to know more about how your vacation made you Miki and Peter feel. Once in a while you mention your mood –"agreeable post-breakfast mood" but I want to know more. The reason I say this is because I have reactions as I read. –Seeing the clothing, the ladies with plastic surgery…that provokes a feeling in me. The driving…the ocean…I want more of Jorge! How about as a challenge, you could make your next post telling us of how the vacation affects you and the members of your family, besides the slight weight gain from eating so good!  Just a suggestion. I like your writing!
    Best,
    Jill

  9. Betty says:

    Jorge,
     
    So beautifully written one could hear the sounds and smell the aromas.
     
    To me the redwood forest is mystical and I want to go there again.
     
    And with a Chilean, no less.  Chile is my all time favorite country to visit.  I\’ve visited three times and stayed with Chilean  friends in Santiago and Osorno.  The Chileans are so gracious and fun loving.  I have the most wonderful memories of Chile.
     
    Betty
     
     

  10. Deborah says:

    Jorge, that was just wonderful.  I am so glad that your trip has been successful, and that you got to spend quality time with Peter as well.  When does he head back to Paris?  Is he posting pictures of the trip on his space?  Thanks for all the travel tips, I am planning on the OC for my next vacation, after the bloggers convention in Las Vegas in September.  I have always wanted to visit Carmel, since Joan Baez described it so beautifully back in the sixties.
    Blessed be,
    Deborah

  11. Bubu says:

    Just dropping by. 🙂 When was the last time you\’ve been to Malaysia? Must have been many years back eh. Everything has changed a lot. 😦 I miss the good old days. Take k!

  12. lima says:

    Hi Jorge,how are you? i hope well.
    After all this travel,you must be a little tiered,but happy i am sure,
    Long time no speak,I stay out of Portugal for some time,too.I hope you have a good and happy Easter.Keep in touch my Friend, and thank you for your visit.
     
    Have a nice week
     
    All the best
    Luis Lima

  13. A Utah Woman Am I says:

    Jorge,
     
    I thank you for your well wishes.  Finals (I fear) will not be over until mid next week.  But as you are well aware, that means right now is "crunch time" for preparing for them.  Though with proper preparations I am sure that I will do fine on them. 
     
    Your postcards are always a pleasure to read.  It is always fun to hear about the many "Adventures of Jorge".
     
    Take care my friend,
    Kelsey

  14. Kathryn says:

    Oh, I love light houses…..
     
    and I\’d love to see those patrons at that restaurant! in full attire – wow! I see a story coming from that *smiling*
     
    so enjoyed the postcard

  15. Pamela says:

    I TOTALLY agree with Deborah…you definitely missed your calling as a travel writer! Thank you for sharing your obviously enjoyable and amazing experineces with us who don\’t get too far above the Mason Dixon!
    Peace.

  16. Gelert says:

    Thanks for that, wonderful. And I still have some of those glass pebbles. I used to wander for hours looking for those when I was small.

  17. Joe says:

    Thanks so much for sharing.  These places are all within a 4 hr drive from my house.  But here I am at the age of 49 & never crossed the Atlantic.  I have and 8-week sabbatical in June & will be in England treking the Wainwright trail (aka "the coast to coast trail").
    I\’ll make it a point next time I\’m passing through the Santa Barbara area to dine at the Montecito Cafe, as I have yet to ever dine there.  I\’m glad I read this after dinner.  It makes it a little easier on my palate.
    God\’s Speed,
    Joe

  18. Betty says:

    Hi Jorge,
     
    Thank you for the encouragement and for the website.  Through the hospital in St George, I found a social worker with caregiving experience.  She helped me greatly and found a caregiver support group for me that meets on Mondays in St George.  I\’ll do my best to get the informmation that I have into oncologists\’ offices in that area.
     
    Thanks, again.
     
    Betty

  19. PJ says:

    Good Evening Jorge,
     
    Just taking an early evening "stroll" and wanted to say hello.
     
    Until next time…Keep Smiling.
     
    Oh, and by the way, YES P.T. Barnum was indeed correct.
     
    ~*~Paula~*~

  20. Deirdre says:

    Hi Jorge,
    I\’m ok.  I just haven\’t felt much like blogging lately, though I added a new entry this morning.  I\’ve been dealing with moments of utter madness, just trying to survive.
    Deirdre

  21. ferhat says:

    MERHABA FROM TURKEY

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