Friday, October 02, 2015

West Coast Vacation: Exploring Carmel and Monterey

After our hike at Point Lobos, we went back into Carmel to find breakfast.  We ate at the Carmel Belle, a little café in a building with several other shops.  We were so hungry by then (around 10:30am) that we didn’t stop to take any pictures.  Mary’s breakfast was the best of the two – a bowl of polenta with mushrooms, tomatoes and some other goodies.  The place was neat and compact, with a nice selection of breakfast and lunch items.  The seating was open and comfortable, with about a dozen tables, an open fireplace (not needed on this day) and a sofa and two chairs next to the fireplace.

One of our favorite ways to understand a new city is to visit a grocery store.  We've done this is every major American city we've visited and also in England, France, Belgium, Italy and a few other places.  Seeing what's for sale tells us a lot about the local community.  Comparing prices gives us a sense of the cost of living. 
So on this morning, on our way back to the car after breakfast, we walked through the local grocery store - Nielsen Brothers Market.  It is a small place - less than 10,000 sq ft - the size of most local grocery stores when we were growing up.  (Yes, kids, there were grocery stores on the planet as it was cooling!)  Nielsen Brothers bills themselves as a specialty grocery, and the product offerings reflect that focus.  They had a small, but well-stocked produce section, a full meat counter, a separate wine room, an extensive selection of whiskies and a small cabinet with cigars.  It fit the bill for a grocery store catering to well-heeled vacationers.  But it was not all caviar and cabernet.  On the way out, we saw a hand-written chalk sign advertising their breakfast sandwiches.  They were significantly cheaper than what we'd paid up the street - an economy tip for our next trip.
We didn't spend any more time in Carmel, or, as it's formally known, Carmel-By-The-Sea.  There are plenty of places to shop there - lots of craft stores, clothes stores, restaurants and specialty shops of all types.  I'm not much of a shopper, so someone else with have to review all those places.
Later in the morning we took the “17 Mile Drive” around the Monterey Peninsula and Pebble Beach.  Several people had recommended this outing, and it shows up in all the guide books and lists of things to do in the area.  Having now done it, I’d suggest anyone coming to the area skip it.  You pay $10 per car to take a tour of a wealthy neighborhood, look at some coastline – which is pretty, but no better than other spots we saw along the drive for free.  You get to watch some rich folks tee off on some beautiful golf courses, and contend for spots in the turnout parking lots with dozens of other tourists who got the same recommendation. 
I thought the stop at the Pebble Beach Golf Course might be fun, but when we arrived they had most of the parking area cordoned off for some event, and it didn’t appear that we were going to see anything more than the gift shop…so we kept going. 
The other main draw of the 17 Mile Drive is the “Lone Cypress” – a single tree growing on a rock in a bay.  This one is different from some others we saw along the trip in that someone built a wall around it and landscaped the slope below it. 

But... like every other tourist in the area, we stopped for a photo in front of the tree. 
Ours, however, was taken by another person - reciprocating our offer to take a photo of them, unlike many of the others which were snapped from the end of a selfie stick.  (Somehow, the silliest thing invented in years…wish I’d thought of it!)

We had packed a picnic lunch (left over takeout Chinese and a small bottle of wine – pretty fancy!) and decided to find a spot to eat on our way to the Monterey Aquarium.  Yelp – our second most used navigation app – showed us “Lover’s Point Park” in Pacific Grove, a small town that abuts Monterrey.  The park looked out over Monterrey Bay and had several picnic tables.  It was sunny and quiet – a great place to have lunch.

After our picnic we drove a couple miles to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  The Aquarium is located on Cannery Row.  The area got it’s nickname from the fish canneries that were located here In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
Photo from The Dead Writer's Society blog

John Steinbeck, who grew up in nearby Salinas, wrote about life in the canneries in his novel Cannery Row.  (I read it in high school and have forgotten most of it.  Having just reread Travels With Charley, I’ve got more Steinbeck on my “To Read” list.) 

Today’s Cannery Row is several blocks of tourist shops and restaurants.  I wonder what John Steinbeck would think of Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Company?

We enjoyed our visit to the Aquarium.  Our AirBnB hosts, Michael and Jill, had provided passes for our use,  so we didn’t feel any pressure to “see it all”.  We stopped to take in two of the major exhibits.  (Sorry…no pictures, but I've inserted links to the Aquarium web site.) The first was the sea otters.  These guys were livin’ large in their tank.  Floating on their backs and gliding through the water.  We hadn’t realized how big they are – four to five feet long, and a good 8” – 10” in diameter. 
The other exhibit was the kelp forest - a large tank with a variety of fish ranging from a schools of small, silvery sardines and anchovies to a hammerhead shark.  They swam amid 20' tall kelp plants.  We noticed that many of the fish seemed to be napping.  They just hung suspended in the water, not moving.  (To be fair, it was late afternoon and I’m often ready for a nap then, too.)
There were also some very interesting exhibits about the canning industry.  The aquarium had been built on the site of the Pacific Fish Company Cannery, which processed fish from 1916 until 1973.  A central fixture of the cannery were three large (two stories tall) boilers used for cooking the fish.  

Image from Library of Congress

The boilers have been restored and are part of a permanent exhibit on the canning industry.

Image from Wikipedia

Video displays along an adjacent wall showed old film footage of the way the cannery operated.  It employed many women from the area (in the 1920’s and 30’s, when women rarely worked outside the home) to sort freshly caught sardines into conveyors.  The fish were gutted and had their heads sliced off by machines, then the bodies were placed into oval tins for cooking in the boilers.  They were cooked once in open cans, then a second time when the cans had been sealed.  Working conditions were tough – 14 hour days in mostly wet and drafty conditions. 

The canneries failed after the fishing industry in Monterey collapsed in the 1950's. 


After leaving the Aquarium, we returned to The Secret Garden for a second night.  We stopped at a Trader Joe's along the way and picked up sushi and wine for a simple supper.  We listened to our host’s eclectic CD collection – Yo Yo Ma, KT Tunstall, Sarah McLaughlin, Santana – and reflected on a busy and interesting day.

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