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04 July 2012 @ 08:01 pm
What I did not in SF, or The Great California Road Trip  
On Friday my mom, Sharon, and I piled into a rental car and drove off into the wilds outside of the city in search of adventure. I'd plotted out a scheme that would include three important California sights that I was anxious to take in, PLUS a bonus meeting with Kate and her husband Joel! Huzzah! It was a perfect plan!

Hahahahaha, past Charis, your naivety is adorable.

There was a scramble in the morning as we gathered things and fetched Mom from the train and stumbled about sleepily, but we left in good time to get to our first stop--the Winchester Mystery House! It's something that I've wanted to see my whole life--if you're too lazy to hit up Wikipedia, the brief story is that Mrs. Winchester, after the death of her husband left her inheriting the massive Winchester rifle fortune, moved to California, bought a farm house, and began remodeling it and building around it. The story is that a psychic told her to build continuously so that she wouldn't die, or that she was afraid of the spirits of people killed by the Winchester rifle and hoped that the continuous noise of construction would keep them at bay or appease them somehow, but no one really knows for sure. But it is a fact that she built on her house continuously from the time she bought it until the time of her death, and it is also a fact that the house twists around itself and has doors that open onto nowhere and stairs that go to nowhere and windows that look into other parts of the house and other craziness. It's also a fact that the house is full of clever touches like washboards in the sink and sloped counters to conserve water that Mrs. Winchester designed herself and had patented. So she was an intelligent, eccentric, hermetic person with a crazy house. Her house also has one of the largest collections of Tiffany glass windows in the world--some of it installed in the house, and some of it in a store room of things that she had stockpiled put not used yet. The tour was extremely fun and interesting!

Then we loitered about the gardens a bit, and went to have lunch, and then we got on the road again. Our next goal was Monterey Bay Aquarium, and I was all worried because I'd gotten mixed up on the distance and the aquarium would be closing at five and we wouldn't have time to see anything, but then it turned out that it closed at six, so we'd have an hour and a half, and I was relieved.
Until we hit traffic.
Until we hit stop and go traffic. Which was mostly stop.
It was incredibly frustrating, not just because it was traffic, but also because there was never a discernible cause--we never passed an accident, or anything like that. It was just congested, super-slow traffic for no reason at all other than that there were a lot of cars on the road. And the long we sat in it and the longer it took to get to the Monterey, the more stressed out I got. After a while I was just plain bent out of shape and upset. I really wanted to see the aquarium, and I had really tried to plan everything out correctly, time-wise, because I had done all of the planning and scheduling, but I'd failed to get earlier Winchester tickets and failed to keep track of time and failed to keep in mind when the aquarium closed and been wrong about the distance AND failed to consider the possibility of traffic, and I just felt awful because I had clearly ruined everything forever.
In the end, after hours of me snapping at other drivers and making clawing motions at the air (...which is a thing that I do when I'm stressed out and annoyed), we did get to Monterrey. We'd already decided not to try to do the aquarium--we would have had forty minutes, which with the entry fee would have been almost a dollar per minute--but I was too fussed to change the GPS, and we needed a break anyway, so we went and looked around, stopped outside of the aquarium where there was a restroom, and I looked at the bay where there were some sea lions on a rock, and I saw a sea otter swimming by, and then we got back in the car and went on down Highway 1 toward San Simeon.

Highway 1 is the coast road, and it is epically scenic. It weaves around the coast and up and down the sides of the mountains and there are spectacular views every couple of feet. We were constantly stopping to take pictures, and there were plenty of official and unofficial turn offs full of other cars of other people taking pictures. It was gorgeous. I took quite a few pictures that totally fail to capture the gorgeousness. Along the way we passed a field full of cows, plus a bonus zebra (more on that later), and we passed a cove with a beach that was full of elephant seals. We stopped to check out the elephant seals, from the boardwalk above their beach, and frankly that's as close as I would like to come to an elephant seal. Those suckers are terrifying. They're huge, with huge slug-like bodies, and they flump along, and make noises like whoopie cushions, and they look like science fiction movie monsters. There were probably fifty or so on the beach.

It was freezing and getting dark, so we only stared in terrified wonder at the elephant seals for a few minutes, then we went on to San Simeon, found our hotel, checked into it, and got settled into our room. It wasn't long after that before Kate and Joel arrived! We did the awkward first meeting thing, although I skipped straight to hugging, and then we went over to the hotel restaurant for dinner (we hadn't eaten yet, and Kate and Joel joined us for visiting). I had clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, which was yummy. After dinner we moseyed back to the hotel room for more visiting, and also presents! Kate had brought us packages! Which was awesome and so sweet, because they were full of wonderful things.
Eventually we all went to bed, so that we could all be up in the morning. I was sharing a bed with my mom and guys, my mom is a champion snorer. And by 'champion' I mean someone who snores a lot. I know that my dad is also an amazing snorer, and between the two of them I wonder how anyone in the house has managed to sleep at all, ever.

In the morning we had a pathetic 'continental' breakfast, consisting of danish, coffee, and tiny orange juice, and then we went to Hearst Castle, where the magic is.

Hearst Castle is another building project that was always in progress--it's the mansion that William Randolph Hearst built for himself, and he was always fiddling with it and adding on to it, and there are a few unfinished walls where construction was halted at his orders after his doctors told him that he was too ill to travel back to his 'ranch'. It's an excessively lavish place--on a hill with a gorgeous view of the ocean, a completely decadent swimming pool, several elaborate guest houses, an even more decadent indoor swimming pool, oodles of fancy (and sometimes suspect) statuary in the beautiful gardens, and that's not even getting to the house yet. The house itself is huge, and gorgeous, and lavish, and it is chockablock full of antiquities. Choir stalls from medieval monasteries used as paneling, Flemish tapestries, carved and painting ceilings from Spain and Italy, and a simply incredible amount of priceless artwork. There are also priceless first editions and antique furniture and really remarkable architecture, all designed by Julia Morgan, an innovative architect who had been a protege of Hearst's mother. While Hearst lived there (and threw lavish parties there, which is when things happened like the Marx Brothers doing cartwheels on the expensive Turkish rugs in the library and Joan Crawford beating all of the men at pool and took their money under a carved Moroccan ceiling) he also had a private zoo, and a few animals like zebras continue to live wild on the property (because although the house itself is now owned and maintained by the state as a national landmark, the surrounding property is still a privately owned ranch run by the Hearst family).

It's a remarkable place--remarkable because it's beautiful, remarkable because of its innovative design (according to our guide, the house has never suffered from earthquake damage because it's so well designed), remarkable because of its history, remarkable because of the time is represents...it's just really amazing and cool. I would happily go back and tour it over and over again.

After our tours we scrounged up some food in the visitor center, admired the range of overpriced and irrelevant things in the gift shop (NOT as extensive and random as the gift shop at Winchester Mystery House, though!), had goodbye hugs with Kate and Joel, and then we were back on the road.

This time we got to Monterey and actually got into the aquarium, although we still had less than two hours to see everything before they closed. It's a very cool place, though--extremely kid friendly, too, with lots of hands-on exhibits. We saw the sea otters, and the octopus, and the penguins, and the bat rays (which Mom insisted that I touch), and jellyfish and seahorses and sharks and all kinds of other sea life, and it was really cool. But the BEST thing was that I went outside to look for more sea otters out in the bay, and I spotted one immediately (apparently one of my superpowers is spotting sea otters? this is hilariously useless because central Texas has no sea otters). Even with the telescope on the balcony it was too far away for me to see clearly, but it had something fuzzy on its stomach, and I got all excited. I went in, located Mom and Sharon (we had split up by then), and then dragged Sharon off to have another look from the telescopes on the lower level, which would be closer. I found the sea otter again, and we saw three aquarium employees making a fuss about something at the telescope, which seemed like a very good sign, so we hustled over and I was right. The fuzzy thing was a baby otter. BABY SEA OTTER! Being groomed by its parent! (mom? do otter parents trade off or does the mom do it all? I have no idea). IT WAS SO CUTE. SO OVERWHELMINGLY CUTE. DEVASTATINGLY CUTE. SO CUTE I WAS GONNA DIE. It was getting late and the aquarium was closing, and Sharon and I kept saying 'okay, we really need to go....' and then just stayed glued to the telescopes, watching the otters, because baby otter. Oh my gosh.

Eventually we tore ourselves away, and went back to the car, and drove back to SF, with the normal series of road trip adventures and mishaps before we made it back to Sharon's apartment :P

That night we slept! In the morning we were all dragging, and the rental car needed to be returned, and we were a bit of a mess, and after church I left my make-up bag in Sharon's car and then spaced out and forgot to have my phone handy so that Jason could reach me, but he heroically tracked us down and brought it to me anyway because he is the best. But THEN it turned out that Mom left her phone charger at their apartment and apparently I had left a belt and it was just ridiculous. Ridiculous! Apparently the goal for the day was to leave our possessions everywhere and be an inconvenience to our friends. Success.

But! We had lunch and ice cream at Fenton's, which is the actual ice cream shop featured at the end of Up, and Sally took us to wander around Golden Gate Park, although I was feeling stressed and grumpy and kind of just wanted to be at the airport because WHAT IF TRAFFIC so I didn't enjoy it that much :P

Then we got on the plane, and I read through Mara and Sharon's notes on the Celia & Uther MS (yay, notes!), and the flight seemed to take forever, and then we got home and I crawled into bed, the end.