When my cousin picked me up at the tiny but adorable train station in Salinas, I issued the standard apology for my appearance: rumpled, greasy, and red-eyed from yet another sleepless night. Somehow, my friends and relatives always managed to hug me upon arrival, bless their hearts.
About 25 minutes from Salinas, Elaine lives right on the beach in Monterey Bay. In addition to the pure joy of falling asleep each night to the sound of gentle waves, here are some highlights of my time in California.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium. I spent a fascinating afternoon wandering around this amazing complex, during which time I touched a manta ray, sea cucumber, starfish, and crab; saw a great white shark; got mesmerized by tank after tank of jellyfish; and toured an exhibit called "The Secret Lives of Seahorses." Turns out an aquarium is a fantastic place to visit all by yourself, since you can linger as you choose.
Fisherman's Wharf. As quickly became our habit, Elaine and I took her dog for a long walk down the beach before dinner. One night we ended up strolling around the wharf, which was touristy but very charming. The sun set on our walk back, leading to some great pictures.
Big Sur. We took an afternoon to drive down Highway 1, during which time I saw breathtaking views but also thought I was going to die repeatedly. If you're not familiar with this particular stretch of road, it's narrow and winding and hugs the cliffs next to sheer drop-offs (with no guardrails) into the pounding surf below. Don't get me wrong, it's gorgeous, and we had absolutely perfect weather, but I was just as happy when we turned around.
Ventana. On our drive back to Monterey, we stopped at this beautiful place perched high on a hillside and had one of the tastiest, most relaxing lunches ever.
Carmel. We also took a leisurely drive through this lovely area. I decided that, in addition to my vacation home in Cannon Beach, I wouldn't mind having a little place here as well.
Sidenote: Elaine told me that, when her brother visited her, they happened to run into Clint Eastwood. When her sister visited her, they ran into him again. However, during my stay, there were no celebrity encounters. Evidently the Eastwood Rule applies only to immediate family.
Again, I was blessed with quite possibly the nicest few days of weather this particular city had to offer. And, as I roamed the beach watching people leisurely toss sticks to their dogs and frolick with their children in the water, it occurred to me that I might be similarly chill if I, too, never had to worry about staying warm.