Say Goodnight to the Bad Guys

Clouds conspire above our heads
17th December 2010


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We were up bright and early waiting for our breakfast to be delivered. The hotel didn't have its own kitchen so it was brought in from a local deli.

There was a knock on the door and a brown paper bag was handed over. The very neatly packed breakfast was ideal to take-out for a picnic but we decided to sit in our window.

It was a very grey and misty morning.

The breakfast was superb. The freshly squeezed orange juice was straight-off-the-tree delicious, the slices of melon were sweet and refreshing. Julie had a smoked salmon bagel and I had a yogurt and granola bowl which were both excellent..

Then all of sudden I heard Julie blow "Is that a whale? ... oh my God it is!"

There she blows!

It was so exciting to see one of nature's greatest sights from the comfort of our hotel room. We couldn't believe our luck.

It submerged itself then resurfaced with the waves crashing over it. I got the camera out but it wasn't easy to photograph. It was now beginning to rain quite heavily and the mist was really rolling in.

It didn't seem to be getting very far as if it was sheltering near the bay. Half an hour later we were still looking at it.

It was still there in the exact same spot and we were beginning to suspect that it wasn't a whale after all.

"It hasn't moved has it?" said Julie. "Nope"

The mist was lifting, the tide was going out and Moby Dick was increasingly looking like a lump of rock.

"There she blows?" It was so obviously not!

With all that time wasted watching our petrified whale shaped rock we were now behind schedule.

We left in a hurry, leaving behind a toiletries bag in the rush. It was a little annoying as it contained a few expensive items.

It was a really cold and drizzly day so there was no chance of having the roof down for the drive up the Big Sur, which was a shame. It's one of the most scenic drives in the world with breathtaking views along the 140km twisting route hugging the cliffside where the mountains meet the Pacific coast.

It was disappointing that the visibility was poor. We couldn't see a thing but the immediate road ahead. Looking for the positives in the situation however we agreed that the mist did add to the atmosphere of driving into the middle of nowhere and halfway to everywhere.

Then, usually as we turned a corner making it a more exciting drive, we would come across rocks that had taken a tumble from the hill side above.

Ray was right to tell us to drive around the debris, don't expect to drive over them. One boulder was the size of cabin friendly suitcase.

"Bloody hell, that could have written the car off." I shouted out shocked by the size of the obstacles in the road.

"It could have written us off if it had landed on us" said Julie checking up the side for any more loose rocks.

After about an hour or so of driving we stopped at a view point to take in the scenery. The mist had thinned out a little but we were caught in the middle of torrential downpour.

Julie sensibly stayed inside but I was determined to get out and take a few photographs. I took three rapid shots, very deliberately like a sniper, one South, one West and one North and then straight back inside the car. I was out less than a minute yet I was still soaked through.

Back on the road we continued North.

The Big Sur is sparsely populated with only around 1000 people living in somewhere the size of Luxembourg. We drove through villages like Plaskett, Gorda, Posts. If it wasn't for Highway 1 they would be incredibly remote.

The next viewpoint I wanted to see was at Bixby Bridge about an hour's drive away. Whenever you see a photo of the Big Sur there's always one of this bridge.

When we came to it we drove over the bridge almost without noticing it and then missed the turning for the view point which came immediately afterwards. So I resigned myself to not having the quintessential Big Sur photo we carried on.

I don't know if it was just coincidence or bad luck but the moment we left the spectacular coast and headed inland the weather seemed to improve. By the time we had reached Carmel it was almost a nice day.

Julie had been reading the guide books along the way and using the internet from her mobile phone to search for some where to stop for lunch.

Carmel had quite a few choices but the one that stood out was the Hog's Breath Inn mostly because of it's famous owner, former Mayor of Carmel and all round Hollywood superstar Clint Eastwood.

We entered the address into the sat nav and it directed us right to its front door. What a marvellous invention they are!

It couldn't find us a parking space though. We drove all the way up San Carlos Street until we found a gap by the roadside.

Carmel was a very pretty town with quaint wooden houses and their well kept gardens.

It felt good to stretch our legs and walk back down the street past 12th, 11th, 10th then 9th street until we reached what was called The Eastwood Building.

It housed the restaurant and also a gallery and a community "space".

The entrance to the Hog's Breath Inn was around the back where we stepped down into an al fresco dining area. It had a wonderful view over the hills and faraway.

Well, it actually wasn't a stunning view but a great big panoramic mural.

The Hollywood filmset trick worked a treat as it gave the back yard the feel of the great outdoors. It all looked the part.

The tables were made from huge slices of tree trunks, ivy swooped down from the log cabin and there was a brick oven in the corner which was promising pizza on the menu. In the centre of the yard was a large tree which I'm sure was real.

Unfortunately it was too cold and wet to eat outside. Warm sunny weather was one thing they couldn't recreate.

We went inside the restaurant and into a very cosy hunting lodge complete with a roaring fire. Feeling the chill we sat at the table nearest the fireplace and browsed the menu. There wasn't much choice for the namby pamby vegetarian from hardman Clint but there was at least one.

And when it was a tasty portabello mushroom "burger" then you only need one choice.

Julie ordered the pulled pork sandwich was also right up her street.

We wondered if the man himself would turn up and clear the tables or something. But we had to make do with a picture of him on the wall in classic Dirty Harry pose with his huge 44 magnum pistol.

Time was against us and we didn't stay around for long. Once we had finished eating we paid and left, not just the restaurant but the pretty town of Carmel.

"Next time we're in these parts" said Julie "we should stay the night". With Monterey only a few miles away it certainly was a lovely area.

Back on the road we continued up Highway 1 for a short distance before re-connecting with the 101. The Sat Nav was giving us an estimated time of arrival of 4:15pm so we were making good time.

Or at least we were.

About an hour from San Francisco we hit some heavy congestion and heavy rain. We had to slow down to a frustrating 20 miles an hour.

Our 5pm deadline to get to the Alamo was getting nearer and our ETA was slipping.

With half an hour to go and with an estimated 15 minutes driving to go we turned off the 101. We would have been utterly lost without the sat nav. It guided us safely through the busy streets, along 7th street, up Leavenworth Street and down Bush Street.

I imagined an exciting experience driving through the streets of San Francisco but it wasn't. Visibility was so poor we could have been anywhere.

The Alamo Car Rental depot was at 750 Bush Street and we rolled in with ten minutes to spare. We actually had the car until 10am if we wanted it but we didn't want the hassle and cost of finding some where to park it overnight.

After handing over the keys and completing the formalities in the office we asked them if they could call us a taxi thinking they get asked it all the time. "It'll be easier and quicker to hail one down outside" he said obviously tired of answering the same question time and again.

It was like an Indian Monsoon outside. We stood on the pavement for a while watching the traffic drive past getting increasingly drenched in the process. After a few minutes of getting wetter and wetter and not seeing one taxi I decided we should walk the short distance to our hotel.

We stepped out onto Bush Street which could easily have been called Bush River with the torrent of water rushing down and we followed the gradient down until we turned right onto Mason Street. The pavements were quite treacherous, being steep and slippery is not a good combination when you're lugging heavy suitcases. It was surprising that one of us didn't end up on our backsides. (usually it's Julie!)

Eventually we reached Geary Street and turned right. At least this street was mostly on the level but the rain was still pissing it down. We were soaked to the skin.

At the end of this block we reached our hotel, The Clift. It was part of the Morgan Hotel group the same as The Mondrian in Los Angeles. The doors were opened for us and we walked inside the stylish foyer decorated in a similar copper colour scheme but much darker that LA.

We must have looked a right state as we squelched towards the reception desk to check-in. Standing there I could feel the water dripping down my face, down the back of my neck, down my legs. We looked around and no one else looked like they'd just swam here.

It was embarrassment factor ten as we formed a large pool of water on their polished wooden floor waiting for our keys. I don't know if it was the lighting or Julie's hair dye but it had an orange tint to it.

We couldn't get out of there quick enough.

Our room on the seventh floor didn't have the wow factor of a floor-to-ceiling window with stunning city views but it was nice enough. It was spacious but at the same time felt cosy because of the same warm copper tones.

We got out of our sopping wet clothes and put on the hotel's plush robes. With the biblical downpour outside showing no signs of abating we thought about dinner in bed but the room service menu really didn't inspire us.

So out came the iPad and we searched for some where to eat.

A restaurant not too far away called Farmer Brown's caught our eye describing itself as serving "good honest southern 'soulfood' made with sustainably raised ingredients."

We had a look at a sample menu and decided it was worth braving the weather for. As it happened by the time we got outside it had stopped raining.

Farmer Brown's was on the corner of Turk Street and Mason. It was absolutely heaving when we arrived and the music was thumping loud as if we were at a nightclub. We wouldn't normally consider eating in such a place but we stuck with our choice. Even when they said there was an hour wait for a table.

We didn't stay at Farmer Brown's though, instead we made a reservation for later and went to find a quieter bar a little further up Mason Street. The first one we came to was called the Union Square Sports Bar.

It was certainly less busy but the volume of the music was only slightly quieter. Perched on stools by the bar we watched several different American football games on the multitude of TV screens. It was all too confusing.

Far more entertaining were a group of ... well, lets call them local characters (it sounds far less scathing than a bunch of weirdos).

They congregated around the pool table at the back.

One of them broke away from the pack and shimmied towards us. We stiffened up, anxious at what he wanted. He was short and stocky and he wore glasses. He looked a bit like Desmond Tutu in a bobble hat and a checked shirt. At least his friendly face helped to put us at ease.

"Hey, where are you guys from?" he asked. We told him that we were from Wales.

"From Wales huh?" we could see him thinking. "Oh, hey, how's the Prince?" he asked chuckling to himself. We laughed politely.

He then reached out to shake my hand. I met his with a firm grip.

"No, not like that" he said "like this" and gave me one of those secret shakes. In a flurry of fingers he grabbed my hand, pulled my hand, tickled my hand then punched it.

"You're going to have to teach me that one." I said not actually expecting him to let me in on the secret.

He went through it again but this time in slow motion. Our hands first clasped together with interlocking thumbs, sliding in one smooth motion into a monkey grip, which then released into a flutter of fingers against the base of the palm culminating in our fists meeting square on. He seemed pleased with himself, said goodbye and rejoined his freaky friends. Chuckling to himself as he shuffled away.

In that moment we saw a black flash streak past towards the back door. We thought it could have been a cat until we heard Desmond shriek "Oh My God! Did you see the size of that rat!?!"

Julie surprised me. I thought she'd be out of there but she was quite blaze about there being a killer rat on the loose and we ordered another drink.

Inside the hour we were back at Farmer Brown's where after another twenty minute wait our table ready for us. It was now 10pm and we were starving.

I ordered the only non-meat dish which was Fall Veg Ragout with Grits. When it arrived it was luke warm at best and surprisingly bland given the ingredients. I was really disappointed.

In contrast Julie really enjoyed her Fulton Valley Fried Chicken. She went off menu as she often does and asked if she could change the Mac & Cheese to a portion of fries. (Macaroni cheese is one of Julie's culinary nightmares - I blame Heinz and their abomination in a tin)

We left Farmer Browns as soon as we could, the deafening music didn't help our digestion.

On our way back to the hotel we met another "local character" on the street. He had a swagger about him and quite a harmless toothless grin. "Hey, man, I like your shoes" he said. I was wearing my favourite pointy rock 'n' roll shoes and thanked him for his appreciation. We got chatting, the usual where are you from conversation.

"Dude, I really like those shoes" he said and bent down for a closer look and then the little bastard squirted some white gunk onto my left shoe. I didn't say anything but before he could rub up a shine with his dirty rag I turned on my heels and got out of there quick.

The old shoe shiner scam.

Most of the soapy gloop had dropped off by the time we reached the hotel.

We tried to get into the Redwood Lounge at the hotel but there was no room. Drinks were served in the lobby so I had a regular bottle of beer but Julie had this amazing Blackberry Martini.

It was so delicious I wanted one myself but we were both one more cocktail away from falling asleep where we sat so we did the right thing and headed up to our room.

It had been a long day and bed felt good.


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