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Weekend Escape: Carmel

Roller Coast

Blading trails at ocean's edge--and in traffic--thanks to the Internet

July 21, 1996|BARRY ZWICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CARMEL — When my wife and I checked into the remarkably darling Green Lantern Inn on a warm and sunny Friday afternoon, it was teatime. With our roller-blades tied together over our shoulders, we chowed down brie and biscuits and Almond Roca and cashews. We said no thanks to the hot chocolate and raspberry tea, and sipped glasses of an indifferent rose.

This was a weekend of firsts for us: our first bed-and-breakfast inn, our first out-of-town roller-blading trip, our first weekend put together entirely with tips plucked from the Internet.

We carried our suitcases past the pansies and snapdragons, past the two fountains and the waterfall, past the red-brick cottages named for trees and climbed a short trail to our own, Madrone. Our room was pretty and cheery, with red and green floral wallpaper, country furniture and a gold and white bed. We opened the white curtains, and three Japanese visitors carrying steaks up to the hibachi on the patio waved to us merrily.

It had been 17 years since our last visit to Carmel, but, in the course of our four-block walk to the beach, we discovered that little had changed, which is just the way they want it. There are still no street numbers, no sidewalks, no street lights and no mailboxes. The streets are full of immaculately groomed dogs, and yet there is not a trace of dog poop. Romantic couples frozen in time still hold hands on benches in front of gingerbread houses with names like Sea Urchin and Periwinkle.

*

The sun was low in the sky over Carmel Bay when we arrived at Scenic Road, where our sources on the Internet had told us to roller-blade. Shaded by towering pine, spruce, oak, eucalyptus and cypress trees, we looked out on turquoise and emerald waters. The deep-blue sky was dotted with puffy clouds.

I took off my backpack and pulled out our roller-blades.

"Here?" my wife asked. "We're supposed to skate here? With no path, right in the middle of all this traffic?".

"Come on," I said, "how hard could it be if it was recommended by a bunch of computer geeks?"

I soon found out. My wife shot down Scenic Road like a bullet, dodging camper vans and motorcycles, horns blasting away. Me, I froze in stark terror.

All of our previous roller-blading experiences had been on bike paths in Santa Monica and the Valley. I was never a hotshot--in fact, I fell a lot--and it never crossed my mind that someone would suggest that we skate in traffic.

Next stop was dinner at Rio Grill in the foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains, another Internet recommendation. Hard-bodied singles in their 20s downed tequila shooters in the lively bar. In the Southwest-themed dining rooms, bronzed raconteurs, flushed from bottles of pricey wines, stood and regaled tables of eight, and most of the rest of us, with tales of travels and conquests.

A sommelier took our order for a Beaulieu Vineyards Signet Collection 1994 zinfandel and told us to watch for notes of raspberries and peaches. Our waitress recited the day's 16 specials without notes. We split appetizers of smoked salmon tostadas with tropical fruit salsa and chicken skewers with papaya mustard and chipotle-mint black beans. Our plates were filled with odd leaves and buds that looked like garnishes but were unbelievably tasty.

For the main event, I ordered grilled ahi tuna over polenta, roasted red pepper and tomato coulis, and my wife had pumpkin seed-crusted salmon with chipotle-lime vinaigrette and roasted red peppers and potato pancakes. It was one of the best meals we have ever eaten, in one of the most festive settings. But our friends on the Internet had not given us a clue that it would cost us $101 with tax and tip.

I awakened at 4:30 the next morning and couldn't fall back to sleep, so I walked to Scenic Road. My path was illuminated by thousands of stars. And there, next to Carmel Bay, in the dead of night, Japanese tourists were roller-blading.

When my wife woke up, we walked over to the inn's main lodge and picked a table by the window. The room was big, bright and homey. A puppy rested beside the fireplace and looked us over. Our innkeepers invited us to sample cinnamon and Danish rolls that they had baked earlier that morning. We did, and we also ate a couple of baked New Zealand apples, along with slices of watermelon, cantaloupe and fresh pineapple, and bowls of oatmeal and granola.

Now we really needed some exercise. On Ocean View Avenue--a street of small, weathered Cape Cod houses a block from the bay--we parked the car and put on our roller-blades. Uh, hello, and who said there was a trail? Ocean View was another Internet tip. My wife went out and skated. Traffic was whizzing by. I locked my roller-blades in the trunk.

On Inspiration Avenue, a short street with a beautiful view of Carmel Point, my wife burned off the remains of her breakfast. Then we hopped into our car, off to our fourth and last Internet roller-blading destination, the 17-Mile Drive.

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