American Road Trip

Trip Start May 06, 2010
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Trip End Dec 17, 2010


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Where I stayed
HI Hostel

Flag of United States  , California
Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The next morning after another cold shower (grrrr) Elizabeth and I set off in her hire car.  She had done her research and told me of a couple of sites she wanted to stop off at before doing a famous drive called the Big Sur which goes to Monterey along Highway 1.

We went to see a big rock on the waterfront just on the edge of San Luis Obispo.  I'm not sure why it's a land mark other than it's huge but we got to cross it off the list and carried on towards Hearst Castle.  Unfortunately for us the weather was not good.  It was very overcast and actually a bit foggy so we weren't seeing everything in it's best light.  We hoped that it would burn off by the afternoon for our drive along the coast.

Hearst Castle is beautiful.  To give you some background, the Hearst family were extremely wealthy and purchased ranch land in 1865.  By 1919 the size of the estate had grown to 250,000 acres and at this point the only son, William, inherited the estate.  Up until that time the Hearst family had actually lived fairly modestly on the estate but William had always wanted to build a castle there.   His parents forbade him until after they died as they knew he would build something extremely extravagant and they didn't want to see it!!  Four months after his mum passed on he started to build. 

Although he had inherited a vast fortune, William had made a lot of money in his own right working in publishing.  He was a newspaper magnate and he was actually the inspiration behind Orson Welles, Citizen Kane.  He wanted the castle as a destination to play host to film stars and other people of notoriety of the time.  William Hurst was married but his wife did not like the Castle or the remoteness of the estate and seperated from him shortly after it was built.  She went to live in New York.  They never divorced but he went onto have a famous and very long term affair with Marion Davies, a very popular actress at the time.

In order to build the castle he engaged the services of a San Fransican architect and hundreds of builders.  He actually had areas for them to stay in and provided them with hospitality as they were there for several months in a very isolated area of California. William had purchased many antiques and works of art from all over the world including egyptian sculptures, italian fireplaces and rare tapestries before the castle had even commenced being designed or built. He instructed the architect to design rooms and gardens to house them appropriately. The castle took at least 15 years to build and has never quite been finished off completely but what he achieved is absolutely stunning.  Presidents, prime ministers, actors, models etc have all stayed there.  

The Castle is now no longer owned by the family, they gifted it to the state of California in 1957.  It is now a heritage site dependent on grants and public money to keep it going.  They need about $10-15 million per year to run the place in order to carry out all necessary renovations and keep everything in working order.  They have been renovating the roof of one of the rooms we were in, the billiard room, for 5 years as it had a lot of smoke damage due to soot and cigarettes.  They are still only 1/2 way through!   

There are 3 or 4 different tours that you can do and we did the one they recommend to first time visitors which was called the experience tour.  This shows you one of the guest cottages, the gardens and the first floor of the house.  If you want to see the rest you have to do the other tours!  (One way to keep the money rolling in!!!).  You are shown the guest cottage first and in all honesty everybody on our tour thought it was the main castle just to give you some idea of it's size and grandeur!

Every room we viewed was opulent and stunning.  The most lovely room in my opinon was the indoor swimming pool.  It is 10ft deep at all points and the tiles are all blue marble with gold leaf.  The diving board is made of marble and there are marble statues all around it.  Sheer luxury, extremely elegant and a room of pure taste, class and beauty. A very famous film star of the time who was a frequent visitor to the castle described this part of the castle as the most romantic.

After our tour we had a quick bite at the castle and drove on.  We upset the sat nav lady on our departure as she told us to turn left but the sign to Monterey said right so we ignored her.  She kept telling us that she was recalculating our route and demanding we turned around so we switched her off!  We were then treated to American radio stations along the way as Elizabeth had not taken her Ipod adaptor with her.  They are terrible, it's either country and western or radio hosts talking complete nonsence non stop.  Every so often there would be a good song but then it quickly descended into babble again.  If you are driving in America, buy a CD or make sure your MP3 player works before you set off!!!

We drove along the coast and unfortunately the mist didn't lift.  It actually got worse the higher we climbed so that was a great shame as it spoilt what would have been lovely views.

We had a few stops along the way, firstly to see a point where seals congregate near Hearst Castle and then just stops purely to take in the views.  We drove along the Big Sur and arrived in Monterey after 5pm.  It was a lovely drive and day, Elizabeth was great to be around.  That night we ate out at a local pub and had one of the worst meals we both have ever had!!  Elizabeth left the next day heading on to San Francisco.

That night I also met Kelly who was my room mate.  Kelly and I spent the following morning together before she too headed off. 

We had a wander around the town centre and nosed about in a few shops before walking along the harbour.  There are seals around the harbour here and there were a couple resting on rocks and swimming around near the harbour wall.

Kelly set off and I went to the Aquarium.  A girl in the hostel had bought a 2 day pass which she didn't want to use the second day of, so I bought it off her for $12, the normal admission price is $29 so I got a good deal.  The Aquarium was good but you definately don't need 2 days, 3 hours is more than adequate.  They have seals, penguins, flamingos and tanks of really cool jelly fish, crabs and loads of fish.  I enjoyed it and got some nice pictures of weird and wonderful things!  The weather was still overcast and actually quite chilly so I another quick walk along Cannery Row and returned to the hostel.

The following morning, late, the sun came out- woo hoo!!  I had a couple of things to post so I walked to the downtown area to the post office.  This walk took me through a lot of the residential areas.  Monterey is a really pretty little town,  All the houses and gardens are well kept and most people have wind chimes and chinese lanterns hanging in their porches so it looks very pretty and gives the town a very relaxing vibe.

I later walked along the coast to a place called Lovers Point and took in the coastal views.  It is very pretty and there is a coastal walk that takes you back to the main town centre.  I followed the walk and had a great treat.  I had seen a few seals the day before but today I saw hundreds.  They were lying along the beach looking like boulders.  They were all piled one on top of the other just basking in the sun.  I was absolutely delighted to see them

In town I passed a shop I hadn't noticed before which had beautiful glassware and very unusual, beautifully designed jewellery.  If I had been there 2 years ago I would have spent a fortune as I liked everything there.  I removed myself from the shop as it was torture not being able to buy anything and then I obviously had a sadistic streak that day because I wandered into a chocolate shop.  It was expensive and I couldn't buy anything there either, why was I doing this to myself??  I got a free sample though so that was cool, a nice square of chocolate caramel which was delicious!

I then wandered further along the harbour than I had been the previous day with Kelly and came across even more seals than I had seen previously at the other end.  There was one huge male seal who was barking continuously, marking his territory, no doubt.  It was just amazing to see them.  The residents here are very lucky to be able to see them every day.  I stood and watched them for ages.

I walked a little further through down town and saw some beautiful old buildings and went along the pier which was full of touristy shops and seafood restaurants.  It was very busy down there and there were a few buskers along the route so it was very lively and a great atmosphere.

I returned to the hostel, stopping again to admire the seals, and then got myself all set for my next stop, Santa Cruz.
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