Crazy widows and college life...

Trip Start Aug 24, 2012
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Trip End Sep 19, 2012


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Flag of United States  , California
Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Look out American drivers, pedestrians, and anyone who might use a road in the following states over the next few weeks: California, Illinois, Wisconsin.

I've officially been set loose on the roads of the UniteStates!

On our final day in San Francisco, we decided to take a road trip to San Jose, to visit the Winchester Mystery House. Owned and designed by Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester Rifle fortune, the house was built...and built...and built...until her death... It was never finished.

You see, Sarah Winchester was a complete nutter.

She married into the Winchester family, and with her husband had one daughter, who sadly died in infancy. Her husband died soon after from tuberculosis. Sarah, who apparently had a bit of a penchant for psychics and mediums (and clearly took them at their word), was convinced that the restless spirits of everyone who had ever been killed by a Winchester rifle were responsible for the untimely deaths of her husband and daughter.

So in 1886, upon the word of one of her psycho...sorry, psychic...counsellors, Sarah moved to California, bought a big chunk of land, and started building what is one of the most bizarre (and creepy) houses I've ever been inside. In order to appease these angry spirits, Sarah had to never finish building, and never stop working on this house. Carpenters could be heard working 24 hours a day from the day she received possession of the land and the existing farm house that once stood there.

And they were still working the night she died of a heart attack in her sleep - 38 years later...

To me the house (of which I have no interior photos - a real shame, but it's banned...) is a perfect reflection of the woman. Quite a few bricks short of a finished mansion. The woman clearly had more money than brains. Case in point - she was obsessed with the number thirteen, so wherever possible she had this incorporated into her designs. Thirteen windows in a room. Thirteen ceiling panels. Thirteen coloured glass panes in a lead light window.

And that's not the creepiest part. The staircase that leads directly into the ceiling, the door that opens directly into thin air on the second floor, the 'seance' room with one entry and three exits (one of which is a secret passage) are also in contention for the strangest thing about this house.

The strangest thing Was. That I found myself wondering what exactly the sixty dollars Shane and I paid for the tour was getting us.

Of course, it was nice to hear the stories, and be shown through the house, since you can't wander of your own accord. You wouldn't want to anyway - there are 160 rooms, and the whole place is like a labyrinth. I half expected David Bowie to jump out and start doing the 'magic dance' with the one small child in our group.

But thirty dollars a head for a one hour tour, no photos, and if you wanted to wander the gardens afterwards you had to pay an additional fee... It seemed like a bit of a scam. It all made sense when we discovered the house is privately owned. Profiteering at its finest. Still, it was an interesting experience.

And finally it was my turn to get behind the wheel! Nothing like a it of driving on the wrong side of the road to take my mind off crazy rich women and their haunted houses.

Surprisingly, I didn't find left hand driving as stressful as I imagined. At least I didn't try to turn into oncoming traffic (something Shane almost did more than once, rectifying his steering only when I screeched 'right side! RIGHT side!!!').

After lunch in a lovely little suburb where Shane had arranged several pet store visits, we found ourselves with a bit of time to kill before we needed to head back to the city.

'We're not far from Stanford,' Shane mentioned. That was all I needed. After years of watching corny college flicks, I was desperate to see if the reality at all matched Hollywood's version.

We arrived unfortunately half an hour late for the last walking tour, but a lovely student who was working the visitor centre gave us a map, and advised us to race across campus to make sure we caught the last lift up the Hoover Tower, which closed at 4pm.

Hoover Tower is an 87 metre high monolith that presides over the campus, and from which we would have an amazing aerial view of the campus.

A view we would never see...

We hopped from one shady spot to the next, trotting as urgently as the oppressive heat would allow. And we thought it had paid off - we hopped up the steps to the tower entrance at 3:50 on the dot - just enough time to catch the elevator and spend a few minutes enjoying the view.

A German couple, and a trio with a baby appeared at the same time as us, and together we entered the cool, marble sanctum and the ticket desk.

One of the young women in the trio approached the desk. The skinny, rat-like man in a yellow security vest, sporting a narrow goatee and even narrower eyes, peered at us all with distaste as he turned the sign on the desk to 'closed'.

I looked at my watch in disbelief, as the woman spoke.

'Is it possible to still go up the tower?'

'No, we close at four,' replied Ratman in a weedy voice, sneering at us. We were all temporarily dumbstruck. The woman found her voice first.

'But it's only ten to four,' she attempted. Ratman very pointedly shut down his monitor, smirking at us with a glint in his narrow, beady eyes.

'Yes, but we sell the last tickets at ten to four.'

'Like I said, it IS ten to four,' the woman reiterated, more forcefully. 'Isn't there any way we can go up the tower?'
Ratman stood up and picked up his satchel, slinging it over one skinny shoulder.

'Nope,' he replied smugly, walking out from behind his desk and shooing us out the door. Shoulders slumped in disappointment, we trudged back out. The woman muttered crossly to her companions. The Germans shrugged and moved on.

I exploded.

'What an a**hole!' I growled to Shane. 'He wasn't even apologetic!'

'Exactly. It's not like he has a social life to rush off to,' Shane joined my rant.

It would have been more likely that he had a date with World of Warcraft.

We continued our self guided journey of Stanford without a glimpse at the whole campus from above.

Established in 1885 by Jane and Leland Stanford, the college was a memorial to their son, Leland Jr, who died of typhoid at 16. As we wandered through the Mission Revival style architecture, I was delighted by the way the red tiles contrasted with the brilliant blue of the sky. The campus has a very warm and welcoming feel.

As we peered through an archway towards the campus church, I literally caught my breath. The church, impressive from the outside, is simply magnificent inside - it blew my mind that a church this grand belongs to a university! Then again, any campus is going to seem impressive compared to Newcastle... And apparently a lot of Americans find the style of Stanford somewhat lacking in comparison to the other prestigious universities (Harvard, Yale and Princeton to name a few).

Well, the sunny, warm campus with the sunny, warm sandstone buildings certainly won me over, and made me even more excited for our impending visit to Boston, so I could compare this campus with the famous Harvard.

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