Day 10 - Driving the Big Sur to Santa Barbara

Trip Start Aug 30, 2012
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Trip End Sep 15, 2012


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Flag of United States  , California
Sunday, September 9, 2012

Miles driven: 234 miles
Total: 1674 miles

An early-ish start today as we left monterey to drive to santa barbara. We are really in Mediterranean climate and temperature has increased dramatically in the last 100miles. When we started this trip in seattle we were at latitude same as paris. By end of day we are at same as North Africa. (New York city is same latitude as Rome or Madrid)

We are back on Highway 1 today for most of the day and first of all following a coast road known as the Big Sur.  You often see this road on car advertisements our guide book describes it as "one of the most memorable sections of coastline on the planet". It's a 90 mile stretch of coastline (with a population of 1000) which runs from Lobos to San Simeon where we hope to be at lunchtime. So lots of scenic stops on the way and too many pictures to bore you with I expect. Every corner we turned it was hard not to stop to get out and enjoy the scene. Eventually we learned that the best stops are the official ones marked vista. If we had stopped at all of the turn -ins (and there were lots) we would probably not have arrived at our destination until the next day. Also I wasn't keen on driving in the dark on this road. Twists, turns, no guard rails and high above the sea. Watching out for the cyclists was bad enough. Often the road is closed because of rockfall or bad weather. In 2008 it was closed for the whole year because of the rockfall and damage a bad storm had caused.

But even though the drive was spectacular the highlight of our day was a visit to Hearst castle at San Simeon. We arrived at about 12:30 just in time to get on the 1:00 tour to Hearst Castle - you can't get up to the castle without taking a tour. Not really a castle at all but a home built at the top off a hill by William Randolph Hearst. By 1947 it had 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways. As you can tell this was no ordinary guy and his building a monument to wealth and ambition. He made his money initially in mining. Then moved into newspapers and finally movie production. The Rupert Murdoch of his day. The hill he chose at San Simeon was where his family owned a ranch and whenever he was there at the ranch they would be at a campsite at the top of the hill. One day he had a fancy to 'build a little something' as he was tired of living in tents.  Over the years the ranch had expanded to 250,000 acres and still runs 2000 head of cattle. The home he built with his architect took 28 years to complete and was filled with art and decoration from all over Europe for both interior and exterior decoration - choir stalls from churches, statues from italy.  

We did a tour of the grand rooms. This was the place that movie stars came to visit, Winston Churchill also stayed here. Charlie Chaplin, the silent movie star of the 1920s was a frequent visitor. Guests could ride horses, swim in the amazing Neptune pool or play tennis with views of the mountains. The first American to win Wimbledon (in 1920) played on this court - William 'Big Bill' Tatum. He went on to win Wimbledon twice more 1921 and 1930 and then tried a career as an actor. But he wasn't as successful at that. You have to use the bus to take you from the visitor centre up the 5 mile road to the castle itself. The castle looks out over the pacific ocean with cattle roaming the landscape.  It is still a working ranch today. Hearst also had a zoo here and the zebras from the zoo now roam with the cattle in the countryside. The collection of buildings and land now belong to california State Parks. It was a fascinating 2 hour visit - estimated temperature was about 38c as we wandered around the gardens and the pool looked more than inviting (see pictures). Lots of citrus trees lemon, limes and oranges growing in this Mediterranean climate. I doubt the photos I took really do this justice so here's the web link too www.hearstcastle.com.  This may give you a better idea of the size of the place on top of the hill. More like a town with a cathedral (the main building) at its heart.

It feels like we are in real California cowboy country now.miles and miles of open land and mountains. A lot of beef farming, animals grazing on what can be described as almost dust bowls though they seem to find something. Though there are plenty of trees dotting the landscape. But this probably normal here. Certainly no crops in sight. We arrived in Santa Barbara about 6.30 in the evening and now plan a few days with no driving at all.
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