We spent the afternoon of the 23rd July exploring the decadent opulence of Hearst Castle. The Castle and surrounding buildings were built on a 40000 acre ranch purchased by wealthy miner George Hearst in 1865. The ranchland has grown over the years and now encompasses around 250000 acres.
In 1919 William Randolph Hearst inherited the land and commissioned architect Julia Morgan to help him build a little something.. she was to spend 28 years of her life working on the project!
Tourists are herded onto half hourly buses all day long at around $25.00 a person. The drive to the castle is around 15 minutes up a narrow winding road. Our tourguide tells us that William Randolph Hearst, former owner of this grand estate once had his own private zoo and that certain animals still roam the land including elk, deer and zebras..alas the kangaroos are long gone! We arrive at the top of the hill and spend the next hour and a half being guided around the estate. There are four separate tours to take should you wish to see the whole thing..we are treated to one of the guest wings, the outdoor and indoor pools, the predinner mingling room and the grand dining room..our guide takes us back to the Hearst heyday by having us imagine being invited for the weekend by the host…”over here in this chair sits Clark Gable enjoying a pre-dinner aperatif with Charlie Chaplin “..its easy to slide yourself back in time and imagine the ambience.
Hearst loved interesting people, people with stories and he encouraged all of his guests to get to know each other. In fact none of the guest houses have kitchens as it was a requirement for all guests to attend the evenings formal dinner.
We leave the castle awestruck and make our way back down the hillside, heading back to the campsite for an early night and ready to make our way the next day towards Monterey.
Driving out of San Simeon we pass thirsty fields. Cattle graze on the undulating landscape beneath scattered Monterey Pines. We stop at the Elephant Seal viewing platform and are amazed to see more than 5o of the giant, blubbery creatures lounging on the beach below us.
Two gigantic males put on a show for dominance, rising up and body slamming each other over and over. I am surprised at the violence. Others just want to sleep and stay our of the way of trouble… a baby comes in from a swim, entering the beach slowly and warily, well away from the main crowd. Knowing your place seems to be very important in this community!
We drive onwards and the road begins to climb. Suddenly we are on the edge of a series of craggy cliffs. Monterey Pines are everywhere shrouded in coastal fog. Highway 1 clings to the cliffsides from Ragged Point to Monterey and the scenery is beyond spectacular!
We reach Monterey in the afternoon and take a walk along Cannery Row. We still havent been able to contact our friend Danielles brother Kevin who works at the Monterey Bay Aquarium so we call into the Aquarium to see if we can find him but he has left for the day. We had met Kevin in Australia a few months earlier and he had invited us to come for a backstage tour of the Aquarium.
We had left multiple messages but hadn’t heard anything back…by 5.30 we began looking for a motel for the night..the girls and I traipsed in and out of front offices trying to find a deal but most were around $150 which was more than we wanted to spend. In the middle of our search the phone rings…its Kevin! Seems he had returned our call a couple of weeks before but somehow we hadn’t received the message…he was wondering what had happened to us…apolegetically he explained that they would love to have us stay the night but his wife Kristen was working from home and was particularly busy for the evening and the following day. We were actually somewhat relieved..after two days of camping and no showers we were feeling slightly antisocial and in need of nothing more than an anonymous motel, take away food, a beer, a shower and a TV. After an hour of looking we finally found a place for $89.00 a night..comfy and clean with everything we needed the only drawback was the sound of planes flying in to land at the nearby airport. We were too tired too worry about them!
We agreed to meet at Kevins house the next morning. It was his day off and he would be happy to show us around.
25th July…arriving at Kevins place on a gorgeous day to watch him pushing 3 year old Sage on the tree swing in the front yard. Sage immediately adopted Santana as her big sister and after a cuppa and a chat with Kristen who we hope to get to know better in the future we were off with Kevin and Sage to see the sights.
Arriving in the seaside village of Carmel we walked the pretty streets, lined with upmarket boutiques and galleries, downhill towards the beach. The sand was hot and warmed us a little from the chilly wind. We dipped our toes in the water and just as quickly out again. It was the middle of Summer but felt more like a Winters Day in Jervis bay…warm enough if you could find a place out of the wind but brisk and windswept when exposed to the elements…well used to the local climate Sage ran around the beach in her little Summer dress while the girls and I all pulled our sweaters on.
We drove along 17 mile Drive past extravagant mansions, overpriced Golf Courses ($500.00 a game!) and incredible scenery and on towards Monterey where Kevin took us through the backdoor of the Aquarium and graciously showed us around. A wealth of information and with a heart of gold we were glad we had the chance to connect with this wonderful man. After a while he left us to wander alone as Sage had a playdate. We thanked him effusively for the morning with promises to try and get together again sometime during our trip.
We left the aquarium around 4pm en route to Santa Rosa..we had left it a little late and knew we would be dealing with rush hour traffic around San Francisco so Kevin had given us an alternative route around the outskirts of San Francisco in an attempt to avoid the worst of the congestion. We filmed Kevin while he was giving us directions so there could be no confusion and set off up the Coast. Marco and I have a very tenuous navigator/driver relationship so I made sure I looked at the map well ahead…San Francisco appeared as a maze of freeways on the map but its seemed that if we followed the 880 it would eventually merge into the 580 and on to the 101..easy!! Through the mountains and past the San Jose turn off the traffic started to build. We stopped on the outskirts of Oakland for a bathroom visit at a giant Mall but didnt stay long as Oakland doesnt have the best reputation and most of our belongings were stored under a tarp on top of the car. Back on the freeway and just up ahead I saw a sign for the 580 …”to the right” I exclaimed….”its the 580!” My stomach sunk as the offramp veered sharply to the right. Even with my impaired sense of direction I knew we were heading East..the opposite direction to where we wanted to go!
“&*(&^&*(!..we should have gone straight!” Now you might not think a wrong turn is such a big deal but when you’re heading into a major city in rush hour traffic with not much knowledge of the surrounding areas it can be a very big deal…heading east we took the very first offramp we could in an endeavour to find a way to get back onto the 580 heading west…as we descended from the freeway to the streets my stomach sunk even further and Marco was suddenly very quiet…”We’ve gotta get out of here” he whispered to me…”Just have to find a way back onto the freeway” I said cheerily to the girls as we drove along Oakland most notorious gangland streets. With one of the highest murder rates in the state we had stumbled into an area where white was a very dangerous colour to be. A couple of deep breaths and a lucky left hand turn later we heaved a sigh of relief as we drove up the ramp to 580W.
Unfortunately I have to confess to more navigating sins as we pulled into Santa Rosa around 9.30pm, tired, hungry and slightly crabby. I had booked into the Motel 6 online the previous night but hadnt thought to write the address down…another half an hour of driving around and stopping for directions and finally we were there. We lugged our luggage upstairs and headed back to the car to go and find some food…Round Table Pizza looked appealing and by 10.30 pm we were back in the room gorging ourselves…while we ate we watched a strange show on Discovery Channel about an adventurer who likes to take himself off into the wilderness and find ways to survive in worst case scenarios..after watching him suck the water out of a hunk of elephant dung and rip into the remains of a zebra carcass with his bare teeth I felt very lucky indeed for our budget motel room and delicious pizza!
Our heads hit the pillows around 11am and we all slept soundly in preparation for our excursion to the Petrified Forest and Old Faithful geyser the next day.