Svolding, a "traditional" (i.e. completely fabricated) Danish village was bursting with visitors. They were milling about in incredible numbers, shopping for "Danish" souvenirs in little boutiques and eating "Danish" food in colourful cafés like the Little Mermaid Restaurant. We had only really stopped because it was lunchtime and we were driving through Svolding anyway, but it turned out to be quite good fun to spend an hour in this crazy place (and admittedly we also visited the "German" town high in the hills behind Adelaide when we were in Australia, which was dressed in much the same style as Svolding, so deep down we must be receptive to this kind of thing). We ate at Paula's Pancake House where Mark went for the full European experience by ordering "Danish pancakes" - which turned out to be very similar to Dutch of English pancakes, but certainly different to the American variety, so reasonably authentic.
From Svolding we took scenic highway 254 through the vineyard and farmland covered hills that form the backdrop for the California coastline. Somewhere in this rolling green expanse, Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch is meant to be located, but we failed to spot either the man himself or the assortment of fairground rides that he reportedly has on his property. The road then sunk down from the hills to the sea and straight into Santa Barbara, an incredibly pretty town. It owes its charm, quite unexpectedly, to an earthquake that destroyed much of the place in 1925. Apparently, at the time, the Spanish style of buildings with red tiled roofs and pale adobe walls was very much the fashion and so this was deemed to be the architecture of choice for the entire reconstruction and local building regulations have compelled constructors to stick to this style ever since.
So the town is made up of these quaint buildings, almost entirely low-rise and this gives it a cozy villagey feel even though it is home to 100,000 people. The town also hosts one of the many historic missions (churches) that dot the coastline and were built by the Spanish when they came to the area as religious and cultural centres. We visited the mission yesterday when we arrived in town and, after wandering round it, settled in the park out front to enjoy the sun and watch a group of young boys practicing their American Football skills under the leadership of their jovial teenage coach.
From our motel at the north end of the main downtown commercial area, State Street is lined with quirky independent shops, old theatres and all manner of cafés and restaurants. Very few franchises have claimed a space here and the McDonalds and Starbucks that are present have been very carefully camouflaged. We walked the length of it today, to where State Street meets the wharf and the broad sandy beach. The sea here is as blue as anywhere in California and today the sky is equally blue.
The only marginally off-putting aspect of beach-life in Santa Barbara is the sight of half a dozen oil platforms just out to sea. It was not quite warm enough to swim, but the weather promises to heat up later in the week - bringing us full circle to summer - so we contented ourselves with this stroll in the sun and some incredibly tasty food from the "Natural Café" which serves simple dishes with fresh, biological ingredients. All in all a fabulous, reinvigorating stop before we hit the hustle and bustle of LA.
O, what a beautiful morning. Clear, bright sunshine starting to warm the crisp, fresh air. We seem to have fast-forwarded another season, this time entering spring overnight. And we were back on the road again for the second to last leg of our road trip. Within a few days we would be in Los Angeles and almost within crawling distance of LAX and our flight home. Not much time left to make the most of the sights and the weather that California has to offer, so we needed to make the most of it. By late morning we had made good progress on the road to Santa Barbara, our seaside destination. We took a break in one of those amusing tourist spots that can only exist in places like America and Australia where all things European seem exotic and appealing.