California Dreamin

Trip Start Aug 01, 2005
Trip End Nov 22, 2005

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Flag of United States  , California
Friday, November 18, 2005

California Dreamin'

Of course today started with a visit to the sea lions. Fee wanted to photograph them in morning light so we went back to the pier to get up close and personal with them again. Being morning they were more active, obviously they need to eat some time so many were in the water looking for food. They were all still smelly.

With Kodak shares increasing it was time to set off down California 1 South down the Central Californian Coast. This is the drive to do. From Monterey we followed this windy road, hugging the coast for about two and a half hours. We stopped about 27 times. Mostly to photograph seals, sometimes to admire views, often to enjoy the rare November sunshine. The road was reminiscent of the Great Ocean Road and almost as spectacular (although I may be biased towards my home state). The coast was rugged, the waves were crashing against the rocks and the sun was shining. It was awesome. There were lots of sea lions (barking), seals (burping) and otters (in silence). Every five minutes we would come across a new Vista Point offering even more impressive views. For anyone who has yet to do so, you gotta do this drive.

Eventually we came to the small town of San Simeon and the nearby Hearst Castle. William Rudolph Hearst was one of America's wealthiest men. He started off a printing press and launched numerous newspapers. He then moved into films and helped start MGM Studios. He was a senator, ran for NYC mayor and US President and mingled with the rich and famous. He was the man. His father struck it rich when he found silver and subsequently bought a 28,000 acre ranch outside San Simeon. As a child William loved this place and dreamed of doing more with it. When, at the age of 10 his mother took him to Europe for an 18 month holiday (now that is a mother) he fell in love with the architecture, the history, the art and the castles. From then on he was determined to build his own.

At the age of 55, he has money galore and set about realising his dream. Over a period of several years he built his own enormous castle high up on the mountain overlooking 40 miles of Californian coastline. He bought art and sculptures and carpets and structures from around Europe and built what was effectively a museum. When completed he invited the rich and famous (Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Charles Lindbergh, Winston Churchill, Bette Davis all were regulars) to his lavish castle.

Touring the castle was amazing. There was an enormous Greco Roman pool surrounded by Italian marble statues and Greek sculptures. There were rooms full of 15th century Italian paintings, there was a movie theatre decorated in gold that could seat 50 people. There were Egyptian statues from Tutankhamen's time. It was one of the most amazing places I had ever seen. In his time he created his own private zoo, with kangaroos, zebras and moose roaming the grounds and polar bears and lions in cages. It would have been quite the place.

We toured the place for a couple of hours in sheer awe. This guy had a lot of money and liked to spend. And to think this was only one of several properties he had around the world. We had only visited the place as others had recommended it and it was good to get a glimpse of how the other half live. His motto was if you have the dream you can do what you want. I think the dream will only get you so far. Money is important. It is hard to pay off your mortgage with a dream.

From the lavish Hearst castle we continued down the coast dreaming of building our own castles and waking up to the fantastic views each day (and of course the barking sea lions.) We did come across a new type of seal- the elephant seal that were lined up on the sandy beach, as it was molting season. They come up on the sand to shed their fur and for the females to give birth.

Reluctantly we left the coast and headed back onto the far less interesting Highway 101. Instead of beach we got views of Burger Kings and Motel 6's. Not a seal to be seen. We were entering wine country and the region of the film Sideways. This film, nominated for a Best Picture Award this year, has seen the popularity of this area explode and all the hotels and restaurants mentioned in the film are fully booked (and overpriced). So we couldn't stay here but we could at least check it out.

We went to the strangely translocated town of Solvang. This is a Danish town. In California. Most of the residents are Danish. All the buildings are Danish. The restaurants and shops are Danish. It is like being in Denmark. (Or what I would imagine Denmark would be like as I have never been there). There is a Hans Christian Anderson hotel. A King Frederick restaurant. The Royal Copenhagen Inn. Windmills along the street. If it weren't for the loud Americans touring the streets you wouldn't have believed you were in California.

Tonight we are staying in the bustling town of Lompoc; famous for being the closest place to Solvang that I could find that was reasonably priced. I hope there is something good on TV.
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