Wednesday, March 21, 2007

On the road in California

We left Hollywood without a backward glance. It was Sunday morning and the roads were quiet as we headed out to Santa Monica. We spotted a sign to the Getty Villa and followed it. It was built to house his Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities but he never saw it completed. There are some beautifully restored items, perhaps a little over cleaned and sparkling for English taste but fabulous all the same. I particularly like the head of a Roman matron whose lips were nearly twitching and I swear her jowls shook with a suppressed laugh at some ancient joke.

We got to Santa Barbara, which is very Spanish but with a Macy's and Sears instead of El Cortes, just as the Sunday market at the harbour was packing up luckily the shops were still open. Got a nice handbag. That night we ate outside with one of those tall patio gas heaters to keep us warm, with the scent of jasmine and orange blossom wafting in the air.

The next day we visited another magnets obsession, Hearst Castle. William Randolph Hearst, media mogul, spent years turning the family ranch - 300 square miles of it, into his kingdom high on a hill overlooking the sea. He employed Julia Morgan, one of the first women engineers to graduate in America who went onto qualify as an Architect in Paris, to make his dreams come true. He lived there with his companion, Marion Davies. His wife stayed in New York with their five sons, they never divorced. It was mostly completed when he died in his 80s. The Castle itself has 115 rooms, including a private cinema. It has high ceilings to enable his huge tapestries to be hung to full effect. Three of the seven, or maybe it was nine, planned sumptuous guest houses were built. We looked round one that had his and her bathrooms, both with sweet heart shaped sinks. There are tennis courts and swimming pools, one indoor, one outdoor, and he had a Zoo in the grounds. On his death the family had to give to the Castle and its contents to the state in lieu of $60 million death tax bill. Today just one of his statues would be worth that amount. Hearst Corporation still have land nearby - an airport, and a house, the Senators House.

We took the introductory tour which was about an hour long. It is very regimented, as perhaps something like this has to be. You are transported up the hill in a bus. It had been overcast all morning but just as we got to the top of the hill the sun came out, at first we were looking over the top of the clouds but eventually they too disappeared and we had views down to the sea and across the countryside. Two guides escort you around, one does the talking and the other brings up the rear and there are scattered low key guards throughout. If you stray off the utilitarian carpet that marks your path around the room a klaxon like racket sends you scuttling back to the straight and narrow. If the guide talks too long a buzzer sounds discretely to get them back on track as the next group will be waiting. The guide was very experienced and was able to answer all the queries that came his way, he had a good clear voice and could be heard by all. He kept ruthless order; one lady was translating what he was saying for her visiting friend from South America and he told her to be quiet in no uncertain terms. I guess he just had time for a drink of water and a sit down before the next bus load arrived.

Our jaw dropping day continued only this time our mouths were open at Natures wonders as we drove along the Big Sur - a spectacular winding coastal drive through a National Park, where mountains rise out nearly from the sea, and forests adorn their slopes. Awesome!

We stayed the night in Carmel, Clint Eastwood's town. In spite of none, or very little, street lighting we managed to get ourselves across the road to a restaurant for dinner. This restaurant actually had one of those hidden table places you read about, where the famous can eat out and not be stared at. This hidey hole was behind the chimney. I didn't spot anyone I knew to be famous though. On our after dinner stroll we did spy some amazing shops, lovely clothes shops, a Tiffany's. One, a pet shop, had specially shaped dog biscuits laid out like a bakers displaying its wares. The biscuits were bone shaped, and rabbit shaped, and nicely iced in pretty colours; hopefully the icing would not send them straight to the doggy dentist! In spite of that we liked Carmel, on the whole it had a quiet sophistication about it.

Tuesday started with the '17 Mile Drive' through Pebble Beach. Famous for its golf courses, views to the ocean, its lone cypress pine on a rock in the ocean. It has gorgeous houses, we would like to do a house swap here or in Carmel! Anyone reading from this area please e-mail me!

We drove on through Pacific Grove, past Cannery Row and Monterey. It was raining and we had little inclination to stop. We took a little side trip to the Big Basin Redwoods State Park which has 300ft high and over a thousand years old Redwood trees. This was sort of a substitute for not getting to Yosemite on this trip. It was an excellent choice, for a start there were very few people there, I'm sure that will all change at Easter when the campsites fill up but we had the place to ourselves more or less.

We finally got to Silicon Valley just as everyone was leaving. Commuters were pouring out as we reached Palo Alto. From here it is an easy hop into San Francisco tomorrow. Here I am in Silicon Valley, near Stanford University where so much work was done on the ARPANET, the forerunner of the Internet. I can't sleep so I surf the net instead....


Ursula Godwin Niesmann said...

We have a lovely home exchange listing in Stinson Beach. You might like to get in touch with the owners of this stunning sea side home. Registration with JewettStreet is easy and free!
Good luck!
Founder and Editor

axx said...

ursula - thank you so much. I will be in touch when we are home in the UK again and it is cold and grey. :-)

See ya!