Got to the Hearst Castle Visitors Centre this morning bright and early ready for our tour, but first we saw a 40 minute video on how the place came about, which confirmed to me that Mr Hearst had way too much money and was very keen to make a name for himself in the social circles of American Society!
I won't delve into the history of the place here (would be totally boring - you can Google him if you wish to find out more) but basically as a young boy W R Hearst was taken on an 18 month trip to Europe by his mother and he developed a like for art in all it's forms and apparently returned with a wish to build a dream home! And he succeeded in building a castle that was a copy of several European styles, and has never actually been finished.
We were put on buses to drive us the 5 kilometres or so up the steep hills to the castle, passing through the ranch part of the holding, then through the open field zoo that he also started with now only some zebra and elk remaining, before reaching the enormous castle! It was all terribly well organised in the great American way and we were given a guided tour of the bottom part of the place.
No expense was spared in the building and I guess it fulfilled his dream, but to me the place was grotesque, with the influence of Italy, France and Spain dominant but totally mixed up in all the stone work, carvings and tapestries! There was a huge pool and deck area (sadly the pool was empty due to the local water restrictions) and many, many rooms to see, as well as the guest quarters. Most weekends between 20 and 50 fifty guests were invited to the castle to party and explore the huge acreage attached. Not a lot of mention was made of Mrs Hearst, but judging by the number of female starlets that enjoyed these weekends I reckon Willie was not short of choice for a partner!
We spent about 90 mins looking about, with the indoor pool being probably the pick of the place, and then we got the bus back to the visitor centre. Suffice to say I found the place interesting but quite gross and overdone - Hearst's best achievement was to hand over 13 miles of coastline to the National Park Service so that the magnificent stretch would remain unspoilt! He has also handed the remote and lonely town of San Simeon hundreds of ongoing jobs at his ranch and castle, which keep the place alive!
It was about 12.30pm when headed back onto the highway and headed north - stopping at
the Piedras Blancas rookery where we saw many Elephant seals lazing on the beach, swimming in the clear waters and fighting over their females!!! It great to be able to observe them from about 50 metres away. From there we pushed on along the Big Sur coastal drive - and what an amazing drive it was! The road followed the coastline all the way, wedged between steep hills and the ocean, with many bridges built out over the water to dodge cliffs.
There were many vantage points along the way which were packed with holiday makers enjoying the drive, and we stopped numerous times to admire the views and also to spot lots of whales making their way up the coast! It was an extraordinary drive and one we will remember for ages!
From there it was away from the coast and through some amazing vegetable and fruit growing regions, with artichokes being the major crop! Thousands of acres of the stuff!
We stopped off in Monterey for a look at the lovely water front harbour and to have a rest stop - nearly left Greg there as there was a huge car auction being held in the evening - vintage, modern, classic and race cars all set out for inspection! There were a couple of mint Mustangs that would have made a good container load home!!!!!
We pushed on to Santa Cruz for our night stop, which turned out to be a very ordinary place with many vagrants in the streets and a pretty dirty looking town.
So ended a good day - lots to see and enjoy - and the promise of many more to come!!!