Combing the California Coastline & Hearst Castle. by Victoria Ugarte

Where did the time go? The tail end of our U.S. holiday seemed like a blur.

I remember vividly the stunning beauty of the California coastline as we drove from Monterey Bay to San Simeon, but its ruggedness and the sheer drop from the narrow, winding road to the jagged rocks below was confronting to say the least. Our trip was somewhat coloured by Peter's discomfort as his lower back buckled under the pressures of driving everyday for long distances and negotiating heavy suitcases in and out of the various B&B's and inns.

Monterey Bay: After our two nights in Yosemite, we drove for 3 hours to Monterey Bay and checked out the quaint town of Monterey: we had lunch at the wharf, took copious snapshots of the sea lions, ambled along the shoreline, and spent a couple of hours in the amazing Monterey Aquarium.

From there, we drove another hour to Santa Cruz, on the other end of Monterey Bay, where we stayed at the Westcliff Inn, a superb Four Sisters property. Knowing it had been Peter's birthday, the staff at the inn gave us the room with the best view of Santa Cruz beach and Monterey Bay, and had arranged blue balloons and a birthday card in our room when we arrived. Lovely touch. Having stayed at a Four Sisters property in Sonoma (Sonoma Inn), I have been impressed with the calibre of the inns, the professionalism of the staff, and the location of all of them and would recommend them in a heartbeat.

On a more serious note, Peter had notched up 5 hours of driving that day, and his lower back had started to seize up on him. This concerned us a lot - travel and a back problems make a dangerous combination. He tried to prevent his back jamming up with some stretches, which alleviated it somewhat but did not fix it.

Carmel: With me doing most of the driving the following day, we explored the village of Carmel. Peter and I were far more fascinated by the little towns that we discovered in our journey through the United States They held our interest far more than the cities.  So many beautiful places, so little time! We found the vibe and architecture of Carmel quite artisanal and pretty. We did little else than walk around and check out the architecture of the homes, shops and beachfront. The sea mist was up so visibility was limited. We noted that we had never seen so many indulged dogs as we did in Carmel. We thought our suburb of Clovelly (Sydney) was bad!

Navigating The Big Sur: The day after Carmel, it was time to drive from Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay to Hearst Castle in San Simeon, via the Big Sur. I had to take the wheel that day as Peter's back had really started to stiffen up. This really put my driving skills to the test: not only would I be driving on the other side of the road, I would be navigating our car through one of the most challenging roads in California, the zig-zagged roads and hairpin turns of the Big Sur. The coastline of the Big Sur was spectacularly beautiful, one of the most breathtaking coastlines I have seen anywhere in the world. I managed to remain calm, focus on the road ahead and somehow managed not to think about the narrow road and sheer drop to the jagged rocks and ocean below on the other side of our car. It was a real test of the nerves, I can tell you.

Although the distances didn't look that far on the map, we had to take the drive slowly and carefully along the Big Sur coastline from Monterey Bay to San Simeon, so what might take 3 hours on a normal stretch of road took us an incredible 5 hours. Thank goodness for the New Zealand couple that we met the night before, who warned us to give ourselves the extra time for the drive.

Hearst Castle:
Full credit to Mr. Hearst's vision and what he created, particularly for that time. Hearst Castle is beautiful, spectacular, glamorous, and was guest home to the "Who's Who" of that era. I marveled at the architecture, exquisite artwork, Flemish tapestries, original Roman statues, and amazing views of San Simeon from the top of Hearst Castle. But after the global financial meltdown of late, and a consciousness of the misery of so many with so little across the globe, I felt rather uncomfortable with such an ostentatious display of wealth. I tried to put my judgment aside and focus on enjoying Hearst Castle as I would have an art gallery.

It was William Randolph Hearst’s father, George Hearst, a wealthy miner, who purchased 40,000-acres of ranchland in 1865. The Hearst family acreage was originally a place for family members and friends to “rough it” on camping trips.
Being the only son, William Randolph Hearst inherited the grounds in 1919 from his mother after his father’s passing. He then collaborated with famed San Francisco architect Julia Morgan to create something truly spectacular. His simple instructions were: “Miss Morgan, we are tired of camping out in the open at the ranch in San Simeon and I would like to build a little something”.

By 1947, Hearst and Morgan had created an estate of 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways. The result of Hearst and Morgan’s collaboration is a remarkable blend of architectural style with the surrounding land, and a superb home to Hearst’s superb European and Mediterranean art collection. It has to be seen to be believed.
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