Monday, March 9, 2009

A very full day

Yesterday was as busy a day as I’ve had on this trip. Or maybe it just seemed like that because I lost an hour’s sleep with the switch to daylight savings time. In any event I left the gorgeous Morro Bay and headed to San Simeon and the Hearst Castle. And what a castle it was. William Randolph Hearst began building his architectural tour de force when he was 56. By then he had been collecting major art and antiquities for decades and they all found a place in his hilltop home. He collected ornate ceilings from Spain and Italy and had them installed at his “ranch” as he called it. There is statuary that dates back to 47 BC and he amassed a huge collection of religious paintings and artifacts – not so much because he was a religious man (he wasn’t) but because the Roman Catholic church supported so many artists and artisans and that’s the type of art that was available to buy.

The magnitude of this building project is impressive. Hearst continued changing and building it for 28 years until his death at 88. Julia Morgan, an American who was the first woman to graduate from a prestigious architectural school in France, was Hearst’s building partner. Morgan brought to life Hearst’s dream and found a place for his large collections and treasures.

I went on two guided tours, one at 11 another at 2 and also watched an Imax movie about the building of Hearst Castle and the rich and famous people who visited there.

The ranch (at one time it consisted of approximately 250,000 acres and included 80 miles of California coastline) still operates today and is run by the Hearst Corporation.

The coastline in this part of California reminds me of New Zealand landscape, rounded, lush green hills, gorgeous coastline, even the same type of rock poking through the green from time to time. All that is missing are the sheep. Here herds of cattle rather than sheep occupy the landscape. Later I read that, like New Zealand, the landscape here has been formed by ancient volcanic activity.

By 4:30, at the end of the second tour, I was exhausted and headed back south a few miles to San Simeon State Park to spend the night. As I was backing into my camping spot, a man from the next campsite yelled out that I was about to hit the bottom on the van on back concrete curb. In the end I settled on the campsite just below him (the first one was too slanted) and went back to say “thank you” as I had noticed he had an Alberta license plate. It turns out that he is a transplanted Aussie who lives in Drumheller. Later in the evening, he (Paul) came over to invite me to join him and his friends Larry and Larry’s wife Pat for fresh fish and mussels that Larry had caught earlier in the day. So I joined an impromptu California dinner party!

Today I am going to check out the nearby town of Cambria as all three of my dinner mates say it is not to be missed and I will spend another night here tonight. When I’m in Cambria, I will find a WiFi site and post this.

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