Thursday, 16 May 2013

Viva La Hearst, Happiness, Ghost Towns and Bright Lights.

Craig Writes:
14/05/13.The next part of our journey took us down the magnificent Big Sur coast for a stop of at the majestic Hearst Castle in San Simeon before coming to rest at the sublime Petit Soleil in San Louis Obispo. 

Hearst Castle can best be described as one man's monument to what an iron will and a bucket full of money can achieve. Over a 28 year period from 1919 to 1947, Hearst tipped somewhere close to ten million dollars into his pet project. A very large bucket full of dollars back in those days.

Is this the worlds most expensive "weekender"?
No doubt the man had style

A massive 60,000 square foot "weekender" with 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, a private zoo with polar bears, zebra, giraffe, lions etc, a Neptune pool that the Gods would be pleased to bathe in, Roman Baths that would be the envy of a Caesar, tennis courts and luxurious guest houses. These were to house the many A list Hollywood stars and political characters he liked to surround himself with.  Chaplin, Gable, Crawford, Granger, Bob Hope, Churchill, Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge but to name  few. 

I doubt the pool at Mount Olympus was any better
The stunning indoor Roman Baths
He rarely stayed there but when he did he liked to entertain and built an airfield to fly his fortunate guests in. In some respects it was built more as place for him to store and display some of his incredible art collection. From 3500 year old Egyptian sculptures of the goddess Sekhmet to 3rd century Roman marble statues.  
One of many beautiful garden statues
Renaissance artworks adorned hallways and  five metre x eight metre Flemish Tapestries hung from the walls of the Grand Sitting Room with it's 400 year old French fireplace and carved 16th century Italian ceiling. Some 26,000 artefacts and works of art lie throughout the estate.

The Grand Sitting Room, guests would mingle and play here before dinner
The ketchup and mustard were always served up in their bright plastic bottles
But he never did get to finish it. He went away on one of his trips and told everyone there not to do anything till he got back. He never went back. Still, enough was completed to make this one of he most remarkable pieces of architecture of the modern era and a testament to the imagination and perseverance of Hearst and his remarkable architect Julia Morgan.

From here it was a little further down the coast to San Louis Obispo and a little touch of French charm at the delightful Petit Soleil Bed and Breakfast. My god, what a breathe of fresh air this place is.
Petit Soleil, if you get the chance, go.
An intimate B and B complete with cobblestone court yards and the rustic colourful charm of a Provence cottage. Our hosts Diane and John Connor were totally charming, efficient and absolutely delightful. The rooms are beautifully appointed but not over the top and the morning breakfast of a choice of fluffy buttermilk orange and pecan pancakes or a caramelized onion and red pepper strata was a hard decision to make.  Oh the first world problems we have to deal with on the road. A tasty nutty granola with quality yogurts, fruit, toast, juice and coffee or tea signed the deal. Good quality linens and towels and L' Occitane toiletries, damn I could live here too.
San Louis Obispo actually has quite an interesting reputation. According to author Dan Buettner it is the happiest place in America.  Dan says some of the reasons are they banned all public smoking in 1990 and all drive through fast food outlets have also been banned. Coincidentally they have very low rates of obesity and smoking.  They have an extensive net work of bike ways so most people bike to work and local councils have strived hard to encourage outdoor dining and socialising which is helped by the fact they have fantastic weather 306 days a year.They have a very healthy work to play ratio and 25% of the population are self employed. Oh, and they never swallow their gum. If your there make your way to Bubblegum Alley and you'll see what I mean. Since 1960 people having been coming from all over the world to chew their little hearts out to decorate the two 4.6 metres high x 21 metres long walls with the gum of their choice. It must be an inch or two thick by the look of it. In a few more years it will be that thick you'll have to walk down the alley sideways. And yes it is as disgusting as it sounds but it's like the site of a famous gruesome murder, you just have to see it.

Sad to say we contributed to this bastardised art work
 And yes I did stuck my own pink blob up there for future generations of Van Waardenburgs to go visit and be proud.

The Infamous "Wall of Soda", Bacon and Lime anyone??
Unfortunately we're only here for one night and then off for another one nighter in Pasadena. Not a lot to say here although it is a pretty town and they do have the Rose Bowl here. We got in fairly late after a long drive and tackling the LA traffic.

Ten lanes and it still ends up a carpark
We ate, slept, got up and drove on the next morning stopping at Calico Ghost Town.

At it's peak it had 1800 people and 22 pubs
If only those chests could talk
The town was founded in 1881 at the base of the Calico Mountains in the Mojave Desert when four prospectors discovered silver. It went on to become California's largest producer of silver. In 1890 The Silver Purchase Act was invoked and the price of silver began to drop. 
Down the mines we go
Someone forgot to tell these fellas the place has shut down
By 1896 the price had dropped by half and the towns population started to drift. By 1907 it was completely deserted. It has thankfully been restored with five of the original buildings still in use. Lil's Saloon is one of the originals and  a real step back in time. I felt I should sidel up to the bar, mindful of the watchful eye of the portraits of Billie The Kid, Pat Garrett, Jesse James, Wyatt Earp, the Younger Brothers and a posse of other Wild West legends staring down from the gallery. Slouchin heavily on the old oak bar rubbed shiny by countless elbows, shakin the dust of my Panama and sayin low and mean, "whiskey, bar keep". But time was gettin on, so I took a bit of footage, crept out the worn bat wing doors that had been swung a million times by dusty and ornary miners, cowboys and gun slingers and grabbed a water at the General Store. 
Sometimes even the bravest and the best looking ended up in a box
The drive down to Vegas across the Mojave was a real jaw dropper.  We travelled Route 15 and to the locals I can see how it might get a bit boring but for a first timer I found the expansive open desert and the distant Sierra Nevada mountain ranges hypnotic. What a contrast when you pull into town. Vegas is Disneyland on steroids with an R rating. It's all big and flashy and false as Danny La Rues knockers. 
This is probably the closest Johnny Depp will ever get to having a photo with me
The whole town is one big illusion
It's full of drunk businessmen trying to forget a bad week or celebrate a big deal. Drunk young guys in tight T's trying their best to not look their age and small cliches of girls in tighter shorts and low cut tops slouched on the side of fountains guarding their vodka mixers. Whether it's the bored loners making love to their slot machine or the pimped up broads on the arm of their buttoned up gangsta wanna be's it all reeks a little of desperation. We caught Tim Allen's show at our hotel The Venezia, and it  had a whiff of a guy who's been out of the limelight for a while and was desperate to get a laugh. I mean can you really run fart jokes for twenty minutes and think it's gonna be funny.  His young warm up act was 20 minutes of none stop belly laughs. Wish I could remember his name. He described himself as the free pickle you get but don't ask for when you order your sandwich. Very funny dude.
No complaints about the hotel, big and comfortable and right on the strip. We walked up and down a bit but we're only there for two nights and there's so much to see in your own hotel. We had a reproduction of St Marks Square complete with Truman Show fake sky and a canal snaking through and around the hotel which offered Gondola rides. Unbelievable. 

This, is just the lobby entrance
Fake canal, fake gondola,even the sky is fake.
While they'll ply you with cheap to free drinks if your playing the machines or the tables, outside of that the place is not cheap. Especially if you want to see a half decent show. We wanted to see David Copperfield but at $500 for the four of us we had to say no thanks. Chris Angel was next on our list but likewise over $400. 
Anyway, enough Vegas bashing. It's got it's purpose and I really don't mind it but it's not really a place to go with kids. You need to go with your party hat on, go hard for a bit then go home.

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