Monday, July 2, 2012

Big Sur and Hearst Castle

June 30 to July 2
Los Angeles to San Francisco - 528.8 miles

For the last year or so, anytime I told anyone about my plan for this trip, they would bring up the Pacific Coast Highway and Big Sur.  The drive between Los Angeles and San Francisco along highway had been built up to such huge expectations, that I was actually slightly disappointed in the drive.  I should explain.  

Most of my disappointment was false expectations.  You see, I have been on some amazing drives in my life.  I took a road trip down the Almafi Coast with college buddies.  I toured around the Ring of Kerry in Ireland with Shelley.  I hiked the trails of Cinque Terre.  I've ridden trains through the mountains of Europe and along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.  So, when everyone told me this would be the greatest drive ever, I expected it to surpass these other experiences by a considerable degree.  I expected waves crashing into giant rocks so savagely that spray would roll over the car.  Mountains would drop directly into the sea.  I built it up like I was going to be driving on Mars.  It wasn't.  

Despite my ridiculous expectations, the drive was truly fantastic.  The scenery is stupendous and on par with the Almafi Coast and Ring of Kerry (those are the top 3 in some order).  Plus, the road is amazing.  About every two miles or so, there would be a sign warning of a rough road ahead.  I'd slow down looking for the potholes or gravel before realizing that I'd already passed over the "rough" road.  The road was nice and wide with plenty of lookout points to stop along the way.  During the 100 miles of desolate coast I drove today, I probably stopped at least twenty to thirty times or more.

In addition to Big Sur, the other highlight of the trip was my visit to Hearst Castle.  William Randolph Hearst - the inspiration for Citizen Kane - began building his "ranch" in 1919 and declared it "half finished" when he stopped construction in 1947.  The estate is located in the middle of nowhere about an hour north of San Luis Obispo (a great little college town worth a longer visit some time) just off highway 1.  Casa Grande ("the big house") has something over 100 rooms with 30+ bedrooms and 40+ bathrooms.  The smallest of the guest colleges only has ten rooms.

Others can better describe the rooms and majesty of the estate.  What caught my eye was all of the artwork that Hearst brought over from Europe.  There were absolutely amazing pieces in the house.  Several medieval and Renaissance ceilings, Italian choir boxes for wood paneling, dozens of antique statues and dozens more commissioned marble statues. (Built in the 1930s, these "new" statues look so clean and fresh that they don't appear to be marble.)  One of the other things that I loved was that many of the doors featured the heraldic sigils of the original owners.  Below are a few pictures from Hearst Castle.

The front of Casa Grande

These choir boxes were modified by the architect to allow doors

The dining room features the flags from each of Siena's neighborhoods,
which are displayed during the annual Palio 
The beautiful Neptune pool

One of the "new" statues

Because one huge pool is not enough

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