Thurs. Mar. 21, 2013:
Brent did not feel like going downstairs for the free breakfast, so I was on my own- and he missed out. I ended up with a chocolate croissant and some lemon pound cake; both were still fresh and soft. Driving along the Pacific Coast Highway we passed through a town that inexplicably smelled like tomatoes- it was gross. We drove by a group of very sketchy looking hitchhikers, it was odd, and you never really see hitchhikers any more.
There were huge gusts of wind shaking the car. Then a sign appeared warning of the gusts. That signed belonged a few miles back down the road. We passed a drive-in theatre that had been repurposed as a drive-in recycling facility. Then the drive got boring, as most of the coast was taken over by a US Air Force base making the name of “Pacific Coast Highway” a slight lie, at least for that section given all I could see were fences, some fields and some hills. At some point we drove through a free-standing irony: on one side of the highway was a yuppie, well-to-do country club complete with golf course and on the other side a farm with migrant workers in the fields.
As we drove the scenery was an endless loop of farms, farms and more farms and then suddenly- an oil well?! It was really odd and unexpected to see it, dipping gently back and forth. We stopped at a 7-Eleven, I went inside and the door said Restrooms but when I opened it there was a mop and a bucket and some shelves- it was a utility room. I stormed out; too made to buy snacks (I would later regret not buying any candy).
There were some cranes walking around in the tall grasses but I quickly got distracted by a giant castle of sorts atop a hill far off in the distance. I made a note of it in my book but did not say anything. That was Hearst Castle I was looking at, as I later found out in the visitor’s centre. The parking and centre were at the bottom of the hill, far away from the actual castle itself. We had gotten there early so we walked around and looked at the exhibits while eating cookies. Even the Hearst Castle visitor’s centre has a Starbucks, it is true that you can find one almost anywhere. They announced that there were some spaces on an earlier tour, and as we were about to go for it we heard some commotion out on the patio. Apparently the zebras were out. That’s right, the zebras. Even the staff was excited about it; clearly the zebras do not like to come out much. Before the tour had even started I had already learned about Hearst: he was nuts.
We had to take a shuttle bus up to the castle, driving along a long winding road. While we drove there was a video about the castle narrated by Alex Trebek (I have no idea why, it was never explained). The views were amazing; you could see down into the valley, across the highway, you could see the ocean.
We were stuck with a group of easily the dumbest people ever (about as dumb as the woman in DC museum touching real artifacts). The first thing the tour guide said was that everything in the castle was authentic. In the first room of the tour, the first question asked was if the paintings on the wall were real. Brent and I looked at each other in horror- what had we signed up for?! In the second room, exact same question, only this time it was about god knows what. The real kicker came in the dining room, where they had set it up as it would have been for lunch- plates, serving ware, napkins, condiments and all. One woman actually asked- insert gasp- if the Heinz ketchup bottle was authentic. A ketchup bottle is what grasped this woman’s interest. She believed that what was on display was a very old bottle of ketchup. The tour guide was floored; he actually had to pause to collect his thoughts and somehow (without calling her downright stupid) explain to her that it was a prop. At this point Brent and I just lost it; we made so many “is it authentic” jokes. I joked about what would happen if this woman met a stripper. We laughed uproariously. Some of our great one-liners: is the water in the pool authentic? Is the protective carpet (on the hardwood floors) authentic? That carpet was there to protect the authentic hardwood floors, but one woman apparently did not care, rather than walk in an L-shape, she cut across diagonally. Not only did she step on the hardwood floor, she also crossed over an authentic fancy rug. Some people are so stupid.
After the tour we were free to walk the grounds on our own. We nearly ran to get away from those people, they were insufferable. The Roman Pool was easily the best sight. The bottom of it was tiled with gold and we were there when the sun was coming in through the windows, hitting the water and causing beautiful reflections. On the bus ride back down the hill, Alex Trebek let us know about the functioning cattle ranch still on the premises. We also passed by the animal cages. Apparently Hearst was the original Deranged Millionaire, with his own private zoo, in addition to having a built-in movie theatre. For some reason the video also veered off topic talking about attractions along the Pacific Coast Highway, one of which was a beach were you could see elephant seals. I insisted on going there. Before leaving we stopped at the cafeteria for lunch, it seemed like a good idea seeing as they served beef from the cattle ranch. Key word: seemed. The burger was rather bland. We ate outside on the patio which was a bad idea as it was inhabited by smart crows. They would wait for people to finish eating and then swoop in and finish up. It was terrifying to sit there, trying to eat my burger (trying hard, it was really bad) with one eye on the crows. It did not help when two kids showed up and decided to start chasing the crows. There is nothing more terrifying than angry/scared crows flapping about around you, especially when you have watched The Birds way too many times for your own good.
I was a bit worried that we would miss the turn off to the elephant seal beach, but thankfully it was well marked. I was also worried that we would not see any seals. I was dead wrong; the beach was covered in elephant seals lounging. There were easily over a hundred, just laying there, occasionally flipping sand onto themselves (and their neighbours). I overheard a guide saying that it was mostly females and their young, and they would be there until the offspring were old enough to swim. It was really cold and windy; I do not know how they could just lounge there. Periodically one or two would fidget causing a domino effect culminating in one unfortunate seal getting a tail slap to the face. There were two males among them, you could tell because they were twice the size of the females. Watching some of the younger seals try and waddle towards the water’s edge was adorable and served to show how inefficiently they are built for land. They clearly belong in the ocean. They would quickly give up, lie down and go to sleep.
Driving along the PCH, there were more elephant seals off in the distance on the beaches. The PCH became much more scenic north of San Simeon. The road was windy and curvy, passing by cliff edges, with the ocean below. There was a traffic jam due to construction where we encountered some more stupid people. They clearly did not understand how construction delays work. The people in front of us all got out of the car, including the driver and walked over to a small bridge. This was no major delay, yet so many people were getting out of their cars and going to this one spot. The cars started moving and there was a mad dash of people all running back to their cars, except for the driver of the car in front of us. The passenger had to get out and go around to the driver’s side. She drove the car off onto the shoulder and we passed them. So what had they all been getting out of their cars to look at and photograph? Some walking paths and picnic benches, there wasn’t even a creek down below. People are really so stupid sometimes.
There was a stop sign covered in surfer stickers, a hawk flew by really close to the car, I could see its belly, but there was no sign for Pfeiffer Beach. We ended up at our hotel (Glen Oaks) by accident and decided to check in and ask for directions. As it turns out it is not us, Pfeiffer Beach is impossible to get to. The lady showed us a laminated sign with photographs of the road sign we were to look out for. It was a really obscure sign. When we got there we had to pay for parking, but were just handed a crappy raffle ticket with a piece of tape. Beach was an incorrect term. I thought we would sit on the sand and relax. I did not expect a giant gust of cold wind to whip sand at my bare legs. It hurt, it hurt really badly. It was impossible to face in one direction, the wind (blowing the sand) was so strong, and it was unbearable. It was well worth the pain and sand in my teeth though, the sights were gorgeous. Giant rocks along the water’s edge, with the waves crashing up against them, the sun peeking through the cracks in the rocks. Parts of the beach were made of purple sand.
For dinner we went to Nepenthe, mostly just because of the fact that it was close to the hotel and it sat atop a cliff with a gorgeous view of the beaches and ocean down below. The food was as good as the view. Yet again, I preferred my choice over Brent’s in a rare show-down of chicken vs. burger where chicken won. The dessert menu was small, as in it consisted of only one item: banana cream pie. We opted for dessert from the shop beside our hotel. And it was an epic dessert: Ben & Jerry’s ice cream bars, a Baby Ruth and Starbursts. It was a nice accompaniment to our Kalyra wine, which we still had not enjoyed. Given that we had no TV in our room, we tried to queue up some shows on demand on the internet. It would have worked out great- had the internet not been sort of slow at times. We gave up quickly and resorted to reading. And somehow we spent the rest of the night reading- we never got around to playing Jenga or Scrabble (both of which were provided for us in-room). The room also had a fireplace, heated bathroom floor and a yoga mat in the corner (but no instructions whatsoever, I guess they assume you know some routines by heart). Reading Consider the Fork, at some point the author quotes someone who says that the food he had at Chez Panisse was some of the best food he ever had in the US. There is a sad face in my notebook beside that.