A castle, a boardwalk and some seals

Travelling around an unfamiliar country means you aren’t sure what you should go to see and should miss out. To be honest I’d never heard of Hearst Castle before researching this trip but as it was basically on our way up the Coast we decided to give it a visit.

The morning was foggy as we drove into the already fairly full car park. We bought tickets and got on a bus, having no idea that the castle was high on a hill. As we drove up, the excellent recorded commentary started to weave a magical story of a castle, a zoo, acres of gardens, and of William Randolph Hearst’s desire to create something perfect from a childhood memory (Citizen Kane anyone?).

To be honest we were expecting something a bit tacky, but as the first glimpses of the castle were revealed we realised this was way more than we had been expecting. We emerged from the mist into a perfect sky marred only by a hint of smoke from the forest fires devasting the area.

We spent an enchanting hour touring the castle and its magnificent art works. Hearst had bought whole ceilings from 16th Century Italian and Spanish churches and installed them here. Crazy arrogance but ironically now available for countless visitors to come and marvel at.

 It wasn’t hard to imagine it as it had been when Hearst entertained the powerful, the beautiful and the famous. The renowned Jupiter pool had been drained for repairs but the stunning indoor pool with its gold and Murano tiles more than made up for it.

We came down feeling that we had had a glimpse into a world that no longer exists. A well-chosen stop!
A couple of miles down the Coast and we took a brief stop to marvel at the elephant seals basking in the warm sand. Such a contrast to the manicured opulence we had just left.

Then on up the endlessly winding and spectacular Pacific Coast Highway. It was still very foggy (and smoky) but we were treated to glimpses of the craggy shoreline and endless crashing surf. On the way we passed several fire staging areas and saw fire fighters merging from the forest from time to time. It was a very sobering thought to think that not too far away from where we were driving people were losing their homes.

We were planning on spending some time in Carmel-by-the-Sea but had managed to chose the week of the Monterey Car Show. After a slightly nerve-wracking drive through the narrow streets trying to avoid Lamborghinis, Maseratis and Aston Martins, we grabbed a quick burger and heading back onto the relative peace and quiet of the open road. We arrived in Santa Cruz for one night in a delightful renovated Victorian Villa. Gorgeous. 

I knew that Santa Cruz had a board walk so we ventured out to see it. I was thinking of a boardwalk like back home – a nice walk along the beach, maybe see some more seals and other wildlife. To my delight it was a completely over the top carnival space – wooden roller coaster, merry go round, gondola, sideshows, arcades, lights. I love stuff like this! It was like being transported  back a hundred years.

A delicious cioppino at a funky restaurant on the wharf – fresh lobster, mussels and crab and I was in a very happy (if messy)place.
We walked back though the now packed board walk, resisted the urge to try and win an enormous teddy bear, grabbed a root beer float and decided we liked Santa Cruz very much. 

So the adventure starts…

And we are off. After a surreal 24 hours where we were completely packed, my insanely long to-do before we go list was all ticked off, lots of meals in the freezer for the young man left behind  (so that theoretically he won’t exist on pizza alone), hugs given, grandkids kissed, and goodbyes said – we set off on our longest time away ever.

Great flight to LA (love our national carrier). 

First challenge was on arrival. It was a  biggy: learning to drive on the wrong side of the road as we headed up to our first stop, Santa Barbara. We would find over the next few days that driving and navigating unfamiliar territory while ignoring every instinct to drive on the left is a very good barometer of your marriage health. We came out pretty well with only a few tense/terse moments. We drove up the coast and the weather was glorious, the sea sparkling and the car staying on the correct side of the road!

Slightly jet-lagged we got to our first rather quaint inn. Larger than life and very friendly hosts lifted this above its old fashioned decor and noisy fan (no air-con). A quick change and out to explore the beautiful waterfront. Coming from winter to this just made our hearts sing – so balmy and a stunning sunset. Breakfast in the morning was a very quirky and slightly random collection of pastries and cereals with our hosts proudly showing us the Vegemite. Guess we are going to have to get used to being mistaken for Australians! Unfortunate his experience with the habits of Antipodeans didn’t extend to much of a selection of teas rather than coffee.
The morning was still and misty and we spent a couple of hours walking along the almost deserted beach, enjoying the shrouded shapes of boats moored along the way. The pier loomed towards us as the sun started to come out and we decided it was time to get back on the road.
And then we were back on the road – a little more confident this time. Road trip music was added. We drove up through the hills which were magnificent. Steep climbs revealing deep valleys and dramatic drops. Everything was brown and dry due to the drought.

San Luis Obispo was our next stop. Slightly inland, dry, hot – wine country! And that was the order of the afternoon, some lunch in the very pretty town and then a spot of wine tasting. We did choose the first vineyard purely because it was a right hand turn in from a very busy road, but it was an excellent choice. Pretty nice day to sit and enjoy delicious Californian wines. Giant pizza for dinner (just a tad overkill on the toppings) and then we were delighted to find Olympic coverage of some NZ athletes on our TV. 

Breakfast again was very eclectic. The inn was run by an English lady so we had scrambled eggs added to the collection of pastries and bagels, along with salsa. Again Wayne was discriminated against by being a tea drinker. This was to become a familiar experience as our trip progressed. 

And then we were on the road again heading up to Santa Cruz via the famous Pacific Coast Highway. But more about that next time.

Still learning to let go

I just read an article on the Washington Post -“Trying to raise a teen in a terrorized world.

Heartfelt words from a mum about  saying goodbye to her 18 year old as he goes off on a three week trip to Europe. In other generations mothers have had to say goodbye to their 18 year old for more traumatic reasons, but that doesn’t make her concerns less real. She says “I have spent these past few weeks wrestling with the question of how I am supposed to parent him toward independence at a time fraught with so much violence and fear.”

Having Christian spending three months by himself in San Francisco as a 19 year old I completely emphathise with her. I waste a lot of time worrying about things that might happen to him – and this week something did. Mind you it was something that could have happened to him anywhere.

He came off his bike cycling to his internship and banged his head and broke his finger (I did say to him a while back that maybe learning to ride on the 13898171_1389214644429271_1206160372_o.jpgother side  of the road might not be a good idea…)  Fortunately it was early in the morning so no cars were involved. Might not sound like much but when your youngest is overseas by himself and having to negotiate hospitals and health insurance (and now specialists as it is needs to be looked at further), it’s very hard to sit tight. And it’s not even as if he will come back home to get things sorted out – he will have to then negotiate the NHS once he is back in the UK.

My husband reminds me that our boy turns 20 later this month, and that in the scheme of things it’s not so bad. But this is the first time he has hurt himself without me there to help him. And he is without his girlfriend, who stayed on the phone to him from the UK the whole time he limped to the hospital (too scared to call an ambulance as he wasn’t sure of the cost).

I can’t do my normal mother hen routine. I can’t offer anything more practical than FB Messenger phone calls (thank-you Facebook for making that so easy.)  And I can pray – which I am. Fortunately we will be with him in 8 days – bringing NZ chocolate and TLC and probably some mother hen behaviour. And I finally get to see that famous bridge!

I guess now is one of those times where our attempts to parent him towards independence are put to the test. As he moves from teenager to young adult I am so proud of him and his resourcefulness.

Yet I still worry and wish he was here, not there. I need to remind myself that God is there with him and looking after him. I have to keep learning to let go. There are well-quoted words from Elizabeth Stone that I also came across today, that to parent is “to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

So true.