Monday, July 11, 2005

Building a Castle...

It was a foregone conclusion that I would be landing in some new place in the Independence Day long weekend. Only thing of interest was “Where I would be going”?By the time I decided that I should go to San Francisco, there was a gang of 9 people with me, whose destination was also San Francisco. It was San Francisco via Solvang & Yosemite.

The journey began on Saturday morning from our Willow Tree apartment. After a stop at Travel Design office, we moved to Montary Park, LA and boarded the bus from there. It was nice to see a lady driving the bus. Our itinerary for the day was visit to Solvang & Hearst Castle. After a 2 hour of journey along the scenic Pacific coast, we reached Solvang.

Solvang is a mini-Denmark in US. Solvang, meaning sunny fields, was founded in 1911 by a small group of Danish educators wanting to establish a Danish-type folk school. . Along with the teachers came farmers, carpenters and artisans who constructed the first shops, homes, hotel and church. Danes from the Midwest and Denmark continued to migrate west to Solvang bringing their skills as farmers, teachers, carpenters, merchants and artisans. In 1936, as part of Solvang’s 25th anniversary celebration, the future King and Queen of Denmark visited and more interest in the community developed. Tourists started coming and more shops, bakeries, hotels and restaurants were built to make their visits more enjoyable.

We got down at Solvang & the whole place was looking totally European. Buildings, streets & entire atmosphere was Danish-like. There were wind mills on the street. We had Pizzas for lunch there. Then we roamed around the streets appreciating the colorful Danish streets.

We took leave of Solvang & the journey continued along the Pacific Coast. At some places, there were high mountains on one side & sea on other side. After another 2 hours of journey, we were in Hearst castle. Hearst castle is supposed to be the only castle in US.

A little bit of history about this castle..
William Randolph Hearst was one of the richest man during 1950s.He was a media tycoon with more than 50 newspapers/magazine publications under his belt & earning tons of dollars. He purchased some 150 acres of land which included 50 miles of beach for his outings. One fine day he called architect Julian Fraser, and told that he need to built a ‘little something’ in the land he brought. Julian Fraser had no idea of what she was venturing into. The ‘little something’ took almost 18 years to complete.

The castle was magnanimous. Antique art pieces, paintings, rare statues….Hearst bought everything to fill the castle. Castle was not small either, it had 165 rooms. Hearst had the habit of collecting rare things which included coffins, roof sealings, doors, windows.

He wanted to make the two swimming pools the best. The outdoor pool was placed among the gallery of roman-style buildings & statues, specially curved out by Italian architects. The indoor swimming pool was nothing special except that 24-carat gold was used for design & decoration of walls & floors of the pool !!!

We arrived at the Castle’s Visitor’s information centre. It was an extremely well organized information system. There were tons of information easily available, lots of Castle merchandise, theatre where movies about the castle was played, food court…We took the shuttle bus (21$ ticket) which ferries tourists from visitor centre to Castle. It was another half an hour journey in the bus with commentary about the castle & its history. The trip we took was for the first time visitors & we came to know that there were many trips .One for beginners, one for people who want to explore more. It was just like Java Basic & advanced certifications!!

We got out of bus at the castle to meet the castle guide. The guide walked us through the guest houses, outdoor swimming pool, through few of its rare collections & finally to the castle. We came to know that castle was never completed due to Hearst’s death. We went through the elegant paintings & art works inside the castle. The dining hall, the billiards room & the theatre were just too much to handle. If that was not enough, we reached the indoor swimming pool. We were literally walking on 24 carat gold which made the designs of floor. The walls were also decorated with gold carvings.

Came out of the castle talking about all the things & our shuttle took us back to Visitor centre. In one sentence, it was a rich man’s fantasy for something little which created something very grand.

One thing I liked about the castle was the way it was projected & presented to tourists. The information provided & packaging was so good that you feel excited about the castle. I had been to many palaces in India & this was not so outstanding compared to them, but the way they made it big was really appreciable. A lesson or two to learn for our tourism industry.

After the castle visit we headed to Fresno, our stop for the day. On the way stopped for dinner in a Chinese restaurant. I was content with rice & some paneer dish. But my non-veggie friends had a tough time there! There was a pre-defined menu for dinner & without any choice the items kept coming. Some of the things which occupied the table were sparklers (some vegetable with octopus/star fish), pork pieces, one whole big fish. Even though all friends there were hardcore non-veggies, I heard that they had a horrible time. Finally I had to share my veggie items with them!

Checked into Radisson hotel. We roamed around the beautiful lobby of hotel & watched some TV before we slept. The waterfall in the lobby was nice. It reminded that the next day we were going to visit beautiful natural waterfalls....

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