Just barely in bloom. I'm still not quite sure if they were just finishing their annual bloom or just began. Still there were trees everywhere with a few purple blossoms hanging on them, and it was nice to see them again. I think the last time I saw them was more than ten years ago. There are some that are in full bloom, so it's a good sign that we might see more.
We left the room in a hurry as John bought tickets the night before for the first of the tours at Hearst Castle. He'd done it online with a connection that wasn't too solid, but he managed it. But the tour started at 9:15, which was before I usually get up. Still, I got up when the boys woke up so we had time for our breakfast and a little time before we piled into the car and drove the three mile to the state park visitors' center.
Both John and I have done the Hearst Castle tours before, either as kids and when we were on our honeymoon 23 years ago; but the California state parks system has done a lot of work in making the whole visitor's area, the tour itself, and the organization leading up to the tour a far more professional looking process. The tour itself was obviously being lead by someone that really knew what she was talking about and very interested in what she was showing everyone, which had been true before, but her professional demeanor was far more polished and a little remote compared to the ranger we'd had decades ago.
She was also teamed up with a Hulk Hogan-like partner who shepherded everyone from the back, kept folks off the historical elements and tried to keep the whole group together and off the areas they weren't supposed to go into. He was equally knowledgeable, it turned out, and was very happy to talk with John about his questions and give answers when asked about the various items that the head tour guide didn't cover.
William Randolf Hearst was the son of one George Hearst, who had come to California prospecting for gold. He didn't find it, but he did buy into a claim that everyone thought was just lead ore. He believed in his new mine so much that he risked hauling 28 tons of the ore across the Sierras and got it smelted at $500 per ton. It turned out to be silver ore, rich enough that it was worth over $2000 a ton, which, back then, made him very, very wealthy indeed. George used the money to buy miles upon miles of land. Lots of the coastal land between Ventura and Santa Cruz here in California right after the Mexicans ceded these lands to the United States.
So William Randolf Hearst grew up the son of very wealthy parents, and his mother, who married George when she was just 19, soon after he'd gotten rich, took William, when he was just ten, on the Grand Tour of Europe. William later founded a huge newspaper empire, and tried and failed to run for various public offices from New York. He built an empire, and ended up with five different large estates, one in New York, one in Manhattan, one in Wales, one in Santa Monica, and his "little ranch" right up the slopes from San Simeon Bay. This was the smallest of his estates, but the one that he loved the best it seemed, and he spent six months a year there in his later years.
This was how he managed to get the true Roman marble columns for his Neptune swimming pool, the Egyptian statues more than 3500 years old for the front entrance, and thousands of artifacts that dot the whole of Hearst's Castle. He simply had enough money to buy them all.
The complete collection is now been estimated to be worth over two hundred million dollars, and many of the items are simply priceless. A good number are replicas of original, but so many are the original artwork, the original marble, the original woodwork, the original crafted item, that they're amazingly valuable.
The Neptune Pool was actually completely dug back out and rebuilt from scratch three times! Various projects were started and then completely redone to fit what Hearst really wanted, but in their correspondence and letters, he seemed willing to concede to her the points that were due to her experience and abilities. He knew what she was good at and let her use her strengths. That was pretty cool at that time, to say the least.
We really enjoyed the whole tour, which was the beginning tour. There are four different tours, and the fourth is seasonal, and only available when the gardens are in bloom. That was really amazing to know about. Some day we'll have to do more than just the introductory tour we did today.
We went south and managed to get to Morrow Bay before we stopped at the Whale's Tail seafood shop and had a lovely lunch of Alaskan Cod, fried clams, and fried shrimp with big round chips. It was very, very good. We then headed into Ventura, and the northern most reaches of what might be called part of the Los Angeles sprawl. It's right on the water, though, too, and a beautiful little city for all that.
We arrived at writeanya's house in the late afternoon, and we got a tour of the house, the garden, and Maeve and Jet had a great time just running around like mad in the back yard together. Jet really likes the kid-time with other kids and did just fine with Maeve. She's much younger than he is, but both of them were quite capable of interacting, playing to each others' level, and being happy together. That was really fun to watch.
N and Maeve had come home with a huge packet of ladybugs, as they had aphids on their kale, so they watered the vegetable garden, opened the packet, and soon there were ladybugs everywhere. It was fun to watch them come out, many of them flying away, but many of them burrowing into the kale for the water and for the aphids. Nom nom nom nom. *laughs*
A much lighter and healthier meal than we've had in quite some time. From there we headed to the sea, the beach that was along the walkway and a stand of stones that you see above right by the sea wall. The walkway was right by the hotel they used for "Little Miss Sunshine", we could see the sea walk and the funny parking lot and how they didn't connect at all, where they drove over the curb. *laughs* That was fun, and the ocean was amazing to walk by again. Just the salt air and the sound of the sea, they're things I miss so badly up in the mountains.
Sometimes I do feel like Legolas. *laughs* Once I've got the cry of the sea birds in my blood, I ever long to go back, but for a while, I'll stick in the mountains to follow a friend or three as Legolas followed his dwarven friend. That's kind of fun to think of, too.
Though, I guess, in my case, sailing to the West would only take me to China. Which might be another adventure in and of itself.
From there we headed back to the cars and hit McConnelley's Ice Cream and Frozen Yogurt, which is one of their local handmade ice cream shops. They make all their stuff from scratch with real cream, sugar, eggs, etc. and it was wonderful. I had the vanilla bean and lemon zest ice creams, and the vanilla was creamy and lovely and had flecks of real vanilla bean seed, and the lemon zest ice cream was zingy and tangy and had chewy bits of real zest in it and left my mouth feeling a little like I'd been chewing on a lemon rind in a good way. *laughs* John's banana ice cream got a good... uhm... innuendo, and it was mellow and creamy and rich with bananas and the Brazilian coffee was lovely. Jet's mint chocolate cookie was everything you'd expect, but the mint was brighter and clearer peppermint rather than the usual spearmint.
Then we headed back to the house, got sleeping arrangements set up and Jet went to sleep. We sat and talked until we were all falling asleep and then went to bed. It was lovely and quiet and a very nice place to stay.