Friday, June 15, 2012

Hearst Castle!

Last weekend, Nathan and I finally made the pilgrimage to Hearst Castle, which is about five hours away from Pasadena (in between L.A. and San Francisco).  My family took two or three trips to Hearst Castle when I was growing up, but I have not been since my senior year of high school.  (Which, oh my god, was fifteen years ago.  I'm old).

This is how I like to describe Hearst Castle: it's a historical site; an art museum; a design/furniture museum; an architectural wonder;  a monument to wealth, capitalism and extravagance; a botanical garden; and a nature sanctuary; all rolled into one ridiculous package.

William Randolph Hearst built his "little ranch" on the top of a hill.  If you want to visit the Castle, you have to buy tickets for a tour at the visitor's center.  No tour, no castle.  A bus shuttles you to the Castle.  It's about a ten minute drive on a winding road, and the Castle and ocean views appear, disappear and reappear many times.  This is the same road that Hearst himself and his guests took when they were visiting the Castle.

I would need a helicopter or reliable jet pack to take a photograph of the entire 165 room estate (including the main castle, the three guest houses, gardens, outdoor pool, and tennis courts).  But I left my jet pack at home (and it's a very moody, unreliable brat), so I just took this photo for you.  It's the main entrance to the Castle.

The Castle is California's answer to the Palace of Versailles.  We first went on the Grand Rooms Tour and saw the Assembly Room, where people like Charlie Chaplin and President Coolidge played poker, the dining room, the billiard room, a sitting room, and the movie theater.  Every night, Hearst screened the latest Hollywood hit, and the staff watched the movie with the guests.  After dinner, the guests had to wait until the staff were finished cleaning up before the movie could start.

The dining room (below) is decorated with 600 year old Italian silk flags.  The tour guide is standing in front of Hearst's chair.  It's hard to see in the photo, but the table was always set with ketchup and mustard.

I love how the billiard room is decorated with a tapestry that belongs in the Met.

After the Grand Rooms Tour, we wandered around the gardens.  In the background of the photo below, you can see one of the guest houses.  (By the way, I'm wearing my Black Exercise Shame Pants, which are so stretched out of shape, Nathan was worried I'd trip over my own feet.  But we had a five hour car drive and I wanted to be comfortable!  Also, I'm perfectly capable of tripping over my feet at any time, no matter what I'm wearing).

This is my favorite statue in the gardens.  I call it "Greek Hottie Feeding An Ear of Corn To A Goat."

Then we sat down and admired the view.  If forced to live at Hearst Castle, I suppose I would eventually tire of the panoramic views of the Pacific coastline...

And the outdoor swimming pool.  I'd totally hate the outdoor pool after a few days...

Oh, who am I kidding?  Hearst's outdoor pool is my happy spot, and I would gladly pay $1000 just to swim there for an hour.  (The State of California owns and operates Hearst Castle, and this might be a good way to solve California's next budget crisis).  

Then we took the Cottages and Kitchen Tour.  Since we had made the trip to Hearst Castle, we figured we might as well take two tours. 

This piece of art was hanging in a tiny guest bedroom.  It's probably worth more than my house and all of its furnishings.

When Hearst was decorating the Castle, Egyptian antiquities were "the rage" so he bought these Egyptian statues for the garden.  For 3,000 years, the statues watched over the Nile River.  Now they watch over tourists and the Pacific Ocean.

Below is the pantry.  Yes, you read that correctly.  It's the pantry, not the kitchen.  (Please don't show this photograph to my pantry, its self-esteem is already low, seeing as it's just a collection of shelves).

We also saw Hearst's wine cellar, but it was too dark for good photos (flash photography is forbidden inside the Castle).  I expected a vast cavern that stretched under the entire estate, but the cellar was just two smallish rooms.  Yawn.

I was morally obligated to strike a pose when I saw Hearst Castle's version of the Kitchenaid stand mixer.  (I no longer resent my stand mixer for taking up a huge chunk of counter space).

Lastly, before catching a bus back to the visitor's center, we admired the indoor pool. 

Some random thoughts if you want to visit the Castle:
  •  We bought our tickets online the day before our visit.  This guaranteed we got to take the tours we wanted, when we wanted. 
  • There is perfectly acceptable lunch food at the Visitor's Center.  It's nothing fancy, but it's convenient.
  • Strollers are not allowed!  If you have a little one, be prepared to schlep that child around.  The tours involve a lot of walking and stairs.
  • I first visited the Castle in the fourth or fifth grade and loved it.  Nerdy ten year olds will appreciate the tour.