Getty x 2

FridayGetty Villa gate was Getty Day the first of two visits to see how oligarchs with money no object chose to spend it. Interestingly in their later years both Getty and William Randolph Hearst whose castle we planned to visit next day, started talking of their projects in terms of museums rather than just personal indulgences which is how they began. Now they buy baseball and football clubs which don’t leave the same permanent physical identity on the earth’s surface. We went first to the Getty Villa a fanciful reconstruction of a villa from Herculaneum. Its grounds are superb with gardens and courtyards of different kinds surrounding the central palatial building. The centrepiece was a little underwhelming because the ornamental ponds were empty and while blue tiles give some impression of water they don’t reflect like the real thing.

Getty Villa empty poolWe’d noticed in a few restaurants signs saying that water would only be provided on request. Getting a glass of water the moment you sit down is one of the most enduring and endearing factors of American dining. We discovered that California has been suffering severe drought conditions for four years and so water’s off the menu, fountains don’t play and pools are empty. There’s hope of a visit from El Niño this winter.

The Getty Villa was fascinating to explore with lots of beautiful detail, fine gardens and alongside the mainly Greek and Roman artefacts Getty assembled there was a well curated display on glassmaking in the ancient world. So many ways of making and decorating glass from 400 BC – shapes and colours of amazing variety. Almost worth the visit alone.

 Getty Villa Getty Villa sculpture court  Getty Villa Dee in arbourGetty Villa roof detail  Getty Villa floor  Getty Villa garden

And talking of value our entry price of $25 for a vehicle entitled us to free entry to the villa and the Getty Center a few miles away. The museum displays are free thereafter. So we set off for the Getty Center where we park and are hauled up a cliff to its prestigious location in a small train.

Half a dozen buildings spread over the hillside housing works of art, a research centre and there is a formal garden and a sculpture park. We started by having lunch which was OK for institutional catering and then went to see the artworks on display. We were disappointed, probably because we hadn’t sufficiently researched what the collection comprised. Then we went to the photo gallery where an exhibition of Ansel Adams prints was on display – the very same collection that had been at the Royal Maritime Museum in Greenwich last year. They are always a glory to look at and with the prospect of our own Yosemite visit getting ever closer, they took on an extra significance.

Getty Center Getty Center gardens

Back down in the train, into the car and back to Santa Monica to explore a little. We sauntered along the sea front, looked at the famous pier – struggled with a selfie on the tablet (note the timing to get the helicopter!) – and then had a cocktail in The Ivy at the Shore a fabulous restaurant on the main street. Great service in an elegant setting – perfect.

Santa Monica selfie Santa Monica Ivy martini Santa Monica Ivy at the Shore

However the schedule called and we had a reservation for The Hungry Cat at Pacific Palisades recommended very highly by friends whose opinions we respect. With the prospect of a dinner being ruined by the lack of a glass or two of wine we took a cab. The Hungry Cat is nothing to look at outside but is a total delight inside. The food – mostly fish – was excellent, the service from a young LA comedienne most engaging and it was a fine farewell evening to LA before setting off up highway 1 tomorrow. So we didn’t do the tour of the stars’ mansions, we crossed but didn’t walk the Avenue of Stars, we didn’t go into Grauman’s Chinese Theatre or shop in Rodeo Drive thus missing most of LA’s reported top attractions. We saw what we wanted to and realised that three days would never do justice to this monster of a city especially as half of each day is spent sitting in traffic.

Up the Coast on the PCH

Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny again. We got up early and hiked across the beach so hat we could say we had at least paddled in the Pacific. We couldn’t get the car out of the parking lot until 9 anyway so it seemed a good way to start the day. Already the joggers, serious runners, skateboarders and rollerbladers were hard at work enjoying the sun before it got too hot. It rose to around 95 Fahrenheit while we were there.

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We retrieved the car and we drove pretty easily for once up the Pacific Coast Highway stopping off in beautiful Santa Barbara for breakfast. We didn’t have time to explore but it looks a really lovely city from what we could see as we drove around looking to fill up with petrol as we’d been warned that opportunities to do so are sparse on the way up Highway 1. This proved a bit of a mission as when I inserted my credit card – we knew all gas must be prepaid – and was prompted to enter a five digit zip code it spat out the card with INVALID DATA flashing on the screen. So I had to enter the shop, give them my credit card, go back out and fill up and then go in and sign for the total. Pumps are slow so the whole operation took about twenty minutes.

The road north became more open and vistas presented themselves frequently to the eye and not just at the places to pull off the road helpfully marked “Vista Point”.

IMG_0614We were aiming to get to San Simeon to visit Hearst Castle around early afternoon which is exactly what we achieved. The castle is so popular that tickets are issued for timed entry only and have a strictly guided tour of the main rooms and you are then free to wander in the grounds. Hearst was a newspaper baron who inherited quite a lot of wealth from his silver mine owning prospector father. They used to camp on a hilltop site overlooking Monterey Bay during William’s childhood and when inheritance allowed him to indulge his whim he determined to build a fanciful, eclectic palace on the hilltop. No recreations of ancient styles for him and his architect Julia Morgan. Hearst’s brief was to build a castle which would incorporate architectural items and works of art he’d acquired since getting a taste for such things on a Grand Tour of Europe with his mother when he was a boy. In itself it is fun, eclectic, grandiose.

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What is staggering that it is six miles from the nearest road up a steep hill – well mountain to be fair. You can see the coast behind me and the ascent is quite a switchback. The first task was to make a road so that materials could reach it. He nearly went bust several times while building progressed but finally his fairy tale came true – he did build a castle in the sky. Some of the effect was lost because the massive outdoor pool was drained for the drought but we had a fine time marvelling at the scenes that must have unfolded as Hearst entertained the great and the good of the 1930s and 40s. What we do know from an excellent introductory film is that he ran his empire from his dream castle with a pilot collecting all the company’s newspapers each day so The Chief could check on his operations. The same airstrip served to fly in party people from all over who clearly had great fun being richly entertained in sumptuous salons, heraldic dining hall with games rooms and a cinema for afters.

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They stayed in cottages like this one and had to assemble in the hall for preprandial drinks.

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IMG_5075Perhaps the most amazing sight was the roman pool – a blue and gold mosaic multi-room affair which we visited shortly before taking the bus back down the mountain.

Back in San Simeon we had a dip in a rather more modest pool at the Morgan Hotel which had comfortable, spacious rooms and was named for Hearst’s architect Julia Morgan and had an array of prints of her designs for the castle displayed on its walls. Dining options in San Simeon are limited and we should probably have followed several other guests in driving back to the somewhat larger Cambria four miles back down the coast.