September 1983. Outer Hebrides, Lewis and Harris. William decided on another mammoth drive up to Scotland, to the Outer Hebrides to visit the Islands of Harris and Lewis. You have no idea how excited he feels when he sees the sign on the M1, ‘To the North’. After many stops on the way we crossed to Skye and took the ferry from Uig to Tarbert in Harris. Terrible weather and rough seas.
We had booked ourselves on spec into hotels in Harris and Stornaway in Lewis. Sadly both were dumps and best forgotten. Harris very wild and beautiful – desolate moors, rocks, hundreds of lochs and magnificent gold-sandy beaches. The main purpose of our visit was to see the few spectacular ancient monuments to be found on the islands and to walk about in the remote wilds of these islands. We had the strangest of weather, everywhere huge scudding clouds and a shrieking wind, very cold, but fortunately very little rain, but when it did, you got drenched.
We spent many hours walking around the island
We visited the standing stone of Nisabost
Nisabost standing stone.
Rodel Church, c.1500 with a recessed tomb with some fine carvings and the very worn armoured effigy of Alastair Crotach (1528).
Then on to Lewis starting at the very top to see the Butt of Lewis, one of those extreme points which we love to visit with its rocks, lighthouse and towering cliffs.
Then to the main reason for our visit to these islands to see Callanish with its mass of standing stones and circles.
The astonishing main stones form a positive forest of megaliths consisting of an avenue of 19 standing stones terminating in a circle of 13 standing stones with a central monolith over 15 feet high.
From the circle radiate rows of stones, 4 to the east, 5 to the west and 5 to the south. Then there are two random stones, a tall one to the south west and a short one in the south east. in the centre is a burial chamber
The burial chamber in the centre
But then across the whole area as far as the eye can see are scattered at least nine areas of stone circles and standing stones. At one of the minor circles we came across two terrified women who were being chased by a pony, the minute it spotted us it went after us as well, I suppose looking for something to eat. The pony having been diverted, the ladies fled leaving us with a very aggressive pony. A great deal of shouting and waving of arms ensued and the pony eventually settled down. A few miles from Callanish at Uig was found the famous walrus-ivory Uig Chess Men now in the British Museum.
We then visited Dun Calloway, the best preserved Iron Age broch towers in the Hebrides, still about 30 feet on one side.
Finally we took in the fragmentary remains of the ‘Steinacleit’ chambered cairn, Neolithic (c.2000 BC); and I mean fragmentary.
Farewell to Harris and Lewis
September 1984. USA. East coast cities and Niagara Falls. We wanted to see as many of the cities, their buildings and art collections we could along the east coast of America and also see Niagara Falls. Before we left home we booked, through BA all our rail tickets and ourselves into the Waldorf Astoria. Needless to say the Waldorf was luxurious.
The clock on the façade of Grand Central Station which we got to know quite well. So each morning, very early, we set off to Grand Central Station and started our travels.
Philadelphia. Our first stop was Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence was signed. Philadelphia station is something to be believed. We arrived at a vast be-pillared classical temple, of which the Emperor Hadrian would have been proud and which went by the bland name of 30th Street Station, Philadelphia. Inside is the colossal Angel of the Resurrection (sculpted by Walker Hancock in 1950), it is a memorial to the 1307 Pennsylvania Railroad workers who lost their lives in World War II.
We found our way to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, another classical temple, containing an enormous collection.
The museum states that it is the largest and most renowned museum in the USA, and contains works of art from pre-antiquity to present day. We needed at least a week to do the place justice and we only had part of a day. The place is crammed full of masterpieces from every era but we decided to concentrate on American paintings, and discovered so many great artists, many of whom are totally unknown to British or galleries. (see the delightful Winslow Homer (below)
Independence Hall is the building where both the United States Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were debated and adopted.Went to Independence Square to see the Liberty Bell said to be the first bell to ring after the Declaration of Independence. Sadly it’s cracked, and will no longer ring.
Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell
Then visited the Second Bank of America which now houses a stunning portrait gallery of the great and the good from revolutionary times. The bank is very grand and is modelled on the Parthenon in Athens, no less. Many of the paintings are by Charles Wilson Peale and Rembrandt Peale who we were now discovering.
George Washington by Rembrandt Peale 1848
Baltimore. Our next city was Baltimore. Caught an early train and visited the Baltimore Museum of Art with its collection of European art principally of the 19th and 20th century. The central portion of the building is modelled on the Pantheon in Rome.
Gertrude Stein by Félix Vallotton, 1907
Benjamin West, Self Portrait 1770
New Haven. Connecticut. Visited the Yale Centre for British Art which houses the largest and most comprehensive collection of British art outside the United Kingdom and is shown off in a starkly modern building, which was not to our taste and certainly the interior did no service to the paintings. Why could they not have softened the gallery by a few pieces of appropriate furniture? Reminded us of the ghastly Tate Modern interior. Our paintings were meant to decorate country houses, not warehouses.
How is it possible to build something quite so ugly to house such magnificent works of art
Apart from the British paintings, apparently about 1,300 of them, it also had some 20,000 drawings. It was strange to be standing in front of some of our most iconic paintings. How on earth did we let them all go.
Lady by Robert Peake the elder.
Found a rather good hotel and had an excellent lunch. We then visited the Yale University Art Gallery, The third floor was a great surprise, even paintings by Holbein, Hals, etc., and a very nice collection of early American artists.
A Hanseatic merchant by Holbein
Comfort Starr Mygatt and Lucy Mygatt
by John Brewster, Jr. (1766–1854)
On our way back to the station we got lost and found ourselves in a very dubious quarter of town and did a hasty retreat when we nearly ran into a very nasty looking gang of youths. We doubled back and found the right way. Strange what lurks a short way behind the beautiful façade of New Haven.
Cambridge, Harvard. To the Fogg Art Museum which covers all periods of Western art from the middle ages to the present day. Notable Italian Renaissance paintings and some great early American portraits with which were enthralled.
Who could fail to be enchanted by Harriet Leavens c.1815 by Ammi Phillips (1788-1865)
Springfield/Worcester Art Gallery. Lucy Mitchell had booked us into the Marriott Hotel so that we would be able to visit Worcester Art Gallery. Again a fantastic collection.
We fell in love with these early American portraits.
This of John Freke and his wife Elizabeth and baby Mary.
Unknown artist c.1671-74
This poignant portrait of his daughters by Gainsborough
We were to spend the day with Lucy, but when we were to visit the Springfield Art Gallery William discovered he had a travelling kidney stone, so most of the morning was spent with Lucy’s doctor with William in agony. The doctor gave him some strong pain killers, we then visited the gallery with the curator.
The Nickelson family c.1791 by Ralph Earl
Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield
Lady with Cat, attributed to Aaron Dean Fletcher
We returned to Lucy’s for a meal at her club and to stay the night at her home. Such kindness, a very special lady. We returned to New York by bus and made our way to the Waldorf Astoria. Revisited the Metropolitan Museum and just wandered around New York.
Niagara Falls. The following day we took the train to Niagara Falls. Set off very early. The journey was fascinating, we felt like watching all America get on and off, families of every type and description, business people, holiday makers, drunks, the lot. The food and drinks bar was run by one lady, she had about three cookers going at the same time, had a smart crack for everyone and was generally a positive whirlwind, of course the moment we said anything, she pounced, ‘I’ve never had a Britisher on board. Welcome to the States, everyone give them a hand’ and everyone started clapping. ‘I don’t charge Britishers. Everything’s on the house. But don’t cripple me. Think of my lazy husband at home who needs my money.’ And of course we were then met with three hundred things to choose from. So seeing us rather lost she insisted that we have her Special – some enormous hamburger with just about everything in them but the kitchen sink – which she then prepared for us, meanwhile serving about 5 other people. A quite sensational lady.
We arrived quite late at Niagara and the hotel was a sad disappointment with no views of the falls and the food was terrible. William promptly spent most of the night in the toilet having eaten some rather suspect salad. The following day we went to see the falls.
Well, what to say? They are quite incredible and much bigger and more magnificent than we expected. The sheer force of the water as it falls is breath-taking. We went down some subterranean tunnels, donned some waterproofs, as provided, and went to the windows and balcony under the falls, to feel its force.
Took a lift sited on the outside of one of the very tall towers overlooking the falls and had lunch on the top. We then took a coach across to the Canadian side of the falls to view it from there. We treated ourselves to a fine dine, overlooking the falls, in a rather flash restaurant, William having recovered.
The following day we caught a taxi to take us to Niagara Falls station. When we had arrived there two days before it had been late in the evening and we had straightaway fallen into a taxi. So it came as quite a shock to find that the station was a large wooden shack in the middle of nowhere, no other buildings to be seen, no platform, no ticket office, and the railway lines retreating to a spot on the horizon in both directions. We felt we had stepped into an Edward Hopper painting.
We were the only people at the station and there we stood looking very forlorn with our luggage in the quacking heat. Trains passed by and we were left wondering if we should put our hands out in case the station was a request stop. We need not have worried. Along came this massive train, right on time, a guard leapt down looked at our tickets, put down his portable steps for us to climb up and then escorted us to our seats, and away we went. Later that day we watched a glorious sun set over the countryside as we made our way to New York.
New York was covered in fog. No available taxis so we walked to the Waldorf Astoria and entered to find it a scene from hell. Thousands of people all over the vast foyer, kids and luggage everywhere long queues for the reception. It appears that the fog had closed the airport and there being no flights, the world and his wife wanted rooms for the night in the Waldorf and presumably in every other hotel in New York. We had been supplied with vouchers issued by the hotel to British Airways, who had done all our bookings and the voucher guaranteed us a room in the Waldorf for two nights. We could hear the reception clerks, there must have been a dozen working behind the counter, saying that they were fully booked but offering rooms in The Tower which were mostly turned down. Now the Tower, as we later found out, was where the famous and extremely wealthy stayed, and was composed of large suites. By this time we had begun to think that we would probably be spending the night on a park bench.
We finally got to the reception clerk, who took our voucher, booked us in, called for a bell boy and handed him a bunch of keys. Our voucher apparently entitled us to a room and as there were no rooms in the hotel to the Tower we were consigned. A special lift took us up to our suite of rooms. It must have taken up the whole floor, as our lift stop was our suite. So there we had a massive hallway, doors everywhere leading into a drawing room, dining room, two huge bedrooms, dressing rooms, bathrooms, a sort of very up-market office and windows everywhere.
The Tower, The Waldorf Astoria, New York
William in our drawing room, Waldorf Astoria
All fogged up. We had clearly arrived in heaven. The following morning, sunshine through all our windows and the most magnificent views over the whole of New York.
View of the Chrysler building from our window
in the Waldorf Astoria
I went to reception expecting that now the dust had died down we would be moved to a more modest room, but the receptionist was having none of it. ‘We allocated you those rooms Mr Holdaway and we have no intention of putting our guests to the inconvenience of moving. So have a nice day.’ The Lowenthals we know had just gone on holiday and we knew no one we could share our splendid rooms with.
That day we spent walking around New York, rubbernecking I think it was called, and visited the Brooklyn Art Gallery.
On the last morning before we left for the airport, we decided that we would use our dining room, so splashed out and ordered a full breakfast. In came wheeled trolleys groaning with silverware and we had our breakfast served to us in our dining room. It cost a small fortune, but what the heck.
May 1985. USA Arizona Utah and California. San Francisco to Los Angeles. We decided to do a back to back tour with a company called Maupintour, alas no long trading. We would begin in Arizona, see the canyons and national parks and go straight on to a tour from San Francisco to Los Angeles taking in the Yosemite National Park.
We took, I think, two flights and finally landed up in Phoenix, Arizona quite late in the evening. We were met by the hotel transport at the airport and taken to the Mountain Shadows Resort, Scotsdale, near Phoenix as the sun slowly set and the beautiful scents in the air increased.
The resort consisted of a main block with chalets scattered around its vast grounds and we were taken to our rooms in a quiet electric buggy. The staff kindly provided us with something to eat and in a state of utter exhaustion we went to bed. The morning was perfect and we had the day to ourselves.We thought we would take a taxi to Phoenix to visit the art museum but when told it would cost a fortune there and back, we settled for exploring the grounds and having a relaxing day, not something either of us particularly likes. However it was very pleasant, the food incredible and the choices on the menu mind blowing.
What we found out about Maupintour was that unlike most companies, you could go for your meals as and when you felt like it, if there was a choice of restaurants you could choose whichever one you wanted, and having said the magic word Maupintour you were shown to the best available table that could be found. You could then eat your way through the menu if you so preferred and just sign Maupintour and name and everything was paid for and included in the tour cost. Someone told us that as the company could guarantee each hotel a large number of guests week in and week out, throughout the year they/we got special treatment. Needless to say we were the only Brits on the tour, which is how we liked it, and everyone, and I mean everyone was welcoming and friendly and vying to have us dine with them.
5th May. First thing in the morning we had a group photo taken and then we set off in our Geyhound coach to the spectacular Salt River Canyon. The Salt River itself is formed by the confluence of the White River and the Black River in the White Mountains of Gila County. The road through the canyon was full of twists and turns, everywhere you looked another magnificent view.
A unique feature of a Maupintour was that at very regular intervals when we stopped for views/photos/loos, the driver and guide would open up the side of the coach which contained a refrigerator and produced ice-cold drinks of every known variety and these were handed around together with small snacks. Very welcome. We finally stopped for lunch at Jack in the Box in a place called Show Low. It looked like a roadside dive but the food was excellent and of course the loo facilities, so unlike Europe, were of the highest standard. In the afternoon we arrived at the Petrified Forest National Park.It contains some of the largest petrified logs to be found anywhere in the world and were formed in the Late Triassic age about 200 million years ago.
Apparently volcanoes erupted in the vicinity about 4 million years ago and everywhere was covered in lake sediments, lava and volcanic ash This has slowly eroded away leaving the petrified logs behind and to this day erosion is taking place and more logs are being revealed. The area was originally jungle and marsh with 200 foot trees. Silica rich water percolated the logs and eventually formed quartz crystals inside which were/are highly prized. Fortunately in 1906 the area was declared a National Monument and only in 1962 was it declared a National Park. Sadly over the years logs had been stripped from the park, some blasted to pieces to prize out the extraordinary crystals they contained, huge numbers were converted into abrasives. It’s a wonder anything is left. But what is left is indeed a wonder. Whole areas scattered with these gigantic petrified tree trunks. Much of the Petrified Forest National Park takes in the Painted Desert which we explored next.
The Painted Desert is a composed of stratified layers of different coloured rocks, apparently they contain iron and manganese which bring the colours. It was a lovely late afternoon, with a mild breeze blowing across this extraordinary barren if colourful landscape.
What an incredible day. We spent the night at the Arizonian Inn at Holbrook in the middle of nowhere. Again very comfortable, excellent food and lovely air conditioned room.
6th May. Off to an early start into the Navajo Indian Reservation to visit the Hubbell Trading Post.
The Indians have traded here since it was founded by Don Lorenzo Hubbell in 1878. The Navajos had been allowed to return to their homeland after being exiled to Fort Sumner, New Mexico. The had endured the ‘Long Walk of the Navajo’ and returned to a devastated land, their herds decimated and their fields destroyed. Thus trade was extremely important, enter Lorenzo. The Trading Post is a National Historic Landmark and is run by the National Park Service as a Trading Post.
Next we visited the Canyon de Chelly where we had lunch. We were still in Navajo territory.
The canyon is a labyrinth of sheer-walled canyons composed of sandstone capped with something called Shinarump conglomerate. Apparently 30 million years separate the formation of the top layer from the sandstone beneath.
An ancient peoples called the Anasazi by the Navajos once lived here and ruins of their buildings can still be seen. Canyon de Chelly became a National Monument in 1931.
And then we proceeded to Monument Valley. Utah.
Our first sight of Monument Valley
We were booked into Goulding’s Lodge, situated under a massive red rock crag.
It has originally been a trading post for the Navajo Indians and is now the only hotel situated within Monument Valley. We entered our room, curtains were drawn, we drew them back and there was Monument Valley laid out in front of us.
This was the view from our room in Goulding’s. One of the most exciting and magnificent sights we had ever seen. Early evening we all boarded a series of buggies with canvas tops and open sides and set off across the desert for a cook-out set up by a group of local Navajo.
A stop on the way to the cook-out
The silence in the desert was incredible and we set too with steaks, chicken legs and goodness know what else. We then broke away from the group and wandered out into the silent desert.
One was almost afraid to speak to break the silence of the awe inspiring surrounding desert and rocks.
As the sun was setting we got back into our trail of buggies and set off back to Goulding’s Lodge. Someone in the party began to sign ‘God bless America’. I just looked up the words, the song is by Irving Berlin
While the storm clouds gather far across the sea
Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer
God bless America, land that I love
Stand behind her and guide her
Through the night with a light from above
From the mountains to the prairies
To the oceans white with foam
God bless America
My home sweet home
Sunset and morning from our bedroom
7th May. The next day we set off in our buggies to spend the morning touring Monument Valley with our Navajo guide. The sandstone formations are all that remains of a 1200 foot high sandstone plateau which has eroded leaving behind these incredible formations. It is hard to believe that in the winter this whole desert is covered in snow.
Formation known as the Three Sisters
The Window Rock
Known as The Mittens
The horsemen were probably laid on for our tour. Lovely touch
El Capitain Peak
We returned to an excellent lunch at Gouldings and then sadly set off to the Waheap Lodge stopping to view the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River. It was completed in 1966.
We settled into our luxurious hotel, The Wahweep Lodge, and then assembled to go on a cruise on Lake Powell.
The lake is a reservoir on the Colorado River which straddles the border between Utah and Arizona and covers the flooded Glen Canyon. It is over 108,000 square miles and is up to 583 feet deep. It was quite pleasant being on the water, but I have to say it got a bit boring after a while. We never were good at inactivity.
8th May. Left early as usual after a great breakfast, every fruit and nut that the world could produce was laid out together with everything anyone could ever want for breakfast. We were staggered at the appetites of most of the guests. After a massive breakfast, one member of the party at our table went off to the buffet table and returned with a pile of pancakes covered in honey and devoured the lot.
We set off for Bryce Canyon. A canyon filled with rich, bright red, yellow, white and flaming orange rock needles, some covered in snow.
We walked around the rim in the freezing cold with a wind whistling around us, everyone very inappropriately dressed. The erosion in the series of‘amphitheaters’ which form Bryce Canyon has left it carved with a maze of fin-like ridges, fluted columns and towering pedestals. Apparently the rainfall and fierce weathering is constantly changing the shapes.
In the afternoon we toured the Zion National Park. Extraordinary almost unbelievable rock formations everywhere.
We spent the night in the Four Seasons Motor Inn, Kanah. Looked a bit of a roadside dump from outside but extremely comfortable, air-conditioned and great food.
9th May. We drove through the Kaibab National Forest and the Marsble Canyon, down to the our first glimpse up close of the Colorado River, with fantastic rock formations.
Marble Canyon with the tour guide and driver doing the usual thing with rock formations. The canyon is not of marble but was simply given that name because it was thought that the polished limestone looked like marble. We had a picnic lunch at Desert View, Cameron.
And then we arrived quite late in the evening at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon where we were booked in at the Thunderbird Lodge (below).
We dined at the El Tovar Restaurant described as celebrated and majestic. It’s apparently where the great and the good dine including many presidents. Splendid food.
The El Tovar Hotel and Restaurant
The next day we spent walking around the rim of the Grand Canyon and were awestruck as everyone is of course by the sheer grandeur of the place. It was very, very cold.
One of the viewing places on the top left
We decided to go on a helicopter trip over the Canyon. This is of the group before us.
The helicopter before ours arrived
Two young girls shared it with us and the pilot took a shine to one of them and decided to give us all a thrill, so he swooped and dived and then did a run straight for one of the cliff walls and everyone thought he was out of control and we were all going to die, and at the very last minute he swooped up over the cliff.
From the helicopter, the rock face into which we were flying. No one was amused and I thought that one of the girls was going to slap him when we landed, anyway she told him exactly what she thought of him in no uncertain terms and spoke for all of us.
Sun rise on the rim.
William got up at 5.30 am to join some of the party to see the sunrise over the Canyon at Yaki Point, it was freezing cold and I kept to my bed. Farewell to Monument Valley
10th May. We left early as usual and drove through Flagstaff and Oak Creek Canyon.
The depth of the Canyon is some 2000 feet and a tributary of the Verde River runs through it. It has some spectacular rock formations but then we were getting rather used to spectacular rock formations of every sort. Many of the cacti were in bloom.
On to Beever Creek to look down on the misnamed ‘Montezua’s Castle’. Rock dwellings built by the Sinagua Indians in about 1100 AD. We had lunch at the Poco Diablo Resort in Sedona. Very touristy and a bit fake flash but with magnificent rock formations as a background. Then finally we returned to the Mountain Shadows Resort outside Phoenix, where we had begun our journey and stayed the night.
11th May. We flew in the morning to San Francisco to pick up our second Maupintour group. We had been booked into the famous Westin St Francis Hotel. Very plain room but comfortable. The public rooms very grand. That evening we had a reception and dinner in one of the private dining rooms at the hotel.
12th May. We spent the following day with the group in San Francisco, saw the Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937, very impressive.
Then we were taken to St Mary’s Cathedral, completed in 1970. It seats 2,400 people and is deadly. We were dropped at Fishermen’s wharf in the harbour district where we had lunch at Dante’s Sea Catch restaurant. I regarded the morning as completely wasted, we should have dumped the group and visited the California Palace of the Legion of Honour to see their magnificent collection of paintings. One of the few disappointing moments on the trip. It taught me a lesson that we needed to drop the party excursions whenever possible and go off on our own, it was a lesson that stood us in good stead for the rest of the trip.
In the afternoon we visited Muri Woods National Park. It is on Mount Tamalpais, Marin County, near the Pacific coast about 12 miles north of San Francisco. It covers over 500 acres and is a Sequoia redwood forest. The tallest tree is over 250 ft. They are a magnificent sight.
13th May. Today we set off to visit the Yosemite National Park.
Our first glimpse of the Yosemite National Park
Arrived about noon. We were to stay in the grand Awahnee Hotel but instead, which was preferable, we were, like the rest of the party, assigned a wooden chalet for ourselves, set in the woods. We opened the curtains in our chalet to find a deer looking through the glass, I don’t know who was more startled.
The path to our chalet
The park covers an astonishing 747,000 acres and reaches across the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountain chain. All the rock formations are granite. There are spectacular waterfalls everywhere and one in particular, I haven’t a clue what the name of it was but it came crashing down the rocks sounding like a very loud train just about to run you over and the sound pervaded the air day and night.
In the afternoon we were taken in open air transport on a ride through the park by one of the official guides.
As the dinner was not part of the tour, we formed a small group to dine in the evening at the Awahnee Hotel.
The Awahnee Hotel, Yosemite National Park
The food and company excellent. One of the spectacular sights in the restaurant was the many young men who cleared tables, they would put a mountain of plates, etc., on a large silver tray and carrying it up in the air with one hand and would glide through the restaurant. Sadly one of them came to grief, got his leg tangled up in someone’s handbag lying on the floor and the whole edifice landed on the floor next to our table, I say the whole, one plate of undrunk soup landed on one of our party, completely covering his hair and jacket. The management escorted him out and tidied him up, took his jacket to be cleaned and gave him another to wear and told us the dinner was on the house. I hope they were not too harsh on the young waiter.
14th May. We packed up and sadly left our chalets and travelled to see the magnificent Maiposa Grove of Sequoia trees. The grove is in the southernmost part of the Yosemite Park and consists of several hundred sequoias, two of them among the largest Giant Sequoias in the world.
We had lunch at the Wine Cellar, Merced. and then along the Monterey peninsula to visit Cannery Row made famous by John Steinbeck, not that Steinbeck would have recognised anything. From there we drove to Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf to stay at the Doubleetree Inn. Seals everywhere.
15th May. Drove along the scenic 17 mile drive along the coast to San Simeon for lunch at the San Simeon Lodge. Spectacular coast.
The San Simeon Lodge where we had lunch
From there we drove to Hearst Castle the former home of the newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst (d.1951).
The main entrance to Hearst Castle
It has 56 bedrooms and 61 bathrooms, swimming pools, movie theatre, its own airfield and the world’s largest private zoo and covers an area of 90,000 square feet. Apparently a genuine ancient Roman Temple just right for the swimming pool (below).
The Billiard Room with an early Flemish Tapestry, with doors and fireplace picked up on his travels
A Roman Sarcophagus decorating the garden
Hearst travelled the world picking up historic and artistic treasures including sculptures, furniture, paintings, tapestries and ceilings. Whatever took his fancy, he bought it, filled warehouses with his acquisitions and then did his best to encrust and incorporate them into Hearst Castle. So it is a real magpie’s nest. The Neptune Pool for instance incorporates a real Roman temple.The whole place is jaw-droopingly vulgar. People apparently fought to get invitations to stay.
From there we went to Avila Beach to stay at the San Luis Bay Inn. Avila Beach had a warning not to swim because the water was contaminated, the smell of oil, dead fish and sewage in the air. Very strange, filthy deserted beach. Our room in the Inn sported a sunken marble bath. The first time I have stepped down into a bath.
16th May. First stop was to visit the Danish village of Solvang, even sports a windmill.
Very Danish. Dined at the Molerkroen Restaurant. Then on to visit the Franciscan mission at Santa Barbara. A Spanish mission was founded here in 1786 but the original buildings were all destroyed in an earthquake and the present buildings are 19th century. Not every impressive. Then on to Los Angeles for a two night stay at the Sheraton Grande Hotel. All glass and marble with a stunning bedroom and very Grande it was.
The Sheraton Grande, Los Angeles
We wandered around looking at the incredible buildings near to the hotel. Mirror glass, seemed to be the favoured material, all with vast atriums. We were blown away.
After dinner we decided to sit in the atrium of one of the other grand hotels and watch the world go by. It so happened that the hotel was hosting a Prom dance for one of the local educational establishments. It was fascinating. The wealthy students arrived in vast limousines, the ladies dressed to kill in magnificent gowns, with enormous corsages of orchids, their partners with garters which matched their ladies dresses which they wore on their arms. They looked so confident, as though they ruled the world, as maybe some of their parents did. The not so well off students arrived in their family cars wearing what were clearly hand-made gowns, looking very self-conscious with modest corsages, their escorts clearly uncomfortable in their sometimes ill-fitting tuxedos some wearing trainers. There was a large mix of black and white students, clearly a vast social range on display. All of young America was here to be seen. A strange incident occurred. We decided to see if we could look into the ballroom where the Prom was taking place, so got into a lift, it so happened with a small group of magnificently gowned ladies and their escorts. The different scents in the air were overpowering One was chewing gum, with great smacking noises, and then decided that she would blow a bubble which then erupted in the lift and the smell was of course revolting, to our senses anyway. Clearly the lady in question had not an iota of good manners notwithstanding her dazzling appearance. We never did manage to look into the ballroom as you were not allowed out of the lift at their particular floor without an invitation card.
17th May. Today we decided to abandon the group, who were going on a trip to see the residences of the stars and shop and finally end up at the Huntington Museum. The coach dropped us off at the Los Angeles County Museum, which seemed to be situated in the middle of nowhere. Quaking heat. The group thought we were mad to leave the safety of the coach. Wonderful collection and well worth the visit though there seemed to be an awful amount of trashy modern rubbish.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Jane Griffith Koch by the American artist
Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
We came out to find an empty baking hot street with not a sole walking about. Our plan was to visit the Norton Simon Museum and then to see the Huntington Collection. Only we hadn’t taken into account that there is a singular lack i.e. no public transport in Los Angeles. The only car on the street was a parked taxi about a block away which was sitting in the shade. We walked to it and found the driver fast asleep. We woke him up and told him our plan for the day. He did not have a clue where the Noton Simon was, so with our help and a useful map we had, we guided him there. When we got there he said he would wait for us. This sounded rather expensive but he said he would not be charging us for the wait as presumably he wanted to catch up with his interrupted sleep. The Norton Simon collection is a dream. It has a fine collection of European paintings and sculptures, some tapestries and much else besides and there is also a pretty sculpture garden. It’s a very personal collection with someone with impeccable taste. Cranach, Memling, Guercino, Rubens, Rembrandt, etc.
Self Portait by Rembrandt
We came out and found our taxi driver, asleep and we guided him to the Huntington Collection set in its beautiful grounds. He knew nothing about the Huntington though he had lived all his life in Los Angeles and it was free. He said he would be bringing him family along at the first opportunity he had. We said goodbye, he had been charming and so very helpful for the whole afternoon We gave him a heavy tip.
What can one say about the Huntington. It contains one of the greatest group of 18th century British portraits every assembled outside the UK and whole rooms from British country houses had been bought to house them. He bagged Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy not to mention 12 other iconic paintings by him. And then there is Lawrence’s ‘Pinkie, works by Bonington, Constable, Kneller, eleven by Sir Joshua Reynolds and so it goes on. And then it has a Chinese Garden, a Desert Garden, a Japanese Garden, an Australian Garden, etc. etc.. and a library which contains one of the largest collections in the world of works related to Shakespeare. The library (below)
Sarah Goodwin Barrett Moulton ‘Pinkie’ by Sir Thomas Lawrence
The Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough
We decided to visit the Desert Garden. This contains an incredible collection of cacti. The Desert Garden alone contains over 5000 different species. Exotic birds everywhere.
It is just as well that we did not go with the group as they only had about half an hour at the Huntington. So we returned to the hotel with them.
18th May. Our return flight was not till the evening, so we decided to visit the Getty Museum. I noticed in the hotel brochure that there was a complimentary limo service which would take us most of the way to the Getty. A vast black stretch limousine was put to our service at no charge, cocktail cabinet, cold drinks and luxurious reclining seats. We stopped at some lights and someone knocked on the window, we opened it and someone put their head in and asked if anyone famous was inside! We asked to be dropped off as near to the Getty as possible and then got a taxi for the remainder of the journey. Apparently you could not gain entry on foot only on four wheels. In those days the Getty was solely situated in the ‘Roman Villa’ inspired by the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum. So the art collection and the ancient sculptures were in the one building.
The Roman Emperor Commodus. My favourite repulsive emperor. It just so happens that Roman sculpture reached a sublime artistry during his appalling reign.
One of those wonderful frolics by Francois Boucher
Strangely enough, not overly impressed by the collection as a whole, though it contains some magnificent works. I think the building was too beautiful that it overpowers everything other than the classical sculptures. From there we walked along Malibu Beach and finally got a taxi back to the hotel and our flight home. This latter part of the trip was rather a mess, very different group from others we had taken with Maupintour, mostly sightseeing trippers, mainly preoccupied with shopping.