In the morning the coach took us round the city and dropped us at the harbour where
we explored the attractions of Pier 39. They include 100 shops and an audio visual called The San Francisco Experience. Then we took to the hills, Rome might be built on seven but in ’Frisco there are forty-three and on them you find the famous cable cars. I paid for a ticket that gives you two hours on the system and sat out in the open, hanging on to the side seats. Behind me a man operated an enormous lever to engage the cable and as the bell rang we whizzed off and up over the summit of Hyde Street. Eventually I spotted a cafe at the corner of Hyde and Pacific and feeling a bit hungry I hopped off and went into the Knob Hill Noshery to order a light snack.
It turned out to be not so ‘light,’ the paté and cheese platter was dominated by a portion of brie big enough to last a week. I finished most it plus a couple of decorative strawberries, before easing my belt out a couple of notches and rejoining the coach tour.
We left San Francisco, and after visiting the Golden Gate Bridge which is suspended on cables made from some 80,000 miles of wire, we headed north to the Napa Valley. Soon the dry brown grasses of the ranch lands gave way to fields of vines.
They call it the ‘Mission Trail’ but the sound that came from the bells on one of the white painted buildings reminded me more of London than the Spanish founders.
The Bells of St Dunstans chimed out from the Sterling Winery near Saratoga.
We stopped there to take a look round the vast oak barrels and try a bit of wine tasting, which is something you can really enjoy when someone else is doing the driving.
Back on the bus we travelled down the ‘California 29, known as the ‘Old Winery Way’ until at Yontville we stopped for lunch and briefly explored the sleepy little country town where lazy cats stretched on the verandas of the painted wooden houses.
The next day we crossed the Santa Cruz Mountains and at Roaring Camp climbed aboard a narrow gauge steam train to ride through the massive red wood trees. We shunted up switch backs and in spite of some joker calling ‘watch out for the bears’ as we disappeared into the trees, we enjoyed our first experience of a real lumber train.
By this point in our coach tour a pattern was emerging. Most days we would be taken to an attraction fairly close to the hotel for that night and while we were there our bags would be delivered to our rooms. We didn’t even have the trouble of checking in, as our keys were handed to us on the bus along with the advice about next days starting time.
We were on a Tauk Tour. Tauk are one of America’s leading coach operators and have been in the business since 1925. We didn't dine as a group but just like other guests in the hotels we could we could use the dining rooms at any time we wanted and order what we liked.
I never quite adjusted to the American portions, the superb service and the great variety of food. It’s not everyday you are offered ‘shark marinated in garlic and lime, grilled and served with a mild chilli butter’. The oysters looked pretty good too.
You can certainly go big on the food and you will certainly enthuse about the places visited.
We visited Carmel by the sea, and there was time for some to visit the old Mission Station and for the rest to let the fine white powdery sand slip between their toes.
Then there was the Monterey Aquarium, where we watched a diver in a massive tank swim through a kelp forest and at the ‘touch pool’ saw the children can get friendly with the fish, stroking the velvety back of a bat ray.
Even away from the aquarium the sea creatures catch your attention. The sound of seals barking drifted up to my hotel window and drew me down to the wharf where you can buy sardines to feed them. They have some competition from the pelicans but since the seals call the tune they usually get fed.
It was really travelling with a measure of luxury as all the hotels had health centres, spas and swimming pools. Everything was included in the price and each day we flitted from one hotel pool to another. After sitting in the coach all day it was good to be able to keep fit. The choice was there you could swim your way down California, or be thoroughly decadent and each night have a ‘sun downer’ with a gin and tonic in the jacuzzi.
Ten hours chasing the sun in the plane from London is a long time and you feel a bit weary by the time you touch down in San Francisco.
As we came into land rolling banks of fog were tracing the hills and by the time I got to my down town hotel it was already dark.
After a cup of coffee and a quick hello to the other folk on the coach tour, I took my jet lag to bed, but not before gazing in wonder, from my skyscraper room window, at the city lights spread out at my feet.
As we drove down the road that borders the pacific Ocean, high on a hill I spotted a grand and familiar building and I immediately recognised it from when it was featured as Xanadu in the Orson Wells film, Citizen Kane. It was described as a ‘magnificent pleasure palace and treasure house of the world’s finest things.’ In reality it is the largest of the 56 houses that were owned by the powerful newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst.
The magnificent house is called La Cuesta Encanta,
“The Enchanted Hill.” and stands on the 240,000 acre
San Simeon Estate. We visited it and stood with high swaying palm trees around us looking out on the magnificent view of the ocean just as the film star guests would have done in the 30’s and 40’s. For me the highlight was the beautiful swimming pool. It was large and it’s blue water sparkled amid white marble columns and would have fitted well into any Roman cinemascope epic.
There are 115 rooms built on four floors and they include a full size movie theatre.
In this we got some idea of the opulent life style enjoyed there when we were shown some home movies of the star guests taken by Cary Grant.
All to quickly the week ticked away and getting closer to the end of the journey we set off bleary eyed into the early morning, driving over the Santa Barbara hills and going down onto the network of sixty five thousand miles of roads and freeways that serve the communities of Los Angeles.
Hollywood was on our itinerary and Kelly, our tour director, pointed out the sights of ‘tinsel town’ “That’s Liberace’s old home, everything there’s shaped like a piano... and we’re now stopping at Hollywood Boulevard.” At the walk of fame
I stepped onto the hard cement beside the signatures of Roy Rogers and Humphry Bogart.
They had made their impressions, so too had the tour and one of the abiding memories is of waking up the next day at my hotel at Long Beach and seeing the Queen Mary moored permanently across the way. We were both a long way from home.
Looking back I am very glad I went because when my numbers on the lottery I now know precisely how to have my swimming pool built.
For information on Tauk Tours in California contact Kuoni
Report by Allan Rogers