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February 9th 2014
Published: February 15th 2014
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And The Challenges Of International Driving

Now I'm not going to sugar coat this.... driving on the right side of the road is exhausting!! Not so much physically but mentally it drains you.

It should be said that I really enjoy long distance driving. The open road, music cranked, nothing but possibilities in front. But when having to constantly think for hours on end it can get a bit much. You see, it's not just the constant reminder you need to give yourself to stay right... it's the little things too. The fact that because you're in a left hand drive you continuously hit the door as you automatically go to change gears... that you find yourself glancing up and to the left only to find the rear view mirror is not where you're use to it being... and that the windscreen wipers always turn on every time you try to change lanes or turn a corner. All this coupled with some minor variations in road rules (like being able to turn right on a red signal as long as the coast is clear) and it makes for a lot of brain drain.

All I can say is thank goodness for the GPS!!!

If it wasn't for the little voice from the box stuck to the windscreen then I might have just gone insane. Negotiating 6 lane freeways and exits and merges all while trying to remember all the other little things is enough to send anyone off the deep end.

But I survived!! So here's the tale of my exodus from LA...

Deciding to not try and negotiate the city streets as my first endeavour, I headed out to the 101, skipping Malibu and the luxurious houses along the north coast of the city knowing that I'd be back in a few months and get to see them then instead. Steadily doing 65mph (which I swear is only a recommendation as people wizzed past) through the traffic, the 101 heads north through the sprawl before giving the option to split off to my true route, Highway 1.

Every person I've ever met that either lives on the west coast of the US or has travelled here recommends this route. It winds up along the coast through the towns of Santa Barbara, Pismo Beach, Monterey, and Santa Cruz before joining back up with the 101 to head into San Francisco and has the potential to be one of the great drives in the world.

Santa Barbara created an ideal spot to stop for lunch, with it's Mediterranean influenced buildings down State St all the way to the pier. It's a very upmarket, touristy town, but standing out on the pier looking back, all can be forgiven. The hills surround it creating a natural bowl with churches and monasteries dotting the ridge lines high above. With the weather once again rolling in, I didn't linger too long and set off back up the 1 to reach Pismo Beach for the night.

Set in a cove surrounded by cliffs, Pismo Beach must be a favourite holiday destination for citizens during the warmer months, but by the time I arrived the fog had rolled in and the rain wasn't far behind.

The morning fog became persistent as I continued north with visibility down to about 30m in some parts, as I headed to Hearst Castle. Built by the media mogul, William Randolph Hearst, in 1919 he teamed up with architect Julia Morgan to create a luxury retreat on the lands that he'd gone camping on as a boy. Taking 28 years to fully complete, the castle was designed specifically to house some of the great European treasures he had collected on his travels. From Spanish furniture and Persian rugs, to medieval fireplaces and carved wood ceilings, to the impressive art collection, all was included into the designs creating an opulent and decadent getaway for the rich and famous that he and his girlfriend invited to spend with them there.

And there were many...

From Charlie Chaplin, to presidents and all in between were invited to relax and enjoy the estate which included the largest private zoo in the world, a ranch to go horse riding in, a theatre for enjoying after dinner, as well as the "Neptune Pool" where 1st century roman columns surround the 32m extravagance.

All his life, Hearst believed that the house and land and all that was contained within, should be able to be viewed be all, and as such donated the entire estate to the Californian Parks and Recreation Service, thereby ensuring that the treasures will never go unloved.

Just north of Hearst Castle is a beach wheee Elephant Seals lay. Now I thought, maybe a few will be out but what with the rain I doubt there will be many sunning themselves. How wrong could I be!! Stretching for about 200m from the vantage point, sand was at a premium as these amazing animals bellowed their discontent at being climbed over and sprayed with sand as others were trying to wriggle into position. The din was deafening and I could only guess that there must have been at least 500 or more, ranging from about 3 feet long to over 10 feet.

For anyone travelling the west coast of California, Monterey is an absolute must!! It doesn't have a huge amount to do there (though Pebble Beach golf course is just up the road) but the drive in through Big Sur to this quaint seaside town rivals New Zealand's roads. The longing for my motorbike was almost too much to bear.

The town itself was a melting pot of funky little restaurants, beautiful old buildings, and fun bars where I met a couple from Chicago that are looking at moving there to help manage a hotel. Sara and Rob were great and what started as a couple drinks soon turned into a brilliant night with some classic conversation and lots of laughter. It's always such a pleasure to meet people as open minded as full of life as these two.

The morning took me back onto the road and saw me passing through Santa Cruz where life is still a little stuck in the 60's with it's peace and love ideals, before heading over the hills to San Francisco... But you'll just have to wait to hear all about that.

Additional photos below
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15th February 2014

My hometown!
I'm so glad that you stopped in Santa Barbara, my hometown, and didn't just drive past it--your photos made me a bit homesick. So sorry about the weather; until about a week ago, we were in the midst of a sunny, beautiful drought. Elephant seals, Hearst Castle, Big Sur--so many greats on Route 1 (tricky driving even for us natives). If you return to Monterey, hope you can visit the amazing aquarium there. Look forward to San Fran, the best CA city.
18th February 2014

Memorable highways
Glad you are catching some amazing drives and the elephant seals are worth watching. Looking forward to your time in SF.

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