On the right side of the Law

A Spanish Colonial Revival structure with white stucco walls, blinding whiteness broken by many windows of various sizes; Spanish-Moorish elements like interior galleries with arches and staircases decorated with colourful tiles forming intricate patterns; a room with wall-to-wall murals recounting the city’s history; a clock tower offering 360° views and a cool inner courtyard offering peace and quiet. You would be forgiven for thinking of Moorish tower or place of worship in an Andalusian town. But, no, here we are, still in Santa Barbara and this is the city’s Courthouse, fully operational and complete with a Jail Wing, although the latter is no longer used to keep prisoners.

Visitors are welcome to walk around freely, take photos, marvel at the Moorish architecture and even have a picnic in the courtyard. This fantastic, yet quite real, time- (and space) bending trip is free of charge; all that is required by the hosts is for ”passengers” to remain calm, be courteous and refrain from smoking (stating the exact chapter of the code, lest we forget where we really are).

Santa Barbara County Courthouse

July 13th, 2017

Old Mission Santa Barbara

The tenth out of twenty-one California Missions to be founded by the Spanish Franciscans, the Santa Barbara Mission was established on December 4th, 1786. It was the Feast of Saint Barbara whose name it bears. The original buildings were destroyed when they became too small for the increasing population and, later, by the earthquake of December 1812. It was then that the current building started taking shape and was completed in 1820. In a losing fight against mother nature, the towers were damaged again in a subsequent earthquake, in 1925, and rebuilt in 1927. The interior of the church, however, has been largely unchanged since 1820.

Today the Mission is one of Santa Barbara’s major historic landmarks and a tourist attraction.   I’m not sure what the link with the Greek Church might be, but this ”made in Greece” icon was for sale at the Mission’s shop, for a hefty $1,850. Although, I probably shouldn’t have been so surprised considering that the Mission is dedicated to a Greek Orthodox Martyr (Saint Barbara was beheaded by her own father – a pagan – for converting to Christianity).  
A visit by Queen Elisabeth in 1983 – photographer unknown, from the collection of the Mission’s archive-library.

Father Virgil Cordano rocks on a Harley in 2003 – photographer unknown, from the collection of the Mission’s archive-library.

Santa Barbara Old Mission

July 13th, 2017

Solvang, the Sunny Field of Denmark

A little piece of Denmark in the County of Santa Barbara in southern California, founded in 1911 by a group of Danish immigrants who bought 10.000 acres of land and named it Solvang – Danish for ”sunny field”. While the settlers followed American ways, learned English and sent their children to the local school, they still kept their Danish traditions to this day. From their renowned Danish pastries to the Festival Theater channeling Shakespeare’s links with Denmark, Solvang is as every bit as Danish as any city in Denmark itself, and a postcard-perfect one at that.

Read about the history of Solvang here.

July 12th, 2017


Driving south from San Simeon on CA-1 and then US-101, your way will inevitably bring you to another castle of opulence. The High Temple of Kitsch, a Symphony in Pink by the Brass Ensemble, the legendary Madonna Inn. From ”roses are red” to ”think pink” to ”red or dead”, every banality you’ve ever heard or thought of, will come to mind and take on a new meaning. This place has to be seen to be believed –  from its Alpine Swiss hotel exterior down to the lavishly decorated restrooms, everything dressed in all shades of pink, with brass accents breaking the ”monotony”. Seeing ”la vie en rose” has never been easier, no rose-coloured glasses necessary.  And that is only the ground floor; you haven’t even seen the rooms yet!

Mr. & Mrs. Madonna

The Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo

July 12th, 2017

The Roman Pool

Sheer, mind-blowing magnificence in thousands of tiny smalti, left me speechless.

{The Roman Pool is decorated from ceiling to floor with 1″ square mosaic tiles. These glass tiles, called smalti, are either colored (mainly blue or orange) or are clear with fused gold inside. The intense colors and shimmering gold of the tiles combine to create a breathtaking effect. The designs created by the tiles were developed by muralist Camille Solon. The inspiration for some of these designs came from the 5th Century Mausoleum of Galla Placidia.}

For more about the Roman Pool, please go to the Hearst Castle Pools webpage.

July 12th, 2017

La Cuesta Encantada || The Enchanted Hill of San Simeon

Following his mother’s death in 1919, media magnate William Randolph Hearst inherited thousands of acres around San Simeon and later on purchased even more, until the land he owned extended further than the eye could see. Captivated by the beauty of the landscape, and probably tired of lodging in platform tents whenever he visited his ranch, Hearst hired architect Julia Morgan and asked her to build ”something that would be more comfortable” than the tents.  

Throughout his life, Hearst dreamed of building a castle similar to those he had seen on his European  tour as a boy. 28 years, 68,500 square feet, 38 bedrooms, 30 fireplaces, 42 bathrooms and 14 sitting rooms later (and that is only Casa Grande, the main building of the complex), his dream came true. He called his castle La Cuesta Encantada—Spanish for “Enchanted Hill” and, after a two-hour tour of the Grand Rooms, guest suites, gardens and the spectacular Roman Pool, I can affirm that this mythical structure of epic proportions is definitely ”something more comfortable” than Mr. Hearst’s tents.

During construction, Hearst used the Castle as his residence and it was there he exhibited his extraordinary art collection and entertained his friends. The elite of Hollywood, politics and sports – everyone who was anyone, has stayed in these rooms. Construction was still ongoing in 1947, when Hearst had to leave the castle because of his fragile health which required continuous medical care. Parts of the castle still remain unfinished.

If you enjoyed this virtual walk of the gardens, wait till we go indoors; coming up, views from the Grand Rooms and guest suites.

Hearst Castle, San Simeon

July 12th, 2017