Monday, March 27, 2017

Hearst Castle Kitchen and Wine Cellar

March 2017 - San Simeon CA

Click here to visit the guest houses and grounds that are part of the Cottages and Kitchen tour.

The guest houses at the Hearst Castle do not have kitchens, the only kitchen is in the main house.

Newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst sent to San Francisco for the good linens and china in September 1929, when preparing for the upcoming visit of British politician Winston Churchill to his grand estate named La Cuesta Encantada.

 Although Churchill appreciated the efforts that were made in his behalf, it did not stop him from keenly observing his host, writing to his wife Clementine: “Hearst was most interesting to meet, & I got (sic) like him - a grave simple child - with no doubt a nasty temper - playing with the most costly toys. A vast income always overspent: Ceaseless building & collecting not very discriminatingly works of art: two magnificent establishments, two charming wives; complete indifference to public opinion, a strong liberal & democratic outlook, a 15 million daily circulation, oriental hospitalities, extreme personal courtesy (to us at any rate)...”

All of the meals were prepared in this kitchen and all guests were expected to dine communally in the refectory each evening. One night Winston Churchill tried to order room service to Cottage B. Mr. Hearst called the Prime Minister himself to say that room service is not offered at the Castle and he’d have to come up to the main house himself.

Our guide, in answer to a question regarding whether Mr. Hearst was good to work for, stated that he was very good to his staff. If a guest was rude to a servant or as he called them, an employee, he would send the guest home!

Guests from Cary Grant, Charles Chaplin, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Claudette Colbert and the Marx Brothers to Baron Rothchild, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt dined in the 27’ x 67’ dining room (with a 27’ ceiling).

Dinners at Hearst Castle were prepared with the estate’s own fruits and vegetables (oranges, lemons, persimmons, pears, apples, tangerines, apricots, prunes, plums nectarines, figs grapefruit, mulberries, kumquats, peaches, avocados, guava, quince and many kinds of berries –– black and English walnuts). His son said his father enjoyed “fowl and birds [pheasant, guinea hen, partridges, quail, ducks, geese and turkey were raised there], lamb chops, cornbeef [sic] and cabbage, hominy grits, and on rare cases, roast beef [always well-aged], kidneys tripe etc.”

Buffet lunches were served on electric warmers at 2 pm (promptness was requested, a loud cow bell would be rung). Dinner was served at 9pm. Breakfast was served between 9am and 12 and guests would have juice, fruit and coffee and then order their breakfast that would be cooked to order (Mr. Hearst only had fresh fruit and coffee with a lot of hot milk –– he rose quite late).

Here is a sample daily menu from the ranch. The menu always included a film that would show in the Castle’s movie theater after dinner. This menu was served on November 28, 1945: Source
La Cuesta Encantada, San Simeon, California
November 28, 1945

Spare Ribs – Hominy
Fine Herb Omelet
Pastry, Ice

Lentil Soup
Roast Ringneck Pheasant
Bread Crumbs, Bread Sauce
Gravy – Mashed Potatoes
Buttered String Beans
Apricot Tartlets

“Blythe Spirit”
Rex Harrison – Constance Cummings
United Artists – MGM Exchange
Breakfast 9:00 to 12:00 – Luncheon 2:00 – Dinner 9:00

Mexican Resort Hopping

March 2017 - Mazatlan Mexico

This winter we spent January 30 2017 to March 18 2017 in Mazatlan. We didn't rent anywhere, we used up various timeshares we have.

March is a very busy spring break period, lots of families with kids, as well as lots of lots of university kids.

Some timeshare terminology to help understand some of my comments.
An exchange is the process of trading an interval owned at one resort for an interval at another resort. The exchange system allows interval owners to travel and vacation worldwide.

Exchange Company:
An exchange company is an organization where interval owners deposit their week in order to “trade” or exchange to another resort of their choice. Exchange companies accumulate a pool of weeks from other interval owners around the world and then evaluate each interval week deposited in order to provide a suitable match based on availability and value. Some aspects of the “trading value” of an interval are determined by the time of year (or season) requested, the resorts rating and the size of the unit being exchanged. Two of the largest and most popular exchange companies are RCI and Interval International.

Lockoff or Lockout Unit:
This is a unit which can be divided to create two separate but complete sections. For example, a two bedroom lockout unit has the option of splitting the unit into a one bedroom unit and a studio unit thereby getting two weeks of vacation.

Insert my comment - they tend to be noisy, and you can hear your neighbours.

Maintenance Fee:
This is a fee paid annually to cover the costs of operating and maintaining the facilities of the resort and the management of the resort. Fees vary from resort to resort and are based on size and type of the unit purchased.

Unit Size:
Unit size has a various number of definitions: hotel unit, studio, efficiency or by number of bedrooms. Hotel units, studios and efficiencies usually (but not always) are a single room with sleeping accommodations for two to four persons and may or may not include a small kitchen. 

Insert my comment - A partial kitchen in "timeshare speak" has a fridge, microwave and partial stove, that is a two ring counter top. No oven, no dishwasher.

One, two and three bedroom timeshare units are usually a condominium type accommodation and feature a full kitchen, separate living and dining area and possibly other special features within the unit, i.e., jet tub in the bathroom or separate shower.

All resorts in Mexico employ a lot of people, they are always sweeping, cleaning, painting, gardening. The maids are wonderful, they work so hard.

Here's a recap, and my reviews on each of these resorts in chronological order. I have italicized my favourite in each category. 

Red - pet peeve

Royal Villas 2 weeks click link for photos
Wyndham owners exchange - no exchange fees. BUT RCI mandatory all inclusive

We had booked this for four weeks not having read the fine (not so fine really) print that it was mandatory all inclusive at $700 US per person per week. Now this doesn't sound extraordinary expensive. However, the point of timeshare and booking a one bedroom unit is that you might want to cook some meals, have a light breakfast. We love going out and trying different places. We have friends here in Mazatlan with whom we like to dine as well.
Also remember, we have paid for a timeshare and annual maintenance fees, as well to book into this resort we paid a fee through RCI.
This is also Mexico, we have been here before, and know what it costs to do groceries.

Anyway, we had no choice so we bit the bullet and I spoke to RCI who moved our reservation for the last two weeks to another resort.  Hats off for this good service.

I'll review the resorts by the following criteria.

Smoking - allowed everywhere, in lobby bar, at breakfast, in pool.

Timeshare - we were approached for the pitch as we went to our rooms. We made it clear we were not interested, a free breakfast hardly mattered as we were all inclusive. She approached us on our last day to again mention they would provide a free stay of 3 days if we went to a pitch.

General - this is a timeshare resort but it attracts the all inclusive packages deals with air, hotel and meals. These tend to be different from owners. They are more party-oriented and noisy.
It also has a large local feel to it. Mexicans love having special occasions at the week-end buffets adding a very festive feel.

Accommodations - we had a one bedroom with living room and partial kitchen.
This unit was spotless, Very large but it was dated. The balcony had a view of the ocean as well as the street. The living room and bedroom both have the same view.
Lockouts - It did have paper-thin walls.
Two bathrooms.
Walk in showers with rain forest shower heads.

Maid Service - daily

Internet - free and fantastic, unlimited number of devices.
Business Centre - we really only need if we need to print. I inserted a USB key and the print out came to the front desk.

TV - excellent, large choice of stations. Two TVs.

Common areas - spacious. But wide open from ocean view to street, so could be downright chilly when it was windy.

Beach - great, but resort does not provide any palapas or chairs.

Pool - major issue, very limited space. Lots of kids in pool with multiple types of balls, toys etc.
Food and drink service available.

Grounds - none entrance is street level, and pool borders the beach.

Location - excellent walking distance to everything you could need/want.

Shuttle - none

Deli - none on site. But in this case, with the all inclusive it didn't matter. Our fridge was stocked almost daily once I asked why it wasn't being done

Laundry - not sure if they had on-site but there is one across the street. Same day service.

ATM - none and none conveniently close by.

Restaurants/Food - all inclusive. Breakfast was excellent, served by the pool, lots of choices.
Lunch - available either in the restaurant or lobby bar.
Dinner - good choices, however you would tire of it after one week. However, the absolutely redeeming factor, and I'm not sure if management realizes it, is Jose Luis the server. He made our dinner experiences a delight. He would offer suggestions, was fully aware of John's gluten free dietary restrictions, and went out of his way to create imaginative meals for us.
Drinks - since we were on the top tier meal plan we only ordered the best.
The sad part was that the restaurant was practically empty every night.

Pueblo Bonito Mazatlan 2 weeks Click link for photos
RCI exchange fees paid

Smoking - allowed in pool areas

Timeshare - checked in and offered $200 US resort credit and free internet if we toured Emerald Bay. We took it. Good presentation, excellent prices if you were entering the timeshare market. However, Mexican company and only six resorts available within their network.

General - mainly owners

Accommodations - we had a studio
KITCHEN partial kitchen
This unit was clean but didn't feel as clean as others and it was dated. The balcony was fantastic, totally private, large, table and chairs.
Great shower but in a bathtub. Not my favourite.
Built like a railway car so the only light is at the front of the unit. It is a very very small studio.
Lockouts - maybe, not our studio

Maid Service - daily, once tipped she even did our dishes.

Internet - online reviews said it was terrible and expensive $14-$17 a day. At check-in she said it was not worth it. We didn't spend the money.
Ours was fantastic, no issues whatsoever.
Business Centre - didn't use but it was a pay by the hour.

TV - not as big a selection as Royal Villas.

Common areas - spacious. Lovely.

Beach - great with palapas.

Pool - two large pools, one was a quiet pool. Both had pool side food and drinks service.

Grounds - Lovely. large with exotic birds in cages and ducks and flamingos on the grounds.
This would be a tie with Torres Mazatlan.

Location - excellent walking distance to everything you could need/want. Surrounded by good restaurants.

Shuttle available between PBM and Emerald Bay

Deli - on site, reasonable. Basic supplies as well as ready made sandwiches and pastries.

Laundry - not sure if on-site but there is one directly across the street that we used. Great price does dry cleaning as well. Same day.

ATM - machine outside resort gates but doesn't take on cards and often doesn't work.

Restaurants/Food - offers all inclusive but not required. We either cooked and dined on the balcony or else went out with friends.
There is a restaurant serving breakfast and lunch.

Lunch - available either in the restaurant or by the pools. Again we were so sick of restaurant food we prepared our own.

Dinner - 2 restaurants Cilantro for casual beach front dining. Angelo's for more upscale dining.
We went to Angelo's.Click here to read about our dinner.
Drinks - watered down happy hours by the pools

Torres Mazatlan 1 night
Owners no fees to book

We only stayed one night, however, have stayed here many times, including a two month stint in 2014 so feel qualified to comment.

Smoking - no smoking anywhere

Link to their resort amenities.

Timeshare - not approached for a one night stay.

General - mainly fiercely dedicated owners.

Accommodations - we had a one bedroom with full kitchen.
KITCHEN That means a stove and dishwasher. Very important to me and therefore earns my highest rating for kitchens. Especially for longer stays. It is also the most equipped kitchen with plenty of utensils, pots and pans and plastic ware.
BBQs also on site.
Lockouts - none on premises
This unit was spotless. It could use a brightening up.
Walk in shower!
The balcony is great,totally private,large, table and chairs.
Very odd - they don't provide shampoo, conditioner or lotion.

The unit is built like a railway car, the bedroom is on the walkway so you can't really open your curtains. However, there is a lovely Murphy bed in the living room, where you could sleep comfortably and listen to the ocean.

Maid Service - they only provide a mid week clean.

Internet - is good.
Business Centre - no idea but knowing how amenable the staff are I am sure you could get something printed.

TV - not a bad selection but not great. One TV in living room.

Common areas - No lobby. Nice quiet outside seating area.

Beach - great but no palapas.

Pool - one large pool with pool side food and drinks service.

Grounds - Lovely. large tie with Pueblo Bonito

Location - it is away from the Golden Zone and downtown. Bus stop is outside and there are always pulmonias and taxis available.
Shuttle none

Deli - on site, reasonable. great selection, includes fruits and vegetables. Great hours.

Laundry - coin operated on-site

ATM - none near by. Used to be one right outside. Requires a bus or taxi ride to the closest.

Restaurants/Food - one restaurant for all day dining.

Breakfast we dined several times here with friends. Excellent breakfast

Lunch - available either in the restaurant or by the pools. We had one lunch, they make the best California club in town!

Dinner - daily specials with entertainment. Had dinner twice with friends. It was disappointing this time. I had shrimp tacos that were much better at Royal Villas.John had chicken fajitas which were a bit greasy and the tortillas were a little crisp.
Best entertainment. Theme night menus best deal.

Drinks - good

El Cid Marina Resort 18 days
Wyndham owner no exchange fee for 4 nights in studio
Owner              2 weeks one bedroom.

We stayed here for three weeks last year.

Smoking - allowed in pool areas

Timeshare - approached after check-in. Offered $100 US coupons for meals and drink coupons. I prefer getting funds I can apply to my bill.
Good presentation, however, the pricing is astronomical for timeshare. Enough said.
Drink coupons, we were testily told we should have told our server we had coupons before we ordered. Why? Likely watered down drinks.

General - mainly timeshare owners or RCI exchanges and boat owners. They do have packages for tour companies such as Westjet, Sunwing and Signature from Canada.

Accommodations - we had booked four nights in a studio with partial kitchen.
KITCHEN partial Same as Royal Villas and Pueblo Bonito even in one bedroom.
We then had a one bedroom with partial kitchen for two weeks.

This unit was spotless.

Units are not built like a railway car so they are brightly painted floor to ceiling windows. This was my favourite as a unit. Bright and airy lots of light.
The balcony was good, it really depends on what unit you get.
Lockouts - yes and makes for noisy neighbours.
Note to self - do not take a unit in building H and always ask for 3rd or 4th floor.

Maid Service - daily

Internet - $55 a week per device. Thumbs down worst based on policy. However the Internet access was excellent.
Business Centre - free, printer provided. 

TV - not a bad selection but not great. Two TVs. But the satellite constantly goes on and off with snowy pictures. 

Common areas -nice

Beach - you have to take a quick boat ride to a small beach due to the marina. Not a large walking beach.

Pool - two large with pool side food and drinks service. Both great, quite rowdy at times. Water is COLD in both.

Grounds - Lovely. large

Location - it is a little away from the Golden Zone and downtown. Easy walk to Golden Zone.
Bus stop is outside and there are always pulmonias and taxis available.
Shuttle available between their other resorts. Therefore ideal for getting into the middle of the Golden Zone.

Deli - on site, reasonable. Very limited resources. I had commented last year and will again that the hours are inconsistent, you never know when they will be open. They have ridiculous hours 9-6 and Sunday is 9-5. It is supposed to be a "convenience", all the others are 7-10.

Laundry - coin operated on-site and hotel laundry service. Pricier than taking your stuff to a local place but convenient and excellent.

ATM - 2 located in lobby, one distributes US the other pesos, however it is the most expensive ATM fees in town, 90 pesos per transaction compared to 30 pesos at a bank.

Restaurants/Food - one restaurant on site for all day dining. However, you can use any of their other resorts around town.

Breakfast we dined several times.Excellent egg service, great omelets but rest of buffet is mediocre.
Lunch - available either in the restaurant or by the pools. We had lunch several times, not bad not great. Depends on your selection.

Dinner - buffet.

Drinks - average

Hearst Castle

March 2017 - San Simeon CA

Hearst Castle has always been on my bucket list. It was closed in 1997 for Thanksgiving the first time we tried to visit.

This time, I could have gotten tickets online, but we were a couple of hours away and couldn't gauge our arrival time due to some detours in the area. It was 3 PM by the time we got there.
The Cottages and Kitchen tour at 3:20 still had tickets so we decided to buy that one.

Hearst Castle®, also known as “La Cuesta Encantada” ® or “The Enchanted Hill” ® is located near San Simeon, CA, in the Santa Lucia Mountains of San Luis Obispo County.

This magnificent estate of 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways commands a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean and the hills and valleys of the Santa Lucias. Envisioned by William Randolph Hearst, Hearst Castle is one of the world’s great attractions and showpieces for ancient art that rivals museum collections around the world.

Conceived in 1919 by newspaper giant William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951) and designed by architect Julia Morgan (1872-1957) Hearst Castle began as a hilltop retreat, and over the years the estate became a museum. Donated in 1957 it showcases part of Mr. Hearst’s extraordinary collections.

The house is so far up the hill that John zoomed these photos from the Visitors' Centre. His zoom goes further than my 250 zoom does.

The Visitor Centre has boundless souvenirs with the castle on them. There are several food stands. You can buy beef from the Hearst Ranch and even beer or wine. 

There are also some exhibits showing timelines of the Hearst Empire. He actually inherited his initial fortune from his father.

When your scheduled tour time arrives, you board the bus at the Visitor Center to begin the  five-mile journey to Hearst Castle. Narrated by Jeopardy’s Alex Trebek, the scenic bus ride provides vistas of the natural beauty that surrounds this historic hilltop estate.

From their site:
Discover two very different parts of Hearst Castle on the Cottages & Kitchen Tour. View Hearst’s wine cellar and then stroll through the historic gardens to the first guest cottage, Casa del Monte. Then compare its rooms to those in Casa del Mar), before visiting the Castle’s enormous kitchen.

The Cottages and Kitchen Tour is 60 minutes long and consists of approximately 204 stairs, both up and down, and a 3/4-mile route to walk.

1 in the middle wine cellar
2 Casa del Monte our first stop
3 Casa del Mar
4 Kitchen
5 Gardens
6 Neptune pool closed for renovations
7 Roman pool

We were met by our guide and gaped in awe at the house.

William Randolph Hearst is best known for publishing the largest chain of American newspapers in the late 19th century, and particularly for sensational "yellow journalism." He'd be right at home nowadays.

William Randolph Hearst dominated journalism for nearly a half century. Born in San Francisco, California, on April 29, 1863, to George Hearst and Phoebe Apperson Hearst, young William was taught in private schools and on tours of Europe. He attended Harvard College, where he served as an editor for the Harvard Lampoon before being expelled for misconduct.

While at Harvard, William Randolph Hearst was inspired by the New York World newspaper and its crusading publisher, Joseph Pulitzer. Hearst's father, a California Gold Rush multimillionaire, had acquired the failing San Francisco Examiner newspaper to promote his political career. In 1887, William was granted the opportunity to run the publication. William invested heavily in the paper, upgrading the equipment and hiring the most talented writers of the time, including Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce and Jack London.

 More of the grounds as we walk to the first guest cottage Casa del Monte.

This was the first building ever completed at La Cuesta Encantada, which served as the Hearst family’s earliest residence in the summer of 1922. Referred to as “House B,” its formal name was Casa del Monte—Spanish for “House of the Mountain”—which referred to the sweeping views of the Santa Lucia Mountains.

As a guest here, it was very informal. You had the run of the "ranch", could ride, swim or lounge around. You could borrow a car from his vast collection.

Mr. Hearst did expect his guests to dress and socialize for dinner in the main house, informally for the times, jacket and tie for gentlemen and cocktail dresses for ladies. Unlike the east coast where you would be required to wear tails and a top hat or an evening gown.

Once Hearst and his longtime companion, actress Marion Davies, moved into Casa Grande, the “cottages” became guest quarters for an illustrious list of visitors—Hollywood icons including Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, world leaders such as Winston Churchill, and literary master George Bernard Shaw.

Casa Del Monte2,550 sq ft4 bedrooms3 fireplaces4 bathrooms1 sitting room

Gorgeous bathrooms!

The view from the sitting room.

More bedrooms.

Referred to as “House A,” its formal name is Casa del Mar—Spanish for “House of the Sea.” Hearst’s family stayed there while Casa Grande was being built. Stroll through the sumptuous house overlooking the California Central Coast to see where Mr. Hearst lived for the last two years of his residence at this hilltop estate.

Some of the art pieces on the grounds outside this house.

Casa Del Mar5,350 sq ft8 bedrooms5 fireplaces6 bathrooms1 sitting room

In 1903, Mr. Hearst married Millicent Willson in New York City. The 16 year-old beauty caught the eye of the 34 year-old Hearst, a well known stage-door Johnny at the time. The couple’s first dates were chaperoned by her sister Anita, and after a lengthy courtship the couple married on April 28, 1903.

The couple had five sons together during their marriage: George, William Randolph Jr., John and twins Randolph and David.

Their honeymoon drive across the European continent inspired Mr. Hearst to launch his first magazine, Motor. Motor became the foundation for another publishing endeavor that is still known as Hearst Magazines.

Millicent Hearst became estranged from her husband in 1926 when his increasingly open liaison with film actress Marion Davies became intolerable. Millicent thereafter maintained a separate residence in New York City while her husband maintained several residences on the West Coast with his paramour. During the years immediately following the separation, Millicent continued to visit Hearst Castle with family and her personal friends. On the occasion of Winston Churchill’s visit to San Simeon in 1929, Millicent Hearst was present to host the distinguished English aristocrat. In later years Millicent rarely visited the estate.

My favourite room, I love the soft yellow and the view!

Floor tile.

 On our way to the kitchen, which will get its own post!!

A quick view of the kitchen.

Tennis courts.

The home of W. R. Hearst's fine collection of wines and spirits—even during the Prohibition Era consists of two rooms with double vault doors, the wine cellar is part of the Casa Grande basement.

Once the tour is over you are free to wander the grounds.

Last stop before boarding the bus back down is the Roman Pool.

The Roman Pool at Hearst Castle is a tiled indoor pool decorated with eight statues of Roman gods, goddesses and heroes. The pool appears to be styled after an ancient Roman bath such as the Baths of Caracalla in Rome c. 211-17 CE. The mosaic tiled patterns were inspired by mosaics found in the 5th Century Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna, Italy. They are also representative of traditional marine monster themes that can be found in ancient Roman baths. The statues are rough copies of ancient Greek and Roman statues.

Some views from the bus.

Can you imagine how many photos we would have taken if we had toured the "big house" with its 68 rooms???