Icelanders drive the California coast
The road-tripping adventures of Ørn and Moa continue with a tour of iconic Route 1
M. Michael Brady
Last spring, The Norwegian American correspondent and Oslo-area resident M. Michael Brady learned that Moeidur Bernhardtsdottir (who goes by her nickname Moa) and her husband, Thorarinn Ørn Sævarsson (known by his middle name), members of the Icelandic diaspora prominent in Norway (as well as in Canada and the USA), were planning a late summer drive of State Route 1 on the California coast. They have a penchant for far-from-home travel on their summer vacations—in 2017 they drove Route 66 (“Icelanders get their kicks on Route 66,” Dec. 1, 2017: www.norwegianamerican.com/travel/icelanders-get-kicks-route-66). Brady again asked them to take notes and photos that via an interview after their return could become an article for The Norwegian American. This is the result.
Earlier this year, we began planning our summer vacation, during the Norwegian fellesferie (general holiday) in July, when many smaller businesses close down and let all their employees go on vacation. We had so enjoyed our drive of Route 66 in 2017 that we decided on another iconic American road trip, a drive of State Route 1 along the California coast. Again we would be cultural chameleons, leisurely driving a big American car, sampling local culture along the way.
In San Francisco, we rented a big muscle car, a black Ford Mustang GT convertible, and were on our way southward. The first day we drove just 30 miles to Half Moon Bay, and spent two days there, mostly relaxing to recover from the jet lag of flying to San Francisco. The second driving day took us 49 miles to Santa Cruz, on the northern edge of Monterey Bay. We stayed there two days and enjoyed local attractions.
The third driving day took us 42 miles to Monterey. We stayed two days at the Monterey Plaza, which offered a view of Cannery Row, the town perhaps most known as the title of John Steinbeck’s novel about life there during the Great Depression. Excursions from Monterey included 17 Mile Drive through the gated community of Pebble Beach that passes famous golf courses and the Lone Cypress Tree.
The fourth driving day took us 141 miles to Cambria, where we stayed two days. On the way, we stopped at Bixby Creek Bridge on the Big Sur Coast, the graceful early 1930s concrete architectural marvel, one of the most photographed bridges in California. From Cambria, we visited the Hearst Castle at San Simeon, the National Historic Landmark originally built as a residence for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who lived there from 1919 to 1947.
The fifth driving day took us 127 miles to Santa Barbara. We stayed three days there, enjoying wine tasting excursions and big breakfasts while reading the Los Angeles Times. On the sixth driving day, we chose not to go to Los Angeles, which we had previously visited, but to turn around and drive back north 126 miles to stay a day at Paso Robles, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The penultimate leg of our trip took us 257 miles north to stay two days at St. Helena, north of San Francisco. While there, we enjoyed a round trip to and from Napa on the Napa Valley Wine Train, a restored train of early 1900s vintage with lounge, observation, and dining cars pulled by an early 1950s locomotive. On the eighth driving day, we headed 66 miles south to San Francisco to turn in the car and fly home.
Looking back over the journey, we realized that we had had the two-sided experience of being different people in a country that for us was different. We saw the culture as an intriguing mélange. Americans are known for their civility. Wherever we first met people and before we had a chance to speak our version of English, we would be asked where we were from. Realizing that something about us signaled that we were foreigners, we would briefly explain Iceland, which was regarded as an exotic place.
We found that our custom of walking shorter distances, a mile or so from a hotel to a restaurant, was often near impossible as there were few walkways away from traffic, and sometimes not even sidewalks. Once, upon explaining that we would prefer to walk to a restaurant as we would have wine with dinner there, we were asked “Don’t you have taxis in your country?” That said, walking was commonplace in the larger cities, such as Santa Barbara.
At the Hearst Castle, a place setting display featured exquisite china and silverware, and small bottles of ketchup and mustard that to our European eyes seemed incongruous. The Napa Valley Wine Train definitely was an American thing, but its cars were identified with oval emblems in French, proclaiming Le Gourmet Express.
Most amazing for us was that late summer is apparently high season for weddings, as we saw them everywhere, the most remarkable for a couple in their mid-70s. Indeed, America amazes. We intend to return.
This article originally appeared in the September 7, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.