Darrell Berkheimer: Well, that didn’t go quite as hoped | TheUnion.com

Darrell Berkheimer: Well, that didn’t go quite as hoped

Our first trip of 2021 — after waiting more than a year to go on a trip — turned out to be one of disappointment.

For months I had been looking forward to visiting Solvang, California’s Danish town, to photograph the Danish-style buildings and sample the pastries. We also had read about the town’s narrated trolley tour behind a pair of big draft horses. Another photo opportunity, I thought.

We left Monday morning, the day after Easter, and battled nasty, tension-building traffic down the two lanes of Interstate 5. So I must repeat what I suspect hundreds of thousands of folks have said before me: I-5 needs three lanes to reduce the dangerous hazard of impatient drivers butting into the lines passing trucks.

The greeting at Solvang’s Vinland Hotel was pleasant, and the staff members were quite accommodating to our needs throughout our three-night stay. I wish I could say the same for the town’s considerations of senior citizens.

The Italian dinner we had that first evening was only mediocre and overpriced, but our spirits were high for what we would see and do during the next couple days.

We waited until mid-morning Tuesday to go for breakfast, thinking the rush would be over. Wrong!

At Paula’s Pancake House, we learned it would be an hour’s wait just for outdoor seating, and perhaps longer for the 25% indoor seating.

Another line was waiting outside the bakery next to Paula’s, indicating perhaps a half-hour wait there for a pastry and coffee. So we left to check other eateries that weren’t on the main street, thinking they probably would not be as crowded. Wrong again.

That’s when we learned how really crowded the town was with tourists. And we thought we would beat the big tourism crowds by going in early April. Strike three.

We also noticed numerous families with children. Perhaps their schools had not yet reopened. A couple locals observed, however, that the early April crowd was somewhat larger than normal probably because so many folks were pent up at home for so long.

Finally, about noontime, we found an open parking space a short walk from another bakery. Mary uses a cane now, and a couple of hundred feet is a long walk for her.

The bakery had a short inside line where the normal seating area was closed. So Mary was able to sit while couples and trios ahead moved forward about 6 feet at a time until they were in front of the long pastry display case. I waved Mary to join me when I was next in line.

Our brunch that first day in Solvang amounted to one large pastry and cup of coffee apiece. Then we returned to the hotel, thinking we would leave for an early dinner.

Our plan for an early dinner at the Copenhagen Sausage restaurant was nixed after we learned the indoor restaurant was closed. We would need to sit in the chill outside to eat, after standing in line to read the overhead hanging menu. But the chill sent us back to the car.

An improvised plan B involved a 3-mile drive east to the town of Santa Ynez, where we finally had some good luck when we parked in front of Brothers Restaurant. We were quickly seated even though we did not make a reservation. he price was a bit steep, but the salmon and steak dinners were both excellent.

On Wednesday, we had an indoor breakfast at Paula’s, but only because we were there for the 7 a.m. opening.

Later, we drove 25 miles down Route 101 to Refugio State Beach. My plan to get a few beach photos was rebuffed by an uncooperative entrance attendant. A request for only 10 to 15 minutes of admittance to take pictures was declined unless I paid the $10 daily entrance fee.

So we backtracked to Gaviola State Park, where the entrance booth was unmanned. I took photos of the beach, campground and the long train trestle.

Back in Solvang, Mary napped while I walked around town for a couple hours taking photos. That’s when I cornered a city employee coming out of the closed town hall.

I reported our disappointment with Solvang’s poor accommodations for senior citizens. I noted the town seemed to have very few handicapped parking areas. In addition, some places are closed in mid-week when seniors prefer to visit tourist areas, hoping for smaller crowds.

I remarked that the visitor center is closed Tuesday through Thursday, that the trolley tour also is not offered Tuesday through Thursday, and that the dining room at our hotel was closed until Thursday evening. It appears the town discourages seniors visiting mid-week.

Also, the restaurants we contacted were not accepting any reservations for indoor dining, not even for a one-hour period out of a potential three or four hours of normal dining time.

I added that an enterprising young entrepreneur probably could earn a good living by renting mobility scooters to visiting seniors. The surrey bikes were being rented at $30 to $50 per hour for two to six occupants, all of whom could help pedal.

Afterward, I felt a pang of guilt and a bit of compassion for the city worker who obviously was stymied with how to handle my complaints. I subsequently detailed those complaints in two messages sent to the Solvang Chamber of Commerce.

That evening we enjoyed the best meal of our trip after a 3-mile drive west to Buellton, where we ate at AJ and Spurs saloon and steakhouse. On our return home the next day, we bypassed a large section of I-5 with a more pleasant drive up 101 to Routes 156 and 152.

I doubt we will ever return to Solvang, but perhaps the town’s movers and shakers will consider a few changes for future senior citizen visitors. I learned, again, that neither the week before or after a holiday is a good time for a tourist area trip unless you don’t mind the crowds.

Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a frequent contributor to The Union. He has eight books available through Amazon. His sixth, “Essays from The Golden Throne,” includes 60 columns published by The Union, plus a dozen western travel and photo essays. Contact him at mtmrnut@yahoo.com.

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