Our long weekend in L.A.

I haven't posted for a few days as it's been a bit hectic emigrating and all that. I'll try and catch up now starting with our stopover in LA. Also, I haven't had chance to upload the photo's yet so I'll update this post with our photo's in a few days...

We started our first day in LA with an American breakfast at Mel’s Diner in Hollywood – famous as being the location for much of American Graffiti starring Ron Howard, amongst others (although I believe most of that footage was actually shot in a studio, not the diner itself). My breakfast included French Toast which I’ve never had before – it was lurveleeey! Rach and Lauren had ‘a stack’ (pancakes). Not very healthy I know but when in Rome and all that.

We spent the rest of the morning taking in some of the sights of Hollywood. We had a walk up and down the Walk of Fame looking at the celebrity stars. We went to the Foyer of Mann’s Chinese Theatre to look at the hand and footprints of the likes of Gregory Peck, Tom Hanks, etc. We also went in the Hollywood Wax Museum and Guinness Book of World Records. The Hollywood Wax Museum was basically a second-rate Madam Tussauds, and the Guinness Book of World Records was a poor relation to the one that used to be housed in the Trocodero in Piccadilly Circus in London. A bit of a let down really.

The Walk of Fame was full of ‘look-alikes’, some better than others, along with people trying to sell you tours and hip-hop artists trying to get you to listen to the CD they’ve created in the hope that they’ll be discovered.

Hollywood has supposedly been cleaned up in recent years but it still seemed quite dirty and tacky to me. The same can be said of LA in general. I don’t think I once saw any street cleaners the whole time we were in LA.

In the afternoon we went on a couple of guided bus tours, taking in the ‘homes of the rich and famous’ as well as some other sites such as Hollywood Bowl and some of the film studios. Again this was all a bit of a letdown really. Most of the tour around Beverly Hills and Bel Air involved looking at large gates and trying to peer through trees to see a corner of a roof of a Hollywood star’s home. As for the Hollywood Bowl, ok I appreciate that it’s the largest naturally configured concert venue in America but it’s not half the size of Milton Keynes Bowl even, and it’s still only a stage and rows of seats. I can’t image wanting to go on a tour of Sheffield Hallam Arena so I’m not really sure why Hollywood Bowl is a tourist attraction.

We also drove around some of the movie studios. Well actually we drove past the front door of buildings that used to be famous as being the home of movie studios. Most of the big movie studios are actually no longer in Hollywood, they’ve moved down to the San Fernando Valley.

Why did we feel that we were always getting ripped off?

Another thing that got on our goat was the obsession with tipping. I appreciate that many in the service industry get paid pittance so work off tips but it has got ridiculous in LA. For instance on the tour bus not only was there a big sign saying tips are appreciated (after already paying more than it’s worth for a crap tour), there was even a guide to how much we should tip. $10 for an OK tour, $20 for ‘will come again’, etc. I didn’t see anything saying we could get our money back if we thought the whole tour was overrated!

I must have spent a fortune on tips. For instance you’re supposed to tip the porter $1 per bag. We had 7 cases. It’s not like he had to individually carry them all up to our hotel room. I even helped him put them on the trolley. They’re not subtle in their quest for tips either. They went as far as standing in front of us with their hand out before they left the room.

The one that had me flabbergasted was on Santa Monica Pier. There was a street entertainer that was doing some kind of balancing act. We started watching as he did his piece and then before he would continue he made it known to everyone that he expected his tip in advance. He stood their and even pointed people out who where standing in the audience and yet hadn’t tipped, saying ‘if you want to watch show you must tip’. I think he was Korean. Can you imagine that in Covent Garden – the street entertainers asking for money before they did their show? I thought sod him and started to walk away but Rach reined me back because Lauren wanted to watch the show. So I begrudgingly put a dollar in his bucket. His show was crap, I’m sure anyone could have done that after just half an hour practice. I should have put my hand in the bucket and reclaimed my dollar!

Anyway I digress. At the end of the first we were absolutely exhausted so had an early night.

Day 2

We spent day 2 down by the beach. The day didn’t start well. When you look at a map of LA things don’t look that far apart. This is deceiving because actually LA is enormous; it’s a huge sprawling area of disconnected areas that make up greater LA. To give you an idea, Sunset Boulevard alone is 28 miles long. After figuring out the distance to Santa Monica from Hollywood we realised it would be expensive in a taxi so we’d try public transport. We worked out we’d have to get 2 buses.

We must have waited at the bus stop for half a hour before giving up. I thought sod it and went back to our hotel lobby to get a taxi. The taxi was roughly $50 and took about 25 minutes. Actually, if it takes 25 minutes in a taxi imagine how long it would have taken getting 2 buses. We would have spent half the day travelling there and back.

On arrival at Santa Monica we started out on the Santa Monica Pier. This was one of the best bits of the trip. Think Skegness Pier but much larger, less dirty and tacky, better weather and a better view! The view down the coast and the view out to the Pacific was spectacular. We spent a couple of hours on the pier taking in the sights as well as taking Lauren on some rides in Pacific Parc – a fairground on the pier.

On leaving the pier we then headed off to find a bus to take us down to Venice Beach. We had a long walk before we eventually found one. It was a really hot day and it wasn’t long before Lauren was moaning that her feet were hurting her.

Venice Beach was packed, not the beach itself which was largely empty, but the promenade. There were hundreds of stalls set up, mostly selling hippy paraphernalia. We walked along the Venice Beach promenade down to Marina Del Rey. Actually, we didn’t reach the Marina itself. We stopped short and went for a meal at a local fish restaurant, after which went and had a hour on the beach. We hadn’t brought our swimming cosy as no one in their right minds goes swimming in the Pacific in May. We did dip our toes though. The water was freezing!

We then took a taxi back to the hotel. Another $50 plus tip of course.

Day 3

We spent the Sunday at Disneyland. Again, the day didn’t start well.

We bought tickets from the Hollywood tourism office the day before along with what I thought was a reservation on a tour bus for the 3 of us to get there. Apparently it would have cost us approx $80 each way in a taxi. They recommended that we either hire a car for the day or they could book us on one of the tour buses at a reduced rate. Not wanting to drive in LA we decided to book the seats on the bus.

We walked around to the pick-up spot on the Sunday morning to go to Disneyland. We stood their for a while next to the tour ticket booth and after realising we were the only ones there we thought we ought to double check that the bus is on time. We spoke to the tour operators and they told us that the bus was full and had already left. It turned out that we didn’t have a reservation after all, it was a referral. What we should have done was contact the tour operator straight away after purchasing the Disneyland tickets and booked seats on the tour bus.

We were stumped. We walked around looking for a car rental agency but being a Sunday they were all closed. So we made our way back to the hotel to speak to the concierge to see if she could help. It was only then that we noticed there was a Hertz rental desk in the hotel. The concierge tried ringing the tour operators for us to see if there were any other buses that we could get a seat on. No luck. So in the end we had to hire a car after all. As we were leaving the next day we figured we might as well hire the car for 2 days – returning the car to the airport the next day.

The original plan was to be at Disneyland before 10am. By the time we got the hire car (we must have spent at least half an hour in a queue) it was already gone 10am. That’s when the fun began. Not having the American maps for our Tom Tom, and with the hire car we hired (a Ford Taurus) not having SatNav we had to rely on the old-fashioned method – maps.

Normally this wouldn’t be a problem if I was navigating (being a bloke of course), but as Rach refused to drive in L.A. the driving was left to me and the navigation was left to her. We headed off in what we thought was roughly the right direction looking for a sign to the nearest freeway. I kept calling out street names and avenue names to Rach but she couldn’t seem to find any of them on the map (to be fair the maps that Hertz gave us were pretty crap). I had a rough idea that we were heading west towards the coast so I figured we just needed to turn south to be heading in the right direction. Unfortunately before we new it we was surrounded by skyscrapers smack bang in the middle of downtown LA. We carried on through and out of downtown LA, still looking for a freeway, and drove through one of those areas that tourists really need to avoid. We couldn’t believe it, it was just like in the movies. The sidewalks were littered with black homeless people with shopping trolleys full of their possessions. There seemed to be gangs and druggies all over the place – it was like Boys ‘n the Hood. It was one of those places that you definitely shouldn’t stop and ask for directions. Rach was papping herself. I must admit I did step on it a bit, expecting to be carjacked any second.

We eventually found the freeway. I was driving along the freeway for about 30 minutes, putting my complete trust in Rach that she was navigating us in the right direction, when we came across the turn-off for Malibu. Now I can’t say I’m all that familiar with LA but I was sure that Malibu was north of LA, whereas Disneyland is in Anaheim which is south of LA. We were on the right freeway, it was just we’d been travelling in the wrong direction for half an hour!

We realised our mistake, turned around and eventually made it to Disneyland – for 1pm!

Disneyland was ok, but it didn’t seem to be half as good as how I remembered Orlando, Florida when I visited a few years ago in the Navy. It just didn’t seem to be as spectacular – there weren’t half as many shows or big rides as I had expected. The other problem was that it was really busy. If it was that busy on a Sunday in May I dreaded to think what it would be like in the middle of the school holidays! We queued for the first couple of rides but after that we really couldn’t be bothered. There was no way we was going to queue 60 minutes for the big rides - which last all of 60 second. Lauren was moaning after queuing for 10 minutes, and even when we eventually made it on to the rides she didn’t particularly like them. She told me that she doesn’t like rides that are fast, dark, loud, that turn, spin, or go up and down - which pretty much rules out all the rides. We did find a few that she enjoyed – that we all enjoyed in fact. They were the jungle cruise where you go on a river boat through a ‘jungle’ and see lots of animals and tribes on the riverbanks and in the river. It was pretty impressive. The special effects were good and the animals were quite lifelike. We also all enjoyed the Buzz Lightyear ride where you get to control your car and shoot things at the same time.

The day ended with a spectacular fireworks display set to music which was very impressive and worth the entrance money alone. Not sure it was worth all the hassle in the morning though! Only problem, by that time Lauren was absolutely exhausted and was falling asleep towards the end.

Day 4

We had the hire car for our final day and with our flight not leaving until 9:30pm our original intentions was to make the most of our last day and see more of the sights. But we were that exhausted after Disneyland that we couldn’t face it. Our feet were killing us so we decided to just hang around the hotel until it was time to leave for the airport.

Getting to the airport involved more fun and games. We found the airport pretty easily but it was a different matter finding the place we had to return the car to. We followed the signs for rental returns but we missed the sign for Hertz completely and ended up on another freeway taking us away from the airport.

LAX is massive. As such the place where you drop off your hire car is about a mile away from the terminals. When we did find it they had there own fleet of coaches to take you to the airport.

It was a bit confusing at the airport as they do things slightly different to what we’re used to when we’ve travelled in other countries. For a start, when we went to check-in, we got our luggage checked in but then had to take them over to another part of the building to put through security, rather than the bags being whisked away straight away on the conveyer belt at check-in. Once we got rid of the bags at security we then had to go out of the building and then into another building adjacent to it for us to go through security.

Anyway, we made it in good time and boarded our flight to Auckland, New Zealand.

We had a 12 hour flight to Auckland, one hour at Auckland and then boarded our final flight to Brisbane.
Crossing the International Date Line in the pacific immediately put the clocks forward 24 hours and meant that we left LA on Monday evening and landing in Brisbane on Wednesday morning. For us, Tuesday never existed.