Santa Ana John Wayne airport is a good way from Los Angeles - it's actually Orange County airport, so we had a fair journey ahead of us to get to where we were staying (we didn't realise at this point just how long a journey!). Information were less than helpful, so we downloaded google directions which told us the trip would take the best part of two hours, and went to sit outside for the so-called regular bus. After missing the first bus and waiting an hour for the next one, we got off at the Tustin metro station where the next train was a half hour wait.. Public transport in and around LA is a joke! Our stop was seven mins away on the train but for some unknown reason we chilled out on there for a good 20 before realising we had gone way past and were now on our way to Riverside or somewhere. A helpful but incorrect man told us to get off and go back to where we were meant to get off, so we blindly followed his advice, soon realising there were no trains going back the other way for the rest of the day, ridiculous (it was only 4pm)
! We eventually managed to interpret the timetable to find a train going back in the original direction direct to Union station in downtown LA, so sat waiting in the baking heat for an hour for this to come, confused and exhausted by this point, and feeling bad we would be really late to get to our host. Anyway we got to LA only about four hours behind schedule, thankfully Jim our host was able to collect us from the station although it was a bit of a nightmare trying to find a working Payphone to call him - we ended up borrowing the Ben and Jerrys shop guys mobile, and getting a free waffle cone thrown in as well, we must've looked like right sorry states! So Jim pulled up outside in his huge black van, the door springs open automatically and a platform comes down to help him get in and out on his scooter, proper pimped out van! Our prior knowledge of the guy was pretty limited seeing as the one picture he had on his couchsurfing profile was a head shot, accompanied by a picture of a pizza and one of some fried chicken. We were let into a tiny living room which was also currently home to FOUR other couchsurfers, not great! Pretty much straight away we were whisked out the door with another surfer called Mike to go to a Chinese restaurant around the corner, the three of us trotting along behind Jims scooter was probably pretty funny to witness! I think the restaurant was where he took all his couch surfers, as he was clearly a regular there. We were expecting great things from the food since everyone else who stayed there had raved about it, but to be honest it was a completely average Chinese, not a patch on Willaston
! My chicken curry had bones in it, so I had rice and sauce and Jim polished off my meat ha ha. Back at the house we met the other surfers, three American guys, who immediately asked us if we smoked pot then went into Jims room with him to "get baked", leaving me and Mike to bags the sofas and Snellers the best sleeping bags for the floor.
After a fairly uncomfortable nights sleep, we went to get a US 'cell', driving through his district of Alhambra, the Chinese district of LA, to an electronics shop where he sorted us out with a cheap handset which was good of him. It only cost us about 30 bucks and will be so much more convenient when we are getting in touch with our hosts. Afterwards we were dropped off back at union station to get the metro to Hollywood. Unsure of how we would go about seeing everything, we wandered the walk of fame for a bit before finding a really good deal for a Hollywood tour, which would take us in a bus up to the Hollywood sign, through Beverley hills to see the celebrity houses, and along sunset strip. The tour was actually really good, the driver was brilliant. We got pretty close to the sign, saw a lot of incredible houses in Beverley hills such as Tom Cruise, Simon Cowell, Madonna, Michael Jackson. Granted a lot of them you do just see gate posts and bushes, but still pretty cool! The weather in LA that day wasn't great, grey and a bit rainy, but still warm. We were surprised as we expected more of the sweltering heat of Florida. When the tour was over, we were dropped off on Hollywood boulevard where the famous Chinese theatre with all the handprints in the cement is, and the Dolby (formerly Kodak ) theatre too. There were so many people, all trying to get pictures of the same things. LA is a crazy city, I don't think there's anywhere else you would see a group of clowns waiting to cross the road, two men slow dancing in the metro station, or the red Power Ranger coming out of macdonalds
. Chewbacca, batman and a few more superheroes were just wandering the streets, and after Snellers not letting me meet Spongebob Squarepants in Universal, I was allowed my picture taken with a Transformer ha ha. After taking in all the craziness, we went for some tacos the tour driver had recommended.. Much as we would've liked to have eaten and had a few drinks on sunset strip, in Johnny Depp's bar or a Lady Gaga's favourite hotel, the prices were just ridiculous so we stayed up the cheaper end of town, where the food was still amazing, then went for a beer in a sports bar after being turned down in a slightly more upmarket place as I wasn't carrying any ID (keep forgetting its 21 here!). after a browse in some of the cool vintage shops, and picking up what Snellers now calls my "trucker" shirt, we got the metro back to the main station to catch a bus to Alhambra at around 10pm. Continuing the bad record with public transport, we couldn't find the right bus stop until the bus had already left, so called Jim to come give us a lift home! To give him credit he was great for giving us lifts places! Back home, the three Americans had left to get a motel room and Mike was out, so it was just a cosy night for the three of us!
The next day we had considered leaving for San Francisco a day early just to regain some level of comfort, but unfortunately our hosts already had someone that night so we stuck to the original plan and headed out to Santa Monica beach that day. Mike had mentioned he was going to the LA Dodgers baseball game that evening, so we decided go and pick up some tickets on the gate at 6 and meet him there. This meant we didn't have as much time in Santa Monica as we had hoped for, we actually wanted to see Venice beach too but there was no way we had enough time unfortunately. So we just went for a wander on Santa Monica pier, which was heaving with people, lots of fastfood and games stands and fairground rides
. The beach was also really nice, although we didn't spend any time there (all beached out!). Soon it was time to head back to downtown for the game, we got to the stadium an hour early and got tickets no problem in the reserved seating (as opposed to the bleachers).
It was like the proper American experience, with the big foam fingers, hot dogs and cotton candy vendors etc! We got an extortionately priced hotdog and a beer after the 3rd innings - 7 pounds for a cup of average beer! The game was so much fun, not gonna lie it lasts a looooong time and Snellers accused me of looking bored once or twice, but I actually understood what was going on as it's kind of similar to rounders, ha. Between innings they have things like "dance-cam" and "kiss-cam" and random games on the big screens. We even got to see a dodgers home run, everyone went mental!! It was ace. Definitely hoping to go to another one or two games in the next few weeks, planning our Boston trip around the 8th August so I can see my new favourites the Red Sox at home! After the game there were fireworks, not entirely sure why, possibly because it was a Friday?! But thinking the shuttles back to the station would be really packed we went out to get on a bus, not wanting to be stranded again by missing the bus to Alhambra. Of course we managed to miss the 76 again, getting on the 70 instead which we thought would take us to our road, and it did, but our road turned out to be about five miles long and we ended up the opposite side to which we needed to be! Rather than call Jim to bail us out again, we got in a taxi back home and made out to him that it was a smooth painless journey. Mike had left by then and the two surfers he was meant to have from Canada had turned up, had lunch with him then spontaneously "gone to Disney land" saying they would be back to his later. Unsurprisingly they never turned up!
So LA was definitely a different experience, a bit of a shock after our amazing house and hosts in Orlando that's for sure
! I guess that's what couchsurfing is about, getting to know people you wouldn't normally have met, and we definitely have never met anyone like Jim before.
Next morning we got dropped at the bus station for our first dreaded Greyhound bus experience to San Francisco. We arrived around 9.30 to book a bus at 11.30 which we thought would be plenty of time, but of course, the bus was full and so was the 12.30. We had to wait till 4.10pm for a space, so we bought our 30 day passes and went to a nearby macdonalds for breakfast and free wifi. After demolishing a box if chicken for elevenses, we left for the good of our arteries and went back to the bus station and played cards till it was finally time to leave.
So LA was every bit as crazy as we had heard, from the extravagance of Beverley hills to the massive population of homeless people crawling around the streets barking and singing whilst rooting through the bins! We would love to come back to the area with money and do Disney, universal, and experience some of the hollywood nightlife, but I think two days was definitely enough time here for now, as there is so much more and better things to see in California.. And we didn't even see a celebrity! I think to sum up this place, it has to be seen to be believed!!
The bus journey was 9hrs long, but had wifi and plug sockets so compared to some of the journeys we have had it was pretty luxurious. However, because we couldn't get the earlier bus as planned, we didn't arrive in the city until midnight, and had to get the metro train to Berkeley which was where our hosts lived. The last train was at 12.20, so Snellers strapped on both big bags and I carried all the little ones, and we literally ran 3 blocks to the station. It was only after we bought tickets and triumphantly headed down to the platform that we were told there are two train types and we had bought tickets for the wrong one! By this time we were too late to get BART (metro) tickets. Unsure of what to do next, a tramp approached us and told us about some night bus service we could get.. Foolishly believing he just wanted to help us, we followed his advice and went up to the cash point to get out money. It was when he told us that the bus only took change and so we had to go to a shop and get some coins, I was like this guy is gonna expect some of this change to come to him in exchange for his help. So we told him we would just pay with the twenty note, and he started getting all angry at us calling us "f******g low" and saying we had made him miss his train now etc. Pretty scary. We obviously didn't want to hang around the area, so we jumped in a taxi to Berkeley, which ended up costing us $40 but we genuinely didn't know how else to get there without turning up on a bus which would take an hour and waking up our hosts at 1.30am. When we arrived at Laura and Ruben's, a sleepy looking Ruben let us in and we quickly got to sleep, me on the couch Snellers on the (blissfully clean) floor.
In the morning we were able to meet our new hosts properly and they were absolutely lovely
. Laura is possibly the biggest sweetheart I've ever met.. she works, runs marathons, does yoga, volunteers, sponsors a child in Palestine, organises things for people.. Basically superwoman! Ruben is the male version, having volunteered all over the world, playing every sport known to man, speaking at least five languages and working in a school teaching English to people from overseas. Their apartment was tiny but so cosy, like a little hobbit hole with their bed in the loft! It was an absolute pleasure after our last experience. We all ended up chatting for most of the morning, so me and Snellers didn't get into San Francisco until around 1 (There was a really handy metro line just round the corner, which took us right into the city centre). There, we grabbed a falafel for lunch and wandered along the seafront all the way to fisherman's wharf. On the way we passed Pier 33 which is where the Alcatraz tours go from, and were devastated to learn that tours that went onto the island were sold out until mid August! We hadn't realised they would be that popular! The only tour we could do on short notice was a bay tour which sailed around and up close to the island and under the Golden Gate Bridge, so we planned to do that the next day. We continued along fisherman's wharf, which is like lots of piers, mainly centred around pier 39 where there are tons of shops, live accordion and steel drum style music and food stalls and of course the famous big fisherman's wharf sign. The atmosphere was great, but because it was a Sunday it was really busy. We carried on to the end of the walkway, where the world famous cable car goes from, taking passengers up to market street, the main street. We hadn't even anticipated there being a queue, never mind one that was at least an hour long, so left this till the following day as well and instead walked to a place called Alamo square, which is famous for having rows of beautiful old style pastel coloured houses. It was a long walk, but well worth it
. The weather in San Francisco was so so cold! Being California in July, we had expected sunshine, so I was wearing a summer dress with just a thin scarf for warmth and Snellers was wearing shorts and tshirt! We couldn't believe the difference in temperature between there and LA, obviously being by the bay makes it a lot windier and colder than other places in the state. It was genuinely like English spring time temperatures! When we had seen Alamo, it was getting quite late and Laura and Ruben had invited us along to a friends birthday meal that night, so we caught the BART home to get freshened up. The meal was at an Ethiopian restaurant in downtown Berkeley - we had never even known Ethiopian restaurants existed before never mind been to one. We met three of their friends plus the British girl that had couchsurfed with them the last couple of days who was lovely (very posh!). Ethiopian food was actually surprising good. You order either a kind of curried meat or veggie dish and it comes only with this pancake style sour bread, no cutlery. So you use the bread as like a little scoop to pick everything up with - weird but really good! After birthday cake, we went home to bed, as the guys had work in the morning and us two had planned on heading into the city with Ruben when he left for work at 7.30, so we all had to be up early!
As we left the next morning for San Fran, Ruben was telling us about the car pool system they have in the city, where cars with three plus people get to travel in a special lane over the bridge to avoid queues and pay less of a bridge toll. Ruben usually picks up two strangers from a car pool station by the metro, so was happy to have us to talk to instead. Pretty good idea though to reduce traffic! Sometimes people try zooming through on their own and get caught by the police ha ha, embarrassing. We got dropped right by fisherman's wharf and as it was still only 8am went and got a coffee before taking the cable car, which had nearly no queue at this time
. The cable car was such good fun, the hills in the city are so steep, so going up and down them in an old school cable car is pretty cool. We got off at market street, then caught a bus to the hippy district of haight ashbury, where singers such as Jerry Garcia and Janis Joplin started out! Unfortunately because it was before 10 a.m all the ace shops were closed, which I'm sure Snellers was secretly pleased about. We walked through the area, ending up in Golden Gate park - a lot bigger than it looks on the map. We wanted to walk to the bridge, but after walking around half an hour and still getting no closer on the map, we gave up and got a bus there instead. It was another cloudy, cold day, so the bridge wasn't as visible or striking as it probably would have been if there were blue skies, but it's still majorly impressive. We took far too many pictures of it from all kinds of different perspectives, then walked down to a place on the waterfront called Crissy fields, which is apparently a good spot to view the bridge from. There, we walked onto a big jetty where there were lots of old fisherman fishing, one sitting on the wall next to a huge pelican like they were best of friends! The whole fishing town vibe was really cool, and we watched the men in little rowing boats heading for the bridge before continuing to walk back towards the city centre, intending on taking the Alcatraz cruise at 2pm. On the way back past fisherman's wharf, we stopped for lunch at one of the cheap food shacks, getting 'the original' sour dough bread bowl filled with fresh clam chowder. Even for a non seafood fan like me it was really good, I only really got it for the novelty of the bowl! The bread is baked at a factory on the wharf, the oldest running business in San Francisco, and it's always full of people dining, taking free test samples (like us) and admiring all the incredible things they make out of the bread, like a massive metre long crocodile, teddy bears, turtles! We dragged ourselves away from the amazing smells and over to the Alcatraz pier for our tour
. The tour took us right up close to the island and we could see everything on there, but it just wasn't the same as being able to go on there and see what it was really like to be a prisoner. Snellers was especially disappointed, being a bit of an american history fiend.. We will be going back for sure and making sure we book ages in advance! Back on dry land, we went souvenir shopping along fisherman's wharf and headed back towards Rubens work in case he was going straight home and could give us a lift. He was going to the gym though, so Snellers finally got his long awaited pint of Sam Adams, and then we caught a tram back along the front to the metro station to go back to Berkeley. That evening, we cooked fajitas for the four of us and just chilled out chatting until the early hours. This means we are currently on the bus to San Diego on very little sleep! We only just made this bus though as apparently turning up to the greyhound two hours in advance for a 10am bus wasn't early enough , and we were to be on the 12.50pm bus unless some people didn't turn up! That would have meant getting in to San Diego around 1.30am when no public transport runs, getting to our hosts house ridiculously late, probably sleeping in the next day, and it being a wasted journey for only a few hours in the city. Luckily we didn't have to deal with the dilemma of what the hell to do instead, as we made it onto the 10am bus and here we are a mere 3 hrs in to a 12 hr journey!
San Francisco was an unbelievable city, our favourite so far by a mile. It has so much character, history, and incredible sights music and food, and is probably the most culturally diverse place we have been, with districts for chinese, japanese, Italian, America's first major gay neighbourhood, lots of Hispanic people, LOTS of Irish!... We could easily have stayed longer here but will for sure be coming back to explore some more! Our hosts couldn't have been any better, they were lots of fun, welcoming, and couldn't do enough for us. Thank you so much guys for making San Francisco so amazing for us.
Will update with San Diego in a few days to complete the west coast adventure!
When we arrived at the station the next morning, we were told the bus we intended on getting was full already despite having arrived two hours early to get a seat. The next bus wasn't till afternoon which would get us in in the early hours, meaning we would probably sleep all the next day and end up with not much time in san diego. So we sat for a while debating whether it would actually be worth going at all, maybe just staying one more night in san Fran or going to vegas a day early. Dilemma! However fortunately some people didn't turn up for the 10am bus and we were able to get on after all, thankfully, as I didn't fancy spending the day hanging around with an angry Snellgrove
The greyhound to San Diego took around 12 hours, and we started off on a decent bus with plugs and temperamental wifi, but transferred later on to a dodgy old thing reminiscent of a bolivian bus! We got to San Diego a little ahead of schedule though, and followed our hosts directions to her house, which involved a ride on the "trolley" and a short walk up the street. Becca lived in a cute little condo just outside the city centre, with a really fluffy 18yr old cat called Tara and a half chihuahua half something else dog called Luigi. She was lovely, making us instantly at home with a cup of tea and showing us pictures and telling stories about her extensive Europe travels. When we eventually got to bed it was gone midnight. We had our own bedroom which was a luxury for Snellers after three nights of sleeping on the floor!
Next morning we intended on waking up early to see lots of the city, but talking to Becca the night before it seemed like there wasn't massive amounts to see, so we had a nice lie in before going downstairs to some amazing homemade scones with jam and cream, finally heading out around lunchtime! We got the trolley to Downtown, got off at 5th street which we guessed sounded pretty city centre-like, and took a walk around, happening to stumble upon a mall where we went for a coffee before doing a bit of shopping much to Snellers resentment.. An hour later, it was him who emerged with a bargain new pair of chino shorts whereas I came out empty handed
! Wonders will never cease. By this time it was already quite late, so we went for a quick trip to a beach Becca recommended us called Coronado, where there is a famous hotel where Marilyn Monroe did a lot of filming. After googling the beach we discovered it was recently voted the USA number one beach which is pretty cool! The place was an hour bus ride away, but it was really impressive, the hotel was like a little village of its own with shops, restaurants, and there was some private function going on out the back where an entire hog roast was in the process of being carved just as we walked past! NO Snellgrove we cannot try and "sneak in". The beach was also lovely, although there didn't seem to be any stand out features that could make it the best in the country.. Maybe we didn't spend enough time there! We had a quick wander around, considered getting an ice cream but quickly changed our minds when we discovered they were around 6pounds a small scoop! Then got the bus back to downtown to pick up some groceries for dinner and go back to Beccas. She was out with her boyfriend when we got back, so we made ourselves at home in the kitchen and cooked up a spag bol, under the watchful eye of Luigi. Tara was nowhere to be seen, which I was thankful for as I think I developed a bit of an allergy to her after stroking her for ages that morning - I couldn't stop sneezing and my eyes itched like mad! Weird. Snellers was celebrating as he thinks this now means we can't get a cat! Anyway after dinner we put on a film and chilled out till Becca came back from her date and then we all chatted some more before going to bed
The following morning we had a greyhound to catch at twelve, and Becca kindly offered to drop us to the station at ten so we had more chance of making the bus this time! Finally learnt our lesson after missing one bus and almost missing the next! Luckily there were places left, so we said goodbye to our lovely host and sat down to wait for our bus to arrive. It was such a shame we couldn't spend longer in San Diego, as it was a great city just to chill out in, there were many more famous beaches and lots of good shops downtown. There was also an old Spanish area called old town which we would've liked to have had a look at. The weather here was also perfect.. Not baking hot like Miami and more than likely Vegas, but not cold and windy like San Fran. A nice mix of the two. Two days was definitely not enough here!
So we were finally headed for the city of dreams, Vegas... the nice shoes and shirts/dresses that have lain crumpled in the bottom of the rucksacks would finally get an airing, and we could potentially leave a lot richer (although more than likely will leave broke!) watch this space.