California Love

Trip Start Jun 12, 2011
Trip End Oct 22, 2012

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Flag of United States  , California
Monday, February 6, 2012

We touched down in LA, the city of angels, both feeling the jet lag. Flying in from New Zealand meant we crossed the date line so we arrived on the morning of 3rd Feb, after leaving on the evening on 3rd Feb, wierd!  We checked into a motel close to the airport to recover from the jet lag before heading on with our journey.

Our first real day we took a bus to Venice beach, where we walked around and watched the surf dudes catching a wave California style, spotted 'bay watch' on the beach, saw art installations Venice beach style and some funky graffiti, checked out the local skateboarding talent in the skate park and saw the infamous muscle beach.  We soaked up the hippy vibes and smelt the unmistakeable smell of bohemian characters.  There was a freak show which you could go to if you fancied seeing some oddities but there were also an array of eclectic characters dotted along Venice Beach which kind of rendered paying for the freak show pointless as there was enough entertainment on the boardwalk for free

We then hired some ‘beach cruisers’ and cycled a few km along Santa Monica Boulevard to Santa Monica pier.  Having been featured quite a few times on various TV shows and films, it almost felt like you were in the movies cycling around this place. We stopped on Santa Monica pier for a quintessential hot dog, and walked around looking at the various stalls selling their wares.

The next night we moved onto USA Hostel Hollywood, based just off Holly Boulevard which couldn’t have been closer to the action. We spent the evening being typical tourists and walking up and down the Hollywood walk of fame, as well as going to the Chinese Amphitheatre to see uber famous movie stars hand and foot prints in the cement outside. There was also a constant string of celebrity lookalikes lining the street as you walked along ranging from Michael Jackson(s), Mickey Mouse, Mr T, Rambo to several of the Transformers.

The following day we took the metro to Universal Studios, which was very cheesy but at the same time a very fun day out. We went on the behind the scenes studio tour which took us past the ‘front lot’ which is where all the closed sets are indoors so that they can control all the elements.  It took us past where CSI is filmed which Clare was pleased about.  It also took us through the ’back lot’  which is the outdoor sets where they have New York streets set out which have been used for several films/TV and ads, a western area, and little mexico amoung others.  It also took us through the town centre that was used in the Back to the Future films which has now been transformed to be used for the TV show ‘Ghost Whisperer’, past the house used for the film The Great Outdoors with John Candy, the Bates Motel (Psycho) and Norman Bate’s mother’s house, the Winter Wonderland from Dr Zeuss and the set of the plane crash from War of the Worlds.  We also went to Amity Island and met Jaws face to face, got stranded amid a fight between king kong and a t-rex on the king Kong 3D ride by peter Jackson, the ‘largest 3D experience in the world’, had a subway station collapse on us, and had a ton of spiders crawl over us in the Mummy ride.

As well as the studio tour we went on a ton of rides and met several famous characters.  I think our  (my) favourite ride was the Simpsons as it actually felt like being in an episode which was quite bizarre. There was also an uber fast mummy ride in the dark which made Clare scream like a human banshee and pull a really amusing face when they took the pictures (in hindsight I should have bought the picture for future use ;-)), a Shrek 4D film, a Terminator film/show featuring Arnie and the original characters, a Jurassic Park log flume ride and a Blues Brothers show.  The Americans seemingly revel in European culture and there was a French area and a British street which was complete with red phone box, pubs, a tea room a beefeater man and even Mr Bean’s mini (does it get more British!?), felt like home which was nice.  All in all an awesome day out!  I’m afraid we missed the Superbowl for this but it was worth it.  We retired back to the hostel for some free live comedy and cheap booze in the communal area.  I got chatting to one of the comedians who was a native American and it was interesting to talk to him about his family and culture.

We then headed up to San Francisco as Clare had surprised me by getting us a private room in the USA hostels in the middle of San Fran for my Birthday. On the first day we decided to explore a bit of the city by heading down to Pier 39 on the historic f-line tram to see the Sea Lion colony.  We also took a stroll around Union square and ate some cheesecake from the Cheese Cake Factory nom nom.  We also used the famous cable car to get us up to china town for dinner.  It felt good hanging off the side of the cable car like in the films, whizzing down the hills which make up San Fran.

The next day was my actual birthday, so we had arranged a city tour through the hostel to go to many of the famous sites in San Francisco, my highlights being walking around Haight-Ashbury where flower power began, and seeing the house Jimi Hendrix used as the basis for the song ‘Red House’, seeing the world’s most crooked street, going up to Muir woods and seeing the tallest tress in the world (giant redwoods) which were v impressive, and of course going over and looking at the golden gate bridge.

In the evening we went out to the mission district and ate ‘super burritos’ in a Mexican restaurant, were we met up with one of Clare’s university friends, before going on to sample some of the local ale in a nearby bar.

The next day we headed out to Alcatraz or ‘The Rock’ as it is known world over, home to Al Capone and Robert " Birdman of Alcatraz" Stroud, amongst other figures in the criminal underworld at the time. We spent an interesting afternoon going round the old prison on an audio tour, which was recorded with interviews of old prisoners and guards alike. The tour explained that only 3 people ever escaped from Alcatraz (in one attempt) and were never re-caught. They created fake heads made out of cement and painted up to look like human heads, which were placed at the head of their beds, to give the illusion that they were still asleep. Then they scaled pipes inside the prison, and made it onto the roof through a sky light and over the fence. They had apparently made a raft out of several rain coats, however there is speculation as to whether they made it across and headed to South America or whether they were swept away by the icy cold waters, they have never been found so we will never know for sure what happened to them.

After spending a few days seeing the sites of San Francisco, we then took at flight to Cancun to continue our adventure from Mexico.
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