City of Angels

Trip Start May 18, 2003
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United States  , California
Saturday, April 9, 2005

I arrived this morning after a relatively boring flight from Boston. I have come to realise that United Airlines are not the best people to fly with in terms of on-board entertainment. The food is average and the films are shown on large projection screens at the front of each cabin area. So you don't get to choose your movie and have to hope that no tall people are sitting in your line of sight. Having said that, United Airlines do have a rather good self check-in terminal where you can select your own seat.

On arrival at LAX I took the shuttle bus for $15. The hostel I was going to usually has it's own free pick up shuttle bus, or so they said, but not today apparently. It took over an hour to get to the Orbit Hotel on Melrose (in West Hollywood). At $18 per night in fairly standard dorm rooms, this hostel was okay but no way near as good as the Green Tortoise in San Francisco. The main advantage of staying here was the location - close to everywhere I wanted to go. There was no guest kitchen but the on-site chefs cooked up some pretty decent budget meals.

I had been to visit L.A. on two previous occasions; once in 1996 and once in 2003. In 1996 I spent most of the time in downtown L.A. which was not a very nice place to hang out. In 2003 I spent the entire day at Hermosa Beach which was a really cool place to visit, but did not really feel like being in L.A. So this was the first time I was spending some time visiting tourist attractions that I associated with being in Los Angeles.

From my base in Melrose I did lots of walking around during this weekend. And at all times of the day and night. The part of West Hollywood I was staying in seemed very safe and I was quite happily walking around on my own late into the evening. I walked along the Stars Walk of Fame and visited the famous Chinese theatre on Hollywood Blvd. I got as close as I could to the Hollywood Hills and photographed the famous Hollywood sign (just in case you are wondering, the letters are quite big but they are also quite far away). After meandering down Sunset Strip and visiting the House of Blues (a very cool Rock music venue) I boarded a bus to Santa Monica Beach. The bus journey there took an hour ($3 for a day pass), and reinforced how large this sprawling city is.

The pier at Santa Monica Beach has a small amusement park on it and various buskers & artists selling their wares. I think I saw six different "paint your name in colourful calligraphy" stalls at different points along the pier. In true Hollywood style some filming was taking place today also. This is the pier that Michael Douglas was heading for in the 1993 movie "Falling Down", and I think I found the exact spot where he was confronted by Robert Duvall. Santa Monica also has plenty of shopping and entertainment, concentrated in a pedestrian zone that spans several blocks. Top Tip: there is an Apple Computer store here that has Internet enabled machines on display, and they didn't seem to mind people using them to check email.

A little further south along the beach from Santa Monica was Venice Beach. This is where the famous Muscle Beach is located, an outdoor gym where muscle men show off. Schwarzenegger had been spotted training here many years ago, before he became an actor and now governor of California. There was some more filming taking place here, this time for a small car advert!

The atmosphere at these Californian beaches was very bohemian, relaxed and chilled out. There were lots of homeless people sleeping rough in parks under trees, street performers, arts & crafts, tourists and locals. All enjoying the California sunshine. I liked this area enough to spend two of my three days in L.A. at the beaches. Also on my itenary was the Magic Mountain amusement park, but if I had known that it was closed on weekdays during low season I would have spent my time a little differently; as I really wanted to experience the famous roller coasters there.

On Sunday evening I went to Benitos for dinner. It was recommended to me by the staff at Orbit, as I was after some good Mexican burritos before I left California. I was not disappointed - the food was pretty good. While I was tucking into my veggie burrito, sitting at one of the plastic tables in this 24 hour joint, a small fire started in the kitchen. All the customers could see the flames but no one seemed to be alarmed as it was such a small flame. The two staff struggled with the safety catch on the fire extinguisher before a young chap volunteered to do it for them.

After dousing the fire with the powdery contents of the fire extinguisher it continued to flicker. At this point one of the staff phoned the fire brigade. All the customers, including myself, were still happily enjoying our meals (except for the unlucky customers who were still waiting for their order). When I finished my meal I left Benitos to catch a bus along Franklin to get back to the hostel. As I waited at the bus stop I heard the sound of sirens in the distance. Twenty seconds later no less than three fire engines and two fire trucks turned the corner and pulled up outside Benitos, stopping traffic. A little overkill I thought, but the following day Benitos was closed so perhaps the fire (or extinguisher) damage was more extensive than I thought.

On my last day in L.A. I did a little window shopping at the Bevely Center, where you can pick up free vouchers from the customer service desk if you are a foreign tourist. I only used a couple of my free vouchers, one to get a free massage at an aroma therapy store. Just what I needed before getting back on a long haul flight to Australia.
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