Stopover 1: Los Angeles
Eleven hours and three movies after some tearful farewells back home, we touched down in LA: alleged City of Angels. I have a habit of singing any songs relating to a place upon arrival, so it was time for some Red Hot Chili Peppers while waiting at passport control… shame I don’t know the words…
“You’re only here for three days?” asked an incredulous immigration officer.
I always find it funny how seriously Americans take their immigration controls (obviously everyone wants to live in the States), but when you say you’re only passing through it’s almost like a personal affront. Sorry hon, it’s Aussie I want to see this time!
When we finally emerged it was to a nice sunny afternoon – though jetlag ensured that we felt as if it were 2am already. The hostel pick-up van arrived and in we bundled, ready for a scenic trip round LA’s highways en route to the Surf City Hostel at Hermosa Beach (US$15-19 for a dorm bed).
Why did we decide to stay so far from the more usual Santa Monica and Venice Beach? Most of it was because this hostel is right on the beach, but also to get away from backpacker-crazy areas for once. There turned out to be a small plaza too, with a handy bottle shop and tasty pizza place which mounts plaques in honour of those who can finish an extra large plate full. A good choice, I reckon: the hostel itself was really good – walls covered in murals, friendly people, no shortage of cheap beer and duty-free – and just that little bit less manic than a backpacker haven (though not by much!).
So, what did we visit in our three days? Not much I’m afraid – though the sun did work it’s magic to give us a nice pair of tans!
Just like Baywatch
Day One was devoted to a little R & R, and after going to bed at 10pm (6am UK time) we were quite proud of ourselves when we woke up at the reasonably normal time of 8 o’clock. First, a wander down Hermosa Beach’s pretty little pier. This was nothing like the pier in my home town – a large Victorian thing, topped by a drab theatre (home to ageing soap stars in the summer) and cheap kiddies rides – but a practical fisherman’s pier: seats, sinks and all. It even gives you a nice view up and down the coast, Baywatch-style lifeguard huts all over the place – though the smog over central LA did spoil the overall picture.
That done, we took a stroll up the beach toward the next pier – Manhattan Beach (no skyscrapers visible). Nothing special, but it was very relaxing to go paddling and muck about in the sand – and for once the water was warm too! If you’ve ever tried swimming in British waters you’ll know what I mean. The buildings along the strand were a nice contrast, a lot of them wooden and painted in pastel colours, Stars and Stripes everywhere in typical patriotic fashion. You don’t get that much at home either – for some reason the country has played down its roots while becoming more multicultural, rather than trying to promote itself.
On the way back we stopped to look at a surf school for a while, lots of kids (colour-coordinated for the teachers’ benefit) trying to ride the waves and getting just a little bruised in the process. Tempting, but must be patient until Australia! Ah yes, and I bought myself a neon green bikini. Not at all bright (honest!). I could do with losing about half my body weight to make it look good though!
Day Two was the madder of the two days, though it could have been even more involved had we taken the hostel’s city tour. They offered the chance to see as much of LA as any one person can manage while the sun’s up, but somehow the idea of rushing from place to place without taking our own time to walk around didn’t appeal as much. So what did we do? We caught the bus to Hollywood.
Public transport in LA isn’t exactly the easy option, we discovered: even if you wait for half an hour, buses don’t turn up in threes, but that’s because they only come along once an hour. It is, however, much cheaper than a tour, taxi or rental car. You also get to see a fair bit of the city on your way, which in this case spanned some of poorer areas as well as the lusher regions of Hollywood itself.
Hollywood Boulevard was, unfortunately, just how I’d imagined it: full of kitsch and tourists. But then, how else could a homage to the movie industry look? So down the road we strolled, gaping along with all the other tourists at the cemented hand and footprints by the Chinese Theatre – even R2D2 and C3PO, bless ’em – and the pink stars embedded in the pavement – Tom Jones rules! The souvenir shops were satisfyingly tacky too (I was sorely tempted to start collecting pressies there and then) and Superman, Crocodile Dundee and Marilyn Monroe were out to say hi to their fans too. A look at the infamous sign made it all the more real, though we didn’t have to time to go to the observatory in those hills and look over the whole city.
Next stop after the world’s movie capital: Downtown LA, though since the bus didn’t quite stop in the centre we ended up walking through cardboard city near the Toy District for a while. No toy shops in sight though. Soon we were closer to the gorgeous skyscrapers (it’s always funny to see skylines glimpsed in assorted movies) and then made our way toward El Pueblo de Los Angeles. This is a white-washed block filled with Mexican shops and restaurants near Union Station – plus a fountain that nearly became our swimming pool, it was that hot – and Chinatown is just past it. Both were great, really colourful, and quite different to the other areas we visited that day – a good contrast to the rat-race only a few blocks away.
The joy of airports
What do you do when you have to check out of a hostel fairly early, but your flight isn’t till midnight? The hostel will let you leave your bags behind, but you want to visit the other end of town (Santa Monica to be precise) and can’t be bothered to come all the way back in the evening?
We thought we had a logical solution – go to the airport and see if we can check in early, and if that doesn’t work leave the bags in luggage storage. One small problem though: Air Pacific wouldn’t open their desk for another four hours and the lockers would have cost us a crazy US$60 – more money than we had left, and even if we did we’re a stubborn pair and wouldn’t pay up. Plan C? Hang around and wait for the desk to open.
It was as boring as it sounds, though LAX’s large international terminal does have a fair few shops plus a tasty food court. We were lucky enough to get a table by the window and watch the planes pass by, broke open a pack of cards, and settled down for a few games. Other activities included chatting to an American lady on her way to Europe for a choir tour, reading the newspapers and running down to see if the Air Pacific desk was open yet. If it opens at 4pm, we told ourselves, there’s still time to visit some part of LA for a few hours. No such luck, as 4pm stretched to 5pm, and so on until 8pm. By this point neither of us could see the point of battling with public transport once more.
Sophie’s Final Thought
Stopovers are great, but ours bit back a little – perhaps LA doesn’t want to be visited for such a short while, so arranged a little revenge for us. Never mind though – I still enjoyed our time there, and for Rob it was his first time in the US.
We’d made the decision to save our money for Australia, and of the two stopovers Fiji was likely to be the cheapest, so I don’t regret the choice to only pass through. I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of the ocean than the runways though!