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Road Trip USA – Los Angeles

Compared to the other driving stretches we had undertaken, the 125 miles to Los Angeles was a relatively easy journey and we arrived on Friday afternoon at Moonpad Hostel, our residence for the next three nights. It was technically full, so we were offered a beanbags and a couch for a cheaper price, which we accepted without complaint.

The hostel was located around a ten minute drive from downtown and had an amazing view over the skyscrapers that mark the financial district of the city. The evening was spent driving down Sunset Boulevard, seeking out a couple of bars to get a feel for the area’s nightlife, before heading into the hills and negotiating the length of Mulholland Highway to find a spot to see downtown by night.

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The popular Laguna Beach between San Diego & Los Angeles

2am saw our return to the hostel and an uncomfortable night for me on a cylindrical leopard skin beanbag under the stairs. Like a camp Harry Potter.

Saturday arrived and the afternoon was given over to Hollywood; the glitz, glamour, upmarket shops, tourist spots and the hills that the rich and famous call their home. After a bit of research, I found that the best place to see the Hollywood sign from is at one end of Mullholland Highway (6108 Mulholland Highway if you’re typing it into Google Maps). Here, we were right below the landmark and managed to get some great photos.

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The majestic Hollywood sign – smaller in person that one would imagine

Next was the Hollywood Walk of Fame leading up to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. I found it particularly pleasing that musicians such as Duke Ellington and Isaac Stern are given pride of place amongst the Cruises and Schwarzeneggers of the movie world. Perhaps even more pleasing is the fact that I have the same size hands as Tom Hanks; determined, of course, by the indentations in the concrete outside the theatre. By the same measure, I was filled with glee that JC’s hands were the same size as Julie Andrews’.

A leisurely late afternoon drive saw us exploring Wilshire Boulevard and Rodeo Drive, the settings of the famous Pretty Woman, before heading to our hostel to catch sunset over the city and an early night.

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Another day ending over downtown LA

Sunday was to be our relaxation day. Arriving at Venice Beach at midday, we strolled down the boardwalk, drinking in the obscurity; rollerbladers, cyclists, tattoo and piercing parlours, open-air gyms, bikini contests and more “medical” marijuana shops that one can shake a stick at all fighting for space on the narrow stretch of concrete.

We sat on the beach, played frisbee and football, ate Martin’s freshly-cooked spaghetti bolognese and laughed all afternoon. As we were getting up to leave, sirens descended over the area, wailing louder and louder as no fewer than fifteen LAPD police cars and quad bikes raced down the beach. We would find out later that a man had driven his car at full throttle down the boardwalk, killing a woman and injuring eight other pedestrians. A lucky escape for us, I guess.

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Venice Beach wasn’t all bad…

I drove up to the Hollywood Bowl Overlook that evening as the sun was setting. There was a concert happening right below at the Bowl which I would have given my right arm to be at: Gustavo Dudamel conducting Verdi’s Aïda.

A minute later, however, I wasn’t too fussed, as Ron Howard, director of one of my favourite films, A Beautiful Mind, came down from his house above the Overlook and greeted the gathered tourists. I shook his hand and thanked him for directing the film I find so humbling, and he replied, “I made it for you.”

What a dude.

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Our happy group at Venice Beach

The next morning marked the end of our adventure in the most daunting way: a 1,000 mile drive back to Portland, Oregon.

In all honesty, Los Angeles hadn’t blown me away. Out of everywhere we had stopped and spent time exploring, it would be the last on my list to revisit. I feel that tourists go to Los Angeles to look at other tourists and it took for me to witness it first hand to understand that.

I wonder what would happen if, one day, no tourists were in Los Angeles. Would all the attractions go bankrupt? All the streets be empty? Probably not, but Rodeo Drive would get a maximum of three customers and the residents of Mulholland Highway would notice the huge decrease in traffic…

Road Trip USA – San Diego

The drive to San Diego was…well, if I’m being completely honest, a bit dull. 280 of the 327 mile journey is through desert, with the road stretching as far into the distance as the eye can see. Not that it’s not beautiful, but it starts to look a little “samey” after four hours.

We found our hostel at 5pm and met soon after with the five guys we had befriended in Vegas. The afternoon was spent catching up on lost sleep before heading to the famous Gaslamp Quarter for dinner. Because San Diego is so close to the Mexican border, it seemed that one in every three restaurants served their neighbour’s signature dishes.

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Three shrimp, chicken and beef tortillas for $5? Oh, go on then.

A few drinks at the busiest bar in town later and we were all ready for some much-needed sleep. We had parked on the street outside the hostel and the meters would become active again the following morning, so with an alarm set, I was out as soon as my head hit the pillow.

8am came far too quickly and I stumbled out of the hostel to feed the meter. Morning shocks are never pleasant, whatever form they come in, but that morning was particularly horrid; neither of our cars were where we had left them. Had we forgotten to lock them and become victims of theft? In short, no.

We had fallen victim to our own carelessness. The towing company had removed our cars because that particular section of the road becomes a commuter lane from 6:30am onwards. The morning was spent frantically making phone calls and pooling cash to pay the fines of $400 per car. To sprinkle a little salt on the wounds, the police had issued each car $100 worth of parking tickets for the same reason the cars had been towed.

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A ridiculously photogenic surf boarder on the lookout for the perfect wave

With our pockets feeling lighter, we put our heads together to think of free activities and came up with the obvious answer: the beach. Ocean Beach, to be exact. It was overcast, so we walked the length of the pier (the longest on the west coast at nearly 2,000 feet) and ate lunch at a small café perched perilously over the water. It was here that I was cheered up immensely by the offer of unlimited maple syrup pancakes for $6. Challenge accepted.

The clouds still hadn’t parted by the time we were finished, so we drove five miles north to Pacific Beach, where the water was calmer and the conditions were acceptable enough to don our trunks, swim and play frisbee.

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Even with his dislocated shoulder in a sling, Alex is annoyingly good at firsbee

The rest of the afternoon was spent the same way, and at around 7pm, as the sun was gradually heading out of our day to give someone else theirs, Martin and I jumped in the car and set off for La Jolla, where a free classical music festival was starting that evening, presented by the La Jolla Music Society.

As a huge fan of classical music, this appealed to me very much and upon hearing the programme, I could hardly contain myself. On the agenda was Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, a Vivaldi Concerto for two violins and the real excitement, Octavio Brunetti and guests playing tango works by Piazzolla, including my favourite of his pieces: Adiós Nonino.

A video of Piazzolla playing this piece with commentary can be found here.

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Octavio Brunetti and guests lighting up the stage

The evening also gave way to yet another stunning sunset over the ocean, similar to that at Shi Shi Beach in Washington a month previously. (Blog post here).

And that was San Diego; a brief stop in a beautiful city full of life, sports fans, Mexican food, cops with nothing better to do and a whole lot of culture. I could have spent a lot longer than a couple of days there, but we still had to see one more west coast city before making the long drive back to Portland.

I’m referring, of course, to the city of angels: Los Angeles…

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Ciao, San Diego

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