The city of angels - Los Angeles is big, we hadn’t seen a city as impressive from the air since flying into Delhi, the city is enormous and never ending. We were supposed to be picked up from the airport free of charge by a shuttle provided by our hostel but it wasn’t there and later we found out that there was no longer a free pick up, so we had to fork out $30 for the journey through the traffic to the West Hollywood hostel. The a/c trip along the highways was a busy route, passing huge 4×4 vehicles from classic US manufacturers as Dodge, GMC, Cadillac and Lincoln was a real ‘welcome to America, land of the free and home of the gas guzzling 4×4’.
The hostel wasn’t the best but it was OK for a few nights before we head off on our road trip to discover America. It was well located to the main sights of LA so it served its purpose as a good base to see the city.
Although the season was officially fall (autumn) the weather was hot and the sky was clear. A market slash car boot sale was on at a school across the road from our hostel so after dumping our stuff in the dorm we checked it out. We were in a big Jewish area so there was a lot of Jewish shops and cafes but all kinds of people were in the area; cool indie guys and girls, gangster types, eccentric Jews, the beautiful ones dressed like their idols, skateboarders, ageing hippies, actors practising scripts on the streets absolutely everyone lived together here.
From the hostel Hollywood Boulevard was about a 20-30 minute walk. The street is famous for the walk of fame, the stars on the sidewalk which is fun to look at at first but most of them are unheard of. Mann’s Chinese Theatre is what attracted most of the tourists on the Boulevard with handprints and signatures of the stars from today and days gone by imprinted into the sidewalk. It was a bit surreal walking in LA as it almost feels familiar because of its constant air time on TV at home. Passing roads like Melrose Avenue, Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Strip we were literally transported into an open air film set. The mush photographed Hollywood sign stood high in the hills surrounding LA and was visible from the Kodak Theatre, home of the Oscars.
Sunset Boulevard was nearby to Hollywood Boulevard and was next on our itinerary on our first sightseeing day but we were shattered from walking around since the morning so only made it a short distance along the huge boulevard which stretches for miles. On Sunset Strip cruising in a vehicle is an offence, a fine is handed out if your car passes markers more than four times in a two hour period - crazy.
We head back up to Sunset for a night out on in the world famous Viper Room once owned by Johnny Depp and where his buddy at the time River Phoenix died outside and shot the club into the news. The night at the Viper Room was cut short however after a short and poor set by a local band everyone was told to leave and re-queue at the front door as a special guest was to come on stage. We waited for a short while outside on the street to see if we could get back in on our original admission price, black stretch limos pulled up outside and whoever it was entered the club (French band Justice, we later found out). It was all a bit pretentious and we didn’t bother to queue back up to be told ‘your names not down’ as would be the case so walk up the boulevard for a bit having a look at the other famous clubs on Sunset like the Roxy and the historic Whiskey A Go Go which hosted bands like The Doors, Buffalo Springfield and Love and also Van Morrison, Frank Zappa, Kinks and Led Zeppelin!
Beverly Hills was also pretty close so we decided to walk, it was a mammoth walk in the LA sun but it saved us the taxi or bus fare and its almost impossible to get lost in the grid road system. Beverly Hills and tall palms go hand in hand and they line all the sidewalks in the city and Lamborghinis, Corvettes and giant 4×4 Cadillac’s whiz past on the road. Eventually we found Rodeo Drive, the world famous shopping area of the very rich and famous. The area just oozed money. We didn’t see anyone famous but its hard to keep your eyes open in case you do. It was weird to adjust to the fact we were in La La Land, the world that is never off our TV screens and the stars were all around us somewhere. We didn’t see any sign of exaggerated plastic surgery although did hear a conversation from a doctor talking about his new book before jumping into a yellow Lamborghini. We also saw a local celebrity TV news crew chasing after someone but we didn’t see who. We spent a couple of hours wandering around soaking it all in before sitting down for some food in what looked like a super expensive Italian café. A complimentary pesto bruschetta was devoured before a gorgeous pizza while we watched the rich and the beautiful pass by on their daily lives.
After the heavy day of walking we wanted to sit down for a bit and grabbed a cab to the Arclight Cinema to watch a movie seeing as we were in Hollywood it was a must do. The Darjeeling Limited was a new movie about a train journey across India, it was quite apt really so we had to watch it. Right next door to the cinema was Amoeba Music, the worlds largest record store. It was late after the movie but the store was open till 11pm so we browsed around the massive store for an hour before hiring another Russian cab driver to drive us to our hostel.
The next day we picked our car up from Hertz a short cab drive away. We booked online a compact economy car. The saleswoman though tried selling us the dream of cruising along the freeway in a convertible with the top down and wind rushing through our hair. We quickly put a stop to that, it turned out that we were to get an upgrade anyhow to a giant Ford Taurus. The words compact and economical don’t really seem to exist in the American vocabulary. The car looked wrong though with the wheel on the wrong side, no handbrake and with no gear stick just an automatic lever. Driving the automatic was easy enough and quickly learned to not use the left foot. The automatic handbrake was a cool feature and took a while to learn to trust it. It was a bit daunting to think that we had to drive in Los Angeles for the first time driving on the right side of the road but just follow everyone else and you can’t really go wrong.
First thing we did was head out of the city, Los Angeles was cool but there was so much to see out of it that we head straight down Santa Monica Boulevard to….. Santa Monica and the beaches. It was one straight road so it was impossible to get lost.
Santa Monica was a nice place with an enormous beach and a nice promenade walk to nearby Venice Beach. After having seeing no stars in Beverly Hills or Hollywood we got our first break on the walk from Santa Monica to Venice where Vince Vaughn cycled past of a funky bike, we nearly dropped our Burritos when we saw him.
Just south of Santa Monica lies Venice, a district of LA built to replicate the Venice in Italy and was and still is home to musicians, artists and writers. Writers and musicians like Jack Kerouac and Jim Morrison hung around Venice in the 50’s and 60’s and actors like Nicholas Cage and Julia Roberts (and Vince Vaughn!) live in Venice today. Arnold Schwarzenegger made it famous here pumping iron on Muscle Beach which lies in Venice, an open air gym for the gym freakz to show off their muscles. Along the main boardwalk that runs parallel to the beach are souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants and street stalls selling artistic wares some off the walls and some pretty cool. In the middle of it all Hip Hop artists walk around with portable CD players trying to get people to buy there CD for five bucks. Every kind of person walk the Venice boardwalk including the local crazies including the worlds greatest wine-o singing a little ditty of ‘Jingle Bells Jingle Bells, help me get drunk, help me get drunk’. Venice had a great feel to it and we spent quite a bit of time there and decided to stay over a night in a hostel near the beach.