A Travellerspoint blog

USA

Last Stop - Los Angeles

sunny 31 °C

I had written most of this entry in LA but unfortunately I ran out of time due to my flight. I’ve been back home now a few days and it’s just been mental catching up with everyone so I’m only getting around to posting this now:

Well, it's the final day of my trip. In some ways it only seems like a few weeks ago that I was leaving for Singapore (which was seven months ago). Right now I'm just killing time before my flight in a few hours so at this stage I'm looking forward to getting home and seeing everyone. Anyway, here's what I've been up to on my final few days.

The train ride from San Diego to LA was smooth and fast. The three hours flew by. This time I managed to stay awake and actually enjoy some of the scenery. When I arrived into Union Station I took a bus outside to Santa Monica Boulevard, the place where I would be staying for the next few nights. I thought I had come across enough insane people in San Diego. Unfortunately there would be one more. On my bus this older man ended up getting on halfway through and decided to talk the face off me for the rest of the journey. There was no escaping. He spoke in a very high pitched wheezy voice so it was hard to decipher a lot of what he was saying. There was plenty of smiling and nodding on my behalf. On the plus side, I was offered a job sealing envelopes for 40 hours a week so if I don't get a job when I'm home I have a back-up option!

I met up with my good friend Troy a little later. He flew down from Vancouver to hang out which has been great as LA is not a place you want to be on your own - it just wouldn't be any fun at all. He booked us into the Ramada which was really reasonable price wise and perfect in terms of location. It's without a doubt the gayest hotel I've ever stayed in - over 90% of guests are! I wasn't complaining. Speaking of gay, the whole city is gay ville. You actually have to look around to spot the straights and the whole commercial market is targeted towards the pink pound. Gyms with the gay flag in the window and men posing in minimum underwear in clothes shop feature, along a frozen yoghurt outlet called Yoghurt Stop which actually has disco balls in it! Hilarious. Thankfully there weren’t too many screaming camp queens roaming the streets.

We didn't have much time to sit around and relax on the first day as Troy had gotten us free tickets to a live screening of the Jay Leno show. We headed out to NBC studios and queued for a while before finally being letting in. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take any photographs past the point of entry so the picture below is the closest one I could get. The show generally has some really good celebrities on it but we were in a bit unlucky on this one. We got stuck with Kendra Wilkinson and Tyler Perry. I had never heard of either. Kendra apparently spent time living in the Playboy mansion before moving on to the current series of Dancing with the Stars. Tyler is an actor/comedian who is starring in Madea's Family Reunion, a film that looks funny but is a complete rip-off of Big Momma's House. To be fair the guests did entertain as Tyler was quite funny and Kendra ended up coming across as the complete stereotypical air head many people would presume her to be. I must add poor Jay isn't looking too well these days. I think botox is taking its toll. He comes across well on-screen but off-screen there are few facial movements going on and he's starting to look quite plastic. He was a bit more nervous than I expected considering his experience but after the first ten or fifteen minutes he got into his stride. It was cool to be able to see a show like this. It's just a pity Jerry Springer wasn't on at the same time I would have loved to be in the audience for that (Jerry, Jerry!).

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That evening we took it easy as we were up the next morning for Six Flags theme park. I had been here before a few years ago when I took a day trip visit to LA from Las Vegas in order to go. It’s without a doubt one of the best rollercoaster theme parks in the world. My only complaint about visiting is price. The park entrance itself is just 35 dollars, but when you add in 55 dollars for a return shuttle bus and another 100 dollars for the best fast pass (which is necessary to be honest) it makes for a very expensive day out. However, how many times do you get to this? And I’m a big theme park fan. It was like a military operation getting around the place as it’s huge. We just about got it all covered by the time it was closing. The best rollercoaster I’ve ever been on is in this park - X2. It’s just awesome. That night we headed out clubbing and got to see Kelly Rowland perform live. We didn’t know about it until the evening. She came on and sang her three songs. I was loving it.

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We didn’t stay out too late though as the next morning was another early start, this time for Universal Studios. This is the third Universal Studios I have visited, the other two being Orlando and Singapore (at the very start of my trip). I wasn’t sure about whether to go or not but Troy really wanted to as he hadn’t been before. It was cheaper to do than Six Flags when you take in all the costs and a lot closer by. Many of the attractions are similar to the other geographical locations but there are a few unique rides. The best one was the Hollywood Studios tour where you get to drive past the studios where most American shows are filmed. They bring you through outdoor film sets and then into this cave for a 360 degree Imax experience of King Kong, whilst on a shuttle bus. It was pretty impressive. That night we headed out again and this time it was a late one. I think I ended up getting to bed by 6am. There’s lots of choice club wise in LA and it’s a pretty fun scene to go out on, if a little OTT.

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On Sunday we had a sleep in and headed down to the main Hollywood strip where the Walk of Fame is - it’s funny seeing all the celebrity stars as you walk up and down the street. There is some serious names there too, as you’d expect. One highlight on the way to the strip was our taxi - we were picked up in a Hummer jeep! The comfort and style inside was unbelievable. Only in LA would you have a taxi man pick you up in a Hummer. That afternoon we paid a visit to Madame Tussauds and then saw the film Insidious in the infamous Asian themed Grauman Theatre. That film is possibly the scariest movie I’ve ever watched and I’m a big horror film fan. Make sure you see it! That night we ended up seeing a second film in the Grove Shopping centre near our hotel as we weren’t going out. Scream 4 - load of rubbish!

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The next day we booked the Hollywood celebrity homes tour. It’s a couple of hours long. They first bring you out to see the famous Hollywood sign. Unfortunately though the weather was very cloudy that day so it was hard to get a decent shot on the camera. After that we drove through Beverly Hills where our driver pointed out all the stars’ homes. Below you can see Britney Spears' and Simon Cowell's homes. Before we returned back to the hotel he drove us down the well known shopping district Rodeo Drive where scenes in Pretty Woman were filmed.

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Troy’s flight was shortly after the tour so we said our goodbyes and he headed back on a flight to Vancouver. I moved from a hotel to a hostel in order to save some cash and went to see Rio that night in the Grove Shopping Centre to pass some time. Great film. By this stage the trip was pretty move over so time went by a lot slower as I was eager to get home to Dublin. My flight to London was with British Airways. It was comfortable and I slept for a few hours but it’s not as good as Qantas. I guess I’ve been a bit spoiled by them over the past few months. I had another few hours then to kill in London airport before my flight to Dublin. My mum, sister and niece picked me up and we headed for lunch before I finally got home. It was really strange! And I couldn’t believe the good weather - sun in Ireland and no rain! I was dying to see my house again and finally have some space. The last few days have been spent catching up with friends and I’m now on the job hunt with a few interviews lined up for this week.

I really enjoyed my time in LA and I think it gets a lot of unfair criticism. It’s not somewhere I’d live by any means but for a 4-5 day trip it’s a lot of fun. Just make sure you’re with at least one friend and have plenty of cash because you can burn through money far too quickly here. I’d definitely go back again to visit but not for a long time.

It’s hard to believe the entire seven months is now over. At the beginning it felt like I would never be at this point. I’m going to write one final entry this weekend on some of the highlights from the past seven months. It has been such a fantastic experience. It hasn’t really hit me yet that it’s all over but I know it will once I start working. Until then I’m going to enjoy the last couple of weeks off before it’s back to reality.

Posted by mattld 15:13 Archived in USA Comments (2)

San Diego & Tijuana

sunny 17 °C

I’m sitting here in an internet café a few minutes down the road from my hostel. A large middle-aged man has fallen asleep on his keyboard and is currently snoring the house down. I’ve tried informing the woman working here (like as if she hasn’t heard) in the hope that they would wake him up. She just went ‘yeah he is’. So I’ll just try and ignore him as I type this.

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Sunday was indeed the longest day I’ve ever had – 41 hours! It was all nicely straight forward though I must admit. The flight was just under ten hours. I managed to get the aisle seat I was hoping for, watched a film (Hereafter with Matt Damon, bit rubbish) and then drifted off to sleep, all without the aid of my precious sleeping tablets. I must have been more tired than I thought. When I woke up, it was time for breakfast and I was almost there. I just love it when that happens. When I arrived into LAX airport the security was a pain in the arse. It took me well over an hour to clear not one but two customs desks that did the same thing. And an additional baggage scan. There must be a lack of trust going on with the Americans and their security guards. I thought showing the passport, having my photograph taken, giving them my fingerprints and answering a long line of questioning would be enough to satisfy them. Obviously not! Still, better safe than sorry I guess.

Once I finally cleared customs I took a shuttle bus to the train station and from there a three hour train to San Diego. The scenery on this drive is meant to be great but unfortunately I fell asleep for most of it and missed it! I’ll have to try and keep myself awake on the return journey for a bit of it. After checking into my hostel, I went out for dinner and had a general look around. Apart from the much cooler temperature in comparison to Fiji, the first thing that really sticks out at you are the homeless people. There are a lot of them in San Diego. In fact I found out today there are 10,000 homeless living here, out of a population of just over one million. Scary… In addition on my second day I came across seven different people who were definitely insane – they were just randomly on the street when I was walking around. Most of them are talking to themselves out loud (they weren’t on their mobile or ‘cell phone’). Others just stand there looking spaced out in an almost zombie style fashion. It’s weird, you go to countries such as Laos and Cambodia and you don’t see any of this. But in the USA you can’t escape it. The other stereotype of morbidly obese Americans is also rearing its ugly head (the ones in scooters wearing flowery moo moos) and I haven’t even visited a theme park yet.

Anyway, the homeless, insane and morbidly obese aside, I’ve enjoyed the last few days here in San Diego. It’s a little bit overhyped if you ask me but it definitely is a city worth visiting. On my first day I took a bus to Balboa Park which offers a vast array of attractions including a handful of museums and a massive zoo. I decided to visit the Air & Space Museum. I mainly went for the space section, which of course you had to pay extra to get into. You can view space shuttles, take part in interactive educational games, touch a piece of rock from the moon and view videos on space travel. One good feature there is the infrared camera. You can see a picture of me below – the red parts are the hottest sections.

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After that I stopped by the Science Museum which was free in. They had an IMAX there too so naturally I had to go. You can’t beat those documentaries on those huge screens! I saw Galapagos, a nice little feature film on some of the rare and endangered wildlife on the famous island which is just west of Ecuador.

The next day I took the ‘hop on, hop off’ bus around San Diego city. I got off at two of the stops – one was at the Old Town which is heavily commercialized into a ‘Wild West’ style town. Another stop was at the Marine harbor where you can visit three large ships and two submarines. One of the old fashioned pirate style ships is being used for the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean film. That evening I headed out for drinks with another guy Dominic who I met here and found a nice little bar featuring ‘buy one, get one free’. A very drunken but cheap night was surprisingly had.

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Today I woke up with a banging headache but had no choice but to get up. I booked myself onto a tour of Tijuana, the Mexican border town. It’s only 45 minutes away and I’ve always wanted to visit Mexico. Naturally I’ll go back another time and visit it properly. I had heard a few dodgy reports prior to the USA about going to Tijuana. Stories about police robbing you, holding you hostage etc. had been told to me by more than one person. I was assured by the tour company that if it wasn’t 100% safe they wouldn’t be running it. I met another girl in the hostel who wanted to do it too so we took the gamble. Obviously as I’m writing this, I’m still alive and not locked up in some Mexican prison cell! I wouldn't have been impressed.

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It was a great trip. We only had a few hours to spend in Tijuana. I’m a huge fan of Mexican food so first on the list was getting some nice authentic Fajitas for lunch. A Vietnamese tourist from the bus joined us. It's not often you see tourists from South East Asia as given their salaries most of them unfortunately cannot afford to travel far. However this guy is working as a senior brand manager for a drinks company which explained it. It was cool having a chat about Vietnam with him, discussing the cities I had visited and having a go at some phrases I had learnt along the way. He made a comment that he didn't like the pushy style of the Mexicans. Before I could say 'pot kettle black?' he admitted that the Vietnamese are just as bad. I didn't argue. Anyway, the waiter in our restaurant made our salsa in front of us which I thought was a nice touch. The food itself looked great. I’ll be honest in saying it wasn’t the nicest Fajitas I’ve ever had (there were bones in the chicken pieces) but it was still tasty and nice to finally try Mexican food in Mexico. After that I went searching for a small souvenir and managed to get myself something for three dollars (bargained down from 14). The Mexican people are incredibly pushy. They are essentially all over you like a rash clambering for your dollars. My experience in South East Asia has gotten me used to this type of thing so it didn’t bother me too much. Just smile, say no thanks and quickly walk on. And keep repeating it!

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The final part of the trip involved getting some photographs and an obligatory cheese-fest photograph which you can see below. Even I'm a bit embarrassed by the level of commercialised mozzarella cheese in this one but I paid a dollar so it’s being featured either way. I felt sorry for the donkey (painted as a zebra) so I bought some food for him after.

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On the way back to the border we could see the two large walls separating the two countries. You can see a photograph below. The crosses on the walls signify the death of each Mexican who was killed trying to cross the border illegally. This was quite sad to see…

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When entering Mexico, you’re not required to show your passport (bizarre). On the way back to the USA, it’s like getting into Fort Knox. The queues are incredibly slow and in similar fashion to the airport you’re given a long line of questions to answer. The officer I had couldn’t find my American Visa stamp on my passport – I frantically had to search through the pages for it and for a few seconds I had that awful feeling of ‘what if they didn’t stamp me in LAX?’. Thankfully, they did and I got through – but not before they could ask me ‘why have you been to so many communist countries?’. He was referring to my stamps for Laos, Cambodia and possibly even the Russian Visa I have. Even though they’re no longer a communist country he did scrutinise it quite closely. I kind of froze up and stupidly replied ‘I’m not a communist. I was just visiting as a tourist’. He looked at me straight in the eye for a few seconds with the standard serious face before finally telling me to go through. Phew!

Tonight I’m getting to bed at a decent time as I’m up early for my train back to Los Angeles. I’m meeting up with my Canadian buddy Troy and we have a nice little itinerary planned for the next few days. This time next week it’ll be back to reality at home again in Ireland so I better make the most of it…

Posted by mattld 20:11 Archived in USA Comments (2)

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