A 10 hour flight from Nadi, Fiji to Los Angeles, California, USA passed relatively quickly and without incident. In fact there was more incidents in the hour after we landed whilst attempting to pick up the hire car.
We jumped off the plane at LAX at one of its 9 massive terminals and slowly made our way through the notorious US customs without a hitch (I did think the tan and beard which I’ve accumulated might pose an issue but thankfully not) and then made our way to the car rental place. I have to admit I became a bit of a diva here, but in fairness we did pay for a decent SUV and they tried palming us off with some tiny Hyundai Santa Fe, so I kicked up a small fuss and they upgraded us to a huge Ford Excusion. It’s properly massive, quite like a lot of the other cars on the road over here, and I certainly feel significantly more manly driving it. We were going to call it ‘Gord the Ford’, but I prefer to just call it ‘The Beast’. Anyway, after we picked it up, there was a massive queue trying to get off the car park and most of the drivers were starting to get a little twitchy, suddenly one fella tried getting through an impossible gap and smashed into a fellow rental customer. Silly billy. This actually helped us jump the queue and we sped out as we were starving and went straight to the nearest MacDonald’s. I know it’s bad, having a Maccy’s, but this is America folks.
Venice Beach is a hugely popular and famous area – very bohemian and hipster. Walking the Boardwalk is one of the number one suggested tourist activities and it just so happened that there was a quite a large looking gig going on whilst we were staying there. Unfortunately it was invite only and ours must still be in the post so we couldn’t go. It was a Tommy Hilfiger sponsored event called Tommyworld and apparently Snoop and Taylor Swift were playing. You could literally hear and see it from the hostel (if we were actually in when it was on).
When the sun rose on the next day we decided to go for a wonder down the boardwalk to see what we could find. It’s certainly an eye opening mix of cool surfer dudes, homeless people, weed-smoking hippies, juiced up muscle men (Muscle Beach is actually part of Venice Beach), tourists, skate boarders and unsigned rappers trying to flog you their demo CDs against a back drop of vintage clothes shops, tattoo parlours, chic cafes and cannabis doctors. That’s right cannabis doctors. Weed is legal in California, with a prescription, and littered down the Boardwalk are these dodgey doctors that will give you a prescription and weed for a small fee. The stench of weed all over the place is fairly overpowering actually.
We rolled through Muscle Beach – the open air gym where big guys flex their guns (I’m sure it was made famous by Schwarzenegger) – although the place was deserted as soon as I ripped off my tee and threw out a chin up or two.
We then decided to head over to The Grove, another one of the places on the hit-to-do-list. The Grove is a real up-market shopping centre. Fancy fountains, posh shops and even a small shiney gold tram which will take you around the place. Towards the south of the place is a funky farmer’s market where we grabbed a lush burrito and a doughnut. We then decided to go to the old skool looking cinema and watched a new film called Gold. Check it out if you can it’s decent! Prior to going in though, we walked past a place called ‘The Cheesecake Factory’ and given we’d never seen one before, we thought we’d give it a go (Milly had to ask if they actually served cheesecake first though as we didn’t believe that they just sold cheesecake). FYI… it was very nice.
Next day we got up very excited as we’d planned a trip to Universal Studios! This had been firmly on Milly’s radar as soon as she had heard there was a Harry Potter World and it certainly didn’t disappoint. It was a baking hot day which was just perfect so we made tracks from Venice over to Studio City and Universal Studios. Before I go on about the day, let me tell you that LA is huge and there is an abundance of traffic. They don’t really have a train or subway network so everyone gets around by car and considering the city has about 20 million people, you can imagine how that plays out.
Universal Studios is like a small town. It has a massive food court, shopping centre, bars and night clubs and a theme park. We had a stroll about and took in all the huge advertisements and wonder of the place and grabbed some food before heading into the theme park. As you can imagine, it’s very grand from the get-go. Before you get in there is the iconic spinning Universal Studios globe which you see before any Universal movie then once you’re through the entrance there is another sculpture of various director/producers posing a-top a fountain enhanced with steam.
We headed straight on over to the Harry Potter World section so I could calm Milly down – her excitement at this point had become unbearable – and jumped on the main ride which was situated in the very well put together Hogwarts School of Magic. It was a cool ride which mixed together projected visionary and motion effects of you flying around the quidditch pitch and school on a broom stick before being attacked by Hagrid’s escaped Dragon which jumps out at you and breathes heat and smoke over the cart in which you’re sitting. It’s not really a rollercoaster, well it’s not at all actually and it’s difficult to find a class of ride for it but it’s good craic as long as you don’t suffer from motion sickness or have a hangover. We ended up going on it twice so it couldn’t have been that bad. Milly has since stated that it’s the best ride she’s ever been on.
The whole area of Harry Potter World has been expertly created, they haven’t skimped on it, it’s looks really authentic. You can even buy Butterbeer which I’m told all the little wizards and witches are dependent on in the books; naturally we had to give it a go and although it is very, very sickly one breif swig is relatively pleasant as it tastes like a fizzy butterscotch broth.
You can meet the train conductor at the entrance to the area, who puts on a ludicrous English accent. You can bob into Ollivander’s wand shop where you can purchase a wand (there is a little ‘show’ that they put on in here and we queued for a while to get in and see it only for Milly to be terribly disappointed that she didn’t get picked by the actor playing Ollivander (a young child did) and we (Mill) therefore left with frowns on our foreheads), there is a Hippogrif roller coaster (which you shouldn’t bother queueing for as it’s over in less than 20 seconds), there’s a funny little play that some actors put on with singing frogs (which Mill tells me is something aligned with the books) and there’s also a number of other gift shops where you can purchase shit like chocolate frogs, wizard robes and exploding bon bons.
The Jurassic Park ride – Could do with a bit of updating as it came out around the time of the first Jurassic Park movie, but it’s still good fun as you make your way around a dinosaur enclosure on a sort-of boat type thing until you hit a huge downhill part at the end and get soaked. Quite similar to a log flume I suppose.
The Mummy rollercoaster – (quite possibly my favourite) You went through some dark crypts in a rollercoaster cart, both forward and backwards, being chased by large dead Egyptians.
Transformers – This was a wicked 4D ride where you have 3D glasses on and whilst inside a cart, it throws you in front of projected screens and the Deceptocons battles the Transformers and the cart which you’re in is playing a role in the battle. All the time you’re getting rattled around and thrown about with air being blown in your face and the odd splash of water is drizzled about the place. We had some mad guy in the row behind us screaming throughout the entire ride which was a tad off-putting but it was still thoroughly enjoyable all the same.
The Universal Studios tour – A decent hour tour on a sort of bus like thingy which takes you all around the sets which get used in productions and large aircraft hangers sized studios which they kit out for many of the large films you see at the flicks. Plus there are a few special effects which they use on you along the way with the aid of 3D glasses which makes its a really fun tour.
The Walking Dead – Don’t bother going on this. You have to walk through an apocalypse’d up hospital and people with zombie masks jump out at you. A lot of the people which were in our vicinity were getting very scared and almost caused a stampede – ignorant twats. Plus I have to say that I found the haunted house in Luna Park, Sydney more scary.
There is also a Simpsons’ world which hosts everything Simpsons and is very cool along with tons of crap you can eat. Just outside the theme park is a shop called Sugarworld and the place unforgivably sells nothing but shit for your body in excessive amounts. The biggest bag of M&Ms you have ever seen, about 2 litres of Hershey’s chocolate syrup and a lifetime’s worth of pick and mix. You get a sugar rush just from the smell of the place as you walk in (Milly said it would be Livs dream world).
Quite tired after the day’s activities we headed back to Venice Beach, grabbed a cheeky pizza from a place across the street and called it a night.
The next day brought with it some soggy weather and although it was quite warm, you couldn’t see very far, which, was a bummer because we were going over to Beverley Hills to take a look at the famed Hollywood sign.
We first of all dropped off a friend we’d met at the hostel at Universal Studios (a german lass with narcolepsy who kept falling asleep in the car) and we then headed over Mulholland Drive (a scenic lookout road with some very plush gaffs on it) to Griffith Park. Griffith Park is a huge national type park place with lots of trails around it, set at the foot of a mountain range. Located in its centre is a huge observatory which you can go inside and tour the place, learning all about the stars and the rich people who have donated to create the centre.
The park also boasts some great views of the Hollywood sign. Some of these views are only accessible by reaching paths which are inhabited by rattlesnakes. Despite signs telling you not to use them, Milly wouldn’t be detracted and I was forced, unwillingly, to walk these death-paths so we could get a decent shot of the sign.
After a good half day of ‘fun’ in the park we decended into Hollywood to see what stars we could find on the Walk of Fame. We grabbed a Denny’s lunch before walking the water logged streets of West Hollywood. Marvelling at the history of the place and of the feet which have frequented its pathways. The place isn’t what I expected and its actually rather seedy. A few sex shops here and there and a good number of alcoholic homeless people who have their faces caked in tattoos. I was expecting clean streets with celebs just meandering them; botox centres next to posh jewellery stores paying the rental premiums of the place. We did manage to see a great number of the stars (theres 4,000 stars on the Walk of Fame) although we didn’t see Elvis Presley’s or Leo Di Caprio’s, which we were a tad disappointed about.
Evening came and we arranged to meet a friend of mine from back home – Charlie. Charlie has been out in LA for a number of years now working in the film and TV industry. Himself and his lovely partner Tia had us over for a few beers and a chinwag and we went into Silver Lake, near to their house for a lovely ‘pub’ dinner and a few drinks. We also got to meet their charming terrier, Mokito, who we could have played with all day.
They very kindly agreed to foster and entertain us for a couple of nights at their abode in Silver Lake, a classy LA suburb. And in return for their hospitality we gave them some sound advice – watch Black Mirror!