We made it to the U.S.A! Flying Premium Economy in Air New Zealand’s new spaceseats was such a treat… unfortunately it’s going to be difficult to return to Cattle Class! We breezed through L.A.X thanks to the friendliest customs officer and our bags being priority baggage. No such luck at the budget car rental company however, where we stood for an hour in line.
It was nerve wracking and hilarious at the same time to get into the opposite side of the car, use the wrong hand to change gears, look to the right instead of the left and drive on the right hand side of the road! James has become quite an expert since then and we’re getting used to thinking in miles, Fahrenheit, USD, ounces, gallons….
We’ve discovered that I can in fact read a map when I absolutely have to… we were too cheap to pay for the rental GPS, so I had to navigate us through LA to our accommodation (and continued to navigate for the next 2 days). Unfortunately some road works and detours posed a serious challenge but we only drove in circles for about 30 minutes before we got on the right track again…in my defence, the free map I had was missing about 60% of the smaller streets!
Our accommodation was a great little suite in a home in Fullerton (near Anaheim). Our hostess Michelle was brilliant and gave us invaluable advice about our itinerary (change it), whether we could do both Disney and California Adventure (no) and which freeways to take to the airport (not the ones we were thinking). It was just a little bit warmer than Auckland in LA.
On Sunday morning we took the car into the city (about a 45 minute drive) to Griffith Park. This is a 1700 hectare piece of land, which is home to Griffith Observatory and the Hollywood sign. A large network of trails runs throughout the park and its a very popular hiking and running spot for locals, as well as film sets. We hiked up to the top of “Mt Hollywood” and clambered off-road a bit to get a good view of the sign. At one point, I heard a rustle and caught movement out of the corner of my eye…. I had just about stepped on a rattlesnake! It slithered quickly in the opposite direction thankfully, although I had already fled about 100m. It’s not true what they say…. I was definitely more scared of it than it was of me.
From Griffith Park it was a short drive to Hollywood, where we did the obligatory stroll down the boulevard and snapped a few pictures with the stars (on the ground, not the real people). Far more glamorous than Hollywood was Beverley Hills which we drove through, including Rodeo Drive. Where James refused to let me out of the car. Probably sensible! The houses in Beverley Hills are like the ones you see on the movies – huge, immaculate and beautiful.
After a long drive through traffic (so many lights!) we arrived in Santa Monica – our destination for the afternoon. The beach is endless and white, the sea bright blue and sparkling and the people tanned, fit and ridiculously good looking. All along the beach are adult ‘playgrounds’ with gymnastic equipment (rings, bars, tightropes) and plenty of people working out. We ambled along the beach to pier (a mini amusement park) for lunch, after which we hired bikes (they didn’t have helmets!!) and rode to Venice Beach. The scene here is very different, much more alternative and somewhat more colourful. The boardwalk is one long marketplace, and there are many street performers (from great music to “circus freaks”).
We stopped for a while to watch some roller skaters who were roller-dancing…. someone had set up a stereo and anyone was welcome to roll in and dance. One man even joined in without skates!
Monday was DISNEY DAY!
We arrived at the park at 9:15am, and didn’t leave until 7:30pm. It was truly magical…. like stepping into another world for a day, we felt that removed from reality. It was everything I’d dreamed of as a child and more. The rides aren’t really thrill rides as such, but the main appeal of the park is it’s set up. Every street, tree, building has been built with a theme and the detail is so intricate its easy to believe you’re in a Disney movie. In Fantasy Land we rode the teacups and the Materhorn, in Tomorrow Land we screamed our way around Space Mountain, we gazed in awe at the Indiana Jones temple in Adventureland – which was not only a façade but a real set inside with tunnels, and artefacts.
New Orleans square featured the Haunted Mansion with incredible special effects, Frontier Land, designed to look like Settler’s America was where we rode the famous Thunder Railroad Mountain. James got soaked on Splash Mountain in Critter County and we rode the Disney railroad right round the park; including through a display of moving, eating, roaring dinosaurs. Although we spent a lot of time waiting in lines, our fun wasn’t spoilt and we left the park exhausted but thoroughly satisfied.
It was a brief but enjoyable stop in LA, and on Tuesday we caught our flight to Las Vegas… which is another post altogether!