June 4th -9th
It took about four hours to drive from Death Valley to L.A., and the first two hours we didn’t see a sole, let alone a gas station. Then, in an instant, we went from the middle of nowhere to a metropolis of 20 million people with 10-lane highways buzzing with traffic. Luckily, we had the nifty GPS to help us navigate through the maze of turn-offs. However, the GPS doesn’t always prevent us from doing stupid things. I crossed into the carpool lane over a double white line (apparently this is a big no-no according to the cop that was behind me.) She took pity on me though with my Florida tags and license, and let me off with a small lesson on L.A. traffic laws. A half an hour later, we arrived in West Hollywood to the welcoming home of Michelle, Owen and Puppy.
Michelle and Owen are good friends of mine from high school- they’re now L.A. transplants and live in a charming little Spanish-style apartment in West Hollywood. First stop on our sightseeing itinerary (after a necessary shower of course) was a local beer festival- it did not disappoint us. Evidently, micro-brews are more intoxicating than the mass-produced kind- we were all feeling the buzz after sampling a couple of brews, so we went to one of their favorite local pubs for a spicy dinner (I had the buffalo chicken sandwich and Fabien had pulled pork with jalapenos…) We slept in Sunday morning before going to brunch in a cute little cafe/bookshop with an outdoor patio. The weather was beautiful and cooler than in the desert. From there, they took us up to a place for a great view of the Hollywood sign where we took the requisite photos. Next stop was the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market which focused on yummy organic fruits, vegetables, cheeses and meats. We took a walk along the Santa Monica Boardwalk and up to the pier to catch some great views of the fishermen and pelicans. Michelle drove us up to Malibu past the famous beach where they filmed Baywatch (no signs of David Hasselhoff though.) Most of the beach access is blocked by the lucky homeowners. After a fun, long day, we made dinner at home and caught up on old times.
On Monday, Fabien and I decided to venture in to Downtown L.A. on our own. We walked to Hollywood Boulevard, the strip popular with tourists (with the Walk of Stars and Chinese Theaters) and caught the metro to Union Station. Union Station is a beautiful refurbished train station with Spanish colonial architecture inside and out. Across from the train station is el Pueblo de Los Angeles, the oldest part of L.A., where we visited the Avila adobe, the oldest house in L.A. (now a museum), the famous Olvera street with its Mexican souvenir stands, and the old church. From there we headed towards Little Tokyo and stopped off at the City Hall on the way. After passing security, we took the elevator to the top floor which has a viewing platform with great views of the entire city. We marveled at the plethora of helicopter landing pads perched on top of the skyscrapers below. There was habitation as far as the eye could see in every direction. Before exiting the building, we visited the rotunda and an excellent exhibition of black and white photographs of old L.A. In Little Tokyo, we were inspired by a Japanese Supermarket and proposed to Michelle and Owen to make sushi at home. We picked up all of the necessary ingredients, Michelle went in search of fresh fish, and we met up at home for a sushi maki lesson. From beginning to end, it took us about four hours, but the result was delicious.
We took it easy Tuesday morning before driving down the scenic Sunset Boulevard to the Getty Museum, a pretty Fine Arts museum perched on a hill overlooking the ocean and Beverly Hills. There was an interesting photography exhibition about Cuba, featuring photography before, during and after the Cuban Revolution. Some of the pictures of Havana with the dilapidated buildings that were once fine architecture reminded me of Bucharest. From the Getty we drove down to Santa Monica, where we were meeting Ana Rosa, one of my college roommates, who also lives in L.A. We sat out by the beach and drank lemonade, catching up on each others’ life stories before going to a very yummy Italian place for authentic Italian pizza. Michelle met up with us for dinner and then we took a walk down Santa Monica’s 3rd Street, an animated pedestrian shopping area.
L.A. Day Trip: Joshua Tree National Park
Wednesday, we were ready to get some fresh air (it was getting smoggier and surprisingly colder in L.A.) We took a day trip with Michelle to Joshua Tree National Park, about a 2 ½ drive east of L.A. The first stop off was at a California Welcome Center which ran along the old Route 66.
We started to see some of the ubiquitous Joshua trees as we neared the entrance of the park. In fact, the Joshua tree is not a tree; it’s part of the Lily family. It was named by Mormons who were reminded of Joshua raising his hands towards God. They reminded me of the Saguaro cactuses which we saw in Tucson. We did a couple of nature walks through some impressive rock formations and found a cozy picnic spot. The most exciting part of the visit was at the end of the day when we took a short walk to the 29 Palms oasis. This once natural oasis, which is now artificially maintained by the park service, is a popular spot for sighting animals…we saw a bunch of cottontail rabbits and quail enjoying the rare water source in the desert. We stopped off for some ice cream on the way back, but skipped a stop in Palm Springs (it was getting late and we had long drive back to L.A.)
Thursday morning, we said goodbye to our good friends and fabulous hosts and packed up the car once again. We did have one more stop before leaving L.A., though: Warner Brothers Studios. We took a very expensive, but interesting tour of the studios, where we got to see the sets they used in E.R., Friends, and numerous other films and T.V. shows. We also visited the building where they rent the props, and the set of the Ellen Degeneres Show. We left with a complimentary souvenir, a photo of Fabien and I on the set of a Harry Potter film (apparently HP is all the rage now, but we are a little behind the times.) It was time to head north and visit the beautiful Pacific Coast.