Hollywood, Los Angeles, London and Thrapston…

OK so the title was a bit of a headline grabber but it’s true!

So we arrive at our final day of our holiday, although this is not quite strictly true as we will be travelling from tonight through to tomorrow afternoon UK time so actually it officially finishes on Sunday.

I left Tina in bed as she didn’t get a good nights sleep and had a shave & shower. She soon woke up soon after. We went down for breakfast, which had a good selection, although as usual not much for gluten-free-ites. We returned to our rooms with coffee/tee (yes, very American as you don’t see many without a cup of something in their hands) and finished off packing. We are a bit worried out the amount of weight in our cases but once packed they do seem lighter than when we came over, how can that happen as we have the same amount of clothes?

We checked out of the hotel and agreed that we would return to Hollywood, where our road trip started, for one final look around.

We set off down the I5 towards Los Angeles and in particular Hollywood; the traffic was busy, in particular heading north out of the city, Americans on the way to their holiday weekend breaks no doubt.

We headed for the same area that we stayed at on our first night in California and soon found a car park costing $10 for the day. We then walked the short distance to the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood boulevard. We were surprised how busy the place was compared to last time we were there, although I guessed the Memorial weekend had brought more visitors out. We stopped for a Starbucks coffee and then walked around the shops for a while.

Lunch soon beckoned so we ordered two plates of nachos with the full works. Of course we should have realised by now that American portions are enormous and neither of us could finish the plate full of Mexican food. We then browsed a few more shops before finding a seat close to the water fountains where we sat for an hour or so, people watching. I was then asked by a couple of people whether would take their photos, which of course I obliged. What I should have done was to charge a dollar a time as did the lady at the Las Vegas sign last week. Missed opportunity or what…!

We then took a slow walk back to the car and set the sat nav for the Alamo car rental return depot, that’s close to the airport. Thirty minutes later we were unloading the cases and boarding the bus that would transport us to the terminal. Once in, we dropped our bags off before queuing to get through security. The process is really tight now, with all jewellery and anything metal having to be removed, including Tina’s birthday presents and placed in a tray. I wisely removed all my gadgets and unlike at Heathrow, got through without a bag search this time.

As soon as we were clear, we hit the duty free shop, buying the kids some smellies as prezzies and then grabbed a drink from Starbucks. Unfortunately there was no free wifi within the departure lounge so for the next few hours or so we were without Internet. As we had arrived a few hours before the flight we had wait until 8.30pm before boarding.

The flight boarded quickly and we took off shortly before 9.30 local time or 5.30 UK time and were immediately served dinner and drinks. The flight was a bit turbulent; in fact it was probably the bumpiest time I had in a plane and whilst I was OK with it Tina was in tears. After an hour or so it subsided although there were a few more rough areas during the rest of the flight.

As is normal on these type of planes, I find it very difficult to sleep and only managed to grab a few minutes during the nine hours we were airborne. Towards the end of the flight, we were served breakfast although I skipped it as it was not gluten-free.
After circling Heathrow for 15 minutes we finally touched down around 3.15pm about half an hour earlier than scheduled. We queued for Border Control before collecting our cases and going through customs. We then found the transfer bus to our car and soon were on our way around the M25 and M1. At Junction 14, we swapped drivers and Tina drove the remainder of the journey home.

Leaving Hollywood behind…

Now we’ve experienced first hand the sights and sounds of Hollywood so it was time to move on.

Another unsettled nights sleep, my body clock is stuck in between times and at 3am I was wide awake. Good chance to update my blog and download bits on the hotel’s WiFi as it is super fast at that time in the morning (I guess I’m the only mad fool using it). I did manage to book the final hotels for the last few days of our break; we’re now staying with the mayor of Carmel, Clinton Eastwood. Well staying with him would be a bit of an exaggeration, but I’m sure he’ll be close.

Up and showered by eight, we were out and on the hunt for somewhere to have breakfast and soon found a cafe on Hollywood Boulevard. I stuck with the safe omelette with bacon for a change, Tina french toast. Not sure how much contamination takes place these types of places, they look a bit dumb faced when you mention the words gluten-free?

Back to the hotel for the final time to check out before moving on to hotel number two.

20110516-151437.jpgBefore heading south, we decided to drive past the famous tattoo parlour featured in LA Ink, where Kat Von D does her stuff. I suggested that Tina video the shop as we went past it, but in the confusion of trying to work my video camera she totally missed the shop. A quick detour around the block and this time she saw it just, but only managed to video her knee. Technology is not Tina’s strong point.

20110516-151455.jpgWe then drove down Santa Monica Boulevard, also know as Route 66, singing to ourselves the famous Cheryl Crow song ‘All I wanna do’. Once we reached close to the end of this road we got our first glimpse of the Pacific ocean, a first for both of us. We parked up near the pier and walked down to the beach where Tina paddled briefly (the sea being rather cold and choppy) and I took some photos of the scenery.

Back to the car and we headed towards Long Beach not before driving though Venice Beach. Both Tina and I were not impressed with either areas, it all looked rather rundown. Onto The Interstate Highway 405 south, it was another 45 minutes by the time we arrived at our next destination.

20110516-151504.jpgWe quickly found our hotel but unfortunately the room was not ready for us, so we walked the short distance to the harbour to find somewhere to eat. We decided on a Mexican restaurant and ate a nice lunch in the warm sunshine. We then walked back to the beach near the hotel for a paddle before finally getting our keys and relaxing for the afternoon in the hotel room.

Just before seven we drove a short distance to an Aussie themed restaurant called Outback, which serves mainly grills. I remember this chain from when Matt and I visited Florida as they are good value and the food was OK. The restaurant was in an area that had valet parking; basically someone parks your car for you and charges you for the service. Odd when the place they park the car is only a few yards away.

We entered the restaurant and were shown to a table and immediately offered drinks and bread. We ordered our main courses, checking that my choice was gluten-free and the waitress seemed quite knowledgeable about what items contained gluten. I chose a ribeye steak and Tina chicken which arrived shortly after. Then the waitress said that there was a gluten-free dessert option if I wanted to try it. It was a chocolate brownie, ice cream and cream all piled onto of each other. I went for it and managed to put it all away (it’s not often I get a GF dessert option other than fruit). Tina had cheesecake.

Soon we were given the bill and although the bill was a bit steep at $90 we paid up and left. We recovered the car from the valet service, forking out the $6 fee plus a dollar tip.
Arriving back at the hotel car park I realised I had left my video camera at the restaurant, so we drove straight back, this time bypassing the valet parking. Luckily the staff had found my camera and kept it safe, and even more surprising, said that we had been overcharged for the meals earlier and gave back $41. Wow, that was honest of them and a nice touch.

Back to the room for another early night, this time watching some American TV, or American adverts more like. Pretty much every channel you switched to had adverts showing.

Tomorrow we leave for Las Vegas so it will be an early start once we’ve packed up and had breakfast.

Doing the touristy thing…

So we fly all the way to California, land of the sun only to be woken to the sounds of dripping on the window seals outside due to the fact that it was raining. OK I accept that May weather in Los Angeles can be unpredictable but come on, if we wanted rain we could have gone to Kent!.

Still it wasn’t long before the skies cleared and fortunately we didn’t get wet walking to find somewhere to have breakfast. Unfortunately we couldn’t find anything open in walking distance at 8am on a Sunday morning, so we got in the car and drove along Hollywood Boulevard until we found somewhere open.

The cafe provided me with some much needed nourishment; I hadn’t eaten a meal for some 18 hours so I was starting to wither away (I wish). The cheese and ham omelette went down a treat even though it came with a side order of toast, touching the egg. A quick wipe of the plate/omelette, removing the offending breadcrumbs made the food edible for me and it was all washed down with a strong cup of coffee. Tina also had the omelette and but instead asked for a cup of tea, but that was ignored; I guess the American’s just don’t get our love of the British cuppa.

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Back to our hotel for a quick brush up (teeth that is) before hitting the Hollywood tourist trail. As the famous Sid Graumann Chinese Theatre was only walking distance from our hotel we headed off towards this attraction, with the intention of booking a tourist bus ride to see the sites of Los Angeles. On the way we came across the Walk of the Stars, a number of granite plaques with names of famous show business people inlaid with a sign denoting the area that the were famous for. This row of names extends for the length of the boulevard on both sides of the road and covers pretty much anyone that has been well known in the celebrity stakes (I did notice that there we no so called ‘reality personalities’ to be found, perhaps Hollywood can spot those that wont be around for very long).

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Just before the Chinese Theatre is the famous Kodak Theatre, where the Oscars are held each year. As we walked in there were a number of people taking photos of some stairs leading up to the entrance of the theatre. Not one for missing a photo opportunity I got Tina to stand on the bottom of the stairway and snapped away, oblivious as to why they were famous, having never watched the actual ceremony on TV. Maybe next year I will watch it just to see those stairs and to say…we were there!
At the top of the stairs there is a spot that has been created which is an ideal place to take a photo of the Hollywood sign that adorns the hills above the area. Unfortunately it was impossible to get anywhere near it as there was a bus load of Japanese tourists, each taking it in turn to be snapped with the sign in the background. Eventually I did manage to get some shots of Tina; again enduring my request for her to be my foreground interest.

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A quick coffee at the adjacent Starbucks before we made our way to the famous Chinese Theatre where you are immediately drawn to the cement paving slabs that have been adorned with movie stars hand and foot prints. This tradition goes back to the early 1930’s and there are still slabs being made nowadays, with film star Matt Damon being one of them.

20110516-035922.jpgWe then booked tickets for the tour bus which took us through Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Paramount before returning us back the start. The tour had a commentary running between stops which was informative explaining about the various areas and buildings we passed. Both Tina and I remarked on how different Beverly Hills was to Hollywood, clearly you can see why the rich and famous frequent in this part of LA. Rodeo Drive was particularly refined with many of the shops such as Versace and Prada out of our league; the tour guide kept saying that this is where the stars shop but we didn’t see any.

We passed the last remaining Hollywood film studios, Paramount which still produces blockbusters as well as hit TV shows, the rest having moved to other locations in Los Angeles.

On arriving back at the Chinese Theatre we grabbed some lunch before re-boarding the tour bus to hop a ride to the Farmers Market and The Grove, an upmarket shopping area. By this time we had got a bit sunburnt from the clear blue skies and cool breeze, the rain from this morning a distant memory.

We started to walk back towards the hotel but realised the distance was too great so we hopped back on the tour bus. Unfortunately we got on with the wrong bus company but managed to get away without having pay again. We headed back to the hotel room exhausted.

After a short siesta, we then drove around looking for somewhere to eat ending up back at the Farmers Market where we chose a small cafe diner called Marmalade, which I had spotted earlier in the day and that was very busy meaning it must have been good. We weren’t disappointed although choice was limited, especially for GF options. I plumped for chicken and mash, whilst Tina had tagliatelle, not before demolishing a plate of corn chips between us. The cost of the meal was quite reasonable too at $60 including the obligatory waitress tip. On leaving the car park we got stung for parking, not realising you had to buy something in the market to get the stay free. With no receipt for the meal we paid the $8 charge and drove back to the hotel where we fell into bed exhausted.

Over dinner we discussed what we’d seen during the day and whilst we were impressed by Beverly Hills, with it’s upmarket shops, manicured lawns and posh houses, Hollywood in comparison was the poor relation. It felt tired and unloved. Tomorrow we move south to Long Beach, not before driving over to Santa Monica and Venice beach.

So far so good…

We made it!

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So it’s 11pm local time, which means it must be around 7am in the UK which means my body is very confused.

I managed to get a few hours kip when we arrived at the hotel which is a small and cozy place and which doesn’t seem too noisy, despite being in the heart of Hollywood. We were greeted in a friendly manner by David at the check in desk who was surprised at the price of the room we were paying, a full $60 cheaper than current prices. Tip – book your hotel accommodation early through booking.com to get great deals.

The flight over was uneventful, if not very long; in fact that is the longest amount of time I’ve been in a plane. I can see why people upgrade to get more leg room. Virgin Atlantic looked after us well, although I must remember to pack some gluten free snacks next time as they only seem to worry about the main meal and on an eleven hour flight I did get a bit peckish towards the end.

Tina managed to get through the flight OK, not before shedding a few tears at take off and landing. She also was a bit ratty towards the end; quite normal when she doesn’t get much sleep.

US Immigration was as inefficient as usual; it took us about an hour to get through the fingerprint and retina scanning process; roll on when they get systems that automatically scan our biometrics as we transfer through the terminal from the plane. That would be far more effective if not a bit sci-fi.

We did get a chance to see a sniffer dog at work whilst we queued though. He wasn’t looking for drugs…no he was on the hunt for food and homed in on a bloke in front of us. It turned out he had a banana in his rucksack which is not allowed to be brought in from abroad. His customs card was duly marked but the offending fruit was not removed. I suspect he might have been pulled over later in the queue for a full fruit frisk down. (try saying that after a long flight).

Bag pickup was not too painful, our new bright red cases appeared right on time and we soon cleared customs. A short transfer to the car hire place to pick up the ‘standard SUV’, programme the sat nav in and off we went, making quick progress to the hotel.

On the way we saw our first glimpse of the Hollywood sign, confirming the fact we had arrived at the City of Angels. Shame we were too tired to take it all in. Still sightseeing will be left for another day.

So I guess it’s time to try & get some more sleep; body still says it should be waking up but my brain says ‘shut your eyes’.