We were extremely thankful to arrive in Los Angeles as our journey from the Philippines via Japan had been pretty traumatic – I'll add a post about that at some point.
Upon arrival the U.S. actually felt pretty strange rather than familiar, and it took a while to adjust to speaking to people for whom English (albeit American English) is the first language. Towards the end of our trip Monique and I had talked about a number of things we were looking forward to when we arrived in the U.S. - mostly food related. It may seem strange for us to have talked about such things when we were usually eating pretty good food, but anyone who has travelled for an extended period of time will understand that no matter how good the food it elsewhere, you'll still crave more familiar food at times (and the versions of Western food available throughout Asia really don't hit the mark). Our first “luxury” after checking into our hotel in L.A. was take-away pizza from Papa Johns, and boy did it taste good!
After a long sleep we hit Universal Studios on our first full day in L.A.
I'm sure I don't need to go into much detail, but Universal Studios is pretty cool. When booking the tickets in advance we discovered that a 2 day pass is actually only slightly more expensive than a day pass, so we opted for the former. This was definitely a good idea because it meant that we didn't need to push ourselves to do everything we wanted whilst being jet-lagged and meant that we could visit the park in a more relaxed way than we would otherwise have done. We had a really great time. Highlights included: the Transformers 3D ride (a disorientating 3D experience where it's hard to work out when you're moving and when you aren't) which was so good we rode it 5 times; the Jurassic Park ride (essentially a log flume with dinosaurs) on which we got absolutely soaked about 4 times; the Mummy ride (a really fun rollercoaster) which helped to dry us out; the tour of the studio lot itself (which included the Bates Motel from Psycho - where Norman Bates was home and not very happy about us being there - and a 3D King Kong section); and various shows including Waterworld (much, much better than the film itself), Shrek 4D, and a demonstration by some of Hollywood's animal stars.
The only downside of Universal Studios was the difficulty of adjusting to the size of the people there. As everyone knows, on average Americans tend to be a bit larger than most people, but after 6 months of being giants in Asia (as Monique is taller than most of the men we encountered, let alone the women) it was quite shocking to see so many overweight people slurping from huge refillable soft drinks. This hasn't really shocked me before (in fact when I first visited the U.S. I was a bit disappointed that people weren't enormously fat) but having spent so much time in countries where the average man is around a foot shorter than me and where the vast majority of people are skinny it was really quite alarming.
After one and a half days in the park we moved to a hotel in central L.A. - in fact it was only a couple of minutes' walk from Hollywood Boulevard. We spent the rest of the day wandering around Hollywood Boulevard, reading the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and taking in some of the sights including the various famous theatres and, of course, the Hollywood sign.
It was quite fitting that only a few days into our trip we had been in Bollywood and we were ending it in Hollywood. Whilst it was fairly fun to walk around spotting the stars of actors and musicians we like, the area is pretty underwhelming. Hollywood Boulevard is lined with shops selling tourist tat and cheap clothes, and full of wannabe actors in costumes charging to pose in photos. Just like Bollywood it is not at all as glamorous as you might be tempted to think. I would have enjoyed the Walk of Fame more had Monique not informed me that the stars are not awarded to the most deserving candidates in the various entertainment fields, but are purchased by the celebrity (or, more often, by the production company responsible for their next release) after being nominated (usually by their agent or the production company). That knowledge really takes the shine off the stars. Still, I suppose it's one up on the Birmingham Walk of Stars.
The following day we took two buses to Venice Beach. I'm sure that the beach would have been lovely ... had we been able to see it! Although it was nice and sunny when we left L.A. we arrived at Venice Beach to find it completely covered in mist. Not quite what we had expected. We still had a nice walk up and down the beach and along one of the piers (from the end of which we could no longer see the beach). Irrespective of the mist the beach has a really nice vibe due to the wide variety of activities going on – people walking their dogs, riding bikes (often with dogs in tow or in the basket), rollerblading, surfing, playing volleyball, working out on muscle beach etc. It appears that while all the fatties are at Universal Studios the skinny, beautiful people of California are exercising at the beach. The weather may have been decidedly British, but the general atmosphere was completely different to a British beach. Before it was time for us to head out we walked around the liveliest area of the beach which was full of performers, political speakers, and craft stalls (and people hawking interviews for entitlement to medicinal marijuana). Venice Beach was definitely an interesting and slightly bizarre experience, but it was a shame that the mist hampered it slightly.
On the way back into L.A. we stopped at the Museum of Contemporary Art which was really impressive, although we didn't really have enough time to enjoy all of it (due, in part, to having missed our bus stop and having to walk back on ourselves – some things never change no matter how much we travel!)
That evening we made our way to the airport to catch a red-eye flight to Houston. L.A. had been an interesting experience: Universal Studios had been great, Hollywood Boulevard had been underwhelming, and Venice Beach had been a little bizarre. Overall, however, we were just glad to be on American soil after a rollercoaster of a trip.