Bryce Canyon – A Sunset trip

On the way to Bryce, you can find some very scenic red rocks, I think it’s called the Red Rock canyon. There is an opportunity to do a small hike to a ‘photo tour’, it only takes you 15 min to go up and you will be surrounded by red peaks. Especially in the late afternoon they have a very nice red glow. On this road, you will also cross 2 beautiful arcs.

Driving further (about 20min I guess), you will enter Bryce canyon national park. It was almost sunset when we arrived at the Visitors Center (hence we did not pay for any permit since it was closed) that is still a short drive to the rim. The most known viewpoints are called ‘sunset’ and ‘sunrise’, about 0.5 mile in between them.
From both these viewpoints, you can enter the canyon. A full loop is about 2.5 miles. After taking some pictures from the Sunset viewpoint, I walked all the way down to Queens Garden where you walk in between the hoodoos. It was already after sunset, but as always I keep a small survival package on me such as a light :). The canyon is not just rocks and sand, you will also find beautiful trees and wildlife such as deers. In Bryce Canyon, it’s a lot colder as in Zion.

Some pictures can be found below.

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Zion National Park

Getting there

Last minute, Jonathan a local from Vegas decided to join me on the trip. So from now on I will often use ‘we’ 🙂

The way to Zion from Las Vegas is extremely scenic! But also very windy, I would never try this on a bike. It became clear we were entering a more remote area since the cellphone connection got lost (at least for T-mobile, I understood AT&T + Verizon are better).

I decided to take a small detour and drive through Lake Mead. You need to pay a permit but it’s valid for 7 days, including access to the Hoover dam as planned on the way back.

We arrived in the evening, and since you can reserve the main camping it was already fully booked. In this national park you have many rangers patrolling, so camping inside without reservation is a bit more tricky. Furthermore, in this season not all the roads are accessible by car and restricted to the shuttle bus. We parked just outside the park on a parking and enjoyed water-drained soup 🙂

Zion Day 1

Taking the shuttle bus is convenient, on the bus they even give you some explanation about the park from different perspectives (e.g. a photographer and park ranger give their perspective).

Our first big hike was Angels Landing, ranked in the top 10 of USA hikes. A trail where you need to crawl in the end to the top with rewarding views. You have a chain to assist you, personally I saw it as a nice challenge to get to the top without using hands or the chain 🙂

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Angels Landing

 

After several days of driving and hiking, you start to feel a bit dirty. Since the main camping-ground ‘watchmen’ has no showers, you need to find those in town (we found only 2). These are located within shops, and also has specific opening times. Since all of those are closed, we jumped in a swimming pool resort. Know that here, upon trespassing you can get to jail.

Zion Day 2

I still did not have any good sunrise pictures, so in the evening we drove up to the viewpoint ‘canyon lookout’ that is supposed to be one of the best places for sunrise. We parked on the parking lot very late, enabling us to cook without being noticed since they do not seem to patrol this road.

 

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Sunrise at Zion Overlook

(Too) early in the morning, I woke up to hike the trail leading to the canyon lookout. To my surprise, I was alone, but arriving at 6am in this period is just too early. After one hour, other photographers eventually joined me. The view is nice as it is a lookout. However, it just takes too much time for the sun to hit the rocks. My opinion is that this location is best visited during the day, when most rocks & the canyon are fully lit.

After sunrise, we drove to the city Springdale to get gear for the Narrows. The Narrows is a hike in the cold river, in the middle of a scenic canyon. You can choose to go all the way up, this would take you 8 hours, or return any time since you need to get back the same way you came. Having the proper gear is important, as the river is cold and you will get wet till above your knee. Furthermore, most of the canyon is in the shade. Basic material are anti-slippery shoes and isolating socks, you can get those for 20 USD. You can also either get a wet or dry suit for another 20 USD. The cheapest rental places are a bit further in town. Note that a rental is valid for 24 hours, and since the most shops only open at 9am, it’s best to get your gear the day before.

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The Narrows

 

 

Las Vegas aka Sin City – Nightlife – almost for free

Nightlife & tricks how to go out almost for free
When it comes to nightlife, the many clubs can keep you busy for at least a week or two. These clubs area really crazy: pool parties, waterfalls, amazing views, etc.

The dress code is not extremely strict, but people like to dress up and impress. When you impulsively decide to get into a queue, get your money ready: a guy will have to pay 35 USD or more, and a girl around 25 USD. However, I found it very easy to actually put my name on a guest list: when going out, make sure you have an even ratio boys-girls and get some phone numbers of what they call ‘promotors’. These guys actually get paid (around 5 USD a person) to get you into the clubs, and put your name on the guest list of your choice, even for the most famous clubs such as Marquee (Cosmopolitan), Hakkasan (MGM), Omnia (Caesars), Thrist (Wind), Draids, XS (Wind). I found these phone numbers after putting a picture on Instagram with the tag #vegas, as many promotors (or a bot) will like your picture. When on the guest list, girls can get up to 3 free drinks (depending if a boy joins them). Drinks are easily 16 USD and more. For this reason, an idea to ‘get into the mood’ before going out is to play in the casino’s: as long as you keep playing, they give you free drinks. The trick is to play on 1 USD machines for a long time (e.g. play 1 line on the ‘line’ machines), and give 2 USD tips to your waitress, asking her to directly get you another round (we even managed to get 2 drinks at the same time).
Inside the clubs, you will find many people taking a reserved table. These tables start at 500 USD and go easily to 2000 USD. With that, you’ll get one or more bottles and personal security. These security guys even walk you to the bathroom and back. In the bathrooms, you’ll find people opening the tab for you, and drying your hands. In XS and others, you will also find a selection of 20+ perfumes and such. Parties here are wild, and even if pools are closed, the later it gets the more people you will find inside 🙂

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High waterfall behind the DJ booth in the Trystl

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Alternative transportation

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In XS, they have a pool…

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What perfume do you prefer?

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Can I help to dry your hands? At your service!

 

on the way to Sin City!

After finishing Joshua Tree park, it’s time to head out for Sin City – Las Vegas baby!!

You have several ways to get there. If you are leaving from the North part of Joshua Tree, an idea is to first visit the Indian Cove and after that head to the Mojave National preserve, it’s perfect for cruising and to experience that ‘roadtrip feeling’, just be very carefull for all the potholes and make sure you have enough gasoline :). After the preserve, you have a small strech of Route 66! You cannot find any signs by the road, I actually wonder if they still have the signs since there are many ‘collectors’ out there 🙂

You will also pass train tracks with ‘supertrains’. I’ve counted 150 wagons!

Mojave National preserve

Mojave National preserve

Potholes in the Mojave National preserve

Potholes in the Mojave National preserve

Endless miles of electricity poles @ Mojave National preserve

Endless miles of electricity poles @ Mojave National preserve

Route 66

Route 66

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When approaching Vegas, you can suddenly see casino’s and resorts rising in the middle of a dessert. They all make sure to get your attention with huge signs & flashing boards :). The highway ‘miles’ are also sponsored, making sure they are in perfect conditions! Because you don’t want to have your company name linked to bad road conditions.

Sponsored miles @ Vegas area

Sponsored miles @ Vegas area

They say Vegas has the most parking garages in the world, and most of them are free for a limited amount of time.

Tonight, something I rarely or never do: clubbing!

Joshua Tree park – don’t forget your food & water

Some say Joshua Tree park is one of the nicest ones in the USA. It’s a quick getaway for people from L.A. during breaks & weekends. This is something to keep in mind, since camp grounds are apparantly scarce.

Due to limited amount of time, I needed to take the freeway. If you have time and come from the south, a visit to Salton Sea &  e.g. Salvation Mountain (landmark from ‘Into the Wild’ are an interesting visit.

You will be driving near big farms and huge windmill parks. Houses are often not near the street, that’s why the mail boxes are aligned near the road. You will see the typical ‘leverages’ too (wich are high when you have mail)

Typical mail boxes

Typical mail boxes

When entering the park (from the west), you’ll find a guardpost to get your permit. At 6pm, it was not manned and no fees had to be paid (it states 20 USD / vehicle + 5 USD / person). A park permit is valid for several days. I paid 15 USD when existing the park (around 1pm) on the north side.

Camping Hidden Valley is very unique with all it’s boulders, which makes it an attractive destination for rock climbers!  Jumbo Rock is similar.

When entering the camping grounds, you can get a camping spot by filling in a paper from the ‘box’ and fill in the details such as dates that you attach to the camping spot (so people can see it’s occupied). It is full self-service. On most campsites, for 1 day you pay 10 USD. You can stay maximum 1 week at the same spot.

Example campground

Example campground

Arriving very late (7pm) I was out of luck, but a friendly family offered to park my car next to theirs :). They had the same issue in the past and were very happy to return the favor.

Picture time! The camping is perfectly located for great pictures with all the rocks & boulders.

That night ‘unfortunatly’ it was full moon, making it difficult to make good pictures of the stars.

Suddenly I realized I did not buy any food in the rush for sunset. The cookies given by David his mom from San Diego came in handy as dinner & breakfast 🙂

I got up to see the sunrise, the boulders are very easy to climb and have an amazing sunrise view!

Getting up early is adviced as it can get very hot, making a walk more comfortable. Always bring enough water! During the hikes, I was hoping to find some rattle snakes (they emerge from hibernation in March or April), normally they are most active during early morning and late afternoon. A good spot for rattle snakes is the ‘rattle canyon’ walk near Indian Cove, note no real trail exists and you just choose where you go.

Other nice walk I did on the way out was Wonderland of Rocks, where I also just ‘invented’ a trail across the rocks. Just make sure you got good referrals to landmarks such as typical mountain peaks (on a good day). On the way you’ll find an old pink ruin. Another landmark on the way is ‘the skull’, just besides the road.

The Skull

The Skull

Some specific advice when hiking here & desserts:

  • Lookout where you put your feet & hands, especially when climbing rocks
  • Don’t run and allow snakes to get away
  • Wear closed shoes and loose pants

When you drive to Vegas, avoid the route 15 since it is just boring. In the beginning drive through amboy and the Mohaviv reserve. You will even pass a small strip of route 66 🙂

In the image below, you can navigate in 360 degrees!

San Diego & carpooling a stranger

On the way to San Diego & first evening

Right after getting the car, I picked up David (from the craigslist ad, see previous post). He just came back from a long travel in Asia and wanted to visit his family (and doctor). I did not know at all what to expect. He had a good laugh when I asked him for help to get gasoline, the systems are differ here in the USA. Most of the times, you pre-pay inside. If you use a creditcard, the non used credit goes back to your card. Convenient 🙂

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We drove to San Diego during rush hour, traffic is just as bad as in Belgium. Interesting to know is that you can take a special carpool lane (as with other regions in the USA, such as New York). You are only allowed on this lane if your car has more then 2 persons or you are driving an electric car. This is one of the reasons several people are switching to electric cars nowadays.

Compared to other regions in the USA, such as Nevada, guns are not allowed here. Especially with the close border of Mexico. Sidenote; most of California was previously owned by Mexico (hence the spanish names of the cities).

On the freeway, close to San Diego, you can find a huge military base. Here the US army trains with helicopters, amphibian vehicles, bunkers, helicopter-plane combi aircrafts, supercarrier warships (I think to have seen USS Theodore Roosevelt), …

Hospitality from a stranger and his family

I dropped off David at his place, a very nice (the best?) area in the San Diego hills.

He invited me inside where his mother had a dessert moment with family and friends. She invited me to join them. It was just lovely, the table was filled with fresh fruits, delicious small snacks/desserts from foreign countries in a very nice typical terrace & garden.

This place was lovely and very typical, very spacious & warm!

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To see a panorama, click on the picture below:

David was meeting a friend at this place that he did not see for a long time, but it did not hold him back to take me to a beautiful sunset spot in the hills, the coastal reserve on the biodiversity trail.

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Villa where Michael Jacksson espaced from all the madness

To see a panorama, click on the picture below:

After the sunset, I went myself into the city to find out about the spring break madness! More about that later in this post.

Next stop was Pacific beach, going to mission beach was too far (apparantly this is more a party beach). I just hope I did not miss anything. Finding parking around mission beach is really difficult… you can park your car for free by the side of the road, but you’ll need some luck. If you decide to park your car on the shopping parkings, be aware that apparently they do tow (I just wonder how they can check?). You can opt to pay 5 USD for one hour and up to 20 USD for overnight parking.

The boardwalk of mission beach is a nice walk, you’ll find many bars & dining opportunities. I got myself some fresh crab.

I got the following advice from locals to go out: tuesday is taco Tuesday, a very good day to go out in San Diego. Wednesday is not so good, and it is especially the weekend that is active during Spring Break. A good pub is ‘The Tavern’

Later that evening, David & his mother invited me to sleepover. I got a private room, private bathroom and had an amazing sleep since a long time. In the morning, the breakfast on the terrace was just epic :). His mother gave me some cookies and banana chips for along the way, for sure at some point I would need them.

I was so thankfull to have met this ‘stranger’ on what was just a simple carpool offer, who invited me to his family, where they offered me a bed and a lot of advice. Being impulsive and travelling alone can get you far! David, if you read this… thank you again! 🙂

Following their advices, I continued my travels.

Spring Break – Where is the madness?

At the time of arrival (beginning of April), spring break was on for the colleges & universities around San Diego. Unfortunatly I did not find any madness.

Over the years, it seems that the government has taken many actions to make it a safer happening. The drawback is that many of the spontanious madness fades away.

One example was the attempt to forbid drinking on the beaches. A year after, everyone was drinking & partying in tubes on the ocean, since the law did not forbid to drink on the water. Nowadays, you cannot find any activity on the beaches.

A morning in San Diego

It was going to be a busy morning. First visiting Mount Soledad (Park) gave extensive sights over San Diego. On this mountain, an (volunteering?) officer was offering his guiding services (for free) in case someone had any questions about the memorial landmark. The monument holds names of many USA soldiers, including all their decorations (which are very important here in the USA, apparantly it was a sensitive quesion to ask the officer…).

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Mount Soledad

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Memorial WW II

I went to the Cove and walked all the (scenic! Many animals!) way to the Childrens garden / pool. This beach was constructed for the children as a playground, but in the end sea lions took over and since these are protected animals… you can guess 🙂

Along the way, I was interviewed by a camera-crew which asked my opinion about the sea lions being to close to humans (you can get very close to them). They also asked a question how they smelled 🙂 …

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La Jolla Cove

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Childrens Playground

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Childrens Playground

For a panorama, click below:

For lunch I wanted to eat a typical California burritos (the other typical alternative was Fish Tacos) at a local place.

I asked a lady on the street, who was very kind to help me out. After some minutes, I did not manage to find it till suddenly the lady showed up, re-explaining me since she made a small mistake. Just amazing these people here!

For just 6,59 USD I got the Burito at a Mexican place called Cotija’s.  For the ingredients, look at the menu.

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Menu

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California burritos

My last quick stop was getting an invertor at RadioShack for 55 USD to be able to charge all my electronic equipment from the car cigarette plug.

 

USA – How to get around in the cities – some apps

To get around easily in the cities, I’ve found out there are multiple ways all using apps. You’ll need an internet connection, which is always a good idea for a long roadtrip.

  • Transit
    • An app showing you all GPS locations of the busses, all the stopnames and durations. You can easily plan your trip with all connections based on your current location and several suggestions. It gives you several options to for example avoid using a subway.
  • Uber
    • Uber is HUGE here in the USA. For the ones that don’t know it: it’s an alternative taxi service that uses an app to connect you to nearby drivers. It’s much cheaper too.
    • For the first subscription (you’ll need a phonenumber) you can use discount codes. For example TRANSITAPP, which gives you a 30 USD discount
    • You can choose to share a ride, by which the cost can be halved
    • I’ve heard things that in the cars you are offered candy and water.
  • Lift
    • An alternative for Uber (don’t know much details, but it’s also used a lot)
  • Google maps
    • Everyone suggests it since here all public transport is covered for the big cities. It also lets you plan ahead (with potential traffic based on historical data)

On top of that, I’ve purchased a T-mobile prepaid plan for one month ‘GoSmart’. It costed me 65 USD (20 USD activation cost, be aware of this + 40 USD for the package + 5 USD tax). The plan includes 5GB data on 3G network & unlimited national calls and text messages. Networks and plans here are a lot more interesting as in Belgium since there is a lot of competition. If you don’t do a top-up in 6 months, your number is deactivated.

On many products, the tax is never mentioned and needs to be paid on top.

The roadtrip has begun – getting a rental car!

The roadtrip had begun!

Today was the perfect day to start travelling further, however I did not do several closeby landmarks such as the Observatory and Runyon Canyon which are supposed to be very interesting for the Hollywood region.

The idea of the roadtrip is to have ultimate freedom. In the end I found out about espace campervans, this company has converted regular vans to sleepover vans, including a full bed and small kitchen.

On the bus there, I got to chat with a nice (married) guy who claimed to live in Beverly hills. He told me a summary of his life, including some very personal details, in 5 min. It is always so strange how, even during a quick meetup, people I meet tend to share a lot about their personal life and you make connections. Those 5 minutes ended with an exchange of phone numbers… just in case 🙂

Rental Car

In the USA, most rental cars are not insured by default in the rental price. Some reasons are that you can potentially re-use the insurance of your own car back home or several creditcard memberships (gold / platinum) can cover you. The coverange by creditcard companies is interesting, since for a fee < 10 USD / month, you can get full coverage and all the other advantages of that membership.

There are multiple types of insurance to be paid / decided seperatly: collision waiver & third party liability (up to 1.000.000+ USD, which is higher then standard coverages). Both costed me around 10 USD / day, bringing the total of 17 days to 340 USD just for insurance (this is the equivalent to a 3 year creditcard membership).

In many rentals, you’ll also have a limited mileage, often around 100 miles / day. Do the calculation to get more miles, in my case it was 15 USD / day extra for 200 miles and 20 USD for unlimited.

Note that in the USA, almost all cars have automatic gear and are non-diesel (due to taxes and engine – environmental restrictions).

If you do long rentals, you should always negotiate to get for example a free GPS or other extras.

Finding company to drive with

Since I now owned a car, I felt to get most of it, including finding company to share it with from time to time.

Very popular in the USA is Craigslist, where people post all type of ads to sell all kind of things. The site is to my opinion very chaotic but works if you find your way due to a huge userbase.

There is one section for ‘rideshares’, where people post their route, leave their phonenumber & a rate.

Just one hour before leaving to San Diego I left an ad and offered a free ride from L.A. to San Diego. In just minutes, I received 3 messages and chose 1 person. More about that & the trip to San Diego in the next post 🙂

Sidenote: apparantly Craigslist is now even owned by Ebay…

 

L.A. – Venice Beach & Santa Monica

On the other side of Los Angeles on the coast, you’ll find the famous Santa Monica pier and Venice Beach.

The Santa Monica pier is home of the Pacific Park, with the famous wheel and many small-sized but interesting attractions including a roller-coaster. These attractions look ‘old-school’ and are very expensive.

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Pacific Park

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Pacific Wheel

Did you know that the Santa Monica pier is considered as the official end of Route 66? In this shop on the pier, you’ll find many of the history about Route 66 and the (non-official) sign ‘End of Route 66’.

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Route 66 shop

This is also home of Venice beach, one of the most famous beaches of the USA.

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Besides the pier and on the beach, you’ll find many facilities to exercise your fitness & body. These facilities are also just fun such as the ring chain from the picture below.

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This is typical California: fitness; you will not find the ‘fat’ USA people here.

Along Venice beach and in the middle of the sand for the first part, you have a huge boardwalk that is shared with bicycles. It is a nice stroll from the pier to the beachshops.

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An interesting sight was the ‘Green Doctors’ where they sell legal marijuana.

Green Doctors

Green Doctors’

Come back here (the Santa Monica pier region) on a good day for sunset, and you can take cool shots with the wheel, pier & sunset in the background.

L.A – The City of Angels and so much more

Immediately I put my stuff away in a locker (own lock, always good to bring one, either one with 4 numbers or 2 spare keys). First time ever I’ve seen a power socket within a locker, such a great idea! I would need to test if the 110V output doubles the required charging time compared to Europe and such.

Locker with power socket

Furthermore, I was happy to find a blank star on the hall of fame… (amongst the 2500 others). There is still hope!!IMG_20150329_140203

Did you know that it’s not just stars? There is also the moon (with Appollo XI).

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Everywhere on Hollywood Boulevard, you’ll find agencies trying to offer you a tour. Most of them focus on the ‘celebrity house’ tour. When you think about that, it’s a bit strange… houses of celebrities are very well guarded and will not show much of it’s beauty except for a nice facade and gate.

However, I decided to take one of these tours since you can avoid a car rental that way for other sceneries. Official prices range between 35 and 40 USD for adults, you can easily get them down to 20 USD for a 2 hour trip. This might not be the case with tours booked in advance or with your hotel / hostel, so better to go arrange it by yourself. Depending on the company, you’ll find available seats for the next drive (I think on averange every hour there is one starting)  or the one for the day after (you can always get another company). Some companies will also offer you additional coupons with discounts, on which you’ll find the referral details for their commision.

That is how they mostly operate things here: based on commission and tips, including your guides (as a reference they wrote 5 USD for a good tour, 10 USD for a very good one). Dining & drinking services are about 15-20% tip. Service is a big thing here in the USA, even at the hostel (!) I had one person showing me around (however, I asked and that kind of service does not require a tip).

During the walk around Hollywood, you’ll meet many kind of people: street performers, people in movie customes (even a very good Iron Man custome), preachers of ‘jezus’ (including people fighting with them. One of them told everyone his friend killed himself because of this preaching), crazy ones (one of them asked me if I saw the devil? He was serious…) and many homeless.

On Sunset Boulevard, I found a homeless man without any board for begging money and decided to walk up to him and ask why there are so many homeless people in L.A. I received a suprising answer: many felons are too lazy to work and just try to make money by asking for it. Another perspective a roommate gave me: they don’t have much chances to get to work again because of their past. Furthermore, you’ll find many homeless because of the climate here in California & Florida. Many of them especially at the beaches.

Some small things I learned during the Hollywood trip:

  • All the big movie studios & companies moved to the other side of the Hollywood hills, but still the movie business is huge here. They often still film scenes within L.A. city or the L.A. studios
  • Not just moviestars live in Hollywood hills and such, also producers, directors, etc get a piece of the cake
  • The climate is pretty stable in California (right now 26 degrees celcius), making it very comfortable
  • You can pay up to 85 million USD for a house in/around Mulholland drive
  • To buy / drink alcohol you need to be 21, but many kids have fake ID’s. A good fake ID can cost up to 200 USD
  • A car rental can easily be up to 2000 USD / day (without insurance, don’t remember the model 🙂 )
  • I’ve seen some cars without license plate…
  • There is a shop where you can still buy casettes!
  • The fines for smoking are rounded to 541 USD (not 500, not 540…)
  • I’ve also seen a guy beside the road with a billboard sign to attract customers for a house agency. He was twisting and doing tricks with it to get attention from the drivers..

Now I’m going out to see what there is to find at night!

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