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.

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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.

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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!

USA & L.A. – Difficult Arrival

Arrived this morning after some very long flights (2 segments from Singapore with a total of 17 hours without the layover in Narita).

Border control was tricky! Even before boarding, the crewmembers of the airline are very strict, I assume as a precaution:

  • You  need to prove you have a return ticket, or buy one directly before checkin to the USA
  • You are screened about your plans
  • You need to provide an address for you stay (at least the first day). I did not have any concrete plans, but quickly did a lookup of a hostel address.

I was lucky that my ESTA application from last year was still valid, so if you don’t change passports you can use up the remaining days (I believe you have till the end of the year after your application to use up 90 days).

It was however not a good idea to make jokes about my shoes… I was just checking on what they were screening them and the officer-lady was making jokes about the potential smell they were giving off (not the case 😉 ), on which I somehow managed to use the word ‘shoebomb’. She was shocked and sushed me pretty hard. (with a wink). Indeed, not my best move 🙂

Delta airlines have a very funny way to brief you about safety rules. In their movie they will add a lot of humor. To give some examples, look at the pictures to have an impression.

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The stopover in Japan (Narita, Tokio) brought back some memories: the special toilets! They have many special features: a warm seating, a place to sit your baby, sprinklers with different modes, etc… use your imagination 🙂

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Interesting to notice about the USA:

  • Even in the case your end destination is not within the USA but you have a landing and stay in transit, you’ll need to have an ESTA. I don’t think the USA has something such as a ‘transit zone’.
  • Make sure that you activate your creditcards for the USA specifically & to withdraw money as soon as you can. The USA is very known for creditcard fraud, since you don’t need to use your pin or provide your autograph.
  • You do have a policy on the amount of alcohol / beer you bring into the USA. My officer took me out of the queue and found I had more as the allowed amount on me, but as I explained to him they would serve as a gift for locals, he let me pass exceptionally. So both in Singapore & USA I seem to have unwillingly been smuggling alcohol, I hope it will serve me well 🙂

Getting to L.A. city is easy. For about 8 USD you can get a shuttle bus named FlyAway shuttle where you pay upon arrival. From there, it’s easy to take the subway. For 1 USD, you’ll get a plastic card to topup. One ride is abour 1.75 USD.

The subway trains don’t have any markings to see your current location on the track, but they do announce everything clearly and the most interesting landmarks of that stop.

I tried to avoid the website booking fees, it however did not make much difference. Furthermore, they also charge 14% city tax (not included in online booking fee), by which the total price for bed in a 8-bed dorm was around 45 USD / night (region Hollywood). Not so cheap…