California dreaming...

Published in Australia and New Zealand magazine, May 2013
Roosevelt Hotel
Los Angeles
Bugatti Veyron, as you do..

Los Angeles Airport is split up into several somewhat small terminals.  We landed with Air New Zealand at Terminal Two, and it is surprisingly just how small and dated looking they are.  It is hardly a window to the world of the world’s largest economy, and indeed California which could be a wealthy country in its own right if it were one.   We went through the usual of going through customs, with iris photos, hand prints and so on.  But, that drama was nothing really when it soon became apparent when we reached “the other side” that our transfer was not there.  A lot of waiting and stress later, and after a semi-helpful phone call to our hotel, we flagged down one of the many blue-van airport transfer taxi’s  and set off for our destination, Hollywood itself.

We certainly went round the houses on this Thursday evening in LA, with each area split up to its origins, such as Korea town.  Our hotel was the Roosevelt right in the heart of Hollywood.  It was soon apparent that the lack of our transfer was down to something of a mess up with our booking at the hotel from our travel agent.  Not our fault, but we were treated with a slight amount of suspicion from the reception staff before being granted our room. 

The Roosevelt Hotel is where the very first Oscars were staged.  It is a grand Hotel right on Hollywood Boulevard.   Our stay was only a brief one, but we decided to make the most of it by booking a package that included two tours, one to the Universal Studios, something which surely has to be done when in Hollywood, and then a full day tour of Los Angeles.   What I did not realise when it was booked back in the UK was that the tours are actually based out of Santa Monica, and whilst we were picked up outside of our hotel, for the Studio tour at least we were taken halfway across town to LA’s seaside suburb (where Baywatch was filmed) and then back to Hollywood again.  As it turned out, the five of us on this tour were then taken there by taxi!

The tour of the Universal Studios takes in the whole thing, including several of the rides, which are computer animated now – such as The Simpsons ride, which really was a roller coaster.  There is a train tour which takes you on a look at the previous sets, which are sat as they were left, sets in use and others are being built.   For instance the famous ‘Back to the Future’ trilogy was filmed here, but only gates to the Hillvale Estate, where Marty McFly lived remain, doubtless for prosperity whilst the courthouse square is actually an adaptable set that has been and still is used in various productions.  There are also ‘English’ sets and a ‘European’ set with buildings, all looking very authentic.   The popular TV series ‘Desperate Housewives’ was being filmed the day we were there, and we were fortunate enough to see the set literally just prior to it being used.   Part of the tour shows how the special effects were used, and whilst the studios are vast hangers which we passed through, rather than went into, as work was in progress for many TV shows and movies.   As well as this, and the rides, there are shops in an adjacent shopping mall.  However, whilst our ticket was included in our whole package I was a little surprised to see that the entrance was $77 per adult.  Season tickets are available, but even so, that is about £50 so hardly a cheap family day out.

Hollywood Boulevard is not actually as grand as you may think.  Whilst it is the home of the Oscars, with the Kodak Theatre in the centre and all the stars names etched into the pavement… sorry, sidewalk, by in large it is a mix of somewhat tacky souvenir shops, fast food shops and so on.  It is said it is being revitalised, however.   But, through the gap in the Kodak Theatre there is a great view of the iconic ‘Hollywood’ sign on the hill.  Do not be fooled by scenes you see on TV, this is about as close as you can get to it in good view.

The tour of Los Angeles the following day once again saw us picked up in Hollywood and transported to Santa Monica.  The end of the famous American road Route 66 of course, and there is just a small plaque to signify that. It included a brief stop back at Universal Studios, albeit just for a lunch stop but also took us all around the significant parts of the city.  This included looking in, or on, many of the movie star and/or rich and famous homes.  Not that it is possible to see too much as they are well gated.  Lots of them do not like the fact that tours stop outside of their driveways.  Oh well!  We passed several, including some I confess I had not heard of.  But significantly the home where OJ Simpson famously had his shooting moment with his ex-wife in 1994.  He did then of course later get caught and imprisoned for armed robbery and so on in 2007.   We went past the huge house that Miley Cyrus is having built whilst the biggest house of all in the Hollywood hills belongs to Petra Eccelestone, daughter of F1 boss Bernie.  Only the 14 bedrooms then.  From there it was the stupidly swank Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, complete with a Bugatti Veyron parked outside of one of the shops, belonging to one of the shops owners.  A world away from this was the part of the trip to downtown LA, which has almost done a full circle.  The city was once part of Mexico and very Hispanic and this part still is.  The centre of the city is very much Spanish speaking with street markets and food stalls.

But back into Hollywood and for breakfast, on what was our last day in LA, at leisure we decided to treat ourselves to a proper ‘Diner’ breakfast and as this is where it is, suffice to say there is a history and this is where the external scenes of ‘Happy Days’ were shot.  The internal scenes were filmed up the road at the studios, even though the whole show was actually set on the other side of the USA in Wisconsin.    As we were eating our (typically oversized) breakfast we noted that in the car park there was a young male singing and dancing into the car window, into his reflection.  He was not just there for a few seconds either but quite some time.  Even our waiter noted his presence when he collected our plates, and referred to him as a “crazy dude”.  Then he said that anything can and does happen in Hollywood.   He then recalled a story where he had a customer who was sat by herself, and yet had an imaginary friend.  All well and good, up to her, but then she got offended when he would not talk to her ‘friend’ too.

Los Angeles really is a place where anything goes…..

As it says... Home to the rich...
Get your kicks, on Route 66!
Universal Studios, Hollywood
Santa Monica