The Final Countdown: Europe, North America travel blog

Los Angeles, mist rolling in from the sea

Los Angeles

Los Angeles

Koi at the South Coast Botanic Gardens

Cactus garden, South Coast Botanic Garden

Madagascar palm, South Coast Botanic Garden

Cactus garden, South Coast Botanic Garden

Cactus garden, South Coast Botanic Garden

Candelabrum cactus, South Coast Botanic Garden

Sausage Tree... just need a bacon tree and an egg tree, breakfast...

Tony, Cynthea and John at the South Coast Botanic Garden

South Coast Botanic Garden

Spot the birdie? Many Humminbirds were feeding at this tree

Hummingbird feeding

Los Angeles port at sunset

Los Angeles at sunset

Pacific sunset

Pacific sunset

The original Tommy's burger joint. Mmmm mmm mmmm

At Griffith Observatory

With John at Griffith Observatory

Griffith Observatory

The Foucault Pendulum was invented in 1851, gave the first direct proof...

LA under fog from Mt Griffith

LA under fog from Mt Griffith

Mt Griffith Observatory

Los Angeles


the new California Adventures park

California Adventures, Disneyland

California Adventures

California Adventures

California Adventures

California Adventures

One good reason not to like roller coasters

Some of the gondolas on this ferris wheel slide along the spokes.

California Adventures

From the top of the ferris wheel

Disneyland - the original park in LA

Main Street - the taxi we took to Tomorrowland

After riding Space Mountain

Full moon over Tomorrowland at sunset

Main Street at sunset

Walt and Mickey

Disney Christmas parade

Disney Christmas parade

Disney Christmas parade

Disney Christmas parade

Fantasyland Castle



Friday 23rd November

The bus to the airport leaves Fairfax hourly, we aim for the 10.15 service, just in case there are delays with the next one, but we are cutting it a bit fine getting to the bus station. Tony squeezes into the back seat with the two packs and we are off in the Mini, with the top down. There is no sign of the bus when we arrive (it is due to leave in three minutes). Tony takes the big packs out of the car and leaves Cynthea talking to Jennifer while he goes to see if there are any other bus stops. Oops, the bus is here, it is parked around the corner. Tony checks that it is going to the correct airport and tells the driver he has two more passengers. We pay US$40 for the trip, it will take about and hour and a half to travel roughly 55km to San Francisco airport.

We arrive with plenty of time to spare as our flight doesn’t leave until 1.40pm.

At check in Tony’s pack is 4lbs over the 50lb limit. Just as well Cynthea’s pack is under, but is there room to stuff anything more in there? We shift a couple of heavy things, some goes into the day packs. Tony’s bag is still a pound over, and they are sticking to the limit. Tony bites his tongue, but wonders what the problem is with one piddling pound, after all both the bags are going on the same flight, and they will accept excess baggage up to 30kg (66lb). Cynthea’s pack is chocka, but Southwest is happy now. Then the bloody woman decides to weigh the carry on luggage. Tony takes the laptop out and slips it into his jacket pocket, and puts a heavy book into another. We come in under the limit, but Tony feels silly wearing a jacket in this heat, and as soon as we get away from the checkin counter the jacket comes off and everything goes back in the carry on gear. The flight costs us US$136 (NZ$170) for two, including luggage, flight time 1 hour 20 mins.

We have a great view as we take off and there is good weather all the way, until we get to Los Angeles. We can see the fog rolling in off the Pacific as we approach, and by the time we land LAX is cloaked in a thick mist.

John Ayton is there to meet us and we are soon at home with him and Joan in Redondo Beach. John says he has plenty of culture lined up for us during our stay. There are a couple of “must do’s” on the list, Cynthea wants to go back to Disneyland, and Tony wants to see the space shuttle. A quick read of Lonely Planet throws up a couple more options: Botanic Gardens, Griffith Observatory and La Brea tar pits. We have a quick tour around town, John takes us to the LA version of Venice, though these days many of the canals have been filled in.

After tea we take their dog, Cleo, for a walk. That girl would walk all night if you let her. It is very cool and quite foggy outside, so we don’t venture too far from home (we doubt she would be in any hurry to take us home should we get lost!).

Saturday 24th November

We spend this afternoon at the South Coast Botanic Garden on the Palos Verdes peninsula, the 35ha gardens have been reclaimed from a former landfill. Entry is USD$8 ea, ($6 for the old bugger with us). It is hard to imagine that we are actually standing on a pile of rubbish. We get around a far percentage of the garden over the couple of hours we spend here. We visited many of the gardens here, starting with the Japanese Garden and the pond filled with some huge koi. The Cactus Garden has some massive cacti, you would hate to get tangled up in them. On the way to the Mediterranean Garden we see a Sausage Tree, and yes, it really does look like sausages are growing from it. We take the path around the small lake, hungry ducks head our way but we don’t feed them. The herons keep their distance. A lot of volunteers keep the gardens going, and we spend time talking to a lovely lady in the rose garden. They have a small vege garden here too.

Tony spends ages under a tree trying to get photos of the many hummingbirds feeding, but they are so quick. He gets a few photos, but nothing close up as the birds are high in the tree. He hopes that the image is not too blurred from the long zoom at a fast subject. Tony is please to see a couple of photos come out quite well, and a bit of cropping the photo will make all the difference. John and Joan have hummingbirds at the house too, but by the time you get there with the camera it is usually too late. We could easily have stayed longer, but it is getting near sunset. On the way out Tony buys a Christmas decoration from the gift shop, Santa with a garden fork and a couple of hoes saying “hoe, hoe, hoe”.

We take the long way home, via a lookout where we can see the port area, and then along the coast road as the sun dips below the horizon. We see what we think is a ship in front of the setting sun, but it turns out to be an island.

Sunday 25th November

Lunch today was at Tommy’s, the original burger bar on Beverley Blvd in Hollywood has been here since 1946. John warns Tony that the chilli burger is hot, but he orders it anyway. While we wait we snack on the complimentary hot peppers. If his burger is going to be “hot”, Tony is not going to notice after munching a few of those.

Happiness filled, we make our way to Griffith Observatory in Griffith Park, 345m up the southern slopes of Mt Hollywood. The observatory is a national leader in public astronomy, and icon of Los Angeles. Entry is free, and for a small fee you can choose to see a number of shows. We decide to see “Time’s Up”, about the end of the world as supposedly predicted by the Mayans.

Griffith J. Griffith’s will specified that the observatory would be located in a prominent hilltop location and offer free public telescopes, a science theatre, and exhibits. The observatory was opened in 1835, and in 2002 was closed for a $93million renovation, reopening late 2006.

We have a great view up there, well the bits that we can see are great. The smog problem is obvious, and it looks like the fog is rolling in off the sea again.

Embedded in the lawn is a scale model of the solar system, showing the orbits of the planets. In the entrance hall is a Foucault Pendulum, an experiment to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth. The pendulum is set up in such a way that the earth rotates beneath it as it swings, demonstrated by knocking over small pegs set in the path of the pendulum. Cynthea and John went to free demonstration on making a comet. Tony has seen something like this in Dunedin so visits other exhibits.

Tickets to the shows can only be bought on site, shortly before the show screens. We are warned that some shows sell out, so Tony goes to the ticket box early. Shortly after 3pm people are already lining up for tickets to the 4.15pm show, but sales don’t open until 3.30pm. “Time’s up” show is about the Mayan calender, it looks at what's really in store for planet Earth on December 21, 2012, and take us from the Big Bang to the ultimate future of the cosmos. Tickets cost $US7 ea. Just before 4pm ticket holders are called to the Planetarium and at 4.15pm the doors are shut so the show can start. The woman narrating the story had a great voice was very easy to listen to.

At the souvenir shop Tony bought a gold limited edition space shuttle for $US25 (+tax), NZ$34. We did wonder if it would be cheaper elsewhere, and did consider waiting until we went to the Science Museum, but we decided that prices shouldn’t vary that much. How wrong we were, we should have waited, the same thing at the Science Centre was US$15, we felt so ripped off.

The sun is setting as we leave the show, and there is a near full moon out tonight, so we probably wont be able to see much through the telescopes. As we watch the sunset the fog rolls in and the place has an eerie feel to it. It also dashes any hopes of using the telescopes! On the way home John takes us for a tiki tour through downtown LA.

At home we meet John and Joan’s daughter Caroline. She works for Disney and has arranged for us to have free visit to Disneyland tomorrow. A new park has opened next to the old one since we were last here in 1995, entry is by separate tickets or a combo pass (US$125 for a one day pass).

Monday 26th November

John drives us to the airport to catch the Disneyland resort bus. We had been told the bus is wrapped in Disney characters, but a mini bus turns up and the driver insists this is the one we need. Tony is suspicious so he tells them he has a prepaid voucher with the company, and the driver all of a sudden decides it is for a different company after all. A regular bus turns up and the company rep holds up a sign with the company logo on it. She explains they are using this bus while the regular ones are under going maintenance. It costs US$64 (NZ$78) for two return tickets. Tony asks about the mini bus, and is told there is a rouge company regularly turning up a few minutes early and poaching customers. The bus calls at each terminal, and at one a passenger boards, relieved that the bus is here at last. She said a mini bus picked her up earlier, but didn’t get any other passengers so dropped her at the far terminal and said she had to wait for the next bus. She was really worried that she had been left stranded.

We arrive at the Disneyland Hotel a little after 10am and call Caroline to let her know we have arrived, she lets us know she will be there shortly. There has been a lot of changes since we were last here, the hotel looks to have been completely rebuilt, and there are now four accommodation blocks. We browse in the gift shop, but as expected it is a bit on the pricey side.

Caroline takes us through the downtown shopping centre to the ticket booths, and all along the way there the street is lined with top named stores. She gets us our passes and we go to the new park first, California Adventures. The new park is much bigger than the original one. When we were last here in 1995 this was the parking lot. The fun begins straight away, the Newsboys (and girls) arrive on bright on a bright red trolley and treat us to a musical show while we are looking around the square. Our first ride is Soarin’ over California, a virtual flight around the natural wonders that California has to offer. We don’t have too long a wait in the queue, around half an hour. We are belted into our seats and next we know the seats are lifted high into the air. There is a massive screen in front of us and as the movie plays our seats are twisted and turned as if we are actually flying. When we fly over a forest we can smell the pine trees, when we fly over the ocean we can smell the sea air and feel the salt spray. Tony decides he still doesn’t like heights when we follow a ski trail, very fast and very steep. Our seats are tilted forward and the wind machine is cranked up, what a rush.

We continue through the park, Tony wants to ride Grizzly River, but the girls want to keep on for now. We never did get back to do that. We watch the water feature at the lake, dancing jets of water set to music. And then there is a roller coaster, there is a reason they call it California Screamin’. Tony doesn’t do roller coasters, especially as this one does a couple of loops after a very fast take off. Cynthea is not keen on it either. There is no slow, drawn out crawl to the top followed by a big drop, this one is shot up hill like a rocket, right from the get go.

Mickey’s fun wheel is a massive ferris wheel, and we think we can cope with that, until Caroline points out that some of those gondolas travel inside the spokes of the wheel. As we watch a gondola nears the top of the wheel, shoots down the rail as the wheel turns over the top, and swings wildly back and forth. Nope, not for us, but we do ride in a regular gondola with a great view of the park.

It is time for an icecream, and get samples of chocolate as we enter the store. Yum, we wonder how many times we can get a free chocolate! There is a Boudin’s bakery across the road, and we watch the bread making process through the large viewing windows. There is a newly opened area with the Cars movie theme, it is really busy here, and lots of kids, so we don’t stay around here too long. Likewise with the Bug’s World section. We pass by the Hollywood Tower Hotel, and pass up the invitation to ride in the elevator. We are promised we will find out what happened in the Twilight Zone the night the hotel was struck by lightening. No thanks.

Caroline leaves us as we head over to the original Disneyland. We are standing in Main Street wondering where to start, and are offered a ride on a vintage fire engine to Tomorrow land. Last time we visited Space Mountain was closed, so this is our first ride. There is a bit of a wait in the queue, but time doesn’t drag as we chat to others in the queue. Tony realises too late that this is probably a roller coaster ride. Cynthea doesn’t think so, but as we get aboard Tony is wondering if it is too late to bail out. Not only is it a roller coaster ride, most of the ride is in the dark. When you are terrified of this type of ride it doesn’t really matter if you can see what is coming, or not! There is quite a bit of yelling, Tony did not enjoy it at all. Our photo is up on the screen as we exit, Tony actually looks quite relaxed in the shot. He gets out his camera and takes a photo of the screen, but his flash fires. Bugger. He is able to digitally alter the photo later, it is rough, but it was free!

Disney has just taken over the Star Wars franchise, and there is a ride call Star Tours, the adventure continues. We thin we may have been on this before, but go anyway. There is a long queue for this ride as well, but R2D2 and C3PO keep us entertained. The departures board is in two languages, English and alien. Tony spends most if the time waiting trying to translate the information, but it moves too quickly to get a handle on it. You can bet your boots that some people out there almost know it backwards!

By the time we finish the ride it is near dark, and the parade is due to start soon. We have a choice of that or the world of colour show back at California Adventures. As much as we would like to see that, we decide that the show goes too late, and we will not be able to make it back to the bus in time (the last bus leaves at 9pm). We stick around for the parade, all the classic Disney characters come out to perform a wonderful Christmas themed show. We take a trip around the park on the monorail, and then go to find Nemo on the submarine ride (yes, we saw him). It is more for kids, but very well done.

We catch the train that circles the park, but we are only a couple of stops from the main entrance. We are told the park is closed, but if we want to stay on the train for one last lap we may. The train is stopping to pick up passengers only, no one is allowed to get off until we get back to the main station. We have plenty of time before the last bus, so stay we aboard. There is not a great deal to see though, as the rides have all stopped operating.

We walk back through downtown, the stores are all still open to the hundreds of people making their way home. We browse at the gift shop while we wait for the bus. Cynthea buys some charms for her bracelet and a stainless steel trivet in the shape of Mickey. We are worried that we may not be at the right place for the bus, we are the only ones waiting for it and had expected quite a few to be on the last bus for the day. Cynthea checks with hotel staff, we are in the right place and the bus arrives a few moments later. There is only one other couple on the bus.

We send a message to John to let him know we are on the way, and he meets us at the airport. It has been a busy day and we are shattered.

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