Wednesday, 2 July 2008 12:00 AM
Anna Kainberger is taking a year-out from her career to travel in south-east Asia, and Australasia, along with Fiji and the USA. This month she is reporting from LA. Here is her 24th and final blog entry:
I have only changed my itinerary once on this trip so far and it wasn’t until Hawaii that I actually wanted to change anything. Well maybe I should have skipped Sydney full stop, since this summer it never seemed to stop raining there.
But apart from that I was very happy with my round-the-world ticket and the terms and conditions made it easy for me to push back my flight dates, without incurring a surcharge.
I could basically change flights as often as I wanted and as long as I did not change the actual destinations, the ticket price stayed the same.
And that option came in very handy when I decided after Fiji that I no longer wanted to visit Hawaii.
The reasons were simple: I was nearly out of money and Hawaii is expensive, plus I just spent 12 days on the tropical islands of Fiji and I felt it was time to be in an actual city again.
Los Angeles originally was supposed to be a ten hour stopover on my way home. With my new itinerary it was now a 12 day spell and I had to think long and hard about how to spend my time.
You see I did not want spend that much time in the US of A and from the looks and sounds of things LA was much too plastic for me, especially after my adventures in south-east Asia.
Never mind, I thought, I will find things to do and I can go up to San Francisco and what not, there will be things to do.
I arrived shortly after midnight on a Tuesday and I was exhausted. I had just crossed the international date line and so it was yesterday all over again, just like that movie with Bill Murray – Groundhog Day – but less weird.
Immigration in Hawaii was a real pain. I have had my fair share of being asked all sorts of stupid questions on this trip, but that lady in Hawaii – she was mean. And I mean scary mean.
They take your fingerprints, check your passport for ten minutes, take your picture and question the amount of money in your purse.
In the end, Little Miss Super-mean-Immigration-officer accused me of smuggling food into the country. And let’s be honest here: Fijian food is really not that great; I did not shed a single tear when I had to leave the food behind in lovely Nadi.
Once I survived this particular case of traveller-directed hostility (“You have been travelling for seven months? How dare you?”) I went upstairs into Honolulu airport and nearly got lost.
When I found a Starbucks I was close to tears, as it felt like a cosy reminder of home – a nice friendly face and hot coffee!
So it was no surprise that when I finally arrived in LA another nine hours later, I was ready for a bed, any bed.
I was not prepared for an Armenian cab driver who did not know how to get to Santa Monica. He told me proudly that he had been a cabby for three days now.
And he wanted to know if I meant Santa Monica town or Santa Monica beach.
“The one is by the other – just get me there,” I said.
He also wasted at least ten dollars of my metered time trying to punch the zip code into his Satnav.
I was on the verge of tears yet again, but decided that crying in this yellow cab was way below me and forced the cabby to just drive straight ahead, as LAX to Santa Monica is a straight line, pretty much.
I had chosen a medium range hostel in Santa Monica, not far from the beach which would set me back $34 a night (Â£17), simply because I heard various bad things about the cheaper hostel range.
And while I am not easily scared (after all, I’ve survived Christmas shopping in Oxford Street), I wanted to be safe.
You should always pre-book your bed in LA. A lot of hostels have a policy of not letting people in without a reservation, and my hostel (HI Santa Monica) was no exception.
I guess I just got lucky in the end as the guy at reception took pity on me. He loved my English/European accent and booked me into a dorm anyway, so I was set for the night and finally was able to get rid of that cab driver.
The next days I spent exploring Santa Monica, Venice Beach, Downtown, Little Ethiopia(!), Museum Row, Beverly Hills and the Walk of Fame.
I went hiking into the hills as well as visiting the Getty, the Chinese Theatre, the Walt Disney Orchestra Hall (and the Red Cat underneath) and the Moca.
And I fell in love with LA.
The place is a mixture of the famous and rich, the poor and deluded, the wannabe stars, the homeless as well as the surfers, skateboarders, designers and artists.
I have never seen so many wide gaps and yet so much beauty in a city; so many opposites and so many interesting stories.
Everybody has a story in LA and when you visit you should take time to listen to those stories.
I stayed away from tours to the homes of stars and the obvious tourist traps – it is simply not my style.
If you want to go to Lindsey Lohan’s house and the Hollywood sign and Mulholland Drive it will set you back 35 bucks (Â£17.50), maybe $25 if you try to haggle a bit.
But for me it was about sitting at Venice Beach and watching aging body builders do their thing.
I bought a hat at Titanic on Venice beach, a shop boasting the largest hat collection in the world, which counts stars and normal people alike as customers.
You can take an express route bus from Santa Monica to Downtown for as little as $1.25 (60p). If you stick to Santa Monica you can ride the Blue Bus line for even less – 75 cents (37p)!
I ate at a Vegan restaurant and loved the food, despite it being way over budget for my now non-existent budget. But I thought: “what the heck…”
I also went up to the Getty Centre for a Mexican heritage family festival and watched theatre performances, story telling and visited the black and white photography exhibition.
I soaked in the atmosphere of the nearly brand-new Meyer building overlooking LA, with its white rounded walls and fantastic architecture. And it was all free of charge.
My time in LA flew by and I was fascinated by the city. I never thought I would like it so much and was forced to change my mind about the place.
It is not plastic; it is colourful crystal glass; it changes colour the closer you look at it and gets more interesting the more time you invest in listening to people’s stories and watching them passing by.
I even managed to go to a gig, as I met a guy working in the business who invited me along to see the next Jeff Buckley, just the thing to do in LA – checking out tomorrow’s talent.
LA is certainly not an easy backpacker destination in terms of cost, but with the dollar still being at an all-time low, the exchange rates were in my favour and I managed to survive rather well.
One night the police turned up at our hostel and arrested a guy who was substance abusing but apart from that I did not get shot at and no one apart from the mean immigration officer made me feel unwelcome.
The weather was great, if a little cold at night. I met very interesting and open-minded people – real Los Angelinos – and it was great to be sucked into that special LA “what-dreams-are-made-of-vibe…”
From here it was definitely the last goodbye, the final farewell for my journey. Seven months had flown by and for the first time since leaving London in dark November I felt the need to go home.
Sleep in my own bed, sort rest of my life out. Travelling does that to you if you go far enough. Although I know that this will certainly not be my last trip as I’ve only just got a taste for travelling!