Two weeks ago I told you about my travel plans to United States west coast with my husband Joonas and here were are. I arrived in US on Thursday June 7 and met Joonas at the airport.
Quick tips on cars and driving in US
For our trip we needed a car and decided to rent it via a travel agency from Finland since it was considerably cheaper than renting one directly from a car rental company in the US. We got our brand new car for six weeks for one thousand Euro from Finland, including all necessary insurances - compared to the over two thousand US Dollars it would have cost us straight from the rental company, plus we still would have needed those insurances.
Also an indispensable help has been the GPS we bought for only 60 € compared to the 500 € it would have cost to rent with the car. Remember to purchase one with lane instructions, since the highways often have multiple lanes and on a high speed highway it's hard to follow all the signs and try to survive the traffic at the same time.
And yes, the traffic is horrible and the roads are bad! Of course it depends on where you drive and when, but it seems none of the highways are lit - something you learn to appreciate once you have to drive in heavy traffic at 100 km/h on way too narrow lanes. Also in Los Angeles it's very common to see cars with dents on them and I don't wonder why. The cars drive at close distance and side by side at high speed, changing lanes randomly and mostly without signaling. It was on our second day we witnessed a car crash in front of us. During daytime, driving is much safer since you can see around and there are huge traffic jams so you are not driving at a heart wrenching speed.
|During daytime the traffic in LA is tense, but since there are constant traffic jams the speeds are OK. Still people don't seem to know how to use lights before changing lanes, which makes the experience quite horrible.|
|Traffic during night in La is utterly terrifying. No lights, high speeds and people still don't know how to operate their cars. But on a more positive note, after you leave the city the rest of the country feels like Sunday driving.|
|LA downtown during sunset. The sun sets fast. The important signs for drivers are lost somewhere amidst huge advertisements.|
Quick tips on motels in US
So far we have booked our hotels just two days in advance but as it's vacation season it's not always easy to find a reasonably priced place to stay. From our experience so far you can get a good place to sleep for c. 60 € per night. And by good I mean no bugs, own toilet, own bed and a parking slot for the car. So far all the motels have filled that criteria and much more. Many offer breakfast (usually just white bread, cereal, coffee, tea, juice and muffins) and many have a small fridge in the room, and free internet. Quite fast we learned to buy some yoghurt, smoothies, and fruit to take to the breakfast room.
Best place to reserve a room is via internet. We have compared prices between Hotels.com, eBookers.com, and other big companies to find the best offers. Before reserving the room it's always good to do some background checking via TripAdvisor.com and check out how people like the place. It's a great way to find hidden jewels and also warning signs like a bad neighbourhood or bugs, which can really ruin your stay. Remember to bring ear plugs! The soundproofing in lower states is not very good since it never gets very cold and thus you can hear traffic through your door. Oh, and remember to write reviews to Trip Advisor after your stay.
|Our first motel, Best Western Eagle Rock Inn, was superb and they even offered bacon and sausages for breakfast. Om nom nom! That black car in the back is ours.|
Even though I'm writing this from San Francisco I'm going to tell you only about Los Angeles since it's such a huge city. And remember, we'll be returning here just before going back home and then we're planning on visiting Disneyland, Universal Studios and La Brea Tar Pits.
Museum of Jurassic Technology
I had no idea what to expect from this place. The museum's internet pages left us with more questions than answers and the Wikipedia's explanation of this place being a "metamuseum" didn't help. If you have ever read H.P. Lovecraft or played pen and paper roleplaying games, you must visit this place. And if you haven't, leave all your preconceptions behind and step in. To tell you about the museum would spoil it, but let's just say it this way. If an investigator from any of the Cthulhu mythos stories would make a museum, this would be it. It's filled with objects on the borderline of fact and fiction. And just like in the Call of Cthulhu RPG I rolled sanity dice a couple of times during my visit and at one point felt really sick from the smells, sounds and objects. Thank god, at the end of the exhibition upstairs there is a safe haven where you can relax and recover from the actual museum. A definite must see place!
|Photographing inside the museum was forbidden so you have to see it yourself or Google for pictures and be even more puzzled at what you are watching.|
I knew Ennis house only from the movie Blade Runner, which I'm a huge fan of, but never mind if you have seen the movie or not, the building is _amazing_! Frank Lloyd Wright designed the house for his friends and there are a few other houses made in the same style, but the Ennis house is considered the best example. For many years the house has stood empty and it was on sale for over a year until some billionaire decided to buy it at half the original asking price. The sales deal included an option that whoever bought the house had to keep it available for audiences for twelve days a year, so in the future the house or at least its premises should be open for access. But today the building is under renovation. When we visited the place the building's exterior showed extensive damage and cracked building blocks, and the garden was growing wild. Still the building was amazing. I gasped when I saw it peeking from behind other buildings and couldn't wait to see it in full. The style is imitating old Mayan style, sometimes called Mayan Revival architecture. Reading about the building's past, we found out the building has been used also in some Buffy episodes as a hiding place for Spike and Drusilla, and in the fake soap opera in Twin Peaks.
Open letter to Ennis house owner: Dear Madam/Sir, I love your house and you are my new idol! Please, when you have finished the renovation, please could you invite me over. I promise to write your name in Hieroglyphics for you as my gratitude for the invitation. Sincerely, Mia. P.S. You can contact me through Nörttitytöt.
Santa Monica pier
Trying to recover from jetlag we went to the Santa Monica pier, because it's such a laid back place and Joonas had spent some time there on his business trips and wanted to show the place to me. Well, it's a pier. A long one with an amusement park on it. It's huge and filled with all sorts of shacks selling stuff for tourists. There was a man willing to carve your name on a grain of rice. That's quite cool, but where to put it and how to display it? What if you accidently vacuum it or boil it?
As a nerdy field tripper, be sure to check out the arcade. It doesn't have the latest games, but as arcades are getting rarer and rarer, it's worth a look.
Even though the place is worth a visit and the place is very relaxed, on a level of nerdiness and must-see-iness it gets only...
|We got all excited but this place is not real. Booo!|
Abandoned Zoo & Griffith Park
In 1960s the Los Angeles Zoo moved to its current location, leaving behind its old buildings and animal cages. The internet claimed not many people know of the abandoned zoo's existence, but it's actually located in the most popular Griffith Park - though at the very furthest end of it, so not many people find their way there. Still, there were many groups celebrating birthdays and maybe a wedding in the area next to the largest animal cages, where the lions used to live (or that's what I heard a passer-by saying). Further in the back there were other smaller animal cages and a half collapsed zoo-keeper's house which missed its back wall. It smelled of human excrement and there were some blankets on the floor, where some homeles person must have slept.
In fact, we were a bit worried we'd have to go through bushes to find the zoo and would end up robbed and stepping on an old used needle somewhere, but the place felt very safe. I wouldn't want to be there after dark since it's so far from anything else. But in day time there were other groups of people there climbing on and in the old cages and taking pictures. And I saw not one needle there, or any litter for that matter, except in that one building.
After it was abandoned the zoo has got new residents. We saw a squirrel, many different kinds of birds, a cute lizard and some critters. Oh and about a million flies which totally fell in love with me. Other than that a nice place to visit. I wish we would have remembered to buy some picnic food since this would have been a great place to eat them. Then again, on our small detour to get some drinks we found a hundred year old, adorable merry-go-round from the park where (some) children and (especially) old ladies rode again and again.
|What it's all about.|
|An old animal cage from the inside.|
|Joonas standing at the doorway of one abandoned animal cage. The cages were really small.|
|A wedding (?) at the old lion cages.|
|Lion cage and a man belonging to the wedding troupe.|
|Joonas walking toward the abandoned zookeeper's building. On his left, the backs of the old lion cages.|
|"Joonas, you better take that photo [beep] fast!" Mia and about a million flies.|
|Mia walking in an old animal enclosure. There was a waterfall built in there.|
|The built-in water wall system.|
|Current inhabitant of the zoo: a cute lizard.|
We went here just for curiosity's sake and for the view over the city, but this turned out to be a true jewel. First, not only the view, but you can also see the Hollywood sign from there. Second, this is the same observatory where James Dean's Rebel Without a Cause was shot, as well as many other films. Third, the place is an absolutely wonderful spot to learn about space, and also to understand how insignificant and miniscule we are in the universe in all aspects.
The background of the place is quite interesting. Millionaire Giffith J. Griffith lived in L.A., acquired a lot of land, and gave it to the city, hence the name Griffith Park. Well, Griffith got a change to look through a telescope one night and he was so bewildered by what he saw, he decided to build an observatory so everyone could see what he saw and be changed like him. The Griffith Observatory was for a long time the most advanced place to study stars and now works as both an observatory and a museum. Its publicly accessible telescope is the most viewed telescope in the world. A few years ago the observatory was closed for renovation and an expansion, and in the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon theatre the man himself went through the history of the place and the huge renovation effort, giving a quick tour around the place. I must give it to Americans, they really know how to make "boring" things entertaining. The video offered many great moments where the whole audience laughed out loud and you just have to love Nimoy! He is a great character! <3
The best part of the observatorium is it allows you to experience the wonders of the space yourself. There are places where you can watch the sun live through lenses to see its flares, and a spot where you can see sunspots. I wish I would have been here when Venus crossed the sun just now. The most mindblowing part of the observatory is in the new area. The back wall is a photograph of the night sky, having millions of stars and galaxies in it. The trick is, that picture covers only the amount of the night sky you can cover with one finger held at arm's length. And to think that our own Milky Way is a relatively small galaxy and just in that region of space there are about a million galaxies visible to us. After seeing this place I would be an idiot to say ours is the only planet with life on it. Guys, we are not alone, we just haven't found the others yet.
|The Griffith Observatory.|
|A statue for James Dean in front of the observatory.Rebel Without a Cause was the movie which made the observatory famous to the large masses.|
|Joonas and Hollywood/Los Angeles.|
|Here is a finger. Now count all the small dots you see (the smallest ones are just some reflections from the surface). Each one of those is a galaxy like our Milky Way.|
|A step back. Hey, Joonas! You stand there...|
|Can you see Joonas still standing there in the middle? Behind him is the huge photograph (yes, the whole wall) taken from the night sky covering only a part of the sky you can cover with your finger held at arms length.|
|Haha! We just happened there when they turned it on manually. Cool!|
Time Travel Mart
In Los Angeles there is a store called the Time Travel Mart where they sell stuff like mammoth chunks and ray guns. We went there hoping to find some silly items to decorate our home with, but unfortunately left the place empty handed. The idea behind this store is that its profits are used to encourage children to read more and to invoke children's imagination, and to get the money the 826 National organization has founded a few stores around US with varying themes. In LA it's time travel. Unfortunately the idea was not taken far enough and the store was bit disappointing. The only thing I was ready to buy was a King Tutankhamon's sarcophagus which had the most amazing King Tut action figure depicted on the box. Unfortunately the package only held the sarcophagus and not the action figure so I left the place empty handed.
Idea: ***** Execution: **
|Whenever you are, we're already there. Time travelers...|
Meltdown comics store
Joonas had been telling me about this place ever since his first visit to LA so it was a must visit for us. The Meltdown comics is a huge store which sells both the latest comics and some past issues, and also some comics from local artists and small press. The place has also a table for playing roleplaying games around it and a back room where they have gigs and other events for the local nerds. Definitely a cute place and if I'd live in LA I'd be a regular customer. They have very good selections of all the latest issues of superhero and other comics, a nice selection of old comics and a bit poorer of the collections - or at least on the very old Marvel comics that I was trying to find. Still we left the place with some comics we'd been trying to find with a smaller price tag than in Finland.
|Meltdown comics from the outside.|
|Meltdown comics from the inside.|
Famous hotdogs. When we got there the line was going around the building and it took us about one hour in line to get the hotdogs. I know, sounds really stupid to stand in line for just some hotdogs. Well, I'm not sure if it was worth the wait but the hotdogs were huge! While we were pondering on how much to order we heard a small, slender woman behind us say she was planning on ordering three hotdogs but because of the line she was going to have four. Folks, I don't know where her extra hotdog belly was located because we could hardly stuff two hotdogs ourselves. Try the chili, it's really good.
|Joonas lining for food.|
|We thought we ordered just fries but it was a whole meal! *so full*|
First day in LA, I'm suffering from jetlag, hungry, and at the mercy of Joonas's infamous navigational skills. Things were not looking good for me and a marital argument was just around the corner. Burning willpower we went searching for Umami burger, which seemed to have top reviews at TripAdvisor.com. We looked and looked but all we could see was some Fred Segal signs everywhere. Finally when we were ready to give up and I had used all my reserves of willpower to stay cool in the summer heat we decided to go in Fred Segal and ask for directions and - alas! - the Umami Burger was located in a shopping mall called Fred Segal and we walked straight in the restaurant. *facepalm* Well, exercise is important and it was a good way to see the city.
Anyway, the burgers were delicious. Their signature "Umami burger" has plenty of shiitake mushrooms - it's quirky, but packed with taste.
Oh, and one more thing. In TripAdvisor I noticed someone complaining about how expensive these burgers were saying they had the price of fine dining. Dear Finnish reader, my burger cost me $12/9 €, fries $3.5/3 €, Mexican Coca-Cola $3/2,5 € and a hand made luxurious piece of cake $4/3 €! Ok, so it was more expensive than McDonalds but about a thousand times better and healthier.
|Waiting for food with a Mexican Coke. Tasted just like a normal one...|
Next time already on Friday and then on Sunday I'll tell you about our drive to San Francisco and the city itself.
Mia & Joonas