"To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted." -- Bill Bryson

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Friday, July 15, 2011

The City of Angels: The Last Day

It's Malibu day!

By 11:30am we're on the road. The drive is surprisingly quick and easy, especially since we have to drive through most of LA.

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Our first stop is Pepperdine.

You can't drive on campus though so we're forced past campus to what turns out to be a really cool drive through the mountains.

Our next stop is the beach. After a couple attempts to park ($25 for parking? Oh, hell, no) we find a FREE spot right at the top of a path to a cute, quiet little patch of beach.

The weather is perfect and the first hour we don't seem to feel the cold at all. The beach is almost entirely empty except for another family and this scuba diver who literally crawled out of the ocean.

By 3pm we're getting hungry though so we hop back into the car and head towards D'Amore's Pizza which we had passed earlier. For a tiny pizza place on the beach, it's quite good. I get the meatlovers (see obligatory food photo below)

We do take a quick stop off to see an old friend who also lives in LA now, but the rest of the day involved us packing up and getting ready for our early flight out the next day. We did take time out to drink some of our delicious 2-buck-Chuck though!

Overall the trip was a good one. It was a lot more relaxing that I had imagined, but it was just what the doctor ordered, so no complaints here! Now, on to Portland.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The City of Angels: Day 4

Once again we skip the free breakfast for some extra sleep. When we finally get out of bed we decide to suck it up and go to the beach, since that was supposed to be our plan for the entire trip. We stop for a delicious breakfast of corn beef hash and eggs at a place called Uncle Bill's in Manhattan Beach proper.

The food is absolutely delicious, and heart-attack worthy. But the place itself is cute and comfortable. It appears the locals love it too.

After breakfast (aka lunch to some) we take a short walk around town while we decide our next move. The entire town is full of adorable houses. It's the ultimate beach town, it seems.

I also find my future home (in my dreams)

The town is also incredibly hilly, so we move the car closer to the beach and settle in for a very brief beach experience.

But it's about 57F on the beach, so we only survive about an hour before having to run back to the car. Manhattan Beach is one of many famous beach towns all lined up on the coast so we head down to check out Hermosa & Redondo Beaches, which are just down the road.

In an effort to save some money and to avoid the chilly weather, we decide to skip walking around the well known towns and head back to the room to prepare for the evening.

Once again we get on the road towards the city. Our first destination is Beauty Bar. Because I've now been to this chain of crappy hipster bars in San Francisco, Austin & NYC I had to make an appearance at the one in LA. The traffic is awful. Awful. Luckily, we find our exit without losing our minds and we find Beauty Bar fairly easily. Sadly, finding Beauty Bar is the easy part. The search for parking in not. After 20 minutes of circling through the area, I have to take a break before I lose my mind, so we find a gas station and fill up. With a more clear head, we pick a random parking garage just a couple blocks from our destination.

This Beauty Bar is definitely...interesting. There's a strange mixture of people; my description was that of a place filled with people who didn't know where else to go. It's not really doing it for us though, so we decide we've got to find something better. The only redeeming moment in Beauty Bar is when Wayne Brady walks by the window. Although, I didn't see him, Nyla did, so it wasn't even that exciting for me. Whatevs.

Where do we go though? We're somewhere in Hollywood without a tour guide. On our walk to Beauty Bar a man gave us wrist bands for some place called Ecco. We figure we'll check it out. It's only a few doors down from Beauty Bar, and maybe it will be cool. Wrong. It turns out to be pretty much the worst club ever. We last for about 5 minutes before we have to escape. Everyone in the place looks like a spoiled-rich-kid-turned-coke-head and that is the opposite of our kind of people.

We emerge from the club in less than stellar spirits. Down the street a little ways though is a place called The Velvet Margarita. Greg had told us about this place and mentioned that it was pretty cool. We wander in to find out that it's just a restaurant with a bar. There's a bit of a line for the bar, so in a moment of exasperation I decide to just go to the bathroom first and then see how to line is. What luck! As we approach the bathrooms we hear some Michael Jackson coming from a nearby hallway. We bypass the bathroom and follow the music down the hall into a back patio full of dancing people and a DJ. This is where we were meant to be all along! Our entire night is turned around as it turns out to be hilarious and a blast. Thank God for The Velvet Margarita!

Monday, June 20, 2011

The City of Angels: Day 3

My alarm goes off at 8:30, but now that we're adjusting to West Coast time we decide to trade the Continental breakfast for a couple more hours of sleep. At 10:30 we wake up and prepare for the day before heading to 'downtown' Manhattan Beach for lunch. We park and head towards a place called Sharkeez where we grab a couple sandwiches. The food is good, but the whole restaurant is open to the outside air so it's a bit cold. After lunch we hop back into the car and head up to Sherman Oaks to meet up with our buddy, Greg. Sherman Oaks is in The Valley so it's a bit of a drive (ie it's on the opposite side of LA). Luckily, we switch into Greg's car so he can give us a driving tour of all of LA. First stop is a really nice view of the Hollywood sign where we take obligatory photos.

Greg takes us on a winding drive through the hills to show off some very impressive houses and we end up at the Griffith Observatory.

It's packed, so we have to park way down a hill and then hike to the top. Luckily the views are astoundingly beautiful as we walk, so it's bearable.

The view from the top is also amazing. The entire city is strewn out below the observatory; it was a great vantage point to see everything.

The observatory is fascinating inside as well. It's full of exhibits on space, weather, moon phases etc. All of their findings from the observatory are also on display and there are plenty of cool interactives.

Here is Greg under a heat sensor.

There's also a hilarious video in the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater narrated by Leonard Nimoy himself. The video discusses the history of the observatory. Mr Nimoy is hilarious in the video as well and completely adorable.

After the movie we head to the cafe for snacks before heading out for more driving tours of the city. We head through Hollywood and pass by the Kodak Theatre, Grauman's Chinese Theater, and the Walk of Fame.

Onward we go to Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive.

Rodeo Drive is beautiful and the amount of over-the-top cars is amazing. Rolls Royces, Bentleys, Lambos, Maseratis. It's almost out of this world.

Beverly Hills is just as crazy. The houses are impressive, as are the giant walls that cover obviously more impressive houses. But eventually we must go back to the real world and Greg's modest apartment to get our car. He has a birthday party to go to so Nyla and I head to In-N-Out Burger for dinner.

Afterwards we head to Trader Joe's in search of some legendary 'Two Buck Chuck.' This wine is an amazing $2 a bottle (actually called Charles Shaw), thus making it a favorite of all those broke young people living in LA. Our plan for the evening (or so we thought) involves this magical beverage. We head back to our hotel to change for the evening. While we're changing we find that our new plans involve meeting up with Greg at a bar in Los Feliz called Harvard & Stone. Traffic on the way is awful, as is the line outside the door and the fact that it's cold. Plus, the doorguy is mildly rude & full of hipster pretentiousness. AND once we get to the front of the line he lets a small gaggle of girls in before us. We finally get in and head immediately to the bar. The place is actually quite cool and huge but it seems that the entire population of LA assholes has gathered here.

Greg manages to find us and we take our beverages to a nice little corner near a fireplace. At one point I get us another round of drinks and come back to find a couple guys standing directly in my way. I politely ask them to move. Their response is to completely disregard me. After requesting that they move a couple more times, I am forced to literally climb over the couch that Nyla and Greg are sitting on. When I finally reach my friends Nyla points out that one of the guys happens to be Chris Masterson. Interesting. That brings an end to our evening and back we go to our little spot on the beach.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The City of Angels: Day 2, Part 2

After some much needed rest, we prepare ourselves for a night out. We head back up north to meet up with our old friend Greg at a place called Mother Dough in an area called Los Feliz

We arrive and are surprised by a table full of 10 people, half of which we know (all ex-Austinites). Dinner was fabulous. The pizza was all natural, all the ingredients were imported from Italy, the place itself was eclectic and well designed and the conversation was excellent as well.

We also had excellent wine with out dinner. At one point though, Nyla gave me her glass and asked what was going on with her wine. It looked mildly strange, so I assured her it was probably just a bit of floating sediment. When I took a whiff of the glass I realized what had actually happened...a piece of sausage from her pizza must have fallen into her glass. Instead of the usual fruity smell...it smelled straight up like sausage. She fished it out and continued drinking, like a champ, but it definitely added a bit of mirth to the already pleasant evening.

After dinner, half of the dinner party parts ways with us and Nyla and I and the guys we know head around the corner to a bar called Public Work. Oddly enough, Public Work doesn't exist on the internet, or I am not remembering correctly. It was a very cool place though. We had a very chill time, had a couple drinks, chatted, and then were all headed home by 1am. I was definitely ok with that, considering we had a 30 minute drive back to the hotel! Back to bed we go, in preparation for the next days adventures.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The City of Angels: Day 2, Part 1

Before I begin I did a bit of research for you. I looked up why a 'continental breakfast' is called such. This is what Wikipedia told me:

'Continental breakfast is a meal based on lighter Mediterranean breakfast traditions. It is a light meal meant to satisfy one until lunch. A typical continental breakfast consists of coffee and milk (often mixed as cappuccino or latte) or hot chocolate with a variety of sweet cakes such as waffles/pancakes, brioche and pastries such as croissants, often with a sweet jam, cream, or chocolate filling. It is often served with juice. The continental breakfast may also include sliced cold meats, such as salami or ham, yogurt or cereal. Some countries of Europe, such as the Netherlands and those in Scandinavia, add fruit and cheese to the bread menu and occasionally a boiled egg or a small serving of salami.

The continental breakfast concept is not limited to Europe and is often served throughout the world in hotel chains. The term itself is of British origin. "The continent" in Britain refers to the countries of continental Europe. A "continental breakfast" thus denotes the type of lighter meal served in continental Europe, as opposed to the "full" English breakfast.'

There ya go.

So our second day in LA beings at 8:30 with the free continental breakfast at our hotel. It's pretty decent, except for the awful coffee. Over breakfast we discover two things: 1. Japan has had yet another giant aftershock and 2. Los Angeles is going to be cold all week. By cold, I mean high of 60. Looks like our plan to lay on the beach for 5 days has fallen through. We head back to the room and start getting ready...we're not exactly sure what for, but we're hoping it'll be good.

Our first stop is Target. With highs of 60 and lows in the 40s, we have to stock up on warmer clothes. Assuming it would be warm, neither of us was prepared for these low temperatures. In the Target parking lot, as we assemble our new wardrobes, we try to decide what to do. I pull out my handy map and notice The La Brea Tar Pits. When I came to LA with my family 10 years ago we went and I remember it being quite cool, so we head up towards that part of town.

We wander through the small park and stop for photo-ops with the hilarious animal statues that live there.

It's also quite a pleasant day, after all, so we're in good spirits.

Although on a budget, we decide to cough up the entrance fee into the museum (I manage to save myself $2 with my old and almost unrecognizable student ID). It's a very cool museum, so we, of course, take more photos than necessary. Here's a sampling:

Nyla trying to 'escape' from a tar pit

The museum is actually quite small though, so we manage to get out and back to the car within the parking meter time frame. By this time it's already almost 2pm and it occurs to us that breakfast was around 8:30 that morning. Our obvious next stop has to be

Using the handy-dandy GPS, we find the closest In-n-Out Burger easily enough. We opt to park and go in, which turns out to be an excellent idea. The line for the drive-thru is probably about 20 cars long and loops through another parking lot. There are quite a few people waiting inside for their food as well, but luck is on our side and we manage to snag a table just in time for our food to come out. It's far more delicious than I remember and Nyla is totally floored. At that moment we decide that all of our meals should be eaten there. Not just because it's so much cheaper than anything else in LA, but because it is amazing. After the meal though, it was definitely time for a nap. Back to the hotel we go!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Quick Sidenote

A quick break from Los Angeles...I'm just sitting here watching one of my favorite movies of all time (The Legend of 1900) and there was an excellent quote that I thought I'd share. The main character was born and raised on a ship. Having never stepped foot on land, his best friend is trying to convince him to get off the ship just once. The main character, who is played by the excellent Tim Roth, simply says "I think land people waste a lot of time wondering why. Winter comes and can't wait for summer, summer comes and you never can wait for winter. That's why you never tire of traveling or chasing some place far away, where it's always summer."

I just loved the sentiment and the simple explanation of wanderlust.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The City of Angels: Day 1

And so it begins! My good friend Katie arrives promptly at 2pm (Austin time) to pick Nyla and I up. When she arrives we're in the process of fitting all of our stuff into my giant suitcase. With baggage prices at $25 a bag, we decided it would be best to consolidate. Surprisingly, it's no big feat to get all of our stuff into the one bag (we're both notorious over-packers. I think between the two of us we had 6 pairs of high-heels). The drive to the airport from my house is an easy one so we get to the airport in no time, say our good-byes to Katie, and make our way to the United desk where we are greeted by the overly-smiley attendant. The lady greets us, weighs our bag and informs us that we have to lose 5lbs. At 55lbs, we're definitely over the weight limit. We pull the giant bag off to the side and examine it's innards. I grab as much stuff as I can that can fit into my carry on but it all seems relatively light. The heavy stuff seems to be my shampoo and conditioner and the like. I grab the cheapest stuff and toss them into the garbage. I figure it'll be easy to buy all new when we arrive in LA. In the end we manage to lose 4lbs of stuff and the lady deems it 'good enough.' She checks our bag in and we head towards security...

Little did I know that the stupid attendant checked my bag in...but not me. As we reach the security line I notice that the piece of paper she gave me says nothing about seats, or boarding times or anything. In fact, it only reads 'baggage claim receipt.' I leave Nyla in line, in a huff, and make my way back to the United desk. Luckily, there's a line. So instead of having to face the overly smiley, but useless attendant, I just go to the do-it-yourself kiosk to check in.

I meet Nyla on the other side of security and we find our way to our gate. Of course it's the very last possible gate in the entire terminal and of course we had to dress up a little just because we're going to LA...

But eventually we make it on the plane and head to our seats. We are the very last row on a very tiny plane. The plane is so tiny, in fact, that our seats, which lean against the bathroom, don't recline.

We also get the never-ending joy of smelling everything that goes on in the bathroom. On the plus side, the lovely flight attendant, Erica, takes pity on use and gives us each a set of ear plugs. They make the flight a much more pleasant one.

After the flight, the trip becomes much more smooth. We arrive safely in LAX and arrive in baggage claim just as our bag does. We easily find the bus for Advantage Rent A Car, fill out our paperwork and jump into our ever-so-cool Nissan Versa (in red!).

We promptly dub her 'CiCi'

The most useful thing in the world on this trip is Nyla's GPS on her phone. Everywhere we went we used it and it made navigating the giant city of LA completely simple. I almost felt like we were cheating, but it was worth it! So using the GPS we easily find our lovely residence, The Wave Hotel. We get our room number and our keys and head up only to discover unmade beds, fast food garbage and dirty towels. At first we think it's the wrong room and someone is still staying there, but then we realize it was just never cleaned. Nyla calls down to the front desk and the lady tells us to come back downstairs and she'll get us another room. When I arrive at the desk she's talking very quickly in Spanish to what turns out to be the house keeper. Apparently the house keeper is saying she cleaned it and since it's so late in the evening, all the house keepers have left so no one is there to clean it for us. Luckily, the desk lady has one other room to give us, which turns out to be a far superior room.

The beds are far across the room from each other, it's bigger and is just all-around nicer.

By this time we are absolutely STARVING. Manhattan Beach has a lot of restaurants, as we saw driving to the hotel, but we decide we're just going to stick to something we know is cheap, Olive Garden. I'm not sure why we thought this was a good idea, considering neither of us actually like Olive Garden. I guess we thought it would be inexpensive. WRONG. We forgot that we are in LA and everything is expensive. Although we have a nice time, the food is still mediocre and the prices are an unpleasant surprise.

We're both exhausted by the time dinner is finished (don't forget we're 2 hours ahead of Pacific time) so we finish the evening by just taking a short drive through 'downtown' Manhattan Beach. It's a very cute little beach town with a beautiful pier and we definitely decide we'll enjoy exploring it...but not now. So we head back to the room and are asleep by 10:30pm.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Yarn Bombing?

In the name of travel!!! So my good friend, Sarah, is writing a documentary about a new phenomenon called "yarn bombing." It's basically knit graffiti. BUT she's trying to raise money to do some serious traveling around the world and she really needs help. If you have anything to spare (I only could donate $20), PLEASE go here and donate. Even if you don't have anything to spare, go to the site and check out the preview anyways. It's very cool stuff. If you feel the need to tell all your friends about it, that'd be nice too!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Packing Time!

Well, I'm packing finally. Our flight out is at 4:15pm this afternoon so I have a good chunk of the day to get everything in order. Yesterday I finally decided to save myself $300 and get the economy rental car instead of renting a Camaro or something similar. It was amazing how different the prices were from rental place to rental place. I ended up going with Advantage. We'll see how it goes, as this is my first time renting a car. Unfortunately there's also going to be a fee because I'm under 25. Rude. Anyways, I'll keep you posted on the trip!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Watch out L.A.

So the plane tickets have been purchased. Amazingly we found straight flights between Austin and LAX for only about $320 with all the fees and whatnot. The unusual part (for me at least) is that we will be flying on United. I'm a sworn Continental & JetBlue customer usually, but the cards just fell this way.

Next step: where to stay!

As of this moment we are almost sure that we'll be staying in Manhattan Beach.

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I asked everyone I know who ever lived in L.A. what beach I should stay at. While many suggested various other beaches, almost everyone also mentioned Manhattan Beach. It's not far from the airport, so that should make things easier. More later on what I discover about the area.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

New Trip: Officially Planned?

Well I finally have a much more realistic plan for the $500 gift card I won at my Christmas work party. After two months of halfheartedly looking up plane tickets to here or there, I came upon an idea that is now beginning to take shape.

While Belize, Scotland and Boston were all front-runners, none of these ideas were coming together. A quick shopping trip two days ago though gave me my inspiration for my next trip. I bought a new bathing suit and it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn't taken a simple beach vacation in years. These simple beach vacations had never even been a trip planned by me. I suppose my normal travel "style" involves going and seeing a lot of stuff and never leaving myself any time for some old-fashioned relaxation. So I decided that I should go to a beach. Before the day ended I had narrowed it down to Miami, Tybee Island (in Georgia) or L.A.

I mentioned this idea to my good friend, Nyla, who took the idea and ran with it. Next thing I knew, she had found cheap tickets (we're looking at about $320 round trip) to LAX. Conveniently, she has a travel voucher at Hotwire, making the planning process all the more easy.

So that's where the plan stands as of now. I first have to hear back from work with the go ahead to take a vacation. Then the exciting parts: figuring out the details! More to come on this.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

San Francisco: The Final Day

The worst part of this day is having to wake up and return the bikes. I wake up before everyone else and sneak out to get a coffee and some alone time at the Atlas Cafe that Sarah and I went to the other morning. It's just barely on the verge of being chilly, so it's perfect to sit outside in the sun while I sip on my coffee. By the time I get back, Sarah's ready to being our next adventure. We ride just a couple blocks to a bus stop and hop on the 33. We have to stick the bikes on one of those fold down bike racks that sits on the front of the bus that look a little something like this:

So we ride happily on the bus...until it stops at the last stop on the line...which isn't ours. As it turns out, we took the bus in the entirely wrong direction. In our defense, the buses are incredibly confusing. You see, in Austin every bus has a number to tell you which line it is. It also has the name of its final destination so you know that you're headed the right way. This bus was just called 'Stanyan.' Stanyan was the street we were trying to get too, hence why we thought it was going in the right direction. Luckily, buses travel in a big circle, so no harm, no foul. We eventually get going again and head (finally) in the right direction. It's actually quite neat because we get to see so much more of the city. We reach our stop, return the bikes and hop back on the bus to return to Rachel for our last meal before departing.

After Rachel joins us we decide to try a different Mission burrito place. We head to El Farolito. This is Hol's favorite burrito place; but hands down Papalote wins the best burrito contest. The burritos at El Farolito are just too greasy! We finish our lunch and head back to Rachel's place for our goodbyes. It is sadly time for us to make the trek back to Austin. We part ways, hop back on the BART and finally back to Austin. Adios, San Fran

Monday, January 10, 2011

San Francisco: Day 4

After a night of adventures, we get up and moving pretty late (noonish). But we head out for some even more serious adventuring. We walk from Rachel's place to a cute area of town for brunch at a place called The Crepevine.

I get a delectable "Castro" crepe with bananas, strawberries & Nutella in honor of our walk to the Castro area of town. The Castro is where Harvey Milk lived so it's a predominantly gay area of town (ie giant rainbow flags everywhere, gay rights posters all over, and a fully naked man wandering about). We stop for photos of the famous Castro Theater

A nice couple was taking a photo of their dog with the sign...

By this time it's getting late in the day and we have much bigger adventures ahead of us, so we head off towards the Haight-Ashbury area (a hipster area of town).

There are tons of cool shops, restaurants & boutiques all surrounded by some interesting architecture.

We don't really have time for shopping, but I do pop into the famous Amoeba Records for a quick peek.

We hit a park, swing a left and find Avenue Cyclery, the jumping off point for our biggest adventure. For $30 a day, Sarah and I rent bikes (Rachel brought hers). Our ultimate goal is to ride the Golden Gate Bridge. Away we head, in some direction that no one seems to be sure about. Not a huge fan of bikes in the first place, I am even less pleased when the chain on my bike falls off. The fact that we're also heading in an unknown direction sets the tone for the the day.

My hands after putting the chain back on...

We stop more than once to consult maps, ask for directions and retrace our steps. The hills also suck. Admittedly, the scenery is astoundingly beautiful. We ride through Golden Gate Park catching glimpses of the coast through the trees.

Finally, we reach the edge of the bridge. I'm pretty much done with biking by that time, so I lock mine up and head out on foot while Rachel and Sarah head off on their bikes. Bikes are required to cross on one side of the bridge and pedestrians must walk on the other, so I'm on my own. It's amazing from the pedestrian side. I get a view of Alcatraz and the city.

The bridge is amazing up close so of course I take a million photos. I don't walk the entire thing though because it's way further than you'd think plus the sun is setting and it's getting cold and I'm not trying to be standing on the bridge in the dark.

Here are some of the photos I snapped:

I head back to examine the gift shop while I wait for the ladies. Perfectly I find a knit SanFran cap to shield me from the cold night. It's dark by now and we sit at a table drinking burnt coffee while we examine the map. With a small idea of where we're going we head off into the darkness with me shouting "this is the stupidest thing I've ever done." Mildly lost, we are approached by a couple that's equally lost. All together we head out and luckily find our way back to the Fisherman's Wharf after winding through some sketchy and dark warehouses. We pick a random place to eat (that has oysters) and it turns out to be great. Best hush puppies I've ever had.

The pleasantness of the dinner is then followed by another 30 minute bike ride in which my chain falls off...again. We collapse in Rachel's room and decide that as it's our last night we should at least go have a beer somewhere. We head back to Kilowatt, but don't stay long due to the extreme exhaustion from the day. Back we head to bed.