Thursday, 12 November 2009

It is perfectly possible to get around LA by bus

Last week (was it last week? Maybe two weeks ago. Anyway, recently) we had a little trip to Los Angeles. It was good - it was good to have a bit of a break (I worked out that apart from trips home and to the UK, I hadn't had 5 consecutive days of holiday in a good two years) and it was interesting. And I loved it that it was so hot - up to 30 degrees (celsius) at some points!

There are photos on flickr and FB, and here are some random impressions on it all.

First: it's a loong way away. Well, 6 hours, which somehow doesn't seem so bad when you're going to the UK - but it feels wrong to be on a plane for six hours, and still be in the same country when you land. This land is a big land.

We were staying in Westwood, which is where the UCLA campus is (because of Nick's conference) and I think it's a great area to stay in if you're not desperate to be near the beach, or in a very glitzy place or suchlike. Because of the students, there's loads of cheap places to eat, cafes, ladidah coffee shops (in one - a very small one - we counted 4/5 macs and a customised dell), and somewhat interesting shops.

Also, crucially, there are many many buses that go to most places you want to get to, at acceptable intervals and very low prices (75 cents or $1.25), thus proving wrong all those who say that you can't possibly survive without a car as a tourist, or that you will miss out on many things if you.

Exhibit A: we got the bus to the splendid Getty Center and were there in 15 minutes. We loved it. You take a little train-tram thingy up the hills, and you end up in this complex of museum rooms and terraces and gardens. The museum, which spans several centuries of art, is just the right size to be interesting and finish before you're bored or tired. The terraces give you 360 degree views of the Santa Monica bay, the surrounding hills, the 405 freeway, and downtown LA in the far distance. The gardens are really pretty. Heck, even the food was good, and how often can you say that of museum cafes? We spent a good 4/5 hours there. Oh, and it was all free. Hurrah for multimillionaires, I guess...

Exhibit B: I went to and from Hollywood very easily, with the trip taking just 35 minutes, and going past all the pretty villas on Sunset Blvd, the gated compound of Bel Air, and bits of Beverly Hills. Ok, so at times I felt a little out of place on the bus, I confess, but it's probably my fault for being a bit snobbish. I definitely never felt unsafe or too uncomfortable - though I was very obviously the only non-local. I have to say, I wasn't keen on Hollywood at all - I had been warned that it is a little tacky and touristy, but I think this is a bit of an was a zoo. Overrun with tourists, and with people hawking wares photos special rides souvenirs tickets vouchers and godknowswhatelse. The famous sidewalk with all the stars? Well, that's where we all walk, so it's not exactly practical to take a closer look or search for a particular name. There are some very lovely vintage buildings though, such as this one -

And I guess at least I can say I've been.

Exhibit C: On Sunday we took a bus to Santa Monica, and, again, got there relatively quickly and easily. I loved loved loved it. I loved the pedestrian avenue, I loved the enormous beach, the tacky arcade, the ocean, the dolphins that randomly turned up to play for us, the sunset - everything. It was basically what you imagine when you think of LA, and I hadn't actually had had much of it until then - in fact, a distinctive characteristic of the city seems to be to connect items of interest and/or beauty (a museum, a farmers' market, Hollywood, whatever) with enormous patches of great squalor and - not quite ugliness, nor run-downness, but...unkemptness maybe. Not particularly nice to walk about, or look around, which is sad, because I like walking randomly around places I don't know.

When I wasn't busy critically appraising the public transportation and the urban layout of the city, I turned my attention to other worthwhile pursuits. I walked around the UCLA campus a bit, which was pretty in what I assume is the style de riguer at Californian universities, since I also saw it at Stanford - a sort of cross between Romanesque and Mexican estate, cf. photo (and admire the sky while you're at it! No photoshop involved). Also overrun with tanned leggy blond people wearing too short shorts and flip flops (of both genders). Actually now that I think of it, not just blond, but pleasingly a zillion times more diverse than, say, Princeton.

I also had the great joy of meeting up with a friend of mine from the MPhil who now lives out there, in Long Beach to be precise - he took me out there, via a fun detour down Rodeo Drive (so I can say that I've seen it!), and it was another part of the city I really liked - more in the way of awesome old buildings, nice looking cafes and bars, and a sort of marina/quay type place where we had dinner.

All in all, a successful trip - not necessarily on my top 10 places to rush back to perhaps, but fun, and pleasing, and timed just right.

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