I write from a destination that appeared dream-like and intangible to me for many, many weeks. The Hyatt Bellevue is majestic by name and majestic by nature. This heritage-listed building is grand – a word that Holden Caulfield dubbed ‘phoney’. He’s right, but damn if this hotel aint grand!
My husband and I are working-class kids. We are causal by style and personality. This hotel is contra to us in all degrees. A heavy crystal chandelier dangles indulgently above ice buckets filled with champagne. This is no exaggeration. The concierge wear tails and there’s an eager bell boy who helps us weary travellers to press the buttons in the lift – I certainly couldn’t do that alone, haha! As we navigate our way to our room we are greeted by mini-chandeliers, opulently patterned carpet and wallpaper that screams 19th century New England in a sort of baby blue way. Our room is similarly decked. Gold-trimmed lighting and more richly patterned wallpaper greet us. Everything looks so good, but nothing as good as the bed – it is so comfy that within minutes we all collapse and fall into a deep afternoon sleep.
Our exhaustion comes from two days of constant sight-seeing by foot. Yesterday we were in LA navigating our way around Hollywood. The public bus from our hotel at LAX to Hollywood was insane. Getting on board our driver told us in his wicked Spanish American voice that we needed exact change – $2 a piece. A quick check revealed no change – and our driver’s appeal to our fellow passengers to help us out resulted in a woman offering us a bunch of bus tokens. How cool is that? At the time we thought these would get us one ride, but it turns out this sweet lady gave us enough tokens to catch three buses – about $12! Insane. As we headed towards a tourist’s celebrity mecca, we noted that we were the only white people on the bus – for the whole 50 minute trip. Sitting up the back with our goofy Australian smiles, we certainly were a novelty. The looks of curiosity on the faces of the other passengers suggests that not many white people catch the public bus in this part of town, and white Australian are probably even more rare. But seriously – catching the public bus to Hollywood is a must do if you’re ever in town. This is the real LA. The people are so friendly, genuine and straight-up cool, just listening to their voices made me think I was in a movie, ‘no shit’!
Hollywood Boulevard was pretty much a street with stars on the ground. Don’t get me wrong, we giggled like school kids when we found stars bearing the names ‘Jonny Depp’ and ‘Eddie Murphy’, but after two blocks of them we were over it. We had big plans to visit Little Tokyo, Little Ethiopia and the Farmers Markets. Reality is, we didn’t have a map and our iPhones are not on the net because data roaming costs a fortune (a quick trip to a Hollywood phone store and a chat with a more than helpful local revealed that our sims are locked so no net for us on this holiday). We were navigating by imagination.
If you’re heading to Hollywood, what’s something you know you have to see and photograph? That damn big sign, right? Well we saw it – no word of a lie! We knew the sign was on a hill, and when we looked north and saw some dry-looking hills we headed that way. When the letters bounced into view hanging above some cute Spanish-style houses I have to say I got kinda silly. There it was – the sign. But it was tiny. Like really tiny. I figured it was just another example of reality stomping on illusion but we wanted to be sure, so we walked in the direction of the sign. The sun was belting down and we were panting like dogs trapped in a car by the time we acknowledged that our walking was leading to the sign being blocked by more houses. It wasn’t until we’d given up and started heading back south that we realised the sign had once again risen into view behind us – it’s an illusive critter! We got some sweet shots.
This post has already gone on for so long, so I’ll quickly summarise the rest of our Hollywood adventure. After having a VERY expensive drink at a supposedly British tavern called The Cat and the Fiddle on Sunset Boulevard (they do a pretty awful Pimms and have no idea what a lemon, lime and bitters is) we jumped on another public bus from Santa Monica Boulevard and rode for the long drive to Santa Monica Pier.
The Pier was busy! It is summer here, and this place is kinda like a mini Luna Park. We were hungry and decided – stupidly – to get some Taco Bell. Yuck. Then we caved and agreed – stupidly – to let the boys go on a ride. Needless to say my Taco Bell nearly reappeared.
Another bus ride and we were at Venice Beach. Just before dark. If you’re from the US, you’ll know what I mean by my last sentence. It was getting pretty late and being fans of The Doors (my nickname is Jim as a homage) we knew we had to see Venice Beach. The market-style stalls were closing and the LAPD were starting to do their rounds. I was kinda scared and feeling guilty because of it. I did like Venice Beach though – I wish we’d had more time to check it out when it was daylight. I anticipate that the area wouldn’t be that safe after dark. I could be wrong.
Another two buses and we just made our red-eye to NYC. We flew out at 11.45pm and arrived in NYC at 7.30am. Lucky for my boys they got some sleep. Lee and I weren’t so lucky. By the time we got into JFK we were stumbling under the weight of our packs and suffering from serious tourist fatigue. What an image, huh? 21st century Dulce est Decorum et. I must confess in our physical weakness we fell for the dulcet tones of a hawker (is that what you call them?) who convinced us to pay $50 for a ride in his SUV to Grand Central Station. It was actually a great ride – our fellow passengers were Spanish-speaking, just like our driver, so we got a healthy dose of cultural ‘otherness’ – our first glimpse of the Lego-city that is Manhattan was wicked. My stomach was in my throat as we identified a world icon – the Empire State Building.
Heads-spinning, we tumbled out of the sleek SUV and handed over our green bills only to eventually realise that Grand Central Station, as impressive as it is, was not where we needed to be. We needed to be at Penn Station. Is this where Holden Caulfield stowed his bags and slept after Mr Antolini patted his hair a little too affectionately? Packs on backs and little people complaining the whole way, we walked our way down streets and avenues named by numbers (39th, 42nd, 7th), grabbed some salad at a NYC deli (for real!!!) and hit our destination. Penn Station. This is place where you don’t want to be lost, you don’t want to be tired and you don’t want to breath. The word humid just doesn’t sum up the density and heat of the air below NY city. Foul. We went from here to there, got travel and tourist tips from people from all walks of life, chatted to a New Yorker who’s lived in NYC for 52 years and never been to Central Park, booked tickets on the Amtrak to Philly and made the decision to ‘pass the time’ in Central Park. On our first ever subway train (the ‘1’ heading North) we were taken in by another hawker as the boys unwittingly ‘bought’ the dorkiest umbrella hats for 5 bucks apiece. You live and learn. We laughed when we realised we were swindled, but the boys were happy.
I won’t try to capture Central Park for you. There are no words today. We’ll be back in five days time to follow Holden’s footsteps and visit Strawberry Fields to think about Lennon.
Right now, I’m tired and keen to check out my itinerary for tomorrow – day one of ISTE.