Thursday, July 1, 2010

Los Angeles On The Go

~ Image: The tide is clearly out in this image of a canal at Venice Beach, Los Angeles.

Still suffering from the effects of jet lag (yes, Livingstone, I know flying 10,000kms hardly compares to the light years you’ve travelled, but tell someone who cares - I’m still tired, Ok?), I embarked on a whistle-stop five hour bus tour of L.A.

Under the expert guidance of Cyril, a driver for VIP Tours, I and my fellow passengers were whipped around Los Angeles for a strictly ‘just the highlights’ tour which took in Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive, Farmer’s Market, The Grove, Hollywood, Grauman’s Chinese Theater, FOX Studio’s, the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame, Marina Del Rey, Sunset Strip and Venice Beach, amongst others.

Three stops were included in the tour: Farmer’s Market, Hollywood Boulevard (which includes Grauman’s Chinese Theater, the Walk of Fame and other locations along Hollywood Blvd), and Venice Beach.

Along the route, Cyril pointed out some of the many buildings used in movies set in L.A. The tower that Bruce Willis defends in the first Die Hard film; the fire escape used by Richard Gere in Pretty Woman; and of course there was Venice Beach which seems to appear in almost every film shot in Los Angeles. He also showed us the telephone box where Hugh Grant was caught with his pants down; the Saks Fifth Avenue department store where Wynona Ryder was caught shoplifting; the… well, you get the picture.

Cyril pointed out some of the homes of the rich and famous: Steven Spielberg’s massive mansion on top of a hill overlooking the city; Marilyn Monroe’s L.A. home (quite modest by today’s standards); classic music venue’s like the Roxy and the Rainbow; and the venue Johnny Depp bought just so he and his buddies could party long into the night undisturbed.

Venice Beach began taking shape in the early 1900s, when tobacco millionaire Abbot Kinney and his partner Francis Ryan bought two miles (3.24 km) of oceanfront property south of Santa Monica in 1891. We passed along Dell Avenue and saw the canals that give Venice Beach its name, although if you look at the area using Google Maps you may be as surprised as I was to see just how small this area actually is.

Image: Livingstone sharing a private moment with Steven Spielberg’s star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The Hollywood Walk of Fame (along Hollywood Boulevard) is probably the one place that every visitor to L.A. walks for themselves while looking for the star that represents their favourite Hollywood legend. The problem is that there are apparently some 2,400 stars fixed along both sides of the Boulevard, so the chances of visiting everyone of them is probably remote given the amount of time most tour companies allocate for this stop.

The stars don’t just recognize actors and actresses – they also immortalize legendary directors, motion pictures, broadcast television and radio, audio recordings, and theater/live performance. As an aside, I note with some bemusement, that Muhammad Ali received a star under the Live Theatre category. Boxing certainly offers spectacle on a grand scale, but live theatre? Ali’s star can be found at 6801, Hollywood Boulevard.

Apart from the glitz and glamour, I couldn’t help notice some of the poverty on display around the city. The most obvious signs of this being the numerous homeless men and women, young and old who have clearly missed out on winning their small part of the American Dream. Other observations: the ubiquitous trash that one sees everywhere; the relatively small midtown section of the city with its modest number of high-rise buildings and skyscrapers (I expected a lot more); the large number of surprisingly small homes and apartments

Image: This is as close as I got to the famed Hollywood sign on the hills overlooking downtown L.A.

As someone who champions the concept of slow travel, these bus tours are exactly the type of thing I dislike most, and yet there I was doing the ‘tourist thing’ just like so many other out-of-towners. Sometimes you just have to swallow your pride and make the most of the available time you have – and today was one of those occasions. For just $55, the tour was cheap, quick, entertaining enough, and the bare minimum you would need to get some sort of overview of the most popular parts of the city.

I would love to come back and spend a month or two in L.A. to experience the many other sides of this sprawling place, but that will have to wait for another trip and another day.

Historical information about Venice Beach courtesy of Wikipedia...

The Hollywood Walk of Fame...

Complete list of all stars and their locations...

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