Archive for September, 2013


Today we had a quick breakfast downstairs before scarpering with some fruit and cans of juice stuffed in my backpack, and caught the Starline Hop-on Hop-off bus opposite the Grammys Museum down the road from our hotel. We bought two 48 hour passes, and got free tickets to Madame Tussauds, Hollywood. I thought this would be good fun. And it was.

It was a double-decker, open top bus, so we put on our sunnies and sunscreen and went upstairs. The hats were a waste of time, it was really windy on the 101.

We got off at Mann’s Chinese Theater, the interchange of the purple and red bus loops. It was packed. So many people were just milling around and taking photos, some were on a mission trying to get from one place to another without being harassed by tour vendors, or blokes trying to get you to listen to their music and buy their CDs.

There were also people dressed as TV and film characters in the hope that you’d want to have your photo taken with them for a couple of dollars. We saw a two Jack Sparrows, a Darth Vader, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, and loads of other characters: crazy. I couldn’t stay here long, it did my head in.

Madame Tussaud’s was great though, they didn’t let too many through at a time, so we didn’t feel crowded or rushed. There were three official photo opportunities inside with photos that we could buy at the end if we wanted to, and we weren’t going to but they turned out really well so we splurged on them seeing as we hadn’t paid to get in. It cost $35.00 for four prints, and digital copies of all the official photos, (there were a few different poses at each of the three photo stops.)

All the rest of the venue was open to whatever you wanted to do, the only stipulation is that you don’t touch the faces. It takes about 800 hours to make each figure, so you wouldn’t want to break one.

We took loads of great photos, this is just a tiny sample of the photos we took.

Psycho

The Godfather

And here are a couple of the green-screen official photos.

Hollywood sign

Jurassic Park

After Madame Tussaud’s we got on the red loop of the Starline bus tour and did the whole loop without getting off. We just listened to the commentary. Much of it was along the lines of, “coming up on your left/right is such and such, where Thingamabob was filmed, and straight ahead is where Thingamajig Studios used to be”. There was some up to date information, but a lot of references were made to the past glories of the Hollywood film industry, right back to the 1920s silent era. One of the more recent things pointed out, was the restaurant advertised by a then unknown actor in a chicken suit, that man was Brad Pitt. That made me laugh.

We got back to Mann’s Chinese Theater and to avoid the throng, we quickly changed buses back onto the purple route to go back to our hotel. There we updated Facebook with lots of Madame Tussaud’s pictures. It was a really good day.

Chris and Sue see Depeche Mode in LA

This was a lazy Sunday, except for the Depeche Mode concert in the evening.

We awoke at 7.00 am but didn’t go down to breakfast until 9.00 am. We Skyped Mum in the morning, which was nice, and luckily the connection was good, it’s been a bit hit-and-miss at this hotel. Sometimes we had to pretend to be a guest at the hotel next door. Shhhh!

We have two sinks in our hotel here in LA, one next to the coffee machine near the door, and one in the bathroom. So we filled up the spare sink with ice and use it as our fridge to keep milk cold for our tea. Necessity is the mother of invention.

I spent the afternoon updating my blog and before we knew it, it was time to get ready for the concert. We walked out the door at 6.30 pm but couldn’t decide on what to have for dinner, and ended up at Ralph’s (supermarket) with a sandwich and a pumpkin latte. It was our first ever pumpkin latte, we liked it!

Going into the Staples Center, my belt set off the detector, so I had to have a wand waved over me to check for concealed weapons. We walked into the venue at the end of the Crystal Castles set then had to wait ages for Depeche Mode to come on stage.

We were much further away than at Santa Barbara, but that was expected in a venue that holds 20,000.

DM at the Staples Center

My online friends were in VIP seats in the front row. This was out of our budget, but we still really enjoyed the concert. The set list had a few different songs to the ones we had in Santa Barbara, with songs sung by Martin all different. (Higher Love, Judas, A Question of Lust, and Condemnation.) We also got John the Revelator, and Behind the Wheel, and in the encore, Just Can’t Get Enough, with a false start that was funny.

The atmosphere was awesome, even in the huge venue. We were side on the stage about half way up and three-quarters of the way back, the two women next to me, on the end of the row seemed to be either sitting down or away from their seats for a lot of the concert, so I had an unobstructed view. When they were there I was less fortunate. One woman had massive boobs, just at my eye height. No, I didn’t swap seats with Chris.

After the gig we walked back to the hotel, only about 10 minutes away, and soon the tight black jeans were off, the air-con was on, and we had a cold cider each from the sink. What an excellent day.

Chris and Sue on Melrose Avenue

We had a good night’s sleep again last night and went down to breakfast at about 8.00am. We were spoiled for choice at our Santa Barbara Hotel, we have about half the choice here, but it’s free so we filled up. Everything in the continental breakfast is so sweet though, and no black tea? We had the choice of coffee, Earl Grey or green tea so we brought our English Breakfast teabags with us from our room. We’ve been making tea in the coffee maker again, it’s a filter type machine this time so we don’t have to mess about with pods.

We had a tour of street art today with my online Depeche Mode fan friend, Donell. She came to collect us in her Mini Cooper, black of course. We went to Melrose Avenue, it was pretty hot, about 31 degrees C, and it was very quiet, and we soon realised why: the shops here do not open until 11.00 am or noon! We thought that was quite odd. We wandered down the road looking in the windows at all the quirky fashions and kept our eyes open for graffiti along the way. Some of it was quite elaborate, and sometimes it wasn’t.

LA Street Art

Stop making stupid people famous

On the way back down the other side of the road, we ventured down some of the parallel streets to look at more street art, we even bumped into a few artists from Michigan doing their thing. It was interesting to watch.

Soon it was time for something to drink, so despite the heat we stopped in at Sweet Lady Jane for a cup of tea, we blame tea addiction on our English upbringing. We weren’t planning on having anything to eat, but it all looked really good, so we all had something from the cake display.

Us outside Sweet Lady Jane

Then we walked back to Donell’s apartment for a quick wee stop, or as the Americans say, to visit the restroom, or the bathroom. Donell was not keen on us taking the scary public transport back to our hotel, so she dropped us back at about 1.45 pm. It was good to catch up with her, I haven’t had any instances of online friends being anything other than lovely people who in real life are just as I expect. I’ve been quite lucky there I think.

This afternoon we went to The Pantry, a 24 hour breakfast place not far from our hotel that has been open since 1924, literally, there are no locks on the doors, it never closes. It was our first meal in the USA that was much too big for us, and we left with about a third of the meal still on our plates. Stepping outside we were immediately confronted with homeless people who can’t afford a meal, and we felt guilty about the wasted food.

With our bellies full and wrestling with our guilty conscience we walked down to the Staples Center to watch all the Depeche Mode fans going in to tonight’s concert. It took ages to fill as the venue takes about 20,000 people. We will be there to see them tomorrow. Tonight we bought our shirts that we will wear when we renew our vows in Vegas.

wedding outfits

For readers who don’t know, Chris and I met waiting for a coach to a Depeche Mode concert in 1984, and married one year later. This year, three days after seeing Depeche Mode in Vegas, we will be renewing our vows on our 28th wedding anniversary. After all, it’s Vegas, and weddings are what you do in Vegas… so with our wedding outfits sorted, we went back to our hotel and put up street art photos on Facebook and watched Big Bang Theory on TV… yes again… well, it’s familiar, and although it’s only been a week, we miss familiar things.

Chris and Sue have a day off

After our early night on Thursday, we awoke in our LA hotel room at 7.00 am. A proper night’s sleep at last!

We decided that Friday would be a day of rest. We had fitted a lot into our Santa Barbara stay, and LA seemed busy enough without us, so we spent the morning researching what we wanted to do while in LA and Vegas. We decided that the Starline Hop-on Hop-off Double Decker City Tour unlimited 48 hour pass was the way to go, as we’d been told that public transport is scary. Madame Tussaud’s is a freebie with a 48 hour bus ticket, and there were a few two for one offers, and discounted tickets to other attractions, so we will be able to see a lot without spending a lot.

After a lot more research, we also decided that we’d rather see the South Rim rather than the West Rim of the Grand Canyon when we get to Las Vegas. It is wider, deeper and less touristy. However it’s further away, so it will be a very long day. We found Grand-Adventure.com seemed to do a good deal, not the height of luxury, but nice personal service, not a big coach company.

We had ditched the idea of driving from LA to Las Vegas as we’d had enough of driving here. So we went down to the hotel lobby and used the guest computer and printer to book a coach to Vegas for October 3. No more stressful driving on the wrong side of the road for us!

Then we ventured out of the hotel to find the venue for tomorrow night. The Staples Centre was less than ten minutes walk, down the road and around the corner. Easy. We also found the JW Marriot Hotel on the way, it will be our pick-up point for the bus trip to Las Vegas.

On the way back we found a Ralph’s Supermarket, where we picked up a pack of four ciders, a couple of rolls and a chicken caesar salad for nearly $20.00. Dinner sorted… well almost. We didn’t have a bottle opener and the ciders were not twist top. So we made another trip to Ralph’s for a bottle opener. We put ice from one of the hotel’s ice machines in the sink to keep things cold as the room doesn’t have a fridge.

Our coffee machine at this hotel is a normal filter type machine so we just put a couple of tea bags in there and we are sorted for tea as well.

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The wi-fi here at the hotel has been a bit iffy, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t we try the TV, but it’s not great, we usually end up watching Big Bang Theory on TBS. Another thing we’ve noticed is that the adverts for medications seem to list every single side effect, they really make you not want to buy the product… very strange.

On Saturday my online friend, Donell is picking us up for a morning sightseeing down Melrose Avenue. I am looking forward to meeting her, I’ve known her since around 2006-8. We are going to look at street art, so that should be something different.

Chris and Sue drive to LA

Well so much for our body clocks being on Californian time, we both awoke at 3.00 am. I managed to sleep a little afterwards, but Chris didn’t. We went for breakfast at 7.15 am then went back to the room to pack and load up the car for the drive to LA.

We decided to go to LA via Malibu and Santa Monica, along the coast road, rather than the 101, thinking it might be less stressful. We set the GPS for ‘least use of freeways’ and it led us a merry dance through the countryside before getting on the Pacific Coast Highway.

It was quite scenic going through the countryside, and there were not many cars, but it was still a bit tricky. The Pacific Coast Highway, or PCH as the locals say, was busier, but probably easier for us than the 101.

PCH

Our Neverlost GPS then took us to a driveway of a place in Malibu where we obviously couldn’t park. So we moved on, stopped at the nearest place where we could safely park and reprogrammed the GPS to go to Santa Monica.

At Santa Monica there was plenty of parking, we paid $12.00 and parked in the car park right next to the pier. It  was here that I emptied the contents of my backpack into the passenger seat, swearing that my sunglasses were in there somewhere, I was sure of it… They were on my head of course.

We had a quick look at some of the pier, then we went to the Will Powers plaque, and the end of Route 66.

Will Powers Plaque

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Then we walked along Muscle Beach, there weren’t many muscles there, just a lot of sand and a bike path/walkway running through the middle of the beach. Weird.

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Then we walked back to the pier for a proper nosey around. We stayed in Santa Monica for a bit over one and a half hours then got into the car for the last leg of the journey.

The drive from here to the Hertz depot in LA was particularly painful. We were meant to fill up the tank with petrol before returning the car, but all the petrol stations we passed were on the other side of the road, and every intersection was a ‘no U turn’. We ended up at the Hertz depot with half a tank of petrol and having to pay $59.00 for them to fill it up, the price of a full tank plus some. To be frank, although we knew this was a rip-off, we didn’t care. We were glad to see the back of the car. We’ve also decided there will be no more driving here. We’re going to arrange for a coach to take us from LA to Vegas next week.

After we paid Hertz we took a taxi to our hotel in LA, this ride cost almost another $56.00. This was turning out to be an expensive day.

However, we did have a win with our hotel. Everything I’ve read and heard about the Ritz Milner led me to believe our room would be tiny. It wasn’t. Our room is refurbished and they’ve obviously knocked two rooms into one. It’s going to be a very comfortable stay here in LA after all. We booked this hotel because it was cheap and close to the Staples Centre, the venue for our second Depeche Mode show on Sunday night.

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After all our expenses today we opted for a cheap and cheerful dinner of a shared Subway foot-long. And tonight we arranged to meet a Depeche Mode fan friend of mine, Donell. She’s going to show us around Melrose Avenue street art on Saturday.

This was a long day with an early start so exhausted, we fell into bed at 10.30 pm.

Chris and Sue on a Hot Rod Limo Ride

This morning we were up at 8.15 am. That’s late for Chris. It was another hot sunny day in Santa Barbara. Chris and I slept really well last night, our body clocks are now on California time. We went for a very leisurely breakfast at 9.00 am until 10.00 am, then went back to the room and Skyped Mum for a while.

While I was chatting to Mum on Skype, Chris went to reception to book tickets for a hop-on-hop-off bus tour. Instead of coming back with online printed tickets, he came back with a brochure for Hot Rod Limos. He hadn’t got as far as reception as parked outside our room was a bright yellow car, and like a magpie drawn to a shiny thing, he swooped in to have a look. Well, that was it, our plans changed in an instant, and instead of busing it we were going in style, Californian style. I hastily ended my conversation with Mum, the connection was a bit iffy anyway, grabbed our sunscreen, sunnies and water bottles and we were off.Hot Rod Limo

It was a one hour tour for $25.00 a head, we were the only passengers. It was brilliant. Our driver, India, played 40s and 50s music, and some Beach Boys, and a few more recent songs, but mostly old stuff. It was like being on the trike as we were in the open air, and lots of people stopped and waved. She showed us the Moreton Bay FIg Tree that we saw yesterday, the Mission, East Beach, the night club area, the laundry that is not really a laundry, the little group of shops handy for the local celebrities, etc. She told us the history of the area, and facts about the architecture, and while we were at The Mission she told us about Juana Maria, stranded on an island for 18 years. It was all very interesting and fun.

Me at The Mission

After the bright, brash tour of this morning we went for a much quieter experience this afternoon. We took the 50c shuttle bus up to the main shops on State Street then walked to the Courthouse to have a look inside the building and around the gardens.  It’s free to go in and wander around, as long as you are quiet near the court rooms..

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It was a wonderful place to explore, inside and out and has great views from the tower.

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Then, somewhere on State Street we had soup and half a sandwich for our dinner, and took the shuttle bus back down the Stern’s Wharf, and walked back to the hotel. By this time our feet were aching as we’d walked miles over the last three days. Back at our hotel room, we updated our Facebook photos, and had an early night at 9.00 pm. We were knackered.

Tomorrow would be the dreaded drive back to LA. The stuff of nightmares.

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Chris and Sue at Santa Barbara Zoo

Our slumber was cut short at 4.00 am by our daughter, Sarah, texting from Australia. After only a couple of hours sleep, I was wide awake so we Skyped home at around 6.00 am USA time. It was good to check in with Steven and Sarah at home and know that everything was alright.

At 7.00 am we dressed and went to the buffet breakfast to fill up for the day. I don’t normally do breakfast, but here it’s complimentary and therefore the most important meal of the day. If we fill up here, that’s less we have to buy later, and more in our budget for fun stuff. Besides, we had a lot of walking to do today.

After a large and leisurely breakfast and three cups of tea, we wandered along the sea front, turned left at Stern’s Wharf, walked under the 101 and up the hill along the main shopping area of Santa Barbara, State Street. It’s all very pretty Spanish style architecture, with lots of greenery around. The photo below is the beginning of the walk near Sterns Wharf.

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We did a detour off to the right to find the cop shop and after being told the review of our parking fine would take a month to finalise, we decided to just pay the $58 fine and not have it hanging over our heads for our stay in the USA.

Then we walked through the residential area to the Santa Barbara Bowl, the venue for tomorrow night’s Depeche Mode concert. There were lots of huge trees on the streets, the pavements were all over the place because of the roots. There were also signs everywhere telling people they could not park between certain hours on certain days because that’s when the street sweeper comes through.

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We couldn’t collect our tickets, as they are only available from 90 minutes before the concert. So we walked back down the hill towards the Pacific, stopping on the way to get a USA SIM card for Chris’ phone.

Our mission for today was to find tea bags, we had kept our one and only tea pod from the coffee machine last night, so we could trick the machine into giving us hot water. We found a shopping complex with a Trader Joes and a Rite Aid so we bought some English Breakfast Tea, snacks and Tylenol. All the essentials.

Our next stop was the Santa Barbara Zoo. It’s only a small zoo so we knew we could walk around it quite easily. It was great. Our first stop was to feed the giraffes. It only cost an extra $6.00, and it was something we’d never done before.

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After that we just meandered around, looking at all the birds and animals, and some creepy crawlies too. It was a warm day of around 30 degrees so we took our time with plenty of stops in shady places, and drank all our bottled water.

There was a train ride around the complex which we took as well, the driver was quite good fun, but I noticed Chris was closing his eyes once or twice. Time to head back to the hotel for a nanna nap! Our zoo visit wasn’t rushed, we saw all we wanted from around 11.00 am to 2.30 pm. We left and made our way back along the sea front to our hotel for a shower and a snooze.

In the evening, we decided we’d go out to dinner on State Street, and we ended up in Joe’s Cafe, it was very nice. As soon as we sat down we were given two glasses of water, then soon after that, complimentary bread, crackers, butter and salsa. We ordered pork chop, mash and veggies for Chris and I had the pasta with chicken. Both meals were delicious and just the right size. We had a glass of wine too, so we were really pushing the boat out. And yet the bill was only about $45 all up. We thought that was a good value dinner with great service, so we paid $50 and didn’t ask for change.

Right next door to Joe’s Cafe is the Old Kings Head pub. If you are a Depeche Mode fan, you will know of this place. If you are not, it’s an English pub, and Martin Gore sometimes DJs here for charity. Martin lives in Santa Barbara so effectively, this is his local English pub. A magnet for DM fans, so of course we went in.

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As we walked in I spotted a couple of familiar faces, but seeing as I’d only ever seen photos online before, I wasn’t too sure… Chris bought himself a Heineken and I had a Baileys on ice. The bartender just kept pouring, I reckon it was a triple. We walked down towards the booths and sat down in the first booth. I kept looking at the familiar faces at the bar. Eventually I had to go and ask, “are you Jennifer, and Michele?”. Yes they were. We chatted for ages, it was a bit surreal, but fun. Soon, after some texts by Michele, other fans started turning up, and the place got very loud, DM songs started to play on the jukebox. Eventually we had to call it a night. The others partied on for a long time, but this tired, still jet-lagged couple had to go to sleep. We walked back to our hotel and were in bed by midnight. So rock ‘n’ roll.

Well, after two years of saving and planning we finally boarded the plane for our very long flight to the USA. The flight itself (QANTAS) was fine, there was a short delay in boarding because they had to fix the loo, which made us laugh. The meals were good, and flight attendants were surprisingly ‘real’ and by that I mean not unrealistically ‘plastic’ looking. In fact quite a few of them were older gentlemen, who seemed close to retirement age. They were fab: they always managed to put a smile on my face.
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However, from when the plane landed things just seemed to fall apart a bit. Firstly we were told that our luggage would be at carousel five: it wasn’t. We waited and waited and eventually realised the luggage was on carousel six. Chris was starting to panic, thinking our luggage had been lost. Anyway, with our luggage in tow, we made our way to the Hertz shuttle bus, we had just missed one bus and had to wait about 10-15 minutes until the next. At Hertz I waited AGES while Chris sorted everything out at the counter. There were so many extra things to organise; insurances, personal liability, GPS, etc. Then we got in the car. This was the beginning of a whole new nightmare. Well, it probably wasn’t, but it felt like it after 12.5 hours on a plane, and facing the fact that crossing the international date line meant we had to relive Sunday all over again. Perhaps I should have tried to sleep instead of watching episodes of  “An Idiot Abroad” and “The Internship” on the plane.

Firstly we had to figure out how to use the GPS, it was something called a Neverlost. Haha, we managed to get lost quite easily. After we programmed the GPS, and after taking a couple of wrong turns due to turning before we were supposed to, (we soon learned to wait for the ‘ding-dong’ sound before doing the next manoeuvre,) we finally got to Santa Barbara.

We turned a corner in Santa Barbara, and we saw the name of our hotel, on the building on the corner. At last! The stressful drive was over! Chris parked across the street in front of the building, and we both went to find the entrance and where to park. We soon realised that the hotel was sprawled all along this section of the road and we were nowhere near the entrance, but in the couple of minutes it took to realise that and walk back to the car, we got a parking ticket from a lady in a little three-wheeled vehicle. We were parked on a red kerb, we didn’t know that was for emergency vehicles only, we only saw a sign that said “No RVs”. The lady explained that we needed to go to the police station within 30 days, and we could apply for a review form if we wanted, they often let off tourists for this kind of thing. She was really nice about it. We moved the car to the back of the hotel and went to reception, it would cost $18 a day to park the car. Blimey. By this stage we were so tired we didn’t care. It was cheaper than the $58 parking fine.

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It was hot and sunny, the beach was right across the road from the hotel, I knew I should be out exploring and happy to start my holiday, but it was also way past my bed time in Australia, we’d had a very stressful drive on the wrong side of the road from LA to Santa Barbara, got lost, and got a parking fine. All I wanted to do was have a sleep and start the day again. So we took a glass of water from the hotel lobby and went into one of the beautiful gardens in the hotel grounds and waited for our room to become available.

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After a while, the sofa in the lobby looked more inviting than the garden, so we trundled our belongings into the lobby, slumped onto one of the sofas and with our eyes barely staying open, we waited for the room to be cleaned. Check in time was 4.00 pm, but they took pity on the poor British sounding Aussies who had been awake for over 24 hours, and they let us in around 1.00 pm or 2.00 pm I think. The king size bed was high and wide and very inviting, and I collapsed onto it and slept until about 7.00 pm.

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That evening we watched a marathon of “Big Bang Theory” on TBS, something familiar at last! We had been well fed on the plane, but now it was time to eat again, I knew I couldn’t sleep again tonight if I was hungry, and the mini-bar and basket of goodies in the room was way too expensive. $6 for a muesli bar, $10 for water! The coffee machine was a pod type machine, $2 per pod, there was only one tea pod. We shared a cup: we were desperate.

Anyway, a quick look on Google told us that there was a pizza place down the road, open until midnight. So we went for a walk, and shared a very nice thin crust BBQ chicken pizza at Rusty’s Pizza Parlour. After that, we went for a walk up Stern’s Wharf and then back to the hotel. Chris managed to sleep from about 12.30  am, and I nodded off around 2.00 am.  This was literally the longest day of my life. Tomorrow’s mission, is to find the concert venue and the police station, and most important of all, buy teabags.