Finishing the trip in Los Angeles wasn’t really by choice, but a natural end to a western journey. I say that because I am one of those that literally cannot stand the place. Having visited LA some five or six times I have tried to love it. I have done the whole Hollywood thing, Venice beach, Santa Monica, Pasadena, Huntington, downtown and loads of places in-between and I just cannot find anything to like. As a kid I dreamt like most of a Tinseltown frequented by celebrities and where the sun always shone. The reality is very different. LA is the arse end of the United States, a polluted, overcrowded city filled with those struggling in life, those that have made it and want to show it and a shit load of arrogant, obnoxious bastards filling in the gaps. Manners are left at home in LA and the roads are car parks at any time of the day. Speaking of roads it is like every other driver on the road can see no other vehicle than their own – which is pretty much what everyone in LA sees too. It is a dirty city where no one gives even the slightest care about anyone else, but where how you look is pivotal to your continued life on earth.
It is as though those that run the city have looked at other cities in the country and seen just what works, then done the opposite. It was our second time in LA on this trip and after about five minutes I knew I’d made a mistake coming back.
I know that people think ‘oh, I’d love a fortnight in LA’. I can save you money – go to London. LA has absolutely nothing going for it. Ok, the observatory in Hollywood gives amazing views over the city and the Hollywood sign is a must see. But even that is hard to find. I did, however find an awesome place to view it from that is seemingly not mentioned anywhere… The bat caves. Ever watched Batman and seen the bat cave? Of course you have. The bat cave has remained the same filming location and is a little hideaway in the Hollywood hills at some caves called Bronson Cabes. Parking is free and the caves are about a 10 minute walk up a sandy path. But once there we had the place completely to ourselves. Naturally I had a piss in the bat cave and will definitely tell the grand kids that one, but if you walk up one of the nearby hills you are as close to the Hollywood sign as I know possible. It is where the leading photo is taken and I still get goose pimples remembering hiking the Hollywood hills up past the bat cave. Jack was genuinely surprised that it was just a small, empty opening in the rock. Not quite sure what he expected to be there, but needless to say he didn’t find it.
LA does actually have some good and free museums, the science museum and air museum are absolutely worth a punt but a no better than science and air museums anywhere else.
Venice beach is just south of Santa Monica and if you are in the area is worth a walk at night. Marijuana fills the air, dirty hippies try shaking you down for a dollar and dog shit is everywhere. Craft stalls and street dancers abound and despite the fact I was pissed off having weed blown in mine and my kids faces constantly it was a chilled out vibe which was worth an hour. The beach is great, and with parking just $5 it was worth a sunset stroll. But again, it’s just not worth going all the way to LA for. However north of Venice and about a miles walk up the promenade is Santa Monica and for all it’s faults, is probably the best part of Los Angeles for kids.
Santa Monica’s claim to fame is that it is the end of the old Route 66 and despite the fact most of the road doesn’t exist anymore people still make the pilgrimage to what is perhaps the most famous and recognisable road in the world. It is tacky but since it is on the pier absolutely worth a mooch. On the same pier is a fun park which is a reasonably priced $16 for unlimited rides. The roller-coaster is snide and Ferris wheel legendary. But what is great about Santa Monica is that despite the metropolis that has sprung up around it it has kept its small town feel and offers a great escape from the hustle bustle and pollution of LA proper. The beach at Santa Monica could be awesome was it not for shards of glass, cig butts and hustlers. But the kids loved playing in the sand as we watched overweight Europeans trying to do the bay watch jog along the beach front in their marked down Tommy Hillfiger shorts and porn star gold rimmed Ray Bans.
Many people undoubtedly end their American journey in LA and so will be looking at filling space in their suitcase with some cheap wares.Head to East LA for the citadel outlets and pick up all sorts for substantially less than the price in the UK but still expensive for US outlets. The best we found on our trip was the one just outside Barstow, I think it was called Desert Outlets. But actually, if you do find yourself in Barstow you absolutely have to head to the drive in movie theatre. We watched about 5 minutes of dolphin tale 2 because Toby is obsessed with “Dol-fish” and then bailed into the next screen to watch ninja turtles. It was an absolute fantastic night and tickets are just $8 for adults and $2 for kids. Anyway, I digress as I find something more interesting than Los Angeles (which is just too easy). As a point to note, anyone flying out of LAX, there is nothing at the airport through security. Don’t make the mistake of saving your duty free shopping until the end as you will be disappointed. This happened to me on my first visit.
So what now. Well, I write this from a red eye Air New Zealand flight high above the US. I am just about to set up the sky couch where Jack, Toby and myself will hopefully catch a few hours before we land in London. But it signifies the end of the summer for us and though usually the journey comes to a gradual end this one has seemed to just be cut off. I mean, we have done everything I wanted to and more. The kids have had an amazing summer, we have been to Morocco and failed at summating the highest mountain in Northern Africa, we trawled souks for deals and charmed snakes whilst strolling through a city thousands of years old. We took one of the longest passenger flights in the world and found ourselves on south beach Miami before having some Disney fun in Orlando. We trekked the Yucatan in Mexico, got rumbled trying to sneak into a wonder of the world, swam in caves deep under ground, went on bike rides, scaled temples and swam with turtles on one of the best beaches on earth. Once back in the US Charlie and Abi stayed in Florida and I took Jack and Toby on a tour of the Western USA driving some 5,000 miles and trekking some of the best hikes in the US as well as being a part some of the most amazing national parks in the country. I look back now to relaxing by the pool in Las Vegas, I was thinking of everything we had done this summer and it took my breath away at just how much we had squeezed into the time we had. I had as usual asked a lot from the kids and in return I had shown them an amazing summer of excess, of world class vistas, beaches and some of the most amazing times we have ever shared and for that I am eternally grateful. I have four amazing kids with four completely different personalities and who are all fantastic human beings. I had promised them a summer in North America for years and this year I delivered. I have to admit, I have loved the comforts of good hotels, good food and showers that work. It’s been fantastic having a car for most of our time and just being able to hop on a cheap flight as and when we needed a little extra distance. But the backpacker within me has been left a little short at times as many of the things we have done have been with other tourists wearing fanny packs and sandals. When in Asia we are often so far off the beaten path we literally see no foreigner for days, often weeks, and that for me has been what I have missed the most during this summer. It’s not that I have any particular adversity to foreigners, I am one myself. But some foreigners have a tendency to get somewhere and act like the place was created purely for them. For example, the only issue I have had with anyone on this whole trip was with an English woman who decided Jack was in her way so physically pushed him out of her way. And I have been seriously pissed off with the complete lack of manners in the US, I genuinely have never known anything like it. Hold a door for someone and they just walk right through like you don’t exist. I am not tarnishing all Americans with the same brush, we have met some amazing, friendly and great people. But on the whole, across the 7 states we were in, manners simply don’t exist and for someone who is overtly polite like myself and my children it has really grated me.
Anyway, the trip now draws to a close and it has been an amazing summer, I mean truly it has. We have indulged in just about every side to a North American life we could and we have loved just about every minute of it. But now we head home after another fantastic summer, of a couple of months sharing our lives with each-other, of singing, dancing, and living life like every day might be our last. I thank everyone that continues to follow us and hope you have found some inspiration in what you read, but most of all I thank my young kids who continue to amaze me every day and continue to make me the proudest father I could ever hope to be.
Good night x