As it was our last day in LA we wanted to squeeze as much in as we could before boarding the 15 hour flight back to Melbourne tonight. The first thing to do was our final pack. We woke to the phone alarm at 5am to find our entire hotel and the city block on which it was located suffering a power outage. No lights in the room; no power to the lifts – no phones to the front desk -no internet. I was pondering the possibility of having to pack by the light of my mobile phone and how much fun and excitement that would be when everything powered back on at 6am. Packing done – it was down for breakfast – on plastic plates with plastic cutlery but nice omelettes. We checked out and put our luggage in storage for the day. We had arranged with Sedek – our taxi driver from yesterday to pick us up at 8.30am and act our driver for the day.
He arrived right on the money and took us to our first stop – the closest Episcopal (Anglican ) Church which happened to be St Mary’s. We found out the church was started as the first Japanese Anglican Church in LA in 1907. There were stained glass windows of a Japanese feel and design as well as paper cranes hanging from the light fixtures. Over the last twenty years the church has played host to Christians from Mexico’s northern region. We found ourselves at church on a combined bi-lingual service (Spanish/English). It had a very family friendly warm feel and while the numbers attending was not high (less than 50) – they made up for it in great hospitality and a warm welcome (we were given lais to wear as it was our first Sunday.) We couldn’t stay for the ‘coffee hour’as Sedek picked us up and drove us to our next destination – the Petersen Car Museum on Wiltshire Blvd.
This had been one of my dreams to visit if we could and I was in car heaven. Not only was this a fine collection of cars form the turn of the 20th century to now – it had a very special collection of movie cars – the Delorean from Back to the Future – the V8 Interceptor from Mad Max 2; the original Bat mobile from the 60s TV series as well as the version from the 1989 movie. They had cars from the Blade Runner movie; as well as from the Transformers movies franchise. They had the villains car from the 2002 Bond Movie – Die another Day – the green jag with the back mounted machine gun turret. Too many cars to mention – we had a ball visiting this museum – and as my Mum mentioned to me afterwards – not a single painting on the wall from the late 19th century and I was still happy!
We walked ourselves from here to the La Brea Tar Pits – an ancient tar bog which has the skeletal remains of early North American animals. Did I mention the temperature was 32 degrees C – it was bizarre to think that less than a week before on Monday – we had been freezing in Chicago and now I was at risk of sunburn in LA!
The Museum was fascinating and we enjoyed seeing the fossils and other remains. We made our way back to the Car museum for Sedek to pick us up and drive us back to the hotel where we picked up our bags. He then drove us on to LAX airport. We tipped him well as we realised that we wouldn’t have been able to do as much this day if we had to ring for a cab at each and every venue. We checked our luggage in and got our boarding passes and went through security ONE LAST TIME! We boarded our flight on time and settled in for the 15 hour flight back home to Australia. We were very satisfied as to what we had been able to see and do over the previous three weeks. We reflected that we had truly crossed the country East to West. We had seen world-class museums and art gallerys – had explored American history (good and not so good!) – had experienced natural beauty and wonder at its best and apart from a few minor travel issues – we had been safe – we had been welcomed at every turn and been served with expertise and hospitality and grace. While we certainly noticed on our journey many homeless and rough sleepers and while we know that poverty is rife and that this country, like ours, has many social problems to solve – these problems have to be balanced with the sheer beauty and awe that is this country we have experienced over the last 21 days. Til next time – I thank you for travelling with us and I hope you have enjoyed the ride.
The next few pictures are from the Petersen Car Museum
I had set my alarm for 4.30am so as to get up on the train and race down for a shower before anyone and then be ready for breakfast at 5am. Both Mum and I enjoy a lovely breakfast and have a couple of hours to watch the sun rise as the train makes its way into Los Angeles. We arrive right on time at 8am and the first thing we notice is that it is hotter than anywhere else in the States we have been for the last three weeks. After freezing on Monday night in Chicago in sub-zero temperatures we now have high 20’s and I’m sweating as we wait for a cab to take us to our last hotel on this fantastic adventure. Despite the heat – it’s another cloudless lovely day – we have been very fortunate with the weather
Because it’s so early, we just wanted to drop our bags at the Hotel and check in later but they let us check in at 9am so we had a lovely cuppa in our room and planned the day out. First thing was to hang up the jacket! Thanks to a tip off from a parishioner the museum we had to see in LA was the Getty. We arranged for another cab to pick us up and we drove the forty minutes up into the hills. The driver said that if we gave him a time he would try and pick us up and drive us home, so after giving him a suitable time – we boarded a little shuttle train that goes up the hill to this vast set of beautifully designed buildings which house a breath-taking array of art from all over collected by J Paul Getty.
After a small introductory film we agreed on a meeting place and time and off we go to explore. It will come as no surprise to those who have been following the blog that I went straight away to the Impressionists! Followed up by 10th to 18th century European art of a religious focus. Wouldn’t you know it – but they had a special exhibition on the later years of Manet – I was again in heaven. I didn’t waste my time and tried to cover most of the major collections – but you would need more than one day to pay this museum true justice. Its location atop a hill overlooking LA led to glorious vistas from all angles and the outside garden was an deliberately set up art work in itself that would take many trips to explore but alas our time was up and after the compulsory visit to the gift shop – we were once again on the way back to our hotel. I endeavour to take a photo of the traffic. We are on the Interstate 40 – 6 lanes each way at its widest and the traffic is solid. I do close my eyes from time to time as I think our young driver thought we had an emergency to attend and was weaving in and out the traffic at a fast rate of knots!
However, we arrive safely back and we arrange for him to pick us up tomorrow – Sunday and be our driver for the day as we want to make the most of our last day and go to church – see the Peterson car museum and the La Brea Tar Pits before heading off to the airport for our 8.15pm flight home. I hope to get one more blog in to finish off this adventure but may have to wait til I’m back in Australia to post it.
The next five are all from the special Manet exhibition – simply stunning!
After yesterday’s fantastic day seeing the Grand Canyon – I wasn’t sure if our day in Flagstaff before catching the train to LA tonight would be able to match it or be a wasted let-down sort of day. No need to fear – today was excellent. We slept in and had a lovely cooked breakfast (on crockery again – see yesterday’s post for why that’s important). Checked out and stored our luggage at the hotel. They had a free shuttle to take us Downtown. The weather is even better than yesterday – 17 degrees C – not a cloud in the sky – and more importantly – no wind! You get a clear view right to the San Francisco Peaks – 12,000 ft. It is hard to imagine that Flagstaff itself is at 7,000 ft – almost as high as Mt Kosciusko – our highest peak in Australia!
We wander the streets looking at the impressive original buildings of Flagstaff. One street has a huge pink Catholic church besides which stand the Indian Bible Church , besides which stands the Mission to the Navajo Indians – quite an eclectic view! A quick coffee and we get a taxi – same firm as yesterday – to take us to the Museum of Northern Arizona. This museum covers the art and history and culture of the Indian tribes of the Colorado Plateau. Among the usual exhibits you would expect – pots, jewelry, art and so forth – was a special exhibition – would you believe it – on the impact of the ‘Star Wars’films on Native culture. So there I was standing before an R2D2 robot – full size and fully functional – painted in Native Indian colours and motifs! There was also a special display focused on the ants that inhabit the ground under and around the museum.
Back to our hotel for a relaxing afternoon as we wait for them to take us to the Amtrak Station to board the 9.38pm train to LA – the end of a wonderful two days in Arizona. I can’t speak more highly of the hospitality we received from everyone we met and who served us in this beautiful and delightful city. I recommend a visit.
Today was always going to be a high light of the trip. We had planned our journey over these three weeks so as to see the formation and history, art and culture of the USA. We had also made sure we were to cross off the list two of the natural wonders of the North American continent – those being Niagara Falls and what we planned to see today – the Grand Canyon.
After setting up the details of the day last night – I was so excited I woke at 5am and we had the best breakfast of the trip so far. What made it special – apart from the fact that it was very tasty and the eggs were real, was the fact that it was served on real crockery! You wouldn’t think that a big deal except for us to say that every meal at a hotel thus far has been on plastic or paper plates.
We go outside and the weather is glorious – hardly a cloud in the sky and the temperate is 17 degrees C and no wind. Our taxi arrives right on 7.15am and the driver is a lovely lady who we take to immediately. Our trip to Williams is a quick 40 minutes on the highway and she drops us at the Grand Canyon Train terminal. We arrange for her to pick us up at the end of the day.
I go inside the ticket office and approach the counter. I say my surname and the tickets are there! Now we are guided to a arena and join with the other train guests for a 15 minute cowboy show – who knows why – but it is funny and entertaining in a twee sort of way. We board the cheap carriage – however – it was a restored 1952 cabin and had lovely bench seats that were comfortable. Our attendant is Jeff who has a quick dry sense of humour but tells the worst daddy jokes. The trip up to the Grand Canyon is 2.15 hours and it passes easily enough. We are entertained by a guitar player who sings some cowboy songs for twenty minutes or so – I’m starting to pick up a theme here. One of the things we see along the way is the north pole – a whole display set up for the other train journey this company does – the Polar Express!
Once at the top – we are told we have 3 1/2 hours and must be back on board no later than 2.30pm! We go to the rim of the canyon and wow – I am gob smacked – if you haven’t been here and have the chance to come – COME. It is absolutely positively spectacular! No words or even my poor pictures can come close to capturing the beauty and wonder and grandeur of this feature of the natural world.
After taking it all in and having lunch in a cafe and visiting the gift shop – we all board a the correct time and make our way back down to Williams. Remember those cowboys from the mornings show – well now – they stop the train and hold it up! It’s all fun and games and the kids among us enjoy it.
We arrive back at Williams at 4.45pm. We see a lot of adults and kids dressed up in pj’s ready for the Polar Express. Not being tempted to do this train journey we find our taxi driver and are back in the hotel by 6pm. We have dinner next door at a nice restaurant and even find the time to finish the blog and do laundry. It has been one great perfect day. FANTASTIC.
The following are just some of my poor attempts to capture the beauty of the Grand Canyon
One shot from our trip back down – this feature is called the Red Butt – represents an Indian fist arising from the ground:
I wake up at 4.55am after having not the worse night’s sleep I’ve ever endured. I’m curled up in a ball – the sheets were too tightly tucked in for me to get them out so I slept on top with a small blanket. Now – to face the train shower. I want to get in before anyone else – so I dash down the stairs and into the larger than expected shower recess and have a quick but pleasant refreshing hot shower. Both of us manage the feat of getting ready without too much difficulty. We are signed in for the 6.30am breakfast setting and have another beautiful meal. We have for all our meals the most delightful companions across the table and it is much more civilised sharing a meal with others than grabbing a bit to eat from the cafe.
The scenery outside has certainly changed – no snow for a start – a bit more rugged and green and you get the reds in the sand. We pass through Los Animos – which has the most striking courthouse. La Junta was pretty as was the town of Raton. Amtrak had given us a document with a paragraph for each of the 31 stops and interesting places we pass by on the journey. I must say my most favourite so far is Purgatoire River – yes that is how it is spelled.
After another beautiful meal – this time lunch – I sat and read and pondered the changing views in the Observation car. We had a longer break at Albuquerque NM. By the time we are back on board it is 4ish and we only have an hour or so of daylight left. It is such a delight just to sit in the quiet of our room and watch the world go by. We have dinner – excellent again – I must say – the food is making up for the cramped accommodation. The train is late into Flagstaff and we don’t arrive until 10.04pm. We finally manage to get a cab to our hotel and check in around 10.45pm. Now – I set up the laptop for the first time in a couple of days to check on how we are going to get to the Grand Canyon tomorrow. I soon realise that while I thought the Grand Canyon historic train ran from Flagstaff to the Canyon – it actually leaves from ‘Williams’ – a small town 35 miles away and it leaves at 8.30am in the morning. So – I don’t panic – we have a cup of tea and a think – as you do! I book us online two return tickets on the Grand Canyon Train and then at about 11.45pm book us a cab to arrive at 7.15am in the morning to drive us to ‘Williams.’ So, all things being equal we should be picked up in 7 hours – take 45 minutes to drive to Williams and have tickets for the train awaiting us at the ticket booth. Leaving all these details with God I fall asleep as soon as my head touched the pillow.
After all the excitement about getting to Chicago yesterday – we woke this morning, feeling refreshed and ready to board the ‘Southwest Chief’- the Amtrak passenger train that runs the 2265 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles. It basically follows the old Route 66. We were to be on board from 2.50pm this afternoon right through to 9.38pm Wednesday night when we would disembark at Flagstaff Arizona. A total of 30+ hours. We had a tiny sleeper-ette and all meals provided in our ticket price.
When we looked out out bedroom window in the morning from the hotel – there was snow everywhere. Because the ‘L’ train ( ‘L’ is short for elevated) ran not that far from the hotel – you could hear all night the sound of trains in the background. For those who remember the ‘Blues Brothers’ movie – it reminded me of the scene where the brothers are cooped up in their hotel room in Chicago – in that scene the L ran a mere few feet from their window and rattled the room every few minutes – we just had the noise! But the scene in the morning was, for those of us not used to snow, a magically serene scene. That thought quickly changed when I saw the lowly paid workers scrapping the ice and snow off the sidewalks and tried to put myself in their shoes for a moment – freezing weather, not much money, and a crappy job – soon the weather is a nuisance rather than a novelty. And did I say it was cold – very, very, very, cold (-3 degrees C!)
We have the luxury of spending an hour or so in the lounge at Union Station enjoying complimentary nibbles and drinks before we board our train. Now when I say a small tiny closet space – have an image in your mind – and half the space – and that is what we have. Comfortable but no room to swing a cat! The train is also a double-decker. Our luggage is in a compartment on the first floor, as is the shower and some of the toilets. We have to climb the ten stairs to the second floor for our room -ette.
Once in place – the train gets underway and we are off. We realise quickly that the sun is going to set by 5ish and so we only have a few hours of daylight to enjoy the scenery on the first afternoon. Illinois is covered by snow. All the farm lands and small town we pass by are white. The other thing to notice is that everything is flat – flat as a tack – no hills, no nothing, to jolt the train out of it smooth ride. Our dinner in the dinning car is excellent and when we come back – our porter has put the beds down. Being tired and full after a great meal and all the excitement of the journey thus far – we turn in early and look forward to a full day on the train tomorrow – we should be at the Kansas /Colorado state border in the morning.
Today was supposed to be a simple travel day – make our way to Baltimore/Washington airport – check luggage in – board 10.34am flight to Chicago and be at our hotel by 12.30pm to enjoy an afternoon of seeing Chicago’s famous city buildings. The first part started off fine – because it was Veterans Day and a public holiday – the roads were a bit clearer and we were at the airport by 7.45am! Checked in and sitting at cafe by 8.30am – plenty of time and our gate was the first one so it was close by the cafe. This is when things start to go astray.
First the flight was delayed by three hours and then half-hour later it was cancelled. We were told by American Airlines that we were now booked on a 9.30pm flight to Chicago – wait for it – out of Reagan airport in Washington DC. It is like saying your flight from Melbourne to Adelaide is cancelled but we have you booked out of Avalon airport, Geelong in 12 hours!
We go and get our luggage back downstairs and then endeavour to locate someone at the Shuttle desk so as to get to Reagan airport. We wait about 40 minutes and still no-one is at the desk. Then my phone beeps and tells me that the flight out of Reagan is cancelled as well! The message said to stand by for further details. No way I said, so we made our way to the American Airlines counter and we were helped by a lovely lady who was realising that this was not going to be an easy day as Chicago seemed in lock down due to a snow-storm. What she did for us was book us to Charlotte, North Carolina, leaving in 45 minutes, with our luggage tagged to go onto to Chicago but we the poor passengers only on stand-by for the four remaining flights that afternoon out of Charlotte for Chicago. She did say we had seats on a flight leaving at 5.07am the next morning out of Charlotte to Chicago but by now my anxiety levels were a little high – what if we missed the flights this day – would our luggage be safe – yes was the answer – what if we missed all the flights today and have to find accommodation – yes was the answer – hotels available in Charlotte but at your expense. What if he flight the next day was delayed – was there any guarantee that we could get to Chicago by the time we needed to board the Southwest Chief train to flagstaff – No guarantee was the answer!
Okay – so we decide to risk it and fly to Charlotte. We get there by 1.30pm and go straight to the gate for the flight to Chicago leaving at 3.55pm. We see our names on the stand-by list – listed at numbers 6 and 7 out a list of 21 names. Then this flight gets delayed and is now not leaving til 5.30pm – so we wait, and wait, and get bored waiting but there is nothing to do but – you guessed it – wait. So finally the time arrives and by now I’m at high alert – please God – get us on this flight. As it turns out – we make it! We were the last two names to get a ticket – I said a little prayer of thanks and also a prayer for the other 14 people who missed out – hoping their plans would sort themselves out.
But wait – there is more – now our plane is delayed on the tarmac for 30 minutes – they couldn’t possibly cancel at this stage could they – no – we get up in the air. Then as we approach we are told we need to do loops of the airport as the weather has caused a backlog of flights needing to land. They couldn’t divert us could they?
Finally we are in Chicago – and guess what – it is 20 degrees F – ie freezing! We are in a line outside the terminal for twenty minutes freezing waiting for a cab. There is snow and ice everywhere!. We get to our hotel and finally are able to relax and warm ourselves and enjoy the end of an interesting day.
Off on the big train trip – 39 hours – tomorrow. Will be out of contact for a few days as the train doesn’t have WiFi!