Holiday Road – Part I

Like most people retelling travel stories, you’re either going to be one of those people that hate it or enjoy it. I find that there’s no in between, and that the latter group is a small bunch. Regardless, I’ll talk about the holiday if only to provide those people who do hate the experience a way out in saying “I read your post”.

The holiday started in Sydney, on the 27th of June. I was driven to the airport by my parents who were sure to see me to security. This wasn’t my first holiday overseas without them, though it was my first trip outside of Australia without anyone else accompanying me. Nor was I headed to a country with family, and I wasn’t meeting any pre-arranged persons until the 21st of July. What worried my parents mother the most, I suspect, wasn’t that I was going on the holiday as a whole, or going on a tour – certainly the tour takes care of you by itself – but rather the day ‘in limbo’ that I had planned. I had a day to myself in Los Angeles, before the tour started, where I had to be (and this is a dangerous word to use around this house) independent. I had to make my way from the airport to my hotel, entertain myself for hours, get some sleep, then the next morning get to where the tour started.

All complex things for my parents mother – except for the fact that the hotel had a door-to-door shuttle, I would get to my hotel with enough time to get dinner then go to bed, and the tour began in the driveway of my hotel, a mere 20ft away.

My plane into Los Angeles from Sydney would take a stopover in Auckland, flying Air New Zealand. Everyone asked me why I was doing this. It was the cheapest flight available! I wasn’t flying business or first class this time, so one economy seat is as good as any. I picked the cheapest flight, which included a stopover in Auckland. It also added 4 hours to the overall flight times, both there and back, but that worked out well for take-off and landing times, and the days of.

The first flight, from Sydney to Auckland, was late by at least an hour to and hour and a half. They said because the plane was late coming from its previous destination. I wasn’t bothered – until I realised that I might miss my connecting flight to Los Angeles, as I was originally scheduled to have a 2 hour turn around in Auckland. If the plane was an hour and a half late, that left me with 30 minutes to find my gate and check in. I had no idea how big Auckland airport was, if I’d have to change terminals, or travel more than 20 minutes to get there.

Thankfully, I arrived with the 30 minutes and another 40 minutes to spare. This plane was late by over 2 hours. I didn’t mind at all, because it meant I made my flight. If things were running smoothly, I might have had a bit of bother. But I didn’t, so I didn’t voice my complaints.

As for movies I watched, I saw The Spiderwick Chronicles (not by choice), 21, and There Will Be Blood. The latter two were very good, the last the best. The screens in the chairs also had blackjack and chess programmed into them, so I played them a heap.

I landed in Los Angeles on the 27th to a hot Summer day. When I left Sydney, I was comfortable (only slightly cool) in shorts and shirt. The shorts and shirt suddenly became a requirement for the next 30 days.
As we flew over L.A., I realised that their pollution problem wasn’t hype or exaggeration – I could not see past a few streets from my window seat on a plane! I did not want to breath too much in L.A.

Getting through customs was ridiculously easy as compared to other countries. Heathrow is by far the worst airport for entering and exiting. Australia comes in second. The US, with everything you might expect, is less strict that the Turkish airports I used last year. Seriously, it’s very lapse. Which is a good thing. Maybe it was lapse for me because I didn’t exactly fit their targeted demographic. I had a good chat with Griffin, the customs official, as I went through.

I got the shuttle easy enough, and eventually made my hotel. I milled around for a while, inquired about my tour at the front desk, and watched some C-SPAN to pass the time. Then I had to go check in for our tour at the Contiki offices. Yes, I was on a Contiki tour – something I originally was apprehensive of, but now am so glad I did that I’d recommend it to 90% of the people I know.

After checking in, some of the group went to a fast food restaurant right next door. I decided to walk the extra part (10 minutes at a brisk/Thomas pace) and go to Downtown Disney. That’s the free to get in area of Disneyland where there are restaurants, bars, gift shops, but no rides. I was looking for a feed, looking for some activity, and wasn’t going to pass up the chance to go to Disneyland and Disney World in the one holiday. Plus, I had never been to Disneyland before, though had been to Disney World.

I went by myself, as I justified in my diary at the time, because I ‘wasn’t really in the mood to make friends when we all met’. I had been up for roughly 28 hours by then, and I have a rather temperamental mood around new people when I have had enough sleep. I gather I felt I wouldn’t make the best impressions, so avoided making the worst.

I found a bar called the ESPN Zone. It’s a sports bar that is crowded with sports fans. There were about 10 different baseball games on 20 different screens. I sat and had a burger, drank down a giant glass of Budweiser, and watched the L.A. Dodgers play the L.A. Angels (Dodgers won by 3), the N.Y. Yankees play the N.Y. Mets (Yankees won by 9), and Oakland Athletics against the San Fransisco Giants. I talked to a bar tender about the games, and why the L.A. Dodgers had more fans that the L.A. Angels. It wasn’t a cheap night, and tipping made for more expense, so I was rather worried if I would blow my budget after the first two weeks.

Little did I know how very very wrong I would be to worry.

Walking around afterwards, I brought the first gift for the trip, took in some sights, and went home to get a moderate amount of sleep before the tour started – and before we got into a town that I knew I would get no sleep in at all …

Las Vegas.

Thomas.

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