The 13 hour flight from Auckland to Los Angeles (after a 3 hour flight to our stopover in Brisbane) wasn’t actually as horrendous as it sounds. We were flying with Virgin Australia, who were great – with fairly good food and great TV choices! It’s also been years since I’ve had an in-flight goody bag!
Here’s some mind boggling time zone information for you. We left Auckland at 6am on May 4th and arrived into LA at 6am on May 4th. Not a typo, genuinely some crazy going-back-in-time-but-actually-spending-13 hours-on-a-plane-kind-of-time-zone-craziness. Of course we were tired when we got to LA, but we had arrived into our 6th and final country on our trip and we were excited and ready to explore!
It was sunny and warm when we got to LA which felt amazing after the freezing weather we were getting in NZ! Massive thank you to the lovely Rodeway Inn (Hollywood) who let us check in early so we could nap, shower, and have the rest of the day to explore! We were near the Hollywood Walk of Fame so we headed there for some sight seeing and to find some food!
I always imagined the whole of Los Angeles to be fancy and glamorous, but it’s actually like any other city. There are the super fancy and expensive areas but there are also parts which aren’t. Hollywood isn’t one of the posh areas. It’s tourist central with the Walk of Fame and the Chinese Theatre, so you’ll find rows of typical cheap souvenir shops and many tour companies, all trying to sell you tickets to their tour.
We chose a bus tour which would take us to the fancier places and the huge, infamous celebrity mansions in Beverley Hills and Bel Air. Our tour guide, Nick, had a lot of information about the area and pointed out which mansions belonged to which famous people – whether they really were where they lived, I don’t know but the houses were amazing!
On the tour, we also drove through Santa Monica and Venice Beach – which would have been really nice places to stay in for longer if we had the time! We also saw Chinatown and got time to wander up Rodeo Drive. The tour started and ended in Hollywood, where we were shown several locations featured in La La Land. Luckily I watched it on the flight to LA so I recognised the places! We also saw the Hollywood sign from Griffith Observatory – although it was only just about visible through the morning clouds!
I expected Las Vegas to be crazy. I’ve seen the films and I know its reputation – what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. But it was so much bigger and weirder than I thought it would be! The strip is just crazy theme after crazy theme. You can walk from the Venetian, to New York, to Egypt and see Romans, pirate ships and a circus on the way. It’s just the maddest place I’ve ever been.
While we were there, we booked a helicopter tour over the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately, it felt like the flight to the Canyon was longer than the time we actually spent seeing it, but it was still a really cool thing to do. It was a clear, sunny day and the pilot told us all about the history of the Canyon and also of the neighbouring towns.
We had a relatively calm time in Las Vegas, but you can’t blame us for that! After all our travelling we were exhausted and we definitely did not have money left to gamble! It was amazing to see Las Vegas in all its craziness. I’ll be back one day, but maybe next time there won’t be a blog post because what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, doesn’t it!?
San Francisco is exactly as you think it’s going to be – a quirky city with many hills! Apart from Lombard Street of course, ‘the crookedest road in America’.
During the trip we visited Alcatraz Island, home to the prison where Al Capone was kept. I found out that the families and children of the prison guards also lived on the island, and those who grew up there regarded it as a nice home. Along with the rose garden that is now growing there, it didn’t seem like a very creepy place at all!
I learnt so much about the prison with the free audio tour that was provided, and it was so interesting to find out about the attempted escapes and the daily lives of the prisoners and guards.
On our last day, we hired some bikes and cycled to and across the Golden Gate Bridge. It probably sounds nice but it was actually exhausting. Trust us to save the bike ride for the most hilly city we visited… We did make it to and across the bridge which was fun (and flat!), but we didn’t last much longer and we gave up on our way to Golden Gate Park!
I can’t tell you how much I’ve always wanted to visit New York. I’ve seen it hundreds of times in TV shows and films, so I had an idea of what it would be like in real life. I was thrilled to find that it was exactly as I’d imagined. The way the city is laid out in blocks, the subway, the department stores, Central Park. I shouldn’t be amazed by the subway – I’ve been on London tubes many times – but I was that embarrassing tourist snapping pictures of the stations…
While we were there, I found my new favourite landmark and maybe my 3rd most favourite thing of the whole trip? The Statue of Liberty. She was amazing, even though she was exactly as I’d imagined. We were given free audio tours as we made our way around Liberty Island, which was actually really interesting and told us a lot about her history.
On the way back to the city we stopped off on Ellis Island, home to an old immigrant inspection station. It was interesting but their audio tour ended up being rather laborious and repetitive! We were also eager to get back into the city as we had booked a 9/11 tour of the memorials.
You don’t need a tour, you can just go to the site where the twin towers stood and see the memorials which now sit in their places, but on the tour we were told a lot of extra information, including why the memorials were made the way there are. We were told that if there is a rose sitting through a name, it means it would be that persons birthday today. We were told that on the back of the fire station plaque, the fire fighters that survived had written messages to those who had been lost – and no one apart from the fire fighters that lived have ever read those messages. We were told about an attempted attack on the World Trade Centre which happened several years before 9/11 and that because of that attack, hi-visibility lights were fitted in the stairwells of the twin towers. When 9/11 happened, this small addition saved lives which would otherwise have been lost.
We were told some personal stories by our tour guide and a policeman who was on duty that day. We had the most emotional afternoon of our whole trip that day. I was too young to remember when 9/11 actually happened and I don’t remember seeing news stories about it, but after seeing the memorial and hearing about it from our tour guide, I can imagine what it would have felt like to be watching that footage from the UK. For the rest of our time in New York, the events of 9/11 were at the front of my mind. I kept thinking about how people in the city would have been feeling and what they would have seen. It’s unthinkable. I’m glad I got the chance to see the memorials and pay my respects to those who were lost in that attack.
While in New York we also went up the Empire State Building, visited Central Park, Times Square, Madison Square Garden and Grand Central Station. If there was a tourist spot, we were there! Our final few days of the trip couldn’t have been spent in a better place! Thank you New York, for being everything I thought you would be and I promise to return again soon!
And, just like that we had come to the end of our trip! Three months, six countries, sixteen flights, twelve boats, endless cups of tea and one new iPhone – it was (heartbreakingly) home time!