Monday, 31 December 2012

SCHOLARSHIP DAY 123: A Trip to Venice

After the dispiriting gloom of yesterday's meteorology here in Los Angeles, it was a relief to emerge out the hostel today to somewhat dry conditions, if a little blusterous on the coast. The sky was being comforted by an arrangement of airy cotton wool, but where the Sun was beaming, it was a strong radiance, and the thought that tomorrow is New Year's Eve seemed a ludicrous one. My plan today was to take a leisurely southerly ramble towards Venice, which is not a weighty geographical mistake on my part; there really is a coastal neighbourhood called Venice, and what was particularly appetising about journeying there was the fact that I could relish another amble on one of Los Angeles' angelic beaches. And so I set off for another day's exploration.

My walk wasn't solitary by any means, this morning; Santa Monica beach-goers were cherishing this almost perfect day with their families, whether it was cycling the labyrinthine pavement that winded it's way around those constructing sandcastles and savouring icecreams or whether it consisted of a repose in a deckchair followed by a game of Volleyball. The sheer size of Santa Monica's beach means that six or seven Volleyball courts can be erected, and yet still not disturb upon the beauty of the landscape.

I paused my relatively good progress towards Venice, to enjoy an al fresco breakfast. Here, at a small beach side diner, pancakes made a pleasant return to the Californian Breakfasting menu, and I enjoyed two with a hot chocolate which, although totally inappropriate for the weather, was delectable all the same. With a multitude of smooth melody and rhythms coming from a local radio station, and the natural tranquillity of the area, I could just as well have been on a Greek island.

From my promenade on the beach, it's perhaps a little ambiguous where Venice actually emerges on the coastline. It lacks an arresting feature or a prevailing sign, and the only innuendo is a slightly more active beach-scape. A subtle increase in people walking their dogs, or a congregation of parked bicycles offers some indication. I approached an arena that had attracted a dozen skateboarders, whose remarkably simplistic yet aesthetically captivating acrobatics had brought in crowds at every angle. I continued further along the beach, and then negotiated carefully across an uneven sandy terrain before hitting concrete again, and headed along the promenade market.

This particular street had attracted a multifarious group of traders. Moreover, on the left were a line of terraced huts, built into the lower decks of flats and apartments, that supported what looked to be more economically secure businesses. Souvenir shops with a revolving stand of all types of sunglasses, and a showcase of their most demanded of t-shirts, I found to occupy at least every fourth block. Punctuating these memento outlets were the odd beach side cafe, teasing the passer-by with a potent waft of sizzling saveloys, and some taunted the taste buds with a tantalising array of free samples. To my right, however, were more impermanent arrangements in the way of small wooden tables offering hand made necklaces and pebble threaded bracelets. Usually these were occupied by one person only, and often I'd happen upon a couple without the funds for the table, and in substitute, a patterned rug of India origin would showcase the less extravagant of products: a bag of sage or an opportunity to have "your name carved in stone!!!" which, despite the effort, didn't excite the senses to be honest. Further along, in positions that bellow extreme discontent and ultimate despair, individuals lay in plea of a few cents. One gentleman sat on a bench presenting a piece of cardboard reading: "Smile- you've got things better than I have". Unfortunately, this had little impact on my walk, as I've encountered so much of this on this journey. A little further on, a gentleman wearing a green suit embellishing the stitched lettering: 'Mr Cannabis' seemed to have a thriving stall selling packets to those who felt it necessary to contribute to an already choking atmosphere of marijuana smoke. I have the highest of disrespect to people who plague the air with such a redolence.

I admire Venice's efforts to recapitulate it's Italian essences. I wandered deeper into the neighbourhood and stumbled upon a multitude of canals, and whilst not an entirely convincing replication, the effort was praiseworthy. Now, I've been to Venice, and have -as every tourist does- strolled along the canals, sighed at the bridges, and the whole experience inspires a certain feeling; a feeling that only Italy could animate. And so, for Los Angeles, a re-enactment is a risky agenda. But as I passed over the bridges, still festooning Christmas decorations, and stared down upon gondola-shaped vessels, my Italian blood was positively enlivened and the walk was oddly very agreeable.

A sooty oppressing cloud was passing over Venice, but I continued south towards the pier, where in the distance I could make out small figures waving rods in the air, and casting them into the monstrous waves below. Dusting the shoreline were shells in a wide spectrum of hues, and further along a modest gathering of sea birds. Apart from the ceaseless rhythm of the long shore drift, only solitude accompanied me.

From the pier, a tempestuous promenade if ever I walked down one, was well populated with fishermen and a couple of bird fanatics. I turned to gaze at the vista of Venice's beach; from this distance, it seemed just a singular thread of golden coloured cotton. It bordered a transitory capilliform of foam, powered by the overwhelming expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

I eased myself from this gaze into a relaxed saunter off the pier back northwards, towards Santa Monica. Now Venice seemed comparatively less busy, though the skateboarders were still tumbling through the air and basketball players were oozing buckets of bodily fluid over a frantic skirting across a court. The beach itself was almost deserted, and I seldom passed many on my way back to the Santa Monica pier. By the time I had trekked back, leaving only my footprints as legacy of my visit, the Sun had become eclipsed by another heavy cloud, as if this ball of cotton wool had been dunked into an inkwell. I admired what was left of another glorious day, and retreated towards the hostel once more.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

SCHOLARSHIP DAY 122: Exposition Park with Californian Science Center, the L.A Coliseum, and people lifting trucks

It started off a wet and despondent morning, arousing a despairing mood to any who peered through the parting of the curtains, but with less than two weeks before I'm surrounded by Yorkshire Tea and Steak and Kidney Pie, I decided to implement my 'Rainy Day in Los Angeles' plan, which wasn't so much a plan but a visit to Exposition Park. Exposition Park, although technically outdoors, is densely bundled with museums, sport centers and a likewise selection of institutions to visit on a rainy day. Why get wet when you could visit the Californian Science Museum? Why carry an umbrella when you can wander around the Natural History Museum, though the former attracts the budget travellers like myself. It's not only large, teeming with exhibits and cafes, but it's free to the public. So, off I adventured, out the hostel, and travelled to the Metro Express Train Line, in Culver City.

I expect Culver City is an admirable place, abundant with culture and enterprise. It was unfortunate, therefore, that I didn't really obtain a good viewing of it. As I left a small local bus and made my way to the Metro Express for my subsequent journey to Exposition Park, through the bars of rain I caught glimpses of dilapidated buildings; smothered in a grotty grey, and plywood boarded windows. I crossed what looked to be a car park, though ambiguous as the the white parking boxes were absent. It exhibited an extensive collection of deep potholes, some rather deep, each one identifiable by a small pond after last night's heavy rain. As I edged nearer to the Metro Station, what I thought was asphalt turned out just to be a paste of saturated silty mud. And so, I trotted up the steps of the station, looking as if I had just waded through swamp and estuary to get there, and soiled a polished metro floor as I made for my seat.

We hurtled through the city and in the time it takes you to retrieve a desired beverage from a vending machine, I was being ushered out of the metro by way of a composed gentleman's voice announcing that through the rain beaten windows were the translucent shapes making up Exposition Park and that I should exit sooner rather than later, because the doors were closing immanently. I obliged with his request, "leaving none of my personal possessions in the carriage" and "minded the step" as I disembarked. Exposition Park filled my view; a large but unpretentious fountain becoming the focal point, though I wasn't, as you can imagine, holding high regards for water presently so I bypassed the opportunity to have a good stare at it (the only thing you can do at any fountain) and headed for the Californian Science Museum.

Museums, in general, exhibit the most compelling fact about human nature. They attract thousands every day; families blitz through traffic to get there early before the crowds start to emerge, and because hundreds of families have this same instinct, the doors open at 9am already to a mile long queue of eager enthusiasts. Such must have been the case at the Californian Science Museum today, as when I arrived, I was taken aback by the swarm of muttering heads. If any place needed it's own Highway Code, it was here. Prams were scurrying across the marble, by half-attentive drivers who whizz so close to you that you feel you're going to be scooped up. I don't know about you, but I always seem to attract a nursery of small children who think it's acceptable to sandwich themselves in between me and a exhibit, consequently forcing you to make a premature departure and move onto the next one. If there's one commendable thing to say about crowds at museums, it's that usually upon transits from one room to another, a line of single-filed traffic will seemingly form into place, without the need of markings or signs. It just naturally forms, and although you're subjected to a tedious dawdle, I hold high admiration for this shared voluntary desire for orderliness.

The usual issues I hold with Museums were very much present today, but I persisted, and got myself around half-adequately. It's a truly wonderful museum; it encompasses a broad spectrum of Science, yet somehow is concise in its approach. And it's interactive, which for those who suffer museum fatigue, is an effective antidote. You can build dams out of sand and test them in the 'Rivers' room, or carve your hand print into ice in the 'Polar' room. In the 'Rocky Shores' room, you can touch Jellyfish, Urchins and other unmemorable organisms that cling to rocks like a rugby player clasps the ball on a sprint to the tri line. There was even an L.A room which I felt a little out-keeping with the theme, but nevertheless a spacious room with lots to see and do. Of course anything interactive was pre-occupied with young children, who I felt needed the vocation more than I did, so I found content in simply reading the information attributed with each exhibit. (Where there wasn't anyone at an interactive exhibit, it turned out to be either broken or the most unstimulating of displays, though these were few and far between.)

There comes a point, though, where you're just aimlessly patrolling around the exhibits, unable to absorb anymore, like a saturated sponge, and experience tells me it's vital to exit at this point, rather than to continue strolling around, as this leads to unnecessary though unintentional tripping up small children, mindless cursing at always being in some form of queue, and the beginnings of a cantankerous attitude towards the American accent, (especially, may I say, when a mother vocally exaggerates her excitement of an exhibit solely to grab the attention of her offspring, and as any traveller will know, the American accent is perhaps arguably exaggerated enough at the best of times!)

So I concluded my expedition at the 'Transport in the 21st Century' segment, and transported myself out into fresh air. My prerogative was to locate an adequate eatery in which to obtain lunch, though the way I express it makes it sound like I was on the hunt for Exposition Park's most fine haut cuisine. To my astonishment, there wasn't anything of the kind, so I settled for a MacDonald's; a step down in quality, but for efficiency I reward it top marks, and economically, it's budget friendly. I relished all that could be enjoyed from it, and decided to explore the rest of Exposition Park.

The stroll was delightful in the afternoon sunlight; I happened upon what turned out to be the entrance of the Science Museum, a more elaborate contemporary design (the kind of frontage only a Science Museum would have). A hive of activity from the inside was seeping through the gaps in the doors, still bustling to the extent that it was earlier on. I suddenly emerged upon a great structure, and a historic architectural gem: the Los Angeles Coliseum. In one way or another, it seemingly brought an invigorating and fresh taste to the whole city. It looked almost ancient Greek in aesthetic, which is understandable given that the Los Angeles Coliseum was used for an Olympiad in the early 1930s. Regrettably, it's now inaccessible and you can only gaze and wonder at what a sporting life might have been like in the Coliseum from outside imposing gates. Nevertheless, it adds a certain quality to Exposition Park.

I meandered my way down a winding pedestrian lane, through a rose garden, and up a flight of steps towards a car park, with the most fascinating and popular oddity. A truck weighing in excess of 5400 pounds was being levered off the ground by a group of committed individuals pulling a rope on the other end of a large lever. Though idiosyncratic, it was pleasurable to watch such effort expended on what would usually be a impossible task. I drew myself away from the outlandishness and as it was progressively becoming darker, I awaited the next metro and made my westward journey towards the hostel.

By the time I had finally caught up with Santa Monica, the Sun had already set, but the glow still beckoned photographers to take a couple of snaps, which dutifully I did too, before walking a block to the hostel.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

SCHOLARSHIP DAY 121: Will Rogers Historic Park, Los Angeles

I awoke, feeling it was about time to re-acquaint myself with the fruits of nature again, after a substantial time recently, mingling with the very finest of concrete that Los Angeles has to offer. Unscrolling a map of the city, however, reveals very little green shading, and might portray to the more hasty of map-readers that the county offers very little in the way of natural interest. But just north of the county, resides a lavish array of fauna and flora. Just one of these areas is the delightful Will Rogers Historic Park, that provides without a penetration into the wallet, the opportunity to escape from the attentiveness of the city and an embarkation on a series of rewarding trails.

Equipped with the necessities for perhaps the most enduring walking session I have taken in quite some time, I set off under the amaranthine beam of the the Earth's desk lamp. There was a balmy breeze patrolling the avenues here in Santa Monica and the Pacific Ocean, despite the intermittent surges and swells, looked almost concrete blue. I took a stroll along the bluffs, on a sinuous promenade, eyeballed by the lanky yet stately Palms. The trail wasn't busy by any means which made for a fluent journey, and whilst there were passing joggers and cyclists making an extra lap or two in order to burn off the superflous turkey and chipolatas, the atmosphere of quietude wasn't tarnished.

The path eventually parted from the coast, and I was being led on a contorted mosey around small detached complexes; the kind of route that makes the innocent traveller seek out their map on every turn. I was negotiated up a small grade, onto another long stretch of road, lacking in pavement, but welcoming nonetheless with open gates and an aesthetically congenial arrangement of outdoor furnishings. The one aspect I truly adore about America, is that a house is not just a house but a home. The streets and avenues are not aligned with a montony, designed in a small darkened office hundreds of miles away, but instead, each house is individualised to depict something about its inhabitants; their passions and beliefs, which simply warms the heart. I happened upon many trees still stomaching the autumnal effect; it's sights like these that make this trip so hard to place a chronology to.

I crossed a rather active boulevard, and began to trek off-road on a dusty track which would serve as a fitting prologue before the hiking lined up at Will Rogers Historic Park. Here, I saw Cacti and other Broad Leaf plants I couldn't attribute identity to. (Incidentally, why is it that what botanists regard as 'common names' are seldom common at all. Take 'Lambsquarters' for example, or 'Kangaroo Paws'; both of which are legitimate, yet hardly colloquial.)

I didn't expect the Will Rogers Historic Park, (named thus after the famous American humorist of that name) to be equipped so adequately, so I was delighted to see a modest gift shop with the necesseties for people like me to rehydrate with. The shop also doubled up as a museum, and further along, a children's playground found residence under a shady canopy of foliage. There was more than enough space for parking your car, to the extent that families could afford to bring out all of their autmobiles, together with lawn mower and wheelbarrow and still find a comfortable spot for each one. Deeper into the park, private stables provided a reasonable home for horses, most of which were ferrying jockeys out and around upon my arrival. A spacious turf offered room for a casual game of football, and yet still enough license for a spot of reading and, if the mind wanders enough through the forests of inspiration, a spell of creative writing.

I proceeded along 'Inspiration Trail'; a most commodious title for such a trek if ever there was one. A short period of invigorating acclivity led me to a wonderfully placed wooden bench; a point worthy to stop and savor my lunch at. As I lacerated, mutilated and grinded each chocolate chip cookie into a fine yet flavoursome flour, I gazed at the vista before me. I was well aware of course, from peeking at the map I picked up from the giftshop, that 'Inspiration Trail' would eventually lead me to Inspiration Point, and that I shouldn't take it all in here, for the slight chance of an anticlimax when I reach the summit. So despite my comfortably sundrenched position, I rose and hiked further along the arenose.

Surrounding me were the interlocking spurs of this undulating landscape. It was as if the hillside had fingers, which had decided to enact a clasping pose; each fingertip on one side confederated with two others from the opposite side; the kind of clasp a businessman would bear to portray calmness in a long and arduous interview. I paused still on my voyage. How delectable it is to hear nothing but the tweeting of birds ringing through the air and the occasional scampering of a nearby squirrel, and less than four miles from the scuttle and whisk of a typical weekday afternoon in Santa Monica. The hum of traffic, the fuss and the flutter of our very own species making their way around a world of brick and mortar, seemed a lightyear away, though all that partitioned myself from it, was a mere congregation of flora and fauna. That's the bewitching thing about Mother Nature, and long may she reign.

I made considerable progress, but felt I was turning into a mixed grill, under the sear of the Sun. My ears began to brown like cookies do in bakery ovens; my perspiring brow was almost sizzling, my weary feet would at any moment shrivel in dessication.  I thought I might either  dematerialize in an act of evaporation or wither like a weed to the ground, wizening to join an already dusty track. All of this on the 28th December was particularly befuddling, especially because it's been less than two months since the austere bitterness of Alaska, and it's less than a week until I voyage back North, to Toronto. I pondered over this until I finally reached Inspiration Point; the summit of my journey and a showcase of the finest views I've captured thus far, here in my spell at Los Angeles.

Uncannily, from this vantage point, Los Angeles County seems to be nothing but eloquent verdure. Along the horizon, emerging from this bubbling stew of foliage, a party of skyscrapers celebrate freedom in the open air. Small dashes erupt out of the horizon, ascenting to pinnacle heights and slowly but surely cruise to land afar. There's a faint resonating mumur of city life, but it also seems to have been smothered by a web of vegetation. And yet, I stood there admiring such greenery, but engraved into my mind are memories of great expanses of cement; endless stretches not of roots and shoots but of human constructed edifices. I suppose the reason why they call it 'Inspiration Point' is because the view does, in a certain way, allow you to dream of what this area could have turned out like; a diverse oasis of natural life with very little space for humans.

I meandered my way back along the trails, towards the entrance of the park, embarking on a four mile trek back to Santa Moncia. On this stretch of the journey, I couldn't help but stare at the enchanting spectacle above; a collaboration between cloud and light; two forces of nature creating one magical display.

My southward amble was punctuated once again with incident; I had missed one of my turnings and had continued walking into an unploughed area of woodland. It was here that I found good fortune in this mishap; three deer were enjoying the last hour of light amongst the trees. To my surprise, they didn't gallop off out of view, but remained still as if they liked their photo taken. I obliged, they got their moment of fame, I turned back and directed myself onto the correct route.

By the time I had reached Santa Monica, the Sun was planning another afternoon paddle in the Pacific Ocean, and rush hour traffic became apparent as soon as I hit the coastal avenue. So suddenly, I had plunged myself back into civilisation, and I took a moment to consider which I preferred. An orange glow glossed over the city, and made for an attractive walk, yet this was no 'Inspiration Point'. It was reality, in all of its precision and certainty.

Friday, 28 December 2012

SCHOLARSHIP DAY 120: Exploring Hollywood

My dormitory bed fits comfortably in the corner of hostel room, and even though there is only one easily accessible exit out of it, I felt that I had got out on the wrong side this morning. This is not to say that I was disgruntled in mood, as is so often apparent under the flesh of many who arise from such an easeful position. And I can fortunately proclaim that nothing of any large magnitude occurred within my first few hours of consciousness on this Thursday morning. Nevertheless, it was just the slow and vexatious accumulation of petite events, most of which sparked just by my carelessness. I missed my alarm, so ultimately missed the hostel breakfast, and had to venture to a nearby cafe. I placed an order in the form of an enticing cooked waffle, accompanied by the tongue waggling accompaniment of whipped cream and bananas, though it took a small eternity to prepare and even longer to cook. When my rumbling stomach was finally settled, I made a hasty walk to the bus stop, but realised I didn't have the memory card for my camera, and consequently had to make another obnoxious trip back to retrieve the item. Fearful for another incident to stunt my morning, I re-checked my bags, and once satisfied, proceeded to the bus stop. The sky above greeted me with a divergence from normality. Such an usual formation courted with the imagination whilst I waited patiently for the next bus to Hollywood.

I don't believe that there's anybody on this planet who has not been touched in one way or another by the enterprise of Hollywood. In the recent days, I have often found myself visiting aspects of Los Angeles that have fallen short of receiving the basic levels of care and consideration; the dilapidated zone of Historic Downtown, for instance, saturated greatly in despondency. Perhaps, as I have hypothesised before, this disheartenment comes as a result of Los Angeles choosing to channel love (and obviously capital) into 'other' areas. Hollywood is one of those lucky places, in this respect, though you wouldn't know it if like me you choose to enter via the 740 line, which dispatches the weary traveller on the outskirts where the scene is very contrastive. As I departed the metro, the gentleman accompanying my exit decided that perhaps embarking into this territory wasn't a wise idea and instead attempted to reboard; he couldn't so dashed through crowds to board a bus just emerging around an intersection. With this hubbub resolved, I immediately stumbled upon an street-side argument, which thoroughly explored a rather flavoursome vocabulary. Having acknowledged the fact that this wasn't the typical 'Hollywood' alluded to in the guidebook, I turned up Vine Street and after being ushered across the road by a police officer-for no apparent reason may I interject- I found myself sauntering from the mildly horrific into the heavily prolific.

There is a tendency to suggest that Los Angeles considers quantity to take president over quality; the county is of exorbitant size yet isn't able to sustain a seamless beauty like San Francisco achieves. But by strolling through Hollywood in eager pursuit of cultural interest. it's easy to turn the other cheek. Hollywood doesn't have an extensive range of inducement, but what it does have is delivered extremely well. Take the Hollywood and Highland Centre, for example; with its accustomed abbreviation, 'H and H'. I found myself being lured up a narrow strip of red painted steps, as easily as a magnet attracts a paperclip, and soon I found myself in a broad melange; a miscellany of extended stay tourists and day excursion groups, waitresses and bartenders, residents in the local vicinity with their families rekindling their love for the area they chose to move into, and perhaps some taking one final stroll. Whether they fitted into any of these categories or not, the H and H was bubbling to overflowing with people, which although made locomotion challenging, subsequently made the speculated thrill of Hollywood that little touch more realistic.

The H and H centre provides, charitably, two access points with which to capture the most lionised signs in the world: the Hollywood sign that dwells on the flank of the hillside. It's incredible to believe that nine white capitalised letters residing in such an inaccessible area is perhaps more eulogised than some of the notable names that have once worked for the organisation. Though this maybe correct, the H and H centre doesn't commit to educating those at these viewing points about it; perhaps out of crude belief that people simply wouldn't expend valuable seconds on it.

I absorbed as much of the H and H centre as I could, sipping every last entity of thrill that it possesses, before making an exit via the Chinese Theatre. For a showcase of American cinematic talent, it's difficult to believe that the Chinese Theatre is the most famous construction in the area, but alas, it seems to be the case. An entry fee of $30.00 or more in some cases allows you to enter into the grandeur and taste what it feels like to be surrounded by a rich aroma of gift and talent; hand prints of some of the most celebrated stars find their home in this theatre too. This is something I'm told is extremely popular with a tourist's viewfinder, but my camera came away- I'm proud to admit- hand print free!

That is, until I stumbled upon Marilyn Monroe, who delights the passerby so much that they have to take a photo of her. Some struggle to find contentment in this though, and take the effort to ask who would be so nice as to take a photo of them embracing Marilyn, looking as if they were once life-long friends. I have to admit some difficulty in obtaining a photo of a solitary Miss M, but out of the several thousand attempts, this holds rank as being the finest.

Having departed the eminence of Marilyn Monroe, I abruptly found myself strolling over several more reputable names in the cinematic industry. From a distance, people walking the Walk of Fame must appear to be very melancholic, and yet looking downwards towards the stone floor, with a conceivable look of despair, is both exciting and indeed the only way to enjoy the delights of the Walk of Fame. Star-shaped golden tinted stone exposing the engraved names of some of the most celebrated characters ever to step in front of camera. Now, it has to be acknowledged that not being a enthusiast, I didn't recognise every name, but I did grin at the likes of Marvin Gaye, Jimi Hendrix, The Pointer Sisters, John Lennon, Barry Manilow, Nat King Cole, Bette Davis, Gracie Fields, Doris Day; well, you get the idea.

Apart from large gatherings around some of the most applauded, the Walk of Fame inspires a certain variance on what would just be another unnotable stretch of pavement, in yet another unidentifiable region of America. I made my way back to the bus stop, with the desire to actually view a film, which I thought was an adequate conclusion to a rather cinematically themed day. On my way, (and I can't stress the serendipitous nature enough here) I stumbled upon Christopher; a hosteler I had the great pleasure of meeting in San Francisco. In such a richly diverse country, we couldn't express our mutual astonishment in this unpremeditated happening. We exchanged contact details once more, threaded a chat together with exchanging travelling stories, and once again departed. Something tells me not for long though.

Back in Santa Monica after a commute west on a rather packed metro bus, I caught a glimpse of a spellbinding sunset, and on speedy approach, the Sun was just starting to dunk itself into the Pacific. It was mesmerising as these moments so often are. I waited until it had immersed all the way into the ocean, painting the sky in the most ravishing of gradients as a sign of farewell, and then headed to the unmistakable world of overpriced popcorn and tediously enduring trailers, to capture perhaps the true essence of what Hollywood is, and will always be, about.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

SCHOLARSHIP DAY 119: Beverly Hills and Century City

In my Los Angeles: Where magazine, just one of the glossy compliments that come included with my stay here at the Santa Monica hostel, Beverly Hills is described as "a luxury lover's mecca" and after the slight disappointment in Downtown, I felt that perhaps a modest serving of guiltless sumptuousness was required. So, having breakfasted with a hearty serving of cereal and fruit, I set off into the morning sunshine to catch the necessary metro.

Boxing Day for me has always been rich with tradition. I'd wake up and immediately shoot downstairs to scrutinise a mountain of presents, freeing books of their cellophane imprisonment, setting the correct date and time on electrical gizmo's, and listening to a few bars of each song on CDs. Lunch would consist solely of turkey sandwiches, followed wisely by a glass of Port and the odd digestive. A family feud would endure throughout the afternoon as to who could use the television to make their premier viewing of new DVDs. In recent years, a couple of hours has always been devoted to a family quiz; an event that usually takes a degree of organisation parallel to a whole series of Mastermind. Surplus turkey would be garnished with a helping of vegetables for dinner, the taste buds would be banqueted with a trifle for dessert and we'd all relish a family film to conclude the day. A house-confined day? Maybe, but enclosed within our four stone walls would be a ceaseless emanation of warmth and post Christmas comfort; a spirit suggesting that whilst Christmas may have officially ended yesterday, tidings of comfort and joy keep on ringing.

So it was to my surprise that I emerged from the hostel to greet what seemed to be just another conventional day in Santa Monica. Commuters processed themselves through long and winding queues of traffic to their employments; the common-place hive of urban activity ensued and not a turkey sandwich in sight! And if more evidence is ever required to confirm that normality enveloped the city this morning, the buses were late. Only so slightly behind my schedule, even though it is either non existing or forever irresolute, I was being shuttled to the awe inspiring Beverly Hills; at least, that's the impression left by the magazine. I'm pleased to note here that it was entirely accurate with this presentment.

Beverly Hills has been constructed with the intention of pleasing the eye, wherever it may wander. The aesthetics are truly enthralling, not because 'the hills' are a burst of frenetic excitement, but because it's simply maintained to perfection. There's a refreshing natural initiative within the boundaries of the district, to care and put to action, the very best of resourcefulness. I stepped off the bus and decided the most tactical thing to do would be to capture a snap of the 'Beverly Hills' sign, if anything, to aid the chronicling of my now extremely extensive photo collection. (Over 4300 to date!) I have very little idea regarding the effort it took to construct the welcoming autograph, though I feel it was an embryonic achievement in comparison to my experience of accomplishing a photo of it. I arrived in simultaneity to a large tour bus, who spent the best part of the morning angling their tripods and attuning their many photographic functions, appearing to have equal astuteness to David Bailey . Following their departure, a populous family immediately appeared and took a photo albums worth of shots at the sign, and inspired creativity with posing in front of the 'Hills' segment in as many variations as possible: Mum and the first child, followed by Dad and the second child, proceeded by Mum and both children together, a solitary Dad, and then one with the whole family saying "Cheese" together, taken by a member of the grandparents who incidentally didn't seem to appear in any of the photographs! A second tour bus was parking, and with index finger hovering over the shutter button in anticipation, I achieved one half decent shot, and then departed the scene, reminding myself the basic method of locomotion, as it seemed an eternity since I last did any.

Immediately beyond the sign, and a small stretch of promenade, lies 'The Mansions'; people's very own private residences that experience visitor numbers marginally equal to any of the sights I have embarked upon, in this very phase of the trip. In defence, they beguile not necessarily because they are overwhelmingly large and astronomically facilitated, but rather due to their history. In the 20th century, well celebrated movie stars were ushered into these properties. And even to this very day, it still isn't unlikely to find a member of the Beckham family striding a paved walkway to their trash to the garbage bin, or to see an equally distinguished figure picking up their daily tabloid. I saw a gentleman today, doing just that, clothed extravagantly in a suit, which I thought was a slight overdressing on his part, for such a daily mundane spell of activity. The mansions adorn an individual style, but nearly all have a few mutualities: finely trimmed box trees before the frontage, a small viewing window, no formidable than a typical arrowslit, and a generously sized lawn. Aligned with the pavement are an equally spaced row of prodigious Palm trees, guarding the properties behind them like pawns on a chessboard. One duty in life that resides, not just in this unrivalled neighbourhood, but over the state of California, is maintaining a frequently scheduled nurture of ones car. In frequent patrolling alongside roadsides and peering up driveways, I've come across the most fostered collection of automobiles, as if everyone buys a new car straight out the showroom every morning.

It's difficult to conclude, from ground level, whether the Beverly Hills dwell on an area of relief, particularly because encompassing the innocent traveller, isn't an inspirational panorama of the rest of the county, but a skyline constantly mingling with the spires of prestigious buildings. One such arresting one is the City Hall. It never ceases to amaze me at this country's effort to ensure the most stereotypical spiritless complexes have such a charismatic exterior. The City Hall here in Beverly Hills has chosen to exploit thousand of dollars on achieving the most mesmerising finish, and embellishing the face, are two agreeable fountains.

And yet, Beverly Hills entices the tourists not due to its grand collection of fine residences, or it's city hall, but because of one extremely popular pastime. That of shopping, though here, the entertainment steps up quite a few levels. I made a leisurely saunter through what arguably is the hub of this mega-purchasing district, and still it's perplexing as to just how extortionate these avenues are. Here, charmingly perfumed ladies- and they are 'ladies'- wrap themselves in the most finest of silk just to pop out to the whole foods market. Gentlemen decorate themselves in three piece suits just to collect a bank statement. (I didn't stumble upon any pets here, but assure yourself that if I had, they would most likely be the most well groomed poodles.) Each establishment I passed showcased the finest of the finest; each and every one representing this planet's most tony apparel, the most newfangled electronics, the most chic jewellery, including a watch I passed with a $19,000 price tag. Each shop's name would be elegantly styled above its door, headlined in a Serif font, and awaiting each and every swanky customer, would be a middle aged gentleman bedecked in a tuxedo, with an expertise of tempting you into a voguish yet costly transaction. I felt very out of my league. Here, I expect you offer the salesman a wedge of dollars just to be able to step on the most taintless of marble flooring, which most of these premises support. I'm surprised that backpackers like me are even allowed to amble through; I began to imagine the area's own customs complex, with security personnel refusing people entry if they have but a mere speck of dust on their shoes, the faintest scratch marks on the lens of their glasses, or a chipped fingernail. Spotting limousines cruising through are a daily occurrence, but I was blessed with a sight of this extremely fine looking motor. If like me you can't tell the make by the diameter of exhaust pipe, or the RGB code of the back seating, it's a Bugatti.

Beside this high performance motor, I eyed a couple of menus, presented on varnished lecterns that stood like ornaments outside high performance eateries. The most basic of starter choice, decorated using the most pompous application of English vocabulary, would be served with a price tag of $15. It made 'a la carte' dining inferior. I watched as drinks would be ushered to their eventual consumers, by way of a gleaming silver tray. A couple were relishing the most premium of oysters, and weren't one bit hesitant to add to an already weighty bill, an order of 'Grand Vin De Latour'. It was probably a daily outing for them. Finding budget-friendly lunch here would be as easy as counting the consonants in the daily newspaper, so I made my way out towards the edge, stumbled upon an adequately priced market, and regained a sense of reality when the total came under two figures.

With the afternoon left, and finding Beverly Hills a touch overwhelming, I headed for Century City; a 'modern acropolis' as described in my book. I took the most scenic route possible, which transpired to be a long corridor through a small parkland, but it satisfied the soul, and tranquillity joined me on the stroll too.

On the way, I passed a beautiful fountain. The trouble with fountains is that they can't easily surprise the onlooker; their exhilaration is weakened by the knowledge that gravity will eventually conquer each and every water droplet and bring it to an eventual splash. This one caught my eye, not necessarily for its design, though patterned intricately it was, but for it's co-operation with light to engender this rainbow effect.

I entered into the 0.3 square miles of Century City to be confronted with a generously sprinkled serving of skyscrapers. Despite radiant early afternoon sunshine by this point, each and every room seemed to have its light on. I never do understand the necessity to supplement natural light when it so freely pours into the building like a breeze. But it's not this that bothered me the most as I composed a self guided tour around Century City; instead, I found nothing of even the remotest interest here. Yes, in abundance were towering business blocks, supporting I expect very interesting people, all with the ability to turn a blank flip chart into the most thought-provoking technological innovation. But for the tourist, or even the passing visitor in the pursuit of appeal, there was very little.

I started to head out, giving up on my search for the smallest crumb of captivation, when I suddenly caught a glimpse of what looked to be a robust and roaring trade, and on closer inspection, it turned out to be Century City's thriving shopping district. Two tiered, I took a seat in one of the dining terraces, sipped on a Sprite, and took pauses in my reading to gaze at the action below. I couldn't believe that with Christmas passed, there was still this degree of activity. Maybe America has a large 'return with the product and receipt' percentage? Perhaps, it's dawned on the people that you can grab a great bargain by shopping after Christmas? Nevertheless, here was a secret corner of what I once thought was a characterless city. I left all the more enlightened to think that by searching carefully, the great expanse of Los Angeles County really does have something to offer.  

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

SCHOLARSHIP DAY 118: Dan's Christmas Message from America

In this long and epic travelling chronicle, through the most world renowned cities, and the lost and bygone neighbourhoods of America, I have experienced first-hand the diversification of this truly wonderful country. A country with a comparatively short history, but one that is as rich as any other nation that settles on this phenomenal planet. I've always believed the best traveller embodies the spirit of a sponge; willing to absorb anything that falls in their path, whether it's an inspiring culture or a mesmerizing landscape. Along with your luggage and personal possessions, you carry a spirit of inquisitiveness, a longing for thrill and a thirst for exploration.

There are moments in great journeys which make you feel right at home; a cup of hot cocoa before turning in, a song on the wireless that inspires childhood memories, maybe a painting or an extract of poetry. In a similar regard, the contrary can occur; there are episodes in an adventure that make the explorer feel far away from the comforts of their friends and family.
As I gaze up to stare at the familiar emblems of this festive season, sitting in a room burnished with the symbols of this holy season, I am made aware of the internationality of the Christmas story. It's a narrative woven together over centuries; a tale that has voyaged far and wide through a multitude of cultures and traditions across the world. Christmas unites the world in a way little else does, and today as I enjoy a day off to enjoy the American traditions, I rest comforted with the knowledge that in my home country, the family and friends I cherish so much are celebrating it as well.

However, as I imagine chestnuts roasting on my family's open fire, and Jack Frost nipping at the noses of friends and colleagues, the very fact that I am not beside an open fire and greeting Mr Frost myself  is one that leaves me feeling far away from what I have come to know as tradition. I greet passing pedestrians through avenues and streets, not snugly enveloped by woollen jumpers and scarves, but adorning brightly patterned shorts and short sleeved T-shirts. I negotiate my way through a city not afflicted by a perishing frost, but by the beam of daily sunshine.  Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby sing their infamous tunes, with the same melody and the same rhythm, but not to the same atmosphere. An agreeable aroma of roasting turkey is floating through the hostel kitchen, but my mother isn't there cooking it. A bottle of speciality red wine perches on the counter, but where is my father doing the honours? It's 3:00pm, the television is on, but where's the Queen and her joyful message?

Christmas, I've come to believe, isn't just a date on the calendar. It isn't just a time when we festoon the lounge, sing carols and yank at crackers. It isn't the just the period for opening presents and making a monumental mess of the lounge floor with shreds of wrapping paper, or an excuse for the most guiltless self indulgence. Christmas is a feeling. Something that can't be explained with mere words, but with emotion and sentiment. And it's being thousands of miles away from friends and family at this time of year, that arouses this feeling the most. Out of everything I miss from the UK, this Christmas period is certainly one of the foremost.

I wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas and hope that, wherever you are in the world, your wishes come true.

SCHOLARSHIP DAY 117: Christmas Eve in Downtown Los Angeles

After my demoralising loss last night at the hostel poker game, and the following couple of hours of early morning writing, (late nights are becoming a recurring habit these days), I finally retired to my mattress at about 2:00am, but only managed to arrive through the gates of slumber land at 3:00am; an irritable delay propagated by another performance by the Snoring Sextet and by the pelleting bullets of rain outside. When I awoke this Christmas Eve, I gazed outside not to an enchanting scene of snow sprinkled rooftops, and not alas to a typical Californian radiance, but the oppressing cascade of watery misery. I extracted my rain coat out of my larger bag, both I and it surprised that such a garment would be required in Los Angeles, and after freshening up and breakfasting, I dodged the puddles to the bus stop.

The dire straits that unsettles any tourist wishing to explore the Downtown area of Los Angeles, is that from studying a map, it's difficult to locate exactly where it starts and finishes. I don't know about yours, but my map shows a ravioli shaped district in the centre, titled adequately 'Los Angeles' which is where one would usually expect the downtown to reside. And yet, 6 miles to the west, the map launches both itself and the tourist into ambiguity, in labelling another area 'Mid City'. Plunging even deeper into the dilemma, 3 miles north of this region is 'Central L.A'. So I boarded the bus this morning with a blend of both wanderlust and a certain inquisitiveness.

I made a decision to get off the bus after nearly an hour of travelling. Voyaging in such a city like this puts the aspect of distance into perspective, especially for island dwellers such as myself, who seldom experience a commute through such a magnitude. A step off the bus and it shuttled speedily into the distance, and I was being welcomed by one of Los Angeles' more creative constitutions. This fountain becomes the focal point around an abundant concentration of theatre complexes; there was this inescapable scent of spent money here.

As I perused around, half expecting a face of fame to stroll past with an machiato and a neckerchief, perhaps with a forgotten smudge of theatre makeup on the facet after a harrowing series of morning rehearsals, I found my attention being anchored to the arresting exterior of the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Typically curious, I made an entry and almost immediately, I became engaged into a consultation with one of the lovely volunteers regarding taking a free self guided tour of the hall, and with time to spare, I thought this a worthwhile passing. The inner furnishings are, I must proclaim, warm and welcoming and the carpets are purposefully colourful to that effect. My visit, to my great fortune, had befallen on one of the only days that the actual concert hall itself was open to public viewing. It's the most preeminent arrangement, cherishing a unique conforment, with a sense that serious and profound thought had found its way onto the blueprints. The organ caught my gaze; it's attached to more than 3000 individual pipes, which needless to say, took nine months to accurately tune. To perform here must be a real treat.

After being directed by way of very strategically placed signs- the kind of ones I somehow always miss first time round- around the rest of the complex, it was time to hand in the audio information wand, retrieve my ID I had left in exchange, and continue my walk down Grand Avenue. Onomastically speaking, Grand Avenue doesn't live up to it's implied grandeur, but I had been forewarned on many occasions not to expect much. Bearing this in mind, I executed an investigative stroll. Alas, there wasn't much to investigate.

Aside from the expected scene of skyscrapers flirting dangerously close to the clouds, Grand Avenue is a puzzling thoroughfare. It exhibits glass and metal in the mind riddling proportions, but what each and every window reflects so seamlessly is just another building across the street. Punctuating this monotony, though, was the National Art Museum. I didn't adventure in; it appeared from the outside as one of those institutions you could spend entirety in and still not cover every square inch. The weather was also moving towards a revitalising period of sunshine, but from the outside exhibit, it's clearly oozing with creativity and originality; a quality that the skyscrapers just don't naturally possess.

Still, though, I hadn't uncovered anything potentially unique or extravagantly unusual about downtown Los Angeles, which when you consider its acclaim, strikes up an anticlimax. I peered around street corners, picturing something that I could finally label as captivating, but despite my wish for a small specimen of urban enthralment, it was not thus. I purchased a Dr Pepper to quench the thirst, and studied the map. Perhaps the Historic Downtown segment would offer a contrary experience; willing to investigate nonetheless, I set off with anticipation.

Upon my eager arrival, with expectations of a district saturated in untampered grandiose, and untarnished ostentatiousness, bathos awaited me. Broadway Street held none of the anticipated class that a Broadway musical might do. I passed terraced shops; each and every one in hot pursuit for great pre-Christmas business. Police dotted the street, though from a passing glance, I could detect nothing in these small independently run establishments that required such hefty surveillance. I strolled past a mature yet rugged gentleman, who was bellowing out Christmas carols, in the most inharmonious way. This in itself, though, was remarkably unique, for such a street seemed only to deal with the Spanish dictionary. It was most disheartening, yet an experience nonetheless. A row of Broadway theatres emerged into view, but they only put on a show of dilapidation; indeed, each and every one was sealed with a dispiriting frontage of rusty iron bars. Looming above me were window frames without glass, and inside, a detectable sense of utter despondency. I was unpleasantly surprised as to the sheer absence of attention these fortresses of history had so undeservedly been subjected to.

I took a turning off Broadway Street, just passed the foreboding structure of what once was United Artists, and abruptly became welcomed to the Fashion District. Now, is it just me, or does the name 'fashion district' prognosticate images of the most superior apparel money can buy? Maybe the most in vogue gadget, that can be subtly stored in a silk lined tuxedo pocket, intricately stitched with the finest of cotton. Possibly, 'for her' the most ambrosial fragrance, and 'for him' a pair of recherche cufflinks. All of this comes to mind when I think 'fashion' and so it was to extraordinary surprise when I found myself not within avant garde, but what appeared to be an outdoor market selling, well, the kind of vulgar articles you generally find on outdoor markets. Sequined handbags (the sequins, by the way, are glued with PVA and could come away at any unpredictable moment.) Plastic rimmed sunglasses, where the rims melt as you employ them in temperatures above 15 degrees C, which is likely to be all the time here. Every now and again, you'll stumble across a miscellaneous box, with an arrangement of items you're unlikely to glance upon anywhere else in the world; plastic toilet tissue roll holders, bulb filaments, artificial variegated ivy leaves. And yet, despite the emanating and boundless woe, it's heaving. I couldn't move more than a few paces without an instantaneous halt, and then a meandering and awkwardly executed overtaking of the lady or gentleman who found something oddly attractive about a store only selling curtain or doormats. Once again, every greeting offered by the traders was saluted in Spanish, except for the lady who announced a half price sale on handbags, and thought for some reason, I desperately wanted one. What I desperately wanted was lunch, so I stopped by in the local McDonalds and indulged at my own pace. I try not to make too many of these little 'fast food' visits, and if I do, ensure I draw them out to become 'slow food' ones instead. I get glares off customers in the queue wishing to occupy my table and seat, but why should I move? The price of the meal certainly authorised my being there; a gawping figure of $7 just for a plain grilled chicken burger and a strawberry smoothie.

I left the 'fashion district'; just another small segment of Downtown Los Angeles which has not necessarily lived up to its name. Upon another eyeball of the map, I chanced upon the South Park district, and am pleased to say, this little gem suited such a title. For one thing, it resides in the south of the downtown region, but also has a charming park called Grand Hope. A vegetated arch offers a serene environment for zealous readers, a modestly sized fountain enchants the area with a certain atmosphere that only water can create, and a rather colourful clock tower beholds the eye at the other side. It was rewarding to be back in touch with nature again, even if for a few brief minutes in a local park.

Downtown Los Angeles has fallen victim as a result of the fame and success of Hollywood, and my brief saunter today revealed that in many ways. It feels as if the success of the movie scene, has somewhat made downtown redundant and in this way, a slow but sure process of dilapidation has transpired. It's a shame, because I feel it's got such wonderful potential. Maybe Santa has something promising in store for it!

Monday, 24 December 2012

SCHOLARSHIP DAY 116: Exploring Santa Monica, West L.A.

My guide book insists that "love it, or hate it, the one thing you can't do in L.A. is ignore it." So, this morning as I arose from a deep slumber, I decided to do just that, and instead prospect its western sister: Santa Monica. My intention was to seek and sift through its downtown district, uncovering its secrets (if there were any) and traverse the neighbourhood that will form my 'home' for next week and a half.

Whether Santa Monica is strictly part of Los Angeles, is a complex line of enquiry; how can a city reside in another city? Officially, Santa Monica finds its place in the Los Angeles county, so I presume the next question is just where does L.A start and finish? As a naive tourist, let me suggest that these two cities have amalgamated, but Los Angles receives more of the acclaim whilst Santa Monica may attract those not necessarily seeking the whirlwind of activity that the former naturally inspires, but a more scenic and perhaps even more relaxed community.

My hostel is conveniently perched a few hundred feet from the Pacific Ocean, so to start my explorations at the applauded scene of the Pier was arguably the best way to get started. To risk sounding a tad British, the weather was a real mixed bag this morning; the northern coast was shrouded by a mist yet welcomingly sunny, whilst the south was clear yet shaded by a substantial mass of cloud. The pier, being within the transition between these two opposing zones, encountered a real blend of all kinds of weather, though I can report wherever I ventured, the breeze was an agreeably warm one.

There was something distinctively commonplace with the foundations that the pier was built from. I'm not referring to its physical structure, but rather the activity occurring on either side of the wide wooden planked, sand crusted promenade. Try as I might, I didn't stumble upon anything iconic; it housed all the usual slot machines and grabbing crane games; the kind of machines that eat money and seldom give nothing in return. (And where does all that money go, by the way? I'm willing to bet if you total the value from each machine in the United States, including all the betting chips in Las Vegas, the 'Fiscal Cliff' as it is referred to over here, would be but a mere dune.) I proceeded, passing families drawn in by silver watches and crisp dollar bills behind glass, and happened upon a long stretch of buskers. Some positively impressive, worthy of a small gratuity on a good day, and others simply beyond the gates of ambomiable.

At the end of the pier, a small restaurant and the Mariner office were the two main institutions of interest; the restaurant was closed and revealed a very abbreviated menu, and I had no questions for the Mariner office, but the terminus did offer views of the surrounding coastline, though nothing extraordinary. That's the problem if you, like me, have lived on the coast throughout a reasonably sized portion of your life; the novelty of 'parading the pier' experience has washed away, but I can understand the attraction of those residing in, say, the land engulfing states of Colorado or Kansas.

On my retreat back to dry land, I unearthed a little known truth about the pier. As monotonous as it may seem with the rest of the planet's long list of ocean promenades, this particular one can hold claim to fame for being the historic route end of the infamous Route 66; a formidable stretch of highway that this trip hasn't and I don't suppose will ever have the fortune to encounter. A hut of a shop, holding souvenirs to commemorate this route termination, can be found close to the end of the pier, and despite a wide range of mementos which try as you might, you can't while away more than half an hour with, it demonstrates the feeling of cramped confinement equally well. Those with large rucksacks are automatically prohibited, and everyone else has to tour the shop in one direction, and in single file. But aren't all souvenir shops the same in this respect?

Back on dry terrain, I sauntered down Ocean Avenue, intending to start the customary meandering course down every street in Santa Monica's downtown district, but stumbled upon a tourist information point and made a few worthwhile enquiries. Jacqui assisted me adequately, though she did feel the need to deal out a few flyers and magazines to support every point she made, so I came away with a triple whopper (to borrow a phrase from Burger King) of literary material; most of which basically told the same story but in different fonts and sizes. I left, with a heartwarming feeling, of being recognised and welcomed into a foreign community; a sentiment that only the traveller and likewise experiences.

Having fed my rucksack a dentist waiting room's volume of glossy magazines, I strolled further along Ocean Avenue, negotiated a sharp landward crossing up Wilshire Boulevard, and put into gear my sinuous course through the intestines of Santa Monica. Within mere seconds, I felt another one of those welcoming shuttles back to my own culture; materialising into view encompassed by the emanating essence of American culture, was the homespun shop of 'Ye Olde King's Head Shoppe', and this elaborate use of antiquated English brought another amiable quality. Already impressed with the exterior, I had to make an entry.

Here's the shop with a very small profit margin, because most of the produce on sale, can only be appreciated by a British tourist. There carefully aligned in individual columns were Aunt Bessie's Yorkshire Puddings, and Yorkshire Tea. Walkers Crisps and Typhoo. Delicately alight on window sills, and glass stands, were miniature London buses, red telephone boxes and magnets adorning other symbols of British society. A modest portion of the shop simply focused on displaying a congregation of lavish tea sets. The ladies beyond the counters were even British; I would hesitate to specify more accurately, but one sounded Irish. Next door was an equally soul satisfying establishment, simply named British Bakery, and the aroma encircling around the entrance-way ensured it lived up to its name. I purchased a Cornish Pastie (well, I had to) and jocularly expressed my surprisement to the gentleman behind the counter as to why I wasn't paying in British Sterling. The pastie tasted exceptionally British, which from a corner shop thousands of miles away from the shores of my home isles, is a remarkable achievement.

There are certain streets in every city, sometimes several, which draw the crowds more than others. In Anchorage, Alaska it was 4th Avenue. In San Francisco, it's Market Street. In Eugene, it's Pearl Street. Here in Santa Monica, its undoubtedly the frenzied promenade of Third Street. At one end, sits the city's only mall; a three storey complex which I devoted a few spare minutes of my morning to. It doesn't churn up so much of an ecstatic mood, but a slow and steadily accumulating boredom; for me, that is, without a thick enough wallet for most establishments on offer. I cherished the festive spirit, espied upon an arresting Christmas tree, and proceeded to amble down the rest of Third Street.

I overheard someone commenting on Third Street quite negatively, and aside from the expletives, the general essence of what he remarked was that it just wasn't as interesting as it used to be. Without an appeal of history, I can't possibly make any opinion, though I engaged that all it was, was a congregation of some of the finest retail stores in Santa Monica. Dotting each end were dinosaur themed topiary, which I still haven't discovered the reason behind them. A sprinkling of movie complexes gave the street some character, and in the centre, was a unique magic show. My total knowledge of the canine world could fit on one side of a cent, but I think it's a pug. Nevertheless, it enlightened the day.

It's invigorating for exploration to find that some streets grab the attention whilst others seldom experience the slightest hint of activity. After third street, fourth, fifth and sixth seemed an anticlimax; most space dedicated to housing, banks, offices and other charms that wouldn't naturally inspire the tourist to saunter through. I found it quite impossible to believe that in a city so large, I had exhausted Santa Monica's pivotal sights, so I strolled through for assurance. This was quite the case. I gazed in ponder at my map, and affirmed my suspicions. Across the road, 'angelato cafe' caught my vision, and I decided a rest bite was in order, to celebrate -if nothing else- such a speedy exploration of the city's most acclaimed sights. Out of about 100 flavours of ice cream- I'm not exaggerating here- I selected a scoop of Banana Caramel, overpriced yet delectable nonetheless, and searched through the guide books. There was the Santa Monica History Museum, but that wasn't open Sundays. As much as I love art galleries, an enlightening walk around oils and pastels wasn't enough to get me to walk 15 blocks north. There was, however, Pacific Park. I scooped up every last cent worth of ice cream, and waved a touring Santa float.

There was something naturally alluring about Pacific Park, according to my guidebook. It was a theme park, with exhilarating and adrenaline-inspiring rides; one of the aspects of being young that I miss the most. It was also admission free, so I decided to take a peek, and if convinced, execute a ride or two. Well, it did have the adrenaline whizzing furiously down my arteries even from standing and staring at the rides. Often, a surge of excitement would peak when a roller coaster shuttled over the track, above my head. One aspect wasn't alluring. Contrary to impression left by the guidebook, it wasn't free and having left my money back at the hostel, I had no choice but to turn back and leave it for another day.

Back here at the hostel this evening, I've caught up with the admin work, and even taken part in a few games of Poker. Now let me note here that I didn't- and still don't, perhaps never will- know the rules to Poker. It's never been a forte, and so I reluctantly joined, but if there's anything I've learnt on this trip, that is you have to take part in these activities to make new acquaintances. Even if you can't tell the difference between a mere flush and the Royal flush. And why is it called a Royal Flush anyway? I'll leave on that sentiment.