Two and a half solid years of talking and planning the dream. Two university degrees completed. Eighteen months of solid graduate work in our respective fields. 4:45am wake up’s, 9.30pm bedtimes – fifteen hour days and long commutes to the city. One cancelled trip somewhere in between all of that mayhem and two resignation letters later – around came the 23rd of January, 2017. They say ‘Quit your job, travel the world… It’s easy when you’re so young!’ – it definitely wasn’t easy, but it’s certainly worthwhile. With our backpacks packed for the next 12 or so months on the open road ahead of us, a vague plan in hand, numerous flights booked and empty passports in our wallets, we bid goodbye to our families, said ‘See you when we see you!’ and headed on through the departure gate at Sydney International Terminal to face our great adventure. First stop – LAX.
‘I hopped off the plane at LAX with a dream and my cardigan’ – never had song lyrics resonated so deeply with me. After a quicker than expected flight, we landed on the tarmac a solid half hour before the airport and customs even opened – and that cardigan was definitely to come in handy. Los Angeles, the city of Angels, had welcomed us with a blustery, soggy, miserable morning of about 12 degrees. It was 0530am, neither of us had slept a wink the entire flight and the heaviness of our decision to pack our lives up and take the open roads was weighing heavily on our minds. Not exactly the warm, happy welcome we had envisioned in our minds over the last few years.
Jetlagged, chilled to the bone and still adjusting to the humongous weights we had signed up to carry for the next year on our shoulders, we arrived at our hostel – Banana Bungalow Hollywood, thanks to our new found friend. He was a Serbian taxi driver who spoke no English, did not smile or acknowledge us once and smelled strongly of cigarettes (yet we still gave him a tip, go figure). Leaving our bags in the locker room after a warm welcome from the hostel workers and some hot showers, we ventured onto Hollywood Boulevard to see what the fuss was about.
Call me stereotypical, but when you think of Hollywood you generally get this motion picture film reel idea in your head – red carpets everywhere you look, palm trees and lush greenery lining the streets, flashing lights of paparazzi cameras on every corner, celebrities doing their shopping in boutique stores on the streets, flashy cars driving past you. Instead we were hit with the harsh reality of all storefronts closed until 1100am, homeless begging you for a dollar on every street corner yelling profanities and singing songs to nobody but themselves and the utter stench of weed everywhere you walked. People were spitting on the ground or throwing their rubbish right next to the pale pink stars with celebrity ‘hall-of-famers’ names etched into the ground on the notorious ‘Walk of Fame’. Blake felt completely underwhelmed and I had to agree with him – it was quite a seedy district, the shops either selling attire for stripping, tacky and cheap souvenirs or various drug paraphernalia.
Nonetheless, we managed to still spend an entire day tackling our jetlag head on, wandering the streets and immersing ourselves in all that Hollywood had to offer. Ticking off the major Hollywood icons, we wandered down the boulevard and past the Dolby Theatre, home of the Academy Awards; before weaving in and out of the hand and foot print of many legendary actors forever on display out the front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. The rain got a little out of hand, so we took shelter but still managed to get plenty of snaps and memories to last a lifetime.
One iconic place we had read about in the Lonely Planet travel guide was the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, and our love to see sights that are a little bit unique and off the beaten track lead us a good half hour walk from the main street, into the most beautiful cemetery we had ever laid eyes on. The Hollywood Forever Cemetery is one of the oldest in the entire city of LA and is the final resting place for many celebrities. However, it takes a less traditional approach – often hosting events and movie nights amongst the gravesites, remaining quite an active and modern space. A definite highlight for us both was the “Garden of Legends” section, where many of the most well known celebrities feature amongst the lush green gardens. Blake really enjoyed seeing these larger than life statues and tombs, with details so intricate and designs so over the top, the celebrities seem to remain VIP’s even in death. My personal favourite was the statue of Toto from Wizard of Oz; surreal to think that even dogs in Hollywood can be immortalised!
A quick trip on the subway lead us into Downtown district of LA, where we would finish our night and the HUGE day we had just completed. Wandering around the lights of the city, it really felt like we could have been in any huge city in the world – the main CBD district saw men in suits, holding briefcases whilst talking on cell phones, hopping into cabs or rushing towards the subway. Whenever I am in LA, I feel the need to swing by Staples Center – and I’m not even a Lakers or Clippers fan! Just being able to show Blake, who is an avid Clippers supporter, the huge stadium where his team resides and the energy of the LA Live district, filled with nice restaurants, bars and bright coloured lights was a great way to end the night.
Special mention to Blake’s sister, Brooke for the recommendation of Chipotle for dinner. Mexican is always a huge hit with us, and this was no different! My burrito bowl could have easily fed two normal adult humans, however we had not quite fit into our regular USA habit of sharing meals and thus we ended up with a mountain of mexican food. Retiring to our six bed dorm, it began to hit me that I was not entirely sure I was a dormitory/hostel type of traveller – but oh did I have SO much to learn over the next year. Thus began our travels together – a huge, rainy day in LA filled with over 20km of walking, 0 minutes of sleep in nearly 48 hours and only approximately somewhere near 364 days to go exploring the world.