Day 8 of Trip to Land of Coca Cola
July 3, 2010

One of the CBD staff gave me the idea to change the heading today and signed of their email comments to me with ‘From the Land of the Vuvuzelas’. I think yesterday’s blog solicited the most return comments so far on the trip – not sure why – maybe the frozen custard was what did it.

We all managed a good night’s sleep and seem to have adjusted quickly to the 2 hour time change. It is now 10pm and I am feeling like an early night is probably called for. It is incredible to think that we are going to sleep just when everyone else is waking up. I get to see the effects of it when I wake up tomorrow morning again. This morning I had 35 emails on my CBD email address and 48 on my Gen Re email address (and I am meant to be on holiday!). I am being ruthless with my Gen Re email and so in about 10 minutes I managed to reduce them down to 2 that will need actioning when I get back to my London office.

We eventually managed to get the kids up and out of their room at 9am this morning. We decided to skip the $25 per person breakfast at the hotel (must be gold dust in the food or something at that price) and we took a wander down Wiltshire Blv until we got to Rodeo Drive. The problem we encoutered was that there were no places to have breakfast on either road and there was no way we were going to do any shopping in Rodeo Drive anyway. All there are are branded stores such as Jimmy Choo, Gucci, Dolce & Gabana etc. Most of the stores only allow you to visit if you have an appointment and they only accept 5-10 customers per day. Most merchandise isn’t price marked and asking would be out of the question. These people live in another world!

We did eventually find quite a nice place on Santa Monica Blv to have breakfast and on walking back to the hotel realised that the restaurants are on Santa Monica Blv and not Wiltshire. We won’t make that mistake again. We decided to go on a city tour which left at 2:30pm and lasted 4.5 hours and so we just relaxed in our hotel rooms for a few hours before going out for the afternoon. The weather is very pleasant here in LA at the moment – 27 degrees and tomorrow is meant to be 25 degrees. The tour driver says it is like this 300 days a year.

The tour was a small bus – like one of the new taxi minivan’s in SA. There were 2 other groups with us and in total we were 12 people excluding the driver. The driver’s weight though probably exceeded the 12 of us put together. The driver instantly irritated both Helen and I with his weak jokes and after he would say something that he thought was funny he would immediately say ‘only joking’ like we didn’t know. The tour took us first around Beverly Hills and Bel Air. Effectively it was a tour of the suburb and various famous movie stars homes were pointed out. We went past the houses of Robert Redford, Demi Moore, Bruce Willis, Samuel L Jackson, Jack Nicholson, Ozzy Osbourne, Harrison Ford (Helen swears she saw him through the fence), The Beckhams (who are apparently back from their trip to SA) etc. A number of the houses are quite close to the road and we weren’t that impressed with them actually. While they might be large, they were often on busy corners (like Samuel L Jackson’s house). Apparantely the building code in Bel Air is that each house must have a swimming pool and tennis court. It is also illegal to walk around Bel Air unless you are resident or on official business (like cleaning pools or mowing lawns). Bel Air homes were more impressive than Beverly Hills ones. The Beverly Hills one were similar in size to Constantia or Bishops Court but actually weren’t as nice in our view. The Bel Air ones were just ridiculously big. The Beckham’s home (for example) cost $35 million and the most expensive home we passed was valued at $190m and is owned by David Geffen who is the co-owner of Dreamworks (the movie company). He has a 9-hole golf course inside his property with a driving range from his bedroom window. It reminded me that they are clearly storing up treasurers in the wrong place as they ain’t going to be able to take it with them one day.

After the famous houses tour we went into Hollywood itself and down Sunset Blv (also known as the Strip). This is the place where all the nightclubs are. In our view they look very run down but I can only assume that the interior looks better than the exterior as we have no plans to check them out. The tour driver gave us 30 minutes to look at the sidewalk stars (of which there are 2300 filled so far and another 700 blank). You have to be in show business of some sort to get your name on one and it costs you $5000 as well for the priviledge. We also looked at the handprints & footprints in the cement outside the Chinese Theatre. The most recent one to be made was Jerry Bruckheimer (CSI producer amongst other shows) which was still cordoned off as it wasn’t fully dry yet. We also took a few elevators up in a shopping complex so that we could get our first view of the Hollywood sign. Michael remarked that it was so small that unless he knew it said Hollywood we would not have been able to read what it said. I heard one person next to me, ‘Thank goodness for my telephoto lens otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to see that”! It might be big but it is a long way away as well. As we still had a few minutes to kill before needing to be back, ice creams were purchased for everyone except me (I want to keep my trim and finely toned physique). The tour guide had probably taken the full 30 minutes to refuel himself as well.

We then headed into downtown LA and found out what it is like to live in LA – lots of traffic. It was 5pm and so we were caught up in rush hour. Even yesterday on the way from the airport (at 10pm), there were traffic jams. It doesn’t seem to matter what time of the day or night you get traffic jams here. It probably has something to do with 12 million cars in LA for the 15 million residents. That works out to about 1.5 cars per licensed driver. Everyone has a car and nobody uses public transport. I noticed that even during rush hour the public buses only had a limited number of people on board and plenty of seats available. Some other interesting facts about LA and California are:
• They register 10-12 tremours per day as LA is on the San Fernando fault
• California’s total exports are 5 times what the UK exports each year
• California would fit into the top ten economies in the world if it were it’s own country
• 1:4 residents in California are illegal residents
• LA is has the most diverse population of any place in the world – more nationalities live here than anywhere else
• The average length of marriage of a resident of Beverly Hills or Bel Air is 5 years (I am surprised it is so long actually)
• California’s cows produce 5 times more milk than from cows living in other states (California’s cows are obviously very happy living here)
Some of these I know personally but some of them were gleaned from the tour today (this is the only time my actuarial persona comes out).

On the downtown section we had a quick stop at Little Mexico (our driver was hispanic and I think he wanted to stock up on some food again as it had probably been around 30 minutes since he last ate anything) and then we moved on past Chinatown and a less wealthy area (the driver in Chicago called it the similar area there ‘marginal’). Helen said she wondered as we passed various stores how many of them were doing actual business and how many of them were merely fronts for crime syndicates. Our final stop was at the Farmer’s Market which I suspect was needed so the driver could refuel himself again (especially since he was the last one back to the vehicle). It was a really nice market selling fresh produce (veg, fruit, cheese, meat etc) as well as numerous stores offering foods of different types. We got some fresh fruit and cheese and biscuits as this was what everybody was missing. It is incredible how after being away from home and eating restaurant food all the time how you start to crave certain foodstuffs. On this trip it seems that fresh fruit is what we are all craving. At least in California you can get good fruit.

After this last stop we headed back to the hotel and got back around 7pm. We would summarize the trip as underwhelming. In fact it is not the trip that was underwhelming but actually LA. I asked Helen if she wanted to come back some time and she said definitely not (sorry Rachel). Helen would jump at a chance to go back to Chicago though. The city is grimey and the architecture is a total mix. It is sometimes modern and sometimes old. There doesn’t seem to be a pattern. There are some impressive buildings but in the main there aren’t many. Once again we have noticed the numerous empty and boarded up shops even in Rodeo Drive. You really can see the effects of the financial crisis and it is almost as if you can feel the economic depression.

We finished the day with dinner at the hotel restaurant as we were all too tired to bother about going out for dinner. Tomorrow we plan to out by 8:15am as we want to go to Universal Studios and they open at 9am.

Enjoy your day.

P, H, M, S & C

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