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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Middlerun Does America, Day 9: Los Angeles

I kicked off my first full day in Los Angeles with a walking tour of downtown LA. The tour group met in the lobby of the hostel, the tour guide introduced himself and we all set off to get a bus downtown. Since Los Angeles covers an area approximately equal to that of Russia, the bus took forever to get there which gave the group plenty of time to introduce ourselves. Out of six people I was the only guy. I'm not sure what that means.

Eventually we got there, and the tour guide led us around a bunch of interesting places. Here's the rundown:

  • Bunker Hill. This was originally a wealthy area with nice big Victorian houses. Then after WWII they built the Pasadena Freeway to bring shoppers to downtown LA, but instead everyone moved away and Bunker Hill became a slum. Some nice town planning, there. More recently it has been revitalised and is now full of offices and stuff.
  • U.S. Bank Tower. The tallest building west of the Mississippi River, and tenth tallest in America.
  • Los Angeles Public Library. This is a huge library with some pretty cool things to see, including four large murals depicting the history of California and an elevator shaft lined from top to bottom with old index cards.
  • Biltmore Hotel. A beautiful old luxury hotel, which apparently these days is only like $150 a night because nobody really wants to stay in downtown LA.
  • Million Dollar Theater.
  • Bradbury Building. This building has been used in a bunch of movies, most notably Blade Runner as J. F. Sebastian's apartment building.
  • Grand Central Market. This is a jam packed food market. I got a burrito here that was so big, I could have hollowed it out and used it as a sleeping bag.
  • Angel's Flight. This is the world's shortest railway, and will take you to the top of Bunker Hill for a quarter. The basically built it so that lazy rich people wouldn't have to walk up a few stairs.
  • Walt Disney Concert Hall.
  • The Department of Water and Power office building. This wouldn't normally be particularly interesting, but they used the building in Inception. There was another place we went to nearby that was used in Inception too.
  • Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. A huge, modern cathedral which we walked through.
  • Los Angeles City Hall. The City Hall was modified to sit on rollers which protect it from earthquakes.
  • El Pueblo de Los Angeles. A historic Spanish/Mexican district which houses LA's oldest house, the Avila Adobe, which was built in 1818 and is now a small museum. The Pueblo also contains dozens of stalls selling Mexican wrestler masks, sombreros and other knickknacks.
  • Union Station. This huge art-deco building is the only proper train station in LA and has been used in a bunch of movies, including Blade Runner.
When the tour was over and we were coming back into Santa Monica, the conversation turned to Santa Monica nightlife, and the tour guide recommended to me a bar called Harvelle's, a couple of blocks from the hostel. Harvelle's is known for its live blues and jazz, and is pretty much the coolest bar I've ever been to. It's a little expensive, but the atmosphere is really cool. I spent a happy couple of hours drinking Anchor Steam beer while listening to the band and chatting with a local guy about the relative merits of LA, San Francisco and Sydney, among other things.

Maybe it's just because I've hardly been listening to any music since I got to America, but the band playing at Harvelle's blew my mind. I wish I could remember what they were called. The guitarist in particular was amazing, a guy probably in his 60's who wore a suit in the stifling heat and played like a man possessed. The ridiculous faces he made during his solos were a sight to behold, and when he swung his head around, sweat sprayed off onto the other band members and nearby dancers. The keyboardist was great too. When they finished their set, everyone was howling for more.

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