Tuesday, December 13, 2011

10/12/11 - 13/12/11 New York, and stuff that has happened.


So much like yesterday, today started quite late. I seem to be getting into a good habit of this…

Firstly, Emma came over to my hotel and we went to check out a local Flea Market in the Hell’s Kitchen district. Emma picked up some very nice clothes and jewellery, while I stood there, offering supportive commentary on her purchases. My legs also began to freeze solid.

We then headed to get some pizza at a local pizza joint. They have some fantastic deals on pizza in New York – I got two slices of cheese pizza and a can of drink for $2.75. I challenge anybody to find a deal that good in Australia!

Then, we headed back to the room to drop off Emma’s haul of shopping, and then we continued on to East Village to an indie video game store. I had a great look around, and they stocked a large range of first and second hand games from all generations. This was a pretty fantastic store. You could find copies of the original Legend of Zelda, right next to Playstation 3’s signed by Hideo Kojima. It was an amazing mix and was really fun to look around. What’s better is that their prices for new games were the same as all the big shops, so I felt good that I was supporting an independent business by buying through them.

Emma then had a look around some of the clothing shops in the district, including “Fabulous Fanny’s”, a place I visited last time. She seemed to be all shopped out though, so we only had a quick look. We then headed to a Japanese restaurant for an early dinner. To be quite honest, the food was fairly disappointing. Nothing special about it, and Emma’s udon soup was quite salty. Now that I remember, I was meant to get a soup with my meal, too, and I didn’t get it! OUTRAGE!

We then headed back to the room, and on to Broadway to see another show. Tonight, we were seeing one of the most famous productions currently showing on Broadway – “The Lion King”. From what I had heard about it, I was certainly looking forward to it.

To be honest, I don’t 100% know what to think of it. At time of writing, it has been over 24 hours since I saw it. From an artistic point of view, the costumes were breathtaking, and the mechanics behind them was very clever. Entertainment-wise, I think it was a bad thing that I recently watched “The Lion King” at the cinema. It was fresh in my mind, and as such, I had certain expectations towards the play. Not only in things like how musical numbers are sung, but also the script and delivery of particular lines. The difference between what occurs on stage and what you are used to in the film does cause a jarring effect.

I also found that the elaborate costumes seemed to detract from the “humanity” of the performances. That combined with the fact that two of the main characters change actors halfway through the performance (with the progression of time and Simba/Nala’s from child to adulthood), it made me not really care much for the characters in the film.

As an art piece, it is fantastic. As an entertainment piece, there are much better options available on Broadway at the moment. It is definitely a show that you should see if you are in New York – providing you can afford the $150 admission price.

I then headed back with Emma, Jen (Emma’s Mum), and her troupe of highschoolers back to their hotel. After they went to their rooms, Emma, Jen and I had a quiet drink in the hotel lobby. A nice end to a very fun day.


Today started with a trip to Emma’s hotel. It was Jen and her school girl’s last day in New York, and they were going to spend the morning at Central Park, and the Museum of Modern art.

After a tasty breakfast at Smith’s restaurant (just over the road from their hotel), we got ready to head out and see Central Park. This meant catching the subway north to Columbus Circle. While this usually is a very easy task, when you have eleven other people all requiring a ticket with you, it quickly becomes a serious mission to get stuff done.

Eventually, we got on the subway, and made our way to Columbus Circle. After exiting the subway station, we had a look through the markets nearby. They had a good mix of merchandise, and most of it seemed to be independently made.

After a good bit of browsing, we headed off for a wander through Central Park. As we were on a strict time limit, I was careful not to wander too far into the park, and instead stuck to the southern end of the park. It was a good experience to share with Jen and her school kids, as they were yet to visit Central Park on their trip – something that is an essential part of any visit to New York.

We then headed down through 5th Avenue, looking at the Apple Store, FAO Schwarz and Tiffany’s. All the girls loved seeing Tiffany’s, as apparently it was the store from the opening scene of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. I should really watch some more classic films…

Sadly, we had ran out of time and were now not going to be able to get to the Museum of Modern Art. Instead, we had to high-tail it out of there and make our way back to Times Square. So, we took on the Subway again and went through the same epic ticket-buying shenanigans as last time.

After arriving back at Times Square, the girls got a coffee from Starbucks, which took eleven times longer than usual. Because of this, Jen was quickly running out of time before their bus to the airport departed, so they all had to make a beeline for their hotel and get their bags for the long journey home.

After all of this, Emma and I were buggered, so we headed back to my hotel for a nap.

In the evening, we had been invited to dinner at Ben Cheah’s house. For reference, Ben Cheah is a Sound Designer that I contacted in the leadup to this trip in hopes of meeting with him and other colleagues he has worked with throughout his career.
We decided to bring cupcakes and flowers to the dinner, so we first headed to Rockefeller Plaza to get cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery. What they say about Rockefeller plaza at Christmas time couldn’t be more true – stay away from the area if you can, as it is more packed than a Japanese subway train during peak hour. We sunk a good half hour into trying make our way through the crowds, and in the end decided to just jump on the subway and get to Ben’s house as quick as we could.

The Subway journey took us out to Brooklyn, to a wonderful neighbourhood full of old red brick houses. For the Aussies reading this – picture Sesame Street, but minus all of the Muppets.

Meeting with Ben was fantastic. Him and his wife, Megan, made us feel very welcome, and the advice that he offered me was tremendously insightful. It was also very cool to hear who he has worked with over his career. He has either worked with or knows personally three out of four of my top favourite Sound Designers – Gary Rydstrom, Richard King and Christopher Boyes. I just wish that he told me this sooner as I would have loved to have met some of them in Los Angeles when I was there. Still, it is my fault for not mentioning them to him in previous emails. Ben was also kind enough to give me some of his books on sound for film – some excellent reading material for my future career.

For dinner, we had a delicious roast chicken, and some very nice wine to go with it. Probably my favourite meal of the trip, and Emma and I both agreed that the night as a whole was the highlight of the trip so far.


Like many days on this holiday, this one started quite late. I suppose that this is a side effect of a holiday – the whole relaxing thing, but I think so far I’ve only had one day in New York where I’ve left the room before 11am.

Our first goal was breakfast, which by now was moreso lunch. We decided to catch the subway to north Manhattan, up to Harlem. We had read about (and seen on Masterchef) a restaurant called “Sylvia’s”. It is famous for its “Soul Food”, a type of food that has its origins in the southern states. Sylvia’s is a restaurant that maintains the tradition of this particular type of food.

I had the fried chicken, with a side of collard greens and macaroni and cheese. The food was fairly “monoflavoursome” – each dish had a single flavour to it. The macaroni and cheese was very cheesy, the chicken was salty, and the collard greens were very sweet. This wasn’t detrimental to the food, as each dish did the flavour very well. The food was also very fattening, but I doubt that I would be eating it on a regular basis, anyway. What I really liked about the restaurant was the kindness of the staff – they were all so friendly, treating you like family. You definitely did feel very welcome, as if you were eating in their house.

Afterwards, we headed back on the subway down to Central Park, and went for a long walk across it from the west to the east side. On the way, we did some major squirrel spotting – we even through acorns at them for them to eat. We got some great photos, and some great looks from the locals, wondering why on earth we were taking photos of what they consider to be vermin.

We then took a bus down to FAO Schwarz, and had another quick look through this fantastic toy store. I found a massive Gummy Bear in their candy section – it was a good 20cm tall, and weighed at least a couple of kilos. It puzzled me how someone could ever eat a whole one of these.

That evening, we met up with two friends of ours from Australia, Steff and Ben (a different Ben to the one I met yesterday). It was quite surreal meeting up with our mates on the other side of the world, but it was still really cool to share travel stories. Naturally, we went to the most awesome restaurant for dinner – Bubba Gump’s. Once again, I had the gigantic pile of shrimp. Delicious as always. We also tried out some of their alcoholic drinks, but to be honest, we weren’t sure if they actually put any alcohol in them…

After dinner, we went to see “Avenue Q”. Yes, I saw this play last time I came to New York. Yes, it was just as awesome as I remembered. After seeing other Broadway plays on this trip, it is obvious to me that it isn’t the most technical of plays, but it more than makes up with it in its clever writing and “did that just really happen” moments. I’m not sure if I’ll see it again, but it was definitely still very enjoyable.

Afterwards, we went to have drinks at a bar called the “Sky Room”, right next to our hotel. Unfortunately, it was closed, or had a private event on, or something. Therefore, we had to go to our far less exciting hotel bar. We all ordered a fancy drink, except for Ben, who ordered water. He was given a fancy bottle of water when he wanted tap water, but it was more funny that annoying. The bottle of water only was $2 anyways, so it wasn’t a major deal.

Then, after chatting for a few hours, Ben and Steff had to head back to their hotel, as they had to catch their flight home the next day. It was great fun to meet up with them on the other side of the world.


Today we did pretty much sweet f-all. All of these late nights caught up with Emma and I, so we spent most of the day chilling in the hotel.

When we did go out, we went to the Empire State Building. We tried “Chipotle” Mexican for a late lunch, and then went up to the observation deck. We got there just on sunset, so we got to see the city transition from daytime to twilight. Very pretty views, and strangely, no lines either. Most of the time the average wait time to go to the observation deck is three hours, so we definitely lucked out.

We then had a look around a clothing store, H&M, and then headed back to the room for some takeaway dinner. I had delicious $1 slices of pizza and Emma had some tasty Indian food.

Now I’m going to go back to watching TV. Kthx.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

9/12/11 – Radio City, Rockettes and Radcliffe

 Honestly, today I didn’t do that much.

My day started after a very leisurely sleep in. Therefore, my day started at just past midday, which suited me perfectly fine as it gave me a chance to make up on lost sleep from the flight from the previous day. My first appointment of the day was meeting Emma at the Radio City Music Hall to go on a behind the scenes tour of the building and the Rockettes, a famous dancing troupe who perform a huge Christmas show multiple times daily over the Christmas period.

 Our tour guide was very informative, and she covered the facets of the stage construction and design in great detail. When the theatre was built, it was the world’s largest auditorium, seating over 5,000 (sadly not over nine thousand) people. The stage is also the largest in the word, and it has some fancy-pants elevated sections that can ascend and descend mid-performance.

As part of the tour, we also got to meet one of the Rockettes, a very nice lass who answered all of our questions that we had in regards to her role and the requirements needed to be a Rockette. At the end of question time, we also got to have our picture taken with her for free, which is a nice but very unusual touch.

Then, after the tour, it was time to head back to Emma’s hotel and get ready for the evening. Afterwards, we then had dinner at a bar and grill just over the street from Emma’s hotel. The food was typical pub food affair, but that wasn’t a bad thing for sure. I had a very tasty cheeseburger that hit the spot just right.

We then headed off to our evening Broadway show. We were seeing “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”, which starred Daniel Radcliffe (the guy who played Harry Potter, for those of you living under rocks). I wasn’t sure what to think of this one before going in – I was hoping that Daniel would be able to hold his own against his other performers and they weren’t just using him as a big name to draw a crowd.

I was completely stunned by his performance. He held his own and better compared with the other performers. He sang, danced and acted fantastically throughout the whole performance. He exuded professionalism, and I am very glad to see that he won’t become a “one hit wonder” like so many actors and actresses who become known for only one role.

The play itself was also very funny, cleverly written and had some great musical numbers. It has made me realise just how much I enjoy the theatre, and I can’t wait to see what other shows I get to see on this trip.

Afterwards, we waited by the stage door in a massive crowd to get a glimpse of Daniel Radcliffe. Well, rather, the 20 schoolgirls that Emma and her mother were supervising did, and I was in the crowd because I’m tall and can take photos from a great height.

Eventually, Daniel did exit the building, and he was kind enough to stop for autographs, have pictures taken and generally be just a very nice guy. Unfortunately, I was quite a few rows back, and given Daniel’s short stature, I wasn’t able to get a decent picture of him. I did manage to get some fantastic pictures of *other* people taking photos of him, but none of the man himself.

I then headed back to my room, grabbing a slice of pizza on the way. So far on this trip, I am yet to have pizza satisfaction – I would really like a thin crust slice of cheese pizza. Every time I’ve gone so far they have either had none available at that time, or I’ve chosen the wrong one. I will eventually have it though, just you wait!

Tomorrow: Not entirely sure, except for the Broadway performance in the evening. We’re seeing The Lion King! :D

Friday, December 9, 2011

7/12/11 – 8/12/11 Goodbye, San Francisco, Hello New York!

So today was our last day in San Francsico. Naturally, this meant that we had to check out of our hotel, and as such, the day didn’t start until about a minute before checkout time, as we were getting everything organised to leave. After having a very pleasant conversation with the concierge (a lovely British lady who brought her very sedate dog along with her), we headed off to see the rest of San Francisco.

Firstly, we headed down to the shopping area just north of Market St. Emma spent a good hour or so looking at shoes, and much to her delight, she actually found some pairs that fit her and suited her. Apparently shoe shopping is normally a nightmare for her, but this time it seemed to be quite easy. Me, having about as much interest in shoe shopping as I do about Justin Bieber’s latest album (although I must make it clear that I’d much, MUCH prefer shoe shopping over that crap), just sat there, playing with my iPhone and working out where we were heading next.

Then, I was getting fairly hungry, so I grabbed my first hotdog of the trip. Tasty, and one of many to come. We then headed to one of my favourite places in San Francisco – the Exploratorium. As I mentioned in my previous bloggings about the USA, it is essentially a gigantic version of the science centre. This time, we headed for the areas that I didn’t get to see last time, which included a whole bunch of exhibits on sounds and how the brain interprets them. I found them all quite interesting, and even aced quite a few of the sound-based listening tests. A good thing, considering my choice of career.

After having more of a look around, it appeared as if it was already closing time. Sadly, this meant we had to leave, and so we headed out into the palace of fine arts area, just on dusk. Unlike last time when I was here when it was undergoing re-landscaping, the palace was open to the public. We had a walk through, and with the evening lights on, it made for some excellent long-exposure photography. This was my first attempt at long exposure photography, and the results were mixed, but it definitely makes me want to try it some more in the future.

We then caught a long bus ride back to Geary street. While like most bus rides, this one was quite uneventful, we did see somebody carry a Christmas tree onboard. Like, a real Christmas tree – one that has been dug out of the ground  and has to be kept in a bowl of water. One of the cool things about the holiday season in the USA, for sure.

Then, we went for some dinner at “Thai Stick”, a restaurant I had tried in my previous visit to San Francisco. The food was tasty and didn’t disappoint. A very pleasant way to end my time in San Francisco.

It was time to head back to the hotel and get our transfer to the airport. Before long, my time in San Francisco was over. Needless to say, I loved this city just as much as last time. I can’t wait to return, and I hope that one day I can afford to live in this beautiful corner of the world.

American Airlines flight AA18 SFO – JFK N320AA
Boeing 767-200
Intended Pushback: 2300
Actual Pushback: 2254
Intended Arrival: 0725
Actual Arrival: 0647
Seat: 37J
Captain Steve Manden

Wow, a flight that actually left and arrived early! I was amazed. But, that was about the only amazing thing about this flight. They call Economy class “Coach” in the US for a reason. It was like sitting on a coach for five hours. The flight attendants appeared at the start of the flight to make sure we all had our seatbelts securely fastened, and then they disappeared for the rest of the flight, unless you called them for some water. No food or drink service (aside from aforementioned cups of water) was served, and there was only some very old programming showed on the overhead monitors, which I didn’t bother to watch.

Instead, I tried to grab some sleep in these super-cramped seats, which turned out to be near on impossible. I think I spent the whole flight with my eyes shut, but I did open my eyes long enough at one stage to see Chicago as we flew over it – a golden city of lights the glittered, followed by the complete blackness of Lake Michigan. I wish I got to visit there on this trip, but it will have to wait for another time.

Before long, the torture was over, and we were beginning our approach into New York JFK. My first indication that this city was going to be cold was the fact that I could see sheets of ice sloshing around in the ocean. After deplaning and making our way out to the baggage hall, this thought was confirmed. New York is very cold. Not the coldest I’ve ever been in, but very, very close. This will also probably change as the days go on.

Our trip from the airport to our hotel let us sample another of New York’s famous attributes – its traffic. The 90 minute journey was very start and stop, with us rarely travelling faster than 40 km/hr. Still, with the breathtaking Manhattan skyline in view, it was hard not to feel excited.

Like with our hotel in San Francisco, we weren’t able to check in until later in the day. This meant that we got to spend the morning walking around our local district. This time, I chose to stay at the Distrikt Hotel, just off of Times Square, as it was one of the cheapest hotels around, and also one of the highest rated from user review. The impressions I got at check-in were all very positive, and made my look forward to my stay.

We then had our first wander around Times Square. It was just as flashy and overstimulating as I remembered. We grabbed some breakfast at the McDonalds and sat on the upper floor to do some people watching. It should be noted that the cold seems to keep the crowds down a bit when compared to summer, but it is still very busy.

We then headed to Central Park to kill some time. We sat on a great big rock and watched squirrels bound about the meadows. The squirrels also had a habit of engaging in ninja-style battles with each-other as they clamoured around the trunks of trees. This was very entertaining, as they never seemed to hurt each other, just chase each other around a lot.
We were then very tempted to take a nap in central park, but decided against it as we didn’t want to get in trouble or mugged. So we headed back to Times Square to grab some lunch. Like always, we headed to Bubba Gump’s. This time I had something different though (spicy shrimp skewers), and it was just as tasty as the other dishes that I have tried.

By this stage, we could check in, so we did so. The room was fantastic, and we were all the way up on the 26th floor, meaning we had a brilliant view looking out towards New Jersey. We then had a nap, and awoke later in the day to get ready to go see our first Broadway play of the trip, “Sister Act”.

This was based on the film of the same name, but converted into a more musical affair. While some scenes did seem to drag a bit, on the whole it was very entertaining and it amazes me how fantastically some people can sing. I had goosebumps on multiple occasions, which is always a good sign.

One thing that was unfortunate about the performance was the seating. Not where we were seated, mind you – although we were seated on the balcony, I had a perfect view of the stage. The problem was with the legroom, or complete lack thereof. With the show going for over two and a half hours, I found myself beginning to get very uncomfortable in the last half hour or so, as my knees were stuck to the seat in front of me. It was far worse than any airline seat I had sat in, although the entertainment definitely made up for the lack of legroom.

After the performance, I helped escort Emma and the group of school students she was assisting back to their hotel, and then I headed back to my hotel. I grabbed a slice of Pizza on the way home – my first of the trip, and hopefully the first of many to come.

Tomorrow: MOAR NEW YORK!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

1/12/11 - 6/12/11 - Epic USA post of my trip so Far.

01/12/11 – Hello USA, nice to see you again!

Firstly, a quick word on my previous trip to Japan. I know that I was meant to finish writing up my last post about Osaka – I know, I’m terribly slack. All I will say is that Japan is the most amazing country I’ve ever visited. Osaka and the attractions I saw there were all fantastic. I cannot recommend visiting the country enough – I can’t wait to go back.

Now, on to this trip to the United States of America.

After returning from Japan, the opportunity arose for my girlfriend, Emma, to travel to the USA in December, 2011. Naturally, I was keen to come along as well, but money was going to be the major deciding factor. Then, several Sound Design projects were dropped in my lap. These projects more or less earned me enough money to comfortably afford the trip. As such, I went ahead and booked my flights and accommodation, and waited eagerly for departure. Eventually Emma and I decided that we would visit Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York – the same places I visited with Peta in August, 2010.

As 2011 passed suspiciously quickly, before I knew it, the date of departure was upon me. Like all of my trips, it started with a trip to Brisbane Airport. Like last time, I decided to fly domestically down to Sydney before catching Qantas’ Airbus A380 across to Los Angeles. My parents were kind enough to give me a lift to the airport, but sadly Mum had to leave straight away to get to work on time. As dad parked the car, I tried to check in on Qantas’ self-check in kiosks.

I’m not sure how I feel about these. On the one hand, they work fantastically well for domestic services (wherein you just scan your booking form, weigh your luggage, collect your boarding pass and be on your merry way), but they are hopeless for domestic-international transfer flights. I did battle with the machine for a good five minutes (for some reason the touchscreen was incorrectly calibrated, and as such whenever I hit the spacebar, it hit either the “J” or “K” key), a customer service assistant came over and helped me. When he saw that I was travelling internationally after my Domestic flight, he informed me that I actually needed to see one of the check-in staff anyway as my passport needed to be visually verified. My question is, if a mandatory “human” check-in is required for Domestic – International passengers, why offer it as on option on your kiosks? Rather baffling. Kudos to the check in agent who assisted me though, he was delightfully friendly and really made me look forward to my flights ahead.

Then, Dad and I headed airside, and made our way to the small food court. I decided not to have my traditional bacon, eggs and super-salty toast, and instead opted for a croissant. After chowing down, I headed up to my gate for a quick happy snap before it was time for me to board.

Qantas Airways flight QF517 BNE – SYD
Boeing 737-800 VH-VYF “Evandale”
Captain Peter Budd
Seat: 19F
Intended Pushback: 0925
Actual Pushback: 1038
Intended Arrival: 1200
Actual Arrival: 1253

Yes, this is where the fun began. As noted in the flight details above, we went sweet f-all nowhere for over an hour. Apparently the engineers found a small dent on the aft of the aircraft. Like with anything with aviation, when something goes wrong, it needs to be checked, double checked, details faxed, verified, simulated, signed off, leaked to the media and blessed by a priest before the aircraft can take off. As much as sitting there on the tarmac sucked, I appreciate my life and I am glad that Qantas takes no chances when it comes to airline safety. Besides, I had a good three hours to connect to my international flight, so I was in no danger of missing it. When we did take off, not much happened. It was a very quick 1 hour flight down to Sydney.

After arriving in Sydney, I jumped on the terminal transfer bus, and headed over to the international terminal. I cleared immigration in about 10 minutes, and had a brisk walk around the terminal doing my plane spotting thing, and then headed to the gate.

Qantas Airways Flight QF11 SYD – LAX
Airbus A380-800 VH-OQD “Fergus McMaster”
Captain Rick Paul
Seat: 80A
Intended Pushback: 1500
Actual Pushback: 1516
Intended Arrival: 0950
Actual Arrival: 0953

This was my second time on this particular Aircraft. It is the exact same one that took me to Los Angeles last year. It was just as fantastic as last time, made even better by the fact that I managed to snag seat 80A – a window seat with no seat in front of me. This means that I got business class sized legroom at an economy priced ticket. Not bad. I also lucked out and had nice passengers seated all around me. The young woman sitting next to me, Kate, was a great seat buddy. She was heading over to Los Angeles and New York as part of a performing arts tour. Although I don’t think she’ll read this, I wish her the best of luck with her future.

Qantas’ inflight entertainment on board their A380 is the best inflight entertainment I’ve ever used. The touchscreen is responsive (as long as you use the back of your fingernail), the range of entertainment options (movies, tv series, documentaries, games and music) is second to none, and their skycam (tail-mounted camera feed of the aircraft’s flight) is always a fun distraction during the daytime portion of the flight. I watched heaps of TV shows, but only one movie, “X-Men: First Class” which to be honest I didn’t really like, but that is by no part Qantas’ fault.

Also, given my ample legroom, I managed to achieve the impossible – 6 hours of fairly restless sleep on a long haul flight. If it wasn’t for the rollercoaster-esque turbulence experienced somewhere over Hawaii, I would have slept solidly for half the flight. One thing that definitely helped with my rest was the noise level. Firstly, the A380 is the quietest aircraft flying (for cabin noise, anyway). Then I wore earplug, and on top of that, I put on noise cancelling headphones. This reduced the engine noise down to a very light hum, and the earplugs blocked out all other noises as well.

After breakfast, we began our descent into Los Angeles. Just before landing, we were hit with some major turbulence due to the high winds that have hit Southern California over the past day or so. I managed to get through immigration in about 30 minutes, and then through customs in five minutes. The customs guard was fantastic – really chatty, very cheery and incredibly welcoming. I wish all border staff were like him!

Then, a shuttle to my hotel later, and I was safely back in Hollywood, California. As I had a spare day before Emma arrived, I was at a loss as to what to do with myself. Due to the high winds of the previous day, the internet connection to my hotel was down, so I couldn’t really find out where to go. So I decided to wander aimlessly. I did a lap around the “Church of Scientology” – a great big ugly blue building. It looks as obnoxious as what people say about the religion. I’m sure they are all for the most part very peaceful people, but their church does not look inviting in the slightest.

I went for some Quiznos for lunch – a sandwich chain like Subway, for those who don’t know. It was surprisingly delicious, and also rather cheap. One thing I love about the USA is how food is about half the price that it is in Australia. That combined with the strong Aussie dollar at the moment means that I have some awesomely cheap eats ahead of me.

I then jumped on the metro subway, and had a look around Hollywood Highland – Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the Kodak Theatre, and the Hollywood walk of fame.

I don’t get the walk of fame. Yes, it has the names of famous actors, directors, musicians and other celebrities. Yes, they stood there to have their “Stars” laid. But what does this mean? Unless the celebrity is physically standing next to them when you see their star, there is nothing really connecting or “human” about the plaques.

There also seemed to be a heck of a lot of people standing around handing out demo CD’s of their music for passers-by. I guess that their philosophy is that the more people who know their music the better, but I don’t see how effective this could be in the long run, unless they luck out and give it to someone who is/knows a music producer. I didn’t take any of their CD’s, as I don’t have a CD player with me during my travels to listen to them. I figured that they’d be better off giving their copies to somebody who can actually listen to them, and save themselves the dollar or so it cost to burn the CD. Still, I wish them all the best of luck with their future careers.

Later that night, I went for some Italian food at a restaurant a few blocks north of my hotel. I had a delicious slab of Lasagne.  In true American fashion, it was a huge portion – a slab is not hyperbole. It felt strange eating alone at a restaurant, but I had a nice chat to the gentlemen at the table next to me. All in all, it was a nice evening, and a good start to my second trip to the USA.

Tomorrow, I meet up with Emma, we see Hollywood, and best of all, we’re in the audience for “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson”. Can’t wait!


Hollywood, Craig Ferguson, and Coffee Makers

So today I tried to pack in as much Los Angeles as I could in one day. It started by me taking a walk to my local Starbucks to use their wifi, as my hotel’s wifi was still down. While I was browsing on my phone, sipping on my hot chocolate, I saw a hummingbird flitter by. I’d never seen one before in my life, so this was a pleasant start to the day.

Later on in the morning, I headed to the Hollywood/Highland area of Hollywood. I was waiting for Emma, who was going to meet up with me here. Unfortunately, her flight was delayed, and then she got stuck in major traffic, so I was waiting around for a long time. Throughout this time, the music artists I mentioned earlier tried to sell me their CD’s, but eventually after I politely told them that I wasn’t interested, we got chatting. They were mainly Jamaican R&B artists, and were very friendly. Still, I politely declined their music, as I’m not a big fan of their genre of music.

While I was waiting, I also bumped into Kate, the girl who sat next to me on the flight. Small world! Her and her performing arts troupe were about to perform at a nearby theatre. Sadly, as I was waiting for Emma, I couldn’t go watch.

Eventually, Emma did arrive. Unfortunately, she had taken a fall earlier in the day, and as such had a very sore rear end. Combine this with the fact that she is gluten intolerant, and was served food containing only gluten on her flight, and she was hungry, tired and sore. I tried to remedy the hunger problem by taking her to a “Johnny Rockets” restaurant in the nearby outdoor mall. The food was pretty average, but it would do for now.

By this stage, the day had actually gone by pretty quickly, and we had to make a beeline back to my hotel, and then on to Craig Ferguson. The downside to being in the studio audience means that you are not allowed any cell phones, cameras or electronic devices on you of any form. This meant that I had to leave my phone – a crucial timepiece and navigational aid in my room. So essentially, we were following some hastily-printed out instructions from the hotel front desk and relying on them solely to get us to CBS studios. Fortunately though, these instructions didn’t fail us, and we managed to get there just within the nick of time.

Then we were taken into CBS studios, put into lines, and led into the studio. The studio is much, much smaller than it appears on TV, as is the audience – a mere 150 people. Emma and I managed to score front row centre seats. This was both a good thing and a bad thing. The good thing was we were very close to Craig, Geoff and the guests. The bad thing was that so were the gigantic video cameras they used to film the show with. This meant that Craig and the guests were always either partially or completely blocked from our view. Still, being in the audience was so much fun, and Craig seemed like a very nice and genuine guy. I know I will continue to be an avid viewer of his show, and I hope that one day I can be in his audience again.

At the end of the show, a raffle was drawn. Funnily enough, I won the raffle, and was awarded with a brand-new coffee maker. While I would normally be very appreciative of a gift like this, I was at a bit of a loss as to what to do with it. Firstly, I don’t drink coffee. Secondly, I can’t really cart around this large box all over the USA with me. Thirdly, if I did, the voltage difference between the USA and Australia means that there is a high risk that the coffee maker could cause a house fire (if it doesn’t have a transformer in it) if I plug it in. I have no idea what I should do with it.

After heading back to my hotel, Emma and I then grabbed a light meal at a local Mediterranean restaurant. Adequate (and not unnecessarily huge) portion sizes and tasty food made this a winner.

Tomorrow, Disneyland! The least-unhappy place on earth!


Disneyland, and the great journey to and from it.

So Disneyland, huh? It is pretty darn cool. Getting to and from there from Los Angeles? Not so cool.

The day started at the crack of dawn as we began the great journey to Disneyland. Firstly, we had to tackle the Metro system to Union station. Unfortunately, we missed the first train, which had a massive unforseen knock-on effect.

Transferring at Los Angeles Union Station, we had to then get an Amtrak train to Anaheim. Because of us grabbing the later train previously, it meant that we missed this one by about two minutes. This then meant we had to wait 70 minutes for the next Amtrak train. These Amtrak trains are huge. They are completely double-decker, and they are very wide. Unlike the trains of Japan though, they are huge, slow and loud.

Eventually, the lumbering rolling-stock did get us to Anaheim. From there, I had read online that there were bus transfers to Disneyland. What the website omitted to mention was that the transfers only run every hour. And because of our missed train, it meant that we also missed the shuttle bus. After walking around for a little while, we decided to just take a taxi to Disneyland.

When we eventually got to Disneyland (Emma had to go to her hotel to change clothes and such), it was incredibly overwhelming. Not necessarily in a bad way, but everywhere you look is a ride to go on, a shop packed full of Disney merchandise, or a family having a very full-on day.

I won’t talk much about the rides, except that they are all very entertaining. Even the more sedate ones are still pretty fun. Special mention goes to the Indiana Jones ride and Space Mountain. They were both incredibly intense and very fast paced. Really cool. I won’t really talk about my various activities at the park, either, because to be honest, it is all a bright, colourful blur of pastels.

What I think I both loved and hated the most about Disneyland was their insistence on making sure everybody was as happy as they could be. I mean yes, the staff were very courteous, and were always smiling, which is what any form of customer-service based company should aim for. What I didn’t like is how there is often a price tag associated with this happiness. For example, I liked that in one of the stores, they had hair-dressers that can style your child’s hair like a Disney princess. While I didn’t actually check the prices for this service, the price for the accompanying costume was north of $70 USD. It’s a fantastic idea to make kids feel special, but it certainly comes with a hefty price tag. With the price of admission and the astronomical price for food in the park, I started to wonder how anybody can afford to make the experience that little bit of extra magic for their kids.

The less said about the ride back to Los Angeles, the better. I had to catch another taxi to the train station, as the bus arrives at the station two minutes *after* the last train of the night leaves. Brilliant planning, Anaheim. The complete ineptitude of Anaheim’s public transportation pretty much forces you to either drive to Disneyland, or to stay nearby. It is far too much of a hassle to get there by any other means.

4/12/11 – Back to San Francisco!

So December 4th is my anniversary with Emma. As part of this, I planned in our holiday to go to San Francisco, as I had an amazing time in this city last time I was there.

My journey to San Francisco started far too close to the end of the end of my journey to Disneyland. A mere 4 hours separated the two of them. Three and a half of which I spent asleep. Needless to say, by the time I got to LAX, I was already dead on my feet. When I checked in, Emma and I had far too much time to kill before our flight took off. That is the downside to the Supershuttle service – they will get you to the airport and are fairly cheap, but they will get you there with many hours before your flight departs in case they hit traffic.

American Airlines Flight AA1920 LAX-SFO
Boeing 737-800 N906AN
Intended Pushback: 0700
Actual Pushback: 0729
Intended Arrival: 0815
Actual Arrival: 0853
Seat: 16A
Captain John Mitchell

I have not been having much luck with flights so far on this trip. They have all been delayed by at least 20 minutes. Apparently this time they forgot to install a seat cushion, seat cover, or actual *seat* for the co-pilot. I question how an airline can not forsee this and fix this before you get a plane full of passengers on board, waiting to get to their destination. It did help that the pilot did seem genuinely apologetic. Also, although American Airlines’ service was minimal, the times in which the flight attendants passed by, they did seem to genuinely care about you. The seats were also quite roomy, which helps.

Then, we had another horrible experience getting from the airport to the hotel. We decided to take the BART, which stands for “Bay Area Rapid Transport”. Unfortunately, somebody had obviously forgotten the “Rapid” aspect of this particular service, as we were stopping and starting and crawling along at any form of speed other than rapid. Next time, I’ll just stick to Supershuttle.
When we arrived at the Powell station, my previous navigational memory of San Francisco kicked in, and I was able to safely navigate myself and Emma to our hotel with no troubles at all. After dropping our luggage off, Emma and I headed down to Fisherman’s Wharf, where we dined at our favourite overseas chain restaurant – Bubba Gump’s. Yes, it is just as awesome as I remembered. Yes, I had the shipping container’s worth of Shrimp. Yes, I felt like my stomach was going to explode in a gigantic shrimp-firework after finishing. Yes, it was totally worth it.

We then went for a look around China Town. This town always fascinates me. Everywhere you look is an alleyway packed with shops that sell wares you can only find elsewhere in the Far East. We also visited the pet shop I went to last time. It had the same Macaw, which has apparently learned to talk in the last 18 months, and some other cockatoos as well. One of the cockatoos was so friendly, it even let me stroke it. I wanted so badly to take it home with me, but unfortunately I have reality to contend with. We also got to see chinchillas again. Emma and I decided that they are super-cute, but only when they are asleep. When they are awake, they look like they’re perpetually squished – as if they’re being pressed up against a glass wall that follows them around.

Later that evening, we went out for a nice meal at a Japanese restaurant for our anniversary. The food was fantastic. The gentlemen sitting at the table next to us though, were not. One of them took the stereotype of “Loud American” to the extreme. Every time he spoke his mouth was excreting perpetual sonic booms. Both Emma and I shot them grumpy looks, but stopped short of telling them to STFU.


Today we did “The Bridge” – we cycled the Golden Gate bridge. It was fantastic. Emma has a theory that whenever she travels, she takes Brisbane with her. At least the weather, anyway. The weather so far has been fantastic – clear skies and sunshine all day long. The wind definitely kept the temperature down – it seems to be perpetually cold in San Francisco. The wind on the bridge itself was incredibly chilly - it easily brought the temperature down several degrees, and it was so powerful that it blew you around forcefully.

After getting to the other side of the bridge, we rode down to Sausalito where we had a late lunch. Emma, being gluten intolerant, has found it difficult to find meals at restaurants – the USA seems to mainly serve meals with either bread or pasta in them, which is a no-no for her stomach. Fish and chips seem to suit her alright though, so we’ve been keeping an eye out for them. I had my first “cheese steak”, a sandwich filled with shredded steak, onions and melted cheese. Apparently its birthplace is California, so I felt that I was at least eating something quite authentic.

By now, we had missed one of the last ferries back to San Francisco. This meant that we needed to wait quite a while longer for the next one. As such, we spent over an hour huddled on a park bench playing UNO on Emma’s iPhone. Not the worst way to spend an hour, but the freezing cold definitely made us wish we were indoors.

We then had to find the return garage for our bicycles, which was quite confusing when most of the bicycle rental outlets were closed. Eventually, we found it, quite literally in a basement.

Then, we took a bus back down to Geary Street, and we had to walk 6 blocks to get back to our hotel. This was definitely an interesting experience. It is amazing how much a city can change over the space of six blocks. It gradually switched from very run-down buildings with shady characters outside to five star hotels with doormen on the other side of the block. I definitely squeezed Emma’s hands tight in a few moments, but there was definitely no real danger as long as we kept walking. If we were walking down this street a few hours later though, and I wouldn’t be so sure…

Finally, we had some nice takeaway for dinner. Emma grabbed some Japanese food, whereas I grabbed some Thai. We then sat on our bed, watched TV and enjoyed a nice low profile dinner in San Francisco.


Today we had a look around the Ferry Building, and the farmers markets nearby. Emma and I have made a pledge to try and eat food that we have never eaten before, wherever reasonably possible. As such, for breakfast/lunch, I had a Japanese-style rice triangle filled with rice, miso paste and sushi. I then tried a Tamale, a Mexican dish made with ground up corn and cheese. While the Tamale was quite bland on its own, it is more a vessel for the various sauces that you top it with. Needless to say, as it was Mexican food, with the sauces added, it turned out quite spicy, but pleasantly spicy, not lip-numbingly so.

After wandering around inside the ferry building and sampling some of the local produce, we headed to SOMA, or South of Market Street. We had a look in a local bookstore, and then headed to the Museum of Cartoon Art. Essentially, it was a museum devoted to comic strips from Newspapers. It had strips from the very early 1900’s all the way to modern days. They had a feature on “Archie”, showing how it has changed over several generations since its birth in the 1940’s.
After taking a break back at the room, we headed precisely three stores down from our hotel to a Japanese restaurant called Katana-ya. As indicated by the large line outside this cramped restaurant, the food was delicious. I had a great big bowl of Ramen with some tempura vegetables, and Emma had her standard bowl of Udon. We seem to be eating a lot of Japanese food on this trip, but that’s because it is awesome, and it plays nicely with Emma’s gluten intolerance.

Then, we headed out for some dessert. We headed to my favourite ice cream store in the forever – Swensens. Last time we ate at a Swensens, we were in Thailand, so it has been a long time coming. The ice cream was delicious, but different to the type we had eaten in Thailand. Not in a bad way, just not exactly what I was expecting. I guess it has just been franchised in Thailand, as the San Francisco store (which is actually the original shop) was just a walk-in ice cream counter, as opposed to somewhere where you could also grab drinks and food. Still, a nice way to end a very food-oriented day.

Up next: Our last day in San Francisco, and then NEW YORK!