Friday, September 19

An LA bonus

Our USA road trip is over. We’ve travelled an extraordinary 3,800km in 16 days, visiting a total of six states (although we spent less than five hours driving through Idaho). Thanks Garry!  We also unintentionally extended our vacation by extra day after missing our flight home.

We arrived at the airport on Saturday evening in time to hear a final boarding announcement. We were naturally stunned and couldn't understand how we'd got the departure time so wrong.  However, Qantas was very accommodating. It promptly shifted our ticket to the same flight number; departing the following day.  As fate would have it the delay ultimately proved a blessing in disguise.

Garry had originally tried without success to secure us a First Class upgrade using points.  He tried again using our new flight details. This time he was successful and, as a result, we flew home in total luxury.  I'll happily spend an extra day in LA to secure a lie-flat bed topped with sheepskin-lined mattress.

The unscheduled delay also gave us time to do a little extra sightseeing in Los Angeles. Up to this point we'd simply spent two mad days scouring city stores for shopping bargains. We began our day with a trip to the California Science Museum. It's currently hosting a exhibition of artifacts from the infamous Pompeii eruption, and is one of only four locations displaying an original space shuttle.

We spent an hour viewing exquisite Roman antiquities in the Pompeii exhibition.  The experience concluded with a room filled with plaster casts of bodies encased in volcanic ash. In the 18th Century, archeologists discovered that life-like cavities had formed around the entombed bodies as their organic matter decayed. They filled these spaces with plaster to recreate the original human form. Some of the resulting “statues”  poignantly capture the final moments of death.  It's rather incredible to see.

Those who know me well will appreciate that the highlight of our museum visit was a chance to see the Endeavour Space Shuttle close up. It was the last shuttle built for NASA. All five of the space agency's shuttle were actually built in factory on the outskirts of LA. In acknowledgment of its origins, the Endeavour was shipped to LA after its retirement and put on display.

The shuttle is currently housed in temporary display “shed” behind the museum. It’s been left much it was after its final mission into space. As a result, scorch marks from its fiery re-entry still streak the fuselage and protective tiles on its underbelly. Endeavour looks well used. I spent more than half an hour marveling at its bulk, walking underneath it wings and viewing it from every angle.

The museum itself is located next to the LA Coliseum. This stadium has hosted opening ceremonies for the 1932 and 1984 Summer Olympics. Its iconic arch gateway and Olympic torch were instantly recognizable as we drove into the adjacent carpark. Despite many trips to LA I’d never actually seen it in person.  Neither had Garry.  We took a few minutes to walk up to its main gate and marvel at this piece of Olympic history.

Garry and I then drove pass the soaring skyscrapers that make up Downtown LA.  Another first for both of us. It’s hard to believe that these tower really will survive a major earthquake. I suspect my skepticism reflects the influence of the 1974 disaster movie, Earthquake.  I saw it as an eight year old child and for weeks afterwards every tall structure filled me with fear.

Shinjuku in Tokyo has similar high-rise office towers straddling another of the Pacific Rim's earthquake zones. However, for some irrational reason, LA’s structures feel more vulnerable than those in Japan.  I guess time will tell if LA's architects have been wise or foolish.

From Downtown we made our way up into the LA hills.  We were hoping to enjoy the panoramic view from Griffith Observatory. However, as we approached, we discovered traffic diversions in place and cars parked along the approach road for hundreds of metres. We decided to give this location a miss and continued west towards the equally scenic Mulholland Drive.

This purpose-built touring road has a number of scenic outlooks, including one that offers a grand view of the Hollywood sign and LA’s sprawling urban expanse. Our detour proved to be a smart choice.  Within minutes of arriving at the Hollywood Bowl outlook we had the scenic spot to ourselves. As the afternoon sun warmed us, we soaked in the view, and expressed just a hint of envy for nearby residents enjoying their hillside infinity pool.  It was the perfect way to finish our extended vacation.

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