I visited the USA in October 2000. My itinerary included Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York, Washington, and San Francisco.
I took heaps of photographs (396, to be exact!), and I have added some of my favourites to this page. I have included some of the e-mails that I sent while travelling. I hope that you enjoy reading them.
My first city in the USA.
|I went on a tour of Universal Studios, including their back lot. It was pretty interesting; western street back onto New York streets, around the corner from 1940's Parisienne streets.
Didn't see any stars, though.
|With Alfred Hitchcock's star on Hollywood Boulevard. Shame that you can't read the name, but trust me...|
|Basil Rathbone's star on Hollywood Boulevard. What do you mean, "Who's Basil Rathbone?" Shame on you!
Okay, maybe this will help you remember.
|Disneyland Railway Station, just inside the entrance to the park.|
|Me, a man, and a mouse, with Cinderella's castle in the background.|
|Main Street, USA. Walt Disney's idea of heaven.|
|Cinderella and her Fairy Godmother.
I hope these actors and actresses are well paid; they're continually smiling, posing for photos with little kids, and being nicer than nice.
3 October: E-mail from Los Angeles
This was written a few days after arriving in the USA, after spending a day touring downtown LA, Hollywood, and Universal Studios, and a day in Disneyland:
This is just a quick note to let you know that I arrived safely in the USA. So far I've had no problems -- not even jetlag, though I didn't sleep much on the plane and by the time the first night arrived I was exhausted. On Sunday I went on the Hollywood/Universal Studios tour. That was interesting, and I took photos of Sean Connery's and Clark Gable's footprints in front of Mann's Chinese Theatre, plus my photo next to Alfred Hitchcock's star on Hollywood Boulevard. Saw the "Hollywood" sign from a distance, dimly through the smog. Yesterday I spent all day at Disneyland. I think I covered most of it, but it's hard work to fit it all into one day. Lots of photos.
Now I'm waiting for a shuttle bus to go back to Disneyland. I'll spend the morning there, before I check out of this hotel and leave Anaheim for LA. I'm not sure what I'll do tomorrow... LA is very hard to get around without a car, and the public transport strike is still going. They'll probably resolve it just as I leave. Sunday's tour bus went along Wiltshire Drive, Rodeo Drive, and Beverley Hills Drive, so I've already seen most of the places you know from TV. No photos, so I'd like to get back there. It's a long walk, though.
If it's fine I might get to Venice Beach, but that will depend a lot on the transport situation. VB is vaguely equivalent to the St.Kilda area of Melbourne -- very much into the beach culture/beautiful people/see-and-be-seen scene.
LA in general reminds me of Manilla in the Philippines -- except that you can drink the water. It covers a huge area, though probably not as big as Melbourne, and there are four- and six-lane freeways everywhere. It's been hot. Not a dry, burning heat like summer in Melbourne, but a humid, sticky heat even though it's only about 25-30 °C. There aren't as many high-rise buildings as you'd expect in a city this size, because of the earthquakes. Now they're retrofitting some older buildings to make them more earthquake proof. Generally the CBD is pretty unphotogenic. There are lots of palm and gum (!) trees -- they are some of the few types of trees that can tolerate the heat and the smog.
Okay, gotta catch a bus. Next message will probably be from Las Vegas.
Las Vegas is built in a desert; in the middle of the desert they've built a paradise. Or, at least, paradise for those that can afford it. Everything I thought I knew about Las Vegas I learned from old movies. But most of the casinos from those days are gone. They've been replaced with the biggest, most luxurious, and most opulent establishments that money can buy.
|The New York, New York Hotel. Yes, this is one building, with a facade of one-third scale New York landmarks.
Note the fireships spraying water at the base of the Statue of Liberty.
|The Paris Hotel, Las Vegas. This is a one-half scale version of the real Eiffel Tower. Great view of the strip from the observation deck at the top.|
|At night on "The Strip" (Las Vegas Boulevard). Taken from the observation deck of the Eiffel Tower at the Paris Hotel.|
|Another view of The Strip from the observation deck of the Eiffel Tower at the Paris Hotel.|
New York -- Perhaps the world's most famous city, the city that never sleeps.
|View of Manhattan from the roof of the World Trade Centre.|
|Another view of central Manhattan from the roof of the World Trade Centre.|
|Overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge from the roof of the World Trade Centre.|
|Probably the world's most famous skyscraper, the Empire State Building.
Actually, I preferred the Chrysler Building.
|View from the observation deck of the Empire State Building.
The Chrysler Building is just to the right of the centre of this picture (you can see the stainless steel spire). Grand Central Terminal is beneath the MetLife Building, just to the left of centre.
|Another view from the observation deck of the Empire State Building.|
|The Statue of Liberty. The queue to the top took two hours, and the view from the crown really isn't worth it.
But it's one of those things that you have to do...
|Times Square by night. Apparently the owners of the buildings are required to carry the advertisements, and that's how they make their money. The tenants pay no rent.|
|The Flatiron Building. One of New York's landmarks.|
|Manhattan skyline by night, taken from Brooklyn nearby the Brooklyn Bridge. Photographs really can't do justice to the lights of New York.|
9 October: E-mail from New York
Written from an Internet cafe in New York, just off Times Square:
Okay, I'm writing this at an Internet cafe, just off Times Square in New York. So far everything has been going well -- that is, I haven't missed any flights and all my hotel bookings have been accepted -- and I'm seeing a lot of stuff!
So far I've visited Universal Studios, Disneyland, and downtown Los Angeles. LA is tough to get around without a car, and there was (and still is) a public transport strike. I still don't feel like driving in the US yet. I can't get my head around the idea of driving on the right-hand side of the road. Plus there are a couple of quirks that make life fun for both drivers and pedestrians. Cars can perform a right turn through a red light, which means that I have to remember to look all directions at least twice at intersections. Even when crossing a divided carriageway with one eye on the oncoming traffic I have a feeling I'm going to be bowled over from the other direction. But I've survived.
I also visited Mann's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, and had my photo taken against Alfred Hitchcock's star on Hollywood Boulevard. I spent a day at Venice Beach and Santa Monica, but it was overcast so there wasn't much happening. Never mind. By accident I stumbled across a mural that I recognised from the movie "LA Story".
After LA I spent three days in Las Vegas. Okay, it's the gambling and glitter capital of the world. But for a non-gambler the glitter is all that it has to offer. Las Vegas has a lot of glitter to offer. I can't describe just how huge some of these hotels/casinos really are. Some of the regular shows they put on for the benefit of passers-by are amazing!
At LV I saw the "New York, New York" hotel, which has a facade of one-third scale NY landmarks, "Paris, Las Vegas" (one-half scale version of the Eiffel Tower -- great view of the city lights from the top), "Venice, Las Vegas" (canals, including the Grand Piazza), the Belaggio Hotel (too stunning to describe here, needs an e-mail all to itself, with photos), and the MGM Grand (largest hotel in the world, over 5000 rooms).
There are two big shows running right now, at competing hotels but both by Circe de Soleil. Both are expensive (and sold out months in advance), so I saw Rita Rudner performing live at the MGM Grand. I like her style of comedy.
I wanted to send an e-mail from LV, but the only places that had Internet access were the business centres at the larger hotels. They wanted to charge me US$30 per hour, so I decided to give it a miss.
So here I am in New York. The flight in yesterday landed at La Guardia Airport, which meant an approach over Manhattan. I had a superb view of all the sights: Statue of Liberty, World Trade Centre, Chrysler Building, Empire State Building, you name it.
Today I figured out how to travel on the subway system, and spent the day visiting various places (mostly by accident!).
Tomorrow I will join a tour for a closer look at some of the landmarks, including a cruise around the island of Manhattan. It should be great.
PS: Please forward this to anyone I've missed.
12 October: E-mail from New York
From the same Internet cafe in New York:
I think I now have my e-mail system under control. I think most people received my last message, so everyone should get this one.
The last two days have been pretty busy, sightseeing-wise. I booked a couple of tours before I left Melbourne; so far I've done three: an uptown tour; a downtown tour; and an evening tour. Uptown covers the upper east side, the upper west side, Harlem, and the Bronx. Downtown includes Soho (for "South of Houston Street", not the area in London), the East Village, Tribeca (for "Triangle Below Canal Street"), and all other areas that will be familiar to anyone who watches US cop shows. And I've left the island of Manhattan only twice...
The first time was last night, on the evening tour. This was great; it was a warm, clear evening, perfect for touring around on the top of an open-top double-decker bus. Some of the city lights are amazing, and I really can't describe them. Enough to say that they look better than on a postcard. We drove across the Manhattan Bridge (the Brooklyn Bridge is closed to commercial traffic, such as our bus) to see the city lights from Brooklyn. Fantastic.
The second time was this afternoon, when I finally made it to the Statue of Liberty. Actually I did this badly; I left it until about noon to get on the ferry, which meant that the lines were already very long. On a weekend it would have been even worse. The guidebook was spot-on (thanks, Graham), but hey, I'm on holiday and I'll sleep in as long as I want!
So it took about two hours to reach the crown of the "Lady of Liberty". Most of this is spent on the ground, or on the stairs inside the pedestal. It only takes about 30 minutes to climb the very narrow winding spiral staircase inside the statue to the crown. The view from the top really isn't worth it, because the statue faces out to sea and the viewports are very small, but it's one of those things that you have to do just to say that you've done it. So I did.
I also went to the roof of the World Trade Centre. Now, there's a spectacular view! I walked along Fifth Avenue and spotted a few famous stores that I can't afford to shop in, including Tiffany's, Macy's, Saks, and so on.
I've decided that baggy pants with the crotch down to the knees and caps on sideways look just as stupid in Times Square as they do in St.Kilda...
People in Manhattan don't cook. Most of the apartments don't have much of a kitchen, so everyone either eats out, or else they buy meals from street vendors. There are three supermarkets on the island, and famous because they're so rare. Cars are discouraged and are insanely expensive to park and insure. Come to think of it, I think I've seen only one service station since I've arrived in New York. Instead everyone takes the subway, which is rough and crowded but efficient and faster than the alternatives.
If you don't cook, you buy meals on the way home from work. There are places all over where you fill a covered foil container with as much food as you want from the buffet, and pay for it by weight.
Which reminds me: prices listed on shop windows don't include tax. Thank god Australia didn't go this way with the GST. I've had a number of dumb conversations along the lines of, "You want the $5.95 lunch? Okay, that'll be $6.38". I hate that.
I haven't bought a meal like this yet. I went into one such place to have a look, and saw a cockroach scurrying over one platter...
Tomorrow is my last full day in New York. I want to have a better look around Central Park. On Saturday I catch a train to Washington. My next e-mail will probably from there.
I travelled by train from New York to Washington. That was interesting, too; it was as close as I came to the countryside of the USA.
|The Capitol Building. Not only was it larger than I expected, but the murals and decorations inside are amazing!|
|Looking directly upwards from beneath the dome of the Capitol.|
|Murals on the pillars supporting the dome of the Capitol.|
Oh, and the south lawn of the White House.
|The Lincoln Memorial, seen from the reflecting pool.|
|Looking toward the Washington Monument, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
The Capitol Building is beyond the Monument, lost in the haze.
|Replica of the lunar landing module at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.|
17 October: E-mail from Washington
From an Internet kiosk in Washington:
I arrived safely in Washington, after a train ride from New York. As usual, I've been seeing the sights. Yesterday I went on a two-hour tour around the city (Australia's embassy is a very impressive building, that apparently was once home to General George Patton), and Arlington Cemetery, where I saw JFK's and Jacqueline Bouviere Kennedy Onassis's graves, the Iwa Jima memorial (statue of a bunch of guys planting a US flag, it's larger than you think) and watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier -- quite moving.
Yesterday was spent mostly at the Smithsonian's Air and Space museum, looking at the original Apollo 11 lunar command module (the bit that splashed back to earth after the moon landing), the Bell X-1 (first aircraft to break the sound barrier), and the Wright brothers' original flyer. The museum is a pretty amazing place: all these are the original aircraft, suspended from the ceiling like model aeroplanes in a kid's bedroom! Where they're not original (like the Voyager probe that's now beyond the orbit of Pluto) they are duplicates created either for training or as backups for the originals.
I spent the day at the Museum because, as luck would have it, I've arrived in time for the "Million Family March". This is the five-year anniversary of the "Million Man March" (which was for black men) except that it now includes every known minority or special interest group. The Air & Space Museum is the most-visited such museum in the world, but I thought it might be a bit quieter inside while the march was happening outside.
I did hear part of a speech by (Reverend?) Louis Farrakhan, who is apparently big in the black-power movement and was responsible for the original MMM. While I was listening he said that 1) Jesus pain on the cross was a holy sacrifice for all mankind, 2) a woman's pain in childbirth is equivalent to Jesus' pain, and therefore 3) motherhood is a holy thing. This went down extremely well with the crowd, but I can only conclude that either 1) Farrakhan is wooing female supporters, or 2) needs to get out more often.
Then I had a quick look around the Capitol building: it's a lot bigger in reality than it looks on television. The interior of the dome is decorated with the most amazing murals and frescos on the ceiling.
Today I had a tour of the Pentagon, which was pretty boring and I didn't even take photographs. The tour guide (the cutest, tallest, blonde seaman I've ever seen) led us along various identical-looking corridors, to show us portraits of various identical-looking soldiers, sailors, marines, and air-force types in high-ranking uniforms. It seems that all of the tours of every site in Washington require that you put your bags through an X-ray machine and walk through a metal detector, and at the Pentagon we all had to wear a temporary ID as well. The ID said that we must be accompanied at all times, shoot on sight if loose in the building, etc., etc.
By the way, the seaman was female.
I wanted a tour of the White House, but you had to be in line by noon and I arrived 30 minutes too late. Never mind: I had my photo taken in front of the WH's south lawn (the view everyone knows).
Also walked around the Washington Memorial (the tall spire), but the queue was too long for me to bother going to the top. Finished the day at the Lincoln Memorial (big statue of Abe), the Vietnam and Korean Memorials, and saw where Forest Gump made his speech at the Reflecting Pool.
As usual, it takes me a day to get my bearings and figure out the city's public transport system before I really start to get around -- which means that I only just get used to something, and it's time to leave. Travelling like this is hard work!
San Francisco was my last city in the USA.
|Row of typical San Francisco houses. Most of the houses are like this: two or three stories high, garage space underneath, narrow frontage; and built on a hill!|
|The Golden Gate Bridge, unfortunately during a heavy fog. The fog was pouring over the crest, and rolling down into the bay under the bridge. Everywhere else the sky was clear!|
|San Francisco cable car, one of the best ways to get around the city. Good fun, too.|
|The cable car museum and winding room.
There are four cable loops around the city; each cable is up to 15 kilometres long and weighs over 30 tonnes! These machines drive the cables at a steady 15 km/h. Cars clamp on to the cable to move.
|My first view of Alcatraz, from the ferry approaching the dock.|
|The cell block at Alcatraz, seen from the exercise yard.
In its day, this was the largest reinforced concrete building ever built.
|A cell at Alcatraz. This one had luxuries: painting materials. One way to pass the time.|
|Inside the cell block on Alcatraz.|
|Another view inside the cell block at Alcatraz.|
20 October: E-mail from San Fransisco
From the hotel in San Francisco:
This will probably be my last e-mail from the USA. Fortunately the lobby of the Hotel has a free (!) Internet service. It's very slow and uses a weird browser, but it's free so I can't complain.
I spent yesterday on a tour around the city of San Francisco, with most of the day on Alcatraz island. This was one of the most forbidding places I have ever seen. It is now part of a national park so everything is protected. Still, it has been slowly falling apart for 30 years, so it is even more grim-looking now than when it was a functioning prison. Also there was a heavy fog for most of the day (which meant that I didn't get a good view of the Golden Gate Bridge), so the island's foghorns were sounding all day. This just added another dimension to the bleak desolation of the place. Even so, it was very interesting, and it must have been a hellish place to be imprisoned.
The tour finished at Pier 39 adjacent to Fisherman's Wharf. I caught a cable car back to the hotel, standing on the running board and hanging on to an upright. Actually, it's a pretty cool way to get around!
See you in Australia.