Ut på tur i Los Angeles

by Janice Nigro

You have been there. Done that. Just maybe not in Norwegian. Norwegian is not one of those languages you can expect to use much outside of Norway. Unless your Norwegian teacher and her young son show up in Los Angeles for a visit.

I was the guide more or less for the past week for these two first time Norwegian visitors to the city. Showing someone the city for the first time is easy. You just choose the main spots (and watch a few sunsets), and that’s enough to fill a week. That always means visiting many of the same spots I have visited before. And this time without a car.

I manage without a car in Los Angeles on my own, but it makes me nervous to do so with guests. People who live here do not generally choose to use public transportation. Going by bus or metro rail does not take that much more time, but there is more dirt and definitely more walking. The walking part is a good thing though, and many days we walked over 5 miles which approaches ~ 15000 and 20000 steps a day.

There are some plusses to public transportation. We had time to talk (a lot) and a chance to go through neighborhoods that are not on any tour of the city list. You find out that Los Angeles is more about the people who are not celebrities living in the city and that the two sides of Los Angeles are like traveling in completely different worlds. Most people, whatever their income status, are just trying to get around.

Europeans do not seem to mind. Public transportation is how they normally navigate their own cities. I meet many foreigners on the busses, and like them, my Norwegian friends were willing players. It takes a couple of hours to get up to Hollywood, for example, but it takes nearly that long by car from the beach cities anyway. And then you have to find parking, or at least pay for it. You need to know that Los Angeles is expansive so the distance is great (and even further because of traffic) in between areas you might want to visit.

Staying by me in a beach city might not make the most sense. At the end of the day, though, you can go out to the beach to catch the sunset over the ocean.

I didn’t make a grand plan for these visitors. I thought it would be easy because they had never been here before, and one was a child. I wasn’t sure what his capacity for walking would be. I thought the amount of walking I do on my own might be too much for him, but I believe in the end that he took even more steps than we did each day. The only trick to keeping everyone happy is to make sure that no one is ever hungry.

I introduced my guests to the public transportation system with an easy trip to Santa Monica on a Saturday. Everyone wants to see the Santa Monica Pier, but the added benefit on Saturday is the farmers market. The bus drops you off two blocks from the east end of the market on Arizona. All you have to do is just walk through the market, pick up strawberries and fresh squeezed orange or grapefruit juice, and stroll right onto the beach. It wasn’t a great day by Socal standards-it was quite windy-but it was a good day for flying kites.

I am not crazy about going to touristy spots so if it wasn’t for tourist friends, I would never have gone to the Santa Monica Pier. They even convinced me to ride the giant ferris wheel which turns quite quickly but not for so long, and they bought the kitchy photo. I have to admit, it was all great fun.

I had plans to walk as far as Venice Beach which is easy to do, but we were sidetracked by the beach and the playground. We did not get that far that day. For them, that it was sunny and warm and a sandy beach was enough.

Santa Monica was a baby trip. On Sunday, I took them all the way to Hollywood. The route to Hollywood is a little complicated, requiring a bus and transfers to three different metro rail lines. Fortunately, you follow mostly colors and not numbers-green line to the blue line to the red line. Once you arrive, you need only to leave the station to begin your walk along the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

I don’t have a clue what criteria are used to award stars on the Walk of Fame. There are clearly names there-like Pee Wee Herman and Donald Trump-that make you wonder. And then there are also names that are not there, like Prince.

I took us off at one stop too soon for our particular destination, but the station at Hollywood and Vine is worth seeing even if you come by car! The ceiling of the station is covered in old film reels, and the pillars are fake palm trees. There is no guessing where you have exited.

My friend has a thing for visiting Hard Rock Café around the world. The one in Hollywood is conveniently located near Grauman’s Chinese Theater and Grom, the gelateria from Italy. While it was a longer walk to reach Hard Rock Café, we discovered the Hollywood Farmers Market on the way. I forgot that there was a market in Hollywood, so it was fortuitous that we got off the metro rail at the wrong stop. If you have to choose only one, choose this one. It is located right off of Hollywood Boulevard so you can’t miss it. The market has agricultural, food, and artisanal vendors, and according to my market friends, it is the best one in Los Angeles.

Hollywood is what you might expect, minus any parade of real celebrities, at least on an average day. Adults do run around dressed like our favorite comic book characters/heroes as advertised. If you think it’s a joke, just ask how much it costs to be photographed with one of them. But I like the old buildings and the old signs, and I like imagining all of the famous people who have walked the boulevard maybe even before they became famous. Some of the stars remain empty, as if just waiting for you, you can’t help but think.

I skipped the tour up to Universal Studios one day, but the route on public transportation is exactly the same as going to Hollywood. They made it on their own-I demanded a blow by blow in text messages. Their day was long, with half of their time spent waiting in line for the attractions and the other half actually going through them.

They were still excited to see more of LA, even after a day at Universal Studios, which costs a fortune to get into and perhaps to get out of if you are a parent.

I never go to Venice Beach unless someone asks. Like Fisherman’s Wharf in SF, I prefer to simply avoid it. Venice attracts all sorts-homelessness is tough to see in the context of such opulence-but you must go. Venice is the kind of place you will only see in the USA. Perhaps thankfully. The beach there is beautiful though. It’s big and free and sunny, and people are happy. Some clearly have assistance in the happiness department because the air is filled with fumes of pot smoke. And I love that signs for gigantic slices of cheap pizza appear to be held up as if that is all there is to protest in the world.

You have to just relax like everyone else and enjoy the insanity and the extent of free expression. The walls are covered with graffiti (as are bodies)-so-called real graffiti art-like a building with a giant slice of pizza painted on it. Some of the boardwalk artists are true talents, like RaRa Superstar, who spreads color and beautiful poetic messages. Over time, though, more have become vendors who simply resell items rather than create anything inspirational themselves.

One last adventure on the metro rail was in them. Downtown Los Angeles is one place most tourists probably never visit when they come to the city. The city for me is all about the beaches, the ocean, and long walks in the outdoors. But there are good reasons to go downtown-sports, symphonies, and the opera, although these are not typical tourist activities. Several art museums are also located there, and the Walt Disney Hall is a display of another great example of the human imagination. The building was designed by the architect, Frank Gehry, who built the Guggenheim in Bilbao.

To say we went all the way downtown to find LA food trucks is not exactly true, but we were interested. I just didn’t know where they would be exactly. We found them, all along Grand Avenue in between 3rd and 5th Streets. I stopped at a Thai food truck, but I had to ask for a recommendation when my first two choices were not available. Most people choose the pork belly over rice I was told. I knew it would be the kind of meal that fills you up for the day, not because of the amount, but because of the fat. The dish was delicious.

The pork belly fueled the long walk over to the LA Arts District, an area of the city I had never been to. If you walk on 3rd  Street to get there, you will discover that there is a wholesale business for bongs. Here you will pass by more bongs than you will ever see in your life. Yeah, you see a lot walking through the city. You can bypass this entire scene by taking the yellow line from Union Station to get there.

The Los Angeles Arts District is an old warehouse district undergoing renovation. We did not find so many open galleries, but you don’t actually have to go inside buildings to see art. Art is everywhere here, even in seemingly irrelevant details. Security bars across the windows in one studio/gallery mimic the Mona Lisa. The district is for artists, but the food culture has a cool vibe as well. Good coffee, ice cream, pie, beer, and pizza are all available in retro minimalist appointed venues.

My friends were my guides on this trip as well. I had not one, but two Norwegian teachers this past week. My friend’s son is a speed talker so I was immediately thrust into Norwegian again. I had to dig deep into my brain for a skill which maybe was never that well established to begin with. While Dani spoke only Norwegian with me, he spoke English to everyone else.

Watching a child learn a second language is truly eye-opening about the mistakes we make as adults learning a language. I am sure there is biology to it, but they also probably learn because they have an unabashed ability to just speak. He went around making up questions for everyone he met. On the bus, in the grocery store, and with artists on the boardwalk. He would even ask runners at the beach if they would race with him. I found it truly admirable and yet another lesson on what children can teach us.

I discovered some new words from my young teacher; creepy and creepisk I won’t soon forget. Sponge Bob Squarepants was creepisk. My Norwegian got a lot better last week (not good enough to get beyond a title in Norwegian though). And so did my perspective on what there is to do in Los Angeles.

PS Takk at dere besøkte meg i Los Angeles. Til den neste gangen…

©Janice Marie Nigro/www.janikiInk.com

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