4th of July - American Independence Day - one of the biggest dates in the US party calendar and we woke up late @ 10am! It appears that we both needed our beauty sleep for the long day ahead. We hadn't made any plans for the evening's fireworks but decided to go out and explore the city and see what comes out if it. We took the No.14 bus down to Beverly Hills and the Farmer's Market - a massive outdoor setup with dozens of food and fruit stalls. Decided then and there to do an informal Mexican culinary tour of LA and this seems to be a good enough place to start as any!
Today, we ate lunch at Loteria - a Mexican food stall at the Market. To drink: agua fresca con guayaba. To eat: the house special: 12 tacitas each with a different topping i.e. pulled pork, chicken mole, mushroom etc etc. Every single bite was a delicious surprise full of fresh, zesty and spicy flavours! We walked about the shops and stalls and decided to take a bus to Hollywood to see the Chinese Theatre and all the star-related tourist traps.
We walked around the main drag looking at all the crazy people dressed up as famous film characters - posing with tourists for a couple of bucks. There was a Jack Sparrow, a Michael Jackson and several Supermen. After walking up and down the road a couple of times, we decided to take a cheesy tour of the homes of the rich and famous in the Hollywood Hills and Beverly Hills. I'm really glad that we did - for 20 bucks it was well worth it!
Our tour driver and guide was an immigrant from Rwanda and drove like he was still in Africa! Nevertheless, he was really great at explaining things from a more worldly perspective and it turned out to be a great trip (even though I don't normally like organised tours). We went up and down the windy streets and passed the following celebrity homes: Beckham, Madonna, Cher, Michael Jackson etc etc - you name 'em, we saw 'em! Well, for most, we saw the top of a roof, or a sliver of a gate as there are alot of tours going up and down the narrow streets and the celebrities obviously want to be left alone and not be spied on by paparazzi or gawked at by a bus load of tourists.
Anyways, all the houses started looking same-same (as the Cambodians would say): huge front gates, followed by long driveway leading to palatial home camouflaged by thick shrubbery, wall-like hedges and reach-for-the-sun trees! We even drove past the Playboy Mansion and peered through the hedges to see none other than Hugh Hefner lounging around the swimming pool in his trademark smoking jacket/robe with a bikini-clad babe giggling at his jokes.
Greystone Mansion and Park - donated to the Beverly Hills council - was an unscheduled stop on our tour because we had additional time as a result of reduced holiday traffic. This was probably one of the highlights of this tour because we actually got to walk around the grounds (free to the public) and peer into the manor through the windows. People are not allowed inside the building but it is often used as a location for films and music videos. But, the best part are the beautiful, landscaped gardens - with stunning views of L.A. below - and the most fragrant flowers I have ever had the pleasure of smelling! We walked around for a while and then drive down through Sunset Boulevard to go back to the main Hollywood strip.
By this time, it was close to 6pm and we still had no idea where we would go to see the 4th of July fireworks. But, seeing as we were a mere hop, skip and jump from the Hollywood Bowl, we decided to head out there and see if we could get tickets to the fireworks show. On the walk up to the amphitheatre we passed a scalper who was selling tickets for $25 to the soldout event, so we decided that it would be a great experience to see the fireworks in this setting with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra playing and Barry Manilow singing cheesy tunes - how quintessentially American!
Dinner consisted of a burger, beer and Barry Manilow! Our seats were right at the back but the atmosphere was fun and jovial and we waved our American flags and glow-in-the-dark sticks with the rest of the 17000 people in the stands and sang to "Copacabana". We chatted to people around us (most Americans are so wonderfully friendly and approachable) and marvelled at the fireworks which ended in a grand stars 'n stripes finale. What a great way to spend Independence Day in L.A.!
To top it all off - we had the BEST cupcakes EVER @ Crumbs Bake Shop (near the Metro station)! They were huge, moist and topped with deliciously fudgy, gooey, chocaholic icing! Yum yum! We took the Metro train home and arrived back at our accommodation - tired but happy and on a sugar high!
Originally, I'd been very hesitant to go to L.A. - especially without a rental car - but it has been surprisingly cheap, convenient and easy to get around. At least, when you're on public transport, you don't have to worry about finding and paying for parking everywhere! There are loads of things to do and see: you've got a huge range of entertainment options, the ocean and gorgeous sandy beaches nearby, the hills with beautiful views and plenty of friendly/crazy/quirky/interesting people. L.A. rocks!