Monday, February 13, 2006 - Los Angeles and Beyond

We awoke at 7:30 a.m. with the sun streaming through the bedroom window. It was a gorgeous, sunny Southern California day. We were looking forward to the Southern Hemisphere, where it's summer this time of year, but here in LA it felt like summer had already made it to the North. I made my way upstairs to fix some coffee and was astonished by the fabulous view. It's one of the best non-wilderness views I've ever seen. You can see the Griffith Observatory, downtown LA, and of course the famous Hollywood sign from almost anywhere in the house. I can't think of a better place to spend our layover.

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Hollywood Hills

10:00 a.m. J.J. picked us up and took us to visit the La Brea Tar Pits, a famous cluster of pits best known for the large predator fossils from the last Ice Age that have been found here, and for playing a role in the 1997 movie "Volcano" starring Tommy Lee Jones. The tar pits are formed by petroleum deposits buried below the surface of the Los Angeles Basin seeping to the surface, so they're not really "tar" pits at all, but more like asphalt. Some of the species found in the Pits are mammoths, mastodons, dire wolves, short-faced bears, saber-toothed tigers, and even camels. I had no idea there used to be camels running around North America.

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American mastodon

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Columbian mammoth

The La Brea Tar Pits can be seen at the Page Museum, which houses a vast collection of the excavated fossils. There's an interesting film shown in their theater and a nice atrium and pond at the center of the museum. We especially enjoyed the atrium because school groups are not allowed out there. The rest of the museum was full of kids, but out in the atrium it was peaceful.

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Tortugas, our favorite

12:30 p.m. For one last Mexican meal before three weeks of privation, J.J. drove us to Casa Vega in the San Fernando Valley. It was fabulous!!! The chile relleno was just right, the enchiladas melted in my mouth, and the salsa was superb. Highly, highly recommended.

After lunch we stopped back by Joe and Alice's to pick up our luggage, and then we went to Santa Monica Pier. It's strange to see people playing in the surf in the U.S. in the middle of February, but it was sunny and 80-some degrees, so why not?

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Santa Monica Beach

There was heavy traffic from Santa Monica to LAX, but probably not any worse than usual. J.J. got us there right at our target time of 4:45 p.m., three hours before our flight was to leave, just as Air New Zealand suggested. ANZ's info said to allow two hours for international flights plus an hour extra if you're flying out of LAX. Other than the bad timing of getting in line behind the Team Fiji rugby team, who had enough luggage to travel for a year, checking in was a breeze. ANZ was fast and efficient in checking in the Fiji folks, and we could easily have arrived at the airport much later and been fine, but you never know.

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Cousin J.J., Santa Monica Pier

At 7:45 p.m. we were off! Our seatmate, Seb (Sebastian), had boarded the flight in London and had already enjoyed ten hours cooped up in the plane before we joined him for the last 13 hours to Auckland. Talk about a glutton for punishment. I guess he wanted to get it over with in one fell swoop. When we figured it up, by the time we added together our flights from Knoxville all the way to Melbourne, not counting layovers, Tom and I were flying just as long. Yikes!

Our aircraft for this flight was a newly refitted 747-400 with on-demand video at each seat. It was as comfortable as one could possibly expect from steerage class (euphemistically called "Pacific class" by ANZ). The food was good and the flight attendants were friendly. The service on foreign airlines is so much better than on the U.S. carriers. I spent as much of the flight as possible asleep, and otherwise read, watched travel documentaries on the on-demand entertainment, and listened to my MP3 player. It wasn't too bad.

Due to crossing the International Date Line, we were going to miss Valentine's Day almost altogether. Was this a very sly plot, I wondered, orchestrated by my husband? Then just before we crossed the Line, Tom gave me a Valentine's Day card. What a sweetie!

 

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