USA and Canada trip, Summer 2023: Week 5
- Alhambra, CA and Los Angeles, CA
- Los Angeles, CA to Seattle, WA (Amtrak): 1545km
I can’t remember exactly what I expected Los Angeles to be like (note to self: jot down your thoughts beforehand) but it wasn’t like this. It’s less built-up, just more… suburban. And spread over such a wide area. They’re trying hard to bring public transport up to minimally adequate standards for a city of this size, but for now, quite a few Uber trips are necessary.
I can’t join in with the Oppenheimer and Barbie movie double bill, because I’ve committed to seeing Barbie next week. But I rush to see Oppenheimer, which turns out to offer the double-hit of featuring both my home town (Cambridge) and the place where I am (Pasadena). That’s amusing enough, but the next day while sitting on the LA Metro listening to a review of Barbie on a podcast, it says that in the movie, the first place the dolls head to in the real world is Venice Beach. And I am of course heading to… Venice Beach. Presumably that sort of filmic coincidence is probably pretty commonplace in LA.
I did expect Santa Monica and Venice Beach to be a bit more glamorous and a bit less Benidorm. However, it’s still a fun excursion and a good walk along the beach for a couple of hours. There are a few people out posing, but the main activity here seems to be hawking stuff to visitors.
What else is there to see? Lots, of course. LA has surprisingly few landmarks, which is why those that do exist become so well known. The Griffith Observatory features in movies from Rebel Without A Cause to La La Land. Its views over the city are spectacular, and when we visit, they open the famous telescope itself early, giving us a chance to see it up close.
The temperature is still swelteringly hot. One plan for this week had been to fly down to Phoenix to see Ipswich Town’s “twin team” Phoenix Rising in an act of super-fan daftness, but it’s 46C/115°F in Arizona, and that’s beyond me. Instead I notice that Real Madrid are playing AC Milan here in LA, one of a series of bizarre summer friendly matches which drags some of the best teams in Europe thousands of miles from home just for, well, lots of money.
The match is at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, one of the most famous venues in the USA. Over 70,000 (mainly Latin-American) soccer fans gather for a rare opportunity to see these famous players in real life. I’ve never experienced such excitement at a match. It’s like The Beatles at Shea Stadium without the screaming. Or even chanting, come to think of it. The fans don’t really seem to know how to be a football crowd. It’s fascinating.
After a week in LA, it’s time to leave. Ceri has been a wonderful host, as were Andy and Ann in San Francisco, and I probably couldn’t have done this trip without their generous hospitality. I’m booked on the 9.50am Coast Starlight train from LA up to Seattle, which is the second longest of my rail journeys.
This turns out to be another remarkable trip. The first day (especially the three or four hours either side of lunchtime) is up there for scenery with the amazing day a fortnight before, travelling between Denver and Salt Lake City.
The railway runs alongside the coast for many miles, and by that I mean right alongside the coast. In places there’s nothing between the tracks and the beach!
Eventually the route turns inland and reaches the San Francisco area mid-evening. Then overnight, we head north out of California into Oregon, by which time we’re into spectacular forests and mountains. I’m getting used to sleeping on trains now, and probably get my best night’s rest yet.
In the morning for a while, it seems like fog has descended and visibility falls dramatically, but this isn’t fog: it’s smoke from forest fires.
After two days and a night on the Coast Starlight, and having met yet another great bunch of people, the train pulls into King Street station in Seattle. Having been to this brilliant city a couple of times before, I’m not staying long. After 4 weeks and 13 states of the USA, it’s off to Canada!