Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: Planes, Trains & Automobiles (2011/12)

All aboard for 2012!

I implore my fellow-Britons: Please,
Desist from saying 'Los Angeleeze'!
Those angels would smile on an annus mirabilis
If only you'd try to say simply 'Los Angeles'.

Downtown Los Angeles

I seem to remember waking up some time after 8am. It was obvious from even a cursory glance that it was a beautiful, clear, sunny morning with eerily deserted streets down below. We bought a light breakfast from a coffee shop in the lobby, got ourselves organised and set out on the short walk to Pershing Square to join a walking tour that we had pre-booked with the Los Angeles Conservancy, a non-profit organisation set up to recognise, preserve and revitalise LA's historic architecture. Despite these noble aims, we both thought that we might be the only two people booked on the tour. We couldn't have been more wrong: numerous tours were on offer and our Historic Downtown tour alone had enough bookings to justify three separate groups! There were two other international members of our group - by coincidence, a young couple from Glasgow.

We spent the next two-and-a-half hours on an easy and comfortable walk around the Historic Downtown area, in gloriously warm and sunny conditions. Buildings visited included the City National Bank, the Pacific Center, the Biltmore Hotel, the Central Library, One Bunker Hill, the Bradbury Building, the Million Dollar Theatre and Grand Central Market. We learned the differences between the Beaux-Arts and Art Deco styles and the history of the area was brought to life by our guide. We were also lucky enough to be able to visit the interior of a few of these landmark buildings. We even discovered the location of part of LA's original and long-abandoned subway.

This thoroughly enjoyable and highly recommended walking tour ended across the street from the Angels Flight Railway, a funicular that claims to be - and probably is - the shortest railway in the world. Opened in 1901 when Bunker Hill was one of the most fashionable neighbourhoods in LA, it closed in 1969. It was restored and moved a half-block south to its present location in 1996. As this was its 110th anniversary, the normal fare of 25c (itself a bargain) was reduced to 1c - clearly a ride was essential!

We made the exceptionally short ascent after taking a few photos and found that some kind of skateboarding event was in progress in the plaza area at the top. We took another short walk and saw the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Museum of Contemporary Art before heading back downhill, this time without mechanical assistance, towards W 7th Street.

ABOVE: Our walking tour ended near the Angels Flight funicular
By this time, having been on our feet for several hours, we were in no doubt whatever that we had earned something nice to eat, so it was particularly gratifying that Bruce's recommendation of Wokcano, a chic Asian Fusion restaurant, turned out to be superb. We shared some crabmeat and cream cheese wontons to begin with and my main course was Peking Duck wraps.

We walked back to the Westin Bonaventure feeling well satisfied. The picture-taking wasn't over yet: I couldn't resist recording a few more memories along the way and we both took the opportunity to get some photos of the hotel upon our return.

It then seemed like a good idea to rest for a bit before the next phase of the trip got underway around 4pm, in a pattern repeating that of the previous day. As I chilled out back in the room and relived the morning's events, I couldn't help recalling my first visit to Los Angeles in 1985. I clearly remembered reading that LA was unlike any other city in that it was simply a vast urban sprawl with no recognisable centre. What nonsense! Of course in those days, the downtown area was run down and definitely not tourist-friendly, but that struck me as poor justification for denying its existence. The sprawl clearly had to have started from somewhere and I felt very happy to have experienced something of the modern renaissance of Downtown Los Angeles.


The Southwest Chief

    I sent some Happy New Year text messages at 4pm, which was equivalent to midnight in the UK; we then checked out at 4:15 and took a taxi to Union Station. As previously, the first task was to check in my suitcase, after which we treated ourselves to a cocktail in Traxx bar. There were some real, erm, 'characters' in there! Boarding was announced far too close to the scheduled departure time for my liking: by the time we made our way to Track 12, located car 430, checked in with the car attendant and got settled into our compartment, the train was already pulling out of the station! Our Superliner Bedroom had a full-width 'sofa' running along one of the cabin walls and opposite this was a single reclining seat. The 'sofa' converted into a bed and above it, a second bunk bed could be folded down from the ceiling. 

An excellent feature was that we had our own private toilet compartment, complete with sink and shower - more of this tomorrow! The attendant made a 'welcome' announcement, which was noteworthy in that it involved an astonishing litany of highly prescriptive and somewhat paternalistic instructions about how things got done on board. While I'm sure that much of it would have been written by Amtrak, there were at least a couple of references along the lines of: "... and on my train, that means ..."! We made a dinner reservation for 8:30pm and, once the tickets had been checked, went to the sight-seeing car for cocktails. Of course at this time of night there was no sight-seeing to be had as such, but at least it was possible to see outside with the low level of internal lighting. We returned to our cabin for a while before being called for dinner.


We had an enjoyable dinner, sharing the table with a couple. I had a steak for my main course. Bruce had assured me that Amtrak had a good reputation for these and, sure enough, it was cooked exactly to my specification and tasted just right. Given the constraints of preparing and serving food on board a moving train, I was suitably impressed. We then returned to the café car, bought a glass of whisky each as a nightcap and drank these in the sight-seeing car. It seemed an appropriately Scottish thing to do on New Year's Eve.

It was 10:45pm and there was absolutely no sign of life in any of the public cars, let alone any kind of New Year celebration getting started. Almost everybody appeared to be in bed. We returned to our own compartment and found that the attendant had already made it up for sleeping. I took the top bunk and so had to climb up the ladder, taking care not to bump my head against the ceiling. I settled down, fastened the safety strap that was designed to prevent me from rolling out of bed, and was asleep in less than five minutes, happy to leave the transition into 2012 to take care of itself.


Saturday 31 Dec

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