The familiar scenery of south-western Victoria unfolds along the drive home from the airport.
Green grass, cows in paddocks, rolling hills. Gum trees line the road and the early autumn sunshine filters through them.
It’s all so beautiful and so normal and I find it jarring that I find it comforting in some way, because I didn’t want to come home in the first place.
Silent tears roll down my cheek.
If anyone notices, I’ll just let them assume it’s because I’m tired or I’m happy to be back.
As we roll into the driveway, I see that my maple trees have their first full autumn colour. They really are beautiful.
My dog runs to meet me. She is beside herself with happiness. Her tail is wagging so hard that she can’t control the rest of her body.
As I unpack my bags, she follows me everywhere. She’s probably making sure that things come out of the suitcase and nothing goes back in.
When I sit down, she is my my side, seeking contact and cuddles and my hand on her head. Then she settles down, puts her head on my foot and goes to sleep.
It’s the first time I am happy to be home.
It had to happen.
Sooner or later, on one of our short changeover schedules, we were going to miss a flight.
I had a sinking feeling at 5am when the Captain announced that we had made excellent time but that air traffic control were not going to allow us to land until 6.20am.
That was going to make our connection schedule very tight. We had less than 40 minutes to get through immigration, collect our bags, clear Australian Customs and get from Sydney’s International Terminal across to the Domestic Terminal – a ten minute bus ride – clear security again, and get to the gate for our flight to Melbourne.
Naturally, that didn’t happen.
Customs was not so bad because I declared that I was carrying medications and nuts.
I’ve discovered you get through much faster if you declare something than if you don’t, because you get sorted into different lines than everyone else. It’s worth buying a bag of peanuts or cashews at the airport just before you fly, even if you have no intention of eating them.
I made it through Customs faster than my companions, but we were never going to complete the rest of the process in time.
Virgin Australia switched us onto the next flight at no extra charge, but there was no guarantee that all of our baggage would arrive at the same time as us because my bag had already been transferred through.
As we were leaving the plane, I looked out the window and saw my shiny red suitcase on the cart. That was a very happy moment indeed.
We collected our bags for the last time, piled them up, and hoped like crazy that my brother-in-law was bringing our Jeep to collect us.
It’s stupid o’clock in the morning and I’m having trouble sleeping even though I’ve been asleep and would desperately like to have stayed that way.
It doesn’t help that I am missing certain people terribly, to the point where the tears won’t stop.
Argh. At least it’s darkened down in the cabin and nobody knows I’m sitting here being a blubbering sook.
There has been a bit of turbulence but nothing major. Just like a carnival ride, really.
The kids on the flight are all asleep. There are four or five of them in my immediate area, but they have been really well behaved. I’m grateful.
I’m colder on this flight than I have been on any other flight. That might be my degree of tiredness, or it could be my pain levels kicking my butt. What I do know is that I am feeling rather miserable right now.
9.45pm LA time.
This is it. I’m on the plane and contemplating my second-last flight for this holiday.
This is my flight back to Australia.
I’m feeling quite heartbroken. I don’t want the magic to end.
I don’t want to go home.
I don’t want to go back to routine, to getting up for work, to teaching classes and grading essays and attending staff meetings.
That all seems so far away. So long ago.
But how do I tell my husband that? He’s sitting right beside me and I know he has seen the tears but he hasn’t asked or said anything.
He’s keen to get home. He’s had enough of travelling for now.
Something within me has changed over these past four weeks. I can’t define what it is that has changed, but I do know I have left a few large chunks of my heart behind.
Before we set out I knew that I would love Canada – I already did – but I wasn’t sure how I would feel about the USA.
I can say quite confidently now that while my love for Canada is stronger than ever, I do love the USA, and definitely want to visit again. Almost every place we visited captured my imagination and my heart in some way.
I might skip Chicago next time, though.
There are any number of places to eat along Hollywood Blvd.
We went into one place that looked great after looking at the menu outside, but we couldn’t stay there because the music was so loud I couldn’t stand it.
We quickly chose to go to the Hard Rock Cafe partly because it’s iconic, partly because we know the food is good, and partly because every time I see the sign, Carole King tells me to.
Our experience there wasn’t quite as outstanding as it was at Hard Rock Niagara Falls, but it was still pretty darned good. Delicious food, fantastic music, and good, quick service.
There are many buskers and street performers working the blocks closest to the Chinese Theatre.
Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s free entertainment.
It’s really not.
Some of them are really quite pushy and slightly deceptive – they will offer something like a CD and say all you need to do is like their Facebook page, but then they want to be tipped and insist on at least ten dollars.
Others offer photographs with celebrity lookalikes or costumed characters. These were not anywhere near as pushy and were happy with one or two dollars each for a photo opportunity.
The worst one I encountered was dressed as a space princess with pink hair, who practically ran up to me and asked for a hug. She was trying to hug me before I could say no.
Whoa! Lady! Out of my personal space, please. Totally out of line.
I managed to take a couple of steps back and say, “Sorry, I don’t do hugs!” and almost ran away. Ugh.
That was really awkward.
A walk along the Walk of Fame was quite an experience for me. The sidewalk stars along Hollywood Blvd reminded me of actors, singers and personalities I have loved over the years.
It was exciting to take pictures of their sidewalk stars and I enjoyed the memories that came flooding back as I did.
Of course, there were plenty of stars that I saw in the pavement and thought “ahuh”, too. I fully understand why they have been awarded sidewalk stars, but they are just not as important to me as others. That’s how music, film and TV work, though: they appeal to different people in different ways.
I didn’t get to all the sidewalk stars. I walked down one side of the street from Pantages Theatre to the Chinese Theatre, where the hand and footprints of celebrities are imprinted in the cement.
I had the same reaction there. There were some that I was keen to photograph and others that didn’t interest me at all.
Sid Grauman’s idea of immortalising celebrities with their hand and foot prints was genius. He understood that it was a permanent way of preserving the memories of those who would not always be with us. His memory is preserved too, in the personal messages written to him in the cement by those same stars of Hollywood.
I found it impossible to leave there without a strong sense of history and respect, but at the same time really enjoyed the fun of it all.
The banners advertising shows at Pantages Theatre tugged at my heart strings as we toured around Hollywood. Having some experience of my own in both performing and directing amateur musical theatre, I had heard of Pantages and was keen for a chance to visit.
Pantages Theatre is one of the icons of musical theatre in LA.
The exterior is gorgeous Art Deco architecture, with a commanding sign in lights that immediately draws one’s attention.
The lobby and box office are ornate and elegant. The Art Deco ceiling and it’s done have been beautifully preserved. This looks exactly like an historically famous house of musical theatre should.
The tall, rich wooden doors into the theatre beckoned, but the theatre itself was not open to tourists, so
I didn’t get a chance to see inside the theatre. That was disappointing, but it’s quite understandable that they are not going to turn all the lights on every day or disrupt rehearsals on the off chance someone wants to look around.
If we had more time in our schedule, I would have loved to see a show there.
Maybe next time.
By far the easiest way to get around Los Angeles and see the sights in it’s different areas is by using these buses.
Using cabs will cost you bucket loads of money and it’s all really too far to walk.
Different tours of the various parts of the city are colour coded so it’s easy to plan your activities for the day. The stops where these tours interconnect are clearly marked on the tour maps and announced as you go, so that you can always find your way back to your original starting point if you need to.
Each coloured route takes about 2 hours if you just ride the bus and don’t get off to explore or shop.
The ticket office is outside the Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Blvd, right on the Walk of Fame near Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre where the hand and footprints of many celebrities are preserved in the cement.
We booked our tickets through our travel agent, which meant that we could get on the bus and start our tour at the stop nearest our hotel instead of having to get up to Hollywood Blvd to begin with.
We did the “red tour” which took us through West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, the shopping precincts of Rodeo Drive and Melrose Drive, and the iconic Hollywood areas of Sunset Blvd and Hollywood Blvd.
The tour provides you with a set of earbuds for the recorded commentary that explains the different locations and their significance, and highlights points of interest. It struck me as both odd and refreshing that this commentary is recorded entirely with a British accent.
There was lots to see and myriad opportunities for photos from the open-air top of the double-decker bus. It’s a good idea to wear a hat up there though, especially if you sunburn easily or if you have any hairstyle other than a #2 shave, as it does get pretty windy up there.
The seats up on top of the bus are quite slippery, especially when going around corners, so It’s a good idea to wear jeans or other clothing that is less likely to slip around on the plastic seats.
If you have mobility issues and find it difficult or impossible to climb tight stairs, you can still enjoy the tour from the lower deck of the bus. The windows are big, and although you probably won’t get the same opportunities for photos, the tours are still well worth doing.
I’ve often joked that I would like to buy a pub, name it ‘The Gym’ and post regularly on Facebook that I was working hard at the Gym.
The guy who owns the Gym Sportsbar on Santa Monica Blvd in West Hollywood has done exactly that. It’s genius, really.
‘Happy hour’ is from 4 til 8 each day, and most drinks are 2 for 1.
You can enjoy your drink and watch your choice of sports, or play darts, or just chat with the other patrons.
The locals and staff are all really friendly, and by the second time there we felt almost like locals.
It’s actually really nice to see that the guys who work at this bar get along really well and choose to hang out there and play darts or watch sports even when they aren’t actually working.
When you get hungry, Five Guys is right next door and they gladly and frequently deliver. Those burgers are really, really good: not greasy at all and the salad was super fresh.
When visiting the Hollywood area, lots of people like to go to the bars, clubs and restaurants frequented by the rich and famous in the hope of seeing or meeting celebrities.
If, like me, that’s not your style, The Gym Sportsbar is a pretty cool place to spend some time and enjoy getting to know some of the West Hollywood community.