To make amends for the all-night packing marathon, I conked out promptly on the flight to LA while Liz took a little longer to fall asleep. Our flight connected through PHX and was pushed back an hour or so: a welcome delay that allowed us to feast on breakfast sandwiches and get in touch with our fantastic friend Ben who we’d be staying with (along with a couple other awesome friends, Ashley and Alex).
After arriving to LAX we took a convenient express bus downtown for $7 and Ben and Ashley met us at LA’s Union Station (the startlingly elegant waiting hall is pictured above, along with its almost entirely occupied plush leather chairs). A quick Red Line metro took us to the Hollywood and Highland stop, then a swift walk west along Hollywood Boulevard (yes, that Hollywood Boulevard) and a brief jaunt south led us to Chez Ben, also dubbed our personal Air Ben-nb.
Friday evening saw us head out for tasty Thai to Toi (our final American Thai meal?!), followed by drinks at Chateau Marmont’s lounge bar, then wrapped up the festivities with splendid beers at the Surly Goat.
Much of Saturday morning was spent recuperating from the previous evening’s revelry: apparently moderate drinking, sleep deprivation and jet lag don’t mix well. Eventually we all collected enough energy to drag ourselves to Ben’s car and he drove us west along Sunset to Will Rogers Beach… where we promptly collapsed again, happy to have fended off motion sickness in the car. A few hours and lots of Vitamin D later, group consensus settled on plans for the night: tacos and a movie! Ben had the taco stand picked out — Cactus Tacos #6 — and after some discussion we agreed to see the newly opened Gravity.
All of the late showings at our first choice of theaters, the Arclight Hollywood, were almost completely booked, so we opted for Ben’s historic alternative suggestion: the Vista Theatre in Los Feliz. On our way back from the beach we picked up tickets for the 9:40pm showing, then made a beeline for Cactus Tacos. Lured in by the $1.50 price and my famished stomach, I made an ill-fated decision to order practically two of everything: chorizo, pastor, and carnitas, though in a moment of sanity of I opted for just a single fish taco. I’ve never felt so sated yet concerned about OD’ing on tacos. Luckily Liz and I split a medium horchata, a sweet milky icy beverage, and it helped comfort my stomach in its gluttonous agony. Fortunately we had a couple hours before the movie, so my food happily digested and my friends and fellow movie-goers were spared any further intestinal carnage. As for the movie… it was awesome. Certain scenes were overwrought (ahem Ms. Bullock) and it was occasionally tough to sympathize with some of her perplexing goofs, but on the whole it was a riveting ride with amazing special effects. The Vista Theater itself was great as well: decked out with Egyptian art deco splendor, yet it featured a gorgeous 4K screen seats and mega wide aisles roomy enough to stretch your legs and still allow people to pass by unimpeded.
Sunday’s activity was urban, athletic, scenic, and delicious all at once: the semi-annual CicLAvia, a massive collective bike ride through downtown LA and into nearby neighborhoods, with practically every part of the route lined with food trucks, food stands or local restaurants eager to welcome us in. We rented beach cruisers from the exceptionally friendly Downtown LA bike shop and hopped on Spring Street around 10:30am. After burning of a few calories on our way to the Boylan Heights event hub, I couldn’t resist diving into a staple of the LA street food scene: a $3 bacon-wrapped hot dog piled high with caramelized onions, peppers, ketchup and mustard. Its luster faded about halfway through but I powered on in the interest of science. Then, having already forgotten my wanton consumption of them the night before, I opted for a single $1.50 pollo taco (“with everything” = cilantro, onions, radishes, cucumbers) from a food vendor in a netted tent and its deliciousness brought back delightful memories of El Chilango, our favorite food truck in Arlington.
(Apologies for the lack of more tourist-y Hollywood/LA photos: Ben has graciously hosted us a few times and we’ve crossed most of those off on previous visits. But my bad for not snagging more pics of the tasty ‘dog and tacos! Duly noted for the more exotic cuisine soon to feature in these pages.)
Before I could embark on a total taco bender, Liz pulled me aside and shared some of her mixed fruit salad she’d just picked up: freshly diced mango and pineapple with a perfect sprinkling of salt and chili powder. It was pleasantly refreshing enough to distract me from my taco quest and our group was able to resume our cyclical explorations. The weather was gorgeous but just so toasty that we realized we needed to quench our thirst quickly: Ben had the perfect suggestion of Wurstkuche, a gourmet sausage and beer garden in the Arts District. Alex and I started with modest half-liter pints but upgraded to one size up once we spotted gigantic liter mugs. For patiently waiting on us and our successively sillier antics: thanks, friends!
The rest of Sunday was spent reclining on Ben’s couch hoping we hadn’t gotten sunburned, helping Ashley pack for her redeye flight back to DC and alternatingly cheering/yelling at the TV in hopes that fantasy football players would respond appropriately. (It worked.)
Monday and Tuesday were fairly uneventful, and as jumbled as this list: delicious Mexican at the history-packed El Cholo, more packing and repacking, Fatburger decadence, errand running, noodles and rice at tasty Chibiscus, $5 yoga in Runyon Park, a painfully long but ultimately successful quest for cheap 2x2 passport photos (Kinkos: thank you; CVS on Hollywood: screw you).
Late Tuesday evening Ben earned yet another sterling rating for Air Ben-nb by kindly shuttling us to LAX. A few hugs later, Ben left and we rearranged our backpacks a bit more inside terminal B — connecting buckles, tucking straps into assorted pockets, unfurling and attaching each bag’s rainfly to protect little odds and ends from getting devoured by ruthless baggage handling equipment. We presented our shiny new passports to the EVA Air check-in desk and jumped through a couple easy hoops: providing the original credit card used to book the flights, along with proof of onward travel out of Hong Kong to Bangkok, next Monday, October 14. (Quick aside: this onward travel business may be a little tricky to manage at times but we think we’ve got it mostly figured out.) As we finished the check-in process, passed through security, wandered through the posh new Bradley International Terminal (imagine a joint Vegas-Beijing airport), waited at our gate and boarded the EVA plane, one thing became more and more clear: we’re definitely minorities now.
We’re actually on the EVA flight at the moment: a near eternal 14 hour flight (hence this voluminous post) that started off with some rather disconcerting turbulence over the Pacfic but has since settled into a comfy voyage with the best in-flight entertainment system I’ve experienced, entirely attentive flight attendants with near constant water and juice, and bathrooms stocked with several kinds of moisturizers and lotions. Perhaps the best part? On a whim I selected the seafood meal option when we purchased our flights: I received my meal ahead of time, and was offered a remarkably fresh and crip Taiwan beer.
Now, time to wrap up and settle on our brief 7-hour Taipei itinerary: Taipei 101, the Democracy Memorial, and at least a couple noodle shops. We land at 6am and our flight to Hong Kong leaves at 6pm.
This post brought to you from the other side of the International Date Line.