A Travellerspoint blog

Rosy Outlook in Pasadena

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L.A. is a mosaic, and Pasadena is one lovely, rosy piece in the larger picture. Here, classic suburbia meets classic Southern California. The old, mission-style buildings, the San Gabriel Valley, the grand homes and the famous flowers for which the city is so well-known all add up to one amazing scene northeast of the city of Los Angeles.

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I was excited to check out Old Town Pasadena, where Colorado Blvd is particularly well-known for its shops. You will find a number of typical retailers, but there also are some good eateries, stores and coffee shops that are local to the area. Close by on Raymond Ave, I had a great time browsing Distant Lands, a store made for travelers, filled with travelogues, guidebooks, and other necessities for going on the road. Also, I had the most amazing omelette filled with apples, cinnamon and cheese at Aux Delices French Bakery & Cafe.

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Just a few blocks east lies Paseo Colorado, which is basically an extension of the Old Town shops except slightly more up-scale. There is one spot here that I highly recommend checking out: the Pasadena Antique Mall. If you are interested in history and turn-of-the-century memorabilia, you will get a kick out of it. When I reached the back of the store, I was amazed to see costume jewelry and other props of famous old Hollywood stars and more recent TV shows and movies. (Actually, if you find an antique store in Los Angeles, it is probably a good idea to check it out for this very reason: close proximity to Hollywood means more likely chances of getting to see unique pieces from the silver screen up close.)

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Speaking of relics, I also spent some time at the Norton Simon Museum, where I particularly admired the extensive downstairs collection of Asian art and the lovely outdoors sculpture garden (which had some Henry Moore pieces, by the way). Whenever I travel, I love to check out art museums, and the pieces often inspire me, as they did today. Afterwards (and especially on this day), I feel ready to go home and read more about eastern philosophy and abstract art.

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I kept walking westward along Colorado Blvd and signs kept pointing the way to the Rose Bowl, so I figured why not go see the famed structure up close. I ended up walking north along Orange Grove Blvd and then turned left onto the residential street Rosemont. It was a great route because I got to admire the large, distinctive houses, dense trees, and of course, the roses, along the way. When I reached the end of the road at the open field, I saw the Rose Bowl straight ahead, perfectly positioned with the mountains in the background. It is one thing to see the stadium on TV during the college football game playoffs, but it is a surreal experience to view it up close.

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After a wonderful, casual afternoon of wandering around the beautiful town, I left with rosy cheeks and feeling renewed from the fresh perspective. While I am in L.A. right now, I am revisiting a few long-time favorite spots, but I also am focusing on exploring new areas where I have never visited. I did visit Pasadena a long time ago, but it was nice on this day to see even more of it. More adventures to come in other areas of L.A. during the rest of the summer!

Posted by rachwells 23:22 Comments (2)

Seeking Enlightenment in Silver Lake

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While I am in L.A., I am exploring various parts of the city and doing a lot of soul searching. I don't know what I am looking for, but sometimes, I stumble upon something pretty amazing and unexpected, which is my very favorite part of traveling. I thought I would find tons of funky restaurants and tucked away vintage clothing stores as I walked north along Silver Lake Blvd from the Vermont Ave/Beverly Blvd Metro station.

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Actually, the road is mostly residential, although I had a nice pit stop at LAMILL Coffee, a coffee shop located a block or so before you reach the reservoir. When I got to the lake itself, I walked along the eastern edge and found refuge in Silver Lake Meadow, "a quiet place," according to the sign on the gate leading to the large open lawn. I was there around 1:00 p.m. on a Tuesday, and it was indeed a pleasant oasis within the big, busy city of L.A.

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The reservoir is surrounded by a black fence with barbed wire, so there is no activity in the glistening water itself except for a few ducks on a string of buoys. Yes, the fortress is a bit of an eyesore, but if you look at the surrounding trail, the mountains in the background, the palm trees and the lovely water, it is a strangely amazing spot. The song "Somewhere Only We Know" by Keane came to my mind as I admired my surroundings. I sat down on the grass for half an hour and tried to focus my often wandering mind solely to the beautiful present moment.

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Okay, my mind still jumped among a few random thoughts, but it was good to try practicing awareness. Sometimes, I have a bad habit of rushing from one place to the next one, without taking time to enjoy what is right in front of me. I realized in this moment that I need to slow down and take notice of what is right in front of me, even if it is not part of my original itinerary. Sometimes a detour unexpectedly points you into the right direction, and I am glad it did on this day.

Posted by rachwells 00:53 Comments (0)

Time Travel Supplies in Echo Park

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Are you planning ahead in order to be Y3K compliant? Or do you need to pick up a few things to get ready to visit the distant past? Pick up your disguises, armour, cures & remedies and toiletries at the Time Travel Mart near Echo Park. Yes, the store is as glorious as it sounds, and even better: it is all for a great cause. The Time Travel Mart is the front-end of 826LA, a non-profit writing and tutoring center. Proceeds from the mart go back into 826LA's programming. Oh, and you can purchase students' writing in the mart as well. Honestly, this place is a great excuse to explore Echo Park.

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After you have replenished your supplies, take a stroll along Sunset Blvd and check out the other nearby shops. Echo Park as a neighborhood exudes cool - the vintage stores, the fashion, the eateries. And when I walked down to Echo Park Lake, I literally uttered "Wow!" as soon as I saw the downtown skyline, the dozens of palm trees, the water and the row boats - all these elements combined into one amazing site. I sat down on a park bench with a prime view of the scenic outlook, and I just marveled at it all. It was fun to enjoy the view, watch the row boats and think about nothing except the present moment. Now, if only I could time travel at warped speed back to Redondo Beach, rather than sitting through the infamous L.A. traffic on the freeway or taking a 2-3 hour journey by public transit!

Posted by rachwells 00:45 Comments (0)

Lost in Los Feliz: the Long Hike to Griffith Observatory

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It All Started With Saturn
It was like it was written in the stars. Last night, while researching fun things to do in L.A., I saw on the Griffith Observatory website that they would have a special event on Friday, July 19. Apparently on this day, NASA's Cassini spacecraft was taking a photo of Saturn, and Earth would be a distant pixel in the picture. During 2:27 - 2:42 p.m. (Pacific Time), Los Angeles would be visible from Saturn, so the Observatory invited visitors to come to the front lawn to "wave at Saturn" and be part of the picture. I know, I know, technically all of us on the planet Earth are "Hollywood extras" in the immensely vast background of an image taken from space of a distant planet in our solar system. Nonetheless, it was perfect timing, and I was happy to have an excuse to visit the Griffith Observatory, which I long wanted to visit.

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Today, when I reached the Vermont/Sunset Metro station after one bus and two train rides, I found out that the Observatory Shuttle bus only runs on weekends. Oops. My heart sank for a second, but of course, I was in Hollywood, so I knew there was plenty else to do in the area. Just one slight issue: I have not spent much time in either Hollywood or especially Los Feliz. At first, I hopped on a DASH bus which runs through Los Feliz because the driver said that the line would stop across the street from the road to the Observatory. After about 20 minutes, I realized that we had reached the same intersection where I first boarded, and I felt confused. The Observatory still looked like a loooong way up in the hills from anywhere that the bus stopped along the route. I decided to disembark and explore Los Feliz since I had just gotten a mini tour of the vicinity. Still a good way to spend the afternoon.

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Good Luck in Los Feliz
Located just east of Hollywood, Los Feliz is a neighborhood of the city of Los Angeles. I visited the area once years ago when my college class went to see the movie Good Night and Good Luck. The one-time visit made an impression on me, and I always wanted to go back, but I never quite made it to that part of town again over the years. Until now.

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Walking along Vermont Ave, I found (by pure accident) that exact movie theater and the next door Skylight book store, where I had visited with my classmates years ago. I really recommend the bookstore, by the way. To the left of the register, I found the t-shirt section, which had emblems of classic literature - many of which are my favorites - such as Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Too many good choices, but I finally settled on George Orwell's 1984, which appropriately had the eye of Big Brother near the collar.

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After having a wonderful chicken souvlaki at the nearby El Greco Cafe, I felt rejuvenated and decided to keep exploring the area, even though I thought there was no chance I'd make it to the Observatory. But then I reached Los Feliz Blvd and the entrance to Griffith Park soon after that. And then I hiked past the Greek Theatre and up the winding road, following the signs pointing the way to the Observatory. I kept debating if I ought to turn back, but I kept going, not only because the scenic views kept getting more spectacular, but also, I decided that I had already come so close, too close to just give up. I'm glad I persisted despite the heat. That said, I don't necessarily recommend hiking up to the Observatory, even though it was kind of awesome. The sidewalk disappears along certain stretches of the winding road, which is not the safest thing for pedestrians.

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Observing L.A.
I could not believe it when I reached the top and saw the Observatory, especially when I thought back to how high up it seemed when I first saw it from the corner of Vermont Ave and Hollywood Blvd. I missed the "waving at Saturn" photo-op on the front lawn by only 20 minutes, but that's okay, technically I was in Griffith Park on my way up while it happened, so it sort of counts that I was "there", right? It was still well worth the trip. The views of the Hollywood sign and downtown Los Angeles are truly out of this world. Yes, there is smog in the air, which partially hazes the view of downtown L.A.

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Of course, I took tons of photos, including of the statue dedicated to James Dean, memorializing his famous role in the movie Rebel Without a Cause, which prominently features Griffith Observatory. Yes, you can see the Hollywood Sign in the mountains as you look at James. All of the exhibits inside the building are colorful, informative and very crowded with families and school groups.

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I learned a lot about the history of Griffith Park and the Observatory, and I found an unforgettable life experience when I least expected it. I will always remember feeling on top of the world overlooking a beautiful city from an observation deck that marvels at places beyond our own skies.

Posted by rachwells 00:24 Comments (1)

Classy & Mysterious: the Queen Mary in Long Beach

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She is a historic luxury liner, a currently functioning hotel, a former war vessel, and an iconic tourist attraction. Playing so many roles over the years, the Queen Mary has seen lots of activity, including...oh yes: paranormal activity, some say. A little girl named Jackie, a boy in a sailor suit, a lady in a white dress - they each make appearances in various areas of the ship, according to alleged sightings by some staff and guests. There one minute, and then vanished. Are these supposed spirits still living out the glory days of this renowned ship?

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I vaguely had heard of the Queen Mary, but I did not know anything about her complex history until recently. When I glanced at a promotional pamphlet about the ship, the story definitely peaked my interest. From her first voyage in 1936, the Queen Mary was considered the premiere way to travel, hosting royalty, celebrities and politicians. The luxurious cruiser was then turned into a troopship during World War II. The Queen Mary retired from sea voyage in 1967 and has been a mainstay in Long Beach, California ever since then. These days, the ship hosts special events, displays memorabilia from its 70+ year history, allows guests to check in overnight, and attracts paranormal activity experts who study the tales of unexplained phenomenon occurring on the ship over the years.

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When I visited the ship the other day, I was very impressed by its beauty and historic elegance. The details are exquisite, and I think this would be a neat location to have a very classy event. Apparently, the ship hosts weddings and meetings - also, there are shopping boutiques, a spa, a fitness center and fine-dining. Looking around the dock of the ship and the Promenade deck, you would not sense anything out of the ordinary if you knew nothing of the ship's alleged haunted history. But then you read a sign next to the Queen's Salon about the alleged sighting of a woman in white, or perhaps you hear a staff member recount a co-worker's strange encounter, and then you realize that there is much more about the ship to explore below deck.

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I took two ghost-related tours of the ship. First, the Ghosts & Legends tour, which is a half-hour long show. Key word "show". It is very theatrical. The show reminded me of a combination of the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland and the Tower of Terror at the next-door California Adventure, except that the Queen Mary is the real deal. The ship was voted one of the Top 10 Most Haunted Places in America in TIME Magazine, so it does not necessarily need extra bells & whistles in the form of loud, dissonant sound effects and professional stage lighting. If you are willing to have a sense of humor about it, the Ghosts & Legends show is cheesy, but entertaining and informative. It is a good way to start your day on the ship, and then you can decide from there if you want to take an additional tour or look around a certain part of the ship on your own (obviously not all areas of the ship are self-guided, or even open to the public).

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In the one-hour long Haunted Encounters tour, you go to some of the same places as the Ghosts & Legends show, but you get more time to look around and take photos at the sites, which I liked. At the First Class Swimming Pool, there have been reported sightings of women in 1930s swimsuits and wet footprints leading to the changing rooms.

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Hotel guests can no longer stay in room B340 (see photo above), which is considered the most haunted on the ship, after reports of bed sheets flying across the room and the sink faucets randomly turning on. All of the boilers have been removed from the boiler rooms, but you still get a sense of how huge, dark, creepy and stale these massive spaces are. There have been reported sightings of a man in overalls in the engine room, the location where a young worker died in an accident many years ago.

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I did not see or sense anything out of the ordinary during either of the two daytime tours. However, some of the photos that I took, particularly of room B340, give me chills when I look back at them. Apparently, there are night-time guided tours which sound intriguing. If you just want to look around and learn a little bit about the history of the ship, then maybe consider one or a few of the daytime tours. On the other hand, if you want to experience the Queen Mary, think about staying overnight or signing up for one of the night-time tours. And oh yes, I am going to think about it.

  • **Note: I used iPhoto to lighten photos #4 and #5 in this blog post since they both came out very dark.

Posted by rachwells 22:54 Comments (0)

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