A Travellerspoint blog


Flying home

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We had a day to kill before our flight to Auckland at 2310 tonight. We checked out at 1030 and had plenty of time till our appointment with my old school friends Joanne and Jeff at a Korean restaurant in Torrance [Torrance-travel-guide-14928].

So we stopped by a Walmart along the way. Just as well we bought a big bag yesterday as there weren’t any cheap refugee/homeless bags available here for us to take our shopping back to New Zealand. Kim bought some car polish and I found some cheap Avia running shoes.

The Korean lunch (with friends) was as good as what I’m used to in Auckland. Usually my first night home is Kimchi stew (if winter), but it won’t be necessary any more. It was nice to see my old friends again.
We made our way to a nearby Ikea to look for some bathroom accessories for our upcoming bathroom renovation but that proved rather fruitless.

We thought we’d make our way back to the airport area for our last stop so we wouldn’t run into last minute traffic hassles. In that neighbourhood, we recharged ourselves at Starbucks before some last minute shopping at nearby Ross and TJ Maxx. Still more discounted goodies to be snapped up.

At around 1730 we had dinner at In-N-Out Burgers at the end of the airport runway. What an awesome spot; it was even better than the Super 8 for seeing planes overhead at nearly an arm’s reach. The burgers were good too.

We dropped Dai at the airport around 1800 for his 2130 flight. It was time to change into warmer clothes for the evening and for the flight, so we parked at our old motel to do that and also pack away our last minute purchases. Budget car rentals was handily across the road for our car return.

We shuttled to the airport getting to check-in about 4h prior to the flight. I ran into some problems checking-in at the kiosk, then at the helpdesk too. Whenever they scanned my passport, it said “Visa Required”. It appears that their staff have a dumbed-down interface on their computer and they didn’t know what the problem was.

I had to queue at another desk (more like a ticketing rather than check-in desk) and they were pretty clueless. They tried calling the NZ Immigration Helpdesk but while the call was in progress, an Asian staff member took over. All she did was corrected the order of my name and a boarding pass spat out immediately. Malaysian passports don’t split the name and surname and it is a problem for some airline systems. As American Airlines staff largely deal with domestic passengers, they didn’t have much knowledge and experience; I was lucky enough to have one person who knew what she was doing.

Once airside, we walked over to Tom Bradley international terminal and attempted to use the Korean Air lounge. While we were eligible, it was a little full and we couldn’t be admitted until nearly our flight time.

We returned to our adjacent terminal and waited till boarding time.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Exploration & shopping

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large_5550_14744242675167.jpgVenice Beach.
Today, Kim took us to Venice Beach. It was new for Dai but not for me. We were very lucky with parking near the Venice Canals which was close enough to the beach. We had a nice walk in the perfect sunshine and stopped for coffee as well.

From there, we drove northwards passing various beaches along the way until Santa Monica. We didn’t stop as the crowds, traffic and parking was a bit crazy.

Daisuke wanted to do some shopping at Citadel Outlet Centre. We had set aside today for that. It turned out to be further than we thought, taking about 50 minutes. It was a very fruitful expedition for him. Kim bought a few items too but it wasn’t my kind of shopping.

We made the drive through traffic to Costco in Culver City. As we had allowed a bit of time, we got there an hour before my nephew Julian. So, we did all our picking and choosing beforehand. By the time Julian arrived, we were ready to pay and go.

Julian’s dinner idea was a hole-in-the wall Mexican place called Cinco de Mayo. It was cheap and good. I wish we had had more time to try more things on the extensive menu.


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Exploring LA

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large_5550_14744240675169.jpgAt the Mission at San Juan Capistrano.
Today was our first of our three driving days in this sprawling city. Kim decided to take me and Daisuke somewhere we both hadn’t been to. And that would be the mission at San Juan Capistrano [San-Juan-Capistrano-travel-guide-14256] about an hour away.

Dai and I went around the two main courtyards of the mission and several rooms in the buildings. We wandered around the older parts of town near the railway tracks. I expected old ornate Spanish buildings but they were largely simple wooden cottages.

Then we found Ross Dress for Less where I bought a nice pair of Skechers shoes for USD30 (similar ones were selling for double that at the outlets next day).

We found a nice cafe near Newport Beach for lunch. It made quite a nice change from franchised fast food in the USA. Next stop was a walk on Hermosa Pier.

We drove by Manhattan Beach [Manhattan-Beach-travel-guide-12878] before settling for dinner at Chipotle. It’s good that we love Mexican food because it is often the best choice.


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Bullshit on my flight

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Flying from Quebec City to Los Angeles

Despite half a tablet, I only dozed for about 5h. I didn’t feel too bad when the alarm sounded at 0300. We were out pretty swiftly and headed to Quebec City’s airport nearby where we returned the car.

With 2h before departure, the check-in queue was relatively long, considering it was only a small plane. It moved slowly (as did the security queue) but we still had time for about 30 minutes in the lounge.

Our flight on the Canadian CR900 aircraft was again noisy about two-thirds down the plane, despite the rear-mounted engines. We arrived into JFK about 15 mins early and walked an awfully long way from one of the furthest gates to immigration.

Immigration was swift with plenty of self-service terminals which generated a ticket which one would then present to an officer for some quick questions and stamping. We dropped our bags and went through security and the lounge again before boarding a completely full B757 for Los Angeles.

Airlines staff hadn’t been strict enough with carry-ons and there were plenty of people with a wheelie and a backpack (rather than a small personal item). We managed to stow our stuff. The flight was pleasant and quiet enough on the nicely refurbished aircraft with PTV and blue mood lighting. The Delta crew seemed more hospitable than I had encountered on other US-based airlines.

Time went quickly reading over the shoulder of the woman diagonally in front of me (read more under separate header below), doing some bills/admin and watching a few episodes of the Simpsons.

We arrived into LAX to find that the Super 8 no longer provided a complimentary shuttle. Fortunately we remembered that they're next to Avis and Hertz, so we hopped into the first of the rental car shuttles that came around. Jaywalking across the road with luggage in tow, an Emirates A380 flew right over the hotel.

We tried getting some sleep but it didn't work. Our friend Daisuke came in front Frankfurt about the same time and got to the hotel later (due to having to clear CIQ). We caught up and had dinner at Rubio's after collecting our car at Rubio's.

Reading some serious bullshit on my flight

On the flight from New York to Los Angeles I sat behind a woman who busily worked away on presentation slides with plenty of inspirational lines. But wait, it leads to some serious bull-shit:

1. America, the land of opportunity.
2. A rallying cry to bring the nation together, and to embrace diversity.
3. Embracing diversity is key to progress as a nation.
4. As White Americans give up on the American Dream, Blacks and Hispanics embrace it.
5. Brand vision of building a cultural icon of personal progress in America.
6. Hispanics; “They were part of our history and they are key to our future”.

There were also plenty of demographic charts; Hispanics and women are under-represented.
It turns out she is writing marketing strategy for a very famous Scotch whisky company (yep, not beer or wine but spirits - hard liquor).

My thoughts:

1. Even though I drink a little and don’t have an issue with social drinking, I feel quite uncomfortable (slightly sickened) with her work. It takes me back to the days when cigarettes were grossly and glossily marketed.

2. I can understand wine/beer being cultural icons of France/Germany. But for anyone to say hard liquor (especially a foreign Whisky) is a “cultural icon of personal progress in America”, there’s something seriously screwed up.

3. I don’t know how Hispanics are part of the history of a Scotch whisky company.

4. It surprised me greatly that they aren’t trying to market more strongly to women. Surely they are a larger untapped market than Hispanics.

What do you think? Any marketing specialists out there?

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Visiting Niagara Falls

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large_5550_14734704453228.jpgLeaving Isabella Hotel in our upgraded vehicle.
Breakfast at the hotel didn’t start till 0800. We would have liked to eat and get going earlier but this was a limitation. There were people already eating when we turned up on the dot at 0800. We ate, checked out and walked to Budget rent-a-car about 15 minutes away.

The man at Budget gave us an upgrade from our little car to a small SUV (he said). In the parking building, it turned out to be a big black SUV, blocked in by several other cars which had to be shifted before we could leave. It suited them to have us take it to Quebec [Quebec-travel-guide-204411] as it had a Quebec plate and "needs to go home". As petrol is cheap in Canada (about half the price of New Zealand), we were fine with the upgrade.

We returned to our hotel to collect our luggage before setting off in earnest around 0930.large_5550_14734704479681.jpgThe Niagara Falls area is very commercialised and touristed.Kim’s old Tomtom GPS had intermittent disconnects with the satellite. My phone GPS (like all phones) work best with a data connection which we didn’t have; with the high-rises around us it didn’t really help us till we were past our most crucial minutes getting to the motorway.

It was an easy 90 minutes on the motorway to Niagara Falls [Niagara-Falls-travel-guide-203957] where we found cheap all-day-parking ($5 per hour or $10 all day) on vacant land manned by an Indian man. It was about 5 mins to the casino and town, and another 15 minutes to the best part of the falls.

We walked to the casino, grabbing a free cuppa tea there. We did have to explain “white coffee” and “white tea” to the barman as these don’t appear to be terms used in Canada? We had a short play on the slot machines, losing $5.large_5550_147347044850.jpgOverview of the Niagara Falls. American on the left and Horseshoe (Canadian) on right.I guess it was a small price to pay for two free hot drinks and two toilet usages.

Around midday, even though I was still full from breakfast, I felt a strong need for food. We shared an overly-stuffed Subway before continuing or walk to the banks of the Niagara Falls.

The American Falls came into view first as we walked along the waterfront. We could see the grander Horseshoe Falls further along, but decided we would do the boat trip below ASAP as the ticket queues weren’t too long.

We walked down the ramp, then took the elevator before joining the queue to the board. We had a red poncho each. The 20 minute trip took us past the American Falls where we got damp, then continued to the middle of the Horseshoe where we paused. It was like being in heavy rain/wind and rather pointless for any photography.large_5550_14734704534430.jpgBoat going past the American Falls.It was actually hard to see; the view was far better from terra firma. But the experience was awesome!

Back on the bank, we walked to the Visitor Centre at Table Rock. The bank was built right up to the running water. The viewpoint provided an awesome into the centre of the Horseshoe where the boats paused. It’s great that such a vantage point is free to all visitors.

We were feeling rather hot and parched by then and returned to the casino for another free drink, this time an icy one each. It was 1530 when we started driving to our nightstop, Oshawa.

With a snack break, traffic in Toronto [Toronto-travel-guide-205344], we arrived around 1830 at the awesome La Quinta motel. The drive past the northern edge of Toronto truly showed the size of the city. Even though we were far from the centre the high-rises were still aplenty. And each time when we thought we would have past the concentrated areas, more high-rises popped up.

We had Chinese at a halal Hakka Chinese Restaurant (run by Cantonese and the food wasn’t anything Hakka). It started pouring torrentially as we sat down. I took my time with a very nice cheap white wine, finishing at the same time as the downpour.


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