Apologies to anyone who has been eagerly awaiting another blog entry - we have been SO busy these last few days that there was no time to write one. Will do my best to summarise everything here now...
Wednesday was spent mainly on the train. We got a taxi from our San Francisco hotel to the Oakland Amtrak station (30 minutes outside of the city, over the Bay Bridge, to the suburb that our driver described as the crime capital of the world!). The station was tiny we were surprised to see, so we checked in our suitcase and went across the road to get some scrambled eggs at the cafe there. It was soon time to board, and we were very pleasantly surprised with the large amount of space/ legroom we got around our two seats. We settled down for a relaxing day of eating and drinking (the train had a cafe which miraculously had a veggie burger which I liked!) and scenery watching - mountains, farms (we went through the lettuce capital of the world, the artichoke capital of the world, and the garlic capital of the world!), oil fields, lots of Spanish missions along El Camino Real, two enormous prisons, lots of horse shoe bends round the hillsides, viaducts, rivers (with very little water), and tunnels. Then in the mid afternoon we emerged onto the Pacific coastline and spent several hours travelling alongside it, watching the waves, the surfers, the beautiful beaches, and the little seaside resorts. Shortly after sunset we turned back inland, and started dropping people off in the outskirts of LA, before arriving into Union Station in the city itself. We walked across the road to our hotel where we had an early night.
On the Thursday we had an excursion booked - LA City, Hollywood, Movie Stars' Homes and Beach tour. So basically trying to cram all the most famous parts of Los Angeles into 6 hours! We got collected from our hotel (where we left our growing pile of luggage) and taken to the headquarters of the Starline Tours company who were operating the tour. We had a brief orientation tour of the area of Hollywood we were in and then some time to explore and take photos - the Chinese Theatre, the Walk of Fame where I searched out many of the Disney related stars(!), the Dolby Theatre where the Oscars takes place, the Roosevelt hotel where the very first Oscars were given out, the El Capitan theatre where Disney film premieres happen, and views of the Hollywood sign in the distance.
Next we took a minibus drive through the city, seeing the Sunset Strip and Mulholland Drive, the Jim Henson studio, Hollywood's Rockwalk which has handprints of many famous rock singers, and then into Beverly Hills with the Viper Room club, the Civic Centre, Rodeo Drive (including the shop where Julia Roberts goes in Pretty Woman!), and the Regent Beverly Wilshire hotel (also of Pretty Woman fame!). We then embarked upon a tour of one of the poshest areas, where our guide showed us some of the most exclusive properties in LA. We saw the house from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air and the house where Michael Jackson lived, among others.
The next part of the tour took us to the sea - first to Venice Beach including the Muscle beach area full of outdoor exercise equipment and fit people, and then to Santa Monica where we walked along the pier, saw the funfair, and had a bit of lunch while looking at the people playing in the sea (which was cold!). The final destination was Downtown LA where we saw some basketball, baseball and ice hockey stadiums, lots of shiny office blocks, and (most exciting for me!) the impressive Walt Disney Concert Hall. We got dropped off in the historic Olvera Street area where we saw the pretty Mexican style market, the Our Lady Cathedral, and the square where for Easter they will have the Blessing of the Animals! Our hotel was right round the corner so we left the tour here rather than going back to Hollywood on the bus.
We collected our luggage and caught the 3.30 Metrolink local train from Union Station to Anaheim and then got in a taxi. JL said to me "now no screaming from you, we're in public!" - it was very hard to restrain myself as I caught my first glimpses of roads with Disney names, and then the Tower of Terror and Space Mountain looming up alongside the road! We checked into our hotel, the Tropicana Inn and Suites, and then I finally got to scream - "We're going to Disneyland!!!!!!!" Although I have been to the Florida and Paris Disney parks many times, and even the Hong Kong one, this was my first trip to the original park, and I was more than a little excited! Our park tickets were not valid until the following morning, so we unpacked our things and then walked just across the street to the entrance to the resort complex to explore the one part you don't need a ticket for - the Downtown Disney shopping area! I decided to buy all my souvenirs now so that I could spend every minute in the parks enjoying the attractions. And I think I was very restrained with my shopping! I tried very hard to only buy small things (which was great until they wrapped one of them up in about 2 metres of bubble wrap to protect it!) I also bought an extra bag as our suitcase is starting to bulge rather dangerously... Shopping done, we went to the Rainforest Cafe for dinner where I got a yummy veggie burger, and then back to the hotel to get ready for tomorrow.
The alarm went off at 6am on Friday and I jumped out of bed! [JL- I crawled out...]. We had a quick breakfast at the hotel, then went across the street to collect our tickets, then joined the queue to enter Disneyland the moment it opened at 8am. And then came 14 hours of pure heaven! :-) I will not go into detail here about all the rides we went on (JL was very brave and attempted them all!), and all the differences and similarities between this park and the Magic Kingdom or Disneyland Paris, as I know the Disney fans amongst you will have that conversation with me in person! Suffice to say it was amazing - I managed to do all of the rides on my list (there is no way you could do everything there in a day so I selected the best ones), and even did Big Thunder Mountain and the Indiana Jones rides twice. I ate lots of strawberries dipped in chocolate and had my obligatory Mickey Mouse ice cream. We also had dinner at the Blue Bayou restaurant inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, which included foam cushions and reserved seating for the Fantasmic lights/ sound/ water/ firework show that evening (thanks dad and mum for booking it for me!). The park was open until midnight, but JL headed back after the show and I dragged myself away a little later at 10.30pm, to try and get some sleep before another jam packed day tomorrow!
We set the alarm a little later on Saturday but still made it to the park before opening! This time we were visiting the second park - Disney's California Adventure, which as you can probably guess is themed on various California places (many of which we have recently visited or will be passing through on the train), and has lots of links to Pixar films. There are not as many attractions as in the main Disneyland park, so by the early afternoon we had done all the roller coasters/ big rides (including two goes on California Screamin', Radiator Springs Racers, and the Tower of Terror!) and seen the Frozen singalong show (JL refused to sing!). We had our lunch and got our ticket for reserved seating for that evening's show (thanks again mum and dad!), and then JL decided to go back to the hotel for a few hours while I watched the parade and did some of the smaller attractions. We met again at 6.00 so we could go and see the Aladdin show in the huge theme park theatre which was absolutely incredible - there was a full size elephant walking down the aisles and the flying carpet flew over the whole audience! We did one last ride, bought JL a T-shirt, got a cup of tea (as the temperature had dropped significantly since the sun went down!) and took up our places for the World of Colour night time show, which was incredible. And then the most depressing moment of the last three months arrived - it was time to go :-( I took one last longing look at the park entrances and then we went back to our hotel and collapsed into bed.
On Sunday morning we got a taxi back to Anaheim station and then caught our train to LA (which arrived 40 minutes late, and we were starting to panic, but in the end got into LA pretty much on time!). We then met our driver for the next 3 hours - from a private car company who would be taking us on my self-created Walt Disney pilgrimage! He drove us to the old houses where Walt lived, the sites of the former and current Disney Studios, the Tam O'Shanter restaurant that Walt and other Disney artists liked to eat at, the barn where Walt built his model trains, and even to his grave. On the journey we had super views over the Hollywood hills and back to downtown LA in the distance. Our final stop was due to be the carousel in Griffith Park where Walt would sit watching his daughters ride and where he dreamt up the concept of Disneyland. Unfortunately as it was Easter Sunday, the entire population of Los Angeles also seemed to be making their way to Griffith Park, and the traffic was ridiculous. We tried several different routes, and were so nearly there when the police closed the road we needed to go down! At this point we gave up and went back to Union station. Despite this, it was an amazing morning for a Disney fanatic like myself - the driver even said he had learnt a lot and been to some places he had never been before!
We had a few hours to wait at Union Station before our train, so we went to the special lounge for sleeper car passengers, where there were free drinks and snacks. At around 5.30 we made our way to the platform and boarded our home for the next two days! We are on the Southwest Chief train from Los Angeles to Chicago, and have a small 'roomette' with 2 large chairs which convert into a bed, and another bed which pulls down from the ceiling to make bunk beds! I was a bit worried about falling out during the night in the wobbly train, but luckily there is a safety net to hold you in!!! JL bravely volunteered to sleep on the top bunk. We managed to find space in all the nooks and crannies of the room for our stuff, and then went to the dining car for dinner (which is free for us) - they even had a veggie burger! Our sleeping car attendant put our beds down for us and it was not long after this that we settled down for the night, rather suspicious about how much sleep we were going to get as the train was stopping several times during the night...!