Tag Archives: Día de Muertos

Living in California

Nick Says: Hello! Sorry for the slight pause there on the blog – turns out getting married (woohoo!) and then moving your entire life to the other side of the world is fairly time consuming. But we have lots to talk about, so let’s get started…

While we may have travelled for months at a time over the years, neither me or Bee have ever lived permanently in another country. About the closest I’ve come was 6 months in Australia, where I rented a room in Melbourne for 2 of them. But setting a up a home somewhere else? Brand new territory. So how can I sum it up so far? Exhilarating, terrifying, overwhelming, incredible. The superlatives are endless. And the cliche true by the way, visiting somewhere and living there are very different things.

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At some point, we will do a ‘how to’ guide for those who move to the USA – we’ve had to work out lots of things that would have been handy to know, from getting a social security number, to leasing a car, and finding an apartment. But for now, let’s give you highlights of what we’ve been up to in since moving here.

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Moving to Los Angeles so soon after our wedding meant we had to put our Honeymoon plans on ice for a bit (yes, I realise California isn’t a terrible alternative…). But we still wanted to decompress and celebrate our new marriage a bit, so we took our first weekend here to drive 2 hours south down to Laguna Beach. It was truly magical, and the perfect introduction to our new life as Californians. A beachside resort down in the O.C. Laguna Beach feels very much like an outsiders view of California distilled. It’s got the beautiful beaches, the beautiful sunkissed people (some with more work than others), the laid-back arty vibe, with the local gallery showcasing paintings of a giant grasshopper riding a motorbike down the Pacific Coast Highway, and some of the most dramatic sunsets I’ve seen in a long time, and as anyone who travels knows, you see a lot of sunsets. So take my word for it, these are very special.

We decided to treat ourselves and stayed at the Casa Laguna Inn & Spa, which was set a little bit out of the main town. During summer months though, a free trolley bus operates up and down the PCH, with a stop just outside the hotel, which meant we could ride to where all the bars and restaurants were located incredibly easily. The trolley itself looks like something from the beginning of the automobile age, made of wood and with no windows. Enjoy that sea breeze!

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As well as sunning ourselves on golden beaches, eating incredible food such as crab stuffed jalapeños wrapped in bacon washed down with jalapeño margaritas from fancy Mexican restaurant Carmelita’s, or having dessert generously paid for by a couple who sat next to us at another fancy restaurant (as a welcome to the USA gift!), we also stopped for lunch at a super cute diner just down the road, which required us to possibly illegally trespass over a fence into what seemed to be a school, in order to reach it by foot. They do not make things easy for pedestrians over here.

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When not stuffing our faces (USA! USA!) we found time to enjoy the hotel. From our little balcony at the back of our room, we had a view of the Pacific Ocean. Mornings would find us sat here at the little table and chairs provided with a cup of coffee each just admiring the view and not quite believing any of this was real. Despite being on the highway, the hotel felt amazingly secluded and peaceful. Done up in Spanish colonial revival style, they brilliantly told us the historic part of the house was from the 1920s (our flat in London was from the early 19th Century I believe). Getting fully into the relaxed zen vibe, Bee had booked us onto a ‘togetherness’ massage – which meant we were massaged while lying next to each other. I think it was meant to be extremely romantic, but we were far too English to fully relax ha! Much better was the bit after where they turned on the hot tub, which is outside and also overlooks the Pacific Ocean, and gave us a bottle of champagne. So we downed the bubbles, and watched the sunset from our own private jacuzzi. One week in and we’d changed.

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Of course, it hasn’t all been swigging champers in hot tubs and enjoying the beach. We’ve also been exploring L.A. Which due to the fact it was about 40 degrees when we got here, actually did mean enjoying the beach. Making the most of our rental car, we spent the next weekend up in Malibu, an easy 45 minute drive north up the Pacific Coast Highway, with spectacular views of the ocean to keep you occupied while sat in the occasional traffic jam. While Zuma beach is probably my favourite, a wide expanse of golden sand which you can walk along for miles, and never feels crowded despite its popularity, a little treasure trove of a beach is definitely Paradise Cove. To avoid the $40 parking fee (yep…) I would recommend parking up the hill on the PCH itself, which is free. Then it’s a quick 5 minute walk down a hill to the beach itself. It’s set up like a mini resort, with a restaurant serving food, and a shop selling beer for you to drink while sunbathing. The sun loungers and chairs were all free to use (I double checked with one of the many helpful and friendly staff) which was a unexpected bonus, and it was pretty easy to while away an afternoon here. No sunset view to be had, but one of my fave beaches so far.

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But there’s fun to be had at nighttime too in L.A. Which is lucky, as at the moment it gets dark about 5pm so that’s a lot of hours to fill. One of our favourite discoveries so far is First Friday’s in Venice. Venice itself is infamous as the weirder side of L.A. Head down here if you want to see Muscle Beach, t-shirt hawkers, and a Sikh man in full turban rollerskating along the bike path playing an electric guitar with a mini amp strapped to his back. Basically, it’s the Camden Town of Los Angeles – but by the sea and sunny. Anyway, every first Friday of the month around 20 of the best food trucks in the city all gather together for a big event. It used to be 70, but then it got a little bit out of control, loads of people got drunk and caused mayhem, and they scaled it back down. Still, it’s pretty epic and has a fun festival feel. It also introduced us to the best food we’ve had since arriving here, Howlin’ Rays Nashville style hot chicken. Words will never describe the taste sensation it was. Also a fan of this food truck was a pretty famous face. Bee noticed a man in the queue looking pretty intently at us, having clocked our British accents. Then Bee whispered to me, “is that Chris Martin?’ You know what Bee, it was. Then seemingly to make sure we really knew it was him, the Coldplay frontman started singing and dancing in front of us. I genuinely am not making this up. We snapped a paparazzi shot of him, but as it’s got one of his kids in the background I won’t put it up. We then saw on Twitter that he’d gone into a local shop and offered everyone free chicken. Incredible scenes.

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It’s not all been eating (mainly it has). While we were staying in Miracle Mile for the first month (a pretty central area which seemed to be 25 minutes away from everywhere else in the city) I took myself off to the La Brea Tar Pits for the afternoon. If you ever visit then I definitely recommend a trip here – the park is free, but the museum is worth your $12 for sure. They have millions of fossils on display, perfectly preserved skeletons of mammoths, sabre tooth cats, and other giant creatures, plus real tar (asphalt actually) which bubbles up from the ground all over the park, so watch where you step. It’s a fascinating look into the natural history of a place we associate with modernity, entertainment, and urban sprawl.

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Bee Says: Thank you for bearing with us on our life hiatus! As Nick said, we might have ever so slightly underestimated that leaving one job/house/city, getting married and moving around the world to a new job/house/city/life/culture basically feels like stepping onto the waltzers. It feels like we are only just starting to know our heads from our toes again! And now that we have, we are really excited to share our little corner of the world with you again. There’s more to talk about than we can possibly expect you to read in one sitting without an intravenous of coffee, so I’ll pick a few highlights and then I promise we’ll be back soon(er) with new news. As Nick mentioned when we first moved here we were living in an Air BnB in Miracle Mile for a month. Whilst the location was great (and when I say great you can read “walking distance from an Umami Burger) we quickly learnt that living in an Air Bnb is far from ideal on a long term basis. The apartment was sweet, but absolutely fit to bursting with someone elses stuff! Which meant we couldn’t unpack, I was having to try and dress appropriately for a new job every day without the ability to even properly unpack my suitcase and generally we felt like intruders in someone elses home. It has made a HUGE difference to get our own place.

Whilst I was at work Nick had the daunting task of house hunting; pretty overwhelming when we were shiny new off the plane and unaware of good areas, good deals or what was what. We were under the time pressure of having to find somewhere before our Air BnB ran out and to reduce my commute. Everywhere we viewed was not quite right; the most not right being a flat that looked lovely online only to turn out to be somebody’s GARAGE they had converted?! As the realtor said “you need to pass through the family home to get in and out, but they are ever so nice” we started to get a little bit of the fear that we’d never find somewhere. Lady luck shone on us though, and one day Nick saw an advert on “hot pads” with no photos, no text and just a phone number. Luckily he persevered and rang the mystery number, making an appointment to view. We turned up to a beautiful block decorated in batenburg shades (in typical me style I decided I wanted to live there based on how cute that would look on Instagram) and found an open door to an apartment with no one inside. After a quick scout around, we couldn’t believe it when we realised the place was a two bedroom apartment yet on the market for a one bed price. A Guatemalan lady called Paulina soon found us lurking inside an we basically leapt on her and signed up there and them, forcing a deposit on her as more and more couples arrived to look round. Being the first over the stoop gave us first refusal and the rest is history! Amazingly (and unlike in the UK) in the week between signing and moving in, Paulina worked her socks off to get us new flooring, an A/C unit and a professional clean. We also both have a walk-in wardobe! Living the Cher from Clueless dream.

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Having a proper home has instantly got us feeling more settled. Another key to the LA puzzle is the fact it’s in an area we are completely besotted with. Culver City is actually its own independent city in the county of Los Angeles. It’s the original “Hollywood” where the film studios were first set up – such as MGM in the 1920s. Its motto is “The Heart Of Screenland” & The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, King Kong and ET were all filmed here. It’s so the “real Hollywood” that in 1937 the Culver City Chamber of Commerce petitioned to have the city name changed to Hollywood (as the sign had become so iconic) but it was declined. As a result, studios such as MGM started placing “Made in Culver City” front & centre of the credits before all their films!

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The area is safe, pedestrianised (RARE for LA!) and super buzzy. To get a sense of it… The Wonder Years filmed its outdoor scenes on our street! The area is super well maintained; fairy lights twinkle from the palm trees and there is a real community atmosphere. We are walking distance from my work, a Trader Joes, an In-n-Out burger, a coffee shop that makes a mean Mexican Mocha, gift shops, banks, about 40 restaurants, an Arclight cinema and a Cold Stone Creamery (lethal). We also have a diner, S & W Country Diner, that is everything you’d wish from a local hangout. Kitsch decor, booths, a menu as long as your arm and insanely friendly staff who remember you and your preferences! We go every weekend and it’s basically our new second home.

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What with all this eating, we are also fortunate enough to live next to Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook. This is a great hike that takes you up some gruelling vertical steps (where we regularly see the USC Trojans training!) to take in a 360 view of LA from the top. We tend to head up there at 6.30am to catch the sun rising, and I could honestly sit there for hours just watching the planes take off and land over at LAX… the sea lapping in the distance and the Gotham-like towers in Downtown. It’s always a wrench to head back down and into the day.

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An unexpected event is that we have both become big Clippers fans. Obviously there is an endless choice of sports to get into in America but basketball zoomed into our hearts the quickest. When we first moved here, Nick’s old housemate and our good friend Laura was spending her last month as an Angeleno before moving to NYC. This was perfectly timed for us to team up on a ton of our firsts/her lasts together. One of these was an introduction to the Clippers. From the moment we arrived at the Staples Centre, I knew I was about to become addicted. Firstly, basketball is easy to follow. There are no crazy rulebooks to digest and it’s obvious when someone is winning. Secondly, it’s so much more about the experience than the sport! We saw fireworks, we saw babies racing across the court to win their parents a jeep (!) we saw the National Anthem being sung, we saw “kiss cam” where the big screen display people who must then kiss on demand (I think they try to go for the people they have sussed are couples…) we saw randoms from the audience come up to try and score a slam dunk, we saw celebs lazing on the front row… the list is kind of endless. There is way more faffing about with entertainment than actual spot. That said, the sport is really nail biting. We witnessed the Clippers win 67-66 by scoring with 0.03 seconds to go… the crowd went CRAZY! It’s super good fun and the key – it’s cheap. You can get nose-bleeder seats (where the best atmosphere is I reckon!) for as little as $8 (about a fiver!) and we can ride the metro there and back, which costs about £2 return. No wonder we are averaging a game a fortnight! Those Clippers work hard too, they play about 5 games a week and are even playing on Christmas Day.

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Another great experience was heading to the Día de Muertos celebration at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. We had wanted to visit the cemetery for a while; it’s iconic for being the final resting place for more Hollywood founders and stars than anywhere else including Johnny Ramone and Toto the dog from Wizard of Oz. It’s a surprisingly tranquil and beautifully maintained place; it isn’t tacky at all which is what I was fearful of. There are various cultural events and celebrations throughout the year, but Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is one close to Nick and I’s heart after we celebrated it with locals on Isla Del Sol in Bolivia. Day of the Dead is a holiday celebrated throughout Mexico, in particular the Central and South regions, but also acknowledged through various other parts of South America and the world. The holiday is used to gather family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died, and help “support their spiritual journey.”

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Ever since I learnt about the holiday I’ve been completely in awe of it. To me, it seems such an incredibly healthy and necessary way to talk about and deal with mortality. It’s actually how even the British used to deal with death (we learnt this at Highgate Cemetery tour) by creating mausoleums and huge shrines that were visited and decorated in a not dis-similar manner. However after World War 1, for obvious reasons, this changed dramatically to the more private, sheltered and intimate attitude to death we experience now. Having a day dedicated to talking about and remembering those we have lost is such a beautiful thing; and my favourite part is that this is a real celebration. There is amazing food, dancing, music and costumes. Everywhere has their own approaches (in Bolivia they fly kites) but the positivity is infectious. At Hollywood Forever we listened to an amazing Mariachi band playing The Smiths covers, we brushed off our Spanish to chat to some of the wonderful artists and people crafting, and we felt incredibly privileged to join in this special moment of the year, in such an amazing location.

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So that’s a little glimpse of Los Angeles life. We’ve been packing it in right? Don’t worry, we still have time to nest on our new sofa and binge watch Master of None and Jessica Jones. I’ll leave you with a classic Bee and Nick quote. Driving back into LA from a weekend away we were driving through a nice looking neighbourhood. Nick: “These are such lovely houses. What area is this? Why don’t we live here?” Bee *checks Google Maps* “This is Beverly Hills.”