(All photos by the author except those of the Farmers Market. Click on a photo to enlarge and read the caption, then scroll through a photo series using your forward arrow).
What with budget cuts and earthquake recovery, cultural life in Cuernavaca had gotten rather meager. It wasn’t the monotony of one beautiful day after another that led me to visit Los Angeles where the November climate was exactly like that in Cuernavaca. My last trip to LA was a stop-over on return from Hawaii to visit a friend who was more into the Lakers than LACMA and we went to only one museum. I wanted to see a lot of what I had missed. The dear friend had sadly passed away too young, but I have had hundreds of solo hotel stays during my tour business days and museums, like meditation, are best done alone. (I resisted the temptation to use a different M word).
My goal was to visit the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the Getty Villa, and the Huntington Library and Botanical Garden in San Marino. On my last visit, I saw the marvelous Getty Center on a hilltop in Brentwood with its spectacular architecture and beautiful garden and I would go back given more time. The Getty Villa with its renowned antiquities collection had reopened after a complete renovation several years ago. Also on the wish list was the Frank Gehry-designed Disney Music Center downtown, the Greystone Mansion and garden in Beverly Hills, the Pacific Design Center, the Crafts and Folk Art Museum, maybe a hop-on/hop off bus tour, maybe window shopping on Rodeo Drive. I had no interest in seeing the outside of homes of the stars nor a sidewalk plastered with names of the stars, nor Hollywood and Vine and the plethora of tacky souvenir shops. Sadly, the logistics of getting around the enormous city proved so formidable that I ended up with just my main three wishes plus the Farmer’s Market and some fine dining on Sunset Boulevard. I had thought I could do at least two sites each day, maybe three. But getting to and from the museums and spending several hours in each one was so tiring I soon discovered that my appetite for culture was bigger than my clock.
Wednesday, Nov. 8
I could have rented a car and used google maps for driving instructions, but that entailed worry about which of the six lanes on the freeway I’d have to be in to make the correct turn and how many miles I’d have to backtrack if I missed a turn, and how much I’d pay for parking at the hotel plus valet tips, and the notoriously poor and expensive parking reputation of the city. Without my friend as a chauffeur, I tried Uber for the first time. My American Express card refunds 200 dollars per year in Uber costs (though only 15 dollars a month). I had read articles about Uber’s abuse of drivers and how they often ended up with just minimum wage, but I absolved philosophical qualms with generous tips, knowing a taxi would cost considerably more. My cell phone was not set up for the change of country yet so I took a cab from the airport to my Hollywood hotel and it cost only 45 dollars plus tip.
After a lengthy hotel search online I reserved the Andaz in West Hollywood, a premium Hyatt hotel. The king rooms looked worth a splurge and the roof-top pool and “hopping pool bar” were attractive features. Non-alcoholic beverages and snacks are free in the lobby and from the fridge-bar in the room. There is no charge for wifi, and the lobby restaurant has good ratings. While it appeared to be walkable to many local sites, its location on the top of a hill on Sunset Boulevard meant a climb worse than Calvary and I hadn’t brought a cross. I did enjoy the comforts and the sun lounge in my suite with a great view of the city. The maids made up my room quickly while I was at breakfast (love to have Spanish-speaking maids) and I could read my newspapers while waiting for museums to open at 10 am or later. (westhollywood.andaz.hyatt.com)
It was late afternoon before I got settled in the hotel and discovered that the chilly wind on the roof did not make the pool very tempting, and the famed pool bar had closed for the season. After a big lunch on the Alaska Air non-stop flight from Mexico City, I didn’t want a huge dinner and settled for skirt steak and shrimp tacos in the hotel restaurant. I didn’t expect to do much the first night so I was glad for a restful night with a good novel and my friend Glenfiddich. The ice machine was only steps away from my room.
Thursday, Nov. 9.
Breakfast in the pleasant hotel dining room cost 30 dollars plus tax and tip for the buffet. I always eat too much at buffets and ordered ala carte instead. The two-egg special with sausage came to about the same price as the buffet. I always have some price shock when out of Mexico. After switching from my Telcel server to T-Mobil, one of the pleasant receptionists in the lobby helped me navigate Uber for the first time.
My first objective was the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) on Wilshire Boulevard, the largest art museum in the western United States, housing over 150 thousand works (www.lacma.org) Unfortunately, the museum doesn’t open until 11am. For non-county residents, the entrance fee is 25 dollars, 21 for seniors. I started with the Americas building, disappointed that one whole floor was closed for remodeling. I had heard the pre-Columbian collection was excellent and I was not disappointed. There were outstanding pieces from North, South, and Central America including many Mayan artifacts.
The separate building for European art was difficult to navigate with no clear route to follow and no consistent room themes. One might find a Greek sculpture in the same room as a French impressionist. But the collection has some real gems and I enjoyed the visit. There were so many rooms intersecting it was easy to lose one’s way and one could not even read every inscription and get out in one day. I was too tired to go on to the Chinese and Korean or the Islamic collections much less photography and decorative arts. The museum is overwhelming. I certainly felt I had made a good choice with my first objective and I was delighted by what I had seen.
Afterward, I needed to rest awhile and I enjoyed the balmy weather on the patio for just a short time because it was already late for lunch. I knew that the famous Farmers Market was within walking distance and assumed it would be a good place for a bite. I asked a friendly local for directions, forgetting that I have google maps on my phone. It was about a 12-minute walk to the market at Third and Fairfax. With over 100 restaurants the choices were overwhelming. I was not ready for more Mexican food and the line was too long at the Brazilian Churrasqueria. I had missed out on a corned-beef deli-sandwich my last trip to New York city so I opted for that and was not disappointed. Alas, the five-dollar homemade ice cream was flavorless. I wandered about the stalls for a while longer, surprised to find how few farmers there were in the crowded food emporium. For the history and details on the market, see the website https://www.farmersmarketla.com.
I had wanted to do some shopping before I returned to Mexico but I couldn’t face the enormous adjacent Grove shopping center and just wanted a nice hotel rest. Four Uber drivers came within a minute of arriving, then lost me. I didn’t know you could phone drivers once confirmed and there were just too many people on the sidewalks. I was on the busy corner where the market begins so I finally walked a hundred yards away to a quiet Whole Foods Plaza and a driver found me within a few minutes, but I lost over half an hour in the learning process. Arriving at the hotel I went to the roof-top pool but the breeze was chilly and no one was swimming so the siesta won out. I skipped the free wine-tasting in the lobby from 6-7 pm daily preferring a drink in the suite with the evening news online.
As usual, I had spent some time before departure checking out fine-dining establishments, particularly those on Sunset Boulevard that I could walk to. I phoned and had no problem getting an immediate reservation at the Tower Restaurant in the Sunset Tower hotel a block from the Andaz. The art deco building is a real gem and the beautiful terrace restaurant enhanced the gourmet experience. No nightlife for me since I did not want to sleep in the next day with everything on my agenda. Besides, ten pm was midnight on my Mexico clock.
Friday, November 10
I had a relaxing breakfast with unlimited coffee. The waitress even asked if I wanted another to go, and there is free coffee, bottled water, and snacks 24 hours in the lobby. I went online for details on the Getty Villa and discovered one must have a timed reservation with a barcode for entrance. (Exceptions are made for non-tech folks by telephone). I was able to download the barcode to my phone before calling Uber for a long ride out to the Pacific Coast Highway to Pacific Palisades, adjacent to Malibu. The round trip Uber fares cost about 42 dollars so I was pleased there was no entrance fee. The Roman Villa is a reconstruction of the ancient Villa dei Papyri at Herculaneum near Naples, Italy, destroyed in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, or CE. Politically correct writers now use BCE (Before the Common Era) and CE (Common Era). Does Faux News know they have removed Christ from the datebooks? The website www.getty.edu is well done and deserves a look before you go.
The villa has had several additions and renovations since the oil magnate J.Paul Getty founded it in 1954. It holds over 44 thousand Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities including frescoes, mosaic panels and floors, paintings, coins, and jewelry. I was enthralled from the moment I entered the spacious atrium with a typical Roman oculus (ceiling opening). The inner and outer peristyles border tranquil gardens decorated with reflecting pools, fountains, and Roman sculptures. The plantings emphasize household flowers, plants, and herbs common to a palatial Roman garden.
Having made several scouting trips to Italy for my travel business and having led about a dozen tour groups there, having gawked in the Vatican Museums and exceeded saturation limits in Florence, I was not expecting to find the incredible variety and quality of the exhibits. Before finishing I decided to check out the orientation film that I skipped on entering because a wait was involved. It was like reading a book on a place after you have been there and it filled in some gaps on my earlier reading. Another huge treat is the gift shop with reproductions of some exhibit items like jewelry and shirts, scarves, and other items with museum motifs. I was enthralled and overjoyed that the villa turned out so far beyond my high expectations. Below are some of my favorite pieces.
Once again saturated and foot-sore, I had no appetite for another tour site in the late afternoon. Once again the first Uber driver failed to find me sitting in front of the entrance, and I lost at least a half hour waiting for a ride. For lunch, I settled for a steak-house/ burger joint called the Saddle Ranch less than 100 meters from the hotel. I was glad for an outside table on Sunset Boulevard since the noise level inside would be torturous for someone with hearing aids. Nor was I tempted to mount the mechanical bull. Another siesta was in order before happy hour with the evening news.
For dinner, I chose the deluxe restaurant Ivory in the Mondrian Hotel, a block away from the Andaz in the opposite direction from the Sunset Tower. The outdoor terrace was heated by overhead lamps and the surroundings were pleasant though I would have liked a spot with a view of the city, the few of which were all occupied. While sipping my sparkling wine and waiting for my langoustines and duck breast, I loved looking at all the beautiful women entering in glamorous dresses with chic scarves and shawls, many wearing stylish hats. The men were almost universally casual, some even in jeans and plaid hillbilly shirts. I was a bit surprised at the rather inattentive service. I didn’t complain but, perhaps intuiting my dissatisfaction, the waitress brought a free banana pudding so large I couldn’t finish it. The wine list had pricey bottles, and I found wine by the glass almost always at least 12 dollars, 16 dollars for a larger pour. My travels always include scouting the best local restaurants so I can’t complain about prices. Let’s just say these places would be special-occasion venues for many diners and surely not family oriented.
Saturday, Nov. 11
I knew the Huntington Library and botanical garden was quite a distance from Hollywood, located in San Marino just beyond Pasadena: www.huntington.org. But I was animated by what I had read about it and determined to swallow the taxi fare. Actually, for the 35-minute Uber ride, 31 dollars plus tip was not too bad. The entrance fee is 29 dollars, 24 for seniors. Add the return trip and it was quite an expensive day, but well worth it. This time I watched the orientation film first although it was not nearly as good as that at the Getty Villa.
The collections and research facilities are housed in the former palatial home of tycoon Henry E. Huntington (1850-1927) nephew and heir of railroad tycoon Collis P. Huntington. The library opened in 1928 housing 7 million items, 400 thousand rare books and manuscripts including an original vellum Gutenberg Bible. The European collection, mostly 18th and 19th –century British portraits and French paintings, is housed in the original mansion. Perhaps its most famous painting is Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy (1779).
The Scott Gallery of American Art includes works from the 17th to the 20th centuries including a Gilbert Stuart George Washington and works by more modern artists like Edward Hopper and Andy Warhol. A newer addition houses folk art like weather vanes and quilts, Tiffany glass, china and silver services. Below is a sample of the day’s highlights.
I could have spent much more time in each building since there is not enough time to even read most of the title/artist plaques and get out in one day. After three buildings, I hastened to the 120-acre botanical garden. Obviously, the spring months would be a better time to visit, and I would have loved to see the wisteria, azaleas, and camellias. But there was quite a bit in bloom including a large rose garden. The Japanese Garden has spectacular landscaping but lacks the colorful azaleas our Cuernavaca garden has blooming all year round. The Desert Garden was closed without explanation. Again I had to walk rather briskly just to see the main gardens, and I missed some of the farthest reaches like the Australia Garden, whatever that might hold. I did take a rest for lunch in an outdoor grove café with a choice of quesadillas or burgers. There were only a handful of diners there. There is a much larger cafeteria at the entrance, overflowing with scores of people when I stopped for a restroom before departing. Below are photos of just the rose garden and the Japanese garden.
The pleasure of the day was somewhat ruined by problems in getting back to Hollywood. After ordering an Uber driver, I lost my T-Mobil signal and the driver never found me, although I was sitting at the Library drop-off spot. I cursed and scrolled for over half an hour, got help from someone in the office, but could not connect again. In part, it may have been due to hundreds of visitors online at the same time. Exasperated, I finally asked the information desk to call a Pasadena taxi which arrived in about ten minutes. The long drive back to Hollywood came to 68 dollars on the meter, but I still tipped. The total expenses for the day were just shy of 150 dollars. Culture can be costly.
I had completed the three museums I had most wanted to see but there was no time for any of the other sites on my list. And I had hoped to do some shopping for things I couldn’t find in Cuernavaca. Rather than take another cab to shops at the Grove or Melrose Avenue, I walked downhill to Santa Monica Boulevard for multiple blocks and found little more than bars and tattoo parlors. I gave up as my feet gave out and I labored to ascend the Calvary back to the hotel. After a siesta, I had exhausted the fine dining places near the Andaz and didn’t want to get in another cab so I returned to the Saddle Ranch and had a simple ribeye dinner on the heated terrace overlooking Sunset Boulevard. I could watch the luxury cars like Jaguars and Maseratis pass by. It was not the most extravagant way to spend my last night, but sipping my wine I could reflect on my mixed emotions about the weekend, enthralled by what I had seen, but disappointed to have missed so much more.
Sunday, Nov. 12.
Alas, a stimulating and enjoyable three days in the City of Angels turned into hell at the airport. The taxi on arrival was reasonable so I abandoned my troublesome Uber connection for a cab. We were delayed by a one-lane only on Cienega due to tree trimmers, then faced bumper to bumper traffic at LAX. It took 20 minutes just to get from Gate 1 to Gate 6 with the meter running, and the driver said that was fast compared to weekday congestion. Be sure to plan extra time to get to your gate anytime you are departing LAX. The fare came to 70 dollars with tip. My Alaska Air boarded on time, but never took off due to a computer/communication problem. An employee said we were not entitled to hotel costs due to a mechanical problem. Unlike other airlines I have flown, the Alaska VIP lounge does not have the capacity for booking changes so I had to find a customer service desk to rebook for the next morning. When I went to baggage claim almost an hour later, I was told the original flight had been reinstated. I trudged back through security and could not find anyone at customer service to see if my luggage was still aboard or if it had come off when I rebooked. Only one gate had airline staff for a different flight so I just waited at the new departure gate for another hour. The 5 pm boarding time got to be 5:15 when finally an employee showed up to announce that the reinstated flight was canceled. A huge line formed immediately to ask her questions. I just wanted to get the hell out of LAX. I found out online that there was a late-night flight to Mexico on American so I retrieved my bag and walked about ten minutes to Gate 4 where I bought a one-way ticket on the red-eye for less than the cost of a hotel room. But I had to wait from 6 pm until nearly midnight with no lounge privilege. In the end, I lost 14 hours in the airport, lost my first-class Alaska seat with a meal and beverages, and lost any desire to return to Alaska Air or LAX. But at least I didn’t have to get to a hotel, spend an overnight, and get back to the airport at 6:30 am the next day wondering if I’d have to board the same problematic plane for a third try.
I arrived in Mexico City at 5:40 am to face another nightmare due to multiple arrivals that caused enormous lines in passport control. But my driver was on time and I was having breakfast in Cuernavaca before 8 am, happy to be home and not anxious to fly anywhere again soon. It’s a shame we so often find it is no fun to fly anymore. But I’m sure I’ll recover soon and find myself googling my next travel destination.