LA Day Eight: Love & Monsters

Allan kicked off the Valentine’s Day celebrations with possibly the most romantic card ever: a piece of the old Marriott LAX carpet that has been the background for so many Gally memories. A new carpet this year is the cause of much angst. It’s ironic that so many Doctor Who fans struggle with change.

The Marriott patio is swarming with Doctors, River Songs, Bills and Ponds. This year, there’s also a sprinkling of Crowleys and Aziraphales.

We’re playing Doctor Bingo – first one to collect all thirteen gets a cocktail of their choice. Nine to Thirteen are well represented, but Chloë is still searching for the elusive Three (Pertwee), while Alan needs a Two (Troughton). We’ll both struggle to find an Eight (McGann), partly because he’s so easily confused with others.

We have one important task today. Our goddaughter is worried about Bill. She had a horrible time with the Cybermen before Heather whisked her off into the universe. Is she OK? Is Heather being nice to her? We reckon this reassuring message was worth the hour’s queuing. Turns out Heather is treating her like the queen she is.

The big room interview we choose for today is Tosin Cole (Ryan). He’s new to the convention scene and is charmingly unaffected. He fell into acting when a girl he liked invited him to come to a workshop. It turned out he was pretty good and, more importantly, found a place where he could explore different sides of himself. He was very honest about loving the attention and applause he gets on stage. In a few years he’ll have a store of funny, polished anecdotes, so we’re glad to have seen him simply enjoying all the new experiences.

While Allan marvelled at the future of flight with Dr Anita Sengupta, Chloë sloped off to one of her favourite Gally staples, In Defence Of. Two players each have one minute to defend something generally considered to be indefensible (eg Adric’s pyjamas) and it’s run by the Verity! podcast team. This year ended with the two players leading the crowd in a rousing rendition of Defying Gravity. No one can remember what they were defending…

We end the day with Paul Cornell’s always entertaining Deathmatch. This year, every Classic Series script editor/producer and every New Series showrunner were ruthlessly pitted against one another in sudden death votes to find out who was (scientifically) the best. The winner was Terrance Dicks, to the general delight of all.

Finally, a romantic dinner at the surprisingly good hotel restaurant. Giant prawns, steak and an excellent Malbec: what’s not to love?

LA Day Seven: Into the Bond baddie’s lair

The Getty Centre looms large on a hill over the I405 motorway with sweeping views to LA and beyond akin to Blofeld’s secret base. Approaching the buildings via a monorail just adds to the James Bond theme.

With three hours to kill before check-in to our base for the Doctor Who convention, it’s the perfect place to come and be wowed with what almost unlimited money can buy.

Building infrastructure made from Italian marble quarries that took 2 years to get here, huge quantity of artwork that has famous names everywhere and gardens that shine brightly with vivid colours. It’s all here. We walk through the gardens, we take in a highlights tour and enjoy the views.

But there’s also more contemporary stuff. A small exhibition of excellent photos taken by ten LA high school students – #LAunshuttered – was a highlight amongst the giants of Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Turner.

https://www.getty.edu/visit/cal/events/ev_2790.html

The journey back was with a character of a LA taxi driver telling us how patient drivers are here, the wonders of Mexican food and to never come to LA in June – apparently the only month where the sun doesn’t shine, so everyone is a miserable sod.

We finished with proper US diner food at Denny’s and registration for the convention. Let the nerdness begin!!

LA Day Six: We’ve found all the noses!

Where does a billionaire with an unrivalled collection of antiquities keep them? Why, he builds an architecturally authentic Roman villa, complete with manicured gardens, olive and pine trees, and its own amphitheater, of course.

The Getty Villa is breathtaking in its scale, location and beauty. What’s inside beats it all. Hands down.

We’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of relics from European and Middle Eastern civilisations: Greek, Roman, Phoenician, Assyrian. We’ve seen them in the places they were uncovered and we’ve seen them in the British Museum (of Stolen Goods). We’ve never seen anything like this.

You’re familiar with the general look of such antiquities, right? Statues with missing heads, toes, noses. Pottery shards, faded and cracked. Tiny votive offerings of distorted or worn away figures. The inevitable passage of time does its work on all material objects.

Well, we’ve got news. Those missing noses? Those broken off toes? Not inevitable at all. They are not a necessary characteristic of ancient artefacts, it’s just that the billionaires got the good stuff already. All of the noses are here!

Frankly, we think the photos speak for themselves. We spent a fortune on taxis, but the villa is free to get in.

Short of paying proper taxes, this might be one of the better things a billionaire can do with his money.

LA Day Four: surf & sea cucumbers

Finally, after days of cloud and rain, the Californian sun showed its face. It’s easy to forget, looking out over miles and miles of concrete, that LA is an ocean city. And so to the seaside we go.

You can tell Manhattan Beach is a wealthy enclave. There’s a shop called Cupcake Couture and the locals can afford to drive around in vintage Beetles that look like they’ve just rolled off the production line. As with most high-priced neighbourhoods, it’s all about location. Near enough to all the bits of LA that you need, but far enough not to have to live with the downsides. Plus, miles and miles of golden sands and a stunning Pacific sunset every night. Not too shabby.

We take a stroll up the pier so that we can really appreciate the sheer scale of the coastline and the open ocean. There’s nothing between here and Shanghai, except to graze the southernmost tip of Japan.

A little building at the end houses an educational aquarium. Here, we’re allowed to touch a sea cucumber and are promised seven years of good luck if one of us kisses it. Who are we to argue with wise old men sharing their knowledge on a seaside pier? Allan obliges. He may never be the same again.

LA Day Three: legend of the weekend, gold medals and goals

Day three and the jet lag is somewhat fading. We discover that the final of the Olympic soccer qualifying tournament is on just down the road – well, 10 miles away, which in LA terms is just down the road. It’s USA vs Canada and tickets are available at the last minute. It’s 20 minutes drive. We’re there.

The last match Allan saw was a dreary 0-0 draw. The first half is about the same, although it’s more than made up for by a half-time YMCA singalong by the crowd.

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Second half and USA class showed, with three unanswered goals including the last by Trump’s favourite (not) soccer superstar and all-round amazing person Megan Rapinoe. She even inspired Chloë to purchase a USA football shirt on the way out.

The rain just about held off. We were home in time for very Californian dinner of fish tacos and shrimp burritos. Delicious.

LA Day Two: double legends

Despite falling into bed face first, we spring awake at 2am, jet lag in full force. Chloë is just able to drag herself into a cab first thing for her long-awaited, very nearly legendary, Alexandra Wagner facial.

Five years ago, she randomly booked an appointment at this Venice Beach beautician, only to receive the best facial ever. Even with the pound in free fall, it’s still worth every dollar. Every. Single. One.

Drifting home on a cloud of bliss, by midday it’s all too much. A brief siesta/near-coma ensues.

Still in recovery mode, there’s only one place to go for dinner: In ‘n Out Burger.

Everyone here loves It. Each year at Gallifrey One there’s an In ‘n Out burger run/social. The local branch is the number one rated restaurant in El Segundo on Trip Adviser. Chloë’s cabbie waxes lyrical.

We’ve heard about it for years and are finally within walking distance, so there’s really no choice.

There are really only three things on the menu: burger, cheeseburger and Double Double. Allan’s feeling brave, so it’s the Double Double for him. Chloë opts for the classic cheeseburger. Both are good. The fries are made fresh from whole potatoes. It unexpectedly tastes like real food. We can see why it’s so popular.

As we head home clutching bags of burgers and fries, a cop leans out of his SUV window to tell us his favourite milkshake is the chocolate. Seriously, they flipping love it here!

Two legends in one day is good going, but tomorrow we’re making it three in one weekend…

LA Day One

Touched down in LA around 4.30pm, which was gone midnight UK time. We had just three jobs: get to our apartment, find some dinner, and stay up until at least 9pm.

We achieved the first by hitching a sneaky lift with one of the free LAX hotel shuttles (we were staying just behind the Fairfield Suites). Cheeky.

Job two was completed with a walk out to Ralph’s supermarket and its pretty good sushi counter. Check.

Allan fell at the final hurdle when he completely passed out at 8.45pm. Still, we’re giving ourselves 8 out of 10 for day one!

30 hours in Barcelona

The brothers came from Madrid and London. Trains & planes at stupidly early o’clock were all just about on time and our arrivals were greeted with huge downpours of rain – a traditional Barcelona greeting for us Geordies.

The main event (apart from seeing each other of course!) was Barcelona vs Valencia. Maybe it was their champions league exit, maybe it was the rain, maybe it was because it was on a Saturday afternoon, but there was a remarkably low-key atmosphere with plenty of empty seats.

The football was absolute quality, Suarez scored early against the run of play, Valencia had one cleared off the line and another off the bar. A Sir-Les like leap by Umtiti looked to have won the game for Barcelona with Iniesta truly sublime. However, Valencia didn’t give up, they scored a late penalty and very nearly got a last-gap equaliser. Valencia can count themselves very unlucky to lose 2-1, but we saw a piece of history as Barca have now broken La Liga’s record of games without defeat.

Sunday was blazing with sunshine and your correspondent actually got a little sunburnt by the end of the day. A great trip to the hills around Barcelona via metro, funicular and cable car to see the majestic castle, huge vistas over the city & port and a bonus of seeing an archery competition in the castle grounds. The darker side of Spain was seen here. In 1940, the Montjuic Castle was used for the Franco-approved imprisonment of Lluís Companys, the President of Catalonia, after being extradited from another European country. A sham trial and execution followed.

Such history is all too familiar and relevant for the present day. We walk down the hill, see the Olympic Stadium named after Señor Companys and arrive at a massive demonstration with over 750,000 people. It’s a colourful and peaceful demo, everyone dressed in some sort of yellow who are demanding a Catalan independent state and the release of Catalan leaders who are being held in prison.

We decide to abandon the rest of the afternoon plans and head off to our respective airport and train station a bit earlier as Metros are very busy and there’s no way we’d be able to have a leisurely walk around the centre of town. This did allow some time to listen/watch Newcastle’s wonderful victory over Arsenal, so a great weekend finishes exceedingly well.

A special mention to the food in Barcelona; Tapas on Saturday afternoon, Japanese on Saturday night and Pintxos on Sunday afternoon were all fantastic. I still don’t understand why all people who live around here are not morbidly obese. I feel like I have put on a stone in weight by just being in this wonderful city for barely 30 hours.

Thanks for the company ‘bro, we’ll do it again soon!

Gallifrey waits no more

Even through a fog of jet lag, Gallifrey One is a marvellous thing. In our seventh year, it’s a mix of fondly familiar (yes, the carpet is still there despite the lobby refurb) and happily surprising (no, we wouldn’t have bet on Steven Moffat being sociable, gregarious and hilarious, but he was).

This year’s programme is packed to the gills. Even if we were feeling on top of our game, there’s no way we could hope to go to every panel or event it has to offer. In some ways, this makes it easier to accept that we need to find time each day to catch up on the sleep our bodies are intent on rejecting every night!

It’s no surprise to see so many Thirteenth Doctors here. From little kids to grandpas, everyone’s raring to celebrate the new incumbent. That doesn’t mean Capaldi is forgotten, not by a long shot. Steven Moffat’s live commentary over his final screen appearance (the Twice Upon a Time Christmas special) is a great opportunity to remind everyone that he combined acting chops with superfan-level knowledge and a special understanding of the great responsibility that comes with the role. Matt Lucas added another layer with his hilarious story about how they used to troll each other by email in the guise of fictional scary uber-fans, stalking each other through motorway service stations and remote fields in Wales.

We missed the main Moffat interview, in which he formally apologised for bringing the fez back (too bloody right). Chloe had a kaffeeklatsche with Jenny Colgan and Allan had a wild ride through NASA’s mission spreadsheets in the Mars Rover panel session. He tried to pretend it was the images from the planet’s surface that were so exciting, but it was the spreadsheets.

 

The air turned blue in the ‘This or That’ session with Camille Corduri and Jemma Redgrave. Stones or Beatles? Beatles. Potter or LoTR? Potter (Redgrave is a Hufflepuff). Austen or Brontes? Refused to answer. The highlight was Camille Corduri’s answer to the innocent query ‘cake or pie?’ with the words “filthy pork pie with pickle”, uttered in such lascivious tones that many of those present fainted dead away.

 

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