How to hike the Hollywood Sign

I have been to Los Angeles twice and twice I intended to hike to the Hollywood sign. I failed once. I now know that the Hollywood Sign Trust has an agreement with Google maps and some GPS so that they won’t take you to the right park entrance and you will be way too far from the sign. That’s what happened the first time. I naively thought that following the directions given on the Hollywood sign website would lead me to it. No. It does not. So, how to get there?

First, a couple of things to bear in mind before going, anyone can do it, in the way that it is gentle slope but it is over 9km long there and back which could take you 2 to 3 hours. That’s why it’s better to go early to avoid the heat and take plenty water with you. Trainers are fine, it’s basically a dirt road the whole way and I recommend a hat as there is no shade on the way.

Once you are ready to go, here is the address you will need:  2927 Canyon Dr, Los Angeles CA 90068. When you arrive there, you will most likely see many other cars and basically park when you can. There are several very small parking lots along the way so you could always drive as far as you can and go back if there are no space but even early we had to park on the side of the road. All the way up that road there is a barrier and after that it turns into a wide dirt trail. Carry on that main path for a bit, it curves around but it’s very clear where to go. After a bend you will see a little bench and you will get a nice faraway view of the sign. Carry on and you will get to a sign at a junction, take the left following the Hollywood sign direction.

The trail will then split in two, stick to the right side going up. Always stay on the wide main path and you will start getting views of the sign. You will then arrive to another direction sign, take a left at Mt Lee Road for a little detour that will take you to the front of the sign. It is definitely worth it, it’s as close as you will get to the front of the Hollywood sign. Come back where you were and carry on right uphill onto the paved road. This will take you to the back of it and it is the closest you’ll physically get to the sign but you’re so close you can’t see it all. That’s why I think it’s worth going to see the front as well. You’ll see the radio tower in the distance, you are getting close! Stay on the paved road curving left and at the Junction sign follow Mt Lee summit. At the top, hike on the left of the fence and you’ll get to a steep dirt trail, from there you’ll get a good view of the back of the sign. And you’ve done it! Now you just need to do the way back….

So is it worth hiking 6 miles? I think it’s something you need to do at least once. It is such an iconic monument  and the hike will give you views over Los Angeles. The old Hollywood fan in me can’t help thinking about those actresses who climbed up there in the 1920’s.

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Hedgehog café in Tokyo

I love animals, all animals, but I don’t like zoos or places of the sort, as I’ve already said here. I am ok with petting zoos as goats, ponies, donkeys and such seem ok with being cuddled and fed. And I will be the first one to run pass kids to have a cuddle with a goat. So animal cafés in Japan are on the line: I don’t love the idea but I can’t resist… we never went to a cat café as we have plenty in our neighbourhood we can play with and I know how cats like to be left alone. Which I’m sure is also the case with hedgehogs but I justified it with a “once in a lifetime” argument. For some strange reason, I was obsessed with hedgehogs as a kid, this is only a vague memory as I was very young but left over stuffed hedgehogs toys seem to be evidence enough. But I had actually never seen one.

So here we ended up in Harry hedgehog cafe in Harajuku. I can’t say it enough about Japan, pocket WiFi and google maps were once again our best friends to find the place on the top floor of a building in which you will also find restaurants and hairdressers. When we came in we were first greeted by a type vending machine – how I love that about Japan – to purchase tickets – with or without food and how long you want to stay. Then go to the counter where they explain the rules, give the hedgehog food – worms that is – and make you disinfect your hands. We were then taken to our own little terrarium sort of thing with four or five hedgehogs. They have different breeds in this cafe and they differ in colour and size. We were then shown how to handle them gently. I don’t think the girl spoke a word of English but as everywhere else in Japan you get by and understand each other.

We didn’t feel like waking one up so we mostly fed and cuddles the one awake. And oh boy they are adorable. It was fun to touch their back as when they are relaxed and feel safe they flatten their spikes and it’s actually quite nice. And their little pink belly is just the softest. Mine kept walking up my arms and I had a hard time keeping him – I have partially decided it was a boy – in my hands. Half an hour goes quite quickly but is also enough time to just stupidly – me – grin from hear to hear at everything they do. Have you ever seen a hedgehog yawn and stretch? Well, it’s pretty cute.

If you live in Japan and have a bit of spare cash you can actually take your favourite one home with you. You can chose if you want a male or a female and which breed. Some of them cost a fair bit as I imagine they are a rarer variety. The prices are all high enough to be prohibitive if you are not serious about adopting a new friend.

The place itself is extremely clean and well kept. All the animals looked good, healthy and well fed. I remember reading somewhere that they rotate them so they never stay out too long and they can sleep at the back in peace and quiet. All the people there seemed very gentle and careful, there were no kids, and there are plenty staff walking around to make sure everything is going well.

So is a hedgehog cafe worth it? I didn’t feel as weird about the place as I did with the Fox Village or an owl cafe. This specific one being so clean and well kept was for me a good sign, it shows right away if an animal is not healthy and clearly those little guys are not afraid of people. So I’m still not in love with any animal in a cage – but that’s a personal preference – but playing and cuddling a hedgehog very much made my day.

Link

http://harinezumi-cafe.com

Third Man Records – Nashville

I’m a huge Jack White fan. Over the last decade I’ve seen him live – solo or with his bands – around 10 times. And no, I’m not tired of it and I’ll probably go many more times. It had become a joke with my friend – now husband – that we would go to Nashville together to go to Third Man Records. Flash forward to a wedding and honeymoon in Tennessee.

The first time we went – yes I’ve been more than once – was in 2012, only 3 years after it first opened. Back then it was just one room with so few customers you had to ring a door bell for someone to come and open the store for you. Which was pretty cool. It was already it’s yellow/red/black self with African masks and stuffed animals on the walls.

Flash forward to 2015, it was busier, we didn’t need to ring the bell anymore and we bumped into Ben Blackwell. The shop is now three times its size, there are listening stations, mechanical monkeys, an analog – of course – photobooth and a recording booth. And even more records for sale.

We make our visits to the store an event, we spend time in there, we indulge in the photo and recording booths and some knick knacks because yes I need yellow and black matches. It is not just a store, it’s an attraction, you don’t just pop in. That is also due to the location as there is nothing else around…

Now as for getting there… in 2012 we didn’t have a car and we walked from downtown bus station. Which is a good 25 minutes walk with absolutely no shade and in August it was an interesting experience… but it is doable if you don’t have a car. Though… are there Ubers in Nashville?? So ideally get there by car, it’s quick and easy and air-coned. And let’s face it, it is not in the nicest neighbourhood for a stroll. There is a big car park just across the road as well.

So is going to Third Man Records, Nashville worth it? There is actually two levels of questions here.

Is it worth going to Nashville to go to Third Man Records if you’re a Jack White fan? Well, yes. Because Nashville is great and you should go regardless. But obviously if you’re a fan, it really is a cool place and not just a store. My aim is to see a band in the blue room.

Is it worth going if you’re in Nashville but not necessarily a fan? Well, yes. There are so many records to get, not just Jack White’s. And the recording booth is just great be you a singer, a musician or if you just want to record a message on vinyl like in the old days. Plus the analog photobooth will make you look good, there is just something about a less sharp, less focused photo quality.

Link

https://thirdmanrecords.com

Paris Catacombs

When I was 18 I moved to Paris to study and you always hear stories about someone who knows someone who went into the closed part of the Catacombs. Which is a silly idea as it is pretty dangerous and not worth the risk. But the public part of it is still quite something, it is an odd place.

In 1785, it was decided to close the Cimetière des Innocents for sanitary reasons – a ten centuries old cemetery! The following year, they started transfering all the bones to an old quarry, just underneath Paris, and named it Catacombes refering to Rome’s antique cemetery. It took two years to do so and they kept on bringing bones from other cemeteries as well. They use to do it at night with a procession of priests and finally stopped bringing bones in 1814.

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From 1787, this place intrigued people and Kings went down there. Now a two kilometres (1.4 miles) long visit is in place. You go down 180 steps and walk along corridors until you arrive in ‘L’Empire de la Mort’ where all the bones are lined up. Avoid it if you are too tall (my husband’s head was against the ceiling in most corridors) or if you are claustrophobic (you have to go all the way, 45 minutes walk, to go out).

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The sheer number of bones and skulls down there is overwhelming, thousands of them. I overheard people talking, saying they were shocked and disgusted, and it is a weird place but their reaction was odd to me, it’s not like you stumble upon such a place, you have to very actively want to visit it. I wonder if they feel the same going to a museum to see an Egyptian mummy. I actually feel more disturbed by a mummy. I feel more removed from bones, less real. I was actually quite amazed to think some of those people live in 953, centuries and centuries ago, imagine the stories they could tell! But I must say that after rooms and rooms of bones I was starting to feel uncomfortable, more and more thinking of the people who lined them up, surely that must mess you up, building walls of bones, lining skulls, nights after nights.

On a more technical matter, avoid weekends if you can. We went there midweek and it was almost empty, you go at your pace and it’s a special atmosphere. When we walked passed it on a Saturday, hundreds of people were queueing (they can only let 200 people at the same time and it is a 45 minutes walk). Also beware of the guards sitting in dark corners, round corridors, one almost gave me a heart attack!

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So is it worth going to the Catacombs? This one is actually very very subjective. I believe it’s not for everyone, it is a claustrophobic atmosphere and once you go down there is no going back, you can only go forward. Also chose your timing well, I think of you end up with the wrong crowd down there it could ruin the visit. Being alone for most of it made it very special.

Link
http://www.catacombes.paris.fr

Albuquerque’s Pueblo Cultural Centre

Rewatching Breaking Bad made me think of my time in Albuquerque. Which was only a few days really, passing through on our way from the Hopi Reservation to Texas. But one of my favourite memory from there is, well not Los Pollos Hermanos, but the Pueblo Cultural Centre.

As I said here I’ve always been fascinated with Art Deco ever since I was a small kid but also with Native Americans art and culture. I have a thing especially for the Hopi clan but I’ll get back to that extensively. So while in Albuquerque I thought we could check out the cultural centre and I’m very glad we did.

It was extremely educational in a very clever way and interesting. I learned a lot about their history, before and after the arrival of white people and their art. It was fairly quiet and it is a big place where you can take your time and not be disturb by a crowd. We had to let a very loud – even though quite small – group of tourists though. And I think the volunteers working in the centre appreciated how respectful we were. It is a painful but important history and should be treated as such. An older man volunteering started to chat with us and gave us even more informations, he was so clearly passionate about it all. He gave us places to go to and on which dates special event were happening. I find it wonderful how much people there care about sharing the pueblo culture and welcome you into it.

In the centre itself, you will find a lot of pictures and accounts from many different generations of Pueblos. A whole part is about their “integration” into white culture through education which I thought was extremely interesting. There are also a lot of artefacts from centuries ago to today.

We ended up our long visit in the gift shop. They had truly beautiful handmade blankets but unfortunately it wasn’t in our budget. They also had some Hopi Kathinas dolls. As we had just come back from Songopovi and I had bought one directly there, I was curious to see the price tag in a museum. As a I was looking at them a twenty something sales assistant came up to me and asked me if I knew what they were. We started talking and it turned out he was Hopi. We stayed talking to him for quite a while and he shared so many stories about their myth and culture but also about being 20 and being Hopi and still taking parts in ceremonies. He was so naturally friendly – not trying to sell something to us – and proud and happy to share his culture. He told us that anyone is welcomed during their ceremonies and that would should go. I’m hoping to take him on on that one day.

So, is the Pueblo Culture Centre worth going to? It is, no matter if you know anything about Pueblos or Native Americans in general, it is very interesting and beautiful. There is still so much going on today and it’s still a very painful situation. And even being from Europe, i think it is so important to understand their culture and protect it.

Link
https://www.indianpueblo.org/

Orust

My husband and I both work with a lot of Swedish people, I even had the chance to go to Stockholm for work, and it made us want to see more of Sweden. Funnily enough when I was fairly young I would always say to my parents that I wanted to go on holidays in Scandinavia but my parents wanting some sun – and way cheaper destinations – we would often drive to the south of France, Spain or Italy. So nearly 15 years on, I got as a Christmas surprise plane tickets to Stockholm, coming back from Gothenburg. It seems to have become our thing, to land on one side of a country and leave from the other and then just figure out the in between.

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The reason why we chose to leave from Gothenburg was mainly that the west coast of the country had been highly recommended to us as being absolutely stunning. So the plan was to start with a few days city break, drive across the country and enjoy the coast. I am not sure anymore how we decided specifically to go to Orust, if it was recommended to us or if we read about it. But once we were settled on the idea, we booked a remote Airbnb, staying in a cabin in the forest near Henån beach. What really sold it to me was having our own sauna.

We drove from Stockholm, leaving in the morning, and it was a very easy drive though not the most exciting. We found out that the reason why it actually takes so long to drive across a fairly narrow country is that there is one lane on each side with an alternating take over lane, you don’t have long to take over so we got stuck behind quite a few trucks. But as everywhere else, people were patient and respectful and it was a stress free journey.

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The main road is mostly encased by pine trees and you suddenly stumble on the coast and the scenery is completely different. The water was incredibly dark blue contrasting with the grey rocks and we were lucky to have absolute perfect weather. As we crossed the bridge to enter Orust, I knew it was going to be my favourite part of our stay. I loved Stockholm and it is such an enjoyable city with sea air coming in but this was different to anywhere we’ve been.

Our Airbnb was only fifteen minutes away from the coast but even with specific coordinates, the GPS couldn’t find the place. We had to call our host who directed us and it turned out we needed to drive ten minutes on a dirt road. The place was perfect, our hosts and three dogs welcoming us and the location was beautiful.

From there we could walk to a lake through a glorious forest of gigantic pine trees. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any access to go for a swim. Henån harbour was also only a short drive away and there you have all the convenience you need. Including a Systembolaget where you can buy alcohol, if you like Swedish cider they had a good selection. I wouldn’t recommend cactus cider though… Bear in mind that they close quite early and you will always need ID.

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From Henån you can just drive around and stop wherever you want. Our host told us that in Sweden it’s ok to go through someone’s property as long as you don’t go in the house basically. We were still very cautious but as long as there are no barriers, you can stroll anywhere. We just pointed to a place on the GPS and explored. Some roads where just dirt paths again and we were quite surprised to bump into the mailman. At some point we just parked the car in the middle of pine trees, went up a slope and the most beautiful landscape appeared, facing the sea standing on grey rocks. The sky and the water were incredibly blue.

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After a couple of days in Henån, we drove down to Gothenburg, crossing all of Orust and Tjörn. The latter is a smaller island and was very quick to drive through, it was also lovely and we went through a small fishing village. We passed a beach and people were sunbathing but it still felt a little bit too cold for us.

So, is Orust worth is? If you want a break from the city, it definitely is. It ended up being one of my favourite parts of this trip and felt like a proper break. The landscapes are truly beautiful and all the people were friendly and welcoming everywhere we went. Trains can take you to Orust but then you will need a mode of transport on the island. If you are comfortable cycling around, bikes are a good alternative to cars.