Greetings from high up in the air! We are on our way back home and suffering from jet lag, so apologies if this text makes no sense at times.
After surviving the floods, whirlwind, rattlesnakes, scorpions and tarantella eating wasps of the desert, we headed to the more safe areas of San Diego. Located close to the Mexican border, our GPS navigator decided to go on a tirading rampage and directed us to people’s private yards and other very embarassing places. But other than that, we can highly recommend the GPS navigator we bought: the cheapest Tom Tom they carried in Target. (Just make sure it has lane changing aid.)
My experiences of the San Diego Zoo have been prior to this visit limited to the reality TV show on the zoo which came out many years ago. The show followed the animal caretakers and from it I got the impression the San Diego Zoo is a huge, high quality zoo. Correct. San Diego Zoo is one of the top zoos in the world and houses many rare animals and is an active participant in many programs designed to reintroduce near extinct animals back to nature.
On the being huge part, there are bus routes within the zoo you can take. Also the map gives you the impression this area is huge. We both looked at the map and made a list of all the must see animals and tried to plan on which bus stops to use, etc… but it was totally unnecessary. The zoo is actually, for a normal Finnish person used to walking, a large but in no way overwhelming place. We ended up visiting each and every animnal in the zoo, not needing the bus even once and even had time to spend over half an hour looking at the elephants getting fed. We spent about six to eight hours in the zoo and never felt we had to hurry and even had time to stop for a proper dinner even though we are those people who have to stop to look at every animal no matter how (un)interesting they are.
I must also praise the zoo for taking care of its customers. There were restrooms, restaurants, cafes and stores everywhere. In places they even had moving walkways to help you take shortcuts or climb uphill. The only problem was, the zoo is a labyrinth where you can get lost quite easily. There are a few main streets and from them you can enter routes named after a theme or some popular animals on that route. The only problem is the signs don’t give you a clear indication on the direction you need to take and in the middle, around a huge bird house, the routes go on many levels and at least we got hopelessly lost trying to find the hippos. But no worries, in the end we did find them, though I still have no idea how.
And as for the animals, which are the main attraction of the place. What can I say: <3.
Right at the same time we were in San Diego there was the famous Comic Con. Unfortunately the tickets had sold out in 15 minutes and we missed even the second sale so there was no way for us to get in. We hoped there would have been some events in the city arount the Comic Con, but apparently not. Many of the comic stores were open at regular hours and some had even closed their doors. But the ones we visited we bought empty.
Comic Con: **** (we suppose, if you can get tickets and like crowds)
San Diego Comic Stores: **** (Especially Comickaze was amazing! The staff really know their stuff.)
Yeah, you read that right, it’s a… tar pit. But don’t go waving the fail flag quite yet, because it’s not just any old tar pit. This one is located right in the middle of Los Angeles and holds the remains of many millions of animals from before the last ice age! They have found many extinct animals from the pits like sabre-toothed cats, mammoths, and these huge giant ground sloths, which resemble modern bears. As they remind the visitors many, many times, there are no dinosaurs there, because the pits were formed only after the dinosaurs had died.
The La Brea Tar Pits is a free public park and in the middle of it there is the Page museum which displays some of the many findings from the tar pits. The most interesting part is, the tar pits are still being excavated and in the park there are many old excavation sites. Pit 91 is currently under excavation and there are paleonthologists working there in front of the park visitors. The excavations are made very visitor friendly. In the public park excavation site they have a white board with explanations of what the paleonthologists are doing currently and what findings they have made on that particular day. The tar pits are so full of remains the list of the daily findings was long already by midday. And inside the museum there is an open aquarium type of research lab for all the findings where the phaleontologists clean up and do the inventory on all the findings and also put together skeletons when needed. When we visited, there were two full time paleonthologists there and almost a hundred volunteers occasionally helping them with the finds.
By the way, if you are interested and happen to be staying in the area, they are accepting more volunteers. In fact all the museums and the zoos we visited had a volunteer program. I only wish we had a similar system in Finland, since accepting volunteers does not only help you get valuable work experience but it also involves people with the museums and, of course, allows the museums to make better exhibitions with less money. I would imagine the cultural historical museum of Finland would greatly benefit from volunteers considering how little money they have compared to the more popular art museums, which also get sponsors more easily. It’s like a snowball effect, the less money you have, the less time and money you have to put together exhibitions which interest a wider public, and the less visitiors you get, which causes you to get less money.
The La Brea Tar Pits museum (Page museum) is a rather small museum, but very interesting and with well thought out displays. But just the park is worth the visit. You see, in the past the park used to have many ponds or tar pits, where animals got stuck. First it might have been a herbivore, then a carnivore thinking it found an easy meal, then flies and what not. The tar pits in the area are full of bones and shells. And the best part is, there is a large pond right next to the road which, to my understanding, is just like the ponds in the park in the past. The tar under the park is still oozing through the ground and there are places where it has formed bubbling puddles. There’s tar floating in the pond and quite likely the whole bottom of the pond is filled with tar. The place might not be the best place for a picnic because you might accidentally place your blanket on tar and the smell of tar is quite strong in the park.
The park: ***, with the museum *****
Who hasn’t read about Disneyland in their childhood from Aku Ankka (“Donald Duck” in Finnish, ridiculously popular institution in Finnish families) magazine! Around the age of ten I got a chance to visit the place and it ruined childhood for me. Linnanmäki was nothing compared to Disneyland and I stopped visiting the place. Dangerous!
Of course, since we were around we had to visit the place. Maybe we were bit scared if the long lines for all the attracations would take their toll and if we had outgrown the place. We happened to enter the park on its birthday so the place was packed full to make matters worse. But the good thing is, none of it mattered to us in the end.
Yes, there were long lines. I’m talking about 1,5 hour long lines to the most popular attractions. But the best part was, most of the places had been designed in a way that you couldn’t see the full length of the line, which miraculously made the wait much more tolerable, and in almost all the places the queue was placed within the set, making even the queueing part of the experience. Also the most popular attractions have a FastPass system which means that instead of queueing you can go to a machine, stick your ticket in and it gives you a ticket which allows you to go past the lines between a certain time. It won’t allow you to pass the line completely but you will skip most of it. Note, you can get only one FastPass per two hours or so and the FastPasses run out during the day. So a smart visitor goes to the most popular places first and gets their FastPasses well in advance.
And as for the rest of the people, even they didn’t bother us that much, since the park is so huge there was no rush except during parades or other special program within the park. As for parking, bying tickets, getting in – I don’t think I have ever had so easy time getting anywhere including my own bed. And even the food they serve in Disneyland is good. Despite the long lines I can’t think of anything bad to say about the place. Very good job, guys!
Since Disneyland is a definite ***** we decided to rate the rides we took.
- Pirates of the Caribbean *****
- The movies with the same name are based on this classic ride. It’s long, it has a great mood, it’s quite a lot of fun and also gives you a good scream in the beginning. 😀 *****
- Haunted Mansion *****
- Another one of the classic rides and propably the best spooky ride there is. It’s not necessarily scary, though I did scream in the cemetary, but it’s so wonderfully made you can’t but wonder how they did all that.
- Jungle Cruise ***
- This ride possibly got its inspiration from the Jungle Book, but it has nothing to do with the story. In fact, I think they might have redone the otherwise very old fashioned boatride into a comedy show. It’s up to your captain how much fun you’ll have, but even if you get a bad one at least you get to see how “amusement” was done in my childhood.
- Splash Mountain *****
- When opened, I think this was the tallest fall in any splash rides anywhere. The best part is, when you begin the ride, it’s cute and fluffy, but as you get closer to the fall the images get more and more horrifying – actually it’s downright weird by modern standards, they’ve got cute and fluffy animals dying and stuff. And when you’re at the top of the fall, you can’t see the bottom! That tall.
- Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters ****
- An arcade game style ride where you shoot evil aliens who are trying to steal batteries or something from Buzz Lightyear. Surprise fun!
- Matterhorn Bobsleds **
- Old ride, not that scary. Screamed only because I was expecting something worse (better).
- Star Tours *****
- A must see! The idea is that you’re going on a vacation in the Star Wars world, as anyone in the galaxy far, far away might, but then things turn out rather more exciting than planned. We can’t tell you anything more without spoiling it, but it’s based on the original Star Wars movies and it’s so much fun! And even the queueing is made fun.
- Space Mountain ***
- Possibly the wildest and fastest ride in Disneyland, where you ride a rocket in the darkness of the space. The most horrifying part is when you just get a faint feeling of how fast you are going and it’s something totally horrifying. But the lines are horrifying. They were 1,5 hours long and even with FastPass they are 45 minutes long. And it’s the only place where the line runs in the most boring environment, in straight angles. Booooring!
- Captain Eo Tribute *****
- This is the first ever 4D movie starring young Michael Jackson and directed by George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola. It is a wonderful little piece of magic, which has turned much funnier with the passing of time and especially since the early 80s cutting edge style is just so unbelievably hilarious. The worst part is, the movie print is in bad shape, or the transition from those red-and-blue 3D glasses to the polarised 3D glasses hasn’t been a complete success. Also the movie is missing the original’s laser and starfield effects, which might have been pretty cool. We read from the internet they are thinking about pulling the movie from the theater and making something new there instead. That would be a shame, but I understand they don’t want to keep on showing something that isn’t pulling people in. Maybe they could still show the original Captain Eo once or twice a day with the possible new show, because it would be a shame if no-one could ever see this movie again. (It has never been released on video or DVD. It’s only been shown once on MTV.)
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad *****
- *SCREEEEeeaaaaaaaaam!* *laughter* *SCREEeeeeaaam!* *laughter* We lost our voices.
- Indiana Jones Adventure *****
- The scariest, best, most exciting ride ever! The lines are long and a little bit boring, but still well worth the effort.
- Snow White’s Scary Adventures *
- We spent some time in Fantasyland,which is designed for smaller kids, before braving the line for Space Mountain. This one is one of those very old rides, where the only excitement comes from trying to understand the story the scenes are trying to tell when it’s been too long since you read the Disney version of Snow White and scenes chosen for the ride are a bit random. It ends very abruptly, too.
- Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride *****
- Like Snow White, but fun! I steered us through walls and fireplaces, ended up getting thrown to the jail, and ended up in Hell.
- (Remember to use the steering wheel enthusiastically and get into the story!)
- Mad Tea Party ***
- Tea cups going around and you can make them go faster and we did. Couldn’t walk straight or at all for a few minutes.
Finishing words and expert tips
Writing this entry from home one thing strikes us: how quiet everything is back home. There is no humming sound of the air conditioning and the sounds from a close by freeway. The comfort of your own shower not trying to rip your skin off is nice, too. But I miss the massaging shower ends which worked magic on my shouders.
The top memories from the trip are the amazing sceneries everywhere: at mountains, on the coast, in the desert and everywhere in-between. In one hour of driving the vegetation changes and you are continually bombarded with new rock formations. Our tip is to stay off the huge freeways and stick on the smaller roads. Also if you have a chance, keep the daily travel distances short. We had planned to drive from two to four hours per day and we still just barely had the time to see everything we wanted. You do want to stop at all view points and want to have time to walk around the small towns you see on your way. And you also need time to recover so reserve at least one day per week when you don’t drive anywhere.
Also huge thanks for the amazing journey go to TripAdvisor.com. We booked our motels mostly from Hotels.com, but making an additional quality check from TripAdvisor we found the best and the cheapest motels in the area, and the best cheap restaurants everywhere. Only twice did we end up staying in a bad motel and both times we knew they might be bit shaky. Also remember to add your own reviews there!
We found the GPS navigation indispensable. You might be okay outside of the big cities without one, if you really want to adventure, but we wouldn’t venture into the inner cities without one.
Parking is very easy everywhere. There is generally free or cheap ($5-15) parking available within a block of anywhere you want to go. Only in the most popular downtown areas you might end up paying more than you’re comfortable with, and even then if you’re willing to walk a couple of blocks, it’s okay.
There are some traffic laws that work differently from Finland, be sure to check them out before driving. The big ones are that it’s usually okay to turn right on red, if you check to see it’s clear, and passing can be done on either side of the vehicle. Be on the lookout for stops, which are a very common way of regulating traffic in intersections. They mean an all the way stop, too. Four-way stops can be confusing, but basically you just take turns in order of approach.
As for financing your road trip, we ended up spending around 1’000 € per week including gas (c. 250 € per week), food ($50 per day on food and drinks), motels (c. $60 per night), restaurants and attractions (the main ones costing $80 per head). On top of that we paid 850 € for my flights and 1’000 € for six weeks’ car rental.
All in all, a great journey. Six weeks went by so fast it’s unbelievable. And at the same time it feels like a dream, thinking back from our trusty old home sofa.
Mia & Joonas