Waiting to depart San Fran at SFO airport, there was about a 40min delay. Why? To film some kind of ad/porno for the Lufthansa A380 we were about to board. It featured a burly silver foxed pilot clad in obligatory leather jacket and aviators disembarking to a waiting Harley then riding to meet a lady friend. Pin point accuracy for realism I’d say. While it was interesting to watch a couple takes, why they couldn’t choose another time/flight (one that wasn’t about to board) I have no idea, but like any A380 the wait was more than worth it with lushness abound on a 3 week old model, still had the new plane smell ๐Ÿ˜‰ And off we set…

Filming of Lufthansa A380 "ad"

Exterior A380 tail cam

It’s a running joke and a long time clichรฉ about its miserable weather but its really hard to deny it when you’re flying into Heathrow through sheets of wispy drizzle and grey haze, once again, London DID disappoint.

It had been about 5 years since I last set foot on the convict exporter’s soil but it all came rushing back as soon as I purchased an Oyster card (essential for public transport and small purchases at selected stores) and made a bee line for the Tube. First timers may choose to take the express from the airport into Paddington then transfer, but for a fraction of the price (at the expense of crowdedness depending on the time you travel) you can just as easily take the Piccadilly line straight into the city. As we were staying at Bloomsbury, we saved ourselves some Tube tunnel running with all our luggage and stayed on till Kings Cross/St. Pancras Station, strategically pre-empting a quick jump off for the next leg to Paris ๐Ÿ˜‰

The Wardonia hotel (full review here) is only a short walk from the station but having come out the wrong subway entrance with pouring rain we missed the street sign scurrying for cover and subsequently took the scenic route.

Travel tip: Apart from major centers, very few streets are sign posted. Street names are usually on small plaques posted high on the traffic flow side of buildings, so if you’re walking against traffic you will have to look backwards.

With the luggage dropped off, we had just enough time to pop into SOHO for a quick look. It was still early in the evening, yet we were disappointed at how many of the shops were closed or closing, strange for London we thought, however it wasn’t till the following morning when we were “discussing” with the Macca’s chick why we couldn’t get breakfast at 10.32am… turns out it was 11.32am thanks to daylight saving time…oops.

Travel tip: Always check your destination to see if they’re in DST. Better yet, confirm local time at the airport as you try to get through immigration, if your pilot, like ours doesn’t do his courtesy spiel on arrival.

Even though most of the shops that were on our list had to be checked out another day, we still managed a look in at Niketown, Johnny Cupcakes London and JD Sports. Niketown is London’s flagship store with the usual run of latest and greatest but with a different continent comes different stock and region specific releases. A “Nike – London” tee over a clichรฉ Union Jack one was an easy choice ๐Ÿ˜‰ This store is also home to different Nike exhibits, last time I was there they had a history of Air bag technology and the different shoe models it appeared in, very cool. This time on the back of the Football season they had a little skirmish of 3 on 3 inside a small “field” complete with goal nets, definitely added to the experience, almost made me want to pull my shirt over my face and do aeroplanes.

Just down the street is JD Sports, direct competitor to Footlocker and most of the times beats them in range and quantity of stock especially in clothing. Sneakers are on par but they both do slight variations on one another, though JD still has plenty of “JD exclusive” tags and ample sale/clearance racks.

Johnny Cupcakes London

Johnny Cupcakes‘ London store conveniently opened a few months before we arrived so it was high on the must-see list. The small store is nestled with the many other cool boutique stores in Carnaby, a short walk down from Oxford Circus. Following the limited edition trend of the JC range, there were plenty of London exclusives with one drawback… limited sizes ): Thankfully my ADD took over and I soon forgot about the disappointment when their Rube Goldberg style machine kicked into action ๐Ÿ˜€ The prices are almost identical to USD however thanks to it being it BP it works out to be quite alot more expensive (about 60%!), but when you see a shirt with a double-decker bus topped with frosting, its hard to say no!

There is also plenty of eating spots in this area, so it didn’t take long to pop into an Asian quick serve spot for some dumpling soup.

Early to bed, early to rise for a big day of sight seeing planned with the central London landmarks and the world renowned Chelsea Flower show up next.

London 2011 part #2 – Central London sight seeing
London 2011 part #3 – Chelsea Flower show
London 2011 part #4 – Shopping – Hammersmith
London 2011 part #5 – Shopping – Covent Garden and Soho
London 2011 part #6 – Shopping – Camden
London 2011 part #7 – Shopping – Shoreditch
London 2011 part #8 – Hyde park, Piccadilly Circus

London photo gallery here
Chelsea flower show photo gallery here

“You can stick your well laid plans up your well laid ass!”. Ah yes, another pearl of wisdom from Mr. Jackson and nothing short of the truth for the opening leg of our latest trip. It’s true, there’s no amount of preparation that will prevent curve balls from external influences.

Things started off with a nervous check in thanks to our travel agent putting completely wrong passport numbers into our flight booking. Not the best thing to have against your name flying into the states with their current “everyone is a terrorist” standing. Luckily, after half
an hour of “Border Control” TV show style questioning, accusing glances and hushed phone calls it was all sorted and we were on our way around the world!

We scored some crazy cheap flights via star alliance, which led to the bulk of the flights being covered by Lufthansa. I’ve only flown once domestically with them which was fine for a short trip but I was a little skeptical with what the service would be like on a long haul – no thanks to a lot of comments and :S faces from friends and random strangers. However I’m happy to report it was great (: Service was good albeit it a bit hurried at times and the accommodations were nothing short of lush, being on a 3 week old A380 definitely helped with this. Exceptionally quiet, engine noise was easily half of a regular A300 or 747. Seats were comfy and the touch screen LCD complete with 3 external live cameras was great for in flight entertainment. Don’t forget your LAN or USB cable to plug your devices into your arm rest ๐Ÿ˜‰ Best of all, it had that fresh off the floor, new plane smell.

Noisey kids, idiots bumping our seats, jet lag and the inescapable 2 hour crawl through LAX customs/immigration later, we were free from the clutches of commercial transit. Grabbed our rental car from Dollar Rentals (review here) and headed straight for West Hollywood.
(tips on driving in California in a coming installment)

The biggest speed bump I always find on holidays is store trading hours. The majority of places I have travelled to in the world (except Australia), retailers open around 10-11am (sometimes 12 or later for boutique stores), some bigger stores/malls might swing the doors open around 9. This might work well if you’ve had a big night but it seriously eats into your day when you’re travelling. So a good thing to try is to tee up sight seeing or community events to do in the morning while you’re waiting for the stores to open.

Random bits and pieces

First stop for us was the Melrose Trading Post at Fairfax High school which is pretty much what you would expect for a popular Californian market. An abundance of quirky brick-a-brack, hand made arts and crafts and vintage items galore from cute plush monsters to taxidermy to thousands of random photographs and negatives from people’s personal collection. How? Why? Who knows, it’s LA baby!

Vintage Coke Esky

Hand made plush toys

Framed butterflies

Vintage photo frames - $5

Buy someone else's personal photos

There’s also a selection of vintage and modern cameras and accessories. Forget over bidding on ebay for a used Vivitar flash, they were available here for throw away prices. Plenty of army surplus items as well, right down to aircraft instrumentation and war memorabilia.

Camera stuff... and hand mirrors

More camera stuff

Ammunition case

Aviation memorabilia

Photo tip: while there are plenty of tourists and arty types snapping photos, take care when shooting some of the stalls, especially the ones of the local designers who seem to be very particular with others “stealing” their ideas. I witnessed a guy get chased down and verbally abused by one owner. While the empty threats of “That’s stealing! I’m calling the police” may not mean much, it is definitely a conflict best avoided. Or at least wait till you’re about to leave anyway :p

Travel tip: Head to their website for half price entry coupons

Depending on how thoroughly you browse, it only takes about 1-2 hours to do the whole event. Take advantage of the food and (especially) toilets while you’re there. Parking is free when you drive into the grounds, (just follow the directions from the traffic controllers) so to save a few bucks, leave your car there and check out the surrounding shops, most of which should be open by now….

Next – Shopping in West Hollywood and a spot of sight seeing at the famed Mulholland Drive.

Los Angeles 2011 part #1 – Arrival, Melrose Trading Post
Los Angeles 2011 part #2 – West Hollywood shopping, Mulholland Drive
Los Angeles 2011 part #3 – Downtown shopping – Fashion District
Los Angeles 2011 part #4 – Downtown shopping – Japantown
Los Angeles 2011 part #5 – Steel Panther @ The House of Blues 17/5/11
Los Angeles 2011 part #6 – Hollywood sign, Farmer’s Market
Los Angeles 2011 part #7 – Peterson Automotive Museum
Los Angeles 2011 part #8 – Greater LA area shopping
Los Angeles 2011 part #9 – Hollywood sight seeing with Orbic Air
Los Angeles 2011 part #10 – Driving in Los Angeles/California

Complete Los Angeles 2011 photo gallery here