(Part 1)

I was down in L.A. for a (very full) week and while I enjoyed pretty much everything down there I obviously had my favourite parts! I’ve saved most of these for this post, and I would certainly heartily recommend visiting if the chance arises. I know I’d happily go back to all of them!

Overall, I still don’t really know what to make of L.A., a city that encapsulates a lot of the contrasts and contradictions I found in America (extreme wealth and poverty living almost side by side for example) but is also a gigantic mess of people and cultures. I can’t say I’d ever want to live there, but I would love a return visit.

Getty Center

The Getty Centre, perched overlooking the city from the north, was easily the best surprise from the whole week, maybe even the entire year. The collections are extensive and impressive, but for me they were thoroughly overshadowed by the spectacular setting.

The panoramic views were breathtaking and the buildings phenomenal. If you’re there, make sure to spend a good few hours, if not a whole day. You won’t be disappointed and certainly won’t get bored.

Number one recommendation has to be the architecture tour (an unofficial version of which I received from my guide) which gives incredible insights into every aspect of the centre’s construction. It really added to my appreciation of the place, from the alignment of the buildings to the slabs of marble the architect deemed to beautiful to cut and smooth, and so instead mounted like permanent exhibits in the numerous courtyards and walkways. A brilliant afternoon, I just wish I’d seen more.

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Space Shuttle Endeavour

I was in Davis for the last flight of Endeavour – its final transferral from NASA to the California Science Center, and watched the coverage of its majestic final taxi trough the streets of the metropolis. Seeing the shuttle, therefore, was going to be the perfect conclusion to my trip down south. I geeked out completely (in fairness, it’s a goddamn space ship!) and stayed gawking at it for over an hour. Easily the best $2 I’ve spent, I’d love to go back when the permanent exhibit has been completed – though the interim one was plenty impressive enough!

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So still star struck by Endeavour, I made the short trip across the park to USC, where I was spending a few days before heading back north. It’s a big, famous American private university in the country’s second largest city, so I was expecting an impressive campus. I wasn’t disappointed, with the tone set by the college’s football stadium (the 1984 Olympic stadium) and opulent buildings bearing the name of generous alumni.

What really struck me was the spectacular contrast from the immediate surrounds. Outside the trust fund bubble of campus was a very run down and almost entirely Spanish speaking neighbourhood that I changed busses in. London, and even Dublin and Edinburgh, have their bad areas but the extent of the contrast in that one short bus ride was mind blowing.

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So back to NorCal, one term of my year in Davis to go. I enjoyed L.A. a lot, but Davis had really begun to feel like home at this stage so it was good to be going back. Also, cool lightning storm:


Way back in the mists of time (well, 2013) I completed my second quarter at UC Davis and promptly headed off to Los Angeles, a six hour drive south of Sacremento. I hitched a ride with a friend who was heading home for our week long spring break (so no crazy Cancun exploits for us!) and he kindly agreed to take me round the city and its environs as well as put me up/up with me for the time I was down there. This was absolutely brilliant, as not only did he know his way around all the tourist attractions (as well as some more off-beat spots), many of the best bits of L.A. are essentially inaccessible without a car, so thanks Micah!

Vasquez Rocks

One of the reasons L.A. dominates the film and TV industries is the staggering quality and diversity of the local area. We were staying about an hour away from the centre of the city and on the way in on the first day stopped at the imposing Vasquez Rocks, which has appeared as a variety of rocky inhospitable alien planets in Sci-Fi B-Movies (and Star Trek). It’s easy to see why! Also, I met Jesus, who was pretty sound altogether.




Don't want to cross these lads. Cross? Never mind...

Don’t want to cross these lads. Cross? Never mind…

It was the week before Easter Sunday, when apparently they do a re-enactment of the passion of Christ, but without the resurrection. Or the death, or something like that. Anyway, they were practising for that so we got out of their way.

Griffith Observatory

Closer to the city, the Griffith observatory sits overlooking Los Angeles from the north, and it’s a pretty spectacular way to get a first look at L.A. proper, as well as the obligatory shot of the Hollywood sign. Inside, there’s a pretty cool museum and the architecture is designed to feel like a cathedral of science.







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Well obviously

Well obviously



Having seen the sign, I had to go! Hollywood itself is essentially little more than a giant tourist trap but it was good to see – especially Mel’s diner, the sheer twee Americana of which I fell for instantly (despite thousands of almost identical restaurants around the world…).


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Mel's Diner

Mel’s Diner

Thousands of things were probably filmed here

Thousands of things were probably filmed here



Santa Monica

We visited Santa Monica twice, once in the evening and again the following day. Both times we strolled down the front to Venice, where irritatingly I seem to have been so amazed by what I saw I forgot to take pictures. It sort of needs to be seen to be believed anyway, but Santa Monica was nice enough all the same.

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Got perfect British service here - i.e. utterly unhelpful and the pasties were cold

Got perfect British service here – i.e. utterly unhelpful and the pasties were cold


Universal Studios

A quick one to finish – we didn’t end up going in to the Universal Studios park (the prices were eyewatering) but we did visit the shops outside. Again, I didn’t take many pictures, but it was still a fun evening watching America sell rubbish to tourists.

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In Part 2…

So that’s a big chunk of my spring break trip to L.A. – I’ve saved my favourite bits of the trip for part 2 though. It’s strange coming back to this after so long off, but going through the photos has been a wonderful trip down memory lane. Until next time!


Well this was a noble effort! Like many before me, I have started countless blogs with the full intention of keeping them up to date, only for work, fun, and other distractions to get in the way…

The last post on here was two days before my 22nd birthday and rather a lot has happened since then! I lived in Calfironia for another four months (and had an incredible time) before moving back to Dublin and finishing my degree in between two amazing internships. This month, I moved to Edinburgh for a year of postgraduate study and, before leaving, was challenged to start this back up again – so here goes!

Yo-Yo Ma

Well that was pretty much the most beautiful two hours of my life. The highlight was Brahms’s Sonata No.3 but it was a truly excellent concert from start to finish.

Also included, in the second encore, a solo performance of the soundtrack of The Mission. It wasn’t half bad.

Old Town 1

Last weekend was Martin Luther King Jr. day (i.e. three day weekend!) and so, with the first signs of Spring weather in the air (yes, in January), I finally made it an hour up the road to Sacramento, state capital of California. There’s a free bus from Davis, so it’s pretty inexcusable that I haven’t been before now. Most of the population of Northern California seemed to take the weekend off to go skiing up by Lake Tahoe, so the place was unnervingly silent for such a big city, even the hyper-touristy Frontierland Old Town.

He rode a blazing saddle, etc etc and so on

He rode a blazing saddle, etc etc and so on

This is like having the Dickens fair I visited in December as a permanent London attraction. Or like having a district in Dublin entirely full of overpriced pubs.

On the bright side, there was a train museum!

Iarnród California

Iarnród California

Oh look, isn't it authentic

Oh look, isn’t it authentic

There really isn’t much else to do on a bank holiday Sunday in Sacramento, but the capitol was open and, unlike any of the museums in Old Town, free.

Take that, taxpayers!

Take that, taxpayers!

Standing in the footsteps of Arnie

Standing in the footsteps of Arnie

Sacramento was alright I suppose, I think I shall have to visit during the week to get a better feel of the place though.

Edit: Having received feedback containing words such as “underwhelmed” and “totally”, the ending of this blog post has been amended to more accurately reflect the emotions and personal journey I was going through at the time.

The bus rolled up to the curb and creaked to a halt, belching fumes and passengers into the still afternoon. The setting sun, long dipped behind the imposing glass superstructure of Sacramento’s corporate overworld, cast its lingering warm beams along the otherwise grey strip leading out of the silent city. Engine choking and spluttering, our carriage thundered away through the deserted district, headed for the freeway and the cozy, bustling weekend activity of Davis.

Under the arch, onto the bridge, over the river. Sacramento swiftly fading into the distance and out of memory. For all its grandeur, heritage and size, the parochial town to the West that marked the bus’s destination seemed to place the lifeless city we were leaving in the shade. On Monday, perhaps, that would change. More data required.

As I’m a bit behind in detail ALL of the awesome things I’ve been doing recently (i.e. mainly exams), the next couple of updates will be like a time machine for your eyes, brains and other senses. Today, we shall be heading into the dark and long-forgotten depths of Saturday December 8th, 2012:

London. The streets are abustle with horse drawn carriages and wagons as traders cry their wares. Rich folk and humble pick their way across the teeming thoroughfares, and the crossing sweepers are hard at work scooping up behind the more nervous pedestrians. For this is the London of yesteryear, of Queen Victoria, the London of Charles Dickens. As usual, it is Christmas.

London Calling

London Calling

Every year since 1970 San Francisco has hosted a Charles Dickens inspired Christmas fair, featuring food, festivities, and frigging awful accents.

Wouldn't get away with this in Dublin...

Wouldn’t get away with this in Dublin…

Obviously the staff are required to dress in period attire but what surprised me most was the number of punters who had also got into the swing of things. As the fair has been running for so long, and since several of the Victorian style shops that populate the fair sell realistic imitation clothes, and Americans love dressing up, plenty of the paying plebs were getting their Oliver Twist on.

Plenty of people flogging their wares. Flogging. Never mind.

Where people flog wares, not schoolboys

So accents aside, it was a fantastic day out, although slightly strange to emerge from Dickensian London (pretty much the trope creator for the fabled White Christmas) into a balmy San Franciscan December evening. Why do we not have one of these in London???

A very Dickensian iPhone in the back row there

A very Dickensian iPhone in the back row there

They all dress like this in Crystal Palace

They all dress like this in Crystal Palace


Good historical accuracy here

Good historical accuracy here

And, of course, plenty of Christmas Carol references

And, of course, plenty of Christmas Carol references

Magic Shows Attended 2

Ye Olde Bookeshoppes Browsed 1

(Hopefully) Pretend Prostitutes Solicited By 3

Most Common Phrase In A Terrible British Accent Too many to count.

P.S. After the fair we stopped off at the Marin Headlands on our way home, some excellent views of the Golden Gate at dusk. Pictures here.

Tea, crumpets, etc.

Tea, crumpets, etc.


1600 PST Board plane. Served cup of tea #1 by camp Yorkshireman. Notice all BA stewards are rather spiffingly turned out and Northern.

1700 PST  Take off after San Franciscan shenanigans. Epic views of the Pacific coast obscured by mist. At least I’m leaving the cold and rain behind!


0100 PST After a 3 hour snooze, awake just in time to see dawn explode over the Atlantic. Possibly one of the most awesome things I have ever seen.

0130 PST Fly-by of the hills of Donegal. As usual, it is raining. Cruise over Northern Ireland and the Irish Sea without a single break in the clouds. Reach the Green and Pleasant homeland and get treated to what I’m now seeing as distinctly English countryside. Before, sure it was just all fields.

0200 PST Do several circles over the natural beauty spot that is the Watford Gap service station.

0215 PST Fly over Heathrow at 5,000 feet. Begin to think the pilot is having us on. Proceed to fly up the river and back. Get treated to spectacular views of London from both sides of the river. Think I can see my house.

0230 PST (1030 GMT) Land, speed through passport control and arrive at baggage reclaim just as the first bags appear. Very happy to be home and looking forward to a good old sleep.

0330 PST Collect bags. Slightly less chuffed to be back in Britain.

0500 PST Arrive home. The rest is a blur, although jet lag meant that by the time a bed was available, my body decided it was time to be awake again and so didn’t get to sleep until about 9 UK time. Good to be home, don’t think I like long-haul much.

Watched: The Dark Knight Rises (again)

Read: Pop Internationalism by Paul Krugman

Listened: Coexist by The XX (More of the same from the last album. Good for flying though! Favorite track is probably Angels) and Privateering by Mark Knopfler (Mixed, liked the title track though).

Cups of Tea: 879 (in fairness, it was an overnight flight)

My friend Rob Nielsen, like most Irishmen, has drink on his mind:

Despite the huge numbers of pubs, few of them actually compete. Most country pubs have their “regulars” who always visit no matter what as it is their “local”. The large number of pubs are quite dispersed, so that each pub has a monopoly on its local parish. So if you’re drinking in Carnmore you go to Grealish’s because it is the only pub. You could go to a neighbouring village, but people can be fiercely parochial and support their village and local like people support a sports team. You stick with it through and through.

The rest of the article is here, and is fantastically Tim Harfordesque in applying economics to the phenomenon of the Irish country pub.

I’d like to take the town-mouse perspective on this. Rob talks about the rural relationship between locals and their pub creating a local monopoly, but as soon as you get concentrations in towns and cities then surely there would be pressure to compete prices down. Having lived in big cities my entire life, I can safely say that, while not completely absent, the sense of loyalty to ‘the local’ is far weaker in urban areas. So why are prices still high?

This seems to be the dilemma: everyone thinks pubs charge too much for drinks, they’re always full and most are on the verge of going out of business. The latter was a phenomenon even before the recession made even Irish drinkers price sensitive enough to switch from pints in McGowans to cans on Sally Fields, which implies that high prices are being driven by brewers rather than publicans.

This makes sense; if brewers see their products being marketed at huge mark-ups and bringing home profits for pubs then there is an obvious incentive for them to push tap prices right up to the limit of putting a large portion of watering-holes out of business. This has got so extreme in Britain that a huge share of free houses are now owned by the brewers themselves.

What’s most interesting to me, though, is the impact this has on the remaining independent pubs. Those which enjoy local monopolies can simply leverage the advantages of being a pub, which Rob talks about in detail, but those facing direct competition have to engage in ferocious non-price competition to get punters in to drink their over-priced, watered-down happy juice. On any given night a stroll down Dame Street will give pub-goers the opportunity to sample a huge variety of music, ranging from rock through to trad and hip-hop, almost always at no cost beyond choosing that particular pub to spend their money in. The result is a phenomenal pub experience, plenty of choice and all at usually no extra cost relative to another location.

So is the brewers’ monopoly power a good  thing for Irish pub-goers? Well, probably not. These results would likely exist under competitive conditions, with added price variation (some pubs would charge more and provide a better experience, others would sell rubbish for next to nothing). The main winners from this situation, apart from the brewers, are Ireland’s most discriminated-against minority, non-drinkers, who can roll into any pub in Dublin for free and expect an enjoyable evening. Well, enjoyable by their standards anyway.

As to what has caused this situation? Milton Friedman memorably said that almost no Monopoly survives without government support, so I suspect that my conclusion might be slightly different from Rob’s.

P.S. Any criticism for the title of this post should be directed to Olivia Carrington. Any praise, to me by the usual channels.

P.P.S. Ah g’wan Christy ya good thing