Our Last Day in the United States

28 October, 2014

The beautifully restored Union Station in Los Angeles


We were up bright and early to catch a taxi to the Greyhound terminal, had to be there by 7am to catch the 8am bus to Los Angeles.  It was a very comfortable coach, and the scenery going through the Mojave Desert was amazing.  I saw a huge area covered with solar panels (think I have seen this on TV), and small towns that were almost ghost towns.  Then out of nowhere a large city like Barstow where we stopped for 15 minutes to use the restroom and get some food (not an easy task!).


The desolate but beautiful Mojave Desert

The time seemed to go quickly and before we knew it we were at the historic Union Station in Los Angeles,the main railway station in Los Angeles, California and the largest railroad passenger terminal in the Western United States. It opened in May 1939 as the Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal, replacing La Grande Station and Central Station. Approved in a controversial ballot measure in 1926 and built in the 1930s, it served to consolidate rail services from a number of railroads (the Union Pacific, Santa Fe, and Southern Pacific) into one terminal station. Conceived on a grand scale, Union Station became known as the “Last of the Great Railway Stations” built in the United States. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

Today, the station is a major transportation hub for Southern California, providing 60,000 passengers a day access to Amtrak (the National Railroad Passenger Corporation) long distance trains, Amtrak California regional trains, Metrolink commuter trains, and several Metro Rail subway and light rail lines.  The Patsouras Transit Plaza on the east side of the station serves dozens of bus lines operated by Metro and several other municipal carriers.


The exterior of the historic art deco Union Station

The railway station has been beautifully restored in the Art Deco style, and it was a real joy to step back in history for a short while as we walked around the station.  We had talked about how we would fill in the several hours we had before setting off for the airport and our flight home, and decided to walk to the Spanish area of Olvera Street with its colourful markets and cafes.


Spanish style cafe in Olvera Street

The Plaza-Olvera Street site was designated as a California State Historic Landmark in 1953.  In the midst of Downtown industrialization, Olvera Street is a quaint, colorized, and non-confrontational environment. The Avila Adobe aside, the buildings on the street date from at least seventy years after the founding of the city in 1781, and have little if any authentic association with the city’s founding, or with its former status as a Spanish, then Mexican outpost. Olvera is really a named alley, unusual in Los Angeles, rather than a true street. This can be seen from the fact that most of the buildings originally had their main entrances and addresses on the adjacent and parallel Main and Los Angeles Streets. In addition, the frontages along Olvera Street are uneven, as is typical with alleys. Nevertheless, for virtually all of its history it has been named as a street, sometimes also being identified as Wine Street, in reference to a wine cellar once located there, as well as wineries that once stood nearby.

As a tourist attraction, Olvera Street is a living museum paying homage to a romantic vision of old Mexico. The exterior facades of the brick buildings enclosing Olvera Street and on the small vendor stands lining its center are colorful piñatas, hanging puppets in white peasant garb, Mexican pottery, serapes, mounted bull horns, oversized sombreros, and a life-size stuffed donkey. Olvera Street attracts almost two million visitors per year. It has very quickly become a very popular tourist location due to its authenticity and very focused method of preserving Spanish culture.
We enjoyed our walk through Olvera Street on a very hot day.  Although the cafes looked inviting, when we looked at the menu we decided that a spicy Spanish dish may not be a good idea when we were facing a 15 hour flight home, so we opted to return to Union Station for our lunch.  It was also a time to sit and relax and “people watch” in the station, and think about all the things we had seen and done during our month’s adventure in the US.  Finally it was time to move on, so we entered the Patsouras Transit Plaza, with some difficulty in the heat found the right bus, and were taken out to the Los Angeles airport.  We had plenty of time before our flight to look at the Duty Free shops, and to have a light meal, then it was time to board.
Enjoying our last meal in the United States at the Union Station
The plane was not full, so we were lucky enough to have space around us to spread out.  The flight left at 10.30pm so we were fairly tired after a long day.  Dinner was served at about midnight, then all settled down until breakfast arrived about an hour and a half before landing.  We had left Los Angeles at 10.30pm on 28 October, and after 15 hours flying arrived at just after 7am on 30 October in Sydney.  After a two hour drive to Newcastle, I calculated that it was about 35 hours since the time we got up in Las Vegas, and I arrived home.
If I can find the time I will calculate the number of kilometres (not miles!) that we travelled across the vast expanse of North America – it would be impossible to calculate the kilometres we have walked, but it is a lot!  It certainly has been a wonderful adventure that will live in our memories forever.

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