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I was considering posting this as a thumbs down review on Yelp, but instead, I decided to turn it into a “funny”misadventure story on my blog.

Irinka and I had chosen what we thought was the perfect youth hostel in LA: Hollywood International Youth Hostel – centrally located in front of the Kodak Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard and dirt cheap (that already should have set the alarm bells ringing).

So we moved in our four-girls bedroom around 9pm and went out for dinner and a drink. The day had been action-packed with travel and sightseeing, so all we really wanted to do as we headed back to the hostel around 11:30pm was go to sleep.

As we entered the lobby, a gray wall of thick smoke hit our faces. “Since when is it allowed to smoke indoors in America?!” was the first thought that crossed my mind. My second thought was, “Oh, shit!” There was blasting music and disco lights in the lobby! There were teenagers all over the place (it’s a youth hostel!) dancing around the couches, smoking around the computer desks, playing pool near the kitchenette, and drinking on the dining table. The common room was turned into a night club!

We were offered free beer – on the hostel! Yes, the hostel provided free cans of Budweiser to the “youths”! The walls were shaking under the sound of Lady Gaga and Usher (later someone bragged to me that this was the owner’s new sound system: “Isn’t it sweet!”).

Katy Perry dressed as popcorn and movie film rolls performing in front of the Kodak Theatre, Hollywood

Did I mention that our room was exactly next to this common room and that it didn’t make any difference whether we would leave the door open or closed – we could hear the loud music equally well.Irinka and I immediately googled other hostels nearby  and tried to check-out only to find out that our hostel won’t return our money, which we had to pay in advance for the entire four-day stay.

With her performance on June 26, the singer promoted her new movie, “Katy Perry: Part of Me”

She and I tried picking up a conversation, repacking our suitcases, and taking a looong time to brush teeth, take a shower and get ready for bed, hoping that the party nextdoor will end by 2am. Nope! I guess this hostel had transformed into one of the few clubs in America where the party goes on all night long. Eventually, I just ended up sticking my head under the pillow and passing out from exhaustion.

The only thing I didn’t understand is why on earth would you want to be at a party in the common room of a hostel on Sunday night when there are plenty of other real clubs everywhere around you in Hollywood. Wasn’t a hostel a place for tired travelers to sleep?

Thousands gather in Hollywood Boulevard for Katy Perry’s performance. We ended up hiding somewhere between the bushes on the right

On the following day, Irinka and I had assumed that this little incident was something of the past… Yeah, right! The same thing happened every single night while we stayed there! FML!

As I told you, I was going to post this on Yelp, but you know what, the Hollywood International Youth Hostel eventually atoned itself. There was a free Katy Perry concert right outside of it in front of the Kodak Theatre. Irinka and I managed to find the perfect vantage point (after some squabble with the security guards) and watched the show hidden inside a decorative bush very close to the stage.  Well, there is a trade off to choosing the most central hostel in Hollywood.

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The famous Venice Beach Marijuana Doctors

My impulse for self-preservation was triggered in Venice Beach: “Get me out of this madhouse!”

Venic Beach is a strange mixture of something very commercialized and touristy and something absolutely alternative and controversial. Why did those people dress like that? Why did they behave in such a way? Are they so eccentric? Are they simply crazy?  Do they have some unhealthy urge to express themselves in the weirdest ways? Or is this just the pot fumes of Venice Beach? You tell me! This is what I saw; the good, the bad, and the ugly:

  • A guy playing the guitar while rollerblading on Oceanfront, Venice Beach

    The Marijuana Doctor: booths that sell Medical Marijuana Licenses. You pay to see the doctor, tell him that you have chronic migraine/dislocated shoulder/high stress levels/ stage fright/toothache, etc and he grants you a license that allows you to buy medical marijuana.

  • A Real Freakshow: I saw double-headed turtles and the famous wolf-man from the Guinness World Records. Find more pictures of the show on Yelp (not for weak stomachs!). 
  • Muscle Beach: the home of bodybuilding, where very athletic people perform gymnastics and acrobatics on special installations
  • You can take a pic with the sand octopus for a tip

    A skinny guy who had the skin color of the Tanning Mom in rollerblades wearing a thong and a helmet with the American flag

  • A guy playing a piano on the street
  • Completely stoned hobos lying by the side of the street
  • Very creative beggars by Santa Monica Pier had made cardboard  “targets”  where you have to throw throw coins through tiny slits. It’s a fun way to give money to the homeless!
  • Artworks of Marilyn Monroe as a Lakers player
  • Paintings drawn on old skateboards, sculptures made out of spare car parts, lots of graffiti, homeless people making sand sculptures, tattoo and piercing parlors, henna tattoos, bong shops
  • Street art or just creative begging under the Santa Monica Pier? Ask a question – throw a coin to get an answer!

    Sexy girls in bikini riding bicycles and rollerblades; lots of silicone

  • Gangster boys on longboards
  • Lifeguards who look like they came out of the TV show Baywatch
  • Lots and lots of surfers and street performers

Venice Beach reminded me a lot of Camden Market in London. Where else have you ever seen such eccentric street dwellers?

Muscle Beach athletes


As a sophomore, I was thinking about spending a semester “abroad” in LA, but my employer at the time and good friend Scott told me that this place wasn’t for me. He told me that it was dirty, overcrowded, superficial, drained your energy, and invariably enticed you to dye your hair blond and fill your lips with collagen. I ended up studying abroad in London instead, but I always remained curious about this strange place called Los Angeles.

Olvera Street is the oldest part of LA and testifies of the city’s Hispanic heritage

Scott was right. The City of Angels is one of those places in the US that I very much enjoy visiting but where I don’t see myself staying. Like New York, LA offers more than you could take in just a few days:

The Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard is as crowded and touristy as Times Square. Rodeo Drive is as jaw-dropping glamorous as Fifth Avenue. The Walt Disney Concert Hall is as impressive as the Guggenheim. Beverly Hills, with its multi-million dollar houses and palm-lined boulevards, is exactly what you see on TV.

The Mexican marketplace at Olvera Street offers souvenirs and sweets

When I imagined LA, I used to think about the movie industry, the music industry, the fashion industry, and the luxurious houses of America’s highlife. I used to think of starving artists struggling to make their breakthrough and rich businessmen living a thrilling life. But in fact, there is a whole other LA that I saw. I saw what seemed to be two distinct cities: an American and a Mexican city.

To my surprise, Los Angeles carries very old Hispanic heritage. It’s history began with the establishment of a Spanish mission in 1782 – El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora Reina de los Ángeles. From 1821 to 1848, the town was under Mexican rule. The influx of English and continental Europeans came in the 1880s and to a great extent changed the face of the city. More recently since the 1920s, the immigration of Mexicans and other Hispanics to the States has been steadily increasing, and data shows that LA receives the most such immigrants out of any city in the West. Therefore, LA is being increasingly influenced by the Latino culture anew.

Pico House is the oldest hotel in LA, constructed by the last governor of Alta California, Pío Pico in 1870

It was very interesting to see the old part of LA: El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument, only a short walk from Downtown.  My friend Irinka and I visited Olvera Street, which is painfully cheesy but still cute with its colorful souvenir shops and stands with mouth-watering sweets. We saw the oldest house in LA, Avila Adobe, and the city’s first grand hotel, Pico House.

Built in 1818, the historic house museum Avila Adobe is the oldest residence in LA

Later, though, we had an even more authentic contemporary experience.  We took a 50 minute trip by public transport from Downtown LA to Citadel Outlets in East LA. Now this was very different from the city we had seen earlier: many of the signs were in Spanish; the cafes offered Mexican food; many of the girls were dressed as latino divas. East LA clearly carried a Hispanic vibe.

We didn’t have much time to explore that part of town because it was getting late and dark, but I wish someone had told me that East and West LA are so different – I would have probably spent less time in Hollywood!

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