Friday, June 30, 2006

Los Angeles

The weather is hot, the sun burns down. I use my time off to see the Los Angeles and Hollywood sights for a last time, to take a few pictures.

Traffic in Los Angeles: intersection of Harbor Freeway (110) with Hollywood Freeway (101) near Los Angeles downtown. Posted by Picasa

Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. Posted by Picasa

Los Angeles Downtown as seen from driving through the streets. Posted by Picasa

Los Angeles Downtown. Posted by Picasa

Skyline of Los Angeles, seen from south (near Staples Center). Posted by Picasa

Friday, June 23, 2006

In the Getty Villa

In January 2006, the Getty Villa in Malibu opened after a renovation that hat been going on since 1997. I had visited the Villa just before it shut down many years ago, and now there was an opportunity to see it again, after the much-hyped renovation.

The focus of this museum is on antique art. Statues, pottery, coins. There is currently an ongoing dispute with the Italian government about the property of these exhibits, as some were taken out of Italy illegally, and might be returned back. So I used the opportunity to see some of these exhibits while they were still on exhibit at the Villa.

The complex itself is modelled after an original Roman house in Pompei. Nice environment, skillful reconstruction. The mediteranean climate of the Los Angeles coast provides a realistic setting of this museum, with a view of the Pacific Ocean.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Along Pacific Coast Highway

On Wednesday, I took the Caddy and decided to do a joy ride, for the last time before I would sell it. I know, from a European perspective, this sounds stupid... there is no such term as "cruising" in the colloquial language there. Just driving around for fun is not something that any self-respecting European would ever do, out of concern for the environment, or simply out of concern for the wallet (gas [prices in Europe are double as what they are here in the US). But of course, I could rationalise my driving with the goal of documentation - I took my camera for capturing the visual sensations of the impressive coast line.

Beach near Point Mugu. Posted by Picasa

The Pacific Ocean near Point Mugu. Posted by Picasa

The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) along the Pacific Coast. Posted by Picasa

Neptune's Net, a popular "hangout" for bikers and Los Angeles celebrities (e.g. Jay Leno). Posted by Picasa

At Point Dume beach, in Malibu, with Santa Monica Mountains in the back. Posted by Picasa

View towards the ocean from the Santa Monica Mountains (Kanan-Dume Road). Posted by Picasa

Santa Monica 3rd Street Promenade, at evening. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The ISMAR Program Committee Meeting

The main purpose of this travel to Los Angeles was to participate in the program committee meeting of the ISMAR conference. For two days we sat together in a room at USC, discussing each paper that had been submitted, and deciding on acceptance or rejection. Saturday evening a joint dinner at the restaurant McCormick and Schmick's. Sunday evening, the meeting is over, and the conference is well on track. The quality of the papers was quite high, which resulted in more papers to be accepted than at last year's ISMAR. This will be a very interesting conference in October!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Review: Advantage Rent-A-Car

When I was searching for a rental car at reasonable prices recently, the Expedia site showed that Advantage Rent-A-Car has quite good prices. So at my last trip to Los Angeles, I decided to give them a try, and I rented a car from them.

The reservation on their website is quite easy, as on most other car rental sites. One advantage: you do not have yet to enter your credit card / payment - so the reservation is just done without any pre-payment or binding contract. I do not know how long they will offer this type of reservation... so use it while still possible!

At the Los Angeles Airport (LAX), the location of the Advantage rental facilities is a bit further away from the terminals, so the shuttle ride takes longer than with other rentals. This results in a more sparse frequency of the shuttle rides which bring the passengers to the car rental. But last time, the Advantage shuttle showed up just after a few minutes. This time, however, I saw many other rental shuttles drive by, but no Advantage shuttle. Only after I gave the rental facilities a phone call (after 30 minutes of wait), the shuttle came after 2 minutes.

The prices are very competitive, and that is worth a little wait: the lowest car category goes for $14 per day, depending on the time of rental and how long ahead the reservation is made. Same day rental reservation goes then up to $20 per day. Also, the duration of the rental seems to matter in a strange way: 4 days rental is the cheapest per-day cost; if kept longer, the daily price for the car goes actually up.

The personnel is very friendly - they even recognised me as I picked up another car a few weeks later. They are a bit pushy regarding insurance - I had to remain very strong about the fact that I do have already insurance, and that my credit card covers LDW.

They do have a nice selection of cars: last time I got a Hyundai Sonata, and this time I drove a Chrysler 300. Next time I intend to get a Charger...

Overall, I really can recommend Advantage Rent-A-Car.

Travel to Los Angeles

As usual before a major trip, I get very little sleep. Getting all my stuff ready, collecting documents, work material, making sure the apartment is in a decent state before I leave.

On Friday morning, after a short 3 hour sleep, I take my two large suitcases down in the elevator from the Tower Flat and wait for the taxi to the airport. Spend some time in the Leeds-Bradford Airpor Business Lounge before I board the plane to Amsterdam. An uneventful flight, I actually sleep most of the time.

In Amsterdam Schiphol airport there is a small dependence of the Rijksmuseum: in one room there are actually several paintings by Rembrandt! I take the opportunity of my wait for the next flight to visit that room - free admission. A little oasis of quiet and art, in the midst of the busy traffic hub.

In Schiphol, there are 3 KLM "Crown" lounges. The last two times here I had been in lounge #41, but this time I want to try the #52. It is larger, and quite empty. I use the opportunity to satisfy my thirst with a few Heinekens and a glass of Cava (Spanish sparkling wine, like "Sekt"). Great that all this stuff is for free! A little reward for my frequent flying. They also have a bowl of soup here, and I get an appetite - it is lunch time. But the person ahead of me empties the last bit of it. So I just take one of those warm rolls, add some cheese and sliced white ham, or whatever that cold cut that is. Unfortunately they do not have that nice noodle salad that I got last time in #41... and nobody seems to refill the soup bowl... So I decide to move out and go to the lounge #41 in the remaining minutes before boarding my next flight. But what a disappointment there: the small lounge is very crowded, I just find one empty table to sit next to, and they do not seem to have the noodle salad. And no soup either. But after a few minutes, as I check again, I find the bowl with the noodle salad, and I take a few spoons.

Today I will be again in a total of 3 flights. As I ask at the transfer desk why I did not yet get a boarding pass for my 3rd flight, they do not know the answer to that, but I end up with an upgrade on my trans-atlantic flight - for the first time in quite a while I fly transatlantic in business class! And it is even a window seat. So I will have lots of space, many movie programs to watch, and I will get a nice decent meal. The noodle salad now sits heavy in the stomach...

A quiet flight to Minneapolis. On the approach, our plane goes in circles and in loops, to avoid hitting thunderstorm clouds.

At the line for immigration at Minneapolis airport, I realise that I ended up with a true bureaucrat: he gives a hard time even to US citizens. When it is my turn, he keeps questioning me. Since my green card has expired, I already had expected trouble. I point out that I already renewed it, and that I do have the appointment for the biometric data capture. So after he asks me about my profession, he finally lets me go. Ok, I had expected more trouble, and I am relieved that this went so easily.

The next flight, to Los Angeles, has a slight delay. It rains outside. The first hour goes through "bumpy" air, but then the flight continues to be smooth. We land in LA on time.

The usual traffic at the driveway through LAX, as I wait for my car rental shuttle. Just after midnight, I arrive "home" in Thousand Oaks.