George Nicon Andritsakis
Show Me Your Bright Lights, and Your City Lights: The Travel Genius invades Los Angeles pt. 1
Updated: Apr 16, 2019
*As this IS in journal format, it is rougher around the edges than my normal entries*
On Doctor's orders I was grounded from traveling for 6 months due to a multitude of health scares that arose from my last trip to Jamaica and Canada. Fast forward to February, and I decided to leave my dead-end, menial, soul-shattering job as a cookie cutter off-the-rack trips only travel agent at a big National Auto Club. So now I'm working from home, with no distractions, no drama (or stalkers, for that matter), no enemies, and no boss telling me I can't book certain destinations or suppliers (even if our preferred partners had NOTHING to those areas), leaving my clients pissed and looking for another agent.
So, here I go, again on my own (thank you, Whitesnake), as George the Travel Genius. Not only do I create and book unforgettable experiences the world over, I also write about and create social media content as the bonafide Travel Genius.
Fast forward a tad more, and I get an invite to apply for the first Millennial Travel Forum in the United States, to be held in Los Angeles from March 31 to April 4, 2019. The goal of the MTF looked promising, and LA is one of my top 5 cities I book (not to mention one of my top 3 favorite domestic destinations), so I threw my hat in the ring and applied. 2 days later I got the acceptance nod and itinerary from Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board. So all that was left to do was wait, and let me tell you, the closer it got to the 31st, the more excited I got. In fact, I only got about 2 hours of sleep the night before, even with my CPAP machine, nothing could get me wound down enough for more than a quick nap.
Sunday, March 31, 2019 - Salt Lake City, Utah and Los Angeles, California
I was out the door by 5:00AM, my poor Dad wanted to take me, at which I was incredibly grateful, but I felt so bad for him doing so. Yes, I know he's normally up at that hour, but to be alert and awake enough to drive the 30 miles or so to the airport? The older he gets, the more I wonder. Next thing I knew, we were zooming onto the offramp to my hallowed airport. Was dropped off at Terminal 2, which for this time of morning was pretty busy, and set about to check in. Since I was booked in First Class, I was fortunate enough to have access to the Sky Priority check-in area (despite doing the online check-in the day before) and bag drop before heading upstairs and taking advantage of thre MUCH shorter Sky Priority access at the TSA checkpoint, making for a very simple and relatively smotth transition to the secure areas beyond.
Since I was heading to Los Angeles for the Millennial Travel Forum, we agents had to use all available means of social media, including Facebook Live. I had done a couple of trial runs the week before and wasn't all that impressed with it, and feedback from several viewers was that they couldnt hear me, so I figured I needed a new microphone than what was on the headphones I had at the time. So, once past security I went on the hunt for a new headphone set with decidedly better mic. Before you start griping, I know airports gouge passengers and are more expensive than buying anything in public, but I was in a hurry, and besides, we here in Salt Lake City have a new airport to build here, so I don't mind contribuiting to the new terminal kitty. Once earphones and coffee were firmly in hand, I did my first FB Live post, right aroundd the middle of the concourse. It was ok, I guess, you'd have to dig it up on my Facebook and watch for yourself, I however, am NOT a fan of FB Live so far, but I'll give it one more try.
Boarding finally began, and thank God I was in First Class, I was getting antsy. I used to think SLC was an adequately sized facility with plenty of gate space everywhere, but lately, all I see when boarding begins is the proliferation of gate lice (travelers crowding the jetway entrance and boarding area, sometimes all the way to the middle of the concourse floor). Today was no exception. The funniest part was, NONE of them were First Class, just passengers in Economy with Sky Priority Boarding. So I puffed out my chest, did my my best Gordon Gekko impersonation and proceeded to clear the way for my fellow First Class denizens. Yeesh.
Nicely ensconced in 2A, with my buddy Philbin hanging out in the seatback pocket, I put my sunglasses on, sipped on my Pre-Departure Beverage, and grimaced as the gate lice I had cleared away earlier made their way past me to the back of the bus. No, literally, it's an Airbus A319, almost 16 years old according to it's registration. I love the Airbus family of jets, from the diminutive A220 and A318 all the way up to the A380. The A319 is on the smaller side, with only 124 seats onboard. After the gate lice made their way back, I slipped on my new earphones, cranked up the music, and waited for boarding to finish up.
Once pushback was underway, I stowed the headphones while the crew gave their safety demo (and watched the current safety video, which is one of my favorites nowadays) and I made sure to realize my closest emergency exit was indeed 3 feet ahead of me. Settling back, I grabbed my phone and filmed the takeoff once we got to the departure end. What a great takeoff, and pretty quick too, we must've been pretty light. Donning my earphones again, pegged the seatback TV to the inflight map (my favorite channel), and started digging into my book (The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band, Motley Crue). The flight passed by so smoothly and quickly, I was grateful.
Landing at LAX is always awesome for me, I love the airport, it's right up there with Phoenix - Sky Harbor and Houston-Intercontinental in terms of favorites (aside from Salt Lake CIty, of course). We taxied off the active runway and made our way North to Delta's new home at Terminals 2 & 3 (yep, where tons of movies were filmed, including Airplane! and where TWA was housed for almost 40 years). Well, turns out there was a plane at our gate, and we were put in a ground hold for a grand total of 65 minutes while the gate was opened up! Oh well, I won't complain, I was enjoying the view out the window, but I DID feel bad for the driver waiting to pick me up!
Finally pulling into Gate 32, in my beloved Terminal 3, stopped for a second to look around, for the ghost of Capt. Kramer, who after retiring as a TWA Captain, returned to work for TWA as a greeter. He met every flight and was a Terminal 3 fixture for decades. I almost forgot he passed away, I met him several times, he is missed. Making my way to baggage claim, I passed through several spots used in the filming of Airplane! so, being the dork I am, started quoting lines from the movie. Apparantly, I wasn't the only one, there were several folks in that passageway doing the same thing! Turning the corner into baggage claim I spotted my name on my driver's sign and profusely apologized for for the wait, headed over to the claim to grab my bag when he says "If you've ever seen the movie Airplane! with Peter Graves, this is the claim where No-Frills passengers were coming down the chute". I chuckled and told him I was quoting the movie the whole way down the corridor. The belt started up and my bag was the very first one down the chute, YES! Yanked it off the belt, spun it around to grab the handle and what's this?! The whole handle extractor and surrounding frame were demolished and torn right out of the fabric seam of the suitcase. Ugh. Since we were in a hurry, I figured I'd deal with it when I returned to LAX in a few days. So, off we went, smashed bag in hand and on our way out of LAX.
Despite the traffic, the ride downtown didn't take long at all, and from the outside, the NoMad hotel looked like an incredible property. Right on the corner of 7th Street and Olive Street, the the hotel is in Giannini Place, the former U.S. headquarters for the Bank of Italy. The bellman was gracious and ushered me to the front desk while he found out my room info and took my bags up. Check-in itself was an absolute breeze and the staff are incredibly attentive and impeccably dressed. In short, they looked like they belonged there, and their professionalism, charm, and charisma shone through. High marks from the get go!
Not even 5 minutes after arrival I already had my room key in hand and up I went, baggage already waiting for me. My room was on the 8th floor, and about halfway down the corridor I pulled out my phone to record my first video during the MTF. The room itself was quaint, and nicely laid out with a deep soak tub right in the corner facing 7th & Olive. The bathroom was nice and small, the best way I could describe the room is a walled off studio, with a minibar in the entry, and seperate toilet room. The walk-in closet was nice and I started unpacking immediately, as I had my suit that needed to be hung. The hotel itself is not too large, only 241 rooms and suites, but there is also a killer rooftop pool & gathering space. Anywho, more on the NoMad LA in my next blog post, reviewing the hotel at length.
Since I had arrived into the City of Angels so early, I decided to walk the city a bit and see what sort of lunch I can scrounge up that I can't get in Utah, before meeting up with everyone else later that afternoon. Heading West on 7th Street, I passed a very convenient Dunkin', but continued on. Reached Fig St. and found myself at the Fig&7th Shopping Center. Looked pretty chic to me, so I checked out the food options. Just as I reached the escalator to take me down to the shopping and food court levels, I witnessed a helluva spectacle. This lady (who was clearly on soemthing illegal) was screaming her head off at the security guards escorting her off the property. Something about the end of times and all that rubbish. It turns out this wouldn't be my only run-in with this lady on this trip. More on that later on.
The food court had some great options, and to my surprise a Greek Grill named George's. Turns out there's a few scattered throughout Downtown. The food was average at best and I left somewhat disappointed. Before going back to the NoMad though, I stopped at Walgreen's to get some essentials, snacks included. I made it back to the hotel room by 1:00PM and decided to lay down before getting ready for tonight's activities. Man, once I hit the pillow, I was OUT!
I was awakend at 3:40 by housekeeping. They were there for the turndown service. I shot out of bed, told her to come back in a half hour, as I had to get my lazy self ready in no time at all. A quick shower, change, drop and shatter my bottle of cologne in the sink, curse, and I hurtled myself down the corridor to the elevators, and in record time to the lobby, where several agents were already waiting. Introductions were made, and once everyone gathered, we were ushered out to the bus to take us to our first event of the Millennial Travel Forum, a matchup of Major League Soccer's LA Galaxy (one of my original MLS favorites) and the Portland Timbers at the Dignity Health Sports Park. We were treated to the VIP Experience, which I can book for my clients and tailor as needed, had our seats in a VIP Box up behind the South Goal, and our hosts took us all over the arena, down into the team alleyway, major sponsor areas, out to the pitch and photo ops with the mascot, Cozmo.
After that phenomenal tour, we were brought back to the VIP Box to watch the game, there were swag bags for each of us with an LA Galaxy car window flag, and to my joy and amazement, an old school original Galaxy livery scarf! An EXCELLENT addition to my scarves from the Real Salt Lake and Houston Dynamo. The game itself was awesome, with the Galaxy beting the Timbers 2 - 1. Before anyone knew it, the game was over and it was time to head back to the NoMad, but the night wasn't over quite yet.
We pulled up to the NoMad and filed into the Parlour, the noMad's private room next to the amazingly stocked and beautifully appointed bar. It had such an awesome and dark LA/Italy-ish vibe, almost gothic if I had to pin a label to it. My kinda place! Champagne and canapes were already on hand and a trio of waitresses were circulating. A few welcome speeches were proffered and every last agent in the room let their hair down and unwound. A fantastic end to Day 1 of the MTF. I was beat though. As soon as etiquette allowed, I excused myself and headed upstairs to pass out, as per the itinerary, tomorrow was promising to wreck me.
Monday, April 1, 2019 - Griffith Park and Downtown Los Angeles
Woke up well before my alarm, dug out my workout ensemble from my poor, battered carcass of a suitcase & made my way downstairs to the NoMad coffee bar. I had this nagging feeling in the back of my head that I should'nt have taken my medications yet. Just an odd feeling, really. But man oh man, the coffee bar brews a mean Matcha Chai.
Our hosts for this outing were the wonderful folks at Bikes & Hikes LA. We were taken to Griffith Park and hiked the Glendale Peak Trail with some amazing views of the LA Basin, Gritth Observatory, & the iconic Hollywood sign. About halfway up, I couldn't breathe right. Dammit to hell, the medications were kicking in. Our wonderful LA Tourism hostess, Lauren (one of the sweetest and greatest hosts you could ever meet) and I took another trail down to the observatory meeting point. Lord, I felt awful for them needing to babysit me coming down. The upside was all the killer observatory photos I was able to take before the crowds started arriving.
Not too much longer the rest of the group showed up and we were herded back to the NoMad to freshen up for the Walking Food Tour of Downtown LA, provided by Avital Tours. This was such an incredible tour. I was blown away with what's hidden within downtown LA. Our first point of interest was the Angel Flight Railway, billed as the World's Shortest Railway, built in 1901. We took a ride down Bunker Hill to Hill St. and the Grand Central Market. Walked through the Market (and recognized several eateries inside from the Travel Channel), cut through the historic Bradbury Building, where tons of movies have been filmed, most notably Blade Runner and The Untouchables. Back outside I looked across the street and taking up the whole side of an entire building was a BEAUTIFUL mural of Anthony Quinn as Zorba the Greek. Up to 2nd Street we went and were guided into Badmaash, this awesome little hole in the wall gastropub featuring some very creative and amazing Indian fare. Next up, Baco Merkat, just a few blocks away. It calls itself Spanish-Fusion, but with flavors from a wide swath of the Meditterannean and Middle East, the 13 of us just called it Medditterannean-Fusion. Some seriously amazing bites here, and a place I can't wait to return to soon, with the Kiddo in tow.
Our next stop was another HUGE highlight for me. We headed over to Clayton's Public House. All I can say is WOW. This place on it OWN is a destination unto itself. The bar's theme is old school Hollywood Vaudevillian, with doors from old hotel rooms used by the old time vaudeville acts like Charlie Chaplin, George Burns, etc. We were treated to a private mixology lesson by Clayton's fantastic bartender. I even ended up in a short clip describing this awesome place. I can't wait to come back again one day.
On our way to the final stop was a detour to a place I have been following on Instagram for years. We walked by the ever popular and iconic The Last Bookstore. Since we were waiting on a few agents to finish up their interviews, the rest of us were allowed a few minutes to peruse the store, to my delight. Didn't take long for me to find a book, as well as some LBS stickers and swag to go along with it.
From there it was a short 6 block hike to Bottega Louie, an Italian Bistro with French Pastry counter. All 13 of us went nuts in there, from the macarons, to the eclairs, to the Napolean, we were in patisserie heaven. Our host had boxes of eclairs and macarons for us. The bus was waiting for us outside, so it was off to the next tour, the Experience LA Beer Hop.
The beer hop took us to two incredible independent craft beer breweries that I can't wait to send my clients to. First stop was Iron Triangle Brewery, housed in an old warehouse, and then we were off to the Boomtown Brewery, just a few blocks away, with the most adorable mascots napping under the bar!
The beer crawl was fun, and Hal, the beer hop guide, was hilarious and full of antecdotes. Our evening though, had yet to begin. After a quick stop at NoMad to freshen up and change, our first stop was the Freehand Hotel and it's rooftop bar, The Broken
Shaker. Appetizers and drinks were flowing and before we knew it we were off to our final stop, the Line Hotel, and it's award winning rooftop restaurant, OpenAire, for one of the most UNFORGETTABLE dinners I've ever attended.
Part II of my visit to the City of Angels comes out April 22, 2019.