Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Mark Twain

There is something about rolling a steel storage locker door down on all your possessions except what is stashed in a bulging suitcase and getting on a plane that tips your mind into new spiritual territory. Athan and I are on our way to Italy – we know not where and we know not when, but in the lyric of a song by Art Garfunkel, “we know we will get there, we know we will”. In the meantime, we have a few stops along the way and the first one was Hollywood, California. My two sons left their past behind in Toronto (in another locker) and struck out to follow their star in music. We came to visit them mid December and to witness the possible tipping of the world into the Pacific Ocean on the 21st (or not), celebrate Christmas and ring in 2013. We were due to leave within in the month, but – well, ya know…. things change. Here is the adventure unfolding.

Most mornings in the Hollywood Hills dawn clear and blue punctuated by various styles of palm and pine. Hotels, houses, mansions and cottages cluster into the terraced slopes that define the canyons and offer the peace and tranquility of nature – including coyotes, rattlers and cormorants and all within walking distance of the bright and sleepless midway of all time, Hollywood Blvd. As I write, I am perched on one of those slopes. Our little street is so steep and narrow, that we have to back up to find a coveted parking space. The loft we are renting for a couple of weeks is annexed to a larger house up and behind us and was designed by architect, Raphael Soriano in the late 1930’s. It is bright with a double height window wall and is compact, efficient and charming. We have a little terrace made private by a lush and towering Rhododendron hedge where Bluejays hide. Peaking through the branches is the sloping lawn below a palazzo scale house of the 20’s persuasion painted a faded kumquat.

When we travel we like living in the neighbourhoods rather than as tourists. Not only is it cost effective, but we are pretty particular about what we eat and prefer to make most of our own meals which are as fresh and organic as possible. We travel with our own stovetop espresso pot, frappe wand for lattes, vegetable steamer, ground black pepper and Himalayan rock salt and, of course, a corkscrew. We have treats of guilt-free dining out and meet kindred spirits in our search for farmer’s markets, health food stores, outdoor yoga and raw juice bars. Let me share a few of our finds that have made this trip rich and memorable in ways that travel photos just can’t capture.

Living in the Hollywood Neighbourhoods

We have found to be the best resource for finding apartments. There are others, but airbnb seems to have gotten all the wrinkles out and the system is secure, easy to follow and there is a consistency in format across the globe that makes it very simple to compare apples to apples. Depending on your budget and desires, you can get a shared room, a private room, an apartment or a house. Some of the offerings belong to individuals who travel and don’t want their place sitting idle, and some are dedicated units in a complex managed professionally. For short term rentals it is ideal. Finding the next place on our tour has become a pleasant evening activity.

All communications and financial transactions are handled with the utmost privacy and security – all with the buffer of airbnb who guarantee the listing and will go to bat for either party if need be. Prices and availability fluctuate but an easy calender system shows in a flash what the day, week or month rate is for any unit. Best to double check with owner for last minute changes to availability and any questions re parking and such that are pertinent to your stay.

Our little loft is a bit of a bump up in our budget, but because our last place was under we are averaging out. The place we stayed when we first arrived was a charming little apartment in a rambling wood sided house owned by an actor.

It snuggled into the hill just off Canyon Road north of one of the main east/west thoroughfares, Franklin Avenue. We were minutes from the entrance to the Bronson Canyon trails and loved the hike up to the HOLLYWOOD sign. Franklin village at the foot of the neighbourhood had a great large supermarket, Gelson’s as well as a cluster of shops and cafes for clothes, books, wines, specialty foods and raw juices.

Our little home away, was newly renovated but had an intriguing blend of egyptian tiles in the massive bathroom with sunken tub, walk-in shower and pink marble top vanity ringed by stars’ lightbulbs. Clerestory windows glanced up to houses way in the terraced distance, discreetly curtained by a line of towering trees. The grand bath and walk-in closet nearly matched the size of the rest of the living/dining area. A small – and I mean miniscule – kitchen was well equipped, very efficient and cool with a two burner stove and hobbit sized fridge. Really all we needed and fun to rise to the challenge of a big meal from a wee kitchen. A partition wall separated the bedroom and an enormous skylight crowned the whole place in tree silhouetted light. Listening to the rain while drifting off was one of nature’s little gifts over Christmas. Our host is also an actor and was abroad for three weeks and we discovered this little nugget for our first two weeks until he returned and we moved to our loft.

When my sons moved down, they took a two month rental in a low rise apartment just off Sunset and a quick walk to one of the big chain grocery stores. Ralph’s has an in-house discount card that their apartment host left with them and they saved an average of 20% off all their groceries. The neighbours in the building and on the street were super friendly and the guys soon felt right at home. While many say no one walks in Los Angeles, my sons have discovered the four corners of Hollywood on foot – which they prefer because they ‘get to see things that would otherwise go unnoticed’. N and C loved this town and embraced it vicariously before deciding to move here. For them it is a matter of deeper intimacy of a known love.

There is a great transit system which includes buses with one change all the way to Malibu or the 704 that goes from Hollywood centre right out to catch the setting sun over the Pacific in Santa Monica. There is a subway and the taxies are plentiful and reasonable except in rush hour which my sons discovered to their growing chagrin can go from a affordable twenty minute ride to a halting two hour, budget crushing extravagance.

When their host returned on New Year’s Day from South America, N and C had already found their next spot just north off of Hollywood east of Highland that reaches up toward the Hollywood Bowl. It is a quintessential low rise Hollywood apartment circa 1920’s with along gated entrance courtyard between the twin wings of about fifty apartment each. Most of them are leased with just a handful let through airbnb and managed by the building as well. Interiors are exposed brick and built in woodwork – living room bookshelves and bathroom cabinets that have about a thousand coats of white paint. The halls are long with a distinct vanishing point made clear with black and white tiles receding to the distant window and fire escape. There is a film being made there this week and I can imagine the intrigue this place lends. On the other hand, our host is a producer of films, some of them horror, and I’d just as soon not imagine any intrigue in our connected domiciles.

Hollywood is nothing like I expected. In a way it reminds me of Athens nestled in its hills with the ocean and gorgeous beaches a short jaunt away. It is a town of low rises and many smaller human scale apartments. Grand houses are cheek by jowl with modest bungalows – even in Beverly Hills. I like the friendliness, the lack of pretension in this capital of scripts and larger than life successes and failures. There is no striving for shiny new but a respectful regard for the deflowered past glamour. Is it the energy of the hills or the energy of the ocean than seems to keep some presence – even when there is a palpable dark underbelly, glimpsed now and then in a haunted eye or a roll of rags on the street that breathes as we pass by.