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From LA to the world

LA, as the song goes, may be a great big freeway, but LAX, the world’s fifth busiest airport, is a great big runway these days, with more and more airlines finding their way to the glittering city on the Pacific.

In the last 12 months, five new international airlines began flying into Los Angeles International Airport and two more international airline companies are on schedule to be added this year. And that does not begin to address all the new routes available from airlines already operating in and out of this busy port.

Passenger volumes at LAX set a record last year, crawling up six percent from 2014 to a hefty 74.9 million. And the airport found itself among the top 100 airports in the world, according to Skytrax, although at the lower end of that scale.

Following a $4 billion, eight-year makeover of the Tom Bradley International Terminal and other location sites, the airport is set to run another $5 billion in improvements that will bring, among other things, a new $3 million paparazzi-proof VIP entrance as well as more connectedness between terminals.

A people mover will eventually link terminals to a light rail station connecting LAX to Santa Monica and the rest of the metropolis. The great big runway by the water is quickly becoming one of the world’s hub spots for transit and a top launch spot for connecting passengers on the US left coast with all the great destinations of the world.

Unlike much of the ground-bound geography in the Los Angeles basin during congested traffic times, you can get there from here.  If “here” is LAX, then “there” can be Jeddah or Addis Ababa or Cebu or Changsha.

Ethiopian Airlines, Hainan Airlines, Interjet, Qatar Airways and SAS all began service into Los Angeles this year. Upcoming: Aer Lingus starts service May 4 and WOW starts service June 15.

Meanwhile, the list of places one can reach in one flight from LAX continues to grow, with new routes that include Managua, Dublin, Bogota, Chengdu, Nanjing, Cebu and Santiago.

We take you on a road trip through some of these new destinations from Los Angeles – once multi-stop, 30-hour flights and now mostly non-stop hops.

LAX to Addis Ababa on Ethiopian Airlines

Addis Ababa: The first stop along this worldly sojourn from LAX may be one of the most exotic. Ethiopian culture and civilization stretches back to biblical times and it is believed Sheba, lover of Solomon, is the mother of these people and their first queen. Addis Ababa, the most recent capital of the country (founded in the late 19th century by Emperor Menelik II), is beautifully preserved in parts and remains the central capital of Ethiopia.

Addis may also be Africa’s fastest growing metropolis.  A new light rail system, courtesy of China, is going up to alleviate traffic jams; a new airport is in progress to accommodate the rapid growth of Ethiopian Airlines and Addis Ababa as an African hub, and new hotels are changing the skyline.

The Addis Ababa Hilton, in proximity to the headquarters of the African Union, remains a solid standby for comfortable stays. Meanwhile, a Sheraton Luxury Collection property nearby provides five-star comfort that has been lacking in this thriving metropolis.

The upscale Radisson Blu offers a central location as well; a Marriott Executive Suites has well-appointed apartments for longer stays. And several comfortable Ethiopian owned properties have been sprouting up: Elilly Hotel, Monarch Hotel, Desalegn Hotels and even the local InterContinental. Still Addis is sadly lacking room inventory, especially anything above three stars.

While Ethiopian Flight 505 flies thrice weekly to Addis Ababa from LAX, it is a 20-hour flight in total so there is a brief layover in Dublin. However, passengers can now get off in Dublin and stay awhile, resuming their flight to Addis another day at no additional charge.

LAX to Dublin on Ethiopian Airlines and Aer Lingus

It’s not what to do in Dublin that is so vexing; it’s what not to do. You can spend weeks in Dublin, possibly something that Ethiopian Airlines took into account when creating its free unlimited stopover en route to Addis. The capital of the Republic of Ireland is alive, hip, musical, infectious and ready to welcome anyone that agrees.

Consider procuring a Dublin City Pass for a deep and quick orientation. It offers easy fast-track entry to 33 of the city’s top attractions, plus it comes with a one-way air shuttle transfer into the center of Dublin from the international airport.

As for where to stay, the city’s top pick might be the Merrion but other well-located hotels with a modicum of cool include the Fitzwilliam, the Dylan, the Clarence (owned by Bono & The Edge), The Morrison (DoubleTree by Hilton), Butlers Townhouse, the Westbury, the Morgan, and the Clontarf Castle Hotel. Also find a Radisson Blu or two, a Hampton Inn, Crown Plaza and other familiar US brands.

For some local shopping consider Saturday’s Temple Bar Food Market for vintage souvenirs, and the Dublin Flea Market on the last Sunday of the month. Top dining spots: Dawson Street is still the golden mile for Dublin restaurants and bars. The website is a good resource for reviews and current menus of the city’s main eateries.

LAX to Changsha on Hainan Airlines

Changsha is the latest non-stop to the People’s Republic from LAX.  Because a Chinese government mandate allows only one Chinese carrier per international route from China, the newest entrant, Hainan Airlines, is claiming the capital of Hunan as its own. (From LAX, China is already served by Air China to Beijing; China Eastern to Shanghai; and China Southern to Guangzhou).

Changsha dates back to the first millennium BC and offers a number of preserved temples, monuments, museums and gardens to tell its stories. Other than its bustling outdoor pedestrian mall along Huangxing Road, the city’s other claim to fame is as the place where modern China’s founder, Mao Zedong, began his political career in the early 1920s.

But it is the food that gives the city its place on the map. Hunan cuisine, known as Xiang Cuisine, is one of the eight cooking styles of China – renowned mostly for its hot and sour seasonings. Top recommendations: Stinky Tofu and Sisters’ Rice Balls or Spicy Shrimp. Be careful, though, when sampling street treats; food poisoning or reactions to unfamiliar food-borne microbes are not unknown.

You’ll find some top choice lodging:  Sheraton Changsha, Crown Plaza City Changsha, Kempinski Hotel Changsha, Wyndham Grand Plaza Royal and Kaiserdom Changsha Huatie. Other hotels are plentiful, but mostly of the local variety, which usually means hard beds, smoky rooms, insects and substandard cleanliness.

LAX to Guadalajara on Interjet

American Airline’s launch of daily service to Guadalajara was a strong indication that the market from the US to this city in western Mexico was a good bet. The route is also serviced by Volaris, Delta and Aeromexico.  Low-cost carrier Interjet, headquartered in Mexico City, followed suit in February with daily service from LAX from its gate in Terminal 2.

Founded by the Spanish in the 15th century, the colonial metropolis of Guadalajara is a thriving part of Mexico’s economy, with tourism as a major booster along with computing and information technology. It’s often referred to as the Silicon Valley of Mexico.

Thus, the city is exploding with all the accoutrement of rising economies: luxury malls, entertainment complexes, dining choices and myriad ways to attract local disposable incomes.

Guadalajara is rife with the colorful European-inspired architecture, historic plazas and ornate wrought-ironworks. Mercado Libertad is the place to look for souvenirs and traditional clothing. And Guadalajara is also the city where Mariachi music was born – and this is the spot to enjoy some of the best in Mexico.

As for local foods, try birria (a spicy stew of goat meat and mutton), tortas ahogadas (a meaty sandwich made from thick local bread and smothered in a chili/tomato sauce), and chilaquiles (corn tortillas cut in quarters and lightly fried then smothered in salsa or mole) might be considered the most traditional dishes in Guadalajara.  And the Mercado Libertad is the right place to find them.

LAX to Doha on Qatar Airways

It’s possible to travel from Los Angeles to Doha in 16 hours via Qatar Airway’s new route that started in January. As cities go, the capital of Qatar is a relatively recent one, the traditional mud and coral dwellings of old giving way to the concrete and steel city that Doha is today.  

While oil remains the main driver of the economy, construction is not far behind. A conference center went up in1983 and an adjacent 15-story Sheraton became the tallest structure in town. Today, however, Doha is as much about hotels as it is about oil. A Four Seasons, a Mövenpick, a Marriott, a Ritz-Carlton and a St. Regis are among the plethora of properties dotting a golden stretch of the Persian Gulf.

Now a 2030 vision plan has been set forth and some $65 billion committed to new infrastructure projects, with the 2022 World Cup serving as a strong incentive.

There are plenty of luxury malls for shoppers, but the souqs are the most intriguing. The Souq Waqif (also tabbed the Iranian Souq or Old Souq), is a good place to pick up Arab whatnots and maybe a falcon or two (these are for sale at many stands). For spices and incense head to the Omani Souq and, of course, visit the Gold Souq, for gold and gems.

Food in Doha is eclectic, given the throngs of ex-patriots employed there. Choose from South Indian foods, Middle Eastern foods (shish kabobs and Persianfare) and delicious seafood (grilled hammour with butter).

LAX to Reykjavík on WOW

Reykjavik will soon be within reach from Los Angeles on a new low cost airline. WOW launched last year as Iceland’s new no-frills carrier; the fare starts with a low base price but adds everything else ($48 for a carry-on, for instance). LAX service starts June 15 with a four times per week schedule to Iceland.

Reykjavik is best known, perhaps, for its wonderful geothermal lakes, the dazzling northern lights and the sense of peace. Iceland has topped the list as the most peaceful country in the world seven years in a row now, according to the annual Global Peace Index compiled by the Institute for Economics and Peace. Reykjavík is the fifth city in the world to be tapped as a UNESCO City of Literature, joining Edinburgh, Melbourne, Iowa City and Dublin.

So what’s to do in Reykjavik? Start with the museums:  The National Museum, the Living Art Museum, Nordic House, the Reykjavik Art Museum.  As for sleeping, most hotels in Reykjavik share the Nordic style of hospitality – efficient spaces, non-fancy décor, Scan furnishings at the upper end and good clean comfort in the middle tiers. Neither food nor hotel stays are cheap in Iceland.

But good values can be found at such properties as Hotel Holt, where art is at the center of this family-owned location (it possesses the largest private collection in the country). The Aportek Hotel is an architectural oeuvre.  It’s a boutique hotel owned by the Kea group that also owns Hotel Borg nearby.

You can find plenty of ways to sample Nordic cuisine in Reykjavik. Try Skolabru, a contemporary classic restaurant near Reykjavik’s old city main square and the Parliament. It is ensconced in a traditional wood clad house dating back to 1907.

LAX to Stockholm on SAS

SAS started service between Los Angeles and Stockholm in March, after more than two decades’ absence. The airline was the first to fly over the Arctic to LA in 1954 and broke the ice for other airlines, shaving two hours off the flight time.

Sweden’s capital city is an archipelago in the Baltic that spreads over 14 islands and offers quaint cobblestone neighborhoods, 13th century buildings, palaces, museums and plenty of ways to get around.

Best things to do in Stockholm? Get the Stockholm Pass for a quick overview and visit such attractions as the Royal Palace, the Vasa Museum, the Nobel Museum and the SkyView as part of the pass privileges. Take a canal boat tour to view historic buildings and intelligently designed green spaces. Shop in Bibliotekstan and in the city district of Norrmalm.

As for dining, most lists of the best restaurants to try will include Restaurant Mathias Dahlgren, Restaurang Frantzén and Gastrologik on them. Mathias Dahlgren and his eponymous restaurant recently received two Michelin stars. Emphasis is on natural and regional ingredients. Restaurang Frantzén was started by a Swedish football star with a passion for cooking. And Michelin-starred Gastrologik was started by a protégé of Dahlgren and specializes in new Nordic fare.  

By Lark Gould