April 12, 2013

Slowly mutating?


I’ve got this small suspicion haunting me like a mosquito in the night these last months. Impossible to ignore. That thought haunting me was that I should change my name from Fabraholic to Swapaholic. (or HoliFabSwap...?) If you haven’t joined a swap yet – don’t do it! You will be utterly hooked the moment you sign up!

Well, too late for me now! It’s so bad, that as a couple of swaps finished I had to get more, just like any other junkie! And I mean NOW!!!

Then the impossible happened; I was TURNED DOWN in two swaps for the flimsiest of reasons.

 1. The swap was full
 2. Only for residents in the USA

Can you believe it??? Usually swapmamas are single-minded creatures like missionaries chasing erring souls.
The Viking in me awakened and started fighting back. This is how the Texty Charm Swap was born a couple of days ago. A swap for addicts of text prints! Take this you lousy world!!!

All you need is:
1.       A Flickr account
2.       One yard of delicious text prints (high quality of course)
3.       Some stamps
4.       One plastic bag for your goodies

The bad news if you sign up is that you have to part with your text print; the good one is that you get 56 text prints in 5” x 5” in due time and get to know a lot of other addicts. Interested? Then pop over to http://www.flickr.com/groups/2208793@N23/ and sign up! What are you waiting for? I know you cannot resist once you’ve seen the booty. I'll have you drooling in no time!

Oh, and one thing more, I almost forgot; you have to live in Europe
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Happy swapping!

April 10, 2013

First impressions of a foreign country - the USA

For ages now my daughters and I have been looking for that rare species, a free slot in our busy schedules. Then Princess (DD2) one sunny day told us she might have some days off the last weeks in February. Beauty (DD1) was immediately roped in and told to hold off any appointments during this time as well and I was on the roll, looking for the perfect place to go to. 

No easy task let me tell you. Europe is not really inviting end of February and tends to pouring ice-cold water down your neck unexpectedly or dump snow on your head. The islands in the Mediterranean are hard to reach for a reasonable price without several stops and North Africa and the Middle East are too unsettled for the time being. So where to go? 

Then I saw it, the perfect place with affordable tickets – New York. I immediately tried to reach both daughters, but alas, they had a busy day and the tickets were sold out before I could book. We sheared a lot of tears over that one!

So, I started planning again and found this marvelous trip to Iceland. I had everything almost booked; starting with a bath in a warm well during the trip from the airport to the hotel, some whale watching, and visits to some geysers…Only that last click remained. My fingers were already hovering over the book now key, but I decided to check my emails first. Then I saw it – very cheap tickets for LA! I made the mistake mention it to my daughters and that immediately had their attention! Ok, so we didn’t go to Iceland *sigh*, but settled on LA instead. 

Princess couldn’t go after all (lousy time management at that university) and her tickets went down the drain. Only two of us left.  Sad, but we decided to go anyway and look for another opportunity for the three of us.
We had to leave for the airport late on a Tuesday night. Beauty took the car to work, because it would otherwise have been difficult for her to get home in time for departure. 

She called me eight o’clock to tell she was on her way. This was the first inkling things were going to be somewhat tight. She had a one and a half hours drive in front of her and hadn’t packed a stitch yet. I decided in my mind she could leave without those stitches. What’s wrong with buying a new toothbrush?

We were to leave at eleven. The next call came at 8:30. ‘There is a traffic jam; the motorway has been closed down’. The next five hours were no fun at all and included a lot of nail biting. She finally came at half past one, half an hour after the last train left for anywhere near the airport. So we had to do some rethinking and decided to take the car to the airport. Usually the parking tickets cost more than the airplane tickets, but…We found a cheap place that charged only just about the same amount as tickets to London. We got our plane after some special orientation for experts from the parking to the airport and finally settled down for a 12 hour flight. 

It was one of those normal flights, clouds all around, boring food, cramped seats…But the clouds had the courtesy to disappear above Scotland and Greenland. Breathtaking places!!

                

In LA things were a bit different from what we’d expected. Naturally we had been speculating on the American in his/hers natural habitat and were not sure what to expect; something between Desperate Housewives and Criminal Minds was the general tenor. You've got to inform yourself, don't you?

The customs were cool and joked with us and Obama’s picture greeted us in the hallway. No hassle at all, only friendly faces. And this was the border crossing we had seen so many films about? We found the bus stop for downtown immediately, no problem. But we were astonished at the buses taking passengers to the next car hire. There were millions of them and only one bus going downtown! Clearly things are handled differently here.

The hotel was ok, with a clear sight of the Hollywood sign from the window and we spent the afternoon looking around and eating junk food. Downtown LA was not the least bit like we expected. Nice houses, but lots of homeless people everywhere. Usually downtown is the place you want to be with easy access to everything you want to see or do, but not in this town.


We took lots of pictures; of hydrants, school buses, and fire stairs…Did you know you can take your bike on regular buses? 





Once we took pictures of a film team in front of a hotel. We expected some VIP or other, but that was not the reason for the presence of the film team. More about the film team later and their reason for making this report.



Then the highlight of the day; the appointment with Newbie Jen! She’d organized a babysitter to be able to meet up with us and came to get us from the hotel. I immediately liked her, but I’m not so sure if this feeling was mutual. We were already 36 hours on our feet and still speaking the way we are used to. That is very direct (the translation for ‘direct’ to American is ‘rude’)! I probably repeated myself about five times and told things she really didn’t want to know, but hey, that’s how I am, just a bit more because of being very tired. She took us to a sports bar for dinner and we had a great time getting to know each other. Then the next surprising thing; there are actually valeted parking spaces everywhere and it costs about the same for a couple of hours as we were prepared to pay for a week in Germany! 

We were sorry to see Jen go after this lovely evening, but the jetlag was heavy on our bones.

                

The next day we spent in Santa Monica and Hollywood. There were was a couple of surprises as well. Only people with immigrant background use the public transports and the bus takes forever for a short distance due to traffic jams. We promptly took the bus in the wrong direction and had to go back again. We got some transfer tickets from the bus driver and were told exactly where to go and what to do. 

Next to the bus stop we saw a drive in bank. I’ve never seen anything like that before.

  So we got on the next bus, this time in the right direction and decided after an hour or so to get off the bus. Of course we were nowhere near Santa Monica. While we were frenetically looking at our map I saw our first bus driver and hailed him. He asked about the transfer tickets, but we’d given those away. He just laughed and told us we were some characters shaking his head…Hey, what do you expect from country bumpkins on tour? He finally dumped us at Santa Monica showing us the right direction and we had a marvelous time there. Shops, hamburgers, ice sundaes…Life sometimes is too cruel for words!

My first juke box
Guess what they sell here :-)
                                               
Hard decisions

Then we went to Rodeo Drive, after using the restroom at Sash’s Fifth Avenue. Now, those sales persons at Sash’s are just like vultures hovering all around you looking for a weak spot! You simply can’t go anywhere without getting doused with some perfume or other. Smelling like the employees in a pleasure house in the Orient we finally managed to escape.
                                                  

Rodeo Drive and Beverly Hills didn’t impress us much, so we set out on foot to Hollywood. It was a nice walk, but after an hour or so it got boring. Endless streets and those hills in front of us not getting any nearer; you get the picture. Even less people actually walk from one place to another than the ones using the public transport, but we kept going; it was too difficult to find the right bus and the obvious solution; a taxi never entered our minds.

In Hollywood all the preparations for the Oscars were being made and we didn’t see much of the place. Never mind; our feet were already sore and our beds were calling out for us.

Next morning we left LA with the Coast Starlight train for San Francisco. This was one of the things Jen told us to do and it definitely was one of the highlights! Getting on the train was a bit different from what we know as well.  You cannot just go to the track; no you have to go to a counter in the middle of the train station and get your reservations. Then you wait until your train is called and you get the track number. If you don’t feel like walking you can get on one of these small cars taking you to your train.

On the train we got a lot of attention, unusual for us as well. In Europe you just get on a train and find your seat somewhere on your own. Not so here. The train waits indefinitely until everyone’s settled down. 

Another surprise was the Panorama wagon. I’ve never seen anything like this around anywhere. When we finally got to the right wagon all the tables and seats near the windows were taken, but a friendly guy from Portland invited us to share his table. We made some small talk the American way until he got up to get his wife. We managed our getaway and found some separate seats and glued our noses to the window while he was away. The Portland guy clearly was p***ed off at us; he’d settled down to talking travel for the next 12 hours or so! Very rude behavior of us once again, but he found some nicer people to talk to instead. Actually it was someone from Finland, so some Finnish people do know how to behave abroad. Now FYI, the thing is; in Finland you simply cannot talk with people without being introduced. This lady had her seat in front of us, but we could not talk with each other because of the before mentioned behavior rule. Please don’t get me wrong; we like socializing, but we cherish our privacy a bit more. 





This non talking rule doesn’t apply to foreigners, because we don’t expect them to know the proper way to behave. So it ok for you to address us, everyone will be friendly and answer the best they can.

The view between LA and San Francisco is simply gorgeous. The Pacific is to one side and mountains and small cities to the other side all the way.  Should you ever go here, do take this train trip! It’s worth every minute of the twelve hours it takes.

Late at night we arrived in San Francisco and found our hotel without a problem. Once again we’d chosen downtown as the place to be and this time were spot on right. We loved everything about San Francisco! It was everything we’d expected, only a bit more so! Lots of lovely shops, wonderful parks, cable cars, Fisherman’s Wharf and Golden Gate…
Street artist counting their money
Cable car
Hard work climbing those hills!





Then back again to Los Angeles. We spent a wonderful day in Venice Beach and Hollywood and were quite happy with our stay in LA. 
Venice beach

One happy daughter
We’d considered meeting with Jen again for some happy fabric shopping, but she was otherwise engaged. That is the reason why I was a bit surprised as I checked my messages in the evening to find many from Jen. She was rather desperate to make us change our hotel and told us it was not safe where we were staying. We just pooh-poohed and told her we felt quite safe going early back to our hotel, thank you very much! We thought she was concerned about the vagrants in Downtown, but that was not the case. Next morning she told us a Canadian woman had been abducted in the lift in our hotel three weeks ago and found murdered in the fresh water tank on the roof of the hotel just a couple of days before we came there. She was found because the water had turned black and the guests were complaining about the quality! Now we understood why the film team was taking pictures of this hotel!

Afterwards we saw on Internet there used to be Ghoul tours to this hotel, because some serial killers and other murderers used to stay here. So Criminal Minds wasn’t so far off after all!

Never mind; we didn’t know it and didn’t drink any black water. We had a lovely time in the USA and are planning on going back again as soon as possible. Perhaps NY is next? 
Pelicans, never seen those before IRL
Redondo beach
Our thanks goes to Jen for taking so good care of us and making this visit something special and really enjoyable. Hope to see you next time in Germany! We count on it!