October 2010

Did you guys know you have to pre-order Euros at your bank before you can go in and get them? You can’t just go in an exchange money. I did NOT know that. We wanted to have some Euros on us for tipping and such for when we get to Europe, so I hit up my bank at lunch yesterday. Friends advised that if I have an account with the bank, the service fee would be waived. Well, THAT much was true, but the teller said that none of the branches would have Euros in them without my prepaying and preordering first. Mr. W tried calling his bank branch to ask if they have an inventory of foreign money. He was told that 5-7 days were required to order the Euros, but was pointed to one particular branch that would have them, so off we went. Unfortunately, when we got there, we were told that the lady who handles the Euros had gone to lunch and would be back in an hour. We couldn’t come back in an hour; we both had to get back to work, so the teller said they’re open till 6pm. We both went there after work, and were told by another teller that the money exchange shuts down at 4pm. Mr. W was peeved. We don’t have 3-5 business days from this point to order the Euros, so Mr. W took two hours off work in the afternoon and presumably he’s at that bank right now getting the Euros, after calling and explaining his wild Euro goose chases to the Euro lady and making sure she’d be there to wait for him. The two bank chains, mine and his, give nearly identical exchange rates of 1 Euro to $1.45 (which is slightly worse than the actual foreign exchange rate of 1 to $1.29), so they’re still making money off us even without the service charge. We hear the currency exchange at the airports give worse rates with high service charges, and didn’t want to chance it.

We were also advised by many Europe-savvy friends that the best exchange rates would be in the country of that currency’s origin, and ATM machines are the easiest access to that. Some people also suggested using credit cards wherever possible for the best exchange rate moment-by-moment, but with the caveat that some places only take cash, and most places only take Visa or Mastercard. I’m fine leaving my American Express at home, since the one time I used it for a foreign purchase (bought my dad a stingray carving in Tahiti), my $75 purchase became a $110 purchase after fees and foreign surcharges. There’s also talk of Europe switching their credit card system into microchipped cards instead of magnetic strip cards like we have, so there may be some locations that won’t be able to process our credit cards. Given that, I think I’ll just be bringing my ATM/debit/Visa card.

My travel agent called this morning. Even tho France is still having civil unrest, Air France says all international flights yesterday and today came and went as scheduled without delay. So things look good.

I’m just a little freaked now about Dodo. He was acting weird yesterday. He left some vomit blobs here and there throughout the house in the past week, which isn’t unusual for when there’s hairball issues, but last nite he was hiding under the bed and refused to come out. He’s not usually so antisocial. I dragged him out to show him the new spot for the litter box since we changed the location to make the box easier for the Stepdaughter to access and clean out while we’re gone. He seemed weak and listless. He also immediately barfed when I put him downstairs, twice. And he drank a lot of water but didn’t eat food last nite. This morning the food appeared untouched, when he normally did most of his eating in the wee hours of the night. Also, he seemed to strain a bit going up the stairs and had to stop and space out a long time. He also wasn’t very responsive to my petting him, and wasn’t as violently opposed to my touching the no-no areas of his back paws and tummy. I just kept thinking, “Oh my gawd, is he sick? Right before I have to leave for 2 weeks?” Maybe he’s just sad cuz he saw the suitcases out. 🙁

Okay, I’ll stop rambling now. It’s been a long stressful day.

Everyone’s got economy problems, and that includes France. Their president, President Nicolas Sarkozy, proposed a change in their pension plans to stave off a deeper crash in their growing deficit: increase the retirement age 2 years, from 60 to 62. Anytime the public sector proposes changes to employee benefits, unions are going to strike, and the French are striking by hitting the vein of transportation — oil refineries, some public transportation workers. With 70% of the nation’s fuel now stopped (both by supply production and transportation blockades), flights are being canceled, public transportation is running minimal lines, chaos is in the streets as motorists dry the existing gas supplies in fear of the shortage, and on top of that, they have street demonstrations, spurts of violence, burning, looting, air traffic controller strikes, and union cargo truck drivers are using their large vehicles to block traffic around major cities like Paris. Al Queda decided to jump in the mix by sending terrorist threats to Paris, too. (Wanna see current info and photos? Check www.france24.com.)

So what does that have to do with Cindy’s World?

We have an hour-long layover in Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport on our way to Venice. We catch our Greek Isles cruise from Venice. If we can’t get a flight out of France, we risk missing our cruise. I was very nervous last night reading up on French news, seeing that Paris’ Orly Airport canceled 50% of its flights today, and Charles de Gaulle canceled 30%. After wailing in my head for a bit, I emailed Rebecca asking if she has time to squeeze in a phone reading for me on this, and I emailed our travel agent to see if we could get a different flight and connection that would avoid France altogether. Mr. W, altho usually the one prone to overreactive panic on things like this, was weirdly unaffected. He told me to not tell him any more about the French news, and went upstairs to iron shirts that he plans to pack for the trip. It felt weird being the paranoid one for once. My travel agent, Lily, wrote back fairly quickly telling me she will call the airlines and the travel company that had arranged the airline, and get back to me in the morning.

I received an early-morning email from Rebecca first. She gave me a freebie, writing:

Hi Cindy,
I’m not picking up on any problems. Visualize an easy, smooth, comfortable transition when you switch planes, and an easy, “go with the flow” energy about all of the transportation involved for your trip.
If you hadn’t read about the “transportation problems in France” you would not be worried about it. For that reason, I seldom watch the news. It’s not that I don’t want to be informed; it’s that the exposure to negative energy influences our energy and I would rather not be “pulled in” by that.
You are going to have a wonderful time. Could there be challenges? Yes. Will there be? I don’t know. Be prepared, but go with the flow and you will have an amazing time!
If you are still feeling uneasy, let me know. But I know if you spend a few minutes each day visualizing everything in a smooth, effortless energy, that is how you will experience it.
Lots of love and blessings,

If Rebecca sees me having a fine time, then I trust that the end result is that I will be having a fine time. So I felt much better. She basically said that there wouldn’t be a problem unless I create one. So then I started wondering if I screwed up and the flights were gonna get changed, which would affect the time we leave and arrive, which would affect both the doctor’s appointment I have in the morning before I leave, and the hotel we’d check into upon our arrival in Venice. In my email box was also two emails from Delta Airlines and its affiliation, Air France. Turns out they’re confirmation emails of our flights as we’d arranged it, and then I saw this email from my travel agent:

cindy, I spoke to air france and solar tour this morning, they told me do not do anything, everything on schedule Right now, strike on 19 & 20, hopefully over by friday, they told me to call them thurday morning, if strike still going on, they will re-arrange the route, watch the news, air france phone number [#]

Okay, so Air France doesn’t think the strike will affect our international flights, but they’re open to allowing changes if it starts looking bad. Okay, I can live with that.

Yes, I realized there’s no point to this post, but thanks for listening. And, just for fun, say the title of this post three times fast.

I’m not sure, but I *think* we got some discriminatory treatment at a restaurant tonight.

I had read a few things on a “neighborhood gem” restaurant called Nirvana Grille, and had been wanting to try it. Thursday on the way home after work, hubby asked for restaurant suggestions, so I told him about this place and he was game. We got there about 5:30p. The host greeted us at the door and asked if we had reservations. We said we didn’t, and he asked for a last name to put in the system. Mr. W gave his, and we were promptly seated. The restaurant was fairly empty, with only 3 or 4 other tables taken up, so we were given our choice of booth or table. We had a fine meal, spent good money, and hubby joked with the waitress that we’ll be back on Saturday (today) to try other things on the menu. She said that’s great, she’ll be working on Saturday so she’ll see us then. This location is only open for dinner and Sunday brunches, by the way.

Tonight, we got there a few minutes before 6pm. The restaurant was maybe 25% full. A male host (can’t remember if it’s the same one, but probably not) greeted us at the door and asked if we had a reservation. We said we did not. He said, “Oh, I don’t know if I can seat you tonight. We’re really busy…” He looked down and studied the seating table chart for 2, maybe 3 seconds. “No…I won’t be able to seat you at all tonight. I’m sorry, we’re just crazy busy tonight.” So we thanked him and left. It felt like we were in some exclusive trendy LA restaurant that celebrities go to so that reservations had to be made months in advance if you’re lucky, except, like I’d already mentioned, this restaurant was 75% empty at the moment.

I thought it was weird, considering how open the restaurant was, that they were going to get THAT full within minutes of our being there that they can’t seat us. It was 5:57pm (I thought they opened at 5:30p) when we got back in the car. I said that people usually book reservations by half-hour increments, so unless we see a flood of people cramming into the restaurant in the next minute, they probably didn’t have a ton of 6pm reservations. And usually, when a restaurant was anticipated to be full, don’t they tell you, “I’m sorry, if you don’t have reservations, there will be a one-hour wait, would you like to wait?” They don’t just say they can’t seat you for the ENTIRE NIGHT. As it’s not a large restaurant to begin with, maybe they’d be full with a large-party reservation, but the tables were still pulled apart in 2-people and 4-people seats, not joined for a large group. “You’d think that if they’re normally so crazy-busy on a Saturday night, that the waitress on Thursday would’ve suggested we make reservations.” Hubby didn’t respond to me and was quiet for awhile.
Finally, he said, “I don’t like being turned away from a restaurant. It makes me feel like they’re discriminating against us, maybe for the way we look or the way we’re dressed or something. They could’ve served us and had us done and out of there before other people’s reservations. I’m not going back.”

So it wasn’t just me who left with the uncomfortable feeling that we had been lied to. The guy didn’t flip into the reservation book to look at how booked they were going to be in the next half hour. He only stared at the seating chart. Do people write reservations on the table seating charts so that it’d tell him that he wouldn’t be able to seat us the entire night?

We went to Selma’s Chicago Pizzeria instead and had fine food and great service. It took some time for the mood to dispel, however. When we got home at a few minutes past 8pm, I immediately checked Opentable.com to see if there were reservations/seating available for Nirvana Grille. It was too bad that I couldn’t check it immediately after being turned away, because Opentable won’t show me any information on “expired” (past) times. The earliest time I can check is 8:30pm onward, and yes, there were tables open both 8:30p and 9pm. So what the guy said about not being able to seat us at all tonight was a lie.

I feel like I want to sign up for a Yelp account solely to tell people about this restaurant experience.

Last Saturday, Mr. W and I attended our first Progressive Dinner. Commenter Maggie is on the board of a community service organization called the Skills Foundation, which raises money and sponsors afterschool programs for kids and teens to further their educations, prevent drug abuse, teach them life skills. So here’s how the dinner works:
All the people attending the event meet at a restaurant, check in, receive color wristbands to split into two groups. Each group then hits up a series of local participating restaurants and other business establishments on a schedule, eating appetizers at one, main course at another, side dishes at the next, on and on until we end with coffee and dessert at a final meeting place for the two groups to re-converge. All the restaurants donate their one or few dishes, get people to try out their food and maybe come back, and participate in a good cause. The diners’ $50 ticket goes completely to the Foundation. Since this took place in the Uptown Whittier area, we were very excited for good food.

For Mr. W and myself, we started the evening at Maggie and her hubby’s house. I got out of the car and looked ponderingly at a sign on their fence that said “wolf xing” or something like that. Since the decor of the yard seemed very Native American, I just figured it was a fun sign. And then, barks filled the air and a silver wolf approached me from the backyard, humming a low warning growl. A brown similarly-sized dog followed the wolf, also growling. I stood still and kept my hands to myself to show that I’m not a threat. The two canines calmed down enough after inspecting me and Mr. W (who stood behind me, the wimp) to stop growling, just sniffing curiously. I slowly offered my hand to the wolf. She sniffed it, the dog sniffed it, and seemed okay. Right around then, Maggie came running around the back saying, “The dogs! I forgot about the dogs!” That wasn’t comforting, considering the main reason I didn’t jump back into the car and slam the door in horror was that I assumed Maggie wouldn’t leave the dogs loose knowing we were coming over unless she knew they weren’t going to eat us. But by then, I was already friends with the animals, and the raised line of silver fur down the back of the wolf was already smoothing down. We then got a tour of the gargantuan outdoor property and its many fruit and veggie growths (with the two happy dogs bounding beside us, Maggie playing fetch with Kenai, the half-wolf, with a dropped avocado) and then a tour of the renovated house. Maggie’s hubby Tom is quite the visionary architect and do-if-yourselfer.

And THEN we started our tour de force with food. We ate and drank our way through appetizers at Sage Restaurant and Lounge; a ballroom called RMH Dance Center that had bacon-wrapped stuffed dates and fancy mac-and-cheese catered from the restaurant Phlight next door (where we ordered “wine flights” that had nearly full pours); healthy sandwiches at a deli called Fenix 5-4; pitas, hummus, roasted red pepper dip and cucumber yogurt dip, chicken and beef skewers at Uptown Kabob; and ended with champagne, coffee, and cupcakes hosted at the Bluebird Art House. At Uptown Kabob, we were already overfull and Maggie’s husband Tom wandered unenthusiastically to our table and blew his cheeks into big bubbles as he looked at me, alluding to the overabundance of good food. I laughed. He turned and looked at the growing crowd of guests at the table grabbing mediterranean food. “I guess I’d better get in line,” he said flatly, “Or I might starve to death.” It might’ve been the Armenian coffee I was drinking at the moment, but that was the funniest thing I’d heard all night. (That demitasse of Armenian coffee kept me up all night, btw.) My stomach was so distended by the time we got to champagne and cupcake that I attempted to try on some cute tops at the vintage shop attached to Bluebird Art House, but I barely fit in them.

I bought one anyway because it was too cute to pass up. I guess I’ll just have to work my way into that top. The rest of the night, though, I was gasping for air and wondering whether pregnancy would be this painful given the stretching at the same area.

Maggie took this photo at the second location, the bacon- and mac-and-cheese serving ballroom. Also, where we all ordered flights of wine only to be surprised that the pours were nearly full 5-oz pours instead of the normal 1.5 oz tasting pour.

Maggie thought it was blurry, so she tried again.

She started wondering if maybe it wasn’t blurry and she was just wine-goggled. Haha! But then hubby took this and it came out the same, so whatever the issue was, was contagious.

It was a lot of food and our conscience was also appeased knowing we were helping kids in the Whittier area. AND…I met a WOLF! That made my week. =)

Mr. W: *squinting at the back of the battery charger* Does this say it can do 220 volts? …Great, this one charges at 220 volts, too. So we can charge our cameras with it in Europe. I guess all the battery chargers that have transformers can do it.
Me: They’re more than meets the eye.


Mr. W: What?

Sometimes it’s hard being with someone from another generation. I feel so unappreciated.