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Renewing my expired CA Driver's Licence | It Started in LA | itstartedinla.com
Moving to LA, Posts

Renewing my expired CA Driver’s Licence

Renewing my expired CA Driver’s Licence? (California but you know that!) Doesn’t it seem like only a few months ago I (finally) got my Californian driver’s license?

Well.  At home you can renew your license for 5 years or 10 years (5 years now if you’re over a certain age. Ugh).  Here (where, let’s face it, bureaucracy isn’t their strong point) they only give you a licence valid for the length of your Visa. Somehow though, even though my Visa is valid until next March my license was only valid until November.

I got a form in the mail telling me to fill in the blanks, provide a copy of my passport and my i94 and visa page in my passport.

Alas I never heard back and so you know what that meant?

Yup, it meant I had to go in and apply to renew my license.

Again you know what that meant don’t you? Yep, forms and queue.  Horrendous.

We were going on our road trip so it was important for me to get my license renewed.  Mr H was at home so could take over my carpool and I’d get up and join the DMV queue at 7AM (ish).

Trying to pack and get organized I needed to wash my hair.  My first instinct was to put a beanie on, suck it up and head over.  But with a bit of packing still to do, appointments banked up and precision timing required I decided the safest thing to do was to actually do my hair, pop on some eyeliner and finish the rest of my make up when I came home.

I head on down (still early enough) to join the queue.  There is always the longest queue at those DMVs it’s a nightmare.

So to share my pain with my fellow expats living in LA here you go.  Three steps to renew your Californian license.

Renewing my expired Driver’s Licence

This applies to renewing “in-between” times because it’s coinciding with your Visa date not the length of time they would have given you a license.

1.  Get in the queue early. Best to be there around 7/7:15 to get the shortest wait time.  Seriously.  If you don’t want to wait in the queue make an appointment, it saves so much time. (https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/portal/foa/welcome).  Having said that sometimes you don’t have a chance as appointments can take weeks to wait for.

2.  Complete the form.  It is the same form as when you applied.  It’s called the DL44 and it must be the original form.

     Some things you’ll need to know or bring to get your temporary licence:

  •      Expired license
  •      i94
  •      Passport
  •      You’ll also need to know your Social Security number for the form (I know Americans know it by heart but I don’t).

3.  Wait your turn and they’ll process your form.

That may well be good information but here’s the number one tip I will leave you with:

DO YOUR HAIR AND MAKE-UP

Because they’re issuing you with a new license.  That means a new photo.

Oddly enough there was no fee to get you a new license.  (And on the positive how much cheaper are licenses are to get here?)

One more thing.  And this happened to my son who passed his test and hasn’t had his proper license yet (three months later).  And it happened to Mr H whose temporary license kept expiring and he had to continually follow up.  If you don’t get your license back you might need to call this number:

Legal Presence:  (916) 657 7445

I believe it might just jolt the system back into place and move your license along a bit.  That’s because our licences have to go through an extra step.  I was recommended to call the two weeks before the temporary one expires.

Good luck. You might just need it.

xx It Started in LA xx

How to raise the perfect LA Princess: five steps to follow | It Started in LA | itstartedinla.com
My LA story, Posts

How to raise the perfect LA Princess

Ever wondered how to raise the perfect LA Princess?  Have you heard of the phenomena I like to call The LA Princess?  The LA Prince exists too but in merely a shadow of their counterpart.  Let me explain.

Firstly, welcome back after a bit of work and a great Thanksgiving break.

Thanksgiving is America’s longest long weekend (they don’t take the Friday and Monday off like we do in Australia and other parts of the world). And, because they’re giving thanks, it’s time to be with family and friends so it’s the biggest weekend of the year when it comes to travel.  (Did you happen to catch this story about how busy it was on the roads in LA?)

If you’re playing along at home via Facebook and Instagram, we took a road trip to Utah.  More about the travelog in the coming days (or weeks as the case might be!).  I will just say though that it is indeed a spectacular part of the world.

Leaving behind the LA Bubble

I’ve decided that leaving LA bound for other parts of the US is good for the soul.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the LA bubble we find ourselves in.  And this is despite us trying to keep all eight feet on the ground.  It’s not until you set foot outside the bubble that you realise you’re getting sucked in.

When we lived in China we used to call them “Get-out-of-China” holidays.  This was simply because day-to-day life could be extremely difficult, constantly trying to navigate a world where the culture and the language are so so different from yours and extremely difficult to navigate.

The LA Princess Syndrome

Before I left LA I’ve been noticing the phenomenon I like to call the LA Princess syndrome.  The LA Princess is unique in so many ways.  And in other ways she is not new to you at all.

Perhaps the original LA Princess in my time was Paris Hilton (ironically went to the same school as my kids).  She has been superseded by former bestie Kim Kardashian.  And so, per the “Reality” Show, the Kardashians have  big part to play in ensuring the LA Princess is alive and well.

But you don’t have to live in LA to be an LA Princess.  From the comfort of wherever you are in the world—coupled with reality TV and Snapchat (don’t you know Instagram is for old people?! And yes I have a Snapchat account but still don’t know how to use it) you can raise an LA Princess.

Not unlike Sydney, LA is a melting pot of many cultures.  And, like Sydney, there are many wealthy people around doing incredible things.  But there is still somehow a difference. It’s difficult to put my finger on but it’s here.

I look to two friends as examples: both not from here, both wealthy with celebrity parents yet their children do not suffer from LA Princess syndrome.  They must wander what on earth they’re doing wrong.

Controversially (or not) I think the bulk of the responsibility comes from the parents.  (Shock. Horror).

Thankfully so many of my friends and their children don’t suffer from this syndrome or I might have to actually slit my wrists.  But there’s enough LA Princess syndrome going on around for me to put together a little step-by-step guide on how to turn your perfectly normal girl into an LA Princess.

How to raise the perfect LA Princess

Here are five ways you can indulge your little Princess and turn them into an LA Princess.

1.  Let her believe she’s the centre of the universe

The key is to indulge her.  Indulge her in every way imaginable.

She is the centre of the universe isn’t she? Of course she is; let her know this. Only she matters.

My daughter has been playing school tennis.  It hasn’t been without its ups and downs but I love that sport gives kids a sense of the real reality—they learn to win and lose, they learn that money doesn’t buy you everything and they learn about how to be a team player.

One Friday afternoon we were playing against another team and there were rumblings in the ranks (thankfully not on our team as they know our Coach will not stand for it).  The conversation went a little something like this:

“We’re done, are you done?

“I don’t see why we should have to stay, I mean my daughter is finished.  Can’t we just go?”

“I have so much to do and I don’t want to get stuck in the traffic.”

Yep that apple don’t fall far from the tree.

You can always tell which schools have a sense of team and which ones can’t see past themselves.  We have played a number of teams whose girls just leave once they’re done leaving the last game standing to fend for themselves.  In fact, one of the games nearly came down to a forfeit because the match was shaping up to be a tie.  If it was a tie the rules are you all get back on the court and play another set.  But, without the girls there to get back on the court they would have to forfeit.  Oops.  Lucky we won the last game and spared them a little humiliation.

Then there was the girl who came off the court wallowing in self pity.  Here’s the conversation I overheard (in your best Kardashian voice) to a teammate who also just came off the Court:

“I’m so bummed we lost. It was so close, they were the biggest cheaters, we so should’ve won. And now I won’t be MVP” (Most Valuable Player).

But for every LA Princess you come across a girl who falls far short.

There’s one girl on our team who is nowhere close to being an LA Princess.  She’s a sub who rarely gets to play.  This girl is the first to cheer on her teammates, brings the best kick-ass snack to the games, take photos and is one of the first to ask the girls how they went in their match if they came off a different court to the one she’s been watching.

Now this girl has a lot of work to do before she can even dream of being an LA Princess. Poor darling.

2.  Let her do whatever she wants

It sounds easy enough doesn’t it? Makes your job as a parent much easier and your popularity will go through the roof!  But try as I might I just can’t seem to pull it off. If I let my daughter do whatever she wants you better head for the hills.  If a 14-year-old girl gets to gallivant around town using her Uber account and credit card without her parents knowing where she is there’s no knowing what sort of trouble she’ll get into.  And then for the rest of her life she’ll think it’s OK to do what she does.  A monster is what she’d be.  Oh wait …

3.  Let her have whatever she wants

This is where I need the most work.  I have myself the ultimate consumer.  She wants everything: new fancy fast cars for us each year (at least she’s a sharer), new clothes every time she goes shopping, lots of makeup, (expensive) jewellery, eating out at the hip & happening joints all over town and let’s not forget front row seats to every must-Snapchat-from concert.  Yep, if I followed this rule we’d be out on the street with nowhere to live.  Fortunately for most 90210 parents they have the budgets to sustain this over-the-top spending.  Fortunately, too, I hasten to add, for the LA Princess.

I once had someone beg me to let my daughter go with her daughter so her daughter wouldn’t miss out on her Snapchat-worthy event. I’ve still got a lot of work to do.  That-a-way.

4.  Don’t set any boundaries.

When we first arrived I was privy to this discussion.  Hashtag priceless.

“I took all the devices off my child yesterday.  You need to learn your lesson I told her adamantly.  Then I told her if she’s good all week tomorrow I would go and buy her a new one.  Now she has two and she uses them both. I’m so proud of her.”

Yep, you tell them.  That will teach her.

Then there was the time before that where she broke her screen.  A group of three families were out.  The then-12-year-old broke her screen on her phone.  She was crying hysterically.  Mr H said, “Don’t worry you can get the screen replaced just down the road.”  The other dad chimed in, “Yes, and we just did it for our daughter, so easy and so much better than buying a new phone.”  The next day she has a brand new phone.  It’s OK though, they fixed the old phone too.  You always need more than one phone don’t you know.

Either kids are really good here but you never hear of anyone really being grounded.  They are more like the exception to the rule.

So boundaries people, no need for them either.  Raising an LA Princes is easier than you think huh?

5.  Dress her appropriately

I have to say this is perhaps one of the most important things to consider.  There are a few looks to be embraced in order to become an LA Princess.  All of them are acceptable.

The first look is the leggings (must be a brandname, eg. Lulu Lemon) with tight top.  If the top is too long you can use an elastic to tie it above the hips to one side.

The next look is the short shorts with the Brandy Melville crop top.

Finally you can wear tight jeans with a crop top.

As the girls get older, designer handbags become the norm.  (Remember I discovered this the hard way when I first arrived).  Then designer shoes with 10” heels (they can barely walk in) start to creep into the wardrobe.  And now we are entering the “jewellery-your-mother-doesn’t-even-have” phase with the Cartier love bracelet being the piece du jour.  Buy Hermes will do too.

A word of warning about this “recipe for success”

This might seem easy but it is not as straight forward as it might seem.  You might need to play around with the proportions.

For example, some LA Princesses only need to feel like they are the centre of the universe with very little of any of the other ingredients.  Others have whatever they like but still struggle to pull off the LA Princess.  Others still have seemingly everything they want yet are still not content and are looking for something more.  Others look the part but struggle to own it; to act the part.

And others want to try to raise LA Princesses but can’t quite bring themselves to follow the rules.

We’re back in our bubble now.  For a little less than a week, however, my daughter was privy to how the rest of the world lives once again.  She said life would be much easier if we didn’t live in our bubble.  But that’s it isn’t it?  To learn to live as most people do within our bubble.

She’ll be right mate.  We got this.

xx It Started in LA xx

Five things to do if you're moving to LA | It Started in LA | itstartedinla.com
Moving to LA, Posts

Five things to do if you’re moving to LA

So you’ve just found out you’re moving to LA.  LA can be such a daunting beast—it’s big, there’s lots of traffic and one end of town is completely different to the other.  So, what do you have to do if you know you’re making the move and how do you navigate the process.

Five things to do if you’re moving to LA

1.   Pick your Location

It’s a toss up whether you pick your location first or pick your schools first.  If you have kids then it may be a bit of both.

If you don’t have kids then it’s easy: location, location, location.  I’d start with areas in and around work.  Think neighbouring communities, the actual community or communities that are easily accessed via one of the major freeways.

We wanted something close to Mr H’s work so it wasn’t a huge commute and then we wanted something that would be close to school.

So we looked at every area in between.  We found two houses, within 15 minutes of each other—one closer to the school we hoped to get into and the other closer to Mr H’s work—and we let fate decide which one we’d end up living in.  As it turns out we ended up in the house closest to school.  We were really lucky as it also turned out a number of the kids friends (whose parents became my friends) also lived in the area.

For you choosing location might have everything to do with choosing schools: especially if you’ve chosen to send your kids to public school (see below).

I’ve outlined the “main” areas to live in LA in this post a year or so ago; it talks through my journey scoping out locations. Its aim is to provide an overview of where to start.

Like I say, it’s best for all concerned if you’re as close to work and school as you can possibly be if you want to avoid spending all your time in your car.  Having said that some people make a lifestyle decision to commute.  Go figure but they do.  Test the traffic patterns, especially in peak hours.  The bummer about LA is it’s a sprawling acropolis and it’s hard to get around at the best of times, let alone peak times.  During peak hours it took me just under half an hour to get home from school drop off; outside that it’s less than 10 minutes.

Once you’ve chosen your location then you need to find somewhere to live.  I’ll be linking this to a post coming up on house-hunting and tips to secure a lease without a credit rating so stay tuned.

2.   Choose your Schools

If you have kids then you know this is vital.

Your first choice is whether you’re going to private or public school.  There are also in-between schools like religious ones or Charter schools.

Despite popular movies like The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off not everyone goes to public school.  In fact, the LA Unified School District lacks money and as a result the quality of schools can be hit and miss.

Some areas offer great houses and great schools (Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Manhattan Beach and Pasadena South for example) but the high rents could still lock you out.

When we did the sums on Santa Monica for example we decided it was cheaper to pay for private school than pay the higher rent required to live in the zone.  (Schools are funded by property taxes and most landlords pass on the property tax expenses in your rent—they’re not paying for your kids to go to school in a good area, they’re just going to make the money off it!).

Public school

If you’ve decided to go to public school then you’ve most likely chosen your area based on its reputation for having good schools.  You can always check a school’s rating on the Great Schools website.  And most house listings show the schools nearby with their rating—it’s that important over here.

Private school

Private school is not so easy, they’re often oversubscribed and can be hard to get into.  I was surprised that they can be even harder to get into than they can at home.  Many of the private schools are College Preparatory schools which in a nutshell means high in academics and may not be the place for your poor gorgeous spunky kid with learning issues.

There is probably one major difference between admission at school here and Australia.

You can only apply the year before the school year you want to enter.  So, as soon as the new school year starts admissions teams start holding open days to showcase their schools.  Applications are then due by end of the year (please don’t take my word for it—check this—and each school can be different).

At a nominated date in March you are told whether your child has been accepted or waitlisted.  You then have around two weeks to accept or reject your offer.  All the schools have the same date so you have to choose.

The problem for an expat family lies in the fact that we never know when we’re going to be moving.  Imagine we only found out in early May so as my story goes I had to wake up at 4am every day for a week ringing Admissions Directors pitching our family to see if they could let us in outside their traditional admissions cycle.  Each time I think back I think how lucky we were.

The other step you’ll have to take is to take an entrance exam.  For most LA private schools it’s a test called the ISEE.  The Catholic schools have a different test and I believe this is mainly for High School.

So here’s the thing: Americans get tutors for this test and put their kids through the ringer to exceed in it.  It’s a competition and he who has the most resources to throw at their kids can generally win (unless their kids aren’t test takers or smart and then they better hope they have heaps of money to bribe the schools in donations).  It’s a cynical but true story folks; be very afraid.  But, having said that my kids had a day’s notice they had to sit it (story in the linked blog) and they did it.  Thank God we were going in under extreme circumstances and didn’t have to compete with the masses!

The piece I linked above also has with a shortlist of private schools in LA.  There’s also a link to the differences in schools between Australia and LA that you might find interesting.  It still baffles me once and a while.

3.   Open bank accounts

It might sound simple but it’s not altogether that straight forward. You will first need a US address and perhaps if you’re an Expat a letter from your employer.

We started with a Citibank account in Australia which made it so much easier to open up accounts in the US.  Once Mr H’s pay was deposited into his account we were able to get credit cards with a decent credit limit.  Also we’re able to transfer money between our Citibank accounts in Australia and here in the US without fees.  Be careful though as I’ve recently heard others say they don’t have this feature on their accounts despite being Gold customers.

You can also open up accounts with your local US banks with a greater ATM network and perhaps even more branches.  We haven’t been inconvenienced by our Citibank account at all.  Well only the once in getting a mortgage but that’s another story.

4.  Sort out your credit

Oh my God. This is the BIG one.  Credit is the biggest nightmare for young people and for established families like mine moving to the US.  Everything hinges on it: your lease, a mortgage, credit cards, even opening up a bank account.  I know, go figure! The system is so fundamentally flawed but you have no choice but to play the game.

It will be virtually impossible to get a credit card as you have no credit history.  See my blog post (coming) on tips to getting your credit history up and running quick smart.  Get yourself a prepaid credit card or Amex, you’re using your own cash but it helps to establish your credit history.  Also try getting a couple of store cards.  If you do this buy a couple of small things on it and pay them off straight away.  This will build more credit.

Opening up electricity, gas and Cable/Internet accounts may also prove tricky.  Well not tricky so much as two things will happen—they’ll charge you a higher price (to them you’re a greater credit risk—yep seriously if you’re poor or struggling you pay more how is that even fair?) and they’ll most likely get you to put down a cash deposit.

5.   Get a car

With no credit it’s pretty hard to get a car without paying cash.  We managed to get a lease for the duration of our visa through BMW Finance.  They were able to say that we were previous owners of BMW and with Mr H’s letter of offer use that to secure the lease.  He arrived a couple of months before me and once I arrived it was much easier for me to get the second lease.

Another loyal reader of this Blog said his wife was able to get one car lease under her visa deal.  To get around it her and her husband applied for two leases simultaneously through two different manufacturers.  That way, when they were running the reports there was no record of the other lease.  Quite brilliant.  It worked for them so it could work for you too.

Long-term rentals are also possible.  But, beware, they are obviously considerably more expensive than a regular lease or possibly even buying the car.

My two cents worth

Take all the extra expenses into account when negotiating your move with your employer.  Or, if you’re doing the sums take into account bringing money into the US, the extra deposits you’ll have to pay and virtually living on cash as you establish yourself in the US’s highly flawed (yes I know I’ve said that before) credit system.

It will take you a good six to 12 months.  But once you get the hang of it it will get easier.  Hopefully for your sake it will be easier then when we made the move.

xx It Started in LA xx

Only in LA: The day a famous actor knocked on our door to introduce himself as our new neighbour | It Started in LA | itstartedinla.com
Celebrity, My LA story, Posts

The day a famous actor moved in next door

Moving to The Valley

I’m not living in 90210 anymore, instead I’m a “Valley Girl”.  There is a whole backstory (and a half) that goes along with the move but for now let me tell you this: I didn’t want to move; I wanted to keep my 90210 postcode.  Who wouldn’t?

Apart from loving the area, having friends close; we were surrounded by “celebrities” new and old, famous and infamous.  I knew there were many celebrities in the Valley too but most likely not in my street or little neighbourhood.

That’s where I was wrong.

Yep, my life is not scripted or made more dramatic for the Blog, my life is just very LA.  The day a ‘famous’ actor moved in next door.

When your neighbour turns out to be “so so famous”

The day we moved in our neighbours put up a For Sale sign.  Nice welcome.  Thank God they did because they weren’t very nice and not at all friendly.

Fast forward six or so weeks (the house sold within 10 days of being on the market) and the house was abuzz with renovation.  That afternoon I got a knock at the door.

(The shitty thing about moving down into the suburbs of The Valley is that it’s too easy to walk up and down the streets so we get every man and his dog wanting to sell us their wares and convert us to ‘see the light”.)

So that afternoon I get a knock on my door.  And it’s not someone in black pants and a white shirt or someone selling LA Times subscriptions.

At my door is a rather groovily dressed guy in hipster pants, a T-Shirt, and a red baseball cap.

“Hi.  My name is Glenn and I’ve just moved in next door.”

1.  Glenn is not his real name so you can forget about switching over to Google ‘Celebrities with the name Glenn’.

2.  He had the most delightful British accent—music to my ears.

He continues, “I’m so sorry about the noise, I’m renovating my house and I asked the guys to start at 7am but I heard they started at 6am.”

“No problems,” I replied.  “We’re up anyway and we didn’t even notice the noise.”

Did I mention he had a plant in hand, handing it over as a “peace offering”?

What beautiful manners was my first reaction.  It’s not often I’ve seen anyone here with such consideration for the neighbours let alone coming in with a thoughtful gift.  Ah! That’s because he’s not from these parts.

It was a short encounter, he handed over the gift, we exchanged pleasantries and I got on with my afternoon.  Actually, truth be told, I wasn’t very warm—I should have invited him in but I was so fearful of our dog weeing all over him that I barely had the door open wide enough for him to feel the least bit welcome.  And why is it that whenever I get a random knock at the door I’m looking like shite?

Celebrity next door?

That night as everyone was coming home we talked about how exciting it was to have a non-American neighbour (sorry American friends) who was thoughtful and youthful.  (I’ve guessed his age as mid to late 20s).  We haven’t had a great trot with neighbours so I didn’t want to get too carried away.  For now I reserve my judgement, on a scale of 1 to 10, as 7.0—hopeful.

My daughter asked me what the neighbour did.

“I don’t know, we didn’t get that far,” I said.  “I assume he’s an actor.”

My daughter laughed at me.  “Mum, you just assume everyone in LA is an actor.  Or at least in Entertainment. They don’t have to be you know; you’re so weird.”

She was right of course.  He didn’t look like an actor, he was totally unassuming and he was incredibly nice and polite.

So we started talking about the assumptions you make when you live in a certain place.

“What would you assume he did if we were in Sydney?” my daughter asked. “Well most people in Sydney work traditional hours.  I guess he would be in IT (working from home).”

In Wales it’s easy as many people work shift work. In China … well I don’t think that would happen as everyone goes to an office–maybe work in hospitality but by that time of day they would already be at work.

So I saw Glenn a number of times as he set about renovating his house to move in.

He moved in and there was music coming from his backyard and a bit of life in what is otherwise a quiet neighbourhood.  it was good.  A week later, as he kids had friends over with the music going, there was a little gathering going on next door.

My son’s British friend noted, “your new neighbours are lit.”

“Yeah right”, I said, “He’s British.”  We laughed and thought nothing more of it.

Than we noticed our dream car—Audi R8—outside the front of our house.

He must totally be an actor.

Living next door to a celebrity

Another week goes by and one night my daughter sees “someone” coming and going from our neighbour’s house. She yells from her room.

“Mum, there’s a famous guy next door.  Is he visiting or is our neighbour famous?”

“I’m not sure honey, let’s see.”

By some stroke of a miracle the “famous guy” comes back down his drive.

“Oh honey, that’s Glenn.  That’s our neighbour.”

Squeals of delight and excitement ensue with a shrill only a 13 year-old can pull off.  In one Snapchat her entire friend network knows the news.

More screams.

“Oh my God, I’m pretty sure I just read he recently moved in with his girlfriend. And <screams> you know who it is? It’s Hannah Montana (clearly NOT a real person but I’m not going to divulge her real name and you get the idea that we’re actually talking about someone with HIGH name recognition amongst the tweens and teens).

More squeals … and lots of Googling.

“Oh my God, oh my God, I’m living next door to HANNAH MONTANA.”

And so, my fear of moving away from the celebrity action couldn’t be further from the truth.  Instead I have a bona fide ‘it’ couple living right next door to me.

Ah LA you never cease to amaze.

xx It Started in LA xx

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Celebrating Melbourne Cup Day in LA

Halloween makes way for Thanksgiving and Christmas … but in Australia November kicks off with Melbourne Cup Day: Celebrating Melbourne Cup Day in LA

In one day here in LA the shops switch over from Halloween mode to “baking season” and, of course, “The Holidays” (as in Christmas, Hanukkah or Chanukkah).  The pumpkin farms make way for Christmas trees—or holiday trees and the three-month long holiday session moves up a gear.

Meanwhile … in Australia the first Tuesday of November is Melbourne Cup Day.  It’s the “horse race that stops a nation”.

It is by far my favourite day, so this week I thought I’d share with my American readers what Melbourne Cup Day is all about.  (I think it would make a great episode for my Chuck Lorre-produced sitcom).

To start, if you hadn’t already gathered, Melbourne Cup is a horse race.  As the name suggests it is run in Melbourne and if you live in Melbourne you have a DAY OFF work (that’s right, a public holiday for a horse race—don’t you love Australia?!).  If you live in Sydney, like I did, then you either host or attend a Melbourne Cup function of some kind.  Between my girlfriend and I we always hosted a lunch.

The rules of engagement are pretty clear.

Champagne

This is a rule.  You must serve and drink Champagne at a Cup Day function. The boys may drink beer from a bottle.

Hats

My theme was traditionally “hats and heels”.  A hat, fascinator and dress are also compulsory.  If you’re going to make an effort to dress up, today is the day.

Sweep

I don’t know if you do a “sweep” here in the US.  It’s basically where you put every horse racing into a cup and blindly draw names.  There are usually few sweeps at different price ranges—say $2, $5 and $10.  Then you work out the winnings according to winners for coming 1st, 2nd and 3rd; last place gets their money back.  So if you put in $30 to the $10 sweep, you can draw three horses.  The fun of it is you could draw a good horse—or you could draw a dud!

Lunch

Lunch is served to a group of ladies, given the blokes are working hard at work.  Even if you work, many of my working friends will try to get the day off so they can still join the festivities, they’re that important.

It is compulsory that the live telecast of the race be screened on your TV and everyone must critique the “fashion on the field”.  Remember this is the day to make your mark on the fashion so you’re opening yourself up for scrutiny—it is possibly more serious than the red carpet on the Oscars.

The race itself

Literally the race that stops the nation, everyone stops to watch the race.  Even if you’re not interested in horse racing for the rest of the year, everyone is captivated—and cheers for their horse to win.

Kicking on

Functions generally start at 12:00 and the race starts around 3:20.  School typically finishes at either 3:00 or 3:30 clearly interfering with the race.  So the kids get booked into After-school care (the busiest of the year!) and the Dads are on pick-up duty at 5:30.  The older kids get their own way home because this is Australia and they catch public transport.

IMPORTANT: Unlike LA the race being raced signals more partying, time to open another bottle of Champagne or turn the music on to start dancing.  It does not signal it is time to go home.

Then, when the kids and dads get home, the second leg of the function starts.  This is usually a smaller version of the lunch as only typically a few friends kick on. The dads chug down 50 beers to catch up to their wives and the kids are fed dinner.

At sometime around 9:00 or 10:00 everyone has had a truck load to drink and walks or cabs home.

Celebrating Melbourne Cup Day in LA

This year I thought about doing a lunch on the Tuesday but it’s already Wednesday in Australia so it just wouldn’t work.  And, most people have to pick up their kids because there’s little to no public transport so I doubted it would work.

In a fit of desperation, I texted a couple of friends to see if they’d like to have a glass of Champagne with me after school.  I know, it’s a Monday night but it’s still Melbourne Cup Day!

Thankfully for me they answered my call and came over.  Then my Australian friends FaceTimed me from their lunch.  It was so cool that I got to introduce my friends to each other—not that anyone could hear what anyone was saying!  We posed for photos together and I got to watch the race with them.  The wonders of technology.  How fun.

Melbourne Cup Day in LA

Watching Melbourne Cup Day in Australia in LA | It Started in LA | itstartedinla.com

The day after the night before and life is back to normal once again.  And back in LA it’s finally cooling down meaning we might get to experience Fall rather than summer.  How novel!

Enjoy your week,

xx It Started in LA xx

Differences between America & Australia, Posts, Soapbox

My right to do what I want

It’s time for my weekly look at the differences between Americans and Australians.  This happened to me last night. I don’t think this would happen in Australia but I’d love to get some feedback from my Australian friends–or others who may have had a similar experience.

Am I looking at Australians through rose-coloured glasses? Is this being a bit harsh on Americans (not my friends though don’t you know)?  Or is it not a negative thing in a different context, with a different example?

Differences between Americans and Australians: my right to do what I want–you can’t make me

I’m sitting on the tarmac in Las Vegas airport on the last flight to Burbank (LA) and as we’re getting ready to pull back some smart arse starts talking back to the flight attendant.

While getting ready for the safety demonstration, the “hostie” asked him to please get off the phone as it was time to switch mobiles off.  Instead of wrapping up he kept talking.  She asked him again, quite patiently, to “please sir finish your call and switch off the phone.”  He kept talking, showing no signs of wrapping up his call.

Then minutes later when he was ready he said goodbye and switched off his phone. The hostie then reminded him that he must listen to her requests while on board the plane.

“I don’t have to listen to you, I turned off the phone before we took off, I can do whatever I want.”

Here we go.

She reminded him again that he needs to listen to their instruction and cautioned him.  With that she walks down the aisle to continue her checks.

He yells back again saying he can do whatever he wants.  (It’s his right).

The supervisor comes up the back to question him further.

“Excuse me sir are we going to have a problem on this flight?”

To which he says,

“No, she told me to turn the phone off, I got off the phone before the plane took off, she doesn’t have the right to tell me what to do.”

“Well sir, on board the flight you are required to follow our instruction so are we going to have a problem with that?”

“No, I did what she asked but if she asks me to pick my nose I’m not going to do that am I?’

“Well sir she is not going to ask you to do that.”

Blah, blah, blah on he goes about how he flies all the time and has never had a problem and how he’s going to write a letter to Southwest and how he’s already spent tens of thousands of dollars with them.

Then one guy ( who can fend for himself) stands up and says to the guy, “please stop talking, listen to them  so we can all go home”.

But Mr frequent-traveller-who-may-or-may-not-look-like-a-frequent-traveller is adamant he can say and do what he wants.

He is still rabbiting on about how he can do whatever he wants and his rights.

Meanwhile I sit back, three rows in front of him to the other side, and think, do I want to go home or do I want the plane to stop and get him off? My first thought is is he allowed to carry a gun? I’m guessing he’s not.  Or at least not a loaded one. Everyone is a cross between disbelief, sitting quietly hoping the issue will be resolved and looking back at him with intimidating stares begging him to pull his head in.

All he had to do was pull his head in.

I’m relieved when the plane stops and moves forward towards the gate. Now we’re sitting on the tarmac waiting.  The pilot asks us all to stay in our seats.  Is this going to turn ugly?  He must know something is going on.  Right?  How are those rights looking now mate?

Are we waiting for the cops to take him off the flight? Is he getting more ruffled sitting there knowing full well it’s because of a scene he caused?

So now I’m quietly anxious and nervous and text home an update. He didn’t pull his head in before why should he now? And as the minutes are counting down I’m thinking it’s obvious we’re waiting for someone to get him.  What on earth is he thinking?

Are we going to have an incident or are we waiting for him to cool down? But what if he’s waiting to cool down then when we get in the air he loses it?  Like my teenage girl when you think everything is ok, she remembers what happened then relives the anger.

The people in the row in front of me start talking about guns. Do you have one? What do you do? I couldn’t hear much of the conversation but I thought back about Lorie on Twitter and how she thinks if there’s a mass shooter there would only be two shots fired. What if the guy in front of me thinks he’s defending himself and fires a shot? Would he be a good shot and would the guy hurling abuse have a gun & shoot him or shoot the nearest person? What about stray bullets?

Would the guy with the bad attitude think it’s time to pull out his gun. And why am I thinking about who’s carrying a gun? Isn’t that what the strenuous security measures are there for?  But if you’re a psycho then could you get around the security measures?  Can I trust them? And why–if guns are a right and used for personal protection–are we not allowed to carry them on board a flight?

Am I going crazy?

Finally the doors were opened and two ground staff came to escort him off the flight.  I was so surprised to see two women and not security or police.

He was escorted off the flight in a bit of an anti-climax. Thank God. I was expecting a tantrum-like scene that would make my daughter look like an angel. He still didn’t really get it though. He was still playing the it’s-my-right power card and “you just can’t do that” to him.

Here’s the thing. In “the future” post October 21, 2015 (had to get a Back to The Future Day reference in there somewhere), post 9/11, post mass murder after mass murder you just can’t do that. You just can’t do that.

So we’re taking off half an hour later than scheduled but I feel safer. I started thinking about what would happen if we were in the air and he wouldn’t stop. Then what. Would we have to pull together and fight him down. Cause I would. I’d be amongst it. I’m not going down wondering.

So you see it’s not your usual “Difference between Americans and Australians” post.  The rest of the flight–filled with Americans–did not agree with this guy.

But engrained somewhere in many American’s psyche is that whole “my right to…” thing.  And it’s not always a bad thing.  Sometimes it’s used for good and not evil.  But I wonder if America and its taglines “living the dream” or “the land of the free” leads some of its citizens to believe that means they can do whatever the bloody hell they want.  Because it’s their god-given right.

And, by the way, dickheads are all over the world.

In Australia we have dickheads you can put up there on Wikipedia as the ultimate definition of a dickhead.

We have bogans that think they’re tough and give lip.  And in Australia I wouldn’t be scared of guns I’d be scared of the fighting–fists as weapons which do get through the security checks.  But I think in Australia we might be more worried about the consequences. I don’t think we’re prepared to take the chance that we might be black-banned from flying again–or at least for a long time. I don’t know.

That’s where you come in. What do you think? What would you do? Do you think a guy would talk back to–and continue to talk back to–a hostie and then a supervisor on a Qantas internal flight or Virgin flight?

When we landed I felt like doing American/Chinese style woo-hoos and clapping that I landed safely. What a bizarre situation. Come on Chuck Lorre we can make an episode out of this one. Let’s do it.

Meanwhile. I’m exhausted and signing off.  And weirdly, the kids didn’t know what had happened to me but when I came home they raced out of their rooms and welcomed me home with hugs and kisses. Yep, life is short … and too short to be a dickhead.

xx It Started in LA xx

PS:  My congratulations to the crew of the Southwest Airlines 845PM flight 143 from Las Vegas to Burbank who handled the situation with professionalism and putting our safety ahead of their schedules.

First Six Months in LA
Moving to LA, Posts

The first six months in LA

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Moving to LA

Two years on: the first six months are the hardest

We’re in the thick of the first semester and it’s getting harder to work out what’s for dinner each night and we’re struggling to get up in the morning.  Isn’t that a sure sign the novelty’s worn off and you’re in normality?

It’s a lot easier this time around than two years ago–our first six months in LA–though.

It’s nearing the end of October and it’s still so warm.  Despite this everyone here seems to be very excited about “Fall”.  I’m not exactly sure why.  It could be the cooler weather (well that’s not happening), the smells of Fall like cinnamon and fires (that’s not happening either) or the prospect of a little rain (nope, still not happening).

I’ve started noticing people on the East Coast dressing up and the Coats starting to come on and the magazines are filled with darker colours.  But here in LA the only thing that’s not playing the game is the weather.

I don’t get the Fall love.  It feels more like Spring to me (apart from the leaves falling from the trees).  It’s still warm and probably has more to do with the fact that I’m intrinsically trained to think that September and October are the Spring months.  I don’t know, maybe it’s a wavelength thing.

When we first arrived we didn’t want the weather to cool down as we’d just come out of an Australian winter (yes it’s mild but still winter) and the prospect of back-to-back winters was not something I was looking forward to—no matter how mild they were.

The first six months

It’s time to continue with my series on looking back at our first couple of years here.  I left you having found a place to live and the kids accepted at a private school here in LA.  All was going well until reality set in.

It’s so true of moving anywhere that the first six months are the hardest.  But you’d think a girl from Sydney moving to LA—California—with a few moves under her belt would not have such a tough time.  Right?  Wrong.

Let me tell you the first six months are the pits.  The honest-to-goodness pits.  Then they can be exhilaratingly good: everything is new, life is an adventure and things as simple as grocery shopping can be a challenge.  I was used to that in China but not America—land of the ultra big supermarket.  But when I had to buy bullet chilies for example, I had to go to an Asian grocer because they don’t sell them at the normal supermarket.  That’s right, all the chilies are Mexican.

So then the challenges become nightmares.  The glass half full starts to look more empty.

Even things like paying bills I have to think twice.  No more BPay or Direct Debit.  I’ve caught myself a couple of times saying, “how do I pay you?” to which the response is generally always, “Well I take a check,” yes not a cheque.  That means I’ll have to go to the Post Office and buy stamps.  Such a foreign concept for me.

Anyway, It’s true the most important thing to do is to find a school and somewhere to live.  But once you’ve moved in, done a bit of sightseeing and getting around … then what?

So I started going to visit different areas checking them out, taking photos and posting lots of “cool” stuff on Instagram.  But there’s only so much of that you can do.  On your own.  We all go through it.  And we all get over it.

I remember hearing about some women in Shanghai living far out in the “suburbs” feeling lonely and depressed.  If I felt lonely and depressed and I live in the middle of Beverly Hills—with a car to drive myself around and a working internet connection—it’s a wonder they survived their long weekdays.

That’s why you can’t write this post at the time.  No, you need the benefit of “I live to tell the tale” behind you and a bit of perspective.

LA Private School

I remember the first time I went to school to the Orientation, the Welcome BBQ and even to pick up the kids in carpool I was feeling very intimidated.  I imagined everyone being rich and groovy and famous.  If not then they’d look like something out of Housewives of Beverly Hills.  I thought I’d be the beached whale—helpless out of water and a little larger than my LA counterparts.

Last weekend–two years on–I volunteered to help at the school’s Open House and if I wasn’t comfortable with my place at school by then, I am now.  Granted they’re not in yet but there were some interesting looking people.  Why do we always doubt ourselves in a new environment?  Why can’t we—I—back myself and be confident I would fit in?

Scattered amongst some rather good-looking people were fat people, skinny people, daggy people and just plain weird people.  I actually started to think that I fit into LA life better than some of these people.  How’s that for a turnaround?  And, I wonder if the family that came in matching-coloured tops—five of them—and daggy footwear will get in?

Google

It’s true as a family moving into 90210 and finding ourselves at a school with well-known identities we’ve done our fair share of Googling.  What did we do without it?

I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned it before my daughter is friends with the son of arguably one of the most famous people in the world, certainly one of the most successful.  She’s recently told us that her friend is obsessed with Mr H’s company and thinks it’s the coolest thing in the world.  And, in an interesting turn of events he was telling her how he’s been Googling Mr H.  Wow, Mr H being Googled by said famous offspring.  How funny.  It’s all about perspective.

What else do you need to know when moving to LA?

Back to those first few months.  The most frustrating thing would have to be …

Credit rating, credit rating, credit rating

… it affects everything.  Literally everything.

When Mr H tried to connect up to our Direct TV “cable” service there were specials on at the time.  Ready to go ahead he found out that our price would be higher than the advertised special price.  Because we had no credit rating.

Same thing when we went to open our Electricity account.  We needed a giant deposit because we had no credit rating.  Aren’t they supposed to help people with no credit?  Isn’t that discrimination?

Everywhere we turned it came down to credit.

Luckily, with a Citibank account in Australia we were able to open up an account in the US.  And, once Mr H said he’d get his salary paid into the account we could open a credit card.

To this date I don’t really have any accounts in my name—something I should seriously try to do.

We were also lucky we could get a car—actually two.  That was thanks to BMW recognising that Executives tend to move around so if they’ve previously owned a BMW in another country they’ll take a look at you.  Thank you BMW!

Two years later on the whole credit thing

Two years later and I’m still tossing up whether or not to buy a house here.  The good news is we can get a mortgage, the bad news is we need a sizeable deposit.  And they still look at your bloody credit rating. The rate they give you actually depends on your credit rating–the better your credit the sweeter the deal.  The lower your credit rating, the higher the interest rate. Wow, way to go America, nothing like being supportive and helping those trying to get ahead in life.  Keep the poor downtroden and the rich richer.  OMG. Granted ours is better now but the fact that we’ve only had a credit rating for two years tends to go against you.  Go figure.

 

I’m off to keep Googling.  Who knows? Maybe my daughter’s friend will start Googling me and subscribing to this Blog.  That’d be cool—so long as he tells Chuck Lorre he loves it.

Enjoy the rest of your week. Happy Fall!

xx It Started in LA xx

 

Moving to LA, My LA story, Posts

Finding somewhere to live in LA

Finding somewhere to live in LA

I started this little trip down memory lane a few months ago, reminiscing about all the things we needed to do to see if living in LA would work out for us.

When I last left you we were on a plane bound for LA with appointments at two schools and time set aside with a relocation agent to try to find somewhere to live in LA.

Qantas A380 SYD-LA

One the plane ready to interview with LA schools & find somewhere to live. Wish us luck | It Started in LA

 

Our first step was getting through our interviews at the two schools we chose. Once we had a better idea whether or not we’d get in then we could start narrowing our search for somewhere to live.

Ten private schools to consider in LA

I realise I didn’t name the schools in my last post. And, if you’re coming to LA and looking for private schools you’re going to need a few names to start with. Here were some of the names on our list to help give you a start.

  1. Harvard-Westlake
  2. Brentwood School
  3. Oakwood
  4. Buckley
  5. Campbell Hall
  6. Polytechnic
  7. Crossroads
  8. Wildwood
  9. Chadwick School
  10. Windward School

This is by no way definitive—do your research and check the area they’re in first. Unless you’re a good commuter you don’t want to work on one side of LA, living on the other and having your kids at school in the opposite direction to both.

For single sex schools you might also consider:

  1. Loyola HS (Yrs 9-12)
  2. Marymount HS (yrs 9-12)
  3. Crespi HS (Yrs 9-12)
  4. Marlborough
  5. Archer School for Girls

Eight areas to consider when finding somewhere to live in LA

You’re getting the message there are lots of different areas to live in LA and, not unlike anywhere else in the world, it dictates the type of lifestyle you’ll have when you move. If you’re relocating for work then you know where your office is. We knew MR H’s office was going to be in Hollywood. I knew I wanted to be close to the action and I didn’t want him to have a long commute—we wanted to replicate our Sydney experience as closely as we could because that works for us.

I opened Google Maps and started to look at different areas that could work for us. Here are some of our choices and/or suggestions.

1.   Santa Monica

We heard Santa Monica was a bit tricky to get into and out of but being relatively self-contained, and by the beach, it would be a great lifestyle choice for us. The bonus was that the public schools were good so the extra rent could be saved in free public schooling.

Pros: Beachside, up to 20 degrees (F) cooler than in town and with everything at your fingertips you rarely need to leave.

Cons: Much smaller houses and high rent gives you less bang for buck. The traffic getting into and out of Santa Monica could also be a downer if you’re not used to it.

2.   Hollywood Hills

When you think of Hollywood Hills you think mansion after mansion of sprawling celebrity estates. But there are some nice neighbourhoods that don’t have to break your budget and I like the feel of the area, plus it’s convenient for all of us.

Pros: Great areas, good choice of houses, retro style.

Cons: nothing really—just have to find the house.

3.   Pacific Palisades

It’s a lovely area but you can’t get much further away from Hollywood. For some reason our Relocation agent kept pushing us towards the Palisades. We’ve since found out there’s a great Charter School there and many people try to get their kids in here as an alternative to Private School but we weren’t told that at the time.  Anyway, for us the commute is the deal breaker.

Pros: Great neighbourhood and community

Cons: A long commute to Hollywood for Mr H and I felt like I’d be isolated away from the shopping and restaurant districts of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills.

4.   The Valley

Movies have been made on the area–remember Valley Girls? We were advised to consider the valley because of its more affordable houses, and if you go out further enough you get good schools and McMansions—bigger houses and better bang for buck.

After two and a half years of living in Beverly Hills we bought a house in the Valley (Sherman Oaks).  It’s nice and close to school, it’s not far from our old house, it’s close to the freeways to get around town and we can walk to shops and restaurants.  We feel like it has given us a new lease on life in LA.  It’s great for us and it’s great for the kids.

Pros: Bigger houses, lots of pools.

Cons: 50,000,000 degrees hotter in summer.

5.   Beverly Hills &/or West Hollywood

I didn’t really think we were going to consider Beverly Hills because it’s well … Beverly Hills. But like the Hollywood Hills Beverly Hills isn’t all mansions, there are some more affordable areas.

South of Santa Monica is still Beverly Hills and it borders West Hollywood. This is definitely the area I would have loved to live in.

Pros: Proximity to shopping and restaurants.

Cons: There is absolutely nothing wrong with Beverly Hills as long as you can find the house.  West Hollywood too for that matter.

6.   Pasadena

Pasadena comes highly recommended by a great many people for its culture, great schools and lifestyle. We didn’t consider it though as it was a commute for all of us.

Pros: Lots of people love it and a good school district.

Cons: The commute–unless you’re working in the area.

7.   Brentwood or Westwood

Brentwood was nice and close to Santa Monica making it convenient to the beach yet still convenient enough for Mr H and work.

Pros: Great location with close proximity to beaches and still easy access to West Hollywood and Beverly Hills restaurants.

Cons: Not much good stock in our price range.

8.   South Bay

Many people come to SoCal (Southern California) for the lifestyle. So it’s no surprise that people are attracted to the South Bay area encompassing Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach and Hermosa Beach.

Pros: Good schools, beautiful shops and township, community feeling

Cons: Quite the commute!

9.  Hancock Park

Bordering Melrose and West Hollywood Hancock Park is a beautiful leafy suburb in the middle of concrete-paradise LA.  It has great schools nearby and lots of the private schools have buses to and from each day.

Pros: Convenient to Hollywood and Downtown, great community neighbourhood.

Cons: It’s pretty hard to find good houses available for rent–but do put it on your list if it’s convenient for you.

Plus two other neighbourhoods I’d add to my list:

10.  Silver Lake & Los Feliz

Silver Lake is on the other side of the 101 off Sunset.  It’s hip & happening, funky, groovy and an eclectic group of people.  I’m not sure there are many private schools in the area but if I were a young family this is where I’d want to be.

11.  Culver City

Culver City has come a long way even from when we moved here: new restaurants and shops and it’s close to the Studios, especially Sony Pictures.

Plus, many other studios and entertainment businesses are setting up shop there.

 

Map of LA according to LAist

LA Stereotypes according to LAist

 

Our journey two years ago finding somewhere to live in LA

We spent a lot of time covering different areas of LA looking for something semi-decent in our price range. We wanted a spare room and a pool and didn’t think it was a huge ask. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. In a horrible wake-up call it felt like we were struggling Uni students on a measly budget. Every house we went into was depressing—wardrobe doors that wouldn’t open or close let alone you wouldn’t want to put your clothes in, small and dirty kitchens, rundown houses with filthy carpet and—if there was a pool—grimy and couldn’t be less inviting if they tried. I felt like I was visiting Neil, Vivienne, Mike & Neil from The Young Ones.

Not one house we visited in the first couple of days would be one we’d be happy to visit let alone call home. It was back to the drawing board—we’d need to up our budget and/or forgo the guest room.

It was easier to find a house to suit our needs in Shanghai—a city where the majority of people couldn’t speak English—than it was in Los Angeles, one of America’s largest and most prestigious cities.

To say our relocation agent was useless was an understatement. She seemed surprised that we didn’t like any of the houses she showed us so we took things into our own hands. We started trawling the rental websites looking for places, increasing our budget and seeing where the sweet spot would be for us to find something vaguely decent. I thought getting into a school would be the problem, not finding a house.

We found a few places in West Hollywood and I decided this would be a perfect area for us—close the action like we were in Australia, not far from Mr H’s work and it wouldn’t be too bad getting the kids to a nearby bus stop for school commuting.

Everytime we sent our relocation agent a place we wanted to check out in West Hollywood she’d ignore it. I’d ask her when I saw her next how she’s going securing us an appointment she’d defensively say, “it takes time to get an appointment, please bear with me.”

Then Mr H said, about one particular place that looked really quite promising, “that was one of the first places we sent you,” she finally started saying something about West Hollywood being a questionable place to live.

She was alluding to the fact that—shock horror—there were a lot of gay people that lived in the area. We reminded her that we lived in inner city Sydney and we’ve always had lovely gay neighbours and we were very comfortable with this. Despite writing her a brief on our family and our tastes, she couldn’t relate to us because her picture of us had us in a family-oriented neighbourhood with conservative values.

After brushing us off to a Real-Estate agent to continue house hunting we hit the ground running with a full schedule of houses to visit. The Agent would give us a list of houses, we’d check the maps and drive past the house, then provide a short list of the ones we liked that we wanted to see inside.

That’s when we thought we were going to end up living in either the Hollywood Hills or Beverly Hills—great proximity to Hollywood and not bad for the kids for school.

After a week of solid searching and being totally despondent we settled on two houses—one in Beverly Hills off Mulholland Drive and the other in the Hollywood Hills. I was overruled and we put an application in for the house in the Hollywood Hills. It had a pool that was swimable and whatever made them happy I was happy enough to go with.

In our application we explained that we don’t have a credit history in America but we have a good one at home in Australia and that we’re being moved to LA by Mr H’s new company. For whatever it was worth they would back us if necessary. We also said we were pretty keen to stay longer than 12 months as it wouldn’t make sense for us to get settled only to have to move again.

Our application was rejected—apparently someone else had put an application in at the same time and were offering more money.

To me this didn’t make sense for two reasons—one we weren’t told anyone else was interested in the house let alone let looking let alone miraculously putting in an application at precisely the same time as us. Secondly, if there are two people putting an application on a property wouldn’t you go back and create an auction situation and try to get the best possible deal for the house? Exactly. So clearly our lack of credit history meant that we lost out on this house.

That meant it was Plan B and the Beverly Hills house I was keen on. It didn’t have a pool but it was the sort of style we were used to in Australia and a house we wouldn’t be ashamed to have the rich and famous over to visit.

When we were visiting the house we actually got a call from one of the schools saying we were accepted. What a relief, now we just have to find the house and our job here in LA was done for now.

We put an application in for the Beverly Hills house and it was accepted. The owner—a movie producer and composer came to LA from Austria a number of years ago only to find himself in the same position so he was sympathetic to us. We’ll never know whether we’d struggle to find another house but we were so thankful the search was over.

Plus, we later realised that the school was an incredible ten-minute commute away so we couldn’t be luckier.

It was the most stressful week and enough to put us off making the move to LA quite frankly. I actually don’t know why we persevered. Yeah, I actually do, it was the allure of Hollywood and the wonder of what life would have in store for this ordinary but happy Australian family about to move to Hollywood.

Now, two years on, I wish we’d chosen a bigger house and held off to get the pool we so desperately wanted. It’s one thing to get a house close to your needs in Australia but it would have been smarter to get a house different to what you’re used to so you get a different experience.  And, as a growing family we could have grown into that “big American house.”

If only we were a bit more realistic and weren’t looking at the opportunity through rose-coloured glasses.

Did you make your move in a hurry? Did you find finding a house easy? Hard? Did you know where you wanted to live? Did you have anyone to help you? Would love it if you’d share your stories.

xx It Started in LA xx

Updated October, 2016

The history of the Red Carpet
Celebrity, Posts

The History of the Red Carpet

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Emmys 2015

I’ve still got my Emmys hangover and I came across a story about the history of the Red Carpet.  John from Ahdoot Oriental Rugs in New York was kind enough to share this with us.  I think you’ll agree it’s a fascinating story.

I hope you enjoy it.

xx It Started in LA xx

The History of the Red Carpet
By John Ahdoot, Ahdoot Oriental Rugs
Red Carpet

The Steps Leading up to the Cannes Film Festival – via Flickr

 

Of all the carpets and rugs known throughout history, few are as recognized and celebrated as the red carpet. In fact, the red carpet has become an almost indispensable symbol in American culture and the rest of the world, marking both the magnitude of certain special occasions as well as the renown of movie stars, political leaders and other elite figures whose careers have thrust them into the public eye.

Yet, while the red carpet has largely become an icon of notoriety, few know of its true origins or significance. Today, we explore the history of the red carpet, and its millennia-long influence on the culture of mankind.

Red Carpet 2

The red carpet inside of the Selby Abbey in Selby, Yorkshire, England – via Flickr

The Red Carpet’s Early History

 The first historical reference to the red carpet comes from a story written by Aeschylus, who penned the literary work known as Agamemnon in 458 B.C. In the story, when the narrative’s main character returns home from the city of Troy, he is greeted by none other than his wife Clytemnestra, who tells this King of Argos:

Now my beloved, step down from your chariot, and let not your foot, my lord, touch the Earth. Servants, let there be spread before the house he never expected to see, where Justice leads him in, a crimson path.

From there, the carpet was likely used over the subsequent centuries as a way of denoting royalty, though it doesn’t show up again in any great concentration until the European Renaissance period. It’s during this time that the red carpet undergoes a change of sorts, being identified in paintings and murals as a chief background color in rugs and carpets laying before the thrones of emperors, kings, sacred figures and significant holy dignitaries of the time.

Later, according to historical documents, the red carpet makes its first appearance in the United States as it is rolled out to receive President James Monroe upon his arrival to Georgetown, South Carolina, and could very well be where “rolling out the red carpet” was coined.

On the other hand, the term “red-carpet treatment” likely inserted itself into modern culture through the New York Central Railroad, who used “plush crimson carpets” to direct passengers aboard their 20th Century Limited train at the turn of the last century.

Red Carpet on Air Force 1

President Obama leaving Air Force One on stairs covered in a red carpet – via Wikipedia

 

The Red Carpet’s Modern History

 Probably the most common and most recognizable use of the red carpet has been almost solely for film premieres and film-related events, which includes the Academy Awards (and of course the recent Emmys–Ed!).

Anyone who has watched these events will immediately identify the awards show with the pre-event photography and celebrity/paparazzi socializing that takes place on the red carpet. It has even led to another term used by journalists and TV personalities to describe the apparel and accessories being worn by those attending, which are often referred to as “red carpet fashions.”

Outside the film industry and celebrity events, the red carpet is still being used in the modern political sphere, whether as a cover for the steps of the U.S. President’s Air Force One, or at special events where many of the world’s leaders are in attendance.

The reason for this? While red does signify power and respect, and has throughout history, it has also become recognized as a mark of hospitality among heads of state and religious organizations. And we expect its presence to be seen among society for many centuries to come.

My take on the 2015 Emmys Telecast
Celebrity, Movies and TV, My LA story, Posts

My round up of the Emmys 2015 telecast

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Emmys 2015

I love the Emmys and I love TV. So it’s only fitting that I share my round up of the Emmys 2015 telecast. Last year I was lucky enough to go to the Creative Arts Emmys. As is the premise of my Blog, never in my wildest dreams as a very happy normal chick living the Sydney life expect to be strutting the Red Carpet amongst the cast of Orange is the New Black, Jon Voight and incredible talent that makes the TV industry go around. It’s crazy.

This year’s Emmys ceremony was great, I thoroughly enjoyed them and I love that it’s broken down over two separate ceremonies. It makes the main event go much quicker.

While I enjoyed most of Andy Sandberg as this year’s host can I am still mourning the loss of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. It will take a few more years til we get to their standard—if we do at all. They’re some pretty talented and funny women.

Andy opened strongly but it was a bit stop/start. His opening monologue was fine but not great.

It took a while to hit cruising speed but he definitely got more comfortable and relaxed as time went on, which is good.

To me, cruising speed was hit when he did his little “Girls” love scene impersonation—which is pretty funny even if you didn’t know the scene in question.

ICYMI here it is.

Important role of TV

 

The Oscars last year got slammed for “snubbing people of colour” but the Emmys did the opposite. I’m not sure it’s that the Emmys addressed or acknowledged people of colour but had the opportunity to award talent where it was due.

No one put it better than Viola Davis herself:

“The only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy (or an Oscar) for roles that are simply not there.”

There have been many people commenting on social media saying, You won, you’re good, you deserve it but enough about the colour factor. Sorry, you can’t say that! Clearly to say what she said, to speak as openly and emotionally as she did, Viola Davis has been on a ride. Otherwise it wouldn’t be so from-the-heart as it was.

I also understand why they say “it shouldn’t be about colour”. BUT. America is very into defining people—men, women, black, Asian, native American, gay, straight, transgender and talking about Diversity. By labelling people America is its own worst enemy. It struck me almost as soon as I got here and I penned (so to speak) this post.

(And I’m not saying Australia is not guilty, we’ve had our own racist issues, which also embarrass me, but it comes from a different angle).

Maybe it’s easy for me to say but at the end of the day—when you look really closely—I’m not white middle America, I just act like I am. “White” that is. Clearly I’m not American (although I do see myself as evolving into an Ausmerican).

I act like I am white because I don’t see myself any differently. And I think that’s largely because I grew up in Australia, not America. I’m probably not really making a lot of sense but here’s the bottom line:

Shonda Rhimes, is a creative genius. Beyond genius. She’s like the Steven Bochco of the 2000s (am I showing my age?). When I first saw Grey’s Anatomy in Australia, I knew it was created by Shonda Rhimes but I had no idea she was black. It didn’t matter, why should it? When I first saw the shorts (trailer) for How To Get Away with Murder I saw a powerful performance by Viola Davis but I didn’t take special notice of the fact that she was black, she was just bloody amazing.

That should be the point. And (I think) that was Viola Davis’s point.

TV should be at the cutting edge of setting change. TV Shows have a shorter incubation period, cost less to make, and there is a large talent pool to choose from. And that’s why we love it so much and that’s why it’s so much edgier than movie-making at the moment.

And, the fact that every single drama nominated could clearly be the winner exemplifies that point.  And that every single comedy nominated could clearly be the winner. No one drama or comedy would have won that category and you would have said, “I don’t think they deserved it”.

I was like, “oh yeah, Game of Thrones deserves it.” Then I remember House of Cards and what an amazing season it was.  Downton Abbey, Homeland, OISTNB … Yep, they’re all over-the-top phenomenally good.

Donald Trump

On a lighter note it was good to see the Trump jokes out in force last night. Julia Louis-Dreyfus in her acceptance speech:

“What a great honour it must be for you to honour me tonight.

“Oh God, no! Donald Trump said that.”

On that note, shall we take a moment to say the women, to me, are rocking it as the stars of the show. The cast of Orange is the New Black, Amy Schumer, Amy Poehler, JLD, Allison Janney, all the American Horror Story stars and guest stars. Good for them I say—now to get them all being paid the same as the blokes in the room ;-).

And, I wonder if we can now get Kanye to throw himself at Amy Schumer when he sees her on the Red Carpet.

 

All hail Amy Schumer.

For a full list of nominees and winners click here.

 

xx It Started in LA xx

 

What's the difference between grocery shopping in an American "market" or an Australian supermarket? Here's a little something that happened to Gwen | It Started in LA | itstartedinla.com
Differences between America & Australia, Posts

Differences between Americans & Australians: grocery store queues

Let’s take a look at the differences between Americans and Australians waiting in a grocery store queue for a couple of minutes.  (Or in Australian what’s the difference between Americans and Australians in a supermarket queue).

I get so mad when I go to the supermarket and just want to get in and out really quickly. I have the luxury of shopping (almost) daily—mainly because I can’t plan more than a few days in advance what we’re going to eat and there’s no Baker’s Delight to get my beautiful fresh bread from (salivating at the thought of Baker’s Delight, sorry just need a minute).

OK.

I know, I know, it’s not a luxury to go to the supermarket daily but it’s right around the corner from school and it suits me with nothing better to do with my life (yes, a little bored I’m not in paid employment but that’s another story).

As usual I went down to pick stuff up for tonight’s dinner. I’m a frequent visitor of the “About 15 items” aisle. It’s my saviour as you can imagine.

Not today. There was a lady with an overflowing trolley full of groceries. In the “About 15 items aisle”. With four other aisles (for normal loads) free. And with people behind her (not me because I went looking for other aisles) waiting for her. Waiting for her.  Waiting for her with only a few things in their hands (they didn’t even need a basket).

That my friends is the difference between Australia and America.

Grocery shopping in Australia …

… bitter and twisted people like me would be eyeballing her into feeling the guilt and moving aisles. And, if that doesn’t work we’d start heckling her, first nicely then not so much:

“This aisle is for 15 items or less (what we call them at home), this aisle is not for you.”

Followed by the checkout chick looking at her like she’s diseased saying:

“Um … sorry, you have more than 15 items, you’re going to have to go to another aisle. Next…” (as she proceeds to help the next person).

Instead, grocery shopping in America …

… she was having a lovely chat with the woman behind her buying a magazine (after she finished reading it waiting for her) and a couple of grocery items. Another man came to stand behind her, again not saying word. I lingered in case they were looking for moral support of the kind that goes like this…

“Excuse me m’am but this is for people with about 15 items, between the two of us we have five items, do you mind moving to an isle where they can accommodate your trolley load full of shopping so we can get out of here fairly quickly.”

Nope. Not even something nice like that. This is a country where you risk getting shot going to see the premier of a Batman movie and yet a woman can hold up a grocery aisle checking out her cart FULL of groceries. (I’m not saying she deserves to be shot.  Not really anyway.)

Where’s the grocery rage when you need it America? You are far, far too nice.

What happens where you live? Are they patient and kind or bitter and twisted? Please share.

xx It Started in LA xx

Ever been tailgating? If you're Australian it may not be what you think. It Started in LA went along to a USC game to see what tailgating really is all about
Posts

When was the last time it rained in LA?

updated 4:00 Thursday 17/9/15 LA time with James Corden Late, Late Show video…enjoy

When you ask when was the last time it rained in LA—or your hometown—you can’t often say. But here in LA we can. We get very excited when it rains it’s like one of those rare moments in time because it’s such a rare occurrence that every time it does, it’s right on par with, “where were you when Princess Diana died?”

The last time it rained in LA was over summer and we weren’t here. I knew about it though because everyone talked about it. See? Not unlike today. It’s like a novelty. It is a novelty. Like snow. Even before it rains the forecast of rain gets everyone talking about rain: will it rain? I hear it’s going to rain. Better cancel my appointments tomorrow; it’s going to rain.

Yes, you read right. I’m not exaggerating. LA has never been able to cope with the rain—people aren’t used to getting wet, they don’t know how to drive and it can be chaotic out there. So, many people cancel their meetings, work from home and generally cocoon at home for the day.

Yep. Real. Live. Rain. #rain #roadswillbechaos #laneedsrain #la #socal #drought #turnoffwateringsystems #aussiebloggerinla #aussieblogger #lablogger

A post shared by It Started in LA 🌴 Gwenny John (@itstartedinla) on

 

My “Realtor” told me about this little-known LA fact when we were first here and looking for houses to rent. I thought it was so far fetched and just assumed because she had such a flexible job that she was able to do this. But then last week at my first PA Board Meeting—yes, more on that in a second—some ladies were telling me exactly the same thing. Lucky it rarely rains here in LA or business may not survive.

And just to prove it, here’s the rain in LA according to James Corden

 

Middle School Chair

Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you. I am indeed our school’s new Middle School Chair. It’s very formal here in PA land and for two years it’s scared me. But this year I decided to put my hand up and get a little more involved. And since my daughter is our school’s first Australian Middle School President (unqualified) I thought I’d join her for the ride.

I hear you ask: “WTF is Middle School Chair?” Well, it’s the liaison between the PA Board and the Class Reps. Yes, such a role exists. The good thing is by the time you get to Middle School there’s nothing much to do and I get a little insight into life in an American PA.

We had our first Board meeting last Friday. It was very fancy, in a restaurant. We had assigned seats and our place holder was a gorgeous cupcake in school colours (no photo, I ate it before I could think that would’ve been a nice idea–oops). We talked about the year, what’s on the agenda then did a lot of lovely small talk about the holidays and life in LA. I’m pleased to say I survived, came out unscathed and it wasn’t as bad as I thought. In fact I actually had a nice time. To my surprise lunch was on the PA. And, no surprises, not a drop of wine to be seen. I’ll have to work on that.

Tailgating

In Australia tailgating is where you’re driving and you ride right up the person-in-front-of-you’s arse and are really, really annoying. Well in America it can mean that too but the more fun meaning is pre-(American) football fun. There’s even a website for it: tailgating.com. Not to mention several Pinterest pages, hashtags et al dedicated to the all-American tradition.

No ordinary carpark--each tent (in team colours) marks a different tailgate

No ordinary carpark–each tent (in team colours) marks a different tailgate

And I have to say the Americans win. They beat us Aussies. They have it down. They do it bigger and better hands down, in fact we’ve got a lot to do in order to catch up with this widely followed professional drinking phenomenon. It’s probably also the closest thing culturally that you can get between Australians and Americans. And yet, the Americans are better at it than us. How can that be? Just check this out.

tailgating

Tailgating is a sport all on its own in America

 

What is tailgating? To quote tailgating.com (who quotes a dictionary) it’s to:

“Host or attend a social gathering at which an informal meal is served from the back of a parked vehicle, typically in the parking lot of a sports stadium”.

That’s a very elongated way of saying, pre-game frolicking, a bit like having a party in the carpark on the Boxing Day test at the MCG or the endless partying on Melbourne Cup Day. Or, as one American friend put it, “you drink and eat as much as you can before the game, so much so that after the first quarter you don’t care what happens in the game and you go out and continue to drink.”

It's a full bar at this tailgating party

It’s a full bar at this tailgating party

Then the tents come down ...

Then the tents come down …

... and everything packs up into the "trunk" of the SUV.

… and everything packs up into the “trunk” of the SUV.

What about the (American) football game?

Well, like I said, come the second term and you’re ready for more drinks and in search of a bar. Well, not really but we did get stuck at the bar.

I do need to take a minute though to talk the phenomenon that is College Football. It’s out of control. It’s as big as an AFL match. No. It’s Bigger. Bigger because of the pomp and ceremony (and fireworks) that go on before the game.

 

The fact that these kids are (supposed to be) at “Uni” to get an education and attract a 100,000 strong crowd each week (as is the case, I believe, for any USC or UCLA game here in LA) and that doesn’t even include the TV rights and the millions of people who choose to tune into College football each week—even more so that the NFL in the case of many households throughout America.

Imagine this: Take the passion of supporting your football team, add to it a bucket load of school pride and school spirit (we’re talking A LOT) and you have a stadium full of one-eyed supporters. Add to that the tailgating festivities and they make Collingwood supporters (or Manly supporters?) look like amateurs. The atmosphere is electric and a must-do bucket-list item for any sports fan. Even if you still don’t get American football.

And, now that I’ve done it I can’t wait to do it again.

 

xx It Started in LA xx

 

PS: Did you know LA has an underground Metro system? Neither did I. We took the Metro to the game though and it was so easy—a great way to get downtown. And just to prove it:

Look it up if you’re here.

 

Differences between America & Australia, Posts

Differences between America & Australia: School holidays

This is one for Captain Obvious but I can’t let this series go without discussing the differences between America and Australia in terms of School Holidays.

We’re off and running–my kids are finally back to school today–Wednesday, September 9 here in LA. They broke off school on June 10. Their last exam was June 8.

Yep, that’s three whole months—one quarter (or one fourth as the Americans like to say) of the year.

Here our holidays have nothing whatsoever to do with the terms. I find this totally weird because it’s different to how I went to school. The kids still find it strange—they have assessments and finish the term one day, then go back to school to start a new term the next day.  Not even a long weekend in between to catch their breath.

Apparently the number of school days in California is 175. This can drop to 170 for Charter Schools (sort of like a private public school but I don’t really get it. If you’re really interested you can click here to find out more). And it can drop to around 165ish at a private school. (Source).

So our year here in America looks like this:

Session one

Starts around Labour Day (I still can’t write Labor) which is the first Monday in September.

I don’t want to add up how many weeks it is cause it’ll kill me.  Let’s just say it’s around about three months.

Holidays

We get two weeks at the end of the year.  They don’t call it a Christmas break here because even though they’re God loving it’s not politically correct to acknowledge the Christian calendar above all others.

Session two

Another few months of school.  Again, I really don’t want to add up the weeks as I find it horrendously long.

Holidays (Spring Break)

We can say Spring Break because it’s a season with no religious connotation.  We generally finish in mid March and come back on Easter Monday, although this year it’s a little different with Easter being in the middle of the holidays.  Here, there is no such holiday as Good Friday or Easter Monday, it’s a “business-as-usual” day for retail and business alike.

Session three

Another god knows how long few months until school breaks up in June and we get to have summer all over again.

Holidays

Hooray! After three long sessions at school we need that long summer break.  I just wish we could break those “sessions” up and the holidays could coincide with the school terms.  Makes much more logical sense.

Year-Round Schedule

There are some school districts that are starting to introduce what they refer to as the Year-Round schedule—pretty much exactly like our holidays in Australia. Not surprisingly, with an entire industry devoted to the summer holidays there are many debates about whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing.

One of my friends who lives in Chandler, Arizona has a year-round schedule and she’s a huge fan. Who wouldn’t be?  Count me in.

Cut over to Australia

Yes, let’s cut back to Australia where we don’t even know there’s a name for our holiday system. We have approximately 200 school days a year, give or take. (Source: many a site as well as the Blog Teaching Challenges.)

To us we have four terms and a summer holiday. Our school year looks a little something like this:

Term one

Starts after Australia Day—either late January or early February

Around 10 weeks of school—sometimes 11 or 12 depending on when Easter falls and let me tell you one day over that 10 weeks is a killer.

Holidays

We get two weeks over the Easter Break, usually starting on Thursday in time for Good Friday. Yes, in Australia we have public holidays for both Good Friday and Easter Monday making it our longest long weekend of the year. We love Easter.

Term two

Another 10 weeks of school.

Holidays

Yippee! It’s the middle of the year and it’s time for a break again. This time the private schools generally get three weeks. Because my two went to single sex schools, meaning they’re at different schools, the three weeks doesn’t always match up.

Term three

Time to get back to the school year for another ten weeks of school.

Holidays

It’s around late September, early October and there’s another break. If you’re lucky enough this one can also be around three weeks long (usually the private schools–the more you pay the less you go is a universal concept I think).

Term four

The business end of the year and generally another ten weeks of school.

Summer holidays

As summer is at the end of the year—December and January—it coincides with Christmas. The private schools usually finish on the first or second week of December giving them six-eight weeks off. There’s no time for camps but being a busy time of year there are plenty of Christmas positions available so many kids work. Then January is traditionally when everyone takes time off work and heads to the beach for some quality family time.

 

Which school year would you prefer?

I know I love my nice neat terms with a break in between to acknowledge the hard work that’s gone on through the term. Then when you come back it’s back to work. I also like the six-eight weeks: it never seems long enough but it is time to get back to school so it’s all good.

I guess it’s all a matter of what you grew up doing and enjoying. Except that we’ve got it right in Australia!

xx It Started in LA xx

 

PS:  Interested in what others around the world do? Here’s a website that outlines it. Quite interesting.

Britney Jean
Posts, Reviews, Travelog

Oh baby baby: Britney Spears in Vegas

The first thing you notice when you go to see Britney Spears’s live Vegas show is the young-but-getting-slightly-older fans queuing up for the best standing-room-only tickets hours before the show.  From all accounts this is a nightly occurrence.  I, on the other hand, was enjoying the fine dining and wine Vegas has to showcase–but that’s another story.

In fact Piece of Me still draws the same crowd it’s just that the girls have grown up a little and they’re in their 20s and early thirties (at a stretch). They’re still squishing into tight little dresses barely covering their bottoms and they’ve learnt how to walk in their massive heels.  (Don’t get me wrong, there are still young girls and their parents … and the likes of me).

Like all the other shows around Vegas Britney is telling a story.  And that’s exactly what it was–a show. I was expecting a concert. At a concert you expect the act to interact with the crowd.

With all the glitz, staging & lighting of a Vegas residency the only thing missing was Britney herself. I heard that the show is somewhat disappointing and she merely goes through the motions as she sings and dances her way through the night. The night we were there that statement wasn’t entirely true. This night she danced her way through popular numbers, strutting down the stage and running backstage for her many costume changes.

Piece of Me is well choreographed and executed, has all the bells and whistles in terms of lighting & effects, and Britney’s stamina is admirable.

But with all the glitz, staging and lighting of a Vegas residency the only thing missing was Britney herself. It’s hard to sing and dance–especially when you’re dancing with your all–but I thought I was going to see Britney sing. Or did I think I was going to see her perform?

Perform she did. Sing she did not. And that was disappointing. You didn’t just notice it for one or two moments, you noticed it over and over again. There were times when her moves were such that she could not have possibly been singing, and she didn’t make an effort to cover that up.

And she didn’t really interact with the audience. All we really got was a “Hello Vegas”. I wanted more. I wanted to hear from her, to have a chat, to get to know her a bit better–to get a piece of her.

But maybe Britney’s not ready to give us a real piece of her. I think Britney is trying to tell us something.

Britney was the epitome of success with hit after hit and teenage girls crying at the sight of her long before we even knew who Taylor Swift was. She was the original.

Piece of Me seems to be a tongue lashing, a message not by way of a song or an album but a Show. She’s reminding us what fame has done to her. We’re shown images of her career at the height of her popularity yet most of those successful songs were not on the playlist. Instead she chose songs like Piece of Me and Circus to tell her story. I wonder if anyone noticed?  Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t depressing, there were good songs too.  A highlight for me was Iggy Azalea up on the big screen duetting Pretty Girls with her.  Having said that it did seem that Iggy was more “present” than Britney.

She may have been down but she’s not out. She may prefer to ask her fans to come to her instead of touring around the world but she’s definitely changed. We changed her. Fame changed her. And for a while the world turned on her. Good for her as she has the last laugh because we’re lapping her up once again as she plays to packed shows, night after night, week after week. She deserves it, no one deserves to have a meltdown let alone one so public.

I’d recommend going to see Britney. I’m not sure if she’s going to sign on as there’s talk she may stop soon.  The Show is worth it–especially if you’re a fan. Just go to enjoy her perform, don’t expect her to sing.

Hit me Britney one more time.

xx It Started in LA xx

Santorini
Posts, Travelog

Santorini truly is a gift from the Gods

“Ahhh Santorini, you truly are a gift from the Gods.”

We crowd around the bus as it pulls into the local bus stop, all eager to get a seat as it’s a decent drive back to Oia (where we’re staying) from Fira, one of the centres for food, shopping and nightlife on Santorini.

It turns out it’s not our bus. Masses pile onboard—that’s why they crowd around. The bus is full. Another bus pulls in and the bus driver takes no mercy on the waiting crowds. The driver “hits” a local customer infuriated by the driver’s actions. He starts yelling at the driver who ignores him. He knew he was nowhere near the guy but the guy continues to yell abuse at him. Twenty minutes later as he left in search of a taxi—and as the bus pulls out on another trip—he’s still yelling.

Our bus arrives and, after surveying how it’s done on the Greek Islands, we get pole position in front of the queue and politely wait for those to get off before we push our way in.

We depart with little time to spare driving up a steep hill. I was sure the sign said do not enter. Who cares, this is Santorini in the Greek Islands and this is a big bus.

A car was in our bus’s way and our driver yells at someone out his window, one of the words being “malaka” and my childhood memories of growing up with first-generation Greek kids in Melbourne came flooding back to me. Why is it always the swear words we pick up when we learn another language?

We stopped for a long time as the cars were coming head on towards us. I don’t think this is working. The bus driver lights up a cigarette, the conductor does the same.

The bus driver starts yelling out the window presumably for the cars to get the flock out of his way.

“Spiro,” he starts in lively Greek addressing the conductor. I’m assuming he’s telling Spiro he needs to get out of the bus and tell the cars up ahead to get out of his way and let him through based on his hand gestures and the situation in front of us.

He sits back, swears again and waits.

Spiro was not having a bar of it as he too sits back taking a drag of his cigarette.

The driver starts again at Spiro. With this Spiro assesses the situation, gets out of the bus and heads up the road to stop the traffic, cursing the fact that he’s subjected to this well after midnight.

 

We advance a couple of hundred metres and come to another dead stop. More lively Greek comes out of the bus driver’s mouth and Spiro chimes in.

The name Spiro also conjures up memories of my childhood in Melbourne–one of the highest Greek populations in the world outside Athens. The guy that owned the local bottle shop’s name was Spiro. I’m not sure what the name of the shop actually was but Dad and his mates always called it Spiro’s. Spiro looked after the alcohol for every single party my parents, and their friends, threw and every Saturday, like a trip to the butcher Mr Thomas, Dad would pop in to say hi to Spiro.  Long before Vintage Cellars or Dan Murphy.

The driver hops on the radio. More lively Greek. Is this the usual bus route? Spiro and the driver seem somewhat surprised by tonight’s traffic like it has never been like this before but this is Fira in the height of summer—it’s busy every night. Isn’t it? The driver and Spiro light up a cigarette contemplating the situation ahead of them. We wait another 10-15 minutes as we watch the driver and Spiro decide what to do next.

“Get on the radio,” I imagine the driver says to Spiro as he hands him the radio talking in more lively greek. “I’ve already spoken to them they’ve done nothing to help.” I can’t imagine what the depot could do to help but I can’t imagine why they’re calling in on the radio either, perhaps to tell them they’re not moving and get them to share in their pain. I wish my old friends were here to translate. I’d love to know what they were saying.

Spiro gets off the radio and lights another cigarette standing at the front of the bus staring at the cars lined up head on like we’re playing chicken, albeit stationary.  This time nobody can move. The driver tells Spiro to get out of the bus and stop the cars once again and once again Spiro talks back but reluctantly get out of the bus some five minutes later stopping the traffic like he’s never had to do it before.

The traffic dutifully stops but clearly not a second before someone “asks nicely”. It was third time lucky and with that we’re on our way. And that was the last time Spiro had to get out of the bus to stop the traffic. On this trip anyway.

 

Such is the joy of travelling: sitting in the front of the bus watching the adventures of Spiro and the driver put me in good stead to enjoy the holiday.

“There’s a reason Santorini is continually voted one of the best island paradises in the world.”

We arrived in Santorini on July 18 (2015 for the archives) and the referendum resulting in an overwhelming “no” vote yet somehow Greece negotiated a further bail out and further austerity measures. There are no queues at the ATM in Santorini however, credit cards continue to be accepted and it’s business as usual in this glorious part of the world.

In Santorini the travel brochures aren’t having you on. It is exactly as it looks: white, serene, picturesque views and an endless vision of deep blue sea and matching blue rooftops coupled with breathtakingly spectacular cliffs and volcanic mountains.

 

It’s busy but not in a “I-can’t-be-bothered-leaving-my-pool” way, just in a way that makes you happy the negativity in the media hasn’t kept the tourists away.

Where we stayed

Filotera Suites

Family run boutique hotel built into the caldera. The hospitality is “Greek family”, in other words you are a welcome visitor but you don’t have to get up and offer to do the dishes or cook a meal while you’re there. Nothing is too much trouble and the attentiveness is genuine; it’s as good as it gets.

 

The attention to detail is tremendous—your tealight candles get lit before sunset every night and there is a turndown service.

I've had a few people saying no more sunshine pics because they're freezing in Oz. Here's one. Because I'm so obliging ☀️

A post shared by It Started in LA 🌴 Gwenny John (@itstartedinla) on

 

Breakfast is served every morning on your private porch with a choice of Continental, Greek or Honeymoon style and extras like bacon, eggs or meats and cheeses. My favourite sound of the day was the clinking of the crockery and cutlery—our sign that breakfast was being set up and it was time to get ourselves up to start our strenuous day poolside.

 

And, because we spent so much time around our room—we had a private room—we got to see just how well our rooms are cleaned. Each day our room was cleaned as if we were new guests coming in, not just any old guests but Greek Gods.

With only eight rooms staying at Filotera Suites really knows how to spoil its guests.

 

Where we ate

Argos, Fira

A great restaurant in the heart of Fira’s action with an extensive menu and great food and ambience.

 

Petros, Oia

With a sunset deck it has a spectacular view of the famous Oia sunset. Our hotel booked us the best table in the house. Great food to match–and satisfied my fussy daughter’s tastes so got to be happy with that!

Ambrosia, Oia

Recommended by Australian Gourmet Traveller, and a friend, Ambrosia is a little bit more special than the other restaurants. It’s small and quaint, has a small yet enticing menu and the waiters are top notch. Ask for a table outside. While the inside tables have plenty of character we felt a little warm and claustrophobic.

 

Sunset Cruise with Santorini Yachting Company

While we were happy chilling by our pool and wandering the cobblestone streets of Oia we also decided a sunset cruise was in order. With a couple of different stops—including the hot springs and Red Beach—it was an afternoon well spent. The grand finale of the famous Santorini sunset would have been enough to satisfy us anyway—the only thing missing was a glass of Champagne.

 

Santorini frequently makes the top five island destinations to visit in the world. And there’s a reason. Not only is it breathtakingly beautiful but it’s mystical and magical. Best of all there are accommodation and restaurant offerings for all budgets—there’s no discrimination in Santorini.

And, at a time where Greece could use your money, there should be no putting off a visit to Santorini.

xx It Started in LA xx

Differences between America & Australia, Posts

Corner stores or no corner stores?

The difference between my life in Beverly Hills America & inner City Sydney Australia

The second instalment in my series in the differences between America & Australia (Americans & Australians) was spurred on by a recent end-of-year sleepover. With five teenage boys in the house the breakfast request was for pancakes.

“Damn, I don’t have eggs,” I said.

In Australia …

I would have sent the boys on their bikes or skateboards down the local corner shop to get said eggs. The boys would have got dressed and practically run out the door.

“Don’t forget to take the dog,” I’d yell at them, at which they’d promptly run back, grab the dog and the lead and continue racing out the door.

Some later they’d come home with eggs (and anything else I’d requested) and a treat for themselves. As payment. Works for them, works for me.

In America …

We live in the hills of Beverly Hills—down one hill is Beverly Hills “flats” (think the mansions and palm trees) and down the other hills is the “posh” part of the Valley, Sherman Oaks.

To “rush out” just to get eggs I need to hop in the car. (Yes it’s LA, everyone drives everywhere.) There’s no corner store to walk to. I have to go down one of my two hills to the closest “market” (which makes it sound really glamorous but it’s really just American for supermarket).

It’s not too bad, a drive down the hill to Sherman Oaks is around 10 minutes (out of traffic). Except couple that with the fact that you have to park, go in, get the eggs (it’s a big supermarket and the eggs are in the far back corner—good to know if you’re in Ralph’s Sherman Oaks and all you need is eggs), get back in the car and head back up the hill. That’s 30 minutes of my life I can’t get back all because I don’t have enough eggs. Yes, yes, I know I could have given them something else but it’s the holidays and they worked really hard to stay up all night what’s a sleepover without pancakes for breakfast???

I hate the fact that there is no corner store or local “market”. We had one at our local shopping centre it closed down now long after we got here. And even then I can’t send the kids there to go on their bikes, I still have to drive.

Flashback to Shanghai

In Shanghai our apartment was across the road from the international supermarket, CitiShop. The kids were a little too young to send over at the start but towards the end they could go themselves. Plus I didn’t have to get in my car and they had all the treats (like Tim Tams) I needed if I was feeling homesick. I just couldn’t look at the price.

I may be greeted with a smile and helpful “checkout chicks” here in the US but the kids going to the corner shop for me. Priceless.

xx It Started in LA xx

 

PS: It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t fess up to the fact that our corner store shut down shop since we left home.  BUT there is another shop a little further down the road I can still send the kids to AND there’s a new mini Grocer (IGA) that’s opened close by that I can also send the kids to. Do yourselves a favour and support the local corner store, before you need to hop in the car to get bread and milk.  Or eggs, don’t forget the eggs.

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