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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.

My LA story, Posts, Travelog

LA to Arizona by road (is there any other way?)

I know you’re dying to find out how our Thanksgiving weekend went.  Well I’m very pleased to report it was great.  It was better than great.  The plan to avoid the traffic worked a treat.  We left on Thursday morning, stayed the night in Palm Desert with gorgeous friends then headed out early on Friday Arizona-bound.

We love Arizona and can’t wait to head back for more—specifically getting our kicks on Route 66.  What started as a weekend to Sedona ended in a trip to visit friends in Chandler in Phoenix, Arizona.  The irony wasn’t lost on me: Thanksgiving weekend and a lot to give thanks for in the form of gorgeous friends we met as expats when we lived in Shanghai.

Like lots of expat stories no sooner had we met and decided we quite liked each other than they were planning their exit strategy back to the US.  Of course we never wanted to live in the US so the reality for us was wondering whether we’d actually see them again.

It’s always a late night when we hang out with them—we could keep talking all night—and I love that it’s not what they usually do but they Australianise themselves and we have lots of fun.

Public-school suburb

As we drove into Chandler my daughter started to get really excited.  “Oh my god mum,” she said in that very dramatic tween way.  “We’re in public school America.  Can we live here.”

To her Chandler is like it is on TV or the movies: nice neighbourhoods, clean wide roads (that’s tarred—or black-topped—rather than concrete roads with lots of cracks and potholes like LA in case you’re wondering) and you can picture the yellow school buses stopping at the stop outside the street picking kids up to take them to the local elementary, middle or high school.  My picture is more Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, hers is definitely Disney Channel.

We passed Chick-Fill-A, Olive Garden, Walmart, Target Superstore amongst the big, clean malls with lots of parking.  She was in heaven.  (We’ve never been to Walmart, perhaps not surprisingly there aren’t many around 90210).

Then when we arrived at our friends’ house it was like we took her to the Disneyland castle with all-you-can eat ice-cream with cherries on top.  The epitome of an “American house” it had a grand entry, a formal living room and a beautiful staircase leading upstairs to big bedrooms with ensuites complete with Bath & Body Works foaming soap (appropriately scented for Fall and Thanksgiving). And downstairs a huge kitchen with the sink overlooking the resort-like backyard and a central island bench designed to gather around and serve the largest of feasts.  You could almost see the Brady’s fossicking in the double fridge making sandwiches with mayonnaise and pastrami (or is it baloney?) and Alice telling them to head outside because dinner would be ready soon.

Yep, it’s no surprise Chandler has a sign as you enter that says “All-American City”.

Chandler

Chandler: All-American City | Photo credit: Paper Turtle (pic links through to Blog)

 

We may be blessed to be living the dream in 90210 but Chandler is nirvana, utopia.  It’s not Wisteria Lane or the Stepford Wives, it’s the Brady Bunch meets Ferris Bueller.

Twenty-four hours in Chandler with our gorgeous all-American friends in their all-American friends in their all-American town and I want to rush out and apply for a green card.  If you doubted the American dream and discarded it as a myth you haven’t been to Chandler.

Roadtrips

Don’t forget about the California Coastal Highway drive, LA to Vegas or LA to Palm Springs but if you’ve got a little longer try LA—Palm Springs—Scottsdale—Flagstaff—Sedona—Winslow—Grand Canyon—Vegas and back to LA.

Fabulous roadtrip suggestion

Fabulous roadtrip suggestion

 

This is little roadtrip has overtaken my Route 66 entry on last week’s bucket list because it covers Route 66 and adds an extra dimension.  Arizona gets pretty bloody hot during the summer so plan your trip well but if you like the desert (I’m fascinated by it) then this looks like it will be a beauty.  (I promise to write about it once I’ve done it).

Meanwhile I can write about Palm Springs to Chandler.  I took about 550 photos because I just wanted to capture the desert landscape it all seemed so beautiful.  Like many things though you can’t really capture the vastness and the green bushes with the postcard-perfect cacti and commanding and majestic mountains.  It’s an easy drive and although it’s only really four hours it can get a little dull for the driver.  The Americans have these interstates so well-planned that the direct route approach does little for the driver.  The upside of course is you’re at your next destination in no time and it’s great to stretch your legs and soak in the desert ambiance.

Like us Aussies the yanks love a good roadtrip.  One of the most frustrating things in Australia can be the lack of anything at roadside rest-stops.  Well in America it’s like the roadstop are the attraction.  It can be hard to get a park, there are queues for the toilets, people hanging around and dogs, dogs everywhere.

Giving Thanks

Even though no one else in the world really celebrates Thanksgiving we all know about it.  Thank you Hollywood.  What surprises me is that many Americans are surprised no one else celebrates it.  (OK Google disputes me on this one but, well, we don’t in Australia so don’t let truth get in the way of a good story).

Hang on… why do you celebrate Thanksgiving?

OK, I thought the story went like this: the Pilgrims came, took over, planted crops and celebrated with a feast to give thanks.  My friend the UK Desperate Housewife gives a nice summary of why we have Turkey Day (its new-age name).  And that’s pretty much how most people see it.  To the extent I just found out that they’re trying to stop calling Thanksgiving Thanksgiving because of the small fact that the pilgrims came in and all but took over from the poor Indians.  (I don’t think they should be called American Indians because they were here first).

But with a little help from Google the real reason for Thanksgiving is to celebrate the Harvest.  So, are the websites changing history or did I have it wrong?  And if Thanksgiving is to celebrate the Harvest then why are some powers that be in my wacky host country trying to stop us calling the Holiday Thanksgiving?  It’s getting some traction too because many people are calling it Turkey Day.  For what it’s worth my two cents worth is let it go, it’s been Thanksgiving for this long and it’s worked so focus on something that might actually matter.

I’ll admit it the sight of Americans holding hands while their turkey gets cold and they reflect on all the things they have to be thankful for made me feel a little squirm-in-my-seat uncomfortable.  But celebrating it with my friends last weekend that was the last thing I thought about.  No now all I can think is how lovely it is to reflect and be thankful for all we have.

It wasn’t that long ago that I was homesick and wishing I had more than two friends and yet here I am telling you about an action-packed weekend filled with different friends who have opened their homes to us.

Three things to include in your “giving thanks” speech

Now that I’m embracing this giving thanks caper here’s three things you need to include in your giving thanks speech—in case you’re ever invited to Thanksgiving dinner.

  • Good place to start: spouse, kids, brothers & sisters, nieces & nephews, parents.
  • They’re there, good idea to acknowledge them.
  • The moment. Fairly politically correct to acknowledge that yes it’s good to have a roof over your head, food on the table and clothes on your back (and in your wardrobe).

It’s been raining all week here in LA and the sun is just coming out for a while.  It never rains here so it’s all people talk about.  People cancel meetings, hair dressing appointments and don’t know how to drive on the roads.  It’s more than hysterical.

Stay dry!

Xx It Started in LA xx

Home sweet home
Celebrity, Expat tales, My LA story, Posts

Home sweet home. Or is it?

I’m back from my amazing Aussie holiday that went by so (too) quickly.

I had so many ideas for my first Blog post back and like I often do have written some great lines in my head.

But alas now that I sit down to write all I can think of is how amazing our holiday was and how Australian life suits us so well.  Not so long ago I would have used the phrase, “… how we love Australian life so much better.”

Is Australia better?

And I probably would have gone into a spiel to say how weird America is.  (Shoot me down now American friends).  But I’ve grown up now and I can use mature, experienced Expat words—I call that experience rather than being politically correct because let’s face it that’s exactly what it sounds like I’m being (politically correct).  (Oh, and I don’t really think Americans … ahem America … are/is weird!).

It was interesting going back and even more interesting that we all just stepped back into our lives like we had never left.  My daughter spent the day at school–including an early start for tennis training at 7am and my son competed in a swim meet for his old school.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

While we were in Australia we caught up with a teacher from the kids’ school who has recently moved from LA to Sydney.  She’s a good 10 months behind me in time so she’s in the hard stages of change.  I’m sure a good portion of the time we’d rather be in each other’s shoes.  It got me thinking of the concept of home:

  1. You love home and never really looked to move anywhere else no matter how divine your new destination is.
  2. Because you love home all the familiar sights, sounds and smells of home play a big part in making you who you are. Everything else—especially when it’s actually so different but there’s absolutely no reason it should be (like Australian and the US)—is “weird”.

Weird is a matter of perspective

It’s not about which city is better or that the new city you’re in is “weird” it’s just that home is home.  And your newly adopted city isn’t (quite yet).  And, by the way, neither of us should get defensive when we say weird because it’s weird as in different-to-us-and-I-don’t-get-it not weird as in you’re-a-freak weird.  There’s a difference.

I have many friends that live in Australia that wouldn’t move out of their suburb let alone move overseas.  I also have many friends that have spent—and enjoyed—their time overseas they almost think Australia is too small for them.  I fall into neither of those categories.

You know before I left for this holiday I was talking about settling down here and how good it would be to buy a house.  I thought it would settle us.  Now I’m not so sure.

The day after we arrived I went to the supermarket for milk, bread, fruit & vegetables.  I remember when we lived in Shanghai and I’d go to the supermarket after a holiday it would drive me mental.  With a capital M.  It was difficult to navigate around and everything is in Chinese so it would remind me how hard something so easy could be.  Then I’d get accosted in the supermarket isles by sales agents wanting to direct me to their washing powder or their mop that I’d run for cover, race home and text my friends to say wine o’clock is starting early today.

carrefour

The newspaper and magazine section of my local Carrefour, Shanghai, China, 2009

 

Thankfully grocery shopping isn’t that hard in America.  I was safely minding my own business when I got to the checkout and started unpacking my shopping trolley.  A lady came behind me and blurts out, “Is there another aisle open?”  I looked at her.  She says, almost to herself, “Well you have to ask”.  I looked at her again, careful not to stare and show exactly what I was thinking.

I bit my tongue.  There are very few people that would say that in Australia—and the queues are often much longer.  I felt like saying to her, “chill love, by the time you’ve unloaded your trolley they’ll be ready to check you out.”  Honestly, seriously, by the time someone opens another checkout, they log in and she moves she’d be better off staying where she is.  But she doesn’t want—like—to wait.  I find that weird.  Someone who’s moved to Australia from the US might find it weird that we wait.  In silence.

I get that the service is better in the US.  I love that the service is better in the US.  When we checked through Coles Burwood last week in Australia (stocking up on our Aussie treats) my husband and I looked at each other and said, “It’s not quite Ralph’s service with a smile and a chat is it?”  But seriously … still weird.  Chillax chick.

 

Top five questions I was asked when we were home

Not that I’m one to dwell but was good to get a home fix.  Especially when we were so acclimated that we were on such a high point here in LA we didn’t really need to go back to Australia for a visit. So aside from my close friends and the “how are you going?” question there are lot of different things people wanted to know about life in LA.  Here are my favourite questions (and answers).

1.Who has been the best celebrity you’ve seen and what were they doing?

I initially answered with JLo but my friend wasn’t interested in her.  Bette Midler? Joan Collins?  Yes, much better responses.  I saw Bette at my favourite West Hollywood restaurant and Joan Collins having lunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel by the way.  Joan Collins is forever classy.  (Still think my favourite spot to date is the very yummy Joshua Jackson aka Pacey from Dawson’s Creek).

2. Have you seen any celebrities? Do you go to school with any celebrities?  What are they like?

Ummm, yes.  Lots.  It helps that (yes) there are plenty at school but they’re just normal people doing normal things like attending school functions and back-to-school nights.  Except the Kardashians but I haven’t seen them around (even though Kim & Kanye used to live just up the road from us).

3. What are the people like?

It’s pretty much the same as being at home: there are people you like and people not so much.  Like at home there are people who are extremely egocentric and others who are very kind and considerate.

There is a paranoia that exists here more than at home and I have to say that I feel like we should be more paranoid at home and the Americans (especially around here) less so.

Then: have they all had lots of work done?

We noticed it when we first arrived then we just got used to it.  Then we noticed it more when we got back to Australia (the lack of work) and again since we’ve come home.  Funny.  So … yes.

4. How long do we need in Disneyland?

As little as you can.  Seriously.  The happiest place on earth is wonderful … until it all starts to go pear shaped and then you need to exit stage left IMMEDIATELY.  The problem is it’s very hard to judge when the right time is to leave so be prepared for pear-shaped.

5. Are you ever coming home?

Good question.

Three funny things I noticed being back in Australia

It’s interesting being away for some 15 months then coming back again.  It’s more interesting the things you notice that you didn’t before.

1. We talk funny.

At least we use very different phrasing (non Australians might in fact say “weird”).  We were on the Virgin Australia flight up to Hamilton Island and the hostie was taking drinks orders.  “Too easy” was her response.  I laughed out loud.  I hadn’t heard that in a long time.  What does that even mean to an outsider?  Only in Australia.

2. We don’t stop drinking.

That’s right, hard to believe?  The day we arrived we got to my girlfriend’s house where we were staying and settled in with a few bottles of wine.  We had friends stop in and go and stop in and go; it was so lovely and informal.  By about 6:00 in the early evening we were still going and no one even considered we’d be stopping.  Ah love an Australian drinking afternoon.  So informal and I didn’t even have to stop.  How good is it to be home?

3. We walk everywhere.

It was our last day and I had a couple of jobs to do: drop some stuff off to an artist friend, deposit some cheques and a last-minute dash to the supermarket.  What struck me when we were driving around was the number of people walking everywhere.  Not parking and walking but actually walking; like from point A to point B.  (I know LA readers, I know; breathe).

Admittedly I live in the inner suburbs of Sydney and that essentially means our houses are in walking distance of the nearest pub/bank/post office/coffee shop and other conveniences that it’s really easy to walk.

My kids went to the corner shop more times than we could count just because they could–one there actually is a corner shop and two because they had the freedom to go that they’d missed so much here in LA.  They even cycled to get their fish & chips for dinner.  Love, love, love the freedom and independence Australia allows them.

Walking is a sport here in LA not a pastime so there are barely any footpaths let alone people walking.  It’s funny what you notice when you’ve been away.

It is good to be home

Alas I’m home.  I’m re-adjusting to LA life and I do love it here.  I went to the doctor this morning to follow up on my yearly checkup.  Sit down Australians he actually took my pulse and listened to me take deep breaths.  He actually spent some time with me and cared to follow up my results.

I said that I could neither think Australia is too small for me or could see myself living anywhere but Australia.  I am so thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given first as an “Expat brat” living in the Philippines and now as a “trailing spouse” (revolting term but can’t be bothered coming up with something sexy at the moment) in Shanghai and LA.

The first-world problem that arises out of the scenario from my perspective though is that I will always want the best of all worlds.  Sadly there’s no such thing as a perfect world so I’ll just have to pull my head in and be thankful I’m getting the chance to experience life from many different angles.

Enjoy your weekends,

xx It Started in LA xx

PS:  Happy birthday to my gorgeous friend Kristen Long who was the reason for our return trip and thanks to all our friends (old & new) for making our trip ah-may-zing!

Keep Clear
My LA story, Posts

Driving in LA: take your life into your own hands

One of my friends, a fellow Blogger, recently posted about the frustrations of driving in Sydney.  What a great book this would make.  Imagine a book on driving in many different cities in the world.  In the Philippines it would be the art of turning two lanes into five.  In Shanghai it would be the art of making your own lanes–two wide-ish lanes can make three.  In Melbourne it would be the art of speeding up the minute the car in front of you indicates to change into your lane.  Obviously so said car can’t get in front of you.

Ahh the idiosyncrasies of navigating the roads in different cities.

Short of publishing a book I thought I’d contribute to her blog post by sharing my pain of driving in LA.  Without further adieu here are my top three pet peeves about driving/drivers in LA.

And, as a bonus prize I give you three things you should know before getting behind the wheel in LA.  And it’s not they drive on the wrong side of the road.

Peeve #1: KEEP CLEAR

For God’s sake.  It’s universal: in Australia, the UK, America they use the words “Keep Clear”.  No translation issues here.  So why the F%#@* can’t LA drivers understand??? Renowned worldwide for its traffic congestion, LA drivers are concerned about one thing and one thing only: themselves.

Keep Clear

Keep Clear is a foreign concept for Los Angelenos drivers

Listen up people: if you didn’t block the Keep Clear area I wouldn’t have to push my way in and block the whole road.  Try it sometime.  I’m pretty sure it won’t kill you.

Peeve #2: INDICATE

Living Life at 56 mentions it’s a Sydney phenomenon but I can assure you LA cars don’t come with indicators (or blinkers as the case may be–did I just use an American word ahead of an Australian one?).

Well they can’t.  Possibly.  Turn left, right, change lanes, four-way stop, change from the carpool lane across four lanes to the exit a freeway in 10 metres and there’s no sign of an indicator.

No, cars in LA most definitely don’t come with indicators.  We don’t need them here.

Peeve #3: STAY IN YOUR BLOODY LANE

Oh yeah, this one’s a beauty.  I live up in the hills around Mulholland Drive.  It’s not a very wide road and neither are the lanes.  It’s windy and the drops are …. well …. steep and unforgiving.

Why then are drivers incapable of keeping in their own lane?  I’ll often be coming the other way to find a car well and truly hogging my side of the road as if he’s coming in for a cuddle.  I can’t just jump on top of you it’s a crash or it’s off the canyon.  And I’m not going over.

Let’s make it easy for everyone: keep on your own side.

Now that I’ve shared that with you it’s time for me to take some good advice.

Keep Calm

Keep Calm & Drink Cocktails

 

Driving in LA can lead you to drink.

Three things you should know about driving in LA

 

  1. The more expensive your car the bigger hoon you are.  There are no bogans in LA.  No.  It’s great, everyone’s hip and groovy or trendy or stylish.  But when you have an expensive car you turn into a bogan.  Automatically.
  2. Overtaking is always allowed: suburban streets, winding your way around Mulholland Drive, can’t see the on-coming traffic.  Don’t worry about it.  Overtaking is encouraged.  At all times.
  3. There is no such thing as a speed limit.  Technically as long as you’re the same speed as the traffic you’re OK.  So technically speed limits don’t count for much.  It’s not until you get someone in the car from out of town or you start driving back in a country where speed limits are enforced that you realise you actually drive quite fast here.

So now when you come to LA you can drive as the locals do.  I remember the first time I got on the freeway I thought I was going to be blown away by the g-force of the cars passing me by, leaving me for dead.  I was doing 100kmph or thereabouts.  Try changing lanes, it can be scary.  It doesn’t take long before you’ve got the hang of it and your speed is edging upwards of 70/80 mph.  No wonder the freeway accidents are big.

It’s pretty tough to get around without a car.  Acquaint yourself with driving LA style and you’ll be fine.  Good luck!

xx It Started in LA xx

Four Seasons LA/BH
Celebrity, LA Restaurants, Posts, Visiting LA

Four Seasons in LA? Well of course.

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Beverly Hills Hotels

 

 

 

Are there four seasons in Beverly Hills?  But of course.  The Four Seasons Los Angeles in Beverly Hills to be precise.

Stay at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills for five-star treatment without pretension. If you don’t know LA you might think the location is not for you but actually you’re right in the middle of great shopping, amazing restaurants and have my two favourite areas, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills at your doorstop. With 100 of the 285 rooms being suites there’s a room for everyone but don’t be fooled the standard rooms are roomy and well kitted out.

It Started in LA rating: 5 ticks √√√√√

How a hotel makes you feel is so important: it can make or break a stay don’t you think?  Absolutely I say.  Let’s face it if you’re not Kim or Kanye or JLo you still want to be treated like you are.  You’re important.  You’re special.

Well it’s no secret yours truly believes in that premise: I want to be treated like I’m a VIP (and understand to most people I’m not damnit).  When I visited the Four Seasons at Beverly Hills I felt like the red carpet had been rolled out for me and so here I am telling you all about it.

Unlike the Beverly Hills Hotel where I walk in and immediately take on a strut (with swag) you don’t feel the need to do that here.  It’s comfortable and unassuming.

I didn’t realise the Four Seasons is reputed to be the number one hotel in LA for the entertainment industry.  (Hmmm truth be told had I known this I probably would’ve been in a bit sooner so I’m telling you now).  Apparently it’s the venue for the majority of Hollywood’s press film events.  You get that sense when you see a mini version of the Marilyn Monroe statue as you pull into valet.

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn statue as you enter Four Seasons Hotel Beverly Hills

 

Guests are anyone from pop stars (there was a very well-known one staying there the day I visited) to celebrities to agents.  (In the leisure category it’s popular with us Aussies so it must be good.)

This was my first visit to the Four Seasons.  As I said had I known what it was known for I probably would’ve visited sooner.  It makes sense that one of the families from school (who ran one of the top Studios) nominated the hotel as their favourite staycation location.  I immediately popped it on my list but it’s taken until now for me to get there.  Better late than never I say.

The first thing that hits you is the impressive display (and aroma) of flowers.  Not just a centrepiece in the lobby but throughout the hotel and gardens.

Lillies

Those lillies are stunning and positively fragrant–not even Pepe le Pew could upset you

 

Beverly Hills-renowned florist Eric Buterbaugh’s inspiring displays made me feel like I was back in the flower markets in Shanghai: so many flowers.  And that smell of perfectly scented lillies was powerful enough that not even Pepe le Pew the skunk could spoil it.

Flowers

Flowers anyone? Simply stunning

 

The flowers are no accident.  The property’s owners (it’s managed by the Four Seasons), the Cohen family, were in the flower business so their passion is reflected in the hotel’s design and mood.

The next thing I notice is that, despite its five-star rating and smartly dressed staff (rather than the preferred dress-down approach of many local hotels) it’s not stuffy or snooty.  On the contrary it’s welcoming and unpretentious.

What are the rooms like?

OK.  I love them.  The standard room is really spacious, not at all claustrophobic.  Nice touches are the floral theme (in the most tasteful way) through the bedheads and carpet (some of the nicest carpet let alone hotel carpet I’ve ever seen).  A vase with fresh orchids in the bathroom showed that nothing escapes the detail put into the rooms.  Toiletries used are Bvlgari which also makes for a nice touch.

There are many different categories of Suites catering for the breadth of guests the hotel attracts.

Adjoining rooms

There are about 20 adjoining rooms ranging in category from suites to standard rooms offering different combinations of sleeping arrangements.  If you’re anything like me the most frustrating thing about booking via an online travel company is finding or securing adjoining rooms.  I get that they’re limited and cannot guarantee but help us out guys and give us a guide as to what’s available.  If you fall into this category call or get in touch with hotel direct and make the booking.  Less headaches and a better chance of getting what you want.

Naturally suites can also provide the option you’re looking for too.  The Executive suite has a pull-out couch in the main room and the Luxury Suite offers two full bathrooms (and a wrap-around balcony).  If you happen to have a huge family the Presidential Suites, Royal and Luxury Suites are all big enough to cater for larger numbers.

Four Seasons

Rooms at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills feature lush carpet and beautiful flower motifs

 

So LA

If you’re looking for that LA feel the Four Seasons Beverly Hills has nailed it.  There’s no mistaking it caters for entertainment clients and is in touch with what LA is about.

The pool is stunning with obligatory cabanas (for Beverly Hills anyway) and plenty of room for sunbathers.

Four Seasons Pool

The pool at the Four Seasons is quintessentially LA with that vintage look and feel (love the green & white)

 

 I work out

It wouldn’t be an LA hotel without great workout facilities and the Four Season’s is outdoors.  That’s right, Muscle Beach comes to the Four Seasons.  Check it, it might even encourage me to work out!

Being LA you can line up a personal trainer to make sure you’re not slacking off while you’re away from home.

Gym

The outdoor gym at the Four Seasons is temperature controlled giving the best of both worlds

 

If all that doesn’t scream: “So LA!” then the dining options will.  LA has sooo many fantastic places to eat.  Here in LA people go to the hotel restaurants to eat.  If it’s good.  (I don’t know why we don’t go to them much in Australia, you certainly do in Asia).  So you better make sure your restaurant is good–or offers something unique–to bring the people in.

Dining Options

The Four Seasons Beverly Hills has its own little secret known as the Cabana Restaurant, tucked up behind the pool and open to the public.

Culina

Culina at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills

 

I just love that the menu is broken down into four categories: indulgence, antioxidant, energy boosters and comfort food.  How LA is that?!

Don’t believe me? Check out the lunch menu here.  Did you click through and notice the smoothies?  Antioxidant (Goji Berry, Cranberry, Blueberry, Pomegranate, Papaya) and Jet Lag (Orange Blossom Honey, Nonfat Plain Yogurt, Orange Juice, Banana, Strawberries, Bee Pollen).  Can’t get more LA than that.

I’m so impressed that the Four Seasons knows and understands its clientele and market.  It attracts a younger clientele (think celebs people).  You can’t be offering burgers, burgers or burgers to a dieting Kim Kardashian (not that I’m saying she comes here.  And not that I’m saying she doesn’t).  But if that up-and-coming Blogger Gwen John goes to visit as much as she wants to be good and go and antioxidant menu there’s a good chance she’s going for comfort.  So you’ve still got to offer it.  Right?  Right.

I was treated to breakfast at Culina–its destination restaurant aimed at keeping guests in and Los Angelenos coming.  Word is the Sunday brunch is to die for so we’re checking into that one ASAP.  Mother’s Day and Father’s Day (which is June here and not September–you’re welcome) are big ones so book early.

I was so impressed by the breakfast that I’m going to blog about that separately.  Watch this space.  Really quickly though there are healthy options and your traditional fry up options and lots in-between.  OK I had the sinless Eggs Benedict which was to die for.  If eating healthy was this good and this easy yours truly might be a skinny fashion model rather than a Blogger.  The other highlight for me was the freshly squeezed juice bar.  You can order one from the menu (I had the Antioxidant Booster–it was Monday morning 🙂 ) or you can create your own.

PS:

If you’re an LA local you’ll be pleased to know there’s a fully kosher kitchen. So LA.

Stay at the Four Seasons Hotel if:

  • you want five-star Beverly Hills luxury without the snootiness or pretension
  • you want to feel part of the “younger Hollywood” crowd
  • you’re looking for healthy yet yummy dining options that are so un-American yet proudly Los Angeleno
  • you want to be centrally located between West Hollywood, Third Street, Melrose Avenue and Beverly Hills (never mind Rodeo Drive, you’re right near the boutiques on Robertson)
  • you’re prepared to embrace the LA thing and drive everywhere (there are cars to drive you within a two-mile radius of the hotel).

 

I said it for my last review and I’ll say it again.  I made the mistake of not appreciating LA for what it was when I first came to visit some 20 years ago (I think the words were “been there, done that, never coming back”.) I know better now. Do your research before you hit LA.  And I don’t mean which theme parks you might visit.  Understand what LA is all about and it will be your friend, expect something it’s not and you may as well give it a miss. Thankfully I’ve grown up now, made that rather naive mistake and fate took me back here. I count my lucky stars everyday.

xx It Started in LA xx

PS: Again I’d recommend you compare prices online but try booking through the hotel direct.  Rack rates are becoming a thing of the past (I have absolutely no proof of this except through my own booking experience) and hotels offer competitive online rates.  Sometimes it’s so much easier to get exactly what you want when you book direct.

All pictures with thanks to Four Seasons Beverly Hills.

To find out more about Beverly Hills Hotels visit my Pinterest board.  I’m pinning to it faster than I can blog!

Beverly Hilton Pool
Fact or Fiction, Posts

Fact or Fiction: Beverly Hilton Pool

It’s the ANZAC Day long weekend in Australia where we remember those that served our countries (Australia and New Zealand).  While the spirit of ANZAC Day encompasses all Australians who served and died in war (and peace-keeping missions) it especially represents the landing on Gallipoli in 1915.  One of the most moving ceremonies we went to was in Shanghai where the Australian and New Zealand communities get together to commemorate the Day.  Likewise we will be attending a ceremony here in LA.

So … straight onto this week’s Fact or Fiction where I posed the statement:

At one point Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie & Kim Kardashian all went to the same school here in LA.

The answer is correct: Fact.  Nicole, Kim & Paris all went to school together in their younger years–at the very same school my kids go to.

And 75% of you got it right!  Well done!

I’ve been excited over the last couple of weeks to be visiting Beverly Hills’s iconic hotels.  So I thought I’d pose this week’s questions about one of those hotels.

The Beverly Hilton pool is known as the largest heated pool in Beverly Hills, it is just about as famous as the hotel itself.  You know the Golden Globes have been held at the Beverly Hilton since forever so …  My question is:

Is the pool covered over for Golden Globes after parties?

 

Careful: it’s a yes or no question this time.

Enjoy your weekend guys and keep smiling!

xxx It Started in LA xxx

Tomson
Expat tales, Posts

Creating memories: remembering the good forgetting the bad

Tripping down Expat memory lane

I’ve mentioned a couple of times now that we lived in China–Shanghai actually.  I have such amazing memories of our nearly two years there despite it being a really tumultuous time.  I wonder if you asked my close girlfriends back in Australia what they would say about my time in Shanghai.

I’m tripping down memory lane for two reasons today:

  1. We spent a fun weekend catching up with dear friends from Shanghai last weekend in San Diego  and naturally we took a great trip down memory lane (I’ll post a full report on San Diego)
  2. One of my readers asked me to write about the not-so-good stuff about LA and how there are days when you go enough’s enough, I just want to throw in the towel and give it all up just to be back in the comfort zone of family and friends living a normal life.

It was so good to hang out with our neighbours from Shanghai.  We lived in a fabulously salubrious apartment called Tomson Riviera–the most expensive apartments in Shanghai–it was ridiculously convenient to Super Brand Mall, another fabulous Mall, IFC, we had the Shangri-la and great restaurants but we still had a Blind massage and “local” amenities so we felt like we were in China and not some surreal world.

Tomson

Home in Shanghai

Our neighbours lived in the apartment downstairs from us and they had to put up with our kids thudding up and down the hall like a herd of wild elephants.  We would see each other most days–either in the morning at the gym or around 4:30 for Orange Blossoms or wine (or both–morning and afternoon that is not Orange Blossoms and wine but come to think of it yes to both).  We would also schedule shopping days out or “Tomson Tours” as we liked to call it where a bunch of us from the apartment block would go out and explore areas (like a day trip to Expo) or factories and shops we’d heard about from other expats.

We were each others’ sounding boards, rocks but it was a great balance because we weren’t living out of each others’ pockets.  Our kids (with some 10 years plus between them in ages) are pretty much carbon copies of one another in temperament and roles which cracks us up–especially our two youngest “princess” daughters.

Fast Forward three plus years and they’ve repatriated back to Seattle and we obviously moved back home and are now here.  A lot has happened in both our lives since we moved back home but it was like no time at all had passed, we were just loving catching up and everything clicked back into place.

I wrote the other week about how Americans struggle to laugh at themselves but it was Sue who laughed at me moving to America where I would “never live” and now I have more than one American friend.  It was Sue that had to listen to my ear-bashing of Americans and how Australians don’t really “do” Americans as a rule yet she was one of closest friends in Shanghai.  And it was Sue that came to rescue when my princess was having one of her (very regular) tantrums–oh and of course to help with our many dress-up opportunities.

But it got me thinking about our time in Shanghai–and back to my reader’s feedback.  Not once did our trip down memory lane touch on the bad bits about being there.  We led the most glamorous lives and according to Mr H all I did was “shop, shop, shop” go to the gym (yes, I was a gym junkie) and eat at fabulous restaurants and jump the queue and get into great VIP bars inside the best Clubs in Shanghai. But living in China was also hard.  There’s not enough time in this post to try to get you over the line to understand the daily drudgery but it was there.  (Hmmmm maybe it’s time to publish that book after all.)

So why are trips down memory lane always so good?  I don’t know much about psychology but I’m guessing that has a lot to do with it, that it’s in our best interests to remember the good bits and flush out the bad bits.  We do remember some bad bits–and that’s how we grow as people but by and large we look back on life (hopefully) rather fondly.

Get me out of here

When we were in Shanghai I remember vividly wanting to go home.  I think it took me eight months to get over.  I loved it but I hated not having friends (despite of course having friends).  The closing chapter of my book was all about the realisation when we left that I had friends the whole time.  Good friends.  But those friends played different roles in my life compared to my friends at home.  I likened my time in Shanghai to The Wizard of Oz that, like Dorothy, I had what I needed the whole time: Dorothy needed to (ironically) get home to Oz and me, well I had friends.

Jump forward nearly four years in the future to today in a new country yet again.  I have made some great friends here in such a short time.  I’ve been welcomed and included and had lots of fun.  Repeat after me: I have made friends, I have made great progress.  There was a time not so long ago I may have forgotten this lesson though.

was pretty miserable a couple of months ago.  I announced to Mr H that I’d had enough, I wasn’t happy that the kids were missing out on the great things Australian private schools had to offer them and I wasn’t sure this is were we should raise our kids for an extended period.  That was totally my “get me out of here–now” moment.  I hadn’t shared it directly with you to put it quite as blunt as that but I had written about some challenges we were having, conflicts in ideology and questioning whether we fit in or not.

I missed the “anniversary” of us being here eight months.  What a great sign that things are on the up-and-up again.  Of course we fit in. The kids are getting a great experience going to school in a different country and (hello!) living amongst the rich and famous has (big-time) the fun element.

Coming back from holidays does that to you though–you get this spring in your step, a rejuvenation like you’re ready to kick on.  I felt precisely the same way when we got back from our Spring Break in Wales.  We used to call them “Get out of China” days you needed to regularly get out in order to come back in fresh.  Maybe it’s the same wherever you are as an Expat?

And catching up with friends that get you also does that to you–recently having dear friends here from Australia and just his past weekend with our Shanghai-American friends.  They’ve given me my confidence back that I’m doing ok.

Wherever you are you have your good days and your bad days–home, overseas, on holidays.  However much money you have you have your good days and your bad days.  No matter how successful you are you have your good days and your bad days.  What I’m learning all over again is that, despite my fear and loathing of rollercoasters, that’s life.  Hop on and enjoy the ride and essentially they’re the same wherever you go.  OK, maybe some are bigger than others but the bigger the climb, the bigger the thrill.

Enjoy–and make the most of–your rollercoaster.

xx It Started in LA xx

Australian schools v US schools
Differences between America & Australia, Posts

Mind, body & spirit: the difference between Australian & American private schools

I’ve been trying to articulate the difference between Australian and American private school and couldn’t seem to put my finger on it.  Until now. So I thought I’d take a stab at comparing school in Australia to LA.

If you’re moving (anywhere but especially overseas) and you’ve got kids then school is possibly the biggest factor to nail down.

One of the questions I often get asked is how schools here in the US compare to Australia (and some ask how they compare to International School in Shanghai).  The immediate assumption is that schools are better here (or maybe there’s a bit of colonial paranoia creeping in?) .  I, of course, beg to differ.  Here are some examples of the differences in the systems.

SUBJECT CHOICES:

Australia adopts an all-encompassing approach to education, ie they offer art, drama, music, maths, english, science, geography, PE AND sport.  Boys schools even offer woodwork and Design & Technology (D&T) and the girls schools also offer Home Economics and D&T.

America adopts an all-encompassing approach to education in that they offer art, drama, music, math, english, science and geography.  But you have to choose two electives out of art, drama or music.  There are many more great electives to choose from like Theatre, Dance and Video Production but you still have to choose.

America’s school mantra is: Academics are king.  Must.  Get.  Into.  Good. College.

Australia’s school mantra is to produce all-rounded kids (except where schools have an academic leaning and they say so).  My son’s school refers to it as mind, body & spirit.  Many schools mean the same thing but just articulate it differently but I think it sums it up perfectly: Challenge their minds, build their bodies and develop their spirit. The bottom line is by the time they leave school they have produced a well-balanced young man.

HOURS:

The typical school day in Australia is 8:30 – 3:30 (or combinations around that).  In America my kids start school at 8:30 and finish at 3:00.  On Fridays they finish at 2:00.

SPORT:

In Australia, sport is not PE.  PE–otherwise known as PDHPE (Physical Development, Health & Physical Education) as the name suggests encompasses lots of things, not just physical education.

Sport is sport.  Time set aside for this too–often more at a boys’ school because of the need for them to run around–but it involves choosing a competitive sport.  They train once or twice a week during school (sometimes after or a combination of both) and there’s a “no-cut” policy (a term I’ve only just really learnt) in that everyone gets to–has to–compete against another team (hopefully) on their own level.  Here Sport is part of the PE timetable.

(I met a lady who left our school here in the US because she didn’t like that our school has a no-cut policy.  She wanted her kids playing among the best competing among the best.  I challenged her asking why sport could not be played by everyone as long as 1) they played sport and 2) they played on a level similar to their own.  We never did finish that conversation.)

Everyone’s games are on Saturday.  As much as we bitch and moan about it it’s easy to work a schedule around keeping Saturdays free for sport (and, for a large part, club sport works around this too).  Here the games are all over the place at different times so if you have commitments outside school it makes it tough.

EXTRA-CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES AT SCHOOL:

This is possibly where schools are closest: they have band, choir and orchestra and schools put on plays (and musicals here).  But for boys many of the private schools in Australia offer Cadets.  It’s a military thing through and through.  I remember the boys going home in their cadet uniforms when I was growing up and I wasn’t sure about it but now that I have a young teenager I mourn his absence from the program.  It not only teaches discipline but it gets them out in the great outdoors cooking for themselves and to quote the boys, “fending off brown snakes”.  There are so many elements to this one program that teaches so much.

Both my kids had top-class swimming programs at their schools where they swam before or after school for a nominal fee as often as they wanted.  I would drop them to school at 6:00 and 7:00am and once they’d finished their training they’d head to school via the cafeteria for breakfast.

While we’re lucky enough to have a great after-school swimming program here I have to pay for it.  There’s no thought-process that offering programs like that here produces good swimmers that would be good for the school’s reputation.  To promote their schools in Australia they use academic results and sporting achievements; in America it’s which (Ivy-League) Colleges graduates get into.

Great promise of opportunities

One of the thought processes when we decided to move here was to give the kids a great experience and be able to participate in a whole host of activities.  You know? Like on TV?  I’ve watched Glee and 90210, there’s something for everyone in America.  Pitch Perfect was on TV the night we had to make our final decision whether or not to move and there’s the “fat Australian” girl doing good in her American College.  I want to sign up for that.  I want my kids to have that opportunity.

But I had my doubts American schools could live up to the all-rounded approach of Australian schools and sadly, as always, I’m right.  Don’t get me wrong I think the kids’ school is great and a really good choice for us.  It’s probably (sport aside) the best choice for us and our needs.

So, in a word how do I sum up the difference between American and Australian schools?  Choice. Flexibility.  All-encompassing.  OK that’s three (technically four).

But, that’s not it.  That’s not what I was looking for.  It hit me this morning as I was going through my morning routine of checking social media and emails.

That’s when it hit me. Like a light bulb moment.  It was photos from my son’s school’s Facebook page of the Track & Field House Championships.  Aha!  They don’t have that here.  They don’t have an outlet for kids to race each other in a swimming carnival at one end of the year and participate in track & field events at the other end of the year.  That’s the best bit about being at school.  It’s Teamwork.  Pride.  Competition.  Bonding.  Participation.  (Another dimension to “spirit”).

The number one difference between American private schools and Australian private schools is that American schools don’t provide an opportunity for kids to don a yellow, teal, blue, red or purple (or whatever other colour parents have to go searching all over town for) and compete against each other.  For kids of all ages to share one thing in common: to win for their house.

I feel better now.  Let me leave you with the top three reasons why (private) school is better in Australia:

  1. The (compulsory) swimming carnival and track & field carnival.  Being part of a house and competing for your house’s name on that shield. (Spirit).
  2. You get to start school* doing a whole host of subjects and you don’t have to choose electives til later on in your school life (somewhere around year 10).  (Mind).
  3. You have to compete in a sport whether you’re good or bad or somewhere in between.  Sport (especially team sport) teaches so much about winning and losing, teamwork, sporstmanship, pride and healthy competition.   (Body).

I can’t speak for public schools as neither the kids or my husband and I have ever attended a public school.  That’s why this article is specifically about private schools ( I should probably go further and say private schools in LA).  When we went to make an appointment to visit a public school we were told there was an information night offering tours of the schools and that’s all their resources would allow.  Never mind we weren’t in the country when those nights were on.  I wonder if American public junior/middle high schools are the same as the private schools.  Being part of the LA Unified School District I’m not about to find out.

BUT… Colleges here tend to be more like private schools in Australia.  I think.  I haven’t got that far yet.

Ahhh … LA.  Let’s see if we’re here long enough to find out.

xx It Started in LA xx

* High School or Years 7-12 as it is in Australia, known here in America as Middle School & High School. Struggling to know what the grade levels in America are all about? I’ve got the answer here for you!

Old Church and Cemetry
My LA story, Posts, Travelog

Spring break: escape to the green valleys of Wales

We’re back!  You may recall we’d all been a bit homesick and with Spring break coming up made a last-minute decision to visit mum in the green valleys of Wales.  It was the perfect getaway to recharge our batteries at the same time staying away from Australia as going back there would completely do our heads in.

We enjoy visiting Wales.  It’s funny because we’ve never lived there, nor did I grow up there but we always get this comforting feeling like we’re coming home.  Probably because that’s where mum & my brother live and I love catching up with my cousins while we’re there.

Gower Peninsula

Single-lane roads in Gower

REVIEW: Brittania Inn, Gower

Having only one week was good: we did only the things we really wanted to.  One of the highlights of the trip had to be the divine pub meal we had at the Brittania Inn on the picturesque Gower Peninsula.  Every time we visit we take a drive on the narrow country roads, marvel at the rolling valleys with lush green grass and sheep feeling at home in the middle of the road.  It’s truly beautiful.  When we first visited of course we’d visit the grand old castles signalling the deep, rich history the country has to offer.  We still marvel at them but we almost take them for granted with a “been-there-done-that” smugness.

I don’t know if it was living in America for seven months (and being without British/Australian food) that caused us to rave, the change in ownership or watching Luke serve the entire restaurant and front bar on his own with his efficient yet laid-back Gower attitude, but we were captivated.  I ordered the Welsh Steak & Ale pie.  It was nothing short of To. Die. For.

Welsh Steak & Ale Pie

Welsh Steak & Ale Pie at the Britannia Inn, Gower. To. Die. For.

Remember we ate not long ago at TODD English pub in Las Vegas–celebrity chef and all–but this meal wins hands down with its simple, let-the-food-do-the-talking approach to food.  Everyone’s food was magnificent.

I started with a goat’s cheese tart that had freshly roasted vegetables in a fine pastry with freshly sourced goat’s cheese proving once again that quality ingredients are vital to making a good dish a great one.

Goat's Cheese Tart

Welsh Goat’s Cheese Tart

No room for dessert yet we still ordered and again that was stunning.  (I highly recommend the Vanilla Cheesecake with raspberry sorbet and its extremely generous portion–but still my brother was reluctant to share.  My son–the purveyor of profiteroles–thinks these are some of the best he’s had).

How does a pub literally in the middle of nowhere pull off such mouth-wateringly stunning meals?  And then how does a pub in the middle of nowhere retain a top chef like this?

It was so good we went back a couple of days later just to make sure the meals were as good as we remembered.  (And they were!)

Experiencing life from another angle

I love that everything in Wales is different–and you couldn’t get any more different from LA.  That’s what travelling is all about really. Frankly, that’s what living in another country is all about–experiencing life the way others’ see it and appreciating things from a different perspective.

When we lived in Shanghai it was easy to contrast our life there with life in Australia.  Now that we’re living in another Western country, though, it’s even more interesting to think about how different we all are yet we’ve come from the same place (for all intents & purposes).  It’s not just that the Americans tried to simplify spelling or started driving on the wrong side of the road or even that they made turkey an everyday protein rather than a special-occasion one, after a “number” of years at living in different parts of the globe we’re all different now.  It intrigues me so as I dwell on it some more be sure to get more posts on this topic.

And, it was interesting speaking to some of my readers about what they like hearing about, what they want more of and how much more they want.  The main thing everyone had in common was surprise that celebs actually walk around and do things normal people do (clearly not trash mag buyers!).

Two things hit me:

  1. Keep my blog dream alive–everyone is interested in life in LA and wants to hear more.
  2. Celebrities are just normal people.  It sounds strange to say but somehow because they’ve been successful in movies or TV Shows or created a phenomenal band and we see pics of them on the red carpet etc we don’t imagine them to be real.  They are.  They really are!  More to come on this too but in the meantime I’ll leave you with one thought … yes, celebrities fart too.

Meanwhile back in LA …

There was another earthquake over the weekend–bigger and more damage than the one that freaked me out.  Lucky for us it wasn’t as frightening where we are because the epicentre was much further away.  I thought there might be one while we were away.  I’m adopting the positive-thinking approach though and have a feeling there won’t be a big one like the “Shamrock Shake” for a while.

xxx It Started in LA xxx

Link to the Britannia Inn’s website if you want to book in lunch or dinner.  Especially if you live nearby, you’d be mad not to.

 

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