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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Colin's Ice Hockey Stadiums Visits

One more essay I announced in the Illinois post, and if you don't care about hockey, feel free to skip it ;-)

I remember when I was pregnant, and we were wondering how this whole parenting thing was going to go down for us, I said to Christian "you know if it's a boy the two of you can watch the play-offs together." I must have had a premonition of some sort. 

Because these days I feel like I am the ultimate hockey mom.

While Colin's same age friends like to build castles from Lego bricks, Colin likes to play with Lego as well. Just he builds hockey sticks. And pairs them with the appropriate laminated team logo and plays their goal music. 

During the holidays he insisted he needed "Christmas logos" for his teams.

He refuses to go to sleep and studies the team rosters or  plays with his autographed player pictures instead. He knows their jersey number, how old they are and what teams they were previously playing for.

And he uses every opportunity to meet his "friends", the players, at skateathons and other events. He's not shy to tell them not to commit so many fouls or compliment them on a specific goal.

Nino Niederreiter
Reto Suri
Mark Streit
Romano Lemm
So of course when planning a vacation, his concern is "how many stadiums am I going to see, and will the fan store carry soft sticks?"
He plays with his indoor sticks and pucks every day and comments his every move "and he scooooores!"

Unfortunately those sticks are not of a very long lasting quality, and he needs constant fresh supply. Which turned out to be hard when we were visiting numerous arenas during the lockout in October 2012 (of course when we had booked this trip, we counted on watching a couple of games) 



So this time with the play-off finals still going on we thought the chances of scoring some merchandise would be better. Not the case. They were in full summer mode! Selling basketball stuff, hosting boygroup concerts or being just plain closed.


St. Louis

While I am typing this, Colin and I are up in the middle of the night, hello jet-lag.

And of course he thinks it is important to mention that in 2011 we explored some other arenas as well.

So here goes:

New York
And with the mention that we feel ice hockey is being neglected by U.S. retail I am closing for today.


When we were watching him and the two dozen other kids running around on the playground a couple of days ago my husband said "do you realize, one of them could become a Stanely Cup winner in about 20 years?!"

Who knows ;-)

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Last Days Tales

As promised in the Illinois blog post this is a collection of dicey situations we got ourselves into during our travels, especially on the famous last day. 

Let's see. 

Number one was totally my fault. 2003 we had been visiting different regions in the U.S. like Chicago, Arizona and New Orleans, and the last four days we spent in NYC. It was cold, rainy and over all unpleasant. Coming from the Southwest, most people in the big apple seemed rude and ripping off tourists. So I was kind of glad to get out of there. 

A taxi that ate up all of my remaining dollar cash brought us to Newark Liberty International Airport. 

Things  were looking good. We were there early, and the line at the check-in counter was short. The passenger in front of us had a cat as their travel partner, and they went back and forth about the cat needing to be checked in, and what cage was needed, and what form to fill in, what do I know. It took a lot of time until it was finally our turn. 

The clerk looked at our passports and tickets and frowned. "I am sorry, there is no flight going to Zurich, Switzerland tonight", he said. Haha, bad joke, of course there was a flight! "Yeah, but not out of Newark - you guys need to go to JFK, and you better hurry!" 

What a punch in the stomach! 

Was it even worth the effort, could we make it in time?

Shuffling together our bags and getting in line at the taxi stand, I realized we didn't have any cash left. Certainly not enough for a 35 miles ride from New Jersey to Queens. 

Running through the airport in search of an ATM, I kept thinking why the h* had I been so sure we needed to depart from Newark? Up until that day I don't know.

Our driver was a Russian holding a PhD in math or physics or something along that line who made it his personal mission to get us there in time, never mind rush hour. During the ride, or should I say "race", I texted a friend who is a flight attendant asking her about our options. Of course I was on my last battery bar. 
Piotr, our driver, did a wonderful job and got a fat tip. We were really hopeful we could make it. The snotty check-in person didn't think so. The airplane was still here, but the door was about to close. Sorry. Come back tomorrow.


It was clear that there was no point arguing.

So for the second time we picked up our bags and left. This time we wouldn't take a taxi but some hotel shuttle bus. It was in the old days where you had to pick up a red phone and got connected with a random airport hotel. 

We had to give the Ramada clerk our credit card details on the phone and were told to wait for the bus. We were waiting for about 45 minutes and saw various hotel shuttles coming and going, but nor ours. As we didn't have Ramada's phone number, we just boarded the next best bus and checked into that hotel, I don't even remember what it was. 

It was also a time when hotels didn't provide free wireless internet, but you had to ask for an ethernet cable and pay for a 24 hours internet access package, even if you just needed half an hour, but we had to to cancel the Ramada (they were giving us such a hard time claiming we just didn't wait long enough for the bus and didn't want to give us our money back) and check out "stand-by procedures" and prices for new tickets. 

We left the next morning, looking at a perfectly blue sky and sunshine and luckily got our seats back home. 

Number two was also my fault. I had accumulated frequent traveler miles that were about to expire, so I was determined to redeem them and get free flights. 
We ended up getting seats for the following itinerary:

Zurich - Geneva - JFK - Washington D.C. - Miami

It was a bit of a stretch, but hey, we only paid for the airport tax (with four landings it started to add up, though.) The flight back would be much better: 

Miami - JFK - Zurich, easy peasy. Or so we thought. 

The lady who checked us in, said she could only do so for the Miami - JFK part. The other flight was blocked in her system. Why would THAT be, please? Because the transfer time was less than 90 minutes. And 90 minutes was the minimum requirement to make sure the bags could be unloaded, brought to another terminal and loaded onto the other aircraft. 

OMG! I started sweating. I had chosen the shorter layover on purpose because I didn't want to hang out at the airport for hours and hours!! 

So what should we do, we asked her?

Get your bags yourself and re-check them.

Now HOW should WE be able to do this, if not even the cargo guys with their fancy conveyer belt system couldn't do it???

Again I texted my flight attendant friend who told us to just forget about the bags and run, so at least we could make the flight. Nooo! My nice purchases :-( 

Before descending, the captain explained he needed some more time, so the airport fire fighters would be there upon our landing. Something about the landing gear, just a precaution, nothing to worry about.

Just what we needed. Delayed arrival. Less than less than 90 minutes. We ended up not needing the firefighters, but it sure looked dramatic, all the fire trucks and police cars with their flashing lights and sirens on waiting for us to touch the ground.

We had decided to assign the tasks as follows: Christian would get our bags and I should play for time at the check-in counter. Which I did, and the people there were very friendly and patient. They even called a guy who would personally take our bags to the plane - if only they would arrive any minute now, because they needed to close the gate. I assured them it was only a matter of minutes. 

The other clerks were done for the day and were waiting for "my" team so they could go and have cocktails. It was Friday around 4 or 5pm. I so wanted to buy them drinks to thank them for their helpfulness. Christian arrived with our bags, the girl had our boarding passes and bag labels ready and said "now RUN WITH ME!" She took off her high heels and ran off. 

Approaching security screening, she yelled at the officers "they are good, let them through!"

This was by far the best NYC experience ever! We flopped into our seats panting and sweating, and a couple of minutes later we were taxiing to the runway.

Numbers three to five were minor car accidents:

On our last night of a Boston stay we were headed to an Outback Steakhouse when, out of the blue from beyond the divider, a tire came bouncing at us, hit our left front and bounced off even more to other cars behind us. We felt kind of silly telling the rental agent "we were hit by a tire." But this was exactly what happened.

On a Friday, Sept 13, I think it was in 2002, a girl called April bumped into us in Santa Cruz, CA. We had been driving around in search of a restroom for me, and it seemed that all the fast food places around there didn't have one. The moment we collided, I spotted a Chinese restaurant. (And no, I was not driving!!), so I just jumped out of the car and into the restaurant. The other driver felt bad because she thought she had caused me to puke or something. Gwen, the nicest police officer, took our statements and a phone call from her fiancé confirming weekend plans. All very relaxed and friendly.

Another acquaintance by accident was Kenny in New Orleans. He was in a rental moving truck, we were in our rental car, and somehow we wanted to change lanes at the same time, one coming from the left, the other from the right lane. When the police inspected our red Swiss passports, he was stunned: "oh, you are from out of town?"


Number six just happened this vacation and involved Freddie from Dallas. Looks like we are making a habit of "meeting people on the street" ;-)
This time the police didn't even bother to show up. No injuries, no major damage, no fuss.

Oh, number seven is fun to read (now that it's over)

It was with my Markus, ex-boyfriend, yes, the one with the basketball player hotel suite (see Tennessee blog post), it must have been on the last day of the same Florida trip. We had a couple of hours to kill, and he suggested we'd go to the mall. Gotta love a guy who wants to go shopping! 
It was some time in the late 1990s, just mentioning this, because we didn't have a GPS in the car. Important detail.

So it was easy to find the way to the mall. It was getting back to the car rental return that turned out to be difficult. We had a certain exit in mind that we needed to take, but it didn't show up. We took an exit much further out than we should have and drove back. Again, no luck. And the clock was ticking, and we were getting nervous. I don't remember how many times we cruised around that airport in Tampa, but it was getting seriously late. 

At some point we spotted a shuttle of our rental company. Yay, we could follow it, and it would lead us right to where we needed to go. Or not. It was on its way to pick up new customers at arrival. 
Considering the time was getting tight and tighter, we were desperate. We switched on the emergency flasher and got out of the car right at arrivals, approached the shuttle driver, gave him the keys and said we were terribly sorry, but we needed to catch an international flight, and could he please make sure our car would get back to where it belonged.  "You will be charged a penalty fee" he said. Yeah, fine, whatever. It couldn't be worse than missing our flight. And it wasn't. It was 80 bucks. Later, all buckled up in our seats, sipping on something with lots of ice to cool us down, we were joking and saying we should have saved us the trouble and done that half an hour earlier ;-)

Number eight: A year or two later, we spent time in the California / Nevada area, specifically it wasn't a "last day" for once, but somewhere in the middle. We wanted to explore Death Valley and had made a reservation at Panamintsprings Resort. It was late afternoon, early evening when we entered the National Park, and he was driving. I mention this because I couldn't see the fuel gauge and maybe prevent what was going to happen. 

You guessed right, at some point we were getting low on gas. 

In the middle of the desert.

It was getting dark, and you could hear coyotes howling. An eerie atmosphere. 

Given that the NP map stated that there would be a gas station at our accommodation we were not too worried, though. Only upon our arrival the gas station looked like it had gone out of business years ago. And unfortunately it was true. No gas at Panamint Springs. Until today their website says differently, though! 

You've got to make it till Stovepipe Wells, we got told. If you don't make it, stay in your car and wait for a ranger on patrol duty. Make sure you have enough water with you. 
NOW I was worried. It was only 30 miles, but we had gone into reserve mode a while ago. 

The next morning we got up early, and a scorpio in the shower  caused me to actually not take a shower. We were on our way early, so we could avoid the extreme heat. Even so, at 6am the air was flickering. We were driving as low-speed as possible as to not to use up too much fuel. I even urged him to switch off a/c as surely this was fuel consuming as well. 

To cut the long story short, we made it to Panamint springs. Boy, were we glad to see a gas station!

When I entered the store and said I wanted to pay for our gas, the lady asked "what pump?" I told her. She looked down on her display, then out of the window at the car, then she looked at me and said "no way! You did not put that amount of gas in THAT car! Did you push it here?" 


Friday, June 28, 2013

Oh boy, what's going on in Illinois?

During our stopover (June 10) we touched base with Chicago already, and look who was welcoming us, Jonathan Toews, captain of the Blackhawks. And wow, this sure looked like it was meant to be!

When we came back to Chicago (June 24) the first place we went to was the United Center that the Blackhawks share with the Bulls. Somebody must have climbed onto the Michael Jordan statue and put a hockey shirt on it ;-)

Apart from that and the fact that there were "no tickets - sold out" signs on the windows, nothing indicated that great things were going to happen only a couple of hours later!

We made our way to the downtown hotel and walked a couple of blocks to find a place for dinner.

If some inattentive receptionist ruined our experience at HRC (see Pouring in Missouri) where at least the food was at its usual good quality, we actively disliked the "famous stuffed pizza" and the "service" at  Giordano's. And I realize this is some prestigious thing, and maybe it was just a bad day at one specific location, but we will not go back there! 
Oh, and after waiting for that pizza for 50 minutes, of course, by the time we got the check, it was pouring outside!

I think  there must be a correlation between a bad experience at a restaurant and the weather?! The best we could do was spend some time next door where a nice guy fed us some sweet stuff: 

But not too much time, because we wanted to be back at the hotel for the 6th game!

We were a bit conflicted about the desired outcome.

Colin was rooting for Boston, and if they won this game, there would be a game 7 which we would miss, because it would take place on Wednesday evening when we would be on our flight back to Switzerland.

And if Chicago won tonight, well, we would be here to share the joy! Never mind that the game actually took place in Boston. 

And the Bruins were leading 1:2 for a long time. But then Bryan Bickell tied late into the 3rd period, and we thought, "yay, overtime, more hockey to watch!", but only 17 seconds later, Dave Bolland scored again for the Blackhaks, and I think I was like most people, I just thought "wait a minute, where did THAT come from, I can't believe they turned in around!"

Colin was so angry! He wanted to switch off the TV and not see or hear anything anymore. Fortunately he came around and watched the interviews and the players hoisting the Stanley Cup. Outside we heard fireworks but couldn't see it. Too bad! I would have liked some taste of July 4th!

The next day we went back to the stadium. This time the trailer was open for business and selling merchandise. Looks like  some people were thinking ahead and printed millions of "Stanley Cup Champions" shirts in advance! 
Also the fan shop downtown was crowded, people were buying jerseys, license plate frames, key rings, everything! I will shut up about hockey now because I plan on writing a separate post about Colin's visits to hockey stadiums: My son, the hockey fanatic

As per Colin's wish we then drove to the Woodfield mall in Schaumburg where last time he had a great time at the Looney Tunes playground. And also this time, he thoroughly enjoyed himself, making new friends and running around like a madman!

Nice Cheesecake Factory dinner, then back to the hotel for my least favorite part: packing! 

Last day, last IHOP visit!

Then Starbucks for the "dreadful" postcard writing.

And Starbucks lovers know what kind of music they usually play, right? This time, just when we sat down with our beverages, this is what we heard, much to C's delight:

Entering "post office" into our GPS brought us to a place where absolutely no post office was to be found. On to the next address - it took us to a mail processing facility. 

And the clock was ticking. It always is on the last day. I could write a book about last days and things going wrong. Actually, I think I will. In a different post. I did: Last Days Tales

For now, a nice lady at this distribution center gave me a valid USPS address, and of course on our way to there - ding! "low gas alert". 

As I could also write a bit about (almost) running out of gas, we didn't want to risk anything on our last day, so we stopped again at a gas station. 

Next destination: car return. Red lights, cars, cars, cars, drizzle, swish, drizzle, swish, still red light, clock ticking. 

We knew we would have to do some paperwork at the car rental, because when we hit that car in Dallas, there was no "incident report form" in glove compartment. 
Also, when trying to do the online check-in thing last night, hubby could only do so for himself, but not for us, meaning we would have to do the stand-in-line thing at the airport.

But of course, when you plan enough time for everything, things go smoothly. We made it!

Thank you for being part of our trip!