I was traveling overseas recently, and didn't get around to telling my credit card company that I was going until I was already gone. So I logged into their website to send a secure message from my account. A couple days later, I got a reply that was pleasant enough, and they said for security reasons, I have to call them to confirm my overseas status.
Later on, down in their message, they were kind enough to remind me of what to expect if I use the account outside the US. Here's what they said:
Additionally, please be aware that if you use your card for retail purchases at foreign merchants or for cash withdrawals from foreign ATMs, our Foreign Transaction Fee will apply. For transactions converted to U.S. Dollars, we will add a Foreign Transaction Fee of 3% times the resulting U.S. Dollar amount. If your foreign transaction is processed by Visa and is in, or converted to, U.S. Dollars prior to being processed by Visa, we will add a Foreign Transaction Fee of 2% times the U.S. Dollar amount.
I don't recall what their Foreign Transaction Fee is, but it wasn't much. I don't recall ever seeing one before traveling overseas this year; I'm inclined to think it is one of those "junk fees" that banks are imposing on nearly everything these days.
What really caught my eye starts with the second sentence. The first sentence:
For transactions converted to U.S. Dollars, we will add a Foreign Transaction Fee of 3% times the resulting U.S. Dollar amount.
To me, this sounds like they want to be the ones to do the currency conversion. If the merchant does it for you, such as was offered to me at the counter at Harrod's in London last June, they will tack on 3%. Or, if I were to have a transaction in dollars, and happen to be overseas, they tack on 3%.
The third sentence is a bit more mysterious.
If your foreign transaction is processed by Visa and is in, or converted to, U.S. Dollars prior to being processed by Visa, we will add a Foreign Transaction Fee of 2% times the U.S. Dollar amount.
This sounds a lot like the situation described in the first sentence, which to my understanding is if the transactiontakes place on non-US soil, they'll add a fee. Now the second sentence, the way I read it, says that they will tack on a fee if you have a transaction that's done in dollars, but not on US soil.
But upon reading it again, it seems to me that the third sentence means that instead of the standard Foreign Transaction Fee, if you have a transaction overseas that's in US dollars, then the FTF jumps to 2%.
I wonder why they do this. I'm sure it must be just to take a little off the top. Any way the banks can.
So this goes to show, if a merchant outside the US offers to charge your card in US dollars, instead of seeing it as a convenience, look at it as a way for (probably) the merchant to make a few pence on the transaction, and your credit card company too. And decline. When in Rome, and all that.
I woke up around 8:30am. That is SO late! Rita was already up. Coffee was made. After a leisure morning tweeting replies to Carlton Ave School, doing email, and after a breakfast of pancakes, I went outside to change out training wheels. But Harold said it's ok, keep the old ones on. We took off on the trail where he realized, He is really scared of downhill. Says to me, Dad, do you know why I don't like downhills? Why?, I asked. Because it freaks me out, he says. Ha!
We went all the way to the park via the paved trail, which is about a mile from the cabin. He started to really get/understand the bike riding thing. Sister was riding along with us too. Rita met up w/ us few min later w/ waters, gatorade.
After a while of playing on the playground and swing set, we went back to the cabin, had lunch, then departed for Truckee. We visited one of the coolest stores on the hill, Mountain Hardware, the Ace Hardware store in Truckee. We visited Rita's long time friend, Sonya, who moved to Truckee about twenty years ago, successfully making the transition from bay area to mountain living. Watched her boys at football practice, and boy are they getting big!
Afterwards, we made our way back to Kings Beach, and the Berrys were already there. I grilled fajitas while we all just hung out; it was all good. The Baby Weber grill at the cabin is a bit scary on that little table we set it on. I had to guard it all the while cooking or else kids or dogs might bump it, spilling coals, and setting the deck, the cabin, the forest on fire! May not be a good idea to grill here anymore. Needless to say, we went to bed early.
I worked all day at home, and finally quit about 5:30. Rita had been packing all the kids' stuff and everything else into the garage, our staging area. Once I was done working, I packed up the bikes, including those of the Berry's, into the trailer and we finally left around 7PM for dinner at Burrito Factory. We departed, hit the road for Tahoe after dinner about 7:30.
We made it all the way to Sacramento before needing to stop for fuel and a bio break. We stopped on Florin Rd in Sacramento, and though there was nothing weird going on, there were some shady looking groups of young men hanging around the gas stations away from the freeway. So we hurried it up.
It was smooth sailing the whole way, from the south bay to Sacramento, through Roseville, all the way up the mountain, through Truckee, and into Kings Beach. We encountered no traffic issues, which was probably because a) we were laving on a late Thursday, and b) there was the Rim Fire near Yosemite, whose smoke, reportedly heading north east over Tahoe, probably scared many people into staying home.
We arrived at cabin at midnight, straight up. We unloaded bikes and everything else from the trailer and back of the truck, and finally reached lights out at 1:30am. Wow, that's late for the kiddos!
Cousin family from Oceanside came to visit post-[solstice|christmas]. Always good to see them, see their little girl growing up, luckily we can allow that to happen alongside our own Penny. The two are only about 6 months in age difference.
Highlight of the visit was a trip to San Francisco to see the SF Ballet's production of Nutcracker. I'm no ballet critic, so I won't say much about it other than it was a fine venue (War Memorial Opera House), a spectacular scene (my favorite was the dancing in the snow), and a great orchestra playing the music live.
Our day was supposed to start with a Caltrain ride up to SF, but after doing some research in time, cost, itinerary, etc, we determined it would be best to drive. We parked at the Civic Center garage and then hoofed it up Hyde Street to Jackson where we were suppsed to catch the cable car that could take us to Ghirardelli Square. When we arrived at the stop, there was already a tourist party of about 8 waiting for the cable car, and we were to add another eight to the mix. When the car arrived, it was already packed, with people hanging off the sides like you always see in the pictures. The operators asked if there was any parties of one, as that's all the room they had available. We ended up walking the rest of the way to the Square, putting about two miles of up and down SF streets behind us. And I had an extra 40 pounds on my shoulders as Harold was enjoying a shoulder ride the entire time.
By the time we arrived at Ghirardelli Square, it was getting close to lunch time, so we found The Pub open for lunch, with an acceptably child friendly menu to appease the moms with us.
After lunch, we went into the Ghirardelli shop next door to The Pub for a few chocolate bars, then it was getting close enough in time to consider making our way back to the Civic Center area, which is where the Opera House is located. We caught two cabs back all the way across town via Hyde Street (wow, we DID walk a long way!). Being early, we stopped by the parking garage so the girls could change into their fancier clothes they brought, semi-fancy dresses appropriate for the occasion.
We then made our way over to the Opera House and were seated. It was a fine show, and I would certainly do it again, though probably not every year. Going to the ballet is a singular affair, and I would certainly not want to spoil the experience by going too frequently.
After the show, everyone was tired enough such that our plans changed. We had a vague notion of making our way to Union Square to view the Christmas Tree and see all the holiday decorations that should still have been up (despite it being several days after Dec 25). Instead, we decided to just head back down to the south bay and catch dinner at a local Italian restaurant.
After living in the bay area for most of my life, going to SF still is a tourist experience for me. I used to dread going, but these days, I find it to be a treat as I have a different attitude about it. Flexibility and the right attitude make a world of difference.
We arrived into Aptos after dark, traffic over the hill was not entirely terrible, most likely due to the weather (it had been drizzling all day, cold) and the fact that we are so close to the holidays. We didn't want to cook, weren't planning on it, so we decided on pizza for Penny and dad, and perhaps spaghetti and meatballs for Harold and mom. Italian it was! We put our trust into the GPS, which led us to Ristorante Barolo, at the Bayview Hotel in downtown Aptos.
What a lovely dinner it was. With kids behaving themselves in this upper scale restaurant, and a piano available for the practice, we had a very nice time despite no pizza (!) and no meatballs (!!) and no spaghetti (!!!). Penny did some practicing of her recent recital music to the acclaim of nearly all the fellow diners. If only she had a tip jar! And after we were through with the meal, we decided to wait to hear the band, which had been setting up nearly the entire time we were eating. The band turned out to be jut two women, one on guitar and the other strictly vocals, who playing various popular songs. The performance was entirely in the seating area of the old hotel (est 1870, according to the sign out front) in front of the fireplace. With lights turned down low, and the tall holiday tree lit brightly, it was a cheery time, enjoyable as we haven't had for quite some time.
Saturday saw us out of the house fairly early. We went to Seacliff and played in the sand, making trails with the biggest sticks we could find, and exploring the visitor center for a good hour or 90 minutes. Toward the end of that time, I had to ask Rita, Do we have a teenager yet? Moods were bad until we had lunch. Amazing what chemical balance can do to a set of moods, the lot of us, in fact!
Then, we made our way through town and the light rain to the Seymour Marine Discovery Center, a part of the Joseph M. Long Marine Laboratory in north Santa Cruz. We took the tour, which was mainly outside, which was rainy, cold. We saw the dolphins. We saw the two full-on whale skeletons. In the visitors center, there are lots of exhibits. Rob petted a shark and Penny pretended to. The place tries to encourage visitors (children, assuming, as well as everyone else) to become a researcher, a scientist. Awesome. The place is a low profile gem, and I'm surprised I had never heard of it before.
After the science center, we went to the boardwalk area to enjoy snacks and happy hour at a deserted Mexican place (deserted mainly because of the weather, the location was prime). Chicken nachos, beers and wine. Then the boardwalk was visited with the games center. Outside near the railroad tracks, we saw Thomas the Tank Engine, and finally boarded our Santa Express. A half hour out, a half hour back, average about 7 mi/hr. Santa, carols, holiday trees, stoves and hot cider onboard.
It was a full day. It was great to be able to go back to the beach house and crash rather than driving back over windy highway 17. Next morning, we were out by 9:30AM, ready for a pal's birthday party at 11AM.