Thursday, December 20, 2007
"Oh la la madamoiselle!" she clicked and got out a small little book to find a special phone number. (Incidentally, I love being called "madamoiselle," I find it charming and much better than being called madam). I understood enough French that the computer was claiming there was no boarding pass for me to Chicago. Quoi?? When she was off the phone, she sadly told me that my flight to Zurich (now leaving in 20 minutes) was fine but my flight to Chicago was delayed until 17:45. Seventeen?!! It was supposed to leave at 12:55. Flights that leave at 17:45 are not supposed to fly 9 hours away!! Anyway she was so sweet and felt bad for me that my lunch voucher was only 20 CHF, she told me to lie and say I hadn't gotten one so I could get a better lunch. Ha!!
So, as I have still over 3 hours to kill, this post will be quite random and wandering.
I went to the ATM which is great because the UBS atms can also dispense Euros, Pounds and dollars. If you are a worldly girl like me, you might have noticed that the exchange rate on the dollar is not so good these days. Well, that's good for me, because I get a lot more Francs than I ever got dollars. I have been too lazy to actually make a transfer of funds but I needed to do all my Christmas shopping at home still. So I hit the ATM very very hard to get my dollars needed for 2 weeks of partying and shopping. I got 800 dollars (we got paid a week early for Christmas, isn't that nice??). Except they only come out in 20s....oops. If anyone sees my wallet, they are going to either rob me or turn me into the poliezi!!
I landed in Zurich and used my lunch voucher. I calculated that my lunch was 23CHF (15CHF pizza plus 5 CHF salad plus 3chf coca light) so I was preparing to pay more. Instead, the woman at the counter asked me if I wanted a free Tobelerone. Um, what?? OK!!! Maybe my little friend back in Geneva made some calls for me.
I read about 200 pages in my book and did a little shopping and now I am at a weird internet cafe. The first computer ate 5 francs and shut off after 3 minutes, which is total crap. This one seems ok.
NOW, let's talk about airports. And the Europeans that are in them. And why I don't understand.
1) MOVING QUICKLY. No one over here understands the concept of moving quickly. I mean WALKING. I was running through the airport to make it to my flight, literally running and I get behind Shuffling Sham and Sharon and cannot get around them. MOVE people! Or don't take up so much room! I don't even understand how you can even move that slow. Then, I was running through the security line (still behind Sham and Sharon) which was thank god empty except for me and them and they would NOT move to a belt or take their bags to go somewhere or anything. They both just stood there in my way, turning around in a daze and not attempting to move through the line. The kicker is I knew that they were on a flight to Helsinki which also left at 1020, same as mine (it is now 1005). Are you high?? (actually, I did mutter this under my breath, because I saw NO WAY that any person whose plane was about to leave would act like that, unless they were high)
2) QUEUEING. Be proud to know how to wait in line, my fellow Americans. We may grumble and crowd but we are NO cutters. It must be because we are raised so well - "No cuts no buts no coconuts" and taunts of "she CUUuuuuuuUUUUUt!!!" from a young age. I first learned about this phenomenon when I was in India in 2006. However I figured there are a billion people in the country and they are probably used to having to fight crowds everywhere and it is just natural. So, you would imagine my surprise in orderly, orderly Switzerland, that there are just as many cutters here!!! And unlike Indian cutters, Euro cutters are RUDE and think it is their birthright to cut you. I got in the back of a super long line to check in at the airport and this entire family suddenly pulls up next to me trying to get in front of me. I shot the woman a totally dirty look and she ignored me, but she had to answer her phone or something so I reclaimed my proper place in line. heheheh. But later while I was checking my phone, I was cut again by some ipod wearing jerk who ignored my cold stares. Why do you think it is ok to cut?!! I saw it happen at least 10 times. Forget, incidentally, about skiing or getting a drink at a bar, those places are 100 times worse than the airport. But checking in at the airport is generally such a miserable experience that it would really be doing humanity a favor if these people would learn not to cut!
Well. I'm down to about a minute here so I'll post this bad boy and go. Its now 230. And they don't sell english books here. Off to make some fun for myself in the Zurich airport and hopefully hopefully see some of you soon!
And of course gentle readers, Happiest of Holidays and New Years to you. Looking forward to more adventures in 2008!! Aufwiedersein Au Revoir and goodbye!
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Another thing that is great about animals here is they are bilingual. Seriously. I know a lot of people who give commands to their pets in English and French and they LISTEN. A little sad that the canine population of Switzerland probably has a better grasp on a second language than a majority of Americans? Also dogs are welcome everywhere, as I have said before. I have actually never seen an animal misbehave when I am out and about so I guess it works. I don't know if I would take my dog to IKEA but in Switzerland it is your prerogative to do so.
Here are some pictures of Pat and Fleur, my weekend guests. Thanks to Karen for letting me see them when they were babies, and to Geoff and Severine, to whom these little guys actually belong to!
To be honest I'm not 100% positive this is them...but I think so. There were 4 and 2 were all grey (the girls) and both boys had a little white face. This is from when they were born in May. Pat has the white face.
I love this picture! C'est trop chou!!
Here's Justin with Pat at the end of July when we went to watch them. Check out how fuzzy he is (Pat, not Justin).
Ok then I took a few more funny ones this weekend...generally all in various stages of napping or waking up.
Pat feels the same way I do about reading Circular 230
Saturday, December 15, 2007
1) People always assume that you don't have a very active social life and you become the designated friend. Dinner invitations, nights drinking after work, trips in town or out of town - you get invited to pretty much everything. And it has definitely been to my advantage to accept about as many of these as I possibly can because then suddenly it does fill up your social calendar!
2) People assume that you don't like cooking "for one" and always give you leftovers or other treats. You get sent home with things after parties. Most people I know are only 2 at home anyway so if they make a big meal, somehow leftovers will appear for me at the office the next day. I cannot tell you how many free lunches I have had (I know there is no such thing, but you get the idea), cookies, chocolate, etc. It doesn't hurt that I'm not a picky eater eiher. Only a gift of olives would be returned.
3) And finally, if you are an animal lover like me, you become the resident pet sitter for your office. I wrote previously about my time with the famous Java. I have watched him since then without incident (thank God) and will likely watch him a few more times. But what is great about this is you basically get the experience of having your own pet without the responsibility of having to deal with it all the time.
Also I have done a lot of cat sitting. As much as I wanted to bring Hiccup and Rookie to Switzerland, it would not have been a good idea, and I think they are much happier with my mom. Anyway, earlier this year in May, my friend's cat had kittens. Two of them went to a girl in my office and the other two went to a guy I work with as well, Geoff. Geoff used to live only about 2 blocks from me and had to go out of town a few weekends this summer, so I was called upon to watch Pat and Fleur (brother and sister). The best part about watching these guys is that I met them when they were teeeeeeny - I could hold both of them in my one hand. Ever since they have gotten bigger and more rambunctious and crazy. But they are so sweet that it's hard to get mad at them. They pretty much like to follow you wherever you go and lick your toes and snuggle you. And they trashed a lot of things at Geoff's apartment, but that is the beauty of just having to go watch them at someone else's place!
Anyway, Geoff just left for holiday and needed a catsitter for one week before another friend could take them. So now they are with me. At this moment, picture me sitting and typing in this blog...Pat is laying SPRAWLED out across me, with his head on my one arm, curled up toward my chest, sleeping, with his one leg perched up on top of my other arm, obviously ignoring the fact that I am typing about him. I mean so freaking cute. My cats NEVER do that and I think they must have had a rough childhood before we got them because they are so absolutely spoiled that would be the only possible explanation.
Oh one other thing. Pat can open doors. He leaps up one meter in the air and brings the door handle down with him. So you can imagine that I didn't get much sleep last night. I did get quite a few nuzzles though.
For now I am off to the store to get some study treats because I have another exam on Tues. But me (and Pat and Fleur) will update you on our weekend adventures.
Monday, December 03, 2007
I doubled checked the back label and this peanut butter was legitimately imported from the U.S. So Switzerland can power their country without using fossil fuels, but they don't know how to make peanut butter. Interesting....
Lows - in no particular order (boo)
1) When I went to a work party last Feb and could not understand a word of French and went home and cried
2) One day in April when I had a really bad day at work and then promptly lost CHF 300 in the casino and went home and cried
3) The day after Justin left in Sept and I went home and saw a glass he had used the day before and cried
4) January last year in the office when I got a bucketload of work dumped on me (promised to never happen again...we will find out in 4 weeks)
5) Hearing them sing take me out to the ballgame at a Cubs game on tv...I teared up
1) Going to the top of Mt. Pilatus with Aimee and Chris
2) Hiking in First, Switzerland with Justin (and Aimee and Chris, seperately)
3) Snowboarding in Zermatt
4) The first time I ordered delivery in French
5) Martini and Rib (and singalong) night at Dave and Lisa's
Ok, well, I wrote this list in about 5 minutes. And it took me about 4 minutes to come up with the lows and 1 to come up with the highs, and I have so many more of those highs I could list. Actually the intent was not really to say that I have sooo many more highs than lows, because believe me honey, it don't feel like that all the time. It's pretty easy to get caught up in the lows and concentrate on that - same as in your normal daily life. I mean isn't it so much easier to get annoyed with some stupid idiot who sent you an e-mail than it is to get jazzed up about a nice e-mail a friend sent you a few days ago? Or more easy to get annoyed about having to stay late at work for a week than to remember the day you skipped to snuggle with your boyfriend. But I guess I do have more highs than lows, which is good!
So anyway, I guess my point is that this past year, while at times it has been super hard, and I have complained a LOT and cried to my mom, to Justin, by myself, to guys I work with that weirded them out...it has also been as well one of the most rewarding years of my life. Being all on my own can be hard, but at the same time, all the failures and successes are pretty much entirely mine, which makes them that much harder or sweeter. An interesting year for sure. Which is by all accounts better than an easy boring one.
Well well, I wasn't planning to post about this, but I guess my writer's block is over. My goals (briefly) for the next year:
1) Improve my French where I can talk to all my friends in the office easily
2) Learn to ski
3) Visit Ireland
4) Visit Spain
5) Visit Italian Switzerland
6) Read more books on my balcony (need visitors to help with this!!)
7) Stop leaving my laundry all over my bedroom floor
That's it for now. I am sure I'll come up with more, but I think these are good for the time being.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Saturday, October 13, 2007
So I finally joined the gym. And I have already gone 4 times...in one wee! Seriously I have not done that since my triathlon days! I mean I do like working out and exercising, but I'm just very busy, and very lazy, and I have a hard time getting motivated. I even bought a scale last week, and I have never owned one before. Apparently I have already lost 1.9 kilos since last week! However I think that 1.0-1.5 of those kilos was alcohol because I was out a lot this weekend (more on that later). I will keep you posted on my fitness...it's a good way to make me accountable!
The gym is connected to my office (like everything else), so it's very convenient. Observations in my first week at the "fitness:"
1) The machines are all really really nice! And they all have cable tv which is so exciting for me since I don't have tv. That alone is going to motivate me to go. The weight machines are all nice too, but I find it odd that the machines are called like "Leg Press" because the instructions are in French. Why isn't it called "Press de Jambe" or something like that?
2) They don't give you towels, which sucks. However everyone brings their own and naturally, being Swiss, they keep the machines scrupulously clean and always wipe off the sweat and clean them and etc etc. Very courteous.
3) Fitness Fashonistas: You know who I'm talking about. The people who go to the gym to see and be seen but not really work out. Well I will say that most of the people so far actually DO seem to work out, but being europeans, they wear some weird outfits. Examples:
- a guy wearing denim Keds with no socks
-a guy wearing an all white tracksuit with a "Texas" bandanna tied around his head like a cleaning lady
-a guy wearing super short shorts which showed his somewhat longer but still short, shorts tan line
-several guys wearing polo shirts
-a woman wearing flip flops - like the crappy shower sandal kind
-finally a guy wearing the tightest spandex shorts I have ever seen which also (brace yourselves) were so tight that you could see his little thong underwear underneath. Ewww!!
4) Another pro - everyone is very polite. Same with everywhere you go in Switzerland, you "bonjour" and "bonsoir" and "au revoir" people until you're blue in the face. Even at the gym this is true - when leaving the locker room a lot of women say bye (now read the part about the locker rooms...)
5) Finally, the locker rooms. You've been in one with some of those people who just LOVE to be naked. And as you may have heard, Europeans also LOVE to be naked (this stereotype is 100% justified). So, the locker room in a European gym is a complete nudefest. A free for all of bare breasts and buttocks and people just unabashedly struttin their stuff.The showers for example - the towel rack (and there is only 1) is outside of the shower stalls. So you have to leave it there and stroll in. While there are dividers between the stalls, there is no curtain and no door. So if you and someone else turn around at the same time, it's full frontal nudity. I'm not the most comfortable with my body (hence the reason I joined the gym), but it would be so much weirder to NOT walk around naked that you have no choice but to just follow (birthday) suit. So far I haven't really minded. But some of my co-workers are threatening to come with me. People who normally see me clothed I would really prefer NOT see me naked. At least not like so naked that I have to walk 100 feet before I can get clothes on naked. Anyway it's kind of funny. A bunch of ladies standing around totally naked talking in French. That's my life.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
I'm coming to you today with an important and easy request - to go someone else's blog.
My sister Aimee is friends with a woman in her law school class named Kim Klein. Last spring, Kim was diagnosed with breast cancer and has been very bravely sharing her story online. Her blog has been selected as a national finalist, and she is eligible to win a $10,000 scholarship if her blog receives the most votes out of the 20 finalists. Please take two minutes right now and go to her blog and then when you see "vote for me, national blogging contest" enter a vote for Kim Klein. This is a very nice, outgoing woman who is balancing a husband and two kids with chemo and law school.
Honestly, in my opinion, this woman deserves more than $10,000, she deserves a medal or sainthood!
I have read her blog and it is great. I encourage you to vote for her, and please pass this along to anyone else you know via a message on your blog or via a simple e-mail. The voting ends on October 28 at midnight.
Thanks everyone! And special thanks to Karee for telling me the link to Kim's blog wasn't working :)
Sunday, October 07, 2007
As much as I miss home sometimes, I have to say that Switzerland is one of the most interesting and unique countries in the world (in my opinion). I found out two facts about my current home over the weekend that I thought were pretty cool and wanted to share.
1) Politics in Switzerland
Switzerland is the purest form of "direct democracy." My interpretation of this (feel free to make your own) based on reading up on Wikipedia is that this is total bad-ass democracy that really has the people directly involved, and also cuts out a lot of the garbage seen with officials who are just representative of the people but push their own agendas too. The U.S. is also a direct democracy, but not to the extent that Switzerland is (e.g., at the federal level).
-Any citizen can challenge a law that has been passed by Parliament after getting 50,000 signatures in 100 days;
- Any citizen can seek an amendment to the constitution after getting 100,000 signatures in 18 months.
These two things, while pretty cool, can also fall under the subheading "Things that will work in Switzerland and no where else in the world."
-The government is headed up by this federal council of 7 people. Anyone can be elected to it or run for it if they are eligible to be elected to the National Council (basically the Swiss Parliament/Senate). The council together makes decisions and serves as the executive branch and collective presidency. The council is elected collectively to a 4 year term, and the presidency and vice presidency (largely figureheads only), rotate each year. Right now the President of Switzerland is a woman, Micheline Calmy-Rey. Yeah!
2) Swissies and the Environment
Ok, I have become somewhat freakishly environmentally conscious over here. But it's so easy that you feel guilty if you don't. Recycling is a breeze and there are containers all over the place to recycle. They pick up paper and cardboard once a week. I also compost my food because they pick that up too; there is a compost bin outside right next to the trash bins. It's actually very easy and it makes your garbage not smell disgusting, so you only take out little bitty compost bags instead of huge ass garbage bags. Anyway, there is a big incentive to recycle. Why? Because it is free. Garbage on the other hand, I have to buy special bags for (supposedly they WILL go through your trash if it's not in one of those and can fine you up to CHF 1,000).
On average over 76% of things that can be recycled in Switzerland, are recycled.
Finally, Switzerland runs on roughly 40% nuclear power and 60% hydroelectric power...therefore producing carbon emissions of a big fat zero.
Saturday, October 06, 2007
First of all, it's 3:30 in the morning here for me.
Secondly, that was one of the WORST baseball games I have ever seen. Can we all agree on that? Was there anything positive about the Cubs performance in that game? I honestly can't think of a single thing.
Third - things I have a problem with:
1) Grounding into 4 double plays (I know for sure 2 were inning ending, I was asleep for one of them so potentially 3),
2) O for 9 with runners in scoring position. I think the stat was something like 25 men left on base overall in the series? Does that even happen to normal teams in the playoffs? Or ever in a 3 game series?
3) My supposed Cub hero, Aramis Ramirez, batted a whopping .000. The only player as bad as that is A-Rod.
4) Former Cub Augie Ojeda batted .500 and former Cub Juan "Lose" Cruz was lights out in relief.
5) You don't strike out looking in the playoffs!!! Swing the freaking bat!!!
The Cubs had about 100 opportunities to not only take the lead, but just to SCORE A RUN and they wasted every single one. It was really really disappointing. I know I haven't been a Cubs fan for very long considering how long some people have been going through this, but really, this was ridiculous. At least in 2003, even though that was a horrible horrible loss, they fought hard against the Braves and advanced and then they lost in 7 games to the Marlins. They tried. I don't think they ever gave themselves a chance to win. And it really pissed me off that most of the time the players were sitting on the bench instead of up against the dugout fence all excited. It's the playoffs!! Not some meaningless late season game!
Finally, does anyone else think it's complete crap that expansion teams like the stupid ass Diamondbacks and Marlins are winning in the playoffs. I just don't think it's fair that these teams that have been around for 10-15 years already have championships and in some cases more, when you have teams like the Cubs and Phillies that have been suffering for a looooong time. I am rooting for the Indians at this point.
This is a real tough one to stomach. And where a week ago, I was wishing I was catching this all from my front deck or smashed into a Wrigley bar, I am really really glad that I am in the Friendly Confines of Geneva, as it will make it a little easier.
The only question that still remains is...Lou, do you believe us now about the Curse?!
Saturday, September 29, 2007
You know the rest.
Well you can all thank me for moving to Switzerland, because the Cubs would not have made the playoffs otherwise. Seriously. It's quite simple.
In the year I live across the street from Wrigley, the Cubs lose 96 games.
In the year I move 5,000 miles away, to a different country, where I cannot even watch baseball unless it is on my computer and it is a day game...
To thank me, you can all contribute towards the plane ticket I will buy IF the Cubs make it far enough! I might have a bit of a tough time convincing my work that I need to fly home in the middle of a week for a baseball game.
Anyway I am very very excited about the Cubs - I slept in a Cubs t shirt last night, wore another one today (clean one of course), read every article on chicagosports.com and espn.com. And I drank a beer. I feel powerless in my ability to celebrate this historic moment, but I am doing my best.
I am comforted somewhat by the fact that there is ivy growing on the fence I walk past on my way to work. I noticed it at the beginning of September and it reminded me of Wrigley, and how cool it is there when the ivy turns red in October. You don't get to see it very often (for the obvious reason). And today when I went by the office, this ivy had also started to turn red. So I feel comforted that a little part of Wrigley is here with me in Switzerland.
I'm sure all you White Sox fans are gagging reading this. Why don't you go play your 2005 world series dvd for the 100th time and figure out how to fix your bullpen for next season, and let me relish in this glorious day in Cubbie History!!!
Saturday, September 22, 2007
1) guy at best buy in NYC told me I need to send to HP
2) call HP technician, explain problem, he will schedule the repair and after renewing my warranty, for which I paid 120 dollars, transfers me (will refer to this moment hereafter as "game changing performance")
3) instead of the other technician, I get some idiot who proceeds to ask me 10 times what is wrong with my laptop, do I have a little screwdriver so I can fix it myself (I am walking down Broadway at this point, so obviously not). Exasperated I explain to him that I have done all the troubleshooting already and it needs to be serviced, and someone was supposed to do that. He puts me on hold and comes back to inform me that my computer can't be serviced for another month because I just bought a new warranty, which invalidated my current warranty, and so I was out of warranty for a month. I mean what the hell. That makes absolutely NO SENSE!! Am I right?? Now furious at this point, I demand they cancel my new warranty, service my computer, put me on with a manager, etc etc. The moron is powerless to do any of the above (obviously due to the fact that he has the mental prowess of a jar of peanut butter) promises the manager will call me back (he doesn't).
4) Now back in Switzerland, Justin takes it to some random Swiss place to back up the data and try to fix it (fail) while I call HP 3 more times and FINALLY they agree to service my computer under the warranty. But they can't ship to or from Switzerland, and it can't be fixed here because it needs U.S. parts. So Justin, my family and Abby are all helping in transporting this from Geneva to East Bufu HP fixit world and back to Geneva, for which I am very grateful. Therefore, intermittent posting for about another month until Abby (yay!!) gets here.
So what else? Justin is leaving next week which sucks. I have been alternating between bouts of unreasonable tears and unreasonable begging him to stay or pack me in his suitcase. But we have had an amazing summer, which we never could have had otherwise. So I am thankful for that.
NY was awesome. Jess' wedding was incredibly beautiful and super fun. We also saw a ton of friends and family and the Bears opener (could have missed that...). Our flight back across the pond was fine except for the fact that they had only one movie playing for the whole plane and it was...Mr. Bean's Holdiay. I mean come on. Just because it's a new movie does not mean it should be shown on a plane! Or ever.
I've been working a lot and am going to Vienna next week for a client meeting which is pretty exciting. Then I get a slew of visitors! Rosey, Marie, and Abby are all coming to visit me in October.
Finally Justin and I saw the Police concert this past Sunday! It was so awesome. It was at a huge outdoor soccer stadium with apparently 30,000 people. It was just the 3 of them, which was cool because no one really does that anymore. They played all the good old stuff and totally rocked. And Sting is hot (and 55 years old which is pretty amazing). After the concert we went to the Pickwick pub and watched the Bears game until 2am (v. smart thing to do on a day before I have to work). Justin was yelling to the entire bar about how amazing Devin Hester was when he ran back the kickoff for the 2nd time (unfortunately that one was called back). I think everyone in the bar thought he was crazy (Crazy about the Bears, sucka!) And that's just one reason why I love him (not Devin Hester, Justin, although I love Devin Hester too, just in a slightly different way...)
Thursday, September 06, 2007
Fortunately I just happen to be comin to America...today! Because I am flying with Justin to NYC for my friend Jess' wedding. So lugging the piece of crap 5,000 miles with me, small detour at best buy, with fingers crossed, and hopefully it should be good as new on Monday when I get back.
I will keep you all posted. I always have my work laptop, but all pictures, etc, are on this other laptop. In the meantime please excuse my delay in blogging!
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Justin and I just got back from Italy for 10 days.
Friday, August 17 - took a flight from GVA on FlyBaboo, a small Swiss regional airline which Justin and I now refer to as "Monkey McFurrypants Air." The plane was a 50 seat prop plane, the stewardesses served tomato focaccia, salami foccacia, and nutella foccacia, and a little Ford focus was seen next to the plane loading up the waters and unloading garbage. McFurrypants indeed. We arrived late in Florence and headed to bed.
Saturday Aug 18 - Slept late. Ran out to grab a slice of pizza (the worst pizza we had in Italy for the record) for lunch. Got some delicious gelato (1 - Straciatella, also known as chocolate chip), wandered on Ponte Vecchio. Wasted an hour in line at the Ufizzi playing 20 questions and decided to postpone. Went to the huge, windy Boboli gardens where Justin actually requested a picture with a statue there. Grabbed a glass of prosecco. Napped. Went to dinner at Trattoria Zaza!! Got gelato (2 - chocolate) but it wasn't that good so I threw it out. a horrible thing I know.
Sunday Aug 19 - Got up a little earlier. Ate paninis for lunch (cold and annoying), then went to the Duomo, inside and up the tower for fantastic views of Firenze. Headed to Ufizzi gallery. We both agreed - worst museum ever (renaissance art is not really my thing). Got a strawberry gelato (3) which was terrible and I threw it out. Stopped into Academia to see David and his fine self - truly impressive and cool. Rest of that museum is somewhat pointless. Went to dinner at La Giostra. BEST RESTAURANT EVER!!! It was sooo good. I will detail in full because it was so good. Cozy dark place with lots of photos and Christmas lights in the middle of nowhere. We walked in and sat down and immediately heard a *pop!!* and were poured glasses of champagne. After ordering, we were presented with a huge plate of completmentary appetizers which included: roasted zucchini filled with ratatouille, roasted eggplant, marinated red bell peppers, liver crostini (tasted like a taco - I did not know it was liver when I ate it), little spinach balls, cherry tomato with buffalo mozzerella and baby bruscettas. MMMMM! Justin got a spagetti like pasta with white truffle oil and mushrooms (like a super duper mac and cheese), I got ravioli filled with brie served with finely sliced, fried artichoke hearts and cherry tomatoes. Why hasn't anyone else thought of ravioli with brie before??? We split a beef filet with porcini mushrooms and asparagus parmigiana (asparagus with a big piece of melted parmigian cheese and breadcrumbs). All with a delicious chianti. Seriously, the best resaturant ever, which made up for our terrible lunch and gelato that day by far. And it was recently named "best restaurant in Tuscany."
Monday Aug 20 - Day trip to Siena. Great pizza slices for lunch sitting in the Piazza. Went to the Duomo there which was really cool. Climbed a teeny tower for excellent views of Siena. Chugged a Guinness and caught the train back to Florence. Went back to LA GIOSTRA. Again, I must detail...got the champagne and free apps treatment and got the same wine. Instead we got starters...Justin got prosciutto with mozzerella and it was the most beautiful, bountiful plate of proscuitto ever. There was not a trace of fat on any of it. I had what could be my dream appetizer - mushroom carpaccio, an entire plateful of finely sliced mushrooms, served over an entire plateful of finely sliced parmigian cheese. Oh man. Then we split a plate of grilled veggies, and he had a very mushroomy tagliatelle, while I had rigatoni that was served with a sauce that combined tomatoes with a pesto like base. So so good! After we walked around and got gelato (4 - Coco).
Tues Aug 21 - Check out and head to Cinque Terre, stopping in Pisa on the way for pizza and to see the tower. It really does lean, pretty badly. It's really funny. It was kind of rainy but no matter. 2 hour train to Cinque Terre (Monterosso). About 5 minutes out, we pulled out of a tunnel into bright light, and below suddenly I saw the huge, blue Ligurian sea, the bluest blue you could imagine, crashing against the cliffs below us. It was just stunning. We got to our hotel, walked around, had a drink at "Bar" and then found our way to a local restaurant where we had the local trofie pasta with pasta and a huge bowl of spagetti mixed with piping hot, fresh clams, mussels, squid and shrimp. Two ladies next to us asked our waiter (who constantly said "ciao" or "prego") about two wines on the menu, to which he answered, "The difference between the two is very very small, but this-a one is much more better." After went to an American bar called Fast Bar and talked with some fellow travelers.
Weds Aug 22 - Got up to a sunny day for our big hike. Train over to Riomaggiore, town #1. From there it was an easy 20 minute walk along a path to town #2, Manarola. 45 minutes later, after climbing a huge steep staircase, we were in Corniglia. After that the trails became much more difficult, narrow and rocky. 90 minutes of huffing and puffing took us to Vernazza where we stopped for a lunch and had a "pesto festo" - pesto pizza, pesto pasta and bruchetta. Cinque Terre is where pesto is from and it was delicious. After lunch we continued on another long, rocky trail all the way up and then all the way down. Finally after another 90 minutes, we arrived home in Monterosso and immediately jumped into the sea for a celebratory, refreshing swim! The day was gorgeous with huge, spectacular views, and it started raining only once we arrived home.
Thurs Aug 23 - Cloudy in the AM, took the train to Manarola to do a little shopping (local artwork) and then jumped into a big swimming "lagoon" just below town. We were the only people brave enough to swim, but the water was not very cold. We then hopped back on the train to Monterosso and had a cheap focaccia lunch. Just as we finished the sun came out and we spent the rest of the day sunbathing, swimming, reading and relaxing. On the way home we stopped in a local shop to sample a bunch of limoncello and pesto (and bought a bunch too). For dinner that night we had a pizza and wine picnic by the sea under the moonlight...que romantico. Even more, we had music...some local Italian teens blasting their winamp with a strobe light down by the harbor. Very odd but entertaining!
Fri Aug 24 - early departure from Cinque Terre at 730 am to Bologna. We walked around and ate Bolognese! Then back on the train to Venice. When I stepped out of the train station, I was in shock. The place is just like you see in the movies, and the canals to my surprise were actually fairly clean looking. Did you know Venice is actually a huge archiapelago of like 180 islands all connected by bridges? And it is also sinking. The first floor doors of a lot of houses are rotted out becuase of the rising water levels, so everyone lives on the second floors now. Anyway, Justin did an excellent job navigating us to our hotel, where we had a huge old room with a big glass chandelier - fancy! For dinner we headed to a local pizzeria and then had a few drinks on a "back street," a little canal next to our hotel.
Sat Aug 25 - We slept late and then went to St. Mark's. Justin was SO excited to see my reaction to hundreds of thouands of pigeons. And my reaction was - sheer terror and disgust. I could not believe people pay money to let pigeons land on them! Disgusting! I was constantly ducking into Justin's arm to shield myself from fly-bys. The Basilica was really cool inside and very ornate. We also went up the neighboring tower for excellent views of Venezia and the little surrounding islands. Afterwards we wandered around the streets getting lost and did a little shopping (and eating gelato #5, vanilla, the BEST vanilla ever). We found a little wine bar called "Ruga Rialto" and had several glasses of cheap, delicious wine and some cichetti (little appetizers, in our case, fried calamari). The total was only 10 euros! Then we went in search of a "gondola gondola." The first two guys we met did not want to bargain. The prosecco we had bought for the ride was getting warm, and we were beginning to despair when we found a guy near the Rialto bridge who agreed to our price. It was around 7pm so the light on the city was beautiful. Our gondolier told us a little about the city and softly sang in Italian, asking "It's romantic, yes?" It was a great way to see Venice and nice to just be together with Justin in our little boat. At night we wandered back to St. Mark's where to my relief, there were NO pigeons, and we got to see several small orchestras playing in the square, each at different restaurants. The music was beautiful, but we didn't actually sit down for drinks. The menu informed us that one glass of champagne was 29 euros plus a 4 euro coperto for the music....no grazie!!!
Sun Aug 26 - Went to the Doge palace in the morning near St Marks, which was actually one of the cooler old palaces/castles we have been to on our travels. There were some crazy prisons inside. Afterwards decided to head to Lido and see the beach. It was ridiculously hot so we immediately got gelato as soon as we arrived (I had watermelon sorbet...which counts as 6). The beach was actually really beautiful with a lot of people swimming...not sure how clean the water was really, but it looked very clean. We waded in the water for a while too to cool off. Made the mistake of coming back to Venice on the #1 Vaporetti, also known as the "slow boat" and we almost passed out from sitting in the hot sun so long (I did actually fall asleep for a while). Wandered around, made another stop at Ruga Rialto for wine, meeting a not-so-friendly black cat on the way, who later was snuggled up next to the booze bottles in the bar. We ate on the grand canal for dinner which was a gorgeous setting. The people next to us were taking photos of themselves and I, stupidly, decided to make a face in the background in one of them. I have unfortunately done this several times, mostly at bars with really really annoying people taking pictures, because you can just run off and they won't know who it was. Well obviously I wasn't thinking, because these people were right next to us and realized it was me. They started laughing and pointing, and finally Justin broke the ice by asking if I had ruined their picture, and we ended up chatting with them. We offered to take another, but they declined, saying it would be a nice memory!! That's the last time I do that. We went back to St. Marks again to listen to a little more music, and then got gelatos on the way home (Pistacchio, really good number 7!)
Mon Aug 27 - Time to leave. We just got up and dragged our suitcases over like 18 bridges until we reached the bus terminal to head to the airport. Fortunately, we were able to extend our trip a little longer by having a great Italian lunch at the Venice Marco Polo airport (which is VERY nice by the way) including gelato (chocolate with nuts beat out hazelnut...it was a close race).
So, that is pretty much our trip to Italy. Perfetto!! Magnifico!! You can check out the photos, which will probably take less time than reading this blog, here:
Monday, August 20, 2007
Monday, August 13, 2007
We arrived on Friday night to our lovely two-star hotel, which was like a 15 minute walk from the train station, uphill (only one way). It was kind of nice though because it was away from all the college and tourist "rif raf" which Justin and I get very tired of. We decided on Saturday to suck it up, get out of bed at 530am, walk 1 mile and a half to the other train station to catch the 6:30 train to the Jungfraujoch, the "Top of Europe." Supposedly one of those once in a lifetime things you have to do, it is Europe's highest trainstation (over 3500m) on top of the Jungfrau mountain and draws a LOT of tourists. It took over 2 hours to get there but I have to agree that the view from the top was pretty amazing. You definitely feel like you are on top of the world, albeit part of that world is a freezing, glacier covered world, that was peaceful until an entire trainload of tourists was dropped upon it.
There were a lot of cheesy and fun activities, so we got to go sledding on the side of the glacier, and also try to hit a "hole in one" off this golf tee into the snow. That was the most I have ever played golf in my life so I also got a little golf lesson from Justin. After our games we decided to hike to the Monch restaurant (45 minutes away) across the glacier. OK seriously, it was UPHILL, IN THE SNOW and it was so freaking hard. We were dying and getting dogged by old people with those fancy schmancy hiking poles. Abou 45 minutes later, huffing and puffing, we finally reached the spot which was well worth the hike (although the wind was threatening to blow us off the mountain and therefore Justin didn't care too much for the view). We had lunch there which was great as there were not too many other idiots making the hike that far, and then we headed back downhill in the snow, happily enjoying the views this time around.
On our way down from the Jungfraujoch, we stopped in Kleine Schidegg for a beer. This was worth it because 1) the views were incredible and 2) an army of mountain goats, bells clanging madly, invaded the town. There was a small brown army of goats which were show-offs and posing for photo ops, and there was a larger, more confused black army of goats which seemed to do nothing but run back and forth to make their bells ring really loud and occassionally "maa-a-a--a-a-a-a."
On Sunday, we allowed ourselves to sleep in a bit later and then headed to First, where I had gone hiking with Aimee and Chris in May. On the way our train broke down which in my opinion, is a truly rare occurence in Switzerland and deserves to be documented. First was way more crowded, but also a lot more green, so that was cool. And there were cows grazing up at the top of the mountain making nice music with their bells (I know, I agree, sometimes I also wonder if this place is for real). We had lunch on the beautiful Bachalpsee (our lunch was marginal but the views made up for it) and then took a more difficult, out of the way hike down to Bort which was completely worth it. We had the trail almost entirely to ourselves and just shared it with the cows here and there. Our legs were exhausted by the time we made it back to Grindlewald and then to Interlaken.
Now on Monday, I was sick. In fact, I couldn't go to work. So, if I hadn't been sick, Justin and I would have spent Monday relaxing for an extra day in Interlaken. We would probably go up the Harderbahn funicular for lunch over Interlaken with great views of the lakes Thun and Brienz. Then we would head across town to Lake Thun (its called the Thunersee in German, and I of course really like the ads which say "Thuner-see you soon!") and take advantage of the cheap Monday boat rides, buy first class tickets and sit on the sun deck, drinking cold beers while relaxing in the views of the Thunersee and Swiss Alps. Maybe on a last minute decicion, we would stop in Bern and have dinner. Although Bern is not really much to see.
But I don't know, because I was sick. So I probably didn't do any of those things...
Thursday, August 02, 2007
Most girls would probably freak out a little bit of the idea of their future mother in law coming to stay with them for the weekend, but I was excited. And I am not just saying that because I know that Mrs. C is a regular visitor of my blog! Justin and I are very lucky in that we both get along very well with each other's families, and also I suppose lucky that for example, my dad is not a very threatening, questioning man (i.e. "What ARE your intentions with my daughter, boy?") and Justin's mom is not a crazy, overprotective woman (i.e. relationship between Principal Skinner from "The Simpsons" and his mother). In any case, you get the idea. She is, to quote Mean Girls, "a cool mom," and so the visit was not something to be nervous about.
On Thursday night after a glass of wine on the balcony, we headed down to the Paquis for dinner at one of my favorite restaurants in Geneva, a small traditional Swiss place. We settled on a little bit of raclette and Fondue Chinoise, which is meat fondue that is cooked in bouillon instead of oil and very very good. Afterwards we got ice cream and walked around the lake to check out a little of the Pre-Fetes, which is kind of the "before" party week before the Fetes de Geneve (more on that later).
Friday I took off from work (I have not worked more than 4 days in a week since Justin got here) and we decided to rent bikes downtown. You can rent a bike for free for four hours and after that, it is just one franc an hour. Sounds like a great deal, right? I'll come back to this. It was a spectacular day with lots of sun and no clouds, and we biked along the lake, looking at vineyards and the French Alps across the lake and beautiful mansions and sunflowers all along the way. After about a 30 minute ride, we stopped for a delicious, leisurely filets de perches lunch at a place right on the water. We took a long break and then headed back to the bikes.
Justin pedaled about 10 feet and abruptly stopped. His tire was completely flat. Pancake, board, whatever analogy you want to use, it was the flattest tire I have ever seen. And we were basically in little village Switzerland where we hadn't the faintest idea of where a bike shop was or how to ask to repair the tire anyway.
So the three of us tried several things. We called the bike shop who didn't understand us or more likely didn't care (remember: FREE bikes). We asked several people where the nearest bike shop was and they responded: 4 km, 2km, 5 meters (translation: we have no idea you stupid English speaking bike riders). So that was no help at all. We asked a woman at a car dealership if there was anyone who could fix it in the mechanics dept and she responded "that's not my job." Finally we stumbled upon a motorcycle shop, and Justin asked the grumbling French mechanic if he could "reparez la bicyclette" (as we had the actual bike there with the tire, it kind of helped to explain). Grumbling Frenchy inflated the tire using a little tube and after about a minute, it seemed fixed. Rejuvenated, we pedaled off through the next "big" town, Versoix, and into Coppet.
After about 15 minutes, I noticed that Justin was riding very slowly. In fact, annoyingly slowly and I kept almost passing him. As I was thinking of some snide comment to make about this point, I noticed that an awful (yet amazingly rhythmic) sound was coming from Justin's bike. "Thun-thun-thAUNK-thun-thun-thAunk...I am the woRLD's flattest t-IRE" the bike seemed to be humming. And it really was, worse so than before, and he eventually had to stop riding. Now we were completely screwed because we were in a much smaller town and no where near any bicycle or motorcycle shop.
Just at the moment all seemed lost, we saw across the street upon a bus stop which stated that the bus to the Nyon train station would be arriving in 10 minutes. As you know by now, the buses in Switzerland are always on time and lo and behold, 10 minutes later, a bus pulled up, with a rude French woman as our savior. At first she refused to let us on the bus but I argued that Justin's tire was completely flat. She begrudingly let him aboard, charged him an exorbitant fee of 12 francs for the bicycle, and sped off, leaving Justin's mom and I to continue riding to Nyon. The ride to Nyon was about another 20 minutes and very nice except for ONE small detail. Waiting for us at the very end of the journey was the biggest freaking hill in all of Switzerland which was what we had to pedal up on our rickety-you-get-what-you-pay-for bikes. Miraculously we were able to find some teeny tiny sign posts to point us to the train station after that and were reunited with Justin shortly thereafter. We celebrated with a glass of wine down by the lake and then rode the train back to Geneva with the bikes. Worried that I might not get back the full security deposit upon returning the bicycle with the flattest tire ever, I made a big show of needing the strong, non-English speaking worker at the store to help me with alllll the heavy bikes. They never knew what hit them, and we took the money and ran!
The rest of the weekend was a little less adventurous. That evening we made a big fondue at home to celebrate our long day of cycling along with some champagne. On Saturday we headed at first back to the scene of the crime, Nyon, and took a boat across the lake to a town called Yvoire in France. It was a gorgeous old medieval town with lots of beautiful flowers and ice cream shops! We walked around and enjoyed lunch before the crowds started to swarm and then high tailed it back to Geneva. That night we went to Les Amures for dinner, an awesome restaurant in the old town of Geneva. Overall the weekend was lots of fun, with lots of walking around, talking and laughing, and me and Justin enjoying being spoiled just a little bit by a mom.
Oh and Mrs. C also met Pasha, the kebab guy down the street, which was a highlight as he did a little bow and referred to her as "Madam" everytime he saw her after that.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Justin and I left on Thursday afternoon (the 19th) and took the high speed TGV train into the city center. Shortly thereafter, we arrived at our hotel, the K+K Cayre. I had won 2 free nights in the hotel at an auction in Chicago before I left; we got a deal on a third night which we paid for. It was a 4 star hotel right in the heart of Paris, a perfect location and the best part (besides the amazing bed) was the balcony which overlooked the city streets.
On Thursday night we went to the Musee D'Orsay to check out some impressionist paintings. Very cool museum, it is in an old train station. It did not take that long to walk through either so that was nice. Lots of really cool famous paintings there by Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Picasso, Latrec, Cezanne, etc. You get the idea. After the museum we headed to a french brasserie recommended by our hotel which was delicious. We ordered escargots which came in the shell, a new way of eating them for me. I LOVE escargot and if you like garlic and butter, you will like them despite the fact it is a snail. mmmm. We alternated between french and english throughout the meal, using mostly what our waitress felt like using with us. There was also an older, unassuming french man sitting next to us, who when his female companion arrived, exclaimed " you look great!!!" and sounded JUST like Bruno from the Ali G show. hilarious. After dinner we walked around a little bit and ended up at this carnival taking place in the Tulieries. We did bumper cars, which was fun until these French thugs started hitting everyone as hard as they possibly could. Ow!! Then we walked over to the Louvre to check out the lights and the pyramids.
Friday morning we dragged ourselves out of bed at a relatively early hour and went to the Louvre. Amazingly, we only had to wait about 5 minutes in line. We saw the Mona Lisa first, which is small as everyone says. I think its worth it just to observe the feeding frenzy of photographers taking place there!
Friday was cool and cloudy, so we decided to spend the rest of the day sightseeing and get it overwith. After lunch, we headed to the Catacombs. This was really freaky, but cool. In the 1700s, stone was excavated from underneath Paris' left bank to be used for buildings. After a while it was about to cave in, so they stopped. The tunnels were then used as a mass grave to eliminate overcrowding in Paris' cemeteries. So you head 20m underground, through some dark and dank dunnels (now they are lit by electricity and ventilated, so we don't have it too bad), and find yourself literally, face to face, with 5 million bodies. Bones stacked on either side of you, anywhere from 5-10 feet tall and deep. It was pretty spooky, and I was glad Justin was there! Apparently there are a lot of illegal entrances that people seek out and enter into other parts of the Catacombs that we were not allowed to go to. Freaky.
After the Catacombs, we headed to Notre Dame and then to the Pompidou Centre of Modern Art. Finally at 6.30 we headed back to the hotel, exhausted. We took a short nap and then went to dinner at Le Petit Chaise, which claims to be the oldest restaurant in Paris (from the 1600s!) We were sharing an upstairs dining room with just one other party, and the restaurant had a wonderful, charming ambiance. We dined in true French style, with lots of champagne and wine, French onion soup, and lingered there chatting until we were handed the bill (this NEVER happens, you always have to ask for it). We headed home and had some wine on our balcony, while spying on our neighbor across the street. He didn't do anything exciting, which was part of the reason why we were so curious, since it was Friday night.
On Saturday, we spent most of the day wandering the city. Highlights included the Tuilieries, Arc de Triomphe, and shopping on the Champs Elysees where we bought Harry Potter 7. We had a picnic in the Tuileries in the afternoon with champagne and cheese and enjoyed people watching in the sun. Saturday night we went to dinner (not much to write about unfortunately) and afterwards headed to the Eiffel Tower, which would periodically light up like a sparkler. The tip top was closed, but we went up to the 2nd level and snuggled under the lights while looking over the city.
Sunday was randomness - we saw the Moulin Rouge (boring), ate Mexican food (excellent), tried to rent bikes (unsuccessful), and went back through the Tuileries for ice cream (definitely a success) before heading home.
J'adore Paris!! Photos will be posted shortly.
Monday, July 23, 2007
Let me give you some advice - GO TO PRAGUE. Preferably GO NOW. Prague was absolutely gorgeous. The city is super old with lots of really cute alleyways and buildings that make you feel like you are part of another world. The only thing that kind of snaps you out of that reality is the fact that there are thousands of tourists everywhere and a lot of them like to do things like: eat shirtless in a restaurant (true), eat shoeless in a restaurant and prop their feet up on the chair besides (also true). Anyway, despite these freaks, we LOVED Prague.
We arrived on Saturday afternoon and took the bus and metro from the Prague airport. Everyone speaks English very well, which was a huge help because I just have not found the time to study Czech since I have been here. Anyway, the cost of the transport was 1 CHF (about 80 cents).
We crossed the historic (and touristy and crowded) Charles bridge to get to our hotel, a cute yellow building just maybe 50 meters from the bridge. We knew it as the Hotel Archibald but apparently it was called like the U Mostova Kampa or something like that. If you really are interested let me know. It was perfectly situated and had an AWESOME breakfast - Euro things like yogis and granola and croissants but also toast and eggs and bacon. And it was included. The room was fine, a little weird because it was 2 single beds pushed together IN bedframes, but I guess that's common for Prague. Not air conditioned which was not awful and we were even there on probably the hottest weekend ever.
So we checked out our Frommer's guidebook and chose a "moderate" (I will come back to this) priced restaurant for our dinner that evening, which had a fabulous view of the city, right on the river, just 2 minutes walk from our hotel. It was called Kampa Park and we ended up making a 6pm reservation in order to make sure we would get the view. In the meantime, we took a boat cruise along the Vlata river, which looked much less clean than the Chicago river and a far cry from the beautiful-you-can-see-clear-to-the-bottom-even-from-a-plane Rhone which runs through Geneva. But we got a free beer and ice cream, so what the heck. Anyway it was midly interesting, and I did get an opportunity for a lot of nice photos. We learned a TON about the floods in 2002, which made me wonder what they talked about before 2002. But it was pretty ridiculous - the water level raised like 5 meters or someting like that (picture 3 yardsticks) and flooded the entire city.
After the "cruise" we went to freshen up and then to dinner. Prague is supposed to be cheap, especially since they are still on the koruna and have not yet switched to the euro. However it has still gotten pricey, I suppose to take advantage of all the sucker tourists like ourselves.
Anyway, we had a PERFECT table, right in the corner with a view of the whole sun drenched city and river. It was absolutely beautiful. After a glass of Moet & Chandon (which I later found out cost 17 EURO) it looked even better and so did everything on the menu. We finally decided to be risky - Justin tried beef carpaccio and I had raw scallop and sea urchin sashimi - to start. We were both happy with them. For our entrees, I had an amazing seared tuna with red curry risotto in a nice broth, and Justin had duck with foie gras (which I had never tried before, but I realized what all the fuss is about - goooooooood). Finally we polished off our bottle of wine with a very good cheese plate of 5 cheeses - which our waiter named differently 5 different times. The setting was magnificient and so was the food, so although we were a little shocked with the bill (let'st just say that 2 nights in the hotel was cheaper than this meal), because it was so special, it was worth it completely! Although I stopped trusting Frommer after that based on the price quotation...
After dinner we walked around and had a beer in one of the various squares in Prague and then later wandered back to our hotel. The next day, after the aforementioned awesome breakfast, we went to Prague Castle which was really cool. The grounds were enormous and we saw a very old church - like a no frills cathedral - at St Georges Basillica, then also walked around in this building which kind of looked like the great hall of Hogwarts. We also took a walk down Golden Lane, a row of very small houses where originally the castle servants lived, but later named as such because alchemists used to frequent there. Sweet!!! We bought a few items and then headed back into town.
Randomly, we stumbled upon a photo exhibit of which the subject was Chicago! It was a bunch of nice aerial photos which I admit made me a little homesick. After that, we had a nice pizza lunch with cold Czech beer and then we went jewelry shopping!!
Prague and the Bohemia is apparently famous for its garnets. After being misled by Frommer once again (to a famous garnet shop which upon arrival, informed us that it did not sell garnets), Justin and I visited a few stores and eventually I struck a deal to get a necklace and some earrings. We stopped for a few drinks on the way back to our hotel in Wencesclas square, a very cool part of town. After a short nap and cooling off laying in front of the fan (it was at least 32 or 33C every day we were there and NO shade), we set off to find a traditional Prague dinner. I found some beautiful wine glasses on the way at BLUE (the area is also famous for its glass and crystal).
We found another great place for people watching near Wencesclas Square and settled upon some dark beers, "grandma's" potato soup, beef goulash and "monrovian sparrows" which was basically pork, almost like brisket, with red cabbage and dumplings. That traditional Prague food is good, but it sure is filling! Our waiter(s) were nuts and in the end annoying about demanding a tip when we were paying with a credit card (once we explained we were paying in cash, they backed off). That was the one slightly annoying thing - restaurant service was very marginal yet they still expected and in fact a lot of times demanded a tip, and also you got charged for "free" things like bread. Overall not enough to really change my feelings about the trip.
Sunday we had just enough time to enjoy the awesome breakfast again and hit the duty free at the airport (which I have come to really love...we bought some Czech liquor called Becherovka and also some Bohemian Sekt champagne..each less than 8 bucks). One more day in Prague would have been nice, but a weekend is definitely enough. So I recommend everyone go...and come visit me on the way!!
Photos of Prague (most of you have probably seen by now, but so pretty...)
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
So a lot has changed since he got here!!
First, if I leave messes at home when I go to work, they are cleaned when I get back. Same with that my groceries magically bring themselves home and my errands magically complete themselves.
Seriously though it is so nice to have him here. We have never lived together and been able to spend time together so easily which makes it super fun. The first 2 weeks were pretty relaxed, we did a lot of cooking and watching tv shows and movies together and going for walks into town. We also celebrated my 27th birthday (yay!) which Justin made really special with nice things with champagne and cheese and a good dinner out and walk around Geneva.
The only thing which hasn't been good is the weather, but that finally improved at the end of last week. It was 55 degrees the day before my birthday. This is not Chicago!! I did also have a housewarming party ("Cremellaire") on July 6 where almost all of my work colleagues came. It was a "great success" especially mine and Justin's guacamole and bruschetta recipes! The weather was perfect for that, and warm enough for me to wear a dress on my birthday, and then perfect in Prague, so I can't really complain.
Now for Prague...that might have to wait until tomorrow.
I went to Norway - this recap is posted back in my June posts now because I drafted it a while ago. But definitely go check it out, because it also has PICTURES!! yaaaaay
I turned 27
JUSTIN GOT HERE!
And we went to Prague
So I will do as best I can a whirlwind recap of all of those things and include some photos! Here we go...
Saturday, June 30, 2007
The interesting thing about the group was that the girl, Sylvana, is from Bolivia, and the guy, Shekip, is from Kosovo. Neither of them speak any English whatsoever. I speak some Spanish, but now that I have learned French, when I try to go back to Spanish I get extremely confused and it is usually some sort of melange of all the foreign words I know. Example: "Yo no recuerdo, mais je pense que c'est ca" (I don't remember, but I think it's that). So we were really forced to communicate only in French, a situation I don't find myself in very often. Even at Pasha's there is usually someone who speaks English.
I was really tired on Friday and nothing is more difficult for me than trying to understand French when I am tired. If I zone out for like 30 seconds suddenly I have missed the entire conversation and then have to pretend that I understood (easily accomplished with a "oui" and nice smile, I generally find). Anyway, we met up at 8 at the gare and went to a little terrasse for drinks. We all had panache, which is beer with limonade (ok, see I just used the French word automatically there...I think a transformation is underway!). It's really quite nice for the summer, not as heavy as beer itself and very refreshing. Shekip also brought one of his friends who is from Chile. Finally my Professor (yes THAT one!) also joined us. Sylvana and I made sure that we sat on the opposite side of the table from Professor. So we had quite an international group! In fact, I told Sylvana and Shekip that they were the first people I had spoken with from Bolivia and the Balkan regions (respectively) and Sylvana told me that I was the first American she had spoken with.
So for 3 hours we spoke in nothing but French. Sylvana has a much better vocabulary and spoke a lot with Chilean friend. Some of the conversation was about Latin American politics (boring, sorry but when you can't understand everything, this is difficult). But mostly we talked about things we liked to do and food, things we used to do before we moved to Geneva, etc. It was actually pretty cool and very good practice for all of us. We also saw a fight that was absolutely ridiculous - about 8 guys, one guy got thrown into a window pane and it broke, then the guys picked up the pieces of glass and started swiping at each other, another guy was trying to hit people over the head with a bottle - this was happening like 15 feet from us!! Then all of the sudden it broke up and they all ran off. Bizarre. But it was a fun night, and in any case I now have some true French-only friends!
Today I woke up a little later than I wanted to but still ok. I have a lot of shopping to do to prepare for JUSTIN!! He is coming on Monday and will stay here for three months. Yeaaaah!!
Saturday, June 23, 2007
The reason for this is because last night was so freaking weird and was the scariest night of my 26 years and 11 months so far. Even scarier I think than when I was held up at gunpoint at Starbucks; I think because that one I was kind of in a daze while it happened and panicked after. Anyway, I went to bed around 11 because on Saturday I wanted to get up super early to do a lot of laundry and errands etc. Intending to get a good nights sleep and be responsible.
I am on the first floor and have a huge balcony around my apartment, which is awesome. The only problem is I technically don't have any windows; only french doors that open out on to the balcony. And since I also don't have air conditioning, I leave my doors open almost all day and usually when I am sleeping as well. My apartment is probably 20 ft off the ground, so I am not concerned about any break ins.
So around 330, I am awoken out of a sound sleep to hear this strange noise. Like something scratching on my floor or being pushed around on my floor. I sat up and lifted up my sleeping mask (because there are about 10 streetlights that shine into my room) and through my blurred eyes, instinctively look at the bottom of my open bedroom door. Then, a freaking BLACK CAT scampers into my bedroom! I shrieked. Not screamed. It was a high pitched "AIEEE!" and jumped about 3 feet in the air; the cat seemed to do a sort of Scooby Doo running move and scampered right back out of my room.
Of course, I am not afraid of cats, and this one was black just like my Rookie at home. In fact I see a black cat in the alleys sometimes and I wouldn't be surprised if it was the same one. But waking up to some animal running into your room and screaming just gets your heart racing about 200 kmph. I was shaking as I walked slowly around my apartment, checking all the nooks and crannies to see if I still had a squatter. I thought for a minute maybe I was going crazy. But then as I was pushing the sofa around to make sure the cat wasn't under it, I noticed some dark marks on the side. It was water that undoubtedly Kitty Cat left behind when rubbing up against my nice sofa. I wonder what else he was doing while I was sound asleep. Fortunately my apartment is relatively clean so there were no glasses or anything to be knocked over.
So of course I could not fall back asleep. I called everyone I knew (only my mom answered of course, because she loves me best) and then watched a really good episode of Queer Eye. As I finally drifted off to sleep around 5am, I thought that the cat must be one of my neighbors that had gotten outside, walked on the teeny little railing between our apartments and popped in.
But today I'm not so sure. There is a fairly big tree outside my apartment, but any sturdy branches seem to be at lesat 8 feet below my balconny. Then I realized that the cat could have come not just from my next door neighbors but any number of people on the first floor even in other buildings. So I decided I do not need to play french detective and go interrogating all of my neighbors, because they will probably think I am nuts and I would have to do a lot of questioning about this cat. I honestly have no clue how he got in.
So anyway, today I am tired and my allergies are awful, but I at least figured out a way to keep the doors just slightly open and taught so no more animals can get in. I mean are you kidding me?
Friday, June 22, 2007
Anyway, I am not the only one. My entire office is suffering from this right now; which makes it slightly humorous and I guess ok. I just wish I could sneeze when I want to!
I realize I still have to write about my trip to Norway which was fantastic. I highly advise everyone to visit Norway! It is a wonderful country. Maybe even more wonderful than Switzerland, although the winters would seem to be pretty brutal. I have a lot of cleaning to do this weekend in order to prepare for the arrival of Justin in 10 days, but I will try to get in some blogging or at least post the photos! Ciao!
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
I went to Norway with my friend Ingvill from work, who is from Norway, to visit her twin sister Anniken and hang out with a bunch of their friends as well. They are actually both from a place farther north but her sister lives in Oslo now. Have you ever hung out with identical twins? I think it is hilarious and fun, but of course as we all know I am easily amused...
Anyway we got there on Thurs at 130 in the morning after ridiculous flight delays and it was still light out! It was kind of that dusky light the entire night. Really really cool. I never got over that even after experiencing it for 3 days straight. On Friday we went to walk down to the castle where the King and Queen live (looks more like a really big house). We also went to the harbor and got some "soft ice" which is basically like DQ that they dip in various things like chocolate powder and strawberry sugar to make different flavors. Mmmmm!
Norway trivia - What 80s band with a very short name originates from Norway? Hint, they are essentially (for U.S. purposes) a one hit wonder and the song features some very high pitched falsetto singing.
Friday I also had a Norwegian hot dog which is basically a really kick ass American dog. It comes on a toasted wheat roll and you can get all sorts of crazy things like potato salad and bacon and toasted onions on it. Super good. So like 6 hours after all of this eating we cooked dinner at Anniken's (to which I contributed by drinking wine, playing sudoku and setting the table) and then went over to a friend's house to just hang out and drink. Drinks (well, everything really is) are very expensive in Norway so it is common to do LOTS of pre-partying and also BYOB and DYOB and no one else's...not even at a party.
Saturday we went to this famous park and tried to do a little shopping but it was very crowded and panicky so we didn't really. The weather was perfect yet again on this trip - I have had really good luck with that so far! So we did a lot of walking around and eventually made it back home to enjoy a few drinks on the balcony. Later that evening we barbequed (again, MAJOR contributions by yours truly to this effort) and some people came over for drinks, including some of the girls I had met from Lisbon. It was great fun to see everyone again and I learned some good Scandanavian songs!
You should download "Sommartider" (Summertime) which is a great fun summer party song from Sweden. I swear it could easily be a hit in the U.S.
After several drinks we headed to a party a little ways away around midnight and it was still light out. I learned how to say "Happy Birthday" in Norwegian and repeated it to anyone who would listen although since can't seem to remember...finally we went out to some bars. While everyone was standing in the queue for one bar, Ingvill and Anniken whisked me around the corner to go to...the Hard Rock Cafe! It was completely jam packed with people. The bar played awesome music including some that took me back to Vandy days (I was not expecting "let me clear my throat"!! and we danced until about 3 in the morning. Afterwards, we got the drunk food of choice in Norway...baked potato. Leave it to Norwegians to eat something relatively healthy after a night of carousing. It had corn and butter on it and was sooo good. We ambled home in the early morning light after that.
Sunday I was very, um tired, so I didn't feel like doing much. It was perfect as it was a rainy day so we all just sat around and relaxed until I left around 3. I had a really annoying flight back wit 20 babies, 5 within 2 rows of me.
Here are some pictures from Norway!! And the band? It's A-Ha.
Sunday, June 10, 2007
I am really considering buying Amy Winehouse, because I can't stop hearing about her and also I really like the "Back to Black" song. Any recommendations? I usually prefer to buy the whole album on iTunes if there is more than like 2 or 3 songs worth listening to. I don't have radio here and I don't go out that much so I am relying on you, gentle reader, for new music suggestions!
Anyway, this morning around 7 there was a horrible thunderstorm. I love thunderstorms but this thing was freaking scary!! I was a little hungover (more on this later) and so I was not happy about being woken up. I hopped out of bed just to make sure none of the rain was getting into my apartment because I usually sleep with all the windows open (I don't have AC and it was about 30C here yesterday) There was a really loud thundercrack that rattled my whole room. Then I was just about falling back asleep and CRAAAAAAACK!!!!! I think the lightning bolt must have hit right outside my apartment because this was absolutely the loudest thundercrack I have ever heard. It hurt my ears!!! I was seriously frightened and pulled all my sheets up under my chin and hugged my stuffed animals really close. I laid there like that completely petrified with my heart racing for about 5 minutes, and then that was the end of it.
Then I woke up at 11 and of course it's a gorgeous sunny day now. Does this place ever have bad weather? Seriously, it never lasts for more than a few hours at a time, although there was a torrential downpour last Thursday night.
Anyway now I am headed to work, as I am currently on a quest to get as much done as possible in the next 23 days before Justin arrives. Ciao!