A Travellerspoint blog

The Swiss speak everything but English? (Part 2)

How Switzerland makes you say bad words.

After dealing with the car rental fiasco, I thought we could officially begin our Euro trip, part deux. The GPS thought otherwise.

Me: "So, do we know where we are going in Lausanne?
Mom: "Yes, the Olympic museum."
Dad: "I'm trying to find the museum on GPS, but it says nothing found."
Me: "Are you sure you spelled it right?"
Dad: "Of course. O-L-Y-M-P-I-C."
Me: "OK, but do we know if they use the English names here?"
Dad: "Why not? This is an American GPS. "
Me: "Well, you downloaded the European map. And since we're in the French region of Switzerland, I'd think they'd spell things in French."
Dad: "No, I set this GPS to English."
Me: "Dad, you set the GPS lady to speak English when she's announcing directions, but the location might still be spelled in French."
Mom: "Aiiiyaaaa, why you make your father do this? You set GPS. You young man. You learned foreign languages in school."
Me: "Mom. Not this again. I took Spanish. Not French. Spanish. Tu comprendes?
Mom: "What you say? If you say bad words, I smack you!"
Dad: "Yes, you figure it out. We raise you. Now do for me something useful." #DOFORME
Mom: "And hurry up! We already waste half morning."

They hand me the GPS like it's a bomb to diffuse. The timer has been set, and if I don't figure out the French encoding for Olympic Museum in the next 60 seconds, the parental units are going to explode. Anyone who's ever tried a keyword search on a GPS knows it doesn't work like Google. There's no autocomplete. It normally doesn't even produce any results despite spinning for a good five minutes. And now I have to search for something in French? I'm a dead man.

I typed (and prayed) away feverishly on the GPS, as beads of sweat rolled down the back of my neck. Seriously, am I on vacation or at an audition for The Hurt Locker 2? C'mon.....c'mon! Give me something! Anything! Finally, by the grace of God, the words "Musée Olympique" with an address of Quai d'Ouchy 1, 1006 Lausanne, Switzerland popped up in the list of search results. Sweet Jesus, Lord have mercy upon my soul. I live to fight another day. On the autobahn.

A word of caution about the autobahn in Switzerland. For car enthusiasts who dream about driving on the autobahn, you need to visit Germany, not Switzerland. The Swiss, being a small and economical country where space is a premium, built their autobahn with the same concepts in mind. Instead of sprawling wide lanes that I'm used to in Midwest, America, the Swiss highways were narrow and winding. There's no median, and with a speed limit of 75 mph (a mere suggestion, not enforced) driving on the Swiss autobahn is akin to threading a needle: You have to keep a steady hand or you'll end up drawing blood.

The drive out of Geneva towards Lausanne was also unexpected. I had pictured Switzerland as a country of rolling green hills, with genteel cows wearing cowbells that clanked musically as they grazed on lush grass. Instead, the landscape along the A1 was a canvas of industrial grey, filled with construction and concrete buildings, all smeared with varying amounts of graffiti. I guess Heidi didn't live in this part of town?

Still, we have started our vacation! Our tiredness was replaced by giddiness at the prospect of reaching our first destination.

Mom: "Only 10 km to go."
Dad: "9 km."
Mom: "8 km."
Me: "Guys, the GPS will tell me when to exit. You don't have to count down like it's a rocket launch."
Mom: "We don't want you want to miss the exit."
Dad: "Besides, the roads don't say exit."
Me: "I know. They say sortie. I think it's French for exit."
Mom: "OK. Everyone memorize this word."
Everyone: "Sortie, sortie, sortie."

Having committed sortie to memory, we spent a few glorious days in French regions of Switzerland. I fell in love with our hotel in Montreux. Built in 1870 in the "Belle Epoque" style by Eugène Jost, the Grand Hotel Suisse laid early claim to the best location in town. Our lake view room had a balcony overlooking the North shore of Lake Geneva. All I wanted to do was sit and stare:

montreux-grand-hotel-suisse-majestic-297776_1000_560.jpg
(Balcony view of Lake Geneva)

900_180_1_196_1_grand_hotel_suisse_exterior1.jpg
(Our amazing hotel)

Sigh. Can I just move to Switzerland already?

Alas, we couldn't stay in Montreux forever, so we got back on the autobahn and made our way to our next stop: Bern — the capital of Switzerland.

I was replaced as the driver because the parental units said: "You drive like a feng zi." Translation: I drove fast and furious. When dad took over the reins, we got passed by every car on the road. Nonetheless, slow and steady got us to Bern, and we parked our car in garage at the Bern train station plaza.

I simply adored Bern. It is probably my favorite Swiss city along with Zurich. Built on a narrow hill, the waters of the Aare loops around the Old City like a lazy river. On a hot day, you can even join the locals for a dip in the river and let the gentle Aare currents take you on a cruise around the perimeters of the city, with its gothic architecture towering overhead. In fact, the city of Bern has become a UNESCO Cultural Heritage site due to the great preservation of its medieval architecture. Built in the 12th century, the Old City has remained largely unchanged since its construction.

What I loved about Bern wasn't just its rich history, but also its modernity. Being the capital of Switzerland, it houses both the parliament and executive council. Thus, as you walk through the ornate arcades of high-end shops, you could be brushing elbows with high-powered legislators. Heck, you could even bump into the Swiss president! (Although executive power is shared by a committee of seven, with the president merely holding a ceremonial title). During the busy lunch hour, armies of these politicians step out for a show of their sartorial elegance and a quick bite. The tall silhouettes of their designer slim-fit suits blend in seamlessly with the tall silhouettes of the pointy towers that are ubiquitous in the city.

I wanted to take pictures of the city's architecture and people, but clean photography is difficult because the skyscape is covered in a latticed patchwork of power lines. These power lines zig zag every which way, forming the backbone of Bern's public transportation system:

bern-street_2195765b.jpg

The Bern S-Bahn (commuter rail network), the Bern Tramway Network, and the Bern Trolleybus Network all run off these lines. It's a necessary comprise to keeping the city green and pollution-free. Bern feels like the perfect example how a city can develop and grow, while maintaining its tradition and roots — a harmonious juxtaposition of the past and the present.

After taking in the major sights (the Bern Cathedral - Berner Münster) and sounds (the Medieval clock tower - the Zytglogge) and taste (the Renaissance water fountains - especially the Kindlifresserbrunnen), we had to bid adieu to Bern. Thus, we turned around and tried to make our way back to the train station. There must have been something in the water because we got totally disoriented.

Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to use the Renaissance water fountains as guide posts. Aside from the Kindlifresserbrunnen, there were ten other of these 16th century Renaissance water fountains scattered throughout the Old City. Unfortunately, not all of them were as memorable as the Kindlifresserbrunnen, which depicts an ogre snacking on small children:

Kindlifresserbrunnen.jpg

Crap.

Dad: "I think we passed one that looked like a man."
Me: "Dad, they're all men."
Mom: "No, one of them was a woman. She had a sword."
Me: "Wait, the statue with the sword is a woman? How could you even tell? It had a blindfold over its face!"
Mom: "Aiiiyaaaa.....she had wide hips! You didn't notice the hips?"
Me: "Uh. No."

(We later fact checked. It was the Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen a.k.a the Fountain of Justice, with Lady Justice atop, with large hips):

gerechtigkeitsbrunnen-bern-bezienswaardighe(p:location,1272)(c:0).jpg

Dad: "What about the one that was sucking on a straw, and drinking from a large bag?"
Me: "Um....Dad, I think he was playing a bagpipe...."
Mom: "Aiiiyaaaa, why are we talking about fountains? We just need to ask someone where is the train station."

We accosted a few passersby, but none of them spoke English. Finally, we approached a friendly-looking elderly gentleman.

Mom: "Excuse me. Do you speak English?"
Elderly gentleman: "Yes, a little."
Mom: "Do you know where is the train station?"
Elderly gentleman: "I'm sorry. Can you say again?"
Mom: "Train station. We're looking for the train station."
Elderly gentleman: "Station. Station."
Mom: "Yes, for the train."
Elderly gentleman: "Train?"
Mom: "Yes. Train. CHOOOOOOOO CHOOOOOO."

The elderly gentleman stares back blankly, but mom doesn't give up. Instead she gets creative.

Mom: "Train. Like this."

She then proceeds to demonstrate train by closing her fists, and then rocks her arms in a circular motion like the coupling rods that connects the driving wheels of a locomotive, all the while miming the blowing of steam with an open mouth. Choo choo!

Me: "Mom....you're demonstrating a steam engine. I don't think the Swiss trains are steam engines anymore."

Mom: DEATH STARE.

The elderly gentleman looks at us amused and bemused.

Dad: "Aiiiyaaaa, help your mother!"

Me: "One moment please."

I fly through the pages of our travel guide like it's a flip book. Damn it. Where's the useful phrases section when you need it? You also realize how not useful these "useful phrases" are in a real emergency.

Exhibit A: "May I have a kilo of oranges please?" I mean, seriously, who walks around with that kind of vitamin C deficiency?

I speed read through the hundreds of unhelpful phrases before finally finding the word for train station.

Me: "Um, la gare?"
Elderly gentlemen: "Ah! La gare. Yes. I know la gare."
Dad: "Oh thank God."
Elderly gentlemen: "You turn left here. Then you see church. You turn right. Near church. Then la gare."
Mom: "Thank you."

Continuing with our theme of bomb-diffusing stress, we make it back to the train station just in the nick of time. Our parking ticket was about to expire. Since I was excused from driving, I immediately conked out in the back seat while the parentals set the GPS for our next destination: Lauterbrunnen Valley, which lies at the foot of the Swiss Alps in the Interlaken district of Switzerland. We needed to hit the road fast and furious again, because at 0530 hours tomorrow, we were scheduled to climb the highest Alps peak in all of Europe: Jungfraujoch.

15 minutes later.

Mom: "Wake up. Wake up."
Me (drowsily): "Wuss the matter?"
Dad: "Do you see sortie?"
Me: "Huh?"
Mom: "SORTIE!"
Me (waking up): "Wait. Why are we still in the parking garage?!?"
Parents: "We can't find sortie."
Me: "What do you mean?"
Mom: "Aiiiyaaa, we can't find the exit."
Dad: "We've been doing laps around and around the parking garage, but there's not a sign for sortie anywhere."
Mom: "Aiiiyaaa, stop sleeping! Find sortie NOW!"
Me: "OK. OK. Can you go around again?"

We took another lap around the garage.

Me: "There. There's the exit. Follow the sign for ausfarht."
Mom: "Ausfarht? Why ausfarht? I thought the word for exit was sortie?"
Me: "Yes, it is. But it's the French word for exit. Ausfarht is the German equivalent."
Dad: "I thought you said you studied Spanish!"

OMG. Really parents? You choose this moment to pick this bone?

Me: "I did. But I happen to know one German word."
Mom: "Aiiiyaaa, too many words! How we supposed to remember all these different languages?"
Dad: "This is too stressful!"
Me: "Just use a mnemonic. That's how I learn new words."
Mom: "Mnemonic?"
Me: "Yeah. A mnemonic is a device such as a pattern of letters, ideas, or associations that assists in remembering something."
Dad: "What's your mnemonic?"
Me (uncomfortably): "Ummmm, it's a bit weird. Besides, it's better to come up with your own. Helps you remember it more."
Mom: "Aiiiyaaa, just tell us! We have no time to create this demonic device."

Me: "Mom, it's mnemonic, not demonic. But anyway. Ass fart."
Parents: "WHAT? WHAT YOU JUST SAY?"
Me: "Ass fart."
Mom: "Aiiiyaaa, why you say these bad words? You qian zou (want a smack)?"
Me: "No. That's my mnemonic device. When you pronounce ausfarht in German, it, um, sounds like ass fart."
Dad: "And how does that help you remember it means exit?"
Me: "Well, farts have to exit out of the ass."
Parents: "Oh."
Mom: "Everyone. Remember this. Ass fart."
Everyone: "Ass fart, ass fart, ass fart."

Posted by CuriousCaseOf 14:45 Archived in Switzerland Tagged hotel grand olympics french ass english italian lost switzerland german bern languages gps majestic lausanne montreux suisse fart lake_geneva autobahn aare_river sortie ausfahrt Comments (0)

The Swiss speak everything but English? (Part 1)

There's no fault in the (Euro) stars - We should have taken the train!

sunny 68 °F

Bonjour! Or should I say guten tag? Or ciao? In any case, it’s greetings from Switzerland!

How I keep surviving travel to Europe with the parental units.....I don't know. Every time we travel, it feels like a war for them, and a peace corps mission for me. And let me tell you, my role as an aide worker to prevent a civil war from erupting between/with the parental units in a foreign land is no easy task! I deserve a Nobel Peace Prize for all my humanitarian efforts.

I mostly blame the complexities of Switzerland for all the in-fighting. As a peace-loving, neutral country, Switzerland was able to avoid both WWI and WWII. Its neutrality, however, could not prevent WWIII from erupting within my household during our visit.

Firstly, as ethnocentric American travelers, I have learned our assumption that Europe speaks English is a major fallacy. I learned my lesson in Italy (see blog: How to order "non-sparkling" water in Italy). But this was Switzerland for crying out loud! Everyone here is a Roger Federer and speaks multiple languages, right?

I had read that the average Swiss national learns a minimum of three languages in school, and the country has four official languages. As a major European hub for travel, commerce, and the home to numerous international organizations — the United Nations, Red Cross, World Health Organization, etc. — surely they speak some English, no?

Of course, I don't suffer from such a severe case of ethnocentrism that I expect everyone to speak English fluently — the Swiss speak either French or German as his/her first language — but their second or third or fourth language is English, right? Right?

Wrong.

The four official languages of Switzerland are:

  1. French
  2. German
  3. Italian
  4. Romansh

English is not on the list. And boy did that throw my family into a vrille a.k.a trudeln a.k.a tailspin.

For our second Euro trip, we planned it all by ourselves again. Given the success of our first Euro mission, I mean, vacation (see blog: Eurotrip Recap) we felt confident it would similar to our last one, if not easier. After all, last time we were traveling for 21 days, visiting 3 countries — Italy, France, and U.K. This time we were on the road for only 16 days, visiting 2 countries — Switzerland and Northern Italy (Lake Como/Milan). Plus, Switzerland is a much smaller country, so how hard could it be?

Well, the first way we made it hard was thinking we could get a rental car and drive our way across Switzerland. It all made sense on paper. We would pick up a car from Geneva airport and cruise through the French region (Lausanne, Fribourg, Montreux, Murten) to the German region (Bern, Interlaken, Lucern, Zurich), before dropping off our car in the Italian region (Lugano) and then taking the bus over the border to Lake Como, Italy.

With its famed Autobahnen, we figured driving in Switzerland would be a piece of cake and it would afford us the flexibility to stop wherever and whenever we fancied. If only we could make it out of the airport Avis....

Our flight from the U.S to Switzerland was long, with a two hour layover in Amsterdam. We tried to sleep on the plane, because otherwise jet-lag would hit us like a brick as soon as we landed. However, sleeping was made impossible when we encountered the unlikely event of a water evacuation as the passengers aboard DL0258 flooded the cabin with their tears. How you ask? Well, Delta had the bright idea of offering The Fault in Our Stars as its featured in-flight movie.....to Amsterdam, no less! If you thought a crying baby was annoying on a plane, try a cabin-full of wailing passengers of all ages. The lady next to me was sobbing/sucking air so hard that I swear the oxygen masks would drop from above due to a loss of cabin pressure.

Needless to say, we got no sleep, so when we finally landed in Geneva, we were pretty much The Walking Dead. There was no rest for the weary because mom had pulled out her minute-by-minute itinerary/project plan. According to her project plan milestones, we had to make haste from Geneva airport to Lausanne, so we could tour the Olympic museum and its Old Town area before winding our way through the Lavaux vineyard terraces (i.e. the Swiss wine route) to our hotel, the Grand Hotel Suisse Majestic, on the shores of Lake Geneva.

That was the plan at least. Bleary-eyed and half-asleep, we shuffled our way to the Avis counter. A mousy-looking Avis clerk with greased-back hair told us there were no VW Golfs (the car we booked) available, and asked if we were OK with a VW Transporter? My family is not familiar with the Imperial system of VW sizes. We measure car sizes using the metric system, a.k.a Toyota.

Dad: "What is Transporter? Is it bigger than the Golf?"
Avis: "Yes, bigger than Golf."
Dad: "But how much bigger? Like Corolla vs. Camry bigger?"
Avis: "Camry?"
Dad: "Yes, that's the normal sedan size."
Avis: "No, it's bigger."
Dad: "Bigger than a Camry? Like a Highlander?"
Avis: "Sure.....sure....." (He didn't sound sure at all).
Dad: "Oh OK, that's fine then. We drive a Highlander SUV at home"
Me: "Dad, Transporter doesn't sound like the name of an SUV....."
Mom: "Aiiiyaaaa, why you guys take so long to get car? We need to get moving."

Before I could protest further, Dad took the keys, and the Avis clerk tried to hide a sly smirk. The bastard was basically screwing with us because when we got off the Avis shuttle and followed the signs to lot F4, we were greeted by the VW Transporter.

It wasn't a SUV. It wasn't even a minivan. It was a monstrosity in a shape of minibus, with room for ten:

VW-Transporter-Sportline-Limited-Edition-X.jpg

Dad: "Wow, that's bigger than the Highlander."
Me: "Dad, it's a bus."
Mom: "Can you drive it? You say you drove all kinds of cars when you traveled for work."
Me: "Mom, I was a consultant, not a bus driver. Besides, when I said different cars, I meant I drove a Camaro."
Mom: "What is Camaro? American version of Camry?"
Me: "No. It's Bumblebee. From Transformers."
Mom: "What? You drove a bee? Like a bug? That's small car, la!"
Me: "Never mind."
Dad: "But maybe this is a good deal. It has more room, we can sleep in the back."
Me: "Dad, this is not a good deal! We're not going to be living in a van down by the river in Switzerland."
Mom: "No river. Lake. More lakes in Switzerland."

GARGH.

Me: "NO! I will not be driving us in a bus across Switzerland. People will think we're refugees, not tourists. Besides, how will we park this monster? And do we know how wide the roads are in Switzerland?"
Dad: "Why you so difficult? We pay money in high school for you to take driving class. Now you tell me you can't drive?"
Me: "Dad, they taught me drive a normal car, not a school bus."
Mom: "Aiiiyaaa, just make up your mind quickly, la! We have no time to lose. Lots to see!"

I bit my tongue because further arguing with the parental units would only get them more testy, so I marched my way across the parking lot to the Avis side office to demand an exchange.

Me: "Sir, we can't drove this vehicle called VW Transporter. It's not a car, it's a tank."
New Avis clerk: "How many people in your party?"
Me: "Three."
New Avis clerk: "Three? Oh. And they gave you a VW Transporter?"
Me (jokingly): "Yes, we're Americans, but even so, we didn't bring that many bags."
New Avis clerk: "You are American? No....where are you originally from?"

OMG. ARE YOU SERIOUS RIGHT NOW?!? I'm here to rent a car, not to discuss the Origin of Species!

Me: "There are Asian Americans, you know."
New Avis clerk: "OK. I give you American car then."
Me (sarcastically): "You sure? You don't have a Chinese car?"
New Avis clerk: "No. I have Ford Focus. OK?"
Parents: "Aiiiyaaaa......hurry up, la! You exchanging car or buying car in there?"
Me: "Just give me the keys."

To be continued!!!

Posted by CuriousCaseOf 09:29 Tagged french english italian switzerland german languages euro_trip car_rental avis the_fault_in_our_stars Comments (0)

Table for One?

A guide to dining alone when traveling for work.

When you are on the road traveling for work, it’s hard enough going to restaurants and asking for a table for one. It's made even harder when you forget February 14th is Valentine’s day. Days and dates all blend together and the only day that really matters in consulting is Thursdays. Thursday is the new Friday. On Thursdays, you get to fly out from your client site. Double bonus if you can leave early because there is only one flight back to your home office. So sorry I have to cut the work day short :)

Thirsty Thursdays start as soon as you sit down on your flight and pull out a stack of Delta snack coupons and exchange it for an alcoholic beverage of your choice. Or two. Or three.

By now, a consultant should have leveled up on his/her alcohol tolerance powers.

Well, it was Valentine’s Day, but it wasn’t a Thursday, so I was blissfully unaware until I went about my usual routine of trying a new restaurant for the night. The conquest was The Press Bistro in Midtown, Sacramento. Ironically, I had passed this bistro and bar on one of my late night attempts to run off some of the rolls that had started accumulating around my midsection.

Inspired by the French bistro and Italian Trattoria, the Press Bistro offered food and drink of the Mediterranean table in a relaxed, neighborhood atmosphere. The bistro, with its floor to ceiling glass windows and door, was inviting to passersby to peer inside, where small wooden tables of two’s and four’s were neatly arranged throughout the open-concept space. In addition to the dining room, the outdoors patio seating offered a 18-foot redwood community table, creating a social environment to share and enjoy food, drinks, and company.

Like a good consultant, I had done my research beforehand and had narrowed down my menu choice to the grilled swordfish atop a bed of corn and zucchini risotto with a side of lemon butter sauce. It's healthy, and has vegetables and protein. Probably a good idea to if I wanted to avoid rolling in the deep. Well, all I can say is that I have the best of intentions, but sometimes the situation demands a different execution!

I was lucky that we ended up leaving work (relatively) early at 6:45 pm, so I headed straight to the restaurant without dropping off my laptop bag at the hotel or changing out of my work clothes in hopes of beating the dinner rush. As I walked past the glass windows, I could see there were still a couple of empty tables in the back.

Oh goody! This meant I won’t have to wait to get a table.

“Can I get a table for one?” I asked as I approached the hostess.

The hostess looked up, bemused, as if I had just spoken to her in French.

“Do you have a reservation?” she replied after a long pause.

“No I don’t.”

“In that case, the wait will be about forty-five minutes.”

“Forty-five minutes!?” I exclaimed. “Sorry, but I saw two empty tables near the back as I walked by. Aren't those available?”

“Yes, they are, but they are already reserved for couples,” she replied coolly as her elevator eyes scanned me up and down, as if ascertaining the various factors that made me request a table for one. Was it the face? The rolls? The whole package?

“You guys are sure busy on a Tuesday” I said.

“Well, it is Valentine’s Day,” she sniffed.

Of course! No wonder the cast-iron pole with the restaurant’s logo in the cut-out silhouette of an agrarian press had a tiny pink bow tied around it. And here I was with the audacity to demand prime real estate— a table for two with no RSVP on what is probably the busiest night for the restaurant.

Clearly I was deranged. PSA: Valentine’s Day is a day reserved for couples. No singles allowed. I should have just gone back to the hotel and ransacked the mini-fridge, devoured the carton of Ben & Jerry’s, while watching a Bridget Jones’s Diary re-run.

But I was here, and I was hungry. And angry. Angry at the fact that I was clearly being subjected to racism against singles, or what-I-call singlism. Hence, in protest of this grave injustice, I decided to stage my own sit-in at the (bar) counter.

“Well, can I get a seat at the bar then?” I asked indignantly.

Witch, I will not be denied my rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of dinner.

“Yes, but you’ll have to wait thirty minutes,” she replied curtly, clearly over this conversation with lonely boy.

“FINE!”

“Please wait out on the patio. We will call you when a spot is available.”

I swung the glass door open again, and stalked off towards the outdoor redwood table.

“Who does she think she is!?” I muttered angrily as I sat down and pulled out my laptop from my bag. “Valentine’s Day is nothing but an invention by Hallmark as an excuse to sell more flowers, chocolates, cards and pinkness.”

Deciding to make good use of this waiting time, I called up my reliable companion through many nights alone in the hotel room, Ms. Excel. I also pulled out my headphones and immersed myself in a dance with Ms. Excel through a sequence of steps and pivots whilst listening to my Adele playlist.

♫There's a fire starting in my heart.
Reaching a fever pitch,
It's bringing me out of the dark♫

It was now past 7 pm and the dinner rush was starting as other couples began to arrive. All of them were dressed up in smart blazers and dresses, while I looked like a slob in my increasingly wrinkled dress shirt, now half un-tucked. Some couples didn't make reservations either, so they joined me on the waiting list outside.

Every ten minutes or so, the hostess would come outside and call a name:

“John? John? Party of two?” said the hostess as she surveyed her clipboard.

Inevitably, a tall and handsome man wearing a slim-fit suit and tie stands up, proffers an arm to his leggy blonde girlfriend and gives her a peck on the lips before the pair walks jauntily into the restaurant, holding hands.

Vomit.

I was determined not to be distracted by this pair of showboats, so I turned up the music even louder and refocused my efforts on my spreadsheet. I must have become too engrossed in my work because the next time I looked up, I could hear the hostess shouting almost at the top of her voice.

“BEN? BEN? PARTY OF ONE?”

The couples who had all been chatting animatedly around me suddenly became quiet, like the silence that falls over noisy kindergartners in a classroom when the teacher suddenly walks in unannounced. All eyes started to search for this “Ben, party of one.”

Of course, I was not difficult to find. The crowd which had congregated around me slowly parted like the red sea, unveiling a singular figure sitting in the corner, typing away furiously on an HP laptop while wearing a pair of over-sized headphones that made him look like a buffoon.

Can I just say they were BOSE noise-cancelling headphones and they work really well? It’s not my fault I didn't hear the hostess sooner.

Again, I could imagine the congregated crowd collectively join in the elevator eyes exercises, looking me up and down to determine the factors for table for one:

“Must be a workaholic, just look at him, working on Valentine’s Day. No wonder he’s asking for a table for one.”

“Awww, pity, he looks like a nice person. Must be one of those socially inept programmer types, who dates someone through WoW avatars. He looks like the stereotypical nerdy Asian prototype.”

I chose to be the bigger person, and ignored all the (imaginary) snide comments above, and followed the hostess into the restaurant. I was shown to my seat at the bar, and I sat down next to an elderly woman with wisps of snowy white hair.

“Hello dearie,” said the elderly woman as I settled into my bar stool. “Are you waiting for your special lady friend?”

“Um, no,” I replied. “I’m here by myself. I'm traveling for work and forgot today was Valentine’s Day……”

“Oh. I see.”

She didn't seem convinced.

Awkward silence.

“Sooooo…..how about you? Are you, er, waiting for your, er, special gentleman friend?” I spluttered, trying to deflect the attention back onto her.

“Oh, my husband just went outside to the car to get my cardigan. It feels a bit cold in here. Old bones, you know.”

“Yes, yes,” I nodded in agreement.

Idiot. Why did I say yes? What did I know about old bones?

(I will acknowledge it was not the finest demonstration of my linguistic prowess)

Luckily, I was rescued by the bartender.

“Would you like to see a drinks menu?” said the bartender as his hands worked non-stop, preparing a cocktail.

I looked at the wine menu, and picked out a lovely Bordeaux blend from Chateau la Valade—Vintage 2009.

The place was busy, so I had drank most of my wine before the bar tender came back to take my order.

“Would you like another glass?” he asked politely.

“Yes, but can I also order some food too? Can I get the pappardelle con raghu?"

Screw the healthy option! I needed some comfort food pronto. Comfort in comfort food, right?

“I’m sorry sir, since it’s Valentine’s day, we only have the Valentine’s day menu….”

Are you freaking kidding me? Even the menu was designed for couples?

Now I was really hungary—angry and hungry. My mind went through the options:

  • 1. Throw a fit and leave angrily after downing the remains of my glass of wine. (Although it would probably make me look like an angry drunk, which would be yet another reason I was asking for a table for one)
  • 2. Try to go to another restaurant, and repeat the same (humiliating) process all over again
  • 3. Go back to hotel and eat the leftover airplane peanuts while ransacking the mini-bar (and end up with a distinct possibility of passing out on the bathroom floor)
  • 4. Stay and request another bottle of wine. There’s no problem that alcohol can’t resolve, right?

I decided to go with option 4.

“Fine, can I see the Valentine’s dinner menu then?” I answered waspishly.

“Sure. But just so you know, it’s a set menu, three courses, and the portions are designed for two.”

“That won’t be a problem,” I replied swiftly. “Valentine’s Day is about heart, right? Well, then I’m going to eat my heart out.”

“Can I get you another glass of wine, then?” he laughed.

“Make it a bottle.”

Two hours later, I was stuffed, drunk, and happy. I knew I was always the bigger person. After this meal, I was literally a bigger person. Mission accomplished. Take that table for one!

#TABLEFORONE

Posted by CuriousCaseOf 16:21 Archived in USA Comments (2)

Can you guess where I am?

Traveling for work is still traveling, right?

rain

Being on the road every week can make traveling seem not fun at times. I mean, who doesn't want to start off every Monday morning with a cup of Starbucks and getting violated by TSA either physically or digitally? Thankfully, I still enjoy traveling, especially when I can take photos of cool places:

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Can you guess where I am? :)

Posted by CuriousCaseOf 20:42 Archived in USA Comments (0)

When a frequent traveler reaches his/her last mile....

Salon Travel: Out of the Blue, a biweekly column about a flight attendant's life

Delays, excuses, tiny airplanes, no peanuts.....ahhhhh.....the joyous world of Up in the Air travel. It's definitely not for everyone. I haven't reached the same boiling point as these people below, but I've come close. Just waiting for that last mile before I snap

A few years ago on a United Airlines flight from Buenos Aires to New York, Gerard B. Finneran, an investment banker, went totally bonkers. Newspaper accounts said that after becoming intoxicated, Finneran demanded more alcohol from the flight attendants. When they refused, he began helping himself to the liquor supply. After being cut off a second time, he became visibly angry. He pushed one flight attendant (federal offense No. 1), verbally threatened another (federal offense No. 2), interfered with a third who was assisting a sick passenger (federal offense No. 3), then walked up to the first-class cabin, dropped his pants and defecated on a service cart in plain view of the passengers and crew. Then he stepped in his own feces and tracked it through the main cabin (federal offense Nos. 4, 5 and possibly 6).

Finneran was arrested upon landing in New York. He subsequently pleaded guilty to assault and was sentenced to two years probation. In addition, he was given 300 hours of community service and a $5,000 fine and was ordered to pay more than $50,000 in restitution to the airline and to reimburse fellow passengers for the price of their tickets. (Not surprisingly, Finneran's lawyer said his client was "ill" when he committed the now infamous in-flight atrocity.)

Every one of the estimated 110,000 flight attendants currently flying in the United States has witnessed strange behavior in the air. Occasionally, as in the case of Finneran, passenger misconduct exceeds all rational limits. Sometimes these in-flight incidents are violent; sometimes they're wickedly funny. Either way, the following examples will give you a better idea of what flight attendants put up with every day:

*
Seated side-by-side on a 14-hour overseas flight, two business-class passengers became romantically involved. At some point they began kissing and fondling each other while sitting in their seats. The passion became so intense that the couple began having sexual intercourse in their seats. Bewildered passengers immediately began ringing their flight attendant call buttons. Despite the flight attendants' urgent pleas, the couple refused to terminate their airborne lovemaking. Ultimately, the captain had to intervene. It was necessary for him to physically separate the lovers to get them to stop.

*
While a female flight attendant was serving food from the meal cart, a female passenger thrust a small bundle of trash toward her. "Take this," the passenger demanded. Realizing that the trash was actually a used baby diaper, the attendant instructed the passenger to take it to the lavatory herself and dispose of it. "No," the passenger replied. "You take it!" The attendant explained that she couldn't dispose of the dirty diaper because she was serving food -- handling the diaper would be unsanitary. But that wasn't a good enough answer for the passenger. Angered by her refusal, the passenger hurled the diaper at the flight attendant. It struck her square in the head, depositing chunks of baby dung that clung to her blond locks. The infuriated attendant leapt upon the passenger, strangling her until passengers could separate the two.

*
During a full flight between New York and London, a passenger noticed that the sleeping man in the window seat looked a bit pale. Sensing that something was wrong yet not wanting to wake him, the concerned passenger alerted flight attendants, who soon determined that the sleeping man was actually dead. Apparently, he had died a few hours earlier because his body was completely cold. Horrified by the prospect of sitting next to a dead man, the passenger demanded another seat. But the flight was completely full; every single seat was occupied. Finally one flight attendant had an inspiration. She approached a uniformed military officer, and he agreed to sit next to the dead man for the duration of the flight.

*
Passengers on a flight from Miami to San Juan, Puerto Rico, were stunned by the actions of one deranged passenger. He walked to the rear of the plane, then charged up the aisle, slapping passengers' heads along the way. Next he kicked a pregnant flight attendant, who immediately fell to the ground. As if that weren't enough, he then bit a young boy on the arm. At this point the man was restrained and handcuffed by crew members. He was arrested upon arrival.

*
When bad weather closed the Dallas/Fort Worth airport for several hours, departing planes were stuck on the ground for the duration. One frustrated passenger, a young woman, walked up to a female flight attendant and said, "I'm sorry, but I have to do this." The passenger then punched the flight attendant in the face, breaking her nose.

*
A flight attendant returning to work after a double-mastectomy and a struggle with multiple sclerosis had a run-in with a disgruntled passenger. One of the last to board the plane, the passenger became enraged when there was no room in the overhead bin above his seat. He snatched the bags from the compartment and threw them on the floor, then put his own bag in the empty bin. After hearing angry cries from passengers, the flight attendant appeared from the galley to see what the fuss was all about. When the passengers explained what happened, she turned to the offending passenger. "Sir, you can't do that," she said. The passenger then rose from his seat and broke her jaw with one punch.

*
For some reason, a drunken passenger began throwing peanuts at a well-built man across the aisle. The man was sitting with his wife, minding his own business. When the first peanut hit him in the face, he ignored it. After the second peanut struck him, he looked up to see who had thrown it. He threw a harsh look at the perpetrator, expecting him to cease immediately. When a third peanut hit him in the eye, he'd had enough. "Do that again," he warned, "and I'll punch your lights out." But the peanut-tossing passenger couldn't resist. He did it one last time. The victim got out of his seat, then triple-punched the assailant so hard that witnesses heard his jaw break. The plane was diverted to the closest airport and the peanut-tosser was kicked off.

Posted by CuriousCaseOf 19:19 Comments (0)

7 Ways You’re Ruining My Business Travel

Thanks for writing this Mark Stelzner...this is the story of my life! (aka I'm a fellow business traveler, who is working on getting his super-platinum-double-premier boarding group. Only a few thousand miles left to go!)

Remember that (not so great) movie several years ago which featured Tom Hanks living in an airport terminal? For the bulk of 2011, that has been me. And although I’m not exactly setting up camp at O’Hare or living out of a vending machine at Logan, I’m rapidly approaching 100,000 miles of domestic business travel so far this year. I know, I know… I live a glamourous life.

With the exception of the rare burst of wisdom from a drunken journeyman, much of my transit this year has been nothing short of horrific. Every trite travel truism you can possibly conjure has come into play as I’ve toured our great nation. As my frustration grew, I started to look for someone (anyone!) I could blame for my displeasure. It took a few strong in-flight beverages to deconstruct, but I’ve realized that you, fellow traveller, have behaved in seven ways that have destroyed my business travel bliss:

1. TSA What?

As if transported from an era when chiseled stone memorialized common knowledge, these wide-eyed newbies approach the security process replete with wonder and ignorance. “But I don’t want to take off my shoes.” “What do you mean I need to chug my Monster energy drink?” “A seven ounce tube of lube is against what rule, exactly?” These are actual words spoken by those line-jamming plebes who can’t comprehend the endless multi-media displays and government payrolled cattle herders surrounding every airport terminal. Welcome to the modern age and get it together people.

2. “Now Boarding…”

To you self-important and overly entitled status hoarders, I have a simple observation. Although you have chosen a life in the clouds over that of terra firma, stop acting like such assholes when your super-platinum-double-premier boarding group is called. Try and realize that the two dozen passengers you steamrolled with your siamese wheelie/laptop bag might not bow to your ascension to the top of the air jockey pyramid. Desperately crying out “Premier Executive!”, “Platinum!” or “Elite!” puts a target on your back that my venti latte may be magnetically drawn to.

3. “THAT SOUNDS GREAT!!”

I hate to burst the imaginary bubble you believe surrounds you and everything within a twenty foot radius, but I can kinda sorta hear every frickin’ word you’re screaming into your cell phone. Aunt Martha’s ass is still sore from her procedure? Got it. The big M&A transaction fell apart because the investment bank screwed up the valuation (with all firm names called out)? Bingo. Your client, the one accused of rape, was wearing a condom (followed by a big “Whew!” while fifty people wish you a slow death)? Roger that. You are in public. I can hear you, have a camera on my phone and immediate access to social media. Don’t make me break you.

4. Too Much Baggage

Welcome aboard and please be seated as quickly as possible so we can leave on time. Oh, and while you’re at it, pretend your overstuffed carry-on is a marshmallow that can be crammed into the tiny little spot that remains in the overhead. And if that magic trick doesn’t work, repeatedly slam the door until it breaks (which delayed my last flight), remove someone else’s nicely sized piece (causing a flight attendant to declare on a recent trip, “No way honey, get your shit outta there right now!” to applause) or just leave it jutting out and walk away. Passengers and crew alike are getting very surly and will jump on your ass in about two seconds on this one. And yes, I will laugh at your expense. Keep the entertainment coming fool.

5. Are You Comfy?

Ten minutes after takeoff and the little *ding* tells me it’s okay to take out electronics, and this being business travel, I need to get right to work by kicking open my trusty laptop. You, lovely person in front of me, decide that it’s your God-given American right to press that silver button and let gravity be your guide. And although I really don’t want the plane to turn around and jet fighters to scramble because I knocked on your head like a soft-boiled egg, how about we avoid the entire confrontation by you having a little courtesy for those behind you? Or maybe that’s too much to ask…

6. Lushes, Lovers and Losers

One of the beautiful (and occasionally nightmarish) things about modern air travel is the snapshot of Americana present on every single flight. Three of my favorites that I’ve recently encountered are lushes (including the drunk guy next to me who asked for two whiskeys and and shot of Patron, to which the flight attendant responded, “Sir, this is not a flying bar!“), the lovers (such as the couple next to me who nervously looked around while the woman pulled a blanket over her boyfriend’s crotch and they both started moaning) and the losers (like the creepy guy directly behind me who said, “It’s been years since I sat next to a pretty girl“, to which she brilliantly replied, “It’s been years since I maced someone on a plane“). By all means let your freak flag fly, just not in the friendly skies.

7. Get Me Off This Crazy Ride

Despite the first six eff-ups, somehow we manage to arrive at our destination intact and without bloodshed. Taxiing into the gate, cell phones get turned on, makeup is touched up, breath mints are popped and the tension builds toward the final battle – getting off the damn plane as soon as possible. Yet despite grade school knowledge of lines and the natural order of the seating, some people leap up as if cattle prodded, drag their 8,000 pound bag from the overhead and suddenly appear next to you with their chest heaving from the rush of it all. And God forbid the flight attendant asks that “you remain seated so that those with tight connections can make their flights“. Stay calm. Be polite. Wait your turn.

This has been quite cathartic, thank you. Despite my confidence that this is a good list, I’m certain I’ve missed some other gems which make your own travel a horror on high. Share your comments and stories below and I’ll see you at 35,000 feet.

Posted by CuriousCaseOf 14:14 Archived in USA Comments (0)

How to order "non-sparkling" water in Italy

Apparently you have to play a game of Charades and Pictionary.

sunny 84 °F

On my Euro trip to Italy, my parents insisted I translate for them because I took foreign languages in high school.

Me: "Dad, I took espanol in school."
Padre: "Exactly. Now use some of that in Italy."
Me: "Do you even know what espanol means?"
Padre: "I don't care. Your mom and I provided you with an American education, so you will translate for us in Italy."
Me: "Si senor, yo quiero una cerveza" (For those non-espanol speaking people, this translates to: "Yes sir, I want a beer.")
Padre: "Great. We're counting on you."

There is no point in arguing with the parental units. No point.

Anyway, we made it to Italy, and enjoyed a beautiful day walking around the beautiful city of Roma. Eventually, we found a nice little cafe out of the touristy areas of Rome and sat down for food and drinks. We were very thirsty from basking in the hot Roman sun all day.

A friendly waiter came up to take our orders. Since I was the language expert, I proceeded to order some water first. Luckily, I did happen to know the Italian word for water - acqua. The waiter seemed to understand me and disappeared into the kitchen. A few minutes later, he came back with a tall green bottle of S.Pellegrino. Italians love to drink sparkling water.

I poured the parental units a glass each, only for my padre to spray it out in disgust.

Padre: "Ugh. I don't want sparkling water. Can you get us some regular water? Your madre and I are going to the restroom. Get some regular water before we get back."

I called the waiter back and decided to just ask him politely in English.

"Hi, can we just get some non-sparkling water?" I said.

Waiter: No response.

"Uhhhh, you know, water with no bubbles?" I tried again.

Waiter: No response. Awkward silence.

It was now obvious he didn't speak English. I decided to take this conversation back to the basics. I pointed to the bottle of S.Pellegrino and shook my head.

"No Pellegrino. I want normal acqua," I said hopefully. Maybe the waiter understands Italish.
"Signore, questa è l'acqua," replied the waiter.
"Uh, yes, acqua. No Pellegrino. Acqua." I repeated, not understanding a single word.

Waiter: No response. Awkward silence. Look of bemusement.

I decided to try the other standard approach of trying to get the waiter to understand me.

"I WANT NOOOOORRRRRMAL WATER. NOOOOOORRRRRMAL ACQUA," I said slowly and loudly. I don't know why, but when faced with someone who does not understand us, we, humans, will simply treat the person as if he/she was deaf, and will repeat our statements louder and slower, as if that would solve the problem.

Waiter: No response. Awkward silence. Look of bemusement replaced by look of WTH.

I was starting to panic because the parental units were going to come back soon. Thus, I resorted to a more rudimentary form of human communication: Charades.

Two fingers, two words.

"No sparkling," I said earnestly, accompanied by jazz hands.

Waiter: No response. Awkward silence. WTF + You're crazy face.

"No? Not getting it?" I mumbled to myself, trying rack my brain for another way to act out no bubbles. That's it! The word sparkling might not translate in Italian to still water.

Two fingers, two words.

"No bubbles," I said again. This time, I pantomimed bubbles with the opening and closing of my fist accentuated with the opening and closing of my mouth like a goldfish.

Waiter: Slowly backs away.

Clearly Italians don't know how to play charades. Or I have no acting skills for sparkling/bubbles.

So stupid. So stupid.

"OK, THAT'S IT!!! TAKE THIS TO YOUR MANAGER!!!" I shouted as I pulled out a sharpie and sketched the universal sign for non-sparkling water:

PellegriNO.jpg

Waiter: Takes picture and backs away. Look of bemusement turns into look of amusement.

He takes the napkin with my artwork on it and returns to the kitchen. Finally, he returns with a bottle of water, non-sparkling.

Success. Finally!!!

I'm pretty sure the waiter spoke English, and just wanted to see me work for it. Sigh. I sure did. Anyway, next time you're in Italy, make sure you know how to play Pictionary! And have a sharpie with you just in case. A picture is worth a thousand words.

Posted by CuriousCaseOf 12:55 Archived in Italy Tagged food italy rome italian euro_trip pellegrino Comments (0)

Awkward Timing

Timing is everything....

sunny

One of the challenges of traveling for work is the timezone changes. It is very confusing for my brain and body. Mondays mornings are the worst - my body is on EST, my brain is on CST, and work starts on PST.

I try to maintain some order in this chaos. I leave my watch on CST, and my computer on PST. That way, I figure I'll know what time meetings are at work, and avoid further scoldings by friends for calling them at 3 am thinking it's only midnight. It's only happened a couple of times.....

Me: "Hey! How's it going? I'm at the midnight showing of HP7! Eeeeek."
EST Friend: "Oh hey....(yawn)....that's great...."
Me: "You don't sound excited! What kind of a HP fan are you!?!"
EST Friend: "The kind that has already gone to the midnight premiere and is ready to expelliarmus you for waking me up!"
Me: "Whaaaat? You already saw it?!?"
EST Friend: "Yes, genius, it's called three hours ahead on the East Coast. And as a spoiler for spoiling my sleep, Harry DIES!"
Me: "Noooooooooooooo!!!"

My genius plan of keeping different times on my watch and computer is clearly not helping.

It certainly didn't help me when I received an invite for a house warming party of a colleague on my laptop.

Hi everyone,

I finally got around to reserving my condo’s party room for a house warming party. The plan is to do some grilling and drinking. I will provide some grillables and beverages, but feel free to bring your own as well. Hope you all can make it!

Also, feel free to bring guests!

The invite said 2 pm to 10 pm.

I thought I'd pop in for a little bit and check out my colleague's place. Armed with Corona Extras, I decided to show up at 3pm, 'cause you don't want to show up too early to a party. Especially since I didn't know the host super well, I figured it would be easier when there's more people around and I can mingle with the crowd. Yep, my plan is foolproof. My timing is not.

I showed up at his door at 3:10 pm dressed in a v-neck tee, plaid shorts, and red shoes. I call this ensemble Fashionably Late.

I dialed the code for his apartment complex.

No answer.

I called him on his cell phone.

No answer.

I texted him.

No answer.

"Weird....," I thought to myself. "Maybe he can't hear his phone."

By now, I was starting to look stupid holding all that beer and standing by a door.

Luckily, an elderly couple living in the same condo came along, and I tailgated in. Now I got to look stupid holding all that beer but by the mailboxes instead.

Finally, my colleague texts me, asking me to come up to the 8th floor.

Me: "Hey! Happy house warming!"
Colleague: "Thanks!"
Me: "Am I the first one here?" as I looked around the empty condo.
Colleague: "Yep! I actually just got back from shopping for the party."
Me: "Oh really? I thought the party started an hour ago...."
Colleague: "Um, it's starts at 4pm."

Awkward.

Yep, you guessed it. My computer was on still on PST, but I was living in CST. So instead of showing up casually to the party one hour late, I showed up at the party one hour early.

Awkward x2.

"Well, I can help you set up for the party...." I mumbled awkwardly.
"Sure, I gotta go take a shower first, so just chill for a bit."

Awkward x3.

There wasn't much to set up so we spent the next hour making small talk.

Awkward x4.

I had planned to stay only a couple of hours, so by the time I had to leave the party, only one other person showed up.

Me: "Sorry, gotta go. Great party....."

Awkward x1039870739289382.

I really need to work on my timing!

Posted by CuriousCaseOf 10:16 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Never underestimate a girl

If the girl comes from Texas, then ya'll better be ready.....'cause everything's bigger in Texas

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Americans unable to understand the concept of traveling light. In the words of Miss Teen USA, I personally believe that the U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some, uh.....people out there in our nation don't have small suitcases. Our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., err, uh, should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build bigger compartments aboard trains to accommodate our, such as, bigger suitcases.

I had the fortune of witnessing this truth as a gaggle of girls boarded the Eurostar going from Rome to Florence. I had no idea where these girls were from until I saw them dragging aboard suitcases heavier than their own body weight.

Girl 1: "Hey, ya'll, where are our seats?"
Girl 2: "Hey, Houston's got 'em tickets?"

Not just Americans, but Texans. When they say things are bigger in Texas, they also include suitcases. As it turns out, these girls were backpacking through Europe. If by backpacking you mean each girl having a:

overstuffed designer handbag + a puffed up duffel bag bursting at the seams + a suitcase big enough build a bunker during an WWII air raid

then yes, they = "backpacking" through Europe .

I had no idea how they got all their stuff aboard the train, but the final test lay ahead of them: lifting their suitcases onto the overhead compartments.

Luckily for them, a man that looked liked he could audition for the next season of Jersey Shore came over to help. I don't know his name, so let's just say Macho man came to the rescue. Macho man looked every part of the superhero. He wore a smug smile over his red gym tank top embossed with a letter M. His costume lets you know he's just finished working out and his muscles were in prime condition. Macho man goes from train to train, helping those who cannot help themselves. Plus, he's a fan of Pauly D, and decided that since he's in Italy, he can rock the "blowout look" to help out with this situation:

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After all, he can channel some guido in Italy, right? Right.

"Yo ladies, you want some help with those bags?" said Macho man as he flexed his broad shoulders.
"Oh yes, can you help us put it up there?" the girls giggled as they ogled Macho man's powerful guns.

Like Olympic weightlifting, the process of putting the suitcase in the overhead compartment can be divided into three phases:

The squat phase: the lifter prepares to lift the suitcase by evenly distributing his weight in the squat position:

weight-lifter.jpg

The clean phase: The lifter jumps the suitcase up through triple extension (in very quick succession) of the hips, knees and then ankles and brings the suitcase to his shoulder level:

weight_lifting2_medium.jpg

The overhead jerk phase: The lifter bends the knees and thrusts his leg back and raises his arm in winning Olympic gold fashion and puts the suitcase into the overhead compartment:

bulgarian-weightlifting2.jpg

Macho man looked like a pro as he grabbed the suitcase nonchalantly. Phase 1 and 2 were completed with ease and Macho man knew Olympic gold was within sight. He could picture himself with the golden blond Texas girls around his neck as he raised his arms for phase 3.

However, like Olympic weightlifting, you must hold phase 3 for at least three seconds for it to count. Macho guy's triumphant smile lasted only one second before it turned into an expression of surprise and then pain as his outstretched arms started to fall sideways like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Gone were the graces of the Olympic weightlifter. Instead, it was replaced a hapless weakling who was manically trying to keep the suitcase aloft with his hands, knees, and anything he could use to support the suitcase (this included using the heads of the passengers sitting below).

The admiring smiles of the gaggle of girls turned into looks of alarm as they all rushed over to help Macho man save the things they cannot live without on this trip:

  • 2 hairdryers
  • 20 pairs of shoes
  • 3 curling irons
  • 12 novels
  • 5 pairs of sunglasses
  • 3 different colored pashminas (to match their eyes/mood)
  • A souvenir marble statue of David
  • Enough makeup that the chemicals in them can blow open another hole at the Pantheon
  • And god knows what else they need..... (Guys, never don't argue with girls when they're packing. Everything is necessary!)

With the combined efforts of every man, woman, and child aboard the train, the first of 5 suitcases was finally lifted to the top only for them to realize it was not going to fit.

Fail.

Instead, the girls had to leave it in the aisle, and hold onto the suitcase for the entire trip to Florence. It's OK, Rick Steves said you should always hold on to your valuables. They were just following his advice.

As for Macho man, he had finally meet this kryptonite. His superpowers were rendered useless and he hobbled back to his seat because he managed to blowout his back as well.

Never underestimate the packing powers of an American girl.

Posted by CuriousCaseOf 17:11 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Venice - The City of Two Faces

sunny 86 °F

I’ve finally finished reading The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt. The book is his reflection on Venice, and the character(s) of Venice set against the backdrop of the burning of the Fenice (famous opera house in Venice). Reading the book has inspired me to give my own reflection on Venezia:

For centuries, people have been fascinated by the mystique of Venice and enchanted by its beauty. This is evidenced by works of the great Giovanni Antonio Canal. His landscapes or vedute of Venice capture the beauty of The Grand Canal and the ornate design of the Doge’s Palace:

Venice.jpg

Having admired such great masterpieces of Venice, I was salivating to get a taste of Venice in real life.

Venice is an island with a canal. The Grand Canal snakes through Venice, dividing it into halves. This divide gives Venice its dual personality. It’s a city of ying and yang, light and darkness. During the day, Venice is the jovial host, welcoming everyone to the Carnival. Thousands of tourists flock to the island to partake in the daily razzmatazz.

Venice had once been the world’s supreme maritime power. Its reach had extended from the Alps to Constantinople, and its wealth had been unrivaled. The architectural variety of its buildings – Byzantine, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical – chronicled an evolving aesthetic shaped by a millennium of conquest and their accumulated spoils.

Everyday, mobs of tourists weave through the labyrinthine streets and alleyways of Venice trying to get to St Mark’s Square, or the Rialto Bridge. However, even with the best map in hand, you are likely to get lost. But getting lost is exactly Venice’s way of inviting you to see Venice. Sometimes, we just need to put down that map, and stop worrying about the next item on itinerary. Instead, just let yourself get lost in architectural masterpiece of this city. The feeling of standing in spot and just looking around at Venice is something that even Giovanni Antonio Canal can’t give you in his masterpiece.

Likewise, Venice’s beauty is not only reflected in the giant feats of cathedral and palaces. Instead, the ornate and intricate glass work of the Venetian craftsman is a microcosm of the character of Venice: beautiful, ornate, delicate, and intoxicating. You simply cannot look away:

Venice_Glass_Work.jpg

However, night eventually falls upon the island, and the Carnival comes to end. The mobs of tourists return to the mainland, happy and exhausted from a day of frivolity. The churning of the engines from the water vaporettos come to a quiet. The waters from the canal calms down to a glassy stillness, reflecting the full moon that hang on the canvas of a starless night sky. This Venice invites you to another party: the masquerade ball. The city puts on a mask of darkness. Beams of moonlight cast a hazy glow upon the city. This Venice invites you to meet a mysterious and handsome stranger in the alleyway.

This dark side of Venice is the perfect setting for a mystery. Sinister moods could be easily conjured by shadowy back canals and hidden passageways. Reflections, mirrors, masks suggest that things are not what they seem. It is this Venice that has inspired some of the greatest works of literature. The Aspern Papers, a novella by Henry James, introduced the world to a nameless narrator, who goes to Venice to locate Juliana Bordereau. Juliana is an old lover of Jeffrey Aspern, a famous and now deceased American poet. The narrator presents himself to the old woman as a prospective lodger and is prepared to court her niece Miss Tita, a plain and somewhat naive spinster, in hopes of getting a look at some of Aspern’s letters and other papers kept by Juliana. While the central characters are all fully realized, James describes Venice so lovingly that the city almost becomes a character in its own right, a crumbling, beautiful, mysterious place where the incredible becomes real and the strange is almost commonplace.

Upon return from my Euro trip, people asked me if I bought any nice souvenirs from my travels. The one I treasure the most and wear everyday is a necklace from Venice. The pendant is a masquerade ball mask, but with two faces, just like Venice:

Necklace_001.jpg

Posted by CuriousCaseOf 00:47 Archived in Italy Tagged venice italy euro_trip Comments (0)

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