Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Hike!

I promised that I would tell you about our hiking trip up into the German-speaking part of Switzerland with Small Son and New Girlfriend.  First, let me just say that New Girlfriend is quite the little trouper and I’m not just saying that because she sent me a beautiful floral arrangement soon after she got back home.  Really.

Let’s begin by reiterating that these are typical American twenty-somethings.  The most physical exercise they get on a routine basis is raising the beer mug from table to mouth.  On a really active day they may walk from the bedroom to the bathroom to the kitchen to the TV room any number of times.  Just recently, when Small Son had an Unfortunate Vehicular Experience and lost his license for six months, he didn’t leave the house.  For six months.  Being seen on foot or on a bicycle carries a certain stigma in the US.  It either means A) I am too poor ass broke to afford a car, B)  I have had my license taken away, C) I am a major nerd and choose to do this or D) I am European and I don’t give a shit what you think.  Small Son had not evolved to the level necessary to carry off option “D”, hence, he became a hermit for six months.

I had pre-warned the two of them (or so I thought) that we would be hiking in the Alps on this vacation and told them what attire to bring, i.e. good hiking boots, waterproof outerwear, etc.   I did not think to tell them that they needed to go into semi-serious athletic training prior to the outing.  My bad.

Can we make one thing perfectly clear?  Alpine hiking is not a stroll in the park.  Even on the easiest, peasiest little kiddie trail, you will wish for an oxygen mask and a downhill portion. BECAUSE YOU ARE GOING UPHILL FOR WHAT SEEMS LIKE 83 MILES.  Any downhill portion will do, even if it is only 3 steps.  BUT THEN, when you finally attain the peak and start going downhill, you will start wishing for flat.  A plateau.  A mesa.  Anything to stop the tops of your thighs from burning and your too-long-toenails from spearing into the toe of your boot.  On this particular trip, Mr. Big actually sat up at the summit at the cafĂ©, drinking a beer AND CLIPPED HIS TOENAILS at the table.  I kid you not.  Mr. Big has done this before.  He knew what was coming.

Unfortunately for Small Son, he of the long toenails and slightly too-big hiking boots, did not.  Halfway down the mountain, he started hiking backwards.  Mom!  Yes, Small Son?  My feet hurt!  I’m sorry.  What do you want me to do about it?  Carry you?  You are 6’ 2” and outweigh me by a significant number of pounds.  Once he figured out that there was nowhere to go but down and that the Swiss Alpine Team was not coming to rescue him, that is when he got creative and started walking backwards.  Soon, New Girlfriend was walking backwards as well.  Mr. Big and I just spoke French to each other and pretended that we did not know who the hell those two weirdos were.

Onto the awesome stuff.  The Bed and Breakfast that we stayed in was fabulous.  Now, as you know,  Mr. Big hates B & B’s.  True to form, this one did not have the internet.  But, in my defense, neither did anyplace else in town.  It was an internet black hole, this area.  It is what it is.  I thought I would get away with this particular B & B because the owner is a woodworker.  He has renovated this entire 3-story building by hand.  Each of the nine bedrooms is completely paneled in a different native wood. 

He handmade each and every piece of furniture in the joint, from the tables and chairs in the breakfast room to the toothbrush holders in the bathrooms.  It was stunning.  His wife runs the B & B while he works in his workshop up the road.  She speaks 5 or 6 languages, including English.  Her breakfasts were delicious.  The fee was 70 CHF per night per person including breakfast.  She dries the linens, i.e. towels and sheets, out in the sunshine every day.  Mr. Big broke a floor lamp in our room AND SHE DID NOT EVEN CHARGE US FOR IT, (a very big deal here in La Suisse).  Here is her link:

http://www.baumhausfiesch.ch/  Truly, if you want to go hiking along the Aletsch Glacier, stay here in a town called Fiesch.  Spectacular.

There’s no room on this blog for all of my pictures, but I will post a handful.  Eggishorn, the Aletsch Glacier, Riederalp, Bettmeralp; every peak was just breathtaking and the views were forever.  Keep in mind that you need to do this on a clear day. 

On the day we went up to Eggishorn, we saw the Eiger, Monch, Jungfrau, Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn just by doing a 360 degree spin.  We saw at least four, and maybe five countries from up there.  (If my geography was better, I could pinpoint 4 or 5 exactly, but I still suck at this mountain-geography thing.)

On our hikes we saw marmottes, goats, sheep, cows, waterfalls, a school trip of middle schoolers who gave us a standing ovation with whoops and hollers when we passed them on the trail (don’t know why),  a 6-year-old in full rock-climbing gear who scared the shit out of me, a million parapenters jumping off the mountain into space, a wooden gnome sculpture with a wooden gun (still don’t know why), 70-year-old Swiss hikers passing us because we were too slow, mountain villages with no feasible roads in or out  in which the only source of water appeared to be a pump in the middle of the cluster of chalets (these are some hearty folk, round here!), children riding unicycles instead of bicycles on the mountain village roads.  Just too many things to talk about.

Please, if I can say one thing to the Ex-Pats out there, just go do it.  You don’t know how long you are going to be in your adopted country.  Yes, you will have HUGELY awkward moments with the language and the customs, etc.  But the experiences you will have will make up for it.  WHO CARES if you don’t know exactly what to expect or exactly what you might be eating or exactly what you have just said wrong.  WHO CARES?  Just go do it.  Even if it means that you have to walk backwards and make a total arse of yourself.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

You CAN Teach Two Old Dogs New Tricks

Oh, what a difference a year makes.  Remember about 20 blogs ago when Mr. Big called me from work around 14:00 and wanted to bring some colleagues to dinner THAT NIGHT and I totally freaked out?  I didn’t have any ice ready, I was anticipating a nightmarish 3 or 4 trips to the Manor to buy ingredients, I didn’t even own enough pots and pans to cook for a dinner party.  Remember that?  Remember when I told him no bleepin’ way and durned near lost my Trailing Spouse of the Year status?

  Ha!  We have both learned our lesson.  Today he calls at noon, (note the two extra hours), and wants to know if he can A) bring some people over just for drinks, B) bring some people over for a LIGHT dinner or, C) come pick me up and take me to dinner with these people.  Last year, I was all about the restaurant.  This year, I have got my act together.  Mr. Big, bring ‘em on.  I will start making the ice right now.

What is with the ice?  Some of you were not in on the very, very first emails I made back home lamenting the lack of bagged ice.  It does not exist.  To amass enough ice for A)the beer/wine cooler, B) the ice bucket for the mixed drinks and cokes and C) the water pitcher, you have to make it in ice trays.  One by one by one.  Into a giant Ziploc baggie.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.

Now I have five industrial size ice trays.  (In the beginning, I had two itty-bitty ones).  I can crank out some serious ice with my five ice trays.  I will have 3 Ziplocs full by the time the guests arrive tonight at 20:00.

Also, this is the biggest hint regarding spur-of-the-moment entertaining that I can give you.  It is THE DRINKS that make you have to go to the store more than two times.  DRINKS ARE HEAVY!!  Whenever you have the opportunity to use a vehicle, take advantage and buy plenty of bottled water, cokes, vodka, wine, etc.  Store it in your cave or nuclear fallout shelter for just such an occasion.  You will be able to carry the ingredients for a dinner party in one trip, maybe two, if you don’t have to deal with the drinks.  Trust me.  I did it in one trip today.  Here is what you can carry in one trip:

6 packs of chicken parts for Fried Chicken
2 sticks of butter
1 liter of milk
6 potatoes
2 packs of smoked salmon
1 pack of smoked trout
1 pack of jambon cru
½ of a wheel of tete de moins cheese  (I had to ask the cheese guy for this ½ wheel in French.  I am so proud.)
1 container of raspberries
1 container of blackberries
2 peaches
3 red tomatoes
2 yellow tomatoes
1 head of lettuce
7 dinner rolls
1 large bottle of vegetable oil to fry the chicken
1 bottle of grapefruit juice
1 bottle of cranberry juice
1 lemon
1 lime
1 red onion
1 pack of fresh mint
2 boxes of crackers
1 container of mixed olives
7 ears of corn on the cob

I carried this on my back and in my two hands, people!  Again, I repeat, if I would have had to carry all of the drinks as well, I would still be lying in the middle of a charming cobblestoned street somewhere in downtown Lausanne having an anxiety attack.   Passerby would have been throwing centimes into my satchel, assuming I was an epileptic beggar.  No, move along, sir.  I am just a random Trailing Spouse trying to prepare a dinner party without a vehicle.  Nothing to see here, madame, move along.  Merci.

See how I am adapting?  I even have time to write in the blog before I have to get into the shower and magically transform in to Corporate Wife Extraordinaire.  I think this calls for a glass of wine.  Au revoir!

Saturday, July 10, 2010


I think I have discovered the reason behind Europe’s depopulation woes.  Their washing machines are too tiny.  Today, after Small Son and his New Girlfriend left to go back to the US, I started changing sheets and doing laundry as one does.  Y’all.  I began at 8 a.m. and it is now 5:30 p.m. and I am still not finished.  My washer is sooooo tiny, (how tiny is it, you ask?), it is sooooo tiny that I have to wash each sheet separately.  Yes.  Both the top sheet and the bottom sheet do not fit in the little container at the same time.  I can fit one sheet and two bath towels and possibly a pair of tightie whities, but not two sheets.

Lawd Amighty, you could fit all of the bedding from the third floor of a Holiday Inn in one load in my washing machine in the US with room left over for a poodle or a small toddler.  The only two women in the US who do more than one load of laundry per day are Kate Gosselin and the Octomom.  So far today, I am on load number FIVE and I am still not finished.  Now, perhaps, you are thinking that Small Son and New Girlfriend are just major dirty laundry producers.  No.  A normal amount, I would say.  Four sheets and a handful of towels.  So, here’s my question.  What do these Euro-women do who have a bunch of kids?

Ah ha!!  They don’t have a lot of kids.  Usually one.  Never more than two.  It’s a real problem over here, the depopulation of Europe.  They are not replacing themselves anymore and I know why.  Women don’t want to spend their entire life in the laundry room watching their three diapers and a couple of pairs of footie pajamas spin round and round.  If I had to do two childrens’ laundry (or more!) every day with these machines, I would require way more Valium than is legally permitted.

I’m really confused about this.  I know the washers and dryers are small so that they will be more energy efficient and use only an eyedropper-full of water for the entire wash/rinse cycle, but, c’mon!  How is it more energy efficient if you have to run ten times as many loads to get the job done?

And, of course, there’s no bleach, but that is an old story and we will not go there.

So, while we are waiting for load number five to finish, let me tell you about The Puzzling Speedo Rule in Evian.  One day while the kids were here, we went down to the private pool/beach here in my city of Lausanne to go swimming.  This is a funny concept so let me explain.  We live on a lake.  Most of the shoreline is rocky.  There are very few actual beaches.

The modus operandi appears to be that every city/town/village along the lake stakes out the very best “beach” within their city limits and fences it off, all the way down from the access road into the water.  Then they add a few pools and a playground within this fenced-in area and they charge you to enter.  Clever.  So, you can go to the crappy beaches or jump off rocks for free, or you can pay a few franc and go to the primo-bitchin’ beaches with pools and high dives and on-site bars and restaurants.  Guess where I prefer to go?

Anyway, we had a nice day, but the pools were not heated.  Remember, it was just snowing here not even a month ago.  These pools were cold even though we are now in the middle of a heatwave.  We went in them but it was not really pleasant.  It was, actually, a bit painful.  The locals were just a-hoopin’ and a-hollerin’ and having a good ol’ time, but our lips were turning blue, if you know what I mean.

We made a collective decision to try out the “private” beach in Evian, which is just a ferry ride away across the lake.  Here’s a hint Lausanne; heat your pools.  The natives are defecting to France.  The ferry was packed with Swissies going to dip in the heated pools in Evian.  HOWEVER.  When we got up to the ticket booth to pay our paltry admittance, (3 euros 50), there was a giant sign regarding proper bathing attire.  There appeared to be a pair of swim trunks with a great big red “X” on it and a picture of a teensy pair of Speedos with no “X”.  Mr. Big and Small Son looked at me like I would be able to interpret this sign.

First of all, it was a GRAPHIC sign, i.e. no words.  Like I am some great interpreter of French graphic signs.  I look at the sign.  I look at Mr. Big and Small Son standing there innocently in their swim trunks.  I look back at the sign.  I say:

“Surely, it means that you cannot wear STREET CLOTHES in the pools.  They cannot possibly mean that every single person in there with a Y chromosome has to wear a Nut Bag.”

Ahh.  Yes, Trailing Spouse!  That is what that must mean!  They just don’t want you in the pool with your regular clothes, like boxers and khakis!  Good on you for figuring out that crazy sign!”

And in we go.

Well, of course, every single man, boy, male infant in the entire place was sporting a Banana Hammock.  Can you say Too Much Information?  I never saw so many packages in my life, except in the Bloomingdale’s Christmas window displays.  I mean, really.  Sir, excuse me, we haven’t even met.  Don’t be pointing that thing at me.

We tried to sneak Small Son down the water slide in his flashy trunks.  Non, non, non.  I tried to explain to the French Pool Gendarme that, in America, my son’s shorts were an actual bathing suit.  Busted.  Back into the lake we went.  You see, you could go in the lake with all of the other middle school juvenile delinquents with those trunks but not the heated pools.

Fast forward to the next day when I went on my favorite website, englishforum.ch, and I asked those veterans on there WHY the Only Speedo Rule.  Firstly, I found out it is not just a French thing.  They also have this rule in many pools in Switzerland.  Some people thought it was a hygiene issue, which didn’t make any sense, but then the truth eventually came out.  Speedos are for actual swimming, not just jumping in a pool to horse around and cool off.  It appears to be a cultural thing and, also, a snob thing.  If you are going into a swimming pool, you should be swimming, i.e. doing laps.  Swim trunks are not conducive to doing laps because they fall off.

Fair enough.  I asked Mr. Big and Small Son if they would be willing to don the proper attire to go swimming in the public pools round these parts.  Two guesses what their answer was and the first guess doesn’t count.  “No flippin’ way”.  These are dyed-in-the-wool American guys.  They would rather be hit by a train than exhibit their family jewels out in public.

They did, however, enjoy looking at all the ladies sans bikini tops.  Oh.  Did I forget to mention that little tidbit?  Yes, tops are optional in Evian.  So, don’t feel toooooo badly for Mr. Big and Small Son.  Their day was not an entirely ruined.

Laundry’s done.  More later on the hiking trip we took while Small Son was here.  But no more about Speedos.  I promise.