Friday, May 27, 2011

Two Days in Burgundy

So, Mother’s Day weekend rolls around and I’m pouting and mopey because my children are 5,000 miles away and Mr. Big is not about to bring me pancakes in bed.  Not because he’s not a nice person, but because there’s no such thing as Bisquick in Switzerland and he wouldn’t have the first clue how to make pancakes from scratch.

To console myself, I plan a last-minute trip over the Jura mountains into France to the region called Bourgogne, which is known as Burgundy, in English.  I book a room at Le Cep in the village of Beaune (pronounced Bonne) over the internet.  While searching for a hotel online, I stumble on a page called  It turns out to be a British company that gives wine tours to vineyards that tourists don’t normally visit.  Here’s the website:

Ah, I think.  What fun!  Plus, it fits neatly in with my ultimate plans to retire on a vineyard in France.  I can use this tour to subtly begin steering Mr. Big in that direction, as in, “look, Mr. Big, how cool is this vineyard and don’t you want one, too?”  I exchange a few emails with the lady from burgundyonaplate, Susan, and, voila, we are slotted in to her all-day tour on Saturday.  Which begins at 9:30 a.m.  On or about the time when, I’m sure, my beloved had anticipated waking up in Lausanne, having a large quantity of coffee and mentally preparing himself for the 2.5 hour drive to Burgundy.

Oh, dear me.  Remember, this is spur-of-the-moment stuff going on here so it is already Thursday.  You know, there really is no easy way to tell some poor guy who has been away on business all week that, once he arrives home Friday night, he has about six hours of downtime to get over his jet lag before his wife will be dragging his ass out of bed at 5:30 on a Saturday morning, putting him behind a wheel and making him drive to another country so they can begin drinking wine at 9:30 in the morning.  No easy way.

Of course, I feel no qualms about bringing out the big gun, i.e. The Guilt Card, as in the I Am Not With My Children on Mother’s Day Because You Work In Switzerland Card.  Well, maybe a small qualm, but, whatever.  It worked.  And, since we were under such strict time limits, I did let him drive all the way there on the freeway, just like the Garmin lady recommended.  He was fine, really.  Y’all stop worrying about Mr. Big.

We zoom into Beaune at 9:20, which is impossibly quaint, as is the hotel, but there’s no time to explore because Susan has arrived in her mini-van and she is Ready To Go.  We stop at another hotel to pick up the other couple who are joining us.  They are not outside waiting so Susan goes to find them.  Apparently, they are still in bed!  This does not bode well for Susan’s tight schedule so she takes the bull by the horns, rouses the proprietor who rouses the couple who take the world’s fastest showers and arrive at the minivan 30 minutes late.

Meanwhile, all Mr. Big can think about is how he was SOOOO gypped out of 30 minutes of extra sleep time.  Luckily, the young couple from Adelaide, Australia, (Eye-de-lide, mate), were so cute and their backstory was so intriguing, Mr. Big quickly forgot about holding a grudge over his lost sleep opportunity.  Even after almost three years here, Mr. Big is still flabbergasted at people who go on holiday for five weeks or more.  Ozzie Couple was on a Euro-tour for seven weeks.  I could just hear the words being screamed inside my husband’s brain, HOW DO YOU LEAVE YOUR JOBS FOR SEVEN WEEKS AND STILL HAVE JOBS TO RETURN TO?  HOW?  HOW?  HOW?  HOW DOES YOUR COMPANY NOT CRUMBLE?  HOW DOES THE WORLD GO ON SPINNING?  Etc., etc., etc.

Fortunately, he bit his tongue and our little tour group went on its’ merry way.  First stop was a vineyard in Rully.  The great thing about having a tour guide was that Susan has a close relationship with the vintners that she brings clients to see, so we got an in-depth and personalized tour of places that we never would have found on our own.  I was thrilled to see Mr. Big asking a lot of questions.  I was not so thrilled that one of the questions was, “Monsieur, if you had it to do over again, would you own a vineyard?”  I was even less thrilled when the answer was, “No way in hell.  Would you like to buy this one?”

Susan was driving, so she was only allowed to swirl and spit, but the rest of us were swallowing, so by 11 a.m. we were having a good ol’ time and were all BFFs.  Turns out Susan had quite the interesting backstory, as well.  Apparently, she lives on a houseboat on the River Saone (rhymes with Bonne) which she drove? floated? over from England many moons ago when she fell in love with Burgundy on holiday.  Her tour business is very popular and she has registered the domain name “” so I guess she will be setting sail over to Provence some time in the future.  Cool life, huh?

Anyway, this post is already too long and I haven’t even gotten to lunch, yet.  (Coq au Vin in a village called Volnay).  I’ll attach the link to the photo album from Bourgogne, Day One, here:
Bottom line, if you don’t feel like dealing with the hordes of tourists overrunning Provence and want the same kind of experience, go to Burgundy.  All of the villages are very close together so you could bring or rent bicycles and just tool around sipping wine and eating your way through any number of completely charming, medieval villages.  Heaven, really.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Trailing Spouse Meets Her Match in Israel

OK, let the Political Correctness begin.  When talking about the Middle East and/or Israel, it goes without saying that any non-Muslim, non-Arab, non-Jew needs to watch what they say.  Seriously.  This fact was really brought home when we arrived at the Tel Aviv airport and got in the line for customs.

Mr. Big calmly takes out a brand new passport.  Mint.  Never opened.  Now, I’ve seen Mr. Big’s passport and it is truly a thing of wonder.  He is THAT GUY who has to go to various consulates every other week to have full-page visas inserted into his passport.  He is THAT GUY who has to have 50 extra pages inserted into his passport every other year by the US consulate in Bern because all of his pages are full.  Mr. Big’s passport has an alphabetized index and a table of contents.  (Kidding, but it’s close).

Me:  Mr. Big, what the hell is that thing?  Are you a spy?  Do you have multiple identities now or what?  Are you really Jason Bourne, and, if you are, then I’ve been screwed because you are supposed to look like Matt Damon.

Mr. Big:  Hush, somebody is going to hear you.

Me:  Who?  God?  Big Brother?  That nice man behind me in the yarmulke?

Mr. Big:  The Mossad.

YIKES!!!  The Mossad is here watching me try and collect my luggage?  Hello, Mossad, I just want to go lay by the pool.  In whispers, Mr. Big tells me that because he has stamps and visas from Arab countries ALL OVER his regular passport.  He was, therefore, advised by Someone Important (who?  Obama?  Santa?  Seal Team 6?) that one must only arrive in Israel with a “clean” passport or one will never get beyond customs.  Serious shit, people.

Jason Bourne and I make it through customs without a hitch and are met by a driver who is going to take us to our hotel where, hopefully, I will be able to lay by the pool and get a tan on this Alpine-white body I’ve been living in all winter.  The landscape going to the hotel was very similar to Southern California.  Lots of citrus trees and suburbs filled with pastel-colored stucco houses.  The skyline of the city is even reminiscent of LA with clusters of high-rises scattered around:  some down at the waterfront, some off in the distance, some in the middle of the city, etc.  So far, so good.  From a distance.  Y’all know what is coming don’t you?

Just FYI, I normally consider myself a well-read, well-informed person.  I can usually just go with the flow, adapt, adjust or do whatever is necessary to make the best of any situation.  I thought that, because I knew something of Israel’s history (i.e. the infrastructure either dates from ancient times or from post-1960), I would know what to expect.  In Tel Aviv, I was expecting a completely modernized city on the Mediterranean filled with resort hotels, restaurants with interesting and exotic food and fabulous shopping.

Y’all, there is just no politically correct way to say this.  It was just appalling.  Actually, it went beyond appalling and loped right on into Scary Town.  OK, I have been in places where, just one or two blocks off of the beach or the main drag, it begins to get a little bit “iffy”.  (Miami and Las Vegas come to mind here!)  But when the main beachfront road and its’ corresponding hotels look like cement block prisons and none of the properties look like they’ve seen the least bit of updating since 1960, you’ve got a problem.  Very, very Third World, let alone Developed Nation.

For example, our concrete prison bloc, er, I mean, 4 STAR HOTEL, was a joke.  The laughs began in the elevator lobby.  There were four elevators.  But, two of them were Shabbat elevators.  Mr. Big and I are not Jewish so we don’t know Shabbat about Shabbat.  I know now that Shabbat means “this elevator will make you pull your hair out and gnash your teeth at old ladies and small children”.  When you pushed the down button, it would go up.  When you pushed the up button, it would go down.  It stopped on every odd-numbered floor.  It just went wherever it wanted to go, regardless of whatever Mr. Big was yelling at it.  Y’all, it was abso-frickin-lutely HILARIOUS to hear Mr. Big standing inside the elevator screaming at the top of his lungs, “BUT I’M ONLY TRYING TO GET TO FOUR!!!  FOUR, YOU MUTHA!!!! FOUR!!!.  Sorry, sir.  Just get out on five and walk down the stairs.  Now.  Just do it.  Thank you.

The pool, about which I had such high hopes, was a Howard Johnson’s 1965, side-of-the-interstate, concrete square hole filled with water.  Nary a cabana boy, swim-up bar nor palm tree in sight.  Not to beat a dead horse, but, really, if penitentiaries had swimming facilities, this pool would have been the prototype.  Plus, it was covered.  So, we can add NO SUN to that list.  OK, no tan available here, let’s move onto the beach.

The water and the view were lovely.  There is no way even Tel Aviv can screw with either the sun or the Mediterranean Sea.  But, the minute you got on the sand?  Apparently, the national past-time in Israel is paddle ball.  They played on the beach.  They played on the boardwalk.  They played UP AGAINST THE WALLS OF THE HOTELS, completely unaware of passersby ducking and diving for cover.  Thwack.  Thwack.  Thwack.  All day long.  Non-stop.  Thousands and thousands of them.  Thwack.  Thwack.  Thwack.  I would have had to have been in a coma to be able to lay out amidst that cacophony for more than nine minutes.

Shopping, maybe?  Let’s go walk around and find the “nice section” (because, clearly, we were not in it!).  We walked for miles in either direction, up and down the beach, as well as inland.  Nada.  More of the same.  More than 50% of the buildings look like they’ve been bombed and are awaiting renovation.  Exposed clumps of electrical wires hanging everywhere, multiple, multiple buildings with no windows, strip joints, mattresses laid out on sidewalks where people are obviously sleeping and/or living, etc.  Scary stuff.

At this point, we really needed a nice dinner to perk us up and give Tel Aviv one last chance for redemption.  Unfortunately, this was during Passover.  This is what I knew about Passover.  You can’t have any normal bread.  Flat bread, only, a.k.a. matzo.  Matzo are giant, saltine crackers without the salt.  Fine.  Whatever.  What I DIDN’T KNOW was that, during Passover, all the restaurants turn into big, family-style Kosher buffets.  We must have gone into five restaurants and been confronted with huge, Jewish family gatherings who all stopped eating when we walked in and stared at us.  Like nuns walking into a whorehouse, we were.  Sorry!  Just leaving!  Bye!

We ended up eating with the few remaining Non-Jewish tourists at a restaurant directly on the beach and the food was so bad that mine involved mold so I am not going to go into it here, just in case some of you are eating while you read this.  At this point, I just couldn’t take it anymore, let alone for four more days.

Back at Chez Penitentiary, we fire up our computers to see when the next available flight was heading back to Switzerland because I would rather donate a kidney than stay in Tel Aviv one more hour.  Much to Mr. Big’s horror, his computer has been hacked, murdered, fried and otherwise invaded by unseen forces through the hotel’s WiFi.  Can you say Icing On The Cake?  I thought he was going to fling himself off the concrete balcony down onto the asphalt parking lot.  The only other times (more than five but less than ten) I have seen him so mad were when one of the kids wrecked one of the cars.

Dude!  Here, take mine!  I can easily live without Facebook for four days!  Just get me out of this crazy place!  So, I left at 6 a.m. the next morning without my computer but with my sanity.  Mr. Big, unfortunately, had to stay four more days on business.  After he started meeting with the locals, he learned that Israel is one of those places where one does not just gallivant off to without guidance.  Guides are the way to go.  24/7.   One mustn’t just “wing it” or one winds up severely disappointed.  Nooooo.  Really?

By now you have figured out from the pictures, which have been swiped from the Internet, that I didn’t take any pictures of my own.  Not only was there nothing to see, I was worried that the Mossad would swoop down and arrest me for taking bad/funny photos, so I did not dare.  But, if you want to see some really funny/good photos from Copenhagen that I couldn’t fit on the blog, click on this:!/media/set/?set=a.200484549987847.42305.116830998353203

By the way, I didn’t give Copenhagen credit for the two wonderful dinners that we had there.  I HIGHLY recommend here: and here:
Two excellent, amazing meals with great atmosphere!  The Peder Oxe is a traditional, Danish meal, (very upscale, though), situated in the city in an open square and the Nimb Brasserie is located on the outside of Tivoli Gardens, (you don’t have to go into the amusement park to eat there), with a fabulous tasting menu of Nouveau Danish-type food.  Just delicious, both of them.  Go there.

Tel Aviv, ah Tel Aviv.  I had such high hopes but it was not meant to be.  Obviously, it was my fault because I was expecting WAAAAAAY too much.  Mr. Big tells me that when we go to Egypt I need to set my expectations at about zero on a 1-to-10 scale and then I won’t be so disappointed.  I’m like, Mr. Big, please.  Do I look like a girl who would like a place that rates a zero?   Don’t expect a blog post from Cairo any time soon, people.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Weird Easter Vacation

About six days before Easter, it occurred to me that there was a REASON why all my walking buddies were all going away for Easter break.  I had completely forgotten that Switzerland literally shuts down for four days.  I mean, it’s like four Sundays all in a row.  When Mr. Big got home from work that night, I started my subtle “I Want To Go Somewhere Next Week Campaign”.

Me:  Mr. Big, how many days off do you get for Easter?

Mr. Big:  When is Easter?

Me:  This coming Sunday.

Mr. Big:  Well, in the US, I used to have off on Good Friday, if I remember correctly.  Here, I don’t know, probably the entire month of April.  Why?

Me:  Because we will be the only two people left in Switzerland next weekend.  Everyone else, except for the farmers who are going to be busy releasing their cows into the spring fields, is going “en vacances”.

“En vacances” is a state of being in Europe.  You have to say it way up in your nose like this:   Ahhhhhh Vuhcahhhhhhns.  Les vacances are taken very seriously here and trivial things like work (unless that work involves cow maintenance) should never be allowed to interfere with something as important as leisure time.  That’s what Americans do and that is completely gauche and um, American.  (Isn’t it nice to be an adjective for a whole other continent?)  Seriously, Euros think Americans work ridiculously hard.  They find it amusing, but they are also glad SOMEBODY is working hard to keep the world’s economy going, just so long as it isn’t them.  It goes along with their whole perception of Americans.  They think we are adorable in the way that puppies are adorable.  We are annoying, loud, untrained and if you don’t keep your eye on us all the time, we just might go pee behind the sofa.  Yet, they love our spontaneity, our boisterousness and our unpretentiousness.  Like puppies.  See?

Back to my pending vacances.  After blindfolding Mr. Big, spinning him around and pointing him toward a wall map of Europe, he picks Copenhagen.  Copenhagen is up there in those confusing countries/cities that I always get mixed up.  Is it in the Netherlands?  Sweden?  Denmark?  Holland?  Is Holland even a country?

Thanks to Wikipedia, I now know that Copenhagen is a city in Denmark.  The people are Danes or Danish.  Holland, on the other hand, is a mere region of the Netherlands, which is a country.  The city of Amsterdam is in the Holland region of the Netherlands.  All of those people are Dutch.  It’s very confusing.  Where does the “Dutch” come from?  Shouldn’t they be Netherlandians or Hollanders?  I have no answer to these questions.

Just to make me crazy (like I haven’t achieved that all on my own), Mr. Big tells me that he absolutely has to be in Tel Aviv, Israel no later than the Tuesday evening following Easter for work.  He is such a diligent American workerbee!  Well, I want to go to Tel Aviv also because I’ve never been there AND it would be my first trip to the middle east, albeit, the only non-Muslim country in the middle east, but it still counts in my book.

The plans evolve into a Laurel and Hardy comedy routine whereby we will fly to Copenhagen on Thursday.  We will fly back to Lausanne on Sunday (Easter) morning to REPACK, (remember, it is still chilly in Copenhagen but it is hot in Israel), fly out again the next day to Tel Aviv on Monday morning and stay all week, basking in the sun on the Mediterranean.  This was the plan.

OK.  Copenhagen.  Because this all happened so quickly, I didn’t do my homework.  I checked the weather and I checked exactly which country I was going to.  That was it.  So, operating only on my preconceived notions of Copenhagen/Denmark, we arrive.  I was expecting windmills, tulips, wooden shoes, dikes and canals.  I got a big, dirty city with lots of homeless people, tourists, graffiti and prostitutes.

I think somewhere about, oh, say, 1985, the government officials in Copenhagen threw in the towel.  I can just imagine the meeting in the bowels of City Hall.  “You know, Hans, we cannot keep up with the city maintenance.  It is just getting to be too much work.”  “OK, Sven, then let’s concentrate on the four or five main streets where the bulk of the tourists hang out and let the rest go to hell in a handbasket.”  “Gut idea, Hans!”

Those four or five streets are very picturesque, semi-clean and packed with throngs, and I mean throngs, of people.  Go one block over, however, and you won’t be able to take a picture because the graffiti covers every square inch of every building, park bench, sidewalk, etc.  Even the bronze statues have had their eyes filled in with red paint.  I’ve never seen so much graffiti, and I lived in Los Angeles for more than 10 years.  It’s really bad.

For example, Copenhagen is a city surrounded by water.  There are canals on both sides.  Hans and Sven obviously decided, back in 1985, that only the canals on the right side of the city were manageable.  Those on the left, well, uh, you people who live around there will just have to fend for yourselves and do the best you can. 

Unfortunately, if one is a tourist and is looking at a map, one cannot tell that Right Canals = good and Left Canals = bad, right?  Guess where we went strolling on Morning One looking for a coffee shop and bakery?  Of course, the left canals.

Y’all, there was a bloated DEAD DUCK peacefully decomposing in the water.  Disgusting!  The mama swan had made a nest out of TRASH.  Literally.  Her nest was composed of garbage bags and coke cans.  The water was only about 3 feet deep and you wouldn’t believe the mounds of debris you could see through the murk.  Bicycles, hub caps, car batteries, etc.  It was gross.  In Switzerland, in Lac Leman, if there was even a sick duck or maybe even a duck with just a slight head cold, let alone a dead duck, the coast guard would have been called to scoop that sucker up faster than you can say Not In My Lake You Don’t, Daffy.

Hans and Sven also must have been under strict orders to keep up on the maintenance around the palace.  Yes, just in case you haven’t overdosed on enough royalty this week what with the Grand Nuptials of Wills and Kate, I will post some pix here of the Danish royal residence in Copenhagen.
THAT front yard was pristinely clean and guarded by the Danish Royal Guard against, I don’t know, random marauders, wayward prostitutes and spray-paint wielding Picasso wannabees. 

By the way, their (the Danes’) royalty misbehaves just as much as the UK’s.  The headlines in the paper while we were there were commenting on the fact that the Crown Prince was spotted out clubbing with a woman who was NOT the Princess who also happens to be the loving mother of his four children all under the age of 8, two of whom are newborn twins.  I promise you, if Mr. Big would have left me alone with 4 kids, 2 of them barely out of the womb, to go out clubbing with some hootchie mamma, he would have had to have his crown surgically removed from his ass the next morning.

Don’t get me wrong.  Copenhagen is a GREAT city if you are single, in your early twenties and want to stay out partying all night.  If you are the kind of person who thinks dreadlocks look great on white guys, you should definitely book the next flight.

We arrived back in Switzerland on Easter Sunday and, of course, it was closed up as tight as a drum.  I’m surprised they got the air traffic controllers to work on Easter.  We scrounged up a baguette, some cheese and some sausage at the convenience store in the Geneva airport and went home to repack.  After a nice, long nap and a shower that helped us recuperate from the slightly scummy feeling left on our skin from Copenhagen, we caught up on our taped episodes of American Idol and got ready to go to Tel Aviv.  Which I will leave for the next blog post.  Ha!