Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Chalet Shenanigans - Chapter 29

Finding a Fairy Tale Valley

From May to December, Mr. Big and I have had to find an activity that keeps us in shape for the next ski season.  We are old and if we went 6 months without exercising our legs we would undoubtedly pull any number of muscles the first time we put on our ski boots and hoofed it to the ski bus stop come December.

Our chosen activity is hiking.  Well, I say “our” but I really mean “my”.  Mountain hiking is not Mr. Big’s favorite thing because it involves heights and it involves uncertainty.  Me, I love not knowing
what wonderment I might meet just over the next hill.  Mr. Big likes a well-plotted, well-posted route that has obviously been used by many, many people.  If you could eavesdrop on our hikes, this is what you would hear:

Big:  Which way?

Me:  I dunno.  It sort of looks like the right hand route leads more directly to that village down there.

Big:  Well, what does the map say?  What do the signposts say?  What IS the name of that village down there?  That trail looks pretty skinny.  And cliff-y.

Me:  I can’t figure out the map, the signposts are vague, I have no idea what village that might be and don’t step off the trail.  Now, let’s go, O Mighty King of Phobias.

I don’t know, exactly, what scares him so.  There are no wild cats or bears in Switzerland.  One can almost always see a village of some sort in the distance, where there will no doubt be a cafĂ© and a bus back to civilization.  I mean, it’s not like we are going to have to sleep out under a tree somewhere. 
And the instances of people literally falling off the side of the mountain are quite rare, so I just don’t
get it.  Yet, he still gets jittery after four years of hiking all over God and creation.

Anyway, I make him do it because it is good for his health and it is good sometimes for him to not always be so in control of everything.  Besides, the best stuff is always encountered when one goes off the beaten path.

Take this weekend for example.  We haven’t spent a lot of time up in the Suisse Allemande, or the German-speaking part of Switzerland, because, um, they speak Swiss German up there and they are
really, really strict with the rules, (like 10 times moreso than they are here in the French-speaking part, which is already bad enough).  There’s one corner of Switzerland where we have never been called Graubunden because it’s really hard to get there.  You will have heard of one ski village there called St. Moritz.  Anyone who lives in Switzerland knows to avoid St. Moritz like the plague because it is just chock full of Chinese tourists, it’s not at all authentic, it’s way overpriced and it’s full of poseurs.  (Sorry, St. Moritz, but you know it’s true).

There’s also Davos, but that’s another tourist trap which has only come into existence since the 1930’s and no actual Swiss people ever go there.  That left Klosters, which is more low key and
which, at least, has an actual village that existed long before the masses arrived to check off St. Moritz from their bucket list.

(Ok, for all of you ex-pats, forget Klosters, too.  It’s more of the same.  We stayed in Klosters because it was the lesser of three evils and the hotel was very nice and the restaurants are delicious in a very chef-y kind of way, but it’s really overpriced and, quite frankly, not that charming.  But, not to fear, I’m about to tell you where to go instead.)

I booked a room at the Hotel Alpina which is directly across from the train station in Klosters and just steps from the Gotschnabahn, the cable car which takes you up the mountain.  Because it is the
off-off-off season, the rooms were only 200 francs per night including breakfast which is a steal.  Dinner was another matter, entirely, but it was our 27th wedding anniversary, so what the hey.  Live a little, right?  (Just FYI, the same room goes for 479 francs during ski season).

Saturday morning, we took the train to Davos and then the mountain train up to the summit to begin our hike back to Klosters.  All of our preplanning had indicated that this was a five-hour hike and it did, indeed, take about five hours, plus a nice lunch on the mountain and stopping every five
minutes to take pictures.  Now, for those of you who have hiked around Zermatt and Mont Blanc like we have, you are going to be underwhelmed.  Davos is really rocky and brown.  There are no pastures filled with the sounds of cow bells.  The Klosters’ side of the hike was more picturesque but still not as breathtaking as the hiking trails in the Suisse Romande.

Being underwhelmed, I got out the maps that night after dinner in Klosters, (a shout out to the Hotel Rustica where we dined off of the Hunt Menu and conjured up visions of Thanksgiving with pumpkin
soup, braised red cabbage, roasted chestnut sauce and venison tenderloin), and started looking for REAL Swiss villages as opposed to tourist traps.

I knew that in this canton (county) of Graubunden lived the Romansch, a sector of Swiss people who speak another language entirely.  There are only about  5,000 people left who speak Romansch and they live a very
secluded life in a very secluded valley called Engadin.  I had heard that the town of Scuol in the Engadin valley was quite charming.  Looking at the map, it appeared that this valley was only one mountain away from Davos/Klosters but we would have to take a 20-minute train ride through said mountain to reach it.  Since this tunnel had only been completed in 2010, that explained why the Romansch were an isolated society, no?

Bright and early Sunday morning, I had Mr. Big up and out of bed dressed for hiking and exploring in the Engadin valley.  Destination:  Scuol-Tarasp.  End of the train line.  End of civilization.  From this
village you either retreat back into Switzerland or cross over the next Alp into Austria or Italy.  On foot.

Besides being the only place left on the planet where Romansch is spoken, the Engadin valley is known for “sgraffito”, which is ancient graffiti.  All of the old houses are decorated by etching patterns directly into the stucco.  Really, I couldn’t take enough pictures.  It was embarrassing, the amount of pictures that I took.  There was one poor woman on Sunday morning who was sitting outside of her house drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette and wearing a PINK
SNUGGIE, no lie, and I was just kind of hanging out in the street outside waiting for her to go in so I could take a picture of her house.  Her house was so cute but I didn’t want to be rude and take a picture of her in her snuggie, so I was just trying to dawdle nonchalantly around in front.  Alas, the woman never took the hint, never went back inside and, consequently, I never got a picture of her house, so I am bummed because it was the cutest house in the village.  Ah, me.

So, Scuol was precious.  But.  BUT.  Above Scuol, sits a castle.  And this castle is Cinderella’s castle,
except it is real and Cinderella’s is fake.

Me:  Mr. Big, I want to hike to that castle yonder and take some stellar pictures.

Big:  OMG, Trailing Spouse, that castle is about 10 kilometers straight up.  Is there a trail?  Is it marked?  Will we die?  Are there cliffs?   Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Me:  It’s my fairy tale and my anniversary and I want to go to the castle.  Wah, wah, wah, etc. etc. etc.

For those of you who want to do this excursion one weekend, here’s what we did:  from the church in Scuol, look to the left for the pedestrian bridge over the river Inn.  Walk through the village of Scuol, over the pedestrian bridge and stay on that side of the river, following the yellow hiking signs to Vulpera and Fontana Tarasp.  Leave the left river bank after about 3 kilometers, following the sign to Vulpera.  Follow the road through Vulpera to the base of the golf course and the Hotel Engadina where it starts climbing up to Fontana Tarasp.  (This is a climb.  Be prepared to sweat.)  Before you get to the village of Fontana Tarasp, you will come to the village of Sparsels and directly above that, the Schloss Tarasp.

Y’all.  The whole time I felt like I was Rapunzel or Gretel or one of those fairy tale damsels.  The hotels, the gardens, every little nook and cranny is just out of a children’s book.  The village of Vulpera was magical.  It takes a lot for a 51-year-old woman to gasp with delight but I was as enchanted as my granddaughter at a One Direction concert.

 Charming Daughter, if you don’t want to have your wedding at the hotel in Vulpera, I am never
speaking to you again.

As we were hiking by the golf course, Mr. Big says, “this is blog-worthy”.  High praise, indeed.   The little, nine hole course is perched on a mountainside and it only goes in one direction—down.  Even people who can’t play golf can play here.  You only need a putter.  Gravity does all the work.

The village of Sparsels is dominated by one family who own, and have owned, the only four-star
hotel/restaurant in the town, for the last 21 generations.  Yes.  You heard me.  21 generations.  We ate lunch there and I had filets de perche and it was delicious and I saw the world’s smallest hummingbird in the geraniums right next to my head.  Magical.

The tour of the castle was only in Swiss German, but I know enough High German that I was able to translate the relevant parts to Mr. Big.  The Schloss Tarasp is not owned, nor has it ever been owned,
by a Swiss person.  It was owned by Austrians and then by Germans, who still own it today and still occasionally stay in it.  The most famous person who owned it was an Austrian count who restored it from the late 1800’s to 1916.  He was famous because he owned a mouthwash empire.  Not kidding.  His mouthwash brand still exists today.  It is called Odol.  G’head.  Google it.  His name was Herr Linger.

We caught the bus back from Vulpera to Scuol to the main train station.  As we were walking from the schloss down to Vulpera, we stumbled upon the Hotel Maria, whose owner is a Swiss hoarder.  His hoard has outgrown the hotel
proper and he has expanded out onto the roadside where he has a junk shop.  Since the words “junk shop” are too downmarket for Switzerland, he, the owner, Erich, calls it Erich’s Brocki, which is Swiss German for Erich’s Junk Shop.  When Erich saw that I was enamored with his junk shop, he invited me inside the actual hotel to see his collection of angels.

Oh.  My.  Lord.  Erich, sir, you have a little problem.  Every room in the bar and the restaurant of the hotel was completely covered with angels made from plaster, plastic, wood, fiber, cloth or spit and Kleenex.   Because Erich spoke French, I was able to gather that he and his partner, also male, have found their little corner of paradise up in the Engadin valley, running the Hotel Maria and collecting a vast variety of angels in their spare time.  While waiting for the bus, I explored his hotel and shop and Mr. Big drank some wine and ate some pretzels and chips that Erich brought him to keep him entertained.  It was the best wait for a bus that I have ever had.

In sum, DO NOT STAY IN KLOSTERS OR DAVOS OR ST. MORITZ.  Hie thee directly to the Engadin valley and stay in Vulpera.  Go.  Now.  You will love it.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Chalet Shenanigans - Chapter 28

The Season of the Visitors

Auntie has done her European vacation and here are the things she learned:

1.        Business class is not all it is cracked up to be.  Yes, Auntie might possibly be the first person
 in the world who disliked Lufthansa lay-flat beds (these things are NOT comfortable, Trailing   Spouse!), or four-course dinners (speck?  What is speck?), or all the alcohol one can drink.  C’est la vie.  Uncle Wade, rest easy, I did not spoil her for your future travels.  Girl prefers coach.

2.        It is possible to do all 5 Big Landmarks in Paris in one day using the metro and simply running your visitor up the metro steps, snapping the photo and running back down the metro steps to the next

3.        The Paris metro has a certain aroma and a certain ambience which can be alarming to an older, very white, very sheltered American who lives out in the countryside.  ‘Nuff said.

4.        Even Baptists can get carried away upon seeing the Pope.  Okay.  This was hilarious.  The morning that we visited Vatican City coincided with a Papal mass wherein the newly inaugurated Pope, Francis by name, was actually conducting the outdoor mass himself and making/crowning/inducting a bunch of new saints.  (I don’t know the right verb for turning somebody into a saint).  Anyway, there were more than 100,000 people out in the square in front of St. Peter’s Basilica and I was appalled.  I have been to the Vatican before and it has been very calm and you can go inside and get some great pictures of the Swiss guards, etc.  Not on this day.  On this particular day there were soldiers everywhere with guns and helicopters hovering overhead and metal stanchions all over the place strictly dividing where one could and could not venture.

Suddenly, for the first time in four days, Auntie comes alive and decides that she wants to take the lead of our little threesome, as opposed to following Mr. Big and I everywhere and occasionally
clutching the back of my shirt when she thought she was going to lose me.    So, out she pops, all 4 feet 10 inches of her, and starts tunneling through this HUGE crowd because she wants to be IN FRONT and get some up close photos of these various High Holy Figures.

ME:  Mr. Big, where in the hell is she going?

BIG:  I have no idea.  She’s YOUR aunt.

ME:  Go get her ass and get her back here before she gets trampled.

By this time, we had already lost sight of her tiny self and so Mr. Big had to elbow his way through all of these devout worshippers who were not too happy to have their feet stepped on but Mr. Big didn’t care.  He finds Auntie after only about two minutes (I swear, Uncle Wade, it was only two minutes!!) and he tells her, quite forcefully, that SHE CANNOT JUST GO MEANDERING OFF on her own in a crowd of 100,000 penitent Italians.  Well, Auntie was upset that us nasty young people spoiled all of her fun.  To make up for it, we showed her the Vatican City Post Office, (really just a single-wide mobile home that they set up in the middle of the square), where one can send a post card anywhere in the world, adorned with Pope Frank’s face, and postmarked from Vatican City.

After she mailed her post card to poor, unsuspecting Uncle Wade, (Huh?  Why am I getting a post card from the Pope?  Aren’t we Baptists?), we then had to fight our way back into Rome proper through a ginormous anti-abortion parade.  Really?  Can we have any more fun today?  Have YOU
ever tried to keep track of a very short lady in a foreign city going against the flow of 10,000 pro-life protesters?  I have.  I, myself, am going to be sainted on the Pope’s next go-round.  It’s true.  I got a letter.

5.        The Alps are indeed, high, and Switzerland is indeed, cold.  Nevermind that the calendar says June.  Even on sunny days, to an American, it is cold here.  It’s a fact of life.  I try to explain to people that we are on a latitude exactly equal to Halifax, Nova Scotia.  Would you go to Canada and not even bring a sweater?  Exactly.  Auntie was a shivering mass of flesh the entire time.

As for the altitude?  The first time we went over the Alps we went over the Grand St. Bernard pass.  She passed out in the back seat at about 2,500 meters and didn’t really revive until the next day around lunch time when we left the Val d’Aoste.  It’s a good thing I took pictures of our first night in Saint Vincent at the Hotel Alla Posta, because she, to this day, has absolutely no recollection.

Lest you think I am picking on Auntie, rest assured, I think she had a good time overall.  Once she got over the shock that there’s no such thing as bacon and eggs for breakfast and people here start drinking wine at lunchtime, she was okay.  Immediately after Auntie left, we welcomed Mr. Big’s dad, his wife and two of their friends.  Luckily, I had warned them ahead of time that, according to Auntie, it was freezing here, so they came fully equipped for fall-like weather.

We had a lovely stay with them, although, again, I think they were appalled by the fact that we eat approximately 10% of the amount of food on a daily basis that Americans routinely eat.  Also, hard
liquor is a rarity because everyone drinks only wine or beer.  And, if the hard liquor drink that one prefers is kind of off-the-beaten-path, that drink will not be duplicated with any success for the entire length of your stay.

Let me explain.  If you have guests coming who drink things involving more than two ice cubes, a
blender, strawberries, a TWIST of lemon, the verb “to muddle”, anything involving a dairy product, a “sprig” of anything, etc., their drink wishes are not going to be fulfilled.  These things just do not translate well.  I cannot stress this enough.  We do not even have CLUB SODA or TONIC WATER here.  

There are some close facsimiles, but they are not right.  I could go on and on about this for days, but,
be forewarned, if you want a hard liquor drink in Europe, you had better trim that sucker down to its’ bare essence.  In other words, to a simple shot of whatever is your pleasure.  A shot of vodka.  A shot of single malt scotch.  A shot of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey.  You see?  Don’t be trying to order a Sex on the Beach or a Long Island Iced Tea or a Mojito or anything involving cranberry.  Not gonna happen.

Enough about the drinks.  Let’s talk about the amazing things.  The day that we went to Yvoire on the Nyon-Yvoire ferry was fantastic.  The flowers in Yvoire were out of this world.  The day we took our visitors up from Chamonix to the Aiguille du Midi to see Mont Blanc was crystal clear.  (Freezing, but clear).  

Gruyere, as usual, was quirky but quintessentially Swiss.   Mr. Big’s crowning achievement was finding an English-speaking Catholic mass here in Lausanne for some visitors who wanted to go to
church.  They went twice!  (Thank you, Father-from-Ireland-in-Chailly who made them feel welcome!)

And, if you think MY visitors were challenging, let me tell you about my friend who lives in La Croix sur Lutry.  She had a niece from America come to visit this summer who went walk-about.  While in Greece, this niece GOT HIT BY A BUS and wound up in a Greek hospital.  The niece’s mother had to fly here to rescue her.  The whole visit included hospital visits in Greece and Switzerland, extra plane tickets, much angst, three-way translated phone calls in Greek-French-English, etc.  A nightmare.  All is well, though.  Niece is fine and back in Missouri or Ohio or wherever. 

Me?  I consider myself lucky that none of my guests wound up needing health care!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Chalet Shenanigans - Chapter 27

So I have this Aunt

. . . who is coming to visit and whom I love dearly and who reads this blog religiously and who is hysterical enough to merit her own blog post.

If you are an ex-pat long enough, you will see your fair share of visitors who come in all possible combinations of age, sex, health and family configurations.  In order to be a good host, you, dear ex-pat, should keep a ready list of things to do and see that account for every type of houseguest.

I have my list of things for twentysomethings which includes skiing, giving directions to the Flon which is the club spot in Lausanne and a plan for spending  a night in a yurt.  I have my list of things for couples our age which includes skiing, hiking from Wengen to Klein Scheidegg and walking to Lutry on Sunday morning for brunch.

We haven’t had any visitors yet with small children, but when we do, I have a list ready for them as well which includes skiing, getting lost in the Labyrinth Park near Monthey and eating our way through the  chocolate factory tour in Broc.

I also have a very short list for sixtysomethings from two years ago when my dad and his wife came to visit and I am going to steal liberally from this agenda when my aunt comes in May.  Unfortunately, my dad was only here with me in Switzerland for three days so the list only includes Gruyere and a boat trip to Evian and Yvoire.

My aunt, bless her heart, is in her seventies but she acts like she is in her forties so I am cautiously optimistic about the success of this extended visit.  The best part about Auntie is that she comes as a matching set with Uncle Wade*, (*names have been changed to protect the innocent, although Uncle “Wade” is far from innocent, so I don’t really know why I have bothered to change his name.)   Uncle Wade is, quite possibly, the funniest person on this planet or any other.  His sense of humor is so dry he makes James Bond’s martini envious.  (I hope he steals that line and has it engraved on his headstone.)

I am sure when Uncle Wade was courting Auntie he saw a cute, petite, vivacious and funny little thing that he thought would make the latter half of his life fun, lively and adventurous.  Yeah, he got all that.  And a cup of coffee.  Auntie is like Tinkerbell, wrapped inside a Brillo pad, tucked inside Napoleon’s vest.  Imagine if General Patton and Hello Kitty had a baby.  That’s Auntie.  And, honey, if Auntie were running the world, well, the world would run.  Period.

Unfortunately, Uncle Wade is not coming to Europe.  Not now, not ever.  Which is a shame because he and I have shared many a bonding moment complete with eyerolls when we looked across the room at all of our relatives and sent a mental message to each other that said “We are the only two sane people in the joint.  Let’s just sit back and enjoy the show, shall we?” 

Ain’t no way Uncle Wade was gonna go traipsin’ off to a furrin’ country and hang out with no namby pamby poncey Eurotrash and possibly miss the salmon run in Alaska.  No way in hell, missy.  Jus’ send me a postcard and let’s call it a day.

So, I’m a little nervous.  Auntie is a Planner.  I am not a Planner.  I am a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of person.  Here’s a little hint of why I am nervous:

Fairly Close Reconstruction of our conversation in November, 2012:

Auntie:  I want to come see you.  I’ve never been to Europe and it is a lifelong dream.

Me:  Great!  Is Uncle Wade coming with you?

Auntie:  Oh, for Heaven’s sake, no, of course not.  Have you lost your mind?  He might miss moose season or the premier of Duck Dynasty or something.

Me:  Okay.  When are you thinking of coming?

Auntie:  That’s a good question.  When is the next time you are coming to America?  Because, you see, the thing is, I am, actually, uh, a bit nervous to fly all that way by myself.

Me:  Um, okay.  Well, we are coming to America in December, February and then, I think, May of 2013.

Auntie:  Isn’t it cold there in December and February?

Me (laughing):  Yes, you could say that!  So, you want to fly with us in May when we come back to Switzerland from South Carolina?

Auntie:  Yes!  When do you think you will know the flight number?

Me:  The flight number of what?

Auntie:  The flight number of the plane we will be taking, silly!

Wowza, lady, I don’t even know what continent I’m going to be living on next May and you want to book a flight?  Of course, I didn’t say that because she is my elder, plus I didn’t want her to think that I was a flibberty-gibbet which is a word that I imagine people of her generation call people like me.  Plus I didn’t want to get smacked upside the head with a small handbag.

I held her off until February and then she started to go into Planner Panic.  Planner Panic occurs when a person who is, by nature, a Planner, encounters people like me who are utter bohemians and they start having anxiety attacks.  Three months ahead of time.  Here are the differences in the thought processes:

Bohemian:  Chill, mama.  You will be on a plane.  You will fly to Europe.  I will be with you the entire time.  Well, except for the time when you are in coach and I am in business.  During that time, I will come back and visit you and laugh at your food.  JUST KIDDING, AUNTIE!!!  LOVE YOU!!!  Where was I?  Okay, we will hang out in Switzerland, France and Italy.  It will be awesome and we will drink a lot of wine.  I will send you home, by yourself, and you will have many good memories and many Facebook-worthy pictures of us eating and meandering our way through Europe.

Planner:  I will leave the house at 9:34 Pacific Standard Time.   Uncle Wade will drive me to Sea-Tac and put me on the 12:45 plane to Columbia, South Carolina via Atlanta.  I will choose the pasta option in the air.  Upon landing, I will be met by Trailing Spouse and Mr. Big and we will proceed to their home where we will spend approximately 56 hours.  We will leave for the Charlotte airport at . . .
Well, you get the picture.  It’s not like I don’t have vast experience dealing with a Planner.  I am married to one.  However, over the decades, I have trained his inner Planner self to just go into hiding and go with the flow and it has always come out splendidly.  Well, almost always.  Auntie, on the other hand, is not used to my Bohemian ways and I fear that I will spoil her one and only trip to Europe in her entire life.  This terrifies me.  Too much pressure.  Gah!

In order to circumvent future May pitfalls, I sent Auntie a questionnaire.  Really.  Ask her.  I did.  It was a legit questionnaire with queries like “how many miles can you walk on uneven cobblestones?” and “approximately how many churches/cathedrals would you like to see in a 2 week period?  Ten?  Twenty?  Or some embarrassing number like fifty?” and “if we have to share a hotel room, do you prefer the right or left side?” and “what temperature in said hotel room would you say is ideal?  Warm?  Hot?  Or so hot we could steam dim sum on the radiator?”  Hey, you never know, right?  I was just trying to cover all my bases.

She was a really good sport and she answered my questions truthfully so I now have a much better grasp of what she wants to see and do.  Here is an example of her Definite Must Sees and her Possibly, If There Is Time Can We Please Sees:  (keep in mind she will be here for fourteen days):

Rome, Venice, Barcelona, Paris, Every City in Switzerland, St. Petersburg, Prague, Copenhagen, Tuscany, Provence, both the Italian and French Rivieras and every small, charming village in Europe while not ruling out a side trip to the UK.  And Ireland.

Auntie has the same problem many, many Americans have when coming to Europe.  They look at a world map and they compare the size of Europe to the size of America and they think, “jeez, that whole continent fits inside Ohio.  We can see the whole thing in like, a week.  Maybe even 5 days if we drive fast enough and don’t dawdle.”  What they don’t understand is that there is a little thing called the Alps that runs smack dab through the middle of the continent which inhibits travel.  A voyager must take into account all of the VERTICAL miles as well as horizontal miles.  That’s why it takes 5 hours to drive to Milan and Milan is only like twelve miles away.

Americans also don’t understand the difficulties of a highway system where the biggest road in an entire country has only two or three lanes going in each direction.  Usually only two.  Lastly, Auntie, I am sure, does not have a good grip on the limitations of my vehicle.

I have a Land Rover Defender which I use strictly to get around in the snow.  It’s not really a highway vehicle.  It’s certainly not a city vehicle.  It doesn’t go very fast and it is neither pretty nor comfortable but it will plow through two feet of snow like nobody’s business.  It is sort of like a Sherman tank but without as many cupholders.  Therefore, Auntie and I will probably be training to the majority of the spots on her Wish List and then taking various metro systems and bus routes.  I am nervous about this because I am trying to picture my aunt, the Planner, in the bowels of the Paris metro system where the only thing one can plan on is mayhem.

I am seriously thinking of getting her one of those harness/leash things so I don’t lose her.  I’m pretty sure Uncle Wade would never forgive me if I lost his wife.

Me:  Uncle Wade, I lost your wife.  One minute we were boarding the water taxi in Venice and when I turned around, she’d gone missing.

Wade:  Does she have her Venice guide book with her?

Me:  I’m quite certain that she has 7 or 8 guide books on her person as we speak.  She left a few in the hotel room that I told her she wouldn’t need today, like the Istanbul one, for example.

Wade:  Go online and see what the Venice guide book says about “What to do if you get lost or if you lose another person” and then just do whatever the book says because you can be durned sure that that is what she is going to do.

Me:  So you think she will just be hanging out at the American Consulate then, huh?

Wade:  Bet on it, missy.  She’s probably reorganized their filing system by now and made them all place Mary Kay cosmetic orders.  There’s potential here for an international incident so you best hurry.

Me:  I’m on it.

Well, I was going to continue this blog post because there’s much more to cover but I’ve just received an email from Auntie telling me that she hopes that all of the seats that I booked for her on her various flights are aisle seats.  Apparently, this is a crucial question that I left off of my informal questionnaire and I had Mr. Big book all window seats.  DON’T TELL HER!!  I will have this little issue fixed before she ever even knows about it!  Gah!  Gotta go!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Chalet Shenanigans - Chapter 26

First World Problems, a.k.a White Whine

I really should be doing my French homework and/or sewing the curtains for the bathroom, but Mr. Big is away in London, probably hanging out with Gordon Ramsay or Jamie Oliver, so, I am playing hookie and writing in my blog.

Which brings me to the topic for this post:  i.e. First World Problems.  Let’s see.  Hmmmm.  My husband is in London eating at some famous chef’s restaurant while I try to decide, while sitting in my chalet in the French Alps, what would be the most fulfilling use of my time.  Hmm.  Dilemma, dilemma.  See?  First World Problem.

This blog post is probably going to receive hate mail, but I don’t care.  Over here in Europe, we are not as politically correct as they are in America.  And, as far as First World Problems go, Switzerland takes the cake, hands down.  This country, I’m sure, logs the most First World Problems of any other, bar none.  The 99% can bitch and moan all they want, but, in Switzerland, no one cares.  They have real problems, here, by God, and these problems need to be taken seriously.

Truthfully, I would never write a whole article about this, but really, it is just too funny and I cannot help myself.  BECAUSE IT HAPPENS EVERY SINGLE DAY.  Usually, I chuckle and say, (under my breath), eh, First World Problem.  But, sometimes, it’s MY problem and then I’m not chuckling so much.  Fair warning, most of these problems are going to involve picture taking, skiing and sight-seeing.  YOU SEE?  Even our First World Problems involve First World Problems!

Take today, for example.  My homework (that I’m not doing but that I’m supposed to be doing) involves writing an essay on my opinion on The Minder Proposition.  The Minder Proposition is a bill that’s up for vote here next month which limits executive pay, because these bastards just make way too friggin’ much money, i.e. FWP.

Ergo, if you make so much money that your entire country thinks you need a pay cut AND FEELS THE NECESSITY TO BRING IT TO A VOTE, you have a First World Problem.

Some more examples:

You join Twitter because you think you are achingly funny but then you realize that you don’t really understand how to do it.  This embarrasses you and you tell no one that you are just not hip.

If, during a raging thunderstorm LOCATED IN SOUTH  CAROLINA, your  SWISS television skips a beat and you lose about 20 seconds of the show you are watching, this is a FWP.  This is what you say, “stupid Slingbox.  Who invented this thing?  Is it back on yet?  Jeez, I missed it.  Rewind!  Rewind!”

If, while trying to take an artistic photo of the Matterhorn, some other person walks in front of you, you say, “Dude, you are blocking my mountain. “  Then you have to wait, like, 5 seconds for them to move.  Some people are just rude.

Yes, First World Problems.  Otherwise known as White Whines.  No one takes them seriously.  No one cares.  No one is dying, right?  No one is starving.  First World Problems are the hangnails on the cuticles of life.

But, I must confess, I have them, and, yes they are funny, but they are real.  Here are some more:

In the Nespresso store, “I need 45 boxes of Ristretto”.  The lady behind the counter clarifies, “45, really?”  Yes, lady, I have Nespresso machines in three countries.  Just give me my 45 boxes.  Please.  I don’t need your raised eyebrows.  It’s 15 per country, which is not outrageous.  Spare me the eyebrow lift.  Please.

There’s a beautiful, raging blizzard going on outside, but you are all tucked up cozy inside your chalet with your fire going, sipping one of the aforementioned Nespressos, aaaand the internet goes out.  You check the computer, you check the tv, you check the iPhone.  No internet.  Waaaah!  How will I watch The Bachelor?  How will I download a new book onto my Kindle?  Wah, wah, wah.  There’s only one solution.  You get in your car and drive TO YOUR OTHER HOUSE where the internet is surely working.  (I think this one, so far, has been my ultimate First World Problem.  I’m almost embarrassed to talk about it.  Almost.)

You find yourself calculating exactly how far is too far for a 6-month old baby to fly comfortably, because you are trying to plan next summer’s family vacation.  You really want to do the South African safari thing, but that may be pushing it.  You may have to “settle” for Ibiza, or, God forbid, go slumming  in the Caribbean.

Here’s a whole subset of skiing problems.  By definition, ANY problem while skiing is a First World Problem, right?  They just don’t have these issues in Zimbabwe.

If, while sitting on a deck at a mountain restaurant, after having stopped for lunch during your day of skiing, the sun goes behind a cloud, you say, “OMG, where’s the sun?  I only like to ski in full sun or I will get chilly”.

You decide that you need a new ski jacket because your current, (although perfectly good), model does not have a dedicated pocket for your sun glasses.  It really bothers you that, on sunny days, (which are the only days that you ski, remember), when you stop to have lunch on the slopes, you do not have your sun glasses handy when you take off your helmet and goggles.  You always have to ask your husband for your glasses because his ski jacket has multiple pockets.  What a pain.

Sometimes, if you don’t time it just right, you have to wait the whole 17 minutes for the ski bus to make its’ loop.  So annoying.  You could, of course, walk to the ski lift in that time, but who does that?

You tend to avoid the slopes that have button lifts because you have white ski pants and they make your crotch look SO GRUNGY by the end of the day.  I mean, really.  Couldn’t they CLEAN those things occasionally?

And what about those restaurants that don’t give you a saucer or at least a napkin under your vin chaud?  Don’t they know how difficult it is to walk from the bar to your lounge chair in ski boots without sloshing a little?  C’mon, I’ve got white pants on here!  So thoughtless.

And for those of you out there who are thinking, “wow, I really can’t relate.  That Trailing Spouse is a horrible person, etc.”, well, if you are one of those who cleans your house BEFORE your cleaning lady gets there, you, my dear, have a First World Problem.

You get the picture.  Next time you find yourself complaining about something that 8 billion other people WISH they could complain about, just stop.  Take a deep breath and say, OK, that’s a First World Problem.

Then submit it to White Whines so all of the rest of us can enjoy it.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Chalet Shenanigans - Chapter 25

 Two New Babies:  One Real Kind and One Master Bath

Grand Three made her arrival in December and we attended the joyous occasion in Atlanta.  You will recall that Grands One and Two came as a package deal with Mrs. Domestic Son at the ripe old ages of 9 and 4 so we missed out on their babyhoods.   Mr. Big and I haven’t been around a newborn in over 20 years and Mr. Big has never been exposed to a lactating mother.

Well, Mr. Big was just hilarious as he always is when placed outside his comfort zone.  Nowadays, the whole family is invited into the Labor Room to hang out with the expectant parents while the mom-to-be, well, labors.  Needless to say, Mr. Big feels that he is quite well-acquainted with his daughter-in-law now.  The poor man just didn’t know where to look.  He finally settled on an imaginary point in space located somewhere in the vicinity of the doorway from which he did not move his gaze for about six hours.  You have never seen a man so relieved as he was when he found out that , when things really started getting serious, he was expected to leave.

Mr. Big:  Is it time to go?  I think it’s time to go, don’t you?  She looks like she’s ready.

Me, studying Mrs. Domestic Son:  No.  She’s not even in pain, yet.  She’s got hours left.

Mr. Big:  Perhaps, but look at MY face.  Have I reached a sufficient level of discomfort?

Bless his heart.  Little did he know, his troubles were just beginning.  I forgot that Mr. Big’s only experience with babies and childbirth is what he personally experienced with our own children.  Me, on the other hand, I worked for seven years as an administrator on a High Risk Pregnancy floor in a huge teaching hospital and I have seen everything you can imagine.

I have seen a baby born in a toilet to a mother who thought she had eaten a bad enchilada.  I have seen a 44 year old first time hippy-dippy mother who brought her baby back to our office a month after his birth complaining that he wasn’t growing.  WELL, MAYBE BECAUSE, TWIGGY, YOU ARE FEEDING HIM A MACROBIOTIC DIET OF VINEGAR, WILD RICE AND NON-PASTEURIZED COW’S MILK.  (Here’s a hint, new moms, if it is curdled in the bottle, it might not be the ideal nourishment for junior).  I have seen moms with cancer, moms with kidney disease, crack head moms and moms with a history of consanguineous twins all give birth.  I have seen a mom give birth, successfully, to a baby who was growing OUTSIDE of her uterus which she had previously injured in a car crash.  There ain’t nothin’ I ain’t seen when it comes to birthin’ no babies.

Which brings me to the period immediately after the birth of our own precious Grand Three.    Breast fed babies eat constantly.  Ergo, there will be an exposed breast somewhere around at all times.  It’s pretty much a given.  After the third time that Mr. Big waltzed in the room only to confront a breast that did not belong to his wife, he learned to knock.  Helllooooow!  I’m coming in!  A man who should not be seeing a boob is coming in!  Fair warning!  I’m counting to three!

Awkward.  Just awkward.  At this point, we decided that we would just kidnap the other two Grands and become their caretakers for the next two days.  We would  pop in OCCASIONALLY to the hospital to check in on things.  Meanwhile, we were enjoying the fact that Grands One and Two were old enough to just tell us what they wanted and we could revert to what grandparents are really supposed to do, i.e. spoil the grandkids.

For example, do you remember when you were hanging out with your grandparents and your parents were not there and your grandparents would INDULGE YOUR EVERY WHIM?  Yeah, good times, huh?  Grand Two is 6 and he wanted to go for Mexican.  (For all of you Europeans, when Americans say that they want to go for Mexican, they are not saying that they want to go to Cancun.  They are saying that they want to go EAT some Mexican food).  So, while noshing on some scrumptious chimichangas, Grand Two asks, slyly, if I have a quarter.

GRAND TWO:  GoGo, do you have a quarter?

ME:  An American quarter?  No, son, I don’t think I do, sorry.  I have other kinds of money, though.

GRAND TWO:  Do you have ANY American money? (thinking to himself, I’m sure, you worthless grandma, you).

ME:  Yes, I have a five dollar bill.

GRAND TWO:  Is there any way to make that into a quarter?

ME (still completely in the dark about his ulterior motive):  Yes, but you have to ask that girl up there at the cash register for change.

GRAND TWO:  OK!  See ya!  (as he snatches my five dollar bill out of my hand).

In the blink of an eye, Grand Two is at the counter conversing  with the cashier.  Meanwhile, I ask Grand One, my wise little spy, what her brother is up to.  “Oh, GoGo”, she says.  “He is getting candy out of the machine up there at the front of the restaurant”.

Twelve minutes later Grand Two comes back to the table with his hands in his little Wrangler jeans pockets.  He proceeds to pull out pounds and pounds and pounds of Skittles out of every compartment and orifice on his body.  Wow, Grand Two!  That is quite a haul!  Where is my change?

Change?  What change?  You should have seen, GoGo, how many quarters I got for your money!  It was amazing!  What did you think was taking me so long?  It took foooreeeeever to spend all of those quarters!  You rock, GoGo.

Yes, Little Man, I know.  But, let’s not tell your Mom or Dad about this, shall we?  This is just a Grand Two and GoGo secret, right?  That you consumed 5 dollars worth of stale candy?  Our little secret, dude.

Well, enough about the grandkids, because I could just go on and on all day.  I will leave you there in Atlanta with this:  Domestic Son, bless his heart, is really, really trying, but this is his first rodeo, you know?  So, I asked him the other day for an update.

ME:  Well, how is she?  Is she everything you thought she would be and more?  Is she growing?  Is she sleeping?  Is she doing any tricks that I need to know about?

Domestic Son:  I think she’s growing.  She looks bigger.  Actually, I can tell you this.  She hasn’t grown out of her newborn-sized diapers which say on the package “7-14 lbs.”  So, she is somewhere between 7 and 14 pounds.  Does that help?

This is the difference between being the parent of the father and the parent of the mother.  #SheIsSomewhereBetween7and14pounds.  Perfect.

We arrived back home and immediately began working on our other “baby”, the master bath at the chalet, our latest project.  I’m including this topic in the blog because everybody needs to see how the sinks from Marrakesh came out.  I’ll also post a picture of the tassels that I bought in Morocco that I twined around the guest towels in the powder room so y’all can copy.  Plus, my girlfriends here want to see how the chandelier came out that I bought while I was with them.

I bought a semi-disgusting chandelier at an auction here in Lausanne for very little money.  And rightly so, because it was, frankly, pretty ugly.  But, it had potential, you know?  After my friends saw me raise my hand and buy this thing, they were all like “oh!  It’s so pretty!  What are you going to do with it?”  But, I know they were really thinking, “oh!  That’s revolting!  What the hell is she going to do with that eyesore?”

After cleaning it and applying a coat of spray paint, I restrung the crystals in a different configuration and added some black crystals that I bought on the internet.  Voila!  Designer chandelier!

I designed the pattern of the subway tiles to mimic the shape of the alpine peaks, which Mr. Big executed beautifully.  I drew the pattern that I wanted, then, I laid the tiles out on the floor in the middle of the dining room.  He then took a picture of the tiles and referred to the picture while he was laying the tiles in the bathroom.  This is how we roll.

The vanity is actually two matching dining room sideboard pieces that Mr. Big screwed together and then screwed to the wall.  (I left the cutlery trays in them just because I think it is hilarious that we can now store silverware in the bathroom.)  We still have to order a shower door and I need to sew a curtain for the window so that no hikers inadvertently see me naked and scar themselves for life, but, other than that, the master bath is fini.

Onto the second floor!  Small Son, your bedroom is about to get a little bigger.  Once again, we have that weird configuration up there of a single toilet in a skinny little room all by itself, completely separate from the shower/sink/bidet room.  So weird and so unsanitary.  Every time I see these toilets all by themselves, all I think about is somebody peeing AND THEN NOT BEING ABLE TO WASH THEIR HANDS, touching the doorknob to get out of the toilet room, touching the doorknob on the OTHER bathroom that has the sink in it and, basically, contaminating everything with their pee germs within a 5 meter radius.  It just grosses me out.

To rectify this, we are doing away with the separate toilet room altogether.  The bidet in the other room will magically turn into a toilet.  The skinny toilet room, once Mr. Big gets out his chain saw, will be incorporated into Small Son’s bedroom and create like a groovy little niche-slash-headboard type of housing for the bed.  It will all work out, you’ll see.  I’ll post pictures.

I’m going to try to get this post up and running and maybe one other before we are scheduled to go back for a quick trip to America to check on Grand Three.  Just wait until all y’all are grandparents.  They tug at your heartstrings in a completely different way than your own children did.  I think it has something to do with the fact that you are not personally losing any sleep.  They represent 100% joy and 0% angst.  The first thing I am going to do is weigh her.  I’m just not comfortable with this whole “diaper package” system.