Saturday, December 11, 2010

Back "home" to the Cantina

The next morning I woke up casually. I had spent a lot of my evening trying to contact my friends from the cantina without receiving any kind of response. I was kind of worried, but by this point in the trip I have learned that no plans usually end up to be the best of plans. So I woke up and got in a 30 minute workout when I finally got a text back from Daniela. She told me that the early of the two time options for my arrival was better for her to be able to pick me up...which meant I had less than 45 minutes to shower, pack, and be out the door to the train station. I shot into the shower like a bat out of you know where. I got my ENTIRE (because on my day of rest I washed AND DRIED, Vickie had a drier which I hugged when I saw because it was one of the frist I'd seen in about 2 months, every single article of clothing I had)pack rolled, zip-locked, and pack in 30 minutes. A new trip record. I was literally sweating by the end of it. I think they should turn it into an olympic sport- backpack packing. Vickie and I were out the door in a hurry after quick good-byes to Joe. We got to the train station and Vickie stayed with me until I was walking onto the train, such a great friend! My train ride from Geneva, Switzerland to Vicenza, Italy was by far the most beautiful...too bad I was sitting on the wrong side of the train to get the best views. The nice Swiss gentlemen from the Dutch speaking part of Switzerland offered to let me sit by them, but i opted for just taking pictures over them. They meant well, but a girl can never be too careful when traveling by herself. Not to mention EVERYONE around me was a chatty Kathy and wanted to know my life story and where I was going and where I had been...I just wanted to keep my mouth shut, stay mysterious, and journal. No such luck. The first person who sat across from me was quiet until he saw that I was writing in my journal, in English. Then he flat out stopped me just to talk to me. He was a 32 year old rapper from Venesuela who has produced 4 albums and was on his way to do a video shoot. The best thing about this 32 year old rapper? He had a MASTERS degree in POLITICAL SCIENCE. He seemed like he only had good intentions but I had to tell him my name was Allison an I was from Texas because about the second sentence out of his mouth was the about the fact that people from Venesuela HATE people from the US and actually even use us as part of their curse words...mmmmmmmmmk. Not a great conversation starter. Also when he was getting off the train (and I was secretly letting out a sigh of relief) a small bag of pot popped out of his coat. He promptly asked me if I smoked, and I informed him that I did not smoke anything, ever. His response was "oh, well I would've just left if for you if you did." I wasn't too sad to see him go. After he left that's when the Swiss gentlemen started to talk to me. They too were on vacation, traveling around, but only in Switzerland. I gave short answers and kept looking down at my journal. I wasn't trying to be rude, but no one seemed to get the idea that I just didn't want to give up my story to strangers. Then the girl across from me asked me straight up if I was on my own. I looked at her with the "yes, but please don't say anything about it" look and she understood. She actually got the hint and left me alone, only telling me to have a safe trip when she left the train.I liked her, and she was wearing pearls...made me like her even more. Something really fun about this train from Geneva to Swizterland was that everything that came over the loud speaker had to be repeated in 4 languages; French, German, English, and Itlaian. I didn't like hearing English again, and it was strange to hear the Italian and understand after three weeks of hearing languages I had no idea what they were saying...I started to miss French and just spacing out in my own little world while everyone talked around me. I arrived to Vicenza a little after 7:00pm, all worn out and in my typical travel outfit (all the heaviest articles of clothings that just don't want to roll up nice enough to fit in my pack). Daniela and Alessandro were at the station to get me.

It was great to see my friends again. It had been over a month since I'd finished at the cantina and left for my adventure. This time around the air was cold and there was a slight akwardness that came from our time apart and what I could only assume was their complicated personal schedules. We went to have a spritz (only 6 euro for 3 spritz, ahh it's good to be back in Prosecco land) while we waited for Augusto to have dinner. The spritz loosened up the evening and Daniela had already convinced me to stay a day longer that I had planned. One less day in Venice and one more day with them. I was okay with that. The time arrived to go meet with Augusto, but not before a smoke break. I had not been on a smoke break with my friends since I had left, and my lungs did not miss the 2nd hand smoke. I decided that I would opt out of any more smoke breaks taken during the evening in order to keep my lungs content. We went to meet Augusto at his family's winery. Augusto was the missing piece to making the awkward puzzle disappear. With one hug the atmosphere changed and it was like we were our family of four friends again. I literally felt like we were all different people until the four of us are together, then, we're family again. We took a tour of Augusto's winery while sipping on some of his family's sparkling rosé. The winery was a much smaller scale than that of Fattori, but charming and producing excellent wines none-the-less. We left the winery to head to a restaurant. I understood that we were going to a typical restaurant, but did not understand that it was Augusto's family's restaurant! ---I would like to point out that by now my Italian has gotten to the point that most of the time we were all speaking in Italian, rather than everyone speaking in English!--- We walked into the restaurant through the kitchen (the first moment I realized he must know the owners) and Augusto gave the "hello kisses" to his parents (the moment I realized it was their restaurant). We went to find a place to sit but the place was PACKED to the brim. It was by far the busiest restaurant I had seen in Italy, and now that I think about it, in all my travels. We had a prosecco in the outside seating area but it was too cold to stay out there to eat. That's when Augusto's dad told us we should go up to the house and have dinner there. So we did. We headed up the hill to their house and made ourselves, quite literally (TV included), at home! With every course the house buzzer would ring, Augusto would put on his shoes and walk down the hill, then return with a pot or basket or platter of food and a bottle of wine! All the food was amazing. We had an appetizer of salamis, polenta, and those wonderful just slimy enough mushrooms. We had a primi of rich warm creamy mushroom soup. The main course was beef and goat with sides of spinach and potatoes. We had garganea and cabernet wines from Augusto's cantina. We got our things together and headed to the restaurant for dessert. The place was still packed, so we got to eat our dessert in the kitchen with the staff, which to me was more fun anyway! We had that amazing almond cake with the crazy sprinkles on top that I had eaten at my going away dinner (and now understood where Augusto had gotten it, even though he tried to explain it to me before) and panecotta with a mixed berry syrup on top. We had coffee and two kinds of bubbly, one sweeter than the other. We watched Augusto give a presentation to the restaurant guests. he talked about the family wines and then opened the bottles of bubbly with a big chef's knife. I had seen that on TV before, but never in real life, so that was a fun experience. AFter this we went to a club close by to have some more drinks and dance. The music was techno and even though I was still in my non-flattering travel clothes, and everyone else was in typical amazingly beautiful Italian mode, I went ahead and danced my little heart out. I stayed that night at Augusto's house, on his couch. I didn't mind. Everything about this area of the world was screaming "home" so as long as I had a blankent I was fine.

The next morning I woke up early and laid around taking note of all the things about Italy I adored. 1. The concept of the thing that closes off the outside world from your house. It's like the metal doors that come down over business fronts in the city, only they are on all the doors and windows of every place in italy, either that or they have shutters! I love it though. I love waking up and opening up the house to the sunshine (hopefully, if the weather is nice)and the rest of teh world. It's like the house is waking up too. 2. Everyone in Italy always looks like they belong on a fashion show runway. Always clean, nicely dressed, nice shoes, nice ironed clothes, hair perfectly in place. Truely a beautiful people. 3. I love the food. The amazingness of simplicity. Itay has that down. 4. The mixing of water with wine and drinking out of regular glasses. It doesn't matter how you drink it or what you're drinking out of, chances are if you're drinking locally, it's amazing. After pondering for a while we had our breakfast of cookies and tiny the coffee. Then the rest of the afternoon was laziness at it's best. We watched Eagle Eye in Italian...well, I watched Eagle Eye in Italian, every time I looked over at Augusto he was doing the “baby-neck” as one of my college professors calls it. When I’d catch him nodding off I would wake him up and then try to explain what was going on, in Italian. Try explaining about 30 minutes of a complex movie in a new language, once again, the dictionary was our best friend. After the movie Augusto and I played an old style video game on his Playstation. I really like the old games where the only buttons I need to know are up, down, left, right, and shoot. That kept us entertained for a good 3 hours until we needed to get ready to go to the Durello festival. We had only planned on going to the festival to see Daniela, but ended up staying for a bit of the festivities. I was happy to see more familiar faces as I walked in the door, including Giovanni (this is the brother of my boss from the winery) and his wife and daughter whom I had spent time with at work and the Soave festival. I was starting to feel like the Prodigal Son returned home. It felt good to know I had been missed and it made me realize that, “Yes, I did make at least a little impact in the lives of these people.” Maybe they will forever remember me as that American girl that came and screwed all the boxes and labels, but at least they will remember me! And speaking of people who remembered me…The director of the Soave consortium also greeted me at the door. For those of you who don’t remember, because it was a long time ago, he was the one who made Guilia and I be in the promotional video for the consortium (which I’m still working on finding where they posted) one day when we were only suppose to deliver wine to them for the shoot. He asked me how I had been and how my travels were. He told me he still wanted me to come by the Consortium if I had time (which I didn’t but wished I did). Then he asked me how long I would be staying at the festival. I told him not long, and he insisted that I stay for just a while longer, telling me that he wanted to talk to me after he did this presentation for everyone. Of course this conversation was in Italian and it was loud in the building so in usual Rachel-form I only got about half of what was going on. I said, “okay, okay, okay, “ then went straight to Augusto and told him I didn’t understand more than three words this guys had said to me and we just laughed it off. Well, later I found out just what it was he wanted me to do. I was standing in the back of the room, minding my own business, going from table to table tasting Durello (which is a varietal that is new to sparkling wine, drier than Prosecco, but not as dry as a Brut Champagne, with not quite as crisp fruits as a Prosecco and a bit of a minerality) when I heard myself being called up to the stage. I broke out in instant embarrassment and nervousness knowing that I was bound to have to talk in Italian in front of this room full of people who would undoubtly notice every grammar and tense (because I’m really only good with present, simple past, and simple future) mistake that stuttered out of my mouth. I walked up to the stage with that stupid half smile thinking I really just wanted to crawl back to the corner and hide. When I got to the stage I really had no more of an idea of why I was there then I had before and just stood there looking confused. The announcer was speaking so fast and the reverb was so bad that instead of making an effort to speak Italian I played the “I don’t understand the words coming out of your mouth” card pegging myself as the poor Pretty Blonde girl that was only there because she looked nice. Which I found, upon asking the guy standing on the stage next to me, was exactly why I was up there! They played it off as I was receiving a gift from the consortium for being the person that had traveled the farthest to attend the festival, but truth of the matter was, I was pretty so they put me up there. To make matters worse, because I was so nervous I made myself out to be the Babbling Pretty Blonde Idiot from Missouri who really didn’t have a clue. After the presentation I basically ran off the stage and hid in the corner. So sorry to all my MO friends who I poorly represented that night, BUT I did get three really cool wine books about the Soave area. Unfortunately, there was no room in the back pack for the large heavy books, so I gave them to Augusto. We left the festival and went with Daniela and Alessandro to a new pizza restaurant known for their specialty crusts. I had a mushroom pizza and a wheat crust. It was a bitter sweet moment, realizing that this would probably be the last time I would eat dinner with my three friends, as well as the last time I would eat the delicious Italian yumminess called pizza. I savored every, single, bite. After dinner we went to a sports bar near the house to have one last drink before we all slugged off to bed.

Monday morning I woke up early and went to work with Augusto and Daniela. I was excited to spend time at the cantina, to be able to see everyone one last time before I really left. I dressed for a run and planned to run into Ronca to pick up my photo album from the lady who used me as her store’s model. The run itself felt very nostalgic. It felt like I was home again, running on familiar roads, but at the same time the scenery had changed, the weather had gotten colder… I took the time to reflect on just how far I’d come since I had first run this path. I had finished my internship, learning Italian and how to make wine. I had traveled more of Europe than most of my Italian friends might ever see, not to mention just more of Italy! I had experienced heart-break when I had to leave my friends behind the first time, but now I felt more prepared, more ready. It’s comparable to my vocal contests in high school, the first time to sing in front of the judges was always the hardest, but after it was over I always felt like if I could do it a second time, I could do it perfectly without all the nerves. Maybe I had just come to grips with the fact that my Italian friends would always be my friends, and that there was nothing I could do to change the fact that I HAD to go home. Or maybe I was just starting to get tired and home was beginning to not sound so horribly bad. Either way, I finally felt at peace with the idea of leaving the place and people who had become so much a part of my life. My attempt to retrieve the album failed. The store front was closed the first time I ran by, so I ran a little further hoping I’d catch her on the way back, but there was no such luck. So in Ronca, Italy there is quite possibly an album still waiting to be picked up being held by a store owner who probably thinks I’m a liar and just never came by to get it. By the time I got back to the cantina my friend Francesco had arrived. Since I had left the cantina Francesco had started a new job. He came back to see me (and collect his last check, but I like to think it was more to see me :-) ). We walked around the cantina finding people to say hello to. I got to see Vassi, my funny Romanian friend. He was planning on leaving for the season on December 6th. He explained to me that working the harvest for 5 months in Italy gives him enough money to live the rest of the year in Romania. He was excited to get back to his family and friends. Francesco and I spent about an hour walking around until he had to go get ready for work. He dropped me off at the bank and we said our goodbyes. “Last hugs” and very touching moments. Francesco and I had started off not understanding even a small bit of each other. I was pretty convinced that he didn’t even like me. Little by little we could make conversation and understand each other, allowing us to really become friends. I told Francesco if he ever wanted to come to the US to work on a farm (because he’s an Agriculture boy) that I had plenty of connections for him in Missouri. He wasn’t too convinced he could make it by with his English non-skills, but I told him he’d get the hang of it. After he left I hit up the ATM to prepare for my trip to Venice the next day, then I walked around the little town of Terrosa running across a beautiful church I had never noticed and the little grocery store that Augusto and Alessandro had taken me to the first day that I ate lunch with the Cantina employees. I bought some grissini and cookies and took them to Franco’s where I met my Cantina friends for lunch. It was nice to have everyone around the table again (minus Francesco and Giulia). After lunch I spent the rest of my day using the computer finding hostels, buying tickets, house cleaning basically, getting ready for a trip to Venice and the following trip to Spain. Augusto and I left the cantina around 6:30 then headed home. Augusto taught me how to make a Spritz, telling me that way I could make them when I got back to the US. We had our Spritz while we waited for his neighbor, Andrea, to join us for dinner. We had Pasta con Tonno (tuna) just like Augusto had made for me the lunch time I spent at the Cantina. Andrea brought a large tray of small Italian pastries in honor of my departure. From this I finally got to try a Sicilian Cannoli, however it wasn’t as good as I expected it to be. I must prefer the ones Julia and I made at Nonna’s Italian American Café in Springfield, MO! We drank Giulia’s Prosecco so that we could feel like she was a part of it all as well. Alessandro and Daniela joined us later in the evening just to say goodbye (which was a lot easier, with a LOT less tears this time). After everyone left I started some laundry, got my pack as ready as possible, then listened to some orchestra music to calm my nerves and get to sleep in preparation for the most un-planned part of my trip.

I left early the next morning. Augusto took me to the bus station and left me in the care of an older couple who was taking the same bus as me to Vicenza. It was hard to say bye to Augusto. He had been so much like an older brother to me, always making sure that I was feed and taken care of, always stopping to explain things to me even if it took an extra five minutes. But I promised him I wouldn’t cry until he was gone and I managed to hold it together with thoughts of seeing Venice. I would take the bus to Vicenza and go to the train station to catch my train to Venice, arriving there at 8am. I would have all day and one night in Venice, then I would leave the next morning on a plane to Barcelona, Spain.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Switzerland: Europe-wise Vickie, Cheese Castles, and Day 92.

Stephanie brought me to the train station in Vienne after stopping to take pictures of the Guidal mansion which was the main French target when trying to find a place to accept me as an intern. They refused because of work visas, but can you imagine how different my experience in Europe could've been had I done the internship in France instead of Italy? The people I wouldn't have met, the places I probably wouldn't have seen? Crazy to think how one detail can change so much. I'm confident it played out as it should've, but it was till neat to see the literal mansion that the Guidal's live in. I arrived the station in the afternoon and Steph and I said our goodbyes. Nothing too mushy gushy, but I believe I've made a friend (through a friend)for life.

Once on the train I really wished I could remember more of that two week French clas I took before I took the Italian class. I sat there in my seat wondering if I was on the right train. The scroll kept saying something about Geneva, but it just didn't feel quite right. So I asked (in Italian) "Questa a Geneve?" "Oui, Oui," my train mates said. So I felt better. Untiiiil the man came around to check our tickets and told the person across from me, "Yes, this for you is okay. -then he looked at my ticket, looked at me and said- but for you, is not okay." My heart stopped. We'd been riding for at least 30 minutes which meant I was 30 minutes in the wrong direction and who knew when the next stop would be. Luckily my train was a "two part train" (as he called it). The front part would go to Geneva but the second part wouldn't, I was on back section...I had to get off the train at the next stop and reboard the front half of the train. Only the train all looked the same to me so when I got off I just stood there looking confused trying to figure out which way was the front half. Luckily the nice ticket man assumed I wouldn't know where to go and hung out the window to get my attention to wave me in the right direction. I felt like I had just added a point to the "Dumb American" sterotype scoreboard...but oh well, at least I wasn't going to be lost. Once on the train I was able to relax and ponder on whether or not I would recognize the friend of a friend who was picking me up at the station...I hadn't even spoken with her yet. I only had a profile picture to go off of; good old Facebook! As I looked around from my spot in the caboose of the train I counted at least 5 other backpackers. I knew they were traveling because, well, of course I saw their packs, but also everyone of them looked exhausted and were half-sleeping curled up a smaller bag of what no doubtedly held their most valuable belongings. I could sympathsize with them. I was tired. I was still sick from allergies that started in Hungary (seriously how much snot can one human produce?). I had spent three crazy almost sleepless days in Paris, followed by four days of eating and drinking luxoriously at this point I wanted carrots, water, and the same pillow for more than three nights at a time.

I had no problems recognizing Vickie. She was the only other person who looked like they were looking for someone whom they had no idea what they looked like. We hugged. This is important because I've come to realize that a greeting can set the whole tone of a first impression and when dealing with different countries and the "Do they kiss? Do they not? How many times? Which side do they lean to first?" questions that run through your head in the first 3 seconds of knowing someone, it can get messy. The hug though, it says friends, comfort, safety. Perfect. I realized right away that Vickie was no ordinary American living in Europe. She was "Europe-wise" if you will. She had been living here long enough to know where to go to find real Orbit gum, the closet brand to Chapstick, and she even explained to me why I was having so much trouble with European washing machines! This lady is a fireball of energy and knowledge. Just to give you an idea of her energy level, she's doing student teaching for two different subjects for two different grade levels! Luckily for me, she still had energy enough to welcome me into her home and make me wonderful dinners. :) Which is exactly what she did when we got home from the grocery store. She gave me the grand tour of the house then left me to a bottle of 2008 Solum Dole from Valais Switzerland. 14 Swiss Franks from the Coop Merche. It was a clear brick red and had aromas of black cherry and not just oak but a cherry oak. When smelling it I was reminded of shop class in 7th grade and really wanting to make my CD clock case out of red cherry oak wood but decided on a much less expensive wood instead. The tastes on this wine were similar to a termpernillo with leather, tabacco, pepper and then little flirts of fruit flavors all over the palate. I was surprised that it had such flavors because usally a wine with these charactheristics is grown in a much warmer region and Switzerland is mostly cold...right? This was a very good wine, but once again, like Hungary, the Swiss drink all the wine they make...didn't their momma's teach them to SHARE? Well, mine did. So when Joe got home from work I shared the wine with him and Vickie and we got to know each other over minestrone soup and yummy salad.

Day two in Swizterland started with a trip to the gym. Joe was going to work out and invited me along. I decided to attend a cyclying class. When Joe and I found the room the weight room attendant set up a bike for me then he and Joe went on their way and I hopped on my bike to warm up. So I'm spinning along, minding my own business, when about 20 or so male soccer players enter the room and take the two rows directly behind me. So I'm thinking, "Okay, you really can't look like you're struggling with this class or you'll look so stupid in front of all these boys." Little did I know that was the least of my worries. Not long into the class my bike started to squeak. Not just a small squeak, but a loud squeak each time I spun my wheels. I mean, even the teacher noticed and tried to cover the sound by turning up the volume of the music. So I get off my bike and try (unsucessfully) to adjust the bikes on either side of mine. I gave up and hopped back on my bike. Not long after the weight room attendant came in with a can of oil and stopped me so that he could oil the chains. The squeaking would not be defeated so he adjusted the bike next to mine and left me to the class (because it was still going as all this is happening). Well the new bike didn't squeak, but it made a wonderful *crachet* noise instead...whyyyy me? So I just kept peddling hoping that it was at least less annoying than the squeak. Then I reached down to get a drink of water and when I tried to put the bottle back on teh floor the top popped off causing a flood of water under my bike...whyyyy me?? So I tried to clean it up with some paper towels, doing my best to avoid eye contact with anyone, then hopped back on my bike for the rest of the class. Afterwards I cleaned my bike and basically stared at the floor until I was safely out the door and out of embarassment's way. I'm sure they had a great story to tell all their friends that night, and maybe the team will think back fondly on that "poor clumsy American girl from spin class that one day." Back in the car, Joe got a good laugh out of the story, as did I, and then we were off to his and Vickie's favorite little French (because Geneva is completely surrounded by France so just a little ways in either direction and you were back in France, it wreaked havoc on my "Welcome to a new country" texts from my Europen phone provider) bakery to get crossiants. I don't much care for crossiants *insert large gasps here* or the crossiants with chocolate (because quite honestly I don't care much for chocolate either *more large gasps*) but I had to try them, and they were better than other ones I had tasted before...but still not my favorite. We made it home to find the remains of a package of gum scattered over the basement floor. The family dog, Snowball, decided to have a tasty snack while we were gone. He ate the ENTIRE pack of gum...and the packaging. And apparently he preferred only the mint gum because he had taken the fruity package as well but just brought it to his cage and not actually eaten it. I have never seen a dog eat gum before, but I learned my lesson and kept my door shut to keep it from happening again! After I got over teh shock of a dog that eats gum, I got cleaned up and ready to go out into the town. Joe and I went to have lunch (Vickie was busy doing the important teacher thing) at a little cafe that is known for its soup. So well known, as a matter of fact, that they were out for the day by the time we got there. We had quiche and salad instead and it was a delicious balance of flakey crust and fluffy eggs with salmon and broccoli that was cooked to have just enough of a bite to it. Yuuummm. For dessert, what else? Swiss chocolate. Like I said, not a huge chocolate fan, but I wasn't going to go to Switzerland and NOT eat chocolate. My favorite was the candied orange dipped in dark chocolate (which I got because Vickie had suggested it). -Quick break for an interesting fact. Joe told me skiing is so important to the Swiss that every year the schools let out for a week for the sole purpose of allowing the kids time to go skiing! Also every week on Wednesday the younger kids will have the whole day off from school and the older kids will get a half day just to go skiing! They also still celebrate Potato week which used to be the week where everyone would stay home to help harvest potatoes, but now is just a holiday.- Joe dropped me off in the center of town and left me to explore on foot while he headed to work. I walked around for about 3 hour exploring everything and taking lots of pictures. I went up to the church that was once a Catholic cathedral but Martin Luther turned to a Protestant church and stripped of all its statues. It was strange to be in such a grandoise building that seemed so naked inside. I walked in and out of stores looking for a ring to buy for Switzerland. One store I went in and the lady asked me in French if I needed something, not thinking I answered, "No Grazie." And the lady started speaking to me in fluent Italian...I decided then that it probably wasn't safe to pretend to be Italian in this country. I felt like everyone in Geneva was from all over the world and no matter what language you spoke someone probably had you covered. My last stop for the evening was to a department store, like a JcPenny, but in the bottom floor they sold wine and speciality foods. I shopped around, tasted some samples of olive oil (none as good as Colleen's I helped to make in Tuscany), then purchased a couple of bottles as gifts for Joe and Vickie. I took the bus home, which was good for me because I've discovered that the Metro and I get along great, but the bus system tends to be more of a foe than a friend. BUT I did make it to the bus stop near the house and with the directional help of some construction zones, made it back to the house. Vickie made us pan seared salmon breasts with zucchini and boiled potatoes that we had with a Savingion Blanc from South Africa. Honestly not the best pairing, which was my fault because I forgot that SavBlanc from SA has a very distinct Green Pepper taste to it that was a little over powering with the Salmon...oh well, live and learn, and now I'll remember!

The next day Joe dropped me off at the foot of the Geneva market. I walked around looking at the different produce and goods, people watching. I love to watch the interaction between the vendors and locals at these markets. People always benefit when they have a friendly relationshop with the vendor, you can watch as he or she pulls the "prime crop" out from behind the table and gives it to them at a fair price. Maybe it springs from the fact that I came from a farming community, but I'm a supporter of local markets and I wish we had more of them and less Wal-Mart superstores in the states. I took into account the kiwis in the market, incredibly tiny! It could've been the fact that the last kiwis I saw were in Italy (#2 kiwi producer in the world) and they were in season, but these kiwis in Geneva were the smallest I've ever seen. I was also impressed by the massive varieties of greens available at the market. We're talking whole stands just lined with different types of lettuce, varieties I'd never even dreamed of. By far the coolest thing I saw, and am actually surprised I didn't see it in France, was the prepared mirepiox! Mirepiox is a flavor staple in traditional French cooking; a mixture carrots, onions, and celery. Here in this market you could buy it all pre-chopped and mixed and even cryo-vaced/ freezer ready! I was shocked to see it already prepared like this in the market, but realize now had I gone into a grocery store it could've been found like that in the freezer section with a brand like Green Giant or something. I guess it was the vendor's way of trying to compete with the overpowering supermarché. I bought some snacks for later on in the day and continued to walk around and just look at things in the old town of Geneva. I had a mission to find a store I had been in the day before and purchase the ring I fell in love with and couldn't stop thinking about, obviuosly it was meant to be mine. I found the store and the lady remembered me from the day before. She knew what I wanted. She explained to me that the ring was made from real rubies and saphires by her friend in India whom she went to gemology school with in LA. He makes most of the jewerly in her shop and she sells it. She sold me on the story, and the ring. I'm happy and the ring is beautiful, even if they aren't the best quality stones. I started to make my way to the train station to catch a train to Gruyere for a day trip to the cheese factory. I got sidetracked by my bladder and tried to find a public bathroom. I did what most Americans would in this situation...I searched for McDonald's. I found one pretty easily, because as sad as it is Mickey D's has taken over the world, getting into the bathroom however was impossible. They have figured out a system that keeps their bathrooms ONLY for customer's use. You must have a pin code from your food receipt in order to open the bathroom door! Brilliant, however unfortunate for me. I ended up waiting until the train station. In the train station I came across a sad realization for the way Europeans view Americans. I was in the grocery store and found a Doritos flavor that I'm sure most of you would be able to identify. A light blue color package and a small ramiken of white sauce...Cool Ranch, right? Nope, in Switzerland it is referred to as Cool American...maybe it's a sign that we should make some changes to our eating habits America... The train ride to Gruyere was gorgeous, lots and lots of vineyards, some on the hillsides like in the Rhone region of France and some in the valleys. Gruyere itself was my picturesque sterotypical mountian village, I kept waiting for the "maids a milking" to walk through with their braids and clogs leading their cow by a rope, but that never happened. I walked straight off the train and into the cheese-making factory. Very touristy, but worth every penny. I learned so much about cheese! Did you know that the cheese cows are treated basically like a family pet and have to be grazed in certain areas at specific times to get certain flavors into the cheese they produce? Cheese is a lot like wine; the cheesemaker decides where to graze the cows and for how long to get the flavor they want. Then once the cheese reaches the perfect curddling stage they put it into molds, then into a salt bath, then they age it. The manner in which they perform every step can change the outcome of the final product. It was incredibly interesting and made me have an appreciation for good quality cheese (we're not talking Kraft American slices here either folks). After the factory, and some samples, I headed up the road to the actual town of Gruyere and the castle! The castle had been standing through many ages and the decorations inside proved it. You could walk through centries just by stepping through a doorway into another room. My favorite room was that of the Beautiful Lucy. The king of the moment's love interest. The room itself was nothing special, but one could imagine how she felt as she looked out her window at the view of the mountians wondering if her King would ever marry her. I later found out by watching the movie and light show in the castle's new multi-screen theater about the history of the castle that Lucy was also a dancer and that's how she first caught the king's eye. I arrived home just before Vickie called me to find out if I was still living. I have good timing like that. :) I showed off my ring and told them everything I learned about cheese over a dinner of spinach pasta with basil sauce that we shared with a bottle of swiss wine produced by Joe and Vickie's friend. This bottle was a bit pricey at 30 Francs but well worth it's cost. Ce Pont Des Sou Pires 2008 by Domaine Eu Paradis in Geneva is a blend of Cabernet Savingon, Cabernet Franc, Gamaret, and Merlot. With a lot of my favorite varietals there really wasn't any way I would've disliked this wine. It had a deep plum red color and smelled of smokey oak and a distinct black cherry. The tastes countered the smell with a bit of pepper added to the red berries and smokey-ness. It balanced out nicely with just the perfect amount of tanins to remind you that you were in fact drinking a fuller-bodied red. Perfect wine for the end to a rather chilly day in the mountians.

And on the 92nd day...I finally rested. I was tired. I was lazy. I mananged to sleep in late, eat, shower, and take a short trip to the post-office up the street only to realize I didn't have the post cards addressed and had to wait to send them. I spent my day watching TV and catching up on my blog. Day 92 was the first day that the voice inside me saying, "But Rachel, you only have so much time here in Europe, you shouldn't waste it by doing nothing..." was defeated by the voice saying, "I'm freaking tired, d*mn it!" Sometimes I get cranky with myself. :) Either way, a much needed day of rest. That night we had traditional Swiss fondue for dinner. Vickie explained to me that fondue was prepared different ways in differnt countries. The French like to add herbs to their fondue, the swiss add wine and liquor and sometimes herbs, except for in Guyere where they are just straight up cheese. Either way, it's a very filling meal, but delicious none the less. A Sicilian chardonnay paired prefectly, especially since it was the same wine we used in the fondue.

I decided that I couldn't spend my last day in Switzerland sitting on the couch. So I started the day with a trip to the gym with Joe. Bike class again with the same weight room attendant, but no squeaky bike this time! I came home and showered then left the house in the afternoon and went on a walk to find the Red Cross museum. I got sidetracked, however, by the giant geyser that was FINALLY on in the middle of the lake. I took picture after picture as it was bright and sunny outside (however still very cold) and then started on my way again towards the museum. I looked at the map and thought I could walk there pretty easily by following the coast of the lake and would be able to see some sites a long the way. I did see some sites, but it took a lot longer than I expected to get there. I also got sidetracked by two Italian tour bus drivers that asked me if I wanted coffee. I of course said yes because I was frozen and tried to play like I was Italian for awhile. They believed me until I mixed up the word vacanza with the word vacaciones (silly spanish snuck in on me) and they called my bluff. They were still nice to me though, even after they discovered I was American. By the time I got up to the museum they only had 10 minutes until closing time. So I decided to just hop on the bus and head back towards the town's center to meet Vickie. I got on the #8 and took it to the train station where I thought the line ended. So then I got on the #9 and asked a lady if it stopped at the center and she said yes...I waited and waited and rode and rode all the way to the end of line. It did not stop at the place I wanted it to stop. I was frustrated. I called Vickie and told her I would get off at a stop I had seen on the way there that I knew was close to the center. She said she would meet me there. It took us about 30 minutes but we FINALLY found each other. She had passed one of "those days" as well so we went to treat ourselves to some of those delicious tiny macaron cookies only to knock over the display in front of the cash register. We decided we had better head for a drink if we were going ot be clumsy, we needed an excuse. Vickie also had a reason for taking me out for delicious tiny cookies, she bought me a recipe book just for those cookies!!! I'm excited to try it out, however it may take a little longer than normal because the book is written in French. :) It'll be so worth it for those cookies though! We went to a bar on the plaza in the old town to have mulled wine, warm spicey red wine was perfect because it really was sooooo cold. I also got to try another local white variety, Chamleus. Joe met us at the bar when he finished with work and we ventured out to find a place to eat. We had eaten fondue the night before but went to a restaurant that was well known for their fondue. We barely got in thanks to a cancelled reservation, and enjoyed a wonderful dinner. I had scallops in a dill sauce with juliened veggies, puff pastry, and rice. The food was wonderful, but my choice for wine was horrible. I wanted to try to white version of the Dolé I had tried my first night in Switzerland. It was waaay too sweet. To me it was like a mixture of rose and white zinfindel...*shivers*.... it didn't even slightly pair with my food either. Owell, everyone has to make mistakes sometime! For dessert a pear tart which paired a little better with the wine...or maybe it just masked the taste with the buttery sugary yummiess of the tart. Then came coffe and tiny amaretto cookies. After dinner we went to a Spanish wine bar. A neat concept. Kind of set up like our Vino100 only with a kitchen in the back, and all the wines in the store (and offered by the glass) were Spanish wines. The place was packed and people were eating Tapas (appetizers) everywhere. We stayed for a copule of glasses then headed home for the night. I was happy with my night out and decided to hit the sack early as the next day I would be leaving to go back to Italy to visit my friends from the cantina (however, at this point I had no idea what time I was supposed to arrive to Vicenza or even if someone could still pick me up).