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).

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