Sunday, August 4, 2013

Switzerland, Part 1

The holiday season is upon us here in Europia.  What does that mean?  Everyone heads for the beach.  Or the hills.  Or (in Sweden) their country house.  Local businesses and restaurants close for 4+ weeks, as no one goes without a proper holiday.  Need something dry cleaned?  Hope you can wait!  Want to see your doctor?  He's on holiday, too!  Lots of the good coffee spots peace out, too.  Work grinds to a near halt, as there are so many people gone that nothing can happen.  Those who are at work leave early.  There's really nothing to do but go on holiday yourself!

Here a holiday is a holiday.  That means no thinking about work and definitely NO EMAIL.  Wow, right?  With 6 weeks of vacation total, most people take at least 4 weeks at one stretch.  It's like everybody in Europe's a teacher!  Summer break, y'all!

As for me n' B, our basic itinerary was Switzerland, South of France, North of France, Stockholm (with US friends in tow), and then Copenhagen.  I am taking off another week coming up, as my parents are visiting.  So my vacation ain't over yet!

The first stop was Switzerland, lovely Switzerland.  We were lucky enough to meet up with friends there and stay at a family chalet in the village of Wengen.  Wengen is a car-free wonderland, smack in the middle of the Alps.  It is quaint and not-at-all touristy, though it is definitely a tourist destination.

The train from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen.  Or was it Lauterbrunnen to Wengen?  Yes, I think it was the latter.  We had to take three trains to get to Wengen, but it was easy-peasy and it's no joke how the Swiss trains run on time.  

Two different views from the deck of our chalet.  With the clouds cleared on the second shot, you can see the Eiger, Jungfrau, and Monch mountains.  There was also a telescope on the deck, so you could search for fun stuff on the mountains.  I saw two randy cows once.  Payoff!

We took the cable car (or whatever it's called!) up from the village of Wengen (which B is lording over here) to the top of the Mannlichen, where lots of the skiers get started in the winter.  

Here we are goofing at the top of the Mannlichen.  Whatta view!

Side note: stupid stupid Air Berlin lost our luggage for two days.  I was starting to sweat that we were gonna have to leave Switzerland before they could deliver it.  Oh, and their phones were totally "off" so there was no checking in for status updates.  Here B is sporting some cute stripey shorts compliments of our host and I'm stuck in the same damn pair of leather shortie shorts I wore on the plane.  I wanted to burn those shorts by the time our luggage arrived.  Grrrr.  I CAN tell you that the undergarments sold at the local Swiss "Coop" grocery are pretty nice, though!

More cable cars hauling folks up to the Mannlichen from the other side.

Random hiking dog takes a bath.

RIP spotted on our hike.

These guys were everywhere!

We stopped along the way, made a fire from kindling, and roasted sausages speared on sticks we shaved down.  It was pretty cool.  An older hiker stopped to share our fire.  We poured some of our red wine into his plastic bottle and found out he was named after a famous hiker from the old days.  That Tony was a pretty cool guy.

Delicious mountain water.

Here's a view of the Eiger, putting its deadly northern face forward.  You can read more about the Eiger here, but suffice it to say it's one of the toughest spots to climb in the world. 

Back in Wengen, who could resist a cute li'l cow cookie?  

We played a heated round of mini-golf on Wengen's center course.  We attracted many followers, including the cat here.  There was a screaming baby and his pops cheering us on from a chalet balcony, a priest who compared me to Tiger Woods--despite that I was dressed more like Luke Skywalker, and two ponies who became quite turned on with our game.  (I'll spare you the photos but one totally had a "PONE-r.")

Afterwards, our lovely hosts made us a fondue dinner, complete with chopped saucisson, cornichons, mushrooms, white wine and tea.  We also enjoyed kirsch, homemade by our host's family.  And I had gluten-free bread to dip it up with.  Yums!

Here is a lovely plate of Berner Alpkäse that we enjoyed in Wengen.  Local mountain cheese is yum.

Bangladesh, Last Time

Here I am, scheduled to go back to Bangladesh in less than a month and I haven't even posted the pics from my last trip.  Two trips in just over 2 months?  Guess I'm pretty much a regular there these days.

I was sort of dreading this trip, not for any particular reason.  As I've gotten older, I find myself worrying more about travel risks (mostly about plane crashes, I'll be straight) and this can kinda bum me out before I leave.  It's not as bad as packing for one's own funeral, but the thought of my own death always seems to cross my mind before I go on a long business trip.  And that sucks.  And with Bangla, there's always the worry about getting sick, too.  Or maybe it's just that I miss this kitty-girl when I'm gone.  Because I totally do.

Look at her guarding my luggage!

Well, no thanks to my crazy anxious pre-travel brain, the trip was SUPER-DUPER!  As in, I was even imagining myself living in Bangladesh--that's how great of a trip it was!  I know!  WHAT?!?  

Why was the trip so good?  For starters, I didn't get sick--not even a squirty tummy.  Nothing!  And this was true even with my sampling some of the local food prepared at a couple of suppliers.  So I got to enjoy delicious biryani and samosa without any "Bangla Belly!"  I felt like I was grateful for every moment I was feeling good, every moment I wasn't on a toilet (or worse, in a hospital).  I knew that at any time, something could be ill-digested or bacterial and there would go everything.  I wanted to sing, "I feel great! I love every moment of life!"  But I kept it pretty chill.  

I got to spend some quality time with my colleagues there, and that was great, too.  It's fascinating to see how they have transitioned their lives from Stockholm to Dhaka--and they all love it there now.  It's wonderful.  They are definitely the right people for the job(s). 

So I had great work meetings, ate well, relaxed, and had no travel snafus.  Do you hear that, BRAIN?  Can you keep it chill before the next trip then?

A plateful of wax apples offered by a supplier. 

I can't get enough of the beautifully adorned rickshaws.  Or the traffic.  

Oh, the TRAFFIC.

How can I explain it?  There is no order.  If someone could convince the drivers that if they took turns, things would indeed move more quickly.  But instead, it's like a stare-off wherein all of the cars inch-inch-inch at each other--no one willing to let another go--until one car makes his way out in front, at which point all of the cars behind him get to go until the other cars nip them off.  So it's basically something like sitting and waiting for at least 30 minutes... and then driving frantically for maybe 1 or 2 mintues.  Then sitting and waiting for another ridiculous amount of time.  Then driving for not enough time to really get anywhere.  

Meanwhile, you see the same cars/rickshaws/buses for hours on end, as you're basically stuck in the same pack.  The culture is set up around this traffic--people weave through the traffic on foot, selling beverages and snacks.  Gotta pee and you're a guy?  Just leave your car there and hit the side of the road.  Ain't no thing!  (Besides, they're all doing it in India!)  

It can take hours to go a few km.  The mind boggles.  I'm actually surprised there aren't bands of marauders, robbing those stuck in traffic and running off on foot.  But I'm glad there aren't.  My anxious brain did try to wedge some terrible "What If" thoughts into my tired traffic brain, but I shut it up by telling it that if my appendix DID burst while I was stuck in Dhaka traffic then that must be how I was meant to die.  Because die I surely would.  Ain't no airlift in Bangladesh and ain't nobody getting through that traffic--burst appendix or heart attack, neither.  No way, no how, nuh-ugh.


This is the Dhaka city view from my fancy hotel room in the Westin.  Note that if you're in need of a space, there's an office "TO-LET" in the back center-left.  

Also, every time I see a "TO-LET" sign around town, I see it as "TOILET."  Though there's probably no guarantee that something "to-let" would actually have a "toi-let."


Love the hand-painted 7-Up sign.

Which way to go?


I love both of these checkered buildings so much.

Traffic survivors.

I love the chickens in the net basket at left.  I mean, I guess I really DON'T, but that's why I took this shot anyway.

Nice ride, pal.

I picture the guy in the sunny G's in the poster as the Jay-Z of Bangla.  But he's probably just campaigning for office or something.  Also, note the umbrella covering the pile of jackfruit underneath!  Jackfruit gotta stay cool, yo!

Navigating it.

I actually spent my 38th birthday in Bangla (out at a fun party at a place called Bellagio).  When I got back to my hotel room, these "imported roses" from B had turned up.  Nice, huh?

Friday, August 2, 2013


B was off to Tokyo for midsommar this year, so I was on my own.  Sorta.  Victoria and Stefan were lovely enough to let me tag along with them (and Baby Daisy!) and Victoria's sister, who was visiting from the US.  Instead of going to their country house (as most Swedes do for Mid-Sums), we hit up Skansen, which is sort of a classier Scandi-version of Silver Dollar City.  OK, maybe not.  Skansen is part zoo (featuring Scandinavian animals, mostly... keep it local, yo), part historical village, and part garden/walking park with really good food options and a killer not-at-all cheezy gift shop featuring Swedish handicrafts (reindeer leather necklaces, anyone?).  Oh Skansen, sorry to even mention a Branson theme park in this paragraph.  Total mis-play.

Well, we had a bang up time at Skansen!  There was a glorious midsommar pole aloft, and loads of Swedes dancing and singing around it!  What more could one ask for?  Per tradition, I had a large plate of herring.... and then snaps.  We ended the day at Gröna Lund (OK, maybe this is fairer cross-reference to Silver Dollar City) and I even went on a roller coaster.  (I must confess, I was cajoled into it, it was paid for my aforementioned cajolers, it was a baby wooden one, and I hated EVERY freaking nanosecond.)

And now I give you, Scenes from Midsommar:

Bears!  And baby bears!  With fresh carrots!  

You wouldn't believe the luck with had with the animals on midsommar.  It was like they juiced 'em up/witheld food/something-else-enticing-to-animals to prep for the holiday throngs.  Because les animaux were on POINT!  We're talking lynx, wolverine, AND owl--front and center!  We even caught a glimpse of a grey wolf; even if he was sleeping, that totally counts!

This really sums up Skansen.  Charming, right?  The place is full of historical buildings that have been relo-ed to create a new/old village.  The only thing this joint is missing is some goats on the roof.

Snaps!  Some flavors are definitely better than others.  This is the "bitter" flavor and this Fernet-loving gal couldn't even handle it.  YOUCH, is it BITTER.  Give me an aquavit any day.

How cute is this sheep-ish playground at Skansen???

Beautiful old door carving just outside entrance to Skansen.

Grona Lund greeted us with this sunset.

A glimpse of Grona Lund.

I was home maybe by 11-something PM and this was the sky.  Longest day of the year, indeed!

This guy was already getting his Midsommar sleep-off on.  This is how the whole of Sweden feels the day after Midsommar.