Friday, April 8, 2011

Europe Then and Now

I made my second trip to beautiful Switzerland last week, and boy did it taste good. I've only been to Europe a few times, and I even get my first two trips there "as an adult" mixed up. The first was post-dropping out of college and getting a divorce. I was working in Cambridge, and had this urgent need to see Europe. I was fortunate to know a few friends from college who lived there, so it seemed opportune to take advantage of a free place to stay. With a steady income and not much in the way of expenses, I had the money to somewhat splurge. 

My first stop was London, where I heard tales of a huge apartment a bond trader got rent free, and he was dying for visitors to use those empty rooms. I dragged my suitcase from the train in the humid, rainy London weather, hung out for a bit till my temporary roommate returned from work and let me into his flat.  Didn't seem all that big to me, but beggars can't be choosers. We had dinner at a burger joint with cold beer as he was not quite accepting of the traditional pub fare, and retired for the evening. I distinctly remember how light it still was at 11pm, plus his funny his combo Bronx/British accent. He was a total New Yorker with a heavy accent, and those years in London didn't tone it down much. The next morning I heard stirrings, but opted to sleep in. Turns out those sounds were his roommate, and she managed to lock me in the place. Not on purpose, she had no idea I was there, but I had never seen a lock where you needed a key to get out. I called my friend and he came and rescued me, it was pretty funny. I finally asked about this "huge" apartment and learned that was only for his first ex-pat year. If they choose to stay longer they're on their own so he got a cheaper one.

I went from London to Paris, and faced more rain. My friend husband was so sweet and kind, but my friend warned me they had no money (in between work visas) to even go to a museum. No worries, I was there to explore, being on my own was fine.  Until I discovered that you must know exactly what to eat and drink nearly every minute of the day or prepare to be faced head-on with rudeness. Things are expensive in Paris, and while my friend knew the cheap places patronized by artists, on my own I had to take my chances. One day I had an urge for Crepes and I just chose the nearest place. I took a seat and placed my order after a while. I was gruffly told I was not allowed to sit in that section if I was only eating dessert, and moved to the other side of the empty place. 10 minutest the waiter came back and told me he'd forgotten my order.  Much of my trip was like that, so I decided to get out of there.

I read about Strasbourg, which, while in France, is mostly a German town.  I took German in high school! I got a ticket and hopped on the train, where I was immediately told to get on a different train. I was then kicked out of my seat for having the wrong class ticket.  Sigh. And where did I end up? Bern, Switzerland. Fortunately I had my passport, they sun was shining and nobody cared that I didn't speak French. I briefly considered staying overnight, but headed home after a truly lovely day in Switzerland.  I met by boyfriend the next day, and we proceeded on to Amsterdam, where I partook of the legal herbs at the "coffee shops," ate oodles of french fries and got lost multiple times wandering the streets.  The first evening I actually said "I remember where our hotel is, is was right near a canal" - doh! We ended our stay in Germany at a beautiful old B&B with a proprietor who spent all his time complaining about Americans. The sausages made up for that.

This recent trip to Switzerland was on an expense account, and we opted to test out the restaurant we'd booked for our group dinner.  The photos here do not do it justice.  I mostly worked, but manged to score some homemade chocolate and stay in a hotel this time.  The food, though, from cheese fondue and duck the first night, to German sausage and beer followed by Meringues and Chantilly the last, was universally excellent and mostly served with, if not a smile, not a sneer either.  The only snag was when the restaurant refused to admit some vegetarians might not eat fish, and I actually got into an argument when I insisted on a few non-fish, non-meat meals.

I've been dreaming of food since I read the latest book club selection for From Left to Write, Lunch in Paris, a Love Story with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard, and romantic, delicious book with recipes at the end of each chapter.  It inspired me to make mushroom and artichoke pasta with ingredients from the farmer's market, yogurt cake with pineapple for dessert then breakfast, and fish in foil, and easy and flavorful cooking method. 

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Left to Write book club but was under no obligation to write anything.  Read more posts here.

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