1: So Long

Packing is a science.

It was Vivian Moreau’s idea that I blog about our year in Switzerland. As a journalist with an entrepreneurial bend of mind, she suggested this would have the makings of a good travel book, which goes to show that I have hidden my aversion to travel from her quite well.

Everyone is a better traveller than me. Everyone. I like seeing new places, but I hate what it takes to get there.

This open-air cable car just opened in Lucerne. What a pity we don’t have time to ride it. ūüėČ

With the endless stream of travel books and websites available now, I have no illusions of making this into anything other than a semi-personal journal of life as a corporate spouse tagging along after my hubby, which many see as glamorous, but only because they do not know the personal hell corporate couples endure at the hands of foreign bureaucracies.*

Maybe in short and infrequent bursts, corporate travel is a happy novelty, but our experience over 30 years is that it quickly acquires the enchantment of a long-haul bus tour, which is to say, the bathrooms and sleeping arrangements are never as good as those at home.

Still, it is an economical way to see the world, and we’ve done it repeatedly, so the good does outweigh the bad. If the beds, bathrooms and bureaucracies are the minuses on this crazy life; a front-row seat watching how foreign people live and how their countries work are the pluses.

This is the last Hobonotes post, unless something faintly amusing occurs on our trip home tomorrow. For our friends and family reading this, see you soon. For strangers we picked up along the way, thank you for joining us and for your engaging feedback.

* Also, I will not do truly adventurous things, like fling myself off a cliff, trusting my life to a thin sheet of fabric (parachuting, paragliding, parasailing, ¬†you name it, I won’t do it). This is a travel blog for the timid.

Somewhat Amusing Anecdotes You May Not Know

  1. Soon after starting this blog, a former colleague demanded via email that I delete a humorous excerpt from an email he/she sent to me some years ago.  I thought about replacing the excerpt with another email he/she wrote wherein he/she used some hostile terms that if reported to our Human Resources Department, would have obliged them to pull him/her through a meat grinder. I never ratted out my former colleague, and he/she is doing well professionally now. I like to think I had a hand in that.
  2. The humorous excerpt is still somewhere on this blog.
  3. The most hits this blog got in a single day was 885. It surprised me, too. It must have streamed into a commercial travel website somewhere in the U.S. (the source of about 845 of those hits).
  4. The all-time top post was the innocuous Luscious Lucerne.  It surpassed the previous top post on Paris and kidneys, which led the pack until this month.
  5. Most hits came from the U.S., Canada and Switzerland. I had readers from every continent and almost every country, but not one hit came from Greenland. Don’t they ever travel? I didn’t do well with African readers either, although I did score a fringe of readers there.
Advertisements

7: Snarl

A dog snoozes at his owner’s feet, happy inside a Starbucks restaurant.

A dog attacked me on my morning jog yesterday. It was leashed to a young woman who only laughed as her snarly snapping border collie made a go for my shins. ¬†I say “only” because she showed no reflexive movement to her dog’s lunging at me. A little jerk of the leash would have been nice, but that did not occur.

That is about what I expected. ¬†My experience of dog-owners, particularly owners of aggressive dogs, is that they are clueless about their beloved Bowser’s behavior, because they are at the tail-end of the leash. The view is different from the other side, the one with fangs.

This brought to mind my hometown Victoria, British Columbia, where tightened leash laws came into force this week, a move that I doubt will do much except produce a more stressed dog population.

I loathe it when North Americans shore up weak arguments with “that is how they do it in Sweden” defenses – a lazy myopic debating tool if ever there was one, mostly because people using that device are operating with a scant understanding of how Sweden or any faraway land really works. But here I am about to dive in with a “this is how they do it in Switzerland argument” against tighter leash laws. My only defense is that I live in Switzerland.

Over the past year, we have seen countless unleashed dogs of all breeds trot past us with nary a glance in our direction. Un-neutered males frolic in parks, beagles bumber about inside housing goods shops as their owners browse, retrievers relax under restaurant tables and  train-riding chows tolerate total strangers stepping over them. Unleashed dogs walk at a perfect heel on busy streets and in packed parks. A dog is a dog the world over, so the difference has to be something to do with the Swiss.

I had previously believed Swiss dogs’ docile natures was a product of their socialization – that is, that they are allowed nearly everywhere: Trains, buses, stores (some restrictions apply inside grocery stores), malls, wherever there are people, there are dogs. I assumed this to be the driving civilizing effect on canines and very likely this is the case. But there is more to it.

Switzerland is swathed in bureaucracy. For example, no one is allowed on a golf course until they have been certified. It seems a bit far-fetched but there it is.

The same thinking applies to dog-ownership. Switzerland demands that dog-owners become certified before they actually own a dog, and certification does not mean just paying a fee and getting a piece of paper; it means taking a course in dog-training. After successfully completing the course, the person then gets the dog and later goes back for further training and certification.

Fifteen months ago, learning this would have made me roll my eyes and groan at an all-reaching bureaucracy, but now it seems like a very good idea. It elevates the general base of knowledge of all dog-owners. The result is a very polite pooch population.

A leash law would not have done anything to protect me from yesterday’s dog-attack.¬†The problem was not with the dog on the leash, but with the obtuse woman holding the other end of it.

Fuhrich on the Second Go

This is Fuhrich's upper dining room where we ate the first time we visited there. Grizelda would not allow us back upstairs on our second visit.

My former Times Colonist newspaper colleague, food-writer Pam Grant, gives restaurants a second chance when things go wrong on her first visit there. But, sometimes the ones who get it right on the first go need a second visit as well, just in case that first visit was a fluke. That’s what we learned the second time we stopped in at Vienna’s Fuhrich restaurant.

Two days after our first divine dinner there, we returned to find the restaurant jam-packed, as was expected. The food is exceedingly good, after all.

A waiter pointed us toward a table along the wall on the main floor. If I was having doubts that I could squeeze between the other patrons in that row, I wasn’t alone as I could see from the aghast expressions on the faces of those very patrons. ¬†I said no thanks and pointed to another empty table by the front of the restaurant, overlooking the street.

And that is when I fell in the path of the maitre d’¬†pit-of-doom. As the waiter hesitated, a woman of about 45-55 swept in, her black pixie* all hard-edged with her dark eyes flashing angrily. She indicated another table in the centre of the room that looked to be sized to suit pre-schoolers.

So I said no again. I had this crazy notion that as a customer, I should enjoy a reasonable degree of comfort, and not be forced to relive the cramped wooden-desk epoch that was my Grade 4 school year.

Of course, this was a mistake. She put us at a third table that did not bank along with other tables, so we were away from the crowd, but it was straight in the line of wind gusts from the front door (which was kept open as they were dealing with a delivery).

At this point, I still assumed the professional decorum of wait staff was in effect, but seconds later, I realized my error. The woman, let’s call her Grizelda, came to our table and dropped two menus down before us.

It was the kiss of dining death.

Allow me to explain: The custom at this restaurant is for the waiter to open the menu and present it to the patrons. The closed menus on our table telegraphed that their good graces were closed to us as well.

Good food at Fuhrich - Weinerschnitzel.

In the meantime, later diners came in and took the coveted window table. They spoke German. Not that this had anything to do with it, but I have noticed that sometimes people take out their xenophobia on non-German-speaking foreigners, such as at a bakeshop two blocks from our Swiss hotel where the server grabbed a croissant with her bare muggy fist and dropped it down the bag as though it were dog excrement, instead of using tongs or wearing gloves.

Where was I?

Oh yes, Grizelda. Another waiter appeared to take our order.

That is the second sign of dining disaster – the relay. The relay is what happens when things have got off on such a bad foot, they transform your table into a baton that gets passed from one server to another. It is, pardon the pun, a recipe for disaster. In theory, however, it does present an opportunity for the incoming waiter to help the customers forget the ineptitude (or hostility) of the outgoing waiter. There’s no reason why this should not work, but Grizelda’s ugly mood cast a pall over the other waiters who all looked jittery and frightened.

When this server brought our bread, I asked where the spread was. Two days earlier, our bread came with a tasty spread of butter, creamed cheese, parsley, garlic and some un-named but heavenly spice (I am taking a guess at the ingredients). He said he would look for some.

Having worked in a restaurant, I know that spreads and such are prepared earlier in the day when the restaurant is quiet, and then usually sit in a fridge waiting to be dealt out to diners with as much speed as can be seen at a Las Vegas blackjack table. I’m not saying this is how this restaurant works, but fetching a condiment is not exactly a massive undertaking. If it were, how could they ever manage the volume of complexities in running the deep-fryer?

After a decent interval, I headed toward the kitchen, just outside of which I found our waiter standing next to Grizelda. When I asked about the spread, they flustered and then he said, ‘night time only.’ He gave a long convoluted explanation on why serving this condiment would be on par with demanding everyone eat from upside-down tables. I asked him to find some anyway.

I knew I would never see it. Grizelda’s mouth was pursed, her nose upturned, her lids lowered. She was furious.

I returned to our table. A third waiter brought us our food, signifying we were now in the third leg of the race and barreling quickly toward the finish line.

I am happy to report that the food was again absolutely fabulous. Obviously, no one had taken the time to inform the cook that we were miscreant patrons.

We finished our food and when the bill arrived, it had a 4-Euro charge for the absent spread. This is a neat trick. When we actually received the spread two days earlier, we didn’t have to pay any extra for it, but when the spread does not come, it costs more. Possibly because it was invisible spread.

Happily, we did not have to argue over this as Waiter #2 came over and explained the error, then produced a correct bill. Even though he was Waiter #2, this latest handover signalled that we had entered the fourth leg of the relay, and it was time to go, which we did.

Later, Dave and I mused over what we might have done to avoid such an uncomfortable situation, when we suddenly remembered we were the customers. It’s not our job to worry about Grizelda. It was her job to worry about us. In short, the only cure for such a train wreck of a meal would have been to leave as soon as Grizelda’s disapproval showed itself. But we couldn’t do that. Remember, the food is fantastic.

Rating (ranked twice, with the first number for the first visit, the second for the second, you get the drift.  1 is low, 10 is high)

Location: 8 and 8 – Just a hop off Vienna’s lovely pedestrian shopping thoroughfare.

Setting: 8 and 8 – The restaurant is clean, and decorated in rich woods, reminiscent of a well-to-do English pub.

Food: 10 and 10 – There is nothing disappointing in the food here. The portions are sizeable and everything is delicious.

Service: 10 and 0 – If you avoid Grizelda, you should have a fine time.

*It’s possible that she had her hair done in an updo, but I think it was a pixie cut. I cannot say with certainty because I had to keep my eyes averted most of the time to protect them from getting lasered out by Grizelda’s glare.