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You know those super-annoying plane travelers who yammer ears off while their seatmate is dying to take a nap or finish his book?

Yeah, I’m that traveler.

I never used to be chatty. In fact, I was paralyzed during conversations with strangers as a teenager and as a new college grad. I’d go to any lengths to avoid talking to someone I didn’t know.  I bore striking resemblance to Elliot from Open Season at any social interaction, such as when:

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A dude approached me at a bar.

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My next-door neighbor trapped me at the mailbox for the two-hour saga (in painstaking detail) of “The Squirrel that Ran into Her House.”

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Colleagues asked blunt questions about my parents’ stance on birth control upon the revelation I have seven siblings.

On rare occasions, I could awkwardly bond with strangers who wore the Blue and Gold during a Notre Dame football game:

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But most of the time in social settings I hated talking or making decisions:

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To prove I was different back then — I didn’t even like coffee!!!

I think working in journalism and the ensuing addiction to coffee forced me out of my shell. I HAD to ask questions, listen, and get to know people.

Soon I was the crazy person who talked to everyone!

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All that to say, I’ve missed blogging. I enjoy having a small sliver of the internet to document the people I meet and the memories I’ve made.

The writer in me wants to tell you about the man on the corner who sells flowers; the old gentleman in Panera who asked me on a date; the time I harshly judged the guy sitting next to me on the plane as a punkass — only to find he was having a panic attack because our flight was delayed and he …

Wait. Nevermind. That’s a whole other story itself. And a pretty good story.

To be continued …

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When in Rome …

I’m a few days behind here, but I’ll try to catch up! But before I hash out the past several days, let it be stated here and now: the coffee is BOSS. Like, nothing I have ever imagined. Yesterday I drank a cafe latte that cost about a buck and a half and it was so delicious I’d have given all the gold in the Vatican for it. Holy heaven. It’s like thinking you’ve loved Johnny all through high school, and then got to college and realized he was bitter and not strong, needy and not low-maintenance, artificial and not natural, homely and not gorgeous with three different layers of milk and cream and espresso goodness.

The train ride from Lucerne to Italy was half-wonderful, half-boring. My iPad hadn’t recharged thanks to weak Swiss outlets, so it died on me about halfway through the eight-hour journey to Roma. But the day started with an indescribable three hours through the Alps. Every bend, every curve opened up to a vista even more breathtaking and grand than the previous one.

In all the train rides I’ve taken thus far (about five or six) only one conductor has checked my ticket. A German shepherd would be gnawing on your femur and a metro cop would have you handcuffed to a broken escalator before you snuck through the first gate trying such shenanigans without a DC metro pass.

The remaining five hours were only dotted with sights. Most of the buildings visible via that train, at least, were liberally slathered with graffiti. I spose you can’t judge a city by its train station, but if we were, Milan was a dump. Bizarre, given its fashion reputation.

Since my iPad had died, thus rendering the books I had downloaded unreadable, I had to content myself with people watching. The Italian couple sitting across from me sat silently the whole time; the woman had a perpetual scowl on her face. It is rather disconcerting to look up and see a perfect stranger glowering at you as if she’d dismember you with a pickle fork and her bare hands upon the slightest provocation.

About an hour outside of Rome, the scenery changes and becomes exactly what you’d expect to see in an Italian movie — rolling hills, vineyards, low-laying clouds bursting with sunset colors. However, the flesh was getting the better of the artistic-spirit, and I got pretty cranky. As long as I’m fed and caffeinated, I’m basically a decently pleasant person. Hungry and haggard, I become B-rhymes-with-kitchen. My last meal was a flattened sandwich (backpack-panini-style) that I’d snuck out of the hotel continental breakfast along with an apple about six hours ago. I used my last 1.5 francs to buy a chocolate bar, since Italy runs on Euros. Around this time, my stomach has eaten its lining.

We got slightly lost trying to find our lodgings, but Jess has the directional-sense of WWI messenger pigeon and finally found the apartment. It’s an old-rectory-turned-into-apartments. The room is a sublet from a friend, and her neighbor, Kim, let us in and showed us around. Kim is also from Michigan, so possesses a stellar sense of humor and a hospitable spirit. Even though it was about 10:30 at this time, he took us to one of his favorite Italian restaurants, where the food was cheap and amazing and the vino very very very good.

This is all I have for now, maybe I’ll try again tonight. Ciao!

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Yesterday was pretty non-epic, thanks to no sleep, rain and a long nap; not a bad day, just low-key and a little blurry in my jet-lagged brain. The only standout thing was going to Mass at a Baroque church with a choir singing and an orchestra performing Schubert. It was lengthy, but even with jet lag, worth sitting through a German service on a wooden bench.

You can google Switzerland and Lucerne, so I won’t bore anyone with the insane details; but know that Switzerland is enchanting. The Alps have ruined me for any other mountains, just like Knute Rockne has ruined football coaches for Notre Dame. When they’re awesome, they kick ass. The houses and streets are clean, colorful and tidy … At least here in Lucerne!

People are chatty and like to laugh. Jess and I spent a good hour ping-ponging between train terminals because we can’t read German but people were really eager to help. The language is actually a little odd, because the local tongue is a mix of French and German. I can pick out a few French phrases here and there, Jess can pick out a few German phrases here and there, so we’re getting by. In fact, the only time I’ve EVER heard German spoken is in WWII movies when the Germans are really really mean (in other words, Nazis). I couldn’t understand the sermon yesterday at all, for example, but it amused me because the priest sounded super angry and I felt like I was in a WWII movie as the Third Reicht took over a church or something. Also, good lord — the Germans can fit more letters into a word than friggin Mary Poppins. I swear there was one train line called Bochenstacchendochtbernakupfzammerdacht. I also think the young men are ridiculously attractive; Jess disagrees. Granted, a large amount of the skinny malnourished Swiss versions of U.S. hipsters (Swipsters?) have tons of uber weird piercings and tres bizarre haircuts, but most men are tall with chiseled features, wavy blonde hair and striking blue or green eyes.

We decided to be spontaneous today and took an Alpine train to the top of Mount Pilatus. (Google it and go there). On the way up, we saw many hikers, cows, dogs, gardens and meadows. I kept waiting for Heidi to bounce around the corner or twirling yodelers to folk-dance around Maria Von Trapp (Wrong country, I know, but it looks the same as the movie to me.) We also took a little hike and had dinner by a lake. I keep repeating to myself, “I’m in freaking Switzerland,” because it’s surreal to be in a place so utterly different than your own culture.

Tourist season must be over, because most of the people NOT speaking German are the two Michigan girls and a large amount of Asians. At least three people approached Jess and I asking for directions. While flattered to be mistaken for locals, Asians speaking faltering German to Americans who speak nothing leads to a lot of “WTF are you saying?” looks. The Asian couple who shared our train car to the top of the mountain asked us where we were from. “We are from the States,” I said slowly and loudly so they could understand me. “Where are you from?” “From Dallas,” the husband replied. Hashtag whoops.

Tomorrow we leave on a train for Rome, where we will be headquartered for the next 12 days. I actually am a little bummed; I’d love to stick around Switzerland for a few more days and explore some more and find a great day-long hike. But I have a feeling this isn’t the last time Switzerland and I will meet. If people have spirit-countries, I could imagine Switzerland being mine. Guten nacht!

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Well, here we sit in the airport, sprawled out on the floor near outlets to charge our devices as much as we can before we swap American sockets for Swiss ones.

I think I would be more excited right now if we had a direct flight to Zurich, but we have to switch flights in Atlanta with only 45 minutes to spare. My record not being the greatest with Delta, I am a wee bit stressed we will miss our connecting flight.

I’ve never flown internationally and I’ve heard the planes are far larger than a normal jet. Apparently you get free movies, fluffy blankets, pillows and a meal. I think the reason I’m the most concerned about our Atlanta layover is that I will not have time to down a few whiskeys to calm the nerves before putting my life into the hands of a stranger flying a huge ass metal tube thousands of feet above a watery abyss littered with sharks dying to sample their first taste of American cuisine. Yesterday, my coworker and I indulged in a fun little game called, “Celebrities Who Have Died in Plane Crashes.” There are a lot. John Denver. Patsy Cline. Knute Rockne. Will Roger. Amelia Earhart. We are Marshall.

Why do I do this to myself?

Anyway, once I get my feet on solid ground, I will fully embrace this adventure. It doesn’t help that England is currently under a high-level security threat and that ISIS has put Pope Francis on their hit list. Honestly, I feel sorry for any terrorist stupid enough to mess with Jess. Last week, she ticked off a list of small weaponry she was checking in her luggage. Knives, mace, brass knuckles. “I hope we get into a fight!” she enthused. Good thing I’ve been practicing my “fade silently into the background” techniques. A potential attacker would probably mistake her wide blue eyes and blonde hair as symbols of weakness and feminimity, but, as her younger brother can attest, are merely a sheepskin for a bloodthirsty barracuda who needed more constructive ways to vent as a child.

***

So I had to stop blogging because all of sudden it was time to board our plane to Atlanta. The flight was fine; we watched Frozen on my iPad like the adult women we are.

True to Delta reputation, they kept us on the runway for an absurd amount of time. Hence, we sprinted through many terminals in ten minutes just in time to hear the stewardess say, “Sixty seconds until the gate close.” Atlanta, I’ll forver rememeber you for your big ass terminals and my asthma attack.

Forunately our seatmate was was female, thin, clean and fun AND Delta redeemed themselves with an open bar and lots of free TV. We landed nine hours later in Zurich, Switzerland, on Sunday morning after a completely sleepless night, but it’s now 8pm over here, so I’ll catch up more tomorrow after I get a full night’s rest for the first time in three days. Bon soir!

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Parlez-vous Italian?

Languages have never been my strong point.

At 16, I was enchanted with France and opted to go the Paris route, versus the boring espanol, for my required language studies. I stumbled through high school OK, but when I found out I needed four more semesters of French at college, I wanted to die.

There’s only one semester I remember distinctly. Mostly because the green-eyed, wavy-haired “Luc” was tres charmant; however lamentable his language skills were, he had mastered the art of making every pretty, smart fille in the room become fluttery mush. To his credit, he never cheated, but every small group activity consisted of the blithely silent Luc and his band of bilingual hotties. Once, when Stiletto Sophie was absent, I made Luc’s cut for his girlfriend in a skit about a picnic in le parc, and I was on cloud nine for the rest of the day.

Now that my career is firmly entrenched in writing and editing, I have no mind space left for another language. I can gnaw on a English grammar problem for an hour when I have to, investigating each possibility from all sides. Another language’s grammar frustrates me exceedingly because I DON’T KNOW IF IT’S CORRECT OR NOT. If I can’t speak a language properly, I don’t want to speak it at all.

Anyway, this is bad because I’ve not even pretended to try to learn any Italian phrases. I have no idea how to use the bathroom in Italian, swear in Italian, or how to have a heart attack in Italian. It’s very annoying.

Mariann (eyes raised beseechingly at passerby as she collapses on the sidewalk, hands clasped over her pounding heart): “Help … me … s’il vous plait …”
Aloof Italians (in Italian): Loco Americano (or is that Spanish? Meh, whatevs).

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I’m mostly sure “coffee” sounds pretty much the same in any language, so I’m safe there, thank God. Gracias, Starbucks, for teaching me grande and venti and cappuccino and biscotti. We stupid Americans salute you.

My final worry is I’m going to eat something helluvanasty, unawares. I remember enough French to know that fois gras and escargot translate to “shit no one in their right mind would ever put into their mouths.” Leave it to me to order the one exotic piece de resistance on the menu that’s oxen testicles stuffed with rattlesnake livers, breaded, and deep fried in the fat of manatee fed a sole diet of frogs.

Bon appetit!

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