Friday, June 26, 2009

Through the blinds and over the rail - into the courtyard we go

So last night we had our first major cat drama.

It was around one in the morning and we were just getting ready for bed (normal). I had just washed my face and was brushing my teeth when I noticed neither of my sidekicks were there to "help" me (not normal). I wandered out into the hallway, toothbrush still clutched firmly in hand, and found Waffle, but no Taco. Next I looked under the bed - no Taco. On the nasty nibble blanket? No Taco. Under the futon? Nope. Couch? Nope.

This was when I started to get worried.

In the kitchen I put some food in the bowl and then loudly rattled the box of cat candy - here comes Waffle. Only Waffle.

I woke Mr K up and we really started the hunt. Opening all cupboards and the wardrobe - nothing. Behind the washing machine? Nope. Under the dishwasher? Nope. Out on the balcony somehow? Nope.

Now I was getting really worried - he clearly wasn't in the apartment.

In our dining room, we have a window he likes to lay in - I even have an ottoman set up in front of it so he can look out the window in both style and comfort. I always keep the blinds down and tilted so he can see out but not get out - or so I thought. At this point, it was almost two in the morning and Mr K and I are out in the courtyard with flashlights. Our courtyard, which is probably somewhere around 5000 square feet in area, is really well planted with huge shrubs and masses of flowers. These shrubs, the primary target of our search efforts, play home to vast hordes of spiders and chompy ants who have created a complex metropolis of their own and who also really don't like it when you go throwing your arms through the plants all willy-nilly. One or two intrepid mosquitoes, on the other hand, were delighted to have some company and stuck close by us throughout the search.

Our first trip through the courtyard yielded nothing. Mr K, on impulse, went back up to look at the window sill outside of the dining room window - in the dust he was able to find fresh kitty toe prints - this meant at least that we knew Taco was definitely outside, and so back into the plants we went.

Just past three, Mr K whispered triumphantly across the courtyard, "I found him!" I looked up and there, glowing in the moonlight (and the sickly fluorescent glow of the motion-sensitive lights in the courtyard) was a wide-eyed and only slightly filthy Taco clutched in Mr K's arms.

I whisper-squealed my joy back at him and the three of us piled into the elevator. A matter of minutes later, we were back in the house, where Taco made it his first act to scramble under the futon and not come out. Waffle immediately sprung into action and conducted a follow-up investigation by cornering Taco and sniffing and snorting at all the strange planty-smells he must have been covered in.

As for us, we just collapsed and passed out.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Food and Family: The End of Our Trip

A rainy day after a restful weekend feels like the right time to finish up this story!

When I last left you, we were heading away from the concert... but what were we heading towards, at 10:30 PM with a full tank of gas? My parents house in Pennsylvania, of course!

Our final big surprise of the trip was going to see my mom and dad... but it would only be a surprise for mom. Right before the trip, dad sent me an entertaining email about his latest weaponry purchase - as if he knew we planned to bang on the door at midnight in a matter of days or something! In addition to the growing arsenal, mom and dad also acquired a new dog that week - a ferocious beast named "Casey" - a bloodthirsty cocker spaniel of doom. Deciding it isn't smart to sneak up on the retired Army guy and his flesh-rending attack dog, we gave dad a heads-up as to our arrival but insisted he didn't tell mom.

After the concert, we made good time, stopping only once to get Burger King kids meals at 11:45 at night because...well, because we COULD. Still driving, we polished off our burgers, though we ignored the soggy fries and lame Pokemon toys. At 12:07 exactly we pulled up in front of the house and approached the front door, hoping dad was still awake - he was. He let us in and we hid in the kitchen while he went to wake up mom, telling her she had to come downstairs.

Walking down the stairs in the middle of the night, I think she probably feared that the dog had just had one of those new-dog-explosions that only women can clean up, but I digress...

So, we're hiding in the kitchen as mom come shuffling in, all bundled up in her robe. We popped our heads around the corner and she looked at us, blinked a couple times, and just started laughing. Our surprise was a success - she had no idea! She swooped at us with great big hugs and all our laughter apparently excited the attack dog, who proceeded to liberally drench my fantastic new Dansko sandals in puppy piddle - sigh.

Soon enough my shoes were cleaned back up and we were all gathered around the bar in the kitchen, sipping beers and iced tea and eating chips and salsa while mom tried to come to terms with the fact that we were really really there. We all stayed up until almost two in the morning at which point we were all near collapse. At some point, Mr K and my dad had graciously dragged all our luggage in from the car and all I had to do was collapse in bed.

My mom said the next morning she woke up three or four times in the night, convinced it was a dream. She would then get out of bed and peek out her door to see if the guest room door really was closed, signifying guests inside. So cute!

The next day we got up and had breakfast. Mom and I dropped the dog off for a long overdue haircut and fang-sharpening, as his prettiness hadn't been properly attended to at the pound. From the dog salon, we headed to the airport to pick up Mr K and dad, who had been returning the parents' rental car. All together once more, we headed to the mall to run some errands and stopped at Olive Garden for a brief, but really surprisingly tasty lunch. Oh, the big salad. Mmmmmm.

By the time we finished with errands, it was time to head home - we had to get the dog and some groceries. At the grocery store, I grabbed all the ingredients I needed for the meal I planned to cook for mom and dad, all the while giggling over the variety of breakfast cereal and relative cheapness of meat. For dinner, I cooked two Indian dishes - a spicy cilantro and onion chicken and also curried chickpeas. We ate a late dinner around 8:45 PM and all settled back to watch what may be the greatest TV show ever created - "Wipeout".

Soon it was bedtime as we were flying out the next day. It was sad that our visit was so short, but on the other hand, it was beyond wonderful to get to visit at all and to surprise my mom!

The next morning we got up, had breakfast, packed our stuff in to the car and headed to Baltimore. Our flight was delayed by an hour but soon we were in Newark and boarding our flight back to Geneva. We had two of the three seats in a middle row and we watched in trepidation as each person boarded, hoping silently that they wouldn't join our row. This worked out, except we forgot to also hope the woman with the two crazed children with overly-active kicking legs wouldn't be seated in the row behind us. Or that the couple with the crying toddler wouldn't sit in the row next to ours. As we sat, waiting for our delayed takeoff, the kid behind Mr K entertained himself by slamming the tray table up and down as his delightful mother read Cosmo. Fortunately for all involved, as soon as the plane took off, both kids promptly passed out and stayed that way until we landed. Not so for the crying-kid-couple. The father spent the whole flight asleep as the mother walked up and down the aisles with the poor little girl. As long as her mom walked, she was quiet, but the minute they stopped, she screamed and screamed... which meant the mom spent five straight hours just walking the plane.

Soon enough we landed in Geneva, grabbed our luggage, zipped through the "nothing to declare" line and caught our train back home. We arrived to an only slightly disheveled house (the cats like to knock the dining room chairs all over the place) and two very happy kitties.

As I close this adventure, I'm going to leave you with a couple highlights from the trip that didn't seem to fit anywhere else:
  • Great quote #1: Two girls in line in Newark compare passports. One points out her Italy stamp. the other frowns and asks when their tour went through Italy. Girl one responds, "On the train from London to France, remember?"
  • Great quote #2: As we pass a group of college age kids, one girls loudly proclaims, "I got a ham sammich, if you want it!"
  • Great quote #3: At the end of the agricultural scan, we're waiting for our baggage as a rude woman on her cell phone ignores her approaching bag, stating, "I'm having a doozy of a time getting to my kids." After you've slept 4 hours in twenty, "doozy" is seriously about the funniest word ever.
  • Leaving the airport, we pass a guy in a concert tee shirt with long hair. He's dragging a couple pieces of bright pink little girl luggage. Just as I point him out to Mr K, he notices us and see Mr K's tee shirt and shouts out "MISFITS!" while making funny hand horns. We were still giggling about "doozy" at this point and that completely sent us over the edge.
And that's it!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Meeting in Your Town and Rocking Out: Days Three and Four of the Surprise Trip

Sorry it's taken me a couple days to get to this - I've been glued to and Twitter, obsessively reading about the protests in Iran. I'm going to take a short break, though, to get this post up before I forget everything.

Monday morning we got up bright and early (thanks, in part, to our lizard brains still being on +6 Switzerland time) and headed out. Our first stop was the McDonalds drive-through (we haven't gone completely native, apparently) for BDCs (Big Diet Cokes) and breakfast burritos. Six dollars later (cheap cheap cheap!) we headed to drop Mr K off at work with a one kilo (2.2 pounds) bag of chocolate bars in each hand.

My next stop was the bank to close an account I rarely use. One thing we've learned living here is when you do your taxes, you have to report all your wealth, which means all bank accounts. We have two main banks we use, but we've also both acquired a few smaller accounts from various jobs and past locations putting us at a grand total of six banks - this is a pain when you have to track down paperwork on each and every one of them yearly, so one of our priorities was to get some of those closed down. I was shocked to find the bank still closed at 9 in the morning - they didn't open until 9:30, which seems so late to me. I decided to just park and wander around a nearby shopping center for half an hour and was again confused to find each and every store closed until 9:30 or ten in the morning - I didn't remember this being the norm.

Eventually the bank opened and I was second in line, which meant I got the pleasure of listening to a complete moron berate the poor guy behind the counter about absolutely nothing for 20 minutes before she realized he was right... that kind of thing I haven't missed one bit. When it was my turn, closing the account took all of four minutes and I was back out the door, cash in hand. I ran a few more errands, prowled Borders (a really gigantic book store, Max - like bigger than FNAC - dangerous for me) and grabbed a yummy Subway sandwich for my lunch. Soon it was time to pick up Mr K and head to our next big surprise...

A little background: I've been playing a Wii game called Animal Crossing for the past few months. The basic premise is you have a little town and you make it pretty and befriend your animal neighbors and fish and garden and things like that. If you have friends playing, you can meet up over wireless and hang out in each others towns. One of my good friends in Virginia just recently got hooked, so we've been Animal Crossing together for the past few weeks. On Monday, I sent her a message on Facebook asking,
"Still hooked on the Animal Crossing? I wanna hang out in your town tomorrow - you available around 4 PM your time? We can share fruit!"
See how sneaky I was? She quickly responded,
"I'll make sure I have my gate open at 4 tomorrow so you can come visit. I sent you mail today too. Nothing exciting though. See you in Death [her town name - hee hee hee] tomorrow :)"
Mr K and I were dying - this would be great! We planned to be a little bit late just to add to the suspense. At 4:07 we arrived and parked in front of her house. We found out later that their son saw us park and said "Mommy, Miz K and Mr K just parked in front of our house." To which she replied, "No, honey - they live in Switzerland now, remember?" It was about this time we rang the doorbell. She open the door and burst out laughing, calling us freaks. Mission accomplished! We all sat around and played Mario Kart and chatted until her husband got home from work and we all went out to dinner - it was so much fun! After dinner, Mr K went shopping with them while I headed back to have girlie night out with the friend who put us up for the weekend. We got our toenails done and then headed to Benihana for a great dinner and a big pot of green tea. All in all, it was a wonderful day with really wonderful friends!

Tuesday morning we got up early again and once more drove through McD on the way to taking Mr K to work for a half day. I finished up my shopping (walking the mall* for an hour before the stores opened at 10) and joined up with Mr K and 21 of his coworkers for a lovely lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant.

After lunch, we continued to run a few errands, with Mr K dragging me to my two least favorite stores ever - Guitar Center and Microcenter. (seeing both of those 'centers' is making me wonder if I got the names wrong...) Soon we were on our way to Maryland for the concert. A huge thunderstorm started just as our drive did, slowing down traffic and adding about 45 minutes to the hour and a half we expected to be driving. The rain stopped and we got to the venue right on time, though we didn't get to stop for dinner along the way.

We parked and headed inside , where we navigated the two huge lines to get our tickets from Will Call and then to get patted down at the security check. Soon we were inside and thrilled to see a stand offering burgers, chicken fingers, beer and soda. We bought one of each and then headed to the tee shirt booth, where we were appalled to see tee shirts selling for 35-40$ each - ouch! Oh well - seeing as we flew over for the show, we figured we pretty much had to get a shirt, so we picked one out and made our way into the grounds to see the show. The lawn section was on a large hill, which offered a great view of the stage. The problem with a large hill after a rainstorm is the muddy muddy mudslide it turns into. Our main pre-show entertainment was watching people spill their beers on themselves and the ground as they alternately fell up and down the hill.

The falling continued throughout the show, which was good in that it provided much-needed levity during the slow-and-ballady-and-not-good-for-a-giant-concert songs NIN interspersed between the really loud and screamy rockin' numbers. I've been waiting to see this guy live since I was 16 and not allowed to go to concerts - it's been a long time coming! The highlight of the show was the gorgeous sunset that turned everything flaming orange and burst pink for the last couple songs - Mr K and I joked that you know you and the band are getting old when you're watching "angry bands" play in the daylight. The last song of the set was "Hurt" and I can confidently say it was the worst encore I have ever seen in my life. It's a pretty emotional song until you hear it sung along with by thousands of drunken twenty and thirty-somethings.. then it's just kind of lame/funny.

Jane's Addiction played second and completely made up for our disappointment with NIN - they were amazing! We had another "you know they're getting old when" moment when the lead singer reached for his mug of hot tea after the first song. He self-consciously grabbed a wine bottle and chugged after that, but you know he preferred the hot tea. All joking aside, despite being 50 years old, he's one of the most charismatic, real "rockstar" kinds of performers I've ever seen. It's hard to describe, but the performance was just stellar. We were completely blown away even though we had to leave the show a little bit early - our next stop was 90 minutes away and we had to be there by midnight...

And that brings us to Part Three - come back soon!

* A note for non-Americans... "walking the mall" is an actual thing people do - they go to the local mall before it opens in their workout clothes and sneakers and they walk laps. It's mainly moms with strollers and older people. This is what happens when you have no sidewalks!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Root Beers and Rabbits Ears - Days One and Two of the Surprise Trip

I've never been any good at being spontaneous. You know those people who plan things to death? Yeah, I train them. Our last trip to the US (last Christmas, which Mr K and I manged to spend both sick and stressed) I actually had a spreadsheet typed up of where we would be, what we would do, and who we would see for every day of our trip. I'm not bragging - I'm embarrassed.

So yeah, I'm not good at spontaneous. You may be wondering what this has to do with root beer. Well, for one thing, there is no root beer in Switzerland - that's your first hint.

"Get to the point already!"

Alright, alright - we just got back from a very impromptu trip to the US that all started with a stupid/brilliant idea to go to a concert. Two of my favorite bands from my high school days are touring together and I keep hearing rumors that this is probably "it" for both bands (as Mr K likes to put it, this is their first-last tour). Naturally, there are no European dates for the tour. Browsing a website around two in the morning about a week and a half ago, I noticed there were still tickets available for a show near DC. On a whim, I decided to look up flights, knowing they would be so expensive it wouldn't matter. One Expedia search later, this was not the case - roundtrip airfare was just over 400$ from Switzerland to the DC area...

Now I had a problem - actually going through with it. I was looking at tickets on a Wednesday to fly out on Saturday. I decided to go for it and ordered my concert tickets just about the time that Mr K started hemming and hawing about this not being a great time for a trip. His indecisiveness immediately made me start questioning the idea and, as of our one AM bedtime, we still hadn't made a decision, but we were already out 100$ for the show. I tried to go to sleep, but I just couldn't - I kept going back and forth on it. Around 3, I gave up on sleeping and came back to the computer, where an online chat with a friend convinced me to go for it. At this point, I decided to be brave and make the trip by myself. Naturally, Mr K woke up determined to go and so, at 5:45 in the morning, we booked our flights.

Once everything was arranged, the inevitable pre-flight-getting-stuff-done panic set in. Homework, cleaning, cat wrangling and packing, all in just two days. Before we knew it, we were in Zurich, boarding a plane and hoping we made the right choice. Prior to departure, we had decided to inform only three people about our visit: Mr K's boss for obvious reasons, my dad so we wouldn't get shot (more on this later), and our friends whose house we would be staying at.

We landed, got our car, dropped our luggage off at the hotel and headed out to do some shopping to supplement the two outfits each we had packed. Shopping done, we hit Chipotle for gigantic burritos before heading back to the hotel and promptly passing out.

The next morning, we got up and had breakfast, packed our things and headed to meet up with some friends. After a flurry of hellos and hugs, we all packed into the cars, bags of fresh, hot cinnamon bread clutched in our hands, to head to the Virginia Renaissance Festival. We wandered around, enjoying the sun and eating turkey legs, drinking root beer and participating in authentic renaissance pass-times, such as the classic game "pay-a-dollar-to-throw-a-rock-in-a-mud-puddle."

A few hours and several pounds of kettle corn later, we all piled back in the cars for the 1.5 hour drive home. Once home, we had a delicious taco dinner and a couple hours of chatting before we all passed out.

That's enough for one post. My next post will cover a couple big surprises and the concert that started this whole thing!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Drool factory

Apologies for my delayed posting - Mr K and I have been busy taking turns being sick and we're just finally back to both feeling better.

Way back before we got sick, we took a day tip with a group of friends to Martigny in Valais to visit the Musee et Chiens du Saint-Bernard - the St Bernard dog museum and kennel.

Martigny is a little over an hour by car from Fribourg. When we arrived, our first priority was to grab some lunch so we could explore with no distractions. Fortunately the museum just happens to have their own restaurant - Le Collier d'Or - the Gold Collar. Mr K had a plate of local dried meats and bread while I went for a vegetarian pasta - tasty, but nothing exciting.

Next up we cut through the gift shop and headed for the dog kennel. We saw a couple gigantic puppies and then got to pet a couple full grown dogs, including one of the world grand champions. I learned that the french word for champion (champion) sounds almost identical to the word for mushroom (champignon) to my poor American ears, leaving me a little bit confused for just a split second. I also learned the dogs eat about two pounds of kibble per dog per day. As you would expect, their poo reflects this - shudder. After petting and learning about the dogs, we went back inside to see the rest of the museum.

The main area of the museum displays a number of items related to Saint Bernard dogs throughout history, including a very large number of paintings showing the dogs as well as the stuffed body of Barry, currently on loan from a museum in Bern.

From July through September, it is possible to make a reservation to take one of the dogs for a 1-2 hour walk along the St Bernard mountain pass. The walks cost about 40$ per person, but I'm thinking it's probably worth it - after all, kibble isn't cheap!