Montreal: Dinner

Last night we had the most wonderful dinner at Chez la Mere Michel. We were lucky in that they had a table for us since we didnt have a reservation. We were tucked away in the smoking section. For a while, the rest of the restaurant seemed empt, it looked like they just hid all the Americans in the back! At the table across from us sat two women in their 40s. They drank a lot of wine. By the glass, too — thw would have been better off ordering two bottles — a white & a red. One stumbled on her way out. At the table next to us was an “interesting” couple from South Carolina. Brendan’s theory about old southerners being the ones who travel still holds. She inspected the art — touching it – and he was a little bit gruff with the waiter. I have to say, we were the waiter’s favorites. She swiped an ash tray saying, “I collect,” and shrugging. Shortly after she slipped it in her pocket, the waiter walked in the room. I thought perhaps he caught her. That would have been so funny. The food was so nice, so good. I had a souffle du fromage wih Swiss cheese and a light, perfectly flaky pastry, and the coq au vin which just fell off the bone and was very tasty. Bren had the filet and a strawberry dessert that was so light and so delicious. We were so exhausted when we got back (at about 9:30) that we were in bed, asleep at 10 or 10:30. Soon we’re leaving for Parc Olympique.

Italy, June 2003, Day 6

We did a little more exploration on this day. First, we went to the Emerald Grotto.

We took an elevator from street level deep into the ground where it was nice and cool. About a dozen of us got into a little row boat with our Chilean guide. He took us around and showed us the stalagmites and stalactites. It was a lot like Luray Caverns in VA in that the rock formations are said to look like things — like the one that resembled Ronald Reagan.

As our guide moved to the edge of the grotto, where the light was coming in underneath the water, the reason the grotto was named the Emerald Grotto became quite clear. The more the water was rippled and the light was refracted, the greener the water appeared. Quite stunning actually. Photos didn’t really come out because it was so dark.

Then, he took us over to a shallow place on the side: “¡Milagro! ¡Milagro!”, he said “look there is a natural forming nativity scene!” (photo is above) We got quite a kick out of that. But the best was the woman from Pittsburgh who was sitting next to me and said something like, “That doesn’t look natural, it’s painted.” But she totally thought the rocks were real, just that they had faces painted on them. And it was her second time through!

Then after we visited the gift shop, we went to the beach. Like I said earlier, the walk to the beach was torturous. But we made sure to take a lot of water with us. We’d gotten smart and had started to keep half bottles of water in the freezer, so it stayed plenty cold. The water was so amazing. It was warm and clear. You could see way down to the rocks on the bottom. Since we could see them, it seemed like we should be able to stand on them. Not the case. All the locals were so incredibly brown. Now, I normally feel like a pale white girl, but here it was very apparent. Everyone seemed to be staring at us.

Later on in the night, we went to the nightclub L’Africana:

The Night-club “L’Africana”, which can be approached by a path excavated in the rock dropping to the sea, was the seat of a cultural meeting-place in the Fifties and in the Sixties. The memory of the merry nights of dancers and singers, of the short-lived and passionate loves of actresses and Latin lovers is still alive…1

Everything I had read about this place seemed really cool. A club set deep in a cave, with an entrance for boats. Glass floors with fish swimming underneath. So we decide to go, and when we get there, everyone but Brendan gets out of the car as an older gentleman tells him where to park. Brendan ends up sort of hitting the guy as the car is a manual and it lurches forward (I think, some say backwards). We quickly hurry into the entrance where we pay a whole lot of money to get in, but we get a free drink. No one has any small change to give the poor parking attendant.

Then we are escorted down an elevator to the club — where it’s painfully obvious we’re going to be just about the only ones there for the night. Another guy takes us on a little tour of the place. In it’s heyday it must have been really cool. The seats are really low along the wall, and the view of the water out the back of the club is very nice. So we decide that we are out early (10pm) for Europeans, so we’ll give it a couple of hours. Even the DJ gives up and just leaves on a Lionel Richie (!) album. Then, it’s midnight and we decide to leave. The bill for our drinks is pretty large so Geoff and Keith go to complain about it… and then they meet the owner. He’s such an old gangster. Really. People come by and he has his own little table and he leans over and talks in their ears, they kiss his hand and walk away. He lowers our bill, and gives us free admission the next night.

1text here

Switzerland, Zurich & Luzern Day 6

September 15, 2001

This this time through the Alps, it’s snowing a little and much clearer. It’s very quiet and pretty. We were planning to go into Italy, but doesn’t seem such a safe idea.

We arrive back in Zurich early in the afternoon. The hotel, the Coronado is much easier to find than the first place in Zurich. It is also much much nicer, except for the freaky clown picture facing the bed. Here we have an actual double bed: one solid mattress, but a scary, rickety elevator.

We go back to Luzern since it’s a short drive and we didn’t like Zurich much anyway. We hunt for some boxers for Brendan. Apparently, the Swiss don’t wear regular boxers; they are all briefs and boxer brief kind of people. Fortunately, we find a department store just prior to closing and purchase some seriously expensive cotton boxers.

Then we head to the touristy junk stores. Actually, there was a fair amount of nice stuff. I spent some time marveling at some Lladro. This one is particularly amazing because of all the tiny little porcelain flowers. A saleswoman comes over and asks me if I’m interested. Nope, just looking. Sorry. We do get some little gifts for my brothers. The bag is the tackiest thing I have ever seen. I make Brendan carry it, because it embarrasses him so much.

We realize that we don’t have a picture of us together in this, our favorite city on the trip. We follow our guts and approach an older gentleman with a fluorescent green fanny pack and ask him to take our picture. This, is the result:

We were in the middle of explaining the camera when he abruptly took the picture and gave us the camera back. It’s my favorite one of the whole trip.

Back in Zurich it is hard to find a place to eat because it’s Sunday. Finally, after walking several blocks, find a pizza place. Everyone thinks we’re weird for eating it with our hands. Also, pepperoni means red and green peppers, not meat (this comes in handy later when we go to Italy for Vince’s wedding).


Switzerland, Luzern Day 2

September 11, 2001

The next day we did a little driving around the city and generally fared better with the signs. Did a little window shopping on the Bahnhofstrasse.

Then it was off to Luzern. About half an hour away.

I can’t recall if we checked in at our second place before or after we hit town. Regardless, it was a much nicer place than the night before.

The strange thing about Europe is that they push two twin beds together to make a Queen/King. We had separate comforters, too. This was not such a bad thing, because as Brendan will tell you, I’m a big sheet hog.

This place was in the country-side. Rolling green hills with mountains off in the distance. I can’t get over how huge they are. I’ve only seen small, east coast mountains. These are amazing.

It is today that we decide to save money by going to the grocery store and buying cheese and bread. We discover some really good cheese, and some really strange curry butter, this way.

Luzern is a great place. I absolutely fall in love with it. The day we were there was a Tuesday, which is market day. They were just shutting down when we got there (so it must have been afternoon). I love the brightly painted buildings. I love the fountains. I love the Picasso museum. I love the old town center. I love the lake in the middle of town. I love the Kapellbrücke.

The Kapellbrücke is this wonderful covered bridge and tower built in 1333. The bridge has these triangular paintings in the eaves above that tell a story. You’ve got to walk across it and back to see them all (although some were damaged in a fire). The tower was once a prison/torture chamber but now it’s a gift shop.

Brendan has this theory that only old Southern Americans travel to Europe. He wasn’t proven wrong this day. There was this old man buying something in the gift-shop while we were there. The girls who worked there, as well as most of the thirty-somethings and younger, spoke English with no problem, but they started off in German. As the designated speaker, I would just ask if they spoke English and go from there. Anyway, this old man wants to buy something. He talks LOUDLY and S L O W L Y to the girl, pointing to the one he wants. Then, she tells him (in English) how much said item costs. He holds out his handful of Swiss Francs and makes her take the right amount. How hard is it to count? The numerical system doesn’t change. 20 means 20. Seriously. I was embarrassed to be from the same country as this guy. I hope the girl took herself a good tip!

I could go on an on about this city. But we come back on our last day, so I can say more then.

We drive back to our room to relax. I turn on the TV and watch Felicity dubbed in German. (We get no stations in English here, just German and Portuguese.) There’s this message that scrolls across the screen about New York. I figure they are speaking on the show about some landmark or New York specific thing, and they are just explaining it to the Swiss viewers. But the message keeps repeating itself. I remember the word for airplane, but that’s about it.

As it happens, it’s my little brother’s birthday. Turns out this place has an internet terminal (of all the places, this place in the tiny village has one!) so we head down to send him an email and to send a note to our parents. That doesn’t take too long, so since we’ve got money to burn, we head to the Drudge Report. Well, you can guess what happens now — we find out what exactly that little message was scrolling across the screen.

Back upstairs we put on German CNN and watch the whole thing happen. I’ve got the volume turned up so that I can hear the English underneath the translators. Doesn’t help much.

[It’s only after we get back home that Brendan remembers a man passing us on the street in the city saying “You are very lucky.” Creepy.]

At dinner in the restaurant downstairs, the chef comes out and introduces himself. He looks at me and asks if I like fish. I do, I answer. Great, he says, we have some caught today from the lake. He looks at Bren and knows immediately that he is a beef man. We both have incredibly delicious dinners. (Sense a theme?)


Brendan joined the party on January 2, 2004. He's cool now.

Jessica has never been cool. She is OK with that.

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