Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Dear Jura of Switzerland:

I think your coffee machine is a PIECE OF SHIT!!!

I arrived in Switzerland on October 6, 2000. The next day, before the container with all our personal belongings arrived from Chicago at our home in Reinach, Mrs. TBF and I went out to Manor and bought one of your coffee machines - the Impressa S-70 model to be exact. We had tried coffee made by a Jura machine while visiting Switzerland as tourists in March, 2000. When we found out that we were going to be relocating to Switzerland, one of the first things we talked about was buying a Jura machine. So, on the afternoon of Saturday, October 7, 2000, we plunked down 1,398 CHF ($1,063.93 U.S.) for one of your machines and carried it back to our empty house on the tram.
We settled into our new life in Switzerland and the sound of the Jura machine grinding those coffee beans was pretty much the first thing we heard each day. This "smart" machine told us when the grounds needed to be emptied, when to add water, when it needed to be cleaned (which I have done religiously), and when it needed to be de-calcified (which I also did religiously). The machine came with a one-year warranty, but I kind of figured that for the price we paid that the thing would probably never break down ("Swiss-quality"...right??). Especially since I was following the maintenance instructions to the letter. Right???
Then, in late September, 2002, the machine began to make funny noises. It seemed like the motor was giving out, the coffee didn't seem as hot as it used to be, etc., etc. So, I called Jura and arranged to have the machine repaired. They picked up the machine at our house, repaired it, and returned it to our house about a week later. When I opened the box, there was our good-as-new? coffee machine...along with a repair bill for 310.95 CHF ($236.61) since we were past the one-year warranty period! Ahhhh, but who cares about the cost? One week without the brown manna from heaven was too long, and I was just happy to have our beautiful machine back on its pedestal in our kitchen. Afterall, it was probably just a mechanical fluke and now surely the machine would hum along for another twenty years or so....right?
Zip ahead to late August, 2004....One day I suddenly hear that the blasted machine isn't sounding quite right. The "CLEAN UNIT" light came on, and I cleaned it. Clearly, that would solve whatever was ailing my machine....right?...hehe [nervous laughter]. After cleaning the machine, the "CLEAN UNIT" light was still on. I cleaned it again. The "CLEAN UNIT" light remained. Suddenly, I noticed that the stupid machine had a small puddle of water under it. I felt inside the beast, and a small rubber gasked fell into my hand. "AH-HA!!!" I exclaimed! "I'll just call Jura and order a rubber gasket. They can just mail it to me and I'll install it myself." Right?

TBF: [on the phone with Jura] "Ich möchte ein ersatzteil für meine Jura machine bestellen!" (translation: I would like to order a replacement part for my Jura machine!)

Jura Lady
: "Ein moment bitte!" (one moment please...)

TBF: [thinking to himself] "This is going to be easier than I thought!"

Another Jura Lady
: "Do you speak English?"

TBF: "Yes." [...hmmm, how did she figure that out?]

Another Jura Lady
: "We do not send out replacement parts. You will have to bring the machine to an authorized repair center, or we will have to fix the machine at our factory."

TBF: "But...this part probably costs less than one Swiss franc...[oh, what's the use?] OK, come pick it up...but you realize that this will be the second time in two years that this machine has been repaired. Is there any kind of warranty for the repair?"

Another Jura Lady
: "Yes. Your repair is guaranteed for six months."

The long and short of it was that this repair ended up costing 230.85 CHF ($175.66 U.S.)!

So here we are...it's November, 2005 and the "CLEAN UNIT" light came on this past weekend. I cleaned it...the "CLEAN NOW" light came on...and it started beeping at me. I cleaned it again...yup...you guessed it. Don't believe me? Here it is...

Tomorrow, I'm going to take matters into my own hands. Now that we've spent a total of 1,939.80 CHF ($1,605.73 U.S.) on this guaranteed piece of shit (not including cleaning and decalcification tablets, water filters, etc., etc.), I feel I have nothing to lose - it's not like I'll be voiding the warranty or anything. I'm going to take the top off the friggin' thing and try to fix it myself. If I'm unsuccessful, I'm going to take a sledge hammer to the thing, bring it to the dump, and give it the same burial as my old Dell computer. Then, Mrs. TBF and I are going to go out and...BUY ANOTHER ONE!!!!
You read that correctly...we're going to buy another Jura machine. The coffee is just so good that we can't imagine not having it every morning. We heard recently that the new machine costs even more money. We don't care. WE MUST HAVE COFFEE MADE BY THE JURA MACHINE!!! I guess Jura coffee is our heroin. You'll have to excuse me now while I go give la bella machina a kick...and then make myself a cup of coffee. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!!! SWISS QUALITY RULES!!!

Forever yours,

The Big Finn

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Effects of the Tryptophan...

...have worn off, and I'm happy to report that we had some damn nice bird over the Thanksgiving weekend.
We did something a little different this year. Instead of timing the turkey so that it would come off the grill after everybody arrived. We, instead, decided that we'd do everything in advance this year.

Mrs. TBF prepared the bird in her usual manner - rubbed down with olive oil, lemon and garlic cloves in the cavity, and salt, pepper, and HDP (Herbes de Provence) on the outside. The turkey went on the Weber (charcoal, not gas) at 3:00 p.m. and it came off at 6:08.6 p.m. (11 minutes per pound, indirect method, start with 25 coals on each side of the grill, and add 8-10 coals per side every hour - it NEVER fails!!!!).

I took a shower while the bird rested (scrub off that smoky smell that had permeated my skin...), and then I carved the entire turkey before the guests arrived. A couple of hours earlier, I had shucked about sixty oysters. So, the major part of my work was pretty much done. And, or course, Mrs. TBF had taken care of all her stuff in advance which meant that we were pretty much ready when our friends began to arrive.
All in all, there were 10 adults and 7 kids at our house. The 17 lb. turkey fed us all, and there was a lot leftover. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law in Chicago had about the same number of people over at their house, and they had two 16 lb. turkeys. STRAP ON THE FEEDBAG YOU YANKS!!!!

I ended up not taking too many pictures because I was too busy being a bloh-ah (bloater) as Dr. John (wearing the Austin Powers shirt in the picture) calls it. But, here's my favorite picture from the evening: Kyle looks like he's really enjoying that bird!

How 'Bout Some Privacy Here???

Dear Lady Who Cleans the Shower Areas at my Gym:

I appreciate the fact that you have a schedule to follow, that you are Swiss, and that falling behind schedule even ten seconds here in the land of "nudity means nothing to me" will probably result in so much stress that you will have to take six months off of work with disability pay [...common in Switzerland!]. BUT...is it necessary for you to come into my shower stall, while I'm showering, so you can clean the shower area? Would it hurt you to wait two....no...one minute????

The Big Soapy Finn

I am not kidding. Let me paint the picture for you...
The downstairs shower area at my gym has six shower stalls that are divided by frosted glass. I tend to use the one shower that has a hose in it because then I can drink some water from the hose while I'm showering (the little trickle of water from the drinking fountain just does not do it for me...). This hose also serves as a cleaning tool for the cleaning lady. That is correct - a lady comes into the mens' shower area, empties the little garbage cans, and then hoses down the shower area with the hose that is in the shower stall that I tend to use. Then she signs this little piece of paper that's on the wall to show that she has maintained the schedule of cleaning the area every 12.958473 minutes, or whatever it is. So, I'm in the shower lathering up, and this lady walks into my shower stall, takes the hose of its little holster, and then sprays down the shower area. I'm not really sure what the purpose of this act is. She's spraying down a wet shower area with water, but hey - I'm no sanitation expert. Now, she didn't just reach around the corner and grab the hose. No! She walked in, and I'd have to estimate (kind of had soap in my eyes) that her hip was no more than eight inches from my hip. Nothing was said at all. She just went about her business, sprayed down the shower area (luckily she refrained from spraying me down with the ice-cold water), put the hose back in its holster, signed the little piece of paper, and then moved on.
Now that I think of it, I should have asked her to wash my back.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Jive Turkey!

This morning, after dropping Mrs. TBF off at work and then heading just across the border into France to buy some oysters at Géant, I stopped at Metzgerei Lang to pick up the turkey I ordered last Friday.
I ordered (in German, I remind you), a 7-9 kilo fresh turkey. I left the butcher shop mit ein bischen angst because I wasn't 100% sure if I had conveyed my order to them correctly. So, there was quite an audible sigh of relief from yours truly when the butcher immerged from the cooler with what ended up being a 7.795 kg./17.15 lb. fresh turkey.
I touched the bird and said "...ahhh, sehr frisch!", and I think he said something to the effect of...the turkey having still been alive twenty-four hours ago. Yeah, baby!!! This gon' be some fresh bird!!!
And, did I call it or what..??? The price for this sehr frisch truthahn was...(drum roll)...was......144.20 CHF!!!! That's $109.35 U.S., $128.23 CAN, or 93.04 Euro for this beautiful bird (with which I was doing the Heisman pose in our kitchen) that will be enjoying a smoky sauna on the Weber grill tomorrow afternoon. That comes out to $6.38 U.S./lb. How much does a fresh turkey from a butcher in the U.S. cost these days?

I put the turkey on the counter (...oh,oh!) so I could put the oysters in the upstairs "beer refrigerator", and I came back to find that "the Kinger" was giving his "pop" a good taste of déja vu! If you'll recall, it was just a week ago that King's cravings were leaning more toward the foie gras. I'm happy to report that the bird was saved in the nick of time, and is now resting comfortably in the "beer fridge" just under the oysters.
I'll head to the local Coop in a couple of minutes to pick up one or two things that are left on the shopping list. Then, I'll be heading off to the gym to work off as many calories as I can before the weekend gorgefest begins. I weighed in at 225 lbs. this morning (down 25 lbs. since September 5th). We'll see how much I weigh next Friday!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Oh...And, By The Way...

...Happy Thanksgiving to everybody in the U.S. I almost forgot that today is Thanksgiving. We're going to have a big Thanksgiving dinner at our house this Saturday evening. I ordered a 7-9 kilo (15-20 lb.) turkey at the local butcher shop last week. We'll see what I get when I pick up the bird tomorrow morning. I ordered it in German, and they were speaking to me in some kind of crazy combination of high-German and Swiss-German.
I better stop at the bank machine when I go to the gym - turkeys are REALLY expensive here. I'm not joking, this turkey is going to cost well over $100 U.S.!

We Are SOOOOOO There!

I've already booked a few places for dinner for our Christmas trip to Vienna. Fortunately, I just read an e-mail from our friend Sandra with her Viennese restaurant/bar recommendations. One of the places called Sky Bar is worth a visit just because of the great jingle on their website.
Go to their website, click on "enter", then just wait a couple of seconds for the music to begin. But first...

WARNING: TBF assumes no responsibility for the fact that you may be singing this jingle for the rest of the day/week/year!

Thanks Sandra!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Catching Up...

Here's what's been happening over the past few days...

: Mrs. TBF and I woke up together in our own bed for the first time on a Saturday morning since October 1st. I was home on one of those Saturdays, but here's where Mrs. TBF has been:

October 8: Chicago
October 15: On a plane flying from Chicago to London
October 22: On a plane flying from Zurich to Singapore
October 29: Bangkok
November 5: On a plane flying from New York to London
November 12: Paris

Simon, Rosemarie, Alex, and Antonia came over for dinner on Saturday night. The kids were parked in front of the electronic babysitter (Cartoon Network) while the adults enjoyed the multi-course dinner that Mrs. TBF had prepared. Here's a picture of Simon, Rosemarie, and a couple of very tired children right before they left in the wee hours of Sunday morning.

Sunday: It was a sunny day, so we went up to the roof to enjoy a bit of chilly sunshine. I sat on the "stench bench" and smoked a cigar. Mrs. TBF read some magazines and told me "...you stink!" from time to time (It's a TBF cigar smoking tradition!). Afterwards, we decided to go for a walk (Mrs. TBF: "What did you do with my husband?"). We walked up the Bruderholz hill, along some walking paths on top of the hill, and back down the hill to our house. Total time = about one hour. I have to say that it was a very pleasant walk (hopefully Mrs. TBF won't read this or I'll have to do it again!). On Sunday evening we watched some football (NFL, not girly soccer), and that was about it.

Monday: I can't really remember anything except having a French lesson (I suck!), and that's about it. I guess there wasn't too much excitement going on.

Tuesday: Mrs. TBF and I both woke up at about 3:30 a.m. for some reason. I wasn't able to fall back to sleep until 5:00 a.m. I'm not really sure why. Stress? No. Hmmmmm....who knows. I spent the day being tired, blew off the gym, went to Qualipet, Media Markt, IKEA, and Coop.
At Coop, I ran into Gretchen of Expatter fame. Actually, we were...like two bloggers passing each other on a grocery store escalator during the afternoon. How poetic! We had a nice little chat in the wine department about Thanksgiving and Christmas plans and then we went our own separate, blogging ways.

Wednesday/Today: I received an e-mail from Leading Hotels of the World regarding holiday specials. One of the hotels they listed was the hotel we'll be staying at in Vienna over Christmas. I clicked on the link and....to make a long story short...ended up cancelling the old reservation, making a new reservation, and upgrading our room one level while saving SEVERAL HUNDRED EUROS in the process. I guess being on an e-mail mailing list CAN have its advantages. Thanks Grand Hotel Wien...I know your intent was to fill up empty rooms instead of receiving less revenue for the rooms that are already booked, but...you can't win 'em all!
Saving the money in Vienna will come in handy. I just got our Visa bill in the mail with charges from Bangkok and Paris. YIKES!!!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Don't You Have Something Better To Do?

I read this article recently about a Chicago alderman who has proposed to make Chicago the first U.S. city to ban the sale of foie gras. Umm...shouldn't you be paying attention to crime, or gangs, or something a little more important than something that is being served up in fancy restaurants and that people have been eating for over 5,000 years?
We eat foie gras. As a matter of fact, I bought some today. We're going to serve it up as an appetizer for Simon and Rosemarie when they come over for dinner tomorrow night. While I was cleaning the foie gras, I had to step out of the room for a minute. It looks like I returned to the kitchen just in the nick of time!
If you don't want to eat it, or any other meat for that matter, don't eat it. If you don't like that a restaurant has foie gras on its menu, then don't go to that restaurant. That's your right. The laws of supply and demand will always reign supreme. However, what I really object to is letting aldermen - who are more than likely not experts on the subject - choose what people can and can not eat. I think it's all just a ridiculous waste of time.
Hudson Valley Foie Gras, the largest U.S. producer, produces more than 220 tons (about 75% of the U.S. market) per year. The portion size of foie gras is rarely more than a few ounces. Clearly somebody's eating the stuff.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

A Swirl of the Tête...

As in...a swirl of tête de moine.
Tête de moine (translation = head of the monk) is a cheese that's made only in Switzerland at nine cheese dairies.
Tête is sold year-round in Switzerland, but we kind of think of it as a winter thing. And since the weather has taken a turn toward winter this past week, I thought it only fitting that we begin eating this very Swiss cheese.
We bought it last year for the first time. In order to serve it up properly, you need something called a girolle. The cheese is plunked down onto a spike, and then you swirl a blade over the top of the cheese (as Mrs. TBF is doing in the picture) producing something that looks like a girolle mushroom. After you're done swirling the tête...well...you eat it! The girolle even comes with its own special cover.
I'm pretty sure you can find it at a good fromagerie in the U.S. It was on the menu at Charlie Trotter's when we were in Chicago a few weeks ago. However, I think it's farly rare outside of Europe.
We like it. I think it tastes "chocolatey". Mrs. TBF doesn't agree. She thinks it just tastes like...cheese.
Tonight was the first night this fall that either one asked the other one if they'd like "a swirl of the tête." It won't be the last. We'll have a swirl here and there until spring comes. Then, we'll put away the girolle for another season.
NOTE: Neither Mr. nor Mrs. TBF have received any endorsement money from the Tête de Moine Trade Association for this blog posting.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Wes, Wien, Wasting Time, and Wine...

Wes, one of Mrs. TBF's colleagues, came over for dinner last night. I grilled up some steaks (which is a good thing because "Helmut" the Weber has not been getting enough use lately), we drank a little wine, and had a good visit until the wee hours...
We went to bed around 2 a.m., on a "school-night" no less, and I have to say that since I've been feeling a bit tired this morning I haven't really felt like doing too much. However, I wasn't totally unproductive.

Wien (Vienna):
We're going to Vienna for Christmas. I decided that it would be a wise thing to try to make restaurant reservations for Christmas dinner (still working on it), etc. in advance so that we're not scrambling at the last minute. I've sent an e-mail to somebody at the hotel we'll be staying at to see if they'll be serving a traditional Christmas dinner with roasted goose and all the trimmings. Another thing I did was book a couple of tickets to see Falstaff at the Vienna Opera on December 23rd. Now, we're not opera buffs by any means. I mean, I've never been to any opera, and I'm pretty sure Mrs. TBF hasn't been to one either. But, Mrs. TBF suggested that we should either go see the Vienna Opera or the Vienna Boys Choir while we're in town, and I think it's a good suggestion. The opera was definitely my first choice, but I did check into the Boys Choir. As it turns out, you have to request in writing at least eight months in advance for tickets to their Christmas concert. AND, that doesn't guarantee that you'll be able to see them - just hear them. No thanks! I'll just watch them on T.V. in our hotel room for two minutes, lose interest, and then go take a snooze or something. Then, it was time for...

Wasting Time: After doing a little travel planning, I wrote a couple of hotel reviews of hotels we've stayed at recently at Tripadvisor. If you haven't used this website yet, I'd suggest you do so. It's pretty valuable for getting the latest hotel reviews that are written by people who have stayed at the hotels. You kind of have to read between the lines sometimes, but it's still a valuable travel planning tool nonetheless.
After Tripadvisor, I read some of the blogs I read everyday. Then, I went back in my blog to see what I was doing one year ago. I like doing this from time to time. As a matter of fact, I wish Blogger would offer a service where they would print your blog in book form (for a fee of course). I'd order one for myself in a second. They'd make a ton of money doing it. I can't believe they don't do this - or maybe they do. I should check into it. So anyway, one year ago today, I was in Chicago driving around in a black Cadillac. Ahhh, memories. Incidentally, I'll be back in Chicago in less than three weeks to celebrate my dad's 70th birthday. I'm looking forward to it!

Wine: While I was checking out the blogs, the doorbell rang. There was a voice on the intercom claiming to be the mailman with a package. I wasn't expecting anything, but I went downstairs anyway to find that the mailman was delivering a case of wine that I ordered at the Weinmesse a couple of weeks ago. Let me tell you, Switzerland is an amazingly trusting country.
I ordered about three cases of wine from two different vendors at the Weinmesse. I paid for the one that was delivered today at the show. This particular case of wine came by normal mail. I didn't even have to sign for it. I'm not really sure what the mailman would have done if I hadn't been home. My guess is that he probably would have left it in the lobby, and then one of my neighbors would have put it inside the locked door for me to grab when I came home...not sure. But, that's not as trusting as the other cases of wine that were delivered last week.
A couple of friends and I pooled our wine purchases together to reduce the shipping costs. Last Thursday, a man delivered six cases of wine to our house. No big deal? Well, it kind of is considering we haven't even paid for them yet and I haven't even received a bill. That's right! The lady at the Weinmesse told me that the wine would be delivered, and then the bill would be sent at a future date. Even after living here for five years, I still find this Swiss way of doing business an amazing thing.

So now it's time for yet another "W". It's time to workout!
Auf Wiedersehen!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Losing Weight Is An Amazing Thing...

I don't know why I find it so amazing, but now that I've lost weight, I'm able to buy clothes that I never bought before when I was twenty pounds heavier. That, actually, was the driving force in me deciding to go on a diet. Before losing weight, I had to buy XXL shirts. Now, I can buy XL shirts. Going down one size makes a big difference in what I'm now able to buy vs. before. For example, I can now buy Lacoste shirts. I don't even have to buy the largest size! So that's what I did.
We went into the Lacoste store on the Champs Élysées and I bought a couple of shirts. One of them ended up not fitting right, so Mrs. TBF returned it the next day and exchanged it for two other shirts. I also bought a scarf at Orly Airport on the way home. Believe me, that's a shopping spree for me on a weekend trip.
I could tell that Mrs. TBF was feeling a little disappointed that she hadn't bought anything as far as clothing or accessories go. How did I know that? Oh, I don't know...maybe it was her saying, "...I didn't buy any clothes, or ANYTHING this weekend!" What...did you think I was a mind reader or something?
So, with the final minutes before our return flight to Basel/Mulhouse Airport ticking away, Mrs. TBF spotted a winter coat at the Printemps store at Orly Airport while I was buying my scarf. She had told me a couple of weeks ago that she needed a new winter coat. Back when I was younger and less wise, I would have said something like "didn't you just buy one last year???". Now, I know better.
We toyed with the idea of doing the whole getting-the-V.A.T.-refund thing, but we determined that it would be too complicated a task on a Sunday evening at Basel Airport. We had just enjoyed a nice weekend in Paris, so what the heck...? Let France keep the tax. We got rid of the packaging and tags (so we wouldn't also end up paying Swiss sales tax) and boarded the flight.
An interesting thing happened on the flight. While we were taxiing on the tarmac, a lady a couple rows in front of us vomited and then passed out. One minute later, and the flight would have taken off. But, the pilot ended up taking the plane back to the gate. A bunch of paramedics came on board, and ended up taking the lady off the plane. It was a first for not only me, but also for Mrs. TBF - the veteran business traveler.

Anyhow...here's a picture of Mrs. TBF wearing her new coat while waiting for the tram in front of the Basel Train Station after getting off the airport bus. She has her (smuggled) winter coat, I have three shirts with little alligators on them, and we're home from yet another great trip to Paris.

You Have Failed...

...in the modest task that was your charge!
On Saturday morning, I gave Mrs. TBF the camera and told her that her assignment for the day was to take some pictures of me. I love having a bunch of pictures of Mrs. TBF, but I also wouldn't mind her taking an occasional picture of me. For the most part, the pictures you see of me on The Big Finn's Big Blog are either self-portraits that I take by setting the camera on top of a shelf/mailbox/beer glass/etc. and setting the ten-second timer. Mrs. TBF took on this assignment with neither vim nor vigor, but I figured it would be a good test-run. Afterall, the plan is that I'm going to buy a new camera in the next couple of weeks and then she'll inherit the old Canon as her camera.
Mrs. TBF wanted to check out some little specialty shops in the Madeleine section of Paris. I wanted to go see the catacombs and Jim Morrison's grave....
So...while we were walking around Madeleine, I gave Mrs. TBF a subtle reminder of her photo assignment....oh, something to the effect of "...how are those photos coming along?" that seemed to not go over too well. After checking out various gourmet shops that specialized in truffles, condiments, and olive oil, I began to have very low blood sugar and began to winge (..as the Brits say) about being hungry and "...not getting to see anything I want to see!" Realizing that TBF with low blood sugar is a very bad thing, Mrs. TBF agreed to stop at a little Brasserie where we ordered a couple of beers and some food.
You know what? I'm forty-three years old now, and I should know better. However, I'll say right now that if I live to be one-hundred years old I'll still never learn to NOT press my luck. I did a very stupid thing. I grabbed the camera out of her handbag and I said something like "...how about letting me see all of those candid photos you've been taking of me so far today?"

I managed to snap this photo of her right when I asked the question. Wisely, I decided not to take another photo.

The camera was taken from my hand, I received a short lecture, and then Mrs. TBF took this photo of me. I must say, that it is a beautiful, candid shot. Notice how she captures my moment of fear and shame. She shows tremendous promise as a photographer!

I like this photo of me in the catacombs even better!

Random Paris Photos That I Like...

...in no particular order.

Official weight loss as of earlier that morning - 20 pounds! But hey, I was in Paris...so SCREW THE DIET!!! This little plate of goodies was delivered to our room shortly after we got settled in. Mrs. TBF was a little ticked off because I got a little possessive with the tray.

Mrs. TBF: "Hey...isn't that Louis Vuitton store somewhere around here?"
TBF: "I don't think they have a store in Paris anymore."

At the top of each hour, about a zillion lights twinkle on the Eiffel Tower for ten minutes. It's quite the sight to behold. My camera doesn't do it justice. Sorry, I did the best I could.

No Riots, No Burning Cars...

...just a really nice evening in Paris!

On Friday evening, after having a nice cocktail in our hotel lounge, we ventured out for dinner at a nice little bistro called Le Rouge Vif. I read a review of the bistro in the Herald Tribune about a year ago, and I kept the review as a reminder to try the place on a future visit.
First off, let me just say how great our hotel staff was. They came to the lounge to tell us "...zat zee taxi we ordered for you for 7:50 p.m. has not shown up, but not to worry because we have ordered anuzzer taxi. We have also called zee restaurant to explain zee situation and to tell zem to hold zee table because you will be about ten minutes late." Damn...I LOVE good service! And, for that matter, forget the French lessons. Just teach me to speak English with a French accent (only kidding Charlotte!)!

So, our dinner was very good. I just love the bistros with the menu on the chalkboard. The owner of the place just set the chalkboard down on chairs by our table, we ordered, then he moved the board to a chair by another table so they could order. We had some classic bistro food, a little vin rouge, some nice dessert, and walked out of the place smelling like garlic cloves.
Just before we left - while I was visiting the little garçon's room - Mrs. TBF was waiting for me out on the sidewalk just outside the restaurant. Suddenly, the owner came out and gave her an apron with the restaurants name on it. I'm telling you, it made Mrs. TBF's day!

We were feeling a bit sluggish and bloated after dinner, so we decided to walk back toward the hotel. The restaurant was in Saint Germain by the Musée D'Orsay, and we walked up to the Seine so that we could walk along the bank. I'm still not sure which one's the Right Bank and which one's the Left Bank. We walked on the side that the Louvre is on. Is that the Right Bank? Somebody help me here.

At first we thought we'd walk part of the way and jump onto the Metro at some point, but the scenery was so nice that we just kept walking. Before we knew it, we were back on the Champs Élysées. We made a quick stop in the Virgin Megastore where I bought Kate Bush's first CD in twelve years (can't stop listening to it!), and then we walked the final couple of minutes to Rue de Berri. Ahhhh...home at last! All in all we walked almost four miles (I just measured it on our Streetwise Paris map), or about six kilometers. The fact that I did this by choice is a far cry from the "Chicago" TBF of five years ago. Back then I walked our dog, but all other walking was deemed unnecessary and strongly discouraged. While we were walking along the Seine, Mrs. TBF said, "...I really love Euro-[TBF]!

EXACTLY As I Planned!!

Even though the media was reporting as if France as we know it was coming to end, we decided to go to Paris as planned. And...I'm glad we did. I told Mrs. TBF before we left that tourists would be canceling their hotel reservations in droves, and we'd probably end up getting an upgrade. They did, and we did!
We checked in at our hotel early Friday afternoon (it was actually a national holiday in France), and we were informed that we had received an upgrade to a suite! Here are a couple of pictures of our room at the Hotel Lancaster. It was our fourth time at this hotel, and we've NEVER had a bad experience. I highly recommend it. Just tell 'em The Big Finn sent you. Ummmm....on second thought, don't tell them that. They'll just stare at you and say... "Who?". But, both Mrs. TBF and I highly recommend this hotel if you're going to Paris and in the mood to splurge. Come on...do it...you know you're worth it!
The first picture is from Saturday night before going out to dinner, the second picture is our very comfortable bed, and the third picture was taken on Friday evening while I waited for Mrs. TBF to finish her business call so that we could go downstairs and have a cocktail before going out for dinner.
The staff at our hotel told us that they were "angry" at how the media had portrayed the rioting. They had "a few" cancellations, but they said that other hotels had a lot of cancellations. We rode the Metro, we walked around, and we went about our normal tourist stuff. We never felt unsafe, and we never felt as if danger was imminent. The only time we came across anything out of the ordinary was when we couldn't make it to the restaurant we wanted to go to on Saturday night because the taxi driver couldn't make it around a peaceful student protest that was taking place. People were walking down the street to a gathering point, and the police had the street blocked off. I asked the driver if there was any danger - he just chuckled and said that it wasn't "the revolution". He said it in French, so that's what I think he said.
There are unsafe places in EVERY city in the world - the center of Paris is not one of them. I feel bad for the people who decided not to go to Paris because of what CNN said - their loss, our gain.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Northwestern - NO. Save-A-Pet - YES.

Mrs. TBF and I just received our "reminder" from our alma mater - Northwestern University - that we haven't donated any money since July, 2004. We normally make a nice donation every year. It's where we met, we both loved going there, and I came up with the idea that we should give every year because it might help our nieces and nephew get in if they should decide to apply to NU someday (There's a question on the application that asks if any of your relatives have attended NU...at that point it's my opinion that the admissions department most likely looks up the alum to see how much money they've donated over the years.).
Hyyyyyy-evah...I've decided, as a result of reading this article, that maybe Save-A-Pet (where we adopted King) could use the money a little more than Northwestern. Ok...OK...I know the article is about Yale and not NU. But, I remember an NU fund raising drive from a few years ago that had the goal of raising ONE BILLION (Imagine TBF saying that like Dr. Evil!)...with a "B"...dollars. NU ended up reaching the goal early, so...they raised the goal to something like $1.3 billion. I think they ended up making that goal too.
So, we've decided that maybe our money - at least this year - can go to help other Kings that might be sitting at the shelter waiting for somebody to adopt them so that they can go shred some nice furniture on two continents over the course of fifteen years.

Long Live The King!

I just spent thirty minutes typing out a tribute to our cat King. I went to save it as a draft, and...poof...it was lost. I couldn't retrieve it, and I'm not typing the whole thing again. So...
I'll just say that FIFTEEN YEARS AGO TODAY, we adopted King from the Save-A-Pet animal shelter. The shelter had named him "Scarface" because he came into the shelter looking like he'd been in a fight. We adopted him (along with Binky, and then Zane the next year) because we came home from a vacation and found mouse droppings in our utensil drawer.
When I look back, it's amazing how we knew NOTHING about pets at the time. We decided to adopt King and Binky, and then we said to the shelter people, "...ummm, what do we do now?" We drove to Petcare Plus, bought litter boxes, food and water bowls, cat food, etc. Then, we brought King and Binky home in cardboard boxes that the shelter provided. King's box had to be taped shut, and he tried to bust out of it the whole way home. We let them loose in the house, and the rest is history.
King's the sole survivor. Binky (the puker) lost her battle to various ailments and ended up in kitty heaven in 95?, 96?...can't really remember. Zane (the pisser) ended up with kidney failure, and we had to put him down shortly before moving to Switzerland in 2000. Dominique went to doggy heaven earlier this year at the ripe old age of 13 years and 10 months. But, King continues to hang in there at the estimated age of 17.5 years old. Since he was found as a stray, the shelter estimated that he was 2.5 years old when we adopted him (according to his adoption papers which I just found a couple of days ago).
King's been a great cat (except for the fact that our furniture has become his personal scratching post kingdom). He's been relatively healthy (just had to start taking thyroid medicine earlier this year), he always uses the litter box (unlike Zane), and he only pukes occasionally (unlike Binky). All in all, just a great addition to our household for all of these years.
The original price to adopt King? $30! It seemed like a bargain at the time, but the costs associated with owning pets is amazing. I just figured out that King's 1.25 cans of Iams per day that he currently eats costs us 866.88 CHF per year. Multiply that by 15 years, and you get a total of 13,003.13 CHF. That's about $10,000 U.S. to all you people in America. This doesn't count vet bills, kitty toys, little kitty snacks, kitty litter, etc., etc. Wow!
But hey...who's counting? LONG LIVE THE KING!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Out With The Old...

I've spent the better part of this morning doing the big summer to winter wardrobe switch. In Chicago, it wasn't really a big deal - we had ample closet space. In Switzerland - no closets, just IKEA wardrobes. So, clothing storage is at a premium and we have to transfer clothes between our downstairs storage area and our bedroom wardrobes. Plus, this year there's another factor to consider.
I've lost nearly 9 kilos/20 pounds on Weight Watchers since September 5th. OK, I'm not going to turn this into a commercial for WW, but I'd just like to say that it's worked for Mrs. TBF, my brother-in-law, my sister, my mother, and me...so far. I started at 250 lbs./113.6 kilos on September 5th, and I just weighed myself a little while ago...231 lbs./105.1 kilos. I was really losing at a fast clip, and then it slowed down a little bit when I went to Chicago and Bangkok and partook in self-imposed gorge-fests, but I'm back on track. Actually, I only gained a couple of pounds on each of those trips, and then I took it off right after returning home - so, no big deal.
My goal weight is 217 lbs./98.6 kilos. That's what I weighed when I graduated from college. According to the weight charts, I have to weigh 208 lbs. to be at the high-end of the normal range for my height (6'5"/195.5 cm.). I think I'd be skin and bones at that weight, so let's not get crazy here.
All this weight loss has prompted my to start getting rid of some of my "fat" clothes like this "Dijon mustardy" number. This is a very, very good thing - especially when you consider the fact that some of my shirts are well over ten years old. You read that correctly...OVER 10 YEARS OLD!!! Take, for example, the wine-colored diddy I'm holding in the picture. I have a picture of me holding my niece Deanna while wearing that same shirt. In that picture, Deanna is probably five or six years old. She'll be nineteen this December. YIKES!!! As a matter of fact, I ended up going through the photo albums and I discovered a plethora of photos circa 1993-1995 with me wearing the various shirts that I'm getting rid of today. I've done the seasonal clothing switch year after year only to give these shirts the "one more year" reprieve. Not this year. They're all going to the charity bin. Somewhere in Switzerland, there's going to be a very large man who's going to get some stylin' shirts. Well, at least they were stylin' a dozen years ago. Actually, they're still in pretty good shape.
(Snap out of it, stupid...) I better get going to that charity bin before I change my mind.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Ahhh...Blogging Is a Great Thing!!

After posting my last blog entry, I decided to do a little investigatin'! And? Look what I found: an excellent blog called Parisist that is related to the Chicagoist blog that I read on a regular basis.
According to Parisist, it's safe to go to Paris. As I supspected, the problems are almost entirely in the suburbs and not in the heart of Paris. No burning cars on the Champs Elysees...at least not at this time.
So, I'm now officially saying that we're going to Paris this weekend. That is, unless things change drastically in the next couple of days.

Now I'm Not So Sure...

Mrs. TBF and I are supposed to go to Paris this coming weekend for a little getaway. In case you haven't heard, people have been rioting around Paris (and all over France for that matter) for several days now. I'm not going to get into the politics of why the people are rioting. But...they're interfering with our weeked in Paris - so I don't like 'em.
At first I took the attitude that the rioting would probably be over by the time we made it to Paris. I figured that alot of tourists staying away from Paris would result in us getting a nice upgrade at our hotel (I, the travel diva, am always thinking upgrades!). However, it seems that the rioting just keeps getting worse. I just read that Canadian officials have advised Canadians NOT to travel to France. That doesn't really cause me too much alarm because I figure that they have to err on the side of caution. Afterall, there are 10 million people living in Paris and THEY aren't staying away. So, there must be some semblance of business as usual...RIGHT? Come on, somebody agree with me here.
Anyway, what started me thinking that maybe we should think about NOT going this weekend was when I heard that a CURFEW might be put into effect. If that's going to be the case for Paris - forget it!
We have until this Wednesday to cancel our hotel reservation. A refund on the airfare is probably a lost cause at this point, but if it's going to be an unpleasant trip I might as well cut our losses with just "eating" the airfare.
Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Looking Back...

Now that we've been safely ensconced in Switzerland for a couple of days (Mrs. TBF is actually on her way to the U.S. right now), I've had a chance to reflect on our week in Bangkok.
Let me start by saying that it's good to be home. I didn't like Bangkok, I'll probably never go back there again, and I'm glad the week is over.
While we were flying home from Singapore, we saw in the current issue of Conde Nast Traveler that the readers' poll rated Bangkok as the "Number One City in Asia". They certainly didn't ask me for my opinion.
Don't get me wrong. I'm glad I went along with Mrs. TBF on her business trip. I was exposed to something new, and that in itself made it a worthwhile experience as far as I'm concerned. However, Bangkok has an overabundance of things that I just do not like. Namely: heat, traffic, and pollution.
It was HOT and HUMID!!! You can't walk anywhere in Bangkok. I would begin sweating ten seconds after stepping out of the hotel while waiting for a taxi. That's MY problem...I've always been a heavy sweater. But, the heat is just relentless!
The heat makes it necessary to take a taxi everywhere, and it seems like everybody shares my sentiment because the TRAFFIC IS HORRENDOUS!!! I'm talking one-mile taxi rides taking twenty minutes. I would guess that Mrs. TBF's meetings were in a hotel that couldn't have been more than a couple of miles from our hotel. The concierge told her to allow FORTY-FIVE MINUTES for the taxi ride. I rode with her one morning, and it took at least a half-hour.
The traffic contributes to really bad pollution. The city smells like car exhaust, and there's a smog that kind of hangs over the city. I could feel it in my throat when we were out and about. The policemen directing traffic wear facemasks while they work. It's just very unpleasant.
These were just the big issues. I won't even go into the little things that I found annoying. Do I sound like a big baby? Maybe I am, but I'm just calling it like I saw it.
Let me switch to the positive things. Our hotel was nice. It wasn't great, but it was adequate. One thing I found out is that "minimalist design" is not very comfortable. I'll avoid it in the future. TBF needs a big comfy chair.
The spa at the hotel was excellent. My Thai massages were great, and so was the Metropolitan Bath (I'll blog about that one later). I even asked Mrs. TBF if she thought there was any way we could hire a Thai au pair at home. She would only have to clean house, bathe me, and give us massages. I'll have to begin looking into that one.
The food was good...and cheap. Bangkok, overall, is pretty cheap. Even when you're paying high hotel prices for things, it still seems cheap - at least compared to Switzerland. That might be why it rates so highly as a travel destination.
Our hotel had ESPN, so I was able to watch every game of the World Series live at 8:00 a.m.! We'd go down to breakfast (Excellent! There's nothing like fried rice/noodles for breakfast!), Mrs. TBF would go off to work, and I would watch the second half of the game. Then, I'd go work out in the gym. After my workout, I'd rest a bit, then I'd go to the spa for some "treatment". Hey wait a minute...maybe it wasn't so bad! Really, by the time Mrs. TBF would return, I'd be climbing the walls. I guess my biggest disappointment with Bangkok was that there just wasn't that much to do. Sure, you can go see a bunch of temples, but once you've seen a couple of reclining buddhas you've kind of seen them all. We saw Wat Pho, and there are a bunch of other places that pretty much look the same.
Our daytrip to Ayutthaya was excellent. Although it was a little temple-heavy, it was nice to get out of Bangkok. It was pretty amazing to see all of these temples (some looking like they might topple over at any minute) in such a concentrated area.
So, there you have it. I could ramble on and on about everything, but I've gone on long enough. I'm not going to post any additional pictures of me standing in front of a Buddhist temple sweating my butt off.
I'll just end this post by saying that even though I didn't really enjoy Bangkok, I still appreciate the fact the I was able to go see it. I don't take that for granted.