Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tokyo Throne...

I had read about it briefly before our trip, but I didn't believe it until I saw it with my own eyes (and experienced it with my own bum)...

THE JAPANESE ARE THE WORLD LEADERS IN TOILET TECHNOLOGY!!!

There's really no comparison. Really!

I walked into our bathroom, and this is what I saw. When I sat down on the seat, I was surprised to find that the it was nicely heated. Then, I heard a little fan go on inside the bowl that served to keep the natural "rose and jasmine" smells that my body emits from permeating the hotel room and setting off the building's fire protection system.

After I was done with my business, I couldn't decide if I should go with the spray, soft, or bidet rinse, so I naturally had to try them all with various water pressure settings. Mrs. TBF was particularly amused by the noises that came out of the bathroom when the rinsing experiments were taking place; best described as a combination of a clown laughing, a Japanese school girl shrieking, and a cat hissing. A few words of advice: go with the low water pressure. Maybe I'm just not used to having water sprayed into me bum, but the highest pressure should probably, for liability reasons, be labeled as enema! Another tip? Flush the toilet before selecting the dry mode. Again...the "setting off the fire protection system" thing.

Later during our trip, the toilets were even more advanced. At our last hotel, the toilet lid went up automatically as one approached, the rinses had massage and oscillating modes (I think we're going beyond "cleaning" at this point, aren't we?), and the toilet would flush as soon as one stood up after participating in this technological marvel. Plus, two of our hotels had TVs in the bathrooms which one could enjoy while sitting on the throne.

Between the MTV Japan and the toilets, it's a wonder that I ever left the hotel room at all.

Boo!

A very HAPPY HALLOWEEN from me, Mrs. TBF, and King!

AND...

A very Happy "Harroween" from VJ Boo of MTV Japan!

It's inevitable that the TV in our hotel room is tuned to MTV whenever we travel. Sure, it has something to do with me wanting to keep in touch with what "the kids" are listening to. But I also love checking out which groups/artists are popular in other countries.

I was happy to see that MTV Japan was not totally overrun with "Western" bands. Yeah, Rihanna, Justin Timberlake, and Foo Fighters (I really like their new single, btw) made their presence felt; nothing wrong with that. However, a good chunk of the videos were from Japanese artists such as Dreams Come True (I had never heard of them before) and groups with names that were in Japanese characters so I have no idea what they were called.

I also really enjoyed the VJs. Some of them spoke English really well. There was one in particular who would interview Western artists and spoke English so well that I'm guessing that she probably had a Japanese parent and a British parent. VJ Boo, on the other hand, while incredibly entertaining, probably had the worst English pronunciation I've ever heard. He'd be going on and on in Japanese, and then I'd realize (about ten seconds after the fact) that he had actually said an artist name and song title in English. It was painfully bad, but...infinitely better than anything I can say in Japanese, so it's best that I don't make fun.

I probably would have spent the whole first day of our trip in bed, taking naps, getting over jet lag, and watching MTV...if Mrs. TBF hadn't reminded me that we didn't fly a zillion miles so that I could stay in bed watching MTV Japan.

I guess she had a point...

High Above Tokyo...

We're back home...minus one suitcase (AGAIN!), but we just received a call saying that it will be delivered this afternoon. So...not too bad. I've cleaned the apartment, the washing machine is churning away, King is glued to my side, Mrs. TBF is back into work-mode, and...things are pretty much back to normal.

After giving it some thought, I decided that the best way to go about blogging about Japan is to just go through the pictures in order, pick the best ones, and then just write something fitting to go along with each one.

Here we go...

As I said earlier, we stayed at the Park Hyatt Tokyo for the first five nights of our Japan trip. We had seen it in the movie "Lost In Translation", read good reviews about it online, and just decided to go for it. As it turns out, it was a good move because the hotel was GREAT and I would highly recommend it. The service was superb, the restaurants were excellent, we liked the location, our room on the 44th floor was big and comfortable, and we had a great view of Mt. Fuji - perhaps too great of a view. You see...

I DON'T LIKE HEIGHTS!!!

I have to admit that I felt a little weak in the knees and lightheaded at first, but then I got used to it after a little while. Who knows? Maybe the jet lag helped make me numb to it all.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

We're Coming, King!!!

Here we sit at Narita Airport, in the NWA lounge, waiting for our flight for the LONG return trip to Basel via London. We woke up this morning at 5:30 a.m., checked out by 6:30 a.m., ate a quick breakfast in the Peninsula Tokyo restaurant, boarded the shuttle bus to Narita Airport, pulled away as multiple members of the Peninsula staff bowed and waved, and...

...here we sit.

It's going to be a long, LONG trip.

We arrive late today in Basel. Or...is it yesterday? OR...is it tomorrow. I'm not sure... However, one thing I am sure of is that this was a GREAT trip.

Oh, we had naysayers...

"Why do you want to go THERE for your anniversary?"

"It wouldn't be my choice..."

"I don't think I'd have chosen Japan for a two week vacation."

My advice? Don't listen to the naysayers.

We loved it! We'd like to return!! AND...this is a place where we could see ourselves living!!!

There will be lots of pictures really soon...shortly after we return...as soon as I figure out what day it is.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Too Busy To Blog...

I haven't been blogging because:

A) We've been constantly on the go.
B) I can't access Blogger through Mrs. TBF's work computer.
C) So little time...so many temples.
D) All of the above!

The correct answer is "D"!

Mrs. TBF's bag did come after a couple of days (thanks BA for the $400 payment for our troubles PLUS 15,000 miles into Mrs. TBF's mileage account!!!).

We've eaten a lot of GREAT food (including Kobe steak last night!).

Day trips have been made from Tokyo to Nikko and from Kyoto (where we are now) to Nara.

Perhaps we'll go to Hiroshima tomorrow. Perhaps not...

We've taken many, MANY pictures, and I'll begin posting some of them when we return home.

I'm not sure if I'll blog again while we're here because I'm having to use either a hotel business center or a hotel laptop in order to blog and check e-mail, and it's cutting into vacation time.

Suffice it to say that we're having a GREAT time. Japan is like Switzerland, but:

...has better food.

...has friendlier people.

...is more orderly.

...has better public transportation.

...AND (believe it or not)...is cleaner!

More about all that later!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Tokyo Adventures Of Sugar Mama And Travel Diva...

We're alive and well in Tokyo. Here's what we've done so far:

FLIGHT - I ask you: Now that I've experienced First Class, how will I ever go back to Business Class again? Unfortunately, one of our bags didn't make it (so Mrs. TBF's been forced to wear the same jeans since we got here...YUCK!), but we just received word that the bag will arrive later this evening. We enjoyed a great Japanese dinner at our hotel, and then we pretty much crashed after that.

FISH MARKET - We set the alarm for 4 a.m. our first morning here so that we could go to the fish market and watch the tuna auctions. Unbelievably, we actually managed to pull ourselves out of bed, take a taxi to the market, watch the fish auctions, and then enjoyed a sushi and beer breakfast - all before 7:30 a.m. Then, we took the subway (where we enjoyed watching the locals falling into a deep sleep while sitting up, and then magically waking up seconds before arriving at their stop) back to our hotel where our two-hour nap turned into a four-hour nap. After shaking out the cobwebs, we walked around a bit and took in some sights in the late afternoon. Later that evening, we went to Roppongi for a Yakatori dinner, came back to the hotel for a drink, and then crashed (again).

BRUNCH - This morning, we took the subway to Ueno where we reserved some train tickets for a day-trip we'll be taking tomorrow, watched more champion Japanese nappers waking up seconds before they had to get off at their stops, and returned to our hotel where we had a nice mid-day brunch. Then, it was back to the room for another nap, and...now I'm here blogging.

I know...not too exciting so far. However, the worst of the jet lag seems to be behind me, our missing bag will be here in a couple of hours, and we're ready go!

More soon...

- posted in Tokyo

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

FIRST Things First...

We are on our way to Japan!

Currently, we're in the FIRST lounge at Heathrow waiting for our flight to Narita Airport in Tokyo, and I must say that it's pretty nice. The flight from Basel to London arrived early, so we have a couple of hours to kill. But, no worries; plenty of snacks, pink champagne, and gin & tonics on hand to pass the time until we board our flight to Tokyo.

Flight time to Tokyo? Not sure...something like 11 or 12 hours. Maybe I'll be able to get Mrs. TBF (or one of the flight staff) to walk on my back so that I'm fresh upon arrival. See? I told you this was a "dream" vacation.

Not sure if I'll have much of a chance to blog in Japan, but...I'll try my best. I'll also try my best to not sing the "...domo arigato, Mr. Roboto" song by Styx - I've been forewarned by Mrs. TBF!

Ta-taaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

Posted in London

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Same To You, Buddy!

I went down to the mailbox this morning, and I - as I do every Tuesday - pulled out the Coop Zeitung which my grocery store sends me every week...rain or shine. Since I'd estimate that I do about 80% of our grocery shopping at Coop, I actually take the time to look through the paper to see what's on special offer (or Aktion as they call it here), and whether or not (hope against hope) that they've finally begun stocking their shelves with 2 lb. bags of Fritos and coolers with bags of ice (...one can dream, can't he?). I also get the Migros Zeitung (the other grocery store) on Mondays, but that one pretty much goes immediately into the recycling bin with nary a glance. Yeah, it has the "Single der Woche" page, but other than that, it pretty much sucks (as does the Migros that's located right next door to our apartment)!

This week, the Coop Zeitung has a picture of Thabo Sefolosha on the cover along with a feature article. In case you you've never heard of Thabo Sefolosha, he's a half-Swiss, half-South African basketball player who plays for the Chicago Bulls.

Yes...he's a Swiss basketball player, playing for the Chicago Bulls...

...who's flipping the bird on the cover of the Coop Zeitung!

Here She Is...

...Miss Switzerland!

That's right folks! In case you missed it, Miss Schweiz/Suisse/Svizzera/Svizra 2007 is: Amanda Ammann.

According to the article I read this morning in swissinfo, her measurements are 84-65-95 (don't forget...metric!), she's the first brunette to win the "coveted title" in four years, she describes herself as "open, affectionate and up for it" (WOW!), and she loves "sunsets and sunrises" (awwwwwww!).

In case you're interested (and I know you are), you can get more info at the Miss Schweiz website. If you're really, REALLY interested, you can even click on the Schweizer-Illustrierte: WebTV-Beitrag link under her picture on that website to hear her speaking in Swiss-German.

I don't know what the hell she's talking about, but maybe you will!

Who knows? Maybe she explained what "it" is.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Grab Bag...

TGV tickets for our Christmas trip to Paris have been purchased...for the unbelievably low sum of CHF 160 ($135 U.S.) per each round-trip ticket instead of the normal price of 408 CHF. I couldn't be bothered trying to figure out the French Rail website, so I just decided to go to the train station in Basel and fork over the money. Imagine my surprise when the ticket agent told me that I was receiving a special price since I was buying them so early; last Thursday (the day I bought them) was the first day they were available for purchase at the train station.

We survived our first weekend without a car just fine. I took the tram to John's house on Friday evening where we shared a couple of beers before heading over to Andy and Di's house by taxi (apparently the beers made us too lazy to take the tram) for dinner. Mrs. TBF took the tram from work directly to Andy and Di's where we enjoyed some great grub. Then, Mrs. TBF, John, and I shared a taxi back home. Easy!

The weather in Basel has been just great for the last few weeks. I know I'll probably jinx things by saying that, but I don't really care since we're leaving for Japan in a couple of days ennaway!

And speaking of Japan...everything is pretty much set to go. I've planned what I'm going to pack (now it's just a matter of throwing everything into the suitcase). Even though I keep a packing list in the computer, it still takes me HOURS to pack for a trip. Mrs. TBF? She packs in something like thirty minutes.

King is recuperating nicely after having three teeth pulled last week. As a matter of fact, he seems totally normal except for the daily deposit of "beef gravy" in the litter box. I guess the antibiotics he has to take for a week to avoid infection are wreaking havoc on the old beast's digestive system. Dave's going to be taking care of King while we're gone. Sorry, man!

Now, it's time to take the tram to the gym for my last workout before our trip...

Friday, October 12, 2007

For Those Of You Sitting At Home On The Edge Of Your Seats...

The Jeep has been sold!

I just returned from the car dealership WITHOUT the Jeep and WITH a wad of cash. Yes, they paid me CASH for the Jeep. I signed a couple of pieces of paper, and CHF 1000 notes were laid in front of me on the desk.

EASY!!!

I thanked the folks at Emil Frey for the past seven years of fine service, and I wished them a good life since I might never see them again. Now begins a life of public transportation, taxis, and car sharing.

EASY (hopefully)!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

How The Other Half Lives...

I just realized that in one week's time Mrs. TBF and I will be the "other half". That's because one week from right now we'll be getting ready to head off to Japan for two weeks...on British Airways...in FIRST CLASS!

Way back when, Mrs. TBF purchased Business Class tickets with miles, and then she used her Gold Coupons to upgrade our seats to First Class. Just on a whim, I decided to check out what these round-trip, Basel/London/Tokyo, first class tickets would cost if we were to purchase them today.

28,352.90 CHF or...

$23,967.96 U.S.!!!!

Of course, when we're sitting in the First Class Lounge at Heathrow, nobody needs to know that we didn't dish out cash for these tickets. Yup, I'll just be sittin' d'ere wit' da udder half eatin' my bacon sammitch, drinkin' my London Pride, wit' my pinky in da air.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Dear Dr. John:

I have this friend named Dr. John. He used to live right down the street from us in Reinach a few years back. This Dr. John is not to be confused with the other Dr. John who currently lives a couple of kilometers from us. The Dr. John I'm writing about today is American, and he's a doctor of entomology. The other Dr. John is British, and he's a doctor of neuroscience...I think (we know a lot of doctors and I get their fields of study confused).

American Dr. John grew up in Wisconsin, and that means he grew up as a Green Bay Packers fan. I grew up in Chicago, and that would make me a Chicago Bears fan. Up until this past weekend, the Packers were 4 - 0, and the Bears were 1 - 3 (got off to a slow start). Of course, I was man enough to call Dr. John just over a week ago to congratulate him on the Packers' surprisingly good start even though, as a Bears fan, I loathe the Packers with every fiber in my body.

This past Sunday night, the Bears traveled up to Green Bay to face Brett Favre and the Packers, and...you guessed it...THE BEARS HUMILIATED THE PACKERS ON THEIR HOME FIELD.

Oh...I'm happy. I'M VERY HAPPY!!! The only thing (along with defiling Brett Favre and gloating) that will make me happier is if the Bears beat the Packers again when they meet in Chicago later this season. Who cares about the Super Bowl? As far as I'm concerned, beating the Packers is my Super Bowl.

American Dr. John (who once saw Brett Favre at a bar eating a burger and fries, waited for him to leave, then went and sat in his seat and ate his leftover fries) has been uncharacteristically silent...

I'm sure that some Wisconsinites with big foreheads and bad mustaches will try to get their husbands to try to beat me up with their stupid cheesehead hats...and that's OK. You know where to find me...

I live in Basel, Switzerland...

That's in Europe...

Just ask a person from Illinois to show you where Europe is on a map!

Updated later (8:30 p.m.)

Here's what American Dr. John wrote in an e-mail:
Oh, that is sooooooo wrong.

I still can't figure out how to post comments at your blog - please send directions, because I need to defend myself in front of the blog community.

Would Somebody Please Tell Me...

...why it's so freakin' difficult to book a train ticket around here?

We are going to Paris this year for Christmas (the hotel's already booked), and we'd like to go on the TGV (only 3.5 hours from Basel to Paris). I tried to book it a couple of months ago, and the rail employee at Basel's main train station told me that I wouldn't be able to book it until October 9th. So, this morning I went to the train station, and the person told me that he couldn't do it and that I'd have to call a 900 number in order to book it.

This evening, I called the 900 number, and the lady told me that I wouldn't be able to reserve the tickets until two days from now - October 11th - and that I'd be able to do it at the train station. My conversation with her took less than two minutes, and the call cost CHF 2.30 (about $2.00).

All I want are two reserved first class seats, side by side, going to Paris on the 21st of December and returning on the 25th of December. Is that so hard?

I'm getting annoyed! Hello...Air France???

Mon dieu!

Blindfold? ...Check! Earplugs? ...Check!

Now? ....LIFT!!!

I just got back from the gym, and I saw something that I've never seen in my nearly thirty years of lifting weights. Yes...I saw a man lifting weights wearing a blindfold and earplugs. Actually, it was one of those sleep masks one wears on an airplane, and the earplugs appeared to be your normal, everyday, foam earplugs that one would also use on an airplane.

The guy would walk to one of the machines, sit down, pull the mask over his eyes, and begin lifting. When he was done, he would lift the mask up to his forehead, get up, walk to the next machine, and...repeat.

Why? WHY? WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?

Speaking Of Bacon...

Here are some wise words from Grandpa Gustafson regarding how to live a long life!

Monday, October 08, 2007

ALMOST Perfect...

Yesterday was almost a perfect day. I didn't even realize it until Mrs. TBF pointed it out to me late in the evening while we were watching football.

The day started off well with an omelet and some bacon. Then, the morning fog burned off revealing a beautiful blue sky. I'm telling you that I didn't see a cloud all day. We went for a long walk (not part of a perfect day, but enjoyable nonetheless), and then we went up to the rooftop to soak in the late afternoon sun.

Later that evening, while I was stuffing Mrs. TBF's homemade Chicago-style pizza down my throat and washing it down with a little Chianti in front of the TV, Mrs. TBF pointed out that the only thing missing from my "perfect day" list was the sauna. Damn that sauna!!! It's always the spoiler! My last perfect day was a few weeks ago while we were in Spain for my birthday, and the other days were perfect except for the fact that I had forgotten to take a sauna.

What the hell kind of Finn am I???

Oh well...I'm not complaining too much. I mean, we did enjoy a nice bath. AND...the Bears did beat the Packers (although I didn't find this out until the next morning). So, I'm giving the day 4.5 out of 5, and I'm calling it as perfect a day as possible without actually being perfect. And...that's not too shabby.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Goin' Mobile...

...beep beep!

I successfully completed my trial run with Mobility this afternoon. For those of you who don't know, Mobility is a car-sharing cooperative here in Switzerland. Here's how it works:

Pay an annual fee which includes gas and insurance...

Reserve a car (conveniently located a five-minute walk from our apartment) on the internet...

Show up at the car at the appointed time...

Hold the Mobility card up to the transponder located on the windshield. This unlocks the door and the glove box...

Take the keys out of the glove box...

Start the car, and drive away. A charge is then assessed based on the amount of time one has the car and the number of kilometers driven...

Return the car at the designated time, put the keys in the glove box, lock up the car and walk away.

That's it!

I think Mobility is going to work well for us when we finally get rid of the Jeep. Sure, I'll end up having to drive a red Ford Fiesta that has Mobility written all over it, but...what the hell? There actually is a pretty good selection of cars, but I'm kind of stuck with the Fiesta because it's an automatic. Yes, you guessed it...

...I never learned to drive a stick shift (New Year's resolution for 2008!).

The only problem (which wasn't really that much of a problem at all) was that I couldn't figure out how to start the thing at first. I quickly discovered that I had to release the handbrake and press the foot brake down in order to start it. You see, the Fiesta had this strange automatic/manual combination thing; something I'd never really seen before. I had to actually put it into reverse like you would with a manual, and then the stick shift had an option for automatic or manual; the manual option having pluses (+) and minuses (-) which I'm assuming is how one goes about shifting gears if one wants to drive it like a manual.

I drove the car over to Reinach to take George for a walk, went into the Coop to do a bit of shopping, and then returned it to its reserved parking spot at the old folks' home right by our apartment. I actually returned the thing 30 minutes early, terminated my reservation, and received confirmation that I would only be billed for 90 minutes instead of two hours, and that I had driven a total of 14 kilometers. I think the charge will be something like CHF 12 (about $10). Not bad...not bad at all.

You wanna know somethin'?

It recently dawned on me that I'm becoming pretty "green". I mean, I don't even think climate change is as serious as the media and just about every person I know thinks it is, and...I'm the one buying carbon-offsets when I fly AND getting rid of the gas-guzzling SUV. I guess I'm doing MY part.

What the hell have YOU done?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

I Jumped The Gun!

The Jeep will be with us for at least another week!

This morning, I decided to squeeze in one last errand before bringing the Jeep to the dealership. That errand was to bring King to Dr. Boozer's office for his annual check-up. During the check-up, I found out that King needs to have his few remaining teeth cleaned. Since I couldn't get another appointment until next Wednesday, I decided that it was worth keeping the car for another week. I mean, the appointment is set up for 8 a.m., and then I'm going to have to go back and pick him up later in the day.

I guess it's all OK in the end because I can't give my three month cancellation notice on our garage parking spot until the end of the month anyway. Isn't that great? We get to pay for an EMPTY parking spot for three months! Oh well, at least our guests will get to park indoors until the end of January, 2008.

Will the Jeep be gone by the time we leave for Japan two weeks from today? Or, won't it?

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Riding Off Into The Sunset...

This past weekend, we took what we think will be our last driving trip in the Jeep. I've been threatening to sell the old gal for quite some time now, and I think it's finally going to happen either this week or next. Since I don't even want to think about what's involved with selling a car in Switzerland, I'm just going to opt for the easy way out; selling it to a dealership.

Yeah...I know I could make more money by selling it to a private party. However, an extra couple thousand bucks isn't worth the aggravation to me, so I'm just going to bring it to the dealership this Wednesday, have it inspected, take what they offer (I already have an idea from a previous visit), sign on the dotted line, go home on the tram, and wait for the money to be wire transferred to our bank account. At least, that's the car selling fantasy I have in mind. Seeing that this is Switzerland, I'm sure there'll be some type of red tape thrown into the mix. I'll let you know how it goes.

Getting back to this past weekend...

Mrs. TBF and I drove out to Nyon (near Geneva) to visit our friend Jeanette. Since Jeanette is now transferring back to Basel, we thought it would be nice to go out and stay at her place in Nyon one last time. So, that's what we did. After filling up the tank for what will probably be the last time (thank god I no longer have to worry about carrying bills smaller than CHF 1,000/about $850 U.S.), we made the just-over-two-hour drive to Nyon.

The weather ended up being better than expected, even though the forecast was ominous, and we decided - while enjoying a leisurely lunch at Jeanette's apartment - to take the train from Nyon up the mountain to La Cure. Once we got there, we realized that not much was going on, so we rode the train back down to St. Cergue where we had a drink before winding our way down the mountain back to Nyon. Overall, the train ride was very Swiss: great scenery (including a clear view of Mont Blanc), nice fall colors, not very exciting, clean, and safe.

Later that evening, the three of us went out to dinner. Then, we all slept in on Sunday morning, enjoyed a lazy brunch at the apartment, and then it was back to Basel.

We bought the Jeep on October 16, 1999. During last weekend's trip, the odometer went over 47,000 miles; not too many miles over eight years! It was nice having it, but I'm sure somebody else will get more use out of it than we did. Although we did drive it to Madrid, Burgundy, Champagne, and Z├╝rich Airport (about a zillion times), most of the driving was just us running errands around Basel. The tram, taxis, and Mobility will serve us just fine.

This morning, I drove Mrs. TBF in the Jeep to Basel Airport for the last time (I hope!). We decided to take one last picture for the sake of nostalgia. If all goes as planned, Mrs. TBF will be taking a taxi home from the airport this Saturday morning...and I'll be sleeping in!