Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Southern Hospitality

Hi Y'all...from Atlanta! I arrived yesterday AM at Hartsfield International - busiest airport in the US, from Chicago O'hare, second busiest airport, with no delay!!! This was unbelievable to me, but I guess having an earlyish (07:50) flight out was helpful. Here are a few thoughts so far:

1. DO NOT TRUST THE DEPARTURE BOARD AT O'HARE. As my flight was scheduled for boarding at 07:20, at 07:30, with no indication of boarding on the electronic board, I decided to go to the gate and check it out. Imagine my surprise to find that the flight was almost fully boarded! So, I nicely commented to the agent at the gate that the electronic board had not been updated - she rolled up her eyes and said she wasn't surprised since the city of Chicago was responsible for that and it's never updated timely!!! So - I'm wondering...what's the point of an airline lounge if you need to be at the gate in order to know if your flight is boarding??? Anyway, for those of you who follow this blog, you probably know I am a seasoned (and yes somewhat spoiled) business traveller. This was a first for me! Is this common in the US now?? What about "Chicago - the city that works"??? What happened Mayor Daly?? I'm a little disappointed.

2. Why was I travelling on a Monday AM that was the first day of Spring Break? Note to self - don't do that again!

3. All you teenagers out there - GET A CLUE!!!! Ok - I'm sitting on a plane going from Chicago to Atlanta - these two cities probably have two of the largest populations of African Americans in the US, and what do I hear in the row behind me ...the following commentary about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie ..."Why can't they adopt white children from America??" I cringed in my seat. Obvioulsy they are not budding members of the rainbow coalition.

4. Hartsfield International - Get some better signage. It's not good when there are multiple baggage claim 2's without any distinction. How am I supposed to find my bag? Which carousel 2 should it be on???

5. Sam Epps limousine service - next time you're in Atlanta - SAM is THE MAN!!! This is my favorite limo service of all time. They pick you up in totally cool gigantic tricked out SUVs, and they are soooooo nice and friendly. I feel like I have my own personal body guard when the driver escorts me to the car. I wish Sam would open a branch in Newark - Empire Limo could learn from Sam. Of course, Sam's business has grown so much that he no longer picks me up, but he has very nice drivers who are a real pleasure! Thanks Sam!

6. Hilton Garden Inn, Duluth - As a self admitted hotel snob - I actually appreciate this nice clean basic hotel. It's nothing fancy, but the front desk is very friendly, they have free wireless throughout, and where else do you find an "honor" bar?? You'd think you were in Switzerland!!!

7. Atlanta really proves that there is a cost of living differential between US cities. I am shocked at the price of a meal here compared to Chicago or New Jersey. Mind you I haven't been eating in the finest establishments, but by comparison to business meals in New Jersey, I can actually easily abide by the CHF60 per person expense guideline including drinks here and receive warm southern hospitality.

Well, that's it for now. It's 22:30 and I can actually get a good night's sleep tonight before starting the long journey home via Chicago and London.
Ciao y'all.

Major Breakthrough!

Vee haff deezkoffered zees teeng kult a kome-pooter, and eef I haff zee kredeet kart, zen I kann buy teengs zat are sheeped deerektly to meine haus. Vee kull zees online shopping!

Uff korz zees komes een handy ven vun ees tryeeng to afoid zee Föhn.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Introducing...Mundane Monday!

I've decided to begin a new feature at The Big Finn's Big Blog! I'm calling it Mundane Monday. Please notice that I specifically did not say that it's going to be a WEEKLY feature. Please, no Tuesday morning "Where was this week's Mundane Monday feature?" comments - I'll just delete 'em.

A couple of months ago, I was accused by a friend (who shall remain anonymous) of thinking that my life was better than his/hers because of all the blogging I do about "glamorous things" like our international travel, wine tastings, etc. My comeback was: "Would you rather read about me doing things like cleaning King's litter box, emptying the dishwasher, or taking out the garbage?"

Hey...why not?

So, here's the first installment of Mundane Monday:

...vacuuming the living room!

How glamorous is that? See? We don't even have a cleaning lady.

Of course, that's because I don't want to let any commoners into our apartment...

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Bon Voyage...

"You're late!"

That's what Gretchen said after I answered the phone at 7:10 a.m. - I was supposed to be at the Expatters' house at 7 a.m.

"Huh? Wha'?"

Yes, I remembered to turn the clocks ahead. Yes, I set the alarm on my watch. But, I guess I just didn't hear the alarm go off at 6:15 a.m. Oops!

I got ready in record time, and was walking out of the front door with a cup of coffee in hand, before I was even fully awake. A few minutes later, I was pulling up in front of KGB's house at 7:30 a.m.

About fifteen minutes later, after loading up the cars, we were off to the airport; Kirk and Baby in a rental car, and Gretchen, me, and Grady in the Jeep.

The ride to the airport was very uneventful - Grady was very well behaved, and Baby was fast asleep when we pulled up at Departures. All the luggage and Grady's crate (which is the same crate in which we brought Dominique to Switzerland) was loaded onto a big cart, Kirk dropped off the rental car, and I brought Grady out for one last Swiss pee.

There was time for one last photo of the Expatters in Switzerland, and then it was time to say goodbye.

Good morning, America...

The Expatters are on their way home!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Two Down, Two To Go!

I just heard Mrs. TBF's flight taking off for London. We are less than ten kilometers/six miles from Basel Airport; I often watch the planes taking off and landing, and I like to monitor where they are going to/coming from on the EuroAirport website.

I know, I'm a nerd...

Mrs. TBF is on her way to Atlanta via London and Chicago. She had a stroke of luck when her travel department called her and asked if she'd mind making a connection in Chicago because it was much cheaper than flying from London directly to Atlanta. Jo Mama (Mrs. TBF's mom) lives outside of Chicago.

Mrs. TBF doesn't mind.

So, instead of leaving on Sunday or Monday like she normally would, she ended up leaving early this morning so that she could spend some time with her mom in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Of course, that meant that I had to get up early (for the second time this week) - on a SATURDAY MORNING, mind you - to drive Mrs. TBF to the airport. I dropped her off at 6:15 a.m. OUCH!

Tomorrow morning, I will be driving the Expatters to Zurich Airport for their triumphant return to the U.S. I have to be at their house - on a SUNDAY MORNING, mind you - at 7:00 a.m.! DOUBLE OUCH! We're going in two cars, and I don't know how we're all going to be divided up, but I do know that Grady will be in the Jeep with me. It's been a long time since there was a dog in the Jeep.

Kirk suggested that he and Gretchen go in one car, and that I take Grady and Baby.


I thought that was it as far as morning runs to the airport go, but I forgot that I also have to pick up Jo Mama at Zurich Airport on Thursday morning at 11:00 a.m. when she arrives for a two-week stay. That one's not so bad; I'll just take the 9:42 a.m. train from Basel to Zurich Airport. I find the train very comforting; reading the paper, drinking an overpriced coffee, listening to music on the iPod. Plus, I like the fact that when I flush after taking a pee on the train that my pee is just dripping down onto the tracks.

...lots of TBF DNA scattered about the Swiss rail system. I like to think of it as leaving a legacy.

As fate would have it, Mrs. TBF and Jo Mama will both be arriving in Switzerland on Thursday morning. However, Jo Mama will be arriving in Zurich, and Mrs. TBF will be arriving in Basel. We booked Jo Mama's ticket for her direct flight from Chicago to Zurich on Swiss a few months back. Mrs. TBF hates flying overseas on Swiss, so she opted to stick with British Airways.

Once these early-morning airport shuttles are done, the next early-morning drive to the airport will be when I take the 7:00 a.m. flight to London on April 18th to connect for a flight to Chicago.

I'll have no problem waking up early on April 18th!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Friday Flashback: L'Élite Quatre

I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to go back to March, 2003 like I did two weeks ago. March, 2003 was a big travel month for me. Not only did Mrs. TBF and I travel to Madrid and Barcelona on consecutive weekends, but I also participated in a "boys only" weekend to Monte Carlo.

It all started when a friend from Chicago - Dave - called to tell me that he had to go to Cannes for a conference and that I should meet up with him in Monte Carlo the weekend before his meetings. Quite frankly, I think he expected me to say "no way", but I showed him by saying, "...sure, why not?". I checked the Swiss website, saw that there was a direct flight from Basel to Nice, and booked myself a ticket.

Later that day, I mentioned the trip to my neighbor Tom (who has since moved back to the U.S.), and he said that he'd always wanted to see Monte Carlo, and could he tag along? "Sure...why not?"

Later that day, I mentioned the trip to my other neighbor Andy, and he decided that he too would come along. That's pretty much when I stopped mentioning it to people. It seemed to me like four was a good number (two guys in two rooms). I didn't mean to exclude anybody, but I think it ended up looking that way because I found out the morning that we were leaving that one of the neighbor ladies (who I guess was a little miffed that we had apparently "excluded" her husband) had referred to us as the "Elite Three" of the neighborhood. I found this all rather petty, but funny at the same time.

The name for the group had been coined: The Elite Three (or L'Élite Trois since we were going to a French speaking area) were going to Monte Carlo. Once Dave joined the group, it would L'Elite Quatre.

So, L'Élite Trois had to catch an early Saturday morning flight to Nice, France. We had decided to dress up for the trip so that we could get into the Grand Casino.

Mrs. TBF was not pleased.

"You mean, I can't get you to wear a tie to go out to dinner, but you'll gladly dress up to go to Monte Carlo with the boys? Geez!"

"Sorry baby, but this is Monte Carlo...gotta go!", and we were off!

We arrived at Nice Airport about three hours before Dave's connecting flight from Chicago was due to arrive. It was only 10:30 a.m., but we noticed that the bar was open and figured that it was after 5:00 p.m. somewhere in the world...so we decided that the time was right for a beer.

I volunteered to buy the first round because I wanted to impress the other "elites" with my multi-lingual skills by ordering the beers in French. "Let's see...," I thought, "'je voudrais' is 'I would like' in French, and 'pression' appears to be a draft beer, so..."

"Bonjour Monsieur. Je voudrais trois poisson!"

The bartender turned around, chuckling, to pour me my beers. It was at that point that I realized my error: I had ordered three "fish" instead of three "drafts".

TBF: (in English) "Did I just order three fish?"

Bartender: (also in English) "Yes, but I understood what you meant. It was a good try!"

The rest of the weekend in a nutshell:

We befriended an Ethiopian man named Gator and his friend (some name we couldn't pronounce!) while waiting for Dave's flight. Gator was waiting for his sister to arrive from Ethiopia via Paris. He wasn't sure which flight she was on. As a matter of fact, he wasn't exactly sure on which day she was supposed to arrive. He was sure, however, that he was happy to allow "The Elite Three" to buy him several rounds of beer.

Dave's flight finally arrived. His luggage didn't.

Dave borrowed a pair of Tom's pants. Tom is taller than Dave; Dave had to cinch the pants with a belt just under his nipples.

Dave's luggage finally arrived. We hit the casino.

Dave and I lost...um...A LOT of money in about one minute playing Blackjack in the Grand Casino (sorry...no pictures allowed). People who congregate outside of the Grand Casino hoping to get pictures of celebrities snapped our picture as the four of us walked out. We began referring to Dave as Monsieur Clooney (because of his salt and pepper hair).

We continued playing Blackjack in another casino. Andy told the dealer at one point that he wanted to "hold". The dealer dealt another card which caused Andy to lose. An argument ensued. A mental image of Andy pointing up to the video camera saying "...ROLL THE TAPE!" will be burned in my memory forever.

Tom wisely chose not to gamble. "I've got two kids in college!"

Andy, Tom, and I went out to dinner while Dave went back to the hotel to sleep. Andy ordered a Niçoise Salad, but he pronounced it "NIK-O-SEE-A"!

After dinner, the three of us decided it was time to go back to the hotel. That was when Dave decided it was time to go out. He stayed out until 3:30 a.m.

The next day, we ate breakfast, walked around the marina a bit, ate a seaside lunch, and then it was time to leave.

It was an exhausting thirty-six hours, but not too exhausting for...

L'Élite Quatre!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Wonder How You Manage To Make Ends Meet...

I would just like to take a moment to thank Madonna for demonstrating that one can clearly NEVER HAVE TOO MUCH MONEY! Yup...that's right! The "...richest female singer in the world...with an estimated net worth of over $850 million" has now decided that she needs to put out her own clothing line in association with a large, Swedish retailer.

Now, I have nothing against Madonna at all. Actually, I like a lot of her music (although I think most of the stuff after Ray Of Light - my vote for her best album - has been pretty mediocre). But, does she really need to be on EVERY OTHER BILLBOARD IN BASEL??? By the way...very ladylike pose you got goin' on there!

It almost seems to me that it's gotten to the point with Madonna that the public no longer really cares about her music, yoga, movies (Doh!), children's books, fashion, or whatever else she's into these days. All the public really cares about is...if she's still looking good as she approaches fifty. For the record: she is.

You know what? Maybe that's all she cares about.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

To Each His Own...

I took this picture from our kitchen window this morning at about 7:30 a.m. The outdoor temperature was 0˚C/32˚F, the wind was howling, and the snow was blowing. Yes, that is an open window you see in the lower left of the picture. This window is open EVERY morning around this time for about five minutes, and the scene is repeated many times over around Switzerland.

You might find it interesting to know that our rental contract stipulates that we are supposed to do the same thing during the cold months. Apparently, the concrete/steel/glass construction that is common in Switzerland lends itself to interior moisture build-up, and this can result in mold. Our property management company actually sent the residents a letter a few months ago which basically said that we are "required" to go around our apartment and open our windows for five minutes at a time each day in order to balance out the moisture.

Mrs. TBF and I often sleep with our bedroom window cracked open (it's rarely "Chicago" cold in Basel at night during the winter), and I consider that to be enough to allow the air to change in the apartment. I'll be damned if I'm going to go around the apartment opening the windows for five minutes at a time! And, I'm certainly not going to keep the windows open on a cold, blustery, and snowy day like to today - that's insane! Nope, not me. Today, I'm on complete lock-down!

So, other than the moisture issue, the other reason why the Swiss open their windows is that they love the frisch luft! Yup, Swissy loves him some fresh air! The colder, the better. Never mind the fact that we live in an urban area, there's a busy street right next to our building, and the "fresh" air is mixed with carbon monoxide, diesel particulants, and probably a multitude of other nasty things. I'm still not really sure how the Swiss are able to cope with the wind blowing into an open window for five minutes each day since they seem to have this strange belief that the wind is responsible for every ailment known to mankind.

Hey, what do I know? I'm sure Swissy has an explanation for that...like everything else. I guess "wind" and "fresh air" are two different things. Whatever...

The thing that really used to bother me was when I'd hear Swiss people complain about how much energy is wasted by "large American refrigerators". They'd usually complain (erroneously) about the fact that these refrigerators sit mostly empty (huh?) sucking energy day-in and day-out. Of course, the small Euro-refrigerators use so much less energy and are, therefore, so much better for the environment. Never mind that you have to go to the grocery store every single day because Euro-fridge only holds a day's worth of food, or you have to have several of them (we have three refrigerators and a chest freezer) to hold all your stuff.

Is opening your window every single day during the winter and letting all the heat escape really wasting less energy than having a big refrigerator?

What's the point of all this? Oh, I don't know...I guess I'm just saying that you do what you want to do, and I'll do what I want to do. Don't lecture me, and I won't lecture you.

I'm feeling better now having gotten that off my chest. I think I'll take a walk through our cozy (20˚C/45% relative humidity) apartment to the chest freezer and take out some kind of meat to defrost for dinner. Then, I'll go upstairs to the beer refrigerator and check the inventory to make sure that it's not mostly empty. After that, I'll come back downstairs and have me a little breakfast from the main refrigerator.

Oh...looky! A person in the building just put their bed linens on their balcony to air out. I guess that's another topic for a future post.

It's 5:28 a.m....

...and I'm not driving you to the airport!

5:45 a.m.: Mrs. TBF walks into Basel Airport!

You know you're not in Chicago anymore when:
You have a 6:30 a.m. flight to Brussels, and you're leaving for the airport at 5:30 a.m....

It only takes you fifteen minutes (door-to-door) to get to the airport...

You are off to Brussels for a meeting with colleagues named: Jeanette, Olga, Dieter, Fabrizio, Ayca, Artur, Else, Joaquin, and Mogens...

Your chauffeur is back at home by 6:00 a.m.!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Green With Envy!

The Expatters came by for a farewell, St. Patrick's Day lunch this past Saturday. As you may or may not know by now, they will be moving back to the U.S. in a little less than a week. Since Mrs. TBF will be leaving for the U.S. on Saturday morning, this was her last chance to see them before they leave. I, on the other hand, will get to see them before their triumphant return to America, because......I have been given the honor of driving them to Zürich Airport early on Sunday morning! ...Who knew that they'd really take me up on my offer?

...just kidding! I'm happy to do it! Won't the Jeep be surprised with the Sunday, 7:00 a.m. wakeup call? I sure hope I get up in time.

So, KGB (Kirk, Gretchen, & Baby) came over to the apartment this past Saturday for one last feeding. About a week earlier, I had suggested to Mrs. TBF an all-American lunch of hamburgers and fries with the hope of avoiding the usual saga of Mrs. TBF pouring over cookbooks in a menu-planning frenzy for days (sometimes weeks...) before a dinner/lunch party, and (surprisingly) she agreed.

Of course, since it was St. Patrick's Day, it was only fitting that we served up some Guinness Chocolate Cake. For reasons only known to him, King decided that he absolutely had to have some of Kirk's cake. What a BEAST!!! Ummm...King, not Kirk!

I have to say that Kirk and Gretchen are amazingly calm considering that the movers will empty their house in a few days and then they, along with Baby AND Grady (another BEAST!) will be boarding a flight bound for "home" a few days after that.

I wonder what we'll be like when we say farewell to Switzerland.

Whenever that is...

A Boy Named Sous...

Mrs. TBF invited several colleagues over for dinner last Thursday night. As is often the case when we are having a dinner party, I do most of the shopping AND quite a bit of the non-glamorous work (washing, chopping, setting the table, etc.).

Mrs. TBF is the executive chef, and I'm pretty much the sous-chef...

On Friday morning, as Mrs. TBF was heading off to work, she sounded sincerely apologetic when she said that she was sorry to leave me with the enormous cleanup. We're talking fine crystal, good china, etc.; all stuff that needs to be washed by hand.

...add dishwasher to the list of sous-chef duties. Doh!

Now, I know that good china isn't supposed to go into the dishwasher, but...THERE WAS NO WAY IN HELL I WAS GOING TO BE WASHING EVERYTHING BY HAND! I mean, that would wreak havoc on my cuticles, and I HATE the smell of rubber so rubber gloves were not an option. As far as I saw it, I had no other choice...

Fine china? Meet the dishwasher!

I loaded everything into the dishwasher, closed the door, and then proceeded to spend a rather nervous washing cycle hoping against hope that the fine china's first foray in its twenty year career into non-manual washing wouldn't result in disaster.

About forty minutes later, I opened the door, peered through the cloud of steam...

And? AND?????

Perfect! I will NEVER wash the good china by hand again!


Friday, March 16, 2007

Friday Flashback: May 14, 1991 - March 14, 2005

There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brother and Sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

- Rudyard Kipling

Our dog, Dominique, went to doggy heaven two years ago this past Wednesday. I still think about that time from two years ago with much emotion. The last month before we put her down was probably the saddest time of my life.

I try not to dwell on that last month. Instead, I try to focus on the nearly fourteen happy years we spent together.

Yup, we did everything wrong with our "baby-baby". She: slept in our bed (often under the covers), begged for (and got) table scraps, used the furniture as her own, turned into a "junkyard dog" whenever she had to go to the vet, and...pretty much just lived her life with us wrapped around her little dewclaws (which we had to trim - one at a time - when she was asleep, by the way, lest we have our hands chomped off!). Even with her nasty smelling breath...and farts (probably from all those table scraps), the fur all over the place, the stubbornness, and the defiance...

Even with all that...

...the unconditional love she gave us was worth every little flaw she had, and I would live those (almost) fourteen years again.

No, Mrs. TBF, I'm not ready to get another dog...at least not yet.

You see...King has earned his place as the king of the house, and he has proclaimed that it shall remain so until his final breath.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Madrid: The Stress-Causing "Forest Man"

Confused? Don't be, because I'm about to explain.

Our tapas bar crawl with Sal the Blogging Legend was going along swimmingly; great company, weather, food, and wine. I think we paced ourselves very well in that my stomach never felt too full (at least not until the very end of the day), and I never felt like the wine/beer had produced more than a pleasant buzz. The three of us just meandered up and down the streets of Madrid at a calm pace, popped into a bar for a drink and a few plates of tapas, and then we'd amble off to the next place.

At one point, I recall that Sal told me that he had given our blog address to a Finnish colleague of his who works in Espoo so that she could, oh...I don't know, maybe see what a 100% Finnish person who lives in Switzerland looks like. Apparently, she told Sal that I looked like (...and I'm pretty sure this is how Sal put it...) "...a forest man." I thought this was really funny, and I kind of had a chuckle about it. It wasn't until we were flying home the next day that it dawned on me what the lady meant. Metsämies is the Finnish word for hunter. However, the word metsä translates in English to "forest", and the word mies translates to "man" - she had done a literal translation from Finnish to English. So, for whatever reason, this lady thinks I look like a hunter, which is kind of funny since I don't hunt (although I did once, rather impressively, shoot a bird...at about fifty yards...between the eyes...with a pellet gun when I was a kid). Actually, I kind of like "forest man" better. It kind of sounds like a monster who lives deep in the forest and only emerges at night...

The afternoon gave way to evening, and darkness began to wash over us. "Oh NO!! So many places to go, and so little time!" We looked to Sal for guidance, and he pointed us in the direction of a nice little bar called La Castela - which just happens to be his favorite tapas bar in Madrid. The three of us - Sal, Mrs. TBF, and the "Forest Man" - made our way to La Castela and found a cozy spot in the corner where we proceeded to order what would be our last tapas of the day.

I'm pretty sure that it was at La Castela that Mrs. TBF and I ("Forest Man") began telling Sal of how appreciative we were that he had taken the time, not only to spend the day with us, but actually conduct tapas research in advance to help ensure a successful crawl. At this point, Sal said something like: "Do you know how much pressure you guys put on me when you said that you were coming and wanted to do a tapas bar crawl?"

"Huh? Us?"

I was startled, and Sal assured me that it wasn't like he lost any sleep over it, but he did feel some pressure to show us a good time. Now, I kind of feel bad about this, because I think Mrs. TBF and I are about the easiest people in the world to host for this kind of thing; I mean, we'll eat pretty much anything (MMmmmmm, pig ears!), and we'll go just about anywhere. I would have been happy meeting up with Sal at a Burger King, but...I'm glad that he made the effort.

So, there you have it - I'm a stress-causing "forest man"!!! Who knew?

Sal: Thanks again for your hospitality. You are (as I've said numerous times) not only a blogging legend, but also a great host. We had a terrific time, and we really appreciate the efforts you made in setting up the tapas bar crawl. Hopefully, we'll be able to get together again soon. How about in Basel next time? Sure, it's not as exciting as Madrid, but I'm sure I could find something of interest for us to do.

Maybe, I'll even do a little research!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Madrid: At A Loss For Words...

Wouldn't you know it? Sal did such an all-encompassing recap of our meet-up in Madrid that...I'm kind of at a loss as to what I can add to the story. I think I'll just post a few pictures, and we'll see where things go from there.

My first impression upon laying eyes on Sal in the flesh was that "...not only is he a blogging legend, but the guy doesn't have an ounce of fat on his body. He looks like he runs two or three marathons a week!!" I like this picture, because I'm imagining that Mrs. TBF is thinking: "...I've gotta feed this guy some pasta!" Then, he whipped out a map with the locations of tapas bars highlighted in neon yellow ("...organized...like me!"), told me that he had his GPS in case we got lost ("...borderline obsessive...like me!"), and...off we went! We were in good hands. We were in SAL'S hands!

I took this picture after our second stop. Mrs. TBF and Sal didn't really have anything between their teeth, but I thought that it would make a good picture and I asked them to pose. Of course, I strategically told them that I would take the picture of THEM; thus, avoiding looking like a dork!

This picture isn't very good, but it's the only picture I took where the three of us are together in the picture. We were at the little tapas bar that wasn't on Sal's list into which we had just randomly walked on impulse. Standing in front of this little neighborhood place, I said, "...I'll know it when I see it, and...this...is...it!" We decided to try it, and it ended up being very good; a real find as far as I was concerned! I loved the razor clams, snails, peppers, sweetbreads, and pig ears.

MMMMMMMMMMMMMM...pig ears! I've had pig ears at a fancy restaurant in Paris and in the little local neighborhood place in Madrid. The Madrid ears were much better; and, they were a fraction of the cost of the Paris ears. I'm not totally sure, but I seem to recall that I was nearly weeping when this picture was taken as I ate my last pig ear.

More pictures to come...

Friday, March 09, 2007

Friday Flashback: March, 2003...

The reason why I'm flashing-back to March, 2003 is because that was the last time that Mrs. TBF and I were in Madrid. I can't believe it's been four years!

Four years ago, my sister, my bro-in-law, and their (at that time) three kids were living in Madrid due to my bro-in-law's two-year expat assignment with a major Chicago-based electronics/communications/etc. company. We knew they would be heading back to Chicago in a few months, so we decided to make one more trip to Madrid; which we thought would be our last.

No, we having nothing against Madrid. However, we had already been there a couple of times before that (including driving there from Basel - with our dog - for Christmas in 2001), and we just thought there was no reason for us to ever return.

Then, we met Sal...

I guess the word "met" isn't exactly accurate. I mean, we've never met him face to face, AND we've never even spoken to him. However, we have left comments on each others' blogs, and we have exchanged a few e-mails. As far as we're concerned...that's reason enough for us to take an easyJet flight from Basel to Madrid tomorrow morning so that we can meet the blogging legend in person and turn the "virtual" tapas bar into a "living and breathing" tapas bar. By tomorrow at this time, the three of us will be in the midst of a tapas bar crawl to end all tapas bar crawls!

We are REALLY looking forward to it!!

So here, for your viewing pleasure, is a picture of Mrs. TBF and I taken in Madrid on March 22, 2003 while riding on one of those double-decker, tourist buses. I have to admit, that we both weighed significantly more at that time (I think our combined weight loss is equal to one-half of Sal's total body weight!), and it took quite awhile for me to find a picture where the camera angle had an acceptable slimming effect on our bloated faces. I'd also forgotten how long Mrs. TBF's hair was back then...wukka, wukka, chukka, chukka...Wow!

My overnight bag is packed, the weather forecast for Madrid is looking good for the whole weekend, and I can already taste the tapas and Spanish wine! Plus, I think they have Dunkin' Donuts in Madrid (added bonus!).

Sal, we'll be seeing you in less than twenty-four hours!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Time To Relax...

Along with being more than satisfied with my list of the morning's accomplishments, the sky had cleared and the sun was shining brightly by the time I got home.

Time to relax...

I grabbed the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine, a cup of coffee, and my iPod Shuffle. When I opened the front door, King lead the way up to the roof.

We parked ourselves on the bench, sheltered from the wind, in the warm sunshine. That was all King needed. Normally he walks around and explores; but not today. Today, he just parked himself on the bench, closed his eyes, and hardly moved.

Well, he did wake up to tell me that I had my finger on Pete Wentz's nipple.

A VERY Productive Morning...

After dropping Mrs. TBF off at the train station, I brought the Jeep to the garage (by our old apartment) for its "annual" service and oil change. Before you freak out, let me remind you that the garage uses synthetic oil, and they only recommend an oil change once per year. The Jeep also needed its once-every-two-or-three-years emissions test.

Hopefully, this will be the last emissions test we ever have to pay for for the Jeep.

After dropping off the Jeep, I walked over to catch the tram to the gym. Yes...I know... Me going to the gym at 8:15 a.m.???? What did you do with TBF? It...just...seemed like the right thing to do.

Anyway, I was about to board the tram with my big-ass Nike gym bag, and then I noticed a familiar face in one of the cars: Canadian-Swiss!

How nice! We got to ride the tram together as I went to the gym and she rode the tram to her brand-new (temporary) job. Yes...I had celebrated the fact that I had finally lured somebody to the "dark side" of retirement, but...she only lasted three months. Shame!

After saying tschüss to CS, I made my way to the gym to workout with the other retired people; albeit, retired people who are a good twenty years older than me.

You know what? I used to work out in the morning quite regularly, and I'm going to have to start doing it again (it was one of my New Year's resolutions...doh!), because...I LOVE WATCHING SENIOR CITIZENS AT THE GYM! I love everything about it: the socializing, the lack of sweating, the belief that drinking coffee in the café counts as working out, and the standard workout outfit of white v-neck t-shirt tucked into gym shorts.

Who knew that espadrilles qualified as proper footwear for the gym? I certainly didn't.

After my rather vigorous workout (if I do say so myself...and I do!), I walked over to Energy Liquors at the train station to by some overpriced Guinness (Don't forget: next Saturday is St. Patrick's Day!). Of course, when I arrived at Energy Liquors, the door was locked and there was a sign on the door stating that the storekeeper had to "step out" (read: pee) and that he would return in a few minutes.


No bother...the storekeeper returned after about a minute, and I bought my Guinness. Then, I decided to reward my stellar workout with a trip to Starbucks. Starbucks ended up being a pleasant surprise. Usually, Starbucks in Basel causes me stress.

Normally, Starbucks in Switzerland drives me crazy. The Swiss just do NOT understand the concept of fast food. My order is always VERY simple: a Venti coffee-of-the-week. That's it! I order it, and then...they START brewing the coffee. THAT'S RIGHT...THE COFFEE IS NEVER READY, AND THEY ALMOST ALWAYS HAVE TO BREW A FRESH POT WHEN I GO IN. Plus, they are the slowest people IN THE HISTORY OF BARISTAS to fill coffee orders. I'm telling you, if I walk into a Starbucks in Basel, and there are three people in line before me...FORGET ABOUT IT!!! I move on. In Chicago? Twenty people in line before me on a Saturday morning? No problem! I'm served in about 90 seconds. In Switzerland? Three people takes ten minutes - I kid you not!

So, today I walked in (nobody in line), and ordered my coffee from a foreigner (second Asian of the day!), and I nearly had my coffee in my hand before I had my money out of my pocket. Asians RULE!!!

We need more Asians in Basel! And yes...they also mix up the "l" and "r" when they speak German!

I took the tram home, vacuumed the apartment before "Quiet Time" (12:00-14:00) arrived, and...

...that's when productivity came to a grinding halt!

When I Should Have Been Sleeping...

I awoke with a start this morning at about 6:00 a.m. as Mrs. TBF gave me a quasi-Singapore Air wake-up. Never flown Singapore Air? The Singapore Air wake-up is when the Singapore Air flight attendant (all babes, by the way!) gently rubs your arm to wake you up and asks you if you would like to continue sleeping...or have breakfast. After a few too many "WAKE UP!!"s, I kindly requested that Mrs. TBF take a lesson from the Singapore Air flight attendants and wake me up in a loving and gentle manner.

This morning was not loving and gentle. It reminded me a little of when I sand the teak patio furniture in the spring.

But...I can't blame her; she had a train to catch - the 7:03 a.m. train to Nyon for an overnight trip. So, we'll zip ahead to about 6:45 a.m. when I'm driving her (MUST...STAY...ON...ROAD!) to the train station. We got to the train station (about five minutes from our house) in plenty of time for her to buy her ticket while I bought her a banana at a little kiosk run by an incredibly efficient foreigner (Asian). Kudos! Then, we went down to the platform...

I have only one question: Why does Mrs. TBF choose to take a trip to Nyon every year during the Geneva Auto Show?

I'm not joking...this happens every year. We get on the platform, and then it goes something like this:

TBF: Why the hell are there so many people here for this train?

Mrs. TBF: Oh NO! The !@#$%%^ Geneva Auto Show!

At this point, we must take offensive measures. Nearly every First Class seat has been reserved by the 60-or-older Swissy crowd (usually they're only reserved by tourists...HA! SUCKERS!), and boarding becomes a bit of a scramble. Our strategy is to head in different directions, and each look individually for the first non-reserved seat.

Mrs. TBF went left, and I went right.

I found two seats and staked my claim. Mrs. TBF had a bit of a desperate look in her eyes when she came into my car and saw that I had procured two seats facing each other.

Believe me, she was very relieved.

I sat with her for a few minutes, and then I kissed her goodbye about a minute or two before the train was scheduled to depart. Hopefully, nobody sat in the seat facing her for the entire trip; room to stretch.

A few seconds later, I was wiping Mrs. TBF's lipstick from my lips as I walked back toward the car. I suddenly became very focused...

I had a lot of work ahead of me!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Swiss Quality...

...MY ASS!!!

I just returned from a little errand-running trip into town. First of all, I felt that I was leaving the flu bug behind and that I needed to get a little exercise and fresh air (Hello, Swissy!). Secondly, I needed to pick up one of my watches that I had brought in to a well-known Basel watch store (that will remain nameless) for a new battery.

But I digress (God, I feel so writer-ish when I write that...)...

Mrs. TBF bought me a very nice watch for my birthday a couple of years ago. Actually, she didn't really buy it for my birthday. However, since we both were at the store when I picked it out, and it was kind of close to my birthday, I just say that she bought it for me for my birthday.

We don't really buy each other birthday gifts.

Of course, when I bought the watch (a well-known Swiss brand, I'll have you know...), the saleslady pointed out the fact that the watch was not only a certified chronometer, but that it also came with a two-year warranty.

The Swiss LOVE to point out the zwei Jahre Garantie! Just about every durable good in Switzerland comes with a zwei Jahre Garantie. Need a toaster? Zwei Jahre Garantie! Need an iron? Zwei Jahre Garantie! Need a Swiss watch? Yup...you guessed it!

Here's the problem...

I've found that everything that comes with this guarantee either: 1) is too inexpensive to actually justify the hassle of returning it if it breaks, or... 2) ends up breaking right after the guarantee has expired.

That's right...YOU do the math.

The watch was bought at the end of September, 2004, and I brought it in to be repaired (it was losing about three minutes per day) at the end of February, 2007 - two years and five months. This watch has now joined ANOTHER Swiss watch I own AND our ex-coffee maker in the "Swiss products that broke right after the guarantee expired" club.

I brought the watch in for repair around the 17th of February. About a week later, one Herr Miller called me from the store, and the conversation went something like this:

HM: Vee haff looked at zee vatch and eet appears by zee marks on zee vatch zat you haff dropped eet. Plus, zee garantie hass expired.

TBF: I realize the guarantee has expired, AND I've never dropped the watch. Look, I just want the watch fixed.

HM: Zee guarantee ees not fallid eef you haff dropped zee vatch.

TBF: It's past the guarantee period anyway. Can you fix the watch?

HM: No. Vee haff to send eet to zee factory. Are you sure zat you haff neffer dropped zee vatch?

TBF: (...getting slightly annoyed!) I'm postive that I have never dropped the watch. Plus, what difference would it make since it's past the guarantee period?

HM: Haff you effer lent zee vatch to anybody?

TBF: What? Who lends their watch to another person?!?!? No, I'm the only person who has ever worn the watch. Look, how much is it going to cost to fix the watch?

HM: Vee are not sure.

TBF: Well, I want you to let me know how much it is going to cost before you fix it.
I have to say that I was pretty proud of myself. The TBF of six years ago would have been extremely annoyed by all of this. However, I've learned that sometimes when you're speaking English with a non-native English speaker (and his English wasn't very good), some things the person says might not come across exactly as they intend them to. I didn't even get annoyed when he told me that they wouldn't send the watch to the factory until I brought in the "offical" booklet that came with the watch so that the repair could be "officially" marked in said booklet. NOR did I become annoyed (although he was pushing his luck!) by the fact that he was now calling me on Friday evening at 5:20 p.m. - the evening before we were leaving for Berlin - and the store was going to be closed the entire next week due to Fasnacht!

Nope...I just let it all go...

So, this past Saturday, I brought my little "watch booklet" to the store, along with a non-Swiss watch (Italian, Mrs. TBF will have you know!) - that I'll be wearing in the interim (5 weeks!) - that needed the new battery. I went back today to pick up the Italian watch.

You know, the one I bought three years ago...THAT STILL WORKS!!!!

Back From The Dead!

For the second time in two weeks, Mrs. TBF and I both came down with the flu. This bout REALLY hit us hard.

It was a pretty normal weekend until Sunday evening when Mrs. TBF quickly went from "not feeling 100%" to full-on throwing up. When I went to bed around 1:00 a.m., I too noticed that I wasn't feeling 100%.

We ended up tossing and turning most of the night. I'd sleep for about an hour and wake up totally drenched. Then, I'd fall asleep and wake up an hour later frozen to the core.

I knew Mrs. TBF was REALLY sick on Monday morning when she called in sick to work (rare!). By this point, I also had full-on flu.

I remember getting up to...go to the bathroom a couple of times, feed King, and call the garage (which I barely remember) to change a service appointment for the Jeep. However, for the most part, Monday was pretty much a lost day. We ended up finally getting out of bed at 6 p.m. I think I slept for a total of about sixteen hours between 01:00 and 18:00.

This morning, Mrs. TBF called in sick for a second day in a row (REALLY rare!). We're still feeling kind of weak, but we're starting to come around. We managed to hold down some food this morning (after eating NOTHING all day yesterday), and I think we're on the mend.

It SUCKS being sick!

Friday, March 02, 2007


Flashback - 1986/87 - The Medium Swede, Paul, and his brother Dan (who, to this day I have never heard speak in a normal voice) doing this crazy ass dance to Fab-T-Birds - "Tough Enough" or "Why Get Up?" Why Get Up just came on the random play on our ipod and I cannnot help but visualize this!!!!

Friday Flashback: Home Sweet Home!

I get a daily "On this date..." e-mail from reference.com. One of the bullet points in today's e-mail caught my eye.

On March 2, 1987, [U.S.] government officials reported that the median price for a new home [in the U.S.] had topped $100,000 for the first time.

Can you believe that there were new homes just twenty years ago that cost under $100,000? Even our dinky, thirty-year-old, starter home was above the median. Sheesh, I know several people who currently have CARS that cost over $100,000!

It then dawned on me that Mrs. TBF (who wasn't yet "Mrs." TBF) and I bought our first home in Elmhurst, Illinois in 1987. It was probably right around this time that we were putting an offer on it, and we closed on it on May 2, 1987. We drove to the house right after the closing and took these VERY posed pictures: me (Look! Hair!) pretending to manually open the garage door (Don't worry...I painted it!) even though we had an automatic garage door opener, and "Miss" TBF opening our back door.

Ahhhhh, young love!

Turn It On Again!

I just bought two tickets for us to go see Genesis when they play at the Stade de Suisse in Bern in June during their "Turn It On Again" Tour - their first tour in fifteen years. It's been a long time since I last saw them in concert; the first time was in June, 1980 (the "Duke" tour) and then I saw them again during the summer of 1982 or 1983. Let me tell you something...

Genesis tickets cost A LOT more now than they cost back in the 80s. WOW!

I guess I could have saved about 35% on the tickets if I had opted for the Stehplatz (standing room) area, but I'm a LAZY (read: old) concert-goer and I thought we'd be happier with the reserved seats. The thought of standing for 2+ hours on my "glass" knees isn't too appealing to me. Plus, Mrs. TBF isn't the tallest person in the world, and I didn't want her to have to be standing on her tippy-toes (although it would be kind of cute!) struggling to see the stage.

See? I take care of lil' lady!

The high ticket price kind of surprised me. I mean, I just read a quote from Phil Collins in Rolling Stone where he said that they're not doing the tour for the money because "...we're all loaded!"

I'm soooo happy for them!

I had big plans of us going to Bern early, checking into a nice hotel, having a late lunch, going to the concert, eating a late dinner afterward, spending a night in L.O.L., and then heading back to Basel the next morning. However, since I just paid so much money to go see a bunch of "loaded" guys reliving the good old days, I'll probably end up calling our friend James - who lives in Bern - to see if we might be able to crash at his place that night.

Hey, James...WASSUP?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Berlin: Checkpoint Charlie

Here's a picture of Conrad Schumann running to freedom (and for his freakin' life!) on August 15, 1961. While we were walking around the eastern part of Berlin, I asked Mrs. TBF if she had ever heard of anybody "escaping" from The West to The East. Just wondering...

Here's a picture of "capitalist pig" TBF on February 26,2007 leisurely walking in pretty much the same spot carrying his new shoes that he just bought a few hundred meters up Friedrichstrasse. What a difference 45+ years makes!

How long will it be before I can calmly board a boat in Havana (with a couple boxes full of Cuban cigars) and take the short cruise back to Florida? Only time will tell.

That whole Communism thing wasn't such a good idea after all, was it?

Not Just A Place To Sleep...

We wandered aimlessly around Berlin on Saturday afternoon popping into a few stores (including a store that sells these South African candles that we like), a Starbucks for a quick pick-me-up, and a bar/restaurant at Gendarmenmarkt for a quick drink. After I had a beer and Mrs. TBF had a glass of wine, we walked out into the square (where I took this self-portrait) and realized that we were both REALLY tired! It was time to head back to the hotel for a short nap.

Short nap? HA!

We got into bed around 4:45 p.m., and we woke up at..........8:15 p.m.!!!! That's right, folks. We took a 3.5 hour nap!

After shaking out the cobwebs, we went down to the lobby to talk with the concierge about finding a place for dinner. We were in the mood for Asian, so the lady ended up recommending a place called Good Time. We requested that she make a 10:00 p.m. reservation, so we had a little time to kill before we had to leave and we decided to have a drink in the lobby.

This is the lobby of Hotel Adlon where we enjoyed our drinks (the picture is from their website).

Pretty nice, isn't it? I'm telling you, this was one of the nicest hotels we've stayed at; total L.O.L. (lap of luxury). The staff was really friendly, the service was great, the rooms were really well appointed...

Oh...and while I'm thinking about it, here's some unsolicited advice: Don't stay at a crappy hotel when you travel. It's not "just a place to sleep". One thing that really bothers me is when people skimp on their hotel when they travel. I've heard people say: "We're gone all day anyway..." That's a bunch of B.S.!! Unless you're just out of college and backpacking across Europe, or you're on an absolute bare-bones budget, then you shouldn't be staying in a hostel. I'd even go so far as to say that it's better to spend more money per trip on fewer trips than to take a bunch of trips and stay at 1-star hotels. You'll end up enjoying the sights, but then you'll just end up complaining about the hotel after you get home. Beg, borrow, or steal the money - I don't care. Life's short. If you're spending a little more money on your hotel than you think you should, then you're headed in the right direction. Just do it!

There! I've had my say. Tell us what you really think, right?

After our drinks we walked on nearly deserted streets (Where was everybody?) over to Good Time at Hausvogteiplatz. The food was great, although a bit spicy. I have to admit that we've become accustomed to food not being very heavily spiced in Switzerland. Yes, we've become wimps when it comes to spicy food, but the "heat" didn't keep us from eating it - ALL of it!

We sleep-walked back to the hotel with our tummies full of spicy food and climbed back into our extremely comfortable bed where we slept for 8.5 more hours. I pointed out to Mrs. TBF when we woke up in the morning that we had slept for twelve of the last twenty-four hours.

Ahhh...L.O.L. is goooooooooood!

Coming In Like A Lion...

March weather is off to a bad start here in Basel. It's gray outside, rain occasionally slaps against the windows, and the wind is howling to point that I had to go outside and re-secure the grill cover just to make sure that it wouldn't blow away. Today's shaping up to be a 2 to a 2.5 on the TBF Weather Rating System ©2007.

For those of you keeping score at home...

The February weather in Basel came in at an average of 3.24. That's a nice improvement over January's 3.0 rating. A 3.24 means that the average day (of the days I was in Basel) was partly sunny with no rain. A 3.24 in February? I'll take it!

Hopefully, the weather will improve again in March. Do I hear a 3.5???

Berlin: Where's The Wall?

I was surprised to see how little of the Berlin Wall is still standing in it's original position. There are a few sections with historical info at Potsdamer Platz (Please note Devil-TBF popping out of my shoulder trying to convince me to buy tickets for Blue Man Group!), there's one fairly long section that we saw on Sunday from the hop-on-hop-off tour bus, and then there is the random wall section here and there (i.e. entryways to department stores, etc.) on display throughout the city. Often, there is just a little path of brick pavers embedded in the street that shows where The Wall used to be.

I can understand that one can't stop the march of progress, and that a big wall zigzagging through the center of a city of a few million people might cause a few traffic snarls, but...couldn't the Berlin planners have constructed a Wall memorial with a little more visual impact? I mean...come on!

Here's some visual impact for you...

As we were walking back toward Pariser Platz, we noticed this big area of gray slabs of concrete. We had no idea what it was (since we hadn't done any research before this trip), and we couldn't find a sign anywhere. We found out later that it is the rather controversial, impressive, and haunting Berlin Holocaust Memorial. Here's more info...

We saw The Memorial on a clear and sunny afternoon. I can only imagine the impact when viewing it under a rainy, gray sky.