Thursday, September 13, 2012

Thursday, September 13, 2012 - No comments

More Ramblings from the Road (and the Train and the Plane)

Aug. 30, 12:15 PM - Waiting for the shuttle from the Zurich airport to the hotel to drop bags off

Ravenously hungry and so very tired.  Should’ve been just about home by now, but my last flight was cancelled, so now I get to wait til tomorrow.  I’d actually been hoping for this when I knew I only had a one hour layover and thought I might not make it.  In my fantasy, though, the airline was paying for the hotel.  And it wasn’t raining.  And I was much more awake.’s Zurich!  So I have to go into town, at least for a few hours.  How ridiculous would it be to be in this beautiful city and spend the whole day in my hotel room?  Jetlag can wait.


Embarrassing side note:  As it turns out, there was actually an email in my inbox explaining this change in my itinerary all the way back in June, but I’d kinda sorta scrolled past it and dismissed it as “Orbitz junk mail.”  Oops.  My mom had even asked me if I was going to confirm my flight before heading to the airport, but I’d dismissed her with a confident, “Mom, no one does that anymore” roll of my eyes.  Yup, this is me - experienced world traveller.  I guess even experienced travelers should listen to their moms sometimes.  :)

On the plus side, the fact that my flight had been changed to the next day means I actually would’ve been spending the night in Zurich anyway, and I just didn’t know it.  So I can’t be mad at the airline, and I would’ve had to pay for a room anyway.  I just would’ve known it ahead of time and have been able to pick my hotel from the comfort of my own laptop instead of in an airport tourist info office with a fuzzy jetlagged brain.


Aug. 30, 2:34 PM - Window seat on the train into the city

On the train now to the Hauptbahnhof (monster-sized main train station).  Over-priced and over-salted fried noodles at the airport at least filled my belly.  I’ll stop in at Sprüngli for coffee and macarons and, after that, I’m sure I’ll be ready to take on the world.  

My main goal is to tour the Grossmunster - Zurich’s famed landmark church.  I didn’t get to see it when I passed through in June and the view from the towers is supposed to be amazing.  That is, if I can drag my weary body up all 197 stairs to the top...

I bought a Zurich card (20 CHF, includes free public transportation and entrance to all museums and most attractions) thinking I’d be up for a boat ride up the Limmat River to Lake Zurich, but with the weather so dreary and me so sleepy, I think the church had better be it.  And coffee.  Not in that order.  Then bed.  Definitely bed.

Aug. 30, 3:22 PM - Sprüngli, same window, one stool over from where I sat last time

This was the historic place where I tasted my first macaron two months ago.  Thus began a mild obsession with these airy treats, and a series of macaron photo cards, calendars and coasters.  I purchased several batches this summer from a couple of different patisseries and gourmet shops - shooting them from every angle and then happily eating the models.

I have to say, I definitely prefer Sprüngli’s macarons to the cakey Parisian ones from Thierry in Vancouver.  These have the texture of clouds (or so I like to think), their appearances daintier, their surfaces smoother and shinier.  

So far, I’ve just eaten the mocha one and I’ve got a chocolate and a salted caramel left.  (Will it be as good as the Canadian Bacon Salted Caramel I picked up at Edible Canada on Granville Island this summer???)  

But first, my cappuccino.  Yes, I am coming alive already. 

Aug. 31, 6:51 AM - Swiss Airlines flight 8176, Seat 33A

Sometimes just getting on a plane feels like a colossal victory.  Today is one of those days.  

I went to bed last night at 7, fully exhausted, and slept all the way through til 1 AM....and then lay there wide awake, wondering what to do with myself.  I thought about getting up and reading, or documenting my day (all two hours I was awake for) in Zurich.  But then I decided that a day of flying, speaking Turkish again, grocery shopping and trying to get phone and electric and internet turned back on was not best begun at 1 AM.  So, I forced my mind to slow down and went back to sleep until four when my alarm would go off.  

I awoke just before four in a panic because I’d had one of those crazy stress dreams in which I was running way late and the friends who were taking me to the airport were in no hurry whatsoever and were more concerned with chatting with hotel staff than they were about getting my bags to the car.  I was SO grateful to wake up and find out that my alarm hadn’t even gone off yet!

Two kind businessmen who also had to be at the airport hours before dawn let me share their taxi, getting me there a good twenty minutes before the shuttle would have.  And they refused to let me pay a thing!  I was so thankful for those extra twenty minutes when I got all the way to my gate, only to find that the gate had been the terminal I’d just taken the train from!  I rode all the way back, went through security AGAIN (and let me tell you, when you’ve got your own laptop plus one  you’re bringing back for a friend, several canister-candles that look suspiciously like explosives, one metal coffee tumbler, and assorted electronics and camera-related items in your carry-on, security is no quick event!) and still got to my gate with two minutes to spare for a trip to the bathroom.  Victory!

So, my day in Zurich didn’t turn out exactly how I’d pictured it, what with the rain and me being exhausted out of my tree and all.  But, really, when it comes down to it, I didn’t come to sightsee.  I came to eat macarons and truffles.  And those didn’t disappoint one bit.

After my salty noodles, my train ride, and my fortifying sweets-and-caffeine experience at Sprüngli, I set off to tour the Grossmunster.  I walked back to the train station and, remembering that the #4 and #14 trams were the ones I’d taken from various places back to my guesthouse in June, I hopped the #14, thinking it was the one that went up the Limmat River towards the church.  Turned out I was wrong.  A few stops out of the main station, it swung right back up to Lowenplatz, where I’d just come from.  I decided not to interpret it as a sign to head right back into Sprüngli for more sweets and set off for the church on foot instead of backtracking all the way with the tram.  

Seriously, what was my deal with not asking for directions yesterday?  I took a rather roundabout route to Sprüngli the first time around, too, heading off in the right direction but off by one street.  I think I was trying to act the part of the capable tourist who knew where she was going cuz she’d been there before and didn’t even need to look at a map.  I sure proved that wrong, if only to myself.  

Crossing the river on foot was pretty, even if I did get rather wet.  Seemed everyone around me had an umbrella, but I couldn’t see where they were getting them from.  Home, I suppose.  It seems very Swiss to be prepared for a change in the weather.  Had I been in Istanbul, umbrella sellers would’ve appeared out of the woodwork the moment the first drops hit the ground.  I guess in Switzerland you have to fend for yourself.

When I got to the church, even more than climbing its great towers for a (cloud-covered) view of the city, I was excited for a bathroom and shelter from the rain.  In the end, I only got the latter.  The church was closed to visitors for a funeral and when I asked if I could still go up the towers, I was informed that it was “impossible.”  

I was disappointed, but I still enjoyed a reprieve from the wetness as I took in the solitary beauty of the recently renovated cloister garden.  It would seem that the restoration was done with a goal of a “vague spiritual meditation area” as a goal, rather than a place to meet with the Living God, as evidenced by the various zodiac signs and animal heads mounted on the courtyard walls and carved into its stone pillars.  Slightly creepy, but dry nonetheless.  

Despite the rain, I took a little walk through some of the hilly cobblestone streets of Aldstadt, the Old City.  I so love all those tall houses and colourfully shuttered windows lining the skinny streets.  At one point, I paused outside a window to listen to a violinist practicing inside, and I felt like I’d been transported back to the world of Elisa Linder, the Viennese violinist in the novel I’m reading.  Switzerland wasn’t full of Nazis like Vienna was, but I imagine it looks much the same, and I could almost imagine the sound of jackboots on the cobblestones....  Perhaps not the best book to be reading while traveling through German-speaking Europe!

By 5:00, my eyelids were drooping and I knew any more exploring might result in me falling asleep in a puddle, so I headed for “home.”  I actually knew where I was going (for real this time) and confidently hopped the #4 tram back to the Hauptbahnhof with three minutes to spare before the next train back to the airport.  

I wanted to grab some light snacks for my dinner and early morning breakfast, so I went into the Migros at the airport train station - the same one where I met that sweet elderly Turkish couple back in June.  My exhaustion seriously hampered my decision-making abilities, but I finally settled on some apple-mango yogurt, a couple of waters (took me forever to figure out which ones were sans gas - not bubbly), two Gala apples and some cheese that was on sale.  I was embarrassed to get to the front of the checkout line and be told I had to go back and weigh my apples, but glad to have just enough Francs left over to pop into the Sprüngli next door and get myself a Bailey’s truffle and a salted caramel macaron to take back for dessert.

I kept company with my Viennese violinist while I ate, all curled up in my bed with the heat on to warm up.  (Yes, in August!  Turkey is going to be a shock to my system....)  The cheese turned out to be too stinky to be enjoyable, but rest filled me up before I crashed at the ripe hour of 7:00.

Couple of notes on the plane trip this morning:

* I am grateful that, all these years later, those A’s in French class can still order me coffee and apple juice without too much embarrassment.  (Ask me anything beyond my drink order and I’m lost....)

* There’s a family across the aisle from me who look Turkish but are speaking German to each other.  You can tell mom and dad must lapse into Turkish when they get upset, cuz these little assimilated kids can still produce a perfectly accented “Of yaaaaa” or “Oha!” when they’re unhappy.  :)
And....ten minutes til we land!  Ready or not, I’m home.  Not sure my heart has switched over yet, but I know it will the moment I slide into a taxi and start speaking Turkish to the driver.  And if some neighbour arrives at my door with a plate of dolma, I shall consider myself truly welcomed home.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sunday, September 02, 2012 - No comments

Ramblings from the Road (or the sky, as it were) and Another Celebrity Stalking Fail

Sitting in O’Hare, Terminal 5, Gate 12 on a green bench painted with alphabet blocks and chubby naked babies.  A conveniently positioned crack prevents any inappropriate visuals.  Must be some sort of sit-able art exhibit, since the terminal is full of them.  

Sipping some mediocre (but delightfully cheap) coffee from a Metropolis coffee cart.  Apparently this is the ONLY place to buy coffee (or snacks, for that matter) once you pass security in the international terminal.  Not even a Starbucks in sight.  The other terminals are amazing, with their Pretzel stands and frozen yogurt stalls and fancy restaurants and that migraine-inducing musical light show corridor, but if you’re flying overseas, you’d better be okay with gas station coffee.

Thankfully (and, unbeknownst to me, wisely) I ate my (long overdue) lunch in the domestic terminal where I landed.  It’s sort of tradition for me to have a hot dog for my first meal upon arrival and my last meal before departure, since I’ve either been missing proper hot dogs or are about to miss them for a very long time.  (Once this backfired on me when I landed in Chicago and boarded what turned out to be a very turbulent flight to Louisville....yeah.)  

Today’s farewell dog was at America’s Dogs, where they doctor the dog by city - baked beans with bacon and onions for Boston, BBQ sauce with pulled pork and cole slaw for Memphis.  I went for the Green Bay - cheddar cheese is something I’ll be missing soon, too.  I was a little disappointed when they handed me a hot dog smothered - I mean, the entire bun was literally drowning - in that fake-o cheese they put on nachos at the movie theatre.  Not precisely what I’d envisioned - and it took a whole lot of napkins to recover from it - but yummy nonetheless.  So long, North America.  :)

I thought I had an encounter with a celebrity this morning at the Vancouver airport.  In fact, I’m still convinced I did and he’s just denying it.  “Oz,” the Turkish ambulance driver on the Canadian show “The Listener” is played by a guy called Enis Esmer, and I was SURE I saw him ahead of me in the immigration line-up this morning.  I paid attention to what he was wearing (a fresh-off-the-cruise-ship “Alaska” hoodie” - not so movie star-ish, but to each his own) so I could stalk him once I got through.  And, lo and behold, there he was with his wife, having coffee at Tim Hortons.  

I was super excited and went up and asked him if he was Oz, and he acted like he didn’t know what I was talking about.  I told him about the show and said, “You look just like him - you’re him, right?”  But his wife said his name was Andreas and that they were from Texas.  I kept pushing, though, cuz even standing there, looking him in the face, I was SURE it was him.  He had this amused twinkle in his eye that kept me thinking he was just pulling my leg, but when I said I was from Turkey and he still didn’t bite, I figured I’d best just give up and leave them to their Timmy’s.  Still, I swear it was him....  I’m gonna ask Google.  

(**Post Script:  when I Googled him, he came up not married.   Maybe I should contact the real actor and let him know he has a Hispanic twin out there impersonating him in airports....)

I stopped in at the Swiss Airlines counter a few minutes ago to try to get a boarding pass for my Zurich-home flight and get my bags checked all the way through, which thankfully they were able to do, even though the United lady in Vancouver insisted it was impossible.  I was both grateful and disappointed - grateful cuz it means I have a shot at making my next flight, even though I only have an hour in Zurich, and disappointed cuz I’d been excited about the prospect of missing my plane and having to spend the night in Switzerland.  

As I gathered my documents and zipped up my backpack, much to my surprise, the ticketing agent said, “İyi uçuşlar!” - Turkish for “Have a great flight!”  

Didn’t see that coming.  I checked his nametag - “Amir.”  Not a Turkish name.  I switched to Turkish and said, “You aren’t Turkish though - where are you from?”  Turns out he was Iranian and had lived in Turkey for awhile.  (Maybe as a refugee waiting for the UN to place him?  Goodness knows they usually get stuck in the country long enough to learn the language.)  I should’ve asked for his story, but I think I was just all too surprised and so enjoying getting to speak Turkish with someone.  (That and his green eyes were pleasantly distracting!)  

We chatted for a few minutes about my life in Turkey and why I love the country, and then I made my way to security.  I went through smiling, so grateful for that little exchange cuz it felt like the perfect transition out of North America and into my Other World.    Kinda like getting to chat with that older Turkish couple at the Migros in the Zurich airport on my way home in June.  This little gift helped turn my heart in the right direction.  

This summer home was so wonderful, and though I never actually entertained the thought of staying, it was sometimes so tempting to daydream about what my life would be like if I lived in that world full-time instead of popping in and out for visits every year or so.  But, as much as I love the dyke and Stanley Park and seagulls and running in shorts and mango ginger cheese and Thai take-out...a five minute chat with a Turkish-speaker woke up the truest part of my heart and made me so glad to be going home.