Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Guest Post for Fluent City

Read my guest post for Fluent City's blog about my visit to Ireland as a teenager here!

For another entry about this trip to Ireland, follow this link.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Rösti la Vista, Baby

My cousin Mike once told me, "Every time I see you outside of a family gathering, you're surrounded by potato skins." He's not wrong. I *love* potatoes and cheese. To me, there is no better duo - forget Simon & Garfunkel, Cory & Shawn, and Taylor Swift's cats, Meredith Grey & Olivia Benson. My list of potato and cheese combinations starts at potato skins, but it doesn't stop there: potatoes au gratin, cheese fries, cheesy potato soup, cheddar and sour cream potato chips. I can't get enough.

I thought, at age 30, I'd experienced everything the potato and cheese world had to offer me. But imagine my delight when I found out that two of Switzerland's national dishes are rösti and raclette. Okay, well I had no idea what those were by the names, but get this: rösti is a dish of grated potatoes, formed into a patty and fried (think about the hash browns you get at a good NJ diner) - and raclette is cheese on a wheel that is heated up and then scraped off of the wheel right on top of dishes such as rösti. I was going to do just fine in Switzerland.

Kater and I had two experiences with rösti and raclette. Our first was in Interlaken on top of the Metropole Hotel. Although an unfortunate eyesore on an otherwise adorably traditional mountain town, it boasts an amazing rooftop view and restaurant. I've been to many rooftops in New York, but nowhere here compares to the view we took in at Top O' Met. There are pairs of binoculars at each table so you can zero in on Jungfrau, one of the highest points in the Swiss Alps, covered in snow in May. We ordered Swiss beer (every one of which I loved) and enjoyed watching the hang-gliders land in a field below us after jumping from somewhere, though we struggled to figure out from where. It didn't matter, we were not up for that terrifying adventure that day. Instead, we were up for figuring out what rösti and raclette tasted like. We shared a small portion of their rösti with raclette and tomatoes and found out they taste exactly like happiness.

I knew that half of a small portion would not have been enough to sustain me until my next trip to Switzerland and that I'd be eating rösti and raclette again. I didn't know it would be that same day. We'd moved on to Bern for the evening and were looking for places to eat dinner when we came across reviews for Restaurant Le Mazot, including some raving about the rösti. Le Mazot not only had rösti, they had an entire rösti menu. Hi, hello, one of each, please, thank you. Kater ordered a Rösti Dauphinois - rösti, garlic, butter, cream & cheese - while I went with the waiter's favorite, Rösti Oberlandais - rösti, ham, cheese, & fried egg. These röstis came out in cast-iron skillets and were absolutely incredible - not to mention adorable. Each time we thought we were filled to the brim, we went in for more, especially for the parts that had burned onto the skillets by the end of the meal. Meals where I have many "last bites" are the meals I'll remember forever.

The next time Kater and I get together has to be in the East Village, here in New York City. I've been told of Raclette, a relatively new restaurant specializing in French Swiss cuisine. It sounds promising, being named after the Swiss cheese, but I am unsure at this time if there is rösti on the menu. If they don't have it, that would be a straight-up Swiss Miss.


Monday, July 6, 2015

Losing Your Luggage without Losing Your Patience

The title of this post is a bit of a misnomer. I have had my luggage lost twice in the past year, and both times I lost more of my patience than I needed to. The sinking feeling in the gut when the crowd starts disbursing from the luggage carousel is one I am familiar with. My luggage has often been last on the belt (maybe I get to the airport too early?), but until my trip to Montreal in the fall, I'd always left the airport with everything I came with.

Losing your luggage on the return trip home is more manageable than on the way there, and I have experienced both. When I left Montreal, my luggage did not come with me. This would not have been so much of a problem, except that I'd had a tough time in Montreal. I had broken my toe the week before and I was hobbling around with a cane, forcing myself to still walk as far as I would have without an injured foot. It was exhausting and I was in a lot of pain each day. I had packed my prescription pain medicine in my checked luggage because I'd thought it wouldn't be allowed in my carry-on for some reason. Not having my pain meds and not knowing when I was going to get them made for a tough night. Luckily, my bag was dropped off to my apartment the next day. But it meant that I had to work the morning from home to get it, after already not being in the office a few days, and that I had to walk up and down my four flights of stairs with a broken toe a few additional times.

On my trip to meet Katie in Lisbon, I'd had some flight issues. Right before we boarded, we were informed the airplane didn't have a part that it needed in order to take off. We were delayed getting into Paris which meant I was delayed getting in Lisbon. There were only a few flights on Delta from Paris to Lisbon so I sat in CDG for a while, being miserable, although I consoled myself with macarons. I wasn't happy about the delay since we only had a few days in Lisbon, and I also felt bad because my sister was there for a while without me. When I finally got to Lisbon and didn't see my suitcase, I may have flipped out a little bit. I convinced myself that I would never see my suitcase or anything in it again, and that I would be wearing the clothes I wore on the plane for two whole weeks as we continued our trip to Spain after Portugal. When I got to the hotel, my sister let me wear one of her shirts and we went out exploring six hours after we'd intended to begin.

I don't like shopping when I am traveling, but since I didn't know if and when I'd get my luggage back, I needed some essentials. I bought a few shirts, underwear, socks, and a pair of jeans. We went to a store I would never shop at in NYC because I don't feel confident about how ethically their clothes are made, but I didn't want to spend too much money, especially if I'd need to get two-weeks worth of clothing eventually. I was also lucky in this case, as my luggage showed up at our hotel the next morning, although it was quite damaged and needed lots of tape.

If your luggage doesn't appear around the carousel, you have to fill out a claim in an office and identify what it looks like compared to a grid with 30 pictures of suitcases that look nothing like yours. They give you a claim number and a phone number and you call every 30 minutes until something happens. In both of my experiences, the first 20 times you call, they will have no idea where your luggage is and just tell you to call back later. But that 21st time, they will say they've found it and that it will be delivered to you the next day.

When you return home from your trip, make sure to contact the airline and complain profusely about your situation. I've received Luggage Compensation Bonuses in SkyMiles from Delta for both my incidents and they quickly sent me a check to cover what I spent on clothing in Lisbon when I attached my receipt to my complaint. I'd also mentioned the damage on my suitcase and sent them a photo of it, which may have helped.

Now that I know from my Switz trip that I can pack for a week into a small carry-on, I'm going to try to avoid checking from now on, at least for shorter trips. Lose my luggage once, shame on you. Lose my luggage twice, shame on me.

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